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.