Monday, June 30, 2008

Inferiority Complex?

An honest admission from a Chicago actor:

I think some of us in the community have a certain amount of culpability for the attitude that theatre is only worthwhile if a ton of money gets spent on it. I point to myself as an example unfortunately. I'm in a storefront production right now ("Six Character is Search of an Author," if anyone's curious), and I've been trying to get people from work to come see it. One of my coworkers told me she's thinking about going to see it the weekend of the fourth with some friends/family of hers. I was delighted, but I also was cognizant of the fact that most of the time she goes to see shows like "Wicked" and "Jersey Boys" (Her top choice for the weekend of the fourth was "Shout!" before it posted its closing notice). So when she told me she was thinking about coming, I was appalled to catch myself apologizing to her in advance for what it would be like- stuff like "I just want you to know before you go, that the show is a lot
different from Jersey Boys- we definitely are a much smaller production, the show does have some laughs but is a lot more cerebral and much more of a drama..." I guess my point was I didn't want her to go, and feel disappointed or 'tricked' when the theatre experience was vastly different from that of most of the other shows she's seen. It makes me wonder, do I (and others in the community) actually have an inferiority complex of sorts about the resources we
have at our disposal?

This is from the comments on a post at Storefront Rebellion about whether or not big Broadway touring shows (especially the type that settle in for long, extended run,) help, hurt or have no effect on small theatre.

For my part, I think that those of us who spend our lives in the theatre become desensitized to just how jarring it can be for somebody to suddenly attend a show at The Factory Theatre, (a 40-seat theater shoehorned into corner of an old Piano factory that you access through a parking lot.)

When I attended Boston TheatreWorks' production of The Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant at the BCA Plaza Theatre, I was seated right behind a group of women who had come to the show after one of them had seen a description in the Go section of the Boston Globe.

Before the show started I was eavesdropping a little and I would judge about 80% of their conversation to be concerned with the environment in which they now found themselves ensconced. From what I could gather, their regular theatergoing consisted of Broadway in Boston or the occasional I Love You, You're Perfect Now Change.

Talk about the creaky seats, the low ceiling and the thrust stage configuration inevitably gave way to questioning of the aesthetic integrity of the group's leader. The woman who had obviously organized the outing was finding herself in a slightly defensive posture. She kept saying, "It sounded good, the way the Globe described it." Remember, this is all BEFORE the show has even started.

I leaned forward and asked if it was their first time here at the BCA. They told me it was. We had a brief conversation in which I tried to explained the Boston Center for the Arts and that the show was supposed to be very good and that it was one of the hippest shows they could be seeing in Boston at that time.

I don't know if I allayed any of their fears, but I do know that they really enjoyed the show. They left the theatre laughing and mentioning the names of people to whom they would recommend the show.

In the parking lot of the Factory Theatre last month, I found myself standing with the rest of the audience as we waited for the house to open for GlenGarry Glen Ross. I had just come from a matinee performance of the Huntington's She Loves Me at the Boston University Theatre, and I noticed the significant difference between the two experiences. At She Loves Me I had picked up my tickets, went in, got a candy bar from the snack bar downstairs settled into my seat. Now, I was waiting on cracked asphault admist parked cars and rusty chain link fences.

But then something really cool happened. The director of the show came out and started to welcome people. He went around to each group, shook hands, thanked them for coming, asked them how they heard about the show and let them know precisely what was happening - "we are just getting the stage ready and then we will open the doors and let everybody in."

As corny as it sounds, it made a big difference.

Boston Innovative

Microsoft is pinning some of its innovation hopes on Cambridge

That will be the home of Microsoft's Boston Concept Development Center, a first-of-its-kind research unit that's assembling dozens of engineers and designers and sniffing out technologies with the aim of incubating new Internet businesses within the company.

The center, more than 3,000 miles from Microsoft's headquarters in
Redmond, Wash., is part of a bid to recapture the software company's cachet in a new technology era increasingly dominated by competitors such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc.

The stakes are high for Microsoft and the Boston area. Boston
software legend Ray Ozzie replaced Bill Gates as Microsoft's chief software architect in 2006. Ozzie has been pushing for a transition from the desktop software that accounts for the bulk of its revenue to the Internet services that are the wave of the future.

Now, we just need to get the adminstrations to link innovation to creativity and the arts. And that doesn't just mean the top tier of Symphony, Opera and Museum.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Osborne and Youth?

The Orfeo Group here in Boston, a young, very talented group of equity actors is putting on Look Back in Anger, and now the New York Times reports on a small group of Equity actors who are breaking their backs, and their banks, to stage a production of Epitaph for George Dillon in the Big Apple.

Now don't get me wrong, being a theatre buff I am certainly appreciative of being able to see these plays in production, but I am a little surprised that these young troupes, especially if they are trying to connect to emerging audiences, should be leaning so hard on John Osborne.

Could a Regional revival of The Entertainer be far off?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This Old House - Cultural Facilities Grants

The Mass Cultural Council released their latest list of awards for their Cultural Facilities Fund. (The State just provided an additional 2.1 Million for this year.)

Here some of the theatre-related awardees:

The Boston Conservatory- Boston- $675,000
Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center-Cambridge-$45,664
Marblehead Little Theater - Marblehead - $60,000
Cape Cod Repertory Theatre Co., Inc. -Brewster - $150,000
Berkshire Theatre Festival, Inc. - Stockbridge - $160,000

The grants break down into two types- Capital Grants and Feasability and Technical Assistance Grants.

For the press release and the full list of winners you can go the Massachusetts Cultural Council's site here.

Silver Linings?

Many bloggers have commented on the spooky way that the demise of the famous Theatre de la Jeune Lune follows the arc of Mike Daisey's arch theory in his latest monologue, How Theater Failed America. In the monologue, Daisey talks about how regional theatre started investing in larger facilities at the expense of actually supporting, well, theatre.

It would appear that Jeune Lune had followed this script to a tee. I have not seen Daisey's monologue, (it is closed now,) but from what I have read of it there is another theme Daisey brings up, and it hasn't received as much play in the discussion of the Lune's shuttering.

Thomas Garvey at the Hubreview sees a silver lining in the closing of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and it seems to align with a theory Daisey illustrates when talking about how he had to simulate masturbation on stage during a very weird production of a Genet play.

Here is Garvey responding to a commenter on his post about the closing:

No, I was not a fan of Jeune Lune. From what I saw of three or four
productions, I found them cold, derivative, and overbearingly brandishing a politics that graded rather obviously into narcissism. Their style seemed to be a superannuated variation on what Peter Brook was doing forty years ago, which was itself a variation on what Brecht had been doing twenty years before that. And I simply can't agree that our culture should be replicating the stances of
half a century ago; that would be like becoming a member of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, or the ART (which at least has as its excuse that it's promulgating the ossified theories of the academy). So, yes, I'm glad to see it admitted that the Jeune Lune didn't really have that much of a following; it doesn't mean, I don't think, that our local academic avatars will re-align their missions; but it does mean that they've been painted into an ever so slightly smaller theoretical corner. And that's still something.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Where the Scene is At? Sam Shepard and Dublin

Richard Florida wrote The Rise of the Creative Class in the early 2000's. In it, he tried to document the emergence of the value of creative work in our society and how the class of creative workers, (which he still has trouble coralling into a defined group,) are increasingly defining our economy and how we all work.

His follow up book, The Flight of the Creative Class, took on the larger issue of how the global economy is playing into this. In short, Florida's thesis in Flight was the following: The loss of manufacturing jobs to outsourcing seems to take center stage in the discourse of our economic policies, but more dangerous to our future could be the loss of our creative talents.

He mentions how young creatives graduating in fields like high tech are no longer just deciding which city in America to which they will move. Now, the whole globe is open to them! For instance, it is not uncommon for a new graduate to consider Dublin, Ireland as a place to work. Open, technologically improving, and great fun, Dublin is becoming the ideal creative center in the world. Florida argues that instead of spending all of our energy worrying about losing manufacturing to China, we should at least start looking at ways we can prevent losing our scientists, artists and developers to Europe and Canada.

There are many critics of Florida's theses, and most of them are legitimate, fair points. However, to paraphrase one critical reviewer: There are many critical questions raised by the Creative Class theories, but, in the end, Florida just seems to get so much right that you can't dismiss him out of hand.

Case in point, the following excerpt from a new Village Voice article about Sam Shepard's return to New York to direct Stephen Rea in a production of a new play:

I would say that Richard Florida could have actually wrote that paragraph, if I didn't know any better.
What constitutes a scene?

I think we are getting more of a theatre scene here in Boston, but is there anything we can do to help it along? Is it an organic process that can't be influenced, or can we take positive steps to make sure that Boston continues as place where young theatre artists are coming to stake their claim?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Boston Theatre- 2008-2009 Subscription Survey

Boston Area Theaters are gearing up for the new season, and it is time for my annual, unscientific subscription survey!

Just a few notes before the listings:

This is a mostly unscientific survey of the subscription packages of most of our theatres that offer them. For my results I start with of the cheapest subscription package that you can purchase. This is usually the Preview/Weeknights and Matinees/Off Peak packages in the Balcony/B tier seating. However, I do exclude packages that are extremely strict such as "Wednesday Matinee Previews" or "First Tuesday."

Next, I divide the total cost of the package by the number of plays in the package. I also don't deal with things like Student Discounts, Senior Discounts, Early Bird Discounts, Under 35 Discounts, as well as Flexpass options. (As a note, Flexpass generally does not provide savings as much as convenience.)

Many theater companies are offering multiple subscription packages of different combinations of plays, (3 play subscription, 4 play subscriptions, etc.)but for the final results I have listed the largest subscription package because it generally provides the largest per-ticket discount. In other words, the more plays you subscribe to, the larger your overall savings. But somebody could create a nice theatre season by combining smaller packages. For instance: A three play package from one theater could be combined with a 4 play package from another theater.

Subscribing still offers the best savings for people interested in seeing theatre. For instance, you can subscribe to a whole season at some companies for less than one ticket to a Broadway touring show!

Many theatres are offering Under 35 Discounts, which I will deal with in a future post.

My prices do not include processing fees, building maintenance fees, or other fees.

I have decided that this is the last year I will include Preview Subscriptions as a viable option. With Equity contracts necessitating the continuous shrinking of rehearsal time, it is my opinion that even opening nights can sometimes be a pretty shaky affair, (gaps between cues, obvious dropped lines, really shaky scene transitions and just an overall first run- through feel.) This has happened to such an extent that it has made me question the value proposition of the discount for a Preview subscription.

Here are the listings:

Company One: 4 Play Subscription: $20.00 Per Play

Merrimack Repertory Theatre: 6 Play Subscription: $22.00 Per Play

Trinity Repertory Theatre: 6 Play Subscription $22.00 Per Play

Actors Shakespeare Project: 4 Play Subscription: $22.50 Per Play

New Repertory Theatre, 7 Play Subscription: $26.00 Per Play

Lyric Stage: 7 Play Subscription: $27.00 Per Play

Huntington Theatre Company: 7 Play Subscription: $27.14 Per Play *

Stoneham Theatre: 7 Play Subscription: $28.42 Per Play
American Repertory Theatre: 7 Play Subscription: $33.42 Per Play.

Speakeasy Stage: 5 Play Subscription: $38.00 Per Play

Some closing notes:
This survey is not artistic, there are interesting and important productions to see in any of the seasons these companies are sporting. However, there are also productions in each of their seasons that I could probably do without. In that case, somebody could look into several smaller play subscriptions, as I mentioned above.

I am not responsible for the prices listed, they can change at anytime.

The information has been gathered from the websites of the individual companies, AS BEST AS I COULD DECIPHER. Some companies make it extremely difficult to follow what you would be paying and what is included in the subscriptions. Representatives from the companies are free to contact me, and I will make corrections, but they should also look at this survey as reflection of how easy it is to follow the subscription packages on your website.

*(Just a note: The Huntington subscription above is for the C seating section, which, at the BU Theatre, (the Huntington's Mainstage,) does make a difference in the viewing experience. I was tempted to do their breakdown from their B seating, but the C seating option gives such a substantial discount to the Mainstage productions that I decided not to ignore it: $20 per play for the mainstage is a pretty good value. For a 7 play subscription to the B Seating you are looking at about $35 per play.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Deepening Time

From Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class:

The one-life-per-person rule is the ultimate time constraint and people have never been happy with it. A good bit of intellectual and social history can be read as a series of attempts to get around it. In addition to life-shifting, a strategy of stacking two or more lives into one end-to-end, modern day attempts would include the war on death and aging - an ongoing campaign to extend life - and parallel processing, which is the strategy of trying to to live several lives simultaneously by combining a vocation with longtime avocations: thus the programmer-rock-climber-rock musician.

With so many people feeling chronically pressed for time, a new set of moment to moment strategies has emerged. The intent is what scholars call "time deepening" - if one cannot elongate time, perhaps one can deepen or intensify it, getting more from each bit. To me this is the key difference in our use of time, and it can be far more insidious than long hours.

Florida's book then goes on to diagram the "experiential" inclinations of his Creative Class, examining how Leisure has changed over the decades. His large metaphor is the Kayak-Motorboat difference in the choice of outdoor activities.

How does theatre address this audience? In a way, this has always been the question.

Gurnet Theatre Project's production of Adam Rapp's Essential Self Defense probes and tries to give voice to the alienation and the pressing despair of the youth who are coming-of-age in post 9/11 America. While down the street, the ORFEO Group is presenting Look Back in Anger, John Osborne's play which attempted to do the same thing in 1950's England.

Osborne uses Jimmy Porter's cynical rants, occasional roughhousing, music playing and squalid living conditions to achieve an experiental effect. Adam Rapp uses cynical dialogue, physical violence, live music and squalid living conditions to achieve the experiental effect.

While it is true that many of the displacement anxieties facing Jimmy Porter can be related to by the young people of today, I think the way emerging classes are experiencing life and art is changing. Osborne's character's sit around the hovel, ironing and reading the paper. Rapp's characters go to a karoake bar where they don't even sing cover tunes, they basically create songs off the top of their head. They take self defense classes, they roller skate, and the slightly demented main character dyes colorful easter eggs in some type of large scale creative project. (Osborne does have his characters break into a vaudeville late in the evening.)

Frank Rich pointed out, in a discussion of a 1980's revival of Look Back in Anger, that Osborne relied very heavily on the creaky constructions of drawing room plays - telegrams, letters, and sudden, almost magical, attractions forming to complicate the proceedings. I want to say Rapp relies very heavily on some conventions of modern plays as well, but I'm not sure, yet.

In an essay on Pragmatic Theatre in the New York Review of Books, Tom Stoppard talks about seminal plays of his generation, and how, it strikes him, "that a play that depends on keeping its secrets isn't worth seeing twice." However, he then slyly contradicts himself with winking acknowledgement. He goes on to say that plays that advance the art are plays that "withhold information."

But Osborne's play, though it sang a new song, didn't advance anything deeper. It withheld nothing. It shouldn't be surprising that Look Back in Anger was admired by Terence Rattigan (I speak as an admirer, too). After I saw Look Back in Anger I started trying to write a play like it, but I stopped because there was no point. It had been done. (It was also true that I couldn't write a play like Look Back in Anger, but that's a mere technicality.) The point was I could see what Osborne was up to and how it might be done.

But with Godot and The Birthday Party the case was entirely different. I couldn't see how it was done. I couldn't see what exactly was done, either. Each play was simultaneously inspiring and baffling. It broke a contract which up to that era had been thought to exist between a play and its audience. There had seemed to be a tacit agreement, up to then, that if you could be bothered to show up to watch something up there, then the thing up there had certain obligations toward you, such as the obligation to give you the minimum information you needed to make sense of the whole.

It seems that Beckett and Pinter were "experiential" in a much different way.

Anyway, these are just some random thoughts.

Another question and one I may attack in a later post: Is why does the character of Sadie, the heroine of Rapp's play, seem to differ so little from the put upon female at the center of Osborne's play? Surely, young single women have morphed in their overall role in American society as to warrant a protaganist or supporting character that is not defined in the same way as the general, coservative consensus of 1950's London?

Robot Innards

Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan for pointing to this oddly engrossing photo gallery of children's toys and the robots inside of them. (Click on the photos for the complete gallery.

We always were suspicious of Barney weren't we?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Endings and Beginnings - Superheros are Born!

Way Theatre Artists, which has been bringing Boston some great acting and garnering very positive critical notices, including an Elliot Norton Award for The Kentucky Cycle, (a co-production with Zeitgeist Stage last fall,) is coming to an end.

Way's Founder and Producing Artistic Director Julie Ohl is preparing for her next production, Motherhood, and so she is retiring Way Theatre Artists. Congratulations to Julie on her new family and her accomplishments with Way. I remember first meeting Julie through a gathering of fringe theatre artists like 11:11 and AYTB. She has been committed to the Boston Fringe for many years and it was exciting to see her bring Way, in such a short time, to such notice.

But fear not, Julie tells us in a press release: "Way's Resident Director and Artistic Associate Greg Maraio takes the helm as Producing Artistic Director of the new Phoenix Theatre Artists."

The first project of Phoenix will be a new play to be penned by local talents Rick Park and John Kuntz. The Superheroine Monologues.

From the release:

A huge parody on female icons, campy and fun. The play will touch on the evolving roles of women from the 1940's to today. An all-female cast will participate in its development this winter, leading up to its world premiere at Boston Playwrights' Theatre in April 2009. Phoenix Theatre Artists plans to donate a portion of each ticket sale to benefit a local women's shelter.

The cast includes: Maureen Aducci, Melissa Baroni, Elizabeth Brunette, Amanda Good Hennessey, Eliza Lay, Shawna O'Brien, and Christine Power.

(Full Disclosure: I know just about everybody involved in the above release, except Supergirl.)

(Photo from

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Summer is here.

Slow time for theatre, right? Wrong. There is still plenty to see, and if you take a day trip, there is even more!

Limited Engagement!

In the 1850s-60s, author Charles Dickens enjoyed a second career in England and America as a public reader and actor of his novels. My friend and colleague Erik Rodenhiser recreates the experience at his Griffen Theatre in Salem this weekend! That's Erik, as Dickens, on the right.

Erik has been performing as Ebeneezer Scrooge since he was about 17 years old, he is a talent at transforming himself. But this is only for Friday and Saturday night so if you are up on the North Shore, you may want to check it out. Call 978-825-0222 for reservations

The Capitol Steps brings its special brand of musical satire to Boston on Saturday night. No matter how tired of the campaign you think you are, don't worry, the Capitol Steps can usually get more than a few laughs out of you.


Kenneth Tynan famously championed John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, saying, "I agree that Look Back in Anger is likely to remain a minority taste. What matters, however, is the size of the minority. I estimate it at roughly 6,733,000, which is the number of people in this country between the ages of 20 and 30. And this figure will doubtless be swelled by refugees from other age groups curious to know precisely what the contemporary young pup is thinking and feeling."

The play is often talked about, but seldom produced anymore. The Orfeo Group will be presenting it at the Piano Factory, is free! So check out what all the excitement was about those many years ago.


Essential Self-Defense (Left,) karate chops and karoakes into its second weekend at the Boston Center for the Arts. Reviews so far are here, here, here, here, and here. Gurnet Theatre Projects production of Adam Rapp's fractured meditation on post 9/11 fears plays for a few more weekends.

Playwrights Platform will be running Series B of their Summer Festival. Check out the local writing talent.

An added bonus is being able to see some really good actors taking their turns with these new works.

Information is here.

Last Chance:

This is your definite last chance to see The History Boys, (no, I don't mean the Celtics.) Speakeasy's production of the Alan Bennett play runs through Sunday at the Boston Center for the Arts.

If you are in the Gloucester area, you can see Billy Bishop Goes to War at Gloucester Stage before it closes on Sunday.

The final bell rings for the Late Night Catechism at the Stoneham Theatre.

Out of Town:

Beyond Therapy at Williamstown.

Shakespeare and Company's production of All's Well That Ends Well, joins The Ladies Man, already running.

George Bernard Shaw's Candida and Harold Pinter's The Caretaker are on the boards at the Berkshire Theatre Festival.

Barrington Stage runs the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and The Mystery of Harris Burdick.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

File Under - "Did They See the Same Show?"

Neil Labute's reasons to be pretty has opened at the MCC.

Here is Martin Crisuculo at

One thing all the characters do have in common is their blue-collar status. This is the first of LaBute's plays to be populated with working class folks, and he clearly feels for them more than he has for many of his previous creations. Whatever misgivings he may have about them, they all get a chance to show their good side. Whether it's Kent speculating that God doesn't have a master plan, or Carly illustrating the price of being beautiful (i.e., random guys following her around the supermarket), LaBute shows what to like about (or, at least sympathize with) these characters.

