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.”

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.
(more…)

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.

(more…)

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 (more…)

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

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

 thumbnail_Nuthin-jazz-hands

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.

(more…)

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…)

Significant Other: Rising Playwright’s New Comedy

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

thumbnail_Visting Grandma

Photo: Justin Saglio

Playwright Joshua Harmon first came to notice with his highly successful biting comedy Bad Jews, in which family members fight tooth and nail. His new piece, the simpler Significant Other, presented by Boston’s SpeakEasy Company, focuses on the egocentric, yet generous; impulsive, but wary and obsessive Jordan Berman played by the talented Greg Maraio. Jordan, a gay New Yorker, socializes with his best friends, Kiki (Sarah Elizabeth Bedard), Vanessa (Kris Sidberry), and Laura (Jordan Clark) all professional women of different ethnicities, approximately his age. They go out for dinner, drink, confide in each other, joke, and talk and talk. The women offer him advice. Although they are all in their late twenties, their lives have an adolescent quality.

At the opening as Jordan dances on with the women in a routine reminiscent of an old musical comedy film that sets the playful mood of the friendship. The dance, repeated several times during the show, reflects Jordan’s fantasy life in which he is the main figure, indispensable to each woman. However, his life begins to feel empty as one by one they acquire boyfriends and begin to think of marriage and children. In one of his despairing moments, he laments that he is twenty-nine years old and has never been told he was loved.

(more…)

Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education at the American Repertory Theatre.

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

0744_160820_ART_Notes from the Field_Doing Time in Education

Notes from the Field: Doing Time in EducationLearning from Anna Deavere Smith. Directed by Leonard Foglia . 

Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

This production, premiering at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre, while it stands alone as a work of art, is the latest piece in Anna Deavere Smith’s long-term project “On the Road: A Search for American Character.” Three of her earlier works have played at the A.R.T. Fires in the Mirror dealt with the Crown Heights riots in which two minority groups, Blacks and Hasidic Jews turned against each other following an automobile accident in which the Jewish religious leader struck two black children, killing one and injuring the other. Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 revolved around the violent events that followed the acquittal of the white police officers who had brutally beaten Rodney King, a black man. Let Me Down Easy, although political in that it addresses health care in the US and was created in the midst of the long hard fight to extend government aid to those unable to pay for private insurance, also recounted tales of athletes on drugs, and focused more on stories of celebrities than is her wont.

(more…)

Cuisine and Confessions: A New Take on Dinner Theatre by Les Sept Doigts de la Main

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

DSC_8388-2B)Alexandre-Galliez-sm

Photo Alexandre Galliez. Performer Anna Kichtchenko

Boston welcomes back Les Sept Doigts de la Main (the Seven Fingers of the Hand) in their latest production Cuisine and Confessions, the fourth circus show that the company has brought to ArtsEmerson. The seven fingers (as the performers are referred to) have grown to nine for their current production. Cuisine and Confessions, like their earlier works, combines acrobatics, dance, song, storytelling, juggling, aerial silks, and occasional live music. Most of the Cuisine and Confessions performers trained at Montreal’s National Circus School, which gives a particular unity to their style.

As often the case in contemporary theatre, the immersive show tries to break down the barriers between performers and audience. At the opening, some of the artists play catch with the spectators using props such as balls and eggs, while other artists approach a few spectators to ask if they would like to participate. Those who agree are brought on stage at various junctures, perhaps fed a bit of food, get a few laughs, and return to their seats.

(more…)

In the Body of the World: A View of Eve Ensler’s World

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

In the Body of the World

Written and performed by Eve Ensler

American Repertory Theater

Eve Ensler, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues is, in addition to being a writer and actress, a social activist who has devoted her life and work to battling sexual violence against the female body worldwide. She has visited sixty countries in her efforts to help and empower women. Her latest piece, a one-woman show In the Body of the World, adapted from Ensler’s eponymous memoir, is being premiered at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The play tells stories of female anguish as experienced by Eve Ensler and contemporary Congolese women. It attempts to intertwine Ensler’s experience of cancer with the atrocities committed against women’s bodies in the Congo’s civil war. However, it focuses far more on the details of Ensler’s life with the Congo serving to bookend the piece. Eve Ensler narrates; she plays no other characters. (more…)

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…)

Past Reviews