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.”

Dogfight: The Education of a Misogynist Marine

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Glenn Perry

Photo: Glenn Perry

Dogfight

Music and Lyrics Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Book by Peter Duchan
Directed by Paul Daigneault
SpeakEasy Stage Company

Dogfight, the 2013 Louise Lortel Award winner for the outstanding Off-Broadway musical of the year is currently being presented by Boston’s SpeakEasy Company under the capable direction of Paul Daigneault. Composers and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul together with bookwriter Peter Duchan based their show on the 1991 non-musical film of the same name.

Dogfight takes place in two different time frames, 1963 and 1967 with the majority of the action happening in the earlier era. It is a strangely divided two-act musical. The first act deals with male bonding, cruelty, dreams of heroism, misogyny, and naïveté; the second develops into a love story. Early on, three young marine buddies – Eddie Birdlace (Jordan J. Ford), Boland, (Jared Troilo) and Bernstein (Drew Arisco) – who are shipping out of San Francisco the following day for Vietnam decide to spend their last night stateside playing a sadistic and humiliating game. This Marine tradition involves setting up a contest in which each man attending must put in a sum of money and bring an ugly girl. The escort of the homeliest date wins the pot. (more…)

RoosevElvis: An Intriguing and Funny Show

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Nick Vaughan

Photo: Nick Vaughan

The Team

Created by Rachel Chavkin, Libby King, Jake Margolin, & Kristen Sieh

The Team, a Brooklyn, NY based company, known for their devised works, draws on American history and culture to develop their quirky, imaginative material which they tour widely. RoosevElvis, currently playing at the A.R.T.’s Oberon Theatre in Cambridge, brings together two American icons, the early twentieth-century President Theodore Roosevelt and the mid- twentieth-century rock and roll artist Elvis Presley. Today, Roosevelt is often thought of as an exaggerated version of the manly man, as he is presented in RoosevElvis and played by actress Kristen Sieh. She also gives the character an extremely funny outmoded aristocratic American accent. Libby King’s Elvis is a gentler soul who toughens up with karate and whose sexual orientation is vague. Each actress plays two roles.

The first scene, perhaps the most comic, has them perched on two high directors’ chairs, Roosevelt, wearing a long waxed mustache and sideburns, and Elvis in an oversized wig and sunglasses. Speaking with increasing rapidity, they discuss their backgrounds. “I never wrote any of my songs,” laments Elvis; “I wrote forty-five books,” brags Roosevelt. The conversation ultimately becomes so competitive that it resembles a game. Their rivalry continues throughout the play as both men try to flaunt their masculinity. Elvis kicks boxes karate style; Roosevelt punches images of buffalos. The fluidity of gender is an underlying theme. In an odd moment, Roosevelt turns into a convincing and graceful ballerina. (more…)

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia Still a Funny Clever Think Piece

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Thomasina and Septimus2

Photo: A.R. Sinclair.

The Nora Theatre Company and the Catalyst Collaborative at MIT are presenting Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia (the 1993 Critics’ Circle Award winner) at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge. MIT and the company collaborate yearly to bring plays to the public which promote a greater understanding of science, technology, and theatre.

Arcadia, like other plays in Tom Stoppard’s considerable oeuvre is primarily a comedy, dealing with intellectual topics in witty, stylish language. This play has a little magical realism thrown in for good measure. As is often the case with Stoppard, it is difficult, but entertaining to untangle the plot. Science, math, poetry, landscaping, history are the scholarly issues covered. Although you can enjoy the show without much comprehension of chaos theory, you might want to prepare by checking it out.

Arcadia takes place in two time periods, 1809-1812 and the present, in a room at Sidley Park, a luxurious British country house. In the first story, it is used as the school room for the inquisitive Thomasina Coverly a precocious mathematician and scientist, studying with Septimus Hodge, her brilliant tutor. However, Thomasina has a breadth of vision and imagination well beyond Septimus’s that allows her to reject Newtonian free will and grasp determinism as a result of stirring jam in her rice pudding.

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Three Sisters : A New Interpretation by Lev Dodin and the Maly Theatre:

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Set Final Scene

Photo: Viktor Vassiliev

One of the most exciting theatrical events in a season that brought Boston the extraordinary Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 and Mark Ryland in Nice Fish (both at the ART) is Lev Dodin’s Three Sisters now playing at ArtsEmerson’s Cutler Majestic Theatre. Dodin, an illustrious Russian director, began his career more than fifty years ago when he joined the Young People’s Theatre run by Matvey Dubrovin, a pupil of Meyerhold. In the 1960s, he studied at the Leningrad Institute of Theatre under Boris Zon, who was a former student of Stanislavsky. Dodin’s work continues to be influenced by the discoveries of Meyerhold and Stanislavsky. 

In 1983, Dodin was appointed artistic director of the Maly Theatre in what was still Leningrad. The Maly has its own long-standing company of actors, some of whom trained under Dodin at the St. Petersburg Academy of Theatre Arts, as the Leningrad Institute is known today. Maly productions tour widely, although this is the first time the troupe has visited Boston. Three Sisters is played in Russian with English supertitles.

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1984 Still Packs a Wallop

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

1984 14 Matthew Spencer (Winston) Room 101

Photo  Manuel Harlan

The American Repertory Theatre is currently presenting George Orwell’s 1984. Newly adapted by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, the British company is touring the US after a long and successful run in the UK. It has a lot going for it, particularly the reference to the book’s appendix, which does not appear in the original American edition.

Most people who read the book will remember newspeak, the language which was to replace oldspeak (Standard English). Newspeak would destroy the individual’s ability to think conceptually by limiting the number and complexity of words. Early American editions of Orwell’s book left the reader with the impression that the totalitarian government had won. And it seems that even in Great Britain, few people pay attention to the appendix, an explication of newspeak principles, which although it appears to be written long after 1984 is in oldspeak from which one may infer that the regime no longer exists. To dramatize the appendix, there is a short scene out of time with the rest of the play in which unknown characters – linguists, politicians, historians? – discuss its content.

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The Convert: A Story of Colonialism

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Bird Desi

Photo: Bird Desi

Danai Gurira’s The Convert, now playing at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA, gives the audience a picture of late 19th century Zimbabwe when it was undergoing British colonization. The British usurpation of the country’s natural resources and the displacement of peoples led to civil war between the Shona and the Ndebele. Cultural changes took place, religious conversion not the least of these.

Although there are several plotlines, the most dominant is the story of Jekesai (Adobuere Ebiama), a young Shona woman whose uncle (Paul S. Benford Bruce) wants to marry her off to an elderly man with a great many wives. The bride price is of great concern to the uncle. Misogyny within the native culture is an underlying theme of the play as is classism.

Jekesai runs off, and is rescued by her Aunt Mai Tamba (Liana Asim), the trickster maid of Chilford, a would-be Catholic priest (Maurice Emmanuel Parent). To keep her job Mai Tamba pretends she is a believing Christian while hiding amulets in the house to appease her dead ancestors. Following her aunt’s advice, Jekesai asks Chilford to convert her. Chilford, a lay religious teacher, thrilled to find a willing convert who claims she wants to dedicate her life to Catholicism, takes her in to his home, after changing her name to Ester. He tutors the gifted Ester in English, reading, writing, and religion. Although he too is Shona, he acquired English as a child when he was taught by missionaries. Ester, enamored of her new religion, devotes time to converting other Shona people. Like her aunt, she is also a servant, and addresses the pompous Chilford as Master. She is now modestly attired like an English woman with a long dress and shoes rather than her Shona self where her breasts were almost uncovered and her feet bare. (more…)

Nice Fish: A Reverie on Life

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

Louis Jenkins’s poem, “The Afterlife” begins: “I didn’t get it,” they are saying.

“Older people are exiting this life as if it were a movie.”

He says, “It didn’t seem to have any plot.”

Those words characterize Mark Rylance and Jenkins’ play Nice Fish, now appearing at the American Repertory Theatre, which they adapted from Jenkins’s prose poems. With its short non-linear scenes, it seems more a piece of performance art than a play. This remark is not meant as a put-down; I enjoyed the performance. It is reminiscent of Beckett’s plays in which the characters inhabit a predominantly empty world.

At the same time, the work projects a Prairie Home Companion quality, no surprise since Louis Jenkins has appeared on the radio show reading his poetry. Like Prairie Home Companion, his poetry frequently portrays distinct Minnesota characters and culture. That quality is even more forceful in the play where the actors bring a theatrical reality to the work. (more…)

Twelfth Night Rocks at ArtsEmerson.

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

twelfthphoto credit Robert Day

Photo: Robert Day

Since its inception in 2010, ArtsEmerson has been committed to bringing a variety of high quality theatrical productions from around the world to Boston. More recently, the theatre’s mandate has been modified to attract an audience that better reflects the diversity of the city. How does the Bard’s Twelfth Night or What You Will, fit into ArtsEmerson’s new vision? The very name Shakespeare is a turn-off for many who struggled and yawned their way through the plays in school.

Enter Filter Theatre and their ninety minute, eight performer abridged farcical version of Twelfth Night, which first opened in 2006 to great success in the UK. The British company specializes in devised works and revising classics. Twelfth Night, however, has been more devised than revised. Taking their cue from the play’s opening line, “If music be the food of love, play on,” Filter emphasizes music – essentially rock – sometimes to the detriment of the play and its poetry. Dialogue and characters are cut or, as in the case of Sebastian, Viola’s lost twin brother, almost so. Consequently, the plotline suffers as does the exposition.

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Sondheim on Sondheim: An Evening with the Great Man and His Music

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

sondheim from ASSASSINS. Photo by Mark S. Howard

Photo Mark S. Howard

Boston’s Lyric Stage, a professional theatre company, demonstrates its commitment to the city by hiring mainly local performers, musicians, and technicians. It shows its commitment to talent through its long-term policy of inclusive casting. The majority of their productions are new American plays that have recently been released to the regionals. Artistic director Spiro Veloudos has a particular fondness for musical theatre.

Veloudos’s current show, Sondheim on Sondheim, devised by James Lapine, is a paean to the great composer-lyricist. It is at once a live musical revue and a filmed documentary. Sondheim wrote one new number for it, the autobiographical God. Set designer, David Towlun and lighting designer Chris Hudacs create the impression of Broadway at the opening with two glittering marquees that cover the Lyric’s upstage balconies. Later, the marquees become screens projecting images that pertain to Sondheim’s life. Center stage, hangs an enormous screen, primarily used to show interviews with Sondheim at various stages of his more than half-century career. The actors perform on a rectangular platform and the stage itself.

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Violet: A Stirring Musical

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Let It Sing

Photo: Glenn Perry.  “Alison McCartan and Dan Belnavis in Speakeasy Stage production of Violet.

The 2015-2016 season marks Boston’s SpeakEasy theatre’s twenty-fifth year. To celebrate the event, artistic director Paul Daigneault has brought back the musical Violet, which he first staged in 2000.

Violet is a dramatic and emotional piece, composed by Jeanine Tesori, adapted from Doris Betts’s story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by the lyricist Brian Crawley. It is somewhat expressionistic in style in that it is achronological, moving back and forth from Violet’s childhood to 1965, the play’s present. As a young girl (Audree Hedequist), was struck in the face with an axe and left disfigured. How disfigured, the audience never learns, since the actress’s face is unmarked. Other characters comment on her scar, but we see no one shun her. Self-conscious, she keeps a lock of hair covering one side of her face much of the time.

Having inherited a little money after her father’s death, the adult Violet (Alison McCarten) takes a Greyhound from the small town of Spruce Pine in North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma in the hope of being miraculously cured by a television evangelist (John F. King). She dreams of looking like the movie stars in the magazines she pores over.

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Past Reviews