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:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s family comedy ‘Popcorn Falls’ zippy, lighthearted fun

Two dynamic actors take the stage for some wacky fun in Popcorn Falls, a wild, improv-inspired tale about a small, provincial New Hampshire town brimming with zany townspeople of all ages affectionately called, “kernels.”  From a feline-loving librarian with a flair for the dramatic to jack-of-all-trades Joe, Popcorn Falls must find a way to save itself from bankruptcy before it’s too late.

Christopher Chew and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard in ‘Popcorn Falls’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Written by James Hindman and directed warmly by Lisa Rafferty, Greater Boston Stage Company presents quirky, family-friendly comedy, Popcorn Falls live and in person through October 2 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Christopher Chew in ‘Popcorn Falls’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Doing the heavy lifting is Christopher Chew depicting a set of unique characters including the Town Mayor and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard who portrays other wild characters including Joe.  They are more than up for the challenge of keeping the pace of this lively production from a broken mic wire to journeys unknown.  From shifting voices to lightning-fast wardrobe changes thanks to dynamic Properties Designer Sarajane Mullins and Costume Designer Deirdre Gerrard, Bedard’s ability to transform into a wide spectrum of characters from seductress to meet cute to smarmy sometimes in mid-sentence is amusing to say the least.  The kernels can make a lot of noise and the audience is in on the joke rooting on each shifting character.  Christopher Chew largely portrays the straight man with few exceptions, enduring the eccentricities of each alternating character in stride while putting his own twist on his changing persona.

‘Popcorn Falls’ full cast and artistic team Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Kristin Loeffler’s inviting town hall set up including a brick backdrop, a chalkboard, and a town flag does little to reveal the path this duo is about to embark on while sound designer Caroline Eng enhances each running gag.  Popcorn Falls doesn’t take itself too seriously, but each prop, sound, and set piece lends itself to the production’s playful and zany antics. 

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Christopher Chew Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Quite a tale develops as this play kicks off in mid-action as the audience must piece together what exactly is happening onstage and what “kernel” the audience is sure to meet next.  Popcorn Falls is a feel-good show for the whole family that will keep the audience guessing at each unpredictable turn.  It is endearing and funny journey that saves the big, eye opening reveal for last.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents quirky, family-friendly comedy, Popcorn Falls live and in person through October 2 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information, discount tickets, and more.

REVIEW: Tension mounts for an endearing couple in Lyric Stage’s meaningful production, ‘The Light’

One night can change everything.

Genesis and Rashad think they know each other well.  This lovable couple jokes, knows each other’s likes, quirks, habits, and dreams, and yet in one night, they start to see each other in a new and unfamiliar way.

With multi-layer direction by Jacqui Parker, Lyric Stage Company presents Loy A. Webb’s The Light through June 26 at Lyric Stage Company live and in person in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 70 minutes long with no intermission and is Lyric Stage’s final show of the season.  This show contains mature topics.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Dominic Carter as Rashad and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

Surrounded by Baron E. Pugh’s inviting apartment setting which includes a purple couch, teal chairs, and colorful accents by Lauren Corcuera while sketches of Beyoncé, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsberg hang overhead, Genesis and Rashad know this isn’t just any night.  It’s their anniversary.

Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis and Dominic Carter as Rashad in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

Elmer Martinez’s expressive lighting enhances the evocative nature of this production.  It is a meaningful show hinging on the strengths of its leads and Yewande Odetoyinbo as school principal Genesis and Dominic Carter as firefighter Rashad are more than up to the task.  While both characters are stubborn, Odetoyinbo’s grounded and witty nature as Genesis strikes an important balance with Carter’s optimistic and playful sense of humor as Rashad.  Carter is charismatically charming and leads in some of the production’s funniest moments while Odetoyinbo as Genesis is best as the tension builds.  It is a joy to watch as they zing each other, tease, dream about the future, debate, and share some of their most treasured memories together.  Their innate and compelling chemistry attract such a fondness for this couple that it is easy to get lost in what seems like their complete compatibility.

Dominic Carter as Rashad and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

However, realizations and revelations run deep on this special night. Webb’s clever script invites the audience into this couple’s intimate relationship in all its charms with some passing notes of underlying resentment while carefully laying its cards on the table and raising the stakes through every twist and turn.  Odetoyinbo and Carter are a true force as they approach the humor, tension and the difficult and serious topics with compassion. 

Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis and Dominic Carter as Rashad in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

The Light makes the most out of its 70 minute run time.  It has good pacing and escalates quickly, fueled by Odetoyinbo and Carter’s natural chemistry as the show veers toward its powerful conclusion.

Lyric Stage Company presents Loy A. Webb’s The Light through June 26 at Lyric Stage Company live and in person in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 70 minutes long with no intermission and is Lyric Stage’s final show of the season.  This show contains mature topics.  Click here for more information and 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:  Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s insightful ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ will delight more than the domestic housewife

At long last, it is here and I can’t help being thrilled.

When Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) first announced that Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End would be part of MRT’s upcoming season, my heart leapt.  Having taken great joy in reading Bombeck’s comical works such as The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank and If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits, I had high expectations for this production that ended up being delayed a few times due to Covid. 

Karen MacDonald in ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ Photo credit to Megpix/Meghan Moore

Sponsored in part by WBUR and intuitively directed by Terry Berliner, Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End virtually and live in-person at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA through March 13. The show is just over one hour with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Erma Bombeck’s column about life as a housewife made her a household name.  She became the most distributed column in America and it is easy to see why.  Before I ever grasped the concept of being a housewife, I loved reading Erma Bombeck.  As an adult and still not a housewife, I still revel in her sharp and timeless humor.  She never misses a beat relating to women everywhere and though her advice dates back as early as the 60s, most of it remains relevant today.

Dan Zimmerman’s intriguing multi-level and colorful set is a relic of a 1960’s house equipped with period kitchen cabinets, dated upholstery, an old phone, and retro household appliances.  Joel Shier’s lighting is subtly appealing alongside Scott Stauffer’s charming and well-timed sound effects.  Though MacDonald is only present onstage, a supporting cast can be heard that lends to the pacing and a larger sense of realism to the production.

Karen MacDonald in ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ Photo credit to Megpix/Meghan Moore

In classic pearls and a blue floral dress, Karen MacDonald as Erma looks the quintessential housewife as she takes the audience from 1962 through 1996.  Bombeck longed to be a foreign correspondent and instead became a suburban housewife residing in Cherrywood Acres in Dayton, Ohio.  She quipped, ‘I blazed a trail all the way from the laundry room to the sink.’ 

Allison and Margaret Engel’s screenplay is chock full of clever anecdotes and MacDonald’s warm and inviting presence gradually feels like visiting with an old friend.  The quick, peppy, and semi-interactive screenplay is peppered with Bombeck’s astute observations as she shares her remarkable journey to becoming a writer, her zany family life, and gathering her sense of self over the years.   

Much like Julia Child of the same generation, Bombeck is self-deprecating in her imperfections and prides herself on honesty.  MacDonald slips into Bombeck’s natural and relatable tone comfortably brimming with advice, but never in a ‘know-it-all’ sort of way.   A few of her marvelous observational gems include ‘Why take pride in cooking when they don’t take pride in eating?’ or ‘My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance’ or ‘What doesn’t kill you now, comes back a few days later to try again.’

Karen MacDonald in ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ Photo credit to Megpix/Meghan Moore

That last piece of advice also resonates with the darker side of Bombeck’s humor.  Surprisingly, Erma Bombeck had her share of haters and struggles.  However, she proves herself a source of strength and fortitude.  Even her most serious reflections and recollections are met with a jovial and contemplative quip.  Though the production is considered mostly lighthearted, MacDonald as Erma manages to find humor in pain which is a rare quality indeed.       

Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents Erma Bombeck’s ‘At Wit’s End’ virtually and live in-person at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA through March 13.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Academy of the Company Theatre’s parody ‘Puffs’ full of lively, enchanted fun

Those first few chords seem familiar, but no, this is not quite the John Williams classic score about THAT wizard, but another earnest group of wizard hopefuls.  Not quite ‘saint-like,’ but fun loving and enthusiastic underachievers nonetheless.  Some legendary faces appear and make quite an impression, but the Puffs are the real stars.

Full of inside and self aware jokes, 90s pop culture references, chocolate frogs, almost every flavored bean, and not nearly as long as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 comes Puffs, a spot on parody that tells the epic tale of the seven years Harry Potter attended Hogwarts from the viewpoint of some of the lesser known wizard students that aimed for first, but would also settle for third.  It is a hilarious exploration that is best appreciated by Harry Potter fans due to its share of spoilers, but anyone would enjoy a wealth of improvisational fun and physical humor as well as Dean Palmer Junior’s impressive lighting and special effects.  The introduction of hilarious dragons and haunting dementors are just some of the show’s highlights.

Bath scene. Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed cleverly by Corey Cadigan, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Matt Cox’s Puffs for one exclusive weekend from October 22 through October 24 at Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for all of Company Theatre’s upcoming events including a tribute to Jordie Saucerman, Company Theatre’s late co-founder.

The timing is perfect for Puffs as next year marks 25 years since JK’s Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hit bookshelves in 1997, making the author one of the richest people in the world.  With Harry Potter and the Cursed Child back on Broadway and around the world and Fantastic Beasts 3: The Secrets of Dumbledore slated for next year, Harry Potter remains a phenomenon.

Annie Dunn as Sally Perks and others and Marissa Tolini as Susie Bones and others Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

This is absolutely not a retread of Harry Potter though, but tells a slightly different and more humorous tale along Harry Potter’s timeline.  It is difficult to choose which characters makes the biggest impression because each cast member collaborate so well together and as a big Harry Potter fan, I found myself laughing right through my mask which is required within Company Theatre’s comfortable theatre space.

Brianna Casey as Narrator Courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Many cast members transfigure into multiple roles as Brianna Casey serves as Puffs scholarly narrator.  Casey’s benevolent and dignified delivery adds gravitas to an often whimsical role, keeping the tale focused as some of the more spontaneous characters could have led the story astray.  Will Moon epitomizes Cedric’s rock star persona and charismatic scene stealer in a dual role and Alex Norton’s Wayne Hopkins is talkative and charming as the tale’s ‘would be’ hero.  Morgan Hurley offers a memorable portrayal of conflicted Megan Jones, a rebel with a chip on her shoulder.  She shares endearing chemistry with Sean Lally as Wayne’s nerdy best friend, Oliver Rogers.

Anastasia Ferrera is bubbly and delightful as Leanne among others and James Keyes as goofy J. Finch as well as other roles is often the life of the party.  One of the many collaborative scenes and highlights of the show involve a party with too much butter beer and a familiar sounding 90s dance song.   Some scenes seem a random addition, but are always smartly done.

With intricate, multi-functional sets and props (those wands and that sorting hat!) by Ryan Barrow and colorful, distinctive, and humorously outlandish costumes by John Crampton, Puffs is a lighthearted and wonderful journey while still delivering important life lessons so prevalent in the books such as valuing the power of friendship, dreaming big, and being true to oneself.  It’s a shame the show is only presented for one weekend with a cast that is having so much fun.

Brianna Casey as Narrator and Max Ripley as Ernie Mac and others

Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) performs parody Puffs through October 24.  Click here for more information and for all of the Company Theatre’s upcoming events.

