Wipeout Run Race Recap

And it’s finally here, my Wipeout Run Boston 5K Race Recap!

My honey and I ran the Wipeout Run because we love adventure racing and themed 5Ks. While every race has a place in our hearts, the ones with a special purpose or theme are definitely a bit more fun. We walked into this knowing that it was just going to be a nice afternoon on the course and not really expecting a hardcore running experience.

We ran in the 3PM wave. Despite the GIANT crowd of people there, we were able to get

Finish Line Jump Shot

Finish Line Jump Shot

our bibs and check in without much fuss. We checked a bag with the standard towels, extra clothes, and flip-flops, and went to wait on line for the start line. The line to the start chute was HUGE. We actually started waiting around 2:15, which I think is the only way we were running on time. I know that others who ran the race didn’t hit the course until two or three hours after their start-time. Yikes. Word to the wise: show up early, and get in line well before your time. If you wait until your sticker time, you’ll be waiting a while.

The line was in the hot sun, which wasn’t pleasant, but eventually we made our way to the start chute. The emcee who was hosting there was awesome and they played some pretty great upbeat music. It wasn’t long before we were off! (…extra props because they somehow managed to play our song just as we were hitting the start line… love when that happens!)

The first couple straight-aways were long-ish for a 5K obstacle run. They also went from flat pavement to technical gravely dirt/big rock path; not great for those with ankle problems. We were some of the few running most of the way (albeit slowly) but we took our time on those rocky paths because who wants to roll an ankle on a course like this? The first obstacle was the “Smash Wall”; a four-foot or a six-foot wall to climb over (you got to choose your height). Being Spartans, this wasn’t a big deal for us especially since they provided a step-up and a platform to step off onto. Basically you just had to step on the two-by-four, hoist yourself over, then lower down about three feet to the platform. No brainer!

After maybe a .3 mile jog, we hit the “Big Balls”. This was kind of an inflatable bouncy castle with three large red balls. You were supposed to climb up onto a platform, then leap from ball to ball to the other side. After watching the people in line ahead of me go, I recognized that maybe 1% of racers actually achieve this while everyone else wipes out spectacularly. This was the only obstacle that I felt had a serious safety hazard; it was just far too easy to hurt yourself while hurling yourself from ball to ball and coming down hard from a reasonable height (even onto an inflatable mat). Sure enough, both myself and my partner managed to do a little damage on this (even taking it easy). He found a hole in the obstacle with his foot and came down hard on pavement (though thankfully not hard enough to hurt himself, just hard enough to need a moment), and I went face first into ball number two thus cracking my back on the way down. We took it easy and grabbed some water from the nearby water station just to shake it off.

Next up were the “Tumble Tubes”; basically a water slide with an inner tube down an inflatable ramp. You grabbed your tube, climbed up, then slid down. Despite my fear of heights, this was insanely fun. The speed was just right to feel the rush but not so fast that I was worried about hurting myself. We were both laughing pretty hard at the bottom; score!

We hit the “Wrecking Balls” feeling pretty great about life. For this obstacle, everyone was required to put on a life vest (the water in the pool was about shoulder high for me; deep enough to create a safe crash zone should you get swept). Runners had to race down an inflatable balance beam being pursued by two giant red inflatable balls that were on spinning strings. I managed to nimbly dart my way across without getting tossed in the pool; honey took a dive when his ankle buckled on him. It’s best not to fight this one; it’s way safer to go in the pool than try to get back up.

After this was “The Drop” another water-slide style slide. We climbed up then slid down. It was awesome.

Just around the corner was the “Sky’s the Limit”; essentially a giant bouncy castle that you had to jump across. Let me just take a moment to tell you how much I love bouncy castles. This one was particularly awesome because 1) there were no kids to worry about hurting and 2) it was HUGE. So great!

conquering the sweeper

conquering the sweeper

We hit the “Sweeper” just as the sun started to go behind a few clouds. This obstacle was kind of like the wrecking balls; basically it was run across this inflatable balance beam while a giant inflatable arm tries to sweep you. We both made it across. Let me tell you how much of a badass it makes you feel like to outrun that huge red arm.

The penultimate obstacle was the “Foam of Fury”; basically a giant slip’n’slide. You took a running leap on the inflatable gangplank, then penguined your way to the end while sprayers hit you with water and foam. Honey managed this with admirable speed; I had to kind of scoot along the last five feet or so. Next time: more of a running start.

The final obstacle was “Happy Endings”; a GIANT waterslide. We climbed those stairs feeling like a million bucks, then slid down with huge grins on our faces.

And that was that!

On the whole, this was a very fun event. I wouldn’t call it a 5K because I’m pretty sure it didn’t even hit the 2 mile mark for distance. I didn’t wear my Garmin because, as you can see, there was a fair amount of water on the course and I didn’t want to ruin any of my expensive electronics. From an administrative standpoint, they did a pretty good job of keeping things moving (even with the MASS of people there). From a safety perspective, with the exception of the one “big balls” obstacle, everything else was pretty well managed. There were marshals at every obstacle in case anyone ran into an issue, and

Coming off the final slide

Coming off the final slide

EMS staff was on hand to take care of emergencies. It is an expensive race (even with Groupons, our bibs were in the $65 range), and the swag isn’t great (the t-shirt you get is white cotton and boring, unless you upgrade for extra $$ to a tech t-shirt which was fine but not worth the extra $$; you don’t get a finisher’s medal unless you pay for the finisher’s medal package and race pictures are extra). The day we were running happened to be HOT right up until late afternoon; this worked to our advantage since you will get drenched on the course. Running this on a cold day would be a bit miserable. On that note, make sure you wear quick dry everything because you will get soaked. I was also particularly grateful that I had had the foresight to pack a complete change of clothes in the check bag (down to socks and underwear) since everything I was wearing was drenched by the finish line.

I think this would be an awesome race for everyone to run once with a group of friends. It is a very friendly race, so even your non-runner friends can go with you. On the whole, we’d consider running again if there were a group going; but on our own we probably wouldn’t need to have the experience a second time.

Getting to 5K

My running story began, as so many peoples’ do, with the C25K program.

It’s a good program. Very approachable, and I knew that it had a high success rate. I also knew that the length of the workouts was manageable for me (at around 45 minutes each), and while I preferred to run outside I would also have the option of doing it on the treadmill if I really wanted to. So I took the plunge.

I started with one of the free C25K trainer apps (because, really, who is going to remember ever-changing intervals while feeling like they’re going to die because OMG RUNNING IS HARD?). It was a simple interface with a kind female voice that would tell me to “begin running” or “start walking” and, most importantly, I could use it while playing my music.

Me and my honey rocking our bibs at the 2014 Massachusetts  Zombie Run (no affiliation with the app)

Me and my honey rocking our bibs at the 2014 Massachusetts Zombie Run (no affiliation with the app)

I found that I had a hard time sticking with it. The voice became sterile after a while, and when I had to repeat hard weeks here was no incentive to get to the end of the run other than to say that I “really” did it rather than dragged my sorry behind through it. When I began to loathe starting up the app, I decided it was probably time for a new approach.

So I downloaded the Zombies, Run 5K trainer. Zombies, Run is an awesome game. Part radio play, part video game, the premise is that you turn on an episode every time you go out for a run and you’re in the middle of the zombie holocaust. You’re Runner 5, a runner who lives in a settlement called “Able Township” and is frequently sent out of the base to do supply runs, intel gathering, or recon/rescue missions. The full app has a lot of great features, but I’ll leave those to review for another time.

The 5K trainer is very similar to C25K in that it’s based on an interval running program. You run for a certain amount of time, then you walk for a certain amount of time. Over the course of eight weeks with three workouts per week, your walk intervals get gradually reduced and your run intervals gradually increase until (voila!) you’re doing a 5K.

The only difference with this program is that it includes “free form runs”. These periods of time, I have found, can be really intimidating to beginning runners (I know they were for me when I first started!). These “runs” actually aren’t runs at all; but rather a chance for you to push yourself in the program. While the ultimate goal is to run for the entire free form run, you are welcome to walk and catch your breath for whatever period of these runs you need to. I found that, while I was intimidated to look at how long some of them were going into a run, I often surprised myself at how much of these free form runs I could actually run. Let me tell you how AWESOME it felt to run for 20 minutes straight for the first time!

Zombies, Run 5K trainer also includes an assortment of exercises in between your intervals. Heel-raises, knee-lifts, squats, and even skipping are thrown in to various weeks of the program to strengthen your calves, quads, and glutes (important muscle groups for a runner to develop). These exercises are interspersed with your workout and you are not expected to do them on your own outside of your run. Pretty sweet if you ask me!

The best part is that you get a radio play, and an independent plot arc, to help you along your way. The 5K trainer introduces you to characters who you will meet once you graduate to the full app, but it is also a stand-alone story that feeds into the main plot of Zombies, Run. For those keeping track, the 5K trainer’s story fits in between Season 1 episodes 1 and 2. I found that I grew really attached to Sam and the Doc during my 5K training, and it made running feel much more fun. I actually looked forward to my workouts since I was invested in the story and the characters. At that point in my running training, being invested was a huge component of actually doing my workouts.

In short, I’m not sure I would have gotten my 5K if not for the Zombies, Run 5k trainer. It’s available on the apple store and google play for android; and last I checked ran a whopping $1.99 for the whole 8 week season. Well worth the investment if you ask me, and definitely less expensive than hiring both a personal trainer AND a zombie hoard!

How can you know what you want till you get what you want and you see if you like it?

On Christmas day, me and my vaguely Jewish family* joined the stereotype and, before our large dinner of Chinese food, went to the movies. Of course, being theatre dorks, there really was only one choice of film for the day. My mom wanted to see Meryl Streep, and I was dying to see pretty much everything about Into the Woods, so off we went.

My social media feed has since exploded with folks who saw it and their opinions of it. It’s kind of inevitable when you’re friends with a lot of theatre-types (many of whom are professionals and/or academics). For the most part, people have positive things to say about the experience with the occasional hater mixed in for good measure.

For my part?   Haters gonna hate (…hate hate hate hate), but you just shake it off, Stephen Sondheim.

Into the Woods was a great film adaptation of a tricky complex story. The beauty of the play is in its tightness; the multitudes of tales that become inevitably intertwined by the greater dramatic events of Sondheim’s allegory. Director Rob Marshall and script/screenplay writer James Lapine did a masterful job of cutting the sometimes unwieldy piece into a slim two-hour film version that translated into the film medium with grace. Think about the scope of Into the Woods for a moment: you’ve got giants attacking townships, you’ve got birds pecking out peoples’ eyes, you’ve got cows dying and subsequently coming back to life who need to be milked onstage (and need to be able to eat props), you’ve got a character who needs to be cut open so that two other characters can come out of his belly, you’ve got a magic talking tree that showers gold and jewels and fashion onto a main character, you’ve got beanstalks growing, palaces thriving, balls balling, and markets selling. The show itself is cinematic in scale, and that’s even before you talk about taking it to the movies.

Film allowed Into the Woods to be its delightful self: quirky, magical, spectacular, and (yes) dark.

In the woods, you may encounter a Brussels Sprouts Swashbuckler who looks suspiciously like me.... alright, look, they shouldn't put weapon-shaped food on the shelves if they don't want people to fence with it, okay?

In the woods, you may encounter a Brussels Sprouts Swashbuckler who looks suspiciously like me…. alright, look, they shouldn’t put weapon-shaped food on the shelves if they don’t want people to fence with it, okay?

Now to the comment that the film was inevitably “Disneyfied”. Come on, people, what did you expect? You really think that a film being billed as a “mish-mosh of cute little fairy tales” would confront the reality of Sondheim’s allegory? Yes, “Hello, Little Girl” was a stranger danger song with no consequences beyond being followed home and eaten, and “I Know things Now” didn’t have the connotations of a sexual awakening. The Little Red plotline was kept very literal, at least on the surface. But let’s get real. Little Red Riding Hood is a story that bears the cultural burden of sexuality and has for hundreds of years; I hardly think that one film adaptation can undo all of that history. Besides which, the film doesn’t run from Sondheim’s lyrics. If you listen, even for a moment, the allegory is still there. The wolf still makes Red “feel excited… Well, excited and scared” and she still ponders “though scary is exciting, nice is different than good”. Johnny Depp as the wolf is slimy enough that I was made uncomfortable. I personally think that the sequence worked on a level innocent enough for kids, but dark enough for the adults looking for something more.

I’ve seen a lot of hubbub about the play being feminist or anti-feminist. I would like to remind audiences that this play isn’t new news. It debuted in 1986. If you want to have a discussion about what is/is not “feminist”, you need to go back and take a look at what else was being performed and/or talked about in that year, not this one. Moreover, the capable female characters who drive the plot can hardly be called “damsels”. Yes, Cinderella is a character in the play and yes, she still has a love story with a semi-disinterested Prince Charming who stands for all things machismo…. But this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Again, I refer you to the long history of the Cinderella myth and the myriad of popular culture icons and tales which have been produced about and around it. Sondheim’s Cindy is kind, driven, and determined; all of which are salient qualities which prove invaluable to her as she deftly navigates the woods. Let’s not forget that she leaves her “perfect happy ending” because she finds out that her husband has cheated on her and that she chooses to do this despite the fact that her life will be monumentally more difficult without the Prince’s wealth and power to back her.

Musically, I think the film lends more clarity to Sondheim’s complicated lyrics than any stage play I’ve ever seen. Because of the magic of cinema, every single word of these often tongue-twistered songs was crystalline (I finally understood a portion of the witch’s rap that, despite years of trying, I had not yet gotten… who knew that “rampion” was an edible root?). Because the filmmakers were able to slow down some of the thicker passages, they read much more readily to the waiting ear. If historically you’ve taken issue with Sondheim’s music, I’d strongly recommend giving this film a shot; I think it will clear up a lot for you (and perhaps be able to provide a gateway to some of his other work).

By far my favorite portion of the film was “Agony”. Film as a medium just lends itself much more readily to satiric melodrama than stage. Which is not to say it’s impossible to pull off on the stage, just slightly more difficult. Anyway, I was in stitches the entire number and it’s well worth the price of a ticket to see two handsome princes compete for audience attention amidst a slew of water effects. I was slightly sad they cut the reprise because the number was so good that I wanted them to do it again.

There were, I will say, a surprising number of children in the audience. Let me reiterate that while this film is based on fairy tales, it is not a children’s movie to any extent. It deals with heavy and dark topics (rape, murder, infidelity, body mutilation…), and has big scary man-crushing giants. Your young children will be bored and/or scared, and will spend the entire film kicking the back of someone’s seat while you sit there pondering what, exactly, it was that you thought you were getting into.

Really all I can say about the experience is, to quote the witch, “Go to the Woods!”. Just leave small children at home. And don’t expect something the play didn’t give you; that’s just not fair.


*We’re cultural Jews rather than folks with any particular religious bent.

Robin’ Hearts

Yesterday was my birthday.

To celebrate I did many things.  One of them was to see theatre.  We went to go see the A.R.T.’s production of The Heart of Robin Hood.

I wanted to see it because it sounded like fun.  I mean, it’s a play.  About Robin Hood.  How could this not be interesting?

It turned out to be much more than I expected.  Yes, yes, there was talent onstage (both in the acting and execution of the show), the writing was good, and the sundry list of things you expect from professional theatre was all fulfilled with gusto.  Let’s talk about how this show went above and beyond expectations:

First of all, the set design.  I’ve never before seen a set that was more enveloping, more

Rehearsal shot of Jordan Dean (Robin), Christiana Bennett Lind (Marion), and Christopher Sieber (Peter) by Evgenia Eliseeva

Rehearsal shot of Jordan Dean (Robin), Christiana Bennett Lind (Marion), and Christopher Sieber (Peter) by Evgenia Eliseeva

appropriate, or more useful to the production.  From the moment I walked in to the theatre, I had absolutely no doubt that I was in Sherwood Forest.  Above this, every single little piece of the set was used for something (generally many somethings) in an unexpected and creative way throughout the course of the production.  The set was so wedded to the show that I had a hard time conceiving of how this could have possibly been rehearsed without it.  If you go for not other reason, go to see how set design can influence and effect a production.  Sets: not just pretty ways to decorate a room.

