REVIEW:  Lyric Stage Company’s heartfelt and semi-interactive ‘Mr. Parent’ a life changing journey

It is a production so engrossing that when it ends, you find yourself asking, “Then what happens?”

This is not to say that this insightful one man production, Mr. Parent is incomplete by any means, but the essence of this thought can be found in Maurice Emmanuel Parent‘s charismatic and absorbing storytelling.  This autobiographical and semi-interactive recollection of a life-changing period in Parent’s compelling history features amusing and captivating characters that will keep you invested in his journey, eager to find out what is next.

Seamlessly directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, Lyric Stage Company continues the timely production Mr. Parent by Melinda Lopez through February 6 at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts. It will also be available for streaming from February 7 through February 20. This show runs 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent Photo by Mark S Howard

Within a colorful and empty classroom by Cristina Todesco, the aptly-named Mr. Parent manages to cover a great deal in its limited time frame from the state education system to struggling families to struggling teachers to desegregation during a pivotal time in Mr. Parent’s life approached with the kind of heart and humor that comes from experience.   Inspirational, educational, and complex, Mr. Parent also begs a significant question that many people face every day:  How do I pursue my passion while still making a decent living? 

Working in the arts, this quest is close to my heart.  In order to do what one loves, one may have to supplement that journey with additional job or jobs to make it all work.  It is a journey of sacrifice, more than likely a lack of sleep, and an overwhelming desire towards that dream goal, however means it may take to get there.  For some, taking this avenue may create another dream realized.

Maurice Immanuel Parent as himself is a struggling actor hoping to find success, but quickly realizes that doing so requires supplemental income.  He finds it in the form of teaching.  Having seen him perform as Cardinal Richelieu in Greater Boston Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective’s The Three Musketeers, Parent has a wealth of talent.  He is a charismatic presence onstage and it is easy to see the drive and heart he puts into his work.  Here, Maurice Emmanuel Parent’s personal account reflects that talent in spades.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent Photo courtesy of Mark S Howard

It has as much heart as adventure from hyena auditions to a sneaky hoodie to recollections of shows he encourages his parents not to see, Parent recounts the unsettled and unpredictable life of teaching and acting which includes plenty of realizations along the way with bite, humor, and in times of distress, unmitigated honesty.  For example, in two particularly moving moments, Mr. Parent describes in anguish what it is like to see his bright students from low income families struggle for their basic needs and enduring the scare of a lockdown.  He navigates scenario after scenario invoking an intensity and desperation to succeed in a job that he hopes will meet his needs, but wondering if he may be in over his head.   Seemingly sterling opportunities almost always have its challenges and Mr. Parent shows that we all have much to learn.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent Photo by Mark S Howard

Lyric Stage Company continues Mr. Parent through February 6 live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts. Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914’ moving and miraculous

Witnessing a phenomenon is a rare and precious thing.  It was nothing short of miraculous watching Greater Boston Company’s All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914 which details that short period in history where enemies united briefly during the depths of War War I on Christmas Eve 1914.  Disillusioned and missing their loved ones, soldiers demonstrated compassion and the mercy of the human spirit as both sides sang carols, exchanged goods, and mutually wished for the war to end.

In the Greater Boston Stage Company’s lobby. Authentic combat uniform and gear from the Veteran Association of the First Corps of Cadets and Museum Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Directed poignantly by Ilyse Robbins and compellingly written by Peter Rothstein, Greater Boston Stage Company presents the award-winning documentary musical,  All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914 through December 23 as a digital performance and live in person at Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

It is surprising that The Christmas Truce of 1914 is not more widely known.  Joyeux Noel, The Christmas Truce, various documentaries, and this show are a few of the ways that this short historical period is recorded.  It should be an annual tradition like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty, Rudolph or A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It stands as a significant reminder of a Christmas Eve miracle that occurred only once during War World I’s long and grueling four year time span.  Most soldiers first joined thinking the war would end by Christmas. 

The cast of ‘All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

A dimly lit, bare stage is all that is revealed at the start of All is Calm, but what transpires as the show progresses is a rich landscape of moonlight, song, and memories.  Though this show features musical interludes, it is not a traditional musical.  It is more like a documentary that features stunning music and carols inviting the audience into the warmth, spirit, sacrifice, and the true meaning of the season.

Comprised of ten cast members who take on several identities during the production as they recollect that time period, All is Calm boasts powerful and silvery harmonies chiming into the wintry night sung a cappella without a band.  Music Director Matthew Stern does a sensational job with Erick Lichte and Timothy Takach’s vocal arrangements which includes popular carols such as Silent Night, O Holy Night, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Angels We Have Heard on High, and Auld Lang Syne.

Michael Jennings Mahoney and the cast of ‘All is Calm’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

 All is Calm is a beautiful ensemble piece and each cast member rises to the occasion, but when a renowned German tenor leads a stirring rendition of Franz Gruber’s Stille Nacht in No Man’s Land, it is difficult to pinpoint a more memorable moment. 

Dressed in muted military uniforms and kilts faithful to the era’s period and culture by Bethany Mullins, the collaborative cast demonstrates heartwarming chemistry and yet simultaneously depicts each soldier’s growing isolation in sorrow, fear, turmoil, and anguish as they progressively experience war’s cruel reality.  Integrating direct quotes from soldiers, narration, and uplifting carols such as Wassail as well as exceptional and heartrending songs such as I Want to Go Home, many times moved me beyond words. 

Though the extraordinary harmonies are a large part of the production, the production’s real mastery also resides in its stillness.  That brief interlude during a harrowing time where friendships were forged and sweet peace was nestled in the silence of enemies who joined together in the joy of the season and the sadness in their hearts for what was in store.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents the award-winning documentary musical, All is Calm:  The Truce of 1914 through December 23 as a digital performance and live in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information, tickets, and a look at their upcoming events.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s comedy-drama ‘BLKS’

A glow in the dark graffiti soaked Brooklyn apartment and street set the stage for SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of BLKS continuing through Saturday, November 20 live and in person at Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Raw, raunchy, and at times more shocking than funny, BLKS delves into one long and hazy 24-hour period for a group of 20-something city singles.  Infidelity, danger, and sex are just a few of the issues addressed in this one hour and 45 minute comedy-drama by Aziza Barnes.  This show has no intermission and contains mature themes, adult content and language.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Shanelle Chloe Villegas, Kelsey Fonise, and Thomika Marie Bridwell in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘BLKS’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

On the surface, BLKS tackles the life of a group of strong Brooklyn 20-something singles living together.  After they all endure a tough day, they decide to party and forget their troubles.  However, as the night wears on with plenty of pitfalls in the way from a broken heel to a broken heart, getting what they hope for will be far more difficult than they ever expected.  Each individual faces their own insecurities and long for belonging, whether it comes to love, commitment, career, or identity.  They all want to fit in where they are and yet, each person can’t shake what is missing.

Struggling comedian Imani, portrayed by Kelsey Fonise, longs to be like comedy legend Eddie Murphy and like Murphy’s standup comedy, much of the humor in BLKS is fierce, aggressive, and pulls no punches.  It runs the gamut of relatable to squeamish to unabashedly funny.  Thomika Marie Bridwell as level headed June seems to be climbing the corporate ladder, but is perpetually stuck in love while filmmakers Sandra Seoane-Seri as forthright Ry and Shanelle Chloe Villegas as flighty Octavia clash as they attempt to label their relationship.  Bridwell has a gift for the one liner while Villegas as Octavia displays a knack for physical humor. 

Sharmarke Yusuf portrays a number of dynamic characters including seemingly sweet Justin.  A climatic scene between Yusef and Villegas in an apartment display the daring lengths these two will go for a laugh.  Bridwell as June and Yusef as Justin also share some charming moments.

Roommates Octavia, June, and Imani have a moment on the street and one in the apartment when they reflect on the struggles they deal with on a daily basis and this is where the production shows such potential and solid relevance.  With the exception of Justin who reveals an immediate emotional center, it is a chance to get to know these characters on a deeper level, but these moments pass by too soon.  It gets weighed down at times by the need for shock and comedy over substance rather than delving into these characters more closely.

BLKS is primarily a comedy and these roommates also share their fill of junk food, gossip, and partying in their quest to find love, success, and contentment in which they all share good chemistry.  Like many 20-something singles, they find comfort facing the struggle together.

Directed by Tonasia Jones, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s continues Aziza Barnes’s production of BLKS through Saturday, November 20 at Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Theatre Kapow’s timely and resonating ‘The Boyg’ makes a connection

Comic great Robin Williams once said, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone.  It’s not.  The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.”  Williams suffered from depression, but his ability to feel the lows and to make people laugh perhaps contributed to his gift on a deeper level.  Getting the laugh is greater when the pain in which it is earned is also felt, achieving connection.  Perhaps this is why there is also an in-house psychiatrist at The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, California.

Theatre Kapow captured isolation and resilience in a play centered around a group of people clinging for hope in A.J. Ditty’s resonating play, The Boyg based partially on the life of Per Krohg.  Art and isolation are key elements and are heavily weighed as each character attempts to connect with each other in their own distinct way.

Celebrating its first indoor production in over a year, Theatre Kapow presented A.J. Ditty’s The Boyg in Derry, New Hampshire in September, toured in Charlestown, Massachusetts as October started, and the show is now available online through October 10.  Click here for tickets and more information.

Before continuing, it is important to note that A.J. Ditty’s The Boyg, named after Ibsen’s classic play Peer Gynt’s groundbreaking literary monster, does not make the play a prerequisite to appreciate this production, but a companion piece.  The show is part play within a play and for those who know Peer Gynt, having read Ibsen’s work may promote a richer understanding, but does not affect the universal appeal of this show.

There is a phantom presence lingering over The Boyg, a sense of tension and dread that builds throughout the production and is rarely addressed until it is unavoidable.  It hides in games, questions, plays, and pleasant conversation and perhaps glimpsed in a pause or a worried glance.  Enhanced by Tayva Young’s mood-induced lighting and versatile sound designed by Jake Hudgins, it is an element as real as any of the characters in this production.

Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia as Mikhail and Rebecca Tucker as Per in ‘The Boyg’ Photo credit Matt Lomanno Photography

Set inside a Norwegian concentration camp during World War II, each character has every reason to try to forget their present circumstances, but struggle within the inevitability of their situation.  Duty, work which is often self defeating, and art seem only to hold more than a moment’s distraction.

R to L: Lisa Boyett as Old Man and Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia as Mikhail Photo credit Matt Lomanno Photography

The cast displays good timing and chemistry even as characters who often struggle to understand each other in their mutual pain.  As barracks leader Odd Nansen, portrayed ardently by Carey Cahoon, Odd seems the most willing to give into whatever is necessary to keep up morale while Professor Francis Bull depicted by Molly Kane Parker, prefers to escape into literature and theatre to cope with the present.   

Rebecca Tucker delivers an intriguing and heartfelt performance as secretive, complex, and anguished Per Krohg who struggles with what it takes to survive.  Tucker’s cat-and-mouse conversations with Nicholas Wilder as harsh and manipulative Captain Denzer and Sabrina Sehlegel-Megia’s earnest portrayal of rebellious and mysterious Mikhail Hjorthson’s haunting recollections of past experiences are particular highlights.

R to Left: Rachael Chapin Longo as Robert and Rebecca Tucker as Per Photo courtesy of Matt Lomanno Photography

What does it take to peel back life’s meaning where there is no other choice?  Reflecting on art and culture while staring into the face of mortality, isn’t life better with connection over dread? 

Directed contemplatively by Matt Cahoon, Theatre Kapow timely production of A.J. Ditty’s The Boyg streaming through October 10.  Click here for more on The Boyg and Theatre Kapow’s new season, Return.