Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Scottish Play Comes To Watertown - F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company Present "Macbeth"

The Bard of Avon is much in fashion these days in the Colonies!  At the moment, there are four productions of Shakespeare plays running on Broadway: Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Twelfth Night and Macbeth.  I recently saw the Lincoln Center production of "Macbeth" starring Ethan Hawke.  So, as I made my way to Watertown and the Arsenal Center for the Arts this past weekend, my mind was already steeped in the violence of the bloody Scottish play.

I found it poignant as I made my way to the theatre that I passed by the parking lot of the Arsenal Mall that had served back in April as a staging area for the army of law enforcement officials who descended upon Watertown in search of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.  Alas, we are constantly reminded that mayhem and murder did not go out of style with Elizabethan English.

Directed by Joey DeMita, this local production of "Macbeth" has much to  recommend it.  To begin with, the actors playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are outstanding in their respective  roles.  Dave Rich looks every bit the over-reaching war hero spurred on to bloody ambition by the coven of witches and by his ambitious  Lady.  His mastery of the rhythms and nuances of Shakespeare's poetry was flawless.  He cuts an impressive and tragic figure upon the stage.  In parallel, Linda Goetz as Lady Macbeth is magisterial and manic, imploring and humiliating her man to get on with the job of seizing the throne from poor Duncan.

The set designed by James Petty is interesting.  A pool occupies center stage of the Arsenal Black Box.  It is a crooked design - emblematic perhaps of the lighting that punctuates the opening of the play, or perhaps symbolizing the crookedness of the witches and their schemes.  For the witches hover about the pool during most of the time they are on stage.  The lighting, designed by Tim Boland, allows the pool to change colors often, implying more or less bloodshed.  I am not sure I understand why the bridge that spans the upstage area was imported from Cape Ann, where it served nobly in last season's Gloucester Stage Company's production of "Spring Awakening."  Its use in this play led to much  movement of characters and busyness that did not always make sense to me.  It felt like "a bridge to nowhere."

In  addition to the leads I have already praised, Benjamin Medeiros as Banquo, Grant Jacoby as Malcolm and Sam Greene as the young apparition of MacDuff's son acquitted themselves well with this difficult material.  The same can be said of the trio of Weird Sisters, played by Emily Taborda-Monroe, Kristie Norros and Katherine McNally.  They were appropriately sinister and mysterious.  The rest of the cast soldiered on to the best of their several abilities, which varied to a rather broad degree.  In fact, I wondered about the casting of this ensemble - a combination of gifted professionals with those who appear to be just dipping their toes in the water of dramatic acting.  Then I re-read the Mission Statement of The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company:

"The mission of The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company, Inc. is to provide quality, affordable theatre productions to the people in the greater Boston area, cultivate an appreciation for and understanding of the arts, and provide a learning opportunity for those interested in a genuine theatre experience."

I suspect that in the interest of providing a learning opportunity, parts are sometimes offered to actors whose limited experience might not otherwise make them ready for prime time.  This is a commendable aspect of F.U.D.G.E., but one that makes it difficult for the audience to know just what to expect.

Nonetheless, this is a production worth seeing and supporting.  It will run through November 30.

Fudge Theatre Company



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Brilliant Production! Moonbox Productions Presents "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde

Poornima Kirby as Cecily, Gabriel Graetz as Rev.Chasuble,
Catherine Lee Christie as Miss Prism, Glen Moore as Algernon Moncriff
and Ed Peed as Lady Bracknell
Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" is one of those beloved "old chestnuts" of the stage that is often trotted out by theater companies of every stripe and level of professional competence.  I am pleased to report, now that I have stopped laughing and applauding with delight, that the powers that be at Moonbox Productions have roasted this particular chestnut to perfection.  This production is savory and delicious.  It is, in point of fact, the finest production of this play I have ever seen.  It is perfection.

Director Allison Olivia Choat has assembled a cast for this production that would have the playwright Wilde with delight.  There are no weak links in this ensemble.  From the opening silent pantomime of the butler Lane, played with proper sepulchral gravity and self-abnegation by Matthew Zahninger, cleaning up the parlor of its evidence of mild debauchery from the night before, we are transported to an Onion-like cosmos that is a parody of the world of British aristocracy with its amusing and ridiculous peccadilloes.

The versatile set designed by John Paul Devlin sets just the right tone.  The costumes by Susanne Miller are beautifully designed and wrought.  The world created on the stage at the Plaza Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts transports the audience in time and space so that the action played out before us is believable while being ridiculous - just as Oscar Wilde intended.

Wilde's sardonic humor is just as sharp and biting today as it was when he used it to prod the British aristocracy for their risible ways and fancies.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” 

“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.” 

“I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.” 

The cast members have inhabited their roles to the degree that I could not image these roles being played as well by anyone else.  The broad British accents are over the top and perfectly appropriate and delectable.

Catherine Lee Christie is just right as Miss Prism, a character written by Wilde as ironically pinched and monochromatic.  She is the apparently straight-laced teacher of young Cecily Cardew, but she has a past and has baggage!

Cat Claus is wonderful as Gwendolen Fairfax, much enamored of Jack Worthing, whom she believes is called Earnest.

Gabriel Graetz is the repressed Rev. Canon Chasuble who would love to expand the spectrum of color in Miss Prism's cheeks.

Poornima Kirby plays young Cecily Cardew with the right blend of faux innocence and mischief as the ward of Jack Worthing.

Glen Moore is effusive as the chameleon, Algernon Montcrieff, who travels to the Manor House in Woolton to woo Cecily, pretending to be Jack's imaginary ne'er-do-well brother, Earnest.

Ray O'Hare is the country butler, Merrimam, who is also wonderfully self-effacing and a blank slate in service to the Manor House.

Ed Peed as Lady Bracknell is simply a force of nature.  Such perfect casting could not be exceeded.  Lady Bracknell moves within a range of emotions from arch to high dudgeon with a swoop of her petticoats, a heave of her ample bosom, or the raising of an eyebrow.  Her disdain of Jack's lack of pedigree is hilarious, using the glorious language of Wilde as both a scalpel and a cudgel.  Peed's performance is worthy of any award that the theater community of Boston wishes to bestow.

Andrew Winson as Jack Worthing uses all 80 inches of his stature to fill the stage with a presence that is  both earnest and mesmerizing.  His interactions with Moncrieff, with Lady Bracknell, and with Gwendolen allow him to show his mastery of Wilde's wit and wordsmithing to great effect.

Moonbox Productions presents The Importance of Being Earnest at the BCA Plaza Theatre November 22 - December 14.  Cast members (l to r) Glen Moore(Algernon Moncrieff), Poornima Kirby (Cecily Cardew), Cat Claus (Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax) and Andrew Winson (John Worthing, J.P.) lead a stellar Moonbox cast in this beloved comedy by Oscar Wilde.

This is a play - and a superb production of that play - that can be enjoyed by children at one level, and by adults at an even deeper level.  On the day that I attended a performance, audience members of all ages - pre-teens through senior citizens - were enthralled and entertained.

Take a moment to put down your cucumber sandwich and click on the link below to order your tickets to see "The Importance of Being Earnest."

Moonbox Productions Website

"The Importance of Being Earnest" will run through December 14.

As part of its mission, Moonbox Productions supports a variety of non-profits.  The group that benefits from this production is High Spirit Community Farm in the Berkshires.  The farm provides "Community Life & Meaningful  Work for People with Disabilities."

I encourage you to check out their website, as well.

High Spirit Community Farm



Review of "Ivory, Horn and Blood" by Ronald Orenstein - An Impassioned Plea For Action To Preserve The Remaining Elephant and Rhino Species

Elephants and rhinos are among my favorite creatures walking the earth.  I am, after all, known as "The White Rhino," so there is a natural affinitt for my cousins charging around Africa and Asia trying to stay one step ahead of the poachers.

Ronald Orenstein has written a book that pleads with readers to understand the complexities of the poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa and Asia.  "Ivory, Horn and Blood: Behind The Elephant and Rhino Poaching Crisis" is a comprehensive analysis of the current crisis, and a balanced discussion of the many options being considered to save the remaining populations of rhinos and elephants in both Africa and Asia.

The book is written in a rather pedantic manner.  I suspect that this is a deliberate choice on the part of the author to avoid undue sensationalism and emotionalism.  The result, however, is a book that is rather dry and plodding.  He writes primarily from the perspective of the plethora of government and NGO bureaucracies that have sprung up to address various aspects of the ivory and rhino horn trade.  Particular attention is paid to the controversial CITES - Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  

It is clear from this book that CITES is like Winston Churchill's notorious definition of democracy: "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."  CITES, with all of its flaws, is probably the best option available now for curbing the trade in ivory and rhino horns and thereby preserving what may be left of our herds of elephants and crashes of rhinos.

The bottom line in reading this book is that the best actions that any individual reader can take in helping to ensure the perpetuation of these magnificent creatures is to refrain from buying ivory and rhino horn products, to encourage others to refrain from making such purchases, and to contribute to NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund and similar organizations.

Review of "Dogs In Thought" by Mitch Weiss - A Remarkable New Book for Dog Lovers Just in Time for the Holiday Gift-Giving Season.

Romeo- a Presa Canario
Photo by Mitch Weiss
Cover Photo of "Dogs In Thought"

What a wonderful title for this amazing book: "Dogs In Thought.".  Mitch Weiss is a photographic artist, using viewfinder and lens as tools with which to capture the essence of the subjects he is studying.  In this gorgeous new book, he shows the results of many hours taken bonding with dogs - both working dogs and house pets - until they were comfortable enough in his presence to let their true personality and thoughtfulness shine.  The results are breathtaking and beautiful.  Each dog has been photographed against a plain black background, removing any contextual "noise," and allowing the dog's eyes and other facial features to speak to the viewer.

Section One highlights "Working Dogs," many of which were used as bomb-sniffing dogs after the Boston Marathon bombings last April.  In this section, each subject is given a brief "dogography" highlighting the specific work that he or she does.  The final section is made up of "House Dogs," whose pictures are accompanied by their name and breed.  Each individual canine personality fairly leaps off the page and licks the reader's face.

The wonderful added bonus of this book  - beyond its sheer artistic virtuosity - is the mission behind the making of this volume.  All proceeds from sales of this book will be distributed between the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Rescue League.

This book arrives just in time for the holiday gift giving season.  If you count one or more dog lovers among your family and friends, this book will be a welcome addition to their coffee table or personal library shelves. Unleash your spirit of generosity and order a few copies - one for yourself and a few for those who share your love for dogs.



Monday, November 25, 2013

Bringing the Ghost of Miss Havisham To Life: Mini-Review of "Havisham" by Ronald Frame

Ronald Frame has done what many writers have intended to do for many decades: put a credible back story behind the ghost that is Dickens' Miss Havisham.  He has done so while remaining true to the Dickens' style of emphasizing place and idiosyncratic characters while adding his own special spice to the punch.

In this prequel telling of the story of the bride left at the altar, Miss Havisham begins life as the pampered and sheltered daughter of one of London's most successful brewers and pub owners.  Each character who enters her life sets her up to inch further and further toward becoming the embittered and manipulating harridan we meet so memorably in "Great Expectations."

This book, "Havisham," was particularly timely for me to read.  In a recent visit to London, I was enjoying some fish and chips at a pub on Carnaby Street in Soho.  As I looked up from my meal, I saw before me slowly making her way through the crowd the very embodiment of the iconic Miss Havisham - a wizened old woman dressed .in an off-white, discolored ivory dress that resembled a superannuated bride's gown, tattered at the hem (think of Grizzabella from "Cats"!) She was shuffling along in a pair of worn down at the heels cream colored pumps and she was clutching a bouquet of desiccated flowers - white roses.  At first I wondered if she were an actress leading a Dickens Walking Tour, but it was clear that she was merely the latest generation of lost souls wandering the cobble stone streets of London as if Victoria Regina were still seated upon the throne of the British Empire - upon which the sun never set.  The sun had certainly set upon this dear soul long ago.

This book, "Havisham," is a delightful read for Dickens fans in particular and fans of good writing in general.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mini-Review of "The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard's Story" - Sergei Dovlatov Speaks From The Gulag

Sergei Dovlatov has a unique and a sardonic voice, speaking about life in the Soviet Union from the relative safety of his new home in New York City.  This memoir, "The Zone, " first published in 1982, mixes elements of fiction with autobiography.  He digs deeply into his memory of his time as a prison guard in the Siberian Gulag to comment on the absurdity of life in the Soviet era.  In this writing, the prison system stands for the larger state with its inhuman practices and stultifying philosophy and world view.

Early in this little book, Dovlatov makes it clear that he is not reprising the writings of Solzhenitsyn.    In his view, Solzhenitsyn in his watershed trilogy of prison books, "The Gulag Archipelago," speaks from the vantage point of a political prisoner.  Dovlatov speaks from his perspective as a guard.  The irony is that as a guard, he and his fellow prison guards were no less imprisoned or constrained than those they were expected to watch over.

The insights he shares and the light he sheds of that closed period of history speaks poignantly even thirty years after he first put pen to paper and smuggled the writings piecemeal out of the USSR.  The book is both entertaining and educational for anyone who has even a passing interest in what life was like in the Soviet Union - on either side of the prison bars.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Simple Machine Theatre Presents "The Turn of the Screw"

Stephen Libby and Anna Waldron
The Turn of the Screw
at the Gibson House Museum.
Photo by Kyler Taustin.

Make note of the name of a new theatre troupe in town: Simple Machine Theatre.  "The Turn of the Screw," their current production, is only their second undertaking, but they have already established themselves as willing to tell stories that are unusual and to present them in unusual settings.

Here is how the company's website describes the mission:

"Simple Machine makes theatre for artists and audiences. Simple machines are the essential building blocks of every complex mechanical device that moves and changes the world around us. Character, language, and action are the essential elements at the heart of all theatre. By focusing on these fundamentals, Simple Machine makes theatre that is engaging, accessible, and affordable."

The current production is a bold and chilling adaption of Henry James' classic story.  Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by M. Bevin O'Gara, the play is set in two non-traditional theatre venues: The Gibson House Museum in the Back Bay and Taylor House B & B in Jamaica Plain.

The intimate settings make the ghostly content of the play all the more mysterious and eerie.  I saw the play in its Gibson House Museum setting.  The play begins with the audience and the two actors in the basement of the 19th Century mansion, and then moves up to the main foyer, with much of the action  taking place upon the grand staircase and nearby spaces.

The combination of the uniqueness of the setting, the richness of the tale, and the believability of the actors made it a compelling evening of theatre.  Anna Waldron is the Governess, hired to care for two orphaned siblings at a remote estate far from London.  Stephen Libby plays all the other roles - the orphaned boy, the housekeeper, the uncle of the children.  Both actors employ accents that feel authentic  -  almost Yorkshire in their richness. They both use their voices and facial expressions to great effect in telling the tale.

With the aid of some simple lighting effects,by Ian King, the staircase and environs stand in for the mansion, the grounds, the pond.  The sumptuous setting, the period costumes by Emily Woods Hogue and the atmospherics draw the audience into the action and into the historical period.

The play will run in the two locations through November 23.  Because the performance spaces are small, there is a limited number of tickets for each performance and those tickets are selling fast.  I encourage you to check out the website link below and order your tickets now for the location most convenient for you.



SpeakEasy Stage Company Offers Up a World Premiere - Kurt Vonnegut's "Make Up Your Mind"

Barlow Adamson and Tracy Goss
in a scene from the
SpeakEasy Stage Company
World Premiere production
Photo by 
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

When he died unexpectedly from the result of a fall in 2007, acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut left behind an unfinished play that he had hoped to see performed.  The problem was that he left eleven different versions of "Make Up Your Mind."  Clearly, he himself had a problem making up his mind!  So, the unfinished play languished in its inchoate form until Nicky Silver came along to make order out of chaos.   He created a workable script that incorporate the best of the eleven versions with the addition of some quotations from Vonnegut's other writings.  One choice that Silver made was to insert Vonnegut himself as a character in the play - as sort of a sardonic and irascible one man Greek Chorus commenting on the action and the characters.

Boston's SpeakEasy Stage Company, which exists to present Boston premieres of worthy plays, learned of the project and arranged to stage the first full blown production of the play at its home at the Boston Center for the Arts.  The finished product is fascinating and well worth checking out.  Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, the play uses a set that has been designed by Eric Levenson using a black and white palette and some doodles from the marginalia of Vonnegut's notebooks.  The black and white motif persists until the final scene that shows Central Park in the full spectrum of summer colors.  In my interpretation, the choice of blasck and white is a very Vonnegutian ironic choice.  If the world were truly only black and white, their our choices would be binary, and characters in the p lay would not have such a hard time making up their minds.

The play is a pastiche of a variety of styles - theater of the absurd, social commentary, slapstick and other physical comedy.  The themes that Vonnegut explores are protean: the nature of love, father and son complications, the role of women in a male-dominated society, the nature of pornography, con artists and their victims.  One theme that keeps appearing because the line is repeated more than once is this: "Loneliness is the cancer that is killing us."

The cast of four veteran actors have been well chosen.

Barlow Adamson is Roland Stackhouse, a self-proclaimed "Decision Therapist" who uses as "enforcer" to hold client accountable for the decision they have committed to make.  Adamson is perfect in walking the find line between smarmy and pitiable as this conflicted character who has unresolved father issues.

Ross Bicknell is the father, George Stackhouse, a marriage therapist with an office down the hall from his son.  George sees Roland as a failure, and constantly berates him - often in front of clients.

Tracy Goss is Karen Finch, a client of Roland who is precariously married to the richest man in NYC. She and Roland become entangled and inadvertently are featured in a porn film  that becomes a blockbuster. She is portrayed convincingly both as a victim and as a clever survivor.

Richard Snee plays the dual roles of Ottis Fletcher, another of Roland's clients as well as the cameo role of Kurt Vonnegut.

The interactions among these four actors are seamless and believable within the absurd context of Vonnegut's world.

The play is not perfect, but I found it to be both entertaining and thought provoking.

It runs through November 30.



Written by Kurt Vonnegut
Assembled by Nicky Silver
Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker
Run time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission
There will be cigarettes smoked during the performance.
Roland Stackhouse thinks our greatest obstacle is indecisiveness-and he has the answer! Make Up Your Mind, Inc. But just as business takes off, romance rears its head, and Stackhouse finds himself in a world of wealthy coquettes, paid enforcers, blue movies, and confused clergy. It's a world only Kurt Vonnegut could imagine! Alternately hilarious and touching, Kurt Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind is really about more than sticking to decisions'-it's about that rarest of all commodities, human connection.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Quick Veterans' Day Salute - The Snook Family Represent For Me All Who Serve and Have Swerved

Kyle Snook and Sean Snook in Afghanistan

My mind and heart are full  of many thoughts on this Veterans' Day.

I think of my father, Lewis Furlong Chase, who served in WWII in India and Burma.

I think of my brother, David Lesley Chase, who spent an entire career in the Navy as a Cryptologic Technician (CT), retiring as a Senior Chief.

I think of the many men and women I have come to know through my association with West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy, the Service Academy Business Network of Boston, The XO Club of Greater Boston, The Harvard Business School Armed Forces Alumni Association, Veterans on Wall Street, et al. 

And then there is the Snook family.  Let me share something that Kyle Snook posted on his Facebook page earlier today:

"I am always immensely humbled by our nations gratitude on Veterans Day. My service perils in comparison to those who served to make this country free and those that currently serve to ensure it stays free. With a heavy heart I thank those that gave the ultimate sacrifice in serving, never forgotten, always remembered. It is with great pride that I have the privilege of celebrating this day with my freedom fighting family and I thank them for their more than 100 years of combined service to this nation. Thank you grandpa, bob-bob, mom, dad, sean, megan, kyra, robby, and andrew."

Wow!  100 years of combined service to this nation - spread out over three generations.  They deserve our gratitude and respect.  For me they stand as a reminder to appreciate all those who serve and have served.

So, on this Veterans' Day 2013 - 95 years after the Armistice that ended World War I was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - thank those you know who have served.  And pray for those who continue to serve.

God bless.


A MUST SEE Heart-Rending Production of Larry Kramer's Watershed Play "The Normal Heart" - by Zeigeist Stage Company

When one enters the Plaza Black Box Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts to view a performance of Zeitgeist Stage Company's current production of "The Normal Heart," one is entering into the very heart of a smoldering cauldron of rage and terror.  Throughout the course of the next two and a half hours, that cauldron often boils over, scalding the play's characters and audience members alike with the blistering truths of the agony that permeated the gay community in New York City in the early days of the plague that would later be named AIDS and HIV.  These two terms are never mentioned in this play, because they had not yet been coined when gay men in NYC began to mysteriously drop like flies of the previously unknown "gay cancer."  Although HIV and AIDS are never mentioned by name, their ghostly presence infects each character, each dialogue, each outburst and each relationship dramatized by Larry Kramer. Although the action is set thirty years ago, the issues that the play raises are still timely in 2013.  AIDS is still infecting and killing millions of men, women and children worldwide.

In this play, Kramer essentially tells his own story and vents his spleen.  He was angry at many things and many people - various branches of local and federal governments for their refusal to recognize the crisis for what it was and respond to it appropriately.  New York Mayor Ed Koch and his closeted aide-de-camp come for a hearty dose of Kramer's vitriol, as do Ronald Reagan, The Center for Disease Control and The National Institutes of Health.

Kramer does not shy away from airing out the dirty linen of New York's divided gay community.  In the early days, many were afraid of accepting the ramifications of HIV and AIDS for fear that it would throw a wet blanket on the sexual revolution they had fought so hard to achieve.  Kramer founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis, but was eventually booted out of his own organization because his angry and confrontational style was too much for even his friends to handle.  As he writes this play a few years after the events depicted in the drama, it is clear that the wounds are still not fully healed - still livid and suppurating. 

Each character in the drama and each action and dialogue is based upon real people and on incidents that actually took place. Under the inspired direction of David J. Miller, the cast  members are extraordinary in their ability to convey the rage and terror that ran rampant in those days without masking the underlying humanity of each character. They each deserve individual mention.

Maureen Adducci is simply transcendent as Dr. Emma Brookner, the Dark Angel who found herself thrust into the middle of the nascent health crisis.  At one point, she was treating half of the AIDS patients in  NYC. Look up "tough love" and you will find a picture of Ms. Adducci as Dr. Brookner, a polio victim confined to a wheelchair, yet who stood taller than all the rest in her compassion for her patients and her dogged determination to find an answer to the mystery of how to identify and properly treat this new disease.

Peter Brown sets exactly the right tone as Ben Weeks, the older brother of protagonist, AIDS activist Ned Weeks.  He struggles to accept and support his gay brother. The confrontations between the brothers serve as several poignant examples of the pot boiling over.

Kyle Cherry is seen in the first scene of the play as Craig, a young victim about to be diagnosed with the new and unknown disease.  His stark terror and fragility are palpable.

Mikey Diloreto is excellent as the conflicted Mickey Marcus.  Marcus works for the City of New York, and often weighs his activism against the risk of being "both "outed" and ousted from his sinecure in the city Health Department.

Mario DaRosa Jr. as Bruce also walks a fine tightrope between serving as President of The Gay Men's Health Crisis, and remaining closeted to protect his senior position with Citi Bank. He and Ned Weeks (the fictionalized version of Kramer) are often at loggerheads over how confrontational they should be as individuals and as an organization.

David Lutheran is very convincing as the smarmy, previously-mentioned aid to Mayor Koch, whose own gay identity and political career stand in stark conflict with each other.

Mike Meadors is Tommy, a transplant from the South.  He regularly casts himself in the role of peacemaker within the organization.  He  often attempts to add a little gentility and sugar to a deteriorating situation - hoping to turn the bitter cocktail of Ned Week's wrath into a libation more akin to Sweet Tea.  His efforts usually fail. 

Among a cast of impressive luminaries, Joey C.Pelletier as Felix Turner and Victor Shoprov as Ned Weeks (Kramer's fictionalized version of himself) shine a few lumens brighter than the rest of this starry host . The chemistry between these two human beings is believable and tragically mis-timed.  They find true love just at the moment in history when the wrong kind of love can serve as a death sentence.  Shoprov oozes rage from every pore, playing a game of emotional demolition derby while at the same time hoping someone will be courageous enough to climb aboard and share the bumpy ride with him  - and love him despite his many flaws and layers of defense.  Pelletier is luminous as the New York Times fashion writer who wants to support Week's AIDS campaign while serving a master which refuses to use its bully pulpit to make the world aware of the scope of the growing plague.  The "gay cancer" just does not qualify as news that is "fit to print."

There is a point in the play when the true story is told of an AIDS patient who dies at the airport after he has been flown home to be reunited with his family and his geographic roots.  The doctors at the hospital refuse to touch his body, and will not issue a death certificate.  With no cause of death, the morgue will not touch him. The body sits for hours on a bare gurney, until finally a janitor finds an over-sized baggy, wraps the body in it, and sets it in the back alley with the garbage awaiting pick-up.  I was one of many in the audience wracked with sobs at the inhumanity of this vignette - emblematic of the thousands of wasted and extinguished lives. This play will reach in and grab your heart and then make you think.

I challenge you to make your way between  now and November 23 to the Boston Center for the Arts.  See this show - for God's sake- for art's - for humanity's sake.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
The Normal Heart
by Larry Kramer
November 1 through 23, 2013

2011 Tony Award Winner for Best Revival  

The Normal Heart is a largely autobiographical play by Larry Kramer. It focuses on the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984, as seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks, the gay Jewish-American founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group. Ned prefers loud public confrontations to the calmer, more private strategies favored by his associates, friends, and closeted lover, none of whom is prepared to throw himself into the media spotlight.  

The cast features:  Maureen Adduci, Peter Brown, Kyle Cherry, Mario Da Rosa Jr, Mikey Diloreto, David Lutheran, Mike Meadors, Joey Pelletier, and Victor Shopov

Zeitgeist Stage Company

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Symphony Nova - Another Nugget in Boston's Mother Lode of Cultural Gold

Lawrence Isaacson
Conducts Symphony Nova

I often rhapsodize in my White Rhino Report postings about how blessed we are in Boston to live in a metropolitan area that is richly endowed with world class universities, cutting edge companies, the best medical facilities in the world, some of the most successful sports team of this century - and  more than our fair share of truly extraordinary cultural institutions.  I am adding to that personal inventory of cultural blessings Symphony Nova.  I had a chance to hear them and watch them perform for the first time last evening in Copley Square at historic Old South Church  This will not be my last time of treating myself to their music.

The mission of the orchestra is unique.  Under the director of Conductor and Music Director, Lawrence Isaacson and Assistant Conductor and General Manager, Michael Reichman, the orchestra seeks to prepare the next generation of professional musicians to take their place at the music stands of the world's top symphony orchestras.

Let me share with you how they explicate their mission and methods:

Our Mission: To turn today's aspiring orchestral musicians into tomorrow's successful artists.

Organizational History: Founded in 2007 as the Neponset Valley Philharmonic Orchestra (NVPO), we performed our first two seasons at Showcase Live in Foxboro, MA. In 2009, we began presenting concerts at schools in the Neponset Valley including King Philip Regional High School(Wrentham) and Canton High School, where we continue to perform today. In addition to our formal concert season, our musicians create and present educational programs in local schools (including string quartet, brass quintet, woodwind quintet, and single instrument workshops). 

In early 2012, we changed our name from the NVPO to Symphony Nova, and expanded our vision to become a professional training orchestra – making Symphony Nova the only professional training orchestra in New England. As of today, we now have a central office at Old South Church in Copley Square, and perform concerts at Old South Church as well as in the Neponset Valley. Our musicians are graduates from internationally-acclaimed music schools in Boston and beyond. 

Symphony Nova has an active Board of Directors and Advisory Council, and a part-time staff which includes a Music Director and Conductor, Assistant Conductor, Operations Manager, Marketing and Development Associate, Personnel Manager, Librarian and Intern. 

What Makes Us Different? Symphony Nova is New England’s first and only training orchestra. As a paid, professional training orchestra, we offer programs to not only prepare our musicians for the rigors of a career in performance, but also to develop business and interpersonal skills that are required for long-term success. These topics, which are not typically offered in conservatory programs, include grant writing, tax preparation and personal finances, mock auditions, and the creation and performance of educational concerts. Another element which differentiates us from most ensembles is that we offer our musicians valuable experience working side-by-side with seasoned professionals as guest section leaders. We aim to develop self-sufficient musicians who will use their classical music background to explore culturally relevant opportunities to connect with today’s shifting artistic world. With the many changes happening in the traditional business and artistic model of the symphony orchestra, we want to be on the crest of the tide – not only to ensure the success of our musicians, but also the longevity of this important cultural medium. 

 The Boston metro area is uniquely suited for a professional training orchestra due to the high value its residents place on classical music, its position as a hub of innovation, and the volume of musicians graduating from local music schools and conservatories each year. We will create a pipeline for young, professional musicians, moving them from conservatories to their careers, many of whom will stay in the Boston area for years to come. This improves the quality of life and economy of the community as a whole. We strive to provide the public the opportunity to hear standard and contemporary music at the highest professional level, and at reasonable prices.

The mission makes sense and the music is first class.  Last night's "String Fling" program featured a string chamber orchestra culled from the larger symphony.  The pieces were largely familiar ones from the classical repertoire, with a wild card thrown in of a contemporary piece- "Last Round" by Argentine born composer Osvaldo Golojov (b. 1960).  The piece  was essentially a tango on steroids, and was delightful.  The audience of music lovers also responded warmly to the rest of the programmatic offerings:

Tchaikovsky's lush "Serenade for Strings"

Bach's "Double Violin Concerto in d Minor" - featuring Julia Hunter and Angel Valchinov

Mozart's "Divertimento, K. 136"

Holst's "St. Paul's Suite"

I love the idea of the orchestra and I appreciate their execution of the vision.  What a great opportunity to give young professional musicians a chance to perfect their pizzicato or to embellish their embouchure in paid engagements performing some of the world's greatest music in front of a live audience several times a year.

This same program will be offered on Sunday, November 10 at King Philip High School in Wrentham.

Symphony Nova Website



Friday, November 08, 2013

Big Papi For Mayor of Boston - I Called It First!

David Ortiz and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino

NBC Sports announced today that David Ortiz - Red Sox Nation's beloved Big Papi - had received 560 write-in votes in Tuesday mayoral election in Boston.  He was, therefore, the third place vote-getter, despite not appearing on the ballot.

I do not like to brag, but I need to let readers of The White Rhino Report know that I was way ahead of the curve on this one.

I refer you to a Blog piece I posted in 2006.  I quote this excerpt from that post:

"And then the Red Sox line-up was announced. Each player’s name was met with enthusiastic applause and cheers up and down the line-up, with special approbation and affection signaled for Big Papi, who could run for mayor of this town, and as I have said in the past, speaks English far more cogently and eloquently than does the incumbent, Tom 'Mumbles' Menino."

White Rhino Report - Classic In The Fens

I first uttered those sentiments to Papi himself when I was a guest - the only non-Dominican guest- at a special luncheon that Papi was hosting in honor of his friend and mine, Davey Valdez.  The Red Sox had recently won the World Series in 2004, and Papi was riding high.  My comments to him were along the lines of:

"Papi, I am not sure that you know just how beloved you have become in this town.  Why, you could run for mayor.  And, as a matter of fact, you already speak English better than our current mayor."

He laughed heartily and gave me a classic Big Papi hug, like the one he is giving Mayor Menino in the picture above.

I vote that Papi stay right where he is, anchoring the DH role for the 2014 Red Sox and serving as unofficial Goodwill Ambassador to the world for the Red Sox and for Boston.

This is his Bleeping City.

Go Sox!



Wednesday, November 06, 2013

An Indispensable Look At Leadership Through A New Lens: "Indispensabe: When Leaders Really Matter" by Gautam Mukunda

There are miles and miles of bookshelves sagging under the weight of books that discuss leadership.  It is rare when a new work arrives that sheds a new and illuminating light on the topic.  "Indispensable" is just such a novelty.  Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda has taken a case study approach to examining leaders from a variety of fields - military, government, science and business - whose actions and leadership choices have had a tremendous impact on the organizations they have led.

The author's thesis is both simple and revolutionary.  He proposes that most leaders have come up through the filtering system of the organization they eventually lead.  He calls these leaders in the middle of the Bell Curve "Modal Leaders."  They tend to make choices that are predictable and that steer the ship which they captain in ways that produce incremental change.  In contradistinction to Modal Leaders, "High-Impact Leaders" are outliers.  They tend to arrive in their position of leadership having been minimally filtered through the usual vetting processes.  They have the capacity to make sweeping and revolutionary changes - for good or for ill.  This process of screening and filtering leadership candidates the author dubs "Leadership Filtration Process (LTP)."  His theory of impactful and indispensable leadership he names "Leadership Filtration Theory (LFT)

The structure and methodology of the book is to take case studies of High-Impact Leaders who tend to be Unfiltered and Extreme, and to compare their actions with contemporaries who are Modular Leaders in order to analyze how different are the choices made by the these Extreme Leaders.

Early in the book, Mukunda makes the case that among the U.S. Presidents, those universally acknowledged to be among the most effective Presidents - Lincoln, FDR, Washington, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson - were all Unfiltered candidates.  At the other end of the scale, those considered the least effective  - Tyler, Fillmore, Grant, G.W Bush, Andrew Johnson, Pierce and Harding - were also unfiltered.  In the following chapters, he examines in detail how these high impact leaders were chosen and how they chose to lead in a variety of  crises.

The rest of the book takes a deep dive into examining the cases of a variety of both Filtered and Unfiltered Leaders - including Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, Neville Chamberlain, Churchill and a smattering of business and science leaders.

In wrapping up his explanation of the ramifications of LFT, Professor Mukunda prescribes situations in which Extreme Unfiltered Leaders should be considered to lead an enterprise, and situations where it would be unwise.  I found myself pondering the broad personal and professional implications of this theory.  As an executive recruiter, I serve a filtering function for my client companies - presenting to them the candidates for leadership that  I have determined best fit the criteria and parameters the client has set.  I am still processing how best to help my clients utilize the insights from Leadership Filtration Theory to determine how much of a risk to take in setting those search parameters.

The author has put a lot of meat on the plate for his readers to ingest and to digest.  I am grateful for the tastiness and nutritional value of this literary meal.  As part of a healthy diet of reading in the field of leadership, I find this book to be "Indispensable"!



Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Worth Waiting For- ArtsEmerson Presents "Waiting For Godot" by Gare St, Lazare Players Ireland and Dublin Theatre Festival

Gary Lydon as Estragon and Conor Lovett as Vladimir

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first production of "Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett, ArtsEmerson, in collaboration with the Dublin Theatre Festival, commissioned a new version of the play to be performed in Dublin and in Boston by the renowned troupe, Gare St. Lazare Players.  It is a production well worth waiting for.

The production is set in Emerson's glorious Art Deco Paramount Theater. Directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett, this cast of Irishmen is flawless in their portrayal of Beckett's put-upon tramps waiting for the ever-elusive Godot to bring them salvation - or meaning.  Winner of the Nobel Prize for Drama, Beckett was reluctant to clarify the meaning of this enigmatic and absurdist play, which has become a staple of the canon of Western dramas.  This new production features set and costume design by Ferdia Murphy and Lighting Design by Sinead McKenna.  The result of their work is both simple and sumptuous.

Conor Lovett as Vladimir and Gary Lydon as Estragon (Gogo) command the attention of the audience - even when they are simply standing and waiting.  They are the Abbott and Costello of Theatre of the Absurd.  Beckett originally wrote this play in French, and then translated it into English.  His Irish roots are apparent in the rhythms and cadences of the monologues and dialogues.  The speech patterns and brogues of these two actors fit perfectly Beckett's pulse and meter, and make the play's language flow like music or liquid moon light..

Rounding out the cast are Tadhg Murphy as the servant, Lucky, Gavan O'Herlihy as the slave master, Pozo, and Connor Thomas Upton as Boy.  Murphy's breathless marathon monologue of nonsensical phrases elicited a spontaneous outburst of applause as he lay spent upon the stage after collapsing mid-filibuster.

Departing audience members may not have been able to agree about the meaning of the iconic work that they had just witnessed, but there was universal agreement that we had seen something very special performed with extraordinary grace and artistry.  This is the best of all the productions of Godot I have seen, and we are blessed in Boston to be able to partake of it.

There remain six more performances, beginning tomorrow evening at 7:30.

Don't wait any longer to order your tickets.



Through November 10.

ArtsEmerson - Godot

Samuel Beckett ranks among the great artists of the Western world and Waiting for Godot is considered by many to be his masterpiece. On a country road towards the end of day, two friends wait for a man named Godot to arrive. By nightfall they're still waiting.

No one does Beckett better than those from his native land, and Gare St Lazare Players Ireland is internationally recognized as among the foremost interpreters of Beckett's work. Director Judy Hegarty Lovett and actor Conor Lovett have 17 Beckett titles in their repertory. In 2011 the company performed their solo adaptation of Moby Dick by Herman Melville at ArtsEmerson and now they return with the play that changed the course of modern theatre, in its 60th anniversary year. This production, laced with heart and humor, comes to ArtsEmerson directly from its premiere at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre.


Run by artistic directors Conor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett, Gare St Lazare Players Ireland have toured to over 80 cities outside their native Ireland. Over the last 14 years GSLPI have built a repertory of work that includes 17 Samuel Beckett titles, gaining them an international reputation as leading interpreters of Beckett's work, as well as plays by Conor McPherson, Michael Harding and Will Eno. The company has also received awards in Ireland, China, the U.S. and Germany.


VladimirConor Lovett
EstragonGary Lydon
LuckyTadhg Murphy
PozzoGavan O'Herlihy
BoyConnor Upton


Written bySamuel Beckett
DirectorJudy Hegarty Lovett
Set/Costume Design Ferdia Murphy
Lighting DesignSinead Mckenna
Associate ProducerMaura O'Keeffe
Line ProducerSorcha O'Reilly
Stage ManagerDiarmuid Quigley
Production ManagerRob Furey
Casting DirectorMaureen Hughes
Fight ConsultantDonal O'Farrell
Hair & MakeupVal Sherlock
ConstructionBarrington Stage Co.
PhotographyRos Kavanagh

Redemption Dispensed One Drop At A Time: "Water By The Spoonful" by Quiara Alegria Hudes - Another Triumph by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Johnny Lee Davenport, Mariela Lopez-Ponce, Gabriel Rodriguez, Sasha Castroverde -
Photo by Mark S. Howard

The 40th Anniversary Season of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston continues with yet another triumph.  The current production of "Water By The Spoonful" is a deeply moving and nuanced presentation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Quiara Alegria Hudes.  This play is the middle work of a trilogy that explores on many levels relationships within families and broader communities - some tangible and some virtual.  Under the direction of Scott Edmiston, a gifted cast of actors dive deeply into a swirling pool of emotions and relationships.  The playwright draws from her well of experiences in her family, her neighborhood in Philadelphia and her broader understanding of human dynamics within strained relationships where redemption is needed and is given out one drop at a time.

Issues of drug addiction, PTSD, parental abuse and neglect, and lingering guilt flow together in a whirlpool of overlapping relationships.  The play brilliantly weaves together an extended family in extremis and an on-line virtual community for crack addicts.  In Act II, the two worlds interact in stunning ways as the author explores the differences and similarities between virtual relationships and those that exist face-to-face.

As she did so well in writing the book for "In The Heights," Ms. Hudes has created characters that are both memorable and accessible.  I came to care deeply about the fate of each one.

Sasha Castroverde plays Yazmin Ortiz, the cousin of a recovering war veteran, Elliot.  She is a rock, and functions as the emotional center of the play.  Her stunning sacrifice at the end of the play strikes a powerful chord.  Ms. Castroverde's warmth and calm spirit cast a glow over the entire production.

Johnny Lee Davenport is Chutes & Ladders, the on-line name of a recovering drug addict.  Mr. Davenport's speaking and singing voice reminded me of both Paul Robeson and James Earl Jones.  The strength of his vocal powers makes the vulnerability and neediness of the character that much more poignant.

Gabriel Kuttner plays the disintegrating businessman, Fountainhead, whose drug addiction threatens to pull him down the drain.

Mariela Lopez-Ponce plays Odessa/Haikumom. She is the administrator of an on-line chat room and support group.  In that role she is the very model of strength and reliability.  In her real life, as the drug addict who failed her children tragically, she is deeply flawed and in need of redemption.  One of the most moving scenes in the play is the one pictured above as she kneels and mimes dispensing water by the spoonful.

Theresa Nguyen is Orangutan, an addict who goes to Japan to try to find her birth mother.  Ms. Nguyen plays her brilliantly as a complex web of contradictions - saucy and vulnerable, confident and timorous, independent and needy.

Zaven Ovian plays several roles,  but the most significant and memorable is that of the ghost of an Iraqi who dies at the hands of Elliot.

Gabriel Rodriguez plays Elliot Ortiz, a wounded and haunted warrior whose physical presence on stage portrays eloquently the physical and psychic wounds that have been inflicted upon him on the battlefields of family and of Iraq.

Scenic Designer,  Richard Wadsworth Chambers, Lighting Designer, Karen Perlow, and Video Designer, Amelia Gossett have created an ecosystem on stage that allows parallel stories to be told in real time and in the virtual world.  Single cords dangling from the ceiling suggest circuits needing to be completed and connections begging to be made among characters.  Video screens allow the audience members to see the text messages that are being spoken by the chat room denizens.

Gabriel Rodriguez, Sasha Castroverde -
Photo by Mark S. Howard
The water motif is a powerful one.  Each character is - in his or her own way - a fragile flower needing to be watered to keep from withering under the desiccating effects of life.  The play is a celebration of life and hope and redemption despite the forces that would seek to extinguish these positive connections among community members.

This is a play not to be missed.  There are only twelve performances remaining, beginning tomorrow evening. Order your tickets now.



Through November 16


Water by the Spoonful
by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Directed by Scott Edmiston

Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes
Box Office: 617-585-5678 |
Production sponsored by Julian & Barbara Cherubini
Water by the Spoonful, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Quiara Alegría Hudes, is a moving collage of lives in crisis. A group of seemingly unrelated characters search for human connection in a harsh and destabilizing world, looking for hope among their new-found “family.” One by one, the troubled souls find acceptance, connection, even redemption, in this lyrical and lucid new play.