Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Apollinaire Theatre’s wildly bizarre holiday offering, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN NOVEMBER ON THE BANKS OF THE GREATEST OF THE GREAT LAKES (playing through January 16th), perches somewhere between a big bowl game and the traditional, dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinner.

Have you ever imagined, in the midst of a contentious family celebration with relatives you haven’t seen in ages, what would happen if the surreal goings-on were televised? If your answer is no, then skip to paragraph 3. If yes, read on. Kate Benson’s odd mash-up tickled me no end because I’ve experienced countless Thanksgiving dinners which I thought could be transferred directly to the stage. (In fact, I suspect that Ionesco and the Absurdists must have known my family intimately.)

Benson introduces two play-by-play announcers, high above courtside, to cover the meal. She very cleverly focuses on the minutiae of the day so that the smallest of details flourishes to illuminate a character’s essence: Positioning the table just so or putting English into mashing the potatoes tells you who’s in charge.

Three of the dueling matriarchs (all named after desserts) bicker and snipe while the commentators give us a “blow by blow” of the preparations for dinner. Worlds collide as the women move like linebackers deflecting passes, blocking touchdowns and managing a lateral or two as they prep the meal. Aunt Cheesecake (Mariela Lopez-Ponce in a tour de force) even exits en pointe. Then she reappears as a smashing Flamenco siren.

My favorite bit is the table leaf ritual, which I know by heart, whereby grown women lie on their backs and slide under the dining table like mechanics on creepers to secure the leaf in place. Pegs have to fit into holes and ropes have to be tied in case the pegs come loose, all this under a table, at right angles, with very little light to see what you’re doing. (I hadn’t thought of that harrowing undertaking in years!)

Just basting and turning the turkey becomes a perilous contact sport. Steve Auger provides the best moment in the show, wrestling the bird into submission. Because they can, Apollinaire has an actor stand in for the poor turkey. Michael Kelly makes a superb fowl… and he makes the wrestling match a righteous, albeit hopeless, rebellion. The actors are all top notch mimes: We know in a trice that Kelly is a turkey by his gait and by an unfurled palm which niftily stands in for tail feathers.

Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques (and movement choreographer Danielle Rosvally) have a smart cast in tow who can personate one character, then become another without leaving the stage, a feat which is both impressive and entertaining at the same time. Jade Guerra and Jeff Marcus are highly amusing as the broadcasters. Liz Adams and Dana Block are masters of the slow burn and who knew Ann Carpenter could rap (“Potatoes and Gravy”)!

Emily Edstrom excels in the quirky role of the outcast and Floyd Richardon tries to bring calm to the proceedings as grandpa. Sylvia Sword and the aforementioned Kelly are twins, siblings, spouses and Republicans, all of whom get their comeuppance via a plot twist no one will see coming, I’d bet on it.

If you enjoy theater of the absurd, then Benson’s oddball BEAUTIFUL DAY IN NOVEMBER will provide you with lively diversion and amaze you with its twist.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


When you think of WAR AND PEACE, you imagine the sheer heft of the novel with its massive cast of characters. You wouldn’t think Tolstoy’s masterpiece could even be contained in a modern (pop opera) musical. Well, it can. Director Rachel Chavkin’s extraordinary production of Dave Malloy’s adaptation, called NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, has completely transformed the American Repertory Theater into a 360 degree, very Russian, opulent playing spaceand you’re right in the thick of it.

You’re surrounded by characters who crave meaning, intensity and desire…who are devoted to the pursuit of passion: Sometimes hopelessly, sometimes perilously, sometimes for the better. Malloy’s lyrics employ, and pay homage to, Tolstoy’s text, even as they’re winking at the folly of the characters’ stilted, nineteenth century notions.

Chavkin and company fuse music, text and creative design into one all encompassing concept, swirling around the audience. The result is thrilling. Throbbing, electronic chords match the urgency of the characters’ pursuits and a cast of twenty two (plus a ten piece orchestra) feud, fight and love, the Russian way, with all their heart and soul. Malloy’s seductive music pulses with familiar Russian rhythms, reaching fever pitch in the wildly entertaining drinking scenes.

The characters may be facing Tolstoy’s obstacles but they struggle like Chekov’s disillusioned Muscovites: Natasha (the lovely Denee Benton) is engaged to the patriotic Prince Andrey (Nicholas Belton in two impressive roles, the Prince and his addled father) but while he is away in the army, Natasha is swept off her feet by a handsome cad (Lucas Steele in a tour de force). His scheming sister (a vibrant Lilli Cooper) conspires with her brother to deceive the innocent country girl. Her husband, the Pierre of the title (the immensely sympathetic Scott Stangland) drinks to forget he is married to her.

The plot may seem familiar but the staging isn’t. You’re immersed in a unique world with audacious stagecraft, dazzling costumes (Palomoa Young mixes 19th and 21st centuries to create hip, amusing hybrids) and cheeky songs like “Andrey Isn’t Here” or “We Write Letters” and gorgeous ballads like “I Will Stand Outside Your Door” for Sonya (a luminous Brittain Ashford). It’s an exhilarating experience. Don’t miss it.

Word to the wise: Friends who sat on the floor in the middle or in the newly fabricated banquette seating to the rear of the playing area couldn’t hear as well as we, in the old permanent A.R.T. raked seats, did. It’s location, location, location as they say in the old country.

Monday, December 14, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Delightful Shenanigans @ Lyric and Tir Na

If naughty really is the new nice, as they say, then I have two irreverent theatrical treats for you this holiday season. Tir Na’s RETURN OF THE WINEMAKER (@ Davis Square Theatre through Dec. 20th) and Lyric Stage’s BUYER & CELLAR (through Jan.3rd) will give you enough giggles to forget (momentarily anyway) the troubles of the world.

Bernard McMullan’s wild “Irish Christmas Comedy” introduces yet another Messiah myth to the canon: This time out, Mary and Joseph stop into an Irish pub to find a place for Mary to give birth. She does, and the two high-tail it out of town, leaving the infant Jesus in the care of a childless barkeep and his wife. At first, the couple is overjoyed. Then they’re overwhelmed by Jesus’ vexing propensity for trouble. The poor child lacks good judgment and any sense of decorum. But when he ruins their water heater by turning its contents into wine, they begin to see the light. Problem is, now God wants the winemaker back.

Carmel O’Reilly directs the lively spoof with special attention to character detail. Derry Woodhouse as Jesus does not disappoint: From toddler to teenager, each new phase of his development is a vision of spectacular ineptitude. And Stephen Russell’s God is a rock star. What else can you say: the Dude abides.

Nancy E. Carroll has several hilarious roles, as adoptive mother, as Jesus’ sovereign step-mother and as a scheming old nun. Colin Hamell runs roughshod over the lot as the deliciously unconscionable barkeep…who fully intends to outwit God in a battle of wills. (And he can dance a mean gigue.) It’s all blissfully silly and you get some nifty songs (including an Irish favorite) in the bargain! What’s not to like?

Jonathan Tolins’ one man show about meeting Barbra Streisand has Phil Tayler front and center in a tour de force as an out of work actor employed by the superstar to manage her shops. (People who need people are out of luck unless they have limitless funds to hire someone to amuse them.) Streisand does have a personal shopping mall in the cellar of her barn. That’s a fact. The rest of the play isn’t factual. Tolins stresses this point because the last thing he needs is trouble from “someone so famous, talented and litigious.”

Tayler has a twinkle in his eye and a seductive slow motion double take to make us complicit in his adventure. Tolins’ script has Tayler totally smitten with Barbra but his boyfriend is decidedly not. Tayler plays Barry, the boyfriend, as the devil’s advocate (sounding suspiciously like David Sedaris). The battle over Barbra is half the fun. The other half is comprised of everyone else, Herself included (which he achieves by miraculously lengthening his finger nails and drawing them over Barbra’s imaginary tresses).

Courtney O’Connor directs the piece with breakneck speed: Tayler turns on a dime to become a different character. It’s quite an “aspirational” feat, to borrow one of Tolins’ clever viewpoints. You’ll be wowed by Tayler’s transformations and highly amused by his chutzpah. What’s not to like?

Monday, December 7, 2015

New Rep's Snow Queen Is Good Weird Fun (4 Stars) By Michael Hoban

THE SNOW QUEEN - Book by Kirsten Brandt and Rick Lombardo;  Music by Haddon Kime; Lyrics by Kirsten Brandt, Haddon Kime, and Rick Lombardo; Directed and Choreographed by Rick Lombardo; Musical Direction by Emily Intersimone. Presented by New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown through December 20th.
It's time for the winter and holiday themed productions to roll onto local stages, and while New Rep's 'The Snow Queen' has lots of snow and ice and even an aging reindeer in the mix, this is not a Christmas-themed show per se, despite delivering on the season's most important meme - that love is the answer. This weirdly entertaining fairy tale, which is much truer to the original Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name than Disney's smash hit "Frozen" (which also was based on the tale), is fun for kids of all ages, with a score that's got a much more of a lively pop and rock score than standard Broadway fare. It's also powered by a cast of talented local favorites and a beautifully understated performance by the story's heroine, Gerda.
Gerda and her best friend Kai discover the story of the "Snow Queen" when she pulls an old book off the shelf and her Grandmother adds some additional color, but the tale takes on a life of its own when Kai is sprayed with shards of cynicism (in the form of snowflakes) and has his heart and vision altered. With his attitude improperly adjusted, he no longer shares Gerda's love of kid play, and he is ripe to be preyed upon by the beautiful but icy-hearted bombshell Snow Queen - decked in fishnet stockings and garters, no less - who steals his heart and mind with a couple of kisses. She spirits him away to her ice palace and puts him to work solving the secret of eternity, which he dives into with a Gollum-like obsession in order to please his queen and procure another kiss.
When Kai disappears, Gerda sets off on an adventure to find her friend, and we join her on a strange journey where she encounters a host of new anthropological friends (mostly flowers, birds, and the aforementioned reindeer), and enemies, plus a couple of oddball princesses and witches (including a co-dependent mother figure). One of her first and best new pals turns out to be a crow - who also happens to be a WWI British Royal Air Force flying ace. Despite its Disney-sounding cuteness, the character is actually very funny in the hands of Maurice Emmanuel Parent, who takes the part way over the top with hilarious results. Emmanuel effectively plays a handful of other characters, including a troll and the wise old reindeer who keeps Gerda safe on her journey.
Maureen Keillor also excels playing multiple roles - as Gerda's grandmother, as the clingy garden witch who wants to keep Gerda as her daughter, as the evil robber who threatens to cut Gerda to pieces, and as the wise old woman who helps her see her strengths. Aimee Doherty (in a blond wig) has the necessary combination of beauty and commanding presence in her role as the Snow Queen, and her excellent vocal work is yet another reminder that she is one Boston's premiere musical theater actresses. And Jackie Theoharis does a great job melding Lene Lovich and some kind of early John Waters character into the robber's knife-wielding, homicidal maniac daughter in the production's punkiest number, the completely berserk, "I Want That". But it is pint-sized Victoria Britt that subtly steals the show as the determined Gerda who won't give up in her quest to rescue her friend and return him home (both physically and spiritually). Her performance grew stronger with every scene, her vocal work is superb, and in the final scene when she melts the hearts of Kai and the Snowflake Army, she melts ours too.
The steampunk costuming for this production is colorful and imaginative and the five piece band was terrific, ripping through the rockers and playing beautifully during the show's ballads. The special effects (it snowed throughout many of the scenes) were really effective at evoking the bleak winter setting. My only real complaint with the production lies with the book, as there are too many scenes that appear to be jammed into the story for the purpose of remaining true to the tale, instead of advancing the narrative. The songs, while not destined to become musical theater classics, are solid if unspectacular, with the first act closer "Flying" and the show ender, "Eternity" especially standing out. This is a fun, non-traditional holiday fare that won't send you into a diabetic coma with the excessive sweetness, so see it. For more info, go to: http://www.newrep.org/productions/the-snow-queen/

Matchless & The Happy Prince Delivers Sorrow and Love (3.5 Stars) By Michele Markarian

Matchless, Written by Gregory Maguire, and The Happy Prince, Written by Oscar Wilde; Directed by Debra Wise. Presented by the Underground Railway Theater, Central Square Theater’s Studio Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge through January 3.

The Central Square Theater’s Studio Theater is news to me, and what a magical little space it is.  Scenic Designer David Fichter has created an interesting world for this production of Matchless, paired with The Happy Prince. The stage is cluttered with all kinds of curious, old fashioned odds and ends – furniture, wooden dowels, baskets – anything you might find in your grandmother’s attic.  High center stage is a large wooden chest, which serves first as a pedestal for The Happy Prince and then as a hiding place for a young boy’s secret in Matchless.  The effect was one of a precious diorama, or snow globe, that encased the audience as well as the actors.  It made for a very intimate and immediate theatrical experience.

Gregory Maguire cleverly weaves his back story of The Little Match Girl to fit perfectly with Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, using a fanciful, slightly addled boy Frederick (David Keohane) to link the stories together.  Keohane also doubles as The Happy Prince, a sad, glittering statue who finds real happiness in giving all that he has to the poor.  When in the end he loses everything - including his faithful and obedient friend the Swallow (Eliza Rose Fichter) - he is dismantled from his post and melted. 

Eliza Rose Fichter’s Little Match Girl has a quicker, but no less tragic, end, despite her deceased mother embracing her from Heaven.  Maguire’s reworking makes for a happier addendum, which I won’t tell you in case you see it, but it does not involve resurrection of its main character.  Eliza Rose Fichter is a very compelling, grounded presence onstage, whether it be fluttering the puppet representing the Swallow or huddling with matches as The Little Match Girl.  And Debra Wise is just terrific as Frederick’s Mother as well as with some ensemble work. 

Despite the very beautiful and well-acted presentation of the pieces, and the suggestion of happy endings, this reviewer had to wonder who the intended audience was.  Although the pace and rhetoric suggested a children’s show, I would think that the sadness of the material would be too heavy for kids (it was actually a little heavy for me).  And while the message of The Happy Prince was nice – rich people should help the poor – a huge part of me was inwardly pontificating, as The Happy Prince sacrificed his eyesight to give the impoverished money, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for life.”  Which I’m pretty sure was not Wilde’s intent when he wrote this fable for his children. 

Matchless & The Happy Prince runs an hour and 15 minutes, with a short intermission. For more information, go to: https://www.centralsquaretheater.org/shows/matchless/

QUICK TAKE REVIEW(S) By Beverly Creasey Holiday Helpers at Stoneham Theatre and New Rep

Sadly, visions of sugar plums have been replaced this season by televised visions of mayhem and terrorism. These sober reminders crowd the news reports and grab the headlines. You can’t escape the horror or the dread, despite reassurances from the government. You can’t pretend that all is well, when African-Americans are being killed by the very police who are supposed to protect its citizenry. It keeps happening over and over and it seems like it will never stop.

What to do so that you’re not completely overcome by sadness? Distractions. They help us reconnect to the beauty in the world. I’m reminded of the Joseph Addison quote about the power of music: “The greatest good that mortals know, and all of heaven we have below.”

Two theaters celebrate Hans Christian Anderson with music this month: Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID closes this weekend (reviewed previously) but New Repertory Theatre’s THE SNOW QUEEN will run until Dec. 20th. Now if you crave nostalgia and old fashioned Christmas songs in four part harmony, Stoneham’s CHRISTMAS ON THE AIR will take you back to 1949. Their mock “radio show” runs through Dec. 27th.

THE SNOW QUEEN musical is brought to us by the creative team which used to stage a magical, annual CHRISTMAS CAROL with musicians as characters. (Former New Rep artistic director Rick Lombardo’s Dickens treat was the best version of the classic I’ve ever seen.)

For THE SNOW QUEEN he’s joined composer Haddon Kime (he’s also missed here in Boston) and Kristen Brandt for a wild and wooly pop/rock version of the Anderson tale. (The megahit FROZEN, too, is based on the Anderson story but I’m told Lombardo’s version hews closer to the original.) I must say I prefer their “You Gotta Learn to Let Go (to Learn How to Fly”) song over FROZEN’s sappy “Let it Go.”

When Gerda (Victoria Britt) loses her best friend (Nick Sulfaro) to Aimee Doherty’s nefarious, seductive Snow Queen (Three kisses and you’re toast!), she journeys from pillar to post to fetch him back. Along the way, she’s enchanted by a needy witch (Maureen Keiller), taught to fly by a wonderfully wacky crow (Maurice Emmanuel Parent), and celebrated by a riotous royal couple (Jackie Theoharis and Din A. Griffin). Sometimes the hard driving music seems more like HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH than Danish adventure fare but the cast brings it all home.

