“The Birds and the Bees” Tells It Like It Is, Whatever That Is

“The Birds and the Bees” Tells It Like It Is, Whatever That Is

Flying into the Boston Center for the Arts, the Sleeping Weazel soars with three original plays, as part of its “The Birds and the Bees: A Festival of New Plays” tackling mortality, conformity, and camaraderie, and myriad of other issues and ideas with originality and charm.  

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"Lab Rats" Explores 20-somethings' Rat Race with Quirky Cast

Brown Box Theatre Project performs an intimate production of Patrick Gabridge’s world premiere production of Lab Rats, a sweet and comic love story with quirky and original twentysomething characters.  It’s no surprise that life is a rat race for millennials, or the so-called “rising generation,” and it was a pleasant surprise to see a mature voice give credence to their stories through his Mika (Breena Fitzgerald) and Jake (Marc Pierre).  Director Kyler Taustin brings to life the unique personalities and quirks of Mika and Jake, and Fitzgerald and Pierre perform with sharp and relatable wit and energy.  Despite the strong dialogue, the new play’s plot and story fell flat, feeling predictable and trite where a more nuanced story could have been a wonderful experiment for Gabridge and Boston.

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"Eyes Shut. Door Open." Thrills With Intensely Memorable Cain and Abel Twists

"Eyes Shut. Door Open." Thrills With Intensely Memorable Cain and Abel Twists

Wax Wings Productions brings its unique flair to a new space this August.  Hidden in Dudley Square, The Inner Sanctum Gallery provides the perfect, intimate space to perform Cassie M. Seinuk’s newest play, Eyes Shut. Door Open.  The play is one of Seinuk’s strongest, offering both a modern exploration of the classic Cain and Abel story, and a deconstructionist view of art, its creation, and, most of all, the psyche of its creator.  With an all-star cast and a strong director, the play succeeds in captivating the audience until the play’s final moments, a thrilling cat-and-mouse game of shifting alliances, growing paranoia, and heart-pounding suspense.

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New Teenage Play Promises New Journey, But Loses Its Way

New Teenage Play Promises New Journey, But Loses Its Way

On Thursday night, I attended i don’t know where we’re going, but i promise we’re lost, presented by the Boston Teen Acting Troupe at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, with hesitation and excitement.  I saw a public reading of the play last season (previously titled Annie Doesn’t Here).  The new play by accomplished M.J. Halberstadt focuses on four teenagers (or tweens), the perfect vehicle for the talents of the Boston Teen Acting Troupe.  The journey, however, left much to be desired because, while the actors delivered fine performances, they lacked the critical dialogue needed to deal with the weighty topics of the play’s themes and ideas.

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"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" are Colorful but Safe Additions to the Neighborhood

Huntington Theatre Company starts the 2015 theatre season off on a strong note by introducing Boston to the wonderfully zany world of Christopher Durang’s unapologetic love note to Chekhov in his Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.  Durang is an aging playwright who gained considerable respect with his many off-kilter plays with underlying scathing analyses of our contemporary lives.  However, Vanya and Masha and Sonia and Spike is a more sophisticated play than its predecessors, relying as much on Durang’s rants as the common variations on larger-than-life characters of his prior works.  The play is a fulfilling but hollow example of appealing to the masses under the safe disguise of modern theatre.

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SpeakEasy's "A Future Perfect" Presents Imperfect Playwriting

I appreciate the SpeakEasy's willingness (even eagerness, at this point) to produce new works.  SpeakEasy Stage Company chose an impressive season of risks and challenges, diversifying the Boston theatre scene with each of their productions.  Ken Urban's world premiere production of A Future Perfect poses unexpected risks and challenges for this Boston staple theatre company.  The actors and director rise to the challenge, but the script leaves them in a precarious place of performing a play that's so much "been there, done that" that I expected someone to have bought the T-shirt by now.  Urban's play stays in such a safe and cozy place for the play's 100-minute performance that the audience is lured into a false sense of perfection, where the future is all but certain and the play's characters tread lightly to avoid saying or doing anything to step out of the mold in which they were written.

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Shallow Marilyn On-Stage (Again)

Our pop culture has had a recent wealth of new stories concerning the famous Bombshell actress, Marilyn Monroe. Boston Actors Theater brings one of the latest fictionalized accounts of Marilyn’s life in itsGoodbye Marilyn: A Love Letter (A Staged Reading), written by Michael Phillips. This play explores the last night of Marilyn Monroe’s life, one evening in the fascinating and tumultuous life of the Hollywood celebrity. The staged reading at Trident Booksellers on Newbury Street in Boston offers the first performance and look into this new work before its premiere in Los Angeles on September 5, 2014, continuing on to New York in Spring 2015 (though with different casts).

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Ponzi-Schemer Delivers a Devilishly Good Performance

New Repertory Theatre presented a Special Encore Extension of their hit production of Imagining Madoff. I couldn’t imagine myself not seeing it for the first time, the second time around. Written by Deborah Margolin, the play explores the intensely intimate (but fictional) encounter between Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff and fictitious Jewish Solomon Galkin. The result is a wild ride of theatrical success in the visceral but highly intelligent discourse on difficult moral issues. In her Message, Director Elaine Vaan Hogue illuminates why one should “imagine” Madoff. In this play, she hopes that certain complex moral questions “possess the potential to thrust each of us into a deeper investigation of our own humanity,” with the possibility to liberate through what Margolin terms the “startling things within the human complement.” And these ambitions succeed brilliantly; I couldn’t imagine a better night at the theatre.

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A.R.T’s "Finding Neverland" : Lost but Soaring

The American Repertory Theatre has introduced their next Boston-to-Broadway commercial hit, Finding Neverland.  Following the life and work of J. M. Barrie, playwright and author of Peter Pan, the musical is an emotional voyage of soaring highs and valley lows; bring the whole family, but also bring the tissues.  Despite the artistic success of the Miramax film of the same name (and mostly the same story), Diane Paulus’s latest directorial endeavor (combined with the efforts of successful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein) is a mixed bag of pixie dust magic for the stage.  The musical combines the magical talents of Jeremy Jordan, Laura Michelle Kelly, and Carolee Carmello with the lackluster score of Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, leaving the production feeling like a Wickedrip-off rather than a work flying on its own merits.

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Lord, What Fools These Actors Be

Ever have one of those college English papers which you can’t seem to write because you’re worried that the professor will judge you for your crazy ideas? What if you just wrote your ideas to him or her in a musical adaptation of the most accessible Shakespeare plays and called it a night? Midsummer Night: a musical(loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) attempts to do just that. I can’t explain why Suffolk University wasted their time on this trite adaptation or how I sat through the production, but here goes nothing.

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Shakespeare’s Bringing "SEXYBACK"

The A.R.T.’s and the OBERON’s The Donkey Show is old news; while a refreshing and imaginative retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when it premiered in Boston in 2009, and though the appeal has not worn-off completely, the production is on its way out the door. In its place, the Boston theatre scene demands something as catchy and artistically challenging (Note: I use challenging in the sense that it defies the stereotypes of a typical theatrical performance). My hope is that Touch Performance Art and the OBERON New Works Series latest remix of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to the music of your favorite boy bands, SEXYBACK or what you will, will fill this much-needed void, pushing the boundaries and limits of how we think about performance art and “mainstream” theatre in the 21st century. To get there, however, SEXYBACK offers much promise, but needs a solid summer of revisions and refocus to get its sexy on for the fall.

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Jack is Back, But Ripped Apart

Jack the Ripper is not a new tale; tracing back to the 19th century, Jack the Ripper has haunted and plagued the media and bedtime stories as an unsolved “murder of the century.” In fact, Jack the Ripper (can he ever be “Just Jack”?) was selected by theBBC History magazine as the worst Briton in history. That’s quite a feat. Why is he the worst? Because he killed no less than eleven women? Because he sexually assaulted his victims? No, but because he is a fear which is spoken but rarely named and never caught. Jack the Ripper represents the unknown, but, more than that, he holds a special place in history because of the many sociopolitical effects of his “Whitecapel murders.” So why the exposition? The F.U.D.G.E Theatre Company premieres Jack the Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, book and lyrics by Christopher-Michael DiGrazia and Steven Bergman, and music by Steven Bergman. While the musical dates back to the 1990s, this musical has been revised such that it feels like a new piece. The musical, however, falls into bad habits and, like Jack the Ripper, commits some disturbing murders of otherwise talented performers.

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Mission Uganda Accomplished?

I’m waiting for the next American musical. I’m not sure exactly in which direction it is headed, but I expect a new genre is coming. Witness Uganda at the American Repertory Theatre could be it, but not in its current form. This bright and soulful journey of a musical is brought to life by the immensely talented (and acclaimed) Diane Paulus. With softer strokes and more clarity than I’ve found in her other works, Paulus brings the world of Uganda to life in sharp juxtaposition to our Western culture, especially the busy New York City, the other location for our main characters. Told by actor/playwright Griffin Matthews, Witness Uganda takes the audience into the unfamiliar world of missionary and aid work in Uganda. Matthews wrote the piece with the incredibly versatile composer Matt Gould, as a reflection on Matthews’ real-life experience as an aid worker in Uganda.

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Peter M. Floyd’s "Absence" Offers a Touching Memory

Absence touches a part of our lives for which few of us want to confront until necessary. Psychologist Erik Erikson articulated his Psychosocial Stages over fifty years ago, but we have been struggling to live and die for centuries. At the end, we are faced with the eighth stage, a bitter reflection on our life and its purpose: ego integrity vs. despair. While Erikson focused on persons over sixty-five years old reflecting on their accomplishments or feeling a sense of despair, I argue that Absence provides an additional quandary and dilemma for our aging population: What if I do not and cannot remember what I have accomplished? Even more simply, what if I cannot connect in a world which is increasingly out of my control? Such is the emotionally tumultuous journey for our protagonist.

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Argos Dresses Finely for "The Haberdasher"

Those people who know me as a theatre reviewer know that I have a list. This list includes some of my favourite theatre artists (directors, actors, designers), but they also include my list of “If I only had enough time to see their work” artists. Luckily, I had time to review not one but two artists on this list.The Haberdasher!: A Tale of Derring-Do is an exciting new play by Boston’s always-clever, never-safe playwright Walt McGough. McGough is one of those playwright about whom you hear Boston theatre professionals whisper in hushed tones; he has quickly made a name for himself as a prolific playwright in the Boston theatre scene. Needless to say, I needed to see his work, and I was not disappointed.

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#Rumplestinkybum Glitters with Golden Goodness

Once upon a time, Brian went to see a fringe theatre production on a rainy Saturday; he was tired and grumpy. He was four shows into a long stretch of reviewing, and he just wanted to sleep. However, Imaginary beasts delights, surprises, and thrills with their 2014 Annual Winter Panto, Rumplestiltskin, or All That Glitters. This production truly shines under the artful, always intelligent, sometimes naughty but always nice director Matthew Woods. Once again, Woods assembles a top-notch cast and crew, and they play to great effect for audiences of all shapes and sizes.

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Boston Playwright Theatre’s Burning Shines Bright

It may be widely known that I don’t like original shows. I feel they’re often underrehearsed, poorly cast, and underrealized. That includes a script for which the playwright needs a few more rewrites. However, I was blown away by the Boston Playwright Theatre’s production of “Burning” by Ginger Lazarus. I can’t quite understand why everything clicked so well for me. I can’t put the sole credit on the astute playwright, clever script, artful director, or brilliant cast; individually, they were superb, but, together, they were stunning. “Burning” reminds me that, sometimes, in theatre, the product is really greater than the sum of the parts.

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A Boogie Night: "Roller Disco The Musical!"

It’s not often that you see a parody of a parody; the style is a difficult skill to master. First, the audience needs to understand the source of the original parody, and only then, the audience needs to understand the references to the original parody. Honestly, it’s difficult to separate what’s the parody of what. Fortunately, Roller Disco: The Musical!rolls through with enough punch and pizazz that it doesn’t matter whether the audience understands the source of the jokes. All that matters in this laugh-out-loud parody musical is that the cast and audience are having fun. Man, it’s a thrill.

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Expect the “Expecting” at Boston Playwrights Theatre

Expecting by Noah Tobin is a new work at Boston Playwright’s Theatre. The play offers a unique premise on one woman’s journey to have a baby with a five-year plan that doesn’t include a man. I was excited for the hilarious struggles as this woman’s plan goes hopelessly awry and she learns a valuable lesson in the end. Unfortunately, I was treated to a night of saccharine comedy and lukewarm moments between the close-knit family of characters.

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Theatre@First Does "Pride and Prejudice"

Pride and Prejudice

An exciting adaptation was featured in Somerville, Massachusetts for the past two weekends. Elizabeth Hunter, a 2011 My Theatre Award nominee for her work in Equus, wrote and directed an original stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s popular novel Pride and Prejudice. Produced by Theatre@First in the stunning renovated Somerville theatre, the production showed much promise. Unfortunately, it failed to live up to expectations, with some notable exceptions.

Hunter’s script features most of Austen’s popular quips from the original novel, and it’s clear she intended to stay true to the story’s text. Thankfully, almost all of Mr. Bennet’s lines remain, though a few characters were cut to accommodate the shortened adaptation. I missed only Kitty—I worry that Hunter underestimated this character’s seemingly innocuous presence in the novel. Many other stage adaptations keep her as a sidekick for Lydia, and I agree. Especially when Hunter chose to include a silly Miss Anne de Bourgh, I think she could have sacrificed a few of the other Bennet sisters’ lines for Kitty’s sake. Moving along, Hunter tried to write her own dialogue to fill in some noticeable gaps from the novel’s exposition. I don’t particularly like these additions though I can’t argue with their necessity; I think another draft and staged reading would have polished the dialogue, especially between Jane and Elizabeth. Perhaps Hunter’s boldest move is the social whirl she creates onstage with the instantaneous passage of time. Scenes move fluidly into one another and months become moments of waiting. I appreciated her strong storytelling—more on this below—but I worry that something was lost. I think future drafts can help solidify the same feelings of anticipation from Austen’s day while keeping the heightened urgency needed for a stage adaptation. Overall, her script is well thought-out and very accurate to Austen’s original.

Pride and Prejudice - Lizzie and Mr Darcy

Her cast, however, faces an insurmountable challenge in portraying Austen’s larger-than-life characters. The actors seem to wobble between realistic portrayals and caricature. This dichotomy is anything but pleasant, and down-right confusing. At the heart of the story is the Bennet family, which includes the widest range of acting abilities. Mr. Bennet, played with cheek by Doug Miller, is excellent and perhaps even underused because he provides some of the most-needed one-liners, while his wife, Mrs. Bennet, played with verbosity by Dayenne Walters, could use some focus. Walters attempts to create her own hysterical interpretation of the infamous gold-digging mother but strays too far from our modern conception of the classic role, fully landing in the satirical category. The daughters, however, never reach this extreme, no matter how “silly” they are supposed to be. Mary Bennet, played with groundedness by Lisa Sturgeon, is perhaps too realistic, but has some wonderful moments on-stage even with her limited dialogue. Jane Bennet, played with blasé melancholy by Tegan Kehoe, is too unaffected by the play’s dialogue to develop a clear personality. In fact, her character is so bland that I wondered what her and Bingley, played with some charm by Jared Hite, could possibly discuss in their quiet asides. The star of the family, surprisingly, is Lydia Bennet, played with star-quality by Melody Martin. Martin picks her moments with care, and bursts with energy and life that is perfectly timed and extremely necessary. During a sluggish Act II, she carries the show’s plot in ways that few of the other characters manage.

Other supporting stars include Charlotte Lucas, played by the extremely under-utilized Jacqueline Bennett; Caroline Bingley, played with subtly and craft by Leslie Drescher; and Mrs. Gardiner, played with vivaciousness by Renée Johnson. While others may enjoy J. Deschene’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I felt the actor missed the mark on this iconic character. With such antecedents as Dame Judi Dench, I think the role deserves a little more respect. I’ll agree that the role did add much-needed humor in a rather dull Act II, but given the role’s history and the novel’s focus, I think the portrayal detracted more than added, especially for the production’s Austenite crowd.

And that brings me to the leads. Elizabeth Bennet, played with earnestness by Brigid Battell, struggles under a lack of star quality. It’s a difficult quality to explain, but I’ve heard it called “The IT factor” and Battell just didn’t have it in this role. For an audience whose sole focus is on Elizabeth’s story, we’re a little lost most of the time, jumping instead to focus on more dynamic characters like Martin’s Lydia or Drescher’s Caroline. Battell generates good chemistry with each and every character, an important quality, but her most notable relationship with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy fails to excite. Darcy, played with a deep bass, yet repetitive speech pattern by Keais Pope, is, dare I say, dull. Pope misses many moments to relay Darcy’s complexity to the audience. It’s not until late in Act II that Pope stops his monotonous speech pattern to include some inflection. I believe Pope was trying to emulate Colin Firth’s notable turn as Darcy, but few actors, especially an American, can capture Firth’s charming aloofness. I wish Hunter had realized how incredibly dull Pope’s attempts to copy such a hit performance were and worked to create a happy medium. I think much of Pope and Battell’s chemistry could be solved in a more dynamic and nuanced portrayal of Darcy, though Battell suffers from her own lack of imagination and charm, falling more into the Keira Knightley camp than the Jennifer Ehle foray.

Unfortunately, these key problems led to a sluggish Act II, especially in the last twenty minutes. With a show running almost three hours, the later scenes could use some rewriting and some heavy polish. I didn’t care for anything after the marriage acceptances, and yet we unhappily plodded through several scenes to see how the rest of the cast reacts to the unexpected news. To the production’s credit, the scenes did zip along, thanks to a highly successful stage crew, led by Technical Director and Set Designer Jo Guthrie. I was highly thankful for the lack of blackouts, though I found it amusing how little time we spent in each location. I longed for the adaptations with block sets because I wanted to focus instead on these rich and dynamic characters. The costumes by Elizabeth Ryan and her crew are stunning, and the hair by Arwen Miller and her crew is superb. I thought Maya Attia’s dancing was overused, especially in the highly complex ballroom scenes; I would’ve liked a lighting fade so the dancers became shadows in the background of Darcy and Elizabeth’s lively first meeting.

Overall, the production features some commendable performances and an invigorating new adaptation of Austen’s classic story. The play keeps many of the novel’s original themes, but it fails to introduce any of its own. With more polish, the script might be a gem, especially in its creative use of time, but with sluggish pacing and an uneven cast, this production doesn’t shine. 

As originally published on My Entertainment World.