Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Cradle Will Rock
The current production is directed by American theatre and film luminary Robert Benedetti. He has chosen to give the Santa Fe patrons the experience of attending the play as the original audience did that June night in 1937 when the WPA (Works Projects Administration) locked the company out of Maxine Elliott's Theatre on 39th Street in Manhattan. The staunchly pro-union play was deemed too socialist by right wing members of Congress who threatened the funding and the very existence of the Federal Theatre Project. Hot young director Orson Wells and his producer, John Houseman, cried censorship and declared that the show must go on, no matter what.
Audience members in Santa Fe waited outside the theatre just as the audience did 84 years ago in New York City at the first performance. Actors from the company entertained them with labor songs and Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" until Wells and Houseman arrived to say they had found an alternative space for the performance. In 1937, the audience followed the company twenty-one blocks uptown to the Venice Theatre. In Santa Fe, the loading dock doors opened to admit everyone into the theatre.
As in the original production, the play begins with actors singing from seats in the house. They migrate to the stage as the play develops. Composer Marc Blitzstein played the piano on stage in the original production; no sets or costumes were available. The Actors Lab utilizes the theatre space without embellishment with a raised platform for the piano and long benches for set pieces. Both productions are sparse but the Santa Fe effort keeps the production values high. Costumes are simple streetwear of the 1930s and are spot-on for each character. Lighting is utilized well to bring focus within scenes.
The play of ten scenes with fifteen songs and two reprises is agitprop musical theatre/opera as political commentary. The characters are broadly drawn, corporate greed is lampooned, and the little guy, the average Joe, is the virtuous hero. At the height of the Depression, in hard times, this message was gaining traction. Perhaps this play speaks to contemporary audiences in the same way.
Eleven talented cast members take multiple roles. Most of the actors have moments to shine and the ensemble work is outstanding. They manage to play broadly drawn cardboard cut-outs and still bring poignant moments of human feeling to the stage. Brent Black as the hero and Kent Kirkpatrick as the villain are particularly strong, as are Danielle Louise Reddick and Jody Durham.
The 90-minute production without intermission is fast paced, thought provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable. Mr. Benedetti brings his vast experience in academic and professional theatre, and in Hollywood as a writer, director and actor, to this historical gem. Back in his Hollywood days he had a conversation with John Houseman about what actually happened that night in 1937. He and his company are to be congratulated on their impressive work. This is truly an immersive night at the theatre.
The Cradle Will Rock runs through September 19, 2021, at the New Mexico Actors Lab, 1213 Parkway Dr., Santa Fe NM. (In the former Adobe Rose Theater). Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m. General Admission $25, Students $5. For tickets and information visit www.nmactorslab.com or call 505-395-6576.
Directed and Designed by Robert Benedetti, Music Director Robert Krupnick. Cast: Brent Black, Jody Durham, Danielle Louise Reddick, Kent Kirkpatrick, Aaron Leventman, Tyler Nunez, Don Converse, Talia Pura, Mickey Dolan, Ann Rylance and Robert Krupnick.