Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "New Kids on The Block"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Monday, 29 May, 2000: "New Kids on The Block..."

A bunch of kids boiled out of B.U. eager to start a new theater company.
(Some of their names were Eddie Zang, Olympia Dukakis, and Michael Murray and they called it THE CHARLES PLAYHOUSE. Ever heard of it?)
A pair of kids boiled out of Emerson eager to start a new theater company.
(Their names were Polly Hogan and Ron Ritchell and they called it THE LYRIC STAGE. Name sound familiar?)
A handful of kids just exploded out of Brandeis eager to start a new theater company.
It keeps happening, doesn't it?

This year alone I've seen first or second productions from:
And a couple of others I'll talk about at greater length.
I have no idea whether they will have the staying power of similar groups, like THE BRIDGE THEATRE COMPANY, DELVENA THEATRE COMPANY, ROUGH & TUMBLE, BAOBAB or THEATREZONE --- shoestring companies that are too small to make any money yet insistent on doing the best damn theater possible on that shoestring. Maybe, like THE Other THEATER they will blaze like a comet across the Boston skyline for two or three seasons and then scatter their bright lights to other companies, other cities. Maybe they will stay, and grow into a COYOTE or a SUGAN or a CENTASTAGE or a SPEAKEASY or grow Up like THE NORA. Certainly the flood of new kids on the block says good things for the state of Boston theater, and maybe a few words about two or three of them will be useful.

First of all, BLUE PUMPKIN PRODUCTIONS, INC., is really a ringer. Their run of "My Life ... in Smithereens" at Boston Playwrights' Theatre may have looked like a show by a bunch of kids, but Mr. & Mrs. Smith who are the company had been running the Worcester Foothills Theatre for twenty-five years and they're as old as I am. That means, like, that they can now spend their Social Security checks doing something they love. In this case, it will be exploring the vitality of Vaudeville's great history in a continuing series of "Back Porch Vaudeville" productions that will surprise people with the unexpected vigor of the old while working in new songs and sketches intended to make the genre live again. They'll be in Lenox for the summer, but Marc and Susan Smith will aways be welcome back here in Boston.

I think I heard that many of those in THE WONDER & RYE THEATRE COMPANY work locally as teachers, some perhaps at Emerson --- and in that sense you might think of them as a "community theatre" who have done only one show a year. Last year they did A. R. Gurney's "The Dining Room" for one week-end in the top-floor Brimmer Street Loft Theatre; this year they worked for five months on a fairly new play by Wendy MacLeod called "Sin" and again did only three performances. This reeks of dedication to shoe-string art, doesn't it?

It would be ludicrous to "define their style" connecting only Two dots; nevertheless, these plays both asked multiple roles of the actors, cut props to a significant specific minimum, and worked with a fluid approach to time in the first case, place in the second. I felt they got much better in their second production, and really regret that the lightning-flash runs meant reviewing would have been superfluous. I'll be looking for them next year, and you should too.

Those kids come boiling out of Brandeis called themselves VERNON STREET PRODUCTIONS, and are as young as those Pumpkin people are old. They grabbed a spot in the BCA's tiny Leland space to do "The Blue Room" --- David Hare's re-translation/retelling of "La Ronde" in contemporary terms. That had Lindsay Bellock and Matthew J. Argersinger taking the parts in a series of linked sexual vignettes as a Girl, a Cabbie, an Au Pair, a Student, a Married Woman, a Politician, a Model, a Playwright, an Actress, an Aristocrat, and back to the same Girl. Jason White directed, and Anna Natapova produced. The whole was done on a nearly bare space with chairs for forty arranged around all four sides of the square --- inhabited by only a dozen the night I was there.

There was no great attempt to differentiate each new character --- which may have been deliberate --- but instead the actors met the text with a direct honesty that made the tone of each encounter different. They handled anxiety, impatience, arrogance, romanticism, intimacy and near nudity effortlessly and sincerely, deserving better crowds. And most of their quick, efficient scene-changes were handled in total, dead-black blackouts.

That's not as irrelevant as it looks. It means cast and crew were totally focused on The Moment, that they had drilled themselves till every prop's position was perfection, and they trusted themselves to walk totally blind through what could have been a mine-field with never a stumble or a rustle or a mistake. Rare is the company confident enough to try it that way.

Again, a nascent "style" may be developing. Their next show, coming in August, will be "The Kiss of The Spider-Woman" --- not the musical extravaganza, but again two men locked in a prison cell with one another. And they will be holding open auditions.

Will any of these new kids on the block still be around a year from now, or three, or ten? Hell, will they even find the funds and the "empty space" for the next show?

Stick around and find out...


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide