Wednesday, December 31, 2014


The Apollinaire Theatre Company has a midwinter hit on their hands in David Grieg & Gordon MacIntyre’s saucy Scottish romp, MIDSUMMER (a play with songs). Start the New Year off with peals of laughter at Apollinaire. Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques knows a thing or two about comedy. Alas, it’s only playing through January 11th.

MIDSUMMER is just naughty enough. The cheeky dialogue and wacky humor make the “boy meets girl” set-up anything but conventional. For one thing, she’s the wrong girl and he’s definitely the wrong guy: He’s not really a criminal, he tells us. He just works for criminals. She knows he’s not her type but what the heck: A fling might help her forget her latest disaster of a boyfriend.

Their songs (which are delivered sometimes as vaudeville commentary and sometimes as romantic punctuation) may remind you of (the film or the Broadway musical) ONCE but MIDSUMMER is grittierIt’s more like those black Irish comedies where robberies go south and all hell breaks looselike that but without the violence. There’s plenty of mayhem but no blood and no guts. I promise.

Fauteax Jacques has the perfect cast. Courtland Jones and Brooks Reeves portray all the zany characters in this ninety minute romp: They play the mismatched lovers, their hysterical relatives, a peeved mobster and an upper class body part who sounds like John Cleese. (That’s all I’ll say about that.)

Jones manages to be tough as nails and vulnerably soft at the same time! And she’s a first rate comedienne. Reeves is one of the best actors in town, hands down. His manic ten year old is a thing of beauty. I’d see the play again just to see that spectacular meltdown. And his Big Tiny Tom, not to mention all of his hilarious inner thoughtsI’m still in stitches. Enough said.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Is this Really NECESSARY?

The world according to John Kuntz is a bizarre and often perilous place, whether he’s writing about beginnings (THE ANNOTATED HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN MUSKRAT) or endings (NECESSARY MONSTERS) or even limbo (THE HOTEL NEPENTHE).

For NECESSARY MONSTERS (playing at SpeakEasy Stage through Jan.3rd), Kuntz has created a dramatic wasteland a la Hieronymus Bosch. Eight actors are confined in an enormous cage—which may be a plane, judging from the stewardess’ safety instructions at the very start of the play—or it may be a sound stage, judging from the hand held cameras, the delightful rewinds and the slew of blindingly bright television screens (which sometimes record real time).

Where MUSCRAT and NEPENTHE tapped into a universal consciousness, NECESSARY MONSTERS does not, although it references the seamy side of pop culture with a vengeance. Instead of SNAKES ON A PLANE, we witness the serial killer from FRIDAY THE 13th (who had the bad luck of stopping en route for A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE) ruthlessly stalking his unsuspecting victims in their upright seats.

Characters aren’t dispatched just once, mind you. The mayhem is repeated and repeated. One woman, Kuntz wryly explains, is spared because she “looked already dead” and to kill her “would be redundant.” If you’re expecting the clever humor of his other plays, you won’t be happy. Not until Thomas Derrah wakes up an hour or so in (Didn’t he hear the explosions?) are we treated to a nifty, naughty monologue about faulty child rearing practices. Then as quickly as he arrives, he slinks back down to the floor and snoozes for the rest of the play, as did the man seated next to me.

Kuntz, himself, is one of the characters or rather two of the characters because he seems to be a psychiatrist at one point, and a swimmer in another scene in which he saves Michael Underhill (and monkey) from drowning. McCaela Donovan and Underhill meet on a blind date (in the plane?). As a child, Underhill may have been abused by Georgia Lyman’s babysitter. Stacey Fischer’s character is depressed throughout. Evelyn Howe keeps getting slashed by Greg Maraio’s killer…who manages a playful strip tease but later becomes a terrorist and blows up the plane, maybe. I couldn’t swear to any of this.

Kuntz and director David R. Gammons struck gold with HOTEL NEPENTHE but the imagery in MONSTERS is so overwhelming that I couldn’t piece it together, I’m sorry to say. I didn’t even realize that actors were doubling roles or that locales had changed, let alone follow a time line but I did enjoy the cat videos.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


In a season of CHRISTMAS CAROLs from Rhode Island to the North Shore, Neil McGarry’s deserves the “highest praise”…and if not, as one of the Dickens characters boasts, “Tell me higher and I’ll use it.” Bay Colony Shakespeare makes its home in Plymouth most of the year but they travel to Boston over the holidays for McGarry to perform Scrooge…and Marley…and the ghosts….and Bob Crachet, etc.

The performance is fully staged, with McGarry playing every role with gusto. Mind you, this is not a reading, although the one-man tour de force allows for Dickens’ glorious descriptions to remain intact. Most dramatizations drop the rich imagery in favor of dialogue. But because McGarry is every character, he can think aloud, can set the scene, even talk to the audience. Wee children at my performance sat wide-eyed to see MvGarry’s transformations and hear his commanding baritone.

Director Ross MacDonald pays close heed to Dickens’ language, especially to the description of the wretched children Scrooge observes behind the great robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present. In most productions they’re named “Ignorance” and “Want” and that’s that. Now we hear the whole explanation. MacDonald and McGarry use only a few props but you see the icy streets in your mind’s eye as Scrooge’s nephew contemplates a “slide.” You see the countryside as Scrooge relives his solitary school days. Miraculously, you see a room full of jolly celebrants at the Fezziwig Party. Scrooge is overjoyed to be in their company again.

He dances a reel from one side of the stage to the other, and up the aisle. His arms thrown open in sheer jubilation, his head bobbing up and down, he passes one partner with his right hand and another with his left, then returns with great bounds to the head of the line. McGarry’s performance is extraordinary on many counts but one especially: His characters are all so sincere and innocently drawn, that you give yourself over to the story like a child. He inhabits every inch of these charming characters…But wait, if you catch McGarry’s eye just for a second, it wrinkles a bit to say we’re allowed to laugh. It’s a neat trick, to be in the moment and without detracting from it, gently comment on it.

If you missed it in Barnstable tonight, the show continues in Boson at the First Church on Marlborough Street Fri, Sat and Sun Dec. 12, 13, 14. Then back to Plymouth, at the Bay Colony Theater space Thurs, Fri, Sat Dec. 18, 19, 20. For Times and directions, you’ll find it all at BAY COLONY

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


If you’re fried and overwhelmed by the fast approaching holidays, I have the perfect Rx: Moonbox Productions’ THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS (playing at the BCA through Dec. 20th) is non-stop hilarity. If you adore the musicals of Kander & Ebb, Sondheim, Rogers & Hammerstein and Jerry Herman, you mustn’t miss Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart’s mash-up, send-up tribute to the greats. (You know in your heart that they’re ripe for parody.)

The Bogart/Rockwell musical is not “Forbidden Broadway.” It’s actually a whole musical with new, close-to-the bone, mind you, lyrics almost like the originals but naughtier. You’ll recognize the music, too, although it seems to morph into similar tunes from another show by the same composer, that is, when it’s not tempted to run rogue and sound like Rachmaninoff. In fact pianist/music director Dan Rodriguez makes the keyboard sound like a whole orchestra.

Picture a fella who looks for all the world like Curly strolling on stage singing “Oh, what beautiful corn.” The woman shucking those ears seems to be Aunt Eller but isn’t. The tune is Rogers’ but here “the cattle plié in a dreamy ballet…while a chipmunk is readin’ the Bible.” It’s sort of OKLAHOMA but now Laurie will do anything to pay the rent and Aunt Eller seems to have become an Abbess, not to mention the shenanigans for poor Agnes DeMille. And a real fine clambake has yielded oodles of clam dip which when left in the sun too longWell, you can guess what happens next.

When the troupe turns to Sondheim, the scary Judd of OKLAHOMA (renamed “Jitter”) has become Sweeney Todd and his daughter Johanna needs to pay the rent. In case you haven’t guessed, rent (not the musical RENT) is the through-line. In one of the best parodies (of both character and song) Johanna (renamed “Jeune”) is bonkers from the get-go, delivering a wide-eyed, florid “I Have Little Birds.”

If you don’t know the original lyrics, you may be temporarily puzzled but the madness on stage will get you through. (At least that’s the consensus of the women from the Ladies Room line.) You’ll be wowed by the versatility of the performers, who can match anything thrown at them in say, COMPANY. Sondheim’s “Not Getting Married Today” is even, dare I say, funnier in parody because it’s a joke sitting on top of a joke.

Director/choreographer Rachel Bertone and music director Rodriguez have a field day finding bits to enhance the comedy. At one point the performers add instruments to the mix while they’re making magic. Bertone’s choreography looks an awful lot like the real thing and happily, she has dancers who can pull off OKLAHOMA’s dream ballet and Bob Fosse’s bumps and grinds for the mutant CHICAGO/CABARET show. And the dancers deliver vocally, too, in all the diverse song stylings that Rockwell cooks up.

The creators get lots of laughs at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s expense, pointing out his penchant for “borrowing” tunes from Puccini, Meyerbeer, Berlioz et al, not to mention his rococo plots (or non-plots in CATS). You may have already thought that Jerry Herman’s leading ladies seem awfully similar. Now you can plainly see that’s because they are! Mame is Dolly is even Aubin in the Moonbox triumph. The faux Fosse is my favorite, with its hysterical riff on the “Jailhouse Tango.”

What a cast to pull this off! Katie Clark, whose crazy, baby voice rips the artifice right out of SWEENEY TODD…to Meredith Stypinski, whose Witch/Abbess brings Sondheim’s fairy tale message to its knees with “We’re All Gonna Die.” Phil Tayler is such a strong leading man that he doesn’t often get the chance to be funny (coming right out of SWEENEY TODD @ Lyric Stage) and is he ever! Kudos, too, to the high kicking chorus and to Peter Mill who wows the audience with his remarkable dexterity, from hero to jester, from zero to sixty in five seconds like the new Mustang.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


With THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE (playing through Dec. 20th), Lyric Stage joins in on the celebration of thirty years of Charles Busch’s quirky, off the wall comedies. Busch specializes in wacky characters that are often cross dressed or (as in THE THIRD STORY) rendered embryonic. His fans adore VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM and his wild and wooly PSYCHO BEACH PARTY.

He’s a lot more main stream with the ALLERGIST’S WIFE, although the peripheral material around the characters is aimed firmly below the belt. (The jokes about intestinal distress are non-stop.) Busch offers some amusing constructs, like dueling depressives (mother and daughter) on identical couches across from each other, arguing about who is the biggest loser…or Busch’s inspired idea of an “accidental suicide” in a Disney Store.

Director Larry Coen has a cast of experienced actors but alas, there’s no comic escalation to be had when everyone starts at Def Con 5. If all the characters are shouting at fever pitch from the start, there’s really no place to go. (Busch fatigue set in to my audience even before intermission.) Also compromising matters is Busch’s own inability to commit: The characters are in place for hilarity to ensue when Busch hedges his bets about who is conning whom and who imagined what.

Poor Margerie (Marina Re) wants meaning in her life. Her husband, the allergist, is still in demand even though he’s retired, saving lives by spraying cortisone up the deviated septa of stricken New Yorkers. Joel Colodner, as the expert on wheezes and sneezes, swells with pride at the very mention of the rescues. Ellen Colton, too, is a pro at milking a laugh but Busch doesn’t give her a lot to work with: She has to find the comic gold in bouts of diarrhea which I don’t think is metallurgically possible. But her double takes are divine.

Caroline Lawton is a whirlwind as Marjorie’s childhood friend (I did the math and I don’t think that is numerically possible) but Lawton keeps them all afloat with her excess of buoyant energy. Zaven Ovian is delightful as the extremely helpful doorman but come to think of it, he doesn’t put in much time in the lobby. The secret to a Busch comedy is not to think concretely. Usually there are so many balls in the air, that you don’t have time to thinkbut Busch has slowed the action down in the ALLERGIST’S WIFE and there’s the rub. You begin to ponder all the working (or non-working) parts. As they say in the ear, nose and throat business, that’s something to sneeze at.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Company One’s THE DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY (@ BCA through Nov. 23rd) is comprised of three separate plays in which playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil riffs on the traditional Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Although the three plays are united by theme, each stands on its own.

 In the cheeky CHRONICLES OF KALKI the playwright demonstrates that Hindu deities, not those famous diamonds, are a girl’s best friend. Kapil transmutes Vishnu, the protector, into feminine form to aid a teenager having a hard time navigating high school. Her classmates ridicule her for being the victim of a cruel sexual prank. Soon thereafter a new student arrives. The new girl is Kalki who imparts feminist wisdom and a little vengeance where it’s needed. (You wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.)

Director M Bevin O’Gara captures the sardonic humor born of teenage angst and she niftily highlights the bravado which swirls around Kalki. Ally Dawson is larger than life as the protector/goddess, so powerful she can barely contain her strength. Stephanie Recio and Pearl Shin are delightful as the mouthy teenagers in trouble with the law. Brandon Green gives a charming performance as the surprisingly kind policeman interviewing the two girls. Since Kalki travels via water, rain runs down the window pane set in lovely, rhythmic, mesmerizing rivulets.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


You can count on Bad Habit Productions for a sterling production just about every time out. And, it seems, every time out with a Stoppard play is sheer magic. (They created a crystal clear ARCADIA season before last, not an easy accomplishment.) Their current production of THE REAL THING is the real McCoy. Director A. Nora Long even found ways to tweak the scene changes for extra laughs. Hurry, though, it ends Nov. 23rd)

Stoppard cuts pretty close to the bone with THE REAL THING. The central character is a British playwright just like him with ex-wives and children to supportand Stoppard, like the fictional writer, occasionally leaves the rarified air of the theater to write for the movies, not really a hardship one might argue, since he won an Oscar and a permanent place in Academy lore for his droll acceptance speech. (Roberto Benini had just shocked the well heeled attendees by crawling on the backs of their chairs to get to the stage but Stoppard one-upped him by announcing in a slow monotone that “Inside, I’m Roberto Benini.”)

Instead of his usual propensity for brainy philosophical and architectural allusions (to Wittgenstein or Lancelot “Capability” Brown), Stoppard addresses the vagaries of being in love in THE REAL THING. The allusions are still there but this time, the references come from comic or tragic romantic sources like Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell or Noel Coward’s Amanda… and I mustn’t forget that telltale Shakespearean handkerchief he works in to the mix.

Stoppard is fascinated by what seems real and what is real (the first scene being a trick) but of course, none of it is because this is only a playbut we happily suspend our disbelief for the delicious ride and the flashy attempt to inspect true love in the midst of messy affairs and broken hearts.

Stoppard’s stand-in, Henry, in the Bad Habit production is portrayed by Bob Mussett, who gives a knockout performance right from the get-go but especially at the play’s emotional end (something the British actors I’ve seen in the role haven’t been able to pull off). Mussett is glib, he’s charming, he’s infuriating and in Nora A. Long’s exceptional production, he’s vulnerable.

R. Nelson Lacey, too, is delightful as Henry’s awfully sweet friend (even after Henry purloins his wife). Lacey gets to play tough in the play within the play as the suspicious writer in the first scene. (It’s not this confusing when you see it live.) And he gets to crumble and break our hearts, just as the Righteous Brothers sing about “something beautiful dying.” Likewise, William Bowry gets to play two characters in hot pursuit and does so seamlessly.

The women in the play are, for the most part, glorified objects of affection, exactly what the writer’s actress-wife complains about in the second scene. That’s not to say their roles aren’t meaty. Gillian Mackay-Smith as the above mentioned actress/wife makes a meal out of righteous indignation. Shanae Burch gets to hold her own with her smug father on the subject(s) of sex and Courtland Jones navigates all the men with a sleek, sensual facility. Again, wonderful ensemble work from Bad Habit.

Monday, November 17, 2014


One of the characters in Yasmina Reza’s GOD OF CARNAGE (at Next Door Theatre through Nov. 22nd) postulates that the aforementioned god “has ruled uninterruptedly since the dawn of time.” There isn’t any better evidence of that than Reza’s outrageous comedy of bad manners (in a compelling English translation by Christopher Hampton).

After a schoolyard brawl, the parents of the two boys involved in the fracas meet for a civilized discussion about what to do. It doesn’t end up being either civilized or a discussion. To utilize the playwright’s descriptive, the get together is “destabilized” faster than you can say Oskar Kokoschka (the condescending hostess’ favorite painter).

Director Joe Antoun’s glossy production (on Brian Milauskas’ tony living room set) perfectly captures Reza’s sardonic wit and sly trajectory from uncomfortable small talk and feigned courtesy to flaming hostility and full out pandemonium. The adults behaving badly are played by a formidable quartet: Brett Milanowski’s impatient lawyer wants out of the room in the worst way, even before the gloves come off. Milanowski’s body language speaks volumes, right down to a left foot poised mid sole to vacate his chair.

Roz Beauchemin gets the plum role of his financial analyst wife, a woman not afraid to challenge her host’s shortcomings, where sentient beings as well as humans are concerned. Allen E. Phelps is the ‘nihilist” who can’t tolerate either rodents or liberals. Lisa Tucker as his wife is the self appointed expert on all things, especially African culture, who seems even more tightly wound than the other three (but not by much). It’s she who announces, “I have no sense of humor and no intention of acquiring one.”

Thankfully Reza does and she sprinkles it with abandon throughout the unadulterated nastiness. You leave the theater shaking your head and thanking the heavens that you don’t know these people.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll: A Cautionary Tale

Karla Sorenson’s TAPPED OUT about a man, a bar and an overdue loan is getting a smart production at Image Theater this month (through Nov. 16th). Sorenson writes clever, witty dialogue and characters you can care about: There’s Manny who purchased the bar for a new start in life. He’s had a few brushes with the law but he’s determined to “go legit” from now on. Problem is he doesn’t have the money to repay a dicey loan he never should have agreed to in the first place.

Of course, he’s sweet on the waitress he’s just hired and she, too, it just so happens, could use a fresh start. Then there’s Manny’s friend, Tucker, who used to play in a rock band but now he practically lives at the bar. Sorenson gets terrific laughs when Tucker holds forth on his philosophy of life: “Progress is like an axe in the hand of a criminal.” In other words, he doesn’t like change and he sees it coming when the new waitress offers “ideas” to update the bar. “Take away her library card,” he quips.

Sorenson stacks the deck with more than the requisite amount of secrets and issues. A charge of rape is raised but then it disappears. The waitress suggests to Manny that Tucker dislikes her because he’s in love with Manny himself. That wrinkle likewise evaporates. We hear lots of talk about drugs, alcoholism, suicide and sabotage: so many possibilities for a plot that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. (New plays are often overwritten. That’s how playwrights work on their development. The good news is that Image Theater takes chances on new work when most theaters don’t.)

When the play ends, then you can see the through line but until then, the characters seem to be wandering all over the map. Mind you, the quirky characters and the zippy dialogue keep you interested but at intermission, all you have is ‘Will Tucker rat out the waitress and reveal her secret?” A better hook, like “Will Manny do something foolish to save the bar” would ramp up the suspense and heighten the stakes. (Later on she comments about that secret, and I would agree, that it “doesn’t really make a difference.”)

Directors Jerry Bisantz and Ann Garvin have a crackerjack cast to make you believe: David Sullivan is perfection as the salt of the earth ex-boxer who just keeps getting bad breaks. Jenney Dale Holland gives the waitress equal parts vulnerability and moxie. You can clearly see why the barkeep is smitten. And Drew Shadrawy gives the wise guy character just enough edge to make him dangerous. The three play off each other seamlessly. It’s lovely ensemble work and that’s a very good thing.

Monday, November 10, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Everyone knows families where siblings no longer speak after an inheritance slights one child in favor of another. Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS coalesces around a certain necklace that two grandchildren covetbut the play really exists to explore what being Jewish means to a generation twice removed from the Holocaust.

Director Rebecca Bradshaw’s production for SpeakEasy Stage Company (through Nov. 29th) is lively and explosive, with over the top performances from Allison McCartan and Victor Shopov as warring cousins and lovely, less showy turns for Alex Marz and Gillian Mariner Gordon as the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. I wouldn’t call it a comedy although it’s billed as one.

Harmon’s hot button issue of what comprises religious practice (Is someone really Jewish who doesn’t observe the Torah?) isn’t so much discussed as it is hurled about like a loose grenade. Mc Cartin’s Daphna insists she should inherit her grandfather’s “chai” because she cares about Judaism more than her cousin, Liam, who sports a Santa hat on Facebook and didn’t make it to the funeral. (As it turns out, he, too, has reason to want it.) The problem is that Harmon has placed both arguments in the mouths of such disagreeable characters. 

Liam accuses Daphna of being a fanatic and we’re off to the races with sardonic insults, past transgressions and endless recriminations. The more interesting characters are Liam’s younger brother who tries to avoid taking sides and Liam’s blond, blue eyed, non-Jewish girlfriend. When the vitriol gets out of hand, it’s she who is the peacemaker. What left me puzzled is the playwright’s left field ending, which has the girlfriend acting completely out of character, the character Harmon himself went to such pains to create. The only way this abrupt change would work is if the girl had been feigning sweetness all along, and in this production at least, she hasn’t.

Monday, November 3, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Kindred Minds

By Beverly Creasey
Kindred Minds

Everyone has peculiar kith and kin. Some families are closer than others while some are downright detrimental. Boston Playwrights’ Theatre has a stunning “family” drama up and running through Nov. 22nd. Monica Bauer’s CHOSEN CHILD may seem like familiar territory at first, but you realize pretty quickly that this puzzle of a family thrives on deception. From then on you have to sort out the details as this compelling new script plays itself out.

Bauer cleverly engages the audience, providing clues right up to the end. That’s when all the puzzle pieces fall into place for a rewarding psychological overview, like the cosmonauts who could see The Great Wall from space. Each generation, like dominoes in forward motion, has a powerful trajectory to contend with, not to mention the dangerous DNA which may be lurking in their genes.

David, at ten, dreams of becoming the first Jewish astronaut. He’s extraordinarily bright, a little precocious and not very social. At twenty he’s schizophrenic and bereft, except for an imaginary friend. You might surmise that CHOSEN CHILD is an agonizing tragedy. Far from it: Bauer makes this family’s travails quite funny at times, and then deeply affecting, before delivering a nifty, redemptive twist. Her dialogue is delightfully acerbic, especially for the Ph.D. in psychology who rails with righteous indignation at the social worker trying to impart professional advice to her on the subject of death.

Debra Wise is hilarious as the relative whose unwanted responsibility it is to decide about cremation. (Wise has one of the best quips in the play about just that.) Bauer moves her characters back and forth in time, with the same actors, so we meet Wise as a sensitive teenager who soon will become the cautious, armor plated adult. Lewis Wheeler, too, moves from innocent childhood to quirky schizophrenic adulthood. His scene with a Port Authority ticket agent is as humorous as it is exasperating.

Lee Mikeska Gardner, too, must morph from wild, out of control teenager to ill equipped, young single mother, then to overwhelmed caretaker of a schizophrenic. Everyone in director Megan Schy Gleeson’s cast contributes to “keeping things whole.” Margaret Ann Brady portrays “Grandma Lee” from the get-go as someone who copes as best she can. Brady gives her a physicality which weighs her down and only late in the play, do we learn of the burden which weighs on her mind.

Melissa Jesser is charming as the “others” in the story not directly involved in the Omaha “Sturm und Drang” (i.e. the bemused but compassionate ticket agent/ the frustrated social worker/and the rebellious teenage daughter in a subsequent generation.) When all is said and done, you feel for these characters caught up in circumstances beyond their control. Bauer’s compassionate and novel take on the “family” play makes CHOSEN CHILD a must see this season.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Poetry in Motion

One line stands out above the rest for me in Sarah Ruhl’s DEAR ELIZABETH, her play in letters from Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and back again. It will not leave my head. It’s an earthshaking understatement in the script but it resonates even more today: “There are so few [poems] in the world now.” I firmly believe that if the world had more art in it, wars would cease.

I’m intrigued that this play (and this format) has left me so moved, even a day later. Director A. Nora Long’s lovely, surprisingly clever production for Lyric Stage (through Nov. 9th) is a slow starter. Once you get accustomed to both characters using the same playing space, although they may be a continent apart, you get into the rhythm of the piece. Like A.R. Gurney’s wildly successful LOVE LETTERS, the form presupposes that the truth is fully revealed in correspondence. And like LOVE LETTERS, the relationship flowers on paper, not so much in person.

The beauty of DEAR ELIZABETH lies in the raw revelations of true friendship. We’re privy to information which the writers didn’t share with anyone but each other. (However, the two celebrated poets did save their letters, after all, knowing scholars would be researching their work.) Sometimes you feel like a voyeur, learning about Lowell’s breakdowns. You’re embarrassed and at the same time you feel very close to the character(s) to know what anguish lies behind the verse…and saddened that the medical establishment couldn’t properly treat depression back then.

 For me, though, there just isn’t enough poetry in the play, especially in Act I. The stakes are higher in Act II, as the two grow older…and Act II contains my favorite poem, Bishop’s “The Art of Losing.” Mind you, it’s not for the faint of heart. (I cry just thinking about it but I must say that Laura Latrielle as Bishop sticks it like a champion gymnast.)

One might even make the case that the letters are poetry of sorts: witty, humorous musings on their contemporaries, on their difficult romantic relationships and on their own rivalry as esteemed literary figures. She will suggest a better descriptive for a poem he’s sent. He urges her to write her way out of a funk. Latrielle manages to convey a no-nonsense, proto feminist confidence while at the same time, a deep fragility. Ed Hoopman makes Lowell an elegant, gentleman poet, a man who never sacrifices charm even at the depths of despair.

One of the definite pluses of the production is Shelley Barish’s rustic Maine/Yaddo/ and everywhere in between set with hidden delights to illustrate a scene or accentuate a metaphor (It may be a simile, I can’t remember). And Karen Perlow’s ending for the play is simply perfection.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Happy Medium is staging a haunting production of LANGUAGE OF ANGELS (through Nov. 1st) as the Factory Theatre space gives up the ghost while Fort Point Theatre Channel tries out a new space with IN THE SUMMER HOUSE (through Oct. 26th) as both companies deal with the loss of viable theater venues.

Naomi Iizuka’s LANGUAGE OF ANGELS is a spooky tale of teenagers who play with fire: When one of them doesn’t make it out of the cave where they rendezvous for romance, suspicions of murder arise and accidents start to thin their ranks. What lifts the play out of TV movie-of-the-week territory is director Lizette Morris’ atmospheric production. The walls of the Factory become the interiors of the cave, as the teenagers feel their way slowly toward the outside. Greg Jutkiewicz’ evocative lighting effects (for the thick pines and the shards of light inside the cave), Kiki Samko’s pounding, stomping, restless dance movements, Diedre Benson’s echoes, fluttering sounds and heavy exhalations, Alexis Scheer’s siren song and Mikey DiLoreto’s urgent drumming all ratchet up the suspense.

Celie (Scheer) “could catch the light in her hands,” says Nick Miller as her devastated boyfriend. When she doesn’t emerge from the cave, he returns to the darkness, tortured by thoughts of her. Iizuka has made Celie a pentecostal, from a family of seers and preachers (a snake handling, evangelical sect, to boot). Now that’s a character we want to know more about but alas, she’s gone and we don’t. Some of her friends speculate that she’s been transformed into a star…stars being “a remembrance of the past” but that speculation and other supernatural and angelic threads are abandoned in favor of long descriptions (and depictions) of the untimely deaths that befall her classmates (which we were told about in the first scene and really don’t need to see spelled out in detail).

What the play itself doesn’t do, the company does with song (including a gorgeous Irving Berlin gem), gesture and ethereal movement. Company members have written personal messages on the walls about their years in the Factory space: It’s the ghosts of those productions which will haunt the halls of the revamped space.

Gentrification on the waterfront is what moved the Fort Point Theatre Channel to a new locale for the Jane Bowles’ play, IN THE SUMMER HOUSE. You may have heard about the Provincetown production this summer of the rarely performed piece. Those of us who couldn’t get out to P’town are grateful to have the chance to see the play that both Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams praised to the skies.

I understand why Williams was so enamored of the script. The mother in the play (Christine Power) could be Amanda Wingfield from GLASS MENAGERIE. She endlessly chides her daughter (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan) for being so shy while it is she who drives the girl into isolation. Instead of prattling on about “gentlemen callers,” Gertrude tells us how adored she was by her father. Instead of the Germans who parade through Williams’ NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, it’s a boisterous, Spanish family who install themselves on Gertrude’s lawn. (The Fort Point production had to contend with interlopers, as well, when students passed through the lobby at Waterfront Square or a cleaning crew pushed a noisy cart across the building.)

Director Caitlin Lowans’ vision for the play is naturalistic, so when mother threatens that she will not let her daughter leave [her], the line is interpreted literally, with a death grip on the poor girl where a mind grip would have sufficed. Williams’ plays are almost always understood with a grain of salt. If SUMMER HOUSE had embraced that touch of the romantic, it might have played more sympathetically.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Elegant Enumeration

Underground Railway Theater and the Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT have introduced audiences to any number of scientists through the medium of theater: Alan Turing in BREAKING THE CODE and Otto Hahn and the German brain trust in OPERATION EPSILON come immediately to mindas does the excitement, still there, long after I saw those plays.

URT’s A DISAPPEARING NUMBER (playing through Nov. 16th) was originally developed by Simon McBurney with the company members of Complicite in Paris. Elaine Vaan Hogue’s clever production at the Central Square Theater combines ritual dance, percussion and lovely visuals to tell the story of the Indian clerk who revolutionized early twentieth century mathematics. I’ve just added the name Srinivasa Ramanujan to the list of scientists residing in my head.

The play features a contemporary, parallel story of a mathematician smitten with Ramanujan, which intersects (I know, you’re thinking a parallel can’t change its stripes and intersect with anything! Well, it can in the theater) with the historical collaboration of renowned British mathematician G.H. Hardy and the obscure twenty-three year old Indian clerk. But as often happens in plays with two time periods, the contemporary narrative doesn’t have quite the weight or the authority of the historical past.

Here’s something thrilling that can happen in the theater: You enter a world you know next to nothing about, and through the alchemy of stagecraft, you learn a little and leave wanting to learn more. Of course, the world of fractals, singularities and string theory is the realm of physicists and mathematicians, but you can now, thanks to Complicite and to URT, grasp the beauty in the science. Hardy, in fact, maintained in A Mathematician’s Apology, that “beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.” (Ironically, brain scans have confirmed that mathematics lights up the same parts of the brain stimulated by art and music.)

Hardy was a leader in his field when he received a package from rural India containing heretofore unknown mathematical theory. Ramanujan’s partitioning of integers was something Hardy thought impossible to achieve. Ramanujan postulated over four thousand formulae in his brief thirty-three years on earth. To dramatize the depth and breadth of his contributions, long strings of numbers and symbols fly about the set: Seaghan McKay’s elegant projections dovetail with David Reiffel’s sound design and with Ryan Meyer and Brian Fairley’s whispers and chants (which are repeated by the entire dancing ensemble) to achieve the Brahmin unity of “thought, word and deed.”

A capable cast of actors gracefully bring Complicite’s characters to life: Christine Hamel is charming as the English mathematics scholar who, despite her love for Amar Srivastava’s irresistible suitor, cannot withstand the pull of India. Something draws her to retrace Ramanujan’s improbable journey. Jacob Athyal portrays Ramanujan with a strength that does not require words. Hardy (Paul Melendy) has much more dialogue but the drama builds on recurring tableaux more than on descriptive scenes. I was engaged for all two hours (or a series of 7200 seconds) by the infinite variety of theatrics involved in the storytelling (which counted more to me than the realistic exchanges). On balance, I calculate that the whole (play) figures greater than the sum of its parts.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Unsettling Memento

Theatre on Fire, in its tenth year of staging edgy, inquisitive theater, is presenting IT FELT EMPTY WHEN THE HEART WENT AT FIRST BUT IS ALRIGHT NOW (playing through Nov. 1st) written by British Blackburn Prize winning playwright, Lucy Kirkwood. Because TOF is turning 10 this season, all tickets at every show are $10! That’s reason to celebrate!

Kirkwood’s play, which might have taken a hard look at human trafficking, doesn’t delve nearly deeply enough. It’s content to be a character study of a naive young Russian émigré whose spirit is broken by a lover who is in truth a pimp. Why she fails to realize immediately what’s going on in front of heris beyond me but let’s say it’s Kirkwood’s poetic license driving the story.

We meet Dijana in three different scenes (not in chronological order) which demonstrate how she copes psychologically with her disturbing, new life in England. Director Maureen Shea’s visceral production features two remarkable actresses: Elizabeth Milanovich as the disillusioned, delusional Russian woman and Obehi Janice as perhaps her only friend in the world.

When the scenes change, we change our locale, from the downstairs playing area to the upstairs space and back again. The light loves Milanovich in the first scene: She glows as she relates her plan to buy her way out of prostitution. But the luminosity fades as her situation worsens. Designer Chris Bocchiaro doubles back with the upstairs lighting so that Milanovich is silhouetted against a window overlooking the actual street below us. Brittle, end of summer ivy leaves crush against the glass, trapped by the wind forcing them against the pane, a nifty metaphor for the girl’s falling fortunes.

Milanovich is a quivering mass of cheery denial which eventually gives way to fearful twitches reminiscent of Catherine Deneuve’s in Roman Polanski’s REPULSION. The actress’ stamina is simply astonishing, carrying two thirds of the play all by herself (and her Russian is spot on, to boot.). We certainly feel sorry for the poor, broken girl who clings to fantasies. Milanovich generates plenty of heat with her portrayal but Kirkwood doesn’t shed much light on the subject of sexual slavery. The character with much more dimension (and promise) is Janice’s tough, confidant roommate but she, alas, is limited to only one scene.

In the realm of the bizarre, this has been a week for dramas about prostitutes, from the doomed Camille character in Boston Lyric Opera’s stunning La Traviata to Cameron Cronin’s show stopping courtesan in Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s wild COMEDY OF ERRORS to TOF’s fragile portrait of innocence betrayed.

Friday, October 17, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Merry Mix-Up @ Actors’ Shakespeare Project

The ASP’s wild and wooly take on Shakespeare’s shortest (and funniest) play, THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, is only running through Oct. 19th so race to the Brighton High School or you’ll miss one of the best shows of the season.

Shakespeare borrowed the bones of his plot from Plautus’ earlier version but not content to have only one set of twins to run amok, the Bard added a second set to be their servants, thereby quadrupling the laughter. (Each twosome of man and manservant has the same names as the other couple, just to solidify the confusion. You can see why nerves are gloriously frayed.)

Director David R. Gammons ups the complications a wee bit more by setting the comedy in a down at heel country circus where an impatient ringleader (Cameron M. Cronin of Imaginary Beasts fame) puts his performers through their paces. The more exasperated Cronin becomes, the better for us. He gripes endlessly at the troupe’s hilarious missteps, consulting a miniature, suede bound collector’s copy of the script. The only thing more delicious is a resentful Cronin all dolled up in red wig and gown to play a courtesan because he’s run out of performers.

The ERRORS do get sorted out and the misunderstandings ironed out but not before reaching wit’s end: Plungers are drawn as weapons, dinnerware goes air born and an elephant trumpets his protest from back stage. A goodly half the actors double and triple roles, without regard to age or gender so a pink bewigged, bearded Richard Snee becomes the coy sister of one twin’s wife. Snee pulls it off so demurely, we can see why the other twin is smitten! Gammons’ game actors manage the controlled hysteria like skillful jugglers, never “run[ning] the humour out of breath.”

Jesse Hinson’s twin desperately gestures his lines as if we haven’t heard or understood them. Omar Robinson, as Hinson’s twin, likewise shouts his dialogue…which stands to reason as each is mirror to the other, in appearance and dubious judgment. Susan S. McGinnis and Eddie Shields join the romp of mistaken identities as the servants. (It’s Gail Astrid Buckley’s inspired costumes which really identify the characters.) Without the “hat”-“no hat” device we would have no hope of separating Sarah Newhouse’s characters who appear together, simultaneously!

Paige Clark masters five (six counting the sideshow conceit) characters with aplomb and Ryan O’Connor towers over the proceedings with vacant, back ringed eyes, in a skeletal costume inspired, perhaps, by a Tim Burton movie. His “hollow eyed” schoolmaster is the “living dead man” Shakespeare describes. Even his Nell is frightening. Adding to the humor are David Wilson’s musical and sound punctuations. O HAPPY DAY, indeed. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey All In The Game

Bill Doncaster’s TWO BOYS LOST (presented by Stickball Productions through Oct. 25th) is a riveting tale of one stressed out familyIt could be any family, give or take a bad break or twoon Christmas Eve. Christmas does that to people but bickering is already an art to the Molineaux clan. They can implode just as easily over calzone as they can over Jimmy, the schizophrenic son whose demons keep him homeless and terrified.

In his few lucid moments, Jimmy worries about his brother, Eddie, who has taken on the responsibility and burden of rescuing him. As boys, they played at saving each other from pirates and sundry dangers, calling themselves “the two lost boys.” Now it’s true. Jimmy is lost in train tunnels and brain tunnels. His loving brother feels he’s lost control of his life, on call 24/7 to rescue Jimmy from street situations, police stations and thieves who will even steal his shoes. If that’s not enough to push a man over the edge, Eddie has a nasty ex who tries to keep him from seeing his son. And he has his own demanding mother to contend with.

Doncaster writes lovely, funny dialogue for solid, compelling characters. When the sister arrives back at her mother’s after running errands, she finds her brother and mother going at it hammer and tong. “Is this still or again?” she quips sarcastically. And Doncaster cleverly creates a character with clear vision and enough distance to see every other character’s flaws. Eddie’s treasure of a second wife is the calm, cool voice of reason.

Happily, director James Peter Sotis has a dream cast to animate these complex characters: Cheryl McMahon is a force to be reckoned with as Ma, the proud, strong-willed, difficult to please mother who lays down the law for the Molineaux family. Ma has her reasons and McMahon manages to soften her character so we can see she’s not made of stone. James Bocock gives a powerful performance as Eddie, awash in heartbreak, as he watches his brother and his dreams slip away. Jade Guerra as “the good wife” radiates wisdom and strengthand she’s delightfully funny, as well.

As Jimmy, Brett Milanowski skillfully captures the visceral pain of mental illness: We see it eating at him, torturing him with guilt and paranoia. Shawna Ciampa, too, as Jimmy and Eddie’s sister, captures the fragility that comes from constant worry.

The evening opens with a treat, a curtain raiser, a cheeky, comic ten minute piece called STEP ON ME by Lisa Wagner Erickson. It sounds masochistic…well, it is masochistic, but not in the conventional sense. Liz Michael Hartford and Michael Towers taunt and tease each other until she submits to his entreaties, but not in the conventional way. That’s all I’m saying about it.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s controversial musical, ASSASSINS, is back to remind us how violent these United States are. This time out New Repertory Theatre is assembling the shooting gallery, playing through Oct. 26th appropriately enough, at the Arsenal Center.

The musical is a conundrum. The historical context is fascinating. The message that someone can make a name for him/herself by assassination is chilling and the songs are gorgeousbut perverse in the mouths of these evildoers. “Everybody’s Got the Right [to a Dream]” is one of Sondheim’s loveliest but the dream, in this case, involves a gun and a president.

When ASSASSINS debuted, audiences were shocked at what seemed like a glorification of violence. A quarter of a century later, I’m horrified to say, people are more than familiar with news of mass murder ( from children killing their classmates to homegrown and foreign terrorism to the “collateral damage” from drone and missile attacks we hear about every day on the news). Now ASSASSINS seems more of a cautionary taleand sad, solid evidence that our country has always had a fascination with violence.

The shadow of recent history casts a frightening resonance on the musical that it didn’t have before. Most surprising is the vignette about the failed presidential assassin, Sam Byck, who planned to hijack a plane and crash it into the White House way before 9-11. Ironically, after the musical’s first disappointing outing, Sondheim and Weidman were ready to try it again. Time had passed. Backers were found and they were scheduled to open in November of 2001. Then 9-11 happened and they didn’t.

Director Jim Petosa’s straightforward production unfolds on a giant American flag (set design by Kamilla Kurmenbekova) whose stars all display black bullet holes, repeated in carnival proprietor/cheerleader Benjamin Evett’s patriotic coat (by Chelsea Kerl).

Music director Matthew Stern’s ensemble delivers the songs with conviction and humor. Standout performances include Mark Linehan’s commanding Booth (whose final prayer is especially, surprisingly touching), Brad Peloquin’s quirky, almost childlike assassin and Kevin Patrick Martin’s desperate, lonely gunman. Their seemingly innocent, lilting trio (“All you have to do is crook your little finger…”) morphs into a barbershop quartet (by adding a female assassin) becoming, despite its gentle tune, passionless instruction for a shooting.

Also affecting are Harrison Bryan (although his over the top Italian accent kept me from making out some of the lyrics and maybe it’s just because I saw SWEENEY TODD a week ago, but he sounds a lot like Pirelli, Sweeney’s nemesis), McCaela Donovan and Paula Langton as inept, ineffectual wannabes, Casey Tucker as a proud, determined Emma Goldman and Peter S. Adams as the wacky Sam Byck (although placing him at the far end of the stage each time meant we had difficulty (and I was in the center section) hearing all of his rant.

Best of all, in a tour de force is Evan Gambardella, first as the balladeer, there at the start to chronicle the first assassination, then as a confused, reluctant Lee Harvey Oswald, entreated by all the other assassins, to give them historical importance. When he gives himself over to his brothers/sisters in arms, we feel sorry for him. Even if you don’t subscribe to the lone gunman theory, the Oswald segment works as theater and Gambardella creates a character you won’t soon forget.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

NOT SO QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Another Knockout Production from Imaginary Beasts

While Picasso and Braque were busy in Paris deconstructing modern art, cubists in Russia, too, were laying waste to form and content. While Malevich and the Suprematists were radicalizing painting, Daniil Ivanovitch Iuvachev (later known as Daniil Kharms) and friends were knocking the stuffing out of formal literature. Kharms and his associates advocated a theater without logic or connection. KNOCK! THE DANIIL KHARMS PROJECT (caroming around the BCA through Oct. 18th) is the IMAGINARY BEASTS’ stunning take on Kharms’ surreal life and work. Don’t miss it.

The Beasts already embrace gestural language, musicality, physicality and a wild imagination to enliven their productions so Kharms would seem the perfect fit for such an adventurous company. And to think, the world might never have seen Kharms’ work: Stalin imprisoned him for his avant-garde, anti-socialist bent and later, even after he joined the Soviet Writers’ Union, he was again arrested and banned from publishing. He died in 1942 of starvation in one of the republic’s infamous, so called “mental hospitals.” Miraculously, a friend rescued his manuscripts, which didn’t surface until the 1960s. A lively, new translation by Irina Yakubovskaya found its way to the Beasts and the result is a world premiere—and to quote their press, a “once-in-a-lifetime event.” And that it is.

Michael McMahan’s adroit adaptation combines not only Kharms’ poetry, plays and short stories but actual elements of the author’s harrowing lifeso that odd, little stage inventions coexist with snatches of peculiar conversations, bits of nonsense dialogue and Kharms’ revelatory black humor. Director Matthew Woods and company add their trademark wizardry for a performance of breathtaking visuals and hilarious commedia del’arte.

Kharms’ seemingly lunatic vignettes build to a menacing dread. A parade of “buffoons” follows a man pulling a sled, confiscating the pages which fall out of his suitcase. Then in another scene, they form an endless line so no one can get ahead. They may waddle in their billowing great coats and sport red clown noses but we instinctively know they’re the automatons who represent repression.

The man slowly, laboriously pulling the sled behind him (Michael Chodos) is the embodiment of Kharms himself as we imagine him, slightly bent over resigned to his fate, plodding headlong into a snow storm. Happily, the exquisite, swirling snow effect (caught in Christopher Bocchiaro’s almost blinding back light) is repeated throughout, since it’s one of the loveliest visuals in the performance.

Images speed by your visual field, sparking recognition and resonance: so many references, so many connections to what may seem at first to have none. It’s exhilarating. It’s thrilling. And it’s full of surprises. A dangerous Joey Pelletier tells us his wife has run away. (And we know why: He plucks a fly out of the air for an afternoon snack like Dracula’s assistant, Renfield.) He warns us not to “go around with peasants.” You’d certainly want to steer clear of him, although Sarah Gazdowicz manages to cleverly outmaneuver the scary watchman.

William Schuller (as the writer) is presented a desk by his exceedingly elderly aunt (Molly Kimmerling) but he doesn’t seem to know which way is up. Just when we think the Beasts have exhausted all the bizarre and delightful positions Schuller can assume and still not be able to write, they slide a chair sideways onto/under him for the frosting on the cake in one of the best sight gags ever.

Michael Underhill is no slouch in the contortions department, either. His gravity defying coup also involves a chair and an inability to employ it in the accepted mode. Every scene is a revelation (but not in the sense of complete, rational understanding). You have to let it all wash over you subjectively and give yourself over to the ride. Chris Larson’s sound design and Woods’ brilliant country “door” set, not to mention the musical choices which build the emotional impact of the scenes, all serve to reinforce the authentic “Russian” feel of the material. Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s whimsical costume designs (especially for Chodos’ snow scene and for Mariagrazia LaFauci’s ethereal “angel of death”) are simply incomparable. I could hold forth for hours about the production and the talented ensemble. Suffice it to say I’m immensely grateful to learn about Kharms and to have witnessed another inspirational offering from the Beasts. They’re like no other company around.