It's one of the basic rules of entertainment: Always leave 'em wanting more. But the charms that were present in The Leader, Bare Theatre's evening of mostly comic inquiries into the nature of leadership and politics, were blunted by the sheer bulk of the material presented.
After choreographer Heather Strickland's imaginative opening movement piece gave the phrase "the ascent of mankind" a literal bent, the titled play, an absurdist one-act by Eugene Ionesco, provided a pointed examination of crowd control by the media. As the announcer, Matthew Hager seemed all but physically elevated by the grandeur of a nameless head of state, simultaneously briefing the masses on his every movement ("The Leader is eating his soup!") while keeping their enthusiasms in check. Though Ionesco's motifs seem ham-handed some 60 years after the work's premiere, The Leader still effectively asks just how much we actually know about the ones who lead us, and about the agendas of those providing the information.
But the seven one-acts that followed—interspersed with 10 blackout sequences and four additional group movement pieces—needed a lot more editing by artistic director G. Todd Buker and choreographer Heather Strickland. The cleverness of Chuck Keith's Lemmings and Buker's Democratists' Dilemma contrasted with the belabored work in Two Rulers and uncredited, metaphorical sketches on mountain climbing and not swallowing everything one's being fed.
Hager and Matt Fields' take on competing vaudeville performers and Jeff Buckner's winsome mid-show solo deftly explored how crowds and individuals participate in their own manipulation. But overlong movement work in other places, including the finale, added little to points made earlier in the evening.
The result: about 90 minutes of truly interesting work, much of it original—in a show that unfortunately runs well over two hours at present.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Dirty old classics."