Thursday, November 1, 2012

Get me a Surrey With a Fringe on Top so I can ride right out of here!

Last night I had the dubious pleasure of helping my parents take their Over 60s Club to an Am Dram production of Oklahoma! (the exclamation mark goes with the name of the musical, it's nothing to do with me)  The dubious pleasure was not taking the seniors, who were a marvellous bunch; lively, fun and very, very drole, it was the prospect of a night of Am Dram.  I'm no fan of Am Dram to be honest, although also to be honest, I did my fair share of it in my younger days. 

The trouble with amateur productions is that they have to make use of the actors they have, rather than being able to cast people who are suitable for the role. The end result was that Miss Laurey was in her 40s, an old maid by the standards of the day and very unlikely to find herself a suitor. Curly McLain was suitably curly but with a good few years on Miss Laurey and with 'Am Dram' make up that made him look a bit like one of Santa's elves on a day pass, I wasn't convinced.  The 'lonely, disturbed farm hand,' Jud Tyler seemed to have been modelled on Norman Bates crossed with Hannibal Lecter and used every Am Dram 'I'm a mental looney' trick in the book. Meanwhile, Will Parker, the cowboy love interest of Ado Annie, the original good time girl, was camp as a row of tents round a cowpoke's campfire and minced around the stage like Larry Grayson on speed.

The triumph of  the evening was Aunt Eller, who was perfect and even managed a very passable American accent and, despite her years, could certainly still tap dance.

Things got off to a bad start when the curtains opened to find Aunt Eller on her rocking chair doing some turn of the century domestic chore while a soundtrack of clucking chickens played.  I can only assume that Aunt Eller was one of the first American battery farmers as the sound of the chooks was deafening. She indicated her displeasure to the conductor/special effects supervisor with a look that would freeze a nuclear winter and the battery farm was quickly reduced to a backyard flock.

She rocked and pounded a stick in a bucket...and rocked and pounded her stick in a bucket...and rocked some more, looking more and more furious. Surely this was Curly's cue to breeze in singing 'Oh what a beautiful morning'?  Maybe it wasn't that beautiful. After a ridiculously long pause where the orchestra reprised their overture, Aunt Eller ad-libbed and strode off to remind Curly that the morning was indeed beautiful and he'd better move his cowboy ass and come and sing about it.

When he eventually did, sing that is, he had a pleasant voice, which was A Good Thing but the comedy pink cheeks were definitely not.

Miss Laurey arrived, all 40 odd years of her, looking like a caricature of American Farm Girl from the Turn Of  The Century. Think oversized dungarees and 'Dorothy' hair.  For anyone not familiar with the story, it basically revolves around a Box Social, where the young girls make a lunch which they put in a lunchbox and the men get to bid on them. If they win, they get to eat lunch with the girl who made it.  Very politically incorrect these days. That's it in a very small nutshell. There are of course various subplots; Ado Annie and Ali Hakim, Ado Annie and Will Palmer (the slapper), Curley and Jud (no, not like that although they do have a very bizarre scene in Jud's bedroom where Curley tells him his rope is perfect for hanging oneself. Auto-erotica perhaps?)

But back to the plot.  Poor Curly wanted to go to the box social with Miss Laurey. He'd even hired a 'Surrey With A Fringe on Top.'  I mean, what girl could say No? Miss Laurey, that's who, the little minx. She's agreed to go with the pathologically insane Jud Tyler, who was now channelling Quasimodo as well as Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter. What on earth was she thinking? But of course she really wanted to go with Curly, she was just playing hard to get.

Light relief came in the form of Ali Hakim, a comedy Persian peddler coated in dark pancake but wearing an oddly 21st Century-looking suit.  He had clearly based his character on Omid Djalili with the accent of Fabio Capello.  It was a bizarre thing.

Much of Act I is taken up with Miss Laurey trying to convince herself/Aunt Eller/Curley that she is not in love with him while Curly tries her to convince her that she is. It was tempting to just stand up and shout 'Oh for God's sake, you know you want him!' after an hour of will she/won't she.  Poor Miss Laurey is so confused that she buys a magic potion from Ali Hakim that he tells her will make her decide. I mean, what choice is there between a rosy cheeked cowboy and a psycho? It's not that hard.

The laudunum in the potion sends her to sleep during which she has a long dream ballet sequence, ballet of course being very popular among the pioneers on the Frontier.  The real reason is that they have to change the scenery and it's a bit complicated so we have to have fifteen minutes of ballet to cover it up. Finally, after a marathon two hours of Am Dram, Scene I ended. The next twenty minutes was spent trying to prise the poor seniors out of their seats, their artificial knees and bad backs having locked in place, and then try to beat the stampede for the toilets. Really, two hours was far too long for them and some needed a good few glasses of restorative wine in the interval to get them through Act II.

Poor Jud Tyler had obviously used the interval to descend into full-blown Am Dram madness and was now stalking around the stage with fists clenched and eyes a-rollin'.  The end result was that every time he came on, my mum and I got a terrible fit of the giggles. As it was a special Senior Citizen's preview the theatre was only about half full so we had to try and mask our giggles. I ended up sounding a bit like Basil Brush on acid.  But it wasn't just us. The majority of the audience descended into very untheatrical fits of the laughter and as I looked round I noticed a sea of shaking shoulders and handkerchieves stuffed in mouths.  I honestly thought I would have to leave the auditorium.

Needless to say, by the time the box social came round, Jud was fully mad and determined to win Mis Laurey's lunchbox in more ways than one. Curly had brought along his loose change but unfortunately for him, his adversary had been saving his pay for years and had managed to amass a small fortune by local standards.  Poor Curly was forced to sell his horse, his saddle and his gun to outbid Jud, who, whatever Curly came up with seemed to have 'two bits more'. It was a bit like eBay. You know, those irritating auctions when someone outbids you by a few pence. But in the end, Curly gets his girlie and within minutes they are married. Fast movers those Pioneers!

But Jud isn't taking this lying down.. or even standing up and dragging his left leg and he gatecrashes the wedding, pulls a knife on Curly, they fight, he gets killed, yada, yada, yada.  It all ends with a rousing chorus of Oklahoma, OK! OK, of course being the two letter code for Oklahoma, you know, like NY for New York or TX for Texas. How clever of them to come up with a system that didn't even come into proper usage until 1963.

My highlights were the deliciously camp cowboy dances which were very YMCA and a young girl who clearly wasn't much of a dancer and spent most of the production looking terribly serious until she remembered to smile and she would then grimace at the audience for about 30 seonds before going back to her serious look.

We were eventually back on the bus home at 11pm after what seemed like the longest performance of Oklahoma! ever. It lived up to it's name. It was Oklahoma and it was OK.

That's me, trying to escape...


libby said...

You made a memory - a memory shared with your mum - where you laughed and had a good time. Result.

Perpetua said...

ROFL!!! I feel your pain, I really do. Even the film was two and a half hours, but at least the scenery could change. :-) You deserve a medal.

dinahmow said...

Oh, I know the feeling! I've had years of working in AM-DRAM and recall many rehearsals when it was more "I am in need of a dram."
Sometimes, I miss it...

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