The Tooth of Crime, a CurtainUp review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Review
The Tooth of Crime

so here's another illusion to add to you confusion
Of the way things are
Everybody's doin' time for everybody else's crime
--- Hoss, singing "The Way Things Are."

Ray Wise as Hoss & Jenne Vath as Becky Lou (Photo: Mark Roussel)
In its forty-five year existence, La MaMa has become a theatrical landmark. The initials of its annex -- ETC -- stand for "experimental theater company." And Geroge Ferencz's bold 1983 staging of The Tooth of Crime, the fantasia about the rock world penned by Sam Shepard in 1972 while living in London, epitomized the meaning of those initials.

Ferencz's interpretation put Shepard's surreal depciction of the timeless father-son generational conflict as a deadly duel between Hoss, an aging rock star, and Crow, a younger rival, within the framework of a 70s flavored rock concert. This widely praised and talked about production has now been brought back to the annex, again directed by Ferencz and with Ray Wise (now a well known film and TV actor) reprising his Obie Award winning role as the leather-clad, gun toting rocker/warrior protecting his turf from the younger bird of prey. Also on hand are actor Raul Aranus and members of the original production team.

To make this even more of an EVENT if you number yourself among Shepard's many admirers, this is your only chance to see the original version of this play since the playwright has relegated it to the dustbin in favor of of the updated version, retitled and published as The Tooth of Crime (Second Dance) and with his songs replaced with new ones by by T-Bone Burnett. Permission to reprise this production is Shepard's anniversary gift to LaMaMa, a thank you for their support of this as well as his other early plays.

The no longer immediate musical and other cultural references make this once super edgy production a tad toothless, with a whiff of you can't go home again ho-hum. But even short of super snap, crackle and pop, The Tooth of Crime still provides a potent look at an early example of this very American playwright's examination of rootless tough guys.

The staging remains compellingly dark and austere, with the mythical rocker-as-warrior world dramatically evoked by having the playing area set high above the band. That band (which also features members from the original production), gets things rocking, as a barely visible Hoss sits silently on a sofa. (No hi tech music publisher's office or high flying rock star's fancy digs here!)

As the focus shifts from the band to the stage, we learn all about the gangster-like Hoss. He turns out to be in a stew worrying about young upstarts, especially the one named Crow, challenging his predominant position. What's more he's weary and unsure about playing "the game" in which "the future is like the past."

Hoss's retinue consists of his sexy adviser Becky Lou (Jenne Vath who's got this part down pat, though her later one-time appearance as an abused schoolgirl left me scratching my head), his astrologer Galactic Jack (Gideon Charles Davis in the role that was a subversive take on Nancy Reagan's penchant for astrologers), and drug dispensing Doc (Raul Aranus). The musical interludes, starting with Hoss's plaintive bravado and disillusion mixed "The Way Things Are", astutely emphasize the rock concert sensibility and are immeasurably enhanced by Jeff Tapper's lighting. While I'm unfamiliar with T-Bone Burnett's music used in the revised version, I liked Shepard's music, especially the rock duet with Crow.

And speaking of that ominous challenger, charismatic as Ray Wise is, if there were a real contest between who the real star is in this production, Nick Denning would be the hands down winner. A dark birthmark covering one side of his face like a mask adds to his smashingly sinister persona, as does the crow-like speech pattern he uses. Denning's performance makes you glad that this isn't an exact replica of the production which, for all its legendary reputation, can use something fresh and new to make that something old fly.

THE TOOTH OF CRIME (Production originally done by La MaMa e.t.c. in association with Syracuse Stage)
Playwright: Sam Shepard'
Director:George Ferencz
hr width="100%" size="1">Starring Ray Wise as Hoss with Arthur Adair as Referee, Raul Aranus as Doc, Gideon Charles Davis as Galatic Jack, Nick Denning as Crow, Cary Gant as Cheyenne, John Andrew Morrison as Starman, and Jenne Vath as Becky Lou
Sets: Bill Stabile
Costumes: Sally Lesser
Lights: Jeff Tapper.
Musical Director: Bob Jewett
The Band (*for original production musicians): *Tass Filipos, * Marc Jaffee, Jeff LaMarre, Kevin Joy, *Denny McCormick
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours, includes one intermission
La MaMa ETC Annex, 66 East 4th Street.
From 10/03/06 to 10/22/06
Reviewed by based on October 4th press performance

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