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

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