Happy New Year!
These are my choices for the Best of Boston Theatre for 2002. Much of what I’ve seen this past year has been off the beaten track, so while there are few Big Shows on my list, there were still many riches to be discovered and enjoyed.
Those passages in quotes come from my own reviews to be found in this web site.
THE 2002 ADDISON AWARDS
Production: BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE (The Zeitgeist Stage Company). By Thomas Gibbons. Directed by David J. Miller. CAST: Peter Brown, Michelle Dowd, Michael S. Miller, Erika Ritton, Naeemah A. White Peppers. “….you may not find a more satisfying evening of theatre…. easily one of the year’s best.”
Director (tie): Eve Muson, (VENUS; Boston University Theatre). “…whether the script inspired Ms. Muson to flights of brilliance or Ms. Parks wrote a brilliant script and Ms. Muson simply staged it as written doesn’t matter --- here was a true marriage of playwright and director. … Ms. Muson’s VENUS was a shifting kaleidoscope of sparking images and sounds (I came out feeling exhilarated, not depressed).”
Director (tie): Mitchell Sellars (UNDER MILK WOOD; Ablaze Theatre Initiative). “How shall I describe Mr. Sellers’ wonderful production? A radio show performed by commedia clowns, complete with their own sound effects? A ballet where the performers recite as well as dance? Whatever it is, Mr. Sellers’ concept succeeds brilliantly…”
Actor: Bette Bourne (RESIDENT ALIEN; The Theatre Offensive). Role: Quentin Crisp. “Any young actor (or actress) would have found Mr. Bourne to be a treasure trove on the art of creating a character, for the veteran Mr. Bourne had it all: stage presence, personality, superb timing (so important in a one-person show) and texture. That last ingredient --- texture --- is the sign of a great actor; the ability to bring layers of thought, feeling and action to a role (while staying in character, of course), especially when a playwright does not include these things in his stage directions.”
Actress: Michelle Dowd (BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE; Zeitgeist Stage Company). Role: Libby Price. “….a warm, Ethel Waters-like Libby….”
Featured/Supporting Actor (tie): Gideon Banner (WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?; Ubiquity Stage). Role: Nick. “Mr. Banner and [Tara] Donoghue gave us a beautiful acting lesson so subtle that many an audience member may not have noticed (and done so convincingly that it did not draw attention to itself) their own step-by-step drunkenness as they first sit and watch their gladiator hosts and then enter the arena themselves (what a signpost Nick taking off his jacket and loosening his tie became!).”
Featured/Supporting Actor (tie): Brandon Murphy (AMADEUS; Boston University). Role: Emperor Joseph II. “Mr. Murphy continues to impress me with his range … here, as the taffy-brained Emperor, all smiles and polished surfaces, Mr. Murphy showed his comic side and walked off with the show in his embroidered pocket --- his Emperor may have come out of English Twit 101, but he was nevertheless a pleasing cartoon.”
Featured/Supporting Actress: Marya Lowry (HENRY V; Commonwealth Shakespeare Company). Roles: Chorus; Hostess. “…an ideal heroine: declamation flows effortlessly from her; her voice is strong and sure, yet womanly --- a golden trumpet warmed by the sun.”
Production (tie): CAMILLE (The Gold Dust Orphans). Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Directed by James P. Byrne. CAST: Afrodite, Batgirl, Richard Buckley, James P. Byrne, Charlie Fineran, David Hanbury, Ryan Landry, Tom Lowe, P. J. McWhiskers, Keith Orr, Riccardo Rodriguez. “If you must see only one Orphan show, this is the one --- it’s whoop-up funny and surprisingly poignant.”
Production (tie): LEND ME A TENOR (The Lyric Stage Company). By Ken Ludwig. Directed by Jack Neary. CAST: Rachel Harker, Cheryl McMahon, Laura Napoli, Brian Nash, Robert Saoud, Joe Smith, Richard Snee, Bobbie Steinbach. “[Lyric Stage’s] production of Ken Ludwig’s LEND ME A TENOR threatens to be this year’s most joyous theatrical event. Run; call; SEDUCE; do whatever you can to get your tickets --- and prepare to laugh like Niagara overflowing.”
Director (tie): Jack Neary, LEND ME A TENOR (Lyric Stage Company). “I applaud Mr. Neary for choreographing his cast through this tight, tight little playing area without bumping into furniture or each other and making the craziness seem perfectly natural, almost nonchalant. (Playing farce is a tricky art: the characters may heat up but the actors within cannot.)
Director (tie): James P. Byrne, CAMILLE (The Gold Dust Orphans). “…the true hero of CAMILLE’s success is Mr. Byrne, who has directed this chestnut with an unerring eye for each swoon, embrace, costume and piece of décor (the lighting for Marguerite’s death scene, for example, beautifully evokes the garish footlights of a century ago) and to orchestrate and guide along the Orphans’ bawdiness, raunch and dare I say it? pathos.”
Actor: Charles Fineran (JOAN CRAWFORD’S CHRISTMAS ON THE POLE; The Gold Dust Orphans). Role: Mildred Deerce. “Charlie Fineran plays Mildred Deerce, nobly suffering in her fur coat and antlers, and she is the best work I have seen from Mr. Fineran thus far the proof of Mr. Landry’s generosity towards his ensemble is that he writes vehicles for others as well as for himself: CAMILLE was his own personal triumph; Penny Champayne was the touching centerpiece of SCARRIE; Mr. Fineran, so often the cherished foil to Mr. Landry’s clowning, comes into his own as Mildred: his makeup and facial expressions uncannily evoke Ms. Crawford’s mannequin hardness, and he is a superb mime, treading the boards in Crawford’s familiar narcissistic trance or gracefully twisting his upper torso away from us so that he may sob daintily on the ground or at the counter. There are no raunchy surprises to shatter Mr. Fineran’s smooth illusion; instead, Mr. Fineran offers us shading, inflection and characterization, and I do hereby dub him “Actor”.
Actress: Laura Given Napoli (EPIC PROPORTIONS; Lyric Stage Company). Role: Louise. “The pleasure in watching Ms. Napoli in this EPIC is not only does her inventiveness seem limitless (Messrs. Coen and Crane wrote the melody; each night onstage, Ms. Napoli writes the orchestrations), there isn’t a trace of knowingness about her --- you never get a sense of Ms. Napoli striving for effect; in fact, she gets some of her biggest laughs by NOT looking for them (she also has a beautiful underlying poignancy; so important for a clown!). And though something tells me Ms. Napoli could rubberband across a stage or hit the floor like a plank if she had to, she is by and large a dainty lass with the mischief and mayhem bubbling just beneath the surface of her prim yet cartoonlike mask. (Imagine, say, a sketch where Ms. Napoli plays Queen Elizabeth, crossing the stage with great dignity --- and then she catches her train on a nail….)”
Featured/Supporting Actor: Rick Paul (SPIKED EGGNOG: THE XMAS FILES II A HOLIDAY BOOGALOO). Various roles. “[Mr.] Park was a hoot playing dumpy, frumpy broads (especially in “Merry Dis-Mas” where he and [John]Kuntz worked the audience as fashion commentators).”
Featured/Supporting Actress: Stephanie Clayman (SHEL’S SHORTS, PART 2: SHEL SHOCKED; The Market Theater). Various roles. “…Ms. Clayman [was] simultaneously elegant and unhinged, with a rich, loopy voice pouring out of a matron’s poker face. In “All Cotton”, her irate shopper becomes a curse-laying witch when refused a refund for a shrunken blouse, and she had me stifling guffaws with her obsessing over a peeling cuticle in “Hangnail”, babbling her way --- and life --- through a movie, having sex, attending a funeral and being robbed, among other encounters.”
Production: THE WILD PARTY (SpeakEasy Stage Company). Music and Lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa. Book by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe. Based on the poem by Joseph Moncure March. Directed by Andrew Volkoff CAST: Bridget Beirne, Christopher Chew, José Delgado, Jackie Duffy, Kent French, Bree Greig, James Jackson Jr., Maureen Keiller, Lisa Korak, Trevor Little, Merle Perkins, Rachel Peters, John Porcaro, Brian Robinson, Phillip Woods. “It may well prove to be a milestone in American musical theatre. Love or hate THE WILD PARTY, it's certainly not dead.”
Director/Choreographer: Paul Daigneault/David Connolly (BATBOY: THE MUSICAL; SpeakEasy Stage Company). “Mr. Connolly hasn’t much to work with in terms of actual choreography BATBOY being one of the tuneless, danceless kind of musical but between him and Mr. Daigneault, this production certainly MOVES! The action flows so smoothly without any lags during blackouts and there are quite a few (have Messrs. Daigneault or Connolly ever thought of taking on the Bard?).”
Actor: Gene Dante (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH; The Institute of Contemporary Art Theatre). Role: Hedwig. “The ICA’s production boasted a warm, seductive Hedwig from Gene Dante --- streetwise, yet alluring (an alley cat Dietrich), with a powerhouse of a voice that sounded as fresh at curtain call as it did upon his first entrance, and he was golden in his sardonic yet gentle monologues (an acting lesson on How to Work an Audience). Mr. Dante’s performance made me realize how theatrical a successful rock concert really is --- its singers need to have a sense of the dramatic, a presence, and plenty of bravura to get their music across --- and having a trained singing voice like Mr. Dante’s doesn’t hurt, either.”
Actress (tie): Becky Barta (ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE; Stoneham Theatre). Role: Patsy Cline. “Ms. Barta has done her homework, nailing down Ms. Cline’s mannerisms: the grit at the bottom of the voice; the catch up at the top; the belt that fades to a whisper; the full-throated yearning --- even the yodels!”
Actress (tie): Beth Ann Cole (SONGS DEGENERATE & OTHERWISE; The Market Theater). Concert performance. “…if the Brechtian Man is a reckless sower of seed, the Brechtian Woman is the plowed earth, ravaged yet resilient, and it is fascinating to watch yet another victim/survivor float up to the surface of Ms. Cole’s face, take over, and leave her on the edge of tears at song’s end. …. Ms. Cole can also convince us she is the archetypal Broadway ingenue, clear-eyed yet yearning for romance, in “What Good Would the Moon Be?”.
Supporting Actor: John Davin (THE GIG; Lyric Stage Company). Role: Abe Mitgang. “John Davin as the resort owner/emcee is so good at his shtick that I hoped for a Yiddish patter song, but…no.”
Supporting Actress: Gillian Mackay-Smith (THE FANTASTICKS; Northeastern University). Role: Henrietta (formerly, “Henry”). Though still a college student, Ms. Mackay-Smith already proved to be an accomplished character actress, and her dotty Henrietta --- the aging actress hired by El Gallo --- was simply wonderful.
Sets/Lighting: Randy Ward (REASON; The Market Theater). “What I saw was a black steel wall that came down to the very edge of the stage, and one, two, three or four panels slid up to reveal bits and pieces from five plot lines none of them having any bearing on the others. Since the actors are only seen from the waist up, I felt I was watching a puppet show on multiple screens at the local Cineplex. At first I was irritated yet another “gimmick” and then I became more and more fascinated with what was unfolding and by curtain, uh, panel-call, I decided I had seen something quite brilliant and yet hard to describe in words. …. it has been brilliantly designed and lit by [Mr.] Ward; and Benjamin Emerson’s sound system is simply incredible the actor’s voices match their voice-overs in the same airless, canned quality; layer upon layer of soft yet crystal-clear sound washes over you).”
Costumes: Andrew Polezak (THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK; Emerson College). “[Mr.] Poleszak’s costumes alone were reason enough to attend this THOMAS well-researched, colorful and for a college production quite lavish, and nicely contrasting the simple homespun of Thomas and his brothers against the silks and brocades of Richard and his court. (When the Duchess of Ireland strayed within my proximity, I studied at leisure her lovely dress, all encrusted in gold, green and brown, and longed to roll the fabric between my fingers.) Mr. Poleszak’s tongue-in-cheek designs for the flatterers’ succumbing to the latest continental fashions proved to be the show’s visual highlight in particular, floppy hats that would have made a sultan (or mushroom) proud and elongated slippers that resembled turned-up gravy boats with silver chains linking toe to knee (the script calls them ‘polonian shoes’). Even the walk-on characters were costumed so RIGHT, as if they stepped from a Bruegel canvas.”
BLACK NATIVITY (The Tremont Temple). A gospel song-play by Langston Hughes. Executive Producer and Director: Elma Lewis. Producer and Musical Director: John Andrew Ross. Choreographer: George Howard. CAST: Shaynah Barnes; Toni S. Jackson; Wyatt “Mo’gee” Jackson; Sele ‘Fana Kamau; Danny Morris; Mercedes Neves; Voncile Ross; Dr. Michael Shannon; Desiree Springer-O’Neal; Terri Taylor; Hon. Milton L. Wright; with Voices of Black Persuasion and Children of Black Persuasion. “I have received the last of my [Christmas] theatre gifts: a performance of Langston Hughes’ BLACK NATIVITY, which celebrated its 33rd season in Boston. I first attended a performance about six or seven years ago; many things in my life have changed since then, but BLACK NATIVITY remains as fresh and joyous as I remembered it to be and I thank its performers, one and all.”
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (The Lyric Stage Company). By David Mamet. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. CAST: Ken Baltin, Mark S. Cartier, Neil A. Casey, Peter Darrigo, Dale Place, Ted Reinstein, Derek Stearns. “….a sterling ensemble of actors, under the whip-crack direction of Spiro Veloudos, inject blazing life into what is not so much a play but, rather, an Evening of Mouth --- and they make it work.”
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (The Institute of Contemporary Art). Text by John Cameron Mitchell. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask. Directed and choreographed by Michael Messer. CAST: Gene Dante, Lisa Boucher; with The Angry Inch: Eric Beauchemin; Matt Bogdanow, Izzy Maxwell, David Nehls, Paul Phillips. “HEDWIG’s gimmick is passing a musical off as a rock concert --- and it works brilliantly, both as a concert and as theatre, from its now-famous introduction, “Ladies and Gentlemen, whether you like it or not --- HEDWIG!” to the stirring finale, “Midnight Radio” (the millennium’s answer to “Let the Sunshine In”). … the packed house was made up primarily of cheering college-age crowds who may not have believed me had I told them they were NOT watching a concert but, rather, a well-crafted imitation of one.”
HENRY V (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Steve Maler. CAST: Scott Adams, Rupak Bhattacharya, David Blais, Jim Butterfield, Linda Carmichael, Malik B. El-Amin, Douglass Bowen Flynn, Christopher J. Hagberg, Georgia Hatzis, Patrice Jean-Baptiste, James Kelly, Caleb Kissel, Jeremiah A. Kissel, John Kuntz, Charles Linshaw, Marya Lowry, Douglas Lyons, Tivon Marcus, Ray McDavitt, Devin McNight, Kieran Daniel Mulcare, Gilbert Owuor, Dennis Paton, John Porell, Anthony Rapp, Christopher Reed, Seth Reich, Jonno Roberts, Adam Soule, Jim Spencer, Robert Walsh. “…. [Steven Maler’s] lastest CSC offering --- HENRY V --- is good, solid theatre, despite its having a ”gimmick” and a less-than-ideal King.”
THE HOUSE OF YES (Coyote Theatre). By Wendy MacLeod. Directed by Courtney O’Connor. CAST: Tanya Anderson / Stephanie Biernbaum, Kippy Goldfarb, Helen McElwain, Ron Rittinger, Shawn Sturnick. “You may groan at my latest scribbles and say, “Why should I go see yet another play about yet another dysfunctional family?” Answer: because Wendy MacLeod’s THE HOUSE OF YES is a good, tartly-written one and the Coyote Theatre has given it a near-ideal production. That’s why.”
JOAN CRAWFORD’S CHRISTMAS ON THE POLE (The Gold Dust Orphans). By Ryan Landry. Directed by James Byrne. CAST: Afrodite, Batgirl, Winthrop Booth, James P. Byrne, Charles Fineran, Joey, Ryan Landry, Scott Martino, Mata Hari, P. J. McWhiskers, Keith Orr, Haylee Shrimpton. “With each show, the Orphans take one step closer into becoming respectable artists. That may not be their intention --- being artists or respectable --- but if Mr. Landry, director James P. Byrne and their clowns continue to be this hilarious, this inventive and this theatrical as they have been with their CAMILLE, SCARRIE and, now, JOAN, I’m afraid they’re destined to have Greatness thrust upon ‘em….”
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Boston Academy of Music). Libretto by W. S. Gilbert. Music by Arthur Sullivan. Directed by Stephen Quint. CAST: Emily Browder; Chad Freeburg; Anne Harley; Wendy Bryn Harmer; Drew Poling; Stephen Quint; Anna Maria Silvestri; Eugene Summers; Tambre Tarleton; Sumner Thompson. ENSEMBLE: Glorivy Arroyo; Benjamin Cole; David M. Cushing; Heather Diaforli; Jena Eison; Julie Anne Fay; Erik Gullickson; Daniel A. Hershey; Jane Leikin; Thomas Oesterling; Gabriel Ostriker; Alexander Prokhorov; Courtney Schowalter; Bronwyn Stayoch; Antony Zwerdling. “I can think of no better Christmas gift this year than a CD of this sterling cast: it would be far superior than the 1981 Broadway version and would rival the numerous D’Oyly Carte recordings --- truly.”
REASON (The Market Theatre). Written and directed by Ping Chong and Michael Rohd. CAST: Olga V. Fedorishcheva, Eliza Rose Fichter, Angela Mi Young Hur, Ray Jenness, Jojo Karlin, Ryan Keilty, Ray McDavitt, Beth Phillips, Susan (Scottie) Thompson. “….people may see REASON as a collection of cold, neurotic people or be bored stiff or turn into one big HUH? from beginning to end…. But I saw, I felt, and I was moved.”
RESIDENT ALIEN (The Theatre Offensive). Written and directed by Tim Fountain. CAST: Bette Bourne. “…I say to the anti-audience that it was its own loss for not attending because it missed what may be the year’s finest individual performance: Bette Bourne in his Obie-winning role as the one and only Quentin Crisp.”
SONGS DEGENERATE & OTHERWISE (The Market Theater). PERFORMERS: Alvin Epstein, Beth Anne Cole, Cathy Rand (pianist/arranger). “For all of the flag-waving that has occurred since 11 September , I can think of no better statement of what it means To Be An American than these old yet timeless Market SONGS --- not so much in their content, but in their sound; their tone: you get a riveting sense of Weill’s mockery and despair as Germany danced on the edge of a volcano, and of his wonder and gratitude for America as the Great Good Place and how he reinvented himself for her….”
THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK (Emerson College). By [Anonymous]. Directed by Michael Hammond. CAST: Gretchen Akers, Chris L. Butterfield, Elizabeth Carbonell, Sarah Donovan, Pablo Espinosa, Freddy Franklin, James Gash, Vivek Gomber, Jason Grossman, David Kane, Michael Maccarone, Danny O’Connor, Julia Owens, Courtney Rader, Christopher Reed, Seth Reich, Paul Robinson, Victoria Ullmann, Jason Williams, Josh Zagoren. “I sing now of Emerson College’s production …. which flourished for one weekend and departed, and ‘tis sad for ‘twas most excellent.”
UNDER MILK WOOD (Ablaze Theatre Initiative). By Dylan Thomas. Directed by Mitchell Sellers. CAST: Robert Astyk, Jayk Gallagher, Jeff Gill, David Gross, Michael O’Connor, Jessica Burke, Jenny Gutbezahl, Lindsay Joy, Elizabeth Wightman. “How shall I describe Mr. Sellers’ wonderful production? A radio show performed by commedia clowns, complete with their own sound effects? A ballet where the performers recite as well as dance? Whatever it is, Mr. Sellers’ concept succeeds brilliantly…”
VENUS (Boston University College of Fine Arts). By Suzan-Lori Parks. Directed by Eve Muson. CAST: Courtney Abbiati, Bob Brasswell, Chrisopher Frontiero, Kimberley Green, Amber Grey, Lauren Hatcher, Sean-Michael Hodge-Bowles, Joe Lanza, Bennett Leak, Chinasa Ogubuagu, Kitty Spivey, Baron Vaughn. “… whether the script inspired Ms. Muson to flights of brilliance or Ms. Parks wrote a brilliant script and Ms. Muson simply staged it as written doesn’t matter --- here was a true marriage of playwright and director. … Ms. Muson’s VENUS was a shifting kaleidoscope of sparking images and sounds (I came out feeling exhilarated, not depressed).”
* * * HONORABLE MENTIONS:
BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY (The Our Place Theatre Project). By Pearl Cleage. Directed by Jeffrey Robinson. CAST: Dorian Christian-Baucum, Riccardo Engermann, Michael Green, Stephanie Marson-Lee, Jacqui Parker. “The Christmas gifts continue to roll in ahead of time: recently I saw Jacqui Parker and Ricardo Engermann back in each others’ arms --- onstage, that is. Ms. Parker and Mr. Engermann, who were so good, so moving, in Lyric Stage’s production of THE OLD SETTLER several seasons ago, are together once again in Our Place Theatre’s production of Pearl Cleage’s BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY.”
DEALER’S CHOICE (Boston University College of Fine Arts). By Patrick Marber. Directed by Douglas Mercer. CAST: Rod Jerome Brady, Michael Cohen, Paul V. Cortez, Brandon Murphy, Andrew Sneed, Philip Tarantula. “Douglas Mercer had cast six wonderful instruments and brought out all of Mr. Marber’s roughhouse and gaiety yet never let the evening turn to mere noise or caricature.”
DOCTOR FAUSTUS (The Bridge Theatre Company). By Christopher Marlowe. Directed by Michael F. Walker. CAST: Jason Beals, Erin Bell, Edwin Beschler, Ozzie Carnan, Jr., Paula Carter, Sheilagh Cruickshank, Bill Doscher, Todd Hearon, Jeffery Jones, Wendy Lippe, Jeffrey Peterson, Steve Rotolo, Eric Vogt. “The Bridge Theatre Company reaches for the brass ring with its production of Marlowe’s DOCTOR FAUSTUS. They may not grab it this time around, but they have stretched farther for it than I have seen them do in the past.”
EAST LYNNE (Alarm Clock Theatre). Adapted by [Anonymous], based on the novel by Ellen Wood. Directed by Luke Dennis. Music by Buddy Habig and Dan Ring. CAST: Sally Oldham, Dan Ring, Graham Outerbridge, Tracy Brady, Jillian Balser, Bill Price, Christine Stuart, Michael Buckley, Jon Kaczorowksi, Jack Byrne. “….this production held my attention throughout; not only for the opportunity to see EAST LYNNE (and weep) but also to watch these young people putting on a show and learning their craft through trial and error.”
THE FANTASTICKS (Northeastern University). Based on the play “Les Romanesques” by Edmund Rostand. Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones. Music by Harvey Schmidt. Directed by Saheem Ali. CAST: Brian C. Fahey, Fay Gerbes, Leanne Kramer, Gillian Mackay-Smith, Sean Morris, Matthew Spano, Zachary Spiker, Nichole Ward, Benjamin Wiggins. “….Messrs. Jones and Schmidt’s mighty little show had closed --- died? --- at the ripe old age of 42 (the longest running show in American theatre history), and I never did get to see it, but last night I saw a lovely runner-up at Northeastern University….”
MARTY (Huntington Theatre Company). Book by Rupert Holmes. Music by Charles Strouse. Lyrics by Lee Adams. Based on the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky and on the United Artists film. Directed by Mark Brokaw. Choreographed by Rob Ashford. CAST: Michael Allosso, Barbara Andres, Frank Aronson, Jim Augustine, Jim Bracchitta, Bethany J. Cassidy, Tim Douglas, Jennifer Frankel, Kent French, Alexander Gemignani, Shannon Hammons, Cheryl McMahon, Kate Middleton, Robert Montano, Evan Pappas, Marilyn Pasekoff, Matt Ramsey, John C. Reilly, Joey Sorge, Anne Torsiglieri, Michael Walker. “As it stands, it would be as cruel to damn MARTY just as it would be foolish to praise it, for it still needs work. If you must cheer, cheer for what MARTY could become: an old-fashioned musical with plenty of heart (remember heart?). I would be curious (and fascinated) to see what happens to Marty, Clara and their story should they ever make it to the Great White Way --- and I’d buy the CD, too.”
RIFF RAFF (Ubiquity Stage). By Laurence Fishburne. Directed by Craig Houk. Cast: Richard Arum, Richard Girardi, Michael Nurse. “Two small-time thieves, Mike (“20/20”) and Billy (“Torch”) are hiding out in an abandoned Brooklyn apartment; posing as dealers, they have stolen three kilos of heroin from a drug lord, which resulted in Mike killing one of the middlemen (the drug lord’s nephew). Now on the run, Mike has contacted Tony (“The Tiger”), a former classmate and ex-partner in crime, to come help them out. When Tony arrives and sizes up the situation, RIFF RAFF becomes a gripping study of friends (Mike and Tony) and family (half-brothers Mike and Billy) caught in a many-layered web of addiction, revenge and business is business.”
SPIKED EGGNOG: THE XMAS FILES II --- A HOLIDAY BOOGALOO (Centastage). Written and performed by Jan Davidson, John Kuntz, Rick Park and Julie Perkins. Directed by Curt Miller. “SPIKED EGGNOG, a collection of black humor sketches that turned Christmas inside out, happily bounced back and forth off the walls of the BCA’s intimate Black Box Theatre, and its being up close and personal only added to the fun.... Despite its title, EGGNOG’s real ingredients were well-baked ham; bright, sharp ribbon candy; and a few squirts of lemon, and I found much of it quite delectable.”
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (Ubiquity Stage). By Edward Albee. Directed by Rich Girardi. CAST: Gideon Banner, Tara Donoghue, Elaine Kerry, Eddie Pearson. “….with this production --- the third Ubiquity one I’ve seen --- this little company has taken giant steps towards becoming one to be reckoned with….”
* * *
Hillary Alcuri (DESDEMONA; Boston Directors’ Lab). Role: Bianca. “…a doxie straight out of the music hall (to quote Max Beerbohm, the name of her muse is ‘arriet).”
Ramona Alexander (UNCLE TOM’S CABIN; The Coyote Theatre). Roles: Various. “Ms. Alexander comes off best in whatever she plays: aside from her rapping, she is an ideal Topsy --- funny and zippy --- and a coiled snake of a Carrie (both black roles); if playing “white” means speaking clearly san dialect and being uptight or overly intellectual, then Ms. Alexander succeeds very well indeed.”
Kristin Baker (FEFU AND HER FRIENDS; Industrial Theatre). Role: Emma. “[Ms.] Baker’s cheery, chilly Emma is radiant Thought personified …”
Bridget Beirne (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS; The Stoneham Theatre). Role: Audrey. “[Ms.] Beirne easily puts the show in her pocket with her adorable Audrey (singing as well as acting in a stock tinny voice; but what must that do to her vocal chords?) …. won’t somebody cast her --- in normal voice --- as Sally in Sondheim’s FOLLIES? Ah, to see her in a spotlight, singing, “Losing My Mind”! But for now, I’ll settle for her sweet rendition of LITTLE SHOP’s “Somewhere That’s Green”.
Edwin Beschler (DOCTOR FAUSTUS; The Bridge Theatre Company). Role: The Old Man. “This white-haired, gentle-voiced actor … contributes another radiant portrait here, appearing in lamb’s white to sound the final warning bell before Faustus is damned forever…. Mr. Beschler’s readings may be quiet, but they are well-shaped and smack of the stage, not the classroom --- has he any lightning in him?”
Ozzie Carnan (PAN; Company One). Role: Peter Pan. “Mr. Carnan is a natural as Peter … nicely blending wildness and innocence together, and he leaps and tumbles so effortlessly that you soon forget that the lack of theatre space prevents him from flying.”
Neil A. Casey (THE LISBON TRAVIATA; The Lyric Stage Company). Role: Mendy. “[Mr. Casey] --- in his Butterfly kimono and Elton John glasses --- contributes yet another endearing, rabbitty portrayal, especially in his epic quest for a circular piece of vinyl….”
Penny Champayne (SCARRIE; The Gold Dust Orphans). Role: Scarrie. “…when she entered, looking down and tightly clutching her schoolbooks to her budding chest, I sighed with relief: [Ryan] Landry’s latest creation was not going to be yet another coke-sniffing slut but, instead, the still, burning center which her co-zanies spin around like planets out of hilarious control. … rather than drag everything down into the maudlin, Ms. Champayne shyly and sweetly adds a layer of humanity to the evening’s horseplay, making this the richest Orphan show I’ve seen yet.”
Larry Coen (DIRTY BLONDE; The Lyric Stage Company). Role: Charlie. “Director Spiro Veloudos and actor Larry Coen were wise not to stamp “LOSER” all over Charlie --- Mr. Coen’s shy librarian with a secret fetish emerges all the more winning by not asking for our sympathy or being made to seem odder than he is.”
Michael Cohen (MACHINAL; Boston University). Various roles. “[Mr. Cohen] stood out in multiple supporting parts, switching voices and personas with the aplomb of a true character actor. I’d keep an eye on him if I were you.”
Kathy Condrick (THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES; Fourth Wall Productions). Role: Head Nun. “[Ms. Condrick] simply walks off with the show as the Head Nun: rotund and commanding, yet amazingly subtle (the secret to her hilarity). Her deadpan ‘There’s a choirboy in here’ is a delight.”
Irene Daly (FEFU AND HER FRIENDS; Industrial Theatre). Role: Julia. “[Ms.] Daly makes Julia a whirring blender of phrases, especially in her harrowing bed-monologue ….”
Julie Dapper (JAKE’S WOMEN; Ubiquity Stage). Role: Maggie. “…[a] delightful Maggie --- I can see why Jake can’t stop thinking about her --- this pixie possesses a husky/squeaky voice, both mannered and natural, that I found enchanting to listen to (anyone for PETER PAN?).”
Tara Donoghue (WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?; Ubiquity Stage). [see Gideon Banner]
Alice Duffy (A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY; The Huntington Theatre Company). Role: Anna Islayeva. As the ever-clucking mother-in-law of Natalya Petrovna, Ms. Duffy was “an endearing old hen”.
Ricardo Engermann (BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY; The Our Place Theatre Project). [see Jacqui Parker]
Kim Falinski (THE WINTER’S TALE; M.I.T.) Role: Emilia. “Though she played the small part of Emilia, Hermione’s Lady who accompanies her to prison, I must single out Kim Falinski for her moving little contribution to this production. … When Emilia first appears in the Hermione-Mamilius scene, she is dressed like a Watteau figure, a flattened bonnet on the side of her gathered-up hair --- a fashionable Lady of the Court. When Paulina comes to the prison to inquire on Hermione’s health, Emilia enters to report the news of Perdita’s birth. Ms. Falinski quietly appeared, dressed in stark black, her hair down and unraveled to one side. Her shoulders, slumped; her manner, cowed. All that the audience needed to know of Hermione’s captivity was reflected in Ms. Falinski at that moment. Ms. Falinski repeated her entrance for the Court Scene, quietly moving to a bench off to the side. After Ms. Falinski came [Rikky] Muller [as Hermione], and the latter’s humbled appearance may not have been as affecting had Ms. Falinski’s entrance not prepared us for it. Throughout the Court Scene, I kept sneaking glances over at Ms. Falinski, who continued to sit there, numbly waiting to hear the news of her Queen’s fate --- my thanks to her … for proving there is truly no such thing as a small part in the theatre, especially when played as eloquently as this.”
Freddy Franklin (THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK; Emerson Studio Theatre). Role: The Spruce Courtier. “…[a] hilarious oh-my-DEAR turn … (imagine Leontyne Price playing Louise Jefferson).”
Shawn Galloway and Anne Gottlieb (MACBETH; Boston Theatre Works). Roles: Macbeth (Mr. Galloway); Lady Macbeth (Ms. Gottlieb). “Mr. Galloway and Ms. Gottlieb blend so well --- his large, searching eyes complimenting her fixed, burning ones --- and it is fascinating to watch his Macbeth grow more monstrous as her Lady dwindles down to extinction.”
Anne Gottlieb (MACBETH; Boston Theatre Works). [see Shawn Galloway]
Douglas Griffin (KRAPP’S LAST TAPE; Boston Directors’ Lab). Role: Krapp. “….a handsome old gentlemen with beetling brows shaped like the ”S’s” carved into violins. His Krapp is not a clown in the traditional sense (though such an interpretation could work), rather, he is clown-like because Time has made him so …. Considering much of KRAPP’S LAST TAPE consists of watching the man listening and reacting to his recorded voice, it was a pleasure to watch the fleeting emotions passing over Mr. Griffin’s face: irony, sadness, wonder, hints of second childhood on the way --- a great performance; a world in a drop of water.”
Angela Mi Young Hur (REASON; The Market Theater). [see Ryan Keilty]
Jeffrey Jones (DOCTOR FAUSTUS; The Bridge Theatre Company). Role: Mephistopheles. “In terms of technique, Mr. Jones is an impressive Mephistopheles: he has turned himself into a Thing --- down to separating and bandaging his toes to suggest cloven hooves. I wouldn’t say Mr. Jones has an evil face, but he does know how to use his dark, saturnine looks to suggest the diabolical, with his eyes slyly glancing from side to side and his head forever bobbing and dipping in a cobra’s dance.”
Ryan Keilty and Angela Mi Young Hur (REASON; The Market Theater). Roles: Richard (Mr. Keilty); Elsa (Ms. Hur). “….those star-crossed Strangers on the Train …. The most tired of businessmen can follow their love story from cool beginning to cooler end.”
Ryan Landry (CAMILLE; The Gold Dust Orphans). Role: Marguerite. “The anything-goes quality of his acting has now been tempered: if he still mugs, his rubber face quickly snaps back to a heroine’s serenity. If he still does his pratfalls, he no longer gives the impression he goes home black-and-blue from them. And he has learned how to Make an Entrance as a true leading lady while subtly acknowledging his cheering audience.”
Karen MacDonald (INFESTATION; The Boston Playwrights’ Company). Role: Mother. “Ms. MacDonald gave a magnificent performance as Mother, both girlish and slatternly, displaying endless insights and a warm, engaging personality (I found myself watching her even when she was off to the side, doing nothing); I can now see why she is considered one of Boston’s finest actresses….”
Constantine Maroulis (MACBETH; Boston Theatre Works). Role: Malcolm. “Constantine Maroulis is the show’s happy surprise --- his callow Malcolm subtly grows and impresses, and when his voice --- light, youthful, and truly Shakespearean --- is paired with [James] Barton’s virile sound, I closed my eyes to simply listen to the lovely music of their duet….”
Helen McElwain (THE HOUSE OF YES; Coyote Theatre). Role: Jackie-O. “[Her] Jackie-O is unforgettable: amusing, but not lovable; giddy, but not safe; seductive, but not erotic; what at first seems to be a flat-voiced, clumsy performance soon gives way to a burning journey into the heart and soul of a very sick person --- Jackie-O, that is.”
Chinasa Ogubuagu (VENUS; Boston University College of Fine Arts). Role: Saartjie Baartman (the “Venus Hottentot”). “Ms. Ogubuagu scaled down her comic persona to create an unforgettable Saartjie: warm and trusting, part-child, part-domesticated animal, blessed with the life spark to keep her going through her Venus-dom, even though she could only spiral downwards….”
Matthew Oliva (DINNER AT EIGHT; Theatre on the Hill). Role: Carlotta Vance. Not only did Mr. Oliva’s Carlotta --- exquisitely coifed, dressed and played sans Camp --- inject life into yet another embalmed Hill production, he/she outshone most of the actresses in the cast.
Jacqui Parker and Ricard Engermann (BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY; The Our Place Theatre Project). Roles: Angel Allen (Ms. Parker); Leland Cunningham (Mr. Engermann). “…everything paled upon seeing Ms. Parker and Mr. Engermann back together again. Granted, the joy I felt was due in part to my first seeing them as Elizabeth and Husband in THE OLD SETTLER, followed by the new joy that they still had “it” as Angel and Leland; if this BLUES had been a foreign-language production I would have thought it to be a sequel, with the sadder-but-wiser suitor coming back to the woman who had since gone on to become more worldly and embittered, yet still hopeful. Their first BLUES duet (Romeo in the street; Juliet at her window) had a sudden immediacy and magic that made all that preceded it seem a closed bud awaiting the sun, and their growing relationship, wry (Angel) and shy (Leland), had me wishing that these two lonely hearts would make it together this time, even when the plot’s growing darkness began closing in on them.”
Julie Perkins (SPIKED EGGNOG; Centastage). Various roles. “[Ms.] Perkins was wonderful as a placid but lethal 1950s housewife in “I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus” (was she sending up the benumbed heroine of the new film FAR FROM HEAVEN?).”
Aubyn Dayton Philabaum and Daniel Zaitchek (IPHIGENIA AND OTHER DAUGHTERS; Boston University School of Fine Arts). Roles: Electra (Ms. Philabaum); Orestes (Mr. Zaitchek). “…the Brother-Sister Recognition Duet, an overlapping medley of joy and grief, reunion and plotting. And [Ms.] Philabaum (great name!) and [Mr.] Zaitchik threw themselves wholeheartedly into this mini-opera sans music and made it WORK --- a thrilling blend of classical tragedy and tomorrow’s headlines ….”
Mariessa Portelance (AMADEUS; Boston University). Role: Constanze. “[Ms.] Portelance, a newcomer to me, made a most charming Constanze, Mozart’s beloved, pert as a Columbine and not at all vulgar as I sense Mr. Shaffer conceived her to be, and Ms. Portelance showed an amazing palette of colors in one so young: kittenish; cards-on-the-table knowingness; the starkness of a starved animal; the maternal warmth towards her child-husband....”
Ted Reinstein (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS; The Lyric Stage Company). Role: Richard Roma. “Mr. Reinstein … turns Act Two into his own personal opera/circus; it’s a genuine pleasure listening to Mr. Reinstein mouth off (onstage, that is): he’s an amazing musician in terms of the octaves and decibel levels that pour out of him --- sweet and sour, harsh and seductive and, in his scenes with Shelley, surprisingly tender --- a love story?”
Robert Saoud (LEND ME A TENOR; The Lyric Stage Company). [see Richard Snee]
Richard Snee and Robert Saoud (LEND ME A TENOR; The Lyric Stage Company). Roles: Saunders (Mr. Snee); Tito Merelli (Mr. Saoud). “First of all, they look and act in period: Mr. Snee, handsome and dapper in his tuxedo, and a master of the Slow Burn … and Mr. Saoud, with his “Italian” shape and accent, very much the image of an opera singer from the days when Voice, not Appearance, made one a Star.”
Shawn Sturnick (THE HOUSE OF YES; Coyote Theatre). Role: Marty. “Mr. Sturnick’s boyish good looks may forever keep him steeped in juveniles, but here he gets to play a variation of his typecasting; an anti-juvenile, if you will…. when his last shred of decency gives way and he and [Helen] McElwain ecstatically embrace like addicts falling off the wagon, the effect is both beautiful and terrible --- they are truly meant for each other.”
Daniel Zaitchek (IPHIGENIA AND OTHER DAUGHTERS; Boston University School of Fine Arts). [see Aubyn Dayton Philabaum]
* * *
And from the West Coast:
Andrea Frye (WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?; The Oregon Shakespeare Festival). Role: Martha. “Though WOOLF by rights belongs to George, its sardonic ringmaster, OSF’s production boasts a near-definitive Martha in Andrea Frye, a big, seductive woman who keeps her character scaled down to human size without removing any of the warts or turning down the volume (what a powerhouse of a voice!) --- thus, she teases as well as stings (it’s so easy to play Martha as Turandot). Throughout the evening, Ms. Frye continues to surprise us: her Martha deeply loves her husband despite what she says or does; she is an intelligent, sophisticated woman and not some low-life broad (though alcohol makes her act that way); and in her sudden moments of sobriety she reveals herself to be a jolly (if spoiled) girl at heart. Bravo!”
Richard Elmore (WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?; The Oregon Shakespeare Festival). Role: George. “Ms. Frye’s triumph in no way diminishes Richard Elmore’s achievement as George; on the contrary, he is her perfect counterpoint: small in stature but titanic in wit and cunning (twice he stopped the show with his one-upmanship speeches), and, in the end, brutally humane --- a stunning contrast to his doddering has-been in NOISES OFF, which I had seen the night before. Whenever Mr. Elmore and Ms. Frye lock horns onstage, you don’t root for one or the other --- you laugh and bleed for them both.”
Ensemble (NOISES OFF; The Oregon Shakespeare Company). “The cast is pure gold; limber of tongue (good accents) and well as body. If I must call back a few for a second curtain call, they would be Michael J. Hume as the director --- all long hair, scarf and lofty arrogance; David Kelly as a rubber ham bone, forever stretching and snapping back between hysteria and urbanity (he does an amazing chunk-chunk-chunk down the stairs, head first); and, especially, Dee Maaske, as the embattled leading lady, whose changes of the heart midway through the show’s run opens up as many cans of worms as it does of sardines.”
Ensemble (TITUS ANDRONICUS; The Oregon Shakespeare Company). “….there is much to enjoy in the OSF production; in particular, its five villains, who are far more engaging --- and amusing --- than the play’s dull, virtuous characters …. Judith-Marie Bergan plays Tamora, Queen of the Goths, with Wicked Stepmother relish (she brings a wonderfully droll delivery to her lines, without a trace of Camp), and she is ably partnered by Derrick Lee Weeden’s sensual Aaron the Moor (Mr. Weeden doesn’t flinch from the play’s many racial slurs, some of which Aaron himself spouts) …. Ray Porter, too, delights with the subtler side of Saturninus …. and Gregory Linington and Cristofer Jean are fascinating as Tamora’s barbaric sons --- they lounge magnificently all over the stage, watching and waiting like pet leopards.”
* * *
AMADEUS (Boston University). “Anita Fuchs designed a huge, fascinating set for the Huntington stage: under an arch and down a Baroque rabbit-hole --- sideways --- going right up into God’s glassy eye.”
BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE (The Zeitgeist Stage Company). “[David J.] Miller has designed one of the Black Box’s loveliest sets: so simple and spare, yet so evocative --- add anything else to it, and it would be too much icing on the cake.”
CAMILLE (The Gold Dust Orphans). “The eye-popping gowns are by Lisa Simpson, Verna Turbulence, Penny Champagne and L. Santa Maria of Framingham (!); Mr. Landry looks adorable in his sausage curls, and, in a witty take on 1950s poodle skirts, his Marguerite wears a plaid skirt with a Scottie Dog motif when out in the countryside.”
DEALER’S CHOICE (Boston University College of Fine Arts). “The program listed no set designer for this bare-bones production --- yet, Act Two (the Poker Game) was one of the most visually arresting settings I’ve seen this year: one round table with a green tablecloth, six chairs, a few cardboard boxes scattered about for atmosphere --- and all lit by one overhanging light. Beautiful --- O Boston theatres, established or just starting out, you can learn so much from college productions!”
DIRTY BLONDE (The Lyric Stage Company). Gail Astrid Buckley designed a lovely Belle Époque gown for Jo/Mae West --- all sequins and pink champagne. Actually, she designed two matching gowns --- oops, did I give away the play’s ending?
FAMILY STORIES (The Market Theater). “Jeff Cowie has designed an impressive set of rubble, though his placing it in the context of the Market’s wood paneling and chandeliers turns FAMILY STORIES into a court masque for the upper-uppers and not a piece of agit-prop for The People.”
THE FANTASTICKS (Northeastern University). “Paradoxically, Northeastern’s bare-stage production has to be one of the most beautiful ones to be seen in recent memory. As the audience entered, the work lights were on in the black-box Studio Theatre, harshly exposing every pipe and beam; every irregularity on the back wall and floor. A box --- or something resembling a box --- was parked in a cavernous entrance in the back wall. Stage left: a tall, very tall stepladder. Upstage right, in the corner, were a piano, harp, bass and percussion, dumped there like forgotten toys. One by one, the four (excellent) musicians --- Patrick J. Finlon, Tula Ruggiero, Betsy Engel and Andy Jasenak --- entered, took their places and switched on their reading lights. Two Mutes (in tuxedos) wheeled out the box-like object, which they proceeded to open out into a platform on wheels, with storage space inside. As the Overture started, the actors entered one by one to introduce themselves (as if they are members of a traveling show), the harsh lights started to dim and soften, turning the walls and floor smooth and velvety, and when the actors tossed up confetti squares of white, yellow, orange and green to litter the floor in impromptu patterns, this student production won me over completely. Special mention must be made to Janet Bobcean (costumes) Matthew Richards (lights) and Kevin Orzechowski (set design) for making so much out of so little, especially in the marriage of lights and costume. So many beautiful images go flowing by --- the vibrant red of El Gallo’s suit; the soft pink of Luisa’s dress; the muted salmon and chartreuse checkerboard of Mr. Bellamy’s jacket; the shift from moonlight to sunlight; lighting from below or from the side to cast an expressionist pallor onto a scene, to name a few. Even the sudden appearance of a disco ball, throwing off sparkle patterns, seems clever, not hackneyed. Ain’t theatre grand, folks?”
HENRY V (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company). “Linda O’Brien’s lighting design has a stunning moment: when Henry instructs his troops to fire three rounds of arrows upon the French (flaming arrows?), three brilliant flashes illuminate the stage, the audience, the world.”
THE HOUSE OF YES (Coyote Theatre). “Many a time the absence of a stage curtain can rob the audience of their “Ahhh!” of pleasure upon seeing a production’s set for the first time, but observing Mila Pavelka’s designs for the Pascal house beforehand also works to the Coyote’s advantage: a black-and-white checkerboard living room floor with retro-50s furniture; a slice of a bed upstage, placed between two pillars; and --- most hauntingly --- the back wall, with its doors and wall furnishings all painted (blanketed?) in soft, snowy white. That back wall started giving me the creeps during the fifteen minutes or so that I sat there waiting for the play to begin, and when it did, it all made sense --- the Pascal house is both tomb and ward, with everything cushioned and blunted for Jackie-O’s sake. Time has not only stopped in this house --- it has died.”
INFESTATION (The Boston Playwrights’ Theatre). “Richard Chambers’ eerie American Gothic set design, more of a pink-and-lime tomb than a farmhouse….”
IPHEGENIA AND OTHER DAUGHTERS (Boston University). “Richard Chambers has designed an evocative set of doom up on the actual stage of the Studio Theatre --- black curtains with yards of spectral white stretched across to suggest (1) webs to catch victims in and (2) winding sheets to wrap them in afterwards --- all nicely lit by Matthew Guminski, especially in the eerie glow of Orestes emerging through the curtains, blood on his shirt and madness in his eyes.”
PAN (Company One). “Upon entering the Black Box Theatre, you enter a brilliantly designed Neverland with its trees, nooks and flowing stream (real water, complete with a sand bed) --- the setting reminded me of the long-gone Sweet Enchantment candy store on Newbury Street, where customers purchased sweets that they found in tree hollows.” [Designed by ???]
REASON (The Market Theater). “What I saw was a black steel wall that came down to the very edge of the stage, and one, two, three or four panels slid up to reveal bits and pieces from five plot lines --- none of them having any bearing on the others. Since the actors are only seen from the waist up, I felt I was watching a puppet show on multiple screens at the local Cineplex. At first I was irritated --- yet another “gimmick” --- and then I became more and more fascinated with what was unfolding and by curtain, uh, panel-call, I decided I had seen something quite brilliant and yet hard to describe in words. …. it has been brilliantly designed and lit by Randy Ward; and Benjamin Emerson’s sound system is simply incredible --- the actor’s voices match their voice-overs in the same airless, canned quality; layer upon layer of soft yet crystal-clear sound washes over you).”
SONGS DEGENERATE AND OTHERWISE (The Market Theater). “[Beth Ann] Cole’s dress is a third character in and off itself: a clingy black Something that changes with Ms. Cole from song to song: an evening gown, here; a slatternly slip, there.”
THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK (Emerson College). “Andrew Poleszak’s costumes alone were reason enough to attend this THOMAS --- well-researched, colorful and --- for a college production --- quite lavish, and nicely contrasting the simple homespun of Thomas and his brothers against the silks and brocades of Richard and his court. (When the Duchess of Ireland strayed within my proximity, I studied at leisure her lovely dress, all encrusted in gold, green and brown, and longed to roll the fabric between my fingers.) Mr. Poleszak’s tongue-in-cheek designs for the flatterers’ succumbing to the latest continental fashions proved to be the show’s visual highlight --- in particular, floppy hats that would have made a sultan (or mushroom) proud and elongated slippers that resembled turned-up gravy boats with silver chains linking toe to knee (the script calls them ‘polonian shoes’). Even the walk-on characters were costumed so RIGHT, as if they stepped from a Bruegel canvas.”
* * *
MOMENTS (Good, Bad or Otherwise):
ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE (Stoneham Theatre). … Becky Barta’s stunning rendition of “Crazy” --- “close your eyes, and you’ll swear Patsy’s back.”
BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE (The Zeitgeist Stage Company). When editor Shelita Burns finally gets to meet her long-sought-after author, Libby Price --- “a swift, stunning lesson in Art versus Life….”
BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY (The Our Place Theatre). “That one moment came in Act Two when “Doc” asks Delia, “Do you want to be in love?” and when Delia answers, “Yes. Don’t you?”, [Stephanie] Marson-Lee suddenly relaxed and glowed into prettiness, causing me to sit up and stare at her transformation. Once Ms. Marson-Lee finds her “center” as an actress she might become one of those rare birds who may not have to do much to make an impression --- she could simply BE; Eleanora Duse was said to have that quality --- spiritual, not technical. Some may argue, “But glowing into prettiness does not an actor make,” to which I will reply, “Yes, but Great Moments in the theatre are exactly that --- Moments.” Ms. Marson-Lee gave me a Moment, and giving an audience more and more of these Moments does indeed an actor (and an artist) make.”
CAMILLE (The Gold Dust Orphans). “….Marguerite tosses a camellia out the window --- watch [Ryan] Landry’s facial reactions as it falls unseen to the ground like a ton of bricks crashing through several floors of glass.”
DESDEMONA (Boston Directors’ Lab). “….the ”lamming” [beating] scene (which was quite tame, really: “Desdemona” wore micro-panties to avoid cracking a smile and “Bianca” lightly lam’d; the former’s snowy cheeks betrayed not a flush of pink)….”
DIRTY BLONDE (The Lyric Stage Company). When Jo and Mae West merge into one --- soon to be followed by Charlie’s own transformation.
DOCTOR FAUSTUS (The Bridge Theatre Company). “….Faustus’ descent to Hell, which starts off as hair-raising poetry: a bell rings, and two scurrying demons crisscross the stage behind Faustus’ back --- and on comes Mephistopheles, like a ground bass, striding slowly and inevitably in and out among the curtains. But the poetry peters out: Faustus is simply dragged off like the daily laundry; I see Mephistopheles giving Faustus a sad, final look, then dismissing him with a wave of his hand --- he has other souls to catch (well….that’s the kind of devil I would be).”
EAST LYNNE (Alarm Clock Theatre). “One priceless moment: in Act One, “Archibald” asked “Isabel” to sing for him. [Buddy] Habig rose and retired behind the curtains, and [Dan] Ring (a composer himself) sat down in his place. Launching into the introductory bars of a sweet song he wrote for this production (“You’ll Remember Me”), Mr. Ring flashed [Sally] Oldham a killer smile, cocked a thumb and forefinger at her as in “Take it, honey”, and EAST LYNNE gave way to Happy Hour at the Leopard Lounge --- and Ms. Oldham sang Mr. Ring’s song quite prettily, too; had she and Mr. Ring chosen to entertain us this way for the remainder of the evening, I wouldn’t have kicked up a fuss --- provided they ended, of course, with Isabel’s death scene.”
EPIC PROPORTIONS (The Lyric Stage Company). “…the first half of EPIC PROPORTIONS could have come right out of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, with [Laura Given] Napoli displaying a brisk, quarter-in-the-crack walk and doing wonderfully silly things such as having thousands of (unseen) extras count off into groups of four. (Hearing a mortally wounded camel moaning off-stage, Ms. Napoli pauses, then quips, “Call the kitchen.”)”
FEFU AND HER FRIENDS (Industrial Theatre). Why were those scissors on the side table by Julia’s bed?
