note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark
I am going to depart from custom here and use the Vertical Pronoun a lot in this review, because I feel I know a lot about the companies and people involved that a mere audience member need not know to appreciate the work on display.
Take, for instance, The Bridge Theatre Company. I have seen brilliant work by this ridiculously under-funded company as they have clawed their way up from the least-expensive Leland space at the BCA to the Black Box there, and now to The Boston Playwrights' Theatre's tall "Studio B" space.
The Boston Playwrights' Theatre --- symbolized by the warmly nurturing and openly accepting arms of Kate Snodgrass (though she does not do it alone) --- is in itself a glorious asset to this theater-averse city. In Studio A, The Boston Theatre Works was also holding a marathon of new play workshop-readings when I was there, which meant I could run into old friends working with them during the Bridge Theatre's act-break.
Then there is NAPA (the New Alliance of Producing Artists) --- so far The Bridge, Industrial Theatre, and Rough & Tumble Theatre --- in which small companies have combined to share managing efforts, publicity, and subscriptions. They have also shared actors, and playwrights (Bill Donnelly, Industrial's playwright-in-residence, has a play on this bill) and directors. I think of NAPA as the wave of the future as theater in Boston grows.
And, again symbolic of the growth of Boston theater, I must mention membership in this cast of Eliza Rose Fichter. Her sister and parents are all theater people, and at around thirteen Eliza is beginning a transition between a kid who takes direction flawlessly and a young actress creating characters unlike herself. Her knowing, self-confident head-shot may well be the face of theater in Boston yet to come.
Now, about the plays:
The Drinker..............Erin Bell
I had seen this play before, in Industrial Theatre's 7th anniversary show, but I think Bill Donnelly re-wrote it --- or else Maria Brandt's direction brought things out of the script I simply missed before. Here Erin Bell (already a little tipsy) raps the bar for a refill of a double Seagrams-7&7-Up, and then launches into a rhapsody to the history and manufacture of her favorite drink. Peter Brown, tall, thin and flinty-faced, is the silent bartender who vacillates between listening to and ignoring her. He is reluctant and protective when she demands to hold the bottle --- not to sneak a shot but to add information on the label to her monologue. Twice he dashes briefly to the back-room, prompting her to shout to make a point. Like any good bartender, he makes a little show of deftly over-filling the iced glass with whiskey while barely splashing in the soda. He is, always, all indifferent business.
She is almost reverent about her drinks, sometimes sitting at the bar, sometimes taking one carefully to a table. When she drinks, however, it is slowly, ritualistically, cupping the wide round cocktail glass in both hands and pouring the entire drink down in one long gulp. She admits she's a bore --- referring in her defense to the countless men who wanted to talk to her about baseball or business or some other selfish topic. She notes that four drinks every day will ensure a man cirossis of the liver --- while a woman can do the same with only three.
Then she raps the bar smartly for her fifth of the night.
Henry.............Kim H. Carrell
In form, Maria Brandt's play has a dialogue between man (Kim H. Carrell) and wife (Jennifer Young), repeated beginning and end, that sort of book-end the man's monologue directly to the audience. He is a writer (a "reporter" he would say) for a supermarket tabloid. The story he's proud of in the latest issue features a Florida teen-ager insisting her baby's father is Santa Claus. His wife somewhat sarcastically asks when he will ever write a "real" story, and he wonders obliquely whether her dark moods are triggered by memories of their miscarried daughter.
The monologue, of course, fills in the unspoken subtexts of their repeated conversation --- and explains the cause of his racking cough and abstinance from sex. To tell more would spoil the show.
Young Man.............Andrew Reil
Fred...............Kim H. Carrell
Here Kim H. Carrell comes right back onstage in a turn-of-century pseudo-Oscar Wilde jacket over his starched-collar tweeds, interrupting Andrew Reil as a younger, dour Harvard man busily and secretly scribbling infinitessimal somethings on little scraps of paper while insisting he'd rather read than join the party the man called Fred has just left.
Of course it becomes obvious from the rhythms and rhymes lacing their dialogue that we have here the model for J. Alfred Prufrock, and the "Tom" that will make him immortal.
Jeffrey Jones has made a delightful tour de force of expanding and documenting the poem. Fred for instance notes that he once understudied Hamlet "At Elliot Hall in Jamaica Plain" but never went on ("I was not Hamlet, nor was meant to be") and though when reading one of Tom's little scraps he mimes the rhythm of what must be poetry tossing a peach from hand to hand, he's reluctant to take a bite. Despite the quick little rhymes, Director Maria Brandt has made sure that these rather unlikely people talk like believable human beings. The footnotes and subtexts and reverberations and quotes are just additional gravy.
(The sound design by David Bell & Jeffrey Jones are sounds of the party next door, where Michaelangelo, doubtless, is discussed.)
This play features a man, a woman, a pistol, and one gleaming stainless steel bullet. The two people take turns bullying one another ("Open your mouth. Close it. On your knees. Pray. On your feet! Stick out your tongue. Further! Say a word.") During his (the first) turn at being "bottom" in this odd duel, the man chooses the word "definitely" and then defends it with an avalanche of thesaurus-like re-definitions. Finally he loads the round, spins the chamber thrice, puts it to his temple and pulls the trigger. Although the pistol clicks, it's the woman who falls.
I must admit I did not understand a single syllable of this opaque absurd-style play.
Girl...................Eliza Rose Fichter
Demon King....................Andrew Riel
Attendants...Kim H. Carrell, Seth Compton
This rather cute comedy starts with a little girl lost in a murky wood, her tight pigtails sticking out both sides of her head like antennae. There's a demon of course, who says that once he knows her name is Holly she must do his bidding, so he gives her to his demon king to do with as he pleases. But kings, too, have names......
This is a fairy-tale for grown-ups, a twisted tale with a very surprise ending.
And one of the fun things about this smoothly directed show is seeing Kim E. Carrell re-appear as one of the king's very simian henchmen!
Ghost of Roseby..........Peter Brown
Ghost of Caroline...Jennifer Makholm
This too is rather a romp with a pair of Sothrun students --- one researching parapsychology (Seth Compton), the other researching Rolling Rock (Jayk Gallagher) --- out on a dark and stormy ridge trying to manifest and lay to rest the sort of heart-broken ghosts that ballads are sung about. The researcher insists he's no good at story-telling, but needs the tale told proper to conjure the unhappy pair. And sure enough, a gaunt Peter Brown, axe in hand, and his lost lady (Jennifer Makholm) respond to their story.
This is a story full of serious spectacle and comic relief ("I just put in that bit about her feeding the chickens; made it feel more human-like, I thought.") and Kevin Kidd's lights --- which are excellent all evening long --- and two flash-lights add to the effectiveness. But it's Haddon Kime's sudden, eerie thunder-crashes that really make the ghosts come alive.
And there you have them. Six stories by six resident local playwrights, all brought to life by local actors, directors, and designers, each one different from the others, and all of them given life by The Bridge Theatre Company and Boston Playwrights' Theatre. For this local reviewer, it doesn't get much better than this!