Blogs [design + theater]

Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England | thru 4.27.14

Hearts and minds dually engaged in delightful comedy

Two things almost never happen after a production, especially one that runs just over two hours. One: I rarely want the show to run longer and two: I’ve never wanted to see a spin-off. Both of these things happened at the end of Madeleine George’s delightful new comedy Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England. As a follow-up to last year’s hit Completeness, (also directed by Jeremy WechslerTheater Wit’s latest academic-themed dissection of love in the 21st century expertly mingles broad with incisive humor for a look at love in an altogether different generation.

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War Song | thru 4.19.14

Good intentions don’t make this song harmonious

“It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.

Frederick Douglass, “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln” delivered at the Unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument, 1876

Few other speeches from the post Civil War era sum up the conflicted attitudes of African Americans towards Abraham Lincoln, recently and instantly enshrined in the American mythology. Douglass makes many pointed references throughout, perhaps galled by the patronizing quality of the monument in front of which he was speaking. His absence from The Plagiarists War Song is conspicuous considering its content. Utilizing the development of the lesser-known speech “The Negro as Soldier” by Christian Fleetwood to explore race relations in America, the production is frustratingly one-dimensional. Rather than bringing this hero of the Civil War to life, he and his supporting characters feel more like caricatures. Only the songs themselves lend any genuine depth of emotion.

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Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live | thru 3.30.14

Caution: First 3 rows may get eaten!

For a limited time, Erth-Visual & Physical, Inc out of Sydney brings over a dozen prehistoric creatures to life for the delight of children and children at heart. In a setup akin to an instructional demonstration at SeaWorld, guide Aimee Lousianne educates and entertains while a skilled group of puppeteers interact with lucky audience members. Judging by the reaction of the children in the audience, seeing their greatest paleontological dreams come true was quite a thrill. Louisianne’s natural charm and the skill of the performers—along with the technological aptitude of the Jim Henson-like stars themselves—will enthrall adults on a different level.

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A Behanding in Spokane | thru 4.26.14

Imbalanced meets unbalanced, but doesn’t quite find right balance

Famed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokanmade its Midwest debut at Profiles Theater in 2011. Critics were divided—our own Catey Sullivan could only muster 1.5 stars. Others extolled its creepiness, black humor and distillation of McDonaghian themes. Personally, I wasn’t as primed for its absurdity then, but three years later I actually find myself liking this more the second time around even without Profile’s Darrell Cox’s considerable gravity to hold it all together. Written as a play that explores American absurdity (it’s McDonagh’s first play set here) and billed as a “twisted story of love, hate, desperation and hope”, Behanding is actually an overt commentary on how those things become traps. Specifically, how we build them ourselves, how we fight against them, and how they ultimately define us until we find a way to break free.

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This is Not a Cure for Cancer | thru 3.30.14

This is also not cohesive, focused

Watching Collaboraction’s This is Not a Cure for Cancer, I thought about all the other cancer/Alzheimer’s/AIDS stories I’d witnessed and wondered why cancer in particular gets a lot of attention while, in my recollection, I’ve never attended a production about heart disease. (It’s the leading killer in America after all – for now). If I had to venture a guess, it’d be that besides its ubiquity, cancer shares something in common with the Titanic vs. Eastland disaster in its inherent “drama of choice.” Cancer is not a disease as much as it is hundreds of diseases, each with various subtypes, treatments, misinformation and conflicting ideas on all levels. Writer/Director Anthony Mosely (along with Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman and Jeremy Wechsler) explores the fallout of his father’s 2001 death on his own psyche by attempting to take us into his own flickering neurons as they fire in a dizzying array around all he’s learned about cancer in the last decade. The resulting labor of love is a jumble, and the poetic license of framing that as a necessary byproduct of cancer’s inherent conflicts doesn’t go far enough to make this the exercise in jovial empathy it might have been.

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Amadeus | thru 3.16.14

Gorgeous revival delivers a desperately needed message 

As a worker in the creative world myself, Peter Shaffer’s story of professional insecurity rings true on many levels. Managers that sabotage their own protégés, steal credit, feign friendship to deflect blame—Amadeus may only have a slight grounding in historical facts, but it transcends that to become a Gothic myth with eternal resonance. Looking through history there are many actually more technically true stories (the Bernini and Borromini rivalry in architecture springs to mind).  The apocryphal stories that spread after Mozart’s mysterious death contributed to a myth of professional contention between he and Salieri that has next to no basis in fact. Still, this fictional Salieri’s journey is an engrossing exploration of the creative process, devotion, and the true cost of fame. BoHo has marshaled great talent to bring his Pyrrhic victory to life.

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Buzzer | thru 3.9.14

Possibly interesting take on gentrification gets lost en route

Not too long ago, I wrote about a wish for a third piece to round out the study in race and neighborhoods that began with A Raisin in the Sun and was sequeled by the excellent Clybourne Park. Since Clybourne was set in the relatively recent past, it seemed a bit premature to think that Tracey Scott Wilson’s Buzzer would fill that role, but reading the description, I had cautious hope that it would be an enlightening waypoint. At times, it is, and had the show been focused and culled “…and sexual” from its list of thematic tensions to explore, it might have been so much more. Black comedy (that feels more sitcom than truly dark) mingles unnecessarily with a tale of gentrification in what feels like “You, Me and Dupree” with social commentary.

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Unshelved | thru 3.2.14

Leave this one on the shelf

For Eclectic’s sophomore season, their world premiere of Unshelved feels like a freshman effort. Its problems are inherent from the very first exchange—establishing two characters with exposition so unbelievably clunky they might as well just address us directly. What follows over the next two hours is an object lesson in the dictionary of things you learn about in high school English but must learn the hard way to use judiciously. From metaphors that are ham-fisted to foreshadowing that borders on prescience, what should be a poignant family study in Alzheimer’s and its ripple effects descends into little more than a poorly scripted after-school special.

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The Barber of Seville | thru 2.28.14

New production has many newcomers, splendid results

The barber’s back in session at the Lyric in a prodigious new production under the directorial debut of Rob Ashford. Going back to the source (Pierre Beaumarchais’ play), Ashford has infused his production with the inherent Romance (that’s with a capital R) and humanity, for this most accessible of operas. With a dazzling cast and Gioachino Rossini’s enduring score that has made this work a shorthand for opera itself, The Barber of Seville will win new hearts and reinvigorate veterans.

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Fifty Shades of Shakespeare | thru 2.17.14

A bevy of the Bard’s bawdiest bits

I know this is a greatest hits compendium, but—what? No Coriolanus? If you’re going to have gender bending love scenes from Shakespeare, (re)discover needs to consider looking at Act IV Scene V, on or near line 116. I’m just saying, it would go a long way towards pleasing the target audience often to be found at Mary’s Attic. Look it up.

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