Herbert Matthews Goes to the Sierra
Printer's Devil Theatre at various venues; go to www.printersdevil.org or call 860-7163 for complete information. Through Sept 29.

Herbert Matthews Goes to the Sierra is the most fun piece of theater I've seen in a long time. This 35-minute rock opera--based on the life of a Castro-infatuated New York journalist--plays with the conventions of the standard musical (a garish backdrop scene of "paradise," hokily inspiring melodies), the rock band (the cast sets up and strikes the set in front of you, and does its own roadie work), and glossy treatments of politics (Castro is played by a tall blond guy). Herbert Bergel's witty lyrics and lively score make it very hard indeed for anyone in the audience to keep from smiling, laughing, or groaning out loud at the eye-rollingly corny jokes.

The real, historic Matthews was on vacation with his wife in Cuba when Fidel Castro asked him to report on the Cuban revolution. Years later, as journalistic styles changed, Matthews was dismissed from his position at the Times. David Vegh is perfectly pathetic as the schlumpy, fashion-impaired, naive American tourist Matthews. Jen Kays brings a nasal, Olive Oylish squeak to the role of Herbert's wide-eyed wife, Nancie. The predictably brilliant comic performance by Stephen Hando is matched, in this show, by that of Printer's Devil regular Tina Kunz; Hando and Kunz play not only the Matthews' teeth-gratingly irritating grandchildren but also a pair of revolutionaries, a couple of tough-talking prison guards, and some very, very bad faux sexy disco dancers. The practically Nordic David Gehrman makes an earnest church-counselor Castro. The wry costumes and casting are in line with Bergel's immensely satisfying comic lyrics, which include rhymes such as these: financiers/sizable ears; impala/Guatemala; sea sick/Moby Dick. Bergel plays bass guitar during the show, accompanied by the Dimpled Midwesterners. Bergel's last rock opera was El Cid; I missed that one, but having seen Herbert Matthews, I wish someone would re-produce his earlier work again.

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