Feb 12

Flipping a Tragedy on Its Head: “Duel Reality”

Duel Reality – Mât Chinois, Credit: Arata Urawa

Presented by Arts Emerson
Originally produced and created with Virgin Voyages
Directed by Shana Carrol
Performed by The 7 Fingers
Based on Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Featuring Nicolas Jelmoni, Soen Geinaert, Danny Vrijsen, Einar Kling-Odencrants, Anni Küpper,
Andreas De Ryck, Aerial Emery ou Méliejade Tremblay-Bouchard, Andrew Price, Kalani June,
Arata Urawa
Music by Colin Gagné
Lighting by Alexander Nichols
Acrobatic Coach: Francisco Cruz

February 7-19, 2024
Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
219 Tremont St.
Boston, MA 02116

Review by Craig Idlebrook

BOSTON, Mass. — In a presidential election year, can American audiences find joy in a Shakespeare-based tragedy about red-versus-blue factionalism?

Yes, thanks to the joyous movement-based storytelling that The 7 Fingers artistic collaborative brings to the stage. This troupe dazzles by combining snippets of dialogue and the heart of Romeo and Juliet with an hour-long air-defying spectacle of acrobatics that is likely to leave you smiling and at the edge of your seat. Continue reading

Jun 05

Defiant Like It’s Banned in Florida: “As You Like It”

Genevieve Simon and the cast of Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s As You Like It (2023). Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Presented by Actors’ Shakespeare Project in partnership with The Theater Offensive
Directed by Harold Steward
Associated Directed by Brooke Hardman
Featuring Fady Demian, Lindsay Eagle, Gabriel Graetz, Jaime Josè Hernández, Doug Lockwood, Nathan Malin, Gavin Rasmussen, Genevieve Simon, Bobbie Steinbach, Regine Vital, Mishka Yarovoy

June 2 – 25, 2023
Tufts University’s Balch Arena Theater
40 Talbot Ave
Medford, MA 02155

Critique by Craig Idlebrook

MEDFORD, Mass. — At first glance, Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s declaration that its production of As You Like It “leans into (the play’s) famed crossdressing mayhem and gender euphoria” in defiance of the passage of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation could be as empty a stretch as a corporate Pride Month initiative. After all, As You Like It already is one of Shakespeare’s gender-bending plays, in which female protagonists find reasons to dress as men, woo men as men, and then be wooed in turn by women. Add to this that men played all the female parts in the original runs of these comedies, and on paper it seems like there would be little space to add more LGBTQ+ focus.

That is why it is all the more impressive that this production, done in partnership with The Theater Offensive, finds new ways to turn this absurd play into a weapon against the absurdity of a new wave of anti-LGBTQ+ hate. Continue reading

Oct 13

Can’t Stop the Beat: “Drumfolk”

Photo from https://artsemerson.org/events/drumfolk/

Presented by ArtsEmerson
Performed by Step Afrika!
Directed by Jakari Sherman
Composed by Steven M. Allen
Mask Design by Erik Teague
Lighting by Marianne Meadows
Sound designed by Patrick Calhoun and engineered by Danielle McBride
Costumes by Kenaan M. Quander
Step Afrika! was founded by C. Brian Williams, with Mfoniso Akpan serving as Artistic Director

October 5 – 16, 2022, 8 p.m., with weekend matinees at 2 p.m.
Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
219 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116
Drumfolk is made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Review by Craig Idlebrook

BOSTON — The Africans who were stolen from their continent to become slaves in the American colonies and many of their descendants created and continue to recreate strong ties of family, music, and community while the forces of white supremacy continually work to strip away their efforts and deny their humanity. This process is as constant as waves cresting on the shore. It can be traced back to the earliest days of the colonization of what would become the United States. Continue reading

Jul 18

Edith Wharton’s Intelude: “Mr. Fullerton, Between the Sheets”

Photo by Jason Grow. Newhouse as Wharton.

Presented by Gloucester Stage Company
By Annie Undeland
Directed by Judy Braha
Featuring Sarah Newhouse* as Edith Wharton, Ryan Winkles* as Morton Fullerton, Joshua Wolf Coleman* as Henry James, and Bridgette Hayes as Posy.

June 8 – 22, 2022
Gloucester Stage Company Theater
267 East Main St
Gloucester, MA

95 minutes without intermission

Review by Craig Idlebrook

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — How do you bring an iconic author’s love letters to life? That was the unenviable task that playwright Annie Undeland volunteered to do when she came across the letters Edith Wharton wrote to a lover during an extramarital affair. In reading the letters, Undeland has said she was struck how Wharton, who was known to be a refined and biting observer of Gilded Age society, became so nakedly besotted and unguarded, like any fool in love. Continue reading

Jun 14

Finding Songs in Sorrow: “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie”

Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Devised by David M. Lutken with Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell, and Andy Teirstein
Directed by Nick Corley and Sherry Lutken
Music direction by David M. Lutken
Featuring Darcie Deaville, Maggie Hollinbeck, David M. Lutken, Andy Tierstein

June 8 – 22, 2022
Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Merrimack Ales,
92 Bolt Street
Lowell, MA 01852
The Playbill

2 hours with intermission

Review by Craig Idlebrook

LOWELL, Mass. — In the 21st century, the folk singer can easily be a target of ridicule, an archetype in American music which is somehow prone to both over-earnestness and affectation. However, the folk singer had more earnest origins. Folk music, as most know it, was made up of storytelling songs passed down and performed by families and groups of people, and it was the folk singer’s job to find and share these songs. Continue reading

