Category Archives: Theater Reviews

Ragtime, A Delightful and Thought Provoking Syncopation In Ogunquit

Ragtime
The Ogunquit Playhouse Through August 26th

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

As the musical Ragtime begins it appears to be a bit overwhelming. The play has a huge cast, and I wondered how I would keep track of all the characters and what was going on. I soon realized that it was like watching a huge chess board with numerous pieces that were constantly in motion. All of these pieces had a purpose that soon became very clear.

Cast of Ragtime
(Photo: Gary Ng)

The story, set in early 20th Century America, revolves around three groups of people, the established old guard, the recent immigrants (Mostly from Eastern Europe), and African Americans. The struggles, pain, hopes, disappointments, coping with change, successes, failures, and tragedies are all captured in this work. And while it takes place over a hundred years ago, many of these struggles are constant in a free society that is continually dealing with changes. It is what makes the United States so great while also so vulnerable to making mistakes.

Ragtime has a truly marvelous score. The fact that so much of it is played with the delightful syncopations of ragtime is fitting. Fitting because the new music of the time represents so many of the changes then occurring. I am not a musician but I felt there was more to the music than just being used as a period piece, so I looked up the definition of syncopation. I found it is a term for “a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm” a “placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur.”; and that is just what is going on in Ragtime.

This fine production captures so well that interruption of the regular flow in the lives of all involved. Everyone one involved is dealing with change, drastic change. Tateh (Josh Young) the Jewish immigrant from Latvia who has brought his young daughter to America in the hope of giving her a better life, Coalhouse (Darnell Abraham), the African American musician, who has worked hard to make a good life for his family, the unnamed father and mother (Jamie LaVerdiere and Kirsten Scott) who are faced with the “interruption” in their way of living they have known for some time.

For one it turns out well, for another tragic, and for another transformational. It is fascinating, though at times overly predictable, to watch. It is also quite thought provoking because none of the issues addressed are simply black and white. What is to be done when change doesn’t occur fast enough? When justice is not equally applied? Is vengeance ever justified? We hear from Booker T. Washington (Rod Singleton), Emma Goldman (Klea Blackhurst), and Admiral Peary (Joel Robertson).

The discussion between Washington and Coalhouse after a terrible injustice has occurred is very thought provoking. How to deal with such injustice is a question that is not easy to answer.

Josh Young and Ella Luke-Tedeschi (Photo: Gary Ng)

Though dealing with so many serious questions, this is also a lively and funny play. There are appearances by Harry Houdini (Freddie Kimmel) and the singer Evelyn Nesbit (Carly Hueston Ambur), and a wonderful scene at a baseball game that captures the fun of the early game but also shows the difficulty in some being able to accept the changing ethnicities of the players.

The score is superb. It flows smoothly and keeps the story connected. Darnell Abraham’s rendition of Make Them Hear You is particularly powerful not only in its lyrics but because of the deep emotion Abraham brings to it.

As I have said, this play has a huge cast so it is impossible to give credit to all of the excellent performances in the limited space I have. However, i have to mention one member of the cast that not only impressed me but who also had the audience talking about him after the show.

Seven year old Tyler Wladis as The Little Boy was just phenomenal. I have never seen such talent in someone so young. Tyler had a huge part with many lines, both opening and closing the play. His opening monologue set the tone for what was to unfold. His expressions and movements about the stage were just impeccable. This young man has an energy and timing that is truly amazing. He was simply a joy to watch and will surely be seen again.

Ragtime at the Ogunquit Playhouse is an interesting and well done work. It is thought provoking and fun. It will provoke much discussion afterwards. I would just warn you not to take a position of moral superiority when having a conversation about it. Remember, just because someone has views that differ from yours or is not from the same socio economic background does not mean they are evil. I firmly believe that the vast majority of the American people only want better lives for their families and for others. The approaches to the problems facing our society may be different, but if you keep in mind our goals are similar and meant for the better it will maybe, just maybe, make it easier for us to talk to each other.

Ragtime shows us the difficulties in dealing with change, but change will always be occurring as it always has. We can deal with it. Let’s tone down the moral superiority and stop the shouting and lecturing. That is what I have taken away from this wonderful play. It will never be easy, but there s much more kindness than cruelty out there. We just need to listen.

Ragtime Through August 26th
Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, Maine
ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511

You’ll Free Fall For This Wonderful Ripcord

Ripcord

The Huntington Theatre Company

Calderwood Pavillion, South End
Through July 2

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Abby is living in an assisted living facility. She is cranky, miserable, and has driven out every roommate that has been paired with her. Marilyn, always upbeat with a sunny disposition, is her latest roommate. Abby wants her out and Marilyn will not leave. The two make a bet with the winner to get her way. This leads to the two of them doing some pretty nasty things to each other. Sounds like pretty depressing stuff? Well, it turns out this is one of the funniest plays you will ever see.

You will love this play!
Nancy E. Carroll
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Nancy E. Carroll is perfect as the cantankerous, miserable, and at times cruel Abby who rarely betrays even a hint of a smile. She is also extremely funny. Annie Golden plays Marilyn who is a Pollyanna, always smiling and seeing the good in everything. Oh, she can play hard when it comes to fighting back against Abby. Both actors play off of each other perfectly. Add to the mix Scotty (Ugo Chukawa) a health aid and also an aspiring actor, who has to deal with these two terrors. Marilyn’s daughter Colleen (Laura Latreille) and son-in-law Derek (Richard Prioleau)  are apples that haven’t fallen far from the tree and you end up with a fast paced work with impeccable comedic timing.

This production has added incidental music along with some very fun dance numbers during set changes. I have not seen Ripcord before but I am sure these additions only enhance it. At the performance I attended the audience loved  these additions.

Cast of Ripcord
(Photo: T. Charles Ericson)

I don’t want to go on too much about what happens here as it will spoil the fun for those of you who decide to see it, and you definitely should head over to the Calderwood for this one. I will tease you a bit with a brief list of things that occur. There is a mugging by a very tall rabbit, a trip through a house of horrors, a skydiving adventure, and much, much more. It is amazing how these situations are staged. The set design, effects, and lighting are all incredible. By intermission youl will be wondering how much more could be left to surprise you. Believe me, there is plenty.

Annie Golden
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Ripcord, by David Lindsay-Abaire,and directed by the wonderful Jessica Stone, as well as being funny is also a deeply moving story about two women who are facing the challenges of growing old and dealing with their pasts. Under all of the laughter we are given much to ponder. There is a touching, sad, and even cruel scene where Abby meets her estranged son Benjamin (Eric T. Miller). Marilyn is also a much deeper character than she seems at first glance. There is pain under her happy exterior. It turns out the two women have a lot  in common. Even with all of the laughter you will be deeply moved by this work. This really is, in the end, a very provocative piece that has us deal with what it is like to age and look back on our lives. It is told with, as I have said, much humor. But, it is a work filled with respect and understanding of these very difficult issues.

This has been a great theatre season in Boston. The Huntington, Lyric, and SpeakEasy have all treated us to some wonderful work these past months. Ripcord is a great way to cap this season. You will love this play! Don’t miss it.

huntingtontheatre.org

617.266.0800

Seaglass Performing Arts Ends Season On A High Note

An Evening of Spirituals and Heavenly Broadway

Performed May 6th at Christ Church
Kennebunk
May 7th at Wells High School Performing Arts Center
Wells

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Artistic Director Jean Strazdes has once again raised the bar for the wonderful Seaglass Performing Arts Chorale. Closing out the 2016-2017 Season with a program comprised of spirituals that not only contained traditional music but also included tunes from Broadway, Leonard Cohen, and Carly Simon. It was an exciting and interesting mix that worked so well together.

I took in the Sunday performance at Wells High School, and from the opening number, a medley from Sister Act, the audience knew they were in for an afternoon of wonderful music.

When Seaglass performs you not only get to enjoy the music, but Ms Strazdes also gives background into each song along with short biographies of the composers as well as a brief musical history. For instance, I never knew November 29th was Moses Hogan Day, a day to celebrate and perform spirituals in honor of the composer Moses Hogan. For this concert the group performed one of his arrangements, Music Down In My Soul. Mr. Hogan certainly deserves to be remembered.

Other spirituals included Unclouded Day, Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, My Lord What A Morning, and Down In The River To Pray.

Joe would have been happy with this rendition as the group hit it out of the park.

In addition to the selection from Sister Act, Broadway was represented by Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat from Guys and Dolls. Eric Mihan led this song and had the crowd smiling as he moved about the stage. Jean Stradzes read from an original opening night review of the play that compared it with the professionalism of Joe DiMagio. I think Joltin’ Joe would have been happy with this rendition as the group hit it out of the park.

The second act opened with a medley of Nothin’ Gonna Stumble My Feet and the Carly Simon song Let The River Run. Accompanied by a double bass played by Bob Daigle as well as percussion by MaryCarol Kennedy, Stephanie Sanders, and Dianne Smallidge. All were fabulous.

The second act was strong on Broadway tunes with a spiritual flavor. These included Seasons of Love from Rent, Somewhere from West Side Story, and Make Them Hear You from Ragtime. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with soloist Marilyn Stanley was sublime.

Kim Karchenes accompanied on piano and never missed a note. All of the voices were just beautiful. Seagalss Performing Arts is made up of volunteers, but make no mistake, this is no amateur group. They are all serious musicians who take their art seriously. They work hard so we can enjoy this beautiful music and learn about the rich history behind it. If you haven’t attended a performance yet I urge you to take in the next season. You will be enriched by having done so.

www.seaglassperformingarts.org

Camelot at the Lyric Stage

A Bright Shining Moment 

Camelot

Directed by Spiro Veloudos

The Lyric Stage, Boston

Through June 25th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Ed Hoopman and Maritza Bostic
(Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard)

As Camelot ends King Arthur tells Tom of Warick to run from the battle so he may live and “Ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell him strong and clear if he has not.” And that story, the legend of Camelot, is what is given to us in the Lyric Stage’s current production of the Lerner and Loewe classic.

On a beautiful multi-level set that gives the feel of a haunted forest with serpent like trees that appear to be watching the events that unfold, we are treated to a story, the story, that young Tom has passed down through the years. We, the audience, feel as if we are seated by a campfire while the tale is related to us by Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot, Mordred, and the Knights and Ladies of the Court of King Arthur.

This has been called a “stripped down production”, but I would call it an enhanced work. It is no secret the original Camelot was too long. Shortening it was a challenge from the beginning, and this adaptation by David Lee finally meets that challenge. All of the songs are here, the story is complete, and it moves along seamlessly. Director Spiro Veloudos adds his magic touch to bring it all together for an evening of theatre that will not be forgotten.

Don’t let this brief shining moment pass you by.

The cast led by Ed Hoopman as Arthur speaks in naturalistic voices, so don’t plan on hearing imitations of Burton and Andrews. Hoopman’s voice is rich and smooth connoting the kindness and humanity of the King who wished for a society that was just and fair. Maritza Bostic as Guenevere is lovely and warm with a voice that captivates. It is hard to lose with this score, but with so many people familiar with the original cast album ears may be programmed to hear something else. What is great is how the actor’s make this their own version, and it is a great one.

Ed Hoopman, Jared Troilo, Maritza Bostic
(Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard)

Jared Troilo, who is a familiar face to Boston theatre goers, takes on the part of the brash Lancelot. Troilo’s rendition of If Ever I Would Leave You is positively wonderful. It had to be a challenge.

I have to say that Rory Boyd’s Mordred is truly amazing. His name alone cues us to expect an evil character, but Boyd manages to move him into more of a grey area. He certainly brings a great energy and just enough ambiguity to the role to make one possibly feel a bit of sympathy for him Mordred, and that is something I doubt has been seen before.

What makes this production so special is the intimacy. Not only is it warm because it is set in a small theater, but it feels the players have invited us to sit by the campfire and hear their stories. It is oh so captivating.

What makes this production so special is the intimacy.

Accompanied by an eight piece orchestra, the cast, who work without amplification, fill the theatre with beautiful sounds. There is not a bad seat in the house, and in this age of an over reliance on electronics it is a pleasure to hear such lovely voices going directly to our ears. It is one of the many things that makes the Lyric Stage so special.

I am sure tickets for this run will sell fast, so don’t wait. Don’t let this brief shining moment pass you by.

Camelot Through June 25th
The Lyric Stage, Copley Square, Boston
lyricstage.com 617.585.5678

Abba Dabba Do!

Mamma Mia! Is Great Fun In Ogunquit!

Mamma Mia!
Through July 1st
The Ogunquit Playhouse

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Angie Schworer, Jodie Langel, Kate Chapman, and Cast
(Photo: Gary Ng)

You know summer will soon be here when the stage at the Ogunquit Playhouse raises its curtain for a new season. And this year for their 85th anniversary they have kicked it off with the very popular jukebox musical Mamma Mia! With an energetic cast led by Jodie Langel as Donna and Patrick Cassidy as Sam it is a fun evening of music and laughs that has the audience on its feet singing and dancing along.

 

The story about Sophie (Briana Rapa), Donna’s daughter who was born out of wedlock twenty-one years earlier, takes place as she is preparing for her wedding day in Greece where she lives with her mother Donna who runs a local taverna. Sophie desperately wants to find out who her father is and has, by peeking into her mother’s diary, narrowed the possibility down to three men all of whom she invites to the wedding. This leads to some confusion and much laughter as she tries to figure out which of the three is dad.

…an evening filled with laughs, music, and great dancing…

The story is a great vehicle for the music of Abba, and that is what it was written to be. But this is not an Abba tribute show. It is an evening filled with laughs, music, and great dancing, all set on a beautiful stage meant to be the Greek seaside. The story is fun and touching, filled with vivid colors and loaded with energy. Those colors and the changing sets along with beautiful lighting, had me feeling the sea breezes of the Mediterranean. Of course, it helps being within a stone’s throw of Ogunquit Beach.

Oh, did I mention this is fun? The music is fun, the dancing is fun, the story is fun. Seeing dancers performing wearing huge yellow swim fins is, well, fun. There are so many moments like that. The Playhouse has given us all a welcome to summer gift.

Brianna Rapa, Mike Heslin, and Cast
(Photo: Gary Ng)

This is not Chekov or O’Neil, and you won’t leave the theater contemplating the mysteries of life. It is simply a nice story that will have you feeling good. You will  leave the theater feeling happy, with a lot of music dancing in your ears. After an evening of Mamma Mia! at the Ogunquit Playhouse you will be more than ready for summer. This is a production that calls out “Take A Chance On Me”, and will have you saying,”Thank You For The Music”.

Mamma Mia!
Through July 1st
The Ogunquit Playhouse, 207.646.5511
Ogunquit Maine
ogunquitplayhouse.org

Simply Beautiful

The Bridges of Madison County
At The SpeakEasy Stage

Now through June 3rd

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

By the end of this production of The Bridges of Madison County, produced by the SpeakEasy Stage and playing at the Calderwood Pavillon, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This is not to say the audience is left feeling sad or unhappy. No, touched is the word that best describes the feeling one leaves the theater with after seeing this exquisite production.

Francesca and Robert
(Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography)

The story of the Italian war bride, Francesca, who married and settled in Iowa with her husband Bud where they are raising two children, and her four day affair with a photographer, Robert, is familiar to most people due to the popularity of the book and movie. This in no way diminishes the impact of this musical version of the story.

Jennifer Ellis as Francesca is nothing short of superb…

Jennifer Ellis as Francesca is nothing short of superb bringing one of the most beautiful voices you will hear on a theater stage today as well as the ability to reach the audience with her full range of emotions. Her perfectly underrated Italian accent is right on the mark. This will come as no surprise to those who had seen her in the SpeakEasy production of Far From Heaven or as Eliza Dolittle in The Lyric Stage’s My Fair Lady. Ms Ellis is a joy to behold.

The chemistry between Francesca and Robert, played with a slight ambiguity by the very talented Christiaan Smith, is strong both physically and emotionally. I mention ambiguity because as much as it appears these two star crossed lovers could run off and live happily ever after I was left with the feeling that the very thing that made Robert so exciting was also the thing that would not have made him a good fit for marriage and settling down.

Bud, Robert, Francesca
(Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography)

The affair which takes place while husband Bud (Christopher Chew) and children Carolyn (Katie Elinoff) and Michael (Nick Siccone) are off to the state fair could be seen as sordid, but the story is much more than that. Mr. Chew is wonderful in playing the hard working farmer who provides a good home for his family. There is no doubt Francesca loves all of them, but she also yearns for the life she never got to live in Naples. A yearning that is triggered by the emotional scene where Robert shows her the issue of National Geographic containing photos he took of the city she was raised in.

The emotional turmoil raised by this allows us to feel compassion for her even while we feel bad for Bud. In the phone calls to home while Bud and the kids are on the road, we know that Bud begins to suspect something but never digs for answers. Mr. Chew conveys a pain with his eyes that is touching and could easily have us turn on Francesca for what she is doing. But there is much to this story and much to be sympathetic about when it comes to all the characters.

Marge and Charlie
(Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography)

Nosey neighbor Marge (Kerry A. Dowling) and her husband Charlie (Will McGarrahan) are very funny while also showing a depth of understanding that coveys sincere kindness. Marge may appear to be a gossip but she knows how to keep a secret. She also begins to question her own marriage. Charlie who at first appears to be detached is actually quite understanding. McGarrahan and Dowling are a delight.

The score by Jason Robert Brown is wide ranging and beautiful. At times operatic, it is performed by a seven piece orchestra led by Matthew Stern. I am no musician, but I can assure you they are just great.

The lighting design by Annie Weigand plays a big part in this production. Stars, clouds, blue skies, and even streaks of light representing the bombing of Naples during the war projected onto the backdrop are both subtle and extremely effective. The set designed by Cameron Anderson is simple, tasteful, very pleasing and warm.

The chemistry between Francesca and Robert…is strong both physically and emotionally.

I highly recommend this very fine work directed by M. Bevin O’Gara. This is the last play of the 2016-2017 season at the SpeakEasy and they couldn’t have closed on a higher note. The Bridges of Madison County will leave you both happy and sad, but you will be very pleased to have seen such a solid work.

Now through June 3rd at the Calderwood Pavillon, Boston Center for the Arts, Boston’s South End. www.speakeasystage.com 617.933.8600

Don’t Wait To See These Plays By Samuel Beckett

Beckett In Brief

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

Sorenson Center For The Arts

Babson College, Wellesley, MA

Through May 7th

 

Directed by James Seymour

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Will Lyman (Krapp)Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

Samuel Beckett’s works are not easy to understand, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. While they are filled with ambiguity it is fun trying to figure out what the meaning is behind them, or if there is any at all. I have been enjoying Beckett’s plays and novels since I was young and yet I am just beginning to crack the meaning, or what I interpret as the meaning, of some of them. You may wonder how I could possibly enjoy work that is not clear to me. Well, that is the fun in it. While it is difficult it is also fascinating, as well as funny, heartbreaking, soul-searching, and intriguing.

The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in collaboration with Babson Arts is currently presenting three of Becket’s short plays, Rough For Radio II, The Old Tune, and Krapp’s Last Tape at the Sorenson Center for the Arts in Wellesley. If you have never seen a Samuel Beckett play this is a great opportunity to be introduced to his work.

Ashley Risteen (Stenographer) and Will Lyman (Animator)Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

With a cast led by Will Lyman (Animator, Gorman, and Krapp), and including Ken Baltin (Fox and Cream), and Ashley Risteen (Stenographer) you couldn’t ask for better talent to present this work. Combine this with the fine direction of James Seymour, and having it set in a very intimate theatre, there are only four rows of seats, and you are in for a special evening of theatre.

Rough For Radio II, which all takes place in silhouette behind a screen is about an artists struggle to dig into his creative spirit. The piece is a conversation between Animator and Stenographer with the voice of Fox that rises up from time to time. It is the most difficult of the three plays to understand but oh so interesting to watch.

Will Lyman (Gorman) and Ken Baltin (Cream)Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

The Old Tune and Krapp’s Last Tape deal with memories and dealing with getting old, lookingback, and regrets. Will Lyman and Ken Baltin are superb as two old friends who sit at what could be a bus stop and talk about old times. Their memories conflict at times, but memories are very often different from what actually happened. There is something very familiar that comes across when listening to these two.

Krapp’s Last Tape is both disturbing and funny. In typical Beckett fashion there is a bit of slapstick involved. The old banana peel is still good for a laugh. Will Lyman, as Krapp, goes it alone in this piece. Well, not quite alone, he also the voice himself (Krapp) to whom he is listening on tape that he made years before. It is interesting hearing the younger Krapp talking about his regrets and the futility of life yet filled with the energy to push forward in contrast the the older Krapp who is still feeling that same futility but is now tired and appears to have not much hope but is not short on regrets as he makes a new tape. Is it his last tape or just the last one up to that time?

Don’t be afraid of seeing this work. I would advise you not to overthink it. Sit and just let it play out in front of you. Better yet, bring some friends along as you will really enjoy discussing it afterwards. You will be surprised by how much you start to uncover as you talk about it.

Take a shot at Beckett In Brief, you will find it interesting and fun.

So, I have now written a review about three of Samuel Beckett’s plays and I am not even sure I know what the heck I have been talking about. I do know that it was a terrific evening of theatre. I don’t recommend everything I see, as my goal with this column is to get people interested in attending theatre who may have never gone, or who haven’t gone in some time. While this may seem like an unlikely work to recommend for a first time theatre goer I feel comfortable in urging my readers to go. Take a shot at Beckett In Brief, you will find it interesting and fun.

Commonwealth Shakespeare, 781.239.5880

www.commshakes.org

The Who & The What, A Seriously Funny Play

The Who & The What

Huntington Theatre Company
Calderwood Pavilion, South End
Through May 7th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Aila Peck and Rom Barkhordar
(Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

There is something special happening on the stage of the Calderwood Pavilion. The Who & The What, by Ayad Akhtar and directed by M. Bevin O’Gara, is the story of Afzal (Rom Barkhordar) and his two daughters Mahwish (Turna Mete) and Zarina (Aila Peck). Afzai is from Pakistan and has made his home in the United States where he has raised Mahwish and Zarina. He lost his wife to cancer a few years earlier and misses her deeply but has an upbeat outlook on life. He has worked hard and become successful moving from driving a cab to owning 30% of the taxis in Atlanta. Wth his success he has provided his family with a good life. He is a loving father and wants only the best for his offspring. Afzai is also a conservative Muslim who has raised his daughters in the faith.

Rom Barkhordar and Joseph Marrella
(Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Mahwish is studying nursing and Zarina has graduated from Harvard and is now writing a novel about “women and Islam”. Afzal is taking a rather unique approach in the culture of arranged marriages by opening an account on muslimlove.com with Zarina’s profile and meets with prospective suitors for his daughter. This results in a very funny meeting at the local coffee shop wth Eli (Joseph Marrella) an American convert to Islam. While this certainly is a great intrusion into the life of Zarina you can’t help but be taken by the devotion Afzai has for both his daughter and his religion.

The Who & The What is a must see play.

