Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents "City of Angels" - Devilishly Good Fun!

From the time I first listened to the Broadway cast album of "City of Angels," I have been a big fan of this Tony Award-winning musical.  The writing is superb - book by Larry Gelbart, lyrics by David Zippel,and music by Cy Coleman.  There is an intelligence to this show that serves to project both a celebration of Film Noir and a send-up of the genre.  It is a complex show to produce and a complicated story to tell.  The folks at Lyric Stage Company of Boston, under the inspired direction of Spiro Veloudos, have done justice to this dark gem of a show, and you have until May 2  to  watch the magic happen on the Lyric stage.

The story is really two stories at once - a film within a play.  The two levels of story are told in parallel - real life in Hollywood alongside "reel life" on the screen.  Successful novelist, Stine, has signed a three picture deal to turn his most recent novel, "City of Angels," into a screenplay.  Director/producer/mogul, Buddy Fidler, is intent on changing virtually everything about the script.  Complications and tensions arise.  On the film side of the story, Stine's protagonist is Stone, a private eye with a shady past as an LA cop.  Into his down-at-the-heels office walks Alaura Kingsley, a femme fatale of the first order.  And we are off and running with complications and lies, double-crosses and betrayals, beatings and shootings and other forms of Film Noir nastiness.  Except for the actors who play Stine and Stone, everyone else doubles as characters in real life and in the film.

This dual story is told on a stage that uses multiple levels.  The upper level is utilized primarily by Stone and his typewriter on one side and Buddy Fidler and his "casting desk" on the other side.  The lower level is where most of the action takes place.  The set was elegantly designed by Matt Whiton. Lighting by John Malinowski, Sound by David Wilson, Projection by Jonathan Carr and period Costumes by Elisabetta Polito create an atmosphere that exudes the 1940s and the German Expressionism that inspired Film Noir.

The play begins with a soaring Doo-Wop number by the Angel City 4 - Sarah Kornfeld, Elise Arsenault, Andrew Tung and Brandon Milardo.  They were backed up by a six piece orchestra under the Musical Direction of Catherine Stornetta.  This show runs at a brisk pace, and much of that pace is dictated by the non-stop cavalcade of catchy tunes.  The songs often serve to move the narrative foward and to stitch together the two levels of storytelling - real and reel.

Ed Hoopman as Stone
Angel City 4
Elise Arsenault, Brandon Milado
Andrew Tung and Sarah Kornfeld
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2

Mr. Veloudos has assembled a cast of strong voices and strong personalities.  The full cast list can be seen with their bios in the link below.

City of Angels Cast and Creative Team

Standing out among this ensemble are a number of actors, many of whom are familiar faces to Boston audiences.

Phil Tayler as Stine
Jennifer Ellis as Gabby
"City of Angels"The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2
  • Phil Tayler portrays the screenwriter Stine.  He is finding his work heavily edited by his boss, Fidler, and his philandering life heavily redacted by his unhappy wife, Gabby.  Mr. Tayler shines brightest in his confrontations with Fidler, played by J.T. Turner, and in his interactions with his fictional creation Stone, played by Ed Hoopman.  The duet that he shares with Stone to close Act I is a highlight of the show.  The two of them - creature and creator - face off to proclaim that each is reliant on the other for his very existence. "You're Nothing Without Me" is a brilliant piece of writing brilliantly executed by these two professionals operating at the height of their game.
  • Ed Hoopman is a rock as Stone!  His sonorous baritone speaking voice gives gravitas to the private detective, and adds throw weight to the one-line zingers that the writers have given him as ammunition to hurl in foiling a succession of foes.  His singing voice blends well with that of Mr. Tayler in the dueling duet mentioned above.  It pairs well with the voice of Alaura Kingsley (Samantha Richert) in the double-entendre rich song "The Tennis Song." Mr. Hoopman is masterful in balancing a Humphrey Bogart suaveness with a Peter Sellers vulnerability that makes this performance both praiseworthy and memorable.
  • Jennifer Ellis plays the dual roles of Gabby, Stine's wife and Bobbi, Stone's ex-wife.  She is magnificent.  Her sultry "With Every Breath I Take" Torch Song as Bobbi is a highlight of the show.  Another memorable moment is her taunting and saucy number "It Needs Work" as Gabby puts Stine in his place as he lamely attempts to write an alibi for why Gabby's call to Stine's hotel room was answered by Donna (Leigh Barrett)
  • Leigh Barrett plays the roles of two women who allow themselves to be used by the men in their lives - Donna in Hollywood and Oolie in the movie.  She nearly steals the show in these roles.  As Oolie, she shares a duet with Ms. Ellis as Gabby that shows just how clueless Stone and Stine can be in dealing with the women in their lives.  "What You Don't Know About Women" is brilliantly staged, with Gabby in real life (stage right) appearing in living color and Oolie in the film (stage left) appearing in black and white and grays. Visually, this song and this scene set the tone for the show.  In Act II, Ms. Barrett sings a duet with herself as both Oolie and Donna. "You Can Always Count On Me" lays out her two characters' perennial curse of falling for guys who treat them as someone for men"to wipe their feet on."  Both women bemoan the fact that they allow themselves to be taken advantage of and never learn their lesson.  The song is brilliantly written, and Ms. Barrett nails it.  Brava!
  • Megham LaFlam is the sultry and dangerous Mallory, whose diasppearnace Stone has been asked to solve.  She shows up in an unexpected place and seductively sings to Stone "Lost and Found."  It is her moment in the show to shine, and she sparkles.
  • Tony Castellanos as Lieutenant Munoz is Stone's former partner on the LA Police Force, and now his sworn enemy.  He looks forward to seeing Stone sent to the gas chamber for a murder that Stone has been framed for.  He lays out his dastardly hopes and dreams in the charming and hilarious number "All You Have To Do Is Wait."  Choreographer Rachel Bertone deserves a shout-out for the staging of this number  The incongruent Conga Line is worth the price of admission!
Phil Tayler as Stone
Leigh Barrett as Donna
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2
If you are a fan of good theater and of Film Noire, this one is a no-brainer: order your tickets now. And hold on tight to those ducats.  You would not want them to end up in the Lost & Found!

Ed Hoopman as Stone
Samantha Richert as Alaura Kingsley
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2

 The musical will run at the Lyric  Stage Company of Boston through May 2.



Monday, March 30, 2015

Happy Medium Theatre & Argos Productions Present "Lifers" by John Shea & Maureen Cornell - at The Boston Playwrights' Theatre through April 4

When the folks at Happy Medium Theatre lost their home performance space in the wake of the closing of the Factory Theater, they got creative.  For this season's initial production, "Lifers," they have teamed with Argos Productions and moved their operation across town to Boston Playwrights' Theatre.  In keeping with the theme of this show, I would have to say that Happy Medium pairs well with Argos Productions, for this play is a satisfying meal of good writing and acting that is worthy of a generous tip.

Playwrights John Shea and Maureen Cornell must have spent some time in the kitchens of greasy spoons to get a feel for the frenetic pace and for the down and dirty banter that is on the bill of fare each day for the cook, wait staff and newly promoted manager.  The play is set in 2004 on the eve of the introduction of the smoking ban in the Commonwealth.There is plenty of tension in the air and many changes afoot. Lots of local Boston flavor is served up in this script, with inside jokes about the rich kid from Wellesley coming to work as the newest waiter in a restaurant that is undergoing pretentious upgrades to service the Yuppies that are re-gentrifying the old neighborhood.  The authors have created some stock characters: the randy short-order cook, the "lifer" waitress who has seen it all, the single Mom struggling to balance her job, her kid and her multiple addictions, the new kid on the block and the gay waiter who hopes to get the newbie into the walk-in-fridge.  Oh, and the self-important manager who lets a little power go to her head.  In the hands of a less talented ensemble, there might be the danger of the characters coming across as cartoonish and one-dimensional, but Director Brett Marks does not allow that to happen. I found myself caring about what would happen to each of these characters.

Maureen Adduci as Marie
Mikey DiLoreto as Michael
Lizette Morris as Carla
Happy Medium Theatre
Argos Productions
Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Through April 4

  •  Maureen Adduci is very convincing as the jaded and bedraggled Marie, who has been at this job for over 30 years.You can almost smell the stale cigarette smoke in her uniform and feel the fallen arches from three decades of lugging trays of food for regulars like "Captain Jack.".  
  • Peter Brown is Doyle, the Southie-accented cook who does not like change, and who insists on screaming out that the orders are "up" - even after the new manager installs a more gentile bell to serve the same purpose. He and Marie clearly have a history that is on again - off again. 
  • David D'andrea is Winfield, the recent BU grad who has decided to take a year working in the trenches before heading off to grad school or to work for some noble cause.  His Wellesley-based father, a successful real estate developer, is less than pleased with Winfield's decision to go slumming.  The character and the actor go through a very nice arc from insecure new kid on the block, to frazzled rookie to confident veteran - all in the space of a single year.
  • Mikey DiLoreto is Michael, disappointed in love and furious that Sherry got promoted to manager when he felt he had been promised the job by the former owner who had recently died.  Despite his own frustrations, he is a rock for Carla, who is barely holding things together. He makes some life-changing choices as the action of the play develops.
  • Lizette Morris is very convincing as the coke-snorting Carla, who just cannot seem to keep it together.  Her rage and frustration often boil over onto Sherry, with whom she attended school back in the day.  Michael and Marie work hard to protect Carla and her job.
  • Audrey Sylvia is wonderfully exasperating as the officious Sherry.  She spouts bromides and rah-rah team speak while driving her former compatriots crazy with her changes and pretensions.
Audrey Sylvia as Sherry
David D'Andrea as Winfield
Peter Brown as Doyle
Happy Medium Theatre
Argos Productions
Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Through April 4

All of this action takes place on a marvelously realistic set designed by Marc Ewart.  Combined with lighting by Emily McCourt, we have the feel of a real restaurant kitchen where the new waiter must struggle to learn to "marry the ketchup bottles"!

You have one more week to sample what is on the menu at Boston Playwrights' Theatre.  Click on the link below and order up a couple of tickets, with some bacon on the side.

Argos Productions Website

Enjoy!  And Bon Appetit!


Exiled Theatre Presents "Strange Days" by James Wilkinson - At The Green Street Studios in Central Square through April 5

There is a new tassel on the Fringe of Boston's Theatre Community, and that tassel drips rubies - like Sweeney Todd's beloved razor.  If your tastes run to the macabre, then run to Central Square for the final weekend of performances of "Strange Days," the initial offering by Exiled Theatre.  This new theatre company was founded by James Wilkinson and Teri Incampo.  Their collaboration began during their student days at Trinity College.  Mr. Wilkinson is the author of the inaugural play, "Strange Days."  Ms. Incampo directs this series of five vignettes.

For fear of spoiling some delicious twists and turns, I will not reveal much about the plots of these five short pieces, other than to say that they are wedded together by the common theme of strange and disturbing events occurring in the quotidian lives of the characters.  The many characters are portrayed by a quartet of very capable actors - Daniel Bitar, Katherine Jordan, Eric McGowan and Gail Shalan.

Mr. Wilkinson is clearly inspired and influenced by several streams that flow together into the crimson pool that is "Strange Days."  I recognize his fascination with radio dramas of the 1930 and 1940s, film noir, Edgar Alan Poe and Stephen King, and some very Chekhovian references to individuals failing to connect with each other.  In the vignette "Drive, Eric McGowan reminded me of a frightening reincarnation of a young  Jack Nicholson in "The Shining."  First-time actor Daniel Bitar is appropriately creepy in the opening piece, "Delicious."  Gail Shalan and Katherine Jordan keep us on the edge of our seats in the very cinematic "Nurse Call."

With the keen creative energies of Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Incampo at the helm and access to excellent acting talent, the future looks bright for this young company. Boston welcomes this new addition to the already vibrant fringe theater scene.

"Strange Days" is playing through April 5 at The Green Street Studios, 185 Green Street in Central Square.

Exiled Theatre Website



Friday, March 27, 2015

Boston Public Works Theater Company Presents "From The Deep" by Cassie M. Seinuk - See It This Weekend At Boston Center for the Arts

Playwright Cassie M. Seniuk has written an intriguing new work that examines many facets of terror and loss of freedom.  Under the steady directorial hand of Lindsay Eagle, two actors reveal multiple layers of themselves as their time of incarceration together lengthens.  Charles Linshaw portrays Ilan, a political prisoner and Jeff Marcus is Andrew,  a university student who has been swept up off the street and imprisoned for unknown reasons.   Both actors are superb in portraying the terror and boredom of indeterminate incarceration.

Megan Kinneen has envisioned a set and props that are well-designed to indicate many aspects of the experience of being locked up.  The set is off-white, suggesting layers of dust to indicate the slow passage of time as well as evoking the monochromatic nature of endless days spent in confinement. VHS tapes and various props also reinforce the theme of incarceration and its impact.  A Russian nesting doll sits upstage, reminding us that as the impact deepens of two souls bumping up against one another over time in forced close proximity, layers of their back stories and characters will be revealed. Two clocks indicate the separate passage of time for each of the prisoners.  Lighting by Chris Bocchiaro, Costumes by Stephanie Brownwell and Sound by Mike Stanton enhance the sense of isolation and incarceration.

The play reminded me of elements of "Waiting For Godot," as well as Sartre's "No Exit."  Ilan and Andrew have very different philosophies of how they should pass their time.  Ilan, played by Mr. Linshaw with a flawless Israeli accent, relies on constant activity and structure - exercise, ping pong, memory games - to keep his emotions under control and his time structured.  Andrew prefers to sit on the couch and let the time pass.

Ms. Seinuk was inspired to write this play in part by the story of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli POW who was released in 2011, and by the story of a university student who went missing from the streets of Boston.  By placing these two kinds of victims together in a fictional setting, she challenges us to examine the many ways in which loss of freedom can erode the human spirit, - or strengthen it.

If you wish to see this provocative and well-conceived play, head to the BCA this weekend for one of the final performances.

Boston Public Works Theater Company Website



Monday, March 23, 2015

Great Opportunity for Service Academy Grad - NYC Based Real Estate Development Firm Seeks Construction Project Manager

A NYC-based Real Estate Development firm is looking to hire a Construction Project Manager. This position will put you on track to eventually become certified as a Professional Engineer (PE)

Here are the parameters:
  • Service Academy grad or equivalent with background in Army Corps of Engineers, Navy SeaBees or equivalent.
  • Transitioning JMO or a JMO who has transitioned in the past 2-3 years.
  • Teachable, malleable, coach-able.
  • Willing to live in NYC area and travel as required
  • Competitive compensation package
  • Will be reporting to and trained by USMA grad
Send MS-Word version of resume and cover letter to:

Dr. Al Chase

Please forward this alert to anyone in your network who may fit these criteria or would know individuals who fit the criteria.


Al Chase

Saturday, March 21, 2015

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents the New England Premiere of "Big Fish"

"Big Fish" started its life as a novel penned by Daniel Wallace.  It was made into a movie produced by Columbia Pictures and written by John August, who has also written the book for the musical version of the story. The musical had a Broadway run of only three months. One of the criticisms of the show was that several of the big Broadway production numbers overwhelmed the simple story, so the creators have developed a scaled down "12 chairs" version of the show.  It is this revised version that SpeakEasy is presenting as the New England Premiere.

It is clear to me why the show had a limited run on Broadway.  Despite the charming nature of this father-son tale, there are weaknesses in the music and lyrics that make the musical less than an unqualified success.  Mr. Lippa's lyrics are often pedestrian and awkward in terms of meter.  Such is the artistry of SpeakEasy's Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault that he often finds a way to take a work of art that has flaws and present it in a way that appears nearly flawless. He has assembled a stellar cast and creative team for this show, so the overall feel of this production is a warm and positive one.

The Scenic Design by Jenna McFarland Lord very cleverly suggests that we are watching the action take place inside of a fish bowl.  Costumes by Elisabetta Polito beautifully evoke the period and ethos that the play represents.  Lighting by Karen Perlow, Sound by David Reiffel and Projections by Seaghan McKay complete the job of creating a very convincing depiction of the rural Louisiana area where the action of the play takes place.  Musical Director Matthew Stern leads a scaled down pit orchestra of six musicians, and Larry Sousa has provided the lively choreography.

What makes this production worth seeing is the singing and the sincerity of the ensemble cast members.  Steven Goldstein plays Edward Bloom, teller of tall tales and outlandish fish stories.  His strong operatic voice soars in several of the songs, especially in "Be The Hero," and in the duet "This River Between Us" that he shares with Sam Simahk, who plays his son Will.  Will is about to become a father himself, and he feels the need to figure out who this man really is who has raised him on stories that are mostly myth and fantasy.  Mr. Simahk's singing and acting were the highlight of this production for me.  He is believable and sympathetic as the conflicted son trying to learn the truth about his father.  His clear and golden voice rings true in "Stranger" and "Magic In The Man," that he shares with Aimee Doherty, here playing Sandra Bloom..  Aimee shines, as she always does, even in a role that is not fully developed by the playwright. Katie Clark takes the small role of Josephine, Will's wife, and adds her own special sauce to make the character three-dimensional.

Lee David Skuneas as Karl the Gint
Steven Goldstein as Edward Blook
Cast Members
"Big Fish"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through April 11
Photo by Criag Bailey/Perspective Photo

Also standng out among the excellent ensemble is Lee David Skunes, playing Karl the Giant.  His sonorous basso profundo voice is perfectly fitted for this larger-than-life character.  Aubin Wise is a wonderful witch, and Will McGarrahan is convincing as the exuberant Amos Calloway.

Cast Members
"Big Fish" 
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through April 11
Photo by Criag Bailey/Perspective Photo

The play will run through April 11 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts.

SpeakEasy Website



Katie Clark … Josephine
Sarah Crane* … Girl in the Water
Jackson Daley … Young Will
Aimee Doherty* … Sandra Bloom
Steven Goldstein* … Edward Bloom
Will McGarrahan* … Amos Calloway/Dr. Bennett
Zaven Ovian … Don Price
Sara Schoch* … Jenny Hill
Sam Simahk* … Will Bloom
Lee David Skunes … Karl the Giant
Daniel Scott Walton … Zacky Price/Mayor
Aubin Wise* … The Witch

Directed by Paul Daigneault
Assistant Director Alex Lonati 
Musical Direction by Matthew Stern
Choreography by Larry Sousa
Scenic Design by Jenna McFarland Lord
Costume Design by Elisabetta Polito**
Sound Design by David Reiffel
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow**
Projections Designer Seághan McKay**
Props Supervision by Kat Nakaji
Production Stage Manager Marsha Smith*
Assistant Stage Manager Michele Teevan*

Mini-Review of "O'Neills Ghosts" by Jovanka Bach - A John Stark Production at the TBG Theatre

I recently attended a showcase presentation of the play "O'Neill's Ghosts" by Jovanka Bach.  The play depicts a haunted Eugene O'Neill in 1912 confronting the ghosts that haunt him - his mother, his father, his son Bud, his brother, and his very alive wife, Carlotta.

The cast consisted of

John DiFusco as Eugene O'Neill
Lisa Thayer as Carlotta
Phil Donion as Bud
Dana Kelly as James
Mona Lee Wylde as Ella
Tom Groenwald as Jamie
Tanya Starcevich as Maud

I have long been intrigued by the plays of O'Neill, and I was very much looking forward to this work that would offer insight into his creative process and how his real life struggles translated autobiographically to the stage.  This play by Jovanka Bach does offer some of those insights as he is seen struggling to write in the fog-bound Connecticut coast.  My problems with this play - both its writing and its execution - is that I found myself not caring a bit about any of the characters depicted on the stage. The character of Carlotta, in particular, is problematic.  She comes across as one-dimensional, consistently histrionic and cartoonish in caring more about her dog than about her husband or about the troubled Bud.

As the play is further developed, I would hope for more three-dimensional depiction of characters that are worthy of our attention.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Wheelock Family Theatre Presents "The Taste of Sunrise" - Part Two of The Ware Trilogy by Suzan Zeder - "Some Things Are So Beautiful They Do Not Need Sound"!

My heart is full and my head is spinning as I sit down to capture my thoughts and emotions after having attended the opening performance of "The Taste of Sunrise - Part Two of The Ware Trilogy" by Suzan Zeder.  This play serves as a prequel to "Mother Hicks," which was presented recently by Emerson Stage.  You may want to take a moment to read my review of that play using the link below.

White Rhino Report Review of "Mother Hicks - Part One of the Ware Trilogy"

In this play, the playwright fills in the back story of Tuc.  We learn how he became deaf after a bout with scarlet fever that almost took his life.  We learn of his struggles to communicate with his father, the mixed blessing of his years at the deaf school in Carbondale, and his return home to be with his dying father.  Wheelock Family Theatre is hosting the second segment of this World Premiere event - the first time that all three plays in the Ware Trilogy have been produced in the same city.  All three of the plays are performed bilingually in English and American Sign Language (ASL).

If this is Tuc's play, then it is also certainly Elbert Joseph's play.  He is the deaf actor who portrays Tuc. We see his words projected on the upstage wall, we hear his words being spoken by Ethan Hermanson and Cliff Odle, who also plays Tuc's father.  And Mr. Joseph conveys his words with ASL.  As effective as these triple means of communication may be, they are almost redundant.  For the actor's expressions and movement and stage presence are so compelling and so clear that there is never any doubt what thoughts and feelings and intentions he is radiating.  This is one of the finest performances by an actor I have seen on a Boston stage.

Elbert Joseph as Tuc
. Photo by 
Craig BaileyPerspective Photo.
EJ is playing Tuc in all 3 plays of The Ware Trilogy.
Suzan Zeder has created something special in this trilogy.  At one level she is recounting the history of a particular community - Ware, Illinois.  At a more significant level, she is addressing the common human hunger for a sense of belonging to a community.  Tuc is the central figure desperately striving to connect and to fit in and to communicate, but there are many other characters in the trilogy whose longing is similar.  At another level, the plays recount the bumpy history of the efforts by the deaf community to define itself despite the well-meaning machinations of educators who "know what we are doing" who forbid the use of gestures or signs because they believed it would stand in the way of learning to read lips and express ideas orally.  At the end of the day, Tuc manages to create his own community - his own family, not bound by genetic ties or geographic propinquity, but forged by a mutual desire for meaningful connection and communication across formidable barriers.

The fine ensemble cast includes:

  • Elbert Joseph as Tuc
  • Cliff Odle as Jonas Tucker
  • Kathleen Patrick as Emma Flynn
  • Brittany Rolfs as Nell Hicks
  • Donna Sorbello as Dr. Alexis Graham
  • Daniel Bolton as Dr. Grindly Mann
  • Lewis D. Wheeler as Clovis P.Eudy et al.
  • Jen Alison Lewis as Izzy Sue Ricks et al.
  • Matthew J. Schwartz as Roscoe
  • Amanda Collins as Maizie
  • Ethan Hermanson as the Voice of Tuc
  • Sirena Abalian as Alma et al.
  • Steven Cosnek as Voice of Rosce et al.
  • Erisette Cruz, Reignyah Miraculous Grant, Ingrid Jensen O'Dell, Suleyka Suarez and Arthur Wheelock-Wood as the Deaf Student Ensemble
  • E. Sho Ndukwe and Christopher S. Robinson as additional Ensemble
At a crucial juncture near the end of the play, Tuc and Nell Hicks are thrown together and needing to depend upon one another.  But he is deaf and communicates in signs - what Nell calls "air pictures."  And Nell is hearing and does not understand Tuc's signs.  They reach out to one another and plead "Teach me - Teach me - Teach me!"  Nell screams the message in words; Tuc screams in gestures and signs.  And they begin to teach one another. As the level of their connection and communication deepens, Tuc asks Nell, "What does the sunrise sound like?"  Nell ruminates for a moment, and then responds with the answer: "Some things are so beautiful they do not need sound."

The same things must be said of Mr. Joseph's performance.  It was so beautiful that it did not need sound.

In leaving my seat following the standing ovation and the deaf community's enthusiastic waving of hands to indicate applause, I found myself part of an instant community.  It was the community of those of us - dozens of men and women - who needed to pause, remove our glasses and wipe the tears from our eyes so that we could see to find our way out of the theater.

Go see this show and be moved as we were.

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

This winter, be a part of a world-premiere dramatic event!


March 13 – 22, 2015

Friday nights at 7:30; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3:00

School day performances at 10:30: 3/18, 3/19

Audio-description: 3/19 and 3/22

This play is in both spoken English and American Sign Language.

For additional information, group sales, 3-show packages, please visitwww.WareTrilogy.orgOpens a new window or contact WFT at 617-879-2300

Written by Suzan Zeder. Directed by Wendy Lement and Kristin Johnson. Scenic design by Janie Howland. Lighting design by Annie Wiegand. Costume design by Lisa Simpson.
The Taste of Sunrise takes place in the mind and memory of Tuc, from the fever dreams of his childhood that took his hearing, to the language that he shares with his father of the natural world, to the deaf school where his mind explodes with the discovery of sign language. Tuc is a boy who must navigate the perilous path of love, loss, and language to weave a family out of wishes. An ensemble of Deaf and hearing directors, designers, and actors invite you to explore the cultural complexities of deafness with humor and compassion.
Recommended for adults, teens, and children 9+.


Over thirty years in the making - Suzan Zeder’s richly lyrical Ware Trilogy captures the pulse of key moments in American History. These cherished plays, presented in collaboration with Emerson Stage and Central Square Theater, are inspired by the oral traditions gathered by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and have become beloved pieces of the educational theater canon. Against the stark mid-west backdrop of Ware, Illinois, we are introduced to complicated themes of loss, identity, and family through the lives of three outsiders: Tuc, a young deaf man; Girl; a foundling child; and Mother Hicks, a mysterious recluse, who is often suspected of being a witch. Zeder’s trilogy of plays proves that drama expressly created for young people can be serious, sophisticated, and culturally relevant without losing playfulness or a sense of humor.

Mother Hicks, part one, will be presented at Emerson Stage; February 26-March 1, 2015.
The Taste of Sunrise, part two, will be presented at Wheelock Family Theatre; March 13-22, 2015.
The Edge of Peace, part three, will be presented at Central Square Theater; April 3 -12, 2015.

Stoneham Theatre Presents "That Hopey Changey Thing" by Richard Nelson - Through March 15 - See It This Weekend!

If your plans for this weekend are not already set, you may want to consider a trip to Stoneham Theatre to see one of the last performances of "That Hopey Changey Thing" by Richard Nelson. You may even want to enjoy a nice pre-theater dinner at Felicia's - just down the street.  I had a terrific meal there last evening before seeing a show that I know you would enjoy.

I will give you details of why I enjoyed Mr. Nelson's opening salvo in what will be a four play cycle presented over the next two seasons jointly by the Stoneham Theatre and Gloucester Stage Company.  But before I do that, allow me a brief detour to take you inside the mind of a theater reviewer (sometimes called a "critic")  Since I was privileged to be invited to join the ranks of the IRNE Reviewers (Independent Reviewers of New England), I have been inundated with invitations to attend and to review shows in most of the greater Boston area theaters.  I cannot possibly see all the shows I would like to see, so I am always making subjective choices.  Here is a list of some of the factors that go into deciding whether I choose to attend and to review a show:

  • How does the timing fit with my work and travel schedule?
  • Do I know and respect the work of this theater company?
  • Is the play one that I am familiar with?
  • Is this the work of a playwright or a director that I know and respect?
  • Does the cast include actors that I know and respect?
  • Is the subject matter of the play of interest to me?
  • Is the location easily accessible by T (I operate these days using only public transportation)
Using these criteria, I decided to pass when I first learned about "That Hopey Changey Thing."  The Press Opening fell on a date when I would be out of town.  Getting to Stoneham in the middle of the week by T can be a challenge.  I thought the title of the play sounded silly.  But then two factors caused me to reconsider my decision.  I learned who was in the cast, and I knew I needed to find a way to see this show.  And then I learned that this is the first installment of what will be a four-part series, and I did not want to miss out on what promises to be an intriguing series of plays.

I am glad that I made the decision that I did to schlep out to Stoneham Square last evening.  Despite its off-putting title, "That Hopey Changey Thing" is a delightful introduction to the Apple family, a typical liberal Rhinebeck, NY family.  The extended family consists of three sisters and a brother, and their aged  uncle.  Unmarried Barbara cares for the convalescing Uncle Ben, who is recovering from a heart attack and subsequent "amnesia," which seems to be the family's euphemism for dementia.  It is election eve in 2010, and Richard, the lone male among the bevy of Apple girls, stops by from Albany,. where he has worked for a parade of Attorneys General, including Andrew Cuomo, who is on the brink of being elected Governor of New York.  It becomes clear during the course of the evening that Richard is struggling in his career, in his marriage and in his commitment to the Democratic ideals espoused by the rest of the clan. This is very disturbing to his sister, Marian, with whom he has a long running fed over such issues.  Jane rounds out the family.  Recently divorced, she and her actor boyfriend, Tim, have come to visit.  Barbara is peeved that they are not staying longer.

The actions develops around the dining room table and the overflow card table that has been set up to accommodate all six principals.In the very ordinariness of their interchanges, deep feelings are explored and in this initial chapter of the Apple family saga, we begin to feel the rub of subterranean tectonic plates that may result in some Richter scale activity in subsequent plays.  Why did the father of the clan leave his wife and children when he did?  Will Richard really become a Republican?  How much memory will Uncle Ben retain, and how draining will caring for him turn out to be for Barbara?  What is the nature of the relationship between Uncle Ben and Marian, for he lit up like a Christmas tree when she arrived and mooned over her like an adolescent school girl. Why is Jane dating a younger man, and will the family come to accept him?  Will the book that Jane is writing on dining habits and etiquette intrude on the family's privacy?

The set design by Crystal Tiala is perfect - evoking memories of dining rooms that many of us remember from our own homes or those of our grandparents or great Aunt Ethel.  All four plays in this series will use the same set and the same cast, so I already began to feel at home there.  Lighting design by Jeff Adelberg is warm and effective in moving the action from scene to scene..  Sound design by David Wilson includes atmospherics and a variety of dog sounds, for the off-stage dog contributes important plot points.  The costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley set just the right tone.

Weylin Symes very ably directs this stellar cast that drew me to Stoneham.  
  • As Uncle Ben, Joel Colodner is very believable.  He toggles among several mental states -  vacantly staring, mild irritability, and passionate engagement in reading a script he once knew by heart in his days as a stage actor in NYC.  It is a subtly powerful performance.
  • Laura Latreille is terrific as Jane, juggling complex relationships with her siblings, and stage managing Tim's integration into the family ecosystem.  Her book may prove to provide some interesting lenses through which to see the family members in the future.
  • Karen MacDonald is her usual impressive self, presenting a Barbara who is self-effacing and self-sacrificial in caring for Uncle Ben while quietly resenting her siblings for keeping their distance.  Barbara seems to be the rock who will hold things together as the cracks begin to widen.  We shall see.
  • Paul Melendy is wonderfully awkward as Tim.  Not knowing exactly how to fit in, he engages Uncle Ben in discussing issues of acting and theater.  Ben sometimes responds with enthusiasm, and at other times barks: "Who are you and what are you doing here?"  Mr. Melendy can convey more meaning with a sideways glance or a carefully placed gesture than many actors can pull off in an entire soliloquy.
  • Bill Mootos as Richard is a bundle of contradictions, fending off questions about his recently returned wife, Pamela and his impending job change.  A very telling and moving scene occurs near the end of the play when the three sisters re-enact a ritual that was obviously an important part of their collective childhoods - gang tickling Richard to the point of distraction and exasperation.
  • Sarah Newhouse is a very serious Marian, whose off-stage husband is helping to run the local voting precinct in the library just down the street from the Apple homestead.  One of the best moments in the play occurs when Richard succeeds in pushing Marian's buttons by blurting out "Sarah Palin!"  Marian reacts as if she had been hit by a TASER, jumps and drops on the floor her plate of pie and ice cream.  That bit of physical acting signals just how tightly wound Marian must be, and highlights the latent tension between Marian and Richard.
Karen MacDonald as Barbara
Sarah Newhouse as Marian
Laura Latreille as Jane
Paul Melendy as  Tim
Bill Mootos as  Richard
"That Hopey Changey Thing"
by Richard Nelson
Stoneham Theatre
Through March 15 

At the end of the play, I felt that I had just begun a journey with these six fascinating individuals.  I cannot wait to see where the road may take them in the next three installments.  I wonder how far from the tree these Apples will fall?

Only a few more performances remain, so make your way to Stoneham Theatre this weekend.  You will not be sorry.



That Hopey Changey Thing

February 26–March 15, 2015

By Richard Nelson
Directed by Weylin Symes
Featuring Joel Colodner*, Laura Latreille*, Karen MacDonald*,
Paul Melendy*, Bill Mootos*, and Sarah Newhouse*
"Mr. Nelson's series is quietly turning into one of the great accomplishments in American theater to date in this century." —The New York Times
It’s Election Day 2010, and the Apple family gathers for dinner in their childhood home in upstate New York. On the menu is a discussion of everything from Sarah Palin to the best way to de-skunk a dog. Richard Nelson explores ideas big and small, personal and political, and fashions them into a heartfelt, funny and engaging snapshot of contemporary life.
*Denotes member of Actors' Equity Association.
Please note: That Hopey Changey Thing contains adult language.
THAT HOPEY CHANGEY THING runs approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Huntington Theatre Company Presents "The Colored Museum" by George C. Wolfe, Directed by Billy Porter - African-American History Outrageously Unshackled!

There is something shakin' at the Huntington Theatre Company, and if you know what's good for you, you best ease on down the road to Huntington Avenue before the good vibrations have ceased. "The Colored Museum" has come to town, and you do not want to miss seeing what is on display. Back in 1986, George C. Wolfe wrote an outrageous play that harpoons, lampoons, parodies and satirizes virtually every aspect of the history of black people in America. Under the brilliant direction of the multi-talented Billy Porter (Tony Award for Best Actor in "Kinky Boots"), the play has been updated with a fresh approach to the music that underscores the text and with the addition of one significant word that catapults the action of the play into the present day.

Mr. Wolfe brings a freshness, boldness and audacity to the subject matter that intentionally makes audience members - black or white - uncomfortable.  Should I be laughing at these outrageous stereotypes and archetypes?  In that regard, the ethos of this play reminds me of the play, "An Octoroon," by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, due to be revived  next month at NYC's Soho Rep.  Topics that have long been considered taboo are discussed as the elephant in the room.  Wounds that may appear to have begun to heal are ripped open for fresh examination and debridement.  The playwright of "The Colored Museum" is no Wolfe in sheep's clothing. He bares his literary fangs, and he huffs and puffs until the house of hypocrisy falls and is blown away by the fiery breath of his writing.  Like a good preacher, he comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

The structure for the play is that the audience has been invited to embark on a tour of The Colored Museum, a series of eleven "exhibits," each of which sheds light on some aspect of African-American history and culture.  The opening salvo tells us that we are not in for a comfortable evening of sitting back and being entertained.  We will be compelled to do some serious soul-searching and reflecting, even while laughing uproariously.  An off-white stage contains a large shipping crate - the kind one would use to ship a museum display.  The crate is hauled to the ceiling revealing Shayna Small dressed as a flight attendant.  She welcomes us aboard, and it quickly becomes apparent that the airplane is the 21st century equivalent of a slave ship, and she demonstrates how we are to put on our shackles and to refrain from "Drumming or rebellion"!

Shayna Small - Git On Board
The uproarious and groundbreaking comedy by George C. Wolfe
that redefined what it meant to be black in contemporary America,
The Colored Museum plays March 6 — April 5, 2015
at the Avenue of the Arts / BU Theatre.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The fact that this material would challenge the sensibilities of the audience became immediately clear.  My guest sitting beside me was a young African-American Ivy League graduate.  When the shackles appeared, he groaned, "Oh, no!"  Despite the flight attendant's insistence that there be no drums, drumming was soon heard off-stage.  And for the rest of the evening, that drummer (Akilli Jamal Haynes) was omnipresent, representing both the African roots of the stories being told, and also emblematic of the fact that music and rhythm have been the life blood of the African-American community since the days of the Middle Passage.

As the eleven "exhibits" were unveiled, no aspect of black life in America was spared Mr. Wolfe's satirical touch.  "Cookin' With Aunt Ethel" featured a character (Capathia Jenkins) who reminded me of Aunt Jemima.  Ms. Jenkins was wondrous in this role, singing her heart out as she cooked up a surprise in her bubbling cauldron.   "The Last Mama-On-The-Couch Play" also featured the gifted Ms. Jenkins, and took aim at one of the most sacred of all cows in the African-American cultural pantheon: "A Raisin In The Sun."  In "The Gospel According To Miss Roj," the amazing Nathan Lee Graham gave us a fiercely defiant, flamboyant and ultimately despondent cocaine-snorting drag queen.

The vignette that most moved me is one I will describe in more detail. In "Symbiosis," Ken Robinson plays a young professional who is in the process of discarding symbols of his past and his youth in the 'hood.  He examines and discards his first pair of Converse basketball sneakers, his first pick he would have used to get his 'fro together.  He lovingly handles and then discards a colorful dashiki, and then an album by the Temptations.  He clearly has concluded that in order to succeed in the white world of business, he must bury and move beyond those elements of his culture and identity that might prevent him from blending into the world of The Man.  But getting rid of the Temptations is the last straw.  He is confronted by his younger self in a hoodie, played very convincingly by the versatile Mr. Graham.  The two versions of this man struggle with one another for dominance, until finally, the businessman strangles the younger self and stuffs him into the garbage bin.  But that youthful rage and passion for living an authentic life will not be so easily extinguished, and the hooded figure climbs out of the grave to once again confront his older self.  The scene left me in tears - in part because it was written and acted so poignantly, and in part because it made me realize that in many of the eleven "exhibits" a young black man dies - either physically, emotionally or spiritually., It hit close to home, for it is the way of the world.

Capathia Jenkins, Nathan Lee Graham, Rema Webb, Shayna Small, and director Billy Porter
in the scathing comedy by George C. Wolfe
 that redefined what it meant to be black in contemporary America,
The Colored Museum plays March 6 — April 5, 2015
at the Avenue of the Arts / BU Theatre.
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Rema Webb is all attitude in "The Hairpeice" and a powerful diva with a past in "LaLa's Opening." She has a powerful presence and equally powerful voice.  The excellent work of this amazing cast is under-girded by the  Set Design by Clint Ramos, Musical Direction and Arrangements by James Sampliner, Costumes by Anita Yavich, Lighting by Driscoll Otto, Sound by John Shivers and Kevin Kennedy, Projection by Zachary G. Borovay and Original Music by Kysia Bostic.

At the end of the play, my friend turned to me and said: "I saw myself on that stage.  I need to do some serious introspection about what I just experienced this evening."  In our conversation with Billy Porter after the show, my friend was able to convey those reactions to the Director.

The word that was added that brings this play into the 21st century?  Ferguson!

In wielding his artistic Billy Club, Mr. Porter has struck a blow for a reconsideration of the way that we look at race in America and the ways in which we embrace our own individual responsibility to ensure that the future of the black experience in America is brighter than the past.

The play will run through April 5.

Huntington Theatre Website



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Flat Earth Theatre Impresses With "Terra Nova" by Ted Tally

Because of my schedule, I was only able to attend the final performance of Flat Earth Theatre's recent excellent production of "Terra Nova."  So, I was not able to alert readers of the White Rhino Report about this worthy play.  But I am reviewing the play after it has already closed for two primary reasons.  First, I want readers to be aware of the work of this playwright.  Second, I want you to be aware of the work of Flat Earth Theatre so you can pencil in their two remaining shows that remain in their 2015 season.  "The Farnsworth Invention" by Aaron Sorkin will run June 12-27 at the Arsenal Center of the Arts.  "Radium Girls" by D.W. Gregory will run September 4-19 at Charlestown Working Theatre.

"Terra Nova" by Ted Tally tells of a doomed mission to the South Pole  by a team of Englishmen, led by Captain Scott.  Their goal was to beat the Norwegian explorer Amundsen to the bottom of the earth.  Amundsen planned to use sled dogs, eating them along the way as his crew's dietary needs required.  Scott smugly proclaimed that he would not play the exploration game by those rules, but rather he and his men would walk to the pole.

An excellent ensemble cast tells the story through flashbacks and hallucinations as the mission devolves and the men begin to lose hope and heart as the weather proves to be too much for them to overcome.  They finally arrive at the South Pole, only to discover that the Amundsen party has beaten them to the prize and planted the Norwegian flag.

Director Jake Scaltreto led a very capable crew of actors in telling this story in a most convincing and chilling manner.  The actors were:

  • Chris Chiampa as Captain Scott
  • Kamela Dolinova as Kathleen Scott
  • Sauuel Frank as Amundsen
  • Matt Arnold as Bowers
  • James Hayward as Wilson
  • Kevin Kordis as Oates
  • Robin Gabrielli as Evans
I anticipate that the rest of the Flat Earth 2015 season will be as engaging as I found this play to be.  I look forward to "The Farnsworth Invention" in June, and look forward to having many of you join me in Watertown for the event.

"Captain Robert Falcon Scott, famed English explorer, has driven his team to the bottom of the earth. Patriotism and confidence urge them achingly forward through nature's coldest, most inhospitable environment in a harrowing race to be the first in history to step foot on the South Pole. Crestfallen to discover that a rival expedition has preceded them there, the British team retreats into Antarctica's bone-chilling world of suffering and sacrifice. Scott's tragic quest of pride and folly tells a human story of those who brave the elements, the lives they leave behind, and the hubris that drives them to catastrophe."




"Simon Says: A Dramatized Seance" by Mat Schaffer at the Plaza Theatre - Boston Center for the Arts Through March 14 - Don't Dream of Missing This Play

Under the taut direction of Myriam Cyr, a superb cast of three actors play out a dramatic encounter among a senior scientist, his protege, and a desperate widow.  The theme, as described below, deals with exploring the immortality and viability of the soul after physical death.  I do not want to give too much of the plot away, because there are harrowing twists and turns that are part of this delightful production.  What I will say is that if you have even a passing knowledge of the religious community of the Essenes in Qumran in ancient Palestine, you will be intrigued by how they figure in the action of this play which is set in contemporary times.

Ken Baltin strikes all the right notes as a clearly desperate senior scientist, hoping to finish his magnum opus and prove to the world his theories about the continuing existence of the soul after death.  In order to accomplish this task, he needs the continued cooperation of his protege, James, who somehow is able to channel an entity that calls itself Simon.

Anthony J. Goes is outstanding as James and as Simon, using a variety of voices and physical mannerisms to clearly differentiate among the parade of souls that take over his young body.

Brianne Beatrice is heart-breaking and vulnerable as the young widow who cannot pull herself together after the death of her husband in an automobile accident.  Her aunt has seen Professor Williston in a lecture, and encourages her niece to make the trip from Ohio to meet with him and James to see if they can help her find some peace in her prolonged grieving.

The relationships that develop among these three characters are fluid and varied, ranging from rage to hope and disappointment and wonder.  No matter what you may believe or not believe about reincarnation, this is a fascinating and compelling exploration of the topic, beautifully written and skillfully enacted.

There remain only a few more performances, so Simony Says to get yourself to the South End and the Boston Center for the Arts to see this Little Seer Production of "Simon Says.".

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

Simon Says: A Dramatized Seance

Featuring Ken Baltin* Anthony J. Goes* and Brianne Beatrice.

*indicates member of Actor's Equity Association

"For the past decade, Professor Williston has been studying James, a young psychic who channels an all-knowing being named Simon, in an effort to scientifically prove the existence of the soul after death. When Annie, a recent widow, comes to their home for a reading, events that occurred two thousand years ago will finally culminate in reunion, redemption and resolution."

 Link To Purchase Tickets



ArtsEmerson Hits Another Homerun with "Tristan & Yseult" Presented by the UK's Kneehigh - Get Your Tickets Now!

"Welcome to the Cafe of the Unloved!"  That is how the experience of Kneehigh's "Tristan & Yseult" begins.  The band is stationed high above the stage, and the cast members assemble - sporting woolen hoods and binoculars - looking every bit like bird watchers and train spotters.  And we are off on an epic journey to see the creatively re-imagined telling of the classic tale of the star-crossed lovers.

ArtsEmerson continues their impressive streak of bringing to Boston and to Boston area audiences gifted performers from around the globe.  We are able to see things at an ArtsEmerson show that we may not otherwise even know exists in the world of theater, film and music.  In this case, Kneehigh are a group of artists who hail from Cornwall, England. Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy have adapted the well known story of Tristan & Yseult, adding elements of whimsy, acrobatics, puppetry, original music composed by Stu Barker and snippets of Wagner's score from the opera he composed around the story of these two stealth lovers.  Emma Rice directs a stellar cast, aided by a multi-level Set Design by Bill Mitchell, Lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and Sound by Gregory Clarke.

We meet Whitehands (Kirsty Woodward) who functions as a sort of narrator and Greek chorus, commenting upon the action taking place among the other characters.  Tristan (Dominic Marsh) arrives and gains the trust of King Mark (Stuart Goodwin) by helping him to defeat the invader, Frocin (Damon Daunno).  King Mark sends Tristan off to find  Frocin's sister and bring her back so that she can become his Queen.  Complications ensue when Tristan finds Yseult and falls in love with her.  Yseult's cousin/handmaiden is played with great hilarity by Niall Ashdown.  Think of Juliet's nurse done in drag and you are beginning to get the picture.  The other actors who play a variety of roles include Robert Luckay and Tom Jackson Greaves, aided by musicians Lizzy Westcott, Justin Radford, Pat Moran and James Gow.

An element that stood out for me in watching this show was the versatility of the performers - gifted in acting, movement, dance, music.  Above all, it was clear that they were enjoying the experience of tell this story, and inviting us to enjoy it along with them.  It was a special evening of theater.

Good art helps us to see familiar things or stories or circumstances in new ways.  This production succeeds spectacularly in this way.  I had a vague sense of the story of Tristan and Yseult, but not a deep appreciation for the complexities of the tale.  Seeing this production and hearing snippets from Wagner's opera have served to make me want to delve more deeply into the operatic telling of this story.

The play will be presented though this Sunday, March 15, so I recommend you move quickly to procure your tickets.

ArtsEmerson Website

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Company One Presents The New England Premiere of "Shockheaded Peter" - A Cult Classic That Is Not My Cup Of Tea

Alexandria King as MC
"Shockheaded Peter"
Company One

I had a very unusual experience this weekend as I attended Company One's production of "Shockheaded Peter"; I seemed to be the only person in the audience not enthralled by the play.  Based on a 150 year-old German book intended to get kids to behave by scaring the Bejeezus out of them, this musical play seeks to throw a harsh light on the bizarre child rearing practices of that bygone era.  The set design, puppetry, music, acting are all terrific.  But for me, the whole was less than the sum of its parts.

At the end of the day, this is a play that glorifies infanticide while attempting to poke fun at it.  It has become a cult favorite, but I am apparently one of the few not initiated or inculcated into that particular cult.  I do not enjoy the bizarre, the macabre, the grotesque. Perhaps this is why I also hated the current Off-Broadway production of "Nevermore," a Tim Burtonesque telling of the story of Edgar Allan Poe.  When my kids were little, I can recall not wanting them to buy the packs of cards of the Garbage Pail Kids that were sold at the checkout counters of our favorite grocery store.  "Shockheaded Peter" felt like the Garbage Pail Kids set to music that accompanied the bizarre variety of death scenes that were visited upon a parade of naughty children.

The musical will run through April 4 at the Suffolk University Modern Theatre.  You may very well like it more than I did.  It won an Olivier Award when it played in London, and most audience members this past weekend gave it an enthusiastic standing ovation.  So  am clearly filing a minority report here.

Presented by Company One
Created for the stage by Julian Courch and Phelim McDermott
Original music and Lyrics by The Tiger Lillies
Adapted from Heinrich Hoffmann’s The Struwwelpeter
Music Direction by Walter Sickert
Directed by Steven Bogart
Featuring Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys
March 6 – April 4, 2015
Modern Theatre at Suffolk University
525 Washington Street Boston, MA
Company One on Facebook
Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys on Facebook