Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ogunquit Playhouse Presents "Million Dollar Quartet" - Great Balls of Fire! - Through September 19th

Ogunquit Playhouse continues its strong 83rd season with a rollicking production of "Million Dollar Quartet."  On a winter's night in December of 1956, Sun Records founder Sam Phillips brought together four of his record label's current and future stars for a once-in-a-lifetime evening of musical collaboration.  On that evening in Memphis, he had called together Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.  The occasion was a recording session for Carl Perkins' next release.  Knowing that the other musicians were in town, Phillips asked them to stop by, and what happened that evening is the stuff of legend. "Million Dollar Quarter" as a classic "juke box musical" captures what happened that evening by weaving a story of conflict and collaboration around some of the great hits that these four musicians made famous.

In order for the show to work, two things need to happen.  The actors/musicians need to be so proficient in their singing and playing that they can recreate live versions of these iconic rock and roll tunes. Second, the audience must agree to suspend disbelief and enter into the spirit of that landmark evening in 1956.  In the case of the Ogunquit Playhouse production of this musical, both dynamics are at work. The cast is impressive and the results of their individual efforts and collaborations are two hours of memorable music interspersed with snippets of drama as we learn of the intrigues happening behind the scenes regarding contracts between Sun Records and these four musicians. Director Hunter Foster does an excellent job in showcasing the fine cast that he has assembled. They play their music and live out their communal evening on a beautiful set designed for Broadway by Derek McLane, with additional elements by Adam Koch.  Costumes by Richard Latta help to recreate the look and feel of the famous musicians, Lighting by Richard Latta and Sound by Kevin Heard complete the job of realistically recreating the small recording studio that put tiny Sun Records on the map.

  • As Sam Phillips, Jason Loughlin anchors the evening.  He narrates the story threads and tells of his own struggles to decide whether or not to follow Elvis to New York City and accept a contract with a major record label that would mean the end of Sun Records as he had known it.
  • Robert Britton Lyons portrays Carl Perkins as the one-hit writer and performer of "Blue Suede Shoes."  He is struggling to record another hit, and resents the fact that Elvis sang his song on national TV, and most people now associate that song with Elvis rather than with Carl.
  • Maine native Scott Moreau brings a very sonorous deep bass voice to his Johnny Cash portrayal, His renditions of "I Walk The Line" and "Riders In The Sky" are among the best parts of the show.
  • Jacob Rowley bears an uncanny resemblance to young Elvis Presley.  He has mastered not only the sound of The King, but his slightly pouting and reticent mannerisms.  It is a hauntingly effective portrayal.  His "Long Tall Sally" and "Hound Dog" had the place rocking.
  • Nat Zegree nearly steals the show as the quirky and frenetic Jerry Lee Lewis.  From his first outburst to the last chords, he commands both the keyboard and the stage.  The level of energy that is required to portray the always-wired Lewis is high voltage indeed, but Mr. Zegree never wavers in generating that high level of electricity.  His performance in this role is a tour de force, both in terms of his acting and his musicianship on the piano. "Great Balls of Fire" - indeed!
Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee Lewis
Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash
Bligh Voth as Dyanne
Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins
Jacob Rowley as Elvis Presley
"Million Dollar Quartet"
Ogunquit Playhouse
Through September 19th
  • Boston Conservatory alumna Bligh Voth adds a nice balance as Elvis' girlfriend, Dyanne.  Her performances of "Fever" and "I Hear You Knocking" are highlights.
  • Rounding out the cast are Sam Weber as Brother Jay on bass and David Sonneborn as drummer Fluke.
As always, tickets to shows at Ogunquit go fast.  If you would like to see this excellent celebration of early rock and roll, get your tickets now.  The show runs through September 19.



Sunday, August 23, 2015

Looking At Odysseus And His Travels With Fresh Eyes - "Odysseus - Book One - The Oath" by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Valerio Massimo Manfredi has offered up a wonderful gift to anyone who embraces the power of the story of Odysseus.  He has taken the epic poems and converted them into an action-filled novel.  This first volume follows Odysseus from his boyhood in Ithaca to his long engagement on the beach in Troy as he and other Greek kings and their armies laid siege to the great walled city in order to restore Helen to her husband, Menelaus.

Professor Manfredi is a consummate story teller.  I felt as if I were seeing the islands of Greece and the coast of Turkey with my own eyes as he narrates the travels of Odysseus and his journey from boyhood to manhood to kingship.   Even though I know the story well and was aware of the outcome of the hero's adventures, the writing had me flipping pages to see what would happen next.  Such an innovative approach breathes new life into the old classics and makes them accessible to a whole new generation of readers.

I have already ordered my copy of "Odysseus - Book Two -The Return."



Friday, August 21, 2015

The A.R.T. Serves Up A Broadway-Bound World Premiere of "Waitress" - A Must See Through September 27th Only

She has done it again!  A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus has brought to the A.R.T. stage another Broadway-bound gem that has audiences licking their chops for more of the savory treat that is "Waitress."  The World Premiere musical is based on a 2007 Adrienne Shelly film by the same name.  Ms. Paulus has collaborated with acclaimed singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles to add music and poetry to the story of a young waitress who struggles to escape an abusive marriage and to find a recipe for a successful and safe life.  The book for this musical has been written by Jessie Nelson, with Chase Brock as Choreographer, Lighting by Kenneth Posner, Sound by Jonathan Deans, Costumes by Suttirat Larlarb and Set by Scott Pask.  The result of this creative collaboration is a show that should run on Broadway for along while.  It is a total delight from the opening litany of "Sugar, butter, flour  . . . " to the final poignant scene between mother and daughter baking pies.

Jessie Mueller as Jenna
American Repertory Theater
Through September 27
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

I am not sure if the shelves of my language larder contain enough linguistic ingredients to adequately praise this production. The story is at its heart a feminist tale of escape from an abusive and loveless marriage into something more fulfilling, yet this story is not just for women to savor.  This man was moved by the characters that have been created for the telling of this tale. One of the things I most appreciate about the writing of this musical is that each character is three-dimensional, with shades of good and evil, smart and dumb, confident and awkward.  It is in the movement along these spectra that the real stories are told of Jenna and her fellow waitresses, Becky and Dawn.  This trio are the emotional core of the story, with marriages, romances and dalliances added into the mix for these hard-working ladies.

The three roles are well cast.  Jessie Mueller as Jenna shows why she received a Tony Award for her portrayal of Carol King in "Beautiful."  She creates a Jenna who vacillates between hopeless helplessness and whimsical wondering if she has what it takes to win the pie-baking contest down in Springfield that will give her the money she needs to leave Earl and his smothering insecurities. Her vocal range fits nicely into the pie shell of Ms. Bareilles' songs, especially the soaring "She Used To Be Mine." As she ruminates about her life and marinates over what she should do about her affair with Dr. Pomatter, she takes a look at herself and where she has come from:

"I was never attention's sweet center,
But I still remember that girl.
She's imperfect, but she tries;
She is good, but she lies.
She is hard on herself.
She is broken, and won't ask for help.
She is messy, but she's kind;
She is lonely most of the time.
She is all of this mixed up 
And baked in a beautiful pie.
She is gone, but she used to be mine."

The feel of this number reminded me of Celie in "The Color Purple": "I may be ugly, but I'm here!" Like Celie before her, Jenna finds strength in sisterhood to escape from the stultifying grip of a misogynist Neanderthal of a husband.

Keela Settle as Becky
Jessie Mueller as Jenna
Jeanna De Waal as Dawn
American Repertory Theater
Through September 27
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

She is supported in her work and in her life by fellow tray-carriers Becky (Keala Settle) and Dawn (Jeanna De Waal).  Ms. Settle plays Becky as an earth-mother who bemoans the fact that her well-developed bosom is not bi-laterally balanced.  She is married to an older man whose diapers she has to change, so her little side of bacon with short-order cook, Cal, is no surprise.  When Jenna confronts Becky about the relationship with Cal, Ms. Settle sends up a very moving rendition of "I Didn't Plan It."  Dawn is nerdy and pathologically insecure, taking seven months to perfect her on-line profile before putting herself out there on dating sites.  Her "When He Sees Me" speaks eloquently to her insecurities and inhibitions.  I am convinced that Ms. De Waal can plan any role she chooses.  In the past year I have seen her not only as Dawn in this production, but as Mary Barrie in the A.R.T. production of "Finding Neverland," and as Lauren in the Broadway production of "Kinky Boots."  She is a true chameleon on stage. When she came onto the set at the beginning of "Waitress," I whispered to my guest: "She does not look anything like that in real life."  When we greeted her after the show, my friend's jaw dropped when he saw Jeanna, confirming my description of her.

Supporting these three women is a wonderful assortment of actors portraying colorful characters:

  • As Cal, Eric Anderson is appropriately crusty, tough and tender, taking what life dishes out.  When Jenna asks him, in a quiet moment, if he is happy, he growls out a terse and laconic reply: "Happy enough."
  • Joe Tippet has the difficult task of making abusive husband Earl both believable and somewhat sympathetic.  As written, the character is clueless, possessive, insecure and pathetic when he demands that Jenna promise him that she will not love their expected baby more than she loves him. Mr. Tippett does a good job expressing those emotions in the song, "You Will Still Be Mine."
  • Dakin Matthews is Joe, the curmudgeonly owner of Joe's Pie Diner - and many other businesses in town.  He presents himself as a high maintenance regular customer, with very particular peccadillos about what food he wants and when and how he wants it served. On the inside, he has a deep appreciation for Jenna as a superb baker of pies and as a human being with great potential. Mr. Matthews is perfect in this role, dispensing customized daily horoscope readings into which he adds his own special sauce and saucy comments that let Jenna know that he is aware of her secret pregnancy and her affair with Dr. Pomatter.  She describes him as her best tipper, and as things turn out in the end, that proves to be a wonderful understatement  His tender song, "Take It From An Old Man," sung into Jenna's ear as they dance at Dawn's wedding, is a gentle and moving moment in this otherwise fast-paced show. He portrays Joe as crusty on the outside but as soft on the inside as Clarence in "It's A Wonderful Life."

Dakin Matthews as Joe
Jessie Mueller as Jenna
American Repertory Theater
Through September 27
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

  • Drew Gehling portrays Dr. Pomatter.  From his initial entrance, he projects an awkward innocence and vulnerability that is endearing. His wife is an anesthesiology resident, and he has become numbed to her charms, so is easily won over by Jenna's simplicity and neediness.  The gestation of their brief and torrid affair is coterminous with Jenna's unwanted pregnancy, and ends when her maternal instincts kick in after the delivery of her daughter, Lulu. Mr. Gehling brings to the role a deep sincerity (for an adulterer) and a beautiful singing voice that he shows off to good advantage in "It Only Takes A Taste."  Once Jenna's heart has been fully dilated, she senses that it is time for her to push - to push him out of her life and back to his wife.

