Table of Contents
Into the Woods
(Springfield <MA> Symphony)
The 39 Steps
(Suffield <CT> Players)
Tales of the Last Wednesday
(Arlekin Players Theatre,
(Goodspeed Opear House, East Haddam, CT)
(Playhouse on Park, W. Hartford, CT)
(Hartford <CT> Stage)
The Dining Room
(Theatre Guild of Simsbury, CT)
Players Theatre, Needham, MA)
(La Mama, NYC)
(Playhouse on the Park, W. Hartford, CT)
Buyer & Cellar
Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA -
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 -
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 -
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
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 of the Last Wednesday
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
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
Zlateh the Goat,
First Shlemil and
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
(You can hang your coat in the lobby!)
for more information.
Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT thru June 16, 2016 -
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
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
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!
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
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 -
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
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
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 -
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Cellar (Theaterworks, Hartford, CT -
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.