Monday, June 22, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Wildly INVENTIVE History



A play by Aaron Sorkin is a thing of joy. I’ve been a fan of his (TV) scripts since his spunky, outrageous SPORTS NIGHT. Who better to write about the invention of television than its best writer today! Director Sarah Gazdowicz’ fluid, downright exhilarating production of THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION for Flat Earth Theatre (through June 27th) is a must see: For Sorkin’s smart, sardonic dialogue, for the lively ensemble work and for the two performances that keep this speeding train on track.

What’s remarkable about the script is that we know the outcome and yet we’re riveted nevertheless. (I saw a sharp witted play about Edison and Tesla years ago and you still rooted for the underdog even though you knew who won that fight. Same deal for a lovely Edward G. Robinson movie about the telegraph supplanting Robinson’s beloved homing pigeons. It’s a delightful way to learn history.)

You can’t take your eyes off Michael Fisher as the ruthless David Sarnoff, the founder of NBC and you can’t stop your heart from breaking when you know the much nicer Farnsworth (Chris Larson) will be run over by Sarnoff’s machinations. Where Fisher has electricity in his veins, Larson has that Jimmy Stewart “Aw Shucks” inner glow working for him.

The ensemble acts the heck out of the scriptwhich is especially difficult for the women in the company who play the supportive mother, sister and wives roles. They manage to give these usually thankless parts their best shot, adding considerable personality. Of course it’s the male wheelers and dealers who are the most fun to watch, like Dale J. Young in several unforgettable turns (as villains and heroes).

Kudos to Rebecca Lehrhoff for an ingenious blackboard set where you actually learn and understand the cathode ray! I haven’t been so excited about a production since a play about Alan Turing and his enigma machine.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey CITY on Fire



The Happy Medium Theatre should be living Large and feeling Ecstatic about their strong production of Christopher Shinn’s DYING CITY (running through end of July). Shinn’s puzzling political-or is it personal drama (inspired by 9-11 and the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq) follows the tortured relationship of a soldier about to leave for Baghdad, his unhappy therapist wife and his needy twin brother.

The action moves forward and back in time, adding more and more negative information about the three with each scene. The trick is that one actor portrays both brothers, a tour de force for Michael Underhill. Kiki Samko, too, gives a powerful, emotional performance as someone suffering unspeakable pain. Thank heaven for director Cameron Cronin who manages to infuse the script with flashes of sardonic humor. Otherwise you’d be drawn into the profound sadness of the piece.

When the Happy Medium folks discovered their plans to perform Shinn’s play at the (now closed) Factory space had to be scuttled, they looked for other digs. Samko and Underhill’s condo in Jamaica Plain, it turns out, can accommodate an audience of twenty or so in their living room, and their open floor plan lends itself easily to the show’s set design. With rental costs on the rise, many theater companies may not be able to afford a traditional space anymore. Kudos to Happy Medium for its intimate “Home-Grown” solution.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey LIVE ACTION PERSONALITIES



Emily Kaye Lazzaro’s THREE (playing through June 20th) is a naughty little comedy in the “Sex and the City” mold. Lazzaro writes lovely, sharp dialogue for three college roommates who experiment (none too successfully) with sex, alcohol and life.

The dramedy is divided into three parts (and a coda), each surrounding a life changing event, like graduation or marriage. The search for love and a place in the world yields lots of laughter and a few surprises. Director A. Nora Long’s smart production features a star turn by Sarah Elizabeth Bedard as the loud, randy roommate who uses liquor and sex to obliterate her loneliness; the charismatic Kelly Chick as the roommate who wonders if she’s a lesbian and can’t wait to reveal a secret; and the pert Tasia Jones whose wedding plans bring the three together again.

Lazzaro mines clever humor around the concept of a “wedding industrial complex” and she creates funny, sympathetic characters who stumble and get back up againbut the sexual subtext about consent in the play doesn’t really gel because we can’t believe it’s in that character’s make-up, at least the way she’s portrayed in Long’s production. (I don’t want to reveal plot points so I’ll just leave it there.)

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey BET THE FARM



Reagle Music Theatre kicks off its 47th season with a rock solid production of GUYS AND DOLLS (playing through June 21st). This is the kind of high energy show Reagle does best. With crisp music direction by Dan Rodriguez, dazzling choreography by Rachel Bertone and smart stage direction from David Hugo, each character adds its own spark to Damon Runyan’s colorful world of high stakes gamblers and their gullible “dolls.”

