Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review of "Grit" by Angela Duckworth - The Power of Passion And Perseverance


I was carrying a copy of "Grit" with me as I visited recently with a professor in the Behavioral Sciences Department at West Point. I asked Colonel Ryan if she were familiar with Angela Duckworth's book, and especially the portion that discusses West Point's difficulty in predicting which cadets might drop out of the challenging Beast Barracks at the beginning of their Plebe year. She laughed, and said that her department had just had Dr. Duckworth on campus to discuss that very issue.

"Grit" fits wonderfully with two other powerful books I have recently read the deal with the pursuit of excellence: "Mindset" and "The Talent Code."

In "Mindset," Dr. Carol Dweck posits that one can learn to develop a growth mindset that allows each obstacle and setback in life to be viewed as an opportunity for growth and refinement of existing skills, and the development of new skills.

White Rhino Report Review of "Mindset"

In "The Talent Code," Daniel Coyle lays out a case showing that deep practice triggers growth in the myelin sheath that surrounds neurons, further insulating them and speeding up the rate at which signals are passed along the neural pathways. With an appropriate ignition event to allow a person to have the persistence to engage in deep practice, one can develop extraordinary levels of talent. The final piece of the triple ecosystem that Coyle describes is a world class coach to keep a person fully engaged in the ongoing process of improvement and refinement of talent.

White Rhino Report Review of "The Talent Code"

In "Grit," Dr. Duckworth emphasizes the importance of persistence, perseverance, and passion in determining success in life. She shares many examples and case studies, including the experiences of West Point cadets, and NFL players for the Seattle Seahawks under the coaching of Pete Caroll, whose philosophy of leadership is in harmony with Duckworth's premise.

Throughout the book, the author points out that achieving true grit results from a combination of inner drives and external impetuses. The most effective external dynamics include becoming part of a group or tribe in which all of the members are striving for excellence.  She quotes sociologist Dan Chambliss in describing how this works in practice: "It seems to me  . . .that there's a hard way to get grit and an easy way. The hard way is to do it by yourself. The easy way is to use conformity - the basic human drive to fit in - because if you're around a lot of people who are gritty, you're going to get grittier." (Page 247)

Dr. Duckworth devotes several key pages to the case study of Coach Anson Dorrance, who has led the women's soccer team from UNC Chapel Hill to many national titles. He inspires grit in his players in a number of ways, including having them memorize 12 key literary quotes that together define the culture of the team. I was struck by the quote about whining penned by George Bernard Shaw: "The true joy in life is to be a force of fortune instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." (pages 257-8)

Finally, the author quotes Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, Superintendent of West Point. In describing the culture of West Point that inculcates leadership in the men and women who make it through the grueling four year curriculum, Caslen points to the words of one of his predecessors, General John Schofield: "The discipline which makes soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment." 

"Schofield goes on to say - and the cadets must memorize this, too - that the very same commands issued in a way that inspires allegiance or seeds resentment. And the difference comes down to one essential thing: respect. Respect of subordinates for their commander? No, Schofield says. The origin of great leadership begins with the respect of the commander for his subordinates." (Page 258)

This book and its insights will be the topic of several gatherings that I will be hosting in the next  few weeks. It is a treasure trove of wisdom, encouragement, and challenge.

Enjoy!

Al

Friday, April 14, 2017

Huntington Theatre Company Presents "The Who & The What" by Ayad Akhtar - Wrestling With The Role Of Women Within Islam


I have been fascinated by the work of Ayad Akhtar since I saw the Pulitzer Prize winning play "Disgraced" in New York and then at the Huntington. The current Huntington Theatre Company production of "The Who & The What" builds on some of the themes that the playwright introduced in "Disgraced." I became familiar with the current play by reading it before I had a chance to see it performed. Here is my brief review after reading the play.

White Rhino Report Review of "The Who & The What

With this play, Mr. Akthar, continues to dig deeply into his own heritage as a Pakistani-American born into a Muslim family.  As he has done with his play "Disgraced," and his novel, "American Dervish," he has created characters who wrestle with issues of identity.  This grappling mirrors the wrestling that Mr. Akhtar himself has engaged in regarding complex questions of how to maintain his embrace of his cultural heritage while questioning many of the theological and social tenets of his family's Muslim faith. In this drama, Zarina is writing a novel which examines the Prophet Mohamed's marriages, and the origin of women wearing the hijab - the veil.  Her traditional father and sister are shocked by her lack of devotion to the accepted hagiographic image of the Prophet, and her husband's career as an Imam is threatened. There is plenty of conflict to be fleshed out among the play's four characters as Zarina's questioning voice places a strain on her devotion to her faith and to her family.

Director M. Bevin O'Gara has melded the four actors into an ensemble that vibrates with passion and tension. The brilliant and stunning Scenic Design by Cristina Tedesco presents a gold box inside a larger gold proscenium frame. The box is flecked with splotches of red, and contains geometric patterns one might find in a mosque. Sliding panels allow the scene to change from kitchen to living room to coffee shop. The elegant box also sends the tacit message that reinforces themes from the action of the play: "No matter how beautiful the box, no one enjoys being boxed in and trapped inside someone else's definition of who you should be." Costumes are by Mary Lauve, Lighting by Annie Wiegand, Sound by M.L. Dogg, with Original Music by Saraswathi Jones.

Aila Peck plays the elder daughter in a Pakistani-American family in Atlanta. Zarina has been reluctant to marry, or even to date, while she works on her book on the role of women in Islam. Her younger sister, Mahwish (Turna Mete) is desperate for Zarina to marry so she can wed her long-time boyfriend. Father and daughter conspire to set Zarina up with an on-line date, and she eventually marries Eli (Joseph Marrella), an American from Detroit who has converted to Islam and has become an Imam. The father, Afzal (Rom Barkhordar) is a widower who has worked hard building a successful taxi company to support his two daughters. Ms. Peck is quietly militant in wanting to carve out her own path, examining the life of the prophet in ways that may debunk popular myths. There is a price to pay that is reminiscent of the strained relationship in "Fiddle on the Roof" between Tevye and Chava.

Aila Peck as Zarina
Turna Mete as Mahwish
Rom Barkhordar as Afzal
 Huntington Theatre Company's production of The Who & the What

Directed by M. Bevin O'Gara
Through May 7, 2017

South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA.
Photo: T. Charles Erickson.
 
The play as written is deeply thought-provoking, and as acted in this production, is profoundly moving. It will run at the Calderwood Pavilion through May 7th.

Enjoy!

Al


"The Girl At The Bar" by Nicholas Nash - A Fast-Paced Debut Novel


"The Girl At The Bar" by Nicholas Nash is full of fascinating characters and disorienting plot twists. I found myself turning the pages to find out what might happen next in solving the disappearance of a brilliant young cancer researcher who vanished without a trace after a one-night-stand with a man with a checkered past. That man, Ragnar, was removed in disgrace from his Wall Street firm after losing a huge sum of money in risky investments that went south. He is a suspect in Rebecca's disappearance. He takes it upon himself to find out what happened to her - in part to clear himself, and in part because he has fallen in love with her after their one night of love. In getting out ahead of the police investigation, Ragnar employs former colleagues and friends to find clues. He finds himself enmeshed in a growing web of murders and deceptions.

Mr. Nash writes with a strong sense of place, with very specific locations around New York described so well that I was able to picture each of them in my mind's eye. The characters are colorful and complex, and the protagonist is sympathetic, although flawed. The pace is fast and the writing is clear and concise. I look forward to reading his next book.

Enjoy!

Al

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents "Barbecue" by Robert O'Hara - This BBQ Is No Sunday School Picnic!


Lyric Stage Company of Boston is presenting a play entitled "Barbecue" by Robert O'Hara, known to Boston audiences for his play "Bootcandy." Summer L. Williams directed that play for Company One, and she directs this production for the Lyric. She is a faithful and visionary interpreter of Mr. O'Hara's provocative work. This is a BBQ in which the meat does not fall easily off of the bones! There is a lot to chew on in this drama. There are challenging complications presented at many levels - addressing issues of racial stereotyping by using innovative staging and even a bit of reductio ad absurdum to hammer home the point. In the same vein as playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins in "An Octoroon," Mr. O'Hara uses exaggeration of stereotypes to debunk stereotypes. He shows us that dysfunction is not limited to one race or social class. The author also asks us to struggle with the questions: "Can there be truth within a lie? Can there be beauty inside of horror?"

