Pioneering Off-Off Broadway playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie has been earnestly exploring politically-charged subjects since the 1960s, the early Vietnam War era. In his new play “The Fat Lady Sings,” which is directed by David Schweizer, opened on March 25, and is running at the Downstairs at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club through April 7, van Itallie fearlessly sets his sights on the swamp and limns a first family writhing in its own twisted reality show aboard a shaky capital ship (of state).
The skipper is Franklin, played by Tony Torn as a blustering blowhard, a sleazy bigot who rants about “pirates” and “intruders” the way the guy in the White House vituperates about immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, and most of the rest of us. Torn’s Franklin warms, however, to “Big Daddy’s favorite little pussycat,” and personal beauty queen, Mary, Nancy McArthur, an innocent in a most delicate state—wonder who put her there?
Opera star Lauren Flanigan shines as Mom, the play’s overworked and underpaid principal voice of reason, abused by the system, abused by her husband and, like her erstwhile Verdi heroine Lady Macbeth, obsessed with hand washing in this realm of slime. This Mom will lull you with a gentle lullaby, but also rise up to resist, in the name of all the oppressed huddled masses, to fling a strong, proud American anthem, Kate Smith-style, at you.
The first couple’s contrasting sons are Daddy’s favorite, Ed, Jake Horowitz as a tense, overwrought tyrant-in-training, who lustily plays with guns, knows all about fake news, and has some shady source of income, and Tim, Jose Useche, Mom’s ally, the gay son, who coolly refuses to let Big Daddy’s bullying—and his horny grandfather’s before him—get him down.
The Downstairs at La MaMa is located at 66 East Fourth Street between Second Avenue and the Bowery. Visit www.lamama.org
for further information.