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The Fantasticks at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 12 June 2006

The Fantasticks opened off-Broadway in 1960 and closed in early 2002 after a record-breaking 17,162 performances. It was the longest-running show of any kind in the United States, and the longest-running musical in the world. This production at the Masquers runs June 9 through July 22 on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 8 pm. Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm on June 25 and July 2, 9 & 16. Call (510) 232-4031 or visit .

My collection of understandings about the mysteries of theatre has been augmented by this show. Somewhere in a world far away there is a whole parallel universe of other humans who have been attending theatre all their lives. That world seems full of expected actions and a shared understanding of the meaning of those actions, but from here, I can neither recognize those actions nor link to any specific shared understanding.

This is rather like a story I read wherein a woman wanted to know what a gift of yellow roses meant (as distinct from red) in the “language of flowers,” as though such a language existed and could be capable of such a literal translation. Sometimes a rose is a rose.

And yet, there is something shared within the circle of theatre folks. To begin with, Director Marti Baer told me that, contrary to many shows, in this production, the cast and production teams were given significant creative licence.

The stage set was simply designed. Betty Baker Bindner played the Mute, a part apparently designed to be a component of the scenery, perhaps to give it movement and interest.

The play was slow to get started. Two next-door neighbour Dads each have a child. For some reason, there were fathers but no mothers in the play; perhaps women would have behaved more sensibly (thereby removing all basis for the plot)! The Dads though fond of their children, went through an oft-heard tally of the exasperations of parenting.

The plot ultimately moved more swiftly. Events occurred which added tension to the romance between the kids, secrets were unveiled, and convoluted plots began. Once the plot moved apace, the story line turned into nonsense, but the show was entertaining, perhaps because of it.

The production was worth seeing for the experience of listening to these appealing voices. To my surprise I was familiar with some of the songs in the play; turns out that popular music has pinched a song or two from this play’s musical score.

This was the best performance I have yet seen from Kyle Johnson (playing Matt, the son photo, centre, photo by Jerry Telfer). Matt fell in love and progressed in love in a gentle believable way. Later, along with his change of heart, the eagerness with which he wanted to see the world vibrated like a low bass hum. And later still, as a world-weary, broken, jaded man (at 20 years of age!) he was poignant. Kyle delivered a moving, well-rounded, commendable performance.

I liked Bridget O’Keeffe (playing Luisa, the young daughter, photo, right) better in this show also. Bridget played her character in a direct clear way, exuding less treacly sentiment, in spite of Luisa’s propensity for drifting off into juvenile fantasies. As always, Bridget was beautiful with a charming voice. In the company of El Gallo, Luisa delivered a truly excellent and horrifying performance.

Alex Shafer (as Bellomy, the girl’s father) puzzled me. Bellomy was an average guy (except for his appalling taste in trousers) competent and complacent, but I could not decide if his air of insouciance came from Alex’s natural features (and attitude) or whether this cynic was Alex’s interpretation of his part. In either case, Alex’s career with Masquers deserves ongoing scrutiny.

In contrast, Keith Jefferds (playing Hucklebee, the boy’s father) portrayed his character as gaudy and clueless. I suppose that one character had to be idiotic in order to account for plot twists, but it seemed awkward to see Keith in this role. Not only did Hucklebee have egregiously awful tailoring (not a sin on its own), but he was smarmy too.

Both Dads were gardeners and engaged in some hilarious antics on the subject. They illustrated the value of retort (by which I mean, verbal wordplay which creates tension as the exchange escalates).

El Gallo (played by Paul Macari, photo, left) looked like a circus trainer, perhaps of tigers. Or maybe a gypsy. Something mysterious, a little risqué, with a soupçon of danger. From my seat in the audience, I was thrilled to my boots when he looked into my eyes. As the plot unfolded, he transformed into the perfect Master of Ceremonies for one’s next garden party (Someone You Can Trust), a sleek smiling entertainer with an eye to delivering value for money.

And yet, just a short while later, he metamorphosed into a Young Girl’s Worst Nightmare, a smooth-talking dance partner without compassion or remorse who casually took our young girl’s soul to Hell. Sizzling!

For any avid collector of Dying Scenes (of which, you may remember, I am one), Robert Love (as Mortimer) provided an entry that should not be missed. It has opened a whole new plateau for the genre. Like other superlative Dying Scenes, it was prolonged and so preposterous that it became increasingly funnier. Mortimer did do some other amusing things, but they paled in comparison.

Jim Colgan (playing Henry) was an ageing actor of bit parts with a tendency to fall into scenes of greater presence and humour than his part implied. Many of his lines caused the audience to shout with laughter, making the most of a doddering old fool.

There is something for everyone in this play: gorgeous voices, romance, wistful waltzes, beautiful swordplay (kudos to the choreographer, Lynn-Clar Elam), soliloquies, Shakespeare, and other supremely ludicrous delights.

Definitely add this play to your Must See list.