Sunday, November 19, 2017

Moonbox Productions Presents The Delightful British Comedy "The 39 Steps" - Through December 9th


There is nothing quite like physical British humor to tickle the funny bone. Such is the case with Moonbox Productions current offering of "The 39 Steps" by Evan George Patrick Barlow based on the Hitchock film, which in turn was based on a novel by Scottish novelist John Buchan. Director Allison Olivia Choat has wisely chosen to invite the audience into the creative process, encouraging us to suspend disbelief, and to go along with the four actors playing multiple roles, as well as very obviously serving as stage hands to make set changes in the middle of a scene. There is much physical humor and many sight gags, and the cast has been well chosen to carry out the hilarity with cheekiness and aplomb.

Kevin Cirone plays the straight man, Richard Hannay, a 30-something British man in the midst of a midlife crisis, who muses about how dull and meaningless his life is - until a femme fatale by the name of Annabella Schmidt (a sultry Sarah Gazdowicz) shows up and we are off to the races. Mr. Cirone and his dashing pencil mustache are the thread that ties together a picaresque series of adventures in a London music hall, along the rails, dangling from a bridge, and trekking across the heather-covered and fog be-shrouded hills of the Scottish highlands. Matthew Zahnzinger plays more roles than I can count - male and female - and each character is given a distinctive accent. Mr. Zahnzinger's mastery of arcane dialects is worth the price of admission. His counterpart is the equally adept Bob Mussett, whose mousy turn as Mr. Memory is a highlight, as is the scene in which Zahnzinger and Mussett portray two superannuated Scottish men acting as hosts for a political rally.

Bob Mussett and MatthewZahnzinger
as a pair of Scottish innkeepers
"The 39 Steps"
Moonbox Productions
BCA - Plaza Theatre
Through December 9th
This is a play that is not really plot driven, but which delivers its value by drawing the audience into the sheer silliness of the presentation. The actors are clearly having a ball telling this outlandish tale, and we cannot help but be swept up in the spirit of the piece. After the play, a friend of mine remarked: "Wasn't it fun just to be able to laugh in light of all of the heaviness we have been dealing with lately?" How true!

Set Designer is John Paul Devlin. Lighting Design is by Jeffrey E. Salzberg, Costume Design by Erica DeSautels, and Sound Design by Dan Costello, who must be singled out for the haunting bagpipe cues. Daniel Blackwell is the Dialect Coach.

One of the things I love about Moonbox Productions is their commitment to partner with local charities for each show that they produce. The current partnership is with Y2Y - Young Adults Uniting To End Homelessness. Located in Harvard Square, Harvard students operate a homeless shelter for youth who would otherwise be living on the street.  They also offer a suite of educational and social services, empowering the residents to become part of the solution to homelessness among young people. A portion of each ticket sold goes to supporting Y2Y. On line donations are also encouraged. Admission for the performance on the 22nd will be nonperishable food items or a donation to Y2Y.

Y2Y website

Sarah Gazdowicz as Annabella
Kevin Cironeas Richard Hannay
Bob Mussett as Mr. Memory
"The 39 Steps"
Moonbox Productions
BCA - Plaza Theatre
Through December 9th

It is no mystery why this play was such a hit with last night's audience. It is well written, cleverly directed, and flawlessly acted by a quartet of gifted performers. It is worth making the trip to Tremont Street - even if you have to walk more than 39 steps to get to the Plaza Theatre.

For tickets to other performances, follow this link:

Moonbox Productions Website

Enjoy!

Al





Friday, November 17, 2017

Huntington Theatre Company Presents A Delightful "Tartuffe" - To Thine Own Selfie Be True!


