Review: Men of many talents

Gary Aylesworth’s dynamic spirit, mind and body burst onstage in “The Ballad of Edgar Cayce:  A Bluegrass Operetta.”

In collaboration with Peter Newton and appearing under the name Construction Crew Theater, Aylesworth wrote, directed and composed much of the music in the 90-minute show, a highly theatrical, sometimes abstract telling of the real-life story of an early 20th-century American clairvoyant.

For those unfamiliar with details of the life of Cayce, whose mystical and “trance-reading” talents were admired by people he healed, and exploited by those trying to make a buck, the show proves confusing at times, and results in a not-quite fulfilling or completely satisfying experience.

Yet Aylesworth’s mind-boggling talents remain in full view on the cozy stage at Traveling Jewish Theatre, where the show runs through Aug. 30. Not only does he portray Cayce, a Christian who struggles with physical, emotional, spiritual and social aspects of his gift, he also plays people who surrounded him: aging actress Gloria Swanson, who wanted to do a movie based on Cayce’s perceptions of the mythical land of Atlantis, and secretary Gladys Davis, who recorded contents of thousands of prediction-filled “trance-readings” that occurred while Cayce was in a hypnotic state.

Aylesworth, whose 2006 production “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” received local acclaim, clearly defines each character with fine nuances, cleverly assisted by props as simple as scarves and fabric.

He’s matched by Newton, who brings to life supporting characters: Hart the Laugh King, who first discovered Cayce’s special skills after putting Cayce under hypnosis trying to cure a case of laryngitis; film producer Jesse Lasky, who’s working on a deal with Swanson; and Morton Blumenthal, a wealthy man who was the recipient of many of Cayce’s readings.

Aylesworth and Newton’s harmony extends literally to the music, which includes original compositions by Aylesworth, arranged by the pair, alongside traditional tunes by Stephen Foster and the Monroe Brothers. The “bluegrass” in the show’s subtitle isn’t the speedy finger-pickin’ splendor that comes first to mind. The music here consists of lovely vocals by Aylesworth and Newton, with the multitalented Newton playing various instruments.

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

Theater Review

The Ballad of Edgar Cayce

WHERE: Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida St. (at 17th Street), San Francisco

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-­Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 30

TICKETS: $15 to $20

CONTACT: (415) 831-1943; www.constructioncrewtheater.com

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