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Review: Rocked by an alternate history in 'American Misfit'

April 19, 2013|By Philip Brandes
  • Hapless dummies run afoul of the Harpe brothers and their women (from left, Daniel MK Cohen, Karen Jean Olds, AJ Meijer and Maya Erskine, front) as frontman Banks Boutt and his rockabilly band (rear) accompany the mayhem. "American Misfit" is at the Theatre @ Boston Court.
Hapless dummies run afoul of the Harpe brothers and their women (from left,… (Ed Krieger )

With ferocious satire, time-bending surrealism and songs fiercely throbbing to the wild heart of early rock 'n' roll, Dan Dietz’s darkly brilliant "American Misfit" defies easy labels — as befits a full-volume celebration of the dissonant chord of rebellion sounding throughout our nation’s history. In the show’s striking inaugural production from the Theatre @ Boston Court, Michael Michetti’s staging hits all the right notes.

Crooning original rockabilly-style tunes by Dietz and Phillip Owen that sound authentic enough for a 1950s diner jukebox, narrator Banks Boutté fronts a red-hot four-piece band to propel us through various subversive revolutions — musical, political, scientific — and the common sensibility of the discontented outcast that fuels them.

In the time period mash-up unfolding on Nick Santiago’s dance hall set, the freewheeling narrative — "as true to life as you can get without messing up the beat" — primarily involves the notorious Harpe brothers, whose brutal murder spree in the late 1700s holds up a fun house mirror to the War of Independence.  

FULL COVERAGE: 2013 Spring arts preview

The hulking Big Harpe (AJ Meijer) and smarter sibling Little (Daniel MK Cohen) rationalize their crimes by portraying themselves as avenging monarchists lashing out at the flabby newborn American democracy, but such niceties don’t concern the gleefully sociopathic teeny-bopper sisters (Karen Jean Olds and Maya Erskine) who tag along for the thrill kill ride.

Figures from various historical eras performed by Larry Cedar and P.J. Ochlan include George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Robert Oppenheimer and Ronald Reagan. Eden Reigel supplies the closest thing to a “normal” perspective — and a stunning singing voice — as Little’s intellectual equal, who tolerates his excesses and lulls him into domestic complacency. 

Savage hearts do not take easily to home and hearth, however. While the violence here is bloodless and highly stylized — cloth dummies bear the brunt of it in Lee Martino’s inventive choreography — the show shares some thematic DNA with “Assassins” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” so don’t expect many cushy comforts in this (literally) take-no-prisoners staging.

“American Misfit,” the Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 40 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. May 8. Ends May 12. $34. (626) 683-6883 or www.bostoncourt.org. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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