Archived Theatre Reviews (page 8)
January 2009 - December 2009
TRU GRACE HOLIDAY MEMOIRS
Now at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA The Underground Railway Theater Company presents "Tru Grace: Holiday Memoirs" a program of two short plays adapted for the stage and directed by Wesley Savick. Both plays take place in the 1930's. The first "The Loudest Voice" is set in the Bronx and is based on the same titled story by Grace Paley. Mr. and Mrs. Abramowitz (Ken Baltin and Debra Wise) the middle aged, Jewish parents of their young 9 year old daughter Shirley (Kiva McElhiney) become quite concerned when she tells them about the casting at her public grade school of a Christmas Play. Her teacher, Mr. Hilton (Michael Forden Walker), needed the child in his class with the strongest voice to sing "Silent Night" and be the best in the lead role of the play. While the childs' mother is troubled by the obvious differences between Judaism and Christianity, her husband comforts her noting that Shirley's performance should resonate as a measure of brotherhood and good will between the two. He is proven correct by the positive response by all to young Shirley's highly effective acting and singing. A group of local school children, ages 9-14, perform most of the Nativity Play with young Oliver Sussman quite imposing as the adult Jesus. While the acting of these young people is, as expected, uneven and occasionally awkward, it's also engagingly enthusiastic from start to finish. (This portion: My Grade: 4)
The program's second part, based on a short story by Truman Capote, is "A Christmas Memory." As an adult, Buddy (Michael Forden Walker) steps forward on the theater's bare stage to narrate and enact his last visit, at age 7, with his favorite 60 year old cousin Sook (Debra Wise) in her remote, rustic cabin in Alabama. They plan to use what little cash they both have so that she can make her special holiday fruit cake. A plain and simple woman, Sook has never been to a restaurant or a movie, but she's ever so excited to tell Buddy about her frisky imaginary dog "Queenie" or how she killed a rattlesnake and tamed a wild robin. She knows Christmas will soon arrive, so they will need fruit, eggs and flour to make the holiday cake. However, good strong liquor-- although illegal-- will still serve as her cake's most important ingredient. So, a visit to "Mr. Ha-Ha", proprietor of the local "Shadow Café" to buy a jug of bootleg liquor is a must. Later, they'll both go out to the nearby woods to chop down a Christmas Tree. There'll be socks and hankies as gifts for Buddy, and although Sook would have liked presenting him with a new bicycle, she's got a new kite for him instead, and for herself as well. With fond memories surrounding his last visit with his favorite cousin, Buddy's family will soon be sending him off to military school. Touchingly performed by these two accomplished players, this tender recollection of a simple but memorable Christmas visit so long ago is now playing through December 27, 2009. (My grade for second part: 5)
Now at their new home at The Boston Opera House is the Boston Ballet's annual and much anticipated production of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." This presentation marks this legendary masterpiece's 47th seasonal presentation. It has been brightly choreographed by Mikko Nissinen, the company's Artistic Director. Based on the classic fairy tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, it's set in a small German town on Christmas Eve in 1835. The Silberhause family is celebrating as their young daughter Clara's (Alexandra Heier's) Godfather Herr Drosselmeier, a well-known musician, arrives late, heavily laden with gifts. Amongst his presents are two vividly dancing, jumbo, robotic dolls (Altan Dugaraa and Corina Gill), who are soon complemented also by a cuddly and spiritedly animated bear (Paul Craig). However, his major offering for Clara is an enchanted nutcracker, fashioned as a brightly uniformed toy soldier. Long after the family's party is over and the entire household is asleep, young Clara returns to the family's living room where their colorfully decorated Christmas tree suddenly grows to a monumental height and her little toy nutcracker is transformed into a tall, young, and high vaulting handsome prince (Pavel Gurevich). All of the sudden, he's confronted by an army of house mice with an assertive mouse King (Bo Busby) as their leader! Marshalling a battalion of toy soldiers against the band of mice, he slays their King and then together with Clara boards a multi-colored giant balloon to journey with her to the kingdom of sweets! There they're greeted by a dazzling array of spectacularly dancing representatives from many foreign lands. Introduced by the exquisitely pirouetting Sugar Plum Fairy (Lia Cirio), they are first enthralled by a facile trio of Spanish dancers (Tiffany Hedman, Lorin Mathis and Bo Busby). Later, they're also entertained by exotic costumed Arabians (Luciana Voltolini and Jaime Diaz), twirling Chinese (Dalay Parrondo and Isaac Akiba), gracefully nimble shepherds and shepherdesses (Megan Gray, Heather Waymack and Jeffrey Cirio) and vividly sprinting Russians (James Whiteside, Boyko Dossev and Paul Craig). Their visit to the enchanted land culminates with the waltzing turns of the Flowery Dew Drop (Misa Kuranaga) followed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and handsome Prince's grandly majestic pas-de-duex. With high praise for Helen Pond and Herbert Senn's many brilliant settings, David Walker and Charles Height Chew's lavish costumes and most certainly the grand full orchestral accompaniment conducted by Jonathon McPhee. This splendid holiday treat is now on view once again for the whole family through December 27, 2009. (My grade: 5)
THE URBAN NUTCRACKER
Now recently concluded at Boston's John Hancock Hall is the 9th annual holiday presentation of "The Urban Nutcracker," a contemporary dance version of the classic ballet based upon E.T.A. Hoffman's fairy tale, as adapted by David Ira Rottenberg. This production by Boston's Balletrox Company was conceived and choreographed by Anthony Williams, the company's founder and artistic director and is framed by Tchaikovsky's legendary music as well as a more recent compact jazz-inspired version composed and performed by Duke Ellington and his orchestra, together with additional syncopated variations by David Berger and his Sultans of Swing Orchestra. The story is now reset in contemporary Boston where a lovely mother (Laurie Williams) and her two young children Clarice (Rebecca Paul) and Omar (Asa Hamot) invite a friendly neighborhood magician named Drosselmeyer (Gianni Di Marco) and his frisky assistant Minimeyer (Yo-El Cassell) to spend Christmas Eve with them at their home. To entertain their guests the magician unveils several dancing dolls, Raggedy Ann (Magdalena Gyftopoulos), Raggedy Andy (French Clements), as well as a highly rhythmic foot soldier (Joe Gonzalez). Drosselmeyer also presents Clarice with a colorful nutcracker-styled toy (Davide Vittorino). After everyone has gone to bed, Clarice returns to play with her new gift. As in the original fairy tale, the family Christmas tree magically triples in size and the tiny nutcracker turns into a handsome Prince. Facing an army of house mice he challenges and kills their King (Joe Gonzalez). Now together with Clarice and the waltzing Snow Queen (Caroline Cohn) and Snow King (Bernie Delgado) they journey to the land of fantasy. There, they are greeted by the lively Sugar Plum Fairy (Janelle Gilchrist) and her dancing friends from all over the world. Especially prominent amongst these revelers were Mr. Hoop (French Clements) and his assistants bouncing in and out of jumbo, colorful hoops; vividly tap-dancing Khalid Hill joined by a lively bank of dancing neighborhood kids, as well as their Russina (Olga Marshenko) and Arabian (Kseniya Melyukhino & Marlon Taylor-Wiles) friends. At the close of these lively dances, Drosselmeyer and Minimeyer bring Clarice back to her home. Special commendations are certainly also due for the highly colorful painted set designs, scenery and costumes conceived by Rebecca Cross. (My grade: 5)
Now at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston is "Shipwrecked" (Subtitled: "An Entertainment-The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont [as told by himself]") by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies. A wide ranging action-adventure account performed by a trio of highly capable actors portraying a large assortment of very different characters before a giant blank rear screen on a bare stage with just a big raised, box-like platform at the center of the stage. Swiss born, but raised in Victorian England, Louis de Rougemont (Allyn Burrows) spent much of his sickly early years addicted to such hearty adventure books as "Robinson Crusoe" and "The Swiss Family Robinson." Emboldened by such rip-roaring adventure tales, he left home at the tender age of 16 to join the crew of a ship, bound for the coast of Australia, set on a peraling expedition in the Coral Sea. When this same vessel sinks, due to a fierce storm at sea, Louis, accompanied by Bruno (Daniel Berger-Jones), the ship's trusty sea-worthy dog, both end up on a jumbo octopus, which takes them ashore, leaving them ultimately marooned on a desert island! Alone there for 2½ years, they finally encounter a tribe of friendly Aborigines. Intent on learning to speak their language, Louis is able to eventually be accepted as an Aborigine. As such, he meets and inevitably falls in love with, and marries Yamba (Angie Jepson), the tribe's lovely, young maiden. However, after many happily married years, Louis still mindful of his early life in England, decides to try and find some way for him to return to England. Making his way to Australia, he's able to board a ship going to Britain. Now back in London, he agrees to have his extravagant history published and serialized in a popular weekly magazine. Immediately hailed as a national hero, he is knighted by Queen Victoria. However, unable to convince the academic community, scientists scrupulously investigating his claims, finally denounce him as a fraud. Insistent on the truth of his story, Louis is left penniless due to the many ensuing court battles he must undergo. Finally, with one grandly flamboyant gesture, he turns to the theater's audience to prove that he was not a charlatan. As previously stated, this accomplished trio… Burrows in the title role and Berger-Jones and Jepson, in a grandly varied multiplicity of different roles, under Scott LaFeber's well-centered direction, are able to transform all of Louis' report into grandly compelling and entertaining presentation that it is! Now playing through December 20, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Jose Mateo Ballet Theater: The Nutcracker
Here are the ingredients for a special holiday celebration. Take two children, dress them up and take them to see Jose Mateo's The Nutcracker. I took my friends Jolie and Nolan, who had never seen a real ballet before. Their favorite parts were the mice, who were the cutest rodents we think we've ever seen and the snow flakes (both on the curtains and en aire). They also loved, loved, loved Mother Ginger, played larger than life by John Wilpers in this performance. My favorite dancers were: Ms. Sybil Geddes whose Joffrey trained technique was practically perfect and Mr. Henoch Spinola a very gifted performer, in the Arabian dance.
This is the 23rd year Mateo's troop have delighted audiences with a performance by over 200 children ages 6-18. By far the greatest single gift Mr. Mateo offers is open auditions so that any young dancer may have the opportunity to dance in this most beloved of all ballets, The Nutcracker. My hat's off to you Mr. Mateo for giving so many young people the chance to see what it's like to be a part of a real dance company and the gift of working with one of the most prolific choreographers Boston has been lucky enough to call our own. Yes gang, four different young ladies get to dance the part of Clara this year: Audrey Ring, Nicole Finken, Natalie Ferris and Sophia Arnall. What a Christmas present!
I would be remiss if didn't tell those of you whose dance appetite is only sated with a perfect pas de deux, this is not your production. This is a ballet that transcends perfection and takes us, along with the most enthusiastic dancers it's ever been my delight to see, on a beautiful journey through an evening that will leave you smiling as you tuck your children in bed and tell them that they too, could some day dance the Mateo Nutcracker, as they fall asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.
The Nutcracker is playing from Dec. 4th to Dec. 20th at The Spingold Theatre at Brandeis University in Waltham. For tickets, which start at only $15.00 can be purchased through www.BalletTheatre.org or by calling 781-736-3400. For all you South Shore folks, Mr. Mateo brings his company to The Duxbury Performing Arts Center from Christmas Eve through Dec. 27th. For tickets to the South Shore performances you can also go online to www.BalletTheatre.org or call 617-354-7467.
(My Score: 3 Stars)
A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS
Now at The Boston University Theatre, The Huntington Theatre Company presents "A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration," by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Paula Vogel. This presentation represents the play's Boston area premiere. Set in and around Washington, D.C. on Christmas Eve in 1864, amidst the trials, tensions and hopes centered on the ongoing war between-the-states. A panoramic celebration of our country at that time, told as an amalgam of songs and incidents surrounding both many of the era's best know figures as well as many of their long-forgotten countrymen. Most prominent is President Abraham Lincoln (Ken Cheeseman) and his troubled wife Mary Todd Lincoln (Karen McDonald). With the help of her seamstress Elizabeth "Lizzy" Keckley (Jacqui Parker), they both search throughout the city for a proper Christmas tree for the White House. As Mrs. Lincoln continues to grieve for her young son, fatally stricken only a few years past, so too does her companion (no longer a slave) mourn the recent loss of her own young son in battle. She softens her sadness by chanting the old carol "What Child Is This?" ("sew the color, fix the hem, for the child of Bethlehem".) Decatur Bronson (Gilbert Glenn Brown) an enraged black union foot soldier, seeks to avenge the Confederates' kidnapping of his beloved wife by seeking out and killing any such similarly rampaging Confederate Soldiers he encounters. However, the pervasively peaceful spirit of Christmas Eve steers him to a more merciful course when he's confronted by an enemy combatant. This changing attitude is expressed by his singing "Follow The Drunken Gourd!" (We drink to Jubilee…The flag that makes us free!) Later the mood changes drastically as renegade actor John Wilkes Booth (Ed Hoopman) meets with his fellow scoundrels to plan their murderous conspiracy. Meanwhile, Hannah (Uzo Aduba), an appealing runaway slave, is searching desperately everywhere to find her lost young daughter. Her success is framed musically by "God Rest Yee Merry Gentlemen" (on Christmas Day). Yet many more famed and/or those long forgotten, resonate similarly in person and song such as Walt Whitman, Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, General Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and William Tecumseh Sherman. The aforementioned, highly accomplished performers were also called upon to portray these additional historical personalities as well as Molly Schreiber appearing as Nurse Clara Barton. The splendid musical accompaniment by Conductor/Pianist Andrew Resnick and fiddler Morgan Evans-Weiler, the impressive setting with its large, imposing tattered American flag, rustic elevated platform and tall barren trees, designed by Don Ostling, together with Miranda Hoffman's fine period costumes and most certainly Jessica Thebus' well-focused direction, all combine to make this the absorbing and effective holiday treat that it is! Now playing through December 13, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Now at The Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion in the Roberts Studio Theatre, The Speakeasy Stage Company presents "Reckless" by Craig Lucas. Although performed previously in Boston in 1995 by the fledgling Theater Zone Troupe, as well as more recently in New York, this production marks its Boston professional premiere. Beginning on Christmas Eve, in a typical American City named Springfield, good natured, loquacious housewife Rachel (Marianna Bassham) is shocked when her long-time husband Tom (Barlow Adamson), hoping to collect her insurance cash, tells her that he has hired a professional assassin to kill her that same evening. While her hasty departure, through the nearest open window, also means leaving her two young-children behind, Rachel doesn't hesitate to make her prompt escape. By doing so she becomes involved in a series of unusual events, many of which also occur in other cities likewise called "Springfield." After accepting a ride on the highway, in an auto driven by good natured Lloyd (Larry Coen), she joins him at his home, where she meets his wife Pooty (Kerry A. Dowling), who's both deaf and a wheelchair bound paraplegic! However, soon Rachel learns that this is actually some sort of bizarre charade. Now as a full time member of Lloyd and Pooty's household, Rachel gets a job as clerk at a local philanthropic institution, where she encounter uncommunicative Trish (Sandra Heffley), her dour, middle-aged supervisor. Meanwhile, hoping to help him learn to be Pooty's physical therapist, Rachel, Lloy and Pooty become contestants on TV's popular quiz show "Your Mother or Your Wife," hosted by unctuous quizmaster Tim Timko (Will McGarahan) assisted by his lovely female assistant (Karl Baker Olson…in drag). As expected, Lloyd wins enough big money to not only provide physical therapy for his wife but also from a wide variety of different "shrinks," (all portrayed with giddy dissimilarities by Paula Plum) leading to a neatly devised surprise conclusion. Vividly performed by the accomplished cast under Scott Edmiston's deft direction, kudos must also go to Cristina Todesco's grandly creative set composed of many different doors surrounded by many, many festive Christmas Trees, all hanging there upside down! This dark and quite fanciful comedy is now playing through December 12, 2009. (My grade: 5)
A Tale of Two Cities
Now at Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is a dramatized version of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" adapted for the stage by Dwayne Hartford. Here again is the classic tale of the French Revolution as defined by the cataclysmic "Reign of Terror," and the intertwining fortunes of French exile Charles Darnay (Paul Melendy), his English wife Lucie Manetter (Robin Eldridge) and their compassionate friend and rescuer Sydney Carton (Bill Mootos), a dissolute British lawyer, who is also in love with Lucie. Once more Darnay, a kindly kinsman of the despicable and hated Marquis de Evremonde, (Dale Place) is compelled to return to his native France, where he is ultimately arrested and falsely accused as an enemy of the French people! Challenged by his major accuser Madame Therese DeFarge (Jane Staab), Darnay Faces certain guillotine execution. It is then that Carton (who strongly resembles Darney), inspired by his selfless love for Lucie, is able to find a way to subdue and exchange places with Darnay in his prison cell. This, of course, leads Carton to his certain death, while also providing Darnay and Lucie with their assured safe return to England. Of course, as expected, Dickens' original novel covered many more characters, events, places and details then are offered in the summation. Regrettably, playwright Hartford, especially in the overly lengthy first act of this play, has tried to cram in so many unnecessary personalities, situations and plot aspects, that the result became a heavy, plodding resume! Fortunately, Act Two rebounded with its much briefer, more concise and consequently more dramatic chronicle of the story's bloody conclusion. While Anita Fuch's stark, simple, set composed of tall wooden columns and lower platforms and ramps effectively suggested the 2nd Act's "Reign of Terror," more should have been done to realize the much more elegant settings alluded to in Act One. However, commendations for the impressive cast, especially Bill Mootos and Jane Staab, and Director Susan Kosoff, are certainly still due. Now playing through November 29, 2009. (My grade: 2.5)
The Salt Girl
Now still worthy of attention is "The Salt Girl," a one-man drama written by and starring John Kuntz, although it has just concluded its brief premier presentation at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre. Performed on a bare stage before a wall of 20+ video monitors, Kuntz appears as the tortured, suicidal Quint. The videos seem to represent his many changing moods and attitudes. Repeatedly failing with his many attempts to do away with himself, he's interrupted by an obscene telephone call. Quint is tortured by his anguished family history. While his mother was still pregnant with him, his six year old sister, often compared to the "Morton Salt Girl," had disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. This in turn lead his depressed mother to drown herself, followed by rumors about his father's culpability! This hearsay was, of course, fueled by his dad's reputation as the inventor of some extraordinary punitive device to control convicts. Quint, still unable to effectively commit suicide, finally responds to the repeated sick phone calls by disrobing as directed by the caller. Now fully nude, he dons a full size animal's costume, and muses about his being gay, as well as discussing his favorite foods. He's again disturbed, this time by a telephone call from the police. They inform his that his father has been in a serious auto accident and his now comatose and near death in the hospital. Pleading frantically at his silent, long estranged and failing parent's bedside, Quint seeks finally to find some resolution to the dreadful questions that have always plagued him. While certainly vividly performed by author and actor John Kuntz under David R. Gammon's strong direction, this overly lengthy and quite angst-focused drama might be more effective with some careful and judicious editing. (My grade: 4)
The Donkey Show
Now at The Club Oberon (the former Zero Arrow Theater) in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., is "The Donkey Show," a night club (a la Studio 54) reinterpretation of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," conceived by Randy Weiner and also directed by him and Diane Paulus, the new Artistic Director of The American Repertory Theater. A major Off-Broadway success from 1999 to 2005, this presentation marks its local debut, and serves as Ms. Paulus' first offering of the A.R.T.'s "Shakespeare Exploded Festival." Concentrating only on the original play's classic plot and eschewing all of the Bard's dialogue, his enchanted woodland now is redefined as a large, open dance floor with only a few tables, elevated and off to the side, all centered by a large, suspended, glittering, mirror-studded, revolving ball. A lovely foursome enter escorted by a bevy of bare-chested, young men in hot-pants. Helen (Erin McShane), a lithe, beauty is in love with Dimitri (Cheryl Turksi), who's enamored of Mia (Heather Gordon). He (she), with all portrayed by females, is in turn smitten with Sander (Rebecca Whitehurst). Sir Oberon (also played by Heather) the club's Manager, is vexed by the club's star, Tytania (also acted by Rebecca) his disdainful disco-diva girlfriend who's outfitted mostly in just her birthday suit with only a couple of colorful pasties and bright short panties cover. The club's exuberant Maitre D' is a gold-lame-dressed puck-like character know as Dr. Wheelgood (Jason Beaubien) He's so-called because he's able to zip about thanks to the roller skates he wears. As a prank, he entices Tytania to snort some white happy dust, and be overwhelmed with feelings of love! A similar caper by Wheelgood also transforms two of the Club's lowly employees, both named Vinnie (and both played by the aforementioned Cheryl and Erin) into a wildly cavorting "bottom"-like Donkey! All of this frivolity is framed by the pulsating rhythms of such 70's "C'mon and Dance With Me," "Ring My Bell," "I Love The Night Life," "We Are Family," "Y.M.C.A," "I Love To Boogie," and "Play That Funky Music," amongst others. Of course, as expected, the capacity crowd of young spectators also filled every inch of the packed floor space joining the cast with their joyfully dancing feet. Now resonating through January 2, 2010. (My grade: 5)
Now at Boston's Colonial Theatre, "Avenue Q," Broadway's highly popular 2004 Tony Award winning musical-theatre-spoof of children's puppet-styled television shows, returns. Originally conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who also are responsible for the show's highly amusing music and lyrics, the equally comic book is by Jeff Whitty. It is set in a threadbare neighborhood, in one of New York City's unidentified boroughs. The whimsical plot centers on Princeton (Brent Michael DiRoma), a newly arrived recent college graduate. His neighbors include Brian (Tim Kornblum), a wanna-be nightclub comedian and his Asian finacee Christmas Eve, a multi-degree'd therapist waiting for clients (Lisa Helmijohanson). Also nearby live Nicky (Jason Heymann), the sluggish and unemployed roommate of G.O.P. banker Rod (also played by Brent DiRoma). Kate Monster (Jaqueline Grabois), a pretty substitute kindergarten teacher, Trekkie, a lumbering big furry monster, (also played by Jason Heymann) and the neighborhood's superintendant Gary Coleman (Nigel Jamaal Clark), the well-known former TV child star, are also there. As they all try their best to achieve their career goals, with the occasional help of a friendly cuddly bear and his small assistants (Charles M. Baskerville and Minglie Chen), their comic ups-and-down are musically explored in more than 20 cleverly amusing songs. The whole cast singing "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" and Trekkie proudly boasting that "The Internet is Great…For Porn." Brian confessing that "I'm Not Wearing Underwear, Today," and the neighborhood's good-time-gal Lucy-the-Slut (also played by Jacqueline Grabois) singing "I Can Make You Feel Special…(very hard for me)" set the first act on its laughter filled way, with Princeton's romantic interest in Kate also beginning. Act Two finds Princeton and Kate falling out-- and then back in again-- in love, while, financier Rod finally decides to come out of "the closet" to bond with Nicky, as everything seems to look more hopeful for Brian, Christmas Eve as well as Lucy-the-slut and even Trekkie. The youthful, highly spirited and very talented cast, in addition to vividly singing well, are extremely adept at manipulating the wide variety of large puppets each member carries and represents. Plaudits are certainly also due for Choreographer Ken Roberson and Director Jason Moore. Now playing through November 22, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Now at The Boston Center for the Arts in their Plaza Theatre, Company One presents "The Overwhelming" by J.T. Rogers. After its successful premiere in London in 2006 and in New York City the following year, the presentation marks this production's Boston debut. Set in war-torn Rwanda in 1994, Jack Exley (Doug Bowen-Flynn), an American professor, specializing in Political Science, has travelled to this troubled land with his African-American wife Linda (Lyndsay Allyn Cox) and his son from his first marriage Geoffrey (Gabe Goodman). Jack, and his family have come because of a book he plans to write about Dr. Joseph Gasana (Cedric Lilly), a former college friend. Gasana is in charge of a clinic specializing in HIV infected children. Jack sees such a book as a definite boost to his academic career. However, Gasana is a Tutsi, and has disappeared, obviously at the hands of the reigning Hutus, who are engaged in a country-wide genocidal civil war against the minority Tutsis. Their hatred of them is fervently expressed by Samuel Mizinga (John Adekoje), a smooth talking government official who describes the detested Tutsis as "killers, terrorists…and cockroaches." Gasana reappears from time to time representing past written communications he's had with Jack, intermingling his feeling of both hope and fear of the future. Now in Rwanda, Jack wonders whether his good friend is alive or dead. Meanwhile his wife Linda has befriended Gasana's Hutu wife (Obehi Janice) as son Geoffrey bonds with Gerard (Tory Bullock) the family's servant. As thousands upon thousands die (mainly Tutsis) because of the raging civil strife surrounding them, the Exley's try their best to come to some basic understanding of the bloody maelstrom. Like them, the audience is also left to wonder! The play's title pertains to the African word which, when translated, refers to the virulent antipathy originally encouraged between Hutus and Tutsis by the Belgians during the country's Colonial period. Although some of the issues contributing to the area's blood-soaked history are raised, regrettably few of the underlying reason and or possible solutions are really offered in the course of this otherwise compelling drama. Well acted by the fine cast under Shawn Lacount's well focused direction. Now playing through November 21, 2009. (My grade: 3.5)
Now at The Boston Center for the Arts in their Plaza Black Box Theatre, The Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents the area premiere of "Lady" by Craig Wright. It comes here now, after success in its 2007 debut in Chicago, followed by similar Off-Broadway approval. This sharp and concise 80 minute drama deftly reexamines many of the thorny issues that have stirred most Americans, vis-á-vis the war in Iraq. Set deep in the Illinois woods, three longtime buddies meet for their annual hunting get together. Armed with their shotguns, as they leisurely prepare to engage in their sport, Dyson (Crain Hook) a professor at a local college, finally expresses his resentment at his good friend Graham (Brett Marks). A childhood friend, and now a Congressman, Graham's first run for Congress was managed by Dyson. However Graham's Hawkish support-- not only for the Iraq War and his solid approval of President Bush-- and a recent pro-war speech he made, has incited Dyson's 18-year old son to drop out of college with the intention of enlisting in the Marine Corps! As expected, this turn has seriously disturbed the friendship between them. He now sees his old friend as promoting the possible battlefield death of his beloved son, due to "the most spurious war in America's history." With his shotgun leveled directly at his longstanding chum, Dyson demands that Graham speak directly to his offspring. He orders him to convince the teenager not to join the military. Their third pal, Kenny (Michael Steven Costello) an awkward, small-time businessman, perplexed by his wife's struggle with cancer, remains uninvolved. He finds comfort, not just in smoking some weed and watching a good action-war flick, but has also brought "Lady," his faithful dog with him,too. The playwright obviously sees Kenny as representing the great, slumbering and apathetic American Public. Ultimately, in this not so subtle exercise on the pros and cons (as defiantly and animatedly expressed by Graham and Dyson) of the Iraq War, there is a disturbing (although unanticipated) conclusion to their quarrel. Vividly and well acted by the small cast under David J. Miller's strong direction, Miller was also responsible for the drama's effective forest like setting. This compelling, (albeit somewhat predictable) drama, is now playing through November 21, 2009. (My grade: 4)
DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE
Now at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston is their production of "Dead Man's Cell Phone" by Sarah Rohl. Young, pretty, thirtyish Jean is eating her lunch at a local restaurant, when the cell rings at the table next to her. When the man seated there doesn't respond, she quickly realizes that he is dead! Although this man is a complete stranger to her, being well intentioned, she decides to answer his cell phone. Of course, such a portentous response by her leads to all kinds of unexpected and significant consequences. She finds herself highly and progressively involved in Gordon, the deceased's secretive and unusual life. Resolute with her good intentions, she begins to invent situations that she feels may comfort Gordon's relations. She even pretends to have been his coworker and tries to reassure them that Gordon's last reflections centered on them. Knowing Gordon, as they all did, even though they knew her statements did not match the facts of his life, still they felt the need to graciously accept her attempts to ease their supposed distress. "You're Very Comforting," says Mrs. Gottlieb, Gordon's mother. In their own fashion, Hermia, Gordon's widow, and even his secluded mistress agree to accept Jean's dedicated efforts. However, Dwight, the younger, lesser brother of the departed, is gradually drawn into a romantic involvement with Jean. Soon, she will also come to realize the full nature of the dead Gordon's bizarre and not so nice (actually quite sordid) business activities. When Jean's pleasant, aforementioned lunch was initially interrupted by the pleasant ringing of dead Gordon's cell phone, her reaction seemed proper and justifiable. The well-dressed corpse, in a nicely appointed business suit, seemed to be the absolute embodiment of success and propriety. Later, in the course of this fanciful play, the deceased is actually able to speak to the audience in a long and detailed monologue, in which he explains himself, his lifestyle, and his questionable commercial enterprises. Among other notions, in this all too often illusory exercise, the playwright repeatedly stresses, notwithstanding technological progress, the genuine inability of we humans to really know and actually comprehend each other. Well played by the fine six member cast, with plaudits for Liz Hayes as Jean, Beth Gotha as Mrs. Gottlieb, Bryn Jameson as the widow, Jessica D. Turner as the mistress, Jeff Mahoney as
Dwight and Neil McGarry as the deceased Gordon, all under Carmel O'Reilly's well focused direction. Now playing through November 15, 2009
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
Now at The Boston Opera House is "Fiddler on the Roof," the classic musical play based on Sholem Aleichem's grand stories about Jewish life in eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. With book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, this presentation represents the great Israeli star of stage and screen, Topol's definitive and last performance as Tevye, the poor, hard-working dairy farmer, living with his vigorously assertive wife (Susan Cella) and his five unmarried daughters, in a small Ukranian village in 1905. Its tender, folkloric-styled plot centers on the monumental attitudinal and behavioral changes that are beginning to take hold in the new century. While he remains devoutly committed to his age old religious beliefs, and stand steadfast with the community's long-established traditions and matchmaker (Mary Stout). He ultimately bends to the era's new free-thinking and free-association notions, especially those of his three daughters: Tzeitel (Rena Strober), Hodel (Jamie Davis), and Chava (Deborah Grausman). Although perplexed, he finally agrees to Tzeitel marrying Motel (Erik Liberman), a poor tailor, and Hodel's engagement to Perchik (Colby Foytik), a youthful, free-thinking, itinerant student radical. He eventually and grudgingly also accepts Chava's love for Fydeka (Eric Van Tielen), a genuinely kind and sympathetic gentile. The show's unfolding story is winningly enhanced by the play's wonderfully memorable music and lyrics. "Tradition," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were A Rich Man," "Do You Love Me?" and the sublimely touching "Sunrise, Sunset" are only a few examples of the evening's grand moments. Much praise is also due for Tony Ray Hicks' splendid period costumes, Steve Gilliam's fine, very adaptable small, rural, village settings and Director Sammy Dallas Bayes, who here expertly reproduced Jerome Robbins' original vivid choreography. Now playing through November 15th, 2009. My Grade (0-5): 5
SPEED THE PLOW
Now at The Mosesian Theater in The Watertown Arsenal Center For The Arts in Watertown, Mass., The New Repertory Theater presents its new production of David Mamet's 1988 satiric consideration of Hollywood,"Speed The Plow." Set in present day Tinsel town, the plot centers on two small-time movie producers, Bobby and Charlie. Eager to make the "big time," they feel that they're on the verge of a major motion picture deal with one of the town's biggest magnates. Both dream of the fame, fortune and power that will be theirs if and when their project becomes a reality. It is a full-throttle, action-adventure flick, with a prison setting, loaded with high commercial potential. However, along comes young, sweet and lovely Karen,a temporary secretary assigned to Bobby's office. Of course, Bobby, being the slick and self-assured promoter that he sees himself as, decides to bet Charlie that he can and will seduce the most virginal Karen, that very evening, in his apartment. In the process of making his move, she is able to convince him that his life is empty and meaningless. Filled with a new sense of spiritual enlightenment, Bobby decides to abandon his big commercial action film in favor of a small "art" film called "The Bridge," about humanity facing radio-active annihilation. The resulting confrontation between Bobby and Charlie, as to which film project will finally prevail, is both explosively amusing and provocative, with the young sweet Karen's idealism as the focus of their dispute. Much praise for the fine three member cast with kudos for Robert Pemberton as Bobby, Gabriel Kuttner as Charlie and Aimee Doherty as Karen, under the assured direction of Robert Walsh. Commendations are also due for Eric Levenson's fine efficient-looking office setting. Now playing through November 7, 2009. (My grade:5)
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
Now downstairs at the Harvard Square Complex known as "The Garage" in Cambridge, Mass., The Actors' Shakespeare Project presents its new production of William Shakespeare's "The Taming of The Shrew." Utilizing the Bard's often omitted induction, this smaller introductory play serves to initiate the larger, more familiar work that most of us are accustomed to seeing. As such, the evening begins in the open-spaced, multi-columned, basement theater, set as a typical neighborhood bar complete with electrically illuminated juke box, neon signs, a serving counter with assorted liquors and even a pool table. There the local habitués are interrupted by Christopher Sly (Benjamin Evett), a totally intoxicated newcomer. After arousing him, as a jest they cajole him into joining them in some frivolous play they've decided to perform. From this curious initiation emerges the great playwright's classic about the subjugation of the headstrong Kate (Sarah Newhouse) by the opportunistic and financially motivated suitor, Petruchio, (also Benjamin Evett.) Unfortunately, since Kate is the elder daughter of a wealthy Baptista (Steven Barkhimer), and since there's no hope that anyone will ever want to marry her, her old father has made a strong decision about Kate and her very popular younger sister Bianca. His much in demand youthful offspring will not be given in marriage until the older, shrewish Kate is betrothed. From then on, the fun begins with the audience, considering the Bard's aforementioned induction, wondering how much is real and/or else how much is just the bar's patron's play-acting? How Petruchio tames Kate, after she's been made to marry him, by keeping her hungry, sleepless and frustrated is coupled by everyone wondering who's really who? This is so because the nine member cast is called upon to play so many different roles, with some characterizations just beginning to pretense. For example, the role of the younger sister Bianca is played by young male Ross Bennett Hurwitz, while Michael Forden Walker, Craig Mathers, Edward M. Barker, Daniel Berger-Jones and Risher Reddick have quite a bit of raucous (although occasionally excessive) fun portraying a host of different characters. Otherwise, the vibrantly active cast, especially Benjamin and Sarah, in the leading roles, under Melia Bensussen's spirited direction, served Shakespeare's legendary comedy quite well! Now playing through November 8, 2009. (My grade: 4)
Now at the Boston Opera House, The Boston Ballet presents "World Passions," an evening comprised of four strikingly varied ballets, each defined by distinctive choreorgraphy. "Paquita," the first is a world premiere presentation, featuring music by Ludwig Minkus and choreography by Pino Alosa. A spirited piece, based on Petipa's original, now with a decidedly Spanish flair distinguished by the classic formats. Beginning with a splendidly offered "Grand Pas De Deux" danced by the always impressive Lorna Fei Joo, grandly accompanied by the energetic Nelson Madrigal, followed then by a sprightly "Pas De Trois" deftly performed by Erica Cornejo, Pavel Gurevich and Carlos Molina. Finally concluding with vividly and majestically flowing moves by Melissa Hough, Lia Cirio, Misa Kuranaga and especially Kathleen Breen Combes. Next was another world premiere. "Tsukiyo," a lovely, delicate piece tenderly inspired by a Japanese fable, focused on a stirringly sensual "Pas De Deux" performed by the expressive Lia Cirio effortlessly linked with Sabi Varga. Then came "Rhyme" with willowy and graceful choreography by Viktor Plotnikov framed by Chopin's sensitive music, featuring grand lifts, spins and spreads expressively executed by Heather Waymack and Altan Du Garaa. This noteworthy work begins in darkness and then fully animates with bright, dramatic lighting! The program concluded with still another world premiere. "Carmen/Illusions" wrapped by Rodion Shchedrin's "Carmen-Suite for Strings and Percussion." Now the classic drama of passion, jealously and betrayal finds the original factory siren, soldier and matador (Kathleen Breen Combes, Yuri Yanowsky and Sabi Varga) updated into super model, businessman and sports car driver with subsidiary characters portrayed by Lia Cirio, Melissa Hough and Pavel Gurevich. Movingly and effectively danced by the principals and the others ultimately concluding poignantly and quite tragically! This grandly compelling evening of new and contrasting ballet is now on view through November 1, 2009 My Grade (0-5): 5
Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts in their intimate Plaza theater, the Publick Theatre presents its production of Edward Albee's classic, multi-award winning drama, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" It is set in the living room of George, a professor of history, on the campus of a small New England college. His wife Martha, the daughter of the college's president, has invited Nick, a young, up-and-coming biology teacher, and his wife Honey, to join her and her husband George, at their home, for a nightcap, after they've attended a faculty party hosted by her father. It is quite late in the evening and as the first cocktails evolve into a steadier and heavier flow so too does the conversational give and take between this soon to be abrasive quartet. As the steady stream of beverages loosen their sharp tongues the verbal exchanges-- especially between Martha and George-- grow increasingly bitter and vicious. She revels in taunting her spouse, laced with a barrage of familiar expletives, as weak and ineffective. He responds similarly although fully aware that she is truly the driving force in their marriage. To further demean George, she even entices Nick to bed down with her, only to find her guest to not be as capable as she had expected! We soon also learn that his mousy wife Honey's false pregnancy launched their marriage. Seemingly unable to actually become pregnant, as the evening's acrimony continues, the young besotted couple is faced with the emptiness of their childless lives. Meanwhile, as this foursome's explosive nigh of frightful "fun and games" winds down to it finale, George and Martha likewise are also compelled to reveal the grand delusion that has persistently become the center of the vigorously embattled and unfulfilled life together! Vividly acted by Tina Packer and Angie Jepson, under Diego Arciniega's potent direction. Kudos also must go to Dahlia Al-Habieli's fine, comfortable-styled living room/library setting and Kenneth Helvig's lighting. The play's title, which is occasionally mentioned as a joke by Martha at the evening's outset, is a spoof on "Who's Afraid of The Big Bad Wolf?," the theme song central to Walt Disney's award-winning cartoon entitled, "The Three Little Pigs." It should also be known that the play's author, Edward Albee (for reasons best reserved to him) insisted that the show's program noted indicate that, although he allowed this company to perform this splendid production, it was not, otherwise, approved by him! Now playing through October 24, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Now at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., is "Cravings - Songs of Hunger and Satisfaction," a Ko Theater Works production created by and starring Belle Linda Halpern, with vibrant accompaniment by pianist Ron Roy. As the show's title suggests, it is a cabaret-styled evening of songs centered on Ms. Halpern's profoundly Jewish-American upbringing with extra special emphasis on the sublime culinary expertise of the star's late grandmother. Wearing a standard kitchen-type apron, on stage at a small table stacked with assorted cooking utensils, an electrified mixing bowl, together with some apples, a few bottles of Kosher wine and a variety of condiments, the singing star recounts her folksy observations about all the foods she came to know and love at her grandma's table. She continues reminiscing about all of the other new and equally tempting domestic and foreign edibles that she has similarly come to appreciate, as she begins to prepare "Charoset," the traditional Passover holiday fruit and nut staple and treat. She blends these joyful memories with lively renditions of fifteen spirited tunes focused on the pleasures associated with good, tasty food. Beginning with Cab Calloway's popular swing era hit, "Everybody Eats When They Come To My House" (Have a Banana, Anna - Taste the Baloney, Tony- A Melon, Helen?), Rodgers & Hammerstein's memorable "My Favorite Things" (Most Certainly, Chocolate!), and (from the big Broadway & Hollywood hit "On The Town")… "Baby, I Can Cook!" continuing on with Jazz pianist Dave Frishberg's highly amusing, "Peel Me A Grape" (show me you love me, kid glove me! Just entertain me, champagne me!) Later, following after the show's brief intermission, came Kander & Ebb's (The Trouble In The World Today Is…) "Coffee In A Cardboard Cup" (Hurry, Hurry Up), "Roumania, Roumania" (an old-time Yiddish Vaudeville number including English translation celebrating that country's tasty pleasures) and ultimately finishing with "Grateful" (Truly I Am), finally Belle Linda responding to the capacity audience's highly enthusiastic response to her rousing performance, had staff members distribute small cupfuls of her competed "Charoset" to everyone's great delight! Now Playing through October 25, 2009 (My Grade: 5)
The Seafarer, by leading Irish playwright Conor McPherson, is a play about life. How do you fare on the sea of life? For Sharky Harkin, an ex-sailor, played brilliantly by David Atkins, it gets right down to: how do you redeem your soul when you've done an unspeakable thing? McPherson tells us simply, in a complicated manner, good deeds are what redeem us from living in Hell. Is the devil real, or is he really the evil we must carry with us from our misdeeds?
"Give me a head with hair…." That's the theme song for many of us Baby Boomers and has been since 1968, when the New York Shakespeare Festival first presented this lively portrait of our generation. For my generation, give me a head with hair, has a whole new meaning these days.
This wonderful play, done well by the Turtle Lane Playhouse, brings us back to a time when ones' character was what we saw, not her skin color…a time when truly "Love Steered the Stars". Just as the resurgence of this play enters our lives, we have a new president who is trying to steer the world on a new path…a path of conversation rather than conflagration.
WHAT DO WE WANT?
Walking into the playhouse I got the feeling this wasn't going to be just your average theater experience. There's a warm, homey wood paneled bar/lounge to hang out in before and after the show. You can also bring your drink and snack into the main theater, which is set up cabaret fashion. My friend and I shared a table with Tracy and Ellen. In the second act, we all got up and danced together. What could be more fun than that? I will tell you.
The play begins with the actors mingling about the audience handing out greetings and anti-war leaflets. By the time the very talented Erin Beaber belts out the opening number, "Aquarius", we were ready to relive a time of free love, sit-ins, flowers and "Mari juana, juana-juana, mari-mari-,juana-juana,."
This rock opera is full of life, good choreography and costumes reminiscent of the days I used to walk around Kenmore square bare foot in hip huggers and a backless baby doll shirt. I don't recall ever seeing (as I did last night) anyone in a tailored dress with button down sleeves. Call it creative license if you wish, it just didn't work.
What did work was the acting of Matthew Torrance as Claude, Kara Moulter as Jeanie, Joshua Bishoff as Berger and Erin Beaber, the lady with the great set of pipes. There were many enjoyable voices, notably those of Amy Cathrine Strong as Sheila, Kara Moulter as Jeanie and Erin Washington as a member of "The Tribe". Matthew Torrance really showed us what he had as he came out, head shorn, ready to be inducted into the army. The strength of this cast really was illustrated during the final rendition of "Let the Sun Shine In." I would be remiss if I didn't mention Ms. Ianthe Marini whose dancing and singing were so strong she almost stole the show from the leads. I spent a wonderful evening with these talented people and look forward to the next time my work brings me to Newton again.
The prices are reasonable, the people welcoming and the experience a delight. For tickets to HAIR, or any other production at this wondrous venue, call 617-244-0169 or go online to www.turtlelane.org. Their season brings us Carousel next from Nov. 20 to Dec. 30. It would be a wonderful holiday gift to share an evening at Turtle Lane with your loved ones.
(My Grade: 3)
2.5 MINUTE RIDE
Now in the Mosesian Theater in the Watertown Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass. the New Repertory Theatre presents "2.5 Minute Ride" by Lisa Kron, a one woman, one act play, starring Adrianne Krstansky, performed in the company's intimate downstage playhouse. The playwright's joyful and humorous reminiscences of her Jewish family's outing to a local Midwestern amusement park, and her similarly pleasant recollections of her brother's successful online meeting with and ultimate marriage to his wife, is overshadowed by the grim details of her paternal grandparents' death during the Holocaust. On a bare stage with only a chair and a stool as props, Adrianne, as the playwright Lisa, stands with a remote "clicker" in her hand, before a large, blank, suspended projection screen. From start to finish she points and clicks her mechanical contrivance at the white hanging white rectangle, which to everyone's surprise remains blank throughout. With only the author's words to suggest the missing images, the audience is compelled to imagine the people, places and events that each new illusory projected "picture" is meant to reveal. As stated, the play intermingles these overlapping memories, situations and responses as defined by two journeys undertaken by Lisa (an out-of-the-closet lesbian). The first trip finds Lisa and her family at their favorite, local, mid-western amusement park. Besides all of the fun-food to be bought and eaten there, of even more satisfaction, especially for Lisa's elderly dad, is his enthusiastic intention to ride on the park's 3-story "Demon-Drop" roller coaster! The play's title takes its name from Lisa's father's need to prove that he still has his youthful zest! Lisa's second trip is also with her aged father. This time it's a long European train ride, to the Auschwitz death camp for both to sorrowfully piece together the final dreadfully tragic day of his and her forebears. Later, this eventually leads Lisa and her parent back to the hopeful future that her brother and his new wife look forward to! This vividly performed, compelling and provocative play is now on view through October 24, 2009. (My Grade: 5)
Now at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., The Nora Theatre Company presents its production of "The Caretaker" by Harold Pinter. First staged in London in 1960 and shortly thereafter also in New York, it proved to be this late, great playwrights' first major success. It's set in a disheveled apartment in London brimming with piles of old newspapers, full and empty paint cans and similarly related deposits of trash. It is the residence of Aston (John Kuntz) who has undergone shock therapy because of mental illness. No longer hospitalized, Aston, after returning to his home, has befriended Jenkins, a ragged down-at-the-heels derelict, (Michael Balcanoff) promising to hire him as caretaker of his residence. Temporarily left alone, Jenkins (who later also identifies himself as "Davies") is greeted by Aston's brother Mick (Joe Lanza). More assertive and harsher than his simple and troubled sibling, Mick boasts about his elaborate plans to revitalize their squalid living quarters with the help of the old vagrant. Invigorated by this new sense of empowerment Jenkins (or is he Davies?) struts about in a flashy, used robe, just given to him by the others, to try on, boasting about his resourcefulness and his many varied and fanciful capabilities! Now bolstered by his good fortune he also reveals the bigotry he harbors towards some neighboring blacks as well as well as his hatred of foreigners. Soon, however, he also begins to feel that perhaps these two peculiar brothers may only be playing some perverse game with him. Desperately trying to gain Mick's approval he turns to Aston for support, to no avail! Ultimately faced with the prospect of being cast out, Jenkins-Davies is haunted by his renewed and anguished expectancy of a grim future. This highly compelling and provocative drama is extremely well acted by the splendidly effective cast with high praise for Michael Balcanoff's strong performance as the elderly and homeless street person, under Daniel Gidron's focused direction. Similar praise must also go to Janie E. Howland's efficiently shabby and cluttered set, as well as John Malinowski's persuasively dramatic lighting. Now playing through November 1, 2009. (My Grade: 5)
THE SAVANNAH DISPUTATION
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts in the Calderwood Pavilion, The Speakeasy Stage Company presents the New England premiere of "The Savannah Disputation," by Evan Smith. A recent success off-Broadway, this grandly comic exercise in theological differences centers on two life-long devoutly Roman Catholic middle-aged sisters, living in Savannah, Georgia. Their quietly comfortable suburban lifestyle is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a young, cute highly animated and persistent female evangelical Protestant missionary. Overly zealous, she is determined to persuade the astounded sisters that her beliefs represent the better path to save their souls. Mary (Nancy E. Carroll), the strong-willed older sister, is ready to call the police to have Melissa (Carolyn Charpie), the relentless dogmatist, quietly and firmly escorted out. However, Margaret (Paula Plum), the younger and more submissive sister is easily persuaded to let this persistent intruder speak her mind. Outraged by Melissa's tenacity, Mary decides that the best way to deflate this unwelcome meddler is by having her return, at a later time, when Father Murphy (Timothy Crowe), the sisters' confidently assured parish Priest, is also present. She's positive that the family's spiritual leader will successfully challenge and refute the insistent Melissa. Since the well-versed Father has come wearing only his unofficial leisure apparel, his sweet youthful is unaware of his importance. This, of course, adds still another disarming aspect to their provocative confrontation. This all culminates in a surprisingly solemn outcome due to the unexpectedly excessive and regrettable final outburst by the much too intense proselytizer! High praise is due for the small, accomplished cast with similar commendations for Director Paul Daigneault, the Company's producing Artistic leader. Now playing through October 17, 2009.
Now at the Boston University Theatre, The Huntington Theatre Company presents "Fences" by August Wilson. This masterful Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama was the sixth major work in the late author's monumental ten-play cycle chronicling the African-American saga in the 20th century U.S.A. Set in 1957, in the backyard of the home of Troy Maxson (John Beasely), his devoted wife Rose (Crystal Fox) and their young 17 year old son Cory (Warner Miller), in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Troy, a former player in the negro baseball league, in the years before Jackie Robinson shattered the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, is now an embittered city garbage collector. Haunted by some previous jail time, his life now centers on his loving wife and his young son, as well as his addled brother Gabriel (Bill Nunn), who suffered a serious brain injury in combat during WWII. Gabriel is content to shuffle about with his old battered trumpet certain that with it he can indeed communicate with the Lord! Troy is also vexed by Lyons (Brandon J. Dirden), his older son by a previous relationship. The acrimonious elder is quick to scoff at Lyons' ambitions to become a jazz musician. However, Troy is ever comforted by the friendship and support of his coworker Bono (Eugene Lee). Burdened by his many obligations, Troy has also fathered a child with yet another woman! When she dies while giving birth, his enraged wife finally relents, after discovering Troy's infidelity, and agrees to rear his new child. Meanwhile, Troy is also upset by a college-based football recruitment offer extended to his younger son. Troubled by his own many racially blocked and/or lost opportunities when he was a major sports figure, Troy assertively discourages Cory and advises him to pursue a "dependable" career as a tradesman, instead. The drama's title refers to Troy's attempt with the assistance of Cory, to fence in his back yard, as the plot unfolds. Amidst all of the play's searing confrontation and angst, this compelling drama's denouement does finally close on a surprisingly tender and hopeful note. Brilliantly played by the aforementioned accomplished cast. High praise must also go to Marjorie Bradley Kellogg's splendidly atmospheric neighborhood set, the fine blues and other musical choices by Ben Emerson and Dwight D. Andrews and Kenny Leon's strong direction. Now playing through October 11, 2009.
SAY IT WITH MUSIC
At The Robinson Theatre on the campus of The Waltham High School in Waltham, Mass., The Reagle Players recently concluded an opulent and highly melodic tribute to the musical legacy of Irving Berlin with their song-filled two hour salute entitled, "Say It With Music." For the three day weekend of October 2-4, 2009, featuring a stellar cast of more than 2 dozen fine fully- costumed singers, with seven splendidly spirited dancers, and a full sonorous orchestra conducted by pianist Paul S. Katz, the near capacity audience was literally wowed by the bright, tuneful spectacle on stage, as directed by Robert J. Eagle, the company's founder and artistic director. Starring the formidable husband-and-wife song and dance duo of Kirby and Beverly Ward, the evening's appreciations of this treat and legendary composer (who penned the words and music to 1500 memorable songs) was divided into two acts, with a brief intermission. With the lovely Aurelie Alger acting as mistress of ceremonies and introducing each stage of Berlin's artistic evolution, the show progressed in Act One from the master's earliest triumphs such as "Everybody's Doin' It" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band," to such wartime songs as "This Is The Army" and "I Left My Heart At The Stage Door Canteen," followed by a host of splendid love songs, including "What'll I do?" and (I'll Be Loving You)"Always." The first act finally concluded with a collection of great Broadway hits including, "They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful", and "There's No Business Like Show Business!" Act Two focused on Irving Berlin's great successes first, again on Broadway, for the "Ziegfeld Follies," with such classics as, "You'd Be Surprised" and "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody", and then went on to Hollywood with grand songs like "Blue Skies" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails", with both Kirby and Beverly outstandingly reprising the dancing of the great Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Of course, no salute to this grand tune smith would be complete without his masterful holiday music such as "White Christmas" and "Easter Parade," and while concluding with his majestic patriotic anthems like "This Is a Great Country" and the magnificent, "God Bless America." (My Grade: 5)
THE GOOD WAR
Now at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass., is their production of "The Good War," adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Studs Terkel, by David H. Bell and Craig Carnelia. Subtitled as "a musical collage of World War II," skipping back and forth from time to time, it is a one act, 90 minute pastiche of reminiscences, observations, and the popular songs of this devastating period, defined not only by what it highlights as significant or worthy situations and conditions, as it is by what it either takes note of only briefly or else not at all. The spirited cast of eight males and one female do well with the evening's many different wartime events, recollections and nostalgic times, framed either by military-style formations and simple gatherings, or by the popular dance moves of the time. Pointed memories of the public's initial astonishment and outrage in response to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor are expressed soon thereafter by such pop songs as "Goodbye Mama I'm Off to Yokahama" and "I'll Be With You In Appleblossom Time." This occurs with mention of the roundup of Japanese Americans (U.S. citizens) taken to internment camps, given only slight attention. As food and grocery shortages at local markets and rationing of gasoline for automobiles become everyday concerns, pressure on the hometown girlfriends to quickly marry a departing G.I. also gains importance. "I'll Be Seeing You (In All The Familiar Places)." and "Till Then" quickly become favorite selections on Juke Boxes at the local teen age hang outs. However the war's grim details mount with news of the Bataan Death March, the London Blitz, the all-out war in Russia, the heavy toll on civilian centers under attach and the round-the-clock bombing missions, all soon followed by songs such as "Stalin Wasn't Stalling," "Coming In On A Wing and a Prayer" and "The G.I. Jive," while notice is made of the Jim Crow Troop trains and an African American court martial for refusing to handle deadly munitions after a catastrophic explosion, only scant mention is made of the Nazi death camps. Finally, the successful counter attacks, the Allied Advance on Berlin, the futile hope for World Peace (including Russia) with the War's end brings down the final curtain with the cast singing "This Was Worth Fighting For." Kudos for Jason Bowen as the above mentioned African American soldier, as well as Jerry Bisantz, Steve Gagliastro and Laura DeGiacomo, amongst others of the fine ensemble. Commendations also for Ryan McGettigan's multi-leveled angular set, music director Todd C. Gordon and Bobby Cronin's focused direction. Now playing through October 4, 2009. (My Grade: 4)
KISS ME KATE
Now at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston is their new production of "Kiss Me Kate," the classic 1948 Tony Award-winning show, featuring music and lyrics by Cole Porter and book by Sam and Bella Spewack. Defined by one of Cole's most scintillating scores, it has been consistently popular with audiences here and abroad ever since its Broadway debut. Set on the first night of a production of Shakespeare's "Taming of The Shrew" at a theatre in Baltimore ("another op'nin', another show"), the focus is on Fred and Lilli, the play's divorced, contentious, (and yet surprisingly still in love) leading man and lady. Their highly-spirited backstage squabbles resoundingly mirror the onstage quarrels of the Bard's "Petruchio and Kate." Also added to these high jinks are lively supporting players Lois, a sprightly cutie and Bill, her gambling, in-debt sweetheart. Regrettably, Bill is up to his neck in arrears to the "mob" and in a foolhardy move to outwit them has put Fred's signature on the I.O.U. As expected, two enforcers are now backstage looking for Bill to collect his debt to their boss. Of course, as the show bounces to and from the classic antagonism on stage and its real-life counter point backstage, the play's book finds a clever way to cancel Bill's debt while also providing similarly a happy reunion and ending for the bickering Fred and Lilli! All of this, of course, framed by Cole Porter's memorable and highly clever words and music including "Why Can't You Behave?" "So In Love," "Were Thine that Special Face," "I Hate Men!" "Too Darn Hot" "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?" and "Always True To You (In My Fashion)" amongst so many others. The two aforementioned mobsters, backstage in search of Bill, finally also make their exit with their hilarious show-stopping salute to the Bard of Avon: "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." Bravo to the splendidly full voiced Peter Davenport as Fred and Petruchio; the glamorous Amelia Broome as both Lilli and Kate; as well as Michele DeLuca as Lois and R. Patrick Ryan as Bill, with extra commendations also for Timothy John Smith as pompous militaristic admirer of Lilli's and most especially Neil A. Casey and J.T. Turner as the two grandly amusing gangsters! High marks also for Janie E. Howland's fine back stage set, Ilyse Robbins spirited choreography, the fine orchestral accompaniment directed by Jonathon Goldberg and Spiro Veloudos' assured direction. Now playing through October 10, 2009.
Now at the Mosesian Theater in the Arsenal Center for The Arts in Watertown, Mass., the New Repertory Theatre presents its new production of "Mister Roberts" by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan. Winner of the Tony Award as Best Play after its debut in 1948, it also went on to great popular success as a major Hollywood motion picture in 1955. Both the stage and movie versions were based on Heggen's best- selling novel and also proved to be triumphant --and proved to be triumphs for Henry Fonda, who starred in both productions. With heavy doses of ribald humor and melodramatics the plot centers on Lieutenant (JG) Doug Roberts (Thomas Piper), the executive naval officer stationed on the appropriately named "Reluctant," a cargo ship stuck in the Pacific, at the height of World War II. The discontented crew is aptly described by Roberts as bogged down in their own special war with "tedium, apathy and most especially monotony." The two goals Roberts has set for himself are A.) to be transferred on to a destroyer, where he might be able to do his part against the Japanese enemy, and B.) to somehow convince the "Reluctant's" self-centered and oppressive Captain (Paul D. Farwell) to grant some free-time ashore for the large, restless crew that has been mired aboard this floating deadlock for nearly the whole war. In a testy showdown between the Captain and Roberts, the old crusty martinet finally outlines his conditions for the vexed Lieutenant. To achieve some free time off for the ship's men Roberts must promise to never again send another personal written and official request for his transfer to Navy headquarters. By acceding to the Captain's drastic demands, shore leave is granted to the crew with hilarious consequences while Roberts and his two best and also long distressed shipmates Doc, the vessel's medical officer (Owen Doyle), and young libidinously sophomoric ensign Frank Pulver (Jonathan Popp) consider ways to improve their lot. The pent up resentment against the tyrannical Captain finally explodes when an uproariously amusing assault against the Captain's prize palm tree occurs! Deftly performed by the fine, large cast with kudos for Patrick Lynch's atmospheric set, Karen Perlow's effectively dramatic lighting, and to Kate Warner, the company's new Artistic Director. Now playing through October 3, 2009. (My Grade: 5)
SINS OF THE MOTHER
Now at the Gloucester Stage in Gloucester, Mass., is their new production of "Sins of The Mother" written by Israel Horovitz. Originally staged, at this same theater, as a one act play in the summer of 2003, it returns now redeveloped as a major full length play. Set in present day Gloucester, Mass., act one takes place in the empty union meeting hall of a local moribund fish processing plant. Middle-aged Bobby Maloney (Robert Walsh), a Vietnam veteran with a terminally ill wife, has come, as in the recent past, to have his unemployment card acknowledged. There, he encounters two much younger and similarly unemployed co-workers, Frankie Verga (Christopher Whalen) and Dubbah Morrison (David Nail). They are surprised to meet Douggie Shimmatarro (Francisco Solorzano) who, although born in Gloucester, grew up with his grandmother in Florida and California, and now, as a young adult, had decided to return to his early childhood hometown. As these four banter about "old times" with Dubbah boasting about his becoming a vegetarian and now being "meat-sober," to everyone's surprise Douggie inform them that his late mother was Louise Martino, the local's best known "good-time gal." Besides all the booze and drugs, she was also Bobby's clandestine lover. As many of these past memories begin to bubble up, act one ends in a violent fracas. Act two takes place in Bobby's living room, very much later, with his deceased wife's coffin, heavily adorned with flowers, on view. He's joined there by Dubbah and Frankie's twin brother Philly, (also played by Christopher Whalen). We learn that Frankie has died and had harbored much bitterness and envy against his double. Philly has become very successful as the owner of a prominent Toyota auto dealership in Quincy, Mass. Of course, there are many hints of the latent rivalry between the region's "North Shore," with Gloucester as Cape Ann's apex, and Quincy as the threshold leading to Cape Cod, the goal of the area's "South Shore." As the second act unfolds, the irony of the play's title also becomes quite evident as Philly begins to reminisce about he and his late twin's life in Gloucester. Paling against the memories of Louise Martino, Philly and Frankie's abusive and long-suffering, deceased mother's life with their brutish and abusive father is vividly detailed. All of this is strikingly performed by the strong cast, with special commendations for Robert Walsh and Christopher Whalen as the two distinctly different brothers. Now playing through September 13, 2009. (My grade: 5)
"Where Moments Hung Before"
Two significant plays, both recently concluded, certainly remain worthy of attention. The first, "Where Moments Hung Before," is a world premiere written by and starring Joey Pelletier and was presented by the Boston Actors Theater at The Boston Playwrights Theatre. The second play "The Goat, or, Who Is Sylvia?" was Edward Albee's Tony Award winning offering at Gloucester Stage in Gloucester, Mass. and will also be discussed here, later. The curiously titled "Where Moments Hung Before" spins around both the observance and celebration of two major and strangely converging events. Jasper, (David Lucas) a very popular 20+ bon-vivant has just died, a victim of AIDS. His younger sister Morgan (Jennifer Reagan) has then chosen to commemorate both Jasper's memorial service and her young 12 year old daughter Lucy's (Barbara Woodall) birthday on the same evening. Even though Morgan sees this unusual coupling as a good idea, her young daughter is confused and annoyed. This occasion then brings all of Jasper and Morgan's friends and associates together during which time a host of their provocative gay versus straight issues are vividly aired. These matters swirl around Jasper's despondent boyfriend Timothy (Michael DiLoreto) and their upset bisexual buddy Quinn (James Aitchison). The latter's strained relationship with his girlfriend Fiona (Julia Specht) is cause for his main concern. Similar perplexities also surround Morgan and her husband Daniel (Paul Ezzy) as well as Yael (Evelyn Howe) her girlfriend. Amidst all of this angst stands Patrick (the play's author Joey Pellitier) a creative artist and self-assured observer. Although overlong (some judicious editing would help) this play is certainly well-acted and brimming with conflicting and stimulating notions and attitudes. (My grade: 4)
As stated, the second play now also considered here at Gloucester Stage in Gloucester, Mass., was Edward Albee's Tony Award winning "The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?" which made its provocative debut on Broadway back in 2002. Set in the smart, contemporary living room of Martin (Robert Pemberton) and his loving wife Stevie (Anne Gottlieb). Martin, a highly successful architect has just won the renowned Pritzker prize and is preparing to begin work on a major architectural project of national significance. Now celebrating his 50th birthday, he's also preparing to be interviewed for television by his friend Ross (Dennis Trainor, Jr.). Notwithstanding his feelings of success, Martin's troubled by his seventeen year old son Billy's (Jesse Rudoy) revelation about him being gay. While this has certainly vexed Martin, he finally anxiously confesses to Ross that he's also been unfaithful to his wife for the past six months! Ross is quite alarmed when he learns that Martin has been having an affair with Sylvia…a goat at a nearby farm! As expected when his wife Stevie discovers her spouse's shocking secret, her response is predictably furious and violent with their fine contemporary furnishings, painting and accessories being devastated by her overwhelming outrage and shame! Playwright Albee intertwines her bitter outbursts with cleverly crafted spurts of humor and embarrassment, all leading to the play's final surprising and disturbing conclusion. Extremely well acted by the fine cast especially Anne Gottlieb, as the explosively upset Stevie, under Eric C. Engel's well centered direction. (My Grade: 5)
Now at The Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Mass., is their new production of "Ghosts" by Henrik Ibsen. Causing a scandal in the playwright's native Norway when first published in 1881, it was not performed until 1882, and then only in Chicago. This was due to its open exploration of such then forbidden issues as venereal disease (of which even the mention would be considered taboo), as well as such other topics as loveless marriage, out-of-wedlock birth, and lustful and wonton adultery. It has, since then, been recognized as one of Ibsen's greatest works. Helene Alving (Mia Dillon), a widow, decides to confer with Pastor Manders (David Adkins), who's not only her spiritual advisor, but also her legal and financial consultant as well. With his help, she plans to dedicate an orphanage built to honor the memory of her long deceased husband. However, she soon reveals that her late spouse was not only an abusive drunkard but also a wonton libertine, who used to confront her with his new lady friends. Fearing the community's disapproval, on the Pastor's advice, she remained loyal to her vicious mate. In like manner to save her son Osvald (now aged 26) from her husband's corruption, she sent him away as a very young child to live with others. However, Osvald (Randy Harrison), a talented artist, having returned, now declares his love for the family's housemaid, Regina (Tara Franklin). Still, complications quickly erupt when it's discovered that Regina isn't really the daughter of Jacob Engstrand (Jonathan Epstein), the family's handyman, but actually the illegitimate daughter of Mrs. Alving's depraved husband. Yet an even more alarming revelation is exposed when Osvald informs his mother that he's also afflicted with congenital syphilis. As expected, this all leads to the drama's potently grim conclusion. Strongly acted by the fine and accomplished cast under Anders Cato's assured direction. The play's original adaptation was also the result of the collaboration of Anders Cato and James Leverett. Kudos in like fashion should go to the splendid spare white walled and black columned set designed by Lee Savage as well as Tyler Micoleau's effectively dramatic lighting. Now playing through August 29, 2009. (My Grade: 5)
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
On the banks of the Charles River in Boston's Brighton neighborhood at the Publick Theatre's outdoor stage in Christian Herter Park, the Orfeo Group presents "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" A ninety minute (including a brief intermission) wild-n-wooly spoof of the Bard's 37 plays and all of his poems! An immediate success created by the reduced Shakespeare Company in 1987(Three Londoners named Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield), it has been a highly popular favorite here and abroad with many similar theatrical groups ever since. It's being formed here by Daniel Berger-Jones, Gabriel Kuttner and Risher Reddick, under the spirited direction of Steve Barkimer. Because the Publick Theatre's lighting is being repaired this summer, these three talented farceurs are acting all of their comically frenzied roles (including all of the female parts)in the late afternoon, primarily without the expected lights or sound system--and fulfilling their assignments riotously well! Act One begins with Daniel in drag as Juliet who stabs her floppy boobs, bounteous thigh and big bum with her handy dagger when she mistakenly assumes that her Romeo has checked out. Later, we find Gabriel at Titus Andronicus, outfitted as a TV-styled cooking show chef preparing a "finger lickin' good" recipe to roast the severed noggin of his latest nemesis. Of course, still later, Rosher shows up as the distraught Othello, rapping and rhyming about his cheating Desdemona. Following this, MacBeth appears with his thick Scottish accent, as always, being quite incomprehensible. Since we all know that all of Will's comedies really do involve the same characters (although some with different names) and really very similar plot twists and turns, especially featuring gals dressing as guys and identical twins confusing everybody as to who is who (?) why not then boil all of these comic complications into just one play? Then, maybe a similar change might suit Will's histories, too? Possibly the Johns, Henrys and Richards and Lear with relatives might also be able to play out their various grievances on a typical gridiron with the contested crown acting as the football? Remembering that the Bard also composed 154 sonnets, this winning comedic trio also distributes a printed notice amongst the audience informing them of this. However, Will's best known play must wait for the entirety of Act Two, after the intermission. Unlike everything that's been treated in Act One, the saga of Hamlet, the despondent Prince of Denmark being so upset by his mom's marriage to his slippery uncle and the reason for their wedding, that his story is played out, not just once, but four times(!) with even one astoundingly performed backwards! With such a surprising finish, needless to say the capacity audience greet the show's dexterous trio with a loud burst of roaring approval! Now playing through August 22, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
Now at the Provincetown Theater in Provincetown, Mass., Counter Productions presents their presentation of "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" by Moises Kaufman, his 1997 multi award winning docu-drama (N.Y. Outer Critics Circle, Bay Area, San Francisco Theatre Critics Circle, and Florida's Carbonell Awards amongst others). This highly provocative and compelling play is an engaging assemblage of original court transcripts, personal letters, contemporary newspaper reports, and many books by and about the brilliant and legendary playwright, novelist and essayist. At the height of his popularity and success in Victorian England at the close of the 19th Century, marked by such master works as "An Ideal Husband" and "The Importance Of Being Ernest," Wilde challenged the wrath of the brutally vindictive Marquess of Queensberry, the cruel arrogant father of his young handsome 24 year old lover, Lord Alfred Douglass. Responding to the vicious old man's accusation of the famed writer's "unnatural relationship" with his young son, the court ultimately found the Marquess innocent of defamation. Wilde was then automatically charged with immorality and subsequently brought to trial indicted for a host of sinful crimes. With this new trial focused on a succession of teenaged street urchins, and other young males as well, who sold their sexual favors to him, as expected this great literary giant was found guilty of sodomy and pederasty and sentenced to two years of imprisonment. Ruined financially, repudiated by his family, denounced by Victorian Society, he lived briefly in exile in France after leaving jail. Suffering from an illness caused by the improper attention given to an ear infection while in prison, Wilde died soon thereafter isolated, destitute and banished. Throughout these various legal proceedings Wilde adamantly refused to accept the advice of friends (especially after the Marquess was exonerated). Opposed to leaving England to save himself by the unyielding and hypocritical Victorians and refusing to disassociate his personal and private life from the public artistic creativity that had once made him the favorite of Victorian society, he mistakenly courted his own downfall. Well played by the large cast with much praise for Ryan Landry's restrained and thoughtful portrayal of Oscar Wilde, especially in the shadow of his great farcical success as the major general in charge of Boston's Gold Dust Orphans' Theatricals. High marks must also go to Ben Griessmeyer as Lord Alfred Douglas, John Keller as the Marquess of Queensberry, Adam Berry as Wilde's intensely focused Prosecutor and Richard Koonce and Ethan Paulini also as vigorous attorney's all under Susan Grilli's strong direction. Now playing through August 22, 2009. (My grade:5)
La Cage Aux Folles
Now at the Robinson Theatre on the campus of The Waltham High School in Waltham, Mass., The Reagle Players continue their 41st summer season celebration of composer Jerry Herman with their production of "La Cage Aux Folles." As with their earlier presentations of "Hello Dolly" and "mame," here again this show's music and lyrics are by Jerry, but now with book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on the French stage-farce by Jean Poiret and the highly popular (same-titled) French movie of 1978, as well as the successful 1996 American film version "The Birdcage." Set on the French Riviera, the play's action takes place in and around the flashy nightclub after which the aforementioned show were named. Georges (Jamie Ross), the club's owner and Albin (David Engel) his lover and the show's major transvestite star "Zaza," have lived together for many years. Jean-Michel (David Carney), the now adult result of a one-night stand by Georges 24 years before, announces that he plans to marry. Over these many years Albin has raised him as if he was truly the young boy's mom. Now, Jean-Michel is embarrassed to introduce his sweetheart Anne (Jessica Azenberg) to his family. Since her father (R. Glen Michell)is the highly straight-laced political head of the T.F.M. party (which stands for "tradition, family and morality"), Jean, with the help of Georges hopes to deceived Anne's parents into accepting his kin just as average button-downed, business-suit-wearing folks, with George as an old-fashioned business man and the formerly over-the-top "Zaza," now transformed into plain old Uncle Al. Of course, as expected, initially their charade succeeds until a show-biz acquaintance unknowingly reveals the true nature of Albin’s fame. A succession of grandly humorous twists and turns follow with Anne's pompous mom and dad finally agreeing to allow the young sweethearts to marry! Amidst the show's many uproarious moments, Jerry Herman's splendidly tuneful score resonates with such grand songs as: "We Are What We Are," "The Best of Times," "Masculinity" (just think of John Wayne), as expected the show's titled song: "La Cage, etc." and what has become the resounding anthem of the outsider "I Am What I Am!" The show's large cast is highlighted by the very precise high-stepping can-can dancing, ten man chorus line known as "Les Cagelles," outfitted brilliantly in colorful drag complete with feathers, bangles and beads! Bravos also to Ivory McKay as George's and Albin's flamboyant maid-turned-butler. Special notice to full orchestra conductor Jeffrey P. Leonardo, set designer David Allen Jeffrey and producer David Scala. This highly recommended extravaganza is now playing August 22, 2009 (My grade: 5)
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company is presenting its 44th annual summertime production (open and at no admission cost to the general public) of the works of William Shakespeare on the Boston Common. This time they are offering "The Comedy of Errors," the Bard's early play framed by mixed up identities. Two sets of identical twin brothers named Antipholus were shipwrecked in a storm at sea with their identical man servants, both of whom were also named Dromio. Many years later, one brother Antipholus and his servant Dromio, both having been rescued and grown to adulthood in Syracuse, travel to Ephesus in search of their lost twin brothers. Unbeknownst to them, the long missing Antipholus is now married to the lovely Adriana. Although, he too, is still served by his very own faithful Dromio. Confusion erupts when Adriana, her sister Luciana, and her attendant Luce (also known as Nell), misjudge these look-a-likes for their familiar Ephesian doubles! A progression of absurd misconceptions complicated by some mislaid money and the confusing ownership of an elegant necklace cause much justifiable ill will amongst some very displeased creditors. As expected, the twins from Syracuse are ultimately differentiated from their mistaken Ephesian siblings with all the misunderstandings finally exposed and corrected leading all to the requisite happy ending! Set in the 1930's in Miami with the large lively cast garbed in the bright flashy attire of that time. Dan Roach as Antipholus of Syracuse and Josh Stamell as his Ephesian twin, both in white tropical formal suits, are effectively and farcically supported by Larry Coen as the Syracusian Dromio and Remo Airaldi as his twin brother from Ephesus. Jennifer Ellis as Adriana, Zofia Gozynska as Luciana and Samantha Weppelmann as Luce (Nell), although often a bit too shrill and frenetic, eventually did complement the combined comic efforts of the aforementioned twin siblings. High marks are also due for Steve Maler's assured direction and Jon Savage's gleaming, multi-leveled Mediterranean styled set. While Yo-El Cassell's spiritedly choreographed dance moves, to the grandly familiar show tunes of the 30's, helped to define many of the evening's scene changes, they also often seemed to overwhelm rather than enhance the evening's Shakespearean focus. Now playing through August 16th, 2009. (My grade: 4)
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
Now at the Durell Theatre in the YMCA in Cambridge, Mass., Bad Habit Productions is staging their presentation of "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead" by Tom Stoppard. A popular success in both London and New York upon its debut in 1968, it was later also produced as a major motion picture in 1990 and has been a favorite with many theatrical companies here and abroad ever since. An engagingly clever and satirical spin on Shakespeare's most celebrated drama "Hamlet," its' focus is not on the Bard's famed and despondent Danish Prince, but rather on two of the original play's least significant participants. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of Hamlet's former school mates who have been called by Hamlet's uncle, the new King Claudius, to help comfort their old school chum. Hamlet knows that his uncle has assumed the throne by first murdering his father, and then by marrying Gertrude, his mother. He plans to entrap King Claudius by having a troupe of travelling actors perform a play with a plot-line much like that of his father's assassination. Stoppard's twist on these events begins with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on their way to the castle residence of Hamlet and his murderous uncle and mother. Along the way, they encounter the band of aforementioned actors who are also on their journey to the castle. The leader of this rag-tag band of performers is a loquacious blowhard, known as "the player." Neither he, nor Alfred, the traveling ensembles' completely befuddled major actor and the play's prime twosome truly comprehend, in any manner, the reasons or even the circumstance they all find themselves in! Challenging one another with mind blowing cascades of witty and stimulating speculations, puns and elaborate word games about their past and present they ultimately remain as confused and uninformed as ever. Following the course of Shakespeare's original, Act II finds Hamlet, sent by sea to England by his perfidious uncle, accompanied by his two old friends. As foretold, Hamlet is able to elude his Uncle's murderous intent, while as expected Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not as fortunate! Obviously greatly influenced by Samuel Beckett, here too, Stoppard's two travelers similarly resemble the great Irish playwright's Vladimir Estragon as they also wait expectantly. Extremely well-acted on a relatively bare stage by Jonathon Overby as Rosencrantz and Stephen Libby as Guildenstern, with solid support from Dennis Hurley as the player and Ryan Douglas as Alfred. Kudos must also go to Silas Jenzen Lohrenz as Hamlet, and Daniel Schuettinger and Karen Maloney as his Uncle Claudius and his wife/mother Gertrude, all under Steve Kleinedler's strong and assured direction. This highly engaging and provocative production is now playing through August 8, 2009. (My grade: 5)
AFTER THE QUAKE
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts, in their intimate Plaza Theatre, Company One presents the area premier of "After The Quake," a one act play, adapted for the stage by Frank Galati, from 2 short stories by famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami, with English translation by Jay Rubin. The two short stories, "Superfrog Saves Tokyo" and "Honeypie," are part of a larger novel entitled "After the Quake," and were written by Murakami in response to the calamitous earthquake and upheaval suffered by the city of Kobe in 1995. Galati was able to find substantial affinity by the Japanese response to that engendered in our own country because of the 9/11 disaster. Originally produced and premiered by Chicago's justifiably-celebrated Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the play is a delightful intermingling of the two short stories. Junpei, a young, budding writer, has come to comfort Sala, the pre-pubescent daughter of his best friend Takasuki. He's there late at night to cheer the child who's been overcome by nightmares due to the recent earthquake. Still haunted by his secret love for Sala's mother Sayoko, he tries to calm the youngster with a fancifully imaginative tale about a gigantic and powerful frog who confronts and quells the machinations of an extraordinarily massive worm bent on unleashing an earthquake on the populace. Central to his efforts to thwart the plans of this super malevolent invertebrate is Katagiri, a bewildered, but ultimately effective, bank collection officer. The play's engaging symbolism is sublimely amplified and punctuated by the eastern-styled music composed by Arshan Gailus and played by persuasively throughout by violinist Shaw Pong Liu and bass clarinetist James Wylie. The fine small cast handle their provocative assignments effectively, with especially strong praise for Michael Tow as both the evening's narrator and then sporting wide, round-rimmed eye glasses, while also wearing green gloves and a green tinged jacket, crouching, jumping and asserting himself as the frog! Commendations must also go to Chen Tang as Junpei, Martin Lee as both his best friend Takasuki and later as the flustered collection agent Katagiri, with similar praise for little Sydney K. Penny and adult Giselle Ty as the very young, frightened Sala and her officious mother Sayoko. Miranda Kau Giurleo's effective and simple costumes, Sean Cote's efficient block-like set pieces which were able to quickly assume a variety of different shapes and functions and of course Shawn Lacount's assured direction were likewise all quite praiseworthy. Now playing through August 15, 2009. (My grade: 5)
My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm In Therapy!
Now playing at Boston's Cutler Majestic Theatre is "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish and I'm In Therapy" a new one-man show written by and starring Steve Solomon. A solid success when it first made its debut Off-Broadway back in 2002, it's been enthusiastically received by audiences nationwide since then in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida, as well as in such disparate locations as Toronto, Montreal, Atlantic City and Los Angeles. Later this year Solomon, a former N.Y. school teacher and Assistant Superintendent, will take his popular show to Spokane, Washington. South Africa and Israel loom also as potential destinations. For 90 minutes (sans intermission) skillfully shifting back and forth through different voices and accents, Solomon regaled the capacity audience with his hilarious observations and reminiscences about his parents, sister, relatives and acquaintances. His Palermo-born mom met his G.I. dad at the close of World War II and while Solomon thought of his old-world mom as a combination of Gina Lollobrigida and Danny DeVito, he remembers dad's credo as simply "I was born with nothin' and I still have most of it!" Similar recollections also spring forth about his older tobacco-inhaling sister (3 packs of cigarettes a-day, with a full accompanying gravel-laced voice) and his feisty old Jewish ("Bubbe") Grandma's advice: "Never go to bed mad…stay up and fight!" Comparably raucous notice also went to his worldly wise Uncle Paulie, cousin Carmine and dimwitted relative Kenny! The apex of Steve Solomon's comic retrospections, however, centered on his former ultra-Orthodox Jewish wife. Her strict and all inclusive adherence and observance of the Kosher dietary rules served as a major source of the evening's ongoing hilarity. Then, venturing from the dinner table to the connubial chamber, Solomon summed his relationship to his ex-wife with "the two words that ended his married sex-life…'I Do'!" This grandly entertaining evening of non-stop engagingly humorous memories is now playing through August 2, 2009. (My grade: 5)
THE RAT PACK IS BACK
Now at The Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass., is the return of "The Rat Pack," a lively recreation, marshaled by Sandy Hackett, (son of the late, legendary comedian Buddy Hackett), of the fabled foursome at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, back in the early 1960's. Featuring Brian Duprey as Frank Sinatra, Drew Anthony Carrano as Dean Martin, Kyle Diamond as Sammy Davis, Jr., and Mickey Joseph as Joey Bishop. Performed before an enthusiastic capacity audience, on the theatre's bright neon-illuminated stage, this facile quartet charmed the full house with the songs, jokes and banter that made this famous group's encounter at that time, one of the year's most memorable events on the famed Nevada-based "Strip." Carrano, looking very much like the very youthful Dino captivated the crowd with "That's Amore," "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You," and "Sway With Me," amongst others. Later, after Kyle wowed everyone as Sammy singing "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and "Mr. Bojangles," he virtually stopped the show with his laugh-filled duet with "Dino" chanting their lively version of "Sam's Song." Micky J., as Joey Bishop, repeatedly warmed everyone up with his ongoing cascade of "Borsht-Belt" styled jokes with Brian finally tying it all up with his solid renditions as "Chairman of The Board," "Fly Me To The Moon," "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "The Lady Is A Tramp," "New York, New York," and "My Way," to name just a few of Sinatra's big hits, accompanied on stage by a full 12 piece swing orchestra, conducted by Lon Bronson, which brought the show to a final, full-throttled conclusion! Now playing through July 26th, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Now at the Robinson Theater on the Campus of Waltham High School in Waltham, Mass., the Reagle Players continue their 41st summer season celebration of Composer Jerry Herman, the 2009 recipient of the Tony's Lifetime Achievement Award, with their new production of "Mame." As with their earlier staging of "Hello Dolly," this show likewise features music and lyrics by Jerry, but this time with book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It is based on the popular 1955 novel entitled "Auntie Mame" by Patrick Dennis, which was then produced as the highly popular (non-musical) same-titled movie in 1958. This same novel, play and motion picture, again served as the source material for "Mame," the Broadway stage and motion picture successes two decades later. Set during "Roaring '20's," young, orphaned, ten-year old Patrick Dennis, along with his nanny Agnes Gooch, (Troy Costa and Maureen Brennan) has been sent to be raised by his wealthy, high-spirited and eccentric Aunt Mame, (Lee Meriwether) in her lavish, Manhattan apartment. Ever ready to embrace any, and/or all "Bohemian" fads, Mame's highly unconventional lifestyle serves to make her home the partying center for all of New York's upper crust non-conformists. This puts her and her young ward in a constant struggle with the veto powers held over them by Dwight Babcock, (Rick Sherburne) a conservative banker in control of the child's Trust Fund. Then, in a highly volatile succession of twists and turns, young Patrick is shipped off by Babcock to a stuffy, conservative, private school in New England while Mame's vast wealth is lost thanks to the Great Depression. Forced to seek employment as a department store clerk., Mame eventually meets and marries handsome millionaire Beauregard (R. Glen Michell), who takes her to live with him at his grand southern plantation. Unexpectedly widowed by her Beau's tragic death, while mountain climbing on their honeymoon, Mame returns to New York City to her previously wild and wealthy lifestyle. Once again in Manhattan, Mame, with the help of her best friend actress Vera Charles, (Maryann Zschau) and steadfast nanny Agnes Gooch, decides to try to write her memoirs. However, again, a surprising unexpected twist upsets Mame's decorum when the now young adult Patrick Dennis returns from New England preparing to marry the debutante daughter of the highly staid and bigoted Upsome Family, forcing Mame to use all of her ingenuity to steer her ward towards a better future. Of course, Jerry Herman's vibrant score, including such spirited tunes as "Open A New Window," "We Need A Little Christmas," "If He Walked Into My Life," "Bosom Buddies," and the splendid title tune, together with the bright, colorful, original staging recreated by Frank Roberts the lively original choreography recreated by Susan M. Chebookjian, and the full orchestral accompaniment conducted by Jeffrey P. Leonard all combine to make this the grand family-oriented treat that it is. Now playing through July 25, 2009. (My grade: 5)
DOV and ALI
The Chester Theatre Company in Chester, Mass., amidst the majestic Berkshire Mountains, presents their production of "Dov and Ali," a new drama by Anna Ziegler. A recent success off-Broadway, this presentation represents the play's New England premiere. Set in contemporary Detroit, this provocative one act, ninety-minute work centers on the stirring interaction between Dov, a 30+ high school teacher of English literature, and Ali, his confrontational and concerned, 17 year old Moslem student. Dov, a floundering Ph.D candidate, the guilt haunted son of a devoutly Orthodox Rabbi, has strayed substantially from his family's strongly traditional Jewish religious roots. Living a long time with his constant gentile girlfriend Sonya, he persistently resists her recurring marital entreaties. This ongoing quandary ultimately leads Dov to break off his relationship with her. His young student Ali, living with his immigrant Pakistani parents, is both strict and determined about his Moslem beliefs. Initially motivated to meet after school with his teacher, due to his literary concerns, however their discussions quickly begin to mirror many aspects of the Middle East's culture clash. From the play's onset, Ali's younger sister Sameh, garbed from head to toe in strictly traditional Islamic styled dress, comments onstage as the drama's mostly unseen Greek-chorus type observer and narrator. Obviously, Dov reflects the West's openness to a multitude of ideas, many of which are troubling and often conflicting, while Ali's upbringing resonates with his rigidly defined precepts. He, too, is ultimately challenged when he discovers that his beloved sister is heavily involved romantically with a young Moslem boy who Ali's parents have denounced as having been thoroughly corrupted by Western attitudes and behavior. Sameh's response to this dilemma, like that faced by his teacher, forces Ali to confront his basic beliefs and then forces Ali to make some troubling decisions. Very well acted by the small accomplished cast under Michelle Tattenbaum's well-focused direction. Commendations are most certainly due for Benjamin Pelteson as Dov, Manish Dayal as Ali, Lypica Shah as Sameh, and Heddy Lahmann as Sonya. Now playing through July 12, 2009.
Now at the Robinson Theater on the campus of Waltham High School in Waltham, Mass., the Reagle Players begin their 41st summer season with their new production of "Hello, Dolly!", based on Thornton Wilder's classic play (The Matchmaker). It features music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, with book by Michael Stewart. After its' acclaimed Broadway debut in 1964 it went on to equal success when produced as a major Hollywood motion picture in 1969, and has become a highly popular favorite nationally and internationally to this very day. Set at the turn of the 20th century in Yonkers, New York, and later in Manhattan, attractive, flamboyant, widow Dolly Gallagher Levi, (Rachel York) after arranging the betrothal of so many others, has now decided to see that crusty and wealthy local store owner Horace Vandergelder (Jamie Ross) proposes marriage to her. Complicating matters, is Vandergelder's intention to go to New York City to attend the big annual 14th Street parade and to also visit the millenary shop of the lovely widow Irene Molloy (Sarah Pfisterer) with his intention of possibly asking her to marry him. Additionally, complexities also develop when Vandergelder's two young and recently fired employees Cornelius (Rick Hilsabeck) and Barnaby (Sean McLaughlin) also decide to go to New York without their former employer's knowledge. When these two bumpkins end up in Irene Molloy's shop still hoping to be rehired by their old boss, and Vandergelder shows up, a wildly farcical scramble in and out of closets and under tables for these two, to avoid discovery ensues! Later, that same evening, with Dolly Gallagher Levi again firmly in charge, unknowingly all of these aforementioned principals converge at Manhattan's lavish "Harmonia Gardens Restaurant." As expected, Dolly is able to arrange the requisite happy ending for all of course, with Vandergelder's marriage to her especially accomplished. Grandly enlivened by Jerry Herman's memorable score featuring such splendid songs "It Takes A Woman" "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" Before The Parade Passes By" "It Only Takes A Moment" "So Long Dearie" and the classic title tune. Certainly with Gower Champion's original choreography recreated here by Susan M. Chebookjian, plus Oliver Smith's bright, original scenery, Freddy Wittop's colorful original costumes, the fine full orchestra conducted by Jeffrey P. Leonard and Worth Howe's strong direction, this excellent family treat is absolutely recommended! Now playing through June 27, 2009. (My grade: 5)
The Duck Variations/Sexual Perversity In Chicago
Now at the Zero Arrow Theater in Cambridge, Mass., The American Repertory Theatre presents, as another part of its David Mamet celebration, two early one-act plays by this celebrated playwright. "The Duck Variations," written in 1972 is a brief and telling character study of two elderly gents sitting together, outdoors, at a public park bench, as they both observe and comment on all of the ducks in the open pond before them. Two of the company's most accomplished actors Thomas Derrah as Emil Varec and Will LeBow as George S. Aronovitz, are in top form in this short Beckett-like exercise in an expeditious evolution of more than a dozen concise episodes, each set forth by a posted and printed announcement and introduced by a blackout, as these two offered their observations about the pond's wildlife. Their discussion ranges from the ducks' diseases, delusions, intelligence, flight, enemies, procreation, lifestyle, and domestication to the threats which man's encroachment from hunting to oil spills pose to their continued existence and/or survival. Underlying all of this banter and occasional levity are many obvious inklings of the loneliness and isolation that both Emil and George share. The program's other play "Sexual Perversity In Chicago", written in 1974, is a presentation of A.R.T's Institute for advanced theater training and, like the first play, is essentially a character study, but a much more elaborate one. With the theater space, here as earlier, set up as a nightclub defined by the audience seated at a multitude of small, lamp-illuminated tables, four college-aged youngsters, Dan (Scott Lyman), Bernard (Tim Eliot), Deborah (Suzannah Hoffman) and Joan (Laura Parker) go through the boy-meets-girl rituals with all of the many expected ups and downs. Of course, with playwright Mamet's predilection for raucous freak language this isn't your standard Ricky dates Judy while Jimmy and Betsy stand by roundelay! Utilizing not only the theatre's main stage but also the far side equipped as a cocktail bar, Dan and Deborah meet, fall in love, live together and ultimately break-up while Dan's older "Cooler," and much more disdainful buddy Bernard and Deborah's annoyed and similarly scorned friend Joan offer their much more "seasoned and wiser," but fundamentally shallow counsel. As with the evening's first half, this well-acted and mildly engaging piece effectively points to playwright's Mamet's great budding potential. Now playing through June 28, 2009. (My grade: 4.5)
ON THE VERGE (OR THE GEOGRAPHY OF YEARNING)
Now playing at The Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass., The Nora Theatre Company presents its production of "On The Verge (Or The Geography of Yearning)" by Eric Overmyer. Initially staged in 1986 in Baltimore, it has over the years enjoyed many regional presentations ever since. Allowing for its overly talky exposition, it is otherwise a fine provocative comic fantasy celebrating feminist fulfillment and empowerment. Beginning in 1888, three daring and quite adventuresome Victorian ladies set out on an ambitious worldwide trip into the future. Garbed from head to toe in full late 19th century dress, capped with pit helmets and armed only with backpacks and parasols, Mary (Deanna Dunmyer), Fanny (Alicia Kahn) and Alexandra (Anna Waldron) fearlessly set out to explore the world. Emboldened by the author's fanciful wordplay teeming with puns, quips and a bevy of elaborate and stimulating turns of phrases this intrepid trio elbow their way across uncharted continents. Clambering up ruggedly steep mountains, traversing treacherous swamps, challenging troublesome quagmires and chopping their way through the jungle's growth they remain ever stalwart and focused on the world to come. Along the way they meet the abominable snowman, an overfed cannibal, a quirky troll and an easygoing yeti, amongst others (all deftly played by Barlow Adamson). In Act two this bold threesome finally do reach their goal and it is 1955, defined by the "I like Ike" catch-phrase. Dwight D. Eisenhower is the President of the U.S.A and this bright new era is marked by strange and unusual artifacts ranging from household appliances, and mechanical gadgets to a wide array of elaborate baubles and playthings such as dolls, water-wings, hoops and various other such curious. This new situation, or course, is distinguished by a plethora of obtrusive commercialism and uninhibited music, on the one hand and on the other by groundbreaking new discoveries in the arts and sciences. Of course, these decisive ladies are witness to everything from Rock n' Roll and the Nobel Prize to night clubs, gambling casinos and Jacuzzis! Finally, with all three now wearing only contemporary outfits, Alexandra sums up by noting that "millions of new worlds are waiting to be discovered." Initially, as mentioned earlier, for much of the first act the author's penchant for elaborate word-games often overwhelm the play's action with its occasionally vexing profusion of esoteric quotations, allusions and intellectual energizers. However, once the dogged trio's goals are finally and firmly established, the playwright's playfulness become quiet engaging and fruitful. Now playing through June 21, 2009. (My Grade: 4)
YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN
The Gloucester Stage in Gloucester, Mass. presents their new production of "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown." Based on the classic comic strip "Peanuts" by the late Charles M. Schulz, it features book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, with additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, as well as additional dialogue by Michael Mayer. Of course, as expected, cartoonist Schulz's legendary group of under-age principals are represented very well by the adult performers on stage. The show's ever hapless, but supremely optimistic hero, Charlie Brown (Steven Gagliastro), stands at the ready to serve the whims of the always assertive Lucy Van Pelt (Mary Callanan). Young burgeoning musician Schroeder (Arlo Hill) tinkles confidently at his toy-like piano while Lucy's bemused brother Linus (David Krinitt) stands by, as the audacious Sally Brown (Katie Mulholland) testily adds her suggestions. Charlie's faithful Beagle "Snoopy" (David Sharrocks), either resting outdoors atop his doghouse or preparing to fancifully engage in a dreamlike World War I airborne "dogfight," is certainly a compelling presence from start-to-finish. The lively dozen + songs are quite delightful throughout, beginning with the show's title sung by the entire cast ("How Could Anything Go Wrong On A Day Like This?"). Linus musing about "My Blanket and Me" (maybe someday I'll outgrow it!), Lucy offering musical "Psychiatric" advice to Charlie with "The Doctor Is In" (You're Terribly Dull!) and Sally going to excess detailing her "New Philosophy," are amongst the evening's best moments. Snoopy doing flip-flops, somersaults and hand-stands, amongst other such manic moves, while melodically preparing for "Suppertime" is most certainly a show stopper. Deftly directed by Scott LaFeber, with sprightly with sprightly choreography by David Connolly and commendations also for Jenna McFarland Lord's cartoonish set pieces, Molly Trainer's bright costumes and the lively musical quintet accompinent directed by Michael Kreutz. Now playing through June 21, 2009. (My grade: 5)
THE CHILDREN'S HOUR
Now at The Boston Center for The Arts in their intimate Plaza Theatre, Our Place Theater Project presents "The Children's Hour" by Lillian Hellman. It caused a sensation upon its Broadway debut in 1934 and was even disqualified from Pulitzer Prize consideration, at that time, due to its taboo theme. Substantially altered when released as a major Hollywood movie in 1936, it was even given a new title, "These Three." A new motion picture was then made in 1961, this time remaining faithful to the play's original title and controversial theme. Two young friends, Martha (Emilie Battle) and Karen (Abigail Walter) have opened a private boarding school for adolescent girls. They are also aided by Martha's middle-aged aunt Lilly (Sharon Squires), an aging actress who teaches drama and public speaking. Among their students is young Mary Tilford (Emma Romasco), a troublesome bully who takes pleasure in dominating her classmates. When Mary is punished by Karen for telling falsehoods, she runs off to her grandmother's home, insisting to her that she's continually being unfairly punished by Karen and Martha. When the elderly matriarch (June Lewin) initially refuses to accept Mary's excuses, the youngster begins to desperately exaggerate. She even begins to suggest that Karen and Martha seem strangely attracted to each other, and have even been seen kissing one another by a fellow student! Now completely convinced, her grandmother begins altering other parents opinions of the school, and soon all of Martha and Karen's students are leaving their school. This unfortunate turn of events also begins to effect Karen's engagement to Dr. Joe Cardin (Thomas Martin), who's related to both Mary and her grandmother. Overly anxious not to be exposed, Mary blackmails her classmate Rosalie (Cheyenne Jones) into corroborating her lies by threatening to accuse Rosalie of stealing yet another classmate's missing bracelet. Later, when Martha, Karen and Dr. Joe Cardin file a suit in court against Mary's grandmother for slander, they ultimately lose with a calamitous and tragic outcome. Well-acted by the fine cast under the strong and astute direction of Jacqui Parker, this classic drama has consistently maintained its relevance throughout these many decades to the many disastrous consequences repeatedly created by deliberately malicious falsehoods! Now playing through June 13th, 2009. (My Grade: 5)
Now at Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre, Balletrox presents the world premiere of "Ben's Trumpet," a new Ballet based on the Caldecott Award winning children's book by Rachel Isadora. Set in the 1930's in Hew York City's Harlem neighborhood, pre-adolescent Ben (Rey Guity) sits on the fire escape landing outside his bedroom window. As the rocking hot jazz wafts through the summer evening's air, from the nearby "Zigzag Club," he longs to join in and cups his hands to form and play his imaginary trumpet. Thanks to the era's classic recordings, the pulsating rhythms of Louis Armstrong's Hot Five set the pace with early swing from Duke Ellington and Hot Lips Page followed by songs by the legendary Bessie Smith and the very young Mills Brothers. On his way home from school, the neighborhood quickly comes alive animatedly sparked by Ben's mom (Kimber Lynn Drake), dad (Gilbert White), and grandma (Doris J. Smith). When the hot sounds begin to shift into the "Zigzag Club" we soon hear the youthful Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb, then Billie Holiday and later the young Lionel Hampton, too. The club's Maître'd (Yo-El Cassell) and Chef (Kamau Hashim) break into lively moves, also. One day Ben finally meets one of the great musicians who play at the club every night and a gift from him opens up a whole new world of hope for the young boy. Still, an unusual aspect of the music choices selected for this presentation does also need to be considered. The evening's program notes do place Ben's discovery of the grandeur of Jazz within the time of the Harlem Renaissance. The great Jazz artists mentioned earlier did indeed come to prominence during that era. However, excerpts are also played here of the great Dizzy Gillespie's post World War II Big Band. These recordings, both instrumental and with the then vibrantly new style of singing, (which initially came to be known as "Be Bop") did served as the precursor of what was later called progressive Jazz. As such, important as these selections are, they nevertheless do represent a much later time frame. Also on the evening's schedule were "La Favorita" with music by Donizetti, centered by splendid dancing by Matt Anctil and Caroline Cohn, amongst others, and Prokofiev's delightful "Peter and The Wolf." Featuring the late Leonard Bernstein's captivating recorded narration and highlighted by the exuberant dancing, and most especially Rick Vigo as the Wolf! Now on view through June 7, 2009. (My Grade: 4)
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts in their intimate Plaza Theatre, The Our Place Project presents "Mother G", a new play by Robert Johnson, as the initial presentation of the 9th Annual African American Theatre Festival. Set in 1963 in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood during the momentous days of the Civil Rights Movement, it's based on actual events and is a tribute to the playwright's own mother's courage and perseverance in exposing dishonesty and lechery in her beloved Baptist Church. Sweet unmarried 20 year old Hazel Washington (Marvelyn McFarlane), a leading member of the Church's choir, tearfully confesses that she is pregnant to "Mother G" (Latonya Gregg) a prominent Church spokesperson. Hazel recounts many of the events during her lengthy and clandestine relationship with the Church's charismatic Pastor James Mercy (Jason Cress) and how he now refuses to neither acknowledge nor accept responsibility for her plight. As proof of his perfidy Hazel is even able to show "Mother G" several love letter that the Reverend had sent to her. When "Mother G" confronts him, accompanied by a group of similarly concerned Church women, the smooth talking Minister stands firm refusing the change his attitude. Later when "Mother G" brings this issue before the Church's leader they too ultimately also refuse to acknowledge or punish Pastor Mercy's guilt. It's not until much later when the accused Reverend's former North Carolina Church informs the local house of worship of the Minister's previous fraudulent behavior that "Mother G's" charges are finally reviewed and responded to affirmatively by her Bishop. While this simple account of one prominent Church matriarch's confrontation with her Church's leadership is obviously framed by the then prevailing notions of male authority threatened by female assertiveness, it might have only been judged as a very predictable litany of her struggle and eventual triumph over male obstinacy. However, the story's progress is also enveloped by the majestic singing of the play's grandly voiced Gospel choir headed by the splendidly resonant sister Jackson (Linda Starks-Walker) "The Lord Will Make A Way", "Turn It Over to Jesus," "Oh Lord What Should I do", "When I Die, Hallelujah, I'll Fly Away", and "His Eye Is On The Sparrow," Amongst other such soulful chants, still resound joyfully long after the final curtain. Now playing through June 5, 2009.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Now at Hibernian Hall at The Roxbury Center for the Arts in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, The Actor's Shakespeare Project presents their production of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," staged cabaret-style in the center's large social hall, with the male performers as war veterans in either formal military attire or tuxedos, the females in contemporary cocktail dresses, and the audience seated arena-style at tables surrounding the centrally placed players. Prince Don Pedro (John Kuntz) returns after quelling an insurrection fomented by his illegitimate brother Don John (Doug Lockwood). Both Siblings have now also reconciled and are welcomed back by Governor Leonato (Johnny Lee Davenport). Bendick (Richard Snee), a confirmed bachelor, is quite dismissive of Beatrice, the Governor's niece, (Paula Plum) who likewise is also a confirmed bachelorette. Young, handsome Claudio (Sheldon Best) loves Governor Leonato's charming daughter Hero (Kami Rushell Smith), and with some assistance from Don Pedro begins to court her. Later for fun, Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio play a trick on Benedick trying to make him believe that Beatrice has had an amorous change of mind towards him. Still later, at a masked ball, the treacherous Don John is able to sabotage Claudio's love for Hero by convincing him that she's been unfaithful. Ultimately with the help of a benevolent Friar (Michael Forden Waler) and the fortunate arrest of Don John's henchman by a foolish constable (Doug Lockwood) the scoundrel's perfidy is exposed. Claudio and Hero are reconciled and are wed with Benedick and Beatrice similarly realizing that they also really love each other. Amongst the evening's high points Margaret (Bobbie Steinbach), one of Hero's favorite attendants, celebrates by singing the Bard's "Sigh No More, Ladies" with a captivatingly infectious contemporary lilt. Deftly directed by Benjamin Evett, the company's founder and Artistic Director, with commendations also for Jason Ries' fine dramatic lighting and Giselle Ty's effective incidental musical accents. Now Playing through June 14, 2009. (My Grade: 5)
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents its production of "Grey Gardens," featuring Book by Doug Wright, Music by Scott Frankel and Lyrics by Michael Korie. Based on the celebrated 1975 documentary motion picture by the famed Maysles Brothers and the recent equally lauded made-for-cable TV movie, this Tony Award winning musical first opened Off-Broadway in March 2006 and was then transferred to Broadway, where it ran for more than 300 performances, while also garnering a host of Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Award nominations. At the show's center is the extraordinary relationship of two strange recluses (an elderly mother and her middle-aged daughter) who began their lives amidst all the trappings of great wealth and privilege and much later, in their declining years, find themselves living isolated in complete squalor and decay. In Act One, set in 1941, we discover Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (known as "Big Edie") first cousin and aunt to former first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and her similarly named daughter (known as "Little Edie") living in their stately mansion; "Grey Gardens," in East Hampton, Long Island, N.Y. They are at the apex of the Empire State's High Society. "Little Edie" may even become engaged to handsome, young Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. Two lively songs "The Girl Who Has Everything," and "Marry Well" set the tone for her, while "Goin' Places" does the same for the young, promising son of the Kennedy clan. Mother and daughter's "Two Peas In a Pod" establishes the deep care and need that both have for each other. Act Two takes place 32 years later in 1973. "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" are now living alone in their formerly imposing residence which has since fallen on extremely hard times. Crumbling walls, broken shutters, tattered drapes, garbage strewn everywhere with a multitude of unhealthy cats cavorting about in the midst of their pee and droppings, plus an attic full of unrestrained raccoons describes the Beale's current lifestyle. Their sordid ambience will eventually fall prey to the local Board of Health inspectors. "Little Edie", now bitter and suffering from some hair-loss, covers her balding head with an old scarf while dressed otherwise in odd bits of clothing. Her exuberant song: "The Revolutionary Costume for Today" initiates the second act's disorder. The show offers us no explanation for their dreadful decline, although there are hints about "Big Edie's" divorce from her husband "Major Bouvier," who appears briefly in the first act to counsel "Little Edie" by singing the aforementioned "Marry Well" to her. It's being extremely well acted and sung by the accomplished cast under Spiro Veloudos' strong direction. Leigh Barrett is especially effective in Act One as "Big Edie" and then in Act Two as the now more mature "Little Edie." Strong support is provided by lovely, full-voiced Aimee Doherty as the young little "Edie". After the intermission, Sarah de Lima shines as the sonorous and elderly "Big Edie." Kudos also are due for R. Patrick Ryan as the youthful Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr., and Dick Santos as "Major Bouvier", as well as the splendid small accompanying orchestra directed by Jonathon Goldberg. Now playing through June 6, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Now at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass., The American Repertory Theater presents its new production of "Romance" by David Mamet. A recent off-Broadway success, this wildly boisterous farce now makes its local debut ready to direct its nonstop comic assaults on all of our most sacrosanct institutions and beliefs. To prepare the audience, a video-styled monitor in the lobby scrolls a very long list of groups to be offended, which at first look seems to suggest everyone entering the theater. It's set in a court room where a feisty Jewish Chiropractor (Remo Airaldi) is on trial because of an altercation he had with a Chiropodist (they are not the same.) As his Defense Attorney (Jim True-Frost) trades legal thrusts with the aggressively assertive Prosecutor (Thomas Derrah) we also learn that a high level meeting of Israeli and Arab leaders is to be convened nearby. Maybe a peace treaty between them might be a possibility? As the confrontation between the Prosecutor and Defense Attorney begins to reach the boiling point, the often inattentive Judge (Will LeBow), obviously troubled by some sort of seasonal allergies ("Did I take my pill?"), calls for a recess. During the break, the defendant's major dissatisfaction with his Defense Attorney results in a loud and very overloaded anti-Semitic outburst by the Protestant Defender---with an equally shrill response by the accused! ("An Episcopalian is nothing but a Catholic with a Volvo!") However, Act One concludes with these two combatants suddenly agreeing that they may have stumbled onto unexpected pathways to peace in the MidEast. Act Two now follows, after a brief intermission, with Mamet's full comedic impact. We find the Prosecutors own life is complicated by Bernard (Carl Foreman), his gay-thong wearing partner, who has a penchant for burning the dinner pot roast. The court room trial resumes with the judge returning in a completely disheveled state thanks to his many assaulting allergies. Now fully distracted from the case before him, he is overwhelmed both by his health needs, for so many pills, and his curious concerns as to whether he and Shakespeare may or may really not be Jewish. When Bernard unexpectedly shows up, the Court's proceedings are thrown into turmoil and significantly new and amusing facts about the Defendant are surprisingly revealed. As previously stated, the explosively humorous dialogue crackles with many pointed barbs aimed at offending or deflating all creeds and ethnic groups. The splendid cast is in grandly comic form from start to finish under Scott Zigler's highly spirited direction, while David Mamet's propensity for four letter epithets effectively resonates throughout. Now playing through June 7, 2009 (My grade: 5)
JERRY SPRINGER---THE OPERA
Now at the Roberts Studio Theater in the Calderwood Pavilion at The Boston Center for the Arts, The Speakeasy Stage Company presents the New England Premiere of "Jerry Springer–The Opera," featuring music by Richard Thomas, who also collaborated on the show's book and lyrics with Stewart Lee. A smash hit in London, where it won a host of Olivier Awards and where audiences also lined up there and throughout England for three years after its debut in 2003. It has been successfully staged here in the U.S. since then in Las Vegas, Chicago, Memphis, Des Moines, Cincinnati and Washington, DC. A brief two-night concert version was also presented at New York's Carnegie Hall in 2008, after a full-scale Broadway presentation was of Trash TV finally has come to Boston! Lest you doubt this show's title, it is indeed an opera, in two acts almost entirely sung as arias or duets by the large full voiced cast with only a brief and occasional moment spoken. It is almost certainly a vivid and assertive spoof of grand opera running the gamut of styled ranging from Bach and Handel to even William Blake, religious chants and Gospel, to R&B, jazz, country, rock and elevator music. It also features the most extensive non-stop parade of four-letter expletives to be heard outside of the last controversially decided high-school basketball game. Act One is "The Jerry Springer Show" with all of its' foul mouthed dysfunction, abusive hostility and violence impressively resonant! Big and clumsy Dwight (Luke Grooms) confessing to his flashy fiancee Peaches (Ariana Valdes) that he's been cheating on her with (Jared Troilo) a transvestite ( "A chick with a dick.") Meanwhile, weird Montel (Brian Richard Robinson) later arrives accompanied by his fiancée Andrea (Kerry Dowling) and their friend Baby Jane (Ariana Valdes again). He's only wearing a diaper and loudly singing that he loves doing what infants do in their diapers. Meanwhile, lap dancer Shawntel (Joelle Lurie) brawls with her momma (Amelia Broome), while her hillbilly spouse Chucky (Wesley Thomas) goes cruising for other lap dancers. Act one ends in a wild melee with gunshots and Jerry Springer (deftly portrayed by Michael Fennimore) being gravely shot. Act Two finds the wounded Jerry in hell meditating an inconclusive confrontation between the devil (Timothy John Smith) and God. Now, all of these personalities are portrayed by all of the same aforementioned players. With God singing "It Ain't Easy Being Me," and Satan tired of Hades and vying for a second chance, they're joined by Jesus, again just wearing a diaper. He's joined by Adam and Eve and all of the Angels. Here the highlight of this special "Jerry Springer Show" in purgatory is a full chorus line of white robed Ku Klux Klansmen tap dancing together in the best Busby Berkeley and/or June Taylor fashion. The large cast, whose singing ranges from splendid to merely adequate, meet the challenges of the demanding musical score reasonably well under Paul Daigneault, the company's producing artistic director's vigorous direction. Now playing through May 30, 2009. (My grade: 5)
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
Now at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, MA. is their production of "Strangers On A Train," by Craig Warner. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, which was later redefined by Hollywood as Alfred Hitchcock's highly popular 1951 motion picture. Since this stage adaptation hues much more closely to writer Highsmith’s original novel, we can now see how significantly-altered Hitchcock's version was. Set around 1950, two passengers meet for the first time on a train bound for Texas. Guy Haines is a young promising architect. Charles Bruno, his new similarly-aged acquaintance, is unemployed and lives at home with his wealthy parents. As these two strangers sit together chatting with each other we learn that Guy is planning to separate from his wife after discovering that she had an affair with his best friend and is pregnant. We find that Charles' domineering father is in control of a substantial trust fund which has been established for him. He is very upset by the strict hold that his father has on what he insists is "his" money and is desperate to find some way to wrest it from the old man's grasp. He then suggests what he considers to be a fool proof solution to Guy. He will first kill Guy's unfaithful wife and then later, in return, Guy will also do away with Guy's oppressive father. Both he and Guy will then able to provide absolutely solid alibis for themselves. After initially thinking Charles' scheme to be facetious, their train ride ends with Guy wondering otherwise. Sometime later, Charles unexpectedly comes to Guy's home and announces that he has followed Guy's cheating wife into a lonely wooded area and strangled her to death. He then expects the horrified Guy to follow through and kill Charles' despicable father. Guy adamantly refuses to comply! In a concerted effort to break Guy's will, Charles threatens to mail a series of letters to Guy's friends and professional associates which will generate doubt about his innocence. Charles then relentlessly carries out his intimidating plan by sending one incriminating message at a time, and then waits to see what Guy's response will be. Now free of his late, deceitful wife, Guy has become romantically involved with lovely young Anne Faulkner and plans to marry her. When she receives one of Charles' damaging messages, and a private detective also begins assertively investigating the circumstances surrounding the murder of Guy's wife, the highly troubled architect finally makes his drastic decision. Well directed by Weylin Symes and intensely performed by Jonathon Popp as the beleaguered Guy Haines, and by Robert Serrell as the obviously psychotic Charles Bruno. Equally compelling support is also provided by Liz Hayes as Anne Faulkner and Brendan McNab as the suspicious private investigator. Dee Nelson's brief introduction as Charles' wealthy and highly officious mother also effectively adds incestuous overtones to his extraordinary behavior. Now playing through May 24, 2009 (My grade: 5)
THE LADY'S NOT FOR BURNING
Now at Beatrice Herford's Vokes Theater in Wayland, MA is their new production of "The Lady's Not For Burning" by Christopher Fry. Written and staged originally in London in 1949, where it enjoyed much success, it then opened the following year on Broadway where it also went on to garner the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award as Best Foreign Play of 1950-51. It was revived successfully on Broadway in 1983. Set in England in the 15th century, Thomas Mendip, a former soldier, world weary and dispirited, arrives in the home of the mayor of a small town. Declaring that he had killed one of the town's people, he demands to be punished by hanging! He's annoyed when no one there believes him. In the meantime, Jennet, a lovely young woman, is also brought before the Mayor and is accused of being a witch. Sentenced to death for turning townsmen into a dog, as expected, she strongly objects while also defiantly denying that she's guilty of witchcraft. Thomas then quickly points out the absurdity of the Mayor's refusing to hang someone who has confessed to murder, while simultaneously sending so beautiful, obviously innocent, and foolishly accused a young maiden to the gallows! Jennet is quite impressed by this gallant former warrior who has so eloquently come to her defense. As this double dilemma begins to develop, the Mayor, as well as his family and staff, are also preparing for an impending wedding between sweet country maiden Alizon and the Mayor's nephew, and since no time is left for him to immediately decide either Thomas or Jennet's fate, he agrees to allow these two to also participate in the pre-nuptial activities. Later, surprising complications erupt after Alizon decides to unexpectedly elope with the Mayor's clerk instead. When the old man, who Thomas claims to have killed, turns up alive and also proves to be the one Jennet suspected of having enchanted, the Mayor is happy to then set both of them free. While all of this was happening, Thomas was also beginning to fall deeply in love with Jennet, and to his great joy discovered that Jennet was also beginning to feel the same way toward him. Nicely played by the fine cast Chris Cardoni (who is also the play's Director) quite effective as Thomas Mendip; with compelling support by Melissa Sime as Jennet. Ms. Sime, together with Cardoni, also helped to develop the play's splendid period costumes while serving as the show's producer as well. Both she and Chris are certainly to be applauded for their accomplishments! Much praise also for Robert Zawistowski as the Mayor, Amy Courage as the eloping Alizon and Victor Shopov as her delighted clerk. Performed in verse, much like Shakespeare's lighter works, this deftly performed romantic comedy certainly did deserve the strong and exuberant response at the final curtain, by the capacity audience. Now playing through May 16th, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Now at the Colonial Theatre in Boston is "Spring Awakening," the new musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind's highly controversial, ground breaking and rarely staged 1891 drama about the sexual stirrings of a group of provincial German adolescents. Featuring music by Duncan Sheik, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater, this new version hews closely to Wedekind's original. After its triumphant Broadway debut in 2006, it went on to garner eight Tony awards, ranging from book, Choreography and Direction to best musical, as well as Drama Critics' Circle, Drama Desk and Outer Critics' Circle Awards, too. The show's provocative story centers on three troubled teenagers as they begin to explore their own burgeoning self-awareness. Confronted by dilemmas including lust, rape, pregnancy culminating in bungled abortion and suicide, the large predominantly youthful, well voiced, and energetic cast handle their assignments vividly and passionately! Melchior has sought answers to his own vexing questions about his physicality by turning to texts about biology. Attempting to help his long-standing and quite perplexed friend Moritz also grapple with such issues, he offers to write down what he knows about sex, including some primitive illustrations. Fourteen year old Wendla turns to her mother for answers to her questions about child birth. "How did I become an Aunt?" she wonders. Her overly embarrassed mother, however, is so flustered she can only reply by describing it as the result of the extreme love of her parents. Dissatisfied, she asks the more well-informed Melchior. This ultimately results in him impregnating her, culminating in the aforementioned failed abortion. Meanwhile, Moritz begins to feel very indebted to his parents for their financial support of his schooling, coupled with his overwhelming sense of academic inadequacy. This, compounded by his growing awareness of his uncontrollable sexual urges, leads to him to end it all! As expected, parents and teachers then begin to focus on Melchior as the cause of all this dismay. The show's nearly 20 songs deftly advance the evening's compelling story with "Touch Me," The Word of Your Body," "The Dark I Know Well," "I Don't Do Sadness," and the poignant finale "Song of Purple Summer," being especially noteworthy. Kyle Riabko as Melchior, Blake Bashoff as Moritz and Christy Altomare as Wendla give equally strong performances emoting dramatically, vibrantly singing and vigorously dancing! Strikingly directed by Michael Mayer and robustly choreographed by Bill T. Jones it is also being effectively presented semi-arena style with a cordon of seated young audience members on each side of the stage, all in front of the fine small on-stage rocking orchestra directed by Jared Stein. Final praise is also due for Susan Hilferty's effectively accurate late 19th century provincial costumes. Now playing through May 24, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Now at The Boston Center for the Arts, in their intimate Plaza Theatre, The Publick Theatre presents the New England premiere of "Humble Boy," by Charlotte Jones. A major success after its debut in 2001 at London's Royal National Theatre at which time it earned several prestigious British Theatrical Awards, it was similarly greeted and lauded upon its American premiere at New York's Manhattan Theatre Club where it garnered a Drama Desk nomination at Best New Play of 2003-2004. Felix Humble, an astrophysicist, has returned from Cambridge University to his family's home in the English countryside. He's come to attend his father's funeral. His deceased parent had been a notable professor of biology as well as a dedicated, amateur bee-keeper. To his surprise, Felix discovers that his highly assertive mother, Flora, has been having an affair with George Pye, a gruff neighbor and the widower father of Rosie, a former girlfriend of Felix. Complications soon develop however when Felix's imperious mom turns over to him the urn containing his late dad's ashes. Also, as expected, in attendance at Flora Humble's lovely outdoor green terrace (nicely detailed by set designer: Dahlia Al-Habieli) is her simple, yet reserved and attentive gardener: Jim, as well as Flora's quietly timid houseguest Mercy Lott. The latter, in an awkwardly unexpected misstep, finds herself at the center of a grandly amusing mix-up concerning Felix's father's ashes! Playwright Jones also introduces a surprising Hamlet-like specter, near her play's final curtain to neatly tie-up the plot's various complexities which have arisen out of the highly strained relations between Felix and his mother. Assuredly acted by the fine small cast with strong portrayals by Tom O'Keefe as Felix and Stephanie Clayman as his decisive mother. Kudos also for Nancy E. Carroll as Flora's shy and submissive friend Mercy, Nigel Gore as her amorous but generally uncultivated neighbor George, Claire Warden as his daughter Rosie and Dafyd Rees as the family's quietly accommodating gardener. Deftly plotted by the authoress with a winning blend of dialogue alternately witty but also with serious undertones, confidently directed by Diego Arciniegas, the company's artistic manager. Now playing through May 2, 2009. (My grade: 5)
SUPER HEROINE MONOLOGUES
Now at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Phoenix Theatre Artists and Company One presents the world premiere of "Super Heroine Monologues" by Rick Park and John Kuntz. Subtitled "a parody of super proportions," it certainly is indeed that. Beginning in 1941, the evening's lengthy non-stop one act "one hour and forty five minutes" covers nearly all of the major comic book super heroines right up to the present time. Starting on the fanciful ancient Grecian styled Paradise Island, Queen Hippolyta (Maureen Adduci) agrees to send her beautiful and powerful daughter Diana (Shawna O'Brien) to earth as "Wonder Woman" to help save the democratic way of life from the evil threat facing the world because of the axis powers. Continuing on into the mid-fifties, refined Lois Lane (Amanda Good Hennessey) the smart and lovely reporter on "The Daily Planet" newspaper refusing to be fooled, even for one minute, by Superman's skimpy disguise (just a simple pair of eyeglasses) as the mild-mannered and neat fellow reporter, Clark Kent. Of course, she then sets her mind onto finding a way to get Superman to propose marriage to her. In this same zestful manner the show cavorts through the century's decades highlighting the nighttime's daring "Catwoman" (Elizabeth Brunette) and "Batgirl" (Melissa Baroni) who has grown tired of only being accepted as just Gotham City's police commissioner's daughter. Later, we even find Superman's distaff relative "Supergirl" (Jackie McCoy) equally "faster than a speeding bullet" and ever ready to defend Metropolis from the forces of crime! Still later "Storm" (Cheryl D. Singleton), although she's in complete control of the weather, regrets that she might rather have been even better if she'd had some kids to care for! It all finally wraps up with "Phoenix" (Christine Power) who's got mother problems and a surprisingly much older and maybe wiser "Wonder Woman" (whom we saw during the show's first few moments as Queen Hippolyta). It seems to me that if we actually do go back to the comic books, where these super beings first appeared, they have never, ever grown older. On the way through the years these super heroines also encountered "Superman" (Art Hennessey) in bright cape and tights with bulging muscles as well as other assorted heroes and villains (Terrence P. Haddad and Jordan Harrison). High marks must also go to Greg Maraio who was not only the show's Director but also designed the casts' accurate and highly colorful costumes. Now playing through April 26, 2009. (My grade: 5)
SPEECH AND DEBATE
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston currently presents the area premiere of "Speech & Debate" by Stephen Karam. Set in a contemporary Salem, Oregon high school, three unlikely teenagers convene in a class conference room. Solomon, an intense nerd, fashions himself as a budding journalist with a explosively newsworthy story ready for exposure. Diwata, pretty, feisty and exuberant, sees herself as a potential luminary in theatrical musicals. Howie, a recent senior, transferred to Salem High School from Portland, Oregon, hopes to pave the way for some kinds of gay-straight alliance. Diwata is vexed at not being chosen by her drama teacher to appear in school productions of "Once Upon a Mattress" and "The Crucible", while Solomon knows all about a potential scandal concerning Salem's Mayor and some teenagers. Howie, on the other hand, just wants to maintain his own sense of self-balance. Eventually, these three misfits form a speech and debate club as a means of promoting their individual concerns in spite of all the adult hypocrisy around them. In the process, Diwata is able to convince a local news reporter to come to a presentation there, related to their interests-- with unexpectedly amusing consequences. Somehow her efforts result in over-the-top amalgamations of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" (a drama about the Salem Mass. witch trials) with Abe Lincoln's early years as a gay teenager. Into this bizarre confrontation is then added playwright Miller's young 17th century female witchcraft accuser with grandly comic results! In this context, Howie also joins in with an engagingly suggestive dance focused on "freedom." Under Jeremy Johnson's knowing direction the small splendidly accomplished cast are all in top form. Rachael Hunt is especially vivid and compelling as the highly enthusiastic but troubled Diwata. Alex Wyse is quite convincing as the zealous and yet insecure Solomon, with well defined support from Chris Connor as the light Howie. Maureen Keiller initially as Diwata's bothersome teacher, and later on as the group's visiting journalist is also quite effective. Now playing through April 25, 2009.
Now at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their new production of "Picnic" by William Inge. First presented on Broadway in 1953, it went on to win both the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award as best play, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama that same year. It was later produced as a very successful Hollywood motion picture in 1955. Set during that same period, in a small, rustic town in Kansas, as the community prepares for their annual festive Labor Day picnic celebration. The play evolves in the open yard space between two adjoining rural homes on this portentous weekend. To one side lives Flo Owens, a middle-aged widow with two young daughters; rambunctious Millie a feisty, early teenager and her sister, 19 year old Madge, whom everyone agrees is "the prettiest girl in town." The neighbor is Helen Potts, well past her prime and never married, is wistfully referred to as "Mrs." because of her warm hospitality even to itinerant strangers. Flo would be delighted if her daughter Madge might eventually marry good looking Alan Seymour, son of the town's most prosperous family. However, Hal Carter, a former university pal of Alan's and now a long-time unemployed dropout and drifter, has recently breezed into the area and has been doing handy work for Mrs. Potts in exchange for a few days of room and board at her home. Handsome, muscular and devil-may-care, Hal is quick to boast about his life "on the road" and his romantic adventures to his old time college buddy. As expected, when Hal ultimately encounters pretty, young Madge, everyone's blissful hopes for their special holiday weekend are abruptly and unalterably overturned with profoundly life-changing consequences. Vividly performed by the splendid cast featuring Aidan Kane as the unfettered Hal Carter and Delilah Kistler as the sweet and innocent Madge Owens, with effective support from Dee Nelson as her concerned mother; Emily Graham-Handley as her young, exuberant sister; Lisa Foley as their neighbor Mrs. Potts; and Ben Sloane as the affluent and well-bred Alan Seymour. Especially noteworthy is Sarah Newhouse as Rosemary Sydney, an unmarried middle-aged school teacher who is a boarder in Flo Owens' home. In an especially poignant moment, she pours her heart out to her long-time steady boyfriend Howard Bevans (a prosperous local store keeper), played by Craig Mathers. Overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness, and despair, after they returned from the big picnic and kindled by her sense of unrequited affection for him, she unexpectedly and fervently begs him to marry her! Finally confronted by her anguished sobbing, he pleads for time to consider her desire promising to return with his answer the next morning. Assuredly directed by Caitlin Lowans, with commendations for Charlie Morgan's fine rustic set with its' two prominent multi-level wood-framed homes facing each other separated by an open yard space. Kudos also for Christopher Ostrom's effectively dramatic lighting and David Wilson's engaging choices of incidental music. While the drama's fervid denouement was virtually foretold from the play's onset, the sense of small town values and prohibitions were accurately established and carried forward persuasively. Now playing through April 19, 2009.
THE WRESTLING PATIENT
Now at the Robert's Studio Theater in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, the Speakeasy Stage Company, in collaboration with the Boston Playwrights' Theater and Forty Magnolia's Production, presents the world premiere of "The Wrestling Patient," a new play conceived and written by Kirk Lynn, Anne Gottlieb and Katie Pearl. It was selected as an outstanding new American play this past fall, in a competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and is now being staged here with Katie Pearl as director. It is inspired by the life and writings of Etty Hillesum, a promising 27 year old Dutch Jewish law student, living with her family in Amsterdam at the onset in 1941 of the Nazi conquest and occupation of her native Holland. In her own fashion, she began keeping a diary to help her cope with her troubling depression and the unfolding horrific social and governmental catastrophe that begin to engulf their world. Unlike the moving journals of teenage victim Anne Frank, Etty's log was not published in Holland until the year's spanning 1979-1981 and then finally here in the United States in 1983. The main thrust of Etty's chronicles centers on her resolve to aid her family and her fellow Jews during the desperate days of the Holocaust onslaught. Etty, her father Louis, mother Riva and brothers Jaap (the elder) and Mischa (the younger and a gifted pianist) were all ultimately murdered by the Nazi killers during 1943 and 1944. Etty's story begins with her meetings, early in 1941 with older analyst Julius Spier, also Jewish and a disciple of Carl Jung, who was the originator of psycho-chirology (which specialized in the psychological meaning inherent in palm prints). Their stormy relationship quickly developed into a passionate intensity! The play's unusual title stems from Spier's extraordinary use of physicality (such as wrestling) as the corner of his psychiatric therapy. The designation also serves as a potent metaphor for any struggles with her depression and the other terrible and overwhelming options now confronting her and her fellow Jews. During the play's 2.5 hours (including a brief intermission) Etty and her family travel from Amsterdam to notorious Nazi Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands. After she joined the infamous Jewish Council, a Nazi dominated group which mainly served to facilitate deportation to the death camps, hoping thereby to somehow help her family and other endangered Jews, she came face-to-face with the ghastly choices she was forced to make as to who might stay (at least for awhile) and who might immediately go. In the end, Etty, her father, mother and brothers, as well as all those she tried so desperately to help were gassed at Auschwitz. Throughout the play, Etty is also counseled by a mysterious figment of her overwrought imagination. Acting like an omniscient "Greek chorus" this tall, arrogant, business man identifies himself only as "the Wrecking Ball." Initially personifying the Nazis, he later seems also to mirror Etty's troubled emotions. In the end he stridently sums up Etty and her kins' eventual destination by cautioning her that "all roads now lead to Poland." Fervently performed by the splendid cast, featuring Anne Gottlieb as Etty. As the Artistic Director of 40 Magnolia's productions, Ms. Gottlieb became the driving force to premiere Etty Hillesum's life and chronicles as this dramatically provocative and engrossing achievement. Her strong central performance is ardently buttressed by Will Lyman as Julius Spier, Marya Lowry and Joel Colodner as her mother and father, Daniel Berger-Jones and Tom Gottlieb (no relation to Anne) as Etty's brothers: Jaap and Mischa, Elyse Audrey Manning as a young concentration camp inmate helped by Etty and Will McGarrahan as the ominous "Wrecking Ball." High commendations must also go to Richard Chambers' stark multi-leveled, black, wooden-framed set, Benjamin Emerson's effective sound design and Franklin Meissner Jr. dramatically forceful lighting. Now playing through April 11, 2009.
THE PAIN AND THE ITCH
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Theater, Company One presents the Boston premiere of "The Pain & The Itch," a new play by Bruce Norris. First staged at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater in 2004, where it became a hit, generated by some initial controversy. It later also achieved similar approval off-Broadway at New York's Playwright's Horizon. Husband Clay has agreed to take care of home and family, while wife Kelly works as a well-paid lawyer at a prominent law firm. As the play opens in the well furnished, contemporary, suburban living room, they have invited Mr. Hadid, a distraught immigrant African cab driver into their home. It's not until much later that we learn why he is so upset. In their patronizing fashion, they try to put him at ease. As he calmly observes his hosts throughout most of the play's action, we're never really certain of who or what he is. Clay and Kelly are preparing their family's Thanksgiving Day celebration for their daughter Kayla as well as for their new infant son, who Kelly holds firmly throughout in a fashionable designer pouch slung over her shoulder. They are joined for the holiday celebration by Clay's mother Carol, a former kindergarten teacher who's politically liberal and thinks of herself as being very socially tolerant. Clay's brother Cash, a plastic surgeon and his young, pretty girlfriend Kalina (a Russian émigré who's only been in the U.S. for 4 ½ years) have also been invited to the dinner party. As the festive preparations continue, many of the group's grievances and underlying tensions begin to be asserted. The long standing sibling rivalry between Clay and Cash, evident from early childhood repeatedly placated by their accommodating and ever-denying mom is now once again fully revealed. Cash's sweetheart Kalina, after some exuberant playfulness with the very young Kayla, blurts out her stormy Russian past including some specifics about her being raped as a child and her distaste for gypsies and Jews! We also quickly discover that little Kayla is afflicted with an unusual genital rash, and the Clay and Kelly are aware that some strange wild animal may be prowling about in their rafters, and might possible be responsible for Kayla's problem. Some half eaten avocados are cited as evidence. This of course suggests the reason for the play's unusual title. However, when the family's brand new, large flat screen TV now functions and unexpectedly reveals Clay's hidden obsession with pornography, doubts about the young child's affliction begin to grow. The staging controversy alluded to earlier was based upon the fact that an actual small child is present on stage throughout the full course of this strikingly adult presentation. However, it should also be noted that there are three different young children who regularly alternate from performance to performance, in their non-speaking appearances. As previously also stated the unidentified Mr. Hadid has quietly observed the conspicuous hypocrisy that really defines this typically tolerant and idyllic young, professional American household. The surprising reason for his attendance will also soon be revealed! Vividly performed by Joe Lanza as Clay, Amy Doherty as Kelly, Dennis Trainor Jr. as Cash, and Nancy E. Carroll as their indulgent mother. High marks also for Philana Mia as Kalina, Cedric Lilly as Hadid and certainly this time also for young Helen Steinman as Kayla. Under M. Devan O'Gara's assured direction this biting satire is now playing through April 4, 2009. (My grade: 5)
THE TWO MEN OF FLORENCE
Now at the Boston University Theater, the Huntington Theatre Company presents "The Two Men of Florence" by Richard N. Goodwin. Originally staged in England in 2003, (then titled, "The Hinge of the World") this new presentation marks its American premiere. Author Goodwin is best known as a major speech writer for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as serving similarly Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy during their presidential campaigns. The two men in Goodwin's play, set in the 17th century, are Galileo Galilei, the legendary "Father of Modern Science," and Pope Urban VIII, the former Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, with the epoch confrontation centering on Galileo's theory that the earth revolves around the sun rather than vice-versa. This, of course, completely challenged the long-held opposite view supported by the Catholic Church. Ultimately, when Urban fails to sway his friend Galileo to temper his controversial views in favor of the Church's contrary doctrine, Galileo then becomes of prime concern to the inquisition. This brings Maria Celeste, the great scientist and beloved daughter, who was not just a cloistered nun but also her father's laboratory assistant and his most dedicated advocate, to finally also die grief stricken. However, if Goodwin's play might have just focused on this great decisive collision between these two historic personalities it would most certainly have been much more provocative and compelling intellectually than it now it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, the author has crammed his play with more than a dozen+ subsidiary characters ranging from the Pope's wide coterie of subordinates, as well as various noblemen and even some political figures. Surprisingly, Maria Celeste, Galileo's daughter, represents the play's only woman! This big cast might have worked to the play's advantage had this large supporting ensemble had some engaging and/or stimulating observations to make to enlist the audience's involvement. Unfortunately, their comments would seem to drag on and on, seem mostly ponderous, more historic text than dramatic. Although the large casts' overall performances are reasonably accomplished, the play doesn't really detonate until the final calamitous show-down between Pope Urban VIII and Galileo. When this finally happens it does indeed engage us, but it does come too late. Jay O. Sanders as Galileo and Edward Herrmann as the Pope are strong vivid performances with equally impressive representations by Molly Schreiber as Maria Celeste, as well as Dermott Crowley, Peter Van Wagner, Diego Arciniegas and Joel Rainwater amongst others, as various Church dignitaries. Well directed by Edward Hall (son of great Britain's commanding "Sir Peter Hall") with special notice for Francis O'Connor's extraordinary, rotating planetarium-styled and flickering set, as well as his splendid period costumes and of course Simon Slater's strong incidental music. Now playing through April 5, 2009. (My grade: 2.5)
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts' Calderwood Pavilion in the Robert Studio Theatre, the Speakeasy Stage Company presents its production of "Blackbird" by David Harrower. Sixteen years earlier, Ray entered into a tumultuous relationship with Una, culminating with sex together at a non-descript hotel. Notwithstanding the facts that Ray, at that time was 40 years old, a guest of Una's parents and especially that Una then was only 12 years old! As expected, Ray went to prison for four years. Una, now a woman in her late 20's, has not heard from or seen Ray since. Humiliated by the scandal, she often wondered about him. Now, so many years later, she recognizes his photo in a magazine and surprises him at his work place. She confronts her former "lover" in the dingy employee lounge of an unknown office building. Amidst the vast number of empty soda cans, torn candy and pastry wrappers and crumpled paper plates that litter the floor, these two finally meet again! For the next 90 (intermission-less) minutes, they passionately review and sum up their past. "Why didn't you try to show some self-restraint!" she insists. "Though you were so young, maybe you did really know how to entice me" counters Ray adding "they said in court that I had chosen you." Back and forth go the pro and con accusations. She even reminds Ray of his betrayal of his trusting parents. In a bristling mixture of repulsion and disgust surprisingly intermingled with hints of latent feelings of love and even mocking intimations of seduction, they try to come to some understanding about their extraordinary history together. Many such issues are exposed to no real agreement. Even questions about Ray's current status remain unanswered. What's his life like now? What kind of job does he have? Is he a person of some responsibility in this office? Or really just the building's janitor? Many such questions are raised with none resolved until this troubling drama's highly unsettling conclusion! Intensely performed with riveting ardor by Bates Wilder as Ray and Marianna Bassham as Una under David R. Gammons' compelling direction. This provocative winner of London's prestigious Olivia Award as the best new (2007) play with its unusual title, echoing the symbolism in the celebrated recording by the Beatles, is now playing through March 21, 2009. (My grade: 5)
EXITS AND ENTRANCES
Now at The Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass., at The Mosesian Theater, The New Repertory Theatre presents its production of "Exits and Entrances" by Athol Fugard. Written in 2004, this one act, 90 minute two man play explores the function of theatre, acting and its past and present impact on societal awareness in the last 50's and early 60's. Set backstage in South Africa, a young aspiring playwright meets again with an aging, long-established but now assuredly fading Afrikaans actor. Preparing for his finale, the culmination of his life-long career on stage, the elderly actor ruminates about his initial high hopes and his ultimate disillusionment. During their meeting, the old star performs lengthy excerpts from "Oedipus Rex," "Hamlet," and "The Prisoner," by Bridget Boland, which concerns the trial and torment of Catholic Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty in Hungary, at the height of the cold war, by his communist jailors and prosecutors. The dejected elder recalls how he's been criticized by the new crop of drama critics for being "too old fashioned and too outdated." When the young playwright sees drama as an agent for public awareness leading to potential social action and betterment, the elder dismisses his notions as naive idealism! He cautions his young admirer saying "take my advice, write good drawing room comedies and make lots of money!" He sums up his long career thusly: "after 35 years of acting…I'm just an aging, old, gay ham." Undeterred, the youthful dramatist discusses his new play. It's about two black brothers from South Africa's slums. One brother is dark skinned, the other sibling's color is light. Beginning with optimism, in the end, their expectations are mangled by "the system." Notwithstanding the young man's confidence, the seasoned player remains steadfast: "write about white people, your own people!" Within the provocative study of the elder's bitter discouragement versus the beginning playwright's positiveness, the old actor's performances of the aforementioned soliloquies, especially Hamlet's melancholy "To Be or Not to Be" reflection gain a decidedly stirring edge. Very well acted by Will Lyman as the retiring actor and Ross MacDonald as the playwright under Chris Jorie's strong direction with additional praise for John Malinowski's effectively dramatic lighting. While the young playwright's background and ethos might have been more defined, otherwise this engaging contrast between these two remained consistently compelling throughout. Now playing through March 15, 2009. (My grade: 4)
A YEAR WITH FROG & TOAD
Now at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass., is their production of "A Year with Frog and Toad," a new musical play based on the celebrated books by Arnold Lobel. Conceived by Adrienne Lobel (the author's daughter) with theatrical script adapted by her husband Mark Linn-Baker, it was very well received at its Broadway debut in 2003. Featuring music by Robert Reale and lyrics by Willie Reale, the show's set-design by Audra Avery emphasizes much of Boston's well-know skyline utilizing a cartoon-like panorama ranging from the John Hancock and Prudential Towers to the well known Paul Revere statue and even Kenmore Square's landmark illuminated Citgo sign! The excellent five member cast is headed by Steven Barkhimer as Frog and Edward M. Barker as Toad, with splendid vocal and dance support provided by Mary Callanan, Phil Crumrine and Ceit McCaleb Zweil in a wide variety of animal-like roles such as birds, mice, squirrels, lizards, turtles and snails. Their bright, simple, contemporary, and colorful sky blue, lemon yellow and snow white cape, caps skirts and slacks, all designed by Joanna Murphy, effectively meet the plot's requirements. The show's frisky story-line follows Frog and Toad, and all of their assorted aforementioned friends from one winter, throughout all the following seasons, to the next winter. It accomplishes this by the evening's delightfully lively, nearly 20 tuneful songs "an ode to my friend Toad," "Ding-a-ling, It's Spring!" "I'm a Snail with Some Mail," "Cookies, Cookies (Let's have some more!)," "Eating with Others is Rude!" (It's Not Good Being Chewed) and (Bing, Bang, Boom! Gimme Some Room)" "I'm Comin' Out of My Shell!" are amongst the night's best. The vibrant small orchestra, directed by Mario Cruz , and Ilyse Robbins' high spirited choreography are most certainly noteworthy. This grand family-friendly treat is now playing through March 15, 2009 and is definitely recommended! (My grade: 5)
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
Now at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston is their production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" by Tennessee Williams. Winner of the 1955 Pulitzer Prize after its great success on Broadway that same year, this same vivid drama went on to become one of Hollywood's biggest box-office hits in 1958, albeit a decidedly weakened adaptation. Now in this current presentation we have the full impact of Tennessee’s original vision once again! Set in the bed-sitting room of a wealthy Mississippi family, as they prepare to celebrate the 65th birthday of "Big Daddy," the family's strong-willed patriarch. Notwithstanding his assurance that his illness is only "a spastic colon," his assembled kin understand that he is indeed dying of cancer. The "Cat" of the play's title refers to Maggie, the attractive, love-starved and childless wife of "Brick," the younger, favorite son. Bedridden, with his left injured leg in a cast, Maggie knows that Big Daddy's less favored son "Gooper," has come with his pregnant and contentious wife Mae, and their brood of "monster" kids, with big hopes centered on Big Daddy's demise. Maggie knows that their plan is to somehow cut Brick out of Big Daddy's will. Faced with a long-standing loveless and certainly sexless marriage, it becomes quickly evident that Brick's hostile indifference to his passionate wife is based on his still smoldering feelings for his deceased buddy Skipper. Bitterly upset over the loss of his best friend, he seeks solace in heavy drinking. However Maggie knows that she can win their contest with Gooper and his wife over Big Daddy's will, if she can somehow convince Brick to father a child with her. Extremely well-acted by the first rate cast with especially strong performances by Georgia Lyman as Maggie and Kelby Akin as Brick. Spiro Veloudo, the company's well known producing artistic director, is especially impressive as Big Daddy in this all too rare respite from his demanding managerial responsibilities. Much praise is also due for the fine support provided by Cheryl McMahon, as the family's "Big Mama," as well as Elisa MacDonald and Owen Doyle as Mae and Husband Gooper. Scott Edmiston's well focused direction, Janie E. Howland’s splendidly atmospheric set, Gail Astrid Buckley's excellent costumes, and Karen Perlow's potently dramatic lighting combine to make this the memorable presentation that it is! Now playing through March 14, 2009. (My grade: 5)
THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS
The Whorehouse comes to Worcester with all its bawdy fun, over-zealous do-gooders and some amazing voices. Patrick Dorow opens the show with his smooth, melodious, perfectly pitched pipes and innocent charm as the narrator of this tale of the Chicken Ranch, they're selling much more than pullets out there.
The most outstanding performances were delivered by Alisa Walker as Shy and Russell Garret as Melvin P. Thorpe, the over-zealous do-gooder, who puts Miss Mona and the girls out of business. But the great voices went on forever. Shannon Lee Jones as Mona and Dee Crawford as Jewel belt it out and deliver. But it is Merrill Peiffer as Doatsey Mae who brings a tear to the eye with her incredible, not-to-be missed voice.
This production of Larry L. King and Peter Masterson's story of the 75-year-old brothel has some kinks to work out. All in all it was a delightful afternoon replete with ribs, chili and Texas Tea donated by Texas Roadhouse, 535 Lincoln St., Worcester and the friends of the Foothills Theatre Company.
This Tony winning, production is playing at Foothills Theatre from March 14 to April 5. Tickets range in price from $32 to $38. Student seats are $19. Groups of 20 or more save $10 per ticket. Tickets may be purchased at the Box Office by calling 508-754-4018 or online at www.foothillstheatre.com.
(My Grade: 3)
Now at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. the American Repertory Theatre presents its production of "Endgame," by Samuel Beckett. The company's program notes consider, in a fair amount of detail, some of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Beckett's family members, including his father's demise when the playwright was 27 years old. Later, his mother, after suffering many years from Parkinson's disease, died in 1950, followed four years later by his brother, afflicted with lung cancer. However, in this series of personal tragedies, Beckett has assumed a curiously piquant attitude. Maybe, when the time comes, we too might do well to follow likewise. Back in 1984, when the A.R.T. rethought Beckett's strict staging directions and reset his play in a subway station after a nuclear exchange he tried unsuccessfully to halt the production. Now, under director Marcus Stern, the author's wishes have been painstakingly adhered to by set designer Andromache Chalfant. There, in a starkly spare, whitewashed and unadorned room sits the autocratic, chair-bound, Hamm. Obviously blind (wearing dark glasses) and helpless, his only mobility is provided by the small castors on the legs of his chair. When we first see him, he's covered by a small white shroud. Clov, his lame and overly helpful servant, limps over to remove the covering, like a clown in silent movies. Clov, on demand, brings his open ladder over to the room's two boarded-up windows. Up he climbs and down he slides, first to the window-left and then similarly to the window-right. All the while, as if in some bizarrely macabre comedy routine, the assertively domineering Hamm states his needs and barks his commands: "Give me my pain killer!" "My mother, my father, my dog…does their suffering equal mine?" "Let's make a raft to carry us away!" Eventually, he turns his attention to the two covered and partially submerged trash cans before him. On command, Clov removes the tin barrels' lids to reveal Nagg and Nell, Hamm's two elderly discarded parents! His mom and dad sum up their situation with their pithy observations. "Why this early?" "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness." Ultimately Hamm tells Clov: "You can bury me!" and his servant responds by saying "No, I won't," and sounds his alarm clock. "Did it wake the dead?" asks Hamm, to which Clov answers: "No!" Extremely well acted by a quartet of the A.R.T.'s best actors. Will LeBow as Hamm, Thomas Derrah as Clov and-- like Harpo Marx-bedecked in big white, fuzzy fright-wigs, Remo Airaldi and Karen MacDonald as Nagg and Nell. This grandly provocative and legendary classic is now playing through March 15, 2009. It should not be missed! (My grade: 5)
Now at Beatrice Herford's Vokes Theatre in Wayland, Mass., the Vokes players present their new production of "Antigone" by Jean Anouilh. Based on the classic Greek Tragedy written by Sophocles 2500 years ago, French playwright Anouilh saw there provocative themes which related to his own time and situation. In 1943, during the Nazi occupation of France, this great contemporary master reconsidered Sophocles' masterpiece in strikingly contemporary terms. It is adapted here by Lewis Galantiere. Once again, Antigone, the daughter of the cursed King Oedipus, finds herself facing the aftermath of the deaths of her two brothers, who were slain in combat against each other for control of Thebes. Now, with their uncle Creon as the new king, he has ordered that full funeral rites be given to the older brother and that his younger sibling be considered as a traitor with his corpse left to rot, unburied and unmourned. In direct defiance of the new king's orders, Antigone tries to bury her slain brother. As originally conceived by Sophocles, she was compelled to oppose her uncle's decree which was counter to the laws of the Gods. In all instances, divine lay back then was to be supreme. This time Anouilh crafts the clash of wills between Antigone and her uncle, not between human and divine law, but rather honor versus compromise. Their collision is defined by her idealism and the king's insistence on obedience to his laws. In a cat-and-mouse styled struggle, after Antigone has been arrested for attempting to bury her brother's body, Uncle Creon tries to spare his niece from a death sentence by asking her to help him devise an appropriate cover-up story. After much debate, pro and con, between these two, Antigone's overriding sense of duty to her slain brother holds firm. She refuses to allow his remains to become carrion for the birds of prey or the city's beasts and goes willingly to her own execution! Assuredly portrayed by the fine six member cast , with praise for youthful Kimberely Kurczy as the intensely dedicated Antigone. Solid approval must also go to R. Michael Wresinski as the self-justifying and politically concerned King Creon, with excellent support from Chris Cardoni and a modern-styled solo "Greek chorus," as well as Alma Prelec as Antigone's troubled younger sister; Even Bernstein as Antigone's forlorn and abandoned finance; and Pamela G. Mayne as the heroine's sympathetic nurse. Commendations are also due for James Barton's well focused direction and splendid spare and stark set and D. Schweppe's dramatically accented lighting. Now playing through March 14, 2009. (My grade: 5)
THE RANDOM CARUSO
Now at The Boston Center for the Arts' intimate plaza theater, Centa-stage presents its production of "The Random Caruso" by Andrew Clarke. The play is yet another sharp look at Hollywood's underside. Harvey, a self-centered, cantankerous, and popular movie star, is much in demand to be the leading actor in a major big motion picture. The film's producer needs Harvey in order to guarantee the financing for his production. Unfortunately, anxious and fundamentally self-serving Harvey wants to quit. Tom, his flustered right-hand assistant, in order to keep Harvey tied to the aforementioned film, sees Harvey's interest in Decca, a beautiful local waitress (and hopeful actress), as a positive opportunity. Although Harvey proves to be a disappointment when bedding with Decca, this seems to bode well for her future in movies, and also seems to provide some assurance for the big costume drama's producer. However, still being the vain, conceited and supremely affected movie-idol, while Harvey has completed some of the film's requirements, he may still decide to walk away. This quandary forces both Tom and Decca and, of course, the show's producer, to do what needs to be done to get Harvey to stay. Well played by the fine, small cast, especially Robert Pemberton as Harvey, Michael F. Walker as Tom, and Tracy Oliverio as Decca. John Forrell as the vainly arrogant producer is quite effective in his brief, but potent, appearance. While the playwright might have done more to define Tom, beyond the weak-willed lackey depicted here, otherwise this concise backroom look, behind the cameras, at Tinsel town's upper class, offers still another compelling glimpse at the real Hollywood. Assuredly directed by Joe Antoun, it is now playing through March 7, 2009. (My grade: 4)
New at Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their production of "Seussical," a musical based on the works of the celebrated Dr. Seuss. Co-conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle, featuring book by Ahrens and Flaherty as well as music by Flaherty and lyrics by Ahrens. After its troubled pre-Broadway debut at Colonial Theater in Boston back in 2000, followed by its similarly brief and problematic exposure on Broadway at that time, it seemed that "Seussical" would simply disappear and end up quite forgotten. However, over the course of the ensuing decade, this show began to find its true audiences in the many regional, community, and smaller high-school productions that were to follow its big-time demise. It's now being heralded as one of America's most popular family-oriented musicals. Essentially an intermingling of "Horton Hears A Who" with the same whimsical elephant "Hatching an Egg", aided and supported by all the splendid members of the town of Whoville. Of course, front-and-center is "The Cat In The Hat" (Andrew Barbato), complete with his well-known striped, tall top hat. JoJo (Sirena Abalian), the town's youngest son, who just thinks too darn much, the sour kangaroo, (Gamalia Pharms) strolling with her tiny doll-baby housed in her attached pouch, the now friendly Grinch and Yertle the Turtle (each personified by Jane Staab) and the cavorting Wickersham Brothers (Brian Richard Robinson, Mark Linehan and De'Lon Grant) all join in to support Big Horton (Kamau M. Hashim) as he nests high atop the tow's tall tree, on the aforesaid egg. The evening's one harsh note sounds when Whoville's General Genghis Kahn Schmitz (Peter A. Carey) tries to militarily discipline JoJo with unexpected results. Romantic involvement meantime blossoms for Horton as Whoville's colorfully beautiful and highly resonant songbirds: Gertrude McFuzz (Jennifer Beth Glick) and Mayzie LaBird (Angela Williams) soundly serenade him first with Gertrude's saga of her "One Feather Tail" and later with how "Amayzing (is) Mayzie!" They're both sonorously supported by the community's vibrantly bright bird girls (Elizabeth Berg, Kerrin Elizabeth Clark and Claire Phillipe) tunefully frolicking, coiffed in their luminous orange, pink and green hairdo, while garbed in similarly glistening miniskirts. Enthusiastically performed by the large, splendid and youthful cast, amidst James H. Williston's grandly cartoonish and very smoothly rotating set and Marjorie Lusignan's lively props and all under Grace Napier's brisk direction. Kudos also for Melissa Miller's simple, but effective costumes, Laurel Stachowicz's exuberant choreography and the fine small orchestra's accompaniment conducted by Jonathon Goldberg. The fully delighted capacity audience (loaded with children of all ages, and parents, too) roared its thunderous approval as the spirited cast sang its finale to "Green Eggs & Ham!" Now playing through March 1, 2009. (My grade: 5)
THE NEW CENTURY
Now at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, The Speakeasy Stage Company presents the New England premiere of "The New Century," by Paul Rudnick, a quartet of comically related playlets with gay themes as their focus. Its production here comes after its success last year, when it was staged at Manhattan's Lincoln Center. The first offering, entitled "Pride and Joy" stars Paula Plum (one of this area's finest actresses) as a contemporary Jewish housewife determined to prove herself to be Long Island's most accepting and tolerant mother of all. She comes forth as the spokesperson for the "The Massapequa Chapter of Parents of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, The Transgendered, The Questioning, The Curious, The Creatively Concerned and Others." She is, of course, fully qualified to speak for the group being the loving and open-minded mom of lesbian daughter Leslie; transsexual former son Ronnie, now (after surgical transformation) new daughter Veronica;, and her youngest , David, who is dedicated to leather-fetishism and the joy associated with bowel movements! She succinctly sums up her family by suggesting a film documentary about them entitled "Guess What's Coming To Dinner?" The second piece: "Mr. Charles, currently of Palm Beach" centers on an over-the-top, flamboyantly gay late, late night-time cable-TV talk-show host, who's ably assisted by his young, nubile and occasionally nude assistant, Shane. Garbed in his bright, flashy pastel hued pants-suit and capped by a luminously, wavy, blond coiffure, Mr. Charles defiantly and unapologetically asserts himself. As expected, when he speaks, he tells it all in "she-bonics!" The next playlet, "Crafty," concerns matronly Barbara Ellen Diggs, whose response to her gay son's untimely death to AIDS, is finding some small comfort in her knitting such unusual curios as doorbell and toaster-oven covers, as well as sock-styled puppets and highly colorful crocheted pullovers. She facetiously refers to herself as a "Muslin Terrorist." The concluding title segment brings all three of these aforementioned characters together in a zesty and freewheeling jocular summing up rife with hope and optimism. Under Paul Daigneault's brisk direction, the small, expert five member cast deftly handle their grandly comic assignments. As previously stated, Paula Plum is winningly effective as Long Island's most understanding and receptive mother, with an equally amusing performance by Robert Saoud as the overly embellished and self-affirming "Mr. Charles." Kerry A. Dowling as the ultimate competitive crafts lady, along with Bud Weber as Mr. Charles' accommodating assistant and Emilie Battle as an interested bystander all also capably add to the evening's merriment! Now playing through February 14, 2009.
At the Boston Playwrights Theatre, Company One has just concluded its presentation of "Articulation," a ninety minute, one-act performance piece utilizing five talented young Boston-based actors, who vent their ideas, attitudes and admonitions, in song, prose and poetry, about the city, people and places they live in and love. Developed by Company One after several years, during which a group of similarly talented and focused high school collaborator's banded together to tour throughout New England visiting public schools, local colleges and community organizations to bring them their messages of hope and inspiration. Now, as aforementioned, an ensemble of accomplished and professional players were then assembled to revise, enhance and spread their awareness to this new and much bigger audience. They then explore a set list comprising more than 20 topics ranging from freedom, race and affirmation ("we must move to our brave new world where no one will be left behind"), to then reconsider such specific urban problems as Boston's ever-controversial taxes and expenditures ("14 billion dollars pumped into the City's new (traffic) tunnel…that doesn't work!") Of course, religion ("dear God I can't start believing in you until you start believing in me."), Sexuality and brotherhood are also heavily engaged. A lovely middle-eastern melody (sung in the original Hebrew) is intermingled with the words of "Amazing Grace." Under the well-centered direction of Lois Roach, the splendid cast: Tory Bullock, Terri Deletetsky , Michael Cognata, Marvelyn McFarlane, and Danny Balel, together with DJ Reazon, (a highly accomplished "sound designer") who scratches and rubs his highly audible popping and slurring percussion-like accents from his two rotating turntables, mesh to captivate the capacity audience with their highly stimulating and provocative word-play. (My grade: 5)
Now at the Mosesian Theater in the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA, the New Repertory Theatre presents "Cabaret," featuring music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff. Based on Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical "Berlin Stories" and John Van Druten's popular play "I Am a Camera" (suggested by segments from Isherwood's original account), which became the source for the highly successful 1966 Broadway musical followed by the even more triumphant 1972 movie, a hard-edged New York stage revival in 1998 proved once again this musical's continuing popularity. Eschewing the ratty focus of the recent above mentioned, this new production centers instead on the artificial, chorus girls glitz of the show's earlier presentations. Set in the late 1920's and 30's, the plot depends on two unlikely love-affairs amidst the fake and rowdy "Joie de vivre" of Berlin's Kit Kat Club" in the shadow of Hitler's rise to power. Cliff Bradshaw, a bisexual, ex-patriot American writer (loosely patterned after author Sherwood), becomes romantically involved with British nightclub entertainer and free-spirited party girl Sally Bowles. Fraulein Schneider, the middle-aged landlady of the rooming house where Cliff and Sally share quarters, similarly becomes engaged to Herr Schultz, en elderly, local Jewish fruit and vegetable vendor. As these two relationships evolve to their comparably unhappy conclusions, the last gasps of pre-Nazi Germany are sung and danced within the strident blare and glare of "The Kit Kat Klub," all being marshaled by the labored effervescence of the Klub's top-hatted, tuxedoed and white-paint-faced, cavorting master-of-ceremonies and the cabaret's high-stepping female chorus line, scantily garbed in their black mini-outfits with their high, bartered dark hosiery (the height of pre-World War II naughtiness). David Krinitt is effectively idealistic as the gradually troubled Cliff, with a very strong and vibrant performance by lovely, fully-voiced Aimee Doherty as Sally. She's grandly resonant in her lively "Don't Tell Mama" vocal admonition and equally compelling in the show's final ruefully musical denouement. Cheryl McMahon as Fraulein Schneider and Paul D. Farwell as Herr Schultz are both quite appealing in their tender and hopeful duet about the potential bliss of their soon being "married." The ever-enticing John Kuntz as the garish M.C. is especially noteworthy singing and dancing to "Willkommen" (come to the Cabaret). The evening's mockingly sardonic introduction also featuring one of Kander and Debb's best scores including such memorable tunes as "the Money Song" (money makes the world go round), "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," and "What Would You Do?" With departing director Rick Lombaro's strong authority, Kelli Edwards vivid choreography, Peter Colao's bright, paneled setting and the highly spirited Germanic-styled Jazz by the elevated on stage orchestra conducted by Todd C. Gordon, this show certainly merited the full audience's loud, standing approval at the final curtain! Now playing an extended engagement through February 8, 2009. (My grade: 5)
Bad Jazz was not bad. In fact Robert Farquhar, the playwright, gives some eye-opening messages, if you can hear them through the F word. Perhaps Farquhar has an obsession with the F word because his name starts with an F. Or maybe he doesn't get enough F-ing at home. If you can get past the f-ing distraction you will see a very intriguing production, brilliantly staged by Artistic Director David J. Miller. His keen use of space and timing make this fringe piece come to life.
Bad Jazz is a play about life…life in the theater…which, as it turns out, is just the same as life in any other workplace. There is love, incompetence, insanity, relationships gone awry and puking.
Mr. Farquhar does an admirable job of portraying the human condition. My favorite line was delivered perfectly by Kara Manson as Natasha, a talented, beautiful young actress who is looking for love and meaning in her life. Among the noise and chaos of her life as become, she suddenly and calmly says, "I wish I was a playwright, because then she would get to make up her own ending to her life." It got this writer wondering about the power to create our own lives for real, not just on paper. I believe I'd be abysmal at it.
I was duly impressed with Michael Steven Costello as Gavin, a melodramatic, egotistic director who will stop at nothing to bring his vision of the play to life, including staging a real B.J. By far the most outstanding performance was delivered by Mac Young as Danny, the young actor whose naivety is brilliantly threaded through a maze of extremely adult complications. He always brought the audience back from the total chaos in his life to believing he's just the kid whose dog ate his homework.
Bad Jazz is not for the faint of heart. The couple next to me left after the 35th F-bomb, about 15 minutes into the performance. Mr. Farquhar's brilliance could almost be missed for having to sift through the profanity used to punctuate the action. That said, it's a very thought provoking piece, one I'm still thinking about. It's always a good sign when theater leads a person to revaluate their life.
Bad Jazz is playing at the Plaza Black Box Theatre at Boston Center for the Arts through February 21. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 4 & 8 PM and Sundays at 4. Tickets are $35, with discounted tickets for Seniors and Students at $25. The Thursday night performances are Pay-What-You-Can nights, $5 minimum. You can purchase your tickets at the Calderwood Pavilion box office at 527 Tremont St. or by calling 617-933-8600. You can also purchase on-line at BostonTheatreScene.com
*** (3 out of 5 Stars)
Now at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, MA, the American Repertory Theatre presents its new production of "The Seagull" by Anton Chekhov. For the last half century or more it's become fashionable for many theatrical groups to reconsider many of the great dramatic classics of the past with a view that
perhaps makes them more relevant to contemporary audiences. Thus we've found some of Shakespeare's tragic heroes haunted by their specters or foes in a Manhattan skyscraper or a gay spa, Moliere's hypochondriac surrounded by lovely scantily dressed nurses in a modern medical setting or even Mozart's
Don reborn as a present day mafia lord! Now we have The Seagull, director Janos Szasz' striking reconsideration of Konstantin Chekhov's woefully distraught fledgling playwright. No longer set in a late 19th century country estate, and with the cast in jeans, mini skirts and sweatshirts, this time we find the play's young aspiring writer Konstantin in a large, weather-ravaged theatrical auditorium surrounded by several rows of leather-bound theatre seats, beneath a grand cracked ceiling emblazoned by large painted portraits of pre-Renaissance-like figures. The spacious floor features several big puddles, as obvious left overs from previous rainstorms. Even at one point late in the play, a huge downpour of rain floods the entire stage briefly drenching the entire assembled cast members! The young aforementioned writer Konstantin has tried to impress Nina, a local aspiring actress by writing and performing in an experimental play that he's
written in her honor. His mother Irina, a haughty, self-centered and demanding actress dismisses his efforts as nonsensical. "Is this supposed to be symbolic?" she sneers. Konstantin's relationship with his mother is
also complicated by her romantic involvement with Boris, a prominent visiting writer whom Konstantin resents. Soon thereafter, the disillusioned youth again tries unsuccessfully to gain favor with Nina by giving her a seagull that he has killed. Failing once more to sway her, he loses out again in a half-hearted attempt to shoot himself. Years later, Nina returns telling of her hapless involvement with Boris and of her doomed pregnancy. Once again, Konstantin falls short of enticing her and is overwhelmed by his bleak future. Gone now are Chekhov's carefully evolving dilemmas. Here refashioned and dismally crumbling place, the ever distraught Konstantin paces about mostly armed with his ready shotgun. When fixated on anyone
else, he focuses the beam of his small flashlight directly on them as they vent their grievances. When he feels especially conflicted, the hall is filled with a deafening burst of recorded heavy metal rock and roll music
and later when his spirit lifts, we're surrounded by the theme melody from "Loony Tune" cartoons including the voice of "Porky Pig". However, amidst all of this pretentious framework, standing tall and firm is the grandly potent eleven member cast! Mickey Solis is supremely effective conveying the depths of Konstantin's despair as Karen MacDonald, certainly one of the area's finest actresses scores once more as his vain and contemptuous mother. Molly Ward as Nina, Brian Dykstra as Boris, Remo Airaldi as the
area's caretaker and especially Thomas Derrah as an embittered doctor, amongst the rest of the supporting players, are all quite formidable!
Now playing through February 1, 2009.
A VIEW OF THE HARBOR
A view of the harbor? I think Mr. Dresser, our playwright, ought to get a good view of his play. In what world does an opulently wealthy, 29 year old beautiful girl start out an idealist, do-gooder, out to save the common worker from inhumane working conditions, end up a gold digger who sleeps with a disgusting, dirty, rude, drunk, octogenarian?
Paige, the leading character played by a stunning Stephanie Fieger, tells the audience in the opening scene that, "In prep school, I had the only dad who didn't have a jet and never got kidnapped. But frankly, all I had to do was think of something and it was mine." Her main focus in life is working for the factory worker's right to a decent work environment for decent pay. That's how she meets sweet Nic, who is working in a factory, even though he is secretly the heir apparent to the company. But by page 73, Dresser wants the audience to believe that this sweet child, who spends her life saving the world (since she doesn't have to make money to live in it), in one weekend becomes a gold digger who will sleep with a smelly, filthy drunk in order to take over the entire company. By the end of the weekend, the playwright has Paige saying, "Bad working conditions are better than no working conditions." Give me a break!
This play by the Merrimack Repertory Theater is well staged, well directed and keenly lit, but not believable. The audience sits through a believable performance by Anderson Matthews as Daniel Townsend, who supposedly steals the beautiful Paige away from his son (Paige's love) all in a weekend visit.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the quite believable performance by Andrea Cirie as Nic's sister, the spinster who has spent her life caring for their ailing father. Supposedly, Nic and Paige go to visit because the old man has had a stroke. Yet, the audience is to believe that somehow, in between calling her a stupid slut, pouring glasses of vodka and hobbling around, he takes Paige to bed and entrances her. Oh please! Please save your money.
Save your money for the next MRT production. Some of the greatest shows this critic has seen over the past five years have been MRT productions. If you'd like to go, you can purchase tickets for A View of the Harbor at the Online Box Office at www.merrimackrep.org or by calling 978-654-7595. Tickets are $26-$56 and can also be purchased in person at 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell.
(My Grade: 1)
At the Lederer Center in the Dowling Theatre in Providence, RI, the Trinity Repertory Company presents the New England Premier of "The Receptionist" by Adam Bock. Set in the bright, angular, admission center of a strangely unidentified business organization, Beverly Wilkins, the group's receptionist sits, at her centrally located desk, busily answering all incoming telephone calls. She's good at the job and efficiently answers and/or directs all queries asked of her. During the lulls between the various phoned inquiries she muses about her heavy workload while having to repeatedly inform all callers that Edward Raymond, the group's main official, has not yet arrived. When pretty, perky Lorraine Taylor, Mr. Raymond's assistant, appears, Beverly's mood quickly improves. Their frisky small talk bubbles around Beverly's hobby of collecting interesting tea cups. As expected, unmarried Lorraine's many concerns about being too trusting with men that she's just met, becomes a vibrant topic. When Martin Dart arrives, a young handsome official from the group's central office, Lorraine sees him as a bright new dating possibility. Unfortunately, she soon learns that he's not only married, but also is the father of a four year old son. What had, up to this point in this brief one act play, seemed to be a short, frothy office comedy, abruptly changes with the arrival of Edward Raymond. We begin to realize, without any real or specific descriptions, the grim truth about this organization and its purpose. Well acted by Janice Duclos as Beverly, Angela Brazil as Lorraine, Timothy John Smith as Martin, and Timothy Crowe as Edward Raymond under the well centered direction of Curt Columbus. Although little was offered by playwright Bock to prepare us for his play's abrupt and quite unexpected shift in mood and tone, the capacity audience seemed ready to accept its forbidding conclusion! Now playing through January 11, 2009. (My Grade: 3)
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