Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review of "The Girl from Berlin" by Ronald H. Balson - A Compelling Tale of the Aftermath of the Holocaust


Ronald H. Balson knows how to craft a compelling historical novel. In "The Girl from Berlin" he examines the insidious practices of the Nazis in trying to capitalize on valuable properties that were confiscated from Jews and other Holocaust victims. In this masterful tale. Octogenarian Gabi is in danger of having her villa, Villa Vincenzo, taken over by the corporation that controls all of the surrounding Tuscan vineyards. A local court has ruled that VinCo holds a valid deed to the property. Gabi has only a few weeks to vacate the property that she has called home her whole life. Three local attorneys have failed to help her find a way to prove her legitimate ownership of the property.

A distant cousin in America promises to help, sending his friends, Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggert to Italy to try to pull the fat out of the fire. Catherine uses her skills as an attorney and Liam employs his bag of tricks as a private investigator to get to the heart of the complex conspiracy that has been promulgated against Gabi.

The story unwinds as Catherine and Liam read a diary that Gabi has told them they must read. It was written by Ada Baumgarten, daughter of the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. Ada, a gifted violinist in her own right, writes of her struggles as a young woman and a Jew in the escalating tensions in Nazi Germany. Embedded within her tale, a microcosm of Hitler's Final Solution, are clues to the provenance of Villa Vicenzo.

The novel is brilliantly written, with each character limned with bold strokes. We come to care about both Ada and Gabi, and wonder right up until the denouement how their stories are connected. It is a virtuoso performance by a gifted writer.

Enjoy!

Al

Review of Pathogen Protocol" by Darren D. Beyer - Second Installment of the Anghazi Series


Author Darren D, Beyer spent ten years working with NASA on the Space Shuttle program. He draws on broad technical knowledge, as well as a childlike sense of wonder, in crafting a fascinating series of books about a galactic war for scarce resources. "Pathogen Protocol" is the second in his Anghazi series.

Mandi is the intrepid daughter of a mother who is a legend in the space exploration community, having perfected techniques that make interstellar travel possible, utilizing something called The Casimir Bridge. Mandi and her cohorts, Jans and Grae are fighting against Gregory Andrews, who has taken over part of the monopolistic Applied Interstellar Corporation (AIC). At stake is the limited supply of the rare element that enables interstellar travel. The action of this thriller is spread among a dizzying array of planets, moons, space stations, and space craft.

Author Beyer has crafted a gut-wrenching chronicle of escalating conflicts that move at close to the speed of light. Mandi and her allies are fighting against the considerable resources controlled by the Machiavellian Gregory Andrews. There are a number of battles, some land-based and others in orbit. Romance is in the air - or in the vacuum of space - as Mandi stresses over the status and health of Grae, who has been in mortal danger on more than one occasion. The stakes are high - nothing less than the future survival of humanity.

Enjoy!

Al

"Evil Winds" by Dr. Michael Shusko - A Compelling Look At Suffering In Darfur


Author Michael Shusko brings his protean skills and diverse background to bear in crafting a story that is both enlightening and heart-rending. Most Americans are aware that thousands of men, women, and children in Darfur suffered mightily under the reign of terror that spilled over the border with Sudan, compounded by violence perpetrated by competing warlords. Most of us had no idea what the scope of that suffering was, or what it felt like at an individual,family, and village level. Shusko's compelling story shines a bright light on the plight of Darfur refugees through the lens of the misadventures of reporter Angie Bryant and NGO physician/CIA operative Jason Russo. They meet in the hospital of a refugee camp, and find themselves ensnared in an escalating web of violence and danger as warlords find their inquiries into war crimes to be threatening. Whole villages are annihilated, the men murdered, the women raped, and the girls taken as pawns in a complex human trafficking enterprise.

Dr. Shusko has degrees in medicine and public health, and has served as a US Navy and US Marine Corps officer. His work with the intelligence communities and with medical missions allows him to paint a vivid and detailed picture of the suffering of those in Darfur. His brilliant writing engages the mind and imagination of the reader. It also compels us to ask the question: "What took the international community so long to respond with appropriate levels of help?"

"Evil Winds" is a breath of fresh air by this gifted writer and committed change agent.

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"Defying Gravity" - Second Edition by Carol de Giere - This Book Has Been Changed . . . For Good!



In 2008, Carol de Giere released the fascinating chronicle of the creative career of composer Stephen Schwartz. My review of that first edition can be found here.

Blog Review of First Edition of "Defying Gravity"

In the intervening ten years, Mr. Schwartz has continued relentlessly creating new works of art and tweaking a number of his earlier projects. So, Ms.de Giere and her publisher have made the wise decision to issue a second edition of this book, adding four new chapters and an insightful Foreword by longtime Schwartz collaborator, Alan Menken.

The first of the four additional chapters covers the worldwide expansion of the hugely successful "Wicked," The next chapter deals with adapting the movie musicals "The Prince of Egypt" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" into productions for the stage. The next chapter examines his growing body of work with Hollywood, with the release of "Enchanted," and several projects still in the pipeline, including a film version of "Wicked," Finally, a potpourri of recent projects, including the Tony Award winning revision and revival of "Pippin," a new production of "Rags," writing musicals for the cruise industry, and many other projects and collaborations.

This new version of what had been an already an impactful book offers deeper and wider insights into the creative mind of Stephen Schwartz. The new edition is one that Schwartz fans will want to pick up. And if you are not already a fan of this man with protean talents, reading this book will make you want to go out and get tickets to all of his works. Alan Menken offers a unique perspective in his Foreword on what it is like to collaborate with Mr. Schwartz.

As she did in the original edition, the author has captured not only the genius of the man, but his spirit, as well. The book would make a great holiday gift for any lover of musicals.

Enjoy!

Al

"The Field" by Ian Dawson - Art Imitates Life In A Story of Abduction and Rescue


In "The Field," Ian Dawson digs deep into his boyhood memories to craft a page turner about an adolescent who is abducted and tortured by two older teenagers. Daniel Robinson and his best friend, Kyle, have claimed for themselves an empty field near their homes as their own private kingdom to be explored during their free time. In a misguided choice to get in a quick visit to a special part of their field to play a game of hide and seek, Daniel finds himself isolated from Kyle and is defenseless against the older and larger boys. They take him to their lair where they have already imprisoned a younger boy. The sociopath, Austin, has bullied and enslaved the weaker James to serve as his accomplice. The mayhem they have in mid for Daniel and young Colby is terrifying. Kyle is determined to find his missing friend and do whatever it takes to return him to safety. The resulting action is non-stop and fascinating.

Along the way, as he develops the compelling narrative, the author explores many themes that will resonate with young readers: bullying, the awkwardness of puberty and raging hormone, young love, the difference between true friendship and obsession. Mr. Dawson perfectly captures the voice and the emotional state of the typical middle school student looking to figure out who he is and what his place in the world should be.

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Playwrights Horizons Presents the World Premiere of "The Thanksgiving Play" by Larissa FastHorse

"The Thanksgiving Play" cast
by Larissa FastHorse
Playwrights Horizons
Through November 25th

Playwrights Horizons has a long and rich history of developing new plays and encouraging new playwrights. That tradition continues with the current production of "The Thanksgiving Play" written by Lakota tribe member Larissa FastHorse. For many in the cast and crew of this play, this is their first experience collaborating with a Native American. She uses "reduction ad absurdum" in skewering the traditions of Thanksgiving celebrations, and misguided "White guilt" efforts at being "Woke" in trying to swing the cultural pendulum in a non-paternalistic direction. The result is a madcap scramble among four characters who struggle to craft a middle school play for the annual Thanksgiving assembly. Ms. FastHorse uses fire to fight fire - utilizing hilariously absurd stereotypes to throw a glaring spotlight onto many of our societal stereotypes - the white liberal academic, the Hollywood bimbo, the zen-infused couple whose "decoupling ritual" is hilarious.

This four-hander is perfectly cast. Jennifer Bareilles is wonderfully uptight as Logan, the militantly vegan play's director who agonizes over crafting a play that covers all of the bases and satisfies all of the sensibilities of the funders who have written grants for this production. Her partner in life is the street performer, Jaxton, played wonderfully by Greg Keller. Greg is into Eastern religion, meditation, and is smitten with the buxom Hollywood actress, Alicia, who has been hired in the mistaken belief that she is Native American. Margo Seibert is wonderfully ditsy as the very blonde Alicia. Equally besotted with Alicia's charms is Caden, played with low key brilliance by Jeffrey Bean. Caden holds a Ph. D. in history, but is underemployed teaching at the elementary level. He sees helping to write and present this play as his big breakthrough. The audience on the evening that I saw the play was heavily weighted with theater people, and Caden's line about the disrespect accorded dramaturgy got the biggest laugh of the night.

Greg Keller as Jaxton, Jennifer Bareilles as Logan
Jeffrey Bean as Caden, Margo Seibert as Alicia
"The Thanksgiving Play"
by Larissa FastHorse
Playwrights Horizons
Through November 25th

Like a visual artist who makes creative use of negative space, Ms. FastHorse uses the absence of any real Native American characters or voices in this play to highlight the chronic invisibility of Native Americans in the American dialogue about race, genocide, and broken treaties and promises. This sardonically comedic play offers laughs that cause us to also pause and think about the past, and our responsibility to learn from it.

Moritz von Stuelpnagel deftly balances the elements and actors of this play. Scenic Design is by Wilson Chin, Costumes by Tilly Grimes, Lighting by Isabella Byrd, Sound by Mikaal Sulaiman.
The play runs through November 25th at Playwrights Horizons, 416 42nd Street.

Enjoy!

Al

Premieres Presents "Inner Voices" - A Musical Theater Trilogy In One Evening - A Must See!


Every two years, Premieres produces "Inner Voices," three new one act musicals for solo performer. This year's three choices for "Inner Voices" are each extraordinary, both in terms of writing and performing. Taken together, they function as a triptych, each panel telling its own story while echoing themes from the adjoining works of art.

Let's begin by discussing the middle piece, "Costume," with extraordinary Words and Music by Daniel Zaitchik and Directed by Noah Himmelstein.  Deborah Abramson provides Musical Direction with Patti Kilroy and Ludovica Burtone on violin. Young Finn Douglas is simply transcendent portraying an 11 year-old on Halloween Eve in 1954. The action centers on lonely Leo, feeling sad that this year he has no Halloween costume because his mother is locked in her bedroom amidst one of her many frequent "spells" of depression. He is enlisted by a neighbor to help to nurse back to health a wounded pigeon who has landed on the neighbor's lawn. Leo voices the fact that he feels that he is "not the right man for the job." We later learn the complex reasons why he feels this way. The metaphor is obvious and powerful; Leo and his mother are both wounded birds, living with the aftermath and emptiness of Leo's father never returning from WWII. Finn Douglas takes us through a wide arc of emotions as he ponders the difference between a "Good quiet" and a "Bad quiet." The actor's stage presence and ability to handle the burden of memorizing and flawlessly delivering a large volume of material is precocious and impressive. Two of the emotional high points of this beautifully rendered piece are the moment when the healed bird flies out of the open window, never to return, and the moment when Leo improvises a personally thematic Halloween costume.

Finn Douglas in "The Costume"
"Inner Voices" by Premieres
at TBG Mainstage Theatre
Photo by Russ Rowland

The opening musical is "Window Treatment," with Words by Deborah Zoe Laufer and Music by Daniel Green, Directed by Portia Krieger and Musical Direction is by Paul Masse with Brandon Wong on vibraphone. Farah Alvin plays a physician whose dysfunctional emotional universe is limited to her fantasizing about a relationship with the man across the apartment-house courtyard in Apartment 4G. The desperation that Ms. Alvin portrays is palpable as she peers through her binoculars wondering why her fantasy paramour has broken his predictable pattern of arriving home at precisely the same time. She is broken-hearted when she spies out the reason why he went shopping on his way home. Seldom have OCD and stalking been written about and acted more hilariously.

Farah Alvin in "Window Treatment"
"Inner Voices" by Premieres
at TBG Mainstage Theatre
Photo by Russ Rowland

The final piece of the puzzle is "Scaffolding," with Words and Music by Jeff Blumenkrantz, Directed by Victoria  Clark and Musical Direction by Benji Goldsmith with Yari Bond on Cello. Rebecca portrays a single mother teacher returning exhausted from her harrowing commute after another day in the classroom. She is stressing out over helping her brilliant son get into MIT. We learn that he is on the autism spectrum, but she has not made him aware of being on the spectrum. She has been supporting him - "Scaffolding" him - to compensate for his social awkwardness. Her misguided efforts at being a helicopter Mom have devastating consequences as his MIT interview ends in disastrous paralysis. Our hearts break along with Mom's as her wounded bird flies out of the window, apparently never to return.


Rebacca Luker in "Scaffolding"
"Inner Voices" by Premieres
at TBG Mainstage Theatre
Photo by Russ Rowland
Premieres' Producing Artistic Director Paulette Haupt has woven together the individual voices of three play-writing teams, and has found a way to harmonize them with one another to sing about loneliness as experienced by individuals from three generations. The result is one of the most moving and satisfying evenings of theater I have experienced this season. This production is a MUST SEE, running at the TBG Mainstage Theatre on 312 W. 36th Street through November 17th.

Enjoy!

