On the Rocks: The White Stag Quadrilogy
The White Stag Quadrilogy, part two of On the Rocks’ Jerry Wolfert story, is a show that makes you wait. Comedic timing is the linchpin of the show, from the opening moment where a frustrated and supremely blasé Rebeca Miller as Pearl Slanton Wolfert trails in a banner of golden tinsel and laboriously tacks it to the wall. Slowly.
The White Stag Quadrilogy purports to tell the story of the aforementioned Jerry Wolfert, a “war vet turned occult priest turned self-published novelist turned pariah,” who has become the most hated man in Hollywood by the late 70s and attempts to redeem himself by becoming an avant-garde filmmaker. His first three films are met with great acclaim (so we learn), but production of the fourth is derailed when Jerry is arrested in Mexico and placed on house arrest at his ex-wife Pearl’s family-owned house of ill repute in San Fernando. Jerry then decides to film the movie within the confines of his house arrest, which results in numerous slipshod attempts to recreate the original story and location, as well as many choreographed dance numbers.
The actors truly sell their hyper-stylized characters, and this is an ensemble that can unabashedly get their 70s groove on, in a silly and seedy way. Although the porn industry feels ever-present, the script shies away from anything overtly lewd. Jerry Wolfert’s world feels twisted and small, and it’s all you can do to laugh at Act One, to distance yourself from his reality.
Throughout the first act, Pearl serves as the voice-over narrator, either for a real documentary Jerry is making about himself as he shoots his final movie, or perhaps just narrating Jerry’s internal monologue. She is also called upon to step into several other roles, serving variously as back-up dancer, prop runner, and even camera-woman. The only words we hear from Pearl are Jerry’s — full of megalomaniacal misogyny and delusional artistic grandeur.
It therefore comes as sweet relief when the second act opens, ten years later, on just Pearl. She is alone in her room, reshooting the last scene of the movie so that it tells the story how it was meant to be told, in a more humane and optimistic way that is faithful to the children’s book from which it was adapted. Her first notes session takes the audience by storm, as we finally get a glimpse into her interior life, rich with her own perspective and psychoses and inner turmoil. We learn Jerry has been sending her a white stag figurine (actually a reindeer, as Pearl notes), every year since they finally split, and taunting her about her inability to finish the movie.
She, meanwhile, has continued to send him money, enabling his abuse and escapades from afar. In his latest package, Jerry encloses a cassette tape, which offers Tomita’s Bolero for her to incorporate into her final scene, along with his directorial notes about how to do so. This final act of unwanted artistic imposition spurs Pearl to capture the scene she has been hunting for so long, and concludes the play on a final, celebratory note. The antlers that have been hanging from the ceiling are decked out in a fur coat, and the ensemble does one last stag dance.
On the Rocks has made its name creating shows about “lovable idiots,” and this production is no exception. And yet, I could have done with less of Jerry’s silliness and much more of Pearl’s earnest attempts to set the world to rights. I loved her monologue, deep into Act Two, where she says:
And then I’m back here, at this tomb, where I have a bottle of wine. Two. Two bottles of wine, if I’m… and I try to resuscitate a…a…I really need to cut back on my drinking. A lot of things. But, it’s not about drinking. It’s about my nightly routine well whatever it is. Where I film the same things again and again and again in this place. Here. At the altar of my exhusband. No, Pearl this is not about Jerry. It’s not. And I’m sick and tired of trying to convince everyone that it’s not because it’s not. It’s about finishing this and making something beautiful and nice. And I’m close. End of Notes Session
Here we see the artist-perfectionist, seeking an expression that transcends the burdens of reality. Pearl is determined to achieve her vision, quietly, persistently, in the confines of her own room. Focusing the final triumph of the play on Pearl hints that perhaps she is our protagonist after all, perhaps she is the one we have been waiting for. Or perhaps Pearl is just my brand of lovable idiot.