Sunday, January 29, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Mouth to Hand Existence

AVENUE Q this isn’t. Robert Askins’ much touted play, HAND TO GOD (@ SpeakEasy Stage Company through Feb. 4th), is more CHUCKIE meets THE EXORCIST than child’s play. Poor Jason, (the likeable Eliott Purcell). His father just died. His mom (Marianna Bassham) is falling apart and she needs his help launching a puppet ministry at the local church.

It’s no surprise that Jason’s puppet can utter things the teenager wouldn’t dare to and before you can say Roxanna Myhrum, her nasty little puppet creation has taken over. “Tyrone” has the satanic voice of the devil and some demonic objectives, as well. The flummoxed pastor (Lewis D. Wheeler) wonders if it’s the puppet who’s possessed or the boy whose arm animates it. (Purcell’s voice gets a strenuous workout, shifting from normal range to terrifying growl when Tyrone is in control.)

Tyrone’s blue language, and even bluer behavior made the play a sensation in New York but you can hear “language” (the warning on X-rated films) exactly like this on Showtime or HBO and as for the play’s shocking sexual scenes, you can see much more explicit depictions on TV. There’s the rub: You don’t usually see it on stage… unless Ryan Landry is cleverly presenting it as satire. (If Askins intended HAND TO GOD as satire, we have to know what is being ridiculed and we don’t.) It seems to me that all the controversy surrounding the play is a tempest in a teapot or more exactly, a tempest in a toilet.

At times Askins clearly wants us to take the puppet’s philosophical analyses quite seriouslybut the playwright’s attempts at moralizing are so caught up in the carnage and the carnal frenzy, that any message is simply overpowered. (David R. Gammons’ cast does amaze but again, alas, they’re overpowered by the gratuitous material.)

To boot, I couldn’t untangle a lot of what Tyrone was saying because of his deep, gravelly voice. Thank heaven, seated next to me was an audience member who repeated out loud anything he found amusing. (You know, people who talk during a show as if they’re in their own living room.) In this case, I was grateful for the help although I did not share the man’s sense of humor.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Most productions I’ve seen of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (@ Lyric Stage through Feb. 12th) have bitten right into the “meat” of Albee’s savage play, taking no time at all to warm up to the fireworks. George and Martha usually battle hammer and tong from the get-go but director Scott Edmiston is more interested in the couple’s inner, emotional life. Oh, Edmiston gets the play where it’s going, certainly, but he gives us time to figure out what’s eating these people… which makes it a much, much sadder play.

Likewise Honey and Nick: They’re definitely not the main event but Albee uses their presence to ferret out George and Martha’s secretswhile they’re inadvertently revealing their own. Edmiston doesn’t view them as caricatures or comic relief but as casualties. As George and Martha, Steven Barkhimer and Paula Plum seem comfortable with each other, not “old shoe” comfortable, rather “old foe” comfortable, like so many long married couples. As Honey and Nick, Erica Spyres and Dan Whelton seem (on purpose, of course) uncomfortable with each other, like so many mismatched newlyweds. As I watched, I thought that these young people would become George and Martha in twenty years… the “historical inevitability” George is fond of bestowing on an idea. (That never occurred to me before!)

You don’t get a lot of time to ponder the physics in the ferocious Burton/Taylor movie, which by the by Albee hated. He hated the director (“Mike Nichols trying to prove he could be serious”) and he felt betrayed by the studio which he claimed had promised to cast Betty Davis and James Mason. (I can’t imagine Davis and Mason…and what the heck do you do with the “what a dump” business?) As fond as I am of the film, I had time this time to think of the parallels with John Osbourne’s frightening LOOK BACK IN ANGER and with Albee’s other plays where the American Dream self-destructs. To paraphrase George, just when you learn the game, they change the rules. What a country!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Virtuoso Panto 2017

The Imaginary Beasts are renowned for their delightfully bizarre and totally kid-friendly takes on the historical British panto form. Imagine Italian commedia dell’ arte mashed up with Saturday Night Live’s irreverent brand of comedy (the old, really clever SNL). No stone is left unturned and no turn, as Diana Rigg famously said, is left unstoned.

Matthew Woods and company’s modus operandi is to pile contemporary politics, pop culture and slapstick comedy onto helpless fairy tales, then reap the whirlwind (as in gales of laughter). Even classical ballet makes an appearance from time to time. This year they thrash the alt-right, not to mention trashing plotlines left and right as they meander their way to the focal subject of THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA.

This year, instead of one villain, there is a village full. (The more the merrier, I say.) The nasty queen (Molly Kimmerling) has built a wall around her kingdom, no doubt planning to make her serfs pay for it. She spreads fake news and hangs around with a Nazi storm trooper named “Stompundstammer.” Did I hear someone say “No, he’s not”… Oh, yes, he is. (Not just the kids have a ball playing that game with the indignant Bob Mussett!)

The silly stuff entertains the children and the cheeky stuff keeps the rest of us happy… even nostalgic (when they sang David Bowie’s “If you say run, I’ll run to you”). And when Cameron Cronin’s naughty Nurse Nonny croons “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” even Streisand wouldn’t dare. Joey C. Pelletier’s baddie threatens to melt the polar ice cap while Matthew Woods’ Pirate captain disguised as a pirate captain threatens to demolish any hope of a foreign accent. Mayhem rules.

Fortunately, kindness saves the day. Sarah Gazdowicz minds her peas and queues as well as the underground gap and Amy Meyer brings reason to chaos. Melissa Barker and Alice Rittershaus leap on and off to strains of Les Sylphides, followed closely (and sometimes led) by the most adorable mice ever puppeted. Sarah J. Mann (as the prince) gets his princess (Rebecca Lehrhoff-Joy) now that the pea is at last spoken for.

There’s more shtick from sidekicks Tom Rash and William Schuller and mustache twirling (sans mustache) from Noah Simes, all while James Sims tickles the keyboard and tried to keep a modicum of order on stage… Not possible of course. Cotton Talbot-Minkin again proves she can sew rings around any costumer in town, with Mussett’s extremely loud jodhpurs taking the prize for best pants. (Possibly a new category at the IRNE Awards next year.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Double Indemnity

If Joe Orton and Martin McDonough had a love child, it would be Alistair McDowall. He’s the twenty-something British playwright hailed as the next important writer to come out of the U.K. Lucky for us in the colonies, Apollinaire Theatre Company is giving his gritty BRILLIANT ADVENTURES a bang up outing through Jan. 21st. And while you’re there, check out the flashy new spaces Apollinaire has opened up (including a new teen theater) in the Chelsea Theatre Works.

Here’s the skinny. Two brothers can’t live together and it seems they can’t live apart from each other either. The elder brother has always looked out for his fragile, younger siblingalbeit a bit unwisely since he’s a low level drug dealer who attracts unsavory customers to his brother’s flat. Think of the wonderfully funny but harrowing Guy Ritchie caper film, SNATCH, and there you have it.

A really nasty bloke wants in on a device invented by the sweet, geeky brother. He thinks it will make millions but the teenager says no. Brooks Reeves is even more frightening in BRILLIANT ADVENTURES than he was as the sadist in CLOSER. He says there are three ways (he’s got a cockney accent so he says “free”) to get what he wants: One is money which the teen refuses. Two is sex which doesn’t apply in this situation and free is violence. (I turned my head away for the torture bit but I could still hear it.) If it weren’t for the cheeky humor and blissfully bizarre characters, this would not be my cuppa tea. As it is so sardonically deft, I’d gladly have a second cup.

Reeves is superbly cold and creepy. Michael Underhill is perfection as the misguided older brother with Sam Terry and Eric McGowan thoroughly charming as the brainy teen(s). Geoff Van Wyck adds even more laughter as a completely unconvincing wannabe tough. Dev Luthra, who spends most of the play hunkered down out of the way, gets a show stopping monologue at the top of Act II.

The playwright makes things work that you wouldn’t think would, like Luthra’s curious character or the off the wall “invention.” Danielle Fauteux Jaques brilliantly directs the comedy as if it all were completely normal everyday farewhich is what makes it tick on so smashingly, like clockwork.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Unanimous Decision

When Thurgood Marshall was practicing law in the 1950s, ingrained racism lurked at every turn, in every town, in every school, in the Congress and the Supreme Court. When President Trump takes office in ten days, we will be hurled back into the fifties, without someone like Marshall to enforce “equality under the law.”

George Stevens, Jr.’s THURGOOD (at New Repertory Theatre through Feb 5th) is a chilling reminder of our country’s shameful pastand an alarming realization that the past has become the future. It’s exactly what Yeats predicted in his prophetic and apocalyptic poem, THE SECOND COMING: The present has given birth to the past.

When Stevens wrote the play, of course he had no idea it would resonate so terrifyingly now. He carefully chronicles the years in Marshall’s life: His rise from headstrong child into the determined lawyer who worked tirelessly for social justiceand who argued and won the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision before the U.S. Supreme Court (that “separate but equal” education is not equal under the law). To cap a remarkable career, he himself was appointed to the Supreme Court.

Director Benny Sato Ambush’s thoughtful production moves seamlessly from one adventure to another but Stevens’ script gets lost in the minutia. For one thing, it runs awfully long for a solo performancealthough Johnny Lee Davenport gives a tour de force as Marshalland the genuinely harrowing experiences, where Marshall’s life stood in danger, are given short shrift. As are his personal crises. He touches briefly, for one sentence, on his “drinking” and his “love of women” but that’s it. It would have been a much fuller portrait of the great man if we heard how he overcame his own personal trials and tribulations. As the play exists, it’s a charming history lesson, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just that in my opinion it could have been much more.