Bestiality - oh final horror - has come to Off-Broadway. It came last night at the Theater de Lys in a play called "Futz!" The strange thing is - and is this a sign of the corruption of our society? - the crime, act, fact, or whatever you want to call it, of bestiality would have come to Broadway itself if another show, "Leda Had A Little Swan", had not been beastly enough, and sadly, boring enough, to collapse during previews before the scheduled opening. However, Rochelle Owens's "Futz!", which I saw at one of its final previews, has beaten its controversial path into our ken. And I must say I am glad it did.
Miss Owens's play was first given for one performance nearly three years ago at the Tyronne Guthrie Workshop of the Minnesota Theater Company. In March of last year it was offered, in decent obscurity off-off-Broadway at Cafe La Mama. But then last fall, the La Mama Troupe ventured to the Edinburgh Festival, and incurred some charming legal judgments and journalistic opinions from the worthy Edinburgh burghers. Indeed, probably at this very moment some earnest German playwright, an adherent of Hochhuth's Theater of Fact, is researching an original play based upon the relevant documents.
I suppose you might call "Futz!" nothing more than "Tobacco Road" gone to pot, but although it is certainly full of a rude an rustic gusto, Miss Owens's play presumably has a moral purpose.
What denigrators of the plays subject matter neglect is the strong possibility that Miss Owens is not in actual fact recommending bestiality as a way of life - any more than Jonathan Swift in his pamphlet "A Modest Proposal" was really in favor of cooking and eating tiny babies. Perhaps Miss Owens is an advocate of animal as opposed to vegetable love, and for all I know the venerable Dr. Swift really was in favor of cannibalism (certainly he makes young babies sound extraordinarily succulent). But I think it more likely that both authors used shocking precepts to further a moral cause.
Cyrus Futz is a simple farm boy who happens to be in love with his pig, Amanda. Indeed he regards Amanda as his wife. As he tells his pig: "We tried to go to church but they wouldn't let us in - so I read you the Bible at home." However, Cy and Amanda are no normal couple, and the seedy normality of the village turns upon them and Cy is murdered by vengeful villagers.
Miss Owens's little parable of nonconformity is as plain as a pikestaff - indeed, this simple moral exemplum is scarcely enough to support an evening. yet, she is a baroque artist, she embroiders wildly on fevered fantasies, and suggests a mad world comically replete with mud and lust, yet a mad world rather less comically reminiscent of our own.
In "Futz!" Miss Owens is surveying man "the naked ape," looking at our animal impulses and satirically pinpointing them at their most obviously animal. Miss Owens has written better plays than "Futz!" (the interested are recommended to look at the Random House collection of her plays, a number of which have been given by the Judson Poets Theater) and there is a constant pressure as the playwright tries to obtain more and more elaboration from her theme. Yet she has a way with her, a sense of the theater, and at times a lovely turn of phrase. I can think of few sentences that have pleased me more this season than Cy's description of the Sheriff as "looking like a bad drawing of God."
Of course fundamentally, "Futz!" is hardly any more a play by Rochelle Owens than it is a staging by Tom O'Horgan, La Mama's favorite son.
Mr. O'Horgan, who brings his own music, has visualized "Futz!" as some kind of Dionysiac dance, wild and fevered. He sends his actors mugging and careening across the stage in great joyous surges of energy. Mr. O'Horgan has evident talent, and wherever it's leading him, it's leading him fast.
The finest thing about the performance is its corporate style. The La Mama Troupe acts like a troupe, and it has a manner of its own. Of the individuals, the shining Candide-like innocence of John Bakos as Cyrus was a joy, and so was the excellent Seth Allen as the corrupt and decrepit young man, Oscar Loop. But it is a pretty evenly matched and unusually well rehearsed cast.
So much for "Futz!" Don't go expecting to be shocked. But for people with an interest in the American theater, "Futz!", for all its artistic inequalities, is a play worth seeing. I do, however, suggest that people who enjoyed, say, "Cactus Flower", should not permit themselves to be stampeded into seeing "Futz!" Let it wait a decade or so.
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