BA50 Theatre Reviews: “The Tempest” and “Into The Woods”

Here are Joyce’s Choices for theatre not to miss in Boston– but get your tickets quickly– these productions won’t be here long!

THE TEMPEST

050814tempest02From the minute you enter the American Repertory Theater mainstage in Cambridge, MA there’s a tingle in the air, like the one that Shakespeare’s Prospero must have felt when years before, exiled by his usurping brother, he and his infant daughter Miranda washed up shipwrecked on the shores of a magical island. This production of Shakespeare’s mystical THE TEMPEST by way of the Smith Center for the performing arts in Nevada, involves a spellbinding amalgamation of talents directed by Aaron Posner and world famous magician Teller, of Penn & Teller fame.

As we take our seats, we see before us a marvelous towering timbered set, carnival lights atop an old wrecked vessel, when suddenly a pale sprite at the edge of the stage begins to move, pitching cards at the audience. This is Ariel, the embodiment of Prospero’s magic, and before the evening is over, he will perform before our very eyes, extraordinary sleight of hand, and we will have tangible evidence of the intangible powers Shakespeare unleashes in his mysterious romance.

The tale involves tempests within tempests, beginning with a storm, and then another –washing Prospero’s enemies ashore. Now they are at the mercy of Prospero’s swirling powers; he seeks revenge, but there’s magic in his method. Much like Hamlet who at first mounts “a play” wherein (he’ll) catch the conscience of the king,” Prospero doesn’t plot a bloody revenge– instead he conjures scenarios and illusions to scare them out of their wits– and into the truth.

I gasped at the illusions, floating bodies, and disappearing cards; was repelled and attracted by Prospero’s slave– the hideous hairy Caliban– here enacted by a pair of actors, diabolically intertwined by the choreography of modern dance company Pilobolus. The live orchestra “Rough Magic” plays the eerie, bluesy ballads of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan.  There’s something of the freak show in the air– Tom Nelis’s Prospero physically recalls the real life WILLARD THE WIZARD a lanky, bearded, turn of the century traveling trickster.

Though Nelis and company as actors are not as compelling as the magical effects they serve, the spell is cast. And stepping back we see the ultimate conjurer Shakespeare’s deep magic at work. As the creator of scenarios that transform and illuminate, Shakespeare and his tempest of marvels, here made flesh by some of the best enchanters of our time– somehow remain utterly, mesmerizingly mysterious.  This production has whipped up a timeless tempest of revenge, redemption, romance, framed by the bittersweet journey of a daughter’s coming of age and the father who must finally let her go. DO NOT MISS this at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge Mass. Through June 15!

INTO THE WOODS

cMSH_6932Musicals take the stage in Boston this spring–and it’s hit and miss. HIT:INTO THE WOODS, Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant, bittersweet musical romp through the thicket of life, and Lyric Stage Company of Boston has mounted a marvelous production directed by Spiro Veloudos which has just been extended through June 29th! We’re talking ingenious sets (including a silvery branched wood), evocative lighting, costumes/makeup somehow whimsical with touch of the forlorn, all of it propelled by an excellent live orchestra, and a cast of Boston’s finest musical performers, beginning with Will McGarrahan’s wise and wily narrator. It’s the kind of part he plays to perfection; he knows a secret you don’t and can’t wait to see the look on your faces when you do!

Sondheim and James Lapine (score and book) have a lot more on their minds than the familiar fairy tales in ACT I. ACT II takes us back into those woods and looks hard at what happens “after” the “after” in ”Happily ever…”! These woods are haunted with old hurts and reversals, betrayal, murder, sadness, pain, and diabolical moral dilemmas– all made powerfully funny, tender, and wise by the audacity of the questions asked and the profundity of the answers provided: witches can be right, giants can be good.” Sometimes it’s not black OR white–not “or” but “and.” Never were a pair of conjunctions put to better use.

Or a cast: Nortie winner Erica Spyres’ pristine voice and sweet face make for a disarming Cinderella. Maritza Bostic’s cape-wearing, knife-wielding wolf killer Red Riding Hood is feisty and funny. Gregory Balla is a pleasingly doltish, clear-voiced “Jack” of Beanstalk fame, John Ambrosino’s Baker broke my heart in Act II’s anguished “No More.”  The Baker’s wife, the gorgeous Lisa Yuen is a splendid actress with a voice like a clarion call. Maureen Keiller’s goofy/cruel stepmother cracked me up, and Aimee Doherty works her sassy witch to a frenzy. Only the Princes left me wanting– they need more swagger and sway.

Sondheim’s labyrinthine rhymes (“raiding my arugula and ripping up the “rampion,” my ”champion”!) don’t stop at clever. His heart-achingly beautiful “No One Is Alone” is a melody and lyric to live by; this production brought me to tears for all the right reasons.

 

Joyce Kulhawik

Joyce Kulhawik

Joyce Kulhawik is an Emmy Award-Winning arts and entertainment critic (CBS-Boston 1981-2008), Arts Advocate, Motivational Speaker, and 3X Cancer survivor. Kulhawik is the President of the Boston Theater Critics Association, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and Boston Online Film Critics Association. She has covered local and national events from Boston and Broadway to Hollywood, reporting live from The Oscars,The Emmys, and The Grammys. Nationally, Kulhawik has co-hosted the syndicated movie-review show "Hot Ticket" with Leonard Maltin and was a continuing co-host on “Roger Ebert & The Movies.” Joyce also Moonwalks and Yodels. Additional reviews can be found on her website JoycesChoices.com. 

  1 comment for “BA50 Theatre Reviews: “The Tempest” and “Into The Woods”

  1. Marlene Clayton
    May 29, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Thank you for the 2 great reviews. Have purchased tickets for “Into The Woods and will now try for tickets for ART. Thank you again.

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