American Century Theatre J.B.By Mark Lee Adams • Sep 26th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
American Century Theatre
Gunston Arts Center, Arlington, VA
Through October 6th
2:00 with one intermission
$25-$40/$32-$37 Seniors, students, military
Reviewed September 22nd, 2012
J.B. is a play by Archibald MacLeish. This play won the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in the late 1950’s. It was written in a time when the theatre goers were more tolerant of the verse presentation of this production. (You can read about the play and the director’s vision of the play in the notes below.) The Director, Rip Claassen, manages to effectively have his cast deliver this show with a more realistic touch. Even with the circus atmosphere and costumes, this production delivers MacLeish’s message.
The story of Job is one which we all need to reflect on in our own lives. Especially during hard times we all begin to question our beliefs. This is when they are most strongly tested. American Century Theater has put on a very a successful production.
What makes this show a success rests on the direction of Rip Claassen, the powerful acting of Bruce Alan Rauscher (Nickles) who has a full grasp of the nuance of his character and his character’s message and its delivery. Steve Lebens (Mr. Zuss) is strong and founded in his portrayal of the character. John Tweel in the title role (J.B.) pushes his character’s emotional requirements to the edge without allowing himself to go overboard. No easy task, indeed, but he carries it off professionally. These three actors carry the message with a complete professional delivery.
Along with these actors, American Century Theater has employed the artistic talents of Lorraine Slattery. As the Costume Designer Ms. Slatttery has filled the black box theatre joyously into a colorful and vibrant circus as well as charred costumes of the tested J.B. & Sarah. Many costumes are required and she has met each with her own touch. This show is a great display of what costuming can do to add to MacLeish’s play or any other play, the director’s vision as well as her own.
The set design is by Trena Weiss-Null. This simple yet complicated set is quite effective. The choreography of the set changes are a wonderful addition to the flow of the story. Lighting design by Zachary A. Dalton is also a strong piece to the puzzle of this production. Very effective use of your lighting design. Properties design make this production fun and effective. This was playfully carried out by the work of Michelle Hitchcock. Sound Design by Ed Moser is quite effective.
Other notable performances are the talents of Julie Roundtree (Sarah). Although she looks a tad young for the role, she portrays her character with physical faculty and ability of a seasoned pro. Also, Joshua Dick and Joshua Aaron Rosenblum are playing the roles of (First & Second Roustabout/Soldier/Reporter/Police Officer/Firefighter) and play each of their characters well. Mr. Rosenblum carried off his soldier with a wonderful portrayal of what he was attempting to convey. Mr. Dick’s intensity can be a tad loud but overall his performance was exemplary.
Special mention goes to ensemble cast of this show. Often forgotten in productions, this ensemble not only helps carry the story along, but also had each actor’s moments quite effectively. The circus characters were fun. In the various roles this ensemble was called upon to perform, a job well done. There were times, however, when the projection was low. This made some of the lines very hard to hear. I’m sure this can be corrected easily enough.
artistic Director’s Notes
J.B. (1958) by Archibald MacLeish
How is J.B. like a passenger pigeon?
Like one of the large, gray, tasty game birds that once were so abundant in this country that flocks of them literally could blot out the sun, Archibald MacLeish’s masterpiece is a member of an extinct species, or nearly so. The species is verse drama, an ancient form that once was dominant in stage art and is now scorned and forgotten, except when impressive theatrical fossils and beautiful preserved specimens are on display.
J.B. was like a lone survivor even when it premiered in 1958. The verse drama had been slowly dying since the seventeenth century, and its fatal disease was realism. Once William Shakespeare started writing some of his plays’ comic scenes in prose, the deadly virus was loose: the Bard recognized that prose was the tool of the realist, while verse was the method of the romantic, the dream-weaver, the troubadour, and, for a few more centuries at least, the tragedian.
But by the 1820s, the writing was on the wall as well as the stage. The French writer Stendhal insisted that prose was the only possible medium for an effective tragedy. Henrik Ibsen abandoned verse as a medium after Peer Gynt in 1867, believing that poetry made drama dealing with contemporary issues less immediate and involving. He wrote:
Verse has been most injurious to the art of drama . . . . It is improbable that verse will be employed to any extent worth mentioning in the drama of the immediate future since the aims of the dramatists of the future are almost certain to be incompatible with it.
