REVIEW:  Fueled by sardonic wit and intense humor, The Huntington’s ‘The Art of Burning’ crackles

Cutting sarcasm, sardonic wit, and a feigned smile does little to contain Patricia’s smoldering rage lurking just beneath the surface. No question Patricia has every reason to harbor resentment considering what she is going through affects her entire family. As a painter, it is important for Patricia to express her mounting feelings through art, but what if the pain is so deep that not even a canvas can exorcise that anger?

Directed methodically by Melia Bensussan, The Art of Burning by Kate Snodgrass is available live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA and virtually through February 12, ending just days before Valentine’s Day. The show is 85 minutes with no intermission, contains adult themes, and is not appropriate for children. Click here for more information and tickets.

Adrianne Krstansky, Michael Kaye, and Rob Barkhordar in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson@photoshelter.com

The Art of Burning takes an unconventional look at love and all of its side steps, misunderstandings, and complications. It also delves into betrayal, divorce, survival, and all of the lingering emotions simmering just below the surface. With dark humor that can be disquieting at times, The Art of Burning explores the complexity of human relations including a few of its vast repercussions.

Rom Barkhordar and Vivia Font in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson@photoshelter.com

Jane Shaw’s haunting score and Aja M. Jackson’s vivid lighting enriches scenic designer Luciana Stecconi’s paradoxical, gleaming, and seemingly modest scenery set against a striking and evocative frame. Jackson’s lighting is crucial for each inventive scene change while the foreboding score keeps the tension rising throughout the production. Kara Harmon’s bold costume design not only reflects each character’s distinct personality, but plays a pivotal role in the show’s mounting tension.

The Art of Burning is also fueled by a powerful cast highlighted by Adrianne Krstansky’s captivating portrayal of Patricia and Clio Contogenis, who makes an impactful impression as conflicted Beth. Krstansky achieves a delicate balance between a strong and sympathetic woman who, for the most part, is holding her own in spite of her circumstances when she is not taking takes things a bit too far. The complexity of that balance still makes her likable even at her lowest points. Patricia’s sardonic wit and realism is nearly bereft of any boundaries. She seems to have lost her inhibitions long ago somewhere in the turmoil of her discoveries.

Michael Kaye and Laura Latreille in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson@photoshelter.com


Contogenis weaves in some of Krstansky’s biting humor and pensiveness as Patricia’s daughter as she faces her own unique challenges along the way. These issues are handled delicately and with vulnerability. Rom Barkhordar portrays Jason, a character with some misplaced optimism and a certain lack of empathy and yet Barkhordar weaves in a subtle obliviousness that Jason can almost be forgiven for. He has some meaty scenes with Krstansky and Contogenis that would be concerning if they were not so humorous. Mark, portrayed by Michael Kaye, seems to depict the onlooker and voice of reason, but things are much more complicated than they appear. Some sobering aspects of Mark and Charlene’s marriage are incredibly relatable and humorous. Kaye and Laura Latreille as capricious Charlene have a fascinating dynamic onstage. Vivia Font takes a memorable turn as Katya as she wrestles with the weight of her decisions.

Snodgrass’s witty, poignant, and intermittently humorous dialogue makes a strong statement about the state of our contemporary world and exposes some hard realities. The truth is people are all a little lost but even at its bleakest times, love may still find a way through it all.

Clio Contogenis and Adrianne Krstansky in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson@photoshelter.com

The Art of Burning by Kate Snodgrass is available live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA and virtually through February 12, ending just days before Valentine’s Day. Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: The 52nd annual ‘Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island’ shares solace and warmth into a tapestry of traditions from around the world

After a half century, the Midwinter Revels can not only still create fresh and concise storytelling while weaving in various cultures and traditions with a balance of joy and poignancy, but this year recalls a miraculous event in history that is not shared enough during the holiday season.

Innovatively written and directed by Patrick Swanson and guided by Carolyn Saxon as the Immortal Spirit of Place, Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island continues live and in person at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA through December 28 and then will be available virtually December 29 through January 15.  Each performance pays tribute to Revels supporters and this particular performance was dedicated to the The Rioff Family in honor of WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan.  This show is translated in ASL and is approximately two hours with one intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Ensemble of The Christmas Revels Photo by Roger Ide

Veteran reveler David Coffin’s enthusiasm reflected the same from the audience as he vigorously prepared them pre-production for the Revels live and interactive sing-along that features a vast array of carols and cultural songs.  Meticulously musically directed by Elijah Botkin and led by Keith Murphy of A Saint Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn, an intimate onstage band returns as the Liberty Band performing carols to folk to war songs from around the world right alongside the cast.  The joy and gratitude in singing in front of an audience again is as uplifting as ever and the cast’s a cappella harmonies are a glorious treat.

Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island does not just take place on Ellis Island, but provides the foundation for each of the tales shared during the production.  The tales of hardship and strife seem so different, but are somehow tied into shared experiences as immigrants from all over the world find themselves stranded together on Christmas Eve in 1924.  The spirit of the season is exemplified in several tales including a fiddle that needs mending featuring Maeve Leahy as Bridget and Ewan Swanson as Isaac.

From Left to Right Carolyn Saxon, Maeve Leahy and Ewan Swanson and the Revels Ensemble Photo by Paul Buckley

Adorned in a glimmering gown and gold wreathed crown, Carolyn Saxon makes a warm and welcome return to Revels this time as the Immortal Spirit of Place.  Her subtle charm and light humor enhance each aspect of the production as she guides the audience through various tales and periods in history in Nikes.  Saxon is clearly enjoying this enigmatic role becoming invisible when she wishes and popping up at felicitous and spontaneous moments. 

While last year’s show focused on saving a bar by venturing into the past, family is much more prevalent as members of the cast tie in pieces of their own cultural holiday memories into the production.  Irish and Jewish Dramaturg Nicole Galland contributed by drawing on her own experiences and upbringing.  With frank and humorous inflections, Reveler Stephanie Clayman is an amiable and avid storyteller as she brings some of those tales to life such as two well staged pieces of morally centered Jewish folklore and several Chanukah traditions.

Stephanie Clayman, Ewan Swanson, The Ellis Island Children, and the Midwinter Revels Adult Chorus Photo by Paul Buckley

David Coffin as Conor Riley revealed a miraculous event during World War I that took place on Christmas Eve in 1914.  For a brief time, soldiers showed camaraderie with their enemies as they joined together in song, games, and friendship.  It is a historical event that needs to be shared with as much frequency as annual holiday traditions such How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Carol, or It’s a Wonderful Life.  That brief interlude of peace made such a significant impact on the world and Midwinter Revels depicts that moving period of time with Christmas in the Trenches, O Tannenbaum and Stile Nacht as the production spread itself beyond the Sanders Theatre stage.

The children are always a joy to watch and this year as the Ellis Island Children, they share upbeat, jumping rope rhythm for There’s a Big Ship Sailing and later with Las Posadas as Mary rides on a donkeyIt is just one example of the many endearing appearances they make in song and tale.

A brilliant performance comes from Ricardo Holguin who passionately performs a wondrous rendition of Mexican love song La Malgeuna followed by striking number El Relampago featuring women in gorgeous floral headdresses and sun drenched gowns by Heidi HermillerKelli Edwards’ multifaceted choreography is on full display throughout as well as for a tricky and intricate sword dance accompanied by an onstage accordion and drummer for The Straw Folk Mummers Play and Rogue’s Delight.

Though the show lulled a bit on occasion, Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island’s engaging tales bring unity and light and depicts how sharing different traditions can bring a new understanding and warmth into the darkest of times.

Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island continues live and in person at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA through December 28 and then will be available virtually December 29 through January 15.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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.