Saturday, September 22, 2012


A rich old lady with a mission. Two strangers. On the make? On the take? Or are they just good Samaritans? THE FAKUS: A NOIR (at the BCA thru Oct. 6th) isn’t really a whodunit as much as a who’s-doing-it-to-whom. Playwright Joe Byers applies turnabout fair play to the classic film noir scenario, muscling in on the confidence game with an out and out twist and lots of surprises.

Mum’s the word on the rest of the plot except to say that director Joe Antoun and the Centastage company cover all the angles in this stylish repurposing of the genre. Crackerjack performances and solid production values give THE FAKUS an authentic “mystery” feel, right down to the streetlamp and those ever present fedoras.

Bobbie Steinbach gives a raucous performance as the Catholic dowager in need of help to distribute her fortune to “pagan babies.” Paul Melendy’s entertaining swagger is surpassed only by his gymnastics as the “better menswear” mogul. Craig Mathers is yin to Melendy’s yang as the temporarily down on his luck aluminum salesman. Byers gets lots of laughs from the religious fervor they all muster to serve “the Lord.” Of course, nothing is what it seems to be. The delight is in the discovery…or is it the devil that’s in the details!

Saturday, September 15, 2012


If Clint Eastwood can “Talk to the Trees” (He actually sings to them in PAINT YOUR WAGON), then lumberjacks deserve their very own musical. LUMBERJACKS IN LOVE (at the Stoneham Theatre through Sept. 30th) is pure camp set in, where else, a logging camp. (Imagine if Charles Busch married ANNIE GET YOUR GUN to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and you’ll have some idea of the shenanigans in Fred Alley and James Kaplan’s hysterical musical.)

LUMBERJACKS is set in the Wisconsin woods, where men are men and “they have the good fortune not to have women within 200 miles.” Well, men may be men but they get lonely way out there and it’s a short hop into a feedbag dress, a swig of lineament and a fancy two-step around the campfire. But before you can say “pulp fiction” (the “romance” variety of which is what one of the jacks likes to read), not one, but two real women show up to throw a monkey wrench into the wood chipper, so to speak.

The humor is lame, non-stop and hilarious. The authors reference Charlie Chaplin, Henry V, Tiny Tim, Al Jolson and lest you think they aren’t going to mention Monty Python, one of the loggers answers a “how are you” with “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK.” The silliness almost wears out its welcome but LUMBERJACKS wraps up all the loose ends just in time. Director Caitlin Lowans keeps the pace brisk and the tenor just shy of over the top.

The music is delightful, with the performers acting as their own band. They’re a deft bunch, with each playing at least two instruments. Music director Steven Barkhimer lifts the music in the piece from slapstick to fine ensemble playing. Some of the songs (like “Shanty Boys” or “Little Black Raincloud”) sound like they could be part of the great American songbook.

Lowans' cast is remarkable. Barkhimer branches out from music directing to play the wacky, suicidal, chip-off-the-old-block Muskrat. (The litany of weaponry gone awry is reason alone to go.) His “Happy Lumberjack” song is a “rooty toot toot” hoot. William Gardiner is sensational as a character named Dirty Bob who just can’t resist a “Little Dress…Yes!” Mark Linehan is the fainting-est lumberjack in the forest, whose prayer song brings down the house (“Dear God, let me die a bachelor like you”).

The sweetest jack is Harry McEnerny’s smitten Moonlight. His romantic ballad “It would be Enough for Me” lurches from sentimental to homicidal and back so endearingly, you can’t help but root for him. Darcie Champagne is perfection as the object of his affections (both of them) and if you’ve ever wondered what goes on in a man’s brain, Vanessa J. Schukis is the formidable character who reveals the access code: “A woman draws on a little mustache and that gains her acceptance into the caveman fraternity.” Who knew?

 Erik Diaz’s set is a sight to behold, with gorgeous fir trees rising to the skies and a cabin (front and back) which makes you pine for the outdoors, mosquitoes be damned. Meredith Magoun’s costume trunk pays off handsomely, from Muskrat’s red long johns to the Kid’s hillbilly “get-a-husband” dress.

This environmentalist is thrilled that no trees were felled in the course of the musical and the only axe on stage is the axe Moonlight takes to bed like a teddy bear. To repurpose my favorite line from the show: “I never heard of [this musical before] but that don’t mean it don’t exist.”

Friday, September 14, 2012


I haven’t stopped giggling like a schoolgirl since yesterday, when I saw the Lyric Stage Company’s joyous production of THE MIKADO (playing through Oct. 13th). Gilbert & Sullivan operettas were mother’s milk to me ---so, to paraphrase Ko-Ko, “If I have a little weakness, it’s a passion for a night of [D’Oyly Carte].”

Savoyards in Boston have been bemoaning the absence of G&S, and the absence of Bob Jolly in the patter roles, for some time now. Imagine our delight at the reunion of director Spiro Veloudos (who kept the Publick Theatre full of raucous G&S) and Bob Jolly as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, in THE MIKADO.

Veloudos has a magic touch with Mr. Gilbert’s stories, enhancing the lyrics with topical references while always honoring the original intent of Gilbert’s political satire (which, in the case of THE MIKADO, skewers both the legislative and judicial systems). The punishment, for instance, to fit the crime of singing off-key now is to be stuck in a room serenading Tea Party Mormons (instead of the usual wax figures). The punishment for defacing the T with graffiti now is to be delayed on a B line train! (And we know how frustrating that is.)

Veloudos’s biggest coup of the production, though, is his interpretation of the Mikado role, which, now that I’ve witnessed it, I can’t imagine why no one else saw the opportunity. The Mikado is always upstaged by his future daughter-in-law but he usually glares and gets on with his empire business. In Veloudos’ brilliant imagining, the emperor is powerless in her presence. In fact, he’s a bit distracted, a bit confused at times, not fully understanding all the fuss.

What wonderful fuss there is in THE MIKADO with an executioner who has never harmed a fly (the glorious Bob Jolly), a whopping lie about performing an execution (backed up by the hilarious David Kravitz and the spunky Teresa Winner Blume) and a furious daughter-in-law elect (the incomparable Leigh Barrett) who thinks her fiancé has been beheaded.

He hasn’t been, of course and everything will be “satisfactory” in the end but not until there’s been lots of “laughing song and merry dance.” Davron S. Monroe is the wandering minstrel who is really the Mikado’s son. (I think his supple serenade is the loveliest I’ve ever heard in the role.) Erica Spyres is his sweet, silly beloved and she and Blume and Stephanie Granade are the three little girls from school who terrorize Kravitz. Rishi Basu is an imperious Pish-Tush and Brian Richard Robinson is anachronistically amusing as a secret service agent.

Act I has many musical pleasures (under Jonathan Goldberg’s direction).My favorites are Jolly’s “Little List of Society Offenders” and the Jolly/Kravitz/Basu trio which ends with a triumphant tongue twister (which is repeated at the Lyric, even faster, in the style of patter songs).

Act II has Timothy John Smith as the thoughtful, perhaps philosophical emperor who enjoys the goings on but doesn’t quite grasp the gist all the time. Hands down (or hands up, if you have stunning red nails like the emperor’s) he’s the funniest Mikado I’ve ever seen.

The production is packed with humorous touches like the “Mi-ya-Sa-ma” song which is now the Mitsubishi song and the completely wacky, gestural “How-de-do.” Even though I missed a full orchestra and I lamented not hearing about “wretched, meritorious B,” the Lyric’s MIKADO is the best balm there is for election exhaustion.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Running Amok By Beverly Creasey

The New Repertory Theatre transports us to Afghanistan this fall for a deeply personal story amidst political upheaval. Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel, THE KITE RUNNER, is getting a solid and heartfelt production, playing through Sept.30th.

Afghanistan has endured the heavy footprints of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Mongols, the British, the Russians and in recent history, the U.S. When the American ambassador was assassinated in 1979, the U.S. began supplying guns to the guerilla mujahideen. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan was Jimmy Carter’s reason for boycotting the 1980 Olympics.

Until then, what most Americans knew about Afghanistan came from British cinema, films about “heroic” battles for control of the Khyber Pass (which of course glorified the Brits). Then we started seeing Dan Rather’s news reports from the mujahideen mountain camps. We knew little of the Taliban and even less about Al Qaeda. Now we instantly know everything about war in Kandahar province but nothing about the people.

THE KITE RUNNER was the first novel published in English by an author from Afghanistan. It’s an allegory about betrayal and redemption as well as a psychological study of survival. Where war is impersonal, THE KITE RUNNER humanizes every blow. When the story begins, children are happily flying kites and dreaming of having theirs take first place at the festival. Amir is from a wealthy family and his playmate is the son of his father’s faithful servant. Hassan performs the task of kite running for his friend, meaning he watches the wind to see where a kite will land and then he fetches it, even if it has strayed to another neighborhood.

Hassan would do anything for Amir but jealousy fuels Amir’s resentment when his father pays more attention, he thinks, to the sweet servant boy. The consequences of young Amir’s hostility are tragic. Then war spells tragedy for everyone.

Director Elaine Vaan Hogue and company create a lovely tableau of colored kites aloft over the audience. Then they create the opposite. The brutality is just as vivid. THE KITE RUNNER depicts the cruelty most of us do not want to see. (That’s the point of the play, after all.) The New Rep cast executes both with remarkable detail.

Nael Nacer as Amir has the difficult task of redeeming his character after almost unforgivable transgressions. Luke Murtha radiates goodness as Amir’s self-sacrificing friend, Hassan, the kite runner. Johnnie McQuarley and Ken Baltin, as the boys’ respective fathers, convey their heartbreak without uttering a word. Paige Clark is stellar in a number of roles, especially the general’s daughter. She and Dale Place, as her strictly “old world” father, provide the gentle humor of the piece.

Robert Najarian’s staging of the violence is so effective, that I had to turn my head away. I found it too disturbing. I was bothered, as well, by the character of Assef, the villain of the story. We only really meet one villain (to stand in for all the villains, as this is an allegory) and he rapes young boys. (There are soldiers in the story who commit atrocities but, for the most part, they’re unrecognizable and we hear nothing of their lives.)

We follow Assef from childhood to adulthood, when he matures from a psychopathic bully into a rebel leader with henchmen who steal boys for him to molest. It’s that spurious, baseless stereotype that homosexuals prefer little boys. It’s as if the author wanted to make the villain as terrible as he could, so he threw that canard into the story. In my opinion, it mars the piece. Other than that, THE KITE RUNNER makes a powerful statement against war. There never has been, as Ben Franklin famously said, a good war or a bad peace.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW WIGGED OUT at the A.R.T. By Beverly Creasey

The first act of David Adjmi’s MARIE ANTOINETTE (at the A.R.T. through Sept. 29th) is marvelously outrageous: an inventive romp, full of cheeky, sardonic anachronisms. You know the story. Taxing the poor and exempting the rich. Wait a minute. This would be the French version of trickle down economics.

Being Queen, Marie Antoinette (Brooke Bloom) says candidly, “is like a long suck on a dry prune.” The King (Steven Rattazzi) is a child. Her subjects are restless and Versailles is so big that she keeps getting lost. So she builds a pastoral retreat on the Versailles grounds but that doesn’t make her feel better. Director Rebecca Taichman’s remarkable cast sprints through Adjmi’s wild and wooly exposition.

The heady goings on at court are abruptly cut off by a rain of terror, when a ton of black dirt pours down on the Queen’s head, descending with a crashing sound and fury (designed by Matt Hubbs and Riccardo Hernandez), covering the stage in a blanket of soot. In short, Act I is an ingenious mash-up, delightfully executed, with a bizarre talking sheep (David Greenspan), a hilarious, scantily clad, boogying staff of servants and that spectacular sooty special effect.

Act II, alas, is not.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

SHADOW OF A SHADE By Beverly Creasey

There’s nothing new under the sun, they say. They’re wrong. Luminarium Dance Company’s MYTHOS:PATHOS (at Arsenal Arts through Sept. 2nd and elsewhere thereafter) includes an exquisite vignette called Andromeda, beautifully danced by Melenie Diarbekirian.

On her lithe shoulders rests an armature of lights approximating the stars in the most distant galaxy we can see with the naked eye. (The metal candelabra reminded me of a medical “halo” fastened to the skull in patients who have broken their necks.) If anything, this halo seems weightless as Diarbekirian undulates through the sky. The theatrical effect of the slowly changing starlight is simply stunning. Merli Guerra’s choreography is, well, luminous.

Luminarium’s directors, Merli V. Guerra and Kimberleigh A. Holman, are fascinated with the effect of light and shadow in the performance of dance. Theater and film have long thrived on shadow and light. From Indonesian shadow plays to European dumb shows to rough shadowing in film, narration itself is delivered via shadow. Guerra and Holman don’t necessarily use shadow in MYTHOS: PATHOS as narrative. They’re more interested in the intangible power of shadow to limit what we see and focus solely on what is illuminated.

It’s risky to depend on your audience to have read and absorbed the playbill info ahead of time. The work ought to speak for itself without a show-flow in the program. For the most part MYTHOS: PATHOS does. It’s problematic in the “good and evil” vignette although the silhouettes and classical poses do conjure up a Grecian urn. (It also conjured up the dance parody from THE MUSIC MAN for me). Ditto the storm sequence, which took me right to the shadow choreography in 42nd STREET, especially when the shadow enlarges on the scrim. (Any piece of art these days, particularly because of the internet, is subject to the collective cultural consciousness. Things rarely stand alone any more. It’s getting harder and harder to be original.)

When MYTHOS: PATHOS impacts with originality, it’s thrilling. Holman’s PROMETHIUS, too, resonates with compelling ideas. When Mark Kranz and Jess Chang playfully exchange “fire,” in a white ball of light, it’s delightful and mythic at the same time. It’s child’s play and demi-god play in a single breath. The two dancers convey all that with their bodies. Tigran Hamasyan’s music evokes Bacharach at one point, giving Holman leave to indulge in some ‘60s moves as the two dancers play: I never thought before about the joy Promethius must have felt giving fire to humans. (The story usually rushes to his liver but not here.) What a pleasure.

The LUMINARIUM company doesn’t stop with unifying dance, music, sound, light, shadow and performance art. Guerra’s myth-related visual art installation covers the display steps in front of you as you enter Arsenal Arts building. Guerra is creative services associate for New Repertory Theatre which launches its “text and context” series on September 24th at 7 P.M. The lecture with LUMINARIUM is free and open to the public. In addition MYTHOS:PATHOS will be performed at Oberon on Nov.29th.