Friday, October 28, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW MOCKINGBIRD HILL By Beverly Creasey


High School students are the toughest audiences there are. They’ll let you know in a flash if a show isn’t working. You could hear that proverbial pin yesterday morning at Marshall Hughes’ miraculous production of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD at Roxbury Community College. The Roxbury Repertory Theatre’s production of the Harper Lee classic held that audience in thrall for over two hours (which sped by, by the way) and they gasped, cheered and cried (yes, hankies came out all over the auditorium, including mine) in exactly the right places.

The most surprising aspect for me was that MOCKINGBIRD no longer seemed dated. I’ve seen dozens of static productions but Hughes and company solved the prickly problems which usually make me cringe, chiefly the “white man as savior” focus. This time, Atticus Finch and the neighborly narrator seem all of a piece of the story’s fabric, not elevated paragons of “white” wisdom. This production has been so carefully thought out – and carried out – that every line registers and Harper Lee’s shimmering words linger in your brain. I heard speeches I had forgotten were even in the book. Every character now stands out in relief and the whole work resonates so soundly that you can’t help but think of the innocents on death row in 2011.

Every element meshes, from Mirta Tocci’s homage to the original book jacket (that gnarled tree branch) to Hughes’ ingenious direction (students are invited on stage to be spectators during the trial!) to the lovely performances, each and every one remarkable, especially the children in the cast. Some parts are double cast so at my performance I saw Jawel Zimbabwe as Scout’s courageous brother and Lee Carter Brown as the kindly narrator. Alexa Niziak lights up the stage as little Scout and Josh Sussman and Zimbabwe create lots of laughs as the adventurous boys. Cliff Blake makes the father/attorney less stiff than most actors do, so he’s instantly more human than icon, more father than disciplinarian. What a coup!

Another coup is Jeffrey Chrispin’s Tom. He certainly is a victim of the racist justice system in our country… but he doesn’t portray him like a cowering victim. Chrispin gives him an inner strength and in doing so, he makes Atticus’ explanation at play’s end practically sear into the ether (that Tom was “fed up with white mens’ chances”).

From Walter Driscoll’s thoughtful country sheriff to Lida McGirr’s addled old lady to Ron Murphy’s righteous, soaring voiced preacher to Emil Kreymer’s ominous, tortured villain to each and every character, this MOCKINGBIRD lets the story truly sing…and finally does Lee’s novel justice.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW GAGGING FOR JOY By Beverly Creasey


We’ve come a long way since the Boston premiere of Christopher Durang’s SISTER MARY IGNATIUS EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU. You may remember that the Catholic Church dispatched picketers to protest Durang’s “scathing” portrait of nuns and cried “sacrilege” in their Sunday sermons. They had no idea what scathing satire would be in store for the church. Enter a million productions of NUNSENSE and now THE DIVINE SISTER (not to mention countless serious works skewered in SISTER).

The music is awfully loud. The humor is awfully raw. The story is over ze top, wiz a German hit nun stalking an unsuspecting mother superior. It could only be Charles Busch’s THE DIVINE SISTER (at SpeakEasy Stage Company through Nov. 19th).

Aside from the lame jokes and religious potshots, what THE DIVINE SISTER has going for it is the fabulous Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffery Roberson) in the superior role. The plot is merely there so Varla Jean can slay us with her delectable double entendre and seductive, lingering double takes. When it’s funny, it kills. When it isn’t (during set-ups for more plot twists), you’re anticipating the next gag (please take that literally) and wishing there were more shenanigans for director Larry Coen’s hilarious cast.

I could tell you why Sister Acacius (Paula Plum) melts down like a demented movie star or why Sister Walburga (Kathy St. George) is gunning for Mother Superior or why Mrs. Levinson (Ellen Colton) abhors nuns. “I could,”…as Mother Superior famously demurs, “But I won’t!”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW FELONIOUS FLIM FLAM By Beverly Creasey

Never mind Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Bob Fosse put CHICAGO on the map. Maurine Dallas Watkins’ play is the least important element in the blockbuster Kander and Ebb/Fosse “musical” vaudeville. The story (“Murder in Chicago is a form of entertainment”) merely knits the snappy production numbers together and showcases Fosse’s flamboyant footwork.

Karen Fogerty directs and choreographs the spunky METRO STAGE production of CHICAGO (running through October 29th) and it does look like Fosse for the most part, with his signature splayed hands, inverted knees, slumped shoulders and suggestive pelvic thrusts.

Kander and Ebb outdid themselves with CHICAGO. Almost every song is a showstopper and METRO has a solid cast to deliver the goods. Right from the get go Lauren Gemelli hits “All That Jazz” out of the park as the gorgeous double murderer, Velma Kelly. Her competition for favors from Mary O’Donnell’s tough prison matron is Monica Abdel-Azim as the enterprising, two-timing Roxie Hart. Gary Ryan as Amos turns Roxie’s long-suffering husband into a sweet, albeit “invisible” schlub.

What lifts the METRO production into the stratosphere is Ben DiScipio’s entrance as the razzle-dazzle lawyer, Billy Flynn. (DiScipio looks just like a seasoned Boston pol, confidant down to his spiffy, three piece suit and his million dollar swagger.) His “All I Care About [is Love]” noticeably ratchets up the excitement on stage.

Never mind the uneven sound (some of the performers project and some don’t) and the mugging during the trial scene (a crime for pulling focus away from Billy), do pay a visit to METRO’s CHICAGO for DiScipio, for the lethal Cell Block Girls and for Gemelli, who can electrify a song, backflip, click her heels together in midair and not miss a breath. Now that’s murder!

Friday, October 21, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW IF AND Or, BUT By Beverly Creasey

Historically, Aphra Behn was the first major female playwright of the English stage. Her work was written and performed during the Restoration (of the crown and of the theaters which were all closed by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans) but, alas, not today. She lies buried in Westminster Abbey with all the male literati (whose work is read and remembered but that’s a discussion for another day and another article).

Liz Duffy Adams’ tribute to Behn and the political intrigue afoot in the 1660s is provocatively called Or, (playing in a smart production at the Lyric Stage through Nov.6th). “Power needs poets and poets need money,” Adams quips but her historical comedy is best when it approaches farce. Adams has the eager playwright trying to finish a script while being besieged by interruptions. At one point she finds herself with an ex sequestered in a cupboard, a lover waiting in the next room, the King relegated to her bed chamber and a servant eavesdropping at the door.

One actress (the lovely Stacy Fischer) portrays Behn but two actors perform all the other characters – and sometimes simultaneously! Ro’ee Levi plays both King Charles and his Scottish rival who enter and exit so quickly you think you will see them side by side. (Shakespeare was famous for his “bed tricks” but the Lyric pulls off a nifty closet trick!) Theatrical heaven for farce lovers.

Hannah Husband portrays the canny actress Nell Gwynne (historically one of King Charles’ mistresses) as well as Behn’s loyal maid and an imperious theatrical producer (the actual Lady Davenant who inherited her husband’s theater company). Adams composed a hilarious, never ending soliloquy for Lady Davenant which Husband delivers triumphantly.

Director Daniel Gidron and company wring all the delightful humor they can from Adams’ script. It’s absolutely charming when the actors break out in rhyming couplets or barrel back on stage after a lightening fast quick change. Plotting and planning and getting caught is delicious fun BUT Or, just doesn’t have enough of it for me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW WARPED AGAIN By Beverly Creasey

If you’re itching “to go to a late night picture show” you’re probably a fan of the ROCKY HORROR phenomenon. If you don’t know about the cult midnight movies (where audiences yell and hurl objects at the screen), where have you been?

Stage versions of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW are up all over town right now. The Turtle Lane production of Richard O’Brien’s adaptation plays through October 30th and stars Tim McShea as the voluptuous Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter. O’Brien’s version submerges the central narrative (it helps if you know the movie) but this isn’t Shakespeare. The songs and antics more than make up for the plot confusion. (Fans of the movie will find the pace of the live musical uneven without film editing to keep it zipping from scene to scene.) That said, when it cooks, it kills.

Here are my faves: Andrea Giangreco kick starts the show with her high voltage, take-no-prisoners “Science Fiction.” Brad and Janet (Kyle Carlson and Nicole Vander Laan) are sweet and adorably na├»ve but let’s face it, it’s the freaks who throw the show into high gear. McShea and cohorts Giangreco and Devon Greenbaum ratchet up the volume, nobly assisted by a ghoulish David Lucey as an alien Igor and Harry McEnerny as a mad German scientist (is there any other kind?). But it’s Harry Rothman as the wacky, wide-eyed narrator who’s the icing on the cake, out-dancing the gorgeous young ghosty things in “The Time Warp.”

Julie Ann Lucchetti’s choreography is hilarious, right down to the tiger claws in her warp, as are Richard Itczak’ cheeky costumes. Director Richard Repetta’s cast (for the most part) keeps the action hopping. Here’s a quandary. Some of the actors react to the hecklers in the audience. Some do not. In my opinion it works better when they acknowledge the insults. It’s a matter of rhythm, I suppose. Music director Matt McGrath would have something to say about that. His band (especially Cam Wharram on wailing sax) rocked the roof off the stately TLP building. It’s high time they did that time warp!


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

PAGETURNER By Beverly Creasey


If you want to see what the New Repertory Theatre does better than anyone else, do not miss their astonishing production of Donald Marguilies’ COLLECTED STORIES (through October 30th). New Rep can take a small story and create a perfect storm where consummate acting, stellar directing and an elegant set (not to mention light, sound and costumes) come together to breathtaking effect. No matter where you sit, you are immersed in the stunning intimacy of the play. The unassuming title of Marguilies’ brilliant little morality piece belies its power and depth of emotion.

This seemingly simple story about a professor and a student will engage you in Act I with its witty banter and leave you aghast at the betrayal in Act II. COLLECTED STORIES has all the excitement of a high stakes showdown…with just two characters and the written word! Not since Abby Hoffman’s cheeky Steal This Book, has larceny paid off so well.

Marguilies sets the scene right from the getgo: Art, the professor/mentor tells her eager charge at their first session, is the exaggeration of truth…to which you add a crisis. With that crisis, Marguilies dynamites the touching relationship between Bobbie Steinbach (in a tour de force as the older woman) and Liz Hayes (in a horrifying turn as the student).

Even though one might classify COLLECTED STORIES as one of those “ripped from the headlines” plays, it never feels like it. Your mind may reflect for a second on the many actual instances you’ve read about but the story immediately draws you back. The credit for that must go to director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary for the delicate, sensitive bond between these two women…and of course, to Steinbach and Hayes for the clarion emotional tether they share. Steinbach’s exquisite pain is palpable when Hayes’ character “crosses the line.”

Jenna McFarland Lord’s gorgeous, floor-to-ceiling book filled set tells you all you need to know about the eccentric professor’s lifestyle (and nails the decade, as well). Tyler Kinney’s hip, New York, “unstudied” costumes, especially for the darker Act II (when Deb Sullivan’s evocative lighting tells us something is wrong) fit like a glove with David Reiffel’s undulating jazz. In short, all the elements merge to tell the story.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Transforming The BEE By Beverly Creasey

 I’ve always thought the William Finn/Rachel Sheinkin musical THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE was lightweight at best. The Broadway tour didn’t persuade me otherwise. Nor did the countless revivals I’ve reviewed. Ugh.

BUT DAWN BREAKS. I now see the light. THE 25th ANNUAL you-know-what is a darned good musical…and all because I saw the Next Door Center for the Arts’ luminous production (which will be hop, skipping and jumping through Oct. 22nd.) DO NOT MISS OUT!

Every song, every turn of plot, every flashback works! The Next Door BEE casts a (dare I say) spell of sweetness and has a depth of emotion I didn’t know was there. Director James Tallach layers the script with ingenious (but never over the top) comic finesse. His BEE doesn’t rely on the broad characterizations you usually see. (If you are unfamiliar with the piece, grown actors portray the young spellers.) The contestants in Tallach’s BEE are so completely vulnerable, you can’t keep yourself from feeling genuine affection and disappointment when one by one they’re eliminated from the competition.

Shall I mention the audience volunteers? (I really disliked that part of the show in the past.) I don’t know how they managed it at Next Door, but now it’s delightful. We couldn’t get enough of the poor gentleman, such a good sport, who hung in there and tried his best to keep up with the actors.

Why does it all work? The joy on stage is infectious. From Kendra Alati’s tour de force as the BEE hostess with the mostest to Ronny Pompeo’s surprisingly sympathetic turn as a nasal drip, from Keil Coit’s adorably wacky misfit to Sarajane Mullins’ sad, shy introvert to Mike Levesque’s hilarious comfort counselor, each and every character shines. Music director Brendan Kenney gets a big sound from the three piece orchestra and lovely singing all around.

Who wouldn’t love a show where Kendall Hodder as the stodgy vice principal invokes Freddie Mercury to illustrate a word! Who knew? Well, I do now!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Not So TINY KUSHNER By Beverly Creasey

To call the Zeitgeist Stage’s collection of short plays by Tony Kushner “tiny” is a bit of a misnomer, although in Kushner years, at two and a half hours it probably is. His monumental ANGELS IN AMERICA (which is my favorite play, hands down) is a lot longer than TINY KUSHNER (playing at the BCA Through Oct. 22nd).

Where ANGELS IN AMERICA is elegant, eloquent and epic, these short plays are not. They’re mostly musings on famous or forgotten historical figures from another perspective, without the sweep of righteousness you feel in ANGELS. (More than a couple of lines will remind you of Roy Cohn and the angel(s) whisk you immediately back to Kushner’s masterpiece.)

The first little play has the promise of a high strung culture clash. An American beauty queen and an actual Queen meet up in the afterlife (on the moon!) but alas, Kushner chooses vaudeville over Sturm and Drang to wrap this one up. (This and one of the therapist pieces started out as riffs on obituaries for the N.Y Times Magazine year end edition.) Maureen Adduci is marvelously regal as the abdicated Queen of Albania and Kara Manson is deliciously loopy as the self absorbed, multi-tasking pageant winner. Director David J. Miller plays up the fiery chemistry between the two actresses but it’s all undercut by Kushner’s turn to song and dance.

Two vignettes stem from Kushner’s fascination with psychoanalysis (with an emphasis on the psycho). In one a patient who has just been terminated (the wonderful Craig Houk) begs his doctor (an exasperated Manson) to take him back. The irrelevancies of life have set him adrift (I must confess I felt we in the audience were adrift, as well). Kushner frequently visits the subject of ambivalence in a world without “absolutes,” as he does here. In the second, an analyst (Houk) complains to the recording angel in heaven (Adduci) that even after death, he’s still saddled with Richard Nixon for a patient. It’s a hilarious premise but then Kushner meanders hopelessly in speculation about Nixon’s abandonment issues.

Kushner calls out former President Bush in a searing piece (which really doesn’t need Dostoevsky) where the first lady reads aloud to dead Iraqi children about the choice between good and evil. Adduci as Laura Bush and Mason as the angel who brings the children to her make the scene resonate.

The one section of TINY KUSHNER which really doesn’t fit with the others is an odd collection of a thousand and one (it seemed like it anyway) monologues presented as if we were seeing a film in fast cuts. All the characters in the faux film (played by Victor Shopov) are delivered, curiously, in almost the same voice. It might have been a tour de force. Instead it’s just baffling.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Comedy Cut and Dried By Beverly Creasey

Robert Harling’s paean to strong southern women may be formulaic but STEEL MAGNOLIAS works like gangbusters at Stoneham Theatre. Director Paula Plum’s spirited production (playing through this weekend) showcases a passel of Boston divas who know how to deliver a tearjerker. They’re outrageous, sassy and full of piss and vinegar.

You can get a whole lot more than an updo at Miss Truvy’s hair salon. Harling puts hilarious banter into the mouths of these babes and “bless their hearts” they execute punch lines as if they were mother’s milk. What’s more, there isn’t a strident southern accent in the lot. (Here’s credit where it’s due: Amelia Broome is listed as the dialect coach!)

Kerry A. Dowling is the formidable mother lion/gossip queen, holding court with a blow dryer. Lydia Barnett-Mulligan is adorable as her oddball acolyte, with Kathy St. George and Marie Polizzano as the mother and daughter who always agree to disagree. Plum puts a nice edge on their relationship, steering it clear of the treacle most directors get stuck in. Sheridan Thomas is plenty prickly as the grumpy curmudgeon but it’s Sarah deLima as the “smart ass” mayoral widow who is the glue (or should I say gel) that holds them all together. DeLima’s barbs are so elegantly proffered, you think she hasn’t said what she’s actually said.

I’m not a real fan of the script but Plum and company tease out a warmth and camaraderie I didn’t know were there. Color me pleased!