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Theater Info for the Washington DC region

American Century Theater Marathon ’33

By • Aug 11th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Marathon ’33 by June Havoc
American Century Theater
Gunston Arts Center, Arlington, VA
Through August 26th
2:30
$30-$35/$27-$32 Seniors, Students, Military
Reviewed August 10th, 2012

Marathon ’33 works OK in two ways. It makes for a novel American studies cultural history seminar, rich in audio-visual enhancements. And it can function as a mild evening of sadism and masochism. The audience can be detachedly sadistic. The actors do a psychodrama of masochism. And all with no messy bodily fluids or even lacerations or contusions.

As theater — as a drama — the show sputters for lack of fuel. The characters are sketchy and unpleasant. The story is melodramatic and slack.

In its favor, American Century Theater’s revival of Marathon ’33 is blessed with a good band, good singers and a few minutes of snappy tap dancing. 

Marathon ’33 is an on-stage memoir devised by June Havoc. Silent films and vaudeville — Havoc’s first sources of fame and riches — had died. She was, as entertainers sometimes delicately put it, “between engagements.” As you may remember from seeing the musical Gypsy, Havoc was Gypsy Rose Lee’s younger sister and the daughter of the archetypal backstage-mother-as-ogress Mama Rose. Her flight from the ogress and her desperate need for work led to a stint in the dreadful dance marathon industry of the 1930s. In exchange for food and shelter, couples would dance, or at least trudge, before crowds of fans, getting a bit of rest once every hour. As the hours, days, weeks, even months wore by, exhausted participants would drop out — literally: if your partner couldn’t prop you up and you fell to the floor, you were disqualified.

Havoc had a certain success in this grueling (and often rigged and mob-tainted) ordeal before she went on to renewed riches and fame in legitimate theater, movies and TV. She details the marathon phenomenon in her two autobiographies “Early Havoc” and “More Havoc.”

Her stage memoir Marathon ’33 opened and quickly closed during the 1963-64 Broadway season. It was an Actors Studio production with a huge cast overseen by “Method Acting” guru and Actors Studio impresario Lee Strasberg. 

Arlington’s American Century Theater, as a company devoted to presenting theatrical Americana of the 20th Century, is the D.C. area’s mostly likely venue for a Marathon revival.

As American cultural anthropology, Marathon ’33 is, of course, but a chapter in a vast anthology of gruesome entertainment that goes back to tarring and feathering, lynching, bare-fist boxing, roller derby, entertainment wrestling, demolition derbies, cock fights, dog fights, extreme combat, and, of course, TV shows including “Survivor,” “Fear Factor,” “The Apprentice” and “The Biggest Loser.”

The American Century production boasts a cast of 30 (just a few shy of the Actors Studio 37). The setting (by Michael deBlois) vividly suggests a 30s dance hall. An excellent musical combo is adept at jazzy/bluesy 1920s and 30s tunes. American Century director Jack Marshall does Marathon justice. The actors are game as they portray energetic enthusiasm that fades into physical torment, emotional agony, thrashing violence and general exhaustion, degradation and defeat. The dozens of roles are essentially caricatures and vague types. The performances come alive, however, when various cast members belt out, or croon, antique hits. Some of the notable singers are Joshua Rosenblum, Ann De Michele, Steve Lebens, Carolyn Myers, Jared Mason Murray, Aviva Pressman, Karin Rosnizeck, Jamie Ogden and — in the role of June Havoc — Jennifer Richter. Highly professional backup comes from musical director and band leader Tom Fuller.

As Havoc, Richter has what Broadway habituĂ©s call “the eleven o’clock song,” the number that starts quiet and sad and builds to gutsy and triumphant. 

As far as triumph and defeat go, however, Marathon is lamentably unbalanced. A Chorus Line creates suspense with a half-and-half combination — combining the tension with fantastic dancing. The Marathon dancing is mostly nightmarish. And the emotional ratio is about one percent triumph and 99 per cent defeat.

Photo Gallery

Noah Mitchel and Mary Beth Luckenbaugh Bruce Rauscher, Dan Corey, Alex Perez
Noah Mitchel and Mary Beth Luckenbaugh
Bruce Rauscher, Dan Corey, Alex Perez
Carolyn Myers, Ann De Michele, Jamie Ogden, Chanukah Jane Lilburne Steve Lebens, Frank Britton, Dan Corey, Ann De Michele, Chanukah Jane Lilburne
Carolyn Myers, Ann De Michele, Jamie Ogden, Chanukah Jane Lilburne
Steve Lebens, Frank Britton, Dan Corey, Ann De Michele, Chanukah Jane Lilburne
Alex Witherow, Ann De Michele, Frank Britton Steve Lebens and Jennifer Richter
Alex Witherow, Ann De Michele, Frank Britton
Steve Lebens and Jennifer Richter
Jennifer Richter as June; Bruce Rauscher as Patsy
Jennifer Richter as June; Bruce Rauscher as Patsy

Photos by Dennis Deloria

Cast

  • Beezer Calloway, roustabout: John Klenk
  • Pete Petrillo, roustabout: Paul Alan Hogan
  • Fletch Winston, band Leader: Tom Fuller
  • Ruddy Blaine, MC: Bill Karukas
  • Radio Technician: Viktor Tchevyenko
  • Clyde Dankle: Craig Miller
  • Eve Adamansky: Jane E. Petkofsky
  • Rita Marimba: Mary Beth Luckenbaugh
  • Pinky/Nurse Judy Nance: Carrie Daniel
  • Mr. Myron Thorne: Colin Davies
  • “Sugar Hips” Johnson: Carolyn Myers
  • Lusty “One Punch” Hutchinson: Joshua Rosenblum
  • Health Inspector/Dick Billingsley/Hinky Blaine: Noah Mitchel
  • Scotty Schwartz: Steve Lebens
  • Pearl Schwartz: Emily Thompson
  • Robin Kaye/Clarice: Aviva Pressman
  • Bozo Bazoo: Daniel Corey
  • Abe O’Brien: Alex Perez EMC
  • Michelle “The Mick” Swensen: Jamie Ogden
  • Helen Bazoo: Chanukah Jane Lilburne
  • Ida Gulliver/Angel: Rachel M. Loose
  • Red Gulliver/Rod: Jared Mason Murray
  • Joe Burnett: Robby Priego
  • Patsy McCarthy Wellington van Westonfarb: Bruce Alan Rauscher
  • June/Jean Reed (June Havoc): Jennifer Richter
  • Flo Madison: Elizabeth Hallacy EMC
  • Al Madison: Terrence J. Bennett
  • Rae Wilson: Ann DeMichele
  • Schnozz Wilson: Frank Britton
  • Mr. James: Alex Witherow
  • Mrs Beckett-Jones: Deborah Rinn Critzer
  • Magdalena Sanger: Karin Rosnizeck
  • Additional Dancers and Audience Members: Michael deBois, Jean Fallow, Sharon Golden, Jimmy Haritos, Chris Linn, Kakuti Lin, Anna Shpak

Musicians

  • Piano: Tom Fuller
  • Reeds: Dana Gardner
  • Trumpet: Terry Bradley, Scott Firestone
  • Trombone: Chris Bradley, Scott Fridy, Bill Wright
  • Ukulele: Paul Alan Hogan
  • Bass: jared Cazel, Nicci Buzan
  • Drums: Alice Fuller

Production Staff

  • Director: Jack Marshall
  • Musical Director: Tom Fuller
  • Musical Arrangements: Loren Platzman
  • Assistant Director: Kathy Fuller
  • Production Manager: Rebecca Christy
  • Assistant Production Manager: Rhonda Hill
  • Stage Manager: Lindsey E. Moore
  • Set Design and Construction: Michael deBois
  • Set Construction Crew: Gene Christy, Peter Finkel, William Kolodrubetz, Bill Wisniewski
  • Costume Design: Rip Claussen
  • Lighting Design: David Walden
  • Sound Design: Ed Moser
  • Properties Design: Eleanor Gomberg
  • Choreographer: Sherry Chriss
  • Tap-Off Choreography: Sherry Chriss, Elizabeth Hallacy, Mary Beth luckenbaugh, Jamie Ogden, Carrie Daniel, Ann De Michele, Chanukah Jane Lilburne, Rachel Loose
  • Sound Board Operator: Garrett Wood
  • Stagehand: Grant Marshall
  • Costumer Assistant: Pamela Osbourne
  • Managing Director: Paige Gold
  • Publicist: Emily Morrison
  • Program and Graphic Design: Michael Sherman
  • Photography Dennis Deloria, Johannes Markus
  • House Manager: Joli Provost

Disclaimer: American Century Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8412.

lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

One Response »

  1. Interesting take. A Chorus Line, of course, is completely filled with stereotypes, is absurdly melodramatic, and is nonsense besides: no audition was ever held like that. Marathon .’33 is accurate, and the audience learns about as much, actually more, about the participants as the spectators would in an actual dance marathon…which was the idea of Havoc’s play—to give playgoers the experience, as well as the guilt, of the people who paid money to watch starving fellow citizens dance til they dropped.

    Sorry that she didn’t concoct a phony happy finale like A Chorus Line’s—she was teaching as something about the seamy side of desperation—so the critic could go home humming. Similarly the story–stories, actually, about ten of them, are subordinate to recreating a genuine American horror story—with music, songs, jokes and tap-dancing—that is all true, and that we forget at our peril.

    Joe missed all this. Most of the production’s overflow audience, however, seems to get it.

    (Editor’s note: Jack is the director of this production.)