Monday, April 30, 2012


The spirited Fresh Ink actors pour all their energy into Michael Vukadinovich’s TROG AND CLAY (An Imagined History of the Electric Chair), running through May 12th. They manage to create sparks in the L.A. writer’s quirky vaudeville about the professional and personal rivalry between the 19th century inventors Westinghouse and Edison.

The two fight over a woman, over the prevailing current (A.C. or D.C.) and they moan over their place in posterity. Westinghouse fears he’ll be remembered for the electric chair. He needn’t have fretted. He’s been guaranteed a place in our hearts for refrigeration alone. And no one connects Edison to the “chair.” (Once again, poor Nikolai Tesla has been relegated to the dustbin of history. Vukadinovich doesn’t even mention the man whose patents Edison (shall we say) borrowed.)

The clowns of the title are what electrify the play. The plot flickers (like the incandescent bulb) in fits and starts with a convoluted story about an escaped prisoner whose murdered wife understood more science than either Edison or Westinghouse...who was tricked in to a life of crime by Westinghouse’s actress/wife who is also Edison’s lover. Whew! BUT what grounds the play and gives it its humanity are the lovely characters of TROG, the philosopher, and CLAY, his beloved friend.

What impresses me most about the play are its politics. In amongst all the falderal is the notion of punishment, that it should not be “cruel and unusual.” (We’re treated to some nifty technical wizardry from Fresh Ink when the electric chair fires up.) Most of all, kudos to the playwright for his strong animal rights stance. Clay tries to rescue every dog she can find so that Edison cannot experiment on one more animal. Cameron Beaty Gosselin and Louise Hamill as Trog and Clay may be the “comic relief” in the show but they’re the heart of the play. They may be silly but they’re the souls we care about.

Director Lizette M. Morris gets fine work especially from Chris Larson as the hapless condemned, from Terrence P. Haddad as the pompous Edison, from Mickey DiLoreto as the posturing Westinghouse and from Renee Rossi Donlon as the femme fatale who drives the preposterous plot. The set is participant, too, illuminated, literally and figuratively, by Sean A. Cote’s three dozen or so vitally present, hanging bulbs.


Philip Ridley’s VINCENT RIVER has been meandering around Boston this month as a site specific theater piece. Since it’s set around a kitchen table, Theatre on Fire has been performing it in people’s kitchens and dining rooms (where there’s enough room for a small audience). The last performance was held in the upstairs space at the Charlestown Working Theatre so more of us could see it.

VINCENT RIVER has the feel of a late night confessional. It’s a gritty, all too familiar story of a brutal gay bashing---and the collateral damage it causes. More a “what-happened” than a whodunit, the piece is charged with desperate emotion.

A young man with a black eye (Andres Rey Solorzano) is drawn to the victim’s house and specifically to the victim’s grieving mother (Kelly Rauch). She thinks he knows more than he lets on and the two drink their way to the truth. Solorzano is all twitches and defenses in director Darren Evans’ shrewd production. Rauch, too, journeys from denial to devastation. It’s a heartbreaking alliance they form ---in a deeply disturbing play about violence against homosexuals--- superbly enacted by Theatre on Fire.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Ladies and Gentlemen: THE CUTTING EGDE is in Chelsea By Beverly Creasey

The Apollinaire Theatre Company in Chelsea has a track record any company on the other side of the Tobin Bridge would envy. Aside from putting Chelsea on the theatrical map (Most of us wouldn’t be going to Chelsea otherwise), Apollinaire finds the smartest, hippest plays around and makes them crackle. Danielle Fauteux Jacques is the genius behind it all. She directs, produces and she founded the operation, converting an historic, one hundred year old post office building into the miraculous Chelsea Theatre Works.

This month she’s at the helm of a searing comedy called SMUDGE by SNL’s Rachel Axler about a couple who definitely were not expecting their newborn to be connected to tubes for the rest of their lives. Yes, it’s a comedy---with serious ramifications. Jacques sets just the right surreal tone for the piece, aided and abetted by Alison Meirowitz as the astonished new mother, by Chris LaVoie as the fiercely protective father and best of all, by Michael Fisher as the hilarious, insensitive, gloriously inappropriate uncle.

Jacques will be receiving the Kenneth A. MacDonald Award for excellence this week at the IRNE Awards. As one of her former actors put it, “It’s about time she was honored.” We concur.

