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.

Enjoy!

Al


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!

Al

Monday, October 02, 2017

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents the Brilliant "Faceless" by Selina Fillinger - A MUST SEE


Kudos to David Miller and the Zeitgeist Stage Company for producing one of the most memorable and impactful plays of this excellent theater season in Boston. Young playwright, Selina Fillinger, first penned "Faceless" as an assignment for a class she was taking at Northwestern University, winning a commission from Northlight Theatre to develop the play. She shows remarkable insight and sensibilities for a writer still in her early 20s. This production represents the New England Premiere.

In "Faceless," the playwright explores deeply several important and timely issues:
  • Who is the face of Islam, and of terrorism?
  • How does the persistent xenophobia in America impact individual lives?
  • What happens when a Muslim prosecutor tries to gain a conviction against a young white girl who has converted to Islam?
  • What is the role of social media in influencing religious and political beliefs?
  • Who is the hero and who is the victim here?
  • How universal is the struggle for a meaningful relationship with a father?
The story is told through the eyes of five fascinating and well-developed characters. The five actors cast by Director Miller are powerfully effective in telling this complex story. They stand out individually and as an ensemble.
  • Victor Shopov brings his usual impressive tools to the role of Scott Bader, a politically ambitious Prosecutor who is intent on convicting young Susie Glenn of conspiring to travel to Syria to join ISIS. He cleverly coerces a female Muslim assistant prosecutor, Claire Fahti, to join him in this case. His closing statement at the trial of Ms. Glenn is particularly powerful and poignant.
  • Aina Adler is a dynamo as the conflicted Persian-American attorney, Claire Fahti. She initially wants no part of being used as the face of Islam at the trial, but she becomes passionate about bringing Susie to justice after meeting her. The always professional Ms. Adler is at the top of her game here, facing off against Bader and Glenn.
  • Ashley Risteen creates a very believable Susie Glenn. Naive, stubborn, rebellious, lost, determined - we see all of these traits in Ms. Risteen's eyes, voice and physical presentation. It is a strong performance.
  • David Anderson as Alan Glenn, Susie's widowed father, has lost a wife and is in danger of losing his daughter - "All he has left in the world." The scene in which this tough-as-nails first responder melts down over the prospect of losing his little girl represents some of the best acting I have seen on a Boston stage in a long while. It is a scintillating and award-worthy performance.
  • Robert Orzalli is perfectly cast as the Jewish defense attorney brought in to replace the ineffectual public defender. He spars - not only with the prosecution team - but with his own client.
Victor Shopov as Scott Bader
Aina Adler as Claire Fahti
Robert Orzalli as Mark Arenberg
Ashley Risteen as Susie Glenn
"Faceless" by Selina Fillinger
Zeitgeist Stage company
Boston Center for the Arts
Through October 7th

Mr. Miller's direction and blocking is flawless. The closing arguments by the two attorneys take place with them going from one side of the stage to the other in perfectly synchronized, countervailing movements. Another vivid image is the two Muslim women facing off opposite one another reciting prayers from the Koran - one in Arabic and the other in English.

Set design is by David Miller, Costumes Design by Elizabeth Cole Sheehan, Lighting Design by Michael Clark Wonson, and Sound Design by Jay Mobley.

This is the final week of this production, beginning Wednesday and running through Saturday. If you see any play this week, it should be this one. This play and this production moved me to tears and caused me to think deeply about important issues.


Enjoy!

Al

Monday, September 25, 2017

The A.R.T. Breaks New Ground With The Dazzling "WARHOLCAPOTE" - A Non-fiction Invention


In much the same way that Truman Capote essentially created a new literary form with his non-fiction novel "In Cold Blood," so also has Rob Roth (Directed "Beauty and the Beast") crafted something new in "WARHOLCAPOTE," a play that he calls "A Non-Fiction Invention."  Mr. Roth spent the past decade sorting through, and having transcribed, eighty hours of recordings that Andy Warhol had made of his conversations with Truman Capote. Warhol used a Sony Walkman, that he dubbed "my wife." The two men had agreed to collaborate on writing a play that would blur the lines between art and reality. That play was never written, but Mr. Roth has artfully assembled the actual words shared between Capote and Warhol, and formed them into five imagined conversations that make up the structure of this play. The result is a fascinating and illuminating psychological study of these two idiosyncratic geniuses.

Stephen Spinella as Andy Warhol
"WARHOLCAPOTE"
American Repertory Theater
Through October 13
Gretjen Helene Photography

To portray these two very distinctive and recognizable personas, Director Michael Mayer (Tony Award for "Spring Awakening") has cast Stephen Spinella as Warhol and Dan Butler as Capote. Each actor is spectacularly successful in conveying the quirky essence of each artist. Mr. Butler returns to A.R.T. after appearing as George Wallace in "All The Way." Mr. Spinella has won Tony Awards for his role in "Angels In America."


Dan Butler as Truman Capote
Stephen Spinella as Andy Warhol
"WARHOLCAPOTE"
American Repertory Theater
Through October 13
Gretjen Helene Photography


The beginning of their relationship took a while to gain traction. As a fan of Capote, Warhol wrote and called the author continuously, to the point where Capote felt as if he were being stalked. He dismissed the young artist as someone with no substance and no future. It was only after Warhol had earned his own degree of notoriety that they began to develop a friendship on equal footing. Both men were fascinated with celebrity and celebrities, so much of their conversation has a gossipping feel to it. We learn things about Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Humphrey Bogart that are titillating. The play is funny and sobering. At one point, Capote offers a ribald account of an encounter with a couple of autograph seekers in Key West that still has me chuckling.

As gay men, Capote and Warhol represented the yin and the yang of sexual expression. Truman was unabashedly and proudly promiscuous and profligate in his sex life. Warhol was repressed and anhedonic; he told Capote that he had his first sexual experience at age 25, and his last at 26. Capote's alcoholism is a thread that runs throughout this play, including his account of his time spent drying out at a spa where he was the most famous and most interesting resident. "They didn't want me to leave." One of the most moving scenes is one in which Truman becomes unhinged in trying to make Andy understand his haunting mania - "the Ferrari in my brain" that refuses to stop revving its engine. Their musing on the nature of art is illuminating.

This play is an extraordinary invention that depicts an unusual friendship between two of the great figures of pop culture of the 20th century. Mr. Roth has done an exceptional job in gleaning from the eighty hours of conversation the most compelling snippets. And Mr. Spinella and Mr. Butler recreate these two men in indelible images and sound bites that still echo in my mind 24 hours after leaving the theater. These two lonely men served as sounding boards for one another, and the resulting reverberations that come to us are fascinating and disturbing - unresolved dissonant chords.

Dan Butler as Truman Capote
Stephen Spinella as Andy Warhol
"WARHOLCAPOTE"
American Repertory Theater
Through October 13
Gretjen Helene Photography


The Set Design by Stanley A. Meyer is simple and elegant, suggestive of the miles of magnetic tape that Mr. Roth listened to in order to distill the nectar of this play. Costumes are by Clint Ramos. Lighting Design is by Kevin Adams. Sound Design by John Gromada, and Projections by Darrel Maloney.

American Repertory Theater Website

The play will run through October 13th.

Enjoy!

Al


Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Gully Dirt" by Robert Coram - On Exposing the Klan, Raising a Hog, and Escaping the South


Robert Coram has written a memoir that is very much in the spirit of "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance, another excellent book about growing up in poverty south of the Mason Dixon Line.

White Rhino Report Review of "HillBilly Elegy"

The subtitle of "Gully Dirt" lays out much of the author's intent and agenda: "On Exposing the Klan, Raising a Hog, and Escaping the South." The title phrase, "gully dirt" is what Coram's father would often call him to indicate that he saw his as good for nothing and beyond redemption..

The book recounts how Coram grew up dirt poor in southwest Georgia in the 1950s, and encountered all manner of abuse and neglect. Yet his resilience allowed him not only to survive these humble beginnings, but to escape to Atlanta to become a successful novelist and biographer. He is unflinching in his descriptions of the obstacles that had to be overcome.We learn intimate and amusing details about the way - and venue where - he surrendered his virginity. Jock itch is almost a living character in this book; it played a strong role in the ethos of the athletic teams that Coam joined.

The author evokes and reveals many of the scars that he bears from his years in Edison. Yet in his young mind, a lightbulb went on, and he was able to see a clear path to escape through writing. This is ultimately a story, not only of survival, but of resilience and hope in the face of formidable obstacles.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Huntington Theatre Presents A Rare Sondheim Gem - "Merrily We Roll Along" - A MUST SEE Soaring Production


Boston area fans of the work of Stephen Sondheim are doubly blessed right now. The Lyric Stage Company of Boston is currently presenting "Gypsy," with additional lyrics by Sondheim.

White Rhino Report Review of "Gypsy"

The Huntington Theatre has just unveiled its much anticipated production of the rarely performed "Merrily We Roll Along." The history of this show is deserving of its own Blog piece, but in short, it has had a checkered past. The show, Directed by Hal Prince with Music and Lyrics by Sondheim, initially ran on Broadway in 1981 after only 52 previews and 16 performances. Audiences had a hard time relating to the method of telling the story of three friends, working backward from the end of their friendships to the beginning. Over the next several decades, several additional productions have been staged with changes aimed at solving the problems with the book. Recently, this musical has been very much on the mind of the theater world. Encores! staged a concert version at New York City Center in 2012 that was well received. Earlier this year, original cast member Lonny Price directed a fabulous documentary about the show entitled "Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened." And now the Huntington picks up the gauntlet and offers us this engaging new production, based on a revision by Maria Friedman, who directed a revival in London in 2012. Ms. Friedman herself directs this production, bringing along from London Mark Umbers as Frank and Damian Humbley as Charley. They are joined by Eden Espinosa (Elphaba in "Wicked" on Broadway) as Mary Flynn.

The London production played to critical and audience acclaim, transforming this Sondheim musical from a cult favorite to one now appreciated by a broad audience. Sondheim himself praised the London production effusively, saying that "the whole was greater than the sum of its parts." That is high praise from a man who was the creator of many of those parts. I would expect a Broadway run to follow in the future. This version of "Merrily We Roll Along" won the Olivier Award for Best Musical, and I can see why. This is a brilliantly conceived version of the show, directed with love and care, and featuring a cast that represents the best of London, New York and Boston talent.

Eden Espinosa, Mark Umbers, and Damian Humbley
Merrily We Roll Along
Directed by Maria Friedman
Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

This is a show you do not want to miss. As Mr. Sondheim said, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," but the parts, in and of themselves, are pretty spectacular. The score features some of Sondheim's most beautiful and haunting melodies, harmonies, and syncopated rhythms. The staging is spectacular, the direction innovative, and the casting inspired. Let's begin with the troika of actors who lead this production.

  • Eden Espinosa as Mary Flynn is a force of nature. Watching her become unhinged at Frank's Hollywood party in the opening scene, and then observing her rewind her dipsomaniacal life back to the innocence of watching for Sputnik in the New York sky of 1957 is a study in character development. Her strong singing voice blends wonderfully with those of Mr. Umbers and Mr. Humbley, especially in "Our Time," "Old Friends," and "It's A Hit."
  • Mark Umbers takes his Frank on a similar backward journey from jaded to wide-eyed and hopeful. His chemistry with Ms. Espinosa and Mr. Humbley is one of the highlights of this production, allowing us to watch the carefully knit fabric of their threeway friendship unravel year by year. Mr. Umbers' rendition of "Good Thing Going" is a memorable moment in the show.
  • Damian Humbley offers a version of Charley that will become the gold standard against which every other performance of this role will be measured. He stopped the show with his interpretation of the complex and difficult number, "Franklin Shepard, Inc." This is the pivotal moment in the story when Frank and Charley experience a rupture in their friendship from which they cannot recover. And it happens on live television. Our hearts break as we watch the wheels come off of the friendship as Charley explodes like a volcano that has been pent up for too long. The applause in appreciation of Mr. Humbley's performance of this song lasted for several minutes.


Damian Humbley, Mark Umbers, and Rebecca Gibel
Merrily We Roll Along
Directed by Maria Friedman
Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson


These three superb artists are supported by a strong cast of musical theater actors. Boston audiences are familiar with several of the following:
  • Aimee Doherty is powerful as Gussie, Broadway diva and Frank's second wife. She wears the gowns designed by Soutra Gilmour with a grace and seductiveness that is a wonder to behold. We get to hear a bit of Ms. Doherty's lustrous voice when she reprises "Good Thing Going"as the 11 O'clock number in the show that Frank and Charley wrote as a star vehicle for her.
Mark Umbers and Aimee Doherty
Merrily We Roll Along
Directed by Maria Friedman
Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson

  • Another veteran of Boston stages is the fabulous Jennifer Ellis, who plays Frank's first wife, Beth. One of the most poignant highlights of this musical is the contrast between the two versions of "Not A Day Goes By," that Beth sings. The life settings are dramatically different - bitter ending on the one hand and blushing bridal hope on the other hand: "Something old and something new." I almost needed a second handkerchief after the journey that Ms. Ellis took us on with these two versions of the song.
Jennifer Ellis and Mark Umbers
Merrily We Roll Along

Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson

  • Christopher Chew plays Joe, Broadway producer and Gussie's third husband. Mr. Chew is someone I have seen on stage many times, yet he so completely submerges himself into the character of Joe that I did not recognize him until someone pointed out to me at Intermission that it was Mr. Chew in the role. We see him go from pathetic beggar to braggadocious blowhard as the story lurches backward. It is a strong performance.
  • The role of young Frank alternates between Camerone Levesque and Brendan Cole O'Brien.
  • Patrick Varner is wonderful as the vainglorious yacht owner who sweeps Frank away after his bitter divorce from Beth. In his other ensemble roles, he gets to wear some fun and outlandish costumes.
  • Amy Barker is Beth's mother, and Robert Saoud is her father. They are appropriately off-putting in their dismissal of Frank's chances at success. Ceit Zwell is Charley's wife, Evelyn.
  • Maurice Emmanuel Parent is memorable as the afro bedecked newscaster. He is joined on camera by Rebecca Gibel.
  • Other members of the excellent ensemble as Jessica Kundla, Pablo Torres, Craig Walezkao, Morgan Kirner, Caleb Damschroder, Bransen Gates, and Carla Martinez.

The Huntington Theatre has made a commitment to stage all 15 Sondheim musicals over the course of several seasons. "Merrily We Roll Along" is the third in this series. I hope I will be around to enjoy all twelve that are in the pipeline. What a delicious treat for Boston audiences to anticipate. That promise alone should be enough to prompt you to subscribe to a season at the Huntington.

All of the individuals and organizations responsible for bringing this stunning production to life in Boston can proudly proclaim, "It's Our Time"!

Huntington Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Underground Railway Theater Presents The Brilliant "Constellations" by Nick Payne - Theater At Its Best


As part of the ongoing Catalyst Collaboration @ MIT, Underground Railway Theater opens its season with the groundbreaking two-hander play "Constellations" by Nick Payne. What makes this an extraordinary evening at the Central Square Theater is the seamless integration of a multitude of theatrical arts - writing, set design, lighting design, sound design, costume design, directing, acting, and dramaturgy. Director Scott Edmiston has assembled a remarkable team of artists and technical magicians to tell this enigmatic story of love in the multiverse. Susan Zeeman Rogers' Scenic Design is hauntingly beautiful, using lights, mirrors, and angular surfaces to give the two actors a galaxy within which to tell their story/stories. Complementing this set and lighting is Original Music and Sound Design by Dewey Dellay that is otherworldly and mesmerizing. Costume Designer Charles Schoonmaker places the two actors in simple white clothes that drape comfortably, appearing almost sterile and clinical, creating an effect that is a virtual tabula rasa - a blank slate upon which the actors can limn the various shades of their characters. Amelia Broome provides important dialect coaching, and Sabrina Dennis provides ASL consulting that adds an important dimension to the storytelling late in the play.

Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer take this sandbox full of raw materials and craft it into a magical world that contains Marianne and Roland and an infinite universe of possibilities of choices made - or not made. For in this play, playwright Nick Payne explores the intersection of science - cosmology, quantum physics, relativity, string theory, alternate levels of reality - with the intimate realm of love. The confluence of these forces makes for an unforgettable night of theater.

Nael Nacer as Roland
Marianna Bassham as Marianne
"Constellations" by Nick Payne
A Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Production
Central Square Theater
Through October 8th

Marianne is a cosmologist whose world view includes the belief that physics seems to be discovering that we inhabit a multiverse where several lives, several persons, several sets of decisions can simultaneously exist alongside one another. To show this mystery, Mr. Payne has the actors repeat scenes three or four or more times, each time with slight alterations in emphasis, word choice, affect. This is not traditional linear storytelling, and it takes a while to get into the rhythm, but it is an effective theatrical device. This device also requires that the actors be of consummate skill in making quick changes that are believable to the audience. Ms. Bassham and Mr. Nacer are simply brilliant, reinforcing their already stellar reputations as among the best actors working in Greater Boston.

In contradistinction to Marianne's work that encompasses limitless possibilities, Roland works as a beekeeper. There are only three kinds of bees in his hive - in his limited universe - worker bees, drones, and the queen bee. The contrast between their worlds is stunning and leads to dramatic tension.

Changes in mood, in alternate levels of reality, are signaled beautifully by dramatic alterations in the lighting scheme and in the soundscape. The effect is a play that causes the audience to work hard to figure out what is happening. Will a chance meeting lead to a date or not? Will Marianne and Roland develop a deep relationship? Will they marry? What will be the results of a biopsy? Will it be necessary to consider assisted suicide? To be or not to be? To bee or not to bee? Or all of the above?

Marianna Bassham as Marianne
Nael Nacer as Roland
"Constellations" by Nick Payne
A Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Production
Central Square Theater
Through October 8th


One cannot ask much more from an evening at the theater that what is offered by the infinite possibilities contained within "Constellations." You do not want to miss seeing this production. It will run until October 8th with a fascinating assortment of post-show talkbacks. Knowledgeable theater people will be talking about this production and these performances for years to come - in this and in alternate realities. Make sure that you can be an informed part of those conversations by ordering your tickets now.

Central Square Theater Website

Enjoy!

Al

ArtsEmerson Opens Its 2017-2018 Season With The Spectacular "The 7 Fingers - Reversible"


I first became aware of Les 7 Doigts de la Main when one of the Founders, Gypsy Snider partnered with Diane Paulus to create the circus elements that are now an integral part of "Pippin," the Tony Award winning Broadway musical.  Part of the vision of Gypsy and her six co-founders of Les 7 Doigts de la Main was to present urban circus on a human scale.  The show currently being presented by ArtsEmerson at the Cutler Majestic Theater is "Reversible," conceived and directed by Ms. Snider, with considerable input from the eight cast members. This opening production of the ArtsEmerson 2017-2018 season is an American Premiere.

In conceiving this show, Gypsy Snider gave each of the prospective cast members the assignment of going back home to their families of origin to learn stories about how their grandparents and great-grandparents lived. Many of those stories, often involving struggle and immigration, have been woven into the fabric of each of the acts in "Reversible." The set by Ana Cappelluto consists of several moveable and reversible walls with doors and windows. Initially, the presentation is of exterior walls, but they are often reversed to show interior spaces. The stories that the artists tell through their circus arts relate to who they are - and who we are - as human beings  - on the outside and on the inside. The result of these creative and athletic efforts is a realization of Gypsy's original dream: theater on a human scale.

Cast
"Reversible"
7 Fingers of the Hand
ArtsEmerson
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through September 24th
"Reversible represents the best of contemporary circus by shining a spotlight on the poetry of the human form and linking every ending to a new beginning. Through an electrifying mix of theatre, illusion, dance, music and acrobatics, Reversible is dedicated to past generations whose stories might hold the key to a better tomorrow."

One of the stories that resonated with me was that of Emi Vauthey's grandmother. Emi learned that her grandmother had fled Japan and an impending arranged marriage to elope with a Swiss man. She was the first  person from outside of Switzerland to settle in their small village. Emi presents an act, using her skills as a contortionist, in which a bride struggles mightily in an oversized bridal gown to get her bearings and get her feet on the ground. I saw the piece as a very moving metaphor to suggest the kinds of struggles her Japanese grandmother must have faced in trying to fit into a culture of a very different size and fabric.

The eight artists come from five different countries and speak different languages. The fact that they are able to overcome obstacles of language and culture to form a seamless team that rely on one another in performing death-defying acts offers hope in this season of political and social upheaval that our differences can be healed and our chasms can be bridged.

The eight performers are:
  • Maria Del Mar Reyes (Spain)       Disciplines - Hand balancing, Chinese pole, Dance.
  • Vincent Jutras (Canada)                Disciplines - HoopSkate, Korean plank, Dance.
  • Jeremi Levesque (Canada)            Disciplines -Korean plank, Hoopdiving.
"Reversible"
7 Fingers of the Hand
ArtsEmerson
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through September 24th
  • Natasha Patterson (USA)             Disciplines - Juggling, Contortion, Dance.
  • Hugo Ragetly (France)                  Disciplines - Juggling, Chinese pole.
  • Emilie Silliau (France)                  Disciplines - Aerial rope, Trapeze, Aerial silk, Chinese pole
"Reversible"
7 Fingers of the Hand
ArtsEmerson
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through September 24th

  • Julien Silliau (France)                   Disciplines - German wheel, Juggling, Chinese pole, Whip
  • Emi Vauthey (Switzerland)            Disciplines - Contortion, Aerial silk, Hula hoop, Dance.
The overall effect of this show is to inspire awe, wonder, and hope. The acts are visually stunning as well as thought-provoking. The final act, shown above, is gorgeous and enigmatic. Are the performers surfing in water, floating on clouds? Most of the audience left the Cutler Majestic Theatre floating - musing on what we had just seen and heard and experienced together as an instant community.

The show runs through September 24th. Get your tickets now. Any delay on your part will not be reversible!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Stoneham Theatre Launches A New Season and A New Name (Greater Boston Stage Company) With A Fun-Filled "Dames At Sea"


In a move to better reflect the broad regional base of their audience, Stoneham Theatre has renamed and rebranded themselves as Greater Boston Stage Company. They continue to call the Stoneham Theatre their home port, so it is fitting that the launch of the new season and the new name should be the wonderfully entertaining "Dames At Sea." This light hearted musical, with Book and Lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and Music by Jim Wise, lovingly pokes fun at the 1930s era Busby Berkeley musicals and "42nd Street," in sort of a "Forbidden Broadway" light approach to parody. On a weekend when concerns about Hurricane Irma, the disappointing start to the Patriots' season, and continuing nausea caused by the miasma emanating from the swamp in D.C. had many of us feeling a bit down, this musical was a tonic for the soul.

Cast
"Dames At Sea"
Greater Boston Stage Company
at Stoneham Theatre
Through September 24th
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots


This is a show driven by tap dance, so it is fitting that the Captain of this ship is Ilyse Robbins as Director and Choreographer. Her fingerprints and signature footprints are all over this delightful production. She has cast a wonderful crew of six to tell the story with their voices and with their feet. This sexy sextet pair off into three interesting couples - each couple emitting sparks of chemistry and sensuality. They are:

  • Ephie Aardema is Ruby, recently off the bus from Utah to find stardom on Broadway. Her suitcase contains a single pair of tap shoes. In a nod to "42nd Street," just before giving up on her dream, she fills in for the seasick leading lady and becomes an overnight sensation. Ms. Aardema is a veteran of Broadway ("Bridges of Madison County"), and brings a believable innocence to the role of Ruby as she taps her way into our heart. She gets to show off her vocal chops in the duet "It's You," "The Sailor of My Dreams," and "It's Raining In My Heart." 
  • Her own heart is won by the sailor, Dick (a very impressive Tavon Gamble). When he is not swabbing decks and swooning over Ruby, Dick writes catchy songs. Mr. Gamble shines in "Broadway Baby" and in his duet with Ruby, "There's Something About You."
Ephie Aardema as Ruby
Tavon Gamble as Dick
"Dames At Sea"
Greater Boston Stage Company
at Stoneham Theatre
Through September 24th
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
  • The multiple IRNE Award winner Shana Dirik is fabulous as Mona. She is in full diva mode as she tries to dismiss Ruby, seduce Dick, and reignite the spark with an old flame, Captain Courageous. (I told you it was a parody!) She kicks off the fun with her rendition of "Wall Street," and teams up with the Captain for "The Beguine." 
  • Russell Garrett is a wonderful foil to Mona as the Captain, as well as in his role as Hennesey. He gets to strut his stuff in a reprise of "Broadway Baby" as well as in the aforementioned duet "The Beguine."
Russell Garrett as Captain
Shana Dirik as Mona
"Dames At Sea"
Greater Boston Stage Company
at Stoneham Theatre
Through September 24th
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

  • Sara Coombs stands tall as the jaded Broadway veteran hoofer, Joan, who takes Ruby under her wing - or perhaps I should say her buck and wing! She encourages the rube Ruby to stick with it, despite the rough seas generated by Hurricane Mona. As Ruby is falling for Dick, Joan falls for Dick's shipmate, Lucky. They throw off sparks with their duet "Choo-choo Honeymoon."
  • As Lucky, Michael Seltzer is winsome and charming. This recent graduate of Boston Conservatory at Berklee acquits himself well alongside his more seasoned shipmates. We hear his strong tenor voice in the "Honeymoon" duet, and see his tap dance virtuosity throughout the show.
Michael Seltzer as Lucky
Sara Coombs as Joan
"Dames At Sea"
Greater Boston Stage Company
at Stoneham Theatre
Through September 24th
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots


I cannot say enough about the tap dancing. Whether in solo sequences, duets, or full ensemble numbers, the tapping was precise and impassioned and always fully synchronized. The dancers were kept in synch by the wonderful twin pianists, Steven Ladd Jones, Music Director, and Bethany Aiken. Eric Levenson's Scenic Design brought us aboard a battleship docked at a pier in New York City. Costumes by Emily Taradash beautifully fit the nautical theme of the show, and Lighting by Chris Fournier and Sound by John Stone buttressed the efforts of the cast.

The precision of the dancing speaks to great training on the part of each cast member, and meticulous choreography and direction by Ms. Robbins. The show will run through September 24th. Dames - and Gents - I encourage you to book passage on the good ship "Dames At Sea." You will find it to be a pleasure cruise.


Enjoy! And smooth sailing!

Al

Lyric Stage Presents A Scintillating "Gypsy" - A Great Start To The New Season


"Gypsy" is one of those beloved chestnuts of the American musical stage that must be curated with care. There have been iconic performances by Ethel Merman and Patty LuPone, so any actress willing to tackle the role of Mama Rose cannot be a shrinking violet. The immensely talented Leigh Barrett has taken on the challenge; she rose to the occasion in the best performance of her career. From her first entrance until her final bow, she commands the stage and commands our attention. She brings the character of the original stage mother on an arc within which we can see the petals fall off of the rose as one by one her dreams devolve into nightmares. She fantasizes that her daughters, Louise and June, will always remain little girls and will always need her to run their lives and careers. Reality crashes in on her like a storm surge from Hurricane Irma. Her interpretations of "Some People," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and "Roses's Turn" reinforce the reality that Ms. Barrett has made this role her own - with no need to compare her performance to any other that may have come before.

Leigh Barrett as Rose
Kirsten Salpini as Louise
"Gypsy"
Lyric Stage of Boston
Through October 8th
Photo by Mark S. Howard

Ms. Barrett is well supported in telling this heart-rending story. Director and Choreography Rachel Bertone is on a winning run of her own in terms of helming successful productions. Here, she has assembled a creative team and cast for this Lyric Stage production of "Gypsy" that excels in every facet of the show. Scenic Designer Janie E. Howland has conceived a simple and elegant set that features a golden proscenium, with large fans bracketing the sides of the stage. These fans serve to suggest the career of Gypsy Rose Lee as a famed stripper. The fans open and close as the action dictates - now concealing - now revealing, just like Gypsy Rose Lee's teasing act of a seductive ecdysiast.

The Costumes designed by Rafael Jaen beautifully enhance the definition of each character. The Lighting Design by Franklin Meissner, Jr. highlights the shifting moods of the piece, as does the Sound Design of Andrew Duncan Will. Music Director Dan Rodriquez leads a six piece orchestra that brings to life the familiar riffs and tunes of this beloved show.

The rest of the cast are universally effective in their roles.
  • Steven Barkhimer is wonderfully dyspeptic as the longsuffering Herbie, ready to marry Rose whenever she consents. In the meantime, he goes along serving as manager for the tawdry act that they offer to a Vaudeville that is on it last legs, succumbing to the irresistible force of moving pictures. His duet with Rose, "Small World," is moving, as is the trio with Rose and Louise, "Together, Wherever We Go."
  • Kirsten Salpini as Louise, aka Gypsy Rose Lee, also takes her character on a dramatic arc. Louise spends much of her life playing second fiddle to the more talented June, about whose stardom Rose has had many dreams. When June elopes with Tulsa, Rose is forced to try to create an act with the less talented younger daughter. The struggle for Louise to stand on her own feet and to set the trajectory for her own career is at the heart of this drama. Her duet with June, "If Mama Was Married," is a highlight, as is her sultry "Let Me Entertain You."
  • Kira Troilo is excellent as June, gamely singing the same old songs in the lame old act that Rose keeps trying to foist on the Vaudeville circuit. She and Ms. Salpini blend beautifully in the aforementioned "If Mama Was Married."
  • Brady Miller is charming as Tulsa, biding is time in the act as he quietly prepares for a career and life on his own with June. He shines in "All I Need Is The Girl."
  • The three strippers who initiate Louise into the world of striptease almost steal the show in "You Gotta Get A Gimmick." Jordan Clark is an electrifying Electra. Shannon Lee Jones metamorphoses into the Monarch Butterfly Tessie Tura. Kathy St. George is the indescribable Mazeppa. This is the best depiction of a "mature" performer bumping and grinding since Andrea Martin won the Tony for her portrayal of Bertha in "Pippin." I could not stop laughing, howling, and applauding. This number alone is worth the price of admission.
Kirsten Salpini as Louise
Jordan Clark as Electra
Kathy St. George as Mazeppa
Shannon Lee Jones as Tessie Tura
"Gypsy"
Lyric Stage of Boston
Through October 8th
Photo by Mark S. Howard
  • The young performers portraying Baby June (Margot Anderson-Song), Young Louise (Cate Galante), Balloon Girl (Jessica Quaranto) and Clarence (Ben Choi-Harris) are impressive.  Their challenge is that they must be talented enough to portray young performers with minimal talent. They pull it off well in the number "Baby June And Her Newsboys."
  • The rest of this excellent cast includes David Alea as Yonkers, Todd Yard as Uncle Jocko, Remo Airaldi as Pop, Anna Chensny as Agnes, and Davron S. Monroe as Goldstone.
Cast
"Gypsy"
Lyric Stage of Boston
Through October 8th
Photo by Mark S. Howard

"Gypsy" is based on memoirs by Gypsy Rose Lee, with Book and Lyrics by Arthur Laurents, Music by Jule Styne, and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

"Gypsy" will run through October 8th. Tickets are going fast, so order yours now to keep from getting shut out of this excellent opening show of the 2017-2018 Lyric season.


Enjoy!

Al

Friday, September 08, 2017

"Passages" by Anne Hamre - An Epic Journey of a Family from Wales to Australia to British Columbia


I love this book, "Passages," because I felt as if author Anne Hamre took me on a journey, following the fictionalized version of her ancestors. From the initial meeting between Anne Roberts and Frank Evans, we are privy to the development of their relationship - from friendship, to courtship, to marriage.

Anne's patience is sorely tried as Frank experiments with several plans to be able to start a dairy farm. Wales is not promising, so he tries Australia, and finally British Columbia. The author is a historian, so she combines meticulous research with the voice of a gifted story teller in crafting a novel around the bare facts she has unearthed about her adventurous ancestors. This book is informative and inspiring.

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Alley Cat Theater Presents "Plank" - A World Premiere at Boston Center for the Arts


Alley Cat Theater Founding Artistic Director John Greiner-Ferris has written a fascinating new play that is being premiered at Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion. "Plank" is at its heart a thought-provoking allegory and morality play that strives to move the audience to care about a wide range of issues plaguing our nation and our planet. It is an impressive inaugural offering by this new company, named for Mr. Greiner-Ferris two daughters, Allison and Kathryn.

The action of the play takes place at sea, and then on land. Potpee (Poornima Kirby) has emerged as the only apparent survivor of a ship wreck, and she is staying afloat and alive by clinging to a plank. During her hours of paddling and trying to find land, she has much time for reflection and observation. She becomes aware that the ocean is a living thing. Theatrically, this concept is beautifully portrayed using the confluence of several artistic streams. Scenic Designer JiYoung Han has conceived a wondrous backdrop that allows the audience to suspend disbelief and imagine a surging ocean with many shades of blue and aquamarine. Lighting/Projections Designer Barbara Craig has created fascinating undulating patterns that make one feel as if the ocean is swelling, heaving, ebbing, and flowing. Sounds Design by Ned Singh and Original Music by Peter Warren and Matt Somalis add to the effect. Director Megan Schy Gleeson brilliantly uses the remaining cast members to evoke the feel of living elements within the briny deep. Liz Adams, Sydney Grant, Fray Cordero, and Adam Lokken tumble, cavort, somersault, roll, swim, crawl, and interact with the plank in a dizzying array of perpetual motion that is mesmerizing in its beauty. The extended sequence is beautifully choreographed and energetically and fluidly executed by the actors/dancers. The playwright is inviting Potpee - and the audience - to realize that we are one with nature and must respect its sanctity and life-giving essence.

Liz Adams as Chop
Adam Lokken as Fetch
Poornima Kirby as Potpee
Sydney Grant as Spume
"Plank"
by John Greiner-Ferris
Alley Cat Theater
Calderwood Pavilion

I will not reveal much more of the plot, for fear of spoiling some nice surprises, but Mr. Greiner-Ferris proceeds to address an ocean full of ecological and social issues as the play comes to full flood. Among the issues that wash up throughout the play are the use and abuse of cell phones and social media, the deteriorating nature of friendship, the use of the ocean as a garbage dump, the continued slaughter of whales, bureaucratic inanities on the part of ICE and Border Patrol officials, the coercive attempts by government to force conformity, the horrors of gay conversion therapy, the mindless exploitation of nature for mining, the nefarious agenda of the Alt-Right and Christian Right, the brainwashing of the next generation, and the turning of patriotism into jingoism. The role of evolution and devolution is a leitmotif that flows through the play.

Eventually, Potpee washes ashore, where she is met by Mercedes (a brilliantly officious Liz Adams bedecked in a red, white, and blue star spangled official uniform - Costumes by Elizabeth Rocha.) Mercedes clings tenaciously to her clipboard, containing checklists of rules and regulations with which to deny the alien Potpee entry to the country. She cradles that clipboard as if it were her own plank, keeping her afloat atop a sea of restrictive decrees and intrusive questions. Thimble (a very spritely Sydney Grant) is shadowing Mercedes and is torn between conforming to accepted norms, or buying into Potpee's world view more attuned to nature.

This is an ambitious project. At times it seems as if the playwright has bitten off more topics than he could chew on and develop. And there are moments when the tone seems polemical and preachy, but the overall effect is impressive and moving. Ms. Kirby and Ms. Adams carry much of the dialogue and soliloquizing. They are excellent, as are Ms. Grant, Mr. Cordero, and Mr. Lokken. Cordero and Lokken move wonderfully together in portraying a family of whales swimming in the ocean.

This is a play worth seeing and meditating on. It will continue through September 16th.

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Gloucester Stage Presents The New England Premiere of "Out of the Mouth of Babes" by Israel Horovitz - A Must See


Gloucester Stage is presenting a hilarious comedy by one of its own.  Israel Horovitz is a prolific playwright, and his latest offering, "Out Of The Mouth Of Babes," is one of his best. This production is the New England Premiere of the play that first appeared last year at Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC. His wit and humor and sardonic look at relationships are on full display in this four-handed comedy that feature the stunning cast of Paula Plum, Debra Wise, Sarah Hickler, and Obehi Janice.  Under the direction of Mr. Horovitz himself, the sparks fly back and forth among these four women, all of whom have been romantically involved with a man whose funeral they have come to attend in Paris.


Debra Wise as Evelyn
Paula Plum as Evvie
Sarah Hickler as Janice
Obehi Janice as Marie-Belle
"Out of the Mouth of Babes" by Israel Horovitz
Gloucester Stage Company
Through September 2nd
Photo by Gary Ng

The concept is that the deceased has died at the age of 100 after a full career of teaching at a Paris conservatory, collecting art, and collecting women.  Of the four women gathered in his loft, one was married to him at the time of his death, two are ex-wives, and one is an ex-lover. The skein of resentments that exist among the four would baffle a sociologist, for it turns out that in several cases, one woman had replaced another as the object of desire of this equal opportunity Lothario.  Of particular interest to me was the fact that three of the four women hail from Boston - one from the North End, one from South Boston, and one from Cambridge. His much younger last wife, Marie-Belle, is the lone exception. The playwright's Boston roots come through as Evelyn, Evvie, and Janice discuss Johnny Pesky, the recently deceased icon of the Boston Red Sox. Complications arise when Marie-Belle comes home and reveals that the spirit of the man they all loved is making frequent contact with her, even to the point of tickling her. It is the audience that is most tickled by the shenanigans that ensue.

Jenna McFarland Lord has designed a gorgeous set that includes more than two dozen original works of art, many of which are available for purchase by audience members. Costumes are by Jane Alois Stein, Lighting by Russ Swift and Sound by David Remedios.

The brilliance of this play lies primarily in the non-stop acerbic repartee that flies back and forth among these four rivals.  The lines have been crafted by a master wordsmith, and flawlessly delivered by a cast that sparkles. The limited run of this play must end of September 2nd. If the reaction of the audience on the night when I attended is any indication, this is a play that will resonate with many people.  I found it to be a total delight; it is a "Must See."  Get yourself to East Gloucester, and enjoy hearing Horovitz's inspired words as they cascade out of the mouths of these four talented babes! This is an ensemble piece of the first order, and this ensemble is "formidable - comme il faut"!

Paula Plum as EvvieDebra Wise as Evelyn
Playwright Israel Horovitz
Obehi Janice as Marie-Belle
Sarah Hickler as Janice
"Out of the Mouth of Babes" by Israel Horovitz
Gloucester Stage Company
Through September 2nd
Photo by Gary Ng

Gloucester Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

The Oberon Rocks With The World Premiere Of "Burn All Night" - Partying At The End Of The World


Over the years, The A.R.T.'s second performance space, The Oberon at 0 Arrow Street in Harvard Square, has been the venue for some fascinating, boundary-pushing, rollicking works of art. The creative and artistic team at A.R.T., beginning with Artistic Director Diane Paulus, often program the use of this space to encourage the development of works by emerging artists. Such is the case with the sizzling "Burn All Night," that is enjoying its World Premiere through September 8th.

Beginning with a conceptual idea by Andy Mientus (TV's "Smash," Broadway's "Spring Awakening") the creative team began to form with the addition of musicians from the synth-pop band Teen Commandments, including Andy's friend, Van Hughes and his bandmates Brett Moses and Nicholas LaGrasta. They set out to tell a story about a bunch of young New Yorkers, anxious about a potential apocalypse, but partying and coupling in the shadow of impending doom. So, why not tell the story in the setting of a dance club, using the kind of music that the kids would dance to in such a club. The Teen Commandments guys wrote a couple of songs for Andy, to which he added lyrics, and the project was off and running. They added Director Jenny Koons ("Runaways" Encore production at Citi Center) and Choreographer Sam Pinkleton ("Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," plus several previous Oberon productions).

Then they added a troupe of energetic and gifted actors, singers, and dancers:
  • Lincoln Clauss is Bobby, recently arrived in NYC with no plan except that of having escaped the micromanaging of his widowed Mom back in Pittsburg. Mr. Clauss is the perfect combination of naive, charming, scared, adventuresome, and resilient as he faces the concrete jungle knowing no one in the city. Serendipitously, within moments of stepping off the bus at the Port Authority, he encounters Holly, an old high school friend who had previously escaped the surly bonds of Pittsburgh to make her way as an artist in New York.
  • Krystina Alabado is Holly, who has shelved her artistic dreams to pay the bills in a corporate job. She invites Bobby to crash back at the apartment she shares with boyfriend, Zak. Ms. Alabado uses her singing and acting to create a character torn between her love for Zak, her support of Bobby, and her rekindled romance with Will.
  • Ken Clark as Zak is the very embodiment of a disaffected young artist. He had a hit two years ago that helps to pay the bills, but he is drilling in an artistic dry hole - nothing new that satisfies him has come to the surface for long while. Just as there are literal subterranean rumblings that shake the foundations of New York and foreshadow a major disaster, so there are rumblings in his relationship with Holly that tell of a possible relational apocalypse. The driving vocal power of Mr. Clark's opening rock number reminded me of Gavin Creel as Prometheus in "Prometheus Bound" in this same Oberon space.
  • Perry Sherman is Will, who shares with Bobby (and with Andy Mientus) the fact that they have lost their Dads at a young age. Will and Bobby make a pact to be each other's Dad. What does that mean? How will that relationship evolve? Mr. Sherman's impressive credentials include "Fun Home," "Spring Awakening," and the role of Marius in "Les Miserables." His Will exudes the confidence and cachet that comes from having the financial resources to host parties for Bobby and other friends, and to make a move on Holly, once he realizes that she is just about done with Zak. Mr. Sherman's performance is memorable.
Krystina Alabado as Holly
Lincoln Clauss as Bobby
Perry Sherman as Will
Ken Clark as Zak
"Burn All Night"
A.R.T. - Oberon
Through September 8th
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva
  • MJ Rodriguez is no stranger to A.R.T., having appeared in last season's "Tran Scripts, Part 1: The Women." As Oona, MJ's electric dance moves and soaring vocals help to set the scene for the dance club ethos.
  • Jamar Williams graced the A.R.T. stage in "Witness Uganda/Invisible Thread." In this show, his joyful countenance and exuberance in dancing and singing provide a nice counterpart to the gloom that pervades much of the action as the characters contemplate the possible end of the world.
  • Ashley LaLonde as Kayla returns to A.R.T., having appeared in "Arrabal" and "Violet."
  • The remaining ensemble members, playing The Kids, are making their A.R.T. debut. They are Gabrielle Carrubba, Aurie Ceylon, Marquis Johnson, and AJ Rafael.
The Kids
"Burn All Night"
A.R.T. - Oberon
 Through September 8th
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

Scenic Design is by Sara Brown, Costumes by Evan Prizant, Lighting by Bradley King, and Sound by Jessica Paz. Cian McCarthy is Music Supervisor, and the band is led by Michael Mastroianni, with Maxime Cholley on drums, Maddie Jay on Bass, and Claudio Raino on guitar.

Director Koons keeps the pace lively throughout the show, using every inch of the flexible Oberon space to create a truly immersive experience, especially for those patrons who choose to stand on the floor in the middle of the action that often swirls and percolates around them. The overall musical impression that I was left with was a vibrant mix of elements that reminded me of "Spring Awakening," "Rent," and "Runaways." It is no wonder that the spirit of these earlier groundbreaking musicals has provided fodder for "Burn All Night," for members of this cast and creative team have been involved in productions of all three of these predecessor shows.

Myriad themes abound and are explored or hinted at: being lost and rootless, feeling alone in a crowd, worrying about the future of the planet and the future of one's young life, making immature mistakes that hurt others, not knowing who to love or how to love, and ultimately, how to find and to offer forgiveness for those mistakes.

Forgiveness is a strong theme that emerges. Bobby betrays some confidences that hurt both Holly and Will. Can those wounds be healed? Andy Mientus addresses the issue of forgiveness - including the ability to forgive ourselves for young mistakes - in his Playbill notes: "In its creation over many years, 'Burn All Night' has brought me inspiring friends and collaborators, newfound passion for what has always made this genre magical, and best of all, forgiveness and even affection for that younger, messier me. People make mistakes when they are scared. It's not the end of the world."

As Mr. Mientus points out, it has taken many years for this work of art to get to this stage of development. It is often the case that shows that are birthed at A.R.T. often undergo further refinement as they move on to their next iteration. It would be my hope that this will also be the case for this already praiseworthy show. I would like to see it lengthened a bit to allow for further development of the Dad theme that is left hanging. I would also love to see more exploration of the love triangle among Holly, Will, and Zak - perhaps a polyhedron if we add Bobby into the mix. Zak hints at a spark he observes between Bobby and Will.  It would be worthwhile to explore a nascent bromance between these two characters.

Krystina Alabado as Holly
Lincoln Clauss as Bobby
"Burn All Night"
A.R.T. - Oberon
Through September 8th
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

Even in its current state of completion, this is a show worth seeing and celebrating. I am told that many of the remaining performances are already sold out. so do not hesitate to go online and secure one or more of the remaining tickets - even if you have to burn the midnight oil to do so. Burn it all night if you must!

American Repertory Theater website

Enjoy!

Al