Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Moonbox Productions Presents Neil Simon's "Barefoot In The Park" - Through December 12th

I have always loved Neil Simon's clever comedy "Barefoot In The Park."  The current Moonbox Productions offering at the BCA Plaza Theatre is a very satisfying revival of this classic play set in 1960s New York City.  John Paul Devlin's set beautifully captures the ethos of a typical West Side 5th floor walk-up apartment that is the starter home for newlyweds Corie (Marisa Gold) and Paul (Tom Shoemaker).  Director Allison Olivia Choat has very cleverly staged this production so that the few necessary set changes, including furniture deliveries, take place during brief intermissions while audience members choose to look on.

Tom Shoemaker (Paul Bratter) and Marisa Gold (Corie Bratter) 
Moonbox Productions "Barefoot in the Park"
BCA Plaza Theatre
Through December 12th
Photograph - Earl Christie Photography
Mr. Shoemaker and Ms. Gold give strong performances as the young couple who are having a hard time in their first few weeks of marital bliss adjusting to one another and to the less than edenic ambience of their cramped love nest.  There is a hole in the skylight that lets in snow and cold air, and there are holes in Corie and Tom's understanding of one another that lead to a deep chill in their relationship. Complicating things in delightful ways are Corie's overbearing mother (Sheriden Thomas) and the eccentric neighbor, Victor Velasco (Phil Thompson) who inhabits the atelier on the roof.   As the newly forged matrimonial bonds between Corie and Tom are tested, the older pair find themselves bonding with the help of copious doses of catalytic ouzo imbibed at an Albanian restaurant on Staten Island.  Adding their own small doses of spice to the shenanigans are the beleaguered deliveryman (James Bocock) and an AT&T Princess telephone installer (Andrew Winson).  Their breathless sense of having been beset upon after scaling the alpine heights to the Bratter's bower in the clouds provides some nice light comic moments in this play.

Tom Shoemaker (Paul Bratter), Phil Thompson** (Victor Velasco), Sheriden
Thomas* (Corie's Mother) and Marisa Gold (Corie Bratter) 
Moonbox Productions "Barefoot in the Park"
Photograph - Earl Christie Photography
*Member of Actors' Equity Association
**Member of Screen Actors' Guild

Emily Rosser's costumes place us firmly in the days of JFK's Camelot, aided by effective Lighting by Jeffrey E. Salzberg and Sound by Dan Costello.  Dan Rodriguez provides original background music.

This play will run through December 12th at the BCA's Plaza Theatre. Grab a friend, relative or special significant other and come celebrate the holidays in this delightful Park!

Moonbox Productions Website



Friday, November 20, 2015

"Between The World And Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates - Echoes of James Baldwin

"Between The World And Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates struck me in much the same way that the early writings of James Baldwin hit me in the solar plexus when I first read them.  This book takes the form of a long letter sent by the author to his adolescent son, describing his view of their place in the world as Americans of color.  It is strident, angry, insightful, infuriating, humbling and eye-opening. Mr. Coates shares from his protean views of the world based on his sojourns in places like Howard University, Paris, the South Side of Chicago and his current home in New York City.

I agree with Toni Morrison's assessment that this book should be required reading for anyone who wants to attempt to see the world through the eyes of a Black man who feels that at any moment forces beyond his control may succeed in gaining access to his body and cause him to do things he does not wish to do and be things he does not wish to be.  In the ongoing clash of ideas between "Black Lives Matter" vs. "All Lives Matter," this very personal observation shines a bright light on one thinking man's experiences of running the gauntlet of segregation, racism and marginalization.

This book is not only a very personal and reflective gift to young Master Coates from his father, it is also a generous contribution to the discourse we should be having with one another about issues of race in America.  The experiences and reflections that this author shares are both timely and timeless. I have a friend who is using this book in a course he is teaching at the University of Texas.  It is my hope that "Between The World And Me" will become part of the syllabus for most of us in the School of Lifelong Learning.



Sunday, November 15, 2015

Exiled Theatre Presents Plays by Pinter and Beckett - Through November 28th

For fans of the plays of Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, the dual offerings currently being presented by Exiled Theatre may be just your cup of tea.  For their second season of productions, Exiled Theatre has chosen two plays by these Nobel laureates which are seldom performed.

"Ashes To Ashes" is a two person play set in what appears to be a comfortable living room.  James Wilkinson directs Stephen Cooper as Devlin and Angela Gunn as Rebecca.  Both are in their 40s and share an ambiguous relationship - spouse, ex-lover, therapist?  There are themes of duality throughout this one act play - two chairs, two characters, two world views in one room.  Rebecca seems to be grieving her awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust and conflating those horrors with her own tragedy of losing a child.  Devlin peppers her with questions that are often threatening, and acts out a dream that Rebecca had of him choking Rebecca.  It is an enigmatic little play that offers more questions than answers.

The second play is Samuel Beckett's minimalist "Footfalls."  May (Sarah Mass) paces up and down a small strip of flooring, carefully measuring her footfalls, and listening for them as a way of affirming her material existence.  She carries on conversations with the off-stage Voice (Mary Niederkorn) of her mother.  She covers the space in exactly nine paces of nine seconds each with metronomic and robotic precision.  May is ghostly and solipsistic in her isolation, carrying on a conversation with her even more ghostly ninety year-old mother who may or may not be real.  The pacing is divided into several sections, each punctuated by the tolling of a bell and the dimming of the light that barely illuminates the wraith-like May.  Themes of death and decay and regret swirl around May as she makes her endless journey back and forth.  Like Beckett's most famous work, "Waiting For Godot," in "Footfalls" not much happens by way of action except for a waiting that seems never to end.  This strange little morsel of a play provides more food for thought for the audience, and is directed by Teri Incampo.

Sarah Mass as May
"Footfalls" by Samuel Beckett
Exiled Theatre
Green Street Studios
Through November 28th

These play will run through November 28th.



Saturday, November 14, 2015

Wax Wing Productions Presents "The Man From Willow's Brook" by Kordis - Where Will You Spend Eternity?

Wax Wings Productions is presenting an original play by local playwright Kevin Kordis.  "The Man From Willow's Brook" is a very interesting twist on the Cain and Abel story, with a bit of reincarnation vibe thrown in.  Think of "East of Eden" meets "Groundhog Day."  A Stranger (Matt Corr) wakes up near a brook, sees himself reflected in the water, and tries to remember or figure out who he is. He meets a Homeless Man (Ben Lewin) who philosophizes with him, and directs him to the only restaurant in the little town.  He has no money, but kind-hearted Eva (April Singly) offers to let him have their famous steak and eggs on the house, until her husband takes umbrage at her overly generous act.  The husband is named Apple (Evin Charles Anderson).  Are you seeing some Edenic allusions here?  The Stranger encounters a man who calls himself Honest Abe (Chris Chiampa), and Abe warns him to leave town before his presence results in tragedy.  They have a history, but that history is not revealed until later in the play.  Detective Sol (Casey Preston) is also present in the restaurant and makes note of the mysterious stranger in town. Tragic events do indeed transpire, reflecting the Curse of Cain. I will not spoil the intrigue by revealing too many details.

I enjoyed the play, which gave me much food for thought.  I consider it to be an unfinished work.  It could use some judicious cutting.  There are two police officers (Sarah Brinks and Holly Schaff) who seem superfluous to the main story. There is a scene in which these two talk about nonsense that has nothing to do with the main plot or main themes of the play.  That scene needs to be cut.  In addition, these two female actors are portraying male cops by wearing baggy uniforms and cheap dollar store paste-on mustaches that drag the otherwise fine production values down to a level that is unnecessarily tawdry.  These are minor flaws that can easily be fixed, and the play will be even more worthy of attention and a long life than it already is. Mr. Corr, Ms. Singly and Mr. Lewin in particular stand out in their roles.

Ben Lewin As Homeless Man
"The Man From Willow's Brook"
by Kevin Kordis
Wax Wings Production
Boston Playwrights' Theater
Through November 21st
Photo by

The play is directed by Jesse Strachman.  Lighting design is by PJ Strachman.  A highlight of the production is the series of storyboards that are projected on either side of the stage.  These have been rendered beautifully by set designer Allison Choat, with final images rendered by Kristen Boucher Anderson.

"The Man Form Willow's Brook" runs through November 21st at Boston Playwrights' Theater.

Wax Wings Productions Website



Friday, November 13, 2015

Bad Habit Productions Presents "Six Degrees of Separation" by John Guare - How Do We Tell A Forgery From The Real Thing?

Bad Habits Productions has chosen as their theme for this, their ninth season, "To Face Ourselves." The current production of John Guare's classic "Six Degrees of Separation" certainly fits that theme to a T.  I have always enjoyed this play and the various productions I have seen of it over the years. Bad Habit's rendition of this work is very well done, with a gifted cast working in harmony under the direction of Liz Fenstermaker.  One of the elements that added to my enjoyment of this production was the set design of Kevin Deane Parker.  One of the over-arcing themes of this play is that of the duality of the human spirit.  That duality is representing emblematically by a painting by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.  The picture has been painted on both sides of the canvases, and is hung so that it rotates to reveal both the obverse and the reverse sides. As the narrative of the play develops, we also get to see more than one side of each character.  Along with the Kandinsky, there are other paintings hanging in the home of Flan Kittredge (Steven L. Emanuelson) and his wife Ouisa (Christine Power).  Each painting is beautifully framed, with the exception of the aforementioned Kandinsky.  Its gilded frame appears to have exploded, and remnants of that broken frame hang along with the paintings.  The Director and Set Designer are telling us to expect that there will be some coloring outside the lines and pushing of the envelope in the action to follow, as well as things blowing apart.

