REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s well-timed ‘Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help’ a comical trip down memory lane

Greater Boston Stage Company chose the perfect time to debut Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  Nestled right through St. Patrick’s Day during Lent (for Catholics), this engaging family comedy delves into the lives of the quirky lower middle class Irish-Catholic O’Shea family during a chaotic and pivotal week in their lives in the 1970s.  It’s a memory play…with a few amusing twists.

From L to R: Vin Vega as Becky, Maureen Keiller as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael, Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea, and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

A semi-autobiographical play written by Katie Forgette and directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company presents Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help virtually and at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts through March 20.  The show is 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission and recommended for children ages 13 and up.  Click here for more information and tickets.

It is fascinating how memories work when they are retold, recalled, and recollected.  A fuzzy little detail here and a little change there may make a big difference.  Some of the production’s characters are a bit over the top, but so was the 70s.  Every detail of this show rewinds the clock to a simpler time before the internet, cell phones, and other technological distractions took over.  Deirdre Gerrard pulls together a wonderfully nostalgic and mismatched array of 70s attire from corduroy to bold patterns to star-studded bellbottoms. 

From L to R: Vin Vega as Becky, Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda, Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea, and Maureen Keiller as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help is full of candidness, warmth, and quick pacing much due to the cast’s authentic and believable chemistry as a relatable, flawed, and dysfunctional family.  Tempers flare, judgments are passed often, and the O’Shea family is set in their routines within a meticulously-detailed and functioning wood paneled kitchen plucked straight out of the 70s.  From an afghan blanket on a chair to knickknacks on shelves to photos and notes smattered on a corkboard to greenery gathering in a kitchen window, set designer Shelley Barish’s remarkable blast from the past kitchen lies in the details.

A bossy grandmother, a cheapskate father that works too hard, an exhausted but nurturing mother, a shoot-from-the-hip aunt, and an impressionable daughter all vie for the spotlight breaking the 4th wall and well aware they are in the play.  It flows more like a slice-of-life documentary with most characters eager to speak to the “camera.”

Vin Vega as Becky and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

At the center of this play is somewhat reliable narrator Autumn Blazon-Brown as adorably spunky women’s-lib teenager Linda O’Shea.  Smart yet adventurous, Blazon-Brown shows charming charisma as Linda who, in a moment of frustration, is obnoxious to her impressionable sister Becky to the chagrin of those around her including intimidating Fr. Lovett portrayed with self-righteous glee by Barlow Adamson.  Chaos ensues.   

Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Adamson is an apt comedian with a wealth of opportunities to show off his dynamic skills during this production.  Vin Vega portrays film-obsessed and imaginative Becky who seems the most sensible among this amiable cast and often along for the ride within the O’Shea high jinx.  Amy Barker portrays a relatable every mom as exhausted but nurturing matriarch Jo O’Shea, but Maureen Keiller, a familiar face having delivered solid past performances in Boston such as in Between Riverside and Crazy, Admissions and The Women, is a gem as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael.  Wisecracking, bold, and often blunt, Keiller shows under Terri’s complicated and tough façade is a loneliness and vulnerability with a fierce loyalty to her family.   A better aunt you will never find.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help virtually and at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts through March 20.  The show is 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission and recommended for children ages 13 and up.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Peter Josephson discusses the apocalypse, The Simpsons, and more as theatre KAPOW debuts ‘Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play’

Making its debut in New Hampshire, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, written by Anne Washburn, is a powerful, wildly funny musical that may offer a whole new perspective on the beloved, long-running television series, The Simpsons, all while staying true to its characters.  Directed by Matt Cahoon, theatre KAPOW proudly presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play for one weekend only Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Award-winning actor and Saint Anselm College Politics Professor Peter Josephson shares details about working with theatre KAPOW, the fascination behind The Simpsons, and becoming Homer.

Sleepless Critic:  You work as a Professor of Politics, but you are also a director, you train and teach acting workshops, and have won quite a few New Hampshire Awards for your art. It’s safe to say theatre is your other love.

Peter Josephson:  That’s true. I performed quite a lot in school and in my 20s, but left when I went to graduate school.  For almost 20 years, I didn’t perform and got back into it again almost 10 years ago.  Since I was very rusty, I sought out training and still train as well as teach.  It’s been terrific to get back to it over the last decade.

SC:  What is it like to perform with theatre KAPOW again?  I understand you have taken the stage with them a few times.

PJ:  Quite a few times and I find it valuable to go to other groups.  I have friends there and learn a lot from them.  I hope I bring something to them, but theatre KAPOW is home base for me in terms of performance.  Since my first show in 2010, I’ve typically done 2 or 3 theatre KAPOW shows a year and help lead their trainings.

Matt and Carey are wonderful human beings and have built a theatre company that is always looking for the next exploration, the next way of learning how theatre works, and what we can do with it.  Matt curates the season so we are not just doing a series of shows.  We have an idea of how shows connect and build on one another.  Last year, we did our first musical and Mr. Burns is our second.

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Nicole Viau, Emily Karel, and Rich Hurley in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno

SC:  Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play is a unique opportunity to do that.  The Simpsons have been part of the pop culture landscape for decades and have made commentary on politics, entertainment, science, and current events.  What do you think draws people to the Simpsons and as a professor of politics, do you think the Simpsons are insightful?

PJ:  When The Simpsons first started, a lot of controversy surrounded the show because it seemed to snub its nose at family values and traditional morality.  Some scholars take it very seriously as a contemporary text of America.  I have had colleagues at other schools write about it and find it as a way to talk to students about serious concerns in contemporary politics.  People wouldn’t watch it if the show weren’t crazy and funny.  It helps them see more clearly what is going on in their own lives.

SC:  Lately, The Simpsons have predicted a number of things that have come to fruition.

PJ:  Unfortunately, that’s true.  Hopefully the plot of the play doesn’t come true.

SC:  Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play has many layers to it.  It’s about surviving an apocalypse and using stories from The Simpsons as a means for survival.

Matt and Carey brought the script to me last spring and I was really struck by how funny it was.  It’s scary, shocking and underneath all of that, it’s an interesting story about how people use culture to work through their problems and how ideas of sacred truths develop culturally.  It’s fascinating and I think Anne Washburn and the actors she worked with when she was writing the script are brilliant.

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Rachael Chapin Longo, Rich Hurley, Nicole Viau, and Emily Karel in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno.

SC:  You play dual roles as Gibson and Homer.  Setting up a cartoon onstage and portraying a cartoon must have been a new kind of challenge.

PJ:  Yes, it’s kind of weird and crazy.  I would expect just about everybody in the audience knows who Homer is and I’m supposed to do that in some way, which isn’t really possible.  I had to find a central trait about Homer, express that, and remind the audience who the character is.  I play Homer in Act 3 and he is put into a different, darker environment.  His response to that is what one would expect Homer’s response to be and that is everything is going to be wonderful.

SC:  Mr. Burns is Homer’s adversary.

PJ:  Yes, Rich plays Mr. Burns in Act 3 and Washburn’s script has taken the cartoon character, identified his corruption, and made that part the most essential thing.  I would guess that if a Simpsons fan sees the show and then watches The Simpsons on television, they are going to see Mr. Burns in a different way.

In the second act, two actresses debate about what we do when we perform a play and whether the primary purpose is entertainment or to express some deeper meaning.  I think Washburn’s script accomplishes both.  Having worked on this play and going back and watching The Simpsons, I don’t look at Mr. Burns the same way anymore because I am aware of what Washburn saw in him and he’s deeper than I thought.

SC:  Bringing the cartoon to life onstage is its own challenge.  Some of the masks for the show are amazing.

Yes, they are wonderful.  We’ll be using masks in late June for an original show we are working on.  It’s an interesting acting challenge.  The masks’ design elements are goofy crazy and I think we have really captured the cartoon-ish quality of the characters and the challenge is to take that quality and put it into actual living human beings.

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Rachael Chapin Longo, Rich Hurley, and Emily Karel in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno.

SC:  Regarding the musical element of the show, I understand it features popular songs from the last ten years.

PJ:  Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Eminem, and Ricky Martin show up as well as some Gilbert and Sullivan.  There are three acts and in the second act, we’re following a traveling theatre troupe and part of the show features a commercial jingle that we sing and part of the show features six or seven pop hits the audience might remember from a time when we had electricity.  Act three is all singing in a peculiar operetta that is funny, crazy, and frightening.

SC:  What do you think is the best reason people will enjoy Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play?

PJ:  I think audiences will attach themselves to it because it speaks to something we are all looking for in wildly entertaining ways. It invites the audience in and makes them part of what is happening.  I’m confident the show will resonate deeply with the audience and keep them laughing.

Click here for more information and for tickets as theatre KAPOW presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play from Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Shepard Auditorium at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH.  Follow theatre KAPOW on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events and more.

REVIEW: Athletic grace, intensity, and enchanting beauty drive The Boston Ballet’s debut of ‘Obsidian Tear’

Featuring an enthralling, unconventional start, renowned choreographers depict a rich array of contrasting tones as The Boston Ballet opened its 2017-18 season with the captivating, North American debut of Obsidian Tear continuing through Sunday, November 12 at the Boston Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  What is particularly intriguing about this program is its delicate balance of triumph, suspense, sorrow, and beauty in a blend of traditional and contemporary artistry featuring two revered works by composer Jean Sibelius.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Boston Ballet strikes an impressive, emotional balance with the combination of a special, orchestral performance of Finlandia by Jean Sibelius, Obsidian Tear, and Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius.  Led by guest conductor Daniel Stewart, the Boston Ballet opened with a stirring orchestral performance of the Finnish National song, Finlandia, composed as a tone poem by Jean Sibelius.  Magnificently led by conductor Daniel Stewart, Finlandia is a triumphant, gripping masterpiece from its ferocious open to every subtle, enchanting note in between.

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Boston Ballet in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet added to its fervent tone with the North American debut of Obsidian Tear followed by the elegant, world premiere of Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius.  Choreographed by Wayne McGregor and accompanied by the haunting and evocative rhythms of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Lachen verlernt and Nyx from violin soloist, Christine Vitale, Obsidian Tear builds to a palpable sense of urgency as each of the nine male dancers, including Daniel Cooper, Derek Dunn, Samivel Evans, John Lam, Alexander Maryianowski, Eric Nezha, Patrick Palkens, Desean Taber, and Junxiong Zhou, appear.

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Irlan Silva in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Surrounded by a warmly-lit stage and minimal black backdrop, each dancer exhibits their own, distinct appearance and style, gliding in long, sweeping movements.  Often dividing into pairs, their athletic prowess drives each complex step as exuberance, mischief, cooperation, and combativeness, flood an increasingly busy landscape.  Thrilling and poignant, Obsidian Tear is a thought-provoking, mesmerizing journey about belonging and the darkness within.

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Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

The world premiere of Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius, gorgeously choreographed by Jorma Elo, evokes the light, romantic tone of traditional ballet.  The pure, delicate beauty of the ensemble in pale pastel envelops the stage in graceful splendor as a single black halo hovers above.  In elegant costumes designed by former Dutch National ballet dancer Yumiko Takeshima, Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius delivers its own sophisticated rhythm, building into a flurry of circular motion and blossoming lifts.  As some divide into attractive pairs, dancers soar, leap, and float joyfully to a soft, urgent rhythm.  A particular highlight depicts the dancers lying sideways across the stage as a pair nimbly twirls into pirouettes and refined lifts.  As Obsidian Tear often focuses on individuals, this performance is much more an ensemble piece, forming dazzling soft color portraits in a breezy, jovial state.

New Jorma Dress Rehearsal

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Click here for tickets, call 617-695-6955, or visit the Boston Ballet box office at 19 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts. All performances take place at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts. Subscriptions and group rates are also available. Follow the Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

Cohasset Dramatic Club presents the local premiere of the romantic musical, ‘If/Then’

It’s a story about love and the single woman in the Big City with a twist.  For Elizabeth, portrayed by Ann McCoy, a newly-single woman about to make a fresh start in New York City, life has become a world of daunting, yet wonderful possibilities.  From the producers of the Pulitzer prize-winning team behind the show, Next to Normal Cohasset Dramatic Club is proud to present the first non-professional production of If/Then, an insightful, contemporary musical about a recently divorced woman caught between choice and chance.

Originally starring Idina Menzel and based on a book by Tom Kitt with music and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, If/Then contains moving musical numbers such as A Map of New York, You Never Know, and Surprise.  Directed by Lisa Pratt, musically directed by Sarah Troxler, and choreographed by Tara Morrison, Cohasset Dramatic Club presents If/Then for two weekends only on March 17, 18, 23, 24, and 25 at 7:30.  One matinee performance takes place on March 19 at 2 p.m.  All performances will be held at Cohasset Town Hall at 41 Highland Ave in Cohasset, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information and for tickets.

Other ways to support Cohasset Dramatic Club is to become a volunteer, become a subscriber, and make a donation.  Sign up for their email list to learn about upcoming events and more.  Click here for more about the Cohasset Dramatic Club and follow them on Facebook.