Monday, November 24, 2014


Company One’s THE DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY (@ BCA through Nov. 23rd) is comprised of three separate plays in which playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil riffs on the traditional Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Although the three plays are united by theme, each stands on its own.

 In the cheeky CHRONICLES OF KALKI the playwright demonstrates that Hindu deities, not those famous diamonds, are a girl’s best friend. Kapil transmutes Vishnu, the protector, into feminine form to aid a teenager having a hard time navigating high school. Her classmates ridicule her for being the victim of a cruel sexual prank. Soon thereafter a new student arrives. The new girl is Kalki who imparts feminist wisdom and a little vengeance where it’s needed. (You wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.)

Director M Bevin O’Gara captures the sardonic humor born of teenage angst and she niftily highlights the bravado which swirls around Kalki. Ally Dawson is larger than life as the protector/goddess, so powerful she can barely contain her strength. Stephanie Recio and Pearl Shin are delightful as the mouthy teenagers in trouble with the law. Brandon Green gives a charming performance as the surprisingly kind policeman interviewing the two girls. Since Kalki travels via water, rain runs down the window pane set in lovely, rhythmic, mesmerizing rivulets.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


You can count on Bad Habit Productions for a sterling production just about every time out. And, it seems, every time out with a Stoppard play is sheer magic. (They created a crystal clear ARCADIA season before last, not an easy accomplishment.) Their current production of THE REAL THING is the real McCoy. Director A. Nora Long even found ways to tweak the scene changes for extra laughs. Hurry, though, it ends Nov. 23rd)

Stoppard cuts pretty close to the bone with THE REAL THING. The central character is a British playwright just like him with ex-wives and children to supportand Stoppard, like the fictional writer, occasionally leaves the rarified air of the theater to write for the movies, not really a hardship one might argue, since he won an Oscar and a permanent place in Academy lore for his droll acceptance speech. (Roberto Benini had just shocked the well heeled attendees by crawling on the backs of their chairs to get to the stage but Stoppard one-upped him by announcing in a slow monotone that “Inside, I’m Roberto Benini.”)

Instead of his usual propensity for brainy philosophical and architectural allusions (to Wittgenstein or Lancelot “Capability” Brown), Stoppard addresses the vagaries of being in love in THE REAL THING. The allusions are still there but this time, the references come from comic or tragic romantic sources like Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell or Noel Coward’s Amanda… and I mustn’t forget that telltale Shakespearean handkerchief he works in to the mix.

Stoppard is fascinated by what seems real and what is real (the first scene being a trick) but of course, none of it is because this is only a playbut we happily suspend our disbelief for the delicious ride and the flashy attempt to inspect true love in the midst of messy affairs and broken hearts.

Stoppard’s stand-in, Henry, in the Bad Habit production is portrayed by Bob Mussett, who gives a knockout performance right from the get-go but especially at the play’s emotional end (something the British actors I’ve seen in the role haven’t been able to pull off). Mussett is glib, he’s charming, he’s infuriating and in Nora A. Long’s exceptional production, he’s vulnerable.

R. Nelson Lacey, too, is delightful as Henry’s awfully sweet friend (even after Henry purloins his wife). Lacey gets to play tough in the play within the play as the suspicious writer in the first scene. (It’s not this confusing when you see it live.) And he gets to crumble and break our hearts, just as the Righteous Brothers sing about “something beautiful dying.” Likewise, William Bowry gets to play two characters in hot pursuit and does so seamlessly.

The women in the play are, for the most part, glorified objects of affection, exactly what the writer’s actress-wife complains about in the second scene. That’s not to say their roles aren’t meaty. Gillian Mackay-Smith as the above mentioned actress/wife makes a meal out of righteous indignation. Shanae Burch gets to hold her own with her smug father on the subject(s) of sex and Courtland Jones navigates all the men with a sleek, sensual facility. Again, wonderful ensemble work from Bad Habit.

Monday, November 17, 2014


One of the characters in Yasmina Reza’s GOD OF CARNAGE (at Next Door Theatre through Nov. 22nd) postulates that the aforementioned god “has ruled uninterruptedly since the dawn of time.” There isn’t any better evidence of that than Reza’s outrageous comedy of bad manners (in a compelling English translation by Christopher Hampton).

After a schoolyard brawl, the parents of the two boys involved in the fracas meet for a civilized discussion about what to do. It doesn’t end up being either civilized or a discussion. To utilize the playwright’s descriptive, the get together is “destabilized” faster than you can say Oskar Kokoschka (the condescending hostess’ favorite painter).

Director Joe Antoun’s glossy production (on Brian Milauskas’ tony living room set) perfectly captures Reza’s sardonic wit and sly trajectory from uncomfortable small talk and feigned courtesy to flaming hostility and full out pandemonium. The adults behaving badly are played by a formidable quartet: Brett Milanowski’s impatient lawyer wants out of the room in the worst way, even before the gloves come off. Milanowski’s body language speaks volumes, right down to a left foot poised mid sole to vacate his chair.

Roz Beauchemin gets the plum role of his financial analyst wife, a woman not afraid to challenge her host’s shortcomings, where sentient beings as well as humans are concerned. Allen E. Phelps is the ‘nihilist” who can’t tolerate either rodents or liberals. Lisa Tucker as his wife is the self appointed expert on all things, especially African culture, who seems even more tightly wound than the other three (but not by much). It’s she who announces, “I have no sense of humor and no intention of acquiring one.”

Thankfully Reza does and she sprinkles it with abandon throughout the unadulterated nastiness. You leave the theater shaking your head and thanking the heavens that you don’t know these people.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll: A Cautionary Tale

Karla Sorenson’s TAPPED OUT about a man, a bar and an overdue loan is getting a smart production at Image Theater this month (through Nov. 16th). Sorenson writes clever, witty dialogue and characters you can care about: There’s Manny who purchased the bar for a new start in life. He’s had a few brushes with the law but he’s determined to “go legit” from now on. Problem is he doesn’t have the money to repay a dicey loan he never should have agreed to in the first place.

Of course, he’s sweet on the waitress he’s just hired and she, too, it just so happens, could use a fresh start. Then there’s Manny’s friend, Tucker, who used to play in a rock band but now he practically lives at the bar. Sorenson gets terrific laughs when Tucker holds forth on his philosophy of life: “Progress is like an axe in the hand of a criminal.” In other words, he doesn’t like change and he sees it coming when the new waitress offers “ideas” to update the bar. “Take away her library card,” he quips.

Sorenson stacks the deck with more than the requisite amount of secrets and issues. A charge of rape is raised but then it disappears. The waitress suggests to Manny that Tucker dislikes her because he’s in love with Manny himself. That wrinkle likewise evaporates. We hear lots of talk about drugs, alcoholism, suicide and sabotage: so many possibilities for a plot that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. (New plays are often overwritten. That’s how playwrights work on their development. The good news is that Image Theater takes chances on new work when most theaters don’t.)

When the play ends, then you can see the through line but until then, the characters seem to be wandering all over the map. Mind you, the quirky characters and the zippy dialogue keep you interested but at intermission, all you have is ‘Will Tucker rat out the waitress and reveal her secret?” A better hook, like “Will Manny do something foolish to save the bar” would ramp up the suspense and heighten the stakes. (Later on she comments about that secret, and I would agree, that it “doesn’t really make a difference.”)

Directors Jerry Bisantz and Ann Garvin have a crackerjack cast to make you believe: David Sullivan is perfection as the salt of the earth ex-boxer who just keeps getting bad breaks. Jenney Dale Holland gives the waitress equal parts vulnerability and moxie. You can clearly see why the barkeep is smitten. And Drew Shadrawy gives the wise guy character just enough edge to make him dangerous. The three play off each other seamlessly. It’s lovely ensemble work and that’s a very good thing.

Monday, November 10, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Everyone knows families where siblings no longer speak after an inheritance slights one child in favor of another. Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS coalesces around a certain necklace that two grandchildren covetbut the play really exists to explore what being Jewish means to a generation twice removed from the Holocaust.

Director Rebecca Bradshaw’s production for SpeakEasy Stage Company (through Nov. 29th) is lively and explosive, with over the top performances from Allison McCartan and Victor Shopov as warring cousins and lovely, less showy turns for Alex Marz and Gillian Mariner Gordon as the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. I wouldn’t call it a comedy although it’s billed as one.

Harmon’s hot button issue of what comprises religious practice (Is someone really Jewish who doesn’t observe the Torah?) isn’t so much discussed as it is hurled about like a loose grenade. Mc Cartin’s Daphna insists she should inherit her grandfather’s “chai” because she cares about Judaism more than her cousin, Liam, who sports a Santa hat on Facebook and didn’t make it to the funeral. (As it turns out, he, too, has reason to want it.) The problem is that Harmon has placed both arguments in the mouths of such disagreeable characters. 

Liam accuses Daphna of being a fanatic and we’re off to the races with sardonic insults, past transgressions and endless recriminations. The more interesting characters are Liam’s younger brother who tries to avoid taking sides and Liam’s blond, blue eyed, non-Jewish girlfriend. When the vitriol gets out of hand, it’s she who is the peacemaker. What left me puzzled is the playwright’s left field ending, which has the girlfriend acting completely out of character, the character Harmon himself went to such pains to create. The only way this abrupt change would work is if the girl had been feigning sweetness all along, and in this production at least, she hasn’t.

Monday, November 3, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Kindred Minds

By Beverly Creasey
Kindred Minds

Everyone has peculiar kith and kin. Some families are closer than others while some are downright detrimental. Boston Playwrights’ Theatre has a stunning “family” drama up and running through Nov. 22nd. Monica Bauer’s CHOSEN CHILD may seem like familiar territory at first, but you realize pretty quickly that this puzzle of a family thrives on deception. From then on you have to sort out the details as this compelling new script plays itself out.

Bauer cleverly engages the audience, providing clues right up to the end. That’s when all the puzzle pieces fall into place for a rewarding psychological overview, like the cosmonauts who could see The Great Wall from space. Each generation, like dominoes in forward motion, has a powerful trajectory to contend with, not to mention the dangerous DNA which may be lurking in their genes.

David, at ten, dreams of becoming the first Jewish astronaut. He’s extraordinarily bright, a little precocious and not very social. At twenty he’s schizophrenic and bereft, except for an imaginary friend. You might surmise that CHOSEN CHILD is an agonizing tragedy. Far from it: Bauer makes this family’s travails quite funny at times, and then deeply affecting, before delivering a nifty, redemptive twist. Her dialogue is delightfully acerbic, especially for the Ph.D. in psychology who rails with righteous indignation at the social worker trying to impart professional advice to her on the subject of death.

Debra Wise is hilarious as the relative whose unwanted responsibility it is to decide about cremation. (Wise has one of the best quips in the play about just that.) Bauer moves her characters back and forth in time, with the same actors, so we meet Wise as a sensitive teenager who soon will become the cautious, armor plated adult. Lewis Wheeler, too, moves from innocent childhood to quirky schizophrenic adulthood. His scene with a Port Authority ticket agent is as humorous as it is exasperating.

Lee Mikeska Gardner, too, must morph from wild, out of control teenager to ill equipped, young single mother, then to overwhelmed caretaker of a schizophrenic. Everyone in director Megan Schy Gleeson’s cast contributes to “keeping things whole.” Margaret Ann Brady portrays “Grandma Lee” from the get-go as someone who copes as best she can. Brady gives her a physicality which weighs her down and only late in the play, do we learn of the burden which weighs on her mind.

Melissa Jesser is charming as the “others” in the story not directly involved in the Omaha “Sturm und Drang” (i.e. the bemused but compassionate ticket agent/ the frustrated social worker/and the rebellious teenage daughter in a subsequent generation.) When all is said and done, you feel for these characters caught up in circumstances beyond their control. Bauer’s compassionate and novel take on the “family” play makes CHOSEN CHILD a must see this season.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Poetry in Motion

One line stands out above the rest for me in Sarah Ruhl’s DEAR ELIZABETH, her play in letters from Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and back again. It will not leave my head. It’s an earthshaking understatement in the script but it resonates even more today: “There are so few [poems] in the world now.” I firmly believe that if the world had more art in it, wars would cease.

I’m intrigued that this play (and this format) has left me so moved, even a day later. Director A. Nora Long’s lovely, surprisingly clever production for Lyric Stage (through Nov. 9th) is a slow starter. Once you get accustomed to both characters using the same playing space, although they may be a continent apart, you get into the rhythm of the piece. Like A.R. Gurney’s wildly successful LOVE LETTERS, the form presupposes that the truth is fully revealed in correspondence. And like LOVE LETTERS, the relationship flowers on paper, not so much in person.

The beauty of DEAR ELIZABETH lies in the raw revelations of true friendship. We’re privy to information which the writers didn’t share with anyone but each other. (However, the two celebrated poets did save their letters, after all, knowing scholars would be researching their work.) Sometimes you feel like a voyeur, learning about Lowell’s breakdowns. You’re embarrassed and at the same time you feel very close to the character(s) to know what anguish lies behind the verse…and saddened that the medical establishment couldn’t properly treat depression back then.

 For me, though, there just isn’t enough poetry in the play, especially in Act I. The stakes are higher in Act II, as the two grow older…and Act II contains my favorite poem, Bishop’s “The Art of Losing.” Mind you, it’s not for the faint of heart. (I cry just thinking about it but I must say that Laura Latrielle as Bishop sticks it like a champion gymnast.)

One might even make the case that the letters are poetry of sorts: witty, humorous musings on their contemporaries, on their difficult romantic relationships and on their own rivalry as esteemed literary figures. She will suggest a better descriptive for a poem he’s sent. He urges her to write her way out of a funk. Latrielle manages to convey a no-nonsense, proto feminist confidence while at the same time, a deep fragility. Ed Hoopman makes Lowell an elegant, gentleman poet, a man who never sacrifices charm even at the depths of despair.

One of the definite pluses of the production is Shelley Barish’s rustic Maine/Yaddo/ and everywhere in between set with hidden delights to illustrate a scene or accentuate a metaphor (It may be a simile, I can’t remember). And Karen Perlow’s ending for the play is simply perfection.