THEATER

Elizabeth Farley (McKenna Twedt) gradually and tragically gets wise to the actress/prostitute pipeline in Restoration England.

Elizabeth Farley (McKenna Twedt) is fluffing up her theater costume and trying to sneak it out to “a rendezvous.” That’s a nice way of saying she’s been summoned (to the palace by the king, no less) for sex. But, wait, isn’t she an actress?

April De Angelis’ Playhouse Creatures revisits Restoration England (circa 1660) to depict the lives of the first women to take on the mantel of “actress.” Of course, a big part of that story is that society’s general maltreatment of the female gender bled into that profession in all-too-familiar ways. The first actresses were typecast as high and low class. They were solicited for prostitution. They were suspected of sorcery. They were discarded once pregnant or old. Hundreds of years later, those woes still ring true.

Yet far from wallowing, this play engages, absorbs, and entertains. Twedt deftly rides her character’s rise to fame and fall from grace, evoking first scorn and then pity.

My friend who moved to LA to do comedy has a funny habit: she collects and shares all the casting notices she receives each day to play prostitutes. Rich in comedy and rife with insult and stereotype, these requests are so shockingly common they roll into her phone like a ceaseless tide. “Dead prostitute” may be most popular. “Nonspeaking,” almost equally so. “Unpaid” is the coin of the realm. In Hollywood it seems, if one chose, an actress could silently prostitute herself for no pay several times every day. Dead inside? Even better. That would be “method” for most of the roles.

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Lydia: conflicted, and sensational

From a twisted body and a bittersweet silence, Milagro and playwright Octavio Solis soar into spaces vivid and amazing

In an accident to be explained later, Ceci has lost the following:

Speech. Mobility. Clear eyesight.

Unbeknownst to those around her, she retains:

Compassion, cognition, affection, intimacy, love, trust…and even lust.

That’s the fraught and bittersweet premise of Octavio Solis’s Lydia, the play currently onstage at Milagro that—TL;DR—is amazing.

“Lydia” at Milagro: Maya Malán González is transcendent as Ceci. (Photo © Russell J Young.)

 

 

In a device billed as “magical realism,” Ceci flies from and returns to her twisted body, never venturing further than the things she already knows. She relives a moment of rapture before the accident, she perches beside her family members to assess and console them, she throws herself into her loved ones’ arms as she would if, in reality, she still could. I wouldn’t call this “magical realism,” though as directed by Kinan Valdez and played by Maya Malán González, it does cast a powerful spell. I’d say instead that Ceci straddles two parallel worlds: a corporeal and an emotional plane.

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Feathers and Teeth: monsters win

Artists Rep's challenging, bloody dramedy updates '80s gore flicks with a few laughs, some moral ambiguity, and a twist of kitsch

“What’s the moral of this story?”

Going into Sunday’s talkback, Feathers and Teeth director Dámaso Rodriguez had prepped this and other questions (perhaps to prevent audience meekness from forestalling the conversation? That’s happened before at Artists Rep).

“Trust no one,” someone ventured.

“Leave the pot buried,” suggested another audience member.

Then Rodriguez offered his own take: “Sometimes monsters win.”

This challenging, bloody dramedy by Charise Castro Smith is one of few to depict that literally. There are literal monsters with feathers and teeth, and though we never see them, we’re convinced of their presence by snarls, growls, and the clattering of the lid of the large cooking pot that’s meant to contain them. Much like Little Shop of Horrors‘ Audrey II, these creatures’ carnivorous appetites grow through the course of the story until (spoiler) they’re ready to prey on people. This sinister critter whimsy hearkens back to the plots of many ’80s movies, from Gremlins to Chuckie—as do the puddles of blood that bathe the stage and anoint all characters as somewhat complicit, from The Father’s first red-handed entrance to The Culprit’s final exit, flashing a bloody cold shoulder while walking out the door.

Olson, Pierce, and Hennessy, breaking bread and hearts. Photo: Russell J Young

Aside from the gore, this is a family story of an aspiring stepmother, a sullen teenager, and their conflicted fiancee/father who’s trying to bring them together. Throw in an uptight German Boy Scout neighbor for added character and comedy. Agatha Day Olson plays the teen, Darius Pierce is the dad. Artists Rep mainstay Sara Hennessy plays Carol, and her son Dámaso J. Rodriguez plays the neighbor boy—and that name should sound familiar, because that kid is also director Dámaso Rodriguez’s son. Husband, wife and son all collaborating on this play adds a meta-dynamic of family to the show.

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Golda Meir: a life onstage

Wendy Westerwelle brings out the drama of the towering Israeli politician's life in William Gibson's one-woman play at Triangle

Golda Meier’s story is one of the fascinating political tales of the twentieth century: the schoolteacher from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who became the fourth prime minister of Israel and guided her young nation through the tense days of 1973’s Yom Kippur War, when the country’s survival was deeply in doubt. She was a hawkish icon of a fiercely strategic form of feminism: Margaret Thatcher before Margaret Thatcher, a Hillary Clinton who won the vote. However they felt about her positions, she awoke in many people – women, men, schoolchildren – a rising sense of the possibilities of what could be done in the world, and who could do it.

When we first meet her in Golda’s Balcony, William Gibson’s one-woman play that opened Thursday night at Triangle Productions, it’s 1978 and she is 80 years old, nearing the end of her life. “I am at the end of my stories,” she almost whispers as embodied by actor Wendy Westerwelle, and then proceeds to spin a web of them for ninety minutes, alone onstage, with no intermission.

Westerwelle as Meir. Photo courtesy Triangle Productions!

The tales take her back to her early days in Milwaukee, after emigrating with her family at age 5 from Kiev – moving first to New York, and two years later to the Midwest. Here, in Milwaukee, is where she meets the young Jewish socialist Morris Meyerson, whom she begins to date and then marries on condition that they move to a kibbutz in Palestine. Here, in Palestine, the young Zionist’s life seems truly to begin.

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B&B’s ‘Brontë’ is one for the books

Polly Teale's dramatic tale of the fabulous literary sisters takes the library as its stage for Bag&Baggage. It's a page-turner.

Homeschooled kids are as blessed with imagination as preachers’ daughters are fraught with repressed passion—and The Brontë sisters, being both, had both in spades.

In a house on a hill above a textile town in rural 19th-century England, Anne, Charlotte, and Emily led a relatively quiet and ordinary day-to-day life while writing torridly romantic fantasies—most notably, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Polly Teale’s Brontë, which Bag&Baggage Productions opened last weekend, vacillates between the sisters’ real and fantasy lives.

And how does this play out on stage?

Jessi Walters as Anne and Morgan Cox as Emily. Casey Campbell Photography

It doesn’t! Instead, it gambols gamely through the aisles of the Hillsboro Public Library in a promenade-style performance born of sudden necessity. B&B, long headquartered at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre but planning to transition into a newly acquired building next year, has cut its 16-17 season short to accommodate the recent sale of the Venetian. In the process, Brontë has abruptly become the company’s season-closer, its library location an auspicious work-around. That said, Scott Palmer and company flourish in the face of adversity, setting Brontë so artfully in its library location that it actually feels preferable to a stage. How appropriate, after all, to show the late sisters living on amid books.

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Oh God, the Carnage

Yasmina Reza's black-hearted comedy about the fall of civilization gets a sharp and lively revival at Lakewood

One thing about a Yasmina Reza play: By the end, masks will be ripped off and something mildly disastrous is going to happen. Another thing about a Yasmina Reza play: Even when things get uncomfortable (maybe even especially when they get uncomfortable) it’s going to be pretty darned funny.

Reza, the French playwright best-known for her hits Art and God of Carnage, is also a latter-day practitioner of the well-made play, that marvel of construction in which a thousand pieces fly into the air, chaotically, and then fall perfectly into place. Her 2009 Tony-winner God of Carnage, which opened over the weekend in a taut and smart revival at Lakewood Theatre, takes a bit of Noel Coward (the “aren’t these upper-middle-class characters delightfully foolish” part) and a bit of Harold Pinter (the “aren’t these upper-middle-class characters ruthlessly savage” part), stirs them with a little Alan Ayckbourn-style tick-tock timing, and comes up with a rollicking escapist entertainment that leaves an existential knot in the pit of your stomach. Well, that’s them, you might tell yourself a little nervously as you head home after the show. That’s not me. Surely not.

From left: Stacey, Sikking, Alder, Lucht, pal-ish to the bitter end. Photo: Triumph Photography

Director Antonio Sonera, working from playwright Christopher Hampton’s sharp and brittle English translation, expertly puts the pedal to the metal in this hairpin race over the cliff by two sets of nominally civilized couples. Sonera indulges in what might be considered stunt casting if the four actors weren’t individually so good at what they do: The married couples are played by performers actually married in real life. David Sikking and Marilyn Stacey are Michael and Veronica Novak, he a successful hardware wholesaler, she an art lover and liberal firebrand who is working on a book about Darfur. Sarah Lucht and Don Alder are Annette and Alan Raleigh; he’s a high-powered lawyer who can’t stay off his cell phone, she’s in expensive shoes and wealth management. If only wealth were all that needed managing around here.

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Marjorie, in her prime

Jordan Harrison's futuristic fantasy about the blurry line between people and artificial intelligence gets a sterling run at Artists Rep

Walter has a curious affect, in more ways than one. As he talks with Marjorie, an 85-year-old woman whose mind isn’t what it used to be, he’s gently inquisitive, apparently eager to learn about her and, somewhat paradoxically, about himself as well. As the “Prime” in Jordan Harrison’s stimulating play Marjorie Prime continuing through March 5 at Artists Repertory Theatre, he speaks with an odd mixture of intimacy and detachment, and a patience that seems at first professional, then preternatural. He tells stories in a way that sounds casual yet somehow rote. And when he’s stumped by something, instead of shrugging or saying, “I dunno,” he replies stiffly, “I’m afraid I don’t have that information.”

Then too, there’s just something about the way he looks. He’s clean-cut and handsome, yet unremarkably so. That is, until you notice the faint sparkle that shimmers about his plain brown sportcoat and neatly trimmed hair. It’s as though he’s the image of an ideal man, ever-so-slightly pixelated.

O’Brien and Harder: memories lost and gained. Photo: John Rudoff

And though he looks a half-century younger than Marjorie, he’s not just Walter, he’s her Walter, her late husband Walter. Or at least he’s learning to be.

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