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TALES OF THE DRIVEN Manny Fried Playhouse/Subversive Theatre
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Feb 4, 2019, 12:57
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Through February 23
TALES OF THE DRIVEN Manny Fried Playhouse/Subversive Theatre

Kurt Schneiderman’s “Tales of the Driven” is straight out of Subversive Theatre’s DNA.
It’s a tale of a wandering group of theatre performers who turn up in a small town somewhere in England which is dominated by a strong and controlling priest and over a few days destroys much of that sense of control.
It pushes all the buttons for the lefty theatre company, good good guys, a really bad guy and fine circus performers.
Schneiderman writes in the program he has spent three decades pondering inequality and speaking out against it, here on the stage.
The theater company is clearly based on the many which wandered across medieval England, whether doing the plays of Shakespeare or the much earlier Mystery plays.
Here, it mixes the two, with Orion (David Wysocki) quoting “Hamlet,” while Father Dudney (Lawrence Rowswell) hires them to do a didactic play in his church, along with Sunday Mass.
The show is built around the village blacksmith, Smith (Elliot Fox) and his son Boy (Nigel Williams), who have just buried their daughter and sister, dead in the local river.
The smith and his smithy are where the acting company starts off because they have broken a wheel of their cart while on the way to a popular harvest festival nearby.
They’re broke and need to stage a show to raise repair money, here both with a public performance and the church show.
It’s a company with all the requisite parts, whether Orion or manager Cepheus (Bill Baldwin) or the assorted performers on stage.
Director Schneiderman has performers from The Birds Nest Circus Arts to provide the jugglers and acrobats at the core of the (imagined) theater company.
The central character in all of this is Orion, a critic of the established order, who uses the church play to attack the established order and winds up in jail, probably facing a lethal heresy trial. Schneiderman takes a religious parable and then twists it to tell a different story and message.
The show is set in the time when religious issues are potentially murderous, with the Tudors seizing control of the Catholic Church and turning it into the Established Church, controlled by the State and its secret police.
What all of this does is expose a deadly secret in this small village and set up the crucial scene, as Boy and Smith confront the death of the sister and daughter and challenge the established order and raise doubts.
That confrontation is actually the best part of a play which needs some work, since it drags in places, even for a relatively short play.
Schneiderman needs to decide if he wants the dialogue in modern English or some variant of Shakespeare, not the clanging mix of both he uses here.
The production does suffer from a standard Subversive problem, an uneven cast.
Here, Wysocki and Rowswell are the best part of the show.
Baldwin is the overdone ringmaster of this show and Williams just doesn’t have the diction his key role requires.
As “yon set designer,” Chris Wilson contributed a strong and effective set for the show.
The circus performers really help the overall effort.
A local script and an interesting premise make up for the pervasive problems of this production of “Tales of the Driven.”

A.W.

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