That Was The Week That Was --- 18 - 28 May '08"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


That Was The Week That Was

18 - 28 May '08

This looks like a lean week --- only four plays! --- but it's typical of the sorts of theater that you can see in any week in Boston: a classic musical at our local big "regional theatre," another at what some would call a "community" theatre, and two sets of highly "experimental" one-acts at small, innovative play-spaces. A week that could be characterized by the phrase that always ended the old CBS-Radio program YOU ARE THERE, after their news staff "covered" the death of Socrates, or the Battle of Gettysburg: "What sort of day was it? A day, like always, that alters and illuminates our time."

Plays Covered:

21 may SHE LOVES ME Huntington Theatre 68
22 may SHUT UP! SLOW DOWN! I CAN HANDLE THIS! Nat'l Theatre of Allston BPT 69
23 may DAMES AT SEA Turtle Lane Playhouse 70
24 may MAY DAY PLAY DAY (4 24-hour 10-minute plays) SouthCity Theatre THE FACTORY 71

24 may MAY DAY PLAY DAY (4 24-hour 10-minute plays) SouthCity Theatre THE FACTORY 71

I start with the last because I woke up thinking about it.
SouthCity Theatre is new to me, but they've been doing this for at least four years now. The plan is simple: take four different playwrights, four different directors, and four teams of three (or maybe four) actors each.
Start at 8 p m showing these four groups some pictures for inspiration, and turn them loose.
At 8 p m the next day, Outa-The-Hat come four one-act plays for the delectation of the audience. Voila! A 24-hour play festival!
The surprise was not that they did it at all, but how "finished" and interesting the resultant plays were.

I confess, the first two are, right now, a bit vague in my mind, and I don't want to bruise them by trying to pull anything out of my mind. I know one ("Scotched" by Leslie Harrell Dillen directed by Coleen Rua) was a comedy based on a photo of a bag-piper and a penguin on a wide plain of white snow. The other ("Songbird" by John Michael Manship directed by Steven Johnson) involved a singer and a violinist setting and commenting upon the scenes. In both cases, details escape through the cracks in my mind.

Date: Thu, 29 May 2008 10:51:12 -0400
From: "Mike DiLoreto"
Subject: May Day Play Day
Hey Larry,
I saw your write-up of May Day, and noticed that the first two plays were, as you said, "vague in your mind."
Scotched was the play with a puppet and swords and slow motion fight scenes and a bass guitar. Bob Mussett played a Sean Connery-esque guy whose Krypton was a puppet that looked like him. Carolyn Blais was his girlfriend. And I played the crazy Goth bassist who ends up being the devil.
Songbird was set at Victoria's Secret where a new employee (Audrey Lynn Sylvia) is being harassed by her boss (Chuck Shwager). She ends up killing him in the end.
Hope this helps and refreshes your memory! :)
Mikey DiLoreto

The last play in the series ("The Dowry of Princess Talia" by Greg Lam directed by Dan Bourque) used a narrator (Emma Goodman) reading a fairy-tale. A king (Michael Simon) demanded 100 Euros as dowry for his daughter (Chelsea Donahue) from the suitor (Will Herberich) --- Dalton The Dim. Liking him, the princess found jobs for him in The Phoenix: slaying a cuddly and affectionate dragon, the gingerbread-house witch, and Jack's giant --- each of which Dalton found too nice to exterminate. Michael Simon re-appeared as the Witch and provided off-stage voices and sounds for the others, before the traditional happy ending.

I was most taken, however, with Vladimir Zelevinski's "St. Cloud" directed by David Marino --- partly because I empathized easily with the setting: a small town in rural Minnesota.
The action was in the kitchen of the town's restaurant between breakfast and lunch rushes. The owner (Kyla Astley) sat while her daughter/waitress (Sheryl Johns) asked her motivations for two abortions she'd had before bringing a daughter into the world. Turned out daughter was herself pregnant, and afraid of becoming the town's laughing-stock if she had a child out of wed-lock. What she was asking, she finally admitted, was her mom's permission to leave home, to move to St. Cloud or Minneapolis --- to become Herself, and not what a town so small everyone knew everything about everybody else. At the end of the break, she confided brightly to a second waitress (Tara Henry) that she would soon move to St. Cloud, and by subtext, to a whole new life.

This play apparently arrived spontaneously, but had the weight and depth and subtlety of one labored over for a long time. I hope it shows up in The Marathon next year.

I must confess to living for five years in Decorah, Iowa, a few miles under the Minnesota border, where everyone pretty much did know everything about everybody else. It was a town where where 40-below (PLUS wind-chill!) days or weeks were common, followed by a "Mud Season". (I remember trying eight ghodamnit times to gun an old, heavy Buick Impaler up a gooey gully of a back-road before I fish-tailed to the top.) There was a Norweigan-American Museum in town, and an annual NordicFest that attracted Norskies and Sweeds and the "Dayniss" to celebrate their heritages and their immigrant experiences. People occasionally lapsed into then out of Norse as they passed Americans on the street, to keep their conversations private. And under a thin film of fertile loam could lurk "sink-holes" in the limestone bedrock that could swallow a tractor or two, and caves were common.

Enough reminiscences! The fact is that I spent my five years there washing dishes at The Cafe DeLuxe, so I know how intimate the confessions in a kitchen could become!

23 may DAMES AT SEA Turtle Lane Playhouse 70

Until now, I believed it was impossible to get to this lovely little theatre without a car, or a friend with a car. Now I'm told that two MBTA stations are no more than five-minutes walk or less from the door of its in-house bar!
It's the bar that makes Turtle Lane hard to leave after the show --- not just because the ladies behind it know how to make flawlessly sweet Manhattans, but because the casts and crews of these band-box productions of classic musicals linger after performances to talk, to gossip, to schmooze and to network. The first show in their list is dated 1980, and Wayne Ward's bio can admit that between his ninth-grade debut and now, "half these 40 years' experience as a Music Director and actor has been spent at TLP." Richard Itczak lovingly costumes almost every show, and James Tallach has grown from stage-manager and occasional bar-man to a stage-director with considerable reputation. The phrase that Coast Guard sailors fondly bestowed on good ships "A feeder and a home" applies more to The Turtle Lane Playhouse than just about any other playspace in the area.

This production of "Dames At Sea" --- a tongue-in-cheek satire of all the Golden Age tap-dancing musicals was actually John MacKenzie's baby. He designed sets and lights as well as directing the show, and his scenic artist Michele Boll did her three-D magic on every flat surface onstage. Ward and Itczak did their stuff, Tallach ran the sound-board for Alex Savitzky's sound design, and Avital Asuleen's choreography kept the six-member cast --- five of whom were on the Turtle Lane stage for the first time --- constantly in motion.

The T.L.P. mystique infects audience as well as performers, but in an unusual way. The commitment to month-long runs of mostly classic musicals means that I have never seen a show play to a full SRO house, even on press-nights; people know that they can get seats any time during the long runs so they don't rush. And the play-list of musicals tends to repeat standards rather than breaking fresh ground. T.L.P. has never done a week-end "concert version" of a show (not even as a fund-raiser), never tried a Rodgers & HART show, but a lot of Hammerstein's --- and only once, in 1983, has there been a straight-play on the boards ("Plaza Suite," a safe bet from Neil Simon). I'd bet that a two-week run of a set of Noel Coward one-acts, with his songs done in olio during act-breaks, would sell out, and expand the audience-base.
But what do I know about theater?

22 may SHUT UP! SLOW DOWN! I CAN HANDLE THIS! Nat'l Theatre of Allston BPT 69

I talked about this already, here.

21 may SHE LOVES ME Huntington Theatre 68

Nicholas Martin has book-ended his days as Artistic Director of The Huntington Theatre Company with blockbusters: first a stunning "Dead End" and now this lovely, lovingly detailed musical. He emphasized two or three scenes --- a Christmas-Shopping sequence, a hilarious dead-pan sendup of a romantic restaurant catering to asignations, and a boisterously physical solo all over the stage ("She Loves Me") for Brooks Ashmanskas --- plus an equally physical duet by the principals ("Where's My Shoe?"), before Kate Baldwin makes the unforgettable "Vanilla Ice Cream" totally and show-stoppingly her own. This is a deservedly sell-out success in every character and every detail.

It has seemed to me that "Nickie" Martin could handle the Huntington's big stage vertically ("Dead End" and "Amphytrion") but, not until this production, horizontally. Again and again there have been instances of actors crossing what seemed a gargantuan set in ways that did nothing but destroy the flow and rhythm of the play. It was only with "Streamers" (which Nickie did Not direct) that I thought the bigness of the set comfortably under control. And let's not talk about "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"!

In the Martin years, the Huntington played up its role as a "regional" company --- sharing productions with other regionals, and casting more often from a pool of visiting regional actors rather than developing local talent in the way the Lyric and the New Rep do. There was also a fascination with "pre-Broadway" productions, and "post-T-V" stars, not all of which were up to their billing. Martin seemed to place the Huntington in between the top local companies and the big Broadway barns, hoping to attract both audiences --- often disappointing both. For instance, the actor who played "Butley" here projected a need to be loved, instead of a willingness to be hateful, which meant that audiences coming to see a great play got no real experience aside of seeing a famous name live on stage. That's the bait-and-switch game that has made "Broadway in Boston" an over-expensive scam.

In any case, the seasons announced by the Huntington's new Artistic Director Peter DeBois and the American Repertory Theatre's new one Diane Paulus suggest that these two "regional" powerhouses are both ready to re-invent themselves. Come September I plan to begin seeing everything on their lists, hoping this is really true.

Watch This Space!

Break a leg all!


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide