Tag Archives: Lyric stage Boston

Unpacking Anna Christie At The Lyric

Anna Christie
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Scott Edmiston
The Lyric Stage, Boston

Through May 6th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

When Lindsey McWhorter first steps onto the stage in the role of Anna Christie she is carrying a suitcase. This single piece of luggage that doesn’t look particularly large or heavy,  Anna is toting as if it contains the weight of the world. And, symbolically, it does. Anna has returned to see her father after an absence of 20 years. She has had an undisclosed illness and to convalesce has made the trip to New York from Minnesota. She was sent to Minnesota to live with relatives after her mother died.

Nancy E. Carroll and Lindsey McWhorter
(Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard)

Chris (Johnny Lee Davenport), Anna’s father had received a letter from her announcing her planned visit. While excited about seeing her again, he is nervous and also has to adjust his living arrangements as he doesn’t want his daughter thinking ill of him. This means telling his live in girlfriend and drinking buddy Marthy (Nancy E. Carroll) she will have to move off the the barge they have been sharing. Marthy is at first angry but understands.

By chance, Marthy meets Anna before she has a chance to see her father. The two share drinks in the local bar. Marthy quickly picks up on the fact Anna is no stranger to hard drinking. She can also sense Anna has brought more luggage with her than what is in her suitcase.

The dialog is what you would expect of Eugene O’Neill, intense but not heavy. A lot is said but none of it is superfluous. These are the type of words I would imagine actors must savor working with. And this cast is made up of some very fine actors.

Johnny Lee Davenport, Lindsey McWhorter,Dan Whelton
(Photo Credit: Mark S.Howard)

Ms McWhorter is powerful from start to finish. Her Anna, with a hard exterior formed from years of abandonment and abuse from the men around her, still hasn’t lost the desire to be loved. She does struggle with her lack of self worth and suspicion of men, yet retains a strength and a desire to be accepted for who she is, faults and all.

Johnny Lee Davenport’s Chris couldn’t be better. From the moment he orders his first drink and starts speaking with his rich voice I felt I wanted to pull up a chair next to him and join in. Chris has not led an easy life either. He sent Anna off in hopes of allowing her to have a better life, one away from men who make their living at sea. Mr. Davenport conveys the love that Chris never lost for Anna. His pride for her shows in his body language and eyes when he speaks of, and anticipates, his daughter’s return.

Things become more complicated when an Irish seaman by the name of Mat (Dan Whelton) is washed ashore after a shipwreck and he and Anna begin to fall in love. Anna’s distrust of men is one obstacle, but other tings in her past are also something she struggles to deal with. It is now that her baggage begins to be unpacked.

Johnny Lee Davenport and Dan Whelton
(Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard)

Dan Whelton displays a wonderful Irish accent as he goes back and forth with Anna and Chris. Mr. Whelton and Mr. Davenport have a wonderful energy between them as they seem at times ready to kill one another, yet are very much alike; Stubborn, bullheaded, and kind hearted.

Unfortunately, Nancy E. Carroll’s Marthy is not on stage after the first act, but while she is, it is a joy watching her perform. She speaks the words O’Neill has written with a swagger reminiscent of a character from a 1930’s gangster movie; a touch of Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney. This conveys the rough edge she has from living and working on the waterfront as well as her way of dealing with the rough edged men in her life. And, as with the others, she betrays a tenderness and understanding. It works very well.

James R. Milord plays Larry the barkeeper. After having served Chris and Anna hard liquor separately, he shows subtle amusement when each tones down their wicked ways in order to put on a good face for the other.

Watching all of this unfold is sad, touching, and even funny at times. Director Scott Edmiston has pared done the script without losing any of the essential parts, leaving us with a Eugene O’Neill play that takes place in less than two hours.

I’m sure that many will read into this work issues of the power men have over women and how women deal with it. While that is understandable, it is also good to see this as what happens when people are able to accept each other with all their faults, face their own weakness, and allow better natures to prevail. This is a story that could have ended on a very ugly note. It didn’t, and we can all learn from that.

Eugene O’Neill’s works are among the greatest in American drama. They can be very heavy and usually are long but also amazing. This play is deep and filled with emotion, but it will not leave you filled with despair, and it certainly is not drawn out. Director Scott Edmiston has gotten it right, and I would encourage those who have not taken in a work by O’Neill to start here. It will stir your emotions but not overwhelm you. You will see five very fine actors working with the words of a great playwright. And, you will see it all at the wonderful Lyric Stage Theater, a warm and intimate performing venue.

Orlando At The Lyric Stage

The Lyric Stage


Virginia Woolf’s


February 23rd through March 25th


Virginia Woolf’s Orlando adapted for the stage by Sarah Ruhl and directed by A. Nora Long will open at the Lyric Stage, Copley Square, Boston on February 23rd and run through March 25th.

In this joyful romance of gender roles and expectations, Orlando the man wakes up, after a particularly wild night in 17th century Constantinople, to find himself a woman. She abandons herself to three centuries of navigating love, desire, and the world from an entirely different perspective. Oft described as the most charming love letter in literature – written by Woolf to Vita Sackville-West – Sarah Ruhl brings the novel to life on stage in a grand, epic adventure that transcends time, place, and gender.

Caroline Lawton

The cast features Caroline Lawton as Orlando and includes Elise Arsenault, Michael Hisamoto, Rory Lambert-Wright, Jeff Marcus, and Hayley Spivey.

For more information: lyricstage.com

Box Office: 617.585.5678



Road Show At The Lyric Stage

Oh! Brothers!
Road Show
At The Lyric Stage

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Spiro Veloudos and Ilyse Robbins have teamed up to co-direct Stephen Sondheim’s newest musical Road Show, now playing at the Lyric Stage. The play, with book by John Weidman, is a fast paced 90 minutes of tightly woven theatre. It is the story of two rather sleazy brothers who, while they do hold a certain attraction, in the end make us feel glad we are leaving them behind as we leave the theater.

Neil A. Casey and Tony Castellanos
Photo Credit: Maggie Hall

Addison and Wilson Mizner were two real life characters who went in search of fame and fortune toward the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Centuries. They had big ideas with Wilson being the more daring, and at first seemingly the more unscrupulous of the two. There is a certain appeal to the stories of risk takers and those who follow their dreams, but by the end of the play we have had just about enough of these two. The Mizners, while rich in ideas, and in Addison’s case, talent, were also con men who were more than willing to take advantage of any poor sucker whom they came across. It is Wilson Mizner who has been credited with the now famous line “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

Even though their actions will leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth, it is still a lively and interesting story. The score by Stephen Sondheim is pure Sondheim from start to finish. And, I have to say I enjoyed every number. With a three member orchestra to back them up the performers are never competing with the instruments. Each song is clear and easy on the ears.

Tony Castellanos as Wilson gives us a character who is a fast talking con man, and like all con men, also quite charming much of the time. You’ll  find yourself smiling at him while at the same time checking to be sure your wallet is still in your pocket. Neil A. Casey as Addison is the more subdued, thoughtful, and apparently kinder of the two.

Neil A. Casey and Patrick Varner
Photo Credit; Maggie Hall

When Addison begins a relationship with Hollis Bessemer (Patrick Varner), the son of a wealthy industrialist, who dreams of starting an artist’s colony in Florida, it seems  we are going to see a stark contrast between the two brothers. Bessamer has been cut off by his father but is able to make introductions that enable Addison to put together real estate deals. The two begin a romantic relationship and appear to have found true love. The song You’re The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened is a very touching and tender moment in the play. Patrick Varner brings a warmth and a vulnerability to the role of Hollis that  makes it that much more tragic when Addison goes back into business with Wilson and they begin fleecing investors. Whether Addison had been using Bessemer all along or whether it was really true love is a question that is left to the audience. While it is obvious Wilson always savored taking advantage of those “suckers” whether mining for gold in the Klondike, producing Broadway plays, or selling real estate in Florida, it is more ambiguous when it comes to Addison.

Cast of Road Show
Photo Credit: Maggie Hall

There is a fine supporting cast that includes Sean McGuirk as Papa Mizner and Vanessa J. Schukis as Mama Mizner as well as various prospecters, poker players, marks, and even an appearance by World Middleweight Champion Stanley Ketchel (David Makransky). Will McGarrahan, last seen at the Lyric in Souvenir, is always a welcome stage presence.

As I have written before, the team at the The Lyric Stage really knows how to put on these small scale musical productions. Mr. Veloudos and Ms Robbins work very well together. But that should not come as any surprise as both know their craft and have given audiences many great productions.

These past few years I have been getting quite an education in the work of Stephen Sondheim thanks to both the Lyric Stage and the Huntington Theatre Company. It is a delightful journey I have been fortunate to be able to join in on. I am looking forward to many more stops along the way. In the meantime, I can say with confidence you will enjoy Road Show. You may not find a place in your heart for the Mizner brothers, but you certainly will for this production.

Road Show
Through February 11th
The Lyric Stage
Copley Square, Boston

A Powerful Work About A Principled American Standing Up To Hatred And His Government

“We Hold These Truths”

Written by Jeanne Sakata

Directed by Benny Sato Ambush

Through December 31

Lyric Stage, Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

When the lights first illuminate the stage for the opening act of We Hold These Truths now playing at the Lyric Stage, Michael Hisamoto in the role of Gordon Hirabayashi is sitting in a chair facing the audience. There is a very long pause before he begins to speak. This creates an expectation that what we are about to hear from Mr. Hirabayashi is going to be very important. In fact, not only what develops on the stage is important, it is also deeply moving.

Michael Hisamoto with Kurogos
Photo By Mark S.Howard

The story based on the real life Hirabayashi is about an American citizen of Japanese ancestry who had the courage to stand up to his government during the onset of WWII when citizens were being rounded up and placed into internment camps while being denied the due process afforded them by the Constitution. That they were denied their rights solely because of their ancestry is a frightening tale. Most of these citizens, and it must be remembered that these people were American citizens, also lost their homes, furnishings, and businesses. Some had relatives who at the same time were in the military defending the nation, and yes, its Constitution.

Michael Hisamoto commands the stage for a little over 100 minutes portraying a man who is both charming and steadfastly determined. Playwright Jeanne Sakata has included much humor in her work which makes this tragic story bearable. Using this humor, Mr. Hisamoto, with his infectious smile, is able to break the tension when it begins to overwhelm while at the same time using his eyes to covey the steely determination of his character. Make no mistake, Gordon Hirabayashi, though good natured, is tough as nails. And, as he points out using a Japanese proverb his mother taught him, “The nail that sticks out is the one that gets hit.”

Mr. Hisamoto plays all the characters with the exception of those that are voiced from off stage. He is accompanied by three kurogos, characters from Japanese theatre whose faces  are fully covered and do not speak on their own. The kurogos move about while Hisamoto voices their lines. The use of lighting cast onto a minimally furnished stage along with some projections on the back wall and subtle mood music is all wonderfully effective. Director Benny Sato Ambush has done a masterful job.

As I watched We Hold These Truths I thought about the temptation to slip into feelings of self-righteousness as I felt a bond with Mr. Hirabayashi, but would I have felt the same way if I were there in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor? I would like to think I would have been, but it is easier looking back at this dreadful period with the emotions of the time removed.

What I did conclude was how important it is for our Constitution to be upheld by judges who will not be ruled by emotion or the temptation to legislate from the bench. In the Hirabayashi case, which he fought all the way to the Supreme Court where the justices ruled unanimously against him even though this was certainly a clear case of his due process being denied. The fact that there was little public support for these Americans who were being deprived of their rights should never have played into the judge’s decision, but it certainly did.

Michael Hisamoto
Photo by Mark S.Howard

Michael Hisamoto’s stirring performance not only honors Mr. Hirabayashi, but is also a reminder that while we may look back and like to believe we would have stood up for this courageous man, we should test ourselves as to whether or not we would do the same today in different situations. In this age where so many look to the courts to create laws we have to ask ourselves if we are able to respect the process, and if we can support decisions we are not happy with but are what is dictated by the Constitution. If that process had been followed in 1942 we would not have seen so many of our fellow Americans treated in such a shameful way.

I urge you to see We Hold These Truths and watch it with your eyes wide open. It is an important work, and one that should cause you to reflect no matter where on the political spectrum you fall.

Opening At The Lyric Stage

Hold These Truths

by Jeanne Sakata
Directed by Benny Sato Ambush
Choreography by Jubilith Moore

December 1-31, 2017

Hold These Truths is the true story of Gordon Hirabayashi, the American son of Japanese immigrants, who resisted internment during World War II, a policy which continues to be cited and debated today.  Michael Hisamoto (Stage Kiss) plays Hirabayashi, a college student and a Quaker, whose hope and unquenchable patriotism over 50 years will leave audiences cheering.  The theatricality of this production will be enhanced by the addition of three kurogos, stage assistants/dancers who make magic happen in the Kabuki tradition.

FEATURING:    Michael Hisamoto with Khloe Alice Lin, Gary Thomas Ng, Samantha Richert

Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Copley Square, Boston
boxoffice [at] lyricstage [dot] com or call 617-585-5678.

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.

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





You’re In Good Company At The Lyric Stage

Stephen Sondheim’s Company

Directed by Spiro Veloudos

The Lyric Stage Boston

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Bobby (John Ambrosino)
Bobby (John Ambrosino)

I am embarrassed to admit it, but in all the years I have been attending theatre I have, until now, never seen Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”. Well, I guess the theatre gods wanted me to wait for the Lyric Stage’s production directed by Spiro Veloudos. The gods were smiling on me as I doubt I could have seen a better staging of this wonderful play anywhere else. The wait was worth it.

The play which was considered groundbreaking when it first appeared in 1970 takes on the subject of marriage, commitment, and non commitment. It centers around Bobby, the one person in his circle of friends who has not been in a committed relationship. His friends are concerned that Bobby is not in a relationship, and they are trying to fix him up or convince him that “A person is not complete until married.”

At the same time, we get to explore the question of just how happy Bobby’s married friends are. The songs “The Little Things You Do Together” and “Sorry-Grateful” capture the conflict many couples have using an on the one hand, on the other hand theme.

“Company” is a play that, while dealing with a subject, marriage and commitment that can be touchy and emotional, and is something we all have experienced in some way, it never makes you feel uncomfortable. The music is classic Sondheim, meaning it is simply wonderful. There is humor, and

the cast, without exception, is a joy to watch

the cast, without exception, is a joy to watch.

As I was leaving the theatre two moments stayed in my thoughts. One is when Amy, who is engaged to be married but is getting cold feet, tells Bobby “You are afraid not to get married, and I am afraid to get married.” The other was the song “Marry Me A Little” sung by Bobby. He is onto something.

April (Adrianne Hick), Marta (Carla Martinez), Kathy (Maria LaRossa)
April (Adrianne Hick), Marta (Carla Martinez), Kathy (Maria LaRossa)

There is not a bad seat at the Lyric Stage, but they are limited. I recommend you get tickets soon before it sells out as it most certainly will. Don’t wait. who knows when the gods will send us another production as fine as this one.

Company now through October 9th at The Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Copley Square, Boston. 617.585.5678

Photos: Mark S. Howard