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David reviews 'Dangerous Theatre' and 'Marx in Soho'


Hallie Flanagan is not a well-known name today, but in the 1930's she was vastly influential as the director of the Federal Theatre Project, a WPA initiative that sought to employ actors, writers, designers, and other out-of-work theater professionals by assigning them to "theater enterprises" throughout the United States, many in areas that had never seen a live play before.

The project was a great success, but to New Deal-hating politicians, subsidizing "culture" -- including plays that seemed to have a leftist political message -- was an unpatriotic waste of money. Flanagan was questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1938, and a much-edited transcript of her session forms the script of "Dangerous Theatre."

The play demonstrates that Flanagan (played by Meredith Carroll) was a formidable, intellectual woman and quite a cool customer while under fire from a trio of somewhat clownish congressmen (Kevin Indovino, Roger Gans, Larry Ploscowe).

The actors are capable -- they read from transcripts -- but seemed as if they could have used another rehearsal; there were quite a few verbal slips. Even in this rather dry format, the material was interesting enough to suggest that there might be a full-length play in the story of the Federal Theatre Project and Flanagan's involvement.

Unfortunately, "Dangerous Theatre" won't be performed again during this year's Fringe.

I never thought I would use the name Karl Marx and the word "charming" in the same sentence, but the Karl Marx presented in Howard Zinn's monologue "Marx in Soho" is indeed a pretty charming and witty guy. Who knew?

In this surprisingly disarming show, Marx, played by Jack Simel, has returned briefly to Earth -- but while he wanted to revisit his old home in London, a heavenly snafu sends him to contemporary Manhattan. It happens that his trenchant observations on economics and society are just as relevant in 21st century America as they were in 19th century Europe. (Just don't call him a Marxist!)

The political commentary -- which includes Marx's own moving account of the Paris Communard of 1871 -- is leavened with many accounts of Marx's love for his wife and family and his run-ins with fellow radicals. With his full white beard, Simel definitely looks the part, and he delivers the jokes and the political rhetoric with equal gusto. I think Hallie Flanagan would have liked this educational, entertaining little play as much as I did.

"Marx in Soho" will be performed again on Saturday, September 24, at MuCCC. 6 p.m. $10. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.

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