Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who What When & Where: Boston's 2010-11 Season Shuffle

The 2010-2011 theater season is shaping up to be the most exciting Boston's past, present, and future.

Grab your iPhones, your blackberries, your organizers, or your keyboards, and kiss old habits goodbye. This season is going to be about where you're going, what you're seeing, and when the curtains rise.
The addition of Arts/Emerson and it's schedule, presenting international artists at a variety of venues; the ART's use of multiple locations; collaborations among the Huntington T
heatre, SpeakEasy Stage and the fringe-y Company One; the presentations of double-header productions at the Lyric Stage and Actors' Shakespeare Project.
These are some of the theatrical events that will keep audiences on the run this fall and winter, and set the pace for the rest of the season and the future of Boston theater.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

This Is The Week That Is

Arts events around the world with a connection to Boston (and/or me)

Is it just me, or does this week hold for all of us events that will shape the future of the Arts and Media, locally, nationally, and internationally?
Here are my picks for some of the events that have long gestated and will now spring forth, shaping and affecting my world.

Wednesday September 22

Bus Stop at the Huntington Theatre, Boston
Tonight's opening of Willian Inge's Bus Stop , featuring Norton Sustained Excellence Award winner Karen MacDonald, the uber-talented and locally controversial Will Lebow, and BU graduate and up-and-coming actor Noah Bean, marks a continuation of renewed interest in American playwright William Inge. It promises to rescue the single set, three-act play from it's identity as a motion picture vehicle starring Marilyn Monroe. Directed by former Huntington Artistic Director Nicholas Martin, through Sunday, Oct. 17.

The Divine Sister, by Charles Busch, at the Soho Playhouse, NYC

Following a sold-out Off-off Broadway run last spring, playwright/actor Charles Busch (my personal muse) stars as Mother Superior in a return to the genre parody campy comedies of his early Theater-In-Limbo beginnings. (Note: Throughout the mid-90's I directed sell-out Boston premieres of his plays Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, it's companion piece, Sleeping Beauty, or Coma, and the Frankie and Annette inspired Psycho Beach Party).
Featuring Obie winner Julie Halston (my co-muse), Allison Fraser, and Jennifer Van Dyck. Open-ended run.

The Whole Truth
, ABC TV, premiering on television sets nationwide

Okay, "it's only TV", but the series features "The Rise And Rise" of MA native Stephanie Lemelin, model/actress/producer and animal rights advocate, as series star Rob Morrow's assistant Rhoda. (I cast Stephanie in her first film, the beautifully written and produced short Late Summer by UCLA grad David Ottenhouse, also starring Sheila Stasack, Robert Walsh, and Gus Kelley. A former intern fo Lynda St. James of The Cameo Agency, Stephanie also served a stint as a Kevin Fennessy Casting intern.)

Thursday September 23

Death And The Powers: The Robot's Opera World Premiere at L'Opera de Monaco

Composed by Todd Machover with a libretto and lyrics by Robert Pinsky, this is the opera world introduction of a co-production of the ART, MIT's New Media Lab, Opera Futurum and the Chicago Opera Theater, in association with Opera Boston. (See my previous entry, "The Robots and Me". DATP will have it's American Premiere at the Cutler Majestic in March).

American Gothic by Tennessee Williams, World Premiere produced by Beau Jest Moving Theatre at the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, Provincetown, MA

Boston-based Beau Jest, founded by Artistic Director Davis Robinson (currently on the faculty of Bowdoin College in Maine) and winners of the 1995 Boston Theater Critics Circle Award and the 2010 Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award, presents it's second World Premiere Williams play in as many years, following the success of The Remarkable Rooming House of Madame LeMonde. With Robinson and Lisa Tucker, co-founding member of Beau Jest. Through Sept. 26.

Fräulein Maria, Arts Emerson at the Cutler Majestic, Boston

The exciting new entry to Boston's Performing Arts scene, Arts Emerson's inaugural presentation features Boston dancer/choreographer David Parker (son of the late writer Robert Parker and philanthropist/Arts mainstay Joan Parker) as Liesl Von Trapp in Doug Elkins' modern dance production, performed to the score of the movie The Sound of Music. Classic Rogers and Hammerstein songs collide with hip-hop, and Elkins dances the role of Maria.
One week only.

My Generation ABC TV, premiering on television sets nationwide.
Another personal Boston connection marks the "big three" network debut of Casting Director David Rapaport. (David's introduction to casting began as an Emerson College KFC intern. Subsequently, I hired David as a Casting Assistant. He went on to intern with the great, late, Mali Finn, becoming a Casting Associate then striking out with casting partner Lindsay Kroeger, and then on his own as David Rapaport Casting. My pride is showing.)

Thursday, September 23 through Sunday September 26

Arts Emerson, Emerson College at the Paramount Center, Boston

Emerson College's Arts Emerson is "throwing open open the doors to our spectacular home, the Paramount Center, a cornerstone in the revitalization of downtown Boston".
An exciting four day introduction to the gorgeous reimagined Paramount Mainstage and it's various components.

Friday, September 24

Enron by Lucy Prebble, Zeitgeist Stage Company at the BCA

Under the direction of Artistic Director David Miller, the award-winning company presents a cast of Boston actors in the ambitious local premiere of the international British hit (and Broadway failure), a multi-media event based on the financial scandal of the fin de siecle.
Through Saturday Oct. 15.

That's just a sampling of the events happening worldwide with connection to the "Athens of America".

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Robots and Me

Death and the Powers: The Robots' Opera
(Todd Machover, composer, Robert Pinsky, Libretto and Lyrics) has it's World Premiere on Thursday, September 24, in Monaco at L'Opera De Monaco)

It's the most technically complex music-theater piece I've ever been involved in.
Wait a minute: Opera? Technology? Me?

Appropriately enough, I first learned of the opportunity to participate through Twitter. A Twitter account I follow retweeted another Twitterer's tweet, responding to an ART post seeking volunteers to get involved in an ensemble rehearsal workshop. Directed by ART Artistic Director Diane Paulus, the ensemble would be choreographed by the great Karole Armitage (dubbed The Punk Ballerina in her early dance career).

Anyone who knows me knows my desire to revive my acting career, which began "post-academia" in 1976 (as I described in an earlier post. More info can be found at the Boston Irish Reporter , which featured a story in 2009 about my life in casting).
Having trained in Performance and Directing at Toronto's York University, I began a side career in directing in 1982 (the American premiere of Have by Hungarian playwright Julius Hay for Open Door Theater, the musical Boy Meets Boy for Boston's gay theater company, Triangle Theater, and a double bill of Trial By Jury and HMS Pinafore for Harvard's G&S Society at the Agassiz theater in Radcliffe Yard, which featured Broadway/TV/Film actor Craig Bierko, then a BU student, as Dick Deadeye). In 1995 I received Boston Magazine's Best Theatrical Director award (for the Boston premiere of Frank Galati's The Grapes of Wrath , outdoors for Open Door theater, and a revival of the children's musical Emil and The Detectives,, adapted by Andy Gaus and Karen MacDonald).
In 1994, while I was casting my 30+ member ensemble for The Grapes of Wrath, I began an association with Carolyn Pickman of CP Casting, who generouly allowed me to come in and use the company's actor headshots. Over two days I think I touched every headshot in those files. Carolyn stopped me one day and said, "What do you want to do, work here?". And so I did, until the end of 1997, when Boston actress/producer Christy Cashman offered to partner with me, and in 1998 we opened Kevin Fennessy Casting (the partnership dissolved in 2000, and I continued "on my own"). After surviving a devastating office fire in 2002, followed by a stress-induced heart attack, KFC ("We're Not Chicken") struggled on till the present. I still cast smaller projects and pursue other film casting jobs.

I jumped at the chance to work with Paulus and Armitage, albeit as a non-Equity volunteer. (I had forfeited my AEA card after performing with the New Repertory Theater in their 1994 production of Holiday Memories, as the Narrator, a Truman Capote stand-in, in this adaptation of two Capote stories, The Thanksgiving Visitor and A Christmas Memory. My last AEA, job as I chose to focus on casting).
Working with Karole brought me back to my ensemble-oriented university training. It was the mid-70's, when Canadian theater embraced an eclectic theatrical palate, especially anything that wasn't particularly British or American. After spending the previous year at the then rather traditional Boston Conservatory of Music, where acting classes meant a 45-minute scene and monologue class twice a week, the York theater program's 3 hour voice and movement workshops 3 times a week and the annual Student Project Week, when the department's facilities were turned over to the student body to experiment, perform, and empower us, was theatrical paradise. And I was the Rebel Yank, revelling in the experiences.

The opera tells the story of Simon Powers, his assistant, wife, and daughter. The set moves, illuminates, and supports projected images and people, and features a "chorus" of MIT designed and created Robots, all controlled by offstage technicians on a myriad of computers, laptops, and iPads. At one point in the midst of all this technology, a 30-member ensemble of "The Miseries of the World" storms the stage in a highly physical dance/movement piece.
For a week this summer at the end of June and another at the end of July, the ensemble met with Karole at MIT. Very quickly, Armitage assessed and learned the individual strengths of this volunteer ensemble, ranging in age from 12-65. In a pure and organic way, she exploited those strengths, a sculptor molding her human "clay".
As it evolved, I found I was one of the opening moments, hurling myself onstage from behind the set, landing on my knees, crawling and pleading for help, while lighting and sound supported the entrance of The Miseries.
Under the guidance of Broadway costume designer David Woolard, we created our own costumes. He described his vision of The Miseries as representative of all ethnicities, classes, and time periods. I decided my Misery would be a downsized 20th C. businessman, using components of a suit from 1979 (which, ahem, I could still fit into), distressing it with rips and tears with a razor and my hands, dipping the shirt and tie in double-strength coffee, rubbing in a paste of water and cigarette ash, burning holes and edges of shirtsleeves, tails, and cuffs with a lighter. On top of this, and as makeup, a pasty white pancake and spray creat the look of volcanic ash.
We toiled through technical rehearsals (I even volunteered to stand in for both soloists and robots during lighting sessions), and our work culminated in a full dress rehearsal on the stage of the beautifully restored Cutler Majestic Theater downtown. The enormous set was then disassembled to be shipped to Monaco for this week's premiere.
In Monaco, the company is putting together a local ensemble and teaching them the piece that the Boston ensemble created. But our Boston ensemble will perform in the American Premiere in the spring of 2011.

The decades between college and the physically taxing workshop, however, have taken their toll. The abandon with which I thrust myself into the experience resulted in increasing leg and knee pains: I exacerbated a condition I was completely unaware of. X-rays and orthopedics revealed to me and my doctors that I have acute arthritis in my right hip, it's cartilage eroded due to years of working on my feet in just about every job I've ever held, living most all of my life in third and fourth floor "walk-ups", genetics, and possibly from infant hip dysplasia (back in the mid-50's, when I was born, doctors weren't looking at such things). My left hip shows no arthritis, just minor signs of an active life well-lived, but my right hip is basically bone-on-bone. (I was told by my doctor that x-rays show I "have the knees of an 18 year old".)
In retrospect, this explains the minor aches and pains that have been coming on over the past few years. And so, on Wednesday Oct. 6, I'm undergoing total hip replacement surgery at New England Baptist Hospital, the best orthopedic facility in the region if not the country, with Dr. James Phillips , likewise one of the best in his field.

When I told a friend about my hip, he replied "Now you'll have the knees of an 18 year old and the hip of a Robot".
One of my goals in recovery is to be physically sound enough to perform with the opera in March at the Majestic.
I can't wait to work with my Robot brethren.
In costume for Dress Rehearsal in August


Another Opening of a Slew of Shows

The fall 2010 theater season is in full swing

Basham and Gottlieb in In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)

The ART Institute actors in Alice VS Wonderland

Kuttner, Thomas and Lyman in The Real Inspector Hound

Because of my impending surgery and a hiatus of recovery (Watch for my next post: Me And The Robots), I'm a little late to the start of the 2010/11 Boston theater season. I made it to three of the initial offerings, and while my wish always is to see absolutely everything, I have to apologize to the casts, crews, and companies whose productions I'll regretfully miss.
But on to the three I've seen.

The Real Inspector Hound
(Publick Theater at the BCA's Plaza Theater)
The Publick opens the season with a revival of Tom Stoppard's early effort, an absurdly layered parody of Agatha Christie-like whodunnits and overblown, self-important theater critics, with a Pirandellian shattering of the fourth wall turning it into a youdunnit fot the critcs. The cast of comic Boston actors is somewhat hampered by Mamet-like pacing and pauses, but impressive turns are delivered by Sheridan Thomas as the lumbering Mrs. Drudge the maid, Gabriel Kuttner as the wheelchair spinning Major Magnus Muldoon, and, as Lady Cynthia Muldoon, the piercingly blue-eyed and towering Georgia Lyman. While the body (no pun intended) of the work is a bit of a hit or miss, the curtain call staging is hysterically brilliant.

Alice VS Wonderland
(ART at the Loeb, a limited run showcasing the current ART Instute students, by the Hungarian director Janis Szasz)

Hewing closer to the original source than the recent Tim Burton movie, this Alice is an almost literal adaptation, with contemporary idioms, whimsical costumes with an 80's punk style, utilizing rock and pop music ranging from the Beatles to Lady GaGa.
If you lived through the ensemble-developed shows of the 60's and 70's, it may all seem a mite "retro".
It's a great showcase for the talented students, and a bridge from the past (Janos Szasz has been a favorite auteur of the Brustein/Woodruff regimes), to the present missions and the future of these promising performers.

In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
SpeakEasy Stage at the Calderwood Pavillion)
Norton Award recipient Scott Edmiston works again with some of his best collaborators on Sarah Ruhls almost-Pulitzer play. A rock solid cast (including audience, critic, and award favorites Ann
e Gottlieb and Marianna Basham, dubbed by one writer the "Lucy and Ethel" of Victorian sexuality) includes the impressive local debut of Lindsey McWhorter as Elizabeth, the wet nurse. The physical production is another stunning example of the rise and resources of SpeakEasy Stage in this, the company's 20th Anniversary season.

I'll Miss This Event, But You Don't Have To

At the Inspector Hound performance I attended, Artistic Director Diego Arcienegas announced, a great free weekend-long event at Wellesley College on October 15 & 16. Titled Shakespearean Character On Trial, the events include a Keynote lecture on October 15 at 4:15 pm by Marjorie Garber (Harvard) and Carey Perloff (American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco), a performance by Shakespeare & Company 's founding Artistic Director Tina Packer of Women of Will (also on the 15th at 7:30 pm), and a Symposium on Theatre Criticism and Practice, with Packer, Arcienegas, Oskar Eustis (Artistic Director of the NY Public Theater and former AD of Trinity Rep in Providence), and nationally renowned theater director Joanne Akalaitis (Bard College,
the former artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Festival and founder of the critically acclaimed Mabou Mines in New York).
Did I mention it's all free?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Between a Rock and an ART Place

My Boston Theater career began, "officially", in 1976, on July 14, when the first play I was in "post-academia" opened (May Day, about the 70's Anti-War demonstrations in DC, written by Michael Wikes and directed by Andy Golov, both BU theater grads, at the former Boston Arts Group Theater, a second story black box on Boylston near the Pru). That fall, I toured coast to coast with Maxine Klein's Little Flags Theater, followed by Vatzlav ("Bobby Bat") at People's Theater (where else but in Cambridge), readings and workshops, and my first of many outdoor summer shows with the now defunct Open Door Theater (playing the radio announcer Gabriel Heatter in Toby Armour's Masque & Revelries of Calamity Jane {Kathryn Woods} and Her Would-Be Daughter Mrs. McCormick {M. Lynda Robinson}).
Then came one of my favorite roles ever: Grundeis, "the notorious thief" in a touring production of the German children's story Emil and The Detectives, with music by Andy Gaus, and book and direction by the Next Move Theater's Karen MacDonald.

And there lies my dilemma.

Before and since that tour, I became close friends with Karen, who I've always felt was one of the most talented actors I've known. (In the mid to late 90's, we were NY roommates in Brooklyn). Karen's friendship, support and love have had great importance in my professional and personal lives. When Diane Paulus became Artistic Director of the ART, I heard from many about the changes afoot, the dissolution of the Acting Company (which was actually begun by Robert Woodruff), and questionable season choices.

The "old" ART, which under Robert Brustein and his successors had produced some of my favorite shows (A Midsummer Night's Dream with the malevolent and inspired Puck of Mark Linn Baker, Comedy of Errors with Karen and Cherry Jones in their toilet-paper-doll dresses, Six Characters In Search Of An Author, True West, King Stag, No Exit, Mother Courage, 2008's Endgame, among many others) and some of the most maddening (Shakespeare's Pericles, Trojan Barbie, When It's Hot It's Cole, to name just a few), was no more.

At some point I stopped going unless Karen was featured, and post-show conversations were more about the process and "the weather".

Now, with the controversy surrounding Diane Paulus, the "a.r.t.", and the now infamous Will LeBow Letter, I find myself (having established this blog) needing to register a response.

I'm torn (how many weeks have I been composing this entry?) between past loyalties and the realization that I'm enjoying myself, at both the Loeb and at Oberon, with the "sense and sensibilities" of this "new regime".

I've boogied down at The Donkey Show, jumped to my feet at Best of Both Worlds, and left humming the tunes of Johnny Baseball.

I've also watched Karen (if possible) grow, deepen, and continue to excel in productions all over New England, most notably in All My Sons in a stellar performance at the Huntington, and in the tour-de-force cast full of characters in The Blonde, The Brunette, and the Vengeful Redhead at the Merrimack in Lowell.

My "Pollyanna 'Can't We All Just Get Along' " outlook is evident, and has been criticized by many.

As the wonderful Tommy Derrah sings in the current runaway hit production of Cabaret, "So What?".

I mourn the loss of the repertory company of actors, I feel for my friends and colleagues who are so personally and professionally upset, but I embrace the change.
Maybe I'm just a musical comedy kid with a penchant for "the immersive experience". But I'm not on board the "Get Her" train (a blog I read used that italicized phrase as an entry title). I'm looking forward to the coming season with bright, wide eyes.

And I can't wait to see Karen in Bus Stop at the Huntington