But it wasn’t just the set that made the set.  The lighting design for this production was so spot-on and wonderful that it was noteworthy.  Lighting design is an often-unacknowledged portion of the show as, generally, great lighting design is invisible and awful lighting design is nauseating.  In Robin Hood, the lighting was simply magical and almost cinematic in its magnitude.  It integrated seamlessly into the beautiful production, while simultaneously adding unending value to the story.  I often found myself wishing that my life could be lit the way Björn Helgason lit Sherwood.  Please?

Now let’s talk about the dramaturgy.  It’s not like Robin Hood is a new concept by any stretch of the term.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that, in most cases, Robin Hood is a trite cliché that should probably not be relied upon to add value to anything.  The A.R.T. production proved that you can teach an old outlaw new tricks.  At every turn, the production subverted your Robin Hood expectations while simultaneously remaining true to the story we all know and love.  Additionally, the program notes were well-written and lain out so as to give a glimpse into the playwright and designers’ dramaturgical processes.  Here was pertinent, interesting information about the show that you were about to see made accessible for a theatre (or Robin Hood) novice.  Dramaturgy at its finest.  Bravo.

And, for our superficial moment of the review, let’s talk about the bodies onstage.  This was an extremely physical show that constantly put the human form on display.  Following in the footsteps of the A.R.T.’s now-Broadway smash sensation Pippin, Robin Hood integrated physical performance and acrobatic athletics to create stunning visual tableau with bodies to match the already-lovely presence of the space.  What this means without jargon: well-muscled men in tight leather pants and open-front vests performing feats of strength for your amusement.  By way of a birthday surprise, this didn’t go amiss (it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting to see, but who wouldn’t take six-pack abs and leather to gaze adoringly at from the comfort of Sherwood?).  Lest you fear that this show is all-fluff and no-stuff, let me assure you that the acting prowess of these gentlemen matches their physical abilities and you will not be left to work hard in suspending your disbelief.  These guys are triple threats: acting, dancing, and (get ready for it) singing.  Yup.  They can come serenade me by my window any day of the week.

Oh yea, there’s a whole female empowerment story arc (Marion dresses as a boy and goes to pal around in the woods for a while), and a few of the scenes are essentially modern-text renditions of As you Like it.  For once, this homage didn’t make me angry; the playwright acknowledged it in his production notes, the actors did it justice, and I was happy to have snuck in some surprise Bard on my birthday.  Fun fact: Prince John’s last line is almost verbatim Malvolio’s last line from Twelfth Night.  Because who doesn’t like declaring revenge to the court before making a dramatic exit?

So really; if you have even a half interest in any of the things mentioned in this review (or circuses, ducks, bluegrass music, or stage combat), grab a ticket and go see.  Even better: take your kids.  They’ll love it and it’ll make you feel better about squealing like an over-excited toddler when the good guys start to throw down.


A Comedy of Errors

In celebration of my triumph, my beaux took me to see a show this weekend.  And not just any show.  A SHAKESPEARE show.  A show that we’ve both been dying to see for some time now and which displayed great promise in its advertised concept.

The new-to-Boston Anthem Theatre Company performed a four-man Comedy of Errors  at the BCA Plaza blackbox.  At ninety minutes with no intermission and some creative application of props/costumes, it was a high-octane performance with great entertainment value.

Unfortunately, the performance was (for me) overshadowed by an egregious lack of judgment on the part of the production company.

I’ve always thought that a program bio for a dead playwright was a bit odd.  Granted, sometimes it contains useful information for an audience (especially if the show is meant to be an “introduction to [playwright]” for a crowd who wouldn’t normally see this type of theatre).  It makes slightly more sense when there’s a dramaturge working on a production with expertise in the subject matter who can craft a bio with good/entertaining tidbits.

Anthem, however, made a cardinal mistake: they copy and pasted from the internet.

The bio in their playbill is attributed to http://www.biographyonline.net/poets/william_shakespeare.html and has all the usual axioms about Shakespeare.  The piece which bothered me most was this paragraph:

“Shakespeare died in 1664; it is not clear how he died although his vicar suggested it was from heavy drinking.”

 At first I couldn’t tell if this was a joke.  The timbre of the show was irreverent; maybe this was some sort of wink to that.  A little investigation brought me to realize what was going on here: the error is reprinted verbatim from its source.  The issue wasn’t purposeful, it was simply a careless copy job.

First of all; Shakespeare died in 1616.  He was born in 1564.  The playbill misprint is likely

doesn't it look like we're private eyes in a noir movie?

doesn’t it look like we’re private eyes in a noir movie?

a transcription error on the part of biographyonline.net which was propagated by simply cutting and pasting the bio without fact-checking it.

It’s almost the first thing I tell my students when they walk into my class: never copy and paste off the internet.  And certainly don’t do so without a bit of investigation of your own.  One google search would have divested the truth about Shakespeare’s death date to whomever curated this playbill.


The bit about heavy drinking was a fairy tale I hadn’t heard before.  After some poking around, I see that (like so much else about Shakespeare’s life) it’s a reasonably common myth with an unclear origin; certainly not canonical fact, and not something that I would include in a reliable bio.

