Saturday, October 27, 2018

New Review By Beverly Creasey Nunsensical Naughtiness

Who would have thought that a small, out-of-the-way theater like Curtain Call would have the answer to the overwhelming Sturm and Drang oppressing us daily! They’re offering the chance to escape the relentless political mayhem by embracing the comic mayhem of NUNSENSE THE MUSICAL (playing through Nov. 4th). Laughter, it seems, may be the only respite we have.

Audiences evidently adore nuns behaving badly… almost as much as misbehaving puppets: Dan Goggin’s musical has both, from an irreverent Reverend Mother to an unruly puppet called Sister Mary Annette. It seems the NUNSENSE franchise is going strong still, with sequels and spin-offs everywhere. But essential to a successful send-up are comic timing, truthful portrayals and crackerjack performers who can sing, dance and spoof. Director/choreographer David Costa has a professional cast who make it look easy, even the raucous tap number!

Mary Beth Murphy as Mother Superior reigns over her brood with a severe side glance that most school children instantly recognize… but you don’t have to be Catholic to be familiar with the stern stance of authority, or to delight in the Reverend Mother’s unintentional tumble from grace. Murphy’s momentarily lapsed Right Reverend is a hoot.

Christine Kenney as Sister Robert (with a decidedly broad Bronx accent) gets lots of laughs complaining about playing second fiddle to Mother Superior. She even gets a song about it. Nikita DaRosa gives a winning performance as the sweetest ballet dancing Sister Mary Leo I’ve encountered in many a NUNSENSE… and Kels Ferguson wins our hearts hands down, as the slightly vague Sister suffering mightily from amnesia. Ferguson and her puppet steal the show outright. Not only does she voice Sister Marie Annette without moving her lips, her own voice in their duet is a unique blend of Disneyfied warble and operatic Bel Canto. Bravo.

Rena Pemper-Rodriguez gets to fire up the audience as if it were a Revival Meeting with her Holier Than Thou hoedown. Music director Danielle Clougher steps up the tempo for a rip-roaring finish to the show. When I attended, the audience was responding to Sister Hubert like it was an evangelical service with call and response! David Costa and company have conjured up some virtuoso alchemy for a truly delightful NUNSENSE.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Remembering and Revisiting Childhood

FUN HOME (@ BCA through Nov. 24th) is the kind of intimate, artful musical which is right up SpeakEasy’s alley. They take small works like Jason Robert Brown’s A New Brain or Tony Kushner’s Caroline, or Change and give them the definition that might be lost in a huge theater. That said, FUN HOME won a slew of Tony Awards in New York including Best Musical, being the first musical with a lesbian central character to do so.

FUN HOME (music by Jeanine Tesori/book and lyrics by Lisa Kron) is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, which Bechdel sardonically calls “A Family Tragicomedy”… Tragic certainly as the loss of a parent can be to the survivors, but comic because she had inventive siblings for support. In the musical they make up a delightfully irreverent, faux advertisement for their father’s funeral home business (hence the title of the musical).

All isn’t fun for Alison and her brothers. Their father is remote and can be cruel on occasion. We meet Alison at three times in her life, as a schoolgirl (Marissa Simeqi), as a college student (Ellie van Amerongen) with Amy Jo Jackson as principal narrator of the musical at age 43. The trick is that they’re all sharing the stage together.

The forty three year old has a grown-up’s empathy for her gay, closeted father because “he didn’t know what to do… he wanted more out of life” but the eight year old didn’t understand why he constantly belittled her ideas. In fact both father (Todd Yard) and mother (Laura Marie Duncan) burden Alison with their problems. Both parents have musical moments where they lay bare their emotions but Duncan’s “Days and Days” about “the day you disappear” is a show stopper.

Director Paul Daigneault has a talented cast to bring home the coming of age story… and because music director Matthew Stern and the small-scale ensemble are on stage, FUN HOME becomes a cozy chamber musical. Tesori’s score ranges from mother’s classical etude to a wonderful rock n’ roll number, Ring of Keys featuring solid guitar work from Tom Young.

Van Amerongen totals up lots of laughs when she finally feels comfortable enough to come out, in the riotous Changing My Major [to Joan]. Desire Graham is a standout as the object of her affection, as are Cameron Levesque and Luke Gold portraying her precocious, younger brothers.



Monday, October 22, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Line of Demarcation

The Improbable Players develop plays about addiction (alcohol/ cocaine /heroin/opiates etc.) which they perform in schools and community settings, with education and prevention their goal. Their impressive showcase, END OF THE LINE: “Confronting the Epidemic” occupied the Mosesian main stage at the Watertown Arsenal this past Wednesday night (Oct. 17th).

Originally conceived and directed by Lynn Bratley (and continued by Joanna Simmons and Chris Everett), the evening of stories and vignettes were gathered by interviewing people who know the pain of addiction without knowing how to embrace change. The actors have lived similar stories because they themselves are in recovery. What comes across to an audience is their generous spirit and a genuine affection for the characters they inhabit.

In one heartbreaking sketch, a small child (Caryn May) finds drugs in her mother’s unattended purse. In another a desperate woman (Meghann Perry) calls multiple pharmacies to renew an opiate prescription with “no refills.” In another scene, a game show host (Jon Riemer) asks the audience to identify the addict. In the last scene of the evening Christian Santilli’s character is literally tied in knots trying to find his way out of the addiction cycle. What we witness in all the depictions is how easily someone in dire need will turn to another, far more dangerous drug without realizing or caring what it will do to them.

Years ago it was thought that ads and slogans could “scare people straight”… Now we know that doesn’t work. Remember Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign or the public service television spot showing an egg crack open in a frying pan. The baritone voice warned us “This is your brain on drugs.” The problem is that these platitudes are impersonal or at best, one size fits all. The dozen or so actors of Improbable Players make their live message of hope “up front and personal” and that makes all the difference.


Sunday, October 21, 2018


Although David Meyers’ WE WILL NOT BE SILENT (@ New Rep through Nov. 4th) takes place in Nazi Germany over 70 years ago (based on real members of the Resistance movement) it seems to mirror events in our time…the only difference is that the German woman at the heart of Meyers’ play is put to death for protesting against Hitler and protesters in the U.S. are not… Except that it does happen here. A woman attending a peaceful rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was murdered by Neo-Nazis… and the president refused to condemn the right wing nationalists, saying there were “good people on both sides.” And now he sets the tone for more violence by telling his supporters that peaceful dissenters are “angry mobs” which should be feared.

Sophie Scholl’s small resistance organization (the White Rose) published leaflets which were her undoing when the police found them in her possession. Among other charges against Hitler were the words, “Every word that comes from his mouth is a lie.” We often wonder how the Germans could let the Holocaust happen. “Never Again” is written above the concentration camps that still stand as horrific reminders. Yet the Nationalist (trans. Nazi) Party is gaining ground today in Germany (and all over Europe). And here.

Tim Spears gives a strong performance as Sophie Scholl’s interrogator, playing “good cop/bad cop” with her emotions. Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Sophie has the difficult task of playing the nobility beneath her stalwart exterior. Muirhead seems so frail, yet the resistance rested on her small shoulders. Like Brecht’s Galileo, she is offered leniency if she recants and like Shaw’s Joan of Arc, she can’t deny what she believes, even to see her beloved family again. Like Shaw’s Joan, Meyers gives Sophie a lovely speech about the earthly beauty she will lose. Meyers also affords her the chance to see her brother (a graceful Conor Proft) again, if only in her imagination. Director Jim Petosa’s resonant production reminds us of the terrible consequences of “silence.”


Sunday, October 14, 2018


Boston Lyric Opera pulls out most of the stops in Rossini’s knock about comic opera, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, parading through Oct. 21st @ Emerson Cutler Majestic. Director Rosetta Cucchi (and scenic designer Julia Noulin-Mérat) have imagined a set inspired by M.C. Escher with endless stairways, some going nowhere. Certainly, mistaken avenues and mistaken identities pepper the (Beaumarchais) story. Precautions prove useless (as in Rossini’s first title for the opera) as a lecherous old doctor tries to outwit a dashing count in pursuit of a beauty.

The “beauty” is mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, as Rosina, who delivers a triumphant Una Voce Poco Fa, as Rossini wrote it, in the original key! We know everything we need to know from that aria: She can be sweet if she wants, but do not cross her or you will feel her wrath. Her gorgeous top notes are surpassed only by her astonishing, comic low notes. Equaling her prowess and power is tenor Jesus Garcia as the count. Their playful duets propel the comedy forward. (The speed of the music has to match the speed of the farce and music director David Angus keeps the momentum apace.)

Act I by itself is a wonder, with Matthew Worth’s brash Largo Al Factotum to “humbly” introduce himself as the “barber of quality,” with Rosina’s spectacular aria, Figaro’s driving duet with the count, Steven Condy’s hilarious Doctor Bartolo, a wild sextet to end the act and, best of all, David Crawford’s lashing, scene stealing turn as Don Basilio: Looking like one of the Munsters, walking like a peacock who is having difficulty unfurling his tail, Crawford makes the schemer irresistible. His La Calunnia, to my mind, is the highlight of the opera.

For BARBER veterans, little unexpected touches are a delight, as long as they don’t change the narrative or the music. Case in point, Don Basilio’s slightly sado-masochistic bent and his misinterpretation in Act II of the endless farewells. It’s extremely clever to have him return because he wants to be polite… And Rosina’s personal tempest for the orchestral storm… And Dr. Bartolo’s headphones: so silly but effective in keeping him occupied while the lovers plot their elopement. (A few of the comic bits seemed cringe worthy to me but they got lots of laughs.)

I wish director Cucchi and company had embraced the ‘useless stairway’ conceit to its full extent, mining humor from foiled exits but I only noticed one false comic departure (Don Basilio’s) and it didn’t involve a stairway at all. Dr. Bartolo trouped endlessly up and down the same flight but mostly, the Escher effect itself went nowhere except to separate characters who are ordinarily in the same room (Dr. Bartolo eyeing the furtive lovers at the piano). I did love Rosina’s frustration, however, when neither the count nor the doctor paid her any attention in the music lesson.

See this BARBER for the lovely voices and the ingenious flourishes, both vocal and dramatic.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Perilous PICNIC

If you know Imaginary Beasts from the inspired lunacy of their Winter Pantos, you will be surprised by the depth and intensity of their haunting PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (through Oct. 27th @ Charlestown Working Theater).

This is the 50th anniversary of the Joan Lindsay novel (which inspired the eerie Peter Weir film) about several impressionable schoolgirls who went missing during a field trip to the 500 foot high volcanic rock “corpse” hanging over the Australian plain.

Imaginary Beasts is the always inventive brainchild of Matthew Woods. He fuses atmospheric music, physicality, shadow play and a powerful gestural language into his creations… whether or not he’s working from a pre-existing script.

This adaptation (by Tom Wright from the novel) is enhanced by the ensemble’s seamless story telling. (Each IB project is a collaboration.) Six actresses trade characters as diverse as a crusty old carriage driver, a dogged policeman, an Englishman on holiday and the highly susceptible students of Appleyard College.

In the same way that you give yourself over to a puppet (blinding yourself to the puppeteer), your eyes will see only the climbers, as the foolhardy girls clamber up the (human) rock face and tumble over an actor’s back into a ravine below. Woods manages to evoke the wild spirit lurking beneath the repressed veneer of a Victorian education (reflected cleverly in Cotton Talbot-Minken’s proper, buttoned up British attire).

Woods has found some wonderful additions to his solid troupe of performers, who when exchanging persona and placement, act as an organic whole, all contributing to the unity of the performance. IB is unique in making the ensemble the point, and the star, of their shows.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Fission Vision at Flat Earth

FLAT EARTH THEATRE, despite its playfully antediluvian name, is carving out a niche for itself, discovering lovely plays about women of science. DELICATE PARTICLE LOGIC by Jennifer Blackmer (pulsing through Oct. 13th) places atomic physicist Lise Meitner (a tour de force by Christine Power) at the epicenter of the unearthing of nuclear fission… for which her male laboratory partner, the noted chemist Otto Hahn (a solid Thomas Grenon) received the Nobel Prize. (You may remember Flat Earth’s extraordinary production of SILENT SKY from last season, about the women of the Harvard Observatory who weren’t credited for the stars they discovered.)

In Blackmer’s ingenious memory play, Meitner and Hahn join forces to find the next new element… and beat out the rest of the field, which included Enrico Fermi, for the bragging rights. Everyone, it seems, was bombarding radium and uranium to find heretofore unknown heavier elements. Meitner suggested to Hahn that what they were, or rather, weren’t seeing, were lighter elements emerging with unstable centers, and those center nuclei would yield infinite energy when bombarded. Please insert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity here because I, not being a scientist, can only grasp that splitting these molecules creates fission and fission is essential for a very, very large explosion… like the horrific bombs unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is now widely accepted that Meitner and Hahn should have shared in the accolades. Blackmer ingeniously places Meitner in the center of a tiny emotional sphere as well, with Hahn and his wife (a glorious performance from Barbara Douglass) swirling in various combinations. We first meet Edith Hahn in a sanitarium of sorts, where she has been committed for hurling a vase at her husband! When she is visited by Meitner, the two reminisce as if they were old friends. We’re given several versions of the past to choose from, charming recreations, which, like Edith’s water colors, float in undulating memory pools.

Blackmer is extremely kind to Hahn, painting him as an affectionate lab partner to Meitner, even helping her escape from the Nazis. However, the playwright intimates that the two may have been more. Meitner calls him Hahnchen, the “chen” indicating intimacy, perhaps only ‘wished for’ on her part. And he may have been nudged, the playwright hints, to accept sole ownership of the Nobel. You decide once you’ve weighed all the dramatic evidence. That’s what’s so fascinating about Blackmer’s play, that all this information has been filtered through time and fragile recollections.

Director Betsy S. Goldman’s shimmering production is enhanced exponentially by Christine A. Banna’s dancing projections (from sparkling snow to theoretical formulae which flow right over the actors) and PJ Strachman’s shadowy, evocative lighting. Kudos to Flat Earth for again offering performances with American Sign Language interpreters.

As I was leaving the theater, bemoaning Meitner’s fate, a friend reminded me of the wonderful Nobel news of last week. Even as half the Senate was dismissing a woman’s testimony and embracing a judge’s lies, two women were recognized by the worldwide scientific community. Frances H. Arnold (and two men) won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Donna Strickland won the Nobel for Physics. Flat Earth Theatre calls us to remember all the women who have stood up over the centuries. Thanks, Flat Earth.