Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ars Nova and Women's Project Theater Present "Sundown, Yellow Moon" by Rachel Bonds - Through April 1st

Ars Nova and WP Theater present
Sundown, Yellow Moon
A nighttime play with songs by RACHEL BONDS
Music & Lyrics by THE BENGSONS
Additional Lyrics by RACHEL BONDS
@ the McGinn/Cazale Theater (Bway btw. 76th & 77th St.)
Now thru April 1.

You would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying theatrical experience than the one being offered by the current Ars Nova/WP Theater production of "Sundown, Yellow Moon" by Rachel Bonds. Described as a "nighttime play with songs," this drama follows the crepuscular activities of a divorced father, his two grown daughters, and various other individuals with whose lives they intersect. Each character in this quietly beautiful play is broken in some way, and has a song or a poem just busting to get out. These flawed individuals, in their brokenness, lean on one another to get through the night and into a new day.

The ensemble is top notch from top to bottom. Eboni Booth is Joey, Lilli Cooper is her sister, Ray, and Peter Friedman is their father, Tom, who is recovering from losing a wife and a job. Carver (JD Taylor) visits Tom to offer anger management coaching, but he brings his own baggage that relates to issues of abuse earlier in his life. He and Tom run into a snag in their relationship, and Carver withdraws into himself until he is coaxed by Ray to pick up a guitar and reprise a song he wrote and sang years ago at a prom. He comes to life as he gives himself permission first to touch the instrument, and then to allow the music that he and it produce together to touch him. A continuing motif in this play is the healing and saving power of music, a gentle balm amidst a variety of seeping wounds. The Bengsons have written original songs for this play that shape the action, the mood, and the characters.

Greg Keller portrays Ted Driscoll, a married minor poet with writer's block who stirs emotions within Joey that neither of them know how to handle. She is not sure she should go to Berlin to pursue the Fulbright Scholarship she has earned. Her frustrating friendship with Ted leads to a crisis which Carver is able to help to ameliorate. Michael Pemberton and Anne L. Nathan round out this fine cast as supportive friends of Tom.

Annie L. Nathan as Jean
Michael Pemberton as Bobby/DJ
Eboni Booth as Joey
Peter Friedman as Tom
Lilli Cooper as Ray
"Sundown, Yellow Moon" by Rachel Bonds
Ars Nova/WP Theater
Through April 1st
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Another theme is an almost Chekhovian failure to connect by people who are trying to show that they care for each other. "I am worried about you" is a phrase that echoes from daughter to father and back again. Physical touch is often awkward, tentative and misunderstood. Much that is communicated is communicated in silence and pregnant pauses. This is a gently told tale of flawed human beings trying to get by and to help one another as best they can.

The ensemble are artfully directed by Anne Kauffman. She orchestrates the interactions among the characters like a conductor leading an exquisite chamber orchestra. The rustic set is designed by Lauren Helpern, Lighting by Isabella Byrd and Matty Frey, Costumes by Jessica Pabst, and Sound by Leah Gelpe.

The sun will set on this production on April 1st. No fooling! You do not want to miss this deeply satisfying play.

Ars Nova Website



"The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle - Greatness Isn't Born; It's Grown

This brilliantly written book is one of the most impactful I have read this year. Author Daniel Coyle has done an outstanding job of taking research into myelin, a substance that insulates nerve cells, and turning that scientific breakthrough knowledge into a prescription for achieving greatness in a variety of fields, from music to athletics to business.

Using powerful case studies, Coyle has identified three distinct key elements that determine how individuals achieve greatness: Deep Practice, Ignition, and Master Coaching.

Deep Practice involves short burst of energy - perfecting, identifying errors, repeating. Each time an individual - violinist, tennis player, soccer player - engages in this kind of Deep Practice, the nervous system generates new layers of myelin to further insulate and streamline the flow of electrical energy within neural synapses.

In order for an individual to have the motivation, persistence, and determination to engage in this level of Deep Practice, there needs to have been an Ignition event. In the case of Korean women who now dominate the LPGA, the igniting event was Se Ri Pak winning the McDonald's LPGA Championship in 1998, and becoming a visible symbol and role model for young Korean girls. Five years later - enough time for Deep Practice to have made a significant difference - Korean women began to dominate women's golf.