Why was I so enraged at this incident, you may ask?  Because first of all it undermines the authority of the work.  How am I supposed to trust that these people know anything about Shakespeare?  How am I supposed to respect the hard work of the actors/company if I can see that their playbill is thrown together by someone who simply doesn’t know any better and hasn’t bothered to find out?  What do they have to contribute to this conversation, or teach to an audience of Shakespeare-beginners, if they can’t get their basic facts straight?

The second reason that this made me angry was that it didn’t have to be a problem.  If the company wanted a dramaturge (or even just someone to write a smart playbill note), all they had to do was send one e-mail to any theatre department in the Boston area.  Said department, I can nearly guarantee, would have had a student willing to work on this project for free.  Suddenly, the company is engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship with a scholar; the dramaturge gets a resume byline, and the company gets an accurate piece of micro-scholarship.  Problem: more than solved.  And no fuss/no muss.

Really, this hits at the heart of an issue near and dear to my heart.  If scholarship can’t feed and serve practice, then what’s the point of scholarship?  And if practice refuses to acknowledge scholarship, then how can it serve its purpose?  Without a healthy dialogue between the two, we’re stuck in a combined death-spiral to mutual-but-separate oblivions.

It baffles me even more that companies who do classical work seem less likely to hire dramaturges than companies who do contemporary work.  Wouldn’t you think that a company who specialized in Shakespeare would want someone around who knows the ins/outs/back ends/front ends/historical tidbits/correct pronunciation intimately?  Or how about a company that generally does contemporary plays but is taking a dip into the Shakes-world; wouldn’t you think they would want someone to converse with about any questions they may have even more?

So long as we continue to put our hands over our ears and sing loudly to ourselves that our work is the only legitimate work, we will not grow as a community.  Without understanding and helping each other, we risk stagnation as artists and scholars.  So please, for the love of all things bardy, hire (or at least consult) a dramaturge.  If you find a good one, I promise that your work (and theirs!) will benefit from it.

Epic Theatre

My oh my the amount of theatre I saw this weekend!  So much theatre that I might not get to write reviews of everything; but here’s another to add to the collection.

Saturday, I got out to see Apollinaire’s Caucasian Chalk Circle.  For those who have never seen Apollinaire before, they’re a really great company (their Uncle Vanya this year past was truly wonderful and made me, a formerly dubious audience of Soviet theatre, a true Chekhov believer).  As far as I can tell, they prefer to produce “strolling” productions (that is, shows which take place in literally different locations so that the audience has to move with the action in order to observe it).  For Caucasian Chalk Circle, this particular aesthetic fed in exceedingly well with Brecht’s piece.

Bertold Brecht was a German playwright who changed the face of theatre as we know it.  After writing some extremely influential pieces (including Mother Courage and her Children and Threepenny Opera), he fled Germany and the imminent Nazi occupation.  After a veritable tour of Northern Europe, he came to land in the United States for a time.  During this time, Brecht was unsure about his future, unsure whether he would ever seen Germany again, and unsure whether his plays would ever be performed once more in his native language.  Still, he wrote plays in German.  Caucasian Chalk Circle is one of those plays.

Brecht is perhaps most famous for his grand contribution to the development of

View of the Tobin from Mary O'Malley Park.... it's a little industrial

View of the Tobin from Mary O’Malley Park…. it’s a little industrial

the theatrical form known as “epic theatre”.  Epic theatre is a modern style developed in reaction to naturalism and its most salient goal is for an audience to have constant awareness that it is witnessing a play in production rather than any slice of reality.  To achieve this, epic theatre utilizes imbedded elements such as narrators, storytellers, and song; technical attributes such as screens, projections, and fully lit houses; and performance traditions such as actors playing multiple characters, and actors moving sets and changing costumes in full view of the audience.  The effect of estranging an audience from the play’s action is something which Brecht calls “Verfremdungseffekt” and is often translated as “alienation”.

In light of this, Apollinaire’s show is precisely in keeping with the Brechtian tradition.  Caucasian Chalk Circle is a free, open-air production which springs up in Mary O’Malley park as quickly and ephemerally as its pre-show music (…mostly this pre-show music seemed to be generated by the assembled flock of musicians being bored together and so we were treated to impromptu renditions of Johnny Cash standards on an accordion).  As such, the audience can see every single string.  The actors move the sets between locations and unabashedly set them up/take them down as necessary.  The stagehands flit about in full view of the assembly as they assist with costumes and props.  The storyteller asks audience members to follow her from location to location between acts.  A chalkboard acts as a makeshift screen and announces the title of each act.  I think it is safe to say that Apollinaire succinctly and gracefully captured the spirit of epic theatre.

The set for act two... and the river.  The sunset I didn't quite manage to capture but trust me, it's also worth the trip.

The set for act two… and the river. The sunset I didn’t quite manage to capture but trust me, it’s also worth the trip.

The assembly was rock solid.  There wasn’t a weak performance amongst the lot.  Despite Brecht’s insistence that an audience not overly empathize with his characters, it was hard to maintain the appropriate Brechtian distance due to the power of Courtland Jones’ Grushna and the charmingness of Mauro Canepa’s Simon.  I can only hope that their Spanish-cast counterparts (the show is performed in English/Spanish on alternating nights) bring as much punch to the story.

Apollinaire performs Chalk Circle sans its prologue.  While this is a common practice, it is one which scholars have debated for years since the prologue frames the tale within an external story.  The prologue sets the scene in post-WWII Soviet Union and depicts two communes arguing over a piece of land.  In order to further enlighten the dispute, one commune decides to perform an old folk tale for the other.  Arkadi Cheidze, the story-teller/singer, brings his band of minstrels to do so and the play commences.

Does it change the meaning of this piece to have that framework surrounding it?  It would certainly have answered my big question as I walked away (“what are we to take from this play?”).  I leave that for you to ponder and encourage you, with all the force of my internet-power, to go see this show.  It’s a great night out, and it’s free, so you really have no excuse.

As a coda to this verse, let me take a moment to expound upon how much I love open-air theatre and most especially initiatives like this one.  Free quality theatre in the park is truly a service to society.  Looking around the audience, I was struck by how many people there looked like “normal people”; we were just an assembly of neighbors come to watch a play.  Pretensions were out the window as we sat on picnic blankets and towels, huddled close around the storytellers.  For me, theatre doesn’t get much more wholesome than this.  Call me a romantic, but I’m a firm believer in this sort of initiative because of its equalizing power and would like to assert that it is pieces like this which will ensure future audiences for the general theatrical community.

Caucasian Chalk Circle plays through this week and closes on July 27th.  There is one more Spanish performance on Friday the 26th.  For more information, visit Apollinaire’s website.


This weekend is a weekend full of theatre and I can’t feel better about it!

We kicked things off last night with The Bacchae at club Oberon.

There are a few fundamental issues in presenting Greek theatre to a contemporary audience.  I have been known to argue that Greek tragedy is actually unperformable in the United States today (for further thoughts on this or to participate in this argument, buy me a drink sometime).  This production was one of those rare gems of exception – if you absolutely have to perform Greek tragedy, you should perform it like this.

The environment at Oberon (and the immersive dance-club stage space) sets the tone for interaction.  There’s not anywhere to hide from Dionysus’ maenads and you are caught up in the ritual just as much as the one sacrificial audience plant whom Dionysus makes his own in the play’s beginning.  Audience members are crowned with ivy and given drums to play as they enter the space and are subsequently invited to participate fully in the ritual they are about to witness.

Because of this, the long chorus speeches become exhilarating.  The maenads bop and weave through the audience, menacing and caressing, inviting you to be a part of their world for a time.  There is no passive listening (which is the death of long speeches).  These interludes, alienating on a tradition stage, thus become a point of access for the audience.

Another thing that this production has working in its favor is the traditional Oberon performance length (ninety minutes).  By trimming the wordy Greekness of this down to a palatable length, The Bacchae doesn’t have the opportunity to lose its audience.  You’re either caught up in the flow of the action, or you’re drinking at the bar (sometimes both but there is no in between).

The one thing I would have liked to see tweaked slightly is the token use of

Poster for Arlington Shakespeare in the park; yes, apparently there is still a theatre company that uses posters

Poster for Arlington Shakespeare in the park; yes, apparently there is still a theatre company that uses posters

masks.  In this production.  As each character is introduced, he enters wearing a “Greek-style”* mask.  The mask is removed before each character speaks, done away with, and never seen again.  The trouble I have with this convention is its uselessness.  If it was meant as a nod at Greek theatrical practice (we do know that in the Greek theatre all characters wore masks), that’s wonderful, but if you’re just going to wear it to do away with it you may as well not wear it and save your costumer the time and expense of acquiring it.  I would have liked to see the masks return at the end and create a sort of “framing device” for the piece.  Just as Dionysus is introduced wearing his full pan horns which are then dispatched with only to be seen at the play’s very end, the beautiful masks should have made a re-appearance.

As to the non-traditional staging elements demanded by the performance space at Oberon, historically they’re not actually all that non-traditional.  We can’t say overmuch for certain about Greek theatre, but we do know that the Greek theatrical space consisted of a stage area (scholars debate about whether this was a raised platform or not) and an orchestra where the chorus performed (again, HUGE debates about the shape and size of the orchestra).  The floor plan of Club Oberon is essentially this.  There is a stage (which, at Oberon, is a raised platform) and a dance floor in front of it (for the purposes of our Greek analogy, this can serve as an orchestra).  Of course, in Greece we have no record of the audience mingling with the chorus (as happens at Oberon), but since I can now check “be kissed by Dionysus” off my bucket list, I can definitely overlook this breach in historical protocol.

The Bacchae is, unfortunately, done.  They closed last night (I know, I know, I need to get to things earlier in their run).


Here’s a list of things I’m going to be seeing in the near future that HAVEN’T closed.  I can’t vouch for their quality yet, of course, but if you want to get some theatre in this summer you have plenty of options:

Caucasian Chalk Circle by Apollinaire Theatre Company – free, in the park.  Hitting this tonight.

Richard II and Love’s Labour’s Lost at Shakespeare and Company – making my yearly pilgrimage to Lennox tomorrow which, incidentally, is the last performance of Richard though Love’s Labour’s runs a bit longer.

Much Ado About Nothing presented by Arts Art Hours in Lynne Woods — I have some friends in the cast and I love this show, so I really can’t see it being bad.  It’s a strolling production.  Outside.  That at least should be interesting.

Romeo and Juliet by Arlington Center for the Arts — free, outside Shakespeare; can’t get more pleasant than that.  Only one performance though so if you are interested, you should check it out.

Psycho Beach Party by Counter-productions theatre —  it’s a contemporary piece but has a really interesting name… and I have a friend who keeps saying I should go.  So I’m going.

Cinderella by Boston Opera Collaborative — they say that this piece is being performed “authentically” i.e. true to period style.  We’ll see about that… either way, great for comps!

Why Torture is Wrong and the People who Love them by Titanic Theatre Project — sometimes you just need some Christopher Durang to bring levity to a situation.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all theatre happening in Boston right now, just some things that are on my calendar.  Stay cool!!

 *I put this in quotation marks because there’s no real way for us to ascertain authentic Greek-style masks; none are extant and the flaws of relying on pottery paintings as historiographical evidence have often been expounded upon by scholars.  As such, the masks were certainly what you as a modern playgoer with some idea of Greek theatrical practice, would expect to see… but I can’t really call them “authentic”.

The Love Boat Goes to Verona

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending opening night of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona on Boston common.

After last year’s middling Coriolanus, I didn’t have high hopes for this (…that may also be the comps brain talking since I’m not sure I could work up the energy to have high hopes about anything right now).  Especially after reading that the concept was “rat pack”.  I just wasn’t sure things would work out; Two Gents is a notoriously difficult play to make read to a modern audience, Shakespeare on the Common is notoriously not the sum of its parts for whatever reason, and Boston weather patterns make outdoor evening theatre a gamble at best.

But somehow, despite all this, the cosmos aligned and it was truly a production worth seeing!

Jenna Augen’s Julia was absolutely adorable (even in the face of a tragic act-one kerfluffle in which Mimi Bilinski, her Lucetta, failed to come onstage at her cue and left poor Augen to live out the actor’s nightmare: scrambling to cover for a co-star while under the pressure of rhymed iambic pentameter).  She had some sauce and spice and a decidedly different take on the Act V reversal (which I won’t ruin for you since I want to encourage you to go see the show).

our blanket: a still-life.

our blanket: a still-life.

Rimo Airaldi’s Speed and Larry Coen’s Launce were a comic duo that actually made sense.  They played the jokes to a T and, despite any misgivings I had about an older more august Speed, I was quickly charmed into their clutches.

Rick Park’s Duke of Milan is the best I’ve ever seen.  His portrayal of an incensed father in III.i (the scene during which Valentine is outcast) was real enough that I truly believed he would kill Valentine (Andrew Burnap) if given half the chance.  And this, my friends, caused dramaturgical magic.  Because the threat of death was so real, Burnap was able to launch into the most transcendent rendition of the “what light is light” speech that I have ever heard.  I, the notorious curmudgeon, was moved to tears and could only be revivified by the liberal application of the annual CSC signature Ben and Jerry’s sundae (this year’s creation: the Crabbe Bag…. Eat one.  You won’t regret it.).

In terms of the concept, it worked a lot better than I expected it to.  The outlaws in the woods became Wild West clowns/menaces and Act V devolved into a road-runner style farcical chase complete with door-swinging and dance-hiding.  Because of this, the general tone of disingenuousness led to a ready acceptance of the notoriously hard to stage Act V reversal.  Well done, CSC.  Well done.

I have only two complaints.  The first is that there was no fight director or violence coordinator billed in the program while I certainly saw some onstage violence.  If you need to understand the importance of this, let me guide you self-promotionally to the following youtube interview with some people who know what they are talking about in this regard.

The second is that in order to serve the concept, the director chose to include a liberal amount of extra-textual music numbers.  Julia burst out with “fever”, Launce sang “ain’t that a kick in the head?”, etc.  These music numbers, though well executed, slowed the pace of the first act to a crawl.  It would have served just as well to include half the number of musical interludes and I think it would have kept the audience more engaged not to be bursting into non-Shakespeare song every ten to fifteen minutes.

As I said, on the whole this was a very good rendition of a hard-to-perform piece.  If nothing else, it’s a free evening of entertainment, the common is beautiful this time of year, and you can enjoy your own picnic libations with some good company while waiting for curtain.

Though if you, like me, get the sudden urge to fox trot when any of the rat pack tunes are played by a live jazz band, be prepared to bring some dancing shoes.

Much Ado about Joss

So I finally got around to seeing Joss’ Much Ado last night.

I had some deep hesitations about it after having seen some clips of Joss talking about the script.  I am a HUGE devotee to Wheedon’s work and I adore most of his actors, but wasn’t sure that A) he had an understanding of the text deep enough to serve this project (this concern was primarily founded on his remark about the only way to explain the characters’ actions through the tale is via rampant drinking); B) Much Ado could really be slotted in to the short time-span famously available to this project; and C) Amy Acker had the chops to play Beatrice.

On the whole, I was right.

The film began slow and dark and there’s no reason Much Ado should be that

A shot I got of a friend's Italian mask.  It just seemed to fit here.

A shot I got of a friend’s Italian mask. It just seemed to fit here.

way – the show, like all Shakespeare (especially the comedies) is fast-paced and driving.  Especially when cuts are made (and Joss made some cuts, most of them graceful but a few of them clunky), things should progress at a good clip with a lot of energy.  The actors didn’t seem to find that energy or comfort level with their characters until the gulling scenes deep in Act II/at the beginning of Act III.  For that, the gulling of Benedick is one of the best I’ve ever seen onstage or screen and that really served as a springboard off which the movie flew.  The second half was markedly better and the actors seemed much more at ease with the text, the project, and each other.

Amy Acker was a lackluster Beatrice who seemed more fragile than feisty and more brooding than “born to speak all mirth”.  Alexis Denisof as Benedick had his moments of brilliance, which generally served to eclipse the moments during which he was far too low-energy and ominous.  Sean Maher was a brilliant Don John (it’s not his fault that I can’t hear anyone say the words “I thank you… I am of few words, but I thank you” without thinking it in Keanu’s voice).

Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry was problematic.  Things seemed to fall in for him during Act V, but until then his performance lacked a certain crucial justification.  Dogberry is a difficult character to play; much like Elbow from Measure for Measure this character type (the “learned” constable who’s actually a common man clown but tries so hard to be of good breeding that his speech comes out word salad) is one that doesn’t resonate horribly well with modern audiences.  There needs to be a reason for Dogberry’s confusion.  He’s not stupid, his logic just doesn’t match our earth logic.  The most successful Dogberry I’ve ever seen played the character as someone who had maybe been hit on the head one too many times or dropped in several instances as an infant.  This issue, may I point out, is one that a good dramaturge can really help with.  This kind of textual diagnosis takes experience to suss out and someone who is already intimate with the text can save you weeks of rehearsal discovery time by giving you the parameters Shakespeare himself set.  Especially in an environment like the one which produced Wheedon’s film, the dramaturge can be an invaluable resource to the project.

Unfortunately, I’m beginning to think that Hero is an unplayable character.  This is nothing against the Heroes I’ve seen recently (most of which have had some talent and understanding of the text), but the best Hero I ever saw was actually played by a dress-maker’s dummy.  No joke.  She’s so silent most of the time and, essentially, an object to the men around her.  Playing the part with enough pizazz to make her likeable (especially when most of her already few lines are cut, as in Wheedon’s film) requires some spark that I just haven’t seen yet.  Unfortunately, the audience liking Hero is central to us buying in to the main plot arc.  For the most part, we like Hero because Beatrice likes Hero rather than Hero being a likeable character.  Which is not to say we dislike Hero, just that she’s more sweet and plain than a nilla wafer.

So I didn’t dislike Joss’ film, it just won’t go into my books as the PARAMOUR OF MUCH ADOs.  On the whole, I see it as a fine case study in reasons to hire a dramaturge and what happens when a project is rushed.  I think Wheedon fans will enjoy it, and Shakespeareans will find it a good excuse to sit in an air-conditioned theatre on a disgusting summer day.

Not so Sleepy; but pretty Legendary

This afternoon, I was treated to a lovely rollick in a world very near and dear to my heart.  I got to go see the Imaginary Beasts’ Winter Panto, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Sleepy Hollow is what it sounds like, a sleepy little hamlet in Tarrytown, New York, about

modern plaque on "bridge"

modern plaque on “bridge”

forty five minutes away from where I grew up.  Of course, most of us know it exists because of Washington Irving’s very famous bit of pith about the town (historical note: the headless horseman’s bridge has since been lost; there is a bridge in Sleep Hollow, but it’s a modern construction, despite the historical plaque set upon it).

American Pantomime is… really not what it sounds like.  It’s derived from the English form which was a pithy bit of entertainment incorporating music, slapstick, topical references, mild innuendo, etc.  The American form, much like its English cousin, is traditionally performed around Christmas time (the Imaginary Beasts perform one every winter).  Salient to the American form is that it’s plot is based in nursery stories retold on the stage incorporating these elements.

Point of dramaturgical order: do not confuse “pantomime” with “mime”.  They are not the same thing.  The word “pantomime” derives from a Greek construction composed of “pantos” (“every”, or “all”) and “mimos” (“actor” or “imitator”).  The Pantomimos, then, was the “imitator of all” (or, actually, generally troupes of actors who would perform often accompanied by song).  The word “mime” comes from that same Greek word “mimos”, but that’s where the similarities end.  These forms are two very different ducks.

The Beasts adhere to all the old traditions (cross-dressing, modern references, contemporary song, audience participation, and slapstick abound) and, through this, present a rollicking good time made better by the presence of children in the audience.  If you’re willing to bring your own inner child to come play with the Beasts, you will definitely thank yourself for it.

The Beasts also embrace the age-old, time-tested tradition of high comedy: cross-dressing is funny.  I simply couldn’t stop laughing as Joey Pelletier performed a rendition of “Tiptoe through the Tulips” in full Victorian drag.  Nor could I find it in myself to deny this charmer anything he wanted (including a loud “va va va voom!” upon his entrance into any room, as per his request to the audience).  In case you were concerned that this whole “cross-dressing is funny” bit was getting a little one-sided, Jill Ragati proves to be the Ichabod Crane with the most shapely legs I’ve ever seen (and yet, still somehow androgynous… I really can’t explain that one).

I might be biased, but I found the antics of Amy Meyer as Widow Pinchpurse to be miserly hilarious.  In case you never thought you’d laugh at the old “Don’t hit me!” “what?” “HIT ME!” “OKAY!” joke again, you may want to take this opportunity to re-instill yourself with some measure of classic humanity.

As a parting thought I’ll give the Beasts this: they utilized the Scissor Sisters to much greater effect than Glee did.

So do yourself a favor: find a child (or be ready to amp up your inner eight-year-old), and go laugh a little.  It’s a dark gray winter, we can all use some time in the sun.  Ticket and show info can be found here.