All posts by Bobby Franklin

Review: “Onegin” At Greater Boston Stage Company 

Onegin

By Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille

Directed By Weylin Symes

Musical Direction By Steve Bass

Choreographer Ilyse Robbins

Through March 31

 

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Sarah Pothier and Mark Linehan
Photo by: Maggie Hall Photography

Onegin, now playing at the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham is the U.S. premiere of the musical based on the epic poem of the same name by Alexander Pushkin. It has been very popular in Canada, and after seeing this production I can understand why. In this version, Russian literature meets rock opera. The result is two hours of very enjoyable theatre that you won’t want to miss.

Set in 19th Century Russia, it is the story of Evgeni Onegin (Mark Linehan) who has moved to the countryside where he has inherited his uncle’s estate. There he befriends the young poet Vladimir Lensky (Michael Jennings Mahoney). To cheer his new friend up, Lensky introduces Onegin to his girlfriend’s sister Tatyana (Sarah Pothier). 

We hear how Tatyana is immediately taken with Onegin as she sings Let Me Die, in which she tells of her love of books and her feelings that Onegin has walked out of one of the great novels she has read. Ms Pothier’s rendition of Let Me Die is beautiful. Her voice is sweet and conveys a vulnerability that captures the essence of Tatyana. 

Sarah Pothier
Photo By: Maggie Hall Photography

Unfortunately, the object of her affection does not respond in kind. He makes his feelings clear in Onegin’s Refusal in which he sings the lyric, “Marriage is not for me.” Mark Linehan’s voice is strong and rich, and it doesn’t take long to understand the character of the self centered Onegin. 

The story moves to tragedy as Onegin’s thoughtlessness causes his friend Lensky much pain. Onegin’s flirtation with Lensky’s fiancé Olga (Josephine Moshiri Elwood) leads to the two friends having a duel. The result causes much pain while giving Onegin what appears to be the first sense of caring for others. 

Christopher Chew
Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

While tragic, the play has many upbeat and funny moments. Christopher Chew as Triquet puts on quite the rock star performance during “The Queen Of Tonight”. Kerry Dowling’s glower seems aimed at each audience member as she sings Rules For Dueling while dressed as a Cossack complete with mustache. There are a number of memorable moments such as this.

Michael Jennings Mahoney who plays Lensky has a remarkable voice. The melancholy that shows during Olga Will You Weep is deeply moving. I was impressed and taken with what I heard.

The five piece orchestra was on stage throughout the performance as are most of the cast members. And, in a nice touch, a few members of the audience are also seated on stage and take part in some of the numbers. 

Onegin plays through March 31 in Stoneham, and I highly recommend it. This Greater Boston Stage Company production is well worth seeing.  With political divisions permeating so much of our daily lives, it is nice to be able to take a break from the madness and see a play that is touching, human, and has such a great score. 

Onegin

Greater Boston Stage Company

395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA

781.279.2200

www.greaterbostonstage.org 

Review: “An Inspector Calls” At ArtsEmerson

Be Sure To Visit This House

Review: An Inspector Calls

Directed By Stephen Daldry

A National Theatre Landmark Production

Through March 14

ArtsEmerson

Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Photo by Mark Douet

When the curtain rises for An Inspector Calls, now playing at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, a magnificent Victorian mansion appears center stage shrouded in mist and rain. It is rather breathtaking to see as we hear the occupants talking over dinner. Eventually, the sides of the house swing back revealing the diners while allowing the audience to get to know each character. 

At first I thought the house would steal the show, but nothing could take away from the fine acting on display over the next 100 minutes of this fast paced production filled with rapid fire dialog.

Jeff Harmer, Hamish Riddle and Andrew Macklin
Photo by Mark Douet

J.B. Priestly’s play which was written in 1945 and is set in 1912, takes in place the home of the prosperous Birling family, celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila (Lianne Harvey) to Gerald Croft (Andrew Maclin). Croft’s family runs a company that competes with the Birling’s firm, and the wedding appears to be as much a business merger as an affair of the heart.

The mood begins to change quickly when the mysterious Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan) arrives and begins questioning the individuals about a young woman named Eva Smith. Eva has taken her own life and the Inspector acts as a conscience while going from person to person while finding blame in each for driving the young Smith to such despair.

