Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tooher: Not that same old, same old

In "Perfect Sameness of Our Days," the new play by Michael Tooher, two tortured souls, each a victim of warfare in his own way, meet in an abandoned lot, metaphorically, a  psychic space where their internal worlds meet and, ultimately, clash. With  the play, Tooher, artistic director for the 2014 Maine Playwrights Festival and founding member of Crowbait Club and its infamous Theatre Death Match, has crystallized epic issues into an intimate and personal confrontation between two very real and recognizable types. TheNorth Shore Readers Theatre Collaborative  will present  the show at 10 a.m. March 11 at The Actors Studio of Newburyport. 

“Perfect Sameness” was a Play Lab play in the 2014 Great Plains Theatre Conference. It won the 2012 Hidden River Arts Playwriting Award and had a reading at the 2013 Shubin Festival in Philadelphia. It will be presented at the Tannery studio in a readers theater format, a play-development series that mounts no-frills productions in which works-in-progress get their first realistic spin around the stage and, after which, the audience dispenses instant criticism. Performing will be Charles Card, Joe Dominguez, Ann Dooley, Mike Kimball, Mike Pingree, Creston Rice and Gretchen Stone. Marc Clopton directs. The reading will be followed by a feedback session with the playwright. 

Tooher, who spent the first 25 years of his working life as a special-effects technician (pyro) for stage, TV and film. He lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife and three outrageously spoiled cats.

WHAT: The North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative presents “The Perfect Sameness of Our Days,” a play by Michael Tooher
WHERE: The Actors Studio of Newburyport, 50 Water St., Mill #1, Suite #5, Newburyport
WHEN: 10 a.m., Saturday, March 11
TICKETS:  $10 suggested donation. Reservations
RESERVATIONS:; 978-465-1229.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wait a second. That doesn't sound like ...cha cha cha

Marian and Jimmy McPartland: Not a TV theme to be found between
the album covers. Plenty of cha chas. Not theirs, but, you know, 

When I go to record stores, my goal is to get in and out without leaving any cash behind. Even when I really, really want something. Like “1984,” that David Peel and the Lower East Side album that has been taunting me from the bins of the Record Exchange for a decade or more, and which I swear I will buy if it the price ever drops below $35. The trick is to have steel nerves, knowing you already have all the music anyone could possibly want in a lifetime too short to listen to it all, cha cha cha, all while remaining unconcerned by the  possibility that you might be letting something brilliant get away, like that bootleg of alternative takes from the Rolling Stones' “Their Satanic Majesties Request” sessions I spotted — and walked away from — at Mystery Train. Or was that a twisted fever dream straight out of Hunter S. Thompson? Yet I persist in holding onto the dream of landing that major score, like when I found the Plastic People of the Universe album “Pašijové hry velikononi /Passion Play” tucked away in a box under the bins at Toonerville Trolley for far less than the previously mentioned “1984.”

But not all my family is as ... um, cheap. Which is how we ended up with “Jimmy and Marion McPartland Play TV Themes,” an album we bought for a buck, a price that almost brings a smile to a parsimonious Yankee’s face — almost — at Welfare Records, one of our favorite haunts for looking at, if not actually  buying records, before what has become an interminable renovation at the Haverhill storefront. It’s an album we bought, took home, but never actually possessed, because we never really purchased it. Cha cha cha. We had a musical pig in a poke, whatever that means, a vinyl wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or something. What we actually had, hidden inside the sleeve of tragically misspelled “Jimmy and Marion” was “Noro Morales Plays Cha Cha Chas,” a way-out-of-print Pickwick International Records release from two years later than the album we thought we’d bought (that would be 1962), loaded with classic chas — hot-cha-cha cha-chas, as Jimmy Durante might have said around the same time. Famous chas like “Ja-Da,” “Don’t Be That Way” and “Darktown Strutters Ball.” Others like  “Once In A While,” “Maybe,” “Three O’Clock In The Morning,” “Pagan Love Song,” “Paradise,” “Peg O’ My Heart” and “Candy.”

Cha cha cheesy? 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Still time for a, sadly, always-relevant 'Terezin'

The Actors Studio of Newburyport will stage Anna Smulowitz's
award-winning "Terezin, Children of the Holocaust" Saturday
It's a small theater and the time is running out, but you might be able to slip in, just under the wire, for a new production of "Terezin, Children of the Holocaust," the award-winning play by Anna Smulowitz being staged Saturday at The Actors Studio of Newburyport. That's one-night only, folks. 

This story is set in a “showcase” prison camp, Terezin, known as Theresienstadt in German, in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The camp was designed to show the occasionally meddlesome international community that the Nazis weren't being too mean to the Jews. It tells the story of six children and the truths they face in the two days leading up to their deportation to the death camp at Auschwitz, Poland. In heartbreakingly childlike ways, these characters reveal the resilience of the human spirit and the psychological barbarism of the Nazi war machine — and, sadly, resonates in new ways, going beyond ”just” never again and tapping into new hot-button issues like homophobia, xenophobia — any phobia in the Trump years — even good old-school schoolyard and big league political bullying. There will be a talkback after the performance — and plenty to talk about.

This is the 46th anniversary of the original production, which won the 1984 American Children's Television Award and has been performed at Terezin for the child survivors and their families, and at Auschwitz as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of its liberation. Translated into German and Spanish, "Terezin" has been performed in high schools in Central America and has toured all over New England high schools. It also grabbed five stars at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and enjoyed an Off-Broadway run. This performance is a fundraiser for an upcoming tour to Cuba.

The show will be staged at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at The Actors Studio of Newburyport, 50 Water St., The Tannery, Mill #1, Suite #5, Newburyport. Tickets are $18 or $16 for seniors and students. There's more info at or call 978-465-1229.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What's brewing? You can ask Dave Drouin

Ever wonder what’s going on with The Brew since the summer, when the boys   closed the books on the band — forever, irrevocably — ending a decade of creative work that took the Amesbury-born, Newburyport-based quartet from free-form psychedelic jam band to road-hardened festival-headliners who shared the stage with their musical heroes, people like the Allman Brothers, Levon Helm and Bruce Hornsby, becoming a creative force capable of creating “Triptych,” a massively ambitious three-disc box set? 

Yup, us too. Well, next week still-jonesing Brewsters will have a chance to put the question to someone who should know: Dave Drouin, the band’s flashy guitarist, seen here in this marvelous Joey Walker photograph on the left, from the band's last lives show. He'll be playing a solo show of classic rock and modern covers from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the 17 State Street Café, which is located at … um, 17 State Street, Newburyport. Try not to pester him all night for Brew songs. That’s our job.  For more information on the 17, call 978-948-3456.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blues Party laying down the Laws on Sunday

Willie J. Laws, is kicking it at the Grog
this week. Kendal J. Bush photography 
Ladies and gentlemen, "The Last Prophet of the Funky Texas Blues," Willie J. Laws, is in the house after long and adventurous journey from the Gulf Coast of Texas to Massachusetts, becoming, along the way, one of the Bay State’s best bluesy treasures. And what a ride it’s been. Laws has toured the world with blues legend Phillip Walker and opened shows for the likes of Koko Taylor, Etta James, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Warren Zevon, Albert King and James Cotton. When the guitarist lays down the Laws with Parker Wheeler and the gang at the Grog on Sunday, he’ll be playing stuff from critically acclaimed CDs, the latest of which is "Running Out of Lies," and, of course, kicking out the jams with an all-star ensemble that includes his regular bassist, Malcolm Stuckey, and drummer Osi Braithwaite, as well as Peter Wolf Band keyboardist Tom West and two, count them, two saxophonists: Amadee Castenell and Henley Douglas Jr. Awesome.  It all gets under way at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Grog, 13 Middle St., Newburyport. There’s a $7 cover. And the guitarist, by the way, will return the favor next month, when he taps Parker Wheeler and Castenell as Willie J. Laws Band sidemen for Flashback, a benefit dance, party, auction and fashion show for the Lynn Shelter Association, at 7 p.m. March 22 at R&B Consignments, 270 Lynnway, Lynn. For more info on that show, check out

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Birdsongs: Flock of finches rocking at Peabody Essex

French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's exhibit has birds interacting 
with humans — and creating music — at The Peabody Essex Museum. 
Wicked Local Photo / J.C. Lockwood 
Three things, at least, that everyone should take away from "FreePort [007]: from here to ear," the new exhibit by acclaimed French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot at the Peabody Essex Museum: First, you have never heard bird songs like this – never. And probably never will again. Second, words cannot even begin to distill the oddly intriguing sonic and visual world of the piece, the museum’s first major foray into contemporary art under The Present Tense initiative. It has to be experienced. Of course, since we’re in the word business, for better or word, we’ll will give it a go. And, third, this jaw-dropping exhibit, on display through April 13, is simply the coolest thing this side of MassMoCA, the contemporary art museum known for big, courageous and, occasionally, odd exhibits. So, then, what’s "from here to ear" all about? Well, imagine the sounds of a cat walking across a piano keyboard. Now imagine the Ramones or AC/DC covering the resulting "song," the wobbly, tentative tune replaced by big, crashing power chords.

Read more here.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Freddie II: A 'Great' new play by Port's Joshua Faigen

Don't get tripped up by the title, or by the picture on the poster. “Frederick the Great,” the play, is not about Frederick the Great, the fun-loving 18th-century Prussian warlord, er, king and patron of the arts who wrote more than 100 sonatas for flute and a couple of symphonies, including some to glorify his conquests, like when he and his BFFs to the east sliced up Poland that time. Frederick the Second?” Joshua Faigen, the Merrimac Street playwright laughs. “No, no, no,” he says. “It’s not that Frederick the Great!” Okay, but before you laugh too hard, Mr. Playwright, it seemed like it might fit. This, after all, is a Joshua Faigen play, so you don't know what he’s going to throw at you, but a lot of the time they have something to do with music, like those cranky downstairs neighbors in “Zoltan,” the playwright’s last production, who are sick and tired of listening to the music of the Hungarian composer Kodaly from upstairs. Or, “Book of Snow,” which features three piano pieces written by a young Richard Strauss, with the music firing up the emotional tenor of the piece, and, in fact, actually adding something to it, like a character — in the same way as the playwright built his ironically named “A Very Simple Play” around Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbundlertanzes,” a glorious piece by a fabulously insane composer written to defend the Romantic movement against the classical thugs Schumann imagined lurking in the wings.

Friday, January 17, 2014

SSU's 'Kafka in Tel Aviv' in theater throwdown

Submitted for your approval, a story so strange – Kafkaesque, if you will – that it becomes art, or could, in the right hands, and, since the story involves old Franz himself, focusing on the legal and moral ownership of work that he insisted be burned when he checked out, well, that’s one more delicious dimension of irony, of absurdity on an already strange, Byzantine story. Imagine, the papers, the literary legacy of one of the world’s most celebrated writers landing in the hands of a "cat lady" in Tel Aviv, once a secretary and lover of Kafka confidant Max Brod, now an old woman living with between 40 and 100 cats at any given time, who is cashing in, selling the work for hundreds of thousands of dollars, without a thought of scholarship, of legacy, who won’t let anyone see the work – all while the governments of Israel and Germany are locked in a furious legal battle, almost as odd as that faced by Josef K., over who owns these priceless lost works – Israel because Kafka was a Jewish writer, Germany because, while he lived his whole life in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, because he wrote in German.

Yes, a complex story raising some interesting questions, like who, ultimately, owns a work of art and whether society has a legal or moral right to snatch it out of someone’s hands, however it got there. A strange story, even before Salem State University theater professor Peter Sampieri, who calls himself "an armchair Kafka fanatic," put his own spin on the story, adding a character, Nina Stern, an American blogger obsessed by Kafka, who travels from the bright lights of the Big Apple to what is described as "the shadowy streets of Tel Aviv," to see the papers — and a collection of puppets who read fresh English translations of fragments and the lesser-known works by Mr. Metamorphosis in what becomes the play "Kafka in Tel Aviv."

Read more here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dave Mason's Traffic-jamming at the Blue Ocean

Let’s start by harshing your buzz, get it outta the way, right outta the box:  No, there’s no full-fledged Traffic reunion in the works. That's not what “Dave Mason's Traffic Jam” is all about. Not that Mason, a founding member (and one of two surviving members) of the iconic '60s band, would be against it. In fact, the guitarist, who has played with everybody from the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac to Hendrix and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends — the “Friends” at the time included Eric Clapton — and has had a strong solo career, has been pushing for a reunion for years. “For me, personally, I think it would be great. I think a lot of people would love to see it, but I don’t think it will ever happen.”
Ever? What's the problem?

“As I tell everyone who asks me, “ he says, “you’re asking the wrong guy.” The “right” guy, of course, is fellow founder Steve Winwood — and he's not talking.

Traffic Jam, which pulls into the Blue Ocean Music Hall on Jan. 18, has Mason ripping through the Northeast during a particularly bone-chilling winter. “How smart am I,” he says, laughing, during a telephone interview from his cozy Cali home.  The show is a Winwood-less celebration of the band, of the early sound, featuring hits and deep album cuts from 1967’s “Mr. Fantasy” and 1968’s “Traffic” albums, plus new material and classic Mason music.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Port jazz sessions swing into new location

Port drummer Phil McGowan, swinging again. Courtesy photo
They say that when the Big Guy closes a door, he opens a window – or something like that. And that certainly seems to what’s going on with jazz in Newburyport.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we were saddened to hear that the Wednesday night jazz sessions at Ten Center hit a sour note, that they were history. Then, just a couple of week later, we find out that Phil McGowan, who organized the event, lining up some of the area’s hottest players for his midweek rambles, had landed on his music feet on the other side of Market Square, at Andiamo's, 24 Winter St. Local jazz will still swing, maybe, on a different day. Thursday. If  folks make it clear this is something they want. That is to say, if they get their seats into the seats.