Friday, April 29, 2011

Gift Horses By Beverly Creasey

The IndepenDent Drama Society’s EURYDICE (through this weekend only) is my second encounter with Sarah Ruhl’s classically inspired tale of love and death and more death. The first time I didn’t connect at all with the play. This time I was charmed from the get-go with Lindsay Eagle’s magical production…and moved to tears by Eurydice’s overwhelming losses. The tragic loss of Eurydice’s father (after regaining him) was inspired by the death of Ruhl’s own father. She fashions a sort of “Gift of the Magi” for her characters above and beyond the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, transporting the play in to rich emotional territory.

Director Eagle knows the power of the audience’s imagination and she trusts us with an invisible thread by which her father creates a room for Eurydice … and an implied elevator which descends to the underworld (aided by Chris Larson’s inspired sound design). The “talking stones” in IndepenDent’s Hades are delightfully demented acrobats, some of whom, like Zach Eisenstat, flip effortlessly head over heels (and crack us up with a hilarious telephone voice), and some like Sierra Kagan, seem to be caught like deer in subterranean headlights Each and every stone is wonderfully unique despite their job as the Greek Chorus.

What a cast and crew Eagle has to work with. Anne Winneg is perfection as the sweet but foolishly na├»ve Eurydice. Greg Nussen is a pensive Orpheus who becomes heroic in the depths of his devotion. Cliff Blake breaks your heart as Eurydice’s kind and loving father and Adam Lauver evokes laughter and chills as a spoiled brat of a god.

Matthew Breton’s gorgeous, dappled lighting for a room and Abigail Neuhoff’s simple leveled set exemplify “less is more.” Samara Martin’s ingenious costumes for the stones help define their personalities in countless ways. (Even the lifting of a voluminous, circle skirt over her head for protection sets one stone apart.) I could recount endless IndepenDent touches which make Ruhl’s play resonate. See for yourself what a topnotch company can do with a script … and hurry. IndepenDent is disbanding after their next play.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SO MANY GENIES, SO LITTLE TIME By Beverly Creasey

It may be a by-product of pop culture phenomena like South Park but the children I asked at Wheelock Family Theatre’s ALADDIN this past weekend all adored the Bad Guy! Or maybe it’s just that Larry Coen is the funniest villain they’ve ever seen. He mugs, stomps his feet, mushes his chin up under his nose. Let’s face it. He intends to steal the show. That isn’t easy, considering the talent in ALADDIN and the Wonderful Lamp (playing through May15th).

James Norris’ adaptation of ALADDIN returns to the “Arabian Nights” source material so Wheelock audiences are treated to two genies, the one everyone knows lives in the lamp and another formidable force of nature, the genie of the ring (not to be confused with the “Lord of the Ring”).

Wheelock is fortunate to have a charismatic Aladdin. (Sebastian Kim is now a teenager but he’s been acting at Wheelock for years!) When the evil magician (the larcenous Coen) discovers that only an honest person can retrieve the lamp from beneath the earth, he tricks the guileless Aladdin into helping him. While in the underground cave, Aladdin meets the Genie of the Ring, a ferocious John Davin as the Ring leader of an army of magical, chanting spirit/slaves.

Wheelock has an arsenal of character actors to liven up a story. Director (and clever desert/set designer) James P. Bryne creates hilarious havoc on stage, almost as if he winds everyone up and lets them go. Dan Dowling, Jr. bellows and frets over his gorgeous daughter (Samantha Boucher), as the reigning Sultan. June Baboian is a whirling dervish of an indulgent nanny and Monique Nicole McIntyre is delightful as a gullible and unwitting accomplice to the nasty Magician. (McIntyre’s daughter performs in the show as well, as one of the Lamp genie’s slaves. Wheelock really is a “Family” theater!)

Where John Davin is an earthbound genie, Kortney Adams descends from the sky as the beautiful genie of the lamp. Adams is deliciously pleased with her powers, manipulating the action below her with a wiggle of her toes or a turn of her magnificent bejeweled turban. Melissa Miller’s sumptuous costumes add to the exotic feel of the show. She layers gilt accented silk scarves over colorful Indian prints which sparkle under John R. Malinowski’s dappled lighting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

BREAKING WITH THE PAST By Beverly Creasey

I hardly know where to begin…perhaps with a salute to the late Jon Lipsky. In addition to authoring a wealth of plays, Lipsky effected a meeting of sorts of the left and right brain by co-founding the MIT Catalyst Collaborative with Underground Railway Theatre “to encourage the collaboration of science and theater.”

Together CC @MIT and URT are producing Hugh Whitemore’s brilliant BREAKING THE CODE, about the extraordinary life and times of Alan Turing (playing through May 8th at the Central Square Theatre). Turing is the scientist credited with decoding the Nazi’s “enigma” machine and in Winston Churchill’s words, “saving Great Britain from defeat at the hands of the Germans.”

The History Channel recently televised a program about the “enigma” code created by a typewriter equipped with rotors and grids which generate hundreds of thousands of permutations, all of which can shift combinations daily, thereby making deciphering messages almost impossible. That is, until Turing engineered his “computer.” Many celebrations are planned for the inventor of the modern computer on the anniversary of his centenary in 2012.

If your curiosity about “enigma” has been piqued, by all means see BREAKING THE CODE. If you prefer stories which can break your heart, see BREAKING THE CODE, by any means. It’s not a dry COPENHAGEN sort of play. BREAKING THE CODE is flesh and blood, passion and betrayal, on a grand scale. It’s the best play I’ve seen in a long, long time. I get chills just replaying scenes in my mind.

Another code that Turing broke nearly broke him. His OBE award was of no help when he was tried and convicted of “gross indecency” after the war. Accused Had Powerful Brain read the headlines which just decades earlier lauded his patriotism. Like Oscar Wilde, he was imprisoned for being homosexual and suffered even after prison on mandatory estrogen therapy.

Director Adam Zahler’s vision of Whitemore’s play is inspired, from the crystal performances, full of dazzling facets, to Janie E. Howland’s clever replication of the “enigma” diagram over our heads (with wires crossing like Cat’s Cradle strings, connecting point to counterpoint, suggesting that string theory evolved from Turing’s equations). Behind us Howland has chalked mathematical formulae forwards and backwards, like Turing’s dreams, on blackboards visible from either side of the playing area.

Allyn Burrows straightens from ill at ease, stuttering outsider to confident warrior when Turing is engaged in explaining his theories. Burrows’ shoulders square and a light shines from inside, illuminating his charm (or was that a Franklin Meissner, Jr. lighting effect?) It’s an immeasurable tour de force. Debra Wise, too, gives a performance of exquisite beauty, transforming as she rallies to her son in his hour of need. Just holding his hand brought me to tears.

Danny Bryck gives each of his characters a palpable soul and Liz Hayes imbues Turing’s friend and colleague with a wistful sadness. Marc Harpin is plenty officious as the bureau man but it’s Dafydd ap Rees who gives the play its lovely touches of humor.

WALKING ON AIR

Exactly across the river (as the crow flies) the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and the Boston Center for American Performance are presenting eight of Jon Lipsky’s ten-minute plays written for the annual Boston Theatre Marathon. WALKING THE VOLCANO (playing at BPT through May 1st) unites the plays and finds a common thread: Each takes place at a moment of heightened awareness for its characters.

The plays fit a nifty chronological arc as well, starting in the ‘60s and ending with events in more recent memory. Lipsky takes us from the bloody battlefields of Viet Nam to the indulgent world of rock stars to the wrenching reunions that rip us apart. Director Elaine Vaan Hogue couldn’t find a better cast to impersonate Lipsky’s characters. Jess Moss and Brian Vaughan perform the younger set with an intensity which takes your breath away – and then blows your mind away with their rock ‘n roll chops.

Paula Langton and Gabriel Kuttner play a generation (or two) older with sage savvy. What a pleasure to watch these performers work their magic. Kudos, too, to designer Jon Savage (and Marc Olivere)’s gorgeous Louise Nevelson-esque sculpted set which cleverly turns into a dock and a hospital bed.

The Boston University Theatre community will honor Lipsky with a memorial celebration at the Huntington Theatre on Monday, May 9th @7:30 P.M.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

IF WISHES WERE HORSES By Beverly Creasey

Psychologists cite a peculiar phenomenon in the death of a husband or wife: The surviving spouse is more likely to die in the ensuing year than he or she is after that year. Such is the power of grief.