Monday, April 16, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Musical Take Off Takes Off By Beverly Creasey

THE FULL MONTY is a crowd pleaser. They love it in Stoneham (where it’s playing through May 6th). The matinee I attended was crowded with women of a certain age…and even older… and they were in stitches. It’s naughty but not too naughty. Raucous but not too raucous and it covers all the bases: Lots of sex appeal, a little death but surprisingly no taxes. That’s because all the factory men in Buffalo have been laid off. No wages, no taxes. What’s to be done?

As you likely know from the British film of the same name, the men witness their wives flocking to girls’ nights at a local club to see the Chippendales. They decide to do them one better by trying their own Chip shot and taking it all off. The Terrence McNally/ David Yazbek tongue in cheek musical boasts some winning numbers like “Big Black Man” (with the hilarious David L. Jiles, Jr.), “Michael Jordan’s Ball” (with all the unemployed guys), “The Showbiz Number” (with the incomparable Margaret Ann Brady) and of course the grand finale “Let It Go” (when they do just that!).

The rest of the show is filler, with some lovely songs but the heart of the musical are the guys who bond for a cause. Their scenes in service of the dream keep you interested. A wonderfully funny, deadpan David Costa is the guy who inspires them to strip for their supper in the first place. Michael Timothy Howell and Corey Jackson are the ringleaders who sell the idea to Steve Gagliastro and the rest of the unemployed guys at the plant.

Nick Sulfaro as a suicidal goofball and Andrew Oberstein as the benighted wall crasher add a nifty sentimental note to the musical. Danielle Perry and Jackson, too, sweeten the story and Ilyse Robbins provides the drama, when Howell’s character has to come up with child support or else. (She also choreographed.) Jim Rice’s band is top notch. There’s something about the intimacy of the Stoneham Theatre that just makes musicals pop.

Friday, April 13, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW No Place Like Home By Beverly Creasey

Playwright Kirsten Greenidge taps into her own family’s past for THE LUCK OF THE IRISH (playing at the BCA through April 29th) but it resonates large as a truly American play, the way August Wilson’s work does. Her grandparents used a “ghost buyer” to purchase their home in the l960s. In the postwar years, African Americans populated major cities but were restricted from moving into white suburbs. Neighborhood committees, real estate agents and state laws colluded to keep ethnic minorities out, practices which still exist today, believe it or not. Greenidge weaves this seamlessly into her touching story of pride and prejudice.

In addition to its charming (and some not so) characters, smart dialogue and historical punch, THE LUCK OF THE IRISH manages to capture what fear is like. Hannah Davis (Francesca Choy-Kee) is tormented by a letter which asserts that she may not be the legal owner of her home, the house her grandparents bought fifty years earlier through a surrogate. Greenidge nails the all encompassing gut wrenching that fear can induce. No amount of reassurance from her husband (Curtis McClarin) can stop Hannah’s doubts from surfacing. It’s a nice piece of psychological writing.

Poor Hannah is dealing with her son’s hyperactivity (He tends to bite first and play later), her beloved grandmother’s death (We meet her in flashbacks) and some mighty unpleasant communications from the neighbor who claims she was the actual purchaser and rightful owner. Director Melia Bensussen creates lovely crossovers for the present day characters around and through their counterparts in the ‘50s, making the flashbacks and present day action all of a piece. Key and McClarin anchor the story, with powerful performances from Nikkole Salter and Victor Willams (as Hannah’s grandparents) making it shimmer.

Bensussen gets wonderful work as well from Richard McElvain (now) and McCaleb Burnett (then) as the ghost buyer and Nancy E. Carroll (now) and Marianna Bassham (then) as his wife and from Shalita Grant as Hannah’s cheery sister, a spirited contrast to her frenzied sibling. (Two actors, Antoine Gray, Jr. and Jahmeel Mack alternate as the son.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Setting the Record Straight By Beverly Creasey

THE TEMPERAMENTALS (at the Lyric Stage Company through April 28th) is John Marans’ compelling and highly amusing story of the two courageous men who founded the first gay rights organization. Naming their society after the secret medieval Mattachines, these pioneers wrote and circulated a manifesto asserting the rights of homosexuals as citizens. This was in the repressive 1950s, mind you, nineteen years before Stonewall!

Although the play is a primer of sorts of gay life and restrictions after WWII, it’s mostly a personal story – and a moving love story at that. Harry Hay is a devout communist and Rudi Gernreich a Hollywood fashion designer (who would gain notoriety in the ‘60s for his topless bathing suit!). Together (Hay demanding; Gernreich persuading) they build a movement. Director Jeremy Johnson’s cast is superb: Will McGarrahan is a whirlwind as the impatient, acerbic Hay and Nael Nacer is all sophistication and European elegance as Hay’s polar opposite.

Victor L. Shopov, Shelley Bolman and Steve Kidd play everyone else, even female characters, with ingenuity and panache. Kidd is especially touching as the unassuming hero of a test court case. Part of the charm of the play for me was finding parallels to Boston in the ‘50s, right down to the clock tower where Hollywood homosexuals would meet. (In Boston it was the Gilchrist clock.)

What THE TEMPERAMENTALS (code for homosexuals) does not do is paint a historical picture of the violence rampant in postwar America (and unfortunately, still in force). Kidd’s character is entrapped and beaten by the police but an ice bag takes care of his injury. If only the cure were that easy. I wish the play had presented a more realistic picture of the times. Violence has been and still is, alas, stalking the movement.

I’m not comfortable about writing this but it’s too easy for people to think being gay was/is a lark. Even worldly (heterosexual) friends of mine are genuinely surprised to learn the extent of the ingrained and relentless violence. In my small circle, it has dogged every decade. As a child in the ‘40s and a teenager in the ‘50s, I saw my father and uncles (also code) with bandages, with jobs lost and spirits crushed. The ‘60s brought gangs of thugs who took an eye from one friend, teeth from another, broke another’s back, and in one brutal gay bashing, my friends and I were beaten and mauled by some drunken Boston College boys (who were easily acquitted by the corrupt Massachusetts court system).

The ‘70s brought violence to several sweet, gentle theater colleagues and the ‘80s took away fifteen relatives and friends when the Reagan administration refused to do anything about AIDS. In the ‘90s, the violence started to be publicized and public tide began to turn after Matthew Shepard was murdered but that tide is rolling back in the ‘00s as the radical right ascends. If this has happened in one person’s small circle, imagine the breadth and scope of the hate in the rest of the world. The wonder and pride (exactly the right word here) of all this is that we still can celebrate laughter and love.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Hunting O’Neill By Beverly Creasey

            The New Repertory Theatre is tackling a leviathan with their new production of Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (playing through April 22nd). You’ll find a different dynamic at work in this journey, from the usual father as tyrant and mother as victim. Father even calls himself “the hunter” (thereby making his wife the hunted) but director Scott Edmiston views the classic family saga from another perspective altogether.

In New Rep’s subdued, sub rosa production (where everything is either beige or white), Mother and Father are played more naturalistically. No more bellowing for the famous actor whose family was second to his career. No more dreamy morphine reveries for Mother. Karen MacDonald plays Mary Tyrone with a psychotic edge, moving from pitiful regrets to hateful harangues, mostly aimed at her husband. Gone is the pitiable addict whose hazy slips of the tongue reveal her bitterness.

Gone, too, is the bombastic thespian in Will Lyman’s portrayal of James Tyrone. Not even when he’s quoting Shakespeare. (That’s when we could be seeing the great actor). No histrionics at all. He’s more a victim of his wife’s accusations. Why? I think the director is turning our focus to the sons…in particular to the son who grew up to be Eugene O’Neill. He wants us to remember that this is the playwright’s story.

Edmiston has two remarkable actors to warrant the focus. Lewis D. Wheeler as the sniping, disillusioned drunk emanates pain and disappointment from every fiber of his wretched being. Nicholas Dillenburg embodies heartbreak and frailty (except when he bounds up the staircase to the curious outside entrance to the bedrooms) as the poetic younger brother whose energy has been sapped by tuberculosis. (How odd that the rest of the family didn’t catch the highly contagious disease.)

The two brothers are caught in a tragedy of epic proportions where truth hurts even more than deceit. Wheeler makes his “in vino veritas” scene scald so powerfully that you can barely watch him or Dillenburg. It makes you wonder how O’Neill was able to write anything. How ironic that his will was subverted by his last wife and the play he instructed not to be presented until 25 years after his death was produced three years later and posthumously won him the Pulitzer Prize.

Kudos, too, to Melissa Baroni who provides a bit of color in this sad, whitewashed home. She’s a breath of fresh air as the straight talking Irish maid. (Baroni has a little cottage industry going for her playing delightful Irish maids. You may remember her hilarious turn in New Rep’s BOSTON MARRIAGE.) Here she steals the show by almost falling asleep while Mary Tyrone rants about her idyllic childhood. I’ll bet she could have straightened out the lot of them.