Friday, December 04, 2009

Get Thee to "Love's Labor's Lost", Now!

Shakespeare's Globe currently presents a catchy, lively, rib-tickling rendition of the Bard's "Love's Labour's Lost" at the War Memorial Auditorium in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Nearly three hours in length, it never, for a moment, loses momentum. Donald T. Sanders, who has forever led Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA), does the region a huge favor by bringing the troupe to western Massachusetts as it makes its way toward the New York City stage. Performances continue tonight at 8pm and Saturday 2pm and 8 pm. Call: (413) 540-0200 for ticket information.

So, why would one spend attend a Shakespeare comedy which is unfamiliar and potentially difficult to follow? The actors, directed by Dominic Dromgoole, provide answers: They are vivacious, highly-charged, and appear to be having the best of times as they perform.

Besides, MIFA provides a specific plot synopsis in the playbill. With the house lights on throughout, the deft theatergoer may quickly glance down to fill in a blank!

There's live music, terrific costuming, and plenty of comedy.

Frankly, I was not certain that I could find a block of time to see this one.
Inspired by two students who practically begged me to find them some tickets, I chose to attend.

Now, I am thinking of directing Shakespeare within the next couple of years. You, too, should make this journey.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Letts: August: Osage County and Superior Donuts -- See Them Both

These days, as you realize, I do not often write in this space -- since my commentaries are written for and viewed at

Last month, I took in The Steppenwolf Theatre Company's ensemble piece, "Superior Donuts," in Chicago. And, just the other day, we watched the muti Tony Award winning "August: Osage County" in Manhattan. Written by Tracy Letts, both plays reverberate for and with an avid theatergoer.

"AOC" is a rich, long, family interweaving drama - with plenty of wry, biting humor written into the script. Set in Oklahoma, the storyline focuses upon the most dysfunctional of families; but, Letts' dialogue allows for cathartic laughter - somehow!

"SD" occurs in a small donut shop in upper Chicago. You have a late 1960s character running the place and a few oddballs wandering in and about. A youthful African-American man wants: a job in the store; and the kid is a promising fiction writer.

"August: Osage County" boasts a large, multi-tiered set which brings anyone watching into the proceedings. The thrust stage withinSteppenwolf creates immediacy even before the opening curtain. The impact of each script, however, is undeniable -- thanks to playwright Letts.

I'm not about to tell you, this time around, who does what and why - for I'm not reviewing the productions. But, each caught me quickly. "August" continues at The Music Box on West 45th Street while "Donuts" continues in Chicago before, one imagines, moving on. TheaterWorks of Hartford has its eye on "Superior Donuts."

That is it for now. Consider this longer than a blurb yet shorter than a critique. Continue to enjoy and support live theater.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"The Holocaust Kid" -- Sensitive and Responsive


Keep your eyes out for a nearby production of this one.....

Sonia Pilcer began this project, as a book, during the early 1980s. Her bio tells us: "Little did she know it would take almost twenty years, five literary agents, and rejections from forty houses before 'The Holocaust Kid' would see the light of day."

It was published in 2001 and she began to adapt to work on a scripted modification. Shakespeare&Company presented it (in one act form) in 2003. The two-act version has been performed a few times. Last Sunday, S&Co brought it very much to life with a staged reading in Founders' Theater.

Frankly, I went to see Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Jonathan Epstein perform. The last time I had seen them on stage together was in a Boston-based "Othello." Each is an impressive actor. I had read little about the play -- not enough to realize that a cast of four, not two, would be reading. It was an inclement day; that and a nagging injury conspired against my desire to make the one hour trip. Besides, I was not one hundred percent certain that, however valuable (and all of it surely is), Holocaust-related fare would satisfy me.

Fortunately, "The Holocaust Kid," far from over-bearing and actually quite comedic at times, is relevant, fresh, and inviting. The bad weather front stalled and I forgot that my big left toe hurt. Nothing like affecting live theater to cure what ails.

Here's the deal: During the late 1980s in New York City an attractive woman named Zosha (journalist and wannabe respected writer) - played by Aspenlieder - meets Uly (Seth Kanor). Uly has published a major book, studied the Holocaust extensively. That he is attracted to Zosha is not surprising. She was born in a Displaced Persons camp. Zosha's father, Heniek (Epstein) survived Auschwitz and met the woman he would marry, Genia (Nancy Rothman), in Poland after the conclusion of the second world war.

The parents do and don't wish to intrude upon their daughter's times. Does this sound at all familiar? It is funny. Epstein, deadpan for much of the time, is quite hilarious with his one, two, three, and four word responses. Rothman is loving, dedicated, and wishes only for the best.

Zosha and Uly generate quite a bit of heat. The scripts (which were otherwise non-distractive) limited physical clinches, kisses.....That said, Aspenlieder and Kanor effectively/convincingly embraced, hugged - you get the picture. It's a pleasure to observe poised actors.

The second act begins and we find that Zosha is pregnant. Uly hasn't any interest in becoming a father. "The Holocaust Kid" develops and unfolds further.

Listen, this is pretty compelling stuff and Pilcer is not heavy-handed. Her themes are recognizable and the characters show dimension and scope.

Aspenlieder, a physical performer who is one of S&Co's foremost actors, presents an honest, sometimes insecure yet hopeful, and loving Zosha. The play spins about her. Pilcer, in a playbill author's note, refers to Aspenlieder as her "alter ego." Epstein, Rothman, and Kanor are absolutely vital. In fact, there was something special about seeing them perform on stage with: several chairs, a wooden desk and table, and period typewriter serving as the only furnishings. I decline to suggest that a conventional and more fully realized production would upgrade.

Here's a notion regarding the scripted version I witnessed. Uly disappears from the scene sometime during the first act and does not reappear until Zosha has confirmed that she is carrying a child. I believe that Uly should be back on stage during the latter portion of the first hour. Perhaps his prescence could be marked with just a few lines of dialogue.

Ultimately, "The Holocaust Kid" is ardent and rich. Further, it's an important work and, told from Pilcer's perspective, becomes most distinctive. Robert Walsh's direction certainly was an asset in Lenox.


A note to my readers: I am now reviewing regularly for To find my theater commentaries, please go to that site, reference "regional" and then "Connecticut." Thanks a lot.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

"Rough Crossing" - Ultimate Hilarity (in brief --)

That I failed, two or three months ago, to attend Shakespeare&Company's rollicking, clever take on Tom Stoppard's "Rough Crossing" was a major error on my part. The show closes tomorrow, Sunday, Sept. 2 with a 10:30 a.m. performance. Should you seek a couple of diverting hours, should you wish to catch comedy-on-live-stage at its finest, should you have a yen for the Berkshires in the midst of Labor Day Weekend, zip out to Lenox and try to snag a ticket so that you will see the production.

Elizabeth Aspenlieder, that talented, quite deliberately inelegant clown, stars as Natasha Navratalova. An actress with an amazingly gutteral, well-crafted, consistent accent, Natasha is the play the lead in "The Cruise of the Dodo." Her affair with Ivor Fish (Malcolm Ingram) is over.

Joining her for a couple of hours on an ocean liner (the stage seems to tilt back and forth) are Jonathan Croy as Turai, a playwright; Bill Barclay, a composer with a tie-his-tongue-in-knots speech impediment; Jason Asprey as Gal, another playwright who loves to spend time consuming fruit; and LeRoy McClain as Dvornicheck, the steward who manages to consume numerous glasses of cognac intended for others.

Stoppard adapted his work by adapting Ferenc Molnar's "Play at the Castle" with P.G. Wodehouse's "The Play's the Thing."

Confession: I once saw a very different production of "Rough Crossing" which, frankly, did not amuse me. Yes, I was surprised to find myself laughing aloud during the first moment of the S&Co rendering - and forever more.

Much of this has to do with Kevin G. Coleman's direction. Coleman has been with the company since it was founded three decades ago. He is also Director of Education; and an actor; as a coach, he possesses special skills in stage combat and clown. Moreover, he understands people and is catalytic in helping actors to release impulse.
I know -- since he worked, on four separate productions, with students of mine during rehearsals which lead to full productions (three of them Shakespeares).

"Rough Crossing" succeeds because it is downright funny. It depends upon actors who are highly disciplined. Coleman provided framework, context, interpretation, and creative ideas. I would wager my fondest baseball cap that he also challenged them to innovate and push further.

It was a pleasure to sit and watch the farce, a comedic, sometimes gymnastic, highly choreographed collectively splendid effort.; (413) 637-1199

*Please catch more of my reviews on:;*

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Barrington's "Black Comedy" - Farce, Reversal, Cute

Three more days to catch "Black Comedy," finishing its run for Barrington Stage at 30 Union Street in Pittsfield - the show closes this Saturday. It's a fast moving, eighty plus minute farce with a distinctive spin.

Written by Peter Shaffer and first produced in 1967, the craziness transpires within the London apartment ofr Brindsley Miller (Brian Avers). He has borrowed furniture from neighbor Harold Gorringe (Mark H. Dold) and intends to impress his fiance's father, Colonel Melkett (gesture-a-moment actor Gerry Bamman). Brindsley's bride-to-be Carol (Nell Mooney) is ditzy, funny, and excellent as diversion.

Here's the twist: The action begins in total darkness yet the actors on stage evidently have clear vision. Suddenly, a fuse blows and that's the end of electrical power in the flat. The catch is that the stage is now fully lit but the performers obviously cannot see a thing. Hence, Mooney sashays about in some version of a glide/slide. Avers as Brindsley bumps into furnishings, bobbles the telephone......Yet, when his former girlfriend, Clea (Ginifer King) arrives, Brindsley literally feels his way about her derriere. She returns fondles and more with aplomb. It's a hoot.

Bamman topples backward and forward in the wooden rocking chair. I have seen him perform Moliere before and this actor has the versatility to fly over the top at times while switching gears to wry humor at others. A second neighbor, the dowdy Miss Furnival (Beth Dixon) is subtle, droll, absurd.

Lou Jacob's pinpoint direction is ultra-important since the physical comedy occurs within the context of bright lighting even though the cast, in theory, cannot see and must mime its way around and about. Adrian W. Jones' set is immediately transportive. Scott Pinkney, lighting the show, has the piece perfectly cued.

"Black Comedy" is precise. This farce is unrealistic, improbable, exaggerated, "low," rich in stock characterizations, and will never live on in memory. Two women chase Brindsley who is the picture of the disheveled, bumbling, husband-t0-be.

Your mood, theatergoer, will determine the extent of your laughter. Should you become most positively infected with the ongoing scene, giggles will follow. Otherwise, you will surely appreciate and chortle occasionally.
413 236-8888

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"The Good Body" - Celebrates Women

Okay, nearly everyone has a bit of belly, whether it's hidden beneath a shirt or not. Go ahead and argue: you saw someone who hasn't any body fat doing an ab roller spot on late, late or early, early television. Point taken without dispute. The rest of us have, bet the house, midsection problems. Eve Ensler, known for breaking barriers with "The Vagina Monologues" and the author of several provocative, searing dramas, garners many a laugh with "The Good Body," continuing at Hartford Stage through Sunday.

Eve (the character does represent Ensler) stands at center stage, lifts her shirt, and bestows a midsection which appears to be gently soft. Not obese, not fat. Actress Brigitte Viellieu-Davis plays the Ensler persona, one who has been haunted, seemingly forever, by the contour of her stomach - which is not board flat.

Three women take on a multitude of individuals as the playwright banters or comments, more seriously, about: weight, body-image, two-person relationships, and various societies. Erica Bradsaw (as Woman 2), is a wholesome, large individual who goes to fat camp. Through Ensler's caustic wit, Bradsaw wonderfully, absolutely, and completely trashes the camp's philosophy/psychology. Bradsaw, who happens to be African-American, demonstrates her mettle with another role as she effectively displays a Yiddisha accent.

Playing Woman 1 is Judith Delgado, a terrific stage actress, who is at her comic best when she embodies a Puerto Rican
woman immersed in therapy. As the play continues, Delgado appears, for a time, to grow physically older. That vignette spins around surgery to tighten the vagina.

Never timid, Ensler explores: thighs which spread, life and times with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and so on.

"The Good Body" isn't a stunning, shattering ninety minutes of theater. But, it works. Translation: the playwright balances humor with introspection when it comes to perceptions women possess about their bodies. It's pretty funny and also, beyond the surface jokes, rich in theme and implication.

Tracy Brigden directs with specificity and the three actors are versatile and talented. Hence, as the figurative sphere is tossed from one woman to the next, "The Good Body" evolves smoothly.

I saw the show on a weekday evening. The audience was comprised, to large measure, of women. Watching their reactions spoke positive volumes for Ensler and her affecting play.

Friday, July 13, 2007

"Thoughtful, Affecting 'Cuckoo's Nest' at BTF

Eric Hill and I met nearly two decades ago and I've always known him to be sharply contemplative - an intellectual artist/dramatist in the most positive mode. Those qualities mark his production of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," the play by Dale Wasserman based upon Ken Kesey's still-stunning novel, which continues at Berkshire Theater Festival through July 28.

Many a director has discovered, through trial and error, that selection of the "right" cast members eliminates many rehearsal headaches. Sounds formulaic but tough to execute.
Hill's choices for roles within "Cuckoo's Nets" are excellent. The fits are precise. The patients (inmates?), whether petrified, emasculated, or gonzo provide sparks and laughter.

The novel, book, and Oscar winning movie version of "Cuckoo's Nest" centers upon a lively array of individuals ensconced in a state mental hospital. It's Fall 1960 and we are in the Pacific Northwest.

The provocative, playful, audacious, clever Randle P. McMurphy (Jonathan Epstein) meets and greets his comrades within the institution. He will later discover that stuttering Billy Bibbit (Randy Harrison), cerebral Dale Harding (Tommy Schrider) and others are self-admits. McMurphy is stunned. McMurphy discovers that Chief Bromden (Austin Durant) is neither deaf nor dumb; but a silent, sagacious, bitter observer.

The plot of the play differs from that of the film since the Chief actively narrates from time to time. One of the more galvanic scenes of the production occurs during the second act as McMurphy and Bromden interface, exchange, forge a friendship.

Many theatergoers will certainly enter with the image of Jack Nicholson (starring as the film's McMurphy) in mind. A few might recall that Gary Sinise took on the stage role half a dozen years ago. Not many realize that Kirk Douglas was the original McMurphy in the 1963 Broadway opening.

Jonathan Epstein, whose presence and command marked many a performance at Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company forever (it seems), presents an extroverted, physical, communicative, dramatic McMurphy this time around in Stockbridge. I keep in mind his turns as Shylock, Lear, Iago, King Richard, and others. That said, he is the fulcrum for the current "Cuckoo's Nest." Epstein's splendid work, his ability to become someone else, demonstrate reams of talent and dexterity.

The stereotype for Nurse Ratched's character suggests that she draw blood, rule with a harder than iron fist, threaten all. Linda Hamilton's portrayal, on the other hand, is quieter but just as insidious. If Epstein flies (wonderfully) over the top at times, she provides counterpoint with an understated, disciplined depiction of the hated tyrant.

The cast, including E. Gray Simons III as Cheswick and Robert Serrell as Martini, is energetic and sustaining.

Hill orchestrates the production. He supplies special touches. For example, during a Bromden commentary early on, all others on stage move carefully, deliberately from station to station.
Those familiar with Tadashi Suzuki training (Hill studied this for ten summers or so and teaches it) will note the slow-walk, its significance, and the skills required to execute the maneuver.

He benefits from Karl Eigsti's set which provides depth, feel, and atmosphere; and J Hagenbuckle delivers acute, piercing sounds and noises at key moments.

Hill is an actor, director, educator, and he heads the theater department at Brandeis. His StageWest productions provided many a seminal moment for Springfield-area theater lovers. That he is often directing and occasionally acting at BTF in the Berkshires is cause enough to snag tickets. Why am I not surprised that "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" is cutting and incisive - splendid theater?
(413) 298-5536