Send for the Million Men

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An impressive, but ultimately empty display of theater techniques that bury the full impact of a sad episode in American history.

 

By Joel Benjamin

 

Joseph Silovsky’s theatrical re-telling of the Sacco and Vanzetti story, Send for the Million Men is self-indulgent, creative playtime run amok. The sad thing is that the heart of the matter, the railroading of Sacco and Vanzetti in the 1920s, is ill-served by Joseph Silovsky’s inventive overkill, coming across as Classic Comic history with too many winking self-referential self-indulgences. To be fair, the facts of this tragically iconic case are all there—if you are patient enough to wade through all the fanciful ornamentation. It’s the methods used to tell the story that become more and more irritatingly arbitrary.

Mr. Silovsky is a clever man, far too clever. He throws so many balls in the air that juggling them becomes impossible and ends—literally and figuratively—with a stageful of messy show detritus. (I would hate to be the stage manager for this show!) The audience members have to be a combination of archeologist and dramaturg to get to the essence of one of this country’s saddest episodes.   There are some wonderful moments such as the re-creation of a small Massachusetts city projected onto the sides of a line of suitcases around which Mr. Silovsky and his fellow actor, Victor Morales, walked like giant docents.

Mr. Silovsky began Send for the Million Men using a device that projected the image of items in his hand, via a light and mirror device, onto a small, round screen.   Unfortunately, the images weren’t always in focus and audience members on the far left or right couldn’t see what he held. These items included bits of “evidence” the authenticity of which was immediately and grinningly destroyed. There were tacks used in the getaway. Wait, no, they were modern versions. There was a photo of a titanium bicycle. Wait, no, that was Mr. Silovsky’s bike, recently stolen. There was a photo of a sweater that one of the passengers in the getaway car supposedly wore. Wait, no, it was the kind of sweater that Mr. Silovsky’s bike thief wore, so, we were told, if we ever saw a young man wearing that kind of sweater riding a titanium bike, that would be the thief riding his bike. At one point he displayed “Vanzetti’s mustache” mounted and framed. Again, it turned out to be made of Mr. Silovsky’s own hair. He even went on and on about how this ruse was concocted. And so it went, until it was clear that it was far more important for Mr. Silovsky to make silly, self-referential jokes and show off his command of puppetry, video, use of scenic devices, costuming, etc. than illuminate this tale.

Certainly, even this sad tale needn’t be treated somberly or with kid gloves, but why he chose it, when others would have been far more suitable for his grab-bag approach, is a mystery.

The performances were offhandedly genial and adept. The two men, Mr. Silovsky and Mr. Morales, were relaxed storytellers, a bit under-rehearsed at the show I attended, but likeable and energetic. Catherine McRae, sitting stage right, played electronically manipulated instruments—a violin, guitar, etc.—provided an eerie and, at times, beautiful soundscape.

*Photos: Cory Weaver

Send for the Million Men – December 3-13, 2014

HERE

145 Sixth Ave., entrance on Dominick St.

New York, NY

Tickets: 212-352-3101 or www.here.org/show/sftmm

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

 

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