note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark
The GLOBE is supposed to report the News, but the paper ignores what ought to be the major news that, for the past ten years, theater here in Boston has undergone an explosion of activity and growing artistic excellence --- which Globe Staff reporter Don Aucoin hinted at:
Yeah, congratulations Don: you walked up Tremont Street from "The Theatre District" to the BCA. Great.
How Many TIMES, Don?
How many times did the Boston GLOBE send reporters to the Plaza space or the Black Box or the upstairs room at the Wimberly?
How many times did the GLOBE send someone to The Factory Theatre? To The Charlestown Working Theatre? To the YMCA Family Theatre? To The Roxbury Community College? To the places they could see that explosion taking place?
In fact, how many times in 2009 did the GLOBE send Anybody to Anything?
I don't mean sent someone to "criticize" --- I mean just to notice how often people who might like theater could see plays.
Hint: I didn't see 200 plays last year --- I fell short by SIX.
(and I don't have a car!)
And we found a Lot of theater to review
Why couldn't The GLOBE?
You're right, Don, things are different than they were in the past.
In the early '70s, I looked around for fringe theatres, and in addition to the Broadway Barns, the Charles Playhouse and the Theatre Company of Boston I found ..... ten.
Twenty years ago I totalled up every theatre company in Boston and found 68.
In 2001 --- you remember the chant:
But that was Then....
Take a look at this list.
If the GLOBE sent someone to only ONE production by each company, that would mean One Hundred And Eleven articles without any repetitions.
But that's the OLD list;
Look at THIS one That's the list of theater-companies NEW TO BOSTON ONLY THIS YEAR ! !
And how many of Them has The GLOBE reviewed?
How many has The GLOBE even NOTICED???
This has to change --- and Y O U have to Make it change.
I know that this harrangue will mean nothing to the GLOBE. No one at the paper will even read it.
I know that the only people who read the Theater Mirror are theater-MAKERS;
I'm preaching to the choir, and you all know, already, everything I'm saying is true.
But there are A Lot of You --- aren't there?
What would happen if Every One Of You complained to the GLOBE?
If you run a theater company that has never been reviewed, complain to The GLOBE.
If you directed a show that the paper ignored, complain to The GLOBE.
If you're an actor who hasn't ever seen your name in its pages, complain to The GLOBE.
Unless the paper gets the idea that their indifference MATTERS, nothing will ever change. But it must.
I know how hard and sincerely people work to make plays; I know how many of you give your hearts to the stage; I know how grateful all of you are just to be Noticed; and I know how much the snubs of the media hurts you --- and Angers ME.
You are part of a vast breaking wave of thrilling activity, and you deserve to be noticed.
Show them you deserve their attention.
Boston is a vibrant new Theater Town.
Take Back Your City!
Production Manager & Sound Design by John Doerschuk
Set Design by Dahlia Al-Habieli
Lighting Design by Kenneth Helvig
Costume Design by Suzanne Nitter
Public Relations Joanne Barrett
Stage Manager Nerys Powell
What need anyone say about a classic this well done? To those who think they know the old warhorse cold: "Go, you will see it new again, and talk about it after." To those who have never seen it staged: "Go, experience live theater at its most dangerous." To those who've only seen the movie: "Go, live in the same room with these people, but be aware that, good though the film is, this ain't 'The Liz & Dick Show'! Not anymore." And after you're filled and emptied of all emotion, as I was, maybe all we'll need to do is mumble some minor notes around the edges.
For instance: the play is set in "a small New England college" in "New Carthage, Vt."
The war with Carthage is the classic no-quarter, take-no-prisoners conflict. When despite Hannibal and his elephants the Romans won they "seeded the fields with salt so nothing would grow." That's a metaphor for the conflicts in this play.
When Martha says of mentioning their son "I shouldn't have brought it up" George counters "Not 'it' --- 'him'!" and this is, after all, academia --- but at the end of the play this turns out to provide a major battlefield in their marriage. No wonder he takes what seems like a minor grammatical error so seriously.
George, exhausted after yet another boring academic coctail-party, is in the History department, while Nick the young-stud-on-campus teaches Biology. There's a thesis-topic there, right?
The one way Director Diego Arciniegas' genius is obvious is in blocking. Nigel Gore as George the old warrior often sits collapsed into an arm-chair, back to the audience with nothing apparent but his bald-spot, while Tina Packer's self-admitted loud and vulgar Martha perches on the footstool before him, testing for vulnerabilities. Yet when on their feet it's George who now and again dances about the room, never spilling the drink in his hand, always ready to cross to the bar to freshen a glass for someone else.
It is easy to speak of the characters here as people because they are so excellently brought to larger-than-life. For all her vituperative rapaciousness, the Martha Tina Packer plays is vulnerable. When she "slips into something more comfortable" it's to pace about panther-like in bare feet with toe-nails lacquered the color of arterial blood. She drinks straight gin, and chews up her ice-cubes.
Nigel Gore's George sips his scotch slowly, and rarely needs a re-fill. He is the ultimate counter-puncher, absorbing body-blows aplenty but ever watchful, with a knock-out right.
The young contender Nick drinks bourbon past the initial buzz, always asking more ice. Kevin Kaine plays him as a confident newcomer eager to play even before he understands the rules of these new games. He's really a pawn in Martha's arsenal.
And Angie Jepson plays Honey as the ultimate innocent, gulping from her snifter of brandy, expecting civility in the midst of a blood-spumed bear-pit she never understands in the slightest.
The set here, by Dahlia Al-Habieli, is a book-lined living-room as realistic as any in Harvard Square, with a tiny alcove-bar up-center, sofa and armchair down-stage, and a two-step raised platform on which actors can stand, or sit. Above center-stage is a frame supposedly holding a portrait of Martha's father, the president of the college. It's hung at an angle so people can remark upon it, discuss it, even speak to it, though it stays invisible to the audience.
The one distraction from the relentless hyper-realism of the play is Kenneth Helvig's uneven lighting that dims and brightens in reflection of the moods of the play. Like an elbow in the ribs, these reminders that this is "just" a play are never subtle enough to underscore rather than upstage the action --- at least they were when I saw it early in the run.
Oh, and this is a three-act play that needs intermissions in which the action can be digested and discussed. It's drenched in subtle subtexts and glib nuances, ambiguities only later obvious, and surfaces and levels always interchanging --- and all played with such immediacy each act feels like its rushing on interminably, until the abrupt act-breaks snap back to "reality".
Much of the critical reaction to this production may swirl around the program note that "This production is not approved by the play's author, Edward Albee. Nevertheless, the production has been allowed to open." Mr. Albee disapproved even though he never saw the show.
But you can see it --- and you should --- and then decide if he's justified.
(I've already made my decision.)