Saturday, January 31, 2015

Boston Children's Theatre Presents "Stuart Little" - No Small Achievement!

I have just returned from experiencing my first production by Boston Children's Theatre - "Stuart Little," Directed by Peter Ellenstein.  I was impressed, delighted, enthralled and enchanted.  I knew of the story, having read to book to my sons many years ago.  The talented actors and creative team of BCT made the story leap off of the page and into the hearts of the audience members.

Families who live in the Boston/Cambridge area should be aware that this is a production that would delight children from toddlers to adolescence.  I became aware of the work and mission of BCT when I recently became acquainted with Toby Schine, Executive Director of BCT and Executive Producer for this production.  I was delighted when he invited me to come and see the kind of work that they do in their space at the Cambridge YMCA in Central Square.

While it is my practice not to critique the individual work of young non-professional actors, I will say that the entire cast is impressive in their acting, singing, movement and stage presence.  They present themselves as self-assured veterans of the stage, which speaks well of the training provided by the staff at BCT.  Production values are high, with creative props and set pieces that were easily movable. Set Design is by Pierre Vuilleumier, Musical Direction by Mindy Cimini and Choreography by Nicole Soriano..

The theme of the story is heart-warming, and speaks to anyone of us who has ever struggled to fit in because there is something different and unique about us.  The songs, composed by Ronna Frank with lyrics by Ms. Frank and Joseph Robinette were well executed, especially the songs "Sa's'parilla" and "Size."

Actors hail from Boston, Belmont, Byfield, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Dorchester, Medford, Merrimac, Newton and Wayland.

The size of the protagonist may be small, the age of the players may be young, but the impact of their work is huge. Don't be caught in the trap of neglecting to secure your tickets to one of the remaining performances of "Stuart Little."  This story of an endearing and intrepid little mouse is anything but cheesy!

January 31 at 2 pm and 4 pm
February 1 at 2 pm and 4 pm
February 7 at 2 pm and 4 pm
February 8 at 2 pm and 4 pm
It’s the story of the little mouse with a big personality and a big sense of adventure! Experience this classic tale based on the book by E.B. White on stage at BCT in this fun and engaging musical production. Join little Stuart on his journeys in the big city- it’s an adventure for the whole family to enjoy!  STUART LITTLE will be performed at the Cambridge YMCA, 820 Mass Ave, Cambridge.  Single Tickets Now On Sale! 
Tickets available for all performances.  For questions, contact the BCT Box Office at or 617-424-6634, x222.

ArtsEmerson Presents "Breath & Imagination" by Daniel Beaty - The Story of Roland Hayes Will Take Your Breath Away!

In staging Daniel Beaty's stunning and poetic dramatization of the life and struggles of the legendary singer Roland Hayes, ArtsEmerson has accomplished several things.  First, the organization has cemented its already strong reputation for bringing to Boston audiences talent from across the U.S. and around the world that might not otherwise be seen here.  Secondly,they have spoken loudly, by their actions, of their deep commitment to reach out into the Boston community beyond the bounds of traditional patrons of the arts.  Last season's "King Lear" and "A Trip To Bountiful" were well supported by Boston's African-American communities, and the reach of ArtsEmerson into Roxbury and other neighborhoods is building a bridge between the Downtown artistic community and those who traditionally have not had access to professional theater.

"Breath & Imagination" is the first offering in a three-year-long program in which playwright Daniel Beaty will be in residence, presenting three of his plays and serving as a catalyst to engage the ArtsEmerson community with communities of color throughout the Boston area, while at the same time incorporating local talent into the presentations at Emerson's performance venues.  The performance I attended of "Breath & Imagination" portends a very successful outcome for this bold vision.  Not only was the performance stunning in its reach and impact, but the play was introduced by an opening act by a Gospel Choir from Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan.  Following the play, the playwright anchored a panel discussion of how the themes of the play and of the life of Roland Hayes are relevant to the challenges that Boston faces in addressing lingering aspects of racism.

Let me talk about the play, which is gorgeous in its vision and flawless in its execution.  By looking backward at the life of Roland Hayes - using drama and music - Mr. Beaty compels us to look deeply at our present circumstances and inspires us to dream - as did Mr. Hayes and Dr. King and many others - of a future in which racism need not be an impediment to artistic aspiration and virtuoso levels of accomplishment.  The play is beautifully crafted to use the formidable vocal and acting talents of Elijah Rock to channel the sound, the struggle and the spirit of Roland Hayes.  Mr. Rock is wonderfully supported by the acting and singing of Harriet D. Foy as Angel Mo', Roland's indomitable mother, by the versatile Nahel Joshi as Roland's teacher and a wide variety of other roles and by maestro Jonathan Mastro at the piano.  With great passion, Mr. Mastro played accompaniments to traditional Negro Spirituals, Lieder and Arts Songs, Opera and original music that he composed to tie together these disparate musical genres.

Elijah Rock as Roland Hayes
\Harriett D. Fox as Angel Mo
"Breath & Imagination"
Paramount Theatre
Through February 8
 Mike Ritter/Ritterbin Photography

Entering the Paramount theater, I believe that I was more aware than most of the audience members of the legend of Roland Hayes.  Many years ago I had the privilege of singing in a Gospel Choir in Roxbury.  In the historic Twelfth Baptist Church, I heard many inspiring stories of what a courageous pioneer Roland Hayes had been as an adopted son of Boston.  Yet as the action of the play unfolded, I learned a great deal more about Hayes.  I learned of his life-long struggle to come to grips with his gift of singing and of the tension between him and his mother over whether he was destined for the pulpit or the concert stage.

The arc of the story is a powerful one.  His father died in a factory accident, and his single mother strugglesd to support them, Roland was forced to leave school to work in a factory where he was almost killed in an industrial accident.  His mother believed that God had spared her son so that he could become a preacher, but the shy young man wass reluctant to stand in front of his home church, even to express his natural musical talent.  He eventually found a voice teacher who stretched him and challenged him to learn the classical vocal repertoire, including songs in German, Italian and French.  He wass thwarted in his ability to express the emotions inherent in these songs, until in a dramatic confrontation with his teacher, he was challenged to sing in German about true love and passion in the same way that he was able to express deep emotion when singing a Spiritual.  Mr. Rock's rendering of that German lieder love song was a highlight of the evening.  Another vocal and dramatic highlight was his interpretation of Hayes' iconic rendering of the Spiritual "Were You There?"  I wonder if there was a dry eye in the house.

ArtsEmerson Artistic Director David Dower skillfully directs this production, lovingly curating both the biography and the musicality that Daniel Beaty has written into this play.  He is ably assisted by the simple and elegant Set and Lighting by Alexander V. Nichols, Costumes by Merrily Murray-Walsh, and Sound Design by Brendan Doyle.

At one point in his career, Hayes had made the choice to come to Boston to try to escape the Jim Crow oppression of his native Georgia.  In 1917, he reserved Symphony Hall and he and his mother hand wrote 3,000 invitations to buy tickets to his concert, which played to a sold out house of over 800 souls.  The action of the play begins in 1942.  After a successful career concertizing across Europe and the U.S. and appearing at a Command Performance before the King and Queen of England in Buckingham Palace, he bought the former plantation where his mother had labored as a slave.  His dream was to create an inter-racial music school where he could teach the technique he learned of "Breath & Imagination."  His dream was shattered when his wife and his daughter, Afrika, were arrested for inadvertently sitting in a Whites Only section of a show store.  He and his family returned to Boston, where he died in 1977.

In attendance at Thursday's Opening Night performance was Afrika Hayes, a retired music teacher. She is grateful, along with those of us who watched the play alongside her, for Daniel Beaty's act of dusting off the legacy and memory of Roland Hayes.  His struggles are still our struggles.  In many ways, that Whites Only shoe store in Georgia is only steps away from Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island.

In the words of the playwright, expressing the courage of those fighting racism:

"We danced with the guns pointed at our feet;
We sang with the rope around our necks.
But we danced
And we sang".

Roland Hayes' struggle was for identity as a man and as an artist, and above all, it was a struggle for dignity.  His story should serve as a spark to us all to remind us that the struggle for dignity still continues. And that spark should ignite a fire of determination in each of our souls. And, to quote another son of Boston, "The glow from that fire shall surely light the world."

Run until you are out of breath to catch a performance of this life-changing production of "Breath & Imagination."  It will put a song in your heart and a spring in your step, as well as a fire in your soul.
Years from now, when people talk about this play and this particular production, you will want to be able to answer in the affirmative when they ask you:"Were you there?"



ArtsEmerson Website

Monday, January 26, 2015

Libra Theater Company Presents "Kind Souls" by Tom Diggs - Through February 1st

Robert Browning would have something to say about this one act drama.  As I reflected on the play, I was reminded of his quotation:

“Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?” 

In the case of "Kind Souls," it seems as if the reach of Tom Diggs has exceed the grasp of his writing, the staging by Director, Alexander Greenfield, and the depth of two actors who portray Tara and Oliver.  It seems apparent that Mr. Diggs has set out to present the banality of evil and an exploration of how two "kind souls" could be drawn into a web in which they are complicit in the deaths of innocent individuals.

The problem I have with the play is that the dilemma that Tara and Oliver face is set  in the midst of a generic "conflict," in a nameless place, answering to nameless "they" who coerce them into signing mysterious contracts.  The intent seems to be to ask how Germans could have been coerced into working in the death camps, but to universalize the question of how evil insidiously creeps into the hearts of otherwise good people.  Yet by failing to set the action in a particular place, the free-floating ethical exploration lacks punch and focus.

The dialogue and actions that Tara (Lindsey Kyler) and Oliver (John Clarence Stewart) are given by the playwright do not allow them to develop any chemistry.  I found myself strangely unmoved by their situation, and did not care much about what would become of them.  An Off-Off-Broadway setting is one in which I am accustomed to seeing artists take bold risks.  The fact that the action screamed for the actors to be physically naked as they bathed one another - rather than stopping short by keeping on their underwear - felt like they were holding back and not full committing to telling the story .  The fact that they mimed carrying pails of water that were supposed to be heavy yet clearly were not reinforced that sense of not being fully committed.  And miming smoking cigarettes rather than actually smoking them was another case in point.

This concept is one worth examining in depth.  Yet if this play is to have a life beyond this brief run at the Shetler Studios, it will need much reworking and tweaking.  Clearly the creative team involved in this project have strong credentials, so I trust that this work in progress will be improved in its execution in its next iteration.

Kind Souls tells the story of Tara and Oliver, a young couple struggling to make ends meet on the periphery of a great conflict. As the names of the dead continue to multiply in the town square, they do their best to survive with little food and few possessions. When an unexpected work opportunity finds its way into their lives, it appears things might just turn around for the two lovers. But all is not as it seems in this powerful, gut-wrenching look into how our relationships and ideals are tested as we bare the unbearable in times when violence and war are king.""

Set Design by Jason Sherwood
Costume Design by Travis Boatright
Lighting Design by Carl Wiemann
Sound Design by Alex Neumann
Original Music by Michael Finke
Production Management by Steven P. Nemphos
Production Stage Management by Cait Weisensee
Show Art by Alexa Shoemaker

Through February 1, 2015
Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios
244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Underground Railway Theater Presents Bedlam's "St. Joan" by George Bernard Shaw - A Theatrical Delight

Four actors perform all 24 roles in Bedlam’s production of Saint Joan, declared “Irresistible! Ferocious!” and “A force of nature!” by the New York Times and a Top Ten Play of 2013 by Time magazine.

These quotations and notes of acclimation about the current production running at the Central Square Theater are only the tip of the iceberg.  Even though we are early in 2015, I believe that at year's end people will be talking about this production of Shaw's "St. Joan" as one of the highlights of the Boston/Cambridge theater season.  Underground Railway Theater have invited the New York-based Bedlam company to reprise their production that has played to delighted audiences in New York and beyond since 2013.  

The company, founded by Andrus Nichols and Eric Tucker, takes a fresh and bare-bones approach to this iconic play, integrating the audience into the action in creative ways.  One of those techniques is to require a portion of the audience to move to another seat during each of the two intermissions.The tacit message is clear.  Just as Shaw wanted us to see the sainted Joan of Arc in new ways, this company of actors invite us to see the play and its myriad themes from different perspectives - physically and psychologically.  Mr. Tucker directs this production with a deft touch.

The set is spare and movable - chairs, a wall upon which the characters write to indicate whether we are in Chinon, Orleans or elsewhere.  Lighting is simple.  Sometimes we find the actors sitting among the audience.and at other times in the more traditional spot on the stage, surrounded on three sides by bleacher-style seating. The founding partners are joined in this production by Edmund Lewis and Tom O'Keefe.  This quartet have clearly worked together for awhile, for their chemistry is palpable and their ability to shift seamlessly between characters makes the complex story easy to follow, even for those that may not have been previously familiar with the Shaw play.

The entire three act play is engaging, but the moments that stood out for me in watching this performance were Joan's appearance before the Inquisition, which had charged her with heresy, and an epilogue-type section in which the long dead Joan engages in conversation with those she knew in life about the ironic phenomenon of her having been granted that status of Saint by the Church that had once condemned her.  And the burning question of why we rarely recognize saints for who they are while they walk and live among us became even more poignant as I attended a performance on the eve of Martin Luther King's birthday.

Andrus Nichols as Joan
Bedlam's "St. Joan"
George Bernard Shaw
Central Square Theater
through February 1
Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography.
The play is a classic, yet the themes are as fresh as today's CNN broadcasts: the role of fundamentalism vs. entrenched conservative institutions, faith vs. reason, the ways in which an individual discerns God's will and His leading, the role of a strong woman in a man's world.  Andrus Nichols portrays young Joan,as a complex woman, projecting a smoky voice filled with strength, zeal,passion and determination, even up until her betrayal that led her to the stake. There is a heart-rending moment when it finally hits her that she is standing alone.  The Church has turned against her for daring to hear from God without using them as the sole approved intermediary.  Her military compatriots and the Dauphin, whom she had crowned, have turned against her. Have the voices of her saints also led her astray?  Doubt creeps in and she capitulates, until she realizes that forgiveness and grace are not being offered here.  She is a fiery presence long before the match was struck that sent her to her death and to a life so everlasting that we are still buzzing about her 500 years after she was the Maid of Orleans.

This is a production you will not want to miss.  Pay heed to that voice in your head that is telling you that you must lead an army of theater goers to Central Square to see this show.  You have until February 1st to complete your quest.



Central Square Theater Website

Friday, January 23, 2015

Mini-Review of "Team Seven" by Marcus Burke - Up From The Mean Streets of Milton, Massachusetts

Marcus Burke has written a largely autobiographical novel about growing up on the streets of Milton, Massachusetts, just south of rough Boston's Blue Hill Avenue and Mattapan Square. The strengths of this book are many. The author survived a troubled childhood and has found his way to an advanced writing community in a prestigious center of creative writing. He depicts his colorful cast of characters in ways that are clearly differentiated and memorable. He conveys with authenticity the Rafa-infused patois of his father, Eddie, and others in the family and neighborhood whose roots are Jamaican. In fact, his re-creation of those speech patterns is so authentic and so foreign to my ear that I had to slow down and pronounced the words on the page to understand what the character had said. And that seems to be part of the author's message. If you really want to understand what it was liking growing up on those streets, you will need to slow down, consciously choose to leave your comfortable world and enter into mine - sounds, sights and smells.

He creates a strong sense of place. As a Bostonian, I could relate to his descriptions of the Citgo sign near Fenway Park, the troubling trip over the Tobin Bridge to Lynn to meet his father's other family.

The author of "Team Seven" writes in a way that causes us to care about how the protagonist, Andre Battel, will escape from the downward sucking vortex that claimed many of his neighbors and family members. He speaks with a true and distinct voice, which makes him very much worth listening to.



Monday, January 19, 2015

"The Woman Who Lost Her Soul" by Bob Shacocchis - A Stunning Achievement and a Magnum Opus

"The Woman Who Lost Her Soul" is one of the most impressive works of fiction I have read in a long while.  Mr. Shacocchis begins with his deep knowledge of disparate parts of the world - Haiti, Istanbul, D.C., Bosnia - a weaves together in this magnum opus a complex tale of warfare, spycraft, voodoo ceremonies, double dealing, family intrigue, star-crossed lovers and grudges that have endured for millennia.  The action of the story covers five decades and four countries.  Like Kurosawa's legendary film, "Rashomon,"  incidents that make up key plot elements in this story are told multiple times through they eyes of more than one protagonist.  At the center of it all is the mercurial and enigmatic Jackie, a.k.a. Dottie, a.k.a Renee.  Just outside of St. Marc in Haiti, on the road from Port-au-Prince to Cap Haitien, she falls in a hail of bullets, and is carted off in a casket aboard a U.S. military flight. Several individuals want to know what really happened to her, who she was, and what she was doing in Haiti. The time sequence flips back to WWII and forward to  the War on Terror.

There are several complex love stories - or at least stories of lust, multiple layers of identity and military and para-military assignments, complicity in crimes at the highest levels of U.S. and Haitian governments, Delta Force operatives and Black Ops, corrupt UN officials, assassinations and faked deaths.  All of this action might be too much to take were it not wrapped in most glorious prose.  I am pleased to offer just a small sampling of the author's stunningly beautiful and insightful style of writing:

"On the flight across the Bay of Gonaives the Chinook speared through the top of a squall, bumping in and out of the storm's cluster of cells, purple whirlwinds of rain opening into brilliant white celestial amphitheaters of billowing cumulus, then slamming back into the tempest, the rain shearing off into calm blue fields scrubbed with sunlight, then shearing back into a dark whip of chaos, and when it was over, Tom felt spiritually alive and filled with gratitude.  Then they descended to the infested wasteland that was Gonaives." (Page 134)

And this poignant glimpse into the price that military wives and mothers pay for the ravages of war:

"But she was a military wife, military widow, and military mother,self-trained to believe that it was not safe to feel a free range of sentiment, and she did not linger on her heartaches but stored them away in the root cellar of her solitude, there for when she felt depraved and needed the remedy of their cruel nourishment." (Page 512)

Through the national disgrace of Haiti's chronic turmoil, the broiling hatred of the Balkans  and the layer cake of intrigue among three-letter agencies, a series of very personal stories and vignettes emerge that are all intertwined into a tangle as impenetrable as concertina wire atop a prison wall.  And because of Shacocchis' insights and soaring prose, we come to care about many of those who manage to live beyond the reach of normal human caring.

This book is a stunning achievement.



Actors' Shakespeare Project Presents "Measure For Measure" at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center through February 1

Shakespeare's play, "Measure for Measure" is seldom performed or produced.  One of the reasons why it lurks on the margins of the Shakespeare oeuvre is that it is considered by many to be a "problem play."  One of the problems is that the play is not easily categorized as either a comedy or a tragedy, since there are elements of both contained within the text.  The Actors' Shakespeare Project has chosen to tackle this play in part because it is a "problem play," in that it addresses problems that are timely for us.  Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian has chosen a contemporary interpretation of this play, with some actors using accents that could be heard on the streets of Revere or Chelsea, and some scenes playing out as if they were happening on a typical morning at Roxbury District Court.

This play treats with several relevant themes:

  • What is the nature of political power and how do people acquire and use it?
  • What happens when laws are enforced unfairly and unjustly? 
  • What role does hypocrisy plan in governance?
  • Who is qualified to interpret and enforce the laws of God?
 Isabella (Adrianna Mitchell), Angelo (Maurice Emmanuel Parent*)
Photos: Stratton McCrady Photography

The action of the play is set in Vienna, where the dissolute and dissipated Duke Vincentio (Michael Forden Walker)  decides to take some personal time to travel and to clear his head.  He has ruled in a very loose and laissez-faire manner.  When he hands the reins of power over to his law and order deputy, Angelo (Maurice Emmaneal Parent), the town is thrown into chaos as laws that were once

"more honored in the breach than observ'd," are now being assiduously and rigidly enforced.  Caught up in this web of enforcement is poor Claudio (Jared Michael Brown), who has had the misfortune to impregnate his girlfriend, Juliet (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan), an offense punishable by death. Throw in a few petty criminals, a friar or two, Isabella (Adrianna Mitchell), the distraught sister of Claudio, a sympathetic Provost (Sarah Newhouse) and a trash-talking braggard (Johnnie McQuarley),who unwittingly insults the Duke, and you have a recipe for much confusion and some merriment.

A key element of the plot is the hypocrisy of Angelo, intent on punishing by death Claudio for his lustful actions, while trying to seduce Isabella the novitiate who must choose whether to sacrifice her honor and virginity or allow her brother to be executed.  The Duke, having decided to play "Undercover Boss," disguises himself as a friar to see for himself what is happening in Vienna in his absence.  Shakespeare's usual bag of tricks are on display - clowns and fools, false identities and switches, betrayals, unlikely pairings.  The ensemble is terrific, with each actor playing more than one role, with the exception of Mr. Parent, Ms. Mitchell and Thomas Grenon as Escalus.  Mr. Parent is convincing as the tormented hypocrite, Angelo, as the actor portraying is his intended victim.  Ms. Mitchell's strength and grace as Isabella in her vulnerable state is powerfully portrayed.  Jared Brown has several characters to which he adds his considerable physical prowess, pretzeling himself into improbable shapes. He brings us to church as the handkerchief-wielding preacher who seems to be an odd mixture of Chris Rock and Al Sharpton! You get the picture.  Ms. Newhouse is a powerful presence as Provost and Mariana, and Ms. Barnett-Mulligan impresses in her multiple and very diverse roles.  This is serious Shakespeare with an ironic twist and some tongues in cheek.

This was my first visit to the performance space at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center with its wrought iron railings and gorgeous ceiling.  Sound Designer David Reiffel uses the hall's clear acoustics to full effect to create a soundscape that is magical.  An ingenious array of chains and pulleys in Megan F. Kinneen's Set allows for the creation of the effect of a jail cell. The overall effect is enhanced by Chris Bocchiaro's Lighting Design and Miranda Kau Giurleo's Costumes.

Lucio (Johnnie McQuarley*), Claudio (Jared Michael Brown),
Provost (Sarah Newhouse*)
Photos: Stratton McCrady Photography
The gifted ensemble under the strong direction of Ms. Sandberg-Zakian present this complex play in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

FYI - When you visit the Center in order to see the play, take advantage of the fact that across the hall from the performance space is an Art Gallery currently featuring a very impressive display:

The Subject of Women
Paintings by Cynthia Brody

Exhibition running through February 6, 2015

Take a trip to East Cambridge and be challenged by this play that mirrors concerns that we face today.

Through February 1st.



Jan 07, 2015 - Feb 01, 2015
Multicutural Arts Center
Cambridge, MA
by William Shakespeare
directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian
"Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall."
-Measure for Measure, II.1
Society is going to hell in a handbasket. Duke Vincentio figures the best way to rectify a bad situation is to remove himself and put the government into the hands of the one person who can restore order, Angelo. Big mistake. Angelo may not be as righteous as the laws he enforces. We learn he's sitting on some pretty wrongheaded lust when the one innocent who pleads to him for mercy on behalf of her brother suddenly becomes the object of his deep-seeded desire. Sex, prison, and power collide in a city on the edge, and a vaulted struggle begins.
Featuring ASP company members:
Johnnie McQuarley* (Lucio, Froth, Barnardine)
Sarah Newhouse* (Mistress Overdone, Provost, Mariana)
Maurice Emmanuel Parent* (Angelo)
Michael Forden Walker* (Duke Vincentio)
Additional cast:
Lydia Barnett-Mulligan (Juliet, Pompey, Angelo's Servant, Abhorson)
Jared Michael Brown (Claudio, Elbow, Gentleman, Client, Friar Peter)
Thomas Grenon (Escalus)
Adrianna Mitchell (Isabella)
Megan F. Kinneen (scenic)
Chris Bocchiaro (lights)
Miranda Kau Giurleo (costumes)
David Reiffel (sound)
Christine Hamel (vocal coach)
Student matinees at 10am on January 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 & 29
Post-show discussions each Sunday after 2pm matinee and all 10am student matinees.
Post-show discussion schedule:
January 11: Maurice Emmanuel Parent*
January 18: Sarah Newhouse*
January 25: Johnnie McQuarley*
February 1: Megan Sandberg-Zakian

Imaginary Beasts Presents Winter Panto 2015 - "Kerplop! The Tale of the Frog Prince"

I have come to see Imaginary Beasts' annual Winter Panto as a necessary rite of passage to help me to make the transition as the vibrant holidays give way to the gray skies of February.  The shenanigans of this wonderfully entertaining troupe always promise a kind of January thaw.  And this year's edition of Winter Panto is no exception.  "Kerplop! The Tale of the Frog Prince" is a wonderfully frothy confection for children of all ages.  It continues the decade-long run of Imaginary Beasts keeping alive in Boston the longstanding British tradition of Panto.

I am going to assume that you know the familiar plot of the Frog Prince, whose amphibian curse can only be reversed by a kiss from the princess.  Matthew Woods' actors ring changes on this familiar theme that are hilarious and fast-paced.  The large cast of sixteen actors regaled the Saturday audience from start to finish, often extemporizing in response to the very vocal young audience members who offered running commentary on the action unfolding in the imaginary kingdom before them,  Mr. Woods is a master at creating these annual extravaganzas, writing, directing and often performing in the Panto. He manages to broadcast his message simultaneously to two different audiences.  His FM (Family-friendly Material) broadcast delights the youngsters with plenty of opportunities to thwart villains with lusty shouts of "Boo - Hiss - Boo"!  And he has the actors urging the audience to support the environmentally-sensitive heroes and heroines with cries of "Go Green - Go Green"!  There is a simulcast AM (Adult Material) show being offered in parallel, with clever and very timely allusions to current events (The I-93 protesters) and golden age oldie but goodie songs by Three Dog Night.  The audience sing-along to "Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog" was a particular delight.

Elizabeth Pearson as Prince Friederich
Erin Eva Butcher as Princess Aurelia
Michael Underhill as Sir Heinrich
Here are this year's cast members and their particular roles in this Kingdom:

  • Kiki Samko - Is hilarious as Old Mother Schnell, serving as a geriatric guide from venue to venue - turning the scene from a frog pond to a palace courtyard with a few arthritic steps and turns and voila! "We are already here, my little mushrooms!"
  • Matthew Woods - Gloriously Green as Wicked Water Nymph Aquanetta, hoping to usurp control of the Kingdom of Little Puddle from the reigning Queen.
  • William Schuller - As Aquanetta's son, Wart, the Water Troll, he tries to fool the Princess into marrying him.
  • Amy Meyer flits around as Zip the Dragon Fly - dropping Wikipedia-like tidbits of knowledge about the life cycle of dragonflies.
  • Molly Kimmerling is the Good Fairy, Waterlily.  She works hard to urge the audience to help her to hold at bay the forces of evil.
  • Noah Simes is the Oracle who is misled by a blot on the oracular page and mistakenly thinks they are in the Age of Aquarius rather than the Age of Pisces.  Later, he plays Jeremiah the Bullfrog, who almost croaks from one of Aquanetta's tricks.
  • Bob Mussett is Buttondown, the Lord High Chancellor.  He tries in vain to keep the Queen from overspending from the Royal Treasury.
  • Audrey Lynn Sylvia and Lizette Morris play the matched set of Prim and Proper, in their starched white caps tying to keep things in order amidst mounting chaos.
  • Joey Pelletier, is, of course, Her Majesty the Queen.  We, of course, are not worthy to comment upon her Royal Personage, but will offer the comment that she wears Cotton Talbot-Minkins' fabulous frocks with aplomb and panache!
  • Mikey DiLoreto is Coco the Skunk, a Harpo Marx-like bicycle-horn-tooting presence in Black and White.
  • Cameron Cronin as  Le Grande Moustache careens around the stage with outlandish French accent overlaying the South Boston foundation of his speech patterns, offering a make-over for the princess.  His turn as the cheeky impostor is a highlight of this production.
  • Michael Chodos as Leech is another highlight.  The slug is a dead ringer for Gollum, and the grimace permanently pasted on his slimy visage is a remarkable achievement in physical acting.
  • Michael Underhill brings his usual exuberance to the role of Sir Heinrich, accompanying the Prince in his quest to find a Princess Bride.
  • Elizabeth Pearson is Prince Friedrich, fooled by Aquanetta into taking a sip from the chalice that will usher in the Kermit curse.
  • Erin Eva Butcher is Princess Aurelia, the Wild Child who will not take the easy path of a comfortable life in the palace.
William Schuller as Wart
Matthew Woods as Aquanetta
Michael Chodos as Leech

All of this fun and sturm und drang is enhanced by the Set designed by Mr. Woods and Candido Soares, the Lighting of Christopher Bocchiaro, Puppet Design of Elizabeth Pearson and Jill Rogati, Sound Design of Deirdre Benson and Matthew Woods and Choreography by Cameron Cronin, Kii Samko, Joey Pelletier and the Ensemble.

If you already have tasted the wonders of a Winter Panto, then I need say nothing more than to remind you to take this year's booster shot of Panto fun.  If you are new to the whole Panto phenomenon, hop on down to the BCA's Plaza Black Box for your initiation into this delightful world.  I would be surprised if it does not become an annual mid-winter pilgrimage.

Molly Kimmerling as Waterlily
Amy Meyer as Zip

"Jeremiah was a Bull Frog, 
Was a good friend of mine
Never understood a single thing he said
But I helped him to drink his wine.

Joy to the world!
Joy to you and me!"

Through February 7

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents The World Premiere of "A Future Perfect" by Ken Urban - An Edgy New York Drama

Brian Hastert as Max
Marianna Bassham as Claire
Chelsea Diehl as Elena
Nael Nacer as Alex

"A Future Perfect"
SpeakEasy Stage  Company
Through February 7
at the Stanford Calderwood Pavillion
Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

When I enter a performance space, ready to take in a show, I have a set routine that I follow.  I get settled into my seat, put away my books, check to be sure that my iPhone has been put to sleep, and begin to examine the set.  I have come to believe that with just the right synergy among the Playwright, Director and Scenic Designer, the properly designed set can serve as a tacit prologue to the action that will soon take place upon the stage.  This triangulation of efforts was in perfect harmony in the set designed by the incomparable multiple Elliot Norton Award winner Cristina Todesco.  The set is the nicely appointed Park Slope apartment of Max and Claire, who live on 1 and 1/2 salaries.  Several things hit me about the apartment's accouterments: the back wall offered hints of things to come.  There was a guitar hanging on the brick wall that had been painted white.  Nearby were hung coils of electric cord that one would use to connect a guitar to an amp or a monitor.  Also hanging on that wall were parts of several disassembled bicycles.  One piece stood out: a white bike frame inside a white picture frame.  I was alert to the strong possibility that wry New York humor and irony would be on the menu for the evening.  Surely Ken Urban's script would contain lots of urban and urbane dialogue and repartee. And a play with the title "A Future Perfect" would also feature tense situations and intense relationships.

Here is the set-up for this World Premiere of "A Future Perfect" as offered on the SpeakEasy Website:

Claire and Max find their values put to the test when best friends Alex and Elena announce they are having a baby. Claire is climbing the corporate ladder in advertising, while her husband Max is a puppeteer for PBS. With friends entering into parenthood, they ask: What happened to the indie-rock kids that hated everything their parents believed in?"
The action opens as pictured above, with Alex and Elena visiting in Max and Claire's home for a familiar evening of food, drinks and board games.  When the news slips out that Elena is pregnant after some complicated fertility treatments and prior disappointments, Claire's reaction is less than enthusiastic.  We soon learn that Claire is laser focused on issues of career - for herself and Elena and for any other woman intent on making it in a man's world.  The rest of the play explores many layers of complications, including those of Elena's pregnancy, and examines how that anticipated event would change the lives of all four of the principal characters.  The gestation of the pregnancy - and of their four-way relationships - are not without serious unexpected bumps in the road.

Claire, as played by Marianna Bassham, comes across initially as the "ball buster" that Alex accuses her of being. As the action progresses, Ms. Bassham paints additional layers onto the stony foundation of the character of Claire, pastel shades that make her more vulnerable, approachable and sympathetic. This is a finely nuanced performance by a gifted actor.  Max is complex in his own way. He and Alex had been part of a band, and they still get together to practice and try out new music from time to time - but the old days are gone, and Claire is not the only one who has become "professionalized." Brian Hastert is convincing and moving as Max, wanting to be a Dad, wanting a more fulfilling writing career than his part-time gig at PBS, and wanting not to be marginalized out of Claire's life by her monomaniacal commitment to her career as an advertising executive.  Nael Nacer plays the subdued - verging on the nebbish - Alex with a light touch that fits his character to perfection.  He seems to have "settled" for a career in insurance sales, and is ambivalent about becoming a dad.  He and Claire also go back to the days of the band, and they often tangle.  Chelsea Diehl's Elena always feels inferior to Claire and her accomplishments and strong opinions.  Hers in another subdued and nuanced performance.

Brian Hastert as Max
Marianna Bassham as Claire
"A Future Perfect"
SpeakEasy Stage  Company
Through February 7
at the Stanford Calderwood Pavillion
Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
The tensions rise and fall as each of the four individuals and the two couple wrestle with issues of career and potential parenthood - leaving behind old ways of living and relating to one another.  The dialogue speaks of a playwright who has been part of many Brooklyn Yuppie and Gen X conversations.  He has captured the tone with pitch perfect acumen, which is apt for a play that has music as such an important bit of its background noise.

Plot twists - both anticipated and unexpected - keep the tension mounting and the conflicts coming. The denouement is a subtle and moving scene between Max and Claire in which he plays for her a new song he has written, lyrics stripped of his usual cynicism, heart laid bare for her to do with as she pleases.

Director M. Bevin O'Gara modulates the complex interactions among the characters with a deft hand, supported strongly by Ms. Todesco's design, Elisabetta Polito's Costumes, Jen Rock's Lighting and Nathan Leigh's Sound.  Young actor Uatchet Juin Juch is strong in her brief appearance as a child actor in Max's PBS puppet show.

And what of the promises offered by the set design?  After sleeping on it and letting the images steep in my mind - like the tea that Claire serves Max - I have some thoughts.  The power cords may represent the ways in which music both connects and disconnects the characters from one another. The dismantled pieces of bicycle may be emblematic of the disrupted journeys that each of the four individuals experience throughout the action of the play.  At the end of the day, each audience member maps out his or her own artistic journey in assembling in unique and personal ways layers of meaning from the building blocks that have been offered by the playwright, creative team and actors.

If you love theater as much as I do, you will find this new play to be a treat and a wonderful vehicle for discovery and reflection.



A Future Perfect

JAN 9 - FEB 7, 2015Buy Tickets Now
Written by Ken Urban
Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara
Production Stage Management by Adele Nadine Traub
Set Design by Cristina Todesco
Costume Design by Elisabetta Polito
Lighting Design by Jenn Rock
Sound Design by Nathan Leigh
Props Supervision by Christine Goldman

Producers Circle

Zach Durant-Emmons & Willis Emmons
Sam Yin
This production is made possible through the generosity of these donors. For more information about joining the Producers Circle please contact Jeff Kubiatowicz, Director of Development, at or 617-482-3279.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Rep Presents "Muckrakers" by Zayd Dohrn - An Intriguing Examination of Privacy In The Digital Age

New Rep Theatre launches its 2015 Next Rep Black Box Festival with the intriguing play "Muckrakers" by Zayd Dohrn.  The playwright was moved to examine the complex issues of privacy and transparency in a digital age following the WikiLeaks whistle blowing revelations of Edward Snowden in 2013 and the leaking of classified information by Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning in 2010.

In this gripping drama, multiple layers of secrecy - of both public and private information - lead to several clever plot twists.  Here is the scenario as described in the New Rep website:

"A young activist hosts a famous political journalist/hacker in her apartment. What follows is an evening full of rich debate over who has the right to information, how much the public needs to know, and the consequences of power. Dynamics shift when secrets are revealed and each discovers that there is always a price to pay for privacy. In the wake of controversy surrounding WikiLeaks and NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, The Boston Globe calls MUCKRAKERS “an absorbing play that’s ripped from the headlines.” 

 It is often a temptation of a playwright who is addressing complex and controversial issues to get preachy and to force his characters to speechify or to pontificate.  There is very little of that type of excess in Mr. Dohrn's script.  He allows the two characters, Mira and Stephen, to reveal their philosophies through their interactions, and the result is a gripping and complicated tale of self-righteousness, hypocrisy and deception.

 How appropriate that a play that deals with deep dark secrets should be performed in a Black Box! And the naming of the characters has been well chosen. "Mira" in Spanish translates as "to look or to watch."  Mira certainly is watching Stephen very carefully to learn what he knows and how he plans to disseminate potentially explosive information.  Where will he draw the line between transparency and privacy?  In the Bible, Stephen was the first Christian martyr, who "went among the people" telling truth that was dangerous in the volatile political environment of his day.  In this play, Stephen is a fugitive who puts himself at risk by traveling to NC and speaking to Mira's cabal of anarchists and left-wing rebels - putting himself "among the people."  Is it a coincidence that Mira gets Stephen "stoned" at a crucial point in the story?  Perhaps I am reading more than the playwright intended, but I love the irony of these dynamics.

The play is set in Mira's Brooklyn apartment, beautifully rendered with exquisite detail by Set Designer Alexander Grover. Costumes by Tyler Kinney, Lighting by Christopher Brusberg and Sound Design by Edward Young complete the well-conceived mise-en-scène.

 Under the steady hand of Director Bridget Kathleen O'Leary, Esme Allen as Mira and Lewis D. Wheeler as Stephen carry out a convincing ballet of mutual seduction that puts flesh and blood on the well-articulated skeleton of the script that Mr. Dohrn has wrought.  Their individual performances are strong and flawless, and their chemistry keeps you wondering exactly what kind of explosions will erupt when nitro mixes with glycerin.  The resulting tension makes for a thrilling evening at the theater.

Esme Allen and Lewis D. Wheeler
"Muckrakers" by Zayd Dohrn
New Rep Theatre
Arsenal Center for the Arts
Through February 1
Photos by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures.

I am not giving away much of the plot here, because the plot twists are part of the delicious fun of this drama.  I am also revealing my personal philosophy of privacy and transparency!  I invite you to come and see for yourself how these issues resolve themselves on stage.  Go on-line to purchase your tickets (your transaction will be tracked!), drive to the Arsenal Center for the Arts (EZ-Pass and GPS will record your movements), and enjoy the show.  It is no secret that this is a clever script masterfully enacted by two gifted actors.  Come and reveal yourself to be a discerning patron of the theater!



Through February 1st at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.
For mature audiences. Contains nudity, sexual situations, and adult language.
New Rep Theatre Website

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Pippin" Strikes The Circus Tent and Heads For Another Corner of The Sky - Some Recent NYC Theater Experiences

Anyone who has spent any amount of reading The White Rhino Report is aware of my love affair with the re-imagined production of "Pippin" that was birthed at the A.R.T. and has called the Music Box its Broadway home for the past two years.  When I learned that the show would be closing on January 4, I built my travel schedule to NYC around being there for that date.  Having been present at the birth and having watched the show and its cast grow and change, I felt I needed to be there to say good-bye.  So, along with my good friend Luka, we braved the cold and rain and winds to stand in line for close to 6 hours to score a rare Rush ticket for the final performance.  It was well worth it. The time flew by, for those standing in line formed an instant community of theater lovers.  That community included the Brand family from Vermont, with whom Luka and I shared many threads of conversation.,

As I had expected might be the case, Director and Tony award winner Diane Paulus was there, along with Composer Stephen Schwartz, original Lead Player, Tony award winner Patina Miller, Erik Altemus, the original Lewis, Andrew Cekala, the original Theo, and original cast members Molly Tynes, Anthony Wayne, et al.

During Intermission, it was great to catch up with the Cekala family, Erik Altemus and Mr. Schwartz, with whom I discussed the current status of his tennis game!  He is a serious player.

While Pippin has packed up its Broadway operation, the National tour continues to wend its way across the U.S.  See below for dates and locations.

Pippin Tour Dates and Venues

While in NYC, I was able to take in the opening of Soho Rep's current play, "Winners and Losers."

White Rhino Report Review of "Winners and Losers"

I also took advantage of the hellacious weather holding down numbers of potential audience members to score Rush tickets for the Pulitzer Prize winning drama "Disgraced."  The play is controversial, but well worth seeing.

Finally, the weather also helped me in winning a Lottery Rush ticket for "Kinky Boots."  My front row seat allowed me to fully experience the magic and artistry of Billy Porter and company. What a fun and upbeat show, richly deserving of all of its Tony accolades. It was nice to catch up with Jeanna De Waal, who plays Lauren, and who played the role of Mary Barrie in the recent A.R.T. production of "Finding Neverland" (Opening on Broadway for previews on March 15, Opening April 15)

My days in the City included a few visits to the Famiglia Pizza site on 8th Avenue above 43rd Street.  Wearing my Red Sox cap when I visit there always evokes comments from the Albanian-American staff who are rabid Yankees fans.  I remain a loyal Red Sox fan who hates the Yankees, but loves New York City!



Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins" - A Poignant and Timely Look at Journalistic Freedom

When Lyric Stage Company of Boston Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos chose to incorporate "Red Hot Patriot" into the 2014-2015 season, he would have had no way of predicting just how poignant and timely this play would be in the wake of the recent Paris terrorist attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo.  One way of looking at it is that "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins" by Margaret and Allison Engel, is a tribute to the power of independent journalism that dares to speak uncomfortable words that no one else dares speak.  In a sense, the Lyric is offering its own version of "Je suis Charlie"!  If Molly were still with us, she would intone those words with her distinctive Texas drawl.

Molly Ivins was born to a family with plenty of Texas oil money and deeply conservative political roots and philosophy.  She dutifully followed in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother to attend Smith College, where she learned to be her own person.  She left the reservation, declaring her independence from her father - The General -  and began a writing career.  Throughout her career she simultaneously challenged the world-class stupidity of so-called public servants, while personally falling prey to the stupefying effects of alcohol.

Her career took her from small time Texas newspapers and fringe magazines all the way to the New York Times and 60 Minutes.  She would not allow herself and her sense of outrage to be stifled or neutered, so she was often fired for being too politically volatile.

In this dramatic encapsulation of Ms. Ivins' life and career, The Engels have culled many of Molly's own words and wrapped them around vignettes that allow the audience to learn the back story of many of Molly's columns and life episodes.  Directed by Courtney O'Connor, the irrepressible Karen MacDonald inhabits the ethos of Ivins without falling into caricature or too broad a mimicry of her speech patterns. With the exception of a few unnecessary scenes in which a Helper (Jacob Athyal) silently enters and rips off a page from the teletype AP wire machine, Ms. MacDonald is alone on stage throughout the production - a Lone Star, if you will.

Karen MacDonald* as Molly Ivins *member of Actors' Equity Association

Photo by Mark S. Howard
The magic of Karen MacDonald's performance here is that she portrays this tough woman - about as emotionally accessible as the armadillo she keeps on her desk - as someone about whom we come to care.  We care about the person and about the causes she espouses, to the point where it does not feel forced when Molly speaks to the audience from beyond the grave imploring us to involve ourselves in the political process as engaged citizens.  This is a powerful performance that deserves to be seen by as broad an audience as possible.

Her work is enhanced and aided by the fine Projections of Jonathan Carr, Lighting of Chris Brusberg, Costume by Sarie Gessner, Scenic Design by Katherine Burkhart and Sound Design by Chris Kurtz.

"Red Hot Patriot" will run through January 31.



Lyric Stage Website

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Huntington Theatre Company Presents Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" - A Stunning Chekhovian Mash-up

Has existential despair ever been as entertaining and hilarious as it is in Christopher Durang's Tony award winning play, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"?  The current Huntington Theatre Company production is being presented in memory of Nicholas Martin, former Huntington Artistic Director.  Director Jessica Stone, a long time collaborator with Mr. Martin, is using much of the direction that Martin created for the Broadway production of this comedy.  You can be sure that Nicky is pleased and proud of this production.

Mr. Durang long ago moved from the frenetic pace of NYC to bucolic Bucks County, PA.  His quiet country home reminded him of some of the settings of Chekhov plays, so thus inspired, he has created this comedy that invokes the spirit of despair endemic to most of Chekhov's plays.  Audience members who are familiar with the Russian playwright's work will delight in finding allusions - some subtle and some shamelessly overt - to "The Cherry Orchard," "Uncle Vanya," "The Three Sisters," and "The Seagull."  Still, one need not be a Chekhov scholar to enjoy the universal language of mis-aligned relationships and missed opportunities at living that are the common threads in this story.

Three siblings, Vanya and Sonia and Masha interact in a kaleidoscopic array of conversations, soliloquies and rants that reveal the cracks that exist until the thin patina of family harmony.  Vanya and Sonia have grown old, remaining single to care for their aging parents while Masha went off to forge a career as a film actress.  Her contribution was to pay the bills while her siblings stayed home to change the Depends.  Resentments fester, and they come boiling to the surface when Masha comes home to Pennsylvania with Boy Toy Spike in tow.  She plans to sell the house, but Cassandra the oracular cleaning lady, has other ideas.  Nina, the innocent and winsome young niece of the next door neighbors, comes to call when she sees that her idol, Masha, is in residence.  She has a strong effect on Spike's limitless libido, and Masha panics at the thought of losing yet another man to another ingenue.  Her five failed marriages have left scars!  And so it goes.  Throw in an off-stage costume party gone wrong, some voodoo curses and you have a rollicking romp of a comedy.

Tyler Lansing Weaks, Marcia DeBonia, Candy Buckley, Allison Layman, and Martin Moran
in Christopher Durang’s smash-hit Broadway comedy 
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,
directed by Jessica Stone, based on the Broadway direction of Nicholas Martin,
playing January 2 – February 1, 2015 at the BU Theatre / Avenue of the Arts.
 Photo: Jim Cox

The cast is perfectly suited for the levels of comedy, angst and pathos that Durang envisions.
  • Martin Moran plays Vanya as effete and professorial, resigned to living out his life with his adopted sister, Sonia.  The highlight of their days is spotting the blue heron who visits their pond to feast upon the frogs. His moment to shine comes when a reading of a play that he has written is interrupted by Spike texting. Vanya launches into a prolonged rant about how things are not like they were in the old days, invoking the ghosts of Howdy Doody, Ozzie and Harriet, Senor Wences from the Ed Sullivan Show, Kukla Fran and Ollie, and lickable postage stamps. Mr Moran's performance in this scene is wondrous.
  • Marcia DeBonis plays Sonia as the ugly ducking of the flock, dowdy until the moment when she is inspired to attend the costume party as the Queen from Snow White.  This is the "Mirror, mirror on the wall" Queen.  She plays her as a drunk Maggie Smith in California Suite going to the Oscars.  Her turn as the Queen, in blue gown with flowing diaphanous appendages is hilarious.  Ms. DeBonis provides the most poignant moment of the evening when she takes a call from Joe, whom she had met at the party.  What this actor does with her face as she becomes aware that Joe finds her desirable is worth the price of admission.  It is a stunning moment in this play, and deeply moving.
  • Candy Buckley is a gloriously over-the-top diva as Masha, histrionics oozing from her every pore and cascading from her every stilted gesture and pose.  Bedecked as Snow White for the costume party, she insists that everyone dress to match her theme.  Her plot backfires and for the first time in her life she is upstaged by Sonia.
  • Haneefah Wood portrays Cassandra, who, true to her name, spouts oracular warnings that no one heeds, until they begin to realize that her pseudo-Greek tragedy pronouncements contain seeds of truth.  Her machinations to get Masha to relent from her plan to sell the homestead include voodoo dolls and an uproarious "Citizens of Athens" speech that had the audience in stitches.  Beware Hootie Pie!
  • Allison Layman is a quiet and star-struck Nina, who is less than impressed by Spike's wooing of her.  She falls at the feet of Masha, but comes to see Vanya as her "Uncle Vanya," encouraging him to overcome his fear of rejection to allow his post-apocalyptic play to be read to the others. She gently shines as a forlorn Molecule in Vanya's play, bemoaning the fate of the earth that is no more because of ecological disasters.
  • Tyler Lansing Weaks is an absolute hoot as Spike, who cannot keep his clothes on, nor can he "keep it in his pants." Playing Spike as a total male bimbo, clueless and self-absorbed, Mr. Weak's moment to shine comes when he recreates his callback audition for "Entourage 2."  His reverse strip tease is another highlight, as is his gentle taunting of closeted Vanya, who cannot keep his eyes off of the narcissistic physical specimen.
Tyler Lansing Weaks, Marcia DeBonia, Martin Moran, Allison Layman, Candy Buckley, and Haneefah Wood
in Christopher Durang’s smash-hit Broadway comedy 
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,
directed by Jessica Stone, based on the Broadway direction of Nicholas Martin,
playing January 2 – February 1, 2015 at the BU Theatre / Avenue of the Arts.
Photo: Jim Cox

The work of this fine ensemble is enhanced by the gorgeous Set by David Korins, Costumes by Gabriel Berry, Lighting by David Weiner and Original Music and Sound by Mark Bennett.

I urge you to leave the safety of your back yard cherry orchard and the company of your three sisters and follow the flock of seagulls to Huntington Avenue to enjoy this comedy that has a deep and tender heart.

Playing through February 1.

Huntington Theatre Website



Soho Rep Presents "Winners and Losers" - Created and Performed by Marcus Youssef and James Long

I have come to anticipate each new offering by Soho Rep, knowing that I will be surprised, challenged, entertained and usually delighted.  My latest trip to Walker Street provided yet another evening of provocative theater.  "Winners and Losers" is deceptively simple in its concept and deeply thought-provoking in its execution and implications.

Here is the set-up.  Marcus Youssef and James Long are friends from Vancouver, British Columbia who are both writers and performers who have collaborated together over several years and numerous projects.  They were working together on two writing projects.  To give themselves a break from the sometimes tedious work of writing, they would play a verbal game.  One person would shout out a name of a person or an object - and the other person would proclaim whether that person or thing was a winner or loser, and explain why they had chosen that particular categorization. They soon discovered that the game of "Winners and Losers" was more intriguing and compelling than either of the fictional works they were hammering out.  So they abandoned those projects and turned their game into a play.  Under the direction of Chris Abraham, they have come up with a concept that is 80% loosely scripted and 20% site specific improvisation .

Using a simple set (see photo below) designed by Arnulfo Maldoado and Lighting by Jonathan Ryder, Long and Youssef enter and take turns using a huge piece of chalk to delineate the field of battle within which their verbal and sometimes physical fusillades would be hurled. At the outset, the topics chosen seem random and inconsequential: microwave ovens, Mexico, Canada, Burt Reynolds, Stonehange, The Occupy Movement, Pamela Anderson.

Gradually, as they expanded upon their rationales, intimate personal details emerge about their individual lives and families of origin.  Mr. Long left home at 15 to fend for himself; Mr. Youssef left around the same age to attend an exclusive private school.  So, when "Street Smarts" becomes a topic, things get very personal.  The verbal dueling is punctuated with a ping pong match and a brief wrestling tussle on the floor.
James Long and Marcus Youssef
"Winners and Losers"
Soho Rep
photo by Pavel Antonov
Through February 1
The emotional temperature begins to rise as they probe more deeply into one another's financial condition and backgrounds of relative privilege and penury.  As things go from simmer to boil, there erupts a well-aimed missile of "Go fuck yourself!" sent from Marcus to James - and they walk quietly off the stage.

So the audience is left wondering: "What did we just see?"  My take on the evening is that we saw two people - friends at some level who know each other intimately, but who have fundamental differences of world views and value systems.  The lesson seems to be "If these two men have no right to judge one another without having walked a mile in each other's shoes, then do we have any right to judge any of the winners or losers they have so facilely labeled and marginalized in the build-up to their personal contretemps?  Do we have the right to judge anyone else?

Something for us all to wrestle with.

"Winners and Losers" will run at Soho Rep through February 1.

Soho Rep Website - Winners and Losers