That Was The Week That Was, 17 - 25 September '05"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


That Was
The Week
That Was

17 - 25 September '05

This is the first time in quite a while that I'm trying to cover One Actual WEEK of theater here in Boston. A Ghlorious week! And, wonder of wonders, a list of plays Every One Of Which is OPEN and Can Be Seen!!!
And I really hope you will.

19 sep ROMEO & JULIET New Repertory Theatre WATERTOWN 93
22 sep CAMELOT North Shore Music Theatre SHUBERT BOSTON 94
23 sep OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD Theatre Collective 95
24 sep CLOSER Devanaughn Theatre 96
25 sep [ SOFTLY UNSAID 11:11 Theatre READING ]

19 sep ROMEO & JULIET New Repertory Theatre WATERTOWN 93
So Far, Beverly Creasey and Will Stackman have sent reviews to The Mirror, and many can obviously been found elsewhere. As a matter of fact, looking along the three or four rows where I was sitting, I noticed a "critical mass": there were pens and notebooks at-the-ready on both sides of me, and familiar critical faces could be seen directly in front and directly behind.
Of course, every one of them will review the THEATRE as much as the play --- and so will I.
It looks like both the new theatres jammed together. Rather than the Calderwood's balcony, the Arsenal's audience rises in a three-lobed waterfall of eager faces stepped like the [ BCA ]'s so that sight-lines are excellent. But the stage (I'm told there's not a lot of backstage-space) has no framing proscenium arch at all --- and the feeling as the seats fill is of a high, wide space waiting for something to happen.
For this show the apron stretched forward so that the action could literally take place in the laps of the first-row patrons, while Designer John Howard Hood stretched across the back of the space a tall rotted ruin of decayed Gothic pillars suggesting the at the base the ambulatory surroundng a cathedral close. Actors could enter or disappear through them stage-left, but boxes and broken bits and a multiple-use wooden door with a pointed arch made the broad playing-space Verona, where they lay their scene.

And what's it like?
For me this is a series of glitteringly lovely gems strung together a little incoherently. Except for the ball where the lovers collide --- with rich neo-Gothic draperies and elaborately carved and feathered Italian masks --- Frances Nelson McSherry's costumes vary from contemporary business-suits for the elderly to hippy-leathers and manly chests for the brawling young. Why they insist on flashing swords for their arguments, when the Prince (Douglas Bowen-Flynn) silences a crowd with a pair of pistol-shots and calls in a swat-team of "Star-Wars" soldiers levelling threatening laser-aimed rifles, I cannot understand. Despite these modernized externals, the language is Shakespeare's, and so is the period.
Let's talk about the surprises in what is a play everyone must know by heart.
For me, two characters almost run away with the play. Bobbie Steinbach's Nurse seems obsessed with her young mistress' coming into marriageable age, and frankly direct with her sexual musings, as befits an aged, trusted servant. She is as funny and as physical a giddy wench as you will ever see.
Then Diego Arciniegas' Friar Laurence almost becomes the lever tilting the action as he agrees to marry a couple from two war-like families who hate one another, intending thereby to dampen the enmities. As he comes bare-chested from his beloved herb-garden to don black shirt and dog-collar he shifts from a fallible man to a pontificating priest, and both in the deadly aftermath of the street-brawl and the final tragedy, his passionate, insistent mouthing of last rites offers in each case a silent thumb-tack clinching the power of those scenes.
The sword-play masterminded by Ted Hewlett (who plays Tybalt) is the best you will ever see. As he and Mercutio (Joe plummer) go at it, there is a toying with one another, almost the kind of bravado willing to "count coup" rather than thrust-home whenever one or the other loses his sword. But there is no quarter given when Lucas Hall's Romeo, discovering Mercutio dead, has at the astonished and over-matched Tybalt. The ferocity of his rushes and the towering vindictiveness of his kill are stunning, terrifying to watch.
And on a wholly opposite note, Adam Zahler as poor letterless Peter with a list of names he cannot read is a virtuoso turn of pure comedy --- even more astonishing as he appears in dirty coxcomb after only moments before wearing the formal suit of Lord Montague
I never believed Jennifer Lafleur's Juliet --- always in virginal white --- was fourteen. Everything in her form and voice and playing says "woman" to me, despite her quicksilver changes of mood. Contrariwise, Lucas Hall's voice as Romeo reaches into wispy, ethereal heights at the very sight of her. His astonished wonder at her every aspect --- coming first at a ball where his "undying love of Rosalind" was to be diluted with a clutch of willing wenches --- is boyishly astonished and romantic.
And, once the action progresses to the tomb, the entire show rolls slowly, perfectly on to the inevitable, just as it should.

22 sep CAMELOT North Shore Music Theatre SHUBERT BOSTON 94
Robert Goulet slouched off-handedly through Boston with a bus-and-truck tour that I saw at the Wang, wondering the while why anyone would bother. Now, thank Thespis, Jon Kimbell's crew from Beverly, working right across the street from the scene of that crime, have put back all the wonder and magic of this classic.
I didn't like Anything about their "Abyssinia" but that may have been because it was intended for North Shore's round stage, and no one could adjust their usual spectacle to the flatly two-dimensional Shubert stage. But with a month to work on it Scenic Designers Michael Anania & Jerome Martin, Choreographer Patricia Wilcox, and Director Gabriel Barre built this production with all this in mind.
The first act here is all about how to build a humane society of mythic honor and justice, using all that's best in people as raw material; act two is all about how human lusts and ambitions can crumble that dream to dust. And, since much of what they say and sing Bob Goulet and friends must have used, this production proves that all you need do is Believe in what you're saying and everything glows.
For instance, the unreal glory of the first act includes a unicorn (actually dancer Sae La Chin always on silver points), and demonstrating his heartlessness Josh Grisetti as the villainous Mordred slits its throat in act two.For instance, David Coffee's King Pellinore wears (I swear) Ragged armor and looks like a loveable Sir John Falstaff. For instance, when Lancelot (Maxime Alvarez De Toledo) is surprised by a half-dozen armed knights, he bests them all with his only weapon --- an artfully swung cape!
There are Two love-stories here: the first is Nili Bassman's Guenevere learning to love the faults and dreams of King Arthur (Joseph Dellger); the second is her unavoidable infatuation with that insufferably perfect Sir Lancelot. Each one has equal weight, and Mordred --- Arthur's bastard son --- uses both to ensure his unscrupulous succession. His delightful song "The Seven Deadly Virtues" pegs him perfectly.
As Merlin (mostly), Adam Wylie book-ends the show's magic reality by conjuring curtains to rise and fall, music to swell, and years to flit by. He is a boy in tennis-shoes and a red ball-cap, a young old man living backwards, and at last a boy sent off to the future to tell this ever-inspiring tale of the aspiring toward perfection which is, and always will be, "Camelot".

23 sep OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD Theatre Collective 95
And here we switch from the double-balconied world of big-budget musicals to the shoestring-stages where the acting must be everything and no one can hide behind great, expensive sets.
This dystopian glimpse of the early days of Australia as an English penal colony wallows in filth and depravity, injustice, class conflict, poverty, prostitution, madness, rape, and the power of theater's make-believe to give people hope. Given a choice between a moment on a gallows and years in New South Wales, these convicts bring with them all their immoral habits --- and their military jailors, imprisoned with their charges, repay them blow for blow.
Director Linda Carmichael and Designer Doc Madison rely largely on lights to move from scene to scene, as Playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker first sets the scene, then lets the officers debate pro's and con's of letting convicts play the comedy "The Recruiting Officer" then rolls through their rocky rehearsals to final production. Most of the men are officers in uniform and then convicts out; most of the women have had only their bodies to sell; and all hope only to survive and maybe get back to England.
Despite all I've said, this play is prickled with humor --- especially about theater. One actor insists he is imitating Garrick by his overblown posturing. An actress gushes out her speech in one brick of undifferentiated prose proving she's memorized it ... and ain't that enough? An autodidact in love with words insists a writer's words are untouchable, while a woman stoutly refuses to "be" a maid to someone who, off-stage, she despises.
And the woman playing the star part may be hanged before opening night. Her crime? She's suspected of stealing some cheese!
The Theatre Cooperative is in its ninth shoestring season in Somerville, where miracles still happen and good plays always make you think.
This play is no exception.

24 sep CLOSER Devanaughn Theatre 96
The Devanaughn is a place --- a place chock-full to bursting with excellent theater --- but it's also the resident company using that place as its home. "Closer", I'm told, is now a movie --- but I know it only as Devanaughn's most recent hit. (There was a sold-out crowd with extra seats for its third perforance.) It's another production that examines what film can do that the immediacy of the stage can do as well --- and better.
"Closer" deals with four Londoners living in a world where living-together is indistinguishable from marriage, where infatuation can be called love, and, eventually, love hurts. People "meet-cute" in Patrick Marber's play, join and intermingle, need and reject each other, and use a demand for the civilizing effect of "the truth" as an uncompromising weapon.
It's a world where chat-room sex can lead to unlikely meetings, where making a living as a nude dancer in a peep-show doesn't interfere with a search for true love, where "Did you sleep with him?" and "Did you cum?" and "Will you marry me?" are, at least temporarily, relevent.
Here Cristi Miles plays a free-spirited sex-worker, Ben Lambert a newspaper obituary-writer/novelist, Alex Zielke a photographer, and Andrew Sarno a dermatologist, all directed by Dani Duggan and lit by Greg Jutkiewicz on a set by Gerard Clements. All of them, and a big running-crew moving flats and furniture, are to be praised for a deadly serious modern play full of rattling good dialogue and intense confrontations.
But unless you hurry it may sell out every seat every night.

I don't know why, but I think I may have seen this slice of Irish life twice before, though this performance easily wipes any memory of the others right out of my mind. Michael Tonner has pulled what I'd call "the definitive performance" from his quartet of Hovey Players.
The situation in Martin McDonagh's play is simple: the unmarried daughter, once her two sisters married, must take care of her cantankerous, contemptuous old mother in a rural Irish backwater where the only hope is to maybe raise money enough to get an insultingly low-pay job in London, or maybe America. Mother (Mikki Lipsey) and daughter (Mary O'Donnell) hate each other like prisoners in the same cell, taking little revenges --- and big ones.
Before his departure for London, a large lout of a lad named Pato Dooley (David Wood) stays a night and writes, a little incoherently, thinkin to have her join him in America --- and he sends it to be hand-delivered by his young brother Ray (Ted Batch).
To tell more would be to spoil the tightly-coiled viper of a plot while sayin nothin of the taught intensity of characterizations, the carefully laid out pieces of the ultimate disaster, and the seething subtext driving these two women.
For this one-room set Tonner has opened the small Hovey stage back to bare walls, and included a stove, a working sink, a table, and a 'fridge, so the entire space feels square and contained, but the actors have space to move. Dramaturg Mark Usher has made their accents effortless and clear, and John MacKenzie's lighting can get broodingly shadowed.
But it's the actors, particularly the women of course, that shine. They seem willing to kill each other --- or worse --- after their frustrated years locked to one another. Theirs is not a lilting Irish romp, but perhaps a slice of clear-eyed Irish truth nonetheless.

25 sep [ SOFTLY UNSAID 11:11 Theatre READING ] Okay, you can't see this one --- at least not yet.
This the new script by playwright-in-residence Brian Tuttle. Like everything I've seen this week, it's about love --- this time a lyrical, poetic day two old friends spend together in witty repartee and surprises, rambling around scenes and landmarks here in Boston. I'll say no more, because the company is looking for a playing-space in which to perform it. Are there any suggestions as to where you'd like to see it?
Now, let's not always see the same hands.....


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide