Saturday, August 22, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey No KIDDING AROUND at Bad Habit



The first time I saw Edward Albee’s THE GOAT (OR WHO IS SYLVIA?) I was convinced it was a comedy… or an absurdist allegory at the least. The Lyric Stage had two of Boston’s best comic actors wrestling with Albee’s beastly conundrum. Can a man fall head over heels in love with a four legged creature? And what will his wife have to say about it! As I recall, the audience laughed almost all the way through.

Then I saw Bad Habit Productions’ deadly serious version this week (ending August 23rd) and I’m convinced it’s an out and out tragedy. THE GOAT won the Tony for best play in 2002 and boy is it prescient a decade or more later. When the wife finds out about her architect/husband’s bizarre paramour, she imagines she could cope with a human rival or a husband who likes to “try on her dresses” but this she cannot withstand.

Albee offers up everyone’s point of view (i.e. the friend, the wife, the husband, the son) except the title character. Why not? The wife suggests in one of her magnificent tirades, that it’s rape. If we’re to take the story as gospel and not as metaphor (Evangelicals still denounce homosexuality as “unnatural,” never mind sex with another species!), then someone has to worry about the sentient being who literally becomes the scapegoat.

So rather than proceed with my own tirade on animal rights, I shall opt for the symbolism in THE GOAT. The wife proclaims that her husband’s behavior is “outside the rules,” territory Albee traversed more than a few times. His plays were denounced. His homosexuality was condemned and rather than celebrate his work, no Pulitzer was awarded the year he was the finalist (for WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?). Talk about scapegoats.

Director Daniel Morris’ shattering production has at its core the remarkable performance of Veronica Anastasio Wiseman as the profoundly wounded wife. First you watch her heart bleed out through her pores; Then yours begins to break. Luke Murtha, also, as the completely overwhelmed son, wins our affection and our most tender sympathies, as his world slips into “a hole we’ll never be able to dig our way out of.” Morris and company have crafted an exquisite catastrophe from Albee’s sorrowful, penetrating script.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey FRIDAY THE 13th Meets SIGMUND FREUD and THE OLD TESTAMENT


Wax Wings Productions is one of the few theater companies in town that develop and produce original plays. It’s quite a risk and we’re indebted to WW for its dedication to new work and for its high production values. Bravo.

Cassie M. Seinuk’s EYES SHUT DOOR OPEN is finishing its run at the Inner Sanctum Visual Arts building this weekend, through August 16th. Seinuk has written enough material for three intriguing plays (and one horror movie) with EYES. There’s the rub. Her first plot idea is a keeper: Victor Shopov portrays a savvy painter who’s basking in the glow of stardom at a reception for his latest show. He smugly tells us he could have any of the tony women giving him the eye. Instead he’s set his sights on the gorgeous cater/waiter who seems impervious to his charms. The two trade barbs and sparks are ignited. It’s a nifty setup.

Melissa M. DeJesus as the aloof butterfly is counting on the testosterone that sends males of the species tearing after the one female who isn’t interested. Of course she’s interested and she knows just how to lure him in. There have been a spate of stories over the years about bright young women (and men, too, I’m sure) who have insinuated themselves into the lives of luminaries, especially the reclusive kind. (For example, years ago a college freshman wrote a fan letter to J.D. Salinger and parlayed it into a live in relationship and plenty of fame for her... albeit most of it negative.) Is this what the stunning woman is after? She certainly seems to have an agenda.

This clever butterfly is in fact a journalist who lies to the painter to get details for a story about him. Seinuk makes her publication Vanity Fair, which has had its share of lawsuits on the subject of exploitation. Comeuppance is a nifty kernel for a plot but Seinuk complicates the story with what appeared to me to be some terrible organic affliction for the painter. He has blinding, recurring headaches with a frightening, burning aura accompanied by distorted, crackling noise: All the earmarks of a brain tumor or an aneurysm or a seizure disorder perhaps.

 But No. This is where the play veers off into pseudo psycho-Freudian territory. Evidently deep emotional scars are causing the headaches and menacing voices. (In the not too distant past, the very real “Son of Sam” killer thought voices were telling him to commit mass murder.) In the artist’s case, it’s the “Son of Sandman” calling but the “psycho” diagnosis doesn’t really fit because he’s able to function apart from the headaches… and function extremely well, becoming the toast of SoHo. He may have a ton of guilt to deal with but guilt doesn’t manifest itself in hallucinations, horror movie style with faceless bogeymen popping out from behind closed doors.

Of course, you can drive anywhere with a literary license. I just can’t go with you if it doesn’t make sense. Director Christopher Randolph has a field day scaring us with deafening sound and blood red lights. And if headaches, voices and two characters working at cross purposes aren’t enough, Seinuk introduces a third character, portrayed by Michael James Underhill, adding even more creepiness as the artist’s mentally and physically damaged younger brother. When he arrives, the fur (not to mention the visual metaphors) really starts to fly.

The crackerjack acting is what keeps up the intensity of the piece, even while we’re trying to make the bizarre puzzle fit. Violence makes me squeamish. I would have preferred more psychological give and take and less “slasher” activity but that’s just me.  

Friday, July 31, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey PATRIOTIC POWERHOUSE



If you’ve seen a production of 1776 The Musical, you know it’s a solid charmer that can cover more history in a couple of hours than any book about The Revolution. Broadway veteran Peter Stone didn’t have much to do to pull together Sherman Edwards’ expansive material (culled from a lifetime of research as a history teacher) for a musical like no other. Edwards’ delightful songs make every scene distinct. Now The Company Theatre sets fresh eyes on 1776 for a surprising and pleasing new approach to some of the staging. (1776 plays with history through August 16th).

Directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman never stray from the material, mind you. They just tweak it enough to make you sit up and take notice. Take Andrew Giordano’s blistering rebuke of New England as South Carolina representative Edward Rutledge in the showstopper, “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.” Projections behind Giordano show the Tall Ships which “sailed out of Boston” and returned with human cargo. (When Boston celebrates “The Tall Ships” every few years now, slavery is never mentioned.) We see black and white illustrations, perhaps from a captain’s ledger, of bodies crammed into a ship’s belly. You could think it might be distracting but it isn’t. Giordano wields the lyrics like weapons. What the projections do when he’s singing about black lives that don’t matterand we see them in front of us on the screen—is to pull us up with a jolt to 2015.

The bulk of the staging (by Sally Ashton Forrest et al) is by the book but what makes it resonate anew is Michael V. Joseph’s ingenious musical “settings.” For instance, the orchestra is reduced to an intimate chamber ensemble under the Adams’ loving, confidential letters to each other. Now they stand out in relief as you become aware of their immensely personal content. To borrow from Abigail, “what was there is still there” in the text…just exquisitely enhanced. Likewise, when the makings of gunpowder arrive in Philadelphia from Abigail and the ladies’ various auxiliaries, the brass lets us know the importance of the women’s contribution!
(Who knew there was a feminist angle just lurking in the score!)

            Bob DeVivo is a dynamic John Adams, all pent up energy which can hardly contain itself, except when it’s countered by Stephanie Mann as Abigail and Erin McMillen as Martha Jefferson. DeVivo gets wonderful laughs when Ben Franklin (a wild and wooly Doug Jabara) is amazed to learn Adams can dance. (I loved that freewheeling waltz, by the by!)

Speaking of Jefferson, Trey Lundquist as a very young, reticent Jefferson and McMillen as his sweet Martha make their romance quite touching (although history has revealed Jefferson’s other relationship, with Sally Hemmings but that’s another play). In the comic relief department, John F. King practically gallops away (no horse needed) as the impetuous Virginian, Richard Henry Lee.

Robert Case as the other major character, John Dickinson from Pennsylvania, supplies a worthy nemesis for Adams. Case makes him smart as a whip, sure of his influence over the other conservatives, purposely goading Adams into fisticuffs, knowing just how to rile his easily ruffled opponent. Among the non-members of Congress, Danny Bolton shines as the almost always patient Congressional secretary and Finn Clougherty delivers a heartbreaking “Momma Look Sharp” about the high price foot soldiers pay in every war.

Friday, July 24, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Severe LAUGHTER at Hub Theatre



Director Margaret Ann Brady’s LAUGHING WILD (@ Club CafĂ© through August 1st) is just the wild and wooly production you need for Christopher Durang’s off the wall mono- and dialogues. Hub Theatre’s roller coaster ride is indeed a summer treat.

Durang’s l980s comedy is surprisingly prescient: for his predictions about global warming and handgun violence, right down to his utter disdain for teenagers from the Jersey Shore! Lauren Elias is a hoot as the beleaguered young woman for whom life is endlessly fraught. She just wants to get through the day without incident but trouble seeks her out (or she seeks it out if it’s late in arriving) even in the tuna fish aisle.

Robert Orzalli is hilarious, you guessed it, as the unfortunate man standing in front of the tuna section when she goes shopping. Elias gets lots of laughs as she shrieks and wails over the “severest of woes” that assail her at every turnwhile Orzalli’s character tries his best to center himself (zen style), extracting bad thoughts with patient hands, only to have them snap back into his brain. Poor man, none of his affirmations succeed in ridding him of his negativity. (Thank heavens because that’s the grist for Orzalli’s comic tour de force.)

All Hub shows are Pay-What-You-Can. If they charged by the laugh, only The Donald could afford a ticket. As it stands, they’re priceless!

Monday, July 13, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Simply WUNDERBAR!



If the Reagle Music Theatre sponsored a baseball club, they’d be two for two. Last month’s GUYS AND DOLLS turned out to be a sure bet and this month’s hilarious KISS ME KATE (through July 19th) is a must see for its smart staging and its incomparable performances. One more thing the two musicals have in common, a floating crap game to move the plot along.

The Porter/Spewack musical based on Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW offers an embarrassment of riches in Cole Porter’s glorious songs: From “Another Op’nin,’ Another Show” (brilliantly jazzed up by Lovely Hoffman) to leading lady Sarah Pfisterer’s gorgeous “So in Love” to leading man Rick Hilsabeck’s deliciously naughty “Where is the Life that Late I Led” and so many more…right down to the star struck thugs (Aaron Dore & Daniel Forest Sullivan) who run away with the show in their riotous “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

Director Cynthia Thole and music director Dan Rodriguez reinvigorate both the story and the music and choreographer Susan M. Chebookjian pays tribute to all the great Broadway choreographers in Darren Bunch and company’s sizzling “Too Darn Hot.” Every member of the ensemble (or “pomping folk” as they were known in Shakespeare’s day) makes this production pop!

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.