This review of An Intolerant Vaudeville at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
An Intolerant Vaudeville
An Intolerant Vaudeville
Conceived & Directed by Sam Viverito
Written by Wendy Biller, Chris Hawthorne & Sam Viverito
Inspired by the Museum of Tolerance (Los Angeles)
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
In my opinion, An Intolerant Vaudeville is the winner of the 3rd Annual UNFringed Festival at The Secret Theatre by a mile and a half, whatever the final votes might say, which is usually a factor of how many friends the cast can get down to see their shows. Without hitting you over the head with the club of political correctness, this show subtly makes its point regarding the need for tolerance, understanding that "others" are more like you than different, and that stereotypes, a shortcut to "knowing" strangers, are not always accurate in individual circumstances. I am not the kind of critic who is "kind" and "understanding." I call "a spade a spade" and equally comment on the positive and negative aspects of every production I review, so here's the negative about this show. John Dillon, one of the two jugglers in "The Juggling Act: The Fat Lady Don't Sing," was not a particularly proficient juggler and often dropped some of the items he was attempting to juggle. That is it! Otherwise, the entire show and cast are absolutely perfect. In my opinion, An Intolerant Vaudeville is ready for an Off-Broadway and/or Broadway run. Entertaining, informative, and thought provoking, nothing can beat it for an enjoyable night of theatre. My mother, who saw the show with me, is still talking about it saying she can't believe how talented all the actors were and how interesting the format of the show was. She just can't get An Intolerant Vaudeville out of her mind!
Sam Viverito introduced the show by telling the audience he selected a Vaudeville show as the means of telling this story because it was "an American format" and that, in his opinion, "prejudice and discrimination were problems in this country from the very beginning." I would like to remind Mr. Viverito that every country and culture in the world has problems with "prejudice and discrimination" from the very beginning of time and continuing until today. Has he forgotten the Spanish Inquisition, the Indian caste system, or even how many Italians view Sicilians. If anything, the United States has made the most progress in overcoming prejudices and ending discrimination. For example, giving women the right to vote, a right which they still don't have in Saudi Arabia and other countries, or the right of gays to marry, while in other countries, they are still being executed and imprisoned. Most Americans have a "live and let live attitude" and are tolerant of interracial, interfaith and perhaps, in time, even interspecies marriages. We are, in fact, so tolerant, most people are loath to criticize anyone's behavior, even if it crosses the line of what is considered traditional morality. My point is that "prejudice and discrimination" are universal issues and I took offense as a proud, patriotic American citizen that Mr. Viverito thought it was a problem our country has uniquely struggled with. Prejudice, discrimination and even bullying, existed for important sociological reasons such as keeping cultural deviants in line (you beat on the kids who don't act according to acceptable gender norms to let them know there are consequences for acting differently), building the self-esteem of the in-group (you wouldn't want a Dutch Treat, would you? - that's no treat at all), and for engendering patriotism by painting the enemies of your country as sub-human scum (we were told the yellow Japanese bastards used to bayonet babies). These are far more complex issues than Sam Viverito may have understood from his visit to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. With all that off my chest, let me get back to the show.
An Intolerant Vaudeville opened with "The Juggling Act - 'The Fat Lady Don't Sing'" featuring The Dwarf (Colin Buckingham), The Fat Lady (Robin Lounsbury), The Transvestite (Paul Sadlik) and the Jugglers, two formerly conjoined "Siamese Twins" separated at birth (Graham Keen and John Dillon). They all eventually sang a song revealing the struggles they face in their lives showing us how they live and "juggle" it all. The second scene, "The Acrobats - 'The Position'," is really a job interview between The Interviewer (Daniel Pivovar) and The Interviewee (Jesse Manocherian). The interviewee is the acrobat trying to answer the questions posed to him in the way he feels would be most acceptable to the interviewer. This is a brilliantly written piece showing how a man in need of a job tries to answer even illegal questions in the most cautious manner possible. In "The Magician - 'The Invisible Woman'," we meet The Magician (Graham Keen), The Usher (John Dillon), and The Woman (Leslie Alexander), who is homeless and usually invisible on the street. She has a surprise for us, as does The Mother (Mikah Horn) in "The Quick Change Artist - 'A Mother's Love'." The role of the Baby Sitter in this latter skit was played by Robin Lounsbury.
In "The Animal Act - 'They Speak'," we meet The Animal Trainer (John Dillon), who is introducing us to various animals in his human zoo, who are "available for purchase at very reasonable terms." We meet The Black Man (Darius-Anthony Robinson), The Oriental Woman (Josephine Huang), The Jew Man (Daniel Pivovar), The Church Lady (Mikah Horn), The Latina Woman (Maria Cristina Slye), and The Homo Man (Jesse Manocherian). The Black Man objects and tells The Trainer, "You don't get to define me," to which The Trainer responds, "Yes I do. That's how Bigotry works!" The Homo Man, who was last on the list of who every other group hated, objected when they ran out of time because he wanted to introduce The Muslim Man from "The Gutter Religion" whose spiritual leader, the pedophile Mohammed, married Aisha, a six year old girl, who he had sex with when she was only nine. In the end, all the animals walk in a circle calling out racial and ethnic slurs until someone accidently says "Nigger!" Everyone froze and the culprit had to apologize for using the dreaded "n-word," saying he really intended to use the word "thug." Brilliant!
In "The Singers - 'Little Songs'," four songs that were written for children around the time of the establishment of the United Nations were performed. Those songs were from a 1947 album entitled Little Songs On Big Subjects, written and published by Argosy Music Corp: Louis C. Singer (Music) and Hy Zaret (Lyrics). The little ditties presented were The Quartette (John Dillon, Graham Keen, Jesse Manocherian & Paul Sadlik); "Ol' Commodore Grey (Daniel Pivovar); "I've Got A Church" (Leslie Alexander); and "I'm Proud To Be Me" (Darius-Anthony Robinson). They were definitely enjoyable and very much belonged in this show.
In the final One-Act Play (included in Vaudeville shows to make the audience feel they were cultured), "12 Angry Schmucks" of different religions (brought together by God) must make a decision in the case of The League of Concerned Cod Fisherman vs. Cordoba House, where the League has sued to prevent the construction of a second Mosque on an oil rig in the North Atlantic ocean because they believe it is still too close to Ground Zero. The Bailiff is played by Colin Buckingham and the voice of God is by John Dillon. Some of the jurors are played by blow-up men (the ones who are beaten to death later) but the remaining jurors, introduced with cute flashback references to the play Twelve Angry Men (e.g. "leave the old man alone" and "you are more interested in getting out of here to attend the Yankee game than in achieving justice") are Ralph (Darius-Anthony Robinson), Joseph (Paul Sadlik), Shlomo (Daniel Pivovar), Mohammed (Jesse Manocherian), Dev (Maria Cristina Slye), Cho (Josephine Huang), and Conrad (Graham Keen). God gives them new jury instructions. He wants them to select one major religion to eliminate from the planet along with any followers who refuse to convert to one of the remaining religions. They try to choose Devil Worshippers (God says there are only 739 of them) and Atheists (who God doesn't have jurisdiction over) but they are reminded by God he wants them to select a "major religion." During the infighting, they eventually kill five of their fellow jurors before making the decision not to eliminate any major religion. They decide that "the human race cannot continue to hide behind God, and in the name of religion, do evil things." God is pleased. People are encouraged to find the seed of hatred in themselves & blow it away. Without all the hated, someone observes, "Now we have to start at the beginning," to which the response is "Yes, we do!"
An Intolerant Vaudeville is a magnificent, well-written piece of performance art with a message. It is absolutely fabulous and deserves a long run in many cities for many years! I guarantee you will love it! Keep an eye out for future productions and don't miss it the next time around.