Wednesday, December 20, 2017


How refreshing to find a smart new way to approach MAN OF LA MANCHA. The classic musical by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion has been streamlined, simplified and tightened in director Antonio Ocampo-Guzman’s stirring new production for New Repertory Theatre. Please pardon me for saying I’ve found revivals of the musical rather stodgy in recent years but I’m delighted to find that this MAN (playing through Dec. 24th) works beautifully in New Rep’s mid-size, perfect-size space. (You can see and hear in every seat in the house.)

Ocampo-Guzman may call up allusions to Spain under Franco but the musical set during the Spanish Inquisition resonates right now with its “enemies of the state” mentalityand its sardonic take on the rule of law. Don Quixote’s “Facts are the enemy of truth” will have you thinking of the extreme right wing’s “alternate facts,” not to mention the travesties which now pass for truth. For example, the director silently indicts the Catholic Church for its collusion with torture and murder by having nuns accompany the police whenever a prisoner is summoned before the auto-da-fe.

Cast members play instruments (solving the problem of where to hide an orchestra), making this MAN much more intimate. Music director David Reiffel and choreographer Judith Chaffee move the performers around seamlessly, making the story much more cohesive. I’ve seen many a company knock themselves out with elaborate set pieces in an effort to make the “mirror” scene work (when the Knight is forced to see “reality”) when it turns out, less is more…and makes more sense.

And how brilliant is it to forego a chubby dolt of a Sancho Panza in favor of a clever secretary for Cervantes, who then becomes the compadre of Don Quixote. How lovely it is to see the devotion and friendship of the two. Kudos to Maurice Emmanual Parent as the foolish but noble Don and Michael Levesque as his thoughtful companion. When Levesque sings “I Like Him,” it’s touching and eminently believable. (And turning “A Little Gossip” a little vaudeville does the trick.)

How thrilling it is to go “operatic” with the musical: Sometimes it doesn’t pay to mix “regular” (pop) voices with full out operatic singing but it truly heightens the drama in this production. Ute Gfrerer is a stunning Dulcinea and Stefan Barner makes the Psalm aria downright chilling. New Rep has some of Boston’s best leading actors in secondary roles and that pays off, too. Shonna Cirone and Todd Yard are splendid as Inn Keepers; Paul James Lang is first rate as the Barber and Davron Monroe broods and frightens as the “Duke.”

I left the theater heartened that our current “unrightable wrongs” perhaps may be righted… Maybe the world can “be better for this.” Thanks, New Rep, for the engaging uplift.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey THE WHOLE TRUTH and nothing but

How many of us know about Gordon Hirabayashi…or for that matter, about the WWII internment camps for American citizens of Japanese ancestry? Hirabayashi said “no” to President Roosevelt’s order of internment, all the way to the Supreme Court. (One hundred and twenty thousand Japanese-Americans were incarcerated without due process.) The Lyric Stage is presenting Hirabayashi’s remarkable story in HOLD THESE TRUTHS, written by Jeanne Sakata, and playing through December 24th.

Sakata gives Hirabayashi an exquisite speech to open the play, in which he quotes the famous credo, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” He then questions our tacit acceptance of the phrase: If such incontrovertible truths exist, do they have the same meaning over time…are they set in stone? Certainly, in 2017, truth is elusive, elastic and worst of all, elective. Sakata’s play resonates like the Liberty Bell (if it still can ring), with our despicable culture of racial injustice, not to mention our impending constitutional crisis.

Director Benny Sato Ambush and company accomplish an impressive coup: All the dialogue is spoken by Michael Hisamotoas Hirabayashiand as every supporting character, as well. None of the secondary kurogos speak with their voices. In Noh Theater, these masked actors “speak” through specific, gestural movement. (Choreography by Jubilith Moore.) In traditional Noh, their gestures guide the principal character to understanding and action.

When Hirabayashi refuses to follow his family to the camp, it breaks his mother’s heart. A shrouded, masked Gary Ng (as mother) conveys every ounce of her pain, by bending slowly, slightly toward the earth with crossed, lowering arms. These secondary figures (the extraordinary Ng, Khloe Alice Lin and Samantha Richert) provide pathos, humor and anguish solely with body movement (and the expressive “language” of the Japanese fan.)

You quickly forget that Hisamoto is answering his own lines with theirs, because the kurogos are reacting as if they themselves were speaking. Curiously, they become a much more dramatic element than the main character. Hisamoto conveys Hirabayashi’s astonishing resilience over forty years of disappointment (reminding me of Voltaire’s CANDIDE) with his ever present optimism.

