Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: The Theatre at Boston Court

“The House in Scarsdale” at Boston Court: Evaluating the Search


There are two ways to approach Dan O’Brien’s “The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage”. One can look at it as just that – a memoir created by gradually collecting as many as possible of the secrets a family never told. In this view, the show becomes an elaborate puzzle made up of the various reticent members of a deeply dysfunctional family which gradually come together to underscore the demons inhabiting the playwright himself. That works, after a fashion.

The other view, however, which can be far more intriguing, is to look at the entire play as the story of a quest: the kind of quest where the searching is everything. It allows for conjecture and obsession and self-affirmation, but is also a thing in itself which becomes integral in the quester’s view of the world. Now receiving its premiere at The Theatre at Boston Court, the play is far more interesting in the latter view.

Here it takes its place alongside other questing folk of story and legend who defined themselves by the search, not the finding. Like the unsuccessful search for the Holy Grail (sorry, Indiana Jones fans), the journey was the story all along. Finding the thing being searched for would (and is) almost pointless. The questing, and the questions, make the story.

O’Brien, according to this work, is the youngest of six children, none of whom (as the play begins) he has contact with. He has been cut off by his parents as well, and his aunts have been told not to speak with him. How a family could reach this state is one question, but as he pursues the whys and reexamines his own memories, it is the search as much as the purpose of it which is most interesting to follow. Is he looking for a verification of his own sanity in a family short on just that? Is he looking for a reason why his marriage is in trouble? Is he trying to reconstruct a sense of family?

Or, is he in love with the search itself as a symbol of his own identity as a seeker? This last begins to seem more and more clearly the answer as the tale unfolds.

All of this is presented on a nearly empty stage by two men. One, the Dan played by Brian Henderson, becomes the protagonist on the quest, narrating his own story as he calls, writes, visits and pieces together with private detectives and psychics the story of himself. The other, the Dan played by Tim Cummings, is sometimes the argument inside the protagonist’s head, as well as becoming all the people on the other end of the quest’s questions and investigations, at least as Dan remembers them. For both men this is a tour-de-force, performed without intermission in an inexorable forward motion rife with adventure, anger, frustration, and a certain joy of the chase.

Director Michael Michetti wisely allows this tale to play out with a minimum of distraction and a maximum of the actors’ art. The set by Sara Ryung Clement is two chairs and two screens upon which are projected a few photos – some out of focus, which makes its own point – as well as innumerable drawings which illustrate the remembrances and mental architecture that the protagonist constructs. Indeed, these projections, designed by Tom Ontiveros, become, themselves, a character in the piece. What is real? What is dim recollection? What is conjecture? What is pure fantasy?

There is no doubt that the production is splendid, or that the script is articulate, complex and compelling. Henderson and most particularly Cummings create scene after scene out of words and the air. Yet the argument still lies in the question: to what purpose? Audience members will have differing answers depending on which spin they take from the start. My contention, obviously, is that this is a quest story. Indeed, the singular note of regret in this work comes as the answers appear to be found. To say more is to lessen the moment’s impact, but the overall feel is “Now what?”

“The House in Scarsdale” was workshopped at several prestigious institutions, including the Center Theatre Group, while in the process of completion. The results are fascinating watching, even if the ending is, at best, a hanging one.

What: The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage” When: through June 4, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, with added $5 performance May 22 Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $39 general, $34 seniors, $20 students Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.com

Music as Brotherhood: “Bars and Measures” at Boston Court

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There are several layers to Idris Goodwin’s play “Bars and Measures”, just opened at The Theatre at Boston Court as part of a “rolling premiere.” Several themes relating to identity, race, faith and cultural attributes float together in a kind of orchestrated wrangle between brothers over what truth is, what art is, what justice is, and what limits family loyalty might have. The play proves intense, and leaves one with a lot to chew over, but its spare direction by Weyni Mengesha lets all these topics shine with a specific clarity.

The tale centers on two brothers. One, a respected jazz artist and convert to Islam currently in jail awaiting trial, and the other a Juilliard graduate more comfortable with classical music, trying to learn his brother’s music both as a form of family bonding, and as a way to support what he believes to be his brother’s innocence.

One is learning the struggles, indignities, and hardenings of incarceration. One is stretching out of a comfort zone and internalized prejudices to attempt understanding the world through his brother’s lens. Both, being African-American, face internal debates about where and with whom they fit.

Matt Orduna gives Bilal, the brother in prison, a kind of elemental dignity which carries him through the torments and prejudices of imprisonment and gives gravitas to the character’s composing life. Donathan Walters finds an interestingly middle stance in Eric, as a conventional guy trying to balance a satisfyingly conventional life with the edginess of both his brother and the jazz music he is learning to both appreciate and perform.

As both the FBI agent who set Bilal up, and a series of correctional officers, Brian Abraham vibrates with a strength and confidence which make him dominatingly convincing. Zehra Fazal creates, in the opera singer Eric shares his musical world with, yet another balance – this time of honoring cultural traditions yet embracing the wider modern world.

Still, the focus is on the two brothers and the gut-level expression of the jazz which both works to unite them, and to explain their elemental differences. In this – the scatting which becomes its own communication – Orduna and Walters excel. It becomes one of the elements which deepens the storyline far beyond the actual plot. Indeed, the play’s layered nature, and what it has to say about manipulation, prejudice and trust must be unpacked over time.

But then that is what one expects of plays at Boston Court: works which take thought even after the show is over.

What: “Bars and Measures” When: through October 23, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Satudays, 2 p.m. Sundays, plus 8 p.m. Wednesday performance on October 19, and two understudy performances 8 p.m. October 3 and 5 Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave (at the intersection with Boston Ct) in Pasadena How Much: $30 general, $25 senior, $20 student Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.com ;

The Immigrant Experience Lives in Boston Court’s “The Golden Dragon”

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Central to the intricately layered storyline of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s “The Golden Dragon”, is the Aesop’s fable of the ant and a cricket. This is not surprising when the observer begins to realize that this entire play is in many ways the story of a human ant hill: a single building of several stories, anchored by the eponymous, miscellaneously Asian restaurant at its base. It is the story of busy workers, the fragility born of immigrant status, and the particular privilege those who do not spend their days looking over their shoulders bring with them into this almost closed society.

Still, in the production now at The Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena, the first thing one becomes fascinated by amid the complexity of intertwining tales is the show’s staging. Five actors of disparate ages, genders and ethnicities play all the many people who populate the play, often doing so completely against type and sliding in and out of story and personhood with the efficiency and élan of a beautiful machine. The production proves remarkable to watch from that aspect alone, though director Michael Michetti has utilized this talented group to create one engrossing individual after another.

The most obviously interesting of the many, many portraits take the actors beyond gender. Justin H. Min creates the fragile “cricket” – a young woman held captive by a manipulative old man played by Ann Colby Stocking. Joseph Kamal and Theo Perkins are female flight attendants whose dinner at the restaurant comes up short when one of them makes an odd find in her soup. Susana Batras creates an immigrant Chinese kitchen boy whose rotting tooth becomes a problem for the entire kitchen staff of The Golden Dragon to deal with. In each case, and more, their portraits are intricately convincing – truly an homage to the power of live theater’s ability to let the imagination work.

The individual tales, of the cricket, the lascivious drunken shopkeeper, the adoring couple torn apart by an unexpected pregnancy, the old man dreaming of things he cannot have, the flight attendants’ meaningless relationships, and always that kitchen staff trying to figure out what to do with the howling young man, slide in and out of focus, shifting in waves back and forth. It is as if a classic play like “La Ronde,” in which individual characters link one separate scene to the next until there is a circle, had been set on its ear, with all the scenes sliding together and playing almost at once.

And again, what makes this work is the quality and timing of the cast and the impressive rhythm of Michetti’s direction. As the play, which is performed without intermission, flows over the audience more is absorbed than can be processed right away. That is also a tradition of Boston Court: plays which must be pondered afterward.

Also worth a nod is the Brechtian, non-representational set, made almost entirely of painter’s scaffolding, by Sara Ryung Clement. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s simple costuming lets actors shift from character to character with ease. Annie Yee’s choreography, particularly when coupled with the nearly choreographic synchrony of more base movements, enhances the storytelling, while John Nobori’s sound design gives an important cultural texture to the piece.

Go and see “The Golden Dragon”. There are levels of empathy which will stay with you long after you leave, though some of it proves disturbing the more one thinks about it. And there is an amazingly smooth, well articulated piece of performance to revel in. All this courtesy of the particular theatrical magic only live theater can make you believe.

What: “The Golden Dragon” When: Through June 5, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, with understudy performances 8 p.m. May 16 and 18, and $5 night 8 p.m. June 1 Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. (at Boston Court) in Pasadena How Much: $35 general, $30 senior, $20 student Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.com

Loss, Resilience and Disaster: “Colony Collapse” Engrosses at Boston Court

Chris Connor and Riley Neldam as the distanced father and son in "Colony Collapse" at The Theatre at Boston Court [photos: Ed Krieger]

Chris Connor and Riley Neldam as the distanced father and son in “Colony Collapse” at The Theatre at Boston Court [photos: Ed Krieger]

For many who have been paying attention, the concept of “colony collapse” is a part of the larger concerns over a poisoned environment and the threat to humanity this involves. The term is the common name for the disappearance of honey bees, particularly in North America. Originally thought to be a disease, now seen as a consequence of certain pesticides, the condition causes bees to venture from the hive only to become disoriented and fail to return. As the hive shrinks, it gradually reaches an unsustainable level: too few bees in too bad a shape to sustain the queen or her larvae. The hive dies out.

Take this as metaphor in the aptly named “Colony Collapse” by Stefanie Zadravec, now in a world premiere production at The Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena. The play examines manifestations of tragedy and loss, and the human resilience which often kicks in, at least eventually, unless the people it happens to are too weakened for that to occur. Beautifully constructed to juxtapose several stories of parents whose children have disappeared against the tale of a teen whose parents are unable to parent him, it proves intense and absorbing from start to finish.

Director Jessica Kubzansky knows how to use the Boston Court performance space particularly well, dressing her stage with the characters in ways which fill the space, and using sound as irritant and underscore to the desperate power of the play itself.

Initially one meets the parents of the disappeared: Jully Lee as a mother who let go of her young son’s hand just a moment only to find him gone, Adrian Gonzalez as the young father who gave in and let his son walk home from school only to have him never arrive. Julie Cardia is the frustrated mom who tossed her rebellious teenaged daughter from home only to have her vanish, with Tracey A. Leigh and Leandro Cano as loving parents of an autistic boy who disappeared out an open door when his mom fell asleep on the couch. Each creates a carefully crafted portrait, as each character makes an individual passionate plea for understanding, wrestles with horrific guilt, and slowly, specifically, finds a way to carry the burden of loss.

Balanced against these, the play concentrates on the family of Jason, whose divorced, meth-addicted mother, Nicky, finds him useful only as a crutch, and whose father, Mark, recently released from a prison sentence associated with Jason’s actions and, along with his second wife Julia, finally clean and sober, wants nothing to do with him at all. Tired of trying to keep his mother from starving or selling herself, Jason pushes his way into his father’s world. This includes a large orchard Mark has taken on but knows nothing about sustaining, try though he might.

Emily James' ghost Girl ties the play's themes together.

Emily James’ ghost Girl ties the play’s themes together.

Floating through these scenarios is the ghost of a girl who disappeared, who becomes the play’s narrator and occasional philosophical touchpoint. Through her we examine the insignificance if individual lives, even as we watch the affect each individual in the play has on their own immediate worlds.

Emily James proves fascinating as The Girl, the ghost stringing elements of the play together from a wide variety of physical vantage points. Paula Christensen offers up a not-quite-stereotypical tweaker as Jason’s mother, edgy and strung out, ready to pontificate on motherhood even while totally incapable of living that role. Sally Hughes creates the fragile Julia, for whom addiction was a matter of escape from a life she can see beginning to fray. Chris Conner’s balance of detachment and sentiment in Mark creates a very slippery support for either Julia or Jason to hang on to.

Yet what truly captures the attention above all else has to be Riley Neldam’s Jason. Strong but hurting, lost but searching for definition, he manages to create in the character a sense of adulthood that the supposed adults cannot reach, while still carrying the vulnerability of a teenaged boy. Still, what is to become of someone so connected to adults incapable of connection?

Engrossing though it is, “Colony Collapse” is not easy watching on any level. The sense of loss which permeates the play is quite palpable, and very intense. Yet, though it concentrates on a family which cannot help but destruct, the periphery balances this with a strong sense of, if not redemption, at least the possibility of moving forward. In a world where these kinds of intimate losses happen virtually every day, perhaps that is what one must cling to, if only to avoid the collapse of one’s own colony.

What: “Colony Collapse” When: Through March 20, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, with an added performance Wednesday, March 16 Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $35 general, $30 senior (62+), $20 student Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.BostonCourt.org

“Seven Spots on the Sun”: Ethics and Mysticism Fascinate at Boston Court

Ethical struggles, such as whether to help wounded combatants others want to watch die, mark

Ethical struggles, such as whether to help wounded combatants others want to watch die, mark “Seven Spots on the Sun” at The Theatre at Boston Court.

In the traditions of much of the developing world, the mystical and the actual live in a particular balance with each other as the authors of truth. With this concept as backing, Martin Zimmerman’s play “Seven Spots on the Sun” examines how a people copes with the particular atrocities of modern civil war, balancing harsh reality and that underlying, deepening spiritual element.

Now at The Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena, “Seven Spots” proves riveting and wrenching as it explores the motives and consequences of the terrifying conflicts, which have afflicted, in this case, an unnamed Latin American country. Here, as in the real El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru or Colombia, villages change hands multiple times, with each side punishing those who aided the other one, and brutal tests of fear which harm mostly those whose compassion drives them.

The play begins on the day the post-war government declares an amnesty for all those who committed atrocities during the war, and how a small village – especially its healer and its priest – react. This plays against the flashback story of the young miner from a nearby town who, wanting the best for the wife he loves deeply, leaves the mine to enter the army just before the civil war begins. Gradually we become aware of how this young soldier’s life is twisted, and how that twist connects to the emotional upheaval in a village where amnesty means no satisfaction for great loss.

As the determined healer, Jonathan Nichols offers up a man with little time for mystery as he maintains what sanity of life he can in a village often overrun. When it a miracle does descend upon him, its connection to great pain is evident in every move. As his wife and co-worker, Murielle Zuker offers up a confident idealist unready to be dashed on the rocks of brutality. Angelo McCabe completes the trio as the local priest whose fear finally gets the better of him, proving him only a man.

Christopher Rivas radiates a kind of organic manliness as the miner turned soldier, and the decay in that confident joyfulness says much about the nature of war and the meaning of the play. As his happy, then concerned, then frightened wife, Natalie Camunas offers up the terror and frustration of a woman caught in the middle – needing something from those who were victimized by the good man she married who has devolved into a terrorizer.

Director Michael John Garces keeps the story moving, and works the mystical and symbolic elements of this tale into the otherwise straightforward story with such precision that even the most outrageous elements of magic feel logical in the moment. The terror is realized in such a way as to create gut-level reactions from the audience while still leaving much to an imagination already seeded with awful possibilities.

“Seven Spots on the Sun,” a reference to that cosmic condition which disrupts radio waves the way the war disrupts and blurs human lives, is performed without an intermission. It’s easy to understand why, as the intensity created in the first few minutes must continue to build to make the show’s overarching points about humanity and the limits to both forgiveness and empathy. Come ready to read between the lines and follow the symbols, and enjoy an intellectual feast even as you will squirm in your chair at how recognizable it all is.

What: “Seven Spots on the Sun” When: Through November 1, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $34, with senior, student and group discounts available Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.BostonCourt.org

Fascinating “Shiv” at Boston Court: What Imperialism Costs the Heart

Monika Jolly and Dileep Rao as Shiv and her father, in Aditi Brennan Kapil's

Monika Jolly and Dileep Rao as Shiv and her father, in Aditi Brennan Kapil’s “Shiv” at The Theatre @ Boston Court

At a time when the entire concept of white privilege is under a microscope, it becomes especially fascinating to explore the larger concepts of European/American imperialism and what that process has done to the world we now live in. Most particularly, what has been lost as several centuries of the practice interfered with the natural self-development of the peoples of the earth.

Which proves foundational to Aditi Brennan Kapil’s “Shiv,” now receiving its west coast premiere run at The Theatre at Boston Court. As the best introspective plays often are, this tale can be approached on a number of levels, but at its core it examines what is left behind when foundational cultures clash with dominant ones. It does so through the engaging story of one immigrant family from India.

Shiv is the daughter of a small-town Indian family. Her father was, back home, a celebrated anti-imperialist modernist poet. He raises his daughter on the stories of his upbringing in the home gifted to his family by local royalty. There his competitive nature had full sway, and his pride of place brought him to prominence.

Now he has come to the US, supposedly to give his daughter advantages in the western-controlled world, but at great cost to himself. His poetry does not translate well, and his daughter is left adrift, as both her father’s representative in this new world and the reminder of what he himself cannot do within it. All of this is seen through Shiv’s eyes, as she searches for the missing pieces of her father’s American narrative at the site of what were once a private publisher’s symposiums of Indian writers.

Which, of course, is only one level of the play. Symbolism proves key, and the mystical elements of Indian belief and culture mesh with motifs of light and power in ways which make the show a full-body experience. Unpacking these deeper elements may take a while, but the work is worth it.

Monika Jolly is Shiv, shifting back and forth from youth to adulthood with a seamlessness which underscores the central themes of the character’s struggles to balance the two parts of her life. Dileep Rao, as her father, manages to offer up external charm and internal desperation in the same breath, radiating hope toward his daughter at the same time as his own is evaporating in favor of cultural submission.

As the operator of the country estate once a center for supposed cultural awareness, James Wagner displays an openness which allows Shiv to move forward in her own explorations of her cultural identities. In balance to this, Leonard Kelly-Young speaks as the gut-wrenchingly absolute imperialist, deciding with western eyes what to value of eastern art, as the professor who owns this estate, where Shiv works and searches for answers to her father’s mysteries. Indeed, it is Kelly-Young’s powerful albeit brief performance which underlines all the ugliness toward which the play has built.

Under the direction of Emilie Beck, the production’s beautifully stark feel allows the many layered elements of this piece to coalesce. Stephanie Kerley-Schwartz’s imaginative setting allows Shiv’s character to float in her own imagination, tied only when she wants to be to the physical realities of the world around her. Tom Ontiveros’ integral video design fills the imagination and underscores the ethereal in the piece.

By the end one cannot help but wonder, as the characters do, what India or any other nation absorbed by western empire would have been like if left to mature on its own. Indeed one symbol near the end sticks in the mind as a visual of the disconnect between east and west: a snow globe holding a miniature Taj Mahal. As Shiv notes, why would there ever be snow on the Taj Mahal?

This, as with all things in this play, says many things at once. Yet, all of it proves engrossing from start to finish, and definitely worth the work of pondering after the fact. Go see “Shiv,” then take it home with you and let it steep awhile. The results will disturb the overly-confortable, but will voice what the modern world – American and otherwise – needs to hear.

What: “Shiv” When: Through August 9, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $34 general, $29 seniors (62+)/students Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.com

Beckett’s Woman: “Happy Days” at The Theatre @ Boston Court

This play has been extended through October 19. Marc Cardiff will step in for Tony Shalhoub during the extension.

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When students study Samuel Beckett, it is almost always by reading or seeing “Waiting for Godot,” undoubtedly the playwright’s definitive masterpiece. As such, people go into a production of “Godot” with a certain knowing – a certain expectation of what may be found there. In other words, when it comes to Beckett, the potential for real surprise – something he was initially known for – comes from his less-produced, or at least less well known work.

At The Theatre at Boston Court, the playwright’s “Happy Days” offers just such satisfying newness. Of course, it isn’t new, and yet though it was first produced in 1961, yes it is. Inspired by Cyril Cusack’s wife, Maureen, who suggested after “Krapp’s Last Tape” that Beckett “write a happy play,” it approaches much which still applies in the disaster which seems to be our modern society.

The play which rises from that request by Maureen Cusack bases itself in utter despair, which the playwright felt only a woman would be able to face with dauntless cheerfulness. Whether or not this is a good thing, or any definition of happy, is open to interpretation.

From the start, we meet Winnie – a woman already sunk to past the waist in the earth of a desolate place. Her husband Willie is in a cave somewhere behind her. He speaks little and usually somewhat unintelligibly. Still, knowing he is there gives this rather overbearing woman the strength to talk herself into buoyance, even as her situation becomes more and more starkly bleak.

Of course, that’s only the superficial view. The toughness and indefatigable coping skills of a woman in the face of apocalypse, the constant stream of repetitive babble even when sleeplessness and hopelessness have given it all a grim undertone, say many complex things. There is much about social standards, marriage, and the elemental nature of womanhood, all to be gleaned as the evening matures.

Winnie is often considered one of the great woman’s roles of the modern theater, and at the Boston Court, Brooke Adams is very much up to the task. In what is essentially a two-act monologue, done while unable to move anything but one’s arms and face, Adams takes us from cheery optimism, determinedly gauging each day as a “very happy day” to all that comes after: the gradual loss of faith and of actual, as opposed to imagined, hope as she sinks further and further into an overwhelming reality. Happy Days 2

Willie, an often thankless part made comical and quizzical by Tony Shalhoub (Adams’ husband), makes an important counterpoint to Winnie. In his grunts and monosyllabic commentary, Willie refuses to live up to expectations, or to answer when spoken to, even appears at times to have disappeared or died. Though the part proves minimal in scripted utterings, it is Willie who creates the question with which the play ends – a question even Beckett determinedly claimed he did not know the answer to.

Director Andrei Belgrader balances the grim, unforgiving quality of set and situation with just enough humor to keep the darkness from descending too soon. He also establishes a pace which makes room for the performers’ art and interpretation without stretching the necessarily repetitive script to a point where the audience disengages. This is a major element in this production’s success.

Takeshi Kata’s diorama-like set falls well into Beckett’s vision for the scene at hand. Melanie Watnick’s costumes evoke the barren, the bleached, the dirty and the worn. The thing looks right, which becomes particularly important in a play where setting is almost a character.

In short, this play – like many others, new and old, produced at Boston Court – asks an audience to absorb, discuss and ponder. “Happy Days” may be listed as a classic, but not one commonly done. It proves most certainly to be a tour de force for Adams, and worth watching if only for that. For all these reasons, go see this “Happy Days”. Then feel free to ask yourself and everyone around you what the answer is to that ending question. You may learn much in the process.

What: “Happy Days” When: Through October 12, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $34, with student and senior discounts Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.BostonCourt.org

Fashion is Life: “Everything You Touch” at The Theatre@Boston Court

Tyler Pierce and Esme Pierce evoke the world of high fashion in "Everything You Touch" at Boston Court

Tyler Pierce and Esme Maher evoke the world of high fashion in “Everything You Touch” at Boston Court

Some of the best things I’ve seen at the Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena have been subtle psychological introspections – puzzles only solved as you delve into the storyteller’s world. This is often greatly enhanced by the daring with which Boston Court’s directors and designers approach the telling of the tale: the understated symbolism, and little hints of the power behind what the words are saying, etc.

Case in point would be “Everything You Touch” by Sheila Callaghan, a coproduction with the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater which was nurtured into being by the Boston Court, and is receiving its world premiere run there. And who better to direct something steeped in the above-mentioned subtleties than co-Artistic Director Jessica Kubzansky. The results have proved so fascinating the run of the play has been extended until at least May 18.

“Everything You Touch” is grounded in the world of fashion. It centers on parallel plots. One is set in the 70s, following a self absorbed fashion designer’s gradual shift from outlandish and groundbreaking to popular and trendy – and the women who inspired the two versions of himself. The other, seated in the now, seems a polar opposite: a dumpy and disheveled young computer whiz whose wrestles with the demons of her own self-loathing escalate as she must travel from New York to Little Rock and her dying, judgmental mother.

Arthur Keng and Kirsten Vangsness as counterpoint to the fashionable world in "Everything You Touch"

Arthur Keng and Kirsten Vangsness as counterpoint to the fashionable world in “Everything You Touch”

At least, that’s where it all begins. From there the two stories weave in and around each other, creating some questions, answering others, blurring lines in time and space.

To add to the surreal, the set dressing and props consist rather heavily of live fashion models. They stride in, angle themselves, and become computer screens, telephones, gum dispensers, and all matter of props. What isn’t made of humans – a chair is the most startling example – is made of mannequin parts. In short, fashion consumes the set just as it powers the plot.

If this sounds convoluted, it’s not. Both Kubzansky’s direction and a spirited, richly expressive cast easily pull the audience into the puzzle.

Tyler Pierce is Victor, a womanizing fashion designer with a struggling boutique and a reputation for both callousness and an edgy, out-there creativity. Kate Maher gives her own sharpness to the former model who has become Victor’s artistic muse and occasional sexual partner. Amy French is the comparatively cornfed prize winner whose visit and discourse on comfiness strikes a surprising bell with Victor, initiating a sea change in all his relationships.

Kirsten Vangsness is Jess, the frumpy computer geek used to one-night stands and a life behind a computer screen. Her somewhat sarcastic sense of self leads her to meaningless relationships, all the while ignoring her work partner, Lewis (Arthur Keng), whose devotion she cannot see. Now she hears her mother is dying, and scoops up a guy – essentially an elongated pick-up – to go with her on the journey. Or does she?

The achingly white set by Francois-Pierre Couture, ingeniously crafted to allow for quick changes and a focus on the colorful clothing, Jenny Foldenauer’s startling, varied and very telling costumes, Adam Flemming’s evocative projections, John Zalewski’s original music, and those weird and wonderful props by John Burton all combine to guide the audience through the characters’ interior monologues and human conflicts. In the end, what appears just to be a conversation on self-image has much more to say about the human spirit and the nature of both success and art.

“Everything You Touch” delivers that remarkable combination of satisfaction and conversation starter that makes for one kind of excellent theater. And since shows that make you think are The Theatre at Boston Court’s bread and butter, it is no surprise that the show is being held over. The special efforts it took to make this world premiere happen certainly prove to be worth it.

What: “Everything You Touch” When: Through May 18, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $34 general, $29 senior/student Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.com

Such Things As Dreams are Made Of: “Se Llama Cristina” at Boston Court:

The opening of "Se Llama Cristina" at Boston Court

The opening of “Se Llama Cristina” at Boston Court

It’s a dream. What first strikes the observer in “Se Llama Cristina,” the new play by Octavio Solis, is its dreamlike quality, paired with the sense of recognition: two rather desperate but well-intentioned people with grotesque backgrounds find themselves on the verge of parenthood. Their fear is the universal one, played out in a surreal environment – at once a history and a continuing anxiety dream.

Now at The Theatre at Boston Court as a part of a rolling world premiere, “Se Llama Christina” becomes a duet between a man (Justin Huen) and a woman (Paula Christensen). They run to each other and away from grim lives they are sure make them unsuitable as a couple, as parents, and sometimes as people. On this somewhat metaphysical journey they are pursued by Abel (Christian Rummel), the essence of male domination haunting the woman, and a girl (Amielynn Abellera) embodying the child this couple’s continued dysfunction might grow into.

Yet saying this tells little about the constant time-shifts, the empty, yet evocative space, or the surreal symbolism which make this much larger than simply story-telling. With direction bordering on choreography, a set composed almost entirely of a surprisingly mobile florescent rectangle, the audience’s imaginary forces become elemental to linking the visual snapshots and intertwining bits of reality and that otherworld in which the characters often float.

The performances hook all of this together. Huen and Christensen are onstage the entire length of this play, which is performed without intermission. Rummel proves suitably intimidating, radiating the machismo necessary to be a tangible threat. Abellera’s youthfully naieve character underscores the fear present whenever someone – particularly someone with a difficult background – looks toward raising a child who might end up the same way.

Robert Castro’s intellectual direction, which keeps this intentionally choppy piece intelligible, is the other great key to success. Street artist Gronk supplies the bare and stark setting, while Victoria Petrovich creates costumes both “ordinary” and defining.

“Se Llama Cristina” references the one character who, though the subject, is not on the stage: the baby they fear and anticipate. Performing this play in one piece, without a break, keeps the flow of the dream going. And it doesn’t stop when you leave. Like any fine work of art, it will keep on offering sudden realizations for weeks to come.

What: “Se Llama Cristina” When: Through February 23, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays with an added performance on Wednesday, Feb. 19 Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $34, with student, senior and group discounts available Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.BostonCourt.org

The Sum of its Parts: “Alcestis” at The Theatre at Boston Court sheds modern light on classic Greek drama

Kalean Ung and Jeremy Shranko lead the cast of Nancy Keystone's "Alcestis" at The Theatre @ Boston Court

Kalean Ung and Jeremy Shranko lead the cast of Nancy Keystone’s “Alcestis” at The Theatre @ Boston Court

One of the delights of living in this particular theatrical epoch comes from the willingness of modern audiences to accept the concept of playing with antiquity. Thanks to everyone from Orson Welles to The Royal Shakespeare Company, resetting and remolding Shakespeare is now more the rule than the exception. Go back even further, and the great Greek tragedies have been played around with just as much, if not more. Indeed, their survival has come from the timelessness of their themes. Twisting these universalities to reflect our own times is not that big a stretch.

Which brings one to Nancy Keystone’s “Alcestis,” which uses the Euripides play of the same name as foundation for a remarkable journey. Now receiving its world premiere as a co-production of The Theatre at Boston Court and Critical Mass Performance Group, “Alcestis” takes an ancient and deeply mythical story as a way to examine the nature of sacrifice, of mourning, and of relationship. The result is sometimes very funny, often deeply insightful, and occasionally rippingly visceral. In other words, it is a theatrical delight.

In the Alcestis myth, the young king and former Argonaut Admetus, aided by his friend Apollo, wins the hand of Alcestis and takes her home to be his queen. Though many of Greece’s deities are ranged against Admetus and his bride for a myriad of reasons, Apollo continues to come to his aid. This, most especially, when the gods decree that the young king’s life shall end quite prematurely. Apollo gets the fates drunk, and talks them into agreeing to take someone else in Admetus’ place should someone else volunteer. In the end, after everyone else has declined, it is Alcestis who agrees. From there, the plot thickens further, and Keystone’s play really begins.

So, what would it be like to volunteer to die for your husband, especially if it doesn’t happen right away? And what must it be like to have someone you love taken in your place? And how would that resonate in a modern marriage? This the core of Keystone’s artful storytelling, which uses dance, music and symbolic gesture, along with considerable humor and occasional side references to the Euripides original to tell a compellingly poetic tale.

Jeremy Shranko creates a center for the piece as a likable if not particularly empathetic Admetus. Watching him deal with the often poundingly superficial rituals of modern grieving, or the symbolic weight of guilt and loss, creates fertile foundations for the work of everyone else in the cast. Likewise, Kalean Ung’s practical, loving Alcestis, balancing realities against the romantic ideal, gives a lightness to the play’s beginning which sets the tone for what will follow.

The Muses, led by Ray Ford (l.) explain the nature of life in "Alcestis"

The Muses, led by Ray Ford (l.) explain the nature of life in “Alcestis”


Everyone in the small, extremely able ensemble cast adds to the mix in interesting and deeply connected ways. Russell Edge’s Death is intrusive but not really scary. Lorne Green’s statuesque Apollo is as much Admetus’ buddy as some supreme being. Danielle Jones’ nursemaid voices the ache of nurturing, while Valerie Spencer typifies the self-absorption of extreme wealth. Yet, even in such an intensely ensemble production one cannot deny the standout performances of Nick Santoro as the over-obvious, rather dim Herakles (or Hercules), complete with his own outrageious send-up of Metal band music, and Ray Ford, whose sardonic servant and most vocal muse together provide the glue which holds this episodic tale together.

Playwright Keystone also directs, which is sometimes a dangerous thing but here provides a single, cohesive vision. Indeed, the sheer simplicity of the setting makes one listen, not only to the words, but to the movements which often speak louder than words – far more able to illustrate, say, the toll of grief than talking ever could. Even when it comes to words, she blends mediums, adding to the mix of five translations of the Greek version with snips from everyone from Plato to Rilke to Woolf on Euripides’ original themes. It makes for a very rich, satisfying stew.

“Alcestis” is funny, wrenching, inventive and deeply felt. It runs for about an hour and a half without an intermission, but leaves you startled at the end by the passage of time. In its juxtaposition of the extraordinary with the mundane, it offers more then just a comment on the struggle between fate and the powerful, but rather a chance to reexamine the intimate relationships of one’s own life. Food for thought, indeed. But then, much fodder for discussion is the natural outcome of a sojourn at Boston Court.

What: “Alcestis” When: Through July 28, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena (at the corner of Mentor and Boston Court) How Much: $34, with discounts for seniors, students and groups Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.org

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