Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kids' stuff: Jack Neary meets Walt's Alice

Shmoozing in the hallway outside the Actors Studio after a performance of Leslie Pasternack’s “Clean Room,” we saw a poster for a performance of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” at Byfield Community Arts Center. Not exactly our cup of tea. Not by a longshot. Not with all that singing and dancing. But the director’s name caught my eye: Jack Neary. Hmmm, could it be the same guy? He’s one of those other kind of triple-threaters, a Mr. Everything of theater. An actor whose work ranges from the ‘80s, back to the fabled Theater of Newburyport days, when he performed in “The Cherry Orchard,” to his big-screen appearance last year in “The Town,” the Ben Affleck film where he plays Arnold Washton, one of the guys guarding the stash of concessions cash collected at Fenway Park after a four-game series with the Yankees suck. (Sorry, those two words always stick together.) A playwright whose production list is frustratingly long and impossible to condense, but includes well-known works like “First Night” and “Jerry Finnegan’s Sister,” both of which have had runs in the Port. A director with over 50 shows under his belt. A guy who has directed dozens of shows around New England, including productions at Smith College's New Century Theatre and at the Summer Theatre at Mount Holyoke College, both of which he founded. So could it be him? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Score one for the teacher

It all started last year when Penny Lazarus saw the old piano off to the side of the aisle of the Screening Room, sparking an image of the old days of silent films, when every theater had a pianist who would give context to the films they would accompany. She didn’t know that the piano was more of a showpiece than a working instrument or that the last major workout the instrument had seen was about a decade before, when Tiger Saw used it at the debut of the Port indie music collective’s original soundtrack for “Nosferatu,” the eerie F.W. Munaru silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” tale. She also didn’t realize that, for whatever reason —  accessibility of the films thanks to format changes, the hip factor of putting a new spin on something classic and familiar  — writing original scores for silent and out-of-copyright films had become a cottage industry, whether it’s Alloy Orchestra’s take on “Metropolis,” the Fritz Lang film or the Devil Music Ensemble’s score for “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” or, taking it to the extreme, punk pioneers Pere Ubu’s treatment of “Man with the X-Ray Eyes,” the kitchy horror film that, strictly speaking, was not a silent film until the band stripped its soundtrack to make way for its score. But Lazarus, wife of Port playwright Joshua Faigen who has been teaching piano in the city since moving here from Pittsburgh about a decade ago, did recognize an opportunity in that piano at the Screening Room — a way to “keep it interesting” for her students.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Schooled! Ivy-tinged Tingle back in Port

Yeah, yeah, he’s heard it before: Always knew you were smart. The work proves that. Always knew you were a smart ass. The work, a quarter century of mouthing off in public and getting paid for it, proves that too. But now Boston comedian Jimmy Tingle has the sheepskin to prove the former, and we have the video of his Harvard commencement address last summer to prove the latter. Yup, no joke, Jimmy Tingle, a Harvard grad, with a master’s degree in public administration. Which sounds way too boring to be a bit and, again, we have the videotape to prove it. So, dude, what’s up? You gonna be a city administrator somewhere? Now that’s funny. Picture it: Jimmy Tingle standing up at a City Council meeting, giving budget recommendations. Or, wait a second, is he running for office? For real this time? A serious run for the funny man? Not like the comedic bid for the Oval Office documented on 2008’s “Humor for Humanity,” Tingle’s last album. Well, as the old Trickster used to say, let me be perfectly clear about that ... Which, by the way, the comedian is not doing. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Vox Lucens: Latin is not a dead language

Whoever composed that old schoolboy lament about the toxic inevitabilities of the language of Caesar was speaking out of school. That is to say, this guy, whoever this guy happened to be, besides a poor student, was dead wrong. Because, dig it, non latine lingua mortua est ubique, right? At least it seems like it, it seems like there’s been a whole lotta Latin going on lately — fun, fake (at least linguistically) and otherwise. Like Fujit Fiat Vox, a Renaissance-inspired a cappella group who lifted their name from the Vulgate Old Testament, having a little fun with the dead language, transforming let-there-be-light into let-there-be-voices. And Lux, the Port funk band whose name means “light” in Latin. And Primal Polyphony, an a cappella group that dipped its toes into medieval waters during a recent benefit for the Actors Studio. And now, crossing the Rubicon — musically, at least — and within shouting distance of the Ides of March, here comes Vox Lucens.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spot on: Local art, artists in the Spotlight

Personally I’d go with another nickname. "Spotty" sounds, well, a bit sketchy. But nobody asked, so ...  it’s nice to see Port people in the mix for this year’s Spottys — a Spotty being a Spotlight Award, the Seacoast equivalent of Grammy. This year, the Spotty's 16th anniversary, there are four contenders in three categories for the regional competition, with two of them, Tiger Saw and Dan Blakeslee, facing each other for Top Album awards — Blakeslee for “Tatnic Tales” and Tiger Saw for “Nightingales.” Blakeslee also nabbed a nomination for Best Single. Also in the mix, locally, are sculptor Joyce Audy Zarins for her "Potential 3x3," pictured, and Ceia chef Billy Brandolini, or Chef Brando for those in the know, as the region’s top chef. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Coming Clean: Pasternack polishes mask drama

It’s been more than a year since we last saw Brighina, the cheerful but obviously disoriented woman hanging out in the waiting room of a locked ward, trying to suss out the reason she’s there, on the ward, in Leslie Pasternack’s one-woman show “Clean Room,” and a lot has changed since the show ran at the Actors Studio in 2009.  The playwright and actress has gotten lots of feedback about her oddball character and, over the months, has reshaped Brighina — not the words she speaks or her "issues," exactly, but the ways she reveals herself:  her mask, costume, voice and physicality. Says Pasternack, who has a doctorate in theater history from the University of Texas and degree from the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre, these were the issues:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wheel Deal: What's it all about? Who knows?

The best advice for viewing Ron Pullins’ new play is don’t over-think it, just sit back and let it wash over you without getting caught up in the drama about what it’s all “about,” because there’s a lot going on in “Bicycle. Woman,” which gets its first spin around the literary block next week at the North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative. The full-length piece has three competing story lines, three possibilities about what is actually happening: Could be two strangers, a guy and a girl collide while riding bicycles. Or maybe they’re out riding together and grabbed by a couple of rightish thugs who hassle them because they’re obviously pinkos. Or maybe it’s just a guy trying to write a story and a woman who just wants to get him between the sheets. It’s conflates the political and psychological, it’s a medieval miracle play with a taste of commedia dell'arte, where “the ‘reality’ is floating somewhere between the competing story lines,” according to the playwright. He pauses. “You know,” he says. “I’m probably the worst person in the world to tell you what it’s about.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Well seasoned: TITO’s free-for-all at Maudslay

Theater in the Open has always been a cheap date: The first show of a production is free, the rest of the run costs only only eight bucks. Even a seriously thrifty Yankee  — is there any other kind? — can’t complain about that. Well, not too much, anyhow. But this year it gets even better: All of TITO’s “in the open” shows will be free. That’s right, free. The company, which lives and performs at Maudslay State Park, set their ticket-takers adrift on Tuesday,  after announcing its new season, its thirty-second — and if you can’t find something to cheer about this inaugural free season, well, there’s no pleasing you. They’ll be staging another one of those crazy pantos,  a form derived from ancient Italian improvisational shows that features song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick and audience participation. They’ve got one of those happy-happy Stephen Haley shows. No, not Beckett, but almost as upbeat: “The Flies,” Jean Paul Sartre’s take on Elektra, the Greek tragedy. They’ll also, in classic TITO form, dive into those creepy fairy tales we like to torture our kids with — this one an original adaptation of Grimm Brothers stories written by Port playwright, and TITO alumn, Gregory S. Moss, who has been bouncing around from one production of his works to the next. All of this, and more, for free. Which, of course, just begs the question: Edward F. Speck, Are you out of your mind?