New England Entertainment Digest (NEED) - Online
Copyright ©2016 JAC Publishing & Promotions - Serving New England & Beyond Since 1979


Need_title.jpg (25807 bytes)
Theatre Headlines
Music Headlines
Dance Headlines


Current Audition Listings
Current Performance Listings
Workshops
Advertise With NEED
About Us
Submit Information to NEED

Reviews
Contact Us


NEED BookStore
Includes SHEET MUSIC
Updated: 12'15








Looking for
Jules Becker's
 Quick Takes
?

2015 Reviews
2014 Reviews
2013 Reviews
Reviews
Table of Contents

5/9/16
Season Finale

(Springfield Symphony)

5/9/16
Into the Woods

(Springfield <MA> Symphony)

5/7/16
The 39 Steps
(Suffield <CT> Players)


5/3/16
Tales of the Last Wednesday
(Arlekin Players Theatre, Needham, MA)

4/30/16
Anything Goes
(Goodspeed Opear House, East Haddam, CT)

4/24/16
WIT
(Playhouse on Park, W. Hartford, CT)


4/10/16
Having Our Say

(Hartford <CT> Stage)

4/6/16
The Dining Room
(Theatre Guild of Simsbury, CT)


3/17/16
Kaleidoscope
(Boston Ballet)

2/28/16

Natasha's Dream
(Arlekin Players Theatre, Needham, MA)

2/22/16
Jupiter
(La Mama, NYC)

2/3/16
The Chosen
(Playhouse on the Park, W. Hartford, CT)

1/20/16

Buyer & Cellar
(Theaterworks, Hartford, CT)

Season Grand Finale
Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA - www.springfieldsymphony.org
by Michael J. Moran

In his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book, SSO Music Director Kevin Rhodes noted that while “a musical evening in France was the idea behind” this closing concert of the SSO’s 72nd season, “recent world events in Paris” added poignancy to their performance on this program of Faure’s Requiem, in which the maestro found the same “religiosity” and “Gallic elegance” that Saint-Saens invoked on a much grander scale in his third symphony.

In this quietest and most consoling of the great Requiems, Faure depicted death as “a reaching for eternal happiness, rather than a mournful passing.” The combined voices of the Springfield Symphony Chorus and the Pioneer Valley Symphony Chorus joined the orchestra in a warm, reverent account of the seven-movement piece, from the solemn opening “Introit and Kyrie” to the exhilarating “In Paradisum” finale. Soprano Dana Lynne Varga sang a radiant “Pie Jesu,” and baritone John Salvi was forceful in the “Offertorium” and “Libera Me” sections.

Known as his “Organ Symphony” for the instrument prominently featured in the second and last of its four movements, Saint-Saens’ third symphony followed intermission in a sumptuous performance by the SSO and organist Griffin McMahon. Without pause after the dramatic opening movement, the organ enveloped the strings in a warm glow as they began playing the ravishing main theme of the slow second movement. Again without pause after the fleet third movement, a thunderous solo organ chord introduced the majestic finale. Rhodes kept the organ in careful balance with the rest of Saint-Saens’ colorful orchestration, including a piano played by four hands in the last two movements.

Longmeadow native McMahon was the star of the evening, also accompanying the orchestra and vocalists in the Faure and seated throughout the concert at an organ visibly positioned behind the violins at front stage left. His playing style was enthusiastic but modest, and as a 22-year-old Juilliard student with many New York performing credits on his growing resume, he looks to have a bright musical future.

No orchestra could end a season more triumphantly than by showcasing local talent at a world-class level.

Into the Woods
Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT - http://smplayers.homestead.com/
by Michael J. Moran

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine, “Into the Woods” made its Broadway debut in 1987, winning Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Book. A mashup of several classic fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, it has been produced locally and regionally more often than almost any other Sondheim show, and it inspired the 2014 film.

The large cast of familiar characters makes “Into the Woods” a great ensemble piece, and artistic director Sharon FitzHenry has assembled a marvelous cast of singing actors for this production. Lindsay Botticello brings a clarion voice and sharp characterization to the central role of the witch, who has cast a spell on her next-door neighbors, a baker and his wife, so that they can never have children. A quest she sends them on to reverse the spell sets the plot in motion.

Michael Graham Morales is vulnerable and sensitive as the baker, and Nikki Wadleigh touching and resourceful as his wife. Among the characters they meet as their quest leads them “into the woods” are: Little Red Riding Hood, brightly played by Kellie Comer; Jack, of beanstalk fame, played with youthful innocence by Randy Davidson; and Cinderella, invested with growing maturity by Chelsea Kelle.

In smaller roles, Gavin Mackie and Tim Reilly are hilarious as the preening princes, making both versions of their big number, “Agony,” a hoot. Gene Choquette is versatile as the narrator/mysterious man. Anna Giza is haughty as Cinderella’s stepmother, and Aileen Merino Terzi and Jen Augeri entertainingly klutzy as her stepsisters. Musical highlights include Wadleigh’s tender “Moments in the Woods,” Botticello’s powerful “Last Midnight,” and Morales’ heartrending “No More.”

The set design by Francisco Aguas and Dawn Bird is ingeniously simple and flexible. Choreography is uncredited but clever and imaginative, especially when most or all of the 19 cast members are on stage during the ensemble numbers. And musical director Bill Martin leads a finely-tuned and impressively larger-sounding band of three.

This brilliant production will appeal to thoughtful musical theatre audiences of all ages.

The 39 Steps
Suffield Players, Suffield, CT - www.suffieldplayers.org
by Shera Cohen

If any local community theatre troupe can handle the character changes, set intricacies, and fast-paced plot twists of “The 39 Steps” it is Suffield Players. The play begins with an actor standing in profile as Alfred Hitchcock, director of the 1930’s film of the same name. Interestingly, nearly all of the scenes and a good deal of the dialog are taken directly from the silver screen and placed on the theatre stage. Yet, there is one huge difference. As taut and sinister as the film is, the play is (for the most part) a raucous comedy.

Under the cloud of WWII rumblings enters our hero, a dapper 20-something with a curl on his forehead named Hannay. Soon to arrive is a damsel in distress – a woman of typical intrigue, a taste for fish, and an ax to grind. The setting is Scotland, which offers the actors the opportunity to intentionally mangle the accents. Three actors round out the cast, each portraying about 10 characters each. These are the “Clowns.” It is their job to keep the action as fast and furious as they are able to change costumes.

Director Roger Ochs’ cast showcase a mix of “regulars” and “newbees.” In the latter category are the two leads, Tyler Wolfson and Libby Miserendino. Wolfson infuses his role with boyish charm, self-deprecating humor, and a bit of dim wit. Miserandino (in two roles) is equally effective as the femme fatal, later the no-nonsense love interest. Hopefully, audiences will see each actor on many more stages in the future.

Barbara Gallow (Clown 1) is malleable and handles each character well. Konrad Rogowski (Clown 2) puts his comedic emphasis on vocalization especially when portraying females. Steve Wandzy (Clown 3) unabashedly uses physical humor by every means practical.

Those familiar with Suffield’s venue recall its small stage which adds to the difficultly of numerous sets. A train seen works best (trust me, you have to see it). Yet box seats and a library are elevated too high from the first level of the stage that audience members must crane their necks. As for all of the successful backstage work, those on lights, sound, and costuming were keen on much to the shenanigans. Too often, playgoers don’t recognize these talented, unseen individuals. Kudos to them and to all.

Tales from Last WednesdayArlekin Players’ Tales of the Last Wednesday Transcends Language
by R.J. Nickerson

Let me start by saying I don’t speak Russian.  I don’t speak any languages actually, other than my standard “English” speak.  I suppose if called upon to, I could recollect basic phrases in French from my high school teachings... but not much.  Still, at a recent performance of Arlekin Players Theatre, I completely enjoyed a full production of multiple tales – and I didn’t miss a thing.  Tales of the Last Wednesday, an original composition based on stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, was performed start to finish in Russian and I understood everything, felt everything, and stayed completely engaged through the full length evening with no intermission.  I was escorted to my seat by the ever-friendly “Conductor” Irina Danilova, who was very gracious after I explained I had NO idea what she was saying.  “You can hang your coat in the lobby, if you’d be more comfortable,” she explained.  Somehow, the language seemed as though it would mean so much more before translated!

So, I began my visit out of my element, being one of few who spoke English as their first (and/or only) language.  I was set at ease immediately when I read in the program that there’d be subtitles. I started to feel special, considering myself the only person present who might actually need them. That being said, I wasn’t even halfway through the opening sequence, featuring an engaging monologue by Arlekin Artistic Director Igor Golyak, before I realized if I kept watching the subtitles, I was going to miss some serious performing.  So I decided to tune them out (mostly), checking in only now and again to make sure I was on the same wavelength.  It was a smart decision, I must say.  I seldom checked the subtitles – didn’t need them.  I was completely captivated once lights rose.

Golyak portrayed “Last Demon,” and acted as the constant presence (though in different characterizations) throughout each tale including Fool’s Paradise, Zlateh the Goat, First Shlemil and Menashe’s Dream.  On an abstract set of shredded paper, bird houses, a swing, a miniature train and hanging lights and bells, every story came alive using random props and costumes introduced as needed.  Actors donned a shawl, hats, or simple pieces to completely transform themselves over and over to satisfy the needs of the stories.  My personal favorite – Alexander Livshin’s “Rooster” in First Schlemil. Disguised only in a top hat and scarf, Livshin in mind and body was the ‘cock of the walk,’ and without effort kept his presence key as a member of that family – ruffled feathers and all.  Livshin appeared in other scenes, but this by far showed the most commitment.  In the same tale, David Gamarnik truly captured the pathetic yet loving Shelmil to perfection – a true schmuck, but so endearing!  His physicality and facial expressions alone were enough to tell the story, accentuated by wife Nana Petetsky-Ghukasyan’s keen comedic timing.  By the end, the audience was in love with Shlemil (and with good reason).

Another character transformation handled beautifully was also not so much in physical appearance, but in commitment to a character.  Viktoria Kovalenko’s “Zlateh” in Zlateh the Goat was impressive in her characterization using near nothing but bleats and mannerisms.  Her relationship with Eduard Snitkovsky’s “Aaron” was touching - a story of true friendship, not of a boy and a goat.

Most impressive visually in the evening’s bunch was the show closing “Menashe’s Dream.”  As Menashe’s tale was told, each character he encountered – real or otherwise – had true depth and meaning.  As Grandfather Tobias (also played by Livshin) walked Menashe step by step through the story, the symbolism of and use of the books, pages turning, memories, etc., truly captured Menashe’s life passing and his lessons learned.  It was stunning - a wonderful example of an ensemble performance with each character serving an integral part.

Isaac Bashevis Singer was one of the great storytellers of the twentieth century. His writing is a unique blend of religious morality and social awareness combined with an investigation of personal desires. His work often took the form of parables or tales based on a nineteenth century tradition, which – though spoken entirely in Russian herein – was beautifully represented in this composition.  Comedy, tragedy and a touch of irony were all at hand and performed with passion and a great deal of talent from this fantastic troupe of actors.

This is the second production I’ve seen at Arlekin, the first being their acclaimed English translation of Natasha’s Dream a few weeks ago.  Given the high level of artistic and technical work done here, it’s with a strong recommendation I suggest you bookmark their website to see what’s coming next.  Actually – let me tell you… it’s a command performance run of Tales of the Last Wednesday playing again the June 10, 11 and 12, 2016.  Don’t miss it.  "Вы можете повесить своё пальто в прихожей." (You can hang your coat in the lobby!)  Visit www.arlekinplayers.com for more information.

Anything Goes
Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT thru June 16, 2016 - www.goodspeed.org
by Shera Cohen

Shortly before attending “Anything Goes,” my theatre friend asked if she would hear any familiar tunes. Besides the title song, I could only think of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” These are the two energetic dancing/song belting ensemble big numbers. However, there’s a lot more. Cole Porter’s music and lyrics include a list of 1930’s best known songs: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “Friendship,” “All Through the Night.”

Aside from Broadway, Goodspeed’s productions set the bar of excellence in musicals pretty much everywhere, all the time. Audience goers should expect the best, and that’s exactly what they get. “Anything Goes” is tried and true; a good bet for success. But, Goodspeed doesn’t rest on laurels. The crew has swabbed the deck and spit-polished the staircases of this ocean liner set. The skilled musicians perform onstage on the ship’s top deck. BTW, how could only seven sound like a full orchestra? Director Daniel Goldstein keeps the dialog snappy (lots of shtick) and the pace smooth. Choreographer Kelli Barclay finds an even balance of Astaire & Rogers moves with tap dancing to blow the roof off the theatre.

The musical’s plot is thin with absolutely no redeeming value; the characters are the epitome of caricatures. The story in one sentence: a motley group of folk, some with British titles and others with machine guns, meet on a ship. There’s the popular mistaken identity theme, not to mention boy meets girl then leaves girl then returns then…it’s all so silly and so funny. “Anything Goes” does not call for the talents of good actors. Instead, the stage/ship is populated with singers or dancers or those who can handle both tasks superbly and simultaneously.

