Saturday, December 29, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Captivating SHIPWRECKED!

One of the most charming productions of the year comes at the very end of the year. SHIPWRECKED! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (As Told By Himself) is elegantly performed by Moonbox Productions, with the same talented cast alternating evenings in TWELFTH NIGHT, also a tale set into motion by a shipwreck.

SHIPWRECKED’s playwright, Donald Marguiles, creates a larger than life world where a sickly young lad can dream of sea voyages, rugged sailors and strange animals like flying marsupials—then sign on with an eager captain and discover new lands for himself. We sign on, too, hanging on every word the elderly De Rougemont utters. We suspect he may be embellishing the story but he seems so sincere and kind (a tour de force for Kevin Cirone as both the old and the young explorer), that we give ourselves over completely to him.

We appreciate Marguiles’ tongue in cheek reminders here and there that the truth is being stretched or misrepresented entirely (those flying wombats) but this is a NICHOLAS NICKELBY experience and we’re all in. Part of the allure is Allison Olivia Choat’s ingenious staging where everything can become something else in the blink of an eye, as we watch Michael Lin’s “Foley” sound effects come to life (a wind machine, aluminum panels for thunder, etc.). Most impressive is the music (Dan Rodriguez’ department), performed on stage by the extraordinarily versatile cast.

The sincerity of the players allows us to laugh at De Rougemont’s innocence, as he recounts his wild discoveries. But when De Rougemont counts his losses, Cirone breaks our hearts, especially when he loses his faithful friend, Bruno (Sarah Gazdowicz in a star turn) and when he loses favor with his fellow Londoners.

Levity is provided by the barrelful by Arthur Gomez as the blustery captain, by Charlotte Kinder as De Rougemont’s over-protective mother, by Gazdowicz and Andrew Winson as stuffy old society ladies, by Matthew Zahnzinger as a doddering, pinched, octopus expert…Every member of the taut ensemble has the chance to find laughter in a moment and lose themselves in a touching character role.


Monday, December 24, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey MILE 26.2

Act I of Leah Nanako Winkler’s TWO MILE HOLLOW (@ Apollinaire through Jan 20th) reminded me a little of Charles Busch’s wild send-up of those 1950’s Annette Funicella / Frankie Avalon BEACH movies. Winkler certainly catches Busch’s over the top spirit but to sustain that level of outrageous hilarity, the liveliness has to increase exponentially. Act I is hilarious but only in waves. The success of outsized farce depends on brazen momentum and Winkler’s parody of rich white families picks up steam, then runs out of it, then gathers it again and runs out again.

The plot, if there is one, hinges on a fraught reunion, when, after the patriarch’s death, the surviving family members return to their sprawling beach house in the Hamptons, to divvy up possessions, and revisit old grievances, before it is sold. Mother (Paola M. Ferrer) is a terror. Daughter Mary (Christa Brown) is a basket case. Two insecure brothers (Armando Rivera and Mauro Canepa) fight over father’s motorcycle/metaphor (Don’t ask) and Jasmine Brooks, as the latter brother’s personal assistant, tags along in the first act and becomes the focus of the second.

The beach house, we’re told, has a strange way of “affecting” its inhabitants. Evidently, it’s haunted by the ghost of the late father who seems, in his afterlife, to have grown fond of lightening strikes. Peculiarly, the HOLLOW affects the play, too, turning Act II into a serious attempt at “message” drama, pontificating about being “true to oneself.” This carnival of the bizarre is a marathon of unwieldy dialogue and nonsensical allusions to weighty dramas by Chekov and Tennessee Williams… not to mention Hitchcock when mother and daughter engage in earsplitting (Caw Caw) bird-shrieks.

Speaking of carnivals, David Reiffel’s delightful sound design whisks us from “The Days of Wine and Roses” to Saint-Saens’ gorgeous “Aquarium,” with clever original music thrown in for the wonderfully goofy “Extraordinary.” Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques knows her way around comedy and there are plenty of opportunities for merriment but the playwright moves the target on herand for me, it was too late for the rather weak socio-political points about race and status. The revelations come tardy as well. (We didn’t even know there were any for most of the play. What is a revelation anyway, without suspense and anticipation to precede it?)

What there is in TWO MILE HOLLOW is an abundance of silliness, like the zany, recurring mispronunciationswhich made me giggle every time because I didn’t see them coming… Even though I knew there’d be more of them. So, if you can shift gears half way through, you may “get” what the playwright is trying to accomplish. There is an exhibit of photos in the lobby which makes the point that the play missed. You’ll cringe when you see Lawrence Oliver in blackface as Othello (hovering over a young, white Maggie Smith). The exhibit doesn’t include brown/black faced opera singers but it should. The Metropolitan Opera still presents white singers “bronzed up” as Othello and as Aida, broadcasting the performances without shame, to millions of viewers in theaters via HD simulcast. No one bats an eyelash!

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Two companies cast fresh eyes on historical figures with strong ties to Boston this month. New Repertory Theatre gives 1776 the “Hamilton” treatment (through Dec. 30th) and Lyric Stage Company (in association with The Front Porch Arts Collective) remembers the extraordinary African-American tenor, Roland Hayes, with BREATH & IMAGINATION (through Dec. 23rd).

New Rep’s daring re-imagining of Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s 1776 puts all of us on stage, in all our diversity, to tell the story this time out. Lin-Manuel Miranda created a theatrical revolution with his commitment to a theater which reflects society and, as John Adams famously says in 1776, “We’ve crossed the Rubicon.” There’s no going back. HAMILTON re-sets the bar. Hallelujah!

Austin Pendleton and Kelli Edwards beef up the choreography and tweak the focus, but otherwise, it’s the 1776 you know. Perhaps their biggest hurtle is the music. Because women are singing some of the male roles (and visa versa in one case), music director Todd C. Gordon had to rework the score, changing keys to accommodate the higher voices. He did. It works brilliantly and as a result of the new casting, you sit up and take notice!

The most conventional role (as in “traditional” casting) is Benjamin Evett’s as Adams and he gives a passionate performancebut swirling all around him is the brave new world reinterpreting the old white world of our founding fathers. You might not think it would work but it does and there’s resonance to be had that the old, pale version didn’t have. When Thomas Jefferson is played by an African-American actor, (a serene KP Powell as the quiet, cerebral author of the Declaration), you’re not about to forget that Jefferson kept slaves and fathered children with at least one slave. (The “Declaration Descendants” project at has found twenty-nine living multi-racial descendants of the signers!)

The strange alchemy at work is that, at the same time, you forget the casting altogether and are swept up in the action of the musical. Bobbie Steinbach may be portraying Ben Franklin, but it’s still the cantankerous Ben Franklin out there. Shannon Lee Jones is delivering the “Molasses to Rum to Slaves” showstopper but Rutledge still takes your breath away with his indictment of the tall ships “out of Boston” (knowingly transporting slaves from the West Indies to the South). The entire ensemble is flawless, with Dan Prior a shimmering Martha Jefferson (the show’s most courageous role), with Rachel Belleman hilarious as the hard drinking R.I. delegate and Liliane Klein wonderfully acerbic as the Scotsman from Delaware.

 “Momma Look Sharp” (sung from the perspective of a dead soldier on the Lexington Green) is always devastating and Steven Martin’s gorgeous elegy is exceptionally sweet and powerful. Carolyn Saxon’s cheeky Abigail Adams contributes spice as well as salt peter to the revolution. You’ll relish Cheryl Singleton as John Hancock, Aimee Doherty as the conservative Pennsylvania holdout, Pier Lamia Porter as the preposterous Henry Lee (of the Virginia Lees), Luis Negron as the steady congressional secretary, Gary Ng as the delegate who saves the vote, and more, many more. Don’t miss out.

I recall a reenactment one July Fourth at the Old State House downtown wherein the Declaration of Independence was solemnly read aloud, followed by Roland Hayes singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It must have been well over forty years ago, yet it made an indelible impression on me. How sad it is that not many Bostonians remember the ground breaking tenor who lived in Brookline for the last fifty years of his life. Daniel Beaty’s BREATH & IMAGINATION is making some restitution (although the script only covers the early part of Hayes’ remarkable ninety year lifespan).

Davron S. Monroe gives a tour de force as the pioneering African-American singer in director Maurice Emmanuel Parent’s evocative production at the Lyric. The Beaty script focuses in large part on Hayes’ relationship with his mother: Yewande Odetoyinbo turns in a stellar performance as the tenacious woman who won’t give up easily on her dream to have a preacher for a son. Beaty takes liberties with timelines and omissions but manages to convey the hardships Hayes endured on his way to becoming one of the preeminent interpreters of both operatic and spiritual music in America.

In addition to Monroe and Odetoyinbo, both of whom are impressive vocalists, BREATH & IMAGINATION features Doug Gerber as Hayes’ kindly first voice teacher (who plays a life-changing recording of Enrico Caruso for the young Hayes) and Nile Scott Hawver who plays everyone else (including a “non-traditional” role like the ones in 1776). Music director Asher Denburg accompanies the singers on piano, no small accomplishment. His is quite a spirited performance, as well.

Hayes’ ties to Boston began in 1917 when he rented Symphony Hall and produced his own sold out concert. Six years later after major success in Europe, he made his “official,” invited debut with the BSO. He gave his last concert at the age of eighty-five at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge. Of course, his voice is the most important element in BREATH & IMAGINATION so we hear Monroe singing Scarlatti, Faure, Schubert and Donizetti as well as famous spirituals like “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.”

Monroe triumphs in Nemorino’s gorgeous aria from L’ELISIR D’AMORE, “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” when a tell-tale tear reveals true love. Every operatic tenor worth his salt covers the aria. Add Monroe’s name to that list. Kudos to the Lyric and Front Porch for reminding us of the treasure that was Boston’s for so many years.