On August 22 in the early ’70s, a man named John Wojtowicz held a Chase Bank hostage to be able to pay for his partner’s sex-change operation. The bizarre story caught the public’s attention, and the men became media darling. At the end… well, I won’t tell you. There’s already a little adaptation of this story floating around if you want to find out, a small film called Dog Days Afternoon. And by small I mean iconic. If you want to know the ending, watch the movie. If you want to experience the story, you’ll find a way to see the Fringe NYC show “Stockholm Savings,” a modern re-interpretation of this quirky but very real tale.
First, I want to say, I’m a huge fan of Sydney Lumet’s movie. It is one of the finest pieces of film from the New Hollywood era, which is also one of the greatest and innovative times in cinema history. There’s no hyperbole there. And the film hasn’t been dated at all. So when I heard about this show, my first reaction was to ask “Why?” I want you to know this, that I had my reservations. That I had doubts before I even came out of the subway. I want you to know this so when you read my next statement, you know how much it means. All my doubts, all my reservations, all the things the show had against it in my mind disappeared the moment I sat down and saw the stage.
Michael Demeo’s scenic work is the first thing you notice when you go into the Flamboyant Theater. The way he framed the bank, and how he structured the inside helped the fast pace in which Ashlie Atkinson directed the piece. The blocking, the transitions, the sound design all created a dance of images that didn’t need modern techniques to dazzle us. The ensemble work moves swiftly from hour to hour, from character to character, without missing a step and that is helped by the chemistry they all have with each other. Each one helped heighten each other’s performance. There was comfortability in the way these actors converse with each other. This cast is a director’s treat to have.
Michael Demeo, who also wrote the exhilarating script, manages to make this famous story feel like a new one. By grounding it in Indiana instead of New York, and tackling the issues that affect this nation nowadays, he has made it almost as poignant as Dog Days Afternoon was. Having said that, the show does have its problems. While the pace of the show creates an exciting narrative, it also diminishes the most personal moments. Besides the main character, most of them remain one-dimensional. Yet, we still fall in love with them. There’s a moment between two characters that seem to finally delve deep into the people inhabiting this bank, but not only is it cut short, there’s an actor teaching another how to juggle. It was a funny scene, but it took my attention away from what was the one moment when two people connected beyond the main conflict. And then there was the very abrupt ending. It was a powerful ending that’s impact was lessened by the sudden finish. It didn’t help that the last minutes before that felt like the script was trying to get to the ending, instead of letting it come naturally. There was a lot of interactions that felt rushed in those closing moments.
To write an adaptation of such a notorious spiel, which already has an even more celebrated work than the real story itself, is a huge task to pull. And in the end, when the lights fade out, I sat there thinking about what I just saw. And I couldn’t have been happier that my reservations were unfounded. By the time I stood up, I was satisfied by what I’d seen. Even more, I was excited to see what this group does next. New work is alive and well, the new generation is already taking care of the future of theater. The folks at Fringe are making sure they have a stage, and man, if the crew of Stockholm Savings didn’t use their voice to scream “Theater is Alive!” There’s two more times you can see this show on Friday and Sunday at the Flamboyant Theater in the Clemente. If you are looking for an entertaining production, you would find it hard to get one as stimulating as this one.
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Twisted Talk: Are you a fan of Dog Days of Summer? What’s been your favorite Fringe show so far this season? Discuss below!