The plot centers on a young man, Paul (Elyas Deen Harris), who insinuates himself into the lives of several families, claiming to have been attacked and robbed, and also claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier.  Mr. Kittredge, who as a high-end art dealer is very familiar with the process of establishing a painting's provenance and authenticity, is completely fooled by this brilliant, charming and glib forgery of a human being.  Both Flan and Ouisa are mesmerized by Paul's promise to talk with his father and ask him to include them as extras in the father's upcoming project to turn "Cats" into a motion picture!  This couple and two other couples warm up to Paul's duplicity as if he is redolent of cat nip.

The fawning over the Kittredges and their rich South African guest stands in marked contrast to the surly and dismissive treatment of the spoiled teenage Kittredge children to their parents.  Paul has researched the family's every nuanced secret, and wins their trust by claiming to have been at Harvard with the son. He succeeds in employing a tactic that worked well for the Soviet Union's propaganda machine during the Cold War: The Big Lie.  Paul's tall tales are so outrageous and implausible, that no one even considers that they may not be true. This phenomenon provides a fascinating window into human nature.

Each of the actors listed below portrays their character(s) with skill, but the heart of the play and of this production is Paul as portrayed by Mr. Harris.  His innocent good looks are enough like that of Mr. Poitier to make him a plausible offspring of the pioneering Oscar-winning movie star.  Paul's grasp of arcane knowledge about each family member and household facts is a daunting encyclopedia to commit to memory, and Mr. Harris never falters.  It is an outstanding performance that shines among many other excellent performances by the rest of the cast.

Elyas Deen Harris as Paul
"Six Degrees of Separation"
Bad Habit Productions
BCA - Calderwood Pavilion
Through November 22

Consult the schedule of performances below, and order your tickets.  This production is no forgery, but is the genuine article, perfectly framed and hung for your inspection and enjoyment at the Calderwood Pavilion.

Bad Habit Productions Website

"Six Degrees of Separation"
Bad Habit Productions
BCA - Calderwood Pavilion
Through November 22

Directed by Liz Fenstermaker
Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA

November 13, 8pm
November 14, 8pm
November 18, 7:30pm
November 19, 7:30pm
November 20, 8pm
November 21, 8pm
November 22, 2pm

Written by John Guare, Directed by Liz Fenstermaker; Devon Fitchett, Assistant Director; Matthew Ciborowski, Stage Manager; Kendrick Terrell Evans, Assistant Stage Manager; Maura Neff, Costume Designer; Connor O'Leary, Properties Designer; Kevin Deane Parker, Scenic Designer; PJ Strachman, Lighting Designer; Andrew Duncan Will, Sound Designer; Joe Ouellette, Master Carpenter
CAST: Steve Auger, Dani Berkowitz, Steven L. Emanuelson, Kevin Hanley, Elyas Deen Harris, Ben Heath, Janelle Mills, C.D. Matthew Murphy, Alex Portenko, Christine Power

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review of "A Ghost in the Darkness" by Jonathan Kiper - A True Tale of Murder in Stratham, New Hampshire

In writing "A Ghost In the Darkness - A True Story of Murder in Stratham, New Hampshire,"  Jonathan Kiper offers a haunting tale that is part memoir, part coming-of-age tale, part murder mystery and part cri de coeur. When Mr. Kiper was a teenager living in the town of Stratham on New Hampshire's bucolic Seacoast, one of his neighbors was killed.  Vicki Bader's brutal murder dominated the local headlines, until her ex-husband, Seth Bader, was convicted of the crime.

Over the years, several people well known to Mr. Kiper came forward to indicate that perhaps Mr. Bader was not indeed Vicki's killer  This book tells of the efforts of Mr. Kiper and others to try to get the case re-opened and new evidence considered.  He has hit a stone wall.  His commitment to a sense of justice has compelled him to offer this book as a way of enlisting others who may have knowledge of what happened.

As the tale of murder and its aftermath unfolds in this book, Jonathan Kiper is transparent in talking about his own coming of age process as he and his neighborhood friends have learned to deal with the frustrations of dealing with an intransigent bureaucracy and system of justice.

He is to be commended for his honest and moving portrayal of what it was like to lose his innocence in being close to a murder and to be caught up in some of the events that occurred subsequent to Vicki Bader's death.

The book comes with my strong recommendation.  Read it, and join Mr. Kiper in seeking truth and justice in this baffling case.

The book can be ordered through or through his website:

To order the book through Lulu


Al Chase

ArtsEmerson Continues To Amaze With Innovative Programming - "Chopin Without Piano" Is Stunning Music And Theater

Famed Polish composer Frederyk Chopin is known for his piano compositions.  So, imagine an evening of Chopin music with a symphony orchestra, but without piano.  Polish artists Barbara Wysocka and Michal Zadara have constructed this piece replacing the piano part in two Chopin Piano Concertos with Ms. Wysocka's dramatization of political, philosophical and artistic commentary. She times her performance to match the exact rhythms of the piano line that she is replacing.  The music sometimes requires her to speak in dotted sixteenth notes! At first, it is a disorienting experience for the audience.  What is going on here? But as she captures and conveys the passion and despair of Chopin's life and his music, the text washes over one like a tsunami.  It is a performance that had the ArtsEmerson audience at the Paramount Theater leaping to their feet in praise of what they had just seen at the hands of Ms. Wysocka and the Boston Conservatory Orchestra, under the baton of Franck Ollu.

The life of Chopin is in many ways a microcosm of the story of his beloved Poland.  He suffered persecution at the hands of the repressive Czarist elements who found his innovations in music unsettling and unacceptable.  His personal piano was destroyed in a kinetic act of censorship.  He fled to Paris to compose - and to compose himself.  In Paris, consumption cut short his life. In leveraging these historical facts, this unique piece asks the questions: "What is Chopin without his piano?  Does he and does his life history have something to say to us today so many years later?"
The piece is performed by Ms. Wysocka in Polish, with English surtitles displayed on a screen. Issues of death and being an immigrant far from his Polish home haunt his music and the text of this piece. It is part concert and it is part theater.  It is like nothing else I have seen before - which is something I often find myself thinking and saying when I drink at the rich fountain of ArtsEmerson's offerings. This program is presented in partnership between ArtsEmerson and Polish production company Centrala.  The Word on Stage, indeed.

"Chopin Without Piano" will be performed only through this Saturday, so the window is short to see this amazing presentation.  On Sunday, a free concert will be offered at the Paramount with the Boston Conservatory Symphony playing both Chopin Piano Concertos with the piano parts re-integrated into the pieces.

ArtsEmerson Website



Review of "The Fame Game: A Superstar's Guide To Getting Rich and Famous" - A Fun and Fascinating Read

I found Sergey Knazev's new book to be both fun and fascinating.  In "The Fame Game: A Superstar's Guide To Getting Rich and Famous," the author uses his role as an Hollywood insider to comment on the ploys that have led to fame and notoriety for a broad variety of individuals who have become household names.

The author walks a very narrow tightrope in his approach to this book.  On the one hand, he shines a bright and glaring spotlight on many of the ridiculous ways that the Lindsay Lohans and Kardashians of this world have insinuated themselves into our mindshare.  On the other hand, he offers a road map to follow for those who are intent on achieving fame in their own right.  In a sense he is saying: "Here is the Yellow Brick Road.  Kind of silly, isn't it.  But if you want to follow it to Emerald City, here is your GPS."

So, at the end of the day, this book is a fascinating read.  It offers many examples of what famous people have done to create their own personal brand.  It comments in amusing ways on those branding efforts.  And it offers helpful tips for those who want to embark on their own journey.  Mr. Knazev's wry sense of humor and his clever use of sarcasm is the secret sauce in what makes this book such a delicious read.

If you have a fascination with fame and those who have achieved it, this is a book that you will enjoy.



"Hamilton" Broadway Cast Album - The Best Cast Album Ever!

I cannot get enough of this extraordinary cast album of the Broadway phenomenon "Hamilton."  It is no exaggeration to say that this old white man has been seen in the corridors of my office building repeating some of the most infectious raps from "Hamilton"!

Lin Manuel Miranda is a certified genius - he just received a MacArthur Genius Grant.  Inspired by the Alexander Hamilton biography penned by Ron Chernow, Mr. Miranda spent six years crafting a musical interpretation of this Founding Father's little known story.  The results are a show that is the hottest ticket on Broadway and one of the finest cast albums I have ever had the privilege to listen to.

Part of Miranda's genius is that he has deep knowledge not only of the primary subject matter, but of the history of rap and of musical theater. So the lyrics are imbedded with many clever references, allusions and tributes to songs and shows from the past.  Lines like "You've got to be carefully taught," are drawn from "South Pacific."  "Modern Major General" is a tip of the cap to Gilbert and Sullivan.

"Hamilton" has become not only a Broadway phenomenon, but also a revolutionary way to inspire high school students to become passionate about an oft-forgotten part of our nation's history.  The Rockefeller Foundation has just awarded a grant that will allow over 20,000 NYC AP History students to attend special matinee performances of "Hamilton."

It may be many months before you are able to snag a ticket to see this show on Broadway, but you do not have to wait to order, listen to and exult in the striking music and lyrics of this show's brilliant cast album.



Mini-Review of "My Final Word - Holding Tight To The Issues That Matter Most" by Chuck Colson with Anne Morse

I was thrilled when I learned that there was a posthumous Chuck Colson book being published. Having worked with Chuck for over ten years in his organization, Prison Fellowship, I have a particularly keen appreciation for his world view, wisdom and ability to communicate in a very sophisticated way.  I was not disappointed in this final work.

Anne Morse had collaborated with Chuck over many years on several of his writing projects, so she has assembled previously unpublished thoughts, radio show scripts and essays from Chuck.  They come from the last years in his life, so they reflect many decades worth of reflection and observation about life, faith, integrity and leadership.  "My Final Word - Holding Tight To The Issues That Matter Most" is a fitting tribute to a man who forged a new career from the ashes of his Watergate humiliation.  He wielded more influence from his role as a thoughtful former prisoner than he did from his lofty perch in the White House.  This book serves as a wonderful capstone to that praiseworthy second career as Christian elder statesman.



Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Brown Box Theatre Presents "Lab Rats" by Patrick Gabridge - At Atlantic Wharf Through November 15

Brown Box Theatre has a dual geographic focus: Boston and the Delmarva peninsula.  They exist to offer high-quality theatre directly to communities, and to do so for free, soliciting donations from patrons who find the works they present meaningful and impactful.  In their sixth season, they are currently presenting Patrick Gabridge's intriguing two person play "Lab Rats."

The action centers on two young people, a man and a woman, both marginalized and subsisting on the small stipends they cobble together as they are paid for being subjects in an ongoing series of clinical trials. As Mika (Brenna Fitzgerald) and Jake (Marc Pierre) keep encountering each other in the waiting areas as they fill out applications, hoping to be chosen, they begin to build a tentative relationship.  Jake claims he is doing these trials to earn money to finance his world travels.  Mika needs it to pay the rent and apparently to support her drug habit.  As the action builds, we see these two human guinea pigs - lab rats - interact with each other and with the challenges that life presents.

Brenna Fitzgerald as Mika
Marc Pierre as Jake
"Lab Rats"
Brown Box Theatre
Through 11/15 at Atlantic Wharf
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots 

Ms. Fitzgerald and Mr. Pierre are excellent in portraying the fears, cautiousness, desperation, and resignation that fuels their day-to-day lives and their hand-to-mouth existence.  We see them react in a variety of ways to the medications they are testing.  There is a scene in which Jake is manifesting an aggressive manic mode as a side effect of a trial drug. The crazed demeanor and actions make him comical, human and vulnerable - to Mika and to the audience.  At one point in the play, Mika has been thrown out of her apartment by her roommates. She brings her paltry worldly possessions with her to the medical center as she applies for the big prize in the clinical trial world: a 73-day sleep study that will pay $10,000 upon completion of the study.  She and Jake both are desperate to be chosen and to earn that big payday, but they find ways to sabotage one another's chances.

Brenna Fitzgerald as Mika
"Lab Rats"
Brown Box Theatre
Through 11/15 at Atlantic Wharf
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots 

The lab rat and clinical trial metaphors suggest that the real medicine that each of these lonely souls needs is simply to find someone to know them, to understand them, to accept them and to love them.
As they apply to become lab rats one more time, they are hoping to check off the right boxes and provide the right answers so that they will be chosen as subjects in the next clinical trial.  In parallel, they are subtly trying to check off the right boxes and provide the right answers to each other so they may be chosen as fellow lab rats in the longitudinal study that is called "life."  They begin to make a deeper connection with each other.  And despite the toxic side effects that they impose upon each other, they keep coming back for more doses of the taste of love that they have experienced at the hands of one another, hoping eventually to reach a level of therapeutic dosage.  And that mutual caring and understanding is no placebo.  They eat up one another's forays at affection and ham-fisted caring with the same gusto with which Jake attacks the cupcakes that Mika bakes for him.

Marc Pierre as Jake
"Lab Rats"
Brown Box Theatre
Through 11/15 at Atlantic Wharf
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

It is an intriguing play wonderfully executed by these talented actors under the firm-handed direction of Kyler Taustin.

The play runs this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Atlantic Wharf location, 290 Congress Street. It will continue in Maryland later this month.  It is a fascinating play well worth watching.  Why not try an experiment and come to see this show this weekend to see what kind of after effects you will feel from the medicinal elixir of being moved to laughter and to empathy.

For tickets, click on the link below:

Brown Box Theatre Website



Monday, November 09, 2015

North Shore Music Theatre Presents "Sister Act" - Jeannette Bayardelle as Sister Mary Clarence Took Me To Heaven!

North Shore Music Theatre is ending its 2015 season with a bang in the sizzling production of "Sister Act."  In the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence is the fabulous Jeanette Bayardelle, star of Broadway productions of "Hair" and "The Color Purple."  Ms. Bayardelle was born to play this role.  She conveys both the gritty and saucy determination of entertainer Deloris Van Cartier, as well as the pulsating spark plug energy of Sister Mary Clarence who resurrects a moribund choir of nuns and brings back to life a perishing parish.  She also demonstrates a dramatic arc that moves in counterpoint with that of Mother Superior (Ellen Harvey).  At the outset of the relationship, they view one another with hostility, each representing an obstacle and impediment to the other's dreams and prayers.  By the end, they have come to meet in the middle, and the irresistible force that is Deloris and the immovable object that is Mother Superior each has learned to give a little, and a special sisterhood bond is forged.

The Sisters in Song
"Sister Act"
North Shore Music Theatre
Through November 15th
It is always a challenge to block a show in the round, but Director and Choreographer Kevin P. Hill has this vibrant cast constantly in motion, allowing full access for every section of the audience to observe action taking place on the stage and in the aisles. Scenic design by Nate Bertone is clever, with a center stage elevator allowing for some scene changes with other changes taking place as scenic elements move up and down ramps.  Lighting by Richard Latta is "spot on"!  The impressive costumes by Jeff Hendry allow for several stark changes in tone and atmosphere as we move from cabaret to convent.  Sound design by Leon Rothenberg combines with the lush underscoring of the orchestra led by Andrew Bryan to provide a soundscape that enhances the audience experience of this rollicking show.

In addition to the star power and artistry of Ms. Bayardelle, several members of this fine ensemble stand out.  Ellen Harvey as Mother Superior is perfect, blustering in her complaints to God about the sacrilegious goings on in her parish, and softening as she senses that perhaps Deloris is beginning to see the light.  Her rendition of "I Haven't Got A Prayer" is a highlight.

Ellen Harvey as Mother Superior
Jeannette Bayardelle as Sister Mary Clarence 
"Sister Act"
North Shore Music Theatre
Through November 15th

Richard Pruitt is wonderful as Monsignor O'Hara.  He will do whatever it takes to save this sinking parish, and he really gets into the spirit of Sister Mary Clarence's more upbeat approach to worship.

Kyle Robert Carter makes a perfect foil as "Sweaty Eddie," the cop who has always had a crush on Deloris.  He shines in the number "I Could Be That Guy."

We see real growth and development of the once shy Sister Mary Robert, played winsomely by Lael Van Keuren.  Her "The Life I Never Led" holds our attention and grabs our hearts.

Tina Johnson is a delight as Sister Mary Lazarus.  She rises from the tomb of her self-pity over losing leadership of the choir, and offers a rap litany that had everyone laughing and clapping with joy.

Jonathan Kirkland as Curtis Jackson brings a silky smoothy Motown sound, and raises the bar on the level of danger in the air when he croons "When I Find My Baby."

The trio of thugs, Joey, Pablo and TJ are played with verve and panache by Brent Bateman, Nikko Kimzin and Avionce Hoyles.  They brought down the house and invaded the front row of the audience with their audacious "Lady In The Long Black Dress."

Jeannette Bayardelle as Deloris Van Cartier
"Sister Act"
North Shore Music Theatre
Through November 15th

In addition to being musically enchanting and dramatically engaging, this show is also set on solid theological ground.  There is a wonderful scene near the climax in which Deloris and Mother Superior are reaching a rapprochement and detente in their long cold war.  As they opine about why things are finally working out, Mother Superior gives credit to God, and Deloris credits basic humanity.  "Maybe it's a little bit of both."  Christian theology says that this is the nature of Jesus - both God and human together."  Amen!

The show must close this Sunday, so pray that you get there in time.  This is a show you will not want to miss.  It is a blessing.  Hallelujah!

And stay tuned for the 25th year of NSMT's spectacular "Christmas Carol."  God bless us, every one!



North Shore Music Theater Website

Thursday, November 05, 2015

"Choice" by Winnie Holzman - Another Dramatic Achievement by the Huntington Theatre Company - Through November 15

In a season full of dramatic and musical delights, the current Huntington Theatre Production of "Choice" at the BCA's Calderwood Pavilion stands out as one of the best.  Written by Winnie Holzman, this play examines the issue of abortion choices from a variety of angles. One of her main points seems to be that there is not a single monolithic voice with which feminists must speak about the issue of a woman's right to choose.

The story is told primarily through the lens of the friendship between Zippy Zunder (Johanna Day), a successful writer married to an even more successful writer much older than she and her confidante, Erica (Connie Ray).  Zippy undertakes the assignment of writing a major magazine piece about the phenomenon of a growing number of women who have come to believe that the soul of their aborted child goes on to inhabit another body exactly nine months and forty-nine days after the abortion.  In researching and writing this piece, Zippy taps into her own memories of a long ago abortion, and she incorporates those thoughts and feelings into the article.  She asks Erica to read what she has written, and their divergent views about objectivity and how a woman should feel about having chosen abortion triggers a deep rift in their relationship.

