REVIEW: Isolation and reflection drives Theatre Kapow’s ‘Room’

What does “Room” mean to you?

An unusual walk, a wordless journey spoken in song, a hollow room, and bittersweet scenes from the past is just a peek into ROOM, a series of three one-act plays by two Irish playwrights.  It explores three people who see the world through their isolated circumstances yet share so much.

Directed by Rachael Chapin and Matt Cahoon, New Hampshire’s Theatre Kapow embarks on their final virtual show of their 13th season themed ‘We will get through this’ with ROOM,  a poignant and meaningful journey into loss, isolation, regret, and hope continuing to live stream through Sunday, May 2.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Through Edna Walsh’s Room 303 and A Girl’s Bedroom as well as Ailis Ni Riain’s I Used to Feel, each actor take in their surroundings, reflect on happier and more sorrowful times, and take in what they can of the present while depicting the meaning behind their “room.”

Heidi Kranz in ‘A Girl’s Bedroom’ Photo courtesy of Matthew Lomanno Photography/Theatre Kapow

In A Girl’s Bedroom, ethereal special effects portray a rich countryside and more as Emily Karel reflects on a significant childhood memory.  Karel offers a captivating portrayal as the girl as her world becomes vast in her small, colorful bedroom.  Her bright inflections, enthusiasm, and surety are also tinged in sadness and loneliness as she reminisces on her young life.

Heidi Krantz embraces an emotional journey of loss and misunderstanding in I Used to Feel.  In this brief musical portrait, Krantz evokes the frustration and heartache of misunderstanding due to a disability and the longing for connection again in any way possible.  The visual imagery tied into a solitary clarinet makes this piece particularly poignant.

Peter Josephson in ‘Room 303’ Photo courtesy of Matthew Lomanno Photography/Theatre Kapow

Perhaps the most powerful piece is in Room 303Peter Josephson delivers a raw and moving portrayal of a bedridden man reflecting on his past and his future in his current circumstances.  His journey calls to mind those who have been sick and alone with only the comfort and betrayal of their thoughts and imagination in these uncertain times.  Anxious and bitter through his steely and weakening eyes, Josephson struggles with his recollections as his world becomes smaller.

Theatre Kapow’s ROOM continues live streaming through Sunday, May 2.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Company Theatre presents interactive and charming ‘Wonderland: Alice’s Immersive Adventure’

Ever wonder what the Mad Hatter would say if you were welcome to tea or imagining a nonsense word to get you out of a fix or how the guards paint the roses red?

This is just a glimpse into Company Theatre’s Wonderland:  Alice’s Immersive Adventure, a magical, unique and most curious tour with some of Alice in Wonderland’s most iconic characters continuing through Saturday, May 1 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, MA.  Directed by Corey Cadigan, this family-friendly tour, based on the Academy of the Company Theatre’s Theatre Workshop, takes place entirely outdoors on Company Theatre’s surrounding grounds following Covid guidelines.  Click here for more information.

Alice with Dweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Drawing inspiration from the famous Lewis Carroll tales such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its film adaptations, Wonderland:  Alice’s Immersive Adventure with Alice as your guide, you follow the White Rabbit while interacting with some of Carroll’s most iconic characters on a wacky journey to defeat the Red Queen.  The colorful characters’ costumes by John Crampton and the sets by Ryan Barrow are fun, detailed and imaginative featuring twinkling lights to guide your way and the enthusiastic, engaging cast make every tour a unique experience. 

Each character may ask you questions and you may ask them according to the rules of Wonderland.   At journey’s end, enjoy a tea party featuring cookies and other goodies.

The Company Theatre presents Wonderland:  Alice’s Immersive Adventure through Saturday, May 1.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support The Company Theatre.

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: PTP/NYC presents enthralling family mystery, ‘The House in Scarsdale’

Dan has a complicated relationship with his estranged family.

Director Christian Parker of ‘The House in Scarsdale’ Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed by Christian Parker and written by playwright and actor Dan O’Brien, Dan embarks on more than just a spiritual journey in The House in Scarsdale: a memoir for the stageThe House in Scarsdale is the third play within Potomac Theatre Project(PTP/NYC’s) virtual series that has been running each weekend from September 24 through Sunday, October 18.

 Dan O’Brien’s The House in Scarsdale streamed from Thursday, October 8 through Sunday, October 11 and Caryl Churchill’s Far Away continues through Sunday, October 18 on PTC/NYC’s YouTube channel.   Viewings are free, but donations are welcome to support PTC/NYC with ten percent of the proceeds supporting The National Black Theatre.  Click here for the complete list of productions in PTP/NYC’s virtual series.

 In what can be described as a play within a prospective play, The House in Scarsdale visits the darkest of dysfunction as Dan, a journalist, visits various family members and others to learn more about his family’s past for his upcoming autobiographical play.  Audiences travel alongside Dan on his journey from the Garden State Parkway to as far as Europe as he investigates a possible family secret. What makes this show unique is not only is it a mystery, but as the details unfold, how much of the truth do you really want to know about your family?  Every family has their problems, but some secrets cannot be fathomed. 

The House in Scarsdale stars the show’s own playwright Dan O’Brien as Dan and Alex Draper portrays several dynamic characters throughout the production.  Draper seamlessly sinks right into each role, navigating an assortment of colorful characters from Dan’s resentful grandmother to his eccentric uncle.  Draper is expressive and spirited, clearly enjoying each transition.  His conversations with O’Brien have moments of dark humor, relatable family banter, and a good dose of stark, stirring honesty. 

The show is figuratively and literally on a journey to learn more about Dan’s troubled family, a family so dysfunctional that poor Dan has been cast out of his family circle hence its ironic opening quote by John Cheever, ‘Come back, come back, my wretched, feeble and unwanted child.’ Dan understandably wants to know why. As Dan’s extended family recall his family’s wild tendencies and various psychoses, Dan’s low key and unassuming demeanor makes one think that perhaps he has been through much more than he lets on. 

Dan is a quiet, inquisitive soul and depicts his emotional detachment with a skilled subtlety.  His conflicted nature between trepidation and yearning is fascinating as he ventures deeper into his family history becoming so invested and anxious about what he might find, he even visits a psychic.  Some of his family recollections are universal and lighthearted and every family has a degree of unhealthy dysfunction, but other memories are dreadfully concerning. 

So, as some answers come to light and more questions arise, how much is Dan like his family and how much of the story can be trusted?  The House in Scarsdale lures you in and leaves you engrossed in its outcome, hoping for a light at the end of this tunnel.

Potomac Theatre Project or PTC/NYC is located at 330 West 16th Street in New York City. Click here for more information and how to support PTP/NYC’s current and upcoming productions.

REVIEW: A compelling, trailblazing journey through Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION

Having been thrilled with Boston Ballet’s Full on Forsythe at around this time last year (see the review here), it was with great excitement to witness Boston Ballet’s rEVOLTION, a dynamic performance featuring three innovative works that transformed ballet forever.

From catchy R&B to electronica to soul, Full on Forsythe was a showstopper, dispelling any preconceived notions about ballet.  Truly ‘dance on the edge,’ Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION explores three works in ballet’s history where visionary and brilliant choreographers paved the way toward a new and unforgettable form of ballet, breaking a few rules along the way.  Each versatile piece in rEVOLUTION builds in intensity while progressively becoming more contemporary and well deserving of the audience’s thunderous applause at its conclusion.

Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION through Sunday, March 8 at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show runs two hours including two intermissions. Click here for more information and tickets.

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With music by revered Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, choreography by George Balanchine, and colorful staging by Paul Boos, Agon seems traditional featuring a live orchestra conducted by Mischa Santora.  However, right down to the simple costuming including streamlined white shirt and black tights and accompanied by Agon’s triumphant, horn-infused rhythm, it becomes a piece unlike anything traditional ballet has seen before. More artistically-focused than plot driven, agile dancers shift into impressive and sometimes jaw dropping shapes while spinning joyfully.  Each piece features athletic and daring moves, but the Pas de Deux between Lia Cirio and Paula Arrais is a particular highlight as they curve and move together en point and as one.  It ends like it begins and stands as its own work of art.

Ballet takes a bit more of an eclectic, modern tone in Glass Pieces with choreography by Jerome Robbins and music by Philip Glass.  From Jennifer Tipton’s dramatic lighting to the expressive and colorfully rich costumes by Ben Benson, Glass Pieces is still the gem it was when it premiered during Boston Ballet’s Genius in Play in 2018.  Taking place in what looks like a subway station, Glass Pieces has a palpable rhythm and urgency as dancers are unleashed into a celebration of dance in the city.  In ordinary life, there is joy.

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Lia Cirio and John Lam perform a tender and stirring duet while dancers move in shadow during Glass’s romantic song, Facades.  However, it is easy to see Robbins’s influence during Glass’s catchy, drum-infused Funeral as male and female dancers urgently form two groups before encircling each other and coming together.  Robbins also choreographed the musical classic, West Side Story.  From a plain landscape into a spectrum of color, Glass Pieces transforms into a splendid piece of artistry as dancers perform in a variety of styles in silhouette, reflective, and in unison.

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As silver headphones dangle from the ceiling aloft a black backdrop as starting with a jolt, it’s clear that In the Middle Somewhat Elevated would take ballet to another level.  Featuring music by Dutch composer Thom Willems in collaboration with  Lesley Stuck, thrilling lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and choreographed by William Forsythe, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated is a cutting edge masterwork clearly ahead of its time.   The industrial, tribal feel of Thom Willems music as dancers shift in shadows create a haunting intensity.  Featuring vigorous, jaw dropping footwork bending in what seems like impossible angles, this fast paced performance keeps you riveted from start to finish.  Lia Cirio, Patrick Yocum, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Maria Alvarez, Ashley Ellis, Lawrence Rines, Irlan Silva, Mallory Mehaffey, and Abigail Merlis seem part of a seamless machine as dancers spin and swing, hitting every last eccentric beat.

Boston Ballet Warm Up

Boston Ballet’s The Warm Up Photo by Jeanne Denizard

The Boston Ballet continues to offer an opportunity to learn more about ballet through The Warm Up, an interactive display located in the lobby.

The Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 8.  Click here for more information and tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company re-imagines a classic in riveting ‘Swan Lake in Blue’

Exploring love from obsession to at first sight, Greater Boston Stage Company couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to introduce Swan Lake, one of ballet’s most popular productions of all time, with a bold and re-imagined twist the day after Valentine’s Day.

With insightful choreography and direction by Ilyse Robbins, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue tap dancing

Jackson Jirard (center) and the cast of Swan Lake in Blue Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tap dancing, ballet, and classic dance just skims the surface of the sheer energy that encapsulates Swan Lake in Blue, a brilliant production that transforms Tchaikovsky’s classic fairy tale into a lively, non-stop dance spectacle with big band flair.  Swan Lake in Blue has elements of that beloved classic in swan feathers, but set in thrilling 1940’s New York City.

Costume designer Kevin Hutchins and Scenic and Prop designer Teri Oakes work together to capture the mood of 1940s New York City in bowler hats, vintage suits, and colorful casual wear right down to the cast’s 40s style Oxfords.

Steve Bass not only seamlessly composed and musically directs Swan Lake in Blue, but also performs onstage with a full big band stately dressed in black and grey vintage sophistication.  The rollicking live orchestra instantly sets the mood of this vibrant, non-stop musical journey.  Swan Lake in Blue features an array of gloriously energetic, athletic dancers that keep the pace joyous and thriving while integrating popular dance moves of its time like the Charleston and Swing.  Each dancer gets an opportunity to shine and Jackson Jirard as Ben Kelly leads this agile group of exceptional talent.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue dancers

Jackson Jirard (center) with male dance auditions. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Jirard is magnificent as he leaps and spins audaciously in tap shoes. Andy McLeavey as Seigfried and Jirard look like naturals dancing together, especially when Mr. Seigfried is first introduced. From Mambo to the Samba to the alluring Dance of the Swans, it is a wordless piece that invites dance to take over.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs as Odette

Sara Coombs as Odette Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Swan Lake in Blue preserves the classic tale but gives it a Broadway spin involving a mobster, idyllic “swans” and a love struck Broadway producer set in a dance studio.  Odette, portrayed with elegance, fragility, and anguish by Sara Coombs, is a seemingly tethered soul longing for peace.  Coombs flourishes in the complex dual role which balances sass and sincerity as well as compassion and malicious glee through her carefully crafted sharp and sweeping dance moves.

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey as charming Seigfried share some beautiful moments.  David Visini captures a dark sophistication as Von Rothbart.  Visini’s unsettling, sharp, and menacing dance create a mysterious and powerful charisma every time he makes an appearance.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tchaikovky’s immortalized Dance of the Swans takes on a new, alluring spin as Briana Fallon and Gillian Gordon join Coombs decked out in feathery, white fringed dresses.  It’s a daring, yet fitting departure of Tchikovsky’s original dance and like the imaginative Swan Lake in Blue,  includes a few winks to the original.

Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company at 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more on Greater Boston Stage Company’s 20th season.

 

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.

 

REVIEW: Warmth and humor reign in Company Theatre’s traditional ‘Steel Magnolias’

One of my favorite lines from Robert Harling’s classic comedy drama, Steel Magnolias is stated by sarcastic and dour Ouiser, portrayed here by Ellen Peterson. “I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free. And I don’t see movies ’cause they’re trash…and I don’t read books, ’cause if they’re any good, they’re gonna make ’em into a miniseries.”

This type of straight shooting and self deprecating humor is what has made Steel Magnolias thrive over the last 30 years.  Steel Magnolias has been adapted so many ways from stage to screen, but what Ouiser leaves out is her unmitigated opinion about a partial true story.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias

Company Theatre continues with the comedy drama ‘Steel Magnolias’ through Sunday, February 16.  Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias originated as a screen play in 1987 and is based off of real people Harling knew in Louisiana.  In the popular 1989 film (which included a parade of famous actresses including Dolly PartonOlympia DukakisDaryl Hannah,  and Shirley MacLaine), M’Lynn was portrayed by Sally Field and Julia Roberts was Shelby.  Harling based M’Lynn on his own mother and Shelby (whose real name was Susan) on his sister.

In that same vein, who better to direct Steel Magnolias than someone native to this popular play’s southern setting?  Directed with local flair by Natchitoches native Johnny Nichols, Jr, The Company Theatre presents Steel Magnolias through Sunday, February 16 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information and tickets.

Unlike the film, the play is set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Spot in 1980’s Louisiana.   This bittersweet tale follows a group of vastly different women who find strength in each other through hardships and triumphs with a great deal of understanding, humor, and hairspray.

Director Johnny Nichols, Jr not only adds local attributes unique to the show’s setting such as the voice of local DJ Rick Terrell, but the 80s come alive with music distinctive to the era and various references such as Princess Grace, Cher, and Elizabeth Arden.  Costume designer Paula Ninestein and Wig Master Ryan Barrow emphasize the era with fringe and florals highlighting each woman’s distinct personality while Truvy’s is an expansive salon that includes a boom box and  a wall to wall mix of pastel floral and lace on busy wallpaper and curtains.  However, what was most refreshing about this era is to look back at a time before the internet where people shared time, recipes, and hair tips in person.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias cast 2

From L to R: Juliana Dennis as Clairee, Ellen Peterson as Ouiser, Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn, Stephanie Wells as Truvy, Hannah Cunniff as Annelle, and Abilgail Chase as Shelby (center) Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Though other productions have put a daring spin on Steel Magnolias over the years, Company Theatre’s production is traditional, warm, and thrives on the growth between these primarily outspoken southern women.  With her signature blond locks and a gift for gab and gossip, Stephanie Wells depicts fun loving salon owner, Truvy.  As a big fan of the movie, it is hard to imagine this part for anyone other than Dolly Parton, but in a black fringe blouse and pumps, Wells puts her own spin on sweet, welcoming, and confident Truvy.  Her scenes with Hannah Cunniff as mysterious and humble Annelle make for some quirky, heartwarming moments.  Wearing an awkward smile, Cunniff portrays Annelle with quiet unpredictability.

Ellen Peterson’s sardonic and darkly amusing Ouiser delivers some of the most entertaining moments in the show.  A bit softer than other productions but no less amusing, Peterson depicts Ouiser more dramatic than sour.  Ouiser has a casual style, but costume designer Ninestein make an intriguing statement by having her also wear a distinctive string of pearls, showing Ouiser may not be quite who she seems. Her sarcastic facade rings true with the priceless line, “I’m not crazy.  I’ve just been in a bad mood for forty years.”

Widow Clairee, portrayed with warmth and stylishness by Juliana Dennis, is a down to earth perfectionist with an interest in keeping up with the times while Ouiser couldn’t be bothered.  With good intentions and a knowing smile, Clairee amuses herself by teasing Ouiser and their exchanges create their own spark.

However, the most compelling relationship exists between Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn and Abigail Chase as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby.  Though Sally Field depicted M’Lynn with a tough sadness, Cavallo’s M’Lynn exudes a sweet demeanor and quiet anxiousness. Cavallo is impressive navigating this complicated character.  Chase as Shelby seems cast on the younger side, but exhibits growing maturity as the show progresses.  It is easy to see why they are mother and daughter and not just by their remarkable resemblance.  Cavallo is sensible while Shelby is impulsive and as with any mother-daughter relationship, one minute they exchange nagging barbs and the next, nurturing affection.

Company Theatre photo booth

Company Theatre’s Beauty Spot photo booth in lobby Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Rewind the clock and take a trip south to Truvy’s for Company Theatre’s Steel Magnolias at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through Sunday, February 16.  Click here for more information and tickets, here for details on their upcoming “Galentine’s Day” and here for more on their 2020 season.

 

 

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.

Speakeasy Stage - Lewis-as-Mister

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: Merrimack’s Repertory Theatre’s ‘Maytag Virgin’ a captivating mix of sweetness and substance

Maytag Virgin has a charming way of airing out the laundry.

Loss and laundry is just the tip of the iceberg in Audrey Cefaly’s moving romantic comedy, Maytag Virgin.  Poignantly directed by Eleanor Holdridge and presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) Maytag Virgin continues through Sunday, February 2 at Liberty Hall in Lowell, Massachusetts.  This show is not suitable for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre's 'Maytag Virgin' set

‘Maytag Virgin’s’ inviting set Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Though this romantic comedy may at first seem as fluffy as its laundry, Maytag Virgin is full of honesty, raw humor, and substance featuring just two cast members as seemingly enigmatic widowed neighbors with enough sassy chemistry and smart dialogue to keep the show on spin.  Sound designer Scott Stauffer’s upbeat, fiddle-laden score effectively enhances the show’s humorous and bittersweet story line.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Brazda and Adkins in lights

Kati Brazda and David Adkins. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Set in Southern Alabama, Maytag Virgin focuses on next door neighbors who find common ground despite their vast differences.  Kati Brazda is engaging as outspoken, sensitive, and newly widowed Lizzie, a goldmine of chatter who suffers from the unfamiliarity of living alone.  In a messy updo, Brazda captures Lizzie’s awkward anxiousness and need to control her surroundings through her frank and excitable demeanor.  Having only lost her husband only a month ago, it is easy to see how her grief and loneliness is seeping into her everyday life.

David Adkins is amiable as stoic and good humored Jack, Lizzie’s new neighbor she politely calls Mr. Key.  He is quiet and more familiar with solitude.  They discuss everything from neighborhood gossip to religion to their sad stories.  Both are stubborn and guarded, dealing with their grief in different ways.  However, what makes these two fascinating is not so much in the things that they say to one another.  It is what they reveal about each other through slight and subtle actions that could easily go unnoticed, but Brazda and Adkins do well to reveal more about themselves in a glance or a long pause much more than in their insightful dialogue.

Kris Stone and Katie Scibelli’s memorably stylish scenic design puts its own spin on white picket fences featuring pristine transparent houses that add dimension and vastness to the surrounding southern Alabama neighborhood.  Gleaming props mixed with Karen Perlow’s beautiful lighting create some compelling landscapes.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Brazda and Adkins Christmas

Kati Brazda and David Adkins. Photo by Meghan Moore/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Lizzie has never used a dryer and Jack doesn’t know what to do without one.  It’s never to too late to start again.

Maytag Virgin’s opening night featured a pre-talk with author Audrey Cefaly and a post show reception featuring food by Mill City Barbeque as well as crackers, beverages, and various desserts.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre continues the romantic comedy ‘Maytag Virgin’ through Sunday, February 2 at Liberty Hall, 50 East Merrimack Street in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and upcoming special performances during the show’s run.  Click here for more information on Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s 2019-2020 season.