Nov 18

Safe But Not Sorry*: “The Play That Goes Wrong”

Photo by Mark. S. Howard.

Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston 
By Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields
Directed by Fred Sullivan, Jr.
Stunt Coordinator/Fight Captain: Michael Liebhauser
Scenic Design by Peter Colao
Run Crew: Hazel Peters, Talene Pogherian
Featuring Kelby T. Akin, Alexa Cadete, Nora Eschenheimer, Dan Garcia,
Mitch Kiliulis, Michael Liebhauser, Marc Alexander Pierre, and Dan Whelton. Understudies: Margaret Clark, Patrick French, and Matt C. Ryan.

November 11 – December 18, 2022
Lyric Stage Co.
140 Clarendon St
Boston, MA 02116

Approximately two hours, including one intermission.
This production uses strobe lighting and fog effects. There is one live simulated gunshot in Act 2.

Review by Kitty Drexel

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” — G. K. Chesterton

BOSTON, Mass — Chesterton was a Christian philosopher who argued, with this statement, that most things are done by novices who do those things imperfectly. This Chesterton saying goes along with the Voltaire-attributed aphorism, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” 

Neither Chesterton nor Voltaire was responsible for a cast of accident-prone actors or an elaborate set determined by fate to destroy itself on opening night. Not even Voltaire, the paragon of eighteenth-century French amateur and society theatre, could have imagined The Play That Goes Wrong.  Continue reading

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

Oct 17

A Season of Farewells in Western MA: KO Festival of Performance and the Royal Frog Ballet

“The Surrealist Cabaret” by The Royal Frog Ballet. Image from Frog Ballet/Facebook

The KO Festival of Performance
FLUSHING: Make Room for Someone Else
Presented by Sandglass Theater and Parris-Bailey Arts
Written and Performed by Linda Parris-Bailey and Eric Bass
Directed by Kathie deNobriga
Puppets by Ines Zeller Bass
Hampshire College
July 22 – 24, 2022

EZELL: Ballad of a Land Man
Presented by Clear Creek Creative
Written and Performed by Bob Martin
Directed by Nick Silie
Hampshire College, Amherst MA
July 29 – 31, 2022

The Royal Frog Ballet
Surrealist Cabaret
Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, MA
October 7 – 8, 2022

Review by Maegan Bergeron-Clearwood

Western Mass — Theatre artists should be experts in grief: we build sets with the knowledge that we will strike them in a few brief months; we play trust games and cultivate micro-communities, only to part ways once our contracts end; we witness our art fade from memory as quickly as it’s brought to life. We are peddlers in ephemera. And yet, when it comes time to bid farewell to a process or project, it is sometimes nigh-impossible to release our white-knuckled hold on what-was.

This year, two long-standing Western Massachusetts theatre companies – both dedicated to producing work that is fresh, surprising, and even strange – reckoned with their own relationships to endings, grief, and release.

The KO Festival of Performance staged its 31st and final season this summer around the theme of “Stepping Up / Stepping Back.” KO has a storied history of producing original work, supporting local and visiting artists, and cultivating a sense of community through post-show discussions and workshops. Continue reading

Oct 04

Hurt Me, Daddy: “Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really”

Sara Jones plays Renfield (left); shown with Maria Hendricks as Dr. Van Helsing (middle) and Lisa San Pascual as Mina Harker (right). Photo by Gillian Mariner Gordon.

Presented by The Umbrella Stage Company 
Based on the novel by Bram Stoker
By Kate Hamill
Directed by Michelle Aguillon
Original Music Compositions by Valerie Forgione
Intimacy Direction by Kayleigh Kane 
Fight Direction by Sarah Flanagan

Sept. 30 – Oct. 23, 2022
The Umbrella Arts Center
40 Stow Street
Concord, MA 01742

Critique by Kitty Drexel

CONTENT WARNINGS: This play contains sexual situations, violence, and death by suicide. It may not be appropriate for persons under 16 years old.

This production uses strobe light effects and fog effects.

CONCORD, Mass. — Do heteros know they’re supposed to like their partners? Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really is yet another retelling of a classic gothic romance novel in which men treat their female partners terribly; their behavior is belittling, lacks respect, and reeks of contempt. It’s no wonder playwright Kate Hamill rewrote it with a snappy, violent finale. 

Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really spins the novel by Bram Stoker for a modern audience of thinking minds. Mina Harker (Lisa San Pascual) expects a baby any day now, but her husband Jonathan (Joseph Jude) must assist Count Dracula (Dustin Teuber) with land acquisition. Mina’s best friend Lucy Westenra (Gabrielle Hatcher) can’t contain her glee at marrying Dr. George Seward (Dominic Carter) but fears she must for George’s sake.

Renfield (Sara Jones) can’t remember what happened to her husband. Drusilla (Emily Sheeran) and Marilla (Bowen Huang) hunger. Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really is not told in letters, thankfully. Continue reading

Oct 01

Where’er the Surge May Sweep: “Ada and the Engine”

Mishy Jacobson in Ada and the Engine. Photo: Nile Scott Studios.

Presented by Central Square Theater
Brit d’Arbeloff Women in Science Production
A Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Production
Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Debra Wise
Choreography by Judith Chaffee
Featuring Kortney Adams, Diego Arciniegas, Mishy Jacobsen, and John Hardin

The online playbill

September 22 to October 23, 2022
Central Square Theater
450 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA

Critique by Kitty Drexel

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Lauren Gunderson’s Ada and the Engine at Central Square Theater is not either’s best work. Central Square Theater has produced better shows and produced better shows by Gunderson. Gunderson has written better plays.

Ada and the Engine is problematic, and the script has problems. It reorganizes the life of English mathematician Augusta “Ada” King, Countess of Lovelace to tell a unique story about the intersection of computational science and gender roles. It approximates Ada Lovelace’s life to continue the discussion about the uphill battle women face in STEM.  Continue reading

Sep 27

From the Back to the Middle and Round Again: “Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine”

Lyndsay Allyn Cox as Undine. Photo by Mark S Howard.

Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Written by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Dawn M. Simmons
Intimacy consultant: Ted Hewlett
COVID-19 safety officer: Emily Collins
Online Playbill

Sept. 16 – Oct. 9, 2022
140 Clarendon St
2nd Floor
Boston, MA 02116

Approximately 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Review by Kitty Drexel

“In literary criticism, the term fabulation was popularized by Robert Scholes, in his book The Fabulators, to describe the large and growing class of mostly 20th century novels that are in a style similar to magical realism, and do not fit into the traditional categories of realism or romance.”

BOSTON — An undine (or Ondine) is a mythological water elemental out of the European tradition. The Swiss alchemist Paracelsus wrote of a nymph who became human out of love for a mortal man. Without love, she has no soul and cannot live on land. Undine must take care for she will die if her lover is unfaithful. 

An undine stands as a modern metaphor for the woman who cannot let go of love. Her relationship is over, her lover moved on, but the undine will not move on. There’s the possibility of a happy ending though – Undine can go home if she kills her boyfriend before he cheats

Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine puts Undine (Lyndsay Allyn Cox) at the top of her game. She has everything: a wildly successful boutique PR firm in Manhattan, a handsome husband Hervé (Jaime José Hernández) with a fancy accent to match his l’accent aigu, a devoted assistant (Brittani Jenese McBride), a full bank account, a bougie accountant (Barlow Adamson), and more social currency than Wendy Williams. Or, she does until Hervé disappears with his clothing and every last penny she has. And, she’s reluctantly pregnant.  Continue reading

Jul 29

Ritual, Community and Baring Your Soul with Strangers: “(Tr)auma Queen: Feeling Spilt Milk, OR a series of experimental poetry to escape the shape of doorframes, also known as, a ritual of lemons”

production poster found on FringePVD website. this poster is badass.

Presented by FringePVD and The Wilbury Theatre Group
By and Featuring Teddy Lytle and Bay McCulloch

July 21 – 23, 2022
The Waterfire Arts Center Back Lot
475 Valley St,
Providence, RI

45 minutes without intermission

Review by Nicole LaBresh

PROVIDENCE, RI – When I think of Fringe, at the forefront of the word salad it conjures is “vulnerability.” Fringe in particular brings out the most intensely personal, soul-baring works. It does so largely by allowing artists free reign to put on whatever show they want. It is, among other things, a festival of works from the heart.

For the uninitiated, the Fringe Festival is a theatre festival devoted to experimental or fringe theatre works. It got its start in Edinburgh, but now has chapters all over the world, including one in Providence presented by The Wilbury Theatre Group, now in its ninth year. At a Fringe, you will see works the likes of which you probably have never seen before and that you may never see again. The performances range from poetry to music, dance to clownery, and things that defy any categorization. After two years without a live Fringe Festival because of COVID-19, local artists have a ton of pent up expression ready to be unleashed. Continue reading

Jul 27

Radical Hope and Radical Change: “The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae”

Photos by David Weiland & Graceson Abreu Nunez.

Presented by Double Edge Theatre
A response to The Bacchae by Euripides
Conceived, directred, and designed by Stacy Klein
Co-created and adapted with Milena Dabova, Jennifer Johnson, Travis Coe, and Carlos Uriona
Musical compositions and direction by Amanda Miller

Wed – Sun, July 20 – July 31 at 8pm, August 3 – 6 at 7:30pm
The Farm
948 Conway Road
Ashfield, MA 01330
Tickets

Review by Maegan Bergeron-Clearwood

ASHFIELD, Mass. — Driving along the twisted back roads to Ashfield, Massachusetts, my friend and I were in high, hopeful spirits. Double Edge Theatre, now in its 40th year, has crafted a foolproof yet ever-surprising mode of experiential performance. Season after season, it guides wide-eyed audiences through a labyrinth of natural scenic tableaus: dancers weave spiral paths through waist-high grasses; actors spin poetry from atop boulders, trees, ladders, canoes, and stilts; aerialists swoop across the rafters of the warm wooden barn. And, so my friend and I joyfully trekked 40-plus minutes to a remote stretch of farmland, expecting an evening of unexpected delights.

But the most delightfully unexpected element of The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae was not at the behest of the artistic team, but was instead a brilliant creative choice from Double Edge’s most important collaborator: the weather. About 40 minutes in, dark storm clouds started to impede our otherwise picturesque dusky tableau. Dionysus’ (played by both Travis Coe and Milena Dabova) braggartly claims of godlike power took on awe-inspiring meaning, and the performers leaned into the new subtext. We in the audience chuckled at the sky’s clever dramaturgical timing, but nervously so. We were not only at the mercy of the elements, but of our Double Edge guides, and we could only hope that our trust in them was not unfounded. Continue reading

Jun 16

Liminal Spaces for Desettlement: “The Orchard”

The Making of THE ORCHARD Virtual Experience from Igor Golyak on Vimeo.

Presented by Arlekin Players Theatre & (zero-G) Lab
Conceived, adapted, and directed by Igor Golyak
Based on The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, as translated by Carol Rocamora 
With new material by Igor Golyak 
Robotics designed by Tom Sepe
Music composition by Jakov Jakoulov
Emerging technologies design by Adam Paikowsky
American Sign Language direction by Seth Gore
Translations by Carol Rocamora
Full creative crew credits are HERE
Featuring Jessica Hecht, Juliet Brett, Darya Denisova, Elise Kibler, John McGinty, Nael Nacer, Mark Nelson & Ilia Volok
Mikhail Baryshnikov as Anton Chekhov and Firs

June 16 – July 3, 2022
The Orchard is a hybrid piece of theater and can be seen in two formats:
Live & In-Person
Baryshnikov Arts Center, NYC
&
Virtual Experience, Online
(zero-G) Lab

The show runs just under 2 hours, with no intermission.

Review by Kitty Drexel

This review is of the virtual performance of The Orchard on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

New York & Online — The Arlekin Players are no strangers to the digital theatre. Their productions of chekhovOS / an experimental game/, Witness, and State vs. Natasha Banina were wildly successful. chekhovOS / an experimental game/ and Witness were both live and audience-interactive in ways that the theatre community hadn’t seen before. These shows navigated the new frontier of digital theatre by showing artists and audiences what is possible. 

They were also super cool to watch.  Continue reading