The third key element is Master Coaching.. Mr. Coyle calls these master teachers "The Talent Whisperers." Common traits are patience, nurturing spirit and the ability to use years of observation and pattern recognition to know just the right word to say to encourage and motivate the person being coached. IConic UCLA coach John Wooden is cited as a prototype for this kind of Master Coach.

The implications of these three key elements that lead to greatness are far reaching. They can be applied to the realm of parenting, teaching, coaching, and business leadership. This is a MUST READ book for anyone who aspires to greatness or to lead others in achieving greatness.



Ophelia Theatre Group Presents "Some Night" - Live Theater in Astoria!

Last weekend, I jumped on the N train and made my way to Astoria to the home of Ophelia Theatre Group for their performance of the thoroughly delightful romp entitled "Some Night," written by resident playwright Sarah Victoria Bennett. Under the deft and playful direction of Eric Ruiter, the troupe of eight talented actors turned a wing of an active Boys and Girls Club on 21st Street in Queens into the realm of a fairy Queen and King. The action of the play centers on a band, The Canker Blossoms, getting ready for their biggest gig to date. But complications arise when the husband and wife team of Natalie (Megan Magee) and Theo (Nick Denning) split up during the dress rehearsal, and several key band members threaten to bolt and start their own outfit. It turns out that the husband and wife team are actually Fairy King Oberon and Queen Titania in mortal form, and their personal assistants, Rob (James Jelkin) and Faye (Elizabeth Scopel) are actually Puck, a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow, and Titania's Lady in Waiting.

The members of The Canker Blossoms are mash-ups of other characters from A Midsummer's Night Dream, including some of the memorable rude mechanicals. Den (Ethan Crystal) is the keyboard player who is feuding with Lon (Ashley Grombol), the lead singer and owner of the recently refurbished performance space. They have apparently irreconcilable creative differences. Haden (Landon Sutton) is the bass player and songwriter for the group, and Harry (Zach Rich) is the bemused drummer who appears to be stoned most of the time.

Elizabeth Scopel as Faye
James Jelkin as Rob
"Some Night" by  Sarah Victoria Bennett
Ophelia Theatre Group
21-12 30th Road, Astoria, Queens, NY
Through Saturday, March 25th

The loose plot follows much of the storyline of Shakespeare's original, with much artistic license being granted to these players as they use this play to celebrate their being together for several years in creative harmony. The eclectic set and lighting by Shelby Lee Loera includes items from past productions. The entire event is a loving Valentine to art, to the creative process, and to the relationships it engenders. Rebecca Joy Wallace designed the costumes, and Layla Sutton did the choreography.

The audience loved the proceedings, which included some fun fight sequences, as well as some impressive Meatloaf-style shredding by Mr. Jelkin. When called upon to play music, the members of The Canker Blossoms acquitted themselves wonderfully, with Mr. Crystal's voice being - well, crystal clear, and blending seamlessly with that of Ms. Grombol.

If you want to taste some of the magic, you have two more opportunities - this Friday and Saturday evening at 8:00.

Ophelia Theatre Website



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Flat Earth Theatre Presents "Silent Sky" by Lauren Gunderson - It Pulsates With Light & Life - Through March 25th

Simply put, live theater does not get much better than "Silent Sky," the current stunningly moving production by Flat Earth Theatre at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown. The writing by playwright Lauren Gunderson is flawless and poetic, and her elegance of style is matched by the superb cast of five actors directed with precision and grace by Dori A. Robinson.

The action of the play centers on three historical figures, Henrietta Leavitt, Williamina Fleming, and Annie Jump Cannon. These three pioneers of astronomy worked at the turn of the last century as "computers" at the Harvard College Observatory, home of the nation's largest telescope from 1847-1867. These women, initially relegated to the tedious work of mapping stars from the photographic plates taken by the telescope, broke through barriers of sexism and academic elitism to suggest new ways of cataloguing the stars. Ms. Cannon invented a way of categorizing stars by their spectra and temperature. Ms. Leavitt arrived at a way of timing the cycle of pulsating stars that led to a way of measuring distances between stars and galaxies.

