Theatre Mirror Reviews - "ARTiculation"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Larry Stark


Directed by Lois Roach

Danny Balel
Tory Bullock
Michael Cognata
Terri Deletetsky
Marvelyn McFarlane
Nik Walker
DJ Reazon

Set Design by Jarrod Bray
Lighting Design by Mark Abby Vanderzee
Sound Design & Composer DJ Reason
Costume Design by Tristan Scott Barton Raines
Production Manager Sarah Shampnois
Assistant Stage Manager Eliza Mulcahy
Stage Manager Lindsay Barton

These are rough times to be young and gifted, no matter what your skin-color, and there are parts of Boston where no one walks the streets safely without escort. But most of the mixed-race cast of "ARTiculation" have worked together over five years (since they were 16), throwing their explosive talents into one another's laps and mining themselves for the raw material of poetry and songs because, on stage together, they trust one another enough to be unapologetically honest. Much of what they ARTiculate is pushed through the rhythmic chants or dreamy melodies of pop music, but their clear-eyed wit and insight and self-revelation transform these forms into tools to express realities. As the show rattles brick-abricka-Boston on at breakneck pace, theirs is despite everything a brave new world with people in it --- unflinchingly articulate, self-aware beautiful young people. And there may be, through their eyes, a future for this country after all.

Each one is an individual.

Danny Balel is round-shouldered and geek-skinny --- all ears and eyeglasses and pointed, smiling beard --- and he enjoys being the worst-equipped dancer on the stage. In his monologue he admits to having been the kid who could demand of God "I can't believe in You until You begin to believe in me" --- only to realize that God could, and did, demand exactly the same of him.

Tory Bullock --- who conceived the show originally --- is a performer with restlessly articulate eyeballs. He flips incessantly from hype to honesty, shrinking from his revealed insincerities with knowing guilt. He and Danny can insist "You are the (White-est/Black-est) guy I've ever known, and I love you." Their story, of driving the car right into the damn Charles River then cooling-out, giggling, till "the EMTs finally arrived" is full of the goofy joy of being young.

Terri Ilana Deletetsky specializes in full-throated song. Her "Dear Johnny" ballad is a classical portrait of a younger Brother given only direction, criticism, and a gun, and always cautioned "don't fuck up" but never instructed on how to do anything "right". Her songs are less rhythmical than lyrical and watch the world from outside.

Nik Walker's nickname is "Showtime" and he can both express his tall solid frame and deep Coalhouse-Walker voice yet push it all past emotion into subtle self-parody. In his monologue he confesses a dream in which his God forced him to be a poet; it contains an insightful litany of dozens of poet role-models he seems to know down to the colors of their socks.

Marvelyn McFarlane is cover-girl pretty, shy and a little bit guilty of being beautiful. Her monologue paints the picture of someone playing the part of the belle of the ball who, only in the silence of her own room, can slip off society's masks and see her always unsure self.

Jarrod Bray has built these continually-moving people a set-piece with a solid staircase at each side they can mount to a central platform. That creates a sort of upstage grotto in which, surrounded by musical machinery, stands composer and sound-designer DJ Reazon. The program calls him "musician and disc-jockey" but that is a lie: he is an artist of sounds and samples and rhythms who is the musical motor of this non-stop express-train. He continually supports and challeges everyone, and even his pre-game warm-up turns HipPop into Mozart. No one could keep still bombarded by such genius.

And though it's obvious that Lois Roach's solid directorial hands sanded away any imperfections and coaxed perfections into bloom, the greatest compliment I can pay her is to say "It looks like everyone's making this up themselves as they go along."

This show is as alive and aware as this hour's BBC Bulletin, but the most important thing they say is in the company's first song: "I teach." Having survived high school and spanging off to colleges, these writer-performers are re-united to come on stage with dance and mime and music and poetry to teach the young how to find a Self to be, and to teach the old that new tricks grow out of eternal human verities. Their blasphemously eloquent parodies of the Pledge of Allegiance and The Star Spangled Banner do not tear down, but build on; and I can only wonder why WGBH has not, already, filmed this glorious affirmation so this entire nation can participate in its hopeful message.

Until they do, it will be at The Boston Playwrights' Theatre --- but only till the 24th.

What the hell are you waiting for?


"ARTiculation" (9 - 24 January)

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide