Sunday, December 29, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey “Language is the Dress of Thought” (Samuel Johnson)

SONGS OF THE DRAGON FLYING TO HEAVEN by Young Jean Lee (@ Apollinaire Theatre through Jan. 11th) is performed in four languages — which means if you don’t speak Japanese, Chinese or Korean, you’re missing ¾ of the play. Even though I recognized one of the four languages as my own, it wasn’t enough to understand the thoughts in the extended narrative.

The English portion afforded me a limited idea of what was going on: Asian women are plenty resentful about the subservient role assigned to them by white men…and white people in love act like idiots. Any more than that was lost on me. (Lee has been lauded for her cutting edge scripts but I couldn’t find the edge in this one.)

However, in the spirit of the play, I offer the rest of my review in three languages:

Es tut mir leid, aber ohne das Verständnis, sind wir unter Wasser während den grössten Teil des Theaterstücks.

Je crois que l’auteur jouet un tour a toute la salle. (Je comprendre la plaisanterie mais le tour marche rapidement mal.)

Scherzacci non fanno una buona commedia.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Chaos and Holidays at Lyric

The Lyric Stage rings in the holidays this year with a comedy by Steven Dietz. BECKY’S NEW CAR (running through Dec. 22nd) is a road show of sorts. Becky (Celeste Oliva) is unfulfilled at work, at home (and in her ho hum marriage) when a small mistake leads to a big chance for escape. As she explains to us in her opening monologue, if a woman says she wants new shoes, it means she wants a new job. If she says she wants a new house, what she wants is a new husband. And if she wants a new car, she really wants a new life.

I’m a fan of Dietz’s charming SHOOTING STAR (about a couple snowed in at an airport) but I don’t think he sustains the comedy in BECKY’S NEW CAR. Act I is over the top, with audience participation and actors flying down a playground slide but Act II changes direction completely and threads of the story seem to have been dropped, leaving me flummoxed. To be fair, a friend of mine thoroughly enjoyed the ride. She says the play is all about the “road not taken.” I think the dramatic chaos just got to me.

Director Larry Coen’s cast work like mad to get all the laughs they can from the material. With crackerjack actors like Will McGarrahan and Kortney Adams on stage, there’s always hope—but for me, Becky’s car just sputtered along.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


It may seem like there are a hundred A CHRISTMAS CAROLs out there to choose from but once in a while there will be a different take on the classic. A number of years back, Charles Dickens’ great-great nephew read the story for audiences here in Boston, just as his famous great uncle had over a century before. Now you have a solo performance by Neil McGarry (for Bay Colony Shakespeare through Dec. 23rd) to add to the list of extraordinary productions of the beloved ghost story.

Lest you think McGarry recites the text, I’m happy to tell you it’s fully produced, dancing and all. The trick is that McGarry portrays everyone, even so far as helping himself on with a coat as someone else! He slips seamlessly from one character to the next—and you are not confused even for a moment in his remarkable tour de force.

If anything, Dickens’ gorgeous language is enhanced because of the singular focus. In director Ross MacDonald’s distinct version of the tale, your attention is drawn to Dickens’ rich imagery, like his hot, “singing pudding” or his stirring cry for justice for those who die alone, “unwashed, unwept and uncared for.” (You lose some of those descriptive gems in large scale production.)

McGarry’s “jolly giant” of a Ghost of Christmas Present seems to fill the stage with his reverberating laugh. His Fezziwig whirls about the auditorium in joyous spasms of dance and his Scrooge transforms himself with happy abandon.

Sound effects play a large role in the Bay Colony production. Erica Simpson supplies the bells, gongs and eerie echoes which enlarge a scene, stirring our imagination to conjure a “glimpse of the invisible world.” Indeed, I saw the ghosts heavy with chains, hovering about Marley in my mind’s eye…and I saw the “ubiquitous young Crachits” running under foot as McGarry held Tiny Tim on his shoulder.

McGarry and MacDonald have achieved a magical alchemy which absorbs and involves the audience and holds them spellbound. Small children sat transfixed without moving. Large children, otherwise known as adults, smiled with grins to rival Mrs. Fezziwig’s “vast substantial smile.” In short, you must see their CHRISTMAS CAROL, as the Ghost of Christmas Past informs Scrooge, for your very welfare!

Friday, December 6, 2013


Tracy Letts’ KILLER JOE (@ Arsenal Arts Center through Dec. 28th) is definitely not a holiday show. It’s considered a “dark comedy,” a very dark comedy but in actuality it’s a tragedy with a humorous (to a point) undercurrent. You see, Joe is indeed a killer and a sexual sadist, to boot. (The latter is what’s undercuts the humor, in my opinion. Otherwise, KILLER JOE would be a cautionary tale where bad things happen to bad people—with a surprising twist at the end.)

Letts is the celebrated author of AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY, recently made into a film (about to be released) with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. KILLER JOE’s only resemblance to AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY is that both concern wildly dysfunctional families.

Emile Kreymer’s solid production for Zero Point Theater features Sean Stenco as the merciless hit man who doesn’t take kindly to being stiffed. (Stenco will make your blood run cold he’s so good.) Of course, a couple of trailer park losers have done just that. Since Joe fulfilled his part of the bargain, you know there will be payback. (Alas, we get to see that sexually violent, explicit payback up close in the small downstairs Arsenal theater space.)

On the lighter side, Letts has created a wonderfully quirky character in the “sleep walking, sleep talking” sister whom the family surrenders to Joe as a “retainer.” Kelley Feltham gives a deftly daft performance as the sister everyone thinks isn’t smart enough to figure out what’s going on. She shows them a thing or two!

If it weren’t for the on stage, gratuitous sexual violence, Letts might have had a satirical crime spoof on his hands but in my opinion, the creep factor overwhelms the comedy.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


If you haven’t been to the Arsenal Arts Center in Watertown, you’re missing out: Two theater spaces, one downstairs, one up, two floors of gallery space for art exhibits with studios for quilters, painters, sculptors etc., a resident children’s theater, the resident New Repertory company, an arts and crafts shop and an eatery with reasonable prices just next door. (And I should add, a free parking garage.)

This month two striking productions (one upstairs on the main stage and one in the black box downstairs) center around Kings, one British, one Scottish, one with a noble heart and one with base ambition.

New Repertory’s joyous production of Lerner and Loewe’s CAMELOT (playing through Dec. 22nd) celebrates the age of chivalry and pomp, when the King of the Brittons brought law and heroics to medieval England. (According to the 9th century writer Nennius, a king named Arthur defeated the Saxons in the year 500.) The Arthurian legend is made accessible in CAMELOT by humanizing the mythology in a love story…two love stories, in fact.

CAMELOT resonates at this particular time, not just because of the 50th anniversary of the “Kennedy Camelot,” but because of its overarching message of peace. Arthur despairs that “we have battles for no reason” other than artificial boundaries, something he learned when the magician Merlin turned him into a hawk as a boy and he soared over the vast, open land.

For CAMELOT to soar, you need crackerjack acting and inspired singing. Director Russell Garrett’s lovely production has both. Benjamin Evett triumphs as the “ideal” king, keenly aware of his obligation to everyman since he himself was a commoner before drawing the famous sword from the stone. You see Evett grow from hopeful bridegroom to heavy-hearted monarch, graying with the years and the strain of knowing he’s lost his Guenevere (a resplendent and luminous Erica Spyres) to Lancelot.

Marc Koeck makes a dashing Lancelot, whose declarations of purity inspire jealousy in his fellow knights. Knockabout, swaggering performances from Kevin Cirone, Michael J. Borges and Maurice Emmanuel Parent add delightful humor to the story, as do Robert D. Murphy’s two (!) star turns, first as the “youthening” Merlin and then as a magnificent, blustery King Pellinore.

Nick Sulfaro as the sleazy, scheming Mordred leads the knights away from Arthur in the deliciously naughty “Fie on Goodness.” Except for Guenevere, CAMELOT is a male dominated vehicle but Shonna Cirone as Guenevere’s chief lady-in-waiting, Katie Clark as Morgan Le Fey and all the women who cavort in the “Lusty Month of May” make the distaff presence count. Every number is full of spirit. Even a treacherous trumpet on opening night couldn’t dampen my delight.

Downstairs from the musical, a darker world unfolds in director Joey DeMita’s gloomy, atmospheric MACBETH, presented by F.U.D.G.E. and playing through Nov. 30th. DeMita’s compelling “weird sisters” (‘wyrd’ being old Anglo-Saxon for ‘fate’) come equipped with crimson bands which can ensnare their prey… create a witching triangle… or seem to form the dagger Macbeth sees before his eyes. These witches choose when to be seen but they’re present throughout, profaning the “blessed heath,” on or around a stylized bridge which spans the stage.

DeMita’s clever imagining sets a deep pool of water (James Petty’s dynamic set) in a wooden island which can become a table for the banquet scene or a stream for washing away blood or a wading pool for Banquo’s ghost. DeMita is fortunate to have two strong leads in Dave Rich and Linda Goetz. Rich has a fiery intensity which reminded me of Al Pacino and Goetz seemed to embody Lady Macbeth’s wish to be a man. She will do anything to achieve her goal, including humiliating her husband. Her “give me the daggers” was truly chilling. I haven’t seen such power in a Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in years.


Oscar Wilde holds an “irresistible fascination” for me so off I went to Moonbox Productions’ THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (playing @ BCA through Dec. 14th). I’m still giggling. Wilde’s incomparable comedy of manners is exquisitely staged by Allison Olivia Choat, with a jewel of a (convertible) Victorian set by John Paul Devlin and a Lady Bracknell of infinite pleasure.

Ed Peed is deliciously imperious as the Grande Dame who assumes she can control her daughter---and everyone else’s. Of course she can’t. The headstrong (like mother, like daughter) Gwendolen will marry whomever she pleases (but only if he’s Earnest). Peed is perfection, from his/her withering glances to his/her preposterous pronouncements.

The two bachelors in the story are no match for the wily women they think they’ve chosen (ha!). Watching their self confidence crumble is part of the joy of Moonbox’s EARNEST. Everything from “polite” society to religious pomposity is skewered in Wilde’s [hand]bag of tricks. Choat adds a few of her own, including a nifty G&S refrain and a clever [re]turn of phrase for an impudent Cecily. If you’re a Wilde fan, you’ll rejoice that Moonbox masters that arch, stylized tone to a (I can not resist) “tea.”

Andrew Winson is a game Jack with just a touch of nobility. (This is the second time I’ve seen him in the role and he’s wonderful.) His best friend, Algernon, cheekily played by Glen Moore, is a definite bounder and most certainly a bad influence on his chum. Poormina Kirby makes the Cecily role just cagey enough that she’s not the flibbertigibbet one usually encounters. Cat Claus gives Gwendolen a bit of a steely streak, justifying Jack’s fear that “all women become their mothers.”

Gabriel Graetz is a charming Rev. Chasuble, he of embarrassed pauses and florid metaphors. Alas, Catherine Lee Christie’s “shortsighted” Miss Prism was under the weather with laryngitis the night I saw the show…obviously, as Lady Bracknell counsels, the victim of shoddy medical advice. The two butlers, Matthew Zanzinger and Ray O’Hare, have a grand time being in charge, deciding where rugs should reside and plants should recline. We’re even treated to some jaunty music composed by Dan Rodriguez.

If you love the play, don’t miss Moonbox’s gem of a production. If you’ve (gasp) never seen EARNEST, now is the time.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Last night Fiddlehead Theatre opened the Boston area premiere of the new musical, A LITTLE PRINCESS, (playing through Dec. 8th) at the historic Strand Theatre. You have to give producer/director Meg Fofonoff credit for trying to remedy the sound system which almost sank her production of RAGTIME at the Strand last year. This year two enormous eight foot speakers flank the stage, aimed squarely at the audience.

We (two reviewers) were seated, alas, directly in front of the stage right speaker (I presume the stage left section had the same problem), where a wall of sound which would have daunted even Phil Spector, almost deafened us. Why the reviewers weren’t all seated in the center section is beyond me! Where we were, you couldn’t make out dialogue, let alone lyrics. And the orchestra merely sounded bombastic.

We’re no dopes. At intermission we moved to the back of the center section, which was quite an improvement, although not perfect by any means. Fuzzy reverb still hampered the dialogue but your ears got used to it. This got me to thinking. I recently saw the Actors’ Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet at the Strand and none of the actors wore mics. If you could hear them, why not have singers without microphones?

I’ve read the Frances Hodgson Burnett book and seen the non-musical A LITTLE PRINCESS numerous times at Wheelock Family Theatre, so I’m pretty familiar with the story. The Brian Crawley/ Andrew Lippa musical naturally expands on certain elements but to my surprise, a good deal of the story is completely changed, including substituting Africa for India (so they can capitalize on Lion King dancing and chanting, no doubt).

The headmistress role (of the English school where Sara Crewe is sent while father is away) has been enlarged so she can become an ersatz Miss Hannigan and some of the less fortunate girls can experience the “hard knock life.” Later on at a lavish party (where she’s dressed in voluminous green) she gets her comeuppance via a writhing “African” trance, and I thought surely she would scream “I’m melting” and fall to the ground.

Captain Crewe’s travails have been completely altered, not to mention that Crawley’s book for the musical has jettisoned the heart rending conclusion of the original when Sara finds her father alive but broken in a military hospital. In this version, their faithful servant warns Sara that imprisonment has changed him, then up he pops out of nowhere in fine fettle, looking just as spiffy as when he left, decked out in his smart Major General garb! (Crawley and Lippa throw in a funny Gilbert & Sullivan number with father as the very model of you-know-who!) I’m a pushover for G&S and when you bring on Queen Victoria, I’m in heaven!

The pleasant music will remind you of Les Miz and Sweeney Todd and Annie with a touch of Christmas cheer thrown in which isn’t bad, mind you….but the lyrics are another matter. This is a show of easy rhymes: “Savor it” rhymes with “favorite,” and “able” rhymes with “table” but if you didn’t have the formidable Shana Dirik to make the “Lucky” song work (twice yet!) you’d be up the creek: “I’m unlucky..[but] …She’s lucky…Worse than that, she’s plucky.”

Lucky, as well, for Fiddlehead was casting Sirena Abalian in the title role. She’s a pro. She sings beautifully and she holds the show together, not an easy proposition when scenes in Africa and England are staged simultaneously (in Sara Crewe’s imagination) but it looks to us like everyone is incongruously in the same place. The two worlds are not well enough differentiated for an audience to grasp the dramatic concept. I know the story and I was confused.

An opening night gremlin may account for the cringe worthy piccolo and horn in Balint Varga’s orchestra and the clumsy dancing, but not for the uninspired choreography. Anthony Phelps’ evocative set (especially the rooftops for Sara’s escape) gives the show character and several performances supply much needed polish: In addition to Abalian and Dirik, Jared Dixon radiates nobility as faithful servant/friend to father (Jared Triolo), Aubin Wise adds mystery as the priestess, Bridget Bierne provides whimsy as the headmistress’ flighty sister and Liliane Klein as Queen Victoria is a treat.

Friday, November 22, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Simple Machine TURNS THE SCREW with Precision

Simple Machine Theatre’s elegant production of Henry James’ eerie THE TURN OF THE SCREW (in a lovely adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher) has been extended to November 27th. As ghost stories go, James’ psychological thriller is considered to be the pinnacle. His vaunted literary career lasted for fifty years. His brother made inroads into the field of psychology and his sister dabbled in the occult. THE TURN OF THE SCREW has been made into at least three movies, several stage adaptations and an opera.

What Simple Machine has done to ratchet up the suspense of the story (a governess in a remote estate who senses the presence of supernatural forces) is to set the play in two period houses in Boston which overflow with historical significance. The first is Gibson House Museum, built in 1859, one of the earliest residences in Back Bay equipped with gas light. The stairs creek and the air reeks of musty history. The dining table is set with the best china, awaiting the master and mistress of the house. Formal portraits and finely chiseled, bronze statuary attest to the family’s wealth.

When we arrive, we’re ushered down a flight of stairs to a kitchen with the most enormous, charcoal black iron stove I’ve ever seen. As we sit waiting for the play to begin, a carved wooden panel on the back wall behind my chair moves slightly, giving me chills even before it starts. Then we meet the gentleman who engages the eager governess, without telling her what happened to her predecessor, to look after his orphaned niece and nephew. He instructs her not to involve him in matters of their care, nor to “trouble” him, actually, with anything. Then we proceed, following the governess, back up the steep, uneven old stairs to the front room, where we sit with a view of the dining area, the central curved staircase and a glimpse of the upstairs landing.

Anna Waldron is the impressionable governess who dreams that her employer, like Mr. Rochester for Jane Eyre, may come to value and even love her. Waldron embodies the contradiction of strength (from a belief in goodness and God, learned from her pastor/father) and weakness (from inexperience and fear of the very devil, probably from her father as well). We are left to decide if the apparitions she sees are real or figments of her imagination. Some adaptations show us the ghosts but Hatcher’s does not, which is what makes this version even more powerful. Waldron manages seamlessly to covey both the governess’ terror and her dedication to the children.

All the other roles are played by Stephen Libby, from housekeeper to employer to the ten year old boy who certainly seems possessed. Libby masters the fine edge between humor and gothic gravity with aplomb. We laugh at the plodding housekeeper and we recoil at the ten year old’s willful defiance of authority.

Director M. Bevin O’Gara drives the story, as the screws tighten, like a speeding train headed off the track. We’re immensely frightened for the governess and for her small charges. Ian W. King’s dimly filtered lighting (or is it the museum dust that creates the haze) seems to cast a veil over the staircase scenes---or maybe it’s our own imagination run wild. We almost see the ghosts in the shadows on the walls at Gibson House.

The second locale, which I have not seen, is the 1850’s Taylor House, built at the height of Jamaica Plain’s golden age. Ticket information is available at

Don’t miss the chance to see James’ masterpiece in a setting he himself might have visited when in town to see his friends, John Singer Sargent and Isabella Stewart Gardner. I think he’d be pleased.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Kurt Vonnegut’s MAKE UP YOUR MIND (playing through Nov. 30th) was cobbled together by Nicky Silver from comic fragments Vonnegut never finished. The author, most famous for his novels, especially Slaughterhouse-Five, died in 2007 without revisiting the material. MAKE UP YOUR MIND marks the beginning of SpeakEasy Stage’s commitment to produce new works in addition to their regular season productions. Not many theaters are willing to take a chance on new plays so SpeakEasy is to be commended.

Director Cliff Fannin Baker’s production of MAKE UP YOUR MIND, alas, is paced so slowly and styled so realistically, that the outrageous humor mostly falls flat. As I watched, I wondered if a “Saturday Night Live” rapid, over the top delivery of the lines couldn’t have helped to punch it up, although the dialogue is peculiarly awkward and, I’m sorry to say, the female lead is miscast. She simply wasn’t funny—and she was up against two of the best comic actors in town, Richard Snee and Barlow Adamson.

The premise is amusing enough: Adamson’s character treats indecisive patients and employs an enforcer to keep them on track—or put them in traction if they veer off. Unfortunately MAKE UP YOUR MIND is so heavy handed that even Snee and Adamson, try as they might, couldn’t keep it afloat.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea has earned a reputation for embracing edgy scripts and playing the heck out of them! Michael Perlman’s FROM WHITE PLAINS (running through Dec. 14th) is no exception. The subject is bullying and the dramatic fallout is intense.

National Public Radio recently reported the shocking results of a study of integrated anti-bullying programs (which had been part of junior high and high school curricula for at least five years). The study concluded that these programs made bullies smarter and savvier. They learned what teachers look for and they learned how not to get caught!

I could hardly believe my ears. If education doesn’t work, what’s then to be done? Since seeing Apollinaire’s FROM WHITE PLAINS, I’ve decided theater is the answer. All parties suffer in Perlman’s scenario. In fact, on the ride home, three of us debated who was hurt more in the play. We debated whether or not the victim should become a bully to right the wrong. In the play, a filmmaker has won his first Oscar based on real events about bullying. He dedicates the statue to the victim who killed himself when they were in high school together. Then, on national television, he names the high school bully.

At first, the grown man who “teased” kids in high school can’t even remember his victim. He admits he was an “asshole” to everyone in high school but, he tells a friend, he’s moved on and matured. Unfortunately for him, the whole world now knows his history and what’s past is now present in the very public arena of the internet. Bad things start to happen to him.

Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques’ lovely production is unerringly fair to both sides. The performances are so finely wrought that you find yourself, despite yourself, having sympathy for everyone involved. Brooks Reeves, as the filmmaker who ignites the firestorm by naming the bully, has an achingly beautiful, sorrowful speech about the power of a bully’s voice which every student in every school in the nation ought to hear. Reeves draws you in to his pain and you understand why he has to pursue the bully (Steven DeMarco in a tour de force), even to the detriment of his own happiness.

Diego Buscaglia gives a sweet, beatific performance as the man who wants to “save” the filmmaker from his obsession with the bully and Mauro Canepa as the bully’s estranged best friend shows us his distress over his ambivalence. Some of the early scenes seem repetitive but once the plot kicks in, FROM WHITE PLAINS works like gangbusters.


Whistler in the Dark’s THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE (running through Nov. 24th) is a treat for Caryl Churchill fans. Her comic revue of sardonic skits and sketches (originally a teleplay from 1978) royally sends up our priggish notions about charity. Since Churchill is English, her most savage satire is aimed at the Brits. Witness one character’s convoluted logic on the subject of giving: If you don’t give to them (substitute India, Africa, any needy former colony), he reasons, they’ll be angry and come here to shoot you. “If you do give, they’ll be grateful and stay where they belong, wishing they were still part of the British Empire.”

Churchill utilizes a Monty Python-esque style of humor to hammer home the utter ridiculousness of accepted (especially in the U.S.) theories like “charitable economics,” wherein poor countries are given financial aid so they can turn around and spend it on American imports, thus increasing our GNP. Churchill has us laughing at the absurdity of big charity enterprises which spend millions on ad campaigns and operating costs. We’re amused by the comic exaggeration but it’s the resigned laughter of knowing, sadly, that this theater of the absurd is very real.

Marvelous gambits, like “Hoola hooping for the Hungry” or “Pacifist Kidnappers” give ample opportunity for director Meg Taintor’s talented cast to show off its versatility. The gender bending characterization has chameleon Lorna Nogueira as a greedy, elderly captain of industry and the hilarious Bob Mussett as a harried mom with a non-complying baby. Meredith Stypinski is wonderfully dense as the naïve fundraiser, while Melissa Barker natters on about snakes. Joseph D. Freeman has a nifty quick change from crackpot little old lady to Mission Impossible operative, not to mention his musical skills with several instruments.

Kelly Leigh David provides the delightful movies/projections, especially the “Pie a politician in the Face” bit and the old time silent movie (with Freeman delivering the requisite “tied to the train track” piano accompaniment and PJ Strachman supplying the fading light).

Monday, November 11, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey ACTING UP at Zeitgeist

In the 1980’s a life in the theater meant death in the theater…in all the arts, the sciences, everywhere. Imagine how many Einsteins, how many Picassos, how many Gandhis, were lost to AIDS. Zeitgeist Stage’s revival of Larry Kramer’s THE NORMAL HEART (running through Nov.23rd) recounts the history of a nation’s criminal neglect and it pays homage to the extraordinary struggle of the men and women who stepped up to help.

For younger generations who don’t regard the disease as a death sentence anymore (although it still is), the name, Larry Kramer, may not be so familiar. For those of us who lived through the plague, Kramer became the warrior who would not accept defeat. He would not tolerate indifference. He stood up to Mayor Koch, even to President Reagan. He held leaders to account. He rallied activists throughout the U.S. and he refused to go away. He was angry then and he’s still angry. He’ll die angry because of the waste.

How often can you see an exceptional play about a time in history written by an actual participant? THE NORMAL HEART is that play. Kramer details the sorrows and the triumphs of a group of friends who never intended to become activists… and who never could have imagined the death and destruction visited on them.

Director David Miller has a spirited troupe of actors to play out the joy, affection, betrayal and tragedy of a time not very long ago, in New York City. Victor Shopov, although not quite as acerbic as Kramer in real life, manages to show his character’s heart as well as his colossal drive. (He reminded me of Kramer from the get-go). Mikey DiLoreto, too, plumbs the depths of his soul for a searing scene brought on by “bereavement overload.”

Kramer’s play has lovely, touching scenes (like Peter Brown’s turnaround when Joey C. Pelletier, as his brother’s sweet lover, pays him a visit) as well as instances of palpable cruelty (when Mario DaRosa Jr. as Ned’s comrade in arms delivers the news that he’s no longer welcome in the very organization they founded). Perhaps the most difficult role is Maureen Adduci’s as the no nonsense Dr. Krim (Dr. Brookner in the play). Adduci breaks the veneer for one fleeting moment to show the pain never visible in any of her public appeals.

Every member of the ensemble contributes solid work: from Kyle Cherry’s eager office go-fer to David Lutheran’s unyielding bureaucrat to Mike Meadors’ cheery, charming Southern worker bee. Miller adds to the impact of the script with projections of actual photos which transport you (with your heart in your stomach) right back then. Michael Flowers’ black and white images are overlaid with names, only a few at first…then paragraphs of names which become an avalanche of names. Names which must never be forgotten.


The Next Door Theatre Company in Winchester thinks SWEENEY TODD ought to have his head examined so they’ve referred the whole production (playing through Nov. 16th) to a mental hospital. Director Brian Milauskas’ concept confines the whole cast there. Now I prefer my SWEENEY straight, not straight jacketed but I have an open mind. If the concept works, I’ll happily go along.

If Cervantes’ fellow prisoners can act out the MAN OF LA MANCHA, then maybe the inmates at Next Door’s psych ward can tackle Sondheim. The cast certainly can sing. With Dan Rodriguez music directing, SWEENEY sounds just fine. Peter S. Adams as the demon barber and Jackie Coco as Mrs. Lovett dovetail beautifully. Their duets are heaven sent. Brandon Grimes is a strong Anthony to Erin Anderson’s sweet Joanna. Paul Soper as the Judge and Jared Walsh as Tobias add to the solid leads but the inconsistencies in the concept will have you pulling out your hair.

You can’t give a minor character a knife and not give Sweeney a blade. (When he raises his arm to say it’s at last “complete,” a flask just doesn’t cut it, as it were.) AND you can’t have Sweeney’s victims slump, then walk off stage without a scratch like they’re coming back soon. (A couple seated near me had no idea anyone had been killed.)

I’ve seen death easily dramatized by unfurling a red scarf at one’s throat…or by placing a sheet over the departed. Even a sign that said “dead” would have helped out. If you didn’t know the story, you wouldn’t have a clue and the absence of a barber’s chair didn’t help. Making Sweeney thrust that flask at his intended quarry merely made you think he was an alcoholic, proffering them a drink.

I really, really wanted it to work for the sake of the singers but alas, it did not.

Friday, November 8, 2013


Bad Habit Productions’ SOMEONE WHO’LL WATCH OVER ME (playing through Nov. 16th) is a must see. When you hear it’s a play about three hostages held by Arab captors, you assume it’s another harrowing, ripped-from-the-headlines account of torture and inhumanity. There are so many television programs about kidnappings in the Middle East, that you could watch one every evening. I can’t.

SOMEONE WHO’LL WATCH OVER ME isn’t one of them…any more than THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is just another prison movie. Frank McGuiness’ extraordinary play confirms the beauty and power of the mind to cope with the unthinkable…the resiliency of the spirit to bear the unbearable and the indomitability of the will to survive. Most of all, SOMEONE is a shining testament to the strength of friendship.

Director A. Nora Long’s remarkable production celebrates the humanity which cannot be broken as easily as the body. We never see the violence outside the clanking metal door because McGuiness is more concerned with how someone thinks, what someone does to keep his sanity…his humor…his resolve when hope wears paper thin. Long adds connective tissue to the play by having one long chain run through all their manacles. With one yank of that chain, the Irishman can annoy the American doctor by impeding his perfectly executed push-ups.

Sheldon Brown gives an elegant, heartbreaking performance as the cool American with the most accumulated time in captivity. Greg Balla is sensational as the feisty Irish photojournalist who almost gives up and Jeff Mahoney radiates kindness as the unassuming Brit, newly arrived in Lebanon to teach English. Mahoney’s tour de force as the seemingly helpless Chaucer professor lifts their spirits and gives them the courage to persevere. You won’t find better ensemble work anywhere around. Bad Habit Productions does it again!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey The Dualists

Stoneham’s Theatre’s dark and brooding DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE (playing through Nov.10th) is based on the classic story by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. Legends of men turning into monsters (usually during a full moon) pepper Scottish folk tales but Stevenson lifted the story into the “modern age” by suggesting that good and evil exists in everyone.

This particular adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher features one actor as Dr. Jekyll (a somber, tortured Benjamin Evett) and the rest of the company taking turns as Hyde. The rapid changes (from business man or butler to monster) hammer home the lesson than given the right (or rather, wrong) circumstances, any of us might choose criminality over civility…not to mention that the theatrical effect of multiple Hydes, in director Caitlin Lowans’ stylish production, is certainly powerful. But what is sacrificed to the multiplicity is the thrill of one actor transforming himself into the fiend before our eyes.

The charismatic Alexander Platt (in several roles) provides a hefty dose of suspense to the story. Will his seemingly invincible Hyde triumph over the weak willed doctor? Will blackmail out? Platt as Hyde possesses that dangerous magnetism which seems to draw women (in particular, Esme Allen as his fearless lover) to the “bad boy” instead of the good guy.

Cheryl McMahon plays several “pants” roles in JEKYLL & HYDE but her vile, sadistic anatomy professor cries out for comeuppance, he’s so nasty. Nick Sulfaro, too, impresses in several roles but his nervous butler supplies much needed amusement. Dale Place is a force to be reckoned with as Hyde but, as Jekyll’s thoughtful friend, Utterson, he gets to speculate about man’s subconscious instincts and drive home the cautionary message of the piece.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey So Sweet!

John O’Neil was top of his game this past weekend, performing ‘SO KAYE, his delightful cabaret tribute to Danny Kaye, at American Classics. He’s been doing the show for thirteen years and rumor has it, this may be the last time. (Then again Richard Kiley did more than a few “last ever” MAN OF LA MANCHAs so who knows?)

O’Neil inhabits each song as if it were a story, throwing his imaginary hat happily into the air in “Breezin’ Along With the Breeze” or caressing each shimmering note in an especially poignant, sorrowful “Molly Malone.” An evening of cabaret from O’Neil is a master class on how to sell a song.

 He whistles a lively duet with Zachary Chadwick’s flute in “The Fairy Pipers” and tears down the house with “Minnie the Moocher.” Jim Rice’s small, tight orchestra has a big sound, with Mick Lewander on drums, John Styklunas on bass and Dave Burdett on trumpet, making the rousing Cab Calloway showstopper the hit of the performance.

O’Neil was joined by the chipper Meg O’Brien for a lovely, jazzy, syncopated “Lullaby in Ragtime” (composed by Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine) and she played “straight man” in the pièce de résistance for Kaye fans, the “Chalice with the Palace” tongue twister from THE COURT JESTER.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Steven Barkhimer’s hilarious WINDOWMEN debuts this week at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (and runs through Nov. 24th). Like Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross with its ruthless real estate salesmen, Barkhimer gives us a glimpse into the shady fish business. Like Mamet, he experienced it first hand, working at a wholesale fish market right out of college. Unlike Mamet, Barkhimer’s characters have heart.

Director Brett Marks finds just the right tone for the piece, balancing the outrageous humor with the very real moral dilemma faced by the new guy, played to nervous perfection by Alex Pollock. Poor Kenny, he has a degree in philosophy but here he is in the middle of the night, shoulder to shoulder with thugs, fishermen and haulers. Their day begins at 4:30 A.M. to sell what’s been loaded off the boats to retail stores, restaurants and the occasional hustler (Nael Nacer in top form).

Barkhimer’s set-up is ingenious: As Kenny learns the ropes (and the codes), so do we. Just about the time Kenny catches on, so do we. What a coup, to keep us on our toes…then make us invested in the machinery of the plot. Kenny’s mentor/cheerleader is a rough, raw veteran of the fish game who advances the plot by introducing Kenny’s moral dilemma. Brandon Whitehead is sensational as the irascible, street smart wheeler dealer behind the window, in sole charge of sales, receipts and accounting.

Daniel Berger-Jones supplies laughs for his constant advice and his uninvited visits to the office. Will Lyman gives a nicely nuanced performance as the savvy owner of the operation, a tough boss with a soft spot for the college kid (and an eye for sloppy bookkeeping). He gets a kick out of quoting Socrates to the philosophy major (not to mention a half quote from G.B Shaw about youth being wasted on the young) and he pulls of the unexpected ending.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


It’s no secret that the LUMINARIUM DANCE COMPANY is one of the most intelligent and innovative dance troupes in Boston. Their current effort, SECRETS AND MOTION (playing through Nov. 2nd @ B.U. Dance Theater) is a marvel of light, shadow, motion and emotion.

Artistic directors Merli V. Guerra and Kimberleigh A. Holman move the art to a new level, utilizing the written (and spoken) word not just as inspiration but as an integral part of the dance. Witness Holman’s Neck- Deep (and then some) in which Amy Mastrangelo conjures despair, while the heavy burden of words surrounds her. She eloquently struggles to push down her depression but she can only surrender to the sadness.

Guerra, too, takes literary inspiration for Left is Loss (or “The Prelude”). Guerra gives a tour de force (both performing and choreographing), inhabiting the language of the poem, “burning” and “falling through the floorboards” so that we truly listen to the verse, not just the rhythm of the poetry, absorbing every word.

Both choreographers infuse light (after all, that’s the name of the company) into the very shape and contours of their work: Holman with tiny balls of light for the gossip which passes from dancer to dancer in whisper, rumor, rot and Guerra in Hush with translucent cubes which reveal shadow dancers inside.

My favorite (If only I could come back to see it again) is Holman’s A Secret in Three Phases. Rose Abramoff, Melanie Diarbekirian and Mark Kranz are hilarious usurpers, happily displacing one another, tumbling over each other and leapfrogging to gain position—all performed to a Mozart Piano Sonata (No. 13 in B-Flat Major, Kv. 333). Who knew! The delicious, romping choreography fits so perfectly with the music that I wonder if Mozart had it in mind as he composed those glorious runs!

Special mention, too, should be made of Guerra’s ingenious video (The One I Keep) of Jess Chang awash in tiny bits of paper, snippets of sentences which fall like snow, then fly up like a swarm of insects, ending in a joyous coup de theatre with Chang savoring the last fragment….

And of Larry Pratt’s compelling projections which appear as you wait for the evening to begin, ethereal images of dancers caught by a camera in double exposure, with ribbons of words swirling around them like skywriting, hinting at the supple, palpable language we are about to experience in Luminarium’s triumphant SECRETS AND MOTION.

Monday, October 28, 2013


Kirsten Greenidge’s SPLENDOR (@ Company One through Nov. 16th) unwraps in circles like an unwinding top, so that the townsfolk we meet at the outset come back and overlap with new people, all of whom add to the integral shape of a wobbly Massachusetts town. Greenidge’s Bellington, like Grovers Corners, becomes an intrinsic part of her play: It can haunt characters like Greenidge’s heroine, Fran Giosa. It can trap people, like Fran’s school chum, Nicole. It can even, as one character says, “hold a grudge.”

Director Shawn Lacount uses the playing space at the BCA to surround us in a sweep of stolen moments played behind the audience. We see snatches of connections across from us—or if we crane our necks, behind us—perhaps a kiss, a song, a hesitation—caught by a searchlight scanning the perimeter of the town. It could be our town, with its all important Thanksgiving Day game and its unfortunate store closings and uptick in unemployment and poverty.

Shame and regret seem to dog everyone’s footsteps in Bellington. Fran (a lovely performance from Alexandria King) really doesn’t want to move back. She has painful memories she just can’t shake. She also has a mother (a bawdy, blowsy Becca Lewis) you wouldn’t want to claim. Greenidge creates colorful characters like Greg Maraio’s big hearted patriarch, father to Nicole Prefontaine’s outrageous Lisa (who gets the most delicious lines!)

Everyone has a story, from Obehi Janice’s exasperated ex-school counselor to James Milord’s angry absentee father of Fran and her brother (a vulnerable Danny Mourino)….from Molly Kimmerling’s disappointed housewife/mother to Michael Knowlton’s disillusioned ex-football star/husband who’s having an affair with Hannah Cranton’s sad Colleen. And there are even more secrets and affairs bubbling to the surface in Greenidge’s bird’s eye view of America!

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Happy Medium Theatre’s gruesome BREWED by Scott T. Barsotti (bubbling through Halloween plus 2 days more for good measure) is billed as “a play about gatherings, sacrifice and the dark art of obligation.” Six sisters who do not get along plan to bury the hatchet for one night to reconvene for a dramatic announcement. They’re a scrappy bunch, brawling at the drop of a homophone, squaring off like gladiators, so you know it won’t go well. As Daniel Day Lewis famously intoned, “There will be blood!”

Director Mikey DiLoreto’s cast chop, stir and purée each other like master chefs, with especially harrowing work from Kiki Samko as the psycho whisperer, the only one who can calm their tragically truncated sister (a wonderfully wild Lauren Foster), from Lindsay Eagle as the spectacularly egomaniacal NASCAR winner and from Elizabeth Battey as the wacky, intrepid interloper.

Here’s my dilemma. The sisters aren’t witches because they would be able to do and undo spells if they were. Ditto if they were supernatural. What are they then, wreaking havoc and violence at every turn? I have it! They must be men!

Friday, October 25, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey SOLDIERS ON STAGE, FRONT AND CENTER Two Pulitzer Prize winning plays opened this past week—and both have soldiers at their core.

 WATER BY THE SPOONFUL, the second play in a trilogy, (@ Lyric Stage through Nov. 16th) tells the story of a wounded war vet, his mother and the people they reach out to (and shut out) while they all struggle with addiction and recovery. Lyric is also presenting a reading of ELLIOT, A SOLDIER’S FUGUE (the first play in the trilogy) on Nov. 12th and it’s free!

A SOLDIER’S PLAY (@ Roxbury Repertory Theater through Nov. 2nd) is an eloquent whodunit of the first order which takes place in a segregated army unit in the South during WWII. A sergeant has been shot and lynched and there’s talk about involvement of the KKK.

Charles Fuller’s A SOLDIER’S PLAY, although it was written some 30 years ago, seems just as relevant today for its themes of discrimination and corruption in the military. Fuller sets the play before true integration in the armed services so you have African-American troops under white leadership when the story begins. As we know, racism is still pervasive today …and now you can add sexism to the –isms which haunt the military. What makes Fuller’s play unique is how racism is turned inward to feed on the soul.

Director Marshall Hughes gets rewarding resonance from casting a female in one of the soldier’s roles. She plays it as written (after all, women in the army today are just “soldiers”) and you immediately go along, the ensemble is so strong and the story so compelling. Television and stage veteran Daver Morrison leads the cast as the army lawyer assigned to investigate the murder. Morrison gives a powerful performance as the cool captain who never loses his head, even when white superior officers try to have him dismissed from the case for being Black.

If you’ve seen the play before, you haven’t seen it like this. Hughes employs ingenious shadow play (on stage and on the side walls of the theater) to ratchet up the suspense and amplify the brutality in the piece, making it much more visceral.

See it for a fresh look at an important play and see it for the crackerjack performances: From Damon Singletary’s hateful, yet pitiful sergeant to David J. Curtis’ gentle, tragic blues strummer. From Geraldo Portillo’s seething dissenter to Bruce Drexel Smith’s toadying right hand man. From Ezra Stevens’ defensive corporal to Emerald Johnson’s earnest private. Everyone in the company contributes to this remarkable production.

Quiara Alegria Hudes’ WATER BY THE SPOONFUL has no plot to speak of, just a theme running through the juxtaposed snatches of story, where everyone who desperately needs something (although they might not know what it is) gets it. Hudes sees the details of life and death from a different, often amusing angle: Like the practice of smothering a funeral in flowers which will only die. “Death with your death,” a character muses…or her description of rock bottom as a “ rental Ford.”

The constantly interweaving action, and the fact that a good number of the scenes take place on an internet chat site (with stationary actors), make for rough going, despite the talented actors in director’s Scott Edmiston’s thoughtful production. Computer screens, as a rule, detract from the momentum of a play, although SOME MEN (at SpeakEasy a few years back) managed to make them hilarious. Act II moves much more smoothly because Hudes ditches the device for the most part and lets the characters connect.

Gabriel Rodriguez as the vet tormented by physical and emotional pain, excels in a touching, chilling speech in which he explains the title of the play. Sasha Castroverde as his cousin, provides the family glue, since the vet is estranged from his birth mother, an addict who now counsels other crack addicts on line. Mariela Lopez-Ponce as mother has a beautiful, frightening scene, reliving the family horror.

Johnny Lee Davenport even makes an IRS agent with no outside life charming. Theresa Nguyen as the addict who wants to find her roots has a lovely, redemptive relationship with Davenport and Gabriel Kuttner adds humor as the crack addict who won’t admit the scope of his dependency. He, too, will find a way out. Zaven Ovian as several characters provides the ghostly nightmare locked in the soldier’s conscience.