Contributing Critic - New York
Theatre is a beautiful thing. It brings us closer together, it promotes love and diversity, and encourages us to challenge the conventions of the world around us if we feel that we can do better (and we always can). However, that is not what the theatre had in store for me when I sat through “Fort Dicks the Musical” at the American Theatre for Actors.
Written and directed by Jeffrey E. Milestein, “Fort Dicks” follows accountant, David Barnes (Played by Sean Farrelly), who is arrested for tax evasion. The show showcases each section of the prison and we follow David, along with the other inmates, through each one.
I should have known what kind of show I was in for when within the first fifteen minutes, a lawyer grabbed the wife of his client and forcibly kissed her without her consent. To me this did not motivate the story of a corrupt and predatory lawyer but rather waved his “badness” in our faces. There was a pause after this action as if we were supposed to laugh at the uncomfortable and inappropriate gesture. Fortunately, no one was laughing.
In addition to this, it seemed as though Milestein, when writing this show, was checking of various groups of people to offend. “Fort Dicks” was filled with stereotypes of homosexuality, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and transgender people. This included scenes such as having Caitlyn Jenner be a character in the prison and the guards discussing why she was put in an all men’s prison, having a gay man stand in front of a bathroom sign that says “Man, Woman, ???” and then shout “I’m Deciding!”, and for some reason having a sumo wrestler (Played by a white actor) be lured to a scale with a container of rice. These jokes felt juvenile and ignorant and seemed very out of place in the modern American theatre.
I do want to note that there is a way to intelligently comment on stereotypes and how they affect society by putting those very stereotypes onstage. Characters such as Christmas Eve in Avenue Q come to mind. Though, with these kinds of characters there is an underlying purpose and intent to the stereotype and the portrayal is handled with extreme care (For starters the character is played by an actor of the race being represented) “Fort Dicks” took none of these measures and it felt as though we were expected to laugh simply because these things aren’t normally said. Though what the show failed to consider is that we don’t say these things for a reason.
The music in “Fort Dicks” felt unmotivated and lacked any variety. Many were simply the same eight bars of music repeated over and over until it reached its anti-climactic conclusion. In one jaw-dropping moment, “Fort Dicks” directly ripped off the dentist’s song from “Little Shop of Horrors”, simply replacing “dentist” with “accountant” and changing the lyrics to match. No credit was given.
Theatre is amazing. It continues to change the lives of individuals and the world every day. Theatre is for anyone regardless of race, gender, or sexuality. Theatre is for people. It reminds us that we all think, feel, love, and hate no matter who we are. And I hope that we continue to see theatre that encourages these ideas. Unfortunately, I did not feel this way walking out of “Fort Dicks: The Musical”.
Fort Dicks was written directed and produced by Jeffrey E. Milestein.
It featured: Marek Ardito-Proulx, Paulina Breeze, Dana Cavagnaro, Carlos Cervantes, Mario Caludio, Sunflower Duran, Annabel Espinal, Sean Farrelly, Donna Glaesener, Dominick Gonzalez, Andrew Gordon, Jason Lee, Fredrica Morra, Richard Sacher, Joe Sherbin, Lindsy Thomas, and Laura Young.
It ran at the American Theatre of Actors (314 W 54th Street) November 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, and 18. Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 2PM.