Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "Ya Shoulda Been There, Tom!!!!!"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Tuesday, 10 April, 2001: "Ya Shoulda Been There, Tom!!!!!"

The Mayor missed it.
I mean The Marathon.
No, not THAT Marathon, THE Marathon --- THE BOST0N Theater MARATHON last Sunday, of course.
Well, it wasn't his fault, it was mine. I invited him a couple weeks ago, but he must have a dance-card like mine and people tell me next year I should ask maybe three months in advance, because he's a guy likes theater, a Lot, and next year's a sure thing. So, just for Tom, here's what he missed:

Of course for me the day began at noon in the taller, narrower "Studio B" out back with a play called "CRITIC'S CHOICE" by Kate Snodgrass (landlady extraordinaire!), in which Paula Plum and Richard Snee (who have been doing the improvs for this show for years) played divorced actors reading the reviews of a new play. And although His performance is called "electrifying" the work of her new playwright-husband (Robert Pemberton) is called "promising" --- in The TIMES. His newer, younger wife (Breanna Pine) keeps finding better adjectives in irrelevant papers. And even though she recommended her ex because she knew he'd been made for the part, she can't help pointing out that the very same colossal ego that makes him a great actor makes him an impossible life-mate.
I loved it, of course. And since it was its world premier I can see why the phrase "but it's The TIMES" means so much an has different weight each time it comes up. Still, for This Audience, consisting as it does at any play at least 50% of theater-people who have either just finished their show or are waiting to do it, I wish the line had read "but it's The GLOBE" instead. But I understand, and I loved it anyway.

Oh, there were plenty of in-group send-ups for actors, though. Bill Lattanzi's "NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING" satirized the way Hollywood types slash and re-write and puff themselves for megalomaniacal reasons.

In Larry Blamire's "DOST PITY ME, WITHPETT?" an actor in a supermarket mis-hears a woman asking, about olives, if 'pitted' means 'with pits,' and pegging her (rightly) as a fellow Shakespearean board-trodder demands that they improvise the question and answer in Elizabethan blank verse. That was Lisa Tucker and Robert Deveau whipping up the whimsical froth, with silent Larry Coen (who stars in "Musical! the musical" in Davis Square this weekend and next) as an awe-struck stockboy.

Michael Hammond's "WHEN THE DEAD WOMAN SPEAKS" is back at Hollywood-bashing, with Helen McElwain auditioning to play a woman who BOOM! gets blown up at her entrance. Neil A. Casey as the director and Craig Houk as his yes-man proceed to give her sexist notes on how to play-dead until, fed up, she lashes back and (unlikely happy ending) they re-write her part as the star. (It's a comedy, see...)

And as long as we're doing theme here, there were two very Jewish plays this year. Barry Brodsky's "AFTER SHABBOS" has Jason Schuchman as a 21-year-old packed and petulantly leaving home for New York on a Friday afternoon because he has given up God for Alan Ginsberg. He and his orthodox dad (James Bodge) have a quoting-duel, book against book: "Howl" versus "The Torah" while Paula Langton as mom tried to shove food, any food, between the warring parties, and the kid decides he'll maybe eat a little, go after Shabbos after all.

Alan Brody's "SITTING SHIVAH" is a much tighter play set in Florida with a tall, hesitantly quiet widower Ted Kazanoff and Annette Miller sitting on the Shivah-boxes the last day of mourning for her dead husband, recalling their one fling of infidelity years before when she first came down south and, step by witty little step about to Reaffirm Life a mere moment after the final blackout. Greg Smucker directed to experienced, gifted professionals who hit every wry note the script had to offer.

And if we have Jewish plays, why not Black Plays? I'm not putting genre-shows down --- I mean plays that mine the special flavor of any ethnic experience and heritage, dusting off old memories with new insights.

Matter of fact, Bevan Lew's "THREE CUPS OF TEA" was just such a genre-play, with again mom and two differing sons facing themselves after their father's funeral. Here however Kim Tang, Bonnie Lee Whang and Ch'ien Chan looked across an Asian generation gap, finding their own unique ways to articulate familiar conflicts

And matter of fact, one of my favorite productions of the entire day was a Black Play written by a Jew : "HIP HOP HEBE (the Book of Job)" excerpted from a story by Leslie Epstein, and brilliantly directed by wild-man Brendan Hughes with shameless choreography by Katie Griswold for Laura Napoli playing the temptress/devil in a rap retelling of Job that featured Dave Dowling as a flamboyantly acrobatic DJ with Rapper Keith Mascoll and Chorus Baron Vaughn doing the retelling to a backbeat and Michael Nurse stolidly standing-in for the much-maligned Job. This had movement, dance, satire, quick wit and rhyme and nothing ever stayed still for a moment --- 'cept poor Job.

Then there was "A TEN-MINUTE PLAY" by Ed Bullins directed by James Spruill that was a dead-pan send-up of Bro's on the scam. Vincent Siders and Lonnie Farmer sprawled at a Starbucks table figuring ways to turn the no-longer-glittering heritage of their Harlem neighborhood into cash. Enter uppity Shauna Miles doing a doctorate "oral history" and talking grants: manna from heaven!

Much more solidly serious was Dan Hunter's "INTERNAL MEDICINE" in which a Black doctor (Ricardo Pitts-Wiley) catches Mark Anthony Brown trying to fail a physical in the Vietnam days. The doctor's dilemma, though, is that the kid is less a deserter than a son trying to keep his biter, drunken WWII-hero father from beating his mom to death over the White/Black world he fought to save. This is a good example of many "message-plays" in this year's Marathon.

Like "JUST DRIVING" in which Lois Roach (who directed her own play) takes on flat-out racial profiling when a lawyer (Dorian Baucum)driving a businessman (Naheem Allah) through his own upscale neighborhood gets rousted by The Man because the registration for his new car is not in the glove compartment but at his office.

And like "50 YEARS OF CADDYING" in which Israel Horowitz put first a young Black caddie with a condescending white golfer, then a young Black golfer talking down to an old white retiree picking up change as a way to stay on the golf links. And both lied on their score-cards.

But the "message play" doesn't have to be racial/ethnic.
Aidan Parkinson, who were he any more Irish couldn't talk at all, instead turned in a no-compromise confrontation ("IN THE GRAIN")between Bill Mootos as an apparently repentant rapist up for parole who wants to share his new inheritance with the woman he wronged (Siobhan Brown) --- who'd rather see him rot in hell for defiling her body and her life and won't be bought. (Powerful direction here by Courtney O'Connor.)

Jonathan Voles turned in a set of intertwined monologues ("SOME KIND OF CERTAINTY") surrounding the surrender of donated organs from a woman's twin sister.

Theresa Rebeck contributed a monologue for Maria Gabrielle ("JOSEPHINE") about the necessity for remembering the Holocaust.

Kathleen Rogers also had a monologue ("TINY DREAMS") in which Maureen Keller as Yullia K revelled in the discontents of affluent choices in America versus her Russian lover.

And Mary F. Lawler writing "about what she knows" in "THREE HOTS AND A COT" dramatically portrayed two drunkards attempting to decide to opt for unsure detox over certain death, while the admitting nurse tried sternly to wait for genuine commitment.

In a sense, another of my very favorite plays this year, Linda Button's one-man play "FIRST BLOOD" was a message play, though brilliantly written, acted (Cory Scott) and directed (Michael Walker), The play reveals itself as a continuous loop in hell, an ecstatic, euphoric gush of remembered moments of triumphantly vengeful glory by, it becomes slowly and graphically clear, one of the Columbine teen-agers. The flash of red that begins his monologue becomes clear the second time as the moment of his suicide. An exceptionally solid, swiftly shocking play.

There were presentations here that as much reflected the company performing it as the playwright. Take Bruce Ward's wacky "ROGER G" that TheatreZone turned out. They have enthusiastically pushed the surreal envelope for years, so it was totally appropriate to have them do a play in which a horrified family of cockroaches face the outré fact that one of them has, inexplicably during the night, turned into (Ugh!) a human being!

In a similar suiting of script to crew, David Wheeler directed Robert Brustein's little vignette "DIVESTITURE" with Alvin Epstein and Remo Airaldi of the American Repertory Theatre playing the ghost of a memory demanding of a dying old man not only his clothes, but everything.

And William Donnelly, who has spent over four years as playwright in residence with The Industrial Theatre (in my mind the best-kept secret of theatrical excellence in the Boston area), had their Vincent Scully directing his play "NEIGHBORS" with company members Irene Daly, Kevin LaVelle and James Henderson small-talking over seconds on dessert in a slice of life, and of character, typical of their best work together.

But, inevitably, a lot of plays are in pigeonholes all by themselves:
Jack Neary's "THREE-PEAT" has those two old-age busybodies Kate Carney and Alice Duffy trying to explain to out-of-it Mary Klug what a "menage ah twar" is without, you know, sayin' stuff even un-mixed company might think, well, blue.

Bill Cunningham's "RIGHT NEXT DOOR" has a barbecue-ing couple enviously ogling over the fence the expensive grotto and madonna of the snooty neighbors; and when that virgin miraculously begins to cry bloody tears, well, damn it God, it just ain't fair!

In "EMPTIES" Matthew Mayerchak outlines a class society where not the bus-boy (Gregory Decandia) but the cook (Jacob Goldman) will get as his "tip" a turn in the car with one of the waitresses --- if the boss ever lets him have a turn, that is...

Dancer/choreographer Susan Dibble's "CAFE CORVIDAE" has a blind woman drawing portraits, a beautiful woman ordering travel, love and adventure from the menu, and three waiting-staff men who are really crows. No, I didn't understand any of it either.

But a much better slice of absurdly surreal life was John Andert's "CLAUDE AND CLAUDETTE" (Kermit Dunkelberg & Susan Thompson) who descuse le philosoph in exaggerated Franche stylle wiz le accordioniste translating les Franche mots --- all with laconic deadpan timing. Total froth; total delight. Vive le directeur Kim Mancuso!

"BLAH! BLAH!" was not a world premiere, but a ten-minute reel from The Rough & Tumble Theatre's ensemble creation, their gibberish silent-movie "Mr. K Goes to Work" (If you liked this sample, you'll love their "The Lady with The Pet Dog" still playing to delighted audiences at the BCA's Leland Center. Go!)

Tug Yourgrau's hysterical "MAY DAY" has an apoplectic funeral-director outraged that his partner/brother has left a woman only half-embalmed minutes before the viewing is to begin. Come to find out, as he sprays spiteful orders in all directions, that it's their own mother there in the coffin. Marie Jackson's breakneck direction had Ed Peed, Charlotte Peed, Ciaron Crawford and finally Stephen Cooper whipping through surprise after surprise.

'DAY EIGHT: SNOW GLOBE" is a sort of religious meditation by David Valdes Greenwood. The unflinching protagonists are the stolid sea-captain (Jack Madden) , both hands resolutely on the wheel; the peering woman with the spyglass in her hand (Sarah Savage) and between them the finally foul-mouthed lobster. They speculate on who made them --- and made the glass, of course --- and whether it's the maker that periodically shakes their world letting down showers of snow (which stage-hands swiftly swept away after the show). Peter Wood directed this tiny gem.

Probably the prize for outlandish concept goes to "THE VESTIGIAL TWIN" by the Mrs. Potatohead genius Margaret Ann Brady who had Monica Tecca and Ana-Louise Perea joined at the hip but not vertical: crosswise, with one half of one twin sticking head-down out the back and her full-sized legs bent upward in front of the standing twin's face. The script was full of quips and one- and two-liners because --- well, what do you do for a living with an extra pair of legs? Stand-up routines, of course! The sheer bravado of articulating this wacko concept earns Theatre Offensive and director David Hanbury medals.

Donna Sorbello, after making a name directing and acting, is now a grad student in playwriting at BU and contributed the veddy British comedy of manners "GENTLEMEN HUSBANDRY." Two shirts, totally stuffed, (Peter Snoad & Derry Woodhouse) sneak smokes in the same garden, fleer with increasing fire at each flirting with the other's wife and, when they realize the women are themselves flirting but with Other Men decide to buy one another brandies in which to drown their chagrin. Diego Arciniegas orchestrated this smooth slide to crescendo and back down.

Rosemary Ellis was the director of "(MEETING (EXES) MEETING)" which had Jeff Peterson and Erin Bell meeting, with Eric Vogt's bartender silently in attendance. The pair get acquainted, begin sharing memories of their long acquaintance? affair? marriage? --- and then she insists they never even met before. Playwrights Boo Killebrew & Jordan Seavey ain't tellin what the truth is, but The Bridge Theatre Company, as usual, delivers a finely detailed, enigmatic play.

In Laura Harrington's "THE HEART OF THE EMPEROR" the newly-dead Napoleon fumes at a calm Joan of Arc (Dee Nelson) over the doctor (Steven Barkheimer) pickling his heart for sale, and everyone is amazed when the doctor and two others (Will Lyman & Jon Blackstone) wrench out first his liver as well, then two horses, a cannon and cannonballs, hundreds of dead soldiers, and the snows of Moscow. Then, displaying his heart, Napoleon proudly insists it still beats, across the ages, in every tyrant from him to Hitler to Amin to Dubchek. David Sullivan directed this surprisingly odd play.

As you might have guessed, this litany has been rising toward my own ideocentric handful of cherries on the top of this rich repast. But before I call that roll I have to confess that, this year like last, I can remember, vividly and in detail, only thirty-nine plays. I don't know why the Wellfleet Harbor Actors' Theatre production of Howard Zinn's "AS THE WORLD TURNS" directed by Wesley Savick does not ring a bell. The fault is obviously mine and not theirs, but even the one-sentence clue in the program leaves me baffled. Will anyone reading this who remembers it, Please, jog my memory!

This third annual Boston Theater Marathon was the first to feature music and some I've mentioned featured an on-stage electric piano or synthesizer--- "HIP HOP HEBE"; Fred Harrington played accompaniment to "BLAH! BAH!" the accordionist in "CLAUDE AND CLAUDETTE" --- but there were two vest-pocket musicals:

"CINDERELLA AND THE FUZZY SLIPPERS" by Shari Ajemian Craig and Sarah Newcomb had Kate Connor as Cindy and Heather Boas and Emi Kolawole as her self-admitted wicked stepsisters romping through a retelling that had a sock-puppet and a glue-gun doing the godmother miracles, and Norah Hussey of Wellesley Summer Theatre proving she can direct anything to perfection.

Barbara Blatner played keyboard and Josh Rodriguez percussion in Blatner and Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro's "BORN AGAIN VIRGIN" that the Nora Theatre Company had Moritz Von Stuelpnagel direct, and featuring a stained-glass window by Blair Melnik and Joe Erandwine. I mention everyone, as well as the cast (Alice Racine, Leo Goodman, Lauren Hatcher, Courtney Keim) because everyone stood out. I can hardly wait for the original cast recording!

Here in the heights I give points for inventive originality, and John Shea's "NO CIGAR" certainly showed that. Rollin Carlson and Stacy Cervellino grudgingly, grumpily prepare for blind dates, alternately complaining from first male then female perspective of the horrors and pitfalls of the dating game, occasionally standing-in on each other's fantasies of the date to come, hinting in revealing little details that they just might be made for each other and then, not as a clever audience might suspect ending up each being the other's blind-date, but bumping momentarily against each other and unwittingly rushing off to tonight's fresh disaster. Paul Melone directed it for SpeakEasy Stage Company and saw to it every moment came freshly, originally alive.

John Lipsky of The Vineyard Playhouse Company directed his own "FLYING ABOVE THE CLOUDS" which featured the not-so-chance meeting in a 747's lavatory of the young daughter of an ambassador (Ashley Williams), giddily on 'shrooms, with older man Tommy Day Carey who, among other things, hopes she'll help him smuggle some rare birds into the States wrapped in hair-curlers. They may eventually tell the truth. Again, points for surprising originality and dialogue that sounded believably true.

For sheer directorial power, though, I'd cite Michael Hammond also directing his own tightly crafted "SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY" for Shakespeare & Company. A moonlighting actor Dan McCleary) peddling improv-techniques as a creativity-release has his client (Tom Jaeger) demand a sample, and instead what it releases is the executive's pent-up rage, which is quickly focused on "the artsy-fartsy fringe who invent scams instead of working for a living like I do, right?" The sudden almost deadly conflict got explosively expressed with the actor more quitely but effectively defending himself. The whole thing was perfectly machined, and the acting riveting.

Okay, you've been counting, right, and you want to know what I thought was The best Play this year, right? Well, for the last Dozen or more I've been showing you Best Plays --- each for a uniquely different reason. When cast, production, direction and acting all combine to express what's in the script, that's a "best" play. "Critic's Choice" was a best play, so was "First Blood" and so was something I remember seeing before: John Kuntz' lapidary gem here called "ORDINARY GUY" --- a solo play for which Adam Zahler of New Repertory Theatre directed Philip Patrone.
Watching Patrone's face crack into the widest grin in Christendom is an unforgettable instant of stage perfection. Seeing him sit-stand-sit obsessively while Kuntz's words take their time wending slowly from giggly oddity into oddly unfunny into achingly bizarre is an experience. Realizing, at some unfingerable point, that you've been laughing at a man whose mind has slowly, gently crumbled before your eyes is something unforgettable. The words are John's, the execution Phil's, the flawlessness Adam's, the whole --- sublime.
And when Patrone, acknowledging applause, generously afforded a bow To His Chair, I was speechless.
It wasn't any more a Best Play than a dozen others, but I've been at this for hours now and so I'll shut up by quoting the last line from the first serious play I ever saw on a Broadway Stage:

"Well, let it end here then --- if nobody minds."


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide