Saturday, June 13, 2009

Glee Club

Ben (Stephen Speights) is a very special sort of conductor, the sort of musical perfectionist who demands perfection from his glee club of Romeo, Vermont, by way of beratement: "Sing pig fuckers. Sing for your lives." It's the sort of method that you know is doomed, especially since his star, Hank (Tom Staggs), has so inconsiderately decided to stop drinking, which would be fine if his non-alcoholic self could sing. It's the sort of slow motion accident you can't turn away from, which leads one to realize that it's actually Matthew Freeman, the writer of Glee Club, who is pretty damn special: his comedy is pitch perfect.

The secret lies in the blend of voices and assortment of character, and Freeman's skill comes from his ability to define each role with a single line--and yet, to not reduce them to a dimensionless sketch. Paul (Gary Shrader) isn't just the unblinking baritone who talks like a serial killer ("Scrotum's tougher than it looks: use a drill")--he's the man with nothing else to live for. Greg (Carter Jackson) defines himself by the cancer that's he's dying from (though it's been in remission for fifteen years), but his character isn't just a self-centered complainer. Fred (Bruce Barton), the suck-up who sings with the group "but also with myself," says that he'd do everything the same way--and yet the regret of realizing that he cannot change is what allows his character to do just that. Even Nick (David DelGrosso), who always has an insult on his tongue, and his polar opposite, Stan (Matthew Trumbull), who likes to placate people, are more than the sum of those parts. Mark (Robert Buckwalter) is the only one who gets short schrift, but that just means he makes the most of his off-stage divorce, channeling it into the song.

You can tell that director Kyle Ancowitz put a lot of time into deepening these shallow motivations, and so nobody comes across as malicious when they plot to spike Hank's coffee. They just value glee more than morality, and this contrast really pays off as the play grows more and more exaggerated. Speights steals the show time and again--which should be impossible with a cast this strong--each time growing more apoplectic than the last: "If this hate was a woman, I would fuck it: that's how passionately I feel for this hate." These are perfect words for a "song about smiling"--and ultimately, accurate ones, too. The collective voice of the show never cracks, but there's no way you leave the Brick theater without cracking a smile.

1 comment:

Gyda said...

Stephen Speights was totally amazing.