Monday, April 25, 2011

A Circus of Movement and Beauty: Eurydice presented by the Independent Drama Society


Written by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Lindsay Eagle
Stage Manager - Laura Schlein
Movement and Circus Choreographer - Naomi Bennett
Scenic and Properties Designer - Abigail Neuhoff
Costume Designer - Samara Martin
Lighting Designer - Matthew Breton
Sound Designer - Chris Larson
Master Carpenter - Rob Lemire
Assistant Director - Michela Ricci
Assistant Sound Designer - Melissa DeJesus
Production Manager - Chris Anton

Eurydice - Annie Winneg
Orpheus - Greg Nussen
The Father - Cliff Blake
Nasty Interesting Man/The Lord of the Underworld - Adam Lauver
Big Stone - Glen Moore
Little Stone - Sarah J. Gazdowicz
Loud Stone - Sierra Kagen

The Chorus of Stones
Chris Anton
Melissa DeJesus
Zach Eisenstat
Coriana Hunt Swartz
Chris Larson
Micah Tougas
Victoria Townsend

I had been hearing many good things about "Eurydice" presented by the Independent Drama Society so I decided to check it out.

"Eurydice" is based on the original myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The story tells of a musician, Orpheus who had the most beautiful voice in the world, marries his love, Eurydice. Tragically, Eurydice is taken away on the day of their wedding to the underworld and Orpheus must rescue her. With his gorgeous voice, he convinces the powers that be to release her, they do, but on one condition: he must walk out with her behind him and must not look back, or she will be lost forever. Ruhl's story has a few changes, including a unique addition and decides to add Eurydice's father to the mix, having been living in the world of the undead. Eurydice is torn between her love for Orpheus and her desire to stay with her father. A new twist on this story examines the harsh realities of the choices we make and the results we must deal with.

The black box at the BCA is probably one of my favorite spaces in Boston. Its potential is limitless and that’s exactly how IDS looked at it. Within the first few minutes of arriving, the stage was set as a small little circus tent. During the preshow, the members of the chorus dressed as clowns in tutus, baggy pants, vests and the like, were interacting with their surroundings, each other and the audience. This was the experience and world that we start to become a part of. It was beautiful.

Everyone in the cast displays very strong performances. The chorus of stones, played by Chris Anton, Melissa DeJesus, Zach Eisenstat, Coriana Hunt Swartz, Chris Larson, Micah Tougas, and Victoria Townsend, are a unit of playful misfits who each have their own unique little quirks, defined by how they move or speak, not just by how they are costumed. They function as energetic commune, infused with a nice blend of Commedia Dell'arte and acrobats. They are a part of the action or to move the story along, including their ability to create a very convincing elevator to carry Eurydice down to Hades. They are easily one of most interesting and wonderfully created aspects of the show. Their acrobatics and movements are a sight to see. Naomi Bennett's movement and choreography blends well and it brings additional flavor to the production.

The three major stones, big, little and loud played by Glen Moore, Sarah J. Gazdowicz, Sierra Kagen respectively, become the ones that have dialogue with the other characters, stand out with distinct facial expressions and voice, but are able to meld back into the chorus of stones. Their ability to stand out and fit in is remarkable. Cliff Blake plays the caring and gentle father of Eurydice. He manages to create a tender and beautiful relationship with his daughter, quietly and subtlety, making us believe his role as a father. Blake's voice and movements are careful and fluid. One scene in particular involving string brought me to tears due to his simplicity of this character. Annie Winneg plays Eurydice well, a girl full of hopes and dreams, with a child-like quality. Her chemistry with Blake is sweet and touching, however, her time alone we don't feel as much as we could of her struggle and her difficult journey, emotionally and mentally. Greg Nussen's Orpheus is quiet, relaxed, and carefree, but his angst and feelings of loss don't come through as much it could, considering his love is gone and his desire to bring her back is mixed with numerous emotions. Though not needing be over the top, something must bubble to the surface. Adam Lauver's Mystery Man/Lord of the Underworld is dark fellow and makes the line between charmer/creeper uncertain. Though the choice is strong, it continues to go back and forth, never getting a true beat on who he really is, creating a confusing arc.

The set designed by Abigail Neuhoff, as mentioned before was a wonderful choice of putting everything in circus-y world, with the colors of red and white. There were levels constructed as well, with various half empty glasses and bottles of water, something that stood out but for some reason added a nice touch. Matthew Breton's lighting design at times was a bit confusing and there was a good amount of pink used throughout was at times distracting, though creating a nice warm tone. However, the use of gobos and other colors at other points including Eurydice's descent and in certain points of isolation in the story played incredibly strong. The costuming done by Samara Martin fit well with this world that was created, and as mentioned, the chorus had mixed pieces that contributed a great deal to their quirkiness. The principles were dressed in contemporary outfits that displayed a nice contrast to the world. I also appreciated the lack of footwear in the majority of the production, specifically seeing Eurydice and her father dressed nicely barefoot. It was a nice touch, helping us to picture their surroundings.

Lindsay Eagle's direction is smart and effective. Her constant use of water was interesting and came out at very specific times. Being such a significant element, I appreciated its subtlety, representing various transitions. It went almost unnoticed but remained a constant element in the play. Her choice to stage it with different aspects of clowning, circus and the dream world was an excellent choice, blurring the lines of reality and the unknown.

The sound design and music done by Chris Larson and Melissa DeJesus was a nice idea added to this production. Through heightened scenes, there was an excellent use of tonal music that contributed a great deal. Also, the simple sound effects from the descent of the elevator the continual rain brought forth the unique world.

IDS presented a strong production of a wonderfully beautiful yet tragic story. The visuals and world created is wondrous and full of the unknown. "Eurydice" is something that must be experienced and be a part of. With strong performances and captivating moments, the show pulls you in and leaves you with a memorable theatrical journey.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Witty and Silly: A night with "Blackadder II: Live!"

Blackadder II: Live!

Written by
Richard Curtis and Ben Elton
Originally produced by the BBC

Directed by
Darren Evans

Asst. Director/Dialect Coach
Nadia de Lemeny

Scenic Design
Luke J Sutherland

Lighting Design
Eric Jacobsen

Costume Design
Eric Propp

Lord Edmund Blackadder
Craig Houk

Lord Percy
Wayne Fritsche

Chris Wagner

Queen Elizabeth I
Crystal Libson

Lord Melchett
Michael Steven Costello

Jenny Gutbezahl

Flashheart, Prince Ludwig, Arthur the Sailor, Simon Partridge
Jason Beals

Lady Whiteadder, Mrs. Ploppy, Wisewoman
Ann Carpenter

Lady Farrow, Mrs. Pants, Young Crone
Nadia de Lemeny

Balladeer, Mad Beggar, Geoffrey Piddle, Messenger, German Guard
John Geoffrion

Sir Walter Raleigh, Torturer, Mr. Pants
Terrance P Haddad

Kate, Mollie
Chelsea Schmidt

Capt. Redbeard Rum, Lord Whiteadder, Leonardo Acropolis, German Guard
David Schrag

Bishop of Bath & Wells, Gaoler Ploppy, Dr. Leech, Monk
Gerard Slattery

Now, I have been reviewing several musicals up until this point, so I decided to check out some plays, which I can say is a bit more of a challenge. I managed to catch both part of one and two of Theatre on Fire’s production of Blackadder II Live, a stage adaptation of BBC’s classic comedy of the same name. The show itself focused particularly on the 2nd season of the series, which is considered one of the best by many fans. Originally conceived by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, the show debuted and helped fuel the careers of some of the most talented comedians including Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, a man who would later star in the series as the title character in House. Blackadder examines the life of one Edmund Blackadder and his journeys and misadventures through various time periods in British and European history. The one we saw was his time during Elizabethan England. Full of sharp wit, dry humor and tremendous wordplay, the series became one of the most popular television series of all time.
The show is broken up in episodes from the series, three as part one and the last three in part two. Whether Blackadder finds himself attracted to his cross-dressing manservant Bob, who is in fact a young woman to juggling a party with his uptight religious relatives and his own rambunctious alcohol-filled party with his loud and crazy friends, he manages to hatch the most ridiculous schemes and ideas to keep himself and his sanity intact. Each episode’s premise is more ridiculous then the last and we as the audience tune in intently.

The cast is full of such comedic energy, and is both wonderful and talented, pulling off the dry humor and silliness, whilst capturing each of their characters in their own way. They have worked diligently on their British accents as well with the help of Dialect Coach Nadia de Lemeny, helping fuel the performance. Craig Houk stars as the pompous and ridiculous Edmund Blackadder, who seems very comfortable in the role itself, and manages to capture the arrogance and charm of the character incredibly well. His charisma is one thing to lock on to and he has it in spades. Another strong performance is that of Jason Beals, who pulls of many characters including a loud and obnoxious Flashheart and the treacherous German prince Ludwig. Each depiction is strongly established and his commitment is uncanny. It’s a great joy to watch and we can’t help but squeal with laughter. Michael Steven Costello plays Lord Melchett or “Melchy” as dry and droll as possible with a bit of a silly side. His seriousness and sternness is only matched by his comedic timing with the role and his jokes. All in all the cast itself is incredibly talented and establish some of the best chemistry I have seen on stage. They manage to commit to each of their characters and to each other in this world. The razor banter and wit of the original series come through as this cast is clearly having a great time with the material.

Eric Propps’ costumes are simply wonderful. Not only does he manage to capture the Elizabethan period magnificently, but also he dresses the cast in costumes perfectly. Each actor doesn’t look constrained and are clearly one with their outfit, giving more to their character. I thought they were conceived very well and you could tell a lot of love and effort were put into their creation. Bravo to Mr. Propps. The costumes looked genuine and are incredibly detailed.

The set itself is simple and the stage has 5 different areas that the characters interact on. Whether we are looking straight ahead on 3 areas on stage or the house left or right, we are thrust into this world in such an intimate space. Luke Sutherland’s set captures each area perfectly and thanks to the effective lighting design of Eric Jacobsen, we are able to see each area for each scene. Whether we are in house of Blackadder or the Queen’s throne room, we get to see a simple and effective set create this world. One set that was particularly impressive was in one “episode” where Blackadder, his friend Percy, servant Baldrick and Captain Redbeard Rum are upon a ship, due to Blackadder’s attempt to travel the unknown (thanks to a large part to his pride and short-sightedness). The four in are sitting a small cabin that wonderfully creates a sense of claustrophobia, which was in a small open room above the entrance of the theatre space.

As mentioned before, the show is literally a staging of the 2nd season of Blackadder. With a few minor changes, including adding a balladeer to transition each scene with cheesy recorder music or each episode with some cheeky exposition, the show is pretty much word for word. A lot of time was put into the study of the original work it seems. Also, in many ways its nice to see such a popular show done in such a unique way but its hard to get past the original depictions and writing from the series. Emulation is a hard to avoid in such a production and at a few points, bits of the television series crept through which made it difficult to get on board with the stage show. Darren Evan’s directorial choice to have each scene on various areas in the space worked in many ways, having the actors move to and from each place. He effectively used the entire area of the theatre itself. It also seemed that he gave actors free range with their characters to create their own depictions while using the originals as a launching point. It was a good attempt to avoid repetition and imitation. He manages to create the world of Blackadder on stage in order to familiarize the masses and broaden their horizons, really showing that they’ve been missing out.

Blackadder II Live has some of the most talented comedic actors in Boston sharing the stage. Moving past the fact that the show itself is recreation of a TV series, the work and effort put in is remarkable and there is no denying that everyone had a great time hamming it up. Capturing silliness and true appreciation for the original work, Blackadder II Live puts on a fun evening of incredible humor and ridiculousness that all audiences have enjoyed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perspective...A funny thing

Ok, so I realize now that I have been dilligently reviewing several shows, 4 by my count. The latest was a bit of turning point for me, as I have decided to be a bit more honest. I think its important and to be Frank, or even Samantha...Well..actually Michael, I find it a bit more refreshing.

At this point, I have several more shows I want to review, specifically plays. The last few shows have indeed been musicals, and as much as I love them, I need a bit more perspective. A few plays in the future I am planning on reviewing:

ILove - The Boston Stage Company
Eurydice - Independent Drama Society
Black Adder II - Theatre on Fire
Book of Grace - Company One

However, I will still be looking into musicals as well. I haven't done many plays, but I want to try to see if I can get a handle on them. They are a completely different animal in many ways from the musical. Like the fierce lion on the Serenghetti...Wait...What?

Anyways, now that this theatre blog has some steam, Ill be trying my darndest to review shows as much as I can. There is a lot of theatre out in Boston, and I really have learned a lot already.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Marathon of A Show: "Rent" at the Footlight Club

Directed by Bill Doscher
Music Directed by Shawn Gelzleichter


Mark: Todd Sandstrom
Maureen: Anne Olmsted
Mimi: Sara Jane Burns
Angel: Jose Romero
Roger: Joshua Rajman
Benny: Matthew Ford
Joanne: Shira Cahn-Lipman
Collins: Rishi Basu

Alana Sacks
Kathleen Comber
Keri Boisclair
Alex Davidson
Sean Benak
Krista Dietz
Channa Gilbert
Michael Glicksman
Ariella Katz
John Deschene
Brian Bakofen
Kate Enos

I remember when "Rent" first came out it was essentially the bees knees. Now nearly 15 years later, the show is still a favorite among the masses. I first saw the show in 2001 and immediately became a fan of the music. A few nights ago, I was able to catch one of the many productions that have debuted in Massachusetts at the Footlight Club.

The story is adapted from Puccini’s opera, La Boheme into an original rock opera written and composed by Jonathan Larson. We are taken into the world of various artists and musicians who are living and creating in the lower east side in Alphabet City in New York City. They deal with many different issues, including love and loss, but more importantly the encroachment of HIV/AIDS. We see the lives of Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, Roger, a musician, Collins, a former MIT professor, Angel, a cross-dressing musician, Mimi a dancer, Maureen a performance artist and her girlfriend, Joanne, a lawyer and Benny, a former friend now turned antagonist. The story takes place over the course of a year.

As a show, "Rent" presents many different challenges. The show is very difficult to stage effectively without creating a lot of problems of congestion. One the major things I noticed in this production are that the direction was very difficult to understand and get on board with. Specifically, I felt the placement of the actors during the bigger numbers felt like they were almost out of place. The attempt to create a community of characters didn’t work. They could've used the rest of the stage and set a bit more. Also, throughout the show we hear the voice mails of the character’s parents. When they appear on stage, they had masks covering their face, thus abandoning the whole point of an ensemble, especially if their function is to play multiple characters. Also down center stage was terribly underused. I’m not saying it needs to be used all the time, but when I’m watching the opening number, “Rent” I wanted to see Mark and Roger be the focus, as they open the song. My attention wants to be drawn to center and then follow them as they utilize other parts of the stage. There were other places in the show that would’ve benefited from this, not just with solo singing moments.

Brian Crete created a very simple and strong set. The levels and balconies that were created for the space worked. I loved the use of cobbled together pieces and flats, creating a Frankenstein-esque feel. As for the lighting, I was surprised that there was very little beyond simple front and back lighting and the use of spots. In “Contact”, however, red lights were used to heighten the emotions and the sexual energy that was being displayed. Combined with the heavy and well choreographed, stylized movement, it played extremely well. However, for certain moments and changes in emotion, there was a lack of color and feeling. It would’ve been nice to see some warm tones thrown in once in a while. It felt very limited.

The performances that stood out were Rishi Basu’s Tom Collins, who is at ease in the role. He is comfortable in the character and sings with a nice soothing calm. His voice is unique and he plays the friend that everyone wants and needs. Another strong performance was Anne Olmstead, who as Maureen plays the rambunctious performance artist. Her voice rocks out extremely well and her attitude was sharp to boot. Her piece “Over The Moon” is hilarious and well done, though at times felt she didn’t milk it as much as she could, rushing moments that needed to be savored. However, there is no denying that show had strong performances in general from all cast members, but one key ingredient that was missing was chemistry. Actors captured their individual character strongly, but the interaction between them fell short. The show "Rent" is written to bring forth intensity and raw relationships that are created throughout the story. In this production, some major relationships are lost because very few went beyond the motions of blocking and singing. There could've been stronger established relationships. As whole though, the energy is strong and everyone is able to keep going throughout the production. In addition, a lot of the musical numbers were good as well, especially “Santa Fe”. It’s beautifully done and sounds so smooth and sweet. You can almost picture the place itself. Another good number was “Take Me Or Leave Me” where the uncompromising Maureen her girlfriend Joanne, played smartly and strongly by Shira Cahn-Lipman, volleyed back and forth, refusing to cave on their individuality. It’s a great moment to see and you really feel where they are coming from. A lot of the other numbers sounded really good, but as mentioned before I expected and wished for a tad more of intensity.

Shawn Gelzleichter’s music direction is extremely well developed. The band is strong and it is able to capture the rocking score of this beast of a show. To me, that is one the of the many important things that needs to be showcased in "Rent". It represents the backbone and nerve center and Gelzleichter and his crew pull it off. They work incredibly well as a unit and blend strongly. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. Since he had his work cut out with him in this show, he handles it with ease and is fearless with his direction.

"Rent" is a good production but as I mentioned there are a few aspects that I wished I had seen more of. It is important to know that this is a very heavy and emotionally challenging show, but like any major production, it requires a lot of work. The performers keep their energy up and are able to create a solid interpretation of this show, especially because it has been done so much recently. I admire this production of "Rent" for the amount of work and love that was put in.