Wednesday, February 29, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Ars Longa, Vita Brevis By Beverly Creasey

The art adjudicator in BAKERSFIELD MIST (at New Repertory Theatre through March 18th) quips that you can’t carbon date a Jackson Pollock. Authentication has to be in the eye of the beholder. In this very real case, the eye belonged to superstar, ex- Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Hoving. Stephen Sachs gives him another name, of course, in his play about a contested flea market “treasure” (to protect the innocent playwright, no doubt).

Would be Pollocks, it turns out, pop up from time to time needing verification. The Boston College Art Museum hosted an exhibit a few years back centering around a painting discovered by the heirs of Herbert Matter, an artist and friend of Pollock. The two men traded ideas and canvases and among his possessions was a likely drip painting. Problem was: both of them experimented with drips!

Alas, Maude Gutman’s serendipitous $3 purchase in the story (based on actual events) has no such connection to attract the attention of the art world. We meet her in her cramped trailer awaiting a visit from a very expensive hired authenticator. The two of them battle for supremacy in far more than that expert opinion.

Ken Cheeseman captures Hoving’s hauteur to the letter but director Jeff Zinn unnecessarily pushes the character of the expert into slapstick (in the up close, north-south-east and west examination of the canvas and in his wild ecstasy over art history). Paula Langton as Maude, to my mind, should be controlling the comedy.

Zinn inexplicably plunks both of them down on the couch where the painting has been propped so that their respective backs rub against it. The expert certainly would know better, fresh from the world of velvet ropes and security guards–and she wouldn’t want to harm one glob of paint on her cash cow, would she? It’s really a small complaint since the rest of the play is engaging and Langton and Cheeseman connect with sparks. It’s a pity the play ends with the “decision” because there’s a lot more to the story of what happens to Maude and that now famous (the play and a film) work of art!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Extreme Close-up By Beverly Creasey

In Woody Allen’s Bananas, a pushy Howard Cosell thrusts a microphone into the face of a Central American dictator who’s been fatally shot and asks the man how it feels to be dying. The absurdity of such an impolite (to say the least) intrusion into a person’s final moments gets a big laugh.

What was funny in 1971 isn’t a joke anymore. It’s become accepted practice now…in order to bear witness? To shed light on atrocity? To prick the conscience of those miles from harm’s way? It’s now de rigeur for photojournalists to capture the face of a human (or animal) as the poor creature expires. Does it move nations to cease inhumane practices? Does it spur John Q. Public to action? Most people have become inured to the images. Some can’t watch the news because they’re not.

Playwright Donald Margulies debates the practice of up close and personal journalism from a domestic perspective in his play, TIME STANDS STILL. A journalist and a photographer, both stateside to recover from battle scars, wrestle with whether they’ll get married, leave risk behind or return to the war. She questions her own motives, fearing she’s been “living off the sorrows of strangers.” He would be just as happy out of the fray, trying to live like everyone else for a change.

Director Scott Edmiston’s smart production (playing at the Lyric Stage through March 17th) engages us with passion. Surprisingly enough, it’s not in the character of the brave, wounded photojournalist (Laura Latreille). The most passionate characters turn out to be her journalist/partner (Barlow Adamson in a tour de force defending their relationship) and the very young, naïve wife (a delightful Erica Spyres) of an old friend (Jeremiah Kissel) who lectures her jaded elders on the beauty and joy to be found in the world.

If only it weren’t the case but life has imitated art in the death of American foreign correspondent Marie Colvin who died in Syria alongside French photojournalist Remi Ochlik. In her dispatches to the British Sunday Times, she described a scene almost identical to one Margulies wrote for Latreille’s character in TIME STANDS STILL.

Does it stand still or does it just repeat itself over and over? Will the killing ever stop?

Friday, February 17, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Chez Zeitgeist By Beverly Creasey

You may have heard of site specific performances where, say, a play set in a laundromat is performed in an actual laundromat (all the rage a few years ago). Well, the ever resourceful David Miller has transformed the Zietgeist space at the BCA into a patisserie/café—with the most delicious desserts ever to tempt a sweet tooth AND right in front of your little café table, a restaurant play! Zagat would rave over the décor, the pastry and the stellar service!

Since Zagat doesn’t yet rate theater, I say it’s always a treat to see any Alan Ayckbourn play (and we’ve been showered of late with first rate productions, from The Norman Conquests at Gloucester to Season’s Greetings at Wellesley to Zietgeist’s My Wonderful Day). TIME OF MY LIFE (playing through March 3rd) is recent Ayckbourn, and although he gives us the requisite family behaving badly, a bottomless well of material to be sure, it’s not the wild farce of his early work. It’s entertaining to witness outrageous behavior but there’s tragedy lurking behind this little comedy of bad manners.

The well off Stratton clan has gathered at their favorite restaurant for mother’s birthday and mother (Maureen Adduci), like Queen Victoria, is not amused: by her husband, by her children, certainly not by their gifts and definitely not by her favorite son’s “inferior” choice of girlfriend. Adduci oozes disapproval as the family disintegrates with every sip of the free flowing liquor.

Michael Steven Costello has an especially comic slide into despair as he discovers unpleasantries he’s rather not know. Glen Moore and Margarita Martinez as the painfully off again/on again son and daughter-in-law manage to elicit our sympathy, knowing what mother thinks of them. Evan Sanderson is delightfully bumbling as the son with the “nerve” to bring a hairdresser to mother’s party. Ellen Soderberg gives a sweet performance as the cheeky girl with the multi-color hair.

For my money—and because I love the tricks in the old Ayckbourn plays—it’s Gene Dante who steals the show in a million different guises (in hilarious hair and costumes by Fabian Aguilar) as waiters, the Maitre D, owner of the restaurant and as one hair-netted, opinionated old geezer who looks exactly like an elderly Italian woman I know!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Wandalust or How a Daydreamer Learns to Leave Home and Follow Her Bliss by Beverly Creasey

It’s reason to celebrate when a new theater has as its mission the support of new plays! Argos Productions is one of the heroes willing to produce local playwrights. (You can count the others on the fingers of one hand.) It’s fitting that Argos’ WANDALERIA is up at the venerable Boston Playwrights’ Theatre.

David Valdes Greenwood’s quirky, feel good comedy of manners plays through February 11th. Director Brett Marks gives the sweet, oddball script a peppy production, sparked by Kate deLima as the homebody-Pollyanna who corresponds with prisoners and fantasizes about winning prizes and finding romance. In case Flannery O’Connor comes to mind, not to worry. This “good man” was easy to find.

Greenwood isn’t buying into the predator phenomenon which we’ve been conditioned by “television journalists” to expect. Peter Brown gives a charming performance as Rocky, the well intentioned “plant poacher” who flees Florida for Alaska to see Wanda.

DeLima and Brown get great support from Caitlyn Conley as the space cadet who takes the plant man’s advice to turn her life around, too, from Terrence Haddad and Craig Houk as myriad fantasy men (and one fantasy woman!) and from Shelley Brown as Wanda’s tough but tenderhearted roommate.

The only hole in the script, in my opinion, is the roommate’s quick assent to Rocky’s visit. I just don’t think she would trust a stranger so readily. Perhaps if she had a line about sleeping with a shotgun /or keeping a pistol by the tub, then I wouldn’t have been so apprehensive about her “bath” plans, leaving Wanda alone with the ex-con downstairs. At that point in the script, I wasn’t entirely sure he was a good guy. (Just a thought from an old play doctor.)

That one point aside, Wandaleria is a delightful play about, as Rocky says, “dressing up” life a bit. Greenwood writes catchy dialogue and gets clever laughs from spoofing tongue in cheek television shows like JUSTIFIED . “Put that orchid on the ground,” prison guard Craig Houk snarls at Rocky – just one of the smart ways Greenwood pokes fun at our media driven culture.