Drew Gehling as Dr. Pomatter
Jessie Mueller as Jenna
American Repertory Theater
Through September 27
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

  • Jeremy Morse is a delight as the quirky Ogie, whose persistence in courting Dawn beyond their disastrous first date is expressed in his patter song "Never Getting Rid of Me."  His awkwardness is highlighted in the silly Second Act number "I Love You Like A Table."  He finally win's Dawn's heart when they discover a mutual geeky love for Revolutionary War reenactments.
The fine ensemble, which adds very nice vocals and well choreographed movement to several key scenes include: Charity Angel Dawson, David Jennings, Corey Mach, Ragan Pharris, Cullen R. Titmas and Stephanie Torns.  he role of Lulu is shared by Giana Ribeiro and Addison Oken.

This musical stands on the shoulders of Rogers and Hammerstein's "Carousel," which was the first Broadway musical to explicitly address the issue of domestic abuse.  The story has a strong feminist message without being strident or preachy.  Despite some steamy sexual scenes - including a wonderful triptych montage with three couples occupying three sections of the stage - there is a sweetness and warmth to this musical that feels like - well, a pie just out of the oven.

The clever staging, the brilliant set, the superb cast are all blended together in a way that gives meaning to the metaphor of the opening number "What's Inside."  As an audience, we want to know what is inside Jenna's cleverly named original pies, and we want to know what is inside of her, as well.

Nadia DiGialonardo conducts from the piano a zesty seven-piece band. They occupy a space in what looks like an auxiliary dining room of the diner, making them appear as if they are playing for their supper.  

Like Dr. Pomatter, it only took a taste of this show to make me want to go back for seconds.  Join me in tasting what happens when Jenna lovingly combines . . ."sugar, butter, flour . . ."

Through September 27.  Get your tickets early.



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bad Habit Productions Presents Edward Albee's "The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?" - Stunning and Provocative Theater Through August 23

Edward Albee takes great delight in shocking his audiences into thinking in new ways about familiar topics like love and marriage.  "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" grabs us by the throat as we watch  the train wreck of George and Martha verbally tearing each other apart in the presence of Nick and Honey.  In the current play being presented by Bad Habit Productions - "The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?" - another marriage is imploding. The catalyst for the immolation of the marriage between Stevie and Martin is the husband's  revelation that he has fallen in love with a goat named Sylvia!  Needless to say, Stevie is devastated, and she is not sheepish in showing her dismay and displeasure.  Once the audience gets over the shock of the topic of bestiality, then it is possible to process the complex levels of struggle occurring among the four characters.  Stevie and Martin have a teenage son who has recently come out to them as gay. Martin's best friend, Ross, is the one to whom Martin had confessed his tryst with Sylvia. Ross, appalled, feels it is his duty to rely the tragic news to Stevie.  Albee has stacked the deck to deal with a myriad of painful and complex issues: the nature of love between husband and wife when there has been deep hurt and betrayal, how to deal with a child who has revealed his own struggles, the nature of true friendship and confidentiality in the face of unanticipated circumstances.  Albee is also asking us to consider the over-arcing question: "What is normal, and who decides?"

Veronica Anastasia Wiseman as Stevie
Steven L. Emanuelson as Martin
Edward Albee's
"The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?"
Bad Habit Productions
Through August 23
Photo by Paul Cantillon, Lidec Photo

Director  Daniel Morris deftly shepherds a superb cast of four gifted actors.  As Martin, Steven L. Emanuelson is believable as a man who is befuddled by his own attraction to "those innocent and accepting eyes of Sylvia."  He cannot begin to fathom the blow that he has struck to his wife by telling her that he loves her, but also loves Sylvia and can't imagine giving either one of them up. As Ross, Dale J. Young conveys righteous indignation at his friend's disgusting peccadillo, and fails to grasp that by telling Stevie about Sylvia, he has unleashed the hounds of hell that will tear apart everything in sight. Luke Murtha is superb as Billy, bleating out his anger and fear and insecurities and sexual conflicts.  A scene near the end of the play in which he embraces the father whom he has proclaimed to hate is poignant and shocking. Veronica Anastasia Wiseman digs deep to excavate the many layers of Stevie's hurt and rage The arc of her character's emotional displays is both impressive and terrifying.  She engages in a sequence of very kinetic redecorating of the living room of the home they have shared.  Each broken vase and toppled chair is emblematic of pieces of her heart being torn asunder.  It is truly a memorable and visceral performance.

Luke Murtha as Billy
Edward Albee's
"The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?"
Bad Habit Productions
Through August 23
Photo by Paul Cantillon, Lidec Photo

The creative team have done an excellent job in creating a realistic facsimile of a placid middle class suburban home.  Costumes by Barbara Crowther, Props by Bridgette Hayes, Scenic Design by Kevin Deane Parker, Lighting by P J Strachman and Sound by Andrew Duncan Will all contribute to the overall sense of a calm before the storm.

Do not be put off by the surface subject matter.  This is a play worth seeing, and a production worth observing.  The play continue through this Sunday, August 23 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA.

Bad Habit Productions Website



Saturday, August 15, 2015

Review of "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter - Becoming the Person You Want To Be

With "Triggers - Creating Behavior That Lasts - Becoming The Person You Want To Be," author Marshall Goldsmith draws from many years experience as an executive coach to top leaders around the world. This book builds on a foundation laid in his earlier work, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There." In this book, Mr. Goldsmith examines the environmental and psychological triggers that often derail us in our attempt to live a life that is effective and fulfilling.

The opening chapters are spent discussing why behavioral change in adults is so difficult to achieve, then looks at the most common triggers that keep us from living up to the promises that we make to ourselves and those we care about. Subsequent chapters offer practical advice and case studies to demonstrate how to avoid those triggers and to move ahead boldly and successfully with planned behavioral changes. I found particularly helpful the author's concept of The Wheel of Change: Creating, Preserving, Eliminating and Accepting.

  • Creating represents the positive elements that we want to create in our future.
  • Preserving represents the positive elements that we want to keep in the future.
  • Eliminating represents the negative elements that we want to eliminate in the future.
  • Accepting represents the negative elements that we need to accept in the future. (Page 86)

I also appreciated the chapter entitled "The Power of Active Questions." Goldsmith credits his daughter with teaching him to use active, engaging questions as a way to monitor on a daily basis areas of performance. Instead of asking "How meaningful was your day?" an active, engaging formulation of the question would be: "Did you do your best to find meaning today?" The author has found this small, but powerful, nuanced change to be enormously impactful in his own life and those of his clients. (pp. 111-113)

Each person is encouraged to create his/her own menu of daily questions to which he gives himself/herself a numerical grade from 1-10, but the most commonly used include these six:

  • Did I do my best to set clear goals?
  • Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals?
  • Did I do my best to find meaning?
  • Did I do my best to be happy?
  • Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  • Did I do my best to be fully engaged? (P. 224)

This book, written in collaboration with Mark Reiter, is one of the most practical and impactful books I have read in the past year. I am already making a list of friends and clients to whom I will recommend the book.



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mini-Review of "Still Life Las Vegas" by James Sie - A Promising Literary Debut

James Sie makes a very promising literary debut with "Still Life Las Vegas."  The novel is a very well crafted and beautifully told coming of age tale about Walter Stahl, who lives in Las Vegas with his ailing father. He keeps hoping to spot his accordion-playing mother who disappeared when he was a boy after a family tragedy had already shattered their lives.  The book contains elements of a graphic novel, depicting some of Walter's sketches.  His drawing leads him to meet a brother and sister team of living statues who pose at the Venetian Hotel.  This team of Greek immigrants impact Walter's life at several key levels as he learns of love, friendship and another episode of abandonment.  The ghost of Liberace haunts some of the action of this fast-moving story that I had a hard time putting down.



Monday, August 10, 2015

Reagle Music Theatre Enchants With "Wonderful Town" - Starring Katie Anne Clark and Jennifer Ellis

Any Town that can boast as two of its most recent arrivals the likes of Katie Anne Clark and Jennifer Ellis must be a pretty "Wonderful Town."  With its final production of the summer season, Reagle Music Theatre lives up to its solid reputation by mounting a rollicking production of the classic "Wonderful Town," featuring music by a young Leonard Bernstein.  The show opened on Broadway in 1953, winning 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  This current production is directed by Broadway's David Hugo, with the usual deft Musical Direction of Dan Rodriguez.

This little gem of a show boasts a story of two sisters from Ohio who come to New York City to claim fame and fortune - Eileen Sherwood (Jennifer Ellis) as an actress and singer and Ruth Sherwood (Katie Ann Clark) as a writer.  Ruth arrives with a typewriter that is missing the letter "W" because she wore it out writing a long piece about Walt Whitman!  The naive sisters are hoodwinked into taking a basement flat on Christopher Street in the West Village, right above where they are blasting for the subway tunnel that will someday lead to the current Sheridan Square/Christopher Street stop on the 1 Train.  The fact that the most recent resident of the flat had been a professional gal who entertained a lot of men in exchange for financial remuneration leads to some interesting visitors and complications for the sisters Sherwood.  The story of their search for fortune and love is corny and wonderful.  There are a host of colorful supporting players: the Greek landlord, the Italian Chef, the Irish cops, the Brazilian Navy, the handsome Editor, Robert Baker,Speedy Valenti, the nightclub owner, et al.  It is the kind of menagerie one would have expected to find populating the thrumming streets of the Village in the 1930s.

The show boasts some memorable and hummable tunes - "Ohio," "Conga!" and "Swing" are among the best.  Choreographer Eileen Grace has created some wonderful dance numbers, using the corps of male dancers particularly well, especially when the Brazilian Navy cannot stop dancing the Conga in every corner of NYC. Richard E. Schreiber has designed a set that recreates a down-at-the-heels Great Depression New York neighborhood, enhanced by Lighting by David Wilson and Costumes by Costume World Theatrical and Vicky Viebrooks.

There are good reasons why the names of Katie Anne Clark and Jennifer Ellis appear above the title of the show.  These two stars of the Boston theater scene tower over this production the way that the Woolworth Building and the Flatiron Building would have dominated the New York skyline of the 1930s.  They are hardly ever off stage in this show, and that is something for which the audience is grateful.  They are gullible, lovable, believable, huggable, unstoppable and quite simply wonderful as the Sherwood sisters.  Individually, they shine; together they soar.  They clearly are having a wonderful time mugging their way through "Why, oh why, oh why-o, why did I leave Ohio?"  Their duet on the "Wrong Note Rag" is another delight.  

Jennifer Ellis as Eileen Sherwood
Katie Anne Clark as Ruth Sherwood
"Wonderful Town"
Reagle Music Theatre
Through August 16

These ladies are strongly supported by a stellar cast.  Among the standouts are Kevin Cirone as Robert Baker, with whom both sisters are smitten.  His balad "A Quiet Girl" stands out as a highlight. David Carney as the neighbor, Wreck and Julianne Daly as his intended make  a nice subplot as they try to outsmart Helen's domineering mother, Mrs. Wade (a hilariously pompous Susan Carity Conkey)..  Kevin Patrick Martin is excellent as the Tour Guide in the opening production number "Christopher Street."

Come see this show.  I guarantee that you will have a Wonderful Time at "Wonderful Town"!

The show runs through the end of this weekend, August 16.  For tickets, check the link below:

Reagle Music Theatre Website



Sunday, August 09, 2015

Wax Wings Productions Presents "Eyes Shut. Door Open." - A New Play by Cassie M. Seinuk - A Must See!

Wax Wings Productions is a fairly new addition to the Boston theater scene.  As the name implies, they are inspired to fly boldly near the sun, taking artistic risks akin to those taken by Icarus and Daedalus.  In choosing to mount the first fully staged production of Cassie M. Seinuk's play, "Eyes Shut. Door Open." this company has soared and not lost their wings by flying too close to the sun.   This is a complex and beautifully written play, directed with precision and passion by Christopher Randolph.  The cast of Victor Shopov, Melissa M. DeJesus and Michael James Underhill are stunning in their respective very demanding roles.

The play is a modern modulation on the Cain and Abel theme of two brothers whose rivalry for their father's love turns violent.  The playwright has dipped her pen deep into the well of John Steinbeck's take on the ancient story as he retold it in "East of Eden."  Ms. Seinuk is very generous in nodding to Steinbeck when she has the Street brothers hail from Eaton, Ohio.  So, when they separately make the journey from Ohio to New York City, they are traveling "East of Eaton"!

Set Designer Kyle Blanchette and Props Designer Lauren Annese help to perpetuate the Garden of Eden theme with a basket of apples from which one of the brothers takes and devours part of the forbidden fruit. Lighting designer Christopher Bocchiaro has added some nice effects using red lights to indicate the presence of evil and the haunting memories of a long-dead father who voice sends Turner into paroxysms of fear.  Sound design by Patrick Greene and Costume design by Stephanie K. Brownell complete the scene in the art gallery and in Turner's apartment.

The basic plot line is that Johanna is writing a piece about young wunderkind artist Turner Street.  She insinuates herself into his life by posing as a server at an opening of one of his gallery shows.  In a scene of mutual seduction, she accepts his invitation to return with him to his apartment and studio to see some of his more bold paintings. While they are preparing to get intimate, into the apartment bursts younger brother, Palmer Street, who has just arrived by bus from Ohio.  He had received an invitation to the gala opening, but did not make it in time.  This troubled young man has a history of drug abuse, and sports a black eye patch to cover a wound he suffered in a car accident the day of their father's funeral.  It turns out that Johanna, hoping to write an expose, has stacked the deck, manipulating things so that Palmer would show up in NYC and she would force Turner to reveal long-hidden family secrets.

Turner is Cain, who was never felt accepted by their father, a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD and alcoholism.  Palmer, many years younger, adored his father and was the "apple" of his father's eye. Nitro meets glycerine. Boom! Johanna is both seductive serpent in the garden and the very embodiment of the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.  As the tension and the violence between the brothers escalates, she finds herself trapped in the storm which she has unleashed.  As Johanna, Ms. DeJesus walks a tightrope between being coolly seductive and cruelly provocative.  It is a difficult role played with great finesse by this actor.  Victor Shopov delivers the kind of stellar performance we have come to expect from him, creating a Turner who is deeply conflicted about his past and his art and the jarring collision of these two tectonic plates in his life.  His eruptions into rage when confronting his brother and his past are frightening to behold in the intimate space of The Inner Sanctum.   Michael James Underhill comes to this role as Palmer fresh from his triumph in playing twin brothers in "Dying City."  As good as he was in that play, he has raised his game to a new level in creating the pill-popping Palmer.  Every nuance of speech and of halting movement speaks to one deep in the thrall of addiction and a slide down a vortex of self-destruction.  There is a rawness in Mr. Underhill's portrayal of Palmer that show elements of James Dean and a young Marlon Brando.  Yes, his performance is that good!

Underlying the Garden of Eden and Cain and Abel motifs lie an examination of what motivates an artist to produce his or her best work.  In a clever twist, all of the works of art we are shown are blank canvases, allowing the viewer to paint with his own imagination what should be seen on the canvas.  This play is a brilliant new work of art, painted in vibrant colors by a cast that frames the action to show the playwright's work in the best possible light.  This is a play that must be seen.  It will play at the Inner Sanctum near Dudley Square in Roxbury through August 15. See performance schedule and link below:

August 10th, Monday Performance #6 – Pay-What-You-Can/Industry Night 7:30pm
August 13th, Thursday Performance #7 – 7:30pm
August 14th, Friday Performance #8 – 7:30pm | Performance #9 10pm
August 15th, Saturday Performance #10 – 7:30pm | Performance #11 10pm



Gloucester Stage Presents The New England Premiere of "The New Electric Ballroom" by Enda Walsh

How appropriate for Gloucester Stage to mount a production of Enda Walsh's Obie-winning play, "The New Electric Ballroom."  Although set in an Irish coastal fishing village, there are universal truths that apply to almost all fishing communities.  Boredom, gossip, petty grudges, class hierarchy, mind-numbing routine, and deep loneliness are not the sole property of the fishing village that Enda has created set on the west coast of Ireland.  These are dynamics that wash in with tides all over the world.

Here is how the playbill describes this work by the same playwright who brought us the stunning "Once":

About the Play From the author of the musical Once comes a dark comedy about three sisters living in a small town on the coast of Ireland. The youngest, Ada, works at the local fish-packing plant, but Breda and Clara stay home and relive their teenage encounter with a 1950s rocker at the New Electric Ballroom. Their surreal routine is interrupted by Patsy, a fishmonger who ends up offering the sisters more than just the catch of the day. Winner of the OBIE Playwriting Award.Some strong language and adult situationsRunning time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Why It’s for You There’s a stamina and ruggedness in those who live and work by the sea. There exists a pride in that heritage and also, sometimes a cost. Enda Walsh’s wistful portrait is one all of us experience when we ponder dreams of what might have been, given different circumstances. His sisters must come together to support one another through the disappointment of lost dreams and the hope and expectation of dreams to come. Come savor the language, the joy, and the heartache in this magical tale.

L to R: Patsy: Derry Woodhouse; Clara: Marya Lowry; 
Breda: Nancy E. Carroll and Ada: Adrianne Krstansky
"The New Electric Ballroom"
Gloucester Stage
Through August 15
Photo by Gary Ng

Robert Walsh directs with a keen eye and a steady hand an outstanding cast of four actors.  Nancy E. Caroll as Breda, Marya Lowry as Clara, Adrianne Krstansky as Ada and Derry Woodhouse as Patsy have us believing that we are peeking through the window of a humble Irish cottage.  The three sisters live a bizarre and stultifying life, with OCD reigning supreme as the sisters repeat routines and stories that seem to be the skeleton upon which they have built their meager and isolated lives.  Patsy washes in with the tides to deliver a fresh load of fish.  He is usually ignored or reviled, but on one special day, he is invited to come in and sit.  He and Ana are prompted to take some risks to break out of their calcified routines, and hearts are broken.  The ensemble interact with one another flawlessly in their stylized and idiosyncratic universe, often replaying painful memories of visits to The New Electric Ballroom and its parking lot where advances are made and rules are broken.  Each of these fine actors establishes a firm persona for their character.The scene in which Patsy and Ana risk connecting is in itself electric and heart-rending.

Mr. Walsh the playwright and Mr. Walsh the director lead the audience to a deep examination of loneliness and the strange ways individuals and families choose to deal with isolation and marginalization.  The set design by Jenna McFarland Lord is authentic in its feel, Costumes by Miranda Giuleo fit the place and the times, Lighting by Russ Swift and Sound by Arshan Gallus all help to set the right Gaelic tone.

This production will run through August 15. Why not plan two trips in one!  Come to Gloucester for a meal and a play and be transported on a voyage to a quaint fishing village in Ireland.



In Its 20th Season, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Produces Its Best Production in "King Lear" - Final Weekend Opportunities To See This Remarkable Play

"Now has the winter of our discontent (finally) been made glorious summer . . ." by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's sumptuous production of "King Lear." Those of us who endured the worst winter in memory in Boston were able to weather the storms in part knowing that we would eventually be able to enjoy the treats that make summer in Boston such a delight - trips to Fenway, beach outings to the Cape or the Vineyard or Hampton Beach, Fireworks and the Boston Pops on the Esplanade on the 4th of July, Fiestas in the North End, fresh lobster rolls, ubiquitous food trucks and Shakespeare on Boston Common.

You know the basic plot.  Aging King Lear, feeling his mortality sets out a succession plan to divide his kingdom among his three daughters - Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. In an ill-advised stratagem, he asks them to declare their love for him in as flowery language as they can muster.  Goneril and Regan are willing to play the game, and serve up so much purple prose and fawning bullshit that it sounds like a GOP candidates debate.

Cordelia sees the hypocrisy, and simply states that her love for her father should speak for itself.  She has proven to be a loyal subject and devoted daughter throughout her life, and is unwilling to gild the lily. He asks her for more in the way of praise and adulation, and when she holds firm, he makes the fatal mistake of judging that her love for him is less than that of Goneril and Regan.  He summarily banishes her and refuses to pay a dowry when suitors ask for her hand.  He divides her share of the kingdom among Goneril and Regan, and all hell breaks lose in the wake of his blind decision.

Blindness is a persistent theme in this tragedy - physical blindness as well as emotional and spiritual.  Betrayal and family strife are also continuing motifs.  Not only is Lear dealing with treachery at the hands of his daughters to whom he has ceded the kingdom, but his friend Gloucester is betrayed by his illegitimate son, Edmund, who plans to usurp his brother, Edgar's, place in their father's heart through a forged letter purporting to show treachery on the part of Edgar.

Director Steven Maler has brought his A game to this production - beginning with the casting and continuing through the staging of this epic story. Tony Award-winner Beowulf Buritt has designed a sets that is comprised of skeletal scaffolding the allows flexibility and for actions to be set in such disparate places as Lear's court, the homes of Goneril and Regan, a hut, and the moors near Dover. Lighting by Peter West, Sound by Colin Thurmond and magnificent costumes by Katherine O'Neill make for an overall feel to this production that is very professional and impressive. One particular highlight of this production is the staging of the climactic scene in which Lear, near naked, rages in a storm.  He is rained upon and wind blown as he consorts in madness with Edgar, now disguised as a mad beggar wandering upon the moors philosophizing about life .It is a moment of magnificent stage craft.

At the heart of all of this sturm und drang is Will Lyman as King Lear.  In his magnificent career on Boston stages, he has won every conceivable award and accolade for his acting.  In this role, he expands his hegemony.  He possesses the stage from beginning to end.  Part of the genius of the set is that it is hung with banners that spell out the warning: "Future Strife May Be Prevented Now."  In the early scenes, panels of these hanging banners are stripped away, revealing ever more of the skeletal infrastructure beneath the surface.  In the same way, with each progressive scene, layers of Lear's authority, vitality and sanity are stripped away by his own actions and the reactions of others to his decisions..  Lyman's Lear traces an arc of devolution with vocal and physical transformation that signal Lear's devolution from authoritarian monarch to simpering old fool in his dotage bewailing his fate and that of his daughters.  Mr. Lyman offers an interpretation one of Shakespeare's most iconic characters that is on a par with the  like of James Earl Jones or Mark Rylance.  It was like hosting a visiting by the Royal Shakespeare Company to Boston Common.

Will Lyman as King Lear
Shakespeare's "King Lear"
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company
Boston Common
Through August 9
Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Mr. Lyman is supported by the work of a number of fine actors in the other principal roles.

Jerry Goodwin as Doctor/Old Man
Brandon G. Green as Oswald
Ed Hoopman as Edgar
Jeanine Kane as Regan
Jeremiah Kissel as Earl of  Kent
Deb Martin as Goneril
Libby McKnight as Cordelia
Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Duke of Cornwall
Mickey Solis as Edmund
MArk W. Soucy as Duke of Albany
Fred Sullivan, Jr. as Glocester
Brandon Whitehead as Fool

Each of these actors distinguishes themselves during the course of the three hour marathon.  Yet the time flew by as the story and this gripping presentation kept the audience - even the children - in their thrall.

Late last evening I encountered a friend who was just returning from seeing a performance of "King Lear."  "How was it?" I asked.  "Magnificent!  Just magnificent!"  That pretty well sums it up.  The show closes on Sunday evening, so grab your blanket or chair and make your way to Boston Common and put yourself under the authority of Will Lyman and company.



Thursday, August 06, 2015

Boston Teen Acting Troupe Presents "I Don't Know Where We're Going, But I Promise We're Lost" by M J Halberstadt

Sometimes when I am watching a play by the Boston Teen Acting Troupe, the level of polish and professionalism is such that I forget that everyone involved - from the Founders to the cast to the creative team - are all so young that they would need to use fake IDs to buy a drink in this town. And yet  they find a way to intoxicate audiences with each production. The current play,"I Don't Know Where We're Going But I Promise We're Lost" by M J Haberstadt builds upon the solid foundation that this group has built over the past few Boston theater seasons.

 Under the direction of Co-Founder, Jack Serio, the cast of four actors deftly tell a moving story of three siblings who have escaped what they perceive to be an abusive home. They flee to Boston's South End where they squat in an apartment previously occupied by the deceased great uncle of Annie, who is the girlfriend of Devon, the oldest of the three siblings. Second child, Josh(Aaron Piracini) was born with the name and identity of Annie, yet identifies as male. The parents refused to call Annie "Josh," and severely punished all of their children for being complicit in the plan to allow Annie to go through life as a boy. The youngest sibling, Ty (Alec Shiman) is in remission from leukemia, adding an additional layer of complexity and uncertainty to the already precarious circumstances this family of refugees find themselves confronting.

 The excellent set by Michael Navarro is the back yard of the apartment building. I felt as if I had walked into the back yard of someone's home on Union Park or Rutland Street, things obviously in disarray, disrepair and desuetude following the death of Annie's great uncle, a former teacher of special needs students. His illness forced him to allow his precious garden to go to seed and weeds. An incongruous student desk dangles ominously from a tree limb upstage left, implying several layers of meaning about the lives and fates of the previous inhabitant and those who have taken his place. There are lessons to be learned that are not taught in the average school.

Aaron Piracini as Josh
 Brian Ott as Deon
Emily White as Annie
Alec Shiman as Ty
"I Don't Know Where We're Going . . ."
Boston Teen Acting Troupe
Through Aug. 16 at Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Photo by Michael Navarro

Lighting by Alex Fetchko, Costumes by Nicole Angell and Sound by Ed Young all serve to help create a believable setting for this gripping drama. Adding greatly to the overall effect is original atmospheric music by COVEY (Tom Freeman, Dillon Rovere and Carson Cody). These fine musicians sit on stage and provide subtle musical commentary on the action taking place in front of them. This play was workshopped last year by this company. The playwright has worked closely with the creative team to tighten the script and to create this first fully-staged production of the play.

 Each of the actors is excellent. Emily White as Annie is trying to be helpful but has a difficult time understanding the complex dynamics of this unusual family constellation. Devon as the oldest tries to be responsible and to function as the authority figure, but he is out of his depth. Physical wrestling matches among the brothers signal deep grappling with their untenable situation, especially as Ty's medical condition becomes problematic. Brian Ott shows both the arrogance and the helpless sense of being lost that haunts Devon. Alec Shiman conveys just the right blend of rebellious brat and scared little boy. As things decay, he plants seeds in the garden to try to bring in a crop of watermelon that will taste like beer. Aaron Piracini as Josh is excellent - not trusting Annie at first, resisting Devon's authority and ultimately stepping in to make a difficult decision about Ty that changes the course of all of their lives.

 Jack Serio directs all of these layers with a steady hand that keeps the story from veering into soap opera territory. The play as written and as produced is moving and thought-provoking without being maudlin or pedantic. The issues of Josh's transgender struggles are handled with dignity and sensitivity.

 The play continues through June 16 at Boston Playwrights' Theater. Come see these young artists who are wise beyond their years. The theater is on Commonwealth Avenue. Don't get lost!

Boston Teen Acting Troupe Website



Monday, August 03, 2015

"Nine Kinds of Naked" by Tony Vigorito - A Surreal and Comedic Novel That Makes Time Stand Still

Tony Vigorito's "Nine Kinds of Naked" has become something of a cult classic.  The book is a wonderful roller coaster ride of a literary and philosophical examination of the nature of reality, time, synchronicity, the Butterfly Effect, quantum physics and the wonders of life in New Orleans.  Perhaps because of the New Orleans setting, reading this book made me think of "A Confederacy of Dunces," if it had been co-written by Hans Reichenach and Stephen Hawking, with commentary by Woody Allen.

The action toggles between the Middle Ages and present day - although according to the author, there is only one moment in time.  This makes for fascinating paradoxes as certain humans and gnomes are able to manipulate time, freezing action.  There is much discussion of the Butterfly Effect as it relates to a card-spinning prisoner whose twirling playing card sets in motion vortices that grow into tornadoes and eventually a mysterious Great White Spot - a stationary super-tornado that camps out at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico.  This Great White Spot spawns a generation of mystic pilgrims who are drawn to New Orleans to join the underground M2 movement whose motto is "Walk Away."

If your literary tastes lie in the way of comedy mixed with philosophical musing, then you will enjoy the hi-jinks of the menagerie of characters that the author spins into being.  Time will stand still for you as you make your way through these chapters.



"Finding Neverland" Original Broadway Cast Album - Capturing The Magic of This Timeless Musical

I got to watch "Finding Neverland" develop from its early previews at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge to its current Broadway form.  Along the way, I have fallen in love with this music and this story.  The cast album captures much of the magic of this wonderful show.  The duet "Feet Don't Touch The Ground" between J.M. Barrie (Matthew Morrison) and Peter Llewellyn Davies (Aiden Gemme) is the emotional heart of this musical, and is beautifully rendered in this CD.  Listing to this cast album over the past few days has reinforced my resolve to get back to Broadway to see the show one more time.

Other highlights are "Play," "Neverland", "Stronger," "Something About This Night" and the Finale.



Saturday, August 01, 2015

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Presents Christopher Durang's "Laughing Wild" - One More Chance To See This Show This Evening

This has been a good year for Christopher Durang's plays in Boston.  Early in the year, The Huntington Theatre Company produced his Tony Award-winning play, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"  And now Hub Theatre Company of Boston is finishing up their revival of "Laughing Wild," set in New York City in 1987.

Durang is strongly influenced by Chekhov.  "Vanya" is a mash-up of many of the Chekhovian dramas, with wry humor interspersed throughout the play. In the case of "Laughing Wild," the Chekhov influences are less explicit, but they are there thematically. In Scene Two, there is a fleeting allusion to "The Three Sisters," quoting the line: "We are going to Moscow!"  One of Chekhov's persistent themes is the inability of human beings to genuinely connect with one another.  This is certainly the case in "Laughing Wild," as The Woman and The Man spend Scenes One and Two in isolated monologue, talking about their unpleasant encounter with one another in the tuna aisle of the supermarket. Durang uses the angst and existential despair of the generic Man and Woman to vent his spleen about many of society's ills: Reagan's failure to provide help for AIDS, the depletion of the ozone layer, God's vengeful wrath against homosexuals, Haitians and hemophiliacs, false gurus who teach vapid affirmations, the impact of deinstitutionalizing the chronically mentally ill and dumping them on the streets of our urban centers. There is also a send-up of the intellectually bankrupt TV culture when The Woman murders Sally Jessie Raphael and usurps her TV show to interview the Infant of Prague about why God chooses to do what He does in the world.

This is a more angry and vituperative Durang than the one who wrote the more recent "Vanya."  The wild laughing and the ranting of the Woman, done with great energy and verve by Lauren Elias, is often strident and off-putting.  And that is the point that the playwright is trying to make.  The Man, played brilliantly by Robert Orzalli, is trying his best to apply the teaching of an EST-like guru to his depressed personality, mindlessly repeating the empty phrases and reminded himself to "just breathe."  Both Ms. Elias and Mr. Orzalli deliver some of the best work I have seen them do on Boston stages. They are each required to deliver long, ranting monologues, and they did not waver in portraying the off-center nature of their quirky characters.  Ms. Elias used her voice most often to let us know that The Woman was not quite right. Mr. Orzalli accomplished the same thing largely with his eyes and facial expressions.  They are well directed in this play by Margaret Ann Brady.  Set and props and Lighting are by Ben Lieberson.

Lauren Elias as The Woman
Robert Orzalli as The Man
"Laughing Wild"
by Christopher Durang
Hub Theatre Company of Boston
Through August 1st

This is a play that uses humor to point out many of the flaws in late 20th Century American culture. It will make you laugh, it will make you groan and it will make you think.  There will be one more chance to see the show this evening.  Club Cafe - 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston.

Hub Theatre Company Website