Sunday, October 20, 2002

Parade (Cassidy Theatre)

'PARADE' enlightens at Cassidy

Cassidy Theatre is noted as a community theatre which tends to play it safe. It produces the likes of Neil Simon comedies and pleasant Broadway hit musicals. That’s what its generally conservative audience wants, and the audience is composed of local taxpayers who financially support the theatre.

But every once in a while the theatre goes out on a wing. They are doing that now with the musical 'PARADE.' They are, in fact, one of the first nonprofessional theatres in the country to tackle this controversial piece. The show has two major blocks to success. The production requires a huge cast, in Cassidy’s case, over 35 bodies. The players must be talented enough to both act and sing their way through a script that requires high drama and good voices. Secondly, the story is very serious, not normally the basis for audience enjoyment.

In 1913, Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jew living in Georgia, was put on trial for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory worker under his employ. Though innocent, he is guilty in the eyes of everyone around him who. They don’t like that he is Jewish, a northerner, and rich. His only defenders are a governor with a conscience, and his assimilated Southern wife who finds the strength and love to become his champion.

'PARADE' tells the story pretty accurately, even including actual words spoken by the real-life characters. Its goal is to educate people about the tragedy of prejudice. It is successful in doing this. As one critic said, "I left the theatre shaking, horrified at what I'd just seen, moved to tears. Real life dramas are hard enough, but stories this tragic are just shattering." The show won two Tony Awards.

Cassidy is fortunate that its former artistic director David Jecman has returned to take on the production. Jecman has a clear sense of purpose for the staging. He also knows the limits of his amateur cast and has not sugar-coated the material. Don Irven portrays Leo Frank with well-measured compassion. Maggie Wirfel gives a polished performance as Frank’s wife. Jecman, in contrast to most directors, has paid much attention to the supporting players and the effort shows. The highlight of the show is the well-honed trial segment.

Is the production perfect? No, the choreography is weak, some of the acting is very amateurish, several performers over act, and the required southern drawls come and go. But this is a community theatre and an amateur production that has undertaken the staging of a tough show.

In spite of Jecman and the cast’s work, and the high quality of the script, some audience members vocally indicated they didn’t "enjoy" the production. This, of course, was not the universal reaction.

It is ironic that in the area of Cuyahoga county which has had much publicity regarding its lack of openness to minorities, some people would reject their being educated to the horrors of prejudice. People like the woman who vocally complained as she marched down the aisle at intermission, "I didn’t come to the theatre to see stuff like this," ought to realize that not all life’s experiences are meant to be "enjoyed!"

Capsule judgement: This is a show worth seeing!