The Golden Screw
At Ashdown House, MIT August 6-10.
We are the generation and the folk-rock musical supposedly speaks to us and for us as Oklahoma cannot. But Tom Sankey's The Golden Screw is a pretender to the folk-rock name which rejects our commitments to urban-ness, peace and humanity and insults our perspicacity. It idealizes instead a Dylanesque young folk singer who goes through the protest song stage into electronic rock on the rock road to success. At the end, when our hero is king of the music mountain, he sings a last rock song about "Flipping Out". Then he asserts his individuality by saying "fuck you" to the world in general and the audience in particular, and singing again the quaint folk song "Little White Dog" which began the debacle.
The Golden Screw pretends to be innovative and exciting theater. The hero never speaks. He (occasionaly with other characters), merely sings in between dialogues which are directed at or about him, but in which he never participates. A one sided conversation is hard enough to pull off on stage. Given Sankey's trite dialogue, Alice Roach's direction, which is unobtrusive to the point of negligence, and M.I.T.'s incompetent actors, who tend to point their hands a lot and look bored on stage, the results was worse than a class play at P.S. 451--children are cute at least.
The evening might have been a tolerable concert, but the songs weren't much better than the dialogue. They change from folk to rock as the hero gets corrupted (yes, Marshall, the media is the message). Leading man Roger Brown had a pleasant voice, and would have been a marvelous leader for a summer camp sing-a-long. The rock music, and the rock group, The Brown Paper Bag were monotonous, and imitative (more plagiaristically than facetiously) of groups like the Jefferson Airplane.
Substandard dialogue and music can sometimes be forgiven, though not enjoyed . But The Golden Screw is unforgiveably inane because Sankey looked at the world, saw that it was not perfect, and plugged in the easiest wrong answers. Protest songs and rock music are hardly decadent--they represent a social and artistic commitment to our world. They, not "John Henry" are the songs of us folk, as hip Country and Western groups. Sure, folk music is often great and gutsy. But the simplistic Romantic anti-sellout sentiment it symbolizes in this play really equals the willful alienation of Sankey's hero, who speaks to no one, either in his stage world or in the audience world. An individual standing alone against evils can be beautiful, but the individual must have more to say than "fuck you".