Tag Archives: Boston Theatre Reviews

Throwin’ The Cards At The Huntington


Through April 9th

Huntington Theatre Company


Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Matthew J. Harris and Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Two African American brothers named Lincoln and Booth are sharing a one room flat. Lincoln has left his wife, or she has left him. Booth has taken him in and he is sleeping on the recliner. By day Lincoln plays Abraham Lincoln at the local arcade where people can pay for the privilege of assassinating him. “It’s a good sit down job with benefits.” Booth makes his way by boosting (shoplifting), and he is good at it.

Harris and Henderson are perfect together. They never miss a beat with their timing and movement. Both are a pleasure to watch.

In Topdog/Underdog now playing at the Huntington Theatre in Boston we see the two brothers as they deal with the cards they have been handed. In this case the cards are from a deck used for playing Three Card Monte, a slight of hand game used to hustle people out of money. Lincoln used to be very good at the game, one of the best, but gave it up after seeing a close friend shot to death by a disgruntled loser. Booth wants to learn how to be good at it and have the two of them team up and make a fortune. A life Lincoln does not want to return to, or at least he is trying to convince himself he doesn’t want to.

Tyrone Mitchell Henderson and Matthew J. Harris (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

In the course of what seems to be a pretty basic story about two brothers making the best of what they have there are plenty of laughs. The quick banter between the two, Lincoln (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) and Booth (Matthew J. Harris), is sharp and funny. There is a scene where Booth does a striptease taking off layer after layer of clothing he has boosted, providing two classy suits, one for himself and one for his brother. Matthew J. Harris has all the moves in a dance that seems it will never end, nor do we want it to.

While there are plenty of laughs, as things progress we begin to see the pain the two are in. Frustration, discouragement, loneliness, and anger all begin to show slowly and painfully. Lincoln, who is five years the elder, repeats how lucky he is to have his job so many times that it becomes clear he is trying to convince himself of it. He keeps resisting the temptation to go back to “throwin’ the cards”, but finally succumbs when he is replaced by a wax dummy at the arcade.

The banter and the hand movement makes you want to throw your money down and find where the black card has landed.

The two were abandoned by their parents when they were 16 and 11 years old but were each given a small inheritance. They also have a photo album that they, or at least Booth, keeps up to date. The brothers also talk about their parents quite a bit. It was not exactly a stable environment to be raised in, and they haven’t been left with a lot of options.

As I have written, this is a very funny play, but when the darkness reveals itself it is deep and painful. It is tragic watching Lincoln and Booth working with their very limited options. They do what most people end up doing when they are up against the wall; they return to what they know how to do. Unfortunately, that is not much of a choice for either of them.

Matthew J. Harris is fast, sharp, and fluid as Booth. He is filled with energy as he moves about the stage and talks about his future with his girlfriend Grace.

Tyrone Mitchell Henderson and Matthew J. Harris (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Tyronne Mitchell Henderson as Lincoln is subtle yet commanding on stage. His voice and movements convey wisdom and conflict; hope and much pain. Watching him show Booth how to set up a Three Card Monte scam is captivating. The banter and the hand movement makes you want to throw your money down and find where the black card has landed

Harris and Henderson are perfect together. They never miss a beat with their timing and movement. Both are a pleasure to watch.

Director Billy Porter has set the play, written by Suzan-Lori Parks, on a stage that is not time specific. It is a reminder of just how long people have struggled under such circumstances, and of how strong the pain is of trying to make it in life when the bottom rungs of the ladder have been removed. For all of the laughs and good natured back and forth in this work, you will leave the theatre wondering why things have to be this way and what can be done to prevent it from happening. People have many different answers. The trick is in finding the right ones.


by Suzan-Lori Parks

Directed by Billy Porter

Now through April 9thThe Huntington Theatre Company

Avenue of the Arts

BU Theatre

264 Huntington Ave., Boston





A Fresh And Very Intense Virginia Woolf

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

At The Lyric Stage
Copley Square, Boston
Through February 12th
Directed by Scott Edmiston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Paula Plum and Steven Barkhimer (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

When I read that Steven Barkhimer, whom I had recently seen in Warrior Class, was being cast as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Lyric Stage I had high expectations for him. Mr. Barkhimer was excellent as the political operative in Warrior Class, and I could envision him in the role of George. He did not disappoint me.

The current run at the Lyric includes three other fine actors, Paula Plum (Martha), Erica Spyres (Honey), and Dan Whelton (Nick). With direction by Scott Edmiston we are treated to a fresh look at this classic play. If you are looking for Liz and Richard go to Netflix. The actors on stage here bring their own interpretations to the roles and they do an excellent job of it.

Ms Plum and Mr. Barhimer are a tour de force as George and Martha.

If it has been a while since you have seen Edward Albee’s classic, or if this is your first time, you may be surprised at how many laughs there are in the first act. George’s sarcasm and cutting remarks directed at everyone in the living room where the play is set are quite funny and elicit much laughter. However, as Act II gets underway we find that he is not just drunk and having fun at the expense of his wife and guests, but is seething with self loathing. This loathing is shared by Martha who is also quite witty in her nastiness.

Barkhimer, Spyres, Whelton (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

The characters get uglier and nastier as the play progresses. This includes Nick and Honey who, at first, appear taken aback by the sadistic behavior but end up getting taken up by it.

Paula Plum captures Martha’s disappointment (that’s certainly a mild word for it) and frustration in George’s failure to accomplish more in his life, while her attacks on him only feed into his own self hate which feeds his anger. They fuel each other’s rage.

The set is interesting in that the frame around it that represents the outside of the house is off kilter as is the front door. As I looked at it I got the sense of the alcoholic haze the characters were in. It was like one of those old movies where a player gets hit over the head and the film goes blurry to give a picture of what he is seeing through his eyes.

Whelton, Plum, and Birhimer. (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

Ms Plum and Mr. Barhimer are a tour de force as George and Martha. Gnawing at each other’s hearts in an alcohol infused rage it is hard to believe, though it is true, they actually love each other. The problem is, they hate their lives.

Ms Spyres and Mr. Whelton do a fine job playing the clean cut early 60s college educated couple who really are not so clean cut after all.

Woolf is not an easy play to watch. It is disturbing seeing these college faculty members cutting each other to pieces. It must have been extremely shocking when it first opened in 1962, and even with the language having been updated by Mr. Albee to include many expletives, you might think it would seem mild by today’s standards. It isn’t. This production is excellent and well worth seeing, but just remember, you won’t leave the theater smiling.

A Doll’s House Worthy Of A Visit

A Doll’s House

by Henrik Ibsen

Andrea Syglowski and Sekou Laidlaw
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Adapted by Bryony Lavery
Directed by Melian Bensussen
At The Huntington Theatre Company
Through February 5th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The other night I saw the Huntington Theatre Company production of A Doll’s House. It was an evening of terrific theatre. The Ibsen classic about marriage, blackmail, unrequited love, and finding one’s self is a timeless work. This version has been updated by Bryony Lavery and the language flows beautifully while the story never skips a beat. The beautiful staging also makes this a visual treat.

…the language flows beautifully while the story never skips a beat.

The fine cast is led by Andrea Syglowski as Nora who plays opposite Sekou Laidlow as her husband Torvald. Mr. Laidlow plays his part subtly at first in the way he treats Nora as a child, but eventually it becomes clear just how demeaning he is to her. Nora is content with her life, as Torvald has received a promotion which means more money and a better life. However, when a secret from Nora’s past arises that threatens to destroy their marriage Nora begins to see things in a different light, though it isn’t untill the final scene that she fully understands what her life is about.

Ms Syglowski is an absolute joy to watch.

This is a first rate production, and Ms Syglowski is an absolute joy to watch. She shows great humor in the first act. Her timing is impeccable, with a full range of emotions. She moves from a wife who is being treated as a plaything by her husband to a woman who realizes she must find out for herself what life truly means.

Sekou Laidlow as Torvald plays his part subtly at first but then we see just how demeaning his treatment of Nora is. The progression works well.

It is an outstanding evening of theatre, one not to be missed.

Nael Nacer as Krogstad, the man who attempts to blackmail Nora does not illicit much sympathy, but Nacer conveys the pain his character is in and it is soon apparent that he is motivated by desperation and not cruelty.

Dr. Rank, the longtime family friend of the Helmer’s reveals he is dying. It is also revealed that he has been in love with Nora for years. Jeremy Webb does a fine job of portraying this unhappy man who always has a smile on his face.

Elise Rose Walker, Marinda Anderson, Gavin Daniel Walker, and Adrianne KrstanskyPhoto: T. Charles Erickson

And then there is Christine Linde. Mrs. Linde is played by Marinda Anderson. She and Krogstad were once lovers, and she tells Nora she will try to convince Krogstad to take back a letter he has left for Torvald that exposes Nora’s secret. In his joy at being back with Christine he agrees.  However, it is Christine who is able to see everything in perspective and decides to let things play out for the Helmers. She tells Krogsatd to leave the letter. Ms Anderson plays the part as much with her expressions as with her words, and she does it well.

Andrea Syglowski’s Nora will be remembered.

The final scene where Torvald reads the letter and explodes at Nora is just incredible. He tells her their marriage will now be just for show because she has brought shame on them. Then when he reads a second note from Torvald that includes the promissory note and says he is not going to pursue the matter, Torvald suddenly changes and is the happy husband again. At this point Nora fully comprehends that their marriage has always been for show and she lets all of her feelings out. Ms Syglowski is outstanding in this scene in which Nora describes how she has always been treated as a play doll, first by her father

Andrea Syglowski and Sekou Laidlow
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

and then by Torvald. She is not going to live her life that way any longer. It is a very powerful scene and one you will not forget. Andrea Syglowski’s Nora will be remembered.

A Doll’s House has been called a feminist play, but it is a play that should appeal to all people as it shows how often we make compromises and sometimes make bad choices in order for our lives to have order and make sense. However, by doing so we often end  becoming very unhappy. Nora shows us we have choices.

When you leave the theatre after seeing this production of A Doll’s House you will have much to think about, and that is why I like it so much. You wonder what will become of Nora.

Once again, the Huntington has put on an outstanding production of a classic play. It is not to be missed.


Theatre to Die For

Murder For Two

At The Lyric Stage, Boston

Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard
Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard

Two actors playing thirteen characters while singing, dancing, and playing the piano. Sounds a bit complicated. That’s what I thought as Murder For Two began Sunday afternoon. How would I ever be able to keep track of all that was going on? Well, when the two actors are Jared Troilo and Kirsten Salpini it is not a problem. Add in the fine direction of A. Nora Long and a very funny and fast moving script and music by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, and you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy a great time at the theater.

The story is set at the home of the great American novelist Arthur Whitney where his wife has arranged a surprise birthday party for him.

A little song, a little dance, a little murder, what could be more enjoyable?

Unfortunately for poor Arthur, he runs into a bullet before he is able to open his presents. This is where police officer Marcus Moscowitz (Jared Troilo) comes on the scene. Moscowitz is mistaken for a detective, a confusion he does nothing to dissuade the suspects from believing. Marcus sees cracking this case as his ticket to a promotion, as long as he can do it before his superior officer gets there. He is going to go strictly by Protocol, which also happens to be the name of his first musical number.

Ms Salpini is funny, creative, and a joy to watch.

He begins interviewing the suspects, all of whom are played by Kirsten Salpini. She also plays the members of a boy’s chorus who have been hired to provide entertainment for the party. They are a mischievous lot and very funny. Ms Salpini switches roles from moment to moment without the aid of costume changes. She manages this, and very well I might add, by changing her voice and accent along with some very creative body language. I have seen some impressive performances where one actor plays multiple roles solely by changing voice and movement, most notably Chaz Palminteri in A Bronx Tale and John Douglas Thompson in Satchmo At The Waldorf , and while Kirsten Salpini does not rise to their level, she is certainly a contender and does a fine job in her many roles. Ms Salpini is funny, creative, and a joy to watch. Her singing is the icing on the cake.

Jared Troilo as pseudo Detective Moscowitz is right at home in his role as the nervous cop trying to solve the big crime. His singing and dancing is a reminder of how much fun theatre can be, even if it’s about a murder. While the part was not written for him he performs it like it was.

Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard
Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard

Finding two actors who can sing, dance, and also play the piano had to be a challenge for director Long. Finding two with these talents who could also work so well together had to be almost impossible, but with Jared and Kirsten she found a theatre match made in Heaven.

I will not spoil the fun by letting on more about the details of the play, only to say that there was also another crime committed during the party, and those of you with a sweet tooth may consider that one the more serious.

Murder For Two is a great way to take some time out during this busy time of the year to enjoy a very funny and fun play. A little song, a little dance, a little murder, what could be more enjoyable?

Murder For Two Through December 24th

The Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston

(617) 585-5678 http://www.lyricstage.com





It’s A Lovely Sunday At The Huntington

Sunday In The Park With George
At The Huntington Theatre Company

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Company of Sunday in the Park with George (Photo: Paul Marotta)
Company of Sunday in the Park with George
(Photo: Paul Marotta)

This past Saturday I saw the matinee performance of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Sunday In The Park With George, Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical inspired by the George Seurat painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte now playing at the BU Theatre. It was my first time seeing it and I had done some research before going. Reading background pieces about the play made it sound like it was going to be a complicated work and, perhaps, a bit difficult to understand, particularly the second act.

The Huntington has given Boston theatre goers a treat that is not to be missed.

This Sunday In The Park With George is a gift that is not to be missed.
It is complicated, but it certainly is not a difficult play to enjoy. Yes, it has many layers, and I can certainly see why so many people return to see productions of it over and over again. It is one of those works that can be viewed just on the surface or you can dig deeper and deeper and find much more you may not have known was there at first glance. And that is what makes it so wonderful.

I have come a bit late to Sondheim in my theatre going life, this being only the third work of his I have seen performed on stage, the second having just been last week when I saw the Lyric Stage production of Company. I am now hooked.

Adam Chanler-Berat and Jenni Barber (Photo: Paul Marotta)
Adam Chanler-Berat and Jenni Barber
(Photo: Paul Marotta)

As I settled into my seat just in time for the opening act I was already taken with the set. When Jenni Barber appeared as Dot modeling for the artist George, and sang the title song, I knew this was going to be something special. Jenni Barber has talent, not just talent, but that rare ability to convey so much with a nod, a glance, and a pause at just the right time. Add to this her lovely voice, and, well, you have to see her.

This is not, however a one person show. Adam Charnier-Berat as George is in command of his role as the artist obsessed with his work. He moves about the stage with his sketch book sneaking looks at the people in the park for his painting which they will appear in. The use of the stage as a canvas for his work is pleasing to the eye with scenic design by Derek McLane.

Josh Breckenridge, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Aimee Doherty (Photo: Paul Marotta)
Josh Breckenridge, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Aimee Doherty
(Photo: Paul Marotta)

The entire cast is very strong. I was particularly impressed with Aimee Doherty as Yvonne who underplayed her role just right. Josh Breckenridge as Jules and Bobbie Steinbach as Old Lady are a joy to watch.

The musical score by Sondheim is not one that has you leaving the theater humming the tunes. Rather, it is an integral part of the story. Sondheim writes the music in a way that complements Seurat’s pointillist style of having the eye connect the dots in a painting. The music does the same thing only for the ear. It is subtle but effective. It is played by an eleven piece orchestra conducted by Eric Stern.

As for that troublesome second act where the action moves from 1884 to 1984. I saw no problem at all with it. Under the direction of Peter DuBois it was very clear what Mr. Sondheim meant.

Sunday In The Park With George at the BU Theater is an experience theatre goers will not soon forget.

A delectable treat for the eyes and ears. This production connects the dots.

It is a delectable treat for the eyes and ears. This production connects the dots and is not to be missed. You will be sorry if you do.

The Huntington Theatre has promised to produce all of Stephen Sondheim’s plays over the next few years. This is wonderful news. If they come anywhere near the current work being performed on their stage we are in for a great ride.

It looks like I have come to Sondheim at just the right time. I encourage you to jump on board as well. Sunday In The Park With George at the BU Theater is not a bad place to start.

At the BU Theater through October 16th
Huntington Theatre Company
BU Theater, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston