Marie Mullen as Mag Folan & Aisling O’Sullivan as Maureen Folan

Here’s an Irish double feature beginning with THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE now on the ArtsEmerson Paramount Mainstage. I had never before seen this Tony Award-winning dark Irish tragi-comedy, the first of a trilogy by Martin McDonough. First performed by Ireland’s Druid Theatre Company in Galway in 1996, it went on to win 4 Tony’s in 1998 and has been revived, faithfully directed by Druid co-founder and artistic director Garry Hynes, with some of its superb cast re-arranged. Get ready for an emotional and psychological wallop.

Set in Leenane, a poor Irish village in Connemara, the play happens in one room of a cottage as filthy as the weather. There mother “Mag” Folan a bitter old woman, and spinster daughter “Maureen” are locked in mortal combat.  Mag is played by Marie Mullen who played the daughter in the original, so this production comes trailing a history which echoes the play’s dark themes of stasis and insularity. Indeed, Mullen looks like she’s grafted onto the rocker in which we first see her, feigning frailty beneath her litany of complaint, and sharpening a mean streak. Marie Mullen is soaked in the rancidness of this character; we can practically smell the urine coming off her as she dumps her piss pot into the kitchen sink every morning, one of many tactics designed to torture her caretaker daughter.

Aisling O’Sullivan plays Maureen as a tall and brittle, surly blond who seems feisty enough to manage. Indeed, her mother’s scalded hand is an indicator of her physical abuse of Mag over the years. When Maureen meets an old acquaintance Pato Dooley (Marty Rea) a man who remembers Maureen as the “beauty queen” of the title and presents an opportunity for a new life, the play and the claustrophobic mother/daughter relationship heaves.

Marty Rea as Pato Dooley/Photo Stephen Cummiskey

Rea’s second act opening monologue is a stunner and a testament to the playwright’s ear for dialogue and dialect. It took me a bit to get used to, but now I can barely resist inserting the word “feckin” into every sentence– like one of the “Leenanean” locals named Ray Dooley played to perfection by Aaron Monaghan; as the crudely funny comic relief, he is instrumental in a classic turn of plot involving a letter on whose delivery all hangs…!

The surface of the play is exceptionally detailed and observed, from the gritty pots and pans, to the portrait of the flaming sacred heart above the stove in this Catholic kitchen. What drives these characters is less obvious, but even more potent. Intimations of Maureen’s troubled youth bubble to the surface. A breakdown. An asylum. Who’s to blame? What really happened? And what’s it got to do with now? The final scene completely upended me. I was suddenly tipping backward through the shadows of this cruelly ironic play, while a daughter sits rocking, poised between a dark past and an even darker future. Must see THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE through February 26!

Barlow Adamson & Maureen Keiller/Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Then check out THE HONEY TRAP by Leo McGann part of B.U.’s New Play Initiative and co-presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. We’re back in Ireland–now up north. The action toggles back and forth in time to 1979 as two off-duty British soldiers go to a pub in Belfast one night where a “honey trap” awaits, in the form of two comely local girls — and all of their lives change forever.

The action takes the form of a flashback within an oral history project about the conflict in Northern Ireland, and is thus about the fluidity of memory, the complexity of war, and the guilt and anger that lingers in its aftermath.

Two sets of actors playing these characters younger and older convince and hold us. Tension builds slowly to the play’s climax, then in a final subtle turn, twists one more time just before the lights go out. Loaded as the issues are, McGann doesn’t quite ring enough that’s new out of it; but excellent performances especially by Maureen Keiller, Barlow Adamson, and Ben Swimmer give weight to a script that relies somewhat too heavily on bald exposition in the penultimate moments. THE HONEY TRAP, if not revelatory is nonetheless relevant and moving in a world where less and less is as sweet as it seems. Through February 26.


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THEATER: BILLY ELLIOT The Musical Wed, 08 Feb 2017 04:35:24 +0000 THEATER: BILLY ELLIOT The Musical

In the middle of the snow, and the rain, and the wind, and the cold, and a million people heading into Boston for the PATRIOTS’ victorious rolling rally onto City Hall Plaza (am still in SHOCK and AWE at that miraculous triumph), I found myself practicing evasive maneuvers in order to make my way to WHEELOCK FAMILY THEATRE’s school matinee of BILLY ELLIOT The Musical. What a trip– this stupendous production left a theater full of kids enthralled and this critic glued for nearly three hours.

Billy Elliot is a boy from a poor, Thatcher-era English mining town, who– in the middle of a crippling strike with livelihoods on the line– decides that instead of taking boxing lessons, he prefers ballet! HUH?? You can imagine how that goes over with his dad, his big brother, and all their pals in the pub struggling to get by, and whose only idea about ballet involves tutus and “poofters  in tights.”

BILLY ELLIOT The Musical celebrates the guts and talent it takes to pursue your own path against all odds, face the critics, and remain true to yourself. Now that sounds like a show the PATS could wrap their arms around. It’s also packed with top-notch singing and dancing — ballet and tap–executed by a diverse ensemble of performers playing ballerinas, coal miners, policemen. In the title role, the supremely talented and charismatic 13 year-old Seth Judice as Billy, takes us through his struggle–and we root for him every glorious step along the way.

The show pulls no punches about how hard Billy’s life is; his mom is dead; his grand dad was an alcoholic; his grandmother (a tender Cheryl D. Singleton) recalls a troubled marriage; his down-on-his luck dad (Neil Gustafson) is gruff but warm-hearted; his tough older brother (a fiery Jared Troilo) doesn’t understand him. But one very influential teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, does. Aimee Doherty is appropriately rough around the edges as the chain-smoking ballet instructor who first spots Billy’s gift and guides him to an audition that might change his life. Shane Boucher is fearless, funny, and endearing as Michael Billy’s cross-dressing best bud.

There’s some rough language, mild swearing, loaded cultural-sexual-socio-economic issues: homosexuality, domestic violence, poverty, alcoholism, and the politics and plight of the working man and woman. There’s also a potent antidote: the power of art in this combustible mix. Billy’s passion and talent just might provide a way out– and uplift a whole community if they can stretch themselves to encompass Billy and his dreams.

BILLY ELLIOT The Musical is ingenious and inspiring because it dares to describe what art is, in a way that is completely understandable–and that is no small feat. When Billy describes what it feels like when he dances in Act II’s climactic number, or when Mrs. Wilkinson describes that dance is something more than technical, that it’s an expression of one’s true self–the audience GETS IT. This show makes clear that a person’s unique voice deserves respect, that it takes many shapes, and that it’s a through line to our humanity.

Here’s what I noticed. Many of the kids in the audience may have giggled and gasped and whispered at different parts of the show, but were completely wrapped up in Billy’s experience; and when it was over, and the young actor who played Michael the young man who cross-dressed came out for his bow, he got some of the biggest applause of all.

Take your kids and see this production of BILLY ELLIOT The Musical— not just for the singing and dancing which are first rate, not just for the performers who will win your heart, but because it is a show about why and how the arts are crucial, and how they inspire kids to have the courage to be their true, best selves. That’s a fact. See BILLY ELLIOT The Musical at Wheelock Family Theatre through February 26.

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THEATER: CABARET Sat, 04 Feb 2017 18:32:09 +0000 THEATER: CABARET

A few bedraggled Kit Kat Chorines milled around onstage as the audience filed in to see the iconic Kander and Ebb musical that had its 1966 pre-broadway premiere right here in Boston. Now, more than a half century later the Boston Opera House welcomes the Roundabout Theatre Company’s pivotal Tony Award-winning production of CABARET — and trust me: this is no walk in the park, old chum, not that CABARET ever was; but this production will raise the hair on the back of your neck. It remains a chilling, cautionary tale for right now.

It all begins with the Emcee who sets the tone and pace as he sneaks his hand out from behind the curtain and slinks out slowly to croon “Willkommen” with a wink and a sneer. Randy Harrison raises the part to new heights. Standing on the shoulders of Emcees before him, among them Joel Grey and Alan Cumming, Harrison is funnier than the former, more vulnerable than the latter, and guides us oh-so-gingerly over the precipice of an era poised between the roaring 20’s and 1930’s pre-Nazi Berlin.

Soon he introduces us to the Kit Kat Girls in underwear and torn stockings, and Kit Kat Boys naked beneath suspenders who proceed to unleash a bawdy, opening number that turns the Opera House into a seedy, smoke-filled back room. Over the next two hours this extraordinary ensemble of wasted, wanton and world- weary decadents perform with a vengeance, trying too hard to keep the “prophet of doom” away. Never was singing and dancing put to more terrifying use.

Originally directed by Sam Mendes and co-directed & choreographed by Rob Marshall in 1998, this first rate touring production is brilliantly directed by BT McNicholl, its muscular choreography recreated by Cynthia Onrubia on a darkened, two-tiered stage with a live orchestra above and the Kit Kat Club mainstage below. It is here we meet good time gal Sally Bowles who belts her hungry heart out, and sleeps with every man she meets– hoping to hit the jackpot.

Enter American wannabe novelist Clifford Bradshaw, a babe in the woods without a dime in his pocket who falls hard for Sally and she for him. Benjamin Eakeley is merely serviceable in the part of this new world naif with fluctuating sexual preference. But tiny Andrea Goss gives it her all, a keyed up kewpie doll with black eyes and a wavering English accent. She lacks a certain vulnerability that keeps us from loving her, but replaces it with an ominous desperation, and she brings the house down in the climactic rendition of the titular song in a voice as desolate and hollow as the joy Sally doesn’t have.

They move in together at Fraulein Schneider’s run-down rooming house. But there’s nothing run-down about Mary Gordon Murray’s performance as the spinster landlady; her soaring, truly commanding voice threatened to stop the show more than once, while her gentle grace endeared her to us and her sweet, affectionate lover Herr Schultz. His Jewish roots will make the couple a target of the mounting Nazi threat.  The fine-voiced Scott Robertson brings great warmth and charm to the role and we ache for him as he declares his faith in the future with his blind confidence that this waive of antisemitism will pass; after all, he’s German.

As this cabaret unfolds, its “Kick Line” grows sinister, and songs like “If You Could See Her,” “What would You Do,” and “I Don’t Care Much” are laced with mounting hostility, fear, and alienation. Scene by scene a creeping sense of deja vu is inescapable as the songs grow more sinister and resonate in the current atmosphere of rising nationalism and fear of outsiders.  The culminating moments went through the audience like an electric shock.

This is a CABARET for the ages, a stinging reminder of a dark past and the long shadow it casts. So “Put down the knitting, the book and the broom/Come hear the music play!” You can decide if  “Tomorrow belongs to you.”

DO NOT MISS: CABARET Two weeks only at the Boston Opera House through February 12.


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There is no balder, fresher medium than theater to communicate personal reality, warm bodies right there on stage conveying flesh and blood experiences. In TRANS SCRIPTS, PART I: THE WOMEN, now having its US premiere on the American Repertory Theater’s  mainstage, playwright Paul Lucas leads us on an exploration of what it is to be “transgender.” The means are simple and direct, the results fascinating and revelatory. These stories are the result of four years of interviews that the playwright conducted with trans individuals all across America, Australia, and the UK.  He had one simple request: “Tell me your story.” And they did.

As the evening began, seven women walked out in front of a red curtain and seated themselves on stage.  One by one they began at the beginning– when they first knew or became aware that they did not feel inside like the gender they had been assigned outside.

The stories evolve chronologically from person to person, and are grouped like chapters with headings projected above the stage; these headings chart their evolution on the journey to selfhood. The characters are diversified across age, race, ethnicity, class; some are plain, others flamboyant, and all of them are incredibly vivid.

There’s Tatiana (Bianca Leigh) a beautiful ex-dominatrix; Sandra (Eden Lane) who’s dressed as a socialite but grew up fixing cars; Dr. Violet (Jack Wetherall) a British physician who transitioned at age 68; there’s clog-wearing, barefaced Australian Josephine (Marlo Bernier) who just wants to blend in; Zakia (Matthew Hancock) is a beauty queen with drama to spare; Luna (MJ Rodriguez) is a sassy, street smart Latina; and finally Eden (Rebecca Root) who bears the scars of physical childhood abuse, an experience in one form or another that many of these women share.

There is little stagecraft– a disco ball, a change of lighting, or a sound effect. Jo Bonney’s direction puts the focus right where it belongs. The drama is in the stories: how funny, painful, absurd, tender, and how true. These women all become incredibly expressive and dear to us.

We gradually come to know each character and grasp that there are as many stories of the transgender experience as there are people. Any people. Anywhere–and that we all have narratives, stories we tell ourselves or stories the culture tells us about who we are supposed to be. This is the universal condition, and as different as my own experience of sexuality and gender is from the characters on that stage, the closer I listened, the more I identified.

I learned a lot. I had no idea if all, or which, or, for that matter, if any of the actors onstage were trans or not. I felt that underscored the point of the evening, which was NOT to make assumptions about who anyone was or draw conclusions about them based on some prescribed definition of binary sexuality. I was not sure who was behind the mask of each character– male, female, or intersex (which the show makes clear is now preferred to hermaphrodite). In fact, the show is remarkable for pointing up the inherent theatricality of everyday life given the masks we wear and the roles we are assigned by the culture on the basis of our skin-deep differences.  That we have a right to choose our own masks, or no mask at all, has never been made so clear.

I learned that “gender” and “sex” are not the same thing; neither are “transgender” and “transexual.” I learned that for some trans women (and Lucas focused here on women) having a physical sex change is not as important –or for some, important at all–as it is to others.

It’s clear that being feminine has nothing to do with wearing blue eye shadow and heels, and that changing your sex does not change your sexual preference. But I was not aware of the history of tension between the trans and gay communities, and that these days some object to a current narrative which says that transgender is not a transition at all, but rather becoming who you really always were. Or not. And on and on and on.

And finally I was reminded, how precious our stories are to ourselves. No single character when asked, would trade places or the richness of their personal experience– however difficult and painful– for anyone else’s.

The show is an education and a refreshment. The gates have been flung open and however discouraging the current political climate, the prevailing winds seem to be moving us, inescapably, toward a wider horizon, and an enormous breadth of variation along an infinite continuum of diversity in everything including sexuality, gender roles, identity. The closer we look, the more varied the palate. This show offers an unsentimental yet generous, uncensored look at reality, and the fact is–despite opinions to the contrary–there is no alternative: all of us are in transition becoming ourselves. MUST SEE: TRANS SCRIPTS, PART I: THE WOMEN through FEBRUARY 5 at A.R.T.




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WIN complimentary passes to the Fathom Events: THE MET: LIVE IN HD 2016-17 SERIES and BOLSHOI BALLET!

Enter to win by e-mailing with (name of the event/JOYCE) in the subject line. Please send your full name and e-mail address!

 5 admit 2 winners will be selected for each event and emailed their complimentary passes. Passes will be valid at the specified locations.

 For more information visit:

 Choose from the following shows:


Sunday, February 5, 2017 at 12:55 p.m. local time

At moonlight on the banks of a mysterious lake, Prince Siegfried meets the bewitched swan-woman Odette. Completely spellbound by her beauty, he swears his faithfulness to her. However, the Prince realizes too late that fate has another plan for him. A ballet of ultimate beauty and a score of unparalleled perfection born at the Bolshoi in 1877. In the dual role of white swan Odette and her rival black swan Odile, prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova exudes both vulnerability and cunning through superb technical mastery, alongside the powerful and emotional Siegfried, Denis Rodkin. Including breathtaking scenes with the Bolshoi’s corps de ballet, this is classical ballet at its finest. Content was captured live on January 25, 2015.


Saturday, February 25 (LIVE) – 12:55 p.m. ET / 11:55 a.m. CT/ 10:55 a.m. MT/ 9:55 a.m. PT

 Kristine Opolais stars in a new production of the opera that first won her international acclaim, Dvořák’s fairy-tale opera about the tragic water nymph Rusalka. Sir Mark Elder conducts Mary Zimmerman’s new staging, which also stars Brandon Jovanovich as the human prince who captures Rusalka’s heart; Katarina Dalayman as Rusalka’s rival, the Foreign Princess; Eric Owens as the Water Sprite, Rusalka’s father and Jamie Barton as the duplicitous witch Ježibaba.


To paraphrase the bard, there’s nothing rotten with the state of entertainment in Boston this week! A hit Broadway musical has just launched its national tour right here at the Boston Opera House: SOMETHING ROTTEN! It is, however, overripe–with big production numbers, superb voices, witty songs, exuberant choreography, and copious laughs. In other words, it’s a feast for anyone who likes their musicals riotously scrambled or sunny side up! Below is a trailer featuring the Broadway cast:

The hilarious opening number welcomes us to the Renaissance where playwriting brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom are stymied; they haven’t been able to outwit or outwrite their competition, the devilishly talented “Will who can ‘thrill with a quill’ Shakespeare.” The dazzling Adam Pascal hot off the broadway production swaggers like Jagger in the part, whipping his and our audience into a frenzy.

The Bottom brothers can’t bear the bard and consult a cockeyed soothsayer (Blake Hammond as Nostradamus) who peers into the future and spies a brand new kind of theatrical called a “Musical” where the performers suddenly burst into song out of nowhere! Nick takes the idea and runs, amok, with it.

What ensues is a madcap mashup of musical theater of Nick’s clumsy devising, involving CATS and CHORUS LINEs, Nazis and nuns, PHANTOMs and FIDDLERs and someone named ANNIE on a roof, where no one pays RENT and some are “MISer-ahh–bluh”!! The music & lyrics (Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick) and book (Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell)lovingly lampoon all those wild and wacky conventions of musical theater we’ve grown so accustomed to– and Shakespeare takes his lumps too.

Two numbers brought the show to a halt on opening night, one an uproarious melange of the aforementioned musicals, and another a howlingly funny tap-dancing ode to the plague called “The Black Death” which channeled Mel Brooks and made me scream. Indeed, this vivacious troupe attacked every number with energy and elan to spare.

Rob McClure as the needy, knuckle-headed Bottom brother Nick, and Josh Grisetti as the geeky, gifted Nigel are the dynamic duo who delightfully reprise their Broadway roles. Nigel woos the perky Portia (Autumn Hurlbert whose soprano is as clear and sharp as crystal). In fact, the couple’s mutual passion for poetry inspires them to virtual coupling over couplets! Scott Cote as Brother Jeremiah, Portia’s pompous cleric of a father was so funny squelching his giddiness, I laughed myself silly just watching him breathe.

The show does stretch its premise almost to the satiric breaking point, and I wasn’t exactly emotionally invested in the action. Jeff Brooks’ “Shylock” fell as flat as his quasi-yiddish delivery of lines like, “I have naches in my pupick.” I’d have gone with “latkes in my gotkes”(And I’m a shiksa.)

But when all is said and done, director/choreographer Casey (“The book of Mormon”) Nicholaw has orchestrated a fabulously fun, witty, upbeat night at the theater where “Something Rotten!” is in full bloom now through 1/29 at the Boston Opera House.



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WOMEN’S MARCH 2017 BOSTON: We have a dream and the dream is now… Mon, 23 Jan 2017 00:38:30 +0000 WOMEN’S MARCH 2017 BOSTON: We have a dream and the dream is now…

HURRY! FREE ADVANCE SCREENING for a Weinstein Company release “GOLD”.

For the chance to receive two tickets to the screening please visit: 

Monday, January 23, 2017 at 7:00 PM in Boston (Theater will be named on your ticket)


Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rated: “R”

Opening Date: January 27, 2017


GOLD is the epic tale of one man’s pursuit of the American dream, to discover gold. Starring Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells, a prospector desperate for a lucky break, he teams up with a similarly eager geologist and sets off on a journey to find gold in the uncharted jungle of Indonesia. Getting the gold was hard, but keeping it would be even harder, sparking an adventure through the most powerful boardrooms of Wall Street. The film is inspired by a true story.

Directed by Stephen Gaghan, the film stars Matthew McConaughey and Edgar Ramirez and Bryce Dallas Howard. The film is written by Patrick Massett & John Zinman. Teddy Schwarzman and Michael Nozik served as producers alongside Massett, Zinman, and McConaughey.

Tickets are FREE but expected to go quickly. You must have a ticket to attend this screening but a ticket does not guarantee seating–seating is first come, first served — GET THERE EARLY!


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“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” George chants low in the darkness. “I am, George. I am,” intones a hollow-eyed Martha in the Lyric Stage’s merciless yet moving production of Albee’s classic. As the light slowly fades on this bitter couple in the final scene, I felt a chill. The moment is forever seared in my mind, a moment of sheer existential terror and loneliness in a production not to be missed.

Edward Albee’s three hour saga was a fearsome thing when it debuted in 1962. So controversial was its plot, language, and emotional brutality that it was denied the Pulitzer, and the movie version wreaked havoc on its

Liz Taylor & Richard Burton “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966 film)

stars: Sandy Dennis suffered a miscarriage during filming, and it may have contributed to the break up of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s marriage. More than a half century later and 3 months after the death of its playwright, the cold-war overtones of George and Martha battling it out in “New Carthage” remain as relevant as ever in this “post truth” era of divisiveness and fake news, where illusion and truth have as slippery and combative a relationship as ever.

Here Steven Barkhimer as history professor George and Paula Plum as his alcoholic wife Martha –daughter of the university president– give it their ruthless best. Plum bursts through the door a coiffed and voluptuous hen, pecking nonstop at her relentlessly heckled husband. It’s 2 o-clock in the morning, George and Martha are already plowed and cranking it up, AND they’re  expecting guests!! Soon, a young couple (another George and Martha in the making) arrive: Nick (a stilted Dan Whelton) a new science teacher at the university who married his “delicate” wife Honey (a perfectly pale and pert Erica Spyres) under false pretenses. She can’t hold her liquor or much of anything else down. George and Martha will eat them for breakfast. 

But before the sun comes up, the night will devolve, scene by scene, from “Fun and Games,” to a bacchanalian “Walpurgisnacht,” culminating in “The Exorcism.” Albee’s aptly-named alcohol-fueled cyclone of abuse and pain will screw itself up and suck them all in on Janie E. Howland’s worn-out living room of a set; only George and Martha will remain standing. Plum goes at it full throttle, by turns bawdy, cruel, acid-tongued, and hyper-sexualized, chewing men up and spitting them out, further humiliating George.  He retaliates by alternately baiting her and keeping her at bay; he reserves the cruelest blow for the climactic third act which will eviscerate the illusions on which they’ve hung their spikey union. They are also dangerously, corrosively funny and we understand that these battles are their substitute for real intimacy, which they won’t get anywhere near until the play’s final fearsome showdown.

Plum and Barkhimer are magnificent together. Repellant as their drinking and bickering is, we are always aware of the psychic wounds beneath these characters’ surface hostility; they pull us in and hold us there.

“Martha: … I cry allllll the time; but deep inside, so no one can see me. I cry all the time. And Georgie cries all the time, too. We both cry all the time, and then what we do, we cry, and we take our tears, and we put ’em in the ice box, in the goddamn ice trays until they’re all frozen and then… we put them… in our… drinks.”

Scott Edmiston directs this wicked roller coaster of a night with extraordinary control over every perilous twist and turn. George and Martha’s interchanges never go so far off the rails that we and they can’t turn back. In its transcendent final moments this production devastates, the staging and lighting stunning here. There’s a tinge of warmth in the light that slowly wanes on this couple; in these moments we fear for them as they stand in the teeth of the wolf, ALMOST facing each other, fully exposed for the first time. DO NOT MISS “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the Lyric Stage Company through February 12.



What a FASCINATING week for theater in town—I saw three plays this week: a one-man show, one classic, and one Tony-nominated play having its New England premiere all of which left me thinking, laughing, scratching my head, and utterly engaged. You gotta love theater! Here goes.

SpeakEasy Stage is presenting the New England premiere of Robert Askins Tony-nominated play “HAND TO GOD” billed as a cross between “The Exorcist” and “Sesame Street.” Despite a superb cast, I think the play comes up short on both counts providing neither the shock of the former nor the wit of the latter. It actually reminds me of a movie Mel Gibson starred in years ago called THE BEAVER in which Gibson’s character channels his depression through a “therapy” puppet. Here, it seems the puppet may be calling the shots.

In HAND TO GOD, a texas teenager named Jason (Eliott Purcell in a tour de force dual performance as puppet master and puppet!) belongs to “The Christ Cateers” (like “Mouseketeers”) a youth puppet troupe housed in a church basement. Suddenly Jason’s hand puppet, Tyrone, begins acting up and out. In fact, this foul-mouthed little handsock begins voicing all of Jason’s repressed sexual urges and anger, and igniting a loaded situation. There’s Jason’s frustrated, widowed mom Margery (Marianna Bassham strung out and hilarious in the part), rambunctious young romeo Timothy who’s hot for Margery (an excellent Dario Ladani Sanchez), Pastor Greg who’s also hot for Margery (Lewis D. Wheeler funny and appealing in the part) and the comely young Jessica (a fine Josephine Elwood) on whom Jason’s crushing.

The play spends two acts (one act too many) whipping these characters into frenzy at the mercy of Tyrone, the demonic puppet who embodies their sublimated, animal impulses. We are ultimately asked to see this mini “Sodom and Gomorrah” in the context of the central Christian myth of the Crucifixion, i.e. the externalized purging of all that is sinful or bad in human nature by way of an external sacrifice. The play ultimately asks, “Wouldn’t it be great if one day we didn’t need to cast out or divide ourselves from our baser instincts, but rather accept,  absorb, forgive, and redeem these feelings within ourselves and each other?”  Ya think? I think this play spends too  much time indulging the dark side, the superficial nastiness, sexual mayhem, and physical destruction it says we shouldn’t be demonizing. For me the humor extracted was tortured at best, but kudos to this cast who do their best beating a dead horse of a script which died in Act I. At SpeakEasy Stage company through February 4!

I also saw the Huntington Theatre Company’s latest, Henrik Ibsen’s classic A DOLL’S HOUSE. Wow. This take on A DOLL’S HOUSE was a shock and a revelation! A frisky interpretation of a classic that will rattle your cage, crack you up, and leave you hanging from the rafters by the time Nora slams the door. It’s not that it’s a perfect production; there were jarring notes and moments that I’m not sure worked. But it shook me up and I looked with fresh eyes at a play I’ve loved and seen many times.

First, British dramatist Bryony Lavery’s vibrant, contemporary translation jolts the play into the 21st century, re-injecting it with the shock of the new. Here the cadences are short, sharp, funny, and overlapping the way people talk in real life. The words land with some of the impact I imagine was felt when audiences saw it for the first time at its premiere in Copenhagen on Dec 21, 1879. It was controversial, provocative, and apparently disrupted many a household and dinner party in challenging the relationship of wife to husband and family. Melia Bensussen directs the action with dangerous abandon, a rough romp through a household rife with false joy, tension, and hidden agendas. James Noone’s “doll house” of a set has the flimsiness of a cartoon and gives way to Edvard “The Scream” Munch’s angst-y expressionist palate. So as you settle yourself in your seat, “Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Andrea Syglowski and Sekou Laidlow

In “A Doll’s House” (literal translation “A Doll Home”), Nora Helmer (Andrea Syglowski) is the childlike wife and mother of three, and is treated like a plaything by her shallow, egocentric husband Torvald (Sekou Laidlow). That Syglowski is white and Laidlow is black emphasizes the division between the couple; she playacts for him and he is besotted with her performance. Their marriage is superficially based on masks which separate them from each other and their true selves; neither sees the other clearly. Thus they are poised for a simmering tragedy that will boil over as the play unfolds. It seems that Nora has unwittingly done something illegal, for good reason, and hides this from her husband for fear he and the relationship will suffer. But she is now being blackmailed by another man who is, in turn, being squeezed by his past mistakes. Money, social status, and power are the currency here, and Ibsen is measuring that currency’s relationship to true worth and a genuine exchange between human beings.

Andrea Syglowski who wowed as “Venus In Fur” here puts a screwball spin on Mrs. Helmer; Nora has never seemed livelier, funnier, or more contemporary. What’s more, she evinces a silly lack of self-awareness that mirrors Torvald’s transparent narcissism, and his almost ludicrous condescension to the little lady. But these performances were also a bit odd.  Laidlow’s exaggerated delivery and his slim, tall, youthful appearance made his Torvald less believable and less daunting a figure. At one point people laughed out loud at his fatuous delivery of a line that usually signals serious trouble in paradise. It threw me and the tone a bit off. Also, given the contemporary setting and translation, Syglowski’s frivolous housewife seems somewhat anachronistic and makes her sudden desperation and final earth-shattering decision feel too abrupt; I wish she’d given us more than an inkling of what was to come.

That said, I found myself always engaged, wanting to see where these two would take us; though I’d covered this ground before, I felt like I had a new map. By that last scene, when Nora sheds her costume and gets real, I was riveted by her conviction and his shock at her audacity. Though it seems impossible that he and she could have ever been together, somehow this dynamic denouement took my breath away and made the urgency of being an authentic human being as powerful and relevant as it ever was and continues to be. SEE IT at the HUNTINGTON through February 5!

Johnny Lee Davenport as Thurgood Marshall

Finally– check out THURGOOD at New Rep Black Box Theater and treat yourself to an especially timely history lesson about Thurgood Marshall the first African-American appointed to the Supreme Court. The compelling and charismatic Johnny Lee Davenport plays Marshall with great warmth and authority, but was not yet in possession of his lines the night I saw this solo show. Written by George Stevens, Jr. and directed by Benny Sato Ambush, the evening is an education nonetheless, with Thurgood himself taking us through his own personal history as a lawyer, as well as the various landmark cases which have shaped race relations under the law in this country. The script guides us from Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896 which first justified state laws sanctioning “separate but equal” public facilities, to Brown vs. Board of Education in which Marshall successfully argued that segregated schools were unconstitutional, thus opening the door to the civil rights movement in 1954.

Direction, pacing, use of visuals and music all could be sharpened, refined, and pumped up to punctuate the anecdotes, and help us digest the legal reasoning and principles which pack the show. Davenport is the actor for the job; he has the chops, stamina, and power to persuade. I think the show just needs a little more time to incubate its argument. See THURGOOD as part of New Rep’s Prophetic Portrait Series: Examining History at the Level of the Individual through February 5!





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