by JK Clarke
There’s plenty to poke fun at when it comes to the 1970s and 80s in American culture. From fashion to music to television to mustaches, what was once considered “cool” is now teased mercilessly by today’s artists and trendsetters. Ironically, most of the lampooning is conducted with a touch of love and wish-I-was-there nostalgia by younger generations who somehow see hip value in cassette tapes, aviator glasses and ugly gym shorts. A ritual conducted by every generation, the tributes are often entertaining while other times they’re awkward and off-the-mark. On the Rocks theater company’s The White Stag Quadrilogy (which plays for one remaining weekend at Dixon Place) falls somewhere in between. An absurdist sendup of deluded filmmaker (and novelist, apparently) Jerry F. Wolfert (an Ed Wood of the Age of Aquarius), The White Stag Quadrilogy is a tale of commitment in the face of futility.
White Stag Quadrilogy is a theatrical biopic of sorts, the story of how “the most hated man in Hollywood” manages to complete between 1979 and 1989, despite all odds, the final of four films concerning the metaphorical pursuit of a mythical white stag. Any synopsis beyond this brief one is immaterial and useless, because the play really isn’t about anything. It’s really just farce—much in the style of the comic actor and writer Chris Elliott, who, in the late 1980s and early 1990s performed total non-sequitur sketches on the David Letterman show. The point of the sketches always turned out to be the sadness and ridiculousness of the pathetic man (Elliott) performing them. White Stage Quadrilogy is basically a really, really long-form version (70 minutes) of one of those bits, such that it goes on so long it starts to be funny in spite of itself. That isn’t to say there weren’t comic moments in the piece. There were a few, but audience members on the night I attended seemed to find many more. Most likely friends of the actors, they brayed, a propos of nothing in the performance, when their friends entered the stage or spoke or moved around, not unlike parents attending a school play. Initially an unfortunate distraction, it almost surreally became the appeal of the play itself.
Andrew R. Butler (who actually resembles Chris Elliott to a degree) as auteur and modern day Kilgore Trout, Jerry F. Wolfert, leads the play quite gracefully, and humorously at times. Wolfert’s a narcissist with no self-awareness or talent, but remarkable drive and enough charisma to lasso a sorry group of wannabe actors and a wife, Pearl (played at times with delightful comic timing by Rebeca Miller), into helping him complete his opus. He confidently films awkward dance numbers to forgotten 1970s hits (e.g. Little River Band’s “Lonesome Loser”) that fit nicely with the kitsch of the piece.
Writers Christopher Ford and Dakota Rose (who also directed) have a good grasp on silliness and embarrassing nostalgia, but the play is verbose and doesn’t stick tightly to the story line. Dixon Place, where White Stag Trilogy is finishing its run this weekend, is probably the perfect place to see it. The bustling, full bar upstairs is a necessary pre-gamer to augment the gags, and a great place to retire to after.
The White Stag Quadrilogy. Two remaining performances: Friday February 26 and Saturday, February 27 at 7.30 PM at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie Street, just north of Delancey). www.dixonplace.org
Photos by On the Rocks