Al

Thursday, October 11, 2018

York Theatre Presents "Midnight At The Never Get" - An Intimate Cabaret That Links the 1960s and Eternity


Mark Sonnenblick has spent the past several years developing an intimate cabaret show that is now featured at the York Theatre through November 4th. He has written the Book, Music and Lyrics for the show that takes audiences back to the days just before and after the Stonewall riots, when gay clubs were illegal and underground. We follow Trevor Copeland as he waits in a place outside of time and space for the arrival of his erstwhile pianist, songwriter and lover to join him in this version of eternity. There is a bit of "Waiting for Godot" in this piece. While he waits, Trevor regales us with songs that tell the story of his life, his love, and his beloved cabaret in the Village - "The Never Get."

As we learn of the arc of the relationship between Trevor and his Pianist, we are reminded that because of the legal and societal pressures on the gay community in those challenging days, living "in the closet" complicated many lives and relationships. There is also an acknowledgement that not everyone in the gay community supported the "Freaks" who were protesting in the streets, The gay community was far from homogeneous or monolithic.

Jeremy Cohen and Sam Bolen
"Midnight at the Never Get"
by Mark Sonnenblick
York Theatre
Through November 4th

The variety of musical styles kept the evening interesting with torch songs, Gershwinesque ballads, and the wickedly ironic "My Boy In Blue." Mr. Bolen's vocal range handled the full spectrum of styles, and he and Mr. Cohen blended seamlessly throughout the show.

Woven into the fabric of the songs and the narrative are grim reminders of how precarious life could be for a gay man in NYC in the '60s. The shadows of police harassment, arrest, the incipient AIDS crisis are all fodder for Trevor's patter and songs. Sam Bolen carries the weight of the show as Trevor. His easy charm and mellifluous voice hold us in thrall as the evening unwinds. As his Pianist, Jeremy Cohen provides a nice balance, occasionally leaving the piano to interact with Trevor.

Jeremy Cohen and Sam Bolen
"Midnight at the Never Get"
by Mark Sonnenblick
York Theatre
Through November 4th

This piece is Directed by Max Friedman, with Choreography by Andrew Palermo, Musical Direction by Adam Podd. Scenic Design is by Christopher Swader and Justin Swader, Costumes by Vanessa Leuck, Lighting by Jamie Roderick, Sound by Kevin Heard.

Musically, they are backed up by Josh Bailey on Drums, Nick Grinder on Trombone, Brian Krock on Sax/Clarinet/Flute, David Neves on Trumpet, and Robert Pawlings on Bass.

This delightful and thought-provoking cabaret show runs through November 4th at the York Theater at St. Peter's. Don't miss it.

Enjoy!

Al


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"Review of "Plumbelly" by Gary S. Maynard - First time author takes us on a voyage through the rough seas of fleeing dysfunctional families


There are many things I love about this novel, a debut by author Gary S. Maynard. Drawing from a deep well of personal experiences sailing around the world with his family, he weaves a fascinating coming of age account of three teenagers who flee their dysfunctional families and set sail in the salvaged sloop "Plumbelly" to parts unknown in the South Pacific. Maynard limns his characters in such a way that I cared about the fate of each of them - even the unlikable ones.

Maynard's style and voice are reminiscent of Joseph Conrad. His love and intricate knowledge of the sea and of sailing jump off of each page. He uses precise nautical terms to invite the reader aboard the sloop and into the adventures and challenges faced by Gabe, Tanya, and Lloyd. We watch them grow in their relationships with each other and with the daunting environment they have brave. The seas they sail are rough indeed, literally and figuratively. And Maynard draws us along, as we eagerly anticipate every tack and rogue wave that may await this trio of intrepid young sailors.

I look forward to more adventure stories from this promising author.

Enjoy!

Al

Friday, September 07, 2018

Boston Ballet Opens Its Season With A Dual Tribute To Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins - "Genius At Play"

Isaac Akiba in "Fancy Free"
Boston Ballet
"Genius At Play"
Boston Opera House
Through September 16th
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor; Courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet
kicked off its 2018-2019 season last evening in crowd-pleasing fashion with "Genius At Play" - a tribute to the centennial of the birth of both composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

The evening began with the Boston Ballet orchestra, under the baton of Beatrice Jona Affron, offering up Bernstein's Overture to "Candide."  When the curtain rose, the spotlight fell on the choreography of Jerome Robbins. "Interplay" featured eight dancers - four male and four female - at play with the music of Morton Gould anchoring their movements and interactions. Gould's music had a jazzy, playful, and almost Gershwinesque feel. When the piece premiered in New York in 1945, it was unique in not being driven by a story or programme. Robbins wanted the piece to stand alone as a celebration of the joy that dancers feel  in exploring with one another the limits of their art form. Hannah Bettes, Ji Young Chae, Emily Entingh, Seo Hye Han, Derek Dunn, Patrick Palkens, Patrick Yocum, and Jungxiong Zhao certainly embodied Robbins' vision for this piece. Their dancing was both playful and joyful. The playfulness extended to the staging, for during part of the piece, some dancers were spotlighted while others reposed in silhouette, and one dancer reclined downstage, perhaps suggesting that the vignette was a dream sequence.

Boston Ballet
"Interplay"
Boston Opera House
Through September 16th
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor; Courtesy of Boston Ballet

Costume Design was by Santo Loquasto. Les Dickert recreated the original Lighting Design of Jennifer Tipton, and Staging was by Freda Locker.

Following Intermission, the program featured "Fancy Free," the first collaboration between Robbins and Bernstein. The piece premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC in 1944, in the midst of WWII, and features three sailors enjoying shore leave. The three buddies are on the town looking for drink and women. This piece became the seed from which grew the musical "On The Town," which recently enjoyed a successful Broadway revival. Each of the sailors, Patric Palkens, Isaac Akiba, and Paul Craig, have an opportunity to demonstrate their unique style and personality as they one-by-one dance solo to try to impress the audience of the two women who have happened by the bar. Coquettish Kathleen Breen Combes, Maria Alvarez, and later Dawn Atkins play hard to get, and jealousy among the three sailors breaks out briefly.

"Fancy Free"
Boston Ballet
"Genius At Play"
Boston Opera House
Through September 16th
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor; Courtesy of Boston Ballet

Scenic Design is by Oliver Smith, Scenic Supervision by Rosaria Sinisi, Costume Design by Kermit Love, and Les Dickert recreated the original Lighting Design of Ronald Bates. Staging is by Jean-Pierre Frohlich.

The final piece of the evening jumped ahead almost forty years in the career of Robbins, and featured his collaboration with Philip Glass. "Glass Pieces" featured the full corps de ballet and eight soloists. Chyrstyn Fentroy, Rachel Buriassi, MariaBaranova, Roddy Doble, DrewNelson, and Lawrence Rines were featured in "Rubric." This piece had its World Premiere in 1983 by the New York City Ballet. This is the Boston Ballet Premiere for this number. The six soloists in "Rubric" danced in ever-changing  pairings of dancers in brief pas de deux as the corps dancers processed on and off the stage as if they were commuters at rush hour. It was an arresting picture of intimacy amidst the sterile anonymity of the busy city.

In "Facades," the effect of silhouette was used again as dancers lined the upstage wall while Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais executed an extended pas de deux to the pulsating rhythms of Glass's distinctive music. The ever-luminous Ciro and always impressive Arrais are two anchors of this dance company that have delighted Boston audiences since 2004 and 2010 respectively. Last evening they did not disappoint, engendering rousing applause from the audience for their stylized interpretations of Glass/Robbins.

Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais
"Glass Pieces - Facades"
Boston Ballet
"Genius At Play"
Boston Opera House
Through September 16th
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor; Courtesy of Boston Ballet

The final installment of "Glass Pieces" featured the entire corps energized by the increasingly up tempo strains of music from Glass's opera "Akhnaten," It was an exhilarating ending to a memorable evening.

Original Scenic Design was by Robbins and Ronald Bates, Original Costume Design by Ben Benson, Jennifer Tipton recreated the original Lighting Design of Les Dickert, and Staging was by Bart Cook.

"Genius At Play" will run at the Boston Opera House through September 16th. Don't miss out.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Review of "Leonardo Da Vinci" by Walter Isaacson - An insightful glimpse into the mind and life of the prototypical Renaissance Man



Before I opened the cover of Walter Isaacson's "Leonardo Da Vinci," I thought I was reasonably knowledgeable about the Renaissance and its artists. Yet as I journeyed through the 500 + pages of this fascinating biography, each chapter offered new vistas and levels of understanding into the unique genius of the prototypical Renaissance Man - his life, his research, his artistry.

A common thread that runs through the book is Isaacson's conviction that Da Vinci's penchant for not finishing projects- even commissions for which he had been paid - is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, he shows Leonardo as a flawed human being, not a god of extraordinary genius. On the other hand, he theorizes that it was the artist's perfectionism that prompted him to hang to works of art sometimes for decades, adding small modifications as his growing corpus of scientific research informed his artistic sensibilities and techniques. This was true of his growing awareness of the physiology of how light and shadow interact with the human eye.

As the narrative unfolds, the author intertwines insights into Leonardo's personal relationships, and how they may have impacted his work and career. We are offered views of the ruling Borgias and Medicis, Pope Leo X, King Francis I of France, writer and diplomat Machiavelli, and a stream of young assistants and lovers. These young associates both supported the artist in his work and his personal life, and drained him financially and emotionally. The most important of these young men was the impish Salai, whose relationship with Leonardo lasted for decades, beginning in 1490 when Salai was 10 years old. He evolved into Leonardo’s model, most trusted confidant, lover, ad surrogate son. Late in Da Vinci’s life, Salai’s role was evidently supplanted by younger associates, Melzi and Battista.

Another mixed blessing that the author points out was Da Vinci’s position as the bastard son of Piero, who was involved in Leonardo’s life, but never legitimized him. This fact meant that Leonardo was not eligible to follow the family profession of notary, nor to receive the classical education that most young sons of the Florence nobility and the merchant class received. This meant that Leonardo was forced – or enabled – to learn from experience and personal observation, rather than accept at face value the received knowledge that his peers were taught. He was free to explore new ways of seeing the world and thinking about the meaning. “Why is the sky blue?” “What is the anatomy of the woodpecker’s tongue?”

No matter the depth of one’s knowledge of the Renaissance, I guarantee that reading Isaacson’s masterpiece study of Leonardo and his era will lead to new levels of understanding and inspiration.

Enjoy!

Al

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

"Grant" by Ron Chernow - A Treasure Trove of Information and Insight


Like many readers, I became familiar with the work of Ron Chernow through the back door - through his association with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway musical "Hamilton." That revolutionary work of art is, of course, based on Chernow's excellent biography of Alexander Hamilton. Having seen the musical, I was prompted to go to the source and read the book. I was not disappointed. Chernow is unique among historians in that he combines meticulous research and scholarship with an engaging narrative style that draws the reader into the lives of the persons being described. Having enjoyed the Hamilton biography, I was eager to dive into "Grant." Chernow is consistent, for the same accolades I gave to "Hamilton" can be applied to "Grant."

I learned a great deal about Grant, about the Civil War, about Reconstruction, and the struggles of America to knit itself back together after the bloody War Between The States. Grant emerges in this book as a complex figure. He was a reluctant West Point cadet, a failed businessman, a frustrated junior officer, a brilliant strategist as a general, a passionate defender of former slaves, and a naive judge of character who was perpetually fooled and bamboozled by those he trusted too long and too deeply. Chernow addresses the issues of Grant's reputation as a heavy drinker, and gives praise to Mrs. Grant and General John Rawlins, Grant's personal conscience and Jiminy Cricket, for keeping him mostly sober during the Civil War and during his White House years.

Even for someone familiar with this turbulent period in American history, this book will prove instructive and illuminating.

Enjoy!

Al

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Review of "Insight Pitch" by Skip Lockwood - One of the best baseball books I have ever read - chock full of insight and intrigue


"Insight Pitch" is one of the finest baseball books I have ever read - and I have read plenty of them. Former Mets closer Skip Lockwood brings an unusual literary sensibility to the task of inviting the reader inside the mind of a major league pitcher, and ushering the reader onto the mound as Skip faces tough opponents hovering at home plate. His use of metaphor in describing baseball situations adds a depth of expression and style that is a rarity among sports books. The author wields language with the same finesse that was the hallmark of his years as a closer in having pinpoint control over where the baseball would go when it left his hand.

The saga begins with Skip's halcyon days growing up in Norwood, Massachusetts, and starring for Catholic Memorial High School's baseball team. He shares a fascinating account of the day when the representatives of five MLB teams made the pilgrimage to the Lockwood home in an attempt to sign the young baseball phenom to a professional contract as a "Bonus Baby." Skip's parents decided to leave the room while Skip was negotiating with the scout from the Kansas City Athletics. The account of how young Skip handled that negotiation is one of the most fascinating and insightful chapters of the book.

After struggling for several years in the minor leagues - unable to hit a professional curve ball with any consistency - Skip took the advice of those in the Athletics organization who had invested in him, and turned himself into a pitcher. He pitched for several teams, most notably the Mets. He finished his injury-plagued career signing as the first free agent inked by the Boston Red Sox.

Mr. Lockwood's intelligence is on full display as he shares deeply held convictions and astute observations about the game of baseball and the role it has played in his life. He earned an MBA from MIT as a Sloan Fellow. He shares in great detail the techniques he developed for visualizing a game and an encounter with a batter before they would ever happen in real time. He would visualize the situation once as if he were viewing it dispassionately from the stands. But then he would also visualize the same situation as if he were peering through his eyes from the pitcher's mound. That dual approach is exactly what Skip Lockwood the author offers to his readers here. We get to observe, as if in the stands, the life of a successful ballplayer. But we also get to see, hear, and feel what it was like inside his mind and heart as some of the ups and downs of his career played themselves out. The result is a thoroughly engaging and instructive window into America's game. Along the way, we get to experience Skip's encounters with the likes of Satchel Paige, Yogi Berra, Tom Seaver, and many other familiar baseball names.

The book is chock full of deep insights into baseball, handling both success and disappointment, balancing pursuit of excellence with a realistic assessment of strengths and weaknesses. If you love baseball, you will not want to miss reading this book. If you are lukewarm about baseball, reading this book may turn up the heat, and you may never watch a baseball game the same way ever again.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

A Fitting Tribute To My Brother, David. L. Chase - 4/2/53 - 3/25/18

Dave and Phoebe Chase

Here is the full obituary notice for my brother, which contains a link to a gorgeous memorial video that wonderfully encapsulates Dave’s rich and full 65 years of a life well spent.

Details about services and memorial contributions are contained within.

I am heading back to Lynchburg, VA to lead the family and friends in a memorial service this Sunday evening.

Thank you for all of your loving expressions of support to me and the family.

Linked To Memorial Page

A Belated Commentary On A Triple Miracle Day

 Jacob Athyal and Harsh J. Gagoomal 
"Guards at the Taj" by Rajiv Joseph
Presented by Underground Railway Theater
Photo by Allan Sinclair

Wednesday two weeks ago was a day of Triple Miracles for me. I had planned to post this article and two reviews of the shows I saw, but those plans were overtaken by events. As many of you know, I received news of the sudden death of my brother while he and his wife were on a cruise in the Bahamas. Much of the past week and a half has been spent with the family in Virginia, so the reviews remain unwritten. But I wanted to acknowledge, at this late date, the two extraordinary plays that I saw on that day.

Miracle #1 - The much vaunted 4th Nor'easter of March delayed its entrance onto the Boston stage for about 12 hours, so that I was able to attend both a matinee and an evening performance of two plays I have been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to see.

Miracle #2 - The afternoon performance of the riveting the Huntington Theatre Company's "Skeleton Crew." The cast of Patricia R. Floyd, Jonathan Louis Dent, Toccara Cash, and Maurice Emmanuel Parent were outstanding in bringing us inside the minds and hearts of four Detroit residents whose jobs at an auto assembly plant are in jeopardy, and their lives are in chaos.

Jonathan Louis Dent, Toccarra Cash, Patricia R. Floyd, and Maurice E. Parent
in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Skeleton Crew
Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

Miracle #3 - The gripping drama "Guards at the Taj" Presented by Underground Railway Theater. Jacob Athyal and Harsh J. Gagoomal were memorable as childhood friends who grew to be guards at the public opening of the Taj Mahal. The play, written by Rajiv Joseph, is a deep philosophical reflection on the nature of beauty, especially when juxtaposed with mayhem and gore.

Harsh J. Gagoomal and  Jacob Athyal
"Guards at the Taj" by Rajiv Joseph
Presented by Underground Railway Theater
Photo by Allan Sinclair

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Greater Boston Stage Company Enchants With "The Irish And How They Got That Way" - Through March 25th


Sure and begorrah, 'tis a fine way to be spendin' an evenin' bein' enchanted by "The Irish And How They Got That Way" now running at The Boston Stage Company in Stoneham. Make your way to Stoneham Square between now  and March 25th to soak up the atmosphere of this celebration of Irish heritage in America.

Noted Irish American author Frank McCourt has put together this revue that combines stories and Irish music that goes back to traditional ballads from the Old Sod all the way to a familiar tune by U2 and Bono.

Director Dawn M. Simmons has assembled a very talented sextet of actors/musicians who not only regale us with tales and quips, but play instruments to accompany their singing. William Gardiner, Nile Hawver, Michael Levesque, Kirsten Salpini, Nicole Vander Laan, and Ceit Zweil each have their moments to shine individually, but it was their ensemble singing that I found most moving, especially with such songs as "Erie Canal," Danny Boy," and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

Michael Levesque, Nicole Vander Laan, Kirsten Salpini, William Gardiner*, and Ceit Zweil*
"The Irish And How They Got That Way"
by Frank McCourt
Greater Boston Stage Company
Through March 25th

Scenic Design is by Shelley Barish, Costumes by Brittany Rolfs, Lighting by Karen Perlow, Sound Design by John Stone.

Sitting behind me were a couple whom I surmise may have been of Irish heritage, for they quietly sang along with some of the old ballads. One need not be Irish to be entertained and beguiled by this revue. This afternoon's matinee was a sellout, so I would not hesitate to book your tickets now.

William Gardiner*, Ceit Zweil*, Nile Hawver*, Michael Levesque, Kirsten Salpini, and Nicole Vander Laan"The Irish And How They Got That Way"
by Frank McCourt
Greater Boston Stage Company
Through March 25th
Greater Boston Stage Website

Enjoy! Erin Go Bragh

Al



by Frank McCourt
Original musical arrangements by Rusty Magee
Additional musical arrangements by Kirsten Salpini

The Irish And How They Got That Way is presented by special arrangement withThe Irish Repertory Theatre Company, Inc. 
Directed by Dawn M. Simmons
Music Direction by Kirsten Salpini

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents "Every Brilliant Thing" by Duncan MacMillan - Featuring The Amazing Adrianne Krstansky


Every time I have seen Adrianne Krstansky on stage, I have marveled at the multi-faceted talents she brings to her craft and her art. In the deeply immersive, audience-participation One Act play that is "Every Brilliant Things," she leads us on a journey that is both sobering and inspiring. She portrays a woman whose mother was bipolar and suicidal. We get to hear about how a 7 year-old girl feels when she learns that her mother has been hospitalized because she can find no more reasons to live. And we follow her journey through college, courtship, early adulthood, her own bouts with depression, the dissolution of her marriage to Sam, and the eventual death by suicide of her mother. The thread that ties everything together, and that enlists audience members, is a list of "Brilliant Things" that the little girl began to accumulate when she was 7. #1: Ice Cream!

The list was her attempt to nudge her depressed mother into a place of positivity. That tactic did not work for her mother, but it provided the girl growing into womanhood with a lifeline of hope and affirmation of all the reasons she had to be alive. Playwright Duncan MacMillan, along with Jonny Donahue, developed this play from a short story he had written. Under the Direction of Marianna Bassham, Ms. Krstansky is a master story teller, careening around the corners of the Roberts Studio at the Calderwood Pavilion, engaging with audience members, weaving them into the saga and having them shout out items from the list of Brilliant Things.

Adrianne Krstansky
"Every Brilliant Thing"
by Duncan MacMillan with Jonny Donahoe
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
Through March 31st
Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

While frankly dealing with issues of mental illness, depression and suicide, this invigorating evening of theater is life-affirming in some very creative ways. Music plays an important role in remembering important milestones with her mother, father, Sam, and other key figures in her life. Scenic and Lighting Design is by Eric Levenson, Costume Design by Amanda Ostrow Mason, Sound Design by Abby Shenker.

Adrianne Krstansky
"Every Brilliant Thing"
by Duncan MacMillan with Jonny Donahoe
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
Through March 31st
Photo by Maggie Hall Photography


Audience members were encouraged to write Post-it notes at the end of the play to express their own personal "Brilliant Thing." This was mine: "That feeling sitting in the theatre when the lights dim and the orchestra strikes up the opening chords of a familiar Overture."

The play runs through March 31st.

SpeakEasy Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review of "Political Justice" by Dennis Carstens - A Marc Kadella Legal Mystery


"Political Justice" by Dennis Carstens is part of the author's Marc Kadella Legal Mystery Series. In this installment, the action follows a Machiavellian Presidential candidate whose randy desires led him into murky waters, and a plot to frame a naive young aide for the death of a young girl whom the candidate had bedded. The candidate's complicit wife takes advantage of the situation to boost her own ambitions. Attorney Marc Kadella is called upon to find justice for the innocent young man who has been framed. Complex plot twists and memorable characters make this a good read.

We see a sordid side of life in the underbelly of Washington political life that is all the more plausible given the undrained swap we all now observe in our nation's capital. Think "House of Cards" meets the Land of Trump, and you will have a feel for the craven ambiance of this novel's landscape.

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents "Steve" by Mark Gerrard - A Riveting Tragicomedy - Through March 24


Mark Gerrard's playwright voice sounds a bit like Terrence McNally with his acerbic wit. In Gerrard's tragicomedy "Steve," we met two gay couples who have been together for some time and the once red hot passion has cooled to a tepid state. Stephen (Alex Jacobs) and Steven (Victor Shopov) have an adopted son, Zach. Things are not going well. Zach seems to be a kleptomaniac with a speech impediment. Stephen supports the household as a lawyer, while former chorus boy and dancer Steven is a stay-at-home Mom to Zach. Steven has discovered on Stephen's iPhone that he has been sexting with their friend, Brian (Mike Nilsson), who is in a long term relationship with Matt (Mikey DiLoreto). Matt and Steven  used to wait tables and sing with Carrie (Jenny Reagan). Carrie is a listing ear for Steven, but she has just broken up with her girlfriend, and she has a terminal disease. Steven remains in denial.

Issues of infidelity, the inevitable fading of physical beauty and attractiveness, the nature of friendship, monogamy, and death are all explored with great care and cleverness by Mr. Gerrard, and acted out superbly by this strong ensemble - a sextet, if you will. Director David J. Miller skillfully directs the pace of this show that runs for 75 minutes in one act.The timing of the dialogue is crucial, for the playwright writes as people talk - stepping on one another's lines, interrupting each other mid sentence, and finishing one another's thoughts. In the case of Steven, Carrie, and Matt, they pepper each paragraph with Broadway musical allusions. I counted close to 100 of them as they went zinging past me. These quips and quotes from show tunes not only punctuate the conversations, they serve as the oxygen that these people breath, and function as a life line that keeps them from drifting away with the outgoing tide of approaching middle age and decrepitude. Matt and Brian try to hold the inevitable at bay by engaging Trainer Steve at their gym. Trainer Steve soon becomes part of their household and a third party to their relationship. In the meantime, Stephen and Steve cannot seem to get over the contretemps of the sexting episode, and things are falling apart as Carrie slips away. Then there is the handsome Argentine waiter, Esteban (Adam Boiselle), with whom Steven is smitten. Estaban is ubiquitous, offering distraction with every movement of his supple hips.

Mikey DiLoreto as Matt, Alex Jacobs as Stephen
Jenny Reagan as Carrie, Victor Shopov as Steven
Adam Boiselle as Estaban, Mike Nilsson as Brian
"Steve" by Mark Gerrard
Directed by David J. Miller
Zeitgeist Stage Company
Plaza Black Box Theatre at BCA
Through MArch 24
Photo by David 


Costue Design is by Elizabeth Cole Sheehan, Lighting Design is by Michael Clark Wonson, and Sound Design is by Jay Mobley.

The action and the dialogue are rife with humor, conflict, and pathos. Each character is well developed, and the arc of the story held my attention throughout. The writing is inspired, and the ensemble acting is flawless. This is a play you will not want to miss. It runs at the BCA through March 24th - Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8:00, Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00, and Sundays at 4:00.

Zeitgeist Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

Apollinaire Theatre Company Presents The U.S. Premiere of "Winter Solstice" by Roland Schimmelpfennig, Translated by David Tushingham


Roland Schimmelpfennig has written a very Germanic play to warn his fellow Germans of the insidious dangers of letting a wolf in sheep's clothing in the door. The elongated shadow of fascism still has this dysfunctional bourgeois German family adumbrated as they prepare to celebrate Christmas and the Winter Solstice. The feel and mood in the play is almost Expressionistic, as Albert (Brian McCarthy) and Bettina (Lindsay Beamish) await the arrival of Bettina's troublesome mother, Corinna (Maureen Adduci). The problematic mother surprises her hosts by inviting in a stranger she had just met on the train, Rudolph (Phil Thompson), an urbane doctor who has come from Paraguay. A fifth character, Konrad (Ambjorn Elder) plays an enigmatic role, reading stage directions that the playwright specified be read, and also functioning as a one man Greek chorus. It is only as the evening wears on that Albert becomes concerned about his guest, who spouts pietistic mottoes about racial purity and the importance of not mixing. The doctor's presence and philosophy has a toxic effect upon Albert.

While clearly meant as a cautionary tale for Germans to never forget how subtly evil can present itself and insinuate itself, this English translation comes at a time when Americans are sorely in need of a similar warning. The shadows that benighted Germany during the Third Reich have begun to creep across our borders, and no wall can keep the darkness from spreading into the very fabric of the life of our fragile republic.

Maureen Adduci as Corinna
Brian McCarthy as Albert
Ambjorn Elder as Konrad
Phil Thompson as Rudolph
Lindsay Beamish as Bettina
"Winter Solstice" by Roland Schimmelpfennig
Translated by David Tushingham
Directed by Brooks Reeves
Apollinaire Theatre Company
Through March 11

Director Brooks Reeves has cleverly apportioned the stage directions among several characters in addition to Konrad. He has his quintet of actors movingly well among the levels of the stylized set, designed and lit by Danielle Fauteux Jacques. Costume Design is by Elizabeth Rocha, and Sound Design is by David Reiffel.

The play will run through March 11 at Chelsea Theatre Works.

Apollinaire Website

Enjoy!

Al

AMIOS Presents "The Loneliest Number" by Lizzie Vieh at the Flamboyan Theater, Lower East Side - A World Premiere Through March 10th


Brooklyn-based playwright Lizzie Vieh has written a fascinating and compelling four-hander that addresses issues of boredom and loneliness within a marriage relationship. "The Loneliest Number" follows a husband and wife who decide to try a risky experiment to find a spark to reignite their faltering passion. Beginning in August, each partner will invite a third person to join them in a menage a trois. The following month, the other partner gets to chose whom to invite. Complications ensue when Wendy (Leigh Williams) finds that her work mate, Kevin (Justin Yorio), has secretly been in love with her, and he jumps at the invitation to jump into bed with her. Arianne (Cassandra Paras), part-time clerk at the dry cleaner and bartender, is John's (Maurice Jones) choice for the month of September, and even more labyrinthine complications ensue.

Director Maria Dizzia (Orange Is The New Black) directs this gifted ensemble with a steady hand, and with considerable help from the creative team of Sound Designer Nick Abel, Lighting Designer Ali Hall, Set Designer Frank J. Oliva, and Costume Designer Jocelyn Pierce. This World Premiere is the latest iteration of a project that began as a workshop as part of AMIOS' popular SHOTZ! short play series.

In addition to the loneliness made explicit in the title of the play, the playwright explores themes of risk, infertility, betrayal, forgiveness, and deep existential despair. Ms. Vieh has created four memorable characters, each of whom is unbalanced in unique ways, and each of whom harbors their own brand of loneliness. None of them is particularly likable, with the possible exception of tatted-up Arianne, who has no more fucks to give, but is charming nonetheless. The miracle of the writing and the acting here is that I found myself caring about what would happen to each of these four misfits. I suspect that you will care, as well, when you make your way to the Flamboyan Theater at 107 Suffolk Street in the Lower Eat Side, just off of Delancey near the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge.

The plays will run until next Sunday, March 10th.

Amios Website

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Brown Box Theatre Project Astonishes With The Mind-Blowing "The Hotel Nepenthe" by John Kuntz - At Atlantic Wharf


Whatever genus of mushroom John Kuntz has access to that enables him regularly to transcend the gravitational bonds of quotidian logical discourse and linear narrative exposition, and to soar into the realm of magic and genius as a playwright - I want some of those mushrooms. "The Hotel Nepenthe," currently being presented by Brown Box Theatre Project at the Atlantic Wharf is an example of a play that inhabits several universes simultaneously. It has one foot in the world of Theatre of the Absurd. It has another foot firmly planted in the cosmos of Theater of the Ontological, in that this play invites us to examine the nature of being - in a multiverse, or in a dizzying array of parallel universes.

Margaret Clark and Michael Underhill
"The Hotel Nepenthe" by John Kuntz
Brown Box Theatre Project
At Atlantic Wharf
Through March 11
Photo by Maggie Hill Photography
The dramatist accomplishes this theatrical leger de main using four gifted actors who represent eighteen disparate (and often desperate) characters. Margaret Clark, Rebecca Schneebaum, Cam Torres, and Michael Underhill are more than equal to the task of keeping pace with the playwright's rapid grinding of the tectonic plates that under-gird the memorable characters and their shifting universes. Scenic Designer Abby Shenker has created a malleable playground for the actors, made up primarily of a series of cubes and frames of various sizes. The set pieces are forever being moved to different places on the stage, and reconfigured so that they are sometimes parallel, sometimes perpendicular to one another, sometimes lying flat on the floor. Actors sit on them, in them, lie atop them or atop one another. And each permutation serves to remind us that a slight variation of setting and character ushers us into a new universe. It is both mind-boggling, hilarious, sobering, and wildly entertaining. A character holding a Rubik's Cube serves as a visual metaphor for the underlying theme of this play that there are many ways in which our multi-colored facets can turn and interact.

Lighting by Keithlyn Parkman and Costumes by Lila West serve to abet the playwright and the actors in signaling shifts from one universe to the next.

Margaret Clark and Michael Underhill
Rebecca Schneebaum and Cam Torres
"The Hotel Nepenthe" by John Kuntz
Brown Box Theatre Project
At Atlantic Wharf
Through March 11
Photo by Maggie Hill Photography

The characters are as diverse as this sampling: a bellhop, a brother, a rent-a-car gal, a taxi driver, a bus driver, and Senator's wife with Presidential ambitions, a whore, a starlet, a baby, a fairy with wings, a sister, a mother. And the common thread that binds them together across space and time is the plaintive cry:"I wish my life mattered, somehow. That this pervading sense that this is just a bunch of random stuff happening would dissipate. And through all the chaos, everything would somehow make sense." There is the heart of this play, and it touches the hearts of each sentient audience member. Director Alex Lonati uses the talents of the actors and creative team with precision and vision.

Margaret Clark and Michael Underhill
Rebecca Schneebaum and Cam Torres
"The Hotel Nepenthe" by John Kuntz
Brown Box Theatre Project
At Atlantic Wharf
Through March 11
Photo by Maggie Hill Photography


A note on the term and concept of "nepenthe." Attributed to Homer around 700 B.C., it means "something capable of causing oblivion of grief or suffering," or to have the opposite effect. Nepenthe can offer comfort amidst grief and hardship, or it can cause discomfort and death - and it can be both at the same time. The universe - or multiverse - will decide.

You should decide to inhabit this multiverse and check into "The Hotel Nepenthe" - this evening at 7:30, or next weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday March 9-11 at 7:30 at Atlantic Wharf. Tickets are free, with an opportunity at the end of the show to give donations.

Brown Box Theatre


Enjoy!

Al




"The White Card" by Claudia Rankine Serves Up A Provocative and Dramatic Conversation about Race and White Privilege - A World Premiere


ArtsEmerson Presents the World Premiere of the American Repertory Theater Production of "The White Card" by Claudia Rankine, Directed by Diane Paulus.

On Wednesday of this week, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh proclaimed February 28, 2018 as "Claudia Rankine Day." There were many "Whereas" clauses explaining the reasoning behind such an honor. Poet Claudia Rankine, a Yale Professor, has been a MacArthur Grant recipient, and a bestselling author of a popular volume of poetry entitled "Citizen:An American Lyric." In "The White Card," she takes the themes explored poetically in "Citizen," and explodes them into dramatic conflict among five characters. She serves up challenging dialogue the way that the Williams sisters blister serves across a tennis net.

Karen Pittman as Charlotte
Daniel Gerroll as Charles
Arts Emerson Presents the American Repertory Production
and World Premiere of
"The White Card" by Claudia Rankine
Robert J. Orchard Stage
Emerson Paramount Center
Through April 1st
Photo by Gretjen Helene Photography

The audience climbs a flight of stairs to enter the re-configured Robert J. Orchard Stage at the Emerson Paramount Center. The sound of tennis balls being volleyed back and forth can be heard. We sit in opposing grandstands in an all-white windowless room that feels like a combination racquetball court, large holding cell, and isolation chamber. But it becomes clear through the brilliant projections by Peter Nigrini of the Venue and Serena Williams competing against each other that tennis will be a metaphor for the conflicts playing out on the stage/court in front of us. A bonus of the divided seating is that audience members get to watch one another squirm as inconvenient truthes of white privilege are bandied about across the gaping fault line of racism and tone deafness. The innovative scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, Costumes by Emilio Sosa, Lighting by Stephen Strawbridge, and Sound by Will Pickens draw us into the lives and conflicts among the characters.

Well-heeled businessman and art collector, Charles (Daniel Gerroll), has developed a strange desire to collect the work of artists who capture images of violence against people of color. He and his well-coiffed wife, Virginia (Patricia Kalember) have invited to their home their art adviser, Eric (Jim Poulos) and flavor-of-the-month photographer Charlotte (Karen Pittman). In an effort to try to avoid any social awkwardness with a black guest in the home, they have given their black maid the night off. Charles hopes to persuade Charlotte to allow him to purchase her latest works. Stirring the pot is Alex (Colton Ryan), the angry, adolescent, activist son of Charles and Diane. He enters the fray, having just returned from a Black Lives Matter Rally. He resents his parents, particularly his father's means of earning money, and the hypocrisy of the artistic proclivities of the pater familias. We have all the makings of a contentious mixed-doubles match.

Karen Pittman as Charlotte
Arts Emerson Presents the American Repertory Production
and World Premiere of
"The White Card" by Claudia Rankine
Robert J. Orchard Stage
Emerson Paramount Center
Through April 1st
Photo by Gretjen Helene Photography
Tension mounts as it becomes clear that Charles harbors some ideas of racial justice that are framed and filtered through his position of white privilege. Charlotte becomes increasingly agitated as philosophy of art morphs into world view conversation. In a set of subplots, it becomes evident that while Charles hopes to change the world through his enlightened art collection and his foundation, he has failed miserably in making any meaningful connections with his wife or son. Chekhovian disaffection is in the air.

The playwright serves up many layers of thought-provoking themes, none of which are amenable to facile or simplistic solutions. What role do well-meaning, and well-endowed white liberals have in entering the arena (tennis court, if you will) of the struggle for racial justice? Is it even possible to open the aperture and see beyond the lens of white privilege? Does putting on display examples of violence against black men and women objectify them, or can it lead to healthy discussion of the mindset that made such violence possible? The playwright wants us to squirm, but simultaneously implores us to stay in the room to wrestle with these issues - as individuals and as members of communities that are willing to engage in tough conversations.

And Act II of this play presents just such an opportunity for frank conversation among audience members. We were invited to stay, and were led by facilitators who served as catalysts in posing  questions like: "What struck you most within this play? What made you most uncomfortable?" On opening night, a healthy mixture of diverse and inclusive audience members made for a lively beginning of a conversation that could lead to meaningful change. I guess the "ball is in our court" to ensure that the conversation continues to deepen and leads to meaningful action.

Jim Poulos as Eric
Karen Pittman as Charlotte
Daniel Gerroll as Charles
Colton Ryan as Alex
Arts Emerson Presents the American Repertory Production
and World Premiere of
"The White Card" by Claudia Rankine
Robert J. Orchard Stage
Emerson Paramount Center
Through April 1st
Photo by Gretjen Helene Photography
The actors' skill and passion to tell this story were equal to the exalted level of artistry of Ms. Rankine, Ms. Paulus, and the rest of their visionary creative team. At a pivotal moment near the end of the play, it becomes clear that Charlotte's words over time have flayed Charles, and have stripped him naked in an emotional and existential sense. We see clear evidence that he has been moved to action - and to change - when he strips to his waist, exposing his lily white skin - not only to Charlotte's scathing language, but to her searching lens. It is an indelible image that punctuates one of the multiple messages of this majestic work of art and social engineering.

The play runs through April 1st, and should not be missed.

Enjoy - and engage!

Al

Friday, March 02, 2018

Lyric Stage Presents "Virginia Woolf's Orlando" - Gender Fluidity Examined - Through March 25th


When I first saw a production of "Orlando" a few years ago, I found it long and tedious, so I was not sure what to expect with the current Lyric Stage production. Using an adaptation by Sarah Ruhl that pares the play down to a crisp 90 minutes, including a brief Intermission, Director A. Nora Long keeps the pace of the show going at a fast clip. The result was that I found myself engaged and entertained. The telling of this gender-bending and time-traveling tale is greatly enhanced by a simple and elegant monochromatic set design by Richard Wadsworth Chambers. Lighting Design by Steven McIntosh cleverly incorporates floor lighting that is used to suggest travel and movement as Orlando progresses from man to woman, and from century to century. Lush period Costumes are by Jessica Pribble. The production is presented in collaboration with the Suffolk University Theatre Department.

Caroline Lawton as Orlando
Rory Lambert-Wright and Jeff Marcus
"Virginia Woolf's Orlando"
Adapted by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by A. Nora Long
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through March 25th
Photo by Mark S. Howard

The cast of six are led by the impressive Caroline Lawton as Orlando. Playing multiple roles as Chorus members are Elise Arsenault, Michael Hisamoto, Rory Lambert-Wright, Jeff Marcus, and Hayley Spivey.

For those who know the backstory of the development of "Orlando," this play has been called "the longest and most charming love letter in literature." Virginia Woolf wrote the play as the embodiment of her love and friendship for Vita Sackville-West. Today, many of us often find ourselves as participants or listeners to conversation about "gender fluidity," But back in the Roaring 20s, when the play was born, issues of sexuality of any kind were not discussed in polite society. Virginia Woolf shattered that taboo with this play, and people have been buzzing about it ever since. Because during the course of the play Orlando experiences life both as a man and as a woman, the playwright is able to provide insights into both male and female sensibilities, proclivities, attractions, advantages, and challenges. The result is a play that challenges conventional thinking about gender, and leaves the audience to ruminate on many issues that are virtually imponderable.

Caroline Lawton as Orlando
Rory Lambert-Wright and Jeff Marcus
Elise Arsenault and Hayley Spivey
"Virginia Woolf's Orlando"
Adapted by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by A. Nora Long
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through March 25th
Photo by Mark S. Howard

This excellent drama is worthy of your consideration.

Through March 25th.

Lyric Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al