The Show Must Go On: Wilbury and WaterFire’s Decameron, Providence tells new stories for a new era

Providence playwright and spoken word artist Christopher Johnson presents a new work in collaboration with violinist Big Lux in Decameron, Providence. Photo courtesy: Christopher Johnson.

The show must go on… That’s how theater troupes felt in the 14th century during the bubonic plague, and that’s how it’s playing out now in the face of COVID-19. Written by Giovanni Boccaccio in 1352, post Black Death plague of 1348, The Decameron has again become an inspirational piece for creative performing artists. The book, just as this play, is structured as a frame story containing tales told by a group of seven young women and three young men sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence, Italy in order to escape the Black Death, which was afflicting the city.

Actor Shaffany Paigét presents a new work in Decameron, Providence. Photo courtesy: Shaffany Paigét.

Josh Short, artistic director for The Wilbury Theatre Group, struck up a conversation with WaterFire’s managing director, Peter Mello, to see how they might collaborate on an original work that would adhere to social distancing protocols. It was Wilbury’s resident playwright, Darcie Dennigan, who suggested they look to Boccaccio’s The Decameron for inspiration. “I had never read the book, pretty sure I had never even heard of it,” says Short, “but the more we looked into it, the more it seemed to not only offer a structure that would work well within our socially distanced guidelines, but it inspired an urgency and relevance that spoke not only to the obvious bubonic plague / COVID parallels, but to the social justice issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and our current political moment. When I went back to Peter and Barnaby [Evans, WaterFire executive artistic director] with this idea, they went for it enthusiastically. Barnaby knew the book extremely well, and his enthusiasm for the original work has helped us grow the production into something that is grounded solidly in the framework of the original, while still very much about this particular moment in time.”

Bassist Desmond Bratton (pictured) and violinist Ashley Frith of Community Music Works debut a new work in Decameron, Providence. Photo courtesy: Desmond Bratton.

Short says they reached out to a few artists they had collaborated with before, and it snowballed from there. Soon, other artists were reaching out to them. “It was important to us that we were creating space and supporting those voices who were being most affected by the COVID pandemic, Black Lives Matter and social injustice, and our goal has been to provide them with whatever support they need to tell their stories.”

Shey Rivera Ríos (pictured) and collaborator Saúl Ramos curate a sequence of performances by local artists reflecting on ritual, identity, home and queerness in Decameron, Providence. Photo courtesy: Shey Rivera Ríos.

Audiences will see traditional storytellers, film, visual and mixed media artists, poets, classical musicians, ukulele musicians, spoken word artists and everything in between. “We asked them for a piece that reflects their personal visions of an idealized world through whatever mediums they chose,” explains Short. “I expect each of the 10 performance spaces to be its own unique experience every night.” He goes on to say, “It’s an exercise in public health, social justice and idealistic futurism, but our ultimate goal with this piece is to remind people, in this time of both divisiveness and physical distancing, of what it means to have a shared experience and a sense of community.”

A photo from the work of Don Mays / AFRI Productions’ mixed-media presentation of These Truths, presented in Decameron, Providence. Photo by Don Mays. 

The Wilbury has had a great relationship with WaterFire for years — they’ve co-produced the Providence Fringe Festival since 2017 — but this is the most closely they’ve collaborated. It’s a great marriage of art and efficiency. Short says WaterFire “is an organization that routinely goes into downtown Providence and completely transforms it into a living art piece within a few hours, and then breaks everything down as if it never even happened. There’s a lot of work that goes into a theater production, to be sure, but to be able to see the amount of care and consideration that the entire WaterFire organization puts into every detail of their work has been inspiring.” 

Post COVID, what will the new normal look like? “The reality is that learning how to operate safely in a pandemic is something that we need to learn how to do, and this is a production that is so deeply rooted in the best practices of public health and safety that it shows us how theater can continue to survive. And the truth is that artists should always be growing and innovating anyway. It’s a shame that it takes a pandemic to shake some of us out of our complacency, but if we can look at it with some optimism we’ll see that this is our opportunity to create work that transcends that which we have settled for. The artists involved in this project, the teams from Wilbury and WaterFire and all of the volunteers helping us make the production happen can see that there is no point in waiting and wishing for the world to return back to normal. Our normal was filled with inequities. Our normal is where George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black lives are lost, children are put in cages at the border, and despite it all, theater companies continue trotting out one mundane play after another. We don’t have to go back to that, we can create a world that is better, and I believe that it’s the artists who will imagine that new world and we need that, now more than ever.”

The performance spaces are all outdoors, spread out across the grounds of the Waterfire Arts Center and the American Locomotive building in Providence. Audiences will walk in separated groups from one stage to the next. All of the spaces are fully handicap accessible. 

For more info, call 401-400-7100 or 401-855-2460, or visit The Wilbury Theatre Group on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Tickets must be purchased in advance at thewilburygroup.org. Decameron runs thru August 22 at the WaterFire Arts Center, 475 Valley St, Providence.




Watch It!: Drive-ins are the place to be this summer

Misquamicut Drive-In Theater, summer 2019; photo credit: Caswell Cooke

You remember it well. The excitement of leaving the house early to get a good spot in front of your selected screen at the drive-in. The little playground where you could maybe play with other kids before dark, never worrying about scratches or worse from being thrown off the roundabout. Running back to the car in your pajamas as anxious horns started blaring to prompt the projectionist to start the movie. You might have sat on the back of the station wagon door with the window down, or at the back of the family van with the doors wide open, or maybe even pitched a lawn chair in front of the car until the mosquitoes got you. Your parents might have had that smoky coil on the dashboard to try and dissuade the pests from hanging around (or you might have been there on a date, and missed the movies completely). 

Your parents packed a bag with soda, chips and cheese popcorn, but still you yearned to go to the snack bar! Clam cakes, hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, meatball sandwiches, candy, soda and ice cream called to you! The dancing-treat commercials at half time lured you into further desire. You waited for this moment to go stand in line at the bathrooms so you wouldn’t miss any part of the movie, half hoping the parents would smell the food at the snack bar and give in. Tensions mounted as the announcer popped in halfway through the second movie to remind us the snack bar would be closing soon, but still the parents didn’t budge. You fell asleep before the end of the second movie, vaguely aware of the bumpy ride out of the parking lot late at night. 

Then something happened in the mid-80s. People stopped going, just like that. The Hilltop, Lonsdale and Seekonk Drive-Ins sat and deteriorated for many years. The current Rustic Tri View Drive-In became a XXX theater to try and stay afloat.

And then, many years later — perhaps in a burst of nostalgia — something again shifted. A revitalization of sorts occurred, and people came back. Technology, like the times, has improved. Movies have sharper images. You no longer hang a speaker inside the car window but tune in on your radio. If you’re sitting outside the car you’re at the mercy of the neighboring patrons, hoping their radio is up loud enough. Despite home technology developments, some drive-in theaters have stood the test of time and hold their appeal. Sure, you could be sitting at home in your underwear drinking a cocktail while streaming on your 135″ Smart TV, but there’s just something about the drive-in theater. You want your kids to know the experience! And when you’re charged by the carload, there’s an incentive to pack in everyone — including the family dog. 

While larger-scale drive-in options have dwindled, there are now impromptu drive-ins in certain communities as summer weather allows. One of these seems to stand out above the rest. If you haven’t yet experienced the Misquamicut Drive-In Theater, put it on your list of things to do this summer. Misquamicut, the Narragansett word for place of the red fish, is the most popular beach in RI. Not just a beach, the village has been a popular tourist attraction thanks to its restaurants, shops and even water slides. Nestled among these attractions is Wuskenau (“New”) Town Beach, where said movie screen is situated. It started as a small community thing. They built a makeshift screen and waited. If you build it, … As the attraction’s popularity soared, improvements were made. Last year, the screen was enlarged 4 feet on the top and 4 feet on the sides, allowing for better viewing of widescreen movies.

COVID has not been a total deterrent. “We are currently at half capacity, limited to 120 cars per night. Every- ther spot is skipped to allow for social distancing,” says Caswell Cooke, who recently celebrated 20 years as executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association. “We normally have double that, so the movies do sell out each night.” Another new feature due to COVID is pre-ordering from the snack bar. “When you arrive at the theater, you are given a QR code to scan, or use a Facebook link to order popcorn, hotdogs, candy and soda with cashless pickup,” explains Cooke. Not hungry? Check out the concession stand anyway to show the kids retro Coke bottles and openers. “It’s almost like a step back in time.” Entry tickets are purchased via Eventbrite for the same reason. “It’s actually been a better system for us, not having to manage cash, and also we’re able to see how many cars to expect in advance,” adds Cooke. It’s likely this system will become the new normal.

Misquamicut Drive-In Theater is now in its 10th season. Rain or shine, it matters not. People come religiously, and movie times have gone from once per week to seven days, from May to September, and sometimes October. Don’t expect kiddie movies. Patrons are typically “adults with kids 10 and over, or young adults getting the experience of a date at the drive-in, like their grandparents did.” Cooke adds, “We are pet friendly.” Movies such as JAWS are a regular repeat, running 2 or 3 nights each week. “For some reason, this movie is really popular at the beach,” laughs Cooke. “It always sells out!” He is also proud of the fact they run retro commercials an hour before show time, like the aforementioned dancing treats, the Native American in his canoe driven to tears over litter, and others we middle-agers remember fondly. It’ll bring you back; let the kids scoff! Gates open at 6:30pm. No alcohol allowed. Wuskenau Town Beach, Pondside Lot, 316 Atlantic Ave Westerly (next to the waterslides). For more info, call 401-322-1026.

The Misquamicut Business Association also puts on various other shows, including musical and comedy acts. “Our goal for this whole thing is to encourage people to come to Misquamicut and enjoy entertainment,” says Cooke, proudly adding their staff is mainly composed of teenagers and college students. For a list of happenings, visit their website at www.misquamicut.org, or their Facebook page.

Impromptu locations have been options in the past, like Providence’s Movies on the Block. They projected on a building for several summers, in a small parking lot where you’d pitch a lawn chair. That doesn’t appear to be an option during this summer of COVID. Other options have included NewportFILM Outdoors on Aquidneck Island, Narragansett Town Beach, Rocky Point Park, Roger Williams Park and Crescent Park Looff Carousel. 

Some theaters are closed temporarily or are limiting the number of viewers per showing. These drive-ins are currently open for business. Contact the theater for more information.

Mendon Twin Drive-In, opened in 1954, mendondrivein.com, 35 Milford St, Mendon, Mass, 508-473-4958

Rustic Tri View, 1950s style drive-in, facebook.com/RusticDriveIn, 1195 Eddie Dowling Hwy, North Smithfield, 401-769-7601

Mansfield Drive-in Theatre & Marketplace, mansfielddrivein.com, 228 Stanford Rd, Mansfield Center, Conn, 860-423-4441




Ride the Tide: This summer, there are many ways to explore the Providence River

Marcello; photo credit: Alison O’Donnell

Providence is a hopping city — usually. We find ourselves a bit limited this summer, because COVID, but because Phase 2 reopened some businesses and parks in the state, we once again have recreation options on the water. In fact, more options than ever before! 

Matthew “Marcello” Haynes became a gondolier in 1999, something he’d always wanted to do. You’ve likely seen him rowing down the river at a WaterFire event. In 2007, he bought the company La Gondola. Right about that time, Tom McGinn bought the Providence River Boat Company. Then, in spring 2017, as Marcello describes it, “I, Tom and his partner, Kristin Stone, sat for a pint one night and decided we’d like to open a kayak company. So we’ve been contemporaries on the river for quite some time.”

Together they started Providence Kayak, now in its fourth season. Venn diagram aside, whether you’re looking to ride the Providence River in a gondola, kayak or river boat, they’ve got ya covered. 

They started with a dozen kayaks and built up from there. Ever expanding to accommodate their customers, this year includes additional choices. “We have 17 kayaks on the water right now,” says Marcello, “and we’re working on getting a fleet of ‘pedal’ boats on the water, which hold up to four passengers. Instead of having a flywheel, they have propellers attached to each pedaling mechanism,” explains the former physics teacher. “They’re more like bullets so they’re a little more efficient and move along pretty well. It’ll be yet another option on the water.”

Kayaking is a great way to see Providence from a different perspective and learn the local waterside history. “In addition to being able to rent either single or tandem kayaks, last year we added guided tours. So they have a guide, someone who is well versed in the history of the river,” says Marcello. “Usually the tour itself is about an hour all the way up to the top of the river to Waterplace Park from down here. We start on the Providence River and then move on to the Woonasquatucket and stop just before the mall. Then everybody usually has about a half an hour to make their way back down to the dock at their leisure. It’s just another way to give people an experience they can’t necessarily do themselves. It’s more of an informative and educational thing than just being out on a beautiful day.”

Marcello is very passionate about what he does. “It’s always simply been the greatest summer job. I couldn’t love a job any more. I loved teaching, but rowing is part of my soul. It is what I am supposed to do. And I am very fortunate to be able to do a job that I love as much as I do.”

Regarding La Gondola, Marcello says, “We have 15 gondoliers, including myself, normally four gondolas plus a different kind of Venetian boat called a sandolo. It’s a different style of boat that’s used, and they’re just finishing the maintenance on that one. We already have two gondolas on the water now, and we’re hopefully launching gondola three very soon.”

COVID precautions are in place. “We’ve been kind of easing ourselves into the season. Normally we start in early April. We lost two full months with the gondolas. We didn’t start until June 1 with Phase 2 reopening.” The pace is starting to pick up, though. “The gondolas have been busier. Captain Tom has been getting busier as well. Hopefully that will be an indicator of what the summer could be,” says Marcello optimistically. “Definitely not what it has been in the past. We were well aware that would be the case. It’s just a matter of making smart decisions. We have the hand sanitizer. The boats are washed more frequently. Paddles as well. Once you’re out there, you’re already keeping distance. It’s more about protecting people on the dock when interacting with us. When groups check in, they’re staggered, sending multiple groups down one at a time rather than all together.”

Customer service is top notch. The dock crew is very helpful getting you in and out of the sit-atop kayaks. Booking a trip online is easy, and you can always call if you have questions. Rates are super reasonable to begin with, and if you bring back five pieces of trash you can get $5 off your next ride! I took advantage of this and, 16 hours after my first ride, was back on the water taking the guided historical tour. Marcello, one of several tour guides, gave us the lowdown on Roger Williams, local Native American influences, Revolutionary War tidbits, info on the oldest buildings and the great floods. The ride is relaxed, and there are plenty of spots to take shade if need be. Leave valuables at home or with the dock crew in their bin. Cell phones can be carried in a water resistant life vest pocket. Bring sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen, and water shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting a tad wet. 

For more information on Providence Kayak, call 401-829-1769 or visit their website, Providencekayak.com. They are located at the Providence Marina, 15 Bridge Street. Contact Gondola RI at gondolari.com, 401-421-8877. Contact Providence River Boat Company at providenceriverboat.com, 401-580-BOAT.




Does Dog Exist?: Two sisters, a governess and a canine suffering an existential crisis take the stage in The Moors

Vanessa Paige and Alexis Ingram in The Moors; photo credit: Dave Cantelli

Epic Theatre Company’s artistic director Kevin Broccoli is ecstatic to have brought Jen Silverman’s The Moors to Theatre 82 in a dark and alluring production directed by Vince Petronio (Wolf Hall) and featuring some Epic favorites on the stage. “Jen Silverman has one of my favorite minds in the theater,” says Broccoli. “When I read The Moors, it was like nothing I had ever encountered, with so many brilliant references to the style it borrows from, while reinventing it along the way. It also offers a treasure trove of great characters and enough surprises to shock even the savviest of theater audiences.”

The Moors is hailed as a fantastical riff on a world similar to one found in a Brontë novel, but with a modern and surreal twist. “It centers around two sisters and their dog who introduce a new governess into their stately home, only to have her presence disrupt their lives in ways they never could have imagined,” explains Broccoli. “Meanwhile, a tragic encounter with a moorhen has their dog asking big questions of his own. This wild and wonderful story from one of America’s hottest young playwrights is a blast of fresh air straight from the sharpest of imaginations.”

It does keep you on your toes. How often to you get to see talented actors portray intense animals? One has to wonder what it’s like to get into that headspace. Katie Westgate flies in as the moorhen, keenly aware of the risks involved in befriending a mastiff, portrayed by Rico Lanni. By all accounts from his humans, the dog “will rip your face off!” We actually feel sorry for the mastiff, as he lies by the humans’ feet so sad and seemingly misjudged. However, the two form an unlikely bond, which is fun to watch as Westgate questioningly antagonizes Lanni. The moorhen is apprehensive, but much like any dog you’ve ever met, Lanni persists in his efforts to be liked and eventually wins the girl, so to speak.

Director of production management Samantha Gaus says, “I love a play centered around strong female characters, but more than that I love a show with animals. Particularly a dog having an existential crisis. Having Katie Westgate as our hen has been particularly amazing because she is so talented and such a joy to watch.” She adds, “Kevin has such a talent for choosing brilliant and outside-of-the-box shows.”

The gothic-era drama includes period furnishings (stage manager Emma Locke) and garb (by Jen Stavrakas), with the exception of the animals. What do these creatures wear, you might ask? Trench coats, of course! Basic lighting design (Kevin Thibault) illuminates the hay blocks that the animals chat on, as well as the salon/den, which the seemingly confused sisters whimsically refer to as other rooms in the home, such as the new governess’ bedroom. It’s not hard to follow the dysfunction, though. Marjory, portrayed by Vanessa Paige, expertly gives us little clues to indicate when she is the house maid with typhus (cough cough); Mallory, the scullery maid with child; or the author, Margaret. Turns out she’s quite good at manipulating in general. We’re also taken in by Emilie’s (Alexis Ingram) decorous mannerisms. Her character development is, shall we say, winning. (Sorry, there’ll be no intentional spoilers here!)

The sisters, Huldey (Kerry Giorgi) and Agatha (Stephanie Traversa) have secrets of their own. It’s like watching a tennis match when they talk with Emilie, your head volleying back and forth to see what each will say next, since nothing is quite as it seems. Emilie isn’t as addled as you might think, however. You’ll love the twists and turns as the action builds to the stunning resolution.

In keeping with this season’s theme at Epic Theatre – the power of truth – this ardently disturbing production seems largely fitting. “Vince Petronio is back in the director’s seat for us,” says Broccoli, “and he’s crafted a production that we think is going to be the perfect midway point as we head into the latter half of our eighth season, and it’s our first time using the (slightly) larger space located at Theatre 82 since last June. It’s still intimate and inviting, but it allows us to tell the story with a few extra bells and whistles.” Just keep in mind – particularly in this case – some bells cannot be unrung!

Jen Silverman’s The Moors, directed by Vince Petronio, runs at Theatre 82, 82 Rolfe Sq, Cranston, through Mar 21. For tickets, go to epictheatreri.org Epic Theatre stated the following regarding COVID-19 on March 12:

“Here at Epic, we’re closely monitoring the current health situation, and we are in contact with local and state government about best practices. At the moment, we have not been instructed to cancel programming, and we’re under the capacity limits as detailed in the state guidelines.”




A Treat of a Show!: Over the River leaves audiences wanting more

Photo credit: Alison O’Donnell

If you’ve never been to the Attleboro Community Theatre, you’re in for a treat — literally! When you walk in, you’re immediately greeted by the theater’s executive board members, including President Jeanne Smith and Treasurer Douglas Begin. One of them will escort you to a good-sized sitting area where you can enjoy a number of baked goods selected from a glass case reminiscent of a New York bakery. You can also treat yourself to popcorn and a cold or warm beverage before the show. Even the bathroom has a charming ambiance, making you feel like you’re on the set! 

Said show is Over The River And Through The Woods, the 1998 family comedy by playwright Joe DiPietro. That charming set (designed by Smith, Producer/Director David Blessinger and Tammy England) is a Brooklyn apartment that includes an outside porch, den area and family dining table. Anyone raised in an Italian family will recognize the loud banter and importance of food when the family gathers. To drive the point of providing for the family home, you often hear any one of the cast members proclaiming, “Tengo familia!” sometimes in unison. Nick, portrayed by Matthew Gousie, is a young bachelor with aspirations to climb the corporate marketing ladder. When the Jersey man announces to la familia that he has been offered a job across the country in Seattle, the grandparents are NOT happy. They do everything in their power to convince Nick to stay, including fixing him up for a meeting with a hopeful Caitlin O’Hare (Marissa Simas). Gousie returns to the stage after an 18-year hiatus. “The cast and director have made it very comfortable for me to come back,” he says. “They welcomed me with open arms and have been terrific.” Of the play, he says, “I really liked [this play] because it had a little of everything. It tugs on the heartstrings with different notes. I hope it’s relatable to people.” He enjoyed working with this cast, adding, “My ‘grandparents’ are so talented!”

Director Blessinger seconds the emotion. “I am truly blessed to have such an amazing cast with so much talent that can invoke such emotion from the audience.” The delightfully funny script can only go so far if the cast can’t deliver the lines well. This cast not only has us roaring with laughter, but draws heartfelt pangs of emotion as the play progresses. Have no fear, however. All’s well that ends well!

It’s hard to not have an astounding cast when you’re working alongside veterans with many years of experience. Portraying Nick’s maternal grandparents are Alex Aponte (Nunzio) and Anne Faiella (Aida). Nunzio is a true paisan, a firm master of his household with a bold sense of humor. He makes light of the family taking his car keys away from him, for example, in ways we never see coming. Aida is your typical old-fashioned nonna — all about the food! Then there are the paternal grandparents who come to visit. Alyce Fitzgerald (Emma) and Bob Messier (Frank) enter with lots of energy in their flashy jogging suits. It’s hard to keep a straight face or be mad at these couples as they (try to) nag Nick into submission. 

Blessinger wasn’t initially looking at this piece to produce. “Alex Aponte asked me to read the script,” says Blessinger. “He said it would be the perfect show for me to direct. After reading the first few pages, I was hooked and knew I had to direct this show.” He adds, “As a director, you get the opportunity to take a writer’s words and create your vision up on the stage of that play. Sometimes it’s not easy, but with the perfect cast it is magical. I have the perfect cast and crew, which has made directing this show such a wonderful and fun experience. I am thankful to ACT for giving me the opportunity.”

Lighting by Doug Greene (assisted by Blessinger), who recently won two Motif awards for his design expertise on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Kevin Broccoli’s American Strippers, was spot on. “This production is slightly more cue-oriented than most others I’ve done,” says Greene, whose design expertly alternates full stage to special areas each time a cast member sporadically stepped up for an aside. 

Costuming was largely sourced from the cast, with help Jeanne Smith, to reflect each character’s personality and age. Smith also assisted with sound design (featuring Pat Boone’s rendition of “Quando Quuando Quando”) and operation, along with Gordon Smith and Dylan Troiano. 

As Over The River wraps up, you almost hate to leave. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, when a performance leaves you hungry for more. Mangia!

Attleboro Community Theatre presents Joe DiPietro’s Over the River and Through the Woods through Mar 8 with Fri and Sat night performances at 8pm and Sunday matinees at 2pm. 71 N Main St, Attleboro. For more information, visit attleborocommunitytheatre.com, or call 508-226-8100.




Singing Lofty Praise for Agnes of God: Epic Theatre Seeks the Truth

Agnes of God, by John Pielmeier, is billed as ‘A searing story of a young nun faced with assessing the murder of a newborn. The secrets exposed and the faith challenged in this gripping play will leave audiences questioning who they believe – and why.’ Gripping indeed! Thanks to some powerful acting, as well as expert directing by Lynne Collinson, you can expect to be moved by this forceful piece.

“We’ve assembled a powerhouse production team for this incredible play,” says artistic director Kevin Broccoli, which includes assistant director Peggy Becker, stage manager Samantha Gaus (who also designed the lighting with an assist by Alexander Sprague, Terry Shea (sound), and a cast of Epic favorites. “It’s an all-star line-up of talent that we’re very lucky to have.”

