REVIEW: Somber, funny, bleak, and hopeful, PTP/NYC’s ‘Standing on the Edge of Time’ waxes political and poetic

Opening with a remarkable reflection connecting theatre to the human heart, a bare stage shows signs of life once again.

Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) opened their virtual summer play series earlier this month with Lunch, a clever show that unconventionally explored the art of conversation.  Directed judiciously by Cheryl Faraone, Standing on the Edge of Time waxes both political and poetic in conversation as it explores the bleak yet hopeful state of the world through a selection of works from different authors. 

Standing on the Edge of Time is the second of three summer virtual plays presented by PTP/NYC and continues through July 27.  Viewings are free and donations are encouraged.  This show was filmed adhering to Covid guidelines, runs approximately 90 minutes, and has mature themes.  Click here for more information, how to view the show, and how to support PTP/NYC’s mission.

From the haunted balconies of an old, empty theatre, even the dead wrestle with their wild, melancholy, and world-weary experiences in Mac Wellman’s Crowbar.  This segment provides the perfect framework leading into various works that delve into contemporary issues from freedom, frustration, road rage, and relationships to downsizing, grief, sex, and paranoia. 

Mac Wellman’s ‘Crowbar’ Alex Draper as Mr. Rioso Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Though each segment is written by different authors, its engaging format provides a flow that rarely veers off course.   The show boasts poetic and timely musings such as Mornings at the Lake with Madison Middleton and Spell of Motion by Stacie Cassarino with Stephanie Janssen featuring some beautiful outdoor cinematography as well as haunting James Saunders’ Next Time I’ll Sing to You with Tara Giordano.  Though the majority of Standing on the Edge of Time is thought-provoking, these quieter segments provide respite from the production’s heavier topics and satirical themes.

Stacie Cassarino’s ‘Mornings at the Lake’ with Stephanie Janssen Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Some highlights include Dominique Morisseau’s relatable and occasionally humorous Skeleton Crew, the zany and unique ideas presented in David Auburn’s What Do You Believe about the Future, and the surprising facts revealed of history repeating in Constance Congdon’s Tales of the Lost Formicans

The cast portray a myriad of roles, but apart from Crowbar, do not seem like they are playing particular characters for the most part.  The lively cast seems like a semblance of individuals exploring contemporary issues, fears, and unique ideas of the future.

David Auburn’s ‘What Do you Believe about the Future?’ (L to R) Stephanie Janssen, Christopher Marshall, Madison Middleton, Gabrielle Martin, Aubrey Dube, Becca Berlind, Wynn McClenahan, Maggie Connolly, Francis Price and Gibson Grimm Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

PTP/NYC’s Standing on the Edge of Time continues streaming through Tuesday, July 27.  Click here for more information.  Please note there is a final segment following the production’s credits.  PTC/NYC will present their final virtual summer show, A Small Handful from August 13-17.

REVIEW: With author Margaret Atwood in attendance, Boston Lyric Opera creates a twist-filled, haunting ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

She must have order.

First came the best-selling novel, then the 90s film starring Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth McGovern, Aidan Quinn, Robert Duvall, and Miranda Richardson, then the Hulu series already in Season 3, and now Boston Lyric Opera debuts Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale as an stirring opera with bestselling author Margaret Atwood in attendance on Sunday, May 5.

Boston Lyric Opera The Handmaids Tale May 5-12

Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

The Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted into different genres and it is not difficult to see why it stands the test of time and holds such relevance in today’s culture.  Yes, it’s harrowing and difficult to watch at times, but it also makes a statement about fanaticism, corruption, and a lack of privacy, serving as a warning to what our world will hopefully never become.  As Caroline Worra, who delivers an incomparable performance as Aunt Lydia, states, “Gilead is within you.”

The blurred lines of justice reign supreme in The Handmaid’s Tale, a meaty, remarkable story seamlessly transformed into an opera through Sunday, May 12 at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a clip of Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

When government has been destroyed, the army takes over and an unrelenting force rules society under the name of the Republic of Gilead.  Offred, portrayed passionately by mezzo-sopranos Jennifer Johnson Cano and Felicia Gavilanes, has been thrust into an oppressed, abusive world where she must face impossible decisions.

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The state-of-the-art Ray Lavietes Basketball Pavilion is an unexpected place to hold this dystopian classic, but the cold, open space and James Schuette’s minimal set bring out the stark, rich color contrasts and adds distinction to each character in a hard, futuristic New England society.  This combination escalates the tension while an incredible score by Poul Ruders, zealously performed by the spectacular Boston Lyric Opera orchestra conducted by David Angus, makes for a chilling and moving experience.

Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale features a strong cast, each with their own complicated plight.  With beautiful, soaring vocals, Jennifer Johnson Cano is riveting as Offred, a mother and wife yanked into the Republic of Gilead.  Caroline Worra epitomizes the righteous and vigilant Aunt Lydia, her commanding stature and mesmerizing charisma apparent every time she steps onstage.  Kathryn Skemp Moran offers an empathetic performance as Ofwarren, a woman unable to let go of her past.  With deep, resonant vocals, David Cushing is convincing as the multi-faceted Commander who delivers a few surprises of his own along the way.

The Handmaids Tale Jennifer Johnson Cano as Offred and David Cushing as Commander

In the Commander’s office (David Cushing), Offred (Jennifer Johnson Cano) reads aloud from a beauty magazine published in the Time Before in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” running through May 12. BLO.org Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

The Boston Lyric Opera seamlessly translates Margaret Atwood’s twist-filled dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, into an opera for four performances only at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion through Sunday, May 12.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Boston Lyric Opera on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film review: Vice packs great performances, but a less than fascinating story line

Though The Sleepless Critic does not usually tackle films, since awards season is here and Sleepless Critic is associated with the Screen Actors Guild Awards, a review will pop up here and there about a nominee.

The hype about the political satire film, Vice has been mounting.  With Christian Bale’s recent Golden Globe win for his portrayal as Vice President Dick Cheney, it seems that this film has its sights set on the Academy Awards.  Christian Bale and Amy Adams have been nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Male Actor in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Female Actor in a Motion Picture, respectively. The performances are definitely worth seeing and this biting satire has a lot to say, if it only the actual story line was that good.

Vice has its clever moments, but those moments were much more interesting in Adam McKay’s far superior film, The Big Short.  Narrated by a mystery man who plays a significant role in Dick Cheney’s life, this satirical tale is slow and a bit muddled from the start as it describes Cheney’s path into politics.

The second half picks up quite a bit as Cheney rises to power, but not enough to make up for the first half.  Accentuated by a crooked sneer, Bale is almost unrecognizable as the former Vice President, his performance quiet and calculating.  As the film warns, “Beware the quiet man.”  However, I was waiting to see how brazen he truly was and with the exception of a brilliant monologue toward the end, I was left waiting for the payoff.  His motivation is never really clear other than desire for power.

Underneath that plastered smile, Amy Adams is ruthless, power hungry Lynn Cheney.  Although it becomes clear why Lynn Cheney is with Dick Chaney, it is unclear why Dick seemingly will give anything to impress Lynn.  Steve Carell offers a steely and momentarily sympathetic portrayal of Donald RumsfeldSam Rockwell delivers an amusing performance as ill-prepared for the presidency, George W. Bush, but sadly, is not in the film nearly as much as he should be.

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Screen Actors Guild Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, January 27! Photo credit to SAG

The 25th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, hosted by Megan Mullally, will be broadcast on Sunday, January 27.  Click here for more information.

Vice is still in theatres now.

 

Peter Josephson discusses the apocalypse, The Simpsons, and more as theatre KAPOW debuts ‘Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play’

Making its debut in New Hampshire, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, written by Anne Washburn, is a powerful, wildly funny musical that may offer a whole new perspective on the beloved, long-running television series, The Simpsons, all while staying true to its characters.  Directed by Matt Cahoon, theatre KAPOW proudly presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play for one weekend only Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Award-winning actor and Saint Anselm College Politics Professor Peter Josephson shares details about working with theatre KAPOW, the fascination behind The Simpsons, and becoming Homer.

Sleepless Critic:  You work as a Professor of Politics, but you are also a director, you train and teach acting workshops, and have won quite a few New Hampshire Awards for your art. It’s safe to say theatre is your other love.

Peter Josephson:  That’s true. I performed quite a lot in school and in my 20s, but left when I went to graduate school.  For almost 20 years, I didn’t perform and got back into it again almost 10 years ago.  Since I was very rusty, I sought out training and still train as well as teach.  It’s been terrific to get back to it over the last decade.

SC:  What is it like to perform with theatre KAPOW again?  I understand you have taken the stage with them a few times.

PJ:  Quite a few times and I find it valuable to go to other groups.  I have friends there and learn a lot from them.  I hope I bring something to them, but theatre KAPOW is home base for me in terms of performance.  Since my first show in 2010, I’ve typically done 2 or 3 theatre KAPOW shows a year and help lead their trainings.

Matt and Carey are wonderful human beings and have built a theatre company that is always looking for the next exploration, the next way of learning how theatre works, and what we can do with it.  Matt curates the season so we are not just doing a series of shows.  We have an idea of how shows connect and build on one another.  Last year, we did our first musical and Mr. Burns is our second.

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Nicole Viau, Emily Karel, and Rich Hurley in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno

SC:  Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play is a unique opportunity to do that.  The Simpsons have been part of the pop culture landscape for decades and have made commentary on politics, entertainment, science, and current events.  What do you think draws people to the Simpsons and as a professor of politics, do you think the Simpsons are insightful?

PJ:  When The Simpsons first started, a lot of controversy surrounded the show because it seemed to snub its nose at family values and traditional morality.  Some scholars take it very seriously as a contemporary text of America.  I have had colleagues at other schools write about it and find it as a way to talk to students about serious concerns in contemporary politics.  People wouldn’t watch it if the show weren’t crazy and funny.  It helps them see more clearly what is going on in their own lives.

SC:  Lately, The Simpsons have predicted a number of things that have come to fruition.

PJ:  Unfortunately, that’s true.  Hopefully the plot of the play doesn’t come true.

SC:  Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play has many layers to it.  It’s about surviving an apocalypse and using stories from The Simpsons as a means for survival.

Matt and Carey brought the script to me last spring and I was really struck by how funny it was.  It’s scary, shocking and underneath all of that, it’s an interesting story about how people use culture to work through their problems and how ideas of sacred truths develop culturally.  It’s fascinating and I think Anne Washburn and the actors she worked with when she was writing the script are brilliant.

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Rachael Chapin Longo, Rich Hurley, Nicole Viau, and Emily Karel in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno.

SC:  You play dual roles as Gibson and Homer.  Setting up a cartoon onstage and portraying a cartoon must have been a new kind of challenge.

PJ:  Yes, it’s kind of weird and crazy.  I would expect just about everybody in the audience knows who Homer is and I’m supposed to do that in some way, which isn’t really possible.  I had to find a central trait about Homer, express that, and remind the audience who the character is.  I play Homer in Act 3 and he is put into a different, darker environment.  His response to that is what one would expect Homer’s response to be and that is everything is going to be wonderful.

SC:  Mr. Burns is Homer’s adversary.

PJ:  Yes, Rich plays Mr. Burns in Act 3 and Washburn’s script has taken the cartoon character, identified his corruption, and made that part the most essential thing.  I would guess that if a Simpsons fan sees the show and then watches The Simpsons on television, they are going to see Mr. Burns in a different way.

In the second act, two actresses debate about what we do when we perform a play and whether the primary purpose is entertainment or to express some deeper meaning.  I think Washburn’s script accomplishes both.  Having worked on this play and going back and watching The Simpsons, I don’t look at Mr. Burns the same way anymore because I am aware of what Washburn saw in him and he’s deeper than I thought.

SC:  Bringing the cartoon to life onstage is its own challenge.  Some of the masks for the show are amazing.

Yes, they are wonderful.  We’ll be using masks in late June for an original show we are working on.  It’s an interesting acting challenge.  The masks’ design elements are goofy crazy and I think we have really captured the cartoon-ish quality of the characters and the challenge is to take that quality and put it into actual living human beings.

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Rachael Chapin Longo, Rich Hurley, and Emily Karel in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno.

SC:  Regarding the musical element of the show, I understand it features popular songs from the last ten years.

PJ:  Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Eminem, and Ricky Martin show up as well as some Gilbert and Sullivan.  There are three acts and in the second act, we’re following a traveling theatre troupe and part of the show features a commercial jingle that we sing and part of the show features six or seven pop hits the audience might remember from a time when we had electricity.  Act three is all singing in a peculiar operetta that is funny, crazy, and frightening.

SC:  What do you think is the best reason people will enjoy Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play?

PJ:  I think audiences will attach themselves to it because it speaks to something we are all looking for in wildly entertaining ways. It invites the audience in and makes them part of what is happening.  I’m confident the show will resonate deeply with the audience and keep them laughing.

Click here for more information and for tickets as theatre KAPOW presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play from Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Shepard Auditorium at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH.  Follow theatre KAPOW on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events and more.

Music Director Jamie Kirsch talks Chorus pro Musica’s concert version of comedy musical, ‘Of Thee I Sing’

A spectacular evening of comedy, romance, and award-winning music is in store with Chorus pro Musica’s concert version of Gershwin Of Thee I Sing on Saturday, May 13 at Robbins Memorial Town Hall in Arlington, Massachusetts at 8 p.m.  In the spirit of the show, concert attendees are encouraged to dress in 30s-inspired attire for a costume contest.  Click here for full details and tickets.

Jamie Kirsch is in his fourth year as Music Director of Chorus pro Musica and loves his work.  He offers a closer look into Of Thee I Sing, his incredible work with Chorus pro Musica, and more.

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Chorus pro Musica’s Music Director Jamie Kirsch in action Photo courtesy of Alonso Nichols/Tufts University

Jeanne Denizard:  What I absolutely love about Gershwin Of Thee I Sing is it is part concert and part theatrical production.  It has comedy and romance as well.

Jamie Kirsch:  Yeah, writers definitely have called it a work.  It is a unified single where there’s no instantly recognizable tune in this show in the way one would recognize other Gershwin’s most famous songs from musicals that can be extracted and don’t have anything necessarily to do with the plot.  They don’t appear in the best of Gershwin albums because for the most part, everything is tied to that story.  There might be one or two songs that someone might recognize such as the title song of Of Thee I Sing and certainly people have recorded the song, Who Cares, but no song that would be on people’s top ten list of pieces they know because they bought a greatest hits album or a Michael Feinstein album.  They are wonderful songs, but they are all tied to the book.

JD:  I also understand that this is the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize.

JK:  It did win the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.  Everyone won the Pulitzer except for George Gershwin because there was no Music Pulitzer at the time.  Ira, Kaufman, and Ryskind got it.  I think actually it was awarded to George posthumously where there finally was a music Pulitzer.

JD:  Of Thee I Sing surrounds the election of John P. Wintergreen and deals with politics in a humorous and lighthearted way.  I understand you really were excited about this particular piece to add to the season more for the music than for its political statement though we had a heated election just recently.

JK:  Yes, it doesn’t make a political statement one way or another.  There is no political party mentioned, making fun of both sides equally.  We also picked the piece well over a year ago.  The current players in the real world were still in the primaries and no one had any inkling of what was to transpire and how unexpected it would be.