The play is filled with esoteric and arcane astronomical information. In the hands of a less artistic playwright, it could have proved to be a dry evening of theater. But given Ms. Gunderson's artistry, there was not a dry eye in the audience by the end of the play. She managed to humanize the ideas and the characters, and to make us care about all of it. The playwright has added the characters of
Henri's sister, Margaret, and her boss and sometime love interest, Peter Shaw.

The themes of the play are manifold and challenging. Director Robinson states the case beautifully in her program notes: "Gunderson calls it a conversation between opposites:science and religion, life and legacy, men and women, hearing and deafness, fantasy and reality, memories and historical facts."

Part of the poignancy of this play is that Henri Leavitt is battling time. Her body is gravely ill as her mind is at its peak of creativity and discovery. She fights to hang on until she can prove that her theories are correct, and she can be recognized as a true astronomer, not just a "female computer." The themes of this play serve as a wonderful companion piece to the recent Academy Award winning film, "Hidden Figures," in which three Black women break barriers at NASA as "Computers."

In addition to the extraordinary writing by Ms. Gunderson, the cast of five are each memorable in their roles:
  • Erin Eva Butcher is luminous as Henri, a brilliant Radcliffe graduate who chooses to leave her Midwestern family to return to Cambridge and make her way in the world of science. It is a long slog, but she is wonderfully supported by her two female colleagues, who are very different in temperament and personality.
  • Brenna Sweet is solid as Henri's sister, who stays behind to care for her father and to raise a son. She eventually follows Henri to Cambridge and cares for her in her illness.
  • Marcus Hunter has a difficult row to hoe as the sole male in this cast of powerful women. He brilliantly walks a fine line between being the arrogant and chauvinistic academic on the one hand, but charming enough to make us believe that Henri would fall in love with him, on the other hand.
  • Juliet Bowler is a total delight as Williamina Fleming, who started her Boston career as a housemaid from Ireland, but was brought onto the staff of the observatory by her boss. She peppers her conversation with wise and often acerbic comments and withering glances. 
  • Cassandra Meyer is perfect as the straight-laced person who keeps order, structure, and protocol keenly observed in the observatory. But she is also passionate about women's rights, and becomes a marching Suffragette.

Debra Reich has designed a gorgeous set that sparkles and pulsates in harmony with the stars that the women are observing and trying to understand. Costume Design by Cara Chiaramonte places the characters in the correct historical period. Lighting Designer PJ Strachman dazzles with a complex universe of heavenly bodies, and Sound Designer Kyle Lampe punctuate the action with a soundscape that fits the themes of the play.

Cassandra Meyer as Annie Cannon
Juliet Bowler as Williamina Fleming
Brenna Sweet as Margaret Leavitt
Erin Eva Butcher as Henrietta Leavitt
Marcus Hunter as Peter Shaw
"Silent Sky" by Lauren Gunderson
Flat Earth Theatre
Mosesian Center for the Arts
Through March 25th
Photo by Jake Scaltreto

I often judge an outstanding evening at the theater if, during the course of the play, I have experienced chills and tears. This play hit the jackpot. I felt deeply. I thought deeply. I learned deeply. It was one of the most satisfying theater-going experiences of this current season led by one of the best ensemble casts. Bravo!

Audience response has been so overwhelming that an additional Saturday 2:00 matinee has been added for this final weekend. The play must close on the 25th, so act now to get one or more of the remaining tickets. They are not as plentiful as the stars in the sky!

Flat Earth Theatre Website



Monday, March 20, 2017

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents The New England Premiere of "Grand Concourse"- Struggles with Faith and Forgiveness In The Bronx


The current production by the SpeakEasy Stage Company is the New England Premiere of the praiseworthy "Grand Concourse," written by Heidi Schreck and Directed by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary. The play uses four actors, and is set in a Catholic parish soup kitchen in the Bronx. The themes of this drama center on issues of struggling with faith and forgiveness.

Shelley (the marvelous Melinda Lopez) is a nun who has gotten out of the habit of praying, her faith having grown cold as she struggles with the discouraging task of running a soup kitchen with few resources and a clientele that stretches her and her staff. While she feeds the hungry, she is suffering from spiritual anorexia. Family issues weigh on her heart. In order to try to force herself to pray to an ever-distant God, she sets the timer on the microwave to try to get through at least a minute of petition and intercession. She is able to pray sincerely only for "justice for the immigrants"! The microwave is not enough to reheat her faith or her sense of vocation. Events in the play, triggered by her troubled relationship with volunteer, Emma (Ally Dawson), prove to be the last straw, and she confronts her lack of faith in a bold and courageous denouement.

Teenager Emma arrives, asking to volunteer in the kitchen. She is hard to figure out, and eventually shares the news that she is in treatment for cancer. This revelation changes the dynamic of her flirtatious relationship with Oscar (Alejandro Simoes), the janitor/handyman for the parish. Emma's brazen seductions of Oscar create problems in his relationship with his fiancee. Emma's cancer news proves to be only the beginning of the surprises and complications she interjects into the soup that is the relationships among the soup kitchen denizens. Initially, she appears to be a saviour, offering ideas for getting jobs for some of the regulars in the soup line, especially the quirky Frog (Thomas Derrah), but things spin out of control as her failure to follow through has tragic consequences.

The writing is complex and layered. Each character has positive and negative attributes that present challenges to the other three members of this cast. Sister Shelley is faithful but cold. Frog is charmingly nerdy but volatile. Emma is eager but duplicitous, and Oscar is grounded but vulnerable to being misled. Questions are raised about who is worthy of trust - God, one another? And ultimately, the daunting question hangs in the air: "Are some deeds and some people beyond forgiveness?"

Mr. Derrah's character of Frog is memorable as a jumpy and edgy combination of Danny Devito and Woody Allen. Ms. Dawson navigates well the rough waters of appearing to be both needy and conniving. Mr. Simoes creates a very sympathetic Oscar, torn between lust for Emma and true love for Rosa. Ms. Lopez is spectacular as Sister Shelley. She reveals her barely contained rage and existential despair in the aggressive way she peels potatoes to reveal the rawness under the surface. Emma's multiple transgressions serve to peel away the surface spirituality that Shelley is struggling to maintain, and reveals the raw soul bleeding under the surface. Director O'Leary has these four gifted actors engaged with one another in ways that keep the audience in rapt attention as the action of the play unwinds at a steady pace.

Alejandro Simoes as Oscar
Melinda Lopez as Sister Shelley
Ally Dawson as Emma
Thomas Derrah as Frog
"Grand Concourse" by Heidi Schreck
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
Through April 1st
Glenn Perry Photography

The always resourceful Jenna McFarland Lord has created a very realistic set - a working soup kitchen that transports us to the Bronx, with able assistance from Lighting Designer Karen Perlow, Sound Designer Lee Schuna, and Costume Designer Chelsea Kerl.

Alejandro Simoes as Oscar
Thomas Derrah as Frog
Melinda Lopez as Sister Shelley

"Grand Concourse" by Heidi Schreck
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
Through April 1st
Glenn Perry Photography

This play is beautifully written and superbly well acted. The subject matter is deep and thought-provoking. It would be unforgivable to miss this excellent production - a venial sin at the very least! Through April 1st at the Calderwood Pavilion.

SpeakEasy Stage Website



Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Stealing Fire" by Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal - Revolutionizing The Way We Live and Work

"Stealing Fire," written by Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal is a follow-up to Kotler's bestselling "The Rise of Superman." In this current book, the authors chronicle the emergence and broadening acceptance of altered states of consciousness as a route to extraordinary levels of performance and creativity. They offer numerous case studies of Navy SEALS, corporate executives, and well-respected scientists who have used a wide variety of techniques and substances to achieve levels of performance that far exceed the norm, and that supercede prior personal standards of excellence.

The authors lay out a convincing case explaining why meditation, mind-altering drugs taken in appropriate dosages, and catalytic tribal events like Burning Man have taken the mind-altering movement from the realm of hippies and the Beat Generation to the Boardroom and Coronado, California, home of the Navy Seals. As they explain it, this revolution in enhanced performance has four components: Psychology, Neurobiology, Pharmacology, and Technology. Using the ancient myth of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods to equip mankind to excel, the authors clearly explain how these four forces have allowed enlightened individuals and groups to achieve previously unimagined levels of sustained excellence and success.



Actors' Shakespeare Project Presents A Brilliant and Bawdy "Edward II" by Christopher Marlowe - Through March 19

This ASP production has a venomous bite with its palace intrigues, infidelities, betrayals, murders, and seductions. It is brilliantly conceived by Director David R. Gammons and boldly executed by a creative team and acting troupe that are not afraid to take risks and let it all hang out.

Christopher Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare who had a brief and meteoric career as a playwright. He died mysteriously in a barroom brawl at the age of 29, but he left behind an impressive body of work, which, while lacking in quantity, rivalled that of Shakespeare in terms of quality. "Edward II" was first performed at the end of the sixteenth century and was popular well into the next century, but then it was banned for the next 300 years because of the explicit homoerotic nature of some of its themes and actions. Director Gammons and his design team have created a set that recapitulates the ethos of a New York City bathhouse during the height of the AIDS epidemic when expressions of gay sexuality were driven underground, as they were in this Elizabethan play. The set, designed by Sara Brown, includes working shower, bath tubs, towel racks. It is a fitting platform upon which the actors can tell this ancient tale. The ambience is enhanced tremendously by the complex Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg, pulsating Sound Design by David Wilson, and sumptuous Costumes by Rachel Padula Shufelt. Omar Robinson choreographed the fight and violence scenes.

The play opens seductively with Gaveston (Eddie Shields) returning from exile and emerging from a tub resplendent in the same garb with which he first greeted the world on the day of his birth. For the next several minutes, standing with only a skimpy towel draped over his shoulder, he soliloquizes about what it will be like for him to be reunited with his best friend and lover, King Edward II. Within the confines of that speech, we see a foreshadowing of many of the key elements that will be developed in this character, and in the play as a whole: naked ambition, passion, lust, vulnerability, coyness, charm, and petulance. It is an opening as powerful as any SNL Cold Open with Alec Baldwin pillorying #45. If Mr. Shields, a proud member of Actors' Equity, did nothing more in the entire play than to perform this brilliant scene, he would have more than earned his paycheck. But he does much more.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Edward II
"Edward II" by Christopher Marlowe
Actors' Shakespeare Project
Charlestown Working Theater
Through March 19t

As Gaveston's lover and protector, the formidable Maurice Emmanuel Parent creates an indelible Edward II. He too spends a significant part of the play naked in a bathtub, having been deposed by lords who resent his placing his hedonistic pleasure above the needs of the kingdom. He is so blinded by his love for Gaveston, that he rejects his Queen Isabella (Jennie Israel) and spurns the advice and warnings of his brother, Kent (Nile Hawver), Mortimer (Alex Pollock), and Lancaster (Nigel Gore). The royal court is scandalized and outraged by Edwards' open wooing of and canoodling with the conniving Gaveston. Their love and lust is made explicit in a beautifully choreographed scene in which Gaveston and Edward dance erotically like two vines wrapping themselves around each other. It is a powerful and almost balletic pas de deux.

Rounding out this stellar cast is David J. Castillo, as Prince Edward III. His stylized dance shows in his tortuous physical contortions how his soul is tormented by the prospect of his being shepherded by his uncle Kent and Mortimer after the Prince has learned that they were responsible for his father's death. Stewart Evan Smith plays the courtier Spencer with strength and dignity.

This response to this electrifying production has been so strong that two additional performances were recently added. You have only until the 19th of March to get the Charlestown Working Theater to see a play that is infrequently performed, but which will be talked about for many months to come, especially during next year's award season.

Actors Shakespeare Project Website



Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Nora Theatre Company Presents A Thought-Provoking "Precious Little" by Madeleine George - Through March 26th

Lee Mikeska Gardner
Karoline Xu
Nancy E. Carroll
"Precious Little" by Madeleine George
Nora Theatre Company
Catalyst Collaborative @MIT
Central Square Theater
Through March 26th
It should come as no surprise that a play produced by Nora Theatre Company, as part of its collaboration with the Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT, should require a great deal of intellectual effort on the part of the audience. Such is the case with the current production of "Precious Little," by Madeleine George

Before I share details about the play, allow me a slight diversion to discuss my reaction to this drama. I was initially unsure how the three separate threads in the narrative of the play related to one another. And I was wondering why the cast of three women were required to play so many different parts. On my walk home from the theater, a light bulb went on in my head, and it all began to make sense. But I had to work hard to arrive at this deep level of understanding. And I was immediately reminded of a point made so eloquently in a book I am currently reading: "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle. The author describes the cognitive and neurological dynamics by which we learn to master complex tasks, processes, or ideas. It involves a concerted and repeated effort at what he calls "deep practice." I labored very heard over the questions: "What is the common denominator in these three narratives in the play? Why are these actors cast to play so many different parts?" And as I struggled, the connections began to emerge out of the fog, and the playwrights' intent became clear - at least to me as a subjective observer of the play.

Here are the outlines of the three narrative threads:
  • Brodie (Lee Mikeska Gardner) is a linguist who is a lesbian in her 40s who has chosen to bear a child using sperm from an anonymous donor. She awaits the results of amniocentesis to see if her child may be at risk of birth defects. Things become complex when the results of the test are ambiguous and troublesome. A neophyte counselor (Karoline Xu) tries to lead Brodie through a decision-making process, but they clearly do not speak the same language, and fail to communicate at any meaningful level.
  • In her role as a linguists, Brodie is interviewing an "informant" (Nancy E. Carroll) who is one of the last living persons who has spoken a dying language from pre-Soviet Siberia. The informant's controlling daughter (Karoline Xu) makes it difficult to bring the project to its completion. At one point, we see a depiction of the sonogram of the fetus as Nancy Carroll crouches in the fetal position behind a scrim. 
  • A female gorilla (also Ms. Carroll) who is purported to possess rudimentary language skills is observed in her zoo habitat by a parade of gawkers (also Karoline Xu) who do not even understand that she is not "a monkey." Brodie reluctantly comes to see the ape, and is drawn into exploring the question of language.
The light dawned for me when I began to see connections among the three threads and the roles played by the three actresses.
  • Ms. Carroll plays three characters that are each encased in some kind of enclosure. She is the informant enclosed in a soundproof booth trying to recall the language of her childhood. She is also a gorilla imprisoned in her zoo enclosure occasionally using the language skills she has acquired to try to communicate. And she is also a fetus enclosed in the womb trying to communicate through her prenatal cells and amniotic fluid her genetic code and DNA language.
  • Ms. Gardner as Brodie is trying to decode three different kinds of linguistic clues: the DNA language in the reports from the amniocentesis, the memes and phonemes from the dying Siberian language, and the rudimentary attempts by the gorilla to communicate. In each case, the attempts to establish communication are both aided by and frustrated by a piece of machinery - an ultrasound machine, an electronic set-up to allow her to speak to and hear from the informant in the soundproof booth, and machinery that lights up symbols to communicate simple words to the gorilla. In each case, the same piece of equipment stands in for the three discrete instruments. Perhaps the message is that technology in its many forms may be necessary, but is not sufficient to establish meaningful communication.
  • Ms. Xu plays characters who impede the path to clear understanding. She is the recalcitrant daughter of the informant who stands in the way of her mother completing the project. She is the unsympathetic graduate student and lover of Brodie who refuses to support Brodie during her time of doubt and need. She is the ineffectual rookie counselor who makes it difficult for Brodie to make an informed decision because her communication is so convoluted and imprecise. She is the parade of gawkers at the zoo who look at the sentient ape without understanding.
These three women are outstanding in their multiple roles. Perhaps most impressive is Ms. Carroll's impassive physiognomy and posture as the gorilla.

Lee Mikeska Gardner
Karoline Xu
"Precious Little" by Madeleine George
Nora Theatre Company
Catalyst Collaborative @MIT
Central Square Theater
Through March 26th

All of this complexity is handled with clear direction by Melia Bensussen. The simple set by Judy Galen allows for versatility in moving among the various locales - lab, office, zoo. Costume Design is by Elizabeth Rocha, Lighting Design by Wen-Ling Liao, and Sound by Nathan Leigh.

Then there is the issue of the clever title of the play:"Precious Little."

Brodie comes to see the life growing inside of her as her precious little daughter, who may be flawed if she is allowed to grow to full term. There is precious little that science or counseling can do to guide her in making a harrowing decision that will impact her life and that of her unborn child. And there is precious little that an audience member can make of all of this complexity and questioning unless one is willing to do the work of decoding the language of the drama, and apply that to one's own world view and set of life experiences.

The play ends in a moving tableau that seems to be sending the message that at the end of the day, our ability to communicate with one another and to find a common language must transcend technology and intellectual models, but must include meaningful touch.

My brain is still process the images and ideas that "Precious Little" presents. And one could not ask much more than that from a play.  You have until March 26th to get to Central Square Theater to ruminate on these questions, thoughts, and ideas.

Central Square Theater Website



Thursday, March 09, 2017

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents A Delightful Production of "Stage Kiss" by Sarah Ruhl - Through March 26th

Playwright Sarah Ruhl has been a Pulitzer Finalist on several occasion, and has been a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Fellowship. So, it is no wonder that her romantic comedy, "Stage Kiss," is such a delight. It is clever, fast-paced and insightful about the complexities of love - both on and off stage.

The two main characters are simply called She and He - a strong signal from Ms. Ruhl that their struggles have universal application. As She, the enormously talented Celeste Oliva arrives on stage like a whirling dervish looking for a place to land. She is a frenetic actress late for an audition and frazzled beyond belief. Despite her concerns and foibles, she books the part, and returns to the stage after a long hiatus. She is shocked to learn that her leading man (Alexander Platt) is her ex-lover, from whom she had a painful breakup. Their initial attempts to navigate the turbulent waters of a stage kiss are hilariously awkward. Those kisses become more prolonged as they discover that, despite the baggage they carry, they still care for each other. But She is married, and He has a girlfriend from Iowa! Complications ensue.

The chemistry between Ms. Oliva and Mr. Platt is palpable, which makes their dilemma believable and relatable. The arc of the narrative goes from the comical and ridiculous to the sublime and touching. Along the way, the playwright asks us to consider the nature of commitment in marriage, forgiveness, and drawing clear boundaries when they may have previously been blurred.

The excellent Ms. Oliva and Mr. Platt are joined by a stellar cast comprised of:
  • Will McGarrahan as the oblivious director, Adrian Schwalbach. He is hilarious as he stumbles around trying to offer meaningful direction to his two lead actors.
  • Michael Hisamoto is perfectly cast in multiple roles, including an understudy whose overly literal interpretation of the Meisner Method of acting makes him look ridiculously robotic.
  • Craig Mathers plays the role of longsuffering husband to She with grace and dignity.
  • Theresa Nguyen plays several characters named Mille, as well as She's daughter, Angela. In that role, she is a petulant and very angry teenager who is not afraid to confront her mother with the damage she is doing to the family by her selfish mid-life crisis.
  • Gillian Mackay-Smith is spot on with her accent and affect of the school teacher from the Quad Cities. She had been ready to move in with He until he microwaved what was left of his relationship with She, and things that had been stale got hot again.
Will McGarraghan as Adrian Schwalbach
Celeste Oliva as She
Alexander Platt as He
Michael Hisamoto as Pimp
"Stage Kiss" by Sarah Ruhl
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through March 26th
Photo by Mark S. Howard
Director Courtney O'Connor has this fine ensemble meshing seamlessly on the versatile set designed by Matt Whiton. with Lighting is by Chris Hudacs, Sound and Original Music by Arshan Gailus, Costumes by Amanda Mujica.

The play is beautifully written and extraordinarily well executed by this cast and creative team. The play will run at the Lyric through March 26th. Make the effort to see this show. You will not regret it.



Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents "Exit Strategy" - A Timely and Powerful Look At Public Education In Crisis - Final Week

The current Zeitgeist production of the powerful and timely play "Exit Strategy" by Ike Holter is in its final week of performances at the Plaza Theatre at Boston Center for the Arts. It should not be missed.  Find a way to get to the Plaza before this show closes this Saturday.

Unlike Jean Paul Sartre's masterpiece Existentialist play, "No Exit," this play contains exits at multiple levels. There is the exit of the struggling Chicago High School that is mandated to close at the end of the current school year. And then their are various types of exits that the characters consider and undertake in response to personal and school crises.

Director David Miller has assembled a stellar cast to tell this troubling tale. When he added this play to the current Zeitgeist season, the name of Betsy DeVos was largely unknown to most Americans. Her confirmation hearings to become Secretary of Education in the new Trump administration demonstrated her egregious lack of preparedness, and her troubling lack of support for public education. Inner-city schools like the one depicted in Mr. Holder's play are now in even more grave danger of continuing to crumble and die, while they persist in failing their students, teachers, and administrators. The play shines a powerful spotlight on the problems, while giving a sympathetic depiction of the teachers and students who valiantly struggle against long odds to make learning and teaching take place in suboptimal conditions.

The burning question that the play asks is whether the teachers, administrators, and students have the stamina and spark of hope to fight the city's decision to close their school. Not everyone agrees on what should happen, and thus hangs the tension and the narrative of this fine play. Here are the characters who must examine the questions of exiting:
  • Pam (The award-winning Maureen Adduci), is the cynical veteran of many decades trying to hold back the tide of decay and apathy at this school. She confronts the neophyte Vice Principal, Ricky, with a ferociousness and a string of salty language that would make a sailor blush. She is not having any of his bullshit when he tries to sugar coat the announcement that the school will be closing. She makes it abundantly clear that she has an exit plan for herself. This is a powerful performance by the always reliable Ms. Adduci.
  • Ricky (Matthew Fagerberg) is out of his depth as the young Vice Principal. He is powerless and effete, until a rebellious student, Donnie, confronts him and ignites a spark that transforms the young administrator and enables him to "grow a pair." Mr. Fagerberg takes Ricky on an impressive journey of transformation. It is one of the strongest performances of this theater season.
  • Arnold (Robert Bonotto) has been yoked to Pam as surviving senior faculty at the school for as long as anyone can remember. He is angry, bitter, and at a loss to know how to go forward now that Pam is no longer at his side. He sees Ricky's helplessness and naivete, and fights him at every turn. Mr. Bonotto's strong performance reminded me of vintage Spencer Tracy.
  • Luce (Johnny Quinones) is secretly Ricky's lover, but they have very different ways of choosing to confront the school crisis. It is unclear if their relationship can sustain itself in the face of this gulf. Luce is forced to contemplate his own unique exit. Mr. Quinones brings this character to life as Luce navigates the complications of career and relationship.
  • Sadie (Lillian Gomes) is a no nonsense teacher who just wants Ricky to do his job as disciplinarian and to suspend Donnie for the breach of protocol he has undertaken. Ms. Gomes presents Sadie as a strong and opinionated woman.
  • Jania (Victoria George) is the Spanish language interpreter for the school. She and "old school" Arnold do not get along, and she and Ricky often clash. Ms, George's portrayal is convincing and memorable.
  • Donnie (Jalani Dottin-Coye) is a complex combination of rebelliousness, desperation, inspiration and innovation. He is the soul of the play, and the catalyst behind a last ditch effort to save the school. The final scene with him standing alone after every other character has exited is poignant and prophetic. This young actor, whose own personal history mirrors that of Donnie, has a bright future in store for himself. He attended an inner-city school that was closed, forcing him to transfer. Art imitates life once again.
Robert Bonotto as Arnold, Victoria George as Jania
Johnny Quinones as Luce, Jalani Dottin-Coye as Donnie
Maureen Adduci as Pam, Matthew Fagerberg as Ricky
Lillian Gomes as Sadie
"Exit Strategy" by Ike Holter
Zeitgeist Stage Company
Plaza Theatre
Through March 11th

Look hard at your schedule and see if you can find your way to the entrance to the Plaza Theatre this week before this play - and this school - takes it final bow and exits.