Friday, May 15, 2015

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents "The Submission" by Jeff Talbott - An Incendiary Look At Race and Gender



Artistic Director David Miller of Zeitgeist Stage Company has a well-earned reputation for producing plays that are edgy, that push the envelope, and that cause the audience to engage at a deep level with difficult and complex issues.  He builds upon that reputation with the latest production, Jeff Talbot's provocative and incendiary play, "The Submission." This four-handed drama asks a number of timely questions. What are we capable of doing and expressing when under duress?  Is the pain that a gay white male experiences at the hands of gay-bashing homophobes at all equivalent to the pain felt by a black female who has been the victim of racism?  What happens to loyalty when a person has two friends who become enemies with each other?

The premise of the play is brilliant and intriguing. Danny, a gay white writer in his late 20s, gains some insight into life in a black neighborhood of Brooklyn, and writes a play that incisively captures the ethos of the neighborhood and some of its denizens.  He decides to submit the play for consideration by the prestigious Humana Festival.  Fearing that no one will believe that a white writer could have such deep understanding of an alien culture, he makes the rash decision to submit the play under a made-up name that sounds African-American: Shaleeha G'ntamobi.  He is pleasantly surprised when the festival accepts his play for production, but quickly realizes that he has a problem.  They will expect a black woman to collaborate with them in mounting the production.  So, he hires Emilie, an actress, to play the role.  Complications ensue that involve miscommunication, apparent betrayal,divided loyalties, and  mutual accusations of stereotyping.  The arc of the play leads inexorably to a fiery confrontation between Emilie and Danny, and Danny is left to ponder just who he is at the core of his being.

Mr. Miller has cast four talented young actors to tell Mr. Talbott's story.

Victor Shopov portrays a mesmerizing and conflicted Danny.  Mr. Shopov is fresh from a stunningly successful 2014 season, garnering both IRNE and Elliot Norton Awards.  He continues his skein of award-worthy performances in this role.  As written, the character of Danny travels a rocky road.  He feels the usual artist's self-doubt and angst in putting his creative baby in the hands of others.  His writing demonstrates a liberal openness to and understanding of other cultures, but when push comes to shove, different sensibilities emerge that shock him and his circle of friends.  Mr. Shopov is at his best when venting his spleen and his rage at Emilie after he feels that she has double crossed him by not following the script he wrote for her to read at the Humana Festival.  His anger is volcanic, and words pour out of his mouth and out of his soul that have the effect of molten lava - they sear and destroy everything in their path.  As the play winds down, we find Danny sitting and sulking in a Starbucks, his de facto office and home away from home..  He is clearly shaken and broken, contemplating how such a stream of vitriolic magma could have spewed forth from the caldera at the depth of his being. After his outburst, he wonders what is his future as a playwright and as a human being?  Mr. Shopov traverses the landscape of Danny's ambivalent journey with his usual pinpoint control. Even if there were not other compelling reasons to see this show, the chance to see one of Boston's best actors at the top of his game should be enough to motivate you to click on the link below and buy a ticket to see "The Submission."

Aina Adler portrays Emilie.  She too is required to cover a broad spectrum of emotional states.  She is alternately skeptical, dubious, intrigued, excited, controlling, defensive, insecure, dominant and furious as she tries to figure out how this short-term paying gig as an actress may impact her future. Ms. Adler, too, is at her strongest in the climactic scene when everything hits the fan.  Both Emilie and Danny, in the heat of verbal battle, find themselves slinging epithets at one another that they would never consider uttering under more subdued circumstances.  Once the ultimate verbal atomic bomb has been dropped, all four characters are frozen in place in shock.  It is a powerful moment beautifully staged by Mr. Miller. Each character is clearly wondering what life will be like now that this bell has been rung that can never be un-rung.  And the audience is wondering what may happen next. As the frozen tableau persists for several minutes, tensions and doubts arise for all parties.

The always entertaining and engaging Diego Buscaglia plays Pete, Danny's live-in lover.  Pete functions both as an encourager to Danny's creative pursuits and as a Jiminiy Cricket-type conscious, occasionally trying to hold Danny back - sometimes even physically - from giving vent to his inner demons and subterranean prejudices.  Pete has his own journey to take as he begins to realize that the man he loves may be both more and less than he first imagined.  Can they stay together once Danny's Mr. Hyde has been exposed.  His best moment on stage occurs early in the play when Pete is in high dudgeon, his nose out of joint when he learns that Danny had chosen to show the manuscript of his new play to Trevor before allowing Pete to read it.

Matthew Fagerberg is Trevor, Danny's longtime friend, Yale classmate and muse.  He is first to read the play and encourages Danny to submit it to the Humana Festival.  When Emilie is hired to impersonate the fictional Shaleeha, an instant spark is struck between Pete and Emilie.  As their relationship grows closer, and the partnership between Emilie and Danny begins to show cracks, Tevor is placed squarely in the middle.  Mr. Fagerberg does an excellent job of portraying his dilemma oftentimes through gesture, body language and other non-verbal clues.  He brings an energy to this role that is infectious and winsome.

Victor Shopov as Danny
Diego Buscaglia as Pete
Matthew Fagerberg as Trevor
Aina Adler as Emilie
"The Submission" by Jeff Talbott
Zeitgeist Stage Company
At Boston Center forthe Arts
Through May 30


David Miller has designed a tripartite set - a generic Starbucks, Danny and Pete's apartment, and a middle ground that serves as a hotel room where Emilie is able to use a dressing table to make some needed costume changes.  Mr. Shopov doubles as costume designer, Michael Clark Wonson provides atmospheric lighting and J. Jumbelic has designed sound that fills the space between scenes.

Mr. Talbott's writing is strongest in his dialogue.  The characters all sound as if they are genuine 20-something New Yorkers caught up in the worlds of theater and finance.  The diction is just right in capturing the ethos of that generation.  They often interrupt one another, finish each other's sentences and generally comport themselves as Millennials are wont to do. If there is a weakness in this fine script, it is in the length and in the pacing of the play. There is one scene in particular in which Danny is trying to screen potential actors for his play by spying on them from across the street as they exit the audition space.  For me, the action ground to a halt and the energy sagged - not because of the actors, but because of the writing.  But I am quibbling, for on the whole this is an intriguing play and an outstanding production of that play.

You have until May 30th to "Submit" yourself to the BCA box office to procure your ticket for a play that you do not want to miss.

Zeitgeist Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

Thursday, May 14, 2015

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents "Mothers and Sons" by Terence McNally - A Spectacular Success and a Must See Show!



As I entered the theater at Boston Center for the Arts Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, I bumped into my friend, Nancy, a fellow theater critic.  I said to her: "I am so excited to see this play again.  I loved it in New York, and Tyne Daly was superb."  Nancy replied, "Be sure to give Nancy Carroll a chance." She need not have been concerned, for Nancy E. Carroll in the role of Katherine Gerard, grieving mother of a son who had died of AIDS many years ago, anchors this splendid production with all of the grit, grace and artistry that anyone could ask for.

This play, "Mothers and Sons" by Terence McNally is about many things - gay marriage, gay adoption, the lingering pain of the AIDS epidemic, jealousy, grief, and moving on.  But at the heart of the story is the painful personal journey of Katherine.  She shows up unannounced at the Upper West Side apartment of Cal Porter, her deceased son's former lover.  She has come ostensibly to return a diary that her son had written.  Cal had sent it to her after Andre's death.  Her real reasons for showing up in New York and at Cal's home is to find occasion to vent her spleen.  She is furious at the disappointments that she has suffered since growing up poor in Port Chester, New York.  She is angry at almost everything - at life, at the world, at New York for her belief that Andre was not gay when he left Dallas, and at Cal for being complicit in Andre's death.

In order for this gorgon to be believable and at all a sympathetic character, much is required of the actress chosen to portray Katherine.  Ms. Carroll delivers an award-worthy nuanced performance. When we first meet her, bedecked in her second-hand fur coat, her face is set as hard as rock in a stern grimace.  In fact, her profile reminded me of the Old Man of the Mountain - angular, chiseled, apparently immutable and implacable.  Those of us who have lived for any length of time in New England know what befell the image of the State of New Hampshire.  Forces of nature - wind, storms, freezing and thawing finally took their toll on the iconic stone face and one day it crumbled and was no more.  In the same way, forces at work within Cal's apartment that cold and blustery winter day.began to work on Katherine.  The story arc includes some freezing and thawing of her attitudes and beliefs, and finally the combination of confrontations with Cal and his husband, Will and several doses of talks and Oreos shared with Bud, their son, causes the stone face to crack and disintegrate.  In its place is the beginning of a real human face, and perhaps a real sensate heart beating underneath the cheap fur coat.

Nancy E. Carroll as Katherine
"Mothers and Sons"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through June 6
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Despite the importance of the role of Katherine, this is at its heart a wonderfully constructed ensemble piece, and Director Paul Daigneault has assembled a team of three strong male actors to serve as counterweights to Ms. Carroll's formidable Katherine.   As Cal, Michael Kaye is pitch perfect.  He conveys with great effect the difficult juggling act of handling his still palpable grief over Andre's death with his excitement over his marriage to Will and their co-parenting of the endearing Bud.  He tries to be gracious to this woman who wounded Andre and who has shunned Cal - refusing to hug him at Andre's memorial service.  He needs to balance his role as host to this uninvited guest against his desire to placate Will, who feels that the sanctity of their home has been breached by this intrusion by a physical reminder of the ghost of Andre that always lingers over the marriage and their life together.  Mr. Kaye conveys all of these dynamics with clarity and an impressive range of emotions.

Michael Kaye as Cal
Nancy E. Carroll as Katherine

"Mothers and Sons"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through June 6

Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Cal's husband, Will Ogden, is played by Nile Hawver.  As written, the role of Will is that of the nurturing parent - taking Bud to the park, supervising bath time, and responding to an accident in the kitchen.  As tender as Will is with Bud, he is equally firm and cold with Katherine.  "What are you doing here?" he asks accusingly the first time that the two of them are alone together in the living room.  It is clear that what this character wants is to be rid of this woman whom he had heard about for years through Cal's descriptions of the havoc that she had spread through Andre's life.  She represents opposition to everything that define Cal and Will's world - she hates gay marriage and gay adoption, and she does not hesitate to dispense her vitriol whenever an opening appears that allows her to do so. Mr. Hawver's performance is a strong one, and we feel both his tenderness and his prickliness.

Liam Lurker plays a winsome and precocious Bud.  His is perpetually inquisitive - often asking questions that at first appall Katherine, but which eventually begin the early stages in a thaw in that ice cold soul of hers. Young Master Lurker handles himself as a confident professional on the stage, and his character proves to be irresistible to both Katherine and the audience.

Liam Lurker as Bud
Michael Kaye as Cal
Nancy E. Carroll as Katherine
Nile Hawver as Will
"Mothers and Sons"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through June 6

Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

The creative team that Mr. Daigneault has employed is also impressive, beginning with Erik D> Diaz, who designed the gorgeous set of the Manhattan apartment.  Costume design is by Charles Schoonmkerr, Lighting by Jeff Adelberg and Sound by David Remedios

This is a play you do not want to miss.  It will run through June 6.  Click below for ticket information.

SpeakEasy Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al