Monday, April 06, 2015

Actors' Shakespeare Project Presents "God's Ear" by Jenny Schwartz - A MUST SEE!

Under the visionary direction of Thomas Derrah, the current Actors' Shakespeare Project production of "God's Ear" by Jenny Schwartz is an absolute MUST SEE!  Ms. Schwartz has taken the topic of grief - in this case two parents grieving the loss by drowning of a young son - and examined the phenomenon through distorted lenses that bring the truth into focus in new ways.

The playwright uses language - cliches, bromides, corny jokes, tasteless comments - and stitches them together using the sharp needles of her characters' tongues.  They construct a patchwork quilt of often thoughtless and meaningless utterances.  That quilt of language serves both as a covering for the grieving parents to hide beneath - separately - and as a source of warmth in the cold postmortem world in which they wander.

This play - part farce, part theater of the absurd, part tragedy - has been constructed on several levels by a succession of brilliant creative minds.  Ms. Schwartz's use of the banal and familiar patterns of language forces us to look in fresh and un-cliched ways at the unique manner in which each person processes grief.  Director Thomas Derrah has imparted to Set Designer  Christina Todesco and Lighting Designer Jeff Adelberg a vision for how to create a physical space that enhances the telling of this heart-rending story of loss and isolation.  Each element of the spare set seems shrink-wrapped and hermetically sealed - echoing the shrink-wrapped luggage that Ted, the grieving father, carries with him throughout the play.   These elements seem to reinforce one of the messages of the play that I gleaned: "I will not allow you close enough to get inside and examine the 'baggage' of grief I am carrying."

The frosting on top of this multi-layered creative cake is the superb acting by each member of the ensemble.

  • Tama Hickey portrays Mel, the bereaved mother.  She copes with her devastating loss in a variety of ways.  The show opens with a prolonged frenetic rant with her repeating the aforementioned cliches and tropes in a futile attempt to Spackle over the gaping crack that has been cleft in her soul by the death of her son.  She appears as if she had recently been excavated from a sepulcher without benefit of a resurrection.  She clings to her surviving daughter, Lanie, as if she were a life raft.  Ms. Hickey's performance is astoundingly good and haunting.
Tamara Hickey as Mel
Ann Carpenter as The Tooth Fairy
Josephone Elwood as Lanie
"God's Ear"
Actors' Shakespeare Project
Through April 12
Photo by Stratton McCrady Photography

  •  Gabriel Kuttner is Ted, Mel's husband and co-celebrant in this Black Mass of Mourning.  He attempts - quite futilely - to cover his grief with absence - both physical and emotional.  He travels for his job, but stays away from home much longer than business would require, filling his hours by spending time with drinking companions like Guy, and loose women like Lenora. He lamely tries to bridge the gap between himself and Mel by bringing home pathetically inadequate gifts from his travels.  Mr. Kuttner's depiction of emptiness is tragically convincing. As is the case with much of the action in this play, the playwright has intentionally made it unclear whether all of Ted's absences are real or whether some are flights of fancy.
  • Presiding over Ted's "flights of fancy," is the remarkably versatile John Kuntz, doubling as a transvestite flight attendant and a GI Joe action figure come to life.  In cahoots with The Tooth Fairy, and sporting combat fatigues and lacquered hair, he often provides advice and solace to young Lanie, who is forced to grow up long before she should have to do so in order to keep things together in her fractured family.

John Kuntz as Flight Attendant
Gabriel Kuttner as Ted
"God's Ear"
Actors' Shakespeare Project
Through April 12

Photo by Stratton McCrady Photography

  • Josephine Elwood is very convincing as young Lanie, handling her own grief and that of her wildly dysfunctional parents.  She uses music as one of the ways to sooth herself and to process what she is thinking and feeling.
  • Ann Carpenter sets just the right tone as the flighty Tooth Fairy.  Her costume is a work of sheer genius by costumer Gail Astrid Buckley.

Tamara Hickey as Mel
Ann Carpenter as The Tooth Fairy
Josephone Elwood as LanieGabriel Kuttner as Ted
John Kuntz as Flight Atendant
"God's Ear"
Actors' Shakespeare Project
Through April 12
Photo by Stratton McCrady Photography

  • Dave Rich does yeoman duty as Guy, Ted's drinking buddy and pool table companion.  He is a cliche-spouting Every Man, filling the air with meaningless chatter when he does not have anything meaningful to add.  His is a tacitly accusatory character - the playwright scolding us all for those times when we have settled for surface chatter in lieu of meaningful conversation and connection.
  • One of the highlights of this impressive production is the work of Marianna Bassham as Lenora.  From her crooning into a microphone in bad karaoke fashion to her sloppily athletic romp with Ted, she projects a presence that keeps each eye riveted on her.  It is a bravura performance.
You may by now get the picture that I feel that this is an extraordinary play presented in an unforgettable way.  Knowledgeable fans of great theater will be discussing this production for a long while.  Do not miss out on being able to participate in those conversations.  You have this week only to catch one of the remaining performances in Davis Square of "God's Ear."

God's Ear

Mar 25, 2015 - Apr 12, 2015
Davis Square Theatre
Somerville, MA
by Jenny Schwartz
directed by Thomas Derrah
God's Ear is presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC
"And I said, 'Bunnies aren't domestic.'
"And she said, 'Neither are you.'"
-God's Ear, Act I
The manifestation of grief is a wily snake that assumes unpredictable forms. Through a most unusual use of language, Jenny Schwartz guides us through a window of loss that may appear at first opaque but, in fact, cuts to the bone.
Featuring ASP company members:
Marianna Bassham* (Lenora)
John Kuntz* (Flight Attendant/GI Joe)
Additional cast:
Ann Carpenter (Tooth Fairy)
Josephine Elwood (Lanie)
Tamara Hickey* (Mel)
Gabriel Kuttner* (Ted)
David Rich (Guy)
Cristina Todesco** (scenic)
Jeff Adelberg** (lighting)
Gail Astrid Buckley** (costumes)
Edward Young (sound) 

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