I'm sure none of you noticed, but I wrote only ONE review in all of March ("More Than What") --- even though Thirteen of the plays I got to see should have been so acknowledged.
Here: See for yourself:
2 mar THE BATTING CAGE Hovey Players
3 mar MORE THAN WHAT CentaStage BCA 26
7 mar HEAVEN & HELL Boston Conservatory
9 mar 6 ROUNDS 6 LESSONS Company One BCA
14 mar STRUCK DUMB Pilgrim Theatre Company BCA
15 mar RUMORS ZeroPoint CAMBRIDGE YMCA 30
19 mar [ THE IRNE BASH !! Cyclorama BCA ]
21 mar THE TRIAL Pilgrim Theatre BCA 31
22 mar WHERE THE LOST BOYS GO 11:11 Theatre Company BCA
23 mar OLIVER TWIST American Repertory Theatre 33
24 mar [ AMAZONOMACHY New Play Development Series FOOTLIGHT CLUB Reading ]
24 mar THERESA AT HOME Boston Playwrights' Theatre 34
25 mar MISS WITHERSPOON Lyric Stage Company of Boston Inc. 35
29 mar SMOKE AND MIRRORS Zero Point DURREL HALL YMCA 36
30 mar LIFT Emerson Stage
31 mar TITUS ANDRONICUS Actors' Shakespeare Project THE GARAGE 37
But though none of you noticed, I sure did. Whenever my mind goes on Walkabout this way, I worry. (That's why I didn't refer to the "More Than What" piece as "My LAST Review"!) In my mind, every play is really unique, with its own reasons for asking attention; telling people about its unique appeals for audience attention --- giving people a blueprint of how to enjoy it --- is the fun of writing a review.
Sitting here at the keypad staring at a blank screen isn't.
But not only is this a personal problem, it's a social one.
These people are my friends, and they give me free tickets with an unstated expectation that I will tell everyone who looks into The Mirror what happened on their stages. Not everyone greets me at an after-show cast-party with "I'm looking forward to your review!" --- but, let's face it, all of them are. When I scrape the bottom of my skull and come up with nothing but splinters under my fingernails, I'm not the only one disappointed.
Worst of all is the Usually true rule-of-thumb that I see no sense or value in Negative reviews of shows. I have frequently gone on record that if I really don't like a show, I will say nothing PUBLICALLY (though the director may get a letter or an e-mail about it).
Then my mind shuts down for an entire month, and people I have praised In Person for excellent work look on me as a two-faced, insincere jerk who Says he likes what he will Not Review. I know it isn't true, but if I can write nothing I can write nothing Explaining why I can't write, right? So I really Hated the show, right?
So, for the record now, "Heaven & Hell" which Jason Slavick, Peter Mansfield and Michelle Chasse made --- which ran only five days at The Boston Conservatory --- was easily the best show I have seen all year so far. It was also the most artistically erotic show I have ever seen on any stage. (Okay, the airliner sequence in Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz" is a close second, but that's in a Movie, not Live On A Stage!) I really hope this show goes elsewhere and grows. It's essentially a long dance piece, with choreography that was basically Ballet down to the floorboards, where all the men were barefoot while all the women needed heels, pumps, or dance-slippers. The free-form subtitle "the fantastical temptation of the 7 deadly sins" was seductively realized, and with Mansfield's help Joe Jackson's album came alive.
I do not know why I sat here, mute before the screen, until now.
Even more important, this show --- and FIVE others of these "lost thirteen" --- were New Shows. That means not only the performers but the playwrights had a hunger for feedback. For instance the very next show I saw was John Oluwole Adekoje's "6 Rounds 6 Lessons" at Company One took the conflicts on the streets and squeezed them, metaphorically, into a boxing ring, with a hip-pop disc-jockey covering each scene with warm, tasty chocolate.
Brian Tuttle's 11:11 Theatre Company did his new play "Where The Lost Boys Go" --- which suggested that boys are "lost" when fathers --- present or not --- are absent when most needed.
At Boston Playwrights' Theatre Janet Kenney's new meditation on marriage and catholicism "Theresa at Home" centered on the first days of wedlock as seen through the mind of a "reformed" nun asking advice and support from her female friends and family (and Mother Superior) --- often in "monologues" in which the Other was implied rather than present. Julie Jirousek and Cheryl McMahon played six roles, while the play featured a return to Boston of Stacy Fischer in the title role; she still has the most magnificently expressive face in theater anywhere.
Even Christopher Durang had a Boston premiere with his new "Miss Witherspoon" --- a show that uses a Hindu view of life-after-death (i.e., Lots Of Re-Runs!) to pillory Paula Plum's dogmatically agnostic Veronica Witherspoon in her rejection of Any future lives.
I must confess I'm not the ideal reviewer for this show, since I am a militantly anti-Christian atheist whose A.B.C. (anything but christiantiy) view has often been expressed elsewhere.
I loved it!
Oddly enough, one of the most surprising originals was the very next show I took in --- a dramatization of several stories by Neil Gaiman from his collection "Smoke And Mirrors" dramatized by Andrew Hicks and directed by Hicks and Mikey DiLoreto and produced at the Cambridge Y by Zero Point Productions. Most of these stories worked on stage, an essentially amateur cast brought life an enthusiasm to their characters, and I had a ball. (I really Loved Gaiman's "The Sandman" comic-books, and worried that youngsters might not be up to them. I needn't have worried!)
Over at Emerson, in a rather large performance space (new to me) with excellent acoustics, Joe Antoun directed Kelly McCabe's "Lift" ---winner of the 2007 Rod Parker Playwrighting Award. The play concerned a pair of brothers hoping to outrace the Wrights in making the first heavier-than-air "aeroplane" --- and to win the hand of a woman both were smitten with.
I thought the turn-of-that-century flavor excellently researched and preserved, the cast excellent --- and the play longing like a caterpillar to fly as a film.
There are ideas and techniques that film does that stage can't, and vice versa. As a play, this text needed cuts to the windy sand of Kittyhawk beach, and the still-new Eiffel Tower, the sleepy mid-western home of its protagonists, and perhaps to fantasy-fulfillment of their almost successful dreams. What worked, and worked well on-stage, will still be there in the film.
But not everything in March was new.
The Hovey Players did a moody, intense play by Joan Ackerman called "The Batting Cage" that dealt, first obliquely then head-on, with both grief and memory of an apparently exceptional half of a pair of twins, dead of cancer much too young. Her living eccentric twin (Karen Dervin) varied between nearly catatonia and beating her own sibling hitting singles in the batting cage, while her multiply-married conformist sister (Victoria Taylor) preferred to socialize --- perhaps to find a replacement for her latest divorce. Kevin Nessman played a pair of St. Augustine males, and in the last few minutes of the show Ronni Marshak as Mom arrived with the urn full of sister's ashes in time to re-establish family memories and funerary ritual.
Director Michelle Fisher kept the airless, only eventually expressed antagonism of the siblings simmering until that final explosion, and found a way for the three women to reconcile. The show worked.
Unfortunately, I couldn't.
I got to two explorations of new materials in the Pilgrim Theatre research and performance collaborative's third Crossing Borders presentations. (I missed their "Songs from The Brink" Cabaret.) First their Artistic Director Del Hamilton directed Gene-Gabriel Moore in "Struck Dumb" --- an examination of a real actor's real problems with aphasia robbing him of any short-term memory. The text, by Jean-Claude Van Itallie and Joseph Chaikin, was projected so the actor could read what he could not remember and Moore (five years younger than I) proved that his training and acting talent overcame any of his handicaps.
Then Kim Mancuso directed Kermit Dunkelberger in his presentation of Franz Kafka's "The Trial" --- with Christopher Crowly as a silent butler handling cue-cards. Dunkelberger cut the novel to the bone, and breathed life not only into his Yusef K., but several other characters as well.
And Thursday I expect to see "The Passion According to G.H."
Pilgrim is a unique company that has been Living its art for twenty years now; Joe Chaikin was the sainted artistic director of The Living Theatre, who also continued to work after aphasia forced changes in his work-habits; and Van Itallie as a writer for theater has tackled hard, complicated subjects ("The Tibetan Book of The Dead") demanding lengthy interactive creative processes; and Gene-Gabriel Moore is a courageous actor of amazing honesty. I love them all, but their work is, though sublime, almost indescribable in mere words.
I think the American Repertory Theatre expects people to say the same things of their work, but over the years rather than "sublime" I have used the word "pretentious" to describe their work. When I was told that "Oliver Twist" was what A.R.T. always promised but rarely delivered I was sceptical, but the show was done "in association with Theatre for A New Audience and Berkeley Repertory Theatre --- and my informant was correct. This production used the spacious Loeb stage very effectively, enclosing much of the action in a big wooden box but opening doors at the back of the set for selected scenes. The show was adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett --- and his notes are, indeed, a revelation worth the price of admission. I have no idea what the other two companies contributed to the evening, but I have not been so impressed and satisfied by any productions in what I used to think of as "my" theatre in many long, pompous years.
Okay, that's at least a quick-and-dirty summary of a month's worth of theater I found it impossible to write about --- and I don't yet know why.
Maybe it was something simple, like talking after the show to the three actresses in "The Batting Cage"; since I got to tell each one of them how much I liked both the play and their work with it, perhaps my mind decided I had, myself, "done the work". Maybe I then did the "More Than What" review --- because it was a new work --- and my mind was further divided from the Hovey show, and of course guilty of writing nothing. Maybe when I then saw "Heaven & Hell" and talked with its director about it I simply Enjoyed it, and talked it over again with a generous friend, and now I had Two unreviewed productions and expected to see more. And I actually missed the opening of what I'm told was a very good play ("White People" at New Rep) and added a whole different layer of guilty silence. That Friday I chickened out on visiting Nicole Pierce's Ego Art installation because of wretched weather --- and by the time of The IRNE Bash on the 19th seeing shows but saying nothing had become a habit.
But none of that explains last week.
I had stayed for the talkback Sunday afternoon at The Lyric and talked with people who made it, then wrote nothing. But by now the critical silence was Seriously Disturbing.
And things began to get complicated.
I woke up early on Wednesday aware that Joe Antoun had e-mailed with an offer of a matinee performance of "Lift" and I rushed off to try to find the Emerson theatre knowing I had to see the A.S.P.'s "Titus Andronicus" the same night.
And that was true, but on SATURDAY.
This was WEDNESDAY.
I wasted the time I had by not-seeing "Lift" with a long lunch reading, bought some comic-books, and when I went over to find the theater-space in The Garage where A.S.P. performed I was told there was no performance that night.
But I swear, I had no idea how screwily my day had gone until I got home and my dance-card revealed that I was due that evening to see the Molasses Tank production of "Conquest of The South Pole" at Charlestown Working --- but it was already too late to get there. (I may not be able to get there till closing week.)
After "Smoke & Mirrors" the following night I schmoozed with the cast, disappointing several young performers by revealing my Writing-Block. But the very next night I decided to ignore the Pilgrim's Cabaret and saw "Lift" instead. If Joe expected to talk about the show on Saturday afternoon, I disappointed him, but at least I saw the show. I saw "Titus" that night, and Sunday afternoon I made it to Davis Square to watch Jimmy Tingle star in a script-in-hand reading of an anti-war Vietnam-play called "Boys of Winter" --- which I hope is repeated. The show, written by Barry Brodsky, Eric Small, and Dean B. Kaner will probably grow up to be a movie. It was sponsored (and viewed) by a lot of Veterans For Peace and members of other anti-war and anti-Iraq-war groups, Bill Lawson had directed a very good cast in a play that performed much better than it originally read in script form --- and my computer guru Lee Vander Laan and I dined and drank at Redbones after the show, listening to "war" stories by people from past Police Actions or Wars, Declared or Un.
I wrote nothing about those, but maybe my trying to make sense out of all this today can kick out the jams.
I don't think I'm crazy; I'm probably not starting a Breakdown; but I can't understand why the Block appeared.
I simply could be tired. And this year what felt like Many Years of freezing weather became further tiring. I'm seeing my Orthopod about increasing pain in my metal but scar-prone left knee, and I might simply have succumbed to a Tylenol overdose. And it could be that increasing pain and frigid climate brought on a Winter Blues. In such times, perhaps the simplest joy in life is eating --- which could easily have increased weight and brought about more knee-pain which I sublimated with more fattening food which .... You get the idea.
Tomorrow after re-evaluating the knee I will get over to the Boston Public Library for Shakespeare NOW's annual "Sonnet-thon" --- and the Dance-Card is filling up again. I may have to bump someone so I can get to see Molasses Tank's show, but that's how it goes.
I said up top "In my mind, every play is really unique"; well, the producers and performers of each show feel the same way: they want attention paid to THEIR show, and a lot of times they think of me as a sort of "reviewer of last resort"; some of them even think that a Theater Mirror review can actually increase attendance. And I do think anyone who works onstage or backstage is a friend, and I hate to disappoint them by failing to see their work. When I Do see it, but then say nothing, I feel doubly guilty.
So I open up the Cricket's Notebook and whine for a while.
I hope this gets me back to what I laughingly call "Normal"!
Watch This Space...
( a k a larry stark ) ===Anon.