REVIEW: Singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis share resilience through struggle and the joy of performing live onstage again

It is no surprise that guitar strumming singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis recently brought a mix of emotional weight to the Club Passim stage in Cambridge, MA.  Not only in the great joy of performing for an audience again, but the heartache, loss, and reflection in their music as a result of these past couple of complicated years.  However, within this sadness lies resilience for thriving again.  

Grace Pettis and Natalie Price Photo credit to Natalie Price

Singer-songwriter Natalie Price debuted at Club Passim and opened for returning Club Passim favorite Grace Pettis on Thursday, April 14 in person and on live stream for one night only.  Click here to see where Pettis will perform next and here for more on Price.  Click here for more on Club Passim, their educational programs, upcoming events, and how to support local music.

A smattering of spotlights lit the Club Passim stage as Dallas-born Natalie Price delivered a mix of reflective, sorrowful, and playful love songs during her brief opening set.   Price’s sound has a tinge of Natalie Imbruglia or Lisa Loeb as she shares her experiences.

These Days is a clever track about the memory of escaping an unhealthy relationship and if the timing of that relationship were any different, Price might not have escaped.  Price sings, ‘I’m so glad I wasn’t younger when we met’ and ‘The heaviness, strangled me/A songbird in a cage.’  Its seemingly lighthearted chords contrast a returning and complex memory that changes over time.

Another highlight was The Island, a song performed entirely with a music box-sounding Kalimba instrument.  It is a melodious track about the euphoria of new love while Done is another clever piece that delves into the erratic and frantic feelings of unsteady love.  Price ends the set with a catchy and cheerful tune about devotion.

Natalie Price’s music can be found on Band Camp or on her website.

Grace Pettis Photo credit to Nicola Gell

Before taking the stage alone, Grace Pettis joined Price for an unconventional and sweet lullaby Pettis wrote and performs for a Ukrainian child living with Pettis and her family in Ireland called Sleepy Lobster.  Pettis had a table set up that evening to support Ukraine.

Florida-born Grace Pettis delves into a collection of powerful, somber, and soulful tunes, a reflection of some of the complex, life-changing experiences Pettis endured over the last two years.  In a burgundy shirt and black pants, Pettis is an unassuming presence with a certain personable charm and expressed her gratefulness to be back at Club Passim sharing her music with a crowd again.

Her passionate and powerful vocals in Pick me Up and Never Get it Back from her new album, Working Woman from MPress Records, has universal appeal with the latter a bittersweet message on the importance of living in the present and the former finding the strength to keep going in spite of life’s hardships.   Though Pick me Up could simply be interpreted as a love song, it could also apply to a larger message about faith and finding loyal support through life.

Pettis mused in Rain’s lyrics, ‘I don’t know how to be happy’ when she recalled being tasked with writing a song about sunshine.  The somber track was inspired by November rain in Ireland.

So many of Grace’s work addresses strength through struggle.  Mean Something also from Working Woman has a soothing quality about finding hope while Birthright, which is a Nobody’s Girl song, reveals the struggles of living with the pain of the past.  Pettis is an apt songwriter reflecting on the end of a life-changing relationship. She sings, ‘Brace myself for unwanted advice…I’m the box forgotten in the attic.’

However, one of my favorite tracks is Corner, a complex love song about unconditional loyalty, the pain thick in Grace’s voice.  Though the show had its share of solemn musings, Pettis ends the set with Working Woman’s fiery and meaningful title track, her powerful belt demonstrating though hardship, Grace Pettis has thicker skin than that.

Click here for more information on Grace Pettis and where she is touring next.  Learn more about Natalie Price here and click here for more on Club Passim, their music classes, upcoming concerts, and how to support local music.

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: 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: Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ a twist-filled comedy of scheming proportions

What truly makes one person love another? 

Moliere in the Park begs this question while addressing gender stereotypes and takes an at times tongue in cheek look at what makes a good wife in The School for Wives, a classic comedy by French playwright Moliere first making its stage debut in 1662.  Translated by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Wilbur with French subtitles, this virtual romantic comedy in five acts has plenty of twists and turns on the road to love and made its live streaming debut on October 24 with the recording available through October 28 on Moliere in the Park’s YouTube channel. 

The cast of Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park is dedicated to inclusive, just, and free theatre.  Click here for more information.

Set in Brooklyn, NY, Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives uses its creative technical wizardry to meet Covid-19 standards with enhanced, virtual sets by Lina Younes transporting actors from a regal city garden to a carefully-detailed bedroom to an inviting cafe.  At one point, it also gives the illusion that the characters are all together.  Ari Fulton’s colorful costumes stay faithful to the time period while providing a certain modern edge.   

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Directed insightfully by Lucie Tiberghien, ‘The School of Wives’ is punctuated by its intriguing and catchy dialogue as well as its flipped gender roles.  Older and wealthy Arnolphe (Tonya Pinkins) thought he has his love life figured out until Horace (Kaliswa Brewster) makes him rethink his road to love with sweet and virtuous Agnes (Mirirai Sithole).  Each character is well developed, but what truly shines is the fleshed out philosophies and misconceptions of what makes a good woman and a good wife while exemplifying what truly makes a good man and husband.   

Tony Pinkins skillfully depicts the well-spoken and arrogant Arnolphe as a myriad of emotions cross Pinkins face in a single scene.  From a biting temper to soft chuckling to a Cheshire smile, Pinkins seamlessly illustrates Arnolphe’s constant inner conflict.   Ever the focused manipulator, Arnolphe’s vibrant scene-stealing gravitas keeps you engaged no matter how complicated his situation becomes.

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Kaliswa Brewster’s thousand-watt smile brings glowing charisma to young Horace, his youth shining through his outspoken candidness and confidence.  Pinkins and Brewster are best as they hide their veiled intentions from each other, carefully holding all their cards at bay.

Virtue takes form in Mirirai Sithole as Agnes, a wide-eyed, sympathetic creature who hides a secret.   Sithole’s carefully delivered dialogue and angelic, learned mannerisms keeps her fascinating and complicated in a demure pink headpiece and dress.

Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Peasants Georgette (Tamara Sevunts) and Alain (Corey Tazmania) offer comic relief as frenzied servants of Arnolphe.  Anxious, obedient, and scrambling to meet Arnolphe’s demands, they are a fanatical and sympathetic pair whose often bewildered expressions makes one think they may have just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tamara Sevunts (Georgette), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) and Corey Tazania (Alain) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives takes an enlightened look at love while the play unquestionably sets the foundation for today’s romantic comedy tropes.  Its rich, inherent message never lacks humor or sincerity when it comes to the unpredictable path to true love. 

REVIEW: Theatre Kapow delivers a clever and engaging ‘Feast’

You are part of this feast as an honored guest.

Megan Gogerty’s interactive and dynamic Feast makes you part of this production and it won’t be long until you get reeled into dinner conversation.  New Hampshire’s Theatre Kapow brings back theatre in a unique way all while delivering real dessert (and a little extra) and as a person starved for the arts, Megan Gogerty’s Feast will leave you full while remaining behind the computer. 

Directed by Matt Cahoon who offers an insightful introduction, Theatre Kapow presented Megan Gogerty’s Feast live with select performances from Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27.  This show contains mature content and has its own share of dark notes.  Click here to learn more about Theatre Kapow’s 13th season, We Can Get through This and much more.

Feast is an intriguing blend of the classic and contemporary featuring to-the-minute pop culture references while unraveling an ancient mystery.  Cleverly self-aware through its philosophies and contextual principles, Carey Cahoon is the hostess of this part conversation and part confessional one-woman show in 75 minutes – no small feat for one person.  Opening night had a few technical glitches, but Carey didn’t miss a beat, picking up the moment she left off.

Feast acts as much a warning as a mystery and does not shy away from raw and difficult topics, but Carey’s candor makes these subjects easier to swallow.  From government to grief, Feast is not preachy or “political” per se, but you’d be remiss if the conversation doesn’t cause you to look inward.

Carey Cahoon is refined, biting, powerful, but most of all compelling as Agathae, an upper-class socialite getting to know the company she is keeping.  She handles this complex personality with zeal through her gripping, slow-burn performance and combined with Megan Gogerty’s innovative script, keeps the tension rising as revelations are unveiled.

The show could have been one note and a bit long, but Matt Cahoon’s discerning staging and Tavya Young’s ominous lighting made interesting use of the limited space and various props, especially for an evocative scene involving a curtain.  Multi-faceted, shrewd, and on its own calculated mission, Feast also markedly holds onto the famous proverb, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’

Theatre Kapow presents Lauren Gunderson’s ‘Natural Shocks’ from October 23-25 Photo courtesy of Matthew Lomanno Photography/Theatre Kapow

Theatre Kapow continues its 13th season with a live stream of Lauren Gunderson’s Natural Shocks from October 23 – 25.  Click here for more information and for tickets.