Monday, November 7, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Wide Awake for this SPRING By Beverly Creasey

The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company has a hit on their hands. They’re currently presenting a smart and highly amusing production of the 2007 Tony Award winning (Best Musical) SPRING AWAKENING (playing at the Arsenal Center thru Nov. 12th). The Broadway tour wasn’t nearly this funny—and come to think of it, the orchestra was so loud on the tour that you couldn’t hear the lyrics!

The Steven Sater/Duncan Sheik musical is based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind which shocked audiences for its depiction of the sexual awakening of 19th century European teenagers. Even in 2011, the musical is shocking by Broadway standards, with its blunt, punk lyrics and its sardonic, explicit, sensibilities. Believe it or not, my favorite song is the hilarious “Totally F***ed,” the latter word rhyming niftily with “destruct.” The musical is best when it cuts loose (and loses the conventional musical format) and its characters all join in the exuberant frenzy, even the adults, who are for the most part unhelpful or downright despicable to the struggling teenagers.

Director Joe DeMita has a fine young cast, especially in Alaina Fragoso and Jared Walsh as the young lovers and in Ben Sharton as their tortured compatriot…and on the grownup side, in Linda Goetz and James Fitzpatrick as all the misunderstanding adults. DeMita places a majestic tree (of knowledge, of forbidden fruit etc.) upstage with ropes to entwine it and entangle the adolescents, to fetter them with old world values, with shame, with doubt. The metaphor works, thanks to the chorus who manipulate the ropes and amplify the scenes with gestural movement and dance.

Music director Steven Bergman gets fine vocal work from the entire cast and best of all, he maintains a perfect balance of orchestra and singing so each and every lovely lyric can be heard. Bravo!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Soho and Gomorrah By Beverly Creasey

Theatre on Fire certainly does have a way with British plays. Their cheeky production of Jez Butterworth’s MOJO (at Charlestown Working Theatre thru Nov.19th) will have you cringing and laughing at the same time, when a band of overeager underachievers try to muscle in on the emerging British rock scene. (MOJO won a slew of awards in London for Butterworth. He also penned last year’s Tony Award winning JERUSALEM.)

If David Mamet were English he might have written MOJO, not AMERICAN BUFFALO. Instead of Mamet’s rare nickel, the coin of the realm in MOJO is a pop singer the schemers think will make them all rich. Their colossal ineptitude is what makes these small time operators dangerous (and funny). Their brains are so scrambled from liquor and pills that they’re sidetracked at every juncture, turning on each other at the drop of a hat. Director Darren Evans gets that balance of menace and mirth exactly right.

MOJO reminded me of the film SNATCH for its sardonic humor and easy violence…and for its outrageous characters. (You may recall Brad Pitt’s brilliant, incomprehensible turn as the scrappy bare-knuckles fighter.) If you’ve seen SNATCH or any of the gritty British street films, you’ll remember that it takes a good ten minutes or so to accustom your ear to the working class dialect. MOJO, too, will have you treading water in the fist scene, as two wannabes fantasize about the fame they’re about to taste. Not to worry. The actors are so skilled that the gist is transmitted physically. Brian Bernhard and Keith Michael Pinault can hardly contain themselves, whirling about the stage in a frenzy of anticipation. It’s a tour de force. Even without benefit of language comprehension, there’s no mistaking that something is up.

What’s up includes mayhem and murder, something these penny ante toughs hadn’t anticipated. Butterworth wrings considerable humor from their puny attempts to deal with it. Greg Maraio is hilarious, morphing from gofer to mover and shaker, all because of a key. Gerard Slattery as their boss is wound tighter than a drum and Andres Rey Solorzano delivers the cameo role of the rocker at the center of the power struggle. All hell breaks loose when a local crime boss wants a piece of the action. Adam Siladi nails the role of the club owner’s crazy son (Not an easy task when everyone on stage is certifiable. He’s just a wee bit off their brand of crazy.)

Since MOJO (a nod to Muddy Waters?) references rock legends of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Evans sets up a live band to the rear of the playing area. They supply the rock background in the script and, to the delight of the audience, they perform Buddy Holly, Elvis, Little Richard and Billy Lee Riley tunes before the show and at intermission. Come a half hour early to hear their kickin’ licks. If you’re a fan of films like IN BRUGES or LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, then you’ll get your mojo working at Theatre On Fire.