Unlike the 28-year-old theater wunderkind Patrick Kennelly, whose electro-opera “Patty the Revival” I very much enjoyed at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica last night, I was a vulnerable ten-year-old sponge when “The Patty Duke Show” hit the airwaves circa 1964.
Ka-thunk. That’s the sound of television pablum landing on my undefended prepubescent brain. And I became the pleasured slave of the half-hour segments about a twin set of tweens — Cathy who adores the minuet, the Ballets Russes and crepes suzette, and Patty who likes to rock ‘n roll, a hot dog makes her lose control.
Yes, the Patty Duke Show theme song forever emblazoned in my memory banks. What a waste of space.
By the time Patricia Hearst and the SLA blew through the insane wind tunnel that was the unwinding of the 1960s, I was still confused by how faraway California managed to foment all this cultural chaos and disseminate it via television.
The peculiarly American phenomenon of celebrity– the relentless commoditization of the individual (exemplars: the two Patties) – is Kennelly’s concern in “Patty the Revival.” The auteur and his many collaborators have fashioned a smart new musical that considers the crazy forces that shape our lives.
“Patty” depicts a journey toward person hood. A large cast of female characters cohabits the stage: shrews, nags, and pals. Three women share the lead role of Patty, plus a fourth, a shadow Patty, who haunts our girl. This trifurcation cleverly evokes Patty Duke’s twindom and Patty Hearst’s “me-or-Tania?” dilemma.
Where, and who, is the real person?
Calling his “Patty” a “revival, Kennelly draws on the language and imagery of religiosity, the pentecostal. But it’s actually a new wave opera, a looney underground musical careening on uppers. To prove it, the best song of the evening, “Colors,” is inspired by Duke’s outré turn as Neely in the film, “Valley of the Dolls.” “Purple, pink, red, yellow and blue” moans the refrain.
I loved seeing”Patty”‘s all-girl cast crammed into Pilar Macchione’s Wonder Woman costumes, teetering on perilous platform shoes, in a garage-rock setting. The venerable performance space has been reconfigured into a new arrangement with a cool thrust stage designed by Lianne Arnold and wired by dedicated tech guy Ed Cha. By producing the whizz-bang “Patty,” Highways’ longtime artistic director Leo Garcia aims to draw the next gen into his shop.
Wonderful performances with full-throttled song delivery (music by Jonathan Snipes with Kristin Erickson, many worked on the lyrics) and constrained but shapely choreography by Marina Magalhaes mark this show. Less successful were wobbly video wall projections that kept the viewer in a state of perpetual visual motion. I’m not sure where “Patty” takes us or how it resolves (despite a shocking kicker) and the show needs cutting. But its sharp mocking of the cult of celebrity, and the pleasure of watching the all-woman pack interact in funny, believable, yet girlish ways makes “Patty” worthwhile. We were waiting for the man in this paean to American girlhood, but he never showed up. It was all about Patty, rather the Patties. Or the Patty in us all.
photo credits: Highways Performance Space, Marina Osthoff Magalhães