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.

Monday, April 18, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Then again, Maybe it’s the Gin…



In case you didn’t know, this week has been proclaimed “Jazz Week” and Moonbox Productions has a fierce, down and dirty jazz musical to kick it off. THE WILD PARTY carouses at the BCA through May 1st. Inspired by Joseph Moncure March’s sardonic 1926 poem, George C. Wolfe and Michael John Lachiusa have crafted a musical which doesn’t so much set the earth on fire, as scorch it.

Guests at Queenie’s “wild party” all have “one thing in common,” as Bob Seeger would say. “They’ve got the fire down below.” Director/choreographer Rachel Bertone’s production triumphs, despite the dark, debauched story. Queenie (Katie Anne Clark), the chorus tells us, is “sexually ambitious,” a penchant not overlooked by her jealous husband (Todd Yard), an unhappy minstrel (picture Al Jolson) on the vaudeville circuit.

Everyone is on the make: If not for sex, for glory. From Meredith Gosselin’s wonderfully intense performance (“I need somebody with spunk!”) in hot pursuit of Janelle Yull’s hilariously drugged out, barely functioning zombie to Ricardo D. Holguin’s charismatic cocaine fueled party animal to the two downtown producers (the highly amusing duo of Ray O’Hare and Michael Herschberg) who can’t wait to change their names and take on Broadway And the sensational Shana Dirik who dogs their footsteps in hopes of a comeback (What she can do to five strikes of the kettle drum!) Every character packs a punch (especially Steven Martin’s ex-boxer).

Terrell Foster-James and Davron S. Monroe have a showstopper with “Uptown” which gets even better when Yard joins in. “Blame it on the Gin” is another. So is the “Black Bottom” dance number but my favorite is Clark and Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia’s gorgeous, heartbreaking “People Like Us.” Music director Dan Rodriguez and Bertone get the cynical rhythms just right. The story may be cold but the performances are hot.

Monday, April 4, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Feed Your Head



Matthew Woods and the Imaginary Beasts are at it again, turning their wild imaginations loose, this time with ALICE IN WONDERLAND (playing until April 23rd). Woods works by finding a departure point, then runs round, over and through it until a cohesive whole lands at the BCA fully, fantastically, formed. This means weeks and weeks with the company, experimenting until the material has worked its way into their DNA… which is why the Beasts are unequaled in ensemble performance.

For this production, Woods uses the historical 1970 Andre Gregory version of ALICE as a baseline, concentrating as Gregory did, on the raw physicality of the Carroll stories, eschewing the cloying, popular Disney version. Woods and company stress Alice’s trepidation as she faces the unknown and the downright horrifying. You can’t hear the Red Queen’s irrational edict these days and not cringe. “Off with his head” used to be funny before ISIS. It’s not anymore.

The Imaginary Beasts’ ALICE is as inventive and witty as all their creations are but it’s not a walk in the park. There’s a dark, dangerous edge that underscores the familiar story. You’ll recognize the adventures but you’ll have pause. Cameron Cronin’s precarious Humpty Dumpty is nastier than you recall. (Dumpty even quotes Trump’s “They love me.” And you know he doesn’t care that it’s a lie.) William Schuller’s Mad Hatter, poor fellow, has ingested so much mercury that he’s tied into a straightjacket. (When he’s the rabbit, the ties of Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s ingenious costume become his long, floppy ears.)

Woods says he wants to make the story “relevant to today.” Well, you can’t get any more relevant these days than threat of violence. “Beware the Jabberwock… the jaws that bite, the claws that catch” wasn’t taken literally in less perilous times but it is now. Even Kiki Samko’s Cheshire Cat has a demonic side. And drowning in a sea of tears? Not so whimsical. Perhaps the story always has been dark and we just didn’t notice. (Carroll’s fascination with little girls is pretty creepy. Years ago parents didn’t delve into his private life. Now they make films about it.)

Thank heaven for the lighter moments in the Beasts’ production: Amy Meyer’s cheery persistence in the face of adversity; Michael Chodes’ upended, soporific dormouse; Cronin’s cheeky, condescending Frog Footman; Samko’s adorably twitchy lady mouse; Talbot-Minkin’s endlessly pleasing costumes (which appear sooty and distressed for this brooding version). You’ll be amazed at the transformation of ordinary objects, like hoops for the rabbit hole and trash bags transformed into billowy clouds by Christopher Bocchairo’s lighting.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Let Slip the Dogs of Vaudeville

It has happened, as we feared. Something (a Trump presidency perhaps?) has brought about the apocalypse. Liz Duffy Adams’ fiercely intelligent DOG ACT (@ Theatre on Fire through April 16th) about the aftermath is named for a vaudeville act because in the (not so) distant future the cream has risen to the top. The arts have triumphed at last. Actors are the treasured survivors. Scavengers roam the scarred countryside, taking and killing prisoners but they’re not allowed to touch theater folk.

Diego Arciniegas’ exquisite production for TOF should be on everyone’s must see list. Adams’ opulent script crackles with energy in the hands of six extraordinary performers. If you saw the Lyric Stage’s production of Adams’ OR, a few years back, you’re familiar with her elegant prose and her resonant references. DOG ACT is overflowing with wild allusions, hilarious neo-Shakespearian repartee and gorgeous harmonies when the actors break into song, as actors through the ages are wont to do.

Adams’ cautionary tale is set in the Northeast of the former U.S.A. Two “vauders,” a charismatic singer/actress (Liz Adams) and a remarkable dog (Stewart Evan Smith) “who doesn’t write but has an impressive command of the language” pull their theatrical cart to the side of what used to be a road to rest. They’re on their way to perform for “the King of China,” not realizing of course where China is or that it probably isn’t a place where “all the people are wise.” They’ve heard tell of a “tall tower of a woman you can climb and look out of her eyes.” It would seem that both history and geography have been obliterated along with a vast portion of the population.

They’re soon joined by two “roadsters” who claim tribal kinship as actors: Vera Similitude (Kaylyn Bancroft) who swears she always “tells the truth” but will “obfuscate style” and her sidekick (Marge Dunn), the “short fused storyteller.” When asked what destruction Vera and Jo-Jo saw up north, they reply that they only reached as far as the “great Canadian barrier wall.” Now I know that Adams wrote her play quite a number of years ago, way before the current political free-for-all, but a wall erected by Canadians to keep us out? It’s positively prescient. And so is naming one of the marauders ‘Coke,’ as in Koch Brothers! (Not Adams’ intent, of course; She’s referring to the relics of our age, unearthed by the clueless scavengers.)

Instead of being bombed “back to the stone age,” the apocalypse has left these survivors in the quasi-Middle Ages. Instead of a medieval Morality Play, the troupe performs a Mortality play to explain as best they can how they came to this sorry state of affairs. Everyone loves a play, including the savage “lost boy” scavengers (Avery Bargar and Tim Hoover), who might have been rude mechanicals if this were a few centuries later. They’re certainly rude and delightfully vulgar.

Adams plays fast and loose with time so that Bargar can sport a WWI leather aviator’s cap and Jo-Jo can carry an Etch-a-Sketch by her side. Erica Desautels’ inventive costumes add yet another layer of discovery to the mix. Eric Hamel’s inspired sound design, too, underscores the catastrophic environmental damage done to the planet. Just before the rapid unnatural climate changes in Adams’ brave new world, the earth belches, sounding like it is being sucked into the vortex. There are so many clever twists and turns, so much rapid wordplay, it’s almost impossible to take in at one sitting. I can’t wait to go back and absorb what I missed the first time.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Theater on the Avenue for a Song!



While small theaters all over town are scrambling to find new spaces as old venues close, Avenue Stage has established a cozy home at the Dot 2 Dot Café in Dorchester. There are at least a dozen reasons to think outside the box and search it out. This year is Arthur Miller’s centenary and there isn’t anywhere else you can see his bittersweet 1987 play, I CAN’T REMEMBER ANYTHING (playing through April 9th.)

Those of us who remember the halcyon days of Irish theater in Boston will be delighted to see Jennifer Jones back on stage, starring opposite Geoffrey Pingree as two aging friends who lament the loss of their former lives. As they combat their feelings of uselessness, they find fault in each other: He grumbles that she drinks all his liquor. She accuses him of not facing the reality of their hopelessness. He blames her for his hypertension.