Numerous colleges and universities did the show right around the election.  It is remarkable how many across the entire country, even major schools of music.  The University of Michigan did it in October and November knowing what was going on.  We had the same idea, hoping it would be a relevant topic but we didn’t plan for any outcome either way.  Separate from the political stuff, it happens to be a musical dominated by choruses and it made perfect sense to do it with our chorus.

JD:  Now, are you going to be performing a lot of scenes from the show?

JK:  Yes, it is a concert version.  We’re doing most of it, just without the staging.

JD:  I understand it has some comedy and a bit of romance as well.

JK:  Absolutely, there are elements common to musical theatre.  People talk about how different it is from anything else Gershwin wrote, but the other side of that coin is a love triangle.  Certainly plenty of musicals have love triangles and also present is an element of the exotic where a French ambassador arrives in the second act and that happens throughout many other musicals.  It’s new, but it has ties to the standard, more traditional musical theatre.

JD:  It sounds like there will be lots of surprises.

JK:  Yes, there will be musical surprises.  It has a Gershwin, jazzy sound and Gershwin rhythms and syncopation, but it is really unique.  There are scenes that go on and on and mostly music for a good ten minutes.  It’s kind of like Gilbert and Sullivan in that way.  That is an example of a piece of music that cannot be extracted.  You are not going to perform that at a musical theatre cabaret as you would with another Gershwin tune.

JD:  You will have featured artists such as Margot Rood, Christina English, and David McFerrin.

JK:  They are three of the best singers around town and the city and I have worked with a couple of them before.  They are just wonderful, so flexible, and able to handle this repertoire and style as easily as they are able to handle early and baroque music.  They are so incredibly versatile, talented, and wonderful actors.  Having them on board for this production is very special.

JD:  You are also the sixth Music Director of Chorus pro Musica.  The chorus has existed close to 70 years.  What is it like to conduct this chorus?

JK:  It’s a joy.  The musicians are incredibly hard working, love challenging themselves, conquering major works, and striving for excellence.  They are so supportive of each other, collegial, and just wonderful people.  They care so much about the product and each other, the chorus, and its history.

Chorus Pro Musica

Chorus pro Musica group shot Photo courtesy of Eric Antoniou

I’m very grateful to be able to do the things that we do with Chorus pro Musica.  In this season alone, we have done maybe the greatest work by Beethoven and some of the greatest works by Mahler.  Then we move on to Gershwin.  We are dealing with pretty amazing people.  I’ve written some amazing music and this chorus is up for the challenge to perform these pieces at an extremely high level while also keeping a good balance of fun while we do it.

JD:  This is your fourth year with Chorus pro Musica, but I understand that you are involved in a lot of projects.  You’re a busy man in music.

JK:  Yes, I am fortunate enough to be on the music faculty at Tufts as my main job and finishing my seventh year there.  It’s a wonderful job and I work with amazing colleagues who are at the tops of their field and teaching theory and musicology.  I teach in a beautiful building with supportive faculty and administration and wonderful students.  We recently did the Mozart C Minor mass.  Yes, between Chorus pro Musica and Tufts, I’m a pretty lucky person.

Chorus Pro Musica Boston City Singers

Family Holiday Concert 2014 Boston City Singers Photo courtesy of Chorus pro Musica

JD:  Do you have a favorite piece of music you like to conduct or a piece you are hoping to conduct with Chorus pro Musica?

JK:  One of the great things about the Chorus is that they are able to handle everything from a candlelight Christmas concert to Beethoven’s greatest works to Gershwin to new, modern pieces.  One of our strong suits is commissioning new works so we are commissioning brand new works by new composers.  They are able to handle any style, genre, and that is what I like to do.  It keeps things interesting for me and for the singers to switch gears from month to month.  Just to be able to be flexible in that way so the chorus matches my strength and my wanting to keep exploring, pushing, challenging, finding new, undiscovered music, create new music, commission new music, so I think in that way, it’s a very good match.

Chorus Pro Musica NE Philharmonic and Providence Singers

Chorus pro Musica with the New England Philharmonic and the Providence Singers, performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, March 14, 2012 in Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

JD:  You’ve also worked with a few Boston organizations and collaborated with them in the past.

JK:  We collaborated with the Boston Philharmonic a number of times and we will continue to do so.  We have a wonderful relationship with Ben Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and with Richard Pittman and the New England Philharmonic.  We did a number of wonderful collaborations with Richard Pittman.  We are always seeking out new collaborations because they are always great fun, enhance the groups, and work out well for everybody.

Click here for tickets to Gershwin Of Thee I Sing on May 13 at 8 p.m.  It will be an exciting evening that includes a post-concert reception.  Click here for more on Chorus Pro Musica and how to support their mission.

Award-winning journalist JC Monahan discusses her part in Urban Improv’s funniest fundraiser, ‘Banned in Boston’

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Photo courtesy of Urban Improv

What is it like to perform at Urban Improv’s annual fundraiser, comedy, and music revue Banned in Boston?   For the last five years, Emmy award-winning journalist and Chronicle host JC Monahan has taken the stage to support Urban Improv’s dedication to youth empowerment each year while leaving seriousness at the door.  Sometimes the backstage antics are as hilarious as what is happening onstage.

Urban Improv is celebrating its 25th anniversary and presenting Banned in Boston, an evening of delicious food from top restaurants such as Mei Mei, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Eastern Standard, and East Coast Grill, improve featuring guests from business to politics to media personalities, and much more on Friday, April 7 at House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts at 6 p.m.  This is a 21+ event.   Hosted by WGBH’s Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, click here for this year’s featured guests and tickets.

As the guest list grows longer each year, this exciting, highly-anticipated event get sillier and more inventive.  Anything can happen.  Emmy award-winning journalist JC Monahan talks about her experiences.

Sally Taylor and Charlie Baker

Onstage at Banned in Boston – Governor Charlie Baker and musician Sally Taylor

Jeanne Denizard:  Last year, I interviewed returning musician, Sally Taylor.  Sally said she had a blast at Banned in Boston.

JC Monahan:  She participates every year and is such a big supporter.  I think a lot of the fun happens backstage, but we also have fun onstage too.  It’s a chance to connect with so many other people in Boston behind the scenes talking and getting to know each other, laughing at the costumes we’re wearing and the lines that we’re saying, and it’s a blast seeing some of these people put into crazy situations.  For example, one of my all-time favorite memories is Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton, dressed in this fantastic blue prom dress, as one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters.  Tom has achieved so much in his life and it’s so great he is totally willing to get onstage and be silly all for Urban Improv.

JD:  He’s local too.

JCM:  We have amazing people right in our backyard and it’s fantastic they all get onstage for this cause.  We’re all from different walks of life contributing in our own way in our personal lives, but we are also contributing together onstage.  I am as much a fan as I am a participant.  Sally Taylor is so sweet, so down to earth, and so talented.  I’ve become good friends with WGBH’s Jared Bowen and that is completely through Banned in Boston.  Emily Rooney is hysterical and Matt Siegel, who I only hear on Matty in the Morning.  I usually don’t get to see him face to face.   It’s a little reunion every year.

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Urban Improv presents their annual fundraiser, Banned in Boston Photo courtesy of Lisa Kessler/Urban Improv

JD:  This year, Banned in Boston is hosted by WGBH’s Margery Eagan and Jim Braude.

JCM:  They are two of my favorites and I listen to them all the time.  Jim usually gives me a hard time which is perfect.  It’s a great night and I love everything about it.

JD:   It’s such a great cause.  Urban Improv helps youth cope with real life challenges such as bullying and violence through topical improvisation.

JCM:  Exactly, you’re there to support the arts in many ways, but you are also using the arts in such a constructive way to help kids learn to communicate.  We can all benefit from being better communicators.  I love that they are starting young and reaching kids who may not know how to solve a problem.  Maybe Urban Improv will be that change in their life that sets them on a new path.  How can you not want to be behind that?

JD:  These kids may lack the guidance and are not in an environment where they can get it.

JCM:  Exactly, it takes all of us.  Urban Improv steps in and reaches those kids.  If I can help keep that program going in a very small way, I’ll be there.  I’ve participated for four or five years, but I feel like I’ve been there since the beginning since they make you feel like part of a family.  It is a very inviting, warm, environment and it allows you to be even sillier that you would be.

JD:  Oh, I know!  The funny things I have heard.

JCM:  When you have the congressmen get up onstage and act silly, the Governor, and the people I know through charity events as well, it’s just fun for everybody.  One of the funnier ones is Sonia Chang-Diaz who was funny as Miley Cyrus one year.  Banned in Boston oftentimes have a ringer who is an actual actress or actor that will blow us all away.  Kathy St. George will be there this year and she’ll be amazing.

JD:  You need a few to keep people guessing.  Are any of your characters created with you in mind?

JCM:  No, I think they work hard to keep us outside our comfort zone.  Politicians don’t play politicians most of the time, though last year I did get to play a reporter a little on the nose.  Then, years ago, I was a bratty yoga devotee.  I’m all for putting me in the most uncomfortable, craziest role because it’s much easier than something that’s close to who you actually are.  I’d rather play Miley Cyrus than have to play myself.

JD:  Do you have certain people that you click with better onstage?

JCM:  Anyone who is all in is the person I want to work with and I don’t think there has been anybody who hasn’t been all in.  Lisa Pierpont is always all in.  She came one year in a big, long wig.  If you take yourself too seriously, this might not be the place for you.  The list of people who have said yes are ready to be silly, ridiculous, and get people to laugh and enjoy themselves because we want people to come back year after year and continue to support Urban Improv.

JD:  I know it is an improv show, but do you do any preparation for it?

JCM:  We get the script less than a week before the show, but they do give you a costume comment.  One year I played a judge, so I overnight shipped a graduation gown on Amazon for the show.  I played the yoga devotee and they said to please come in yoga clothes.  You have no rehearsal time and we walk onstage with our scripts.  We are pretty much a mess, and that is the fun of it.

JC Monahan onstage at Banned in Boston

JC Monahan during an improv sketch at Banned in Boston as a judge with cast Photo courtesy of Lisa Kessler/Urban Improv

JD:  What kind of surprises stick out for you over the years?

JCM:  You don’t know what character you are playing opposite until you get there, so it’s always fun to see who got what character.  A couple of years ago, the chefs in Boston made this awesome music video.  Nobody knew they had done it and it wasn’t part of the program.  That took some coordination, preparation, and effort for people that are super busy, but it was hysterical.  This year’s Banned in Boston’s theme is offense, misdeeds, and comedic infractions.

JD:  That sounds dangerous.

JCM:  Yes, you never know.  When I see the script in my inbox, it’s Christmas morning for me.  You find out where they put you, the songs we sing at the beginning and the end and coming up with new lyrics to fit the always Boston-centric theme.  Anybody from this area will get the jokes.  The jokes are always about Boston accents, Boston parking, Boston drivers, Boston politics.  Nothing will be missed and the audience will get it all.

JD:  You talked a lot about what you look forward to each year and what drives you to return.  What do you think is the best reason people should see Banned in Boston?

JCM:  There are a lot of wonderful Boston fundraisers, so it’s hard to capture people’s attention, time, and money, and Banned in Boston has found a really unique way to do it that captures the spirit of what Urban Improv is.  It has great food, great drinks, and a fantastic space at House of Blues in Boston.  There’s no better mix than that.

Urban Improv kids

Youth improv work in action Photo courtesy of Urban Improv

Click here for more information and tickets to this hilarious, one night only event starting at Lansdowne Pub for a cocktail reception at 9 Lansdowne Street on Friday, April 7 at 6 p.m.  Banned in Boston at House of Blues, located at 15 Lansdowne Street, kicks off at 7:45 p.m.  Click here for more on Urban Improv and its mission.