Friday, December 30, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Cry Uncle By Beverly Creasey

Pre-revolutionary Mother Russia was Chekhov’s metaphor for all his plays: the loneliness of an endless landscape, the vast national disappointments and the overwhelming resignation of her people to a life of suffering. UNCLE VANYA (playing at Apollinaire Theatre Company through January 15th) is considered one of Chekhov’s best works, with its unhappy, mismatched couples and its doomed ideals.

Vanya faces the realization he’s been passed by. He can no longer tolerate the myopic status quo … and he is especially appalled by the presence in his house of a beautiful woman who cannot be his. UNCLE VANYA is full of characters confronting their futility.

Vanya’s niece has to face the fact that the doctor she adores does not return her affection. The doctor only has eyes for the “professor’s” young wife and passion only for nature, which he sees ravaged by “progress.” (Craig Lucas’s quirky adaptation turns the doctor into a late 19th century Al Gore, warning everyone about pollution and global warming. And Lucas tarts up the language so that characters speak in 21st century epithets. I’m not so sure it works exactly but it doesn’t do any lasting harm. The emotional struggles are what make UNCLE VANYA percolate.)

Artistic director/production director Danielle Fauteux Jacques had the brilliant idea of staging each act in a different part of the Chelsea Theatre Works so that when the characters move to a new locale, so does the audience. The first act is set in the garden so we are treated to a backdrop of breathtaking birches, painted by set designer Nathan Lee. His interiors, too, are so authentic that we feel we have been taken on an intimate tour of the twenty-six room estate. One of the salons is lit only by candlelight (again the genius of Fauteux Jacques), reminding me of the gorgeous orange glow Stanley Kubrick achieved without artificial light in Barry Lyndon.

John Kuntz as Vanya seems Russian to the bone, his magnificent desperation simmering just below the surface. (You fear it may erupt at any moment.) Ronald Lacey is thoroughly charming as the doctor whose feelings for birches and beasts, not people, somehow ennoble him. Marissa Rae Roberts manages to make the privileged young wife (to Bill Salem’s pompous windbag) eminently sympathetic, while Erin Eva Butcher captures the tragic hopelessness of willing sacrifice.

Even the smaller roles speak volumes in the hands of remarkable actors like Kevin Fennessy and Ann Carpenter. All the elements fuse to make this UNCLE VANYA especially memorable.

Monday, December 19, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW All Those Christmas Carols, God Bless Them, Every One By Beverly Creasey

I think I’d seen them all (but one): The Huntington’s, New Rep’s, North Shore’s A Christmas Carol: Each wonderful in its own way, all honoring Dickens’ genius. And now I’ve experienced the Hanover Theatre’s sumptuous production. Troy Siebels’ adaptation abounds with musical treasures and technical wizardry. Marley flies in to warn Scrooge! Thick fog pours onto London’s crowded streets. Menacing clouds churn and spark with lightening for ghostly effect.

Olde English carols fill the Hanover Theatre with song…and best of all is the organ. I was smitten even before the play began. There it was, centerstage, gleaming white with golden fleurs des lises… gilding the lily, so to speak. I thought I had been transported to the 1940s when Wurlitzers graced every theater and movie house. Music director Timothy Evans played lively dances from The Nutcracker ballet on that magnificent instrument and I was sold. Then it magically descended from view so the show could begin.

The Hanover production celebrates spectacle and the children in the audience respond to it. Not a peep, did I hear from even the smallest onlooker. For the grownups, Siebels’ version boasts some immensely clever touches, like the brothers of Christmas Present. The ghost always mentions them but I’ve never seen them before! And the surprise ending is a delight, as well. The Hanover production telescopes the action so that several scenes have been jettisoned. I didn’t miss Dickens’ lighthouse chapter but I did wish we had seen more of Fan and Belle. (And I wish the sound technicians could eliminate the unfortunate reverb.)

Dale Place as Scrooge undergoes a joyous reclamation after a harrowing night with the spirits: John Davin as the ferocious, airborne Marley, Tori Heinlein as the sweet voiced Ghost of Christmas Past, Peter Adams as the munificent Ghost of Christmas Present and the scary, silent Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, accomplished with frightening organ chords, swirling smoke clouds and Eric McGowan on stilts.

The Hanover Christmas Carol has many a pleasure, the Fezziwig party being one, with Ilyse Robbins’ spirited reels and Steve Gagliastro’s effusive wassailing to spur on the revelry. Micah Tougas, too, gives a memorable performance as the heartbroken Belle. Ross MacDonald makes a daunting Fred and Sean Patrick Hopkins a fine Cratchit. Bill Mootos, Meredith Stypinski, Laura DeGiacomo et al conspire to make this version unforgettable.


This is just my personal opinion. I’m sure many would disagree with me. BIG is the Maltby/Shire musical (with book by John Weidman based on the Tom Hanks film) about a kid who gets his wish at 12 to be bigger. It’s the be-careful-what you-wish-for kind of story. If the musical were more whimsical, it might be charming but as is, when a 12 year old boy starts canoodling with a 33 year old woman, to me it’s just plain creepy. So he turns 13. Big deal. So she doesn’t know his real age. Even so, the “ick” factor kept me from appreciating the songs. And since I’m carping, Saddam Hussein jokes aren’t funny anymore, now that he’s been executed.

On the plus side, Turtle Lane Playhouse has a hero in Mark Estano who stepped in to the “bigger” Josh role at the very last minute when the show lost its lead. He and Sebastian Hoffman (as his best friend) provide the sparks in the TLP production. Hoffman’s “Little White Polish Boy from Jersey Talkin’ Rap.” song is simply delightful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Rifling through Christmases Past By Beverly Creasey

I don’t think Jean Shepherd’s A CHRISTMAS STORY could have a more delightful dramatization than New Repertory Theatre’s. Director Diego Arciniegas’ witty production (playing at Arsenal Arts through Dec. 24th) makes Philip Grecian’s adaptation pulse with naughty nostalgia: It’s a look back at the good old days through a wiser, slightly sardonic lens.

