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

THREE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Wednesday, 9 August, 2000: "Three New Kids on The Block"

It's not "hard" to launch a new theater company here in Boston --- it's impossible! But that doesn't stop people from doing it. In less than a month, THE CLOSET THESPIANS, TWO CATS PRODUCTIONS, and BAY COLONY PRODUCTIONS managed the impossible with their initial offerings. Each one is unique, but in these three cases it's women who provide the energy that get things done.

In the case of THE CLOSET THESPIANS it was Director/Producer Melissa Shaw who "established her own theatre troupe." Founded in '99 and running on the change scrounged from behind the couch-cushions, the company "serves to encourage, support, and perform original works of independent theater," and their first show --- "Love's First Thing" written by Jim Blevins, at The Actors' Workshop --- did exactly that. The playwright was on deck, learning which of his scenes and his lines came easily, expressively from the actors, which of them had the expected effect on audiences.

The Actors' Workshop, as an established playspace with a believable rent, has seen the initial launch of many new companies. The audience is small, but the stage area is almost as big as the seating space, the feeling is intimate. The theatre is used for classes, and that means all sets have to be carried on and off the stage every week-end, and this is an added reason why the emphasis here is on the actors and the acting. Melissa Shaw is a teacher at The Actors' Workshop. Doubtless, she is raiding the couch-cushions for her second production.

The TWO CATS who produced Karen Ellison's comedy "The Harry & Sam Dialogues" at The Community Church of Boston were Director Susan Cassidy and Designer Charyl Singleton. The actors however, Ken Carlson and Bob Karish, both had experience with Comedie du Jour, doing improv, in addition to more traditional onstage and backstage theater work. The show begins with two guys in their favorite bar arguing over hypothetical "f'rinstances" and for a while it looked like a series of improv-sketches that someone had written down and polished. But asides about Sam's marriage with Marge slowly move the focus from schtick to real drama. The point, eventually, is that these two have only one way of communicating with one another --- their "No, let's just say for the sake of argument" arguments, and despite marital strife and even infidelity they remain best friends.

The Community Church of Boston Theater is simply a long, narrow room on the third floor with a few dozen folding-chairs and some primitive lighting. The Two Cats and House Manager Tina Beck handled minimal props that added different backgrounds for each of the fourteen dialogues, working in blackouts. Again, the focus was on acting, not stagecraft. Everyone connected with it, including the audiences, worked together, and a direct, unpretentious charm matching the material was the result.

Producer Sue Lewis and Associate Producer Paula McLaughlin of BAY COLONY PRODUCTIONS took exactly the opposite tack, physically, in doing "The Secret Garden" in The Stoughton Cinema. This musical required twenty-one named-character performers, an orchestra, strong singing, and lots and lots of period costumes.

Director Scott Gagnon, Musical Director Rob Goldman, Choreographer Alan Thomas, and Production Stage Manager Jennifer Condon, Designers Dean Calusdian (Sets) and Heidi Hinkle (Lights) and Ed DiMarzio (Sound) --- all did surprising work on what I felt was a difficult and ultimately un-theatrical oratorio. The plot was carried largely through Marsha Norman's narrative lyrics, well and forcefully sung to Lucy Simon's score, but little of her book ever really came to life. I was much more impressed with the excellent execution than with the musical itself.

What was amazing here, though, was the emergence of an enthusiastic, well-organized community-theatre-style company on the edges of the Greater Boston theatrical area. The producers took full advantage of a pool of fine non-professional talents that sharpen their work with frequent appearances in much older local companies. The fact that this group, starting from scratch, could field a production of such substance says a lot for the general health of the theatrical community in this area.

These were all First Productions by newly launched companies. All three of them are currently at work trying to put together their second. And the track-records of several "less-new kids on our block" suggest a positive prognosis. Consider:
THE SECOND STAGE THEATRE COMPANY just finished its second summer-production, "An American Comedy" at The New Repertory Theatre space in Newton Highlands, and are moving it to Newburyport for an extended run.
THE WONDER AND RYE THEATRE COMPANY mounted their second annual show ("Sin") in the top-floor Loft space at Emerson.
VERNON STREET PRODUCTIONS is preparing its second production, the non-musical two-character "Kiss of The Spider Woman" in the little Leland space at the BCA.
PET BRICK PRODUCTIONS is at work on their third production, "The Water Engine" and "7 Affidavits of Authority" to go up in rep at The Tremont Theater beginning 7 September.
UBIQUITY STAGE just finished their fourth production ("Equus") at the Massachusetts College of Art's Tower Auditorium, and is at work on their next show: "Hamlet".

Companies like these, that concentrate on good work and despite critical and media indifference stubbornly refuse to die, are the lively total theatrical soup of Boston. They scramble from playspace to playspace like homeless hermit-crabs eager to fit their growing artistic ambitions to better and bigger houses. And all that separates New Kids on Our Block from Established Companies is a second production.
While they are busy on them, there are undoubtedly more New Kids working in the wings.

If we had more small theatres, there would be ever newer companies, eager to attempt the impossible.


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide