John Broadus Watson was the psychologist who proved, back in 1903, that you could train a white lab rat to navigate its way through a complicated maze using a combination of punishment and rewards. The new musical at Capital Stage offers a fanciful recreation of that famous rat-maze breakthrough, including an actor portraying a singing rodent reaching his goal, while a white-coated scientist beams triumphantly. (LISTEN)
But this success is short-lived. Soon the scientist gets caught in a scandalous affair with his female lab assistant, and he leaves the academic world in disgrace.
But Broadus is utterly convinced that his behavioral research can apply to humans, not just rats. He marches into the biggest advertising agency on Madison Avenue, and tells the skeptical company president that his approach taps in to what he claims are the only three things that motivate action: rage, love and fear.
The company president questions Broadus' credentials as a scientist. But he seizes on what he thinks Broadus really is as he breaks into song. (LISTEN)
It’s academic research feeding into subliminal advertising, and related onstage with the old soft shoe. Let it be noted that John Broadus Watson became vice president of the ad agency, where he made a lot more money than he did as a professor.
This show blends fact and fancy – you’ll encounter talking animals, and other inventions. As a piece of storytelling, it’s a very American saga about a motivated self-made man – he won a place in history, but wasn’t always a nice guy. As a musical, the show swings with dance tunes recalling the Roaring 20s, performed live. But this show’s greatest asset is its rakish attitude and ribald humor, deftly done. I’ve never seen a show quite like it – a toe-tapping fantasy of our collective past.
The Behavior of Broadus continues at Capital Stage through January 3, 2016