All posts by Bobby Franklin

Review: “The End Of TV” At ArtsEmerson, Boston

 

A Warm And Touching Story
Of Two Lives Connecting
Now Playing At ArtsEmerson

 

The End Of TV
By Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman
Created by Manual Cinema
Through January 27
ArtsEmerson
Emerson Paramount Theater
Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Photo Credit: Judy Sirota Rosenthal

If you were to just sit and listen to the original music and lyrics composed by Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter that accompanies The End Of TV, that alone would be a pleasurable experience. But having that music along with the story that grew from it makes for an incredible evening of theatre.

Now being presented by ArtsEmerson at the Paramount Center in Boston and created by Manual Cinema, The End Of TV is certainly one of the most original works you will see this season. Combining that sublime score with visual effects that include shadow puppets, overhead projectors, actors performing in silhouette, and a touching and moving story, it leaves you with 75 minutes of theatre that is deeply moving.

The story, set during the 1990s in the Rust Belt, focuses on Flo (Kara Davidson), a retired factory worker who spends her days watching home shopping channels on her TV, and Louise (Sharaina L. Turnage), a recently laid off factory worker who has taken a job working for Meals On Wheels. Flo is slipping into dementia and her world is her television set. Louise is working to reinvent her life.

Photo Credit:Judy Sirota Rosenthal

Louise meets Flo while delivering meals to her, and at first their contact is brief, limited to the time it takes Louise to drop off Flo’s dinners. The two actors have no lines and are seen in silhouette projections on a screen hanging above the stage. The audience can see what is going on behind the scenes as the actors work in front of backdrop where their actions are captured and projected onto the overhead screen. The story is told with these images along with shadow puppets and scenes from television. It is remarkable to see the large array of emotions and expressions that are conveyed by the actors’ body movements. The lack of dialog and facial expressions actually enhances the emotional effect. A simple wave of the hand as a greeting gives the sense of connection that is building between the two women. It is fascinating to watch.

The only dialog is from the actors portraying the people from the home shopping channel and 1990’s TV programs who are also projected onto the screen. There are even appearances by the Jolly Green Giant. The five piece orchestra is on stage throughout the performance. The sound from a television can be heard throughout giving us the feeling of what it is like to be living in Flo’s world.

We also learn about Flo and Louise through flashbacks. Flo had worked in the factory during WW II. It appears it is the same factory Louise was laid off from. Both have had ordeals to overcome, and I was struck by the quiet strength of each.

The bond that grows between the two during the brief visits by Louise shows how important even a simple gesture of kindness can be. The fact that this is being done through silhouettes and without words makes it all the more touching.

Photo Credit: Judy Sirota Rosenthal

Discussing the subject of aging and the onset of dementia can make people very uncomfortable in today’s society. Not so in The End Of TV. There is a raw honesty to this work that allows us to watch and understand what happens in life as the aging process sets in. Seeing how much simple acts of kindness can mean to a person shows the importance of being connected to one another. And this is not just about what Louise does for Flo, but it also how Louise finds strength and hope in communicating with Flo.

While dealing with sad topics, this is not a sad play; It is heart touching and hopeful. The use of shadow puppets interspersed with the actors give it a childlike innocence that helps to simplify the complexities of the story. The warmth that comes from witnessing Flo and Louise connecting serves to remind us of our capacity for kindness and understanding, something that we tend to lose touch with in this fast paced world. There is so much to be given to and learned from one another. In my mind I still have the image of Flo and Louise gently waving to one another, so simple yet so very moving.

After the performance, the audience is invited onto the stage to speak with the actors and to see how it was all done.

Creative, unique, fascinating, humorous and touching, this is a work that will capture your heart. The End Of TV is one of the high points in a very rich Boston theatre season. It is a beautiful work and I highly recommend it.

For more information:
617.824.8400
artsemerson.org

Seaglass Chorale Call For Singers

Seaglass Chorale Seeking Singers For Upcoming Concert

Seaglass Performing Arts Chorale, conducted by Artistic Director and Founder Jean Strazdes, is seeking singers to join its musical community in preparation for its 2019 concert performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The April 28, 2019 performance will be the premiere concert at the new Performing Arts Center at Sanford High School in Sanford. The Chorale will be collaborating with the Chamber Singers of Sanford High School under the direction of Jane Kirton.

The first rehearsal for Carmina Burana will be at 5:30 pm on Sunday, January 13th, at Holy Cross Lutheran Church on Storer Street in Kennebunk.

For more information, stop in on Sunday, January 13th, or call 985-8747. You can also check their website at seaglassperformingarts.org or visit us on Facebook.
Seaglass Chorale is a non-auditioned chorus.
Seaglass Performing Arts
Post Office Box 265, Kennebunk, ME 04043 Seaglassperformingarts.org
Seaglass is a 501c3 non-profit organization

Review: “Small Mouth Sounds” SpeakEasy Stage Company

Silence Is Golden With

Small Mouth Sounds

At SpeakEasy Stage

Review by Bobby Franklin

Cast Of Small Mouth Sounds
(Photo Credit: Nile Scott Studios)

As Bess Wohl’s unique play Small Mouth Sounds now playing at the SpeakEasy Stage begins, six people arrive at a resort in the country for a “silence retreat”. The set is a yoga studio with a small platform toward the rear with six chairs. As each participant arrives they take a yoga mat and find some space on the floor. With the exception of two friends who arrived together, they have never met before. There is some dialog at first, but then the “Teacher”  who remains unseen throughout the play speaks to them via a speaker. They are given a list of rules that include no talking for the time they are there. This makes for an original, funny, and touching play. Her telling of the Frog Parable is a riot.

With few exceptions, the actors perform without speaking a word. They do not do mime, but rather resort to doing what we all would do; they improvise ways of communicating without speaking. At times this is like being in a country where you don’t speak the language and are asking for directions. Beyond that, they also convey emotions with body language and facial expressions, some are extremely funny, others very touching. 

Ned (Nael Nacer) and Rodney (Sam Simahk)
Photo Credit: Nile Scott Studios)

Watching as they struggle to at first overcome the awkwardness of sharing space with strangers, something that goes with gatherings such as this, while not being allowed to communicate is a bit uncomfortable. It is something we have all had to deal with at one time or another, though usually not with the restriction on speaking. Of course, awkwardness does make for funny moments. Angry, puzzled, and inquiring looks are exchanged. The personalities of the characters are quickly revealed, while the emotional suffering that brought each one there is not brought out until much later.

Ironically, the one character with  the most lines, the Teacher (Marianna Bassham) remains unseen. The tone of her voice moves from New Age guru to prison warden to frustration and emotional pain throughout the play. The one who is there to teach how to deal with inner turmoil has much of her own.

The name of only one of the six characters was revealed in the course of the play, but they are all named in the program. There is Ned (Nael Nacer) who never takes his hat off, there is a reason for this that is part of his story, Joan (Kerry A. Dowling) and Judy (Celeste Oliva) who have come together and are dealing with stress to their friendship/relationship. Jan (Barlow Anderson) who at first doesn’t appear to be suffering, Rodney (Sam Simahk) a Youtube yoga celebrity who is going through relationship issues, and Alicia (Gigi Watson) who is young and vulnerable while dealing with a breakup. It is quite remarkable to witness how each is able to convey so much about their character while not speaking. There is a particularly touching moment when Jan reveals to Judy the reason for his suffering. He does this with one simple gesture and yet it is incredibly moving. 

The entire cast is excellent while Nael Nacer is just wonderful with his many facial expressions and body movements. I would describe him as a clown in the best definition of the term in that he gives such a broad array of emotions while not speaking. His performance is top notch, and while not speaking, he is also the one character outside of the Teacher, who does have a scene where he speaks to some extent. It is a revealing talk about what brought him to the retreat. 

There is much that is funny in Small Mouth Sounds as well as much that gives reason to reflect.

There is much that is funny in Small Mouth Sounds as well as much that gives reason to reflect. The idea of taking an extended period of time away from distractions such as our electronic devices as well as not being allowed to communicate verbally is really quite a daunting thought in our 24/7 social media world. While there is much to laugh at in the play, I sense that to a certain degree the audience laughter comes from their own feelings of discomfort with the silence. 

While Small Mouth Sounds is somewhat of a parody of New Age style retreats, it is also a reminder that maybe we should spend more time in quiet thought and accept that we can be comfortable with ourselves while facing our inner pain.

Director M. Bevin O’Gara must have felt it a challenge to direct a work that relies almost entirely on body language, but she pulls it all together. Whether you are comfortable sitting in the lotus position on a yoga mat or think this sort of stuff is only for granola eating Cambridge types, you will enjoy this play. By the conclusion you will not be able to help yourself from doing some self reflection. You’ll also be smiling and glad you saw moving and thoughtful play. 

Small Mouth Sounds 

Through February 2

SpeakEasy Stage Company

Calderwood Pavillion

527 Tremont Street

Boston’s South End

617.933.8600

speakeasystage.com

MANUAL CINEMA RETURNS TO BOSTON WITH THE END OF TV

COMPANY BRINGS ITS INNOVATIVE AND CINEMATIC STORYTELLING BACK TO ARTSEMERSON
JANUARY 16 – 27, 2019
EMERSON PARAMOUNT CENTER
ROBERT J. ORCHARD STAGE 

(Photo Credit: Judy Sirota Rosenthal)

ArtsEmerson, Boston’s leading presenter of contemporary world theatre, is excited to announce the return of Manual Cinema with their production, The End of TV.After thrilling Boston audiences with Ada/Ava in 2018, the ingenious artists of Manual Cinema cast a theatrical spell through live-action silhouettes, video feeds, overhead projection and a five-piece band performing an original score with their new creation. 

Set in a post-industrial Rust Belt city in the 1990s and told through a collection of original 70’s R&B-inspired art pop songs, The End of TV explores the quest to find meaning amongst the increasingly constant barrage of commercial images and advertising white-noise. Manual Cinema combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create this immersive experience for audiences. Chicago Tribune calls it “the very retro-coolest and most creatively compulsive show.” 

“I love the imagination of artists, and the artists of Manual Cinema specifically,” says ArtsEmerson artistic director David Dower. “They’ve invented a form out of the simplest of tools, animated it with the pure joy and abandon found in child’s play, and the result is fresh, fun, and surprisingly moving. The techniques here will be familiar to fans of their earlier work, but they continued to evolve their style with The End of TV, introducing new elements to the mix. And they’ve harnessed it to a timely story that sweeps over us and carries us away. I’m so happy they were able to come back so soon after their debut at ArtsEmerson last season.” 

The End of TV depicts the promise and decline of the American rust belt, through the stories of Flo and Louise, both residents of a fictional Midwestern city. Flo is an elderly white woman who was once a supervisor at the thriving local auto plant. Now succumbing to dementia, the memories of her life are tangled with television commercials and the “call now” demands of QVC. Louise, a young black woman laid off from her job when the same local auto plant closes, meets Flo when she takes a job as a Meals-on-Wheels driver. An unlikely relationship grows as Flo approaches the end of her life and Louise prepares for the invention of a new one. Their story is intercut with commercials and TV programs, the constant background of their environment. 

The End of TVruns just two weeks at the Emerson Paramount Center’s Robert J. Orchard Stage located at 559 Washington Street in downtown Boston. For more information go to www.ArtsEmerson.org, by phone at 617.824.8400, or in person at the box office.

“The Wolves” Opens At The Lyric Stage January 11

An all-girls soccer team . . . fierce in competition and in life.

The Wolves

by Sarah DeLappe

Directed by A. Nora Long

At The Lyric Stage January 11 Through February 3

Left quad. Right quad. Lunge. A girls’ indoor soccer team warms up. From the safety of their suburban stretch circle, the team navigates big questions and wages tiny battles with all the vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors. As the author says, “I wanted to see a portrait of teenage girls as human beings – as complicated, nuanced, very idiosyncratic people, athletes and daughters and students and scholars and people who are trying actively to figure out who they are in this changing world around them.

The Wolves runs at the Lyric Stage, Copley Square, Boston from January 11 through February 3. 

www.lyricstage.com  617.585.5678

Box Office: 617-585-5678

ox Office: 617-585-5678

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” Opens At Huntington Theatre

Huntington Theatre Company Presents The Hit Broadway Comedy 

A Doll’s House, Part 2

The 2017 Tony Award nominee for Best Play and the most-produced play of the 2018-2019 season, A Doll’s House, Part 2 makes its Boston debut at the Huntington Theatre Company at the Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre (264 Huntington Avenue, Boston) in a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Written by Tony Award nominee Lucas Hnath and directed by Obie Award winner Les Waters, performances will run January 4 through February 3.

Nora famously slammed the door on her marriage, leaving her husband and children behind in Ibsen’s groundbreaking classic, but what happened to the iconic heroine next? Named one of TIME Magazine’s Top 10 of 2017, A Doll’s House, Part 2 imagines her 15 years later as a successful writer and independent woman. Nora is urgently seeking to finalize her divorce, but first her estranged family has grievances to air.

This smart and sophisticated new comedy raises fascinating questions about marriage and the ways the roles of women have – and haven’t – changed. Audiences will enjoy this “smart, funny, and utterly engrossing play” (The New York Times) regardless of their familiarity with Ibsen’s play and the undeniable legacy Nora’s exit left behind.

Thanks to his “audacious Broadway debut” (The Hollywood Reporter) with A Doll’s House, Part 2, Lucas Hnath has become the most produced playwright in the country this season. Next for Hnath is his highly anticipated return to Broadway with Hillary and Clinton which opens this spring.

“We are thrilled to bring this hilariously eloquent play to Boston – a playful debate on marriage, gender roles, and what makes up the modern mating dance,” says Peter DuBois, Huntington Artistic Director. “Somehow Lucas Hnath has made it possible to take one of the most familiar pieces of dramatic literature in history and breathe new and exciting life into its iconic characters. Under the skillful direction of Les Waters, this company brilliantly highlights the relevance of this play in our society today with a stealth balance of humor and empathy.”

Hailed as a “classic for our time and for the ages” by The San Francisco Chronicle, this production of A Doll’s House, Part 2  features frequent Huntington favorite Nancy E. Carroll (Ripcord, Present Laughter at the Huntington) as Anne Marie, Mary Beth Fisher as Nora (How Shakespeare Won the West and The Birthday Party at the Huntington), John Judd as Torvald (Shining City at the Huntington), and Nikki Massoud (Huntington debut) as Emmy.

huntingtontheatre.org     617 266 0800

Small Mouth Sounds

                                           

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS

Opens At SpeakEasy January 4

            From January 4 through February 2, 2019, SpeakEasy Stage will proudly present the Boston Premiere of the hit Off-Broadway comedy SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS by Bess Wohl. 

Heralded as one of the Top Ten Plays of 2015 by The New York Times, SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS follows six strangers on a spiritual retreat for what they hope will be a life-changing week.  In the overwhelming quiet of the woods, they struggle to abandon technology and embrace silence under the tutelage of an unseen guru, who is having her own challenges with inner peace.  Though it employs very little dialogue, there is definitely nothing quiet about SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS, a luminous and compassionate new play that asks how we address life’s biggest questions when words fail us. 

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS is the work of playwright Bess Wohl, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School Drama whose roster of plays includes American Hero; BarcelonaTouchedInCats Talk Back; and the original musical Pretty Filthy (in collaboration with Michael Friedman and The Civilians). Her work has been produced or developed at Second Stage, Ars Nova, The Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Geffen Playhouse, and others.  Bess also writes for film and television and has developed projects for HBO, ABC, USA, Disney, Paramount, and others.  

M. Bevin O’Gara will return to Boston to direct the Boston Premiere of SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS. A former Associate Producer for the Huntington Theatre, Ms. O’Gara is currently the Producing Artistic Director of the Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, NY. Her many directing credits include: The Bridges of Madison County, appropriate, A Future Perfect, Tribes (Elliot Norton and IRNE Awards for Best Production), and Clybourne Park (SpeakEasy Stage);  GirlfriendIronbound, the world premiere of Brawler, and Brahman/i  (Kitchen Theatre); The Who and The What, Milk Like Sugar (Elliot Norton Award nomination for Best Production), and Becoming Cuba (Huntington Theatre); You for Me for You, Love Person, and The Pain and the Itch (Company One).  

Norton Award-winners Barlow Adamson, Marianna Bassham, and Nael Nacer headline an all-star Boston cast that also includes Kerry A. Dowling, Celeste Oliva, Sam Simahk, and Gigi Watson.  

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS will run for five weeks, from January 4th through February 2, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street 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 .                 

Long Time Coming: Tony DeMarco To Finally Be Inducted Into Hall Of Fame

Tony DeMarco To Be Inducted

Into The 

International Boxing Hall Of Fame

By Bobby Franklin

Former Undisputed Welterweight Champion and Boston favorite son Tony DeMarco was known in his day campaigning in the professional ring as having  a devastating knockout punch. In 58 victories he kayoed 33 opponents. While he did go the distance on a number of occasions, no fight lasted as long as the time he has waited to be honored with an induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY. Politics and personalities play a role in these things, but Tony is finally being recognized for the great champion he was and is. It is an honor he deserved long ago and, as the saying goes, all good things come to those who wait.

Tony will be inducted on the weekend of June 6, 2019. He will now be part of the Hall of Fame that includes his most famous rival and long time friend, the late Carmen Basilio. 

Tony With Trainer Sammy Fuller After Winning The Title

Tony’s boxing career was remarkable. During his 14 years in the professional ring he defeated eight world champions. The biggest of these victories came on the night of April 1, 1955 when he won the welterweight title from champion Johnny Saxton with a brutal 14th round knockout. It was an impressive performance in the Boston Garden just down the street from where Tony lived. He was magnificent that night putting on an outstanding performance. He had his shot at the title and was not going to let it get away from him.

During his 14 years in the professional ring he defeated eight world champions.

Later that same year he would lose the championship to Carmen Basilio. In the Basilio fight Tony was ahead on all the score cards and was headed to victory when he ran out of gas. The bout was voted Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine, and it was one of the most exciting ring battles of all time. Carmen and Tony became friends and remained close until Carmen’s death in 2012. 

It is important to remember that when Tony was champion there were only 8 recognized divisions with one champion in each of those different weight classes. In contrast to today when it seems like anybody with a couple of pro fights is called champion, Tony DeMarco was truly a world champion. 

Tony DeMarco was born January 14, 1932 on Fleet Street in Boston’s North End. His original name was Leonardo Liotta. He changed it so he could fight in the amateurs. He was too young at the time to compete as an amateur boxer, so he borrowed the name of a boy who was old enough. The name stuck and he continued using it for the rest of his life.

Tony Lands A Solid Right On Carmen Basilio

In a professional career that spanned the years from 1948 to 1962, the “Fury of Fleet Street” compiled a record of 58 wins, 12 losses, and 1 draw. Among his opponents, you will see listed, in addition to Basilio and Saxton, the names Johnny Cesario, George Araujo, Jimmy Carter, Chico Vejar, Vince Martinez, Gaspar Ortega, Denny Moyer, Don Jordan, Walter Byers, and Kid Gavilan. That’s a pretty amazing array of talent, and is just part of the list. With a pulverizing left hook, Tony was never in a dull fight. A Tony DeMarco fight was always an electrifying experience.

Tony With Hs Wife Dottie and Joe DeNucci

In 1962, Tony retired from the ring. For a time he lived in Phoenix, Arizona where he ran a successful night club. He later returned to Boston where he still lives with his lovely wife and best friend Dottie, not far from where he won the title. In 2011 his autobiography, Nardo: Memoirs Of A Boxing Champion, was published. If you haven’t yet read it I urge you to get a copy. It is a fascinating story. 

Tony DeMarco With Long Time Friend Mike Pusateri

Fleet Street has been renamed Tony DeMarco Way in his honor. On October 20, 2012 a statue of Tony was erected at the corner of Hanover and Cross Streets, the entrance to the North End. The beautiful statue represents just how well loved and respected he is by the people of Boston. 

The main criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame is a fighter’s record in the ring. By that standard alone Tony should have been inducted years ago. But there is more to being a champion than wins in the ring. A true champion also knows how to carry himself with dignity and a strong measure of character. Tony DeMarco passes this test with flying colors. He has never forgotten where he came from. He greets everyone he meets with a warm smile and is quick to answer questions and to share stories of his long and remarkable life. For a man who has received so many honors and accolades, he has never allowed it to go to his head. Tony is always Tony.

Tony DeMarco In A Contemplative Mood

On January 14 Tony DeMarco will turn 87 years old. The honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame will be a great gift for him to celebrate. There is, however, an even greater gift he can cherish. That is the love the people of Boston have for him. No matter how many years have passed since he was champion, the affection shown him by those who live in Boston and those in the world of boxing has never faded, in fact it has grown. 

We are all very proud to know Tony will receive this honor, but he was in the Hall of Fame of the people of Boston years ago. We love you Tony and share in your joy!

The International Boxing Hall of Fame is located at 1 Hall of Fame Drive, Canastota, NY. The phone number is 315.697.7095. There website is: www.ibhof.com

Induction weekend runs from June 6 through June 9, 2019.


Review: “Breath & Imagination” At The Lyric Stage In Boston

“Things Being Hard Don’t 

Give You The Right To 

Give Up”

Breathe & Imagination

The Story Of Roland Hayes

By Daniel Beaty

Directed by Maurice Emmanuel Parent

Through December 23 

Lyric Stage and The Front Porch Arts Collective

Copley Square, Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Asher Denburg and Devron S. Monroe
Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard

While Roland Hayes is well known and highly admired in the world of classical music, it is surprising and regretful that he is not better known by the general public. His story of determination, talent, and belief in himself is inspiring to say the least. In a time when we are sorely lacking in role models, you won’t go wrong looking back to Roland Hayes as an example of how to live one’s life. Breath & Imagination now playing at the Lyric Stage in Boston brings us his story and music. I hope it also makes more people aware of this very important man who spent much of his life living in Brookline, MA while also teaching and performing in Boston.

Davron S. Monroe plays Mr. Hayes in this 90 minute production that is filled with music both spiritual and classical. The cast is small and the play is intimate with Mr. Monroe being accompanied by Asher Denburg on the piano. Mr. Denburg is also the Music Director. Doug Gerber plays Mr. Calhoun, Roland Hayes’s first voice teacher. Nile Scott Hawver takes on a number of other parts that include Miss Robinson, a voice teacher, as well as the King of England. 

Davron S. Monroe and Yewande Odetoyinbo
Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard

The play revolves around the relationship between Hayes and his mother Angel Mo played by Yewande Odetoyinbo. Roland’s father died when he was young, but we learn from his off stage voice (Nile Scott Hawver) how he influenced his son by talking him for walks in the woods while teaching him how to listen for the sounds of nature and to try to mimic them. This is where the young Hayes first became enthralled with what he could do with his voice.

Angel Mo encouraged him to develop his voice hoping he would use this “gift from God” to become a preacher. Roland had other ideas. After hearing a recording of Enrico Caruso, the young man wanted to became a classical singer. This put him at odds with his mother. Watching the story unfold, while both Mr. Monroe and Ms Odetoyinbo fill the theatre with their beautiful voices,touched my heart. Both actors play their characters over the course of many years, and the transition from youth to old age is flawless. 

Davron S. Monroe and Yewande Odetoyinbo
Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard

Roland Hayes was the grandson of slaves. He was stepping into a world that was not exactly welcoming to African Americans. At times he became discouraged. At one point he wanted to quit. In a moving scene he sings “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord”. It is here, when Hayes wants to pack it all in that Angle Mo says to him “Things being hard don’t give you the right to give up”. It’s tempting to call this “tough love’, but it’s not tough, rather it is  a strong and loving mother who believes in her son and knows he can succeed. He may not be fulfilling her wish of becoming a preacher, but he is using his God given gift to do much good. It is scenes like this that make this play so inspiring.

Breath & Imagination is not a detailed account of the life of Roland Hayes. What it does is give us good overview of his struggles, his doubts, his steadfastness, and his belief in himself. There were many times when that belief was shaken, but this was Angel Mo’s son, and he was not going to give up.

Davron S. Monroe and Yewande Odetoyinbo
Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard

The music that fills the Lyric Stage Theater is very special. Ms Odetoyinbo and Mr. Monroe are both excellent actors, and they are actors who can sing, and sing magnificently. I was deeply moved by both of them, as I was by this production. Listening to Angel Mo, as her days are winding down, singing “When I’m Gone” is both sad and joyful. Ms Odetoyinbo was very impressive. She is young but you would swear she has been at this for decades. She plays a very strong woman in Angel Mo while giving her character the deeply loving heart that makes us wish we all had an Angel Mo in our lives. The lucky ones do.

Davron S. Monroe was last seen at the Lyric in The Wiz. After seeing him in Breath & Imagination, I can’t sing his praises high enough. From the spirituals to the magnificent classical pieces, his voice comes to us from deep within his heart. In the time of Roland Hayes people were denied the opportunity to develop their talents all because of the color of their skin. Roland Hayes played a big part in changing that when it came to music. Mr. Monroe honors his great legacy by lending his talent to tell us that story. He also gives us the joy of music along with the lessons to be learned from this great man’s life.

Breath & Imagination is a must see. It will move you and I certainly hope it will bring the life of Roland Hayes to more people. The Lyric Stage is filled with music and love, take part in it. 

lyricstage.com 617.585.5678

Review: “Man In The Ring” At The Huntington

A Compelling And Intense 

Life Story Of Emile Griffith 

At The Huntington

Man In The Ring

By Michael Cristofer

Directed by Michael Greif

Through December 22

The Huntington Theatre Company

Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Kyle Vincent Terry and John Douglas Thompson
(Photo: T. Charles Erikson)

I was apprehensive when going to see Man In The Ring. The play by Michael Cristofer recounts the life of six time world boxing champion Emile Griffith. Mr. Cristofer had not even heard of Griffith until being asked to write the libretto for an opera about the former champ. That experience led to him writing the play. Given that, I thought this could turn out to be a real mess. 

I felt there was so much he would get wrong.  Boxing is a complicated, dark, and emotional sport. Emile Griffith’s life story is a complex one that is filled with many contradictions along with much success and terrible tragedy. There are a number of different parts of his life that could have dominated this work, but Mr. Cristofer has done a masterful job of giving us a complete and honest portrait of Griffith’s life. 

The fact that Mr. Cristofer did not have previous knowledge of Emile Griffith has proven to be an asset when it comes to telling the story. He comes to it with a blank slate and gets all of it right. Along with writing theatre reviews, I have also been a boxing writer for a number of years, as well as having spent a lifetime around the sport. If anyone would be sitting in a theatre looking for flaws in the story it would be me. It turns out I would have to dig pretty deep to point out any mistakes here. I was very impressed, and I am not easily impressed by boxing dramatizations.

Emile Griffith is played by two actors. Kyle Vincent Terry is the young Emile while John Douglas Thompson is Griffith in his later years, when the effects of the punches he took have begun to appear in what was known as Dementia Pugilistica, today as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Both actors appear on the stage together throughout most of the play, with the older Emile looking back on his youthful self while reflecting on the choices he made. It is fascinating watching the story unfold in this manner. There are times when the two have exchanges. 

John Douglas Thompson
Photo: (T. Charles Erickson)

John Douglas Thompson is among the finest stage actors performing today, and it is uncanny how he captures Griffith in the years when his mind is beginning to fade. In scenes that are both funny and tragic the effects of the dementia as it progresses are brought to the audience. One such moment occurs when Luis (Victor Almanzar), Emile’s lover and now caretaker brings him his shoe which ended up in the refrigerator. The exchange between the two is quite funny but also very sad. 

Kyle Vincent Terry’s young Emile is filled with the positivity and optimism that was Griffith (“Always hang your hat higher than you can reach”). The magnificently built immigrant from St.Thomas arrived in New York City to join his mother. He decided to come to the States to make it as a baseball player and/or singer. He also had quite a knack for making lady’s hats. This led him to a job with a fellow named Howie Albert (Gordon Clapp), a once aspiring boxer who now runs a millenary business. He was immediately taken by Griffith’s physique and talked him into taking up boxing. Mr. Terry really impressed me as Emile. As they would say in boxing “You got what it takes kid’, and he sure does.

Gordon Clapp and Kyle Vincent Terry
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Boxing fans will notice the absence of Emile’s trainer Gil Clancy in the play. This is not an oversight, the author has rolled Clancy and Albert into one character. It works very well. Mr. Cristofer also, and I am not sure if this is intentional, shows how poorly Griffith was managed at the beginning of his career. Emile is what is known as a “survivor” in boxing. His was repeatedly thrown in with opponents who were far ahead of him in experience yet still managed to win. Albert didn’t develop a great fighter, he got lucky. Emile had incredible natural talent and a head for boxing. He was mostly self taught.

Kyle Vincent Terry and Cast
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Griffith’s bisexuality was always an open secret in boxing and could have dominated this play. It certainly and rightly is a major part of the story, and Emile’s ambiguity about it is shown. His lifestyle was rarely if ever publicly discussed, that is until the weigh-in for his third fight with Welterweight Champion Benny “Kid” Paret (Sean Boyce Johnson). The scene is staged with an emotional intensity that reaches out to the back rows of the theater. Paret’s shouting “Maricon” (a Spanish slur for a gay man) at Emile caused the lighthearted challenger to lose his temper. 

What occurs next is seared into the memories of older boxing fans. In the fight which was broadcast live on nationwide television, Griffith unleashed a vicious beating on Paret while knocking him senseless. Paret would die ten days later. I have read that an earlier production of this play had trouble staging this scene. Director Michael Grief along with fight directors Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet pull it off brilliantly. Using a revolving boxing ring, a tall projection screen showing footage from the actual fight, as well as using stop action effects with flash bulbs going off brings that terrible event vividly to life. Paret’s wife Lucia (Carla Martina), standing above and to the side of the action tells us what was going on with Benny before the fight. Lucia is joined by Emile’s mother Emelda (Krystal Joy Brown) and Paret’s manager Manuel Alfaro (Eliseo Gatta) in giving all the background that led up to this tragic outcome. They make it clear Paret never should have been in the ring that night. It is very, very powerful. Whether or not you are a boxing fan, you do not want to miss this.

There is music throughout the play. Caribbean children’s songs are sung by the actors accompanied by two musicians. It is not a musical, but the music is an integral part of the play, and just wonderful.

CastOf Man In The Ring
)Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Man In The Ring is a complex work about a paradoxical man. Emile was a fun loving gentle man in the most violent of professions. A man who spent much time at gay bars while participating in the manliest of sports (this was at a time when being gay was equated with being a “sissie”). He was deeply effected by the death of Paret yet kept fighting for years after, though it was apparent he no longer fought with the same intensity.

As the play nears its conclusion we see Emile, now deeply suffering the effects of CTE, being brought to meet with Benny Paret’s son in a park. Emile is confused but the moment is touching. Young Paret, Luis, and Griffith are all involved in trying to make sense out of what happened. 

As a boxing historian I found so much in this play. The accuracy is just stunning. Mr. Cristofer not only did incredible research, but he also understands the subject.This is very impressive for a boxing “civilian”.

As a play reviewer, I saw an amazing work of theatre. This can be called a boxing play, and boxing fans should definitely see it. It is an important piece of work that should be added to the great literature on boxing. 

Beyond being a great boxing play, Man In The Ring is amazing theatre. It is impressive how much is covered in just 110 minutes. The entire cast and production team are nothing short of outstanding. It would be foolish to miss any work with John Douglas Thompson in it, but this work is solid from top to bottom.  

You might think I am giving this high praise because of my boxing background. If anything, my knowledge of the subject would have been more likely to have caused me to go negative. The fact that Mr. Cristofer was able to impress me speaks very well to this play. I brought an extra critical eye to the Huntington on the evening I saw Man In The Ring. I can assure you, you will not be disappointed in this play. It is a great boxing story, it is a great human story, it is great theatre. I highly recommend Man In The Ring.

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