2 - 8 December '04
2 dec MATTER FAMILIAS Boston Playwrights' Theater 122
3 dec I'M AWAY FROM MY DESK RIGHT NOW... Rough & Tumble BCA
4 dec PYGMALION The Longwood Players CAMB. YMCA FAMILY THEATRE 124
8 Dec: Apparently, last Friday or Saturday I caught a cold. Since the radio has prtomised me 50's temperatures and only Breezes, I'm going off to Beth Israel for my bi- (or is it tri-?)weekly visit to "The Vampire" to have a smidge of blood checked for coagulability. (One of my heart-valves doesn't close fully, and I may lapse occasionally into "atrial fibrulation" --- and that means some of the blood rather than flowing merely "churns" and can clot; and "stroke" is the ugliest word in the English language. So I take a rat-poison called "Warfarin" every day, which can make blood so UNcoagulable I might bleed to death from a razor-scrape. (And that means I'm balancing any [sadly rarer these days] intake of Sam Adams or a Manhattan with huge salads.) So I'm not only hooked on drugs, I have to let them bleed me a little to see that the balance between possible brain-bleeding against probable heart-attack stays at a safe equilibrium.
[You do know I've been 72 for a bit over Four Months now, don't you?]
It bothers me, whenever I think about it, that the mechanism that carries my mind around from place to place, from theatre to theatre, is succumbing to a sort of "planned obsolescence" as all the warrantees on constituent parts run out.
And so, in artistic partial self-defense I am again reading (and again, "for the first time"; that's the true definition of a great book --- each time is always New) Marguerite Yourcenar's MEMOIRS OF HADRIAN. A copy turned up in the outside bargain-books bins in front of COMMONWEALTH BOOKS in Kenmore Square in decent condition for $3.50, and I am not one to ignore the Polish mother of a friend's advice: I "never look a Greek horse in the feet!"
On page three of this huge, calm, engrossing work of historical fiction Hadrian, Emperor of Rome, ends a paragraph with this sentence:
"Like a traveler sailing the Archipelago who sees the luminous mists lift toward evening, and little by little makes out the shore, I begin to discern the profile of my death."
12:48 p m
2 dec MATTER FAMILIAS Boston Playwrights' Theater
I'm so glads that this show runs for two more week-ends. Everything about it --- Richard Chamber's big gauze box of a set, Haddon Kime's co-ordinated sounds, Gail Astrid Buckley's costumes, Anthony Kudner 's lights --- says Comedy before you even get down to Wesley Saviock's direction, and a stunning cast that takes Ginger Lazarus' script in their teeth and run away with it! Carl A. Rossi and Beverly Creasey have tried to review it, and as you can see their enthusiasm for it outruns their descriptive powers --- as it does mine. Let's see if I can add anything to what they've covered:
Okay, the initial premise: "Katherine announces to her family that she's decided to adopt a son --- that is older than she is!" is the silliest, least justified and most unbelievable idea in the entire script. However, it does state the play's intention to examine all the possible permutations of the Baby Business, and I guess you've got to start somewhere. Playing Katherine is Helen McElwain, who invented the "rabbit in the headlights" style --- a skating on the edge of hysteria --- that, until she did, we never knew we needed. Her logical ill-logic is just what's needed to make the absurdity of adopting a "child" two years older than the Mom a premise to deal with.
Lazarus' second layer of interest features a loving couple eager for a child --- except that they are lesbians and though the Mom (Kortney Adams) is blissfully pregnant her macho mate (Karen "Mal" Malme --- one of the most underrated comic talents in Boston today) cannot buy her insistence that this is a miracle, not an adultery.
The third layer is the GrandParent Game, with Nancy E. Carroll as a scheming, manipulative, stop-at-nothing empty-nester moaning into the rug at her thoughtless daughter's wilfulness, and then taking an active role at getting a baby made by hook, crook, or seduction.
And Lazarus' fourth layer is Adoption --- and possible Inadvertant Incest.
Did I mention that this is a Comedy?!?!? Well, that fact really explodes when Act Two begins with a parody of Oedipus!
But I think Lazarus' script give short shrift to men.
Gus Kelly's role as the adopted "kid" makes him a passive plot-device, a continually re-invented figure filling in as foil for every surprising new twist to the story. In contrast, the only thing Grampop (Robert D. Murphy) does to define his character is plop down and switch on a t-v to avoid any involvement in the action. This is a bland cliche wasting a good actor. The only male with any substance is The Obvious Available Man; Barlow Adamson plays this inept romantic nerd with a vigor and enthusiasm unavailabe to the other two.
But take these comments more as advice to the playwright than any quibbles about the bottom line here. On opening night the audience Insisted on an extra bow for this delightful cast --- and I wish Director Wesley Savick could have joined them as well.
3 dec I'M AWAY FROM MY DESK RIGHT NOW... Rough & Tumble BCA
It's probably a mistake to say of any Rough & Tumble production that it "was uneven"; on their first night I saw Director Dan Milstein making at least one definite note, and after the show the cast was already discussing improvements. With them every performance is a chance to improve things.
The nine vignettes here replicate the "Dilbert" world of cubicles and coffee-machines and bewilderingly detailed just-doing-my-job routines.
Well, audience members are offered a tray of hand-props, and the order they're chosen decides which playlet follows which.
At one point the entire audience is asked to chide a character by speaking in unison lines on a big sketch-pad.
The re-arranging of desks and props and chairs and walls --- all of them on wheels --- has here become a kind of ballet-for-stagehands.
There are four bits with words loaned by Bill Donnelly. My favorite of these is a parody of the Socialist propaganda plays of Weimar Germany, with flatly presentational Bertlt Brechtian characters. But small snap-shots of people doing everyday things are a Rough & Tumble staple, and there are lots of smiles. They'll be improving the show for two more week-ends.
4 dec PYGMALION The Longwood Players CAMB. YMCA FAMILY THEATRE
Most people who see "Pygmalion" will probably be familiar with its ideas, relationships, characters, situations, and even some of its lines because they all show up in what Lerner & Loew thought of as "The perfect Musical" --- "My Fair Lady". So when I say that this Community Theatre production holds its own with that show, that's high praise indeed.
No doubt sharp-eyed Marc S. Miller their director saw to it that each detail and nuance of Shaw's script got proper, balanced attention --- but these amateurs [That means "Devoted lovers" of theater, remember] are the ones that have to maintain a flurry of various accents while staying in-character and acting believably with one another. And they do!
Lighting designer Jeri Sykes and Set Designer John Randell handle the big-aproned stage quite efficiently, with action moving onto several levels, and Costume Designer Sarah Friedberg an Props Designer Shannon Riffe outdo themselves re-creating a London of 1930 --- and Dialect Coach Mark Usher deserves acurtain-call all his own!
The Longwood Players has elected to follow musicals with straight plays. In a sense, this fresh, lively, engaging offering seems to me tougher than the "Singin' in The Rain" I saw them do a few years back -- and more rewarding. That show seemed a perfect re-creation of the original movie; here, the cast imitates no one --- they live the script.
Unfortunately, after this week-end's performances, it will become only a pleasant memory for those lucky enough to have seen it.