Sunday, December 8, 2013

God of Carnage: Letting Your Defenses Down

Starring in "God of Carnage" are, from left, Tom Boland, Braunwyn Jackett, Jody O'Neil and Melenie Freedom by JOSHUA ANDRUS
It is difficult to know who is having a better time during the Provincetown Theater's "God of Carnage" — the actors or the audience. The four roles in this comic living room "psycho drama" are challenging, with constant riposte and musical chairs-like movement, but, judging by the remarkable performances, as much fun as each actor has had in his or her stage career.
To its audience, "God of Carnage" strives to be a mirror. The viewers' enjoyment will depend on the reflection. Urban audiences may see a smug, insufferable, cliched likeness and they will laugh at themselves because to be offended shows a lack of self-awareness.

On Stage

What: "God of Carnage"
Written by: Yasmina Reza
Translation by: Christopher Hampton
Presented by: Provincetown Theater
When and Where: Thursday through Sunday April 18 - April 21, April 25 - 28 at 7:30 pm at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Provincetown, MA 02657
Tickets: $25 & $20
Reservations: 508-487-7487
Other audiences will laugh at a distorted, fun house expression — oh, that's what Brooklynites* are — selfish, shallow and way too extroverted. (*The play originated in Paris and won an Olivier in London so no city is safe from God of Carnage's barbs).
City mouse or country mouse, the audience will respond in all the right places because no matter what you think of playwright Yasmina Reza's artistry, she can write comedy.
The play is essentially two couples who meet to discuss with civility a playground altercation between their sons. The individuals are easily categorized: Allan (Jody O'Neil), the corporate lawyer with the cellphone glued to his ear is married to Annette (Braunwyn Jackett), the blonde trophy wife. On the other side of the ring are Veronica, not Ronnie (Melenie Freedom Flynn), a bleeding heart, Save the World brunette partnered with Michael (Tom Boland), the designated "Neanderthal" who, just in case we mistake him for an effete, establishes very early on that he has set his daughter's hamster free of its cage in the middle of a Brooklyn street. "Honestly, I have no manners" he tells us, and it is redundant information.
Although most of the carnage is word-of-mouth, there is some physical mayhem as well, impressively choreographed by Mr. Carlson and performed by Ms. Flynn and Ms. Jackett, the latter's role, Annette, I suspect, is the playwright's favorite character here since she has to do the most heavy-lifting.
Let's put it this way: she experiences the only catharsis of the four characters, and I paraphrase Thornton Wilder in describing the now-famous scene in "God of Carnage" — Annette lets the eternal part of herself come out.
The couples attempt to rise above our current litigious society, and we are reminded why civil courts exist. Beautifully directed by Brian Carlson, the players duck like prizefighters against verbal jabs, "both ends against the middle" but the middle constantly changes: couples vs. couples, men vs. women, Spartacus vs. reality. Only Alan, the shark, leaves the pool with some dignity.
The set and lighting, designed by Mike Steers, conjures perfectly the home of the aspirational Brooklyn couple who host this particular disaster — suede gray walls with crisp white trim, lots of discordant art on the walls and one particularly effective painting of a little red house under a streetlight — reinforcing the spotlight on four people that we might not want to visit again, but we will certainly remember fondly. And at least we get a new recipe out of it.
Original post here

And Then There Was None: God, Shakespeare and Agatha Christie In That Order?

Monomoy Theatre’s “And Then There Were None” features, from left, Bernard Cornwell, Alycia M. Kunkle and Thomas Daniels. 


CHATHAM — An old adage proclaims there are only seven stories in the world. But along came mystery writer Agatha Christie, and then there were eight, the "whodunit," the Agatha Christie whodunit.
Monomoy Theatre, in association with Ohio University and the University of Hartford, presents the classic of all Christie classics, "And Then There Were None," a play adapted by Christie herself (with an altered ending necessary for a less nihilistic stage experience) based upon her best-seller novella whose past titles are not considered appropriate for modern-day media.


What: "And Then There Were None"
Written by: Agatha Christie
Presented by: Monomoy Theatre
When: 8 p.m. through Saturday
Where: Monomoy Theatre,
776 Main St., Chatham
Tickets: $25 and $28
Reservations: 508-945-1589
The book is so popular that only the Bible and Shakespeare have appeared in print more often, and both God and Shakespeare seem to be at an unfair advantage in a contest with a shy middle class, mostly self-taught British girl whose lifetime adventures started as a volunteer nurse in WWI.
It is difficult to introduce the plot of "And Then There Were None" without bumping into spoilers. There are so many in this story of 10 strangers, each with a sinful past, brought together to a lonely island under false pretenses. An omniscient host then begins to execute each one with deadly creativity in accordance with the British nursery rhyme "Ten Little Soldier Boys." I suspect that the statute of limitations runs out soon on a 74-year-old story, but, then again, the opening-night audience was actively discussing the possible identity of the murderer, so dictates on being spoiler-free still hold.
Directing with deft sleight of hand, David Haugen manages the large cast and the technical difficulty of carnage and near carnage all in a posh British living room. The roster could be daunting for a modern-day audience with a fruit-fly attention span from years spent in front of computers (me as an example), but the 10 "little soldier boys" are each memorable through Christie's clever introduction and reintroduction of the many characters to great comic effect.
Presiding over the cast is distinguished actor and writer Bernard Cornwell as Sir Lawrence Wargrave, who has been invited to Repentant Island for his hanging judge ways. Cornwell is an accomplished artist, an OBE, something he shares in common with the author of the play.
Other standout performances include the beautifully costumed (by designer Heather Jessup) Alycia Kunkle as Vera, a redhead chasing red herrings, and Andy Haftkowycz as William Blore, the detective who thinks he is on the case when he is actually part of the case. Haftkowycz's earnest and direct performance is a good balance to some of the Noel Cowardly tendencies here — presentation heavy on sidelong glances and elongated vowels.
The set by Andrew Sierszyn features neat arches overhead and books all askew below as if they were shoved into bookcases by desperate readers, an appropriate dichotomy for a stiff-upper-lip British story full of murder and betrayal.
Even if you remember "whodunit," this is a charming night at the theater — audience and actors linger in outdoor summer night breezes during intermission, and the Chatham Anglers game echoes in the distance. Summer theater. No mystery about it. There's nothing better.
Original post here

The Tweets Are Alive With The Sound Of Music

Right on the heels of the controversial NBC live production of The Sound of Music (ratings great; Stephen Moyer good; Carrie Underwood? I let you decide, I'm not piling on that load), here is the review of last fall's heralding The Sound of Music:

BARNSTABLE — Most people are so familiar with the swelling Rodgers and Hammerstein score and the helicopter cinematography of the beloved 1965 movie version of "The Sound of Music" that you have to wonder if there is room in the pop culture panoply for a revisit to a stage production. Then the Von Trapp children appear on the Barnstable Comedy Club stage, and yes, you make room. You do it for the children.
The theatrical event that is the Von Trapp children is so remarkable that the Tony Awards once nominated all seven actors in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical despite the fact that two of the actors were boys. I, too, nominate this group for any upcoming awards: Chris Thorne, Eleanor Swindler, David Rozell, Allison Jodoin, Lexi Sky Davigon and Mackenzie O'Sullivan. Hannah Carrita is the eldest Von Trapp, Liesel, you know, the one who is 16 going on 17?


What: "The Sound of Music"
Written by: Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
When and where: Thursdays through Sundays Nov. 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 10, 17, and 24 at 2:30 p.m. at the Village Hall, 3171 Main St., Route 6A, Barnstable, MA 02601
Tickets: $20 general admission. $18 seniors 62+ and students.
Reservations: 508-362-6333. More information
Our Maria, the clan's guiding light, is the wonderfully expressive Catherine McDonough. Her knitted brow reflects Maria's questioning — how to solve a problem like herself? Where does she fit in and how can she make all of this better? Through song. The actress brightly handles the great expectations of a musical masterpiece. Problem solved.
The patriarch Von Trapp is not quite the intimidating Baron as prior productions have given us, but may be more in keeping with reality: a loving, warm and quite musical parent. Bret Poulter has a loving, warm operatic voice that makes "Edelweiss" the national tear jerker it pretends to be. As far as the rest of the cast, it is large. I could use up my word count on just names. A few notable personas are Bridget Williams as the full-throated Mother Abbess of the Inspirational Track and James Batzer as the comic relief.
As directed by Marcia Wytrwal, "The Sound of Music" uses the physical space of the theater very well — actors' entrances are made off-stage, be aware of your feet. And although the "less is more" formula applied to the choreography may have helped with the pacing of the show, the ambitious musical is a terrific showcase for some of the Cape's beautiful voices.
The original Maria Von Trapp story was to be a straight drama. Can you imagine? "The Sound of Music" without any music? This version, under the direction of Geraldine Boles, thankfully features musicians: Larry Chaplan, Joy Indomenico, Kaline Christie, Richard Rubino, Patrick McDonough and John Birac on the double bass. The musical group does a beautiful job of moving the production through the many reprises that can make for a long evening. If you bring your children to see these children, make sure they've had their naps. It will be worth it.
Original post found here

84 Charing Cross Road - Sharing is Caring Especially When It Comes to Books

As the year winds down, I will clean house and gather my freelance work here....

In "84 Charing Cross Road," running at the Cotuit Center for the Arts' Black Box Theater, ardent reader Helene Hanff contends that if books truly cost what they are worth, we could not afford them.
Every collector feels this way about their object of desire, but in Ms. Hanff's case, it is true.


What: "84 Charing Cross Road"
Written by: Helene Hanff, adapted for the stage by James Roose-Evans
Presented by: Cotuit Center for the Arts
When: July 5 through July 28, performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 4 p.m.
Where: Black Box Theater at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, 4404 Route 28 (Falmouth Road), Cotuit, MA 02635
Tickets: $15, $12 for members
Reservations: 508-428-0669
Her books couldn't be measured by cost. They fulfilled her lifetime goal of writing her own book which in turn led to eventual successful screen and stage adaptations.
The play is an entertaining if erudite dramatization of decades of letters between herself, a New York writer, and the clerks of Marks & Co. of 84 Charing Cross Road — a London bookshop straight out of Dickens, as one character describes it.
The writing exchange begins in the early 1950s during the rationing in England postWorld War II and chronicles Ms. Hanff's television writing career — something I wished to hear a little bit more about, because I too love a good "I was there" story.
Marsha Yalden is Helene Hanff, a frayed cardigan-wearing "Noi Yoiker" full of gin and cigarette ashes. She would be a stereotype if not for the reality of the author. Ms. Yalden starts with a cliched wisecracker persona and ends up with an irresistible performance.
Marks & Co. Booksellers are personified primarily by Kempton Parker as Frank Doel, who effectively offers the softspoken reserve of a British clerk.
As directed by Carol McManus, the letter reading on the British side of the room is always portrayed in good humor. No one seems to take Ms. Hanff's comic goading in anything but the spirit it was intended. Rare print indeed.
The roster of bookshop clerks also include Theresa D. Cedrone as Cecily Farr, Erica Morris as Megan Wells and Jackson Fryer as William Humphries.
Anna Botsford plays the dual role of Helene's friend Maxine Stuart and Frank's Irish wife, Nora Doel.
It is a large cast for what is essentially a two-character play. These supporting roles feel extraneous even as the adaptation tries to use them to make Frank a more-realized character. Often there is little for these actors to do except to react and sometimes overreact.
On its surface, "84 Charing Cross Road" is a bibliophile's dream. Lots of literary name dropping here: Hazlitt, De Tocqueville, and of course, household name Catullus, but in actuality, the play is a love letter to the post office of long ago. If the play resonates wistfulness about the place of books in a life full of iPads — "I never knew a book could be such a joy to touch" — there is much more nostalgia about the lost art of letter writing.
A recent study reports the joyous news that teens and young adults still enjoy the heft of a good book in their hands, putting aside their Nook or Kindle, but no one suggests that handwritten messages are making a comeback. Beautiful book shops will persevere as the Cape itself can attest, but letters? They are truly antiquarian.

Originally post here

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ibsen's Pillars of the Community: Homecomings Are Not Always Joyous Affairs.

I'm back! With a new gig from the Cape Cod Times which will help me keep this poor blog au current.

 The review below was originally published in the Times

Chris Kanaga (left) and Danielle Dwyer. photo: Elements Theatre Company

ORLEANS – ‘Tis the season for complicated family relationships on display, and Henrik Ibsen’s Bernick family in the “Pillars of the Community” is no different from yours or mine, except perhaps that the patriarch is a prototypical capitalist monster.

The Bernicks consist of difficult stepsisters and black sheep brothers, cousins and ex-beaus, nosy neighbors and judgmental in-laws, all with secrets that threaten to disrupt celebrations. Sound familiar?
In the Elements Theatre Company’s ambitious take on Ibsen’s sweeping play, Karsten Bernick, head of house and town, faces a test of character, providing 19th century dramatic narrative and at the same time managing to be applicable to contemporary headlines.

“Pillars” does not have the impact of Ibsen’s later masterpieces (the plot is too neatly tied up) but the timeless relevancy of Ibsen’s themes – do current good works alleviate past sins, for example – make the play worthy of dusting off and can be used as ammunition for anyone who has a strong opinion on the Lance Armstrong situation.

Keeping the many characters in “Pillars of the Community” straight can be a challenge to an audience member who isn’t familiar with this rarely produced play.
Many characters serve little more than to personify the rigid moral fiber of the Bernicks’ Norway town, but the production does a great job of highlighting the humor in a mob mentality, and there are some standouts in the diligent cast.

Chris Kanaga as Karsten Bernick navigates convincingly between hubris and vulnerability: “One anxious moment, one stray word,” and he may lose everything. 

At his side, his wife Betty, played by Rachel McKendree in a rather thankless role, is consigned to little more than reacting to blasts from the past by the return of her brother (Peter Haig).

Also returning to “lift the veil” from a murky past is Karsten’s past love, Lona Hessel, played by director Danielle Dwyer. Dwyer presents Lona as one of Ibsen’s paradigmatic feminists and rightly so: She easily handles the snappy dialogue and delivers the “fresh air” as promised, however the character verges on the self aware and congratulatory to the extent that she seems to have arrived not from America but from another play.

Other distinctive performances include Kate Shannon as Marta Bernick, Karsten’s sister who somehow manages to stand on “terra firma” in her independence from her family, and Brad Lussier who is both the repressed schoolmaster, Mr. Rorlund, and Aune the shipyard foreman and pre-union organizer. 

Finally, another star of the show is the set. With a design that wouldn’t be out of place on Broadway, Hans Spatzeck-Olsen, Karlene Albro and Jennifer Lynch have created the Huset Bernick, a wonder, complete with balcony for Karsten to look down on his family and friends both literally and figuratively until he is forced to come back to Earth.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Fairy Queen from Queens in Manhattan

Coming into Manhattan like a ship at Fleet Week, The Queens Shakespeare Company arrived this week-end with its large troupe to finish up a successful run of its spring A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Moving from Flushing’s Bowne Street Church to the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, and then to the Grand Theatre at The Producers Club on 44th Street, the theatre company, despite an uneven cast, fulfills the comic promises of one of Shakespeare’s greatest entertainments.

Director Jonathan Emerson (who also plays an exuberant to the point of hyperactive Puck) efficiently steers the large ensemble into the small space of the off-off-Broaday theatre in the wild west of Hell’s Kitchen of New York City. In his director’s notes, Mr. Emerson declares his love for the mythologies touched upon by Shakespeare’s fantastical fairy characters contained in the parallel plots of A Midsummer Night’s Dream - the Fairy Queen Titania (Helyn Rain Messenger), her fractious (but sometimes seemingly bored) King, Oberon (Brian Walters), and their entourage. The dynamism of Flogging Molly, the Celtic-American LA Punk Band, anticipates the production, and the rest of the evening attempts to maintain that punk sensibility, most successfully by the clownish Helena (Kathleen Fletcher) in mad pursuit of her undeserving but beloved Demetrius (Bradley LeBoeuf.)

Continued here