While Zarina is devoted to her religion she is also questioning it. Her reading of the Koran is at odds with Afzai’s and this results in some heated, and quite humorous discussions on the subject. Compromises are made and Zarina does fall in love with Eli. All seems well until her novel entitled The Who & The What is published. In it Zarina questions many of the interpretations particularly the requirement by many that women wear a veil. This creates a conflict between Zarina and her father who is unable to accept these views and feels it reflects negatively on the family and may result in a loss of faith as well as exposing them to danger.

Zarina and Mahwish are devoted to each other and their father, which makes it painful to watch as this rupture occurs in the family as well as the strain placed on Eli and his relationship with Zarina.

Rom Barkhordar is simply outstanding as Afzai.

This is a play that very easily could have slipped into political correctness and sermonizing, but it certainly does not. It is an honest look at the conflicts, sometimes very deep, that can drive wedges between family members. Yes, this is a funny play, but it is also deep and moving. It is also very human. Rom Barkhordar is simply outstanding as Afzai. His rich voice and emotion fill the stage. His humor is natural and wonderfully delivered. And while audience members may cringe at some of Afzai’s views about the roles of men and women, Mr. Barkhordar leaves us with no doubt about the decency and love this man possesses.

The Who & The What is not a play that preaches to the audience. Ayad Akhtar does not give us the Ozzie and Harriet version of a Muslim family. He is honest and open about the conflicts that take place in a modern Muslim family that has assimilated into American culture without losing their identity. It is something people of all religions can be touched by. I know I certainly was.

In Boston, a city rich in good theatre, The Who & The What is a must see play. You will leave the theater happy that you spent time with this at times crazy but very interesting, warm, and touching family. Don’t miss it.

huntingtontheatre.org 617.266.0800

Bobbie Steinbach Shines In Golda’s Balcony

Golda’s Balcony

The New Repertory Theatre

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Bobbie Steinbach
(Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

The New Rep Theatre production of Golda’s Balcony playing through April 16th at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown is simply outstanding. The story about the life of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that centers on the events surrounding the 1973 Arab-Israeli War also delves into the life of Golda Meir and the history of how Israel came into being.

If ever there was an actor suited for a role it is Bobbie Steinbach as Golda Meir.

The one person play directed by Judy Braha with Bobbie Steinbach in the title role relates Ms Meir’s journey from Russia to Milwaukee, where she married and became a school teacher, to her move to Israel where she was elected that country’s only female Prime Minister. It is a story of struggle and determination that is also filled with much humor. It is also a reminder of how close Israel came to being destroyed in 1973, and how Golda Meir through guts, determination, and hard nosed negotiations with the United States was able to secure the weapons needed to defend her country against its aggressors and prevent World War III. The philosopher Eric Hoffer once said “As it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us.” After watching this production there is little doubt about the truth of those words.

Bobbie Steinbach
(Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

If ever there was an actor suited for a role it is Bobbie Steinbach as Golda Meir. She is outstanding from start to finish, moving about the stage telling the story and recreating conversations. To say this is a riveting performance would not be an overstatement.

Golda’s Balcony with Ms Steinbach has everything you could want in an evening of theatre. A fine actor playing an amazing woman whose historical significance is not to be overlooked. The pain, the tears, the laughter, and conflict that comes when, as Ms Meir asks “What happens when idealism becomes power?”

It is a story that should be heard by all, and you won’t find a better telling of it than the one now playing at the New Rep. Don’t miss Bobbie Steinbach in Golda’s Balcony.

Golda’s Balcony
Playing through April 16th
The New Repertory Theatre at
The Mossesian Center For The Arts
Watertown
617.923.8487 newrep.org

Review: Our American Hamlet

The Booth Family:
Tragedians On And Off
The Stage

Our American Hamlet
The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The world premiere of Our American Hamlet now playing at the Sorenson Center for the Arts at Babson College in Wellesley is a fascinating and intriguing look at a family that would have been remembered more for producing two of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 19th Century, had it not been for actions of John Wilkes Booth who gained infamy by assassinating Abraham Lincoln. His words “Sic semper tyrannis”, shouted on the stage at Ford’s Theater that  April night would become one of the most remembered lines in theatre history. It would also cast a shadow over the Booth name, one that had survived scandals but nothing compared to this horrible deed. It is against this backdrop the play unfolds, and it is an interesting one.

Our American Hamlet is an evening of wonderful theatre and should not be missed.

In Jake Broder’s play we get to see all of the Booths in their greatness, their near madness, and their rivalries. It is a complicated story that Mr. Broder makes easy to follow by using the character of Adam Badeau, which he plays, as the narrator and as a friend of Edwin’s. He is very effective in keeping everything in perspective.

Jake Broder
Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

The play opens with Mr. Broder taking the stage next to a ghost light. He sets the action with a speech that is reminiscent of the opening scene of Henry V. We then see Edwin Booth as he is preparing back stage for his first performance since his brother’s infamous deed. Much of the play takes place backstage as the action moves to the past and the family history is told.

Jacob Fishel and Will Lyman
Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

The Booth story is both fascinating and intriguing, one of great success and much pain. Junius Brutus Booth, the family patriarch, is a man with a love for his liquor who appears to be bordering at times on madness. He is played by Will Lyman who takes the role to the edge without allowing it to slip into caricature. Mr. Lyman, who is one of Boston’s great actors, lives up to his reputation in this role.

Jacob Fishel
Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

As I watched Jacob Fishel in the role of Edwin Booth I was thinking what a challenge it must be to portray a man who is considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time. Mr. Fishel does not appear to be at all intimidated by this and is a joy to watch. The back and forth between Edwin and Junius is sprinkled with lines from Hamlet that are never overplayed and always appropriate to the action. Edwin spent years dealing with his father’s mood changes and alcoholism as well as verbal abuse. He also spent this time observing his father and learning the craft of acting. When the opportunity arose he was ready. Mr. Fishel and Mr. Lyman are at times intense in their roles opposite each other, an intensity that drives the action.

Joe Fria
Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Joe Frias brings us a John Wilkes who has much youthful confidence but is lacking in the talent his brother and father possess. Mr. Frias does a fine job in showing the bitterness that develops as John becomes frustrated and then made to feel inadequate by Edwin who not only overshadows him on the stage but also has a penchant for making him feel inferior. How much all of this played into the madness that drove him to assassinate the president is something we will never know.

Brother June (Kelby Akin), sister Asia (Lucy Davenport), and mother Mary Ann Holmes (Maureen Keiller) are the rest of the family. June owns a theatre in California, Asia marries the owner of a theatre not for love but because it will help advance Edwin’s career, and Mary encourages John in his desires to make a career on the stage while at the same time throwing guilt onto Edwin.

The voices of the actors in this production are like music.

Steven Maler has done a fine job directing this original piece of theatre. It is interesting to have scenes where we, the audience, get to sit backstage looking out at a theater while the actors perform scenes from Shakespeare and watch from behind as they take their bows or have their breakdowns. There is even a bit of Our American Cousin performed. The final scene is a wonderful piece of theatre that overlaps the Hamlets and the Booths. It is very interesting to see.

Our American Hamlet is an evening of wonderful theatre and should not be missed.  You will enjoy, learn much, and leave asking many what if questions. The voices of the actors in this production are like music. They are clear and resonant. A joy to hear.

Putting on a new play is a risk for any theatre company and the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company is to be commended for staging this work. I highly recommend Our American Hamlet, you will not be disappointed.

Our American Hamlet
By Jake Border
Directed by Steven Maler
Through April 2nd at the Sorenson Center for the Arts
Babson College, Wellesley, MA
781.239.5660
www.commshakes.org

A note: Wellesley is not on another planet. The Sorenson Theater is very easy to find using GPS. There is plenty of free parking, and the theater is very comfortable with plenty of leg room. The Commonwealth Shakespeare has partnered with Babson College and is now able to stage productions all year long in addition to their free Shakespeare on the Common every summer.