Category Archives: Theater

SpeakEasy’s The Seafarer

[The preview for this review is here.]

Last week I saw SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of The Seafarer at the Boston Center for the Arts. SpeakEasy has made a specialty of local productions of works recently premiered in New York (and more recently, London). I’ve come to expect a pretty decent standard, although generally nothing too surprising.

This particular production didn’t really change my perception, although the group certainly wasn’t helped by the substandard play which, although has some successful comedic elements, is in the end little more than a rehash of A Christmas Carol. D and I argued about the merits of the play itself, which felt poorly paced, clumsy, and completely unconvincing. No doubt better direction would have improved my reaction, although still not enough I think to cover up its defects. Ben Brantley’s review of the original New York production in the Times emphasizes the superlative acting he saw, which certainly would also have helped.

As it was, there were drawbacks to both the production and acting in SpeakEasy’s production. For one, the two leads didn’t give any sense of being brothers with a long history, thus cutting out the pivotal relationship in the play. The acting in general was adequate (although most of the Irish accents seemed a bit off to me), but the only one among the cast who was really convincing was Billy Meleady as the central character, Sharky. His wiry tension and buried anger were so well delineated that in the climactic scene when Sharky explodes it feels like a completely natural release.

Ah well. Not much else to say. The production ended last weekend, but a set of highly complimentary reviews have been collected on SpeakEasy’s website, including the Globe’s and the Phoenix’s. Haven’t come across anything I’m looking forward to in town next year in theater, but I’ll probably try to catch one of the shows at the A.R.T.

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Upcoming for December

In general I’m pretty picky about going out to see theater in Boston, but I’m intrigued by the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s The Seafarer at the Boston Center for the Arts. Their description is:

    A 2008 Tony Nominee for Best Play, “The Seafarer” is a funny and
    haunting alternative to traditional holiday fare. On Christmas Eve in
    North Dublin, Sharky Harkin finds himself reluctantly hosting old
    friends at the rundown house he shares with his older brother. A lot of
    booze and card-playing carry the men into Christmas Day when Sharky must face the grim promise he made to one of his guests decades ago.

Half-price tickets are available at GoldStar.com.

Will also be checking out the MIT Museum’s new holography exhibit:

    Throughout the winter beginning at dusk, the MIT Museum presents an exhibition of contemporary, three-dimensional holographic artworks displayed in the windows, viewable only from outside the Mark Epstein Innovation Gallery. Featured will be holograms by six international artists whose varied imagery represents artistic and technical advancements in the field of display holography.

Will try to make it to the opening this Friday, although my sources tell me it’s probably going to be more kid-friendly than not:

    December 5, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
    Lighting Ceremony and Opening Celebration
    Free admission, refreshments and street festivities

A few shows coming up I may hit as well. Love is All + Crystal Stilts at Great Scott in Allston next Monday, December 8. The latter is described by one as “the love child of The Jesus and Mary Chain + Joy Division”, haha. Their MySpace page is here.

+/- is playing The Middle East Upstairs the following night, but I’m probably going to have to pass, being too wussy to go to a show two nights in a row. Yes, I’m getting old. 😛 [Update: It looks like the show has been moved to Saturday, December 13. But I’m going to be out of town! Darn.]

So looks like that’s the next couple of weeks figured out. Phew! 😉

Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s The Merchant of Venice

[The preview for this review is here.]

Caught Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s production of The Merchant of Venice last week. Of the three ASP productions I’ve seen thus far this one was probably my least favorite. Upon reflection I think a fair amount of the problem may have been the space, which was significantly bigger than the Harvard Square location where I’d seen them before. The theater, in the basement of Midway Studios at Fort Point Channel, is interesting in and of itself, with a balcony and a small spiral staircase, but its size proved to be unwieldy. Although the direction made fairly good use of the mostly bare stage, the actors, particularly the younger ones, had a tendency to shout rather than project, and overplay their roles rather than focus on the text in the way I’d seen in their more intimate settings. Part of this I think is also due to the post-Baz Luhrmann tendency for actors to deliver Shakespeare in a college frat boy sort of way, relying far too much on broad physical gestures and CON-STANT STRES-SES ON EV-ERY SYL-LA-BLE.

As for the production itself, in general I agree with The Globe’s comment that “the scenes never quite connect” and that as a whole the production is “too disjointed to be effective”. (Although I disagree with Byrne’s comment that “the subplots featuring Portia’s suitors gambling for her hand in marriage and Shylock’s daughter, Jessica (Sarah Augusta), eloping with Lorenzo (Jason Bowen) feel less like romances and more like two more business transactions,” because I found that choice actually helped unify the production.) My main gripe is that despite each scene working fairly well, somehow the overall motivations and emotional connection to the drama get completely lost. Antonio and Bassanio’s friendship, upon which the conflict of the entire play is based, is far too understated, as is Shylock’s final bitter defeat in the climactic courtroom scene; and in this production the moment where Bassanio risks all to win Portia’s hand in marriage is completely devoid of tension. The subplot involving Portia and Nerissa fooling their husbands ends the play merrily enough, but again without much connection to the rest of the play.

Despite the overall lack of focus, there was more than enough to keep one’s attention and a fair number of interesting touches. I generally don’t like underscoring in plays, but there was some nice sound design, including the soft sound of coins clinking during some scenes. Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, was directed as very young which makes her betrayal seem convincingly naive, and Jeremiah Kissel has deservedly received unanimous praise for his portrayal of Shylock. Kissel’s seething, manic portrayal is both sympathetic and tragic, and his hatred and lust for vengeance are compellingly repellent. His scene with Tubal is certainly the most emotionally honest moment in the entire production. I was a bit disappointed in Sarah Newhouse as Portia, and to a lesser extent Marianna Bassham as her maid Nerissa: I’d seen them in a previous production, and they just didn’t seem to bring enough unique characterization to their roles here.

The group has archived a fair number of reviews of the production on their website, including The Phoenix’s and EDGE Boston’s. And if you’re looking for more info on the play and its historical context, Wikipedia, as usual, doesn’t disappoint.

So even though it’s not a home run, ASP still provides a worthy take on Shakespeare’s classic and some fine acting, particularly thanks to Kissel as Shylock. The production is playing through December 7, so you still have a few more days to catch it.

Upcoming for November

Unfortunately there are two new music concerts this coming Friday,
BMOP’s Concertos for Strings and Orchestra featuring five concertos, and BMV’s Credo in US concert, featuring American composers. Of the two it looks like we’ll probably end up at the BMOP concert, unless of course we get lazy.

Also coming up is the French shoegaze-y band M83 downstairs at the Middle East next Tuesday, November 18. Opening is a group called School of Seven Bells. Just started listening to them now, and they seem to be a similar vibe as M83. A bit too Stereolab-esque, but I’m liking what I’m hearing so far so I’ll probably check them out.

On my list of must-sees is the Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s production of The Merchant of Venice. The group is relatively new and constantly moves locations; according to the mission statement on their website: “Moving around the city from one exciting location to another will keep our productions interesting and will help us attract a wide variety of audiences.” They’ve found a success story in me, because I saw two productions they did in Harvard Square and both were very solid and enjoyable. So I’ll be following them to South Boston for this next production, which opened last night but which I haven’t seen any press on yet. The Globe ran a preview of the production which you can find here.

So that’s a bit of November figured out. Haven’t gotten anything set for December though, so I’ll have to start scouting around for something other than the usual bland holiday fare.