Frank Loesser’s songs are “back to back aces” with stellar performances from Lori L’Italien as the coughing, wheezing Miss Adelaide, from Brad Peloquin as an especially endearing Nicely-Nicely (whose “Sit Down” number rocks that boat like gangbusters) and from Brent Barrett as the dashing high roller who puts all his money on “Lady Luck” but loses his heart to Mara Bonde’s Salvation Army doll.

Scott Wahle gets laughs as a frenetic Nathan Detroit and Rick McDermod scores extra points as Big Julie but it’s the ensemble who light up the stage in the incomparable production numbers: The high flying dancers behind Barrett in the sewer scene make the whole number pop with crowded excitement. Don’t miss your chance to see GUYS AND DOLLS the way it ought to be done!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey BARREL FULL OF STARDUS



Moss Hart’s LIGHT UP THE SKY (@ Lyric Stage through June 13th.). is a creaky spoof of wacky theatrical folk, all of whom function in hyperbole. That “barrel” of a play is a bit worn and leaky by contemporary standards but what Lyric Stage puts in it is pure magic.

Director Scott Edmiston’s delightful production has a cast of comedians who seem to have walked right off a 1930s movie lot. Will McGarrahan as the effusive director of Alejandro Simoes dubious script even looks like Billy DeWolfe, the stalwart comic from those old screwball films. And when McGarrahan sits down at a piano, it’s as if Cole Porter or Noel Coward wrote their songs just for him. (Oops! I may have caught the hyperbolic flu myself!)

Just when you think no one could possibly upstage McGarrahan, enter Paula Plum as the highly strung leading lady (Is there any other kind?)and ten minutes of hysterical sobbing becomes a virtuoso performance. The very thin plot, if you even can call it a plot, involves a play (which may flop pre-Broadway in its Boston tryout) and a mass exit from the sinking ship.

Add Will LeBow’s loud, opportunistic producer and Kathy St. George as his shopaholic wife and every line becomes a show stopping soliloquy. Bobbie Steinbach, too, has a field day as Plum’s scene stealing, opinionated mother. Richard Snee as our commiserating stand-in, gets to comment like a Greek chorus on the bizarre behavior on stage and Terrence O’Malley, as the real outsider, connected to the stage only by marriage, is struck dumbfounded by the outrageous goings onand he gets laughs just by standing still.

The music (McGarrahan) adds immeasurably to the spirit of the production. Coward’s “Why Must the Show Go On” is the perfect punctuation to the abundance of laughter from a truly remarkable ensemble.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey THE ENDURING SISTERS at Wellesley Summer Theatre



The Russians in Chekhov’s plays almost always struggle with feelings of insignificance. With his haunting THREE SISTERS (playing through June 21st), Chekhov foreshadows the revolution he didn’t live to see“There’s a storm coming to clean out our society.”And he mourns a generation living in the past: Each sister wants to love and be loved but two choose the wrong partner and one accepts “God’s will” to stay unmarried, honoring restrictions as tightly bound as their hair.

Director Marta Rainer’s lovely, heartbreaking production manages to capture the sisters’ palpable desperation and send it directly across the footlights. What at first may seem to be the arch concerns of Chekhov’s privileged characters still resonates today: Is happiness possible? Can we make a difference in the world? Why are people suffering? Is there greater meaning in life? Can we start over again…and when it’s revealed that no one in this play, aristocratic or otherwise, will be happynot even the school precept who insists he iswe’re left as bereft as the sisters.

Rainer and company mine the characters’ raw emotions even as they try to control their outward affect. It’s a delicate dance, cleverly mirrored at the start and play’s end in an actual slowly measured, winding circular dance. The remarkable ensemble work at WST benefits even the smallest of roles: John Davin and Charlotte Peed are the aging servants on whom hard work has taken its toll. Davin thankfully provides some lighter moments when he can no longer hear the directives of his demanding employers. Zack Georgian and Dan Prior as the carefree young soldiers at the fringes of the tapestry make an indelible impression as well, one trying to please Irina with small gifts and one trying to delay the future by taking photos of the present.

Zena Chatilla as the innocent Irina, whose twentieth birthday brings everyone together in the first act, slowly discovers that life holds no satisfaction for her. Angela Bilkic as her sister Masha, has her spirit crushed by a loveless marriage (to Shelley Bolman’s pompous schoolmaster) and an unfulfilled romance with the dashing colonel (Woody Gaul) who is mired in a hopeless marriage of his own. Gaul provides a welcome laugh with saucer eyes when Bolman offers a Latin phrase designed to impress.

You can feel the spark between Gaul and Bilkic, the same spark noticeably missing from the brother’s union with a ferocious woman (Marge Dunn) who controls his every move. Samuel L. Warton plays the tragic son whom father “educated with a vengeance” for a career as a professor but who ends up as a glorified clerk. Sacrifice gallops through the family, with Caitlin Graham as the oldest sister, Olga, throwing herself into teaching. There aren’t many victories for the sisters but Olga gets one when Dunn’s tightfisted Natasha threatens to banish Peed’s loyal servant. (Just to make Dunn’s character more villainous, Chekhov even references another orchard when Dunn threatens to cut down their trees.)

Charles Linshaw as the brash, headstrong Baron who rhapsodizes about the value of “work” while avoiding it altogether and Daniel Boudreau as the unsophisticated dinner guest who seems to place his foot in his mouth as often as his glass of vodka, both unfortunately set their cap for Irina.  John Kinsherf as Chekhov’s physician stand-in, regrets everything, drowns himself in drink and consoles himself with the notion that nothing matters at all. Because they all interact so seamlessly with each other in WST’s compelling production, you hope against hope that one, just one of them will escape with some joy.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A REVIEW and A SOAPBOX By Beverly Creasey HOORAY for PROVOCATEURS



Zeitgeist Stage again lives up to its stellar reputation for producing compelling, edgy scripts. Jeff Talbott’s THE SUBMISSION (playing through May 30th) is a juggernaut. Director David Miller takes your breath away and doesn’t let go ‘til the final scene. You don’t get an intermission and you don’t get to breathe during lightening fast scene changes eitherunless you’re impervious to the Krupa-esque blitz riffs in J. Jumbelic’s brilliant sound design.

What’s going on to fuel this runaway train? A gay, white writer is tired of just getting readings of his work so he writes a “Black” play and submits it to the prestigious Humana Festival under a pseudonym, an ethnic sounding (he thinks) female name. Just as he hoped, it’s gobbled up by the Humana folks and now they want to meet him (her). What’s to be done? He hires an African-American actress to be him. The result? Fireworks.

What a cast Miller has assembled: They play off each other like electric charges, each igniting the fuse in the other. Victor Shopov is the driven playwright who can’t see the forest for the trees and Aina Adler is the ferocious, righteous actress who takes him on. Matthew Fagerberg is the loyal friend stuck in the middle of the morass and Diego Buscaglia is the playwright’s clear headed husband. He’s the only one who can see “landmines” in those woods. (Buscaglia gets a wonderfully funny AMERICAN BUFFALO moment, ranting off stage about everyone’s stupidity.)

As Tavis Smiley would say, let’s unpack Talbott’s subtext. The story itself is riveting but as a bonus, Talbott gets to drag out all the nasty gripes that whites have about Blacks and that straights have about gaysand place them in the minds and mouths of his characters. You know, the accusation that Blacks get awards because of political correctness and that a “gay mafia” is running American theater.

When Talbott’s playwright asserts that gays are the “new underclass,” the actress is enraged. (People will be taking sides over this play for sure.) What is indisputable, the angered actress says, is that a gay man can hide his sexuality if he wants to but an African-American cannot hide his identity. (As the Fats Waller lyric goes, “I’m white on the inside but that don’t help my case…”) What the two have in common, of course, is the discrimination they both face but she won’t let him equate the two.

The gay “mafia” claim in SUBMISSION is deliberately absurd and the audience laughs in unisonbut when the playwright complains about the practice of non-traditional castingHe’s tired of seeing a “Black Mrs. Cratchitt in A CHRISTMAS CAROL”he’s making the assumption that’s shared by a lot of people, that actors of color have found a place in American theater. Have they? How about turnabout? Is it fair play?

A critic I know used the fair play phrase when I was up in arms about a significant number of designated diverse roles being given wholesale to white actors where it makes no sense morally or dramatically: Like the white actress in A CHORUS LINE spouting dialogue about how hard it is to be Asian-American, or the white actor in SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD (twice, two different companies) claiming to be “the brother you call…” Is there really so much work available for actors of color that they don’t miss the occasional loss of a role?

Is it really OK to cast an all Black show like THE WIZ with (a few or a lot of) white actors? Is it OK to cast white actors when no actors of color audition? Is it OK to cast a white singer in blackface? The Metropolitan Opera is about to do it again. The last Othello they had in blackface (on the HD transmission year before last) perspired so heavily that his makeup ironically refused to stay on his face, obscenely sliding down his costume. Why they’re doing it again is beyond me but let’s just stick to theater. The facts are that actors of color do not have lots of work. The playing field is not even… so kudos to Zeitgeist for reenergizing the discussion.

Don’t miss SUBMISSION for any reason, including price because Wednesdays are pay-what-you-can!