Directed by Jan Ellen Graves
At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago
“Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious.
At eight each morning I have got a date,
To take my plunge ’round the Empire State.
You’ll admit it’s not the berries,
In a building that’s so tall;
There’s a guy in the show, the girls love to kiss;
Get thousands a week just for crooning like this:
Life is just a bowl of . . . aw, nuts!
So live and laugh at it all!”
Lyrics from “Life is Just A Bowl of Cherries” By Lew Brown & Ray Henderson
Worthy revival of the 2005 hit for Redtwist Theatre and director Jan Ellen Graves
Jan Ellen Graves loves Arthur Miller and she has play in or directed several Arthur Miller plays since she and her husband, Michael Colucci formed tyheir storefront theatre in Rogers Park. She has revived their 2005 hit, The American Clock, A Vaudeville with a cast of 19, a piano and several wonderful era songs.
In my 2005 review, I remarked: “Arthur Miller, born in 1915, essentially grew up in the Great Depression which profoundly influenced his writing. In his 1980 piece, The American Clock, he chronicles America from the 1929 stock market crash through World War II in a Studs Terkel style oral history motif. Laced with many classic, period perfect 30’s songs sung, by the ensemble, marks a departure from the usual Arthur Miller play. The show opens with “Life is Just A Bowl of Cherries’” sung by the19 person cast that underscores the optimistic mood of 1929.
Rather than using one family to typify the middle class American unit as he did in most of his plays, Miller goes for a grand epic from several points of view as he outlines the effects of the stock market crash first on the wealthy than Middle America. We meet Arthur A. Robinson (expertly narrated by Brian Parry ) a wealthy financier whose business acumen tells him to liquidate his common stocks just before the Crash of 1929. Robinson narrates as well as appears in several scenes.”
(Miller uses Robinson to explain basically how the stock slide happened: Stocks kept soaring yet little was sold and inventories congested warehouses. How can stocks keep going up when nothing is being sold?)
“Miller’s epic, The American Clock, is a series of vignettes featuring the Baum family from NYC, a farmer from Iowa, an African-American hobo and an Irish corporate manager. The story of the Baum family with the optimistic teen Lee (the winning Aaron Kirby), the delusional father, Moe (Jeff Glamlin) and the contradictory mother, Rose (Melonie Collman) is the lynchpin of this panoramic view of the effects of poverty on various segments of American life. Miller’s theme of oppression is starkly exposed through each anecdote. Money is adored and scorned throughout.” This brisk storytelling is NOT a musical but a play with period-perfect songs. The cast sings to the accompaniment from Mark Bowman on piano.
Once more, “director Jan Ellen Graves nicely weaves her large cast through the sprawling piece eking every ounce of drama offered. Miller leans dangerously toward socialism (even communism) as he seems to wonder out loud why America didn’t fall apart and surrender to revolution in the 1930’s. The answer lies in the very spirit he dramatizes throughout. Americans are a resilient lot as typified by Semaj Miller’ hobo character.” The basic optimist and hope evoked from the people and expressed through their songs did much to soften the pain of poverty. Songs, the MGM musical films, and fireside chats by FDR also helped pacify the American people through the 1930’s.
The American Clock – A Vaudeville is not one of Miller’s classic plays, it is a worthy glimpse into the heart and psyche of the resilience of the American people during a dark economic times. Director Graves has mounted a well-played ensemble to dramatize and put a face on the victims of the Depression. Be sure to see this seldom performed slice of American history that nicely comes to life on Bryn Mawr Avenue.
Songs sung in The American Clock – A Vaudeville