Monday, June 24, 2013


What do you do after a tragedy like the Marathon bombing? Mourn for your fellow Bostonians. Donate to a fund. Visit Copley Square. Try to find something to bring joy back. Promise to make every encounter, every day a better one. Practice kindness.

But forgiving the bombers is not on my list. That’s what the Amish did in 2006 when a gunman entered a school house, sent the little boys outside and murdered the little girls, one by one, then killed himself. The Amish community brought food, comfort and forgiveness to the wife and children of the gunman. THE AMISH PROJECT (at the Cambridge Y Theater through June 27th) is playwright Jessica Dickey’s lyrical attempt to grasp the unknowable after the unthinkable has happened.

THE AMISH PROJECT is reminiscent of Moises Kaufman’s THE LARAMIE PROJECT because much of the dialogue seems testimonial, as if playwright Dickey had interviewed town folk and relatives of the murdered girls. At other times, the dialogue is internal, as if Dickey were privy to what the gunman (or his widow) thought about their Amish neighbors. And magically, we hear what the victims felt when they died and what they feel now that they reside in the spiritual world.

The Circuit Theatre Company production, lovingly directed by Alexandra Keegan, unfolds like a poem, the first stanzas chanted over and over: “Man enters a school. Man enters a school. Man enters……” Dickey introduces us to characters in hazy snatches: A little girl who loves hats (She even draws them on Jesus) plays with her older sister until her mother calls them in. Mother sews quilts and holds her girls close. Another mother seems distraught, scratching her own skin raw. The poem becomes dark, sinister. We can feel the change in the language, the rhythm of the piece.

Dickey has an ethereal style and a nice momentum going until she switches gears and the scenes (monologues) get longer. One peripheral character gets a whole story as if it were her play instead of the murder play, although a thread connects the two at the end. The outstanding actors make it all work, but I felt the play was out of joint when it ceased being poeticand when the end wasn’t clear: Gorgeous, hymn-like harmonies begin the play and at the hour mark, they return as if to book end it. It seemed to me that it could, should end there and thenbut peculiarly, there are ten or fifteen more minutes devoted to the widow of the murderer.

Dickey has lovely ideas in her play, like the notion that all the “fighting” we do messes up the world and causes violence. Swedenborgians believe in a similar imbalance that causes pain, as do many Eastern religions. One issue she did not raise, that I wish she had (and she had the opportunity since the gunman targeted only female children) is the frequency with which women are the victims of mass killings, like Newtown where all the adults who were murdered were female (teachers). What does that say about the value of women in this world?

Dickey’s play certainly benefits from Circuit’s remarkable cast (and from Adam Wyron’s expansive barn of a schoolhouse): Janett “Becky” Bass in multiple, male and female roles like the caring Amish mother, capable community spokesman and plucky high school student/ compassionate salesclerk; Mackenzie Dreese and Anne Kocher as playful sisters, delighting in their innocent dreams; Emma Johnson as the distraught widow of the shooter and Karin Nilo as the tortured gunman: powerful performances, every one.

P.S. I find plays which dissect violence step by step, extremely difficult to watch. Any time you turn on a television, that’s practically all you see: Real (news), imagined (CSI, NSA, FBI, CIA) and recreated (crime tv). This is the second play this spring I’ve seen about school shootings and, for me, it’s just too painful.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


There aren’t many places in Boston to see cabaret anymore. For those of us who miss Will McMillan’s “Cabaret Connection” and Centastage’s “Boston Sings Boston,” there’s reason to celebrate. The Central Square Theater is presenting “Never Far From Home: Love Songs About Leaving” (through June 30th) as part of their Cabaret Series.

Four stellar musical theater veterans (with in between patter by Lydia Diamond) inhabit a dozen and a half original songs, some by local composers. With direction by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, the consummate performers not only sing gorgeously, they emote like crazy. Brian Richard Robinson and Cheo Bourne make parting into sweet sorrow in Paulo K. Tirol’s “Memorized.” Bourne and Kami Smith ooze sexual heat in the kitchen with Deborah Henson-Conant’s saucy “Sous Chef.”

The love songs are well, lovely, like Hannah Cranton’s exquisitely touching “Leave the Moon On [ a little bit longer, please”] sung without an ounce of artifice by Jennifer Ellis. Tim Maurice’s plaintive verses in “Closer Than You Know” turn into a chilling lament, made beautifully sardonic by Smith (aided by Christina Stripling’s haunting cello).

But the songs which bring down the house are the naughty, cheeky ones, (of course) like Maurice and De’Lon Grant’s “Cast Me (expletive deleted)” or Henson-Conant’s hilarious “Complaining”: “What could be more entertaining…than sharing the joy of complaining.” Absolutely!

The band, headed by musical director/composer Maurice at the piano, with Zachary Hardy on percussion and Stripling on cello, add vibrancy and sophistication—and the perfect setting for some impressive new work. As Edna St. Vincent Millay wisely proclaimed, “Forget the epitaph. Take Up the song!”

Friday, June 21, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Titanic Performance at New Rep By Beverly Creasey

The good news is that Colin Hamel’s performance as JIMMY TITANIC (at New Repertory Theatre through June 30th) is a tour de force. Hamel and New Rep have ganged up before, most notably when Hamel stormed the stage as the incomparable, formidable, lethal lieutenant in (one of my favorite productions ever) THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE.

In the Tir Na company’s production of JIMMY TITANIC at New Rep, Hamel plays Jimmy Boyle, who helped build the Titanic in the Belfast Shipyards, then signed on to stoke the giant furnace and see the world. Bernard McMullan’s one man show (with endless characters) is a memory play of sorts set in the afterlife. It’s not your grandmother’s idea of heaven. The angel Gabriel fancies dirty tricks and the occasional shakedown while God fumes and sometimes behaves badly for “sport.”

McMullan’s construct has Jimmy learning his way around “paradise,” having become a bit of a celebrity by dint of his demise. A hundred years, and we’re still hungry for Titanic tidbits. Likewise, in heaven: The more spectacular your death, the more street (or should I say “cloud”) cred.

Within the play’s heavenly frame, Jimmy can remember his life and his death. He can impart his recurring “sinking” nightmares. He can give us tips about survival in the great beyond. He can meet (dead) people from all walks of life and any era. But the play doesn’t make sense when it leaves Jimmy’s world and exits the frame to take us to a newsroom or a Senate hearing. Without Jimmy in the scene(s), they seem out of place and they undercut Jimmy’s story. Mind you, with Carmel O’Reilly directing and Hamel acting up a storm, they almost make it work.

McMullan’s lovely closing (about the ship being the love of Jimmy’s life) clued me in to the Belfast theme, which is a grand, “through line” ideabut one which wasn’t there enough for me to trip to it, until Jimmy’s last words. Then the Belfast scenes all replayed in a flash, in my head. Maybe that’s the way Tir Na and McMullan want it to work.

It way be a bit long for a one-man show, but JIMMY TITANIC has many stirring (and lots of funny) moments. It made me remember Robert Shaw’s exquisite, harrowing monologue from JAWS, recounting the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in WWII. Not bad company to be in.

Monday, June 17, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Raucous Reversal of Fortune By Beverly Creasey

The Happy Medium Theatre tackles high British farce with Peter Shaffer’s BLACK COMEDY, (playing through June 22nd) a frenetic free-for-all best described by one of the attendees at a party, (happily for us) ruined when all the lights go out: “Everything happens the wrong way round.”

Shaffer employs a brilliant conceit (which I’m not divulging) to heighten the comedy. Now, it’s extremely difficult to keep a farce airborne. You need highly skilled comedians to hold the suspension aloft. Luckily, Happy Medium has one of Boston’s best actors, Brooks Reeves, in the lead. He plays British like mother’s milk (perhaps it was) and he plays comedy with the physical humor and timing of a Peter Sellers. He simply widens his eyes in terror and we’re convulsed.

I saw BLACK COMEDY opening weekend, which may be what accounted for a lack of comic momentum toward the end of the play. Maybe we were just laughed out! Maybe the pace will improve from running it more. What made it sag a bit, for me, were some of the female voices that could shatter glass in the top range. If the voices had been pitched lower to begin with, they would have somewhere to go other than earsplitting when hysteria sets in.

Speaking of hysteria, Mikey DiLoreto has a meltdown worthy of Gene Wilder’s in THE PRODUCERS and there’s a lot to love (and laugh at) in directors Lizette Morris and Michael Underhill’s valiant effort. They give it a good go, as the Brits would say. They come mighty close to liftoff.


Every once in a while I see something repeated on stage which gets my hackles up (You’re rolling your eyes. Or maybe you’re sticking out your tongue.) and I might not be complaining, had this not popped up (or out) in the last four shows I saw. Four different companies (including Trinity Rep, can you believe?) resorted to junior high school antics to articulate the frustration of a character.

Four out of the five shows I saw last week… that is FOUR IN A ROW had characters who stuck out their tongue at other characters whose backs were turned. Does that really work in a sophisticated show like CHICAGO? Sticking out your tongue as a show of disdain is simply not a very imaginative choice in real life and it it’s even less imaginative on stage. Surely there is a better way.

Now I’m afraid it’s a trend. Oh, say it isn’t so.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Spoiled for Choice By Beverly Creasey

You have to love Alan Ayckbourn. There’s always a gimmick in his plays, my favorite of which are THE NORMAN CONQUESTS. Like the NORMANs, HOUSE and GARDEN have the same cast in each play, one play in the garden and the other inside the house. But here, as Gabby Hayes used to say, is “the beauty part:” They’re performed simultaneously, with the actors madly sprinting from one exit in the HOUSE play to an entrance in GARDEN. This, of course, necessitates two theater spaces in the same building and a stage manager with nerves of steel to keep it all meshing perfectly.

I saw HOUSE upstairs at Trinity Rep (and peeked in downstairs at Eugene Lee’s gorgeous garden set for the other play) where Lee’s set for the indoors play reflects the ancestral grandeur of an old manor house, complete with oil portraits of earlier movers and shakers. Ayckbourn sets up lots of laughs and lots of seeds for future harvest but some (like the tragic demise of female forbears or the tantalizing mention of “Penelope”) never sproutleaving me confused because every tidbit usually pays off handsomely in Ayckbourn comedies. House (and GARDEN) offer an embarrassment of riches but plot isn’t one of them (nor is a satisfying ending).

Never mind those details. We’re treated to marvelous shenanigans when the current head of the estate is courted by friends of the Prime Minister as a candidate for office, buoyed by his father and grandfather’s service record as an M.P. All he has to be is above reproach, the one thing he is not. All hell breaks loose at a luncheon to cement the deal when his wife refuses to speak to him, his lover and her husband arrive, he drinks too much and a French film star on her way to rehab joins the party.

Director Brian McEleney gets hilarious performances from everyone but especially from Anne Scurria, who elevates the act of saying “no” to an art, from Stephen Thorne as the awfully nice, somewhat clueless best friend of the prospective politician (Fred Sullivan, Jr. playing exasperated a thousand different ways) and from Phyllis Kay as the inebriated French actress. Ayckbourn concocts endless mayhem to “obstruct the inevitable” but HOUSE does eventually end, sadly with just a whimper.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Razzle Dazzle Delights By Beverly Creasey

Hooray! The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston has gotten hipper. This summer’s fare is CHICAGO, followed by FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, ending with LES MISERABLES. Not a Rogers & Hammerstein musical in sight. (Please don’t call me. I love a R&H show but I’ve seen THE SOUND OF MUSIC at least a dozen times at Reagle…or at least it seems like I have.)

The smashing Bob Fosse/ Kander & Ebb musical, CHICAGO, is the longest running musical on Broadway for a reason: The songs became instant hits the moment they debuted and the dancing was pure, irreverent “Fosse” gold. Reagle’s CHICAGO (playing through June 23rd) is directed and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre who, himself, performed in the national tour of the musical. Broadway and national tour veterans Angie Schworer and Sara Gettelfinger star as the glamorous murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, with Rick Pessagno in the flashy role of their smooth talking, “can’t fail” attorney.

You expect the ringers to be good---and Schworer is delightful as the not so dumb blonde, sensational in her scenes with Pessagno, especially the “We Both Reached for the Gun” puppet show rag. Pessagno gives the show class and plenty of “flim-flam” in the bargain. But the story in Reagle’s CHICAGO is that the drop dead, show stopping performance belongs to Peter Mill. SPOILER ALERT! If you’ve never seen CHICAGO do not read any further.

Mill is, hands down, the best Mary Sunshine I’ve ever seen. Most performers in the role concentrate on the falsetto and not much else. Mill makes the character sparkle in addition to his vocal acrobatics. His Mary Sunshine is charming, not at all the nasty interloper favored by most directors. His character is so welcome that you can’t wait for her to reappear. Mill isn’t the only local who walks away with a scene. Maryann Zschau is a force to be reckoned with as the formidable prison matron (and a little bit Mama Rose), even if she doesn’t play up the lesbian subtext. And Rachel Bertone and company make the “Cell Block Tango” number crackle with erotic energy. (Bertone again wows us en pointe in “Razzle Dazzle.”)

McIntyre’s choreography hews mostly to Fosse’s brilliant, original work but sometimes it drifts into a “let’s play charades” style of “indicating” (as in the “All That Jazz” hall and brawl rhymes: hands draw a “hall” and fists up on “brawl”) when McIntyre substitutes easier, but less Fossesque, less pleasing moves for some of the performers. Sometimes it’s just odd, as “When Velma Takes the Stand” surrounded by cheerleaders and a recurring “arms outstretched” goalpost maneuver.
McIntyre does get wonderful work from the ensemble, with Jamal Rashann Callender a standout as Roxie’s infamous boyfriend/shooting victim and Katie Clark, Jaclyn Miller, Linda Neel and Lizzie Porcari stunning as the lethal “Cell Block” girls. Music director Dan Rodriguez makes the orchestra and singers complement each other seamlessly (and Rodriguez plays a sweet “Rock of Ages” on the accordion, to boot, during Pessagno’s slippery, smooth summation). Jeremy Fenn-Smith conducts the crackerjack Reagle orchestra.
See Reagle’s CHICAGO for Pessagno’s on-the-money Billy Flynn and for the locals, especially Peter Mill’s reason-to-celebrate Mary Sunshine. Talk about larceny. Mill steals every scene he’s in and some he’s not!

Monday, June 10, 2013


Time ran out for the courageous women who painted clock faces for the Radium Dial Company during the ‘20s and ‘30s, not knowing what their bosses knew: That radium poisoning was slowly killing them. Stoneham Theatre is currently presenting Melanie Marnich’s tragic drama about those very real women, called THOSE SHINING LIVES, through June 23rd.

Director Caitlin Lowans has assembled a stellar cast to honor them but alas, the first act runs awfully slow in setting up the relationship of the four women who bond over their deadly, iridescent work. Marnich’s play ticks along in hushed, subdued reverence, only breaking out of its somber tone in Act II when the husband of the principal character (the only husband or family we meet, curiously) gets to vent his anger toward their boss. The playwright chooses to let the women’s lawsuit (which changed workplace history) scream for them but it would have been satisfying to hear some righteous outrage in the play from the women themselves.

McCaela Donovan and Joe Short (who were dynamite together in Bridge Rep’s THE LOVER earlier this year) sweetly portray the innocent, hardworking couple whose lives are ruined by corporate criminals, with Short delivering the best line in the play, sending the fear of God into the company boss (Allan Mayo). Kathryn Myles is refreshing as Donovan’s mouthy co-worker and Melis Aker and Dakota Shepard are lovely as the other two unwitting dial painters. I wish we could have had more information about their lives away from work. That might have given the story more depth. All I could think of at play’s end was W.H. Auden’s poem about death and loss: STOP ALL THE CLOCKS.

Friday, June 7, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Deliciously DISTRACTED By Beverly Creasey

Do you know someone with ADD? Who doesn’t. Who isn’t? All our circuits are overloaded these days. Lisa Loomer’s cautionary tale of a comedy, DISTRACTED (playing at the Cambridge Theatre through June 9th) is a delightful send-up of the medical professionals who seem happy to rely on drugs to make children more “manageable”and the overwhelmed parents at their mercy. Now I don’t want to add to anyone’s stress, but this uproarious production is closing very soon so hurry, hurry to the Cambridge Theatre. Two hours of laughter is indeed the best medicine for whatever ails you.

The stellar script follows the parents (the deft Stacy Fischer and Nael Nacer) from pillar to post in search of a cure for their hyperactive nine year old (the precocious Alec Shiman). The surprise in Loomer’s satire is that the info we learn about ADD is right on the money. DISTRACTED is a delicious spoonful of sugar that gets the facts to go down, painlessly yet. Wesley Savick directs with his funnybone, making the jokes even funnier. Case in point is Steven Barkhimer’s meltdown, waving his script about, necessitating a visit from an unhappy stage manager (Dominique D. Burford?) to pull him off stage.

The incomparable cast features the wonderful Michelle Dowd as an exasperated teacher, an ADD expert, a kindly nurse and a fed up UPS deliveryman, hurling an enormous package in disgust. Debra Wise nearly steals a scene from Barkhimer (not an easy thing to accomplish) as a disinterested waitress who can’t take her eyes off the women’s curling match on the restaurant big screen. Screens are everywhere in DISTRACTED, with Sara Brown and Bozkurt Karazu’s videos reaping comic gold all by themselves.

Everyone, from Kerry A. Dowling’s clueless, nosey neighbor to April Pressel’s quintessential obsessive compulsive to Katie Elinoff’s inappropriate baby sitter, make DISTRACTED a hilarious antidote for our everpresent electronic enslavement.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Lovely LUGHNASA at Wellesley By Beverly Creasey

Nora Hussey and Marta Rainer’s bittersweet DANCING AT LUGHNASA (at Wellesley Summer Theatre thru June 23rd) elegantly captures the deep sadness and fleeting happiness of the Brian Friel masterpiece. I’ve seen funnier versions of the play but none as heartbreaking. Hussey has assembled a talented repertory company at WST and LUGHNASA fits them like the gloves the Mundy sisters knit to keep the family afloat.

The knitting and the teaching the eldest sister (a radiant Charlotte Peed) does at the parochial school in town, buys the flour for the soda bread and the sugar to make jam from the wild bilberries they pick. It’s a simple, lonely life for the five sisters whose childhood dreams have long since evaporated. Margaret Dunn (whose whole being brilliantly betrays disappointment and longing) is the second in command, closely watching over Elisabeth Yancey’s sweet, frail, too trusting Rose.

Angela Bilkic plays the only sister with a child. The boy’s father promises to marry her but Bilkic portrays her with a guarded resignation which momentarily lifts in his presencebut returns when he prattles on without any regard for her or their son, about his latest, long distance “destination.” Will Bouvier has a grand time boasting about his prospects and his dubious “omens.”

Will Keary is the son/narrator we meet as an adult, remembering growing up in this peculiar, loving, all inclusive Irish family. Keary also plays him (with a tender innocence)as a little boy, sitting outside on the ground, always looking up at the tall women who wash him, feed him, tease him and adore him. Sarah Barton gives a bravura performance as the prankster sister always singing (beautifully) and joking with her nephew, finding time to engage the child. It’s his memory which names the play, when the sisters forget their cares long enough for an exuberant dance to celebrate the festival of Lughnasa.

The dance is immensely moving but it’s John Davin whose performance takes your breath away in this production, as the unwitting catalyst of the story, the “Irish outcast” who returns home after 25 years. He’s the little boy’s failing uncle, suffering from malaria, faltering as a result of quinine poisoning from the very drugs he has to take to stay alive. He mixes up names, he can’t find the words he needs desperately to express his emotions; He has trouble finding his way around the house. Davin’s Uncle Jack looks so terribly lost when we first meet him, reaching out his hand for a word, like a beggar for alms: You could hear the quiet gasps from the audience (me included), profoundly touched by his plight.

If only we could have witnessed a reprise of the dance when the son/narrator closes the play with thoughts of memories as “mirages.” We, too, could have left under its “spell.”