REVIEW:  Boston Ballet off to a brilliant ‘reSTART’

Boston, it’s time to reSTART.

Embarking on a journey from beloved local landmarks to overseas to inside the Boston Ballet studios, Boston Ballet’s reSTART amps up the excitement of their highly-anticipated return live onstage in time for the holidays.

With a versatile lineup that includes recently filmed jazz-infused contemporary dance, classic tales, traditional dance, and a season preview as well as a full range of costumes including street wear by Yin Yue and Jens Jacob Worsaae and Judanna Lynn’s spectacular royal fashion, Boston Ballet’s virtual reSTART, available through November 7, delivers an elegant and dynamic show for dance lovers everywhere.  Click here for more information and for Boston Ballet’s full season.

Boston Ballet in Yin Yue’s A Common Movement, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Over the past year and a half, the renowned Boston Ballet has become much more than a force onstage.  It has been inspiring to see this sophisticated and athletic company in various settings, using creative and unconventional methods to evoke their passion for their extraordinary work.  Lighthearted, romantic, and refreshing, Boston Ballet’s season premiere reSTART demonstrates a brilliant new season to come.

It all starts right in the city of Boston.  Renowned contemporary choreographer Yin Yue delivers jazz-infused spirit into the Boston Common as fifty dancers brighten this beloved October landscape in A Common Movement.  In comfortable and modest attire, the dancers come together in a joyful and sweeping dance as horns blare creating a vintage vibe under a peerless sun.  With catchy tunes performed by Quincy Jones and Alice Coltrane, these charismatic dancers take over the Common with a swift beat in a smooth, mischievous, and calibrated performance enhanced by a slick dance by Maria Alvarez, Louise Hautefeuille, Lauren Herfindahl, Sangmin Lee, Ao Wang, and Patrick Yocum on the Boston Public Garden Foot Bridge.

Haley Schwan and My’Kal Stromile in Yin Yue’s A Common Movement, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Clever choreography and digital technology bring together pairs Ji Young Chae and Tyson Clark and Haley Schwan and My’kal Stromile in an unexpected way for a fascinating performance in the Public Garden.

Boston Ballet delves into a classic tale with fantasy flair featuring Soo-bin Lee and SeokJoo Kim, a stunning duo as they perform a deeply romantic Pas de Deux in an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet.   Angelically adorned in a halo of ribbons and flowing gown by Song Bohwa and Hanna Kim, Lee is a vision in an idealistic dark forest.  Despite a hint of foreboding, Prokofiev’s score is uplifting and glorious as Lee and Kim enchant each other building into bursts of joy, seeming to move as one into an embrace.

Addie Tapp and Lasha Khozashvili in Jorma Elo’s Ruth’s Dance, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

From classic tale to classic dance, another highlight of reSTART features Bach’s soothing, piano-driven rhythms as Addie Tapp and Lasha Khozahvili perform a tender and delicate dance as Khozahvili quite literally sweeps Tapp off her feet.  

Muses take on full form as Paul Arrais beguiles inspiration as bold and fresh faced Apollo in a pivotal classic work which first brought choreographer Balanchine and composer Stravinsky together.  What is particularly captivating about Balanchine’s choreography is the mechanical synchronization between muses Lia Cirio as majestic Terpsichore, Viktorina Kapitonova as mysterious and foreboding Calliope, and Chryrstyn Fentroy as jubilant and charismatic Polyhymnia.  Their dance is meticulously precise as they rhythmically pivot in unison, at one point forming a beautiful silhouette until each have a chance to portray their own distinct chemistry with Arrais’s mesmerizing Apollo.  They join together, hinging onto each other and one might wonder who is in control.

The Boston Ballet kicks off their new season with virtual reSTART continuing through Sunday, November 7.  Click here for more information and a closer look at Boston Ballet’s new season.

REVIEW: Fueled by a nostalgic rock soundtrack and a charismatic storyteller, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Wild Horses’ a lively and momentous tale

Nothing brings back memories quite like a song.

The power of music is in full force in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) production of Alison Gregory’s Wild Horses streaming on demand through Sunday, October 17.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre previously offered the production in person from September 15 through October 3 at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The show contains mature language and some adult themes. Click here for more information and tickets to this virtual performance.

Directed with heart and humor by Courtney Sale, Wild Horses delves into the life of the mother of a teenage daughter, portrayed with a blend of lively charm and excitable nervousness by Leenya Rideout, as she gets wrapped up recalling her story of a special California summer during her 13th year in the 70s while onstage at an open mic night.  Rideout evokes a sense of adventure during this musically-fueled Moth Radio Hour featuring lyrics from 70s greats Rolling Stones, Heart, Van Morrison, America, and more.

Having delivered a likable performance in the 2020 indie film, Love, Repeat, Rideout further showcases her dynamic range in this meatier Wild Horses role with a humorous, heartfelt and sometimes raunchy performance.  See what Sleepless Critic had to say about Rideout in Love, Repeat here

With a love for music almost as much as horses, Rideout sings, strums an acoustic guitar, and proves an energetic and engaging storyteller sharing her experiences from a studious perfectionist to a teenager not afraid to break a few rules with the encouragement from her daring friends.   With no shortage of excitement, scandal, humor, and heartache, Rideout’s onstage demeanor switches from responsible mother in need of a night out to wide eyed, youthful innocent with all the angst that goes with it.  She blends what she remembers with her current wisdom, dwelling in the sacredness of youth. Ranging from teenage pranks to rites of passage, Rideout recalls these stories with wistfulness and passion, interacting with the audience like old friends.

Costume designer A. Lee Viliesis has Rideout ready to rock in an animal print scarf, Fender T Shirt, and ripped jeans and accompanied by guitarist Rafael Molina, she slips right into this adolescent spirit longing to be wild and free.  All that is necessary is a little courage.

Here’s to the ‘freedom takers’ with Merrimack Repertory’s production of Wild Horses continues streaming through Sunday, October 17.  Click here for more information and to get a closer look on MRT’s new season.

REVIEW:  Theatre Kapow’s timely and resonating ‘The Boyg’ makes a connection

Comic great Robin Williams once said, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone.  It’s not.  The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.”  Williams suffered from depression, but his ability to feel the lows and to make people laugh perhaps contributed to his gift on a deeper level.  Getting the laugh is greater when the pain in which it is earned is also felt, achieving connection.  Perhaps this is why there is also an in-house psychiatrist at The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, California.

Theatre Kapow captured isolation and resilience in a play centered around a group of people clinging for hope in A.J. Ditty’s resonating play, The Boyg based partially on the life of Per Krohg.  Art and isolation are key elements and are heavily weighed as each character attempts to connect with each other in their own distinct way.

Celebrating its first indoor production in over a year, Theatre Kapow presented A.J. Ditty’s The Boyg in Derry, New Hampshire in September, toured in Charlestown, Massachusetts as October started, and the show is now available online through October 10.  Click here for tickets and more information.

Before continuing, it is important to note that A.J. Ditty’s The Boyg, named after Ibsen’s classic play Peer Gynt’s groundbreaking literary monster, does not make the play a prerequisite to appreciate this production, but a companion piece.  The show is part play within a play and for those who know Peer Gynt, having read Ibsen’s work may promote a richer understanding, but does not affect the universal appeal of this show.

There is a phantom presence lingering over The Boyg, a sense of tension and dread that builds throughout the production and is rarely addressed until it is unavoidable.  It hides in games, questions, plays, and pleasant conversation and perhaps glimpsed in a pause or a worried glance.  Enhanced by Tayva Young’s mood-induced lighting and versatile sound designed by Jake Hudgins, it is an element as real as any of the characters in this production.

Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia as Mikhail and Rebecca Tucker as Per in ‘The Boyg’ Photo credit Matt Lomanno Photography

Set inside a Norwegian concentration camp during World War II, each character has every reason to try to forget their present circumstances, but struggle within the inevitability of their situation.  Duty, work which is often self defeating, and art seem only to hold more than a moment’s distraction.

R to L: Lisa Boyett as Old Man and Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia as Mikhail Photo credit Matt Lomanno Photography

The cast displays good timing and chemistry even as characters who often struggle to understand each other in their mutual pain.  As barracks leader Odd Nansen, portrayed ardently by Carey Cahoon, Odd seems the most willing to give into whatever is necessary to keep up morale while Professor Francis Bull depicted by Molly Kane Parker, prefers to escape into literature and theatre to cope with the present.   

Rebecca Tucker delivers an intriguing and heartfelt performance as secretive, complex, and anguished Per Krohg who struggles with what it takes to survive.  Tucker’s cat-and-mouse conversations with Nicholas Wilder as harsh and manipulative Captain Denzer and Sabrina Sehlegel-Megia’s earnest portrayal of rebellious and mysterious Mikhail Hjorthson’s haunting recollections of past experiences are particular highlights.

R to Left: Rachael Chapin Longo as Robert and Rebecca Tucker as Per Photo courtesy of Matt Lomanno Photography

What does it take to peel back life’s meaning where there is no other choice?  Reflecting on art and culture while staring into the face of mortality, isn’t life better with connection over dread? 

Directed contemplatively by Matt Cahoon, Theatre Kapow timely production of A.J. Ditty’s The Boyg streaming through October 10.  Click here for more on The Boyg and Theatre Kapow’s new season, Return.

REVIEW: Somber, funny, bleak, and hopeful, PTP/NYC’s ‘Standing on the Edge of Time’ waxes political and poetic

Opening with a remarkable reflection connecting theatre to the human heart, a bare stage shows signs of life once again.

Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) opened their virtual summer play series earlier this month with Lunch, a clever show that unconventionally explored the art of conversation.  Directed judiciously by Cheryl Faraone, Standing on the Edge of Time waxes both political and poetic in conversation as it explores the bleak yet hopeful state of the world through a selection of works from different authors. 

Standing on the Edge of Time is the second of three summer virtual plays presented by PTP/NYC and continues through July 27.  Viewings are free and donations are encouraged.  This show was filmed adhering to Covid guidelines, runs approximately 90 minutes, and has mature themes.  Click here for more information, how to view the show, and how to support PTP/NYC’s mission.

From the haunted balconies of an old, empty theatre, even the dead wrestle with their wild, melancholy, and world-weary experiences in Mac Wellman’s Crowbar.  This segment provides the perfect framework leading into various works that delve into contemporary issues from freedom, frustration, road rage, and relationships to downsizing, grief, sex, and paranoia. 

Mac Wellman’s ‘Crowbar’ Alex Draper as Mr. Rioso Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Though each segment is written by different authors, its engaging format provides a flow that rarely veers off course.   The show boasts poetic and timely musings such as Mornings at the Lake with Madison Middleton and Spell of Motion by Stacie Cassarino with Stephanie Janssen featuring some beautiful outdoor cinematography as well as haunting James Saunders’ Next Time I’ll Sing to You with Tara Giordano.  Though the majority of Standing on the Edge of Time is thought-provoking, these quieter segments provide respite from the production’s heavier topics and satirical themes.

Stacie Cassarino’s ‘Mornings at the Lake’ with Stephanie Janssen Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Some highlights include Dominique Morisseau’s relatable and occasionally humorous Skeleton Crew, the zany and unique ideas presented in David Auburn’s What Do You Believe about the Future, and the surprising facts revealed of history repeating in Constance Congdon’s Tales of the Lost Formicans

The cast portray a myriad of roles, but apart from Crowbar, do not seem like they are playing particular characters for the most part.  The lively cast seems like a semblance of individuals exploring contemporary issues, fears, and unique ideas of the future.

David Auburn’s ‘What Do you Believe about the Future?’ (L to R) Stephanie Janssen, Christopher Marshall, Madison Middleton, Gabrielle Martin, Aubrey Dube, Becca Berlind, Wynn McClenahan, Maggie Connolly, Francis Price and Gibson Grimm Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

PTP/NYC’s Standing on the Edge of Time continues streaming through Tuesday, July 27.  Click here for more information.  Please note there is a final segment following the production’s credits.  PTC/NYC will present their final virtual summer show, A Small Handful from August 13-17.

REVIEW: PTP/NYC’s ‘Lunch’ rich, searing, and absorbing

Two people, immediately intrigued by the sight of each other, hesitate to speak to one another.  Yet they have such remarkable things to say. 

Steven’s Burkoff’s Lunch takes off from the start in fascinating and dense musings as Mary, portrayed with perceptive shrewdness by Jackie Sanders and Thomas, depicted with charm and gall by Bill Army sit listening to the sea’s crashing waves as their lives unfold.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed meticulously by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli, Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) presents Lunch virtually through Tuesday, July 13.  The play contains some mature themes and is free to watch.  Click here for more information and how to support Potomac Theatre Project.

Lunch makes the most of every moment of its approximately 40 minute runtime through Berkoff’s rich and enthralling script and groundbreaking style of dialogue.  Letting the audience into each person’s thoughts and conversation, what makes Mary and Thomas mysterious while thoroughly engaging is the distinct contrast between what they say and mean.  Their lively imaginations and their tantalizing and sometimes searing observations of one another seem unhinged amid their marginally polite discussions at first.  Sanders is particularly astute at capturing Mary’s detachment while Army’s boyish and meandering charm make for some unique chemistry as their encounter escalates into a surprising conclusion.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Passionate, blunt, vivid, and occasionally shocking, Lunch also delves into earnestness and loneliness in a most unexpected way. Lunch continues through Tuesday, July 13.  Click here for more information and PTP/NYC’s upcoming events in their 34 1/2 season.

REVIEW: Led by powerhouse vocals, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s engaging ‘Songs for a New World’ a memorable musical experience

We are all hearing soon.  Soon we will be back together in the theatre for a wonderful live theatrical experience.  How it has been missed! 

However convenient it is sitting in front of a computer for a virtual show, there is nothing quite like the anticipation of live theatre in person with an audience in a shared experience.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s remarkable concert musical benefit show, Songs for a New World, accomplishes quite a bit in its hour and a half runtime.  Through clever cinematography that still adheres to Covid guidelines, SpeakEasy Stage Company recreates the thrill of seeing actors together onstage and it is easy to see each cast member’s excitement through their own extraordinary performances.  We’re not quite there yet, but this is getting ever closer.

‘A New World’ featuring the entire company Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Directed by Paul Daigneault and musically-directed by Jose Delgado, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues their 30th anniversary season with John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World streaming through June 8.  The show was filmed onstage at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Discount tickets are also available.  Click here for more information on SpeakEasy Stage Company’s recently announced 2021-22 season.

It is difficult to describe the anticipation of seeing SpeakEasy Stage Company’s concert musical benefit, Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World.   The last Jason Robert Brown musical I witnessed was a film adaptation of The Last Five Years.  It was a glorious, resonating tear jerker featuring reliable talents Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick

Songs for a New World explores a variety of characters that are faced with the ultimate, sometimes humorous and other times harrowing life-changing decisions and deciding what to do next.  With simple staging and an onstage band conducted by Jose Delgado, Songs for a New World has humor and heartache enhanced by some of Boston’s most recognizable vocal powerhouses.

Rashed Al Nuaimi sings ‘She Cries” Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

From the inspiring, tremendous, and relatable opening number, A New World featuring powerful, upbeat harmonies between Dwayne P. Mitchell, Davron S Monroe, Mikayla Myers, Rebekah Rae Robles, Alexander Tan, Victor Carillo Tracey, Laura Marie Duncan and Rached Al Nuaimi, this production proves to be something to behold.  A New World/Time to Fly gives the audience a glimpse into the shared experience of what each character is feeling and the hope their decisions will turn out right.

Songs for a New World is full of powerful performances and each song is as strong as the last, but here are a few highlights.  One standout performance is a tender and stirring rendition of On the Deck of a Spanish Ship, 1492 as Monroe exclaims, “Have Mercy Lord” while the cast embarks on a harrowing, life-changing journey.  Dressed in a long fur coat, Laura Marie Duncan is wildly entertaining as a scorned woman in an extreme situation in Just One Step.  Duncan’s expressive personality and her sheer energy drive this amazing performance. 

‘I’d Give it All for You’ Jennifer Ellis and Dwayne P Mitchell Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Jennifer Ellis performs some vocal gymnastics as Mrs. Claus for Sweabaya Santa, reimagining Santa as an absent, judgmental husband whose love is as fleeting as his sleigh.  Dwayne P Mitchell literally rises from the ashes of his childhood in this boastful, self-assured rendition of The Steam Train.  Ellis and Mitchell have sweet chemistry in a beautiful duet about the complexity of love in I’d Give it All for You.

Rached Al Nuaimi demonstrates zany, emotional turmoil and building frustration in She Cries and Jennifer Ellis delivers a bold and anguished performance in The Flagmaster, 1776.

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Songs for a New World also boasts an incredible finale not to be missed with Hear My Song.  Glad to add John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World as another memorable musical experience. 

SpeakEasy Stage Company continues streaming Songs for a New World through June 8. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support the SpeakEasy Stage Company.

REVIEW: Boston Children’s Chorus’ free virtual concert “Lift Every Voice: At the Table” ends season on a vibrant and hopeful note

Transitions have been a strong theme over the past year and a half and with that brings forth a tumult of emotions.  Staying true to this season’s theme, “Waves of Change,” the Boston Children’s Chorus depict a vibrant range of emotions through songs of comfort, pressing contemporary issues and dreams of hope of everyone together again in their final concert of the season, Lift Every Voice:  At the Table.

Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

Featuring special guest composers Sydney Guillaume, Omar Shahryar, and Layth Sidiq, Lift Every Voice:  At the Table was live streamed for free on Sunday, May 30, but is still available to watch on their Facebook page, and YouTube channel.  The concert also delivers information about their upcoming summer outdoor concert series, We Sing as well as information about the Kiser Scholarship, a memorial scholarship focused on community building and social healing.    

Though each song offers its own message of hope and change, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Brandi Carlile’s uplifting Crowded Table and Omar Shahryar’s The Journey of Feelings portrays the dream of unity while reflecting on uncertainty and the exhaustion of the journey through this pandemic from a child’s point of view.  Crowded Table brings to life the dream and comfort of finally being together again at the table without worry by a roaring fire.  It’s a sweet, joyous, and memorable song that you may never want to end.

The Boston Children’s Chorus Virtual Choir Photo courtesy of the Boston Children’s Chorus

Omar Shahryar’s catchy The Journey of Feelings has its amusing moments, but underneath the beat paints a startlingly perfect expression of what kids are feeling from day-to-day over the course of the pandemic.  It’s an upbeat and urgent song providing insight into intense and overwhelming feelings and yet delivers a precocious sense of maturity expressing hope of life returning to normal.  Omar Shahyar’s There’s a Change A-Coming further enhances this sense of gradual change as they navigate through these uncertain times. 

Moving backdrops and colorful, innovative zoom cinematography enhance each song and it is wonderful to hear from Boston Children’s Chorus members from all levels and their reflections on the world.  It is also a treat to see the chorus outdoors from bridge to beach to city singing together at various times over the concert’s duration, but this is especially wonderful to watch for Mavis Staples’s inspiring Build a Bridge and Layth Sidiq’s spiritual, haunting, and rhythmic Reflection.

John Mayer’s popular song, Waiting on the World to Change brings its signature insightful flair but BCC enhances this poignant song with a moving dedication to emergency workers and glimpses of the state of the world during the pandemic such as the closure of theatres, empty trains, and elbow bumps instead of hugs.  Mayer’s timeless lyrics resonate profoundly while the world is in transition.

Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

Delving into multiple languages and a unique, moving open, The Boston Children’s Chorus also reflects hope and uncertainty through the eyes of Migrants with Joel Thompson’s America Will Be as the BCC proclaims, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  Dany Rivera’s charismatic and powerful vocals depict struggle and determination with Gregory Porter’s Running (Refugee Song).

The Boston Children’s Chorus encapsulates distinctly what many are feeling at this time through their evocative vocals and strong messages while leaving this season on a hopeful note. 

Click here for more information on how to join and support the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, and digital offerings.

REVIEW: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s quintessentially local ‘A Woman of the World’ fascinating and full of surprises

Scandalous secrets unfold and things are not what they seem in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s  (MRT) quintessentially local and fascinating production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Partnering with the Emily Dickinson Museum and directed cleverly by Courtney Sale, this one-woman show led by Massachusetts native Denise Cormier lights up the stage with natural charisma as enigmatic lecturer and historical figure Mabel Loomis Todd. She claims to bring insight into the real life of the late, renowned poet Emily Dickinson, but what she unveils is so much more. 

It was wonderful to see another production from MRT filmed onstage.  A Woman of the World also offers plenty of local references such as Harvard, MIT, the New England Conservatory, Boston, Amherst and the surrounding areas.  The show contains some hinted adult themes.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World.’ Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Scenic designer Bill Clarke and Original Music/Sound Designer David Remedios seamlessly combine the inviting comforts of home with the sights and sounds of a serene Maine setting.  However, don’t let the serenity of this island home fool you.   Mabel gears up for a quiet storm as the sound of the wind and crickets fill the air.

From welcoming to haunting, Carolina Ortiz Herrera’s soft, dynamic lighting not only transforms each mood in an instant, but does more so with Cormier.  At first Denise Cormier as Mabel seems a lively, well-to-do speaker with well coiffed blond hair, but as the show progresses, the subtle lighting reveal tinges of gray. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Though it is a one-woman show, other “cast members” such as Mabel’s daughter Millicent is addressed offstage.  Delivering a multi-layered performance, Mabel’s charm to win over her audience first comes off as egotistical, but gradually becomes earnestness and she soon seems like an old friend.  Nothing short of a captivating showman, a warm and inviting presence, but the guarded moments intertwined in her storytelling is the stuff that keeps you hooked and her drifting reflections are when the show truly hits its stride.  Having had a stroke, Mabel is also somewhat an unreliable narrator in more ways than one. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

The show tackles relatable issues on feminism and Cormier as Mabel may make you root for her one moment and against her the next.   However, she’s a survivor and an enigma ahead of her time. 

Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman is streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Following the production is a short interview between director Courtney Sale and Denise Cormier on the inspiration behind the show.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for more about the Merrimack’s Repertory Theatre’s season.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ a striking satire

It’s hard to miss the message behind TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever, a bold, semi-interactive satire that takes a deep dive into prominent social issues such as racism and sexual harassment by putting a contemporary spin into troubling pieces of history.  Taking cues from Dear White People, TJ and Sally 4 Ever is anything but a love story and highlights the frustration evident within each of its characters as they attempt to convey their own point of view.

Directed by Pascale Florestal, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever virtually through Thursday, May 13.  The show run 1 hour and 35 minutes without an intermission and is not suitable for children. Viewer discretion is advised.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Resources for this production can also be found on speakeasystage.com and a panel discussion is available here after seeing the production.

Jared Troilo and Tah-Janay Shayone in ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Speakeasy Stage Company’s TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever heeds social distancing guidelines through some careful blocking and innovative technology.  Though a couple of frames look a little awkward, the majority of the show flows naturally.

Sally, portrayed with levelheaded wit by Tah-Janay Shayone, portrays a college student who is starting a job under obnoxious, egotistical, controlling (and much more) Dean Jefferson.  Flailing about with a subversive glint in his eye, Jared Troilo delivers an unabashed, grimly humorous performance as Dean Jefferson.  Dru Sky Berrian as Pam and Sadiyah Dyce Stephens portray Sally’s caring, protective, and partying sorority sisters and Jordan Pearson as blunt and tenacious Harold will do just about anything for change.

Jared Troilo and Jordan Pearson in ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Though this satire at times misses its mark, TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’s unconventional premise and delivery distinctively portrays Sally and the cast’s exasperation as they bring to light the hypocrisies and arrogance within our society as each try to forge a path toward a brighter future.  Choreographed cleverly by Kira Cowan Troilo, a particular highlight involves a dance sequence between Pearson and Troilo that quite literally drives home the scene’s inherent message.  Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful and detailed costume design from Sally’s symbolic outfit to a scene featuring colonial gowns enhances the production’s strong and serious subject matter.

Left to Right: Dru Sky Berrian, Tah-Janay Shayone and Sadiyah Dyce Stevens in ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

The show effectively takes a hard, long look tying in the past, present, and is ultimately optimistic for a compassionate future.  Speakeasy Stage Company’s TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever continues virtually through Thursday, May 13.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support the SpeakEasy Stage Company.

REVIEW: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Until the Flood’ a raw, complex, and gripping docu-drama

Until the Flood begs the question, “How do you want to be remembered?”

Director Timothy Douglas frames a poignant, moving portrait of a community in pain with Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s virtual docu-drama Until the Flood continuing through Wednesday, May 5. The content of this program is not recommended for youth under age 16.  This program was originally commissioned by The Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis.  Click here for more information on Merrimack Repertory Theatre and how to stream the show.

Based on real life accounts gathered in 2014 by Pulitzer prize-winning finalist Dael Orlandersmith, Until the Flood delves deep into the emotional and complicated perspectives and recollections of this community and how it affected each person following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Maiesha McQueen in one person show ‘Until the Flood’ Photo courtesy of Kathy Wittman/MRT

A colorful, makeshift memorial is strewn on a chain link fence shrouded in a blue, haunting darkness.  Sirens ring out in the distance amid tingling and powerful music.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Until the Flood sets a foreboding undertone through Lindsay Jones’s chilling sound design and Bill Clarke’s haunting and true-to-life set pieces.

Encapsulating all the anguish, uncertainty, doubt, fears, and hope is Maiesha McQueen in a tour-de-force performance onstage as she takes on eight individual composites drawn from real life interviews in this one person show.  From a 17 year-old teenager to a 75 year-old retired police officer, McQueen digs into the heart of each individual and delivers the kind of multi-layered performance that flows with each individual.  From a subtle head tilt and a tumult of emotion brewing in her eyes to the careful movements and creaking in her bones as she takes on the persona of an ailing senior to the confident swagger of a teenager that feels like he can take on the world, McQueen writhes and broods with each character.  Dressed in colorful and consistent street clothes by Yao Chen, each perspective and recollection made by each individual is fleshed out and brought together by McQueen as she pours herself into each character and makes each stand on their own.  Her pliability transforms her stature, stance, rage, compassion, sadness, and anger “like the flood” over the state of the world. 

Until the Flood provides not only each individual account of what they heard, saw, or experienced of the Michael Brown shooting, but a deeper look into how each person lived their life before and after this harrowing incident within this community.  It is a raw, gripping look at how ugly and how beautiful a society can be and how easily friendships can change when people do not see eye-to-eye.  It delves into anger that can be unleashed too easily, anguish, sadness, harrowing fear, and unbridled hope in fellow human beings in spite of life’s sorrowful circumstances.  Most of all, it presents a fairly even handed, but complex account of what truly motivates human nature and how fear and hope takes shape.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located in Lowell, Massachusetts continues streaming Until the Flood through Wednesday, May 5.  Click here for more information and tickets.