By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
Somewhere in the middle of last week, I was watching a cable news show when the moderator, about to launch into a description of Trump’s latest crime, (Ukraine? Doral? EPA?) exhaled and let her shoulders sag for just a moment. You could easily read the subtext “How many more times am I going to have to read another one of these stories?” And I wondered if other newspeople feel the same way. Trump may be finding ever new ways to pulverize the Constitution, but – at the end of the day – it’s his routine pulverization and how numbing having to narrate it day after day after day. (And how dismaying to put the word “routine” in front of “pulverization”?)
But you know what I don’t care because I’ve got my own problems.
The Fantasticks continues through October 27 at The Theatre Factory, Trafford. 412/374-9200. www.TheTheatreFactory.com
As I was sitting in my seat at the Theatre Factory for their production of the musical, The Fantasticks, I found myself wondering how many times in the last few eons I’ve seen The Fantasticks and, more to the point, how many times have I written my thoughts about each production and shared them with the good people of Pittsburgh?
I’d probably be a little nauseated right now at the number – if it weren’t the case that I happen to enjoy The Fantasticks, a lot, and believe that everyone should see a production every two or so years. So here comes the Theatre Factory stepping up to the plate and while it’s maybe not a home run, it’s a respectable double. (I’m using sports metaphors now? Trump’s corruptions have really screwed me up.)
Just in case you don’t know The Fantasticks opened off-Broadway in 1960 and, famously, closed in 2002 – after 17,162 performances! – making it the longest-running musical in the world. (The show was later revived in New York in 2006 and ran for an additional 10 years.)
One of the reasons it’s been around and stays around is because of its simplicity. It’s the story of Luisa and Matt, two youngsters who live next door to each other. Their fathers want them to fall in love but knowing the kids won’t if encouraged stage a pretend feud as a way to keep them apart yet aching to be near. This, along with a few other obstacles, have the desired effect and find Luisa and Matt in love at the fade-out. There area eight performers in all, which is tiny in musical theater terms, a small band and a set as simple as simple can be.
But there’s a trick to The Fantasticks as well. All of that simplicity is incredibly deceptive. The show isn’t a love story, well not only a love story; it’s also about the peace that can come from really seeing the truth of your life … and maybe also the concurrent ineffable sadness. Any worthy production The Fantasticks will venture beyond the charming surface to explore the bittersweet underneath.
And that’s the biggest trap of The Fantasticks – it all has to seem utterly affectless and innocent. This show needs to feel like it’s just springing up in front of us, that this happening is just happening and has never happened before and won’t ever again.
The Theatre Factory director James Critchfield, especially in the first act, understands this paradox and gives the adorned nature of the material it’s due. He’s rounded up a very pleasing cast and has them play without giving in to the temptation of Big, Showy Performances: Caitlyn Cherry, Bill Fisher, Joseph Milliren, Carolyn Jerz, Ty Kinter, Tom Sarp, Bradley Keller, and John Henry Steelman. Each has their onstage moments and each does precisely what’s needed, neatly avoiding show biz razzle-dazzle.
The second act isn’t quite as successful; it felt maybe a bit under-rehearsed or perhaps uninvested. I’m not entirely sure why, but it seemed as if the production was struggling to keep up with the material.
That could clear itself up with repeated performances and you might not even notice when you go for your semi-annual Fantasticks pilgrimage. Of course, you’re going, if for no other reason it’s one night off from watching America’s press corps meltdown.