Nov 23

A call to action: Time is of the essence for arts & culture policy

A gathering tour by the MASSCreative
Presented by MASSCreative

Friday, November 18, 2022
MASSCreative on Facebook

Article by Afrikah Smith

ONLINE — After the winning victory of elected State Governor Maura Healey and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll in the Massachusetts midterm election, will the state’s arts & culture sector be ready to advocate for policy and legislation in January 2023?

MASSCreative has taken action in touring around the state, both virtually and in-person, to hear from institutions, cultural leaders, creative advocates, and artists about the top priorities from the sector. Geared towards a conversation between MASSCreative staff and attendees, the gatherings tour offers the opportunity for all to connect and discuss the ways that federal, state, and local governments can push and ensure the sector to become stronger, more equitable, and better funded. Continue reading

Nov 18

Safe But Not Sorry*: “The Play That Goes Wrong”

Photo by Mark. S. Howard.

Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston 
By Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields
Directed by Fred Sullivan, Jr.
Stunt Coordinator/Fight Captain: Michael Liebhauser
Scenic Design by Peter Colao
Run Crew: Hazel Peters, Talene Pogherian
Featuring Kelby T. Akin, Alexa Cadete, Nora Eschenheimer, Dan Garcia,
Mitch Kiliulis, Michael Liebhauser, Marc Alexander Pierre, and Dan Whelton. Understudies: Margaret Clark, Patrick French, and Matt C. Ryan.

November 11 – December 18, 2022
Lyric Stage Co.
140 Clarendon St
Boston, MA 02116

Approximately two hours, including one intermission.
This production uses strobe lighting and fog effects. There is one live simulated gunshot in Act 2.

Review by Kitty Drexel

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” — G. K. Chesterton

BOSTON, Mass — Chesterton was a Christian philosopher who argued, with this statement, that most things are done by novices who do those things imperfectly. This Chesterton saying goes along with the Voltaire-attributed aphorism, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” 

Neither Chesterton nor Voltaire was responsible for a cast of accident-prone actors or an elaborate set determined by fate to destroy itself on opening night. Not even Voltaire, the paragon of eighteenth-century French amateur and society theatre, could have imagined The Play That Goes Wrong.  Continue reading

Nov 09

A kind stop for death: “Lighting”

Photo courtesy of David Weiland.

Presented by Double Edge Theatre
Lightning
Directed and devised by DE Design Director Jeremy Louise Eaton
and co-created with the DE Company (Amanda Miller, Dylan Young, Phoebe Hiltermann, Ewa Timingeriu)
Lighting and sound design by John Peitso

My Soul is in Command: a tragi-comic musical creep show
Conceived, written, performed by Robert Carlton
With guidance from Jennifer Johnson

November 4-6, 2022
Performed at The Farm
948 Conway Road
Ashfield, MA MA 01330

Review by Maegan Bergeron-Clearwood

Leaving the barn performance space at Double Edge Theatre this weekend felt like stumbling off of a merry-go-round. As my friend and I removed our masks and breathed in the fresh farm air, our eyes drifted upward; for a breath or two, we found ourselves stunned by the moon spinning through the sky, until we realized it was just the clouds, not the universe, drifting across our gaze. I’m not sure if we would have fallen under the spell of this cosmic optical illusion if we hadn’t just emerged from Lightning, a dizzying, trickster-y performance that blurred the edges between dream and reality. Continue reading

Nov 09

Racism, Misogyny and Old White Men Oh My! I’d Like to Put Jack Back in The Box: A “Jack in the Box” book review

Jack in the Box or, How to Goddamn Direct
By Jack O’Brien
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hard cover/e-book
$28.00/$14.00
272 pages
ISBN 9780374603830

Review by Alyssa O

The Interwebs — Three-time Tony Award winning director Jack O’Brien has a lot to say about theater. And why shouldn’t he? Throughout the course of his decades-spanning career he’s worked with all the greats; Mike Nichols, Neil Simon, Andrew Lloyd Webber, the list keeps going.

He’s collected all of these tales in his latest book, Jack in the Box, or How to Goddamned Direct.

The book is, in its best moments, part no-holds-barred manifesto on trusting your instincts, and part memoir of the good old days of theater, rife with juicy behind the scenes show-biz anecdotes about people you’ve definitely heard of. What working director wouldn’t want a peek inside that box?

Jack in the Box really shines as a charming, rip roaringly funny read that affirms the unexpected joys of working in the theatre. The brilliance of this book is that it’s not a how-to manual. It delivers nothing in terms of rules or actionable instructions an eager neophyte director can take back to the rehearsal room.

What it does do is celebrate the fact that whether you’re throwing together your first rehearsal in a local church basement or at the Old Globe Theater, nobody really knows what the heck they’re doing. Theater is an experiment, there is no road map, and that is a beautiful thing.

Plenty of big names have already sung the book’s praises. Ethan Hawke calls Jack in the Box, “magic… illuminating, insightful, and essential.”

Nathan Lane says it’s, “the most candid, eloquent, hilarious and moving explanation I’ve ever read on the subject [of directing].”

But, I’m guessing that if you’re reading New England Theater Geek, you’re looking for a different take. Gosh darn it, I’m here to give it to you.

Unfortunately, Jack in the Box takes a hard-left turn into old-white-man land that I cannot endorse or recommend to any contemporary director working to build a more inclusive world.

Whether it’s hints on how to deal with difficult cast members (spoiler alert: in his career he can only think of two moments of “stop-the-music adversity, both involving actresses”) or how to approach “edgy” humor involving racial stereotypes (I’m not even going to do a pull-quote from his anecdote about his old pal Jerry Lewis going for it with Jew jokes. In a world where antisemitism is dangerously on the rise again, I don’t know what editor thought it would be cute to keep that one in.)

Jack in the Box is woefully out of step with the values of most modern theatre creators. I can’t even recommend it as a fun if slightly out of touch read about the Golden Days of Theater.

I am, however, comforted by the fact that men like O’Brian are dinosaurs. He and his ilk will soon retire to their nursing home for obsolete fogies and leave us to take over a Zeitgeist with rulebooks they haven’t written. We inherit a global theatre community where there’s space for a variety of perspectives and where racism and misogyny aren’t excused as simply being “from a different time.”

Oct 28

The Precise and the Indefinable: “On Beckett” 

Photo via https://artsemerson.org/events/on-beckett/

Presented by ArtsEmerson, with Irish Repertory Theatre 
Produced by Octopus Theatricals
Conceived and performed by Bill Irwin
Based on the writings of Samuel Beckett, Texts for Nothing, The Unnamable, Watt, and Waiting for Godot.

October 26 – 30, 2022
Open Captioning, Oct. 29, at 2:00 PM
Audio Description, Oct. 30, 2:00 PM
Emerson Paramount Center
559 Washington St
Boston, MA 02111

Beckittns on Instagram

90 minutes, no intermission

Critique by Kitty Drexel

ArtsEmerson isn’t asking you to turn your phone off for its health. Turn your damn phone off, you git. 

BOSTON, Mass — On Beckett is a masterclass taught by Bill Irwin on the works of playwright, novelist, Nobel Prize winner, and, among other things, WWII resistance fighter Samuel Beckett. Irwin’s dedicated performance, journalistic dramaturgy, and storytelling transcend the medium of the solo show. 

On Beckett isn’t merely a performance incorporating the works of the infamous playwright; it is a doctorate-level dissertation. Emerson, give Irwin his honorary Ph.D.     Continue reading

Oct 17

A Season of Farewells in Western MA: KO Festival of Performance and the Royal Frog Ballet

“The Surrealist Cabaret” by The Royal Frog Ballet. Image from Frog Ballet/Facebook

The KO Festival of Performance
FLUSHING: Make Room for Someone Else
Presented by Sandglass Theater and Parris-Bailey Arts
Written and Performed by Linda Parris-Bailey and Eric Bass
Directed by Kathie deNobriga
Puppets by Ines Zeller Bass
Hampshire College
July 22 – 24, 2022

EZELL: Ballad of a Land Man
Presented by Clear Creek Creative
Written and Performed by Bob Martin
Directed by Nick Silie
Hampshire College, Amherst MA
July 29 – 31, 2022

The Royal Frog Ballet
Surrealist Cabaret
Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, MA
October 7 – 8, 2022

Review by Maegan Bergeron-Clearwood

Western Mass — Theatre artists should be experts in grief: we build sets with the knowledge that we will strike them in a few brief months; we play trust games and cultivate micro-communities, only to part ways once our contracts end; we witness our art fade from memory as quickly as it’s brought to life. We are peddlers in ephemera. And yet, when it comes time to bid farewell to a process or project, it is sometimes nigh-impossible to release our white-knuckled hold on what-was.

This year, two long-standing Western Massachusetts theatre companies – both dedicated to producing work that is fresh, surprising, and even strange – reckoned with their own relationships to endings, grief, and release.

The KO Festival of Performance staged its 31st and final season this summer around the theme of “Stepping Up / Stepping Back.” KO has a storied history of producing original work, supporting local and visiting artists, and cultivating a sense of community through post-show discussions and workshops. Continue reading

Oct 13

Can’t Stop the Beat: “Drumfolk”

Photo from https://artsemerson.org/events/drumfolk/

Presented by ArtsEmerson
Performed by Step Afrika!
Directed by Jakari Sherman
Composed by Steven M. Allen
Mask Design by Erik Teague
Lighting by Marianne Meadows
Sound designed by Patrick Calhoun and engineered by Danielle McBride
Costumes by Kenaan M. Quander
Step Afrika! was founded by C. Brian Williams, with Mfoniso Akpan serving as Artistic Director

October 5 – 16, 2022, 8 p.m., with weekend matinees at 2 p.m.
Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
219 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116
Drumfolk is made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Review by Craig Idlebrook

BOSTON — The Africans who were stolen from their continent to become slaves in the American colonies and many of their descendants created and continue to recreate strong ties of family, music, and community while the forces of white supremacy continually work to strip away their efforts and deny their humanity. This process is as constant as waves cresting on the shore. It can be traced back to the earliest days of the colonization of what would become the United States. Continue reading

Oct 11

Dank Memes for Forest Teens: “Eat Your Young”

Maez Gordon, Abacus Dean-Polacheck, Charlotte Stowe, Sunny Feldman; Photo by Hilary Scott Photography.

Presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre the Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theatre
By J.C. Pankratz
Directed by Shamus
Fight and intimacy direction by Yo-El Cassell

Oct. 6 – 16, 2022
PRIDE NIGHT: Friday, October 14 at 8 p.m.
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02215

A strobe light effect is used during the performance.

Content warnings: Substance abuse disorders, drug use, self-harm, body dysmorphia, disordered eating, fatphobia, violence, and occasional misgendering. Find resources here.

Critique by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON — I fully support content warnings. Content warnings enable survivors to make better choices for their needs. Content warnings are a sign of an empathetic and understanding theatre company. Sometimes even a survivor won’t know when they will be triggered. It is better to err on the side of compassion than to abstain.  

Horror theatre can tell important stories, but often it is an excuse to disgust an audience with cool theatre tricks and fake blood. Eat Your Young is a hard departure from torture porn (or torture fanfiction, as is the case for much of theatre), and I am glad to see it, but it was not the show I was expecting from the content warnings or the summary on the BPT website. 

Content warnings are an imperfect, relatively new practice. Eat Your Young contains elements of traditional psychological horror, but it is largely a comedy. The content warnings lead me to expect jump scares, even physical torture. I was surprised when neither happened. 

Lucia (Abacus Dean-Polacheck), Jelly (Charlotte Stowe), Ginger (Sunny Feldman), and Quinn (Maez Gordon) are four mismatched teens enrolled in an abusive emotional growth school disguised as the wilderness survival program. The teens are abandoned in the forest without resources except for their water bottles, a baggie of tampons, and their sociopathic counselors Marty (Ross Beschler) and Marty B (Jay Eddy).  Continue reading

Oct 04

Hurt Me, Daddy: “Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really”

Sara Jones plays Renfield (left); shown with Maria Hendricks as Dr. Van Helsing (middle) and Lisa San Pascual as Mina Harker (right). Photo by Gillian Mariner Gordon.

Presented by The Umbrella Stage Company 
Based on the novel by Bram Stoker
By Kate Hamill
Directed by Michelle Aguillon
Original Music Compositions by Valerie Forgione
Intimacy Direction by Kayleigh Kane 
Fight Direction by Sarah Flanagan

Sept. 30 – Oct. 23, 2022
The Umbrella Arts Center
40 Stow Street
Concord, MA 01742

Critique by Kitty Drexel

CONTENT WARNINGS: This play contains sexual situations, violence, and death by suicide. It may not be appropriate for persons under 16 years old.

This production uses strobe light effects and fog effects.

CONCORD, Mass. — Do heteros know they’re supposed to like their partners? Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really is yet another retelling of a classic gothic romance novel in which men treat their female partners terribly; their behavior is belittling, lacks respect, and reeks of contempt. It’s no wonder playwright Kate Hamill rewrote it with a snappy, violent finale. 

Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really spins the novel by Bram Stoker for a modern audience of thinking minds. Mina Harker (Lisa San Pascual) expects a baby any day now, but her husband Jonathan (Joseph Jude) must assist Count Dracula (Dustin Teuber) with land acquisition. Mina’s best friend Lucy Westenra (Gabrielle Hatcher) can’t contain her glee at marrying Dr. George Seward (Dominic Carter) but fears she must for George’s sake.

Renfield (Sara Jones) can’t remember what happened to her husband. Drusilla (Emily Sheeran) and Marilla (Bowen Huang) hunger. Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really is not told in letters, thankfully. Continue reading

Oct 01

Where’er the Surge May Sweep: “Ada and the Engine”

Mishy Jacobson in Ada and the Engine. Photo: Nile Scott Studios.

Presented by Central Square Theater
Brit d’Arbeloff Women in Science Production
A Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Production
Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Debra Wise
Choreography by Judith Chaffee
Featuring Kortney Adams, Diego Arciniegas, Mishy Jacobsen, and John Hardin

The online playbill

September 22 to October 23, 2022
Central Square Theater
450 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA

Critique by Kitty Drexel

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Lauren Gunderson’s Ada and the Engine at Central Square Theater is not either’s best work. Central Square Theater has produced better shows and produced better shows by Gunderson. Gunderson has written better plays.

Ada and the Engine is problematic, and the script has problems. It reorganizes the life of English mathematician Augusta “Ada” King, Countess of Lovelace to tell a unique story about the intersection of computational science and gender roles. It approximates Ada Lovelace’s life to continue the discussion about the uphill battle women face in STEM.  Continue reading