Monday, May 30, 2016

Gloucester Stage Opens Its Season With Peter Shaffer's Comedy "Lettice and Lovage" - A MUST SEE!

If you have an opportunity to plan a trip to Cape Ann between now and June 11th, do it.  For you do not want to miss the current production of Peter Shaffer's brilliant and acerbic comedy "Lettice and Lovage." Benny Sato Ambush flawlessly directs a superb cast in this piece that addresses issues of passion, language, the greying of our lives, and the importance of truly living before we die.

The remarkable Lindsay Crouse plays Miss Lettice Douffet, a tour guide whose refusal to accept greyness and boredom gets her into perpetual trouble with forces in the world that prefer stability to passion. This is a tour de force performance that should not be missed. She savors every syllable of Shaffer's gorgeous language as if appreciating a delicious morsel of food.  Her comic timing is precise, and her joie de vivre is as contagious as the character she portrays. One simply cannot be in the vicinity of Lettice Douffet without being infected with her quirky passion for history and drama and story and life.

Lindsay Crouse as Lettice Douffet
"Lettice and Lovage"
by Peter Shaffer
Gloucester Stage
Through June 11th
The first person to attempt to tamp down Lettice's quirky and inventive act - making up interesting factoids to add some spark of interest to a dull old English mansion - is Miss Charlotte Shoen, head of HR for the Preservation Trust that employs Ms. Douffet as a tour guide. Ms. Shoen is played brilliantly by Marya Lowry.  In the midst of her telling Ms. Douffet that she is fired for not sticking to the facts, she is bewitched by Lettice's histrionics, and quickly regrets her decision.  She arrives at Lettice's humble basement flat near Earl's Court to offer an olive branch.  The lives of the two women will never be the same as some of Lettice's glitter sticks to Ms. Shoen grey patina and the quirky story teller entices the failed architect to construct a new world view. It is like Auntie Mame telling Agnes Gooch "to live!"

We learn in Act III that Lettice has run afoul of the law through some accident that befell Ms. Shoen. Lettice is visited by a solicitor, the dull and business-like Mr. Berdolph (Mark Cohen).  But his immune system cannot resist the passion that Lettice exudes, and we are regaled by his getting into the spirit of things and miming a drummer beating out a tattoo to lead an historical royal figure to an execution. Mark Cohen shows wonderful dramatic range as the Lettice virus takes hold in his spirit and he blossoms into an unlikely party animal.

One other character who falls under the spell of Lettice and her passion for living is Ms. Shoen's mousy secretary, Miss Framer (a wonderfully understated Janelle Mills).  She is initially so reserved that Ms. Shoen cannot hear her feeble knocking at the door, but before long, with the spirit of Lettice infusing the office, her knocks resound with bombastic authority.

In three of Shaffer's plays that I am most familiar with, a familiar pattern appears. A protagonist possess passion that verges on neurosis and mania, and is confronted with an antagonist who exists to muffle the excesses. In "Equus" that tension is between Alan, who has blinded six horses, and his psychiatrist, Dr. Dysart. In "Amadeus," the tension is between young Mozart and Salieri, who aspires to greatness, but lacks Mozart's passion and willingness to risk. In "Lettice and Lovage," the dyad is composed of Lettice and Charlotte.

Lindsay Crouse as Lettice DouffetMarya Lowry as Charlotte Shoen
"Lettice and Lovage"
by Peter Shaffer
Gloucester Stage
Through June 11th

Throughout this brilliant comedy, Mr. Shaffer allows his characters to wrestle with important issues: the lack of appreciation for beauty in language, the willingness to settle for grey rather than vibrancy in living life, the willingness to sacrifice beauty to utility in modern architecture, the tendency for people to value stability over creativity and exuberance, and the question of what does it mean to be "normal."

The play is an absolute delight on every level.  The set by Jon Savage is wonderfully adaptable - from English mansion to working class flat to dull office space.  Lighting is by Brian J. Lillienthal and Sound Design and Original Music is by Dewey Dellay.  Costumes by Miranda Kau Giurleo, and Amelia Broome served as Dialect Coach.

Come and drink up some of the quaff that is Lettice's philosophy of life, derived from her mother who had run a theater company as a single parent: "Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!"

Through June 11th.

Gloucester Stage Website



Cherry Lane Theatre Presents A New Play by Dan Moyer - "Half Moon Bay" - A Fascinating Two-Hander

Brooklyn-based playwright Dan Moyer has written a fascinating dark comedy entitled "Half Moon Bay." This new play is currently being presented at the Studio at Cherry Lane Theatre in the West Village. The play must close this Sunday, June 4th, and is well worth the trip to Commerce Street.

The action of the play is set in Santa Cruz, where the devastating earthquake in 1989 upended many lives.  So in watching the arcs of the two characters progress, it occurred to me that the two of them seemed to be perched on the edge of a precipice awaiting whatever tremors might come next.  Gabe (Gabriel King) is a nerdy guy desperately trying to win a league championship in bowling. During a break in the bowling action, he wanders into the bowling alley's bar and encounters Annie (Keilly McQuail) drinking alone. He delivers one of the weakest pick-up lines in history: "Want to come watch me bowl on Saturday night?" And we are off and running at observing these two lonely souls struggle to find a way to make connections with each other.

King and McQuail are perfectly cast in these roles, and superbly directed  by Jess Chayes. We first meet Annie sitting at the bar with her back to the audience.  Normally, this blocking might be considered ill-advised, but in this case, it foreshadows future developments.  Just as Annie only slowly reveals herself to the audience as she eventually turns to face Gabe, so she slowly reveals her inner self to him by fits and starts over the course of the two acts of this play.

Production values are excellent. Reid Thompson has designed a very adaptable set that serves as the bowling alley bar and then as Annie's apartment overlooking the bay. Lighting design by Mike Inwood suggests changes in mood and progression of time.   The soundscape by Janie Bullard includes intermittent sounds of bowling pins being toppled, as Annie's defenses are toppled by the nerdy persistence of Gabe's ham-fisted attempts at seduction. M. Meriwether Snipes costumes the two characters in ways that highlight their personalities.

A key component of the story is that both Gabe and Annie harbor secrets that they struggle to share with one another.  The mutual growth of their willingness to reveal more and more of themselves - fueled in part by booze and cocaine - makes this comedy poignant.

When we first meet Gabe, Annie is struck by his low brow rental bowling shoes, which she mocks. Later, his willingness to risk his brand new top-of-the-line shoes becomes a crucial point in the play. We learn about his history of gambling addiction, and the subsequent actions by his mother to take control of his finances.  The gambling theme is a thread that weaves itself throughout the growing relationship between Gabe and Annie.  They both choose to take risks and "roll the dice."  Given the fact that Gabe spends much of the play barefoot, the crap player's traditional mantra came to mind: "Baby needs a new pair of shoes"!

Keilly McQuail as Annie
Gabe King as Gabe
"Half Moon Bay"
by Dan Moyer
Cherry Lane Theatre
Through June 4th
Photo by Steven Pisano
As Annie's approach and avoidance tactics towards Gabe have him confused and shaken, she caves into his refusal to leave her apartment. She reveals why she is anxious for him to leave before the anticipated arrival of her mother. Her final instructions to Gabe as her mother is ringing the doorbell is touching, and has been earned.  We experience the denouncement of a series of Truth or Dare revelations that constitute syncretistic vulnerabilities.

This is a play that is worthy of your attention. Remember the name of Dan Moyer.  Add that name to a growing list of Brooklyn playwrights that are making their mark on contemporary theater: Annie Baker, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and now Moyer.

Cherry Lane Theatre Website

Cherry Lane's Company in Residence

A new play by Dan Moyer
Directed by Jess Chayes
Featuring Gabriel King* and Keilly McQuail*
After a chance encounter in the bar of a bowling alley, two broken hopefuls share a boozy, electric evening. Half Moon Bay is a darkly comic, raw new play about the lovers we take to bed and the strangers we find there in the morning.
May 12th - June 4th
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street
Thursdays - Sundays at 8pm



Friday, May 27, 2016

Curious About The New Cirque du Soleil Show At Suffolk Downs? "Kurios" Is Sheer Delight From Beginning To End

Cirque du Soleil's "Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities" opened last evening at Suffolk Downs.  The inaugural audience was enthusiastic in its appreciation of this evening of visual splendor, bringing back the cast for three curtain calls. The show is written and masterfully directed by Michel Laprise. The show is presented in a steampunk genre ("Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology "and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.")

During the Renaissance - back before museums came into existence,aristocrats, wealthy merchants and world travelers would collect items of interest and display them to their neighbors in Cabinets of Curiosities.  This is the concept behind the current show, "Kurios." Each act represents something that the Seeker (Eligiusz Skoczylas) has imagined can be found in his own personal Cabinet of Curiosities.
The evening was a wonderful balance of feats of incredible agility, physicality, athleticism and grace displayed on a large and swooping scale on the one extreme.  On the other extreme, there were components of the show that were delicate and small in scale, that required a different kind of attention to be paid by the audience.  The interspersing of these two kinds of elements kept the flow of the evening moving in a very pleasing way, helped enormously by the live orchestra led by Marc Sohier playing music composed by Raphael Beau and a duo who call themselves Bob & Bill. Bruno Darmagnac is the Artistic Director of this production.

Each act is worthy of mention:
  • Chaos Synchro 1900 - a steam locomotive more than 60 feel in length pulls onto the stage and disgorges a motley crew of passengers straight out of the 19th century - eccentric characters, a juggler, percussionists and dancers. This fast-paced number sets the frenetic tone for the action to follow. Juggling by Gabriel Beaudoin was particularly noteworthy.
  • Russian Cradle Duo - In this remarkable piece, a strongman and a porcelain faced doll (Roman and Olena Tereshchenko) perform stunning trapeze moves.  He is both the human trapeze and the catcher, operating atop a structure that rises 13 feet above the stage. She performs increasingly complex and challenging somersaults and twists.
  • Aerial Bicycle - French artist Anne Weissbecker performs a series of complex moves high above the crowd using various elements of the bicycle as her platform.
  • Invisible Circus - In this inventive piece, the Ringmaster leads invisible performers through a variety of tricks, inviting the audience to suspend disbelief and "see" performers on the moving teeter board and high wire while hearing the roar of the hungry lion.
  • Contortion - Four young women from Siberia have trained most of their lives to prepare them to create wriggling configurations reminiscent of electric eels.  They are Ayagma Tsybeova, Imin Tsydendambaeva, Lilia Zhambalova and Bayarma Zodboeva. They perform their feats of magic atop the large mechanical hand.
  • Upside Down Diner - This act is one of the most inventive and original. Andrii Bondarenko plays the role of a dinner guest, who decides to climb to the top of the dining salon to chase down a chandelier that has levitated.  He stacks dining room chairs one upon the other to build a stairway to heaven, and performs astonishing feats of hand balancing in the process.  All of a sudden, the Diner and the audience become aware that on the ceiling, there is a mirror image of their original tableau, hanging upside down.  Yet this is not a mere reflection, but action table, chairs, dinner setting and diners all suspended upside down! The Diner's mirror counterpart stacks chairs going down, and they meet in the middle at the chandelier.  It is a mind blowing feat of engineering and balancing on the part of the performers, and a wonderful philosophical comment on the nature of reality and our perception of reality.  This was one of my favorite acts in the show.
  • Rola Bola - Aviator James Eulises Gonzalez ascends to the top of the Big Top - Le Chapiteau - balancing himself on a dizzying array of cylinders and planks.  He is one of only a handful of acrobats in the world who can perform this dangerous feat.
  • Acronet - The second half of the show kicked off with a huge trampoline on steroids. Using street style trampoline maneuvers, including moves that jet propel the acrobats to the top of the tent, they performers act our scene that take place above and below the sea.
  • Comic Act - This is one of the acts in which the scale is reduced.  The audience is focused on a woman who has been picked from among the patrons to sit on a sofa to be romanced by Facundo Gimenez.  His attempts at wooing the young lady are hampered by a parrot, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a cat. The actor portrays all three creatures with panache  His shenanigans as the cat in a litter box had me rolling with laughter.
  • Aerial Straps - Throughout the show, brothers Roman and Vitali Tomanov have portrayed Siamese twins. They mount into the air hanging from straps, executing complex moves - sometimes joined and sometimes flying separately. This act was impressive for the strength and grace of these artists, as well as for their clear connection of trust and communication with each other.  The act was another highlight of the evening for me.
Roman and Vitali Tomanov
Cirque du Soleil - Kurios
At Suffolk Downs
Through July 10th
  • Yo-Yos is another small scale act in which Chih-Min Tuan demonstrates mastery over yo-yos that transform into pocket watches.
  • Another act on a micro-scale is the Theater of Hands, projecting images of a hand onto a screen made of a hot air balloon that descended from on high. The hand is made to dance as if it were human legs, and the act ends up in the audience, involving a complicit and good natured gentleman who went along with the fun.
  • Banguine is an act that feature 13 artists.  The aperture is opened wide here, for the act takes place all over the stage and spills into the aisles.  A series of synchronized acrobatic moves results in pyramids as high as four people, and a sequence in which it seems as if the women in the group are walking on air.  It is magical to watch.
  • Finale - The entire company returns to remind us of the wonders they pulled out of the Cabinet of Curiosities.
Throughout the show, several characters wove themselves in and out of the acts and the narratives.
  • Karl L'Ecuyer is Microcosmos, the leader of the group.
  • Inside of him is Mini Lilli, representing his subconscious.  She is played elegantly by Antanina Satsura, one of the ten smallest women in the world at 3 feet and 2 inches.
Antanina Satsura as Mini Lilli
Cirque du Soleil - Kurios
At Suffolk Downs
Through July 10th
  • Ekaterina Pirogvskaya is Klara who can receive radio waves through her hoop skirt.
  • Nico Baixas is Accordion Man.
I was accompanied at this performance by a friend who had never before attended a circus.  This person was thoroughly mesmerized from beginning to end.  I also noticed several sections over from where I was sitting a very sophisticated and discerning theater professional. She was glowing with delight at several points along the way.  I think it is fair to say that this show is equally fitting for first time Cirque patrons as well as for knowledgeable theater people who know how to enjoy a brilliantly crafted and executed performance and work of art.

Don't wait long to get your tickets to this program that will run in Boston through July 10.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mini-Review of "The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories" by Mark Twain

A very knowledgeable friend of mine asked me not long ago about my appreciation of the writing of Mark Twain.  I talked about the usual highlights: "Tom Sawyer," "Huckleberry Finn," "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court." He asked if I were familiar with the novella, "The Mysterious Stranger." When I confessed my ignorance, he strongly recommended that I read it, and so I did.

In this compilation of the novella and three short stories, this familiar writer speaks in an unfamiliar voice.  Toward the end of his life, Samuel Clemens became quite cynical and curmudgeonly. The novella "The Mysterious Stranger" was published posthumously in 1916, and reflects his later life jaundiced views of God, mankind, and the universe in general.

In the short story "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," the narrative is centered on a town this is renowned for the unshakable honesty of each of its citizens.  A mysterious stranger comes to town, leaves a bag of money with clear instructions of what is to be done.  The instructions are written in a way that is almost guaranteed to test the moral mettle of the town residents.  As the possibility of getting their hands on the money dawns on some of the towns most prominent citizens, the fabric of their rectitude begins to unravel. In this tale, Twain shows a depth of understanding of human frailty and the human psyche that is disturbingly accurate.

The novella "The Mysterious Stranger" treats the topic of an alluring young man who calls himself "Satan." He bedazzles a group of naive young men, and using his Angel of Light seduction sleight of hand, leads them on a merry chase across the universe. Reading this fascinating story reminded me of the oft-repeated phrase that "the Devil's greatest accomplishment was convincing mankind that he does not exist."

On the final page, Twain shares what appears to be his ultimate nihilistic philosophy of life, spoken by "Satan":

"It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream - a grotesque and foolish dream.  Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought - a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities.

He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true."

What a sad perspective upon which to end one's otherwise rich life.



Mini-Review of "Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M." - The Making of a Hollywood Icon: Audrey Hepburn

I found this little book to be absolutely fascinating.  It's subtitle sets the parameters for Sam Wesson's exploration of the making of a Hollywood icon: "Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast At Tiffany's, And The Dawn Of The Modern Woman." Along the way, we get to look inside the making of the film that elevated Ms. Hepburn's career, as well as the behind the scenes maneuvering in choosing writers for the screen play, director, wardrobe, etc.  Many familiar names from the world of film and literature come to life with all of their warts and peccadilloes: Blake Edwards, Edith Head, Mickey Rooney, George Peppard, Henry Mancini, Billy Wilder, Hubert de Givenchy, et al.

Turning Truman Capote's novel "Breakfast At Tiffany's" with the unlikely anti-heroine Holly Golightly, into a film was no easy matter. This book illuminates many of the stages of that process. Reading this gem of a book made me choose to sit down to view the movie with fresh eyes.



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cirque du Soleil "Kurios" Comes To Boston - A Rare Peak Behind The Wizard's Curtain!

The Cirque du Soleil show "Kurios" opens on Thursday evening at Suffolk Downs and will play through July 10th.  I was given a rare opportunity yesterday to go back stage and spend time observing some of the performers in rehearsal, and then to speak with several of the stars of the show. From the time I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show over a decade ago, I have been in awe of the artistry and the rare athleticism that goes into each unique Cirque production.  "Kurios" promises to only add to my sense of wonder.

After walking through the backstage dressing rooms and warm-up spaces, I was taken to the center of the action - The Big Top - where Rola Bola performer James Eulises Gonzalez was rehearsing, practicing his rare art and making sure that all of his equipment was ready for the high flying act that he performs each night.

James Eulises Gonzalez
Rehearses Rola Bola
Cirque du Soleil "Kurios"
At Suffolk Down
Through July 10th
Once he had gone through his complex and death defying routine several times, he gave way to a troupe of contortionists who portray electric eels, contorting their bodies into unimaginable patterns atop a 600 pound mechanical hand.  One of those artists, Imin Tsydendambaeva, spent time with me telling me about her career and training to become a Cirque du Soleil artist.  She and her three colleagues grew up together in Siberia, near Lake Baikal and not far from the border with Mongolia. As a young girl, she trained with a coach who would show her and her friends videos of Cirque du Soleil shows. Her lifelong dream of joining Cirque became a reality in 2010.  She and her fellow contortionists spend several hours each day, apart from performances, stretching and practicing their art. They communicate with one another and their coach in English, Russian and Buryatia, a language similar to Mongolian that is spoken around Lake Baikal. Imin remarked that in her first few hours seeing Boston, she was most impressed with the beauty of Boston Common.

Imin Tsydendambaeva and friends
rehearse Contortion
Cirque du Soleil "Kurios"
At Suffolk Down
Through July 10th
Before leaving the world of Cirque, I watched several of the performers rehearse for the act entitled Banquine.  I know enough Russian and they know enough English that we were able to joke together and compare notes on neighborhoods in Moscow we are all familiar with.

Yesterday's foretaste of the wonders of "Kurios" make me even more eager than I had been to see tomorrow evening's opening night performance.  Expect a full review on Friday.

Do not delay ordering tickets.  A friend of mine just informed me that a performance he wanted to attend is already sold out.

Cirque du Soleil website



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Jack & Louisa - Act 1" by Andrew Keenan Bolger and Kate Wetherhead - Required Reading for Musical Theater Nerds!

Andrew Keenan Bolger and Kate Wetherhead have done a wonderful job of using their own experiences as Musical Theater Nerds to get inside the heads of fictional Jack and Louisa.  Jack's voice is changing, so his promising Broadway career grinds to an abrupt and hurtful halt, and the family moves to Cleveland to accommodate his father's new job.  Louisa has just returned from an inspiring time at theater camp, and knows more minutiae about Broadway musicals than most theater critics.  The two adolescents end up as neighbors in McMansions that all look alike.  They discover their mutual love for theater, but there are complications.

Written in the alternating voices of Jack and Louisa, the authors capture the angst, the insecurity, the brashness of young artists and of young love/friendship.  Bullying raises its ugly head in the arc of this story, as do petty jealousies, miscommunications and freaking out over tempests in a teapot - in other words, the life of a typical teen.

"Jack & Louisa" should be required reading for everyone who goes to theater camp, and should come as a free gift for everyone who registers for next winter's second annual Broadwaycon!



Monday, May 23, 2016

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Closes Its Season With "Peter And The Starcatcher" by Rick Elice - A Fun Frolic Leading To Neverland

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston finishes off another successful season with the frothy and fun "Peter and the Starcatcher", adapted for the stage by Rick Elice from the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. One of several attempts to look behind the timeless story of Peter Pan, this proto-Peter Pan tale uses theatrical devices common to the English Musical Hall, most recently used to great effect in the stage adaptation of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby."  In fact, Mr. Elice was inspired to adapt this piece having worked on the Royal Shakespeare Company production of the classic Dickens novel. This play has been called a "grown-up prequel" to Peter Pan, and that seems about right, with familiar elements like the lost boys, a ravenous crocodile, a disarmingly evil sea Captain, a right hand man named Smee, etc.

As written, this is very much an ensemble piece, and Director Spiro Veloudos has assembled an able crew of creative talent and actors to bring this fun tale to life on the Lyric Stage.  Janie E. Howland's set is simple and rustic, consisting mostly of rough-hewn planks and timbers. Catherine Stornetta's musical direction is as playful as the subject matter. Ilyse Robbins has choreographed some fun sequences, especially the opulent and outrageously funny opening of Act II, with all of the cast (except for Peter) cavorting as Mermaids in costumes that Elisabetta Polito must had fun designing. The cast members certainly had fun strutting their stuff in this number. Lighting was designed by Frank Meissner, Jr.

"Peter and the Starcatcher"
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through June 26th
Photo by Glenn Perry

The ensemble cast consists of Margaret Ann Brady, Ed Hoopman, Margarita Damaris Martinez, Will McGarrahan, Marc Pierre, Robert Saoud, Tyler Simahk, Alejandro Simoes, Damon Singletary, Matt Spano, Erica Spyres and Dale J. Young.

Tyler Simahk as Prentiss, Erica Spyres as Molly
Marc Pierre as Peter, Matt Spano as Ted
"Peter and the Starcatcher"
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through June 26th
Photo by Glenn Perry
While they were all terrific, several were featured prominently enough to be singled out:
  • Ed Hoopman plays the dastardly Black Stache, a proto-Captain Hook who has an unfortunate encounter with the lid of a steamer trunk.  He winked and nudged his way through a series of wonderful scene chewing sequences, setting the tone for the rest of the cast to engage in antics that fit the spirit of this piece that contains element of classic Panto.
  • Erica Spyres as Molly introduces orphaned Peter to the wonders of a girl's kiss.  She combines strength and warmth in equal measure, and wonderfully pre-figures Wendy in the later version of Peter Pan.
  • Marc Pierre is his usual winsome self as the orphan Peter, partnering with fellow orphans Prentiss (Tyler Simahk) and Ted (Matt Spano), as well as with Wendy to thwart the evil efforts of Black Stache and his band of ruffians.
  • Will McGarrahan is a hilarious and understated Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly's governess.
  • Alejandro Simoes is an appropriately subservient right hand man Smee to his master, Stache.
  • Damon Singletary is imperious as Lord Aster, Molly's father.
Sunday's audience had no trouble getting into the spirit of the proceedings.  We were not there to solve global warming, but to have fun, and I can report that it was Mission Accomplished!

Ed Hoopman as Black Stache and Cast
"Peter and the Starcatcher"
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through June 26th
Photo by Glenn Perry
This play will run through June 26th.  Get your tickets now while they are available.



Saturday, May 21, 2016

A.R.T. Presents The World Premiere of "In The Body Of The World" by Eve Ensler - A MUST SEE!

When this theater season in Boston and Cambridge draws to a close, I am confident that the current World Premiere of Eve Ensler's "In The Body Of The World," being presented by the A.R.T. at the Loeb, will continue to be talked about as one of the most impactful works of art.  It is simply stunning in every aspect.

Eve Ensler has been a household name for many since her breakthrough "Vagina Monologues."  She has gone on the write other plays, and to found V Day, an annual event to throw a harsh spotlight on the need to empower women to stand up for their rights. As Ms. Ensler continued her activist work, she learned of the horrific wartime conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where women and girls - from 80 to 8 years of age! - were systematically being raped as a tactic for instilling fear into villages and tribes.  Out of her knowledge of that crisis, she helped to found a refuge for women called City of Joy in Bukavu, DNC.

Eve Ensler Talks about City of Joy
"In The Body of the World"
Through May 29th
 Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
In the midst of raising the funds to create City of Joy, Eve was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer, and spent many months fighting for her life.  Once she had endured surgery and chemotherapy and hospitals in several U.S. states, and once she was out of danger, she reflected on her experiences in written form in a memoir that is the basis for this new play, "In The Body of the World."

Artistic Director Diane Paulus and the A.R.T. offered her a creative home in Cambridge, and found funding to underwrite a residency to allow the playwright to develop her memoir into a play.  She worked closely with Ms. Paulus and the A.R.T. staff to condense 5 hours of material into a more manageable 90-100 minutes, to be followed by a unique Act II each evening in which subject matter experts from a wide variety of related fields would engage the audience in a talk back and Q&A sessions in response to the play.

The gorgeous set that the audience first sees, designed by Myung Hee Cho, is meant to suggest Ms. Ensler's loft, where much of the collaborative work took place between Ensler and Paulus in refining this work of art.  At a dramatic moment at the end of the evening, the set morphs magically into a living and breathing rain forest.  This is such a brilliant concept, for what Eve Ensler has created in her memoir and in this play is in fact the literary equivalent of a triple canopy rain forest.
  • At the top level is her concern for the ecological rape of our environment, leaving fissures in sky and sea and land from which vital fluids leak.  The diagnosis of her cancer coincided with the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and she ties these events together dramatically, and graphically with the aid of brilliant projections by Finn Ross.
  • The second layer of the metaphorical rain forest is the global crisis of violence against women and girls.  As part of the play, Eve recounts a horrific event that happened in Africa when a group of soldiers committed unspeakable atrocities upon women and children in a particular village.  It was to bring healing to women who are victims of these kinds of unthinkable atrocities that City of Joy was founded.
  • Finally, the third layer is that of Eve's own body, a war zone between cancer cells and toxic chemotherapy.  Another poignant moment in this play is Eve's description of a conversation she had with a mentor who counseled her to view the poisonous chemo chemicals as waging war within her body against all the violence and abuse that she had suffered over the years. With that reframing of the chemo experience, Eve was able to turn dread into determined resolve. Once again, brilliant projections by Mr. Ross enabled the audience to make a visceral connection between themselves and the story that Eve was weaving.
Eve Ensler Describes The Holocaust of Chemo
"In The Body of the World"
Through May 29th
 Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
Beginning with "Vagina Monologues," Eve has been willing to bare her body - literally and metaphorically - to use as a teaching tool to instruct and to inspire women (and men, if they are able to hear).  "In The Body of the World" follows in the footsteps of prior works. As an actor and performer, Eve takes great risks, but those risks make the telling of her three-layered story all the more poignant and impactful. As a Director, Diane Paulus has empowered Eve to tell her tale with nothing held back, and the result is theater as it was meant to be - visually arresting, intellectually challenging and emotionally cathartic. In addition to the brilliant set and projections, the lighting design by Jen Schriever and soundscape by M.L. Dogg enhance the overall experience.

One thread that weaves its way through each work of art that Diane Paulus directs is her commitment to find creative ways to pierce the fourth wall and to engage audiences directly in the experience of theater.  In the case of "In The Body of the World," she accomplishes that purpose by inviting audience members to come on stage between the main play and Act II and to walk among the rain forest that has been created at the Loeb.  A play that has focused for much of the evening on the possibility of death - of our ecosystem, of women and girls across the globe, and of Eve's physical body - now becomes an exercise in celebrating the possibility of new life.  The rain forest lives and breathes, as does our hope for a new and better world - in part because of the commitment of activists like Eve Ensler and her sisters in Cambridge, in the DNC and beyond.

Eve Ensler Contemplates New Life While Fighting Death
"In The Body of the World"
Through May 29th
 Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
 Act II on Opening Night featured a conversation moderated by A.R.T. Dramaturg, Ryan McKittrick and involved Monique Wilson, Director of One Billion Rising and climate activist Naomi Klein, author of "This Changes Everything."

This extraordinary evening of theater is more than entertainment.  It is education, it is challenge, it is chemotherapy for the soul.  It may burn, but it will also heal.  And it is not to be missed. Through May 29th.

American Repertory Theater Website



Thursday, May 19, 2016

Taking A Second Look At "Dogfight" - Worth Seeing More Than Once

It is not unusual for me to return to see a show a second or third time if the production has really grabbed my attention and my heart.  It is rare, however, for me to choose to write a follow-up piece based on that second viewing.  But when I returned to the BCA last evening for another look at the SpeakEasy production of "Dogfight," I saw things that I had not been able to highlight in my initial review.

I highlighted the work of actor Patrick Varner in his role as the waiter, but I neglected to mentioned the other 5 or 6 roles he plays with distinction, including a lounge singer who serves as judge of the dogfight "beauty contest."  He is also a staple as Eddie's bus companion on the ride to San Francisco.
Also standing out are Liliane Kline as Rose's hard-working single Mom and Jenna Lea Scott as the stoic and taciturn squaw, Ruth Two Bears. She also plays the calloused hooker who reluctantly services Bernstein.

Seeing the show for a second time felt even more poignant, especially reflecting on the misplaced expectations of the young Marines who expect that they will go to Vietnam, do their job quickly, and return home to acclaim and ticker tape parades.  The sad reality was that many of them came home in pine boxes or to being spat upon by war protesters who called them "Baby Killers."  We have come a long way since the 60's in terms of how we express our opposition to war, while honoring the men and women who return home after having served oversees.

The show runs through June 4th, and if there is justice in the world, tickets should be hard to come by, so get yours now. If you go, I can guarantee that you will have "Some Kinda Time"!

SpeakEasy Website



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Flea Theater Presents The World Premiere of "The Place We Built" - Through May 23rd

(Caveat: Several weeks ago I underwent rotator cuff surgery, and my right shoulder, arm and hand have been immobilized in a sling until very recently. I just began several months of post-op physical therapy.  I had been severely hampered in my ability to type, so several worthy shows that I have seen recently have not been reviewed in a timely manner.  Beginning with today, I will work to clear up the backlog.  Please be aware that my reviews may be more limited than usual until I am up to date. Several excellent shows are no longer playing, but I will highlight them, offering the assurance that when it comes time to submit my suggestions for nominations for the 2016 IRNE Awards, these shows and the people involved with them, will receive the consideration they deserve. Thank you for your understanding and support.)

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Over the years, I have seen and enjoyed many shows at The Flea in SoHo.  The Bats, the resident acting troupe, always acquit themselves well with whatever material that have been given to work with.  In the case of the current World Premiere of "The Place We Built" by Sarah Gancher and Directed by Danya Taymor, they are doing their best work ever.  This play is deeply moving, both because of the writing and directing, but especially because of the emotional commitment each actor brings to the character he or she portrays.

The play is based on real events that took place in the spring of 2013 in post-communist Budapest.  A group of young Bohemians, many with Jewish roots, have taken over an abandoned building and turned it into a bar/cafe/music space they dubbed "Siraly" ("Seagull") where they could meet - for drinking, singing, partying, sharing stories and discussing the past and the future.  The increasingly oppressive and anti-Semitic government regime sees them as a threat, surrounds the building and gives them an ultimatum that they must vacate the building in 24 hours or face the dire consequences.

The action takes place as the clock ticks and they come ever closer to the deadline imposed by the police.  Each person must decide if she will stay or he will flee.  Votes are taken periodically to check the pulse of the group, and sentiment wavers back and forth throughout the siege.  Interspersed among the group action are moving vignettes in which an individual character stands in the spotlight and shares his or her life story. Ben (an outstanding Tom Costello) is one of the founders of "Seagull."  On the fifth floor of the abandoned building, his grandmother once had an apartment.  He discovers a trunk that had belonged to her that contains a collection of wigs and old love letters that she had written to an unknown paramour.  The denizens of "Seagull" develop a tradition of occasionally raiding the trunk, putting on the wigs, and reading or singing from the love letters.  It is a hauntingly poignant way of evoking the past while celebrating the present. They call such an evening "A Grandma Party"!

As the deadline approaches, tensions mount, old relational rifts are revealed and consensus becomes difficult to achieve. The sense of expectancy in the air when the group takes their final vote was electric.

I learned that some of the original "Seagull" group have left Budapest and settled in Brooklyn.  The cast was able to meet with them and use their first-hand accounts of what happened in 2013 as part of their preparation to play these roles.

This is very much an ensemble piece, so allow me to present the entire cast for your consideration:


Aniko.............................Leta Renée-Alan
Julia ..............................Cleo Gray
Kata ............................. Kristin Friedlander
Szuszanna......................Lydian Blossom
Aisha..............................Isabelle Pierre
Ilona..............................Tamara Del Rosso
Female Utility...............Brittany K. Allen
Ben................................Tom Costello
Zoltan........................... Ash McNair
Mihaly.......................... Brendan Dalton
Male Utility.................. Xavier Reminick

Mária (u/s Kata, Ilona, Szuszanna) ......Sonia Mena
Lacko (u/s Mihaly)................................Ben Lorenz
Kristián (u/s Ben, Male Utility)........... Phil Feldman
Szilvia (u/s Aisha).................................Rachel Ingram
Csilla (u/s Aniko, Julia) .......................Tessa Hope Slovis

I cannot help but talk about the undercurrent that I felt throughout the show.  Hungary, a country that had tasted freedom, was allowing old fears of xenophobia and anti-Semitism to creep in and create an atmosphere of oppression and distrust.  How similar is the current political ecosystem here at home, with the anti-Muslim sentiment (another Semite people) being spewed from the mouth of Mr. Trump. "The Place We Built" stands on its own as a tale of courage under duress, but it also stands as a cautionary tale for us to watch carefully what we allow to happen in our own land.

This show runs through this weekend, May 23rd.  You now have your own imposed deadline, so get tickets now!

The Flea Website



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A.R.T. Presents The Intriguing "RoosevElvis" at the Oberon - An Imaginary Encounter Between Elvis and Teddy Roosevelt - Through May 29th

At the Oberon, the American Repertory Theatre is presenting a fascinating and phantasmagorical exploration of masculinity - and femininity - in a two person play entitled "RoosevElvis. This work, first developed at the Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn, is presented by The TEAM.  The concept is a bit convoluted and requires an adept audience to suspend disbelief and enter into the spirit of the "Thelma and Louise" type trip that two women take - in a car and in their minds.

Ann (Libby King) is a meat processing hourly wage earner in Rapid City, South Dakota.  Her dull and predictable existence is wearing her down so that when she drags herself home at the end of each day to grab a beer, she looks like she herself has been forced through a meat grinder.  To break up the quotidien monotony, she goes on-line and sets up a date with the recently divorced Brenda (Kristen Sieh).  Ann is not really able to sustain Brenda's interest, so much of the action occurs in Ann's imagination, with two icons of American masculinity vying for supremacy in her imagination.  Ms. King becomes "The King": Elvis.  And Ms. Sieh becomes Teddy Roosevelt, with speech patterns that both mimic and mock the Harvard grad who went on to charge up San Juan Hill and occupy the Bully Pulpit of the Presidency.  Teddy always pronounces Presley's name as "El-Veez"!

As the two pairs of characters - Ann and Brenda and Elvis and Teddy - go through a variety of adventures, various forms of masculine expression are explored, including the fisticuffs portrayed in the photo below.

Libby King as Elvis
Kristen Sieh as Teddy Roosevelt
A.R.T. - Oberon
Through May 29th
Photo by Helen Murray
As an audience, we are not always sure if we are seeing a dream being acted out in live action and in projections, or in the minds of the characters.  But we are never in doubt that we are in the presence of very creative non-linear minds. Both Ms. King and Ms. Sieh demonstrate tremendous versatility in mastering the physicality and vocal nuances of their respective characters. At the end of the day, we know that Ann has expended a great deal of energy in trying to figure out just what kind of a man - or woman - she wants to be.

Kristen Sieh as Teddy Roosevelt
A.R.T. - Oberon
Through May 29th
Photo by Sarah Lam

I was thoroughly entertained and challenged by this piece that is as much performance art as it is a linear play.  I think you will also enjoy this piece if you bring with you to the theater a playful spirit and a willingness to go with the flow and be challenged to think in new ways about familiar subjects.

"RoosevElvis" will run through May 29th at the Oberon.

American Repertory Theater Website



New Rep Theatre Presents "Freud's Last Session" by Mark St. Germain - Through May 22nd

(Caveat: Several weeks ago I underwent rotator cuff surgery, and my right shoulder, arm and hand have been immobilized in a sling until very recently. I just began several months of post-op physical therapy.  I had been severely hampered in my ability to type, so several worthy shows that I have seen recently have not been reviewed in a timely manner.  Beginning with today, I will work to clear up the backlog.  Please be aware that my reviews may be more limited than usual until I am up to date. Several excellent shows are no longer playing, but I will highlight them, offering the assurance that when it comes time to submit my suggestions for nominations for the 2016 IRNE Awards, these shows and the people involved with them, will receive the consideration they deserve. Thank you for your understanding and support.)

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<-align: center=""> New Rep Theatre closes its 2015-2016 season with the thoughtful two-hander play, "Freud's Last Session," written by Mark St. Germain and Directed by Jim Petosa. I am pleased that I am able to offer a review of this fine play while there are still a few remaining opportunities for you to catch a performance at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.   The play closes this coming Sunday, May 22nd.

The premise of the play is that Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, who never met in life, have one climactic meeting with one another as Freud was near the end of his life.  The purpose is to discuss their diametrically opposed views of the universe.  Freud, despite his Jewish heritage, was a confirmed atheist, and Lewis was a convert to Christianity late in life.  In life, Lewis would have been aware of Freud's fame and philosophies, and even commented on them in his own writings.  The playwright was inspired to write this imaginary meeting based on the book, "The Question of God" by Harvard professor Dr. Armand M. Nicholi. The play is well-balanced, giving both the theistic view and the atheistic view equal time and weight as the dialogue flows back and forth.

While there are tense moments when Lewis and Freud challenge one another, it is done in the spirit of what Thomas Aquinas would call "disputatio" - civil discourse and disputation.  One could only wish that our current crop of politicians could adopt that same spirit of civility in carrying out their raucous disputes.

Christina Todesco has conceived of a visually arresting set, with spirals that are emblematic of a Lewis quotation: " . . . nothing 'stays put.' One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I doing up or down it?"  Scattered pages of manuscripts cover the floor, emblematic of Freud's worship of words as having "magical power." The center of the set represents Freud's study, complete with analyst's couch. The set is beautifully lit by Scott Pinkney, with Sound by David Remedios and appropriately subdued costumes by Molly Trainer.
Joel Colodner as Sigmund Freud and Shelley Bolman as C.S. Lewis
New Rep Theatre
Arsenal Center for the Arts
Through May 22nd
Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures
At the center of the action are two fine actors.  Joel Colodner is a very convincing curmudgeonly Freud, plagued with pain from the cancer of his mouth that is ebbing away his strength.  Shelley 
Bolman is every bit Clive Staples Lewis, the Oxford Don and Renaissance literature scholar who penned the fantastic "Chronicles of Narnia" as well as the spiritual memoir, "Mere Christianity.

No matter where you stand on the theism-atheism continuum, I guarantee that you will find food for thought in the back and forth banter that Freud and Lewis share with each other.  Unseen daughter, Anna Freud, plays a significant role in the arc of the conversation, with Freud interrupting the session on several occasions to call her on the telephone to bark out orders to her.  Things get dicey when Lewis tries to apply some of Freud's own theories to the psychiatrist's relationship with his daughter.

"Freud's Last Session" runs through the end of this weekend at Arsenal Center for the Arts.

New Rep Website



Goodspeed Opera House Presents Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" - As Close To Perfect As You Can Hope To Find - Through June 6th

(Caveat: Several weeks ago I underwent rotator cuff surgery, and my right shoulder, arm and hand have been immobilized in a sling until very recently. I just began several months of post-op physical therapy.  I had been severely hampered in my ability to type, so several worthy shows that I have seen recently have not been reviewed in a timely manner.  Beginning with today, I will work to clear up the backlog.  Please be aware that my reviews may be more limited than usual until I am up to date. Several excellent shows are no longer playing, but I will highlight them, offering the assurance that when it comes time to submit my suggestions for nominations for the 2016 IRNE Awards, these shows and the people involved with them, will receive the consideration they deserve. Thank you for your understanding and support.)

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 (Center) Rashidra Scott as Reno Sweeney and Cast Members
Cole Porter's "Anything Goes"
Goodspeed Opera House
Through June 6th
For a long while, I had wanted to find an opportunity to see a show at the fabled Goodspeed Opera House along the Connecticut River in East Haddam. The opportunity finally presented itself, and I made my way to this bucolic and gorgeous spot a few miles above New London.  The Goodspeed embraces as part of its mission the responsibility to curate and to preserve the works of musical theater that have graced stages for the past century and a half.  The setting is the beautifully restored mansion of William Goodspeed, 19th century shipping and banking magnate.

The occasion for my visit was the opening of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes." (In point of fact, because of complications with my travel schedule, I was in attendance at one of the final preview performances, but I cannot imagine that anything could have been improved when the official opening took place a few days later.  The show I saw in previews was pure perfection at every level!)

This is a show I had not seen before, although there are several movie versions of the story extant. The Broadway debut took place in 1934 starring Ethel Merman in the role of Reno.  The story is a wonderfully silly tale of mistaken identity, love overcoming impossible obstacles, gangsters that are treated as celebrities, and Wall Street investors sailing to Europe on the eve of the great Wall Street Crash of 1929.  The show is stuffed with wall to wall familiar Cole Porter tunes, including: "I Get A Kick Out of You," "You're The Top," "Friendship," "It's De-Lovely," "Anything Goes,"Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and "All Through The Night."  If that is not enough to keep your heart racing and your feet tapping, then there is the eye-popping choreography of Kelli Barclay, executed to perfection by a tireless ensemble of dancers.  Tap dance has never been more fun.

Director Daniel Goldstein has assembled a team that has created a show that equals anything on Broadway.  Production values are outstanding.  The set by Wilson Chin is so authentic I almost felt seasick. Costumes by Ilona Somogyi capture both the period and the ethos in which this tale sets sail. Lighting by Brian Tovar and Sound by Jay Hilton are effective and unobtrusive. Musical Director Michael O'Flaherty leads a stellar orchestra.

Let's talk about the triple threat performers in this fabulous cast.
  • Rashidra Scott is stunning in the pivotal role of Reno Sweeney. She makes her way in the world as sort of a singing evangelist cum night club chanteuse.  She and her band of supporting acolytes and angels nearly stop the show with the rousing anthem "Blow, Gabriel, Blow."
  • David Harris is convincing as the young Wall Street broker, Billy Crocker, who stows away aboard the ship S.S. American, hoping to spend time with Hope, with whom he has fallen in love as soon as he had set eyes on her in NYC. He and Reno blend beautifully in the duet "You're The Top," and he and Hope are outstanding in "All Through The Night."
  • Hannah Florence is perfect as Hope Harcourt, engaged to the boorish Lord Evelyn, but secretly sharing Billy's affection. She and Billy team up vocally in the familiar number "It's De-Lovely."
  • Benjamin Howes is wonderfully arch as the hapless Lord Evelyn, destined to lose the girl despite having the advantage of rank over Billy.
  • Stephen deRosa is Moonface Martin, "Public Enemy #13."  His moll, Erma, is played by Desiree Davar, who gets to join the sailors in the tune "Buddie, Beware."  Moonface disguises himself as a minister with the help of Billy, and joins Reno in singing a rousing rendition of "Friendship."
  • Denise Lute plays Hope's mother, Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt.  She is obsessed with her Pomeranian lap dog.
  • Kingsley Leggs is Elisha J. Whitney, Billy's boss on Wall Street.  He fears that he may be ruined if Billy does not execute a sale of stock that Whitney is sure will tumble in value, but Billy opts to jump onto the ship instead of executing the trade. We get to hear Mr. Leggs vocal chops in "The Crew Song."
  • Patrick Richwood as the Purser is the comic foil throughout the proceedings, and almost steals the show with his hilarious and outrageous buffoonery. He has a face with a thousand expressions, and he uses them all with perfect comic timing.  His is a stand-out performance among many excellent star turns by this cast.
  • Jay Aubrey Jones as the Captain get to shine when he and the Sailors sing "There's No Cure Like Travel."
  • John Ramsey as Rev. Henry T. Dobson has as part of his entourage, Luke (Christopher Shin) and John (Sam Tanabe), two reformed gamblers.
  • In this production, the ensemble of dancers and singers carry much of the weight and burden of telling the story, so they need to be highlighted as well: Brittany Bohn, Sy Chounchaisit, Alison Jantze, Karilyn Ashley Surratt, James Tolbert, Edward Tolve and John T. Wolfe.
Stephen DeRosa, Rashidra Scott, David Harris
and the cast of Goodspeed's "Anything Goes"
(c) Diane Sobolewski
I suppose as a critic I am expected to find something about this show that was less than first class or short of ship shape.  Sorry.  I was delighted with every aspect of the performances and the Goodspeed experience.  I hope that I will be docking frequently at East Haddam for upcoming shows like "The Roar of The Grease Paint - The Smell of the Crowd," "Bye Bye Birdie, Sign of the Times," and "Chasing Rainbows."

"Anything Goes" continues at the Goodspeed through June 6th.  Pull up anchor and make your way there.  You do not want to miss the pleasure cruise.

Goodspeed Website



Mini-Review of "A Hero of France" by Alan Furst - A Hymn of Praise to the French Resistance

Alan Furst is at the top of his game with "A Hero of France." The story is of the emergence of the French Resistance during the Occupation of France by Germany. A spy with the code name of Mathieu is part of a network of resistance volunteers who work to rescue downed British pilots and return them to England before the Germans can capture them. Mathieu is helped out by a motley network of characters, including Lisette, a 17-year-old student who risks everything to help, Chantal, an aristocrat who wants to help and is willing to get her hands dirty. Then there is Daniel, a Jewish teacher seeking revenge, Max the night club owner, Joelle and Annemarie.

This novel is beautifully written and serves as a powerful hymn of praise to the unsung heroes of the French Resistance.



Monday, May 16, 2016

"A Great Wilderness" by Samuel D. Hunter - Zeitgeist Stage Company Returns To Its Roots - Through May 21st

With the current production of Samuel D. Hunter's beautifully written "A Great Wilderness," David Miller and his Zeitgeist Stage Company return to familiar terrain.  For several years, this gritty fringe theatre company has pitched its tent on the sloping ground of tackling complex issues of sexuality and sexual identity.  This play about a place where young boys undergo conversion to hetereosexual orientation is right in the Zeitgeist wheelhouse.  And the production is flawless and deeply moving.

Mr. Hunter has created six complex characters that interact in kaleidoscopic ways.
  • Walt (A very moving Peter Brown) has been running a camp to try to help teenage boys deal with inappropriate impulses.  His motivation is to try to atone for the suicide of his son many years before.  He is slowly sinking into dementia, and his best friend and ex-wife have arranged for him to find a place in an appropriate home. As a favor to a frantic mother, he decides to take on one last camper as his swan song.
  • Abby (A sympathetic and exasperated Shelley Brown) is Walt's ex-wife, and she is now married to Tim.  Over the years, Abby and Tim have helped Walt to run the camp, but they are convinced he needs to be gently forced out of there.  She still carries guilt for the death of their son.
  • Tim (a steadying influence in times of crisis as portrayed by Thomas Grenon) is torn between his friendship with Walt and his need to support Abby in her decision that they will not keep the camp going after Walt's retirement, much to Walt's dismay.
  • Janet  (A perky, unflappable, and professionally aloof Park Ranger as portrayed by Kathy LaShay Berenson). After initially doubting Walt and his mission, she has become a friend, but now must step into a deteriorating situation once a crisis presents itself, and Walt is reluctant to make a panicked move.
  • Daniel (Jake Orozco-Herman) is a precociously fine young actor portraying a scared kid who has been forced to come to Walt's camp.  Unsure how to act as the lone "patient" at Walt's place, Daniel wonders off, gets lost and triggers a cascading series of troubling events.
  • Eunice (A distraught and eventually disgusted Christine Power), mother of Daniel who is fighting her fundamentalist husband on the one hand, and Walt on the other hand.  She wants action in finding Daniel; Walt wants to wait.
(L to R): Kathy LaShay Berenson, Shelley Brown, Peter Brown,
Jake Orozco-Herman, Thomas Grenon, and Christine Power
Zeitgeist Stage production of "A Great Wilderness"
(Photo by Joel W. Benjamin, Background by Fran Forman)
Through May 21st at Boston Center for the Arts
The playwright has managed to make each of these characters in some way sympathetic.  I may not have like each of them, but I cared deeply about their fate and what might befall them, as the action ratcheted up to heightened crisis.  The writing is brilliant at several levels.  Mr. Hunter's use of words to mean more than one thing grabbed me in the first moments of the play.  Daniel, who has been consigned to the camp so that Walt can "turn him around," enters the cabin apologizing for being late and getting lost: "I got turned around"!  Given the nature of the subject matter, it would have been very tempting for the playwright to set up straw dogs and caricatures of mindless fundamentalists out to force young boys to swallow the Bible and their interpretation of it unblinkingly.  The only character that is close to one-dimensional never appears on stage: Daniel's father, a pastor who has disowned his gay son. We know of him only through the eyes of Daniel and Eunice.  Every other character is layered with nuance and doubts and willingness to listen and process new information - even the now limited Walt begins to see things in a new light.

Mr. Miller has designed a wonderful set that evokes the remote Idaho wilderness.  Lighting by Michael Clark Wonson, Sound by J. Jumbelic and Costumes by Matthew Solomon help to evoke the deteriorating situation and the growing crisis.

(L to R): Thomas Grenon, Kathy LaShay Berenson, Peter Brown, 
Zeitgeist Stage production of "A Great Wilderness" 
(Photo by Joel W. Benjamin, Background by Fran Forman)
Through May 21st at Boston Center for the Arts
Mr. Hunter, well known for also writing "The Whale," has crafted a delicately balanced tale of souls seeking a variety of kinds of redemption and salvation.  David Miller's direction of this fine cast lives up to the excellent level of the writing.  This is a play worthy of your attention.

It plays through May 21st at Boston Center for the Arts.

Tickets for A Great Wilderness