By Bill Hirschman
Many local theaters gear their fare to time-tested niche audiences from the older snowbirds hewing toward traditional warhorses to Millenials seeking an edgier less structured event.
But a brand-new troupe, Primal Forces, is targeting a group previously left to fend for themselves: the Boomers who came of age during the political and social tumult of the 1960s and 1970s.
The company opens with David Mamet’s newest play, The Anarchist, Feb. 28-March 23 being hosted at Andrews Living Arts Studio in Fort Lauderdale. It focuses on a battle of wills and philosophies between a female political radical jailed for 35 years for murder and a prison official with the power to parole her.
For 70 minutes, the two spar about a wide range of issues that almost resemble a Talmudic debate, said company founder and director Keith Garsson.
Primal Forces is a subdivision of Boca Raton Theatre Guild, a bastion of mainstream theater for which Garsson serves as producer and artistic director. BRTG, which recently combined its season with The Women’s Theatre Project, has been evolving in recent years, “and this is just the next step,” explained Garsson.
BRTG has had considerable success with mainstream musicals and comedies. But it has reached almost a formula: choose the right show and the right people, and the show usually succeeds with the audience. Garsson is not slighting that paradigm or minimizing the work BRTG has produced, but the shows attracting primarily a senior audience don’t satisfy the adventurous artistic need in him, or many of his colleagues, he said.
“Boca Raton Theatre Guild has this very rigid structure; everything is planned almost a year in advance,” Garsson said. Primal Forces will be a bit more ad hoc, depending on when personnel, rights and performing spaces become available. “Here, if we get three shows a year, great. If not…. This is a very personal project.”
Citing the blockbuster houses at one end and the youth-oriented plays like those written by Mark Della Ventura, Garsson said, “There’s no need to duplicate that. “We’re looking to look at where our generations came from.”
In fact, he said, some twenty-somethings might not connect as solidly with The Anarchist. “It feels like with Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, the stakes aren’t as high today because there’s no draft. When people are pushed, when given no choice except to fight in a war of dubious political motives, that’s quite a different mentality than Occupy Wall Street. There is no revolution. We’re curious to see if that resonates.”
The play’s New York premiere in December 2012 directed by Mamet did not garner critical acclaim or major box office sales during its abbreviated run in the wake of Hurricane Sandy despite the casting of Patti LuPone and Debra Winger. Some blamed Winger’s outclassed performance, some felt overwhelmed by the philosophical debates, some that the intimate play was lost in a 1,200-seat theater.
Intimacy will not be a problem in Primal Forces’ production. Andrews Living Arts is a tiny theater converted from a mechanic’s garage; the back wall of the stage are the old overhead garage doors.
But Garsson was transported by the experience when he saw in New York. “I walked outside at 9:10 (p.m.) and $130 poorer, and said this is Patti and Jaquie,” meaning Patti Gardner and Jacqueline Laggy who have worked extensively for BRTG and Women’s Theatre Project, sometimes in the same show.
“I only know it is the most challenging script I have ever tackled and I’m both terrified and ecstatic to be working on it,” Gardner was quoted in a news release. “No matter what you think of this play…you’ll never forget it. It’s one of those pieces I dare you to stop thinking about.”
This play is unlike Mamet’s recent outings “Race” and “November,” Garsson said, each delivered “with rat-a-tat dialogue and freight trained through one particular topic. This play is much thicker and more dense in terms of ideas.”
Garsson said Primal Forces is about “giving back to the community” with challenging shows. No one is making much money off this project even though the scale and budget of the show is very small. Tickets are cheap at $25 and industry professionals can get up to complimentary tickets by emailing email@example.com for details.
The name Primal Forces, by the way, comes from the movie Network in which the media mogul Ned Beatty berates Peter Finch’s anchorman with a tirade that begins, “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature!” It’s Garsson’s favorite movie quote. “I’ve been waiting ten years to use that name, maybe longer.”
The Anarchist from Primal Forces plays Feb. 28 – March 21 at Andrews Living Arts Studio, 23 NW Fifth Street, Fort Lauderdale. 8 p.m. Thursday– Saturday, 2 p.m. some Saturdays-all Sundays. Tickets $20 for previews (through March 6); $25 general admission. Visit www.brtg.org, or call (866) 811-4111