22 feb THE POSSIBILITIES Whistler in The Dark CHARLESTOWN WORKING 15
23 feb FLESH AND BLOOD Zeitgeist BCA 16
24 feb SET IN SAND 11:11 Theatre Company BOSTON PLAYWRIGHTS' 17
25 feb TAPE As Yet To Be COMUNITY CHURCH OF BOSTON 18
Three of the four shows I got to this week were done by companies that have worked here in Boston for a year or less, and one of them (the first) called itself "Boston's newest". That claim will be true until the very end of March, when an even Newer newest company will follow this one into the same performing space. The Charlestown Working Theatre, pleasantly renovated not long ago, may soon make a serious reputation as a home for Cutting Edge Theater here in Boston.
Here's the week's harvest:
22 feb THE POSSIBILITIES Whistler in The Dark CHARLESTOWN WORKING THEATRE
The Whistler in The Dark company came here from Washington DC in search of an adventurous and youthful audience ready to experience theatrical theater relevent to both contemporary issues and human situations. Their Exhibit A is "The Possibilities" by English playwright Howard Barker --- a series of small scenes loosely involving war, revolution, oppression, and social justice. In one reminiscent of the situation in Iraq for instance, workers doggedly weaving a rug through a bombardment outside feel "The Weaver's Ecstacy at the Discovery of New Colour" when a batch of white wool fals into a pool of blood. In "Not Him" a limping soldier may or may not be an eager wife's long absent spouse. A "Philosophical Lieutenant and Three Village Women" debate logically --- until knives and passions end all conversation. Again and again in these ten playlets, presumptions squirm around and find new, surprising truths.
Seven performers on a bare stage use very specific props --- a chair or two, a table and glasses, a weaving-frame --- to sketch-in scenes. Between them, actors carefully re-arrange bits of costume and physical stance before announcing the new scene's title.(Sound Engineer Brendan Tidwell Collen has managed to make the floor tremble at every shell's explosion!) The details are expressively specific, the confrontations direct and explosive, and the result feels expressionist and realistic at the same time.
Director Meg Taintor assembled a young, intense cast of vibrant performers, and Lighting Designer Andrew Dickey alternated shadowy between-scene interludes with clearly defined area-lighting, and everything about the evening reached a level of professional purity.
But on that particular Wednesday evening the company gave a riveting performance for an audience of --- one.
Surely the Whistler in The Dark deserves better than this from Boston, don't you think?
23 feb FLESH AND BLOOD Zeitgeist Stage Company BCA
Ever since Arthur Miller burst onto the American stage, "realistic" theater has been answering the question WHY. A lot of the answers have sounded like psychotherapeutic solutions to the puzzle of action, teasing out motivations, revealing engrams, justifying, finding reasons.
But Real Life isn't so neat.
Peter Gaitens' big, sprawling, onrushing play presents the Fact of several inter-related lives without worrying about Why at all. Apparently, this has thrown some critical scriveners a curve.
Another aspect of the show that might be problematical is that of ages: Maureen Adduci and Robert D. Murphy must be under-twenty teen-agers in 1935 at the play's beginning, and great-grandparents a hundred years later, when their characters catch up to the actor's apparent ages. Their three children --- Angela Rose, Mason Sand and Melissa Baroni --- likewise must grow from pre-teens to grown-ups, while Claude Del first plays a random lover and then the young result of that union, while Greg Maraio is his young cousin.
Then again, though the family grows and prospers because of Dad's construction/real-estate business, the later generations mostly make less than "respectable" partner-choices: like mama's favorite son ultimately asking his parents' presence at a Commitment Ceremony with a heart-specialist played by Andrew Dufresne, while the youngest and apparently neglected daughter ends up dying of AIDS along with Daniel Minkle's gloriously powerful and empathetic transvestite Cassandra. Only Daddy's Girl makes a respectable match with reliably supportive Achilles Vatrikas --- even as Dad himself divorces Mom to marry his secretary, played by Eliza Lay.
Bewildered? Some critics have been --- I suspect because they demanded that this slice-of-life saga show them Why instead of showing them Life.
One other aspect of the show that might throw people off is Designer/Director David J. Miller's habit of keeping his enormous cast almost constantly in motion, striding or dancing through and around an octagonal central gazebo in the partly-metaphorical garden where the family patriarch always wanted to raise healthy vegetables. When not whirling about, the cast often climbs trees at one end of the BCA stage or beds lovers at the opposite end --- while the audience is scattered in-the-round on the long sides of the play-space. The blocking can thus make the quickly-changing cast at times resemble a merry-go-round.
The saga stretches a full three hours, with an intermission, as attention flits from person to incident to confrontation. In my case, time seemed to suspend as the surface glitter of so many lives danced across the stage.
Oh, and one more insight: in life, everyone sees himself as the Center of Attention, the Star of a series of scenes in which the rest of the world takes Supporting Roles. That is, I think, what Playwright Peter Gaitens intended to show. And I think the Zeitgeist Stage Company, whether you like it or not, comes close to realizing that sort of life-slice.
But you may still leave the BCA wondering about Why....
24 feb SET IN SAND 11:11 Theatre Company BOSTON PLAYWRIGHTS' THEATRE
Brian Tuttle's new play is a very different slice-of-life. Rather than a lengthwise saga, this is a day-in-the-life. It is set in the office of the Dean of Discipline in one of Boston's Middle-Schools. There is a continual noise of chaos outside the door, the throbbing conflict of justice with punnishment inside. In a sense, people my age may feel that "Set in Sand" is a re-make of the film "Blackboard Jungle" brought up to date.
The writer/director cast three youngsters --- Kerlee Nicolas and Daniel Araujo as kids involved in a fight, and Hieu T. Nguyen as a hyperactive problem-kid plus Danhai Jackson as an older street-tough pusher --- whose interactions, mostly on the other side of that door, define the problem. All of them are smart, but only one of them is learning anything. It's the job of the Disciplinarian (Terrence Haddad) to settle the disorders, of the Special Ed Aide (Cassandra Meyer) to keep them motivated, and of the Principal (Jason Warner) to Improve Grades with nothing but complaints from a burnt-out teacher (Jeannie Lin), bewilderment from an Administrative Assistant (Alice Curley), and platitudes rather than funding from a visiting State Senator (Cynthia Wegel).
The deck is obviously stacked against education. The miracle is that some people in the system still care, still try, still hope the potential they can see in these kids can get a chance to blossom. In the midst of that noisy chaos that is a Boston School, there are moments of quiet, unexpected victories, and bits of humor. And this is only One day-in-the-life. Imagine it stretching the length of an enire school year!
25 feb TAPE As Yet To Be COMUNITY CHURCH OF BOSTON
The AYTB Theatre is another "yearling" company doing minimal-set plays on a tight shoestring-budget in what a friend referred to as hole-in-the-wall theatres. They will be back at The Devanaughn for their next show, but even at this third-floor space the night's performance had filled almost every seat. Artistic co-Director Braden Weeks was acting in Stephen Belber's play, with Robert Bettencourt (from Fourth Wall Productions) directing, and Will Howell and later Lesley Gurule taking the other two roles. The play turned out to be a tug-of-war over morality, confession, forgetfulness and forgiving, with three high-school buddies coming together ten years later suddenly confronting unfinished business.
If the play were still running I might end the description there, but since I saw it close, let me muse a little about it. Bettencourt tele-filmed a prologue and epilogue (Two of several such t-v interludes suggested in the script), the latter of which contained a striking metaphor: "I dream" (the lady said, filmed on the last party-night of her highschool career) "that I can take everything I've done and been in the past four years and put it into a little crystal box --- and blow it up! Or preserve it forever."
One of the two men --- who has a personal film to be shown in a Sundance like-a-look festival --- has blown up his crystal memories; the other is apparently enslaved by one in particular. Apparently he broke up with his teenage sweetheart over her refusal to have sex, only to hear that his best-friend date-raped her at that penultimate school party. Is that, perhaps why ten years later he is not a high-minded film-maker, but a California fireman making a good living by dealing pot and coke on the side? Or does he just think so?
Obviously, Belber's play is all about Why!
Belber hints that the dealer has always been a willful, impulsive, violence-prone individual, and so Weeks played him, while Howell personified the carefully chosen semi-formal clothes and a hope not just to get a chance to direct a big project, but to use film to improve society. The infighting and for-your-own-good critiques from two life-long best-friends occasionally ruffled and occasionally cut to the bone. And the reprobate, who secretly taped his friend's blurted admission of rape, insisted he call the girl in question and, confessing, beg forgiveness.
(Anyone else reminded of Neil LaBute here?)
Because of course the girl was in town --- grown in ten years into an assistant district-attorney no less --- with her own crystal box of memories. (Now we're approaching "Rashomon," right?) Gurule personified the power of an avenging angel when she feigned a call to her local cops to come bust the dealer, but her take on the situation is this: Each of the guys took His View of what happened as a Truth and could never let go of it. In all three cases, what each individual Thought of what happened was much more important than what Actually happened.
As I said, the play was all about WHY.
Oh, and one luscious little detail before I go: the t-v sequences were supposedly filmed ten years before with minicams, but Bettencourt made it quite clear that that Will Howell's character, if not taking all the shots, was "directing" these crystal boxes of memory --- perhaps in his first fascination with making movies. A couple shots of him, minicam in hand, musing over what he has just filmed, added a neat dimension to the play.
2 mar "Amadeus" @ Vokes Players (w/Bernice & Andy)
3 mar "Things That Matter" in Newburyport MA (w/Jeff DePaoli)
4 mar "The Fox" Basement on The Hill @ BCA
6 mar "Bill W & Dr. Bob" New Rep
8 mar "Othello" Boston Theatre Works @ BCA
9 mar "Meet Dr. Goddess" @ BCA
10 mar "Criminal Hearts" Boston Actors' Theatre @ Devanaughn
11 mar "The Goat" @ Lyric Stage of Boston Inc.
12 mar "My Yolanda Love" Queer Soup @ BOSTON PLAYWRIGHTS'
18 mar "Talking to Terrorists" Sugan @ BCA
27 mar The IRNE Bash!!!!!! @ Hotel Lenox
30 mar "The Maternal Instinct" Boston Playwrights'
31 mar ????? Theatre On Fire @ Charlestown Working
1 apr "Merrily We Roll Along" Longwood Players CAMB Y FAMILY TH
5 apr The SONNET-thon! @ Boston Public Library 5 p m
6 apr "Newfest 2006" Emerson 10 BOYLSTON PLACE
7 apr "West Side Story" Arlington Friends of The Drama