Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Revisiting Viet Nam is not pleasant for those of us it directly affected. Friends and classmates killed. Innocents slaughtered. Wild profits for Dow Chemical. PTSD and Agent Orange for the survivors. Loss in every sense of the word.

Eisenhower warned about the Military Industrial Complex but no one listened. Martin Luther King railed against the war. Protesters marched, sat in, and stood up against the killing. Presidents turned a deaf ear. Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon chatted over coffee about the numbers of soldiers they considered expendable that week.

Defense secretary Robert McNamara issued an apology of sorts a couple of years ago, saying he “had been wrong about Viet Nam,” too late for sixty thousand dead Americans and incalculable dead Vietnamese. So here we are again because of an unlikely play by Livian Yeh.

MEMORIAL (@ Boston Playwrights’ Theatre through Oct. 23rd) is Yeh’s play about Maya Lin, the young architectural student whose plans were chosen in 1981 for a memorial to the soldiers lost in Viet Nam. I remember being elated that the winner was only twenty-one, a woman and Asian-American, to boot. The women’s movement was losing momentum so this was a coup.

Unfortunately not everyone thought so. We learn from Yeh’s play that Lin faced opposition at every turn. Congress blocked construction. The military balked at the lack of statuary in her sleek, minimalist design. Even her mother gave her a hard time. Yeh’s script concentrates on these obstacles in expository vignettes where a composite character stands in for and represents a whole institution, like the tightly wound colonel (John Kool) who speaks for the military and the kindly architect (Dale J. Young) who speaks for the selection committee.

I wish the playwright had made us privy to Lin’s inner life. By straining the mother/daughter relationship, Yeh forfeits the opportunity to show us what Lin (Amy Ward) really feels. Just like the colonel, the mother is reduced to a stereotype, cemented with a lengthy tea ceremony. There goes the chance for Lin to confide in someone. It’s a pity we don’t see her other life, apart from this defining, and dramatically limiting, event. Still, this is a developmental script, which may change as it has more productions.

Kudos to director Kelly Galvin and sound designer Oliver Seagle for the omnipresent stonecutter soundscape: The echo of marble yielding under the pressure of a chisel is expressly haunting and evocative of Lin’s struggle to see her vision manifested.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Ghost in the MACHINE

Theater companies have to be especially innovative these days because performance spaces have become scarce and smaller companies often cannot afford the ones that are rentable. Hence the now popular “home invasion.” No, robbery has nothing to do with it. In fact, these companies are welcomed with open arms.

Theatre On Fire, for one, is taking Meghan Brown’s delightfully creepy (in the complimentary sense) THE GYPSY MACHINE to homes in neighborhoods from Allston-Brighton to Davis Square. (TOF has only one week of performances left: To find out where, go to their website: theateronfire.org)

THE GYPSY MACHINE is a nifty little paranormal thriller like the scripts Rod Serling used to write for THE TWILIGHT ZONE. This ghastly, ghostly tale keeps you on your toes as it shifts your perception from scene to scene. Just when you think you know who’s evil, you begin to doubt yourself, just like the characters do.

We meet a young couple (Clare Tassinari and Grant Terzakis) in search of answers around an unusual missing person (Gigi Watson) case. They, in turn, meet a mysterious stranger (Casey Preston) with inexplicable knowledge about their lives. I can’t divulge much more for fear of spoiling the spooky surprises in the taut TOF production.

Darren Evans directs the four character piece with an eye for maximum chill as well as an ear for an amusing turn of phrase. The acting is first rate, naturalistic enough for us to believe, with heightened realism in the quirky nooks and crannies, to deliver the requisite shivers.

Sam Baltrusis, the author of several books on Massachusetts hauntings, says that although New Englanders are a skeptical lot, 90 % of us believe in ghosts. Even if you scoff, TOF’s THE GYPSY MACHINE is a well oiled contraption definitely worth the ride.

Friday, October 14, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Amoral Truth?

I can see the appeal of staging CP Taylor’s GOOD (@ New Rep through Oct. 30th) right now. Alas, the comparison of our election campaigning to the rhetoric of Nazi Germany’s rise isn’t that far fetched. Mr. Trump’s supporters say he doesn’t really mean the racist ideas he spouts: It’s just to attract the conservative base. In GOOD, a Jewish character reassures himself that “they’ll drop the Jewish persecution once they have the vote.” Of course we don’t know what Trump really believes but we do know what the Nazis wrought on six million Jews after they got the vote.

GOOD’s protagonist, a university professor (Michael Kaye), tells the audience that music always seems to accompany “the dramatic moments” in his life. In truth, the moments are far more dramatic to the people he’s watching or disappointing or condemning to death by his inaction. He rationalizes book-burning because “learning by living” could be a better method of teaching. He rationalizes euthanasia as an end to the suffering of those who have no “quality of life.” He turns a deaf ear to an old friend (Tim Spears) who needs help getting out of Germany, dismissing him because he has too many “worries” of his own to see to.

His lyrical “addictions” (bits of pop songs, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner and more, which play in his brain) keep interrupting the flow of the play. Sometimes they’re staged as vaudeville with histrionics from a mock Hitler. But this breaking the fourth wall and distracting us with irresistible music serves mainly as a distancing effect (beloved of Berthold Brecht to keep an audience on its intellectual toes).

The talented cast of ten deliver Sigmund Romberg’s drinking song in gorgeous, four part harmony. Certainly we can appreciate the professor’s musical obsessions. Director Jim Petosa’s staging for New Rep is inventive and the diversions amusing but the interruptions keep the emotional impact of impending horror at arm’s length. For example, the actors cleverly create a fiery conflagration with their fingers flickering like flames licking at the burning books but we concentrate on the masterly stagecraft, like the cast morphing into the circling, mechanical figures on the famous Munich clock tower.

I’m afraid I think any hope of landing a searing, emotional reaction to the play is lost in a large space like New Rep’s main stage. (Perhaps it might work better in a more intimate setting.) What does work is the intellectual punch, reminding us that “good” citizens can be corrupted and convinced to go along with obscene semantics like the professor espouses at the end of the play: “The objective moral truth eliminates the subjective… It’s not good or bad…[It’s] just the way it is,” as if morality can be debated. Chilling words, indeed.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Keeping COMPANY Alive

I’ve seen COMPANY a good many times and it always seemed, alas, to amount to less than the sum of its parts. The songs and their contexts never came together for me. Mind you, I loved the songs but the stories seemed disconnected. Last night I saw the Lyric Stage’s version of COMPANY (playing through Oct. 9th) and I believed that these vibrant people celebrating Bobby’s birthday really know each other… and are truly connected to each other. And now I see that there’s a plot! And a very sad ending, to boot. Who knew!

Spiro Veloudos did. His production has the characters always watching, sharing, despairing over Bobby’s meandering, anchorless life. Now Sondheim’s songs are lovely and funny and sardonic… and they have a trajectory! The Lyric cast delivers the momentum and sings the heck out of them (under Catherine Stornetta’s smart music direction). I noticed the clarinet laughing this time and I even found George Furth’s book delightful! Everyone has a moment or two or three or four.

It’s really not fair to pick one song or one performer over another, except to say, these are my favorites: Erica Spyres’ on the money “I’m Not Getting Married Today” with Teresa Winner Blume’s fabulously over the top, operatic wedding singer; the cheeky vaudeville “Side by Side by Side” (deliciously choreographed by Rachel Bertone); Matthew Zahnzinger’s hilariously awkward proposition to John Ambrosino’s Bobby; Maria LaRossa’s gorgeous, frenetic dance solo; Adrianne Hick’s quirky take on the “dumb blonde” role; Keri Wilson’s karate coup and the goose bump raising, desperate, tragic “Ladies Who Lunch” from Leigh Barrett (paired with Will McGarrahan’s elegant, longsuffering husband).


Wednesday, October 5, 2016


The musical, PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (@ Shubert Theatre through Oct. 9th), is based on the 1994 Australian movie starring Terrence Stamp as an aging transsexual, crossing the outback with two drag queens in a rickety, old school bus. Like the musical does, the film depended on the glitz of the wild drag costumes (and they snagged the film an Oscar!).

The very best thing about PRISCILLA (the musical) is the rock ’n roll. Where scenes in the movie were punctuated by ABBA, the musical is built on the characters delivering (and sometimes reinterpreting) a wide variety of pop songs from the ’70s and ’80’s. Three “Supremes” (Tamala Baldwin, Onyie Nwachukwu and Lindsay Roberts) even function as a Motown version of a Greek chorus.

And the costumes! Never mind the aesthetics of Stacy Stephens’ extravagant creations for Fiddlehead, the sheer volume of costumes is mind blowing. Two dozen characters parade about in at least a dozen costumes each, changing in mere secondswhich means stage manager Alycia Marucci and crew have their hands full getting everyone on and off stage with military precision.

Back to the delicious music of my misspent youth: (I just did the math; that would be my misspent middle age). Who wouldn’t groove out to the Weather Girls or Tina Turner or Cyndi Lauper or Gloria Gaynor or Richard Harris (!), the latter providing the best laugh of the silly, often hilarious, more often than not naughty book (by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott).

Andrew Giordano portrays the drag queen who sets the road trip into motion (Don’t think Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, please.) to see the child he fathered, one presumes, while dazed and confused. Giordano and Cameron Levesque, as the six year old wise beyond belief, tug on our willing heart strings, weakened no doubt by the heart pulsing disco beat of the score.

The show belongs to Larry Daggett as the girlish, older, lip syncing transsexual who finds love anew (Bob Knapp) when the bus blows a head gasket in the desert. Daggett has the love story we care about, albeit any storyline is welcome in this truthfully plotless vehicle. By the by, Brian Ruggaber’s vehicle is itself a star, packed to the gills with boas and sequins.

Arthur Cuadros’ vigorous choreography has the dancers flipping and flouncing across the stage in 6-inch platform kinky boots, with Matthew Tiberi (as the third member of the road trip), leading the talented corps in the ballet-boogie woogie. When Tiberi and the Supremes sing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” you’ll want to sing along… but don’t. Just relish the fun.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey FALL RIVER Revelation

Everything I knew about Lizzie Borden I had learned either from the whacky jingle (“Lizzie Borden took an axe…”) or the Agnes DeMille  balletbut now that I’ve been to Imaginary Beasts’ THE FALL RIVER AXE MURDERS (@ BCA through Oct. 22nd), I know Lizzie’s (extremely sympathetic) side of the story. British novelist Angela Carter’s luminous short stories have served as the jumping off point for other Imaginary Beasts productions. Like her Vampire stories were, this one proves to be the perfect armature for the Beasts’ imaginative brand of theatrics.

The Beasts, under Matthew Woods’ dexterous direction, often duplicate roles in a story, exchange roles with puppets or integrate narration and repetition into the action of a piece… all of which amplifies the material and causes it to resonate in the brain. Their spoken and gestural language marries dance, song, sound and ritual to metaphor, working in a way that is unique only to them. If you haven’t experienced an IB production, you’re missing what theater can become, beyond the traditional form.

Carter’s sumptuous storytelling illuminates the facts in glorious detail like the monks illuminated ancient manuscripts with color and filigree. Her vivid descriptions cut through mere words like a knife. Take the self-righteous “gentlemen” of the era who “garrote[d] themselves with neckties” equating virtue with discomfort; Her Lizzie is a prisoner of a time when women, even women of privilege, “belonged” to men, as possessions to be displayed and controlled, corseted and blanketed in layers of clothing to cover and keep their bodies hidden, one presumes from other men.

The scene is set for murder: A humid, “combustible day” in August, a father who cruelly deprived his daughter of her beloved birds, a stepmother who could never replace Lizzie’s own, and the deep, soul numbing realization that she could never escape her life. The performers unwind the thread of fate, tangling it about her, sending her downward on the thinnest of tightropes, surrounding her ears with the relentless, buzzing wings of a fly… despairing and depriving her of hope, perhaps even of sanity.

Six remarkable women people the play as the many Lizzie multiples/narrators, as Victorian ladies, ghosts, flies, father, servants, stepmother, even death. They work so seamlessly that when they switch a role, it’s impeccably designated, always expertly defined. Kamelia Aly is the portrait keeper; Catherine Luciani is the Victorian companion; Kaitee Tredway is the Master Puppeteer (although they all manipulate the various puppets); Melissa Barker is the voice of Mrs. Russell; Joy Campbell is the fly; Cari Keebaugh is the voice of Lizzie. Most importantly, even as they share the role of Lizzie, they emote as one.

Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s stark, exaggerated costumes evoke stifling emotionality, as does Christopher Bocchiaro’s shadowy lighting and Sam Beebe’s eerie sound design. Woods, Beth Owens and Jill Rogati share puppet design with Luciani, Treadway and Sarah Gazdowicz in the puppet shadow play. What sets IB apart is the ensemble work which is so integrated in the DNA of the piece that separating out the individual components seems a disservice to their creativity. Suffice it to say, you will not find better ensemble performance anywhere.