In a former life I was a musician – a singer-songwriter in the ’70s mold. One of my most memorable gigs was a drive-in concert, opening for James Taylor’s sister Kate and her band. It took place/was held in a large field in suburban New Jersey, where a raised stage faced a sea of headlights (a large sound system was provided, but no lighting rig). The audience sat in their cars with the windows open and expressed their appreciation with flashing headlights and tooting horns. We all agreed it was cool and nicely weird.
I flashed right back to that summer night when I heard the Valley’s Eggtooth Productions was planning to take a peck at the Covid shell with a drive-in performance, live and socially distanced, not in a field but on a rooftop. Under the Stars, by the gifted mime/actor/clown/juggler Jack Golden, opened last weekend in Greenfield and plays again August 13-15.
At the entrance to the Olive Street Parking Garage, a masked Linda McInerney, Eggtooth’s founder/director, checks me off on the reservation list and runs down the safety protocols. The barrier gate swings up and I circle my car around the empty parking structure to the top level, where I’m guided into the front and only row of eight cars (the sold-out max) just as the pre-show music on the PA is playing “Up on the Roof.” There’s a lovely view over the city’s rooftops and a moon rising through clouds touched with sunset. A stage area has been demarcated by a ring of light poles (no do-it-yourself lighting here).
The show is a homemade potpourri fashioned from scraps of literature and whimsy, the solo performer furnished with a Commedia nose, a clutch of household implements, three flaming torches and nine suitcases. As the sunset fades, he wanders into the circle of light carrying the smallest suitcase and looking lost and disoriented. A narrator’s voice clarifies: “Halfway through the journey of my life I found I was in a gloomy wood, because the path which led aright was lost” – the opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Here’s a soul uprooted from familiar surroundings and activities and set without warning on a strange path leading who knows where. Like all of us these days.
Soon he takes off the nose, sets the suitcase atop a precarious pile of its siblings, and welcomes us. “I’ve performed in parking lots before, but never quite like this,” he says with a smile. “I’m so glad we can be together in this way, in this time.” The half-hour show, he says, is in three parts – “three sides of the same coin. They’re all about what we carry with us.”
I know from experience that it’s a challenge playing to an audience of windshields, but he’s a personable fellow and genially breaks this new “fourth wall” with a twist on the usual curtain speech. No indicating exits or cell-phone admonitions, but instructions on audience participation: “We need to develop a whole new form of communication.”
So we’re to flick our headlights for applause, turn on the wipers “if you’re moved in some way,” add the washers for tears. Laughter prompts turn signals, with hazard lights for belly laughs. “And if you really, really need to, honk your horn.”
If Part One was silent, Part Two is all words. Beginning with a gag that quotes from Whitman – “I am large, I contain multitudes” – while gazing into the smallest suitcase, he launches into an improvised stream-of-consciousness rap that would have welcomed a beat behind it. It skips across landscapes and dreamscapes, touching down briefly on thoughts that resonate with these times – You never know what’s next until you get there, and then it’s already gone past you – before taking off again: … and there you are, face down, into the wind, feeling a cool breeze across your scalp – that is, if you’ve got a scalp – I’ve met people who just have open caskets to their brain.
“Improv – something we’ve all been doing lately,” he explains before slipping behind a makeshift screen for Part Three. It’s a shadow play with shady characters played by domestic objects (more things we carry with us) accompanied by a film-noir soundtrack and groan-worthy puns that unfortunately we weren’t given automotive reactions for. There’s a tough-talking private eye with a shaggy mop for a head, his pal the whisk broom (“Hey, I won the sweeps, I really cleaned up!”), Regina Deluxe the vacuum-cleaner femme fatale, and of course the plunger with his mind in the toilet.
The flaming torches appear in a brief coda which only begins to show off his juggling chops, and then a curtain call amid flashing headlights and tooting horns.
Under the Stars, 8 and 9 pm, Aug. 13-15, Olive Street Parking Garage, Greenfield. Very limited capacity. Tickets and info here.
Photos by Matthew Cavanaugh
While the Valley Advocate remains on indefinite hiatus, Stagestruck will continue posting occasionally. Write me at Stagestruck@crocker.com if you’d like to receive notices when new pieces appear.
Note: The weekly Pioneer Valley Theatre News has comprehensive listings of what’s on and coming up in the Valley. You can check it out and subscribe (free) here.
The Stagestruck archive is at valleyadvocate.com/author/chris-rohmann
If you’d like to be notified of future posts, email Stagestruck@crocker.com