In the beginning of the '80s when I was self-exiled in Iowa, I began telling people "Back in Boston we like to say: 'You Can't Lose Them All --- but the Red Sox are out there, every afternoon!' "
Well, that cliche may be coming true, theatrically, this January. After a week of sublimely memorable shows --- and, wonder of wonders, a crack in my long writer's block --- I felt suddenly that, as Tolstoy did Not say, "Good plays are all alike while others fail each in their own unique ways." And sometimes it's not anything about a show itself but that controversial "eye of the beholder" that ought to be blamed. I have reviewed the first seven elsewhere; so here let me concentrate on those of this week-end which I, myopic though it might be, had difficulty enjoying.
7 jan CRYING DEER 1050 VM Productions BCA 1
8 jan UNCLE VANYA Boston Art Theatre BCA 2
9 jan ArtICULATION Company One BOSTON PLAYWRIGHTS' THEATRE 3
11 jan THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING Lyric Stage of Boston 4
14 jan CABARET New Rep 5
15 jan THE DUCHESS OF MALFI Actors' Shakespeare Project MIDWAY STUDIOS 6
16 jan THE CHERRY ORCHARD Nora Theatre Company CENTRAL SQUARE THEATRE 7
17 jan THE MISER 7A Productions THE FOOTLIGHT CLUB 8
17 jan THE CORN IS GREEN The Huntington Theatre Company 9
18 jan A VIEW OF THE HARBOR Merrimack Repertory Theatre LOWELL 10
16 jan THE CHERRY ORCHARD Nora Theatre Company CENTRAL SQUARE THEATRE
17 jan THE MISER 7A Productions THE FOOTLIGHT CLUB
These were to my mind simply uneven plays, I suspect both under-rehearsed. "The Cherry Orchard" felt like a pie that plums could be pulled from, without any real structure or direction. Everyone had their moments, each understood their characters, but at times it seemed to me I'd have to be Russian to understand why my emotions ought to be engaged. Director Daniel Gidron needed more time to link up all these bright moments so that all these interesting characters added up to more than just interesting characters and bright moments.
But The Nora Theatre is a long-established Boston treasure finally enjoying the city's newest theater-space and using a cast that sported eight Equity asterisks. The 7A Company's skinny-shoestring production of Moliere's "The Miser" --- with no such advantages --- suffered from an equally uneven cast only a few of whom had worked together before, and reach simply exceeded grasp.
The playing-space is the downstairs lobby of the country's oldest theater. Director Daniel Bourque decided to do the show in-the-round, and at least one member of the cast kept in constant motion, as if trying to direct every sentence to a new quadrant of the audience; such motiveless gyrations eventually are simply annoying. Others in the cast either couldn't project or spoke intimately rather than trying to be heard, especially by people seated behind them. (One came to the play so late the lines had to be read from a script.) Others --- notably Liz Michael Hartford, Brashani Reece, Fred Bernabe, Karen Fanale, Mike Mosey --- kept their cool and enjoyed the flat exaggerations in Moliere's characters and the tortured twists of his always laughable plots.
Daniel Bourque and his Producer Kristin MacDougal run the 7A shows for people, actors and audiences alike, who enjoy the "let's make Uncle's barn into a theatre and do a show!" atmosphere of "amateur" theater --- and, I must admit, I do too. And it is also true that, without knowing the group and their process, no one on the outside ever really knows why a show fails --- or knows why another succeeds. Maybe it was just me...
17 jan THE CORN IS GREEN The Huntington Theatre Company
15 jan THE DUCHESS OF MALFI Actors' Shakespeare Project MIDWAY STUDIOS
18 jan A VIEW OF THE HARBOR Merrimack Repertory Theatre LOWELL
In each of these splendidly professional shows, I cannot stint in praise of the actors and their performances, the clear direction, the detail of designs. In each case, I just didn't like the play much.
There is a smell of history about "The Corn Is Green"; it's a teaching-play about a teacher, about teaching --- almost to the point of not drama but documentary. And at bottom it's a melodrama in which every obstacle is just waiting to be knocked down and virtue triumphant in two hours' time. By scene two the battle's been won, the obsessive spinster-teacher has her school-room bulging with adolescent coalminers eagerly setting themselves study-goals in order to escape the deadly boredom of the mines --- and one destined (if he works hard) for Oxford. But the play can't let it be so easy, so it searches around for easy obstacles (sex rears its willful head) and easy solutions, with the single serious conflict of the situation settled quick-fix without a serious examination.
Under all the melodrama is this question: does this serious, insightful, motherly teacher offer an intelligent boy a larger life as her gift, or does she cut this Welsh boyo off from his mates and maids and heritage merely because she knows she can, and needs an example to get government approval of schools? Melodrama hasn't time for such questions --- though I think it might be a more intriguing play if it didn't flip this problem off in two speedily settled scenes.
I've dealt with The Duchess elsewhere; apparently I'm the only one writing about it who couldn't take any of the text seriously --- though the acting and the company are wonderful.
There remains the regional premiere of Richard Dresser's "A View of The Harbor" --- after The Merrimack Repertory Theatre and its Artistic Director Charles Towers nurtured and workshopped it into final form. Mr. Towers likes the show much more than I do.
In the first five minutes, everyone in the play stated and contradicted every bit of fact about themselves and each other --- and proceeded to do so on to the end. Every other sentence sent the matter of the play off into a new direction. A young man run away to freedom comes home to nurse an autocratic father who apparently didn't really have a stroke or two, doesn't really live in decadent poverty (Actually visits Washington once a week to advise the Treasurer), and the kid isn't even named Nick. His bewildered lady-love is a labor-organizer despite her family's millions, the snippy housekeeper's really Nick's (or is it Elmer's?) sister, and somewhere in this heap of ill-sorted contradictions the love of money is the source of all evil or the only joy worth having. Frankly, I gave up concentrating the fourth or fifth time the playwright pulled a well-established rug out from under me and under the plot --- and that was probably ten or twenty minutes into the show. Once I concluded that Sam Shepard had done this sort of thing better (and more than once, actually), I found the plot a lot less satisfying to contemplate than the pretty legs of the actresses onstage.
But I am a strange old man.
Break a leg all!