Sunday, June 18, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey JOYOUS JOSEPH



Director Susan Chebookjian’s charming JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT for Reagle Music Theatre (through June 18th) allows the Sunday school musical to be as simple and sweet as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice intended it to beand she gets lovely resonance from the show’s (oft repeated) big message number, Any Dream Will Do: “The world is still waiting, hesitating…” (How’s that for topical!)

Any dream may do but just any old Joseph won’t. Donnie Osmond owned the role for decades. Luckily Reagle has the remarkable Peter Mill in the lead. He’s an innocent when the story needs him to be and he transforms himself into a majestic prophet when his gift takes over the plot. Mill’s Joseph is so beatific, he seems lit from within.

Andrew Giordano supplies the big laughs as Pharoah Presley, flirting shamelessly with the audience, gyrating those infamous hips. A great deal of the humor is embedded in the choreography (also Chebookjian): I think I spied an incongruous Gerry Garcia in the hilarious ‘60s go go number! Her clever tango enlivens “Those Canaan Days” and a charismatic Taavon Gamble makes short work of the calypso caper.

Pulling the whole shebang together and herding the wonderful children’s chorus is the character of the narrator, stylishly portrayed by Ayla Brown. My only quibble with the show is the redux… and I’m definitely in the minority. The children in the audience were whipped into a frenzy when it began to repeat. They were on their feet waving their programs and squealing at fever pitch.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Slick Sailing for Titanic’s Spoof



Playwright Chris Weikel is extremely fortunate to have director Sarah Gazdowicz staging his wacky send-up of classic Dickensian melodrama. PENNY PENYWORTH (cavorting at the Central Sq. Theatre through June 25th) is at its best a mad Monty Pythonesque romp through the English novel (from Dickens to the Brontes)although at times it dips into choppy Benny Hill waters.

The Titanic Theatre Company’s cast is plenty seaworthy when it comes to comedy: the foursome inhabits dozens of characters with ease (or so it seems), from mustache twirling villains to spluttering, stuttering emissaries to rattling, raving recluses. Caroline Keeler is wonderful as the hapless, penniless child who must navigate a world of sleazy opportunists and ruthless predators. (And as is wont to happen when actors double and triple roles, Keeler has been assigned to play the very henchman sent to kidnap her!)

Isaiah Plovnick seems to be made of rubber as he contorts his body so that Mr. Pinch Nose’s upper half arrives before his extremities. He can chew the small amount of scenery on stage so thoroughly that you worry about his digestive system. Ashley Risteen gives Plovnick a run for his money in that department with her spectacular performance as the delirious, possibly dangerous Miss Havasnort but it’s Brooks Reeves’ smashing portrayal of a humble, unintelligible Scotsman that brings down the house.

Kudos to Erica Desautels for her inventive, evocative costume design and to Gazdowicz for her extravagantly dramatic sound design, expertly delivered by stage manager Sophia Girodano.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey How to Handle CAMELOT



What is it that made Lerner and Loewe’s CAMELOT such an enduring success? Certainly it’s Alan Jay Lerner’s brilliantly witty lyrics and, of course, the grandeur of the Arthurian legend… but what if you scaled the musical down to its essentials? The Lyric Stage does just that, using David Lee’s intimate adaptation of CAMELOT (playing through June 25th) which eliminates extraneous characters (including Merlin)!

Director Spiro Veloudos does with CAMELOT what he did with SWEENEY TODD a few seasons back, making it more focused, less grand (as in Guignol) and surprisingly resonant to today’s political and ethical climate. I couldn’t watch Lyric’s SWEENEY without thinking of the countless innocent men in this country, like the barber, wrongly convicted and sent to prison.

As I watched Veloudos’ streamlined, almost naturalistic CAMELOT, I concentrated on Arthur’s vision for equality in a “country of laws” (as opposed to the love story). Its corruption by a few self-serving traitors now stands out in sharp relief. You can’t help but consider our “nation of laws” being subverted and gerrymandered right out from under our feet.

So. What is enhanced in a production that is realistic… and what is lost? Matters of life and death are quite real in Veloudos’ inspired staging: When Lancelot (Jared Troillo) brings the very dead Sir Lionel (Davron S. Munroe) back to life, it’s not with his will, it’s with his whole being, as if he’s summoning up an exchange of life breath at the expense of his own existence. It’s quite a coup. It’s no wonder Arthur (Ed Hoopman) and Guenevere (Maritza Bostic) are both drawn to the man. (Veloudos’ characters are very much down to earth, with all of the mistakes mortals make, even the best of men.)

The broad humor for the most part is left behind. Lancelot’s pompous “C’est Moi” isn’t as overblown and riotous as it often is but Veloudos does allow some of the ruckus back in, with the anarchists in Act II. Not in life, mind you, but in art it’s often the bad guys who are most fascinating. Rory Boyd makes Mordred a charismatic, go for broke villain, with “The Seven Deadly Virtues” a delightful frolic, topped only by the delicious “Fie on Goodness” romp featuring Munroe’s lusty Scotsman. I must admit, it was exhilarating to have some passion back in CAMELOT.

Monday, May 15, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Happily, Curiosity Doesn’t Kill The Cat At CWT



Theatre on Fire and Charlestown Working Theater are hosting three weeks of edgy new works from some companies you will recognize and some you won’t—but once you’ve seen what they can do, you won’t forget them. The productions in THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (May 10-27) offer poetry as theater, piano as drama, “found object” puppetry, personal exploration through song, choral readings and reexaminations of women’s roles in society, from an acolyte of Charles Manson to the genius ex-pat Gertrude Stein.

My favorite (of the three I’ve seen so far, all wonderful, mind you) is a delightful construction by Travis Amiel, based on the life of the ‘70s and ‘80s performance artist (as if one could ever categorize him) Klaus NOMI. If you don’t recognize the name NOMI, please do visit YouTube for Nomi’s exquisite performance of Purcell’s “The Cold Song.” The company (mostly from Emerson) accomplishes the rarest of magical feats: They pay tribute (by re-creation) while they manage to capture Nomi’s enchanting, almost childlike spirit with their own, luminous alchemy.

Director Riley Hillyer and company (including star turns from Aaron Drill and James La Bella) offer gorgeous divertissements enhanced by glitter, strobes, extravagant posturing choreography (one of Nomi’s specialties), a paper bag David Bowie (If Marlon Brando can be a suitcase, why not?) and joyous audience participation. Drill has a formidable falsetto (perfect for Delibes) and hilarious low notes! At the same time, Drill inhabits Nomi’s credo “to be as natural as I can while posing wildly.” The entire cast’s enchanting imagery and gestural language speaks directly, without words, to the solar plexus: When they ‘oh so’ artistically and gracefully paint Nomi’s lithe body with circular brown spots (to indicate Kaposi’s sarcoma), it took my breath away. If only they had a longer run so you all could experience NOMI.

Bryn Boice’s I, SNOWFLAKE is part elegant choreo-poem, part verbatim accounts (a la Studs Turkel) of post-election shock and mostly, as Anthem Theatre describes the piece, a “commedia tragic-farce for the World We Live in Now.” The witnesses, all dressed alike in crisp white shirts, black leggings and cradling IPhones, lament the sorrows we all grieve about: global warming, violence, genocide, nuclear annihilation and so much more and more and more.

They’re dogged by a resilient little mime (the sensational Julee Antonellis) who is buffeted about and dispatched numerous times (most chillingly gunned down like Trayvon Martin and his many, many successors). Boice wisely balances the terrible sorrows and fears with humor and cheek. We’re treated to a nifty pussycat allegory (about abortion) and a spunky folk ditty from Sylvia Sword on ukulele (about grabbing those pussies).

Boice offers the best dissection I’ve yet encountered of the insidious, seemingly faultless male catcall, “Smile,” which is punctuated by Caitlin Jones’ stellar rendition of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.”  The ensemble of ten extraordinary women utilizes metaphor, music, fluid movement and righteous indignation to drive home their hopeful (thank goodness) message: Each snowflake is unique and fragile by itself but thousands of snowflakes together can bring a city to a halt.

Doug Wright’s lauded one-man show, I AM MY OWN WIFE, features Gabriel Graetz (known for his remarkable character work with many local theaters) as the German transvestite, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf … as well as all the characters swirling around her. Charlotte survived the Nazis, the communists, and the skinheads that followed them. The piece centers around Wright’s discovery of the real life Malhsdorf and her inconceivable museum (of objects she managed to squirrel away in her basement under the noses of the Nazis). The piece includes his letters asking for interviews and his subsequent visits to Berlin to see her.

Graetz is thoroughly charming as Charlotte, self-consciously tentative and mildly flirtatious with the audience, as she shows us her gramophone and other objets d’art. Graetz’ German is flawless, even seductive as he reminisces about cabaret days or hums snatches of Strauss. Graetz has an immensely touching scene as Mahlsdorf’s friend, Alfred Kirchner, languishing in jail, reading a cheery letter from Charlotte (who may or may not have informed on him). Director Daniel Morris and Graetz allow us to contemplate the latter by showing Charlotte’s calculating side (when she schemes to sell clocks to G.I.s). Just as Charlotte describes her worn and scratched furniture (and herself, of course): “The marks [on the chair] are proof of history.”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey FISH Shticks



Michael O’Halloran’s cheeky comedy, FISH FOOD (playing in Avenue Stage’s DOT 2 DOT space through this weekend only) is a delightful send-up of the hotel business. From management to bellhops, they’re all a little nutty, as one might full well expect after listening to the country’s first Hotelier-President carry on. O’Halloran writes from experience, having been employed at one of Boston’s tony hotels.

The play centers on a kind but naïve young man with a pet goldfish named Doris, hence the play’s title. He applies for a job as a waiter at a modest hotel which has just been acquired by a tycoon whose name recognition will give the establishment a boost! As O’Halloran wrote FISH FOOD well before Trump was elected, you can’t help but admire the playwright’s prescience.

FISH FOOD plays a bit like the adventures of Tom Jones, with Joe (a charming Desmond O’Halloran) learning the ropes mostly without the realization that he might be tied in to some shady knots down the line. Eunice Simmons is hilarious as his randy boss, a woman who keeps promoting him in hopes of reaping the benefits that she thinks ought to come with the territory.

Jennifer Jones is a treat as his larcenous grandmother and mayhem is provided by Molly O’Halloran as his new roommate. (She neglected to tell Joe that a frightening ex may return at any moment to reclaim his bed.) Peril (the funny variety) lurks at every turn and O’Halloran, who also directs, knows how to milk the jokes.

Geoff Pingree is endlessly entertaining as the frenetic sommelier who is highly insulted by having to perform duties unrelated to wine, specifically when banished to colder climes, sporting a huge fur hat to visit the hotel’s freezer. His partner in crime from a previous hotel is the slinky, German cabaret singer, deliciously played by Miss Mary Mac, whose Dietrich-like ennui is delivered in the sensational torch song with the chorus of “I just don’t care…” The characters are delectable and the laughter non-stop.

If you saw FISH FOOD at DOT 2 DOT this weekend, then you most likely sampled some of Chef Karen Henry-Garrett’s glorious food, including a bread and butter pudding to die for! Look for Avenue Stage’s next show and pay a visit to DOT 2 DOT in the meantime for Henry-Garrett’s exquisite desserts!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Bring Me My Arrows of Desire



Last season, Zeitgeist Stage presented an evening of character sketches and stories by Tennessee Williams which he would later shape into his celebrated plays. This spring Zeitgeist returns to Williams with a vehicle called DESIRE (six plays by noted playwrights based on his short stories), running through May 20th. Beth Henley, Elizabeth Egloff and John Guare are among the writers who were invited by Hartford Stage to create adaptations of Williams’ lesser known source material.

David Miller is a consummate director (and stage designer), as evinced by these six pieces… and he is fortunate to have a remarkable cast to animate them. Each actor has the chance to showcase his or her skills by inhabiting an entirely different role, depending on the play. It’s certainly a treat for the viewer to witness these actors’ versatility.

 Beth Henley’s THE RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN A VIOLIN CASE AND A COFFIN is a wonderfully evocative portrait of Southern Gothic matriarchy. Father is gone, (perhaps he fell in love with long distance) leaving mother and grandmother to preside over the children: An impressionable young girl (a sweet and sensitive Margaret McFadden) who spends her days practicing piano and devising highly melodramatic religious theatricals; and her slightly challenged brother (a wildly intense John Vellante) who happily acts them out with her.

When a dashing young man (Sam Terry oozing sophistication) bicycles by with his violin (delightful wheel imagery indicating a bicycle), she is more than happy to turn her attention to him. Then her piano teacher (a marvelously severe Margaret Dransfield) suggests they practice a duet (more clever imagery to indicate an instrument) at which point the brother is consumed with jealousy. Henley’s dialogue fairly drips with shadowy, tragic allusions.