Their amusing bickering bubbles below the surface as the two friends try to recall fading memories of their glory days… try to find reasons to go on, as Miller quips “adding triviality to the boredom of existence.” Director Michael O’Halloran and company compose a moving portrait of the stresses in a relationship, working beneath the dialogue to show us the affection, even as the characters threaten never to see each other again.

The highlight of the play is a lovely, sensual dance, a magical moment where Jones brings romance to life. She becomes the young dazzler again, undulating to the rhythms of the sitar, the center of attention, the object of desire. With that dance, Jones creates all that has been lost to them. It’s heartbreaking and triumphant at the same time. And you can imagine what Miller must have felt at the end of his life, when his best plays (best years?) were behind him, as so many critics took pains to point out.

Have I mentioned that this gem of a play comes with dinner…for the price of a fringe theater ticket! A two course gourmet meal invented by master chef Karen Henry-Garrett! If I were a food critic, I’d give the Dot 2 Dot Café and Henry-Garrett my top pick. There are four entrees to choose from and three desserts. The rich, luxurious vegetarian pasta puttanesca was a hearty, savory choice and her tarte tatin was an opulent surprise, contrasting caramel apples with a crunchy crust of puff pastry. Even presentation was a treat at Dot 2 Dot.

This isn’t your grandfather’s dinner theater experience. It’s an event. Don’t miss out on this embarrassment of riches.

Monday, March 28, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey ORANGE IS THE NEW CRITIC



SpeakEasy Stage’s provocative BOOTYCANDY (playing through April 9th) has enough solid star turns in it to almost make you forget Robert O’Hara’s bizarre, disjoined script. At one point, women in orange prison jumpsuits put a stop to the show, complaining that what’s going on isn’t “in character” for the protagonist. (And they claim to be “British,” for some unexplained reason, to boot!) Their timing was perfect: That’s exactly what I was thinking about a character that breaks really bad. His violent behavior is just not believable. And convincing a friend to go along? Not believable, either and the playwright can’t get away with it simply by commenting on it.

Clever skits start out hilariously (like Maurice Parent’s adorable, inquisitive six year old or Johnny Lee Davenport’s righteous Reverend Benson), then wear out their welcome when they run too long. It’s as if O’Hara can’t find an ending for the vignette(s) but when he gets serious (John Kuntz convincing a mugger to leave him alone), his writing soars. Lucky for O’Hara, director Summer L. Williams has a dream cast to inhabit all the loosely connected roles.

I’m sorry to say I also had problems identifying recurring characters because of their shift in age or situation but what was always clear was the caliber of performance. From Tiffany Nichole Greene’s exasperated young mother trying her best not to address a six year old’s questions about sexto Jackie Davis’ terrifying alpha mom at the dinner tableto the aforementioned powerful men in the play, the cast is the reason to see this wobbly, pretty raw script. Note: There is nudity and adult content, as they say at the movies.

Friday, March 18, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Half Baked but Wholly Filling



If you remember THE MRS. POTATOHEAD show from their salad days, you’ll be rejoicing that Margaret Ann Brady and Dorothy Dwyer (and friends) are back with a “New Old” set of comedy sketches BUT it only runs through this weekend (March 19th). The ladies are up to their old tricks, this time at Charlestown Working Theater, with their in your face stand-up and sit-down brand of shenanigans. They’re joined for the musical bits by Lucy Holstedt and she’s even game for a few of the riotous comedy sketches.

 If you’re familiar with the dare I say feminist calypso number, it’s in there, with three times the bite. Dwyer predicts “you will be singing it later” and she’s not kidding, she who lived the seamy side of Irish step dancing. Yes, tough kids like Dwyer made mincemeat of their competition back in the day. (And she still performs, just for us, in every sense of the phrase.)

Brady shows off her sharp character work, first as a hardscrabble survivor in Afghanistan and then as a wild, sobered up, garrulous alcoholic, and more. (She turns the Max Burbank piece into a tour de force.) To paraphrase one of their pithy retorts, what these women can do with a few bricks and cardboard a left arm is truly remarkable. If you like your humor dark and a wee bit on the raw side, this potato mash-up will more than satisfy.