Monday, August 23, 2010

Proof of Life by Beverly Creasey

I’ve seen David Auburn’s Pulitzer and Tony winning play {PROOF} before – but it never added up to much (for me) until I saw the Independent Drama Society’s fiercely intelligent production (playing through Aug. 28th). I watched the DVD starring Anthony Hopkins the evening after I saw the IDS production and it didn’t come close to summoning up the energy of director Chris Anton’s version. (Auburn’s screenplay completely sacrifices the comedy for some inexplicable reason …but, hey, I’m not here to review the film.)

On the one hand, PROOF can mean conclusive evidence, and on the other, it can mean the process of checking the validity of a mathematical computation – but you needn’t have heard of Fermat’s last theorem to be swept up in the (algo)rhythms of the story. Auburn plays the meaning of “proof” both ways in his engrossing drama about trial and error and fathers and daughters.

The father in PROOF was a brilliant mathematician before his “beautiful” mind began to deteriorate. (For the record, Auburn wrote his play before “A Beautiful Mind” was published.) The daughter who took after her father, mathematically speaking, gave up her studies to look after him. Now she’s confronted by an overbearing sister and a former student of her father’s who wants to peruse his notebooks, not to mention the fear that she may end up just like him. She’s a bit strung out, to say the least.

Kate Daly is a revelation as the depressed, defensive daughter who prefers to be left alone…but who blossoms, despite herself, into a beautiful woman in love. Daly and Chris Larson transform what is “theoretically physical” into gorgeous physicality in their oh-so-sweet love scene. Kudos to director Anton for her elegant touches which enliven each scene (like the breakfast confrontation over a bagel or the funny post-party entrance of the unkempt, hung over sister). Kara Manson makes the most of the controlling sibling role and Mark Bourbeau breaks your heart as the disintegrating genius sure he is receiving “mathematical messages from the universe.”

Every element of PROOF dovetails seamlessly, from Lindsay Eagle’s character-perfect costumes to Larson’s note-specific musical choices to Kirsten Opstad’s enormous set of a house (in the postage stamp Piano Factory space!) to Kimberly Smith’s evocative lighting. The Independent Drama Society proves itself to be a prime company to watch.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Back in the day, “nice” girls at my school teased their hair into “flips” like Mary Tyler Moore. The more adventurous girls sported big “beehives” and the “bad” girls brushed their hair straight back into a “D.A.” so it feathered out like a duck’s {well} “rear end.” That was 1962. We didn’t know teasing caused breakage and spraying melted the ozone. And we didn’t know a lot about the world. John Waters set his (now cult) film, HAIRSPRAY (ostensibly about integration on an erstwhile Bandstand TV show) in 1962 when a chubby, white teenager in Baltimore takes on the establishment. HAIRSPRAY introduced Ricki Lake and the fabulous Divine to audiences everywhere.

As you well know, HAIRSPRAY is now a Tony Award winning musical (eight, to be exact). I’ve seen several versions, including the original and I’m here to tell you that you won’t find a better production than Reagle’s, playing through August 22nd. Marissa Perry repeats her Broadway performance as Tracy Turnblad, the teenager with a heart as big as all outdoors and hair almost as high as the giant sequoias. There are two BIG reasons to see Reagle’s production: Perry’s thousand watt energy surge and Dan Dowling, Jr. as Perry’s mother.

Dowling is nothing short of miraculous. He’s hilarious, of course, as the dragged out, dragged down drudge of a housewife who just wants the best for her daughter BUT he gives Edna an inner glow which touches the soul. How often does that happen in musical comedy? If HAIRSPRAY goes back to Broadway, he oughta be their man.

The Reagle production has even more stars: Davron S. Monroe, as Tracy’s detention buddy, can dance (and sing!) like nobody’s business and Angela Birchett delivers the gorgeous “I Know Where I’ve Been” so powerfully, you almost believe it’s a real anthem. Nick Peciaro is a delightful Beau for Tracy and Mark Linehan makes the Dick Clark caricature deliciously over the top.

Directors Todd Michael Smith and Judine Somerville come from the original Broadway production. To their credit, every nuance of the plot is crystal clear (which I can’t say of other productions of HAIRSPRAY I’ve seen). They know when to push the slapstick and when to pull the heartstrings. When they bring on the showstopper, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” you’ll feel “the motion of the ocean ... etc.” and you won’t be able to stop your feet from stomping. I wish I could see it again!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

FOUR STARS A LA CARTE By Beverly Creasey

Clearly you have to be out of your mind to work in a restaurant. (That’s experience talking: You’re hired as a waitress and when the cook doesn’t show, you’re slinging hash in a 102 degree kitchen. I quit.) Becky Mode must have put in her time because she’s written a hilarious play about a tony New York eatery and the insanity on the other side of the table. FULLY COMMITTED (playing through Aug. 29th at the MDC stage in Brighton) doesn’t refer to an involuntary stay at Bellevue. It’s restaurant lingo for “no reservations, we’re all booked up.”

Thirty-six wild and wooly characters in FULLY COMMITTED are all gloriously played by Gabriel Kuttner. The transformations happen in the blink of an eye: He’s the benighted reservation guy. He’s the bully of a chef. He’s the officious Maitre D, the super busy busboy…and the impossible customers. Kuttner’s tour de force is a must see this summer. The Charles River is gorgeous at sunset, viewed from the old Publick Theatre digs (opposite WBZ). The mosquitoes have turned in for the evening (No bites whatsoever!) and the breeze off the water is heavenly on a sultry night.

Steven Barkhimer has directed with wings on his heels – the whole performance is over in 75 minutes. FULLY COMMITTED serves up the laughter 7 p.m. Thurs-Sun. You could even have dinner after the show. No reservations. I give it four stars.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

CORPUS DELECTUS by Beverly Creasey

CURTAINS is the Kander and Ebb musical whodunit set in Boston which curiously did not play here originally. You probably know about it because it starred David Hyde Pierce (FRASIER) and Debra Monk (NYPD BLUE). I satisfied my curiosity last night at the Newton Country Players’ version (through August 14th), directed by Bill Doscher – and Doscher knows his way around musical comedy so the laughs are solid and the leads are strong, especially Nathan Lamont and Mary O’Donnell in the Pierce/Monk roles.

Lamont saunters blissfully on stage as the police detective (with a song in his heart, of course) dispatched to investigate the murder of a nasty leading lady on the opening night of a new musical. As you might imagine, the suspects are legion. Kander and Ebb spoof a number of musicals in CURTAINS, sending up OKLAHOMA with their “new” musical set in Kansas…and ripping Cole Porter’s theater anthem, There’s No Business Like Show Business, with a fabulous volley called It’s A Business (gloriously nailed by O’Donnell). And they strike a blow for show folk everywhere with a deliciously sardonic What Kind of Man [becomes a critic?].

Mostly, though, CURTAINS’ book (by Rupert Holmes) misses its mark, bogging down in too many iterations of the show within the show. To Doscher’s credit, his cast makes it fly, chiefly because of Chrissy Lamont as the vamp who sizzles in Thataway, a real Kander and Ebb foot thumper…and Laura Espy’s inventive choreography, most delightful when Erin Beaber as the ingĂ©nue “teaches” Lamont to dance: hop-step-step. The policeman awkwardly (and hilariously) plods through her instructions, then in two seconds, hoofs like a pro! Once he’s had a taste of the limelight, he even takes over rehearsals from the wonderfully conceited director (David Lucey). What an arresting guy!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Frills Quills by Beverly Creasey

Doug Wright’s decorated drama, QUILLS, about the Marquis de Sade and his tormentors, is getting a thorough going over by Bad Habit Productions (at the Cambridge Y through August 8th). Wright’s clever diatribe on the nature of evil doers doing what they do “in the name of goodness” takes a heck of a long time to get somewhere. When it does, in Act II, and especially at the surreal ending, it’s worth the torturous route.

The men fare better than the women in director Daniel Morris’ production––mostly because the Y space is cavernous and the female voice tends to be swallowed up so a good deal of the dialogue doesn’t reach the audience under the balcony overhang. Happily, Timothy Otte and Eric Hamel as the philosophical duelists, have strong voices––and even stronger acting skills. Otte’s tour de force as the joyously self-obsessed de Sade is reason alone to see the play. Hamel as his (self) righteous nemesis gives a chilling performance as we witness the monstrous cost of a cure.

QUILLS is not a play for the faint of heart as the playwright parades horror after horror before us, heaping cruelty upon cruelty to make his point. Kudos to Bad Habit Productions for taking on such a daunting drama.