Monday, August 19, 2013


This was the weekend for theater set in the ‘80s with a Jewish theme. Bad Habit Productions’ mini-musical, ROOMS: A ROCK ROMANCE (extended through Sept. 1st) is a pop rock, stream of consciousness account of two twenty-somethings from Scotland, one Jewish, one not, looking for their identity. Gloucester Stage’s THIS IS OUR YOUTH (playing through Aug. 25th)—which should be subtitled “God Help Us”—is set on New York’s upper west side where two young Jewish men in their twenties have already given up the search for identity. They’re only interested in scoring women and drugs--- and money for more women and drugs.

I saw a production of THIS IS OUR YOUTH a few years back, which played up the comedy in the piece but director Lewis Wheeler’s harrowing production for Gloucester paints a much darker picture of these slackers. Alex Pollock gives a wonderfully gangly, physical performance as the twenty-nothing looking for a room somewhere to crash for a few days. He twitches and writhes in discomfort in front of a woman (a vulnerable Amanda Collins) and he’s palpably intimidated by his wheeler (drug) dealer buddy, played to psycho perfection by Jimi Stanton. (It’s one of the scariest performances I’ve seen in a long time.) Talk about downers. If this really was “our youth” back then, it explains the mess the world is in now.

If you haven’t seen a Bad Habit show, you’re depriving yourself of some solid, often brilliant theater. This month they’re trying something different from their stellar re-dos of familiar material. Daniel Morris’ quirky staging of Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon’s intimate musical, ROOMS, feels positively claustrophobic, in Emily McCourt’s dark, hazy lighting, with the audience only two or three rows deep, surrounding the two characters like voyeurs.

The story (boy meets girl, girl pulls boy out of his comfort zone, boy gets girl then gets drunk and loses girl etc.) is sweet and sad but predictable. It’s Goodman’s music that keeps ROOMS humming with clever lyrics which rhyme “harmony parade” with “the music gets made” or Goodwin’s cheeky addition to Sondheim’s “Every day a little death”: “Take yourself a little meth!” (What I admire most is Goodman’s ability to slip exposition into a song, so it doesn’t impede the momentum of the story.)

Ashley Korolewski and Michael Levesque are splendid as the foolish young lovers looking for solace in the wrong places: he, from a bottle and she, from an adoring crowd. The problem, he’s figured out, is that he’s Led Zeppelin and she’s Carly Simon. One of the best numbers in the musical comes from one of their many missteps, when they find temporary success as a punk duo called The Diabolicals.

Music director Antanas Meilus gets just the right balance between singers and band, not an easy task with drums and electric guitars in the mix. So often in rock musicals, the singers are overwhelmed by the music. Not so at Bad Habit. You can hear every delicious lyric and Korolewski and Levesque make you care.

Friday, August 16, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Samurai Sensation

 The Circuit Theatre Company has the talent and the stamina to stage Nathan Allen’s wildly imaginative fantasy called THE VALENTINE TRILOGY—That’s three plays at the same time—in three weeks! (through August 17th). You can see them all in the same day or see only one of the three, if you like. The theme of heroism connects all three but each can stand on its own. The first is written in the style of a Western movie. The second uses Japanese film for its palette and the third is inspired by superhero film noir.

I saw the middle “Samurai” story, CURSE OF THE CRYING HEART, an epic tale of loyalty, betrayal, romance and fate, which, oh so strangely…and quite wonderfully, features a rock band so that the hero can articulate his distress (“Sayonara, Sadness”) in song! Allen’s clever script is both send-up and tribute to the genre.

The rather convoluted story of curses, evil plots and spectacular interventions is brilliantly directed by Skyler Fox. We’re delighted right from the get-go, even before the story starts, when a large Japanese scroll unfurls (sideways so we can read it like a screen crawl) with vital information about a princess who is the only heir to the Japanese throne and the evil man who killed her father and intends to kill her. It tells us “the princess waits for a hero.”

Our hero (Ryan Vona) is the last samurai, a man with an exceptional sword (coveted by that evil man) which can vanquish a throng of ninjas in a trice. All the good guys, it turns out, are better swordsmen than those poor ninjas. Sam Bell-Gurwitz as captain of the Princess’ guards dispatches a half dozen villains before breakfast! (Fight choreographer Trevor Olds makes it look incredibly dangerous!)

Circuit’s cast is marvelously game, with Vona leading the pack as the rock star/hero, surrounded by the stalwart Bell-Gurwitz, by Madeline Wolf-Schulman as the spunky princess, Becca Millstein as the poisonous femme fatale, Graham Techler as the Princess’ unfortunate intended and by Justin Phillips and Simon Henriques as enemies of the state.

Edan Laniado and Natalie McDonald provide hilarious comic relief—and high flying stage effects (thanks to the ninja extras and some puppet legs) a la Ang Lee’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Liz Oakley’s ingenious puppetry enchants throughout the play, as does Christopher Annas-Lee’s gorgeous, grey, misty mountain range backdrop and craggy walls which open to reveal The Trick Hearts rock band.  

What more could you want? High drama, Low comedy, Secret Passions, Smashing music and words to live by: MAKE TEA. SIP SLOW.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Everyone knows that renting space for a theater production can be daunting so what’s to be done if you can’t afford the rent at the BCA or the Cambridge Y or the Factory? For a while, cabaret was alive and well after hours, taking advantage of someone else’s run. The shows would begin half an hour after the end of the show slotted in to the space. Even that cost something because staff and security had to stay longer. That’s all but disappeared.

What if you performed in a park in the daytime? You wouldn’t need lights and sets could be minimal. It’s already happening in the Lynn Woods (thirty minutes or so from Boston). I saw a lovely production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING which moved from clearing to bandstand to water’s edge for each scene. The advantage of the moveable Shakespeare is that you pay a lot more attention to the verse. Your brain and your feet are engaged and you anticipate each new locale. You can’t just sit back and let the iambic pentameter wash over you (or lull you to sleep). You have a stake in the performance and a choice of where to stand, which changes every ten minutes or so.

A few years back I saw a “laundramatic” play performed (with permission of the premises) in an actual laundry and a cafe comedy about a pick up artist, in a little coffee house in Brighton where customers had no idea what was going on around them. The element of surprise and the audacity of the performance made it delightful.

 What if you performed in people’s houses? Last year Theatre on Fire presented the powerful VINCENT RIVER (which takes place in a kitchen) in kitchens all over Boston. This year they’re presenting Harold Pinter’s nasty little indictment of tyranny called PARTY TIME in living rooms where the audience members are guests at the party.

Pinter drives home the price of a “perfect” society without the “mess” of poverty or dissent by letting us witness a half dozen or so well heeled partygoers sipping their expensive wine even as the police are rounding up suspects outside. Only one of them fears for a family member who has disappeared. The rest happily sign on to the repressive regime because they think it will make them safe. Director Darren Evans and company play up the sardonic, achieving a nifty resonance with our government suspending constitutional rights in the name of homeland security. Bravo, Fire ensemble!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Masterful MISERABLES at Reagle

Reagle Music Theatre has discovered the secret to staging a thrilling Les Miserables. Combine author Victor Hugo with director David Hugo…et voila! Magic! Coincidence or confluence? No matter. This production of the hit Boublil/Schonberg musical (playing in Waltham through Aug. 18) has fire in its belly. Every actor in the ensemble is a distinct, important character and every character works to transform the mundane to the memorable. (I’ve seen numerous Broadway tours without being impressed. Reagle’s production got my attention. Hugo and company give the musical a soul.)

Diretor Hugo’s magnificent tableux (in lieu of a turntable) conjure up visions of Delacroix and music director Dan Rodriguez’s orchestra summons up the passion deep in Schonberg’s score. The Reagle auditorium, in all its forty-five years, I’ll wager, has never heard an uproar like the screaming outburst at show’s end last Friday night, when the audience erupted in ecstasy. Something extraordinary is happening at Reagle.

Reagle’s m.o. is to import Broadway performers to headline their shows. Ivan Rutherford has sung Jean Valjean over 2000 times (Broadway, tours and regional theaters) and he certainly brings gravitas and grace to the role but Reagle regulars are right up there, giving the performances of their lives. Case in point is David Carney’s tour de force. He gives the leader of the student uprising clarity, nobility and swaggerand he sings with his heart on his sleeve, not an easy accomplishment. Reagle veterans Angela Richardson as Fantine and Mara Wilson as Eponine, as well, contribute gorgeous vocals to the mix.

Local performers like Rishi Basu, as the kind Bishop who rescues Valjean from the police, like Doug Jabara as Valjean’s obsessed pursuer, like Ross Brown as the handsome student who falls in love with Valjean’s daughter (Kathryn McKellar), all bring a palpable emotional power to the story. Kudos, too, to the many chorus and secondary character performers, who often play leads on Boston stages, but here support the ensemble: Kelton Washington, Kami Rushell Smith, Peter Mill, Matt Phillipps and Phil Taylor.

Friday, August 9, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Valley of the Dolls

There’s nothing like an infusion of new blood to get an old cause back on track…which is what New Exhibition Room has accomplished with their comic, ensemble-devised mini play, EEP! Show, about Barbie doll thinking (@ BPT through Aug. 17th). When you leave the theater, you’re thinking about women’s rights again.

Mattel has kept up with the times (Who knew?) by selling a “medical Barbie” and a “Barbie with curves” to satisfy critics who complained that the old Barbie dolls were influencing little girls to think they had to be thin and perfect (not to mention white). The NER show let’s us see the real woman inside “Barbie Doll Bride” and “Malibu Barbie” and their ilk.

Director A. Nora Long and company have a grand time showing us the physical limitations of stiff arms and no elbows: The dolls miss their mouths when they try to eat and fall all over each other, attempting to brawl. But the real women behind the Barbie masks worry about the anemic condition of feminism today. (Some pundits have even declared feminism dead.)

Why, NER posits, is a corporation functioning as a “person” when women can’t! We can’t even get an Equal Rights Amendment ratified. (I’ve often wondered why the Nat’l Organization for Women caved after the ERA was defeated.) So here are a group of smart women starting to talk about it, making theater out of it, and encouraging audiences to make a political noise about it. Hooray.

Sydney Barsky-Russo, who’s eleven, is a delight as the little girl with the Barbies who dreams about her dolls coming to life. Shalaye Camillo is deadpan hilarious as the medical Barbie, blissfully unaware that a baby doll is strapped to her arm. (There’s a delicious moment when it leaves the arm.) Dawn Simmons is wonderfully mechanical as the doll and touching as the woman who just wants to race cars.

Amanda Spinella is a lovely ballerina doll who, when she can speak candidly, reveals the residual pain and suffering dancers face off stage. Molly Kimmerling, too, explores the woman beneath the baby doll voice. Watching the dolls face reality is a crackerjack idea but it feels like a first scene, rather than a completed work. New plays are often works in progress. Here’s hoping NER can expand EEP!

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Imagine a dozen powerful Arabian horses, all in unison, surrounding a small figure center stage, as they ride together gathering momentum, in faster and faster circles never passing each other, until they stop and each horse rests his head on the breast of the horse in front of him in an exquisite moment of connectedness, beauty and selflessness.

The Montreal based CAVALIA has come to Boston with their latest spectacle, ODYSSEO, (cantering through August 25th) in the largest tent structure ever assembled, just off Rte. 93 in Somerville. CAVALIA has played world wide to some 800,000 spectators, showcasing Spanish purebreds, Lipizzaners, Holsteiners, Appaloosas, Oldenburgs, Arabians and Canadians along side human acrobats, singers, musicians and drummers.

Picture billows of silk floating in the air behind female performers standing up, as they ride against the wind like Valkyries, with left leg on one horse and right leg on another, Roman (chariot) style. You’ll see an “equestrian carousel” with horses dancing sideways in intricate dressage movement. You’ll marvel at the trick riders who can mount and dismount their galloping steeds forwards and backwards (and slip down one side, pass under the horse’s belly and reappear on the other side to sit in the saddle again!).

The lithe female acrobats fly into the air on ropes of silk fabric, which they knot and un-knot with their bodies like elegant contortionists. The male acrobats propel themselves through hoops and over barricades, then some on stilts (which look like Oscar Pistorius’ famous metal “legs”) jump as high as the horses.

This “odyssey” embraces the world, including an acrobatic troupe from Africa, who perform as consummate musicians and dancers, who can leap and bound to the sky, and who drum until our hearts are pounding with ecstasy.

CAVALIA adds lots of bells and whistles (which are impressive, to be sure) like an actual merry-go-round which descends from the big topand a pond for the horses to slosh throughand gorgeous, panoramic projected scenerybut it needn’t have gone to the expense. The horses, all by themselves, take your breath away.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW(s) By Beverly Creasey Wild and Woodsy Shakespeare & Tame Beach Party

It’s not the Forest of Arden but it’s mighty close when Arts After Hours sets their MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING in the Lynn Woods reservation (Sat. & Sun. afternoons through August 11th). Take your comfy walking shoes because each scene is played in a different part of the reserve, from the bandstand down to the water’s edge at Breed’s Pond. You’ll get in a good hike while you experience a lovely production, serenaded by strings playing sweet, elegant music by Gina Naggar.

MUCH ADO is a comedy of eavesdropping and even the travelling audience gets into the act, “overhearing” both sides of the drop: The speaker who is revealing a secret and the character hiding behind a tree who learns it. You may be standing next to Benedick (the charismatic Woody Gaul) when he discovers, he thinks, by accident, that Beatrice (the stately Lorne Batman) carries a torch for him. It’s all a set-up, of course, to match up the warring duo despite their determination to the contrary.

Director Hondo Weiss-Richmond doesn’t neglect the liveliness of the secondary plot (which some productions do) wherein Hero (a spunky Anna Waldron) is engaged to Claudio (the winning Sam Tilles) and is almost undone by a treacherous plot to ruin the union. Almost all of the performers can project loudly enough to be heard in the outdoors without losing the subtlety and rhythm of the prose.

The supporting cast makes each role resonate, from Steven Cosnek’s take charge friar to Bryan Max Bernfeld’s unrepentant bad guy, from Conor Seamus Moroney’s commanding governor to Arthur Waldstein’s despairing father. Roles that usually fade into the background here stand out in high relief, like James Tallach’s performance as Hero’s staunch defender.

Some of the actors double parts, so Tallach returns as one of the dopes who patrol the estate under Meredith Stypinski’s dubious leadership as the constable, Dogberry. As she so wisely misinforms, “Comparisons are odorous” so I will just say that this MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is quite something!

 Tame and Wooly BEACH PARTY

Heart & Dagger Productions and Happy Medium Theatre take on the 1960s with Charles Busch’s satirical PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (playing through August 3rd). You would imagine that those dreadful Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon surfer movies (What was Cliff Robertson thinking?) would be ripe for the picking but Busch’s comedy is so broad that it sometimes misses the mark. I saw the original movies back in the day and they were so bad they were camp even before camp was camp.

The Medium-Dagger folk take a good swipe at it but, really, the script isn’t as shocking as it once was. The real reason to go is to see Joey C. Pelletier as a fourteen year old girl who wants to hang out with the in crowd. He’s simply adorable as a Gidget stand in named Chicklet and he’s downright hilarious as the multiple, psycho personalities who emerge via epileptic spasm. Kiki Samko’s choreography is spot on. What a thrill seeing the frug and the watusi once again, not to mention the mashed potato and the swim. As they say in the script, “Chacun a son gout.”