REVIEW: Michael John Ciszewski’s ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ dwells in dreamlike introspection in 2020

To some, the sun is an adversary.  To fast-living insomniac Simon, portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, the sun is sleeping just when he is waking up.  Michael John Ciszewski’s second solo project, The Sun is Sleeping, is a personal, contemplative piece though Simon wants to be anything but contemplative.  He’d rather escape than be alone in his thoughts and his isolation, always looking for a quick fix as he dreams, loves, and parties big.

Having seen Ciszewski in other projects such as Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s The Little Foxes and his latest Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s virtual Much Ado about Nothing, Ciszewski has a strength for portraying intense, multi-faceted characters and Simon is no exception.  Steeped in city views, sunsets, and the crack of dawn, The Sun is Sleeping is a beautifully shot, relatable journey during these difficult times. 

Michael John Ciszewski in ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ Photo credit to Michael John Ciszewski

Click here for more information and how to watch The Sun is Sleeping, a one hour avant-garde film.

The Sun is Sleeping is part confessional, part introspection, and part escape, featuring a myriad of mixed emotions as Simon and other characters face a pandemic.  As Simon fantasies about an eternally happy existence and doubt seeps in, the audience is privy to each character’s meandering perspectives in their sheer yearning to bond with other people in any way they can.

For the actors themselves facing an arts ‘intermission’ of this magnitude, it’s the thrill of the audience, lack of that type of expression, and entire way of life turned upside down that contributes to their unsettling uncertainty.  Pier Lamia Porter as Sam and Rachel Belleman as Caroline unite in a wistful zoom call that could speak to anyone right now.  It’s the longing and joy of being together.  Some of the show has a sense of humor, but much more of it is reflection showing we all have too much time on our hands and yet the sun still shines.

Centastage’s Joe Antoun directs Shakespeare with a comedic, twist-filled spin in new play, ‘Noir Hamlet’

Picture a dark night in 1949 Los Angeles, a mysterious death, a new take on a classic, twist-filled tale, and a play within a…comedy?  That’s what happens when playwright John Minigan melds key elements of Shakespeare’s classic tale while throwing in a doll, a dame, and a detective in Centastage’s Noir Hamlet continuing through Saturday, June 30 at Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Even for those familiar with Hamlet, this tale is full of surprises.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Noir Hamlet Paul Melendy

Paul Melendy as Hamlet in Noir Hamlet

Centastage’s Executive Director, founding member, and Noir Hamlet’s director Joseph Antoun discusses classic noir, Write On, and just where the idea for Noir Hamlet came from.  Joe won an IRNE for Excellence in Theatre.

Sleepless Critic:  Noir Hamlet is a fascinating, inventive play.  Since Shakespeare’s Hamlet has dark and mysterious elements, it’s easy to see the connection to noir.  However, this is a full-length comedy in one act.  How did this show come together?

Joseph Antoun:  John Minigan, part of our Write On playwriting group that meets once a month, wrote Noir Hamlet.  It was read in our playwriting group episodically, which means a couple of scenes brought it every now and then.  Through that process, John was able to shape this show.  Several playwrights bring in their work.

Noir Hamlet has key elements of the famous Shakespeare play such as finding out the mystery behind Hamlet’s father’s death.  Four actors are playing multiple roles.  The secretary’s name is Ray Chio, like ‘Horatio’ in John’s language and the same actor who plays Rey also plays Yorick’s skull.  Hamlet and Gertrude strictly play their roles, but Claude, as in Claudius, also portrays the Ghost of Hamlet and a character named Paolo Niro.  In that case, they are switching characters, but Rae is a love interest for Hamlet.  There’s also questions raised if Claude is also carrying on with Rae.  The show has lots of red herrings.

Noir Hamlet Robert D Murphy and Liz Adams

Robert D Murphy and Liz Adams in Noir Hamlet through June 30. Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  It’s vintage noir style.  That must have been fun to put on stage.

JA:  It was a riot!  The comedy has not only the noir look with long trench coats and fedoras, but the stereotypical language such as ‘mug,’ ‘doll,’ and ‘dame.’   It’s a fast moving script with lots of twists.

SC:  It’s a comedy, so I imagine the way this show is put together, even if the audience has read Hamlet, they still won’t know what is coming.

JA:  If the audience knows Hamlet, they’ll get a kick out what is acknowledged and paid homage to.  If they think by knowing Hamlet they’ll figure out the story, they’ll be surprised.

Noir Hamlet Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia

Noir Hamlet’s Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  A few local performers are taking the stage such as Liz Adams from Medford.  How was the audition process held?

JA:  It was a very personal type of casting.  I knew I wanted Paul Melendy for Hamlet because I had directed hi m before.  I knew Bob Murphy has the right comic timing.  He understands the show and Hamlet very well, so I knew he could enhance it.  Last year in Newburyport, Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia, who plays Rey, took part in a Noir Hamlet reading and John was pleased with it.  I admired Liz Adams’s work.  She played Julius Caesar in the all-female actor Shakespeare project version of Julius Caesar.  A lot of the audition process was just one-on-one interviews more than monologues or sonnets.

Coincidentally, we’re in the Black Box Theatre for Noir Hamlet, but across the hall in the Plaza Theatre, OWI is performing Red Velvet, calling it an Othello like you’ve never seen before.

Noir Hamlet Paul Melendy as Hamlet

Paul Melendy as Hamlet in Noir Hamlet Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  What was most surprising about this production together?

JA:  One is the lightning pace of the show.  The faster the pacing, the funnier and better the show will be.  What is also surprising is the physical humor in it.  How funny simple actions such as turning the head or stepping out of the scene in film noir style have been.

SC:  His Girl Friday, an old film starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, is not exactly a film noir, but the pacing is also incredibly quick.  One can detect four jokes in one line.  It’s a brilliant film.

JA:  Yes, Noir Hamlet has the same style and it pays homage to that film.  I watched a whole lot of film noir to catch up on the noir language such as Laura, The Big Sleep, and film noir-style films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Naked GunNoir Hamlet is its own thing though it has its influences.

SC:  Centastage is in its 28th season.  How has it evolved over the years?

Centastage started with seasons of new plays by local writers and I realized I didn’t think we were serving audiences or playwrights by a season every year of the best plays we received if I didn’t feel like they were ready for production.  Over time, we started putting more energy into the development process of new plays.  Now we do a new play when we think we have a script ready for it.

In 2015, our last full production was IRNE-nominated Academy Fight Song by Andrew Clarke.  It took five years to develop between Andrew Clarke, the playwright, doing readings, rewriting it, and us rereading it.   Centastage is a great community to be a part of and it’s nice to deal with playwrights, actors, directors, and designers.

Centastage New work

Courtesy of Centastage

SC:  Please tell me about Write On, which is how Noir Hamlet came together in the first place.

JA:  Write On has been meeting since 1994 on the first Monday of every month.  We have actors come who like to write plays.  The members bring in work and we read and discuss them.  John Minigan has a dramatic piece that is a Eugene O’ Neill finalist this year.  When he brought Noir Hamlet in the first time, the people laughed their way through acting it.  The theatre group has been great.  We have been through years of big numbers but right now.   My guess is that we are at 12-15 regular playwrights.   It’s a very thoughtful process.  All genres, all forms and open to whoever wants to join.  We also put together readings open to the public, social events, and on the website are playwright and actor head shots as well as show titles that have gone on to Centastage full productions.

SC:  I imagine you hear a lot of shows that come across the board.  How do you decide which on you want to work with?

JA:  That’s a really good question.  A lot of it is my gut.  I enjoy plays with a strong sense of character, good storytelling, and surprising themes.   I have actors that come into the writing group and I also teach at Emerson which exposes me to not only young actors, but professional actors who are on faculty and we have open auditions.

I believe in building bridges between playwrights and artists.  Playwrights that have you read their play in a reading start to build a bridge between you and that work.  I think it’s a good way to connect with new plays coming up.

Noir Hamlet poster

Noir Hamlet continues through June 30 Photo courtesy of Centastage

It sounds like Centastage plays a big part in the whole picture.  Click here for more information and tickets to Noir Hamlet, continuing through Saturday, June 30 at Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information on Centastage and here for Write On.  Follow Centastage on Facebook and Twitter.

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Director Matt Silva and ‘Waist Watchers the Musical’s’ cast talks improvising, exercise, and girl’s night out

Since April, Alan Jacobson’s Waist Watchers the Musical, a musical comedy from the production team responsible for You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy, and Menopause The Musical, has been taking a frank and lighthearted look at four women’s struggle with dieting, body image issues, exercise, and much more.  Perfect for a date night or a girl’s night out, this musical comedy continues through Sunday, June 25 at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts.  Click here for the full schedule and for tickets.

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‘Waist Watchers the Musical’ cast Photo courtesy of Playhouse Productions/Regent Theatre

The atmosphere was full of excitement and laughter as the cast and director of Waist Watchers the Musical, having just performed a weekday matinee, spoke about the unique preparation for this show, working with the choreographer of the acclaimed film, Silver Linings Playbook and Hairspray Live, and keeping the show fresh and more hilarious each and every night.  Director Matt Silva and cast members Kiley McDonald, Stephanie Genovese, and Krissy Johnson all agree they are having a blast.

Sleepless Critic:  Waist Watchers the Musical tackles a unique and sometimes sensitive subject.  How does this show balance comedy with working out?

Kiley:  We’ve talked about that a lot and how to approach the material knowing about body image and social media.  It really takes a toll on women and how they envision what’s perfect.  This show does a really good job of making light of everything and reminding us to laugh, accept, and love who you are.  Everyone has flaws and trouble with something.  That can’t hold you back and rule the choices you make in life.

Waist Watchers The Musical

‘Waist Watchers the Musical’ cast at Cook’s Gym Photo courtesy of Playhouse Productions/Regent Theatre

SC:  Waist Watchers The Musical’s choreographer, Dani Tucci-Juraga, was behind the choreography for the acclaimed film, Silver Linings Playbook and Hairspray Live, which featured some amazing dance moves.  Did you find learning the dancing particularly challenging?

Stephanie:  Dani is fantastic.  She is the sweetest woman I’ve ever met, but she is tough.  She knows exactly what she wants and pushes you to become a better dancer, performer, and in this case, athlete.  There were times when we were sore and complaining and she told us to deal with it and try harder.

SC:  What attracted you to this show and these roles?

Matt:  I am the orchestrator for this company who had taken on the show.  It was out in Phoenix and I didn’t have anything to do with it.  I went to see the show and thought the material was cool, acceptable, and empowering for women.  The production itself wasn’t all that successful in terms of the talent, choreography, and the production value.  I was really excited to take the message, empowerment, and the women’s process and collaborate with them and make it fun.  I thought the production was lot of fun, but I thought the show I saw needed a little injection.

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‘Waist Watchers the Musical’ cast  Photo courtesy of Playhouse Productions/Regent Theatre

SC:  The cast has very unique roles to prepare for.  Aside from the dancing, what other preparation was involved?

Kiley:  We knew right away that we needed to condition our bodies for the show because it is non-stop, 90 minutes of cardio.  We would have to sing and dance without a lot of time to breathe.  We also don’t leave the stage very often.  It took us a little while to get our bodies moving, figure out where to breathe, and where to sing.  A lot mental preparation goes into it.

SC:  This show features all new and original music by Vince Di Mura.  Do you have any favorites that stand out for you?

Stephanie:  I love Lazy.

Kiley:  My top favorite is The Morning After.

Chrissy:  Eat it.

SC:  You have been performing this show since April and the final show will be on Sunday, June 25.  How does the show stay fresh each time you perform?  I understand the show involves a lot of improvisation.

Stephanie:  We try to make new discoveries each night.  Every audience is different and they react to different things, so every performance stays different and fresh.

SC:  You must encounter your share of surprises improvising and trying new things.  Any memorable moments that occurred onstage?

Krissy:  At this one performance, we had a new sound system.  It was the first time using this wireless microphone. The mic cracked and made a loud noise onstage right before one of my lines.  It frightened me so badly, I screamed!  From that moment to the end of that scene, I could not stop laughing or get my lines out.  It was quite amusing.

SC:  You all obviously have really snappy chemistry on and off-stage.

Kiley:  We are very fortunate to all get along and appreciate each other’s sense of humor.

SC:  What is the best reason to see Waist Watchers The Musical?

Stephanie:  It is definitely a girl’s night out and one hundred percent campy.  It’s a feel good show with lots of laughs.  Good clean fun, but definitely PG-13.

Presented by Playhouse Productions, Waist Watchers the Musical continues at the Regent Theatre until June 25.  After the Regent Theatre, the show continues its tour in Huntington Beach and Sacramento, California.  Click here for further details and for tickets or call 781-646-4849.  Group rates are also available at 888-264-1788.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre announces ‘Shrek the Musical’ auditions

Everyone’s favorite ogre, Shrek is heading to Hingham Civic Music Theatre.  Based on William Steig’s imaginative fairy tale, the Dreamworks Animation film adaptation, Shrek was an instant hit in 2001 starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow.  Several sequels followed and was also adapted an innovative, fun-loving musical on Broadway.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre is searching for an all-new, fun-loving cast to join Shrek the Musical as it makes its Hingham debut in October.  Auditions for Shrek the Musical will be held at the Sanborn Auditorium at Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts on Monday, June 26 and Tuesday, June 27 at 7 p.m.  Callbacks will take place on Wednesday, June 28 at 7 p.m.  Click here for more information on auditions, cast descriptions, rehearsal schedule, and to download the audition form.  These will be closed auditions.

Shrek is a lone, but not lonely, green ogre who lives a quiet swamp life until life as he knows it is threatened, forcing him to embark on a daunting quest and tremendous adventure.  Featuring a large cast of beloved fairy tale characters with a few new faces added to the tale, Shrek the Musical is a parody, offering its own fairy tale twist with plenty of witty humor, family fun, and life lessons.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, musically directed by Mark Bono, with choreography by Tara McSweeney Morrison, Hingham Civic Music Theatre presents Shrek the Musical for two weekends from Saturday, October 21 through Sunday, October 29.  Follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook for upcoming events and more.