REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s intriguing ‘The Children’ explores resilience and buried secrets

What would you do in the face of a disaster?

Under the roof of a shabby and antiquated seaside English cottage, Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children looks into the lives of three brilliant and possibly doomed people that may be more connected than they seem.  Not without its dark sense of humor and charm, The Children is a gripping exploration into the meaning of survival in a crumbling landscape and what happens next has never been more important.

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Paula Plum, Karen MacDonald, and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy Stage’s production. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Directed with profound insight by Bryn Boice, SpeakEasy Stage Company recently had to discontinue the remaining performances of The Children at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts due to COVID-19 concerns. This show contained adult themes and some smoking onstage.  Click here to learn about the remaining shows of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 2020 season.

Paula Plum as Hazel chillingly recalls the disaster, “It looked like the sea was boiling milk and it just kept boiling and boiling.”  Married couple Hazel and Robin face day-to- day life in the aftermath of a disaster.  With few resources, they attempt to build a new life when an old friend, one that Hazel thought was dead, arrives unexpectedly.

Technical Director Taylor Hansen and Master Electrician Becky Marsh launched some incredible special effects built into the stage.  Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful costumes flourish against Cristina Todesco’s bleak scenic design while lighting designer Jeff Adelberg and David Remedios’s sound design skillfully complete the show’s haunting seaside solitude.

The Children is steeped in as much looming sadness as engaging humor.  That is in no small part due to its three stellar actors and sharp script that swings from humor to tragic in a single quip.

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With a thick, Yorkshire accent, Paula Plum embodies low key, practical, and increasing complex Hazel.  Simply dressed in overalls and a turtleneck, Plum is as capable of leveling a room with her eyes as she is with her dry wit.  Plum seems to relish cynical and stealthy characters behind a seemingly ordinary facade and Hazel holds her own surprises.  She reconnects unexpectedly with enigmatic, free-spirited, and one-time confidant Rose, portrayed with gumption and gall by Karen MacDonald.  Watching Plum and MacDonald spar and interact with each other is like watching a tense chess match where you are anxious to find out who will make the next move.  They share stories, philosophize, and trade smiles while wondering what kind of secret the other one is hiding.

Having last portrayed Pops in SpeakEasy Stage’s critically-acclaimed Between Riverside and Crazy, Tyrees Allen is a charismatic and often fun loving presence as Robin, Hazel’s dairy farmer husband.  Allen and Plum have a seemingly effortless chemistry with an even mix of irritability and adoration illustrated in old married couples.  A man of stubbornness and solutions, Allen’s seemingly carefree attitude cuts through Plum and MacDonald’s building tension before he creates some of his own.  The deliberate unfolding of this story occurs in sharp, sequential pieces with hardly time to digest the last big revelation before the next one is unveiled.

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Tyrees Allen, Paula Plum, and Karen MacDonald in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘The Children’ Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

So why is this production called The Children?  While Hazel is grounded by her three children, Rose is single and childless.  Children are explored in multifaceted ways whether referring to Hazel’s children, the community children, the things we learn from children, and the things we wish we knew as children growing up.  However, life begins and ends with children in this production and the very foundation in what holds them together is also what can tear them apart.

Click here to learn more about The Children and the remaining shows of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s season.  Click here to learn about auditions, support, and how to get involved with SpeakEasy Stage Company.

 

 

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective delivers a no holds barred, twist-filled ‘Pass Over’

The setting could be anywhere.  However, that feeling of impending doom cannot be shaken as SpeakEasy Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective presents the twist-filled, semi-interactive, and award-winning Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu continuing through Sunday, February 2 at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show is not appropriate for young children for explicit language and adult themes.  Pass Over is an hour and a half with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Directed cleverly by Monica White Ndounou, Pass Over is part absurdist drama that tackles a number of social issues including racism and police brutality and weaves them together into a culturally meaningful narrative. Its theatre-in-the-round and semi-interactive setting helps pull the audience into the drama and never lets go.

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Hubens “Bobby” Cius and Kadahj Bennett in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘Pass Over’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Alternating swiftly from humorous to harrowing,  Pass Over mixes the real with the seemingly imagined, often leaving you wondering whether what you are seeing onstage is actually happening.  Kathy A. Perkins’s lighting and pulsing sound by Anna Drummond seamlessly navigates the distinct, intense mood of this piece.

This suspenseful tale comes with simple staging by Baron E. Pugh and Wooden Kiwi Productions with only a nondescript lamp post and chain link fencing.  Anything more than that would be distracting.  Costume designer Chelsea Kerl keeps Kitch and Moses local with Red Sox caps and Celtics gear.

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Hubens “Bobby” Cius and Kadahj Bennett in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘Pass Over’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

The joint charisma of the two main characters is what hinges on the show’s credibility and they have that in spades.  The magnetic camaraderie, natural rhythm, and gift for physical humor between pensive Moses, portrayed by Kadahj Bennett, and funny, fast-talking Kitch, portrayed by Hubens “Bobby” Cius, gives this show its intriguing vibe as they joke, dream, plot, and wait on a deserted street corner.  They keep each other strong as they dream of rising up to their full potential and escape what is holding them back.  “Pass Over” means freedom.

Lewis D. Wheeler’s over-the-top performance enhances the palpable tension in this production.  As Mister, he plays an intricate part and takes on more than one role in this thought provoking tale.  In a beige suit and panama hat while carrying a wicker basket, Mister’s back story faintly resembles little red riding hood as he creates an impossible situation.

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Lewis D. Wheeler in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Pass Over’  Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Without being preachy, Pass Over delivers a powerful message while exploring some of the darker, hypocritical sides of human nature and treats its serious themes with sensitivity.

SpeakEasy Stage Company and the Front Porch Arts Collective present Pass Over through Sunday, February 2 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in the South End of Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here to learn more about the Front Porch Arts Collective. The Children and Bright Star still coming up as part of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 2020 season.

REVIEW: Take a seat for SpeakEasy Stage Company’s clever and thought-provoking comedy, ‘Admissions’

Admissions is not a mystery, but this clever comedy is as tense and thought-provoking  as any mystery could be and takes an unexpected turn that keeps the audience guessing until the very end.  Partly taking place at Hillcrest, a New Hampshire boarding school, award-winning play Admissions tackles many tough and occasionally uncomfortable topics such as white privilege, diversity, and more.  It has a dark sense of humor and nonetheless hilarious, but may leave you at times wondering whether laughing is the right thing to do, inviting the audience to skew their outlook on the world.

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Nathan Malin, Maureen Keiller, and Michael Kay in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

With fascinating direction by Paul Daigneault, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues Admissions by Joshua Harmon through Saturday, November 30.  Click here for more information and tickets.

With a well constructed wooden staircase, an island kitchen, and a well-furnished and fold out set, Props Master Matthew Robert and Wooden Kiwi Productions create an inviting household and faculty office which alternate throughout the show.

Nathan Malin delivers an intense, witty, and complex performance as Charlie Luthur Mason, a Hillcrest student distraught and frustrated over his deferment to Yale despite his stellar grades and dedicated work ethic.  Hillcrest’s Headmaster Bill, portrayed by Michael Kaye and Dean of Admissions Sherri, depicted by Maureen Keiller, are Charlie’s parents.  Charlie believes there are other forces at work.

This intriguing show features a small and mighty cast, leaving the audience plenty of time to get acquainted with these multi-faceted characters.  Each character represents a different perspective and offers a carefully balanced view of the show’s topics while the show may leaves you wondering which side it represents.

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Cheryl McMahon and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Admissions is quick-witted and funny right from the start as Roberta, portrayed by Cheryl McMahon, shares a humorous story on her plans for Christmas break.  McMahon is candid, animated, and glorious as Roberta, a staff member at Hillcrest eager to please, but marginally on her own terms.  McMahon’s chatty demeanor and sharp comic timing with Maureen Keiller as Sherri make for some eye opening and captivating moments.

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Marianna Bassham and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Maureen Keiller, who was also impressive in SpeakEasy Stage’s Riverside and Crazy, delivers another excellent performance as Sherri.  Sherri juggles her life as a wife, mother, and a frustrated but proud Dean of Admissions.  She strives to be inclusive and politically correct, but her confidence is waning lately as she is forced to look at her work from a different angle.  The show examines some signs of helicopter parenting as Sherri is overwhelmingly concerned with Charlie’s emotional state and fixing it any way she can.  However, she also demonstrates reason and compassion as she faces some intense moments with Charlie, Michael Kaye as her patient and accomplished husband Bill, and Marianna Bassham as Sherri’s open and honest best friend, Ginnie.  Kaye and Bassham also hold their own in compelling performances.

What makes this show so intriguing is each character struggle to understand each other while each are convinced they are right.  One of the production’s most memorable scenes involves Nathan Malin’s Charlie as he delivers a powerful, effective, and perplexing diatribe on how he sees the world.  The speech is as amusing as it is controversial and Malin gives it all the gusto it deserves.

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Michael Kaye, Maureen Keiller, and Michael Kaye in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Admissions is as uncomfortable as it is riveting, cleverly and uniquely addressing some tough topics while delivering more than its fair share of humorous moments.  It harbors an important message about genuinely striving to make a difference in the world while acknowledging that looks can be deceiving.

Joshua Harmon’s Admissions continues through Saturday, November 30.  Click here for more information and tickets.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s current season also features upcoming performances of Passover, The Children, and Bright Star.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage’s riveting musical, ‘Fun Home’ unveils the illusion of perfection

Every home withholds a multitude of secrets.  Under a softly lit, lattice rooftop, The SpeakEasy Stage Company takes an intimate look inside a family seemingly full of zeal and an old Victorian house so tidy and flawless on the outside, flanked with a towering bookshelf, a grand piano, and oriental rugs, it neatly hides the cracks and crevices underneath.  With clever scenic design by Cristina Todesco, SpeakEasy Stage unveils this absorbing musical as an interactive treat, every seat a good one, luring the audience into the Bechdel family’s complicated world.

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COME TO THE FUN HOME.  Marissa Simeqi, Luke Gold, and Cameron Levesquue in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Based on the graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel and directed by Paul Daigneault, The SpeakEasy Stage presents the five-time Tony award-winning musical Fun Home through Sunday, November 24 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Looking back on life, it’s funny what you recall. Memories can be tricky.  As time goes by, perspective changes as a person grows, transforming a memory, gradually revealing details once never thought of or understood before.  That lattice rooftop seals in cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s intimate memories as she writes her memoirs through her work, ruminating on her childhood and upbringing to find out what ultimately makes her feel like she is stuck in life.  Alison uses cartoons because drawing as a child, she mused, “I need real things to draw from because I don’t trust memory.”

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Marissa Simeqi and Todd Yard in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Told through Alison’s perspective, she looks back on her relationship with her enigmatic, intellectual father Bruce and her traveling and ill at ease mother, Helen.  The show is a musical drama with its share of comedic, uplifting moments.  Alison is the only individual that outwardly transforms in this piece, thanks to the intense, meticulous work by Marissa Simeqi, adorably and precociously portrayed by Small Alison and Ellie van Amerongen, exceptional as naïve, charming, and nervous Medium Alison.

With black rimmed classes with short dark hair, Amy Jo Jackson slips into Alison’s façade, a mature, jaded and intellectually-driven individual.  With a dark sense of humor, Jackson narrates this emotional journey, evoking confusion, warmth, sorrow, and frustration in her fine features, building her strength in each new discovery.

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ALISON AT DESK. Marissa Simeqi and Amy Jo Jackson in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Todd Yard, in a searing performance, masters the many sides of Alison’s father Bruce, who seems to juggle who is or should be to everyone, but cannot openly face his true nature.  With black rimmed glasses and dressed in khakis and a blue sweater, he is serious man with a brilliant intellect, aiming to be an expert on most everything.  Friendly, strict, and responsible, but as much as he loves his family, secretive and closed off.  Each Alison does a brilliant job in portraying their wrought frustration in every moment they attempt to make a genuine connection to him, but especially in the bittersweet song, Telephone Wire.  Yard’s vocals have a lovely, emotionally-rich quality reflected in whatever he sings including the poignant number Pony Girl, and most notably his harrowing rendition of Edges of the World  – a must see.

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EDGES OF THE WORLD. Todd Yard in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Laura Marie Duncan portrays Alison’s complicated and misunderstood mother.  Surrounding herself with outward perfection, like her husband, Bruce, she lives her life distancing herself from reality, reflected in the moving number, Days and Days.  She personifies a woman with the traditional values of her generation, building security within the walls of her home.  Duncan, a beautiful soprano, is behind the house that shines, keeping the flaws out of sight.

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Led by and musically directed by Matthew Stern, the small onstage orchestra, spread out in front of the bookcase, features a soothing, fiddle-laden soundtrack that is a combination of light, airy, and melancholy.  From its opening song, It All Comes Back to the Flying Away finale, Jeanine Tesori’s captivating musical numbers hold a spectrum of rich, multi-faceted meaning.  The catchy, Partridge Family-inspired song, Rainbow of Love is a particular highlight, enhanced by bright colors and retro costumes, but sung in Small Alison’s hope of escaping reality.

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RAINCOAT OF LOVE. The cast of SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Some things cannot be fixed.  The painful and difficult moments, and those joyful moments, that might not have been as once imagined.  The best thing is to learn from it and take the next step.

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Fun Home continues through Sunday, November 24 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Speakeasy Stage on Facebook for more on their upcoming events.