Monday, June 15, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: THREE by Emily Kaye Lazzaro

On The Arts Fuse, I review Emily Kaye Lazzaro's Three currently running at the Boston Center for the Arts. The play, directed by A. Nora Long, and presented by Boston Public Works, is, sadly, a huge disappointment. For several months, I have championed the mission of Boston Public Works, a theater company centered around a collective of playwrights producing their own work (see my 2014 interview with four of BPW's member playwrights), however, with Three I saw what may be the weakest script I have ever seen receive a full, professional production. Prior experience is that similarly bad scripts never get further than a staged reading or student production, so even though I had seen my share of bad plays this season, nothing prepared me for the cheap plot devices, characters who are no more than one-dimensional stereotypes, and pretensions to social relevance.

In truth, Three is not much of a play at all, but an anthology of “very special episodes” (possibly season finales) of an unproduced television or web series. Many young playwrights seem to be going this route. It may be too soon to tell if this trend is good for television or the web, but it’s certainly not good for the stage, even though Lazzaro has a good ear for turning the vernacular of her generation into pseudo-naturalistic dialogue.

[...]Lazzaro makes an effort to label Three a feminist work, but she sets the bar pretty low – this is feminism as brand identity with little political or social commitment. Yes, the play is about three women and was written by a woman, but the three characters are passive. They never take an active role – they don’t even take a reactive role; life just happens to them. Maybe there are people who would be shocked to learn that there are women who enjoy both alcohol and penises, but I doubt they attend fringe theater productions. Moreover, I know of 20-something women in my immediate social circles who are quirkier, wittier, funnier, more socially aware, and who lead more interesting lives than the females in Three Perhaps Gen-Xers and baby boomers will come away thinking that they have learned something about the millennial generation, but it is like going to an Olive Garden restaurant for authentic Italian cuisine. There are excellent contemporary plays written by women, featuring all-female, or mostly female, casts – I’ve reviewed some – but Three isn’t one of them.

I dubbed Three a "vanity project" -- a label to which fellow playwright, Andy Boyd objected:

Read the full review on The Arts Fuse and decide for yourself if I made my case.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: Actors' Shakespeare Project's "Henry VI, Part 2"

On The Arts Fuse, I review Actors' Shakespeare Project's production of Henry VI, Part 2, which despite being the origin of the oft-quoted line, "The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers", is rarely performed. This presentation, currently running at The Modern Theatre at Suffolk University through June 7, is masterfully directed by Tina Packer. I was particularly taken with the character of Jack Cade, the villain of Act IV, played by Allyn Burrows:

However far he may depart from his ‘real life’ inspiration, Cade (Burrows) is unprecedented amongst Shakespeare’s characters: a truly lethal clown – through much of Act IV he and his followers ravage England, lopping off the heads of one nobleman after another to great comic effect. He even has his own convoluted claim on the crown, reciting his questionable pedigree — a parody of York’s own claims — even as he strikes the figure of a lord of misrule, espousing an incoherent philosophy that is alternately a parody of anarchy and communism (Shakespeare’s distrusted the hoi polloi as a political class). Behind the mayhem (York’s and Cade’s) is a thirst for absolute dictatorship – the famous line about killing all the lawyers (an ambiguous rallying cry for both tyrant and anarchist) comes from one of Cade’s followers. The historical Cade might have been less of a clown, but the theatrical one comes off as an unacknowledged forerunner of Alfred Jarry’s famous Père Ubu (as well as Mister Punch and Fredrico García Lorca’s Don Cristóbal) He is also a prescient parody of the political extremists and tyrants who have shaped the past century for the worse. Burrows’ portrayal of an ignorant but bloodthirsty imp of perversity is a rip-roaring joy.

I also suggest that perhaps the current pop-culture zeitgeist makes the time ripe for this particular play to be revived more often:

Given the current pop-culture climate in which audiences thrill to stories of cynical realpolitik handily trumping the virtues and idealism of public service (as in the case of popular series such as House of Cards, and Game of Thrones) – the zeitgeist is ripe for Henry VI, Part 2 to be revived – and perhaps, with the taste for long form storytelling so prevalent, Parts 1 & 3 may deserve some love as well. Nonetheless, Part 2 is sufficiently self-contained, beginning with the marriage of Henry and Margaret and ending with the First Battle of St. Albans and start of the Wars of the Roses. Familiarity with the oft-staged Henry V and Richard III provide more than adequate background on what happened before and what happens next.

Read the full review on The Arts Fuse!