Thursday, December 19, 2013

A.R.T. Receives Substantial National Endowment for the Arts Art Works Grant to Support "Witness Uganda"

Witness Uganda

This is my second Blog post today concerning the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.  As if rave reviews and sold out performances for the current show, "The Heart of Robin Hood," were not enough, there is breaking news I am delighted to share.

The next show on the docket at the A.R.T. will be the World Premiere of "Witness Uganda."  The NEA has just announced a grant of $85,000 in support of this ground-breaking production.  See details below from the A.R.T. Press Release sent our just minutes ago.

"Witness Uganda" will be presented at the A.R.T. from February 4, 2014 through March 16, 2014.  Mark your calendars now, so it promises to be another one of the over which people will be fighting tickets.
+   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +

American Repertory Theater at Harvard University
Receives National Endowment for the Arts Art Works Grant
to Support Witness Uganda

Grant One of 895 NEA Art Works Grants Funded Nationwide

Cambridge, MA — National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa announced last week that the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University (A.R.T.) is one of 895 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant.  The A.R.T. is recommended for $85,000 to support the world premiere production of Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews’ world premiere musical Witness Uganda, directed by A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus.

Acting Chairman Shigekawa said, "The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support these exciting and diverse arts projects that will take place throughout the United States. Whether it is through a focus on education, engagement, or innovation, these projects all contribute to vibrant communities and memorable experiences for the public to engage with the arts."

A.R.T. Managing Director Billy Russo commented: “We are very honored by the recognition from the N.E.A. for this incredibly generous support of Witness Uganda. As we begin rehearsals next week, such a strong vote of confidence in this production is inspiring.” 

Art Works grants support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence: public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancing the livability of communities through the arts.  The NEA received 1,528 eligible Art Works applications, requesting more than $75 million in funding.   Of those applications, 895 are recommended for grants for a total of $ 23.4 million. For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the NEA website at

About Witness Uganda:
When Griffin, a young man from New York City volunteers for a project in Uganda, he finds himself on a journey that will change his life forever. Inspired by a true story, this rousing new musical staged by Tony-Award-winning director and A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus, exposes the challenges confronted by American aid workers around the world and explores the question: “Is changing the world possible?”
Witness Uganda is the recipient of the 2012 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater, ASCAP’s Dean Kay Award, ASCAP’s Harold Adamson Award, and a grant from Conde Nast c/o Summit Series. It was workshopped at Disney/ASCAP (hosted by composer Stephen Schwartz) and at the Vineyard Arts Project/Art Farm.  It has been performed in concert around the world and at events including Summit Series in Lake Tahoe, The Lido Investment Symposium in Beverly Hills, The Rattlestick Theatre New Play Festival in New York City, and Patrick’s Orphanage in Ndejje, Uganda.

About the A.R.T.:
The American Repertory Theater at Harvard University is a leading force in the American theater, producing groundbreaking work in Cambridge and beyond. The A.R.T. was founded in 1980 by Robert Brustein, who served as Artistic Director until 2002, when he was succeeded by Robert Woodruff. Diane Paulus began her tenure in 2008, and has since advanced the A.R.T.’s core mission to expand the boundaries of theater by programming events that immerse audiences in transformative theatrical experiences.

Throughout its history, the A.R.T. has been honored with many distinguished awards, including consecutive Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical for Pippin (2013) and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (2012), both of which Paulus directed, a Pulitzer Prize, a Jujamcyn Prize for outstanding contribution to the development of creative talent, the Tony Award for Best Regional Theater, and numerous Elliot Norton and I.R.N.E. Awards.

The A.R.T. engages with artists around the country and the world to investigate new ways in which to develop and create work. It is currently developing a number of multi-year projects, including the Civil War Project, an initiative that will culminate in the staging of three new works in the 2014/15 season. Under Paulus’s leadership, the A.R.T.’s club theater, OBERON, has become an incubator for local and emerging artists and has attracted national attention for its innovative programming and business models.

As the professional theater on the campus of Harvard University, the A.R.T. catalyzes discourse, interdisciplinary collaboration, and creative exchange among a wide range of academic departments and institutions, students and faculty, acting as a conduit between its community of artists and the university. A.R.T. artists also teach courses in directing, dramatic literature, acting, voice, design, and dramaturgy. The A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theater Training, which is run in partnership with the Moscow Art Theater School, offers graduate-level training in acting, dramaturgy, and voice.

Dedicated to making great theater accessible, the A.R.T. actively engages more than 5,000 community members and local students annually in project-based partnerships, workshops, conversations with artists, and other enrichment activities both at the theater and across the Greater Boston area.

Through all of these initiatives, the A.R.T. is dedicated to producing world-class performances in which the audience is central to the theatrical experience.

The Loeb Drama Center, located at 64 Brattle Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, is fully accessible.

Visit for more information.

"The Heart of Robin Hood" Hits A Bullseye At The A.R.T - A Holiday Treat for The Family

There has been quite a bit of advance buzz about this production of "The Heart of Robin Hood" currently playing at the A.R.T. in Harvard Square (through January 19, 2014).  Please indulge me for a few paragraphs of personal confession and reflection before I launch into the heart of my review of this extraordinary play.

The main thing I had heard was that the play had been written to make "Maid Marion" the real hero.  That small part of me that still harbors elements of the crusty old curmudgeonly male chauvinist reacted by grumbling inwardly "Come on; give me a break!  Just tell the story as we have come to love it." 

But then the better angels began to win the battle, and subsequent reflections followed this train of thought.  "Diane Paulus is still the Artistic Director at A.R. T.  You have come to trust and be delighted by her and by her artistic judgment.  She won't let you down.  Besides, the thing you love about art is that it is ever new, inventing new ways of telling the old stories.  Give this thing a chance."

And then I read the notes by the author, David Farr.  Part of his motivation for writing this play with the focus on Marion was to give his daughters a credible female role model who does something on the stage other than "kiss the hero, swoon, cook pretty pastries, and sew"!  How could I argue with that noble fatherly impulse.

And then they opened the doors to the Loeb Theater, and I walked into an enchanted forest and was instantly transported to another place and another way of telling a beloved classic tale.  The old English oak trees that make up a large part of the set (brilliantly designed and executed by Iceland's Börkur Jónsson) contain gnarled limbs, branches and leaves that extend as an enormous canopy across the ceiling of the theater - cocooning the audience inside Sherwood Forest and inviting us to be part of the action.

An integral part of the telling of this tale is the vibrant music provided by the amazing Connecticut-based bluegrass band, Poor Old Shine.  Band members include Antonio Alcorn, Chris Freeman, Harrison Goodale, Erik Hischmann and Max Shakun.  

Poor Old Shine website

The show opens with these musicians on the apron of the stage, setting the mood that helped us leave behind the slush of Cambridge and to fully enter into the lush of the forest.  At frequent intervals throughout the show, band members leave their grove/orchestra pit and enter into the action of the play.  The effect is delightful.

I will not reveal too much of the plot, for there are surprises in store for those who only know the traditional telling of the Robin Hood legend.  The stagecraft throughout is pure magic.  I want you to make the trip to the A.R.T. and to Sherwood Forest to be charmed by Mr. Farr's story, which is skillfully directed by another gifted Icelandic artist, Gisli Örn Gardarsson. (In last evening's performance, Mr. Gardarsson filled in for an injured actor, playing the role of Much Miller.  In subsequent performances, that role will be played by local Boston actor Daniel Berger-Jones).  Let me simply add that in terms of the writing, Mr. Farr's use of language has a vibrancy and poetic quality that make it invigorating, ennobling and uplifting.

Jordan Dean (Robin Hood), Christina Bennett Lind (Marion/Martin),
Christopher Sieber (Pierre,) Zachary Eisenstat (Will Scathlock)
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

The cast is nothing short of wonderful.  They each deserve mention for the part that they play in weaving this web and spell of magic:

  • Moe Alafrangy - Henchman/Soldier/Prison Guard
  • Claire Candela - Sarah Summers
  • Andrew Cekala - Jethro Summers
  • Jeremy Crawford - Little John
  • Jordan Dean - Robin Hood
  • Zachary Eisenstat - Will Scathlock
  • David Michael Garry - Duke of York/Bishop
  • Christina Bennett Lind - Marion/Martin
  • Laura Sheehy - Rebecca Summers
  • Christopher Sieber- Pierre/Peter
  • Louis Tucci - Makepeace/Friar/Robert Summers, et al.
  • Katrina Yaukey - Lady Falconbury
  • Damian Young - Prince John

Among this solid company of actors, several performances stood out to me.

  • Zachary Eisenstat, Jeremy Crawford are Robin Hood's constant companions, and their energy, physical stamina and dexterity create just the right atmosphere for Robin's "Merry Men."
  • Moe Alafrangy's martial arts moves and balletic entrances and exits add a level of kinetic energy to the show that are essential.
  • Andrew Cekala continues to impress each time he steps on the stage.  Recently returned home to Weston from his six month stint as Theo in "Pippin" on Broadway, Andrew's Jethro is nuanced and sympathetic as he struggles to care for and protect his traumatized sister in the wake of their mother's death and father's execution.
  • Damian Young's Prince John is deliciously evil, plotting to overthrown his brother, over-tax the peasants and seduce poor Marion.  He virtually drips with malice and is a villain we love to hate.
  • Christopher Sieber's Pierre is a tour de force of foppery.  As Marion's servant and companion who reluctantly joins her in the forest, he would rather accessorize than burglarize!  He has his macho  moment in the sun that is a wondrous transformation.
  • Jordan Dean is simply perfect as Robin Hood.  He has enough of the swashbuckling swagger some of us remember from the Errol Flynn portrayal to have the girls and women (and Pierre - but that's another story!) in the audience swooning.  His stubbornness about women gives way to a touching vulnerability as he allows Marion to teach him that a woman can be multi-dimensional and every inch a match for a strong man.
  • Christina Bennett Lind as Marion and Martin, Marion's male persona, is the heart of this story.  She not only shows her own stalwart and intrepid heart, but she wins the heart of Robin and of every member of Robin's crew and every member of the audience.  She is perfectly cast, and carries much of the emotional burden in the telling of this lovely legend.
The picture below depicts a scene near the end of the story.  Having overcome the many barriers and forces that sought to keep them apart, Robin Hood and Marion discover and declare their love for each other. They are married in the forest, and perform this lovely aerial pas de deux, literally rising above the mundane forest floor, and simultaneously raising the emotional response level of the audience to new heights.

Jordan Dean and Christina Bennett Lind.
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

As I sat in the theater and let the spectacle of "The Heart of Robin Hood" wash over me, I felt like I do each time I watch "Peter Pan."  The magic of the story and the artistry of the telling of the story turn me back into an awe-struck little boy again.  It is a wondrous and magical transformation that lies at the very heart of great theater.  During the Second Act, I kept thinking, "When can I return to see this show again, and whom should I invite to join me on the adventure?"

I invite you to treat yourself to the same journey many of us took last evening - a journey that ended with us rising as one to our feet to acknowledge and to applaud the remarkable artistry we had seen on  display.

American Repertory Theater - The Heart of Robin Hood

The production runs through January 19.  Tickets are going fast, so act now.  Tickets to this and subsequent A.R.T. shows make great stocking-stuffer gifts for the family, friends and business colleagues.  This show is suggested for children 10+.



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review of "Bleeding Talent": Tim Kane Addresses the Pentagon's Elephant in the Room

Tim Kane is an economist, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and veteran Air Force Intelligence officer.  He is committed to serving our nation, and has chosen this book as a way of continuing to serve by challenging the existing policies that are causing our military to bleed top talent.  The sub-title of "Bleeding Talent" lays out Kane's basic premise: "How the U.S. Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution."

His conclusions line up well with the anecdotal evidence I have seen and heard in working with transitioning military officers.  The survey, conducted by the author in 2010, questioned graduates of the West Point classes of 1989, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2001, and 2004.  A total of 250 individuals responded to the survey questions.  The most often cited reasons for leaving the military are as follows:

  • Frustration with military bureaucracy
  • Family
  • Other life goals
  • Higher potential income
  • Frequent deployments
  • Limited opportunity in the military

(Page 97)

The author offers some compelling analysis, historical perspective and case studies of very bright men and women who have chosen to leave the military before serving a full career.  He cites the results of the study conducted mentioned above.  His conclusions have been called into question by some based on the small sample size he used in drawing his conclusions.  In a doctoral dissertation being completed at Harvard Business School, U.S. Army Colonel Everett Spain reaches different conclusions about Army personnel policies.  It will be interesting to hear a dialogue between Tim Kane and Everett Spain once Colonel Spain's treatise has been published.

As a recruiter who has placed a number of distinguished former officers, I have long been interested in this issue of the retention of talent by our military.  I find myself personally torn.  On the one hand, as a recruiter, I am delighted to have access to candidates who are among the best and the brightest and who have honed their management and leadership skills while serving as military officers.  On the other hand, as a citizen of this nation, I am troubled when I see gifted soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines leaving military service due to frustrations that could have been prevented if our military's system of managing human capital were based on more of a meritocracy and less of a bureaucracy.

One of the main lessons I took away from reading this book was a deeper understanding of just how complex and interwoven are the problems in our military's personnel management systems.  I had assumed that systems change could be implemented if there simply enough will by the right military leaders.  Kane makes it clear that there would have to be new legislation enacted in parallel with policy changes within the DOD for a real revolution to take place in human capital management within our military.

Mr. Kane deserves our thanks for pushing this conversation to the forefront of public awareness.

Enjoy reading and discussing this book.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"What Recruiters Look At During The 6 Seconds They Spend On Your Resume" by Vivian Land in Business Insider

Last year, Vivian Land wrote a fascinating article in Business Insider that captured the essence of some stunning research I had been hearing about.  The research reveals how internal recruiters who are doing initial screening of candidates for their companies treat the resumes that come before them.  The results are chilling and should impact the way every candidate treats their job search.

"Although we may never know why we didn't get chosen for a job interview, a recent study is shedding some light on recruiters' decision-making behavior. According to TheLadders research, recruiters spend an average of "six seconds before they make the initial 'fit or no fit' decision" on candidates. 

The study used a scientific technique called “eye tracking” on 30 professional recruiters and examined their eye movements during a 10-week period to "record and analyze where and how long someone focuses when digesting a piece of information or completing a task.
In the short time that they spend with your resume, the study showed recruiters will look at your name, current title and company, current position start and end dates, previous title and company, previous position start and end dates, and education."
I encourage you to read the entire article.
Read more:

Pretty depressing, eh?  No wonder you hardly ever hear back when you post your resume electronically or mail it to a company in response to a job posting.  What about all the effort you put into crafting a perfect Objective statement?  What about your honors and volunteer work, your leadership intangibles?  Ignored during the initial screening.

Other research shows that entry-level HR professionals and software programs are instructed to count key words in resumes  and match them with key words in the job description.  Again, no chance for the truly exceptional candidate to stand out.  The system is hopelessly flawed, and shows no signs of being repaired in the foreseeable future.

What to do?

In a nutshell, I suggest performing a flanking maneuver around the system so that as a candidate you are recognized for who you are.  Simplistically, here are some steps to follow:
  • Prepare the very best resume that you can.
  • Next, prepare narrative versions of four great stories.  I call them, "War Stories" or "Home Run Stories."
    • Pick the achievements in your career that you are most proud of and write each of them up as a one or two page narrative.  
    • Use this structure: What was the problem to be solved?  How did you and your team uniquely solve the problem?  What were the results?
    • Prepare to weave these narratives into every conversation you can have with people in your network who may be in a position to put you in front of a hiring manager.
  • Do a deep dive into your network - LinkedIn, FaceBook, Alumni Directories, etc.
    • For each job you would like to apply for, find a person in your network or someone who is one degree removed from someone in  your network and ask for a 30-minute phone call or an opportunity to buy them coffee or a beer.
    • Your goal is to share your stories and ask them to become the inside champion for your candidacy within the target company.
    • Ask them if they see you as a good candidate for this position. If they do, ask if they would be willing to make a personal introduction to a decision maker involved in the hiring process. 
  • Once you have shared your resume and narrative stories with the decision maker, ask him or her when  it would be appropriate to post your resume into the "system."  They will know how things work with their company's hiring process.
Here is a cautionary tale.

Last year, a very capable candidate I know well was applying to Google.  He was well qualified.  I contacted a friend of mine who is well positioned within Google.  I described the candidate, and my friend agreed that this person sounded ideal.  He wanted to be introduced, but then he inserted this question: "He has not already applied on-line has he?"  The answer, unfortunately, was "Yes."  "Then there is nothing I can do.  Once a candidate is in the system electronically, Google does not allow anyone outside of HR to be involved in the screening process.  Sorry."

I hope these tidbits of insight are helpful.  The right job is out there for you.  We just have to work together creatively to get your noticed by the right decision makers.


Monday, December 16, 2013

A Regal Production of Shakespeare's "Henry VIII" Presented by Actors' Shakespeare Project

Henry VIII (Allyn Burrows) and Cardinal Wolsey (Robert Walsh)
Photo by Stratton McCrady

This has been a particularly rich and Shakespeare-filled few months for me.

  • In London in October, I saw a memorable production of "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Old Vic starring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave: Going Gaga Over My Trip to Europe
  • I saw a preview performance of the current Lincoln Center production of "Macbeth," with Ethan Hawke in the title role and my good friend, Jonny Orsini, in the role of Malcolm.
  • I took in and reviewed the F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's production of the same play:  Blog Review of "Macbeth"
  • I was privileged to catch the magic currently being created in NYC by "Twelfth Night" starring Mark Rylance  (More details to follow)
  • Finally, yesterday afternoon, I was transported to the court of King Henry VIII by the incredibly talented ensemble of Actors' Shakespeare Project.
The play, running through January 5, 2014 at the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University, is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears.  The set designed by Janie E. Howland and the lush costumes designed by Tyler Kinney invite one to forget the snow and slush of Boston's streets and imagine being a fly on the wall in the court of King Henry VIII in all its splendor and intrigue.  The quality of the acting and the production values in this play matched those I recently experienced at Lincoln Center!

This is one of Shakespeare's plays I had not seen before, so I was rapt to find out just how the Bard had handled telling the story of Henry and his very unmerry wives.  Cardinal Wolsey plays a central role in this drama, as does about-to-be-deposed Queen Katherine.  The roles of church, state and the need for a male heir for Henry are themes that the author has interwoven with his usual flair for language, action and emotion.  He also shamelessly pays homage to his patroness, Elizabeth I.

Director Tina Packer  has drawn together an ensemble cast that has no weak links.  The acting is universally superb.throughout the play.

Featuring ASP company members:
Allyn Burrows* - King Henry VIII
Johnnie McQuarley - Cromwell, Commoner
Bobbie Steinbach* - Fool
Michael Forden Walker*- Norfolk
Robert Walsh* - Cardinal Wolsey

Additional Cast:
Tamara Hickey* - Queen Katherine
Ross MacDonald* - Lovell, Surveyor
Craig Mathers* - Buckingham, Cardinal Campeius, Dr. Butts
Kathryn Myles - Anne Boleyn
Omar Robinson - Chamberlain

Each of the actors commanded the stage and the Elizabethan language as if they owned them.  Standing out among this stellar cast were the following:

  • Bobbie Steinbach opens and closes the proceedings and oversees all of the intervening drama as the Fool. She is magnificent in this role, mingling mirth, gravitas and the folk wisdom that characterizes most of Shakespeare's Fools.
  • In his scarlet robes that billow about him and behind him - and yet fail to cover his devious machinations - Robert Walsh is the very embodiment of Cardinal Wolsey.  The lighting and make-up  serve to present him to the audience as almost alabaster in complexion, belying the darkness of his soul and of his intentions.  His performance was riveting and flawless, and was particularly moving as he devolved from righteous hauteur to despair at having been literally defrocked.
  • Allyn Burrows' King Henry is the glue that holds this production together.  Lacking the characteristic physicality and gargantuan appetites that we have come to associate with Henry VIII, Burrows relied on his considerable acting tools to create an imposing figure.  What he lacked in girth he more than made up for in grit and grandeur.  His Henry is both a troubled and sympathetic figure.
Queen Katherine (Tamara Hickey), Cardinal Campeius (Craig Mathers)
and Cardinal Wolsey (Robert Walsh)

Photo by Stratton McCrady
  • As Queen Katherine, Tamara Hickey projects the fragile beauty of a china doll, yet the force of her will and her courage in the face of her husband's rejection speak much louder and more eloquently than her frail frame. In this role, she is the very soul of both regalness and vulnerability.  Her performance in this role is deeply touching.
  • Craig Mathers is protean in the breadth of the emotions he portrays in the many roles that he undertakes so convincingly in this drama.
Mr. Burrows also serves as the Artistic Director of this company.  He has given the Boston arts community a huge gift in creating a vehicle for presenting the classics on a regular basis with the highest possible level of professionalism and artistry.

This is a theatre company and a production worthy of your support and applause. Give yourself and some special friends and family members an early Christmas gift; buy some tickets and feast on Henry VIII!

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Presents "Sand Mountain" by Romulus Linney

To close out it's inaugural season, Hub Theatre Company of Boston is presenting two one act plays by Romulus Linney: "Sand Mountain Matchmaking," and "Why The Lord Come to Sand Mountain."  Linney, who died in 2011,  was a contemporary of David Mamet, Edward Albee and Sam Shepard.  According to the program notes, Linney was well regarded, but did not achieve the "cultural caché  of his above-named contemporaries.  To put it in White Rhino terminology, when it comes to storytelling, Romulus was no Uncle Remus.  I found the writing to be uneven.   What comes through loud and clear in the writing is Linney's affection for the people of Appalachia and the quirkiness of their language and their culture.  Each of the plays has elements to recommend them - some interesting characters and unusual situations, but overall, they did not hold my attention all the way through.  They do not feel as if they will stand the test of time.

The cast, under the direction of Daniel Bourque, labored earnestly to convey Linney's affectionate portrait of the denizens of Sand Mountain.  Each cast member plays a different role in each of the two plays.  The company consists of: Olev Aleksander, Yoni Bronstein, Ann Carpenter, Lauren Elias, Robert Orzalli, Bill Salem and Connor Upton.  Creating a wonderful Appalachian mood for the entire event was fiddler Julia Alvarez.

The director chose to have the characters speak in a close approximation Appalachian dialect.  This choice was a mixed blessing for the audience.  On the one hand, it added a degree of authenticity that was admirable.  On the other hand, some of the actors struggled so hard to get the twang just right that the meaning of the words and phrases were sometimes lost.

Among the hard working cast, several individuals stood out.

  • Connor Upton played a young child in each play, and was believable and endearing.  
  • Yoni Bronstein played an aggressive suitor in "Matchmaking" and the role of a bemused and befuddled St. Peter in "Why The Lord Come."  He was excellent in both roles.
  • Olev Aleksander was a breath of fresh air in his role as the successful suitor in "Matchmaking."
  • Ann Carpenter's tour de force turn as Sang Picker, the narrator in "Why The Lord Come to Sand Mountain" was the highlight of the performance that I attended.  In pitch perfect regional dialect, she was able to spin a yarn that set the table for the acting out of the outlandish story of Jesus and St. Peter visiting a dirt-poor family in their humble shanty atop Sand Mountain.  In a sense, this morality play is a retelling of the Parable of the Widow's Mite.  Ms. Carpenter was the perfect Earth Mother, and held the audience in her thrall throughout this play.
There is one more weekend of performances for these plays, presented together as" "Sand Mountain."  See details and ticket information below.  Come out and support Hub Theatre Company of Boston in their mission to bring affordable theater to a broad range of Boston area residents.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston will close its highly 
acclaimed debut season with a sparkling 
Appalachian-flavored holiday show, 
Sand Mountain, a pair of one-act plays by award 
winning American playwright Romulus Linney. 

In the first piece, Sand Mountain Matchmaking
a recently widowed preacher’s daughter must 
repel a trio of unsuitable suitors and find true
 love with the help of a wise old medicine 
woman’s colorful suggestion.

In the second story, Why the Lord Come to 
Sand Mountain, the Lord and St. Peter drop in on 
a dirt-poor mountain family on Christmas Eve to 
swig corn whiskey and swap progressively absurd 
folk tales. However, the evening takes a 
thoughtful turn when the Lord requests one tale
 in particular.

Romulus Linney’s lively, ribald and unforgettable 
backwoods characters are portrayed by an 
ensemble of fine local actors, accompanied on 
fiddle by Julia Alvarez performing an array of 
traditional and original compositions.

We will happily collect your gently-used or 
unopened toys to donate to area shelters 
and non-profits.

Production Team

Stage Manager - Kelly Smith
Assistant Stage Manager - Katie Armstrong
Costume Design - Sara Tess Neumann
Lighting Design - Erik Fox
Sound Design - Jason Weber
Dialect Coach - Danny Bryck
Fight Choreography - Matt Martino

December 13 - 21
To order tickets, click the date you wish to attend:





*ALL* Performances are Pay What You Can
Learn more about our philosophy here.


First Church in Boston
66 Marlborough St, Boston MA
Take any Green Line train to Arlington or Copley - 
the church is on the corner of Marlborough and Berkeley Sts
The First Church is fully handicapped accessible.

Limited street parking in neighborhood.

Produced by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc

Recommended for ages 12+

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Parallel Stories of Building The Subways of Boston and New York: Review of "The Race Underground" by Doug Most

I have always been fascinated with subway systems - their operation, their construction and their evolution. I have ridden and explored the subway systems in cities as diverse as London, Paris, Moscow, Montreal, Seoul, Singapore, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C., NYC and Boston. From my first experiences as a kid riding the El from Everett to Boston Garden to see the circus right up to today for my daily commute on the Red Line, the MBTA has been a part of my life. I have known from reading the signs at Park Street that the MBTA Green Line was the first subway line in America. I had no idea how closely tied together were the stories of the construction of the NYC subways and the Boston subways. So I was thrilled when I learned about "The Race Underground: Boston, York and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway."  This fascinating new book tells those parallel stories in a way that brings the history to light and to life.

Two brothers from the powerful Whitney family each played a role in creating what have become Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority. These two brothers  - Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York City - were at the centers of the beehives of political intrigue, financial manipulations, real estate deals and engineering innovations in a desperate attempt to help their respective cities solve the problem of street traffic that threatened to strangle both metropolises.

This true story of rivalry and cooperation reads like a Gothic novel, and is peopled with familiar figures like Thomas Edison, Boss Tweed, Grover Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmstead. The author, Doug Most, digs deep into a large storehouse of primary documents to get to the real story and subplots of how both systems came to be built. Along the way, he pays tribute to the many figures - political leaders, inventors, engineers, financiers, and sand hogs - who moved heaven and earth to turn the impossible into the possible, and to create the transportation systems that are part of the daily lives of millions of citizens.

When I ride these two subway systems now - as I do each month - I will have a much "deeper" appreciation for what it took to create them and of what it takes to keep them running safely and securely. 



Thursday, December 05, 2013

My heart has vibrated in time with E.L.Doctorow's literary syncopation since I first read "Ragtime."  I have remained in his thrall during the decades that have intervened.  Someone recently called him a "national treasure,"  and I would tend to agree with this assessment.  His latest offering, "Andrew's Brain," is a stunning achievement.  He packs a lot of action and exposition into 200 pages.

Andrew is being interviewed by an unknown interlocutor in an unknown place.  As the interview sessions progress, we learn  Andrew's story.  It is a tale of someone around whom tragedies happen.  Along the way as he recounts his personal journey, we learn of two wives, two children, many losses and a constant effort to understand the complexities of human consciousness.  For the real theme of this book, amid many sub-themes, is to question at what point the human brain becomes a self-aware mind.  Andrew is a professor of neuro-cognitive science.  He studies human awareness, although he himself often seems oblivious to the impact that he has on others.  This is part of Doctorow's delicious irony.

As Andrew's personal history unfolds, we are exposed to the opera Boris Godunov, the Pretender to the Throne.  That character re-emerges late in the novel in a surprising way that includes the White House of Bush 43.  The role of the Holy Fool takes on a surprising twist in the Oval Office.  The events of 9/11 play a significant part in the development of Andrew's story, as do the New York Marathon, the writings of Mark Twain, the Munchkins from the "Wizard of Oz," Greenwich Village and NYU.  Doctorow alludes to many American institutions as a way of pointing a spotlight at both their foibles and their possibilities.

There is a very Zen-like quality to Andrew's musings and his classroom teachings as he wrestles with the question of self-awareness.  The sentient reader will follow his lead, and use the amusement of this new literary gem to spark a round of deeper self-reflection.



Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Review of a Literary Masterpiece: "The Devil in the White City - Murder, Magic, And Madness At The Fair That Changed America" by Erik Larson

"The Devil in the White City - Murder, Magic, And Madness At The Fair That Changed America."  I read this book for several reasons: Erik Larson's reputation as a writer, my interest in history, and my personal connection to the South Side of Chicago from another Dark Period in the city's history.  Larson is a historian whose writing style and sensibilities are those of a novelist in the style of E.L. Doctorow, which I consider high praise.

In 1893, Chicago played host to the Columbian Exposition, a World's Fair that its planners hoped would do for Chicago and America what the recent successful Exposition Universelle in 1889 had done for Paris with its iconic Eiffel Tower as the centerpiece.  This book tells the parallels stories of the building of The White City, as the Exposition site came to be called, and the darker world of serial mass murder that took place just a few blocks away near the stock yards that gave Chicago its reputation and its stench.

The telling of these parallels stories is accomplished with great literary style.  The reader follows the struggles of architect Daniel Burnham as he and his team of colleagues and manifold critics fight to gain financial and artistic control over the building of the Fair that would change the landscape of America.  Alongside this gripping tale, Larson reveals the stunning treachery of Dr. Henry Holmes as he plotted to capture, torment and eventual kill numberless innocent young woman who were drawn  to the city by the promise of employment and excitement.

The resulting literary work is a cautionary tale that warns that monumental civic achievement is hardly ever attained without great personal sacrifice and the concomitant exploitation perpetrated by those who would prey upon the innocence of those drawn to the bright lights of the city.  Larson possesses a keen author's eye for personal peculiarities and idiosyncrasies; he also employs an architect's perception for details of place.  The result is a work of history that draws in the reader as does the most compelling work of fiction.  This book is an achievement well deserving of its Best Seller status and literary awards..



"The Human Brand: How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies" by Chris Malone and Susan T.Fiske

Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske have converted their insightful research into a very readable and informative book.  "The Human Brand: How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies" is an excellent addition to the growing corpus of works that help us to better understand how to use technology to enhance human interactions rather than to replace them.

The premise of this book is that as human beings, we are hard-wired to make instantaneous judgments about people - and by extension about products and companies - based on two perceptions: warmth and competence.  These snap judgments that we make allow us to categorize people and companies into four quadrants.

Quadrant 1 - We perceive the person or company to be warm and to have good intentions; and we perceive them to be competent to carry out those intentions.

  • The resulting predominant feeling we have for these people and companies is Admiration
  • Companies that research shows fall into this quadrant include Habitat for Humanity, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Hersheys, MinuteMaid, and Zappos

Quadrant 2 - We perceive the person or company to be warm and to have good intentions; but we perceive them not to be competent to carry out those intentions.

  • The resulting predominant feeling we have for these people and companies is Sympathy
  • Companies that research shows fall into this quadrant include Amtrak, VA Hospitals, U.S. Postal Service.

Quadrant 3 - We perceive the person or company to be lacking in warmth and to have ambiguous or self-serving intentions; and we perceive them to be competent to carry out those intentions

  • The resulting predominant feeling we have for these people and companies is Envy
  • Companies that research shows fall into this quadrant include Gucci, Cartier, Mercedes, Porsche, Rolex

Quadrant 4 - We perceive the person or company to be lacking in warmth and to have ambiguous or self-serving intentions; and we perceive them not to be competent to carry out those intentions.

  • The resulting predominant feeling we have for these people and companies is Contempt
  • Companies that research shows fall into this quadrant include BP, AIG, Marlboro, Goldman Sachs

I have tested my own personal reactions to individuals and to companies, and I find that my emotions match those that the authors' research predicted.

The book is filled with stories and vignettes of actions that companies have taken that either allow consumers to perceive them as warm and competent and thus to elicit Admiration, or that in some way fail to make that human connection.  The authors are strong in their advocacy of stories as important means of communicating both warmth and competence:

"Stories organize our perceptions of the people, places, and events around us.  Stories inform us emotionally, which is why we remember them better than mere information.  They are among the most powerful means of human communication, education,  and inspiration, precisely because they overlap in our minds with our ways of making sense of other people." (Page 120)

This book is a very helpful addition to the growing list of volumes that help us to think in creative and meaningful ways about how we must connect with one another in an age of growing technological capabilities and hindrances.



Monday, December 02, 2013

Actress Celeste Oliva Gets Great Mileage Out of "Becky's New Car" at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston

I am going to shamelessly launch myself over the punning cliff by stating up front that IRNE Award-winning actress Celeste Oliva has turned the current Lyric Stage production of "Becky's New Car" into a streamlined vehicle that demonstrates the full range of her protean acting abilities.  She is, quite simply, the drive train and chassis for this show.  All of the other fine actors who make up the ensemble serve as useful accessories that smooth out the ride upon which playwright Steven Dietz takes the audience.

Celeste Oliva as Becky

Becky lays out the theme of this play in the first scene.  She address the audience in one of many instances in which the actors break the fourth wall.  

"When a women says she needs a new car, what she is really saying is that she needs a new life."

In this two act play, directed by Larry Coen,  we see Becky inadvertently drawn into a complex web of circumstances and relationships that make it possible for her to discover a new life.  She has to decide if she wants to have a fling with one of the richest men in Seattle, a widower who mistakenly assumes that Becky's husband has also died.  The complications that ensue are both hilarious and poignant.  This comedy addresses serious questions about marriage, fidelity, happiness, forgiveness and self-actualization.

The set has been designed by Shelley Barish as an over-sized game board for Chutes and Ladders, implying that the lives that Becky and her fellow characters are living out have elements of a game in which they are moving around the game board of life in pre-determined patterns.  Sometimes they figuratively "roll the dice" to decide in which direction to head and how far to go.

The cast features:

Mike Dorval as Joe Foster, Beck's roof repairman husband

Alex Marz as Chris, Becky and Joe's grad student son

Will McGarrahan as Walter Flood, Becky's "Sugar Daddy"

Samantha Richert as Kenni Flood, Walter's petulant daughter

Jaime Carrillo as Steve, Becky's cohort at the auto dealership where they both work

Kortney Adams as Ginger, a trust fund baby whose funds have dried up

The character of Chris, as written by Mr. Dietz, is the most interesting of the secondary characters, and is played perfectly by Mr. Marz.  His psychology grad student Ivory Tower psycho babble stands in marked contrast to the very practical wrestling with every day existential dilemmas that Becky faces.  His commentary on others' actions is pure academic theory and cant.  He comes across as a one man "Geek Chorus"! He may have a text book understanding of the term "self-actualization ," but is mother is getting her hands dirty and dismantling the engine of her life to discover how to tune it up and make it run in a more satisfying manner.

The play offers the audience plenty of opportunities for laughter, and just as many opportunities for sober reflection.  As played by Ms. Oliva, Becky is a complex, flawed human being for whom we are rooting all the way through, even when her actions call into question her character.

On occasion, I found the breaking of the fourth wall a bit gimmicky, but for the most part it served to invite the audience members to identify with Becky and the other characters.

This second play of the new Lyric Stage of Boston season is worthy of your attention.  It makes a great holiday excursion.  Take a trip to the Lyric and enjoy the ride!  The audience on Sunday afternoon  seemed to get a great deal of enjoyment out of their trip with Becky.



Becky's New Car
by Steven Dietz 

Directed by Larry Coen

Running time: Approximately 2 hours.
Box Office: 617-585-5678 |
Production sponsored by Tim & Linda Holiner
Becky's life isn't exactly unhappy — but from her desk at a car dealership she can't help but wonder what else is out there. And then she finds out. When a wealthy suitor presumes she is a widow, she finds herself leading a double life that quickly accelerates out of her control. This clever and witty new comedy takes us on one woman’s unexpected, hilarious, and ultimately moving escape from the midlife doldrums.
“A satisfying comedy of modern manners . . . one that derives as much power from its humanity as its fine-tuned craftsmanship.” - Seattle Times
The show runs through December 22.