Playwright Forum's production of Dancing at the Revolution is, in movie terms, what you call a sleeper. It's an absolutely wonderful show that will only be seen by a handful of people. Alas, as is the case with almost all live theatre, when this show finishes its run at TheatreWorks, there will be no video to rent at Blockbuster, Midtown, or even Black Lodge. On the bright side, there are still three opportunities to catch this unusual biography before it goes away.
Emma Goldman was in many ways a patriot. Whether you buy into her anarchistic ideas or not, she was a Thomas Paine of her age, minus Tom's little drinking problem. She fought for fair labor practices, and that made her the enemy of big business. And when America entered into World War I, she spoke out against conscription, which made her an enemy of the state. Her dovish arguments were potent. "It's the old men who start the war, why should our children fight it?" she asked, cautioning against jingoism. Words like "patriotism" are hollow and abstract, she noted, in contrast to the face of a child, which is all too real. These opinions landed Emma in jail, suggesting that when it comes to the open exchange of ideas, the land of the free and the home of the brave are often too entirely different locations.
Dancing at the Revolution, Michael Bettencourt's clever commentary on both the life of Emma Goldman and the Fifth Amendment, never once seems pedantic or heavy-handed in its exploration of these rather heady themes. Focusing on Goldman's time in prison, it is a fine example of how malleable the art of theatre can be and how seemingly serious subject matter can still be a great deal of fun.
Director Billy M. Pullen has fully grasped the spirit and the style of Bettencourt's overtly theatrical text. To say much more than that would spoil the surprises. He has likewise assembled a tight ensemble of committed actors who have obviously taken the work as seriously as the director. Exuding charisma, Cheryl Wolder does a star turn as Goldman. In her hands the anarchist becomes a self-deprecating schlub with a magnificent gift for communication. The real star of the show, however, is the ensemble. Though the performers range from seasoned vets to virtual novices, this group works together like a well-oiled machine.
Through September 1st.