Nathan Louis Jackson has written a touching play about a love affair which transcends death. BROKE-OLOGY, the study of being broke is getting its New England premiere at the Lyric Stage Company (through April 23rd) Johnny Lee Davenport plays a larger than life pater familias whose wife dies early in their marriage. Although he raises their two sons, he never “moves on” with his life. Now that the two boys are grown and MS is ravaging his body, he thinks more and more about her, longing to be by her side.

Jackson takes his time setting up the story. Although some of the scenes seem redundant (namely the gnome business), the father’s suffering comes through loud and clear. Monty Cole and David Curtis play the sons, with Curtis stealing the play as guru of the science of “Broke-ology”: a mathematical equation where a fried bologna sandwich equals a bottomless pit of poverty. Curtis postures and preens but we see right through his braggadocio to his deepest emotions, such is the skill of Curtis’ performance.

Director Benny Sato Ambush builds the momentum by having Davenport become more sonorous as his body weakens. Patrice Jean-Baptiste is lovely as the beatific wife. Her sweetness tempers all the testosterone on stage, making us wish we could see her in Act II. Thankfully, the playwright grants our wish.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

LUCKY STAR By Beverly Creasey

Company Theatre in Norwell may be a bit out of the way but it’s worth the drive to see SINGININ THE RAIN—chiefly to see John F. King in the Gene Kelly role. RAIN is a mighty ambitious musical for a semi-professional company and yes, the rain came down without a hitch, leaving plenty of puddles for King to stomp through. Company Theatre hires equity and non-equity actors and like Reagle Music Theatre, it profits from the mix because the more seasoned performers help to raise the level of the other performances.

King is surrounded by talent in RAIN, especially Amanda Joy Loth as his love interest, the hoofer who saves the movie studio’s first “talking picture” when their “silent screen” star can’t (pronounced ‘kee-ant’) talk on film, even with elocution lessons. Michael Hammond, as King’s wisecracking sidekick, knows how to Make Em Laugh and the three together give the production plenty of kick.

Michael V. Joseph’s twenty piece orchestra is another reason to rave about Company’s production. They make the score crackle from the get-go, with a brass section that practically lefts you out of your seat. Best of all, they’re not buried out of view, so you’re able to see and hear them – and most importantly, the balance between singers and orchestra is perfect. (So often in musical theater it isn’t and you can’t make out the lyrics but not here!) Kudos, too, for the mock “silent films” at the heart of the story.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mad As A Brush By Beverly Creasey

It exploded with Monty Python. Americans have been enamored of BBC comedy imports ever since. Public Television in the U.S. has long dined on the revenue from imports like Upstairs Downstairs, Fawlty Towers and (Lord help us) Are You Being Served?

BLACKADDER fans, rejoice! Theatre On Fire is celebrating the series’ 25th anniversary with the first ever live production of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s wacky adventures on this side of the pond, voted (by the Brits) “second best British comedy of all time.” Strange as it may seem, I’ve never experienced the television show so I’m reviewing the stage version without benefit of prior adoration. (The theater was packed on opening night with droves of admirers who knew every turn of plot and every gloriously lame joke.)

BLACKADDER II (playing in two parts at the Charlestown Working Theatre through April 23rd) stars Craig Houk, one of Boston’s best comic actors, of late having slain Zeitgeist audiences with his furious napping. In TOF’s BLACKADDER II (i.e. BBC Season Two) he takes over Rowan Atkinson’s reins, galloping full tilt into the dubious fray.(I might add that Houk cuts quite a dashing figure as the sardonic knight, giving him the distinct advantage over Atkinson.)

My theater companion knows the BBC series intimately and testifies that the stage version is rendered word for word, characterization for characterization … with one exception: Crystal Lisbon’s Queen Elizabeth, he says, is better than the original. I must say, I ate up her every baffling utterance, delivered with just the right amount of aristocratic vacuity.

The BLACKADDER episodes (three to an evening in two evenings) are very, very silly, skewed in that naughty British way…You know, you cringe at the joke about scrofula, but you can’t help being amused. Bad taste is king. (You’ll know what I mean when you see the Sir Walter Raleigh episode. You’ll need a stiff upper lip for that one.)

If Shakespeare is your cuppa tea, Shakespeare this isn’t. Funny it is. At times it’s darn good social satire but mostly it’s just shameless. Over a dozen actors portray the denizens of Queen Elizabeth the First’s realm in a sort of low and I do mean lowbrow Nicholas Nickleby. Darren Evans is the mad genius behind the scenes, finding playing space where none existed in the small Charlestown firehouse theater and nimbly directing the impossibly madcap action (Wait ‘til you see Jason Beals’ spectacular entrance as Flashheart!)

Michael Steven Costello is marvelously droll as the cunning Lord Melchett (Do not miss his bio, either!), always scheming to foil Blackadder’s plans. Nadia de Lemeny is hilarious as a grieving, chest-heaving, (not fully aware that she’s a) widow and Wayne Fritsche scores as Blackadder’s often maligned and more often misled sidekick, Lord Percy. Chris Wagner is sensational as the dimwitted Baldrick and a cast of thousands (actually fourteen) play everyone else: from Gerry Slattery’s creepy Dr.Leech to Ann Carpenter’s crazed Wisewoman. I’ll report on the rest of the cast once I’ve seen the other evening. Suffice it to say I can’t wait.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Heaven On Their Minds By Beverly Creasey

There’s always a production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR this time of year. Sometimes it’s a rock concert, sometimes it’s a theater production. Sometimes it’s at a club, or even in a church basement. So off to the South Shore we went to see SUPERSTAR at the Christ Congregational Church (with church members in the chorus and pros in the leads), directed by Teresa Capachione of the Capachione School for the Performing Arts in Bridgewater.

When you’ve seen dozens of SUPERSTARs, it’s refreshing to see a different take on the material. I can’t say I agree with the sexual heat igniting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene (or the apostles pairing off with women for the night: “Close Your Eyes…Everything’s Alright…”) but it certainly made the audience sit up and take notice. Having Pilate cradle a beaten, bloody Jesus in his arms, however, as he sang “Your Life is in My Hands” made the lyric resonate all over the place. It’s not often you see a conflicted Pilate in SUPERSTAR and it works.

Capachione is lucky (or should I say ‘blessed’) to have a beatific Jesus (Adam Joy), a lovely Mary Magdalene (Katherine Joy), a fierce Judas (Adam Rosencrance) and a charismatic Pilate (Alan Thomas)…as well as some talented performers in the smaller roles, namely Eddie Paris as Peter and Dan Boyd (in two roles), delivering a gorgeous “Power and the Glory.”

Music director Eli Bigelow’s orchestra managed the Andrew Lloyd Webber score beautifully, with inspiring trumpet work from Erik Johnson. The cavernous sanctuary made for some peculiar acoustics but what a coup, to have the definitive musical about Christ in Christ Church!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The United States of HEDWIG By Beverly Creasey

HEDWIG fans are divided. Is she a multiple personality or an unfortunate casualty of the cold war? Is Tommy Gnosis her nemesis or her alter ego? If you haven’t discovered Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell’s hard rock philosophical/ musical phenomenon, now is the time to experience the cult heroine of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. Here’s why.

You won’t find a better production than Tortoise and Finch’s gig (at the Turtle Lane Playhouse through April 9th). I’ve seen four or five HEDWIGs and not been able to make out Trask’s clever lyrics in any of them. Everyone (except this remarkable crew) seems to think it’s merely a rock concert where lyrics are sacrificed on the altar of sound. There’s a touching story in HEDWIG. There’s great pathos in the songs and Jim Fitzpatrick (one of the best performers in town, by the way) and music director Dan Rodriguez are determined to have the audience hear them.

Fitzpatrick co-directs the show (with Kevin Cirone) and portrays “the internationally ignored song stylist from Berlin” to perfection. Looking and sounding like Marlene Dietrich, Fitzpatrick fills the stage with emotion, relating Hedwig’s sorrowful story: a cold mother/a life trapped behind the iron curtain / a botched operation / escape/ a heartless world /rejection / transformation / acceptance / triumph. Kudos, too, to the gorgeous Shonna McEachern (believe it or not) as the bearded Itzhak, Hedwig’s jealous, misunderstood husband and to Dan Rodriguez and the Angry inch Band for rocking us without robbing us of the whole Bowie-esque experience.