Adams Infuses Hub Theatre’s Dark Drama with ‘Wit’ (5 Stars)


by Mike Hoban

‘Wit’ – Written by Margaret Edson; Directed by John Geoffrion; Set Design by JP Pizzuti; Lighting Design by Chris Bocchiaro; Costume Design by Nancy Ishihara; Sound Design by Deirdre Benson. Presented by the Hub Theatre Company of Boston at First Church Boston, 66 Marlborough St., Boston through November 19

Cancer, like death itself, is the great leveler. While my immediate family has largely been spared from its ravages, I have watched a number of friends and their loved ones succumb to it over the years, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly and painfully. If there is one thing I have learned from these experiences, it’s that cancer is an equal opportunity disease. Rich or poor, virtuous or deplorable, scholarly or illiterate – cancer does not discriminate.

So when college professor Dr. Vivian Bearing, who has been just been diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer, breaks the fourth wall and haughtily tells the audience, “I know all about life and death. I am, after all, a professor of  17th century poetry…specializing in the Holy Sonnets of John Donne…which explore mortality in greater depth…than any body of work in the English language. And I know for a fact that I am tough. A demanding professor. Uncompromising,” we know we are observing someone who – quite wrongly – believes her superior intellect will protect her from a fate reserved for mere mortals. But it is that ‘intellect as armor’ that has robbed her of any real life to begin with, as we learn during the course of Hub Theatre Company’s riveting production of Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Wit.

As the play begins, Bearing is preparing to undergo a highly aggressive and experimental treatment at the hands of her teaching hospital physicians (one of whom is a former student who admired her “uncompromising” teaching methods) who may be more interested in Bearing as lab rat than as human patient. We watch as she endures eight rounds of chemotherapy at full dosage, and as we walk through the treatments with her, we get a glimpse of her precancerous life, from early childhood through her academic career. In an odd way, Bearing’s behavior is reminiscent of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” – minus the cruel demeanor and his glorious redemption.

In one beautiful scene, we see her as a five year old with her father, joyfully learning the meaning of the word “soporific” (which is used in a masterful callback as she nears death) and watch her morph into someone whose over-analytical nature robs her of her ability to connect with either fellow humans or the beauty of the poetry she grinds the life out of. Her treatment of her students seems to be more about asserting intellectual dominance than actually teaching them about the poetry she purports to love, and we see her pay the price for that inability to connect when no visitors show up at the hospital to comfort her through her ordeal.
If this sounds depressing, it’s not. As Bearing, Liz Adams gives a performance that is nothing short of astonishing, totally inhabiting her character, and it may be the best performance by any actor on Boston stages this year. She punctures Bearing’s basically unlikable persona with an endearingly dry wit, delivering gems like, “It is not my intention to give away the plot, but I think I die at the end. They have given me less than two hours.” she tells the audience with a wry smile.

Director John Geoffrion extracts solid performances from his able cast, including Tim Hoover as the calculating young clinical fellow overseeing her treatment, Robert Bonotto as Dr. Kelekian, the intimidating chief of oncology (and doing double duty as Bearing’s father), and Lauren Elias, who gives one of her strongest performances to date as the down-to-earth nurse who Bearing connects with before her demise. This is a don’t miss production for theater goers. For more information, go to:

NSMT Delivers Electric, Unflinching ‘West Side Story’ (5 Stars)



By Mike Hoban

‘West Side Story’ – Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Arthur Laurents. Original Concept, Original Broadway Direction & Choreography by Jerome Robbins; Directed by Bob Richard; Choreography by Diane Laurenson; Music Direction by Milton Granger; Scenic Design by Kyle Dixon; Lighting Design by Jack Mehler; Sound Design by Don Hanna; Costume Coordinator and Additional Costume Design by Mark Nagle. Presented by the North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd. Beverly, through November 20.

“West Side Story” is truly an American masterpiece, not only for its stunning score and brilliant choreography, but for its unflinching and honest portrayal of cross-cultural hate – in a musical, no less. A production that features a graphic rape scene and three brutal killings was a complete deviation from standard musical fare  when it debuted in 1957 , so it’s no wonder that the more conventional (and brilliant in its own right) “Music Man” took home the lion’s share of Tony Awards, including Best Musical. But nearly 60 years later, ‘West Side Story’ still retains its raw power and ability to shock and educate, and the terrific production now being staged by the North Shore Music Theatre really does this classic justice.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the Jets are a gang of juvenile delinquents with a “social disease”, i.e., products of a low income/education neighborhood, which greatly diminishes their prospects of achieving anything approximating the American Dream. They are engaged in a turf war with the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang with even dimmer prospects. To settle territorial matters once and for all, Riff, the Jet’s leader, sets up a meeting after the local dance to challenge Bernardo (the Sharks capo), to a rumble. Riff is counting on his best friend and former lieutenant, Tony, a Polish-American, to help out in the battle, but Tony says he’s through with gang life. Those plans change when he shows up at the dance and meets Maria, the girl of his dreams, and the wheels are set in motion for the story’s timeless love story (and, of course, it’s multiple tragic endings).

NSMT has assembled a stellar cast, led by its outstanding female leads. Evy Ortiz is the quintessential Maria, wide-eyed and innocent in the musical’s early scenes, and a rage-filled tiger following the senseless and violent deaths of her loved ones. Ortiz’ vocals are flawless throughout, and her duets with Tony (Bronson Norris Murphy) are mesmerizing. But it is the fiery performance by Michelle Alves as Anita (Bernardo’s girlfriend) that nearly steals the show. Alves has a dominating presence as the only adult in the room in most scenes, and you can’t help but focus on her during the dance sequences, even when the full company is on stage – she’s that compelling as a dancer. Her scene with Maria following the death of Bernardo is heart-wrenching, and her work on Anita’s signature tunes (“A Boy Like That” and “America”) is first rate. Jane Abbott is also a standout as Riff’s uber-sexy girlfriend, Velma.

Murphy, while a bit wholesome for the role of Tony, is a talented vocalist, and his scenes with Maria where they profess their undying love despite having met only hours before, feel genuine. Tyler John Logan is a force as Riff, and NSMT favorite David Coffee gives a terrific performance as Doc. But it is the ensemble work that really drives this exceptional work, from the opening “Jet Song” through the “Finale”. Choreographer Diane Laurenson’s work is nothing short of brilliant, with the wildly energetic “The Dance at the Gym” and the hauntingly beautiful “Somewhere” numbers among the most memorable of the 2016 theater season. If you’ve never seen “West Side Story”, this production is a profound testament to what musical theater can be, in that it goes way beyond simple entertainment to show us the toll that blind bigotry takes in human terms. And if you have seen it before, see this one. You won’t be disappointed. For more info, go to:

Lopez Serves Up Humor, Pathos in “Mala” (3.5 Stars)



By Michele Markarian


‘Mala’ Written and performed by Melinda Lopez. Directed by David Dower. Presented by ArtsEmerson, Emerson/Paramount Center, Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre, for the Arts, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA through November 20.


Melinda Lopez is one of the more honest and engaging actors of our community. She first caught my eye years ago when she performed at the BCA in Coyote Theater Company’s “Blue Window”.  An actress myself at the time, I shook my head in wonder and knew that whatever I thought I was doing right, this woman was doing it a million times better. She brings the same honesty and engagement to “Mala”, an intensely personal piece about the guilt and courage it takes to be a witness and ultimately, unwilling helper in the earthly demise of one’s parents.


Mala is a Spanish word for someone rotten to the core. Lopez’s mom uses it on her daughters when they try and get her to do things she doesn’t want to do, like go to the hospital after a fall.  Lopez has put herself in the brave and vulnerable position of housing her parents; they live in an apartment on her property. An older sister, who is a scientist preoccupied with her job and often cast as Bad Cop, comes in periodically to find herself the special target of her mother’s venom.  Other supporting roles – all played by Lopez – are her own daughter, her Jewish mother-in-law, and Gina, a neighbor who is also dealing with aging parents.


Two parents are easier to deal with than one, even as they’re yelling at each other and throwing dishes around. (“We’re Cuban” shrugs Lopez). Once her father dies – in one of the more moving moments of “Mala” – Lopez is forced to hire a companion for her mother. “She’s started dying, but haven’t we all?” asks the playwright/performer, and indeed, one’s own issues of mortality are always just beneath the surface when our parents, our protective layer between life and death, depart.


Lopez does a terrific job expressing the emotions and tasks associated with having an aging parent – the guilt for living, the desire to keep them happy against one’s better judgment, the denial over the extremity of their health. Lopez describes an incident where her mother falls and hits her head as something routine – the women in her family have low blood pressure, and tend to fall without consequences. Minutes later her mother is laughing, talking, so Lopez decides not to send her to the hospital for a checkup.  Two days later, when she can’t get out of bed, it’s discovered that she has bleeding on the brain due to the accident.


Things like this are commonplace when dealing with the elderly; if you’ve got aging parents at home or have just buried them, this is not a fun or even cathartic show to see. “I’m depressed”, said my husband when we left, who buried, after extensive caregiving, his own parents over the past two years. “I hear you”, I said – my dad’s been gone four years and I had to put my mother in a nursing home.  As a matter of fact, everyone I know seems to dealing with mortality, guilt and parents.  “But she is so good”, said my husband, brightening, referring to Lopez, and yeah, she is so good.  She is the reason to see this play. For more info, go to:

‘Tiger Style’ Delivers Laughs Sending Up Asian, Millennial Stereotypes (3.5 Stars)


By Mike Hoban

‘Tiger Style’ – written by Mike Lew; Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel; Scenic Design by Wilson Chin; Costume Design by Junghyun Georgia Lee; Lighting Design by Matthew Richards; Sound Design by Palmer Hefferan. Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, 527 Tremont Street, Boston through November 20

Art is subjective.

And if you believe that comedy is an art form (as I do), then it stands to reason that comedy is a matter of taste which, of course, there’s no accounting for. While a pie in the face may leave one person doubled over in laughter, another may just shake their head at the silliness. ‘Tiger Style’, the new Mike Lew comedy playing at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, is a prime example of how what works for one person may not necessarily for another.

Much like its Chinese-American millennial protagonists – ‘Tiger Style’ appears to be searching for its (comic) identity. It wants to be a “smart comedy” that makes a point about cultural stereotyping of Asians in America, but it plays too much like a zany sitcom, where outrageous lines that seem to have little to do with the characters are randomly tagged on to generate laughs. Playwright Lew appears to be trying have it both ways, and while there are some undeniably funny scenes and jokes in the play, the somewhat promising first act goes wildly off the rails into a series of bizarre Pee-Wee’s Playhouse outtakes in Act II that almost totally invalidate the play’s ending. But if laughs are what you’re looking for, you could certainly do a lot worse than ‘Tiger Style’.

Jennifer and Albert are an academically gifted but socially challenged brother and sister that live together in her condo along with her boyfriend. The pair were pushed along the high achievement path as kids by the “Tiger Mother” style of Chinese parenting, to the point that not only did they both graduate from Harvard, but also performed a concerto for piano and cello at a sold-out Carnegie Hall – when they were just kids.  Jennifer is traditionally successful in her career as an oncologist, Albert less so as a tech guy, but their ability to function as adults is woefully lacking.

Albert has just been passed over for a promotion at his tech job, for a lunk (a very funny Bryan T. Donovan, who plays a number of roles) named Russ the Bus, whose idea of teamwork is letting Albert do all the work while they share the credit. Jenny, an oncologist at a major hospital, would appear to be the epitome of success, but that still doesn’t prevent her from being in a live-in relationship with a dolt who installs car stereo systems for a living (although given the technology for cars today, it’s not like he’s pumping gas). When he dumps her because she doesn’t meet his expectations of “exotic” yet “submissive” (a nod to the supposed traits of all Asian women by westerners), she falls apart completely.

Stung by their inability to accept themselves as failures on any level, they prove that they are deeply American – by looking for someone to blame. They come to the (possibly false) realization that their parents are the culprits, for pushing them so hard academically and leaving them without life skills – or something like that. Albert declares, “I’m going to yell at our Mom like a white girl”, and the two set off to unload on their parents. But when mom and dad refuse to co-sign their B.S., they decide to go “Full Western” and behave like insufferable (white) millennials. Albert adopts an in-your-face persona that causes him to lose his job, while Jenny hopes to turn her life into a “rom-com” by getting therapy (the scene between her and the therapist, as she tries to schedule her road to wellness, is spot on and hilarious).

When going Western fails, they decide to go East on an “Asian Freedom Tour” – returning to China where they expect to be embraced by people that are “just like them,” – despite the fact that they’re entitled Americans who don’t even speak Chinese. This is where the play sinks to a level of plausibility you would expect from a “Saved by the Bell” episode, with each successive scene weirder than the next. Again, like much of this play, there are enough laughs to hold your interest, including a heroin reference that is actually explosively funny. On the night I attended, there were times when the audience erupted in laughter, and it seemed to work for a good portion of the crowd. ‘Tiger Style’s’ comedy may not be my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be yours. For more info, go to: