Saturday, December 16, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey THE WHOLE TRUTH and nothing but

How many of us know about Gordon Hirabayashi…or for that matter, about the WWII internment camps for American citizens of Japanese ancestry? Hirabayashi said “no” to President Roosevelt’s order of internment, all the way to the Supreme Court. (One hundred and twenty thousand Japanese-Americans were incarcerated without due process.) The Lyric Stage is presenting Hirabayashi’s remarkable story in HOLD THESE TRUTHS, written by Jeanne Sakata, and playing through December 24th.

Sakata gives Hirabayashi an exquisite speech to open the play, in which he quotes the famous credo, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” He then questions our tacit acceptance of the phrase: If such incontrovertible truths exist, do they have the same meaning over time…are they set in stone? Certainly, in 2017, truth is elusive, elastic and worst of all, elective. Sakata’s play resonates like the Liberty Bell (if it still can ring), with our despicable culture of racial injustice, not to mention our impending constitutional crisis.

Director Benny Sato Ambush and company accomplish an impressive coup: All the dialogue is spoken by Michael Hisamotoas Hirabayashiand as every supporting character, as well. None of the secondary kurogos speak with their voices. In Noh Theater, these masked actors “speak” through specific, gestural movement. (Choreography by Jubilith Moore.) In traditional Noh, their gestures guide the principal character to understanding and action.

When Hirabayashi refuses to follow his family to the camp, it breaks his mother’s heart. A shrouded, masked Gary Ng (as mother) conveys every ounce of her pain, by bending slowly, slightly toward the earth with crossed, lowering arms. These secondary figures (the extraordinary Ng, Khloe Alice Lin and Samantha Richert) provide pathos, humor and anguish solely with body movement (and the expressive “language” of the Japanese fan.)

You quickly forget that Hisamoto is answering his own lines with theirs, because the kurogos are reacting as if they themselves were speaking. Curiously, they become a much more dramatic element than the main character. Hisamoto conveys Hirabayashi’s astonishing resilience over forty years of disappointment (reminding me of Voltaire’s CANDIDE) with his ever present optimism.

Hirabayashi’s small victories burst onto Hisamoto’s face with a joyous smile but the playwright doesn’t offer much chance for us to see his suffering. She paints a sweeping overview of his life as if he never agonized over the ordeals he must have endured. No, Sakata has him cheerfully trundling off to jail, even requesting a longer sentence at one point. There is so much I wanted to know about his heroic fight for justice but this is a different play, by design.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey CARRY ON, NURSE (as the Brits would say)

It’s no walk in the park for the two existential characters in NURSE PLAY (@ BPT through Dec. 17th), seemingly compelled to lacerate old wounds while trapped in a darkened, creaky Saran wrapped room. The happy news is that James Wilkinson’s tortured little play is a rousing walk on the wild side for the audience.

Wilkinson’s company, EXILED THEATRE specializes in dark, absurdist fare so it comes as no surprise that NURSE PLAY will remind you (briefly) of Sartre or Beckett or Stephen King, for that matter…but you’re soon caught up in Wilkinson’s fiercely intelligent dialogue and canny allusions, as nurse (Susannah Wilson) and patient (Cody Sloan) execute a gory, metaphorical chess game to determine who is in charge of the premises.

It’s clear that this “lady with the lamp” is no Florence Nightingale. Nurse Ratched is more like it, by way of Sweeney Todd! Nor is the patient himself without sin. Oh, no. No angels here. Revelations practically congeal your blood, even as you giggle at Wilkinson’s audacity. If you like your comedy on the grisly side, then NURSE PLAY is your tonic.

The most distressing discoveries in NURSE PLAY have a sublime sound track. There simply isn’t anything more delightfully funny than watching Susannah Wilson groove out to BLONDIE: “One way or another, [she’s] gonna get ya’…. get ya’ get ya’ get ya’ get ya’.” (Kudos to movement director Kayleigh Kane for the hilarious choreography.)

Director Joe Jukenievich cuts to the bone, the funny bone it turns out, with his take no prisoners staging. Every time Sloan’s gangrenous foot touches the floor, you wince from the pain but it’s always followed by Wilkinson’s biting satire.

My absolute favorite line in the play, having just experienced a real life NURSE PLAY (where, after surviving a near fatal car crash, I almost bled to death from flossing when prescribed way too much blood thinner) is Sloan’s “They never would have done this in a hospital.” I’m here to tell you, life is theater of the absurd and yes they would.

Wilkinson has so much meaty material in NURSE PLAY that my only quibble is that perhaps it’s too much muscle. I thought it had ended a couple of times before it really did but I couldn’t tell you what I would remove, it’s all so clever.

Saturday, December 2, 2017


Even if you’re not a rabid fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s cheeky thrillers, your funny bone will be convulsing over the shenanigans in Moonbox’s production of THE 39 STEPS (@ BCA through Dec. 9th). British playwright Evan George Patrick Barlow’s 2004 adaptation of the Hitchcock classic won him all manner of awards, from London to Broadway. (Before it became the 1935 Hitchcock film, THE 39 STEPS was published twenty years earlier as a serial spy novel. Although its origins are endlessly fascinating, its delightful transformation to the stage is what makes it a knockout.)

You see, aside from the protagonist, a dashing Canadian who finds himself drawn into the thorny world of European espionage, all the other characters are portrayed by three actors for whom fast paced comedy is mother’s milk. Kevin Cirone oozes panache as the accidental hero, brandishing that emblematic wit that spits squarely in the face of adversity. Director Allison Olivia Choat stops just short of winking, as she maneuvers Cirone out of windows, off speeding trains and into rushing waters to escape the various clutches of villains, dolts and n’er-do-wells (all audaciously portrayed by Matthew Zahnzinger and Bob Mussett).

Sarah Gazdowicz is hilarious as a literal femme fatale and even more intriguing prospects for our hero. Huzzahs to dialect coach Daniel Blackwell. Gazdowicz’ provocative accents alone make her irresistible. And Zahnzinger’s left eye which overflows with greed, not to mention its Scottish owner’s impenetrable brogue is simply delicious… And Mussett’s curiously odd vaudevillian, key to the thirty nine ways to subvert Nazis and save the world is both delectable and disarming! I could go on and on, about the ingenious staging and brazen liberties taken to serve up a guffaw…

There you are. Laughing your self silly and forgetting all about present day Nazis and impending doom. Thank you, Moonbox.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Queen of the Night (Redux) Reprint of February 2007 Review By Beverly Creasey

Florence Foster Jenkins was the toast of New York in the ‘30s and ‘40s not because she could sing like a diva but because she couldn’t. Yet her Carnegie Hall appearance sold out immediately! If you doubt such a phenomenon could happen today, I need only remind you of the mania surrounding the American Idol contestant whose excruciating “She Bang” was aired incessantly on TV and radio after the fact.

The Lyric Stage’s hilarious SOUVENIR has the debonair Will McGarrahan valiantly pounding the correct notes on the piano while Leigh Barrett, as the indomitable Mrs. Jenkins “obfuscates” tempo and pitch as well as the notes. In the course of the Stephen Temperley’s “Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins,” McGarrahan becomes her knight in shining armor, protecting her from the jeers and laughter of audiences who come only to witness the spectacle. The two even frolic through a delightful duet, believe it or not.

Director Spiro Veloudos finds the heart of the story in their affection for each other and in Mrs. Jenkins’ unconscious vulnerability. Barrett delivers, tracing Verdi’s notes in the air with her hands as she lacerates Gilda’s “Caro Nome” with her voice. Barrett’s diva is clearly batty, playing the coquette at age seventy, dressed as a flouncing senorita (in fabulous authentic costumes by David Costa-Cabral). What could be more genuine or more touching than her devotion to her beloved accompanist as she debuts his Mexican Serenade in Carnegie Hall. Opera fanatics may blanch at the prospect of hearing a clanging “Bell Song” from Lakmé but Veloudos and company make it so deliciously awful that it’s deliriously funny.

Friday, November 3, 2017


Believe it or not, Melville’s MOBY DICK was only recognized as a masterpiece in the 1930s. Although his early tales of his South Seas escapades, jumping ship, for example, achieved brief popularity, he died in obscurity in 1891. (His readers found the heavily symbolic tome utterly unfathomable.) Luckily for us, IMAGINARY BEASTS (now at Charlestown Working Theater) have joined forces with Juli Crockett’s fanciful, hypothetical play [or, the whale] which places Ahab and Melville himself (“Call me Ishmael”), not the whale, at the epicenter of this cautionary tale.

I’m convinced that Imaginary Beasts’ director Matthew Woods is a painter at heart. Instead of canvas, he layers images like pigment, one over the other, so that we see the first only for a second before it’s covered with another (but registering both somewhere in our consciousness). And because Crockett’s script is a poetic armature without specific dialogue or character delineation, the Beasts can work their magic and flesh it out fearlessly…and that they do, with not one, not two, but three frenetic Ahabs (Leilani Ricardo, Jamie Semel and Danny Mourino).

Crockett contemplates a “temporary eternity” at sea and giddy solace in the art of forgetting, her wonderful fugue on “finding and forgetting” for the multiple Ahabs being my favorite moment in the piece. The jaunty sea chantey score (by Kangaroo Rat Music) happily lightens the perilous adventures which open with Melville (an intense Sam Terry) hardly alive, clinging to some flotsam in the middle of the ocean. She (the stunning Raya Malcolm) tosses him mercilessly about and then lovingly embraces his comatose form. Ahab’s cabin boy (a sweet Ciera-Sadé Wade), alas, is lost overboard to the abyss.

The play achieves extra resonance each time we’re reminded that the ocean covers two thirds of the world, (soon to be far more now that the glaciers are melting at breakneck speed). Malcolm is a lithe, seductive ocean, dancing and caressing Ishmael, even becoming the bowsprit on his banging, creaking, wooden ship (cleverly designed by Lillian P.H. Kology in segments assembled on stage) which Christopher Bocchiaro lights with a foggy haze.

This being an IB production, there are of course ingenious paper puppets (Sophia Giordano), human puppets (in Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s inspired costumes), various preposterous peg legs and an eerie shadow show, performed under a vast sculpture by Kology reminiscent of shipyard vessel skeletons or perhaps an anchor, all wallpapered and wrapped with pages (I presume) from Melville’s novel.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


A world without Thomas Derrah is almost inconceivable.

From the very first company of Robert Brustein’s A.R.T.a where he dazzled in Goldoni and Brecht (from his impossible hat trick in Servant of Two Masters to his raucous rendition of Kurt Weil’s sardonic Button Song) his performances are indelibly etched in the memory.

When the A.R.T. changed hands and actors, Boston’s smaller companies profited. We saw Derrah even oftener, on small stages from SpeakEasy to Stoneham. He defied age. He defied type, even gender, portraying outrageous (and touching) women with gusto and sensitivity. There was no role he couldn’t conquer.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Or, - Simple Machine/ Maiden Phoenix Review by James Wilkinson of Rabbit Reviews Boston

There’s a mistaken belief out in the artistic ether that in order for a show to be good, you must have only the best. (Best actors, best set, best director, best script, etc.). While having any one of those things can help (certainly they can’t hurt), in my experience quality shows come about when all of the various elements exist in a kind of symbiotic support system (i.e. the lighting supports the set supports the acting supports the script). For an example of such a production that manages to hang together as a cohesive whole, look to Simple Machine/Maiden Phoenix’s co-production of Or, by Liz Duffy Adams, now playing at Chelsea Theatre Works. It’s a production that as far as I can tell, doesn’t put a single foot wrong through its ninety minute run time.
Adams’ script takes inspiration from the real life of Restoration-era English writer, Aphra Behn, who may or may not have also worked as a spy for King Charles II. Although her plays may not be commonly staged in present day (and perhaps Adams’ play can help fix that), she became a popular and prolific playwright working just as women were (finally) being allowed to act on the English stage. But while the roots of the play are in real life, Adams’ isn’t interested in serving up a history lesson. Rather, she uses Behn’s life as a jumping off point for an inspired bit of comic fun.
The bulk of the play’s plot takes place on a single night following Aphra being released from debtor’s prison by the newly crowned King Charles II, (for whom, you’ll remember, she has previously acted as a spy). Turning down the chance to be his mistress, she sets her sights on a career in the theater, securing Charles as her secret patron. She begins work on a new play that she hopes will star stage actress, Nell Dwynne (another character plucked from history), with whom she shares a budding attraction. Then Aphra’s co-spy ex-husband shows up warning of an assassination plot against King Charles. Then King Charles shows up and warns Aphra that her husband has double crossed her. Then theater owner Lady Davenant arrives, telling Aphra that her company will produce Aphra’s new play but only if she finishes by nine the following morning. On and on Adams’ script tosses in new developments that I won’t spoil here (the joy is in watching them all play out), letting the action build as we watch Aphra try to start her career, get rid of her ex-husband and save the English monarchy (all in a day’s work, of course).
There’s a lot to admire in this production, not least of all fantastic performances from the show’s three actors (who in total, portray 7 characters). Michael Poignand is clearly having a ball bouncing between the decadent King Charles and Aphra’s wily ex, William. Mid-show Kaylyn Bancroft gets a gem of a comic monologue as Lady Davenant that she throws herself into for all it’s worth, in addition to the wonderful layers she brings to the soulful Nell Gwynne and the brusquer housemaid, Maira. And as the lynch pin around which all of these characters fly, Anna Waldron never loses a beat as Aphra Behn. Waldron brings a necessary sense of intelligence to a performance that is also (and perhaps most importantly) very funny.
Kudos, as well, should be paid to director Adrienne Boris for pulling all of the various strings together without letting the various elements fly out of control. Despite the historical setting, Adams’ play is essentially a slamming doors farce (or, rather, a slamming curtain farce) a la Boeing Boeing and Boris’ clean and purposeful staging allows the actors to realize their full comic potential and the play to build on its gathering energy. There were several points in the show where Poignand and Bancroft switched between characters so quickly I was convinced the actors must have clones hiding backstage.
I must also draw attention to Liz Duffy Adams’ delightfully witty script. The plays begins in verse and when it gets going, Adams’ lines begin to hum as though electric. You can enjoy the play for the freewheeling farce that it is, but as the characters start to opine about how the present day (the 1600s) is wide open with new opportunities for women in society, you may realize that there is a method to this kind of madness. Part of Adams’ larger point (I suspect) has to do with how she surrounds her protagonist with characters that speak to different aspects of Aphra. Aphra could be a playwright, or she could be the King’s mistress, or she could be a spy. She could be double crossed. She could be a liar. She could be married. She could be a traitor. She could be single. She could be straight. She could be a lesbian. She could be in love. She could be in lust. Round and round the possible outcomes go. At one point Lady Davenant remarks how tired she is of these “Or” plays (trivia players will remember that Shakespeare’s full title for one of his plays was Twelfth Night or What you will). “Just pick one or the other” she says and Adams’ script makes the audience want to ask, “Why?” The truth is that all of these possible identities are not as mutually exclusive as they may seem. The only way to get a sense of the whole person is to give these characters (particularly the women) the freedom to let all of these identities and possibilities bounce and play off each other. Isn’t that the kind of freedom we should all be fighting for?
Or, is playing at Chelsea Theatre Works September 8-23, 2017.