Friday, June 22, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Ghosts in the Machines

The only things Michael Crichton didn’t envision in 1973 with his dark, sci-fi take on Disney (Frontier/Tomorrow Land) were the internet and virtual reality. WESTWORLD introduced us to a violent theme park with a gun slinging cyborg behind every swinging saloon door. Unfortunately, malfunctions turned the robots against the paying “cowboy” customers… not unlike the velociraptors in JURASIC PARK.

The 2017-18 television version of WESTWORLD blurs the distinctions between humans and androids, so much so that villains can be either. Jennifer Haley’s THE NETHER (@ Flat Earth through June 23rd) explores the “deep world,” as in “deep state,” at the thinner edges of the internet (known in centuries to come as the nether). These are secret realms most internet users don’t know even exist.

Like WESTWORLD, Haley’s “hideaway” locale allows customers to indulge their vilest fantasies without consequence, and in person. Haley offers up “Papa’s Realm,” where guests (we observe only men) pay to meet, fondle, even murder a precocious little girl (no little boys) who looks like Alice in Wonderland… an apt choice as Charles Dodgson, A.K.A. Lewis Carroll, loved to surround himself with little girls, taking pictures of them, reading stories to them. Evidently Papa caters only to men. Not to worry, the child tells them, she reanimates immediately after she’s hacked to bits.

In addition to toying with this child, one can, if one is weary of this world, reincarnate (without the carnal component), that is, cross over and take over the little girl’s spirit, thereby existing forever. This is where the police come in. They’d like to eliminate Papa and his malignant operation. Director Sarah Gazdowicz has a first rate cast, led by Regine Vital as the sharp detective who dogs Papa and his customers. Bob Mussett is frighteningly creepy as the cold, elegant, Victorian Papa who glibly confesses he is cursed with “both an obsession and insight.” Julia Talbot plays the child just unaware enough to be innocent and knowing at the same time.

Jeff Gill plays the spent man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, ready to sign on with Papa no matter the consequences, a character we can (sort of) identify with. Arthur Gomez plays an under cover cop who may be enjoying the dark side too much. I couldn’t say because I ran out of steam, trying to put this all together when I really didn’t want any part of it. I know children are abused. Plays that tell us about abuse are preaching to the converted. The abusers aren’t going to the theater. And if they are, they are not being transformed. WESTWORLD is the same as THE NETHER or PILLOWMAN to me.

We’re watching it play out on the nightly news, for heaven’s sake. Our government is kidnapping thousands of children, ripping them away from loving parents, and all we do is protest at the State House and march ourselves to Washington. It’s not enough.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Alcohol and firearms: What could go wrong! John Minigan’s NOIR HAMLET (@ Centastage through June 30th) is a wacky, whiskey soaked send-up of the Bard’s most famous play, with enough disjointed allusions to stymie any private eye. It’s the ‘40s. Hamlet has seen his father’s ghost and is bent on payback. His mother is about to marry his uncleso many clues, so little time in a one-actso Hammy is hot on the case, having stepped into his father’s gumshoes (and maybe the old detective’s secretary, too.)

Director Joe Antoun leaves no stone unturned, no banana unpeeled, no entendre un-doubled in pursuit of laughter. Even the stagehands get into the act. Funny stuff! Just what the doctor ordered to distract us from the sad state of the world… even for a few minutes. Minigan throws the strangest references our way: You’ll find Duke Orsino lurking in the dialogue, along with Signor Wencas, and patter from Casablanca and The Mikado, no less!

Best of all is Antoun’s cast: Paul Melendy, whose arched, left eyebrow has a comic life of its own, is our hapless P.I. (The noir treatment of the story is mother’s milk to the ravenous actor). Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia is ravishing as the femme fatale (!) and plenty creepy as the sinister coroner. Robert Murphy, too, pops up as the ghost, the uncle and a nefarious character with insider info to trade. Liz Adams as Gertrude steals the show in her slinky, red negligee and platinum Jean Harlow coif, not an easy task with Mancinas-Garcia looking so coquettish in drag! You know the scenery will be chewed to bits. It’s NOIR on steroids. Antoun even borrows from THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY for the lunatic gunfight finale. Don’t miss the hilarious mayhem


Saturday, June 9, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Hello Again CHORUS LINE

            While the company is singing “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen,” it’s really Hello Reagle, celebrating fifty years of fully staged Broadway musicals. At Reagle’s helm is the remarkable Bob Eagle… and the anniversary awards are pouring in.
A CHORUS LINE came into being when Michael Bennett struck theatrical gold by highlighting the individual “gypsies” in a show. Many of the stories he recorded made it verbatim into A CHORUS LINE. (Alas none of the gold made it into any of their pockets. That’s the legend, anyway.)

Reagle’s kick line for this production has its own backstage drama: Aimee Doherty (who stole the show as the wise cracking Sheila last time Reagle did A CHORUS LINE) got the chance to sing at POPS on press night so most of the reviewers didn’t see her. Oh, no! (I feel certain she’s still capable of larceny.)

Bob Eagle cements his reputation as a wizard because he flew in Lauren Gemelli for one night for the plum role. (I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved a magic carpet.) Gemelli is on loan from the national tour of CHICAGO. (I’ve seen her in CHICAGO and she’s one of the best things in it.) By the by, “Sheila” is the best role in A CHORUS LINE. (Scholars differ, I know!) But Gemelli nails it.

Mind you, there is no plot. And most of the stories are pretty schmaltzy so cheeky stands out in welcome relief. Sydney Parra proves my point with a solid “Nothing,” about a nasty drama school instructor. So does Ansley Speares in the naughty “Dance: Ten. Looks: Three.”

For my money, if you’re delivering one of the sad stories in A CHORUS LINE, and you make me believe, even “feel” something (that’s the risk in Parra’s song), then you’re a knockout. Makai Hernandez did. Director Leslie Woodies found a stash of talented conservatory students to fill out the line.

Best of all in Reagle’s production is Taavon Gamble as Richie He sure can “do that.” He’s delightful. He’s funny. He can sing and oh, can he dance!

Monday, June 4, 2018


Shana Dirik is a force of nature. Any production she’s in is enhanced by her presence. Now she’s her own theater company! Last evening her brand new enterprise, THEATER UNCORKED, staged a staggering, one-time-only event in Harvard Square, a rip roaring presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD. Far more than a staged reading but less than a full production, this TODD featured Dirik and her former Sweeney from the award winning Metro Stage production, Ben Discipio. That production earned them a passel of IRNE certificates. This “pop up” event will have theater fans who missed it, beside themselves, and the rest of us, endlessly talking about it. If only they could do it again. Please. Please.
I’m reminded of the (one performance only) concert productions of operas performed in the many cathedrals in England and France. These sanctuaries come with an organ, lots of space and pews to seat several hundred. THEATER UNCORKED’s choice of The First Church Cambridge afforded them enough room for a full, seventeen piece orchestra and an exquisite organ which did indeed pull out all the stops for those earth shattering chords which usher in the Grand Guignol  musical.
While music director Gina Naggar conducted the sonorous orchestra, director Allison Olivia Choat maneuvered almost three dozen performers on and off the platform (which I wish had been raked so we could see better). Discipio broke my heart again, as he did at Metro years ago, when Sweeney remembers his infant daughter, singing his sorrowful “I’ll never see my girl again.” Dirik makes your blood run cold when Mrs. Lovett answers her shop boy’s tender pledge of protection with his own words, even as she contemplates his demise. Dirik pulls Alex Boyle’s sweet, innocent “[Nothing’s Gonna Harm You] Not While I’m Around” inside out, with gut wrenching precision.
Jordan Reynolds, as the na├»ve sailor who falls in love with Sweeney’s daughter (Audrey Clark), wins us over with his clear, ringing tenor, swearing earnestly “to steal” her from the wicked Judge. Matthew Zahnzinger is magnificent as the loathsome, leering, self-flagellating magistrate and Christopher Porth has a delightful scene, infuriating Mrs. Lovett with interminable parlor songs. What an undertaking. What an evening. But one SWEENEY TODD is never enough.