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"Pain Don't Hurt"
Road House Goes Off-Broadway
Road House: The Play
December 5, 2003 | The full title of the play is Road House: The Stage Version of The Cinema Classic That Starred Patrick Swayze, Except This One Stars Taimak From The 80s Cult Classic The Last Dragon Wearing a Blonde Mullet Wig and once you've read that you could think that there isn't much else you need to know. But you'd be wrong.

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.

Swayze gets busy in scenes from the original
Swayze gets busy in scenes from the original
According to Haskell, the idea "was generated from a conversation with a bunch of friends at party about what would be the most unlikely film that could be made into a play." A first thought was Young Guns 2. "Skip the original," says Haskell. "Just go right to the sequel. You've got that great Bon Jovi song."

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.

Taimak shows his stuff
Taimak shows his stuff
Road House: The Stage Play ran from October 30 through November 22 at Teatro La Tea in the Lower East Side, but anyone who missed it there will get a second chance to join in the madness when the show reopens at the Barrow Street Theatre on December 10th (complete info below). In the show's original location Haskell's staging was both supremely minimalist and totally flexible. The stage consisted of a large black space sparsely decorated with assorted hand-made props like a tiny chicken-wire stage where blind guitarist Cody (Christopher Joy in the Jeff Healey role) dodged breakaway beer bottles, and a brown paper screen that stood in for a plate-glass window (Guess what happened to that.) There were times when the ingenuity of Haskell's direction was unexpectedly sharp: A screen on the side of the stage showed live reenactments of outdoor scenes played with miniatures, which helped with Dalton's cross-country drive and other logistically complicated scenes. And Haskell has promised to bring that same vibe to the new space.

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."

Taimak and Ago the MagiChef
Taimak and Ago the MagiChef
If there's any one part of Road House: The Stage Play that most elevates the production it's the cast, which is universally excellent. The actor who gets the most press, of course, is Taimak Guariello, whose take on the Swayze performance is brilliantly intense. Not exactly a force in the entertainment biz since his debut starring role in 1985's cult classic The Last Dragon as Harlem high-kicker Bruce Leroy, Taimak has spent the last couple decades choreographing for and training celebs like Madonna and Sporty Spice, as well as continually studying martial arts. But Haskell was banking on his draw as a pop culture oddity for the play. "I think some people are coming expecting [the show to be] 'Watch this has-been make a jackass out of himself,'" he explains, "but I felt secure that he was the real deal. They're discovering he's funny and he's got a personality." It's easy to see from the star's performance why Haskell was so intent on casting him.

"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."

Taimak and Rachael Roberts
Taimak and Rachael Roberts
But the cast was up to the task. Ago the MagiChef, who also does cooking/comedy shows for hire (Ago, as his advertisement in the Road House program states, is "the only one who can make this happen!") adds a touch of Northern Italy to Wade Garrett, the grisly veteran bouncer played by Sam Elliott in the movie. While he brings Elliott's hairy intensity, he also performs card tricks and other assorted gags. "The thing that's challenging to believe in the movie," says Haskell, "is that Sam Elliott is a better bouncer than Patrick Swayze because Swayze looks like he could kick Sam Elliott's ass. I thought, what if the reason why [that character's] so good is because he's magic?" As for Ago's thick accent, Haskell recalls the actor asking "'Whataboutta my English?' I said, 'No, that's perfect! I don't want to understand anything you say!'"

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."

Your Love is Like Bad Medicine: Roberts and Taimak
Your Love is Like Bad Medicine:
Roberts and Taimak
Another stand-out in the cast is Rachael Roberts as Dr. Elizabeth Clay, the bizarre love interest embodied in the film by Kelly Lynch. Roberts writhes and wriggles in skin-tight denim and enormous red gag glasses (a reference that the Road House fans in the audience didn't miss) and manages to make her character both sexy and ridiculous at the same time. There's a fine line, a wise man once said, between clever and stupid, but Roberts walks it expertly.

"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.

C'mon, Swayze! Step up to the plate!
C'mon, Swayze!
Step up to the plate!
Haskell, who hopes the show might enter into a perennial Blue Man Group / Stomp style ongoing production, is even trying to get Swayze himself to check out the production. "I hear he has a pretty good sense of humor," he says. "If he walked on stage one night and fought Taimak that would be amazing." In the meantime, Haskell can at least claim to have helped spur a mini-Swayze renaissance: "Blockbuster should be thanking us! I've increased Road House rentals tenfold! 2000 people have seen [the show] and everyone is going back and checking out the movie."

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.

Road House: The Play web-site
Road House the movie on DVD
The Last Dragon on DVD



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