BAD JEWS: This is a real crowd pleaser written by Joshua Harmon, and directed by Rebecca Bradshaw, now breaking records over at SPEAKEASY STAGE. It’s raucous and funny and plunges us right into the middle of a good old-fashioned blood feud that every ethnic group can identify with. Here, it’s specifically young adult Jewish cousins who arrive for their grandfather’s funeral and are forced to share a cramped studio apartment overnight in what turns out to be a pressure cooker of long-simmering resentments. The infighting begins out of the gate with a jab here, a crack there, until it escalates to full out war over family, money, religion, culture, and what a particular talisman of their grandfather’s– a CHAI– means to them, and who should inherit it!
Jonah is the quiet non-committal one who tries to stay out of the line of fire. Alex Marz is utterly convincing in the least showy role, while his supremely annoying, cousin Daphna enters, opinions blazing. Alison McCartan begins her performance at such a pitch, I couldn’t imagine how she would sustain it. In fact, she’s out of breath, and needs to take it down a bit, for the audience sake. I’m sure she’d be plenty irritating at a lower decibel, wielding a brush through her tangle of black hair, and leaping around the room while needling Jonah hiding beneath headphones. She does manage to ratchet it up, however when her cousin Liam (Victor Shopov) arrives with his sweet-faced, ultra-shiksa girlfriend Melodie (the delightful Gillian Mariner Gordon), a “Delaware-an” with straight blonde hair and a smile as big as all get out. Within seconds of learning of her provenance, Daphna accuses her and all of her lineage– of genocide, leading Liam to erupt in a volcano of vituperation so heated, he threatens to blow the stage to smithereens. It’s a tour de force performance for Shopov who’s having a remarkable season.
Increasingly angry monologues delivered by each of the characters, build to a cataclysmic conclusion that suddenly implodes with a deep nugget of surprise wisdom. It will leave you talking, thinking, and exhausted–in a good way. See BAD JEWS at SPEAKEASY STAGE through 11/29! Audience talkback 11/6-7-8!
THE DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY over at Company One was written by the hyper-articulate, mythologically-inclined playwright and self-described “Indian/Bulgarian/Swedish-American of ambiguous color” and religious orientation: Aditi Brennan Kapil. She has created a conceptually challenging/adventurous triad of plays, at times dazzling and funny, at others oblique and hard to follow. The trilogy takes the Hindu Trinity– Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and their associated principles of creation, survival, and destruction/rebirth –and puts these deities in the bodies of displaced contemporary western immigrants in three separate plays. (See them separately or all three in marathon.) So Brahma becomes a stand up comedian with ambiguous genitalia in BRAHMAN/I. Aila Peck tackles the part alone except for a side guitarist who vamps while she hilariously rants and riffs on being an Indian hermaphrodite, and the ups and downs of arranged marriages, gender options, colonialism, doctors, Jane Austen, tectonic plates, and all manner of sexual practices including sodomy & bestiality. It’s like climbing Everest (also part of the narrative) and Peck scales the heights with a few sips of water and only slightly out of breath.
Vishnu becomes Kalki (Ally Dawson) in THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI about a powerful mean girl who shows up in a storm, super armed (!) to take on the war that is high school and defend her gal pals with her cruel justice. The drama gets bogged down with long-winded monologues, but builds to a satisfying conclusion. Shiv becomes SHIV, a caretaker/laundress/lover /daughter of a modernist poet, who flies kites, floats back and forth in time on a mattress, and loves a good swim. I found this installment the least effective and most perplexing. In my ungodly opinion, the best of the three by far, is BRAHMAN/I. “Standup” here means to “stand at a threshold with a spotlight on.” I’ve never heard a better definition of what theater should be. Through November 22 at Company One
DEAR ELIZABETH at the Lyric Stage Company is a tepid, careful, quiet little play based on the letters written between Massachusetts-born poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Nothing about this piece adapted from the source material by the poetically-inclined playwright Sarah Ruhl compelled me. It’s a quirky, deep relationship that left me absolutely cold. Go prepared to ferret out the love between the lines. This two-character play features one good performance– from Laura Latreille as the introverted, brilliant and unfussy Elizabeth Bishop who acts rings around Ed Hoopman as the stiff and stuffy Robert Lowell. Or was it just Hoopman who was stiff? Through November 9 at THE LYRIC STAGE.
Finally up at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, a small surprise of play that is much better than its title: DUSK RINGS A BELL–-which sounds like one of those fake-o titles used in a movie about actresses in a play. But this two-person play by Stephen Belber performed on a set that looks like Noah’s Ark, sneaks up on you and rings true. A woman, Molly (D’Arcy Dersham) goes back to Bethany Beach Delaware, the scene of a fleeting romantic encounter with a boy on the beach when she was 16. She goes back to retrieve a letter she once wrote herself, and unexpectedly runs into the boy now a man, Ray (Todd Lawson). They reminisce–carefully– about the past, the ensuing years, and that encounter. It’s not a perfect play–she is given shorter shrift than he, and is left with some of the work’s crudest utterances for no apparent reason. That said, the play has much to say about how we store our memories, transgression, acts of contrition, empathy– and stuttering. Through 11/16 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre.