‘A Palpable Hit’ Hits It On the Nose



By CJ Williams

A Palpable Hit – Arranger and Dramaturg: Michael Andersen. Narrated by Michael Andersen. Directed by Daniel Berger-Jones and Sarah Gazdowicz. Cast: Angie Jepson, Gabriel Kuttner, Omar Robinson, Marge Dunn, Cameron Gosselin, Dalton Gordon, Michael Andersen. Stage Fighting Directors:  Omar Robinson and Angie Jepson. Presented by The Gunpowder Plot at the Durrell Theater, Cambridge YMCA through December 11.

“Shakespeare is about adrenalin,” says Michael Andersen, with regards to ‘A Palpable Hit’, which premiered last week at the Durrel Theatre in Cambridge. “We want to show how the story, the verse, and the meter burst into life when his characters have to fly or fight.”

So is all the world a stage, or is it a battleground? Maybe both, if we believe this wickedly good medley of Shakespearean drama. Featuring some of the best dramatic talent in Boston, ‘A Palpable Hit’ explores the nature of violence and conflict through a series of violent interludes – tragic, comic, and tragi-comic – in the Bard’s oeuvre, leaping from ‘Othello’ to ‘Taming of the Shrew’. And while “A Palpable Hit” may be punning on the brawls featured in most of the scenes, it is just as applicable to how well each of these Shakespearean selections shines a spotlight on the stage of our modern relationship with violence. Every shot in this production is most definitely a bull’s eye. ‘Hit’ is altogether entertaining, even when it makes us squirm, and it does “all the good bits” in Shakespeare with verve, subtlety, and raucous good humor.

If the idea of shooting through a dozen plays or more in two hours sounds disjointed and off-putting, you can rest at ease. Andersen weaves a seamless garment of engagement by framing the production through a narrator (himself).  Although breaking the 4th wall can easily, if accidentally, disengage the audience from the immersion of a well-acted, well-staged narrative, Andersen’s narrator neither breaks the spell nor disconnects the audience from the drama on-stage. In fact, I’ve rarely been in a theatre in which the audience was more rapt. Each scene seems effortlessly strung on the same strand by Andersen’s conversational, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, raconteur’s commentary.

That tongue-in-cheek humor is some of what makes up the glue in ‘Hit’: it maintains the narrative continuity of otherwise extremely diverse material, as well as giving us a new perspective on the Bard’s darker work. I think this was especially successful in looking at Richard III – a play fairly set in the interpretation of all critical analysis. An example of this is the opening selection from Richard, in which the narrator (Andersen) frames the scene by singly acting the entire bloody drama of the Duke of Clarence’s assassination (and famously lengthy death soliloquy) through the lens of three pre-teen boys at a Royal Shakespearean acting camp. Not only does the scene elicit some great guffaws, but it probably manages to be the most insightful and incisive of critiques on theatrical convention, and cultural violence, all through the sneaky strategy of humor. I won’t spoil the slapstick, but believe that you get both a highly probable, as well as sidesplitting, explanation for the Duke’s ability to natter on for ages about his own death, even post-stabbing. Andersen’s one-man playing of narrator, plus all three boys, is a theatrical hoot.

But it isn’t just Andersen’s narration that forms a commentary here. Good art comments without commenting, and good actors create full-fleshed characters on stage without explaining – and the small, ensemble cast of ‘Hit’ is another hit fully on the money.  The physicality of the scenes is just as palpable as the emotional – so it’s apt that two of Boston’s stage-fight legends, Angie Jepson and Daniel Berger-Jones, form part of the cast as well as the choreography team. Watching them duke it out is probably something Shakespeare would have sold his pens and parchment to do. After all, as Andersen remarks in one of the transitions, the point of both ‘Hit’, and Shakespeare’s timeless applicability, is to demonstrate and “show the fights in these stories, while also showing the stories in these fights.”

So come for the swordplay, stay for the Shakespeare. The brutality and the humor, the violence and the emotional punch, are inextricably intertwined here. Shakespeare doesn’t glorify violence, as Andersen quipped near the end, “because he’s too busy finding the human in it.”  The same could be said of ‘A Papable Hit’. If you take anything from this rollicking good time at the theatre, you might just accidentally walk away with some world-rocking insight on violence– the impact of violence is always devastating. Or maybe the just as rocking experience of the power of art and theater to heal and reveal, and transform it into entertainment. In ‘Hit’, staged with agility and impish humor, you get to take that punch without being devastated, because that, after all, is what we do when we can play and explore as if “all the world’s a stage”, instead of blame and maim on a battlefield. for more info, go to:  http://www.apalpablehit.com/

God Trumps Salieri in Moonbox’ Production of “Amadeus”



By Michele Markarian


Amadeus – Written by Peter Shaffer.  Directed by Allison Olivia Choat. Presented by Moonbox Productions, Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, at 539 Tremont Street, Boston through December17.


Amadeus begins with the Italian composer Salieri (Matthew Zahnzinger) in his final years; indeed, he tells us we are witnessing the last night of his life, and for this reason, he has a story he needs to get off his chest. He claims that he was responsible for the early death of Mozart (Cody Sloan), whose prolific talent he envies. It’s an unusual envy – he sees Mozart as less of a human, professional rival and more as the vehicle for God’s musical genius.


Salieri’s relationship with God is pretty straightforward.  As a youngster, he dismisses the God of his parents as someone who will “keep them forever preserved in mediocrity” (mediocrity is a theme playwright Shaffer keeps returning to). Salieri falls in love with music at an early age, and makes a bargain with God – if God allows him talent and fame, then he, Salieri, will live a virtuous, pious life, writing music to glorify Him. It’s an immature bargain, one where Salieri assumes that because he is willing, so is God. The arrival at Court of a hotshot party boy composer named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart changes Salieri’s perception of God forever, as he realizes that the musical genius he so priggishly thinks God is working through him is nothing compared to the genius of Mozart. After obtaining a copy of Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, Salieri, incensed, declares God as his enemy, with Mozart as “the battleground”.


It’s a nasty piece of work, clocking in at over three hours long, with intermission. Salieri’s battle with the Lord is so filled with hubris that it’s hard to feel any kind of empathy towards him.  Zahnzinger does an excellent job in the role, transforming himself from old to young and back again with seeming ease. He has the quality of alert, active listening; you can see the wheels turning even when he is observing. But it’s a bitchy part, and Sloan, as Mozart, is so likeable, so cute, so refreshingly in the moment that even when he is being alarmingly irrepressible you can’t help but root for him. His boyish attachment to his Papa, his wife Costanze (Caroline Keeler, who provides a nice balance to Mozart’s impulsiveness) and ultimately, Salieri, is guileless and touching.


Moonbox Productions, one of the more interesting and varied theater companies in Boston, does a meticulous job with the production. Cameron McEachern’s set design is striking and effective; the stage is framed by a gilded arch, with a faux marble floor, designed to suggest the Court. Simple set pieces are stacked and quietly carried out as needed – a banquet table, a desk, chairs for a theater. Dan Rodriguez’s musical direction is lovely; the production even has its own original recordings by the exquisite Grand Harmonie Orchestra. And David Lacey’s gorgeous costumes are in perfect keeping with the period.


Salieri’s music went out of fashion during his lifetime. While there is absolutely no historical basis for their rivalry, Shaffer has granted Salieri an immortality he so desperately sought from God for his music. If only he could have read director Allison Olivia Choat’s notes at the front of the program. I won’t tell you what Choat said – you have to go and read it yourself – but she’s stumbled on a truth that moved me much more than Salieri’s vengeance. For more information, visit: http://www.moonboxproductions.org/amadeus/

Creativity and Chaos Reign in Heart & Dagger’s “Sweeney Todd”



By Michele Markarian


‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ – Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by Hugh Wheeler; Directed by Joey C. Pelletier; Musical Direction by Michael Amaral. Presented by Heart and Dagger Productions, Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street, Boston through December 4.


One of the problems with producing a musical, especially one as popular as “Sweeney Todd”, is that there are certain staging expectations of convention.  On the way over to Heart and Dagger’s current production, I found myself wondering, “How are they going to construct the pie shop?”  It is usually one complicated piece of scenery, and not cheap to mount.  Not to fear – Heart and Dagger manage to create a world that’s playful, smart and original, the kind of miraculous creativity that can only come without the limited imagination of a broader budget.


Sweeney Todd is the story of a barber who, after being sent from London to Australia for fifteen years for a crime he didn’t commit, comes back to exact revenge on the judge who’d sentenced him, a man with a hankering for Lucy, Sweeney’s wife.  He seeks out his old lodgings, run by a dotty pie maker, Mrs. Lovett, who’s been harboring a thing for Sweeney (not, by the way, his real name).  When the two of them join forces, nefarious activity takes over their lives.


It’s a disturbing play, despite some of the lighthearted, and pun-filled songs, such as “A Little Priest”.  But Joey C. Pelletier’s direction is a curious, well-appointed combination of precision and slapdash, which often gives the piece a cabaret-like feeling.


Cross casting abounds, sometimes in very funny ways.  My conventional “But why?” turned into “Why not?” pretty quickly.  Kiki Samko gives a convincing, emblazoned performance in the title role – when her Sweeney is upset, you feel the storm clouds, when happy, the light of a million suns.  Johanna and Anthony are dually played by Meghan Edge and James Sims (their duet, “Kiss Me”, is hilarious and adorable).  Both have beautiful voices, and Sims manages to slip away from his double onstage life to play the French horn with the excellent four-piece orchestra, situated discreetly at the side of the playing area.  Ruth Fontanella, particularly in her role as Pirelli, has an astounding vocal range that thrills.  Melissa Barker well plays a droll, sometimes world-weary Mrs. Lovett, whose love for Sweeney – and money – leads her to do wicked things.  Some of the props and costumes are very smart, such as Pirelli’s hat, made entirely of pasta, and the half-golden locks, half blue bob hairdos of the dualing Anthonys and Johannas.


The theater itself is a large, cavernous room with high-beamed ceilings.  The set mirrors a playground, with a large swing and slide.  Sweeney’s barber shop is located at the platform on top of the slide; his victims, once sliced, slide ostensibly into the basement.  It is clever staging, and suggests child’s play, or a nursery rhyme, beneath all of the mayhem.  This is reinforced by the opener, with children playing onstage, as well as the entr’acte music, piped-in children softly singing and chanting.  Boys will be boys and boys will be girls who will be girls who will be boys. For more info, go to: http://heartanddagger.org/




Huntington’s ‘Bedroom Farce’ Provides Much Needed Comic Relief (4.5 Stars)


Susannah (Katie Paxton) and Trevor (Karl Miller)


By Mike Hoban


Bedroom Farce – Written by Alan Ayckbourn; Directed by Maria Aitken; Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge; Costume Design by Robert Morgan; Lighting Design by Matthew Richards; Sound Design & Original Music by John Gromada. Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at 264 Huntington Ave. in Boston through December 11th
Looking for an antidote to the post-election dread that seems to be permeating the psyche of much of the local electorate? Huntington Theatre Company has got a sure-fire remedy in “Bedroom Farce,” the wildly entertaining Alan Ayckbourn comedy now playing at the Avenue of the Arts/BU Theatre on Huntington Ave. And while it may not be a cure for anything more than your wounded spirit, it’s a pretty good bet that a viewing of this terrific production will send you to your own bedroom with a smile on your face – with or without a partner.
Actually, the title of “Bedroom Farce” may be a bit of a misnomer, as it isn’t particularly sexy as the ‘Bedroom’ in the title implies, and doesn’t technically meet the strict theater definition of farce – there are no overly improbable or exaggerated characters or situations in the play – but it certainly meets the primary purpose of any farce, and that is to deliver laughs. Ayckbourn accomplishes this by taking the already absurd everyday dialogue that married couples engage in, injects some turmoil into the mix in the form of a particularly unstable twosome, then tosses in a healthy dose of physical comedy (including some wickedly funny cartoonish violence) to create a delectable comic stew.
What drives this comedy is the ripple effect that chaos junkies Trevor (Karl Miller) and Susannah (Katie Paxton) have on the other three couples over the course of one (very long) night. Trevor is so blinded by his own self-importance that he manages to simultaneously believe that he is the center of the universe while failing to recognize the true disruptive impact that his actions may have on others. And Susannah, while beautiful, is a classic study in low self-esteem that manifests itself in attention-grabbing outbursts, which, of course, make for outrageous comic setups. Ayckbourn utilizes a clever design trick in setting up the bedrooms of the three couples (whom Trevor and Susannah will inflict themselves upon over the course of the evening) side by side onstage – and lets the dimming of the lights of one bedroom give way to the lighting of another to signal scene changes.
The first bedroom is occupied by Trevor’s parents, Delia and Ernest (wonderfully played by Patricia Hodges and Malcolm Ingram) who, while getting ready for their anniversary dinner at a high-end restaurant, are discussing a host of fairly inane topics (including a potential leak in the ceiling that Ernest is sure will have catastrophic consequences) when the topic turns to their son Trevor’s unfortunate choice of Susannah as his wife. Both preferred Jan, the one that got away, whom (unbeknownst to them) has since married the more financially successful but equally self-centered Nick.
Nick and Jan, as well as Trevor and Susannah, have been invited to a house party at the apartment of their working class friends Malcolm and Katie. Malcolm – knowing that the easily combustible Trevor and Susannah have the potential to destroy the party with one of their trademark battles – is reluctant to have them come, but sweet wife Katie insists, and not long after the party begins, the inevitable fireworks commence. In the meantime, Nick (Nael Nacer) is stuck in bed with a bad back, leaving the door open for a potential rekindling of romance between Jan and Trevor, adding more fuel to the comic fire.
Director Maria Aitken’s pacing is near perfect – fast enough to keep the steady stream of laughs flowing but deliberate enough to let us catch all of the jokes. Hodges and Ingram are a delight as the elderly couple who have learned to live with each other’s idiosyncrasies, and the rest of the cast is solid across the board, with Nacer and Richard Hollis (as Malcolm) delivering some terrific physical comedy bits. “Bedroom Farce” is truly what theatrical comedies should aspire to, and Aitken and company really show us how it’s done. For more information, go to: http://www.huntingtontheatre.org/season/2016-2017/bedroom-farce/




Reviewed by Tony Annicone


Ocean State Theatre Company’s holiday show this year is the family friendly “White Christmas” which is based on the beloved timeless 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. This heartwarming musical adaptation features seventeen Irving Berlin songs. Veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis have a successful song and dance act after World War II. With romance in mind, the two follow a duo of beautiful singing sisters on route to their Christmas show at a Vermont lodge, which just happens to be owned by Bob and Phil’s former army commander, General Waverly.  Phil is a skirt chaser and comic while Bob is more cynical. He and Betty have a love hate relationship while Judy has to tame Phil from hanging around two of the chorus girls. The first act is a series of fast moving vignettes so the second act seems better written with the continuity of the storyline. Musical numbers shine especially in the tap dancing segments which stop the show with power and punch. Director/choreographer Paula Hammons Sloan casts some strong leading players who capture your hearts with their earnest portrayals of these folks from the 1950’s. She infuses high energy in her 22 member cast with the comic moments winning the day and the somber moments in “Count Your Blessings” and “White Christmas” with the audience joining in while singing it. Musical director John Jay Espino obtains strong vocals from the performers and an excellent sound from his topnotch five piece orchestra. This musical treat wins a standing ovation from the appreciative audience at the curtain call.

The beautiful set is by William Davis while the multitude of seven costumes per cast member is by Emily Tardish. Nate Suggs and Joel Kipper as Bob and Phil are spectacular in their roles. Nate gets to sing “Love and the Weather”, “Count Your Blessings” and “How Deep is the Ocean” with Bob’s true love, Betty. Joel displays his voice in the show stopping “I Love a Piano” with his gal, Judy where they do an astonishing tap dance with the chorus. He and she also do “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” with a Fred and Ginger style dance which then turns into a polka. I last reviewed Nate in “Anything Goes” as Billy. I first reviewed Joel in “George M” at Theatre by the Sea back in 2008. The guys also do a comic version of “Sisters” which brings the house down with sustained laughter.

The two leading ladies are also sensational. Stefani Wood and Maria Logan are fabulous as Betty and Judy with their dynamite voices and dancing prowess. They do a marvelous job with “Sisters” and of course in the title number. Stefani’s voice soars with Nate in their duets but one of her prettiest songs is “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” when she thinks Bob doesn’t love her anymore. Maria also displays her strong voice and does a bang up job during “I Love a Piano” with Joel where she taps on top of a toy piano and the trio with Stefani and Susann called “Falling Out of Love Can be Fun” which is a hoot. It is an Andrews sisters, three part harmony number.<P>

Mark Cartier does a topnotch job as the curmudgeon, General Waverly. He pretends to be gruff with his men but becomes a softie around his granddaughter who has him wrapped around her little finger. Susann Flecther is phenomenal as Martha, the manager of the inn. She steals many a scene with her wise cracks and her dynamite song and dance is “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” which stops the show with her expertise. Her high kicks and cart wheel are perfect and her belting voice is marvelous, too. Susann’s trio number with Stefani and Maria is another crowd pleaser. Casey Nadzam as Susan, the General’s granddaughter also steals many a scene. She gets to sing “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” in the second act which brings much laughter. She displays a lot of talent at a young age. However it is the dancers in the show that bring magic to the stage with their dance numbers in “Happy Holiday”, “Blue Skies”, “How Deep is the Ocean”, “Sisters” and the dynamic “White Christmas” which brings a smile to your face and a tear to your eye. So for a musical treat that the whole family can thoroughly enjoy and savor, be sure to catch “White Christmas” at Ocean State Theatre Company before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you.

WHITE CHRISTMAS (30 November to 24 December)

Ocean State Theatre Company, 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI

1(401)921-6800 or www.oceanstatetheatre.org





Reviewed by Tony Annicone



“SPRING AWAKENING” – Written by Frank Wedekind;  Music by Duncan Sheik; Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater; Directed by Paula McGlasson; Music Direction by Lila Kane;  Choreography by Dante Sciarra at the URI Theatre, Will Theatre, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston, RI through December 11th.


URI Theatre’s winter show is “Spring Awakening”, the much acclaimed Broadway musical. The show is a rock musical adaptation of the controversial 1891 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind which was, for a time, banned in Germany due to its portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide.

It’s a world where the grown-ups hold all the cards, and features music by Duncan Sheik with a book and lyrics by Steven Satar. In this musical, alternative rock is employed as part of the folk-infused score. “Spring Awakening” opened on Broadway on December 10, 2006, ran for 888 performances, closing on January 18, 2009. It received 11 Tony Award nominations in 2007, won 8 Tony Awards (including Best Musical, direction, book, score and featured actor).

Set in late-19th Century Germany, this show tells the story of teenagers who are discovering the inner and outer tumult of sexuality. It celebrates the unforgettable journey from youth to adulthood with a power, poignancy and passion the audience will never forget. Director Paula McGlasson opens the cast up to express the turmoil of puberty and the effect that provincialism and overprotective parents have on their children and future generations while music and orchestra director Lila Kane leads the talented cast through the astonishing music, ranging from dreamlike ballads to driving, almost religious rock anthems. Choreographer Dante Sciarra taught this energetic and talented cast the powerful dance moves that enthrall the audience. The results are stunning, leaving the audience in tears and applauding wildly at the curtain call on a job very well done.

McGlasson gives each member of her cast their moment to shine in their roles, mixing the dramatic and comic moments together wonderfully. Jimmy Caltri is her assistant director. Kane’s musical direction brings out the best in her cast and in her musicians. Some of the music has a dissonant sound to it like a Sondheim score. The onstage orchestra sounds splendid. Sciarra’s dances include many different styles. The show stopping number is “Totally Fucked” when Melchior is sent to reform school in the second act and it is astounding. Sciarra’s choreography is always incredible for every show I have seen him choreograph. The excellent set is by Kent Homchick with breathtaking projections while the marvelous costumes are by Toni Spadafora.

The leading characters in this musical are Wendla, Melchior and Moritz. They all have incredible voices. As Wendla, Emma Walker delivers the goods as this confused young girl who gets caught up in adolescence and tugs at your heartstrings in this show. She sings “Mama Who Bore Me” when she asks her mother where babies come from and “The Word of Your Body” when she and Melchior want to give into their sexual inclinations (which is a beautiful ballad), sounding like a song from “Les Miserables.” Emma then sings “I Believe” when Wendla and Melchior have sex, “The Guilty Ones” after they reflect on their love making, “Whispering” when she becomes optimistic about her future child and “Those You Have Known” when she and Moritz encourage Melchior to live and carry their memories with him forever. This is a superb tear jerking moment in this musical. Emma delivers a gut wrenching performance as Wendla. Brava!

Ben Church delivers a multifaceted dramatic and tear jerking performance as this tortured soul, Moritz. The character has been traumatized by puberty and can’t concentrate on his lessons. Ben is also quite comic in the scenes in the first act as this underachieving student. His numbers include “The Bitch of Living”, an upbeat song about frustrating thoughts and desires with the boys performing a chair dance with pelvic thrusts and “Then There Were None” about Moritz’s devastation at Melchior’s mother’s refusal to help him. Ben stops the show in its tracks with the emotionally draining “Don’t Do Sadness” as he wanders through town contemplating suicide as well as with the stunning “Blue Wind” when he refuses Ilse’s help and does the unthinkable at his feelings of utter despair. A brilliant performance from this young actor in this challenging role. Steven Carvalho is another excellent performer as the tortured Melchior, who is the brilliant and fearless leader at school. His voice is heard in his duets as well as his solos. Steven brings tears to your eyes with his heartfelt portrayal especially when he finds out his love of his life’s grave. His songs with the girls and boys include “All’s That Known”, “The Mirror-Blue Night” and “Left Behind.” Steven’s falsetto is fantastic in several numbers. Terrific job by all three of the leading players.

The musical does end on a hopeful note. Ilse played marvelously by Emily Carter whose soulful voice sells “Blue Wind” to Moritz before his utter despair. She also sings “The Dark I Know So Well” with Martha about being abused by her father. Emily and the cast sing the hopeful number “The Song of Purple Summer” to close the show. Thankfully there are some lighter moments to help balance the heavy drama. The scene between the two gay characters of Hanschen and Ernst is hilarious and culminates with them kissing onstage. This happens as these two young characters realize their attraction to each other as it unfolds to the audience. John Thomas Cunha plays Hanschen wonderfully. He has a hilarious masturbating scene as he, the boys and girls sing “My Junk” with the girls dancing around him. Jake Farnum is splendid as Ernst. He and John sing a reprise of “Word of Your Body.” Other soloists include Ardemis Kassabian, Valerie Ferris and Emily Turtle as Thea, Martha and Anna and the male soloists are Justin Culshaw and Brooks Shatraw as Otto and Georg. Geoff Leatham and Valerie Remilard play the adult men and women in this show who are viewed as the villains which is a lot like “West Side Story” before it.

So for a fabulous contemporary musical that will definitely resonate with audiences of all ages who have suffered through puberty, be sure to catch “Spring Awakening” at URI Theatre. It is one of the must see shows of this winter season. Tell them Tony sent you! For more info, go to: http://web.uri.edu/theatre/current-season/




Reviewed by Tony Annicone


The second show of The Players 108th season is “The Christmas Spirit” by Frederick Stoppel. Julia Dowling is about to die, at least to the mysterious stranger that visits her on Christmas Eve. But for Julia, 72 Christmases aren’t nearly enough, and she convinces Death to grant her a one day reprieve by inviting him to dinner with her friends and family. But the Dowlings aren’t the happy clan Julia leads Death to believe. As the day progresses, old resentments surface, new connections are made, and everyone, even Death, feels the magic of the Christmas spirit. In turns hilarious, tragic and deeply poignant, Frederick Stroppel’s “The Christmas Spirit” is a touching look at the things that really make life worth living. Director Joan Dillenback casts these 9 roles wonderfully, eliciting strong performances from her cast. They win thunderous applause on a job very well done.

The show contains many twists and turns that keep the audience on the edge of their seats after the visit of the Angel of Death on Christmas shocks Julia early that morning. She formulates a Christmas dinner of goose and plum pudding after Death tells her that he was on a first name basis with Charlie Dickens. Julia who lives with her daughter, Beth, creates this happy family scenario complete with imaginary children and the visit of her Catholic pastor, her sister Rose, her husband, Bernie, her son, Paul and his bimbo girlfriend, Melissa who is Jewish. The other two guests are Jack Frost (Death) and a suicide victim, Matthew. What will happen when Death finds out her charade? Will he enjoy Christmas so much that he lets her off the hook? Will a catastrophe in Pakistan make any difference? Joan keeps things in constant motion with topnotch pacing of lines and the dialogue crackles with intensity and brings the show to a satisfying conclusion.

The two leading players are John McKenna as Jack Frost and Cathy Fox as Julia. They both command the stage in their roles. John plays the part as a naive young man seeing Christmas for the very first time. He delivers a terrific performance in his debut at Players. I last reviewed him in a Marley Bridges murder mystery this past summer. Cathy captures the pathos and the panic stricken behavior of the woman perfectly. However this is not a heavy drama, so there are many clever comic lines in their repartee with each other as well as with the whole cast. Two other strong performers are Becky Kilcline as Beth and  Marcia Layden as Rose. Beth can’t understand why her mother wants to celebrate Christmas with a dinner at their home. As she becomes aware of what is happening she joins in the festivities. Becky’s lines are excellently delivered whether comic or dramatic in nature. Marcia steals many a scene as the constantly complaining Aunt with various ailments including bursitis and constant nagging of her addled, absent minded husband. She is a hoot in this role. Rounding out the cast are Steven Vessella as Paul, Mike Pugliese as Bernie, Sally Horowitz as Melissa, Eric Ross as Father Brennan and Samuel Gelman as Matthew. I don’t want to give too much of the storyline away so not to spoil it for the audience members. So for a fantastic new Christmas show that isn’t “A Christmas Carol”, be sure to catch the 2002 play, “The Christmas Spirit” at Barker Playhouse. To become a member of this club, give Bill Applegate a call. Also remember the night shows are now at 7:30 not at 8. The new alterations to make the theatre handicapped accessible are also astounding.

THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT (2 to 11 December)

The Players, Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit St, Providence, RI

1(401)273-0590 or www.playersri.org



Reviewed by Tony Annicone


The second show of Starlight Productions is “Weekend Comedy” by Sam and Jeanne Bobrick. A couple in their early fifties and a couple in their early twenties have accidentally booked the same cozy cottage in the Catskills for Memorial Day weekend. The older couple are Frank and Peggy Jackson, a hard working couple who have been married twenty three years. The second couple, Tony and Jill, a model have been living together for three years. The two couples decide to share the cabin for the weekend and what follows is the clash of two generations. Director Wayne Lucas casts the show beautifully and elicits comic moments in their contrasting view of the world and in their misunderstandings and arguments. He comes up with a winning formula for the merry mayhem that ensues throughout the whole show.

Wayne gives his cast some clever shtick to perform including a funny headlock scene and a mooning scene that has to be seen to be believed. The older couple are played excellently by Bruce Lackey as Frank and Camille Terilli as Peggy. Bruce’s character reminds you of Archie Bunker and Ralph Kramden. He is blustery and mad at his wife and the other couple. His caustic barbs are comical. But Frank finally shows he loves his wife after he finishes with his tantrums. Bruce’s line delivery and facial expressions fit this character to a tee. His funniest moment occurs when he moons the younger couple, leaving the audience in stitches. Camille is fantastic as the long suffering wife. She has many brilliant one liners that will leave you rolling in the aisles. Some of them include Frank being a Republican because he never apologizes for anything and after the mooning incident that he stood stark naked singing the Star Spangled Banner. Peggy is always reading romantic novels to fulfill her sexual needs because Frank is lackluster in that department. Her funniest moment occurs when she finally stands up to Frank’s insults by pouring beer on his head. Bruce and Camille play well off each other and their counterparts, too.


The younger couple are well played by Michael Daniels as Tony and Sarah Desmond as Jill. Tony is a rich spoiled brat who gets his comeuppance later in the show when Jill gives him an ultimatum to marry her or else. Even though Tony can be unlikeable at times especially when ridiculing Frank, this is where Mike plays things very dramatically in the first act and needs to lighten things up. Also his long hair kept getting in his eyes stealing focus from his lines. Mike makes the transition into a calmer person later on and plays the second act more comically as it should be. His race with Frank is a laugh out loud moment and his being put on the spot is very funny, too. Sarah is excellent as this demure character who finally puts Tony on the spot. It is finally the time to make a decision after having lived together for three years. They catching Frank and Peggy necking in the first scene is a show stopping moment, too. Sarah is very comical during the whole show. Stage manager Mary McKenna keeps things running smoothly during this show. I have many pleasant memories of this show having directed it at the Newport Playhouse in 2006 and 2014. So for a fun filled comedy that will keep you laughing all night long, be sure to catch “Weekend Comedy” at Starlight Productions before time runs out.


WEEKEND COMEDY (1 to 18 December)

Starlight Productions, 192 Anawan St, Building #6, Fall River, MA

1(978)835-4409 or www.mystarlightshows.com


Company One Pushes Boundaries with ‘Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.’ (3 Stars)


By Michele Markarian


‘Revolt.  She Said.  Revolt Again’ – Written by Alice Birch.  Directed by Summer L. Williams.  Presented by Company One Theatre, Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston through November19.


In the opening scene of “Revolt.  She Said.  Revolt Again” a woman (Becca A. Lewis) turns the seductive tables on a man (Jeff Marcus), making aggressive sexual moves that render him passive. It’s a hilarious, provocative scene, predator versus prey, and the best one in the play.  From here, despite the efforts of a very talented and committed cast and Summer L. William’s taut direction, the show devolves into something I couldn’t really comprehend or relate to.

The play consists of different scenes regarding a feminist response to societal expectations like work, marriage, and motherhood, ultimately leading to a point where in order to fully break free of the shackles of servitude, women had to eliminate men. Not a farfetched theory, and one that’s been acted out in different ways with different groups (it brought to mind Amiri Baraka’s renunciation of the white world and his white wife in the 1960’s in order to reclaim his black identity). But the ending doesn’t wrap itself up with any kind of conviction or resolution – the women aren’t pleased with having to do this, although they agree it’s necessary.

I read in the program notes that Birch, a 30-year old playwright from the United Kingdom, used the text of Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto as inspiration for the play. The manifesto argues that men have ruined the world, and need to be disposed of.  Birch apparently disagrees with the premise, which is where I think Revolt.  She Said. Revolt., or at least this production of it, falls short. If you can’t agree with the argument you are presenting, then it’s satire, right?  Which, if it were meant to be satire, doesn’t come across – for the most part, there is an underlying anger and commitment to the material that seems more sincere than satirical.

But this is truly an ensemble piece, and the cast is superb. Becca A. Lewis is amazing, one of the more versatile and fearless female performers I’ve seen onstage in a long time. She runs the gamut from funny to angry to heartbreaking. Brave soul Jeff Marcus is the only male onstage, and he does a great job being rejected as well as rejecting. Ally Dawson and Christa Brown both play a variety of roles with the appropriate grace, and/or discomfort. It’s not an easy show, and very physical – the actors draw fake blood several times. Brown manages to realistically vomit; Lewis pours a bucket of water over her head. This, in addition to the already uncomfortable material, made this audience member even more uncomfortable. I found myself thinking things like, “Somebody’s going to roll around in that vomit and soil their costume” or “I hope this show is almost over, because that actress is going to catch a cold from the bucket of water”.  Maternal thoughts, because in spite of our best feminist ideology, some impulses can’t be broken. For more info, go to: https://companyone.org/


Bad Habit Delivers Thought-Provoking “How Soft the Lining” (4.5 Stars)


By C.J. Williams


‘How Soft the Lining’ world premiere – written by Kirsten Greenidge; Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara; Scenic Design by Rebecca Lerhoff-Joy; Costume Design by Kathryn Schondek; Lighting Design by PJ Strachman; Sound Design by Andrew Duncan Will. Presented by Bad Habit Productions at Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, 527 Tremont Street, Boston through November 20

What does it take to be treated as a full person? The law, or something more?

‘How Soft the Lining’ – the title of Kirsten Greenidge’s newest play – ran through my mind as I exited the premiere performance at the Calderwood Pavilion: how soft the lining can be on our pet prejudices, but how hard the outside when those prejudices deny a fellow human being their dignity. ‘How Soft the Lining’ follows the relationship between Mary Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley—a freed slave – and explores both these themes, as well as the historical race relations that highlight our human capacity to deny the personhood of our fellow men and women. But rather than preach, Greenidge is wise enough to allow her story to do all the talking. And does it ever.

Using a minimalist set and a barebones cast, ‘Lining’ opens with the post-assassination reunion of Keckley and Lincoln. The two women meet in Central Park, where it soon becomes clear that Mary Lincoln is in dire straits financially, and that Keckley has closed her dressmaking shop to come to her aid – and to be at her call. Keckley is cheerful and encouraging, while Mary Lincoln seesaws between gratitude and a childish doomsday drama. What becomes immediately clear is that Mary, unintentionally, expects something from Elizabeth. Is it the expectation of a friend, or that of a mistress? It isn’t clear, so the narrative quickly flashes back to the past. (One of the strengths in the staging and direction hinges on the scene changes, which deftly use lighting and music to shift the audience from place to place, and back and forth in time.)

What shifts us into the past from this first scene is unmistakably the word ‘friend’ – which performers, sound and lighting catch on and hesitate, just as Elizabeth hesitates when Mary bursts out, “Of course my friend!”

From there, ‘Lining’ moves swiftly through past events in both women’s lives, from Elizabeth’s upbringing as a slave – where she is required to keep a mistress’s baby quiet when she herself is only 4 years old; to fourteen-year old Mary’s horror at the sight of slaves at auction – children taken from parents, wives separated from husbands – in Kentucky. Elizabeth eventually becomes a seamstress, and buys freedom for her and her son. Mary meets Abraham Lincoln (in a delightful scene in which eloquent Abe is tongue-tied and cannot recall the Shakespearean sonnet he wishes to regale Mary with), and blithely claims she will be a president’s wife. Somehow, these women’s lives intertwine as Elizabeth sets up a milliner’s shop in Washington and becomes Mary Lincoln’s dressmaker.  At this point, we all know the conclusion to the Lincoln presidency; and the play includes it. But that conclusion is not the conclusion of Lining; and it is perhaps not even the conclusion we believe it to be historically.

I don’t want to spoil the denouement of this thoroughly engaging foray into the past. Greenidge chose a dramatic subject when she picked the story of Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress (and the question hovers throughout the play – friend as well?), Elizabeth Keckley. But more than that, she has taken the circumstances of these women’s lives, and with a storyteller’s knack has brought them directly into our present.

Where ‘Lining’ truly shines is in its ability to highlight the deep complexity of relationship and societal prejudice without using its characters as props for a message. Both Lincoln and Keckley are strong women (portrayed with delightful versatility and depth by Elle Borders and Bridgette Hays, to the point that Borders portrays Elizabeth at 4 with complete believability), and both are flawed. To some extent, Elizabeth’s resignation (or acceptance) plays into being treated as less-than; and to the same degree, Mary’s blindness and privilege promote inequality. Blame is neither assigned nor implied to either in the imbalance in their friendship.

The play gives no pat answers, and no convenient happy ending.

What it does give us is a story that shines a light through the past into our present, challenging us to demand of ourselves – as Elizabeth demands of a girl who works at her shop, “You must say exactly what you mean, and mean exactly what you say.”

Do we use labels, so as not to say human when it comes to another human being our lives? Do we say friendship, and mean something else? When we say we want equality and justice and the erasure of racial or class prejudice…do mean that personally, in each moment of our lives, that we treat our fellow men and women with that dignity?

Like that first pause on the word ‘friend’, Greenidge shows that maybe our blindnesses and willingness to accept injustice aren’t fixed by laws – not even by laws as amazing as the 13th Amendment – but by friendship. Prejudice doesn’t end with a law. Prejudice ends where friendship begins. Because – as Greenidge subtly shows in her trot through Mary Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley’s relationship – we must see each other as equals to truly call each other friends. Laws do not give us that sight. But perhaps a story can. For the entire audience, but especially for the youth attending, I hope that message runs deep, and sticks, deeper than the wounds that the Civil War, and slavery, left in the blind parts of our hearts and minds. For more info, go to: http://www.badhabitproductions.org/how-soft-the-lining