Monday, October 28, 2013


Kirsten Greenidge’s SPLENDOR (@ Company One through Nov. 16th) unwraps in circles like an unwinding top, so that the townsfolk we meet at the outset come back and overlap with new people, all of whom add to the integral shape of a wobbly Massachusetts town. Greenidge’s Bellington, like Grovers Corners, becomes an intrinsic part of her play: It can haunt characters like Greenidge’s heroine, Fran Giosa. It can trap people, like Fran’s school chum, Nicole. It can even, as one character says, “hold a grudge.”

Director Shawn Lacount uses the playing space at the BCA to surround us in a sweep of stolen moments played behind the audience. We see snatches of connections across from us—or if we crane our necks, behind us—perhaps a kiss, a song, a hesitation—caught by a searchlight scanning the perimeter of the town. It could be our town, with its all important Thanksgiving Day game and its unfortunate store closings and uptick in unemployment and poverty.

Shame and regret seem to dog everyone’s footsteps in Bellington. Fran (a lovely performance from Alexandria King) really doesn’t want to move back. She has painful memories she just can’t shake. She also has a mother (a bawdy, blowsy Becca Lewis) you wouldn’t want to claim. Greenidge creates colorful characters like Greg Maraio’s big hearted patriarch, father to Nicole Prefontaine’s outrageous Lisa (who gets the most delicious lines!)

Everyone has a story, from Obehi Janice’s exasperated ex-school counselor to James Milord’s angry absentee father of Fran and her brother (a vulnerable Danny Mourino)….from Molly Kimmerling’s disappointed housewife/mother to Michael Knowlton’s disillusioned ex-football star/husband who’s having an affair with Hannah Cranton’s sad Colleen. And there are even more secrets and affairs bubbling to the surface in Greenidge’s bird’s eye view of America!

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Happy Medium Theatre’s gruesome BREWED by Scott T. Barsotti (bubbling through Halloween plus 2 days more for good measure) is billed as “a play about gatherings, sacrifice and the dark art of obligation.” Six sisters who do not get along plan to bury the hatchet for one night to reconvene for a dramatic announcement. They’re a scrappy bunch, brawling at the drop of a homophone, squaring off like gladiators, so you know it won’t go well. As Daniel Day Lewis famously intoned, “There will be blood!”

Director Mikey DiLoreto’s cast chop, stir and purée each other like master chefs, with especially harrowing work from Kiki Samko as the psycho whisperer, the only one who can calm their tragically truncated sister (a wonderfully wild Lauren Foster), from Lindsay Eagle as the spectacularly egomaniacal NASCAR winner and from Elizabeth Battey as the wacky, intrepid interloper.

Here’s my dilemma. The sisters aren’t witches because they would be able to do and undo spells if they were. Ditto if they were supernatural. What are they then, wreaking havoc and violence at every turn? I have it! They must be men!

Friday, October 25, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey SOLDIERS ON STAGE, FRONT AND CENTER Two Pulitzer Prize winning plays opened this past week—and both have soldiers at their core.

 WATER BY THE SPOONFUL, the second play in a trilogy, (@ Lyric Stage through Nov. 16th) tells the story of a wounded war vet, his mother and the people they reach out to (and shut out) while they all struggle with addiction and recovery. Lyric is also presenting a reading of ELLIOT, A SOLDIER’S FUGUE (the first play in the trilogy) on Nov. 12th and it’s free!

A SOLDIER’S PLAY (@ Roxbury Repertory Theater through Nov. 2nd) is an eloquent whodunit of the first order which takes place in a segregated army unit in the South during WWII. A sergeant has been shot and lynched and there’s talk about involvement of the KKK.

Charles Fuller’s A SOLDIER’S PLAY, although it was written some 30 years ago, seems just as relevant today for its themes of discrimination and corruption in the military. Fuller sets the play before true integration in the armed services so you have African-American troops under white leadership when the story begins. As we know, racism is still pervasive today …and now you can add sexism to the –isms which haunt the military. What makes Fuller’s play unique is how racism is turned inward to feed on the soul.

Director Marshall Hughes gets rewarding resonance from casting a female in one of the soldier’s roles. She plays it as written (after all, women in the army today are just “soldiers”) and you immediately go along, the ensemble is so strong and the story so compelling. Television and stage veteran Daver Morrison leads the cast as the army lawyer assigned to investigate the murder. Morrison gives a powerful performance as the cool captain who never loses his head, even when white superior officers try to have him dismissed from the case for being Black.

If you’ve seen the play before, you haven’t seen it like this. Hughes employs ingenious shadow play (on stage and on the side walls of the theater) to ratchet up the suspense and amplify the brutality in the piece, making it much more visceral.

See it for a fresh look at an important play and see it for the crackerjack performances: From Damon Singletary’s hateful, yet pitiful sergeant to David J. Curtis’ gentle, tragic blues strummer. From Geraldo Portillo’s seething dissenter to Bruce Drexel Smith’s toadying right hand man. From Ezra Stevens’ defensive corporal to Emerald Johnson’s earnest private. Everyone in the company contributes to this remarkable production.

Quiara Alegria Hudes’ WATER BY THE SPOONFUL has no plot to speak of, just a theme running through the juxtaposed snatches of story, where everyone who desperately needs something (although they might not know what it is) gets it. Hudes sees the details of life and death from a different, often amusing angle: Like the practice of smothering a funeral in flowers which will only die. “Death with your death,” a character muses…or her description of rock bottom as a “ rental Ford.”

The constantly interweaving action, and the fact that a good number of the scenes take place on an internet chat site (with stationary actors), make for rough going, despite the talented actors in director’s Scott Edmiston’s thoughtful production. Computer screens, as a rule, detract from the momentum of a play, although SOME MEN (at SpeakEasy a few years back) managed to make them hilarious. Act II moves much more smoothly because Hudes ditches the device for the most part and lets the characters connect.

Gabriel Rodriguez as the vet tormented by physical and emotional pain, excels in a touching, chilling speech in which he explains the title of the play. Sasha Castroverde as his cousin, provides the family glue, since the vet is estranged from his birth mother, an addict who now counsels other crack addicts on line. Mariela Lopez-Ponce as mother has a beautiful, frightening scene, reliving the family horror.

Johnny Lee Davenport even makes an IRS agent with no outside life charming. Theresa Nguyen as the addict who wants to find her roots has a lovely, redemptive relationship with Davenport and Gabriel Kuttner adds humor as the crack addict who won’t admit the scope of his dependency. He, too, will find a way out. Zaven Ovian as several characters provides the ghostly nightmare locked in the soldier’s conscience.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


National Public Radio just ran a story about gun clubs trying to attract women to hunting. All I have to say is that these men might want to think twice before arming an oppressed minority. At the very least they ought to go see Theatre On Fire’s cautionary EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR (@ Charlestown Working Theater through Oct. 26th).

When you think of revenge plays, you most likely recall the harrowing EXTREMITIES but EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR is decidedly a comedy, albeit one which addresses serious issues. Remember in CRIMES OF THE HEART when one of the sisters shoots her husband and then makes lemonade? Well, Lauren Gunderson writes in that vein to make EXIT’s righteous comeuppance sweet as honey.

The sticky stuff is how Nan plans to lure a bear to her trussed up husband, he having been beaned with a frying pan and secured with duct tape. THE WINTER’S TALE provides Gunderson with her title (and a character who will spirit Nan away after the deed is done). She even meets an accomplice theatrically: “Fate and William Shakespeare brought us together!” With a cry of “Let’s get classical,” they begin to reenact the abusive husband’s crimes.

Nan is a naïve creature who love rabbits and deer and chipmunks… and President Jimmy Carter. If she hadn’t married Kyle, she says she would be “saving animals.” Marrying Kyle, it turns out, was a colossally bad choice since he “kills things for fun.” And when he isn’t slaughtering wildlife, he’s beating Nan. Nobody is going to root for this guy.

Director Darren Evans and company keep the spirit of the piece light-hearted enough so that you’re amused but sardonic enough so that you get the message. The cast is a delight, from Mary-Liz Murray’s daft, empowered Nan to Samantha Evans’ off-the-wall reenactor/stripper to Cameron Beaty Gosselin’s stalwart BFF/protector to Tim Hoover’s dastardly hunter/husband.

Luke J. Sutherland’s macho set says it all, front to back, with critters mounted on high on one wall and a deadly arsenal on the other. Poor Nan didn’t have even one decoration of her own to speak of. “Love and justice” is all Nan wants. EXIT provides both niftily.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


New Repertory Theatre begins its 30thseason with Steven Dietz’ comedy of modern manners, RANCHO MIRAGE (playing through Nov. 3rd). New Rep is celebrating its long history of presenting innovative, thoughtful theater with new programs like the “Insider Experience” where audiences can venture behind the scenes, witness rehearsals and meet with directors and designers. And New Rep is joining four other theaters in presenting the National New Play Network’s “rolling” world premiere of RANCHO MIRAGE.

Dietz’ play takes three couples, all friends, through an evening of painful, cathartic, comical revelations. Act I aspires to be farce, although it’s not quite directed as such. And Act II means to be biting social commentary, wringing out a warm, fuzzy ending as testament to the power of friendship. For me, it wasn’t and it didn’t and the disconnect left me at sea, I’m sorry to say. And I always root for new plays. ( I liked Dietz’ SHOOTING STAR, about a couple snowed in at an airport, very much.)

 Saturday Night Live can handle material (like Dietz’ cringe-worthy jokes about losing a foot to a landmine) because Lorne Michaels and company perform in broad, over-the-top strokes. SNL gets laughs because the audience clearly knows it’s satire and the humor is meant to be outrageous. Style is all important in comedy. Not for nothing do they say “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” But when you place callous remarks in the mouths of characters you want us to care about, it doesn’t wash.

Director Robert Walsh seemed to want a (relatively) naturalistic tone to the acting, which indicates that we’re to take seriously all the issues Dietz raises in one small play. It’s quite a laundry list: International adoption, children orphaned and maimed by war, fetal alcohol syndrome, underwater mortgages, divorce, miscarriage, infidelity, Alzheimer’s, unemployment, religious fervor, betrayal of trust. I could go on.

Dietz reveals and reveals without much payoff, in my opinion. After sixteen bottles of alcohol had been emptied and the characters threw caution to the wind (“why not” one says) to tell each other off, it was nigh impossible to buy the feel good ending, especially the line from the churchgoer that “These are the best people I know.” If the play had been a sardonic romp, then that line would have worked and we would have gone away laughing and thinking what a mess the world is in, if these are its best and brightest.

Now for the good news. New Rep’s talented actors know how to deliver funny lines and they give it their all, succeeding in dribs and drabs. Lewis D. Wheeler brings a nifty Noel Coward style to the piece and Robert Pemberton, a jovial cynicism. John Kooi almost makes the play work all by himself with his hilarious, oddball cluelessness. The women, unfortunately, are mired in Dietz’ peculiar, mean spirited, convoluted dialogue.

Maybe it’s the fault of the sequester (which didn’t make it into the play strangely enough although they used yesterday’s date in the dialogue). I blame the government (which is my favorite line from the movie, “Truly, Madly, Deeply”—a script which, by the way, marries satire to sentiment perfectly.)

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Playwright Ginger Lazarus writes with an eye trained on burning contemporary issues. This time out she visits whistle blowing and military injustice. You can’t watch the nightly news without hearing references to information leaks from Assange or Manning or Snowden… and just as often you hear horrifying stories about high rates of suicide among returning vets… or the culture of violence in the military, especially against women. Congress, if it gets its act together about the fiscal cliff, has vowed to hold hearings about the prevalence of rape in the military and the commanders who would rather punish the victims and not the perpetrators.

What makes BURNING (at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre through Oct. 20th) unique is what Lazarus hangs her “burning” issues on, namely Rostand’s classic tale of unrequited, sublimated, substituted love, Cyrano de Bergerac. The present day “Cy” (Mal Malme), having been booted out of the army for violating “don’t ask/don’t tell,” now runs a little café/general store near the base where she spars with the military, reporting misdeeds on her blog. As you might imagine, this really ticks off her former superiors.

It burns her that she had to give up a successful career. The other burning matter is the flame she carries for a waitress/painter (Jessica Webb) who has just disclosed to the ex-sergeant that she has fallen for a young soldier (Ian Michaels). Before you can say “Mon Dieu,” the inarticulate fellow shows up at the café (David Miller’s clever, long stretch of a set) and begs Cy for help in wooing fair lady, just as he does in the original. Cy then substitutes her feelings for his in emails which create “the most human connection” Rose has ever felt.

Lazarus continues the parallels with Rostand’s story but she has an uphill battle to convince us that Rose isn’t hip enough to see what’s going on. Letters, we can accept, but the rest is difficult to swallow if we’re to believe what a smart, charismatic woman Cy tells us she is. (Loyalty-or the lack thereof becomes a problem, too, later on in a confrontation between the soldier and Cy.)

Lazarus has a lovely, humorous touch, even when the story becomes deadly serious. Director Steven Bogart and company handle the balance with aplomb. Lazarus gives a minor character (Zachary Clarence) a major dilemma when he is beaten up by gay-bashing soldiers. He has to decide whether or not to press charges or whether even to stay in town, making all the characters’ choices part of the whole.

The villain of the piece is Cy’s former executive officer, who has now become commandant of the base, partly because Cy publicized his predecessor’s indiscretions. Life imitated art in the matter of substitutions at the BPT when Alexander Cook stepped in for Steven Barkhimer, who was hospitalized hours earlier. Cook not only mastered the lines at a moment’s notice, he presented a fully rounded, fully frightening nemesis for Cy, a character we could hang Lazarus’ disturbing ending on.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


The first thing you see when you enter the historic Strand auditorium for Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s ROMEO AND JULIET (playing through Nov. 3rd) is Janie E. Howland’s ingenious “O” (as in Shakespeare’s “Wooden O.”) Some of the audience is seated on the curved stage so that the circular sweep of the “O” leads the eye to the front section below, where the rest of the audience sits. For once the Strand feels cozy! (You don’t even notice the empty, unused seats in the back.) Howland’s ancient balustrade on the weathered stucco dwelling where Romeo will scale the balcony (for the best gravity defying kiss of any R&J production I’ve seen) adds immeasurably to the authentic 16th century atmosphere of the piece.

Directors Bobbie Steinbach and Allyn Burrows have made more than a few clever changes to the staging (and the text): The duels which are almost always staged with swordplay are now fought with knives, conjuring up rival gang warfare. Kathleen Doyle’s inventive costumes are a grand mix of classic and contemporary, emphasizing the timelessness of the story: Needless feuds are causing violence, in families and factions all over the world even today, especially today, so the directors draw the audience in, with an almost magnetic force. Actors stride the aisles, turn verse into rap and high-five people in the audience when a point is well taken.

ASP also takes a couple of certainties and tweaks them for wonderful effect: One, at the end, is a very effective surprise—which I won’t reveal. The other is the impact of Romeo’s comrade, Mercutio. Mind you, he’s always vital to the action but Maurice Emmanuel Parent makes him the star. He’s the one who sets the tragedy in motion and he’s the one who curses the two houses of Montague and Capulet.

He struts about, hooting and caterwauling and he even dances “with catlike tread.” (Doyle gives him a mask for the ball with feathers sticking up like ears!) You cannot take your eyes off him for a moment because you might miss his marvelous antics, up and down the Capulet stairs, over and across the passageway behind the balcony. He’s a whirlwind. He makes you pay attention to Shakespeare’s glorious language, delivering the Queen Mab speech with a flourish. How about that!

I don’t mean to neglect Romeo, a sincere and athletic (the kiss!) Jason Bowen and Juliet, a lovely, effusive Julie Ann Earls. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t have Ken Baltin as Juliet’s commanding father or Paige Clark as a perky Benvolio (here Benvolia so she and Mercutio can be “off to bed” and it means something entirely new!)

The directors have reassigned some speeches and ditched a number of characters, including the Montague parents—and I, for one, didn’t miss them at all. Paula Langton is a much younger, more flirtatious Nurse than I’m used to and Miranda Craigwell becomes Lord Capulet’s “trophy wife”—odd but interesting choices—but one decision left me flummoxed. Why doesn’t Romeo hold Mercutio back so that Tybalt (a headstrong Omar Robinson) has the terrible opportunity to skewer him? Much recrimination hinges thereon, methinks… but they must have a reason for changing it.

The best thing about ASP’s ROMEO AND JULIET is the visceral hold it has on the audience. You’re shocked, excited and delighted with the humor (too often neglected) Shakespeare uses to tell the story of sublime, reckless, impetuous youth.

Monday, October 7, 2013

THEATER REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Imaginary Beasts’ MATCHLESS MAGIC

When asked to name the best play(s) I’ve ever seen, I always cited two, both original pieces based on literary works: NYC’s (now defunct) LION Theatre Company’s K (a portrait of excruciating alienation provoked by the life and work of Kafka) and Boston’s (now relocated to Ashland) DOUBLE EDGE Theatre’s SONG OF ABSENCE (an exquisitely painful reimagining of the Holocaust, inspired, among other things, by the writings of Bruno Schultz). I admire—and remain dazzled—by both because of their passion, their ideas, their intellectual resources and their capacity to astonish.

I saw the two over thirty years ago and often despaired that they had no successor…until now. Imaginary Beasts finds unorthodox, multi-disciplinary, visionary ways to interpret material as traditional as the Thornton Wilder MINIATURES they transformed last spring—or the Gothic, erotic HAIRY TALES of British novelist/feminist Angela Carter, playing right now through Oct. 26th (at the Boston Center for the Arts).

We may not be so familiar with Carter across the pond but The London Times named her tenth in their list of “The 50 greatest British writers.” She died in 1992 at the age of fifty-one, famous for her novels, short stories and anthologies of fairy tales from around the world. Imaginary Beasts has chosen three dramatizations from among a series of her radio plays. Two comprise their evening offerings and a third, a “family friendly” presentation of Carter’s PUSS IN BOOTS, (which I haven’t seen yet) plays matinees.

Of the two evening shows on the same bill, the first, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, is what you might call a stylized “horror” story with a twist, about women and their infinite attraction to wolves. Some of these beasts “slip through” the space-time dimension when the solstice alters the moon and the tides are pulled backwards. You may not recognize them because their fur grows not on the outside but on the inside. (Only a mono-brow distinguishes them from ordinary men!) Some are classic werewolves and some, like Little Red Riding Hood’s nemesis, just need a woman’s touch.

Lovely stomping, clapping, jumping choreography by Kiki Samko has the villagers dancing a reel, unaware of the shadows surrounding their exuberant celebration. Director Matthew Woods and company have found a delightful, inventive theatrical “language” with which to tell a story. Two actors, back to back, lock arms to become a four legged creature. Another becomes a ticking clock with outstretched arms for the hands. (A swinging pendulum is supplied by another.) Two more position themselves so that we see only the isolated head of one and just the body of the other, to add up to one “headless horseman” of a corpse.

Woods has gathered an incomparable troupe of actors to inhabit both animate and inanimate roles. Lorna Nogueira is wonderful as the eccentric granny whose wolf tales become more and more lurid as the play goes on… creating an otherworldly, ethereal atmosphere, as if a fog were surrounding the stage. Erin Butcher is spellbinding as Little Red, the strange child who knows no fear. Michael Underhill’s wolf certainly has met his match. Likewise William Schuller and Poormina Kirby as a hairy handed gent and his unsuspecting wife. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES has a nifty feminist slant so that the women as well as the wolves, undergo a transformation, from victim to victor.

The piece de resistance, however, is the second play, VAMPIRELLA (Lady of the House of Love). Your breath will be taken away by the confluence of images in the play. From Joey Pelletier’s racing, tiptoeing, begging handed, lantern bearing Nosferatu (Woods pays tribute in VAMPIRELLA both to Murnau and to the original magic lantern “moving pictures”)… to Michael Underhill’s hilariously droll Brit peddling madly through the Carpathian mountains on a wild hula hoop bicycle….to Amy Meyer’s weightless, gravity defying form sliding down Dierdre Benson’s door-wall-platform-table-bed…to William Schuller’s taller-than-life Vlad, able to penetrate a castle wall at will…to Poormina Kirby’s helpless, blind bird, caged in Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s inverted hooped skirt armature (Talbot-Minkin’s costumes are extraordinary creations)…to Kamelia Aly’s bloodthirsty governess (Attend the tale of Sawney Beene!)....I could go on and on.

Woods’ savagely beautiful set design/direction (not to mention Sam Beebe’s haunting music and Chris Bocchiaro’s chiaroscuro lighting) makes you wonder how Carter’s gorgeous language (“corridors as circuitous as passages inside the ear”) could exist without the thrill of the Imaginary Beasts to make it soar. Miss HAIRY TALES at your peril.

Friday, October 4, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Not Carbon Dating, Cemetery Dating

Where to go for exciting theater this fall? How about heading north? You may have seen Theresa Rebeck’s edgy SEMINAR at Stoneham Theatre this past month. You might even drive up to Beverly for the high kicking, gender bending choreography of North Shore Music Theatre’s LA CAGE AUX FOLLES but for solid ensemble magic you can’t beat Next Door Arts’ THE CEMETERY CLUB in Winchester running through Oct. 12th.

Some of Boston’s top divas are making Ivan Menchel’s script (about three Jewish widows in search of “life after death”) sizzle. The three dutifully visit their husband’s gravesites every month---but on one of these pilgrimages they encounter more than overgrown ivy. (There’s a forgettable movie of the script. I saw it but I can’t remember anything about it.) But the play is memorable, in large part because of the crackerjack performances at Next Door. Menchel’s first act teeters in sit-com territory but Act II unfolds to reveal lovely pathos. You may even find a tear in the corner of your eye, courtesy of Lida McGirr’s remarkable performance as the most conservative of the three.

The love story (not played exclusively for laughs) and the bonds of friendship are what make THE CEMETERY CLUB rise above caricature. Cheryl McMahon manages to form her character into a fully wrought human being, despite her dreadful obsession with furs and men. Sarah deLima brings innocence, exuberance and heartache to the role of the woman who gets a second chance with Paul D. Farwell’s solid mensch of a widower. Jane Meehan plays a menace of an Act II interloper with gusto. Director Brian Milauskas’ fine cast lifts the predictable plot into the realm of the touching.

I almost forgot the other star of Milauskas’ production: His exquisite set for the sweet, florally challenged (so many flowers: on the walls, on the wallpaper, on the door) grandmother says it all. She’s in need of a masculine presence and Farwell is just the charming leading man to provide it.

NOTE:    Because Milauskas has moved the time of the piece to present day, you may have to adjust your mind-set back a few decades when women over 60 were expected to stop living (or at least stop having fun) after a divorce or the death of a spouse. (That’s not as bad as the 1950s soap opera, HELEN TRENT, which opened with “Can love come to a woman over 35?”) My feminist hackles started to twinge at the beginning of THE CEMETERY CLUB but it’s a comedy and you give yourself over to the premise, right? Right. And you laugh. You laugh a lot.