Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Chain" & "Circle"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark


"Chain"
&
"Circle"

Scenic Design & Directed by David J. Miller

Lighting design by Sarren Evans
Costume Design by Amelia McKinney
Sound Design by E. L. Copeland
Projections by Maria Gambale
Stage Managers:
Fred Aguilar for "Chain" Llana Apelker for "Chain"

David J. Miller, the producer/set designer/artistic director of the Zeitgeist Stage Company, finds relavent, unsettling, contemporary plays, turns them over to exceptional actors and watches the sparks fly. The current Zeitgeist productions are billed as "in rep" although "Chain" is a solo performance by Naeemah A White Peppers --- who is if perhaps not yet the best, easily the best New actress in the Boston area. Otherwise, Pearl Cleage's monologue and Suzanne Bachner's "Circle" have nothing in common save graphic language and attention (one to drug addiction, the other to sex) rarely confronted anywhere but on the live stage. One's a comedy, the other isn't, but if you can see only one, make it "Chain".

"Chain"

By Pearl Cleage

Rosa Jenkins.....Naeemah A. White Peppers

First off, you got any problem with strong cussin' or sex-talk, shit like that, you better keep your prissy ass away from the BCA's Black Box till this play's over. It all about Rosa Jenkins, she sixteen and a crack-head in Harlem, the door locked and her right ankle chained to the radiator by her "tough-lovin" parents. She mad, she loud, and she tellin truth, whether you prissy-asses ready to hear it or not. Like how Really Gooood it feel bein high on rock and how Baad it feel not bein high. Like what you do for money when you need more. She sixteen remember, and she don't take no shit from nobody!

The play is divided into seven "days" with projected black-and-white photographs marking the scene-breaks. There are gritty, soul-less views of ghetto emptiness that underline the bleakness of life without Rock, but each break also includes a picture of a window or a door --- pictures that start fuzzily out of focus, but sharpen bit by slow bit as the play progresses.

In day two, the play suddenly turns itself inside-out when Rosa sticks a cigarette in her mouth and then asks the audience do they have a light? The real Rosa Jenkins was interviewed, after all, for a page-one story in The New York Sunday TIMES, so shattering the fourth wall has some logic to it. And talking to the audience allows Rosa to grow a little more introspective, explaining herself instead of merely acting-out.

Here Naeemah A. White Peppers looks like a scrawny hat-rack with a lotta teeth, a petulent kid outraged at the indignity of it all. Her parents --- both hospital-workers often forced into double-shifts --- have tried religion, tried sending Rosa to rehab in Kentucky, and are now trying chains. Late in the play she's aware of their frustrated love. But her role-model is her boy-friend "HayZoos" --- whose indifference to everything around him was initially attractive. His eventual indifference to Her, however, makes her begin to think.

The play probably has no "happy ending": The last day finds Rosa freed of her shackle, and answering a knock on the now unlocked door. What awaits her --- you are free to fantasize.

"Circle"

By Suzanne Bachner

The Husband....................Kevin Steinberg
The Father.........................Jim Spencer
The Lesbian.....................Danielle DiDio
The Stripper..........Naeemah A. White-Peppers
The Frat Boy......................Chris Loftus
The Exchange Student........Katarina Morhacova
The Superstar......................Jim Spencer
The Producer......................Mia Anderson
The Fetishist..................Kevin Steinberg
The Wife........................Danielle DiDio

Undressers:
Jayk Gallagher, Oscar George, Chi Wright

"Circle" is different from "Chain": not a solo piece, it features seven actors. In nine scenes, each a sexual encounter interrupted by a blackout indicating sex, playwright Suzanne Bachner attempts to expand and update Schnitzler's "La Ronde" --- with different kinds of sex rather than different social levels defining each scene (or should we say, in this case, each "Act"?). It's also pretty much a comedy...

Unlike the problem in Schnitzler, in this play it's not whether sex will happen but what kind it will be, and the tensions are not so much how two people will approach and react to the same act, but whether anyone will be satisfied by it.

The catalog includes homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, sex-for-hire, groupies, business-quickies, BDSM, chat-room cyber-sex, and ... lemme see, one more ... oh yeah: marriage. The characters range in ages, sizes, expertise and colors pretty much all over the map. And, as one partner disappears offstage, the one remaining is dealt with by three "undressers" who prepare that person and the set for the next encounter with someone entirely new. Both the action and the scene-changes teasingly flirt with nudity, but performances are much too quick to be labelled pornographic.

But neither is the show very insightful. Most of these couples are in some way mismatched, but mostly for comic effect, and performances are accordingly broad. It's as though each actor, or each couple, had been thrown onstage with no clear awareness as to how each playlet should fit into the overall mosaic. There are flashes of internal pain here and there among the giggles of either recognition or embarrassement. Maybe, after a play like "Chain" audiences need an outrageous comedy to bring them to balance. But this play is more a parody than an update of Schnitzler.

Love,
===Anon.


"Chain" & "Circle" (21 February - 15 March)
ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 426-2787


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Chicago"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | USHER | SEATS | INTERMISSION | CURTAIN |


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark


"Chicago"

Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by Sonya Worden
Choreography by Laurie Fischer, Sheryl Rifas-Shiman, Lisa Cahill
Musical Director Jason Whiting

Set Design by Sonya Worden
Lighting design by John Randell
Costume Design by Lisa Cahill
Sound Design by Art Alvarez
Executive Producer Heather Fry
Assistant Stage Manager Christie Hershey
Stage Manager Jen Palange

Velma Kelly....................Samantha Brior-Jones
Roxie Hart.........................Jennifer Simmons
Billy Flynn............................Justin Dilly
Amos Hart..............................Matthew Finn
Matron Mama Morton....................Jocelyn Hesse
Mary Sunshine............................G. Bedford
Master of Ceremonies.....................Glenn Kane
District Attorney Harrison/Company...Eric Greimann
Fred Casely/Company......................Ryan Eling
Hunyak/Company.......................Amy Vinturella
Liz/Company.............................Lisa Cahill
Annie/Company........................Laurie Fischer
June/Billy Girl/Company..............Andrea McClain
Mona/Billy Girl/Company..........Stephanie Schrader
Go-To-Hell Kitty/Billy Girl/Company...Rina Lipscomb
Sergeant Fogarty/Company..............Nathan Lamont
Aaron/Company..........................Jason Tennis
Harry/Company..........................Michael Culp
Billy Girl/Company......................Amanda Aldi
Billy Girl/Company..............Molly Brandenberger
Billy Girl/Company.....................Monica Stein
Bailiff/Company........................Larry Shiman
Medical Examiner/Company..............Reyko Delpino

ORCHESTRA
Keyboard.....................Jason Whiting
Violin.................Emanuelle Dalembert
Clarinet....................Kristin Bovill
Clarinet...................Karyn Brudnicki
Clarinet/Saxophone........Laura Kandziolka
Saxophone...................Derek Beckvold
Trumpet......................Matt Bengston
Trombone...................Ramone Robinson
Tuba.........................Josh Olkowski
Keyboard.......................Thom Lissey
Drums.........................Doug Trasher

There oughtta be a law against February! (There IS a law against March --- but no one enforces it.) If you're as fed up as I am with slush, the best cure for damp shoes and cabin fever would be to see a great musical --- like "Chicago" say. And I don't mean another re-tread re-run downtown, and I don't mean the new movie. I mean the totally new production that the totally new Encore Theater Company has unleashed for only two short weekends at Eliot Hall in Jamaica plain. This homeless new Community Theater lights up the borrowed stage with a wickedly polished, daringly original interpretation of this classic. I know it's early in the year, but this looked to me like a major contender for Best Musical in next year's IRNE Awards --- if enough independent reviewers can see the show. Catch it before the word-of-mouth makes tickets impossible to buy.

Director Sonya Worden has tried to be faithful not to the sleekly slick Fosse dance style, but to the cynically blatant manipulation of the Fosse sensibility. Her "Chicago" is all about garterbelts and smooth thighs, passionate women in underwear and grins, '20s booze and tommyguns, and a talented and money-hungry lawyer standing morality on its ass. ("Whatever Happened to Class?"!) Sharp murderesses like Roxie Hart (Jennifer Simmons) and Velma Kelly (Samantha Brior-Jones) expect to be tried and acquitted in the press so that the notareity will launch careers on the night-club stage. And for Billy Flynn (Justin Dilley) the trial is a mere game which here turns, literally, into a circus --- with the prosecutor wearing a round red nose and a fright-wig, while snake-charmers and belly-dancers sit on the jury taking their reactions from Flynn's cue-cards.

The plot starts with Roxie plugging her extra-marital lover (Ryan Eling) shouting "Nobody walks out on me!" (When the show premiered here in Boston the line actually read "Nobody comes before I do!" but even Bob Fosse had to sell tickets to theater-parties), and that's how Roxie and Velma meet --- in Mama Morton's (Jocelyn Hesse's) money-making jail --- catfighting for headlines. Here the two are different as night and day. Brior-Jones is a smoldering swivel-hipped dancer that dominates the opening number ("All That Jazz" of course) while Simmons is an accomplished actress who moves well. That tends to flatten the cutting-contest aspect of the "sister act" finale of the show, but till then they are in perfect counterpoint every step and word and song of the show.

The counterpoint to Billy Flynn's crass bravado is Roxie's actual husband Amos (Matthew Finn), who first confesses to "shooting the trespasser" but actually loves a wife who is totally indifferent (as well as unfaithful) to him. His "Mister Cellophane" is a slow soft-shoe parody of "All That Jazz" just as his eternally taken-advantage-of plight comments starkly on the jazz-age selfishness of everyone else.

On a high platform at the back of the stage Music Director Jason Whiting directs a jazz combo that both grooves and cooks in accompaniment, and Director Worden has the help of three choreographers (Laurie Fischer, Sheryl Rifas-Shiman & Lisa Cahill) but it is a credit to the smooth professionalism of this entire company that it's impossible to tell who did what. Of course there are borrowed hints of Fosse choreography, but even Fosse borrowed from Fosse --- ever seen the Movie called "All That Jazz"? What's important is that every detail is organically expressive, and this community theater cast handles every gesture and every line with an eager gusto and total trust in their creative team and of themselves. From the dizzying parade of Lisa Cahill's period costumes to the sly scene-descriptions from Master of Ceremonies Glenn Kane, from moments alone onstage to dazzling crowd-scenes, the Encore Theater's "Chicago" pulses and glitters with carefully polished detail, and solid performances from everyone.
Obviously I can't praise this show enough.

Love,
===Anon.


"Chicago" (21 February - 1 March)
ENCORE THEATER COMPANY
Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN MA
1 (617)290-2874


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