Posts Tagged ‘Gail Burns’

THEATER: “The Golem of Havana”: The Mystical Musical at Barrington Stage Musical Theatre Lab [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Julie Benko and Ronald Alexander Peet. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Julie Benko and Ronald Alexander Peet. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: The creators of The Golem of Havana deserve to light up some nice big Cuban cigars, because they have a lot to celebrate following the world premiere of their smash new musical. And those associated with William Finn’s Musical Theatre Lab should be popping some champagne corks over at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield right about now. They have told a complex story exceptionally well.

This tale of a Hungarian-Jewish family living in Batista’s 1950’s Cuba conflates history with a legendary protective golem. The combination sets up all the drama one could ask for in a musical, a story replete with good fortune and deadly reversals as Fidel Castro brings revolution to the Frankel family. To dramatize the story, the company uses everyday realism mixed with nighmarish surrealism; and the memories of a bright and imaginative young girl mixed with the mysticism of Jewish and Santeria traditions.

Gail M. Burns: This is an original story, based on the composer and lyricist’s personal experiences in Venezuela. The American media keeps us so very ignorant of events on the whole South American continent that the creative team was wise to move the story to Ricky Ricardo’s pre-Castro Cuba, not only for us Ugly Americans but also, as I understand, for their own political safety as artists.

Larry: What I most liked about The Golem of Havana is the music itself, and when it is brought to life in songs that move the plot along it has me singing its praises. Much of it is delivered in snippets, as when first Laszlo and later Yutka sings; “I had no choice, I bear no blame, I had my family, You’d do the same” Or when Teo laments “Rich Men’s Sons, Poor Men’s Sons.” Written by Salomon Lerner, the music is a colorful tapestry of sounds, often distinctly Cuban and Caribbean, and at others clearly Jewish with Klezmer influences. The scene dictates the style. It is at its best when the two meet, sort of in the middle, and the songs become a blend of the two cultures. Lyricist Len Schiff wastes no time in finding words to the winsome melodies that either express the characters feelings, or advance the plot, sometimes both at the same time.

Gail: The music is lively, melodic, and beautiful. And eminently danceable. Choreographer Marcos Santana blends the dancing seamlessly into the characters’ movement. He is likely also responsible for the striking shadow work that opens the shows and which helps anchor the ancient tale of Rabbi Loeb and the Golem of Prague in its time and place.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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THEATER: Small, Quirky & Fun: “Gutenberg! The Musical!” @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice play Doug and Bud.

Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice play Doug and Bud.

Theatre Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: Gutenberg! The Musical! is the kind of small, quirky musical that the Theater Barn in New Lebanon does extremely well, and that their audience just loves. And with just two actors, one pianist and virtually no sets or costumes, it also suits their small space and modest budget requirements

Larry Murray: I am always amazed at how the Theater Barn finds these little musical gems to keep us amused. And coming back for more. Anthony King and Scott Brown, who wrote this two man show were also in it originally, when it ran just 45 minutes. Later it was expanded to two acts and had a significant 2007 New York production directed by Alex Timbers (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Last Goodbye) that starred our Williamstown favorite, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Jeremy Stamos.

Gail: The show is presented as a Backer’s Audition, a theatre ritual in which the creators of a musical do a concert version of their work before an audience of potential investors/producers. If the show involves proven talent, say, Stephen Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown, stars interested in appearing in the production participate in the audition, but that is at a higher level than these two guys – a caregiver at a nursing home and a senior barista at Starbucks – have achieved.

Larry: Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice play Doug and Bud, an aspiring words-and-music team peddling their musical very loosely based on the story of Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468), inventor of the printing press. Their comic timing and energy levels are remarkable, and Varney’s lithe and rubbery body is pretty amazing to see in action. Rice keeps up, barely, his strong suit being his amazing range of voices. He uses them to portray many of the dozen-plus characters in this musical. Both use a variety of imprinted hats to indicate which role they are playing at the moment.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: Brilliant Production of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” at Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, July 28th, 2014
Sam Rockwell, Nina Arianda (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Sam Rockwell, Nina Arianda (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: Playwright Sam Shepard says that his own experience of being in love inspired the aptly titled Fool for Love, now on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown through Saturday (August 2). He wrote: “[Falling in love is] such a dumbfounding experience. In one way, you wouldn’t trade it for the world. In another way, it’s absolute hell.” In the play, May and Eddie (Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell) are both trapped, dumbfounded, in their own mutual hell of love.

Larry Murray: Their relationship hit the rocks ages ago, yet something still binds them together. This passion is at the core of Shepard’s raw and emotion-drenched drama. Like watching a catastrophic storm destroy the foundations of our lives, we watch the two lovers cling to each other like life rafts even as they try to flee from the tumultuous waters of their own unpredictable relationship.

Gail: And we discover the brutal roots of their affair over the brisk, intermission-less 75 minutes of this production. Eddie and May are more than lovers, they are half-siblings whose mutual father kept two wives and families secret from each other until after his unwitting offspring had fallen in love in high school.

Larry: Fool for Love was written three decades ago, yet like so much of Shepard’s work, it still holds us in its thrall as the pair confront their passion for each other and the inevitable pain that May will feel when Eddie’s wanderlust kicks in again. The script is at times subtle with much to read between the lines, a masterpiece of understatement and allusion. But as with Sam Shepard plays, the words escalate into explosive action, the actors tearing at each other like mortal enemies. Everything happens in May’s seedy motel room while Eddie practices his lasso tricks, swigs beer and cleans his shotgun. When Eddie isn’t looking, she packs her suitcase in order to make a quick getaway. As a story, how do you feel this 1983 play has held up?

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: Mark H. Dold as Alan Turing in “Breaking the Code” at Barrington Stage Company [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
Mark H. Dold and the cast of "Breaking The Code" (photo: Kevin Sprague.)

Mark H. Dold and the cast of “Breaking The Code” (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theatre Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: If we had awards for theatrical achievement here in the Berkshires, I would immediately hand over the Best Actor in a Play award to Mark H. Dold for his tour de force portrayal of the complex and brilliant Alan Turing (1912-1954) in Breaking The Code, which is currently at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield. I understand that this was a role of great importance to him personally, and his dedication, commitment and hard work are evident.

Larry Murray: Yes, Dold is a major reason to see Hugh Whitemore’s play, it is a work that demands much from the person playing Alan Turing. In a pre-show interview, Dold summed up Turing this way: “He didn’t quite trust the human mind, it could be prone to make mistakes. He felt the only way to counter human error was to create a machine, a computer.”

And the play is designed as a bit of a puzzle starting in the middle, going back and forth in time and ending at the beginning, with his first true love.

Gail: Turing might admire the semi-cryptic style in which Whitemore has chosen to tell his life story.

Larry: Most people don’t know much about Turing, but he figured out how to break the Nazi enigma code and went on to develop the first computers and artificial intelligence. But tragedy was to be his lot, not because he was gay, but because he was honest about his homosexuality in England in the 1950′s when it was not only against the law, but terribly misunderstood, and considered a terrible security risk.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

“4,000 Miles” a Satisfying Evening of Theater, Well Done at Oldcastle [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, July 18th, 2014
A worthwhile and winning evening of theatre.

A worthwhile and winning evening of theater

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: Since summer began, it feels like we have traveled some 4,000 miles in search of great theater, so it was nice to come back home to Bennington, Vermont’s Oldcastle Theatre after another busy week on the road. Granted it is not really our home, but it feels like one nevertheless. We can always count on director Eric Peterson to never settle for the adequate, whether it be in the acting, scenery or choice of plays.

Gail M. Burns: This is a most satisfying play theatrically and emotionally. This is a play about healing, which can be an agonizingly slow and uneventful process in real life, but which playwright Amy Herzog crafts into a suspenseful narrative with characters we really come to care about. Peterson has assembled a top-notch cast, and Richard Howe has designed another detailed set which uses the Oldcastle performance space to bring you right into Vera’s Greenwich Village living room.

More and more in this region “summer stock” is less about happy musicals and Neil Simon comedies and more about small, thought-provoking new plays. Herzog’s After the Revolution had its world premiere just down the road at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2010, so this 2011 sequel play has a built-in audience. That play won Herzog the New York Times Best Playwright Award, while 4,000 Miles won the 2012 Obie Award for Best New American Play and was nominated for the Pulitzer.

Larry: I loved After the Revolution, Gail. (Review) I have a soft spot in my heart for plays and films about grandmothers and troubled grandsons, and 4,000 Miles did not disappoint, even as it took us in fresh new directions in the complex relationships between skipped generations. Janis Young as Vera Joseph was the perfect senior, fumbling with her hearing aid, her teeth and her memory, she still gave of her heart and home to long-absent Leo Joseph-Connell (Andrew Krug), who had just completed a 4,000 mile cross-country bicycle ride from Seattle to New York City.

Gail: Leo is actually Vera’s step-grandson. His mother was the youngest child of her late second husband. He has suffered a tragic loss while on his cross-country journey, and the way he handled that crisis, and himself in its aftermath, has angered his family and his New York-based girlfriend, Bec (Hannah Heller). Heller had the difficult job of having to enter both of her scenes in a high state of emotion and stress, the causes of which are only obliquely revealed by the end. Hannah is an important part of the play, but it is not about her.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

“A Great Wilderness” at WTF: A Story About Evangelicals Who Think They Can “Pray the Gay Away” [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, July 14th, 2014
From left: Mia Dillon, Jeffrey DeMunn, Tasha Lawrence and Kevin Geer. (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

From left: Mia Dillon, Jeffrey DeMunn, Tasha Lawrence and Kevin Geer (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: If the purpose of this play is to evoke a visceral reaction, it has succeeded beyond the playwright’s wildest dreams. I hated it.

In the program notes, playwright Samuel D. Hunter prepares us for A Great Wilderness by revealing that “I wasn’t completely sure I even wanted to write the play.” As a gay man who just saw it I would like to state, gently, that I am not sure I really wanted to see the play, either, Sam.

Still you have to give points to the Williamstown Theatre Festival for having the audacity to undertake it. WTF has a real passion for exploring the human condition, so it fits right in with their dramatic profile, focusing more on the people than the issues as a way of trying to understand them.

Gail M. Burns: I wanted to see it. I find the question of “curing” or “fixing” LGBT people as abhorrent as you, and I don’t understand the mindset that finds it not only a rational idea, but a necessary one. I came away with a better understanding of the fundamentalist Christian worldview.

Larry: To be clear, the play is about the characters, not the issues, and at the center of this gang of evangelical Christians is Walt (Jeffrey DeMunn) whose opening lines were said softly so as not to alarm Daniel (Steven Amenta). The young man, who got caught looking at gay porn on the computer, was unceremoniously shipped off to Walt to get the gay out of him, and was very soft-spoken as well. At intermission, I heard some people commenting they could barely make out their initial conversations, so I was relieved it wasn’t just me.

Director Eric Ting strived for realism in the dialogue, an admirable choice, but did it so well he left much of the audience, many of whom are older ticket buyers, wondering what was actually being said as Walt tried to assure Daniel there would be no shock therapy, just prayer, conversation and the isolation of the woods where there were no signals for the teen’s smartphone.

Gail: Despite my own hearing loss, I am famous for being able to hear and understand every word spoken or sung on a stage – even when I can’t hear my own husband sitting next to me (usually something about washing the dishes) – but even my well-tempered ears strained to hear much of this play. I heard it, but it wasn’t easy! I would suggest that either the actors project or some area mics be employed.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

The Singers Shine in “A Little Night Music” from Berkshire Theatre Group [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, July 11th, 2014
Kate Baldwin and Graham  Rowat (photo: Reid Thompson)

Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat (photo: Reid Thompson)

Theatre review by Gail M. Burns and Roseann Cane

Gail M. Burns: Four couples meet, mate and miscommunicate in the woods as Midsummer Night smiles three times – “First, for the young who know nothing, second for the fools who know too little, and third for the old who know too much.” No, not Shakespeare, although the parallels are obvious, but Stephen Sondheim as the Berkshire Theatre Group presents his delightful 1973 musical A Little Night Music at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.

Roseann Cane: The more Sondheim musicals I see (and see again), the more I’m astonished by the man’s genius. I cannot think of another composer and lyricist whose work displays such depth, breadth and variety, who achieves the nearly impossible feat of transmitting intellect, wit and emotion. This production is blessed by a cast gifted with sumptuous singing voices and some standout acting capable of rendering all three with ease and style

Gail: This is a score that I have loved and memorized and cherished in my heart for four decades, and, as with anything so personally meaningful, I find I have a hard time finding words to help others understand how beautiful this score is and how the incredibly clever and intricate lyrics are rendered easy enough to understand so that even someone who has never heard them before can follow along as they rapidly advance both plot and character.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

A Jazzy “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Set in 1930′s New Orleans [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, July 10th, 2014
(photo by Kevin Sprague)

(photo by Kevin Sprague)

Theatre review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably Shakespeare’s best known and most performed play next to Romeo and Juliet, and while it has within it the seeds of the tragedy about the star-crossed lovers, it does not end with a double suicide, but with the joy and happiness of a group wedding. But even more uplifting is that fantasy and reality are what we see married in this Shakespeare classic.

Gail M. Burns: And it is a very special show for Shakespeare & Company because it was the first show they ever presented outdoors at The Mount in 1978. Artistic Director Tony Simotes, a founding member of the company, played Puck back then. He has directed this production, which is the Company’s eighth, its second indoors in the Packer Playhouse.

Larry: Simotes decided to set this production in 1930’s New Orleans which means it opened, not surprisingly, with some Dixieland Jazz.

Gail: We both loved the music, composed by the multi-talented Alexander Sovronsky. In addition to acting as composer, music director and sound designer for this production, he also plays an hilarious Francis Flute who in turn is cast as the leading lady in Pyramus and Thisbe.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage

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