Barlow Adamson is perfection as the narrator fondly recalling those “festering years of childhood.” We all recognize the bullies at school, the dreadful gifts from maiden aunties and the embarrassing parents. We’ve been there. A CHRISTMAS STORY cleverly manages to be totally charming even as it pokes fun at life in the Midwest in1950. Life anywhere in 1950 was bizarre. (I speak from experience!)

Bless them, Arciniegas and company mine humor from the nooks and crannies of the story, in addition to the comedy built in to the script: Take Santa for instance. Gerard Slattery as the scary Mr. Claus has a Sweeney Toddesque barber chair perched atop a department store mountain of snow. For a split second Santa contemplates pitching the children into the abyss below. Just for a second. Not to worry.

Owen Doyle, too, delivers deliciously caustic pronouncements as father. Poor man, even back in the ‘50s, women ran the show. Stacey Fischer is hilarious as the power behind (and in front of) the throne. Margaret Anne Brady, as well, gets extra mileage from her comic turns. I don’t know which is funnier: her undulating English teacher or her stint as a hardboiled Christmas tree vendor. Even Andrew Cekala, as young Ralphie, steals laughter by the carload as he ogles (and caresses) the shapely gam at the base of father’s prized lamp.

All the children are marvelous, from Cekala’s cheeky Ralphie, determined at all costs to get that official Red Ryder air rifle; to David Farwell’s obstreperous little brother; to Charlie Brodigan’s benighted Flick, lisping adorably after the incident with the light pole. Shepherd would be so pleased. Don’t miss out.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Jolly Roger! By Beverly Creasey

In case you haven’t felt the loss, I should tell you that Gilbert & Sullivan hasn’t been performed “often” in Boston in recent years – so a production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE anywhere is reason to celebrate. You only have to travel to Dedham to see the revival (of both the production and the producer, Fiddlehead Theatre) It’s a semi-professional collaboration with seasoned singers in the leads and a chorus of community theater regulars as pirates, police and pretty maidens.

If you’re not a Savoyard, you may have come to G&S via the movie, a comic tour de force starring Kevin Kline as the loveable, dotty Pirate King. Most productions I’ve seen since the movie have borrowed Kline’s “simpleminded” shenanigans. Since all art is “borrowed” to some degree, one might as well steal from the best. The Fiddlehead production does, but curiously, not for the King’s first appearance and his signature song! Better Far to Live and Die [a Pirate King] is sung, alas, without shtick. But once the talented Samuel Perwin embraces the fact that his character is a bit dense, he gallops away with the show. (I just would have preferred to see him with a running start.)

“Take heart,” as Mabel would say. After a shaky first scene (with pirates bumping into each other to grab their sherry) the Fiddlehead production gels and the company of eighteen manage to coexist on the postage stamp stage without looking trapped. They even dance on the head of a pin in Kristin Kuznezov’s clever, telegraphed choreography. The singing is solid and Brendan Shapiro’s orchestra is a delight, right down to Renee Hagelberg’s impressive trumpet contributions.

My favorite number, the exquisite Hail, Poetry is indeed a divine emollient in a mostly winning production. Director Margaret Fofonoff has first rate comic actors as the Major General (Ray O’Hare), the Police Sergeant (David Schrag) and the piratical maid of all work (Jo Jo Karlin). These accomplished comedians know how to get a laugh without mugging to the audience.

As the lovers, Michael S. Dunavant and Heather Karwowski sing beautifully (although Karwowski’s powerful “operatic” coloratura obscures Gilbert’s lyrics some of the time). Fiddlehead also gets remarkable work from Omar Najmi as the King’s first mate and from Melanie Leinbach, Margaret Plouffe and Maya Murphy as three of the Major General’s countless daughters. Experience it for Sullivan’s gorgeous melodies and for the wittiest libretto and lyrics Gilbert ever wrote.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW HIGH Society By Beverly Creasey

Reason enough to see Matthew Lombardo’s HIGH (at the Cutler Majestic through Dec. 11th) is Kathleen Turner as a foul mouthed nun at war with the world and her faith. Add to that the stellar performances of Timothy Altmeyer as the director of a Catholic treatment center and the astonishing Evan Jonigkeit as the addict who doesn’t want the nun’s help.

The material in HIGH follows the same sensationalistic formula you’ll find on television’s CSI dramas. You know Sister Jamie will unravel all the lurid details behind young Cody’s addiction like a dogged forensic investigator but what sets HIGH above television fare is her unorthodox approach. Lombardo wraps the story around issues of faith. “Fear of the unknown,” Sister tells the boy, “is the ultimate rush.”

Although the nudity and violence in Act I seemed out of character and gratuitous to me, Act II has a number of clever revelations and a thought provoking ending. Turner has a lovely prayer in Act II in which she bullies and bargains with God to “meet [her] half way.”

Alas, the acoustics at the Cutler Majestic made hearing a bit difficult when Turner walked to the opposite side of the stage. I wish I had heard all of the witty dialogue but the laughter on the other side of the audience and the silence on mine meant we missed that delicious delivery and some of Lombardo’s redemptive humor. Hopefully the powers “on high” at the theater can adjust the sound for the rest of the run because you don’t want to miss one second of that famous honey and molasses, sultry, world weary voice.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Rooms with a Viewing By Beverly Creasey

Jeffrey Hatcher has strung together three clever monologues connected by death, or rather by a particular funeral home (and mourners familiar to all three of the deceased). His play THREE VIEWINGS (at New Repertory Theatre through Dec. 18th) begins with an acerbic little piece about an undertaker who takes a real estate agent under his wing not for financial, but for personal profit. It’s a rather creepy practice whereby the agent can hand out her business card to the vulnerable bereaved …a sort of “Sorry for your loss: I can get you top dollar for your mother/father’s house now that she/he’s gone” arrangement.

Joel Colodner plays the funeral director so effectively that he makes us understand his desperate motives (He’s in love with the woman), something the second piece almost achieves but doesn’t quite. Christine Power plays a jewel thief who works wakes. She approaches an open casket, leans in to kiss the departed and off come the rings and brooches. Hatcher would like us to laugh as if it were Grace Kelly heisting a diamond necklace in To Catch a Thief. Granted, Power does have that cool, sophisticated demeanor down pat but Hatcher’s dialogue makes her crass and the ghoulishness of the whole operation can’t be undone, in my opinion, by a shocking revelation at the very last moment.

The third monologue has Mafioso jokes galore (not to mention a spam casserole) for the amusement of the audience but I didn’t feel that the mounting problems of a widow (Adrianne Krstansky) left destitute by a “wheeler-dealer” husband were to be taken seriously, given all the shtick. On the plus side, director Jim Petosa’s cast certainly keeps us interested and the hour and a half (without an intermission) zips by.

I’ve been thinking about THREE VIEWINGS and its subject matter. I saw the show at a matinee with an audience full of senior citizens who were not laughing at the “elderly” humor. Not at all. The younger members of the audience laughed heartily at the joke about rushing a cremation, for instance. I cringed. Maybe the closer you are to death, the less funny it seems. Maybe the more wakes you attend, the more appreciation you have for their power to comfort. Then again, I find Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One hilarious. Go figure.

Monday, November 7, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Wide Awake for this SPRING By Beverly Creasey

The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company has a hit on their hands. They’re currently presenting a smart and highly amusing production of the 2007 Tony Award winning (Best Musical) SPRING AWAKENING (playing at the Arsenal Center thru Nov. 12th). The Broadway tour wasn’t nearly this funny—and come to think of it, the orchestra was so loud on the tour that you couldn’t hear the lyrics!

The Steven Sater/Duncan Sheik musical is based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind which shocked audiences for its depiction of the sexual awakening of 19th century European teenagers. Even in 2011, the musical is shocking by Broadway standards, with its blunt, punk lyrics and its sardonic, explicit, sensibilities. Believe it or not, my favorite song is the hilarious “Totally F***ed,” the latter word rhyming niftily with “destruct.” The musical is best when it cuts loose (and loses the conventional musical format) and its characters all join in the exuberant frenzy, even the adults, who are for the most part unhelpful or downright despicable to the struggling teenagers.

Director Joe DeMita has a fine young cast, especially in Alaina Fragoso and Jared Walsh as the young lovers and in Ben Sharton as their tortured compatriot…and on the grownup side, in Linda Goetz and James Fitzpatrick as all the misunderstanding adults. DeMita places a majestic tree (of knowledge, of forbidden fruit etc.) upstage with ropes to entwine it and entangle the adolescents, to fetter them with old world values, with shame, with doubt. The metaphor works, thanks to the chorus who manipulate the ropes and amplify the scenes with gestural movement and dance.

Music director Steven Bergman gets fine vocal work from the entire cast and best of all, he maintains a perfect balance of orchestra and singing so each and every lovely lyric can be heard. Bravo!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Soho and Gomorrah By Beverly Creasey

Theatre on Fire certainly does have a way with British plays. Their cheeky production of Jez Butterworth’s MOJO (at Charlestown Working Theatre thru Nov.19th) will have you cringing and laughing at the same time, when a band of overeager underachievers try to muscle in on the emerging British rock scene. (MOJO won a slew of awards in London for Butterworth. He also penned last year’s Tony Award winning JERUSALEM.)

If David Mamet were English he might have written MOJO, not AMERICAN BUFFALO. Instead of Mamet’s rare nickel, the coin of the realm in MOJO is a pop singer the schemers think will make them all rich. Their colossal ineptitude is what makes these small time operators dangerous (and funny). Their brains are so scrambled from liquor and pills that they’re sidetracked at every juncture, turning on each other at the drop of a hat. Director Darren Evans gets that balance of menace and mirth exactly right.

MOJO reminded me of the film SNATCH for its sardonic humor and easy violence…and for its outrageous characters. (You may recall Brad Pitt’s brilliant, incomprehensible turn as the scrappy bare-knuckles fighter.) If you’ve seen SNATCH or any of the gritty British street films, you’ll remember that it takes a good ten minutes or so to accustom your ear to the working class dialect. MOJO, too, will have you treading water in the fist scene, as two wannabes fantasize about the fame they’re about to taste. Not to worry. The actors are so skilled that the gist is transmitted physically. Brian Bernhard and Keith Michael Pinault can hardly contain themselves, whirling about the stage in a frenzy of anticipation. It’s a tour de force. Even without benefit of language comprehension, there’s no mistaking that something is up.

What’s up includes mayhem and murder, something these penny ante toughs hadn’t anticipated. Butterworth wrings considerable humor from their puny attempts to deal with it. Greg Maraio is hilarious, morphing from gofer to mover and shaker, all because of a key. Gerard Slattery as their boss is wound tighter than a drum and Andres Rey Solorzano delivers the cameo role of the rocker at the center of the power struggle. All hell breaks loose when a local crime boss wants a piece of the action. Adam Siladi nails the role of the club owner’s crazy son (Not an easy task when everyone on stage is certifiable. He’s just a wee bit off their brand of crazy.)

Since MOJO (a nod to Muddy Waters?) references rock legends of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Evans sets up a live band to the rear of the playing area. They supply the rock background in the script and, to the delight of the audience, they perform Buddy Holly, Elvis, Little Richard and Billy Lee Riley tunes before the show and at intermission. Come a half hour early to hear their kickin’ licks. If you’re a fan of films like IN BRUGES or LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, then you’ll get your mojo working at Theatre On Fire.

Friday, October 28, 2011


High School students are the toughest audiences there are. They’ll let you know in a flash if a show isn’t working. You could hear that proverbial pin yesterday morning at Marshall Hughes’ miraculous production of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD at Roxbury Community College. The Roxbury Repertory Theatre’s production of the Harper Lee classic held that audience in thrall for over two hours (which sped by, by the way) and they gasped, cheered and cried (yes, hankies came out all over the auditorium, including mine) in exactly the right places.

The most surprising aspect for me was that MOCKINGBIRD no longer seemed dated. I’ve seen dozens of static productions but Hughes and company solved the prickly problems which usually make me cringe, chiefly the “white man as savior” focus. This time, Atticus Finch and the neighborly narrator seem all of a piece of the story’s fabric, not elevated paragons of “white” wisdom. This production has been so carefully thought out – and carried out – that every line registers and Harper Lee’s shimmering words linger in your brain. I heard speeches I had forgotten were even in the book. Every character now stands out in relief and the whole work resonates so soundly that you can’t help but think of the innocents on death row in 2011.

Every element meshes, from Mirta Tocci’s homage to the original book jacket (that gnarled tree branch) to Hughes’ ingenious direction (students are invited on stage to be spectators during the trial!) to the lovely performances, each and every one remarkable, especially the children in the cast. Some parts are double cast so at my performance I saw Jawel Zimbabwe as Scout’s courageous brother and Lee Carter Brown as the kindly narrator. Alexa Niziak lights up the stage as little Scout and Josh Sussman and Zimbabwe create lots of laughs as the adventurous boys. Cliff Blake makes the father/attorney less stiff than most actors do, so he’s instantly more human than icon, more father than disciplinarian. What a coup!

Another coup is Jeffrey Chrispin’s Tom. He certainly is a victim of the racist justice system in our country… but he doesn’t portray him like a cowering victim. Chrispin gives him an inner strength and in doing so, he makes Atticus’ explanation at play’s end practically sear into the ether (that Tom was “fed up with white mens’ chances”).

From Walter Driscoll’s thoughtful country sheriff to Lida McGirr’s addled old lady to Ron Murphy’s righteous, soaring voiced preacher to Emil Kreymer’s ominous, tortured villain to each and every character, this MOCKINGBIRD lets the story truly sing…and finally does Lee’s novel justice.


We’ve come a long way since the Boston premiere of Christopher Durang’s SISTER MARY IGNATIUS EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU. You may remember that the Catholic Church dispatched picketers to protest Durang’s “scathing” portrait of nuns and cried “sacrilege” in their Sunday sermons. They had no idea what scathing satire would be in store for the church. Enter a million productions of NUNSENSE and now THE DIVINE SISTER (not to mention countless serious works skewered in SISTER).

The music is awfully loud. The humor is awfully raw. The story is over ze top, wiz a German hit nun stalking an unsuspecting mother superior. It could only be Charles Busch’s THE DIVINE SISTER (at SpeakEasy Stage Company through Nov. 19th).

Aside from the lame jokes and religious potshots, what THE DIVINE SISTER has going for it is the fabulous Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffery Roberson) in the superior role. The plot is merely there so Varla Jean can slay us with her delectable double entendre and seductive, lingering double takes. When it’s funny, it kills. When it isn’t (during set-ups for more plot twists), you’re anticipating the next gag (please take that literally) and wishing there were more shenanigans for director Larry Coen’s hilarious cast.

I could tell you why Sister Acacius (Paula Plum) melts down like a demented movie star or why Sister Walburga (Kathy St. George) is gunning for Mother Superior or why Mrs. Levinson (Ellen Colton) abhors nuns. “I could,”…as Mother Superior famously demurs, “But I won’t!”

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Never mind Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Bob Fosse put CHICAGO on the map. Maurine Dallas Watkins’ play is the least important element in the blockbuster Kander and Ebb/Fosse “musical” vaudeville. The story (“Murder in Chicago is a form of entertainment”) merely knits the snappy production numbers together and showcases Fosse’s flamboyant footwork.

Karen Fogerty directs and choreographs the spunky METRO STAGE production of CHICAGO (running through October 29th) and it does look like Fosse for the most part, with his signature splayed hands, inverted knees, slumped shoulders and suggestive pelvic thrusts.

Kander and Ebb outdid themselves with CHICAGO. Almost every song is a showstopper and METRO has a solid cast to deliver the goods. Right from the get go Lauren Gemelli hits “All That Jazz” out of the park as the gorgeous double murderer, Velma Kelly. Her competition for favors from Mary O’Donnell’s tough prison matron is Monica Abdel-Azim as the enterprising, two-timing Roxie Hart. Gary Ryan as Amos turns Roxie’s long-suffering husband into a sweet, albeit “invisible” schlub.

What lifts the METRO production into the stratosphere is Ben DiScipio’s entrance as the razzle-dazzle lawyer, Billy Flynn. (DiScipio looks just like a seasoned Boston pol, confidant down to his spiffy, three piece suit and his million dollar swagger.) His “All I Care About [is Love]” noticeably ratchets up the excitement on stage.

Never mind the uneven sound (some of the performers project and some don’t) and the mugging during the trial scene (a crime for pulling focus away from Billy), do pay a visit to METRO’s CHICAGO for DiScipio, for the lethal Cell Block Girls and for Gemelli, who can electrify a song, backflip, click her heels together in midair and not miss a breath. Now that’s murder!

Friday, October 21, 2011


Historically, Aphra Behn was the first major female playwright of the English stage. Her work was written and performed during the Restoration (of the crown and of the theaters which were all closed by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans) but, alas, not today. She lies buried in Westminster Abbey with all the male literati (whose work is read and remembered but that’s a discussion for another day and another article).

Liz Duffy Adams’ tribute to Behn and the political intrigue afoot in the 1660s is provocatively called Or, (playing in a smart production at the Lyric Stage through Nov.6th). “Power needs poets and poets need money,” Adams quips but her historical comedy is best when it approaches farce. Adams has the eager playwright trying to finish a script while being besieged by interruptions. At one point she finds herself with an ex sequestered in a cupboard, a lover waiting in the next room, the King relegated to her bed chamber and a servant eavesdropping at the door.

One actress (the lovely Stacy Fischer) portrays Behn but two actors perform all the other characters – and sometimes simultaneously! Ro’ee Levi plays both King Charles and his Scottish rival who enter and exit so quickly you think you will see them side by side. (Shakespeare was famous for his “bed tricks” but the Lyric pulls off a nifty closet trick!) Theatrical heaven for farce lovers.

Hannah Husband portrays the canny actress Nell Gwynne (historically one of King Charles’ mistresses) as well as Behn’s loyal maid and an imperious theatrical producer (the actual Lady Davenant who inherited her husband’s theater company). Adams composed a hilarious, never ending soliloquy for Lady Davenant which Husband delivers triumphantly.

Director Daniel Gidron and company wring all the delightful humor they can from Adams’ script. It’s absolutely charming when the actors break out in rhyming couplets or barrel back on stage after a lightening fast quick change. Plotting and planning and getting caught is delicious fun BUT Or, just doesn’t have enough of it for me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


If you’re itching “to go to a late night picture show” you’re probably a fan of the ROCKY HORROR phenomenon. If you don’t know about the cult midnight movies (where audiences yell and hurl objects at the screen), where have you been?

Stage versions of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW are up all over town right now. The Turtle Lane production of Richard O’Brien’s adaptation plays through October 30th and stars Tim McShea as the voluptuous Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter. O’Brien’s version submerges the central narrative (it helps if you know the movie) but this isn’t Shakespeare. The songs and antics more than make up for the plot confusion. (Fans of the movie will find the pace of the live musical uneven without film editing to keep it zipping from scene to scene.) That said, when it cooks, it kills.

Here are my faves: Andrea Giangreco kick starts the show with her high voltage, take-no-prisoners “Science Fiction.” Brad and Janet (Kyle Carlson and Nicole Vander Laan) are sweet and adorably na├»ve but let’s face it, it’s the freaks who throw the show into high gear. McShea and cohorts Giangreco and Devon Greenbaum ratchet up the volume, nobly assisted by a ghoulish David Lucey as an alien Igor and Harry McEnerny as a mad German scientist (is there any other kind?). But it’s Harry Rothman as the wacky, wide-eyed narrator who’s the icing on the cake, out-dancing the gorgeous young ghosty things in “The Time Warp.”

Julie Ann Lucchetti’s choreography is hilarious, right down to the tiger claws in her warp, as are Richard Itczak’ cheeky costumes. Director Richard Repetta’s cast (for the most part) keeps the action hopping. Here’s a quandary. Some of the actors react to the hecklers in the audience. Some do not. In my opinion it works better when they acknowledge the insults. It’s a matter of rhythm, I suppose. Music director Matt McGrath would have something to say about that. His band (especially Cam Wharram on wailing sax) rocked the roof off the stately TLP building. It’s high time they did that time warp!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

PAGETURNER By Beverly Creasey

If you want to see what the New Repertory Theatre does better than anyone else, do not miss their astonishing production of Donald Marguilies’ COLLECTED STORIES (through October 30th). New Rep can take a small story and create a perfect storm where consummate acting, stellar directing and an elegant set (not to mention light, sound and costumes) come together to breathtaking effect. No matter where you sit, you are immersed in the stunning intimacy of the play. The unassuming title of Marguilies’ brilliant little morality piece belies its power and depth of emotion.

This seemingly simple story about a professor and a student will engage you in Act I with its witty banter and leave you aghast at the betrayal in Act II. COLLECTED STORIES has all the excitement of a high stakes showdown…with just two characters and the written word! Not since Abby Hoffman’s cheeky Steal This Book, has larceny paid off so well.

Marguilies sets the scene right from the getgo: Art, the professor/mentor tells her eager charge at their first session, is the exaggeration of truth…to which you add a crisis. With that crisis, Marguilies dynamites the touching relationship between Bobbie Steinbach (in a tour de force as the older woman) and Liz Hayes (in a horrifying turn as the student).

Even though one might classify COLLECTED STORIES as one of those “ripped from the headlines” plays, it never feels like it. Your mind may reflect for a second on the many actual instances you’ve read about but the story immediately draws you back. The credit for that must go to director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary for the delicate, sensitive bond between these two women…and of course, to Steinbach and Hayes for the clarion emotional tether they share. Steinbach’s exquisite pain is palpable when Hayes’ character “crosses the line.”

Jenna McFarland Lord’s gorgeous, floor-to-ceiling book filled set tells you all you need to know about the eccentric professor’s lifestyle (and nails the decade, as well). Tyler Kinney’s hip, New York, “unstudied” costumes, especially for the darker Act II (when Deb Sullivan’s evocative lighting tells us something is wrong) fit like a glove with David Reiffel’s undulating jazz. In short, all the elements merge to tell the story.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Transforming The BEE By Beverly Creasey

 I’ve always thought the William Finn/Rachel Sheinkin musical THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE was lightweight at best. The Broadway tour didn’t persuade me otherwise. Nor did the countless revivals I’ve reviewed. Ugh.

BUT DAWN BREAKS. I now see the light. THE 25th ANNUAL you-know-what is a darned good musical…and all because I saw the Next Door Center for the Arts’ luminous production (which will be hop, skipping and jumping through Oct. 22nd.) DO NOT MISS OUT!

Every song, every turn of plot, every flashback works! The Next Door BEE casts a (dare I say) spell of sweetness and has a depth of emotion I didn’t know was there. Director James Tallach layers the script with ingenious (but never over the top) comic finesse. His BEE doesn’t rely on the broad characterizations you usually see. (If you are unfamiliar with the piece, grown actors portray the young spellers.) The contestants in Tallach’s BEE are so completely vulnerable, you can’t keep yourself from feeling genuine affection and disappointment when one by one they’re eliminated from the competition.

Shall I mention the audience volunteers? (I really disliked that part of the show in the past.) I don’t know how they managed it at Next Door, but now it’s delightful. We couldn’t get enough of the poor gentleman, such a good sport, who hung in there and tried his best to keep up with the actors.

Why does it all work? The joy on stage is infectious. From Kendra Alati’s tour de force as the BEE hostess with the mostest to Ronny Pompeo’s surprisingly sympathetic turn as a nasal drip, from Keil Coit’s adorably wacky misfit to Sarajane Mullins’ sad, shy introvert to Mike Levesque’s hilarious comfort counselor, each and every character shines. Music director Brendan Kenney gets a big sound from the three piece orchestra and lovely singing all around.

Who wouldn’t love a show where Kendall Hodder as the stodgy vice principal invokes Freddie Mercury to illustrate a word! Who knew? Well, I do now!

Saturday, October 8, 2011


To call the Zeitgeist Stage’s collection of short plays by Tony Kushner “tiny” is a bit of a misnomer, although in Kushner years, at two and a half hours it probably is. His monumental ANGELS IN AMERICA (which is my favorite play, hands down) is a lot longer than TINY KUSHNER (playing at the BCA Through Oct. 22nd).

Where ANGELS IN AMERICA is elegant, eloquent and epic, these short plays are not. They’re mostly musings on famous or forgotten historical figures from another perspective, without the sweep of righteousness you feel in ANGELS. (More than a couple of lines will remind you of Roy Cohn and the angel(s) whisk you immediately back to Kushner’s masterpiece.)

The first little play has the promise of a high strung culture clash. An American beauty queen and an actual Queen meet up in the afterlife (on the moon!) but alas, Kushner chooses vaudeville over Sturm and Drang to wrap this one up. (This and one of the therapist pieces started out as riffs on obituaries for the N.Y Times Magazine year end edition.) Maureen Adduci is marvelously regal as the abdicated Queen of Albania and Kara Manson is deliciously loopy as the self absorbed, multi-tasking pageant winner. Director David J. Miller plays up the fiery chemistry between the two actresses but it’s all undercut by Kushner’s turn to song and dance.

Two vignettes stem from Kushner’s fascination with psychoanalysis (with an emphasis on the psycho). In one a patient who has just been terminated (the wonderful Craig Houk) begs his doctor (an exasperated Manson) to take him back. The irrelevancies of life have set him adrift (I must confess I felt we in the audience were adrift, as well). Kushner frequently visits the subject of ambivalence in a world without “absolutes,” as he does here. In the second, an analyst (Houk) complains to the recording angel in heaven (Adduci) that even after death, he’s still saddled with Richard Nixon for a patient. It’s a hilarious premise but then Kushner meanders hopelessly in speculation about Nixon’s abandonment issues.

Kushner calls out former President Bush in a searing piece (which really doesn’t need Dostoevsky) where the first lady reads aloud to dead Iraqi children about the choice between good and evil. Adduci as Laura Bush and Mason as the angel who brings the children to her make the scene resonate.

The one section of TINY KUSHNER which really doesn’t fit with the others is an odd collection of a thousand and one (it seemed like it anyway) monologues presented as if we were seeing a film in fast cuts. All the characters in the faux film (played by Victor Shopov) are delivered, curiously, in almost the same voice. It might have been a tour de force. Instead it’s just baffling.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Comedy Cut and Dried By Beverly Creasey

Robert Harling’s paean to strong southern women may be formulaic but STEEL MAGNOLIAS works like gangbusters at Stoneham Theatre. Director Paula Plum’s spirited production (playing through this weekend) showcases a passel of Boston divas who know how to deliver a tearjerker. They’re outrageous, sassy and full of piss and vinegar.

You can get a whole lot more than an updo at Miss Truvy’s hair salon. Harling puts hilarious banter into the mouths of these babes and “bless their hearts” they execute punch lines as if they were mother’s milk. What’s more, there isn’t a strident southern accent in the lot. (Here’s credit where it’s due: Amelia Broome is listed as the dialect coach!)

Kerry A. Dowling is the formidable mother lion/gossip queen, holding court with a blow dryer. Lydia Barnett-Mulligan is adorable as her oddball acolyte, with Kathy St. George and Marie Polizzano as the mother and daughter who always agree to disagree. Plum puts a nice edge on their relationship, steering it clear of the treacle most directors get stuck in. Sheridan Thomas is plenty prickly as the grumpy curmudgeon but it’s Sarah deLima as the “smart ass” mayoral widow who is the glue (or should I say gel) that holds them all together. DeLima’s barbs are so elegantly proffered, you think she hasn’t said what she’s actually said.

I’m not a real fan of the script but Plum and company tease out a warmth and camaraderie I didn’t know were there. Color me pleased!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Obsessing About This FALL By Beverly Creasey

Maybe it’s just me, but I spent a good deal of time at SpeakEasy Stage’s NEXT FALL (playing through Oct. 15th) trying to figure out details of the play – time I think I should have spent letting Geoffrey Nauffts’ script do its work.

Nauffts’ coy, little tragicomedy about the pitfalls of being both gay and fundamentalist Christian has a lot of mighty funny jokes to keep the audience laughing (jokes about emaciated yoga instructors, hairy gym teachers and people who name their children after spices) but jokes don’t necessarily move a story along…or develop “character.”

I tried my darndest to follow the story, which alternates between flashbacks of a romance strained by the compulsion to pray after sex, for one thing….and the hospital where parents, lover(s?) and friend(s?) now wait for news about the aforementioned, injured young man. Alas, I got hopelessly sidetracked wondering if the older woman (Amelia Broome) wringing her hands and babbling in one of those Jim Nabors southern accents* was the present wife or the ex-wife of the bellicose father (Robert Walsh).

And who the heck was the young man in the three piece suit clutching a Bible? Is it his? Is he just holding it for the mother? I never found out, by the by. I did keep finding holes in the story, though… which I thought clearly divided the Christians (mother, father and son) from the heathens (lover, friends). Maybe not. We do learn more much later about the Bible toting friend but not his religion, strangely enough. What we do learn (about his rug and his sexual preferences) doesn’t help at all. He’s only peripheral to the plot, anyway.

Nauffts basically sets up a La Cage Aux Folles tripwire: Will the Bible Belt Floridians find out their son (the charming Dan Roach) is (gasp) gay? Then Nauffts adds gravitas to the premise by excluding his lover (the wonderful Will McGarrahan) from any hospital decisions about his care. While I’m at it, how did the young man’s mother learn a key bit of information from the EMT who rode in her son’s ambulance? She was in Florida! This is New York City. The chances of locating the EMT are slim and none… Since I’m obsessing, why does Nauffts name-drop celebs like Richard Simmons and Paula Poundstone and then conceal Malcolm Forbes’ identity?

When my head wasn’t spinning, I did enjoy director Scott Edmiston’s playful give and take between Roach and McGarrahan and I liked Deb Martin’s marvelously acerbic friend/character but the parents were drawn as such caricatures that we really couldn’t see their suffering (until the lovely moment at play’s end when McGarrahan’s character comforts the father.) I liked the actors, like the director, too, but the play just didn’t do it for me.

* P.S. What’s with this predilection for channeling Jim Nabors’ Gomer Pyle voice whenever a southern accent is called for in a show? This is the second time in a month I’ve encountered that “gol-ly” screech. Nabors was funning. Southerners don’t really sound like that, do they?

