Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Boston Plays"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark


"The Boston Plays"

Directed by Greg Smucker

Set Design by Loann West
Costume Design by Bob Pagliarulo
Lighting Design by Amy Lee
Sound Design by Rick Brenner
Original Music by Michael Jaye
Stage Manager Amy Pacheco

"My Way"

by Bill Latanzi

Tommy................................................Chris Chew
Jane...............................................SerahRose Roth

"What Mother Knows"

by Janet Kenney

Mother................................................Mary Kearney
Daughter..........................................SerahRose Roth

"Click"

by Michael Bettencourt

Pinto................................................Chris Chew
Marlin...................................Joseph J. Pearlman

"Arrhythmia"

by

Woman................................................Mary Kearney
Man...........................................................Joe Siriani

"The Piney Boy"

by Joe Byers

Jack................................................Chris Chew
Lil............................................SerahRose Roth

"Legwork"

by Dean O'Donnell

Ernie Caldwell................................................Joseph J. Pearlman
Walter McMillan..........................................................Joe Siriani

If there is an emerging "Boston style" of playwriting, it may be connected with the 10-minute play format. All six of "The Boston Plays" that were developed through CentaStage's Write On workshop series are short, succinct slices of two-person interaction that imply rather than elaborate a wider world. And four of them had an "out-of-town-tryout" production in a little backwater town down south called New York City.

The simplest of these plays is Bill Latanzi's "My Way" in which a lounging writer is surprised by the early return of his much more orderly significant other. In response to her silent, imperious glare he shouts he will from now on live by his own relaxed, slovenly rules --- all the while contradicting every word by rushing to clean up all his messes. Latanzi defines both characters and their relationship in a swift explosion of action and monologue without a wasted word. The whole hilarious play is over in an eye-blink, giving the audience mind something still digested at the final blackout.

Ginger Lazarus' "Arrhythmia" is also a simple domestic disagreement --- this time between a no-nonsense doctor and the more tenderly romantic mistress who sneaks in and out of his home when the wife's away. The conflict is over whether "heart" refers to a metaphor for love or merely a muscle one can hold in the hand. Obviously, for both this is a word with serious overtones.

The pair in Janet Kenney's "What Mother Knows" is mother and daughter, the discussion over the breakup with a boyfriend so soon before a prom. Things have obviously come to a head because dad is rarely around and mom has become a falling-down secret alcoholic in denial. The tensions arise because neither one really wants to talk, yet feels they must. Again, a lot of ground gets covered with dropped hints and significant silences.

Michael Bettencourt has chosen a homosexual pair in "Click" one of whom totally on impulse fought back and murdered a fag-hater who jeered at him in the park after seeing him kiss a friend on the mouth. The crime is recounted, but the fascination of both men is at that "click" when impulse became action. Though it's noticed in the newspaper their problem is not concealing what will probably remain unsolved, but understanding all the emotions and experiences that led up to that sudden, unexpected "click."

There is death in Joe Byers' "The Piney Boy" too --- a child hit on a lonely road in the south Jersey pine-barrens by a couple who were speeding and then ran out of gas. Both see it as a disaster, the boy insisting he'll lie and say he was driving, the girl insisting no one will know if they just leave him and go on about their happy lives as if nothing had happened. Obviously, though, these lives no matter how they decide can never possibly be the same.

The last and longest play is Dean O'Donnell's carefully constructed "Legwork" in which two men in a bank's loan-collection department reveal the secrets of success in their cut-throat lines of work. The younger seeks tips and advice, the mentor preens and shows off. The "legwork" of the title refers to scouting out the lives and habits of deadbeats in order to shame or scare or blackmail them into paying up --- methods that are unethical and probably illegal. But the play becomes a rolling duel in which each man outsmarts the other with what he and the audience has learned about each other. The play unfolds like a lush, continually surprising flower.

Just as he had with the "Night of Quickies" at the last Women On Top Festival, Director Greg Smucker proved a solid ringmaster, using five actors to play the even dozen roles, and letting Stage Manager Amy Pacheco, her crew and the actors do quick, choreographed changes of Loann West's set-pieces. The crisp and efficient technical support from Amy Lee's lights, Rick Brenner's sound and Bob Pagliarulo's costumes, like the handling of the set, let the playwrights' words and the actors hold centerstage.

The crew of actors switched characters and clothes so swiftly they looked literally like new people, such as SerahRose Roth's quick change from the silent wife in the first play into the troubled, reticent teen-ager in the second, then the distraught and terrified woman in the fourth ("The Piney Boy"). Mary Kearney went from the almost immobile, softly and ineffectually helpful mother to that romantic, unsatisfied doctor's mistress two plays later. Chris Chew had to start with an explosion of self-righteousness for the first play to the distraught "victim" of that Piney Boy's death, and between them to the homosexual murderer talking about the crime with Joseph J. Pearlman in the overheated "Click". And in the final play Pearlman fought as the eager comer with the slyer and older Joe Siriani, who had his doctor's cool insistence on fact rather than emotion seriously shaken two plays before. Tour de force performances all round.

These six short plays seemed like quick, emotional snap-shots of people in the throes of momentary, shocking change. The quality and the variety as well as the brevity probably has a lot to do with the influence of CentaStage's Artistic Director Joe Antoun, who for the past three years has shepherded them through the Write On workshops. Developing plays from idea to final production is partly a group-suggestion process, partly editing, and partly a process of instilling in playwrights the confidence to listen to constructive criticism and to keep working. In groups like Playwrights' Theatre, Shadow Boxing, and Playwrights' Platform, and in play fests like Boston Women on Top, Playwrights' Platform's summer shows, the Summer Shorts at the Hovey Players, and April's annual Boston Theatre Marathon, audiences are beginning to realize that "The Boston Plays" are fast becoming a style, an artistic force to be reckoned with.
It's about time.

Love,
===Anon.


"The Boston Plays" (till 28 October)
CENTASTAGE
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617) 426-2787


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