Saturday, December 13, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Is this Really NECESSARY?



The world according to John Kuntz is a bizarre and often perilous place, whether he’s writing about beginnings (THE ANNOTATED HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN MUSKRAT) or endings (NECESSARY MONSTERS) or even limbo (THE HOTEL NEPENTHE).

For NECESSARY MONSTERS (playing at SpeakEasy Stage through Jan.3rd), Kuntz has created a dramatic wasteland a la Hieronymus Bosch. Eight actors are confined in an enormous cage—which may be a plane, judging from the stewardess’ safety instructions at the very start of the play—or it may be a sound stage, judging from the hand held cameras, the delightful rewinds and the slew of blindingly bright television screens (which sometimes record real time).

Where MUSCRAT and NEPENTHE tapped into a universal consciousness, NECESSARY MONSTERS does not, although it references the seamy side of pop culture with a vengeance. Instead of SNAKES ON A PLANE, we witness the serial killer from FRIDAY THE 13th (who had the bad luck of stopping en route for A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE) ruthlessly stalking his unsuspecting victims in their upright seats.

Characters aren’t dispatched just once, mind you. The mayhem is repeated and repeated. One woman, Kuntz wryly explains, is spared because she “looked already dead” and to kill her “would be redundant.” If you’re expecting the clever humor of his other plays, you won’t be happy. Not until Thomas Derrah wakes up an hour or so in (Didn’t he hear the explosions?) are we treated to a nifty, naughty monologue about faulty child rearing practices. Then as quickly as he arrives, he slinks back down to the floor and snoozes for the rest of the play, as did the man seated next to me.

Kuntz, himself, is one of the characters or rather two of the characters because he seems to be a psychiatrist at one point, and a swimmer in another scene in which he saves Michael Underhill (and monkey) from drowning. McCaela Donovan and Underhill meet on a blind date (in the plane?). As a child, Underhill may have been abused by Georgia Lyman’s babysitter. Stacey Fischer’s character is depressed throughout. Evelyn Howe keeps getting slashed by Greg Maraio’s killer…who manages a playful strip tease but later becomes a terrorist and blows up the plane, maybe. I couldn’t swear to any of this.

Kuntz and director David R. Gammons struck gold with HOTEL NEPENTHE but the imagery in MONSTERS is so overwhelming that I couldn’t piece it together, I’m sorry to say. I didn’t even realize that actors were doubling roles or that locales had changed, let alone follow a time line but I did enjoy the cat videos.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey COMFORT AND JOY



In a season of CHRISTMAS CAROLs from Rhode Island to the North Shore, Neil McGarry’s deserves the “highest praise”…and if not, as one of the Dickens characters boasts, “Tell me higher and I’ll use it.” Bay Colony Shakespeare makes its home in Plymouth most of the year but they travel to Boston over the holidays for McGarry to perform Scrooge…and Marley…and the ghosts….and Bob Crachet, etc.

The performance is fully staged, with McGarry playing every role with gusto. Mind you, this is not a reading, although the one-man tour de force allows for Dickens’ glorious descriptions to remain intact. Most dramatizations drop the rich imagery in favor of dialogue. But because McGarry is every character, he can think aloud, can set the scene, even talk to the audience. Wee children at my performance sat wide-eyed to see MvGarry’s transformations and hear his commanding baritone.

Director Ross MacDonald pays close heed to Dickens’ language, especially to the description of the wretched children Scrooge observes behind the great robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present. In most productions they’re named “Ignorance” and “Want” and that’s that. Now we hear the whole explanation. MacDonald and McGarry use only a few props but you see the icy streets in your mind’s eye as Scrooge’s nephew contemplates a “slide.” You see the countryside as Scrooge relives his solitary school days. Miraculously, you see a room full of jolly celebrants at the Fezziwig Party. Scrooge is overjoyed to be in their company again.

He dances a reel from one side of the stage to the other, and up the aisle. His arms thrown open in sheer jubilation, his head bobbing up and down, he passes one partner with his right hand and another with his left, then returns with great bounds to the head of the line. McGarry’s performance is extraordinary on many counts but one especially: His characters are all so sincere and innocently drawn, that you give yourself over to the story like a child. He inhabits every inch of these charming characters…But wait, if you catch McGarry’s eye just for a second, it wrinkles a bit to say we’re allowed to laugh. It’s a neat trick, to be in the moment and without detracting from it, gently comment on it.

If you missed it in Barnstable tonight, the show continues in Boson at the First Church on Marlborough Street Fri, Sat and Sun Dec. 12, 13, 14. Then back to Plymouth, at the Bay Colony Theater space Thurs, Fri, Sat Dec. 18, 19, 20. For Times and directions, you’ll find it all at BAY COLONY SHAKESPEARE.org

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey OVER THE TOP


If you’re fried and overwhelmed by the fast approaching holidays, I have the perfect Rx: Moonbox Productions’ THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS (playing at the BCA through Dec. 20th) is non-stop hilarity. If you adore the musicals of Kander & Ebb, Sondheim, Rogers & Hammerstein and Jerry Herman, you mustn’t miss Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart’s mash-up, send-up tribute to the greats. (You know in your heart that they’re ripe for parody.)

The Bogart/Rockwell musical is not “Forbidden Broadway.” It’s actually a whole musical with new, close-to-the bone, mind you, lyrics almost like the originals but naughtier. You’ll recognize the music, too, although it seems to morph into similar tunes from another show by the same composer, that is, when it’s not tempted to run rogue and sound like Rachmaninoff. In fact pianist/music director Dan Rodriguez makes the keyboard sound like a whole orchestra.

Picture a fella who looks for all the world like Curly strolling on stage singing “Oh, what beautiful corn.” The woman shucking those ears seems to be Aunt Eller but isn’t. The tune is Rogers’ but here “the cattle pliĆ© in a dreamy ballet…while a chipmunk is readin’ the Bible.” It’s sort of OKLAHOMA but now Laurie will do anything to pay the rent and Aunt Eller seems to have become an Abbess, not to mention the shenanigans for poor Agnes DeMille. And a real fine clambake has yielded oodles of clam dip which when left in the sun too longWell, you can guess what happens next.

When the troupe turns to Sondheim, the scary Judd of OKLAHOMA (renamed “Jitter”) has become Sweeney Todd and his daughter Johanna needs to pay the rent. In case you haven’t guessed, rent (not the musical RENT) is the through-line. In one of the best parodies (of both character and song) Johanna (renamed “Jeune”) is bonkers from the get-go, delivering a wide-eyed, florid “I Have Little Birds.”

If you don’t know the original lyrics, you may be temporarily puzzled but the madness on stage will get you through. (At least that’s the consensus of the women from the Ladies Room line.) You’ll be wowed by the versatility of the performers, who can match anything thrown at them in say, COMPANY. Sondheim’s “Not Getting Married Today” is even, dare I say, funnier in parody because it’s a joke sitting on top of a joke.

Director/choreographer Rachel Bertone and music director Rodriguez have a field day finding bits to enhance the comedy. At one point the performers add instruments to the mix while they’re making magic. Bertone’s choreography looks an awful lot like the real thing and happily, she has dancers who can pull off OKLAHOMA’s dream ballet and Bob Fosse’s bumps and grinds for the mutant CHICAGO/CABARET show. And the dancers deliver vocally, too, in all the diverse song stylings that Rockwell cooks up.

The creators get lots of laughs at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s expense, pointing out his penchant for “borrowing” tunes from Puccini, Meyerbeer, Berlioz et al, not to mention his rococo plots (or non-plots in CATS). You may have already thought that Jerry Herman’s leading ladies seem awfully similar. Now you can plainly see that’s because they are! Mame is Dolly is even Aubin in the Moonbox triumph. The faux Fosse is my favorite, with its hysterical riff on the “Jailhouse Tango.”

What a cast to pull this off! Katie Clark, whose crazy, baby voice rips the artifice right out of SWEENEY TODD…to Meredith Stypinski, whose Witch/Abbess brings Sondheim’s fairy tale message to its knees with “We’re All Gonna Die.” Phil Tayler is such a strong leading man that he doesn’t often get the chance to be funny (coming right out of SWEENEY TODD @ Lyric Stage) and is he ever! Kudos, too, to the high kicking chorus and to Peter Mill who wows the audience with his remarkable dexterity, from hero to jester, from zero to sixty in five seconds like the new Mustang.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey A CASE OF TELLTALE SNIFFLES



With THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE (playing through Dec. 20th), Lyric Stage joins in on the celebration of thirty years of Charles Busch’s quirky, off the wall comedies. Busch specializes in wacky characters that are often cross dressed or (as in THE THIRD STORY) rendered embryonic. His fans adore VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM and his wild and wooly PSYCHO BEACH PARTY.

He’s a lot more main stream with the ALLERGIST’S WIFE, although the peripheral material around the characters is aimed firmly below the belt. (The jokes about intestinal distress are non-stop.) Busch offers some amusing constructs, like dueling depressives (mother and daughter) on identical couches across from each other, arguing about who is the biggest loser…or Busch’s inspired idea of an “accidental suicide” in a Disney Store.

Director Larry Coen has a cast of experienced actors but alas, there’s no comic escalation to be had when everyone starts at Def Con 5. If all the characters are shouting at fever pitch from the start, there’s really no place to go. (Busch fatigue set in to my audience even before intermission.) Also compromising matters is Busch’s own inability to commit: The characters are in place for hilarity to ensue when Busch hedges his bets about who is conning whom and who imagined what.

Poor Margerie (Marina Re) wants meaning in her life. Her husband, the allergist, is still in demand even though he’s retired, saving lives by spraying cortisone up the deviated septa of stricken New Yorkers. Joel Colodner, as the expert on wheezes and sneezes, swells with pride at the very mention of the rescues. Ellen Colton, too, is a pro at milking a laugh but Busch doesn’t give her a lot to work with: She has to find the comic gold in bouts of diarrhea which I don’t think is metallurgically possible. But her double takes are divine.

Caroline Lawton is a whirlwind as Marjorie’s childhood friend (I did the math and I don’t think that is numerically possible) but Lawton keeps them all afloat with her excess of buoyant energy. Zaven Ovian is delightful as the extremely helpful doorman but come to think of it, he doesn’t put in much time in the lobby. The secret to a Busch comedy is not to think concretely. Usually there are so many balls in the air, that you don’t have time to thinkbut Busch has slowed the action down in the ALLERGIST’S WIFE and there’s the rub. You begin to ponder all the working (or non-working) parts. As they say in the ear, nose and throat business, that’s something to sneeze at.

Monday, November 24, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey VISHNU TO THE RESCUE



Company One’s THE DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY (@ BCA through Nov. 23rd) is comprised of three separate plays in which playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil riffs on the traditional Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Although the three plays are united by theme, each stands on its own.

 In the cheeky CHRONICLES OF KALKI the playwright demonstrates that Hindu deities, not those famous diamonds, are a girl’s best friend. Kapil transmutes Vishnu, the protector, into feminine form to aid a teenager having a hard time navigating high school. Her classmates ridicule her for being the victim of a cruel sexual prank. Soon thereafter a new student arrives. The new girl is Kalki who imparts feminist wisdom and a little vengeance where it’s needed. (You wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.)

Director M Bevin O’Gara captures the sardonic humor born of teenage angst and she niftily highlights the bravado which swirls around Kalki. Ally Dawson is larger than life as the protector/goddess, so powerful she can barely contain her strength. Stephanie Recio and Pearl Shin are delightful as the mouthy teenagers in trouble with the law. Brandon Green gives a charming performance as the surprisingly kind policeman interviewing the two girls. Since Kalki travels via water, rain runs down the window pane set in lovely, rhythmic, mesmerizing rivulets.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey THE REAL INSPECTOR STOPPARD



You can count on Bad Habit Productions for a sterling production just about every time out. And, it seems, every time out with a Stoppard play is sheer magic. (They created a crystal clear ARCADIA season before last, not an easy accomplishment.) Their current production of THE REAL THING is the real McCoy. Director A. Nora Long even found ways to tweak the scene changes for extra laughs. Hurry, though, it ends Nov. 23rd)

Stoppard cuts pretty close to the bone with THE REAL THING. The central character is a British playwright just like him with ex-wives and children to supportand Stoppard, like the fictional writer, occasionally leaves the rarified air of the theater to write for the movies, not really a hardship one might argue, since he won an Oscar and a permanent place in Academy lore for his droll acceptance speech. (Roberto Benini had just shocked the well heeled attendees by crawling on the backs of their chairs to get to the stage but Stoppard one-upped him by announcing in a slow monotone that “Inside, I’m Roberto Benini.”)

Instead of his usual propensity for brainy philosophical and architectural allusions (to Wittgenstein or Lancelot “Capability” Brown), Stoppard addresses the vagaries of being in love in THE REAL THING. The allusions are still there but this time, the references come from comic or tragic romantic sources like Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell or Noel Coward’s Amanda… and I mustn’t forget that telltale Shakespearean handkerchief he works in to the mix.

Stoppard is fascinated by what seems real and what is real (the first scene being a trick) but of course, none of it is because this is only a playbut we happily suspend our disbelief for the delicious ride and the flashy attempt to inspect true love in the midst of messy affairs and broken hearts.

Stoppard’s stand-in, Henry, in the Bad Habit production is portrayed by Bob Mussett, who gives a knockout performance right from the get-go but especially at the play’s emotional end (something the British actors I’ve seen in the role haven’t been able to pull off). Mussett is glib, he’s charming, he’s infuriating and in Nora A. Long’s exceptional production, he’s vulnerable.

R. Nelson Lacey, too, is delightful as Henry’s awfully sweet friend (even after Henry purloins his wife). Lacey gets to play tough in the play within the play as the suspicious writer in the first scene. (It’s not this confusing when you see it live.) And he gets to crumble and break our hearts, just as the Righteous Brothers sing about “something beautiful dying.” Likewise, William Bowry gets to play two characters in hot pursuit and does so seamlessly.

The women in the play are, for the most part, glorified objects of affection, exactly what the writer’s actress-wife complains about in the second scene. That’s not to say their roles aren’t meaty. Gillian Mackay-Smith as the above mentioned actress/wife makes a meal out of righteous indignation. Shanae Burch gets to hold her own with her smug father on the subject(s) of sex and Courtland Jones navigates all the men with a sleek, sensual facility. Again, wonderful ensemble work from Bad Habit.

Monday, November 17, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey UNBECOMING BEHAVIOR Next Door



One of the characters in Yasmina Reza’s GOD OF CARNAGE (at Next Door Theatre through Nov. 22nd) postulates that the aforementioned god “has ruled uninterruptedly since the dawn of time.” There isn’t any better evidence of that than Reza’s outrageous comedy of bad manners (in a compelling English translation by Christopher Hampton).

After a schoolyard brawl, the parents of the two boys involved in the fracas meet for a civilized discussion about what to do. It doesn’t end up being either civilized or a discussion. To utilize the playwright’s descriptive, the get together is “destabilized” faster than you can say Oskar Kokoschka (the condescending hostess’ favorite painter).

Director Joe Antoun’s glossy production (on Brian Milauskas’ tony living room set) perfectly captures Reza’s sardonic wit and sly trajectory from uncomfortable small talk and feigned courtesy to flaming hostility and full out pandemonium. The adults behaving badly are played by a formidable quartet: Brett Milanowski’s impatient lawyer wants out of the room in the worst way, even before the gloves come off. Milanowski’s body language speaks volumes, right down to a left foot poised mid sole to vacate his chair.

Roz Beauchemin gets the plum role of his financial analyst wife, a woman not afraid to challenge her host’s shortcomings, where sentient beings as well as humans are concerned. Allen E. Phelps is the ‘nihilist” who can’t tolerate either rodents or liberals. Lisa Tucker as his wife is the self appointed expert on all things, especially African culture, who seems even more tightly wound than the other three (but not by much). It’s she who announces, “I have no sense of humor and no intention of acquiring one.”

Thankfully Reza does and she sprinkles it with abandon throughout the unadulterated nastiness. You leave the theater shaking your head and thanking the heavens that you don’t know these people.