nytheatre.com review by Matt Freeman
September 7, 2005
In Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood, Johnny Depp as the title character refuses to call his work a “monster movie.” It’s a “Science Fiction Epic” he declares, full of innocent love for whatever it is he thinks he’s doing.
I sensed that Ron Glucksman, writer/director/prime-mover of Blitzkrieg: The Hassidic Professional Wrestling Musical, could be counted on for the same. This show’s identity crisis is its most campy and entertaining aspect, and I marveled at just how what I was watching could have been, well, achieved.
The format of the thing is a bizarre hybrid of burlesque, B-film and, yes, musical. Following an opening titled “Uncle Skanky’s Burlesque” featuring a couple of dancing young women, the audience is somewhat clumsily transitioned into the story of our hero, who tries to win the heart of his true love and become a wrestling champion, because it’s God’s plan.
The story plays out a in series of rambling scenes, never quite settling on a style. We have the “play-within-a-play” (we’re told that Skanky’s Burlesque performers will be taking us back in time), we have the love story, we have the story of an idealist who is pitted against the crushing nature of grim reality. Glucksman often, in the midst of all this, reverts to simply dirty one-liners. (“She looks more pissed than a toilet!”). We even watch a rather elaborately staged group sex scene (clothes on, thank you very much.)
Through what already must sound confusing, Glucksman finds other ways to befuddle us. For example, his story takes place in what appears to be the modern era. God shows up looking like Ali G, at one point, and talks about text messaging. There is a discussion of pay-per-view wrestling. But the wrestlers that are referenced in this story are from the 1950s and '60s. Gorgeous George, the Grand Wizard, and Antonio Rocco? If I didn’t have a stash of copies of Pro Wrestling Insider from my junior high school days, I wouldn’t have any idea that these were not only real stars of a bygone era, but that the era is so bygone that he could have made names up and gotten the same effect. We also get a discussion on reality versus fantasy, as our hero doesn’t seem to know that wrestling is fake. Glucksman’s desire to turn the falseness of wrestling into a Network-style commentary on the nature of reality simply floored me. Especially because while he was doing so, a woman with a Mohawk was showing off the only thing covering her nipples: Two strips of black tape.
Did I mention that our leading character is a Hassidic Jew who uses a pro wrestling moniker that references Hitler’s most famous war tactic? Without a hint of irony?
Blitzkrieg ranks as one of the biggest theatrical messes I’ve ever seen. But it’s also so broadly insane that it bears a striking resemblance to the impulses of John Waters, and at least, the plain stubborn-headed earnestness that can be felt through the frames of Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Surrounding this endeavor is a mix-and-match cast that, for it’s part, performs well. Leading the ensemble capably is Martin Friedrichs as the lead, Mickey Blitzman, who sings, dances, acts, and wrestles with aplomb. As his love interest Kelly Sweeney, Kelly Fraunfelder works against a weak sound system, singing torch songs and broad numbers with equal parts bravery and talent. In fact, the entire cast comes up with able moments, despite all attempts (bad sound system, awkwardly written scenes, wrestling outfits) to flummox them.
The less said about the production values and songs the better...they are present and work intermittently. This show has eyes bigger than its stomach, suffice to say, and strains to fill the cavernous Cutting Room.
It would be easy to call this show campy for the sake of campy, but the feeling in the room almost works against this, as if the script would like to be real commentary, and as the show goes on past the two hour mark, it looses the luster of pure camp. But in the midst of all this, is the ghost of Ed Wood, in love with his medium, throwing everything at the stage that he can think of. Glucksman has the makings of a camp hit here; once it’s accepted that a Hassidic Professional Wrestling musical could be very little else.