Talkin’ Broadway: Ears on a Beatle

Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Michael Kaye and Steven Barkhimer

Sometimes, plays come along at exactly the right time to strike a resonance with current events, adding an extra layer of meaning to the lives of the characters portrayed on stage. Other plays feel as though the author started with the question “How can I write about situation x?” and never quite come to life beyond their topicality. Unfortunately, Mark St. Germain’s Ears on a Beatle, now enjoying its Boston premiere at the Lyric Stage, falls into the latter category.

The one-act play focuses on two FBI agents, veteran Howard Ballantine (Steven Barkhimer) and newcomer Daniel McClure (Michael Kaye), assigned to keep tabs on John Lennon in the 1970s. Although based in fact – the actual FBI files on Lennon are reproduced both in the lobby and the program book to drive this home – the story of the two agents is entirely St. Germain’s creation, and it shows. The entire first half of the play feels like a series of sketches from a beginners’ playwriting class on exposition. Each scene quickly reveals necessary information about Ballantine’s background or McClure’s increasing entanglements with the people he’s supposedly studying, before moving on to the next scene and the next plot point. One of the simplest rules of writing for the theatre is “show, don’t tell,” yet most of the first half of the play consists of the characters telling each other about things that happened between scenes with other characters we never meet. Still, director Paula Ramsdell keeps the proceedings light, making the most of Barkhimer’s comic timing and deadpan delivery to divert our attention from the plodding plotting.  Continue reading

Talkin’ Broadway: Company

Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Most theatre companies are considered bold and edgy when they occasionally stray from the endless succession of Shakespeare and Ibsen revivals to venture into the untested waters of new works. How ironic it is that The SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston’s company so known for “staging Boston premieres” that the phrase is part of their logo, has chosen to inaugurate their new home in the Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts (say that one five times fast!) by making the bold and edgy choice of a revival! Of course, Sondheim and Furth’s Company certainly isn’t seen as often as Hamlet, but the obvious question everyone is asking is … why?

In the show’s program booklet, director Paul Daigneault suggests the time is right for Company, both because the new theatre offers physical resources necessary for the show that were previously unavailable to the SpeakEasy, and because the definition of marriage is such a hot topic in Massachusetts these days. One can’t argue with the former reason – this is certainly the largest production I’ve seen by the SpeakEasy, with a two-story set, a nine piece band, and an ensemble cast of fourteen, at times all on stage together. But does Company, which had its world premiere in Boston in 1970, really have anything to say about what constitutes a marriage in 2004?

Daigneault tries his best to say it does. Taking advantage of the minimal updating to the script and orchestrations from the 1995 Broadway and West End revivals of the show, Daigneault has chosen to set Companyfirmly in the present. Eric Levenson’s set is a slick, modern structure of chrome and light, juxtaposing a sleek, modern sensibility with a decidedly retro bachelor pad feel. While the disco-style light-up floor panels may hark back to Company‘s groovy origins, the costumes, designed by Gail Astrid Buckley and ranging from the wives bedecked in current shopping mall chic to a Marta (Sara Chase) dressed like a Britney Spears acolyte, making it clear that this Company takes place now. The actors gamely try to pass off dialogue referring to themselves “getting soused” and being “hopelessly square” as current slang, and they almost succeed. But the mere portability of the show from the 1970s to today does not instantly make it relevant to the politics of today.  Continue reading