Feb 20

THE SECRET GARDEN: A Magical Secret Worth Sharing

photo by Gary Ng

The Secret Garden, book and lyrics by Susan Kosoff, Music by Jane Staab, Wheelock Family Theatre, 1/28/11-2/27/11 (including weekday performances 2/22/11-2/25/11), http://www.wheelockfamilytheatre.org/feature-performance.aspx

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

As I was watching Wheelock’s production of The Secret Garden, I wished I was eight again (except for the horrible prospect of growing up again).  Wheelock Family Theatre is a magical place where dreams come alive, and this is particularly evident in their production of The Secret Garden.

One can’t help but be enchanted by the scenery by Matthew T. Lazure.  The garden wall rotates and reveals the inside of the garden, and Colin’s room appears from the walls of the seemingly impenetrable house.  Another clever aspect is the “growth” of the flowers during intermission; I put my head down for one minute–I look up and see leaves; I put my head down for another moment, look up and see flowers in full bloom. Continue reading

Feb 13

CYMBELINE: such stuff as dreams are made on

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, 2/9/11-2/20/11, part of THE WINTER FESTIVAL (also playing:  The Hotel Nepenthe by John Kuntz, 2/23/11-3/6/11; and Living in Exile by Jon Lipsky, 3/9/11-3/20/11)  http://www.actorsshakespeareproject.org/season7/winter_festival.html

Brooke Hardman as Imogen and De'Lon Grant as Posthumous; photo by Stratton McCrady, c 2011

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

This is why I love theatre.  No sets. No real props (except musical instruments).  Plain white clothing.  All that is left is the artists and the words.  Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s final plays, is rarely staged because of its meandering plots and complicated relationships (for a detailed plot summary, go to SparkNotes—really, it’s not cheating); Actors’ Shakespeare Project not only takes on the challenge, but performs the play possibly better than even Shakespeare could have envisioned it.

This phenomenally talented cast of seven takes the multiple plot twists and numerous characters and creates a cohesive and pleasurable fable for adults.   Continue reading

Feb 05

RUMORS fly like bullets

Rumors by Neil Simon, Walpole Footlighters, 2/4/11-2/20/11, http://www.footlighters.com/

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Photos by Dan Busler Photography

Walpole Footlighters breathes life into the wily, witty, wordsmith’s farce:  Rumors.  Although the script itself brings little to the genre other than being an obvious testing ground for Neil Simon, Walpole Footlighters offers a bubbly evening of laughs to take your mind off all of the snow.

The story surrounds an anniversary party gone awry:  the wife and the servants have run off, the host has shot himself in the ear, and the guests try to cover up an apparent scandal.  Comic craziness ensues.

Led by David Giagrando, the cast is able to overcome some of the script’s flaws.  Giagrando, as Lenny Ganz, tries to control the situation and fails hilariously; his performance produces the perfect neurotic New York yuppie while using every subterfuge in his arsenal (including a wonderfully performed “story” in the second act) to keep the host’s secret from getting into the news.  Barbara Shapiro and James Merlin (as Cookie and Ernie Cusack) amplify the neuroses with their screwball personalities and actions.  Shapiro’s physical comedy provides some of the funniest moments of the night.

While the script itself drags in some places, the show overall provides an enjoyable evening of belly laughs that remind us of a simpler time (who ever thought the 80’s would be called that?) when appearance was the only important thing.  Walpole Footlighters provides a delightful production to get you outside of the city and outside of yourself.  2/4/11.  TNETG.

Jan 25

NINE ways to leave your lover

Timothy John Smith (center) and company in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of NINE, running Jan. 21 - Feb. 20 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion . Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

Nine, book by Arthur Kopit, music & lyrics by Maury Yeston, adaptation from the Italian by Mario Fratti, based on Fellini’s 8 ½, Speakeasy Stage Company, 1/21/11-2/20/11, http://www.speakeasystage.com/index.php

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Speakeasy Stage Company has created an exquisite, solid revival of Maury Yeston’s award-winning musical Nine.  With masterful direction and a stage full of talent, Maury Yeston’s vision of the struggling director as a conductor of his own affairs takes the stage with vigor and tenacity.

Nine, based on Fellini’s film 8 ½, tells the story of a formally successful film director who is struggling with both a creative crisis and midlife crisis.  Timothy John Smith plays Guido Contini, the figure who represents Fellini.  Smith infuses Guido with both an arrogant confidence of a professed womanizer and the almost childlike uneasiness of someone whose world is trying to spin out of control.  Although he is betrayed by his own schema, he picks himself up, pulls himself together, and moves on. Continue reading

Jan 21

‘Full’ of Inspiration

R. Buckminster Fuller:  The History (and Mystery) of the Universe by DW Jacobs,  American Repertory Theater, 1/14/11-2/5/11. http://www.americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/r-buckminster-fuller-history-and-mystery-universe.

R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and Mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE. Performed by Thomas Derrah. Photo: Marcus Stern.

Warning: contains profound thoughts

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

When someone asks me what subjects I liked when I was in school, I always say “all except science, I HATE science.”  What I have learned over the past few years is that I have hated science because no one made it interesting for me.  R. Buckminster Fuller:  The History (and Mystery) of the Universe reminds me again that love of science and love of learning start with a person who engages, challenges, and pushes you to see the world in new ways.

The one-man show connects theories of science, philosophy, sociology, and sustainability to life.  Fuller comes to life in such a way that the audience feels that they are at a “real” lecture.  Thomas Derrah presents the same frenetic and contagious energy that was Bucky Fuller’s trademark.  He bounces and dances around as he explains his principles for improving “spaceship earth” and also questioning all of the norms that surround us.  Like Bucky, he uses any and all forms of media that are available to him to get his point across. Continue reading

Jan 20

Afterlife: Needs a new life

(left to right) Dale Place as Black Bird and Thomas Piper as Connor in afterlife: a ghost story. Photo by Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures.

afterlife:  a ghost story by Steve Yockey, New Repertory Theatre, 1/16/11-2/6/11, http://newrep.org/afterlife.phpContains strong language.

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Steve Yockey’s afterlife:  a ghost story should be subtitled an evening of one acts.  While both acts of the play contain the same characters and themes, the familiarity ends there.  Act I displays a realistic, yet mundane evening between a grieving couple; they are packing up the beach house where they used to live.   They talk around the subject of their son’s death, but other than some yelling and “crying” they really remain stuck in one place until their house is washed away.  Act II portrays a fantasy world (somewhere between heaven and hell) where the Danielle, Connor, and their son work out their grief.  They receive the assistance of a postman, a proprietress, another ghost, and a bird puppet.  afterlife:  a ghost story has potential to transform into an interesting play if the first act removes ninety percent of its action and the second act has the chance to develop more fully. Continue reading

Jan 18

NEIGHBORS: What do you see?

Christine Power (Jean), Lori Tishfield (Melody), Johnny Lee Davenport (Richard)

Neighbors by Brandon Jacob-Jenkins, Company One, BCA, 1/14/11-2/5/11.  Explicit Language and Sexual Content.

http://www.companyone.org/Season12/Neighbors/synopsis.shtml

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

“Who do you think you are?”  With each generation, the answer to that question becomes more ambiguous and cryptic.  Yet, the question does not go away and becomes the fulcrum for the conflict in Brandon Jacob-Jenkins’ play Neighbors.  Company One does not apologize for the rawness of the material, but embraces it and challenges the audience to do the same.

The young actors Lori Tishfield and Tory Bullock steal the show.  Ms. Tishfield’s portrayal of Melody Patterson, a confused teenager of a mixed-race family, underscores the need for love, acceptance, and belonging that we all search for.  Her honest performance is matched by the sweet naiveté of Tory Bullock as Jim Crow, Jr.  Jim does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps as a performer, but becomes more comfortable as he develops a relationship with Melody. Continue reading

Jan 11

HYSTERIA: the naked women in Freud’s closet

Hysteria, or Fragments of an Analysis of a Obsessional Neurosis by Terry Johnson, The NoraTheatre Company, Central Square Theater, 1/6/11-1/30/11.  Nudity and mature themes.  http://www.centralsquaretheater.org/season/10-11/hysteria.html

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Freudian analysis?  A dream of Dali?  Too much spicy food?  These are questions the audience might ask while watching Hysteria.  Using the real meeting between Freud and Dali as a starting point, Johnson’s play moves from farce to surrealism to nothingness.  The Nora Theatre Company makes this strange journey palatable and pleasurable and  masks the flaws of the script.

The exaggerated perspective of the set, Freud’s study, immediately tells the audience that something peculiar is going to happen.  As the play unfolds, Janie E. Howland’s surrealistic set design matches the frenetic energy that is sent forth from the actors.  No one questions the absurdity of the situations that take place because the cast commit fully to the roles that they play.  Richard Sneed, as Freud, tries to hold the world together as it keeps trying to spiral out-of-control.  His warm-fatherly nature combined with Freud’s philosophies moves the audience from sympathy for a dying man to anger at an intractable man that will not even admit the possibility that he might have erred. Continue reading

Dec 30

Building Relationships

Barefoot In The Park by Neil Simon, Zero Point Theater, 12/28/10-1/2/11.  http://www.zptheater.com/

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Zero Point Theater, a relatively new theatre company, brings Neil Simon’s crowd-pleasing favorite Barefoot In The Park to the stage.  While a few of the references from the 1963 play are dated, the integrity of this piece—underscoring the complexity of developing relationships—remains sound, along with the majority of the quips and witty dialogue that Simon is famous for. Continue reading

Dec 28

The Problem With Previews–Version 2.0

by Becca Kidwell

[This is based on the article I wrote in November, but then deleted because I did see the production after its opening and I wanted the theatre to have the opportunity to have a successful show, if warranted, without prejudice.]

Preview performances are not a new invention in the theatre. In fact, although I could not find the origin, I have found news articles dating back to the 1900’s regarding theatre previews. Most theatres will agree that “preview week is about nuance. For the creators, cast and crew, the seven [preview] performances will be a chance to fine-tune before the official opening night four days from now. They will make changes during the day and try them out at night before an audience.”1 However, that definition allows for flexibility and abuse to the detriment of the audience. Continue reading