‘All Gone West’ Tells Love Story in 1950s New York Jazz Scene

“All Gone West,” a new play by John Attanas, transports us to the New York jazz scene of the early 50’s. An Army vet, in love with a secretary at CCNY, would win her by setting up a be-bop club on Ninth Avenue with the help of a black saxophonist he has befriended in the service and a couple of low-lifes he has met along the way. The couple’s story is one of dreams dashed and fulfilled; love denied and embraced. The play features a cast of six plus a live, four-piece jazz ensemble. Jonathan Fluck, former Executive Director of IRT Theatre, will produce and direct the play’s world premiere run March 28 to April 18, 2015 at Teatro Circulo, 64 East 4th Street (East Village).

The Army vet, a handsome and swarthy bartender named Sam, has become infatuated with the “new sound” of jazz, which relies on instrumental virtuosity and improvisation. Sam has always had sophisticated taste in music, but he has become an unusual aficionado thanks to Sonny, a black Army buddy, who guided him through underground joints stateside while they were in uniform during WWII. Sonny is now a leading jazz saxophonist and drug addict. Sam has two ambitions in life: to marry Mary, a pretty secretary at CCNY, and to open a music club where he can present and promote the new jazz sound. Sam is an idealist, a gambler, and a man on a mission. Without financial resources, he desperately tries to capitalize his business at Aqueduct racetrack (where his pal Willie, a gambler and low-level criminal, is a tipster of mixed value) and ultimately resorts to mob money.

Ensemble Cast
Front: Kristen French, Joseph Robinson. Behind (LR): Henry Vaughn, Jonathan Toscano, Grady Tesch, Jesse Means. Photo by Rosalie Baijer.

In succumbing to Sam’s wooing, Mary must extricate herself from her boyfriend, a 50-something alcoholic professor at CCNY. The club makes a wobbly start, because good headliners are hard to book for small rooms. Sam marries Mary, but they are an odd pair because her musical taste is ordinary and her life ambitions are conventional. As the club flounders, their deteriorating financial situation causes intolerable stress. When the club crashes, the couple moves to Southern California – the clean, profitable, sexy “American Dreamland” that Mary longs to be a part of. Sam makes a living there as a machinist in the aircraft factories. Mary revels in having a home with a yard, giving cookouts and enjoying domestic life. But it’s a slim consolation. The play is really a tragedy. Its theme is: how do you go on, take the next step into the next day, when your dream has been dashed?

Written in magical realism, the piece stylishly weaves the milieux of the Racetrack and Bandstand into working-class New York life. It is performed by a cast of six against an instrumental background of a four piece jazz ensemble of sax, vibraphone, bass and percussion. The music, arranged by bandleader Henry Vaughn, evokes the avant-garde styles of Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Don Byas, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and others.

Playwright John Attanas, the grandson of Greek and Irish immigrants, has lived in the same house in Forest Hills since 1968. He graduated from LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, where he started writing plays. He holds a BFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU, an MA in English from NYU and an MA in English from Queens College. His one-acts “Best Friends” and “Standing on the Corner” were produced in the Double Image One-Act Festival. In 1993, he became a member of Interborough Repertory Theatre’s New Directions Company, which produced his plays “Cute Lonely Guys Looking for You” (1994), “The Autumn House” (1995), “Hermione” (1997) and “Memorial Days” (2000). His most recent production was “Henry Kissinger: a Romantic Comedy” (NY International Fringe Festival, 2006). Three other plays have been produced outside New York. He has published three children’s books: biographies of Yo-Yo Ma and Daniel Barenboim and a novel, “Eddie and the Jets.” He has taught 6th-8th grade English at the Greek-American Institute in the Bronx since 2004 and has taught writing at Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y. since 2009. (www.johnattanas.com)

Director/producer Jonathan Fluck co-founded and was Executive Director of Interborough Repertory Theater (IRT) from 1986 – 2004, producing on average five shows each season. During his tenure IRT won two OOBR awards, in 1997 for “The Godsend” by Richard Willet and in 2001 for “The Emperor Jones” done with a cast of hearing and deaf actors. He has directed four plays by John Attanas, “Autumn House,” “Memorial Days,” “Cute Lonely Guys Looking for You” and “The Progressives” as well as the New York premier of “Ghost On Fire” by Michael Weller and “A Scrap of Paper” by Sardou. Fluck compiled, produced and directed an evening of poetry dealing with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, titled “Hibakusha Outcry,” and for eight seasons annually directed a show he helped develop on African American poetry that toured to school children. Off-Broadway, he has produced “The Boy Who Saw True,” which was awarded Best One Man Show by Back Stage in 1992. For Sundog Productions on Staten Island, he has directed “A Christmas Carol” (2012 & 2013), “The World In My Hands: the Inspiring Story of Helen Keller” (2011), and “For Better and for Worse” (2014).

The actors are Joseph Robinson, Kristen French, Jesse Means, Glen Williamson, Anthony Bosco and Kristen Booth. The band is Henry Vaughn (Band Leader/Drums), Grady Tesch (Vibraphone), JoeWagner (Sax) and TBA (Bass). Set and props design are by Andrew Diaz. Lighting design is by Christina Watanabe. Costume design is by Nicholas O. Staigerwald. Sound design is by Howard Fredrics.

Performances are March 28 to April 18, 2015 at Teatro Circulo,64 East 4th St., 3rd Floor Street, Manhattan. Shows are March 28, 29, 31 and April 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18. Show times are Mondays through Fridays at 7:00 PM and Saturdays at 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM (except 3/28 and 4/4-7:00 only) and Sundays at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $18 general admission. The box office number is (212)-868-4444 and tickets can be purchased online at www.smarttix.com.

Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.