REVIEW:  Fueled by sardonic wit and intense humor, The Huntington’s ‘The Art of Burning’ crackles

Cutting sarcasm, sardonic wit, and a feigned smile does little to contain Patricia’s smoldering rage lurking just beneath the surface. No question Patricia has every reason to harbor resentment considering what she is going through affects her entire family. As a painter, it is important for Patricia to express her mounting feelings through art, but what if the pain is so deep that not even a canvas can exorcise that anger?

Directed methodically by Melia Bensussan, The Art of Burning by Kate Snodgrass is available live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA and virtually through February 12, ending just days before Valentine’s Day. The show is 85 minutes with no intermission, contains adult themes, and is not appropriate for children. Click here for more information and tickets.

Adrianne Krstansky, Michael Kaye, and Rob Barkhordar in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson@photoshelter.com

The Art of Burning takes an unconventional look at love and all of its side steps, misunderstandings, and complications. It also delves into betrayal, divorce, survival, and all of the lingering emotions simmering just below the surface. With dark humor that can be disquieting at times, The Art of Burning explores the complexity of human relations including a few of its vast repercussions.

Rom Barkhordar and Vivia Font in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson@photoshelter.com

Jane Shaw’s haunting score and Aja M. Jackson’s vivid lighting enriches scenic designer Luciana Stecconi’s paradoxical, gleaming, and seemingly modest scenery set against a striking and evocative frame. Jackson’s lighting is crucial for each inventive scene change while the foreboding score keeps the tension rising throughout the production. Kara Harmon’s bold costume design not only reflects each character’s distinct personality, but plays a pivotal role in the show’s mounting tension.

The Art of Burning is also fueled by a powerful cast highlighted by Adrianne Krstansky’s captivating portrayal of Patricia and Clio Contogenis, who makes an impactful impression as conflicted Beth. Krstansky achieves a delicate balance between a strong and sympathetic woman who, for the most part, is holding her own in spite of her circumstances when she is not taking takes things a bit too far. The complexity of that balance still makes her likable even at her lowest points. Patricia’s sardonic wit and realism is nearly bereft of any boundaries. She seems to have lost her inhibitions long ago somewhere in the turmoil of her discoveries.

Michael Kaye and Laura Latreille in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson@photoshelter.com


Contogenis weaves in some of Krstansky’s biting humor and pensiveness as Patricia’s daughter as she faces her own unique challenges along the way. These issues are handled delicately and with vulnerability. Rom Barkhordar portrays Jason, a character with some misplaced optimism and a certain lack of empathy and yet Barkhordar weaves in a subtle obliviousness that Jason can almost be forgiven for. He has some meaty scenes with Krstansky and Contogenis that would be concerning if they were not so humorous. Mark, portrayed by Michael Kaye, seems to depict the onlooker and voice of reason, but things are much more complicated than they appear. Some sobering aspects of Mark and Charlene’s marriage are incredibly relatable and humorous. Kaye and Laura Latreille as capricious Charlene have a fascinating dynamic onstage. Vivia Font takes a memorable turn as Katya as she wrestles with the weight of her decisions.

Snodgrass’s witty, poignant, and intermittently humorous dialogue makes a strong statement about the state of our contemporary world and exposes some hard realities. The truth is people are all a little lost but even at its bleakest times, love may still find a way through it all.

Clio Contogenis and Adrianne Krstansky in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson@photoshelter.com

The Art of Burning by Kate Snodgrass is available live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA and virtually through February 12, ending just days before Valentine’s Day. Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Lyric Stage Company delves into musical genius Rachmaninoff’s chaotic mind in mesmerizing ‘Preludes’

Ever wondered if legendary musicians would still be who they are if they lacked any vices or instabilities?  Would they still achieve that same level of success or become even greater?

Some of the most extraordinary musicians also endured turmoil in their lives whether through external circumstances or within the depths of their very being.  Most come to the general consensus that the artist simply wouldn’t have that level of genius without everything that came with it.  For Russian composer, pianist, and conductor Sergei Rachmanioff, he endured quite a battle on his journey to greatness and his music continues to live on.

Dan Prior and Aimee Doherty in ‘Preludes’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Directed profoundly by Courtney O’Connor, Lyric Stage Company presents Dan Malloy’s musical Preludes through Sunday, February 5 live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts.  The production is approximately 2 hours with a 15 min intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Preludes references Rachmaninoff’s classic works, but the word itself describes what happens before an important event. It delves head first into Rachmanioff’s massive struggle to create which included fear of failure, Marfan syndrome, and mental instabilities that led to his historical writer’s block. Dan Rodriguez’s music direction combined with Andrew Dunkan Will’s complicated, vivid, and occasionally manic sound design illustrates the turmoil and genius of a musician on the brink of something bigger, but struggling to pull through.

Preludes boasts a fascinating cast including Will McGarrahan taking on multiple roles during the production.  Wringing his hands, frustrated, and utterly exhausted, Dan Prior embodies frazzled and despondent ‘Rach,’ his world seized by hesitation and regret delivered cleverly in the opening number Your Day.  Rachmaninoff battled life through music, but both can become blaringly stringent.  Battling all these limiting factors, Rach freezes.  Music Director Dan Rodriguez performs double duty depicting the mood setting musical side of pianist Rachmanioff with earnestness and peaks of humor and charm. Keyboardists Bethany Aiken and Mindy Cimini enhance this complex score that keeps up with the chaos of Rach’s mind and the reality surrounding it.

Prior’s subtle yet searing performance delves into a defeated man reaching for a lifeline through therapist Dahl, depicted skillfully by Aimee Doherty with a contemporary vibe in a Pink Floyd T-shirt, black glasses and edgy depth.  Doherty’s inquisitive and unorthodox methods may be the calm in the storm.  Kayla Shimizu is relatable as steadfast, optimistic, and maybe in over her head Natalya.  Shimizu brings a smooth and natural ease to the number Vocalize as well as a powerful and painfully honest rendition of Natalya as she struggles in her limited understanding of Rach’s condition.  Shimizu and Prior bring compelling chemistry and connection in their moving rendition of Not Alone

Dan Prior, Aimee Doherty, Dan Rodriguez and Anthony Pires Jr in ‘Preludes’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Enhanced by Karen Perlow’s mind bending lighting, Preludes is at times trippy and often teetering between daydream and reality.  Highlighted by amazing and intricate choreography, Anthony Pires Jr as Chaliapin slides into an entrancing and catchy Loop with finesse and charisma while blending elegant vocals between jarring beats. It is a standout number that may ruminate long after the show is over. Taking on multiple roles and delivering inspiring and thought provoking pearls of wisdom is Will McGarrahan who portrays a number of dynamic historical figures. McGarrahan’s commanding voice, distinct characterizations, and dark comedic timing make him a treat to watch each time he appears onstage.

Kayla Shimizu, Anthony Pires Jr, Dan Prior, Will McGarrahan, and Dan Rodriguez in ‘Preludes’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Scenic Designer Shelley Barish’s insightful circular staging moves fluidly with the performers with a piano set perfectly at center stage accented by lilacs, ordered blocks of vibrant colors, and an ever changing, mood-induced colored backdrop. The scalloped trim and soft lighting from various hung fixtures add an eclectic elegance as does the eye popping vintage couch and ottoman.

In some ways, Rachmaninoff’s struggles also made him distinctive. He had Marfan Syndrome which is a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue of the body and organs. It is a very difficult way of life, but also gave him unusually long fingers. Much of his work is difficult to play because he could reach the piano keys more easily than the average person. This weakness was also a strength and part of what made him seem destined for greatness.

Lyric Stage Company presents Dan Malloy’s musical Preludes through Sunday, February 5 live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts.  The production is approximately 2 hours with a 15 min intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: The 52nd annual ‘Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island’ shares solace and warmth into a tapestry of traditions from around the world

After a half century, the Midwinter Revels can not only still create fresh and concise storytelling while weaving in various cultures and traditions with a balance of joy and poignancy, but this year recalls a miraculous event in history that is not shared enough during the holiday season.

Innovatively written and directed by Patrick Swanson and guided by Carolyn Saxon as the Immortal Spirit of Place, Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island continues live and in person at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA through December 28 and then will be available virtually December 29 through January 15.  Each performance pays tribute to Revels supporters and this particular performance was dedicated to the The Rioff Family in honor of WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan.  This show is translated in ASL and is approximately two hours with one intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Ensemble of The Christmas Revels Photo by Roger Ide

Veteran reveler David Coffin’s enthusiasm reflected the same from the audience as he vigorously prepared them pre-production for the Revels live and interactive sing-along that features a vast array of carols and cultural songs.  Meticulously musically directed by Elijah Botkin and led by Keith Murphy of A Saint Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn, an intimate onstage band returns as the Liberty Band performing carols to folk to war songs from around the world right alongside the cast.  The joy and gratitude in singing in front of an audience again is as uplifting as ever and the cast’s a cappella harmonies are a glorious treat.

Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island does not just take place on Ellis Island, but provides the foundation for each of the tales shared during the production.  The tales of hardship and strife seem so different, but are somehow tied into shared experiences as immigrants from all over the world find themselves stranded together on Christmas Eve in 1924.  The spirit of the season is exemplified in several tales including a fiddle that needs mending featuring Maeve Leahy as Bridget and Ewan Swanson as Isaac.

From Left to Right Carolyn Saxon, Maeve Leahy and Ewan Swanson and the Revels Ensemble Photo by Paul Buckley

Adorned in a glimmering gown and gold wreathed crown, Carolyn Saxon makes a warm and welcome return to Revels this time as the Immortal Spirit of Place.  Her subtle charm and light humor enhance each aspect of the production as she guides the audience through various tales and periods in history in Nikes.  Saxon is clearly enjoying this enigmatic role becoming invisible when she wishes and popping up at felicitous and spontaneous moments. 

While last year’s show focused on saving a bar by venturing into the past, family is much more prevalent as members of the cast tie in pieces of their own cultural holiday memories into the production.  Irish and Jewish Dramaturg Nicole Galland contributed by drawing on her own experiences and upbringing.  With frank and humorous inflections, Reveler Stephanie Clayman is an amiable and avid storyteller as she brings some of those tales to life such as two well staged pieces of morally centered Jewish folklore and several Chanukah traditions.

Stephanie Clayman, Ewan Swanson, The Ellis Island Children, and the Midwinter Revels Adult Chorus Photo by Paul Buckley

David Coffin as Conor Riley revealed a miraculous event during World War I that took place on Christmas Eve in 1914.  For a brief time, soldiers showed camaraderie with their enemies as they joined together in song, games, and friendship.  It is a historical event that needs to be shared with as much frequency as annual holiday traditions such How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Carol, or It’s a Wonderful Life.  That brief interlude of peace made such a significant impact on the world and Midwinter Revels depicts that moving period of time with Christmas in the Trenches, O Tannenbaum and Stile Nacht as the production spread itself beyond the Sanders Theatre stage.

The children are always a joy to watch and this year as the Ellis Island Children, they share upbeat, jumping rope rhythm for There’s a Big Ship Sailing and later with Las Posadas as Mary rides on a donkeyIt is just one example of the many endearing appearances they make in song and tale.

A brilliant performance comes from Ricardo Holguin who passionately performs a wondrous rendition of Mexican love song La Malgeuna followed by striking number El Relampago featuring women in gorgeous floral headdresses and sun drenched gowns by Heidi HermillerKelli Edwards’ multifaceted choreography is on full display throughout as well as for a tricky and intricate sword dance accompanied by an onstage accordion and drummer for The Straw Folk Mummers Play and Rogue’s Delight.

Though the show lulled a bit on occasion, Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island’s engaging tales bring unity and light and depicts how sharing different traditions can bring a new understanding and warmth into the darkest of times.

Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island continues live and in person at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA through December 28 and then will be available virtually December 29 through January 15.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Front Porch Arts Collective serves up a spirited and resonating ‘Chicken and Biscuits’

‘Family is a loaded word.’

Spoken by one of the characters in Chicken and Biscuits by Douglas Lyons, this statement perfectly encompasses the essence of this spirited family dramedy. The holidays tend to bring out family dysfunction in rare form and Front Porch Arts Collective has it covered with Chicken and Biscuits delivered just in time for the holidays on December 9.

Judgment is passed at every angle and tensions run high as one family must reunite for a funeral honoring the family patriarch. As Jacqui Parker as Baneatta’s opening scene suggests, the power of prayer may be the only way for this family to get through this complicated day.

Matriarch Beneatta Jacqui Parker contemplates the family’s happy future in Front Porch Arts Collectives production of Chicken and Biscuits PHOTO credit Ken Yotsukura

Hosted by Suffolk University, Front Porch Arts Collective ventured into their first solo show in residence with The Huntington with Chicken and Biscuits at the Modern Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts through January 8.  Directed reflectively by Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Chicken and Biscuits is one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Everyone is part of the congregation in Modern Theatre’s modest sized theatre without a bad seat in the house.  Set inside a sunlit church in Connecticut, one of the beautiful highlights of Erik D. Diaz’s transformative set design include the tree lined and then colorful stained glass windows with authentic hanging sanctuary lamps. Anna Drummond’s dynamic sound design lent to the heart and humor of the production while M. Berry’s exceptional lighting varied from somber to uplifting and every mood in between as revelations unfold.  With fine details by Earon Chew Neasley, Zoe Sundra’s striking costumes which includes dignified hats varying from elegant to over the top, embellish each character’s distinct personalities. Prop master Lauren Corcuera’s intricate details completed the hospitable atmosphere, especially those homestyle chicken and biscuits.

Reginald Robert Cornelius preaches a sermon in Front Porch Arts Collectives production of Chicken and Biscuits PHOTO credit Ken Yotsukura

Though this production delves into grief and family dysfunction, it also delivers a wealth of high spirited comedy and stirring moments from a cast of vibrant characters.  It does not take long to grasp that Father and Grandfather Bernard Jenkins was the glue that held this family together. His loss has touched each family member in a unique way while a few of the family members have their own unique ideas on how to celebrate his life.

Filled with quiet consternation, Jacqui Parker portrays compelling Baneatta who is just barely holding it together as she and her optimistic and charismatic husband Robert Cornelius as Reverend Reginald Mabry prepare to attend the service.  Baneatta has a unique effect on each family member and Parker carries that aura with a certain gravitas.  Though she and her husband appear to be opposites, Cornelius and Parker are impressive as a longtime married couple comfortable with each other’s idiosyncrasies.  Cornelius has a natural charisma and delivers a particularly noteworthy and powerful performance as easygoing Reginald, especially as he addresses the congregation with a rousing sermon.

From her razor red fingernails to her curve hugging blue dress, Thomika Bridwell depicts outrageous and outspoken hairstylist Beverly Jenkins with Lorraine Kanyike as La’Trice Franklin, Beverly’s smirking aspiring rapper daughter, not far behind.  Bridwell and Kanyike’s snappy comedic dialogue and chemistry make for some ludicrous and entertaining moments as they proudly march to the sound of their very own drummer.  Fiercely protective and flirtatious, Beverly’s scene stealing personality is a force to be reckoned with while Kanyike, in a pleather vest and revealing pants, exudes La’trice’s confident, attention seeking demeanor which also contains a grain of insightful teenage wisdom.

L to R Mishka Yarovoy Thomika Bridwell and Adrian Peguero in Front Porch Arts Collectives Chicken Biscuits PHOTO by Ken Yotsukura

Mishka Yarovoy delivers an empathetic and endearing performance as Logan, who longs for as little as the family getting his name right and Adrian Peguero as conflicted Kenny mourns a grandfather who understood him best.  However, Sabrina Lynne Sawyer stands out in a stellar performance as serious, distinguished, and multi-faceted Simone who struggles and strives for perfection.

Anxiety, gossip, bickering, and a few surprises are inevitable at most family gatherings whether it is on a holiday, a family reunion, or even at a family funeral.  Chicken and Biscuits, named after Bernard’s favorite meal, can also provide comfort, grace, and love as long as everyone can sit together, take a breath, and listen. 

Hosted by Suffolk University, Front Porch Arts Collective ventured into their first solo show in residence with The Huntington with Chicken and Biscuits at the Modern Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts through January 8.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Lyric Stage Company’s ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ madcap and hilarious

Buckle up for a bumpy ride courtesy of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as they deliver an unconventional whodunit production that has an inspector engraving notes on a crime scene into a flower pot and not to mention that mysterious, mangled, and empty dog cage!  If this all seems preposterous, that is just a glimpse into the hilarity that ensues at Haversham Manor in The Play That Goes Wrong.

Directed fervently and methodically by Fred Sullivan Jr., The Lyric Stage Company presents The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields continuing through December 18. This semi-interactive show that is not just limited to the stage space is approximately two hours with one intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

Dan Whelton and Michael Liebhauser in Lyric Stage Company’s ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ Photo credit to Mark S Howard/Lyric Stage Company

The Play That Goes Wrong is a British farce that first hit the London Stage in 2012 before it went on to make its way around the world. This award-winning whodunit play within a play became so popular, it bore BBC’s The Goes Wrong Show that just completed its second season last year.

After some interactive, pre-show comedic antics by Alexa Cadete as resolute stagehand Annie, Michael Liebhauser’s warm and dry sense of humor as Director Chris sets the stage for what this enthusiastic and determined acting troupe has in store for its audience. What makes The Play That Goes Wrong particularly entertaining is just how well timed the cast must collaboratively be in order to make such auspicious theater.

Kelby T Akin, Nora Eschenheimer, Marc Pierre, and Dan Garcia in Lyric Stage Company’s ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ Photo credit to Mark S Howard/Lyric Stage Company

From an unpredictable corpse portrayed with misguided panache by Dan Garcia to the various degrees of hysterics demonstrated by Cadete and Nora Eschenheimer as well as various cast members’ feigned composure under fire, The Play That Goes Wrong is a brilliant must see.  Cadete as stagehand Annie and Mitch Kiliulis as baffled sound man Trevor are wonderful as they take the heat at times for guffaws from subtle to catastrophic in a perplexed malaise.

Wearing a dazzling smile adorned in an elegant and cascading dress, Eschenheimer as Sandra flails and flaunts with poise and pizzazz as she ardently attempts to portray Florence. She shares some frivolous moments and a gift for physical comedy with Marc Pierre as clever and sophisticated Max. Pierre’s melodramatic and smirking expressions make him a bit of a scene stealer while Dan Whelton demonstrates more propriety as Dennis depicts Butler Perkins. Whelton is sophisticated and shrewd if not for an occasional dialect stumble here and there, handled drolly as only a regal thespian can. Kelby T. Akin rounds out this cast delivering wit and gravitas as Robert contributes to the clever sight gags and a wealth of hilarious improvising takes on new meaning.

Kelby T. Akin and Marc Pierre in Lyric Stage Company’s ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ Photo credit Mark S Howard The Lyric Stage Company

Costume designer Gail Astrid Buckley captures the essence of the British, upper crust atmosphere from various plaids to dapper suits including a signature Inspector trench coat while Peter Colao’s innovative and extraordinary set design brings in as many laughs as the cast’s humorous antics. Accompanied by Dewey Dellay’s spot on sound design and John Milinowski’s standout and suspenseful lighting, Haversham Manor’s elegant bookcase, classic wooden grandfather clock, a roaring fireplace, a functioning elevator, velvet sofa and a second floor study all seem to have a life of their own in this delightful show.

It is hands down among the funniest performances the Sleepless Critic has seen all year. Not only is the multi-layered direction intricate and perceptive, but each cast member’s razor sharp comedic chops rise to the occasion at times quite literally! The Play that Goes Wrong is a great way to let loose and enjoy a lighthearted production where flustered cheeks become the norm and to find out just how far this masterful group will go to for an uproarious good time.

The Lyric Stage Company presents The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields continuing through December 18. This semi-interactive show that is not just limited to the stage space is approximately two hours with one intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: The Company Theatre is up to magic and mischief in family-friendly ‘Matilda the Musical’

Not even a Willy Wonka candy coated confection could properly prepare one for what the Company Theatre has in store onstage.

With book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, The Company Theatre’s Matilda the Musical is a holiday-themed whirlwind of caricatured adults and rage-filled adolescence while at its core, an inspiring story of an extraordinary girl in a peculiar and unique world that could only come from renowned storyteller Roald Dahl’s innovative imagination.  Add Lindsay Hoisington’s eye popping costumes that share their own story along with set designer Ryan Barrow’s striking, festive colors and Matilda the Musical made a refreshing debut from Company Theatre’s more traditional annual holiday fare.

Diana Lee as Lavender and Reese Racicot as Matilda Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Inventively directed by Zoe Bradford with dynamic Music Direction by Melissa Carubia, The Company Theatre continues Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical live and in person at the Company Theatre at 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 18.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

With a string of renowned children’s books that includes classics such as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it is easy to see award-winning author Roald Dahl’s trademark characterizations, sardonic humor, and peculiarities within a morally driven subtext delivered in Dahl’s Matilda, a novel published almost 35 years ago.  Matilda went on to become a bonafide hit with children and adults and it was not long before a 1996 film adaptation arrived featuring Danny DeVito and his real life wife Rhea Perlman.  In 2012, Matilda became a Tony award-winning Broadway musical before Netflix recently premiered Matilda the Musical featuring Emma Thompson around Thanksgiving. Like most theatrical adaptations, nothing is quite like the experience of seeing it live.

Mischief during the holidays in Company Theatre’s ‘Matilda the Musical’ Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Expectations were skewed immediately with the darkly comedic and infectious opening number, Miracle where cute, wild, and blatantly naughty children zip around a Christmas tree fueled by Brad Reinking’s athletic, energetic, and fist pumping choreography. Keep an eye out for some amazing feats by Ben Cavallo-Smith and others.

Ben Cavallo-Smith and cast in ‘Matilda the Musical’ Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Imagination and mischief run wild in Roald Dahl’s tale of an extraordinary girl making her way through a peculiar world. Roald Dahl tugs at the heartstrings in this absorbing children’s tale, but not before displaying a wealth of less than savory characters making Matilda’s life arduous.  It is a darkly humorous tale guaranteed to delight children more than the grownups.

Annie Jones as Mrs. Phelps and Reese Racicot as Matilda Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Clad in black and white, precious and precocious Matilda, portrayed with determination and quick wit by Reese Racicot, is one of the very few characters standing out in an ostentatious world where television is more important than cracking open a book. Racicot immediately charms from the spunky number, Naughty to mastering the heady lyrics in Quiet, punctuated by her light and airy vibrato. Racicot has a sweet rapport with Annie Jones as enthralled librarian Mrs. Phelps, who delights in Matilda’s significant and imaginative stories as well as Miss Honey, portrayed endearingly by Jennifer Beth Glick. With delicate and powerful vocals, Glick shines depicting Miss Honey’s quiet strength and good natured humbleness, especially for the tender and moving number, My House with Salvador Guillermo Garcia.

Brad Rafferty as Rudolpho, Emilee Dennis Leahy as Mrs. Wormwood and Jennifer Beth Glick as Miss Honey Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The adults are about as tempestuous and spoiled as their children.  Matilda’s scheming con artist father Mr. Wormwood, portrayed with a sneer and manipulative glee by Todd Yard is not to be outdone by his equally shortsighted, narcissistic, and ballroom dancing wife and Matilda’s resentful mother, Mrs. Wormwood, depicted by Emilee Dennis Leahy with the sort of flirtatious, chaotic humor reminiscent of Jennifer Coolidge. Accompanied by Brady Rafferty as egotistical Rudolpho, Leahy demonstrates limber dance moves and a wild cha cha in the shimmering and comically shallow number, Loud. Never have a pair claimed to know so much know so little. Oliver Dunn as Matilda’s conspiring brother Michael Wormwood seems to be following in their stealthy footsteps as Yard and Dunn open Act II with humorous improvisation and vaudeville inspired number All I Know.

Todd Yard as Mr. Wormwood and Oliver Dunn as Michael Wormwood Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Matilda the Musical is not without its dark moments and that is exemplified in Matilda’s iron fisted headmaster, Agatha Trunchbull. A fearful and miserably barreling adversary depicted enthusiastically by Christie Reading, Trunchbull is a force to be reckoned with, but against these lively students, anything is possible highlighted by the brilliant and ironic number, When I Grow Up.

Christie Reading as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, Jennifer Beth Glick, and the students Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Company Theatre continues Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical live and in person at the Company Theatre at 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 18.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Central Square Theater brings Lloyd Suh’s ‘The Chinese Lady’ to light

Afung Moy is majestic, idealistic, and beautiful. In 1834, she has set foot on American soil from China at just 14 years of age to share her background, culture, and experiences. However, the details behind her arrival as well as her time and purpose in the United States is where the real story lies.

Directed impressively by Sarah Shin and in partnership with the Chuang Stage, Central Square Theater reveals a little known yet impactful figure in Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts through December 11. This semi-interactive production is 90 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and for tickets.

Sophorl Ngin as Afung in ‘The Chinese Lady’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios.

The Chinese Lady is gripping from the start and much of that is due to its two powerful leads that at first share amiable banter, humor, and building tension. With bright and expressive eyes, Sophorl Ngin depicts Afung Moy with compelling curiosity as she gradually discovers the life that has been set out in front of her. Ngin’s sweet and understated ingenuity beams adorned in exquisitely-detailed gold embroidered lavender and lilac attire crowned with a colorful guan by costume designer Sandra Zhihan Jia.

Scenic designer Qinan Zhang has a meticulous eye for detail and each piece of furniture and prop provides a significant purpose. Nothing in this vast room is just for show. Translucent curtains blanket the room and add a mysterious quality to the space. Steel structures hang above a Chinese floral blossoms arrangement and the matching end tables and chair quickly become essential to this historical account.

Jae Woo as Atung and Sophorl Ngin as Afung Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

From China’s history of inventing tea to the gruesome details of foot binding, Ngin delivers her lines pragmatically and with a cheery glow, treating her time onstage at first an adventure with delusions of grandeur. With a wide eyed countenance, Ngin brilliantly depicts Afung from her imaginative humor and naivete to the subtle evolution in her ripened demeanor, weary walk, and her conflicted style of speaking as years gradually progress. The Chinese Lady is confronted with the ugly side of humanity and lays it bare as her time slowly fades into a land she has little choice but to adapt to it.

Ngin as Afung and Jae Woo as her older translator and guide Atung illustrate their absorbing camaraderie as they embody their complex characters, particularly exemplified in a chilling scene with the President. This intense and carefully executed scene is riveting and difficult to witness, but punctuates the sheer marvel of these two together onstage. Jae Woo portrays Atung as mysterious, subdued, polite, and unassuming as he keeps himself as minimal as the furniture. He is kind, protective, and squarely knows his place, but hints at a painfully buried intensity. Woo handles this complicated and austere character with tight lipped finesse in spite of or more hauntingly, because of all he has been through.

Sophorl Ngin as Afung and Jae Woo as Atung Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

The Chinese Lady is best experienced without revealing the true nature of the story. Afung’s endearing personality provides a temporary distraction of what is actually happening onstage. Director Sarah Shin and author Lloyd Suh’s clever unfolding of historical and contemporary events and the actors’ subtle navigation in their performances on issues that are anything but subtle are weaved into a striking and message driven historical work that peels away that subtlety piece by piece and by the final act, leaves everything astonishingly and unsettling bare.

Jae Woo as Atung and Sophorl Ngin as Afung Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Central Square Theater reveals a little known yet impactful historical figure in Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts through December 11. This semi-interactive performance is 90 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Embrace SpeakEasy Stage Company’s illuminating ‘English’

Learning a new language brings all kinds of emotions to the surface.   One is swept out of one’s own element and that can be as exciting as it is daunting. It can also become a long and awkward struggle to capture the essence of a new culture while steeped in a new language. Though one is gaining something new, one might also be losing a bit of themselves.

Thoughtfully directed by Melory Mirashrafi, Speakeasy Stage Company continues Sanaz Toossi’s English at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts live and in person through Saturday, November 19.  The performance reviewed was audio described and one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

One of the most fascinating messages in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s English is the realization that one can learn many languages, but can only know one. That one native language is the foundation for all the rest.  In learning to speak a new language, it can reshape what comes naturally.

English delves into the lives of four students living in Iran who are learning the English language for TOEFL, a standardized test that stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. The production is mostly in the English language with no subtitles.  It takes a moment to catch on, but Mirashrafi cleverly depicts when characters are speaking in their native tongue.

Leyla Modirzadeh as Roya in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This multi-generational cast has various and deep seated reasons for learning English and this production resonates universal truths of having to learn a new language whether by choice or necessity. English does explore the political climate of learning English in Iran, but what is most memorable are the hardships, victories, competitiveness, and the often flustered frustration of learning a peculiar new facet of life.  Each individual demonstrates a different degree of longing to belong. It is not difficult to relate to this small and dynamic cast in their obstacles, earnestness, but most importantly, in the strength in who they are.  Deniz Khateri depicts complicated Marjan, who seems to firmly place herself in the world of the language she teaches. In a multi-layered performance, Khateri as Marjan is engaging and encouraging, but also firm and mysteriously guarded.  She lends to the show’s tension and subtle humor and has unique chemistry with each student. Lily Gilan James portrays wide-
eyed and optimistic Goli with effervescent candor. She stands on her own mistakes while earnestly articulating the nature of her wishes. 

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Leyla Modirzedeh as wise and headstrong Roya is strongly urged to learn English to communicate with new members of her long distance family.  A sympathetic character, Modirzedeh powerfully evokes Roya’s sincerity and her struggle between her heritage and this new way of communicating.   Zaven Ovian depicts Omid with easygoing charm and he shares some compelling scenes with Khateri as Marjan and with witty, outspoken and understandably frustrated Elham, a standout performance by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Elham is a complex individual who is as compassionate as she is bold and is often hardest on herself.

Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Elham in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nina Vartanian’s culturally sound and vivid costumes pop in Janie E Howland’s realistic classroom staging and enhanced by an elegant, multicolored portrait in teal, orange, red, brown, and beige.   

English is an honest, straightforward, warmly funny, and universally relatable journey of discovering a new language and in all of its difficulties, deciding whether or how to embrace it.  See English and embrace its life lessons. 

Deniz Khateri (left) and Zaven Ovian in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Sanaz Toossi’s English live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA through Saturday, November 19.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ a family treat and delivering more surprises than things that go bump in the night

Under a glimmering moon, fog rolls in as a candle burns. 

Near a tattered fence and curtains behind a pedestal table sits The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s author Washington Irving, portrayed by Boston-based actor Paul Melendy.  Poised to share his gothic novel, Washington Irving is just one of several personas Melendy charismatically manifests for Greater Boston Stage Company’s semi-interactive, one man performance of Halloween classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Paul Melendy in Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

With lively direction by Weylin Symes, Paul Melendy aptly bares the weight of this local, legendary, and family-friendly tale live and in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts as well as virtually through Sunday, November 6.  This show is just under 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Already proving to be a wonderful talent in Greater Boston Stage productions such as The 39 Steps and Miss Holmes Returns, Paul Melendy captures the spirit of Sleepy Hollow through a frenzy of distinct personalities, rapid fire mannerisms, and occasional scares.  This version has a historical and contemporary context, delivering more family- friendly and comedic content than a fright fest.

Paul Melendy in Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Melendy’s Icabod Crane is an eccentric, bumbling, and polite schoolmaster in love with the lovely Katrina and sets out to impress her and her family, but rumor has it that something ghostly just might be lurking through Sleepy Hollow.  Feeding off the audience while drawing comedic inspiration and wide- eyed vigor reminiscent of Jim Carrey or Jerry Lewis, Melendy’s pliable features transform into a number of characters ranging from the elegant Katrina to a tough guy New Yorker to the mysterious Mister Knickerbocker.  A cross between a recollection and a retelling, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow treats the audience to an assortment of dynamic characters who roam through this secluded valley along the Hudson River.

Melendy is an animated and quick-witted storyteller on this partially introspective journey as David Remedios’s chilling sound effects highlighted by a wild horse whinnying, Katy Monthel’s haunting scenic design, and Deirdre Gerrard’s eerie lighting elevate the production’s mysterious and uneasy tone.  Add Melendy’s exuberance to the mix and audiences are in for an enjoyable ride.

The cast and creative team for Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Greater Boston Stage Company presents The Legend of Sleepy Hollow live and in person in Stoneham, Massachusetts as well as virtually through Sunday, November 6.  This show is just under 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s family comedy ‘Popcorn Falls’ zippy, lighthearted fun

Two dynamic actors take the stage for some wacky fun in Popcorn Falls, a wild, improv-inspired tale about a small, provincial New Hampshire town brimming with zany townspeople of all ages affectionately called, “kernels.”  From a feline-loving librarian with a flair for the dramatic to jack-of-all-trades Joe, Popcorn Falls must find a way to save itself from bankruptcy before it’s too late.

Christopher Chew and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard in ‘Popcorn Falls’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Written by James Hindman and directed warmly by Lisa Rafferty, Greater Boston Stage Company presents quirky, family-friendly comedy, Popcorn Falls live and in person through October 2 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Christopher Chew in ‘Popcorn Falls’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Doing the heavy lifting is Christopher Chew depicting a set of unique characters including the Town Mayor and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard who portrays other wild characters including Joe.  They are more than up for the challenge of keeping the pace of this lively production from a broken mic wire to journeys unknown.  From shifting voices to lightning-fast wardrobe changes thanks to dynamic Properties Designer Sarajane Mullins and Costume Designer Deirdre Gerrard, Bedard’s ability to transform into a wide spectrum of characters from seductress to meet cute to smarmy sometimes in mid-sentence is amusing to say the least.  The kernels can make a lot of noise and the audience is in on the joke rooting on each shifting character.  Christopher Chew largely portrays the straight man with few exceptions, enduring the eccentricities of each alternating character in stride while putting his own twist on his changing persona.

‘Popcorn Falls’ full cast and artistic team Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Kristin Loeffler’s inviting town hall set up including a brick backdrop, a chalkboard, and a town flag does little to reveal the path this duo is about to embark on while sound designer Caroline Eng enhances each running gag.  Popcorn Falls doesn’t take itself too seriously, but each prop, sound, and set piece lends itself to the production’s playful and zany antics. 

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Christopher Chew Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Quite a tale develops as this play kicks off in mid-action as the audience must piece together what exactly is happening onstage and what “kernel” the audience is sure to meet next.  Popcorn Falls is a feel-good show for the whole family that will keep the audience guessing at each unpredictable turn.  It is endearing and funny journey that saves the big, eye opening reveal for last.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents quirky, family-friendly comedy, Popcorn Falls live and in person through October 2 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information, discount tickets, and more.