Saturday, June 28, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey WILDE at Heart

Oscar Wilde devotees feel their pulses quicken when one of his plays (or a play about him) is about to open but a chance to see his fairy tales? I wouldn’t miss it. Boston Actors Theater has chosen two stories to animate, “Story Theater” style, from the collection “A House of Pomegranates.” DANCING WILDE (playing through June 28th) uses narration and the language of gestural movement to tell the story of The Young King and The Birthday of the Infana.

Director Danielle Lucas and company weave together dancing, commedia dell’arte, puppetry and poetry, for a performance that children can appreciate on face valueand adults can grasp from reading between the lines. The performers are all lithe and game but some project better than others (especially in the difficult, elongated Boston Playwrights’ space). We sat just right of center and couldn’t hear over the music playing underneath, when actors declaimed to the other side of the stage. Fortunately the movement spelled out the action and they dispensed with the loud music thereafter.

Bailey Libby portrays the lonely, friendless Princess Infana (in Elizabth DuPre’s adaptation) who has been protected from society all her life “for her own good.” However, on this particular birthday she is royally entertained: by a swashbuckling bull fighter (Damon Singletary), a daring tightrope walker, snake charmers and gypsies, only to discover that society is indeed cruel. Kendall Aguier is delightful as the charming dwarf who brings the princess happiness…and as it turns out, through no fault of his own, despair.

Drew Linehan is The Young King (in Nicole Howard’s adaptation of the second story) who dreams that he strolls among his people, like Henry V, the night before his coronation. Before his dream, he had no inkling of the immense toil and suffering which went into mining the rubies for his crown or unearthing the magnificent pearl for his scepter. The players deftly mime rowing a great boat under the whip of the cruel coxswain or diving treacherous waters for the elusive oyster or sweating and slaving to sew gold into every fold of his robe. (Laurie Singletary makes a frightening personification of Avarice to Nick Miller’s hulking specter of Death) To my relief, Wilde offers a hopeful ending in this tale.

Kudos to BAT for reminding us of the expanse of Wilde’s writings and for raising money with this show for BUDDY DOG, a no kill rescue shelter in Sudbury.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Opera Transfusion

OPERAHUB is determined to make opera accessible to everyone. To that end, their performances are absolutely free. (They fundraise so that all their artists can be paid something.) They mount rarely produced material and if Heinrich Marschner’s DER VAMPYR is any indication of their modus operandi, they make opera not only palatable but enjoyable. DER VAMPYR plays through June 28th at the BCA.

John J. King’s revamped (!) adaptation of the 1828 opera plays fast and loose with the original libretto. Folks who are familiar with King’s plays won’t be surprised by the cheeky wordplay and naughty rhymes. Says the vampire about his comely victim: “When I saw you in the garden, something inside me hardened”…or “I will do it to her. Take her home and chew her.”

King’s clever allusions to television and film vampires and his abundant topical rhymes made me think of Gilbert & Sullivan: They threw all manner of barbs at politicians and entertainers in their operettas. The sumptuous music, too, is reminiscent of themes Sullivan “borrowed” from his contemporaries.

Yet another curious aspect of Marschner’s score are the now familiar musical phrases which trigger “dread” in the listener. Think of Schubert’s piano warnings in ERLKÖNIG (which Marschner probably heard) or Verdi’s terrifying chromatic ascents (inspired by Marschner?). They didn’t have the familiarity back then which renders them universally understood (and sometimes comic) today.

The send-up may horrify opera purists but judging from the SRO audience on Wednesday night, and most stayed past intermission, they were in for a penny, in for a pound of flesh. DER VAMPYR runs three hours (which for us opera fans is nothing: GÖTTERDAMMERUNG runs six!) and even I experienced vampire fatigue at two-and a half because the plot is still unwieldy, the heroine doesn’t appear until Act II and the vampire-in-training has only bagged one quarry out of twenty-nine by intermission. (How can he possibly catch up without keeping us there ‘til the cows come home?)

Director Christie Lee Gibson moves the action at a brisk clip and music director Lina Marcela Gonzalez gets lovely singing from the whole cast (although a French horn strayed from time to time). No matter, the singing more than made up for it. These performers can act as well as they sing (and that cannot be said for some opera productions). Happily, you can understand most every word they’re singing (except when a soprano sacrifices enunciation for accuracy on the killer high notes).

Baritone Jacob Cooper is the novice vampire with a heavy quota. He dispatches Megan Welker in a trice but not to worry, she returns as someone else. Heather Gallagher and Jacob Scharfman cut a swath as the mean mom and pop of the vampire coven. Justin Hicks is a formidable chief of police and father to a frenetic Tamara Ryan. Lindsay Conrad is a standout as Muffy, the vampire “nay-sayer” and best of all is Eduardo Ramos as Ryan’s neglected suitor. His hilarious stage business (sniffling, reposing) is equaled by his extraordinary, clear, sweet tenor voice.

Monday, June 16, 2014


Chilean-American author Ariel Dorfman is beloved in Boston this season. Flat Earth held a reading of Dorfman and Tony Kushner’s WIDOWS earlier this year, WIDOWS being the first in Dorfman’s Resistance Trilogy. READER is the second and DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, the third play in the series.

Flat Earth Theatre is currently staging READER (@ Arsenal Center through June 21st) and Open Theatre Project continues the run with DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (in Jamaica Plain through June 28th). MAIDEN is the most produced of the three: I’ve seen it twice. And there’s a movie.

This is my first READER experience and I must say that Flat Earth’s March production of WHAT ONCE WE FELT kept intruding into my memory as I watched READER, as both are about censorship and governmental control, especially where the flow of information is concerned. Both use publishing as metaphor. As I type that sentence, I’m reminded that our government is more than a little peeved at a certain Mr. Snowden for publishing information they didn’t want us to know. Maybe the repression in READER isn’t as far fetched as it seems to be.

As in Dorfman’s DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, the audience is unsure who is telling the truth, or for that matter, what is the truth. The characters in READER aren’t what they seem to be, either. On the surface we meet a censor, not just any censor. He’s a successful bureaucrat who hasn’t made a mistake in 20 years. His boss appreciates his work but his son isn’t satisfied with life, even though they’re all told this is paradise and “anyone who isn’t happy in Paradise is crazy.”

Life starts to unravel for the censor: His son won’t sign the loyalty paper and now he’s asking about his mother’s death. The book he’s currently working on (i.e. removing offending passages and cutting unnecessary detail) seems to be about him! Disturbing information seeps through: Things he doesn’t want made public: Talk of readjustment centers, violence, torture. Wait a minute, Dorfman is writing about Chile….isn’t he?

While I certainly admire playwrights who create torturous narratives so we the audience can have a (granted, very small) taste of the confusion and distress whole nations suffer on a daily basis, they’re a bit difficult to take…and more importantly, they’re extremely hard to stage. Kudos to director Jake Scaltreto for placing the audience on both sides of the theater, trapping the action in the center and for setting a slightly arched, artificial tone to the material.

Matthew Zahnzinger is brilliantly effective as “The Man” you never, never want to request your presence. His white face and asthmatic delivery make him terrifying. A visit from Samuel Frank as “The Director” of the censorship bureau isn’t going to be any fun, either. His manic stance and wild eyes don’t bode well for a pat on the back. Robin Gabrielli is the man at the center of this Kafkaesque tale. Will he help his son (James Hayward)? Did he harm his wife (Sara Jones)? Will he disappoint his mistress (Rachel Sachs)? Will he publish? Or is resistance futile?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Moving PACIFIC Overtures

Reagle Music Theatre’s classy, classic revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s SOUTH PACIFIC (playing through June 22nd) returns the musical to its roots. Director Joshua Logan suggested James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific” to the famous collaborators and two of the many stories of Polynesian life during WWII appealed to them. They combined the two because of their similar themes so both the main and secondary characters in SOUTH PACIFIC have crises of conscience over race. The navy nurse falls in love with a French planter but can’t accept his past which includes two mixed race children. The courageous lieutenant is immediately smitten with the young, innocent Tonkinese (i.e. Vietnamese) beauty but he can’t imagine taking her home to main line Philadelphia.

Most productions bowl you over with military hi-jinks (think “MASH”)sailors constantly trailing along after the nurses, peaking in on their showers, scoring Island trinkets, planning nighttime excursions to off limit islands, talking their way out of disciplinary punishmentIt almost becomes “McHale’s Navy.” I’ve even seen productions which starred Olympic gymnasts: A clever idea but the frenetic flipping and energetic somersaults take away from the story. Director David Hugo’s production clears the air and clarifies the story. We know it’s a love story from the start when “one enchanted evening,” nurse Nellie Forbush sees the elegant Frenchman Emile deBecque “across a crowded room.” We feel the connection between them and the war is just the setting.

Katie Clark makes Ensign Forbush a spunky, take charge woman who is taken aback by her attraction to Peter S. Adams’ charming Frenchman. She sees his determination and way of life as respite from the regimentation of the navy. So too does Mark Linehan as the lieutenant in love with Samantha Ma’s Liat: He’s drawn to her and to the peaceful world of Bali Ha’i. Lydia Gaston is a kinder Bloody Mary in Hugo’s thought provoking production. She’s so often played as a grotesque that it’s a relief to see her humanized at Reagle.

Linehan delivers the sad, somber truth about prejudice in “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’’ but it’s Adams who breaks your heart when his has been trampled, with his gorgeous, plaintive “This Nearly Was Mine.” His tour de force gives the production its gravitas. On the lighter side, Aaron Dore makes Billis a delightfully mischievous schemer. R. Glen Michell’s Captain has a twinkle in his eye and Rich Allegretto as the XO make the two officers comrades and confidants, not just stiff top brass. And Rachel Bertone invents the most amusing choreography for the gobs and gals who (supposedly) can’t dance.

Monday, June 9, 2014


Here’s what you can say about Heart & Dagger’s cheeky little festival playing through June 14th called SEXFEST II. (Yes, Virginia, this is the second year for the frisky festival.) It’s a little daring, mildly shocking, often inventive, downright hilarious and a few of the plays have something serious to say. If Saturday Night Live didn’t have network censors to rein them in, they might be writing SEXFEST.

Let’s start with the thought provoking stuff (which by the by is all penned by women!). Sexual inequality is tackled by Cassie M. Seinuk in “P is for…” You know it’s for “porn” from the get-go, when a woman comes home early from work and catches her boyfriend watching and, well, you know what he was doing. Seinuk poses these questions: If heterosexual men watch lesbian porn for inspiration, then do straight women get turned on by gay porn? And if not, why not... and if it’s acceptable for men to watch porn, why not for women?

Jessica Andrewartha puts a feminist twist on S&M in “Star Wars-The New Grope” when her princess Leia takes full charge of her date and instructs him on how to “objectify” her properly. Lyralen Kaye’s “Bathroom Games” is a touching cautionary tale in which an older, wiser man tries to warn a youth about the pitfalls of hanging around bathrooms.

Debra Weiss makes “ONE” work surprisingly well when two women end a relationship speaking only one word at a time, when “cheat” inevitably leads to “break.” It’s amazing how much emotion they muster with one word. Speaking of choosing the right word, Kilian Melloy’s “Teodoro” is a sweet paean to the love note and how trite a declaration of affection can sound on paper.

Michael Cox’s spoof of heterosexual machismo gets lots of laughs when two losers try to impress by bragging about their sexual prowess. Mikey DeLoreto’s smart S&M tale begins with a charming pantomime (about what to wear when you go out looking for someone to “play with”) and ends with quite a clever twist.

David Miller’s provocative “CRISCO” serves up dinner as a metaphor for commitment and Rick Park’s naughty birthday romp is interrupted by a parade of well wishers the birthday boy wishes would go away. John J. King goes pun wild with a kinky mythological re-set of Pandora’s Box. Kendall Aiguier sends up online dating with a slew of applicants from hell. And there are still more skits on the bill.

Some of the actors direct. Some of the directors write. (Full Disclosure: A couple of critics have become writers for the festival and one directs, too): Heat & Dagger have assembled a talented crew. Everyone pitches in and there isn’t a clunker in the bunch. Some are stranger than others, mind you and the eroticism is mostly in the dialogue.

Acting standouts: Joey Pelletier as the guy who wants more than a hook up: He wants dinner and a relationship. Adam Lauver as the English teacher who decides to help a clueless kid (David DiRocco). Alissa Cordeiro and Bridgette Hayes as mythological sirens. Best of all is Cameron Cronin strutting to “Its Raining Men.”

Monday, June 2, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Hysterical Haymaker

The Wellesley Summer Theatre is just about the only location this spring where HAY FEVER is good for you. Noel Coward’s delicious, high maintenance comedy of bad manners is galloping through June 22nd. Mind you, putting all the cogs in place for the non-stop laughter to come takes some time in Act I but once the machinery is in gear for Act II, HAY FEVER runs full throttle and you’re rewarded for sticking out the slow start.

Coward’s wacky family thrives on chaos and drama, in ample supply when too many guests start stacking up in the living room. Without telling anyone, each member of the Bliss family has invited a promising prospect for a romantic weekend, hoping to impress with a lavish guest room, servants, a lake and a boat. While each of the four is furious at not being consulted, we profit fourfold from the additional opportunities for mayhem. Someone will have to sleep in the boiler room. There may not be enough food and there certainly aren’t enough servants.

Director Marta Reiner’s actors, for the most part, keep Coward’s lush, haughty language in proper play: His witty repartee is meant to be batted about like shuttlecocks in a high class, verbal badminton game. And the Blisses do love games. Mother can be forgiven for being a bit theatrical since she actually enjoyed a career on the stage …and father writes novels, which really doesn’t explain why each is planning a tryst which doesn’t involve the other! Charlotte Peed is divine as the self-absorbed actress who longs to return to the theater and John Davin is hilarious, especially when perched on his high horse. The two of them carry on as if they don’t notice the other.

Their daughter, Sorel, whom mother calls the “vigorous ingénue,” is portrayed with ferocious deadpan by Sarah Barton, as if she, too, is oblivious of their eccentricities. Her brother, Simon (the frenetically intense Will Keary) tends to go off the deep end in pursuit of a fiancé, any fiancé. Why Coward refrained from penning “Don’t quarrel, Sorel” when he argues with his sister, is beyond me. (The “quibbling Sybil” arrived later, of course, with PRIVATE LIVES).

The best laugh in the play is supplied by Danny Bolton as the “diplomatist” who can’t decide whom to pursue: I’m hard pressed to think of anything funnier than a miserable, sopping wet Bolton! Elisabeth Yancey is charming as the constantly confused “secretary” father has sent for and Catherine Piner grumbles amusingly as the maid but it’s Angela Bilkic who runs away with the show as the acerbic, drop dead gorgeous invitee who’s nobody’s fool.