That Was The Week That Was, 28 October - 8 November 2004"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


That Was
The Week (Or So!)
That Was

28 October - 8 November '04

28 oct BAT-BOY Vokes Players
29 oct GLIDER Boston Playwrights' Theatre
30 oct 2 pm GEM OF THE OCEAN Huntngton Theatre Company
30 ocy 8 pm THE WELL OF THE SAINTS Sugan Theatre Company
30 oct [ JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE Re-see ]
7 nov ANNIE GET YOUR GUN Turtle Lane Olayhouse 112

3:57 p m Saturday
I'm going to start this right now, even though I have another show tonight and another tomorrow afternoon, and I may add those before this is finished.
Before I even say anything about what I've seen, I need to say something about what I haven't. Like John Kuntz' newest play "Jasper Lake"; like TheatreZone's "Cooking with Elvis"; like "Swing" and "Aida" at North Shore Music Theatre; like "The Rocky Horror Show" at the nearby Footlight Club. There is probably a different reason why I've missed these shows.
In general, I see shows I'm invited to see, or sometimes when people offer help with transportation, or shows I can get to easily without a car, or shows I've never heard of before, or shows by companies I've learned to trust.
This year, however, the Average quality of productions in and around Boston has risen a notch or two --- everywhere --- while the Number of good productions has risen as well. And I hate to miss a show only to find that it has been nominated for a "Best Something" in the IRNE Nominations round. It has become obvious that none of the IRNE Reviewers can see All The Shows that open in Boston's 93-plus theatrical companies. I like to put in my two cents as those nominations get winnowed, but for far too many plays this year I don't even have the two cents!
But I'm really dancing as fast as I can........

28 oct BAT-BOY Vokes Players
29 oct GLIDER Boston Playwrights' Theatre
30 oct 8 pm THE WELL OF THE SAINTS Sugan Theatre Company

I did review "The Glider" but didn't review "The Well of Saints"; you can infer from this that I liked the one and didn't the other ... and you'd be correct.

30 oct 2 pm GEM OF THE OCEAN Huntngton Theatre Company
31 oct [ JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE Re-see ]

I was given one of the StageSource free tickets to The Huntington's "Gem of The Ocean" that a friend had asked for, and the very next day went back to see the Up You Mighty Race Performing Arts Company's production of "Joe Turner's Come And Gone" --- and I've begun an e-mail dialogue with UYMR's Producing Artistic Director Akiba Abaka. She knows a lot more about August Wilson's work than I ever will, and perhaps some of our examination of Styles of Acting will end up as a lengthy Essay here in The Theater Mirror.
I really like all three of August Wilson's plays I have seen so far (UYMR did a production of his "Fences" at UMass not long ago) --- but I thought the actors (Yes, even the mostly Equity actors who will take "Gem" on to Broadway) in every case hardly scratched the surface of these plays' potential. I can understand that in a struggling new Black community theatre, but not in a professional company headed for The Apple. I can understand why some reviewers who saw both shows preferred UYMR's to Huntington's --- though I can't say I accept their reasons.
I did think that both the plays I saw last week were so similar in form and in detail --- both refer to a mystical dream of the dry bones of drowned people walking on the water and re-fleshing themselves upon the shores of America; same (or similar) characters appear in both; and there's a Prophet-figure (matriarch in one, patriarch in the other) in each play that both says the sooth while insisting that no human can know or be all one should.
I suspect that Ms. Abaka hopes, eventually, to train up a company that will be able to perform all ten (or will it be eleven?) of Wilson's "history plays" (one for each decade of the last century) in chronological order. And maybe we will discover, when she does, that Wilson's oddly disjointed scripts are really just ten long acts in one magnificent play.
Until I can see them all, I will reserve judgement...

5:26 p m same day
The alarm will ring in six minutes, dragging me through a shower before another show.
To Be Continued........

10:19 a m Monday
Boy, That was a waste of time!
I arrived at Wheelock Family Theatre very early for a 7:30 curtain --- to find that the show went up at 2:00. So I treated myself to a Caesar Salad and a Manhattan at Remington's and simply fell asleep.
And yesterday I had to leave at noon to get to Turtle Lane for what I Knew was a 2 p m curtain, after which I cauht a ride to the T, wallowed a while in the Sunday N.Y. TIMES, and fell asleep again.

[ *** Irrelevent Aside: I just looked out my only window to find, high up in a solidly pale-blue sky, the narrowest sliver of New Moon! And, for some strange reason, I somehow feel more energetic and enthusiastic when I can see that lovely sickle-shape hung over the edge of the early evening horizon on my way to a play. Seeing it at a time when I am already awake and at the keypad with a bellyfull of breakfast Before my clock-radio went off lets me believe there's some vague "truth" to aspects of astrology after all!!! ]

28 oct BAT-BOY Vokes Players
7 nov ANNIE GET YOUR GUN Turtle Lane Olayhouse 112

Three Community Theatre Musicals:
In my mind, memories of the SpeakEasy production of "Bat Boy" pushed the Vokes Players production into the shadows. For her first musical, Director Nancy Curran Willis went for a deliberately "unfinished" look to the deep dank cavern full of a chorus of black-swathed singing bats, with peripatetic set-pieces rolled out and in moving the action to new locations. Her cast accepted the multi-character, and often gender-free, casting of all but principal roles. Music Director Howard Boles' rhythm-heavy backstage band respectfully allowed the singers to shine...
Why didn't the show ignite me?
I think the problem was with this audience member, not with the show. At one point in my journeyman-critic days with BOTON AFTER DARK, I realized that the memory of an excellent production often made me Unfit to see a newer production with objective eyes ... and that happened here: I was Expecting Vokes to hit the same details the same way SpeakEasy had, so when they didn't something inside me shut down. It might have been better if I said nothing about a show I couldn't really see because something stood in my way.
You should see it yourself; you will see it through unclouded eyes.

Something very different got in the way at the Turtle Lane production of "Annie Get Your Gun" --- their tinkertoy amplification system picked up the feed of a local radio station and very scratchily added it to the "broadcast" of Paul Huberdeau's orchestra, accompanying from a crypt underneath the stage. Not only was the accompaniment muffled in an attempt to filter the intruder out, but that statick-y undertone meant that there could be no quiet, no Silent moments anywhere in the whole first act. (Luckily minions of the Turtle Lane backstage staff managed to blow up the damned radio station during the act-break!)
[*** Actually, that is what I like to refer to as "a dirty black Protestant lie!" The station shuts off about three or four o'clock on Sundays, Thank Thespis!!!]
The muffled music and the annoying intrusion rattled Director Chris Cardoni's cast, who had enough trouble already wrestling with Peter Stone's recent revisions of a datedly sexist book originally written by Herbert and Dorothy Fields.
The new book frames the action as a biographical flashback of Annie Oakley's life, so when Jeff Gardiner's easily portable sets erects an onstage tent for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, or his lights pull attention into a railway pullman car, the new scene in this "life" is announced by Buffalo Bill's on-stage Stage Manager. An Indian-insulting song and a pre-Women's Lib ending are gone, and Cole Porter's "There's No Business..." here starts the show and repeats in echoes throughout the show.
So if you have ever seen the show before, you should want to see Jennifer Condon (or Anne McCoy; they alternate) and Peter Adams fight it out as rival "Champeen Sharpshooters" ("Anything You Can Do..."). Porter's score is full of "standards", and the Stone/Fields book full of snappy patter and quick, cute put-downs. There's even a second lovers whose course is not running smooth, and a set of excellent costumes from Richard Itczak. See it and see if this show compares with what you remember of the original version. (But DON'T see it on a Sunday!!! That's when the radio-gremlins perform their unwanted walk-ons!)

Speaking of old, creaking Cole Porter classics, how about trekking out to the UMassBoston's McCormack Theatre to see that tired old warhorse "Anything Goes" made new by the new Encore Theater Company.
And I DO mean made new!
Encore takes its time (working a couple of months on this show), doing one musical each year so far. Their director Sonya Worden likes to REmake shows, and in this case she used as the main set not the deck of the S.S. America, sailing to London late in the Jazz Age, but in the BAR, with gorgeously costumed passengers (congratulations designer Liza Cahill!) entering down the sharply-raked audience staircases, after the bar-tender (Eric Greiman) set up all his glassware, and Musical Director Chris Roppola's band strolled onstage knotting ties and donning jackets.
The bar jutted a corner toward the audience echoing a ship's prow, and in several Busby-Berkeley massive tap-routines that triangular shape was maintained.
Encore Theater Company does "choreography by committee" surprisingly well! Stephanie Schrader, Lisa Cahill, Sheryl Rifas-Shiman and Laura Fisher use their separate skills stepping on no one's tapping toes. And their acceptance of cast members of limited experience but eagerness to learn actually pays off.
The music and lyrics here were of course Cole Porter's, but another "committee" writing the book included Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse, Guy Bolton, and P.G.Wodehouse --- and their quips have not lost their sparkle, nor have Porter's wry lyrics to, again, a flood of familiar standards.
Did it all work? Yes!
Was it all perfect? Of course not!
But the vigor an enthusiasm of everyone on stage, and the original eye of the creative staff saw to it that everyone, on stage and in the audience, had a rollicking good time.
And, best of all, this young company may have found a permanent home on the big McCrmack Theatre stage where, once a year, they can add a musical to the UMassBoston theatrical world.

2:51 p m same day
I have to go for a monthly blood-check
AGAIN To Be Continued........

3:18 p m Tuesday
Okay, I admit I was distracted. Now I have about half an hour to try to detail two outstanding theatrical events. And then, maybe, I'll have a meeting which could alter the local theatrical scene in some ways. Watch this space!
[ *** "There is an art to the building of suspense..." ---Tom Stoppard in ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. ]


Will Stackman thinks "Professional Skepticism" is not up to the standards of writing here in Boston, and Susan Daniels thinks a quarter of the cast is inferior --- and I disagree with both of them.
James Rasheed's play is the perfect embodiment of the "Write What You KNOW" model: he invites the audience into the rarely-glimpsed battlefield that is the norm in accounting firms. [ I've told you I worked for a while for Arthur Andersen, before their ethical compromises drove them out of business, didn't I? ] If the shape of the show reminds anyone of television shows, that may have something to do with traditional ways of creating drama, and with summing up a lifetime of observation into the two hours' traffic of our stage.
Everything here comes to a climax through a couple weeks in an accounting team's examination of one firm. The cast and the direction and the designs are everywhere sharply, effortlessly professional --- and I think Rasheed's writing is the same.
More importantly, this South Carolina Repertory Company came here, to The Actors' Workshop, to show their work to our audience --- and they're not the first company recently to come to Boston, not even the first to work at The Workshop. The company tours (their office set's solid walls are, unbelievably, built to travel with the actors!), and will move on come Monday. But while they're here this week-end, take the hike from South Station over to The Actors' Workshop for some first-rate theater!

Unfortunately, in order to see the M.I.T. production called "In This Is The End of Sleeping" you'll have to go much farther ---to The Connally Theatre, 220 East 4th Street, NY, where it will give three performances as part of a CHEKHOV NOW FESTIVAL. It, too, could be well worth the trip.
Well, because this group, under the direction of Jay Scheib, is a literal theatrical explosion in action. Sheib made an adaptation of Chekhov's early play --- as the program notes "often called "Platonov" --- and then asked an eleven-member cast to "physicalize" their characters, pushing exaggerations to the expressive extreme. The result ain't yer father's Anton Chekhov, that's fer sure!
What a bleachers-full of audience was confronted with, in the Sala de Puetro Rico, was a square box-set upstage, and a sofa pressed to what would be the line of footlights downstage, turned with its back to the spectators. To the right the audience could see two high-defintion t-v projections, one solidly square above the other, that carried live feed from two hand-held cameras manipulated by black-clad stagehands --- one of which also had a focused microphone broadcasting dialogue. The screens often took the audience into that cramped box set, and showed close-ups of faces, or different perspectives on the action.
The matter of the show dealt with the petty affairs and interactions of a near-dozen long-time friends at a somewhat drunken house-party. Frustrated love and lust and jealousy, desire and contempt broke out continually in the hothouse of a set of friendships rasping against one another for far too long.
One of the men expressed himself by throwing himself headlong into that couch as though he were Greg Luganis practicing swan-dives. Another carried an uzi and dressed like a terrorist. A pair exhibited their frustrated attempts at love by throwing themselves face-forward onto their chests again and again. Costumes were changed, even doffed, and from time to time individuals broke into exaggerated dances. At one point everyone showed the effect of the vodka they drank by geysering it up into the air --- or into each other's faces.
I know it sounds like a circus --- with two televised side-shows --- and I couldn't give you a clue as to the plot of Chekhov's original script.
So what?
I envy the Chekhov-groupies who, this week-end in The Apple, will get a change to experience this spectacle, this ... explosion!

4:45 p m same day
Okay, Lee just called from a traffic-jam, and we're late enough for the meeting for me to upload this, run through a shower, and proceed to our rendevvous with destiny.

Film at eleven, compeers...........

( a k a larry stark )

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide