'Listening In' on 'Children;' Week II for Chapter II

Director Scott Goldsmith describes Out of the Reach of Children as an evening of "musical impressions" rather than a musical.

Director Scott Goldsmith describes Out of the Reach of Children as an evening of "musical impressions" rather than a musical. The original five-woman show offers little plot and little dancing. But it does offer a beautiful array of songs by Cornelia Ravenal, whose music first charmed us in last year's Riches at Lowell House. A considerable part of the Children score derives from Riches, in fact.

But this show is more "coherent," Goldsmith stresses. Its script, developed by the actresses themselves, imposes a more structured quality on the material, allowing the performers to develop characters instead of remaining only singers. The play takes the five actresses of 17 to 23, through high school and college. But the musical numbers deal more with personal traumas--the loss of one's virginity, the divorce of one's parent--than with the stresses of the scholastic environment. While the play contains several monologues, and scattered bits of dialogue, the characters mostly interact with song. scattered bits of dialogue, the characters

Goldsmith emphasizes that Out of the Reach of Children does not have a particularly feminist outlook; spectators of both sexes have been greatly moved by its rehearsals. The show deals with the various ways people come of age--a theme that can appeal alike to men, women--and the outdistanced children of the title. At the Kirkland JCR.

Listening In, by contrast, has a very clear feminist outlook. The Newbury Street Theater proclaims that its new show is a "celebration of another joyful but unmarked victory for labor women." The women in question are Boston telephone operators in the year 1919, who in an effort to win recognition of their struggle with the director of the nationalized phone system, shut down the Beantown exchanges. Although the strike spread throughout New England, history has tended to give the event only a brief note in comparison to the more notorious Boston Police Strike of the same year. This original production combines a good deal of music with its dramatic treatment. At the Newbury Street Theater in Copley Square.

As of two nights ago, thirteen students began singing and dancing to the tune of "Mood Indigo" and "Solitude" on the Loeb Mainstage. The show, of course, is Ellington at Eight, and rumor has it that nearly every performance is already sold out. Except for the songs themselves, everything about the production--direction, choreography, and musical arrangements--is entirely original. Ellington runs through Saturday, at the Loeb.

Approximately five minutes after Chapter II begins, the hero breaks into tears. There's nothing extraordinary about such an action-except that the play is by Neil Simon, from whom we expect snappy one-liners in the first five minutes, not sobs. But this play, currently running in Boston, reveals the voice of a more serious Simon. While the playwright's characters usually deal with the little frustrations that daily bug us all, Chapter II's protagonist faces a much more catastrophic upheaval--the death of a beloved spouse.

The audience never knows the spouse. George's wife has been dead a year when the play opens, and George still grieves, Ah, much to his own surprise, he falls rapidly in love with a thirtyish divorcee; they marry within a few weeks after they first meet. George, in many ways, represents Simon, who faced a similar situation when he abruptly married actress Marsha Mason some time after his first wife's death. The girl in the play, also an actress, is loving and supportive--which is exactly the problem. George cannot reconcile his love for his new wife with his memory of the deceased one. The fact that she understands his compulsive comparison of spouses only provokes his anger. "You leave me so much room to be cruel in," he tells her. Out of a painful episode in the playwright's life evolves a broader study of a marriage trapped in a vicious cycle of guilt that inspires pain, which in turn yields compassion--only to create new guilt.

The play isn't completely grim. The celebrated Simon wit constantly bubbles forth, especially during a sub-plot that involves the hero's brother and the heroine's best girlfriend. In contrast to the hasty marriage of the principals, this couple never quite gets around to having an affair, despite persistent efforts. But even this comic relief contains solemn undertones; both would-be adulterers carry wounds that neither can successfully hide from the other.

Even the generally weak cast of this production cannot distract from the play's inherent flaws, especially an excessive length. Still, Chapter II is well worth seeing; Simon doesn't often deal so openly with human pain. Just don't go expecting a typical Simon laugh-riot. Instead, you will laugh a little and be more than a little moved. At the Shubert Theater.

The noisy exuberance of Ain't Misbehavin' inspires movement of quite a different kind. Though it received the 1978 Tony Award for Best Musical, the show is really more of a revue, in which three women and two men--costumed in glittery '30s chic--perform over 30 songs either written or recorded by Fats Waller, the legendary jazzman whose talent for blues and jive helped create the sound of swing.

Ain't Misbehavin' attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a jumping night-spot--perhaps the Cotton Club--in the Harlem of the 1930s. The performers belt out the songs, pushing each other out of the spotlight or fighting over dance partners in mock rivalry. If the mood strikes, they'll spring to their feet to tap out a furious rhythm or languidly drapes themselves across the piano--or the piano-player--onstage. He frequently joins in; sometimes the audience is invited to join in, too.

There was more to Waller's music than the swoony "Honeysuckle Rose", his most famous song. Many of the numbers furnish a disturbingly candid view of Harlem life. The eerie "Viper" describes a marijuana hallucination in which the singer dreams of "a reefer--ten feet long." And every line in the poignant "Black and Blue" furnishes a brilliant play on the word "black" creating a clear statement of what being black meant in America then--and, unfortunately, means today as well.

One wonders how deeply Waller resented the Harlem ghetto that, ironically, his music made so fashionable among Cafe Society. Ain't Misbehavin' might have benefited from a few lines providing some insights into Waller's character, or at least some biography. A brief description of Harlem during this period would be a welcome respite from the somewhat relentless pace of the nonstop singing. Nevertheless, Ain't Misbehavin' has plenty of moments you'll wish would never end. At the Wilbur Theater.

Don't expect "Plaza Suite," or even "Pi Eta Suite," but do try to see Overtures in Asia Minor, the 1979 Hasty Pudding offering. This year's showcase of lousy puns and a male kickline deals with spies in Near East opium dens and a butler who, quoting T.S. Eliot, foils a dastardly scheme to prevent forever Anglo-Saxon morality. Or something like that. The plot doesn't really matter, with all those sumptuous sets and gorgeous costumes and knock-out numbers. And those legs. At the Hasty Pudding Theater (would any decent place house this show?).