ORIFLAMME by David Grimm conjures up visions (for me) of Geraldine Paige as Williams’ quintessential fragile seductress, a temptress one moment, a puritan the next. Lindsay Beamish gives a powerful performance as the “lady in red” (elegant costumes from Elizabeth Cole Sheehan) whose “romantic notions” are lost on the men she chooses to engage. Damon Singletary is superb as the man in the park (think Stanley Kowalski) who doesn’t stand on ceremony and doesn’t hesitate to take her up on her offer. Like Blanche DuBois, Grimm’s shatterable creature recalls her love of an idealized “beautiful boy.” It set my mind flooding with images from quite a few of Williams’ plays.

John Guare’s YOU LIED TO ME ABOUT CENTRALIA conjures up scene after scene of THE GLASS MENAGERIE. (Guare based his play on the “gentleman caller” who comes to dinner not realizing that mother plans to turn him into a suitor… until she learns he has a fiancé.) Guare imagines the fiancé (a flinty Katie Flanagan) as a grasping, opinionated racist, leaving us to conclude that the gentleman caller (Eric McGowan) would be much better off with the crazy Wingfields.

So far so good. Even though Elizabeth Egloff’s ATTACK OF THE GIANT TENT WORMS left me scratching my head, trying to figure who was more insane, the wife (Dransfield) or her buggy writer-husband (Alexander Rankine). I was still interested in the story either way. But the last two plays of the evening gave me the creeps. More than creeps.

Although it was flawlessly performed, Marcus Gardley’s DESIRE QUENCHED BY TOUCH is an exercise in torture which I wouldn’t watch if I didn’t have to (middle of the row, no escape from the theater). If it had been on television, I would have changed the channel. If it had been in a movie, it would be a snuff film and I wouldn’t be there in the first place.

The masseur (Singletary, vilely macabre) complains that he feels dirty, satisfying the masochistic needs of his client (Terry screaming and writhing). We, my companions and I, were the ones who needed a shower after watching it (against our wills, I should add). Certainly Williams has touched upon the subject (at the very end of the play which I won’t give away) in SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER but his prose is poetic and Gardley’s is not. That’s why this felt like sadomasochistic porn… which brings me to Rebecca Gilman’s THE FIELD OF BLUE CHILDREN.

I had little patience left by the time we got to Gilman’s tale of bizarre sexual fulfillment (nevertheless well acted by Vellante and Dransfield). The vacuous woman never shut up during an interminable sexual encounter, droning on in horrific detail about a roast pig at a barbeque, thereby undercutting any sympathy I might have had for her. It might have been funny… but it wasn’t. (Contrast this artless effort with the exquisite scene in COMING HOME when Jane Fonda’s character experiences sexual ecstasy for the first time.) Gilman, I’m sorry to say, missed the mark.

Monday, May 1, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey What’s Love Got to Do with It?



Tina Turner may call love a “second hand emotion” but neuroscientists are eager to discover the vital brain chemistry at work in “romantic love.” PARADISE (@ Central Square Theatre through May 7th) is Laura Maria Censabella’s lovely two character play, ostensibly about a disillusioned high school teacher and a bright, inquisitive student. But Censabella makes it much, much more.

The teacher is an embittered former academic whose research, years ago, was stolen by a fellow scientist. His life took a downward slide after the incident and now he finds himself teaching high school in the Bronx. The spunky student who asks him for help is an engaging teenager whose staunchly Muslim family emigrated from Yemen and steadfastly observes its customs. She wears the traditional headscarf. She is expected at eighteen to accept an arranged marriage. And at the same time she wants to be a scientist. She’s obsessed “with the hidden world of the structure of things.”

At first he turns her down but then relents when he experiences her passionate determination. She’s keen on proving that “love is more than evolution.” He encourages her to find “a new way to look at the adolescent brain” because current science dismisses ‘reasoning’ in teenagers altogether, because of “an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex.” You might think this all sounds rather abstract but it’s not. She brings out the best in him and he in her. It’s a love story that’s not romantic in nature.

Director Shana Gozansky has two extraordinary actors to animate Censabella’s intimate story. Barlow Adamson takes his character on a breathtaking journey from despair to truth to compassion to sacrifice and generosity through love. His tour de force is matched by Caitlin Nasema Cassidy’s fireball of energy. Like Adamson’s teacher, we can’t resist her ebullient spirit. Like him, we are won over by the beauty of the Koran passage she sings to him. She struggles mightily with the divide created by her religious devotion but it’s the teacher’s struggle that truly breaks our heart.