Woven around this core conflict is the dynamic of Zippy's husband, Clark (Munson Hicks) slowly drifting toward the end of his life, writing his valedictory memoir.  His mis-hearing of many snippets of dialogue provide much needed comic relief in this otherwise very heavy piece.  He thinks Zippy's new assistant, Hunter, is called "Gunther." Their daughter, Zoe, is a rudderless young college graduate with a history of a suicide attempt, and a reluctance to move out of the nest and start a life on her own.  Erica's current boyfriend, Mark (Ken Cheeseman) is part of the initial gathering in Zippy's gorgeous suburban kitchen, a room that reminded me of Better Homes and Gardens photos of Fairfield and Westchester County estates.  Mark offers to help solve a problem with a feral cat using the family doggie door to gain entrance to the home and scare Zippy.   Another rift in the Zippy-Erica partnership is Zippy's decision to ignore Erica's warnings and hire one of Erica's former students as a personal assistant.  Hunter Rush (Raviv Ullman) adds an additional layer of complexity to the story as he insinuates himself into the life of the family. There are mystical and pseudo-spiritual vibes in the air between Zippy and Hunter.  Could he contain the soul of the child she aborted so many years ago?

The cast of Choice at the Huntington Theatre Company
Directed by Sheryl Kaller, written by Winnie Holzman
Playing Through November 15, 2015
South End/Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA.
Photo: T. Charles Erickson.
The telling of this convoluted tale is greatly enhanced by the creative talent that Director Sheryl Kaller has assembled.  As is always the case with a Huntington production, the set is simply breathtaking in its beauty and versatility.  Scenic Designer James Noone has the magic touch. Costumes by Marian S. Verheyen help to define each character, Lighting Design by Rul Rita and Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg suggest some of the mystical happenings that swirl around Zippy and her household.

The success of this production centers on the superb writing.  The woman who gave us Elphaba and Glinda in "Wicked" bewitches us with the easy flow of her dialogue, the vibrancy of the characters she has created, and the complexity of the issues she tackles in this play.  Conversations feel very real, with characters cutting off one another in mid sentence to interrupt - in a sense aborting the communication before it comes to full term.

The cast members have been carefully chosen to flesh out the characters that Ms. Holzman has birthed on paper.
  • Connie Ray as Erica has her most striking moment on stage when she and Zippy face off in dispute over the magazine article that Zippy has written - only to see it aborted by the magazine.  She is struggling with bottled up feelings that Zipply has come too close to excavating, and their bond is not strong enough to withstand the force of this blow.
  • Munson Hicks as Clark is perfect as the older husband and father content to dodder around, trying to finish his memoir before death comes knocking, but not stressed out about it.
  • Johanna Day is the center of the action and of the emotions in this story.  Her interactions with her husband, daughter, friend and assistant call upon a wide variety of emotions and communication styles, and Ms. Day masters them all.  As an actor in this role, she makes all the right choices.
  • Ken Cheeseman shines in his ability to be two Marks - Erica's current boyfriend and Zippy's ex-lover.  As the Austrian ex-boyfriend who has suffered a stroke, he stands out, offering a faux Austrian accident and inability to remember certain nouns that adds another touch of humor.
  • Madeline Wise plays three roles: the daughter Zoe, a waxing beautician and an abortion nurse. She differentiates each character well, and as Zoe, we see her emerge from her depressive funk to summon the courage to move out, triggering a reaction in her mother that is ambivalent.  The common thread among the three characters played by Ms. Wise is that they each remove something - unwanted hair, an unwanted fetus, and a daughter who should have removed herself from the household long ago.
  • One of the delights of this production is the performance of Raviv Ullman as Hunter. Roguishly charming, he causes us to wonder if he is a sociopath waiting to attack, or a truly caring and ambitious young man trying to help Zippy and her family to succeed.  It is a very satisfying and layered performance.
"Choice" will play through November 15 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA in Boston's South End.  I strong suggested that you exercise you freedom of choice and book tickets to see this show, one of this season's best works.


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Stoneham Theatre Presents The Powerful Drama "Luna Gale" by Rebecca Gilman - Through Sunday, November 8

Luke Murtha as Peter
Maria DeCostis as Karlie
Paula Plum as Caroline
"Luna Gale" by Rebecca Gilman
Stoneham Theatre
Through November 8 

This season of Boston area theater is proving to be so exciting and successful that I may have to invest in a bigger thesaurus. I am running out of superlatives.  The latest production to knock my socks off is the stunning "Luna Gale" currently playing at the Stoneham Theatre through this Sunday. Rebecca Gilman's script is complex and provocative.  Teenage meth addicts, Peter (Luke Murtha) and Karlie (Maria DeCotis), lose custody of their baby, Luna Gale, when their neglect almost causes the infant to die of dehydration.  The department of Child Protective Services steps in and veteran caseworker Caroline (Paula Plum) is forced to play God and make recommendations to her supervisor (Jacob Athyal) and to the judge about what may be best for Luna Gale in terms of custody arrangements.

Things get complicated when Karlie's Mom, Cindy (Stay Fischer) aggressively tries to gain permanent custody, with the support of her pastor (Bob Mussett).  Rounding out the cast is Ally Dawson as Lourdes, a former ward of the state who has turned eighteen and has been turned out into the world.