It is clear from the moment an audience member enters the theater that the whiff of something unusual cooking is in the air. Instead of a program, each patron is handed a single sheet of paper that reads: "Yes, we have programs. But you'll have to wit til intermission to get one. And it will be worth the wait! (We promised you surprises . .)" There are surprises galore. It is a bit luke ingesting meat from a turducken. First you taste the savory turkey flesh - white meat and dark - and then comes the very different flavor of duck, followed by chicken cooked in a very special way. The play we watch in Act One, Scene One differs from what we see in Scene Two, and differs yet again in Act Two.

It took me a while to warm up to this unusual play. But once I realized what the playwright was up to, I was hooked. The opening scenes are raucous, ribald and rollicking. Four siblings from the O'Mallery clan have reluctantly gathered in a public park ostensibly to give their sister Barbara - a.k.a. Zippity Boom - a treat of her favorite barbecue. But the real reason is to mount an intervention to persuade Barbara to go to rehab. The family has already lost two siblings to the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse, and Zippity Boom seems well on her way to becoming the next victim.

Cast Members
"Barbecue" by Robert O'Hara
Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 7
But we learn near the end of Act One that all is not as it appears to be on the surface. To judge this play by the first act would be tantamount to having judged the results of Super Bowl LI by the score of 3-28 that greeted viewers halfway through the 3rd quarter. Like Belichick and Brady, Mr. O'Hara has some trick plays up his sleeve, and the formidable and diverse cast execute on that strategic plan without fumbling the ball.  Cast members are: Ramona Lisa Alexander, Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Bryan T. Donovan, Jackie Davis, Adrianne Krstansky, Deb Martin, James R. Milford, Christine Power, Jasmine Rush.

Set design is by Jessica Pizzuti, Costumes by Tyler Kinney, Lighting by Jen Rock, Sound by David Wilson.

I have been told that several performances are already sold out, so I encourage you to click on the link below, order your tickets, and get ready to sink your teeth into a "Barbecue" unlike anything you have tasted before.

Lyric Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Underground Railway Theater Presents The World Premiere of "Paradise" by Laura Maria Censabella - AN ABSOLUTE MUST SEE!!!


I had trouble sleeping last night - and that was a good thing. I could not stop replaying in my mind scenes from the extraordinary theatrical event I had witnessed last evening at Central Square Theater. With each passing hour, as I tossed and turned and ruminated, I became aware of more and more layers that the playwright and actors had woven into this play. My mental thread count on the fine tapestry that they had fabricated kept mounting. This is one of the finest works of art I have experienced in quite some time. I will not talk much about plot lines, for I hesitate to spoil some unexpected twists and turns, but I will discuss at length many of the themes that are explored and illuminated in this script that shimmers with brilliance.

This production of "Paradise" - A World Premiere - is part of the ongoing visionary collaboration between Underground Railway Theater and MIT known as the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT. Part of the vision of this partnership is to wed science and art, and no script does that job better than the one that Laura Maria Censabella has crafted for "Paradise."

The genius of this play is that every aspect of its creation has been executed at the highest level of professionalism and artistry - the writing, directing, acting, scenic design, costumes, props, lighting, and sound all coalesce together to offer the audience a journey into the interior of two different worlds and two different lives colliding in unanticipated ways.

Yasmeen al-Hamadi (Caitlin Nasema Cassidy) is a Yemeni-American teenage girl, an observant Muslim who dreams of winning a scholarship to Columbia University. Her biology teacher is Dr. Guy Royston (Barlow Adamson), a disgraced former professor at Columbia who was dismissed because he committed an egregious professional indiscretion. They are thrown together in a crumbling classroom in a down-at-the-heels public high school in the Bronx. He does not want to be there, but has no other options. She is trying to earn a 4.0 GPA so she can escape to the Ivy League.  The arcs of their lives have placed them on a collision course, and neither life will be the same after they collide.

Caitlin Nasema Cassidy as Yasmeen
Barlow Adamson as Dr. Royston
"Paradise" by Laura Maria Censabella
Underground Railway Theater
Central Square Theater
Through May 7th
Photo by A.R. Sinclair Photography
No aspect of this play is too small to ignore. The cracks in the wall of the school science laboratory foretell cracks that will appear in the emotional walls that both characters have erected in their lives. The shards of a beaker that is broken between scenes are swept up by Dr. Royston and Yasmeen - a subtle foreshadowing of fragile dreams and relationships that may shatter as the play progresses. Ms. Cassidy and Mr. Adamson are simply brilliant in embodying the contradictions that the playwright has embedded in these these two complex and fascinating characters. I found myself caring deeply about the fate of each one very early in the play. This is a tribute to great writing, great acting, and great directing by Shana Gozansky.

As the play begins, Yasmeen is distraught over a failing grade in her latest test, ruining her dream of a perfect GPA. Dr. Royston is unsympathetic, and she is appalled to learn that he does not even know her name. As the action progresses, he discovers that she is extraordinarily bright and persistent. They collaborate on an elaborate project to study the neurological manifestations of adolescent love. We learn that each character is trying to cope after suffering deep losses within their individual families.

Here are just a few of the savory themes that Ms. Censabella places before the audience:
  • Stereotypes are challenged. Dr. Royston is a brilliant scholar, but speaks with an accent of Poor White Trash. Yasmeen is a proud Yemeni-American, yet her accent screams of the Bronx and the #4 train.
  • Love has many layers and many complications - love for family, mentors, teachers, students, love for learning and for science and for those who collaborate with you in the adventure of learning.
  • The intersection of art and science. This teacher and his student unexpectedly discover that they can quote for one another Milton and Shakespeare. They are so different, yet share the same DNA as Renaissance Man and Woman.
  • Late in the play, teacher and student cooperate in setting up the lab for the day's classes - putting out petri dishes and protective eye wear. What hints lie here? Be careful what you study, for you may be infected by the very thing you seek to examine clinically, dispassionately, and sterilely. Can one study love without being infected by it? In the right incubating conditions, plating a single organism in the right medium can grow into something complex and uncontainable. This is a wondrous and subtle metaphor that the playwright offers
  • What happens when one rejects traditional Bible belt fundamental Christianity and replaces it with a combination of atheism and belief in science as God?
  • How does belief in American individualism live in harmony with a belief in the deep sense of community and tribalism that is part of the Muslim faith and the Yemeni culture?
  • How many subtle remnants of prejudice and Islamophobia persist in someone as educated as Dr. Royston?
  • Another wonderful example of foreshadowing involves a conversation about subatomic particle that are able to influence each other's spin - even when not in the same physical space. Do what extent will Yasmeen and Dr. Royston effect each other's "spin" when they are not together?
  • How many levels of "arranged marriage" are in evidence in this story?
  • How does one make a "Sophie's Choice" - choosing to sacrifice one beloved thing for another?
A memorable and deeply moving scene features Yasmeen singing to Dr. Royston a portion of the Qu'ran that describes paradise. Ms. Cassidy's singing is lyrical, poetic, and . . . .well, heavenly.

Jenna McFarland Lord's set is perfect, as is Lighting by Karen Perlow and Sound by Nathan Leigh. Costumes are by Gail Buckley and the crucial Props are by Lisa Guild.

Do whatever you must do to get to Central Square Theater between now and May 7th. The first thing I did in leaving the theater after seeing "Paradise" was to call a friend of mine who is a Broadway producer. I told him to get to Cambridge to see this play. Save yourself a future trip to New York and see this inventive work of art while it is still in residence in our neighborhood.

Central Square Theater Website

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Moonbox Productions Presents "Barnum" - A Total Delight For Children Of All Ages - Through April 30th


The current Moonbox Production of the delightful musical "Barnum" is timely on several levels. There is a poignancy to the fact that at the end of the musical, P.T. Barnum partners with James A. Bailey to create "The Greatest Show on Earth." The circus that still bears the names of these two men, as well as that of the Ringling Brothers, is folding up its tent. Its time has come and gone, replaced by other forms of family entertainment. Barnum began his career as a showman and flimflam artist during an era of populism in America that saw the election of political outsider Andrew Jackson. So there is a political relevancy to this story of the impresario who turned alternative facts and fake news into the foundation for an entertainment empire. We are tasting our own updated version of populism run amok.