THE HOUSE OF YES (Coyote Theatre). The slow, hypnotic melting of brother and sister together on the couch.
INFESTATION (The Boston Playwrights’ Theatre). “Russell Lees, though silent, scored the evening’s biggest laugh as the Sheriff, summoned by Elwin to arrest Leon for whatever reason, only to drop dead within seconds of his entrance --- a clever bit.”
IPHEGENIA AND OTHER DAUGHTERS (Boston University). “The curtain call is a real hoot: Hawaiian music plays over the intercom, and the leads … strike poses as statuary. Electra bends over, lifts her skirt and moons Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra makes a moue at the audience and pinches her nipples like a monkey. Blackout.”
ISCARIOT (Northeastern University). The modern-day Iscariot mimes how he broke a man’s spine in a pub brawl and a sickening, popping noise escapes from his clenched fist; he then holds out to the audience a piece of bubble used to create the sound --- a magician displaying his wares.
JOAN CRAWFORD’S CHRISTMAS ON THE POLE (The Gold Dust Orphans). “When Mildred is being interrogated for murder, the Detective is talking to a mannequin in a fur coat, its back to us. He seizes the mannequin in a rage, shakes it and tosses it offstage. Seconds later, Mr. Fineran, slightly disheveled, enters to take his place on the stand --- in other words, that was supposed to be Mr. Fineran who went flying into the wings. As the audience laughs at the obvious gag, Mr. Fineran pauses, gives a gently condescending smile and winks a la Brigette Helm as the Robot in METROPOLIS, letting us know that he knows that we know ‘twas a gag --- and doubles the laughter.”
JOAN CRAWFORD’S CHRISTMAS ON THE POLE (The Gold Dust Orphans). The appearance of the Ice Queen. “This Mysterious Lady appears out of nowhere to do a rendition of “Jingle Bells” that has got to be the single most hilarious turn I have seen this year --- truly. When she performs, the stage, the town, the world is hers.”
JUMP ROPE (Playwrights’ Theatre). When Kurt tells Alex that all of Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to the theme from “Gilligan’s Island” --- and proceeds to demonstrate.
KRAPP’S LAST TAPE (Boston Directors Lab). “Krapp’s basement was appropriately dingy and timeless --- a former bomb shelter? And near the end of the performance, in the half-light, one of the largest cockroaches I have ever seen scuttled along before those of us in the front row. It couldn’t have picked a more appropriate set in which to make its entrance.”
LEND ME A TENOR (The Lyric Stage Company). “Between [Ken] Ludwig, director Jack Neary and his superb octet of clowns, there are dozens of hilariously insane bits, including: Max and Merelli engaging in a battle of Slap Hands; Saunders’ repeated attempts to strangle “Il Stupendo” in his bed; Julia’s butterfly exit being truncated by Saunders shoving her out the door; Max bursting out of the bathroom only to be yanked back inside by the towel-clad Diana --- twice; the Merelli-Julia love scene, where they tenderly bounce words off each other’s tonsils; and the end of Act One, where music and image beautifully come together to coax a collective “Ah!” from its audience.”
THE LISBON TRAVIATA (The Lyric Stage Company). “Jason Schuchman’s Paul … makes his first entrance in the nude and stands exposed long enough to make you wonder if Paul be exhibitionist or nitwit. (Since Paul freezes by the record shelf, why not have him quickly snatch up a record album to use as a fig leaf, with inappropriate artwork on the front cover; say, a close-up of an open-mouthed tenor, baritone or bass?)”
MACHINAL (Boston University). “[W]hen Helen gives birth to a child she doesn’t want, she is hounded by a smiling shark of a nurse and two doctors who have naked baby dolls strapped about their arms and torsos like fetuses --- the effect is both black humorous and horrible. It would drive anyone mad.”
MARTY (The Huntington Stage Company). “….the show’s set piece --- the Stardust Ballroom sequence where Marty and Clara first meet --- is an extended number where interlocking lives, dialogue, lyrics and dance beautifully shortcut and propel the plot forward, all bound together by the band leader’s crooning “Why Not You and Me?” (here’s one for the Hit Parade).”
A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY (The Huntington Stage Company). “…the end of Act One, with Natalya concluding her aria about whether Belyayev should stay or go, then turning with a flourish and exiting upstage while the curtain falls --- a real, old-fashioned bit of Theatre.”
PAN (Company One). When Peter and his Shadow are reunited and they joyously boogie together.
PAN (Company One). The sudden appearance of Captain Hook’s pirate ship, crashing through the set.
PAN (Company One). “After much back-and-forth teasing, Wendy finally kisses Peter on the mouth when they part. The play immediately ends with Peter crowing in delight --- he has just discovered Sex. Pity that it doesn’t continue --- what will Peter do next? Grow up?”
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Boston Academy of Music). The ensemble for “Hail, Poetry” --- breathtaking.
REASON (The Market Theater). “Beth, a college professor and a single parent, gives lectures on philosophy and suffers a breakdown, foreshadowed by her hearing sounds that no one else can hear. She is last seen wearing a clear plastic mask of her own face; four mysterious figures with glowing candles advance and retreat before her as her own voice is heard delivering a lecture, this time about God. Beth gently, gently vanishes backwards into the darkness.”
REASON (The Market Theater). The ensemble as rows of Weebles on a train heading, no doubt, for Playskool, to the accompaniment of “Close Your Eyes” sung by Bebel Gilberto on her TANTO TEMPO. Great CD! I bought it the next day.
RESIDENT ALIEN (The Theatre Offensive). “Some of [Bette] Bourne’s actions --- swinging a dead mouse around by its tail before discarding it; peeling a potato and then pocketing the skins in his jacket --- are not part of Mr. Fountain’s script; they are wonderful additions from Mr. Bourne in collaboration with his author/director. And the play’s most stunning little coup is definitely not to be found on the written page: when Mr. Crisp tries to fry a solitary egg, the script has him mutter, “Why does the yolk always break?” On the night I attended, Mr. Bourne flared up, spat out the line, and slapped the counter with his spatula --- for one brief moment, the impeccable Mr. Crisp vanished, leaving behind an angry, bitter old man living alone in a filthy room, having made his stylish bed long, long ago and now having to lie in it for that’s all he has. You could say a rock smashed through a stained-glass window; how moving to watch Mr. Crisp/Bourne then put his persona back together again --- that Wildean sin: bad manners.”
RIFF RAFF (Ubiquity Stage). “[Richard] Arum owns the most beautiful --- and terrible --- moment of the evening: when Billy finally gets to shoot up, Mr. Arum stiffens in his armchair, arches his body upwards, holds it for a moment, gasps and goes limp --- a dry orgasm; you’ll swear you see the poison sparkling through his veins.”
RIFF RAFF (Ubiquity Stage). When Tony (“The Tiger”) lights his cigarette at the window, signaling to his men below that business will soon be concluded.
ROSEMARY’S BABY --- THE MUSICAL! (The Gold Dust Orphans). “….on the night I attended, [Charles Fineran] unexpectedly gave us the loveliest moment in the show: Mr. Fineran approached a phone booth, but before he got inside, the Sound Crew jumped the gun and rang the phone for the call he was to make. Laughter from the audience. Mr. Fineran stepped back, looked out at the audience, then up to Heaven, then over his shoulder. With great dignity, he then stepped inside the booth and dialed the number. Leaning out, he gestured with the receiver to the Sound Crew. The phone rang. Mr. Fineran graciously smiled his thanks and continued the scene. Carol Burnett couldn’t have done it any better. … And as for Rosemary’s baby himself? Well, he has his father’s eyes, all right….”
SCARRIE (The Gold Dust Orphans). The girls’ lyrical shower scene; “…it’s funny, bawdy and beautiful, all at once.”
SHEL’S SHORTS, Part Two: Signs of Trouble (The Market Theater). The bowl of cold oatmeal in Laura Latreille’s purse --- Waste Not, Want Not.
SONGS DEGENERATE AND OTHERWISE (The Market Theater). “I was disappointed to not see “The Bilbao Song” on the program, but, happily, [Alvin] Epstein belts it out as an encore, for it contains Brecht’s most joyful lyrics --- granted, the subject is yet another seedy dive, but the song builds from the rumble-rumble of its honky-tonk to open up, soar and climax in its three life-affirming “It was FANTASTIC!” phrases.”
THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK (Emerson College). “There is a brilliant little moment when Richard kneels before Lancaster to be crowned once again, and Lancaster --- in disgust --- simply hands the crown to his nephew to put it on himself. So much for ceremony!”
UNCLE TOM’S CABIN (The Coyote Theatre). “I dare the most vehement of the novel’s detractors not to be moved by the image of Ramona Alexander as Eliza, clutching her baby and pursued by “bloodhounds”, running in slow-motion down a long winding sheet that suggests a river of ice, her face glowing more and more in ecstasy with each step she takes, all set to the lush, muted sound of a heavenly organ. … The show’s one other lovely image belongs to [David] Scott as his own Eliza, frozen in flight upstage while his pursuers argue downstage. Mr. Scott, a tall man, eloquently stands motionless in his skirts, one foot en point behind the other, for a good five minutes --- long enough for the image to be etched into your memory. Such is the power of theatre --- you may forget the type of building you were in, who you went with that night, the names of the actors in the cast, etc. but you won’t forget such images as Mr. Scott’s tableau or Ms. Alexander’s ecstatic flight.”
VENUS (Boston University College of Fine Arts). “What glorious images studded this VENUS! First off, an actress with a generous behind --- real or padded --- was NOT cast in the title role; Chinasa Ogubuagu’s Saartjie had the actress’ own conventional shape and wore a flesh-colored body stocking to simulate nudity (I’ll assume Ms. Parks insisted on this type of casting so that the audience would always see Saartjie as a human being and not giggle and point alongside the onstage gawkers --- contemporary engravings of the real Saartjie were flashed upon two moveable screens to help fill in the audience’s imagination. Other unforgettable images: Saartjie’s anal rape by the Mans Brother, staged as a quick, awkward struggle followed by a close --- too close --- embrace from behind; ‘The Eight Human Wonders’, first glimpsed as silhouettes through the screens and then entering the arena from out of Mother-Showman’s towering hoop skirt; the never-ending hands reaching between the bars of Saartjie’s cage to touch her all over; “The Venus Hottentot” play staged in a deliberately shallow depth of field to suggest a Regency marionette show; the breathtaking recapitulation of Act One at the start of Act Two where bodies and screens spun through time and space; Saartjie’s trial on moral grounds, presided over by an octet of judges part-Greek chorus, part-Gilbert and Sullivan; the grueling tour through England suggested by the cast rotating Saartjie’s cage clockwise while the captive within numbly turned counter; French anatomists mercilessly snapping measuring tapes about Saartjie’s person as if she were already stuffed and mounted; Saartjie’s death in a filthy prison cell; and --- most chilling --- the Baron-Docteur at his podium, raising a handkerchief to reveal Saartjie’s genitals preserved in a glass jar. And considering that all of the above was performed by college students --- still wet or green --- I am still blinking in amazement at Ms. Muson’s achievement.”
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (Ubiquity Stage). “….when George yelled upstairs to Martha, and Martha yelled back, her “George?” not only sounded distant enough, but UPSTAIRS distant enough, and I shivered with delight: for a moment, that low-budget set became a living, breathing HOUSE….”
THE WILD PARTY (SpeakEasy Theatre). When Sally the drug addict (played by Rachel Peters) shot herself up in her thigh, she expressed her rush by singing scales --- a beautiful example of how music can zero in on character, incident, drama.
WIVES OF THE DEAD (Bridge Theatre). When the repressed Elizabeth, wandering about her living room, stops to adjust a cup on a shelf so that it lines up with the others --- Everything in Its Place.
THE WOMEN (Northeastern University). “….at play’s end, the stage right doors open in a blaze of sun, and the entire cast brandishes mirrors and other reflecting articles [at the audience], scattering colorful diamonds of light all around them.”
YULE EN ROUGE (Fresh Fruit Productions). The video spoof of tacky homemade commercials, with Dan Shih as the beaming owner of a Chinese restaurant that caters to a Jewish clientele; “IS! SO! GOOD!” he/she repeatedly crowed over close-ups of deliberately unappetizing Asian-Yiddish entrees).
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The Most Joyous Moment of the Year #1: LEND ME A TENOR (The Lyric Stage Company), where, after curtain call, the cast re-enact the entire play in one minute or so, set to music.
The Most Joyous Moment of the Year #2: JOAN CRAWFORD’S CHRISTMAS ON THE POLE (The Gold Dust Orphans). The make-up table reunion of Mildred and Veda, with Charles Fineran’s Mildred becoming more and more enamored of her own reflection.
The OMG Moment of the Year: ROSEMARY’S BABY --- THE MUSICAL! (The Gold Dust Orphans). The OMG Moment came early this year --- Walter McLean, playing Minnie (the Ruth Gordon character), celebrated the Fourth of July by entering nude save for wig, glasses and shoes --- and waving two flags. His genitals were tucked between his legs to simulate a woman’s anatomy; when he turned to exit, you could see the jewels hidden behind the door.
The Is-A-Puzzlement Moment of the Year: BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE (Zeitgeist Theatre Company). Despite a thought-provoking script that subtly dealt with race relations, the craft of writing, and Art versus Life AND blessed with a director and ensemble who did it full justice AND gathering rave reviews from the press (including myself), audiences simply stayed away from one of the year’s best productions --- and it was EVERYONE’S loss.
The Gobble-Gobble Moment of the Year: OUR TOWN (Boston Theatre Works). “…in his quest for “cutting edge” theatre --- that phrase makes me think of gleaming scalpels slicing open something warm and alive --- director Jason Southerland has taken Mr. Wilder’s celebrated play of life, love and death in a small New Hampshire town, removed its beating heart, couldn’t find much to revise and packed the remains on ice, and that is what his audiences will be seeing: Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN, on ice and without a heart.”
The Light-Under-the-Bushel Moment of the Year: MARTY (The Huntington Stage Company). “Astonishingly, many of the supporting actors get little or nothing to sing --- including the always-excellent Kent French, cast as the handsome heel who ditches Clara at the dance. Had Messrs. Strouse and Adams given his character a snazzy song of his own (say, a wolf number sung to the woman he’s pursuing), Mr. French would have unlocked his silver pipes and given Beantown something worth standing up and cheering about.”
A Star is Born Moment of the Year: SPIKED EGGNOG: THE XMAS FILES II --- A HOLIDAY BOOGALOO (Centastage). Angel (Rick Paul) and Epiphany (John Kuntz), two holiday fashion consultants working the audience, stopped in front of one white-bearded man (real beard). Angel: “Aw, Santa, what’re you doing here? You should be at Macy’s with some kids on your lap. MERRY DIS-MAS!” My fifteen seconds of fame.
The Saddest Moment of the Year: The folding of The Market Theater --- gone, after only a few years of excellence.
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MY WISH LIST (casting certain actors in certain roles):
Bridget Bourne as Sally in Stephen Sondheim’s FOLLIES.
Jim Butterfield as Hubert in Shakespeare’s KING JOHN.
Ozzie Carnan as Brutus Jones in Eugene O’Neill’s THE EMPEROR JONES.
Luke Dennis as Pseudolus and Neil A. Casey as Hysterium in Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.
Kathy Condrick as Sister Mary in Christopher Durang’s SISTER MARY IGNATIUS EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU.
Julie Dapper as Gittel Mosca in William Gibson’s TWO FOR THE SEESAW.
Thomas Derrah as Leslie Bright in Lanford Wilson’s THE MADNESS OF LADY BRIGHT.
Michelle Dowd as Elizabeth in John Henry Redwood’s THE OLD SETTLER.
Alice Duffy as Countess Aurelie in Jean Giradoux’s THE MADWOMAN OF CHALLIOT.
Alvin Epstein as Davies in Harold Pinter’s THE CARETAKER.
Kent French as Lancelot in Lerner and Lowe’s CAMELOT.
Gio Gaynor as Mercutio (again) in Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET.
Anne Gottlieb as Euripides’ MEDEA.
Douglas Griffith as Don Perlimplin in Federico Garcia Lorca’s THE LOVE OF DON PERLIMPLIN AND BELISSA IN THE GARDEN.
Thomas Grimes as Hoke Colburn in Alfred Uhry’s DRIVING MISS DAISY.
Jeremiah Kissell as Edmond Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC.
Mary Klug as Laurette Taylor in my own play, YELLOW TO LAVENDER.
John Kuntz as Moliere’s TARTUFFE.
Ryan Landry as Dolly Levi in Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman’s HELLO, DOLLY!
Laura Latreille as Sally Bowles and Shawn Sturnick as Christopher Isherwood in John Van Druten’s I AM A CAMERA.
Karen MacDonald as Christine and Eliza Rose Fichter as Rhoda in Maxwell Anderson’s BAD SEED.
Karen MacDonald as Martha, Jeremiah Kissell as George, Shawn Sturnick as Nick and Laura Latreille as Honey in Edward Albee’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
Karen MacDonald as Kath, Will Lyman as Ed, Gideon Banner as Mr. Sloane and Alvin Epstein as Kemp in Joe Orton’s ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE.
Gillian Mackay-Smith as Mame Dennis in Lawrence and Lee’s AUNTIE MAME.
Laura Given Napoli as Amanda in Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES.
Richard Snee as Willy Loman and Paula Plum as Linda Loman in Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN.
Shawn Sturnick as George and Helen McElwain as Doris in Bernard Slade’s SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR.
Shawn Sturnick as Edgar (again) and Dan Minkle as Edmund (again), together in Shakespeare’s KING LEAR.
Elizabeth A. Wightman as Josie in Eugene O’Neill’s A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN.