SKIN, FLESH AND BONE. Book by John Musall; lyrics by Stuart Horn; music by Musall, Horn, Jerry Cohen and Paul Lerman; costumes by Woofy Bubbles and Mr. E; painting by Martha Loomis and Sue Squires; with Evelyn Li, Stuart Horn, Warren Muller and Sue Squired. At the WPA, 1227 G St. NW, through tonight.
At last! The merger of Marx, punk rock and Kabuki theater you've been waiting for!
"Skin, Flesh and Bone" is an original musical concoction imported from Philadelphia by the Washington Project for the Arts. The players, the lyrics, the music, the colorful sets, costumes and makeup - all show abundant talent and discipline (and the production has been smartly installed in the WPA's increasingly comfortable and attractive theater). In general, it would be hard to imagine a sharper execution of the underlying concept. But it is also hard to understand why the concept was conceived in the first place.
The characters, heavily painted and made up, do not speak. Their songs and speeches are broadcast from a loudspeaker at the back of the house while the actors themselves move around with the extravagant fluidity and precision of Kabuki. As for the story, its decipherable ingredients include a high-born young lady who runs away from home rather than marry the groom of her family's choosing, an evil capitalist, a wandering minstrel and a powerful lot of class-struggle corruption.
The show uses many traditional Kabuki elements, including masks, ritualized movements and a stage-within-the-stage for solo turns and grand entrances and exits. But the authentic and the outrageous are so thoroughly confused that no one in his right mind woud go to "Skin, Flesh and Bone" for a Westernized, accessible introduction to Kabuki (which doesn't seem to have been the idea, in any case). And simply judged as a musical, the show suffers from a pace that makes "Shogun" (the week ) look hasty by comparison.
Whatever becomes of "Skin, Flesh and Bone," however, its cretors should find a way to rescue several of the songs, which are a reggae-like match of throbbing and baldly ideological content. One number, called "White-Collar Crime," includes the lines: "Ignore the lessons history teaches/Defend the parasites and leeches/Till you have to fight them on the beaches/Hand to hand, for your land."