September 28, 2009

Revisiting My Marxist Past: ANIMAL CRACKERS at the Goodman Theater

(Revised May 28, 2023)

I think it is safe to state that, for the record, I have a very strong Marxist streak in my past - and present.

So much so that when I heard that Animal Crackers was coming to the Goodman Theater, I bought a ticket. Granted, it was a Sunday night ticket (and I managed to get second-row seating!) It was, without a doubt, a very rare occasion - a chance to time travel and see a play that had been put on before I was born. Or even before my parents were born.

I was not disappointed - this was one of the best experiences I have had in seeing live theater.

Part of it was a unique energy - not just amongst the actors playing the Marx Brothers, but all of the cast. Given that there are only nine people in the production - especially with the variety of roles - some of the quick changes were not only astounding but much like a great magic show, I was wondering how they did it. I was also surprised (and maybe this is due to a slight familiarity, having seen the movie multiple times) at how farcical the play was, poking fun at high society and....well, it's easy to see why it was popular during the Depression.

But anyway, what about the actors playing the Marx Brothers? Fine - it was hard for me to get the movie portrayals out of my head, but once I let those particular voices settle (voices in my head? did I just type that out loud?), it all clicked - Joey Slotnick's Groucho, Jonathan Brody's Chico, and Molly Shannon's Harpo (a female Harpo? Trust me, it works) helped give the show some expected jolts. But Ed Kross, who plays Zeppo - and another, more romantic lead - really deserves kudos. So much so that one can see why Zeppo left show business: the "Zeppo" character had maybe 30 minutes of total stage time.

(And in all fairness to the play, some other Marx material was integrated - it didn't seem like a Marx Brothers' greatest hits so much as a way to make a Depression-era play connect for younger viewers. It all hung together beautifully)

So this was one of my glad-I-did-before-I-got-too-old moments: a chance to see a play that resulted in one of my favorite movies. This is very well worth it, so I'm tempted to see it again.

Especially since I'm seriously crushing on one of the actresses.

See this. Now.

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