This week we bring you another show from the the old space, Mac Wellmam’s “Bad Penny,” which we did in 2008. And this week on our webcast “Animal Farm: Conversations on Theater and Politics with Steven Leigh Morris and Guests,” Steven talks with LA Times theater critic Philip Brandes about the LA theater scene, how it has changed over the last twenty years, and what the shape of theater might be after the pandemic.
Here is a link to the talk show:
And here is a little about “Bad Penny” from the LA Times (which actually came from Philip!)
“A bad penny always turns up” is a platitude that packs an unexpected existential punch, at least in the sardonic world of New York playwright Mac Wellman. In Wellman’s Obie Award-winning short play, the titular “Bad Penny” opens a portal to the metaphysical abyss that yawns beneath the banality of a summer’s day in Central Park — and, by extension, beneath a society shaped by clichéd thought.
Staged with an austere pitch to the intellect by Frederíque Michel at Santa Monica’s City Garage, the play’s obsession with poetically fractured logic is sounded in the opening meditations of a recovering mental patient named Kat (Cynthia Mance), who wonders whether even the sky above is simply “a fake image of the true image of the sky.”
Having just found a penny by a nearby fountain, Kat is plagued with superstitious misgivings about bad luck coming to those who touch it: They could suffer the pharaoh’s curse, be eaten by trolls or be taken by the Boatman of Bow Bridge — a latter-day Charon ferrying lost souls across the Central Park pond, in one of Wellman’s sly juxtapositions of classical mythology.
Ducking fate, Kat gives the cursed penny to Ray (Troy Dunn), a toxic waste dump worker from Montana in search of a fix for the flat tire he’s hauling, Sisyphus-like, through the park. Skeptic to the end, Ray ignores Kat’s warning, oblivious to the ominous Boatman gliding up behind them.
Juggling illusions of normality, acquiescence to authority, paranoid conspiracy theories and toxic cheese, Wellman’s witty, abstract use of language is consistently challenging. The presence of other characters does little to bridge the sense of isolation that permeates this monologue-heavy piece. The ensemble delivery is clear and capable, though some of the outlandishly petty bickering cries out for the humorous inflections of New York accents. When the entire ensemble comes together to sing a few verses of “You’re Out of the Woods” from “The Wizard of Oz,” the effect is pure irony — no one gets off the hook here.”
It will be showing on our City Garage YouTube channel from 8:00pm this Friday, February 19th, through noon on Friday, February 26th.
It’s free to view but we ask people to make a donation if they can through our Chuffed page:
Merci, stay safe, and wear a mask!