By Joseph Geha
By Jonathan Kiefer
By Katie Tandy
By Mollie McWilliams
By Jennifer Baires
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
Fosse has been much emulated and much abused in the process, so that now his hip-swiveling, pelvic-thrusting, wrist-cocking, high-kicking choruses have the potential to look not only dated, but in this era of cerebral postmodern dance, downright crude. His dancers are meant to seduce, particularly his women, and they get right down to it with the smoldering, spread-eagled display of "Cell Block Tango." But because this is a musical about wretched excesses of sex and booze and corny entertainment ushered in by the Roaring '20s, Fosse's slinky over-the-top showmanship works, just as it did in Cabaret. More specifically, it works in numbers like "We Both Reached for the Gun," in which d'Amboise morphs suddenly into a rubbery, loose-limbed ventriloquist's dummy, dangling on her lawyer's knee while he coaches her confession. In the show-stopping "Me and My Baby," d'Amboise doesn't just dance the role of a dingy celebrity hopeful, she inhabits it as easily as if it were her own skin. Asbury, meanwhile, invests every tired bump-and-grind in the book with cartoon sass in "I Can't Do It Alone."
There is little dramatic exposition between songs, but the simple staging (the band plays on risers at center stage, and the chorus sits on the sidelines when not performing) contributes to the claustrophobic feel of the jailhouse and courtroom. Ron Orbach earns our sympathy as Roxie's pitiable schmuck of a husband, and M.E. Spencer elicits guffaws as Mary Sunshine, a gullible reporter with chirpy operatic delivery. Prison matron "Mama" Morton (Avery Sommers) is an admirable blues belter, and soap star Brent Barrett, as lawyer Billy Flynn, oozes poisonous charm as he manipulates the press and public opinion. With its witty treatment of a strangely familiar scene, Chicago is hard to shake.
House of Lucky. By Frank Wortham. Directed by Josh Costello. Starring Wortham. Presented by Impact Theater at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Hearst & MLK Jr. in Berkeley, through Oct. 30. Call (510) 464-4468.
When it comes to theater, the teens-to-20s set usually seems stuck out in the cold. Even despite recent attempts to capture Gen-Xers' attention with a new theater of coitus -- the hugely profitable Rent by Jonathan Larson, and Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and ... -- the oft-stratospheric ticket prices ensure MTV has a perennially captive audience. Berkeley's Impact Theater aims to change all this. Since its inception two years ago, the company has been offering some stiff competition to nights in, with the TV. Impact's one-man show House of Lucky, staged ironically enough at Berkeley's Senior Center, gives its young target audience a good dose of sex, drugs, and some rap 'n' roll.
Written and performed by the handsome, charismatic Frank Wortham (previously of Impact's Inhaling and Love Song Later), House of Lucky follows Wortham as he nimbly shape-shifts into a variety of Gen-X San Francisco types: from a self-dramatizing, whiskey-imbibing, crank-smoking wannabe dramaturge to a Zen Buddhist "passive activist." Wortham's different personae cluster around and draw from his main character, hipster poet Harper Jones. Harper, a self-styled beat of the '90s (his lines carry the lilt and loll of a Ken Kesey rant), is at odds with the world. He wakes one morning to catch "the 71 Express," but his prediction that "it's going to be a good day" soon turns on him. He's fired from his low-rank job at Baby Travel, loses miserably at a poetry slam, and blows it (again) with his impossible-to-get-over ex. By the end of the day, Harper has met and embodied a variety of people. A pirouette marks every shift in character; he becomes, for example, his childhood friend Mark, who proclaims himself to be "burning with amphetamine brilliance" and who entertains ideas of staging a porn-as-art play in an imaginary theater called "House of Lucky." Mark alone offers the shape-shifting loser some solace; he prompts Harper to take a swig of whiskey, pop some tabs, and address one barbaric yawp to his ex: "Bitch."
There's more than Wortham's angsty performance to interest a Gen-X theatergoing crowd. His referencing of pop cultural icons such as Prince, Bruce Lee, and Kurt Cobain forms a convincing contextual backdrop for presenting a generation disaffected with middle-class suburbia and the portfolio-waving investment complex. Wortham also shows, most surprisingly, that like the erstwhile beats, these kids are smart. His characters are "hip" and "know the score," but Harper also reads Rimbaud and is historically educated enough to recognize the hypocrisy of baby boomers who wear (in one hilarious, stirring piece) Jerry Garcia ties.
When Wortham slips into Harper's skin, his performance is inspired. Words and images syncopate like a back-bristling jazz improv: "Politics of weakness ... breath down her spine ... battlefield of wine." But unfortunately (and he has this in common with the beats, too) the view Wortham presents of women is warped; in this performance they seem to exist only to weigh men down. When Wortham enters the persona of Mark and sputters that love and women are "just critter shit," House of Lucky is reduced to a diatribe against women, and there isn't quite enough distance from the character to show we're supposed to think otherwise. To Wortham's and director Josh Costello's credit, there is a certain nod toward (sometimes humorously so) the homosexual undercurrent that informs the performance's misogyny. On a technical level, Wortham's shifts from one character to the next often lack the changes in accent and gesture that would make real people out of scripted figures; after a while, the personae begin to look and sound not only like each other, but also like Kato Kaelin on crank. And, if toilet-mouth-speak can sometimes get laughs, the overuse of scatological and coital imagery can tire.