Saturday, July 27, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEWS By Beverly Creasey From Cell Towers to Cell Nuts

Walt McGough invents delightful characters, like Tower Girl, the accidental (super) heroine of PAPER CITY PHOENIX (@ Boston Playwrights’ Theatre through July 27th). He writes immensely clever dialogue and wildly imaginative scenarios like PAPER CITY’s cautionary tale about our omnipresent internet culture.

We’ve all sold our souls to the internet. It’s already taken over our lives so it’s no stretch to suggest that we could be totally controlled by the electronic monster. As one of McGoegh’s characters warns, “If the internet collapses, there will be no record of anything.”

To remedy this, Tower Girl’s friend, Gale, begins to make printouts of everything on the web, starting alphabetically. This, of course, triggers the homeland security police, who troll cyberspace looking for possible crime. (And we now know that our e-mails and internet activity really are under surveillance.)

The only people in PAPER CITY who have sworn off the internet are a flock (and don’t call them a “cult”) of Luddites. I always root for Luddites but when everything (“No more networks, no more clouds, no more electricity”) is destroyed during a singularity, they’re not much help.

In McGeough’s vision of global disaster, people are sucked into the ether, a sort of limbo where internet automatons have started “rendering” humans obsolete to make room for more data. These authoritarian robots speak a lot like Tony Kushner’s angels (“I, I, I”) but they’re not nearly as kind.

Not to worry. Tower Girl (the wonderfully manic Caroline L. Price) who was struck by lightening in the first scene, can communicate with them. Gale (Danielle Lucas) finds her working cell phone and the two set out to save the world. Alas, when the electricity comes back on, so does the internet and we’re back to where we started, with no one communicating face to face.

Director Melanie Garber’s crackerjack cast keeps all of McGeogh’s balls in the air and I hardly noticed that the last bit (of plot) had gotten away from me, I was so engrossed. Michael Fisher is wryly amusing as the novice in David W. Frank’s doomed Luddite movement and Monica Shea and Anthony Rios make goofy, chummy cops. (Shea morphs with panache after intermission into one of those computer geek bots.)

Rendition comes up again in Christopher Durang’s broad, satirical swipe at the religious right and their love of gunplay, WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM (opening July 25th appropriately @ the Arsenal Center). The Titanic Theatre Company’s raucous production is full of barbs aimed at our national obsession with the “War on Terror.”

Poor Felicity (a lovely Caroline Rose Markham) wakes up from a drug rape to find herself married to an unsavory character named Zamir (an edgy Alexander J. Morgan). Her pistol happy pappy (the spectacularly outrageous Jeff Gill) calls in his paramilitary pals (Alisha Jansky in the “pants” role and Brett Milanowski in the “Bugs Bunny” part) to torture the man and get him to confess his Al-Qaeda connections.
Durang lampoons everything from the rights of a fetus (to vote, of course!)… to the use of torture under the new “Terror” guidelines… to Tom Stoppard’s lengthy three-part UTOPIA. (Sometimes his targets wander a bit.) Most of the humor lands successfully thanks to director Adam Zahler’s devotion to the absurd. It’s an awfully long play but whenever it started to flag on opening night, Gill’s antics brought the energy back with another infusion of madness. Zahler gets fine comedic work, too, from Shelley Brown as Gill’s wacky, distracted wife and from Jonathan Barron as a new age minister who makes porn films (and gets to deliver one of the worst puns I’ve ever heard!).

Thursday, July 25, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Nora’s SINGULAR Sensation

Alan Ayckbourn is famous for placing a world of trouble on the shoulders of his hapless characters, then pulling the rug out from under them—mind you, in high comic style. The Nora Theatre’s ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR (playing at the Central Square Theater through August 18th), superbly directed by Daniel Gidron, reminded me of the deftness Harold Lloyd achieved in his comic catastrophes.

We meet three couples, whose kitchens will be both refuge and madhouse on three successive Christmas eves. One kitchen wanderer from the first party declares the living room guests to be “splendidly jolly, booming people” and you immediately know the opposite is true. But you don’t see the disaster first hand. Better yet is the glimpse of what’s going on behind the festivities: panic, mayhem and meltdown.

The cast is pure joy, with David Berger-Jones as the hilariously obtuse host of the first party and Samantha Evans deliciously infuriating as the overwrought, reluctant hostess. The first act does the work of setting up, with Liz Hayes wonderfully off kilter as the wacky, inebriated wife of Bill Mootos’ marvelously unrepentant philanderer. Add the wry Steve Barkhimer as an uninterested banker who’d rather be anywhere else and Stephanie Clayman as his tart tongued wife (her words fairly dripping with sophisticated sarcasm) and you have the sure fire recipe for comic gold.

If only Act II could be played twice, thrice even. I could see it a hundred times, just to watch Liz Hayes fume, despair, roll her eyes up into her head or move her pupils to the side in horror and then, widen them in disbelief. Her tour de force, without speaking a word, is the funniest performance I’ve seen this year. You cannot stop laughing and yet you care about this poor woman, surrounded by morons.

Gidron knows how to gild the lily, so everyone gets into the act. There’s an Edward Scissorhands-Mootos moment, not to mention Barkhimer’s leap to safety on top of the kitchen table…where, of course, he isn’t, which is simply priceless when all hell breaks loose. Act III gives Clayman the splendid chance to run roughshod over her visitors, especially Mootos, squashed like a cushion into an easy chair.

Ayckbourn has written over seventy plays, all of them gems. Maybe Nora could do one a year for the next decade or so. That would make me deliriously happy.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Hub Theatre’s LOVE, LOSS, AND WHAT I WORE (through Aug. 3rd) has a trunk full of reasons to get down to the First Church performance space (corner of Berkeley & Marlborough). This funny, distaff memory play is neatly hung on the outfits which delineate the shape of our lives. Yes, that old saw has legs: clothes, evidently, do make the [wo]man. The entertaining Nora and Delia Ephron script (based on Ilene Beckerman’s book) is smartly directed by Paula Plum. If you need more encouragement to go, five talented actresses fit into the stories like they were, well, tailor made. And every performance is pay what you can! Talk about designer theater!

Even though the comedy plants its tongue firmly in its cheek, the observations are deliciously spot on—especially the inner dialogues the women have with themselves: “I can’t find anything in my closet. I have to clean out my closet…I have nothing to wear!” (Yes, it’s a cliché but we really do think it, often!) Who wouldn’t giggle (self consciously) when the play suggests that our purses are the windows to our souls! Men will see the show and inevitably laugh at us. Women will see it and laugh at ourselves.

Who could resist the fabulous Theresa Chaisson mourning the loss of that perfect, irreplaceable shirt…or Adobuere Ebiama’s potentially crippling decision: Heels or Birkenstocks? Then there’s June Kfoury’s wonderful compendium of dubious motherly advice (“Never wear velvet before Rosh Hashanah”). Or their collective choices in men, like Lauren Elias’ instant attraction for the guy at the Halloween party with a chain saw through his torso…or Linda Goetz’ lovely salad days with a charming convict. Sweet stuff!

The satire is hilarious. The serious stuff felt, to me, like it was there to give the play weight. That said, Linda Goetz plays the heck out of her two tragic monologues. See it for Goetz’ tour de force and for the charismatic Chaisson. See it for all the women. To borrow a phrase from Rod Stewart: They wear it well.

P.S. Bring some gently worn clothes with you to donate to charity after the show.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Reagle’s Heartfelt FIDDLER By Beverly Creasey

Reagle Music Theatre has reached quite a milestone: This is their 45th year of presenting iconic American musicals. (This summer they’re venturing out of their comfort zone with Les Miz in August.) What Reagle can do that other theaters can’t is to stage a show like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (playing through July 27th) with a cast of thousands. (Well, it seems like thousands.)

The stage is filled to bursting with the denizens of Anatevka, squabbling, dancing and celebrating their rich heritage. Reagle has called back their Tevya of 10 years ago to star as the stalwart father of three (plus two more in training) headstrong daughters. Scott Wahle is matched, edict for edict, by his no nonsense wife, affectionately played by Donna Sorbello. Director Kirby Ward plays up their relationship in Tevye's touching, now revealing query “Do You Love Me?" At the end of the song, we know.

FIDDLER was written in the turbulent ‘60s so it should come as no surprise that Joseph Stein’s book (and the lovely Boch/Harnick songs) reflect the zeitgeist: Tevye has a chasm of a gender gap to contend with…and his next-to-eldest daughter is in love with a student radical, to boot! What makes FIDDLER one of the great American musicals is its universality and its timelessness.

Tevye can “bend” his rules to accommodate two of his daughters but he cannot break with his religion when a third marries out of the Jewish faith. Wahle and company succeed in transmitting the immense, overwhelming sadness involved in the sacrifice. And we feel every bit of the villagers’ tragedy when the Tsar drives them out of their homeland.

What sets this FIDDLER apart, too, is Larry Blank’s updated orchestration (under Dan Rodriguez’ smart music direction and Jeffrey Leonard’s steady baton), as well as some charming performances, like Peter Mill’s spunky (who knew!) Motel the Tailor, Matt Phillips’ kindly Russian soldier, Nora Fox’s determined Tzeitel, Gillian Gordon’s plucky Hodel and Alexa Lebersfeld’s sweet Chava.

Reagle is fortunate to have Rishi Basu to make the butcher more of a mensch than he’s usually portrayed and R. Glen Michell to make the Russian constable more than a cipher. Andrew Winans’s gorgeous tenor enlivens the “To Life” singing (while Susan Chebookjian’s choreography ensures dazzling footwork). Shonna Cirone has a high old time as the towering ghost of Fruma-Sarah and Reagle’s remarkable chorus create a memorable “Dream.” Miracle of Miracles, indeed!


After seeing FUDGE Theater’s finely chiseled production of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s ASSASSINS (playing through July 20th ironically at the Arsenal Center), I have changed my mind about the piece. It’s performed in the small black box space at Arsenal which means those weapons pointed at the audience are mighty close. At other productions in larger venues, I’ve been able to consider the guns part of the choreography.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I felt the immediacy of Sondheim’s indictment of the American dream. I’m afraid that until last evening, I dismissed ASSASSINS because of its glorification (I thought) of the shooters. But for the musical, I certainly wouldn’t know all their names. (“Were reborn, through you,” they say to Oswald, [not just] “footnotes in a history book.”

Now I get it. Sondheim is screaming his head off (in song) about America’s glorification of the gun. How prescient and apt for right now, when no one can get any form of gun control legislation enacted. As I write this, Trayvon Martin’s murderer just has been found not guilty, yet another injustice in a long line of social injustices which plague our “sweet land of liberty.”

Weidman depicts the assassins (seemingly) driven toward violence by their own experience with American inequality (as well as spoofing the downright crazies)—and Sondheim provides the musical pastiche to drive home the absurdity of our perverted “constitutional rights.” Talk about aforethought of malice, ASSASSINS (which features a wannabe who plans to fly a plane into the White House) was scheduled for a Broadway run when 9/11 happened. The musical didn’t open.

Director Joey DeMita and music director Steven Bergman set exactly the right tone for the musical: not too vaudevillian, not too sardonic, just earnest enough so we can consider the men behind the madness. After all, “why?” is always the question when we hear about a shooting. The pundits say we can never know—but Weidman and Sondheim give it a shot (so to speak).

Kelton Washington makes a fine carnival barker, chasing up customers for his Presidential shooting gallery and Ian Flynn as the cockeyed optimist who shoots President Garfield has a wonderful turn alternating from “the bright side” to the dark side as he mounts the hangman’s scaffold. Ben Gold makes the McKinley assassin eminently pitiable, following Emma Goldman (Cat Claus) like a puppy dog. Ben Sharton’s Hinckley, Ben Oehlkers would-be Roosevelt assassin, Patrick Harris’ Nixon avenger, all give strong performances. (The two women are not as cleanly written as the men are but Katie Preisig and Catherine Lee Christie make it work.)

Best of all are Jim Petty as a dashing John Wilkes Booth, whose prayer just before he dies, is a thing of beauty in Petty’s hands—and Jared Walsh as the charming narrator whose ballads simply melt in his mouth and whose Oswald is confused at best, merely part of the legacy set in motion by Booth. There are several chills to be had in FUDGE’s ASSASSINS. If “Another National Anthem” doesn’t make your blood run cold then Sondheim’s distorted “Hail to the Chief” will. Why not give the musical another visit.

Monday, July 1, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Righteous AWAKENING

Eric Engel and Catherine Stornetta have made the big hit Broadway, Tony winning, taboo breaking musical, SPRING AWAKENING, into an intimate, heart breaking, stage shaking coming of age declaration—which will make you weep and hope and marvel (none of which I did at other productions). At tiny Gloucester Stage (through July 14th) it’s all happening up close, very close—which means no microphones—so you can hear every note of Duncan Sheik’s gorgeous music and the young cast sings so beautifully and artfully that you make out every line of Steven Sater’s unforgettable, searing, often shocking lyrics.

This is, after all, a tale of sexual repression and the triumph (and tragedy) of youthful rebellion in the face of antediluvian social mores. What’s surprising is that the musical is based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind. The music, however, is decidedly contemporary, as is Engel’s explicit, contemporary staging.

Jodi Leigh Allen’s pounding, angry, righteous choreography sets the tone from the get-go: These teenagers acutely feel the injustice and pain involved in “The Bitch of Living.” Paul Farwell and Amelia Broome masterfully portray all the oblivious (and a few intentionally cruel) adults in their lives, with Broome delivering a hilarious, licentious turn as an “over the top” piano teacher.

Phil Tayler and Melody Madarasz give astonishing performances as the innocent, anguished lovers and Ross Mumford, as their tortured friend, will make you sit up and take notice. He makes the role his own by having Moritz wear his fragility in his hands and in his back, almost collapsing inward at the end of a lyric. His suffering is palpable (as is Farwell’s when Moritz’s father finally realizes what he’s done).

Every character is exquisitely drawn in this remarkable production at Gloucester Stage. Don’t miss it.