Worldly Reno Sweeney (Rashidra Scott) is the central character. Scott plays Reno with sass and class. More importantly, Scott’s mezzo sound is smooth in her solos and brassy in the big, all hands on deck, pieces. Stephen DeRosa (a Groucho-ish Public Enemy #13 Moonface Martin) unabashedly milks every line or lyric for laughs. He is a gem. While the forlorn lovers Billy (David Harris) and Hope (Hannah Florence) have fine voices in solos and duets, and each actor is solid in his/her role, a smile or swoon or two could have beefed up the charisma. Ah well, “It’s De-Lovely” is…well…lovely.

A step back to tap dancing. I’ve seen this musical before, so there was no imperative reason to go again. My guess, however and knowing the work at Goodspeed, was that the title’s showstopper alone would be worth the price of admission. It was. Wow!

WIT
Playhouse on Park, West Hartford CT
by Barbara Stroup

Playhouse on Park continues its season in a serious play about death with “WIT.” Wearing a hospital gown throughout, Dr. Vivian Bearing hears her diagnosis, receives her treatments, and spends her final days in the sterile University Hospital Cancer Center. Dr. Bearing tells us the conclusion at the very beginning; it’s how she traverses those final days that give the audience dramatic stoicism, obsessiveness, some humor and finally exceeding tenderness.

Dr. Bearing is a proud and solitary academician who cannot let go of her fascination with words, even as she receives her diagnosis of terminal illness. The audience listens as she parses her favorite poems by John Donne, as well as the medical terms favored by two very detached physicians. Much like her in affect, a former student played by Tim Hackney is her ‘research fellow.’ The intimacy of touch during a pelvic examination almost undoes him with nerves; but his lack of bedside manner is much like his teacher’s prior lack of warmth with her students.

Flashbacks reveal snippets of Dr. Bearing’s past as she declines, even during treatment with massive doses of experimental medication, and as she absorbs the verdict that nothing has helped. Elizabeth Lande in the title role acts this descent with poignancy, and her pain is primal and chilling. Warmth and kindness are exuded by Suzy, her nurse, played by Chuja Seo, and ease Dr. Bearing’s lonely passage into a morphine-induced silence. An especially caring moment has them laughing together, even after a discussion about signing a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order. The contrast between Suzy and the other medical staff could serve as a lesson for all hospital personnel.

Most poignant are the moments of a final bedside visit Dr. Bearing receives from a former professor, convincingly played by Waltrudis Buck. Without sighs, or headshakes or other ‘business,’ she gives Dr. Bearing exactly what she needs at the end, a monumental contrast with her medical professional “caretakers.” Writer Margaret Edson received a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for this play, and the spare, tight production in West Hartford honors it well.

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years
Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT - www.hartfordstage.org 
by Bernadette Johnson

Pull up a chair and set a spell. We’ve been invited into the Mount Vernon, NY, home of black centenarian sisters Sadie and Bessie Delany, and we are about to be entertained, engaged and enthralled by the wit, wisdom and joie de vivre of these inseparable spinsters. The year is 1993. Sadie is 103 years old, and Bessie is 101.

The second and third of ten siblings born to an education-loving former slave, the Delany sisters are a far cry from stereotypical. Both college graduates, Sadie, with a Master’s Degree in education, has distinguished herself as a teacher in New York City’s schools, and Bessie, a Columbia University Dental School graduate, was the second black woman to become a licensed dentist in New York State.

The sisters’ tales of family are interwoven with American history, in particular as it impacted their lives and the lives of black families in what was a century of struggle — racial segregation in the Jim Crow era, prejudice, the Civil Rights movement, the stock market crash, the Great Depression, two world wars, Rosa Parks, Montgomery and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Having lived so long together, the sisters complement each other seamlessly, often speaking in unison. However, they are far from carbon copies. Olivia Cole is soft-spoken Sadie. She is the quiet, gracious one, seeking peaceful resolution in times of conflict, whereas Brenda Pressley’s Bessie is outspoken and opinionated, spunky and feisty. She doesn’t hesitate to express her true feelings, and her one-liners generate much laughter. Their warmhearted give-and-take reflects their singular bond.

Under the masterful direction of Jade King Carroll, Cole and Pressley don’t miss a beat as they move about the set, even prepare an elaborate meal to celebrate their deceased father’s birthday. From the outset, they shift gears casually as the memories tumble forth and Delany family photos are projected above the back wall.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Alexis Distler’s set is a third “grandmotherly” character. The sisters’ Mount Vernon home is an inviting three-room single set with a charm and history of its own.

The Dining Room
Theatre Guild of Simsbury - www.theatreguildsimsbury.org
by Stuart W. Gamble

A.R. Gurney’s plays have been staples of the theatre for over 30 years (“Love Letters,” “Sylvia,” etc.), which makes the latest local incarnation of his cleverly written “The Dining Room”seem familiar. Simsbury Theatre Guild immediately immerses its audience in the world of upper-class W.A.S.P. society full of neuroses and humor, heavy on the scotch and soda.

For those not familiar with the dramatic structure of this comedy/drama, the action revolves around various families at the dining room table in a home somewhere in the suburbs. If the table could talk, it would reveal much about the denizens of this house. But since it can’t, the theatre-goers are given brief glimpses into the lives of some 50 characters played quite convincingly by only 15 actors.

Act I is weaker than the second, but a couple of scenes stand-out, one of which takes place at the breakfast table of a very uptight family. Father (Steve O’Brien ) cannot tolerate a single seed in his freshly-squeezed orange juice and controls and contradicts every word and action of his impressionable young son (Nick Parisi). Both actors mine hilarity which anyone who has been a parent or child (all of us) can understand. At the same time, the play introduces the privileged world of the noblesse obliged with its tennis courts, private schools, and accompanying prejudices.

Act II takes off with funnier and more poignant moments. Perhaps the best of these is the show-stopping eleventh hour scene in which an outrageously pompous clan ( Nick Parisi, Virginia Wolf, Donna Sennott, and Steve O’Brien) and their faithful Irish maid Bertha (Penny Carroll) react in hilarious fashion when the uncle’s “bachelor attachments” (homosexual) are called into question at the country club besmirching the family’s honor. Played at such a frantic, farcical pace, the direction is aptly able to make earlier, less funny moments seem better than they are.

Although overall well-cast, a half-dozen of the actors bear special mention: Melissa Veale in dual roles of picture-perfect mothers and a rebellious teen; Penelope Kokines as two very troubled adulterous alcoholics; Nick Parisi in a hilarious turn as father of the dishonored family; and Phillip Godeck, who becomes a variety of sleazy characters.

Top acting honors belong to Steve O’Brien and Virginia Wolf. O’Brien stages each of his characters with such distinction that it seems as if different actors are playing each one. The same goes for Wolf, who relishes her roles with perfectly timed comedy.

Credit belongs to Director Rosemarie Beskind, whose deft hand takes care that none of the scenes or characters outstay their welcome. Beskind understands that in order to capture and maintain the audience’s attention, the action must move, and fortunately, it does.

Often, backstage crew members are forgotten in reviews. That said, kudos to costumer Tracy Weed and set designer Dian Pomeranz’s. Every prop is perfectly places, even the finger bowls.

March 23
Motown-The Musical
The Bushnell, Hartford, CT - www.bushnell.org
by Eric Sutter

"Motown-The Musical" is a musical worth seeing at the Bushnell. It is hard to condense The play takes "The Sound of Young America" and meshes it into a 2 1/2 hour musical extravaganza with a complex storyline. It is especially exciting to see the transformation of the cast into the era's superstars. Great melody lines, lush harmonies, soulful dance moves and elegantly radiant costuming combine to make for good entertainment. "Motown" strikes a nice balance between the rise of Motown brain-child Berry Gordy's (Chester Gregory) story and the music of the artists who turn the stage into Hitsville U.S.A. An invigorating battle of the bands ensues between the cover-groups Temptations and Four Tops with pure fun. Conductor Harold Archibald and the Motown Symphony Orchestra add ethereal qualities to the Motown catalog including the joyous "Dancing In The Street."

Humorous dialogue between Smokey Robinson (Jesse Nager) and Gordy make light fun. Gordy has a special relationship with Diana Ross (Allison Semmes) in which he grooms her style from early Supremes to a blossomed 70's solo artist and movie star. The singer's powerful "Stop, In the Name of Love" is a winner.Ed Sullivan (Doug Storm) makes an unforgettably comic scene stealer entrance and exit. Act I closes with the funky Edwin Starr rouser "War."

The Temptations enter the stage and treat their audience with "Ball of Confusion" with elaborate scenes from the late 60's in projection on a screen behind the dance. A scene change to the West Coast Hollywood Palace brings forth the sophisticated Supremes' sound of "The Happening." Wonder child Michael Jackson (Leon Outlaw, Jr.) with the Jackson 5 revolutionize the Motown sound in dancing stride to "I Want You Back" and "A.B.C." Incidentally, Outlaw also portrays Stevie Wonder on "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." Wow, what a dancer! Berry Gordy's Big Soul dance party continues with the varied hits "Brick House" and "What's Going On?" with smooth Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse) dance moves. Rick James (Nashad Naylor) even makes an appearance with "Give It To Me, Baby." Fantastic... check out the all star finale with a Motown 25th Anniversary celebration surprise.

Boston Ballet: Kaleidoscope
by Sharon Bisantz   

Most people see dance in 3-minute snippets: “Dancing with the Stars” or a dance number in musical theater.  But it’s only when watching an evening of ballet, that you are transported to a world that is literally “Defying Gravity” (Sorry, Elphaba, Not even close.) The Boston Ballet premiered their new concert, Kaleidoscope.  And indeed, as the name suggests, the audience was offered a vibrant display of emotion, color and styles.  It opened with a piece by legendary George Balanchine.  Two couples are surrounded by a chorus of male dancers.  A dance requiring precision of timing and intricacy.  The two female dancers, Lia Cirio and Dusty Button worked in blended harmony.  Yet, their individual styles were very distinct.  Ms. Button, elegant and smooth, in contrast to Ms. Cirio’s dynamic strength. This dance was followed by Pas de Quatre by Leonid Yakobson.  A romantic–style dance performed by four dancers (Maria Baranova, Erica Cornejo, Ashley Ellis, and Lia Cirio). They begin with linked hands, moving as one, creating an intricate pattern of design.  For me, it is when I just sit back and absorb the breathtaking grace. The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude by William Forsythe.  With its modern costuming (tutus being replaced by lime green discs), this was actually a celebration of classical technique.  The five dancers (Ji Young Chae, Seo ye Han, Misa Kuranaga, Paulo Arrais, and John Lam) dance at breakneck speed, intense ferocity with clean and brilliant execution.  Yes, thrilling.  It lived up to its name. The evening ended with Gaite Parisienne.  It depicts a mid-19th century French café culture complete with the usual characters we have come to identify with that setting.  As vital and vivid as the dancing, most impressive were the necessary acting skills and nuances that the dancers brought to tell the story.  It is a high-camp piece and they understood their commitment to the comedy.  For me, most notable was Anais Chalendard as the Glove Seller.  Can a ballerina be sassy? Apparently.  And her attitude was the perfect match for her pas de deux with the Baron, played evocatively by Eris Nezha.  Kaleidoscope.  The Boston Ballet at the Boston Opera Company, 539 Washington Street, Boston. Running March 17-26.   

Arlekin Shares a New "Natasha's Dream" in Vivid Color (Arlekin Players Theatre, Needham, MA) by R.J. Nickerson

This past weekend, Arlekin Players Theatre presented a new spin on a previous production. In 2015, the Company presented two acclaimed Russian productions of "Natasha's Dream" at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown. The one-woman show by Yaroslava Pulinovich featured and currently features again actress Darya Denisova in a translated run at Arlekin's new performance space in Needham (MA). In "Natasha’s Dream," the setting, the lighting, and the music are all used in creative ways to support the actress in her storytelling. With the help of 3D video mapping to project images on different surfaces, the story comes to colorful and vivid life. It explores new and unique ways of interaction between the actress and her surrounding space, as well as completely pulling the audience into Natasha's imagination, her thoughts and emotions. Running for an hour and 15 minutes without an intermission, Russian-born Denisova is a non-stop force, taking the time to explain her story and defend her position. The raw emotion and tug-of-war between candid and comical to honest and heart-wrenching never wanes. Watching Natasha's tale unfold combined with the visual effects in her surroundings (or lack of surroundings, as the case may be), the audience cannot help but to be drawn in, to care, to empathize and sympathize with the tormented character. But it's never depressing. Denisova's delivery (with maybe a stroke of Director and Arlekin Artistic Director's creative brush) has just enough humor and faith to make Natasha very likeable on a less than attractive character foundation. Golyak's direction of the piece, outside the visual, is very physical. As Golyak noted, "What theater isn't physical." In this case, though, Natasha is near-constantly moving, pausing only for brief thoughts or to reflect on a memory. Her physicality - pacing, climbing walls, sliding across floors, even performing a mean "Britney Spears" impersonation - was a perfect mirror to what we can only assume must be the constant pace in Natasha's brain. It seemed somewhat like a one-woman tennis match watching Denisova travel back and forth describing her plight - never encouraging sympathy, but speaking more matter-of-factly. Her at times removed delivery of clues as to why she has done what she has done gives one pause, but after Lady Gaga's powerful performance last night featuring survivors of sexual abuse, it's pretty clear. You can't know how a person of abuse - an in Natasha's case, abuse in many forms throughout her young life - feels, or understand why they do what they do. Golyak's guidance into the depth of this character with Denisova was obvious, clearly drawn and very well-played. The interactive nature of this production was the key to making it the tour-de-force it was (and is). For 75 minutes, the audience was almost completely brought into Natasha's mind. We didn't just hear what she was telling us, we SAW it as she sees it. Stage team Anton Iakhontov (Video Artist), Anastasia Grigoryeva (Stage Design) and Mike McTeague (Lighting) built one room physically and transformed it repeatedly into multiple locations of various natures, all of which always faded back into Natasha's single cell. Because of the confined nature of the play space, this set worked very well, though at times, Natasha's slipping behind the walls, or into the shadows adjacent to the play space gave the illusion that she wasn't actually trapped. These digressions sometimes brought the audience out of the moment. That being said, mentioning this is being extremely picky, as within seconds you couldn't help but be brought back again. The use of colors and patterns and textures were very well-executed, making a clear distinction when we were watching Natasha and when we were watching her dream. The use of the upstage video screen also highlighted the truth versus dream dichotomy.  If you didn't see "Natasha's Dream" in Russian in 2015, and you weren't able to catch the English translation this past weekend - you're not out of luck. In response to such positive demand, Arlekin has extended the run through March 5 and 6 at 7pm at the Players' new theater space at 368 Hillside Avenue in Needham. Tickets are $25 and $50, worth the price of admission alone, but also include a post-show talk-back with Golyak, Denisova and other members of the Production Team. But seats are limited. If you enjoy quality theater and performance art, make "Natasha's Dream" your reality. Visit Arlekin online at www.arlekinplayers.com for more information.

The Subject of Jupiter
(LaMama, NYC)
by Steve Capra
The subject of Jupiter (a play about power) is fossil fuels – and their absence. Accordingly, the production uses a solar-cell/battery-powered LED system to power a portion of its lighting. And there’s a digital display on stage telling us how many kwh’s and how much CO2 the production has used; it tallies up the sums as the evening progresses. This is a really very interesting sort of contextualism, and it’s wrapped around a really very clever conceit: someone has removed all fossil fuels from the Earth “in one fell swoop”. Naturally, all activity has ground to a halt, and the planet rots in a post-Apocalyptic waste. The miscreant is now “confined in a pod” near the planet Jupiter. The play is a dialogue between this fellow, Joe, and a nameless woman representing humanity, “the accumulation of all voices.” “I ate too much, didn’t I?” she says. “…and I was so naïve.” Her initial reaction to him is a cry of pain. But the relationship between the two is complex. She calls him a criminal, but they’re like prisoners shackled together; at one point, she tells him “You’re so boring. Do something.” He needs her company. His only occupation is playing go with a robot. At one point, he sings to her – “La la la…” He is not merely a villain. He asks her “Why is it absurd for me to want you to be better than you are?” Eventually, after many years, things on earth move back to normal. “The world has stabilized,” the woman reports, after some carbon sequestration. But the premise feels unresolved. The extraordinary creativity of the show’s concept isn’t developed. We never learn, for example, by what real or fictitious engineering the two characters are communicating. Nor are we ever told the details of who Joe is (he was an ordinary earth denizen once) and how or why why he did away with fuels. Joe is played by Jeremy Pickard and the nameless woman is played by Sarah Ellen Stephens. They’re talented, but their acting, like the script, lacks specificity. Mr. Pickard, who is the playwright, has written some very nice poetry. “Loss is like a premonition in reverse,” the woman says. But Pickard hasn’t mined the potential of the concept. He’s missed the opportunity for a Shavian dialogue in which the dramatic characters personify ideas. He hasn’t written the dramatic characters, only the ideas. The third performer is Jonathan Camuzeaux, the musician who wrote the music (and who doubles as the mute robot). He plays the sazouki on stage – a cross between the Greek bouzouki and another Mediterranean instrument, the saz. Between this and the recorded sound, the production has a delicate and expressive audio backdrop. Toward the end of the performance the audience is invited to participate in some karaoke. The individual who volunteered on the evening I attended chose to sing I Will Survive. Then Ms. Stephens gave her the female role to read for the remainder of the show. It’s a clever initiation of audience interaction. Jupiter (a play about power) comes from Superhero Clubhouse and Kaimera Productions, co-created by Jonathan Camuzeaux, Lani Fu, Simón Adinia Hanukai, Megan McClain and Jeremy Pickard

The Chosen (Playhouse on Park, West Hartford CT thru February 14, 2016)
by Barbara Stroup

Playhouse on Park presents a serious play about growth with “The Chosen.” It takes place in Brooklyn in the late 1940’s. The themes are many: parental love and filial devotion, emerging identity and community, and friendship and its many tests. But perhaps the theme that emerges most sharply, and which has the most immediate relevance, is stereotyping – reacting to surface appearance instead of looking beyond it. Two boys, both Jewish, overcome their own stereotypes about each other to form a lasting bond. “The Chosen” is a wordy play, but the dialog reaches the essence of this growth. Reuven is the son of David Malter, a thoughtful, talkative liberal Jewish scholar – we see their love and mutual support. Danny is the son of Reb Saunders, a stern Hasidic leader, who has chosen near-total silence as his best approach to parenting. Can these two opposites both have positive outcomes? Can there be truth in two conflicting statements from God? And can both ways of being a Jew not only co-exist but be true to the Talmud upon which they are each based? Danny and Reuven’s friendship helps them grow away from home ties and toward independence and self-definition, even as it is tested and distorted by the emerging truths of the Holocaust and by their fathers’ conflicting positions on Zionism. The minimal set gives a distracting prominence to the center-stage entrances and exits. The script demands a lot of the five actor cast; each of the men more than measured up. One might be permitted to wonder, however, what the girls and women were doing in these communities in mid-century Brooklyn. Playhouse on Park opened this play to a sold-out and enthusiastic audience, some of whom exhibited their own Talmudic knowledge in their reactions. But the play appeals to anyone who can think about his or her own stereotypical thinking enough to overcome it, learn and grow.

Buyer & Cellar (Theaterworks, Hartford, CT - www.theaterworks.com thru February 14, 2016)
by R.E. Smith

“Buyer & Cellar” is a very made up story inspired by facts so “preposterous,” that they could only be true. The “Buyer” in this case is Barbra Streisand; the “Cellar” is the basement of her palatial Malibu estate, which she has made into a museum that mimics an old fashion Main Street USA, complete with storefronts and a staff of one. A one-person show is only as good as the performer, and Tom Lenk is outstanding. An actor of stages and screens big and small, he brings a comfortable familiarity to Alex More, an out of work actor who has lucked into what seems to be the best job ever. The audience invests their trust in him immediately. He brings to life over a half dozen characters, each with distinct voice and physicality. Lenk’s facial expressions are especially fluid, and just a simple change to the set of his eyes was enough to indicate a character change. The TheaterWorks venue is the perfect setting for this basement-based tale. The set is simple, the props are minimal, and any more would just distract from the intimacy. There is one notable exception: Streisand’s actual coffee table book, “My Passion for Design,” the inspiration for the play, has a large role, serving as the footnote source for some of the “strange but true” details. Director Rob Ruggiero uses all of Lenk’s skills to the fullest. The pace never drags when Lenk is portraying Alex and others, so whenever “Barbra” enters the room, there is an almost palpable sense that the very walls are holding their breath in "her" presence. Playwright (and Connecticut resident) Jonathan Tolins has crafted a well-balanced story, amusing, charming, and totally believable despite the out of the ordinary premise. There is amateur psychology, meditations on success, and dissertations on loneliness, but all with a solid underpinning of laugh out loud humor and lightness of spirit. One person leaving the show was heard to remark, “I wonder how long he (Alex) worked for her?” This suspension of disbelief is the true mark of all elements working in harmony to get the audience invested in the story. Barbra fans will find it a love letter, non-fans will find it very funny, and both will enjoy “Buyer & Cellar” immensely.