Thursday, January 19, 2017

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents "Hand To God" by Robert Askins - Danger, High Voltage - Handle With Care!


SpeakEasy Stage Company has two high voltage plays running simultaneously at the Calderwood Pavilion. Due to popular demand, they are re-staging their wildly successful production of "The Scottsboro Boys," reviewed in this space on October, 2016: White Rhino Report Review of "The Scottsboro Boys"

Running at the same time is the challenging play "Hand To God," which created quite a buzz last season on Broadway, and garnered 5 Tony Award Nominations. This production is brilliantly directed by David R. Gammons, and features a stunning cast. Be aware that despite the fact that it is a play with puppets, this is not light family entertainment. Imagine that Jim Henson had been asked to write a mash-up of "The Exorcist," "Equus," and "Rosemary's Baby." The result would be something like the feel of "Hand To God." Playwright Robert Askins grew up near the buckle of the Bible Belt in Texas, and clearly is exorcising some of his own personal demons in observing aspects of Fundamentalism that he finds odious - especially repressed sexuality and hypocrisy. He goes after these dragons tooth and nail. The play is ribald, sacrilegious - bordering on blasphemous, and profane. It is not for the faint of heart nor for the easily offended. You have been warned.

Having issued the aforementioned caveats, I will say that this production of this difficult play is superbly well executed. The plot deals with an angry and confused teenager, Jason, (Eliott Purcell) reluctantly taking part in his widowed mother's attempt to find new meaning in life by creating a puppet ministry in the basement of their church. His puppet, Tyrone, takes on a life of his own, spewing forth venom and fomenting violence and chaos everywhere that Jason turns his haunted hand. The playwright is inviting us to ponder whether this is a complex psychological mechanism at work, whereby Jason is expressing his rage over his father's death, his anger at facile Christian answers to deep question, and his repressed sexual awakenings. Or is Tyrone truly possessed of the devil, able to wreak havoc in supernatural ways? Mr. Purcell shows great range in his ability to toggle back and forth between Jason and the voice of the increasingly aggressive voice of Tyrone. His physical, emotional, and vocal agility is on display here. It is a remarkable performance that should not be missed.

Dario Ladani Sanchez as Timothy
Eliott Purcell as Jason/Tyrone
"Hand To God" by Robert Askins
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
Through February 4
Photo by Glenn Perry

The plot thickens with the addition of several other characters. Timothy (Dario Ladani Sanchez) is another troubled teen, randy and intent on seducing Margery, Jason's bereaved mother, Margery (Marianna Bassham). Ms. Basham's journey from mousy widow lady to raunchy, lustful, and insatiable nymph is powerful and shocking. Mr. Sanchez teases and seduces this older woman with charm worthy of James Dean. Fellow puppeteer, Jessica, (Josephine Elwood) has a hard time digesting all of the strange goings on among Jason/Tyrone and the Odd Couple of Margery and Timothy. The final piece of the puzzle is Pastor Greg (Lewis S. Wheeler), whose loneliness prompts him try to win the "hand" of Margery. Jason/Tyrone sees through Pastor Greg's pious patina, and confronts him violently.

Marianna Bassham as Margery
Eliott Purcell as Jason/Tyrone
Josephine Elwood as Jessica
"Hand To God" by Robert Askins
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
Through February 4
Photo by Glenn Perry

The fine ensemble cast are helped greatly by a creative team that have assembled a vibrant simulacrum of a tacky church basement, with posters and hand-made signs that scream Vacation Bible School! The set is by Christina Todesco, Costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley, Lighting by Jeff Adelberg, Sound by Andrew Duncan Will, Fight Direction by Ted Hewlett, Puppetry Direction by Roxanna Myhrum, and Puppetry Design by Jonathan Little.

The play will run through February 4th.  When you go, prepare to "fasten your seat belts; it will be a bumpy night!"

SpeakEasy Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al



Monday, January 16, 2017

"Whiplash" by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe - The MIT Media Lab Explains How To Survive Our Faster Future


This book is a MUST READ for anyone who needs to think about innovation and the rapid pace of change leading to an uncertain future. Authors Joi Ito, Director of MIT's iconic Media Lab, and Jeff Howe, a visiting scholar at the Media Lab, have opened a window into the principles that drive innovation and research at the Lab. The structure of the book introduces each of the 9 principles and how they impact the setting of research priorities. The principles are illustrated and elucidated through vignettes that tell how researchers at MIT and beyond have employed the antidisciplinary ethos of the Lab to forge teams of women and men from a wide and disparate set of fields of study and expertise.

The 9 principles are:

Emergence Over Authority
Pull Over Push
Compasses Over MAps
Risk Over Safety
Disobedience Over Compliance
Practice Over Theory
Diversity Over Ability
Resilience Over Strength
Systems Over Objects
Systems Over Objects

I have had some personal interactions with scholars at the Media Lab, so I have had the privilege of seeing these principles in operation on the research bench and in prototypes. Several years ago, I was invited to be an outside set of eyes and ears and voice at the weekly luncheons that were held by the City Science initiative within the Media Lab. The level of creativity and cross-disciplinary innovation (Joi Ito prefers the terms "antidisciplinary") is without equal.

Ito and Howe make the point that much of future innovation will take place in the interstitial spaces - in the white space - between recognized academic disciplines. This book offers a robust examination of how we will get to an era when the walls that keep disciples isolated from each other have dissolved.

The book is appropriate for academics as well as for lay readers who are intrigued with how we will get to the uncertain future that is dawning faster than we can assimilate the changes.

Enjoy!

Al