Friday, October 2, 2015


Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ provocative APPROPRIATE (at SpeakEasy Stage through Oct. 10th) has at its core the belief that objects have power. Some people wear a cross or a Chai as a talisman against evil. On a smaller scale some save four leaf clovers or baby shoes as keepsakes.

The charged objects in APPROPRIATE are old photographs of Black men hanging from trees, as in Billie Holiday’s searing “Strange Fruit.” It’s estimated that by the mid-nineteenth century, ninety-five million Africans had been abducted and transported to the New World, where they were forced into slavery. The lynching didn’t stop with the twentieth century, either. These photos evidently belonged to the recently deceased white man whose children have assembled at his dilapidated “plantation” house in Arkansas to dispose of the home and his possessions.

At first they’re horrified: Should the photos be destroyed? None of the children wants to believe they belonged to their father… and yet he was a severe man and a daughter-in-law claims he was an anti-Semite. The pictures are a horrific reminder of what happened, perhaps, on this very plantation years ago. Who would want to keep photos of mass murder? Certainly no one would want to profit from another human being’s suffering. And yet… They soon discover via the internet that collectors will pay top dollar for such artifacts. The moral question Jacob-Jenkins poses is should these white people profit from the deaths of tortured Black men?

Jacob-Jenkins’ clever story fleshes out the power of these photos: Are the spirits of these murdered men captured within the photographs (as Native Americans used to believe)? Are their spirits in the house? I am reminded of August Wilson’s THE PIANO LESSON where the ghosts of slavery figure prominently in his cautionary tale about inheritance.

While the siblings squabble about their share of the estate, we witness their problems emerge. Each is wounded in some way and their petty interests are often humorous. However, the play seems to wander way off kilter by having their insults devolve into a full scale donnybrook where life and limb are threatened. It’s played for laughs but to me it seemed, to borrow from the title, inappropriate. I believed the narrative wholeheartedly until the incompatible knock-down drag-out free-for-all.

Director M. Bevin O’Gara gets powerful performances all around, with standout work from Melinda Lopez as the frazzled sister who ended up as caretaker for her ailing father, from Bryan T. Donovan as her take charge but is soon overwhelmed brother, and from Ashley Risteen as a hilarious hippie-dippy earth child who knows bad karma when she sees it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

MORE, EVEN QUICKER TAKES Shows I didn’t attend as a Reviewer but am moved to say something about:

Scott Edmiston’s lovely, light, fresh and inspired MY FAIR LADY for Lyric Stage amazes with Catherine Stornetta’s three piece orchestra and Edmiston’s delightful humorous touches (not to worry, they’re so sweetly comic purists wouldn’t mind). I adore laughing in places where I never saw the humor before (like Pickering’s pacing while calling out Higgins for it). Christopher Chew sings the score: A revelation to discover the actual tunes! Jennifer Ellis is a charmer… And David Connolly’s choreography, especially for J. T. Turner and company, is sheer joy.

The Poet’s Theatre is back in fine form with BECKETT WOMEN: Ceremonies of Departure. It’s not easy staging Beckett (for his enigmatic dialogue, to say nothing of Beckett’s insistence on no sets and no context). Director Robert Scanlon, set designer David R. Gammons and lighting designer Jeffrey Adelberg have indeed invented an ingenious context for these (mostly) monologues. Beckett has passed on and one hopes he doesn’t fret about such matters anymore. Each is being filmed by the Grim Reaper who kindly offers a hand now and again if one of the women has to climb up on a riser. What’s extraordinary about each actress is that she can create subtext for the words which don’t string together to form any obvious intent…and she can do this without inflection. It may seem on the surface that Beckett’s words (delivered in almost a monotone) have no obvious meaning but “Little girl” and “She” floods us with our own memories about being a little girl picking berries. We supply the meaning. We supply the emotions. We’re the little girl in Amanda Gamm’s monologue. Then we’re the beleaguered caretaker in Sarah Newhouse’s dialogue with her aging mother. Then we’ve grown old and we imagine our own death in Carmel O’Reilly’s heartbreaking departure. Lovely work all around!

My apologies if I have misnamed anyone. They ran out of programs at my performance.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey So Pale and Wan

In the director’s notes on the first page of the program, Olivia D’Ambrosio asks the audience: “What’s your point of entry to the play?” (Bridge Rep’s SALOME runs through Oct. 18th). My point of entry is the Richard Strauss opera. There is nothing in all of opera so devastating and bloodcurdling as Strauss’ orchestral coda at the end of the opera. A dissonant, shattering echo of a melody is followed by three sets of three rapid, banging, heart stopping chords which intensify and finalize the horror we’ve just witnessed.

Needless to say, a pop song by the Carpenters just doesn’t pack a wallop. And there should be a wallop at the end of the play. Updating to the ‘70s doesn’t make sense either…plus, there’s no evidence on stage that it is the ‘70s (except for the Carpenters on a sound track). What’s more: Hiding John the Baptist behind a flat on the balcony (so we see only his shadow) necessitates that he shout to be heard down below. In point of fact, there’s a lot of shouting going on in this production. The First Church space causes an annoying reverberation because of the high vaulted ceiling and shouting doesn’t help us make out the rebounding dialogue. Besides, when actors shout, nuance goes out the window.

I liked Esme Allen’s oversized moon which turned red on cue. (Then I went home and watched the real moon turn red as the earth’s shadow slowly eclipsed it. Not black as I had remembered from other eclipses. Red! Herod thought it was an omen. Perhaps.) I loved the “ill” wind which blew over the audience when Salome danced, an ingenious touchor did the janitor just open a door? In any case I’d like to think the production might have worked in another space where soft voices could be articulated. Director D’Ambrosio has a passel of fine actors (Woody Gaul, Robert Murphy, Veronica Wiseman, Cliff Odle and more) in service of Oscar Wilde’s famous playor should I say ‘infamous’ because censors shut it down so often over the “Dance of the Seven Veils.”

Shura Baryshnikov’s dance, oddly, is a frenetic, non-erotic, Native American, slithering gambol spiced briefly with the frug (their bow to the ‘70s)and no veils, just a flimsy peignoir over a black slip which she lowers so that Herod alone can see her breasts. The irony is that nudity on stage is passé these days. The only shock this audience encounters is the platter and its contents which made the young people seated next to me cry “oooh, gross.” (Gross means Halloween prank shocking.) They should have been moved by the power of the story, not the ‘ick’ factor.

I’m convinced that substituting Strauss for the Carpenters would have gone a long way toward Wilde’s intent but that’s just an earnest suggestion from a dyed-in-the-wool Oscar Wilde devotee.

Friday, September 18, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Mad About the Boys

Zeitgeist Stage returns us to 1968 with a charged production of Mart Crowley’s THE BOYS IN THE BAND (playing through Oct. 3rd). As director David Miller says in his program notes, “In the age of Marriage Equality, it’s easy to lose sight of the challenges faced by past generations.”

Challenges indeed. It seemed like a massive struggle at the time. By 1967, JFK, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X had been assassinated. 1968 brought the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Boston was the wild west, with B.C. boys driving around with impunity finding gay men to bash: Lost eyes. Lost teeth. Lost innocence. (Not to mention the lost lives in Viet Nam.) It was not a very good year.

 Mart Crowley’s play broke new ground, paving the way for the insightful gay plays that followed. As often happens, when you revisit something you thought was so convincing at the time, you discover its flaws. The playwright crowds THE BOYS IN THE BAND with break-ups, breakthroughs, breakdowns and some hilarious breakout line dancing. He tries to cover all the bases by populating his play with a married man who’s out, a married man who’s definitely interested but denies it, a self-hating hedonist, a self-sacrificing librarian, a flamboyant queen, his African-American lover, a semi-suicidal wag, a street hustler and a player.

BOYS still works despite the tropes and the bizarre party game which (is the device that) gets everyone to reveal the “truth.” I’m inclined to think it works in great part owing to Miller’s witty direction and his talented cast. Victor Shopov has the most difficult role because his character swings wildly from self-pity to menace as host of the birthday partywhere the rest of the characters are reactive. Your heart goes out to Diego Buscaglia as Shopov’s long suffering boyfriend.

Mikey DiLoreto supplies cheeky humor as the drama queen who likes to push the envelope. The nasty party game (not unlike the ones Albee invents for WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF) leaves Damon Singletary’s character shaken to the core. His agony is palpable. (As for the racist revelations, they seemed out of character for either man.) Bob Mussett, too, earns our sympathies as the elegant straight (laced) teacher who can’t understand why Gene Dante’s character needs multiple partners. Dante and Mussett have a lovely scene which offers hope for at least one of the couples.

Brooks Reeves wears his raw nerves on the outside as the interloper who may or may not enjoy the party. Ryan Landry gives the obstinate birthday boy a kind heart with a reassuring exit line to a despairing Shopov. Richard Wingert brightens up the Sturm and Drang of the relationship crises as the sweetest of hustlers. He made me think of John Voigt in MIDNIGHT COWBOY.

In the “more things change, the more they stay the same” category, there was the host of the birthday party, obsessing about his hair: He says he has one which he combs forward and flips backward to cover a multitude of sins…and then he references Ayn Rand. For a moment I thought 1968 had collided with the 2015 Republican apprentices! Let’s not do THE TIME WARP again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey ACADEMY Rewards

Around these parts, the toughest teaching jobs aren’t in high school. They’re in academe. One week they name you “Teacher of the Year” and the next thing you know, they’ve eliminated your department altogether and you’re history. That’s the dog eat dog real world here in the “Athens of America.”

The funniest play in the theater world this month (or any month for that matter) is Andrew Clarke’s hilarious ACADEMY FIGHT SONG (at the BCA through Sept. 26th). It has less to do with the Mission to Burma megahit of the same name and more to do with Kingsley Amis’ LUCKY JIM, which inspired Clarke in the first place.

You could sum up ACADEMY’s plot as ‘one professor’s spectacular descent’ but that doesn’t do justice to Clarke’s freewheeling imagination and his outrageous way with words. Suffice it to say, I never stopped laughing from the get go to the get up and leave. It’s a lightening fast eighty minutes deftly directed by CentAstage’s artistic director Joe Antoun.

Clarke’s razor sharp dialogue is mother’s milk for his deliciously naughty characters and the CentAstage cast delivers the goods. Craig Mathers manages a tour de force as the cocky professor whose undoing provides us with a windfall of laughter: The swan dive which punctuates his preposterous Jacobean lecture is simply divine.

Richard Snee, too, is a certified master in the art of comic timing. When Snee’s wry chairman of the English department spars with Mathers’ posturing professor, no one is safe from their prickly barbs. Even the girl scouts take a hit for their relentless cookie assaults. Tracy Oliverio and Tyler Catanella add to the delightful frenzy as an impervious ex-wife and a young, talented rival for the professor to contend with.

The play moves so quickly that I missed one of the curves (a definite hazard when every line is so entertaining that if you savor it too long, you’ve laughed over the next one). Even that didn’t detract from the unyielding enjoyment I reaped from one man’s extremely bad fortune. Miss it at your peril.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Strange Maze Indeed

New Rep starts its new season with a tribute to Arthur Miller, whose hundredth birthday is this year. BROKEN GLASS (playing through Sept. 27th) is Miller’s strange, enigmatic play ostensibly about a Jewish woman in New York with hysterical paralysis. The title refers to Kristallnacht in 1938, when Nazis in Germany broke out every window they could find in Jewish stores and shops. Her legs gave out from under her almost immediately upon hearing about events in Europe. (Most Americans at the time shared the opinion that the National Party would not prevail.)

In CABARET, the charming green grocer reassures the landlady he’s wooing that the Nazi threat will blow over. In BENT, the protagonist’s uncle dismisses the trouble as “hooliganism.” Both characters’ grave miscalculations wound us as we watch their stories unfold. It’s a brilliant dramatic device to have us privy to information they don’t have. We despair for them.

In Miller’s overlong, overloaded script, however, the Nazis are discussed so muchor rather, not discussed so often (Both her husband and her doctor, not to mention relatives, tell the stricken woman not to obsess about them) that the shock value is overwhelmed. You wouldn’t think it possible but the power to move us is diluted perhaps because the play is clogged with ideas which don’t find resolution: There’s the paralysis they all share: Bodily paralysis for the wife; paralysis of the soul for the husband and paralysis of the mind for her doctor.

And Miller piles on a bizarre sexual ambiguity for the lot of them. The unorthodox, house calling, (actually bed calling) doctor seems to be seducing his patient as some kind of therapeutic stratagem. (Even his wife is suspicious.) The hyper-sexualized patient is definitely trying to seduce him. The husband is hallucinating (or is he?) his own sexual experience. And just in case we missed the first time, Miller keeps telling us that the wife has a secret… maybe something evil. Maybe there’s a dybbuk but that intriguing prospect goes nowhere.

