Sunday, November 19, 2017

Moonbox Productions Presents The Delightful British Comedy "The 39 Steps" - Through December 9th


There is nothing quite like physical British humor to tickle the funny bone. Such is the case with Moonbox Productions current offering of "The 39 Steps" by Evan George Patrick Barlow based on the Hitchock film, which in turn was based on a novel by Scottish novelist John Buchan. Director Allison Olivia Choat has wisely chosen to invite the audience into the creative process, encouraging us to suspend disbelief, and to go along with the four actors playing multiple roles, as well as very obviously serving as stage hands to make set changes in the middle of a scene. There is much physical humor and many sight gags, and the cast has been well chosen to carry out the hilarity with cheekiness and aplomb.

Kevin Cirone plays the straight man, Richard Hannay, a 30-something British man in the midst of a midlife crisis, who muses about how dull and meaningless his life is - until a femme fatale by the name of Annabella Schmidt (a sultry Sarah Gazdowicz) shows up and we are off to the races. Mr. Cirone and his dashing pencil mustache are the thread that ties together a picaresque series of adventures in a London music hall, along the rails, dangling from a bridge, and trekking across the heather-covered and fog be-shrouded hills of the Scottish highlands. Matthew Zahnzinger plays more roles than I can count - male and female - and each character is given a distinctive accent. Mr. Zahnzinger's mastery of arcane dialects is worth the price of admission. His counterpart is the equally adept Bob Mussett, whose mousy turn as Mr. Memory is a highlight, as is the scene in which Zahnzinger and Mussett portray two superannuated Scottish men acting as hosts for a political rally.

Bob Mussett and MatthewZahnzinger
as a pair of Scottish innkeepers
"The 39 Steps"
Moonbox Productions
BCA - Plaza Theatre
Through December 9th
This is a play that is not really plot driven, but which delivers its value by drawing the audience into the sheer silliness of the presentation. The actors are clearly having a ball telling this outlandish tale, and we cannot help but be swept up in the spirit of the piece. After the play, a friend of mine remarked: "Wasn't it fun just to be able to laugh in light of all of the heaviness we have been dealing with lately?" How true!

Set Designer is John Paul Devlin. Lighting Design is by Jeffrey E. Salzberg, Costume Design by Erica DeSautels, and Sound Design by Dan Costello, who must be singled out for the haunting bagpipe cues. Daniel Blackwell is the Dialect Coach.

One of the things I love about Moonbox Productions is their commitment to partner with local charities for each show that they produce. The current partnership is with Y2Y - Young Adults Uniting To End Homelessness. Located in Harvard Square, Harvard students operate a homeless shelter for youth who would otherwise be living on the street.  They also offer a suite of educational and social services, empowering the residents to become part of the solution to homelessness among young people. A portion of each ticket sold goes to supporting Y2Y. On line donations are also encouraged. Admission for the performance on the 22nd will be nonperishable food items or a donation to Y2Y.

Y2Y website

Sarah Gazdowicz as Annabella
Kevin Cironeas Richard Hannay
Bob Mussett as Mr. Memory
"The 39 Steps"
Moonbox Productions
BCA - Plaza Theatre
Through December 9th

It is no mystery why this play was such a hit with last night's audience. It is well written, cleverly directed, and flawlessly acted by a quartet of gifted performers. It is worth making the trip to Tremont Street - even if you have to walk more than 39 steps to get to the Plaza Theatre.

For tickets to other performances, follow this link:

Moonbox Productions Website

Enjoy!

Al





Friday, November 17, 2017

Huntington Theatre Company Presents A Delightful "Tartuffe" - To Thine Own Selfie Be True!


I have loved Molière since I saw my first production of "Tartuffe" back in college. So, I have been looking forward to this Huntington Theatre Company production of the French playwright's hilarious comedy exposing hypocrisy and the Parisian "religious right" of his day. I was not disappointed. Director Peter DuBois has made some brilliant choices in setting the action in modern day Paris, with an emphasis on the tools of 21st century technology to enhance the telling of the story, He gives us selfie sticks, noisy rotary aircraft, fragile cell phones, and one memorable taser. The result was that I felt that someone had taken a taser to my funny bone, for I frequently erupted in spasmodic laughter at the antics on stage.

DuBois builds a bridge between the 17th century and the modern day setting of this production by opening the piece with a series of quick tableaux showing characters in period costume and wig, establishing their basic characteristics and foibles. It felt like we were seeing a progression of 5 second gifs come to life.

One of the many things I love about the Huntington is their commitment to blend well known actors from New York, Hollywood, or London, with gifted talent based in Boston. This ensemble is a wonderful example of this casting philosophy. The truth that "there are no small parts" has never been more true than in this current production. Every member of the cast takes their moment in the spotlight and uses it to advance the story.

Frank Wood as Orgon
Brett Gelman as Tartuffe
"Tartuffe"
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company
Through December 10th
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Tartuffe is diabolically portrayed by the gifted Brett Gelman, looking every bit like Rasputin trying to win Senate approval for a slot in the Trump cabinet. Tony award winner Frank Wood is Orgon, who has fallen under Tartuffe's spell to such a degree that he adamantly refuses to believe his family when they bring him evidence of Tartuffe's perfidy and hypocrisy. His comely trophy wife is Elmire, played to the seductive hilt by Melissa Miller. She is the object of Tartuffe's less than holy zeal. Sarah Oakes Muirhead is Mariane, Orgon's daughter whose hand has been promised to Valère, played well by Gabriel Brown. But Orgon has decided to break his promise and give Mariane to Tartuffe. She would rather betake herself to a nunnery. Ms. Muirhead gets to display some wonderful physical comedy in demonstrating Mariane's woeful state. Her brother, Damis, played magnificently by Matthew Bretschneider, is the prototypical disaffected Millenial wedded to his selfie stick. He sees through Tartuffe, but Orgon disowns him instead of listening to him. Jane Pfitsch as the outspoken maid, Dorine, almost steals the show. Her saucy zingers and rejoinders to each member of the family and hangers on are priceless. Matthew J. Harris is strong as Cleante, Orgon's brother-in-law. He attempts to be another voice of reason warning against the excesses of Tartuffe, but he too is rebuffed. Paula Plum, arguably the doyenne of the Boston stage scene, makes a formidable impression as Madame Pernelle, Orgon's mother and patroness of Tartuffe. Her rant in the opening scene shows the grandmother in high dudgeon, excoriating everyone in sight. Her up-swept lacquered wig establishes her character as unassailable. The performance earned exit applause as she flounced from the stage - exiting stage right, brandishing her cane as a weapon. Omar Robinson as An Officer of the Court enters the action late in the game, but his vertical entrance and his turning the tables and taser on Tartuffe are highlights. Steve Barkhimer's flexibility is on full display as he handles the disparate roles of Laurent, Tartuffe's self-effacing acolyte, and Monsieur Loyal, the bailiff who comes to dispossess Orgon of his home. Finally, Katie Elinoff, Madame Pernelle's mousy maid, is usually seen, but not heard. But when she is heard, we are jarred out of our seats.

Paula Plum as Madame Pernelle
Frank Wood as Orgon
"Tartuffe"
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company
Through December 10th
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson


This wonderful cast are very comfortable with the English translation in verse by Ranjit Bolt. They are well supported by the visually arresting Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, which includes an occasional table made from a gilded tree stump! Eye-catching costumes are by Anita Yavich, Lighting Design by Christopher Akerline, Sound Design by Ben Emerson, Choreography by Daniel Pelzig, Original Music by Peter Golub, Flying by Foy.


Cast
"Tartuffe"
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company
Through December 10th
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson
This production is a total delight, and will run through December 10th. Treat yourself to some laughs and book your tickets now.

Huntington Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al


Monday, November 06, 2017

Boston Ballet Presents A Stunning Finnish Fantasia - "Obsidian Tear" - Through November 12th

The spirit of Finland was in the air at the Boston Opera House from the opening strokes from Guest Conductor, Daniel Stewart's baton, through the final cadences of Sibelius' "Fifth Symphony." Boston Ballet kicked off its 2017-2018 season with two contemporary pieces.

After warming up the audience with an orchestral rendition of Jean Sibelius' beloved "Finlandia," the curtain rose on the Boston Ballet Premiere of "Obsidian Tear," a co-production with the Royal Ballet, whose Resident Choreographer, Wayne McGregor, conceived the piece set to a symphonic poem by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The title of the piece is enigmatic, using the English word, "tear," in two senses. First, as a verb - to tear, to rend. Second, as a noun - the fluid that flows from the eye. Salonen had been inspired by the myth of the Goddess Nyx. The other section of this new ballet uses intimate solo violin music, "Lachen verlernt," also by Salonen, and is in sharp contrast to the fierceness and grand sweep of "Nyx." Nine male dancers perform in ever-changing combinations of athleticism and grace that that are like a living impressionist painting. The meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Are they depicting community, intimacy, breaking up, supporting one another? You decide. The effect is visually and aurally stunning. Eight of the dancers are costumed in black, the ninth in red. Does he represent the fire that forms the crystals of obsidian? You decide. The nine dancers chosen to interpret this work were: Paulo Arrais, Paul Craig, Roddy Doble, Lasha Khozashvili, Patric Palkens, Lawrence Rines, Irlan Silva, Matthew Slattery, Patrick Yocum. The audience was wildly enthusiastic in response to the innovative program.

"Obsidian Tear" by Wayne McGregor
Music by Esa-Pekka Salonen
Boston Ballet
Boston Opera House
Through November 12th
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor


The second half of the evening was devoted to the World Premiere of "Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius" by Boston Ballet Resident Choreographer Jorma Elo. Costume Designer Yumiko Takeshima and Lighting Designer Mark Stanley used colors that suggested earth tones from the changing seasons in Finland. The full corps de ballet was used in this gorgeous new work that used traditional classical dance vocabulary. Pairs of dancers interspersed themselves throughout the piece among the larger groupings of male and female dancers.The pairs included some of Boston Ballet's most familiar figures: Misa Kuranga and John Lam, Lia Cirio and Paul Craig, Kathleen Breen Combes and Junxiong Zhao. Again, the appreciative audience was enraptured by the music, the choreography and the flawless execution of the dancers.

Cast
Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius
Boston Ballet
Boston Opera House
Through November 12th
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor

This program can only be seen through November 12th, so get your tickets for this week's remaining performances.

Boston Ballet Website

The annual Boston tradition of "The Nutcracker" will run from November 24th through New Years' Eve.

Enjoy!

Al

Boston Playwrights' Theatre Presents "Elemeno Pea" by Molly Smith Metzler - Through November 19th


Boston Playwrights' Theatre champions new works, and the latest play in their current season is the entertaining "Elemeno Pea," written by Molly Smith Metzler and Directed by Shana Gozansky. Scenic Design is by Jeffrey Petersen, Lighting and Sound Design by David Wilson, Costume Design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt.

The action takes place on Martha's Vineyard, where Simone (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan) has been hired by the very wealthy Michaela (Samantha Richert) to be her personal assistant and companion - at an outrageously high salary. But she is on call 24/7, and has not seen her sister, Devon (Amanda Collins) for months. Simone takes the weekend off and invites Devon to travel to The Vineyard for a few days of sisterly bonding. Things do not go as planned. Michaela is in crisis. Her status as trophy wife #2 is very much in jeopardy, and she needs Simone to help her to handle her meltdown. Michaela tries to bribe Devon to leave the island, but Devon is not having it, and a hilarious power struggle ensues. Further complications arise when Devon meets Simone's boyfriend, Ethan (Barlow Adamson), an uber-entitled rich boy whose life cannot be sullied by such a thing as "gainful employment." Rounding out this fine cast is Jaime Carrillo, who plays the passive-aggressive gardener/handyman, Jos-B.

The playwright lampoons many things in this comedy, while also plumbing the depths of some poignant issues such as abortion, family dysfunction, and classism. There are power struggles galore - some overt and some more subtle. Devon works at an Olive Garden restaurant in Buffalo, so one might think that Michaela holds a power position over her, but Devon is feisty and holds her own. Michael is in a struggle with her off-stage husband, who threatens to end the marriage before the five year prenuptial agreement vests.  Jos-B uses his native Spanish language as a tool to humiliate Michaela when he learns that she has lost her leverage over him.

Lydia Barnett-Mulligan and Samantha Richert (foreground)
Amanda Collins (background)
"Elemeno Pea"by Molly Smith Metzler
Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Through November 19th
Photo by Zalman Zabarsky

Cast members are uniformly excellent. The versatile Mr. Adamson plays the playboy in Vinelyard salmon trousers to a tee. Mr. Carillo raises passive-aggression to an art form. Ms. Richert takes Michaela through an arc that includes her finally showing some humanity and vulnerability when Devon finds a way to soften her up. Ms.Collins is at her best in these final scenes. And Ms. Barnett-Mulligan is convincing as Simone who has gone off the rails and been seduced by money and power. This ensemble is directed with a deft touch by Shana Gozansky.

The play runs through November 19th.

Boston Playwrights' Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, November 04, 2017

SpeakEasy Stage Company Sparkles with "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" - A MUST SEE - Through November 25th


"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," written by Simon Stephens, is based on the novel of the same name by Mark Haddon. The play took London by storm in 2013, and was a smash hit on Broadway the following year, when it won the Tony for Best Play. Now, under the skilled direction of Paul Daigneault, it is creating great buzz here in Boston on the SpeakEasy stage. The play is a brilliantly conceived story of a 15 year-old autistic boy who is determined to solve the mystery of the death of his neighbor's dog. As written and as executed in this masterfully conceived production, the audience is given a glimpse of how young Christopher Boone's mind works and how the world appears through his eyes and other senses. The success of this play is placed firmly in the hands of the actor who portrays Christopher. Eliott Purcell is magnificent in this role, taking the character through a complex journey of discovery and revelation. Despite Christopher's strong aversion to being touched physically, Mr. Purcell touches us in profound ways by inviting us into Christopher's world. It is a memorable and indelible performance that is award worthy.

Mr. Purcell is well supported in the telling of this story. Director Daigneault has wisely chosen not to mimic the elaborate electronics that the Broadway production utilized. He has pared down the production and thereby made it more human and accessible. Ensemble members double as ticket machines, ATMs, and other devices. The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. They are:
  • Jackie Davis as Siobhan, Christopher's teacher
  • Tim Hackney as Roger Shears and Duty Sergeant
  • Laura Latreille as Judy Boone, Christopher's mother
  • Craig Mathers as Ed Boone, Christopher's father
  • Cheryl McMahon as Mrs. Alexander, the Boone's neighbor
  • Christine Power as Mrs. Shears, the neighbor whose dog was killed
  • Alejandro Simoes as Policeman and Mr. Thompson
  • Damon Singletary as Reverend Peters and Uncle Terry
  • Gigi Watson as Lady in Street
The work of this cast is greatly enhanced by the clever Set Design by Christopher and Justin Swader, Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg, Sound Design by David Remedios, Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley, and Movement by Yo-El Cassell.

The production represents the very best of the art form of drama - it entertains and provokes. It causes one to think about familiar things in new ways, as well as inviting us to consider topics that are outside most people's frame of reference.

Damon Singletary, Eliott Purcell, Laura Latreille
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"
by Simon Stephens
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
Through November 25th
Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
You will not want to miss this MUST SEE production of an outstanding play executed to perfection. At the Calderwood Pavilion through November 25th. I will be curious to hear what you have to say about it after you have had a chance to experience it.

SpeakEasy Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Wheelock Family Theatre Soars To New Heights - "In The Heights" by Lin-Manuel Miranda


I was so inspired by the Opening Night performance of Wheelock Family Theatre's "In The Heights" that I decided to make a pilgrimage to Uznavi's neighborhood. I am writing this review sitting next door to a bodega very much like the one at the center of the action of the musical. I am at the intersection of 181st and Broadway in Washington Heights - in the shadow of the GW Bridge. Lin-Manuel Miranda captured the ethos of this neighborhood in the show that won the Tony for Best Musical - several years before he immortalized the life of Alexander Hamilton.

Director/Choreographer Rachel Bertone has assembled a diverse cast and creative crew to bring the Heights to Boston's Fenway neighborhood. Dan Rodriguez leads a wonderful 9 piece orchestra.  Jenna McFarland Lord's set is a perfect evocation of this block of Washington Heights in the height and the heat of the NYC summer and of 4th of July. Lighting is by Franklin Meissner, Costumes by Marian Bertone, Sound by Andrew Duncan Will.

In contradistinction to a recent controversial production north of Boston, Wheelock has been faithful to the roots of this show and its conception by casting a multitude of ethnicities, as well as first generation college students and recent grads - mirroring the neighborhood that sits high above the banks of the Hudson River. The result is a rich tapestry of voices and accents and dancing styles - all pulled together with zest by Ms. Bertone.
  • Diego Klock-Perez is terrific as Usnavi, struggling bodega owner who longs to return to his roots in Cuba. He shines in the opening production number as well as in "Alabanza."
  • Laura Lebron Rojas is radiant as Nina, the great hope of the neighborhood. She has returned in disgrace after losing her scholarship to Stanford. Her rendition of ""Everything I Know" is a highlight.
  • Nina is in love with her father's young assistant, Benny, played to perfection by Darren Bunch. He and Ms. Rojas pair together for two memorable duets, "Sunrise," and "When The Sun Goes Down."
  • The emotional heart of the neighborhood is Abuela Claudia. She provides many forms of support to Nina, Uznavi and others. She has a large heart that is wearing out. Johanna Carlisle Zepeda brings Abuela to life in "Paciencia Y Fe."
  • Luis Negron is Kevin Rosario, who is willing to do anything for his daughter, Nina. Life is not easy for him, having come to the U.S. to flee an abusinve father. His rendition of "Inutil (Useless)" is heart rending.
  • Rosi Amador is strong as Nina's mother, Camila Rosario. "Siempre (Always)" is her moment to shine.
  • As Sonny, Uznavi's cousin and put-upon assistant, Diego Guevara almost steals the show. He provides much needed comic relief, as well as making sure that Uznavi and Vanessa meet over more than morning coffee.
  • Iliana Garcia is sultry as Vanessa, intent of getting out of the Heights to move downtown to the West Village. She combines with her beauty parlor sisters and Nina for a rousing "No Me Diga." They are Yewande O. Odetoyinbo as Daniela, the shop owner, and Kira Troilo as Carla, the Bible spouting assistant.
  • Tony Castellanos is a strong presence as the ubiquitous Piragua Guy, hawking his refreshing shaved ice treats.
  • David Alea is Graffiti Pete, who ends up crafting a fitting tribute to Abuela Claudia.
  • The strong ensemble consists of Ceci Cipullo, Marshall Joun, AJ Manuel Lucero, Zachary D. McConnell, Selena Mercado, Malik Mitchell, Katrina Z. Pavao, Ryoko Seta, Lance-Patrick Strickland, Alexa Wang, Kelton Washington, Caroline Workman.
Diego Klock-Perez as Uznavi
Cast
"In The Heights"
Wheelock Family Theatre
Through November 19th

"In The Heights" will run through November 19th at Wheelock Family Theatre.

Enjoy!

Al



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"Commanding Excellence" by Gary Morton - Studies In Leadership That Matters In The Military and In The Business World


"Commanding Excellence" by Gary Morton is a brilliant parallel analysis of excellence in leadership in the military and in the business world. Over the course of his career as a tank officer in the Army, and as a medical device executive with Stryker, Morton had the privilege of serving under two extraordinary leaders. In the case of Task Force 4-68, the leader was Lt. Colonel Alfred L. Dibella. At Stryker, it was CEO John W. Brown. Mr. Morton, a distinguished graduate of West Point, does a very effective job of painting a clear picture of the leadership traits and techniques that allowed both Dibella and Brown to extract extraordinary levels of performance and achievement from the troops that they led.

In the case of Task Force 4-68, Dibella took a group that had been rated as one of the poorest tank units in the U.S. Army, and transformed them into a fighting machine that set records in defeating Opposition Forces 9 out of 9 times in the grueling National Training Center battle simulations in the Mojave Desert. The achievement of that unprecedented perfect record was no accident. The commander had set 9/9 as a goal from the beginning of his time in leadership with the 4-68. Over the course of several months, he worked with each member of the unit to achieve this extraordinary level of perfection. Elements of his leadership style included Absolute Clarity of Purpose, Empowered Obsession, and Unleashing Creativity. He understood that in order to achieve the unit's goal of 9/9 against the OpFor, they would have to break some tried and true rules of how tanks prepare for battle and engage in battle. He and his team developed a playbook that essentially boiled complex tactics and maneuvers down into six basic plays, and they drilled every possible permutation of those plays until each man understood his role under every circumstance. Lt. Colonel Dibella gave explicit permission to his soldiers to be creative, and to risk making mistakes. He backed them up when it came time to write the evaluations, giving the highest marks to those who innovated, and taught those innovations to others.

In like manner, Stryker CEO John W. Brown set a goal for the company to achieve at least 20% growth each year. Every employee was taught that mantra upon being hired, and it was drilled into them every day in a multitude of ways. The result was a stunning track record of 28 straight years of growth for each quarter. Although Brown's leadership style and personality were distinctly different from Dibella, in his pwn way, he used the same building blocks to set his team and his company up for unusual levels of success. He made it abundantly clear that failure to achieve 20% growth was not an option, he and his teams obsessed over how to overcome obstacles, and he freed individuals up to be creative in solving problems in R&D, manufacturing and sales.

In both cases, the pressure to succeed was relentless, as was the commitment to assess all weakness and find ways to overcome them. The book's subtitle is an excellent summary of the ethos of both Task Force 4-68 and of Stryker: "Inspiring Purpose, Passion, and Ingenuity through Leadership That Matters."

The author shares a very personal vignette that highlights the brilliance of Brown's leadership at Stryker. Morton was being asked to consider taking on an assignment that he was reluctant to accept.. There was an urgent need to solve a critical problem within the Patient Care Division, and Morton was asked by his direct boss, and by Mr. Brown, to undertake the daunting assignment. Here is how Morton recalls the pivotal exchange with Brown:

"Brown met with me in his corner office at the building by the airport. The conversation was short, cordial, and focused. Wrapping it up, Brown said something along the lines of 'I would like you to go into that office next door and think about it, then call Harry and let him know whether you will be joining Patient Care.'

. . . As I sat down in the adjoining office, next to the phone was one of those multi photo wooden frames. At the bottom was an engraving that read 'Stryker's Champions of Innovation.' In the frame were pictures of Dr. Stryker, William Chang (VP of R&D for Endoscopy), Jim Evans (VP of R&D for Instruments), and two of the ingenious R&D and science leaders from Osteonics.

In the last frame was my picture.

Being grouped with these incredible engineers and scientists was both humbling and inspiring. I was hooked and made the call to Carmitchel immediately. John Brown knew that truly engaging people is not about commanding them to do something; it is about getting them to command themselves to do it." (pp. 160-1)

The book is full of examples like this of how both Brown and Dibella engaged individuals and teams to command themselves to achieve unimagined levels of excellence and perfection. I look forward to sharing this powerful book with leaders in business and the military. The lessons that Morton has shared are equally applicable in both worlds.

Enjoy!

Al

"Creating Great Choices" by Jennifer Riel and Roger L. Martin - A Leader's Guide To Integrative Thinking


"Creating Great Choices" is one of the most impactful books I have read this year. In offering numerous examples of how diverse leaders have utilized the techniques of "Integrative Thinking," authors Jennifer Riel and Roger L. Martin make it easy for the reader to apply the insights to their own leadership challenges. This book stands on the shoulders of "The Opposable Mind," that Martin penned ten years ago. In the intervening decade, Martin and Riel and other members of their team have taught the principles to a broad variety of students - from corporate executives to grad students to high schoolers. The lessons learned from these teaching and learning interactions have been used to craft the structure of this present book.

One of the book's first case studies of how Integrative Thinking works in the real world is the story of how the CEO of Lego solved what appeared to be a binary problem. In setting out to have a feature film made about Legos, should the company hire Hollywood A players to craft the film, thereby relinquishing creative control and protection of the Lego brand? Or should they settle for lesser film makers who would allow Lego to retain final script and editing approval.

The CEO realized this this was a false dichotomy, and led his team through a series of four steps to come up with a creative and integrative solution that would mine the best of both binary choices. The four steps of Integrative Thinking are:

1) Articulate Opposing Models
2) Examine the Models
3) Generate Possibilities
4) Assess the Prototypes

Utilizing this four stage approach, the LEGO CEO came up with a fascinating and ingenious solution. He invited a team of top Hollywood filmmakers to meet with his staff. They made the following proposal: "If we were to grant you complete creative control over a Lego film, would you first agree to spend time with the most passionate Lego customers - at conventions and elsewhere?" The CEO was willing to bet that by hanging around passionate Lego users, the filmmakers would be infected with the enthusiasm and love for the brand of its most loyal customers. He was right, and the result was a film that entertained audiences and enhanced the LEGO brand.

This type of Integrative Thinking is a form of metacognition. "The notion of metacognition - the process of thinking about thinking - is very old. Philosophers like Aristotle, Spinoza, and Locke helped lay the groundwork for metacognition as they attempted to explain the nature of the mind. Saint Augustine, more than fifteen hundred years ago, wrote of the mind's search for its own nature, arguing that the mind that seeks to know itself must already know itself in some sense. At the very least, it knows itself as seeking." (p. 43)

This book is not just an examination of the philosophical aspects of how the mind of the leader works, but provides practical tools so that a self-aware leader can learn to think in an integrative manner. It is important for the leader to involve other members of his/her team in the process of finding integrative solutions to complex problems. Insights from the realm of design inform much of the thought processes behind integrative thinking.

I have already begun to recommend this book to clients, friends, and proteges.It is impactful and potentially game changing if one is willing to be stretched in new directions. Reading this book will represent a Great Choice!

Enjoy!

Al


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Huntington Theatre Company Continues Its Stellar Season With "A Guide For The Homesick" by Ken Urban - Drama At Its Best


Ken Urban's new drama, "A Guide For The Homesick," the current Huntington Theatre Company production running at the Calderwood Pavilion is a gripping drama that must be seen. I will offer little in the way of describing plot, for fear of ruining some wonderful twists. Simply put, two young Americans meet in a bar in Amsterdam and get to know each other over the course of a rocky night of drinking, talking, and much more.

Mr. Urban, currently in residence at MIT as a Senior Lecturer in Dramatic Writing, dips into the cistern of personal experiences and deep research to explore the phenomenon of what we experience when we travel overseas, hoping to do good, but not always succeeding. Jeremy (Samuel H. Levine) has fled Uganda after finding himself caught up in an escalating round of violence against gay men, including a young Ugandan man he has tried to help and to protect. He has attempted to intervene in his role as a volunteer nurse at a medical clinic in Uganda. But things get ugly, and he ends up asking, "What happened?" Teddy (McKinley Belcher III) is a Citi employee in NYC who has come to Amsterdam with his friend and co-worker Eddie to give the groom-to-be a good time before his impending marriage. Things do not go as planned, Eddie goes off the deep end, and Teddy is in despair, asking himself, "What happened?"

Samuel H. Levine and McKinley Belcher III
Huntington Theatre Company
A Guide for the Homesick by Ken Urban

Directed by Colman Domingo
Playing October 6 - November 4, 2017,
South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

As the action progresses, Teddy and Jeremy strip off layers of clothing, as well as layers of each other's masks - sometimes brutally - sometimes gently. Speaking of layers - the playwright deftly layers into the narrative additional characters. Some serve as off stage ghosts - Eddie's fiancee calling frantically to ask where he is. Eddie appears (also played by Mr. Levine), as does Jeremy's troubled Ugandan friend (portrayed by Mr. Belcher).
Samuel H. Levine and McKinley Belcher III
Huntington Theatre Company 
A Guide for the Homesick by Ken Urban
Directed by Colman Domingo
Playing October 6 - November 4, 2017,
South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

The artistry with which the multiple layers are treated - by the playwright, actors, lighting and set designers, and stage manager handling the split-second cues, is part of the genius of this play. There are rapid switches in time, place, and character that are initially disorienting to the audience, but which begin to make sense as the action unfolds. This is a complex and skillfully wrought production. Mr. Urban treats some of the themes addressed a few years ago at the A.R.T. with "Witness Uganda" (reborn in NYC as "Invisible Thread."

White Rhino Report Review of "Witness Uganda"

Mr. Urban uses a nuanced blend of humor and shock to draw us into the worlds of Teddy and Jeremy - and of their ghosts. The scenic design by Williams Boles brings us to dingy Amsterdam on a rainy night, but then invites us to visit the clinic in Kampala with the aid of Russell H. Champa's brilliant Lighting Design. Costumes are by Kara Harmon, Original Music and Sound by Lindsay Jones, and crucial Dialect Coaching is by Amy Stoller.

The themes of feeling unsettled in returning from a developing nation in turmoil hit close to home with me. I was reminded of my own pilgrimage after serving for a year in a hospital in rural Haiti, at roughly the same age that Jeremy is when the play takes place.

Eventually, Teddy and Jeremy hammer away at each other to unearth the demons, fears, and regrets that haunt each of them. They dig deeply to discover who they really are. I ended up caring deeply about the fate of each character. This is a telltale sign that I had been in the presence of great writing and equally great acting. Mr. Urban invites the audience to take a similar agonizing journey of discovery, asking,"What happened?" and "Who am I?" 

This is one of the finest dramatic pieces offered this season, and should not be missed. It will run at the Calderwood Pavilion through November 4th.

Enjoy!

Al


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Heart & Dagger Productions Displays Its Plumage In A Revival of "Hair" - Through October 20th at Club Cafe


The original rock musical, "Hair," is back in all of its color, zest, and glory in the fun-filled revival by Heart & Dagger Productions - through October 20th at Club Cafe. I saw the original Boston production at the Wilbur Theater in 1970. Some may recall that it took a Supreme Court ruling to get the Boston production opened after the State Attorney General Garrett Byrne had ordered it shut down for desecration of the flag and lewd and lascivious content. This current version is tame by comparison, and the hippy-oriented content seems almost quaint all of these years removed from the protests against the war in Vietnam.

The show features book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, with music by Galt MacDermot.

Director Joey C. Pelletier has attempted to make the content of the show contemporary by using projections that remind us that we are still fighting battles to protect the environment, and to avoid the scourge of nuclear war. A good example is the use of images of recent hurricanes during the singing of the anti-pollution anthem "Air."

Musical highlights of this production include "Manchester, England" sung by James Sims, who is a very sympathetic Claude, the Tribe member most desperate to avoid the draft. Bailey Libby is terrific as Crissy in lamenting the loss of "Frank Mills." As Woof, Brad Reinking is sultry and sassy in "Sodomy." In the title song, "Hair," he is joined by Mr. Sims as Claude and Melissa Barker as Berger. "Easy To Be Hard" is another highlight as Tamani Jayasinghe portrays Sheila bemoaning mean girl Berger treating her cruelly.

Other members of the tribe, who hang out in the East Village protesting the war, scaring tourists, and looking for love in its various permutations, include:

  • Lauren Foster as Hud
  • Erin Rae Zalaski as Jeanie
  • Aaron Dill as Margaret Mead
  • Jessie Bull as Charlie
  • Elizabeth Battey as Helen
  • Doug Dulaney as Benny and Lead Guitar
  • Jane Ko as Daisy
  • Ava Maag as Natalie
  • Neon Calypso as Dionne
  • Jeomil Tovar as Ronny
  • Jocelin Weiss as Suzannah
Lighting is by Geoff Hoyt, Keyboard is Kenneth Griffin, Drums Evan Kesel, and Bass Guitar is Sam Chussid.

My one suggestion for improving the audience experience is to ask that members of the tribe project their voices more strongly and energetically. Sitting in the front row of the intimate Club Cafe space, I was not always able to hear clearly, especially during several of the segments that were being sung in falsetto. Sell it, folks!

There are four more opportunities to time travel back to the '60s: this Sunday and next at 3:00, Wednesday, October 18 at 7:30, and Friday, October 20 at 7:30.

Enjoy! And Let the Sunshine In!

Al

Monday, October 02, 2017

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents the Brilliant "Faceless" by Selina Fillinger - A MUST SEE


Kudos to David Miller and the Zeitgeist Stage Company for producing one of the most memorable and impactful plays of this excellent theater season in Boston. Young playwright, Selina Fillinger, first penned "Faceless" as an assignment for a class she was taking at Northwestern University, winning a commission from Northlight Theatre to develop the play. She shows remarkable insight and sensibilities for a writer still in her early 20s. This production represents the New England Premiere.

In "Faceless," the playwright explores deeply several important and timely issues:
  • Who is the face of Islam, and of terrorism?
  • How does the persistent xenophobia in America impact individual lives?
  • What happens when a Muslim prosecutor tries to gain a conviction against a young white girl who has converted to Islam?
  • What is the role of social media in influencing religious and political beliefs?
  • Who is the hero and who is the victim here?
  • How universal is the struggle for a meaningful relationship with a father?
The story is told through the eyes of five fascinating and well-developed characters. The five actors cast by Director Miller are powerfully effective in telling this complex story. They stand out individually and as an ensemble.
  • Victor Shopov brings his usual impressive tools to the role of Scott Bader, a politically ambitious Prosecutor who is intent on convicting young Susie Glenn of conspiring to travel to Syria to join ISIS. He cleverly coerces a female Muslim assistant prosecutor, Claire Fahti, to join him in this case. His closing statement at the trial of Ms. Glenn is particularly powerful and poignant.
  • Aina Adler is a dynamo as the conflicted Persian-American attorney, Claire Fahti. She initially wants no part of being used as the face of Islam at the trial, but she becomes passionate about bringing Susie to justice after meeting her. The always professional Ms. Adler is at the top of her game here, facing off against Bader and Glenn.
  • Ashley Risteen creates a very believable Susie Glenn. Naive, stubborn, rebellious, lost, determined - we see all of these traits in Ms. Risteen's eyes, voice and physical presentation. It is a strong performance.
  • David Anderson as Alan Glenn, Susie's widowed father, has lost a wife and is in danger of losing his daughter - "All he has left in the world." The scene in which this tough-as-nails first responder melts down over the prospect of losing his little girl represents some of the best acting I have seen on a Boston stage in a long while. It is a scintillating and award-worthy performance.
  • Robert Orzalli is perfectly cast as the Jewish defense attorney brought in to replace the ineffectual public defender. He spars - not only with the prosecution team - but with his own client.
Victor Shopov as Scott Bader
Aina Adler as Claire Fahti
Robert Orzalli as Mark Arenberg
Ashley Risteen as Susie Glenn
"Faceless" by Selina Fillinger
Zeitgeist Stage company
Boston Center for the Arts
Through October 7th

Mr. Miller's direction and blocking is flawless. The closing arguments by the two attorneys take place with them going from one side of the stage to the other in perfectly synchronized, countervailing movements. Another vivid image is the two Muslim women facing off opposite one another reciting prayers from the Koran - one in Arabic and the other in English.

Set design is by David Miller, Costumes Design by Elizabeth Cole Sheehan, Lighting Design by Michael Clark Wonson, and Sound Design by Jay Mobley.

This is the final week of this production, beginning Wednesday and running through Saturday. If you see any play this week, it should be this one. This play and this production moved me to tears and caused me to think deeply about important issues.


Enjoy!

Al

Monday, September 25, 2017

The A.R.T. Breaks New Ground With The Dazzling "WARHOLCAPOTE" - A Non-fiction Invention


In much the same way that Truman Capote essentially created a new literary form with his non-fiction novel "In Cold Blood," so also has Rob Roth (Directed "Beauty and the Beast") crafted something new in "WARHOLCAPOTE," a play that he calls "A Non-Fiction Invention."  Mr. Roth spent the past decade sorting through, and having transcribed, eighty hours of recordings that Andy Warhol had made of his conversations with Truman Capote. Warhol used a Sony Walkman, that he dubbed "my wife." The two men had agreed to collaborate on writing a play that would blur the lines between art and reality. That play was never written, but Mr. Roth has artfully assembled the actual words shared between Capote and Warhol, and formed them into five imagined conversations that make up the structure of this play. The result is a fascinating and illuminating psychological study of these two idiosyncratic geniuses.

Stephen Spinella as Andy Warhol
"WARHOLCAPOTE"
American Repertory Theater
Through October 13
Gretjen Helene Photography

To portray these two very distinctive and recognizable personas, Director Michael Mayer (Tony Award for "Spring Awakening") has cast Stephen Spinella as Warhol and Dan Butler as Capote. Each actor is spectacularly successful in conveying the quirky essence of each artist. Mr. Butler returns to A.R.T. after appearing as George Wallace in "All The Way." Mr. Spinella has won Tony Awards for his role in "Angels In America."


Dan Butler as Truman Capote
Stephen Spinella as Andy Warhol
"WARHOLCAPOTE"
American Repertory Theater
Through October 13
Gretjen Helene Photography


The beginning of their relationship took a while to gain traction. As a fan of Capote, Warhol wrote and called the author continuously, to the point where Capote felt as if he were being stalked. He dismissed the young artist as someone with no substance and no future. It was only after Warhol had earned his own degree of notoriety that they began to develop a friendship on equal footing. Both men were fascinated with celebrity and celebrities, so much of their conversation has a gossipping feel to it. We learn things about Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Humphrey Bogart that are titillating. The play is funny and sobering. At one point, Capote offers a ribald account of an encounter with a couple of autograph seekers in Key West that still has me chuckling.

As gay men, Capote and Warhol represented the yin and the yang of sexual expression. Truman was unabashedly and proudly promiscuous and profligate in his sex life. Warhol was repressed and anhedonic; he told Capote that he had his first sexual experience at age 25, and his last at 26. Capote's alcoholism is a thread that runs throughout this play, including his account of his time spent drying out at a spa where he was the most famous and most interesting resident. "They didn't want me to leave." One of the most moving scenes is one in which Truman becomes unhinged in trying to make Andy understand his haunting mania - "the Ferrari in my brain" that refuses to stop revving its engine. Their musing on the nature of art is illuminating.

This play is an extraordinary invention that depicts an unusual friendship between two of the great figures of pop culture of the 20th century. Mr. Roth has done an exceptional job in gleaning from the eighty hours of conversation the most compelling snippets. And Mr. Spinella and Mr. Butler recreate these two men in indelible images and sound bites that still echo in my mind 24 hours after leaving the theater. These two lonely men served as sounding boards for one another, and the resulting reverberations that come to us are fascinating and disturbing - unresolved dissonant chords.

Dan Butler as Truman Capote
Stephen Spinella as Andy Warhol
"WARHOLCAPOTE"
American Repertory Theater
Through October 13
Gretjen Helene Photography


The Set Design by Stanley A. Meyer is simple and elegant, suggestive of the miles of magnetic tape that Mr. Roth listened to in order to distill the nectar of this play. Costumes are by Clint Ramos. Lighting Design is by Kevin Adams. Sound Design by John Gromada, and Projections by Darrel Maloney.

American Repertory Theater Website

The play will run through October 13th.

Enjoy!

Al


Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Gully Dirt" by Robert Coram - On Exposing the Klan, Raising a Hog, and Escaping the South


Robert Coram has written a memoir that is very much in the spirit of "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance, another excellent book about growing up in poverty south of the Mason Dixon Line.

White Rhino Report Review of "HillBilly Elegy"

The subtitle of "Gully Dirt" lays out much of the author's intent and agenda: "On Exposing the Klan, Raising a Hog, and Escaping the South." The title phrase, "gully dirt" is what Coram's father would often call him to indicate that he saw his as good for nothing and beyond redemption..

The book recounts how Coram grew up dirt poor in southwest Georgia in the 1950s, and encountered all manner of abuse and neglect. Yet his resilience allowed him not only to survive these humble beginnings, but to escape to Atlanta to become a successful novelist and biographer. He is unflinching in his descriptions of the obstacles that had to be overcome.We learn intimate and amusing details about the way - and venue where - he surrendered his virginity. Jock itch is almost a living character in this book; it played a strong role in the ethos of the athletic teams that Coam joined.

The author evokes and reveals many of the scars that he bears from his years in Edison. Yet in his young mind, a lightbulb went on, and he was able to see a clear path to escape through writing. This is ultimately a story, not only of survival, but of resilience and hope in the face of formidable obstacles.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Huntington Theatre Presents A Rare Sondheim Gem - "Merrily We Roll Along" - A MUST SEE Soaring Production


Boston area fans of the work of Stephen Sondheim are doubly blessed right now. The Lyric Stage Company of Boston is currently presenting "Gypsy," with additional lyrics by Sondheim.

White Rhino Report Review of "Gypsy"

The Huntington Theatre has just unveiled its much anticipated production of the rarely performed "Merrily We Roll Along." The history of this show is deserving of its own Blog piece, but in short, it has had a checkered past. The show, Directed by Hal Prince with Music and Lyrics by Sondheim, initially ran on Broadway in 1981 after only 52 previews and 16 performances. Audiences had a hard time relating to the method of telling the story of three friends, working backward from the end of their friendships to the beginning. Over the next several decades, several additional productions have been staged with changes aimed at solving the problems with the book. Recently, this musical has been very much on the mind of the theater world. Encores! staged a concert version at New York City Center in 2012 that was well received. Earlier this year, original cast member Lonny Price directed a fabulous documentary about the show entitled "Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened." And now the Huntington picks up the gauntlet and offers us this engaging new production, based on a revision by Maria Friedman, who directed a revival in London in 2012. Ms. Friedman herself directs this production, bringing along from London Mark Umbers as Frank and Damian Humbley as Charley. They are joined by Eden Espinosa (Elphaba in "Wicked" on Broadway) as Mary Flynn.

The London production played to critical and audience acclaim, transforming this Sondheim musical from a cult favorite to one now appreciated by a broad audience. Sondheim himself praised the London production effusively, saying that "the whole was greater than the sum of its parts." That is high praise from a man who was the creator of many of those parts. I would expect a Broadway run to follow in the future. This version of "Merrily We Roll Along" won the Olivier Award for Best Musical, and I can see why. This is a brilliantly conceived version of the show, directed with love and care, and featuring a cast that represents the best of London, New York and Boston talent.

Eden Espinosa, Mark Umbers, and Damian Humbley
Merrily We Roll Along
Directed by Maria Friedman
Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

This is a show you do not want to miss. As Mr. Sondheim said, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," but the parts, in and of themselves, are pretty spectacular. The score features some of Sondheim's most beautiful and haunting melodies, harmonies, and syncopated rhythms. The staging is spectacular, the direction innovative, and the casting inspired. Let's begin with the troika of actors who lead this production.

  • Eden Espinosa as Mary Flynn is a force of nature. Watching her become unhinged at Frank's Hollywood party in the opening scene, and then observing her rewind her dipsomaniacal life back to the innocence of watching for Sputnik in the New York sky of 1957 is a study in character development. Her strong singing voice blends wonderfully with those of Mr. Umbers and Mr. Humbley, especially in "Our Time," "Old Friends," and "It's A Hit."
  • Mark Umbers takes his Frank on a similar backward journey from jaded to wide-eyed and hopeful. His chemistry with Ms. Espinosa and Mr. Humbley is one of the highlights of this production, allowing us to watch the carefully knit fabric of their threeway friendship unravel year by year. Mr. Umbers' rendition of "Good Thing Going" is a memorable moment in the show.
  • Damian Humbley offers a version of Charley that will become the gold standard against which every other performance of this role will be measured. He stopped the show with his interpretation of the complex and difficult number, "Franklin Shepard, Inc." This is the pivotal moment in the story when Frank and Charley experience a rupture in their friendship from which they cannot recover. And it happens on live television. Our hearts break as we watch the wheels come off of the friendship as Charley explodes like a volcano that has been pent up for too long. The applause in appreciation of Mr. Humbley's performance of this song lasted for several minutes.


Damian Humbley, Mark Umbers, and Rebecca Gibel
Merrily We Roll Along
Directed by Maria Friedman
Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson


These three superb artists are supported by a strong cast of musical theater actors. Boston audiences are familiar with several of the following:
  • Aimee Doherty is powerful as Gussie, Broadway diva and Frank's second wife. She wears the gowns designed by Soutra Gilmour with a grace and seductiveness that is a wonder to behold. We get to hear a bit of Ms. Doherty's lustrous voice when she reprises "Good Thing Going"as the 11 O'clock number in the show that Frank and Charley wrote as a star vehicle for her.
Mark Umbers and Aimee Doherty
Merrily We Roll Along
Directed by Maria Friedman
Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson

  • Another veteran of Boston stages is the fabulous Jennifer Ellis, who plays Frank's first wife, Beth. One of the most poignant highlights of this musical is the contrast between the two versions of "Not A Day Goes By," that Beth sings. The life settings are dramatically different - bitter ending on the one hand and blushing bridal hope on the other hand: "Something old and something new." I almost needed a second handkerchief after the journey that Ms. Ellis took us on with these two versions of the song.
Jennifer Ellis and Mark Umbers
Merrily We Roll Along

Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson

  • Christopher Chew plays Joe, Broadway producer and Gussie's third husband. Mr. Chew is someone I have seen on stage many times, yet he so completely submerges himself into the character of Joe that I did not recognize him until someone pointed out to me at Intermission that it was Mr. Chew in the role. We see him go from pathetic beggar to braggadocious blowhard as the story lurches backward. It is a strong performance.
  • The role of young Frank alternates between Camerone Levesque and Brendan Cole O'Brien.
  • Patrick Varner is wonderful as the vainglorious yacht owner who sweeps Frank away after his bitter divorce from Beth. In his other ensemble roles, he gets to wear some fun and outlandish costumes.
  • Amy Barker is Beth's mother, and Robert Saoud is her father. They are appropriately off-putting in their dismissal of Frank's chances at success. Ceit Zwell is Charley's wife, Evelyn.
  • Maurice Emmanuel Parent is memorable as the afro bedecked newscaster. He is joined on camera by Rebecca Gibel.
  • Other members of the excellent ensemble as Jessica Kundla, Pablo Torres, Craig Walezkao, Morgan Kirner, Caleb Damschroder, Bransen Gates, and Carla Martinez.

The Huntington Theatre has made a commitment to stage all 15 Sondheim musicals over the course of several seasons. "Merrily We Roll Along" is the third in this series. I hope I will be around to enjoy all twelve that are in the pipeline. What a delicious treat for Boston audiences to anticipate. That promise alone should be enough to prompt you to subscribe to a season at the Huntington.

All of the individuals and organizations responsible for bringing this stunning production to life in Boston can proudly proclaim, "It's Our Time"!

Huntington Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Underground Railway Theater Presents The Brilliant "Constellations" by Nick Payne - Theater At Its Best


As part of the ongoing Catalyst Collaboration @ MIT, Underground Railway Theater opens its season with the groundbreaking two-hander play "Constellations" by Nick Payne. What makes this an extraordinary evening at the Central Square Theater is the seamless integration of a multitude of theatrical arts - writing, set design, lighting design, sound design, costume design, directing, acting, and dramaturgy. Director Scott Edmiston has assembled a remarkable team of artists and technical magicians to tell this enigmatic story of love in the multiverse. Susan Zeeman Rogers' Scenic Design is hauntingly beautiful, using lights, mirrors, and angular surfaces to give the two actors a galaxy within which to tell their story/stories. Complementing this set and lighting is Original Music and Sound Design by Dewey Dellay that is otherworldly and mesmerizing. Costume Designer Charles Schoonmaker places the two actors in simple white clothes that drape comfortably, appearing almost sterile and clinical, creating an effect that is a virtual tabula rasa - a blank slate upon which the actors can limn the various shades of their characters. Amelia Broome provides important dialect coaching, and Sabrina Dennis provides ASL consulting that adds an important dimension to the storytelling late in the play.

Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer take this sandbox full of raw materials and craft it into a magical world that contains Marianne and Roland and an infinite universe of possibilities of choices made - or not made. For in this play, playwright Nick Payne explores the intersection of science - cosmology, quantum physics, relativity, string theory, alternate levels of reality - with the intimate realm of love. The confluence of these forces makes for an unforgettable night of theater.

Nael Nacer as Roland
Marianna Bassham as Marianne
"Constellations" by Nick Payne
A Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Production
Central Square Theater
Through October 8th

Marianne is a cosmologist whose world view includes the belief that physics seems to be discovering that we inhabit a multiverse where several lives, several persons, several sets of decisions can simultaneously exist alongside one another. To show this mystery, Mr. Payne has the actors repeat scenes three or four or more times, each time with slight alterations in emphasis, word choice, affect. This is not traditional linear storytelling, and it takes a while to get into the rhythm, but it is an effective theatrical device. This device also requires that the actors be of consummate skill in making quick changes that are believable to the audience. Ms. Bassham and Mr. Nacer are simply brilliant, reinforcing their already stellar reputations as among the best actors working in Greater Boston.

In contradistinction to Marianne's work that encompasses limitless possibilities, Roland works as a beekeeper. There are only three kinds of bees in his hive - in his limited universe - worker bees, drones, and the queen bee. The contrast between their worlds is stunning and leads to dramatic tension.

Changes in mood, in alternate levels of reality, are signaled beautifully by dramatic alterations in the lighting scheme and in the soundscape. The effect is a play that causes the audience to work hard to figure out what is happening. Will a chance meeting lead to a date or not? Will Marianne and Roland develop a deep relationship? Will they marry? What will be the results of a biopsy? Will it be necessary to consider assisted suicide? To be or not to be? To bee or not to bee? Or all of the above?

Marianna Bassham as Marianne
Nael Nacer as Roland
"Constellations" by Nick Payne
A Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Production
Central Square Theater
Through October 8th


One cannot ask much more from an evening at the theater that what is offered by the infinite possibilities contained within "Constellations." You do not want to miss seeing this production. It will run until October 8th with a fascinating assortment of post-show talkbacks. Knowledgeable theater people will be talking about this production and these performances for years to come - in this and in alternate realities. Make sure that you can be an informed part of those conversations by ordering your tickets now.

Central Square Theater Website

Enjoy!

Al

ArtsEmerson Opens Its 2017-2018 Season With The Spectacular "The 7 Fingers - Reversible"


I first became aware of Les 7 Doigts de la Main when one of the Founders, Gypsy Snider partnered with Diane Paulus to create the circus elements that are now an integral part of "Pippin," the Tony Award winning Broadway musical.  Part of the vision of Gypsy and her six co-founders of Les 7 Doigts de la Main was to present urban circus on a human scale.  The show currently being presented by ArtsEmerson at the Cutler Majestic Theater is "Reversible," conceived and directed by Ms. Snider, with considerable input from the eight cast members. This opening production of the ArtsEmerson 2017-2018 season is an American Premiere.

In conceiving this show, Gypsy Snider gave each of the prospective cast members the assignment of going back home to their families of origin to learn stories about how their grandparents and great-grandparents lived. Many of those stories, often involving struggle and immigration, have been woven into the fabric of each of the acts in "Reversible." The set by Ana Cappelluto consists of several moveable and reversible walls with doors and windows. Initially, the presentation is of exterior walls, but they are often reversed to show interior spaces. The stories that the artists tell through their circus arts relate to who they are - and who we are - as human beings  - on the outside and on the inside. The result of these creative and athletic efforts is a realization of Gypsy's original dream: theater on a human scale.

Cast
"Reversible"
7 Fingers of the Hand
ArtsEmerson
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through September 24th
"Reversible represents the best of contemporary circus by shining a spotlight on the poetry of the human form and linking every ending to a new beginning. Through an electrifying mix of theatre, illusion, dance, music and acrobatics, Reversible is dedicated to past generations whose stories might hold the key to a better tomorrow."

One of the stories that resonated with me was that of Emi Vauthey's grandmother. Emi learned that her grandmother had fled Japan and an impending arranged marriage to elope with a Swiss man. She was the first  person from outside of Switzerland to settle in their small village. Emi presents an act, using her skills as a contortionist, in which a bride struggles mightily in an oversized bridal gown to get her bearings and get her feet on the ground. I saw the piece as a very moving metaphor to suggest the kinds of struggles her Japanese grandmother must have faced in trying to fit into a culture of a very different size and fabric.

The eight artists come from five different countries and speak different languages. The fact that they are able to overcome obstacles of language and culture to form a seamless team that rely on one another in performing death-defying acts offers hope in this season of political and social upheaval that our differences can be healed and our chasms can be bridged.

The eight performers are:
  • Maria Del Mar Reyes (Spain)       Disciplines - Hand balancing, Chinese pole, Dance.
  • Vincent Jutras (Canada)                Disciplines - HoopSkate, Korean plank, Dance.
  • Jeremi Levesque (Canada)            Disciplines -Korean plank, Hoopdiving.
"Reversible"
7 Fingers of the Hand
ArtsEmerson
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through September 24th
  • Natasha Patterson (USA)             Disciplines - Juggling, Contortion, Dance.
  • Hugo Ragetly (France)                  Disciplines - Juggling, Chinese pole.
  • Emilie Silliau (France)                  Disciplines - Aerial rope, Trapeze, Aerial silk, Chinese pole
"Reversible"
7 Fingers of the Hand
ArtsEmerson
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through September 24th

  • Julien Silliau (France)                   Disciplines - German wheel, Juggling, Chinese pole, Whip
  • Emi Vauthey (Switzerland)            Disciplines - Contortion, Aerial silk, Hula hoop, Dance.
The overall effect of this show is to inspire awe, wonder, and hope. The acts are visually stunning as well as thought-provoking. The final act, shown above, is gorgeous and enigmatic. Are the performers surfing in water, floating on clouds? Most of the audience left the Cutler Majestic Theatre floating - musing on what we had just seen and heard and experienced together as an instant community.

The show runs through September 24th. Get your tickets now. Any delay on your part will not be reversible!