JewishBoston.com: A Provocative Collected Stories at the New Rep

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

created at: 2011-10-18The teacher-student relationship is held in such high esteem in Jewish tradition that our sages compare it to that of a parent and child. But as students progress, they can become colleagues and even rivals to their former mentors. This challenging dynamic is at the heart of Collected Stories, the 1997 play by Donald Margulies now playing at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown.

Collected Stories largely succeeds on the strength of its two dynamite performers, Liz Hayes as emerging writer Lisa Morrison and Bobbie Steinbach as her mentor, Ruth Steiner. Steinbach creates a figure who is equal parts Philip Roth and Elaine Stritch; a figure to be reckoned with, surely, but she doesn’t overwhelm the stage. Her measured delivery makes it clear that Ruth is a thinker, sometimes to the point of thinking away her emotions.

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JewishBoston.com: The Legacy of Rent

Originally posted on JewishBoston.com.

The New Repertory Theatre in Watertown has dedicated its 2011-2012 season to the theme of Legacy, so it’s fitting to open the season with the rock musical Rent. One of the longest-running musicals of the post-Phantom generation, the original production closed on Broadway in 2008 after a twelve-year run. It’s been filmed twice and already revived off-Broadway, but the rights for local theater companies to put their own stamp on the show have only recently become available. The story of the show, a retelling of La Boheme set in the West Village of the early 1990s that owes as much to Green Day as it does to Puccini, will forever be wrapped up with the story of its creator. Jonathan Larson, the young composer, lyricist, and writer of Rent, died on the night before Rent played its first performance. The cast dedicated that evening’s performance, and every performance to his memory.

Larson was well aware of the power of legacy present in his show, even not knowing how his own tragic story would infuse the musical’s own story about the legacy of art and relationships with added emotional resonance. From his reliance on an older story to his adherence to (and occasional, purposeful breaking of) the musical theater rules established by his idols and mentors, Larson understood that Rent would not stand alone — in a best-case scenario, it would assume a place in musical theater history. The landmark original production guaranteed that would come true, but productions like the one at the New Rep, testing the waters of whether Rent can succeed with other visions guiding the show, is an important next step.  Continue reading

JewishBoston.com: New Rep’s Cherry Docs: Exploring Our Capacity to Love and Hate

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

Does every person have the capacity to hate?  Does every person have the capacity to love?  These questions are at the heart of Cherry Docs, a provocative play by David Gow on stage at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown.

The play tells the story of Danny Dunkleman (Benjamin Evett), a secular Jew from Toronto whose job as a public defender lands him on the case of Mike Downey (Tim Eliot), a skinhead who has killed a Pakistani man. When we meet both men, they are full of (self-)righteous anger.  Mike is angry at the world for the crummy hand he’s been dealt in life as a poor, uneducated white man who can’t hold down a job. Danny is angry that such men as Mike exist, although his commitment to liberal ideals of justice for all keep him on the case.

created at: 2010-10-25Despite having every reason to hate each other, Danny sees potential in Mike’s intelligence and challenges him to rise to his own defense.  Danny in turn respects that Mike treats him as a human being and not simply an embodiment of skinhead ideology. While the men certainly don’t become friends, Evett and Eliot portray a nuanced courtship of sorts that makes their mutual seduction totally believable.

Confined to one small, claustrophobic set (designed by Jenna McFarland Lord), director David R. Gammons’ staging emphasizes the ways in which hatred (and the prison system) can rob individuals of their humanity.  Eliot stalks his cell like a caged lion, and in a climactic moment, Evett takes on the role of a lion tamer at the expense of a folding chair.

For all its simmer — and there’s plenty — the play lost me at the climactic moment.  I won’t spoil it for you, but when Mike, having come to the brink of renouncing his skinhead philosophies, collapses back into a rant about the Zionist Occupation Government, Danny reacts in a way that, to this Jew, felt totally improbable.

Despite my inability to accept the pivotal moment in the show, I found a lot to like in the production.  Most importantly, a week after seeing it, I’m still thinking about the questions it raises. In a world where issues of discrimination and racially-based recriminations still make headlines every week, it’s important to step back and ask ourselves where we fit in the equation of love and hate. Cherry Docs reminds us that we may be surprised to find the answer.

Cherry Docs is playing at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Charles  Mosesian Theater, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA 02472, through November 7. Tickets are Full Price $28-$58. Seniors $7 off full price. Student rush $14. Call: 617-923-8487 or buy online at www.newrep.org

There are free post-performance discussions following the evening performance on October 30th and matinée on October 31st.

Photo by Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures.

Talkin’ Broadway: Into The Woods

Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Aimee Doherty (Cinderella), Miguel Cervantes (Jack), Evan Harrington (Baker) and Veronica J. Kuehn (Little Red Ridinghood)

The production is the final show of the 20th anniversary season. It’s also the company’s last hurrah in its current theatre space before moving to a brand-new, larger, state-of-the-art theatre. And the cast is a Who’s Who of Boston theatre. So to say expectations were high for the New Repertory Theatre’s production of Into The Woods might be something of an understatement. Happily, director Rick Lombardo has crafted a crowd-pleaser that’s both delightful and provocative.

Originally intended to open the company’s new theatre, Into The Woodsis a sprawling show – with seventeen cast members and an eight-piece band. Squeezing it all into the company’s tiny space is a feat all in itself. Lombardo and choreographer Kelli Edwards have compensated by utilizing every inch of space in the theatre, bringing characters into the aisles and even above the stage. The result is a more intimate Woods, where the characters’ realism trumps their fantastical elements, making the story of communal responsibility and parental obligations resonate even stronger.

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