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John O’Keefe's “All Night Long” Warps Our World

by Marla Lewin

Global Film Village

 

This September, Los Angeles saw two plays by John O’Keefe produced.  “Don’t You Ever Call Me Anything But MOTHER”, just closed at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group in North Hollywood, starring Tina Preston in a tour de force performance, and “All Night Long” at the Atwater Theatre complex in Glendale.  

 

John’s personal past is reflected in the performance piece “Don’t You Ever Call Me Anything But MOTHER”, based on his own life and mother surviving near homelessness, and an alcoholic husband, herself drinking beers for the hour performance, speaking to her absent son, Johnny expressing her hopes for his future.  Tina Preston embodied the character, a true tour de force performance of pain.  Her husband Don Preston opened the show, intercepting a musical piece based on his reaction to drive-by shootings, and the death of children in the streets. Don was a member of the Mothers of invention.

 

“All Night Long” director Jan Munroe directed that play last year, and when I saw him and Tina at the Sam Shepard Tribute, they were excited that the play had been so well received critically.  I first met Tina and John in 1986 as a member of Padua Hills Playwrights. Tina was working in plays directed and written by Maria Irene Fornes who recently received the Edward Albee award.  I never forgot about Tina’s performances there.  John taught an acting workshop for the writers with such passion, had I met him sooner I might have chosen that profession.  He held court at a nearby bowling alley/diner when Padua was held at the Loyola Marymount campus in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles.  It was an ironic blend of cultures.

 

Last night just before the play began, Jan Munroe said he first saw the play, “All Night Long” in 1980 when it premiered at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. That year it beat out Sam Shepard’s “True West” for the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for “Best New Play of the Year,”. It is not a musical as the title might imply.  

 

“All Night Long” has a “sitcom” structure and as it opens there is canned laughter, and the all American Family breaks the third wall letting the audience know that they know that they are in the "television box" performing for us.  This is a  perfect nuclear family, a 1950’s-60’s father, mother, and three children.  However, this is no “Father Knows’ Best”, “Ossie and Harriet”, or “Leave It to Beaver”.  One might call it a French farce, and certainly Theatre of the Absurd.  “All Night Long,” shatters the American dream in every way conceivable.

 

Prepare to observe a set comprised of three doors on the second floor, and a staircase leading up from a living room/kitchen area. Two doors, one stage left that hardly leads out to an outside world, where father appears to go to work and the kid’s school.  Mother shops and prepares a dinner which turns out to be just blue jello.  The other door, stage right, contains the unseen abode of third child Terry,  who came from Dr. Amos as a result of scientific research from our Space efforts in the sixties. Terry wearing a pink outfit trimmed with silver foil spouts stories of “light” and the future. She predicts that the others will not know what will happen to them and that they possibly will all be taken away.  She is born and arrives in the family looking like a metal tin can baby and transforms into an angel without wings. Her sister she predicts will become a personal psychiatrist.   

 

In the second act, the family is up all night from hysterical nightmares perhaps induced by the blue jello dinner and ice cream from an impromptu side trip. Or maybe just life and the tensions of having a three child family the includes one not of this earth makes them ready to explode.  Certainly in the 80’s this play must have been somewhat shocking to consider the breakdown of the conventional family. Terry is not only non-gender specific at times but perhaps not even human specific? 

 

Time has proven that many more barriers were about to be broken in our own world.  Taking into account that “Mork and Mindy”, “Alf” and “Third Rock From The Sun” had all appeared in the 70’s and early 80’s presenting culture with the thoughts of Aliens living among us. The psychosexual aspect of this play adds ingredients that separate this play from sitcoms of the time. Sort of the cable version of what came before.

 

Jan Monroe has done an amazing job of directing his characters, as well as creating a physical set, and sounds that captivate the senses.  It is hysterical in moments and often baffling to comprehend.  John O’Keefe’s language captures some mystical rants of confused stereotypes while seeking a higher meaning, and rejecting the usually familiar barriers.  There are surprises of action throughout the night, contrasting the dark and light of family life, but this is no mundane family and nothing is ever presented that brings us back to the stereotypes of the earlier decades. The cast: Phillip William Block, John Patrick Daly, Caroline Klidonas, and Alina Phelan all perform splendidly.

 

 

The Los Angeles premiere of the John O’Keefe's “All Night Long” is being performed at the Atwater Theatre complex in Glendale. You can catch “All Night Long” through October 21. @OpenFistTheatre, www.OpenFistTheatre.org, www.facebook.com/OpenFistTheatre/

 

Marla Lewin studied “Theatre of the Absurd" with don/poet/playwright/composer Francis Warner at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. She is an award-winning playwright/director.  She presently works as a screenwriter and producer of plays, film, and television.  Marla co-founded Magic Lamp Releasing and Publicity working with Academy nominated films and talent, as well as films at film festivals, and speaking on panels around the world.  She has an MA in writing, film, and communication from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

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About MarlaLewinGFV

Lewin Marla
(Global Film Village)

Marla is a producer, playwright, screenwriter, publicist and now a journalist. She attends 12 to 20 film festivals per year. She has spoken on filmmaking at many festivals including Cannes and SXSW.

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