Priestly made no attempt to hide his agenda and it is clear the story comes down to a very black and white social commentary; wealthy industrialist is cruel and exploitative while the workers have no control over their lives. It is a theme that will be popular with many of today’s Millennials who seem to be quite taken with socialism, but it does not lend itself to discussion. Priestly has written a work that is more of a sermon promoting rather than an argument for his beliefs.

Liam Brennan, Jeff Harmer, Hamish Riddle, Andrew Macklin
Photo by Mark Douet

Does this mean only people who agree with the author should see it? Not at all. Actually, it is a very good work with excellent dialog, many surprises, and characters that are well developed, and that while it is strongly political in nature, there is much in it that will resonate with people from all spectrums of opinion. Step back from where Priestly is trying lead the audience and you have a story about human nature and the harm people do to one another because they don’t understand or simply choose not to see the consequences their actions have on the lives of others. This is a problem for not only wealthy capitalists, but for many people when they have power over others. It could even be true of college professors or lower level management people. 

This is the U.S. tour of the National Theatre production of An Inspector Calls, and the set from the original London West End theatre has been brought over. It is a first rate work that is a pleasure watch. At times I felt as if I were sitting in a London theatre while watching this incredibly talented troupe of actors plying their art. Costumes, lighting, and effects further enhanced the performances. 

Liam Brennan’s Inspector Goole is a combination of avenging angel and Ghost of Christmas yet to come, while Jeff Hamer in the role of family patriarch Arthur Brilling takes his character, who could have easily slipped into caricature, and fills him with depth and emotion.

Lianne Harvey’s Shelia Brilling at first appears to be uncaring, or rather naive, but then becomes a voice of reason and understanding. Eric Brilling, the alcoholic son played by Hamish Riddle, gains much depth as the play moves on, and his pain is deeply felt as the final scenes unfold. 

Gerald Croft (Andrew Maclin), the future son in law, and Sybil Birling (Christine Kavanaugh), the family matriarch, struck me as the coldest of the bunch. Both appeared to be from the school that says if nobody sees you, you didn’t do anything wrong. 

Not to be forgotten is Edna, the Birling’s maid. Played by Diana Payne-Myers, she has very little dialog but acts as witness to all that happens. While subtle, she is quite moving and plays an important role in the play.

Opening night was also Ms Payne-Myers 91st birthday. She has been performing the part for 22 years, I think she has it down pat. 

Jeff Harmer, Diana Payne-Myers, Lianne Harvey, Hamish Riddle, Andrew Macklin, Christine Kavanagh and Ensemble
Photo by Mark Douet

Be neither turned off or on by the political bent of An Inspector Calls. It is excellent theatre and it would be a shame not to take it in. We are in such polarized political times, but that has always been true to some degree. The important thing is to be able to listen to one another no matter how much we may disagree. While you may or may not agree with J.B. Priestly’s political views, there is much common ground to be found in how we can improve our lives when it comes to treating others with kindness and respect.

One thing everyone can agree on is this is a superb production that should not be missed. 

Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont Street, Boston. Tickets may be purchased online at www.artsemerson.org  by phone at 617.824.8400, or in person at the box office.

“Twelfth Night” Opens At The Lyric Stage March 29

If Music Be The Food Of love, Play On! Give Me Excess Of It!

Orsino, Act 1 Scene 1

The Lyric Stage Company and Actors’ Shakespeare Project will be co-producing a production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. ASP founding member Paula Plum will will direct. Paula has worked as an actor and director with the Lyric Stage since 1975. She has won numerous awards including three Eliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Actress.

The cast will feature Rachel Bell;eman, Dominic Carter, Jennie Israel, Samantha Richert, Alejandro Simoes, Richard Snee, Hayley Spivey, Bobbie Steinbach, and Michael Forden Walker.

Twelfth Night is a tale of unrequited love – hilarious and heartbreaking. Twins are separated during a shipwreck and are forced to fend for themselves in a strange land. The first twin, Viola, falls in love with Orsino, who dotes on Olivia, who falls for Viola but is idolized by Malvolio. Enter Sebastian, who is the spitting image of his twin sister… is it possible for this to all end well?   Well, it IS a comedy!

Twelfth Night will run from March 29 through April 28 at the Lyric Stage, Copley Square, Boston.

For more information: 617.585.5678 lyricstage.com  actorsshakespeareproject.org 

“Onegin” Opens At Greater Boston Stage

GREATER BOSTON STAGE COMPANY

PRESENTS THE U.S. PREMIERE OF ONEGIN

Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Greater Boston Stage Company proudly announces the U.S. Premiere of Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hill’s, Onegin. Based on Pushkin’s masterpiece novel in verse and Tchaikovsky’s stunning opera, Onegin tells the love story of the innocent Tatyana and the self-obsessed aristocrat Onegin. This soaring musical adaptation begs you to answer the question, “Look around, look around, look around, Do you see someone worth dying for? Directed by Producing Artistic Director Weylin Symes, performances run March 14 – 31, 2019

Says Symes, “I discovered this one in a bit of a strange way. Veda Hille (composer/co-writer) released several albums in the 90s and early 2000’s that I owned and loved. One day a few years ago, I discovered that she was still writing and moreover that she had written a brand-new musical based on Pushkin’s most famous poem, Onegin. After listening to one song, I was hooked. Veda’s modern pop/musical sensibility that includes motifs from the Tchaikovsky opera, combined with a ‘musical-meets-rock-concert’ setting seemed like the perfect way to capture the passion, vibrancy and tongue-in-cheek playfulness of this classic story for a modern audience.” He continues, “Like most of my favorite shows, Onegin is a true ensemble piece with a cast of seven playing multiple roles throughout the show. And what a cast it is.”

“The great Russian novels feel so contemporary to us,” shares co-creator Hill. “You know these people, and you’ve had these feelings. We are so thrilled to have our American Premiere at GBSC. This production marks the first time that Amiel and I are not directing/music directing the show. We’ve been looking for the right company to hand Onegin to, and we feel we’ve found such excellent people at GBSC.”

The Onegin Cast features Peter Adams, Christopher Chew, Kerry Dowling, Josephine Ellwood, Mark Linehan, Michael Jennings Mahoney, and Sarah Pothier.

The Design Team is comprised of Scenic Designer Katy Monthei, Lighting Designer Jeff Adelberg, Costume Designer Deirdre Gerrard, Sound Designer John Stone, and Props Master Emme Shaw. Music Direction is by Steve Bass with choreography by Associate Artistic Director, Ilyse Robbins. Young Company Alum, Stephen Zubricki IV Assistant Directs.

There will be complimentary Pre-Show Vodka Tastings at each of the Friday performances courtesy of Vodka Sponsor Deep Eddy Vodka.

Single Tickets for Onegin: $50-60 Adults; $45-55 Seniors; $20 Students (with valid ID). Thrifty Thursday tickets cost $15 at the door and are available for the Thursday, March 14, 2019 performance at 7:30pm. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at Greater Boston Stage Company at (781) 279-2200, or visit www.greaterbostonstage.org.

SPEAKEASY EXTENDS “ONCE” THRU APRIL 7, 2019

Hit Play Is Proving To Be Very Popular In Boston

New Block of Seats on Sale Friday, March 8 at noon 

MacKenzie Lesser-Roy and Scott Hawver
Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography

 Due to overwhelming demand, SpeakEasy Stage Company has added seven more performances of its acclaimed production of the Tony Award-winning musical ONCE.  The show will now play through Sunday, April 7, 2019.  

The entire original cast will remain for the additional week of performances. The new block of seats for these additional performances will go on sale this Friday, March 8, 2019  at noon.  

 Based on the 2007 Irish film written and directed by John Carney, ONCE employs an exceptional ensemble of actor-musicians to tell the story of an unlikely romance between a down-on-his-luck Dublin street musician and a determined Czech immigrant who inspires him to dream.  Featuring a book by Enda Walsh, and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, ONCE is a charming tale that reminds us of the importance of pursuing our dreams and the power music has to connect us all.  

 SpeakEasy General Manager Paul Melone directed this production of ONCE. Winner of two Elliot Norton Awards for his direction of the musicals Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (2013) and Adding Machine: A Musical (2010), Mr. Melone also directed the company’s Boston premieres of  Carrie: The Musical; reasons to be pretty; The Little Dog Laughed; Fat Pig; The Moonlight Room; Our Lady of 121st Street; and The Shape of Things. 

  Also on the artistic team are Steven Ladd Jones (music director) and Ilyse Robins (choreographer).

 Nile Scott Hawver and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy play the lead roles of Guy and Girl.  Jacob Brandt, Billy Butler, Clara Cochran, Chris Coffey, Reagan Gardiner, Billy Meleady, Robert X. Newman, Marta Rymer, Stephen Shore, Jeff Song, Kathy St. George, and Ellie van Amerongen make-up the ensemble of actor-musicians. 

 The design team is Eric Levenson (scenic); Rachel Padula-Shufelt (costumes); Karen Perlow (lighting); and Andrew Duncan Will (sound). 

 ONCE will now run through Sunday, April 7, 2019, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St. in Boston’s South End.

For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .         

Reveiwed Here

 

Review: “Once”

“Don’t Be Wastin’ Life 

‘Cause You’re Frightened Of It”

Once

At SpeakEasy Stage Company

Through March 30

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Nile Scott Hawver and MacKenzie Lesser-Roy
Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography

Once, the Tony Award winning musical based on the 2007 movie of the same name, is a love story that takes place over five days in Dublin, Ireland. The lead characters are called simply Guy and Girl. The cast is made up primarily of musicians who play their instruments on stage during the performance. This gives a coffeehouse feel to the work.

Guy, played by Nile Scott Hawver, is a singer/songwriter who is despondent after having broken up with his girlfriend. She was the inspiration for his songs, and he has now decided to give up music. 

Girl, an “always serious” Czech pianist, played by MacKenzie Lesser-Roy, sees Guy discard his guitar on the street and approaches him. Guy is put off by her aggressiveness as she pushes him to pick up his instrument. He resists, and then “destiny” steps in.

It turns out Guy repairs Hoovers, as in vacuum cleaners, for a living, and it just happens that Girl has a Hoover in need of repair. This sets the stage for the pretty predictable story that follows.

The two begin to fall in love, but that love will not be able to blossom for a number of reasons; however, they both have much to give to and learn from each other in the time they spend together. Until they met each other they were both stuck, and from each other they have come to understand they cannot remain that way. As Guy says, “Don’t be wastin’ life ‘cause you’re frightened of it”.

Billy Meleady and Kathy St. George With Cast
Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography

Along the way there is much music and many characters, including Guy’s Da (father) and Girl’s mother, Baruska, played by Billy Meleady and Kathy St.George. Girl has a young daughter, Ivonka, who was played by Reagan Gardiner at the performance I attended. Clara Cochran also plays Ivonka in alternating appearances. Add to this a number of Girl’s Czech friends and the local Dubliners and you get some interesting cross cultural interactions. 

While the story is pretty basic and the music is not of the type you will be singing to yourself as you leave the theater, the production is uplifting and enjoyable. Ilyse Robbins has done a splendid job in choreographing the musicians, all of whom are first rate. The set design, mostly brick with wood floors, is warm and welcoming while the lighting accents the colors and frames the actors in a way that keeps them from becoming too large on the small stage of the Robert’s Theatre. It is all splendidly done. 

I want to make special mention of Billy Butler who plays Billy, the owner of a recording studio. Mr. Butler is quick and sharp with some great lines. He is a pugnacious character who has to temper his fighting spirit because he has a bad back. Of course, his back seems fine until he appears ready to fight. I was quite impressed with Mr. Butler’s sharp performance and well timed facial expressions. 

MacKenzie Lesser-Roy and Scott Hawver
Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography

Nile Scott Hawver and MacKenzie Lesser-Roy are charming as Guy and Girl. Both have delightful voices and are accomplished musicians. They convey warmth and understanding in their lines to each other. By the end of the two hour performance you will find you really like both of the characters. 

The rest of the cast are also very good. While most are musicians they also display excellent acting talent and are quite comfortable on the theatrical stage.

This is my first time seeing Once. It was originally an off Broadway work that moved to Broadway. While it had great success there and won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical, I get the feeling it works best in a smaller theatre such as the Robert’s. As I wrote at the beginning, it has a coffeehouse feel to it, and seeing it staged so well on this small stage makes me believe this is how it should be experienced. 

Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography

Once is a nice story, and The Speakeasy Stage Company production of it is pitch perfect. I doubt it was serendipitous that a love story set in Dublin would happen to arrive on a Boston stage during St. Patricks Day, but it is a nice treat. And get there early as the cast puts on a lively little musical session before the play begins that you won’t want to miss. 

Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company

Book By Enda Walsh

Music and Lyric By Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

Directed By Paul Melone 

Choreography by Ilyse Robbins

Through March 30

SpeakEasy Production Company

Calderwood Pavillion, South End, Boston

speakeasystage.com

617.933.8600

The Ogunquit Playhouse Announces Lineup For 2019 Season

Jersey Boys!, 42nd Street, Cabaret, and Murder On The Orient Express With More To Follow

The legendary Ogunquit Playhouse is thrilled to announce a sensational lineup of shows for audiences in 2019. For the first time in over a decade the Playhouse will stage a non-musical play in addition to five musicals, including the return of the multi-Tony Award-winning, international sensation Jersey Boys; the quintessential tap dancing extravaganza 42nd Street; and the iconic and powerful jazz musical Cabaret. The play that will ignite the stage with murder and mystery is the beloved Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Closing out the season is a hilarious musical comedy that will be announced soon and a Tony Award-winning, smash hit musical which will be announced in May. 

“As we head into our 87th season, we are delighted to present an exciting lineup of musicals for our audiences,” stated Bradford Kenney, Ogunquit Playhouse Executive Artistic Director. “I am very excited to produce my first play here at the Playhouse. I am a huge Agatha Christie fan and we have carefully chosen one of her most thrilling murder mysteries, a brand new play adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig. It will be seen here for one of the first times anywhere, live on our stage this summer.”

Season ticket subscription packages are on sale now and the only way to guarantee the best seats for the best price to these exciting shows! Prices start at only $250 for a five-show package and $150 for a three-show package. Gift certificates are also on sale online and through the Box Office. Individual tickets are on sale exclusively for Ogunquit Playhouse members the week of Monday, March 4. Individual public ticket sales begin Monday, March 11 with prices starting at $36. 

It’s just too good to be true! The season kicks off with the return of the multi-Tony Award-winning, international sensation that performed to sold-out houses during its run at the Ogunquit Playhouse in 2018, Jersey Boys! The hit show is back by popular demand May 15 through June 15. Returning to the Playhouse stage as The Four Seasons are Jonathan Mousset (Frankie Valli), Matt Magnusson (Tommy DeVito), Andy Christopher (Bob Gaudio), and Matthew Amira (Nick Massi). Follow the incredible story of four guys bound by one dream, who worked their way from the streets of New Jersey to the heights of stardom. Jersey Boys takes audiences on an exhilarating journey with the electrifying performances of the golden greats that took these hometown boys from Jersey all the way to the top of the charts: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Dawn,” “My Eyes Adored You,” and many more. Don’t miss your chance to see this blockbuster show – you’re sure to leave exclaiming, “Oh, What a Night!!”

Come and meet those dancing feet! The ultimate tap-dancing, show-biz musical sensation, 42nd Street celebrates Broadway, Times Square, and the people who make magical musical theatre, on stage June 19 through July 13 and featuring Emmy Award-winner Sally Struthers. The Ogunquit production will be staged by Randy Skinner, the creator of the Broadway revival and recent West End smash hit. Aspiring chorus girl Peggy Sawyer comes to the big city and soon lands her first job in the ensemble of a glitzy new Broadway show. Mayhem and mirth ensue when just before opening night the leading lady breaks her ankle. Will Peggy be able to step in and become a star? The score is chock-full of Broadway standards, including “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me,” “Dames,” “We’re In The Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” and “Forty-Second Street.” Be sure to shuffle off to Ogunquit for this delightful and dazzling musical!

Decadent nightlife meets dangerous times at Berlin’s alluring Kit Kat Klub in Cabaret, on stage July 17 through August 10. The Ogunquit production is based on the searing Sam Mendez musical recently revived on Broadway and is set in the cabaret underworld on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power. This unforgettable musical tells the story of Cliff Bradshaw, a young American writer newly arrived in Berlin, who falls in love with cabaret singer Sally Bowles. Their romance sizzles amid the back room culture of the cabaret and the tumultuous atmosphere of pre-Nazi Germany. Cabaret is a raw and powerful jazz musical that explores the dark life of Berlin’s natives and expatriates as Germany slowly yields to the emerging Third Reich. The show has had numerous Broadway and London revivals and is the winner of multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score for Kander and Ebb’s compelling musical numbers which include, “Willkommen,” “Money,” “Tomorrow Belongs To Me,” “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret.” Come to the Cabaret, your table’s waiting!

All aboard! The exotic Orient Express is hurtling down the tracks… to a murder! Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express hits the stage August 14 through August 31 with a train full of suspects and an alibi for each one. It’s the perfect mystery for detective Hercule Poirot, n’est-ce pas? Wax your mustache and hold on to your passport! Newly adapted for the stage from Agatha Christie’s masterpiece by two-time Tony-nominated playwright Ken Ludwig, the beloved mystery unfolds in a fresh and thrilling way. This exciting play will take audiences on a suspenseful, thrilling ride aboard the legendary Orient Express! Don’t go off the rails – hop on board today!

Closing out the season is a hilarious musical comedy on stage from September 4 through September 14 that will be announced soon and a Tony Award-winning, smash hit musical that will run from September 18 through October 27, which will be announced in May. Stay tuned – you won’t want to miss them!

What Are We Without The Memories?

The Heath

By Lauren Gunderson

Directed By Sean Daniels 

Through March 10

Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Lowell,MA

https://mrt.org/show/heath

Reviewed By Bobby Franklin

George Judy and Miranda Barnett
Photo by Meghan Moore

In The Heath, author Lauren Gunderson tells the story of her Paw Paw’s (grandfather) withdrawal from life due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is also the story about the regrets she has in not having gotten to know him better. Using scenes from King Lear as well as playing the banjo and singing, we are presented with an original and fascinating look at life and aging.

Miranda Barnett plays Lauren and does so with complexity and depth. Lauren is filled with regret for not having had more conversations with her Paw Paw whose name is KD, and struggles to understand what has happened by reading King Lear. The set is split between a home and a heath. George Judge in the role of KD as well as Lear is touching, warm, and powerful. His voice shifts from a Southern accent to a naturalistic Shakespearean delivery seamlessly as the scenes move from the dialog between Lauren and KD to out on the heath as we watch Lear’s descent into madness. 

George Judy
Photo by Seaghan McKay

While we often think of Lear as having gone mad, in The Heath we see it as being much more than that. Ms Gunderson shows how the diseases of an aging mind are not madness but a loss of self. She tells us, “They are lost before they are gone”. It is heart wrenching to witness a man who led a full life, who fought in Europe in WWII, raised a family, loved and was loved go to that place where he no longer knows anyone, even himself.

While at times Lauren comes across as self centered, she also does her best to reach out to KD. She learns to play the banjo because she remembered how he loved to listen to the music of Flatt and Scruggs. In addition to portions of some Gospel tunes, Ms Gunderson has also written a number of touching songs for the play. In Let It Be Me she asks “Who are we without the story?” It is the stories, the memories that are stolen from those suffering from dementia. 

This is all pretty heavy stuff, and the realities are not glossed over here. Having said that, the play is not a downer. There is much to smile and laugh about as KD’s life is recounted through conversations with Lauren as well as projections onto the back of the set. She learns from going through old letters that her Paw Paw called her grandmother Sugar Babe. She remembers watching Atlanta Braves baseball games together and the fun they had. They also had some interesting conversations about religion, a topic they didn’t exactly see eye to eye on. Those differences lead to some funny exchanges between the pair.

George Judy and Miranda Barnett
Photo by Meghan Moore

The scenes where Mr. Judge assumes the role of Lear are stunning. He steps onto the heath and recites his lines which have been framed by KD’s story. In the final storm scene from Lear, Lauren takes on the part of the Fool, and in creating the last scene with Lear and Cordelia, she is the King’s youngest though she worries she may have been more like Goneril. The sound, the lighting, and the emotions are a theatre experience to remember. Ms Barnett and Mr. Judge deliver amazing performances on the MRT stage. 

The Heath will touch everyone. It is a reminder that none of us gets out of life without suffering. That no matter how hard we try we will have regrets. It also tells us that our lives are filled with meaning and love, and it is up to us to strive to understand the gift we are given. 

Don’t be afraid of the subject matter. You will be enriched by this story. Our lives are our memories. Throughout the play texts are displayed on the backdrop. One is, “You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing. – Luis Bunuel, My Last Sigh”

Don’t miss this production, it will touch you and help you to better understand the journey we are all on. 

Reaching For The Light Without a Net

When Angels Fall

Directed and Choreographed By Raphaelle Boitel

Presented By ArtsEmerson

Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston

Through February 24

https://artsemerson.org

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Raphaelle Boitel describes When Angels Fall as a dystopia. Set some time in the future, the performers emerge from darkness and never speak. Instead, we are left to interpret what is happening by witnessing a combination of aerial acrobatics, dance, and other expressive movements, some as simple as people walking across the stage. This is accompanied by original and very moving music composed by Arthur Bison. Add to all this,  lighting that is used sparsely but oh so effectively and a fog machine that at times gives the feeling that the aerialists are drifting through clouds makes this a captivating work that fascinates and intrigues. 

Ms Boitel’s future is cold. It is a place where human connection is frowned upon if not outright banned. As the work opens a performer is lowered from above to the song A Bicycle Built For Two (Daisy, Daisy). The old tune will be heard again, and in different versions, throughout the production. The reactions of the characters to this simple song of love and togetherness seems at first humorous, but as their confusion and fear shows it is apparent just how far removed they are from being able to understand and feel human connection, and that is where it becomes so very sad. It may be the future, but things have not moved forward. 

Throughout all of this there is one character, a noble savage type, who is looking for more. She is looking for conversation and is looking off stage toward someone or something as she reaches out for connection. 

The use of beams of light cutting through the fog and the darkness gives a feeling that all is not hopeless. The striving to reach up to the light that is expressed through the amazing aerial acrobatics is just astounding. The beauty and danger that are combined touch the emotions as the struggle to be allowed to feel is strongly conveyed. Can she escape and reach the light or will she fall?

In the 70 minutes it lasted, my eyes never left the stage. The movements, the music, the aerial feats were all spellbinding.  The seven performers were perfectly in sync while making it look effortless, which it certainly wasn’t. 

This is the first season I have covered ArtsEmerson, and I have been quite impressed. Artistic Director David Dower has made the unusual the usual under his direction. 

When Angels Fall is only playing until Sunday so don’t hesitate, you won’t want to miss this very original work. The Emerson Cutler Majestic is a beautiful theatre and this is a must see production. It is touching, enthralling, and deeply moving. And if you haven’t guessed by now, I really enjoyed it.

Photos by Sophian and Georges Ridel

“The Heath” Opens At Merrimack Rep

MRT Presents World Premiere of

New Lauren Gunderson Play,

The Heath

A Play with Original Songs by the Author of Silent Sky, I and You,

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) will present the world premiere of The Heath by Lauren Gunderson, one of the most produced playwrights in America (Silent Sky, I and You, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley) from February 13 to March 10 at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre at Liberty Hall, according to Artistic Director Sean Daniels and Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas. 

A new play with music about the playwright’s relationship with her grandfather, The Heath is directed by Artistic Director Sean Daniels (The Lion, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Little Orphan Danny). The play includes banjo, four original songs, and several traditional tunes.

In The Heath, Gunderson turns her prodigious storytelling skills on herself as she wrestles with how you make peace with a beloved relative who seems unlike you in every way. This beautiful, funny meditation on her grandfather’s life draws on everything from Shakespeare to Bluegrass in a soul-stirring story of redemption, love, madness, and the science of memory. 

Of The Heath, Gunderson said, “I started the script before my PawPaw died as it occurred to me that the only reference I had for his condition was the literary figure of King Lear. It’s a love letter to him, an apology, and a reckoning, as well as a chance to discover a man I thought I knew so well.

I was inspired to add banjo to the play when I remembered how much PawPaw loved Flatt and Scruggs bluegrass music. It felt like a crazy challenge to myself. The songs are simple but full of emotion and heart. The big ending song, Storm Still, was the most cathartic to write. It really allows me to say, ‘I love you, I miss you, I’m proud of you,’ to my grandfather,” she said.

The cast features Miranda Barnett as Lauren and George Judy as KD, her grandfather, and King Lear. 

A classically trained musician-turned-actor, Barnett has been studying the banjo for the past three months in anticipation of the show. A native and resident of South Carolina, her credits include The Rocky Horror Picture Show; Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike; Sweeney Todd; and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. 

George Judy is the Gresdna A. Doty Professor of Theatre at Louisiana State University, as well as the former head of the MFA Acting Program there and former Artistic Director of Swine Palace, LSU’s Equity theatre-in-residence. He has appeared in numerous Shakespeare productions, including King Lear, The Tempest, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Royal National Theatre in London, and the Utah, Texas, and Kentucky Shakespeare festivals, among many other venues. FUN FACT: George Judy was Sean Daniels’ acting coach in college.

The Heath by Lauren Gunderson runs from February 13-March 10, 2019. For more information visit www.mrt.org or contact the MRT Box Office at 978-654-4678.