Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hovey Summer Arts Festival"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Beverly Creasey

Waltham: The New Theater District
"Summer Arts Festival" @ HOVEY & "Carousel" @ REAGLE

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

It may be July but June is Bustin’ Out All Over Waltham. Hovey presents two different evenings of which I saw the opening night offerings. Jean-Paul DiSciscio’s wildly funny CAT In A BAG makes a star out of a portly (I hope he doesn’t take offense), cynical feline who’s gone through three sets of owners and myriad adventures (if only in his mind). Move over William Wegman! What DiSciscio gets that cat to do (or is it the other way around?) is pure genius. It doesn’t hurt that DiSciscio, as cat narrator, sounds just like comedian Steve Wright, or that the soundtrack is stolen from my favorite singer (I won’t rat out DiSciscio by telling, no, not me.) I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, not me. Give this man an Oscar and some catnip. Please.

The second film, DISPOSITION, by a fourteen year old filmmaker yet, is a sophisticated cross between a Marcel Duchamp and Rene Clair DaDa endeavor and the revved up, speeded up (and in Peter Bertoli’s case, reversed) movie like KOYANISKATSI. Talk about a wild imagination! The third film, by Kelly Farrell, called THE GREEN FAERIE, is a joyous, lyrical vaudeville romp, a la Georges Melies’s hand colored historical fairy films. Who knew that Waltham is the new Hollywood? Forget Bollywood. Hooray for Wallywood!

The opening night plays are linked by sweet sentiment: sad memories are ameliorated and lives reclaimed by acts of kindness. A father’s spirit returns in Kelly Dumar’s clever HOTHOUSE to mend the animosity between a brother and sister. The play veers for a while into farce, then returns to calmer waters without becoming “florid” and jarring our willing suspension of disbelief. Nancy Curran Willis’ topnotch cast handles the changes gracefully.

TEAM COLORS by William Campbell is a RAINMAN inspired story about an unlikely friendship between a jock and a savant who just happens to know every football statistic in the book. Erika Eisman’s sensitive cast makes us root for a win for both characters. Dwane Yancey’s THE ANGEL OF BROOKLYN (which I didn’t see) gives an elderly man the hope he so sorely needs in the twilight of his life. Both Campbell and Yancey use sports, believe it or not, as a backstop for tenderness and caring the way Dumar uses flower power as metaphor. In addition to this lineup, next week’s roster will include a short film by Keith Brown and plays by Frank Shefton, Stephen Schutzman and Glenn English.

And don’t leave Waltham yet.
The Reagle Players are presenting a star studded CAROUSEL---with one of the brightest stars in American musical history. Shirley Jones--- immortalized in the film versions of OKLAHOMA, CAROUSEL and THE MUSIC MAN, not to mention an Oscar for ELMER GANTRY---warms the stage with her soothing presence. Who else could deliver such a rousing celebration of “June” or the gorgeous Rogers and Hammerstein anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Director Bob “Cecil B. DeMille” Eagle fills the stage with a cast of thousands (Well, it looked like thousands) for a breathtaking carnival tableau to open the show. The role originated by Ms. Jones is now played by Broadway (and Reagle) veteran, Sarah Pfisterer. (She was a spunky Marian the librarian in THE MUSIC MAN at Reagle last summer.) Pfisterer finds the perfect balance of innocence and cheek as the naif who sets her cap for bad boy, Billy Bigelow. Say, why are bad boys so irresistible? Nat Chandler (Broadway’s Scarlet Pimpernel) has a voice as big as his swagger—and charm enough for us to see why Julie falls so hard.

My only qualm about CAROUSEL (Not with the production ---which is flawless under Eagle and Karen Gahagan’s sparkling direction and Gemze DeLappe’s crisp re-creation of Agnes DeMille’s choreography) is the thread of domestic violence running through the story and the creepy life lesson passed down from mother to daughter. Both learn that it doesn’t “hurt when you’re hit” if you really love the guy. (Feminists Andrea Dworkin and Betty Friedan just flipped in their graves.) Certainly such sentiment wouldn’t pass muster on Broadway today but you try to see past it because of the exquisite music. (It’s actually Ferenc Molnar’s doing. CAROUSEL is based on his play, LILIOM. )

The sizzle in the dazzling Reagle production is provided by Cheryl McMahon as Julie’s hot blooded nemesis, the carny queen who calls all the shots. Reagle regulars Roy Earley and Harold Walker make heaven a down East paradise. If you’ve never been to Reagle, you’ll be astounded by the Broadway quality in every performance, from chorus to leads.

Kristen Watson and Nathan Troup delight as comic relief. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck and company make the fluid ballet one of the many reasons to see this production. Even if you saw the Broadway revival of a few years ago, this CAROUSEL surpasses it. Don’t miss it!

Both Hovey and Reagle run through next weekend.

"Hovey Summer Arts Festival" (15 - 23 July)
The Abbott Memorial Theatre, 9 Spring Street, WALTHAM

"Carousel" (11 - 20 July)
Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM

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