That Was The Week That Was --- 15 - 23 November '06"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


A Week of Parties

15 - 23 November

23 November 2006

Yesterday afternoon Geralyn Horton called, as she does most years, to encourage me to have Thanksgiving dinner with her Expanded Family, and last night Kevin Anderton, Andy and Bernice Sim and I had a final "Script Conference" before they launch into filming interviews with theater people for that documentary about me they're making. One of the early ideas about that film included possible interviews with members of my own family back in New Jersey in a "Where did he come from?" coverage of background. And since today is the ultimate American family-holiday I'm thinking long thoughts this afternoon about my "real" family: The friends I've found in the local theater world. At the end of last week I went to three parties in a row with those friends, for which I am truly grateful.

Almost exactly fifty years ago, after 24 years, I tore myself free of my alcoholic-plus-enabler home and threw myself into a life in Cambridge in which I "majored in extra-curricular activities" trying to grow up, and I still hope, some day, to make it.

17 Nov LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Turtle Lane Playhouse 101
19 Nov THE COLORED MUSEUM Providence Black Repertory Company 102

The first, at 11:11, was a fund-raiser/mystery-theatre event, and I reviewed the next two; the last two were closing-nights. I have things to say about both of those, but edging them out of center-stage in my mind are the memories of the cast-parties that followed the performances.

17 Nov LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Turtle Lane Playhouse 101

The Turtle Lane Playhouse is unique in several ways, but the most obvious is that, between the front door and the entrance to the auditorium, mere inches from the show, there is a bar. It is "manned" by four of the fastest hands in the east belonging to Annita Brockney and Robin Chamberlain. (They fabricate the tastiest Manhattans I have ever enjoyed!) And so after every performance, as the cast cools-out, there's something of a party there every night.

But this was opening night, and the cast and entire creative crew assembled to congratulate each other for making LITTLE SHOP new again. From James "Scotman" Tallach's casting choices to Wayne Ward's voices and Michelle Boll's painted brickwork, everyone had a reason to be proud. They had been working together for weeks --- but, as is typical with Turtle Lane, many of them had worked together on other shows before, or on shows at other companies. The stage manager Chris Teague and Rob Case the voice of Audrey II (they live nearby and drove me home) are also behind the Metro Stage Company who work at the YMCA Family Theatre in Central Square, and they routinely use Turtle Lane regulars in their own shows.

So Turtle Lane isn't really a "Community" Theatre, but it isn't Not-one, either, and from Artistic Director Bopsie ("Doris") Mitton to the newest cast members, a feeling of family has been generated. Over the years I've watched many old friends change and mature in show after show. They know me as part of that "last member of the cast: the audience"; they know I love theater; and they know I know they're giving their best --- opening night, closing night, every night. And I'm glad when they forget to be afraid of "The Critic" and treat me as a friend. As, family.


There has been a lot of juggling and bumping on my dance-card this season. I was trying to figure out how to get to 6 Chestnut Street in Brookline, where THE JUNKARD DOGS were opening "The Children's Hour" when Will Stackman called offering me a ride to Turtle Lane; and when Keith Mascoll told me about "The Colored Museum" I moved that to Sunday so I could get to see The Hovey Players' final production of "The House of Yes". Too many weeks have looked like this lately, and I hate to disappoint people who invite me, early, to see their wares.

I was particularly interested in seeing this strange little study of modern-day insanity, class-ism and incest. I was disappointed when I saw it at the BCA a few years back (I'm told a more or less comedy film had been made out of it), but I trust Hovey to suck the meat out of anything they attempt. Directors there tend to do plays only when they've fallen in love with them.

Mark Sickler directed in this case, so I was doubly eager to see the show. I remember Mark playing Tom in "The Glass Menagerie" on the Hovey stage, and knew that after he had wandered off to Vermont and then done time in New York he followed his heart back to Hovey. I've sought his judgement about theater, and heard others praise him as a stage-manager, and I wondered how he'd do as a relatively new director.

Of course he picked a frothy little comedy --- NOT!
The three children in "The House of Yes" house had been spoiled; they'd never heard the word "No." The eldest son (Judson Pierce) arrived home from New York for Thanksgiving while a hurricane raged outside the family mansion on Cape Cod, and emotional tornadoes raging inside. Susan Condit Rice played the sister so obsessed with her that she'd christened herself "Jackie-O" and delighted in re-enacting JFK's assassination. Angus Merry played a clever young sexual predator slimily seducing the bewildered fiancee (Jessie Olson) his brother turned up with, while at the glacial center of it all stalked Ronni Marshak, untasted martini in hand, as a mother obviously in denial. John MacKenzie's moody lighting and Sickler's deadpan direction allowed realization after realization to dawn over an audience intently hypnotized, like a mouse by a cobra. Obviously, I loved it.

I had come by bus and asked if anyone might be able to drive me to a T-stop, but got taken to the cast-party first. I didn't mind, because while Hovey always works hard, they play hard as well, and I've been to so many parties and made so many good friends by now they'd think it odd if I didn't stay.

As we set off, someone suggested what we were to do was celebrate the marriage of Michelle Estrada and Angus Merry. She had whispered that they'd gotten engaged after the Newton Country Players' "Urinetown" party last October, but I don't think anyone realized they'd be so quick or so informal about it. Angus admitted it had happened, then before the congratulations reached a peak he sped off to his new bride, who was doing backstage duties at another company.

This was a "food night" held at Jessie Olson's shared apartment, and in the kitchen in apron and oven-mitts I found Michelle Aguillon, the Hovey President and the show's Producer, cycling dishes through the micro-wave and assisting Mark Sickler carving a large, tasty turkey. There were traditional gifts and witty speeches of appreciation, and people I'd met on other Hovey shows dropped in, with news of shows elsewhere they were or would be working on. I got to tell the actors and the director how much I liked their work, ate something from every delicious dish, downed a bottle of St.Pauli Girl and a smidge of Jack Daniels ("just to be polite"), and back home had to remind myself to take my pills before rolling off to sleep.

19 Nov THE COLORED MUSEUM Providence Black Repertory Company 103

Now I had lived in Providence for some of the lowest years, emotionally, of my life, and back in 1973-5 I found it the most segregated place I'd ever been. Walking to or from the nearest supermarket, stones skipped across the street as we went by, and we quickly decided that it was the better part of valor to walk not down but up The Hill to another source for food. So when Keith Mascoll pleaded that I take bus or train down to see this show, I was a little apprehensive.

But THE BLACK REP turned out to be a lively crew working in a theater/cafe/nightclub/bar not far from the Bonanza bus-stop at Kennedy Plaza, and the matinee audience was racially mixed, vocally enthusiastic, and sharply aware. The show turned out to be a string of sharp-toothed satirical sketches allowing cast and audience to laugh at themselves --- and to reflect and to think as well. And since it had been running over a month (I apologise for not getting there sooner!) the half-dozen performers had hones their timing to knife-edge, and played the eager audience like a blues guitar. And for once my loud laughter was easily drowned by that of everyone around me. What a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

I thought the only person I knew was Keith, and he and his wife Roxann offered to get me back to MBTA-land, "but why don't you come along to the party first?" (Oh, Bre'r Bear, doan' throw me in dat brier-patch!)

At the party, it turned out I did know someone other than Keith. She's many-media actress Pamela Lambert, whom I had actually reviewed earlier this year in an anthology that Vincent Siders called "Family Beef" at the B.U.Playwrights' Theatre. But I didn't connect that piece with the comedy I had just seen, and got accused of forgetting her. (Pamela is an exceptionally efficient tease!) But she wrote the name of her favorite wine on the back of my ticket ("Avelada" a sparkling Portuguese vinho verde) and later answered my e-mailed apology.

Actually, aside from Pam, this party had a "star"! She was Faith Lambert who, along with Kendal Hall had a small (and well-played) part in the show. She sashayed around the party graciously granting autographs and accepting peer praise. Faith is six years old, but she studied he Aunt Pamela's performance as "Lala The Diva" so well her grown colleagues had better look to their laurels.

Pamela introduced me to her friend Brian who drove me home. Half way to Boston, deep in excellent conversation, I heard him repeat that he had spent some years working on the t-v NIGHTLINE Program. When he said "The first week I was producer, Anwar Sadat was assassinated..." I suddenly realized what a Gift Pamela had given me with that introduction!

THE PROVIDENCE BLACK REPERTORY COMPANY is ten years old, and gives workshops in music, dance, theater, poetry, and video production --- and all these arts get represented at what they call the Xxodus Cafe. At the party I met their Artistic Director Donald W. King and the Artistic Director of the RIGHTS AND REASON company at Brown University, the rest of the Black Rep's cast, and their enthusiastically committed stage manager for several years now Kathy Moyer. I was very glad I'd come, and I promised everyone that for their next show I'd make it a point to get there in their First week, not their last!
And maybe, if I do, they'll let me come to another party....

Break a leg all!


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide