Reviewer: Jane Baldwin

Jane Baldwin
Jane Baldwin, a longtime faculty member of the Boston Conservatory, taught Modern Drama, Acting, and Humanities. She is a recipient of the Canadian Heather McCallum Award for the best English essay and the French language Prix André G. Bourassa. Her books and articles include Michel Saint-Denis and the Shaping of the Modern Actor (Greenwood Press), Theatre: The Rediscovery of Style and Other Writings, which she edited (Routledge Press), and Vie et morts de la création collective/Lives and Deaths of Collective Creation, co-edited with Jean-Marc Larrue and Christiane Page (Vox Theatri). Her essay, “Michel Saint-Denis: Training the Complete Actor,” is published in Actor Training, ed., Alison Hodge (Routledge Press). Her latest work, “The Accidental Rebirth of Collective Creation: Jacques Copeau, Michel Saint-Denis, Léon Chancerel, and Improvised Theatre” appears in Toward a New History of Collective Creation, eds., Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva and Scott Proudfit (Palgrave). Although most of her reviews are from the Boston area, she has followed the Stratford Festival in Canada for many years.”

Arrabal: A Story of Love and Politics Told through the Tango

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Celia Von Tiedeman.

Arrabal, now playing at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge in its U.S. début, premiered in Toronto in 2014. In its present state, it is a fascinating theatre experience, a political drama told without words via the tango and music. It is also an immersive show where some audience members, supposedly at a tango club in Buenos Aires, sit at tables downstage as well as on the orchestra floor, which had several rows of seats removed. In the first scene which takes place in the present spectators are invited to join the performers onstage for a tango lesson.

The joyous mood changes abruptly as the story begins. A projection announces that it is 1976, the year in which Isabel Peron’s government was overthrown by a right-wing junta. We meet Rodolfo (Julio Zurita), an endangered resistant, bringing his infant daughter to his mother who lives in a slum (arrabal in Spanish) outside Buenos Aires. He dances a tender tango with baby Arrabal (a word also associated with the tango) before putting her into the bassinet and leaving her a red scarf. (more…)

The Bridges of Madison County: Musical Adaptation Adds Corn

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Glenn Perry Photography

In 1992, Robert James Waller wrote the romantic best seller, The Bridges of Madison County, the kind of book which is often dismissed as chick lit. Three years later its next iteration appeared as a film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood with Meryl Streep playing opposite him. The film received better reviews than the book. And in 2014, it opened on Broadway as a musical with the book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Although it won two Tony Awards, one for the best original score, the other for the best orchestration, it closed after a four month run.

Now available to the regionals, it is presently playing at Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company which has particular skill in working with musicals. Jason Robert Brown’s music is varied, moving from operatic songs, to jazz, to bluegrass, to American country music. For this production, SpeakEasy has strong singers, particularly the multi-talented Jennifer Ellis who plays Francesca, the protagonist and baritone Christiaan Smith as Robert who falls in love with her. (more…)

17 Border Crossings or Around the World in 20 Years

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

boarderimages (4)

After a three year lapse, the innovative company Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental has returned to ArtsEmerson in Boston, this time with 17 Border Crossings. The earlier production Red Eye to Havre de Grace was a devised musical and dance piece, directed by Thaddeus Phillips, which focussed on trying to solve the mystery of Edgar Allen Poe’s death. Similar to Border Crossings and other works of Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, travel was an important element, although the plot was far more developed.

Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental as its name suggests has no home. It is a travelling theatre that creates pieces which sometimes, as in the case of 17 Border Crossings, can be years in the making. It is based on trips that Thaddeus Phillips, the playwright and actor in this solo show, took over more than twenty years, starting in his youth. It is directed by Phillips’ wife and collaborator Tatiana Mallarino. The setting designed by Phillips is spare, consisting of a table, chair, microphone, radio and a long metal bar hung with lights that can be raised and lowered. In part, the bright lights serve to transition from one voyage to another. In one scene Phillips cleverly uses them to give the impression he is riding a bicycle. Phillips’ performance is reminiscent of Spaulding Gray’s monologues, but without the narcissistic intensity, while his set and David Todaro’s lighting recall Robert Lepage, but at a simpler level. Phillips audited Lepage’s work over a long period and appeared in his Miracle of Geometry. Lepage’s influence can also be seen in Phillip’s movement work.

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Barbecue: A Bizarre Family Story

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Barbeque

 Robert O’Hara’s play Barbecue is funny, thought provoking, filled with surprises and at times structurally confusing. It is the surprises, particularly one in the second act that make it difficult to write about since to reveal much is to act as a spoiler, but to remain unforthcoming does not allow the reviewer to do justice to the work. Boston’s Lyric Stage, where Barbecue is currently playing, carries secrecy to an unnecessary extreme refusing the audience programs until the end of the first act.

Barbecue takes place for the most part in a public park somewhere in Middle America. It begins with James T O’Mallery (Bryan T. Donovan) a brutish white man drinking a beer and talking on his cell phone as he waits for three of his sisters to join him. The park is set up with picnic tables and a barbecue that is never lit. Lilly Anne (Adrienne Krstansky), the family’s eldest sister has called her siblings together in order to hold an “intervention” for their youngest sister Barbara, otherwise known as Zippity Boom because of her addictions. When she drinks, she goes zippity; when she uses drugs, she goes boom. As James T. says, “there ain’t nothin’ in between.” Lilly Anne planned the barbecue as a lure to ensure that Barbara, who enjoys them, shows up. (more…)

Precious Little: A Play with a Lot to Say

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: A.R. Sinclair

The theme that holds together Madeleine George’s somewhat disparate plot in Precious Little is language. Brodie the protagonist, a linguist beautifully played by Lee Mikeska, has devoted her life to finding and preserving disappearing languages. When the play opens she is forty-two and realizes that in the process of building her academic career has let the personal side of her life slip. An unmarried lesbian who is feeling middle age encroaching, she made the decision to be artificially inseminated. Because of her age she undergoes amniocentesis to determine if all is right with her pregnancy. The results point toward retardation but are inconclusive. Part of the play revolves around Brodie reaching the decision to keep the baby, although she does not discuss abortion. (more…)

Hand to God – Coping with Angst and Puppets

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

 

Photo Glenn Perry    Tyrone scares Timothy

Hand to God is both a farce and satire of religion and suburban life in Cypress, Texas. First produced off-Broadway in 2011, its writer Robert Askins was an unknown working as a bartender with a few unsung off-off Broadway plays to his credit. Hand to God went to Broadway, became a tremendous hit, and received several Tony nominations. Now as it makes the rounds of the regionals, Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company is presenting its New England première.
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Our Secrets: Life in a dystopian world.

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

ArtsEmerson is presenting the American début of Our Secrets, written and directed by Béla Pintér. The widely acclaimed Hungarian troupe, appropriately called Béla Pintér and company, is taking Our Secrets to New York after its short Boston run. Performed in Hungarian with supertitles, the play addresses the power that the communist state had over its citizens. It takes place in the 1980s, a period when the government encouraged its citizens to revive Hungary’s folk songs and dances as an attempt to prevent the population from falling under the influence of Western popular music. Three musicians play a variety of string instruments and a synthesizer.

Photo: Cscaba Maszaros

The narrative revolves around a folkloric group who meet to dance and sing. One of their members is István Balla Ban (Zoltán Friedenthanal) a musicologist and a man with a secret that will interest the Hungarian intelligence service. He visits a therapist (Eszter Csákákanyi) for help with his sexuality. István is desperately attracted to his seven-year old stepdaughter Timike (Éva Enyedi) and because of this infatuation is no longer aroused by his wife. He claims that he has never done anything untoward with the stepdaughter. It is a lie. He has taught the little girl sexual games that involve his pleasure and that strangely she enjoys.

Having bugged the therapist’s office, Comrade Pánczél (Eszter Csákákanyi) head of the intelligence service, calls in István and gives him the choice between going to prison for pedophilia or becoming an informer who will be rewarded by the state. Weakling that he is, he agrees to spy on his friends. In developing István as an unhappy reprobate, Pintér casts a shadow over the society as a whole. The playwright takes this a step further by using a disconsolate would-be dancer (Szabolcs Thuróczy) in the folkloric group as István’s contact. He became a servant for the state to avenge himself on the other dancers who mocked his lack of talent.

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Hand to God – Coping with Angst and Puppets

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Tyrone Scares Timothy - Midsize

Photo: Glenn Perry

Hand to God is both a farce and satire of religion and suburban life in Cypress, Texas. First produced off-Broadway in 2011, its writer Robert Askins was an unknown working as a bartender with a few unsung off-off Broadway plays to his credit. Hand to God went to Broadway, became a tremendous hit, and received several Tony nominations. Now as it makes the rounds of the regionals, Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company is presenting its New England première.

Although the production (or is it the play?) lags at times especially at the opening, it grows funnier and funnier and more and more frenetic as it moves along. The storyline revolves around a religious hand puppet club, held in a church basement, whose three adolescent members are supposed to create sock puppets and Christian skits to be performed for the congregation. Upstage a poster hangs inscribed with the group’s name: The Christcateers. Jason (Eliott Purcell), spends most of his time with his devilish puppet Tyrone, evidently working through his feelings. Margery (Marianna Basham) Jason’s newly widowed and distraught mother runs the puppet ministry presumably on the advice of the nerdy Pastor Greg (Lewis D. Wheeler) who is attracted to her. Jessica (Josephine Elwood) is involved because she has a secret crush on Jason and an interest in Balinese puppets, while Timothy (Dario Ladani Sanchez) joined because he too is infatuated with Margery despite their age difference. Although the idea of a religious puppetry club struck me as outlandish, the playwright belonged to a similar group as a boy in Texas.

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A Tale of Injustice: The Scottsboro Boys. Extraordinary talent turns the Minstrel Show on its head!!

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

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Photo: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots.

The Scottsboro Boys, an extraordinary musical, mounted by SpeakEasy Stage Company at Boston’s Calderwood Pavilion, recounts one of the most shameful racist events in US history. In 1931, during the depth of the Great Depression, nine black male teenagers who had hopped a freight train were falsely accused of rape by two white women. Arrest, threats of lynching, and a one-day trial followed with the young defendants found guilty and sentenced to death. The NAACP and the Communist Party of the USA appealed successfully to the Supreme Court and another trial was scheduled. Again the defendants were found guilty and another appeal was made. The trials only came to an end years later when the state of Alabama where the Scottsboro boys were held could no longer afford to prosecute the defendants. Traumatised by their treatment, the Scottsboro boys continued to struggle and suffer even when freed.

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The Plough and the Stars contemporized

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Dublin’s renowned Abbey Theatre has brought a modernized production of Sean O’Casey’s four act drama The Plough and the Stars to the American Repertory Theatre. In keeping with today’s conventions, it is played as four scenes with one intermission. First performed in 1926, ten years after the Easter Uprising when outnumbered Irish nationalists attempted to drive out the British, the play deals with the horrors and uselessness of rebellion by showing its effects upon the working poor.

Seven of The Plough and the Stars’ fourteen characters are tenants of a rundown tenement where the play begins and ends. Nora (Kate Stanley Brennan) and Jack Clitheroe (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) are a young married couple whose financial circumstances are better than their neighbors because they are able to rent out a room in their flat to Jack’s communist cousin the Young Covey (Ciará O’Brian), and Peter Flynn (James Hayes), Nora’s uncle. Nora, in particular, has middle-class ambitions, as seen by her fancy hat and demeanor. Mrs. Gogan (Janet Moran), the second floor tenant is a gossipy widowed charwoman with a young tubercular daughter and baby. She is jealous of Nora’s attractiveness and comfortable life. Unlike the other women, Nora does not work. Mollser (Rachel Gleason), the sickly girl on the verge of death, is symbolic of society’s neglect of the impoverished. Bessie Burgess (Hilda Fay) is the third-floor neighbor, a tough Protestant Unionist and fruit vendor, often at odds with Mrs. Gogan. As the play draws towards its end, we see Bessie’s compassion.

Scene two takes place in a pub where the audience is introduced to the bartender (Ger Kelly) and the prostitute Rosie Redmond (Nyree Yergainharsian). Despite Rosie’s good looks and flirtatious manner, she has no customers. Most of the neighborhood men have gone to a meeting of the Irish Citizen Army. When the Covey enters, she tries to seduce him, but he runs off in fear. In 1926 Dublin, this scene was a shocker. After the meeting, the men enter the pub. Rosie finds a client in Fluther (David Ganly), a neighborhood carpenter, and they leave together. Jack forsakes his pregnant wife for the independence of Ireland. As he tells his soldier buddies, “Ireland is greater than a wife.” (more…)

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