REVIEW: Engrossing and unpredictable, Hub Theatre’s ‘The Clearing’ a fierce and resonating historical drama

After venturing to the second star to the right in Hub Theatre’s rollicking Peter Pan musical prequel in Peter and the Starcatcher, Hub Theatre Company of Boston kicked off its seventh season with a fierce and romantic historical drama exploring the aftermath of war and the cost of justice in Helen Edmunson’s The Clearing continuing through Saturday, April 20 at First Church Boston in Boston, Massachusetts. Tickets are available at a pay-what-you-can basis.  The show contains mature themes.  Click here for more information.

Hub Theatre's The Clearing

Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Engrossing and unpredictable, The Clearing reaches deep into the motives of loyalty and questions the very nature of what is right.  Taking place during 17th century Ireland after the Nine Year’s War and directed by Daniel Bourque, The Clearing is a beautiful, forbidden love story in the thick of a tense, tumultuous landscape and a transformative piece addressing issues that resonate in today’s culture.

The Clearing has a small cast and First Church Boston’s intimate setting, without a bad seat, makes it easy to immerse yourself into this compelling fictional tale set in historical times.  The Clearing’s set by Cassie Chapados has a natural, romantic flair, embellished by flowering trees, lamplight, and an open ceiling.  From lace to frill to gold, Erica Desautels and Nancy Ishara’s detailed, coordinated costumes capture the atmosphere of its time while Ian Conway’s impressive sound design helps to maintain the show’s intensity.

Not knowing much about the production prior to entering the theater made the show that much more enjoyable, but should mention the great chemistry between the cast.  Brashani Reece portrays Madeleine Preston, a wide-eyed and bubbly spitfire.  Reece as Madeleine is charismatic, stubborn, and charming, who often cannot see past her own heart.  She shares endearing, playful chemistry with Matthew Zahnzinger as naïve and adoring Robert.  With smiling eyes, Zahnzinger portrays Robert with mix of smugness and gentility and the two of them together make for some of the show’s best moments.  Although The Clearing is not a musical, Reece’s lovely rendition of an Irish lullaby makes for a sweet moment.

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Lily Steven depicts Killaine Farrell, Madeleine’s quiet and humble companion. With a far off gaze and a shy smile, Steven as Killaine draws sympathy in her painful selflessness, always longing to live in the past.  She and Reece have a sisterly connection.

Jeff Gill delivers a chilling, commanding performance as Sir Charles Sturman.  With beady, wrathful eyes, his righteous and brutal practicality is only weakened by an irksome ailment.  Although the entire cast is strong, his domineering presence will keep you transfixed.  Robin Abrahams depicts world-weary Susaneh, her dry humor makes for a few needed laughs in this mostly serious production.

Although Helen Edmunson’s The Clearing could have been heavy handed as it addresses issues such as culture clash and the lingering resentment of post-war politics, but director Daniel Bourque’s delicate balance achieves a fascinating and enlightening day at the theatre.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston presents Tony-nominated historical drama The Clearing through Saturday, April 20 at First Church Boston, 66 Marlborough Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and follow Hub Theatre Company on Facebook for further updates.

REVIEW: As clever as it is insightful, make time for Americana Theatre Company’s compelling ‘Man of La Mancha’

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”

In the midst of action, suspense, heartbreak, and humor in multiple Tony award-winning musical, Man of La Mancha, lies Don Quixote author Miguel de Cerventes’s wise words, one of many timeless reflections declared during Americana Theatre Company’s moving, insightful musical, Man of La Mancha at the Spire Center for the Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts through Sunday, July 29.  This show is not for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Based on the classic tale, Don Quixote, Americana Theatre Company’s Man of La Mancha by Dan Wasserman is steeped in theatrical riches from its strong, edgy cast, powerful voices, a hint of Monty Python humor, and diverse combat scenes, but the real heart of this work is found in Cervantes himself, a beacon in dark times.  Americana Theatre Company prides itself on its stellar storytelling and this one is for the ages.

American Theatre Company Man of La Mancha

Scott Wahle as Don Quixote and Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza with Ruben Navarro as Sancho Panza

Directed by Michael Kirkland, Man of La Mancha addresses the everlasting battle between idealism and realism through a play-within-a-play.  With the exception of Sancho Panza, portrayed with wide-eyed optimism and unflinching faithfulness by Ruben Nevarro, each character depicts a dark side in humanity, but not without redemption.

Man of La Mancha kicks off without a hitch, showcasing a wide range of comic, stylized, and clever combat scenes by Derek Martin that often take the audience by surprise.  With just two onstage guitars and an offstage piano, the music accompaniment is delightfully subtle and intimate as the musicians melt into the background.  From colorful gypsy costumes and corset dresses to detailed, embroidered vests and leather armor, costumer Brian Kenerson zealously captures the beautiful and harsh Reformation era.

Americana Theatre Company The Barber

Brian Kenerson portrays The Barber as is also the Costumer for the show Photo Courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

Scott Wahle steps into Cervantes/Don Quixote’s brown leather boots with a natural assurance.  Finding himself among a group of prisoners, author and poet Miguel de Cervantes creates a defense in the form of a play in order to keep his possessions and potentially save his own life.

Wahle has a long history being a charismatic, relatable storyteller as a local television personality and in theatrical roles such as Walt Disney-esque Paragon Park creator George A. Dodge in Company Theatre’s original musical, Paragon Park or as smooth-talking Nathan Detroit in Reagle Music Theatre’s slick musical, Guys and Dolls.  He draws from that and more to deliver a powerful, emotionally-charged, multi-layered performance as a sympathetic admirer in the tender song, Dulcinea to a valiant hero in epic numbers such as The Impossible Dream and Man of La Mancha.  Alongside such dark characters, he is idealistic and compassionate, but hiding a secret.

Americana Theatre Company Don Quixote

Jennifer Martin performs a memorable dance as a Moorish dancer Photo courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

The chemistry between the cast members crackle, but most notably between Scott Wahle as Cervantes/Don Quixote and Ruben Nevarro as his unfathomably loyal squire, Sancho Panza.  It is a vivid, nurturing friendship every true friendship should strive to be.  Nevarro has his own set of crisp vocals in a warm rendition of I Really Like Him and comical A Little Gossip.

Americana Theatre Company Aldonza

Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza Photo courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

Wahle shares sweet chemistry with Bethany Lauren James, who delivers a brilliant performance as uncouth, harsh, suspicious, and yet compassionate spitfire Aldonza.  Surrounded by menacing muleteers, she first appears strained and exasperated in a red corset dress for the comical and fiery number, It’s All the Same.  A hard realist who can’t imagine otherwise, James is a wonderful foil for Wahle and holds her own among a cast of powerful characters.  She masters the meaty role and her expressions are a complex web of emotions, her character constantly torn between what to think and how to feel.

Derek Martin is intriguing as a quietly distressed Padre.  Dressed in rust colored robes, Martin is torn by what is right and what is ultimately good for the human spirit, offering a tender and reflective rendition of To Each His Dulcinea.  With vivid, comical expressions and a deep baritone, David Friday is hilarious as a panicked Innkeeper.  Caitlin Skinner as Antonia, Derek Martin as Padre, Erin Friday as Housekeeper, and Jesse Sullivan as Dr. Carrasso lend their impressive vocals to the multifaceted number, I’m Only Thinking of Him.

Americana Theatre Company Man of La Mancha bow

The complete cast Photo credit to Denise Maccaferri

A clever tale with deeper meaning, Man of La Mancha kicked off Americana Theatre Company’s eighth season and continues through Sunday, July 29 at Spire Center for the Arts, 25 1/2 Court Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  In October, Americana Theatre Company continues its season with a one man production of Sleepy Hollow and The Gifts of the Magi in time for the holidays.  Click here for ticket information, fall classes, and more.  Click here to find out how to support Americana Theatre Company’s mission and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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