9 - 21 October '04
9 oct CYRANO DE BERGERAC Theatre Cooperative PEABODY HSE 96
14 oct JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Metro Stage Company FAMILY YMCA
15 oct THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY Mill6 DEVANAUGHN
16 oct RICHARD III The Actors' Shakespeare Project OLD SOUTH MEETING HOUSE
17 oct JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE Up You Mighty Race TOWER AUDITORIUM
20 oct COMPANY SpeakEasy Stage Company BCA 101
I first encountered Edmond Rostand's classic play in 1947 or '48 in the French class taught by Mary N. Small at South River High School, in New Jersey. (Don't laugh; a number of very intelligent people are FROM New Jersey, just like me!) We had to read some for class, and I liked it so much I probably tried to read the whole thing in the original. Then Jose Ferrer made his film (and won an Oscar for it, even though there was a flirtation with Communism in his background), and I took the Brian Hooker translation out of the New Brunswick Public Library and practically read the words off the page.
When I was reviewing for BOSTON AFTER DARK, the summer of maybe around 1970 or '71, I got to see Frank Langella do it out at Williamstown. (I remember that, when told the girl he loved wanted to see him, suddenly the best swordsman in all Paris didn't know what to do with his hands!) And I think there was a production in London --- or was it here, at the Colonial?
Anyway, I have known, and loved, this play for decades. I mean, when asked whether he's read Cervantes DON QUIXOTE Cyrano answers "Yes --- and found myself the hero!" Well, I probably could reply with those exact words about this play. And so the prospect of seeing it in Somerville done on what I know is The Theatre Cooperative's very thin shoestring should have given me pause...
But I have, by now, learned to trust Lesley Chapman.
The translation was new to me (Gladys Thomas & Mary F. Guillermand apparently used rhyming couplets, as I think the original French did), the cast numbered a round dozen (with five doubled parts), the text was liberally cut to fit the two hours' traffic of the stage --- and I loved every minute of it!
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING TIME:
That was wrote on the 12th, when I ran out of Vioxx. Two days of falling-back to Ibuprofin (WHY do doctors call it "Motrin" when pharmacists call it... ne'mind), and then I shifted to Tramadol HCL, saw four more plays, and spent my at-the-keypad time uploading Other People's Reviews!
The Tramadol apparently had me drop several things (one of which shattered) and may be messing with my emotions, making me nap. [I'm 72 remember.] Film At Eleven...
Anyway, CYRANO turned out to be the first of a Torrent of really great theater!
And Lesley Chapman's Cyrano was Peter Brown, a very tall, narrow actor who fairly exploded playing the ghost of Elvis Presley in the Cooperative's production of "Middle-Aged White Guys" and here turned my favorite hero into a sensitive man aware of and reacting to the thoughtless others around him. His bravado and his swordsmanship were the minor accomplishments of a man never willing to hurt anyone else, even if it meant hurting himself instead. It was a whole new key in which to hear a familiar melody.
And the cast surroundng him was equally careful of details, from Alicia Gregoire's bubbly entrance sharing grapes with the audience to Janelle Mills' Roxanne realizing that her friend of fourteen lonely years actually wrote the words she fell in love with, thinking them byMark Harpin's handsome Christian. After Cyrano won a duel, Nelleke Morse's infatuated buffet-waitress launched herself at him, love pouring out of every pore, so vehemently she rose on her toes at the possibility she was being improperly forward. Everyone --- especially people doubling roles --- arrived fully aware of their part in the overall arc and , on such a sparely-set stage, filled it again and again with their vitality.
Then on to a equally but deliberately spare rendition of "Godspell" --- by a feisty new company (Metro Stage Co) that turned poverty to an asset. I found the script and the songs overly Christian, but only because I'm a militant atheist. I found Julie Silverman's exhubertant choreography and the energy and inventiveness of the dozen cast members infectious. Director Michelle Aguillon and Music Director Brent Kinkaid trusted the cast to fill the Cambridge Family Theatre with their un-miked voices, and the keyboards, bass, drums and guitar actually accompanied rather than drowning-out their songs. And, since I noticed a big helping of faces familiar from Turtle Lane, I can hope they can bring that trust of their "naked" human voices out to Newton next time they work there. The flavor of a joyous revival-meeting, making old words new and exciting again, filled every minute of this show.
The Boston Directors' Lab and The Mill 6 Collaborative ---both of which are becoming the Devanaughn-Theatre's reigning resident stars, much the way Sugan, SpeakEasy, Company One and Rough & Tumble are for the BCA --- folowed those with a "new" play by Edward Albee called "The Play About The Baby" that seemed to me a Flawless production in every way, every detail.
Caleb Wertenbaker ave them a deliberately subtle, flat-walled set with a pair trompe-l'oeil half-open windows that would make Rene Magritte green with envy. Jenna Lourenco gave the four actors impressively clean modern clothing (and underwear), and Director Jeremy Johnson polished every subtle nuance of every move, gesture and inflection to an efortlessly meaningful shine.
And then there was Albee's poetically indirect dialogue and wittily graphic sexual speech, his masterful theatrical games that has actors speaking directly to the audience about characters --- their own as well as others --- and his simple surface under which swirl whole seas of subtext.
Walter Michael Belenky and Zofia Goszczynska play the very aptly named "The Boy" and "The Girl" in that above-noted underwear --- a pair as innocent as Adam & Eve enjoying their first-born as much as they apparently enjoy sex. Jeff Gill and Jarice Hanson are The Man and The Woman who come to take the baby away --- to convince them that it never even existed, actually --- because, without a hurt the heart is hollow. That is all (and, actually, I have said much too much), but I must admit here that that phrase "..as innocent as Adam & Eve.." only now popped into my mind remembering the show. The simple, outgoing, smiling yet cruel mature pair murder innocence with a matter-of-fact nonchalance, and the entire play is the late, full-flowering of Theater of The Absurd in all its subtle, laid back Perfection.
Then the very NEXT night another new company --- Actors' Shakespeare Project --- flooded the cradle of America's birth, the Old South Meeting House, with a huge crew of mostly Equity actors supporting John Kuntz' "Richard III". Here agin the costumes (by Leea Regan) were spotlessly contemporary while the words were not five but four-hundred-odd years old --- but newly alive once more.
Richard's withered left hand curled up under Kuntz' chin where, at four or five points, his blackened fingernails unclenched and coiled again like a hungry falcon's talons. Using the stage and the pulpit above it, and for processions all the aisles, Director Benjamin Evett kept his cast close to the text, doubling half a dozen or so of a somewhat sex-blind cast. At the finale, Evett himself stepped onstage as Richmond, the invading savior, and fought Richard bare-handed when finding him without a horse.
The real joy here, though, was in a cast in formal evening-dress making those ringing, ageless words do all of the work. What a joy to hear experienced actors bring The Bard to life again with no directorial gimmicks standing between the audience and the play.
And then, again the very next night, another classic playwright's work invaded the Mass College of Art's Tower Auditorium: this time August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come And Gone" by yet another relatively new company: Up You Mighty Race.
I have seen too little of this master's work, and came in late (I wasn't MTA-ed this time; actually I mis-read curtain time as 8 and not 7 p m) but I have booked a seat for their closing performance on 31 October.
This show provided a whole new definition for "theatrical poetry". It dealt in metaphors more than in straight-story plot. Pieces of the play were strewn across the stage, scenes isolated one from another and linked more by analogy than by narrative. Each character eventually displayed its essence, and the truth of what took place or was talked about rested on subjective sincerity. This slice through life in a 1911 boarding-house served up rich individuals showing themselves off to one another, claiming or demonstrating their strengths and failings.
The young company's Artistic Director Akiba Abaka promises more of these plays (She did "Fences" about a year back), and I am eager to see them!
Then a new week began with SpeakEasy Stage's new re-creation of "Company" --- yet another play that looms large in my legend. I saw it (probably even eviewed it) on its way through Boston to its Broadway opening and to Mr. Pennebaker's short film documenting the all-day session making its Original Cast Recording. So, over the years I've been able to say I was engaged, married, separated and divorced to Stephen Sondheim's brilliant score.
For their first show in the BCA's new Calderwood Pavillion, Paul Daigneault added to this bravura explosion of vignettes and virtuoso numbers an unexpected clarity. The central line of this production is Bobby brooding on his 35th birthday and his ripening desire to be married. Nearly every scene ends with Karen Perlow's precision lighting picking out Michael Mendiola's thoughtful face, while all those good and happy people, his married friends, melt away in the surrounding shadows. Were they memories, or illustrative parables, instructional flashbacks or flash-forwards outlining his possible futures? In any case they, as well as the audience, are always solidly In Robert's Mind. That makes him, expressively off-handedly, less their participant and more their inquisitive observer.
The big dance-numbers of the original have disappeared, but the intricately expressive story-songs are still there --- and the fourteen singers also prove, when not singing, that George Furth's book is pure gold. (In my mind, Elaine Theodore, Will McGarrahan, Sean McGuirk and Nancy Carroll did imressively new things with their roles --- and I won't tell you who they're playing. Go see for yourself!)And, if it's true that only one of the cast is amplified, I must compliment Paul S. Katz for seeing to it that every syllable of Sondheim's dazzling lyrics can be heard in the new theatre.
Looking back over these couple weeks, I'm impressed by the prevalence of the word "New":
Three NEW acting companies;
a brand new Edward Albee play;
a spiffy new playing-space,
and so many old, familiar plays made brand-spanking new again!
This is a year for the New Rebirth of Boston Theater!
( a k a larry stark )