Review by Danny Gaisin
Marc Blitzstein’s 1937 dramatic musical THE CRADLE WILL ROCK is a Brechtian attempt to shine a spotlight on the socio/political manipulations of the Great Depression by the industrial barons of the time. Their stooges were the bribable courts; churches and Governments. Obviously nothing like today! We’re all familiar with the term ‘Cradle’; but in the title’s context it refers to ‘support’ or a ‘framework’, and that’s what the playwright sought to weaken. The original performance was directed by Orson Welles and starred both the writer and Will Geer; a famous socialist of his time, best remembered as TV’s Grandpa Walton.
The plot and subplots deal with representations of the diverse hierarchies at odds with each other. Character names reflect their occupations or status. Thus, I’d be portrayed as Danny Scrivener. A streetwalker, bankrupt druggist and shop foreman are the pivotal characters and are seated among the audience thereby making all of us part of the solution (or maybe – part of the problem). From the pre-theatre entry parade, we’re indoctrinated by the cast members into appreciating their problems and struggles, thereby setting a mood-set of support for a unionized formation and struggle.
Unlike yours truly, Sheridan’s Theatre Arts Faculty’s Marc Richard is way too young to have experienced the deprivation of the play’s era. I can still remember occasions of hunger; forced tri-generational living together and all three of my toys. Surprisingly, Director Richard has managed to infuse his charges with the very essence of poverty as well as a negative outlook that transitions into optimism. Having seatmates that then take centre-stage is unusual and somewhat freaky, but soon creates an audience feeling of acculturation into the events on-stage.
The hooker- ‘Moll’ is Sydney Williams whose voice, diction and physical mannerisms are perfectly suited to the role as well as to the essential characterization her part plays. The druggist (Harry Druggist) is Russell Niessen, and every time he leaves he seat, one knows that a ‘zinger’ comment is sure to come. The leader of the Union movement is Larry and Colin Kelly, who sings the play’s title aria has all the charisma and dynamism requisite to offering a credible portrayal of such a character. He made me think of ‘Bobby Strong’ the revolutionary in ‘Urinetown’. Speaking of that effort, Jonathan Corkal’s “Mr. Mister”’s persona was obviously a perfect prototype for “Caldwell Cladwell” in ‘Urinetown’. He may be of short stature but his posturing and stance exude power and controlled cruelty.
In secondary roles; the Mister offspring are Aiden Burke & Alex Gratton. Both have the mobile faces and energy representative of youngsters. They’re moments with each other; then with Daddy and especially in the ‘Honolulu’ number are effective and fun to watch. The two cultural types, Dauber & Yasha are played to the hilt by Adam Smith and Benjamin Todd. Their character names baldly describe which is which. Unfortunately, the negative stereotypes associated with their roles is something rather uncomfortable given today’s political correctness. Their patron is Mrs. Mister and Emily Meadows, while pivotal to the play’s progress possesses weak diction and vocal projection. We missed most of her dialogue even when she was facing us. Diametrically opposite, Matthew Fearnley Brown has distinct enunciation and timbre that makes every syllable crystal clear. He also looks like a young Jack Nicholson which may lead to some future movie opportunities.
The idea spin doctoring and manipulation is as real today as it was eighty years ago. Greed seems to have been endemic throughout the ages and Blitzstein’s epitomization thus makes THE CRADLE WILL ROCK as valid today as when it was written. The play runs until Feb. 25th at the Studio Theatre, and BTW, it’s the very first time we were actually paid to attend a play see below!!!