The writer of A Doll’s House was largely correct, but this dying species proved hardier than most. Even in America, where everything is always modern, talented playwrights periodically employed the power of verse long after Martha, the last passenger pigeon, died alone in 1914. There was MacLeish, of course, who was a poet who wrote plays rather than a playwright who used poetry, and Maxwell Anderson, who had consistent Broadway success with his plays in the Thirties and Forties written in blank verse: The Wingless Victory, High Tor, Winterset, Mary of Scotland, Elizabeth the Queen, Key Largo, and Anne of the Thousand Days. (Meanwhile, poet T.S. Eliot was holding down the verse drama fort in England, with plays like The Cocktail Party.) MacLeish’s J.B., appearing in 1958, was a late and vigorous example of the rare breed, as was William Alfred’s Hogan’s Goat, an Off-Broadway historical drama that was named the Best Play of the 1965–1966 Season.
Since then, the species has been the victim of deadly predators. TV has embedded realism in the public’s consciousness so firmly that so-called reality shows seem more like drama than High Tor, and the use of poetry on stage has retreated almost solely to musicals, which aren’t exactly thriving either (the movie variety has pretty much vanished).
Nonetheless, the best of verse drama, when a theater company has the courage to produce it, is still capable of showing how beautiful and high-flying this exotic species could be in its prime.
Somewhere, Martha is cooing.
–Jack Marshall, Artistic Director
More than half a century after this play was written, society finds itself coping with the same problems, but on an even larger scale. MacLeish’s comforters–representing Religion, History, and Science–are still with us, and still as useless as he depicted them. Like many in our society, they listen only to themselves and refuse to reach out for common ground. In truth, the three must be understood in harmony for real understanding to come.
As long as our leaders refuse to listen to others’ facts and theories, we are doomed to not understand the world around us. “A scientist, a clergyman, and a historian walk into a . . . .” Unfortunately, the joke is on us. Only when viewed in combination can science, faith, and history inform one another and lead humanity to possible answers. When people are convinced the End Times are coming, or conversely that there are no mysteries that science cannot answer, then we have a problem.
MacLeish saw the horrors of the two world wars and wrote in response to them. I chose to undertake this play because I have seen 9/11, the Oklahoma bombing, the Family Research Council, Reverend Phelps, and other horrors committed in the names of the Comforters, and I realize Mr. MacLeish’s lesson has not been learned.
–Rip Claassen, Director
Photos by Dennis Deloria
- J.B: John Tweel
- Sarah: Julie Roundtree
- Mr. Zuss: Steve Lebens
- Nickles: Bruce Allen Rauscher
- Mrs. Adams: Allison Turkel
- Mrs. Botticelli: Kecia A. Campbell
- Mrs. Lesurs: Kathryn Browning
- Mrs. Murphy: Jennifer Brown
- Jolly/Girl: Loren Bray
- Miss Mabel/Mary: Chanukah Jane Lilburne
- David: Zak Gordon, Jakob Sudberry
- Jonathan/Boy: Sam Landa
- Rebecca: Caroline Frias
- Ruth: Kaiya Gordon
- First Roustabout/Soldier/Reporter/Police Officer/Firefighter: Joshua Dick
- Second Roustabout/Soldier/Reporter/Police Officer/Firefighter: Josua Aaron Rosenblum
- Bildad: Robert Heinly
- Eliphaz: Evan crump
- Zophar: George Timberlani
- Distant Voice: John Dooley
- Director: Rip Claassen
- Stage Manager: Kathryn Dooley
- Assistant Stage Manager: Joanna Schoenborn
- Scenic Design: Trena Weiss-Null
- Lighting Design: Zachary A. Dalton
- Master Electrician: Jeffrey D. Porter
- Sound Design: Ed Moser
- Costume Design: Lorraine Slattery
- Properties Design: Michelle Hitchcock
- Wardrobe Handler/Child Monitor/Animal Wrangler: Lindsey E. Moore
- Publicist: Emily Morrison
- Photography: Dennis Deloria, Johannes Markus
- Program Design: Michael Sherman
- House Manager: Joli Provost
Disclaimer: American Century Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8669.
Mark Lee Adams has been involved in theatre for over 40 years in the local Washington DC Metro area as well as NYC and London England. Mark has performed at the Dramatist Guild Theatre on Broadway, at The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre Off-Broadway. His credits include work in many local theatres as well: The Folger Theatre Group, Arena Stage, New Playwrights Theatre, 7th Street Players, The Keegan Theatre, The American Century Theatre, The Journeyman Theatre, ASTA Theatre, The Hayloft Dinner Theatre (Associate Producer), The Lazy Susan Theatre, Discovery Channels, "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (Frankenstein) with Donald Sutherland. London, England credits include work at: The Duke of York Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre, The Questors Theatre, The British Embassy Players. Mark is a graduate of The Drama Studio, London, England. Mark is also a narrator of audio books for Gildan Audio: “True North”, by Bill George; “Never Give Up”, by Tedy Bruschi and “Five Minds for the Future”, by Howard Gardner among them. Mark currently teaches Advanced Acting at The Little Theatre of Alexandria and still performs locally in many theatres.