Saving Boston One Turtle at a Time: “Martha’s (b)Rainstorm”

Photo by Paul Fox

Presented by Fresh Ink Theatre
Written by John J King
Directed by Stephanie LeBolt
In collaboration with the Boston Public Library Playwright-in-Residence program and part of the Push Project Residency at Boston Center for the Arts

June 7 – 15, 2018
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
Fresh Ink on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

Warning: Parts of this play require audience interaction. If that isn’t your thing, sit in the back.

(Boston, MA) Martha’s (b)Rainstorm: A Boston Fairytale pays homage to our fair city through Native myth, pop culture references, and pseudoscience. It tackles the very real threat of climate change on our Massachusetts shores through democratic process. Fresh Ink’s production is still in its nascent stage but it a beautiful show bursting with possibility.

Martha Morgan Honeytogue (Blyss Cleveland) is a City Communications Director working towards a better Boston, MA or BoMA for all its people. Working against her is a well meaning but destructive Architect/City Planner named Damian Argus (Matt Ryan) who has the Mayor’s ear (Quentin Nguyen-duy). Chelonia Mydas (Maria Hendricks), the last adult turtle alive, agrees to help Martha gather the animal population for a city-wide protest if Martha saves her two eggs, and her race, from extinction. Martha is aided by her friend and co-council member Dr. Cassandra Byrnes (Louise Hamill) and a host of other friends in order to save Boston from climate change, dishonest politics, and itself.

Martha’s (b)Rainstorm requires its audience to absorb a lot of information in one sitting. As in most Native myths, MbR expects one to adjust their expectations to accommodate unlikely realities such as time passing non-sequentially, animals talking and comprehending abstract concepts, or Boston’s City Planning dept. responding to crises in a timely, unselfish manner. Further, King has us juggling multiple character arcs carrying equal weight while mixing his metaphors. He is largely successful at this because he gives his audience the benefit of his doubt. He expects us to keep up so we do. Mostly.

BoMa is going to get a wall whether it wants one or not because of climate change. Martha isn’t against the wall but she is against acting before the city has a chance to vote on it. Gee (Nick Osborne) works on the Freedom Trail. Zara (Lynn Wilcott) deserves respect. Rudy Walsh (Phil Thompson) runs an “inconvenience store” that also debrines ocean water. Yzobel (Lourdes Martinez) becomes a polar bear and Hecate (Adriana Zuniga) wants cuddles. MbR is a good, funny, heartwarming script but its too much for one sitting. Not when there’s so much to process in two hours with no break. Intermissions are for peeing and for mental/emotional resets.

MbR is a staged reading. Actors have scripts in hands. LeBolt did excellent work with her cast and crew to create a production equal to one fully staged and off-book. The cast was committed and entirely believable in their roles. Even the turkey. Kenny Burt’s scenic design fits very well within the JJK/J-Rex Plays style. That each chair was different for each cast member was a nice touch. Geraldine Barney’s compositions and foley work catapulted the audience into BoMa’s alternate reality. Her work is magical.

It is clear the Fresh Ink and JJKing went to great lengths to produce this play respectfully. The cast is beautifully diverse and represents the diversity found within Boston. Untranslated Spanish is spoken in the play by bilingual speakers. References are made to other languages that respectfully aren’t spoken aloud because non-speakers don’t want bastardize them onstage. MbR passes the Bechdel Test, the Sexy Lamp Test, and the Mako Mori Test. JJKing uses his humor to punch up, never down. These are excellent examples of progress.

Yet. And yet. There is more decolonization that must be done. I say this as a cis, white, privilege-cognizant woman who thoroughly enjoyed MbR. If it’s a play that uses Native myths, Native Americans must be more transparently involved in this process. If it doesn’t directly include them, it isn’t actually about them.  

Martha’s (b)Rainstorm: A Boston Fairytale is such a beautiful story. The play has great potential. Please go see it and support local theatre. It is possible to support imperfect fringe theatre while understanding its imperfections. That’s why plays are workshopped after all.

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