Tuesday, October 27, 2015

SpeakEasy Stage Company Scores A Knockout Punch With "Casa Valentina" - A Must See!

Harvey Fierstein's play "Casa Valentina" played last season on Broadway, and SpeakEasy Stage Company has chosen to build its 2015-2016 season around this powerful piece.  The writing is simply brilliant - with Fierstein's signature zingers hitting like rogue waves from a calm sea. The story, based on real people and incidents from 50 years ago, deals with the complexities of gender identity among a group of heterosexual cross-dressers who have found comfort in retreating to a safe haven in the Catskills to spend weekends as their feminine alter egos.  The writing and acting are nuanced, multi-layered and extraordinarily complex.  It turns out that the struggles of men back in the McCarthy era were not much different from issues being discussed today - except for the glaring fact that in the 1950s and 1960s one could be arrested for dressing as a woman.

An oft repeated dictum of playwriting and screenwriting is that if you show a gun in the opening scene, someone had better have fired that gun by the time the last scene rolls around.  The gun in this play is a vague reference to George having been questioned by a postal inspector about the contents of a mysterious manila envelope that has been mailed to him from Vermont. That gun is really a ticking time bomb, and that bomb finally explodes in Act II with several of the characters being wounded by the shrapnel.

It is a tribute to Mr. Fierstein's deft writing ability that the dialogue is at times hilarious without being campy, and heart-rending without being maudlin.  Each character has complex reasons for presenting themselves to the world and to one another as they do.  The action of the play veers suddenly in a political direction, examining the fault lines that exist even with the sorority of cross-dressing men with regard to whether they will accept homosexual cross-dressers as kindred spirits or reject them as loathsome sodomites.  The playwright offers no easy answers or facile solutions.

Robert Saoud, Will McGarrahan,
Sean McQuirk, Greg Maraio,
Kerry A. Dowling, Eddie Shields
"Casa Valentina"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through November 28th
Photo by Glenn Perry Photography.

Director Scott Edmiston wrings from this extraordinary ensemble cast memorable performances, each of which is deserving of mention.

  • Kerry A. Dowling is Rita, married to George/Valentina.  Together they operate the struggling Catskill retreat.  On the surface, she seems to be a complacent and accepting enabler of her husband's predilections, but previously buried doubts begin to surface as the play develops. Rita is the house mother of this sorority, offering acceptance and hospitality while trying to figure out where she fits in this territory for which there is no map to guide her steps.  Ms. Dowling is strong in this role.
  • Greg Maraio is Jonathon/Miranda, a neophyte who is sneaking away from his wife for his first foray into allowing Miranda to emerge.  He is scared and reticent.  The makeover that the girls offer Miranda goes deeper than a new wig and prosthetic curves.  Mr. Maraio is the very picture of insecurity evolving into euphoria and then crashing back into despair.  It is a strong arc for the characters, and this actor leads the audience through a clear understanding of that arc.
  • Robert Saoud is ridiculously good as Bessie, a decorated war hero who dresses like Norma Desmond.  Bessie wields Oscar Wilde quotations like a rapier, dropping insults and bon mots with a flick of her wrist and of her tongue.  It is a bravura performance.
  • Thomas Derrah is George/Valentina.  Mr. Derrah is no stranger to cross-dressing characters, having almost stolen the show in last season's "Necessary Monsters."  It was George's dream to open the retreat and to create the East Coast branch of a national sorority of heterosexual cross-dressers.  At a crucial moment, when Rita demands that he tell her what he really wants, his cri de coeur pierces the air in the theater as he screams: "I just want to be normal."  It is the kind of nuanced performance we have come to expect from this gifted actor.
  • Will McGarrahan is Charlotte, the doyenne of the Sorority, who has flow in from the West Coast to get the women to sign statements that they will not allow homosexuals to be part of their group.  In a duel between ambition and generosity in her soul, generosity is eclipsed, and Charlotte's political agenda and vendettas reveal themselves in a stunning tete-a-tete with the Judge/Amy.
  • Eddie Shields is stunningly beautiful as Gloria.  She tries to smooth over differences within the group, helps to make Miranda feel more comfortable, and eventually digs in her high heels and stands up to the bigotry of Charlotte and to Valentina's acquiescence to Charlotte's vitriol. Mr. Shields plays this role with subtlety and grace.
  • Sean McGuirk is Terry, blessed with one of the ugliest wigs in the history of stage craft, and sporting horn-rimmed glasses to boot.  She reminded me of my frumpy Old Maid school teacher great aunt Lib.  Terry keeps a low profile, but is a tower of strength when Amy needs help.
  • Timothy Crowe is the Judge/Amy.  His role as elder statesman among the group is threatened when Charlotte tosses the ticking time bomb into Amy's quaking lap.  The crisis sends Amy to the hospital and everyone else running for cover.
  • Deb Martin as Eleanor enters the play late in the game.  She is the Judge's daughter, and she embodies the hurt and angry families of these men, not able to understand why they would be so selfish as to put themselves, their families and their careers at risk just to feel the pleasure of donning women's clothing.
Will McGarrahan, Sean McQuirk, ,
Robert Saoud, Thomas Derrah,Eddie Shields
"Casa Valentina"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through November 28th
Photo by Glenn Perry Photography.

Mr. Fierstein offers no solutions, but he does hold a mirror up to each of us to consider the complexities of our own identities and struggles and inner hidden desires.  This is a play that demands that one pay attention to each character, and insists that we think about what we have seen and felt as lives are laid bare before us. The telling of this story is helped immensely by the brilliant Set designed by Janie E. Howland, Costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley, Lighting by Karen Perlow and Sound and Original Music by Dewey Dellay.

Will McGarrahan, Eddie Shields
Sean McQuirk, 
Kerry A. Dowling, Thomas Derrah,"Casa Valentina"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through November 28th
Photo by Glenn Perry Photography

This play will run at the BCA Calderwood Pavilion through November 28th.  Do not miss it.



Boston Is A Hub For Training The Next Generation Of Theater Professionals - We Are Surrounded By Great Teachers And Great Talent

Recent production of
"The Spitfire Grill"
Emerson Stage
Paramount Theater
I spend much of my time attending professional theater productions, so my standards are high in terms of what I expect when the house lights dim and the curtain rises.  I occasionally like to take in student productions at one of the many schools and conservatories that dot the Boston and Cambridge landscape.  I do not have to dumb down my expectations, for in most cases, the quality of student productions at these schools is of professional caliber.  We are indeed blessed here in the greater Boston area to have a chance to see the theatre professionals of the future honing their craft as students at BU, Emerson, Suffolk, Boston Conservatory, Berklee, Harvard, Northeastern, Brandeis and beyond.

In the past few weeks, I am have been impressed with the quality of the acting and creative talents behind the following productions:

  • "The Spitfire Grill," a musical based on the film, produced by Emerson Stage, Emerson College's Main Stage production arm.  This production highlights the synergies that exist between the worlds of working professional theater and academia here in town. This show was directed by Spiro Veloudos, Producing Artistic Director of The Lyric Theater Company of Boston. Students get to learn under the tutelage of one of the most knowledgeable theater professionals in the region, and Spiro gets the satisfaction of helping to mold actors, stage managers and creative talent that may grace the stage at the Lyric in future years.
  • BU students recently presented the Pulitzer Prize winning play, "Water By The Spoonful," and I found it to be every bit as moving and impactful as a professional production of the same play that I saw a few years ago.
  • Boston Conservatory students just tackled the iconic and challenging "The Three Penny Opera."  There were some impressive voices on display in the glorious Boston Conservatory Theater on Hemenway Street.
  • Harvard and Radcliffe students just mounted a rousing modernized version of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance Of Being Ernest."  Set in Manhattan and The Hamptons, it was a hilarious take on this classic comedy.
Many of the Boston area professional theater companies make good use of the developing talent that is growing a short T or Uber ride away.  In recent months, I have seen many students working alongside Equity actors at Reagle, SpeakEasy, Company One, Huntington, Wheelock, Lyric, Central Square, Stoneham, Arsenal Center for the Arts, Apollinaire, Boston Center for the Arts and other venues and companies.

The bottom line is that Boston theater lovers are uniquely positioned to scout out the next wave of Broadway, Hollywood and Boston talent at very reasonable prices.  I encourage you to monitor the websites of the schools I have mentioned, support the student productions and also go to see these talented men and women as they perform on our professional stages, as well.

The future is bright, and we have a chance to bask in its glow.



Wheelock Family Theatre Delights With "The Trumpet of The Swan" - Through November 22nd

The always reliable Wheelock Family Theatre has kicked off its 2015-2016 with the delightful "The Trumpet of The Swan."  The play is based on a book by author E. B. White and adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette.  This production is directed by Shelley Bolman.

The story is that of a young cygnet, the runt of a litter of five baby swans, who is born without the ability to trumpet or to make any sound at all.  This is a huge handicap for a trumpeter swan. This is a story of how he overcomes this huge obstacle by dint of his own determination and grittiness and with the help of his human friend, Sam Beaver. The story is told from the vantage point of adult Sam (Danny Bolton) looking back on his boyhood interactions with Louis the Swan.  Young Sam is played by Sebastian Wood.  Both Mr. Bolton and Master Wood are excellent in portraying a Sam who loves nature and will go well beyond the call of duty to find creative ways to help Louis, played with his usual irrepressible charm and deep expressiveness by Elbert Joseph.

Sebastian Wood as Young Sam
"The Trumpet of Te Swan"
Wheelock Family Theatre
Though November 22nd
Photo by Gary Alpert
Louis' parents are played with great elan by Jaime Carrillo and Caroline Lawton.  The father swam, Cob, is boisterous and long-winded, and his long-suffering spouse, Cygnus, assumes the role of having to shut down his expressive loquaciousness.  Their chemistry is fun to watch.  Jordan Clark plays Serena, the female swan whom Louis is able to woo, despite his inability to naturally trumpet. He has learned to read and write and play the brass trumpet like his namesake, Louis Armstrong.

Jordan Clark as Serena
Elbert Joseph as Louis
"The Trumpet of The Swan"
Wheelock Family Theatre
Through November 22nd
Photo by Gary Alpert

Other adult cast members include Cliff Odle as Watson/Lucky, Charlotte Peed as Mrs. /Judge, Kippy Goldfarb as Sam's Mom/Mrs. Tettlebaum and Margaret Clark as Miss Plum/Boatwoman/Zookeeper.  The cast is completed by a large flock of eager and well-trained young Wheelock teens and kids, playing a variety of forest animals, cygnets, campers, etc.  One of the extra benefits of attending a show at Wheelock is the sheer delight seen in the eyes of these young actors as they experience the thrill of performing live theater for an appreciative audience.

Scenic design is by Mac Young, who has created a versatile and verdant set that brings the outdoors inside this performance space.  Choreography is by Patricia Manolo Bochnak, Lighting by Annie Wiegand, Costumes by Lisa Simpson and Kaitee Tredway, Sound by Roger J. Moore.

In keeping with Wheelock's philosophy to be inclusive, surtitles are displayed to interpret Louis' ASL communication.

At its core, this play is a morality tale of the value of fighting to overcome adversity and perceived handicap.  It is a fun and inspirational show, and would make a great outing for any family.  I am happy to trumpet the news that this is a play well worth seeing. Bostonians will love the scene in which Louis flies to Boston to seek employment working for the Swan Boats in the Public Garden!

This production will run through November 22nd.

Wheelock Family Theatre Website



Monday, October 26, 2015

Boston Ballet Opens Its New Season With The Spectacularly Beautiful "Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler: A Ballet by John Neumeier" - Through November 1st

Boston Ballet
"Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler; A Ballet by John Neumeier"
at Boston Opera House
Through November 1st

Boston Ballet has launched its 2015-2016 season with the luminous "Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler: A Ballet by John Neumeier."  This production is a North American Premiere of this work that was first performed in 1975.  While the piece does not follow a specific programme or libretto, certain hints have emerged over the years as the Choreographer, Mr. Neumeier, has answered questions about his intent in each movement.  These suggested themes are outlined in the Boston Ballet program notes copied at the end of this piece.

The overall musical treatment by Mahler and the ballet derived from it by Neumeier have an overarching theme of serving as an ode to the vicissitudes of the human experience.  The opening movement, which in itself is as long as many full symphonies, is performed by a corps of about 30 male dancers.  The movement, entitled "Yesterday," begins in silence, with pairs of dancers poised looking like frozen gull wings or angels in mid flight.  Then the dancers begin to move slowly and deliberately, almost in the same subdued cadence as graceful tai chi practitioners.  As they interact with one another, creating tableaux, at one point the corps propels one dancer (Isaac Akiba) heavenward.  The others have formed a human pyramid that envelops him, embraces him, elevates him and then gently allows him to roll back to earth, cascading down a ramp of human bodies.  It is an arresting visual image accompanied by Mahler's emotion-laden music.

Boston Ballet
"Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler; A Ballet by John Neumeier"
First Movement - "Yesterday"
at Boston Opera House
Through November 1st
Throughout this movement and continuing through the entire piece, music and movement suggest the full range of human experience: love, loss, birth, death, relationships, jealousy, isolation, loneliness, jubilation, alienation, striving, reaching, experiencing the detachment of being both an observer and a participant in life.  In the performance I attended, Paulo Arrais was on stage for much of the ballet. He was dressed in a skin tone leotard, suggesting a naked Everyman who both experiences life and sometimes withdraws from it to observe and to meditate upon its meaning. His grace and athleticism are riveting, and the eye follows his every movement, even when he is casually strolling upstage or reclining on the front apron of the stage.

The Fourth Movement, "Night" is haunting in its simplicity.  For several minutes, the three dancers move in total silence, miming a variety of interactions with one another. And then the music begins to underscore their continued movement.  Those moments of silent movement are literally breathtaking, for the audience members sat on the edge of their seats, not squirming, not coughing, not daring to breath because they were intent on seeing what mystery would unfold next from the silently evolving interactions among the three dancers.  On Saturday afternoon they were Anais Chalendard, Irlan Silva and Paulo Arrais.

During the choral sections of this symphony, the orchestra was joined by The New World Chorale and Alto soloist Sarah Pelletier.  The expanded orchestra played well for the most part, although I am accustomed to hearing Mahler played by the BSO or similar world class symphony orchestras, The Boston Ballet orchestra, conducted by Jonathan McPhee, is not quite up to that high standard; I noticed a few wobbly notes from the brass.

The simple leotard costumes were dyed in 30 different shades of natural colors, with greens predominating in the "Summer" second movement and fall colors in the "Autumn" third movement. The staging (Kevin Haigen, Janusz Mazon, Leslie McBeth) and lighting (Ralf Merkel) were perfect, framing the dancers in larger or smaller frames with variable coloring for backdrops.

Lia Cirio, Drew Nelson, and Paulo Arrais
"Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler: A Ballet by John Neumeier"

Third Movement - "Autumn"
at Boston Opera House.

Misa Kuranaga stood out in the "Angel" fifth movement and in the finale when she was paired with Mr. Arrais.

This beautiful work merits a trip to the Boston Opera House this week.  It is a promising beginning that what looks to be a very exciting season for Boston Ballet.  The program runs an hour and forty-five minutes without intermission, so plan to arrive on time, since late seating requires you to sit in the back of the house.

Boston Ballet Men
"Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler: A Ballet by John Neumeier"
First Movement - "Yesterday"

at Boston Opera House.


Boston Ballet Website

Third Symphony by Gustav Mahler
Ballet by John Neumeier, dedicated to his company, the Hamburg Ballet
Like Mahler's music, the ballet was not created according to a libretto.
The music itself is its theme. The following is therefore not a literal synopsis., which features prominently in Mahler's orchestrations. These word-images are John Neumeier's spontaneous answers to the question of meaning in his ballet-written long after its creation.
"And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death"
William Shakespeare, "Macbeth"
Silence. The movement begins with lifeless nature. Stones? Trees?
The earth's vibrations move and shape nature. Man-earth bound-senses rumblings of aggression and the seductive march rhythm is born.
Intimations of latent destruction.
The march towards violence and war cannot be held back.
But, there are also anima sounds-a breath lifting man off the earth. The soul.
The central figure senses contrary forces within himself-a journey of experience begins.
Flowers on a field of war.
The central figure is moved by their pure beauty. They inspire his dreams yet remain distant. Floral beauty may touch our emotions but cannot fulfill physical desire.
People. Fragments of loving relationships-human warmth during the chill season of farewells. Longing for new beginnings-for a touch. The ghosts of lovers constantly parting introduce the theme of death.
Recovering from the experience of death we carry on-we carry each other.
The Fourth Movement, Night (Nacht),
 is dedicated to John Cranko and his Company
 and was premiered in Stuttgart, July 1974,
 with Marcia Haydée, Richard Cragun and 
Egon Madsen.
The purity of a child speaks-like an angel, moving with transparent power-direct and aspiring. This song is an overture to the last movement of the symphony.
VI-What Love tells me
People reach towards each other-meet, touch, and desperately embrace.
The desire to connect bends their bodies. Brief encounters constantly collapse.
Touched by the Angel of the fifth movement, the central figure experiences an intense but fleeting relationship. Although their meeting is transient, the spirit of pure love colours his world. Moving towards love remains his ultimate journey.
Music: Gustav Mahler
Choreography, Costumes, Lighting Concept: John Neumeier
World Premiere: The Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg, June 14, 1975

"The Woman In Black" - A Ghostly Tale Perfect For Halloween - At Davis Square Theatre Through 10/28

"The Woman In Black" is a haunting and seasonally appropriate ghost tale set in the coast of Maine.  Written by Stephen Mallatratt, the story is adapted from a novel by Susan Hill.  In this Dark Ride Production presentation at the Davis Square Theatre, the two actors play multiple roles as the action toggles back in forth between present day and events in the past.

The conceit is that an older man, Mr. Kipps, finally feels ready to tale a chilling tale of something that happened to him many years ago when he was a young man.  Not trusting his ability to tell the story in a convincing way to his family and close friends, he hires an acting coach to help him to overcome his tendency to read the story in a monotone that would bore his audience to tears or to sleep. Brian Savage plays Mr. Kipps and Ben Lewin is the acting coach.  As the coaching sessions develop, Mr. Kipps and his coach act out the story, each one assuming a variety of roles, with the coach serving primarily in the role of young Mr. Kipps.

The story spins out a complex web one thread at a time as young Mr. Kipps is sent to a remote part of the coast of Maine to settle the affairs of one of the clients of his firm.  He is tasked with sorting out a voluminous mountain of her papers, and finds himself encountering a town that has become petrified by a series of sightings of a mysterious Woman in Black.  The heart of this tale revolves around several sightings of this ghostly figure, and the after effects of those sightings.  Mr. Lewin is particularly effective in conveying a wide range of emotions, from the business-like acting coach, to the self-confident Mr. Kipps as he sets out for Maine, to a very shaken person who fears for his safety and that of his family after encountering this phantom-like Woman in Black.

Ben Lewin
"The Woman In Black"
Davis Square Theatre
Through October 28th

You have three more opportunities to see this show - this evening, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Davis Square Theatre.  IT is a trip worth taking.

Davis Square Theatre Website



Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fiddlehead Theatre Company Presents "West Side Story" - The Jets and The Sharks Rumble In Dorchester

The Fiddlehead Theatre Company kicks off what promises to be a strong 2015-2016 season with one of theater's most iconic musicals: "West Side Story."  This modern take on the Romeo and Juliet story is as timeless as the Shakespeare play that inspired the book by Arthur Laurents.  Leonard Bernstein set the story to music with lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins created choreography that remains one of the benchmarks of great dance.

The current production playing at the Strand Theater in Dorchester delivers all of the energy and punch that audiences have come to expect from this iconic work of art.  There are several highlights that come to mind:

  • Musical Director Charles Peltz has assembled a 22-piece orchestra that fills the performance space with the familiar Bernstein music.
  • Choreographer Wendy Hall has taken the beloved Jerome Robbins dance numbers an invested them with energy and drive that keep them a living organism rather than a balletic museum piece.
  • Kim Corbett is a luminous Maria.  Her singing voice is worth the price of admission.  There are some note that she launches towards the upper reaches of the Strand Theater that shimmer like crystal.  The chemistry that she shares with Tony is believable and heart-breaking.  Their duet "One Hand, One Heart" is a highlight.
  • Jeffrey Zicker is a very convincing Tony.  In the early numbers, he seemed to struggle a bit in his upper register, but as the performance progresses, he gained strength and confidence and matched Ms. Corbet's sound in their later duets.
  • Pamela Turpen is strong as Anita.  "A Boy Like That" is sung with thunder in her heart and voice.  Scenic Designer Mac Young uses multiple levels of the Strand space to stage the action.  Anita luxuriates in a bath that is set in a mezzanine box.
  • Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva is a strutting and swarthy Bernado, oozes hatred for the Jets from his every pore.  His chemistry with Anita is sultry and palpable.
  • Theo Lencicki is an excellent Riff,leader of the Jets.  "Jet Song" and "Cool" are great ensemble numbers led by him.  
  • Carl-Michael Ogle is a very sympathetic Chino, the Shark is in way over his head in trying to gain revenge for Bernado's death.
  • The always reliable John Davin makes a great Doc and high school Principal.
  • The dancing throughout this production is spectacularly good.
"Westside Story"
Fidlehead Theatre Company
Strand Theater
Through October 25th
Costumes are by Stacy Stephens, and Lighting by Dan Jentzen.

Fiddlehead Theatre Company is offering a free trolley service from Copley Square to the Strand Theatre.  This is a nice addition for those who do not find it easy to get to Uphams Corner. See details in the website link below.

This promises to be a strong season for Fiddlehead, with "The Little Mermaid," "Rent" and "Showboat" as the remaining shows.

A few tickets remain for this weekend's performances.  Get them while they are still available. 



   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &   &

The Jets
Riff….. Theo Lencicki*
Tony….. Jeffrey Zicker
Action….. Gabriel Corey
A-RAB….. Kieron Cindric
Baby John….. Isaac Jankowski
Big Deal….. Dougie Robbins
Diesel….. Andrew Winans
Their Girls
Graziella….. Lindsay Bell
Velma….. Sarah Kawalek
Minnie….. Alex Paul
Clarice….. Rianna Hidalgo
Pauline….. Rebecca Frazier
Anybodys….. Lydia Ruth Dawson
The Sharks
Bernardo…..Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva*
Maria….. Kim Corbett*
Anita….. Pamela Turpen*
Chino…..Carl-Michael Ogle*
Pepe….. Felix Marchany
Indio….. Xavier Reyes
Luis….. Arthur Cuadros
Anxious….. Adrian Ruz
Their Girls
Rosalia….. Kara Nelson
Consuelo….. Greer Gisy
Teresita….. Courtney Ortiz
Francisca….. Ryoko Seta*
Estella….. Marta Rymer
The Adults
Doc….. John Davin*
Schrank….. Daniel Boudreau
Krupke….. Bryan Miner*
Gladhand….. John Davin*
*Member – Actors’ Equity Association
Creative Team for West Side Story
Meg Fofonoff … Founding Producing Artistic Director
Stacey Stephens … Associate Producing Artistic Director
Alycia Marucci … Production Stage Manager
Jaclyn Fulton … Assistant Stage Manager
Charles Peltz … Musical Director
Wendy Hall … Choreographer
Arthur Cuadros … Assistant Choreographer
David “Butch” Foley … Technical Director
Bill Hawkins … Assistant Technical Director
Mac Young … Scenic Design
Daniel H. Jentzen … Lighting Designer
Margaret Galvin … Assistant Costume Designer / Wardrobe Supervisor
Maya Landi … Hair & Makeup / Blood Designer

Friday, October 16, 2015

ArtsEmerson Presents "Mr. Joy" by Daniel Beaty - Featuring The Remarkable Tangela Large

Here is a classic good news - bad news offering.  The good news is that Daniel Beaty's play, "Mr. Joy," being presented as part of the current ArtsEmerson season is tremendous.  The bad news is that the remaining performances through the end of this weekend are sold out.  There is a ray of hope. This announcement is taken from the ArtsEmerson website:

Mr. Joy performances are appearing as SOLD OUT. However, tickets may become available! Tickets are frequently returned or exchanged for other performances, so check back later.  Additionally, on the day of a given performance, a waitlist will be started at the Emerson/Paramount Center one hour prior to each curtain and any available tickets will be released for sale beginning a fifteen minutes prior to curtain to the people on the wait list. You must be in person at the Box Office to be placed on the waitlist and when your name is called.**

Why is the show selling out every performance?  Elementary, my dear Watson.  It is terrific theater that touches the soul and challenges the mind.  The play is lovingly crafted by Mr. Beaty to reflect a microcosm of a neighborhood in Harlem that includes African-American residents and some Asian, including old Mr. Joy, who has kept a shoe repair shop in the same location for 30 years.

The play opens with a young girl, Mr. Joy's assistant and protege, bewildered that he has not appeared to open the shop.  On the stoop in front of the shop we see a collection of shoes and flowers. We learn through a variety of characters that Mr. Joy had been robbed and beaten and lies in a coma in the hospital.  As the actions continues, we meet a cavalcade of characters, representing the full spectrum of the neighborhood denizens:

  • Mr. Joy's daughter
  • The little girl, whose parents have died of AIDS
  • Her grandmother
  • A successful African-American real estate developer who is a Republican and who has a transgendered son/daughter from whom he is estranged.
  • The developer's child, formerly known as Austin, now known as Ashes
  • The developer's white girlfriend who is trying to have a baby through artificial insemination
  • Two young gang members, one of whom is Mr. Joy's assailant
  • A street person who once once been a successful Revolutionary Artist with a pet snake
Each of these colorful characters is portrayed by the transcendent Tangela Large.  To borrow a riff from her name, in dispensing talent  Someone must have decided to Super Size her portion.  She creates these nine perfectly differentiated characters and draws on emotions that range from pious to bewildered to lost to defiant to enraged.  I do not believe I was the only one in the audience moved to tears by this bravura performance.

Tangela Large
"Mr. Joy" by Daniel Beaty
PAramount Black Box
Through October 18th

The playwright's philosophy is articulated by the grandmother, who is organizin a gang of Grannys to combat violence in the neighborhood. "It is not enough to just pray; we have to take some action.." Mr. Beaty, ArtsEmerson, the project entitled I Dream: Boston all aim to move community members to take action to address the myriad issues that the play illuminates.  Throughout the play, Mr. Beaty uses familiar racial stereotypes and then delights in destroying those stereotypes.  A Black Republican, other than Ben Carson? Why not?

The concept of presenting this piece is that the play itself is Part One of a series of initiatives.  Part Two is immediate audience feedback and discussion with the creative team behind "Mr. Joy." Part Three is an ongoing Call To Action.

I was intrigued by the creative process.  I will seize a moment from the play as a metaphor for that process.  At one point, the character who is awaiting insemination is carrying a thermos bag containing frozen sperm.  In the creation of this play, I see Mr. Beaty as having provided the seed in the form of the concept and the script.  Ms. Large offers up the ova of her creativity and talent to be fertilized by the playwright's seminal words.  And Director David Dower and his team and his performance space create a womb and an incubator in which the embryonic characters can develop, be nurtured , emerge from the womb and present themselves to the world.

If you have the opportunity to snag a ticket to one of this weekend' performances, I think you will see what I mean.  If not, take heart.  Mr. Beaty has one more year left in his three year residency with ArtsEmerson.  We have not heard the last of his voice in Boston.  And that is a source of great Joy!



Thursday, October 15, 2015

"Copenhagen" and "Einstein's Dreams" Running In Repertory - Presented by Catalyst Collaborative@MIT at Central Square Theater Through November 15

I saw an extraordinary play last evening at Central Square Theater.  "Copenhagen" by Michael Frayn is a brilliantly conceived and written play about the historic meeting in 1941 between two of the world's leading theoretical physicists: Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.  Under the precise and enlightened direction of Eric Tucker, the three actors are superb in portraying the two physicists and Bohr's wife, Margrethe.

This play is running in repertory with "Einstein's Dreams" by Wesley Savick, adapted from the book by Alan Lightman.  Both plays employ the same three cast members, supplemented by Roberto Cassan on the accordion in "Einstein's Dreams" and by Han Nah Son on the piano in "Copenhagen." These plays are part of an ongoing partnership,: the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT, an idea that was inaugurated in 2007.  MIT and Underground Railway Theater have combined their resources to dramatize issues of science and to help to incorporate the the humanities more fully into the MIT community experience.

One of the reasons that I found this play to be so satisfying is the complexity and cleverness of the writing by Mr. Frayn.  He uses the world and language of physics as metaphors to describe in words and in action the dynamic relationships among the three characters, who are speaking to us posthumously from beyond the grave, still wrestling with trying to understand exactly what happened during the watershed meeting in Copenhagen in 1941.  There is much high level discussion of the intricacies of theoretical physics and nuclear fission - specifically the splitting of the Uranium atom. Very profoundly, the playwright and director have timed dialogue so that characters are frequently interrupting one another - their individual words launched to split the atom of the other's communication.  It is verbal fission.

As the action of the play develops, moving back and forth in time (demonstrating some of Einstein's theories of time and space), it becomes clear that there occurred a rupture in the relationship between Bohr and his former protege Heisenberg.  The nucleus of the issue was the fact that Heisenberg was now collaborating with the Nazis in trying to perfect fission with a view towards harnessing the atomic energy as a weapon of mass destruction.  Bohr, living in occupied Denmark, was deeply resentful of the Nazis and distrustful of Hiesenberg's motives in visiting the Bohrs and pumping the professor for information.

In the course of following the complicated and convoluted conversations among Bohr, Heisenberg and Margrethe, the audience learns a great deal about physics and about the chemistry that exists in the relationships among the top physicists in the world.  That there are intellectual and personal rivalries to be measured and accounted for is clear. A complicating factor in the relationships among these three characters is the fact of the drowning of the Bohr's son during a fishing trip that included Bohr and Heisenberg.  The uncertainty of whether either of these men did everything in their power to try to save the young man orbits around the three-fold relationship shared among these three individuals, and hangs as a pall over their subsequent interactions over the years.

At the heart of the play and of the Bohr-Heisenberg isotope of decaying friendship is the question: "What moral responsibility does a scientist have to deploy or to withhold the application of his knowledge in time of war if the application of that knowledge could lead to the development of a weapon and huge loss of life?"  The same question with some of the same characters is treated in a powerful play that was produced by the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT in 2013: the brilliant "Operation Epsilon."

The playwright's words spring into vibrant action and life in the hands of the three gifted actors. Steven Barkimer is the passionate, gruff and brilliant Nobel laureate Bohr. His verbal sparring with Heisenberg and his more gentle repartee with Margrethe reveal a complex man who has come to discover the arcane workings of subatomic particles. Yet he realizes that it would be a quantum leap for him to be able to fully plumb the depths of the mind and heart of his wife.  As Margrethe, Debra Wise masters a whole catalogue full of facial expressions, pretending to be gracious to the visiting Heisenberg, knowing that she never liked or fully trusted him when he was a daily presence in their home early in his career.  Having typed many drafts of Bohr's papers and of the iconic Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, she understands the science almost as well as the brilliant men in her house. And she certainly understands them as human beings far better that they understand themselves. In keeping with Heisenberg's landmark Uncertainty Principal, the objects of her observation do not remain unchanged in response to the photons of her piercing gaze and moral judgment. Robert Najarian is a bundle of frenetic energy as Heisenberg, uncertain even of his own true motives for visiting Bohr in the midst of the war, and again after Germany had been defeated. He spins in opposite directions - sometimes wanting the approval and acceptance of his mentor, and at other time wanting to leave the gravitational field of Bohr's mind to contemplate on his own new theories and calculations.

These same three actors also populate "Einstein's Dreams," a shorter and much less substantial piece that treats young Einstein's struggles to understand and to articulate a whole new conception of the nature of time and space. In this shorter work, given the more prosaic text from which to draw their characters, they play a very fine game of three-handed checkers.  In "Copenhagen," Mr. Frayn has constructed for them a three-dimensional chess board, and they play the game as Grand Masters. The amount of fissionable material in the script has reached critical mass, and it allows this elemental trio to sustain a chain reaction of conflict, conceptualization and catharsis that kept me spellbound.

Do not miss this play, which will run through November 15th.  I have absolutely no uncertainty that you will find this to be a worthwhile investment of your time and of your entertainment budget.  Put yourself in the orbit around Central Square and enjoy a remarkable evening of theater.

Central Square Theater Website



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"An Audience With Meow Meow" Presented by ArtsEmerson - Meow Meow Purrs and Claws Her Way Into Boston Hearts

ArtsEmerson kicked off its 2015-2016 season with the excellent "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me" starring Valerie Vigoda and Wade McCollum.  This season is being billed by ArtsEmerson as "Intentionally Different - Entirely ArtsEmerson." The series certainly builds on that solid beginning with the current offering of "An Audience With Meow Meow." This show lives up to that promise to be different.

I am going to be intentionally coy in withholding many details about what happens on stage - and off stage - in this wild and memorable evening of theater.  It is an adventuresome admixture of kamikaze cabaret, burlesque, stand-up comedy, theater of the absurd and social commentary all mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie.  Oh, wait!  That is a different show!

I am withholding details because I want to avoid the danger of spoiling some of the surprises that await an audience member who puts himself or herself in the seats at the Cutler Majestic to experience one of the most hands-on evenings of theater I have had the pleasure to enjoy.  So, I will not talk about exactly what Meow Meow does during her act, but I will reveal my understanding of why she does what she does and the overarching message she is sending to her audiences.

I take great pains to examine the set design for any show I see - looking for thematic clues to what I might expect as the show unfolds.  In the case of "An Audience With Meow Meow," the set (Andrea Lauer, based on an original design by Neil Murray) includes a huge gold frame that has added pieces of broken frames.  I began to anticipate that Meow Meow had designed a program that places itself within the framework of recognized theater forms - cabaret, burlesque - but that she would also shatter expectations and move outside of the frame and color outside of the lines.  I was correct in my prognostication.  From her entrance to her spectacular and invasive exit, she defied expectations.

As she entered the stage she was dragging a large steamer trunk.  I think she was saying to us symbolically that we all bring baggage to the performance that is our life.  It is what we do with that baggage that matters.

Near the end of the show, a sheer scrim was hoisted aloft.  It contained memorabilia - costumes, sheet music, playbills - that symbolized many of the women who have performed on Boston stages in the past and have defied expectations and broken taboos: Isadora Duncan, Sally Rand, et al..  Meow Meow certainly places herself in that long line of pioneering performers.  She wrapped herself in a garb that was electrified and lit with many small bulbs and boasting bits of memorabilia from past performers, almost recapitulating Broadway's Gypsy Robe tradition.

Throughout the performance, she constantly found new ways to reach out to the audience and to invite the audience to reach out to her.  She often dressed and undressed on stage - symbolizing her invitation for us to join her in taking risks and becoming emotionally naked before one another. Her in-your-face approach to entertainment and commentary is not for everyone's taste.  One couple seated near the front of the Orchestra section conspicuously got up and departed halfway through the performance.  But those of us who stayed - who do not suffer from "hardening of the categories" - were treated to a memorable and challenging evening.

This feline femme fatale implores us to embrace her - and to embrace our common humanity, to re-examine and re-define what it means to be human and a part of a dynamic community that communicates and care for one another in ever-changing ways.

This performer takes enormous risks, but she seems to have nine lives and always manages to land on her feet - or in the outstretched hands of her supportive audience.

This unique presentation will be repeated through October 24th at the Cutler Majestic. Get your tickets now.  I think you may find it as invigorating and intoxicating as cat nip.

Meow.  Meow

ArtsEmerson Website



Titanic Theatre Company Presents "Polish Joke" by David Ives - This Is A "Must See" Production - No Joke!

Titanic Theatre Company's current production of "Polish Joke" by David Ives is one of the best ensemble pieces I have seen in a long while.  I have not laughed this hard at the theater in many moons.  But it is not just a comedy.  This show is a poignant and thoughtful commentary on issues of ethnic identity, stereotyping, discrimination and family.

The play is brilliantly written, and executed with precision timing by a great cast, under the superb direction of Sarah Gazdowicz.

Let's talk about this remarkable cast:

  • Will Bowry  As is the case with each cast member with the exception of Dan Prior, they play multiple characters.  In the case of Mr. Bowry, he plays a broad range - from Uncle Roman, to a Sanitation Worker, to a Polish Immigrant who has tunneled to America from Poland, to a less than sympathetic Doctor. He is particularly effective as Uncle Roman, dispensing blue collar pseudo-wisdom to his young nephew Jasiu.
  • Becca A. Lewis - Her Magda is a triumph. Dressed in a nurse's uniform the colors of the Polish flag - red and white -  she plays a game of "Polish Army Hospital, with young Jasiu.  She is also effective as Rachel, Jasiu's Jewish fiancee.
  • Janelle Mills - Ms. Mills is wonderful as a Florist, as Mrs. Flanagan with a wildly exaggerated Irish Brogue, and as a Stewardess.
  • Dan Prior - Jasiu starts out as a rather bland figure, a young boy bewildered by his Uncle's advice to be something other than Polish.  As he attempts to reinvent himself as a variety of aliases and alter egos, Mr. Prior shows off his dramatic range.
  • Matthew Zahnzinger - Among a truly outstanding cast, Mr. Zahnzinger truly distinguishes himself.  His Priest put me in mind of Barry Fitzgerald as the iconic Father Fitzgibbon in the Bing Crosby film "Going My Way." His Mr. O'Flanagan, the faux-Irish travel agent, is one long series of put-on brogues and Irish jigs.
Becca A. Lewis as Magda
Dan Prior as Jasiu
William Bowry as Uncle Roman
"Polish Joke"
Titanic Theatre Company
Central Square Theatre
Through October 18th

Lighting is by Ian King, Sound by Eric Hamel, Costumes by Erica Desautels and Dialogue Coaching by Marta Rainer and Charles Linshaw.

Good comedy always prompts us to think more deeply about important issues by making our current take on them look ridiculous.  This comedy succeeds in this mission.  The playwright's message is summed up in a final valedictory comment by Uncle Roman as he once again seeks to advise his now grown nephew, now that Jasiu had come full circle and embraced his Polish heritage and identity: "People aren't different, people are exactly the same."

Come and join the party. It is good for us to laugh at ourselves and the ridiculousness of telling Polish jokes.

Did you hear the one about the Polack who locked his keys in the car?   . . . . .

The play runs only through this weekend.  Do not miss it, or the joke's on you!

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

David Ives' "Polish Joke" is a comic and poignant send-up of identity, ethnic stereotypes, and the eternal American search for "roots." Described by Ives as his most shamelessly autobiographical work, "Polish Joke" follows Jasiu, a Polish-American, as he struggles to rise above the perceived limitations of his ancestry by reinventing himself, trying on different names and national origins in a series of hilarious, sometimes surreal encounters.

Wednesday, October 14 at 7:30
Thursday,October 15 at 7:30
Friday, October 16 at 8:00PM
Saturday, October 17 at 3:00PM and 8:00PM
Sunday, October 18 at 3:00PM


Central Square Theater
450 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA



Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bridge Repertory Theater Presents "Salomé" - A Rare Opportunity for Boston Audiences To See A Baryshnikov Dance!

Oscar Wilde loved provoking scandals, and he certainly did that with his play "Salomé."  His racy adaptation of the Biblical story of John the Baptist and Salomé was banned during his lifetime, and was only performed after his death.  It is clear that Mr. Wilde wrestled with many demons.  In this play, he attempts to exorcise - or at least exercise - some of them in creating a character of Salomé who is willful, rebellious and driven by a lust that causes her to obsess over the Jewish prophet and to perform seductively for her King and step-father, in defiance of her mother.

Director Olivia D'Ambrosio has chosen to re-imagine this play as set in the 1970's, so it has a bit of a retro-disco feel.  She ties the text of this play to the era in which the Stonewall riots took place in NYC - cementing the relationship between Salome's bloody quest for sexual freedom and fulfillment to the emerging gay rights movement.

This is a play that you will want to experience. It is not Oscar Wilde's best work, but it is intriguing and provocative.  What makes this production worth seeing is the casting of the luminous Shura Baryshnikov in the role of Salomé.  This gifted artist has taken full advantage of the gene pool from which she has sprung.  Her striking beauty echoes that of her mother, Jessica Lange.  Her fluid dance moves are reminiscent of her father, Mikhail, in his halcyon days of graceful leaping on the world's ballet stages.  From the moment she walked into the performance space at First Church, I could not take my eyes off of her.  Because of the 1970 setting, we do not get the classic Dance of the Seven Veils that make Richard Strauss's operatic telling of this story so memorable.  But we do get original choreography by Ms. Baryshnikov, and it is scintillating.

Other cast members include:
Robert D. Murphy as Herod
Veronica Wiseman as Herodias
Woody Gaul as Jokanaan
David D'Andrea as Soldier
Robert Cope as Nazarene
Jesse Garlick as First Jew
Cliff Odle as Tigellinus
Geoff Van Wyck as Page of Herodias
Jeff Church as Captain
Harsh Gagoomal as Second Jew

Lighting is by Stephen Petrilli, gorgeous Costumes by Chelsea Kerl, Sound by Bevin Kelley, Scenic Design by Esme Allen.

This Bridge Repertory Theater production concludes this weekend with the final performance on October 18.

Bridge Rep Website



Monday, October 12, 2015

Company One Presents The Gut-Wrenching Play "Dry Land" by Ruby Rae Spiegel - Through October 30th at BCA

I do not believe that it is possible to sit in the audience at a performance of "Dry Land" and not squirm and feel physical discomfort in empathizing with the emotional and physical agony that is being portrayed on the stage. Simply put, this is a play that is deeply thought-provoking and profoundly gut-wrenching.

The subject matter is DIY abortion, as attempted by an adolescent swimmer who find herself pregnant, and her boyfriend has "moved on." Amy (Stephanie Recio) enlists another swimmer,Ester (Eva Hughes) to keep punching her in the stomach to try to induce a miscarriage of the lemon-sized fetus she is carrying. She and Ester have not been close friends until they find themselves entangled in this complex and fluid relationship.  Amy has a close friend, the vacuous Reba (Alex Lonati) who is part of the swim team, but who is much too self-absorbed to have been a suitable candidate to help Amy in her time of need.

Playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel has dipped into her pool of personal experience to paint these characters in living color. She herself was a swimmer.  With the help of a very realistic locker room set designed by Courtney Nelson and Sound Design by Andrew Duncan Will, we can almost smell the chlorine wafting from the adjacent pool. Costumes are by Miranda Kau Giurleo and Lighting by Daisy Long.

Director Steven Bogart draws from Ms. Recio and Ms. Hughes deeply nuanced performances that make this production compelling theater.  The playwright has penned a script that is unblinking in presenting the messy complications of teen pregnancy and DIY abortion.  The scene in which Amy miscarries her baby is graphic in its violence and level of pathos. Clearly it is part of the agenda of Ms. Spiegel to prompt an in-depth conversation about the issues covered in her play.  And Company One is partnering in the advancement of that mission by bringing in groups like Planned Parenthood to join in the dialogue among audience members, cast members and the wider community.

Stephanie Recio as Amy
Eva Hughes as Ester
"Dry Land"
Company One
Through October 30th
Photo by Paul Fox

The cast also includes the excellent Kadahj Bennet as Victor, a college freshman and recent grad from the school that Ester and Amy attended. He welcomes Ester as she visits the college, hoping to win an athletic scholarship.  Victor's knowledge of Amy's history adds exposition to our understanding of Amy's turmoil, and adds layers of complication to the already convoluted and ambivalent relationship that is developing between Amy and Ester.

Other members of the ensemble include Paul Trainor, Sophia Koevary, Ashley Wisneski and Karoline Xu.

Kadahj Bennett as Victor
Eva Hughes as Ester
"Dry Land"
Company One
Through October 30th
Photo by Paul Fox

In addition to tackling the issue of abortion, the playwright is also asking us to consider the complexities of female friendship, identity, dating, interracial friendships, and the multi-layered challenges of being a female athlete.

I encourage you to attend this important play and to join the ongoing conversation.  "Dry Land" will run through October 30 at the Boston Center of the Arts.

Company One Website



Sunday, October 11, 2015

One Last Chance To See The Excellent SpeakEasy Production of "Appropriate" - Today at 3:00 at Boston Center for the Arts

I was hoping to get this review to my readers before now, but I have been traveling and ran into connectivity issues with my temperamental computer.  So, be aware that today is the last opportunity to see the remarkable SpeakEasy production of "Appropriate" by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.  you may know his name from another acclaimed work, "An Octoroon," which will be presented to Boston audiences later this year by Company One and ArtsEmerson.

"Appropriate" is a deeply troubling account of a spectacularly dysfunctional family that have gathered to take care of the decaying hulk of a home that has been left empty by the death of their father/grandfather.  What they find in the course of cleaning up the place raises questions about who this man was. Was he a sadistic racist, or are the photographs that seem to be damning merely circumstantial evidence that can be explained away to preserve the belief that this had been a decent man and pater familias?

When I say that this is a dysfunctional family, think "August: Osage County" dysfunctional.  Think Chekov.  Think of the Karamazovs - or the Kardashians! The three siblings siblings are Toni, fighting for custody of her teenage son and recovering from having been their father's primary care giver in the home town in Arkansas.  Bo is the brother who went off and became successful in business, who simply wants to sell the house and wash his hands of the whole affair.  Black sheep Franz returns to the nest to try to claim his share of whatever profits can be realized from selling the property and the effects left behind. The other players in this drama are Bo's wife, Rachel, and their children Cassidy and Aisley, and Franz's Moon Child girlfriend, River.

Mr. Jenkins is known for taking great risks in addressing issues of racism in ways that are aggressive, politically incorrect and which reach out and grab the audience by the throat. In this case, he is telling  a biblical tale of the sins of the fathers being visited - even unto the third and fourth generation. The discovery of a photo album of lynched and mutilated Negroes is the catalyst for all hell to break loose. Each family member has a unique idea of what should be done with the embarrassing discovery.  In the course of figuring out what to do, each character's flaws and struggles and insecurities are exposed and magnified.

The writing is brilliant, as I have come to expect from this daring young playwright.  The acting, under the inspired direction of M. Bevin O'Gara, is equally impressive.  This is a wonderful ensemble piece.  Ms. O'Gara wrings from each actor every possible drop of blood, sweat and tears as together they act out this cautionary tale.

They are:

  • Bryan T. Donovan as Bo
  • Katie Elinoff as Cassidy
  • Tamara Hickey as Rachael
  • Melinda Lopez as Toni
  • Brendan O'Brien as Ainsley
  • Alex Pollock as Franz
  • Eliott Purcell as Rhys
  • Ashley Risten as River
Among this uniformly excellent cast, the performances of Ms. Lopez and Mr. Pollock stand out as the most gripping and compelling.

Melinda Lopez as Toni
Bryan T. Donovan as Bo
Alex Pollock as Franz
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through October 11, 2015

The cast are aided in their work by a set that is eye-opening in its complexity and decrepitude.  Cristina Todesco has outdone herself in designing this set.  Just as each character has an arc that shows them falling apart, the set has its own parallel arc.  It remind me in some ways of the set used at the A.R.T. for "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess."  That set was the rotting hulk of a slave ship, inside which the story was told.  In the case of "Appropriate," the story is told inside the rotting hulk of an Antebellum home. Lighting is by Wen-Ling Liao, Costumes by Tyler Kinney, Sound by Arshan Gailus, and impressive Fight Choreography by Angie Jepson

Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins is ambitious in attacking multiple levels of issues: the nature of what constitutes a family, family heritage, residual guilt over ancestors' sins, selective perception and the difficulty of processing and accepting new data that forces us to re-examine previously held beliefs, the lingering legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

These are issues that must be faced.  This is a play that must be seen. I hope you can change your plans for today and make your way to the BCA for this afternoon's final performance.