Director Rebecca Bradshaw takes Ms. Gilman's strong script and uses is as the foundation upon which this fine ensemble of actors build believable characters. Each character has the potential to come across as a stereotype, but thanks to great writing, directing and acting, each one displays shades of good and bad, making them three-dimensional individuals rather than cartoons.  If conflict is the essence of great drama, then this playwright has mined a rich motherlode of conflict on many levels and between overlapping pairings of characters.  Here are some of the conflicts that were obvious to me as the story unfolded:
  • Peter and Karlie's inner conflicts that drive them towards meth abuse
  • The conflict between their teenage impulses and their responsibilities as parents
  • Karlie's ongoing war with her mother, including conflict over faith
  • Peter and Karlie's distrust of Caroline
  • Caroline's strained relationship with her bureaucratic supervisor, Cliff
  • Pastor Jay, Cliff and Cindy's fervent evangelical faith versus Caroline's anti-Christian sentiments.
  • Caroline's inner conflicts between caring for the children she is sworn to protect and her own personal history of hurt, and her teetering on the verge of complete burnout.
  • Lourdes' ambivalence towards Caroline, who has supported her but who also had separated her form her older sister after their mother had died.
  • The conflict within Cliff between his professional responsibilities and his personal faith.
Each of these conflicts is fleshed out with nuance as the characters bump up against one another.  An overarching theme of the play are the questions: "Who will save little Luna Gale, and who gets to decide what kind of salvation is appropriate?  To whom does she belong?"  The author offers no easy answers or resolution, but a very heart-warming interim solution is offered at the conclusion of the play.

Each actor has moments when he or she shines most brightly.
  • Jacob Athyal is strong as Cliff. He is in disagreement with Caroline throughout much of the play.  He has been brought in to the troubled agency to stem the tide of scandal after several children have died and been lost while in the state's custody. He plays it by the book - until the book conflicts with his own personal faith.  There is a touching moment near the end of the play when Cliff offers an olive branch to Caroline in recognition of her twenty-five years of sacrificial service.
  • Ally Dawson as Lourdes appears in only two scenes, but in those scenes we see an arc of decay of her character.  We see her excited about her new found emancipation from guardianship and the launch of her college career.  Then we see her after she has been reunited with her sister after a separation of seven years.  Something has changed, and Caroline is concerned enough to ask to be listed on Lourdes' phone as an Emergency Contact.  Ms. Dawson does a great deal with this small but crucial role.
  • Maria DeCostis as Karlie runs a broad spectrum of emotions - flashes of irrational rage, panic, despair over recounting an incident of abuse, and an addict's inability to handle temptation.  In many ways, she is as infantile as her young daughter whom she tries to re-acquire.  Ms. DeCostis shows us vividly the hopeless complications of "babies having babies." 
  • Stacy Fisher as Cindy balances the ferociousness of a mother bear protecting her grand-daughter, Luna Gale, and the unblinking fanaticism of a newly converted fundamentalist resisting the forces of Satan and "the world." She is both broken and defiant as she learns details of the abuse that Karlie suffered when she was fifteen.
  • Luke Murtha as Peter begins the play in an almost catatonic state from his meth addiction. We see him slowly come alive and get himself together one small step at a time. The culmination of his transformation is revealed with wonderful subtlety as the play ends with him tenderly serenading his infant daughter as they get ready to embark on a new life together.
  • Bob Mussett is both sanctimonious and down to earth as Pastor Jay.  The scene in which he and Cliff pray for Caroline is both hilarious and deeply disturbing, especially when he tells her that "God will love you, even if you try to resist Him - He will force His love upon you." These ill-advised words are verbal IEDs to a woman who is steeped in fighting issues of sexual abuse that have been perpetrated on her young clients.
  • Paula Plum as Caroline delivers a tour de force performance. She is on stage almost the entire play, and she embodies the harried, bedraggled, over-worked, dedicated, down trodden caseworker who is as much a victim of the system of inadequate resources and rampant misfeasance as are her under-served clients.  Fighting burnout, she still manages to care.  Her caring is exemplified in her continuing concern for Lourdes, and we see another piece of Caroline's heart break when Lourdes does not thrive.
Jacob Athyal as Cliff
Paula Plum as Caroline
Bob Mussett as Pastor Jay
"Luna Gale" by Rebecca Gilman
Stoneham Theatre
Through November 8 

The genius of this play is that we come to care about each character and his or her fate.  The work of these actors is enhanced by the excellent creative team of Scenic Designer Kristin Loeffler, Lighting Designer Wen-Ling Liao, Costume Designer Chelsea Kerl and Sound Designer David Reiffel.

This play throws a harsh spotlight on a broad variety of societal issues, and causes us to think and to ask, "What can we do to make a difference when so many things are wrong?"  Addiction, foster care, the welfare state, religious bigotry - they all come under Ms. Gilman microscope.  And the sight we see is not a pretty one.

The play runs only through this weekend. It should be seen.  In another role at another theater, Ms. Plum's character intoned: "Attention must be paid!"  This edict applies equally well in this situation.