REVIEW:  In partnership with the city of Chelsea and Teatro Chelsea, Apollinaire Theatre staged a street fighting and adventurous summer ‘Hamlet’

Ser o no ser esa es la cuestion (To Be or not to Be)

This was the classic question posed by Apollinaire Theatre Company in partnership with Teatro Chelsea and the City of Chelsea in a bilingual production of Shakespeare’s classic play, Hamlet which took place on Fridays and Saturdays only from August 4-19 live and in person at various locations in Chelsea, Massachusetts.  Though it was not necessary to understand both Spanish and English to enjoy this show and does not take away the gravitas of Shakespeare’s eloquent text, those who understood the dialogue in Spanish may have been at an advantage.  The free production was 90 minutes with no intermission. 

Armando Rivera as Hamlet in ‘Hamlet’

Each performance featured a pre-show that offered take out or delivery dinner, live entertainment, and a pop up Beer Garden by BearMoose Brewing Company at 6:30 pm prior to the performance at 8 pm.  Click here to see what is next for Apollinaire Theatre Company and Teatro Chelsea this fall.

Alan Kuang ‘Hamlet’ rap Photo credit to Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Every summer for the past 20 years with donor support, the Apollinaire Theatre Company has been presenting outdoor theatre productions free to the public in partnership with the city of Chelsea.  This year’s production of the Shakespearean classic, Hamlet mixed the traditional with the contemporary while keeping the audience on its feet.  Intricately directed and cleverly staged by Danielle Fauteaux Jacques with lighthearted chorography by Audrey Johnson, the show is an immersive experience as the production expands beyond the stage and cast members can enter from anywhere.

Armando Rivera as Hamlet in ‘Hamlet’ Photo credit to Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Though the roads were blocked off, there was still plenty that might have distracted this focused cast.  However disruptive, outdoor disturbances such as traffic, noises or foot traffic did not distract them from their performances for an instant.  Armed with microphones, it was fascinating to watch each scene unfold complete with transportable lighting, sound, ominous sound effects with Diana Mediola and Juhi Nagpal‘s elaborate sets and props. How complicated it must have been to stage something like this while gathering an increasing and surrounding crowd led to each destination by a single notebook.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about the Prince of Denmark who discovers his mother has married his uncle after his father has been murdered.  An urgent message inspires Hamlet to believe ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’

Armando Rivera as Hamlet and Paul Benford-Bruce in ‘Hamlet’ Photo credit to Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Hamlet is a compelling drama that boasts some iridescent and noteworthy special effects such as blue smoke drifting above Paul Benford-Bruce’s haunting figure on a distinctive blue tinged city fountain lit by Joe Morales.  Resolute, firm, and eerie, Benford-Bruce delivers a memorable performance as Hamlet’s father.  David Reiffel’s ominous and echoing sound design and composition lent to the foreboding mystique of the production.

Anna Riggins as Ophelia, Alan Kuang as Laertes, Paola Ferrer as Gertrude and Brooks Reeves as Polonius in ‘Hamlet’ Photo credit to Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Nodding to the Elsinore, Denmark setting during the late middle ages while boasting a sleek and contemporary flair, Hamlet blended the contemporary with the historical through its colorful, stately, and elegant costumes in furs, leathers, and glittering crowns by Elizabeth Rocha.

Armando Rivera as Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, led this impressive cast.   Rivera exacted the alarming rage expected of Hamlet in the face of betrayal.  Rivera excelled at Hamlet’s darkly playful, determined, and off kilter demeanor, especially in a powerful scene alone with Ophelia and with Brooks Reeves as Claudius. 

Anna Riggins delivered an absorbing performance as Ophelia with a wide smile, bright eyed virtue, and a complete infatuation and intriguing chemistry with Rivera.  Clinging to any sign of affection, Riggins offered a vulnerable and sympathetic performance.  Riggins also shared a sweet chemistry with her brother, Laertes and Ron Lacey who portrays their proud and concerned father, Polonius.  Alan Kuang is naturally charismatic in the role of valiant and forthright Laertes, especially during an all out and literal street fight with Rivera.

Play-Within-A-Play in ‘Hamlet’ Photo credit to Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Brooks Reeves as Claudius achieved a suave poker face, but with just enough of a devious smirk to embellish this role with Paolo Ferrer as mysterious Gertrude, they are a beguiling pair.  Claudius is a calculating character and left little room for sympathy.  Reeves particularly shined during the play-within-a-play scene as Reeves exclaimed, ‘Get me some light!’  With skillful feigned concern and sarcasm, Reeves was well suited for the role as some of that demeanor is also on display in the Old North Church’s production of Revolution’s Edge through September.

Armando RIvera as Hamlet and Brooks Reeves as Claudius Photo credit to Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Hamlet was not complete without the appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, portrayed with jovial humor by Aloe Domizio and Paul St. Cyr respectively.  Wheeling in on lit bicycles, they made a seeming pair of silly and dimwitted bookends as Hamlet’s childhood friends.  However, like each character in this Shakespearean classic, they are more than meets the eye. 

Apollinaire Theatre Company, in partnership with Teatro Chelsea and the City of Chelsea, presented an outdoor bilingual production of Shakespeare’s classic play, Hamlet which took place on Fridays and Saturdays only from August 4-19 live and in person at various locations in Chelsea, Massachusetts.  Click here to see what is next for Apollinaire Theatre Company and Teatro Chelsea this fall.

REVIEW:  Down True Repertory Theatre’s winding and thought provoking ‘Rabbit Hole’

Grief is just love with nowhere to go.

It can be getting too close while saying too much and then not enough.  Holding on too tight or letting go too fast.  What to do not knowing what to do and finding where to meet in the middle.

Starring and insightfully directed by Victoria Bond, True Rep Theatre’s latest production was David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning play, Rabbit Hole which was onstage for one weekend only from Friday, March 24 through Sunday, March 26 at the Beal House in Kingston, Massachusetts.  Hope Floats in Kingston partnered with True Repertory Theatre for Rabbit Hole.  Click here for more information and for more about True Rep Theatre.

Victoria Bond as Becca and Julie Butler in True Rep’s ‘Rabbit Hole’ Photo credit to True Repertory Theatre

Rabbit Hole examines the aftermath of an unimaginable tragedy for a struggling family and all who are connected to it on a journey through loss.  It explores a variety of ways in which conflict can arise from miscommunication, loneliness, and the uncertain future.  It also has moments of humor, but Lindsay-Abaire’s meaty script seems to have metaphorically placed everyone on their own grieving life raft as each individual attempts to keep each other afloat.

Songs by Al Green, Florence and the Machine, Matt Alber, Damien Jurado and Gary Jules are just a few of the artists that enhance the show’s complicated beauty and the semi-immersive set draws the audience further into its engrossing content.  The Beal House, without a bad set, features a functioning kitchen which flows seamlessly through each of True Rep’s distinctive productions.  Colin Gaynor’s sweet vocals lends to the show’s stirring sound design.

Rabbit Hole features an intimate cast that delivers powerful and intense performances and it is difficult to imagine these actors not feeling emotionally depleted after each show.  Victoria Bond both directs and stars as Becca, a normally levelheaded wife devastated over the sudden death of her young son. 

Some of Rabbit Hole’s eloquence is that it does not take place prior to a tragedy, but months later on a day not unlike any other day.  This renowned play is a mass of subtle intricacies that seem small, but pack a wallop.  With a somewhat slumped walk and a reticent and sullen voice, Bond melts into the role of an anxious and irritable perfectionist Becca with ingenuity and a creeping tension just below the surface.  It is a relatable portrait of a worn mother struggling to hold on while searching for a way forward.

Victoria Bond as Becca and Donald Sheehan in ‘Rabbit Hole’ Photo credit to True Repertory Theatre

Donald Sheehan depicts Becca’s husband Howard who is coping with his son’s death differently.   With a feigned smile and with greater openness than his wife, Sheehan treads carefully for Becca’s sake.  Having seen the 2010 film of the same name, Howard was depicted as less likable than in this production.  However, Sheehan brings patience and greater understanding of his wife’s needs to the role, though their marriage is not without conflict.  Sheehan and Bond’s complicated relationship ebbs and flows unsteadily. 

On a lighter note, Julie Butler portrays Becca’s tough, aimless, but caring sister Izzy.  With blue, pink, and red hair and bold fashion sense, Butler’s blunt and edgy charm makes for some entertaining and comedic moments.  Butler has great chemistry with each dysfunctional family member and is a breath of fresh air within the show’s heavier content.  Lisa Caron Driscoll as Becca’s chatty and nagging mother Nat makes it easy to see where Izzy gets her outspoken demeanor.  However, Nat is also a pillar of strength and though Nat’s grief seems buried deep, Driscoll impressively unravels this multi-layered character inch by almost unendurable inch.   

Lisa Caron Driscoll as Nat and Victoria Bond as Becca Photo credit to True Repertory Theatre

Patrick McCarthy depicts sympathetic Jason with humbleness and an innate sincerity.  Through a shared persistence, McCarthy and Bond poignantly develop a bizarre and bittersweet connection on this heartrending journey.

True Rep Theatre’s latest production was David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning play, Rabbit Hole which was onstage for one weekend only from Friday, March 24 through Sunday, March 26 at the Beal House in Kingston, Massachusetts.  Hope Floats in Kingston partnered with True Repertory Theatre for Rabbit Hole.  Click here for more information and for more about True Repertory Theatre.

REVIEW:  Fueled by sardonic wit and intense humor, The Huntington’s ‘The Art of Burning’ crackles

Cutting sarcasm, sardonic wit, and a feigned smile does little to contain Patricia’s smoldering rage lurking just beneath the surface. No question Patricia has every reason to harbor resentment considering what she is going through affects her entire family. As a painter, it is important for Patricia to express her mounting feelings through art, but what if the pain is so deep that not even a canvas can exorcise that anger?

Directed methodically by Melia Bensussan, The Art of Burning by Kate Snodgrass is available live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA and virtually through February 12, ending just days before Valentine’s Day. The show is 85 minutes with no intermission, contains adult themes, and is not appropriate for children. Click here for more information and tickets.

Adrianne Krstansky, Michael Kaye, and Rob Barkhordar in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

The Art of Burning takes an unconventional look at love and all of its side steps, misunderstandings, and complications. It also delves into betrayal, divorce, survival, and all of the lingering emotions simmering just below the surface. With dark humor that can be disquieting at times, The Art of Burning explores the complexity of human relations including a few of its vast repercussions.

Rom Barkhordar and Vivia Font in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

Jane Shaw’s haunting score and Aja M. Jackson’s vivid lighting enriches scenic designer Luciana Stecconi’s paradoxical, gleaming, and seemingly modest scenery set against a striking and evocative frame. Jackson’s lighting is crucial for each inventive scene change while the foreboding score keeps the tension rising throughout the production. Kara Harmon’s bold costume design not only reflects each character’s distinct personality, but plays a pivotal role in the show’s mounting tension.

The Art of Burning is also fueled by a powerful cast highlighted by Adrianne Krstansky’s captivating portrayal of Patricia and Clio Contogenis, who makes an impactful impression as conflicted Beth. Krstansky achieves a delicate balance between a strong and sympathetic woman who, for the most part, is holding her own in spite of her circumstances when she is not taking takes things a bit too far. The complexity of that balance still makes her likable even at her lowest points. Patricia’s sardonic wit and realism is nearly bereft of any boundaries. She seems to have lost her inhibitions long ago somewhere in the turmoil of her discoveries.

Michael Kaye and Laura Latreille in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

Contogenis weaves in some of Krstansky’s biting humor and pensiveness as Patricia’s daughter as she faces her own unique challenges along the way. These issues are handled delicately and with vulnerability. Rom Barkhordar portrays Jason, a character with some misplaced optimism and a certain lack of empathy and yet Barkhordar weaves in a subtle obliviousness that Jason can almost be forgiven for. He has some meaty scenes with Krstansky and Contogenis that would be concerning if they were not so humorous. Mark, portrayed by Michael Kaye, seems to depict the onlooker and voice of reason, but things are much more complicated than they appear. Some sobering aspects of Mark and Charlene’s marriage are incredibly relatable and humorous. Kaye and Laura Latreille as capricious Charlene have a fascinating dynamic onstage. Vivia Font takes a memorable turn as Katya as she wrestles with the weight of her decisions.

Snodgrass’s witty, poignant, and intermittently humorous dialogue makes a strong statement about the state of our contemporary world and exposes some hard realities. The truth is people are all a little lost but even at its bleakest times, love may still find a way through it all.

Clio Contogenis and Adrianne Krstansky in ‘The Art of Burning’ Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

The Art of Burning by Kate Snodgrass is available live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA and virtually through February 12, ending just days before Valentine’s Day. Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ a moving but uneven film adaptation of the Tony award-winning musical

A broken arm is the catalyst to much more for Evan Hansen.

Winner of six Tony Awards including Best Picture, Dear Evan Hansen stage musical took Broadway by storm in 2014 by distinctly addressing subjects that are becoming dangerously prevalent in contemporary society.  Dear Evan Hansen delves into difficult territory and is not for everyone, but it is not hard to see why this musical has gained such acclaim. 

The use of social media, the internet, and digital rather than face-to-face interaction due to the pandemic have had people feeling more alone than ever before which has caused social anxiety to gain a greater foothold in our society.  With sweaty palms, a constant stream of over thinking, an overwhelming feeling of loneliness in a crowd, and the pressure to live up to what others expect, senior high school student Evan Hansen struggles with interacting with almost everyone until a chance encounter changes his life.

Based on the Tony award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information.

The film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen has gained some notoriety among the stage musical’s fans because a portion of the musical’s character driven development is left out of the film.  As one who has not seen the musical, Dear Evan Hansen is a pretty somber musical experience about a tragedy and a lie that ends up having a life of its own as the film progresses.   There are cringe-worthy moments to be certain, but they stem from how deep the rabbit hole of that big lie goes and its inevitable consequences.

What first attracted me to this production was Requiem, a powerful number with beautiful harmony that still stands as my favorite performance.  Kaitlin Dever’s chiming vocals as Zoe carry the poignant conflict and the bitterness of Requiem while still preserving her as a troubled and sympathetic figure.  Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy delivers a heartrending performance highlighted by her part in Requiem.  However, without a solo number such as A Little Bit of Light as part of this film adaptation, her character has a lack of dimension and less of a sense of what her actual relationship has been with her late son who is lost to mental illness.   Danny Pino as Larry Murphy reveals a compelling and complex relationship with his late stepson, but the film would have been better if the adaptation delved deeper into his character.  Julianne Moore has much more to work with as Heidi Hansen, Evan Hansen’s single mother.  She and Ben Platt as Evan have a complicated, yet caring relationship and Moore shines for the moving number, So Big/So Small.   Amanda Stenberg as overachieving Alana Beck is a fascinating look into another side of mental illness and how people are not so different in Anonymous Anymore.

Ben Platt originated the Tony award-winning role as Evan Hansen and also does a marvelous job for the film.  Though he seems a little old for the role at this point, Platt’s portrayal of Evan’s anxiety is palpable as he depicts Evan’s struggles right from the opening number, Waving through a Window.  His vocals have a soft and introspective quality as he shares his bewilderment and tenseness in attempting to socialize and make friends.  At times he is visibly shaken and some of the mixed signals and missed social cues he reads from others can be painful to watch.  His simple and hopeful delivery for All We See is Sky Forever is a pivotal and bittersweet song and You Will be Found is inspiring and universally-appealing.  Platt also has some awkward but sweet chemistry with Dever as Zoe in the numbers, Only Us and If I Could Tell Her

Dear Evan Hansen film is not a powerhouse musical, but is filled with quiet reflections, inspirational messages, and sobering revelations. Much of the film deals with various aspects of coping with life and grief, but it also has scattered humor and a few darkly comical moments in the number Sincerely, Me.  The ending is not delivered the same way as the musical and seems to wrap too quickly.  As one who hasn’t seen the musical, I was less aware of what was missing and seeing Ben Platt’s performance was worth watching.  See Dear Evan Hansen the film for its memorable cast and appealing soundtrack, but hold out for the stage musical to get the entire story.

Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information and here to see the stage musical on Broadway or on its national tour.

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.


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.


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.