I have loved Molière since I saw my first production of "Tartuffe" back in college. So, I have been looking forward to this Huntington Theatre Company production of the French playwright's hilarious comedy exposing hypocrisy and the Parisian "religious right" of his day. I was not disappointed. Director Peter DuBois has made some brilliant choices in setting the action in modern day Paris, with an emphasis on the tools of 21st century technology to enhance the telling of the story, He gives us selfie sticks, noisy rotary aircraft, fragile cell phones, and one memorable taser. The result was that I felt that someone had taken a taser to my funny bone, for I frequently erupted in spasmodic laughter at the antics on stage.

DuBois builds a bridge between the 17th century and the modern day setting of this production by opening the piece with a series of quick tableaux showing characters in period costume and wig, establishing their basic characteristics and foibles. It felt like we were seeing a progression of 5 second gifs come to life.

One of the many things I love about the Huntington is their commitment to blend well known actors from New York, Hollywood, or London, with gifted talent based in Boston. This ensemble is a wonderful example of this casting philosophy. The truth that "there are no small parts" has never been more true than in this current production. Every member of the cast takes their moment in the spotlight and uses it to advance the story.

Frank Wood as Orgon
Brett Gelman as Tartuffe
"Tartuffe"
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company
Through December 10th
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Tartuffe is diabolically portrayed by the gifted Brett Gelman, looking every bit like Rasputin trying to win Senate approval for a slot in the Trump cabinet. Tony award winner Frank Wood is Orgon, who has fallen under Tartuffe's spell to such a degree that he adamantly refuses to believe his family when they bring him evidence of Tartuffe's perfidy and hypocrisy. His comely trophy wife is Elmire, played to the seductive hilt by Melissa Miller. She is the object of Tartuffe's less than holy zeal. Sarah Oakes Muirhead is Mariane, Orgon's daughter whose hand has been promised to Valère, played well by Gabriel Brown. But Orgon has decided to break his promise and give Mariane to Tartuffe. She would rather betake herself to a nunnery. Ms. Muirhead gets to display some wonderful physical comedy in demonstrating Mariane's woeful state. Her brother, Damis, played magnificently by Matthew Bretschneider, is the prototypical disaffected Millenial wedded to his selfie stick. He sees through Tartuffe, but Orgon disowns him instead of listening to him. Jane Pfitsch as the outspoken maid, Dorine, almost steals the show. Her saucy zingers and rejoinders to each member of the family and hangers on are priceless. Matthew J. Harris is strong as Cleante, Orgon's brother-in-law. He attempts to be another voice of reason warning against the excesses of Tartuffe, but he too is rebuffed. Paula Plum, arguably the doyenne of the Boston stage scene, makes a formidable impression as Madame Pernelle, Orgon's mother and patroness of Tartuffe. Her rant in the opening scene shows the grandmother in high dudgeon, excoriating everyone in sight. Her up-swept lacquered wig establishes her character as unassailable. The performance earned exit applause as she flounced from the stage - exiting stage right, brandishing her cane as a weapon. Omar Robinson as An Officer of the Court enters the action late in the game, but his vertical entrance and his turning the tables and taser on Tartuffe are highlights. Steve Barkhimer's flexibility is on full display as he handles the disparate roles of Laurent, Tartuffe's self-effacing acolyte, and Monsieur Loyal, the bailiff who comes to dispossess Orgon of his home. Finally, Katie Elinoff, Madame Pernelle's mousy maid, is usually seen, but not heard. But when she is heard, we are jarred out of our seats.

Paula Plum as Madame Pernelle
Frank Wood as Orgon
"Tartuffe"
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company
Through December 10th
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson


This wonderful cast are very comfortable with the English translation in verse by Ranjit Bolt. They are well supported by the visually arresting Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, which includes an occasional table made from a gilded tree stump! Eye-catching costumes are by Anita Yavich, Lighting Design by Christopher Akerline, Sound Design by Ben Emerson, Choreography by Daniel Pelzig, Original Music by Peter Golub, Flying by Foy.


Cast
"Tartuffe"
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company
Through December 10th
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson
This production is a total delight, and will run through December 10th. Treat yourself to some laughs and book your tickets now.

Huntington Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al