Tuesday, April 28, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Eight weeks to Detonation

Ronan Noone has written a cheeky little comedy of manners, a cautionary tale about spreading gossipwhere no good can come from even a germ of speculation because it’s apt to infect everyone. SCENES FROM AN ADULTERY (playing at New Rep through May 17) is a smart three hander (I was going to say threesome but, no) about friends who hang out over dinner or fetch up at a local bar where liquor tends to loosen tongues and wreak havoc.

Gaspar (Ciaran Crawford) has seen the wife of an (offstage) friend being affectionate with another man. Instead of telling the friend, he tells Tony (Peter Stray) who doesn’t tell his wife (Leda Uberbacher)who finds out and is plenty upset he didn’t share the story with her as soon as he heard it. Trust, or what passes for trust, becomes pivotal in SCENES. Where should your allegiance be: With your spouse or your best friend? Do you have to share everything with your wife? Are there rules? Each of Noone’s characters believes, and behaves differently, leading to hilarious consequences when what’s good for the goose isn’t exactly what’s good for the gander.

Crawford, as the lone bachelor, has a wonderful, show stopping speech about the ten certain steps to ruin in a relationship, reminiscent of Touchstone’s seven levels of the “lie” in As You Like It, from the “retort courteous” to the “lie removed” to the “lie direct.” Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary keeps up a brisk pace which adds immeasurably to the amusement. Stray’s physical meltdown is delightful, as are Uberbacher’s indignant fits. It’s not easy to write comedy but Noone has the touch. (Except for what seemed to me an out of character slap, SCENES succeeds wildly as a gleefully cynical rompand, hooray, I didn’t see the end coming!)

Friday, April 24, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Wave Your Freak Flag @ Wheelock Family Theatre

Director Shelley Bolman puts the Wheelock touch on SHREK THE MUSICAL (frolicking through May 24th). The Broadway musical by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori is based on the first animated feature to win an Oscar (which is itself based on William Steig’s picture book).

You may recall that Michael Meyers and Eddie Murphy voiced Shrek the ogre and his donkey side kick in the DreamWorks film. Wheelock has Christopher Chew and Maurice Emmanuel Parent to make their SHREK sheer joy. You can’t help but fall in love with these two hapless creatures.

If you’re a longtime Wheelock fan, you’ll recognize characters from their shows, like Peter Pan and Pippi Longstocking, popping up when the nasty little Prince (Mark Linehan on his knees with dancing legs attached!) exiles all the fairy tale “freaks” to Shrek’s back yard. Needless to say, Shrek is not happy about the relocation.

Adults and children alike will delight in the irreverent humor, with the grownup references sailing over the kiddies’ heads. Parents will chuckle to learn that in ogre families, the kids leave home at seven! Lindsay-Abaire had great fun peppering the musical with cheeky spoofs of other movies and musicals: GYPSY, THE MUSIC MAN, 42nd STREET, DREAMGIRLS, LES MIZ, BABE all take a hit but it’s an affectionate jab which doesn’t spoil the innocence of the story.

The ogre who’d rather be alone discovers that he can allow others into his life. There’s a big message about tolerance in the musical but Shrek’s journey is what makes it a treat. Shrek and the Princess he’s been looking for (Shonna Cirone) have a delicious duet (a la Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better”) called “I Think I Got You Beat.” Simply hilarious! The songs are more than clever, with “Keep Your Freak Flag Waving” a lovely, foot stomping anthem for standing proud and celebrating being different.

Charles Baldwin’s quirky costumes reflect all the characters’ personalities, with the Donkey’s getup a highlight. How he managed to costume this cast of thousands is beyond me. There’s a marvelous huge dragon (gorgeously sung by Brittany Rolfs), even a tiny Puss in Boots passes by. Michael Stern’s music direction is one of the chief reasons that SHREK sounds as good as it looks. I laughed even more than the children in the audience. Then just when you think the show has ended, they lift it even higher with everyone singing the 1960s Monkeys’ hit, “I’m a Believer.”

Saturday, April 18, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Cleverly Assembled AKIMBO

David Lindsay Abaire’s wacky, totally charming comedy about life and death, first love and coping with monumental disappointment is getting a nearly perfect production from the folks at MOONBOX. KIMBERLY AKIMBO (playing through April 26th) has to embrace a slightly stilted comic style in order to pull off the absurdity without losing our heartfelt sympathy for this dysfunctional familyand without losing sight of the genuine gravity in the play.

And can this family cope! Mother carries on even though she’s pregnant and accident prone: When we first see her, she sports two wrist casts up to her elbows from carpal tunnel surgery and she can’t even maneuver a spoon. Her 15 year old daughter has a rare form of progeria which ages her four and a half times faster than the rest of us. She has the organs of a sixty-four year old and her prognosis is dire but she is determined to do everything a teenager would.

Her father is depressed, poor fellow, and he drinks. And there’s an aunt who’s just gotten out of prison and turns up on their doorstep needing money, a place to stay, and accessories to pull off her next felony. Abaire writes such funny material that you forget about the peril underneath the humor. Director Allison Olivia Choate gets exceptional performances all around from her remarkable actors and she manages to pull off a completely disarming production, so sweet that you don’t even mind the blue language. In fact you’re amused by it.

MOONBOX is fortunate to have veteran actress Sheridan Thomas in the role of the plucky teenage daughter. Thomas makes the girl coquettish, na├»ve and full of wonder, despite knowing that time is running out. Lucas Cardona is a delight as her awkward teenaged pal who’s hoping to be more than friends. Their innocent romance gives us all hope.

Micah Greene is a hoot as the self-absorbed pregnant mother and Andrew Winson makes father immensely endearing. Shana Dirik is a firecracker as the recidivist aunt, popping in and out of scenes with endless energy and wild schemes. Dirik’s performance is a tour de force, exploding with excitement in brilliant contrast to her niece’s cautionary, slow paced existence. Choate and company get lovely resonance from the projection at play’s end, mirroring her childhood lamp.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


If you missed their award winning KNOCK! The Daniil Kharms Project, you missed IMAGINARY BEASTS’ visually stunning foray into the world of the Russian “suprematists.” The revolutionary art movement originated by the painter Malevich championed a visceral form of art far outside realism. (When you see Malevich’s paintings, you think at first that they’re Picasso or Braque’s cubist work: Same inspiration, different countries!) Now imagine theater which has been “deconstructed” by Kharms and his fellow writers, down to its basic elements, without logic or plot. Stalin did not approve. Kharms did not survive. But his work did.

Last season’s KNOCK! introduced Kharms himself (as the BEASTS imagine him) as a character in his own writings, a surprisingly rich concept because the audience gets to experience his loss, as the writer pulls a sled behind him in a blinding snowstorm. We watched in horror as pages from the manuscript blew off the sled, lost forever, as he trudged along unawares.

The BEASTS continue their examination of Kharms’ work with an adaptation of his Elizaveta Bam, translated by Zova Derman. BETTY BAM! plays through May 2nd with five actresses portraying Betty and three directors contributing scenes in different styles. We’re introduced to a terrified Betty, moving along a wall as far from her front door as she can retreat because the police are trying to gain access. The scene plays like a silent film, her arms outstretched as she backs away from a window, her mouth fixed in exaggerated horror.

In the course of the playor rather, the experiment (Don’t expect a play)we see Betty’s predicament over and over, slightly altered each timeor rather interruptedby canned laughter or rhythmic clapping or a vaudeville bitand multiplied with more BETTYs. The BEASTS are pushing us out of our comfort zoneconfusing us, diverting our attention with an intruder (which worked on my theater companions like gangbusters!)then delighting us with oversized mice and shadow puppets and lots of eggs. There are chanting BETTYs (reminiscent of Shakespeare’s witches) and a walking coat: images galore that we’re struggling to put together. And that’s the point of deconstructing. You can’t reassemble it.

The BEASTS’ ensemble players work together seamlessly. You can say the same of the team. Lighting (Christopher Bocchiaro), costumes (Cotton Talbot-Minkin), set (Matthew Woods and Candido Soares), sound (Chris Larson) are all of a piece, intermingling with ideas from directors’ Woods, Joey C. Peletier and Michael Underhill.

Then BEAST performers/collaborators set to work: Sarah Gazdowicz, Molly Kimmerling, Amy Meyer, Beth Pearson and Kiki Samko as the same/different BETTY incarnations, along with Cameron Cronin and William Schuller as the commie/not quite Keystone cops, all contribute to the whole. To single out one part of the whole over another is impossible. I know. I know. Kharms himself says: “Impossible is a stupid, empty word.” OK. I’ll try again. I can’t/I won’t single out anyone. IMAGINARY BEASTS are the finest ensemble in town.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Broadway composer Andrew Lippa was the special guest at a NOMTI (The New Opera and Musical Theater Initiative) symposium a few years back and I especially recall his kind and useful critiques of the music presented by local composers and lyricists. He’s returned to Boston this spring, to SpeakEasy Stage, with John August to rework their 2013 version of BIG FISH with a much smaller cast than the Broadway production. They’ve paired it down and taken advantage of the more intimate Wimberly space at the BCA. BIG FISH is a difficult father and angry child “reunion” story which, as Paul Simon would say, is “only a motion away.” BIG FISH swims at SpeakEasy through April 11th.

When I think of tall tales, several of Mark Twain’s come to mind. You never think that his yarns are anything but good-natured. Not so with the father in BIG FISH. He seems to thrive on a callous story. We meet him on the day of his son’s wedding, where he betrays a confidence, a solemn secret his son does not want made public. It looks like he cares nothing for his son’s feelings or his son’s well being for that matter. In fact, he wasn’t around much while his son was growing up. What time they did spend together was taken up by accounts of his own heroism, fighting dragons or swimming with mermaids. As he describes them, “part epic tale, part fire sale.”

I haven’t read the Daniel Wallace novel or seen the Tim Burton film (for which August wrote the screenplay) which I’m told is disarmingso I only have the musical to draw from. To me, the father seemed deliberately mean-spirited. And it doesn’t help that the actor (Steven Goldstein) playing father (although his singing is lovely) looks like Brian Cranston’s Walter White (from Breaking Bad).

What’s best about BIG FISH is the stunning Boston cast under the direction of Paul Daigneaultand the songs which hold the real emotions of the characters. Music director Matthew Stern finds beautiful phrasing in the music, especially for the handsome duet (Time Stops) for Goldstein and Aimee Doherty as mother. Doherty is top of her game. It’s her voice which holds all the colors of her character, not her dialogue (which paints her saintly white as good mother/patient wife).

Lucky for August and Lippa, the fantasy scenes are delightful. So much is going on that you have endless characters to watch. Aubin Wise as the witch is spellbinding as is Lee David Skunes as Karl the Giant. Katie Clark is upbeat and bubbly as the son’s new wife and Sam Simahk artfully conveys the heartache of his father’s absence. But it’s Will McGarrahan who impresses, as the sleazy carnival barker who promises he will get father “closer” to the woman he loves…and as the solid, utterly dependable country doctor…and for some reason (lost on me) he’s also a werewolf. You know, the fun loving kind, like Warren Zevon’s.
As for the reconciliation between father and son before it’s too late, I didn’t get itbut I heard sobbing all over the house. The rest of the audience certainly did.