Speaking of orthodoxy, Miller sets up an examination of American Jewish identity as well. A few of his characters have had a better time of it in his gifted, earlier plays. The husband (reminiscent of Willy Loman) works for a gentile firm where he is the only Jewish employee and his tenuous position depends on sales and mortgages. He has recently failed to deliver on a sale and he fears there will be repercussions. Jeremiah Kissel plays him like an excited time bomb, with every nerve in his body firing at once.

WWII is just around the corner but the family has no way of knowing that, of course, which means their “brilliant” son, now making strides at the military academy, most likely, as in ALL MY SONS, will be sent to the front. Director Jim Petosa purposely (?) elicits arch, almost cinematic performances from the cast, especially from Anne Gottlieb, reminiscent of one of those seductively crazy Hollywood heroines just waiting to be saved (and you know all the men in the movie want to… and they’ll trip over each other to do it.).

There she lies, with her arms yawningly outstretched in her satin nightgown, in the middle of a huge bed center stage like Hedy Lamar, ready for her doctor (Benjamin Evett as her very personal physician). Miller may be trying to make a case for complicity in the Holocaust by dint of denial (Certainly no one in the play pays attention to this Cassandra.) but I couldn’t find a clear path in this maze.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey OUTRAGE: Musings Inspired by RADIUM GIRLS

It’s 1915 and a room of women at the U.S. Radium Corporation paint luminous dials onto watches and get cancer from exposure to radium. The corporation won’t admit fault so the women have to cope with what little strength they have left. Flat Earth Theatre continues their season of plays about “progress and peril” with D. W. Gregory’s harrowing RADIUM GIRLS (playing @ Charlestown Working Theater through Sept. 19th).

It’s 2015, exactly one hundred years later, where women in a closed, unventilated space spray paint (containing asbestos, arsenic, chromium and beryllium) onto computer components and semiconductors for MyPhones, MyPads and MyWatches. My Lord! They, too, get cancer or mercury poisoning and deliver babies with birth defects. THIS IS NOT PART OF THE PLAY. This is happening NOW.

Friends of mine think they’ve heard this somewhere. They assume I’m talking about China. No, this is Central Valley, California. Just like the women in the play, the (male) technicians wear lead aprons. Just like the play, the corporations deny responsibility. So you may ask, could they not turn to the government for help in this day and age. Surely the government ought to be protecting women this time around.

National Public Radio has aired stories about women workers in danger in 2012, 2014 and most recently in July, 2015. The NPR weekend investigative reporting show called REVEAL zeroed in on Apple iPhones and the women in the Cupertino, California plant inhaling N-Hexane and Benzene. In another similar California plant, OSHA recommended “better ventilation.”

In fact, according to the Center For Public Integrity, government bureaucracies like OSHA have OKed air samples in these workspaces (and outside!) which test way over the legal limit for lead. If there’s a facility near you, like Digital Equipment Corp. in Hudson, Mass or Monsanto Chemical in Everett, Mass. the “federal limits” are unenforceable. And the Feds can’t even find out what chemicals are being vented into the air because the semi-conductor industry is protected by “proprietary” laws against revealing “trade secrets” in their formulas.

With all the rallies about women’s rights to equal pay and reproductive freedom, the right to a safe work environment plummets down on the list. Thank you, FLAT EARTH, for bringing the issue to light again with RADIUM GIRLS. This is the second play about the dial painters that I’ve seen. Both are pretty much the same, except Gregory’s play opens up to include Marie Curie, who makes both a public appearance and a private one in a nightmare… and Gregory delves into the guilt of one of the bad guys who “drank the Kool-Aid himself.”

Plays (and movies) about good guys being victimized are problematic because so much of the script is spent on hand-wringing and the grueling details of their plight. In this case, the women are getting sicker and sicker. Scenes play over and over illustrating for instance that court dates keep getting postponed or that another scientific theory has surfaced as they get weaker. Actresses are given lines like: “My folks didn’t raise me to make trouble… I did what I was told.”

Films like SILKWOOD and plays like Flat Earth’s recent production of THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION are the exceptions: Every scene holds excitement because the protagonist is fighting back. In RADIUM GIRLS, a lot of the scenes drag because of the nature of the beast. That’s a playwright problem because Gregory gives the best scenes to the lawyers.

Director Lindsay Eagle ups the ante in RADIUM GIRLS by having an all female cast. Some negotiate their “pants” roles better than others. It’s not as easy as you might think. It requires inordinate skill for a woman to portray a man. Just ask the inimitable Peggy Shaw of Split Britches.