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.”

Oct 28

The Precise and the Indefinable: “On Beckett” 

Photo via https://artsemerson.org/events/on-beckett/

Presented by ArtsEmerson, with Irish Repertory Theatre 
Produced by Octopus Theatricals
Conceived and performed by Bill Irwin
Based on the writings of Samuel Beckett, Texts for Nothing, The Unnamable, Watt, and Waiting for Godot.

October 26 – 30, 2022
Open Captioning, Oct. 29, at 2:00 PM
Audio Description, Oct. 30, 2:00 PM
Emerson Paramount Center
559 Washington St
Boston, MA 02111

Beckittns on Instagram

90 minutes, no intermission

Critique by Kitty Drexel

ArtsEmerson isn’t asking you to turn your phone off for its health. Turn your damn phone off, you git. 

BOSTON, Mass — On Beckett is a masterclass taught by Bill Irwin on the works of playwright, novelist, Nobel Prize winner, and, among other things, WWII resistance fighter Samuel Beckett. Irwin’s dedicated performance, journalistic dramaturgy, and storytelling transcend the medium of the solo show. 

On Beckett isn’t merely a performance incorporating the works of the infamous playwright; it is a doctorate-level dissertation. Emerson, give Irwin his honorary Ph.D.     Continue reading

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

Feb 17

A COVID-19 Update: “Moving Forward: Too Soon to Talk About Post-Pandemic Life?”


Moving Forward: Too Soon to Talk About Post-Pandemic Life?
Presented by The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce
Wednesday, February 9, 2022
ONLINE  — YOUTUBE RECORDING
Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Facebook

Article by Afrikah Smith

ONLINE – With recent news of post-pandemic plans and mask mandates being lifted as early as April 2022 in California and New York, is it too soon to talk about a post-pandemic life in the Greater Boston area? With the trajectory of where we are heading, no. In fact, there is optimism that 2022 will be better.

Hosted by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, GBCC President & CEO James Rooney moderated Moving Forward: Too Soon to Talk About Post-Pandemic Life?. The one-hour panel featured guest speakers Dr. Kevin Churchwell, Dr. Anne Klibanski, and Dr. Kevin Tabb, from Boston’s leading healthcare institutions, on what we can possibly expect in the very near future.  Continue reading

Jan 25

Poverty is Expensive: Rattlestick’s “Addressless”

A screen grab from “Addressless.” The cast discusses their options.

Presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Community partnered with Urban Pathways, Community Access
Adapted from
STEREO AKT‘s and Lifeboat Unit’s Hungarian production of Addressless.
Created & directed by Martin Boross
Written by Jonathan Payne
Script consultants: Hope Beaver, Cassie Desalines, Shams DaBaron aka “Da Homeless Hero”
Video editing by Matthew Russell
Graphics & animation by Maiko Kikuchi
Streaming technician: Keenan Hurley
Featuring: Joey Auzenne, Hope Beaver, Shams DaBaron a.k.a. “Da Homeless Hero,” & Bianca Norwood

Thursday, January 13 – Sunday, February 13, 2022
Presented over Zoom
Tickets
Digital Program
Rattlestick on Facebook

Content warnings: Addressless discusses at length issues faced by the unhoused community such addiction and sobriety, bigotry, sex trafficking, shame, government benefits programs, and other forms of abuse. This show can be intense. It may not be appropriate for children under 12. 

Critique by Kitty Drexel

ZOOM — Addressless is heart-breakingly honest digital theatre. If you’re looking for something to take you out of the monotony of COVID-living, creators Boross and Payne have a solution for you. Their two-hour, interactive, roleplaying theatre game is a reminder that life’s struggles don’t end just because there’s a pandemic at your door. 

This production begins like any other over Zoom: the host invites attendees in, we wait patiently for the show to start. Addressless is slightly different because it asks attendees to fill out a survey via a link in the chat. The survey asks participants personal questions about their identity, financial situation, and if they’ve ever been unhoused. Have you lived on the streets? For how long?  Continue reading

Dec 21

A Bougie Meh: “Imagine Van Gogh”

Queen Geek’s own photo from the event.

Imagine Van Gogh
The original immersive exhibition in Image Totale© 
Annabelle Mauger & Julien Baron, Artistic Directors and creators
Curated by Androula Michael
Scenography by Annabelle Mauger & Julien Baron
Animation and effects by Julien Baron & Donatien Zébi
Translations by Sarah Jackson
Musical research by Gérard Thouret

December 21, 2021 to March 19, 2022.
December 2021 – March 2022
Open Daily 10 am – 9 pm
SoWa Power Station
550 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA
Info for Boston Attendees

Review by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON — I tried not to have expectations entering Imagine Van Gogh

Without intending to, I expected Imagine Van Gogh to be like Yayoi Kusama’s “Love Is Calling” which ran at the ICA. Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms is immersive and kaleidoscopic. Imagine Van Gogh is also immersive. Van Gogh’s paintings are magnified and set to the music of classical artists Saint-Saëns, Mozart, Bach, Delibes and Satie. It makes Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings accessible to an audience that can pay the ticket price. Continue reading

Dec 15

No Room at the Inn: “Witness”

WITNESS: A new virtual documentary theater piece

A screen capture of the online platform.

Presented by Arlekin Players’ (Zero-G) Virtual Theater Lab
Conceived and directed by Igor Golyak
Written by Nana Grinstein with Blair Cadden & Igor Golyak
Scenography & Costume Design by Anna Fedorova
Virtual Design by Daniel Cormino
Sound Design by Viktor Semenov
Produced by Sara Stackhouse
Dramaturgy by Blair Cadden 
Featuring the Arlekin Acting Company

December 10, 2021 – January 23, 2023
Over the Arlekin (zero-G) virtual Theater Lab platform
and Zoom
Arlekin Players on Facebook
Playbill

Review by Kitty Drexel

“It doesn’t feel virtual; it feels real.” 

– Talkback moderator Inessa Rifkin, a founder of the Russian Jewish Community Foundation and a founder of the Russian School of Mathematics, after the December 13 performance of Witness.  

ONLINE/Zoom  — It’s almost Yule! Here’s a Christmas story: In May 1939, the MS St. Louis carried 937 passengers from Nazi-occupied Germany to Havana, Cuba. The Cuban government refused the ship. Its passengers remained onboard; the ship didn’t dock. Cuba had cancelled the immigration papers of the onboard immigrants without notifying them. 

The United States refused the ship too. The US had space to put the passengers but our politicians let money and immigration law stop them from welcoming the passengers. We made a 1976 secular movie about it called “Voyage of the Damned” with Faye Dunaway. How American of us. 

The Jewish passengers were finally allowed some succor when the ship returned to Europe that June.  254 of the passengers died in the Holocaust: 84 in Belgium; 84 in Holland, and 86 in France. There was no room at the inn or the stable with Mary and Joseph. 

Witness by Arlenkin Players is about the fluffy talent show that the passengers held to boost morale. Local New Englanders who are also immigrants play passengers on the boat. It’s about the stark tragedy that our country, a nation that says it welcomes immigrants at its front door on the East Coast, decided that Jewish immigrants fleeing for their very lives should go elsewhere. Popup text boxes invite us to learn about who the passengers were and if they survived the ship. It’s about the multigenerational fight against anti-Semitism in the US. The Arlekin Acting Company portrays Jewish characters from across the decades. Continue reading

Nov 29

All We Like Sheep: H+H’s “Messiah”

Georg Friederich Händel’s Messiah
Presented by Handel + Haydn Society
Performed by Harry Christophers, conductor
Carolyn Sampson, soprano
Emily Marvosh, contralto*
James Way, tenor
Roderick Williams, baritone
H+H Orchestra and Chorus

November 26, 27, & 28, 2021
Boston Symphony Hall
301 Massachusetts Ave
Boston, MA 02115
H+H on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON — We were granted tickets to Handel + Haydn’s Messiah. It was lovely: the orchestra was in good form on their period instruments; the choir sang in four voices with rich purity; the soloists were attuned to the orchestra. It was a nice afternoon at the symphony. Our first since the quarantine.

In the program, H+H included a note: “We regret to announce that countertenor Reginald Mobley has been forced to withdraw from this week’s performances due to illness. We are pleased to announce that contralto Emily Marvosh has graciously agreed to take his place.” Continue reading

Nov 19

And still those voices are calling from far away: “Zoo Motel”

Presented by ArtsEmerson
A play by Thaddeus Phillips
Cocreated and directed by Tatiana Mallarino
Designed by Steven Dufala
Magic by Steve Cuiffo
Night Clerk: Newton Buchanan

November 16—21, 2021
The final performances! A virtual event via Zoom
ArtsEmerson on Facebook

AE Production Program featuring leadership team bios, a synopsis of the performance, and the full list of staff, artist and creative team credits for the production.

Originally presented via Miami Light Project Sept. 28 – Oct. 25, 2020. It is the longest running theatre play on the world wide web.

Review by Kitty Drexel

Virtual Boston, Mass — New England Theatre Geek reviewed Zoo Motel on October 14, 2020. The Quarantine was a dark time that produced some dark writing. Our ridiculously written review can be read here.

We were interested in seeing Zoo Motel again to see if it had updated since its 2020 run. Its creators have taken this show to audiences all over the world: Stockholm, Madrid, Perth, London, and now Boston. We can say that Zoo Motel still inspires wonder and awe. Continue reading

Oct 06

Better to Take the Risk:”The Skriker”

Emma Tayce Palmer in the title role. Photo via Entropy Theatre on Facebook.

Presented by Entropy Theatre
By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Joe Juknievich and Kayleigh Kane
Performed by Emma Tayce Palmer, Jamie Lin, Sydney Grant, Demi DiCarlo, Julia Hertzberg, Tim Hoover, Ryan Lemay

Sept. 30 – Oct 2, 2021
Martin Hall
Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 2021
Entropy Theatre on Facebook

Critique by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON — Entropy Theatre reopened to sold-out performances last weekend. Its production of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker was imperfect but bold. It took great risks. Sometimes those risks paid off; sometimes they didn’t. What matters is that Entropy Theatre didn’t let perfection get in the way of telling an important story and having a good time. 

Cuddle me with your entrails. Barguest by Earlnoir on Deviant Art.

According to Britannica.com, the Lancashire striker was a monstrous specter hound. “Its broad, sometimes backward-pointing feet made a splashing noise, and it howled horribly,” says the site. Those who saw it were marked for death. There was no way out of it. The UK gave the dog many names: the Demon of Tidworth, the Black Dog of Winchester, the Padfoot of Wakefield, the Barghest of Burnley, Gwyllgi, the Dog of Darkness, and Cwn Annwn, the Dogs of Hell. It wasn’t some snuggly pup looking for a cuddle.  Continue reading