The Cradle Will Rock at Frank Theatre
When: March 15 - April 7, 2019
At: Gremlin Theatre
Running Time: 90 min, no intermish
"A play in music written in 1937, The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein is set in Steeltown, USA. Mr. Mister, the corporate magnate, has bought up (or paid off) every sector of the community: the church, the press, the university, the artists. A prostitute arrives in Steeltown, and is immediately picked up for soliciting. Hauled into night court, she is befriended by a derelict pharmacist, who explains that all the others (who have been hauled in mistakenly) are as guilty of selling themselves as she is. Through flashback and song, the piece illustrates how each of the civic leaders sold out to Mr. Mister, with the exception of Larry Foreman, a union organizer who is attempting to get the whole town to organize."
What We Thought:
The Cradle Will Rock is possibly best known as the pro-union show produced by the Federal Theatre Project in 1937 that was closed before it opened due to the incendiary subject matter. It's heavily symbolic, as demonstrated by the character names: Mr. Mister, Reverend Salvation, Harry Druggist. Frank artistic director Wendy Knox leans into the unreality, with exaggerated performances, makeup, costumes, and two-dimensional scenery.
This kind of show, like the work of Bertolt Brecht, is right in Frank's wheelhouse. The actors commit fully to the concept, and make the most of their roles. Sonja Thompson provides expert musical accompaniment, with assistance from cast members. The show is well done, and clocks in at a tight 90 minutes. For me, though, the style overpowers the substance. The piece felt dated, and I'm just not sure it's my thing. But it's a classic, and Frank is the theater that can pull it off.
Gremlin Theatre's space is nice, with seating on three sides of a square stage. But parking can be difficult, since it shares a parking lot with Lake Monster Brewing and an event center. Arrive early in case you need to park on the far side of the building. And if you have to run to the restroom, it's around a corner and down a long hall, so plan ahead.