Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Shakespeare’s Actresses in America"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Carl A. Rossi


"SHAKESPEARE’S ACTRESSES IN AMERICA"

created and performed by Rebekah Maggor
directed by Karin Coonrod

Narrator … Margaret Webster

from ROMEO AND JULIET:

The Balcony Scene (II, ii)… Julia Marlowe
The Balcony Scene (II, ii)… Eva Le Gallienne
The Balcony Scene (II, ii)… Claire Danes
The Potion Scene (IV, iii)… Ellen Terry

from THE TAMING OF THE SHREW:

The Speech to Wives (V, ii) … Ada Rehan
The Speech to Wives (V, ii) … Mary Pickford
The Speech to Wives (V, ii) … Elizabeth Taylor

from TWELFTH NIGHT:

Willow Cabin (I, v) … Margaret Webster
The Ring Scene (II, ii) … Helen Hayes

from A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM:

Forgeries of Jealousy (II, i) … Anita Louise
Forgeries of Jealousy (II, i) … Kathleen Turner

from OTHELLO:

Speech to Desdemona’s Father (I, iii) … Celia Adler (in Yiddish)
Speech to Desdemona’s Father (I, iii) … Uta Hagen

from MACBETH:

The Letter Scene (I, v) … Sybil Thorndike
The Sleepwalking Scene (V,i) … Eva La Gallienne

from HAMLET:

Hamlet’s Soliloquy (III, i) … Sarah Bernhardt (in French)
Hamlet’s Soliloquy (III, i) … Margaret Webster
Ophelia’s Mad Scene, Part I (IV, v) … Ellen Terry
Ophelia’s Mad Scene, Part II (IV, v) … Lisa Gay Hamilton

“If you rest, you rust,” quips a channeled Helen Hayes in a return engagement of Rebekah Maggor’s SHAKESPEARE’S ACTRESSES IN AMERICA, to which I counter, “If you temper, you may tamper,” for what I saw and admired, last night, is not quite what I saw and enjoyed, two years ago. Ms. Maggor continues her breathtaking impersonations of stage and film actresses playing the Bard but has added six more actresses, not all that remarkable as Shakespeareans; with all that padding, an intermission would be most welcome. Two indelible moments are missing: Sarah Bernhardt’s triumphant entrance to the music of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Ellen Terry letting down her hair as the maddened Ophelia --- what, o what, compelled Ms. Maggor to fix what was never broken in the first place, and shall her gifts ever glow in an actual Shakespeare production?

"Shakespeare’s Actresses in America" (27 January-11 February)
HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

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Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Little Dog Laughed" till 16 February and "Blowing Whistles"**** till 9 February

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Carl A. Rossi

Which to choose, if forced to pick only one: Ms. Keiller for comedy? Mr. Quint for tragedy? Splurge and go for both, if you can.

"THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED"

by Douglas Carter Beane

directed by Paul Melone

Diane … Maureen Keiller
Mitchell … Robert Serrell
Alex … Jonathan Orsini
Ellen … Angie Jepson

"BLOWING WHISTLES"

by Matthew Todd

directed by Thomas Garvey

Nigel … Christopher Michael Brophy
Jamie … Brian Quint
Mark … Joey C. Pelletier

‘Tis June in January at the Boston Center for the Performing Arts; “June” as in “Gay Pride” with simultaneous productions of THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED (SpeakEasy Stage Company), BLOWING WHISTLES (Zeitgeist Stage Company) and both parts of ANGELS IN AMERICA (Boston Theatre Works). ANGELS, of course, is a two-night entertainment, but THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED and BLOWING WHISTLES also make a good one-two punch and throw contrasting light upon contemporary gay playwriting: DOG is a winking American romp; WHISTLES, a British probe into fidelity. Both revolve around reverberations caused by a young, love-starved hustler, prompting a closeted actor to consider coming out, to his agent’s horror (DOG), and one-half of a ten-year couple to realize that addiction to London’s gay party scene has become the fuel that keeps their relationship running (WHISTLES). Douglas Carter Beane writes superior, witty dialogue, poised between stand-up and sitcom --- notice how Camp, once a minority’s sensibility, has since gone mainstream as the New Sophistication? Matthew Todd’s Brit-vision is cool and clear-eyed and easily passes from catty to bleak.

Maureen Keiller, Boston’s rubber-faced comedienne, peaks as Diane, DOG’s ruthless-friendly agent; Ms. Keiller is so polished, her mugging so classy and understated, that may she never take on such roles again for she can only recycle herself, after this, and artists must continue to evolve, even to the sounds of diminishing applause. The world stopped when Ms. Keiller quietly, pointedly poured herself a cup of coffee in PULP, several seasons ago, so she clearly has audience-control can look smashing, when allowed --- but which Boston theatre shall give her a push in a new direction? If I continue to see SpeakEasy’s Kerry Dowling as Lola in William Inge’s COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA, I now envision Ms. Keiller as Rosemary in his PICNIC (after all, clowns are tragedians turned inside out). Jonathan Orsini captures the right hustler-balance as Alex --- a guarded heart severed from a marketable body --- and endearingly weaves them together, becoming a brand new creation at evening’s end. The role of Mitchell, the star-in-the-closet, can be played either as a bundle of neuroses coming to a head or as a gorgeous shell belatedly filling up with thought --- Robert Serrell plays Mitchell as a goofy fratboy: much ado about little. As the beard Ellen, Angie Jepson’s hard, external style --- all timing, nothing else --- recalls a similar actress whom I once accused of billyclubbing a role and have not seen, since; Ms. Jepson takes her place, uh, nicely. Paul Melone’s direction and pace really do suggest a New York atmosphere, even when contained within Eric Levenson’s wooden setting which screams “barn” instead of concrete and steel.

If Zeitgeist doesn’t have an official repertory company, than its rounding up the usual suspects, several times a season, is the next best thing, especially when said suspects are mixed-and-matched in ever-challenging work and on a shoestring, too. Thomas Garvey’s direction for BLOWING WHISTLES is soapy --- his actors are ever throwing themselves about to slip a talk-piece past our eyes --- thus it is up to them to give it depth. Christopher Michael Brophy’s physique is right up there with Anne Gottlieb’s beauty, Jacqui Parker’s rare moments of vulnerability, and Jerry Kissel’s anything, but as the roving Nigel, Mr. Brophy has never seemed more simian and he and Joey C. Pelletier (as the hustler) have a contest as to who can keep his mouth open the longest when not saying anything. Brian Quint provides the evening's amazement as the questioning Jamie --- Mr. Quint’s looks are not dashing and his stage-voice is, by turns, scolding, whiney or tremulous; thus, planting him front-and-center was a gamble, a gamble that has paid off, handsomely. Whether Mr. Quint always had untapped dramatic bedrock in him or it was uncovered through sink-or-swim tactics, he dominates in a passive role without changing anything --- one can see why the Messrs. Brophy and Pelletier’s characters are drawn to his Jamie: underneath his fussiness is a warm, giving heart challenged by Life’s temptations and betrayals. (Now, what if the Messrs. Quint and Brophy should swap roles for an evening…?)

Which to choose, if forced to pick only one: Ms. Keiller for comedy? Mr. Quint for tragedy? Splurge and go for both, if you can. T’ would be a shame to break up this set…

"The Little Dog Laughed" (18 January-16 February)
SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

"Blowing Whistles" (18 January-9 February)
ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

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