It was half a century ago when Bob Dylan released an album titled "The Times They Are A-Changinâ€™."Â The song is an eloquent testimony to how different the world had become in 1964.
The same song could be used as theme music for the production of "The Petrified Forest," the Robert Sherwood play that opened Friday night at the Windfall Theatre.
To say that the play seemed out of date and without any relevance to the world we know today seems a massive understatement. There is a significant body of scholarly work that claims the play is full of deep symbolism and, as the Windfall notes say, "â€¦ as disturbingly resonant today as it was in 1934."
That all may be true, but whatever truths exist in this play were buried under an avalanche of acting that avoided even the premise of sensitivity and honesty.
The art of the theater, and indeed the art of acting, is that the actor takes what the playwright has written and makes more of it. He makes it his own. He finds the depth and the dimensions of the character and throws that dimension out on the stage for the audience to savor.
What this play offers is a lesson in the cardboard cutout school of theater. And itâ€™s very surprising. Windfall has done magnificent work in the past, and director Carol Zippel is both an outstanding director and an outstanding actor.Â But she had almost nothing to work with here.
The story â€“ which was both a popular play and a popular movie that launched Humphrey Bogartâ€™s career â€“ is simple.Â Itâ€™s set in a dusty diner in the middle of Arizona. A variety of characters move through the diner, each one with a tale to tell and a goal in mind. Today, this entire thing seems trite, as if lifted from a Lifetime movie starring actors whose expiration date has passed.
Everybody in this play seems like the broadest stereotype.
You have the daughter/waitress who dreams of faraway places (in this case France, where she wasÂ inexplicablyÂ born).Â
You have her father who is always angry.Â
You have her grandfather who is crusty and a little dotty.
You have the hired hand who is always horny around her.
You have the world-weary, good looking, mysterious stranger.
Not one of these characters gave us anything except what was on the page of the script. And this script is outdated and simple, unless itâ€™s brought to life by amazing acting performances.
And for good measure, you have a series of minor characters who act like they just showed up a few moments before the curtain rose, deciding that being an actor for an evening might be a kick.
I canâ€™t begin to describe how much respect I have for actors. Â They step onto a stage with words that arenâ€™t their own, and they try to carry us into their world for a couple of hours.Â Weeks and weeks go into it before opening night. Actors struggle, they discuss, they struggle some more, they think and then they discuss the whole thing again. And then they go out and act.Â Itâ€™s a profession fraught with both excruciating difficulties and exhilarating joys. And it requires hard, hard work.
This cast either didnâ€™t work hard, or they were unable to work hard enough. Taking a play as dated as this required both magnificent talent and effort.
Unfortunately, neither one showed up in the middle of this petrified forest. It was almost as if the the petrifying forces were contagious, and every one of the actors caught the bug.
For more information on "The Petrified Forest," click here.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Jan. 27, 2015
Gary Andersen, who, surprisingly, left the University of Wisconsin for Oregon State, complained that the high academic standards in Madison made it too hard for him to recruit the kind of players he wanted.
Published Jan. 25, 2015
Nothing entertains like a great love story with a murderous ending, and that's what you get in "The Kreutzer Sonata" at Renaissance Theaterworks. The one man play starring James Pickering is a story you won't soon forget.
Published Jan. 24, 2015
The Milwaukee Rep opened "Good People" Friday night and gives it a spectacular production, looking at where we come from, where we go and how we either get there or don't.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Sources have confirmed that Gov. Scott Walker has decided to include the "jock tax" revenues in his budget to help fund the new arena in downtown Milwaukee.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Cyndi Przybylski is a software engineer at Rockwell, but she has been bitten by the theater bug. She is taking a scientific approach to it all, realizing that she has a lot to learn and seems ready to learn it.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Sam Shepard's "True West" is a tale of brothers, joined by blood and driven apart by everything else in their lives. Alchemist Theater gives it a daring and bold production until the end of the month.
Published Jan. 22, 2015
Capt. Dave Salazar of the Milwaukee Police Department supervises the intelligence gathering efforts to try and keep terrorist activities at bay. It's a job that requires lots of cooperation from various agencies, and from the general public.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
Finding the right words for what happened to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday is a challenging task, and I was struggling with it. Enter Brent Hazelton, the Associate Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Rep. He had a Facebook post that captures just about everything I was feeling. I am pleased to share it with you here.
Published Jan. 19, 2015
"The Beautiful Music All Around Us" is a long and involved journey through the early days of American folk music. The problem is that the whole thing, with Stephen Wade as the professor, seems more like a college lecture than a night of theatrical entertainment.
Published Jan. 18, 2015
Life for the new kid in a high school can be tough especially if that kid is a little bit unlike the other kids in school. Stargirl is clearly different, but she stays true to herself and find unlikely truths in her new classmates in the First Stage production.