2017 Crabbies for Outstanding Theater

Play: “Fingersmith” ART
Musical: “The Scottsboro Boys” SpeakEasy Stage

Lead Actress, Play: Paula Plum “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, Lyric Stage

Lead Actor, Play: Tony Travostino & Nick Bucchianeri “Lines in the Sand”, Cotuit Center for the Arts

Lead Actress, Musical: Jennifer Ellis “Bridges of Madison County”, SpeakEasy Stage

Lead Actor, Musical: De'Lon Grant “Scottsboro Boys”, SpeakEasy Stage

Ensemble Acting, Play: “Mrs. Packard” Bridge Rep

Ensemble Acting, Musical: “The Scottsboro Boys” SpeakEasy Stage

Supporting Actress, Play: Erica Spyres “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” , Lyric Stage

Supporting Actor, Play: Matthew Zahnzinger “Mrs. Packard”, Bridge Rep

Supporting Actress, Musical: Bobbie Steinbach “Sunday in the Park”, Huntington Theatre

Supporting Actor, Musical: Bransen Gates “Barnum”, Moonbox Productions

Musical Direction: Matthew Stern “Bridges of Madison County” , SpeakEasy Stage

Choreography: Rachel Bertone “Barnum”, Moonbox Productions

Scenic Design: Derek McLane “Sunday in the Park” , Huntington Theatre

Costume Design: Marianne Bertone “Barnum” , Moonbox Productions

Lighting Design: John Malinowski “Barnum” , Moonbox Productions

Sound Design: Rene Talbot “Machine de Cirque”, ArtsEmerson

Career Achievements: Nancy E. Carroll


Odyssey Opera's "Patience": Hey Willow Waly O!

Paul Max Tipton & Sarah Heaton in "Patience"
(photo: Kathy Wittman)

Farce is perhaps the most difficult form of theater to pull off, and so easy to overdo. It's a credit to Odyssey Opera, especially with regard to the choice of Stage Director Frank Kelley and Choreographer Larry Sousa, that they have produced such a faultless winner with Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride, with Music by Sir W. S. Gilbert and Libretto by Sir Arthur Sullivan. This is the the sixth of a dozen operettas by the duo. First performed in 1881, it pits Victorian straight-laced ideals against the passions and indulgences of the 1870's Aesthetic Movement. Thus it makes perfect sense, as all Gilbert and Sullivan works of course do, with their inherent logic intact, for Odyssey Opera to offer this as the final piece in its season of (Oscar) Wilde Nights. Be forewarned, however, that this is no trifle of the “easy listening” sort; as with much of Gilbert and Sullivan, there is a lot of complicated music to be sung and played (at least at one point requiring contrapuntal music at alarmingly differing tempi, rather like listening to two LPs, one at 78 rpm and the other at 45 rpm). One thing that's not particularly complicated is the plot.

All of the village maidens, especially Lady Jane (mezzo-soprano Janna Baty) and her cohorts Lady Angela (mezzo-soprano Jaime Korkos), Lady Ella (Sara Womble) and Lady Saphir (Heather Gallagher), are rapturously in love with local handsome poet Reginald Bunthorne (baritone Aaron Engebreth), who only has eyes for the simple milkmaid Patience (soprano Sara Heaton). In fact, he actually hates poetry. Patience in turn is in love with her childhood sweetheart, a real poet, Archibald Grosvenor (bass-baritone Paul Max Tipton), but feels she cannot marry him as he is too perfect. Meanwhile the serious and decidedly non-poetic Heavy Dragoon Guards, led by Colonel Calverley (baritone James Maddalena), Lt. The Duke of Dunstable (tenor Steven Goldstein) and Major Murgatroyd (Sumner Thompson), hoping to marry those rapturous maidens, find themselves with no likely prospects. In any case, since this is Gilbert and Sullivan after all, in the end (almost) everyone is suitably coupled. Only Bunthorne himself remains single, and so he must live and die, contented with a tulip or a lily.

Janna Baty in "Patience"
(photo: Kathy Wittman)
There is magnificent choral singing throughout, and some real standout solos, duets and even a lovely sextet. It was great fun to see and hear Engebreth and Tipton out-fop one another, Heaton portray the perfect G & S ingenue, and Baty attack her cello, all four with their singing gloriously intact. It was also a treat to have longtime local favorite James Maddalena sail through his two patter songs. The Scenic Design by Dan Daly, Costume Design by Amanda Mujica and Lighting Design by Christopher Ostrom were impeccable from the first tableau vivant to the finale. This Odyssey Opera production, performed in English with fang in cheek vivacity and with the orchestra wonderfully led by Conductor Gil Rose, is a perfect capstone for its current season. So do not thou hesitate; go and get thee Wilde. Or, as Archibald might put it, Hey willow waly O!


Huntington's "Ripcord": Walking the Prank

Nancy E. Carroll & Annie Golden in "Ripcord"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

One of the stranger current play titles is that of Ripcord by David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole, Good People), the final seasonal production of Huntington Theatre Company. It refers to the ripcord that must be pulled in order for a parachute to open from its pack. Unusual though it may at first seem, the title comes to be understood as appropriate for this comedy, which is cause for rejoicing, or at the very least, skydiving. As Directed by Jessica Stone (fondly remembered in her previous life as an actress in such works as Huntington's She Loves Me ), even down to the synchronized blackouts, this one's a keeper. As the playwright notes, this play is a return to his earlier style of writing, which Stone describes as an “absurdist sense of comic sensibility that cloaks themes of real pain and loss and need...(where) comedy is used like a gateway drug...to explore our darker impulses safely.” It's zany, wacky, wildly inventive, and hysterically funny.

The setting is Bristol Place Senior Living Facility, somewhere in New Jersey in 2015, in the twin room about to be occupied by two supremely antithetical humans. Abby Binder (Nancy E. Carroll), who, if you looked up the meaning of the word “cantankerous” in the dictionary, would have her photo there, suddenly finds herself a roomie to Marilyn Dunne (Annie Golden), a ceaselessly chipper antagonist for the more volatile Abby. It must first be noted that female actors of a certain vintage are too often relegated to the sidelines long before their sell-by dates. Thankfully, regional theater tends to recognize treasures without overtly enshrining them; such is the case with the amazingly versatile Carroll and Golden. It's not long before their two characters propose a bet, namely that Abby will make Marilyn feel anger before Marilyn can make Abby feel fear. Ah, surely it's never been truer that we ought to be careful what we bet on. The playwright, as in some of his previous plays, knows full well that humor is a coping mechanism, and, like life itself, it shouldn't be a surprise that underneath it there's pain and hurt and desperate need...and, especially in some cultures, ethnic survival methods. As the saying goes, “what happens next” is logical and quite easily anticipated, but even if you see it all coming, the specifics won't fail to amuse and even amaze.

Annie Golden, Ugo Chukwu & Nancy E. Carroll in "Ripcord"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

There are set-ups and pay-offs galore: a troubled figure from Abby's past, Benjamin (Eric T. Miller); appearances by Marilyn's daughter Colleen (Laura Latreille) and son-in-law Derek (Richard Prioleau); a helpful attendant and part-time actor Scotty (Ugo Chukwu); and some comfortable familiarity with situation comedy touches of a forced mismatch. As the playwright has stated elsewhere, by the end of the play, the two leads actually find they need one another, and have changed each other, becoming different people, in a setting that all too often ends up being the last stop in the lives of its occupants. Where Abby had been a dictatorial misanthropic queen bee and Marilyn an impossibly sunny drone, their interactions have devolved into increasingly cruel and personal pranks, mirroring how each had become more disengaged from the world in differing responses to their being so hurt, wounded and damaged by life. How the playwright deftly manages to balance the bitter and the sweet is a marvel. He's aided by the ingenious Scenic Design by Tobin Ost (realistic and absurdist), Costume Design by Gabriel Barry (even to Marilyn's schmattes), Lighting Design by David Weiner, Sound and Original Music by Mark Bennett, Projection Design by Lucy Mackinnon, and a wonderful acting ensemble, led by Carroll and Golden, each of whom is in her prime.

Full disclosure: this critic worked as a nurse in several assisted living communities over the past few decades, and has to admit.....it's all true. Well, except maybe the skydiving. And, by the way, while you should be careful what you bet on, you can surely bet on this one.