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.”

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.

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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…)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…)

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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Past Reviews