Wednesday, July 23, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Lively Skirmish of Wits

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Shakespeare’s “merry war” of the sexes (@ Bay Colony Shakespeare through Aug. 3rd) runs in repertory this summer with MACBETH and HAMLET. How’s that for a gargantuan effort: The company of a dozen or so actors appear in all three plays. If MUCH ADO is any indication of the other two, I presume they’ll possess the same level of attention and invention.

Director Jess Guyon sets the MUCH ADO romp in 1945 (staying in Italy) where a troop of American soldiers celebrate the end of the war with swing dancing and a romantic dalliance or two. The brash Benedick swears up and down that he’ll never marry…so his fellow soldiers set out to trick him into succumbing.

Beatrice, whom Benedick snidely calls “Lady Disdain” is his match in bravado and determination. She vows she’ll never fall for any man. Before you can say “what fools these mortals be,” they’re falling all over each other, believing the outrageous flattery their friends have counterfeited to bring them together.

Shakespeare has a serious subplot in MUCH ADO, where gossip and deception result in genuine harm. The company smoothly navigates both the spirited artifice of the Beatrice and Benedick plot and the stark contrast in the slanderous mistaken identity charges.

Neil McGarry as Benedick embraces the high comedy (even appearing in drag at a masquerade party) without sacrificing the man’s nobility. After all, we witness the honorable Benedick stand up for the women when everyone else has been led astray. Kudos to McGarry and Poornima Kirby, as the fiery Beatrice (donning a man’s suit for that very same soiree!) to play her revenge request in earnest. (Believe it or not sometimes it’s unfortunately played for laughs.) Kirby’s Beatrice is intelligent, witty and brash but you can see the vulnerability in her eyes.

Guyon has a game cast all around, with Tom Grenon a standout as the horrified father of the bride, when his daughter (Monica Girodano) is jilted at the altar. Dan Anderson as the ‘almost’ groom redeems his character when he learns the truth, as does Cameron Beaty Gosselin as the commanding army c.o.

Ross Magnant makes a brazen bad guy but it’s Ross MacDonald who steals the show as the fumbling, easily distracted constable (not that Erica Simpson doesn’t give him a run for his money as his long suffering lieutenant). MacDonald seizes the opportunity to extemporize on myriad subjects while he’s delivering Shakespeare’s actual lines. (One might raise an eyebrow if one weren’t laughing so hard she couldn’t).

The only snag (or as the Bard would call it, an “impediment”) at Bay Colony’s brand new digs is the high ceiling in the former church sanctuary space. Precious dialogue had a tendency to fly upward toward the heavens instead of straight out to the audience at my performance. This happened more to the soft voiced actors, especially when the text lent itself to intimate exchanges. I think it’s only a matter of projection and getting used to the new space before those stars Beatrice knows so well will be dancing again.

Monday, July 14, 2014


ME AND MY GIRL (@ Reagle Music Theatre through July 20th) is a charming rags to riches musical that’s part Gilbert & Sullivan, part MY FAIR LADY (or “LADDIE” in this case) and part British music hall comedy. It’s not OKLAHOMA mind you, but if you like old fashioned, corny dialogue and jaunty songs like “The Lambeth Walk” then you’ll enjoy Stephen Fry’s savvy revision of the original.
Cynthia Thole directs and recreates the original Broadway choreography, which is the best thing about ME AND MY GIRL: The dancing is crisp, precise, even thrilling. Joshua Holden is the cheeky cockney bloke who learns he’s inherited a castle and a seat in Parliament (if he can measure up to the upper classes). Getting him there is half the fun. The other half is watching the aristocrats squirm.

Carole Healey steals the show as the Duchess who tries to overhaul the lad and his “GIRL” (Jamie Buxton) and in the process, finds a love match herself. Rishi Basu is wonderfully stuffy as Sir John. Watching him join in on the dancing is simply delicious.

Holden’s “education” wouldn’t be complete without a few stumbling blocks and femme fatale Shonna Cirone throws everything but the kitchen sink at the new, soon-to-be-very-rich heir. Cirone manages to be mighty seductive and enormously silly at the same time, chasing the poor man over hill, dale and drawing room couch.

Chris Charron gets to show off his G&S chops as “The Family Solicitor.” He brightens the stage every time he comes back. (I would have loved even more verses of the very model of the modern solicitor general.) Devon Stone as Cirone’s spurned beau makes sputtering into an art.

In short, ME AND MY GIRL is one of those “in for a penny, in for a pound” musicals: You have to let yourself go and give yourself over to lame one liners like the Dutchess’ naughty quip to Sir John’s pensive: “It crossed my mind.” She: “Not a long journey.” That’s how I feel about the musical: not a long journey with plenty of diversions along the way.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

QUICK QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Slouching toward Nevada

Taylor Mac’s THE WALK ACROSS AMERICA FOR MOTHER EARTH (@ Oberon through July 27th ) is really a rewrite of HAIR with additions so gross you wonder who would think this stuff is funny: There’s a bottle of urine someone drinks, toenails another eats, menstrual blood another wrings out of her “rag” and, oh, someone dines on peeling skin. A vile HAIR is not a better HAIR. And I haven’t even mentioned a rape which is dismissed out of hand and hollow songs about racial equality for Native Americans when the entire cast is white.

I could go on and on (it’s a long evening) about all the inconsistencies, the banalities, the incredulities, the absurdities, the beastialities. Let’s suffice it to say this flower child didn’t think much of Circuit Theatre’s tedious WALK ACROSS Harvard Square. In fact, when Rainbow Carl complained about everything being so hard, I silently sang “Easy to be Hard” to myself. And it is “easy to say no” to this.

Circuit has assembled a cast of beautiful young people who perform with passion and sing gorgeously (with many playing multiple instruments). Their pre-show concert (The Beatles, Woody Guthrie) and their “No Talent, Talent Show” during intermission were lovely. What’s in between and after intermission was not. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Still Vital After All These Years

Not only does JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS (@ Gloucester Stage through July 6th) still work, it packs a walloping sardonic punch. You don’t need elaborate staging or fancy costumes, just singers who can inhabit a lyric, and oh, of course, a spotlight.

Director Eric C. Engel and company revel in the simplicity and at the same time, the multiplicity of Brel’s incomparable chansons. Brel’s words (exquisitely translated by Eric Blau) reach into your very soul and you find yourself mourning a lost love, lost innocence, or a world lost out there in space. You’re hearing his words but you feel like they’re yours.

Doug Jabara reminded me of another baritone who performed the role early on: Theo Bikel. Jabara is a standout in the Gloucester production, living a world of hurt and desire in one fleeting song: “Mathilde’s Come Back to Me.” Then he plunges us into the depths of “Amsterdam.”

Jennifer Ellis sits on the floor, waiting for “My Death” wrapped in a sheet and we are contemplating our own mortality as the drum (Don Holm) slowly beats away time. Then she’s softly begging/singing the plaintive “Don’t Leave Me” and we’re slain.

Daniel Robert Sullivan struts Brel’s defiant songs, like “Jackie,” who just wants to be “cute…in a stupid ass way.” And he delivers a searing indictment of animal cruelty with “The Bulls” who “bleed for us…we ask them to suffer for us…to drop dead for us.” Brel even conjures a “hell where matadors burn.”

But the show stopper is Shana Dirik, whether she’s giving sly payback in “I Loved” or pulling out all the stops with Brel’s paean to Belgium, the soaring anthem “Marieke, Marieke.” She’s a force of nature.

Alas, in a few songs, music director David McGrory’s keyboard drowned out a lyric or two but it’s tribute to the power of Brel’s every word, that we wanted desperately to hear them all.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey WILDE at Heart

Oscar Wilde devotees feel their pulses quicken when one of his plays (or a play about him) is about to open but a chance to see his fairy tales? I wouldn’t miss it. Boston Actors Theater has chosen two stories to animate, “Story Theater” style, from the collection “A House of Pomegranates.” DANCING WILDE (playing through June 28th) uses narration and the language of gestural movement to tell the story of The Young King and The Birthday of the Infana.

Director Danielle Lucas and company weave together dancing, commedia dell’arte, puppetry and poetry, for a performance that children can appreciate on face valueand adults can grasp from reading between the lines. The performers are all lithe and game but some project better than others (especially in the difficult, elongated Boston Playwrights’ space). We sat just right of center and couldn’t hear over the music playing underneath, when actors declaimed to the other side of the stage. Fortunately the movement spelled out the action and they dispensed with the loud music thereafter.

Bailey Libby portrays the lonely, friendless Princess Infana (in Elizabth DuPre’s adaptation) who has been protected from society all her life “for her own good.” However, on this particular birthday she is royally entertained: by a swashbuckling bull fighter (Damon Singletary), a daring tightrope walker, snake charmers and gypsies, only to discover that society is indeed cruel. Kendall Aguier is delightful as the charming dwarf who brings the princess happiness…and as it turns out, through no fault of his own, despair.

Drew Linehan is The Young King (in Nicole Howard’s adaptation of the second story) who dreams that he strolls among his people, like Henry V, the night before his coronation. Before his dream, he had no inkling of the immense toil and suffering which went into mining the rubies for his crown or unearthing the magnificent pearl for his scepter. The players deftly mime rowing a great boat under the whip of the cruel coxswain or diving treacherous waters for the elusive oyster or sweating and slaving to sew gold into every fold of his robe. (Laurie Singletary makes a frightening personification of Avarice to Nick Miller’s hulking specter of Death) To my relief, Wilde offers a hopeful ending in this tale.

Kudos to BAT for reminding us of the expanse of Wilde’s writings and for raising money with this show for BUDDY DOG, a no kill rescue shelter in Sudbury.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Opera Transfusion

OPERAHUB is determined to make opera accessible to everyone. To that end, their performances are absolutely free. (They fundraise so that all their artists can be paid something.) They mount rarely produced material and if Heinrich Marschner’s DER VAMPYR is any indication of their modus operandi, they make opera not only palatable but enjoyable. DER VAMPYR plays through June 28th at the BCA.

John J. King’s revamped (!) adaptation of the 1828 opera plays fast and loose with the original libretto. Folks who are familiar with King’s plays won’t be surprised by the cheeky wordplay and naughty rhymes. Says the vampire about his comely victim: “When I saw you in the garden, something inside me hardened”…or “I will do it to her. Take her home and chew her.”

King’s clever allusions to television and film vampires and his abundant topical rhymes made me think of Gilbert & Sullivan: They threw all manner of barbs at politicians and entertainers in their operettas. The sumptuous music, too, is reminiscent of themes Sullivan “borrowed” from his contemporaries.

Yet another curious aspect of Marschner’s score are the now familiar musical phrases which trigger “dread” in the listener. Think of Schubert’s piano warnings in ERLKĂ–NIG (which Marschner probably heard) or Verdi’s terrifying chromatic ascents (inspired by Marschner?). They didn’t have the familiarity back then which renders them universally understood (and sometimes comic) today.

The send-up may horrify opera purists but judging from the SRO audience on Wednesday night, and most stayed past intermission, they were in for a penny, in for a pound of flesh. DER VAMPYR runs three hours (which for us opera fans is nothing: GĂ–TTERDAMMERUNG runs six!) and even I experienced vampire fatigue at two-and a half because the plot is still unwieldy, the heroine doesn’t appear until Act II and the vampire-in-training has only bagged one quarry out of twenty-nine by intermission. (How can he possibly catch up without keeping us there ‘til the cows come home?)

Director Christie Lee Gibson moves the action at a brisk clip and music director Lina Marcela Gonzalez gets lovely singing from the whole cast (although a French horn strayed from time to time). No matter, the singing more than made up for it. These performers can act as well as they sing (and that cannot be said for some opera productions). Happily, you can understand most every word they’re singing (except when a soprano sacrifices enunciation for accuracy on the killer high notes).

Baritone Jacob Cooper is the novice vampire with a heavy quota. He dispatches Megan Welker in a trice but not to worry, she returns as someone else. Heather Gallagher and Jacob Scharfman cut a swath as the mean mom and pop of the vampire coven. Justin Hicks is a formidable chief of police and father to a frenetic Tamara Ryan. Lindsay Conrad is a standout as Muffy, the vampire “nay-sayer” and best of all is Eduardo Ramos as Ryan’s neglected suitor. His hilarious stage business (sniffling, reposing) is equaled by his extraordinary, clear, sweet tenor voice.

Monday, June 16, 2014


Chilean-American author Ariel Dorfman is beloved in Boston this season. Flat Earth held a reading of Dorfman and Tony Kushner’s WIDOWS earlier this year, WIDOWS being the first in Dorfman’s Resistance Trilogy. READER is the second and DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, the third play in the series.

Flat Earth Theatre is currently staging READER (@ Arsenal Center through June 21st) and Open Theatre Project continues the run with DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (in Jamaica Plain through June 28th). MAIDEN is the most produced of the three: I’ve seen it twice. And there’s a movie.

This is my first READER experience and I must say that Flat Earth’s March production of WHAT ONCE WE FELT kept intruding into my memory as I watched READER, as both are about censorship and governmental control, especially where the flow of information is concerned. Both use publishing as metaphor. As I type that sentence, I’m reminded that our government is more than a little peeved at a certain Mr. Snowden for publishing information they didn’t want us to know. Maybe the repression in READER isn’t as far fetched as it seems to be.

As in Dorfman’s DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, the audience is unsure who is telling the truth, or for that matter, what is the truth. The characters in READER aren’t what they seem to be, either. On the surface we meet a censor, not just any censor. He’s a successful bureaucrat who hasn’t made a mistake in 20 years. His boss appreciates his work but his son isn’t satisfied with life, even though they’re all told this is paradise and “anyone who isn’t happy in Paradise is crazy.”

Life starts to unravel for the censor: His son won’t sign the loyalty paper and now he’s asking about his mother’s death. The book he’s currently working on (i.e. removing offending passages and cutting unnecessary detail) seems to be about him! Disturbing information seeps through: Things he doesn’t want made public: Talk of readjustment centers, violence, torture. Wait a minute, Dorfman is writing about Chile….isn’t he?

While I certainly admire playwrights who create torturous narratives so we the audience can have a (granted, very small) taste of the confusion and distress whole nations suffer on a daily basis, they’re a bit difficult to take…and more importantly, they’re extremely hard to stage. Kudos to director Jake Scaltreto for placing the audience on both sides of the theater, trapping the action in the center and for setting a slightly arched, artificial tone to the material.

Matthew Zahnzinger is brilliantly effective as “The Man” you never, never want to request your presence. His white face and asthmatic delivery make him terrifying. A visit from Samuel Frank as “The Director” of the censorship bureau isn’t going to be any fun, either. His manic stance and wild eyes don’t bode well for a pat on the back. Robin Gabrielli is the man at the center of this Kafkaesque tale. Will he help his son (James Hayward)? Did he harm his wife (Sara Jones)? Will he disappoint his mistress (Rachel Sachs)? Will he publish? Or is resistance futile?