Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Huntington Theatre Company Continues Its Stellar Season With "A Guide For The Homesick" by Ken Urban - Drama At Its Best

Ken Urban's new drama, "A Guide For The Homesick," the current Huntington Theatre Company production running at the Calderwood Pavilion is a gripping drama that must be seen. I will offer little in the way of describing plot, for fear of ruining some wonderful twists. Simply put, two young Americans meet in a bar in Amsterdam and get to know each other over the course of a rocky night of drinking, talking, and much more.

Mr. Urban, currently in residence at MIT as a Senior Lecturer in Dramatic Writing, dips into the cistern of personal experiences and deep research to explore the phenomenon of what we experience when we travel overseas, hoping to do good, but not always succeeding. Jeremy (Samuel H. Levine) has fled Uganda after finding himself caught up in an escalating round of violence against gay men, including a young Ugandan man he has tried to help and to protect. He has attempted to intervene in his role as a volunteer nurse at a medical clinic in Uganda. But things get ugly, and he ends up asking, "What happened?" Teddy (McKinley Belcher III) is a Citi employee in NYC who has come to Amsterdam with his friend and co-worker Eddie to give the groom-to-be a good time before his impending marriage. Things do not go as planned, Eddie goes off the deep end, and Teddy is in despair, asking himself, "What happened?"

Samuel H. Levine and McKinley Belcher III
Huntington Theatre Company
A Guide for the Homesick by Ken Urban

Directed by Colman Domingo
Playing October 6 - November 4, 2017,
South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

As the action progresses, Teddy and Jeremy strip off layers of clothing, as well as layers of each other's masks - sometimes brutally - sometimes gently. Speaking of layers - the playwright deftly layers into the narrative additional characters. Some serve as off stage ghosts - Eddie's fiancee calling frantically to ask where he is. Eddie appears (also played by Mr. Levine), as does Jeremy's troubled Ugandan friend (portrayed by Mr. Belcher).
Samuel H. Levine and McKinley Belcher III
Huntington Theatre Company 
A Guide for the Homesick by Ken Urban
Directed by Colman Domingo
Playing October 6 - November 4, 2017,
South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

The artistry with which the multiple layers are treated - by the playwright, actors, lighting and set designers, and stage manager handling the split-second cues, is part of the genius of this play. There are rapid switches in time, place, and character that are initially disorienting to the audience, but which begin to make sense as the action unfolds. This is a complex and skillfully wrought production. Mr. Urban treats some of the themes addressed a few years ago at the A.R.T. with "Witness Uganda" (reborn in NYC as "Invisible Thread."

White Rhino Report Review of "Witness Uganda"

Mr. Urban uses a nuanced blend of humor and shock to draw us into the worlds of Teddy and Jeremy - and of their ghosts. The scenic design by Williams Boles brings us to dingy Amsterdam on a rainy night, but then invites us to visit the clinic in Kampala with the aid of Russell H. Champa's brilliant Lighting Design. Costumes are by Kara Harmon, Original Music and Sound by Lindsay Jones, and crucial Dialect Coaching is by Amy Stoller.

The themes of feeling unsettled in returning from a developing nation in turmoil hit close to home with me. I was reminded of my own pilgrimage after serving for a year in a hospital in rural Haiti, at roughly the same age that Jeremy is when the play takes place.

Eventually, Teddy and Jeremy hammer away at each other to unearth the demons, fears, and regrets that haunt each of them. They dig deeply to discover who they really are. I ended up caring deeply about the fate of each character. This is a telltale sign that I had been in the presence of great writing and equally great acting. Mr. Urban invites the audience to take a similar agonizing journey of discovery, asking,"What happened?" and "Who am I?" 

This is one of the finest dramatic pieces offered this season, and should not be missed. It will run at the BCA through November 4th.



Saturday, October 07, 2017

Heart & Dagger Productions Displays Its Plumage In A Revival of "Hair" - Through October 20th at Club Cafe

The original rock musical, "Hair," is back in all of its color, zest, and glory in the fun-filled revival by Heart & Dagger Productions - through October 20th at Club Cafe. I saw the original Boston production at the Wilbur Theater in 1970. Some may recall that it took a Supreme Court ruling to get the Boston production opened after the State Attorney General Garrett Byrne had ordered it shut down for desecration of the flag and lewd and lascivious content. This current version is tame by comparison, and the hippy-oriented content seems almost quaint all of these years removed from the protests against the war in Vietnam.

The show features book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, with music by Galt MacDermot.

Director Joey C. Pelletier has attempted to make the content of the show contemporary by using projections that remind us that we are still fighting battles to protect the environment, and to avoid the scourge of nuclear war. A good example is the use of images of recent hurricanes during the singing of the anti-pollution anthem "Air."

Musical highlights of this production include "Manchester, England" sung by James Sims, who is a very sympathetic Claude, the Tribe member most desperate to avoid the draft. Bailey Libby is terrific as Crissy in lamenting the loss of "Frank Mills." As Woof, Brad Reinking is sultry and sassy in "Sodomy." In the title song, "Hair," he is joined by Mr. Sims as Claude and Melissa Barker as Berger. "Easy To Be Hard" is another highlight as Tamani Jayasinghe portrays Sheila bemoaning mean girl Berger treating her cruelly.

Other members of the tribe, who hang out in the East Village protesting the war, scaring tourists, and looking for love in its various permutations, include:

  • Lauren Foster as Hud
  • Erin Rae Zalaski as Jeanie
  • Aaron Dill as Margaret Mead
  • Jessie Bull as Charlie
  • Elizabeth Battey as Helen
  • Doug Dulaney as Benny and Lead Guitar
  • Jane Ko as Daisy
  • Ava Maag as Natalie
  • Neon Calypso as Dionne
  • Jeomil Tovar as Ronny
  • Jocelin Weiss as Suzannah
Lighting is by Geoff Hoyt, Keyboard is Kenneth Griffin, Drums Evan Kesel, and Bass Guitar is Sam Chussid.

My one suggestion for improving the audience experience is to ask that members of the tribe project their voices more strongly and energetically. Sitting in the front row of the intimate Club Cafe space, I was not always able to hear clearly, especially during several of the segments that were being sung in falsetto. Sell it, folks!

There are four more opportunities to time travel back to the '60s: this Sunday and next at 3:00, Wednesday, October 18 at 7:30, and Friday, October 20 at 7:30.

Enjoy! And Let the Sunshine In!