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

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays attends an event to honor the San Francisco Giants' 2014 World Series victory on Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
Willie Mays turns 90: San Francisco celebrates the greatest Giant

By Al Saracevic Examiner staff writer I couldn’t believe it. Willie Mays… Continue reading

Ja’Mari Oliver, center, 11, a fifth grader at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, is surrounded by his classmates at a protest outside the Safeway at Church and Market streets on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in support of him following an April 26 incident where he was falsely accused by an employee of stealing. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
School community rallies behind Black classmate stopped at Safeway

‘When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us’

A warning notice sits under the windshield wiper of a recreational vehicle belonging to a homeless man named David as it sits parked on De Wolf Street near Alemany Boulevard on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. A proposed SF Municipal Transportation Agency law would make it illegal for overnight parking on the side street for vehicles taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA to resume ‘poverty tows’ amid calls to make temporary ban permanent

Fines and fees hurt low-income, homeless residents, but officials say they are a necessary tool

Income from Shared Spaces will provide financial resources to the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency, according to its director, Jeffrey Tumlin. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA director says Shared Spaces serves transit agency’s financial interest

$10.6 million price tag for program raises concerns among transit agency’s board members

A broad coalition of tenants and housing rights organizers rally at Stanley Mosk Courthouse to protest eviction orders issued against renters Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Federal judge strikes down CDC’s national moratorium on evictions

David Yaffe-Bellany, Noah Buhayar Los Angeles Times A federal judge in Washington… Continue reading

Most Read