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The Light Company

at the Light Company Theatre, Central Square

By Frank Rich

HOW MANY MORE jokes can be made about Spiro Agnew? Or LBJ? Or the upper middle-class? These are the problems gripping the political theatre, now a permanent fixture both here and in New York.

This dilemna--how to make the left-wing audience respond to a theatre involved with issues radicals have been living with for a long time now--is what threatens to destroy the Light Company at its inception.

The Light Company, "a theatre of political controversy and contemporary humor," is trying desperately to solve the problem, but as yet has failed to find the solution. Unlike The Proposition, which thrives on set and improvised satirical sketches, the Light Company has taken its format less from Second City and more from the protest theatre-cabarets of the thirties. The five performers do a rehearsed collection of funny blackouts, serious protest sketches, and somber songs fraught with meaning. This is the stuff of which the Berliner Ensemble, Harold Rome's Pins and Needles, and Marc Blitzstein's Cradle Will Rock were made during the "red decade" so often compared to this one.

This theatrical scheme can be an effective one, and it is flexible enough to allow a constant updating of the show. The Light Company, for example, has a bit taken right from the morning's headlines which will be changed every night.

But it isn't enough to present the issues of today with tongue-in-cheek or heart-in-throat and expect the audience to react automatically. But this is primarily what the Light Company does. We see slides of Agnew and we are supposed to guffaw; we see slides of Vietnam bloodshed and we are supposed to shudder. We've seen this all before many times, and by now we have hardened to it. The theatre will have to sneak up from behind and twist our funny bones or club us on our heads to get the laugh or the cringe.

If the Light Company gets the right talent, it may just be able to accomplish this. At the moment, it has a fine theatre (in the old Electric Light Company building), a sturdy professional air, and a healthy share of enthusiasm for left-wing ideals. What it needs are writers and performers who will trust the audience enough to raise the level of the entertainment above the simplistic. Bits about a Russian and American discovering they are the same under the skin or about the middle-aged businessman asking himself "Am I happy? Am I happy?" as he goes through his dehumanizing daily routine are just not clever enough to raise our body heat.

The performers aren't particularly subtle either. They are often ingratiating, but their comic playing is heavy enough to suggest that they feel obligated to accentuate the obvious. On another level, they have the problem of tending to meld into one personality; if each of the five had something different to offer, there would be a corresponding increase of comic and dramatic possibilities.

I think these difficulties can be overcome, but, of course, it will take time. But the spirit and physical plant are there, and that's a big part of the struggle.

And these people are heading in the right direction in terms of format. Last year's White Sale, the Timothy Mayer-Bradley Burg-Tim Hunter "cabaret for Cambridge," applied the same structured, mixed-media approach to the same type of political issues. Certainly White Sale provide that the from can provide an evening of excitement, intellectually and theatrically. If the Light Company keeps at it, they might yet come up with something just as great.

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