One of the most surprising and inventive productions I’ve seen in quite some time, Send for the Million Men tells the copiously researched story of immigrant anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomo Vanzetti, scape-goated into convictions of armed robbery and executed in 1927 despite wildly contradictory evidence, confession by an ex-convict, and substantial international outcry. Don’t stop reading. “If you are here for your edification, or for some altruistic betterment of society through individual enlightenment,” its creator warns in the program, go elsewhere. Though the case is certainly illuminated, this is a darkly satirical dramatization.
Multimedia projections, animatronics, robotics (meet the ingenious Stanley, who intermittently plays Vanzetti with able gravitas – Sacco appears on a television screen), puppetry, and extremely evocative sound/music (Catherine McRae) enable two actors and a large number of repurposed suitcases to describe and replay the event in question. (Suitcases become, among other things, a puppet theater and Judge Thayer’s podium of precarious justice.) Letters, original court transcripts, and the Italians’ statements are quoted between entertaining, hyper-active exposition. Photographs are displayed, a diagram of the real courtroom is utilized.
When actual artifacts can’t be secured, Silovsky comes up with symbolic substitutes: an image of his own stolen bicycle and then a toy for the seven passenger Buick used as getaway car, the photo of a cap like Vanzetti’s from a different crime exemplifying flimsy evidence. A mustache of the author’s own hair represents that of VAnzetti and is affixed to Stanley’s animated face. A second one Silovsky attempted fruitlessly to grow lays limp and sparse in a bell jar upon entering. One defendant’s statement is delivered in Spanish (close enough to Italian which had to be translated for the police) by actor/designer Victor Morales.
We see the town where two men carrying strongboxes with payroll money were murdered in broad daylight as projections on various suitcases, each a shop, factory, water tower, a working clock. It’s terrific. A white track runs from one side of the stage to the other. Flat squares moved by hand serve as screens reflecting images of Sacco and Vanzetti ostensibly there to pick up a repaired auto. The two leave by trolley (projected on another square) which moves independently from one side of the stage to the other. They were arrested in the course of that trip.
Demonstration illustrates truth with absurdity. A female factory worker purportedly saw Sacco in the back seat of the Buick for three seconds, from some distance. Silovsky has a front row audience member hold an enormous tape measure which he stretches out the back of the theater, his explanation getting fainter with retreat. Quiet. The thespian comes in a side door, retrieving 115 feet of unwound tape, making his point. Bullied, the witness changed her statement from lack of surety to condemnation.
Add a Punch & Judy-like show within the show, a wall of demonstrative light patterns, the evocative march of a million (toy) men called to witness, and some loosey goosey repartee and you have a partial impression of this fabulously imaginative presentation.
Apparently Joseph Silovsky, with whom I am unfamiliar, tells real, but curious stories employing hand-built machines and alternative media. A sculptor and performer by training, the enterprising thespian learned engineering skills on various jobs as technical designer and set fabricator. Stanley emerged by trial and error when Silovsky accidentally acquired an animatronic controller. At Silovsky’s wedding to McRae, Stanley carried the ring.
For anyone with an eye to innovative theater, Send for the Million Men is must-see. Backhand information, forehand enjoyment.
*From a declaratory statement by Bartolomo Vanzetti
Photos by Cory Weaver
Send for the Million Men
A HERE Resident Artist and Dream Music Puppetry Production
Created and directed by Joseph Silovsky
Associate Director -Eric Dyer
Video Designer- Victor Morales
Sound Designer- Catherine McRae
Lighting Designer-Laura Mroczkowski
Electronics Designer-Ryan Holsopple
Performed by Joseph Silovsky, Victor Morales, Catherine McRae
HERE Arts Center
145 Sixth Avenue just below Spring Street
Through December 13, 2014