The Golden Screw, or That’s Your Thing, Baby
If you want to hear the complete truth about anything, just sit in the ladies’ room. You’ll hear what women really think about their friends, your outfit or that guy in the corner. Immediately following a performance of Brüka Theatre’s The Golden Screw, I heard some very telling comments from my bathroom stall. They went a little something like this:
“So, what’d you think?”
“Well, I’m not sure what it was about.”
“I’m not really sure, either. But I liked it, it was fun.”
“Oh yeah, I liked it. I just didn’t really get it.”
Tom Sankey wrote and composed The Golden Screw (subtitled That’s Your Thing, Baby) as a workshop production for New York City’s Theatre Genesis in June of 1966. The show does feel “workshop-y,” in that (a) it’s short, (b) its staging and costuming are remarkably casual, and (c) it’s performed in short vignettes. But that doesn’t mean these Brüka performers seem like amateurs.
The show is billed by Brüka as a “witty musical regarding rebellion and the soul of an artist.” It’s a vague, somewhat frustrating description. But there’s not really a discernible plot, which is why I can understand the aforementioned audience members’ confusion.
Essentially, through a series of character sketches interspersed with original folk songs, we are shown glimpses of a musician’s slow rise to fame, from the perspectives of those around him.
Our “lead,” for lack of a better word, is local musician James Cavanaugh, who only appears between character sketches to perform funny, insightful and definitely 1960s-inspired music. Cavanaugh is a talented performer with a charisma that makes him fun to watch. As his character’s career begins to take off, the songs gain complexity, moving beyond simple acoustic guitar tracks to electric guitar with accompaniment from backup singers (the cast), bass guitarist Gary Kephart and drummer Frankie Ferreira.
The three-person cast consists of Brüka staff members David Simpson and the very talented Mary Bennett, as well as Andy Luna, whom I’ve noticed has also gained complexity of late.
Describing what they do is hard. I don’t want to give away the show, and since it’s only 90 minutes long, including the intermission, each sketch is significant. I will say that Bennett’s keen sense of timing—not only as a comedian but also in her use of pauses that convey a moment’s gravity—helps make her portrayal of anyone, from a musician’s 20-something significant other to a grandmother, convincing and captivating. When Luna donned his visor to play a tailor, his entire face and voice seemed to change. He became that character, which impressed me. I look forward to more from him.
I can’t say I was as impressed by Simpson. His turn as an unemployment office clerk was amusing in places, but overall, it felt awkward and uncomfortable. It’s possible, however, that as the show’s run continues, he will loosen up and inhabit his characters more completely.
Some sketches fell a bit flat, but the beauty of a show like this is that you can see something different every night as the cast grows into it. And because it takes place in the small, basement level Sub-Brüka space, the cast really feeds off the audience’s energy.
Don’t worry about whether you “get it” or not. Just come, relax, laugh a little and hear some good tunes. That’s really what it’s about.