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.”

Aug 29

Geeks Review Books: “HowlRound Anthology: Essays and Conversations from the First Ten Years”

HowlRound Anthology: Essays and Conversations from the First Ten Years
Fifty essays from 2011 to 2020
Published by HowlRound Theatre Commons
Edited by May Antaki
Copyright 2022
Paperback, 514 pages
ISBN: 978-1-939006-06-6
$20.00
First edition, May 2022
Purchase the Anthology

Book review by Kitty Drexel

“We make rituals and allow communities to witness new propositions with an emotional vulnerability that unites us in our humanity, and in our greater universal connectedness.” 

  • From “Walking the Awkwardly Heroic Yet Often Depressing Path of Near-Impossible Catastrophe Evasion Through Kick-Ass Poetics” by Elizabeth Doud, 24 April 2015.

BOSTON — HowlRound Anthology: Essays and Conversations from the First Ten Years is not a dainty book of light reading. It is a girthy 514 pages wrapped between a Halloween orange front and back cover, with small font and no fluffy filler. Its only pictures are black-and-white headshots of contributing authors arranged next to author biographies. It’s taken me a month to write this review and I’m only three-quarters of the way through. You could fight off a fascist with this weighty book and win.

The contents aren’t light either. HowlRound clearly strived to be anti-racist, intersectionally feminist, transparent, diverse, and equitable while remaining fully loyal to its mission of amplifying progressive, disruptive ideas about art forms and facilitating connections between diverse practitioners. These articles will challenge your current practices and beliefs and, hopefully, enable you to be a better theatremaker, ally, and person.  Continue reading

Aug 31

Connecticut’s Flagship Producing Theaters Announce Mask and Vaccine Requirements

Article by Kitty Drexel

CONNECTICUT — A six-member consortium of Connecticut Flagship Producing Theaters announced mandatory indoor-space vaccination and mask requirements for all audience members, staff, crew, and artists to minimize exposure to COVID-19 said an August 30 press release. 

The theatres say patrons must be masked and fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine to attend an indoor performance. The vaccination and mask requirements are effective immediately and follow current CDC and state and local official guidelines. It represents a collective investment in the well-being of their respective audiences. 

Theatre vaccination and masking measures will be reassessed with changing conditions. Patrons should refer to a theatre’s website for specific requirements and possible exemptions (medical, age, etc.). 

Public Relations Manager Patricia Blaufuss said in an email, the CFPT will accept the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines from patrons.

On August 23, the FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 said the FDA website. It will be marketed as Comirnaty and available to treat COVID-19 in individuals 16 years of age and older.  

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and the Janssen COVID-19 are approved for emergency use.

Please refer to these websites for more information on safety protocols and more information about seasons, ticketing, and other updates. 

About Connecticut Flagship Producing Theaters:

CFPT is comprised of six nonprofit institutions: Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Goodspeed Musicals, Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, Westport Country Playhouse, and Yale Repertory Theatre. Though distinctive in their missions, programming, and daily operations, CFPT members are significant contributors to Connecticut’s economy, responsible for $42M in direct economic activity each year, and enriching the lives of the more than 330,000 patrons who visit and enjoy CFPT productions annually.

Feb 24

Radical Wellness, Rooted In Movement: A Trans Boxing Series

Presented in partnership with Trans Boxing, Company One, and Theater Offensive
Led By Shan Moten

Friday, 19 February 2021 7PM EST
Sunday, 21 February 2021 2PM EST
Via ZOOM
Company One Theatre & The Theater Offensive on Facebook

Review by Afrikah Smith

ZOOM — Rooted in Movement is a two-part trans boxing series that creates a safe space for beginners and advanced folks to explore boxing while being in community with LGBTQIA+ members and other participants. Continue reading

Dec 28

Williamstown Theatre Festival Releases “Animals” & “Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club” on Audible.com


Williamstown Theatre Festival 
Facebook: www.facebook.com/wtfestival
Insta: www.instagram.com/wtfestival
Twitter: www.twitter.com/wtfest

Audible/theater titles
Facebook: www.facebook.com/audibletheater
Insta: www.instagram.com/audibletheater
Twitter: www.twitter.com/audibletheater

Reviews by Kitty Drexel

AUDIBLE — Williamstown Theatre Festival and Audible present Animals by Stacy Osei-Kuffour beginning on December 17. Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club by Shakina Nayfack is available starting tomorrow, December 29. We were given access to both early in order to write these reviews. 

Thank you to the Williamstown Theatre Festival for the advanced access!
Happy New Year, everyone! We’ll see you in 2021.

Best,
Kitty Drexel, the Queen Geek


Written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour 
Directed by Whitney White
sound design by Fan Zhang
Assistant direction by Tyler Thomas
Featuring: Madeline Brewer (Coleen), Jason Butler Harner (Henry), William Jackson Harper
(Yaw/Jason), and Aja Naomi King (Lydia)

Summary: Lydia (Aja Naomi King) and Henry (Jason Butler Harner) and their dinner guests Colleen & Yaw/Jason (Madeline Brewer and William Jackson Harper) are having a contentious evening. They’re constantly arguing about minor details, fragile egos are consistently bruised, and the wine bottle remains uncorked. Unspoken insecurities and dark secrets are revealed after Henry proposes to Lydia. Animals attempts to examine why marriage and relationships bring out the best and worst in people. This play has themes of race, class, gender, cancel culture, identity, and familial bondage. Continue reading

Dec 22

A Punk Holiday Cult Classic in the Making: “Mary’s Dark Christmas”


Written by Hayley Spivey
Music & Lyrics by Abbie Goldberg, Aaron Goodwin, Haley Spivey
Toy piano playing by James LaBella
Directed & edited by Andrew Child
Art direction by Andrew Child
Puppet knitwear & opening sequence artwork by Sara Kenny
Reindeer & snowman puppet by Joe Wood
Exterior of Mary’s House by Hayley Spivey
Ink & watercolor images by Lou Lim
Featuring: Ben Astrachan, Alex Casillas, Ethan Child, Becky Ittner, Dylan Scott, Kayla Shimizu, and Michael Herschberg

Premier on December 17, 2020
Eternally on YouTube

Review by Kitty Drexel

YOUTUBE — Punk is not dead. Mary’s Dark Christmas is the most hardcore thing I’ve seen this year, and my housemate had COVID-19 before we knew what caused it or how it was spread.

In this deep dive into the twisted depths of Spivey’s conscious mind, third-grader Mary Christmas (Becky Ittner) goes on a bender of junk-punching tantrums because Santa (as himself) cancels Christmas. Jeff Bezos (Jack Brewer) swoops in to save capitalism with his Naughty or Nice program™. He believes “that everyone has the right to infect and kill their grandparents so they can see a few presents under their tree.” Continue reading

Dec 18

Williamstown Theatre Festival Releases “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Photograph 51” on Audible.com

Williamstown Theatre Festival 
Facebook: www.facebook.com/wtfestival
Insta: www.instagram.com/wtfestival
Twitter: www.twitter.com/wtfest

Audible/theater titles
Facebook: www.facebook.com/audibletheater
Insta: www.instagram.com/audibletheater
Twitter: www.twitter.com/audibletheater

Reviews by Kitty Drexel

AUDIBLE.COM — In April, the Williamstown Theatre Festival announced that it was presenting its seven productions planned for its 2020 season in partnership with Audible, the Amazon streaming service. Below are reviews for A Streetcar Named Desire and Photograph 51.

Additional reviews of Animals by Stacy Osei-Kuffour and Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club by Shakina Nayfack will post next week.

Happy Streaming!

