Monday, May 23, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW(S) By Beverly Creasey ENDGAMES



Just saw two shows at the end of their runs this past weekend, both linked by “wit in the face of adversity,” that adversity being Death: One, a bittersweet character study, the other a delightful romp. One, FREUD’S LAST SESSION, is really a debate over the existence of God (camouflaged with clever conversation and gentle humor). The other, END OF THE WORLD, A COMEDY IN TWO ACTS, is a cheeky musing on catastrophe: The earth is about to exit the Milky Way via a big bang from an asteroid. (The populace behaves badly.)

Mark St. Germain’s talky two-hander finds the literary scholar C.S. Lewis at Sigmund Freud’s door, not knowing how he will be received, having just satirized the father of psychoanalysis in print. Freud is glad for the diversion to “short circuit” the excruciating pain he suffers from oral cancer. He’ll be dead within the year. St. Germain might have made his play a vitriolic or even a cathartic exercise. Thankfully he didn’t. He staves off gloom and doom with pleasant repartee, like Lewis’ quip about religion: “The great problem of Christianity is the Christians.”

Director Jim Petosa is blessed with two fine actors to bring these icons to life on the New Rep stage. Joel Colodner makes Freud not nearly as pompous as we imagine he would be and Shelley Bolman makes the Christian apologist surprisingly accommodating and exceedingly kind. We’re left thinking that had time and fate allowed, they might have been friends.


Elizabeth Dupre’s hilarious END OF THE WORLD (@ Boston Actors Theater) finds a wacky bunch of scientists at odds with a plummeting asteroid and, if that weren’t enough, with two meddling government officials who insist on hovering about and making their lives difficult. What’s more, their repeated efforts to knock the “near earth object” off course are a crashing failure… But Dupre isn’t so much interested in a typical apocalyptic scenario as she is in screwball comedy, arriving in a satirical vehicle with sweet romance in its trajectory. It reminded me of THE AWFUL TRUTH or any of Preston Sturges’ wooly scripts.

The banter is smart, hip and brimming with delicious topical, not to mention theoretical allusions. Director Drew Jacobs’ cast hits the mark squarely, with a nicely nuanced performance by Rebecca Strong as the bright lead scientist with a secret. Alex Jacobs personifies British cool as he supplies the quips and quarks that keep them coursing on.

Elizabeth Battey delivers her prankster role like it was mother’s milk and Bailey Libby nails that vacuous look that only television reporters can summon up at will (and she gets to own another funny, “aghast” face later). David Anderson makes those badge-sporting secret service operators look sedated next to his red-faced, four alarm attitude (made even more hysterical when he curls himself into a ball). Laurie Singletary’s over-the-top, take-no-guff agent is a veritable insurgence of female power to rival any man’s army. In short, Dupre’s fresh, wildly amusing take on death and destruction puts her on my list of favorite local playwrights.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Waltzing Summer Nights Away



So. What makes the Next Door Theatre’s A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (playing through May 22nd) smile so brightly? Technically you can only “pull out all the stops” on an organ and there isn’t one in Dan Rodriguez’ minimal orchestra – but what he can do for the score with just four instruments is nothing short of miraculous, made even more so by Martha Moor’s glorious, ethereal harp.

More smiles from Richard Itczak’s (there is no other word) spectacular costuming, which director Brian Milauskas cleverly multiplies in Desiree’s litany of roles she’s played in the provinces: each fleeting mention of a part is accompanied by a lightening fast costume change while she and the chorus (as dressers) are singing. They zip them on and off in a trice. It’s hilarious. Thank the Lord for Velcro. That magnificent chorus! Milauskas brilliantly keeps them on stage to watch the constant folly unfold. A lovely touch.

Milauskas’ set for the weekend in the country is shaded with birch trees whose striations are musical staves! The bark seems to glisten in the disconcerting “land of the midnight sun” under Michael Wonson’s evocative lighting. Milauskas even supplies a reflecting pool, not that many of the lovers do much reflecting.

Sondheim and Wheeler based their waltz-time musical on Bergman’s beguiling film, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT, where lovers pass like ships in the night, just missing the chance to connect until, at last, the night smiles on them. Next Door is extremely fortunate to have a cast which includes Sarah DeLima as the wry, sage grandmother with lessons to impart from her many “Liaisons,” Amelia Broome as the captivating (her name says it all) Desiree (She “Sends in those Clowns” in spades), and Todd Yard (fresh from his triumph in THE WILD PARTY) as the foolish husband trying to recapture his youth (“Now”)… and many more enchanting performances.

Shonna Cirone makes the jealous countess more wounded and vulnerable than she’s generally portrayed and it works beautifully with her suffering “Every Day a Little Death.” She’s married to Count Malcolm, that infuriating dragoon who expects all his women to be faithful to him! He’s pompous. He’s impossible and at Next Door, he’s the charismatic Michael Merullo. His commanding performance (and gorgeous voice) is one of the show’s great pleasures.

There’s Jessica Kundla as the charming, oh so young new wife who has no idea what love is… and Victoria Newhuis as the sly, tease of a maid. I could go on and on. Hi Ho for the glamorous life!

Monday, May 16, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey SNOW Storm




We hear it every day on the news: Another police shooting of an unarmed (more often than not, African-American) man. It leaves you feeling horrified, helpless and hopefully motivated to do something: Protest? March? Civil Disobedience? Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders even evokes our history when he says that we’re in dire need of a “revolution.”

Let’s return to the 1770s, when citizens of Boston stood up against British rule. Tired of taxes and violence, they began to protest in large numbers and on March 5, 1770, when a throng marched near the British headquarters of the acting governor, soldiers fired into the crowd, killing four unarmed civilians. The governor ordered the soldiers responsible held for trial – but just as now, the people then knew that convictions are rare, especially with the governor insisting it was “an accident.” Another so called “accident” occurred the week before, when a customs officer fired to disperse a crowd and killed an eleven year old boy.

Playwright Patrick Gabridge uses the March 5th shooting (now called The Boston Massacre) as a baseline for a riveting and suspenseful dramatization of the events which would culminate in revolution just a few years away. BLOOD ON THE SNOW (playing through June 5th at the historic Old State House) unfolds like Greek tragedy, with the governor’s (and Great Britain’s) hubris center stage. What makes Gabridge’s drama unique is that we are seeing it unfold in the very place, the Council Chamber, where Governor Hutchinson convened his advisors. We’re sitting where our ancestors met to deal with the volatile consequences of the killings. The historical significance creates a powerful melding of past and present, reality and theater.

What we know now, that they couldn’t possibly know at the time, is that the spirit of an American Revolution was kindled and began to smolder that day when the soldiers fired their guns. And they couldn’t know the resonance it has today that the first man to be killed was an African-American named Crispus Attucks. His death is widely regarded as the first casualty of the revolution.

Director Courtney O’Connor has a first rate cast to inhabit the conflicted council members as well as the fervent, embryonic revolutionaries. Dale Place gives a lovely, haunted performance as the acting governor. It’s to Gabridge’s credit that each character is a fully realized person, not just a villain: The governor even tells us he fears that “this will bring a new era of darkness upon us.”

Daniel Berger-Jones, too, gives a sympathetic (and wry) performance as the officer in charge of the military unit that killed the four and wounded eight that day. Arthur Waldstein has the plum role of Provincial Treasurer. He gets the thrilling “all my sons” speech and he gets to make a pivotal proposal to the council when they want to increase the military presence.

Bill Mootos, too, cuts quite a swath with his impassioned words, imploring his colleagues to consider another solution. Lewis D. Wheeler makes impatience a virtue as he tries to convey the tangible danger of bringing in more troops. Peter G. Andersen gives voice to the slain as he testifies to what he saw happen. Even Ken Baltin’s harsh, racist reproach doesn’t ruffle the slave’s quiet calm.

Scot Colford as the doorkeeper supplies gentle humor to the piece as he officiously guards the council gate. So does Brett Milanowski as the no nonsense, ready for a brawl, tight lipped Samuel Adams (I’ve never seen a tighter jaw!), in direct contrast to Matt Ryan’s elegant, gentlemanly John Hancock. O’Connor even supplies a delightful exit for the two. Hats off to the Bostonian Society and the National Park Service for joining Gabridge and company for an important, intelligent look at our ancestors, our beginnings and our constant struggle for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey LEAP FOR JOY



Here’s a show kids will eat up – and the adults with them will find surprisingly delightful. Wheelock Family Theatre is in its 35th year of presenting theater for the whole family that the whole family can afford. A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD (hopping through May 15th) is based on the award winning books by Arnold Lobel, turned into a pun filled musical by Robert Reale (composer) and Willie Reale (book and lyrics).

Director/choreographer Mimi Katano and company earn extra flyer miles from the antics of stars Neil A. Casey and Larry Coen: Although the story is charming all by itself, I was overjoyed to see Coen’s inner Blanche DuBois emerge, not to mention a hilarious soft shoe send-up worthy of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, made even funnier by this amphibian Odd Couple.

 The music is pastiche, with a sweet country ditty for Gary Thomas Ng, as the snail Frog enlists to deliver a note to Toad. Ng is a treat. Thank heavens because the snail mail is glacial and we keep monitoring his progress throughout the show. Musical director Heather MacLaughlin Garbes gets lively singing from the entire cast, which includes headliners (!) Merle Perkins and John O’Neil in the bird chorus.

Lisa Simpson’s inspired costumes are whimsically suggestive of the animals, like bright, colorful hats with feathers for the birds and miners’ helmets for the moles. Frog is natty in his olive green suit and fedora, while Toad wears more conservative shades of brown, with polka dots on his sweater to stand in for the bumps and warts on his skin, that is, when he’s not sporting a striped bathing suit. Casey and Coen are such deft comedians, they can slay you with a look. If you miss Frog and Toad, you’ll miss out on ninety minutes of laughter... and maybe a tear when that letter arrives!

Friday, May 6, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey My Own Private Idaho



Not much to do in the Idaho wilderness. A city kid (Jake Orozco-Herman) could learn a lot from a kindly old man (Peter Brown deftly playing against type, with halting steps and bent frame). That’s the bare bones of A GREAT WILDERNESS by Samuel D. Hunter (@ Zeitgeist Stage through May 21st). The old guy’s quote unquote “friends” (one of whom is his ex-wife) want him to move into “a home” where he can be taken care of but he prefers cabin life: walks in the woods, no one to tell you what to do.

It’s all about the environment and the solitude for Walt and he finds real meaning in life when troubled kids are sent to him for counseling. “Just talk,” he says. It’s all so bucolic you might be drawn there yourself EXCEPT this is a Reparative Retreat for “misfit[ing]” gay kids to get “straight.” Pardon me while I scream. If the Bachmanns lived in Idaho, they’d be right at home with their “conversion” therapy. (You may recall a while back, Michele Bachmann was running for President, decrying all the money the government wastes on pork barrel projects while AT THE SAME TIME her husband’s conversion business was funded with federal dollars!) But I digress.

The only excitement in the play is when the boy runs away and everyone, including a ranger, lights out after him, the action, which includes a forest fire, now being off stage. We don’t even get to see the pivotal “burning bush” scene. We’re just told about it. BUT the extremely strange thing about A GREAT WILDERNESS is that there’s no one in the play to denounce this vile practice masquerading as “therapy.” The play just ends as slowly and laconically as it meandered throughout.
               
As always, director David Miller has assembled a talented cast and designed a nifty log cabin set. J. Jumbelic’s sound for each scene change makes you sit up and take note. Now that I think of it, the music may be the one dissenting element.

As always, Wednesday evenings are pay what you can.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey INADEQUATE



Spoiler Alert! I’m going to divulge what happens (or doesn’t) in Yussef El Guindi’s unsatisfying THREESOME (@ Apollinaire Theatre through May 7th) so stop reading now if you prefer not knowing. El Guindi spends an inordinate amount of time having his one female character (Alison Meirowitz Mc Carthy) rant about women as third class citizens and about the “toxic relationship” women have with their bodies. In fact there’s a whole heap of talk but scant insight into any of the characters.

The joke in the First Act is that the trio of adults about to have a three-way sexual experience never stop talking (about bodily dysfunction among other topics) long enough to do it. Now maybe Ryan Landry could write a scene (about diarrhea in the midst of intercourse) so outrageous that audiences would find the squeamish material hilarious but El Guindi can’t pull it off. It’s just gratuitous and repulsive.

Ordinarily a naked man ( Geofff Van Wyck) on stage with little to do but stand about and wait is rife for comedy but not in THREESOME, mainly because El Guindi keeps the pace glacial and because he wants to say something significant about the Arab spring. How is this connected to the comic coupling (or tripling), you may ask? Well, two of the threesome are Egyptian ex-pats who complain endlessly that each has been holding back emotionally and “omitting” information when in point of fact it’s the playwright who is omitting and obfuscating to beat the band.

For one thing, he shrouds a major revelation in confusion: Even when he tries toward the end of the play to connect the dots, they don’t: The female character accuses her lover (Mauro Canepa) of treating her differently after learning about violent attacks on women when both of them returned to Egypt for the revolution BUT at that point she hadn’t told him it happened to her. She only chooses to tell him that piece of news when he is drunk; then she holds him responsible for his nasty, neanderthal, liquor induced (?) reaction. Perhaps El Guindi ascribes to the notion of “in vino veritas.”

For another, El Guindi reintroduces the naked man, now fully clothed, and he turns out to have a vile secret as well, not to mention that he’s undergone a character transplant I just couldn’t believe. You really have no one to root for in THREESOME, not even the woman…. because it’s revealed in Act II that the she has screwed her lover (in the “betrayal” sense of the word) out of a job. And the ending where she bares her soul (if indeed that’s what happens metaphorically – I couldn’t say) comes out of nowhere.

Just give me a juicy Pinter threesome like BETRAYAL or OLD TIMES and I’ll show you a shattering ménage a trios. All of El Guindi’s prurient preoccupation with sex doesn’t add up to anything, least of all a coherent lesson about the Middle East.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

REALLY QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey ARS LONGA, VITA BREVIS



When you’ve seen a show numerous times, you’re always hoping for something new, a fresh approach to the material. Director Daniel Borque and company provide it with the Hub Theatre’s production of Yasmina Reza’s ART (closing, alas, this weekend). Their production is grounded in humor. Bourque even bumps it up a notch with hilarious touches like white gloves for the pretentious, proud new owner of the $200,000 white on white painting… and when his best friend has the polar opposite view of the pricey acquisition, the two men separate abruptly, as if they were oppositional magnets. Bourque scores again when the three friends have exhausted themselves in a dust-up and sit hopelessly eating olives, side by side, like naughty boys outside the principal’s office.

Lest you worry, the comedy never overpowers the script. In fact, I think it brings affection and humanity to the (rather stilted) story of three friends on the verge of a break-up over an artistic opinion. Victor Shopov is all angles, posing for just the right combination of light and shadow for his painting. When stressed, he literally lets off steam with an incredulous “pfffffft” when his friend dares to disparage both the painting and his artistic acumen. The elegant John Geoffrion as his disapproving friend is most amusing when trying to conceal his contempt. Bob Mussett is sensational as the sad sack caught in the middle of his friends’ feud. When they both turn on him, it’s the stuff of great comedy. Like Stan Laurel or Lou Costello, Mussett’s expressive face is up to the task.