"Pain Don't Hurt"
Road House Goes Off-Broadway
Time was that a stage remake of a hit movie was a sure disaster: Carrie, Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy (curiously, all movies that starred John Travolta...) lost their backers lots of money once they hit the boards. But last year a colorful little Broadway number changed all that: Hairspray took a loveable John Waters comedy and crafted a superb musical, opening to raves (including one from Cinema Gotham) and winning every award available.
Working on a completely different scale, director Timothy Haskell's rendition of the Patrick Swayze brawler-cult-classic Road House manages to be every bit as entertaining. Like the creators of the Hairspray musical, Haskell approaches the material with both humor and affection. There's not a character in this ensemble of rednecks, hillbillies and good old boys that Haskell doesn't seem to want you to share a Bud with.
But inevitably the conversation came around to Road House. "Everyone had seen a scene or the entire thing at one time or another because it's on TV all the time. It's awful but it's terribly compelling. It's like watching a train wreck. It had sort of crossed that pop culture Zeitgeist brand-name threshold." Haskell credits the "love-hate relationship" viewers have with the film for helping develop enthusiasm.
For those unfamiliar with the source material, Road House is the tender story of Dalton (Swayze), a legendary cooler hired by the owner of the Double Deuce ("The kind of place where they sweep up the eyeballs at closing") to lead a team of raggedy bouncers in a Guiliani-style clean-up. Like Shakespeare's tragic heroes, Dalton finds love, blood and death on his journey. Haskell's adaptation has all of that plus the immediacy of WWE Smackdown as chairs fly into the audience and actors tumble through windows.
Being that the show has been described as a "brawlsical" by its director, the fights are key. With all-out bar brawls breaking out every few minutes Road House is literally the most ass-kicking show to ever hit the stage. "Barroom brawls are the last true great fighting [style]," says Haskell, pointing out their purity when compared with the wire-fu of films like The Matrix. "It's not that I dislike those films," he says, "but I wanted to be able to bring that [rawness] to the stage." Fight fans will have even more to crow about in the show's new venue: Haskell has extended one big brawl by a minute-and-a-half ("It's the director's cut," he laughs) and is taking full advantage of the new theater space. "There's a mezzanine in the new theater," he says, " and I just could not have someone not fall off it."
"I was hanging out doing karaoke," recalls Taimak, "and I bumped into someone I had worked with. He said 'man, this director's been looking for you for a while. Do you mind if I give him your number?' When I was a kid I wasn't that impressed with the movie or the martial arts in it." Watching Road House again as an adult, however, Taimak saw the film's other side - the one that attracted Haskell to it. "I found it funny. I mean, it wasn't meant to be funny, but it has a real B-movie feel to it. I thought it would be really fun."
Taimak, who's currently shopping around a sequel to The Last Dragon, credits Haskell's vision with helping combine a bunch of his interests in one project. "His idea was to have me do more physical stuff. And I thought it would be fun to be able to do my thing and act as well, and do comedy. And since I'm also the choreographer for the show I spent a lot of time with the actors, getting them ready for the fights. It's easy for me but they needed preparation."
Laura Baggett perfectly mimics the toe-walking skankiness of the local slut, right down to the ludicrous strip tease that climaxes in a faceful of lady's clothing for Dalton. And Harry Listig smirks his way through a perfect spoof of Ben Gazarra's totally unmotivated villain character.
Actually, every member of the cast is completely hilarious. And the mix of experienced stage actors and first timers helps the crazy vibe. Haskell said he wanted to use some non-professionals to emphasize the ludicrousness of the material with "a certain stiltedness. I wanted actors that are purposely awkward on stage."
"I was one of the few people who had never seen the movie," Roberts told Cinema Gotham. "We started from outside-in with everyone coming up with some of the physicalities of the characters and then try to work on the intimate [aspects] of the scenes. I try to stay away from anything that was reminiscent of the film acting-wise. I never tried to do any of the things Kelly Lynch did." A wise move, indeed.
An additional challenge for the actors was dealing with the large cast of the film with a limited number of performers. With so many of the cast-members playing multiple characters they also looked for little details to distinguish their performances. "We'd find tics that we could repeat over and over," says Roberts. "People are changing characters so much, so this way [the audience] would know what character they're seeing." Clearly the actors took cues like these and ran with them. Their inventive, innovative performances are inspirational. And it's easy to see actors like Roberts (who can also be seen playing the lead in Sherman Lau's indie film Zooey, gearing up for the festival circuit) taking the weird skills on display here and applying them to a broad range of styles.
The high level of talent associated with the production may come as a surprise to audience members expecting out-and-out schlock, but that all fits with Haskell's view of the theater. "People use the words 'experimental theater' to apply to wacky, I-don't-understand-what's- happening theater, the avant-garde school of thought I come from. But there's no reason you can't experiment with populist theater. Just because you experiment doesn't mean you need to become inaccessible. And if it was just a parody of the movie it would turn into an hour-and-a-half Saturday Night Live skit." And here I thought all the skits on Saturday Night Live already lasted an hour-and-a-half.
As for Taimak, the reaction has been its own reward. "People's responses have been so big," he glows. "I just want to make people happy. I get off on them getting off. What's better than that?"
Road House: The Play will be at the Barrow Street Theatre (located at The Greenwich House - 27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue) from December 10th through February 8th. Performances are Wednesdays - Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 5:30 and 9:30 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Tickets are $19.89 (the year of the film) - $40 and can be purchased by calling SmartTix at 212.868.4444 or by going to www.smarttix.com.
Tickets can also be purchased at the Barrow Street Theatre box office 2 hours prior to performances. For more information please call 212.243.6262.LINKS:
Road House: The Play web-site
Road House the movie on DVD
The Last Dragon on DVD
Cinema Gotham DVD reviews
"It's a New World"
Jim Sheridan's In America
Top 10 DVDs of 2003