Thursday, February 27, 2014

Misha Lands on Stage At Emerson's Cutler Majestic Theater - ArtsEmerson Presents "Man In A Case" Through March 2

Tymberly Canale
and
Mikhail Baryshnikov

It is often the case that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Sometimes an evening at the theater is much more than the spectacle that is being presented on stage.  Such was the case last night as a full house at Emerson's Cutler Majestic Theater greeted Mikhail Baryshnikov's return to Boston.  The occasion was a performance of "Man In A Case," a pastiche of  two short Chekhov stories dramatized using acting, dancing, singing and video projection.

I always enjoy a well presented Chekhov production, and these two stories are well dramatized, and Misha is well support by a cast enumerated below.  But the real pull of the event was a chance to see a live performance by one of the great artists of the 20th century, and one of the top male dancers in the history of dance.  ArtsEmerson has given a great gift to the theater-going public of Boston by bringing such a great artist to town as one of the Legends they seek to incorporate into each season's schedule.

I first saw Baryshnikov perform live when he danced "Les Sylphides" with the Canadian National Ballet at Lincoln Center.  His leaps and lifts were the stuff of legend.  He no longer has the suppleness and youthful strength to attempt such feats of gravity-defying artistry, but he still moves with amazing grace and purpose.  The dancing that he dd in last evening's performance was low key and elegant.  As his athleticism has waned with the natural aging process, the breadth of his artistic reach has waxed.  He has branched into acting, choreography, producing and collaborating with a variety of other artists.   One such collaboration has been with Mark Morris. There was a point in the first of two two stories when Baryshnikov's character topples down a long flight of stairs.  I wondered if this were staged as a subtle salute to Mark Morris, who along with Yo Yo Ma had created a dance piece set to music by Bach.  The piece is entitled: "Falling Down Stairs"!

Baryshnikov's toned down performance reminded me very much of the grace with which other famous Russian artists have approached continuing to perform despite advancing age.  I am thinking of the husband and wife skating pair,  Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov.  Fifty years ago this month, they won their first of their two Olympic gold medals. Theirs was the first Olympic gold medal in pairs won by the Soviet Union, starting a 42-year streak of Olympic gold by Soviet and Russian couples.


The Protopopovs
The Protopopovs teamed up as a pair in 1956 and married in 1957. In 1979, they defected to Switzerland, where they still live,.  The legendary Baryshnikov has shown the same grace and wisdom as he has aged and yet continued to inspire the next generation of dancers and to delight several generations of audiences.  We were on the edge of our seats, awaiting his every word, gesture, movement.  How delighted we were when he threw in an ad lib. that poked fun at the cold weather in New England.  How ironic that the veteran of Russian winters, famous for his role in "White Nights," should find Boston cold!

At the end of the performance, the great artist returned for repeated curtain calls, along with the other members of the cast.  The audience rose in appreciation.  As I was preparing to leave the theater, I turned to a friend, a very knowledgeable theater critic and said, "That standing ovation was not just for tonight; it felt like a Lifetime Achievement Award."

She replied eloquently: "It is always a thrill to be in the same room with one of the greats."

There will be three more chances this weekend for Boston audiences to be in the same room with one of the truly great artists of our day.  Don't miss this rare opportunity.
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The fourth season of acclaimed international theatre programming by ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage continues with Baryshnikov Production’s MAN IN A CASE, a bridge between our time and that of two brilliant 19th‐century love stories by Anton Chekhov: The Man in a Case and About Love.

Performances take place Feb. 25—March 2, 2014 at the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre (219 Tremont Street in Boston’s Theatre District). Tickets, from $25 –$89, are on sale now at www.artsemerson.org or by phone at 617‐824‐8400.

Drawing from material as varied as surveillance footage, folk dance, instructional hunting
videos and interviews with the cast, MAN IN A CASE creates a bridge between our time and
that of two brilliant 19th‐century love stories by Anton Chekhov: The Man in a Case and About
Love. Annie‐B Parson and Paul Lazar, the team behind the internationally acclaimed Big Dance
Theater, bring their signature style—fusing theatre, dance, music and video—to this visionary
adaptation featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov, Paul Lazar and Tymberly Canale.

About Baryshnikov Productions and Big Dance Theatre
Baryshnikov Productions is designed to bring the distinctive voices of innovative directors,
choreographers and artists to the world’s most respected stages. Founded in 1991, Big Dance
Theater is known for its inspired use of dance, music, text and visual design to expand and
refract literary texts.

Feb 25‐Mar 2, 2014
MAN IN A CASE 
Adapted from Two Stories by Anton Chekhov
Adapted and Directed by Annie‐B Parson & Paul Lazar/Big Dance Theater
Choreographed by Annie‐B Parson
Featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tymberly Canale, Chris Giarmo, Paul Lazar and Aaron Mattocks

Performances:
Friday, Feb.28, 8PM
Saturday, March 1, 8PM
Sunday, March 2, 2PM

Arts Emerson Website


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mini-Review of "The Steady Running of the Hour" by Justin Go


In "The Steady Running of The Hour," Justin Go has penned a remarkable novel.  He has woven together three separate stories of attempts to climb to the summit - physical or metaphorical - on the part of characters separated by a century of time.

After surviving a nearly fatal wounding at The Somme in WWI, Ashley Walsingham embarks on one of the early attempts to scale the summit of Mt. Everest.  Meanwhile, he and Imogen have been trying to figure out if the week of passion they spent together before he left for France can ever be turned into a sustained relationship.   Almost a century later, Tristan Campbell has embarked on a trek to discover if he may be the only surviving relative of the child born to Ashley and Imogen, and the rightful heir to a huge fortune.that has been held in trust for 80 years.

The novel toggles back and forth in time between Ashley and Imogen's quests and Tristan's attempts to find clues to the secrets of his grandmother's parentage.  There are wonderful and subtle parallels in the disparate stories.  The author gives us reports from each of the base camps established as the expedition makes its way up the Himalayan massif.  In his own quest, Tristan covers "base camps" in London, Paris, Berlin, and Iceland in his quest for the truth.

Ultimately, each of the three journeys fails to reach the "summit," but the separate and interwoven journeys are epic in their sweep.

The novel is beautifully written with a strong sense of place.  Mr. Go is a master at description of sights and sounds and tastes, to the point where I felt that I had embarked on the arduous journey as a fellow trekker with the protagonists.

Enjoy!

Al

Monday, February 24, 2014

Called Back To The Witness Stand - A Second Look at "Witness Uganda" at the A.R.T.

Griffin Mathews
and
Witness Uganda Cast

It is not unusual for me to return to see a show more than once - especially if that show has grabbed me in some way, causing me to think and to feel in significant ways.  It is quite unusual, however, for me to choose to write a follow-up Blog post based on those subsequent viewings of the show,  I have done this in the past with "Pippin" and with "Les Miserables."  I am choosing to do it now with "Witness Uganda," which should tell readers of The White Rhino Report the high esteem in which I hold this show and its creators.

When I returned to the A.R.T. this past weekend to see "Witness Uganda" for a second and third time, I had two aims in mind:

1) I brought with me friends whom I knew would benefit from seeing the show.
2) I wanted a chance to let the show's message and dramatic arc flow over me again to see what additional insights I might glean from Griffin Matthew's story of his still-unfolding pilgrimage to find his place in the world.

My friends loved the show and were deeply moved by it.

I saw several dimensions of the story that I had glossed over in my first viewing.  I share these new insights with you as an addendum to my original review which you can access through this link:

Blog review of Witness Uganda

My first observation has to do with the nature of the story telling that Griffin Mathews and Matt Gould have created in their collaboration with Diane Paulus and many others.  On the one hand, the story is very specific: a particular person in particular places at a particular time dealing with very particular circumstances.  On the other hand, a sentient and observant audience member is often prompted to say: "Wait; this is partly my story.  I, too, am trying to figure out where I fit in this messed up world, and how I can make a difference."  So they have also crafted a story with universal appeal.

Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews
WBUR Studios


In a sense, they have handed us, the audience, two kinds of lenses through which to peer.  At one level the story functions as a microscope, peering deeply into Griffin's life - and inviting us to conduct the same in depth internal examination of our own lives and souls.  At another level, they offer a telescope, allowing us to look at the broader world - of Uganda and beyond.  Equipped with these twin tools, the audience member is invited through the magic of this story to simultaneously look inward and outward.  With new insights, we can then ask: "With this new understanding of myself and the world I inhabit, what actions should I be taking to find my place in the world and to move toward making it a better world?"

One of the most moving moments in the show is the scene in which Griffin swallows his pride and returns to a church that had rejected him in order to ask for help in rescuing Jacob, whom he believes has been kidnapped in Uganda.  As the choir sings a rollicking version of "Be The Light" - in English and in Luganda - Griffin learns that the church has given generously in an impromptu offering.  The show, in essence, is inviting each of us to find a way to "Be The Light."

One additional new insight came when I considered the role of Pastor Jim.  His presence lurks and hovers over almost every scene in the play. He misled Griffin and countless other volunteers who paid money to travel to Uganda to build schools for orphans.  As soon as they left, Pastor Jim sold the building and pocketed the money.  No actor plays the role of Jim;  he is a phantom who exists in the mind of each audience member as we hear him and his actions described.  I applaud this artistic choice.  In a sense, the artists are "painting" using negative space very wisely.  Were Jim to appear on stage, the character would be a lighting rod for audience hatred and recrimination.  As a phantom, Jim exists differently in the mind of each individual audience member, and the sense of evil is diffused, allowing the overwhelming spirit of the show to be one of wonder, exploration, learning, forgiveness and humility, rather than of hatred or of recrimination.  As artists, Griffin and Matt are in good company, for Anton Chekhov was noted for his use of off-stage action and off-stage characters to advance the narratives of his dramas.

Finally, allow me to add that many of the lessons that Griffin has learned and is continuing to learn are discussed in a ground-breaking book, "When Helping Hurts - How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor Or Yourself."  The book helps those from a developed nation who hope to travel to a developing country to be aware of the inadvertent mistakes we can make out of a desire to help. My review of this book can be accessed through this link:

White Rhino Report Review of "When Helping Hurts"

FYI - "Witness Uganda" will play through March 16 at A.R.T.  Many performances are already sold out.  When a show is sold out, the box office will sell up to 20 standing room tickets the day of the show, beginning at 12:00 - $20 for adults; $15 for students with student ID.

American Repertory Theater Witness Uganda Website

I bear witness to the fact that "Witness Uganda" is a show you do not want to miss.  And having witnessed the show yourself, you will never be the same.

Enjoy! And be the light!

Al

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Company One Presents "The Flick" by OBIE Award-Winner Annie Baker: An exercise in Pure Writing and Pure Acting


Watching "The Flick" in many ways reminded me of the way I felt when I first watched the film "Cinema Paradiso."  That film, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, is in essence a love letter to the film industry.  Like the protagonist in the film, playwright Annie Baker spent many hours as a kid haunting the small town cinema in Western Massachusetts where she grew up, absorbing the essence of good cinema and of good story telling.  She has translated that love for story telling to the stage.  "The Flick" is rife with allusions to movies - great and small.  Its three principle characters not only work at "The Flick," a down-at-the-heels single screen movie theater, but they also share a fascination and love-hate relationship with film.

Ms. Baker is known as a playwright who often weaves prolonged episodes of silence into the fabric of her plays.  She has sometimes been criticized for this trait, but I tend to see her periods of silence as a gift and as  an invitation.  The gift is a time for quiet reflection.  The invitation is permission to notice things that are happening that are not tied to dialogue, a chance to listen to the voice within my head.  An invitation to ask questions. "What is being said through non-verbal means?  Who are these people and what should I notice about them?  In what way are they aware of each other?"

The opening of the play serves as an example.  Two male characters, Sam and Avery, enter the empty movie theater with brooms and dustpans.  They sweep the theater, row by row, in near silence.  They do it mechanically and robotically.  Having been forewarned to expect period of silence, I asked myself the following questions: "Who are these people beside humble employees of a movie theater?  These kinds of people are not usually 'featured' in a play, so what is interesting about them that the playwright would choose to tell their story?"

It soon becomes clear that Sam is the veteran employee showing Avery, the new kid on the block, the ropes of how to clean the theater after a showing.  Sam is helpful in his own way, proscribed by the almost Aspergers-like affect that has him parceling out words one by one as if from a sticky Pez dispenser.  Avery is painfully shy. The dynamic changes as Sam throws out an unlikely pairing in a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and Avery responds with confidence and alacrity that verges on the ability of a savant.

We meet Rose, the third key person in this triangle that is anything but "Right" or "Equilateral."  Just as Sam is almost, but not quite autistic, Rose is almost, but not quite Goth.  Her green hair and loose-fitting black shirt barely hide what could be a very attractive femininity.  She has been promoted - ahead of Sam - to the coveted role of projectionist in a theater that is holding out against the rising tide of digital projection and still boasts a traditional 35MM projector.  Sam's resentment at having been snubbed plays a key role in the relationships that will develop among the three employees.

Under the very fine direction of Shawn LaCount, the trio of actors create fully realized and memorable versions of San, Avery and Rose.

  • Alex Pollock uses a backwards Red Sox cap as a tribal totem and as a fig leaf to hide the nakedness of his scalp and rawness of his emotions.  One alternately wants to either hug him or shake him.
  • Brenna Fitzgerald is marvelous as Rose.  She claims to be "over movies," but the falsity of her apparent nonchalance about her job is revealed when the security of her job is threatened when an ethical crisis assails the threesome.
  • Peter Andersen uses his black frame glasses, nervous tics and gestures to establish an Avery for whom we care and about whom we are worried.  His vulnerability is palpable.
  • Steven Chueka does a fine job in his two brief cameos as "Dreaming Man" and Skylar, the replacement employee.
Alex Pollock as Sam
Peter Andersen as Avery
Brenna Fitzgerald as Rose

Ms. Baker is like Anton Chekhov in that she shows people who try to connect with one another, but ultimately fail to connect in any meaningful way.  Sam resents Rose, but is madly in love with her.  When in a fit of frustration he shares this fact with her, he is not able to look her in the eye, and so the moment dies.  Avery longs for a deep friendship with Sam - and perhaps something more - but never is able to express that desire until too many things have happened to prevent a friendship from flourishing.  Rose is attracted to Avery, but her attempt to take things to a physical level prove to be a huge embarrassment for them both.

The playwright uses the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game to show an ironic contrast.  Avery and Sam are able to make obscure connections among imagined people, but as real people, they struggle to make even the most basic meaningful connections with each other.

The set, designed by Cristina Todesco and the lighting by Jen Rock create a wonderful replica of the experience of the single screen that was the bread and butter of most American's theater-going experience at the movies.  The audience sits where the screen would be - and this is no accident.  Over the course of three hours a dual projection is taking place upon that screen/audience.  Remembrances of iconic movies are projected while Sam, Avery and Rose project themselves onto us - in snippets of speech and action and gesture.

Annie Baker's propensity toward irony emerges in another way.   A leitmotif of this play is the ineluctable takeover of digital projectin.  Avery is passionate about trying to stick his thumb in the digital dike and preserve 35MM projection as long as possible.  When a new owner buys the theater and the inevitable day comes, the actual action of Sam and Rose replacing the old projector with a new digital one in the projection booth is presented in total silence behind the projection booth window.  As an audience, we are watching an advance in cinematic technology being depicted as a silent film!  Brilliant!

Avery articulates his preference for 35MM over digital by dismissing digital as made up of millions of pixels that are all the same size.  In contrast, true celluloid film captures "light and shadow, separated by split seconds of darkness."  I see this idealistic picture of film as a metaphor for how the playwright sees human lives, and how she shows us how worthy of our attention are the likes of Sam, Avery and Rose.

With one intermission, the play runs three hours, and is a worthwhile investment of time for lovers of good theater, good film, good story telling and good truth!

The play will run at the Suffolk University Modern Theater through March 15.

Enjoy!

Al




 THE FLICK
A New England Premiere by Annie Baker
Directed by Shawn LaCount
February 20 – March 15, 2014
Presented with Suffolk University at the Modern Theatre
“Annie Baker, one of the freshest and most talented to emerge Off Broadway in the past decade, writes with tenderness and keen insight. Her writing is a great blessing to performers. The Flick draws out nakedly truthful and unadorned acting. This lovingly observed play will sink deep into your consciousness.”
– New York Times

Welcome to a run-down movie theatre in Worcester County, MA, where Sam, Avery and Rose are navigating lives as sticky as the soda under the seats. The movies on the big screen are no match for the tiny battles and not-so-tiny heartbreaks that play out in the empty aisles. Annie Baker (THE ALIENS) and Artistic Director Shawn LaCount reunite with this hilarious and heart-rending cry for authenticity in a fast-changing world.

C1’s Take: With this production, the artists of C1 answer the call from New England fans of one of America’s most celebrated contemporary playwrights. Boston’s relationship with Annie Baker began with the C1 award-winning production of THE ALIENS as part of the Shirley, VT Plays Festival. Annie Baker (who grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts) recently won both an OBIE for playwriting, and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for THE FLICK. This is a play about an indie movie house turning digital right here in Massachusetts, and one of the characters is a Clark University student, where C1 was founded.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents A Cautionary Tale of Unintended Consequences - Alan Ayckbourn's "Neighborhood Watch."




When Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II took the enormous risk of exposing the ugly secret of domestic violence as a topic to be treated on the musical theater stage in the ground-breaking "Carousel," they opened Pandora's Box.  Many playwrights have followed suit in dealing with this pervasive and perennial issue. In "Neighborhood Watch," one of his most recent plays, prolific British dramatist Sir Alan Ayckbourn tackles spousal abuse by including it as one of several savory ingredients in a rich stew that bubbles up a garden variety of societal ills: vigilantism, religious fundamentalism, homophobia, xenophobia, gossip mongering, general hypocrisy and marital unfaithfulness - to name just a few of the author's targeted low-hanging fruit.

Under the Direction of David Miller, Zeitgeist Stage Company has been producing Ayckbourn plays since 2010, allowing Boston audiences to become accustomed to this Brit's unique style and tone.  "Neighborhood Watch" is a very black comedy that works well on many levels.

The play begins with a terrific monologue by Hilda Massey, played splendidly by Shelley Brown, whose British accent is impeccable.  Kudos to Dialect Coach, Christopher Sherwood Davis.  In this memorial oration, Hilda, the prim and proper conservative Christian fundamentalist, is eulogizing her late brother, Martin.  She drones on and on, making the monologue feel interminable as she highlights her brother's humanitarianism.  I suspect that the author had two things in mind as he penned this opening scene.  He is setting the tone for the entire play, the action of which will be a flashback to the months before Martin's untimely demise..  He also throws a harsh light onto the interminable disingenuous drivel we must often endure at funerals and memorials.

As the flashback begins, we meet Martin, played very convincingly by Bob Musset.  He and Hilda have just moved into a home previously occupied by a woman who died in her bed in the Bluebell Hill Development.  They throw themselves a house-warming tea to meet the neighbors.  During the tea, Martin apprehends a youth hopping the back yard fence, setting in motion a series of absurd, hilarious and ultimately deadly events that demonstrate clearly the Law of Unintended Consequences.  The stage is set for this motley crew of neighbors to evolve into a heavy metal vigilante band of neo-Nazis that turn the formerly peaceful and bucolic neighborhood into an armed camp and gated community to protect themselves from dangers both real and imagined.

The menagerie of colorful neighbors includes:



Rod Trusser, a former security guard whose answer to every problem is kinetic and tending toward the use of blunt force.  Victor Brandalise, sadly, is not up to the task of portraying this character in a believable fashion - the acting tending toward the use of blunt force.  Accent, facial expressions, mastery of lines all need work.

Dorothy Doggett is the over-rouged, gossip-mongering former newspaper employee.  Ann Marie Shea nails this character, mixing just the right ratio of cartoonishness with a hint of the real threat that this kind of person can represent in a group.

Gareth Janner is the oft-cuckolded husband of Amy.  He is an engineer who has been found "Redundant" and put out to pasture to tinker in his shop concocting personal torture implements to enforce the rules that the Neighborhood Watch enacts to bring evildoers to heel.  Robert Bonotto has several memorable moments, especially as he lights up with sadistic delight in reviewing the catalogue of Medieval torture tools he may build.  His disquisition on the fine differences between stocks and pillories is a highlight moment of the play.

Amy is the one note of liberalism and license in a group of uptight conservative prigs.  She sleeps openly with anyone who strikes her fancy, finally setting her sights on the formerly unassailable Martin.  Ashley Risteen is splendidly seductive in this role. Her blood feud with the protective and jealous Hilda illuminates some of Hilda's underlying "issues."

Magda Bradley, played in a pitch perfect performance by Lynn R. Guerra, is the abused wife of Luther.  In an effort to expose the suspected spousal abuse, Hilda interrogates Madga with Dorothy present as a potential witness.  This grilling of Madga triggers a scene that is one of the few truly poignant moments in the play.  Magda spews forth a tale of physical and emotional abuse by her father, who has handed the reins of discipline over to Luther.  Her compulsion to play music becomes clear as she tells her story, as does her struggle with her undercurrent of "wickedness" that she hopes will be expunged by her father and Luther's beatings.  The scene is a tour de force, and the true high spot of the play.
 
Luther, as the abusive husband, plays "the heavy."  The role is ably filled by Damon Singletary.  He plays the role without nuance, which is as much a function of the writing as it is of acting and directing choices.

The play is thought-provoking, often hilarious, and on occasion deeply troubling and moving.  I commend this New England Premiere production to discerning theater goers who are prepared to chew on the issues that Mr. Ayckbourn serves up with his own unique special sauce.

The play will run through March 1 at the Boston Center for the Art's Plaza Black Box Theater.

"Things are not right on The Bluebell Hill Development. Theft, petty crime, vandalism – all the ills of modern suburban existence are on the increase.  Newcomers Martin and his sister Hilda are the crime wave’s latest victims and resolve to take action. After all, the law of the land, all that’s right and proper, and even God himself, are surely on their side.  But what starts out as a well-intentioned neighborhood watch scheme, soon develops into something altogether more sinister.  Alan Ayckbourn’s hilarious cautionary tale of the dangers of taking the law into your own hands is his seventy-fifth play."


Zeitgeist Stage Website

Monday, February 17, 2014

Happy Medium Theatre Company Presents "Baby With The Bathwater" by Christopher Durang


This production of "Baby With The Bathwater," written by Christopher Durang and presented by The Happy Medium Theatre, is neither "Happy" nor "Medium."  It is not Happy because the playwright, Christopher Durang, views the world through a set of lenses that are absurd and slightly misanthropic.  Many of his characters are clearly insane and involve themselves with their world and its inhabitants in ways that are absurd and often cruel.  If "Baby With The Bathwater" were a cocktail, rather than a dark comedy, the recipe would call for an extra dash or two of bitters.  And it is not Medium precisely because it is Well Done!  Working with very difficult material, the cast members all do a very creditable job of projecting the craziness of their characters and their actions.

Durang is poking fun at a wide variety of topics - child-rearing practices of the 1950's, psychotherapy that has no end and seems to have no point, marriages that are loveless and bereft of meaningful communication, gender confusion and the phenomenon of the perpetual college student.  Like Chekhov, Durang often portrays characters who fail to connect with one another - often talking past, over and through each other, screaming at one another or ignoring one another altogether.  While Chekhov gives us characters who are in a cherry orchard, Durang gives us characters who are bananas!

Under the direction of Lizette M.Morris, the cast includes:

Mike Budwey - Daisy
Denise Drago - Helen
Nicole Howard - Nanny, Kate, Principal
Drew Linehan - Cynthia, Angela, Miss Pringle, Susan
Jeremy Towle- John
Deirdre Benson - THE VOICE

Denise Drago as Helen
Jeremy Towle as John
Nicole Howard as Nanny
Photo by Josephine Anes
Helen and John have no clue how to be parents to little Daisy, but the Nanny who comes to help is no Mary Poppins.  No "spoonful of sugar" for this harridan.  She brings a heaping tablespoon full of acid and a voice as soothing as a jet engine.  In like manner, the therapist who sees the grown Daisy hundreds of times offers no relief for his existential despair. And so it goes.  In a showdown with his parents, Daisy challenges his dipsomaniacal father and Mommy Dearest-impersonating mother for the ways in which he was raised.  In Durangville, there are no "Happily Ever Afters," so Daisy marries and begets a child -sending the Merry-go-round on its circular journey as another generation is spawned.

"Baby with the Bathwater" can be seen through this coming weekend at the Factory Theater.  Bring your own Rubber Ducky!



Enjoy!

Al

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Closes The Deal With A Moving Production of "Death Of A Salesman"



In the Director's notes in the program for the Lyric Stage Company of Boston's current production of "Death of a Salesman," Spiro Veloudos makes the following statement: "I have chosen a play that is considered by many as the greatest play of the 20th Century."  Having seen this play presented by the remarkable team of artists and craftsmen at the Lyric, I cannot argue with this verdict.  The play is timeless in its themes and continues to stand as a cautionary tale that "Attention must be paid" - even 65 years after Arthur Miller's classic drama first appeared on stage.

What makes this production so remarkable and so worthy of rapt attention is the seamless way in which all of the elements coalesce in the telling of this tragic tale. The cast is well chosen,  They are directed by Spiro Veloudos with a nuanced approach that frees them to bring out all of the complexity of their characters.  The set designed by Janie E. Howland is compact and cramped - like the lives of the Lomans.  The period set offers wonderful juxtapositions of action taking place in different places and different times - sometimes in reality and sometimes in the dream world of the characters.  The atmospheric music composed by Dewey Dellay uses subdued double reeds to create a haunting backdrop for the actions unfolding upon the stage. The lighting designed by Karen Perlow and costumes designed by Gail Astrid Buckley complete the world and set the stage that allows each of these gifted actors to "sell their wares."

The Lomans - Linda, Willy, Hap and Biff
Set designed by Janie E. Howland
The ensemble members have been carefully and perfectly cast.  They each carry their own bag and carry their weight.  Each one, no matter how long or how briefly they may appear on stage, contributes their own notes to the symphony of words,actions and emotions that Miller has composed in this play.

The cast:
Ken Baltin -Willy Loman
Paula Plum - Linda
Joseph Marrella - Happy
Kelby T. Akin- Biff
Victor L. Shopov - Bernard
Eve Passeltiner - The Woman
Larry Coen - Charley
Will McGahhahan - Uncle Ben
Omar Robinson - Harold Wagner
Margarita Martinez - Jenny
Jaime Carrillo - Stanley
Jordan Clark - Miss Forsythe
Amanda Spinella - Letta

Standing out among this very able group of actors are the four members of the Loman family.

  • Ken Baltin conveys the essence of Willy Loman from the first instance when he enters from off stage.  He is slumped and weighed down - both by his sample cases and by the cumulative weight of years of literal travel and metaphysical pilgrimage on his gerbil wheel.  He is simultaneously defeated and ready to throw in the towel while still clinging to the tattered remnants of his dream that his football star son, Biff, will make it big.
  • Paula Plum as Linda fully inhabits this role.  On an average day on stage, Ms. Plum is merely magnificent.  On her best days, she is transcendent, as she was in the performance I observed.  She plays the faithful wife and cheerleader while carrying around the lingering fear that Willy is trying to kill himself.  She soldiers on despite being ignored and verbally intimidated by Willy who will not let her get a word in edgewise when he is declaiming his philosophy of life and sales - which to him are the same thing.  How ironic that Arthur Miller places in her mouth the oft-quoted phrase: "Attention must be paid."  For attention is seldom paid to her and her needs.  Her soliloquy at Willy's grave is a fitting capstone and headstone to this production. "We're free!"  Stunning!
Kelby T.Akin as Biff
Joseph Marrella as Hap
Paul Plum as Linda
  • Joseph Marrella is the neglected son, Happy.  He might just as well have been christened "Not Biff," for he cannot seem to find a way to attract his father's attention or affection, not being the stud football star that Biff was.  Yet he soldiers on trying to be the good son and to make his father proud while toiling away buried well down the corporate ladder in an unsatisfying job.  Mr. Marrella handles the tensions inherent in this character with great dexterity.
  • Kelby T. Akin embodies Biff to perfection - the look, the physique, the attitude, the lostness, and the barely capped volcano of rage and disappointment at his father's hypocrisy.  He transverses the wide spectrum of emotions that Biff feels without ever tripping up by over-acting.
Kelby T. AKin as Biff
Ken Baltin as Willy

In addition to the actors who portray the members of the Loman household, the following caught my eye.
  • Victor L. Shopov plays Bernard, the Lomans' neighbor and boyhood friend of Biff.  Bernard is the Yin to Biff's Yang - responsible, studious, unathletic.  He tries to function as Biff's life raft when Biff blows off studying to focus on being the football hero, but ultimately Biff is left to dine on his banquet of consequences.  Bernard climbs the ladders of success as an attorney while in counterpoint Biff's life and career circle the drain in despair and spite.
  • Will McGarrahan is Willy's brother Ben - a spectral presence who functions as The Ghost of Opportunities Lost.  Willy often fantasizes conversations with his departed brother, frequently bemoaning his fate of not having taken the risk of going to Alaska or going into the Amazon with Ben.
It is often my experience in revisiting a familiar play that I experience the play differently than I did earlier in my life.  It may be that I am seeing something new because the director or actors or set designer have shone a different kind of light on the subject matter.  Or it may be that my current station in life has given me new lenses through which to view the themes of the play.  In the case of my experience in being moved by this production of "Death of a Salesman," I believe that both sets of dynamic are in play.  The presentation of the text of the play is thoughtful and faithful to Miller's concept, as I understand it.  And my station in life as the father of grown sons allows me to observe Willy and Biff and Hap in ways I have not heretofore noticed. This is part of the wonder of live theater.

I invite you to partake in this miracle of creativity.  "Death of a Salesman" will run through March 15 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, in Boston's Back Bay.


Enjoy - and be moved!

Al


Lyric Stage Company Website

Solving The Mystery of "The Photo"

Miss Universe, Some Old Guy, Miss USA
Many of you have wondered about the provenance of this remarkable photo, taken a week ago in New York City.  Here is my story.

In the past year, I have become friends with the very talented Andy Sandberg, Tony Award-winning Producer of "Hair," Director, Playwright and all around gifted and accomplished young man.  Andy told me that he was involved in helping to produce and direct a fundraiser for Broadway Cares - Equity Fights AIDS.  Andy also told me that if I wanted to attend a performance of "Pageant" on Monday evening, there might be one or two tickets left, so I jumped on it and bought a ticket.

The show was being held at Red Lacquer, a club on 52nd Street.  Audience members were seated at tables.  As I entered the club, I handed my ticket to the young lady who was handling tickets and seating guests.  Just then Andy saw me and came up to greet me.  "I see you are a special friend of Andy.  I guess I had better take good care of you," the young lady said as she escorted me to a table right in front of the stage,  I was early, and I was the first person at this table.  Soon, the table began to fill with a wondrous assortment of very attractive ladies from several generations.  As we all got settled into our places around the table, I began to talk with the woman directly across from me, Paula M. Shugart.  When I asked Paula what she does for work, she replied, "I am President of the Miss Universe Organization.  Allow me to introduce you to these two young ladies.  Sitting next to you is the reigning Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler from Maracay, Venezuela.   Across from Gabriela is Miss USA, Erin Brady of East Hampton, Connecticut."  The table also included a very striking and delightful former Miss New York.

I began to realize that the hostess really had taken care of "Andy's friend."  Recovering from the shock of this serendipitous encounter, I engaged in conversation with each of the ladies at the table.  They were charming, interesting, engaging and very affable.  And then the show began, and we all laughed together at this over-the-top parody of the beauty pageant world. While watching the show, I was also discretely texting friends to tell them who my companions were for the evening.  A typical response was: "If it weren't you I wouldn't believe it.  Post pictures!"  I seldom use my iPhone to take pictures, but I considered this to be an occasion worth making an exception for.  Hence, the picture you see above.

I have my friend, Andy Sandberg, to thank for giving me a little more "street cred" than I deserve, and for wonderful memories of a glorious evening.

At midnight, I turned back into a pumpkin!

Al


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Location! Location!! Location!!! Actors' Shakespeare Project Presents "The Cherry Orchard" at the Stunning Dane Estate

Jake Berger as Boris Einoenov-Pishchin 
Marya Lowry as Madame Ranyevskaya
Stratton McCrady Photography
Huge accolades go out to the creative team of the Actors' Shakespeare Project for their foresight in finding a setting for "The Cherry Orchard" as magnificent as the Dane Estate on the campus of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill.  The ambiance on Saturday evening could not have been more magical or more fitting for this last play written by the dying Anton Chekhov  Intrepid theater.lovers braved the latest blizzard and overcame their hesitation at trying to find an obscure location most had never visited before.  We entered what felt like a Russian winter wonderland.

This is a tale of land poor Russian aristocrats living their outmoded and anachronistic lifestyle on borrowed time - and borrowed rubles - before the tidal wave of Revolution sweeps away their world. The play is set in an estate amid a huge and valuable cherry orchard that must be sold in order for Madame Ranyevskaya to be able to continue to afford to live in the wanton and wasteful style to which she has become accustomed.  To produce a 21st century rendering of this tale in an actual estate - and one reminiscent of faded European splendor - is a stroke of genius.  Each audience member was made to feel that we were guests in the home of Madame Ranyevskaya, eavesdropping on the family melodrama being played out before us as she returns from a five year self-imposed exile in Paris.

Chekhov sensed that he was dying as he wrote this final play, so harbingers of death and defeat hover as specters over much of the mood and action of the play.  The picture below serves as a perfect example.  Madame Ramyevskaya has just been  told by Lopakhin that he has bought the orchard at auction and plans to have it cut down, and to erect vacation cottages in its place.  Struck dumb by this news, she collapses at the foot of the magnificent staircase as if the strings of a marionette had just been cruelly severed.  Her daughter, Varya, suffers a similar death-like collapse when Lopakhin fails to propose marriage to her after dancing around the possibility of such an engagement for years.

Steven Barkhimer as Lopakhin
Marya Lowry as Madame Ranyevskaya
Jake Berger as Simeonov-Pishchik
Stratton McCrady Photography




 The sepulchral presence of faithful servant Fiers, a fading octogenarian, reinforces the looming probability of death and decay.  The promise is eerily fulfilled when Fiers is left behind - locked in the abandoned estate because the family mistakenly believed that someone had taken him to the hospital.  The final scene is haunting.  He lies down atop a pile of rugs that had been rolled up.  It seems as if Chekhov is making a political statement about how this former serf and his ilk had been walked over and ignored for much of the czarist era.  Chekhov's plays did not curry favor with Czar Nicholas.

Steven Barkhimer as Lopakhin
Marya Lowry as Madame Ranyevskaya
Arthur Waldstein as Fiers
Jake Berger as Simeonov-Pishchik
Stratton McCrady Photography

One recurring theme in much of Chekhov's writing is the failure of human beings to connect in a meaningful way with one another or to communicate effectively.  His characters often talk past one another or answer one another with absurd non sequiturs.  This theme is very much in evidence in "The Cherry Orchard."

This production is beautifully directed by Melia Bensussen.  She has blocked the scenes so that this very capable cast uses all of the available space as if they were actually inhabiting this elegant but faded domicile.

The full cast is listed below.  Among this fine ensemble, several actors truly serve as the "cherry" on top of the sumptuous sundae:

  • Marya Lowry as Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya is a brilliant combination of regal, majestic, delusional and desperate.
  • Richard Snee as her brother, Leonid Gayev, is elegantly clad in sartorial splendor and spectacularly clueless.
  • Stephen Barkimer as Yermolay Lopakhin is haughty and self-serving as the former serf who pulled himself up by his bootstraps.
  • Marianna Bassham is the responsible daughter, estate manager and housekeeper, Varya.  Frustrated by Lopakhin's lack of interest in her, she lives as a virtual nun- frigid, rigid and perpetually miserable.
  • Arthur Waldstein  is the perfect Fiers - with the right posture, gait, halting speech and servile attitude.
  • Gabriel Graetz is Simon Epikhodov - "Simple Simon,"   If he were to be paid for each of his pratfalls, he would be a rich man,

This production stands out not just for its superb location, but for its excellent execution.  It is worth a trek out to Chestnut Hill



Actors’ Shakespeare Project presents The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov’s absurdist comedy of human frailties in an evolving world through March 9 at The Dane Estate at Pine Manor College, 400 Heath Street, Chestnut Hill, MA. Directed by Obie Award-winner Melia Bensussen.  For tickets go online to www.actorsshakespeareproject.org or call OvationTix.com at 866-811-4111.


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The cast features Resident Acting Company members:
  • Marya Lowry* (Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya)
  • Richard Snee* (Leonid Gayev)
  • Stephen Barkimer* (Yermolay Lopakhin)
  • Sarah Newhouse* (Charlotta Ivanovna)
  • Marianna Bassham* (Varya) 
Additional cast includes: 
  • Esme Allen as Dunyasha
  • Arthur Waldstein (Fiers)
  • Lydia Barnett-Mulligan (Anya)
  • Jake Berger (Boris Eimoenov-Pischin)
  • Mac Young (Yasha)
  • Danny Bryck* (Petya Trofimov) 
  • Gabriel Graetz (Simon Epikhodov). 
* Members of Actor’s Equity Association.

The creative team includes Melia Bensussen (director), Cristina Todesco (scenic), Arshan Gailus (sound/composition), Nancy Leary (costume), John Malinowski (lighting), and Ian Thorsell (props). The stage management team includes Stage Manager Adele Nadine Traub and Assistant Stage Manager Erica Brown.

Performance schedule is Thurs 2/20 at 7:30pmFri 2/21 at 7:30pmSat 2/22 at 3pm , Sat 2/22 at 8pmSun 2/23 at 3pm (with post-show discussion), Thurs 2/27 at 7:30pmFri 2/28 at 7:30pmSat 3/1 at 3pmSat 3/1 at 8pmSun 3/2 at 3pm (with post-show discussion), Thurs 3/6 at 7:30pmFri 3/7 at 7:30pmSat 3/8 at 8pm (no 3pm show on this date) and Sun 3/9 at 3pm(with post-show discussion).

School matinees are Wed 2/26 at 10am (with post-show discussion), Thurs 2/27 at 10am (with post-show discussion) and Thurs 3/6 at 10am (with post-show discussion).

Tickets are $28 - $50. Student Rush and Group discounts available. For tickets go online to OvationTix or call 866-811-4111 or direct linkhttps://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/921




Friday, February 14, 2014

Mini-Review of "Lion Heart" by Justin Cartwright


Justin Cartwright knows how to craft a gripping tale.  "Lion Heart" takes the reader back and forth between modern day London and Oxford and the Holy Land of the 12th Century.  Richard is an academic whose father has been obsessed with Richard the Lionheart and his time spent in Jerusalem fighting the forces of Saladin in the Third Crusade.  Richard inherits his father's fascination with the search for the True Cross that history says may have been recovered from Saladin by Richard.

The arc of the novel follows Richard's research as he uncovers documents and clues that lead him ever closer to the truth of what happened almost a thousand years ago.  In the midst of this academic pilgrimage, he falls in love with Noor, but unimaginable complications ensue when his fiancee is kidnapped in Cairo.  The stoutness of Richard's own heart is tested as he balances his quest for knowledge of the past with the quest to come to grips with the complication of his personal life in the present.

Places and persons are rendered by the author in exquisite detail.  The story is beautifully written.  This novel is a delight and a worthwhile journey.

Enjoy!

Al

ArtsEmerson Continues To Challenge And Delight Boston Audiences



I mentioned in a Blog post last week that the Boston theater scene is a mosaic comprised of many tiles of various shapes, sizes and colors.  A significant tile in that mosaic is ArtsEmerson - The World On Stage.

In the past few weeks, I have been challenged, informed and delighted by three very different programs presented under the umbrella of ArtsEmerson.  I reviewed in The White Rhino Report the remarkable play "We Are Proud To Present a Presentation .. ." (See link below to  the review)



White Rhino Report Review of "We Are Proud To Present. . ."

Then I attended a fascinating multi-media presentation called "House Divided," presented by The Builders Association out of New York City.  In this work, this theater troupe presented a story that tied together the dynamics of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" with the story of the recent meltdown of the mortgage industry.  Innovative video projection was used to turn a simple set into a realistic looking house, a commodities trading floor, a flood-ravaged California.  One of the most moving moments for me was a video  projection of the floods that plagued California, robbing the migrant workers of a chance to earn even the meager wages that had been paid working in the fields.  While images and sounds of a real flood were portrayed, one of the actors was describing the current mortgage crisis while proclaiming "the value of most of these homes is 'under water.'"  It was a stunning juxtaposition.



HOUSE DIVIDED
Presented by The Builders Association - NYC 
An immersive multimedia experience inspired by The Grapes of Wrath 

Last week, I attended a screening of a fascinating documentary film: "Haiti - Where Did The Money Go?" produced by Film At Eleven.  Filmmaker Michele Mitchell  was present at the screening to preside over an audience talk back and Q&A session about the situation in post-earthquake Haiti.


What do these three events have in  common?  Each one is an embodiment and fulfillment of the ArtsEmerson's Mission, articulated on the website as follows:

ArtsEmerson showcases first-class performances from all over the world, providing new opportunities for the Boston community to experience culturally enriching theatre, film, and music. Our home is in the heart of Boston’s historic theatre district. The facilities include:
  • The newly opened Paramount Center, with its three performance venues: the remarkably reconfigured Paramount Theatre, the brand new intimate Black Box Theatre and the state-of-the-art Bright Family Screening Room, and
  • The magnificently restored Cutler Majestic Theatre
ArtsEmerson is committed to bringing many of the world’s legendary and pioneering artists to Boston, presenting work from this country and abroad you’ve never had an opportunity to see—at least, not without first heading to the airport.
We’ve grouped these artists into two programming streams:
LEGENDS: Established, highly regarded institutions and artists whose work is seen and celebrated around the world—and now in Boston
PIONEERS: A new generation of acclaimed artists whose ideas are redefining the theatre and pointing to the future.
I encourage you to check out the website and highlight upcoming events that are of interest to you,  your family and your friends.

ArtsEmerson Website

Enjoy!

Al

Thursday, February 13, 2014

World Premiere of "Witness Uganda" at The American Repertory Theater - A Transforming and Transporting Night At The Theater



Matthew Griffin and the cast of 'Witness Uganda.'
Photo: GretjenHelenePhotography.com

For many months, the buzz has been strong among those in the Boston/Cambridge and New York theater communities about the much-anticipated "Witness Uganda."  Last night at the A.R.T.'s Loeb Theater, Artistic Director Diane Paulus presented the World Premiere of this seminal and deeply moving work by the creative team of Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews.

Fasten your seat belts, readers of The White Rhino Report, for this show evoked in me a great deal of thought and emotion, and I want to share these things in depth with you as I review the show that had last evening's audience weeping in catharsis and shouting and clapping in joy.

What is "Witness Uganda"?

  • It is a deeply moving tale based upon Griffin Matthews' real life experiences of traveling to Uganda to save the world, and finding himself changed and resurrected.
  • It is a celebration of life and hope
  • It is a cautionary tale for all those who would seek to reach out and make a difference - to those who would seek to teach but in truth need to be taught.
  • It is a heart-felt examination of the prejudices we harbor and the consequences of those fears and judgments.
  • It is a joyous melange of music with roots in Africa, hip hop, rap, jazz and Black Gospel
  • It is a hymn to what is possible in a world that throws up barriers to dreaming
  • It is an examination of how we as people treat those who are different from us - gay or straight, black or white, light black or darker black, skinny or full-bodied.
  • It is a show that shines a light on the unintended consequences of well-meaning Americans who travel to Africa - or Haiti or Southeast Asia - and who inadvertently trample on the invisible nuances of the host culture they profess to want to help.
  • It is a Broadway-bound work of art that began as an infomercial for UgandaProject, the non-profit that Griffin began when he saw the need to educate his orphaned friends in Uganda. (When I say "Broadway-bound," this is a personal prediction and hope on my part, and not an official announcement by the producers!)
  • It is a wondrous collaboration of dozens of people from Uganda to New York to Cambridge who have born witness to the power of Griffin's story and have believed in the need to tell the tale to as broad an audience as possible.
  • It is a spiritual experience that involves worship and praise and crying to God for help
  • It is a celebration of community - whether that community be a congregation in NYC, a gaggle of orphaned street urchins in Kampala or a Cambridge audience composed of erstwhile strangers who have been thrown together for two hours to share a common experience of transformation  and transport.
  • It is an examination of the kinds of personal prisons that confine us and from which we need to find escape.
  • It is a show makes visible human beings who are often invisible to us.  They are worthy of our notice.
I have come to believe that a work of art is a loop that cannot be closed until that work of art has been presented to an audience and the audience responds in a personal way.  This is true of a painting, a song, a film, a dance, a symphony or a play.  The artist(s) creates, and then presents; they "Put It All On The Line" Then the audience processes what they have seen or heard or thought or felt.  The loop is complete when the audience member has this internal dialogue: "What did I just experience?  What does it say about my life or my view of the world?  What do I feel?  What new thoughts are dancing in my head?  Should I be moved to action or simply reflection?"  It was clear to me as I interacted with other audience members at the party after the performance that this internal  dialogue was taking place in many of our minds and hearts and souls.

This is a remarkable work of art in many dimensions.  Griffin Matthews tells his own story, buttressed by the stirring music and lyrics and orchestrations of his partner, Matt Gould.  Griffin the actor and Griffin the protagonist stand before us fully clothed and yet naked and transparent.  It is this transparency and lack of rancor as he tells his tale that makes this play such a moving and empathetic work of art.  Griffin has experienced much rejection as his journey through life has taken him from New York to Uganda and back many times.  It was his rejection by his pastor over his revelation that he is gay that was the catalyst for him  to go to Africa - to find himself and set down some roots for his wounded and deracinated self.  Arriving in Uganda, he is initially rejected for being "white," and then for not following the rules of the mission he came to serve as a volunteer.  He is robbed and assaulted by - and then "adopted" by - a group of orphans who beg him to teach them.  He discovers the villainy and duplicity of the "Pastor Jim," and strikes off on his own to try to make a difference in the lives of his new Ugandan family.  He is lied to by his Ugandan "brother" Jacob, who claims to have been kidnapped.  This kidnapping ruse sets in motion a frantic fundraising effort and trek back to Uganda to attempt to rescue Jacob.  The results are both heart-rending and revealing.

The Market. Photo: GretjenHelenePhotography.com


Let me point out some of the individual aspects of this musical that make it such a compelling work of musical theater:
  • The set by Tom Pye interacts with the projections of Peter Nigrini, the lighting designed by Maruti Evans, the Sound Design of Jonathan Deans and the costumes designed by ESosa to create a colorful and evocative "home" where the characters live and tell their stories.  
  • The choreography of Darrell Grand Moultrie reinforces the power of the music, conducted by Matt Gould from the keyboard with great elan and panache, and under the leadership of Musical Director Remy Kurs.
  • The cast is a vibrant and talented collection of Equity actors who bring not only amazing vocal, dramatic and dancing talent to this stage, but inject personal passion that matches that of the creative team.
  • Among the cast, several stand out and need to be called out individually:
    • I have already mentioned Griffin Matthews, who is the heart and soul of the story and of Uganda Project that has sprouted from the soil of his personal pilgrimage.  His courage and artistry are praiseworthy and humbling to behold.
    • Michael Luwoye plays the conflicted Jacob with just the right combination of vulnerability and defiance.
    • Adeole Role is chilling in the role of Jacob's big sister, Joy.  The arc of her character is a highlight of this story, as it becomes clear why she needs her rigidity to hold herself and her family together in the face of abuse and deep loss.  She teaches Griffin some of his most important lessons of his young life.
    • Emma Hunton is rock solid as Griffin's American friend, confidant and gadfly.  Her soulful voice resonates as she expresses her hopes and then frustrations as her musical career is sidetracked to help Griffin launch UgandaProject.
    • Nicolette Robinson is Eden, one of Griffin's students in his impromptu "street academy." Her singing voice is as deeply touching as her character is shallow, begging Griffin via e-mail for money to have her hair braided and to buy hair extensions!
    •  Kristolyn Lloyd is Grace, another of the students.  She brings a delightful mixture of coy flirtatiousness and gritty spunk to her relationship with Griffin.
    • Jamar Williams is an impish Ibrahim.  He has a rakish charm and stage presence that is both mesmerizing and amusing.
    • Tyrone Davis, Jr. is strong and serious Ronny who dreams of becoming a doctor.  His honest heart-to-heart talk with Griffin about "bringing us a mother" is a pivotal and a signal moment in the story.
    • Among the ensemble, Melody Betts is an anchor.  Her Gospel voice soars and then climbs even higher and louder as she evokes the earth mother of the Ugandan community. 
    • Roderick Covington, Kevin Curtis, Latrisa  Harper, Aisha Jackson and Jamard Richardson round out the ensemble, playing members of the the village or NYC congregation.  Their ensemble singing and dancing raises the roof of the Loeb and raises the bar for ensemble artists.
The cast of 'Witness Uganda.'
Photo: GretjenHelenePhotography.com

  • Diane Paulus' direction is impeccable, as I have come to expect from her visionary work.  I was particularly taken by her decision to use an ascending platform to evoke a hill overlooking Kampala and Lake Victoria.  The beauty of the projections of the sky and land stands in stark contrast to the bleakness of the lives that the Ugandan orphans live.  The use of rain and lightening and thunder are leitmotifs that appear whenever Griffin or his comrades face a difficult decision, danger or fork in the road.  Storm clouds often roil and hover in the background making us wonder what crisis is about to precipitate.
  • The band is superb - Matt Gould, Brina Li, Andrew Griffin, Nathan V.Terry, Charlie Chronopoulos, Jonny Morrow and Senfuab Stoney create an ocean of sound that ebbs and flows and upon which the narrative sails.
  • One of the most moving moments of the evening occurred when the focus was placed on seeing what some of the original group of students are now doing - doctor, nurse, orphanage director.  It was a real time reminder of the possibility of our efforts together to "Resurrect People."
I must add two personal notes to conclude this piece.

In the 1970's, I helped  to run a mission hospital in the mountains of Haiti.,  The pictures of rural Uganda looked just like the village of Fermathe where I lived.  Many issues that Griffin describes in Uganda were present in Haiti - and I suspect are present wherever well-meaning Americans stumble in to try to help those in a less developed or affluent culture.  So my reaction to this story is deeply personal, and I am grateful to Griffin and Matt for telling a story that I can relate to so profoundly.

Seeing this show one time in not sufficient.  I plan to return to the A.R.T. several more times during the run of this show, which must end on March 16.  Let me know if you would like to join me for a performance, and we can arrange together to get tickets.  But act quickly.  This is a show for which tickets will be in high demand. 

Finally, please check out the website for UgandaProject and consider making a contribution and standing with Griffin and his team to provide education  for brothers and sisters from the streets of Kampala.


For tickets, follow this link:


Enjoy!

Al

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *



Creative team
byMatt Gould and Griffin Matthews
Directed byDiane Paulus
ChoreographyDarrell Grand Moultrie
Set DesignTom Pye
Costume DesignESosa
Lighting DesignMaruti Evans
Sound DesignJonathan Deans
Projection DesignPeter Nigrini
Music DirectorRemy Kurs
Associate DirectorShira Milikowsky
CastingStephen Kopel, C.S.A.
Production Stage ManagerCarolyn Boyd
Cast (in order of speaking)
GriffinGriffin Matthews
JacobMichael Luwoye
JoyAdeola Role
RyanEmma Hunton
EdenNicolette Robinson
GraceKristolyn Lloyd
IbrahimJamar Williams
RonnyTyrone Davis, Jr.
EnsembleMelody BettsRodrick CovingtonKevin Curtis,LaTrisa HarperAisha JacksonJamard Richardson
Band
Conductor/Keyboard 1Matt Gould
Keyboard 2Brian Li
ViolaAndrew Griffin
DrummerNathan V. Terry
GuitarCharlie Chronopoulos
BassJonny Morrow
PercussionSenfuab Stoney
Additional staff
Assistant Stage ManagerStephanie M. Holmes
Assistant DirectorMia Walker
Assistant ChoreographerAmy Hall Garner
Producing AssociateJared Fine
Wig and Hair DesignLeah Loukas
Associate Costume DesignDede Ayite
Assistant Lighting DesignTsubasa Kamei
Associate Projection DesignerDavid Bengali
Video SupervisorDerek Wiles
Synth Programming AssistantBrian Li
DramaturgyRyan McKittrick, Ashley Melone,
Marissa L. Friedman, Christian Ronald
Dialect CoachCharlotte Fleck
Assistant Vocal CoachAshleigh Reade
CopyistAndrew Griffin
Music AssistantLuke Anderson
Music InternKhiyon Hursey
Producing AssistantsAllison Grant, Courtney Ziegler
Assistant to Matt Gould and Griffin MatthewsGreg Nobile
Additional Orchestrations and Vocal Arrangements
Andrew Griffin, Remy Kurs, Nathan Terry
Electronic Music Design
Jeff Marder
Dance Captain
LaTrisa Harper*

UNDERSTUDIES
Understudies never substitute for listed players unless a specific announcement is made at the time of the performance.
For Griffin: TYRONE DAVIS, JR.*; for Griffin and Ensemble: TYRICK WILTEZ JONES*; for Joy and Ensemble: MARTHA BOLES; for Jacob: RODRICK COVINGTON*; for Ryan: LAUREN DOUCETTE; for Grace and Eden: AISHA JACKSON*; for Ronny and Ibrahim: KEVIN CURTIS*

WITNESS UGANDA INTERNSHIP PROGRAM - HARVARD UNIVERSITY
Producing: Mark Mauriello ‘15
Playwriting: Brenna McDuffie ‘15 ^
Directing: Lily Glimcher ‘14
Directing: Susanna Wolk ‘14
Music: Madeline Smith ‘14
Choreography: Megan Murdock ‘14 ^
Stage Management: Jumai Yusuf ‘16
Stage Management: Kyra Atekwana ‘14
Marketing Selena: Kim ‘15 ^
(^) Spring 2014 Harvard Arts and Museums Fellow, funded with support from the Office of Career Services

Originally developed at Vineyard Arts Project, co-produced by Brooke Hardman and Ashley Melone
Rehearsed at the New 42nd Street Studios and the Loeb Drama Center

SPECIAL THANKS
Susan Abbott; ASCAP; Ildiko Sragli and Barry Appelman; Hasan Askari; The Bishop Family; Clint Bond; Katie Boeck; Jane Bolster and the Richard Rodgers committee; Anne Marie Bookwalter; Dillon Bustin; Rev. Christine Nakyeyune Busuulwa; John Buzzetti; Keith Caggiano; Vanessa Coakley; Susan Cook; Brett Cramp; Virginia Dajani; Laurie DeMarco; Robin Lafoley and Mitchell Dong; Michael Eder; Deb Fowler; Molly Gachignard; Maria Giarrizzo; Erica Glenn; The Gould Family; The Griffin Family; David Hempton; Tim Sanford, Kent Nicholson and all at Playwrights Horizons; Brenna St. George Jones; Edward Jones; Dean Kay; Annie Kee; Kathryn Kozlark; Joan Lader; Timothy Lappin; Timothy Longman; Mary MacLeod; Sam Martinborough; Timothy McCarthy; Kevin McCollum; Lucas McMahon; Ashley Melone; Kerry Melone; Cameron Mizell; Andrea Moore; Anne Muyanga; Greg Nobile; Leslie Odom, Jr.; The Paris Family; Julia Putnam; Juanita Rodrigues; Michael Rose; Amy Rosenblum; Jimmy Ryan; Kyle Scatliffe; Stephen Schwartz; Molly Shoemaker; Amy Slaughter; Shannan Smith; Abigail Spencer; Summit Series; Michael Taglieri; Maura Tighe; Nondumiso Tembe; Wilson Torres; the students of UgandaProject; Zurin Villanueva; Jonathan L. Walton; Lyle Warner; Elissa Weinzimmer; Elizabeth Woodbury; Jeanne Smith and Pam Young
Digico; d&b audiotechnik; Meyer Sound; Sound Associates