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: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ delves deep

A fire pit and backyard party in the deep woods of Landon, Wyoming seems the perfect setting for fun and good conversation.  What could go wrong?

Certainly a relatable situation in contemporary society, Heroes of the Fourth Turning knows how to tackle difficult discussions in a heady and thought provoking way, but leaving the conversation between these five distinct individuals unscathed is seldom a realistic scenario.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Directed by Marianna Bassham who previously directed SpeakEasy’s acclaimed People Places and Things, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

One of the greatest strengths of Heroes of the Fourth Turning is its multifaceted approach to each of its characters.  Each individual is complex and struggling in some way, but are rarely stereotyped and the production is not approached in a divisive way.  The show is most effective by keeping an open mind.

It is satirical and darkly humorous from its opening scene with Justin, in hunting gear and a plaid shirt, moments away from shooting a deer.  This scenario may seem indicative of some the preconceived notions of conservative thinking and the nature of its forthcoming characters, but it gradually thwarts any preconceived expectations.  Its strength is not in the black and white, but delves into the gray corners of each of its characters.

Arbery’s script does not shy away from hot button and controversial issues and the atmosphere can get realistically heated and uncomfortable as it would at any gathering in contemporary society.  It offers a glimpse of each character’s unique perspective while their struggle unfolds as well as their flaws.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This cast of well rounded characters and their easy camaraderie is a convincing depiction of a group that has known each other for years, especially between Dayna Cousins as Teresa and Nathan Malin as Kevin.  The quirks they know about each other demonstrate their long history.  Visiting her hometown from New York, Teresa is the seeming intellectual of the group.  Portrayed with nerve and intensity, Teresa has adapted a way of know-it-all thinking that makes her cold and unable to see another viewpoint, stereotyping whoever is unlike her.  As she boldly discusses her opinions on the world, she lets loose an air of authority, waiting to be challenged.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nathan Malin, who showed off his impressive dark comedic skills previously in SpeakEasy’s Admissions and The Sound Inside, portrays comical, chatty, and tormented Kevin.  Always ready for a party and deep conversation, Kevin longs to know the real secret of happiness in life as he contends with deep seated guilt and loneliness.

Justin, host of the party and veteran, is portrayed with a mix of sympathy and an air of mystery by Jesse Hinson.  A seemingly compassionate individual and clearly affected by his past experiences, it doesn’t take long to see there is much more to his story.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Battling physical ailments is Emily, an angelic portrayal by Elise Piliponis.  Emily is sweet and nonjudgmental, but with her own strong and compassionate views.  Bearing the brunt of her daily challenges, Emily is insightful and introverted and would like to do anything but argue. 

Emily’s mother and much admired Gina, portrayed with charisma and decorum by Karen MacDonald, is no stranger to complex characters such as in SpeakEasy’s The Children and as Erma in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Erma Bombeck:  At Wit’s End.  MacDonald thrives here too, depicting a complicated political figure that has impacted each of the other character’s lives.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in Heroes of the Fourth Turning. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a fascinating, darkly humorous, and concerning look at human nature and though the ending seems outlandish, the clever script offers an interesting perspective on what happens even among the supposed like minded.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ a savvy and intriguing noir experience

Paradise, a longtime 40s Detroit Jazz Club, holds many secrets.  As those secrets gradually unfold, nothing is as it seems.

With multi-faceted direction by Elise Joyner and Logan Pitts, Gloucester Stage Company presents Dominique Morisseau’s noir drama Paradise Blue through Sunday, September 18 live and in person at Gloucester Stage, 267 E Main Street on Cape Ann in Gloucester, MA.  The show has some adult language.  The half moon stage and intimate venue does not have a bad seat in the house.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ Darian Michael Garey as P-Sam, Destiny Deshuan Washington as Pumpkin, and Dereks Thomas as Corn Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Though the show’s main focus didn’t seem immediately clear, many revelations piece the production together for its stunning conclusion that may leave you thinking about it long after the show is over. 

Paradise Blue focuses on a group of people tied in one way or another to a jazz club/boarding house called Paradise, run exclusively by no-nonsense Blue, portrayed with guarded complexity by horn player Durrell Lyons.  Now in danger of closing, the club has its own mysterious roots in Detroit and everyone in Blue’s world has a stake in the club’s future.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ Darian Michael Garey as P-Sam and Dereks Thomas as Corn Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Paradise Blue taps into the cast’s multilayered personas as each character makes surprising choices as the show progresses.  This complex and unpredictable production boasts strong performances with particular standouts from Destiny Deschaun Washington as Pumpkin and Alexandria Danielle King as Silver. Destiny Deschaun Washington infuses Pumpkin with warmth, humbleness and compassion towards everyone while consistently putting others first at times to her own detriment.  Pumpkin’s maternal nature endears her to each cast member as she shares bittersweet and complicated moments with Blue and a natural camaraderie with James Ricardo Milord who only recently joined the cast, but kept up with the best of them as trusting and steadfast piano player Corn. 

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ Alexandria Danielle King as Silver, Durrell Lyons as Blue, Darian Michael Garey as P-Sam, and Dereks Thomas as Corn, Photo credit to Jason Grow

Chatty, curious, and hardworking, Pumpkin is the seeming antithesis to new tenant Silver, portrayed with blunt and worldly shrewdness by Alexandria Danielle King.  Both Silver and P-Sam, depicted with agitated energy by Darian Michael Garey, possess a learned tenacity and restlessness from bitter past experiences.  Darian Michael Garey exudes palpable energy while King simmers.  Seeing these characters face conflict in their own unique way is a fascinating character study, but due to vastly differing perspectives, Pumpkin and Silver are particularly intriguing with each interaction.

Gloucester Stage ‘Paradise Blue’ Destiny Deshuan Washington as Pumpkin and Alexandria Danielle King as Silver Photo Credit_Jason to Grow

Paradise Blue itself exudes its own restlessness in the Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit which society considers the club a ‘blight.’  Word travels fast and gossip carries its own weight in this enigmatic neighborhood.  Paradise Blue succinctly carries the tense and rueful undertones through Toni Sterling’s stirring lighting and Aubrey Dube’s soulful and bluesy sound design.  Nia Safarr Banks’s sharp vintage suits and distinctive and colorful dresses pop against Janie Howland’s modest and earthy-colored set.

‘Paradise Blue’ Stage set Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Paradise Blue is a powerful drama with grit and gall as each character pours their hopes into Paradise for a brighter future unsuspecting of what lies ahead.

Gloucester Stage Company presents Dominique Morisseau’s noir drama Paradise Blue through Sunday, September 18 live and in person at Gloucester Stage, 267 E Main Street on Cape Ann in Gloucester, MA.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘Pippin’ delivered magic with more to come

The quest to discover one’s destiny can be both exciting and harrowing. 

After opening with musical classic West Side Story last month to kick off Reagle Music Theater of Greater Boston’s summer season, Bob Fosse’s unmistakable style took the stage in Reagle’s follow up summer musical Pippin, a tale within a tale about destiny and realizing where one fits in the world.  Pippin resembles a morality play and Pippin, portrayed with earnest naiveté and enthusiasm by Kenny Lee, is convinced he was created for an extraordinary purpose and will stop at nothing to find it.

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone with Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston had a lot more magic to do, but the musical Pippin had to shorten its run due to Covid concerns. However, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston will have another chance to create some magic at a one night only cabaret fundraiser featuring the Pippin cast on live and in person on August 26 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham, MA at 7 p.m. Purchase tickets early and get a discount. Click here for more information and tickets.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents a one night only cabaret on August 26. Photo courtesy of Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Led by Boston based award-winning actor and singer Davron Monroe, the musical Pippin was a wonder to witness though the plot itself is a bit uneven at times and the musical is not appropriate for children.  Based on the originally-directed Bob Fosse musical and Diane Paulus’s Tony award-winning revival, Pippin ran at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham, MA through August 7. Click here for more on Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s upcoming events.

Davron Monroe as Leading Player Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Set initially in a traveling circus, cast members immersed the audience in this mystical tale within a tale also set in the Middle Ages by occasionally marching down the aisles, addressing the audience and encouraging an occasional sing-along. 

Kenny Lee as Pippin Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Scenic designer Cameron McEchern seamlessly handled the frequent “magical” changes of scenery as Pippin explored various aspects of one’s existence from sophisticated royalty to military life to the simplicity of farming life and much more in between.   From bright, bedazzled and exotic costumes to the simplicity of the Middle Ages, costume designer Jake O’Hara and Emerald City Theatricals helped to create this versatile and dynamic world shared skillfully by charismatic Davron Monroe as the complicated narrator and mysterious advisor, Leading Player.  Monroe’s resounding vocals and quick comic wit lent to his compelling performance, especially for Magic to Do and the lively On the Right Track.  However, Monroe’s most captivating work was saved for the twist-filled finale.

The costumes along with Rachel Bertone’s dazzling and at times racy choreography offered subtle nods to Fosse’s signature style including top hat, cane, and scantily clad, Chicago-inspired dancers.  Even Monroe gave a subtle nod to Fosse’s Razzle Dazzle

Damon Singletary as Charlemagne Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Like Chicago, Pippin has some surprising moments and often addressed the dark side of humanity.  Pippin is looking for meaning as expressed quite wonderfully with Corner of the Sky. Lee portrays Pippin with wide-eyed optimism, chatty naiveté, and a free spirit which make him more sympathetic than egotistical, even when Pippin makes some poor choices.

Kathy St. George as Berthe © Joe Henson Photography 2006 All Rights reserved.

King Charlemagne, depicted with gravitas, charm, and stubbornness by Damon Singletary, is no stranger to the monarchy having portrayed the king in Concord’s past Umbrella Arts Theatre musical, Head over Heels.  Stern and shrewd Singletary delivered some wise and memorable dialogue and has a good rapport with his son, PippinKathy St. George as spicy and fun loving Berthe is a particular highlight, especially during the number, No Time at All.  Berthe offers Pippin and the audience valuable life lessons and an occasional sing-along through humor, joy, and wit.  Kenny Lee as Pippin and Kathy St. George have some endearing chemistry and Berthe’s vibrant dance moves and her occasional engagement with the audience make her a difficult act to follow.

Katie Anne Clark as Fastrada Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Katie Ann Clark as seductive and materialistic Fastrada and Joel Douglas as handsome, dimwitted and egotistical Lewis make formidable adversaries and Kayla Shimizu shines as headstrong, patient, and graceful Catherine.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents a one night only cabaret on August 26. Photo courtesy of Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

It is a shame that Pippin could not continue for its full run because it had a lot to say about the key to happiness and what is truly important in life. However, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston will have another opportunity for some magic at a one night only cabaret fundraiser featuring the Pippin cast live and in person on August 26 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham, MA at 7 p.m. Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Available on Amazon Prime Video, Unlikely friendships and big dreams fuel indie dramedy METHOD

The pandemic put life on pause for awhile and for some, it has an interesting way of putting life into perspective and mull over what really matters.  Perhaps it is to cherish time with family and friends or to realize that the future is now.  It might have prompted regrets and an eagerness to fix the future in any way possible. 

Rebecca Lachmansingh as Amy Photo by Andrew Quach/Method

College students Lydia and Amy are at a pivotal point in their lives.  Both are ambitious with big dreams, but approach their goals in different ways.  Amy decides to shake up her world while Lydia pursues her interests with her feet planted firmly on the ground.  Their peculiar and abrupt chance meeting and awkward dialogue takes a moment to latch onto as if these two distinct young women speak different languages.  Their observances and approaches to life are in such stark contrast, it is a wonder how they get along. 

METHOD, an indie dramedy directed and co-written by Darya Amirshahi with Matthew Choi, is available now on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services. The film is just under 90 minutes.  Click here for more information.

First time director Darya Amirshahi captures the essence of the pandemic with this small cast spending much of their time in solitude and hints at the restlessness of this time.  This quiet life has Amy crawling out of her skin while Lydia dares not to dream.

Jacqueline Yushkov as Lydia Photo by Andrew Quach

The title suggests multiple meanings in this film, but what first comes to mind is Amy’s dream to become an actress, a career she pursues impulsively and with some reckless abandon.  Serious and steadfast, Jacqueline Yushkov as hardworking Lydia does not seem to indulge in anything other than sensibility and gawks at Lydia’s impulsiveness.  Gradually, Lydia tempers Amy’s lofty goals. 

Sharon Juhasz amiably depicts Amy’s worried mother and voices her concerns, but Amy is resolute.  Rebecca Lachmansingh as controlling and occasionally harsh Amy makes some questionable decisions in the film, but Lachmansingh also brings naïve and idealism that garners some sympathy for her character.

Rebecca Lachmansingh as Amy Photo by Andrew Quach/Method

Two unlikely friends discover with a little faith, less reckless abandon, and a few hard lessons, there is hope.  The dialogue is farfetched at times and can benefit from having a bit more subtlety, but Yushkov and Lachmansingh work out its believability through their quirky chemistry and gradual understanding of each other.

METHOD, an indie dramedy directed and co-written by Darya Amirshahi with Matthew Choi, is available now on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services.  Click here for more information

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston makes an exciting return to the stage with a moving and remarkable ‘West Side Story’

‘I’ve just met a girl named Maria/And suddenly that name/will never be the same/to me.”

Having seen the classic musical West Side Story from the stage to the 1961 film adaptation to Spielberg’s recent Oscar worthy film, Reagle Music Theatre’s Blake Du Bois as Tony’s moving rendition of the classic song, Maria is a must see.  Many Tonys have floated through this number with surprise, naiveté, and the excitement of attraction while blinded by love, but Du Bois’s delivery evokes a more meaningful perspective.  Enhanced by his extensive vocal range, this soulful rendition depicts not naiveté, not necessarily blindness, but an overwhelming feeling of love for Maria and the fear of what that means.  So overcome by love that he must move forward in spite of it. It was like understanding Maria anew.

Eevie Perez as Maria and Blake Du Bois as Tony in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘West Side Story’ Photo by Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Sharply directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone with seamless musical direction by Dan Rodriguez, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston delivered powerful and clever performances as it kicked off its summer musical season with West Side Story continuing through July 16 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston live and in person in Waltham, MA.  This show is not intended for children under 13.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is the timeless tale of the Sharks and the Jets, two rival gangs who cannot seem to coexist in Manhattan without a fight.  However, when Blake Du Bois as streetwise Tony and Eevie Perez as idyllic Maria lock eyes, everything quickly becomes complicated.

Helmed by a captivating cast, Reagle Music Theatre’s West Side Story is intriguing from the start as it lays out mischief, antics and petty outrage over owning the streets.  A broad city landscape, chain linked fences, a retro jukebox and detailed drug store are just part of Janie Howland’s retro, rolling set that successfully rewinds the clock back to the 1950s. 

The cast of West Story Photo by Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

A great deal of West Side Story hinges on its sharp dance and fight choreography and director and choreographer Bertone hits the ground running.  Along with Fight and Intimacy Director Angie Jepson, the high-kicking choreography blurs the lines between dance and fighting as the gangs intertwine in innovative and precise movements.  A leap becomes a punch and aggressiveness turns graceful…all in the same move.  Jack Mullen delivers an intense performance as the tough talking, swaggering Jet leader Riff, especially during a catchy and memorable rendition of Cool as each tense moment pops to Franklin Meissner, Jr’s intricate lighting.  Mullen as Riff and Du Bois as Tony share some affable camaraderie as they do with their fellow Jets and their fair share of united animosity toward the Sharks.  Nate Walsh stood out as hot head Action, on edge and ready for a fight while Gracin Wilkins delivers a stirring performance as outcast Anybodys.

Bianca Rivera-Irions as Anita with the Shark Girls performing ‘America.’ Photo by Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Eevie Perez is charming and spot on as Maria, her chiming vocals and naiveté especially evident with Ana Viveros as Consuela, Marissa Pineda as Rosalia, and Karina Gonzalez as Tesesita in the exuberant and playful number, I Feel Pretty and in a gorgeous duet with Du Bois as Tony for One Hand, One Heart.  Tall and distinctive, charismatic Bianca Rivera-Irions as Anita knows how to make an entrance in a show stopping red dress, just one of the many rich, vintage, and vibrant costumes provided by Tiffany Howard.  A lively dancer, Rivera-Irions as Anita stands out in any room as only Anita can.  Rivera-Irions as Anita and Diego Klock-Perez as proud and protective Shark leader Bernardo share lighthearted and steamy chemistry.  The dynamic cast performs an exhilarating rendition of Tonight, their robust sound and stirring harmonies build the anticipation and excitement of a night that will change everything.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents musical classic West Side Story continues through July 16 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston live and in person in Waltham, MA.  This show is not intended for children under 13.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Tension mounts for an endearing couple in Lyric Stage’s meaningful production, ‘The Light’

One night can change everything.

Genesis and Rashad think they know each other well.  This lovable couple jokes, knows each other’s likes, quirks, habits, and dreams, and yet in one night, they start to see each other in a new and unfamiliar way.

With multi-layer direction by Jacqui Parker, Lyric Stage Company presents Loy A. Webb’s The Light through June 26 at Lyric Stage Company live and in person in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 70 minutes long with no intermission and is Lyric Stage’s final show of the season.  This show contains mature topics.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Dominic Carter as Rashad and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

Surrounded by Baron E. Pugh’s inviting apartment setting which includes a purple couch, teal chairs, and colorful accents by Lauren Corcuera while sketches of Beyoncé, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsberg hang overhead, Genesis and Rashad know this isn’t just any night.  It’s their anniversary.

Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis and Dominic Carter as Rashad in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

Elmer Martinez’s expressive lighting enhances the evocative nature of this production.  It is a meaningful show hinging on the strengths of its leads and Yewande Odetoyinbo as school principal Genesis and Dominic Carter as firefighter Rashad are more than up to the task.  While both characters are stubborn, Odetoyinbo’s grounded and witty nature as Genesis strikes an important balance with Carter’s optimistic and playful sense of humor as Rashad.  Carter is charismatically charming and leads in some of the production’s funniest moments while Odetoyinbo as Genesis is best as the tension builds.  It is a joy to watch as they zing each other, tease, dream about the future, debate, and share some of their most treasured memories together.  Their innate and compelling chemistry attract such a fondness for this couple that it is easy to get lost in what seems like their complete compatibility.

Dominic Carter as Rashad and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

However, realizations and revelations run deep on this special night. Webb’s clever script invites the audience into this couple’s intimate relationship in all its charms with some passing notes of underlying resentment while carefully laying its cards on the table and raising the stakes through every twist and turn.  Odetoyinbo and Carter are a true force as they approach the humor, tension and the difficult and serious topics with compassion. 

Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis and Dominic Carter as Rashad in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

The Light makes the most out of its 70 minute run time.  It has good pacing and escalates quickly, fueled by Odetoyinbo and Carter’s natural chemistry as the show veers toward its powerful conclusion.

Lyric Stage Company presents Loy A. Webb’s The Light through June 26 at Lyric Stage Company live and in person in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 70 minutes long with no intermission and is Lyric Stage’s final show of the season.  This show contains mature topics.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  True Repertory Theatre’s ‘Ellen’s Boys’ a heartwarming and heartrending family tale

Family life can get complicated and for the large Irish Catholic Flaherty family, complicated is an understatement.   Though Ellen’s Boys are a big part of this dramedy, the real center of this production lies in Ellen, the stubborn, pushy, and interfering Flaherty matriarch in a powerful performance by Victoria Bond.  Emotions run high with some typical family arguments and some not so typical, but the show shines a light on the hypocrisies (even the innocent ones) set by family that almost anyone can relate to.   

True Repertory Theatre’s ‘Ellen’s Boys’ logo Logo courtesy of Jim Sullivan/True Repertory Theatre

Partnering in part by GLSEN and directed insightfully by Donald Sheehan, True Repertory Theatre presented Jim Sullivan’s original dramedy, Ellen’s Boys, live and in person at the Beal House, 222 Main Street in Kingston, Massachusetts through March 27.  The show is approximately 2 hours with one intermission.  Click here for more information, upcoming auditions, and more. 

The ‘Ellen’s Boys’ set Photo courtesy of Jim Sullivan/True Repertory Theatre

The Ellen Boys’ set takes up a significant space at the Beal House so there’s not a bad seat for the audience.  As a photo of John F. Kennedy hangs on the wall, a tube television and vintage radio stand in the living room, and Andes mints sit in a crystal bowl on a doily, Ellen’s Boys successfully rewinds the clock back to December of 1965.  Based on playwright Jim Sullivan’s own vision of his grandmother’s house, the Beal House is home to a functional space with full kitchen off a retro-furnished living room as sacramental Catholic objects hang on the walls with framed portraits of family memories on a piano.  The show also sets a prominent Irish tone whether through the Celtic music between scenes, the Irish teapot on the dining room table, or through Flaherty sisters Ellen and Bridget’s rich Irish accents. 

Each character longs to break free in one’s own unique way and Ellen’s Boys has its share of heartwarming and heartrending moments within this animated family dynamic.  It seems the only one against evolution is Ellen Flaherty.   Victoria Bond could have easily depicted Ellen as a caricature of the classic pushy Irish mother in a house dress and apron who manipulates her way through grief and guilt, but as Bond breathes life into the character with finesse and humor, it is difficult to stay frustrated with Ellen for long. 

Lisa Caron Driscoll’s remarkable portrayal as Ellen’s fun loving, spontaneous and equally quick-tempered sister Bridget makes for some high drama between sisters displaying some tempestuous sibling rivalry.  They are alike in the ways that matter, though neither will admit it.

Donald Sheehan took both the director’s seat and a role as Ellen’s lonely and devoted son Gil.  Noonan strikes a delicate balance between sweet and exasperated as he holds onto the past in fear of the ramifications of his future.  Seemingly the opposite is Cammerron Baits as spontaneous and hard-partying Nathan.  In a multi-layered performance, Baits emotes fragility and earnestness under that impulsive façade.

Paul Noonan has a palpably eerie way of portraying the seemingly peaceful, helpful, yet enigmatic John Flaherty, Ellen’s son, while Oliver Henry Bellman is sweet and sympathetic as Patrick Walsh.  Noonan’s scenes with Julie Butler, in a bittersweet performance as dutiful and sensible sister Kathleen Doherty, made for some tough realizations as Kathleen pushes to break past John’s stoic nature.

Ellen’s Boys’ more lighthearted moments come in part from Sara McNulty as young and beautiful Tina Toccio whose self consciousness in front of Ellen and their various exchanges make for some dynamic comedy and also tense moments as they butt heads in their mutual stubbornness. With Cody Savoy as Ellen’s son, Michael, McNulty and Savoy also deliver some lighter moments and heartwarming chemistry together.

Though Ellen’s Boys runs a little long, through all of the drama, the complications, the heartache, and family outbursts because you simply can’t hold your tongue another second longer at the dinner table, what a relief to finally be understood.

REVIEW:  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s searing and immersive ‘People, Places & Things’ makes an indelible impact

Nina is in a nightmare.

Perhaps rock bottom is an unimaginable state until you learn how much further you can sink. People, Places & Things is a jarring and astounding portrait of a spiraling woman who must face that this nightmare she’s in can be stopped.

Masterfully directed  by David R. Gammons, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places, & Things live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 5.  This show contains mature themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

People, Places, and Things is immediately gripping as it thrusts the audience into Nina’s (or whatever she calls herself at the moment) apparent breakdown onstage.  Nina, brilliantly depicted by Marianna Bassham, is a struggling actress who has more than just forgotten her lines during a pivotal moment in a sophisticated play.  The harried and frantic nature of Nina’s life emanates from the stage and you are engulfed in the deep chasm of an addict.

Kadahj Bennett and Marianna Bassham in People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

While People, Places & Things has its share of harrowing moments, it is not without its doses of dark humor. It is a realistic depiction of an addict’s complex journey with its own share of twists, turns, and shocking revelations.  Bassham is enigmatic and at times dreadfully unlikable in the way a guarded person who thinks they have all the answers might be.  Her sporadic tics, vacant expression, shaking, low talking, and absent pauses are shocking yet enthralling to witness.  Bassham’s disillusionment of the world gives the impression that she feels she is not in the chaos of her circumstances, but standing outside of them in her own judgment.  With alarm, rage, and confusion flickering in her eyes, Bassham is absolutely riveting.

Adrianne Krstansky and Marianna Bassham in People, Places & Things. Photo by Anabel Rios Photography.

 The show depicts a mix of lucid moments and unhinged visions manifested in part by the efforts of Jeff Adelberg’s transient lighting varying from creepy to downright alarming. Whether it is to demonstrate time freezing, time progression or revealing trauma with occasional strobe lights, Adelberg captures the striking and vivid chaos within and outside this woman.

Marianna Bassham and the cast of People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Jeff Petersen’s open staging is a bold and clever choice where nothing is hidden from the front of the stage right through to what seems like dressing rooms.  This quick-paced production makes some swift transitions meticulously done with purpose and meaning.  The transparency lends a great deal to the piece as each character struggles with what they are hiding.

Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer in People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

 The dynamic cast includes members that take on dual or even multiple roles that are vastly different throughout the production. Kadahj Bennett’s direct, compassionate, and occasionally amusing turn as Foster is as harsh on Bassham as he has probably been on himself.  Bennett, Bassam, and barely stable and complicated Nael Nacer as Mark share some significant and transcending moments as their outlooks on life make for some compelling dialogue.   Nacer and Bassham also share some intriguing chemistry.  At one point, Naser refers to Bassam as a ‘human hand grenade.’  Adrienne Krstansky and John Kuntz make some brilliant transitions in their multiple roles and it is easy to become invested in each of these unpredictable characters.

Nael Nacer, John Kuntz, and Marianna Bassham in People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places, & Things live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 5.  This show contains mature themes.  Click here for more information, tickets, and upcoming productions.

REVIEW:  Company Theatre’s regal ‘The Audience’ delivers lessons from a queen

So much can transpire in a certain room.

Though I’m not a fan of The Crown, the intriguing Oscar-nominated Spencer is new on Hulu and I was too curious about the polarizing acting abilities of Kristen Stewart to miss this film.  Not only does the film focus on the tension, the princess’s fragility, and her deteriorating marriage, but  what is deemed a fable of a tragedy taught me a bit about the monarchy’s strict regime before heading out to see the Company Theatre’s production of The Audience.

Directed by Steve Dooner and the inspiration behind the Netflix’s hit drama The Crown, Company Theatre presents Peter Morgan’s The Audience through Sunday, February 20 at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Carol Laing Stearns as Queen Elizabeth II with Pembroke Welch Corgis Gregory and Laci Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Audience is named after an important room inside Buckingham Palace where Queen Elizabeth II discusses a wide range of topics with various Prime Ministers over the Years.  As Queen, she must live up to certain standards to have these meetings on a certain day for a certain length of time and keeping discussions strictly to Cabinet, Parliament, and Current Affairs.  Needless to say, conversations often take a turn in unexpected directions.  The show delivers light and subtle humor throughout the production, but this is mostly a historical drama.

Carol Laing Stearns portrays the sharp and coolheaded English monarch with sophistication, grace, and underlying prowess (with her royal corgis in tow).  She dryly describes herself as “a postage stamp with a pulse,” but we all know better.  Stearns has a natural and likable presence, but also stoic and headstrong.  She rarely lets her emotions get the better of her, even when she is commenting on it.  It is interesting to see the quirks and tenacity, navigating her age progression well.  However in a rare moment, thanks to the keen lighting design of Dean Palmer. Jr, the spotlight shines on Stearns in a moment of vulnerability, and it is difficult not be entirely moved by it.

Carol Laing Stearns as Queen Elizabeth II Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Ryan Barrow’s elegant set is flanked with wall-to-wall gold trim, historical portraits, and a sparkling chandelier shining overhead.  Charismatic Rama Rodriguez as Equerry acts as half narrator and half historian, sharing the relevance of this special room and its astute history.  From a tartan skirt to the dapper suits on each Prime Minister to the very replica of Queen Elizabeth II’s white dress and royal sash symbolizing her position as the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, costume designer Elizabeth Cole Sheehan has a meticulous eye for historically-accurate regal flair.

The depiction of Elizabeth II’s flashes of childhood is handled in a unique and insightful way though at first it can be a little confusing.  Young Elizabeth, portrayed as a precocious and inquisitive old soul by Samantha LeBretton, struggles with her destiny and the separation of her public and private figure.  Although she is unsure of her place exactly, she feigns surefootedness, but not without questions. 

Chris DiOrio as Harold Wilson is the most sympathetic among the Prime Ministers while Julie Dennis as Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher comes in like a lion and remains one.  The tension between Stearns and Dennis as a compelling Thatcher is quite thrilling to witness as two people with much in common can barely agree.  DiOrio as Wilson thrives in the role, his strong Northern accent only accentuates his likability. 

Among the many political, social, and personal topics addressed, the clash between royal rituals and traditions with modernization and talk of the end of the monarchy is always looming.  However, The Audience presents a bigger picture and depicts just why Queen Elizabeth II’s, who just celebrated her Platinum Jubilee this month and is the longest reigning English monarch in history,  secret to her longevity reaches far beyond her wit.

Company Theatre’s ‘The Audience’ is the inspiration behind Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Company Theatre presents Peter Morgan’s The Audience through Sunday, February 20 at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.