Here is Alexis Soloski in the Village Voice:

LaBute insists in a program note on his "profound respect for work and workers and communities who live from paycheck to paycheck," but in the play, he mocks his characters for what they eat, what they buy, and their choice of reading material. He makes most of them profoundly inarticulate, as well as blind to their true motives and emotions. One shouldn't expect characters to mimic their playwrights, or vice versa (David Mamet probably has chats without recourse to expletives), but Kent and Carly, especially, speak in voices so far from LaBute's own that it reads as contemptuous.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Can we get Beyond Beyond Therapy?

Louise Kennedy is out in Williamstown for the opening of Beyond Therapy. The review seems like a struggle, but I really don't blame her. She hits the nail on the head with this paragraph:

Despite some expert comedic work by director Alex Timbers and his cast, however, the current production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival feels - well, anything but current. Durang's needy singles and narcissistic therapists are caught in an awkward limbo: too familiar as targets of satire to feel fresh, and too removed from contemporary life to seem believable. Maybe part of the problem is the show's very popularity: How can we rediscover it if it's never gone away?

The bolded sentence caught me attention, (as I don't really think needy singles and therapists are that much removed from contemporary life.)

I have seen many productions of Beyond Therapy: college productions, professional productions, community theatre productions, small theatre productions and fringe theatre productions. I have seen countless variations of scenes from the play in acting classes, both as a student and as a teacher. I have even been in a production of the play once, (actually I was in another Durang play that served as the curtain raiser for Beyond Therapy. But I had to sit around and see the play every night from the wings.)

Maybe somebody should try and do a One Man Beyond Therapy?

Watching Gurnet Theatre Project's Essential Self Defense I saw that much of the first act of the Adam Rapp play is, well, Beyond Therapy. Not a rip-off, or a cheap copy of Durang, (Rapp has a wit and style of his own,) but more like a use of the basic structure. That structure being this: Two singles, on a first date, talking right past each other.

In that respect, we see quite a bit of Beyond Therapy inside many new plays today.


Woman: Are you thinking you might like to have children?

Man: I think that diapers with printed patterns on them are a subtle way of introducing the idea of the implanted bar code to us when we are very young.

Woman: Oh...I've never thought of it that way.

Man: But you've thought about having children a lot, haven't
you? (Beat.) I like the way you through your nose.

Woman: Thank you, I guess.

Man: Anteaters do that. Do you know that anteaters, in some native cultures, are considered the most beautiful animal in the ecosystem?

Woman: That's nice. Do you like anthropology?

Man: No. Anthropology is a lie created to repress our sexual desires. I just like anteaters.

Woman: Oh, I like Panda Bears.


Man: Mmm-Mmm

Woman: Do you always do that?

Man: What?

Woman: Sit with one finger in your drinking glass?

Man: The temperature of beverages upon consumption is very important to the regeneration of skin.

Woman: Well, you have nice skin. I'm not sure I like that word:"beverages." It seems like there are a lot of silly words out there. Like commitment, marriage, desperation.

It's a poor parody, but I hope you get the general point. It's not that this stuff can't be really funny. Good actors can make a meal out this kind of thing, and as long the playwright is actually funny, they can sustain it for quite a while.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Youth Invasion

Martial arts, meet cutes, the ultimate creepy bachelor's pad, karoake contests, (in which you must make up your own songs,) missing children and an unhealthy obsession with hardboiled eggs.

And that's just the first 20 minutes of Adam Rapp's Essential Self -Defense being performed by Gurnet Theatre Project at the BCA Black Box through June 28th.

The music at the karoake bar in the play is live, and the cast includes some of the hot young fringe theatre talent in town. The trailer for the show is here:

Speaking of youth, Counter-Productions Theatre company just put on a pretty blazing Glengarry Glen Ross at the Piano Factory. It closes this weekend. (Full Disclosure: I have worked with several members of the company in the past.)

The talent and performances were exciting, electric and full of passion. The director used the Piano Factory as well as any show I have seen there. Of course, it was miscast in that college production way - many of the cast look like they should be twenty-somethings coding games at Electronic Arts, but instead were playing grizzled, washed-up real estate salesmen. But the crisp and professional production and the intensity of the acting held off any disbelief for the entire running time. Once these actors hit their stride they were pretty much off to the races.
I look forward to their next outing, and, maybe, in about 20 years they could reunite this cast to present this play again. I'd be first in line.
Lately, I haven't been able to go to smaller productions without seeing at least one or two really superior performances.

I have to say, it is pretty exciting.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Check Your Sense at the Door!

Imaginary Beasts has just one
more weekend left to their run of Impossible Things.
I wasn't intending to write a review of the show, but I did want to mention it because there is so much that shouldn't be missed.
Taking off from Lewis Carrol's statement, "Sometimes, I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast," the Beasts have collaborated to make a show dedicated to the art of nonsense.

Director Matthew Woods opens the show with some friendly advice: "Please don't try to make sense of it." And it is good advice indeed, because a mind occupied with trying to extrapolate themes and morals from this beautifully silly evening would risk missing some moments of pure theatrical joy.

The major stars are the costumes by Cotton Talbot Minkin and the simple, but imaginative, stagings dreamed up by the company. At one point a railway car appears, heralded by the clacking of umbrella spokes simulating train wheels. Paper hats become boats, costumes render optical illusions and backlit parasols are canvasses for dark fairy tales.
The ensemble of Jordan Harrison, Eliza Lay, Amy Meyer, Elizabeth Pearson and Jennifer O'Connor works wonderful magic in that rehearsal hall upstairs at the Calderwood, but it is the disciplined and talented physical zaniness of O'Conner, acting like a stage three booster rocket, that sends the show into another level. From a Lewis Carroll-meets-Marilyn Monroe rendition of Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend to a hilarious strip-tease, pairing the petite actress with the towering Jordan Harrison, she quite simply defines all of what fringe theatre can be.

But the show also balances this work with more elegant touches as when Eliza Lay makes her way across the stage in a choreographed moonlight walk, accompanied by the ensemble, who entwine her with strings and parasols.

Lay also reveals a very striking and frightening turn of events during the climax of one of the fractured fairy tales.

A word of warning: your enthusiasm for the show will all depend on your tolerance for nonsense, no way around it. And the entire evening could be shorter as there are segments that stretch too long. (But remember, the same can be said for August Osage County and The History Boys!) But, to paraphrase Edward Albee when he was speaking of the Absurdist playwrights: "Let your defenses down, go in with an open mind and, who knows, you may end up having a great time!"
(Photos courtesy of Imaginary Beasts and Meg Taintor Photography.)

Education of Stephanie Umoh

The Boston Globe has another entry in their continuing profile of Boston Conservatory student Stephanie Umoh. In this installment she is approaching graduation, and the showcase.

But even a good song couldn't hide her vocal problems. All the
performing she'd been doing the last few weeks had taken its toll on her normally robust voice, which was sounding hoarse and husky. "I was getting vocally tired very easily," says Umoh.

She consulted a doctor specializing in voice rehabilitation at
Massachusetts General Hospital. She was urged to rest her voice and do exercises to reduce the stress on her inflamed vocal cords.

Next worry: Money. Though she's received scholarships and held a
patchwork of jobs the last four years, she still owes $130,000, before interest, for her student loans. And getting ready for Showcase wasn't cheap. There was the trip to New York for $700 promotional head shots. The rubberized soles. The haircut.

You can read the full series here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Critic's Secret Wish?

Joe Adcock is leaving the Seattle Post Intelligencer after 26 years. John Logenbaugh, writing for the Seattle Weekly, interviewed Adcock about his exit. Here is the end of the interview, which actually is a little bit moving:

At the end of our interview, I pitch Adcock a softball—call it professional courtesy. I ask if he had a parting wish for Seattle theater on his way out the door. "My wish would be that on January 1st next year, every adult in Seattle would make a resolution to see one play a month," he laughs. "Because I don't think they know what they're missing."

Then there's a long pause. Adcock looks down at his hands, and when he looks up, to my surprise, his eyes are red and his voice quavers a bit. "There's something really poignant to me about so many artists trying so hard and getting so little for it," he says. "When you see people in the theater lobby and you think, 'I saw them on stage! And they were good!' But good and a career are very different." He pauses again. "My wish would be that they could all have jobs
doing what they do well. That's the most troubling thing for me, people throwing themselves like moths at something that is pretty unforgiving, even damaging." He looks down again, then up at me with a sad smile. "I know it doesn't make much sense for me to say I wish they'd all have jobs. But I do."

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Pillars of our Theatre

Rob Kozlowski a blogger in Chicago, went to see the now celebrated production of Our Town by the Hypocrites, but....had to leave at intermission.
Jen and I experienced some transportation issues and managed to get the very worst seats in the house, sitting in the exact spot that put one of the pillars in the direct center of the action. Believe me, the scene where Doc Gibbs is scolding George for not chopping wood is far less effective when it appears that George is being portrayed by a pillar. I think I lost my motivation to stay for the rest of the play when the pillar started crying. I had to call do-over and we left at intermission. It's the first time I've ever left a play during an intermission because I couldn't see anything, but I just felt my level of frustration was going to further ruin what should have been a special experience. Too many people I respect have praised this production, and I just needed to call do-over.
The Actors Shakespeare Project's recent production of Henry V got much praise in the press, but it seemed that there was a subtext lurking in some of the reviews about the staging, to be more specific, the obstructed view.

Some reviewers did mention it outright. Thomas Garvey:

But then there's that pillar. I'm half-onboard the ASP's commitment to unusual spaces around town, but really, their Harvard Square digs, at least as configured here, have limits you just can't get around: for long sequences, I was watching Henry's back, as he conversed with someone else who was blocked by the pillar. To hell with the "brightest Heaven of invention" - I'd settle for an unobstructed view!

Dede Tanzer, writing on the PMP Network was a little more hostile:

My first clue that this production really was going smell rotten was
when the first line was delivered from behind the insulated, taped lolly column at center stage. Couldn't they have at least tried to make it look like a tree? That's what my kids would have done in our basement.

There are many reviewers, especially those in print, who who buy into the noble pretension that they are speaking for the common man, the average Joe or Jane, (or elite Joe or Jane,) who is being asked to part with hard earned cash for their tickets. Fair enough. But then they seem to take no interest in such things as the fact that everybody on house right has an obstructed view for major scene of the play. Or that the director of a thrust staging has basically given up and staged the entire thing to the center, as if they were in a proscenium.

I have always wondered how a reviewer sitting in that center section could possibly ignore the ever-increasing fits of neck-craning exasperation and anger running along those side galleries. While viewing some productions at the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Theatre over the years, I have found these obstructed view seizures of my fellow playgoers to be, at their most fevered heights, an uncomfortable distraction.

Now, of course the side galleries and the balconies are not paying as much as Orchestra Center Row G, and so minor inconveniences should be expected. But maybe critics should be sensitive to cases where fully two thirds of the paying ticket buyers will not be experiencing the same show as they.

Maybe not? What do people think?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Last Chance

Oscar Wilde takes his final bows at the Lyric Stage this weekend. The Importance of Being Earnest closes up.

Actors Shakespeare Project plays their political thriller King John until Sunday.


Last summer I saw a delightful piece of fringe theatre at the Whistler in Dark FeverFest. It is returning, this time somewhat expanded, to the Calderwood. Imaginary Beasts presents Impossible Things starting tonight.

Gloucester Stage Company starts off their season with Billy Bishop Goes to War.

I know, I know, we all read Our Town in high school, but if you haven't seen it in a long time, it might be time to check it out again and be reminded of just why it has attained such a permanence in the American Canon. And you can do just that at Wellesley Summer Theatre for the next few weeks.

If you didn't see Ruthless the Musical at the BCA a few years you get your chance to catch it at the Cambridge YMCA in a Metro Stage Company Production.


The History Boys hold court at the Roberts Theatre until June 22.

The almost universally acclaimed She Loves Me keeps the Huntington Mainstage charged up.

In the Factory Theater in the South End, David Mamet's slimy salesmen deal their dirt in a production of Glengarry Glen Ross.

Hartford Stage has been presenting Tennessee William's The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore in their continuing project of staging all of William's work.

Limited Engagement:

Comedian and Songwriter Red Peters presents his Nu-Vaudeville review, Oddville, at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

No Need to Apologize

From The Producer's Perspective Blog:

When your baby is getting out there for the first time, your audience
knows what they are in for. We know what to expect.

If we're going to see a reading, we know you're not going to have
full costumes, and that the actors only had a few hours of rehearsal . . . just like if we are going to a one-year old's birthday party, we know that the kid is going to be in diapers, that the parents really planned the party and that there are going to be a bunch of other one-year olds at the party screaming and poopin' their brains out.
The parents don't have to stand up and give a speech before the party begins explaining that the cake will be bigger when the kid turns 18.

And you don't have to give a pre-show speech explaining why
the music stand represents a desk and what the show would have been like if you had more rehearsals and more money.

Don't apologize for it. Don't make excuses.

Let the show do the talking and save what you've got to say for
after the show in the lobby.

The Difference Between Stopping and Ending

Michael Feingold in the Village Voice:

The difficulty sets in when writers who seem to desire to tell stories
stop short and decline to go any further, as if they've come to the edge of some steep metaphorical cliff. It embarrasses me to feel, even metaphorically, that I'm in the crowd of onlookers yelling "Jump!"

Stories that don't arrive at full dramatic resolutions have been
part of the theater for most of the past century: Pirandello used them as a way of dramatizing his ideas about the theater itself, and Tennessee Williams let a major character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof tell the hero that his story was "fatally incomplete." But nobody could say that either writer had shirked the dramatic substance of his plays; the incompleteness embodied that substance. But merely leaving the substance unexplored embodies no principle. It's as if the
play had been written, not to achieve any sort of gratification for author or audience, but simply to have another play listed on one's résumé.

Conor McPherson, whose Port Authority has just opened at the
Atlantic Theater, is now well established as a writer of half-seen plays. In his more recent works, which mate a wonderfully grotty Dublin naturalism with chunks of old-fashioned ghost-story kitsch, the characters talk to each other, but what happens makes no particular sense. (Apparently nobody but me realized that the
patient in Shining City got rid of his ghost by giving his therapist the lamp.) In his earlier genre, to which Port Authority belongs, the characters live in separate voids, narrating their lives (to whom? for what purpose?) in the first-person past tense, with events simply running on until they run out.

Why People Should Talk About Sarah Ruhl

When people ask me why bloggers and critics want to talk about Sarah Ruhl so much, I should just point them to this statement from Chris Jones at the Chicago Tribune. (Emphasis mine.)

Ruhl is a playwright who tends to sharply divide critics and audiences — she is a writer who invariably starts us out on a strange but manageable little journey and then completely jumps the rails somewhere early in the second act (if you saw "The Clean House," you'll know whereof I speak). To appreciate her work, you usually have to take two consecutive leaps of faith in wholly different directions.

This division has been sharpened by Ruhl's amazing ubiquity. No living playwright gets done more in Chicago — the Goodman Theatre produced "The Clean House" and "Passion Play" in quick succession, Steppenwolf is doing "Dead Man's" and the Victory Gardens' "Eurydice" next season. Wherever you subscribe, you can't avoid Ruhl. So you'd better at least form an

This is in his review for Dead Man's Cell Phone at Steppenwolf. Speaking of which, Kris Vire at Storefront Rebellion is amused at how creative Steppenwolf has been with the pull quotes.

For instance Vire's Timeout Chicago Review starts this way:

This is the Sarah Ruhl work that has finally made us ask, What will it take for the American theater to realize the playwright has no clothes? To be fair, Cell Phone is not as infuriating as, say, Ruhl’s Passion Play was at the Goodman last fall. But neither is Cell Phone trying so hard to have something to say. This play, in fact, doesn’t seem to be trying very hard to do anything at all.

It is an extremeley negative review, but go read the whole thing and play a little game: Try to find where Steppenwolf pulled "Quirky!" for their ads.

George Jean Nathan

Bill Marx has a remembrance of the drama critic George Jean Nathan. Here is just a little bit:

Nathan admitted that he saw words, rather than spectacle, as the most crucial aspect of a performance, though he could write well about acting when he wanted. If this was a blind spot it wasn’t an oversight. (As for his disdain for Chaplin, Nathan, like Mencken, was resistant to the power of the movies.) Reacting against the actor-based criticism of the 19th century, Nathan felt that critics had to put performers in this place: “More bosh has been written of actors and acting than of any other subject in the world. The actor, at his
best, is a proficient, likable, and often charming translator into popularly intelligible terms of an imaginative artist’s work.”

Rogoff’s perspective, which leans toward a modern variation on
actor-based criticism, plays down Nathan in order to make room for the wave of academic reviewers that sprang up during the 1960s. To these critics, Nathan was an antique spitfire whose example had to be discarded to make way for more sophisticated academic-based criticism. Today, theater historians either patronize journalistic reviews or don’t know what to make of them. And the Nathan that is easily available in print turns out to be a tombstone, an ineptly
organized tome, edited by Arnold Lesile Lazarus, that includes only two hundred pages of Nathan in its four hundred.

Also, truth is that in a number of ways Nathan has dated badly.
Statements once meant to shock – “if all the Armenians were to be killed tomorrow and if half of Russia were to starve to death the way after, it would not matter to me the least. What concerns me alone is myself, and the interests of a few close friends” – come off as rancid bon mots of a wanna-be imperial sensibility. At his worse, Nathan believed too completely that sneering became him – he betrayed his own high standards.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Daniel Mendelsohn on Eastern and Western Doing?

Daniel Mendelsohn, writing about the new Philip Glass opera:

There can, that is to say, be no theater unless bad things happen, unless there are terrible problems, insoluble knots; without them, there would be nothing for the characters to do. That "doing" gives us the very word by which we refer to what happens on stage: "drama" comes from the Greek drân, "to do" or "to act." When we go to the theater, we want to see characters doing things. Bad things, preferably.

The inherent dramatic interest of badness helps explain the abiding fascination exerted by bad, or at the very least tormented, characters. In opera as in spoken drama, our attention tends to be focused either on the outright villains—the figures who engineer the bad things that make drama dramatic—or on those characters whose ostensible goodwill is complicated by other qualities, either dark or excessive, that create the titanic dilemmas with which they must struggle so interestingly. But in characters who are saintly—who are without the overweening ambitions that fuel so many plots, who approach life's crises reasonably rather than passionately, who want to be helpful rather than to prevail—we have little interest. For Antigone, with her outsized allegiances and inflexible righteousness, for Carmen, with her transgressive seductiveness and fatal in-dependent streak, we feel an abiding interest—even, though we might not like to admit it, allegiance—but does anyone really want to see a play about Ismene, or sit through an opera about Micaela? Could you even write such a play or opera? What would an opera that contemplates a blameless protagonist look like? (As opposed to an opera about a protagonist whose goodness is merely the refractive lens to examine a villain's badness: Billy Budd, say.)

Mendelsohn, reflecting on the famous Einstein on the Beach, believes Philip Glass may have the answer:

Whatever happened in this work, it wasn't the kind of happening—the "doing"—that got done in traditional drama, the troubled Western arc from knotting to loosening. Instead, Glass's music drama was "doing" something in a rather more Eastern mode—as if the mantric repetitions of the music were a kind of meditative medium (as they can indeed be, in Eastern religions) for achieving a kind of spiritual heightening: not an ideal position from which to witness Medea's infanticide or Peter Grimes's anguish, perhaps, but surely an appropriate state from which to contemplate other, purer characters. (Oliver Messiaen understood this too, as his own rather hypnotic, meditative Saint Francis of Assisi demonstrates.) Einstein would, in fact, be the first element of what turned out to be a trilogy of Glass operas about saintly men—the other two being Satyagraha (1980), about Mohandas Gandhi's evolution into a champion of nonviolent political resistance, and Akhnaten (1983), about the Egyptian pharaoh who attempted to establish monotheistic worship.

All Hail the New Creative Economy Czar!

Governor Patrick has appointed 32 year old Jason Schubach to a new, "first in the nation," position of Director of Creative Economy. Here is the Boston Globe Article:

Schupbach, who last worked as director of ArtistLink in Boston, which helps create and preserve affordable space for Massachusetts artists, said he will do what other industry directors do: connect clients to resources to help them grow and prosper. In the case of the creative sector, for example, many organizations view themselves as artists, not businesses, and don't realize they're eligible for some of the same programs - from tax breaks to workforce-training programs - as other companies.

"A strong creative economy translates into a strong overall
economy," Schupbach said. "These are innovators, the cutting edge."

The cost of this new effort, including Schupbach's salary of about
$70,000 a year, won't require additional money. It will be covered within the business development office's existing budget, said Kofi Jones, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

The article doesn't provide a link, but you can read more about Richard Florida and the "Creative Class," here.