Jan 28

A Nourishing Treat: “Slow Food”

Joel Van Liew, Brian Beacock, Daina Griffith. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Written by Wendy MacLeod
Directed by Sean Daniels

January 9 – February 3, 2018
50 E Merrimack St, Lowell, MA 01852
MRT on Facebook

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Lowell, MA) You know a play hooks you when you start to get uncomfortable from the opening moment. As the lights go up in Slow Food,, we see two diners, Peter and Irene (Joel Van Liew and Daina Michelle Griffith) looking wane in a Greek restaurant as they begrudgingly sip glasses of water and wait. By the time the waiter, Stephen (Brian Beacock), appears, it is hard not to hate him. Continue reading

Nov 05

Unfunny and Racist: “FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL PARODY”

PLEASE NOTE: Not every actor in this photo was part of the show on October 26th. No updated press photos were available.

Produced by Right Angle Entertainment
Lowell Auditorium
Book and Lyrics – Bob & Tobly McSmith
Music & Music Arrangements – Assaf Gleizner
Director – Tim Drucker
Choreographer – Billy Griffin
Music Director – Tegan Miller
Geneneral Management – Jim Lanahan, Right Angle Entertainment

Viewed on October 26th, 2018

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Lowell, MA) Look, I could write a couple of paragraphs to discuss the many shortcomings and few bright points about this musical parody of an insanely popular 90’s sitcom, but none of that matters. The production I saw of this play should be condemned for allowing one of the most racist moments I’ve seen on stage in decades.

Early in the play, the character of Ross is on a paleontology trip to China. To illustrate this with a minimal set change, they have him wear an Asian conical hat. We next see some kind of an assistant behind Ross also wearing an Asian conical hat. That assistant smiles broadly, folds his hands into his sleeves, and walks backwards in a quick shuffle, all while bowing slightly. It is a perfect example of a racist depiction of an Asian underling, the kind of grotesque caricature you expect from a mid-20th century Bugs Bunny cartoon, not a 21st century theatrical production.

I walked out at intermission. Maybe the play got better in the second act, but it certainly couldn’t have done anything to redeem itself.

Queen’s Note: The New England Theatre Geek supports Mr. Idlebrook’s decision to leave during the intermission of Friends: The Musical Parody. It is 2018. A majority white cast and creative crew should know and do better than to spread casual messages of hate and racism through yellowface. The New England Theatre Geek has pledged to promote tolerance and to shun hate. By walking out of this performance, Mr. Idlebrook was participating in this pledge.

Oct 01

The Unfinished Work of a More Perfect Union: NATIVE GARDENS

Gabriel Marin (Pablo De Valle), Vivia Font (Tania Del Valle), Joel Colodner (Frank Butley)
Photo by Meghan Moore

Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
By Karen Zacarías

September 12 – October 7, 2018
50 East Merrimack Street
Lowell, MA
MRT on Facebook

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Lowell, MA) Writers must walk a fine line with audiences when it comes to parables. For a parable to be effective, the story must signal its intentions early and clearly. If done well, it gives the story license with the audience to present an incomplete worldview to prove a point. The devil, however, is in the details – as in what details to give the audience and what details to leave out – to create a world that gets enough buy-in from the audience to think about the issue. Continue reading

Aug 15

Frothy Fun and B-Side Moments: MAMMA MIA

Tari Kelly (Tanya) with Tiffani Barbour (Rosie) and Erica Mansfield (Donna) in MAMMA MIA! live on stage at North Shore Music Theatre thru September 2. Photo©Paul Lyden

Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Directed & Choreographed By: Kevin P. Hill
Music Direction By: Bob Bray
Music And Lyrics By: Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus And Some Songs With Stig Anderson
Book By: Catherine Johnson
Originally Conceived By: Judy Cramer

August 2 – September 2, 2018
North Shore Music Theatre
Beverly, MA
NSMT on Facebook

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Beverly, MA) There is a reason why the musical Mamma Mia has become such a phenomenon – I mean, aside from the fact that a group of Swedes sold their souls to the devil to make the most earworm-y music of the 20th century. The story is one long, sexy summer party that showcases the current or past foibles of our twenties. A young woman secretly invites her three potential fathers to her island wedding without telling her mother about it – it’s as if someone set out to re-envision Midsummer Night’s Dream with platform shoes. Continue reading

May 22

Fempool: THE VILLAINS’ SUPPER CLUB

Kristen Mengelkoch (Galactic Girl). Photo by Meghan Moore.

Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
By Lila Rose Kaplan
Directed by Sean Daniels

April 25 – May 20, 2018
Merrimack Repertory Theatre
50 East Merrimack Street
Lowell, MA
MRT on Facebook

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Lowell, MA) Bringing a comic book to life on stage can be extremely difficult, but deconstructing the comic book genre onstage can bring a new round of pitfalls. While the Merrimack Repertory Theatre production of “The Villains’ Supper Club” sometimes stumbles through the scattershot superhero world created by Lila Rose Kaplan’s script, it does so with a winsome and improvisational spirit. This, combined with the fact that Rose Kaplan has packed the script with some really great comical lines, leaves theatergoers with a visually stunning and utterly unique theatrical experience that may not always make sense, but is always entertaining. Continue reading