Lombardo even returned to New Rep to direct the production. His principals all give solid performances but the actors who have multiple roles get to show their remarkable versatility. My favorites are Keiller’s clingy garden witch and her luminous Gaelic-Danish wise woman (“Breathe”), Theoharis’ droll, stiff upper lip Princess (“Never Give Up”) and her off the wall robber girl (“I Want That”) but best of all are the “murder of crows,” led by Parent as an hilarious, eccentric old bird of a British war vet. Teaching Gerda to soar on his back (“Flying”) is the show’s highlight.

CHRISTMAS ON THE AIR by Lucia Frangione was originally set in Canada but Stoneham Theatre has “customized” the show for Boston audiences. So radio station WKOS now broadcasts out of the Presbyterian Church in Swampscott, with “local” references to Jordan Marsh’s Enchanted Village, McCormack’s food coloring and Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio, to name a few.

There aren’t a lot of us left who grew up with radio but I remember vividly those thrilling “wireless” shows (pre-television), that Enchanted Christmas set-up at Jordan’s and, yes, in 1949 I was probably helping out by decorating cupcakes with what we now know as a carcinogen, Red Dye # Four. (And, no, I never took lessons from Arthur Murray. Virginia Williams gave dance lessons down the street, long before she founded Boston Ballet.)

Just about everything but the kitchen sink makes it into director Shana Gozansky’s production, although Mother Parker, curiously, is left out of the cooking segment. (Parker held considerable sway on Boston radio in the ‘40s, having guided local cooks successfully through wartime rationing.) The faux station in CHRISTMAS ON THE AIR offers homey advice, recipes, holiday music and a slew of familiar Christmas tales from years gone by. There’s a romance in the background but mostly, the script exists so that a crackerjack cast can morph into the delightful characters in the stories they share over the airwaves.

We get to be a “live” audience which means we can sing along, ask questions of the sweet lady with sage advice, and applaud when the “cue card” is waved. The best part of a mock radio show is watching the actors supply sound effects, like knocking coconuts together for clip-clopping hooves. Even better, is when those sound effects go gloriously awry, deftly mismanaged by Mark Linehan. He and William Gardiner lock horns as father and son, with Margaret Ann Brady as mother/referee, resplendent in Gail Astrid Buckley’s glamorous, knockout, green satin party dress. And she can think on her feet: She nailed an inspired answer in the Q&A. (No ringers either.)

Maureen Stypinski portrays Linehan’s love interest in the storyline which (sort of) mirrors the nativity narrative. Meryl Galaid supplies the piano accompaniment as well as the corny cooking lessons. Music director Bethany Aiken gets fine singing all around, with lovely harmonies in the ancient carols. Their voices blended so beautifully that I would have been happy with just a concert of hymns and songs. But it was grand to laugh, if only for an hour or two—to try and forget the world outside, a “world” strangely echoed in the lyric of O Holy Night, “in sin and error pining.” A propos, the NY Times just warned its readers that “God isn’t going to fix [this].”

If only we could reach out and touch every heart on the planet with theater and music, maybe the Arts could. Short of divine intervention, it’s all we’ve got.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Oceans of Delight

The Disney version of THE LITTLE MERMAID (playing at the Strand through Dec. 6th) was a wild success as an animated film, then yet another success for Disney on the stage. How I have resisted seeing either version until now is beyond me! Now that I have witnessed the captivating musical, I understand why it’s such a crowd pleaser. The Alan Menken music is catchy and hip, smartly borrowing a tune or two from Saint-Saens—and the Howard Ashman/Glenn Slater lyrics are cheeky enough for adults to savor.

Doug Wright’s clever book (based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale) references far flung topics like ocean conservancy and even vegetarianism (King Triton warns his fellow sea creatures against the barbaric humans’ hooks and traps)…He disapproves of dating outside one’s race (of course, it’s ‘species’ in this case) … and Wright gives Teddy Roosevelt a nod (who famously quipped that he could either run the country or rein in his daughter but not both). Triton, like TR, can’t keep his daughter, Ariel, away from a human prince and govern a kingdom at the same time.

That prince is, of course, mighty charming but Jared Troilo makes him more than a cipher. He’s got gumption, backbone and a funny bone, to boot. Jesse Lynn Harte as Ariel, too, makes us believe she’s got spunk. She’s willing to do whatever it takes, including the loss of her home, her friends and her voice, to land her prince.

Director Stacey Stephens has a crackerjack cast to bring every eel and crustacean to buoyant life. His delightful costumes capture the essence of the characters, like lobster claw gloves and golf ball eyes perched on top of Sebastian’s head, to signify a crab. Triton has assigned Sebastian the formidable task of keeping an eye, or two, on his wayward, windward daughter.

Lucky for us because Sebastain, who hails from Caribbean waters, has two of the best songs in the musical: the calypso show stoppers, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.” Jay Kelley is spectacular in the role, wringing his claws over Ariel’s disregard for safety…even endangering his own by getting awfully close to Andy Papas’ palace chef.

Best of all is Shana Dirik as the villainous Ursula. Poor, wretched creature: She lost out when her brother became ruler of the sea. Andrew Giordano as a stalwart Triton doesn’t brook much mischief in his waters so Ursula steers clear of her brother—but manages to reel in his unsuspecting daughter.

Dirik brings the house down with her vengeful, sardonic anthem, mocking her enemies as “Poor, Unfortunate Souls.” Thank heavens she gets to reprise it in Act II. Dirik is sublime, in her Phyllis Diller wig and tentacle skirted, sea foam gown. She devours the scenery, as they say, and we can’t get enough of her high voltage performance.

In case you’re giving this a literal read, I should say that there’s lots of Mac Young’s ingenious scenery left. Especially lovely are the waves which rise as we plunge down into the water to observe the skates and jellyfish in the deep. Kira Cowan-Troilo’s beguiling choreography for the creatures makes their limitations an asset, as in Eddy Cavazos’ amusingly awkward attempt to keep up with the other gulls in their gavotte. Charles Peltz’ orchestra sounds so full and robust that you’re happily swept away with the swelling music to the land of mermaids.

Friday, November 27, 2015


MOONBOX Productions may be only a few years old, but they’ve shot to the top of the list of best fringe companies. (That’s “shooting the moon” in Hearts.) When you consider buying a Moonbox ticket, you know two things. First, they put their money where their heart is: Each time out, they partner with a non-profit community group. This fall it’s “Summer Search,” a national youth development group, now in Boston, to help low income teens make it to college.

Secondly, with Moonbox’s associate artistic director, Allison Olivia Choat, at the helm, you know odds are that the production will be first rate. Their BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (playing through Dec. 12th) is flat out hilarious with a game cast making the physical comedy the highlight of the show. Not that Neil Simon’s play isn’t funny on its own merits—it turns out to be much cleverer than I remembered it to be. (It’s been a hundred years since I last saw it.)

Every character has their moment, their rhythm, their triumph in Simon’s smarty pants, “the honeymoon is over” comedy. Marisa Gold is adorable as the maddeningly impetuous bride. Sheriden Thomas is wonderfully acerbic as her doting, sardonic mom and Tom Shoemaker has a welcome transformation when he finally loosens up.

James Bocock (delivery man) and Andrew Winson (telephone installer) are thoroughly charming as the sympathetic workmen but it’s Phil Thompson who brings the comedy home (and the house down) as the epicurean “sheik of Budapest” who doesn’t take no for an answer.

Since he hasn’t paid his rent, he can only access his roof top digs from the ledge adjacent to the newlywed’s bedroom window. John Paul Devlin’s marvelous set (complete with working stovetop) allows us to look through the tall, side by side kitchen windows to see Thompson crossing the narrow ledge (and waving) like a Flying Wallenda. His performance is so delicious that you can’t wait for him to reappear.

I enjoyed every variation on the “exhausting five floor walkup” theme. Choat and company milk it like pros: Some fall flat on their face, some can hardly speak for lack of oxygen, another’s voice gets higher from the elevation. It’s terrific shtick. Just what this weary, frightened world needs right now: laughter to make you forget, for a short while anyway, that life is perilous.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Offerman Takes Center Stage in Huntington’s ‘Confederacy of Dunces’ (3.5 Stars) Michael Hoban

‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by John Kennedy Toole; Directed by David Esbjornson; Musical Direction by Wayne Barker; Costumes by Michael Krass; Lighting Design by Scott Zielinski; Sound Design by Mark Bennett and Charles Coes. Presented by The Huntington Theatre Company at the BU Theater, 264 Huntington Ave, Boston, through December 20th.
If you’re a fan of either Nick Offerman, one of the stars of the television series “Parks and Recreation” or the 1960’s picaresque novel “A Confederacy of Dunces”, chances are you will find the world premiere of the stage production of that work now being presented by The Huntington Theatre Company enormously entertaining. But if you, like me, aren’t familiar with either, you may find this play to be a little too close to sitcom (albeit an ambitious one) to be considered a fully developed theater piece. Which is a little surprising given the source material, which won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1981 and has been described by some as a ‘comic masterpiece’.
‘Confederacy’ centers around the failed exploits of Ignatius J. Reilly (played convincingly by the very funny Offerman), a rotund 30-year old undiscovered genius at least in his own mind. The title of the book and play is derived from this quote by Jonathan Swift (which is apparently meant to be ironic for the book’s purposes): “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” The witty but acid-tongued Ignatius certainly believes that of himself, and therefore does not suffer fools gladly whether it be police officers or strangers in the street. And he saves the worst of his invective for his mother, who despite feeding, clothing and providing him shelter (and enabling him to remain in his underachieving state) with no reciprocity, remains the target of his condescending sniping.
Asked what he does with all of his time lounging about his mother’s house (other than pleasuring himself off-stage in a crudely funny bit), he responds, “I dust a bit. In addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century.” In some ways he is the 1960’s equivalent of an internet troll, spending all of his time critiquing everyone and everything around him instead of either doing something to change the world or heaven forbid looking at himself.
His doting mother finally tires of his joblessness, so he reluctantly secures a position as a file clerk with a company called Levy’s Pants, where he leads an ill-fated worker’s rights movement a few days into his career that results in his firing, which leads to an even more absurd job. There is also an involved subplot about an Eva Braun-esque strip joint owner illegally selling pornographic photographs under the noses of the vice squad while an apprentice stripper prepares her stage act (with a cockatoo). And while that is all undoubtedly funny stuff in the book, it just feels superfluous here. It is one of many story threads that doesn’t feel well developed for the stage version, and the somewhat convoluted plot sometimes feels as if the play’s adaptors are trying to stuff as many elements of the book into the two-and-a-half hours as they can to satisfy fans.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t some very funny moments in this play. The audience laughed throughout, and I did in spots, mostly at Ignatius’ erudite putdowns or rationalizations of his bizarre behavior. Offerman is terrific in this role, and he has some very funny character support, including Arnie Burton as a 60’s caricature of a gay man named Dorian Greene, and Paul Melendy as Officer Mancuso, the undercover cop assigned to find “perverts” while dressing like a nun and other absurd costumes. Anita Jillette as Ignatius’ mother and Ed Peed as her suitor Claude also submit fine performances.
The costumes are a plus and they appear to be period appropriate, which makes the director’s choice to pantomime everything from newspapers to drink glasses such a curious choice, made even more peculiar when sound effects of car doors opening or someone typing are provided. If you’re going to spend money on costumes, why not spring for a couple of beer bottles and a copy of the Times-Picayune? The music between scenes is also a plus, anchoring the action firmly in New Orleans. This show is scheduled to head for Broadway in the spring, so there are bound to be massive changes to make it a little more cohesive before then. For more info, go to: http://www.huntingtontheatre.org/season/2015-2016/confederacy-of-dunces/.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey On Their Mettle

Exiled Theatre may be new on the scene but their Pinter/Beckett effort this month proves they’re a force to be reckoned with. We’d be lucky to have these exiles call Boston their home. ASHES TO ASHES and FOOTFALLS run through Nov. 28th at the Green Street Studios in Central Square, one block behind the Middle East.

Pinter acknowledged his debt to the older playwright: Both broke with conventional theater and embraced the existential notion that life has no “meaning.” Where Beckett sets his plays in a wasteland, Pinter uses a naturalistic context but his characters, like Beckett’s, are trapped in repeated dialogue and unexplained terror. The women in both ASHES TO ASHES and FOOTFALLS agonize over their suffering, fearing/knowing “it will never end.”

ASHES TO ASHES, deftly directed by James Wilkinson, places a proper British couple in a well appointed living room, having cocktails, perhaps before dinner, perhaps before lunch…perhaps….perhaps. She is telling him about a lover or is she? He seems to be patronizing her, not entirely believing her wild story about a lost baby in a bundle (which was borrowed by Edward Albee, by the way, as a “bumble”).

Being British and reserved, they cover their emotions with misdirection, as when the husband (we assume that’s who he is) chides the wife about using a “guilty” pen. “You don’t know where it’s been,” he says accusingly. She misdirects when she says her sister will never share a bed with her husband again. She isn’t talking about her brother-in law.

Perhaps she’s had an abortion or a miscarriage. Pinter doesn’t tell us. Instead he makes her a participant in the nazi atrocities of WWII, although she’s not old enough to have witnessed babies being snatched from their mother’s arms, not old enough to have been on the train to Auschwitz, not old enough for her baby to have been taken from her by a Nazi “tour guide.”

One thing is certain. Her guilt is relentless, her pain inconsolable. Pinter leaves it to us to piece together. Perhaps it’s she who will be spirited away by an ambulance. The husband coolly tells her there will be “a siren for you.” Stephen Cooper and Angela Gunn are both game actors, seamlessly trading off dominance and subservience as the play unfolds. Pinter hated the sentimentality of mainstream theater: Even though you don’t feel pity for either character, you do feel the dread.

Director Teri Incampo has made her production of FOOTFALLS visually stunning as well as hypnotizing, with Beckett’s repetitive language and reiterating movement. One woman on stage in a tattered robe, covered in what appears to be dust, (looking like Dickens’ Miss Havisham) paces up and back, endlessly up and back, wearing out the floorboards in one small section of the stage.

Her mother (a disembodied voice) explains that her daughter needs to hear the sound of her own footsteps. Incampo’s interpretation for the daughter’s ritual behavior has her clutching her crossed arms up to her neck as if she were cold or frightened or mentally unbalanced. Only once does she lower her arms. Then they’re quickly restored, like body armor, to protect her. From what? Beckett leaves that to the spectator.

The mother’s voice may well exist only in her mind. The circular dialogue (the speeches are actually monologues) may be the mechanism which keeps her steady in a world with no purpose, like hand washing to an obsessive compulsive. Kudos to Sarah Mass as the fragile daughter and Mary Niederkorn as the soothing “voice.” Even though Beckett goes to great lengths to eradicate sentimentalityeveryone speaks in a monotoneyou can’t help superimposing your own experience on the characters and being moved.

Friday, November 20, 2015


If you thought John Guare’s SIX DREGREES OF SEPARATION (@ BCA through Nov. 22nd) couldn’t have much to say after twenty-five years, you’d be mistaken. In fact, there’s a jolt in the dialogue which makes even more impact now than it did in 1990.

Guare’s play, inspired by real events, concerns several wealthy New Yorkers who were taken in by an imposter claiming to be friends with their children. They put him up for the night and when he tells them he is Sydney Poitier’s son, they fawn over him in hopes of rubbing elbows with his famous father.

The wife of an ambitious art dealer in whose home he stayed can’t bring herself to hate him. After all, he didn’t take anything from their lavish apartment. She urges him to turn himself in to the police just to explain. When he’s skeptical about the treatment he’ll receive, she says with a chuckle, “I don’t think they’ll kill you.” To which he replies “I’m black.”

Now, thanks to the internet and cell phone cameras, even rich people know what Fats Waller knew in 1935 (“I’m white on the inside but that don’t help my case” from Waller’s Black and Blue): If you’re black, you can be killed for far less.

Guare doesn’t just tell a story, he indicts the rich and their entitled, Ivy League children with blistering comedy. Their shallow lifestyle and lack of moral fiber is held up to ridiculeand to extensive examination in the more preachy (“You’re not what you think you are”) parts of the play.

Bad Habit’s production has one of Boston’s best directors at the helm: Liz Fenstermaker wisely highlights the humor she can mine from the nasty, privileged children who have no patience, or respect for that matter, for their affluent parentsand she plays those confrontations just short of farce. They’re hilarious, a nifty counterpoint to the Sturm und Drang of the expositional scenes.

Fenstermaker’s cast is tops, with Christine Power and Steven L. Emanuelson wonderfully obtuse as the prosperous couple at the center of the story who welcome Elyas Deen Harris as their counterfeit guest. Janelle Mills and Steve Auger (“I don’t want to know!”) are quite amusing as the second couple the mysterious Harris is able to fool.

Dani Berkowitz, Kevin Hanley, Ben Heath and Alex Portenko as the disagreeable young people (and other characters) are deliciously offensive. Best of all is C.D. Matthew Murphy in three distinct roles, as a South African wheeler dealer who can put his hands on two million dollars at the drop of a hat, then as a hard boiled city cop and as a lonely, gullible doctor.  It’s fine ensemble work. Don’t miss it.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Powerful, Disturbing NIGHTINGALE

Hub Theatre Company’s THE LOVE OF THE NIGHTINGALE (playing through Nov. 21st) is their most ambitious project to date. The good news is that director Rebecca Bradshaw has pulled together a crackerjack ensemble and enlisted an impressive support system behind the scenes.

From Megan Kinneen’s simple but elegant set (a starry firmament overhanging crossed silk shears which serve as an entryway as well as a ship’s sails) to Bahar Royaee’s haunting sound design (three musicians on stage supply sweet music of the spheres or great cracks in the universe by banging on piano legs or eliciting eerie squeals from a cello) to Tyler Catanella’s otherworldly undulating, foreboding choreography to Christopher Bocchiaro’s evocative, shadowy lighting to Jess Rassp’s smart, neoclassical costumes, you can clearly observe the thought and care which went into Hub’s production.

The myths in Ovid’s METAMORPHOSES inspired playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker (as well as Shakespeare for his TITUS ANDRONICUS) but Wertenbaker makes the story resonate for contemporary audiences for its scathing indictment of warand the men who wage it so they can feel “alive.” (The play was written in 1989 but here we are again in the midst of two declared wars and an amorphous third with the Islamic State. Why? So the USA can regain its standing as the most powerful nation in the world?)

Even more resonance leaps off the stage when the villain of the piece justifies his criminal actions, assuming he, like the gods, is “above the law.” He can suppress “outsiders” at will and even deny them the right to speak. He can consume the spoils of war and perpetrate rape with impunity. Then he will suggest that the woman in question enticed him. Even more damaging is her self doubt, that she may have caused the rape in some way.

Hub has engaged several organizations (like the Boston Rape Crisis Center) to speak after the performance. An insert in the program lists info and phone numbers. Bravo to Hub for using this opportunity to link theater and community.

Kudos to the actors who make the story crystal clear, even as they perform a play within the play and even as they reference many an all but forgotten classical allusion. Lauren Elias and Bridgette Hayes are the two sisters who fall prey to Jeff Marcus’ conquering “hero”…and who exact horrific justice as payback. (This is not a play for the squeamish.) Elias gets to play the righteous victim where Hayes’ transformation takes longer to materialize but when it does, she’s in her element.

Liz Adams, too, gives a forceful performance as Elias’ world weary servant, having experienced first hand the destruction invaders wreak. The males of the chorus become soldiers who keep watch and sailors who handle the (cleverly devised) rigging and rowing when Elias sets sail for Thrace. Ryan McPherson is a standout as the kind captain of the ship (and of Elias’ heart). The females in the chorus, led by a fearsome Aina Adler, become the women of Thrace who, except for a sympathetic Blyss Cleveland, keep their distance from the King’s foreign wife.

Every member of the ensemble contributes seamlessly to Wertenbaker’s remarkable, bone chilling cautionary tale. What’s even more astounding is that all tickets for all shows are Pay-What-You-Can!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Jacqui Parker’s new play, A CRACK IN THE BLUE WALL (@ Hibernian Hall through Nov. 22nd) follows one family in their quest for justice when a white policeman shoots and kills their son. Sound familiar? Parker’s clever twist on a story “ripped from the headlines” is that the father of the slain man is himself a policeman. What’s more, his partner is related by marriage to the shooter.

Will his white partner help this African-American family uncover the truth? Will the slain boy’s mother emerge from her grief and embrace the living again? Will her other son take up his brother’s mission to speak out against violence? Will all the young people in the play stay virgins? That last one seems a bit out of place but Parker, the master weaver, gets some much appreciated levity out of matching up and cooling down the teenagers.

The threads Parker works into her tapestry are so plentiful that any one of them could have its own play: Parker offers an embarrassment of riches with themes like the empowerment of women, the persistence of existence even after death, forced busing, prescription drug abuse, family loyalty, the excruciatingly slow judicial system, burgeoning sexuality, dating out of one’s race, the thin blue line, and the “Black Lives Matter” movement (although Parker doesn’t specifically name it).

The play opens with a news report on the shooting and ends with another news report announcing the District Attorney’s plans for the case. Since the play is chronological and happens between the two news stories, I felt as if we were watching an episodic drama, the way Charles Dickens wrote his novels (with each chapter running in another day’s newspaper)… or the way television has tapped into well written serial dramas. If HBO is listening, Parker’s your playwright.

Parker has a crackerjack cast to people her story: Abria Smith and Wyatt Jackson portray the grieving parents who each find a different path for coping. Jackson’s character is a tower of strength where Smith’s turns inward. Their elegant performances are contrasted with the energy and urgency of the teenaged characters.

Derek Jackson as the surviving son can’t sit still and wait. It’s a powerful portrayal of youthful passion and exuberance...and he’s quite adept at comedy, too, being pursued by two attractive females, one (Johanna Perez) who is dogged in her pursuit and one (Amelia Janine Lumpkin) who insists she isn’t at all interested! John Porell has the plum role of a man torn in his allegiances, to a friend and partner or to his wife’s family. Seyquan Mack and Smith have some lovely moments together, with Mack serenading his mother to sleep.

Monday, November 2, 2015


Harvey Fierstein’s CASA VALENTINA (@ SpeakEasy Stage through Nov. 28th) shines a big bright light on a group of men who, Fierstein himself points out, are not included under the LGBT umbrella. The “T” in LGBT stands for transsexual not for transvestite. Why the oversight? Perhaps it’s because transvestites are not generally in “the public eye” and certainly it’s because most people don’t understand what the term means.

An old suitcase full of photos of heterosexual, cross dressing men at a resort in the Catskills first inspired a book in 2005 and Fierstein’s play in 2014. These were men with wives and families who yearned to express “the girl within.” One resort offered transvestites a safe haven for cross dressing while most of the hotels like Grossinger’s and the Nevele spawned a slew of entertainers who cross dressed for laughs, not for life.

Anyone over 50 can remember Milton Berle in drag. A little later Jonathan Winters and Johnnie Carson carried the mantle. Society readily accepted cross dressing in heterosexual males for entertainment purposes but not many, even today, think beyond the humor. Many people assume that “drag” is the bailiwick of homosexuals or that it’s “punishment” for children who misbehave. One of Fierstein’s characters recalls the practice of “petticoating” in the military as public humiliation.

It certainly was in my grammar school. Our sadistic third grade teacher, whose name thankfully I have repressed, used to dress boys in women’s clothes and making them walk around the class if they weren’t paying attention. But Fierstein’s play, I think, is intended mostly to fill in the gaps in our knowledge about heterosexual cross dressing and to celebrate its pioneers (in much the same way that gay plays celebrate the pioneers of the gay rights movement).

Here’s my difficulty with the script. I think the play is supposed to be a sympathetic picture of these men who did risk substantial loss if their wives or bosses discovered their secretbut Fierstein places such revulsion for homosexuals in their dialogue, that I couldn’t see beyond the hatred (except for the one character who stood up to the bigots). And I’m very sorry to say I couldn’t “willingly suspend my disbelief” when too many holes in the script sank that willingness.

SPOILER ALERT. Are we really to believe that the FBI works out of rural post offices? (I’m inclined to think the FBI is just there to set up a joke about J. Edgar Hoover.) Are we to believe an informant listens in on everyone’s phone taps? Doesn’t that take up all of his time? What about a character, who will fiercely protect his right to privacy, going to an emergency room still dressed in women’s clothes… when his friend who doesn’t mind people knowing, makes a big deal about changing his? What about a wife who overhears something of vital importance and doesn’t ask her husband why he didn’t tell her? Etc. etc.

Director Scott Edmiston has a stellar cast to inhabit Fierstein’s characters and the actors all seem comfortable (or uncomfortable on purpose) in their roles, so I shall laud their collective effort in service of what I consider a deeply flawed and disturbing script.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey The LADIES who Lunch

Heart & Dagger Productions takes us back to 1956 with 5 LESBIANS EATING A QUICHE (by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood, playing @ BCA through Nov. 30th). Sadly it’s a year I remember well. Air raid sirens blared every day at noon so we’d know what to do if someone (Everyone knew it would be those Russians: Everyone was wrong) dropped a hydrogen bomb on our placid neighborhood. Preparedness, by the way, meant “duck and cover” as if hiding under a school desk could prevent radiation from scorching our skin.

No one is more pleased than I to witness a silly spoof of those chilling days of yesteryear. 5 LESBIANS is deliriously daft, purposely lame (think PSYCHO BEACH PARTY) and mercifully short. Director Joey C. Pelletier (who also directed that BEACH PARTY a couple of years ago) knows his way around send-up. His secret formula is speed and light and lots of energy. (That sounds suspiciously like Einstein’s theory of relativity… but no matter!)

The ladies of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein call each other “widow” because the L-word wasn’t regularly invoked in the ‘50s (nor was the H-word: gay men were called “artistic”) but I digress. The Linder/Hobgood play isn’t much concerned with historical accuracy. It’s hysterical accuracy they’re going for.

Many homes back then had “cold closets” stocked with canned goods and provisions they believed would last through a nuclear winter…(Just one, mind you, in a tiny tar papered closet with the whole family until the air was safe in spring). Hence the quiche. The Sisters of Gertrude Stein are gathered for their annual bake-off so there are 56 pies vying for Best Quiche when Kaboom! Luckily the butch building committee chairwoman had the foresight to install a safety door which automatically seals in case of a nuclear event.

The bad news: They are the last people on earth. The good news: They have enough quiche to last at least until the radiation drifts out to sea. But wait. “Someone left the cake out in the rain… and it took so long to bake it and [they’ll] never have the recipe again.” Just kidding. That song won’t be written for at least ten more years. But those quiches are outside the hermetically sealed room. What will they do? Furthermore, how will they populate this brave new world?

The clever, Saturday Night Live-like jokes fly by like missiles. Well, some land with a thud. The modus operandi is to just keep ‘em coming. There’s even a heady reference to Pope Joan (who “passed” for male and became the only female Pope in Vatican history… which led thereafter to the practice of genital checking via a special chair the Cardinals could crawl beneath. I’m told one can find that chair in the Vatican Museum.) Oops. More digression inspired by Linder and Hobgood’s “Pope Jones”/“Pope Joans” reference.

What makes 5 LESBIANS work is Pelletier’s remarkable, madcap cast. Erin Rae Zalaski is a hoot as the perky but rigid event organizer. Melissa Barker as the building and grounds engineer has just the right swagger to declare she’s a “big, ol’ lesbian” when the time comes to fess up. (The audience gets to, too!) Elizabeth Battey does daffy like it’s mother’s milkand she gets the best moment in the play, hands down. She has a blast and so do we. That’s all I’m saying.

Best of all are Laurie Singletary as the Society’s president and mother hen (She lays down laughs like a chicken lays eggs, by the dozens) and Lauren Foster as the newest member of Singletary’s brood. All she wants is for her pie to win first place. When the quiches become scarce as… well… hen’s teeth (I can’t help myself), she runs at the banquet table, jumps onto the remaining quiche and has her way with it in a wild, erotic frenzy.

And there’s a nifty vegetarian endorsement in the play which sealed the deal for me. The only problem is that I’ve been craving quiche ever since.