REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘Madama Butterfly’ a mesmerizing and surprising metamorphosis

‘I gave my tears into the earth, now it must give me back flowers.’ 

This is just a hint of Puccini’s masterful lyrics that encapsulates profound love and loss in Puccini’s epic classic 1904 Italian libretto Madama Butterfly presented live and in person at Emerson Colonial Theatre through Sunday, September 24.  This expansive production was 2 hours and 25 minutes with one 20-minute intermission after Act 1.  Click here for more information and more about Boston Lyric Opera’s season.

After their onstage wedding Butterfly’s Karen Chia-Ling Ho and Pinkerton’s Dominick Chenes love spills out onto the San Francisco streets PHOTO BY KEN YOTSUKURA

With heartrending direction by Phil Chan and stirring choreography by Michael Sakamoto, Madama Butterfly was delivered with an altered setting and contemporary flair over a period of time from 1941 to 1983.  Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is a searing and brilliant love story and the source material for the Tony award-winning Broadway musical, Miss Saigon.  This time, Madama Butterfly’s settings ranged from Hawaii to San Francisco to Arizona.  Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s multifaceted lighting not only reflected the shadows and watercolor reflection in a lively nightclub but the rich purple and rose of the horizon at daybreak as moving set pieces transported the audience to contrasting settings. Featuring multicolor fans, contemporary yellow crowns, and regal military uniforms, Sara Ryung Clement’s distinctive, silky, and shimmering costumes in bursting color embellished the festivities of the Club Shangri-La in Chinatown in San Francisco, where Navy officer B. F. Pinkerton, depicted with enigmatic sweetness by tenor Dominick Chenes and soprano Karen Chia-Ling Ho as naïve, proud, bubbly and devoted Butterfly or Cio-Cio San meet in 1941.  It will be a night they never forget.

Uncle Bonze Hyungjin Son center makes a shocking revelation about Butterfly Karen Chia-Ling Ho in BLOs new production of MADAMA-BUTTERFLY PHOTO BY KEN YOTSUKURA

Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly had the audience gripped in a full range of emotions as the eye level live orchestra led by Annie Rabbat articulated Puccini’s moving array of arias punctuated by magnificent drums.  Boasting angelic vocals, Chia- Ling Ho blossomed as Madama Butterfly, her coy yet fragile depiction poignant and buoyant as she navigated through a plethora of challenges during World War II and Pearl Harbor.  Chenes and Chia-Ling had captivating chemistry only enriched by powerful vocals and enthralling dialogue.  Mezzo soprano Alice Chung at first offered an understated performance as steadfast and loyal Suzuki, but Chung’s depiction gradually culminated into one of the most endearing characters of the production alongside Troy Cook as compassionate and protective Sharpless.   Baritone Junhan Choi had a reduced role as Commissioner/Registrar in Madama Butterfly compared to the engineer’s meaty role in Miss Saigon, but Choi left his mark during each of his memorable scenes in a charismatic portrayal of dark humor and dastardly wit.

Suzuki Alice Chung l. laments the news Pinkerton Dominick Chenes brings with him in BLOs new production of MADAMA BUTTERFLY PHOTO BY KEN YOTSUKURA

Michael Sakamoto’s dynamic choreography ranged from delicate to fitful, most notably as Butterfly took the stage in a traditional dance with the Club Shangri-La performers and later in a stirring dance featuring Cassie Wang.  Wang’s symbolic performance was peculiar, heartfelt, foreboding and so riveting that it may remain ingrained into the psyche long after the performance has ended.

During a visit from Officer Sharpless Troy Cook r. Butterfly Karen Chia-Ling Ho center reveals a secret in BLOs new production of MADAMA BUTTERFLY PHOTO BY KEN YOTSUKURA

Boston Lyric Opera’s Madama Butterfly took some liberties from the classic libretto that dealt in immigration, bigotry, and patriotism in a surprising array of twists and turns and proved to be a production that will not soon be forgotten.

Boston Lyric Opera presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly through Sunday, September 24 live and in person at Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  This expansive production was 2 hours and 25 minutes with one 20-minute intermission after Act 1.  Click here for more information and more about Boston Lyric Opera’s season.

REVIEW: New England Dance Ensemble presents evocative ‘A Child’s View of the Holocaust’

New England Dance Ensemble founder Barbara Mullen knows that if people do not know history, they are doomed to repeat it.

On Sunday, April 16, the New England Dance Ensemble (NEDE) performed A Child’s View of the Holocaust at Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, NH.  The show was free and a benefit for the nonprofit organization. The temple generously served lunch prior to the production.  This ballet was 40 minutes with no intermission followed by a brief Q and A session and the show is currently streaming online.   The audience was encouraged to pause in quiet reflection rather than applaud.  Click here for more information.

A Child’s View of the Holocaust presented by New England Dance Ensemble Photo credit to NEDE

Barbara Mullen, NEDE’s Artistic Director, first produced A Child’s View of the Holocaust in 1990 and it has become an educational tool for thousands of audiences in its over 30 year history.  Its purpose is to memorialize the youngest victims of the Holocaust to ensure society will never forget and these horrors will not ever be repeated.  Few survived to tell their story, but relatives of a few of the victims were present in the audience on April 16.

Set in 1939, A Child’s View of the Holocaust is a depiction of how insidiously and methodically the new Nazi regime darkened the world and lured millions of victims.  One million out of six million victims of the holocaust were children.  It shows the progression of once innocent school children in braids and plaids as they wave at their friends shortly before a new and harrowing reality unfolds.  The panic, the shame, the indignation, and the implied brutality are difficult to watch, but the discovery and final understanding is the most poignant piece in the production.

The Nazis, led by Anya Petravicz, snake like a menacing train.  Stiff, militaristic, and linear, the dancers invade with expressions vacant and unyielding.  Coordinated by ballet master Andrew Matte, the production has a wealth of physical engagement that implies violence, but is no less powerful. 

Students in ‘A Child’s View of the Holocaust’ Photo credit to NEDE

A Child’s View of the Holocaust is a collaborative and stirring production delivered with careful grace, skill, and sensitivity by these young performers.  However, Harrison Conellier as the Holocaust’s first victim and Ipeksu Yucel as a Jewish mother offer powerful performances in evocative surprise, anger, and anguish as they are forced into impossible decisions in this journey to find light in the depths of loss.

New England Dance Ensemble continues to offer this important production to different institutions for educational purposes.  NEDE will next present The Lorax followed by The Nutcracker in the fall.  Click here for more information.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston brought vintage effervescence to Boston with renowned touring group Paul Taylor Dance Company

Forget those troubles and get happy with the lively, comedic, and exciting Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Infusing classical, big band, and swing with a modern twist, The Paul Taylor Dance Company zealously delivered comedy, athleticism, romance, drama as well as some reflective moments wrapped in vibrant costumes by Marc Eric and Santo Loquasto with Donald Martiny’s exuberant set design.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented renowned national touring group, Paul Taylor Dance Company for a limited engagement from April 14-16 live and in person at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre.  The show was two hours including two intermissions.  Click here to see where Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform next and here for a look into Celebrity Series of Boston’s upcoming events.

Somewhere in the Middle by Amy Hall Garner Madelyn Ho w L-R Devon Louis Lee Duveneck Austin Kelly John Harnage Photo by Ron Thiele

Bright colors gleam over a black landscape as Count Basie’s booming, horn-infused rhythms measure carefree spins and leaps in Somewhere in the Middle.  Effervescent and gleeful in bursting lime, coral, teal, and mustard by Mark Eric, Madelyn Ho, Lee Duveneck, Devon Lewis, John Harnage, Maria Ambrose, Lisa Borres, Jada Pearman, and Austin Kelly delivered childlike wonder and an uplifting glow tumbling in somersaults and breezy lifts to heart thumping rhythms by Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Bill Evans.  This joyful, upbeat spectacle, with captivating choreography by Amy Hall Garner, was only outdone by the subtle and spontaneous moments prevalent throughout the production.  A cheerful shout, an impulsive wave, a kiss on the cheek, a snap of the fingers, or a swift tap on the shoulder brought unique distinction to the performances, making it all the more thrilling.

Brandenburgs Full Cast photo by Ron Thiele

Brandenburgs, featuring music by Bach and his Brandenberg concertos, is an athletic, sophisticated, and romantic foray into classical ballet.  Featuring piano and fiddle-laden rhythms, dancers John Harnage, Eran Bugge, Madelyn Ho, Lee Duveneck, Alex Clayton, Devon Louis, Maria Ambrose, Shawn Lesniak, and Jake Vincent strut and promenade across the floor in regal stances which are at times, untamed, open, but always seamless by Paul Taylor.  Devon Lewis and Maria Ambrose deliver a romantic and moving Pas de deux which is the first of two reflective pieces within this production. 

Somewhere in the Middle by Amy Hall Garner Maria Ambrose Devon Louis Photo by Ron Thiele

Brandenburgs is a vigorous, rich, and robust performance that continues this compelling celebration, the second in a three part production.   Adorned in gold trimmed and flowing garments in various shades of green, the group’s impressive linear and synchronized movements depict elegance and grace ending their dance as it began. 

Company B Full Cast photo by Ron Thiele

The Paul Taylor Company saved the best for last with Company B, a salute to the famous Andrew Sisters.  Featuring the full cast that includes Christina Lynch Markham, Madelyn Ho, Kristin Draucker, Lee Duveneck, Alex Clayton, John Harnage, Maria Ambrose, Lisa Borres, Jada Pearman, Devon Louis, Jake Vincent, Jessica Ferretti, and Austin Kelly, the ten song tribute features enough liveliness and humor to lift anyone’s spirits.  Accessorized with flowers and simply dressed in flowing skirts and pants, white shirts, and accented red belts faithful to the late 30s and early 40s, Paul Taylor’s timely choreography infuses some popular dances of the era including the jitterbug, swing, the twist, and the polka in a mix of spontaneity, poignant reflections, and comic wit. 

One of the many highlights included a humorous spin to the Andrews’ upbeat and horn-infused rhythms of Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny Oh!  Featuring Lee Duveneck as a skipping Johnny in horned rimmed glasses and a gleeful smile, it is an unconventional, carefree and refreshing swing number about a guy who unwittingly attracts all the girls.  As the Andrew Sisters’ frank vocals state ‘You’re Not Handsome, it’s true’ the catchy song boasts more than its share of amusing, spontaneous, and sweet moments. 

Company B Lee Duveneck w cast Photo by Ron Thiele

Rum and Coca Cola features the art of the gaze as the tables are turned with Madelyn Ho under the captive eye of a spellbound group of men.  In a flowing, red trimmed skirt, Madelyn’s hip shaking, and high kicks as she flirtatious fans herself knock the boys off their feet.

Though the production is mostly spirited and joyous, Company B does make references to the poignancy of wartime with I Can Dream, Can I featuring Christina Lynch Markham’s beautiful solo dance recalling a faraway soldier.  The urgent Joseph! Joseph! depicts women, uncertain of the future, pleading to build a future with their boyfriends before they are shipped off to war.  Maria Ambrose and Devon Louis reunite for another duet for There will Never Be Another You, a bittersweet and symbolic number as memories of men pass by in haunting shadow by Jennifer Tipton

Paul Taylor Dance Company had a limited engagement in Boston, but they are still touring.  Click here to see where the Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform next and here for more of Celebrity Series of Boston’s dynamic, upcoming performances this season.

REVIEW:  Fueled by a tight knit cast, August Wilson’s ‘Seven Guitars’ by Actors’ Shakespeare Project strums a spiritual and resonating tune

A shadow lingers over Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the aftermath of World War II, grief and death lingered like a shadow over the world’s existence.  In the late 40s in the Pittsburgh Hill District of Pennsylvania, that shadow hovers over a close knit group of friends in August Wilson’s gripping mystery, Seven Guitars.  Love, loneliness, grief, friendship, and the blues strike a chord as each character in Seven Guitars search for their share of happiness in an area nicknamed ‘The Crossroads of the World.’

Directed conscientiously by Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Actors’ Shakespeare Project presents August Wilson’s Seven Guitars through March 5 live and in person at Hibernian Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Hibernian Hall provides an intimate theatre setting without a bad set in the house.  Seven Guitars is intended for mature audiences and runs for two hours and 45 minutes with one 15 min intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Vera at the Funeral (0034).jpg: Maya Carter (front) with Johnnie Mack, Dereks Thomas, Regine Vital, and Omar Robinson in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.

Written after August Wilson’s Fences, it is easy to see a few of the earmarks of Wilson’s lauded work including Wilson’s rich and cadenced dialogue.  Fences and Seven Guitars are set in Pittsburgh in a neighborhood backyard, and some of the characters in Seven Guitars and Fences share some loose similarities including the ill-advised, but unwavering loyalty from Rose Maxson in Fences and Vera Dotson in Seven Guitars

Jon Savage’s inviting backyard scenic design features a multi-tiered set, colorful garden plot, mood setting hanging string lights, and an inhabited patio dining set. From lively to tense and shocking moments, Amanda E. Fallon’s affective lighting combined with Abe Joyner- Meyers’s mood induced sound design and Dewey Dellay’s haunting and carefully crafted music composition impressively maneuver this evolving and multi-layered production.  Costume Designer Nia Safarr Banks utilizes classic colors and retro patterns to enhance each character’s distinct personality including vintage flowing dresses and plumed bowler hats.

Red at the Funeral (0042).jpg: Johnnie Mack, Dereks Thomas, Maya Carter, Omar Robinson, and Regine Vital in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.

However, one of greatest strengths of this particular production is Parent’s great care in the cast’s tight bond.  Whether pondering their own mortality, listening to the radio, shooting the breeze or gripped by a suspenseful moment, the cast easily draws in the audience by their natural and captivating chemistry.

Schoolboy with Bandmates (2793).jpg: Anthony T Goss, Dereks Thomas, and Omar Robinson in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.
Schoolboy with Bandmates (2793).jpg: Anthony T Goss, Dereks Thomas, and Omar Robinson in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.

Following the funeral of Floyd ‘Schoolboy’ Barton (Anthony T Goss), Seven Guitars follows a group of friends that gather to honor a complicated man.   Goss skillfully depicts Barton’s sass, swagger and charm, but also his admirable determination and dream to be among the haves than the have-nots.  His resolution for success makes him sympathetic despite his egotistically justifiable wrongdoings.  He has compelling chemistry with Maya Carter who delivers a moving performance as devoted, spiritual, and skeptical Vera.  Carter’s intense opening monologue is relatable and heartrending and Carter only gets better from there.  On a lighter note, Regina Vital’s fiercely independent, loyal, and charismatic Louise provides a wealth of humor and fun, especially when she goes toe to toe with Omar Robinson as Canewell, Dereks Thomas as Red Carter, or Valyn Lyric Turner as Louise’s seemingly impressionable niece Ruby.   Robinson as talkative and good natured Canewell, Thomas as ladies man Red, Mack as Hedley and Goss as Floyd share some engrossing camaraderie whether it is for a spontaneous dance with makeshift instruments, playing pranks on each other, or sharing their riveting musings about the future.  However, when they are enjoying themselves, it is a relaxed vibe that is a joy to watch.

Hedley Plays Along (1671).jpg: Johnnie Mack, Dereks Thomas, Anthony T Goss, and Omar Robinson in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.

Johnnie Mack delivers a searing and multi-dimensional performance as peculiar, lonely and hardworking dreamer Hedley.  In overalls and an apron, Hedley has lofty dreams and supportive friends, but lives in a sad reality.  Mack seamlessly navigates Hedley’s intermittent moods with rising tension weaved into some compassionate moments. 

Visions of grandeur, ambition, and destiny play more than a medley in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars on a landscape that has experienced harsh realities.  For August Wilson’s richly drawn and dynamic characters, one cannot help but share their hopes for a brighter future.

Actors’ Shakespeare Project presents August Wilson’s Seven Guitars through March 5 live and in person at Hibernian Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s insightful ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ will delight more than the domestic housewife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW:  Theatre Kapow’s timely and resonating ‘The Boyg’ makes a connection

Comic great Robin Williams once said, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone.  It’s not.  The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.”  Williams suffered from depression, but his ability to feel the lows and to make people laugh perhaps contributed to his gift on a deeper level.  Getting the laugh is greater when the pain in which it is earned is also felt, achieving connection.  Perhaps this is why there is also an in-house psychiatrist at The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, California.

Theatre Kapow captured isolation and resilience in a play centered around a group of people clinging for hope in A.J. Ditty’s resonating play, The Boyg based partially on the life of Per Krohg.  Art and isolation are key elements and are heavily weighed as each character attempts to connect with each other in their own distinct way.

Celebrating its first indoor production in over a year, Theatre Kapow presented A.J. Ditty’s The Boyg in Derry, New Hampshire in September, toured in Charlestown, Massachusetts as October started, and the show is now available online through October 10.  Click here for tickets and more information.

Before continuing, it is important to note that A.J. Ditty’s The Boyg, named after Ibsen’s classic play Peer Gynt’s groundbreaking literary monster, does not make the play a prerequisite to appreciate this production, but a companion piece.  The show is part play within a play and for those who know Peer Gynt, having read Ibsen’s work may promote a richer understanding, but does not affect the universal appeal of this show.

There is a phantom presence lingering over The Boyg, a sense of tension and dread that builds throughout the production and is rarely addressed until it is unavoidable.  It hides in games, questions, plays, and pleasant conversation and perhaps glimpsed in a pause or a worried glance.  Enhanced by Tayva Young’s mood-induced lighting and versatile sound designed by Jake Hudgins, it is an element as real as any of the characters in this production.

Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia as Mikhail and Rebecca Tucker as Per in ‘The Boyg’ Photo credit Matt Lomanno Photography

Set inside a Norwegian concentration camp during World War II, each character has every reason to try to forget their present circumstances, but struggle within the inevitability of their situation.  Duty, work which is often self defeating, and art seem only to hold more than a moment’s distraction.

R to L: Lisa Boyett as Old Man and Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia as Mikhail Photo credit Matt Lomanno Photography

The cast displays good timing and chemistry even as characters who often struggle to understand each other in their mutual pain.  As barracks leader Odd Nansen, portrayed ardently by Carey Cahoon, Odd seems the most willing to give into whatever is necessary to keep up morale while Professor Francis Bull depicted by Molly Kane Parker, prefers to escape into literature and theatre to cope with the present.   

Rebecca Tucker delivers an intriguing and heartfelt performance as secretive, complex, and anguished Per Krohg who struggles with what it takes to survive.  Tucker’s cat-and-mouse conversations with Nicholas Wilder as harsh and manipulative Captain Denzer and Sabrina Sehlegel-Megia’s earnest portrayal of rebellious and mysterious Mikhail Hjorthson’s haunting recollections of past experiences are particular highlights.

R to Left: Rachael Chapin Longo as Robert and Rebecca Tucker as Per Photo courtesy of Matt Lomanno Photography

What does it take to peel back life’s meaning where there is no other choice?  Reflecting on art and culture while staring into the face of mortality, isn’t life better with connection over dread? 

Directed contemplatively by Matt Cahoon, Theatre Kapow timely production of A.J. Ditty’s The Boyg streaming through October 10.  Click here for more on The Boyg and Theatre Kapow’s new season, Return.

REVIEW: Chocolate promises and shattered dreams as Arlekin Players turn over a bizarre ‘Stone’

It is a show unlike anything the Sleepless Critic has ever seen before.  Arlekin Players is currently celebrating their 10th anniversary season as they present Marius von Mayenburg’s avant-garde production, ‘The Stone‘ (remount in English) through Sunday, September 29 in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.    Click here for an interview done last year with director Igor Golyak.

Directed by Igor Golyak, ‘The Stone’ explores the history of a German house before and beyond World War II and its various owners which includes a Jewish family and their ancestors.  Quite a few revelations and family secrets are revealed through traumas and triumphs inside this haunting structure.

Arlekin Plays 'The Stone' with Viktoriya Kovalenko, Rimma Gluzman and Olga Sokolova

Viktoriya Kovalenko, Rimma Gluzman and Olga Sokolova in Arlekin Players ‘The Stone’ Photo courtesy of Irina Danilova/Arlekin Players

The Arlekin Players stage is an overwhelming experience told in the theatre round without a bad seat.  With vintage lighting by Jeff Adelberg,  ‘The Stone’ features very few props and unconventionally arranged set pieces which includes a partially buried piano, a vintage chandelier, and a chair hanging upside down from the ceiling.  As characters emerge and exit almost supernaturally from the floor in head-to toe-white with black paint splotches staining their pants, it quickly became clear that this would not be an orthodox production.

Arlekin Players 'The Stone'

Photo courtesy of Irina Danilova/Arlekin Players

With wild white hair, a pair of navigators called the conductors, portrayed with bizarre humor by Jenya Brodskaia and Misha Tyutyunik, are seemingly mad scientists that conduct and calculate time travel.  They take the audience through the history of the house before and beyond World War II, one of the most tumultuous times in history.  The time travel is a raging, jarring experience with special effects that may have been effective the first couple of times, but starts to distract from the tale as the show moves along.

The characters march strangely and unnaturally, sometimes under a plastic umbrella, an urgent tale with segments between the characters so brief, it is difficult to develop an attachment to them.  The cast is stoic for the most part, especially from Mieze, portrayed with a guarded, calculating air by Rimma Gluzman.  When Viktoriya Kovalenko as idealistic Heidrun discovers a small box in the house that she believes was her father’s, portrayed with complexity by David Gamarnik as Wolfgang, the moment Heidrun has with her mother Witha, portrayed by Darya Denisova, provides a touching moment in the production.

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I’m sure there is an audience for experimental theatre and the actual tale is powerful, but too unconventional and at times confusing for my taste.  It chooses to be different and complex when the story can be told in a straightforward way.  It is still art and it’s unforgettable.

Arlekin Players presents ‘The Stone’ through Sunday, September 29 at  368 Hillside Ave in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more information on the Igor Golyak Acting Studio.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘The Sound of Music’ a moving summer gem

The Sleepless Critic has reviewed a few beautiful productions of ‘The Sound of Music,’ a riveting true story set in Austria about the resilient Von Trapp family who not only attempt to resist the Nazi regime in 1938 Pre-war Salzburg, but also attempt to move on without their late mother.  A blend of grace, faith and strength in the face of an indelible sadness, no doubt makes it a stirring classic.  Yet, with the exception of Audra McDonald’s brilliant turn as Mother Abbess in NBC’s 2013’s ‘The Sound of Music Live‘ musical, her extraordinary vocals lifting Fox’s arguably mediocre production with this glorious anthem, Climb Every Mountain, the music to ‘The Sound of Music’ has generally never been my favorite.

Make no mistake, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic, Academy Award-winning musical score is nevertheless respected and appreciated for its mark in musical history.   However, what makes Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s musical, ‘The Sound of Music’ particularly special is its resonant harmonies, a brilliant lead in Aimee Doherty as Maria, and the lively vocals and playful choreography delivered by this wonderful, lighthearted cast.  It convinced me to care for ‘The Sound of Music’ score, which has never sounded lovelier.

With a mix of tradition, opulence, and a few songs not featured in the iconic 1965 film starring Julie Andrews, Reagle Music Theatre’s ‘The Sound of Music’ is the perfect lighthearted summer treat, even in its serious moments.  ‘The Sound of Music’ continues at the Robinson Theatre in Waltham, Massachusetts through Sunday, July 21.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music Aimee Doherty as Maria Confidence in Me

Aimee Doherty as Maria I Have Confidence Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The Sound of Music has many highlights, but one of its brightest is Aimee Doherty’s glowing, enchanting turn as Maria.  This Maria is a tad more youthful, boasting flowing dark hair and a wide, playful smile.  Doherty brings light and gravitas to the role, her infectious charm and soaring vocals especially noticeable during the playful, yet pensive number, I Have Confidence.  Paired with Daniel Forrest Sullivan’s buoyant choreography, it is one of Maria’s more subtle, but powerful moments.

Reagle Music Theatres The Sound of Music Von Trapp Children

Emma Heistand as Leisl, Wade Gleeson Turner as Friedrich, Jane Jakubowski as Louisa, Ryan Philpott as Kurt, Fiona Simeqi as Brigitta, Addison Toole as Marta, Libby Sweder as Gretl, and Aimee Doherty as Maria  Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Each of the adorable Von Trapp children featuring Emma Heistand as sweet, but rebellious Liesl, Wade Gleeson Turner as Friedrich, Jane Jakubowski as precocious Louisa, Ryan Philpott as Kurt, Fiona Simeqi as Brigitta, Addison Toole as Marta, and Libby Sweder as Gretl have their moment to shine, and their charming number Do-Re-Mi with Doherty is a delight.  The children’s colorful, identical, and traditional Austrian wardrobe enhance each scene.  Liesl, portrayed by Emma Heistand and Rolf, depicted by Max Currie impressively develop swift chemistry over the playful number, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, largely thanks to Sullivan’s breezy choreography.

Reagle Music Theatre's The Sound of Music Sixteen Going on Seventeen

Emma Heistand as Liesl and Max Currie as Rolf in ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

There is a moment during the production where Doherty states, “When God closes a window” and Mark Linehan completes her sentence with, “he opens a door.”  The expression is actually the other way around, but Mark Linehan as Captain von Trapp instantly picks up on her phrase and completes her statement, indicating how in tune they both are onstage.  Mark Linehan has shown a natural charisma in other productions and there is no shortage of that here, delivering a powerful performance in the dour, firm, but forthright Captain.  However, his biggest strength is in the quieter moments of the show, especially in the moving reprise of the title song The Sound of Music and bittersweet Edelweiss.

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music Captain Elsa and Max

L to R: Mark Linehan as Captain von Trapp, Janis Hudson as Elsa, and Robert Orzalli as Max Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

From the first few notes of the Nuns’ gorgeous, a capella chant, Preludium, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston have certainly outdone themselves.  Their resonant harmonies are among the production’s most beautiful moments.  Mara Bonde delivers an understated performance as patient, insightful, and ceaselessly faithful Mother Abbess, enhanced by a soaring rendition of the show’s inspiring anthem, Climb Every Mountain.  Ever the standout, Yewande Odetoyinbo also makes a remarkable impression as outspoken Sister Berthe.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston The Sound of Music Aimee Doherty as Maria and Mara Bonde as Mother Abbess

Aimee Doherty as Maria and Mara Bonde as The Mother Abbess Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Elsa, portrayed with flashy elegance by Janis Hudson, is a sophisticated, marginally manipulative socialite, with a taste for the finer things.  In what could be a potentially unlikable character, Hudson strikes a delicate balance of a woman who struggles with what she wants and yet, wishes to do the right thing.  She and Robert Orzalli as comical and seemingly smarmy Max are quite a comical pair, especially during the little known number, How Could Love Survive.

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music So Long, Farewell

Mark Linehan as Captain von Trapp, Aimee Doherty as Maria and the Von Trapp children Photo courtesy of (C) Herb Philpott Photo/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

As wonderfully potent to the ears as visually vibrant, experience Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘The Sound of Music’ though Sunday, July 21 at the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Reagle Music Theatre will soon cap off its summer musical season with the comedy classic, ‘La Cage aux Folles’ in August.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston on Twitter and Facebook for upcoming events and more.




REVIEW: Beneath its potent calculations, Flat Earth Theatre’s ‘Delicate Particle Logic’ is a compelling love story

Flat Earth Theatre’s Delicate Particle Logic by Jennifer Blackmer pays an unforgettable visit into the complex mind of the wife of Noble Peace prize recipient and renowned German chemist Otto Hahn, artist Edith Hahn.  Multilayered in its telling with an interactive flair, this intriguing play takes a look back at three distinctive individuals that historically impacted the world during World War II, rooted in its intrinsic connection between art, science, logic, and love.

With sign language interpreters on scene on Oct 13, Flat Earth Theatre’s Delicate Particle Logic continues at the Black Box Theatre in the Mosesian Center for the Arts through Saturday, October 13.  The Mosesian Center for the Arts boasts free parking, general admission, and not a bad seat in Black Box’s half moon staging. Click here for more information and tickets.

Boasting recitations of the periodic table and a script with scientific verbiage that must have at times challenged this talented group, Delicate Particle Logic is a dark, emotional, thought-provoking, historical drama as renowned physicist and Otto Hahn’s work partner, Lise Meitner visits Edith Hahn as they recall their part in a significant era in World War II history.  With its share of surprising breakthroughs and revelations, it is a multilayered perspective on science, logic, art, and its driving force – love.

DPL - Otto, Edith, and Lise

From L to R: Thomas Grenon as Otto, Barbara Douglass as Edith and Christine Power as Lise Meitner Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre

With blond braided hair and a voice rich in inquisitive charm, Barbara Douglass as uninspired, complicated artist Edith Hahn is the emotional core of the piece.  Douglass reveals her naiveté and warmth with a wide-eyed perspective as Lise and Edith recall the momentous events that ultimately lead to the Atom Bomb.  Edith’s bursts of creative energy tying into Christine A Banna’s Projection Design and PJ Strachman’s lighting design work well together to launch some exciting, yet haunting moments.  As passionate and she is moody, Douglass’s passionate performance as Edith is a particular highlight.

Christine Power exudes a veiled, cold practicality as physicist and Otto Hahn’s “work wife” Lise Meitner.  As serious as she is shrewd, Lise is at times determined beyond reason, but with an emotional attachment to her work that makes her willing to sacrifice everything for it.  With a tight bun secured in her hair and a simple dress, she rarely lets herself see beyond the next calculation.  As Edith observes, “Lise wants to give herself to science while men want to conquer it.”

DPL Lise and Otto

Christine Power as Lise and Thomas Grenon as Otto Hahn at work Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre

In a full suit and tweed jacket, Thomas Grenon portrays serious and stern father of nuclear chemistry, Otto Hahn.  Grenon skillfully depicts Otto’s enigmatic personality under two contradicting perspectives as an unrelenting, meticulous perfectionist and a smitten, caring husband.

Portraying multiple roles from a scientist to a soldier to a nephew and a few between, chorus members Matt Arnold and Michael Lin slide into each of their roles with easy-to- follow, distinct subtlety.

Directed by Betsy S. Goldman, Delicate Particle Logic by Jennifer Blackmer continues at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown, Massachusetts through Saturday, October 13.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Partially surrounded by a lush green lawn that gives it a campus feel, The Mosesian Center for the Arts houses a number of productions and exhibits during the year.  Offering free parking and set next to Panera Bread, current exhibitions include a Member Exhibition and Levon Parion Photographs.  The Improbable Players presents A Restaging of the End of the Line on October 17 for free.  Some other highlights include Watertown Children’s Theatre’s 35th Anniversary Celebration There’s No Place Like Home and Upstage Lung Cancer’s annual fundraiser, Barbra, Bette, and Bernadette hosted by Arts and Entertainment critic, Joyce Kulhawik.  Click here to see all that Mosesian Center for the Arts has to offer.