Thursday, July 12, 2012

Commonwealth Shakespeare: Call To Action!

It's the show that gave Cole Porter's KISS ME KATE one of the greatest lyrical double-entendres in "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" ("If she says your behavior is heinous, Kick her right in the 'Coriolanus' ").
Steve Maler's Commonwealth Shakespeare Company presents CORIOLANUS, opening July 25 and running through August 12, 2012: Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8pm; Sundays 7pm.  
And, as posted on their website and in a recent email, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company relies on the help of volunteers to continue the beloved tradition of bringing the bard's words to the masses on the Boston Common.

"Each night we need more than 15 volunteers to help in ushering, handing out playbills, and supporting souvenirs and concession sales. Besides being outdoors in the oldest city park in the United States and seeing a world-class production of Shakespeare for FREE, volunteering for CSC is a way to support one of Boston's leading arts institutions with your most priceless gift: your time! We offer great incentives for your help including VIP seating and discounts on merchandise."
If you would like to sign up, CLICK HERE

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Midsummer Openings: Indoor and Outdoor

This week, two of Boston's Fringe Theaters are opening shows.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead/Han Muerto
Apollinaire in the Park, Mary O'Malley Park, Chelsea
From 2002 until 2010, Chelsea's Apollinaire Theatre Company had been taking on  the huge task of producing free outdoor summer theater performances, in both English and Spanish on alternating nights.  Some of the past productions have included Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, Chekhov's The Seagull, Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Rostand's Cyrano De Bergerac, and Cocteau's The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower & Other Absurdities of Love.  But last year, cutbacks in funding caused the company to cancel what had become a summertime staple in Chelsea, serving a bilingual community with thought provoking and challenging plays in environmental stagings in the park, for free.  Thanks to the work of a fundraising committee bolstered by a successful online "kickstarter" campaign, the program is back this summer with Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (in Spanish, "Rosencrantz Y Guildenstern Han Muerto").  Performances run thru Saturday, July 28, with shows in English on Wed. Thurs. and Sat. nights, and in Spanish on Fri. and Sun.  All performances begin at 7:30, and audience members are encouraged to bring beach chairs, blankets, and coolers and picnic in the park.  Come early to get a good spot ... but travel lightly: as it's an environmental staging, the audience will pick up and move to another location for each new setting.

True Believers
Vagabond Theatre Group
At the Factory Theater at The Piano Factory, 791 Tremont St @Mass Ave.
Vagabond Theatre Group presents True Believers by local playwright Thom Dunn, it's third world premiere production since it was founded in the fall of 2009 by Artistic Director James Peter Solis.
True Believers "tells the story of aspiring comic book artists, psychotic fanboys, cybernetically enhanced humans and girls who dress like Princess Leia as their lives intertwine during a week at a comic book convention.  With character descriptions that include phrases like "Recently divorced. She took his entire Star Wars collection in the settlement. Yes, that includes his Han Solo in Carbonite coffee table. Not that he's bitter or anything." and "Seriously didn't mean to make Wolverine gay," this play is sure to entertain, engage and bring out your inner nerd!"  
Opening Thursday 7/12 at 7:30, thereafter performances are Wed. Thurs. at 7:30,  Fri. & Sat. at 8:00, and Sat. and Sun. July 15 at 2:00, through Sat. 7/22. 
$18/$15 students and seniors.  Tickets at Brown Paper Tickets

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Judy At The Palace of St. George: Kathy St George IS Judy Garland

Dear Miss Garland at the Stoneham Theatre, (781) 279-2200,  till July 22 (for tickets, click here).
Kathy St. George in DEAR MISS GARLAND

By the time Kathy St George, implores us, as Judy Garland, to forget our troubles and, "come on! Get happy!", I did a quick reality check.  Troubles, I got plenty, but forget them? I already did.
DEAR MISS GARLAND is the new and improved version of a show Kathy St George and Scott Edmiston created as Kathy's love letter to Judy Garland.
The first act covers the history of Kathy and Judy, growing up as a fan.  Like many of us, Kathy first got to know Judy Garland from the annual network television broadcast (when the only networks were ABC, CBS, NBC and, later, PBS) of The Wizard of Oz.  (The rest of you had videotapes and discs to view anytime you wanted to: its how my niece, at 4, was able to recite the segment "The house began to pitch ...").  She followed Judy's career by seeing all of her films, and as a performer she was drawn to her material. Together with director Scott Edmiston, St. George has crafted a show that has a very intimate first act (which could just as easily play in a cabaret room), which deals personally with Kathy's connections to Judy Garland, with songs and stories, sometimes giving a glimpse of Judy's character in those anecdotes and songs.  But mostly it's Kathy, relating to us her love and passion for Judy and her material. As much as it is the cliche of all cliches, there's a segment that closes Act One that alone is "worth the price of admission", and I laughed throughout her whimsical, virtuosic performance.  It's a segment that everyone relates to, and ties the first act together well.
Act Two is mostly a recreation of some of the song performances captured on the recording JUDY AT CARNEGIE HALL.  St George's music director/pianist/accompanist Jim Rice, who was the sole musician for Act One, is joined by others to create a 7 piece orchestra to provide a bigger sound for the second act.  Kathy,in the unmistakable iconic wardrobe pieces that help her define her characterization, hits one song after another out of the park, with an easy, dead on impersonation of Garland's energy, emotion and drive.  She doesn't use any artificial makeup enhancements to look like Judy.  She plays the gestures, and finds the emotion in those gestures.    This is the chance to see a singer/actress at the top of her form in material she was made for.   I've only seen Tracy Bennett (the British actress playing Judy Garland on Broadway in "End of the Rainbow") in a segment on the 2012 Tony Awards broadcast, but based on the little I saw, I think Kathy's Judy could go up against hers and come out on top.  
As an encore, Kathy comes out wrapped in an oversized faux black mink, and says "What becomes a legend most?", which is the line from a series of ads for a fur line called Blackglama, featuring gorgeous icons, (Sophia Loren, Judy Garland, Diana Ross, Bette Davis, Ann Margret, Joan Rivers, Janet Jackson, and even Tommy Tune, etc.), dressed in Blackglama mink.
In this show, it's Kathy who becomes a legend most!

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Visit to the Plaza Theaters at the BCA, 6/29 & 30: Polaroid Stories and A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Plaza Theaters at the BCA
Polaroid Stories, thru 7/14
A Midsummer Night's Dream "a cappella" Opera, closed.

First a little history: when I returned to Boston after my training at York University in Toronto, in 1976, the small theater scene was extremely limited.  There were fewer theater companies and spaces, and mostly a non-equity landscape for actors.  I worked initially at the Boston Arts Group Theater, a Boylston Street walk-up that housed a small company, Boston Arts Group, and was used as a rental space.  That show was MAYDAY, a play about the May Day demonstrations in Washington DC in 1971.  Written by Michael Wikes and directed by Andy Golov, two BU students, with a cast that included BU acting students as well as other young adult performers, it was my first play outside of college, and the only time a show I was in a show that received a review by Elliot Norton (it was a slow summer ...).  I then auditioned for, was cast in,  and began rehearsals, all in one day, two plays with Maxine Klein and her Little Flags Theater company: FANSHEN by David Hare, adapted from the sweeping chronicle by William Hinton of the Chinese revolution as seen from the small village of Long Bow, and TANIA, Maxine's original play with music about Tamara Bunke, a woman revolutionary who worked in the Bolivian jungles with Che Guevara.  At the time, Little Flags worked out of a space at the BCA that eventually became Hammersley's Bistro.  Whenever I pass the restaurant, I'm reminded of singing songs of revolution and performing plays about communism in third world countries.  The National Theater was steadily decaying at the other end of the block, where eventually the Calderwood Pavilion took it's place.  In the center, next to the Cyclorama, was a space called the Ehrlich, now the Plaza Theater.  The Plaza Black Box wouldn't be created for at least another decade, and within a few years the Ehrlich became The New Ehrlich, with it's own company, as well as being a rental space.  I performed in a few shows, and in 1985 directed The Star Spangled Revue of 1942, a 40's "book revue", which featured among its cast of 8, Bobbie Steinbach as a Vera Lynn-inspired "Lila Darby", Christopher Tarjan (currently the resident director of Shear Madness) as "radio personality Allen Ray", and Margaret Ann Brady as a kind of cross between Ethel Merman and Kate Smith (her rendition of a 40s war song, Marching Through Berin, practically shook the roof off the old place).  
All these years later I took in two shows last weekend in the Plaza Theater and the Plaza Black Box.

POLAROID STORIES, by Naomi Iizuka, is being produced by three of Boston's current Fringe companies: Hearts and Daggers ProductionsBoston Actors Theater and Happy Medium Theater Company, and provides the opportunity to get to know a bit about all three.  Co-directed by  Artistic Directors Joey C. Pelletier of Hearts and Daggers and Happy Medium's Elise Weiner Wulff, it has a cast of young actors representing all three companies as well as additional performers from the Boston theater scene.  The young ensemble portrays "street kids living on the edge in a desolate, urban landscape".  Written in 1997, the scenes and monologues could be happening at various times in recent history, and the production, while presented in a contemporary timeframe, wasn't specific enough to ground it in today.  I appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to the work of this cast, consisting mainly of actors I hadn't yet seen perform.  The production is sparse, and therefore relies on the actors to create the realities of these characters, who are given names and situations from Greek myths.  I was intently focused and their work kept me so, though I wasn't as engaged as another writer, Alan Chase, whose rave for the show can be found here.  At only $20 ($15 with a student ID), the show is very affordable and definitely worth checking out, to see the work of the next wave of Boston's actors, directors, and theater artists..
The room is not very well cooled, so be prepared on warmer nights: a few floor fans were brought in at intermission that made things much more comfortable.  On the Friday night I was there, we had just experienced a few very hot days, so don't worry that it's sweltering: just dress lightly, have a cold drink with you. and make use of the program to quietly fan yourself.

On Saturday night, I saw OperaHub's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the East Coast Premiere of a new opera, described by the company thus:
"GLEE meets La Scala in this innovative, genre-defying take on Shakespeare's beloved tale of love--and magic--in the woods. Melding opera, musical theater, and a cappella styles, this is A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM for the twenty-first century".  
Composer Michael Ching's opera uses Shakespeare's text, but in place of an orchestra, there was what they're calling a "voicestra", a chorus of singers who, joined occasionally by a keyboard player and a vocal percussionist, provided the accompaniment.  This was a pretty straightforward "Dream", in mostly modern dress, which included a few children/fairies, and had the audience tossing beachballs onto the set when we first went into the woods and encountered Oberon and Titania.  I appreciated the concept and production more than the material.  The Globe's Jeffrey Gantz reviewed the piece, and his review can be seen here.
The Plaza Theater, unlike the Black Box, was quite nicely air-conditioned.

street kids living on the edge Polaroid Stories & A Midsummer Night's dream