Sign in the Six O’Clock Sky by Arnold Schulman
Famed Arnold Schulman who wrote many hit movies (eg: Goodbye Columbus) never knew then that he’d have his latest stage play produced in New York City at age 94.
Schulman, alive and well now, and at the pinnacle of creativity, can look upon his accomplishments with satisfaction completing his legendary career with new work in “live” theater.
Encapsulating the play from program notes: “ Four 1933 performers find themselves in a strange landscape, not knowing how they got there. They rehearse their songs and dances to pass the time. They’re visited by two time-travelers.” This alone summons the imagination; and Xoregos does not disappoint, as she adds music and dance to Schulman’s fantastical script.
Suspending disbelief is the phrase we use in attending theater; and Schulman asks that we go even further to a world without time, into a funny/sad place of surreality, touched by lingo from the early part of the 20th century. Yet, the Carnies speak of philosophy and poetry, making us believe these precious notions will survive even on the barest plane.
Our characters include a blind CEO of the troupe—a pianist (David Shakopi), an Aphrodite (Jessica Lorion), a Strong Man (Michael Giorgio), and a Human Pin Cushion (Robert Homeyer). Our one gorgeous (slightly over the hill) woman and two suitors, here, make the theatrical trick that always works—a triangle where there’s always ‘one man out.’ The mood switches when a handsome hedge fund mogul arrives with his Rolex watch and designer suit (Michael A. Green.) And we won’t ruin the experience revealing the final visitor (Michael Neal Johnson) who brings another level of understanding. All actors do a terrific job tethering real emotions to a nonrealistic existence.
Director Xoregos had a big job, taking a script with a Beckett tone, extending it with “show biz” attributes, and moving philosophy into entertaining dialogue.
Watching this two-hour spectacle, with its abstract set and vivid language, I thought how lucky the city is to have a center for productions like this. A poet once said, “The only risk is not taking chances.” Veteran director Xoregos, with a number of successes notched on her belt, is unafraid and, throughout her career, welcomes the text with reverence. I’ve seen other directors who view the page as a place to jump off, to create different environments. Not Shela Xoregos. She’s faithful to the word, and will be remembered for that. What a gift she’s given Arnold Schulman who gave the world so many gifts of his own.
Click the link for information about the playwright.
Theater for the New City, Cino Theater
155 First Avenue at 10 street, Lower Manhattan. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8pm, through March 31.
Grace Cavalieri is founder and producer of public radio’s “The Poet and the Poem,” celebrating 42 years on-air, now from The Library of Congress.
© Grace Cavalieri, 2019