REVIEW: Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ a twist-filled comedy of scheming proportions

What truly makes one person love another? 

Moliere in the Park begs this question while addressing gender stereotypes and takes an at times tongue in cheek look at what makes a good wife in The School for Wives, a classic comedy by French playwright Moliere first making its stage debut in 1662.  Translated by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Wilbur with French subtitles, this virtual romantic comedy in five acts has plenty of twists and turns on the road to love and made its live streaming debut on October 24 with the recording available through October 28 on Moliere in the Park’s YouTube channel. 

The cast of Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park is dedicated to inclusive, just, and free theatre.  Click here for more information.

Set in Brooklyn, NY, Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives uses its creative technical wizardry to meet Covid-19 standards with enhanced, virtual sets by Lina Younes transporting actors from a regal city garden to a carefully-detailed bedroom to an inviting cafe.  At one point, it also gives the illusion that the characters are all together.  Ari Fulton’s colorful costumes stay faithful to the time period while providing a certain modern edge.   

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Directed insightfully by Lucie Tiberghien, ‘The School of Wives’ is punctuated by its intriguing and catchy dialogue as well as its flipped gender roles.  Older and wealthy Arnolphe (Tonya Pinkins) thought he has his love life figured out until Horace (Kaliswa Brewster) makes him rethink his road to love with sweet and virtuous Agnes (Mirirai Sithole).  Each character is well developed, but what truly shines is the fleshed out philosophies and misconceptions of what makes a good woman and a good wife while exemplifying what truly makes a good man and husband.   

Tony Pinkins skillfully depicts the well-spoken and arrogant Arnolphe as a myriad of emotions cross Pinkins face in a single scene.  From a biting temper to soft chuckling to a Cheshire smile, Pinkins seamlessly illustrates Arnolphe’s constant inner conflict.   Ever the focused manipulator, Arnolphe’s vibrant scene-stealing gravitas keeps you engaged no matter how complicated his situation becomes.

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Kaliswa Brewster’s thousand-watt smile brings glowing charisma to young Horace, his youth shining through his outspoken candidness and confidence.  Pinkins and Brewster are best as they hide their veiled intentions from each other, carefully holding all their cards at bay.

Virtue takes form in Mirirai Sithole as Agnes, a wide-eyed, sympathetic creature who hides a secret.   Sithole’s carefully delivered dialogue and angelic, learned mannerisms keeps her fascinating and complicated in a demure pink headpiece and dress.

Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Peasants Georgette (Tamara Sevunts) and Alain (Corey Tazmania) offer comic relief as frenzied servants of Arnolphe.  Anxious, obedient, and scrambling to meet Arnolphe’s demands, they are a fanatical and sympathetic pair whose often bewildered expressions makes one think they may have just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tamara Sevunts (Georgette), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) and Corey Tazania (Alain) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives takes an enlightened look at love while the play unquestionably sets the foundation for today’s romantic comedy tropes.  Its rich, inherent message never lacks humor or sincerity when it comes to the unpredictable path to true love. 

REVIEW: Compassion and tension drive compelling feature film ‘Paper Spiders’ at the Boston Film Festival

Sponsored in part by NBC Universal, Boston Magazine, and Maydaze Films, The 36th annual Boston Film Festival took place virtually this year due to Covid-19 with the option to attend live screenings in Boston, Massachusetts from Thursday, September 24 through Sunday, September 27. 

Boston Film Festival offered live and virtual films during the 4-day festival Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

Featuring the award-winning documentary, Jay Leno’s Garage, the four-day festival included the US premiere of feature films Small Town Wisconsin and Paper Spiders, a wide variety of short films, and powerful documentaries such as the world premiere of This Hits Home, Me The People, Beyond Zero, and ‘25’ Tony Conigliaro The Documentary,  the US Premiere of The Memory of Water, and The Girl Who Wore Freedom, as well as the East Coast premieres of Stro: The Michael D’Saro Story, Knots:  A Forced Marriage Story and After the Rain. Q and A sessions were held with actors, directors, and foremost experts.  Click here for the full schedule.

Your Virtual film selection the Boston Film Festival website Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

The Boston Film Festival offered an option to see scheduled screenings of select films at the stellar Showplace Icon Theatre.  Located at the Boston Seaport and conveniently located at the Courthouse stop on the Silver Line, The Showplace Icon Theatre features state-of-the-art stadium seating with plush reclining chairs, a beverage holder, and a place for your popcorn.  Click here for a closer look at this amazing theatre and here for more information and tickets.

Showplace Icon Theatre, located at Boston Seaport. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

No matter what the circumstances, it is not easy dealing with mental illness, especially if it is a parent.  However, that is not the crux of the US Premiere of Paper Spiders, a coming-of-age tale about a teenager named Melanie portrayed with endearing maturity by Stefania LeVie Owen, and her relationship with her widowed mother Dawn, portrayed masterfully by Lili Taylor.  They are a fractured but seemingly happy family coming to terms with loss and attempting a new beginning. 

Set in Syracuse, NY, The film picks right up with relatable mother-daughter chatter at a pivotal time in Melanie’s life as they tour a college Melanie is interested in attending. Their sweet conversation makes it easy to see their close relationship, but later when their neighbor hits a tree in their front yard, what ensues is nothing Melanie could have ever imagined.   

‘Paper Spiders’ made its US premiere at the Boston Film Festival Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

Each member of this compelling cast becomes more complex as the tale progresses, led by Lili Taylor as Melanie’s widowed and troubled mother, Dawn.  Taylor is no stranger to quirky characters and her usual odd charm shines through as Melanie’s talkative and anxious mother.  With a particular talent for exuding fear in her eyes, Taylor evokes sympathy and dismay as Dawn transforms from a concerned mother to living her life with one eye open, her vulnerability palpable as she struggles to see things clearly.

Stefania LeVie Owen is wonderful as responsible, cautious, and practical Melanie as she struggles to achieve a nearly impossible balance between being a teenager and handling her mother’s increasingly concerning episodes. What makes this struggle more poignant is the natural chemistry between Owen and Taylor who exude as much ease as they do strain.  This escalating tension mounts in quick paces as viewed through Owen’s innocent and alarmed perspective.

Peyton List, seen more recently as Tory in Netflix’s popular Cobra Kai series, is a welcome addition as Lacy, Melanie’s fun-loving and promiscuous best friend.  Serious and quiet, Melanie and Lacy’s contrasting personalities offer a break from the film’s serious nature.  Ian Nelson is charismatic as Melanie’s good humored, persistent, and wealthy classmate Daniel.  Nelson and Owen are charming together and also contribute to some of the film’s lighter moments until life inevitably gets more complicated.

Lili Taylor as Dawn in ‘Paper Spiders’ Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

Director and writer Inon Shampanier and his wife and writer Natalie Shampanier create a beautiful blend of funny moments and engaging montages with a deeper look at Dawn and Melanie’s daunting reality.

After all, mental illness can become a roller coaster of emotions such as grief, anger, paranoia, loneliness, and anxiety, but the crux of Paper Spiders isn’t any of these things.  It’s about the struggle through this unpredictable journey with those you love with understanding, ever holding on to hope.  Paper Spiders never loses sight of that.

Paper Spiders is currently touring the film festival circuit nationwide.  Click here to see where Paper Spiders will be shown next and here for more about this year’s Boston Film Festival and future updates.

REVIEW: Company Theatre unveils remarkable ‘Fun Home’

The crowd roared.   Even with a half-full Company Theatre crowd that adhered to Covid-19 requirements opening night on Friday, March 13th, this enthusiastic audience was more than ready to be taken away by what theatre does best.  Company Theatre co-founder Zoe Bradford provided a special Fun Home introduction and mused, “Theatre has a way of helping you escape reality.”

Company Theatre Fun Home Airplane

Riley Crockett as Small Alison and Michael Hammond as Bruce Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Five-time Tony award-winning musical Fun Home explores different perceptions of reality within the Bechdel family.  They wrestle with it, deny it, but ultimately, must come to terms with it.  Based on the graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel and directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, The Company Theatre presented musical Fun Home on Friday, March 13 at Company Theatre at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts and plans for the show’s return when the theatre reopens.  Click here for more information.

Under a softly lit, lattice rooftop, Fun Home takes an intimate look inside a family seemingly full of zeal and an antique Victorian house so tidy and flawless flanked with a fireplace, grand piano, and large casement windows, it neatly hides any cracks and crevices underneath.  With elegant scenic design by Ryan Barrow and Zoe Bradford as well as rich, emotive lighting by Ethan R. Jones, The Company Theatre unveils this absorbing musical that lures the audience into the Bechdel family’s complicated world.

The Company Theatre Fun Home Looking On

Aimee Doherty as Alison, Michael Hammond as Bruce, and Riley Crockett as Small Alison Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

It’s funny what you recall in life.  Memories can be tricky.  As time goes by, perspective changes as a person grows, transforming a memory and gradually revealing details once never thought of or understood before.  That lattice rooftop seals in cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s intimate memories as she writes her memoirs through her work, ruminating on her childhood and upbringing to find out what ultimately makes her feel like she is stuck in life.  Alison uses cartoons because drawing as a child, she recalls, “I need real things to draw from because I don’t trust memory.”

With its share of comedic and uplifting moments, Alison looks back on her relationship with her enigmatic and intellectual father Bruce and her traveling and ill at ease mother, Helen.  Alison is the only individual that outwardly transforms in this piece, thanks to the exceptional work of Riley Crockett as adorably precocious Small Alison, and Jaclyn Chylinski who is impressive as naïve, anxious, and excitable Medium Alison.  Crockett performs an impeccable version of Ring of Keys and shines with Charlie Flaherty as Christian and Owen Veith as John in the darkly humorous title track, Fun HomeMelissa Carubia is smooth and charismatic as cool and collected Joan.

The Company Theatre 'Fun Home'

Riley Crockett as Small Alison, Charlie Flaherty as Christian, and Owen Veith as John Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre  

With black rimmed glasses and short dark hair, IRNE award-winner Aimee Doherty slips into Alison’s façade, a mature, jaded and intellectually-driven individual.  With a dark sense of humor, Doherty narrates this emotional journey evoking confusion, warmth, sorrow, and frustration in her fine features while building her strength in each new discovery.

Michael Hammond, in a tenacious performance, embodies the many sides of Alison’s father Bruce.  With black rimmed glasses, dress pants, and a collared sweater, he is critical man with a refined intellect, and perpetually occupied to become an expert on most everything.  Seemingly a friendly, strict, and hardworking family man, Bruce is also secretive and closed off.  Each Alison does a brilliant job in portraying their wrought frustration in every moment they attempt to make a genuine connection to him, but especially in the bittersweet song, Telephone Wire.  Hammond’s engaging and affecting vocals capture Bruce’s perplex feelings in each number, including the poignant song Pony Girl, and most notably his harrowing rendition of Edges of the World.

Amy Barker skillfully portrays Alison’s unassuming, overwhelmed, and misunderstood mother, Helen.  Surrounded by outward perfection, she lives her life distancing herself from reality reflected in the heartrending and beautiful number Days and Days.  Always putting others first, she is a repressed woman following the traditional values of her generation within the confines of her home.

The Company Theatre Fun Home Full Cast

The full cast of ‘Fun Home’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Led by and musically directed by Matthew Stern, the intimate, seven piece orchestra features a soothing, fiddle-laden soundtrack that is a combination of light, airy, and melancholy.  From its opening song, It All Comes Back to the Flying Away finale, Jeanine Tesori’s captivating musical numbers hold a spectrum of rich, multi-faceted meaning.  The catchy, Partridge Family-inspired song, Rainbow of Love is a particular highlight, enhanced by cheerful retro costumes and illustrating Small Alison’s hope of escape.

Company Theatre’s Fun Home is on hiatus and plans to return when the Company Theatre reopens.  Click here for more information.  Follow Company Theatre on Facebook for further updates.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s intriguing ‘The Children’ explores resilience and buried secrets

What would you do in the face of a disaster?

Under the roof of a shabby and antiquated seaside English cottage, Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children looks into the lives of three brilliant and possibly doomed people that may be more connected than they seem.  Not without its dark sense of humor and charm, The Children is a gripping exploration into the meaning of survival in a crumbling landscape and what happens next has never been more important.

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Paula Plum, Karen MacDonald, and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy Stage’s production. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Directed with profound insight by Bryn Boice, SpeakEasy Stage Company recently had to discontinue the remaining performances of The Children at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts due to COVID-19 concerns. This show contained adult themes and some smoking onstage.  Click here to learn about the remaining shows of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 2020 season.

Paula Plum as Hazel chillingly recalls the disaster, “It looked like the sea was boiling milk and it just kept boiling and boiling.”  Married couple Hazel and Robin face day-to- day life in the aftermath of a disaster.  With few resources, they attempt to build a new life when an old friend, one that Hazel thought was dead, arrives unexpectedly.

Technical Director Taylor Hansen and Master Electrician Becky Marsh launched some incredible special effects built into the stage.  Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful costumes flourish against Cristina Todesco’s bleak scenic design while lighting designer Jeff Adelberg and David Remedios’s sound design skillfully complete the show’s haunting seaside solitude.

The Children is steeped in as much looming sadness as engaging humor.  That is in no small part due to its three stellar actors and sharp script that swings from humor to tragic in a single quip.

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With a thick, Yorkshire accent, Paula Plum embodies low key, practical, and increasing complex Hazel.  Simply dressed in overalls and a turtleneck, Plum is as capable of leveling a room with her eyes as she is with her dry wit.  Plum seems to relish cynical and stealthy characters behind a seemingly ordinary facade and Hazel holds her own surprises.  She reconnects unexpectedly with enigmatic, free-spirited, and one-time confidant Rose, portrayed with gumption and gall by Karen MacDonald.  Watching Plum and MacDonald spar and interact with each other is like watching a tense chess match where you are anxious to find out who will make the next move.  They share stories, philosophize, and trade smiles while wondering what kind of secret the other one is hiding.

Having last portrayed Pops in SpeakEasy Stage’s critically-acclaimed Between Riverside and Crazy, Tyrees Allen is a charismatic and often fun loving presence as Robin, Hazel’s dairy farmer husband.  Allen and Plum have a seemingly effortless chemistry with an even mix of irritability and adoration illustrated in old married couples.  A man of stubbornness and solutions, Allen’s seemingly carefree attitude cuts through Plum and MacDonald’s building tension before he creates some of his own.  The deliberate unfolding of this story occurs in sharp, sequential pieces with hardly time to digest the last big revelation before the next one is unveiled.

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Tyrees Allen, Paula Plum, and Karen MacDonald in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘The Children’ Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

So why is this production called The Children?  While Hazel is grounded by her three children, Rose is single and childless.  Children are explored in multifaceted ways whether referring to Hazel’s children, the community children, the things we learn from children, and the things we wish we knew as children growing up.  However, life begins and ends with children in this production and the very foundation in what holds them together is also what can tear them apart.

Click here to learn more about The Children and the remaining shows of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s season.  Click here to learn about auditions, support, and how to get involved with SpeakEasy Stage Company.