Beggars Would Ride
Conrad Alexandrowicz’s new musical, a PuSh satellite show, is—mostly—a knockout. A dark, funny, raunchy parable about a class system challenged by an insurrection based on the corrupt sexual appetites of a debased, debauched aristocracy, Beggars Would Ride features terrific music, accomplished performances, and excellent production values. The fact that it’s overwritten, sometimes overdirected, and 20% too long doesn’t detract too much from what is a pretty spectacular premiere.
The play is set in some unspecified dystopia where there are only Two Kinds of People (the title of the catchy opening song): masters, the “nobelesse obelige” in the slightly warped language spoken there, and the “servanets” who serve them. Morley (Allan Morgan) and Davinia (Karin Konoval) are the ruling couple, joyfully shrieking their orders for food at the three sibling servants (Damon Calderwood, Tamara McCarthy and Jeff Gladstone), sadistically ordering them to debase themselves (“hop like bunnies”), and hustling offstage to have sex—to “fark”— whenever Davinia gets the urge from “down there,” from her “mouth without teeth,” even though we hear many times that Morley has a “tiny limpdick.”
Eventually, the oldest of the serfs (Calderwood) has had enough, and plots an insurrection against the pair his sister calls “my Lord and Lady Shitbag,” proposing that the attractive younger brother (Gladstone) let himself be used as a sex toy by both aristos to get inside the system, so to speak. The revolution proceeds with much talking about, singing about, and miming sex of every variety, but eventually another aspect of human nature gets in the way.
Alexandrowicz has written some witty, Kurt Weillian songs to go with Patrick Pennefather’s clever music (played on electric piano by Kyle Jesperson), and he’s given his cast plenty of opportunities to milk them. Morgan, who specializes in over-the-top decadent monsters, thrives in this kind of theatrical atmosphere, and he ensures that his solo “Song of Sexual Satisfaction” is a show-stopper. Konoval is a match for him in every way in her red fright wig as the super-lascivious Ravinia, devouring her number, “I Eat the Bones.” Calderwood has the strongest voice in the cast, but everyone can sing and act, and the ensemble and choral work is all very fine.
Bryan Pollock’s low-budget set—painted flats, with a garden for the servants and neo-classical columns backing the masters—looks good, and Barbara Clayden’s Rocky Horror-like costumes are great, the nobles’ dress and waistcoat reflecting the flowers in the servants’ garden, as if to suggest how they appropriate everything that might belong to the underclass.
I wish Alexandrowicz had made the aristos a little less inane and cut a goodly chunk of the second act. Maybe next time. This show definitely deserves a second production and a longer run. It closes Sunday.
Props to PuSh for recognizing the potential of new, locally produced work like this and integrating it into the festival.