Friday, April 24, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Wave Your Freak Flag @ Wheelock Family Theatre



Director Shelley Bolman puts the Wheelock touch on SHREK THE MUSICAL (frolicking through May 24th). The Broadway musical by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori is based on the first animated feature to win an Oscar (which is itself based on William Steig’s picture book).

You may recall that Michael Meyers and Eddie Murphy voiced Shrek the ogre and his donkey side kick in the DreamWorks film. Wheelock has Christopher Chew and Maurice Emmanuel Parent to make their SHREK sheer joy. You can’t help but fall in love with these two hapless creatures.

If you’re a longtime Wheelock fan, you’ll recognize characters from their shows, like Peter Pan and Pippi Longstocking, popping up when the nasty little Prince (Mark Linehan on his knees with dancing legs attached!) exiles all the fairy tale “freaks” to Shrek’s back yard. Needless to say, Shrek is not happy about the relocation.

Adults and children alike will delight in the irreverent humor, with the grownup references sailing over the kiddies’ heads. Parents will chuckle to learn that in ogre families, the kids leave home at seven! Lindsay-Abaire had great fun peppering the musical with cheeky spoofs of other movies and musicals: GYPSY, THE MUSIC MAN, 42nd STREET, DREAMGIRLS, LES MIZ, BABE all take a hit but it’s an affectionate jab which doesn’t spoil the innocence of the story.

The ogre who’d rather be alone discovers that he can allow others into his life. There’s a big message about tolerance in the musical but Shrek’s journey is what makes it a treat. Shrek and the Princess he’s been looking for (Shonna Cirone) have a delicious duet (a la Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better”) called “I Think I Got You Beat.” Simply hilarious! The songs are more than clever, with “Keep Your Freak Flag Waving” a lovely, foot stomping anthem for standing proud and celebrating being different.

Charles Baldwin’s quirky costumes reflect all the characters’ personalities, with the Donkey’s getup a highlight. How he managed to costume this cast of thousands is beyond me. There’s a marvelous huge dragon (gorgeously sung by Brittany Rolfs), even a tiny Puss in Boots passes by. Michael Stern’s music direction is one of the chief reasons that SHREK sounds as good as it looks. I laughed even more than the children in the audience. Then just when you think the show has ended, they lift it even higher with everyone singing the 1960s Monkeys’ hit, “I’m a Believer.”

Saturday, April 18, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Cleverly Assembled AKIMBO



David Lindsay Abaire’s wacky, totally charming comedy about life and death, first love and coping with monumental disappointment is getting a nearly perfect production from the folks at MOONBOX. KIMBERLY AKIMBO (playing through April 26th) has to embrace a slightly stilted comic style in order to pull off the absurdity without losing our heartfelt sympathy for this dysfunctional familyand without losing sight of the genuine gravity in the play.

And can this family cope! Mother carries on even though she’s pregnant and accident prone: When we first see her, she sports two wrist casts up to her elbows from carpal tunnel surgery and she can’t even maneuver a spoon. Her 15 year old daughter has a rare form of progeria which ages her four and a half times faster than the rest of us. She has the organs of a sixty-four year old and her prognosis is dire but she is determined to do everything a teenager would.

Her father is depressed, poor fellow, and he drinks. And there’s an aunt who’s just gotten out of prison and turns up on their doorstep needing money, a place to stay, and accessories to pull off her next felony. Abaire writes such funny material that you forget about the peril underneath the humor. Director Allison Olivia Choate gets exceptional performances all around from her remarkable actors and she manages to pull off a completely disarming production, so sweet that you don’t even mind the blue language. In fact you’re amused by it.

MOONBOX is fortunate to have veteran actress Sheridan Thomas in the role of the plucky teenage daughter. Thomas makes the girl coquettish, naïve and full of wonder, despite knowing that time is running out. Lucas Cardona is a delight as her awkward teenaged pal who’s hoping to be more than friends. Their innocent romance gives us all hope.

Micah Greene is a hoot as the self-absorbed pregnant mother and Andrew Winson makes father immensely endearing. Shana Dirik is a firecracker as the recidivist aunt, popping in and out of scenes with endless energy and wild schemes. Dirik’s performance is a tour de force, exploding with excitement in brilliant contrast to her niece’s cautionary, slow paced existence. Choate and company get lovely resonance from the projection at play’s end, mirroring her childhood lamp.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey SLAM BAM THANK YOU, BEASTS



If you missed their award winning KNOCK! The Daniil Kharms Project, you missed IMAGINARY BEASTS’ visually stunning foray into the world of the Russian “suprematists.” The revolutionary art movement originated by the painter Malevich championed a visceral form of art far outside realism. (When you see Malevich’s paintings, you think at first that they’re Picasso or Braque’s cubist work: Same inspiration, different countries!) Now imagine theater which has been “deconstructed” by Kharms and his fellow writers, down to its basic elements, without logic or plot. Stalin did not approve. Kharms did not survive. But his work did.

Last season’s KNOCK! introduced Kharms himself (as the BEASTS imagine him) as a character in his own writings, a surprisingly rich concept because the audience gets to experience his loss, as the writer pulls a sled behind him in a blinding snowstorm. We watched in horror as pages from the manuscript blew off the sled, lost forever, as he trudged along unawares.

The BEASTS continue their examination of Kharms’ work with an adaptation of his Elizaveta Bam, translated by Zova Derman. BETTY BAM! plays through May 2nd with five actresses portraying Betty and three directors contributing scenes in different styles. We’re introduced to a terrified Betty, moving along a wall as far from her front door as she can retreat because the police are trying to gain access. The scene plays like a silent film, her arms outstretched as she backs away from a window, her mouth fixed in exaggerated horror.

In the course of the playor rather, the experiment (Don’t expect a play)we see Betty’s predicament over and over, slightly altered each timeor rather interruptedby canned laughter or rhythmic clapping or a vaudeville bitand multiplied with more BETTYs. The BEASTS are pushing us out of our comfort zoneconfusing us, diverting our attention with an intruder (which worked on my theater companions like gangbusters!)then delighting us with oversized mice and shadow puppets and lots of eggs. There are chanting BETTYs (reminiscent of Shakespeare’s witches) and a walking coat: images galore that we’re struggling to put together. And that’s the point of deconstructing. You can’t reassemble it.

The BEASTS’ ensemble players work together seamlessly. You can say the same of the team. Lighting (Christopher Bocchiaro), costumes (Cotton Talbot-Minkin), set (Matthew Woods and Candido Soares), sound (Chris Larson) are all of a piece, intermingling with ideas from directors’ Woods, Joey C. Peletier and Michael Underhill.

Then BEAST performers/collaborators set to work: Sarah Gazdowicz, Molly Kimmerling, Amy Meyer, Beth Pearson and Kiki Samko as the same/different BETTY incarnations, along with Cameron Cronin and William Schuller as the commie/not quite Keystone cops, all contribute to the whole. To single out one part of the whole over another is impossible. I know. I know. Kharms himself says: “Impossible is a stupid, empty word.” OK. I’ll try again. I can’t/I won’t single out anyone. IMAGINARY BEASTS are the finest ensemble in town.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey LIES MY FATHER TOLD ME




Broadway composer Andrew Lippa was the special guest at a NOMTI (The New Opera and Musical Theater Initiative) symposium a few years back and I especially recall his kind and useful critiques of the music presented by local composers and lyricists. He’s returned to Boston this spring, to SpeakEasy Stage, with John August to rework their 2013 version of BIG FISH with a much smaller cast than the Broadway production. They’ve paired it down and taken advantage of the more intimate Wimberly space at the BCA. BIG FISH is a difficult father and angry child “reunion” story which, as Paul Simon would say, is “only a motion away.” BIG FISH swims at SpeakEasy through April 11th.

When I think of tall tales, several of Mark Twain’s come to mind. You never think that his yarns are anything but good-natured. Not so with the father in BIG FISH. He seems to thrive on a callous story. We meet him on the day of his son’s wedding, where he betrays a confidence, a solemn secret his son does not want made public. It looks like he cares nothing for his son’s feelings or his son’s well being for that matter. In fact, he wasn’t around much while his son was growing up. What time they did spend together was taken up by accounts of his own heroism, fighting dragons or swimming with mermaids. As he describes them, “part epic tale, part fire sale.”

I haven’t read the Daniel Wallace novel or seen the Tim Burton film (for which August wrote the screenplay) which I’m told is disarmingso I only have the musical to draw from. To me, the father seemed deliberately mean-spirited. And it doesn’t help that the actor (Steven Goldstein) playing father (although his singing is lovely) looks like Brian Cranston’s Walter White (from Breaking Bad).

What’s best about BIG FISH is the stunning Boston cast under the direction of Paul Daigneaultand the songs which hold the real emotions of the characters. Music director Matthew Stern finds beautiful phrasing in the music, especially for the handsome duet (Time Stops) for Goldstein and Aimee Doherty as mother. Doherty is top of her game. It’s her voice which holds all the colors of her character, not her dialogue (which paints her saintly white as good mother/patient wife).

Lucky for August and Lippa, the fantasy scenes are delightful. So much is going on that you have endless characters to watch. Aubin Wise as the witch is spellbinding as is Lee David Skunes as Karl the Giant. Katie Clark is upbeat and bubbly as the son’s new wife and Sam Simahk artfully conveys the heartache of his father’s absence. But it’s Will McGarrahan who impresses, as the sleazy carnival barker who promises he will get father “closer” to the woman he loves…and as the solid, utterly dependable country doctor…and for some reason (lost on me) he’s also a werewolf. You know, the fun loving kind, like Warren Zevon’s.
           
As for the reconciliation between father and son before it’s too late, I didn’t get itbut I heard sobbing all over the house. The rest of the audience certainly did.



Monday, March 30, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey EXTRA EXTRA HEAR ALL ABOUT IT



The three British zanies (Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor), who brought THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (Abridged) to the colonies, have lucked into a nifty cottage industry, abridging stuff. They’ve even had the audacity to abridge our whole, long two hundred year history!

THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA (Abridged) is tearing up the joint at ARTS AFTER HOURS through April 4th. It’s an irreverent send up of our love affair with “manifest destiny,” invading the Middle East and conspiracy theories…and I should point out, it’s being directed by James Tallach, who is a Scot! Talk about conspiracies.

What’s more, I think there’s a definite link to another show… and I don’t mind telling you it’s Hub Theatre’s LOOT (also written by a Brit). In point of fact, one of the AFTER HOURS performers is married to someone in the Hub production. The same mustache appears in both plays and both employ chocolate money to bribe the audience. Coincidence? I think not.

Tallach’s wild and wooly production has three game actors to lead us in stitches (well, mostly in groans) through the Revolutionary “shot heard round the world” War (which they link cleverly to the lone gunman theory), through the Civil War, the French and Indian War, the War of 1812, two World Wars, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War (which wasn’t a declared war) to the Gulf fiascos…and beyond. I can hardly keep up with our military actions. (If it’s Tuesday, we must be invading another -Stan.) It’s beyond me how the play’s authors can keep up.

Cameron Gosselin, Dan Prior and Casey Tucker maneuver with aplomb in and out of costumes, accents, genders even, in service of the deliriously lame humor. And they sing terrific triple harmony à la The Andrews Sisters in The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy! It’s a romp. Well, some of it is a crawl but mostly it’s just plain silly…Oh, and you’ll learn something about history, to boot!

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Enormous Undertaking



Joe Orton’s LOOT (playing at Hub Theatre Company’s First and Second Church digs through April 12th) was wildly subversive in its dayOrton based the corrupt British policeman on a real caseand it was wildly funny, to boot. I was afraid it might have lost some of its teeth but it actually delivers a bite Orton couldn’t have anticipated fifty years ago.

John Geoffrion, Hub’s artistic director, it turns out, is a consummate comedian. He plays the brutal copper who gains illegal entry into a house, claiming to be from the Water Board. No warrant needed, you see, if there’s a leak! Orton couldn’t have imagined the twenty-first century definition of “water board” back in the day. What makes the farce even creepier is that Geoffrion makes him hilarious, looking, for all the world, like a mild mannered James Joyce, channeling Monty Python and his own performance in Blackadder.

While we’re laughing at the absurdities on stage involving a funeral, the law and a whole lot of purloined cash which needs to be hidden, Orton makes his nifty, sardonic point: If we think this is so bloody funny (AND WE DO) then we’re complicit. Everyone is corrupt, even us…especially us (the Brits and the U.S.), using torture to gain information in the name of “Homeland Security.”

Timing is everything in farce and director Daniel Bourque is fortunate to have Geoffrion, whose every move is a treat, Kevin Paquette as a shady undertaker, more concerned with the sexy nurse than the deceased and Meredith Stypinski as that naughty nurse who’s eyeing the dearly departed’s bereaved husband. They play off each other like fine Swiss clockwork.

Poor grieving man, that widower, (Thomas Grenon nailing vague innocence), he doesn’t stand a chance once Stypinski’s bombshell “angel of mercy” sets her sights on him. C.J. David makes the son an ineffectual narcissist. He’s the cog that makes the wheel turn in the beginning and Sean Cooper is the Bobby who halts the momentum at play’s end. If only there were a coda where Geoffrion could come back and intimidate us.

Friday, March 27, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Another Night in Paradise



There are, I think, only a handful of restaurant plays which serve up memorable characters and genuinely funny dialogue. Add Maureen Cornell and John Shea’s hilarious slice of life comedy (running through April 4th) to the list. The LIFERS of the title are the veteran cooks, waiters and waitresses who toil under the radar for minimum wage and the promise of big tips.

First, let me testify, having waited tables throughout college, that every word in LIFERS is gospel. In point of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the actors in the show had done hard time at a diner somewhere. Customs, culture and food may change, but not the folks in the trenches.

Cornell and Shea pepper the play with a rookie, a crusty cook, plenty of jaded staff, a snotty hostess and just the right amount of turmoil to keep them all busy. The only thing missing is a waiter who’s an out of work actor. What is truly remarkable about director Brett Marks’ production is the intricate timing: The interwoven exits and entrances, not to mention the cross currents of conversation are executed flawlessly. And it looks effortless.

The performers are first rate. Marks gets lovely, quirky performances: from Maureen Adduci as the well seasoned waitress with a sharp tongue, from Peter Brown as the feisty, unflappable cook, from Mikey DiLoreto as the stand up friend to Lisette Marie Morris’ overwhelmed single mother, from David D’Andrea as the poor greenhorn and from Audrey Lynn Sylvia as the universal irritant (who mellows a bit toward the end).

Marc Ewart’s set should be Zagat rated, it looks so authentic. Here’s my tip. Without reservation. See it before the kitchen closes.