Monday, October 22, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Line of Demarcation

The Improbable Players develop plays about addiction (alcohol/ cocaine /heroin/opiates etc.) which they perform in schools and community settings, with education and prevention their goal. Their impressive showcase, END OF THE LINE: “Confronting the Epidemic” occupied the Mosesian main stage at the Watertown Arsenal this past Wednesday night (Oct. 17th).

Originally conceived and directed by Lynn Bratley (and continued by Joanna Simmons and Chris Everett), the evening of stories and vignettes were gathered by interviewing people who know the pain of addiction without knowing how to embrace change. The actors have lived similar stories because they themselves are in recovery. What comes across to an audience is their generous spirit and a genuine affection for the characters they inhabit.

In one heartbreaking sketch, a small child (Caryn May) finds drugs in her mother’s unattended purse. In another a desperate woman (Meghann Perry) calls multiple pharmacies to renew an opiate prescription with “no refills.” In another scene, a game show host (Jon Riemer) asks the audience to identify the addict. In the last scene of the evening Christian Santilli’s character is literally tied in knots trying to find his way out of the addiction cycle. What we witness in all the depictions is how easily someone in dire need will turn to another, far more dangerous drug without realizing or caring what it will do to them.

Years ago it was thought that ads and slogans could “scare people straight”… Now we know that doesn’t work. Remember Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign or the public service television spot showing an egg crack open in a frying pan. The baritone voice warned us “This is your brain on drugs.” The problem is that these platitudes are impersonal or at best, one size fits all. The dozen or so actors of Improbable Players make their live message of hope “up front and personal” and that makes all the difference.


Sunday, October 21, 2018


Although David Meyers’ WE WILL NOT BE SILENT (@ New Rep through Nov. 4th) takes place in Nazi Germany over 70 years ago (based on real members of the Resistance movement) it seems to mirror events in our time…the only difference is that the German woman at the heart of Meyers’ play is put to death for protesting against Hitler and protesters in the U.S. are not… Except that it does happen here. A woman attending a peaceful rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was murdered by Neo-Nazis… and the president refused to condemn the right wing nationalists, saying there were “good people on both sides.” And now he sets the tone for more violence by telling his supporters that peaceful dissenters are “angry mobs” which should be feared.

Sophie Scholl’s small resistance organization (the White Rose) published leaflets which were her undoing when the police found them in her possession. Among other charges against Hitler were the words, “Every word that comes from his mouth is a lie.” We often wonder how the Germans could let the Holocaust happen. “Never Again” is written above the concentration camps that still stand as horrific reminders. Yet the Nationalist (trans. Nazi) Party is gaining ground today in Germany (and all over Europe). And here.

Tim Spears gives a strong performance as Sophie Scholl’s interrogator, playing “good cop/bad cop” with her emotions. Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Sophie has the difficult task of playing the nobility beneath her stalwart exterior. Muirhead seems so frail, yet the resistance rested on her small shoulders. Like Brecht’s Galileo, she is offered leniency if she recants and like Shaw’s Joan of Arc, she can’t deny what she believes, even to see her beloved family again. Like Shaw’s Joan, Meyers gives Sophie a lovely speech about the earthly beauty she will lose. Meyers also affords her the chance to see her brother (a graceful Conor Proft) again, if only in her imagination. Director Jim Petosa’s resonant production reminds us of the terrible consequences of “silence.”


Sunday, October 14, 2018


Boston Lyric Opera pulls out most of the stops in Rossini’s knock about comic opera, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, parading through Oct. 21st @ Emerson Cutler Majestic. Director Rosetta Cucchi (and scenic designer Julia Noulin-Mérat) have imagined a set inspired by M.C. Escher with endless stairways, some going nowhere. Certainly, mistaken avenues and mistaken identities pepper the (Beaumarchais) story. Precautions prove useless (as in Rossini’s first title for the opera) as a lecherous old doctor tries to outwit a dashing count in pursuit of a beauty.

The “beauty” is mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, as Rosina, who delivers a triumphant Una Voce Poco Fa, as Rossini wrote it, in the original key! We know everything we need to know from that aria: She can be sweet if she wants, but do not cross her or you will feel her wrath. Her gorgeous top notes are surpassed only by her astonishing, comic low notes. Equaling her prowess and power is tenor Jesus Garcia as the count. Their playful duets propel the comedy forward. (The speed of the music has to match the speed of the farce and music director David Angus keeps the momentum apace.)

Act I by itself is a wonder, with Matthew Worth’s brash Largo Al Factotum to “humbly” introduce himself as the “barber of quality,” with Rosina’s spectacular aria, Figaro’s driving duet with the count, Steven Condy’s hilarious Doctor Bartolo, a wild sextet to end the act and, best of all, David Crawford’s lashing, scene stealing turn as Don Basilio: Looking like one of the Munsters, walking like a peacock who is having difficulty unfurling his tail, Crawford makes the schemer irresistible. His La Calunnia, to my mind, is the highlight of the opera.

For BARBER veterans, little unexpected touches are a delight, as long as they don’t change the narrative or the music. Case in point, Don Basilio’s slightly sado-masochistic bent and his misinterpretation in Act II of the endless farewells. It’s extremely clever to have him return because he wants to be polite… And Rosina’s personal tempest for the orchestral storm… And Dr. Bartolo’s headphones: so silly but effective in keeping him occupied while the lovers plot their elopement. (A few of the comic bits seemed cringe worthy to me but they got lots of laughs.)

I wish director Cucchi and company had embraced the ‘useless stairway’ conceit to its full extent, mining humor from foiled exits but I only noticed one false comic departure (Don Basilio’s) and it didn’t involve a stairway at all. Dr. Bartolo trouped endlessly up and down the same flight but mostly, the Escher effect itself went nowhere except to separate characters who are ordinarily in the same room (Dr. Bartolo eyeing the furtive lovers at the piano). I did love Rosina’s frustration, however, when neither the count nor the doctor paid her any attention in the music lesson.

See this BARBER for the lovely voices and the ingenious flourishes, both vocal and dramatic.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Perilous PICNIC

If you know Imaginary Beasts from the inspired lunacy of their Winter Pantos, you will be surprised by the depth and intensity of their haunting PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (through Oct. 27th @ Charlestown Working Theater).

This is the 50th anniversary of the Joan Lindsay novel (which inspired the eerie Peter Weir film) about several impressionable schoolgirls who went missing during a field trip to the 500 foot high volcanic rock “corpse” hanging over the Australian plain.

Imaginary Beasts is the always inventive brainchild of Matthew Woods. He fuses atmospheric music, physicality, shadow play and a powerful gestural language into his creations… whether or not he’s working from a pre-existing script.

This adaptation (by Tom Wright from the novel) is enhanced by the ensemble’s seamless story telling. (Each IB project is a collaboration.) Six actresses trade characters as diverse as a crusty old carriage driver, a dogged policeman, an Englishman on holiday and the highly susceptible students of Appleyard College.

In the same way that you give yourself over to a puppet (blinding yourself to the puppeteer), your eyes will see only the climbers, as the foolhardy girls clamber up the (human) rock face and tumble over an actor’s back into a ravine below. Woods manages to evoke the wild spirit lurking beneath the repressed veneer of a Victorian education (reflected cleverly in Cotton Talbot-Minken’s proper, buttoned up British attire).

Woods has found some wonderful additions to his solid troupe of performers, who when exchanging persona and placement, act as an organic whole, all contributing to the unity of the performance. IB is unique in making the ensemble the point, and the star, of their shows.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Fission Vision at Flat Earth

FLAT EARTH THEATRE, despite its playfully antediluvian name, is carving out a niche for itself, discovering lovely plays about women of science. DELICATE PARTICLE LOGIC by Jennifer Blackmer (pulsing through Oct. 13th) places atomic physicist Lise Meitner (a tour de force by Christine Power) at the epicenter of the unearthing of nuclear fission… for which her male laboratory partner, the noted chemist Otto Hahn (a solid Thomas Grenon) received the Nobel Prize. (You may remember Flat Earth’s extraordinary production of SILENT SKY from last season, about the women of the Harvard Observatory who weren’t credited for the stars they discovered.)

In Blackmer’s ingenious memory play, Meitner and Hahn join forces to find the next new element… and beat out the rest of the field, which included Enrico Fermi, for the bragging rights. Everyone, it seems, was bombarding radium and uranium to find heretofore unknown heavier elements. Meitner suggested to Hahn that what they were, or rather, weren’t seeing, were lighter elements emerging with unstable centers, and those center nuclei would yield infinite energy when bombarded. Please insert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity here because I, not being a scientist, can only grasp that splitting these molecules creates fission and fission is essential for a very, very large explosion… like the horrific bombs unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is now widely accepted that Meitner and Hahn should have shared in the accolades. Blackmer ingeniously places Meitner in the center of a tiny emotional sphere as well, with Hahn and his wife (a glorious performance from Barbara Douglass) swirling in various combinations. We first meet Edith Hahn in a sanitarium of sorts, where she has been committed for hurling a vase at her husband! When she is visited by Meitner, the two reminisce as if they were old friends. We’re given several versions of the past to choose from, charming recreations, which, like Edith’s water colors, float in undulating memory pools.

Blackmer is extremely kind to Hahn, painting him as an affectionate lab partner to Meitner, even helping her escape from the Nazis. However, the playwright intimates that the two may have been more. Meitner calls him Hahnchen, the “chen” indicating intimacy, perhaps only ‘wished for’ on her part. And he may have been nudged, the playwright hints, to accept sole ownership of the Nobel. You decide once you’ve weighed all the dramatic evidence. That’s what’s so fascinating about Blackmer’s play, that all this information has been filtered through time and fragile recollections.

Director Betsy S. Goldman’s shimmering production is enhanced exponentially by Christine A. Banna’s dancing projections (from sparkling snow to theoretical formulae which flow right over the actors) and PJ Strachman’s shadowy, evocative lighting. Kudos to Flat Earth for again offering performances with American Sign Language interpreters.

As I was leaving the theater, bemoaning Meitner’s fate, a friend reminded me of the wonderful Nobel news of last week. Even as half the Senate was dismissing a woman’s testimony and embracing a judge’s lies, two women were recognized by the worldwide scientific community. Frances H. Arnold (and two men) won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Donna Strickland won the Nobel for Physics. Flat Earth Theatre calls us to remember all the women who have stood up over the centuries. Thanks, Flat Earth.



Sunday, September 30, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey BURGESS Goes Mamet One Better

Eleanor Burgess’ brilliant two hander, THE NICETIES, may have used David Mamet’s OLEANNA structure (student confronts teacher/ professor gets rattled/ says and does untoward things/ consequences ensue) but that’s where the comparison ends. THE NICETIES isn’t about radical feminism. Racism and history are at odds in the Huntington’s savvy production (playing through Oct. 6th) and unlike the static Mamet play, I truly enjoyed Burgess’ serious and often humorous writing.

The law of unintended consequences, however, has intervened in my review because I saw Burgess’ extraordinary play mere hours after I watched Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testify before Congress on Sept. 27 (prior to Senator Flake’s successful maneuver for an F.B.I. investigation). Words like prep school, bravery, hearings and death threats jumped across the footlights at me, clanging like “The Anvil Chorus.” Suddenly, Burgess’ play became an indictment of the current (hopeless, helpless) state of our democracy, when, in fact, she sets her play in 2016 before the car wreck of an alt-right government.

Burgess is concerned with the bias of history, especially American historywritten, as the pundits say, by the victors. So why should we be surprised that there are few accounts from African slaves or Native-Americans of what transpired? The young African-American student whose paper is being skewered for both grammar and content (by her elegant but pretentious white professor) makes the case that she’s carrying around “real history” in her skin and bones. (Fats Waller made the case seventy years ago about “what is on my face” in his searing “Black and Blue.” Yet African-Americans today still find their lives endangered by the color of their skin.)

Jordan Boatman’s Zoe is audacious and impetuous and her professor (Lisa Banes, oozing a Seven Sisters superiority) doesn’t much like her tone. She tries to tell the student she’s sympatico: “I get it,” she says. And you know the response to that! The back and forth is exciting stuff. You think the teacher has a point (about books being better than Google for academic reference material), then you side with the student (about the importance of demonstrations and marches over classes). It’s a marvelous debate until it goes very wrong.

You’re even drawn into the argument at the center of their academic disagreement: that revolutions don’t work. The professor maintains that the repressive government which is violently overthrown makes way for yet another repressive regime, citing Russia, Iran and Cuba. The student is sure that in America’s case, “democracy was fertilized by oppression” but her professor isn’t signing on, especially without proof.

Director Kimberly Senior gets a clever dramatic rhythm going on stage for the two dynamic performers and Act I hurtles by. The second act resolution, for me, is less satisfying than the set-up but whether we favor one point of view over the other, Burgess manages to make both characters compelling and sympathetic.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey “Not a Puppet… Not a Puppet” Fred is us.

You must MEET FRED, at the Boston Center for the Arts only through Sept. 30th so hurry! He’s a plucky little fellow who just wants “to be a regular guy.”… But it’s not so easy for someone who needs help to get around. The PUPPET SHOWPLACE in Brookline (celebrating its 45th year) is instrumental in bringing FRED all the way from Wales to Boston as part of FRED’s cross country tour. (The Showplace presents ingenious puppet performances for adults, in addition to their children’s shows and their riotous puppet SLAMS.)

Two Welsh companies conceived MEET FRED, their hilarious and deeply touching theater piece about a puppet and his existential existence. The puppeteers from Blind Summit joined up with the Hijinx organization, which creates extraordinary work performed by actors with and without learning disabilities… and the result of their merger is remarkable.

Fred resembles those small, featureless, wooden models with hinged appendages, used to practice drawing the human figure. No face, just an oval head perched on a moveable torso. But FRED is definitely not made of wood. He’s soft cloth, animated by three puppeteers in black who recede, like the puppeteers in WAR HORSE did. We experience Fred’s enormous struggle to stand up (literally and figuratively) in a world not particularly interested in him. He’s got heart and gumption and he’s determined to make his mark. (Dan McGowan, Morgan Thomas and Sam Harding work every joint and sinew the little guy has, with McGowan supplying Fred’s charming, squeaky and sometimes defiant voice.)

Lucky for us, Fred’s adventures take him into Monty Python territory: He meets a hostile job councilor in Richard Newnham, a bewildered human date in Lindsay Foster and a fifty mile per hour hurricane, conjured up by director Ben Pettit-Wade and stage manager Gareth John.

If you have seen Boston’s IMAGINARY BEASTS, then you’re familiar with the seamless mix of puppetry and humanity for creating profoundly moving theater. This is the Welsh version of the Beasts. When Fred expresses deep sorrow, you’ll feel it, too. But mostly, the show mines laughter born out of the everyday frustrations we all experience. Fred really is all of us.