Thursday, February 14, 2013


Alan Ayckbourn’s LIFE OF RILEY (at Zeitgeist Stage through March 3rd) begins with a seemingly unprepossessing British couple (Is there any other kind?) running lines for their annual community theater production. When their little troupe has to find an actor to replace a pivotal role, life starts to imitate art: Zeitgeist had to do the same thing this past weekend. Victor Shopov to the rescue, without so much as a ripple. He was letter perfect in his very first outing, at my performance.

LIFE OF RILEY takes a long first act (establishing everybody’s relationship to Riley) to set up Act II. Now my favorite play(s) in the world are Ayckbourn’s three THE NORMAN CONQUESTS—so imagine my surprise when Act II turns Riley into Norman! As you may recall, Norman spends the whole of the trilogy trying to seduce every woman in the play(s)…and in LIFE OF RILEY, he too arranges assignations with all the women.

I don’t know why Ayckbourn returned to the same well: Perhaps because when his middle aged women blossom under the influence of an illicit affair, it’s always hilarious. (Speaking of middle age, some of the actors were and others who were supposed to be, were decidedly not, which was distracting for me.) Ayckbourn’s trick, of course---and he always has one (and I can’t reveal it)---is quite different in RILEY.

My favorite performances: Maureen Adduci’s thaw from harsh and disapproving to soft and eager under Riley’s spell and Peter Brown’s shift from dense and accepting to masterful and interested, when he finally grasps the situation with his wife and the aforementioned rake. And Angela Smith gives one of the loveliest performances I’ve seen this year as Riley’s ex, lured back by the amoral Svengali.

Director David Miller again designs a charming garden for the couples to frolic and fight in and he moves the actors speedily on and off, although that first act could use a cut or two. Since I’m a diehard Ayckbourn fan and since Zeitgeist has developed a nice little cottage industry with his plays, let’s hope there’s another next season.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Irish Stew By Beverly Creasey

Frank McCourt’s THE IRISH…And How They Got That Way, at the Davis Square Theatre (next to The Burren through March 17) showcases six talented musicians in songs from the traditional “Torra, Lorra, Lorra” to Bonno’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Each sings, dances and plays myriad instruments in service of a revue, with a narrative surrounding each song.

Music director Jon Dykstra and company are to be commended for performing without those pesky body microphones which get in the way of many a show. It’s refreshing to see performers who can project and sing perfectly well without artificial amplification.

The musical part of the show is delightful. The narrative, however, is mighty thin in spots and of all things, is lacking much passion. (What’s an Irish show without pathos?) I kept wishing Brian Friel had written the prose. His Translations says more about what the English perpetrated on the Irish than any of McCourt’s “historical” skits, some of which, about drunken Irishmen had my Irish-American companion and me cringing in our seats.

Meredith Beck looks like she’s been plucked out of Riverdance or the Irish Women show. Her lovely voice and sweet flute dovetail nicely with Irene Molloy’s gorgeous harmonies. Janice Landry made my favorite song, the plaintive “Fields of Athenry” a heartfelt, sorrowful show stopper.
Dykstra, Andrew Crowe and Gregg Hammer (he with the requisite Irish tenor) make “The Ghost of Molly McGuire” a searing indictment of coal mining. The whole company pitches in for a rousing “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye.” If only director Danielle Paccione had interpreted some of the other songs as revolutionary anthems. (I guess I was pining for the old days when the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem would infuse their rebel songs with such emotion that you’d feel like joining up.)

Since I’m on the subject of what was missing: Toward the end of the show, they throw out a list of famous Irish and Irish-American writers and politicians and nary a woman on the list! Where was Flannery O’Connor or Mary McCarthy or Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976? And I can think of lots more. They got my Irish up, all right.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Valiant Vulgate By Beverly Creasey

The Fresh Ink Theatre is one of the few companies in town dedicated to presenting new work by local playwrights. Moreover, Fresh Ink delivers topnotch production values so that a play like Patrick Gabridge’s FIRE ON EARTH (playing through Feb. 16th) is significantly enhanced by a stunning production.

Director Rebecca Bradshaw literally takes a page from Gabridge’s script when contraband copies of the Bible are disseminated to the British population against the edict of the church: Books fly from all corners and heights of the theater to land on stage like a hail storm. It’s a dazzling gesture which equals the impact William Tyndale’s translation had on 16th century England.

Translating Latin, Greek and Hebrew texts into English meant that anyone, not just the learned clergy, could read and interpret the Bible. This, you might say, put the fear of God into the Catholic Church. If common folk could commune directly with God, there would be no need for an intermediary. Torture and fire were the Church’s weapons, burning Bibles and people as fast as they could apprehend them.

Gabridge makes Tyndale (Bob Mussett) the fulcrum of his play to illustrate the religious and political ramifications of such a revolutionary literary achievement. We witness the Abu Ghraib of its day, run by a nasty Bishop (Brett Milanowski), who tortures Tyndale’s associates in a desperate attempt to stop the unstoppable. 

We watch Tyndale painstakingly pour over word choices and constantly flee from pillar to post to avoid the authorities. (The History Channel featured a program on “secret societies” last month, including the Protestants who hid Tyndale and ensured the printing of his Bible.) In FIRE ON EARTH, Omar Robinson has the plum role of Tyndale’s printer/friend, Tewkesbury. He’s courageous. He’s angry. He’s hilarious. (Gabridge adopts the “Deadwood” trend in FIRE ON EARTH of speech peppered with invective --which I found highly entertaining.)

But Gabridge stops short of Tyndale’s demise and the dismantling of the church by Henry the Eighth, why I’m not sure. It would have been quite rewarding to see those bishops (Milanowski and Scot Colford) get their comeuppance. Instead Gabridge focuses on the drudgery of the work and the martyrdom of the associates (James Fay and Robinson) who sacrificed everything for the cause. End of play.

Ironically, history tells us that when King Henry read Tyndale’s treatise on Christian devotion, he had his rationale to break with the Roman Catholic Church and more importantly for him, to get a divorce. Alas, Tyndale had already been strangled and burned at the stake. Just two years later, his translation was sanctioned as the official Bible of the new Church of England! Why not a coda to tell audiences what happened?