Saturday, November 4, 2017

Queen of the Night (Redux) Reprint of February 2007 Review By Beverly Creasey



Florence Foster Jenkins was the toast of New York in the ‘30s and ‘40s not because she could sing like a diva but because she couldn’t. Yet her Carnegie Hall appearance sold out immediately! If you doubt such a phenomenon could happen today, I need only remind you of the mania surrounding the American Idol contestant whose excruciating “She Bang” was aired incessantly on TV and radio after the fact.

The Lyric Stage’s hilarious SOUVENIR has the debonair Will McGarrahan valiantly pounding the correct notes on the piano while Leigh Barrett, as the indomitable Mrs. Jenkins “obfuscates” tempo and pitch as well as the notes. In the course of the Stephen Temperley’s “Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins,” McGarrahan becomes her knight in shining armor, protecting her from the jeers and laughter of audiences who come only to witness the spectacle. The two even frolic through a delightful duet, believe it or not.

Director Spiro Veloudos finds the heart of the story in their affection for each other and in Mrs. Jenkins’ unconscious vulnerability. Barrett delivers, tracing Verdi’s notes in the air with her hands as she lacerates Gilda’s “Caro Nome” with her voice. Barrett’s diva is clearly batty, playing the coquette at age seventy, dressed as a flouncing senorita (in fabulous authentic costumes by David Costa-Cabral). What could be more genuine or more touching than her devotion to her beloved accompanist as she debuts his Mexican Serenade in Carnegie Hall. Opera fanatics may blanch at the prospect of hearing a clanging “Bell Song” from Lakmé but Veloudos and company make it so deliciously awful that it’s deliriously funny.

Friday, November 3, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey LEVIATHAN LEGACY



Believe it or not, Melville’s MOBY DICK was only recognized as a masterpiece in the 1930s. Although his early tales of his South Seas escapades, jumping ship, for example, achieved brief popularity, he died in obscurity in 1891. (His readers found the heavily symbolic tome utterly unfathomable.) Luckily for us, IMAGINARY BEASTS (now at Charlestown Working Theater) have joined forces with Juli Crockett’s fanciful, hypothetical play [or, the whale] which places Ahab and Melville himself (“Call me Ishmael”), not the whale, at the epicenter of this cautionary tale.

I’m convinced that Imaginary Beasts’ director Matthew Woods is a painter at heart. Instead of canvas, he layers images like pigment, one over the other, so that we see the first only for a second before it’s covered with another (but registering both somewhere in our consciousness). And because Crockett’s script is a poetic armature without specific dialogue or character delineation, the Beasts can work their magic and flesh it out fearlessly…and that they do, with not one, not two, but three frenetic Ahabs (Leilani Ricardo, Jamie Semel and Danny Mourino).

Crockett contemplates a “temporary eternity” at sea and giddy solace in the art of forgetting, her wonderful fugue on “finding and forgetting” for the multiple Ahabs being my favorite moment in the piece. The jaunty sea chantey score (by Kangaroo Rat Music) happily lightens the perilous adventures which open with Melville (an intense Sam Terry) hardly alive, clinging to some flotsam in the middle of the ocean. She (the stunning Raya Malcolm) tosses him mercilessly about and then lovingly embraces his comatose form. Ahab’s cabin boy (a sweet Ciera-Sadé Wade), alas, is lost overboard to the abyss.

The play achieves extra resonance each time we’re reminded that the ocean covers two thirds of the world, (soon to be far more now that the glaciers are melting at breakneck speed). Malcolm is a lithe, seductive ocean, dancing and caressing Ishmael, even becoming the bowsprit on his banging, creaking, wooden ship (cleverly designed by Lillian P.H. Kology in segments assembled on stage) which Christopher Bocchiaro lights with a foggy haze.

This being an IB production, there are of course ingenious paper puppets (Sophia Giordano), human puppets (in Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s inspired costumes), various preposterous peg legs and an eerie shadow show, performed under a vast sculpture by Kology reminiscent of shipyard vessel skeletons or perhaps an anchor, all wallpapered and wrapped with pages (I presume) from Melville’s novel.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

A REMEMBRANCE OF THOMAS DERRAH By Beverly Creasey



A world without Thomas Derrah is almost inconceivable.

From the very first company of Robert Brustein’s A.R.T.a where he dazzled in Goldoni and Brecht (from his impossible hat trick in Servant of Two Masters to his raucous rendition of Kurt Weil’s sardonic Button Song) his performances are indelibly etched in the memory.

When the A.R.T. changed hands and actors, Boston’s smaller companies profited. We saw Derrah even oftener, on small stages from SpeakEasy to Stoneham. He defied age. He defied type, even gender, portraying outrageous (and touching) women with gusto and sensitivity. There was no role he couldn’t conquer.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Or, - Simple Machine/ Maiden Phoenix Review by James Wilkinson of Rabbit Reviews Boston https://www.rabbitreviewsboston.com/



There’s a mistaken belief out in the artistic ether that in order for a show to be good, you must have only the best. (Best actors, best set, best director, best script, etc.). While having any one of those things can help (certainly they can’t hurt), in my experience quality shows come about when all of the various elements exist in a kind of symbiotic support system (i.e. the lighting supports the set supports the acting supports the script). For an example of such a production that manages to hang together as a cohesive whole, look to Simple Machine/Maiden Phoenix’s co-production of Or, by Liz Duffy Adams, now playing at Chelsea Theatre Works. It’s a production that as far as I can tell, doesn’t put a single foot wrong through its ninety minute run time.
Adams’ script takes inspiration from the real life of Restoration-era English writer, Aphra Behn, who may or may not have also worked as a spy for King Charles II. Although her plays may not be commonly staged in present day (and perhaps Adams’ play can help fix that), she became a popular and prolific playwright working just as women were (finally) being allowed to act on the English stage. But while the roots of the play are in real life, Adams’ isn’t interested in serving up a history lesson. Rather, she uses Behn’s life as a jumping off point for an inspired bit of comic fun.
The bulk of the play’s plot takes place on a single night following Aphra being released from debtor’s prison by the newly crowned King Charles II, (for whom, you’ll remember, she has previously acted as a spy). Turning down the chance to be his mistress, she sets her sights on a career in the theater, securing Charles as her secret patron. She begins work on a new play that she hopes will star stage actress, Nell Dwynne (another character plucked from history), with whom she shares a budding attraction. Then Aphra’s co-spy ex-husband shows up warning of an assassination plot against King Charles. Then King Charles shows up and warns Aphra that her husband has double crossed her. Then theater owner Lady Davenant arrives, telling Aphra that her company will produce Aphra’s new play but only if she finishes by nine the following morning. On and on Adams’ script tosses in new developments that I won’t spoil here (the joy is in watching them all play out), letting the action build as we watch Aphra try to start her career, get rid of her ex-husband and save the English monarchy (all in a day’s work, of course).
There’s a lot to admire in this production, not least of all fantastic performances from the show’s three actors (who in total, portray 7 characters). Michael Poignand is clearly having a ball bouncing between the decadent King Charles and Aphra’s wily ex, William. Mid-show Kaylyn Bancroft gets a gem of a comic monologue as Lady Davenant that she throws herself into for all it’s worth, in addition to the wonderful layers she brings to the soulful Nell Gwynne and the brusquer housemaid, Maira. And as the lynch pin around which all of these characters fly, Anna Waldron never loses a beat as Aphra Behn. Waldron brings a necessary sense of intelligence to a performance that is also (and perhaps most importantly) very funny.
Kudos, as well, should be paid to director Adrienne Boris for pulling all of the various strings together without letting the various elements fly out of control. Despite the historical setting, Adams’ play is essentially a slamming doors farce (or, rather, a slamming curtain farce) a la Boeing Boeing and Boris’ clean and purposeful staging allows the actors to realize their full comic potential and the play to build on its gathering energy. There were several points in the show where Poignand and Bancroft switched between characters so quickly I was convinced the actors must have clones hiding backstage.
I must also draw attention to Liz Duffy Adams’ delightfully witty script. The plays begins in verse and when it gets going, Adams’ lines begin to hum as though electric. You can enjoy the play for the freewheeling farce that it is, but as the characters start to opine about how the present day (the 1600s) is wide open with new opportunities for women in society, you may realize that there is a method to this kind of madness. Part of Adams’ larger point (I suspect) has to do with how she surrounds her protagonist with characters that speak to different aspects of Aphra. Aphra could be a playwright, or she could be the King’s mistress, or she could be a spy. She could be double crossed. She could be a liar. She could be married. She could be a traitor. She could be single. She could be straight. She could be a lesbian. She could be in love. She could be in lust. Round and round the possible outcomes go. At one point Lady Davenant remarks how tired she is of these “Or” plays (trivia players will remember that Shakespeare’s full title for one of his plays was Twelfth Night or What you will). “Just pick one or the other” she says and Adams’ script makes the audience want to ask, “Why?” The truth is that all of these possible identities are not as mutually exclusive as they may seem. The only way to get a sense of the whole person is to give these characters (particularly the women) the freedom to let all of these identities and possibilities bounce and play off each other. Isn’t that the kind of freedom we should all be fighting for?
Or, is playing at Chelsea Theatre Works September 8-23, 2017.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

“Plank” Beautifully Examines Nature Versus Society by Mike Hoban



 
‘Plank’Written by John Greiner-Ferris. Directed by Megan Schy Gleeson. Presented by the Alley Cat Theater at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts through September 16

Playwright John Greiner-Ferris’ metaphorical new work makes the case for an idyllic isolationist existence in nature versus what he sees as the rigid structure and empty spiritual realm of digitized 21st Century. And while his vision may be a little black and white, it’s a game effort, worth seeing for its visuals as well as the performance by lead actor Poornima Kirby. Kirby is utterly charming as Potpee (Person on the Plank), the guileless young woman who finds herself adrift at sea before washing up on the shores of a seemingly Trump-less but nonetheless hostile USA-like land, where we are apparently powerless over the Facebook/cell phone/celebrity culture that is stealing our souls.

The play opens with Potpee bursting from underwater to the surface (with the aid of some indeterminate sea creatures), where she clutches to a chunk of the titular wood to keep afloat, then physically and mentally drifts for an undetermined stretch of time. Greiner-Ferris enlists the help of scenic designer Ji Young Han, lighting/projections designer Barbara Craig, and sound designers Ned Singh to create a world that allows the audience to suspend disbelief as they transform the theater space into a starlit ocean, complete with rolling seas supplied by the balletic movements of four actors and original music by Peter Warren & Matt Somalis. There is no choreographer listed, so credit for coordinating the movement must go to director Megan Schy Gleeson, whose pacing also keeps the audience engaged despite long pauses during the at-sea scenes.
The ocean takes care of Potpee’s needs, as a sandwich, a soda and a copy of Moby Dick magically appear, and she spends her days deep in thought, conversing only with a whale and her calf. When she finally comes upon land, she meets Mercedes, an over-the-top authoritarian (Liz Adams in a trademark high-status performance) who is costumed in what can only be described as a cross between a flaming red Drum Majorette outfit and a uniform from whatever army Michael Jackson thought he was commanding – complete with a matching 55 gallon star-spangled handbag. She also meets Thimble (Sydney Grant), a somewhat timid young woman, who, while acceding to the commands of the domineering Mercedes, seems open to the ideas that Potpee espouses – that life can be more than just going along to get along if you’re willing to take risks.
At an hour and 45 minutes, Plank may be a little long for some tastes (not this reviewer), and Greiner-Ferris may be painting with too broad a brush to make a really meaningful statement, but it is visually beautiful, with strong performances by the cast, including Fray Cordero and Adam Lokken as sea elements Swell and Fetch. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary that also takes a few comical jabs at our digital obsessions, this is worth a look. For more info, go to: www.alleycattheater.org