Barnum was a self-proclaimed "Prince of Humbug," a master of the hoax of the first water. He knew the mind and the heart of the American people in the middle of the 19th century, and he made himself rich on their nickels, dimes, and quarters. The artists behind this musical biography have made this version of Mr. Barnum accessible, human, and almost loveable. The music of Cy Coleman, Lyrics of Michael Stewart and Book by Mark Bramble tell of Barnum's successes and setbacks, marriage and dalliances, dreams and disappointments. Director/Choreographer Rachel Bertone assembled a cast of actors who could act, sing, and dance, and then exposed them to the tutelage of circus professionals at Esh Circus Arts to teach them the rudiments of circus skills. The result is a troupe that delights in telling a compelling story, while delighting us with juggling, acrobatics, aerial displays, feats of leger de main and solid singing and dancing.

Leading this fine cast as Phineas Taylor Barnum is Todd Yard. By the end of Act Two, he has the audience eating out of his hand. He is especially effective in the songs "Out There" and "The Prince of Humbug."  Shonna Cirone is equally memorable as Mrs. Charity Barnum, enduring her husband's schemes and occasional wandering off of the reservation with firmness and forgiveness. She and Mr. Yard shine in their duets "The Colors of My Life" and "I Like Your Style." As Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale who landed in the Barnum nest and warbled her way into P.T.'s heart, Jessica Kundla brings a gorgeous operatic voice that is shown to great effect in "Love Makes Such Fools Of Us All." Zaven Ovian is a perfect Ringmaster, and Carla Martinez is wonderful as Joice Heth, purported by Barnum to be 160 years of age, joyously cutting up in "Thank God I'm Old." Branson Gates stands tall as General Tom Thumb in "Bigger Isn't Better." The rest of this versatile troupe include Dan Prior, Allison Russell, Matthew Kossack, Andrea Lyons, Daniel Forest Sullivan, Joy Clark, and Alexa Wang. The Ensemble is particularly impressive in the production number "Black and White," featuring Mr. and Mrs. Barnum, and Carla Martinez as Blues Singer.


Cast
"Barnum"
Moonbox Productions
Calderwood Pavilion
Through April 30th
The colorful circus-themed set was designed by Cameron McEachern, Lighting by John R. Malinowski, Costumes by Marian Bertone, Sound by Brian McCoy. Musical Direction of the nine piece orchestra is by Dan Rodriguez.

There was not anyone who left the theater last evening who was not sporting a smile. So, I encourage you to "step right up and purchase your ticket." The play will run at the Calderwood Pavilion through April 30th.

Moonbox Productions Website

Enjoy!

Al

Friday, April 07, 2017

Bobbie Steinbach Shines In "Golda's Balcony" by William Gibson - New Rep Theatre


Seldom has a standing ovation been more richly deserved or more hard-earned than the one that greeted Bobbie Steinbach at the end of last evening's performance of William Gibson's powerful play, "Golda's Balcony." For 95 minutes, Golda Meir paced the levels of Jiyoung Han's minimal multi-level set, telling her story, chain smoking cigarettes as she ruminated on her remarkable life and career. The program claims that it was Bobbie Steinbach, but she so fully embodied the former Israel Prime Minister that it felt as if Meir had returned from beyond the grave to the Mosesian Center for the Arts  - much like Grandmother Tzeitel did in Tevye's dream earlier this season. The irrepressible and multi-talented Steinbach delivered a tour de force performance that illuminated the manifold message that the playwright sought to engender using the life of Mrs. Meir as a case study in the costs of leadership, passion and the cost of turning idealism into power. Judy Braha provides solid direction, enabling the actor to stay in motion, using all of the stage and keeping the audience fully engaged.

Bobbie Steinbach as Golda Meir
"Golda's Balcony" by William Gibson
New Rep Theatre
Mosesian Center for the Arts
Through April 16th
Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures

The playwright provides an unblinking look at this complex woman. This is no fawning hagiography. In her own words, Meir describes the many costs of devoting her life to creating and preserving a Jewish state. She sacrificed her marriage and time with her children. The idealist socialist ended up as a hard-as-nails negotiator on the world stage staring down Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, forcing them to provide U.S. military support against Egypt and its four neighbors that were intent on wiping out Israel.

The balcony in the play's title is actually two balconies. The first is one from which Golda was able to look down on the pacific panorama of the Eastern Mediterranean; the second was a subterranean perch from which Golda peered into the bowels of hell and Armageddon at Israel's nascent nuclear capabilities being built.

The playwright invites us to ponder three questions that have relevance to our present geopolitical dilemmas:

  • Golda Meir dreamed of a Paradise. What went wrong?
  • "To save a world you create . . . how many worlds are you entitled to destroy?
  • "What happens when idealism becomes power?"
Aiding in the telling of this powerful drama, the Director has assembled a strong creative team. In addition to Set Designer Han, very effective Lighting by John Malinowski allows several areas of the set to serve as home, office, and military installation. Costumes are by Penney Pinette, very effective Sound Design by David Wilson and dynamic Projections by Seaghan McKay.


The play will run through April 16th. You do not want to miss this production and this egregiously good performance by Ms. Steinbach. It will be well remembered during next Award Season.

New Rep Website

Enjoy! and Shalom!

Al

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Red Fern Theatre Company Presents "Rare Birds" - A Timely New Play About Bullying and Teen Suicide



Adam Szymkowicz has written a new play that addresses the epidemic of bullying that too often leads to teen suicide. In the deeply moving "Rare Birds," currently running at the 14th Street Y, Young Evan Wills (a very believable Jake Glassman) is obsessed with bird watching and collecting anything to do with birding. His bird-themed T-shirts make him the butt of many jokes in high school, and lead to escalating bullying by the duo of Mike (Dylan Guerra) and Dylan (George Colligan). They address Evan as "Bird Tits." All three of these students are mesmerized by the lovely Jenny (Joanna Fanizza), but she hardly acknowledges Evan, even though they share adjoining lockers at school. Evan's mother, Janet (Tracey Gilbert), is struggling as a single Mom and is trying to have a dating relationship with Ralph (Robert Buckwalter), but Evan does everything in his power to thwart the budding romance.

As the bullying at school increases, and turns to malicious cyber bullying, Janet is putting pressure on Evan at home to be more "normal" and to give up his obsession with birds. He comes close to suicide, provoked by Mike giving him a gun and telling him to kill himself to rid the world of a "worthless faggot." The tension mounts as Evan locks himself in his room intent on finding the courage to commit the deed.

The play opens with a foreshadowing metaphor - Mike and Dylan shooting an innocent bird that Evans finds and tries to nurse back to health. Playwright Szymkowicz has sensitively drawn each of these characters, and Director Scott Ebersold has molded this ensemble into a team that functions with passion and conviction. The overall impact is strong and sobering, getting across a message of anti-bullying without being preachy or polemical.

Dylan Guerra as Mike
George Colligan as Dylan
Jake Glassman as Evan
"Rare Birds" by Adam Szymkowicz
The Red Fern Theatre Company
14th Street Y
Through April 9

Scenic Design is by Andrew Mannion, Costumes by Izzy Fields, Lighting by Derek Van Heel, Sound and Projections by Andy Evan Cohen.

The play runs until this coming Sunday, April 9. I strongly encourage a trip to the 14th Street Y to see this fine Red Fern Theatre Company production of this powerful new work with a strong cast.

Red Fern Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al


Pearl Theatre Company Presents A Rollicking Production of "Vanity Fair" by Kate Hamill - Extended Through May 14th



Playwright Kate Hamill and Director Eric Tucker make a great team. They collaborated on last season's successful adaptation of "Sense and Sensibility." This season they tackle Ms. Hamill's dramatic and comedic adaptation of William Thackeray's classic social satire of class consciousness and social climbing, "Vanity Fair." Using a troupe of seven actors to portray a multitude of characters, Ms. Hamill and Mr. Tucker bring to this production the same special sauce of playful seriousness that has distinguished their work with Bedlam. This play is a delight for the eyes and ears and soul from start to finish.

The actors have the privilege of being supported by a visionary team of creative artists. Sandra Goldmark has designed a sumptuous and adaptable set that gives the actors free rein to move around and to interact with one another in ways that are sometimes intimate and sometimes raucous. Seth Reiser's Lighting Design allows changes in scene and tone to occur with alacrity. Original music by Carmel Dean adds a fitting underscoring.

The action revolves around two very different young women. Becky Sharp (Kate Hamill) is a charity case and indentured servant at Miss Pinkerton's School for Girls. She is determined to overcome her humble origins by any means and trickery necessary. Her only friend is the kind Amelia (Joey Parsons), goodness personified who hails from a more noble lineage than Becky. They are the best of friends  . . . until Becky's machinations turn vicious at Amelia's expense. Their lives are intertwined with a menagerie of relatives and love interests, played with gleeful extravagance by the remaining members of the cast - Zachary Fine, Brad Heberlee, Tom O'Keefe, Ryan Quinn, and Debargo Sanyal. Mr. Fine is especially memorable as Miss Matilda Crawley, and Mr. Sanyal is distinguishes himself in multiple roles, including Miss Briggs and George Osborne.

Brad Herberlee, Joey Parsons, Tom O’Keefe and Kate Hamill
"Vanity Fair" by Kate Hamill
Adapted from the novel by William Thackeray
The Pearly Theatre Company
Through May 14th
PHOTO: RUSS ROWLAND

Each character is flawed in ways that entertain and bring complexity to the shenanigans. Ms. Hamill's Becky, as written and performed by the playwright, is no heroine, but she must be admired for her grit and perseverance. Director Tucker has this cast incongruously break out into song and dance on several occasions. It is nonsensical and wonderfully appropriate for the ethos of this piece. The trio of Thackery, Hamill and Tucker collectively hold a funhouse mirror up to the hypocrisies of 19th century British society, and the reflection is not flattering.

Because of strong audience response, the run of the play has already been extended twice, with May 14 as the final announced performance. Come and enjoyed this classic reimagined.

Pearl Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al




Sunday, April 02, 2017

Take Your Pick Productions Launches With A Powerful Production of "The Little Dog Laughed" by Douglas Carter Beane - A MUST SEE - Through April 8


Like Elon Musk's SpaceX, Take Your Pick Productions is a new company that has successfully launched its first product into orbit without a hitch: the hilarious "The Little Dog Laughed." Birthed after Happy Medium Theatre shuttered its doors after a final and successful run of "Brendan," Take Your Pick Productions is helmed by Audrey Lynn Sylvia. This initial spectacular production of Douglas Carter Breane's brilliant comedy of unrequited love is a promising beginning for the new theater company.

For this initial show, Ms. Sylvia had the good sense to enlist as Director the very capable Cassandra Lovering, and chose a brilliantly written script by the gifted Mr. Beane. She wisely cast herself in a role for which she is ideally suited, and then surrounded herself with a trio of Boston's finest young actors to round out the cast. The result is a powerful and very pleasing production that you will not want to miss.

The premise of the play is that a closeted actor, Mitchell (Victor L. Shopov) is about to be catapulted to Hollywood's A list with the help of his aggressive and fast-talking agent, Diane (Audrey Lynn Sylvia). The problem is that Mitchell has a "recurring case of homosexuality," and Diane is certain that Hollywood and Mitchell's adoring fans are not ready to accept him as a gay man. Diane plots and canoodles to keep Mitchell from becoming too attached to his latest "friend," Alex (Matthew Fagerberg), who is a gay-for-pay hustler. Diane has winked at past dalliances, as long as they remained discreet, but Mitchell seems to be losing his head over young Alex, and threatens to out himself, much to Diane's chagrin. Alex's sometime girlfriend, Ellen (Aina Adler) complicates matters in a variety of ways. Each character has difficult choices to make - within themselves and with regard to their relationships with one another.

The casting is letter perfect. If Mr. Beane had been in the audience, I think he would have said something like: "This is exactly what I envisioned for each of these complex characters."

As Mitchell, Victor L. Shopov brings his usual array of theatrical weapons to the exposition of this character. He is self-assured and self-deprecating, selfish and vulnerable, seduced and seductive, faithful and faithless, and torn between a desire for fame on the one hand and true intimacy on the other hand. It does not appear that he can have both, and he is tortured by the dilemma.

As Alex, Matthew Fagerberg is both innocent and world wise - alternating between stealing from Mitchell's wallet after the actor falls asleep in a drunken stupor, and later refusing to be paid for his amorous services. Accustomed to keeping emotions in check when he services his clients, he does not know how to respond to the strange feelings that Mitchell evokes in him. It is a bravura and heart-rending performance. The sparkle in his blue eyes as he begins to fall for Mitchell has a Paul Newman quality.