Re: Above postscript. I stand corrected. I have it on the highest authority that real southern women indeed do speak like that, in a high sinusoidal cadence. Nevertheless, even if they do speak like that in real life, it's my opinion that on stage it comes across as caricature.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

To Rent or Not To Rent By Beverly Creasey

Going to New Rep last night has me thinking about rentals. When you rent a tux you don’t know who’s rented it before you. You hope it’s been freshened up. You can’t be sure of the fit and you may need alterations.

I do know who’s worn Jonathan Larson’s RENT most recently. In the last year alone I’ve seen three productions. Alas, the New Rep’s RENT (playing through Sept. 25th) needs some alterations before it can go to the prom. Perhaps it was opening night jitters but more than one or two singers were way off key. Maybe they couldn’t hear the orchestra (which sometimes happens when a show is rehearsed with only piano accompaniment until the orchestra arrives on opening night). Some of the performers weren’t sure of their lines either, and some weren’t sure of their staging.

Some, like Aimee Doherty and Robin Long, were cooking. Their “Take Me or Leave Me” was surefooted, righteous and intense. Cheryl D. Singleton, too got lots of laughs as a foulmouthed homeless woman asleep on a stoop, none too pleased at being disturbed. The wacky phone messages were delivered amusingly but “urgency” was sorely missing from the main stage.

And what’s up with the nudity? Director Benjamin Evett evidently wanted something fresh in his rental but there was no dramatic reason (or effect that I could see). Perhaps he was trying for the soul’s transcendence at death??? Angel becoming an angel??? (Most artistic renderings of angels, though, aren’t nude, are they?). If the reason were clear, it might have been acceptable instead of awkward and embarrassing and just plain bizarre.

Back to the tux. You’d prefer the wrinkles to be already ironed out. Same with theater. Maybe they will be by the time the legions of RENT fans buy their tickets. C’est la vie or, rather c’est la Vie Boheme.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A River Runs Through My Thoughts By Beverly Creasey

I’m of two minds about the Lyric Stage Company’s ambitious BIG RIVER (playing through Oct. 8th). Two big performances make it soar. De’Lon Grant and Jordan Ahnquist as Jim and Huckleberry Finn lift the musical out of its one dimensional moorings into transcendent territory. They’re sheer pleasure to watch.

But I’m afraid some of the staging (especially in Act I) serves to keep the musical earthbound. Huck and Jim are fully realized characters so why aren’t the rest of the people in their world? Now I know Mark Twain invented plenty of peripheral characters (and plenty of mischief) but the stage production looses something by embracing full blown parody. The Lyric presents Huck’s back story as caricature, making his caretakers, father and friends stock tropes (and shrill ones at that, as if Jim Nabors had been channeled for his famous “gol-ly” Southern accent).

Since the William Hauptman/Roger Miller musical already has two vaudevillians (who arrive one hour in), it seems to me dramatically detrimental to treat the early scenes as vaudeville. Act II, happily, offers more naturalistic characterizations (except for a Gomer Pylized Tom Sawyer). With real characters like Leigh Barrett’s sympathetic Aunt Sally and John Costa’s principled doctor, the whole story is fleshed out … and compelling. Take Nicholas Lee’s delicious cameo, singing “Arkansas.” He’s so sincere that we’re delighted. We’re not laughing at crass histrionics. We’re laughing at his innocence. Besides, Peter A. Carey niftily delivers all the buffoonery the play needs, spouting his slaughtered Shakespeare.

Miller’s lovely country music is at its best in anthems about the river. Jim and Huck’s glorious “Muddy Water” is even surpassed by the stirring “River in the Rain.” Music director Jonathan Goldberg makes every number count. Pity we couldn’t see the musicians who had us tapping our shoes.

Twain invented his famous “escape” story to soften the hearts of anti-Abolitionists so the issue of slavery is experienced mostly through Huck’s white eyes. We see other slaves as Huck and Jim drift down river but we don’t encounter them as characters, which is my problem with the musical. Director Spiro Veloudos has wonderful performers like Kami Rushell Smith and Nellanna in the cast and they’re only called upon to sing or march about in shackles.

I can’t help cringing, too, at the story of a black man at the mercy, and salvation, of whites. Granted the adapters were stuck with the original story but I can’t watch it without thinking of the countless spurious plays and films with just that plotline. And I recall the not too distant past when the only parts for black actors were maids, pimps, prostitutes and slaves. (Not at the Lyric Stage, I should point out. Look for their AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ later this season.) However, the big Hollywood buzz this fall is about the maids in THE HELP. Here we go again.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

An Artful ARCADIA By Beverly Creasey

I’m an unabashed Tom Stoppard fan. I love the mind play and the word games …or is it the word play and the mind games! Either way suffices. If you’ve never experienced a topsy-turvy Stoppard script, Bad Habit Productions’ ARCADIA is the one to see (@ BCA through Aug. 28th). The Bad Habit folks make the complicated absorbable, the complex illuminated, and the humor utterly delightful. (I’ve seen a number of “noisy,” over stylized productions of ARCADIA but Bad Habit plays it just right.)

If you have seen ARCADIA before, you’ll be surprised by BH’s luminous, up close and personal production (in any seat you’re at most three rows away from the action). See it for the dynamic young cast and see it for Alycia Sacco’s brilliant turn as the little girl with the insatiable thirst for knowledge. She’s the precocious 13 year old tutored by a handsome scholar (Greg Nussen) who, it turns out, is augmenting his scholastic duties by showing the women of the estate a thing or two. A. Nora Long is delicious as the haughty Lady Croom, an aristocrat with an eye for the latest trends… not to mention her daughter’s tutor.

When the story shifts from the 1880s to the present, Lady Croom’s descendants play host to a number of demanding historians there to research the estate. John Geoffrion is hilarious as a pompous know-it-all obsessed with Lord Byron. Sarah Bedard is his intellectual match as the authoress he dismisses at his peril. When the timelines converge, it seems fitting, not the least awkward, thanks to director Daniel Morris’ deft touch.

Stoppard creates a maze of ideas about philosophy and science, romance and intellect, whim and determinism but Morris’ production works these ideas into your frontal lobe without you even noticing. (His nifty one-set concept keeps the through line speeding along. It’s the fastest ARCADIA I’ve seen.)

Like Voltaire, Stoppard satirizes Leibniz’s famous optimistic assertion about “the best of all possible worlds.” Morris boldly places the satire center stage with two fleeting comic characters whose existence will prove vital in unraveling a mystery in the present day story. (Stoppard adores minor characters who take on major importance.) It’s a masterful stroke to make the characters so indelible in our minds that it makes the key to the mystery all the more satisfying.

Glen Moore and David Lutheran are marvelously absurd as the two buffoons, right up to their eyebrows! Moore raises his in a huff, forming the apex of a pyramid which exactly mirrors his oversized mustache. Lutheran’s eyebrows seem to tumble inward toward his nose when stricken with a fit of jealousy (His wife in the boathouse with the tutor.) What makes Stoppard’s work unique is this juxtaposition of high art and low comedy.

The entire cast is up to the task, with fine work too, from Arthur Waldstein as the omniscient butler, from Rebbekah Vera Romero as the flirtatious sister of both math wizard Nick Chris and the silent Luke Murtha (as the current aristocrats) and from Chris Larson as the 19th century landscape designer so taken with Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Just one small complaint: There would be no CANDIDE, no ARCADIA (not to mention any calculus) without Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The mathematician/philosopher referenced by Stoppard is pronounced with a long “i” as in “library.” When pronounced with a long “e” as in “leaf,” one might think the gent was that crony of Karl Marx some two hundred years later. But for that tiny flaw, the BH production would be perfection.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Just like the fools in Shakespeare, Beane in John Kolvenbach’s LOVE SONG speaks the unvarnished truth. He’s reduced life to the essentials: a cup, a spoon, a chair and a lamp. He sees conspiracy in just about everything. Witness the “redundancy of glassware” when you already have a cup. To Beane, even “a raincoat is redundant [because] skin is already waterproof.” Clearly he’s nuts but he does have a point. His lateral, literal thinking is unassailable: On the subject of skyscrapers? “Leave the sky alone!” Every environmentalist I know would agree!

Unfortunately Beane is miserable. The walls in his tiny room are closing in on him and his sister and her husband want him to get professional help (not that his sister is so emotionally stable herself). So what’s to be done? Love, of course is the answer, in whatever form it appears. It takes a while for his sister to accept that Beane is at last happy…and it’s that happiness, and its distinct peculiarities, which power Kolvenbach’s wacky little comedy.

Kolvenbach’s oddball dialogue has characters defining conversation (as “opposition”), deconstructing choices (with hilarious hypothetical conundrums) and rediscovering the origin of chemical bonds. It’s quirky, it’s delightful. Each scene is a surprise, with Gabriel Kuttner breaking your heart as the poor sad sack understandably reluctant to try “people.”

Liz Hayes as Beane’s sister is wound so marvelously tight you’re afraid at any moment she might spontaneously unwind in a whirlwind. Her journey to (relative) calm is engineered by Daniel Berger-Jones in an understated but sly performance as her husband. Georgia Lyman is deliciously off kilter as Beane’s tough talking, burgling alter ego. Director Risher Reddick and the ORFEO GROUP have a hit on their hands. Don’t miss it. It’s not often you come across a fresh, funny new play with something to say.

LOVE SONG runs through August 27th at the Charlestown Working Theater – with FREE Thursdays. You can’t beat that!

TWO ON THE AISLE: Sounding Off on Rogers & Hammerstein

She Said: THE SOUND OF MUSIC: How do they solve this problem at the Reagle? The dilemma being that most productions of THE SOUND OF MUSIC are so reverential that there aren’t any surprises left (especially for reviewers who have seen it umpteen times at Reagle and elsewhere). Not this time. This time THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a delight!

He Said: In Sarah Pfisterer, director Larry Sousa is fortunate enough to have found an actress with the energy and voice to bring life to what often can be bland and one-dimensional. She embodies the “flibbertyjib, a wil-o-the-wisp, a clown” a and we see the angel.

She: Sarah Pfisterer has performed the role of Maria at Reagle before but never so mischievously. That’s the director’s touch. Even the Mother Abbess is kicking up her heels.

He: Especially in the reprise of “My Favorite Things” when Jenny Lynn Stewart as the Mother Superior lets her wimple down! Maria’s joie de vivre infects the entire production… and the von Trapp children, who often sacrifice talent for cuteness, emerge as three dimensional, individual characters, toads and all.

She: This director escapes many of the traps (or should we say von Trapps) inherent in Rogers & Hammerstein’s overworked but beloved musical. Even the scenes in front of the curtain (so scenery can be removed and re-set) are charming interludes, with happy nuns and rambunctious children enjoying themselves.

He: The “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” scene, featuring the lovely Gillian Gordon and James Forbes Sheehan as the adolescents who fall in love, is now one of the musical highlights of the evening, thanks to Susan Chebookjian’s clever staging and simple but elegant choreography.

She: Gordon is a triple threat: She can act, sing and dance like a veteran and she’s only a teenager! Alas, less effective are two of the secondary leads. Neither Susan Scannell nor Rick Sherburne (as sympathizers) evince the cynicism or sophistication to represent the evil behind the compromise which enabled the Nazi’s triumph. It’s a wonder they were even able to annex Austria, judging by the Keystone Krauts who arrive on scene at Reagle to heighten the danger. The peril awaiting the von Trapps must be palpable and it just isn’t.

He: You mean The Drei Stoogen? We shouldn’t be laughing at incompetent Nazis. We should be terrified. More attention should be paid to characterization…and to chemistry. Perhaps Brigitta (the adorable Victoria Blanchard) saw more in the relationship between her father and Maria than we did. Patrick Cassidy’s best moment was the Captain’s heartfelt rendition of “Edelweiss.” He made it a truly moving expression of loss.

He and She: All in all, the Reagle’s SOUND OF MUSIC is a crowd pleaser. How could it not be with Pfisterer and seven consummate professionals as the children! Even the missteps pleased the crowd. When Jeffrey Leonard heroically vamped the same eight bars for five minutes due to a backstage technical delay, the audience clapped along in the generous spirit of the show. Then the moment was topped by a resourceful Cassidy, hilariously adlibbing, as the curtain finally rose, about “the same tune running over and over in his head for some reason.”

THE SOUND OF MUSIC runs through August 14th at the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston.  B. C. & J. D.