Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Boston THEATER Marathon"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark

"The Boston THEATER Marathon #5"

Reviewed by Larry Stark

One good thing about what I call THE Marathon is that it's over when it's over; there may be a Life After Marathon run of a few plays with legs, but after the performances on each of the Playwrights' Theatre's very different stages, it will never be repeated in that same way. And hardly anyone in attendance manages to see it through from noon till ten. And that means that I can indulge myself, even in cases where there's a surprise ending or an odd gimmick, and give away all the plots --- because people will always want to know about the plays they Didn't see when they ran out for lunch, or stood in line for the john, or left early or came late.

So here's my personal run-down on the '03 ten-minute plays --- all forty-five of them!

When so many plays flash by in a row, it's fairly easy to spot those in the top rung: everyone working on them obviously Loves them! The actors really enjoy slipping into the characters and trading lines with the others, and even with minimum rehearsal sessions, they and the director know exactly where they're going, and what's at stake, and so little surprises and details show up that add to the mix.

I saw about ten of them and two had to do with music:

"Pop! --- The Musical"
The North Shore Music Theatre sponsored this charming mini-biography of an at first eager then reluctant rock-star by Lyricist Sara Adelson and Composer Dan Ring. It was Directed by Marty Johnson, with Musical Direction by Derek M. Bowlby and rock-choreography by Kelly Lynne McIntyre. Matt Laurenza played the evil Mogul and Laurie Berich a scandal-sheet interviewer. They first dazzled Briga Heelan as the singer with great promises and hype, then re-molded her into four or five different singing styles, and finally torpedoed the career when she turned her back on it and returned to Josh Burlingham --- her first, lost, regained love. A classic musical in form, it sent-up the music biz with sweet, swift economy and brief, lush songs. And all in ten minutes!

"Girl in The Basement"
This was that romantic fantasy's total antithesis --- a gritty slice of recording-studio reality, written and directed by Jon lipsky (Stage Managed by Deb Hazel). This centered on the big chance to show their songs to a recording A & R man for writer/singer Queen of Wyoming (Jordan Dann) and her guitarist Jack Flash (Jeremy Silver) --- who may or may not live together, but were near break-up as a warring team of tempermental performers. They finish one song, indulged in a furious verbal knife-fight about who's leaving whom and why, but united to sing the title-song that got them the blessing, or the curse, of a contract. (The Vineyard Playhouse sponsored.)

Music also figured in Robert Brustein's effective and subtle play which David Wheeler Directed for the A.R.T. --- though from off-stage. Set around 1940 it had a jazz-loving son Brady Gill) intending to join the Navy as a step to becoming a band-leader, though his tin-eared, dogmatic father is against both. Dad even hollered at the tenant downstairs for playing classical music too loud on his piano. The gimmick here came in the author's historical note: the pianist was the composer Rachmaninoff, exiled in Brooklyn.

"The King of Rock 'N' Roll"
Music of a much later vintage opened Richard Shotter's play --- with Tasso Feldman as a teen-age rock-lover but a loser in the dating-game. But just when life seemed darkest, right out of the radio walked Alan Freed! (Okay, Ken Cheeseman, but he fooled me!) Along with sage advice (and a mention or two of his sponsors) The King bestowed on young Howie Golden a Rock 'n' Roll Soul, two front-row tickets to his live concert next Saturday, and just a hint of Payola's coming storms. Howie's second call to his dream-girl was significantly different! (The Jewish Theatre of New England sponsored, Judy Braha Directed and Eileen Kelly Stage-Managed, with rock'n'roll research by Tim Riley.)

"Eckstein & Sons"
The first play of the day that caught fire for me was Alan Smucker's workman-like family clash, Directed by Greg Smucker for Underground Railway Theater. In it the owner of several men's clothing stores (Doug Marsden) considered selling stores for a stock-market fling. The argument was over integrity and value versus maybe-money, and he argued with Tim Sawyer playing his old tailor --- actually his own grandfather who started the business with this store, passed it to his now dead son and then to his grandson. The means here were simple, but the argument sang.

"You Know Why You're Here"
This was a collaboration of the regular Rough & Tumble Theatre crew (Dan Milstein Directing, Fred Harrington's on-stage music) with wordsmith Bill Donnelly. It wed their laconic, minimalist style to the memories of a guy (Chris Cook) who watched a girl (Kristin Baker) from high school, through three different affairs, into marriage --- but not to him. George Saulnier III played the three other men, while Tori Low and Irene Daly were high-school friends and wedding-guests. With little but a few changes of costume and a couple props, Whispy and brief, this little gem could be the plot for a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald --- a theatrical poem.

"Ethics of The Profession"
This play by Paul Kahn brought The Publick Theatre's Director/Producer team of Diego Arciniegas and Suzanne Nitter together on the same stage for a change, as a bitterly angry and suicidal paraplegic and the psychiatric nurse bent on keeping him alive. The bright-voiced yet firm nurse met his every objection, knowing if she was to help him at all she must break his self-centered will --- and break he did. This may have been the best-acted piece on the bill...

"Clare Danes Poster"
Tom Berry, actor and (with his wife Leigh Anne) recent father, saw this, his first ever play, make The Marathon cut. Directed by Nancy Curran Willis for Boston Theatre Works, it saw Tom Lawlor and Jason Yaitanes play two friends setting off for the funeral of a girl-friend. Through the poster's eyes, those of his dead lady stared, comfortingly, back at the onewho cannot forget her. The great strength here was everything felt yet unsaid, and of course the sensitive acting and direction.

"The Actress"
Scott Edmiston dircted this Theresa Rebeck script sponsored by The Huntington Theatre. Robert Pemberton and Judith McIntyre played a pair of actors trying to relax and forget "The Biz" for a quiet day on the beach. He could --- she couldn't. The actor, as a matter of fact, admitted that he'd gotten into the habit, when asked at parties what do you do, of saying "I'm a bartender" instead of "I'm an actor" --- but though he suggests they have a child, she obsesses about a workshop she might have gone to and a part she should have been given. The carefully crafted dialogue cut quite close to the knuckle here!

"Ten Minute Clinic"
John EDWARD O'Brien wrote and David J. Miller of Zeitgeist Stage directed this delightfully self-referrential fluff, with John (Not The Same) O'Brien cast as a white-haired doctor. Naeemah A. White-Peppers, Peter Brown and Angela Rose all played patients who were summarily diagnosed with cancer because "You're all characters in a ten-minute play, and No One in a ten-minute play is Ever diagnosed except with something fatal!"

Joshua Scher's script was directed by Ilana Brownstein for Next Stages, and was set in a men's room after the restaurant closed. Stacy Fischer as the cleaning-lady's loud-music headphones prevented her from hearing shouts for help from Nathaniel McIntyre --- a writhing man with his hand stuck down the toilet. He was stuck because he wouldn't let go of a turtle around whose neck he had slipped an engagement ring for his intended, who jilted him. This preposterous farce had a logic all its own, and even a more or less happy ending. (No turtles were harmed bringing it to the stage!)

"The Great Audience Rebellion"
Michael Hammond directed his own play for Shakespeare & Company, with three solid actors breathing life into his conceit: Winsome Brown functioned as the secretary/messenger bringing news of unrest on the theatrical front. Joe Pacheco was the Producer, desperately suggesting that what would bring the audience back into theatres would be a "reality theater" gesture: a live suicide by a theater person. The conflict: should it be the Producer, or Jason Asprey as the Playwright who made the sacrifice? Frankly, I can't remember the ultimate outcome.

There were five monologues this year, two of them ending the Marathon on each stage.
In Lisa Seymour-Terry's piece, sponsored by The New Repertory Theatre, Fulani Haynes portrayed a frustrated, vindictive old woman full of spite and recrimination for the invalid husband ringing for his medicine. The Sound Design of Haddon Kime and Direction by Jason Grossman helped her, but for me the play never caught fire and could use a few more re-writes.

"And Then"
Vladimir Zelevinsky's self-directed harrange, sponsored by MIT Theatre Arts, had Jeffrey Barrett rushing headlong through a vision of a kind of "peace-madness" rolling inexorably toward universal world brotherhood, with hardly a period in sight. The pace, and the laudable climax, gave no one in the audience any time to think, or to do anything at all but burst into applause.

The last play in the other, wider theatre was directed by Sugan Theatre's Carmel O'Reilly, written by Irish-to-the-eyeballs Ronan Noone, and acted by the company's cornerstone actor Richard McElvain, who assumed for this piece a thick accent --- not Irish, but Russian! It dealt with his pride as an immigrant for the car that symbolized for him his new citizenship. He wrestled with the new language trying to apologize for having caught and savagely beaten the young man who ruined this symbol's pristine paint-job. The struggle to speak American and to BE American shone through every slow, sometimes re-pronounced syllable here.

"Your Better Butch Fashion"
For me, though, the monologue laurels went to Sheila Stasack, Directed by The Lyric Stage's Spiro Veloudos, in this delightfully cute comedy sketch by Margaret Broucek. Stasack played a Jewish Mother explaining to her rabbi the awful fact that her daughter declared herself a lesbian (which she grudgingly accepts) and insists on "dressing butch" (which she doesn't). The neat Hassidic solution? To introduce her not to doctors, but to fashion-conscious rabbis "like yourself!" The detail, in accent, in pauses and inflections and emphases, were flawless.

However, this John Kuntz monologue brought down the house. Coyote Theatre's Jeffrey Mousseau directed Karen MacDonald as a cat-lady being interviewed about her two-hundred-odd felines, who drifted on to her previous life as company manager for the tour of a "Smurfs On Ice" show --- a dozen blue homosexuals whose show closed after a drastic hate-beating. In my seat in the taller Studio B space, however, the award-winning actress dried in mid-sentence and asked "Johnny" the playwright for a prompt! He did and she went on --- to enthusiastic applause from a packed house full of empathizing fellow professionals.The monologue itself was "typical Kuntz" --- i.e. excellent --- but the glitch reminded everyone how gloriously human an art theater happens to be.

"P-Town X-Mas, '99"
This play, an admitted autobiographical memoire by Carl A. Rossi, recorded the day an older man (James Bodge) had to reveal to his young lover (John Arnold) the awful news of a negative prognosis.Melissa J. Wentworth Directed, with Haddon Kime providing sound, for Boston Playwrights' Theatre. The play's intent --- to keep alive an unforgettable love, was lovingly realized --- on Rossi's birthday.

"So Fine Dining"
Other plays handled homosexuality, or in this case sex, not directly but by analogy. This one, written by Zachary L. Shrier, sponsored by Portland Stage, and Directed by R. J. McCormish, had restauranteur and head-chef Umberto (Tony Correia) interviewing Ernie (David Timm) for chef's assistant. His prodding and insisting on the details of favorite dishes unleashed an orgiastic rush of comic ecstacy in both cooks.

"A Closet Flung Wide Ope' "
Shawn Sturnick's comic turn saw Will Darcangelo as a son bravely yet hesitantly coming out first to his mother (Janet Cragin) then to his less empathetic dad (Michael Walker) that he is, and is proud to be --- a Poet? The use of rhyming couplets in this wry analogy was deft, when parents unwittingly finished rhymes and then reacted to their own "sin"!Victor Dupuis Directed for Worcester Foothills Theatre.

"Intimate Apparel"
Here William Cunningham used a Victoria's Secret shop as the scene for a woman's re-entering the dating game after a divorce. Sheila Stasack Directed for Boston Conservatory Erica Engstrom and Erica Livingston talked of buying sexy underthings as a symbol, until Joe Mason as a nervous first-time-shopper gave the newly-single lady an opportunity to begin a refersher-course in seduction.

"Montana Shots"
Three plays tackled the comic problem of age-ism. In this one by Leslie Dillin, Marc S. Miller Directing for The Theatre Cooperative had Charlotten Peed and Dale Place play parents trying to deal with their young daughter (Alisha Jansky)'s engagement to a man (Tom Hocker) dangerously close to their own age. The fiance turned out to be a glumly serious know-it-all only a kook could love, but when a grizzly bear on their get-acquainted hike took offense at their continual flash-bulbs everyone was glad for his advice.

"Happy Daughter"
Greg Lam turned this idea on its head by having a daughter (Bernice Sim) meet her widowed Chinese mother (Bonnie Lee Whang)'s younger, non-Asian new boyfriend (Kent French) in a whirlwind tour of Chinese restaurants in (where else) Iowa. In each, Kate Fitz Kelly became differently named and dressed waitresses announcing tonight as the night for "Karioke!" Andy Gaus supplied accompaniment and Music Direction, and Kevin Fennessy Directed for Raven Theatrical.

Ronn Smith Directed for Nora Theatre here. This time Bobbie Steinbach and James Bodge played a pair of elderly park-bench sitters outraged at all the show-off skateboarders ruining the landscape. Of course, in Norman Lasca's piece, when a stray wheeled vehicle happened by, Bodge couldn't resist a ride --- okay, couldn't resist standing atop the thing while his wife pushed him slowly back and forth. Only young Adam Howe's "Can I have my board back?" could break the spell...

In Jesse Kellerman's odd play, a suited executive flung himself into love for a young lady who petulently replied "I'm eleven!" Weylin Simes Directed Robert Murphy and Laura Van Drie in this odd-ball exchange, for Stoneham Theatre. I didn't understand it.

"Sex Education"

In Jerry Bisantz' quick coming-of-age life-slice a man brings an office-mate home for a quick lunch-break fling only to find not a condom but his own son hiding in the closet. Barlow Adamson and Michelle Aguillon played the philanderers, under Nancy Curran Willis' Direction for Playwrights' Platform. Matthew Leavis and Nick Andrews were the boys, who were also playing hookie, though from school, in order to look through and talk big about the pornographic magazines the one boy's dad had collected --- before they got more of a lesson than they bargained for.

"Date Night"
The C. Walsh Theatre sponsored and Fred Robbins directed Glen Doyle's sardonic send-up of the "five-minute-date" scam. Here Doyle himself played the hapless male trying to learn from a series of three quick non-dates what Freud never found out: "What do women want?" Telling the next date what the last one said she wanted but didn't find turns out no answer at all. The hearty hostess was Michelle Aguillon, and I think Teri Muller, Judith Broggi and Sydelle Pittas were the vocal dates, but other circulating ladies seem inaccurately identified in the program. I'm sure I saw Lisa Robbins, Ronni Marshak and Kate Mahoney, though Lindsey Darling and Hannan Ladouceur are the dress-extras listed. Since the little comedy-bit works, I do not understand the need here for any pseudonymns!

"The Ornithologist's Mother"
Jake Strautman's was the first play I saw in the festival, and only today, four days later, did I notice it was programmed as "The ORTHINologist's Mother"! Melissa M. Allen Directed this Jake Strautmann comedy for the Bridge Theatre. The center of the play is the Ewing (Eric Rubbe) - Sutton (Richard Snee) feud over a disputed property-line and water-rights.Nathaniel McIntyre played the surveyer trying to settle things while the angry feuders train loaded shotguns on one another, and the fledgeling of a rare species tries its wings for the very first time. This was a very crowded ten-minutes!

"The Test"
But what about the "serious" plays? There were some...
This one was written by Paula J. Carpenter, and Directed by Vincent Siders for The New African Company. Keith Mascoll and Cliff Odle played two Black men on Death Row, the elder trying to teach the younger how to read by picking verses out of The Bible. The younger is a borderline defective appreciative of anyone who would take the time to teach him anything. The test of the title is of the boy's competence --- fail the test and execution is impossible. The kicker of course is the look of ethereal pride on the boy's face when he announces that he Passed that test, by two points --- the first time he ever passed anything.

"A Mother's Love"
This dense and complicated play by Israel Horovitz tried to be somewhat neutral about the psychology of suicide bombers. At its center is a man and wife ritually preparing a son for such martyrdom. AnaMarie Correa, Gilberto Ron', and Francisco Solorzano played the trio, with Victoria Mabragno, Lanna Joffrey and Dedra McCord-Ware acting as chorus for the other side. Pamela Seiderman directed, and both Gloucester Stage and Barefoot Theatre Troupe were sponsors. The material here is so charged no one could feel that all sides were fairly dealt with, though where it fails will be in the eye of the beholder.

"The Prophet's Wife"
Sinan Unel's (apparently) historically accurate vignette was about the last days of Leo Tolstoy (Sam Babbott) whose mad wife (Wendy Overly) demanded access to the novelist's recent diaries, while his literary executor (Jim O'Brien) objects. (The program calls him "Chertkov" though I'm sure everyone thought him Anton Chekhov!) Jeannie Kane played his neutral daughter. The sponsor was Providence's Sandra Feinstein-Gam Theatre, and Tony Estrella Directed. As part of a longer work this odd costume-piece might have an interesting story; here it felt to me unconvincing and irrelevant.

Kathleen Rogers' script seemed to me a scene torn from a longer work. Derry Woodhouse played a man wracked with screaming dreams over the death of his daughter, while Susan McConnell was the wife trying to help, or at least cope. Wellesley Summer Theatre's Norah Hussey Directed.

Jacqui Parker directed Kirsten Greenidge's script for Our Place Theatre. In it Stephanie Marson-Lee and Valencia Hughes-Imani played two old Black ladies reminding one another of who they'd been and who they were. The "Grip" is simply what you cannot loose.

"Animal Parade"
The first play of the series I saw was this brother-sister confrontation on the eve of his marriage, their last chance to re-enact a childhood ritual with their stuffed toys. Industrial Theatre's Chris Scully Directed Andy Riel and Shelley Hagar. Bone of contention here seemed to be that sis never gave in to her angers. The why's, though, were barely hinted at.

"Adopt A Sailor"
Here's another "almost". Jane Staab of Wheelock Family Theatre Directed Charles Evered's story of a pair of rich political dilletantes --- wife militantly liberal (M. Lynda Robinson), husband arch-conservative (Neil Gustafson) --- fighting laconically before Ricardo Engermann's guest, who politely puts them both down while bowing out of the unwelcome role of referee.

"The Doorway"
This was Directed by Company One's Shawn LaCount, with Mark VanDersee's Musical Direction for on-stage duo Leon Alper (percussion) and Takeo Kuschi (guitar) which, for me, over-produced a one-punch situation. The doorway seemed to be between small-time and headliner for a Black singer (Summer Williams) who can "graduate" if she gives in to the White club owner (Mason Sand)'s overtures. She turned him down, while a moment later her husband (Michael Nurse) was seen kissing goodbye to the white showgirl (Ilca Andrade) he's sleeping with. I was a little surprised to see Ed Bullins the playwright here.

"Instant Karma"
Providence's Perishable Theatre sponsored Susanna Ralli's comedy, Directed by Moira K. Costigan with Mark Anthony Brown assisting. Here Mike LoCicern played a New Ager horrified at having accidentally steped on and killed a mouse, with Karen Carpenter trying to talk him back into sensible behavior.

"Man's Best Friend"
Steven Maistros' bit of fluff had a writer (Tony Johnson) asking his friend (Chris Silva) to critique his new short story. The critic, of course, took his position over-seriously and inflated himself to a representative of All readers. He got no further than the title before rejecting it. I found it cute, sprawling, and ineffective. Robert Seaver Directed for Provincetown Theatre.

"Dream of Jeannie By-The-Door"
I thought this excellently acted little comedy both fascinating and bewildering. Melissa J. Wentworth Directed for Out of the Blue Theatre, and Pulse Media had to provide sound. David Valdes Greenwood's play was set at Foxwoods, with Rena Baskin playing a veteran quarter-machine player explaining the gambling ambience she dispassionately explores. Next to her sat a couple with the woman (Karen Woodward massey) doggedly feeding her machine in her wedding dress while the groom (Joseph Zamparelli, Jr.) waited more or less patiently for her pre-wedding vision of a jackpot to come true. Real machines (instead of mere mime) might make the impersonal indifference of Ladyb Luck (until the happy ending) a bit more present.

"Holler Song"
The one really unique experiment this year was Linda Button's fugue for eight cell-phone users in a waiting-room. Johnmichael Rossi Directed this for Emerson Stage. A Percussionist (Christopher Reed) loudly responding to his ear-phones provided rhythm as the conversations of a mixed bag of individuals twined in and out of one another for a semi-musical slice of modern life. Jason Garvett, Stephanie Biernbaum, Seth Reich, Megan Manzi, David Kane, Hailey Giles, and Jason Williams were the various characters.

"Hit Me" **
Some plays, though, just puzzled me.
For instance, in Patrick Cleary's quick play Tommy Day Carey and Miguel Cervantes played two friends, one apparently needing to be beaten to a pulp for some reason unclear to me, with the other hesitant to cause real damage. Adam R. Perlman Directed for Speakeasy Stage, but either he or the playwright failed to underline any motive for the mayhem that I could understand.

"Samuel, How You've Changed"
Here Melanie Yergeau presented essentially two parallel monologues, as Stephen Cooper and Rosemary Ryding spoke intermittently to an absent son, the husband separated and eager for divorce and freedom, the wife blindly expecting renciliation of a happy marriage. Marie Jackson Directed for QE2 Players, Inc.

"A Raft Made of Grass"
Bill Latanzi directed his own play, sponsored by Brandeis university, and Ray MacDavitt, Liz Terry, Robert Antonelli, and Jen Lafleur were the actors. The play had plump crows falling dead from the flies out in a garden, while a woman in bed described helicopters making tactical strikeson peaceful American neighborhoods, while a hint of pollutants tinged the dialogue. As with a lot of Latanzi's work, I liked it without understanding it.

"For The Team"
I don't understand baseball, but I really loved this little confrontation between a blase intellectual (Alexander Albregts) and two loudly drunken fans (Jason Beals & Christopher Wagner) in the grandstands at Fenway Park. The argument was over whether to pull an exhausted pitcher or to delay the game by sprinting around the field causing a legal, though underhanded, delay of game. Not only does one fan sacrifice himself for the team, but the intellectual's fed-up date (Stacy Fischer) follows him, to help her beloved Red Sox come a little closer to winning a game. The voice of the off-stage umpire was Ian Sterling's, and Darren Evans Directed for CentaStage.

"The Ten-Minute Dad"
Okay, I tried very hard to take some notes and to ask referesher-information when my memory felt weak, but once again I have fulfilled what has become an annual tradition of completely forgetting anythng at all about one play on the bill: this one.Susan Thompson Directed for Pilgrim Theatre, and Matt O'Hare provided Sound Design, with Dev Luthra playing Jack and Bryce Pinkham his Son --- in a play my mind refuses to remember.
Can anyone help me out here????? *



* From: "Carl Rossi"
Subject: Awwwww.....thank you, Papa. Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2003 12:39:07 +0000

Thank you for your kind mention in your Marathon review. You were the only one to mention my play in print. I was very pleased with what Melissa, Jim and John did with it. It was a wonderful birthday present.

As for TEN MINUTE DAD: the Father (in mime) is watering his lawn and his Son comes in to announce that he is leaving to enlist (there's a cab waiting offstage). The Father uses various bullying tactics (including roping in the Son with that invisible hose) to keep his overly-patriotic child at home. The punchline (of sorts) ends with the Son still going off to enlist and telling the Father that he is the 2nd Son in the Family; the Father believes he has been talking to his 1st Son all along. (Is Dad MAD?)
C.R. Date: Thu, 08 May 2003 16:28:02 -0400
From: Caroline Ellis cellis@MIT.EDU
Subject: the play "Hit Me"
You wrote:

"Hit Me"
Some plays, though, just puzzled me.
For instance, in Patrick Cleary's quick play Tommy Day Carey and Miguel Cervantes played two friends, one apparently needing to be beaten to a pulp for some reason unclear to me, with the other hesitant to cause real damage. Adam R. Perlman Directed for Speakeasy Stage, but either he or the playwright failed to underline any motive for the mayhem that I could understand.

Larry, I think the guy who wants to be hit killed his girlfriend, so his brother is going to help him cover up the murder by beating him up and saying it was an intruder. No? The main character was used to expressing himself through physical aggression, went too far and now is scared.

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