REVIEW: Normalcy takes an eerie detour in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Solitaire Suite’

One thing rings true:  No good can come from a dying phone.

A dark highway and a last minute errand kick off the world premiere of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s family-friendly supernatural thriller Solitaire Suite, a rich, engaging play by Trent England that explores a family’s strange occurrence over one evening.  With a dreamlike and tense score that underlies its various twist and turns, Solitaire Suite’s relatable cast are just part of what makes this as alluring a zoom production as it would be a stirring podcast.

Directed by Daniel Bourque, Solitaire Suite is nestled between two Shakespearean productions in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s current season. While Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing thrilled audiences last year and next is Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in the spring, Hub Theatre Company of Boston took a break from soliloquies and bravado for this psychological thriller continuing on Hub Theatre’s YouTube page on live stream and on Hub Theatre’s Facebook page through Saturday, February 27. Tickets are on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information.

Solitaire Suite Screen Shot courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Having seen a few of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s productions, it is refreshing to see them present such a vast array of work over the years from period pieces to dark fantasy to southern rom-coms and  now what is deemed twilight zone meets zoom. 

Marty Mason bears most of the weight of this production as Celeste, a former city-lover turned suburban mother whose mysterious son keeps her guessing.  She delivers a natural and nuanced performance, sharing the evocative, lively, and multi-layered account of her family’s evening.  Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia is charismatic as Celeste’s quick-witted and laidback husband Pete and Michael Lin portrays their introverted and mysterious son, Tiger.

Solitaire Suite veers off into different directions and each detail is a window into each character’s psyche.  The dramatic and haunting cinematography, with sound design and digital design by Kyle Lampe and Justin Lahue respectively, contributes to the production’s ominous and suspenseful tone that takes on not only some supernatural aspects, but the tension brimming just beneath the surface within this seemingly close family.

Solitaire Suite unpacks a lot within its under an hour runtime and though all your questions might not be answered, the production is thought-provoking well beyond the production’s close.

Solitaire Suite continues through Saturday, February 27 and is also available on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page. Click here for more information and their current production. Hub Theatre’s next production is Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost this spring.

REVIEW: Michael John Ciszewski’s ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ dwells in dreamlike introspection in 2020

To some, the sun is an adversary.  To fast-living insomniac Simon, portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, the sun is sleeping just when he is waking up.  Michael John Ciszewski’s second solo project, The Sun is Sleeping, is a personal, contemplative piece though Simon wants to be anything but contemplative.  He’d rather escape than be alone in his thoughts and his isolation, always looking for a quick fix as he dreams, loves, and parties big.

Having seen Ciszewski in other projects such as Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s The Little Foxes and his latest Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s virtual Much Ado about Nothing, Ciszewski has a strength for portraying intense, multi-faceted characters and Simon is no exception.  Steeped in city views, sunsets, and the crack of dawn, The Sun is Sleeping is a beautifully shot, relatable journey during these difficult times. 

Michael John Ciszewski in ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ Photo credit to Michael John Ciszewski

Click here for more information and how to watch The Sun is Sleeping, a one hour avant-garde film.

The Sun is Sleeping is part confessional, part introspection, and part escape, featuring a myriad of mixed emotions as Simon and other characters face a pandemic.  As Simon fantasies about an eternally happy existence and doubt seeps in, the audience is privy to each character’s meandering perspectives in their sheer yearning to bond with other people in any way they can.

For the actors themselves facing an arts ‘intermission’ of this magnitude, it’s the thrill of the audience, lack of that type of expression, and entire way of life turned upside down that contributes to their unsettling uncertainty.  Pier Lamia Porter as Sam and Rachel Belleman as Caroline unite in a wistful zoom call that could speak to anyone right now.  It’s the longing and joy of being together.  Some of the show has a sense of humor, but much more of it is reflection showing we all have too much time on our hands and yet the sun still shines.

REVIEW: Hub Theatre Company of Boston makes virtual ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ something special

It was love in the time of Covid.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston puts a 2020 twist on Shakespearean romantic-comedy classic, Much Ado About Nothing.  This lighthearted production not only battles the perils of love, but a modern-day pandemic. 

Shakespeare was no stranger to the times we are living in today.  He watched theatres close during the Great Plague of London in the 1600s and used his time wisely, writing King Lear, MacBeth, and Antony and Cleopatra during that time of isolation.  Tailoring this romantic comedy into 2020 isn’t too far of a stretch, especially in the humorous and clever manner in which Hub Theatre approaches these changes, not taking themselves too seriously.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston offered live streamed performances of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing until November 21 on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Astutely directed and adopted by Bryn Boice, the virtual performance is still available to watch on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page.  Click here to learn more about Hub Theatre Company of Boston and their future productions.

It is difficult to put together a show in the best of circumstances so Hub Theatre of Boston smartly steered into the skid by presenting this classic production, developing what theatre would have considered obstacles into strengths using the power of Zoom.  Romantic partners kiss (offstage), couples and groups schedule rendezvous in breakaway rooms, and masks are weaved right into the story varying from silly animals to refined Venetian costume masks.

Part of what keeps Much Ado about Nothing a relevant, insightful, and easily modern piece is its foundations inspired endless inspiration for contemporary rom-coms.  Adding tech talk and Covid-speak such as ‘turn off the cameras,’ ‘swipe right,’ ‘privacy issues,’ ‘your mic is on,’ and ‘venmo to payment’ does not seem too out of place onstage or on a laptop.  Its exuberant and mischievous tone steeped in romance, gossip, tricks, and trappings have universal and timeless appeal. 

This lively cast zealously adapts the production’s modern charm as they deliver wit, humor, and ripening drama in equal measure.  As Hero (Micheline Wu) is getting ready to marry Claudius (Jaime Hernandez), mutual friends decide to do some matchmaking of their own with sworn singles Benedick (Jon Vallente) and Beatrice (Lauren Elias). 

Wu is natural, charming, and sympathetic as blushing Hero and she shares sweet chemistry with Hernandez who delivers a robust performance as lofty and serious Claudio.  Sarcasm, wit, and banter are not lost on outspoken, headstrong, and stubborn Elias and Vallente, who exhibit crackling chemistry as Beatrice and Benedick.  One favorite line Hub Theatre gloriously did not change was when Benedick asks Beatrice, “You take pleasure then in the message?”  Beatrice replies, ‘Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife’s point.’  Their bickering is as biting as ever.

Nettie Pickering brings gravitas to her portrayal as Don Pedro and providing contemporary comic relief are the hackers or in traditional terms the Watchmen led by officer Dogberry (John Kinsman) boasting a Boston accent.  Kinsman’s conceited and controlling Dogberry is amusing on his own, but shines in scenes with his watchman, portrayed with streetwise sass by Borachio (Lorraine Kanyike) and Conrade (Jessica Golden).   

Chelsea Kerl’s dynamic, edgy costumes and Justin Lahue’s bold digital design keep the show bright and buoyant even in its darkest moments…and there are a few.  Michael John Ciszewski has a flair for portraying dastardly characters and his elitist, tyrannical depiction of Don John is no exception.

The revelations hold up and pay off in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s modern adaptation of Much Ado about Nothing.  A recorded version is still available on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page.  The production is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information on Hub Theatre Company of Boston and their eighth season.

REVIEW: Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ boasts humor, heartache, and hairspray

A good story is usually rooted in truth.

Robert Harling’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ is partially based on a true story.  Harling wrote the play, ‘Steel Magnolias’ in 1987 and based it off of real people he knew in Louisiana.  In the popular 1989 film (which included a parade of famous actresses such as Dolly Parton, Olympia DukakisDaryl Hannah,  and Shirley MacLaine), the part of M’Lynn was portrayed by Sally Field and Julia Roberts was Shelby.  Harling based M’Lynn on his mother and Shelby (whose real name was Susan) on his sister.

Directed by Paula Plum, Hub Theatre Company of Boston celebrates the 30th anniversary of the 1989 film with comedy drama ‘Steel Magnolias’ continuing at Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s summer home, Club Cafe through Sunday, August 3.  This show is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Sleepless Critic also recently spoke to Hub Theatre of Boston Artistic Producing Director’s Lauren Elias about ‘Steel Magnolias,’ the future of Hub Theatre Company of Boston, and more.  Click here for the podcast.

Set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Shop in Chinquapin, Louisiana in 1985, this bittersweet tale follows a group of vastly different women who find strength in each other through hardships and triumphs with a great deal of understanding, humor, and hairspray.  Though it has its share of serious themes, ‘Steel Magnolias’ offers more humor and relatable moments seeped in a wealth of 80s references that include mentions of Jane Fonda, and Elizabeth Arden.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias full cast 2

From L to R: Maureen Adduci as Ouiser, Liz Adams as M’Lynn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby (center), Lauren Elias as Annelle, June Kfoury as Clairee, and Catherine Lee Christie as Truvy Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

With bold costumes by Chelsea Kerl and Wig Master Caroline Clancy, the show impressively rewinds the clock into the 80s big hair era and memorable fashion sense while highlighting each woman’s distinct personality.  It is also refreshing to look at back at life at a time before the internet where people shared time, recipes, and hair tips in person.

Directed impressively by Paula Plum, ‘Steel Magnolias’ also thrives through its smart casting and the developing chemistry and growth between these primarily outspoken southern women, keeping this popular show fresh.  With a gift for gab and gossip, Catherine Lee Christie portrays Truvy Jones with charm and sass.  As a big fan of the movie, it is hard to imagine this part for anyone other than Dolly Parton, but Christie, in an array of distinct, sparkling, and mismatched fashion, rises to the occasion.  Her scenes with Lauren Elias as mysterious and humble Annelle make for some quirky, heartwarming moments.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias full cast

From L to Right: Maureen Aducci as Ouiser, Liz Adams as M’Lynn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby (center), Lauren Elias as Annelle, June Kfoury as Clairee, and Catherine Lee Christie as Truvy Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Maureen Adduci’s sardonic, frank, and darkly amusing Ouiser delivers some of the most entertaining moments in the show.  Adduci’s exhausted scowl alone in Truvy’s cheery beauty salon is enough to crack a smile.  Her sarcastic facade rings true with the priceless line, “I don’t see plays because I can nap at home for free…and I don’t read books because if they are any good, they are going to make them into a miniseries.”  June Kfoury as Clairee, a stylish and gossip-driven widow with good intentions and a knowing smile, amuses herself by teasing Ouiser and their exchanges create their own spark.

However, the most captivating relationship is the family dynamic between Liz Adams as M’Lynn and Oye Ehikhamhen as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby.  The push and pull between the two make it easy to see them as mother and daughter.  As in any mother-daughter relationship, one minute they exchange nagging barbs and the next, nurturing affection.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias Liz Adams as MLynn and Oye Ehikhamhen

Liz Adams as M’Lynn and Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Liz Adams portrays M’Lynn with a quiet, palpable tightness and a bundle of suppressed feelings.  It is easy to feel the weight of the world on her shoulders.  This M’Lynn has a bit of a tougher edge and a dry sense of humor as she meticulously looks after everyone but herself.  Though M’Lynn and Shelby are both dramatic and stubborn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby is a ceaselessly optimistic force where happiness is a requirement, not an option.  With a broad smile and easy chemistry with the entire cast, Oye as Shelby shines in a charismatic, compassionate performance.

Club Cafe’s stage is an air-conditioned, intimate space that includes tables set up for food and drinks.  In honor of the production, Club Cafe offers themed specialty cocktails such as Truvy’s Twister, Blush and Bashful, Wack-A-Ouiser, and Chinquapin Parish Punch.

Directed by Paula Plum, rewind the clock and take a trip south to Truvy’s for Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ at Club Café  at 209 Columbus Ave through Saturday, August 3. This show is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information about Hub Theatre and tickets.  Hub Theatre Company of Boston is also taking donations of beauty products and toiletries at every performance to be donated to Rosie’s Place and other charities.