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: ‘Dancing is an Old Friend,’ ‘Hilary,’ ‘Inventory,’ ‘Looking for Jack’ and ‘The Green Line’ explore isolation and more at the New York City Indie Film Festival

What is it like to feel stuck due to circumstances beyond your control? 

Curated by Gerard van den Broek, each film in the Documentary 12 series including Dancing is an Old Friend, Hilary, Inventory, Looking for Jack, and The Green Line at the New York City Indie Film Festival through June 19 featured people who faced unforeseen obstacles in an attempt to find peace within. 

Whether facing trauma, isolation in a pandemic, family brokenness or being caught between one nation and another, these themes invite a feeling of powerlessness until hope is found.  This particular collection of documentaries delivered some surprising twists and turns in some profound situations in an attempt to discover where one belongs in the world.

The New York City Indie Film Festival featured a variety of films from shorts to narratives to documentaries curated with common themes.  Sleepless Critic had the opportunity to review screenings on music, small businesses, love and connection and much more.  Co-founded by Executive Director Dennis Cieri and Director Bonnie Rush, this renowned festival has screened thousands of films since it was first launched in 2010.  Click here for more information, film submissions for next year, and click here to see what we had to say about NYC Indie Film Festival’s Narrative 14 series.

Directed by Marta Renzi, Dancing is an Old Friend is written by and stars Leah Barsky and Jennifer Tortorello Walker.  It is a relatable account of an amateur ballroom dancer and professional ballet dancer brought together by dance who must find new ways to connect after the pandemic put the world in isolation.  They both struggle with this new way of life but are determined to forge ahead together.

During the pandemic, the arts were hit hard.  Many professional dancers had to find alternate ways to demonstrate their art and remain in top form until the time came for them to once again take the stage.  Dancing is an Old Friend explores the momentum of their daily lives during the pandemic and a chance to examine why they live their lives the way they do and where dance factors into it now and in the future.

‘Dancing is an Old Friend’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

What made this film fascinating is not only the captivating athleticism and style of the dancers in action, but comparing each perspective on dance itself and how it demonstrates the bonds of this friendship.  This is not a tragic account of being lost during the pandemic, but an intimate and sincere documentary that explores the good and bad in equal measure and the hope that springs forth during this life altering period of time.

What may or may not have happened is a mystery in Hilary

Hilary Porter, through her own drawings, illustrates a repeated and menacing alien encounter that has left her haunted.  Hilary’s harrowing recollection unfolds through her graphic narration and unusual drawings as she shares that she was always thought she was different.  Director and producer Mariana Zarpellon offers some insight into who Hilary is and how she has been affected by these encounters and though I was initially intrigued by this film, I was left with more concern for Hilary’s well being than the rationality and content of Hilary’s recollections.

‘Hilary’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

Resourcefulness is a defining quality in any artist and nothing less than resourcefulness and love defines the story of Inventory, a documentary directed and produced by Daniella Gitlin, the daughter of sculptor, Michael Gitlin.  The film is designed not only to share her father’s relatable journey as a struggling artist, but the unconventional manner in which Michael Gitlin’s legacy is being preserved.

Interwoven into the film are classic American standards such as Someone to Watch over Me, beloved songs from Gitlin’s heritage, and past family photos to create a vintage ambiance and to smoothly rewind the clock to a time before her father’s inventory had accumulated.  It is a unique and personal story about how love and family transcends obstacles even under unusual circumstances and how the film’s most extraordinary “inventory” is not just confined to Gitlin’s art.

‘Inventory’ Photo credit to the New York City Indie Film Festival

For anyone who is searching or has searched for a family member, the idea of finding them is met with a plethora of emotions.  Sara Zeppilli Freeman captures just that and more in her deeply personal documentary, Looking for Jack.  Part of Looking for Jack’s endearing strength is it is shot much like a home movie where it is easy to put oneself in Sara’s shoes.  As Sara talks to the camera with a jittery glow, her excitement is palpable at the promise that her life is about to change.

On this special day with Sara wearing a broad smile, one can picture themselves in Sara as she excitedly waits in anticipation and trepidation to meet her father for the first time in 21 years having traveled from Boston to Portugal.  No matter the outcome, that moment of time is a monumental experience to be treasured and hopefully not regretted.  The pinnacle of the film is that building tension as Sara waits, the camera panning carefully through Sara’s surroundings for that moment of relief.

‘Looking for Jack’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

In a land fraught with uncertainty, Yehudit Kahana is no stranger to anxiety and strife for most of her life.  Co-written with Sharon Yaish, directed, and produced by Yehudit Kahana herself and set from the early 2000s to today, illuminating documentary The Green Line focuses on Yehudit’s coming of age as she resides in Elon Moreh, a land near the Green Line which borders the Palestine territories and Israel.  Since a life changing incident occurred resulting from an innocent child’s game, Yehudit has struggled with the threat of sudden violence, terrorist attacks, and chaos in a place where she doesn’t feel she entirely belongs. 

‘The Green Line’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

The Green Line delivers a wealth of information on certain incidents in Israel, Palestine, and the Green Line which can be confusing at times, but what is clear was how Yehudit felt in circumstances beyond her control in a harsh and threatening land determined to break free.  The Green Line has some lighter and amusing moments with family that not only shed light on Yehudit’s understandably frustrating, strict, and expected traditional place as a female in the world and in the path of the Torah, but also explores how valuable the road less taken can be.

Dancing is an Old FriendHilaryInventory, Looking for Jack and The Green Line were all part of Documentary 12 at the New York City Indie Film Festival which continued through June 19.  Click here for more information on this annual festival and its winners.

REVIEW: ‘Chabe,’ ‘Conversations with Female Clowns,’ ‘Dictionary’ and ‘Por Mi Hija’ explore various aspects of love and connection at The New York City Indie Film Festival

The New York City Indie Film Festival concluded on June 19 after approximately a week of screenings at the Producers Club in New York City.  It featured a variety of films from shorts to narratives to documentaries curated with common themes.  At this festival, Sleepless Critic had the opportunity to see screenings on music, small businesses, love and connection, and much more which will be explored in future articles.  Co-founded by Executive Director Dennis Cieri and Director Bonnie Rush, this renowned festival has screened thousands of films since it first launched in 2010.  Click here for more information.

Photo credit to Jeanne Denizard

Curated by Lucie Guillemot, this narrative film collection explored different aspects of love and connection.  Directed by John Tsiavis, Chabe is a vivid short film about Isabel Gomez, a woman who assists in a cataracts surgery project for a Mexican indigenous tribe.  Rich in unique color and told through Isabel’s eyes, the film evokes Isabel’s sheer joy in helping others and the complex process of this tribe’s journey from dark to light.  Chabe made me long to see more on it all.

Isabel Gomez in ‘Chabe’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

Directed insightfully by Clare Redden and Joseph Pulitzer, Conversations with Female Clowns is a surprising look at connection through laughter from a unique perspective.  Reflected through a group of female clowns, it explores not only the incentive for a woman to become a clown, but the societal and personal norms as a female that seem to relate all too well to this profession.  It sheds light on the idea of clowning from a new angle with an opportunity to see these female clowns in action.  From a hospital clown to a member of the Big Apple Circus, Conversations with Female Clowns is an eye opening and humbling experience about what it truly means to be funny.

Director and writer Clare Redden of ‘Conversations with Female Clowns’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

Dictionary explores the ODU concept of the seven stages of love in vignettes.  A tribute to the Indian culture, Aishwarya Sonar has a great deal to convey in the screening’s brief time frame and writer, director, and producer Elena Viklova aptly evokes the fleeting and sacred power of love in each frame.  From the warm bloom of attraction to the stillness of grief, Sonar elevates each stage in dynamic subtleties.

‘Dictionary’ by Elena Viklova Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

Por Mi Hija (For My Daughter) is an immersive Spanish language film that addresses familial love and the dream of what is thought to be a better life.  Written, directed, and produced by Fernando Rodriguez who dedicated this film to his wife and kids and based on two true stories, Por Mi Hija is a stirring account that examines what creates a fulfilling life in an unconventional way. 

Christopher Bustos as Leo and Daniela Vidaurre as Emma are young newlyweds living a happy life surrounded by family in Mexico when they receive life changing news that prompts Leo to seek success in California.  Bustos and Vidaurre depict a strong and relatable couple with endearing chemistry as they face moving and realistic trials and tribulations while Luciana Elisa Quiñonez shines as imaginative and sweet Luciana. 

Christopher Bustos, Daniela Viduarre, and Luciana Elisa Quinonez in ‘Por Mi Hija’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

The real strength in this film lies in its unconventional timeline and how it manages expectations and reality.  The various parallel scenes between Leo and Emma including having a meal or riding in a car are gripping as it is weaved into the film’s progression and there is a dreamlike quality looking into the past as well as a hazy, ethereal ambiance of the future. This particular style enhances the film’s poignant message while achieving a balance between the lighthearted and tense moments.  It also embodies what the characters cannot quite see at the time until the film’s stunning revelation.

Chabe, Conversations with Female Clowns, Dictionary and Por Mi Hija were all part of Narrative 14 at the New York City Indie Film Festival which continued through June 19.  Click here for more information on this annual festival and its winners.

REVIEW:  NPR storyteller Kevin Kling reflects on the wonders of childhood in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s lively and humorous ‘Best Summer Ever’

How can a childhood fib possibly be part of the best summer ever?

Amid Carter Miller’s vivid and dynamic lighting against a cloud covered sky as multi-instrumentalist and sound effect aficionado Robertson Witmer stands over a grill in an apron and sunny yellow sneakers ready to serve a hot dog, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Best Summer Ever might give you the urge for summer to arrive a little sooner.  Rowan Doyle’s breezy set design is not the alone in setting up the carefree days of summer.  In a button down shirt, dark pants and striking red and white sneakers relaxed in a lawn chair, popular storyteller and NPR contributor Kevin Kling is an open book ready to share an engaging, wild, and moving account of incredible hijinks during the life changing and unforgettable summer he experienced at 9 years old.

Kevin Kling and Multi-instrumentalist Roberson Witmer in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Best Summer Ever’ Photo by Megpix/Meghan Moore.jpg

With compelling direction by Steven Dietz, Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents the east coast premiere of Best Summer Ever through Sunday, May 22 live and in person at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA.  There will be no virtual show available and the show runs 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Kevin Kling knows how to tell a great story.  Full of liveliness and spontaneity, what sets Best Summer Ever apart from other productions is Kling’s unique and distinctive touch.  He shares personal anecdotes with plenty of asides, quirky details, and having experienced the show on Mother Day, it is easy to tell each tailored performance is fueled by the interaction and enthusiasm in the audience.  He has a great rapport with Rob who dives head first into some of the production’s sillier moments of Vikings, a purple snow cone gone awry, and chilling ghost stories.  Both seem a kid at heart and they work succinctly as Rob provides the soundtrack and dynamic mood-setting sound effects at a sometimes thrilling pace. 

MRT’s Best Summer Ever – Kevin Kling Photo by Megpix/Meghan Moore

Kling strikes a clever balance of adult reflection and falling right back into his childhood mindset of growing up in Minnesota.  He uses the phrase, ‘unstructured time’ and equating that with ‘boredom’ or in speaking about his farming grandparents, Kling exclaims, “If Grandpa could cut it off, Grandma could pickle it.”

The show also has its share of heartwarming family moments and explores the wonder and imagination of childhood that just might take you back too.

Silly moments with Kevin Kling and Roberson Witmer in MRT’s ‘Best Summer-Ever’ Photos by Megpix/Meghan Moore

Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents the east coast premiere of Best Summer Ever through Sunday, May 22 live and in person at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA.  There will be no virtual show available and the show runs 70 minutes with no intermission.  Thursday, May 19 will be a Q and A Ask the Artists night.  Click here for more information and for 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:  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.

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:  Gorgeously filmed, Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Philadelphia’s ethereal ‘Svadba’ a vivid and dreamy celebration of treasured moments before a wedding

As Atlantic Ocean waves lap along the shore, renowned vocalists Chabrelle D. Williams, Brianna J. Robinson, Maggie Finnegan, Vera Savage, and Hannah Ludwig provide an intense and inspired a cappella chorus for an idyllic beachside cottage as a bride, what appears to be the mother of the bride, and bridesmaids prepare for a beautiful wedding.  A wedding can stir up a myriad of powerful emotions from bitter sweet to pure joy as a couple starts a new life together and in a way, leaves the former one behind.  Filled with rich traditions, rituals, and cultural customs, the days leading up to a wedding can provide life’s most unforgettable moments.

JUST BEFORE HER WEDDING CEREMONY BEGINS, MILICA (VICTORIA L. AWKWARD) SHARES A GRATEFUL MOMENT WITH LENA (JACKIE DAVIS) IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Gorgeously filmed, seamlessly conducted by Daniela Candillari, and insightfully directed by Shura Baryshnikov (the daughter of legendary dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov),  Boston Lyric Opera presents in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia Channel, Svadba by Ana Sokolovic streaming now on Operabox.tv.  The film is just under an hour.  Click here for streaming access and more information.

(L.-R.) VICTORIA L. AWKWARD AS MILICA AND JACKIE DAVIS AS LENA IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy Boston Lyric Opera

Svadba, which is Serbian for ‘wedding,’ contains all the anticipation and beauty of the days building up to the big day.   It is a pivotal time in a couple’s life, especially these times when family and friends gathering can be a hesitant and tricky venture.  The glow of the bride-to-be is resplendent in Victoria Awkward as Milica, the loving stares of love and pride shine in Jackie Davis’s eyes as Lena and the beautiful bridesmaids excitedly bonding create a dreamy and ethereal presence in this picturesque setting.

What also makes Svadba so alluring is the intimacy among the group.  From Victoria Awkward as bride Milica and Jackie Davis as Lena’s first encounter, it is easy to see the precious nature of a mother and daughter relationship, though the film does not specify the connection between them.  Davis treats Awkward delicately, taking her hand and getting her ready while presenting to her family and cultural customs and heirlooms leading up to this big day.  The sunlight peers into the cottage, illuminating the treasure trove of precious objects.  There is a quiet outpouring of love between the two of them as Davis prepares Awkward for the future.

Costume designer Albulena’s Borovci’s dynamic costumes vary from traditional and intriguing to unconventional with fantasy and flair.  Sparkling, translucent, and understated gowns adorn bridesmaids Sasha Peterson as Maid of Honor Ljubica, Emily Jerant-Hendrickson, Sarah Pacheco as Zora, and Jay Breen as Danica.  The pale green and coral complements the serene beachside landscape while a bride’s vivid daydream unleashes brighter and bolder attire.

JAY BREEN (AS DANICA, L.) AND VICTORIA L. AWKWARD (AS MILICA, IN WHITE) DANCE AS OTHER BRIDESMAID’S LOOK ON IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Much of this opera symbolizes togetherness, the progression of growing up and finding where a woman fits in the world from the bride’s whirlwind feelings to family and friends perspectives.  The choreography at times feels so intense that the dancers look like they are being taken over by the chorus’s powerful vocal harmony.  From spontaneous frolicking to wild and intense dance rituals set to heavenly, trilling, and rhythmic vocals that narrate, navigate, and reveal the complicated feelings when one weds, Svadba is a spirited snapshot to this tumultuous and extraordinary rite of passage and a beautiful celebration of the future.

MILICA (VICTORIA L. AWKWARD, CENTER) AND HER BRIDESMAIDS RETURN TO THE COTTAGE AFTER GATHERING DECORATIVE FLORA IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera presents in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia Channel, Svadba streaming now on Operabox.tv.  The film is just under an hour.  Click here for streaming access and more information.

REVIEW:  Boasting two stellar leads, Central’s Square’s ‘The Half Life of Marie Curie’ full of inspiration and crackling chemistry

For revolutionary physicist and chemist Marie Curie, not everything can be solved through a calculation.

On the verge of her second Noble Prize for Chemistry, anxious and introspective Marie Curie finds herself embroiled in a scandal and at one of the lowest points of her life.  Quite literally bursting onto the scene is brilliant and charismatic electromechanical engineer and suffragette Hertha Ayrton ready to bring humor and optimism to what seems like a bleak situation.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Brimming with crackling chemistry between Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie and Debra Wise as Herthe Ayrton, Central Square Theater opened their fall season with Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie continuing through December 12 at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The show is 85 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The stage is deceptively serene for Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie. Lindsay Genevieve Fuori’s colorful, innovative, and functional scenic design comes to life as stirring sound effects and a mysterious and foreboding piano score by sound designer Elizabeth Cahill make an intriguing combination fused with Whitney Brady-Guzman’s dynamic and surreal lighting.

A production that picks up from the very start, these two driven pillars of science with contrasting personalities are a fascinating pair to watch and listen to their musings.  Gunderson’s sharp script strikes a delicate balance between intellectual prowess and absorbing dramedy.  They share their views on life, family, and work with wit, humor and candor, yet instinctually encourage each other forward with respect and admiration.  Both are widows and mothers who struggle with how women were perceived in the early 20th century, but their sheer determination and passion for science ultimately make an indelible mark on the world.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie and Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton in 1910s swimwear Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Adorned in a lovely feathered black hat and flowing emerald green dress, Debra Wise brings gravitas, confidence, ego, and clever charm as Hertha Ayrton.  From the moment Ayrton bursts onto the stage with a confident cock of her head, gleam in her eye, and cheerful intonation, a lightheartedness sets in to her passionate and outspoken persona as opposed to Curie’s darker sensibilities.  Dressed demurely in a rich purple dress, Gardner skillfully embodies tense Curie in her careful and calculated movements.  You can practically see the wheels turning in Curie’s constantly analyzing mind and consider the lengths she would go for the sake of her work.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Marie Curie and Hertha Ayron’s exchanges are no ordinary gabfests.  From sexual politics to love to family and everything in between, Wise and Gardner, as different in their approaches are and as opposite their personalities, they understand each other as equals, colleagues, and kindred spirits. Celebrating each other’s triumphs and supportive in hardship, theirs is a true testament to unyielding and enduring friendship and it stands at the center of this auspicious and biographical story.

Directed astutely by Bryn Boice, Central Square Theater presents Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie through December 12 at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The show is 85 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: TCAN Players’ classic comedy ‘Harvey’ full of imaginative charm

We’ve all had that peculiar relative.  It might be an odd extended family member that raises a few eyebrows at family gatherings.   A sweet and wonderful person that is often misunderstood.   In the Dowd family, that person is Elwood P. Dowd, a mix of old fashioned charm, amiability, and humbleness who just so happened to have inherited his mother’s estate.  He is a wealthy bachelor that likes to socialize around town and graciously supports his socialite sister and niece.  However, Elwood has something that probably no other relative you might know has in common…Elwood claims a large bunny called Harvey is always by his side.  Is he crazy?

Now, Harvey is no ordinary bunny.  He’s a rather extraordinary figure to anyone around him and he makes an incredible impact in TCAN Players classic comedy, Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvey continuing through Sunday, November 14 at TCAN Center for Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

This popular 1944 production was adopted into an Oscar-winning film of the same name starring Jimmy Stewart, steeped in affable charm as Elwood and accomplished Josephine Hull, who nabbed an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Veta.  TCAN Players’ Harvey boasts a wonderful cast especially from Jo d’Angelo as Veta.  D’Angelo perfects Elwood’s dramatic, intense, at times hysterical, but caring socialite sister who certainly goes through quite a lot in the production’s full three acts.  She portrays fed up to a tee and her sharp comedic skills have her swinging from collected to sheer panic in an instant.  D’Angelo takes on this meaty role so naturally that it is easy to get swallowed up in her unending drama. 

Ashley Harmon gleefully portrays conspiratorial and impressionable Myrtle Mae, Veta’s cooped up daughter longing for adventure.  Scott Salley has a gift for comedy as seen in previous TCAN productions such as First Things First and he holds his own as he portrays the straight man in this production.  As resident psychiatrist Lyman Sanderson, Salley’s smooth, seemingly knowledgeable delivery with a touch of arrogance makes for a number of amusing moments.  He has great chemistry with Sylvia Czubarow as beautifully beaming and complex nurse Ruth Kelly who offers a few zingers of her own.  David Dooks depicts seemingly level headed and imposing psychiatrist William Chumley with gravitas and some good-natured absurdity, especially in scenes with delightful John Alzapiedi as Elwood.  Though the role of Elwood is so clearly made for Jimmy Stewart which brought Stewart an Oscar nomination, Alzapiedi clearly does not lean on the portrayal and makes compassionate and forthright Elwood his own.

Directed with vintage flair by Lisa Astbury, Harvey is set in the present, but from the classic songs bookending the show, the polished set design by Tom Powers, and Donna Cabibbo’s detailed, retro costumes nods to the show’s 1944 setting.  Warmly decorated in floral trim and vintage portraits hanging from the Dowd’s library as well as rotary telephones hearken to that era.  The costumes are also faithful to the period ranging from women adorned in floral dresses, rabbit furs, and sophisticated hats to men decked out in trench coats, ties, and sharp suits. The set is divided into two sides, the latter a typical doctor’s office.

Harvey delves into some darker places, but never let you forget it is a comedy.  Elwood’s lightheartedness seems to diffuse any stressful situation simply by Alzapiedi’s soothing, influential voice and good nature so the show never embarks into disturbing territory.  It is an exploration into relatable family dynamics, a touch of greed, and the power of a little faith.

TCAN Players presents Mary Chase’s inventive comedy Harvey live and in person through Sunday, November 14 at TCAN Center for Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.