Jan 16

“Other Desert Cities”: Facades Collide With Reality

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Photo caption: Anne Gottlieb and Christopher M. Smith in a scene from SpeakEasy Stage's production of Other DesertCities, running January 11 through February 9 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. Tickets at speakeasystage.com or 617.933.8600. Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Photo caption: Anne Gottlieb and Christopher M. Smith, Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

By Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by Scott Edmiston

Presented by Speakeasy Stage Company
January 11 – February 9
Wimberly Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
Speakeasy Stage Co Facebook Page

Review by Becca Kidwell

(Boston) At a time when nostalgia for the eighties is heightening (neon, rubber bracelets, leg warmers,
cut off tees), Jon Robin Baitz reminds us that our recent past was neither as lavish or simple
as we would like to contain it. As the last of the Reaganite politicians cling desperately to
the “grand old party,” gen-xers (like myself) try to find meaning out of a part of seeming trivial
history. Baitz sends a thermobaric weapon to the Wyeth household in the form of Brooke Wyeth, played by Anne Gottlieb. Continue reading

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Jan 15

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Feb. 9, 8PM

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Ladysmith Black MambazoPhoto: Luis Leal

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Photo: Luis Leal

presented by World Music/CRASHarts

From South Africa

Saturday, February 9, 8:00 PM ONLY
Sanders Theatre
45 Quincy St
Cambridge, 02138
Ladysmith Black Mambazo Facebook Page

With the power of gospel and the precision of Broadway, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is the undisputed king of mbube, South African a cappella singing. The group came together in the early 1960s and continues to thrill audiences around the world with its strong, proud melodies, harmonized in layers of call and response.

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Jan 15

“Vinegar Tom”: A Deceptively Timely Play

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Photo credit: Whistler in the Dark; This show contains material that may trigger PTSD  - please try to see it anyway.

Photo credit: Whistler in the Dark; This show contains material that may trigger PTSD – please try to see it anyway.

presented by Whistler in the Dark Theatre
Vinegar Tom is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.

by Caryl Churchill

directed by Mac Young
songs composed by Molly Allis, Juliet Olivier & Veronica Barron
music Composed and Performed by: Veronica Barron & Tony Leva
lyrics by Caryl Churchill

January 11th-February 2nd
The Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116
Whistler in the Dark Theatre Facebook Page

Review by Gillian Daniels

TRIGGER WARNING

(Boston) Historical fiction is often said to reflect the era in which it’s written rather than the era it’s written about.  Caryl Churchill’s Vinegar Tom, originally performed in 1976, mirrors the growing awareness of feminism.  In 1600’s England, a group of women deal with being unmarried, unrepresented, and unwanted. The result is a play that’s appropriately bleak.

Vinegar Tom begins with Alice, portrayed by the excellent but often subtle Becca A. Lewis.  Lewis playfully drives the show as a young woman with a feather-light conscience despite having an infant son out of wedlock.  Her performance is credible not as a woman anachronistically independent or “ahead of her time,” but as someone who wants to marry and live on her own terms.  She is aided by her mother, Joan (Karin Webb), who is largely dismissed and derided by their town as an old hag. Continue reading

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Jan 14

Incomplete Sweetness: MARRY ME A LITTLE

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Photo by Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures

Photo by Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures

presented by New Repertory Theatre

songs by Stephen Sondheim
conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene
directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins
musical direction by David McGrory

Arsenal Center for the Arts
in the Charles Mosesian Theater
Watertown, MA
January 6th – January 27th, 2013
New Repertory Theatre Facebook Page

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Watertown) As a songwriter, Stephen Sondheim is better than you.  He just is.

He mastered the art of straightforward musicals with West Side Story and he’s been toying with us ever since.  After figuring out what sappy audiences want in a love song, he’s been not giving it to them, choosing instead to dwell in the tensions and the ambiguities of our romantic natures in lovely, sonic dissonance. Continue reading

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Jan 14

“The Invisible Man” and the American Nightmare

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Photo credit: Astrid Reiken

Photo credit: Astrid Reiken

 

presented by Huntington Theatre Company

written by Ralph Ellison
adapted by Oren Jacoby
directed by Christopher McElroen

264 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Jan 4 – Feb 3, 2013
Huntington Theatre Co Facebook Page

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Boston) From Ralph Ellison’s original novel, I mainly remember a giddy fury. The anger sears through the plot, spiraling off the pages in righteous, self-aware smoke. It’s humorous in a sad sort of way. In the slanted world Ellison describes, there are people and then there are black people. For the most part, the main character tells the audience, the latter is invisible in contemporary America. Continue reading

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Jan 13

A Percussive Prayer: “SoLe Sanctuary”

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Savion GloverPhoto: Lois Greenfield

Photo credit: Lois Greenfield, Marshall Davis Jr. unfortunately not pictured.

presented by Celebrity Series of Boston and World Music/CRASHarts

Featuring Savion Glover and Marshall Davis Jr.: The Last HooFeRz Standing
Directed and Choreographed by Spirits Known

Saturday, January 12, 8pm ONLY (alas!)
Ran 2 hours without an intermission
The Boston Opera House
539 Washington Street, Boston.
Celebrity Series of Boston and World Music/CRASHarts Facebook Pages

Savion Glover’s SoLe Sanctuary is an homage to the great performers that have inspired his career. It is also a devotional to God; a spiritual testament to his journey as a dancer and artist. Starting from the opening moments when Glover is meditating over candles, the program wavers between personal statement and percussive prayer. It is a deeply intimate perspective of Glover’s experience as a dancer, man and child of the divine.  Continue reading

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Jan 13

Office Space on Downers: THE MEMORANDUM

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Photo credit: Flat Earth Theatre; a normal day at the office.

Photo credit: Flat Earth Theatre; a normal day at the office.

presented by Flat Earth Theatre

By Václav Havel
Translated by Vera Blackwell
Directed by Victoria Rose Townsend

Arsenal Center for the Arts
Watertown, MA
January 11th – 19th, 2013
Flat Earth Theatre Facebook Page

Review by Craig Idlebrook

If Václav Havel’s life is any indication, it may wise not to let your biography get more interesting than your scripts. The Czech playwright went from a persecuted critic of Communism to his country’s first freely-elected president. His play, The Memorandum, here translated by Vera Blackwell, now often inevitably is viewed through that lens. Continue reading

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Jan 13

Out-of-Control Silliness: SPANK: THE FIFTY SHADES PARODY

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Photo credit: Mills Entertainment; naughty, naughty


Photo credit: Mills Entertainment; naughty, naughty

 

presented by Mills Entertainment

January 12th – May 30th 2013
Wilbur Theatre
Boston, MA
Spank! Facebook Page 

Review by Craig Idlebrook

This review contains discussion of adult themes.

(Boston) On its surface, the parody looks like an easy genre to nail, as it seems much easier to make fun of an existing storyline than create a memorable one. But there are pitfalls in the genre, including the lack of opportunity for character development. Think of the Naked Gun or Airplane! movies; the characters must be blank slates who never realize they are in a strange world. To succeed, the parody must be either short (SNL) or have a unified comedic vision that is funny independent of the original storyline.

Spank!: the Fifty Shades Parody is full of gags that will make any cursory reader of the S&M novel Fifty Shades of Grey spit out her gag with laughter, but it fails to create a complete world of ridiculousness, as the actors never can get on the same page for the comedic feel for the show. In the end, the joke nearly spirals out of control and the show grows tedious. Continue reading

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Jan 09

“33 Variations”: Beethoven Mired in Melodrama

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Photo credit: Mark S. Howard; snuggles with Beethoven.

Photo credit: Mark S. Howard; snuggles with Beethoven.

By Moises Kaufman
Directed by Spiro Veloudos

presented by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston
140 Clarendon Street, 2nd floor
Boston, MA  02116
Lyric Stage Facebook Page

Review  by Gillian Daniels

(Boston) In Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, only works of genius transcend death. Musicologist Dr. Katherine Brandt (Paula Plum) throws herself into her studies of Ludwig van Beethoven when diagnosed with a debilitating disease. Brandt’s crisis is contrasted with Beethoven (James Andreassi) as he loses his hearing in 1823.

The contemporary setting is ultimately too light when played side by side with history. Katherine fights against her illness tooth and nail as she struggles to complete her research in Germany, but where that illness should be driving the drama, it instead turns 33 Variations into an issue piece when it could have been so much more.

Katherine’s strained relationship with her daughter, Clara (Dakota Shepard), never feels terribly real, which is disappointing. I understand why Katherine demands perfection of her adult child but I don’t understand why those demands still inspire such loyalty in Clara. It’s not that it isn’t heartening to watch her help Katherine through her sickness, but the relationship feels weak.

Even weaker, though, is Clara’s romance with Mike Clark (Kelby T. Akin), her mother’s nurse. It’s cute in a romantic comedy sort of way. Still, a male nurse dating a distressed, emotionally vulnerable woman strains believability. Despite this, their courtship is cute and humorous. Remembering his profession and under what circumstances their affair transpires, though, wrecks the illusion.

33 Variations is most alive when it deals with history and those obsessed with it. Beethoven’s struggle to write thirty-three variations of a mediocre waltz is thrilling. We can see exactly why Katherine is so passionate about him and his life. It also explains why a friendship grows between her and Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger (Maureen Keiller) while they do research in the Beethoven archives. The really interesting story, the one about art and talent transcending time, is there. It’s just buried under melodrama.

Now, the melodrama isn’t all bad, but it’s best when finding the bittersweet humor of Katherine’s difficulties. Otherwise, the story of a genius plagued by the perils of infirmity has been done before and better. Here, despite Paula Plum’s nuanced acting, the story drags.

Perhaps the strongest quality of the play is the way in which this well-mined material is staged. The actors really throw themselves into their roles, deftly pealing away the layers of melancholy to the humor and hope beneath the material. Pianist Catherine Stornetta does the most to breathe life into the show as she plays each variation.

It’s also magical to watch Beethoven share the stage with Katherine. When Katherine talks with Clara and Beethoven yells at his assistant, Anton Schindler (Victor L. Shopov), their conversations in their respective eras weave together. They are separate from each other only by degrees, knitted together by the desire to continue living fully and happily.

For the play, it’s an unfortunate separation that does it no favors. Katherine’s own deterioration is depicted well, but much too weak to carry a story on its own. As it is, 33 Variations tugs heartstrings, but doesn’t transcend its melodramatic trappings. If only the show had been more ambitious, maybe even as ambitious as the art that it depicts, then it would have really shined.

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Jan 07

A Parental Nightmare or Fantasy: MEMORY HOUSE

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***With Apologies to Merrimack Repertory Theatre and the cast of Memory House, this review was intended to be published during the October/November run****

Susan Pellegrino and Rebecca Blumhagen. Photo by Meghan Moore

Susan Pellegrino and Rebecca Blumhagen. Photo by Meghan Moore; snuggles.

by Kathleen Tolan
Directed by Melia Bensussen

presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
50 E. Merrimack Street
Lowell, Massachusetts 01852
October 25th – November 18th, 2012

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Facebook Page

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Lowell) Family dramas on stage and screen are filled with “explanation” moments, when a parent is called out by a now-grown child to explain the who, what and where, when, how and why of family history.  The explanation moment can be a blessing or a curse, as it hits home for parents just how much they’ve screwed up their children’s lives while also giving them the chance to make their cases before the court.  This theatrical device can be used sloppily for Lifetime dramas or effectively for Oscar-bait movies. Continue reading

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