"March come in like a lion, a-whippin up the breakers in the bay; then April cried, and cried and cried; and along come pretty little May..."
This year May has begun by being very kind to me. The ears have improved, and what they've been hearing this month was, at least so far, Very Good Indeed. My one complaint is that there seems no correlation whatever between the quality of show and the size of its audience.
1 may SPIN Zeitgeist Stage Cimpany BCA
I felt it a disgrace to the Boston Theater-GOING Community to find only a dozen other people attending this blazingly brilliant play. (Luckily, it's up for one more week-end.)
This is the play for which the phrase "Ripped from today's headlines" should have been invented. If you went to the show listening to WBUR on a car-radio, you'd think someone left the microphones open while everyone involved in politics thought they were off. Robert William Sherwood is a demon playwright!
The play opens with two rival campaign-managers in "friendly" conversation, grabs its audience by the throat and takes off like an express-train. The premise, stated again and again in various contexts is simple: "I don't care about the facts; it's what people THINK that's important!" The opposition manager (Elisa MacDonald) has rumors that allegations about the wife of The Perfect Candidate ("Champlain for Change!") could force him to withdraw on the eve of clinching the nomination --- though they offer the Vice-presidency if he does it gracefully, and Soon.
The play surrounds spin-meister Steven Barkhimer --- the ultimate too-much-coffee-man --- trying to find out not the truth, but how to spin whatever might be the truth. His is the largest role in a flawless ensemble of integrated star-turns. (Bravo director David J. Miller!) First Melissa Baroni as his pollster acts as his sounding-board, then the Candidate (Peter Brown as a great stone face slowly cracking), then of course Christine Power as his put-upon wife --- whose "facts" cannot be trusted to match any of the possible "messages" the campaign floats. Whoever said politics was as disgusting as making sausage never added that a great cast and a great playwright (He's Canadian, by the way) can --- on Dave Miller's crowded-office set --- make watching a trainwreck in excruciating personal detail such a joy!
Did I mention it's got another week to run?
2 may DESSA ROSE New Rep WATERTOWN
"Spin" might have reasoned "well, it's Thursday" but there was no excuse for the New Rep's new theatre to be half-empty on a Friday night with this barn-burner of a new musical by Ahrens and Flaherty on the boards. The show is set in 1847, and lends a horribly wounded scalawag dignity to runaway slaves. Here Leigh Barrett plays the pivotal role of a Charleston Lady abandoned by her gambler-husband who tries to run his plantation with "visiting Nigrahs" in a developing share-cropper system. It's her slowly developing trust and admiration of them, growing through the play, that allows hope to glow.
But it's Uzo Aduba, fresh from Broadway, whose uppity Dessa Rose is the motor for this eye-opening musical. She shifts from sixteen to eighty with a twist of her head and a total body change to insist her story must be told to the children lest the horrors of the past and the joy of their survival fade from memory. That story includes young love, sudden death and branding, leg-irons and murder and the birth of a daughter she is too young to wet-nurse herself. She is energy personified.
You may not recognize Todd Alan Johnson (I didn't) as Dessa's nemesis: a writer collecting tales of revolutionary slaves who tracks her as a runaway; but here's Dee Crawford, Dawn C. Tucker, and Peter A. Carey (in half a dozen roles) as familiar faces, and Michael Kreutz, Edward M. Barker, A'lisa D. MIles, Kami Rushell Smith, and Joshua W. Heggie as new ones. Rick Lombardo and Todd C. Gordon, directors, knit this cast into a unit on Peter Colao's bare-boards shack of a set.
And in this case theater-goers have TWO weeks to fill those empty seats at this Massachusets premier.
3 may [ TENTH ANNIVERSARY JAMBOREE The Mill 6 Collaborative THE FACTORY ]
This was a joy for me on several levels. The MILL 6 COLLABORATIVE has survived ten years in "fringe" spaces, doing solidly realized productions of good plays, so of course I was glad to celebrate that survival with them. But even more important, for the party (or parties, I should say) Mill 6 invited WHISTLER IN THE DARK and THE ROUGH & TUMBLE THEATRE and puppeteer Bonnie Duncan each to do a bit out of repertoire. The shows I saw that night were informal and fun, but the impulse to cooperate meant much more to me.
And the cookies were Magnificent!
4 may SYLLABUS OF ERRORS 11:11 Theatre BCA
Brian Tuttle is an excellent director. I realized that last year when "The Seagull" he directed was fresh and clear, with actors saying lines as though they felt and meant them honestly and directly. Here he found a writer, Jennifer Dubois, whose only second play he decided to produce. That same honesty of expression, in "Syllabus of Errors" means blazing emotions and family woundings.
At the center is a gifted physics professor (Evan Quinlan) who at 49 watches his whole promising life fall to shreds around him. An affair with his most promising student (Kaytie Dowcett) ended his marriage; now the suicide of his brother --- jailed for vehicular homicide --- has sent his 17-year-old daughter (Carolyn Blais) into daily communion and acrimonious contempt. His staunchest advocate on faculty (Steve Turner) is outraged to learn of his affair, and there is his brother's funeral to try to deal with, as well as his guilt or innocence. Quite enough for one play, wouldn't you say?
The play begins with a silent, disturbed surface smoldering with conflict eager to break free. When it does the dominoes predictably yet surprisingly jostle against one another until there is really nothing left. There is something of Ibsen about the inevitability of this tragedy --- though Ibsen's prose was never so direct, so wounding, nor so alive.
11:11 is doing this play "in the attic" --- i.e., in the second-floor ehearsal room that replaces The Leland Center at the BCA. Tuttle put audience all around a living-room/work-room, so the deadly arguments are never far away, and audience may try to brush away blood-spray at the final blackout.
Oh, this show ends on the 10th so there's ample time to see it -- though there are few seats and most of them were filled when I saw it.