Hirabayashi’s small victories burst onto Hisamoto’s face with a joyous smile but the playwright doesn’t offer much chance for us to see his suffering. She paints a sweeping overview of his life as if he never agonized over the ordeals he must have endured. No, Sakata has him cheerfully trundling off to jail, even requesting a longer sentence at one point. There is so much I wanted to know about his heroic fight for justice but this is a different play, by design.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey CARRY ON, NURSE (as the Brits would say)

It’s no walk in the park for the two existential characters in NURSE PLAY (@ BPT through Dec. 17th), seemingly compelled to lacerate old wounds while trapped in a darkened, creaky Saran wrapped room. The happy news is that James Wilkinson’s tortured little play is a rousing walk on the wild side for the audience.

Wilkinson’s company, EXILED THEATRE specializes in dark, absurdist fare so it comes as no surprise that NURSE PLAY will remind you (briefly) of Sartre or Beckett or Stephen King, for that matter…but you’re soon caught up in Wilkinson’s fiercely intelligent dialogue and canny allusions, as nurse (Susannah Wilson) and patient (Cody Sloan) execute a gory, metaphorical chess game to determine who is in charge of the premises.

It’s clear that this “lady with the lamp” is no Florence Nightingale. Nurse Ratched is more like it, by way of Sweeney Todd! Nor is the patient himself without sin. Oh, no. No angels here. Revelations practically congeal your blood, even as you giggle at Wilkinson’s audacity. If you like your comedy on the grisly side, then NURSE PLAY is your tonic.

The most distressing discoveries in NURSE PLAY have a sublime sound track. There simply isn’t anything more delightfully funny than watching Susannah Wilson groove out to BLONDIE: “One way or another, [she’s] gonna get ya’…. get ya’ get ya’ get ya’ get ya’.” (Kudos to movement director Kayleigh Kane for the hilarious choreography.)

Director Joe Jukenievich cuts to the bone, the funny bone it turns out, with his take no prisoners staging. Every time Sloan’s gangrenous foot touches the floor, you wince from the pain but it’s always followed by Wilkinson’s biting satire.

My absolute favorite line in the play, having just experienced a real life NURSE PLAY (where, after surviving a near fatal car crash, I almost bled to death from flossing when prescribed way too much blood thinner) is Sloan’s “They never would have done this in a hospital.” I’m here to tell you, life is theater of the absurd and yes they would.

Wilkinson has so much meaty material in NURSE PLAY that my only quibble is that perhaps it’s too much muscle. I thought it had ended a couple of times before it really did but I couldn’t tell you what I would remove, it’s all so clever.

Saturday, December 2, 2017


Even if you’re not a rabid fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s cheeky thrillers, your funny bone will be convulsing over the shenanigans in Moonbox’s production of THE 39 STEPS (@ BCA through Dec. 9th). British playwright Evan George Patrick Barlow’s 2004 adaptation of the Hitchcock classic won him all manner of awards, from London to Broadway. (Before it became the 1935 Hitchcock film, THE 39 STEPS was published twenty years earlier as a serial spy novel. Although its origins are endlessly fascinating, its delightful transformation to the stage is what makes it a knockout.)

You see, aside from the protagonist, a dashing Canadian who finds himself drawn into the thorny world of European espionage, all the other characters are portrayed by three actors for whom fast paced comedy is mother’s milk. Kevin Cirone oozes panache as the accidental hero, brandishing that emblematic wit that spits squarely in the face of adversity. Director Allison Olivia Choat stops just short of winking, as she maneuvers Cirone out of windows, off speeding trains and into rushing waters to escape the various clutches of villains, dolts and n’er-do-wells (all audaciously portrayed by Matthew Zahnzinger and Bob Mussett).

Sarah Gazdowicz is hilarious as a literal femme fatale and even more intriguing prospects for our hero. Huzzahs to dialect coach Daniel Blackwell. Gazdowicz’ provocative accents alone make her irresistible. And Zahnzinger’s left eye which overflows with greed, not to mention its Scottish owner’s impenetrable brogue is simply delicious… And Mussett’s curiously odd vaudevillian, key to the thirty nine ways to subvert Nazis and save the world is both delectable and disarming! I could go on and on, about the ingenious staging and brazen liberties taken to serve up a guffaw…

There you are. Laughing your self silly and forgetting all about present day Nazis and impending doom. Thank you, Moonbox.