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Quick Take Review By Nicholas Roberts Hub Theatre’s Waiting for ‘Waiting for Godot’: A Classic Cleverly Revised



Reworking a theatre classic is not an easy task. The playwright constantly thinks “Will this match up to the original and provide a new relevance?” The author is, in a sense, going toe-to-toe with the greats. One thinks of Stoppard’s ingenious reinvention of Hamlet, Brecht’s Marxist take on The Beggar’s Opera, or even Ionesco’s absurdist revision of Macbeth. Indeed, it is the duty of the playwright, as with any author, to revise and adapt existing works to our ever-changing, postmodern world.

This is something Paula Plum’s New England premiere of Waiting for ‘Waiting for Godot’ does perfectly. Beckett’s absurdist classic is given an inventive spin by playwright Dave Hanson in which the audience is invited into the dressing room of Vladimir and Estragon’s understudies (Gabriel Graetz and Robert Orzali) two seemingly luckless but ever-hopeful souls who cling to the belief that their big break is just around the corner. They essentially reenact a meta-version of the original, with “him” (the never-present Director) in place of Godot, and a hapless ASM (Lauren Elias) in place of Pozzo/Lucky. In between ill-fitting costumes and a very Ethel Merman rendition of “No Business like Show Business,” the two understudies discuss what it means to be an actor and an artist, even if they’re at the bottom of the pile.

The acting sparkles with wit, and is full of nods to Beckett’s own sense of tragic-comedy. The structure of the play is also similar to the original; in Beckett’s words, “nothing happens twice.” Despite being a take-off on a classic, Waiting For… is a brilliant artwork in its own right. Where the original asks questions about the meaning of human existence, Waiting For… asks questions about the need to act out such things in a play, and, indeed, about the need for theatre and an actor’s place in the world. This is a must-see (at Club Café through July 30), and an important addition to the absurdist canon.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey JOYOUS JOSEPH



Director Susan Chebookjian’s charming JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT for Reagle Music Theatre (through June 18th) allows the Sunday school musical to be as simple and sweet as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice intended it to beand she gets lovely resonance from the show’s (oft repeated) big message number, Any Dream Will Do: “The world is still waiting, hesitating…” (How’s that for topical!)

Any dream may do but just any old Joseph won’t. Donnie Osmond owned the role for decades. Luckily Reagle has the remarkable Peter Mill in the lead. He’s an innocent when the story needs him to be and he transforms himself into a majestic prophet when his gift takes over the plot. Mill’s Joseph is so beatific, he seems lit from within.

Andrew Giordano supplies the big laughs as Pharoah Presley, flirting shamelessly with the audience, gyrating those infamous hips. A great deal of the humor is embedded in the choreography (also Chebookjian): I think I spied an incongruous Gerry Garcia in the hilarious ‘60s go go number! Her clever tango enlivens “Those Canaan Days” and a charismatic Taavon Gamble makes short work of the calypso caper.

Pulling the whole shebang together and herding the wonderful children’s chorus is the character of the narrator, stylishly portrayed by Ayla Brown. My only quibble with the show is the redux… and I’m definitely in the minority. The children in the audience were whipped into a frenzy when it began to repeat. They were on their feet waving their programs and squealing at fever pitch.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Slick Sailing for Titanic’s Spoof



Playwright Chris Weikel is extremely fortunate to have director Sarah Gazdowicz staging his wacky send-up of classic Dickensian melodrama. PENNY PENYWORTH (cavorting at the Central Sq. Theatre through June 25th) is at its best a mad Monty Pythonesque romp through the English novel (from Dickens to the Brontes)although at times it dips into choppy Benny Hill waters.

The Titanic Theatre Company’s cast is plenty seaworthy when it comes to comedy: the foursome inhabits dozens of characters with ease (or so it seems), from mustache twirling villains to spluttering, stuttering emissaries to rattling, raving recluses. Caroline Keeler is wonderful as the hapless, penniless child who must navigate a world of sleazy opportunists and ruthless predators. (And as is wont to happen when actors double and triple roles, Keeler has been assigned to play the very henchman sent to kidnap her!)

Isaiah Plovnick seems to be made of rubber as he contorts his body so that Mr. Pinch Nose’s upper half arrives before his extremities. He can chew the small amount of scenery on stage so thoroughly that you worry about his digestive system. Ashley Risteen gives Plovnick a run for his money in that department with her spectacular performance as the delirious, possibly dangerous Miss Havasnort but it’s Brooks Reeves’ smashing portrayal of a humble, unintelligible Scotsman that brings down the house.

Kudos to Erica Desautels for her inventive, evocative costume design and to Gazdowicz for her extravagantly dramatic sound design, expertly delivered by stage manager Sophia Girodano.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey How to Handle CAMELOT



What is it that made Lerner and Loewe’s CAMELOT such an enduring success? Certainly it’s Alan Jay Lerner’s brilliantly witty lyrics and, of course, the grandeur of the Arthurian legend… but what if you scaled the musical down to its essentials? The Lyric Stage does just that, using David Lee’s intimate adaptation of CAMELOT (playing through June 25th) which eliminates extraneous characters (including Merlin)!

Director Spiro Veloudos does with CAMELOT what he did with SWEENEY TODD a few seasons back, making it more focused, less grand (as in Guignol) and surprisingly resonant to today’s political and ethical climate. I couldn’t watch Lyric’s SWEENEY without thinking of the countless innocent men in this country, like the barber, wrongly convicted and sent to prison.

As I watched Veloudos’ streamlined, almost naturalistic CAMELOT, I concentrated on Arthur’s vision for equality in a “country of laws” (as opposed to the love story). Its corruption by a few self-serving traitors now stands out in sharp relief. You can’t help but consider our “nation of laws” being subverted and gerrymandered right out from under our feet.

So. What is enhanced in a production that is realistic… and what is lost? Matters of life and death are quite real in Veloudos’ inspired staging: When Lancelot (Jared Troillo) brings the very dead Sir Lionel (Davron S. Munroe) back to life, it’s not with his will, it’s with his whole being, as if he’s summoning up an exchange of life breath at the expense of his own existence. It’s quite a coup. It’s no wonder Arthur (Ed Hoopman) and Guenevere (Maritza Bostic) are both drawn to the man. (Veloudos’ characters are very much down to earth, with all of the mistakes mortals make, even the best of men.)

The broad humor for the most part is left behind. Lancelot’s pompous “C’est Moi” isn’t as overblown and riotous as it often is but Veloudos does allow some of the ruckus back in, with the anarchists in Act II. Not in life, mind you, but in art it’s often the bad guys who are most fascinating. Rory Boyd makes Mordred a charismatic, go for broke villain, with “The Seven Deadly Virtues” a delightful frolic, topped only by the delicious “Fie on Goodness” romp featuring Munroe’s lusty Scotsman. I must admit, it was exhilarating to have some passion back in CAMELOT.

Monday, May 15, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Happily, Curiosity Doesn’t Kill The Cat At CWT



Theatre on Fire and Charlestown Working Theater are hosting three weeks of edgy new works from some companies you will recognize and some you won’t—but once you’ve seen what they can do, you won’t forget them. The productions in THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (May 10-27) offer poetry as theater, piano as drama, “found object” puppetry, personal exploration through song, choral readings and reexaminations of women’s roles in society, from an acolyte of Charles Manson to the genius ex-pat Gertrude Stein.

My favorite (of the three I’ve seen so far, all wonderful, mind you) is a delightful construction by Travis Amiel, based on the life of the ‘70s and ‘80s performance artist (as if one could ever categorize him) Klaus NOMI. If you don’t recognize the name NOMI, please do visit YouTube for Nomi’s exquisite performance of Purcell’s “The Cold Song.” The company (mostly from Emerson) accomplishes the rarest of magical feats: They pay tribute (by re-creation) while they manage to capture Nomi’s enchanting, almost childlike spirit with their own, luminous alchemy.

Director Riley Hillyer and company (including star turns from Aaron Drill and James La Bella) offer gorgeous divertissements enhanced by glitter, strobes, extravagant posturing choreography (one of Nomi’s specialties), a paper bag David Bowie (If Marlon Brando can be a suitcase, why not?) and joyous audience participation. Drill has a formidable falsetto (perfect for Delibes) and hilarious low notes! At the same time, Drill inhabits Nomi’s credo “to be as natural as I can while posing wildly.” The entire cast’s enchanting imagery and gestural language speaks directly, without words, to the solar plexus: When they ‘oh so’ artistically and gracefully paint Nomi’s lithe body with circular brown spots (to indicate Kaposi’s sarcoma), it took my breath away. If only they had a longer run so you all could experience NOMI.

Bryn Boice’s I, SNOWFLAKE is part elegant choreo-poem, part verbatim accounts (a la Studs Turkel) of post-election shock and mostly, as Anthem Theatre describes the piece, a “commedia tragic-farce for the World We Live in Now.” The witnesses, all dressed alike in crisp white shirts, black leggings and cradling IPhones, lament the sorrows we all grieve about: global warming, violence, genocide, nuclear annihilation and so much more and more and more.

They’re dogged by a resilient little mime (the sensational Julee Antonellis) who is buffeted about and dispatched numerous times (most chillingly gunned down like Trayvon Martin and his many, many successors). Boice wisely balances the terrible sorrows and fears with humor and cheek. We’re treated to a nifty pussycat allegory (about abortion) and a spunky folk ditty from Sylvia Sword on ukulele (about grabbing those pussies).

Boice offers the best dissection I’ve yet encountered of the insidious, seemingly faultless male catcall, “Smile,” which is punctuated by Caitlin Jones’ stellar rendition of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.”  The ensemble of ten extraordinary women utilizes metaphor, music, fluid movement and righteous indignation to drive home their hopeful (thank goodness) message: Each snowflake is unique and fragile by itself but thousands of snowflakes together can bring a city to a halt.

Doug Wright’s lauded one-man show, I AM MY OWN WIFE, features Gabriel Graetz (known for his remarkable character work with many local theaters) as the German transvestite, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf … as well as all the characters swirling around her. Charlotte survived the Nazis, the communists, and the skinheads that followed them. The piece centers around Wright’s discovery of the real life Malhsdorf and her inconceivable museum (of objects she managed to squirrel away in her basement under the noses of the Nazis). The piece includes his letters asking for interviews and his subsequent visits to Berlin to see her.

Graetz is thoroughly charming as Charlotte, self-consciously tentative and mildly flirtatious with the audience, as she shows us her gramophone and other objets d’art. Graetz’ German is flawless, even seductive as he reminisces about cabaret days or hums snatches of Strauss. Graetz has an immensely touching scene as Mahlsdorf’s friend, Alfred Kirchner, languishing in jail, reading a cheery letter from Charlotte (who may or may not have informed on him). Director Daniel Morris and Graetz allow us to contemplate the latter by showing Charlotte’s calculating side (when she schemes to sell clocks to G.I.s). Just as Charlotte describes her worn and scratched furniture (and herself, of course): “The marks [on the chair] are proof of history.”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey FISH Shticks



Michael O’Halloran’s cheeky comedy, FISH FOOD (playing in Avenue Stage’s DOT 2 DOT space through this weekend only) is a delightful send-up of the hotel business. From management to bellhops, they’re all a little nutty, as one might full well expect after listening to the country’s first Hotelier-President carry on. O’Halloran writes from experience, having been employed at one of Boston’s tony hotels.

The play centers on a kind but naïve young man with a pet goldfish named Doris, hence the play’s title. He applies for a job as a waiter at a modest hotel which has just been acquired by a tycoon whose name recognition will give the establishment a boost! As O’Halloran wrote FISH FOOD well before Trump was elected, you can’t help but admire the playwright’s prescience.

FISH FOOD plays a bit like the adventures of Tom Jones, with Joe (a charming Desmond O’Halloran) learning the ropes mostly without the realization that he might be tied in to some shady knots down the line. Eunice Simmons is hilarious as his randy boss, a woman who keeps promoting him in hopes of reaping the benefits that she thinks ought to come with the territory.

Jennifer Jones is a treat as his larcenous grandmother and mayhem is provided by Molly O’Halloran as his new roommate. (She neglected to tell Joe that a frightening ex may return at any moment to reclaim his bed.) Peril (the funny variety) lurks at every turn and O’Halloran, who also directs, knows how to milk the jokes.

Geoff Pingree is endlessly entertaining as the frenetic sommelier who is highly insulted by having to perform duties unrelated to wine, specifically when banished to colder climes, sporting a huge fur hat to visit the hotel’s freezer. His partner in crime from a previous hotel is the slinky, German cabaret singer, deliciously played by Miss Mary Mac, whose Dietrich-like ennui is delivered in the sensational torch song with the chorus of “I just don’t care…” The characters are delectable and the laughter non-stop.

If you saw FISH FOOD at DOT 2 DOT this weekend, then you most likely sampled some of Chef Karen Henry-Garrett’s glorious food, including a bread and butter pudding to die for! Look for Avenue Stage’s next show and pay a visit to DOT 2 DOT in the meantime for Henry-Garrett’s exquisite desserts!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Bring Me My Arrows of Desire



Last season, Zeitgeist Stage presented an evening of character sketches and stories by Tennessee Williams which he would later shape into his celebrated plays. This spring Zeitgeist returns to Williams with a vehicle called DESIRE (six plays by noted playwrights based on his short stories), running through May 20th. Beth Henley, Elizabeth Egloff and John Guare are among the writers who were invited by Hartford Stage to create adaptations of Williams’ lesser known source material.

David Miller is a consummate director (and stage designer), as evinced by these six pieces… and he is fortunate to have a remarkable cast to animate them. Each actor has the chance to showcase his or her skills by inhabiting an entirely different role, depending on the play. It’s certainly a treat for the viewer to witness these actors’ versatility.

 Beth Henley’s THE RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN A VIOLIN CASE AND A COFFIN is a wonderfully evocative portrait of Southern Gothic matriarchy. Father is gone, (perhaps he fell in love with long distance) leaving mother and grandmother to preside over the children: An impressionable young girl (a sweet and sensitive Margaret McFadden) who spends her days practicing piano and devising highly melodramatic religious theatricals; and her slightly challenged brother (a wildly intense John Vellante) who happily acts them out with her.

When a dashing young man (Sam Terry oozing sophistication) bicycles by with his violin (delightful wheel imagery indicating a bicycle), she is more than happy to turn her attention to him. Then her piano teacher (a marvelously severe Margaret Dransfield) suggests they practice a duet (more clever imagery to indicate an instrument) at which point the brother is consumed with jealousy. Henley’s dialogue fairly drips with shadowy, tragic allusions.

ORIFLAMME by David Grimm conjures up visions (for me) of Geraldine Paige as Williams’ quintessential fragile seductress, a temptress one moment, a puritan the next. Lindsay Beamish gives a powerful performance as the “lady in red” (elegant costumes from Elizabeth Cole Sheehan) whose “romantic notions” are lost on the men she chooses to engage. Damon Singletary is superb as the man in the park (think Stanley Kowalski) who doesn’t stand on ceremony and doesn’t hesitate to take her up on her offer. Like Blanche DuBois, Grimm’s shatterable creature recalls her love of an idealized “beautiful boy.” It set my mind flooding with images from quite a few of Williams’ plays.

John Guare’s YOU LIED TO ME ABOUT CENTRALIA conjures up scene after scene of THE GLASS MENAGERIE. (Guare based his play on the “gentleman caller” who comes to dinner not realizing that mother plans to turn him into a suitor… until she learns he has a fiancé.) Guare imagines the fiancé (a flinty Katie Flanagan) as a grasping, opinionated racist, leaving us to conclude that the gentleman caller (Eric McGowan) would be much better off with the crazy Wingfields.

So far so good. Even though Elizabeth Egloff’s ATTACK OF THE GIANT TENT WORMS left me scratching my head, trying to figure who was more insane, the wife (Dransfield) or her buggy writer-husband (Alexander Rankine). I was still interested in the story either way. But the last two plays of the evening gave me the creeps. More than creeps.

Although it was flawlessly performed, Marcus Gardley’s DESIRE QUENCHED BY TOUCH is an exercise in torture which I wouldn’t watch if I didn’t have to (middle of the row, no escape from the theater). If it had been on television, I would have changed the channel. If it had been in a movie, it would be a snuff film and I wouldn’t be there in the first place.

The masseur (Singletary, vilely macabre) complains that he feels dirty, satisfying the masochistic needs of his client (Terry screaming and writhing). We, my companions and I, were the ones who needed a shower after watching it (against our wills, I should add). Certainly Williams has touched upon the subject (at the very end of the play which I won’t give away) in SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER but his prose is poetic and Gardley’s is not. That’s why this felt like sadomasochistic porn… which brings me to Rebecca Gilman’s THE FIELD OF BLUE CHILDREN.

I had little patience left by the time we got to Gilman’s tale of bizarre sexual fulfillment (nevertheless well acted by Vellante and Dransfield). The vacuous woman never shut up during an interminable sexual encounter, droning on in horrific detail about a roast pig at a barbeque, thereby undercutting any sympathy I might have had for her. It might have been funny… but it wasn’t. (Contrast this artless effort with the exquisite scene in COMING HOME when Jane Fonda’s character experiences sexual ecstasy for the first time.) Gilman, I’m sorry to say, missed the mark.

Monday, May 1, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey What’s Love Got to Do with It?



Tina Turner may call love a “second hand emotion” but neuroscientists are eager to discover the vital brain chemistry at work in “romantic love.” PARADISE (@ Central Square Theatre through May 7th) is Laura Maria Censabella’s lovely two character play, ostensibly about a disillusioned high school teacher and a bright, inquisitive student. But Censabella makes it much, much more.

The teacher is an embittered former academic whose research, years ago, was stolen by a fellow scientist. His life took a downward slide after the incident and now he finds himself teaching high school in the Bronx. The spunky student who asks him for help is an engaging teenager whose staunchly Muslim family emigrated from Yemen and steadfastly observes its customs. She wears the traditional headscarf. She is expected at eighteen to accept an arranged marriage. And at the same time she wants to be a scientist. She’s obsessed “with the hidden world of the structure of things.”

At first he turns her down but then relents when he experiences her passionate determination. She’s keen on proving that “love is more than evolution.” He encourages her to find “a new way to look at the adolescent brain” because current science dismisses ‘reasoning’ in teenagers altogether, because of “an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex.” You might think this all sounds rather abstract but it’s not. She brings out the best in him and he in her. It’s a love story that’s not romantic in nature.

Director Shana Gozansky has two extraordinary actors to animate Censabella’s intimate story. Barlow Adamson takes his character on a breathtaking journey from despair to truth to compassion to sacrifice and generosity through love. His tour de force is matched by Caitlin Nasema Cassidy’s fireball of energy. Like Adamson’s teacher, we can’t resist her ebullient spirit. Like him, we are won over by the beauty of the Koran passage she sings to him. She struggles mightily with the divide created by her religious devotion but it’s the teacher’s struggle that truly breaks our heart.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey COYOTE UGLY



Bruce Graham’s harrowing prison drama, COYOTE ON A FENCE, is getting a stirring, in depth outing at Hub Theatre Company (through April 15th). Fringe companies of late have been stepping up their game with superior production values and admirable performances. COYOTE is a passionate example.

Director Daniel Bourque’s crisp production hits all the angles Graham intended it to, making the case for and against capital punishment without the cut and dried examples we’re familiar with… and Bourque’s rendering makes you notice the animal argument as well: Should that coyote have been tortured for poaching chickens? (I’ve seen the play before and that didn’t stay with me from last time.)

Statistics prove that the death penalty does not deter crime, it doesn’t save the state money, it executes innocents and in the case of diminished capacity (currently before the Supreme Court), it may constitute extreme cruelty… Yet the United States persists in doling out “an eye for an eye” justice (disproportionately applying the death penalty to African-American males), with Texas in the lead.

When Graham wrote COYOTE twenty years ago, he had no way of knowing that the character who murders worshipers at an African-American church would resonate so profoundly with the current white supremacist who, “to start a race war,” gunned down African-American members of a Bible study group. Relatives of the slain parishioners offered him forgiveness. Could we do the same?

Complicating matters, for me anyway, is that Cameron Gosselin even looks a little like the real killer, which kept me from viewing the argument in the abstract. I count myself politically opposed to the death penalty and yet, in the real world, I would be hard pressed to plead his case. Gosselin delivers a tour de force as the Aryan assassin who, because of his naïveté, elicits our pity, believe it or not.

In the cell next to his is an intelligent but arrogant prison-community organizer (Mark Krawczyk in a bravura performance) who advises inmates on appeals and who isn’t much interested in helping the new guy on the block. His journey is ours, thanks to Graham’s clever manipulation. The playwright even manages to slip exposition by us with the addition of a compassionate newspaper reporter (Robert Orzalli, radiating integrity). Bourque cagily suggests growing trust by gradually turning their chairs to face one another.

Regine Vital, however, dominates the play with the plum role of the tough talking guard who protests that the electrocutions she witnesses “don’t bother [me] at all.” Vital nails the unspoken vulnerability of someone whose impartiality has been pierced by humanity. It shines right through her dialogue.

Bravo, to the whole cast, especially the actors portraying the murderers. I imagine it’s a heavy burden, one I wouldn’t want on my back… or in my mouth. It isn’t an easy play to sit through, either (although there is some much appreciated humor). I guess that’s the point: if it’s hard to sit though, imagine what it’s like to live through.

Monday, March 27, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Pick of the Litter



Douglas Carter Beane doesn’t often miss with his savagely funny scriptsand Take Your Pick Productions, the newest fringe company on the block, gets high marks for emerging with a smart, savvy production of THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED (barking through April 8th).

The beauty of Beane’s script is that the gist of the cheeky “Hollywood” story is told by all four characters, often in soliloquy. That means the point of view keeps shifting so your allegiances keep changing. I, for one, couldn’t get enough of the monologues, they’re executed so deliciously.

Beane manipulates us with riotous dialogue as he sends up shallow actors, self-serving agents and our trenchant, Puritanical sexual mores. It’s a great ride. What’s more, director Cassandra Lovering knows how to cut through the sardonic humor to find the vulnerability beneath the bravado. Case in point is Aina Adler’s brilliant performance as the tough cookie whose unguarded eyes disclose depths of pain. Matthew Fagerberg, likewise, allows us to see the sensitivity at the heart of his hustling call boy.

Victor L. Shopov turns in a nifty performance as the actor who just may have a soul. Best of all is Audrey Lynn Sylvia as the fast talking, conniving, controlling agent who knows how to push everyone’s buttons. Marc Ewart’s set is thoroughly ingenious, transforming on a dime, as is Dierdre Benson’s hip sound design… and Mikey DiLoreto’s costumes are as delightful (especially for the women) as they are functional (especially for the priceless speed strip for the men!) This old dog laughed and laughed to see such sport!

Monday, March 13, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey A Star is Re-Born



How are we going to find out about women in science? Certainly not from textbooks. When Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize for their work on DNA, no one mentioned Rosalind Franklin but without her work, the genetic code could not have been cracked. Thank heavens there’s a play about Franklin. And bless the Flat Earth Theatre for their splendid production of SILENT/SKY (playing through March 25th) about the Harvard Observatory women who singlehandedly mapped the skies.

Bet you’ve never heard of Henrietta Leavitt! Without her groundbreaking method of measuring distances in space (based on time and the brightness of pulsing stars) astronomers like Edwin Powell Hubble would never have been able to discover the existence of other galaxies or formulate the famous “Hubble Constant” (about the ratio between a distant galaxy and the rate at which it’s receding from us).

You, no doubt, recognize the Hubble name from the giant orbiting space telescope launched in 1990. Imagine my surprise, when I turned to my trusty, dog-eared copy of Webster’s New World Encyclopedia for the correct spelling of Hubble … and found that Hubble is credited for Leavitt’s work with Cepheid variable stars! (Why am I not surprised!)

If you want the real storyand a first rate play, to bootyou must see Lauren Gunderson’s lovely SILENT/SKY which chronicles three actual female “computers” (i.e. star counters) at Harvardand the appealing back story Gunderson imagines for them. Her dialogue is smart-as-a-whip and plenty witty, viewing these turn of the century women with a twenty-first century eye!

If Gunderson’s name seems familiar, you may have seen Theatre On Fire’s crackerjack production of her EXIT PURSUED BY A BEAR a couple of seasons ago. Boy, can she write! There you sit, learning intricate scientific theories without even feeling the pinchbecause the story and the characters are so damned compelling.

Director Dori A. Robinson’s production is just as compelling, with (dare I say) a star turn from Erin Eva Butcher as the unsatisfied Ph.D. mathematician relegated to repetitious star counting. Leavitt left Wisconsin for Cambridge so she could view the sky through the Observatory telescope. She is thwarted from the get-go by an officious male supervisor (Marcus Hunter in a nifty “transformation” role) and by her two co-counters who see little value in a confrontation with Harvard’s male establishment.

Annie Cannon’s resolve is softened as the play progresses (Cassandra Meyer as the tough scientist/suffragette) while Juliet Bowler as the Scottish Williamina Fleming provides gentle comic relief. Leavitt’s supportive but disapproving sister (a charming Brenna Sweet) is the playwright’s invention, as is Hunter’s smitten supervisor, both conjured to provide contrast to Leavitt’s cloistered observatory life.

See it for the remarkable script or the superb Flat Earth production: This is what a fringe company can do with good material and a boatload of passion!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey From Soup to Nuts



Heidi Schreck’s GRAND CONCOURSE (playing @ SpeakEasy Stage through April 1st) makes you think of Grand Central Station but it’s actually a soup kitchen where lost souls in transit can hear a kind word, enjoy a hearty bowl of soup and move onto the next shelter or their next crisis. It’s also a mecca where some come to find solace, even redemption through the act of volunteering.

The kitchen is run by a take charge nun (Melinda Lopez in a solid performance) who is having a crisis of faith herself, wondering if one bowl of sustenance can really make a difference to the needy people she serves. Sometimes, to her surprise, a volunteer (Ally Dawson in an intense performance) may need more help than the homeless.

Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary’s lovely, lyrical production is full of sweet humor, from the cheeky young caretaker/handyman (Alejandro Simoes at his most charming) who isn’t sure he’s ready to marry his sweetheart just yetand from Thomas Derrah in a tour de force as a delightful, down-on-his-luck, bi-polar regular who, despite being forbidden to, sneaks in to the church at night to sleep in the sanctuary.

These four characters collide, with extremely serious consequences that, curiously, don’t develop dramatically until the very end of the play, leaving us to wonder what will happen to these desperate people. We can only guess… which makes the piece a series of painterly vignettes not unlike Elmer Rice’s slice-of-life STREET SCENE.

Forgiveness is a theme, as is sacrifice, as is the church itself, whose (metaphorical) cracked, damaged stained glass windows tower over Jenna McFarland Lord’s spiffy, spacious kitchen. I left the play, reminded of the fact that most downtown historical (Protestant) churches allow the homeless to sleep in their outside entryways but not inside their buildings. (This is because they’re afraid of the damage strangers might wreak on the plumbing and religious artifacts they hold so dear. Really? Could they not employ a caretaker to watch over a few beds in their basements?)

I left with other questions, too, about what forgiveness is, for example: what it can and can’t do. Schreck sure knows how to get an audience thinking.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey The Perilous Fight



Ike Holter’s edgy, passionate script, ironically called EXIT STRATEGY, is exactly the type of play Zeitgeist Stage can sink its creative teeth into. Some of director David Miller’s best work has been in plays which center around students in crisis. (I’m remembering his sensitive staging of SPRING AWAKENING and his powerful take on PUNK ROCK).

Holter wrote EXIT STRATEGY two years ago to focus attention on the unsound and unsafe state of our inner city schoolsbut the play couldn’t be more timely, now that Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as Secretary of Education. It’s quite clear that Mr. Trump, instead of the old presidential promise of “a chicken in every pot,” has installed a fox in every henhouse.

EXIT STRATEGY (playing through March 11th) grabs hold of the audience with its characters’ quirky rhythms and truncated, staccato dialogue. Their fragmented speech anticipates the looming disintegration of their schooland their lives. They’re barely coping, without enough books or computers or time… barely functioning, certainly not concentrating on learning when they all know in their hearts what’s coming: The school will be closed to save money, if not today, then at the end of the year, and the money saved will be funneled into “better” schools in “better” neighborhoods, for students who are already advantaged.

Miller has a first rate cast: Maureen Adduci and Robert Bonotto are sublime as the older, battle worn teachers. Bonotto, especially, breaks your heart with a poignant revelation. Holter invents several heartrending moments that we don’t see coming, one of which has Johnny Quinones’ name on it.

The playwright gives Matthew Fagerberg’s character quite a journey, too, from toeing the management line to joining the opposition. Fagerberg gives a bold, compelling performance. Victoria George, as well, gives a wry performance as the teacher with the patience of Job, sweetly deferring to the mania around her.

What a cast Miller has assembled! Lillian Gomes is simply delightful as the excitable English teacher: The stage lights up when she enters. (And she rocks Elizabeth Cole Sheehan’s gorgeous costumes!) Jalani Dottin-Coye, too, is quite a find. He gives a tour de force as the smart-as-a-whip student who galvanizes the faculty and inspires righteous resistance. He’s funny. He’s charismatic. He’s a presence.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

NOT SO QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Revolution at New Rep



The New Repertory Theatre’s splendid BRECHT ON BRECHT (playing through March 5th) was chosen well before the election. Director Jim Petosa ironically remarked that they thought it would be a small jab in the eye of the new, ceiling shattering administration. Irony, mother’s milk to Bertholt Brecht! Instead the show rivals the sobering surrealism we’re encountering daily.

Brecht revolutionized modern theater with his stark subject matter… and by departing from traditional dramatic strictures: No more sitting in the dark. No more complacency. No identifying with sympathetic or idealistic characters. He staged the consequences of, say, a botched Navy Seal raid. He would put the bloody, mangled bodies of Yemeni innocents center stage, just so we’d recoil. Here is the cruelty of the real world, he would say. No more pretending. No more lovely fantasies. Lights on. Get ready to squirm.

Oh, he fantasized (with the aid of a defiant, dissonant, sneering score from Kurt Weill for The Threepenny Opera) but they were Pirate Jenny’s revenge fantasies, of a ship with eight sails and fifty canons opening fire. Petosa stages her song for the New Rep production with Jenny (the wonderful Christine Hamel) looking down over the crowd she would obliterate if she could, for treating her so badly. And Petosa gets even more traction by transforming Hamel into the actual figurehead on the bowsprit of the deadly vessel!

George Tabori’s sampler of writings and songs brought me immediately back to the heyday of the American Repertory Theater under the helm of Robert Brustein, when they staged production after production of Büchner and Brecht which dispatched us stunned, horrified and converted (Brecht the socialist would have been so pleased) into the night.

In The Theatre of Revolt, Brustein’s breathtaking analysis of “Modern theater from Ibsen to Genet,” he deftly analyzes the duality in Brecht’s writing about the evil man heaps upon his fellow man. Is it in man’s very nature or the evils of society that cause such mayhem? Brustein maintains that Brecht doesn’t answer the question. “His point,” Brustein elegantly posits, “is that the world must be changed; his counterpoint is that the world will always be the same.”

Tabori’s selections for this “savage” revue include a chilling musing from Brecht’s late writings inspired by Eastern religions. “Buddha’s Parable of the Burning House” embraces Brecht’s affinity for the nothingness of the “void,” as the inhabitants of a house burn because they refuse to leave; as well as the sardonic “optimism” of the gentlemen in “Of Poor B. B.” who say “Things will improve,” to which Brecht adds “And I don’t ask when.”

A number of Brecht’s collaborations are represented in the piece, especially with Weill, which the talented troupe nimbly embraces. Yet another of Brecht’s disorienting devices (borrowed from the Berlin cabarets) is to deliver searing lyrics as if they were a lullaby, then suddenly shock the audience into submission. Music director Matthew Stern (who is wheeled out trussed up like a faceless René Magritte portrait) plays cascades of lovely, melodic notes which descend underneath the most lethal of lyrics in The Threepenny Opera, sung by Mack the Knife.

The incomparable Brad Daniel Peloquin recounts Mackie’s lurid adventures in the softest, sweetest of tones until Stern manufactures pure violence out of the piano, jolting us out of our seats with a crash bang. Then they return to Peloquin’s dulcet tenor and gorgeous accompaniment to finish the aria. (Somewhere-somewhere Brecht is smiling. If smiling is allowed. If there is a somewhere.)

The cast march gleefully in formation for the sardonic “Let’s all go barmy. We love the army.” Of course those rifles will be pointed at us. Carla Martinez and Hamel illustrate masochistic womankind for us, refusing well-to-do suitors in favor of more exciting heels with an arrogant, cynical “Sorry.” Then Martinez rages and rhapsodizes about the “rat” she can’t stop loving in “Surabaya Johnny.” Jake Murphy as the soldier and Martinez as “the mouse” sing about fleeting happiness “in the room where we play house.” They all sing “Show me the way to the next whisky bar,” perhaps next to “Moritat,” the most familiar song in the show (to rockers, that is), thanks to Jim Morrison and the Doors.

Perhaps the most memorable (and most frightening) quote of the performance is “Although we stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.” I don’t know about the rest of my audience but my heart was dragging on the ground. Thank heavens they ended on a hopeful note, with that old, fantastic Spanish moon!



* My only quibble (and it’s very, very small) is that the works from which the scenes and songs were chosen were not identified in the program…And Ryan Bates’ backdrop full of wide, watching eyes were not identified either. I think one eye belonged to Richard Wagner? And one to Man Ray. Jim Pitosa kindly told me the startling close-up is the chanteuse, Brissai, and that Genet got into the act but who were the other famous eyes? I would love to know. A small, small matter indeed.