Thursday, August 17, 2006

'MacBird!' to Open TACT Season

The American Century Theatre (TACT), under the artistic direction of Jack Marshall, has announced its new season, to be performed in Arlington. The Washington Post has a listing of all of the company's shows for 2006-07, which include Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, Jason Miller's That Championship Season, and an evening of Depression-era one-act plays. In addition, according to a press release received last month,

The theater also announced that its short-run “Rescues” production will be the Edna Ferber/George S. Kauffman back-stage pot-boiler Stage Door. “Rescues” is TACT’s staged reading series bringing to audiences the delights of great shows that have become nearly impossible to produce because of their cast size and technical requirements.
Opening the new season will be the 1960s-vintage satire Macbird!. Here's TACT's news release announcing Macbird:

American Century Theater Mounts New Production of
MacBird! The Controversial 1960’s Anti-War Satire: Opens September 8

No stage comedy in the past 50 years caused the uproar to compare to MacBird! Now, as international events, domestic unrest and a looming mid-term election are raising many of the same issues that inspired Barbara Garson to write her ground-breaking Viet Nam era comedy, the American Century Theater is bringing it back to its natural habitat: the Washington, D.C. area.

It was February 1967, before Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, before The National Lampoon and “The Onion." Gentle satire like Vaughn Meader’s portrayal of the Kennedy’s was considered cutting edge; Bob Hope was still getting laughs talking about politicians’ golf games. Something was in the air and Garson saw it coming: a generation reeling from JFK’s assassination with lingering doubts about a cover-up, an increasingly politically energized population, and a hunger for rougher forms of humor.

The Viet Nam war and all the tumult of the ‘60’s was the catalyst for MacBird! Lyndon Baines Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964, propelled by the grand social agenda of the Great Society, had turned sour as the body count had risen. American college campuses were irrupting, pro and anti demonstrations being organized, and the public debate over Viet Nam getting louder, angrier, and more violent. Johnson himself was considered by too many a perfect subject for political theater…the drawl and the outsized features.

Johnson took the full brunt of satirist Garson’s murderous satire. With Stacy Keach in the starring role, MacBird! opened Off-Broadway to a chorus of boos from the establishment. Questioning a President’s integrity and humanity in the midst of a war? Implying that all parties and participants in the American political process are corrupt or corrupted?

MacBird! is a double satire, as Garson deftly mocked Shakespeare and his interpreters while transforming the tragedy of the Scottish king into a bitterly comic tale of treachery and ambition in LBJ’s Washington. MacBird! may strike the ear and eye differently today, its comedic tone, which seemed so harsh in 1967, may now be in tune with the riffs of Charles Black and Chris Rock.

Most of the Garson’s targets are firmly embedded in the nation’s historical memories: Ladybird Johnson, here styled as Lady MacBeth, the “Ken O’Dunc” brothers, John, Robert and Teddy, Earl Warren and Adlai Stevenson. And looming above them all, MacBird himself; the profane, conflicted, tragically flawed Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Director Ellen Dempsey (It Had to Be You) has cast two outstanding actors in the roles of the MacBirds. TACT stalwart Joe Cronin, outstanding in such productions as Mister Roberts, Moby Dick Rehearsed, The Seven Year Itch and others, tackles the mammoth role of “MacBird”. “Joe has all the tools for this role,” notes Dempsey. “The comic and satirical skills, the facility with dialects, the comfort with Shakespeare, and a savvy knowledge of history.” The part of “Lady MacBird” has been entrusted to Charlotte Akin, making her first appearance with the company. She has built a sterling reputation in the Capital area with her outstanding and varied work with the Keagan, Scena and Fountainhead Theaters in such roles as “Big Mama” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman.

The large supporting cast includes: J.J. Area, Colby Codding, Joshua Drew, Brian Crane, Suzanne Edgar, Theo Hadjimichael, Steve McWilliams, Anne Nottage, Alex Perez, Robert Rector, Theodore M. Snead, Maura Stadem, Dwane Starlin and Jay Tilley.

Producer Rhonda Hill has put together a cracker-jack group of artisans including Tom Kennedy, set designer, Ayun Fedorcha, lighting designer, Matt Otto, sound designer, Jennifer Tardiff, costume designer and Eleanor Gomberg, props.

MacBird! runs September 8-October 7, 2006. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 8 PM and 2:30 matinees on September 10, 17, 24, 30 and October 7. Performances are at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206. Visit: or call 703-553-8782. Tickets are $23-29.

The American Century Theater is a 501(c)(3) professional nonprofit theater company dedicated to producing great, important, and neglected 20th Century American plays and playwrights. TACT is funded in part by the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, the Virginia Commission for the Arts and numerous foundations and many generous donors.
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I am looking forward to seeing how a satire like MacBird! holds up after almost four decades, and whether its commentary is relevant to today's political and foreign policy situation.

1 comment:

Tim said...

I've read MacBird, and have a pretty good idea how it holds up.