A Streetcar Named Desire
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Robert O’Hara
Assistant directed by Nicholas Polonio
Sound design by Lindsay Jones
Dialect coaching by Dawn-Elin Fraser and Deborah Hecht
Intimacy direction by Claire Warden

Featuring: Joel Reuben Ganz (Doctor), Joe Goldammer (Steve Hubbell), Carla Gugino (Stella Kowalski), Carmen M. Herlihy (Eunice Hubbell), Sullivan Jones (Harold Mitchell), Brian Lucas (Young Collector), Audra McDonald (Blanche DuBois), Stacey Raymond (Nurse), Cesar J. Rosado (Pablo Gonzales), and Ariel Shafir (Stanley Kowalski)

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for a play that first premiered on Broadway in 1947. We assume that readers will have a working knowledge of this Tennessee Williams classic.

This radio drama version of Streetcar requires a listener to engage with it. It’s not something to listen to while driving or finishing a project. The listener will miss out on the actors’ subtleties and new takes on this classic. Audra McDonald, Carla Gugino, and Ariel Shafir use their voices as instruments. They fill silence with artistic nuance. Doing anything more complicated than idle hobby work will take away from the experience of their performances. Continue reading

Dec 18

Where do we go from here?: “Live Town Hall with the Davids: In Conversation With Claudia Rankine”


Live Town Hall: In Conversation with Claudia Rankine
Presented by ArtsEmerson 
Hosted by David Dower and David Howse

December 14 2020
Streamed live on Zoom via Youtube
ArtsEmerson on Facebook

Review by Afrikah Smith

ZOOM — In the “Live Town Hall with the Davids: In Conversation With Claudia Rankine,”  ArtsEmerson artistic director David Dower and executive director David Howse discuss with Claudia Rankine her latest publication Just Us: An American Conversation. They unpack the issues of normalizing whiteness, staying in the room, and the importance of holding conversations around human problems. A lot is said about the current politics in the theatre world that Boston area theatres and artists can benefit from by listening. Continue reading

Dec 14

Tweeting Truth to Power: How Far Has Cyrus Come?


Presented by Fort Point Theatre Channel and Boston Cultural Council
By Cyrus McQueen

Tuesday, Dec 1, 2020, 7 PM
Streamed Live via Youtube
Boston Cultural Council on Facebook
FPTC on Facebook

Review by Diana Lu

YOUTUBE–Cyrus McQueen used to be just your everyday standup comedian of Last Comic Standing fame. In the Age of Trump, he’s also become Twitter-famous as a cultural critic, offering race and politics analyses and wisecracks 280 characters at a time. He’s developed his experiences over the last four years into a first book, Tweeting Truth to Power: Chronicling our Caustic Politics, Crazed Times, & The Great Black & White Divide, which is supposed to be equal parts memoir and political discourse. Continue reading

Sep 28

A Handy History of Mount Auburn Cemetery: A Book Review of “The Mount Auburn Plays”

The Mount Auburn Plays
By Patrick Gabridge
Friends of Mount Auburn
2020
198 pgs
Paperback (color)
Digest (5.5 x 8.5 in / 140 x 216 mm)
ISBN: 978-0-9986982-4-3
$21.95
Purchase HERE

Mount Auburn Cemetary
580 Mount Auburn Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

Virtual Book Launch with Playwright Patrick Gabridge
September 30 @ 6:00 pm
Registration is FREE!
(donation suggested)

Review by Kitty Drexel

Watertown, MA — This review is to support the Sept. 30 virtual book launch of The Mount Auburn Plays by Patrick Gabridge. I was gifted a copy of the book by Gabridge (with a fancy author’s signature. This means I can sell my copy for bazillions of bitcoins in approximately 30 years when it’s no longer in print). It’s good to be the Queen.

This book is a collection of Patrick Garbridge’s plays inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetary written during his 2018-2019 artist residency: The Nature Plays, The America Plays, and Moonlight Abolitionists. Before each play, there is a handy history of the play with casting, audience, and location information. Color production photos placed between. Continue reading