Monday, February 23, 2015


Ted Tally’s TERRA NOVA (presented by the Flat Earth Theatre @ Arsenal Arts Center through Feb. 28th) is one of those dark plays of substance, wherein white men prove their mettle by invading or climbing or discovering someplace where “no one has been before.” (Of course they mean no one with pale skin.) The “new territory” in Tally’s play is Antarctica. Poor Captain Scott of the British Royal Navy: He thought the frozen landscape could be claimed for England. Then a Norwegian beat him to it.

That’s all you need to know. The rest is soul searching, some flashback scenes and a great deal of hallucination. I can clearly see why a company of men would love to get their game on with TERRA NOVA. It has lots of juicy parts and oodles of hazards for the actors to negotiate. And the company delivers. National pride, moral rectitude and colonialism all take a righteous hit from Tally: Dying for what you believe in isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Captain Scott (Chris Chiampa) thinks, dreams and breathes his competition, so much so that Amundsen (Samuel Frank) appears to him in his imagination, taunting him each step of the way. Believe it or not, Scott’s men marched on foot for 1600 grueling miles where Amundsen took along dogs to haul his sleds (and then be slaughtered for food when provisions ran out). Amundsen dismisses Scott’s contention that the Norwegians have engaged in unsportsmanlike behavior: “There’s nothing more dangerous, Amundsen says, “than a man of good intentions.”

The one female role in TERRA NOVA is Scott’s wife, deftly portrayed by Kamela Dolinova. When he turns his thoughts to her, Scott softens and we see his restless, vulnerable side. Chiampa summons bouts of bluster to cover up his fears, where Frank as his rival towers over the Brits, physically and metaphorically.

Director Jake Scaltreto gets lovely ensemble work from his cast. Each man in Scott’s expedition is fully drawn so that we feel we know them individually. James Hayward is the principled physician on the team. Kevin Kordis is the hothead. Robin Gabrielli is so loyal to Scott and England that he makes a foolish sacrifice to keep them on track and an impish Matt Arnold always has a quip to ease another’s suffering. If only there were more evocative plays like TERRA NOVA for a company of women! (Please don’t recommend ON THE VERGE to me. I’m afraid I think it’s deadly.)


Saturday, February 21, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Play It Again Sam

Dan LeFranc’s roundelay, THE BIG MEAL (at Zeitgeist Stage through March 7th), follows two ordinary twenty-somethings, named Sam and Nicole, through courtship (beginning with an impulsive hook up) and marriage to life’s tragic inevitabilities.

The trick in THE BIG MEAL is that different actors portray a character as (s)he grows up, switching at the drop of a hat. It’s a bit confusing at first (and at last) but in between it all makes sense: Little brats may mature to become (more or less) responsible adults but the conversations remain the same over four generations. LeFranc makes the dialogue banal on purpose because (I assume) most conversation is.

This leaves the emotional life of the play up to a director to fill in the blanks. David Miller deftly creates the humor and the depth between the lines, chiefly aided by Peter Brown as a crusty old coot, a feisty in-law and in his most touching turn, as a man facing down dementia. Shelley Brown, too, gives a strong performance as the mother, grandmother and best of all, as a woman alone, looking at a future without a partner. The younger actors play, well…young, which isn’t nearly as interesting as what the older actors get to play. How often does that happen! Of course, that’s from my older, biased perspective.

Monday, February 16, 2015


Sometimes those George S. Kaufman or S. J. Perelman vehicles for the Marx Brothers work like gangbusters. (I could watch A NIGHT AT THE OPERA over and over.) Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you’re aware of how simplistic the scripts are. Mostly you give yourself over to the shenanigans and laugh at the flimsiest of jokes. For example, Kaufman’s COCOANUTS works chiefly because the Brothers can put it over. When Groucho quips about prison, “Twelve years at Leavenworth or eleven years at twelve-worth,” the groaner is accompanied by his flashing eyes and those painted on house shingles which twitch like browsand you’re more than happy to give over a giggle or two to that fabulous face.

Robert Brustein and Hankus Netsky’s klezmer musical, THE KING OF SECOND AVENUE, (based on an 1893 novel by Israel Zangwill) reminded me of those Marx Brothers scripts. The new musical (@ New Rep through March 1st) is shot through with sardonic asides and winks to the audience, like Groucho’s conspiratorial nods, as if to freely admit that the joke is plenty lame. Like those madhouse Marx Brothers movies, Brustein et al owe a considerable debt to the zany crew who deliver the goods, especially Jeremiah Kissel and Will LeBow, who finesse any number of variations on the Henny Youngman standby, “Take my wife, please.” (Substitute fish, pants, daughter, anything you like.) Kissel and LeBow make it dance like Nijinsky.

Brustein moves Zangwill’s trickster, “SCHNORRER” plot to New York City, outside a Yiddish theater which has seen better days. He sprinkles delightful Yiddish phrases throughout (and laboriously explains them) which made me wish he had explained less and demonstrated more. His out of work actors, he tells us, performed Yiddish versions of HAMLET and LEAR back in the day. So why couldn’t we hear a line or two? If only he had trusted that his audience would get it even if they don’t speak Yiddish. (I’ll bet the cadence which is almost identical in Yiddish and English would have tripped the listeners to the familiar Shakespearean speech.)

Director Matthew ‘Motl’ Didner runs his cast from pillar to post to connect the rather thin dots of plot, which have LeBow and the Yiddish actors outsmarting a smarmy movie producer (Kissel at his very best) and talking him out of his money and his pants, not to mention his salmon (all enshrined deliciously in song), thereby bestowing enough cash on LeBow’s daughter (Abby Goldfarb) and her penniless beau (Remo Airaldi) to get married. Alex Pollock, Kathy St. George and Ken Cheeseman add their considerable comic talents to the hilarity.

Although I liked (loved) Netsky’s score a lot more than I liked the book or the lyrics, I have to admit I share LeBow’s generous sentiments when his character pronounces to Kissel, “Against my will, I’m feeling some affection for you.” That I did for THE KING OF SECOND spite of myself.