Monday, February 16, 2009


Another voyage into the surreal world of Estelle Clark, LAZY TOWN (1935) was ostensibly written for the lower grades, but so much of it is so disjointed and (at times) downright bizarre that I wonder how it was received by audiences expecting something slightly more than a cute pageant for 10 year olds.

The title has nothing to do with the play, by the way. Lazy Town is (apparently) a Dutch settlement outside an unspecified Western town, sometime during the Gold Rush days of the 1840s. I say "apparently" because Estelle really makes you work to figure this out.

Nevertheless, we're in the sad little cabin of the Roozee family. Papa has gone off to make his fortune in the gold fields, and no one's heard from him in five years. Mama keeps everyone's body and soul together by taking in laundry. It's Meena's tenth birthday, and all she really wants is a doll she saw in the shop window. Instead, she gets a party.

Hmm. On one hand, a doll. On the other, a fun time with your friends. Tough call. And she seems to have made up her mind: friends are for the moment, but a doll like that is forever. And now it seems unlikely she wont get it. Well, cant have everything, I suppose.

Still, her friends have brought her presents (except for the annoyingly cute Snitzy, who brought a gift "but I ate it"). Still, Meena's all about that doll, so Mama gives up and goes to get it for her. While she's gone, Meena falls asleep and dreams of a witch who's brought a bunch of brownies (the fey folk, not the food) and a caldron in which she stirs good luck.

She wakes up when her brother Peter barges in, with his friends Slim, Patch, and the forever-hungry Tubby. Gold's been found north of town, and now the whole town is celebrating, with bonfires and Lord only knows what all else. Mama, who's come back, takes Meena to the toy store (because I think she couldnt figure out which one Meena wanted) while Peter and his friends disappear to make deliveries for his mother.

Theyre no sooner out the door than a crew of Mysterious Men and Women appear and proceed to redecorate the place, turning the sad little cabin into a gorgeous palace.

Who are they? It's a mystery.

Why has the play turned into an episode of Extreme Home Makeover? Because it has.

And with that, the curtain falls on Act One.

Act Two starts a short time later, with all the neighbours waiting for Mama and Meena to come home for the party. Inexplicably, no one seems to notice (or comments on) the substantial changes in the room in the last twenty minutes: instead, they're all doing their best to keep Tubby from chowing down on the birthday cake while keeping ghosts out of the corners of the room (Dont ask me; I have no idea...).

When the two do return, Meena's convinced the witch changed everything, because, well, the doll she wanted is sitting right there in a fancy chair that wasnt there a half hour ago. There's a strange laugh outside, and Meena runs to see if it's the witch. Everyone else is suddenly despondent because they think they'll never see poor little Meena again. To take their minds off that gloomy thought, they decide to put candles on the birthday cake... but none can be found.

Well, we cant have that, so Ten Candle Lighters mysteriously appear and place candles on the cake. Tubby, of course, has to eat one. Meena rushes back in with Papa, who has hit it rich and made all this happen. He's even brought Peter a burro "all the way from Nome", but the animal refuses to perform until a fish tied to a stick is dangled before its eyes by a little Eskimo (or maybe he saw the glint in Tubby's eye). Papa decides to give the cabin to the poorest family in town, and everyone sings and dances as the curtain falls.

Truly, what drugs was this woman doing and where can I find some?

Granted, operettas for the younger set were a lot less structured, but this one is truly out there, even for Estelle. The storyline truly makes little, if any, sense: burros, eskimos, candle lighters, flower dancers, a chorus of baby dolls, tap dancing newsboys, "mystery" men and women (who, by the way, never appear again after their star turn in Act One) -- it all becomes more than a bit surreal, even by Mrs. Clark's usual convoluted standards. Granted, it's one of those plays that guarantees a part for everyone, no matter whether they're singers or dancers or capable of absolutely nothing at all. But it's all such a mosh, a grab bag of literally any- and everything, all tossed in for no other reason than the fact that Estelle chose to toss them in.

The lyrics are up to her usual standards. The opening chorus:

Hand in hand we dance around and joyously we sing
As we're linked together like a garland in the spring
Come and join us in our happy roundelay
For our Meena's ten years old today

... and, a page later, when they leave:

So long, Meena! We'll come back without a doubt
To light the candles so you can blow them out

... and the appearance of the Mystery Men:

We are Men of Mystery
We go from place to place
We never show our face
For we're Men of Mystery
(All hiss loudly)

Why a hiss? I have no earthly idea, but bearing in mind that we're dealing with the sometimes inscrutable brain of Estelle Clark...

The music is pretty much a no-brainer as well, which pretty well fits considering the intended age group. No song is longer than sixteen bars, which means one short-short number after another. The running time is probably just over an hour, if that.

But the thing is: compare this to WHAT'S WRONG WITH SALLY, which I wrote on earlier. Meant for the same age group of performers, it has far more substance and structure than this rather Fellini-esque spectacle. This one just leaves more questions than anything else: why is everyone Dutch? Why is the place called Lazy Town? Why did Papa hire an entire Broadway show to give his daughter a birthday party?

And the biggest question of all: why on earth did this woman continue to get work?

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