Tuesday, March 19, 2019

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Hell Hath No Fury

My short-lived relief that Flat Earth Theatre’s NOT MEDEA (@Arsenal Arts through March 30th) would not be Euripides’ MEDEA (perhaps the most famous of all “scorned” women) was quickly replaced with resignation. O K, the play is about that MEDEA but Allison Gregory’s clever conceit melding the tragic sorceress to a contemporary single mother makes the story more approachable.

This mom’s husband, like Medea’s, has left her for a younger woman. She’s stressed to the max and can’t cope anymore, certainly a recipe for disaster, if not revenge. I’m not sold on the link but Gregory mounts an engaging comparison. More importantly, Flat Earth mounts a crackerjack production.

Just this week, a fire which consumed a whole family led the news, twice in fact, because investigators subsequently discovered that the fire had been set to cover a grisly murder/suicide. We struggle to understand why a parent would kill a child but turning to MEDEA for an explanation? It’s a gambit and one that necessitates we buy into the nasty old shibboleth about the fury of a “woman scorned.”

Is there a comparable saying for a man who’s been jilted? I can’t think of one, yet it’s used again and again to discredit a woman. I recall that Anita Hill was accused of being a “scorned” woman to explain away her motive when she testified against Clarence Thomas… as was Christine Blasey-Ford in the Kavanaugh hearings. The Greek Chorus in Gregory’s play doesn’t help much when it proudly proclaims that MEDEA will “be the hero of scorned women everywhere.” Good Lord.

Gregory jokes that a theater company might think twice before presenting her play when television offers similar fare every night of the week. If anything elevates Gregory’s effort above and beyond the mayhem on TV, it’s her smart dialogue and her humor (often at her own expense!). Flat Earth is fortunate to have Juliet Bowler as the cheeky, self deprecating mom so desperate for a night out that she wanders sight unseen into our audience. Of course she takes over the stage complaining that it’s, gasp, MEDEA. (We’re with her there!) Bowler maintains an impressive balance between the comedy in the play and the seriousness it addresses.

NOT MEDEA is not so much a play within a play, as it is a treatise within a play: that anyone could lose control and commit a savage act, given the right circumstances. In point of fact, judging from the statistical frequency of murder following a break-up (especially those with an order of restraint attached), one can make a case. But those murderers are more likely to be male, not female and Gregory is indicting the females in her audience. We’re the ones, she says, whose love “is so full of trouble.” There went my hackles, right up again.

My reservations aside, see director Elizabeth Yvette Ramirez’ compelling production for the performances. It’s no easy feat, switching from past to present and from character to character. Bowler is supported by Gene Dante, charismatic as the two philandering husbands, and by Cassandra Meyer in an affecting performance as the Chorus (et al).

Sunday, March 3, 2019


They don’t write barn burners like THE LITTLE FOXES anymore (@ Lyric Stage through March 17). The Bette Davis movie of the Lillian Hellman gem has long been a favorite of mine. I recall many riveting stage productions over the years (including the Lyric’s) but I didn’t realize what new life there was in this chestnut. Scott Edmiston’s thrilling, almost gothic production (Dewey Dellay’s music sets the tone from the get-go) mines all the resonance Edmiston can find in this tale of a greedy, scheming Southern family nipping at each others’ heels.

The Hubbards will stop at nothing to increase their coffers. They find “virtue” in lying, cheating and underpaying everyone they can. The elder brother delivers a nifty speech about leaving his honest competitors in the dust, predicting that the business men of the future all will be “Hubbards.” (How did Hellman know this seventy years ago!)

Regina (Hubbard) Giddens, like Hedda Gabler, is a dream role for an actress. Anne Gottlieb reigns as the avenging daughter who, when only her brothers inherited their father’s wealth, married money and spends all her thoughts on getting more. Like Hedda, she wants to escape her provincial life and the restrictions of second class citizenship. She’s tired of depending on men. Hellman gives her the chance for payback in THE LITTLE FOXES.

Hellman has created another plum role in THE LITTLE FOXES: A sister-in-law named Birdie. She’s everything Regina is not. She represents the old South (mind you, from a white perspective). She’s genteel. She treats the Black servants with respect and she despairs over her husband’s hunting of animals for recreation. Everyone, even Birdie, knows Regina’s younger brother married her for her family’s cotton. So she drinks.

Amelia Broome gives a tour de force as the wounded, heartbroken Birdie. With every word Birdie utters, you know she’s holding back tears of grief …tears of wasted years …tears of physical abuse. Broome physically forces Birdie to keep her composure, although it’s a tipsy one, because she’s a “lady.” When the floodgates open, Broome leaves us devastated and amused at the same time over Birdie’s wobbly confession. It’s a terrific moment in the action.

The women in THE LITTLE FOXES really pack the punches in Edmiston’s production. Cheryl D. Singleton as Addie, the family’s “beloved” servant, conveys both Addie’s pride in running the household (and indulging Regina’s daughter) and her disdain for the avarice expressed in front of her as if she were invisible. Singleton masterfully plays the lines, as well as the repressed emotion under the lines. Hellman doesn’t say it outright but she hammers home the subservient plight of Blacks who are no longer slaves and yet they still slave for the new plantation class.

Addie has a powerful ally in Craig Mathers as Regina’s estranged, savvy husband. Mathers gives a strong performance as the one family member wise enough to challenge the Hubbard “take no prisoners” philosophy. Rosa Procaccino, as the sweet, innocent daughter, gradually learns what happens to powerless women and her transformation is wonderfully satisfying.

Kinson Theodoris is delightful in the role of the servant who keenly observes the white folk behaving badly. Theodoris steals the scene when he is asked to deliver a message which doesn’t make sense. He finally agrees to do it, but he departs, shaking his head at what foolish characters these white people are.

Remo Airaldi, Will McGarrahan and Michael John Ciszewski portray with frightening gusto (as Addie calls them) “the people who eat the earth and everything on it.” Bill Mootos in a small but effective role, aids and abets the Hubbard men by providing them an irresistible opportunity to amass yet another fortune. Don’t miss the chance to see what happens to men and women who worship money above all else.


Friday, March 1, 2019

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey BIRDY’s Winged Victory

Commonwealth Shakespeare (in residence at Babson College) has assembled an impressive team to animate William Wharton’s allegorical novel, BIRDY (playing through March 17th). BIRDY has been adapted by playwright Naomi Wallace, whose brilliant ONE FLEA SPARE is fondly remembered by this reviewer. BIRDY is both the play’s title and the nickname of its central character. The touching, and at times humorously ironic, narrative soars alternately from past to present, illustrating the value of friendship and the devastating damage of war.

As a child, Birdy (Spencer Hamp) is fascinated by all things avian. Even before the play begins we hear the flapping of wings, hinting at what is to come. As a teenager, Birdy befriends a neighborhood boy, Al (Maxim Chumov) who is more than happy to join Birdy in his pursuit of flight, although Al is more interested in adventure than birds. With the boundless enthusiasm of young boys, they scavenge the town for aluminum scraps and bicycle parts to fashion mechanical wings.

WWII intervenes and we find the young men reunited in an army hospital, both with severe injuries. Adult Birdy (Will Taylor) no longer speaks. He sits on the floor like a wounded bird, perching on tiptoes, his arms wrapped tightly around him for protection. His best friend (Keith White), who is recovering from head wounds, has been summoned by the hospital psychiatrist (Steven Barkhimer) in a last ditch effort to reach the catatonic Birdy. Sometimes the younger and older characters appear together: when soldier Al is interviewed by the obtuse army doctor, his younger self suggests a nifty, wiseacre way to annoy the blowhard. He does it and we’re delighted.

The intricate bird references (about undulating flight vectors and complex bird song) have the echoing ring of authenticity and Hamp (as young Birdy) lovingly conveys his intense (perhaps too intense) devotion to winged creatures. Both Hamp and Chumov perfectly capture the reckless joy of perilous youthful exploits, clambering over Clint Ramos’ sky high scaffolding crowded with rusty cages and wing shaped driftwood. Director Steven Maler elicits our imagination to “see” the boys falling, sliding, and swimming.

You may know Alan Parker’s lovely 1984 film with Matthew Modine as Birdy. The film has an easier time of it, depicting flight. Maler and company have a tough battle on stage because we struggle with the limitations of our imagination. Additionally, the realistic flow of the play is interrupted by the necessity of our collective resourcefulness.

Various characters weigh in philosophically on the import of war. The hawkish doctor doesn’t much like soldiers, especially wounded soldiers, equating their fear with cowardice. The kindly nurse (Damon Singletary) whose job it is to tend to the severely wounded, has the opposite opinion. He’s the compassionate conscientious objector, who knows firsthand the costs of war. It’s Singletary, in fact, who humanizes the “anti-war message.” He’s the one character who understands humane treatment. (Certainly the doctor doesn’t.) That and the tender relationship of the young characters are the reason to see this BIRDY.