As Diane, Audrey Lynn Sylvia is brash without being off-putting. She handles with finesse Mitchell, Alex, and Ellen, as well as a playwright that they are courting to turn his play into a film. Her verbal acuity and rapier wit reminded me of a bullfighter fending off bulls charging from all quarters. She has quick and agile moves to stay one step ahead of her foes.

As Ellen, Aina Adler brings a softness to this character that is touching. She loves Alex, has recently been dumped by a rich sugar daddy, but finds a way to get even with the old man. She is hurt by Alex's infatuation with Mitchell, but finds a way to survive that uses Diane's cleverness as a surprising springboard to a new life.

Ms. Lovering has these four actors humming like a well-oiled machine. Their sparks of affection, distrust, and machinations with one another are all credible and plausible. The flexible set by Marc Ewart is well conceived, as is the lighting design by Michael Clark Wonson and Sound Design by Deirdre Benson. Mikey DiLoreto is listed as Costume Coordinator, and he has each character dressed in a way that enhances their personality and unique role in this comedy.

It is always a challenge for a new theater company to build a loyal following. I encourage you to check out this stellar inaugural production. This play will make you laugh and think. There remain only four more opportunities to see this show - Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoon and evening. Get to the Black Box at the Boston Center for the Arts - and hurry . . . before the dish runs away with the spoon!

For tickets, follow this link:

Boston Theatre Scene

Enjoy!

Al

Hub Theatre Company Presents Another Winner - "Coyote On A Fence" by Bruce Graham - Through April 15th


The Hub Theatre Company continues to offer intriguing and well produced plays. The latest triumph is the riveting drama "Coyote On a Fence." Based on the stories of two actual death row inmates, this play by award-winning playwright Bruce Graham asks some difficult questions about who has the right to live and who deserves to die.

John Brennan (Mark Krawczyk) is an articulate and arrogant writer who got caught up in a deadly drug deal gone wrong. He is a controversial resident on death row because he publishes and edits a newspaper that seeks to humanize the prisoners who await death by lethal injection. He is joined in a neighboring death row cell by Bobby Reyburn (Cameron Gosselin), who has just been released from a record-breaking six-year stint in solitary confinement. He is an ignorant and militant member of the Aryan Brotherhood. He committed arson against a Black church and was responsible for the horrific death of more than a dozen church attendees. He and Brennan could not be more different - yet they face the same fate at the hands of the state.

Cameron Gosselin as Bobby Reyburn
Mark Krawczyk as John Brennan
"Coyote On A Fence" by Bruce Graham
Hub Theatre Company of Boston
Through April 15th
Photo by Tim Gurczak

Sam Fried (Robert Orzalli) is a Jewish journalist from the New York Times who has taken an interest in Brennan's case, but refuses to engage in support of Reyburn because of the inmate's virulent anti-Semitism. Shawna DuChamps (Regine Vital) is a prison guard who purports to be callous about the inmates she watches, but who must anesthetize herself against the chronic horrors of her workplace with generous doses of alcohol.

This quartet of fine actors are directed with precision by Daniel Bourque. The growing, but strained, bond between Reyburn and Brennan is portrayed with nuance and tension by Mr. Gosselin and Mr. Krawczyk. Their performances are among the most powerful and memorable of this season. Mr. Orzalli and Ms. Vital are also strong in their pivotal supporting roles.

Megan Kineen has designed a very credible death row set. Lighting by Jeremy Stein and Sound by Grant Furgiuele add to the tension and verisimilitude of the stark setting. Costumes by Nancy Ishihara serve a similar purpose.

Hub Theatre Company is know as an organization that offers each performance as a "pay what you can" arrangement. Recently, an audience member was so moved by this production that upon exiting the theater, he wrote a check for a substantial amount. It was a generous and appropriate response to this gripping play and its multi-layered message about the value of life in the face of death. It was an appropriate gesture because Hub Theatre Company continues to make a substantial contribution to the arts scene here in Boston.

This play will run through April 15th. The house was full last evening, so you may want to go on-line now to reserve your place. I am not "on the fence" about this show: I loved it! I think you will, too.

Hub Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al