Friday, July 31, 2015

Review of "Let There Be Water" by Seth M. Siegel - Israel's Solution For A Water-Starved World

I was pleased when author Seth M. Siegel reached out to me to make me aware of his new book, "Let There Be Water."  He had become aware of my involvement with a previous book about the Israeli economy, "Start-Up Nation," and felt that I would appreciate knowing about the water-related aspects of the most innovative economy in the world.

 Blog Review of "Start-Up Nation"

Mr. Siegel's book is a fascinating history of the ways in which Israeli has approached the challenge of turning an arid land into one that now is able to not only feed its citizens, but can now export surplus water and agricultural crops to global customers.  There has been no single solution to the challenge of finding and carefully controlling the use of water throughout the nation, but an interlocking array of policies and technical innovations that have worked in concert to produce the kinds of results that make Israel a world leader in water usage.

The book does an excellent job of examining the history of Israel's approach to water usage - going back to the days when the first generation of Zionists began to settle in the Levant while it was still under the British Mandate, and prior to gaining independence in 1948.  The author gives credit to visionary political leaders and innovative scientists and business leaders whose efforts have shaped to policies and infrastructure that define Israel's best practices in water management.

Mr. Siegel posits that there are more than a dozen factors that explain the overall success of Israel in taming the desert and managing its water.

"Consider what Israel does in pursuit of clean, safe, available-anytime water:

  • Pumps and purifies natural water from its aquifers, wells, rivers, and the Sea of Galilee.
  • Desalinates seawater.
  • Drills deep wells to get brackish water.
  • Develops seeds that thrive with salty water.
  • Treats nearly all of its sewage to a high level of purity and reuses it on crops.
  • Captures and reuses rainwater.
  • Discourages landscaping of parks or homes that consume fresh water.
  • Seeds rain clouds to enhance rainfall.
  • Demands all appliances (especially toilets) be hyper-water efficient.
  • Replaces infrastructure before leaks begin and promptly fixes leaks when they appear.
  • Educates school children as to the value of water conservation.
  • Prices water to en encourage efficiency.
  • Gives financial incentives for technologies that save water.
  • Experiments with ideas to reduce evaporation.
  • Transformed its agriculture to grow water-efficient crops.
  • Uses drip irrigation for most of its agriculture.(pp. 254-255)
In addition to these tactics and policies, one overarching consideration is that early in the history of Israel, the decision was made to treat all water as property of the national government, allowing uniform enactment and enforcement of policies that would benefit the nation as a whole, rather than individual cities or regions.  In contradistinction, water management in the U.S. is the purview of hundreds of authorities at city, county, state and federal levels.  As a consequence, implementing any of these innovations that Israel has pioneered would require a level of cooperation that simply does not exist at the present time.

This is a book that has made me personally more aware of my own water usage.  It should be required reading for anyone in the 40 of 50 U.S. states that face the prospect of severe water shortages in the next few years.  I plan to mail it to a friend of mine who works for the San Diego County Water Authority.



Monday, July 27, 2015

Company One Presents "Colossal" by Andrew Hinderaker - A Rolling World Premiere of a Play That Tackles Multiple Issues of Male Bonding

There are so many layers to Andrew Hinderaker's extraordinary new play, "Colossal," that I will have to limit myself to discussing only a small sampling of them lest this review morph into a monograph.  I am still processing what I experienced on Sunday at the Roberts Theater at the Calderwood Pavilion in taking in this play in which Company One participates in what is being called a "Rolling World Premiere" of this remarkable piece.

Alex Molina (Young Mike),
Marlon Shepard (Mike)
and Ensemble
Colossal" by Andrew Hinderaker
Company One
Through August 15
(Photo by Liza Voll)

Let's begin with the genesis of this work of art.  When Andrew Hinderaker was studying in grad school at the University of Texas in Austin, a mentor of his challenged him to write an "unproducible play."  Several threads of influence began to weave themselves together in the mind of the young playwright: Texas football, a relative who had sustained a spinal cord injury playing sports, a fascination with the complex issues of male bonding in American culture.

Much to the surprise and delight of the playwright, several bold theater companies across the U.S. decided to tackle the challenge of finding ways to produce this "uproducible play."  Company One is the latest organization to bring this new work to audiences.

The play is structured very much like a typical college football game - 4 quarters of 15 minutes each with a 15 minute halftime show featuring a drum line and a dance troupe.  Director Summer L. Williams and Scenic Designer Kathryn Lieber have found a way to turn the space inside the Roberts Theatre into a microcosm of a college football stadium, complete with lockers, weight room, viewing stands, scoreboard and AstroTurf.  It is a wonderful fact of symmetry that this all-male cast is supported by an all-female creative team in telling this multi-layered story exploring the vicissitudes of male bonding.  The creative team also includes Costumes by Meggan Camp, Lighting by Annie Weigand, Sound by Darby Smotherman, Props by Molly FitzMaurice and Dramaturgy by Ramona Ostrowski.

Technically, this play is awe-inspiring.  The playwright has written scenes in which football plays are enacted at full speed, with bone-crunching authenticity, and a crucial scene is replayed, with the actors/athletes remarkably showing the play in reverse and then in slow motion.  The blocking and direction of these scenes are stunning in their precision.  Much credit goes to the Director and the fine actors that she has cast in these roles.

The heart of the story examines Young Mike, a gifted athlete whose future with the NFL seems assured until the play that causes his injury. Alex Molina is superb as Young Mike. Playing an older Mike, post-injury, is wheelchair-bound actor Marlon Shepherd.  Throughout the play, Young Mike and Mike interact with each other, taunting, challenging, prodding each other to be honest and to tell the true and complete story of what went on leading up to the injury and the aftershocks that followed.  The fact that Mr. Shepard still lives with the debilitating effects of his own spinal cord injury adds a layer of authenticity and verisimilitude to the character of Mike that is palpable and poignant.  In like manner, the fact that Mr. Molina has played both college and professional football as well as having trained as an actor in the A.R.T. MFA program adds to the grittiness and credibility of his portrayal of Young Mike.

At the center of the action and struggle are the internal dialogues that Young Mike and Mike have with each other. Radiating out from this dyad of Mikes at the hub of this play are relationships with father, coach, teammates, a love interest and a physical therapist.  In each of these sets of relationships, the playwright explores the role of emotional intimacy and physical intimacy.  Sometimes the dialogue among the characters is verbal and at other times it is kinetic.

There is a powerful scene in the second half of the play in which Young Mike and wheelchair-bound Mike are shown in parallel trying to build up strength and overcome resistance.  This scene is perfectly staged with the two Mikes at opposite ends of the field - Young Mike struggling to get his already perfect body to function at an even higher level of perfection and post-injury Mike struggling merely to lift his broken body out of the wheelchair to take one small step.

Mike is in love with his Co-Captain, Marcus (an excellent Anthony Goss, who is also a former football player), but they both are ambivalent about their "love that dare not speak its name" in the testosterone-infused air of the football locker room.  Their various explorations of touching each other, desiring touch and then avoiding touch, are motifs that are explored throughout the play.

Another spoke is Mike's relationship with his father, the Founder of a Modern Dance Company.  When Mike makes a decision to turn his back on a potential career as a dancer to pursue football, his father is devastated and furious.  Young Mike offers the observation: "I may the only young man in America whose father was disappointed in his choice of football over dance."  It is a Billy Elliott moment in reverse!  Tommy Neblett is excellent as the father, and he also functions as the choreographer for the half-time dance sequence.

Another spoke in this wheel is Mike's relationship with Jerry (a very effective and feisty Greg Maraio) his physical therapist/occupational therapist/gad fly.  The fact that Jerry is openly gay adds complications to the way that Mike relates to Jerry and to his own sexual identity. The issue of touch becomes something for them to discuss and to contend with.

Additional members of Mike's football team include Damon Singletary as the Coach, Ben Salus, Henoch Spinola, Aaron Dowdy, Cameron Allen, Chris Pittman and Kai Tshikosi.

The action of the football game is broken up by a halftime show that reinforces beautifully many of the explicit themes of this play.  The drum line consists of of percussionists Nick Liddie, Matthew Grina and Seth Pumilia.  Their competition with one another, interspersed with collaboration, echoes the nature of the physical struggles depicted during the game - macho attempts at physical dominance mixed with artistry.  The drummer performances are book-ended around a performance of Mike's father's Dance Troupe.  The football players are now functioning as dancers, and the dance they perform as part of the halftime show depicts various themes of masculine touch, connectedness and disconnectdness.

Throughout the play, it is not clear to what degree Mike and his father have reached a rapprochement over Mike's devastating choice to play football and expose himself to risk.  The play concludes with a deeply moving scene that answers that unspoken question.  The scene can best be described as uplifting.

This is a play that should be seen by all men who are willing to wrestle with these complex issues, as well as by the women who love and support them.

Through August 15th.

Company One Website



"Day of Reckoning" by Stephen England - The Adventures of CIA Operative Harry Nichols Continue

When I had finished reading Stephen England's "Pandora's Grave," I knew I had to read the sequel to find out what adventures Harry Nichols would encounter upon his return from Jerusalem.

Blog Review of "Pandora's Grave"

I was not disappointed.  In "Day of Reckoning," CIA operative Harry Nichols is forced to go rogue in following private instructions after the attempted assassination of the CIA Director.  He is told to save the life of the Director's daughter, Carol Chambers, and to trust no one. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that treachery and betrayal are afoot at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

The action of the book cartwheels among locations in and around D.C., Las Vegas, Appalachia, Guantanamo and Los Angeles.  Nichols and the handful of men and women he can still trust find themselves fighting enemies both foreign and domestic.  As was the case with the first book in this trilogy, the author has done meticulous research into operational procedures within the CIA, FBI and other branches of government.  The story is well written, with compelling characters and non-stop action that kept me turning the pages long after by body told me it was time for sleep.

One of the things I enjoy about the storytelling of Mr. England is that some of the characters he has created have a solid Christian faith that drives their commitment to their patriotic mission.  Unlike much "Christian fiction" that paints everything in stark black and white, this author provides nuance and does not settle for simplistic dilemmas and solutions.

I look forward to reading the third installment in this series - "Embrace The Fire."



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ogunquit Playhouse Presents "Nice Work If You Can Get It" - Summer Stock Does Not Get Any Better Than This!

Drawn along at breakneck speed by the troika of Gershwin, gunslingers and bathtub gin, "Nice Work If You Can Get It" is a rollicking romp through Prohibition -  populated by the bootleggers who profited by it.  Throw in a few leggy Broadway chorus girls, a playboy and his Long Island mansion, a rigid temperance maven, a reluctant butler, a vice squad, a crooning Police Chief and you have a cocktail recipe for an evening of intoxicating theater.  The Broadway version of this show featured Mathew Broderick, Kelli O'Hara, and Judy Kay.  It garnered multiple Tony Awards, and was a total delight when I saw the show.  This current Ogunquit Playhouse production is no less delightful, anchored by the chemistry between Joey Serge as Jimmy Winter and Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix.

Director Larry Raben has assembled a flawless cast that bubble with the effervescence of a magnum of Veuve Clicquot.  Choreographer Peggy Hickey puts the dancers through their paces that include classic tap, Charleston, Can-Can and countless other terpsichorean styles.

My only complaint that kept this evening of theater from being perfect was the fact that from the opening notes of the Overture, the amplification of the orchestra was so loud that it was uncomfortable and almost painful.  The score features many familiar Gershwin tunes, and several that are more obscure.  Billie and Jimmy team up for a wonderful duet of the title song.  Sally Struthers, as Duchess  Estonia Dulworth, had a great deal of fun with "Demon Rum."  Billie's rendition of "Someone To Watch Over Me" was hilarious, for Ms. LaVergne sang the song while toting a shotgun, making me think of Annie Oakley.  In fact, Amanda's voice is a blend of the sweetness of Julie Andrews with the vocal fire power of Ethel Merman. Her singing and acting are extraordinarily entertaining, and are among the strongest parts of this production.  Ms. LaVergne and Mr. Sorge team up again vocally for a refreshing version of "'S Wonderful" and a wonderful "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off."

Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix
Joey Sorge as Jimmy Winter
"Nice Work If You Can Get It"
Ogunquit Playhouse
Through August 15

The book by Joe Pietro is full of clever repartee, sight gags, and quirky characters. The set by Shoko Kambara takes us from a fishing shack to the sumptuous Long Island mansion that Jimmy inhabits when he is not clubbing in Manhattan. Costumes by Martin Pakledinaz are perfectly designed to evoke the ethos of the Prohibition and Flapper era and to reflect that fun-loving nature of this story. Lighting by Richard Latta is very effective, as is the Sound Design of Kevin Heard. Music Direction is by Charlie Reuter.

In addition to the performers I have already singled out, I must mention to following:

  • James Beaman as Cookie McGee almost steals the show.  He is that funny. As part of the gang of bootleggers, he and Billie and Duke figure out that storing their 400 cases of gin in Jimmy Winter's cavernous basement might keep them safe from the cops that are breathing down their necks.  Things get complicated, and Cookie has to pretend to be the new butler. His shenanigans had me roaring with laughter in each scene that he dominates.
  • Breighanna Minnema plays Eileen, the modern dancer who is scheduled to become Jimmy's fourth wife.  As she luxuriates for hours in the bath tub, she sings "Delishious."  It turns into a production number worthy of the Ziegfeld Follies.
  • Aaron Fried is Duke, who falls in love with the dancer Jeannie Muldoon (Elyse Collier).  Their duet, "Blah, Blah, Blah," is a highlight.
  • Valton Jackson is wonderful as Chief Berry.  On two occasions, he breaks out of character and breaks into song.  Those are special moments in the show.
  • Valerie Harper makes a late appearance as Jimmy's mother.  A crucial turning point in the plot involves her revealing the true source of her wealth and her true identity.  Ms. Harper was greeted enthusiastically by the audience that clearly knew of her struggle with a debilitating brain tumor.  What a delight and miracle to see her back on stage.  She was recently added to the cast, and on opening night it was clear that she is still struggling to master all of her lines.  But her fellow cast members were there to see her through the few rough moments and the audience gave her credit for her stalwart never-give-up spirit..
  • Steve Brady played to officious Senator/Judge/Reverend with great panache, looking every bit as if he had walked off the set of "To Kill A Mockingbird" as Atticus Finch.
Other members of this uniformly excellent ensemble are Madison Mitchell, Ahlea Potts, Heather Stinson, Kristina Miller, Noelle Marion, Willie Dee, Matthew J. Kilgore, Mathew J. Vargo, Anrew Metzgar and Kent Zimmerman.

Ogunquit audiences seem to have a special affection for Sally Struthers,as she returns to the coast of Maine each summer to delight them. In this show, she gave them a special moment to celebrate her spirit of fun and mad cap humor.  Without spoiling a crucial plot point, let me just say that she makes the best use of a chandelier on stage since "Phantom of the Opera."

Sally Struthers as Duchess Estonia Dulworth
"Nice Work If You Can Get It"

Ogunquit Playhouse
Through August 15

This show will run through August 15.  Tickets are going fast, so I suggest you secure yours ASAP.  Seeing excellent Summer Stock in Ogunquit is indeed nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try!



Friday, July 24, 2015

Apollinare In The Park 2015 - "Blood Wedding" by Federico Garcia Lorca - This Chelsea-Based Theatre Company Continues Its Outreach To The Community With Free Bi-lingual Drama

With this summer's production of "Blood Wedding" by Federico Garcia Lorca, Apollinaire Theatre Company continues its laudable mission of providing top-quality drama in the park each year to both English speaking and Spanish speaking audiences in its home in Chelsea.  This year's location is the picturesque waterside Port Park at 99 Marginal Street.

This play will have three more performances before it closes - this evening in Spanish as "Bodas de Sangre" presented by Escena Latina Teatro and on Saturday and Sundayt in English.  Each performance begins at 7:30 and runs for 90 minutes.

This is a unusual play.  It is my understanding that in the original Spanish language text, Lorca writes in flowing verse that is gorgeous.  In the English translation by Richard L. O'Connell and James Graham-Lujan, the language veers between lyrical blank verse poetry and purple prose. It took me a few scenes to acclimate myself to the rhythms of the speech, but once I did, I began to enjoy the play.  There was another rhythm that had to be accounted for - the frequent roar of jet planes overhead.  Port Park lies in the path of aircraft departing Logan from Runway 33L when the wind favors that particular departure signature, and this was the case on Wednesday evening, when the action in the outdoor amphitheater was supplemented with the sonic accompaniment of powerful fanjets lifting passengers to all points of the compass.

The playwright was controversial in his time in the 1920s and 1930s in his native Spain.  The subject matter of his plays - treating lust, sex, violence, class struggle and the role of women - handles previously taboo topics and threw him into conflict with conservative elements.  He teamed with Salvador Dali on one of his plays, and in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, he was assassinated by supporters of Generalissimo Franco.

"Blood Wedding" centers on an upcoming marriage that will unite two wealthy families.  The problem is that the bride has had a passionate love affair with the married Leonardo, and Leonardo is not willing to let her go.  During the wedding reception, the bride leaves her husband and elopes with Leonardo, with tragic consequences for all parties.

The two male rivals - the bridegroom (David Castillo) and Leonardo (Mauro Canepa) are perfectly cast by Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques to reflect the intentions of the playwright.  The two men are meant to represent two contrasting images of masculinity.  Mr. Castillo is the perfect embodiment of the delicate, beautiful, refined, reticent, thoughtful young man whom the bride experiences as a drop of cool water.  Mr. Canepa is a brooding, machismo lothario whose lust for the Bride knows no limits.  Even his gait suggests a stallion about to leap over the bounds of its corral.  The bride experiences him as a hot tsunami and is swept away by the force of their mutual self-destructive passion.

Karoline Xu as Bride
David Castillo as Bridegroom
"Blood Wedding"
by Federico Garcia Lorca
Apollinaire Theatre Company
Through August 26

Other cast members among this fine ensemble who made a strong impression include:

  • Mariela Lopez-Ponce, the conflicted mother of the groom, who has already buried a husband and a son and fears the violence she senses lurks in the coming nuptials.
  • Anneka Reich as the wife of Leonardo who knows that she has lost her husband to his wandering lust, but she has a babe in arms and one on the way to consider.
  • Ann Carpenter as the Servant to the Bride.  She comes across almost as a Juliet's nurse kind of character - foreboding, forbidding and comical all rolled into one.
  • Brooks Reeves in the role of Death added a nice touch of improvisational theater top the proceedings as he shouted instructions to the sky, attempting to silence an offending departing airplane.
Other members of the troupe include Dana Block as Neighbor, Liz Adams as Mother-in-law, Stacey-Ann Burrell as Little Girl, Tony Dangerfield as Father, CKaroline Xu as Brie, Grace Tapnell as Girl 1, Julia Alvarez as Girl 2, Frank Schuth as Youth, AIna Adler, Meagan Michelson and John Scala as Woodcutters and Liz Adams as Moon.

Incidental Music was composed by Music Director David Reiffel.  Choreography was by Trip Venturella. Costumes by Jessica Huang and Susan Paino, Lighting by Chris Bocchiaro.

Port Park
99 Marginal Street
Chelsea, MA

Come out this weekend to enjoy the show and to support community-based theater.



Directions to PORT Park: Click here for Google Map
If you are having trouble finding us, please call 617-887-2336
Bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.
You might also want to bring a sweater- it is generally cooler in the park!
There is a parking lot in the Park, and additional free parking courtesy of Eastern Salt!
By Public Transportation:
From Boston:
Take the 111 bus from Haymarket (map and schedule) - cross the Tobin bridge and get out at the 2nd stop (about a 10 minute ride). Walk along Marginal street until you reach the park- .4 miles.
Take the 116 or 117 from Maverick. Get out at the first stop after you cross the bridge from East Boston into Chelsea. Walk down Marginal to the park (the water on your right) about .3 miles.
By Car:
From the South or Downtown Boston:
From the Tobin Bridge take the first Chelsea exit (Beacon Street) to the bottom of the ramp, turn right onto Beacon, drive one block, then turn left onto Broadway, drive one block to Marginal Street. Turn Right and follow Marginal Street to the Park
From the North
(2nd map)
From Rt. 1 south take the Carter St., Chelsea, East Boston exit- at the bottom of the ramp turn right and go to the light- there will be a gas station on your left, Chelsea High on your right- turn left- go a short distance and the Mystic Mall is on your right (you will see some banks and fast food). Turn right at the light (Spruce St.) and follow the road to the second light. Turn Left and follow the road to the park.
From the West- Route 2 or Route 16. East Take Route 2 to Route 16 East- Follow Route 16 into Everett (you will pass through N. Cambridge, Medford, Somerville, pass Kappy's Liquors, pass Wellington Station on the Orange Line, pass a large rotary, go up a bridge and back down and go under 2 overpasses- then there will be a Dunkin Donuts on the left side of the street and at the light you will see a car wash on the right on the far side of Second Street- turn right before the car wash onto Second Street- follow second street until you come to a light. Turn right at the light (Spruce St.) and follow the road one block. Turn Left and follow the road to the park.

In case of possible rain call (617) 887-2336 to check status.

A Practical Guide To Thinking with People Who Think Differently - "Collaborative Intelligence" by Dawna Markova, Ph.D. and Angie McArthur

Authors Dawna Markova, Ph. D. and Angie McArthur are like the biblical pair of Ruth and Naomi - mother-in-law and daughter-in-law who like each other and work well in collaboration with one another.  They share a consulting practice in which they serve as "thinking partners" to clients who need insight in how better to achieve synergistic collaboration within their firm.  And they have taken their experience in working with these clients and shared the gist in "Collaborative Intelligence - Thinking with People Who Think Differently."

This book is full of practical guidance to help the reader to discover his or her own "CQ" or Collaborative Intelligence Quotient.  Each person has a characteristic Mind Pattern, or ways of processing cognitive challenges.  There are three kinds of attention that our brain utilizes: Focused attention, Sorting attention and Open Attention.  The first is used in concentrating on accomplishing tasks and in decision-making.  Sorting attention is used when we are trying to understand something more deeply, or need time to digest new information.  Open attention is the state of imagining possibilities and exploring different options and scenarios.

Each individual has three languages of thought - Auditory, Kinesthetic and Visual.  These languages can be categorized in any of six patterns.  My pattern, for example, is VAK.  This means that I use visual cues and stimulation to trigger concentration , Auditory cues to Sort, and Kinesthetic stimuli to trigger imagination.  In practical terms, this means that I may first approach an issue by reading about it, ruminate on it while listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and take a walk to trigger creative ideas of how to apply my new knowledge and understanding.

The book is full of charts to help each person understand their own Mind Pattern, and how to maximize that pattern for effectiveness in personal work and in collaboration with others.  Subsequent chapters demonstrate how the knowledge of these languages and triggers can be used in building teams and in optimizing team interactions.

This book is a helpful addition to the body of work used by those who wish to be more effective team leaders, managers or coaches.  It is filled with theory and  myriad examples of how those theories work in practice.



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Axis Company Presents "Bad Kid" by David Crabb - A Master Class in Storytelling

It was clear to me in the first few moments of "Bad Kid" that we were in the presence of a consummate storyteller in the person of playwright and performer David Crabb.  Co-written and directed by Josh Matthews, "Bad Kid" is a very intimate tale of growing up gay and goth in Texas.

Mr. Crabb first developed this dramatization of his life story in 2012, and it was an instant critical success and audience favorite.  He returns with this reprise of the show to celebrate the publishing of this same story in memoir form. With effective Lighting by Amy Harper and a pulsating Sound Design by Steve Fontaine, Mr. Crabb turns the Axis Black Box into several spaces - his home in San Antonio, a friend's trailer, a club where he is encouraged to climb out of his shell, the front seat of his Dad's pick-up truck.

The performance begins with Mr. Crabb explicitly inviting the audience to live his story with him.  He asks the question: "Have you ever felt that you did not fit in?"  And audience members responded with personal recollections of growing up "different." What an effective way to get buy-in and to create a sense of a shared adventure. From that moment,we were no longer individual audience members; we were a community.

As Mr. Crabb talked and danced and sang us through several episodes of his young life, beginning in his teens, he assumed the guise of several key characters - his histrionic mother, his Good Ole Boy dad, his fellow traveler and best friend, his drug-addled sardonic friend, Sylvia, and his imposing skinhead buddy who befriended and protected him.

Mr. Crabb is gifted in his ability to set a wide variety of emotional tones as he tells his tale - sardonic, desperate, vulnerable, defiant, curious, and poignant.  This is an extraordinarily well executed bit of theater, and well worth making a trip down to Sheridan Square in the West Village.  Performances continue Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM through August 1.



Axis Company Website

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pan Asian Repertory Theatre Presents James Michener's "Sayonara - The Musical"

The writings of James Michener have been successfully translated from the literary page to the screen and the stage.  His "Tales of the South Pacific" comes to mind as the source material for very successful stage and screen versions of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, "South Pacific."  In this case, Michener and those adapting his work treated with sensitivity the issues of racial prejudice that are at the core of the story of Nellie Forbush from Little Rock confronting her revulsion at learning that Emile de Becque has sired children with a dark-skinned Polynesian woman.

I assume that the creative team behind "Sayonara - The Musical" had similar aspirations in mind when they took Michener's "Sayonara" and adapted it for the stage.  The results of this translation, produced by New York's Pan Asian Repertory Theatre fall short of the high standards set by "South Pacific."

The story is that of American GIs in occupied Japan in the 1950s falling in love with Japanese women, and fighting against the prejudice of their comrades and the regulatory restrictions imposed by the U.S. military against "fraternization with the Japanese."  Private Joe Kelly (Edward Tolve) falls in love and marries Katsumi (Natsuko Hirano).  The U.S. military refuses to allow him to take his Japanese bride with him when he is transferred back to the U.S.  The young couple face difficult and painful choices on how to handle this dilemma.  In parallel, Major Lloyd "Ace" Gruver (Morgan McCann) overcomes his initial revulsion at the thought of Americans and Japanese falling in love, and falls hard for the star actress of the famed Takarazuka Theatre, Hana-Ogi (Ya Han Chang).  His attempts to get her to marry him are thwarted by obstacles on the American and Japanese sides of this cultural divide.

The book is by William Luce, Lyrics by Hy Gilbert, Music by George Fischoff, Choreography by Rumi Oyama, Music Direction by Sarah Brett England, Set Design by Sheryl Liu Lighting by Marie Yokoyama. The play is Directed by Tisa Chang.  Japanese and dance Costumes were beautfully designed by Keiko Obremski.  American uniforms by Carol A. Pelletier were ill-fitting, and the uniform of General Mark Webster was so wrinkled that he looked as if he had slept in it backstage.  I expect higher production values from an Off-Broadway show.

I found the music and lyrics to be middle-of-the-road and largely forgettable.  Mr. McCann possesses a strong singing voice, but did not always use it wisely.  In a scene when he is asking Hana-Ogi if she will marry him, what should have been a tender moment became almost bombastic when the volume of his singing did not match the moment.  Among the actors, Mr. Tolve acquitted himself well with his acting, singing and energetic dancing.

While there were entertaining moments in this production, the overall effect was disappointing.

The play will run through July 26.

James A. Michener's SAYONARA
at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St
July 5-26, 2015
Tue - Sat at 7:30 | Sat & Sun at 2:30
Added perfs Mon 7/6 at 7:30 & Wed 7/8 at 2:30
No perfs Fri 7/10 & Sat 7/11 at 2:30
Book by William Luce
Lyrics by Hy Gilbert
Music by George Fischoff
Adapted from the novel by James A. Michener

Directed by Tisa Chang
Choreography by Rumi Oyama
Music Direction by Sarah Brett England 


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

ArtsEmerson Presents "Hershey Felder As Irving Berlin" - Continuing Mr. Felder's Love Affair With Boston Audiences

"When I'm worried and I can't sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep,
And I fall asleep counting my blessings."

As I lie down in my bed this evening waiting for sleep to overtake me, two of the blessings I will be enumerating are Hershey Felder and ArtsEmerson.  I just returned from spending two magical hours at the Cutler Majestic Theatre as Hershey Felder recreated a century's worth of life as seen through the eyes and played through the fingers of Irving Berlin

One of the ways in which ArtsEmerson has delighted Boston audiences over the past few years has been to offer a steady diet of the magical genius of Hershey Felder. This year, as Mr. Felder performs as Irving Berlin, ArtsEmerson is giving us a White Christmas in July.  It is a special treat that has proven to be so popular that the run of this show has been extended through August 2.

We have seen Mr. Felder in the past channel such musical greats as George Gershwin, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Frederick Chopin and Leonard Bernstein.  Irving Berlin, born Israel "Izzy" Baline, now takes his places among this pantheon of musical gods that Mr. Felder has embodied.

Mr. Felder gives the prolific song writer an appropriate sitz im leben as he takes the audience all the way back to the Berlin family's origins in Belarus, from which they fled to America after a pogrom by the tsar's troops burnt their Jewish village to the ground. The play begins with Christmas carolers singing under the window of reclusive Mr. Berlin at age 100.  A younger version of the songwriter is addressing an empty wheelchair, and cajoling the older version of himself to invite the carolers into their home to tell the real story of how and why many of his famous songs were written.  And the stage is set for the audience to become the bevy of carolers - sometimes listening to the songs and the stories behind the songs, and sometimes singing along with many of the old favorites we grew up hearing and humming and singing.

So many of the famous Berlin songs were written in moments of grief - the death of a wife, a child, a mother -  or of celebration – marrying a second beloved wife, welcoming the birth of another miracle child.  As Mr. Felder took us through the chronology of Berlin's life and career, his physical demeanor and vocal qualities aged in commensurate ways. His considerable powers as an entertainer and story teller have never been at a higher pitch.  He was greatly aided in this theatrical magic with wonderful Sound by Trevor Hay, impeccable lighting by Richard Norwood and Christopher Rynne and stunning projections by Andrew Wilder, who brought us Al Jolson, Ethel Merman, Fred Astaire, the shtetl in Belarus, Pearl Harbor and other settings that inspired specific songs.

I have never been so moved by a rendition of “God Bless America” as I was this evening as Mr. Felder shared the context in which Irving Berlin was inspired to pull this rejected song out of a trunk and give it to Kate Smith to sing.

The audience was composed mostly of those of us old enough to remember many of the tunes, but my guest was a member of the Millennial generation, and he was thoroughly engaged and mesmerized with the evening’s presentation.

At this evening's performance, after a rousing ovation, Mr. Felder invited to the stage a young man who proceeded to propose marriage to his beloved, while Mr. Felder serenaded them with "I'll Be Loving You Always." It was icing on an already delicious cake.

Tickets are going fast, so if you want to count as one of your blessings the chance to have seen this show, click below and order your tickets now.



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Nora Theatre Company Presents "Saving Kitty" by Marisa Smith - Jennifer Coolidge Makes Her Boston Stage Debut

Jennifer Coolidge
"Saving Kitty"
by Marisa Smith
Nora Theatre Company
Central Square Theater
Through August 2

Think of "Saving Kitty" as a comedy version of "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" - except in this case the boyfriend is not of a different race, but is a dreaded Evangelical Christian!  Playwright Marisa Smith has crafted a clever and well-researched comedy that examines several layers of questions.  Among those questions are: "How do our religious and political views cause us to view others as fundamentalists?  What happens within a family when people refuse to listen to one another?  Why do we fear those who are different than we are?

Film and TV star Jennifer Coolidge leads an excellent quartet of actors who bring to life Kitty, her Born Again boyfriend, Paul, Kate, the manipulative matriarch, and Huntley, absorbed in his peace-keeping work at the U.N.  Kate and Huntley are life-long agnostics or atheists, depending on your theological semantic preferences. Knowing that their daughter, TV news producer, Kitty, will be bringing home her most recent beau, they speculate on what kind of background someone with the name Paul Cook might have.  They decide it would be just fine if he were Black.  They are not prepared for him to be a Born Again Evangelical Christian who is moving to New York to open a private Bible school for underprivileged kids in the Bronx.They could not have been more scandalized had Kitty brought home Jeffrey Dahmer.

Director Lee Mikeska Gardner leads the four actors with a sure and steady hand.  Ms. Coolidge, whom I first came to appreciate when I roared at her outrageous character in "Best In Show," is simultaneously ditsy and Machiavellian in her attempts to thwart the budding romance between Kitty and Paul.  Thus the title of the play takes on a double meaning.  Paul is attempting to invite Kitty into his Evangelical world to "save" her from her sins, and Kate is trying desperately to "save" Kitty from Paul's love.  Paul is played with subdued humor and grace by Lewis D. Wheeler.  He plays the role demonstrating the playwright's conviction that Paul is not a one-dimensional fundamentalist, but rather a complex thinking person who happens to have a strong personal faith that is thoroughly tested by his encounters with the members of the Hartley family. In a post-show conversation I had with the playwright, she called Paul the hero of the story. Kitty is portrayed with great energy and skill by Lydia Barnett-Mulligan.  She is believable as the flighty yet successful woman who has had three engagements prior to meeting Paul. Rounding out the cast is Alexander Cook as Huntley, too caught up in his U.N. job and dalliance with a young intern to really engage with his wife or daughter. His character is set in the opening scene as he pretends to listen to Kate as he is working on his computer blocking out the world while cocooned within his headset.

The creative team have done an excellent job of creating an upscale Upper East Side New York world. Steven Royal's scenic design is gorgeous and meticulous in detail.  Costumes by Barbara Douglass include a surprising appearance of a royal blue burqa.  Lighting by John R. Malinowski and Sound by Jennifer Timms are subtle and effective.

The playwright has done an praise worthy job in not demonizing Paul for his faith.  She makes it clear that she understands the difference between Fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Tammy Fay Baker and moderate Evangelicals like Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County.This attention to nuance and detail make the play's exploration of faith more credible that many others in which Christian fundamentalists and moderate Evangelicals are lumped together as one large anti-intellectual horde.  As a counterpoint to the examination of Christian faith, there is a plot thread that looks at riots in Paris inspired by Fundamentalist Muslims and Sharia courts.  The message is clear that Fundamentalism of any stripe in any part of the world can be problematic, and we have a hard time knowing how to deal with it.

Despite the serious sub-strata of the subject matter, this is at its heart a hilarious comedy with clever lines and wonderful comedic timing. Ms. Coolidge's Kate has moments of being seductive, cruel, pathetic and menacing, while pretending to be the perfect hostess.  The writer's use of well-placed double entendres adds a soupcon of spice to the proceedings.  The audience roared its approval throughout the show, and during the curtain calls.

"Saving Kitty" will run at Central Square Theater through August 2.  A limited supply of tickets remain, so act now to "save" your place in the audience for this entertaining play.

Central Square Theater Website



Friday, July 10, 2015

Happy Medium Theatre Presents "Dying City" by Christopher Shinn - Brilliant Home-Grown Theatre

It is always a delight to discover when a dark cloud has a silver lining. The dark cloud of which I speak is the fact that Happy Medium Theatre was among the handful of small theatre companies that lost their performance home when  The Factory Theatre closed to be re-purposed into a fitness center.  Happy Medium had to scramble to figure out how and where to continue offering great theatre to its loyal audiences.  For the presentation of "Dying City," they came up with a brilliant solution.  Husband and wife acting team Kiki Samko and Michael Underhill offered the use of their home in the Jackson Square neighborhood of Jamaica Plain as the intimate setting for Christopher Shinn's provocative play, "Dying City."  The setting proved to be perfect.  I am convinced that the moving evening of theatre I experienced yesterday would not have had the same punch if it had been staged in the former performance space at The Factory.The choice to offer "Home-grown theatre" is indeed a silver lining that shimmers.

The dying city referred to in the title of the play is Baghdad during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom.  The title more broadly serves as a metaphor for the fact that the world that each of the play's characters inhabits is dying in some fashion.  This is a riveting drama about things collapsing into dust - The World Trade Center, the war in Iraq, the marriage between Kelly and Craig, the career of Craig's identical twin Peter. Ms. Samko plays Kelly, and Mr. Underhill plays both Craig and Peter.  Each of these actors has been singled out by the Elliot Norton and the IRNE committees for their previous work, yet this play represents the best work I have seen each of them do.  Their mastery of character and dramatic arc in this play is that of consummate professionals. I literally was perched on the edge of my seat in anticipation of what they might say or do next.

The structure of the play, for which the playwright was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008, is  a bit complicated and difficult to stage.  Half of the action is presented in real time, while the other half is in flashbacks to the evening before Craig is to leave for his deployment to Iraq.  Deftly directed by Cameron Cronin, the two actors made it very clear which of the two scenarios we we watching.  Kelly suggested subtle changes between present and past by rolling up her sleeves and clutching a tea cup when we were watching present action between her and Peter, and a different configuration of her costume to indicate her scenes with Craig.  Michael Underhill's ability to differentiate between Peter and Craig  demonstrated tremendous subtlety.  The  twins were identical in facial feature, but at polar opposites in terms of speech patterns, gestures, physical presence. and overall  demeanor.  Kelly goes through a dramatic shift in emotions during the course of the play, and Ms. Samko portrayed them in a fashion that was convincing and heart-rending.  It would be hard to find better acting on any Boston stage than that which was demonstrated by this tandem.

Kiki Samko as Kelly
Michael Underhill as Craig
"Dying City"
by Christopher Shinn
Happy Medium Theater
Through July 11th

In archictecting this play, Mr. Shinn has woven together several interlocking themes - the impact of war on those who fight it and those who are left behind, the collapse of the World Trade Center as a metaphor for destruction and decay, the search for intimacy in marriage that could match the intimacy shared between twins, the impact of PTSD both on the battlefield and beyond,  The action unfolds as Peter drops in on Kelly on the anniversary of Craig's mysterious death in a "training accident."  As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Craig and Kelly had not been communicating during his deployment to Iraq, but that he had been sending detailed e-mails to his twin brother.  The sharing of  those personal e-mails with Kelly proved to be as explosive as an IED buried beneath the surface of a road in Baghdad.  As written, each of the characters is walking a solitary path, but their paths intertwine with each other in sometimes surprising ways.  At some point, we see each of the three characters walking off of the stage upon which they are living their lives. Peter literally walks off the stage in the midst of a performance of "A Long Day's Journey Into Night." Craig walks off the stage of his marriage to Kelly, and Kelly walks off the stage of her career as a therapist.  The resulting play is a complex psychological study of three fascinating characters..

There remain only two more performances of this production.  There may be a ticket or two available.  To inquire, contact Mikey DiLoreto at 



Monday, July 06, 2015

Gloucester Stage Presents "Out of Sterno" by Deborah Zoe Laufer - Fueling An Examination of What Makes A Real Woman

Gloucester Stage continues its season with the fascinating "Out of Sterno" by Deborah Zoe Laufer. The play deals on several levels with questions of identity and journeying toward a mature level of self-awareness.  We follow the arc of Dotty, played superbly by Amanda Collins.  As a sixteen year-old girl, she is smitten with love at first sight infatuation with Hamel, a service station attendant.  They marry in a matter of weeks, and she lives for the next seven years under virtual house arrest because, "Hamel wants to keep me all to himself."

Hamel, played with macho bravura by Noah Tuleja, is both abusive and neglectful of Dotty, as he conducts a steamy affair with Zena,  owner of Zena's Beauty Emporium. Jennifer Ellis is pitch perfect as the brassy and declasse cosmetologist.  All of the other roles, mostly female, are played with arch humor by veteran actor Richard Snee.  He portrays several costumers at the Emporium, as well as a parade of "bus buddies" that Dotty encounters as she breaks out of her apartment to clean toilets and do nails for Zena.

Amanda Collins as Dotty (Peaches)
Jennifer Ellis as Zena
"Out of Sterno"
Gloucester Stage
Through July 18

The plot is filled with silly sight gags that underscore the serious nature of the questions being addressed in this play.  What does it mean to be a real woman?  What role do the media - especially beauty magazines - play in shaping a woman's self-image and view of her place in the world?  How do the influence of a mother and father carry over into adulthood?  "As my father always said . . . "  "As my mother always said . . . "  How does a mature individual learn to put external influences in perspective and see oneself in a balanced and healthy way?  What masks do we wear - and then take off?

Using the playwright's stage directions as a starting point, Director Paula Plum and Set Designer Jon Savage have created a world that Dotty might have created for herself - made up of a motley assortment of items she would have scrounged from her trips to the basement to do laundry, supplemented by knickknacks that Hamel would have brought home to her from the service station.  Costumes by Lisabetta Polito, Lighting by Russ Swift and Sound Design by David Wilson all work together to create an external world that gives us a glimpse into Dotty's mind as she begins to emerge as a real woman.  A butterfly occupies a place upstage, symbolizing for me Dotty's emancipation out of Hamel's cocoon.

Noah Tuleja as Hamel
Amanda Collins as Dotty (Peaches)
"Out of Sterno"
Gloucester Stage
Through July 18

In the Tallk Back session that followed Sunday's matinee, Playwright Laufer shared that the genesis for this play can be traced to an experience she had as a young student at Julliard.  Raised in a remote and isolated town, she came to NYC never having worn a dress or makeup.  Her Movement teacher told her mother that she needed to learn to present herself as a more feminine figure, so she went to the cosmetics counter at Macy's and was roundly abused by the harridan who worked there.  Thus was born the character of Zena, who began life as part of Laufer's stand-up comedy routine.

Amanda Collins as Dotty (Peaches)
Richard Snee as Beauty Customer
Jennifer Ellis as Zena
"Out of Sterno"
Gloucester Stage
Through July 18

This is a play well worth seeing and wrestling with.  The writing is such that as we observe the real Dotty emerge, we as audience members are challenged to think of our own journey towards authenticity and self-awareness.

The play will run through July 18

Gloucester Stage Website



"Little Shop of Horrors" Encore Presentation at New York City Center - An Historic Moment

Jake Gyllenhaal as Seymour
Ellen Greene as Audrey
Eddie Cooper as Audrey II
"Little Shop of Horrors"
New York City Center

"Little Shop of Horrors" has been an intimate part of my life since I first sat in the audience to watch a performance of the original Off-Broadway production starring Ellen Green as Audrey. As the performance ended in the Orpheum Theater, vines fell from the ceiling into the laps of the audience members.  I have been entangled in those vines from the "strange and interesting plant" ever since that evening.

A few years later, I found myself cast in the role of Mr. Mushnik in my first professional role on stage.  It was magical in so many ways.  One of the enduring relationships that came from that summer of doing "Little Shop" was with the fine actress who played our Audrey, Marla Sucharetza..In the intervening years, I have seen a number of productions of the musical, and Marla remains the actress who best embodies the character of Audrey.  When I learned that New York City Center would be mounting an Encore presentation of the classic musical, starring Ellen Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal, I knew that I had to find a way to see it in the company of Marla.  So I booked the tickets and surprised Marla by inviting her as part of the prolonged celebration of her recent milestone birthday.

It was a magical day at the theater.  The audience that packed the City Center for the three performances was composed of many New York City theater professionals and serious fans of musical theater.  In many ways, it was like attending a midnight showing of "Rocky Horror"; every word and note was anticipated by the cognoscenti in the crowd.  Ellen Greene's initial entrance was electric.  Mr. Mushnik's snide greeting took on a double meaning, given the fact that it has been many years since Ms. Green last graced a New York stage: "So, you finally decided to come to work!"  The crowd went wild and the ovation washed over Ellen like a warm wave of adulation and affection. Similar love fests occurred after each of her two familiar solos - "Suddenly, Seymour" and "Somewhere That's Green."  Her curtain call - as Jake Gyllenhaal graciously retreated and left Ellen alone to bask in the applause - was a continuation of the love affair.

Did Ms. Greene hit every note perfectly? No  Did she milk each iconic moment for all it was worth? Of course!  But none of that mattered.  We were there to celebrate her and to celebrate the return of a brilliantly written show that still thrills audiences more than 33 years after if first opened and took New York by storm.

This concert version of the musical was deftly directed by Dick Scanlan, whose choice of Eddie Cooper to play the plant, Audrey II, was a stroke of genius.  Young charmer Anwar Kareem played the young version of the plant, and won the hearts of every audiences member with his facial expressions and clever dance with Seymour.  Gyllenhaal proved to any doubters that he has the vocal chops to pull off a role like Seymour, and was perfect in the chemistry that he and Ms. Greene developed between their characters. SNL veteran Taran Killam was hilarious as the dentist and other characters.  Joe Grifasi was a wonderful Mushnik.  The  urchins were played by a trio of gifted singers who really made this Greek chorus an integral part of the telling of this whacky tale.  They are Tracy Nicole Chapman, Marva Hicks and Ramona Keller.

As I allowed the cavalcade of emotions to gallop over me as I listened and watched, it occurred to me yet again what a well written and ingeniously conceived work of art Alan Menken and Howard Ashman created when they put their heads and talents together to bring this plant to full flower. Every corny line and allusion to 1950's pop culture brought a knowing smile, nod, laugh and even the occasional tear.  I had wondered how young audience members might react to a show that is so firmly rooted in a specific time period.  I was reassured when a young friend told me that in Japan, songs from this show are among the songs most favored in karaoke by young singers.  This is a show that has turned into a perennial and is ever new and ever fresh.  Given the reaction to this brief return of "Little Shop of Horrors" to a New York stage, it is the dream of many of us that it may prompt a team of producers and investors to mount a long run of the show in a fully staged revival.

As it was, this brief return of Audrey and Audrey II to NYC was an event to be savored for a long while to come.  I felt blessed to have had a chance to be there for this historic moment.  This particular spot in my memory bank will long remain "Somewhere That's Green."

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Soho Rep Presents "10 Out Of 12" by Anne Washburn - Extended Through July 18

Soho Rep. never fails to astonish, entertain and challenge me with their fresh offerings of new works by gifted playwrights.  The current production of "10 Out Of 12" by Anne Washburn - recently extended for the second time through July 18 - is no exception.  This play is based on notes that Ms. Washburn has taken over the years during tech rehearsals for the plays that she has been involved with.  Les Waters directs a very capable ensemble cast

The set-up for this meta play is that each audience member is treated as a member of the tech crew, on headset on Channel 1 to listen in on the banter that occurs among the technical staff during a grueling tech rehearsal for a play that is fraught with many of the typical difficulties that one encounters in trying to bring the ideas of a playwright into reality on a stage with flawed human beings in charge of the acting and creative arts.

Te result is a play that is offered to theater insiders as a way of both celebrating and laughing at the foibles of those who would seek to tame the Muse.  A lost Exacto knife comes back to haunt one of the crew and almost sends him to the hospital.  The persistent EXIT sign almost sends the Director into apoplexy.  Lingering resentments between actors that carry over from previous projects threaten to derail this train. An OCD actress fusses over the precise placement of a table.  And the inevitable self-important veteran actor, who thinks he knows how to tell the story better than both the playwright and the Director, stops the rehearsal to offer ex tempore re-writes, dramaturgical comments and put-downs of the other actors in the midst of a long philosophical rant that leaves everyone else speechless.  We knew that this particular volcano would eventually erupt.  We just did not know precisely when and in which direction the molten lava would flow.

Audience members seemed to be mostly seasoned members of the NYC theater community, for there were knowing laughs, nods and snickers at many of the familiar dynamics at work in any tech rehearsal.  It is no wonder that the run of the show has been extended yet again.  There was not an empty seat at the matinee performance I attended.  Ms. Washburn has wonderfully captured the ethos of the creative process  The ensemble cast are universally effective in working within the mise en scene that the playwright and Director have created.

Set Design by David Zinn, Lighting Design by Justin Townsend, Sound Design by Bray Poor, Costume Design by Ásta Bennie Hostetter, Props by George Hoffmann & Greg Kozatek; Production Stage Manager: Amanda Spooner, Production Manger: Jeff Drucker, Company Manager: Sizo Kunene, Casting: Jack Doulin, C.S.A. Illustration: Riki Blanco.

 Featuring: Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Jeff Biehl, Gibson Frazier, Rebecca Hart, Nina Hellman, Sue Jean Kim, Bruce McKenzie, Garrett Neergaard, Bray Poor, David Ross, Thomas Jay Ryan, Conrad Schott, Wendy Rich Stetson and Leigh Wade.

"10 Out of 12"
by Anne Washburn
Soho Rep.
Through July 18
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
If you are a "theater person" - this peek inside the rehearsal process is something you will not want to miss.



SoHo Rep Website