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Monday, September 15, 2014

Ludlow, 1914


Created by:  Brian Freeland and the LIDA Project
Venue:  Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre, 3955 Regent Circle, Colorado Springs CO 80918.
Date of Performance:  Thursday, September 11, 2014. (Opening night performance.)
Theatreworks is known for taking risks.  They produced Every Man On the Bus last year; the stage was actually a city bus meandering through Colorado Springs.  They produced Venus in Fur earlier this year in a vacant industrial building downtown.  Both were marvelous, edgy productions that provided audiences with a unique experience.
The premiere of Ludlow, 1914, was another such risk.  Murray Ross, Artistic Director for Theatreworks, describes Ludlow, 1914 as follows:
"It is a deliberately fragmented series of physically based expressionistic scenes prompted by the Ludlow conflict and experience-we are calling it a 'dramatic vaudeville.'"
It's not a documentary.  It's "dramatic vaudeville."  
The LIDA Project put the script together, using a collaboration of a collective creative ensemble.  That script turns out to be nearly as chaotic and disturbing as the Ludlow Massacre itself.
Sitting in the audience waiting for the curtain to go up on Ludlow, 1914, one sees musicians and actors milling about the stage, chatting, tuning instruments, and otherwise just killing time.  Strangely, they are not in character, and seem to be unaware of, or disinterested in, the audience just a few feet away.  As the play begins, an actor tells us to turn off our cell phones as he begins the show by yelling out light cues to the tech booth.  
The combined effect of the pre-show promenade and the audible light cues is jarring; it gives the impression that the performance is more improvisational than scripted.
As the show begins, we are transported back 70,000,000 years to the Cretaceous period;
Celebrating the Earth Monster.
the beginning of the process of transforming plant and animal life into coal and oil.  We are introduced to the unseen "Mother Earth Monster," a fictional character who comes and goes throughout the performance.  I get it; this is an allegory about our use of fossil fuels.  I also understand the relevance to the Ludlow mine tragedy.  Unfortunately, this allegory distracts greatly from what would otherwise be the focus:  the men, women, and children who died in a massacre in April, 1914.
The script for Ludlow, 1914 takes so many detours that the drama  is secondary to the political and historical spin injected by the LIDA Project.  For example, we are treated to Mother Jones in drag.   What would be the point of portraying Mother Jones, probably the most prominent woman in the labor movement in U.S. history, in drag, if not to mock and diminish her legacy for cheap laughs?  Is this "dramatic vaudeville?"  If so, I've seen enough.
Socialism vs. Capitalism.  No contest.
If only Mother Jones in drag were the only diversion from the tragedy at Ludlow.  It's not.  The script also includes a heavyweight fight featuring, in one corner, Capitalism, (in a costume resembling Uncle Pennybags, the Monopoly Banker), weighing in at 800 pounds.  In the other corner, we have Socialism, weighing in at 90 pounds.  Not to spoil the plot here, but Socialism loses badly.  
The final scene of Ludlow, 1914, is, predictably, the massacre.  It is staged, however, such that the audience isn't sure how to react.  Finally, after 20-30 seconds, there was some uncertain clapping, as the show appeared to be over.  
To be clear, my dispute with Ludlow, 1914, is related to the fragmented and fanciful script.  The production of that script is capably directed and acted.  Still, a great production of a flawed script is rarely a memorable theater experience.  
The LIDA Project's motto is "Art designed to infect the mind..."  Indeed.  Infected does seem to be the appropriate verb.  One should leave the theater entertained or provoked by the subject matter, not by the novelty of the presentation.  Great risk holds the promise of great reward, but also the possibility of failure.  Theatreworks and the LIDA Project must be commended for taking great risk.  That said, however, the rewards for that risk are elusive here.  
Experimental theater is unconventional, but it still has to tell a story.  Theatreworks and the LIDA Project have taken one of the most dramatic and tragic events in Colorado history and muddled the story almost beyond recognition.  Ludlow 1914 is a lost opportunity.  
As the printed program properly points out, there is a generalized ignorance of the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado.  It's a moment in our history that inexplicably remains obscure.  I had high expectations that Ludlow, 1914 would start to change that ignorance.  Sadly, it's unlikely to move the needle at all.  
I'm not one of those Coloradans who is ignorant of the Ludlow Massacre; I've stood on the
Ruins of Ludlow after the massacre.  Photo credit:  Wikipedia.
ground at the site where those 66 people died.  It's a remote, solemn, lonely place.  It's not funny.  It's not vaudeville.  It was real people, gunned down and/or burned to death by the Colorado National Guard and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (a John D. Rockefeller enterprise) camp guards.  
The New York Times had this description:  
The Ludlow camp is a mass of charred debris, and buried beneath it is a story of horror imparalleled [sic] in the history of industrial warfare. In the holes which had been dug for their protection against the rifles' fire the women and children died like trapped rats when the flames swept over them. One pit, uncovered [the day after the massacre] disclosed the bodies of ten children and two women.
UMW Ludlow Memorial.  Photo credit:  Wikipedia.
It's a story that should be told; and a story that is unfortunately diminished by a whimsical and unfocused script in Ludlow, 1914

NOTES:  
As I can't recommend Ludlow, 1914, I offer readers some helpful links to learn more about the Ludlow Massacre.  If you're unaware of the events of April, 1914, these links will give you a great deal of insight into the tragedy.
The Design Team here includes job descriptions that I do not recognize from any other production.  Since I do not know what a Pixel Twister/Cinematographer, an Incandescence Artisian, an Anti-Gravity Consultant, or a Ghost Light Metalsmith does, I did not include them in the list below.
This show closes on September 28, 2014. 

Photo CreditsTheatreworks, unless otherwise credited.
Tickets HERE.

Director:  Brian Freeland
Dramaturge:  Murray Ross 
Collaborator:  Jeannene Bragg
Production Scenographer:  Steven J. Deidel
Co-Scenic Design:  Alex Polzin 
Co-Lighting Design:  Stevie Caldarola
Costume Design:  Betty Ross

CAST:
MEN                               WOMEN                             CHILDREN
ERIK BREVIK              RACHAEL BAKER             JACK ENGLISH
TERRY BURNSED      BETH CLEMENTS             SANAA FORD
MARK CANNON     JANE FROMM                     EVAN SLAVENS
BRUCE CARTER     MARGARET KASAHARA     MICAH WILBORN
                                                                                    KATELYN STURT
TRAVIS DUNCAN                                                     GALEN WESTMORELAND
DAVID HASTINGS                                      
TOM PARADISE

JEREMIAH WALTER

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