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,

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.

If there is a shortage of talented female musical actresses in Boston this month, it is because many of them are on this stage.  As Luisa, Aimee Doherty portrays Contini’s wife who has had to deal with his affairs for many years.  Luisa gives strength and stability to Guido while suffering pain underneath; Doherty displays these subtleties by holding up the mask of a celebrity’s wife and letting her heart pour through the cracks and crevices of that façade.

Claudia, performed by Jennifer Ellis, provides Guido with the inspiration to start filming his movie.  In his eyes, she is ephemeral and eternal while Claudia wishes to be recognized as “flesh and blood”.  Jennifer Ellis creates a woman who offers herself as a muse but allows her inner spirit to demand recognition as a strong, human being; she will not allow herself to continue to be used as a toy.

McCaela Donovan’s Carla is the youthful sexy fling for Contini.  She comes across as one of the desirable accessories of a man in midlife crisis—a young girl, full of vitality, with a ravenous appetite.  The only questionable characterization of Carla is that she seems more fragile than strong.  While the book gives Carla the ability to walk away with dignity, Donovan seems broken to the point that she will go on, but that is all; McCaela Donovan does possess an inner strength as a person that keeps the character Carla from completely breaking down; however, she should trust that quality more in her characterization.  All of the women in this show are meant to be strong; they need to be able to stand up to Guido and Guido needs them to take control (in some capacities) so that he does not have to grow up.

Maureen Keiller, as Liliane LaFleur, performs the rousing number “Folies Bergeres”.  When she is center stage, her magnetizing presence draws everyone in and demands their attention.  Cheryl McMahon plays Guido’s loving—if sometimes frustrated–mother.  Her performance is both warm and firm; while she loves her son, she wishes that he would not compromise himself so much.  The rest of the cast supports the show wonderfully providing Contini with flattery and threats to his ego.

Paul Daigneault’s minimalist approach to the play respects Yeston’s original vision of a simple orchestrated piece of Contini’s mind.  This staging accompanied with the scenery by Eric Levenson keep the large cast and large numbers from getting lost and muddled on the small stage.  This clean, flowing production offers a fully realized vision of Yeston’s musical that embraces the intimacy and the grandeur of the story. 1/23/11. TNETG.

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