Silly Shakespeare Shakes My "Twelfth Night"

Silly Shakespeare Shakes My "Twelfth Night"

Four hundred years later, we are still redefining and reshaping these classic stories, and finding new ways to experience Shakespeare.  Filter Theatre has found the right rhythm to give us new access to Twelfth Night's fun and merriment. While I wish that some of the play's gravity, particularly in Malvolio's ending scenes had emerged, the play's condensed focus to ninety minutes meant that sacrifices needed to be made. I think that Shakespeare would be proud of the buffoonery and ludicrousness accomplished by these actors, expertly reined by Director Sean Holmes.

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Don't You Wait to See Ellis' Fair and Loverly Eliza Doolittle

There are few things as enchanting as rediscovering a once familiar musical through a new perspective.  Jennifer Ellis’ strong-willed Eliza Doolittle is not only a delight to watch, but a masterpiece of style and grace.  The Lyric Stage Company of Boston freshens the story of My Fair Lady into a modern take of capitalism, ambition, and human connection.  Director Scott Edmiston reimagines the world in the 1930s London, complete with top hats and empire waists, breadlines and soulful melodies.  This My Fair Lady feels even more accessible because of the nuanced acting by Ellis and the charming ignorance of Christopher Chew as Henry Higgins.  The sixteen cast members provide gusto and life to the challenging and lengthy musical making this fit perfectly as an intimate chamber musical with all of the excitement and expertise that the Lyric Stage Company of Boston is known throughout the region.  With an emphasis on storytelling this season, The Lyric brings a new story of rags-to-riches and poppy-cock-to-caviar dreams to its stage, but its heightened emphasis on treating people with dignity and finding the human connection that transcends class and economic status are themes worth dancing all night with this talented cast.

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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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KERPLOP! Is a Splashing Success

KERPLOP! Is a Splashing Success

imaginary beasts has gained notoriety for their impressive ensembles and inventive use of storytelling to transform an archaic medium into something wonderfully expressive and accessible for contemporary audiences of all ages.  I was ecstatic to see their annual Winter Panto, and I was not disappointed, as this year's panto surpassed many elements of last year’s award-nominated production.  This year, Kerplop! The Tale of the Frog Prince is a masterful use of a strong company of diverse cast members and purposeful storytelling that works on multiple levels of entertainment and humor.  For me, this Frog was King.

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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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"Urinetown" is Not Quite Liquid Gold

Urinetown may be one of my favorite, yet under-appreciated musicals. You will rarely see a company attempt this parody of life and theatre (blame it on the piss-poor title). So, when I saw that Burlington Players was performing this laugh-a-minute musical, I had to show up. Unfortunately, they did not. Except for a few stunning performances by some leading actors, the production felt weighted by the musical’s hefty demands. For audience members familiar with the show, the Burlington Players’ production felt like a lukewarm and flat take on the vibrant show; for new patrons to the wonders of Urinetown, the laughs kept coming and they were impressed with seeing musicals parodied and life satirized. Don’t confuse good subject matter for good performance.

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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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"Albert Herring" is Accessible Opera for All

Boston Opera Collaborative expands its repertoire by performing Benjamin Britten’s rarely-performed three-act opera Albert Herring at Dorchester’s Strand Theatre as a part of the Free for All Concert Fund. Directed and orchestrated by 2013 My Theatre (Boston) Award-winning Stage Director Katherine Carter, and Music Director and Conductor Andrew Altenbach, the accessible production is a treat for all ages, expertly sung in English and also including English supertitles. With clever staging and gorgeous vocal flourishes, Albert Herring was a charming chap for an afternoon at the theatre.

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A Half-Hearted Smile for "A Little Night Music"

The summer night may smile three times, but it might have smiled a fourth time on The Arlington Friends of the Drama’s 429th production A Little Night Music, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler. The community theatre boasts some wonderful talent on the small stage, and mostly succeeds in orchestrating the complicated waltz of Sondheim’s score and Wheeler’s story under the careful direction of Joe Stallone and music direction of J. Parker Eldridge. They trip in the casting of essential characters, but manage to glide through the production on the coattails of David Warnock’s Fredrik and the surprising luster of Emily Earle’s Petra.

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New Rep's Bookless Book Musical

I went to my first New Repertory show for a rather obscure song cycle musical, Closer Than Ever. I went into the show not really knowing what to expect from this little ditty. Described as a musical revue, Closer Than Everunfolds in two acts of strictly musical treats, music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. (though, on closer inspection, this breakdown isn’t really fair when both men’s works seems interwoven and intricate in their symbiotic relationship). Perhaps the closest approximation to the show’s style is, as the composers term it, a “bookless book musical.” What that means is anyone’s guess, but I’d like to hazard one. Closer Than Ever is the Songs for a New World for middle-aged baby boomers. Is that too simplistic for the musical? Absolutely; as a twenty-something man with no cellulite (yet) overgrowing my body, no lost or broken lover, as far as you can get from the burdens of kids, I found myself touched by this tale of searching desperately for a connection. What are we closer to than ever? The end? Hope of a new beginning, even after hitting the middle? I’d like to assume that New Rep’s Closer Than Ever, directed by the always impressive and stunning Leigh Barrett, is a little closer to my heart and closer than ever to finding some new questions, and maybe even a few answers, to life’s most troubling issues.

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A Haunting Thriller with Safety Clippers

The Lyric Stage Company does Sondheim well. Director Spiro Veloudos speaks Sondheim’s language as if it were his natural tongue, and he does a good job of translating to the stage with the help of his accomplished cast. Except the entire production felt afraid to push the boundaries or explore the nuances of Sondheim’s dense score and haunting book in the latest production ofSweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The Lyric Stage Company produces a thoroughly enjoyable tale of a man who was wrongly convicted of a crime and judgment, and his blood-thirsty revenge against his wrongdoers, but, like a ghost story that is toned down for the little ones, the production felt safe. While theirInto the Woods this past Spring sparkled with new life and interpretation of fairy tale characters, Sweeney Todd was just about what you’d expect from professional and talented actors and designers. I wanted more blood.

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Heavenly Jennifer Ellis Shines

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Far From Heaven made the My Theatre (Boston) Must See list for many reasons, but the best reason was the all-star cast. Somehow, SpeakEasy, under the steady leadership of Director Scott Edmiston, assembled some of the best talent in Boston for this hopelessly-flawed musical. The production is not flawed, but it’s hard to see heaven when you’re looking at the imperfect world in Hartford, Connecticut in 1957. Thankfully, many of the actors shine through the darkness, but few as brightly and brilliantly as Jennifer Ellis as Cathy Whitaker.

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Dragonfly’s "As You Like It"

In the middle of Dedham, Massachusetts, a new theatre company spread its wings with a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This production choice was the perfect summer treat and an excellent decision for the young and growing Dragonfly Theater. With strong female leads and plenty of supporting ensemble roles, As You Like Itproved why it is one of Shakespeare’s most lighthearted comedies and easily accessible plays for modern audiences.

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Harvard Ventures Into the Dream-Like Forest of CA?

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a wonderfully accessible play, made for adaptations to different times and places with ease. The Hyperion Shakespeare Company and The Office for the Arts at Harvard presented their own adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with some talent and some reckless abandon befitting the play’s mastery. The production struggles, however, under some awkward adaptation, stilted performances, and uninspired concepts.

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Who Needs D Major? "Don Giovanni"‘s Opera Buffa

Don Giovanni is one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s most famous operas, spurring countless productions and re-imaginings in modern culture. Boston University College of Fine Arts’ School of Music Opera Institute and School of Theatre presented their own clever twist, thanks to the inspiring direction of Stage Director Daniel Pelzig and Conductor William Lumpkin. While the production’s youthful vibrancy and modern translation might have been off-putting and unsettling for a more classically-trained and -accustomed audience, the Gen-X edginess kept the opera production from feeling stale and trite, instead alive as the omnipresent influence of Mozart’s legendary antihero.

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Workshopping An (Almost) All-Female "The Winter’s Tale"

Technically, I can’t review Boston University Shakespeare Society’s Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. Former My Theatre (Boston) writer Elizabeth Ramirez directed, and Junior Editor Fabiana Cabral played King Leontes. I have to create boundaries for conflict of interests, and this is one of them. However, read on to hear a bit more about this rarely-produced Shakespearean fairy tale in an exclusive feature.

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Crash Landing from "Cloud 9"

I can’t appreciate Cloud 9. Playwright Caryl Churchill wears on my patience whenever I see her work performed (though I like reading her plays), and Cloud 9 proved to be a humorous but grating variation on the same pattern. The Boston Conservatory student-actors achieved mixed results, but, overall, the production felt tedious, lacking some of the verve for which the top-ranked theatre conservatory is known. Did they pick the wrong play? Were the actors under-rehearsed? Was this a case of wrong reviewer, wrong time? Either way, I can only recommend seeing some of the actors in future works, and being thankful that this production only ran for a weekend. Maybe if the production had shot for the stars, they would have ended up in the clouds; instead, they were stuck in a tree somewhere in London or Africa.

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Who Really Ends Up on Top?

Who Really Ends Up on Top?

Caryl Churchill is one of my favorite female playwrights to read. I find her work almost unmanageable onstage because of her feminist tilt and unforgiveable agenda. With that lens, I attended Bad Habit Production’s Top Girls, Churchill’s most iconic and arguably best work, featuring a strong ensemble of Boston’s top female actresses. While the play’s opening act is burdened with a lack of purpose and conflict, the second act sizzles with the perfect heat of passionate performances, incited conflict, and diverse performances. Director Liz Fenstermaker offers some subtle touches, but, for the most part, she allows her actors to bring Churchill’s (“dated”) work to stunning climax as a continuing dialogue of women’s place and dynamic in the home, in the workforce, and in society.

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