Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "Brand Names"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Saturday, 9 January, 1999: Brand Names

If I had known that Rick Lombardo directed the "Julius Caesar" that played at the Spingold Theatre Complex out in Waltham I'd have done my damnedest to get out to see it. Rick's is, for me, a sort of "brand name" I've come to trust. Since I've liked what he's done, I want to see whatever else he does. There are names you trust. Everything I had heard about "Shakespeare in Love" made it sound like something I really shouldn't see --- but I changed my mind when I heard that Tom Stoppard had written the script. For me, his is a Brand Name."

Another one is John R. Malinowski. His lighting does things you wouldn't have thought possible on a stage. By that I don't really mean that his lighting deflects attention away from the action or the acting --- unless the only artistic content of the show IS the lighting, which has happened more than once.

And how about Janie Howland. The name changed from Fleagle, but her excellent sets didn't. Again, I don't mean that I go home whistling the set, but with excellent actors doing an excellent script, her very different sets for "American Buffalo" at The New Rep and the Nora Company's "Molly Sweeney" added a lot to the experience of the show.

All three of them have worked, though not exclusively, out at The New Rep --- another Brand Name in my book. And here it's a group effort rather than any one person that always seems to please me. The actors, and even sometimes the directors change, but the team is what gives me consistent, dependably good work.

And there's Jonathan Kuntz, whose one-man comedy shows are always must-see. But he's not just a stand-up comedian, he's a reliably good actor whose work is just as good when he's one of a larger cast. If he has even a bit-part in a show, I'm interested in seeing it.

Then again, I have seen the Delvena Theater Company do terrible things --- and magnificent things. Even in their worst, there's always been flashes of excellent acting, and when they choose a good script and a good director they fly. So I make an effort to see everything they do. You never know till you see the show for yourself whether it's a hit or a miss, and their hits are always worth the effort.

For me, even a place can be reliable. I have been in one of the three small theater-spaces at the Boston Center for The Arts at least twenty-five times this year, and seen at least ten shows at The Actors' Workshop --- most of them by different companies, most of them good shows, or at least shows I could live with. It may just be that a small space allows me to engage more intimately with the plays that are done in it, but both of them are Brand Names for me by now.

I hit upon this "Brand Names" concept when I was allowed to nominate seven "Best Directors" for IRNE (Independent Reviewers of New England) Awards this year --- and I was frustrated because I could nominate ONLY seven "Best Directors". I mean, aside from Rick Lombardo and Spiro Veloudos, there are so many good ones working in this area. In no particular order: Fran Weinberg, Joseph Zamparelli Jr., David Wheeler, Michael Murray, Todd Olson, Russell R. Greene, Jeremy McCarter, Steve McConnell, H. Alex El-Ali, Milton Coykendall, Nancy Curran Willis, and more I'm forgetting, and others like Celia Couture and Scott Gagnon and Lissi Engvall who are still new to me --- any of these names on a flier for a new show will make me reschedule in order to fit in a visit.

Some of these Brand Names --- like Malinowski, Veloudos, Fleagle, Lombardo --- are so synonymous with excellence, and deserve awards every year so automatically as "Bests", that I think they ought to keep the cup and we'll just keep engraving another year under their name on it.

And new Brand Names keep coming to my attention all the time. I've got to arrange more reliable transportation back from Waltham's Hovey Players and The Arlington Friends of The Drama this year for that very reason. And The Boston Conservatory just recently made the cut!

Those are only Some of the must-see Brand Names on my personal list.

What are yours?


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide