note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi
Hello! These are my choices for the Best of New England Theatre for 2007. Congratulations to the recipients! Please, please, PLEASE keep up the excellent work!
Those passages in quotes come from my reviews which were posted on this web site.
PRODUCTION: HILLARY AND MONICA: THE WINTER OF HER DISCONTENT (Gloucester Stage Company; Gloucester, MA). Written and directed by Yvette Heyliger. Cast: Heidi Dallin; Jacqueline Kristel; Jeff Pierce; Vanessa Shaw. “HILLARY AND MONICA: THE WINTER OF HER DISCONTENT … is Yvette Heyliger’s proposed catfight between First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky in the China Room at the White House in 1996, just before the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal hit the fan. The rivals begin as cat-and-mouse and end up as raging tigresses over the President of the United States and Ms. Heyliger plays both sides, fairly enough: Hillary describes her marriage as a business partnership as well as a romantic union; Monica accuses Hillary of not being womanly enough and that her cold ambition has driven the President into Monica’s pudgy arms. Ms. Heyliger’s dialogue is smart and knowing and often hilarious with the women becoming a classic comedy team --- the dumb-as-a-fox stooge keeping her straight-woman in a perpetual slow burn --- Heidi Dallin (Hillary) and Jacqueline Kristel (Monica) capture their roles’ looks and public personas so well that impersonation leads to characterization, making HILLARY AND MONICA a thinking (wo)man’s version of THE WOMEN, and Vanessa Shaw and Jeff Pierce provide wry back-up as a quartet of White House denizens.”
DIRECTOR / ENSEMBLE: “THE KENTUCKY CYCLE” (Zeitgeist Stage Company; Boston, MA). Written by Robert Schenkkan. Direction and scenic design by David J. Miller. Cast: Maureen Adduci; Melissa Baroni; Peter Brown; Bill Bruce; Michael Steven Costello; Emma Goldman; Terrence P. Haddad; Jordan Harrison; Amanda Good Hennessey; Ashley Kelly; Curt Klump; Greg Maraio; Brett Marks; Michael O’Halloran; Jonathan Orsini; Jeffrey B. Phillips; Christine Power; Brian Quint; Matthew Scott Robinson; Jacob Rosenbaum; Cheryl D. Singleton; Marlon Smith-Jones; Mia Van de Water. “If Pulitzer Prizes were awarded for length, alone, then Robert Schenkkan’s THE KENTUCKY CYCLE deserves its 1992 citation for its long, bloody history amongst three families in the State of Kentucky; it is currently being performed in two parts by Boston’s ever-challenging Zeitgeist Theatre. Mr. Schenkkan clearly wants to deconstruct one for the books and is indebted to the Greeks with their falling houses, Mr. Wagner and his Nibelungen curse (the grubby patriarch Michael Rowen is a veritable Alberich) and Mr. O’Neill who transplanted classical tragedy to American soil --- there are stretches of THE KENTUCKY CYCLE that smack of high-school pageantry but they are outbalanced by scenes of engrossing drama, up close and personal, as the course of history constantly changes alongside the face of the landscape. Part I may be an ordeal with its victims and victimizers, revenge and counter-revenge (the cheerier each episode begins, the worse it will end), and those playgoers returning for Part II may be pardoned for evoking the Bard’s schoolboy, dragging his heels to school, but adventurous theatergoers should attend, nonetheless, to applaud David J. Miller for tucking THE KENTUCKY CYCLE so well into the BCA’s Black Box Theatre and for some brilliant ensemble-casting down to the smallest icon. … Where do I begin, praising this protean cast? Suffice it to say that this epic rests on four sturdy corners --- Peter Brown; Michael Steven Costello; Curt Clump; Brett Marks --- with two female peaks: Mia Van de Water in Part I and Christine Power in Part II; if this sextet make up the house, their remaining co-players are dazzling kaleidoscopes, within --- and in their proper periods and accents, too. Ms. Van de Water plays her native earth mother as so much wounded, waiting earth; Ms. Power’s mask, plain as a bone, burns with its own fierce beauty as a coalminer wife and mother (how comforting to know, in these political times, that some actresses can still suffer, and suffer well!). The male quartet has more to do, character-wise, and thus the men’s strengths are admirably showcased: the Messrs. Clump and Marks offer contrasting portrayals of working-class decency under fire, respectively clenched and relaxed; Mr. Costello makes his villains all the slimier by making them so likeable --- his would-be seduction of a wide-eyed miss is all the more erotic because the girl clearly wants to be seduced by him. There was a time when Mr. Brown struck me as a blank piece of paper; since then he has crumpled into a stage presence that doesn’t have to move or emote to make his points; it all boils down to channeling one’s energy and Mr. Brown is becoming a master of it, sending it out in retaliation or turning it upon himself in defeat. He’s come a long way, baby.”
ACTOR: Robert Walsh, TITUS ANDRONICUS (Actors Shakespeare Project; Cambridge, MA). Role: Titus Andronicus. “The curiosity, to some, and the excitement, for others, that the Actors’ Shakespeare Project generates with each production revolves not so much around the chosen play or who will perform it but, rather, where it is performed: to the ASP, the space seems to be the thing. But which is the chicken and which, the egg? Does the ASP select the play and then find a home for it, or t’other way around? I ponder this because, overall, its TITUS ANDRONICUS is its most satisfying union of Bard and environment to date, played out in the Garage at Harvard Square by an all-male ensemble. Everything is appropriately grey, stark and primitive --- the Roman world as a totalitarian society --- and even the cinderblock pillars become part of the action; the actors playing Tamora and Lavinia wear dresses yet have their heads shaved to signify Otherness; such female stylization bolsters the stylization of TITUS’ horror set-pieces where directorial cleverness, inevitably, blunts their full bloody impact. I sat fascinated, throughout --- my pen never touched paper, once --- yet now I conclude that apart from Robert Walsh’s brilliant Titus which would flourish anywhere, on any stage, that basement-in-the-round and the absence of actresses are what make this evening a triumph. … [A] Titus, if need be, can coast on bellowing, alone, but the true test lies in the bravura sequence where Titus, faced with Lavinia’s rape and mutilation and his sons’ doom, must display a parent’s concern, wax on about stones and the sea, cut off his hand, and suffer a near-breakdown which he then draws upon to simulate madness --- Mr. Walsh does all of this, beautifully, effortlessly, and lifts TITUS several notches above its blood-and-guts reputation; happily, he is enough of an ASP company member, onstage and off --- its TWELFTH NIGHT, thanks to Mr. Walsh’s direction, was a lovely Yuletide present, two winters ago --- that I am hopeful he will help steer the ASP towards a true Elizabethan ideal (i.e. gimmick-free).”
ACTRESS (tie): Leona Mitchell, DINAH WAS (Merrimack Theatre; Lowell, MA). Role: Dinah Washington. “[Oliver] Goldstick’s DINAH WAS spins the life story of blues-pop singer Dinah Washington from rise to fall to (posthumous) rise, centering around Ms. Washington performing at Las Vegas’ Sahara Hotel in 1959 but being forced to stay in a trailer due to Jim Crow policies. … DINAH WAS is breezily presentational with the woman’s songs occasionally being used as biographical commentary (a common device in bio-musicals); Ms. Washington battles anyone and everyone for artistic survival and respect, alienating husbands, friends and family along the way. … [Leona] Mitchell strides onto the Merrimack Stage, a white fur coat as her armor, and immediately breaks down all barriers between role and audience with her fierce, funny and superbly sung Dinah. Her figure does not cry out for Ms. Washington’s addiction to diet pills, and only occasionally does her singing match Ms. Washington’s nasal, clipped gospel-shouts but, then, Ms. Washington might envy the rich, soaring pipes with which Ms. Mitchell has been blessed. Ms. Mitchell has done her homework: her Dinah’s anger flows from segregated times and not once does she plead for audience sympathy and her closing number “I Don’t Hurt Anymore”, delivered in the afterlife, is all the more moving when delivered as is, free of racial baggage.”
ACTRESS (tie): Lindsay Wagner, THE BELLE OF AMHERST (Gloucester Stage Company; Gloucester, MA). Role: Emily Dickinson. “THE BELLE OF AMHEST, William Luce’s one-woman show about New England poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) is now old enough to be considered a classic … I’ve not seen the filmed Julie Harris performance for decades but remember her dashing about in high spirits (“what fun to be a spinster, and in father’s house, too!”); Gloucester's Lindsay Crouse plays the poet as a round-eyed, solemn child --- at first, one misses Ms. Harris’ sparkle, but Ms. Crouse is truer to Ms. Dickinson’s spirit. Firstly, she is believable in both her poet’s solitude and in her secret artistry. Secondly, she seems to be correctly laced in and weighted down (thank you, Jane Greenwood) so that her own dashing about is ever preceded by a gathering and lifting of her skirts; here is period movement. Thirdly, Ms. Crouse’s performance is distinctly an America of another day --- though she wears bridal-white, she is plain but sturdy as calico. To watch Ms. Crouse move amongst the furniture with small-town dignity and grace --- and director Eric C. Engel does not hinder her with mood-soundtracks or hints of psychosis --- is to get an echo of what American women (and, thus, American culture) were once all about: simple, direct and open, and which remained so up until the 1950s. Today’s women are encouraged by the media to be up front, physical and “hot”; how more involving to watch Ms. Crouse’s poet remain a closed seed to the world, then open up to her soul-mate and close again, unconsummated. And then there is Ms. Crouse’s voice which may strike the ear as flat but reaches Shakespearean heights in Act Two without going over the top --- her sparrow sings at the top of its lungs but remains a sparrow. This is one of the year’s most moving performances.”
FEATURED/SUPPORTING ACTOR: Will McGarrahan, SOUVENIR (Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Boston, MA). Role: Cosme McMoon. “SOUVENIR is Stephen Temperley’s fantasia on Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944), the American socialite-turned-recitalist who achieved cult status by having no musical ability whatsoever (her recordings, preserved on two CD collections, provide ample testimony). Accompanied by her faithful pianist Cosme McMoon, Mme. Jenkins’ recitals, beginning at private functions and culminating at Carnegie Hall shortly before her death, drew enthusiastic crowds who openly laughed at her ineptitude yet Mme. Jenkins apparently was oblivious at being the butt of her own joke. Narrated by Mr. McMoon, SOUVENIR celebrates their collaboration from beginning to end with the man coming to respect and even admire his patroness’ staggering lack of talent and the evening concludes with a clever, lovely epiphany. …Will McGarrahan, an offbeat leading man, is the best of McMoons, poised between the catty and the compassionate, and though he is onstage more than his leading lady, he never demands equal stage-time but supports Mme. Jenkins even in her absence. (Watch his subtle expressions at the keyboard when Mme. Jenkins’ Carnegie Hall audience turns on her.)”
FEATURED/SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Stacy Fischer, THE SECRET LOVE LIFE OF OPHELIA (The Nora Theatre; Boston, MA). Role: Ophelia. “A noticeable trend among writers is to show an alternate view of an Event, or What Really Happened, be it send-up, deconstruction or what-have-you; Steven Berkoff’s THE SECRET LOVE LIFE OF OPHELIA, via The Nora Theatre, consists of letters between Hamlet and Ophelia en route to the latter drowning herself. The secret lovers arouse one another with steamy, if not Elizabethan, prose but are frustrated by class differences, Ophelia’s nosey father and Hamlet harboring a family secret. Mr. Berkoff proposes that the original H&O clashes are really charades for their elders' sake but the subterfuge backfires and Shakespeare resumes control: the maddened Ophelia is last seen tossing petals into a pool, accompanied by Gertrude’s “drowned” monologue which, I gather, is from the Olivier soundtrack. The play’s interest lies in whether or not Mr. Berkoff has written an ingenious prequel; THE SECRET LOVE LIFE OF OPHELIA is clever enough but revolves for far too long --- such is the risk of reciting endless letters, aloud… I’ve not seen [Stacy] Fischer since her waif in THE SANCTUARY LAMP where she broke away from playing daffy-girls and I’ve missed her Bard heroines; when Ms. Fischer entered in period dress but with her hair all north-by-northwest, I assumed that Mr. Savick envisioned OPHELIA as a comedy (and Ms. Fischer is hilarious when listening, poker-faced, to Hamlet’s lascivious scenarios), but I was soon impressed at the amount of tragedy he has pulled out of this deceptive little clown: Ms. Fischer’s voice may never mature into a rich, mellow one --- it has a steady, hammering rhythm, and she tends to click her tongue against her palette --- but she makes a splendid Wild Child from the get-go, equally intoxicated by life, passion and grief. Her madness is best of all: Ms. Fischer keeps hammering at you but drains the color from her voice, her words becoming mere sounds from a broken machine that refuses to stop --- so often, the clowns shall lead the tragedians!”
PRODUCTION / ENSEMBLE: THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (SpeakEasy Stage Company; Boston, MA). A musical by Rupert Holmes. Directed by Paul Daigneault. Choreographed by David Connolly. Music supervision by Paul S. Katz. Musical direction by Dan Rodriguez. Cast: Edward M. Barker; Leigh Barrett; Bryce Chaddick; Kerry A. Dowling; Curly Glynn; David Krinitt; Jeff Mahoney; Will McGarrahan; Brendan McNab; Michael Mendiola; Ellen Peterson; Dale Place; Carly Sakolove; Erin Tchoukaleff; Alisa Walker. “Move over, Scrooges, everywhere: over at Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage, Rupert Holmes’ musical THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, based on Charles Dickens’ uncompleted novel, is equally grand holiday fun. The Dickensian plot is set in a sleepy English village where Edwin Drood is betrothed to the fair Rosa Bud; Edwin’s disappearance on a dark and stormy night leads to accusations of murder, the prime suspects being two rivals for Rosa’s hand: Edwin’s uncle John Jasper, addicted to opium, and the hot-tempered Neville Landless --- just as things start to quicken and dovetail, Mr. Dickens up and died and THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD has tantalized armchair detectives ever since. Rupert Holmes, best known for his Top 40 hit “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, opts for a mock penny-dreadful with a Crummles-like troupe acting out the tale in music-hall style. Apart from blending the character of the Reverend Mr. Crisparkle with the characteristics of Rosa’s legal guardian Mr. Grewgious and transforming Neville’s sister Helena into a sultan’s dream, Mr. Holmes faithfully skims through and sums up the novel’s complexities and his score is serviceable but agreeable. Where Mr. Dickens stops, Mr. Holmes continues and lets the audience vote on which characters are (1) the mysterious Dick Datchery, a supposed sleuth, and (2) Edwin’s murderer --- the choices made on the night I attended made perfect sense and I’ll assume that Mr. Holmes has six alternate endings up his sleeve with similar satisfactions. … Shuttling between SpeakEasy and Boston Conservatory productions, the team of Paul Daigneault and David Connolly can seemingly do no wrong in bringing out the best in Boston’s musical talent; their DROOD ensemble catches the correct blend of period barnstorming and winking tongue-in-cheek, and Gail Astrid Buckley’s costumes, Jenna McFarland Lord’s quick-change settings and Scott Clyve’s garish lighting are lessons in Victorian theatre history, alone. The now-familiar personas of Will McGarrahan, Leigh Barrett, Dale Place and Brendan McNab have never been more robust but the real standouts are those allowed to stretch some muscles: Erin Tchoukaleff, often in bit parts, takes a few steps closer to becoming a leading ingénue (though she must stop playing them as out-and-out ninnies); Kerry A. Dowling unleashes a powerful mezzo-soprano as the Princess Puffer; and two previously likeable fellows, David Krinitt and Michael Mendiola channel their energy into character roles: Mr. Krinitt is deliciously rank as Durdles and Mr. Mendiola contributes a John Jasper of such saturnine repression that the late Sir Henry Irving might have paused in his steps, en route to Mephistopheles; in Ms. Dowling's and the Messrs. Krinitt and Mendiola’s hands, nineteenth century melodrama with all its hackneyed passions, makes perfect sense…”
DIRECTOR / CHOREOGRAPHER: Bill Doscher (d) / Laurie Fisher (c), HAIR (The Footlight Club; Jamaica Plain, MA). “HAIR, the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, is now 40 years old and grey about the temples but has sweetly aged into its own little time capsule. … James Rado and Gerome Ragni’s non-libretto was innovative in its day, evoking a Happening taking place, like, now, man, with its plot-thread of Claude being drafted weaving throughout the hippie mood, lifestyle and vision, and Galt MacDermot’s score remains a breathtaking, groovy thing, as endlessly inventive as Virgil Thompson’s wonders with Gertrude Stein’s opera-librettos, several decades earlier, with each HAIR-number boasting its own shape and sound … which include “Aquarius”, “Hair”, “Easy to Be Hard”, “Good Morning, Starshine”, and “Let the Sunshine In”, and, yes, War remains a sad fact of Life be it in jungles (then) or in deserts (now), and HAIR has enough little parallel jolts to keep it from being a mere nostalgic romp, today. … How odd that none of Boston’s professional theatres have celebrated HAIR’s 40th anniversary when other theatres, nationwide, have done so; instead, Jamaica Plain’s Footlight Club --- “amateur but not amateurish” --- is doing a mighty little job with it, and Bostonians should gratefully, thankfully attend for its visibility, alone. The Footlight evening isn’t perfect --- the body rhythms of its young ensemble are more cautious and kindergarten than rebellious and tribal, and some suggest that their cell phones are never far away --- but director Bill Doscher, musical director Mario Cruz and choreographer Laurie Fisher draw so much magic from a largely untrained cast (movement-wise) that only a Scrooge would care to grumble, throughout. … The ensemble’s strength is two-fold: firstly, Mr. MacDermot’s score is beautifully, if obediently, sung; secondly, how moving to watch these young people, raised in a terrifying world, tasting HAIR’s peace, brotherhood and (reasonable) protest, finding it all quite palatable and letting the sunshine into their own hemmed-in souls. Yes, yes, Act One ends in an all-nude finale, dimly staged but, again, how wondrous to see the cast shed both clothes and armor when today’s society offers no reason to do so --- when this production closes and its stage-hippies go their separate ways, may some of HAIR’s tests and lessons trail behind them…”
ACTOR / ACTRESS: Douglas Hodge, SHE LOVES ME (The Concord Players; Concord, MA). Role: Georg Nowack. Sarah Consentino, SHE LOVES ME (The Concord Players; Concord, MA). Role: Amalia Balash. “One’s first acquaintance with a theatre company is all the sweeter when its introductory production works like a charm, as was my evening with the Concord Players' SHE LOVES ME. This beloved American musical with a Continental flavor is set in a Hungarian perfumery in the 1930s and centers on Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash, who bicker constantly but who also, unknowingly, write love letters to each other via a penpal club (if the theme sounds familiar, there are three film versions of the original play). Thanks to computer dating services and the introspective musicals of the Sondheim school, SHE LOVES ME, which preceded COMPANY and FOLLIES, strikes the ear with a familiar but honeyed sound, blended with violins, and how good to see everyone, down to the last shop customer, being given something to do; the results become padded, at times, but few New Musicals can boast such two , if not three-, dimensional characters. … SHE LOVES ME fits delightfully upon the Concord stage, with the sets designed in proportion to its actors rather than its proscenium, and Corey Jackson and Jennifer Condon have staged it all cleverly, cozily, with everyone a hair’s breadth away from a waltz or a tango. Like the perfumery’s tables, stocked with temptations, the Concord ensemble is one inspired turn after another, led by Douglas Hodge’s Georg and Sarah Consentino’s Amalia, from two contrasting walks of 1930s aesthetics: Mr. Hodge is a genial man-next-door type; a modest swain whom women turn to when tired of bad boys (Mr. Hodge’s surprise and delight in his Fosse-like movements during the title song matches our own), and Ms. Consentino’s silvery tones have fluttered in from a Kern operetta (the closing bars of “Ice Cream” are given an amusing Wagnerian spin); thrice, now, have I seen Ms. Consentino, onstage, and each ensemble has caught the proverbial lightning in a bottle --- if she is not a rabbit’s foot, then who is?”
FEATURED/SUPPORTING ACTOR: William Gardiner, GUYS ON ICE: THE ICE FISHING MUSICAL (Stoneham Theatre; Stoneham, MA). Role: Ernie the Moocher. “If the late Samuel Beckett ever penned a musical with Garrison Keillor, the results would be GUYS ON ICE: THE ICE FISHING MUSICAL, a ninety-minute sketch in the art of waiting for something to happen: Marvin and Lloyd, two Wisconsin buddies, sit in Marvin’s shanty out on a frozen lake, fishing through a hole in the ice and waiting for the perch to bite and for a local TV show host to come and interview them. Marvin and Lloyd drink beer, discuss their women and the Green Bay Packers (not necessarily in that order), swap bad jokes, tolerate a buttinsky aptly named Ernie the Moocher, drink more beer, wait, and voice their thoughts in song --- often. … William Gardiner’s Ernie the Moocher, bearded and rotund and adorable, merrily steals the show; Ernie may be the walk-on comedy relief but Mr. Gardiner makes him the evening’s most memorable turn. Don’t stay away too long during intermission or you may miss Mr. Gardiner hilariously working the audience and even playing a pair of spoons to perfection.”
FEATURED/SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Shannon Lee Jones, GYPSY (Stoneham Theatre; Stoneham, MA). Role: Tessie Tura. “Leigh Barrett [recently performed] Mr. Sondheim at the Stoneham Theatre --- no, not THAT Sondheim; the EARLY Sondheim: Sondheim the budding lyricist, backed by Jule Styne’s tunes (almost every one, a standard) and Arthur Laurents’ libretto, the best book ever written for an American musical. That musical, of course, is GYPSY, suggested by the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (1911-1970) --- what a beautiful work of art, despite its distinctly American harshness; what an endless string of plum roles and set pieces! … Shannon Lee Jones as stripper Tessie Tura resembles the young Angela Lansbury, spits her barbs with a candied sweetness and is altogether edible.”
LIGHTING: Scott Clyve, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (SpeakEasy Stage Company; Boston, MA). Scott Clyve’s garish lighting, evoking the gaslight era, was a lesson in Victorian theatre history, alone.
SET DESIGN: J. Michael Griggs, NO MAN’S LAND (American Repertory Theatre; Cambridge, MA). “Harold Pinter’s NO MAN’S LAND … leans heavily upon the Pinteresque than on his unexplained plots: Hirst and Spooner, two old men, have met by chance over drinks --- the former is a successful, dulled author; the later, a scruffy, failed poet. Hirst invites Spooner into his home to continue drinking and to co-habit a No Man’s Land of nothingness; Foster and Briggs, two younger men, serve and threaten their elders. … After A.R.T.’s hideous take on THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, its NO MAN’S LAND might well be a night at the Huntington: J. Michael Griggs’ large, handsome setting, ominous with wood, is free of distortion.”
COSTUMES: Seth Brodie and Rachel Padula, VALHALLA (Zeitgeist Stage Company; Boston, MA). “Paul Rudnick’s VALHALLA, at the Zeitgeist, is dazzling comedy even when the rhinestones outnumber the diamonds. Two worlds compete for your attention: the court of King Ludwig of Bavaria (19th century), who sees Life as his own Wagnerian opera, and the closeted Texas of James Avery (20th century), who lusts for straight-arrow Henry Lee Stafford --- these worlds kinda-sorta blend, eventually; before then, you may wonder what the back-and-forth is all about apart from concluding that it takes a gay man (Ludwig) to make the world an exquisite one and another gay man (James) to appreciate the effort (each begins by mooning over his respective swan). Still, Mr. Rudick does keep you chuckling, throughout --- his humor lies in the throwaway or afterthought than in the heart of things --- so you shouldn’t be too, too disappointed at journey’s end. … Seth Bodie’s costumes and Rachel Padula’s wigs are eye-popping, especially when they must be whipped on and off in seconds --- this is the lushest Zeitgeist production, yet.”
BUNRAKU: THE NATIONAL PUPPET THEATRE OF JAPAN (The Japan Society of Boston; Boston, MA). “Datemusume Koi no Higanoko” (Oshichi’s Burning Love). written by Suga Sensuke, Matsuda Wakichi and Wakatake Fuemi; first performed at the Kitahorie-no-shibai Theatre, Osaka, in 1773. Chanters: Toyotake Rosetayu; Takemoto Aikodayu. Puppeteer: Yoshida Seizaburo. Shamisen Musicians: Toyozawa Tomisuke; Takezawa Dango; Toyozawa Ryouji. / “Tsubosaka Kannon Reigenki” (Miracle at the Tsubosaka Kannon Temple). Written by Kako Chika; first performed at the Hikorokuza Theatre, Osaka, in 1887. Chanter: Takemoto Tsukomadayu. Puppeteers: Yoshida Kazuo; Yoshida Tamame. Shamisen Musicians: Takezawa Danshichi; Takezawa Dango. Percussion: Mochizuki Tamenari. “Three seasons ago, The Japan Society of Boston showcased an evening of traditional Noh (drama) and kyogen (comedy) theatre; the Society has now hosted the opening of the 2007 Tour of BUNRAKU: THE NATIONAL PUPPET THEATRE OF JAPAN, the first major presentation in America since 1992 and its first appearance in Boston since 1984. An all-male art form that began in the 18th century, Bunraku features puppets that are three-quarters life size, each manipulated by three visible puppeteers and accompanied by an onstage narrator who chants the dialogue and musicians who perform on the banjo-like shamisen. The troupe enacted two classic love stories (the girl Oshichi risks execution to save her warrior-lover; the blind Sawaichi and his devoted wife Osato find salvation through their mutual sacrifice), along with a demonstration of Bunraku’s aesthetics and its puppets’ complex mechanisms. This was not an evening for children or tired businessmen: Western eyes were bombarded by ritual and artifice; Western ears, by piped and grunted declamation, the plunking of shamisen and stomping of feet --- but one soon thrilled to Oshichi’s ascent up an icy ladder to warn her lover and was moved by Sawaichi and Osato’s suicides and their joyous dance of redemption; as with the Noh and kyogen showcase, Time slowed down then gave way to the Timeless.”
THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES (The X-Mas Project; Boston, MA). Written by Jeff Goode. Directed by Jackie Davis. Cast: Melissa Baroni; Hannah J. Barth; Anthony Goes; Curt Klump; Eliza Lay; Greg Maraio; Brett Marks; Ed Peed. “Deconstructive Christmas entertainments have become part of the seasonal landscape along with sugar plum fairies, Scrooges and ho-ho-ho’s; over at the Factory Theatre, the X-Mas Project, showcasing the cream of Boston’s fringe-artists, is currently offering Jeff Goode’s THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES where Santa Claus’ team vent against a boss who cannot keep his hands off anything on four hooves. The monologues begin hilariously, enough, with actors sporting antlers and blackened noses, and the humor is akin to a brat gleefully defacing a Hallmark card; however, Mr. Goode’s inventiveness soon darkens with accusations and counter-accusations over sexual abuse --- the jury is still out as to whether Mr. Goode’s intention is to disarm you, at first, with comedy and then grip you with tragedy or whether he began in one corner and painted himself into another. Either way, THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES is challenging holiday fare and, not surprisingly, all proceeds from the show will be donated to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) --- thus, you can have an offbeat night of theatre and contribute to a noble cause… Despite its subject matter, the X-Mas Project production closes the year with a golden --- no! sterling! --- ensemble, composed mostly of Zeitgeist Stage regulars, and beautifully blended into a whole by Jackie Davis; I have been told that this weekend is already sold out so you’d best order your tickets, sooner, in order to have them, later.”
METAMORPHOSES (Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club; Cambridge, MA). Written by Mary Zimmerman. Directed by Carmel O’Reilly. Cast: Madeleine Bennett; Olivia Benowitz; Matthew Bohrer; Jack Fishburn; Nelson Greaves; Arlo Hill; Carolyn Holding; Daniel Pecci; Cecilia I. Soler; Sara Wright. “Mary Zimmerman’s magical, acclaimed METAMORPHOSES, drawing such myths as King Midas, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Alcyone and Ceyx from Ovid’s collection and setting them in and around a swimming pool, is briefly casting its spell at the Loeb Drama Center; I saw the New York production, several years ago, and the HRDC’s version is almost as good, cast with student actors and shimmeringly directed by Carmel O’Reilly so that water, desire, love and transcendence become one and the same, balanced between the classical and the contemporary, the heartfelt and the send-up. I remember the New York cast being more adept in their swimming, submerging and play-acting, but how lovely to re-experience Ms. Zimmerman’s images through this engaging ensemble.”
The Funniest Moment of the Year: Anything Rick Park did, said or wore in VALHALLA (Zeitgeist Stage Company; Boston, MA). Enough said.
The Loveliest Moment of the Year: Ellen Adair wearing her character’s wedding dress in Janet Kenney’s MORE THAN WHAT (Centastage; Boston, MA).
The Most Joyous Moment of the Years: HAIR’s rousing “Let the Sunshine In” (The Footlight Club; Jamaica Plain, MA). How good to know that this finale still worked for its 40th anniversary!
The Most Moving Moment of the Year: In Noah Haidle’s PERSEPHONE (Huntington Stage Company, Boston, MA), the armless statue of Demeter rises from her throne after observing centuries of man’s inhumanity, gains her limbs and joins her daughter Persephone in the afterlife, to the strains of Mozart’s trio “Soave sia il vento” --- a tortured spirit, suddenly set free.
The OMG Moment of the Year: During the rape scene in MAN OF LaMANCHA (Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Boston, MA), Aldonza’s skirt was pulled off to reveal immaculate thigh-length drawers, hemmed with ribbons.
The Saddest Moment of the Year: The passing of Will Stackman after a lifetime of service to Boston’s theatre community as professor, advisor and critic.