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.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company reveals Adam Rapp’s raw, gripping, and gritty ‘The Sound Inside’

Two peculiar overachievers meet.  One is a precocious, well-read, well versed and outspoken college student and another a well versed, well-read and well-spoken middle-aged Yale professor.  It is a meeting of the minds as they surprisingly challenge each other when seemingly the only thing that challenges each of them comes in literary form.

Jennifer Rohn in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘The Sound Inside.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Immediately engaging, shrewdly written, and oftentimes bleak, The Sound Inside is quite capable of rendering the audience speechless.  It is jarring, reflective, and moving and from what is learned about these characters, one cannot help but hope for the well being of these two lost souls.

Directed by Bryn Boice, SpeakEasy Stage Company opened their new season with Adam Rapp’s Tony-nominated play The Sound Inside continuing at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston through Saturday, October 16.  Presented for the first time in Boston, The Sound Inside contains mature themes and some difficult topics.  It is 90 minutes without an intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Jennifer Rohn and Nathan Malin in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘The Sound Inside.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Much of The Sound Inside is about hope.  It’s about looking for hope when the light is dim and the quest for finding hope is rarely a comfortable journey. 

Cristina Todesco’s minimal set does well creating depth and dimension, but does not take away from the primary focus of this character driven study.  Devorah Kengmana’s lighting lends to each character’s loneliness as shadows are created at pivotal moments.

Jennifer Rohn as prominent Yale professor Bella Baird unleashes a no holds barred look into her psyche.  She is an avid reader which seems to help her escape past trauma and the crisis she is currently facing.  Her keen intellect is immediately obvious and she is unfiltered, blatantly unfettered, and undeterred as she shares her life up to this point.  Rohn is as captivating a storyteller as she is in exhibiting Baird’s loneliness.

Jennifer Rohn and Nathan Malin in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘The Sound Inside.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Set in the fall in New Haven, Connecticut, Baird has a surprising encounter with Christopher Dunn, portrayed with a mix of arrogance, intuitiveness, and inquisitiveness by Nathan Malin, and they share a distinct, intangible connection.  With similar dry senses of humor, a shared love of the written word, and a mutual social awkwardness, they understand and encourage each other to live life boldly. However, Rapp’s script is full of detours and twists that don’t always land perfectly, but lead to a tense and incalculable ending. Just when the show seems to tow the line, the tables turn.

Jennifer Rohn in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘The Sound Inside.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents The Sound Inside at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston through Sunday, October 16.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for upcoming events and more at the SpeakEasy Stage Company.

REVIEW: PTP/NYC’s ‘Lunch’ rich, searing, and absorbing

Two people, immediately intrigued by the sight of each other, hesitate to speak to one another.  Yet they have such remarkable things to say. 

Steven’s Burkoff’s Lunch takes off from the start in fascinating and dense musings as Mary, portrayed with perceptive shrewdness by Jackie Sanders and Thomas, depicted with charm and gall by Bill Army sit listening to the sea’s crashing waves as their lives unfold.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed meticulously by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli, Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) presents Lunch virtually through Tuesday, July 13.  The play contains some mature themes and is free to watch.  Click here for more information and how to support Potomac Theatre Project.

Lunch makes the most of every moment of its approximately 40 minute runtime through Berkoff’s rich and enthralling script and groundbreaking style of dialogue.  Letting the audience into each person’s thoughts and conversation, what makes Mary and Thomas mysterious while thoroughly engaging is the distinct contrast between what they say and mean.  Their lively imaginations and their tantalizing and sometimes searing observations of one another seem unhinged amid their marginally polite discussions at first.  Sanders is particularly astute at capturing Mary’s detachment while Army’s boyish and meandering charm make for some unique chemistry as their encounter escalates into a surprising conclusion.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Passionate, blunt, vivid, and occasionally shocking, Lunch also delves into earnestness and loneliness in a most unexpected way. Lunch continues through Tuesday, July 13.  Click here for more information and PTP/NYC’s upcoming events in their 34 1/2 season.