The cast consists of just three characters. Melanie Stone is the first to arrive as Dr. Martha Livingstone, a court-appointed psychiatrist whose job it is to determine whether young Agnes is of sound mind. She speaks to us in a firm but fair monologue, and you just know she’s going to go for the jugular by the end, as Livingstone’s strong personality is apparent right away. This comes into play as Mother Miriam Ruth, portrayed by Lee Rush, enters. The spirited duo immediately square off in a power play, showing us they have more in common than they wish to admit. Rush does a fine job filling the shoes of a woman who was once a married mother (admittedly not a very good one), heavy smoker and devout Catholic. Those are tough shoes to fill, now living in a nunnery and mothering a lost soul. The two women pair nicely, leaving audiences thirsting for more of the roller coaster exchange of confrontation and mutual caring.

If these two stalwart performers weren’t commanding enough, we are then introduced to a timid Agnes, her innocence changing the dynamic of the female energy on stage. Don’t be fooled, however, by Angelique Dina’s shy demeanor or her character’s beautifully angelic singing voice (performed by a recorded Habibah Quddus). As the play develops, her captivating mannerisms and altering expressiveness give way to lofty wailing that chilled me to the bone! Her very name suggests she was born to play this role. 

Collinson is no stranger to Agnes of God, having portrayed the ingénue in the ’80s. “When Kevin offered me the opportunity to direct, I jumped at the chance to come full circle with the play. I wondered how the script would hold up in 2020. Initially, I thought the play might be dated, but quickly found that its themes still resonate – particularly the issue of faith versus fact – and how people can believe what they need to believe, despite evidence to the contrary.” She adds, “We also explored how each character’s trauma – Agnes’ physical and emotional abuse, the doctor’s loss of her sister and loss of faith, Mother’s estrangement from her biological children – impacted their health, their objectivity, their judgment.” 

The lighting (aside from an elegant stained-glass window effect) is simple, with bright lights while the energy is loud, growing softer during the more quiet, contemplative moments and blues on the outskirts as characters reflect on the past. Costumes (by Jillian Eddy) suited the typical formal garb of the role each performer played; the setting is bare, allowing the audience to focus on the changing action.

The Power of the Truth is this season’s theme for Epic Theatre. “If you’re going to do a season about truth, it seems necessary to touch upon religion,” says Broccoli, “and we have not one, but two shows we’re working on this month that look at religion, religious extremism, and the relationship between organized religion and institutional ignorance. The denial of the truth and the consequences of it. One is Agnes of God and the other is the musical version of Stephen King’s Carrie, produced by the Academy Players in association with our company.” He says this piece poses questions about faith and fixation, adding, “Like last season’s The Christians, this play isn’t about bashing religion. It’s about the danger of hiding the truth when it doesn’t coincide with your chosen belief system.”

Initially, Broccoli said he felt the play was overdone and wasn’t keen on bringing it in. “It seemed like it would be the kind of theatrical antique that doesn’t get produced anymore for a reason.” He then had a change of heart, considering the questions it asks and comparing it to other plays that deserve a professional revival. “Here’s hoping Agnes is next on that list.”

Epic Theatre presents John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God through Feb 23, Friday and Saturday nights, including a 3pm Sunday matinee on February 23. 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston. For more information, visit epictheatreri.org, or call 401-490-9475.




A Hell of a Play: Glass Horse Project seeks the nontraditional

Orpheus, portrayed by Dillon Medina, orchestrates his next move.

It’s opening night at Glass Horse Project in New Bedford. I’ve read up on Sarah Ruhl’s play based on the Greek myth — Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus, who painstakingly tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music (or, in this adaptation, his letters, too). I walk into what was an art gallery and see, to my immediate left, three actors intertwined in a motionless pile on the floor. I’m in awe as they stay in that position for more than 40 minutes before the play begins, and remain there for nearly another half hour. 

“Stones can do so much while doing so little,” says artistic director Korey Pimental, producer for this show. “There’s such a power to stillness. For the first third of the play, you get them just sitting there. And when we start the Underworld scenes, they come alive and go from complete stillness to this movement that is so concise and so specific.”

Taylor Corbett is the co-artistic director for Glass Horse Project, serving as director for this piece. She explains how she uses makeup to help the stones (Big Stone, Little Stone and Loud Stone, portrayed by Kerri Lamothe, Monica Hartford and Jordan Daniel Smith, respectively) become the rock-human hybrids. “It was like part of their skin was the rock, and the point was to highlight the cracks in their faces and arms from being stones,” explains Corbett. “The way they move is probably one of my favorite things about this show. I like to create an environment of collaboration for everybody. I gave the stones a couple of devising exercises to see how they can move with each other and their bodies. They came up with this whole movement piece. As we worked with them, they just became heavier limbed. If you’re going to move, the only easy way is by rolling – as though rolling around in the Underworld was very much fun. They get the distinct pleasure of being the bridge between the play and the audience. In a lot of our rehearsals, we started thinking of the audience as the other dead in the Underworld, unknowing of all of their memories, and we get to watch as they relive their memories. We also loved the way the stones were born in the river, and Hades picked up the rock and broke it into these three stones. As they go to sleep, they’re back in their original form.

“While I directed the piece, there was a lot of letting the actors play – which is the basis of all theater – and seeing what they feel is necessary to be their characters, get their stuff together, have a truthful honest performance up there,” explains Corbett. “That was partly my direction, and partly the choices they made as actors. I can’t be happier with how well we all worked together.” She also credits stage manager Sev Marshall, and Megan Ruggiero on sound design, for bringing it all together.

“The actors that I shared the stage with are some of the most generous I’ve ever worked with,” says Pimental. “They were willing to try things and listen, so it felt like we were able to create this really authentic story together. The play itself requires so much vulnerability. In my opinion, you can’t fake vulnerability and authenticity. For me, as an artistic director…I really wanted to get to the root of this complex story that is layered in nuance in so many ways. We wanted to challenge ourselves and our company of people who worked on the show to step up our game in the face of a challenge. Sarah Ruhl is no joke. She’s so specific in her language. When you do too much to her acting and directing, you lose the brilliance of her writing and cheapen what she wrote for you. She creates this beautiful, creative world for you to play in. You don’t want to take it too far, making sure you don’t detract from her own beauty and wisdom.”

There are lots of great things happening tech-wise. “One of the cool things about this show is the otherworldly magical environment we get to be in,” says Corbett (Brad Costa, Glass Horse’s head of digital and marketing, created the ambiance and an entire world in the confines of the nontraditional space). “And in some ways, it’s almost as though the world changes as they move through it to accommodate who’s alive and who’s dead. There’s a separation here Orpheus eventually breaks out of. The Lord of the Underworld (portrayed by Pimental) comes in and we’re in house now, and everyone needs to know it. When we have a thunderstorm, using different colored lights in between blue, green, red, purple flashing the magic they have access to. There’s this stark difference between the kind of lighting you’d expect versus the lighting in the real world. The light’s coming in as Orpheus comes closer and closer to his goal of getting down there and finding her.” 

Costumes? “It’s kind of a closet show. A lot of it the cast members brought in,” says Corbett. “Interesting was Orpheus, through the whole journey, is shedding one piece after another looking more and more disheveled… The moment Eurydice died, he started looking and did not stop looking. So all those pieces that we lose are casual pieces of that having to find her. He’ll have a tie on too tight and he’d have to ditch it.” For Lord of the Underworld, Corbett says, “I want him to look like every ’90s kid out there. A red sweater – the style there is just such a childish outfit to me – using the (Burger King paper) crown and the trench coat to help distinguish between the child and the interesting man.”

The setting tells us, via the changing ceiling and sound effects, where we are. When the cast is in the Underworld, the twinkling, starry sky changes to a narrowing well as we hear water dripping, giving us the impression of being underground. Ceiling projections also include orange clouds. Corbett explains, “It’s like the one day – at the sea – when they’re truly happy. There’s the intense love in the beginning with the night sky, then the playfulness of the love scene. And they just enjoy each other’s presence – the sun of youth and their bright future ahead.”

“The idea for the use of projection came from Taylor,” says Pimental. “She felt like the ceiling should never end, which I thought was so very Sarah Ruhl because it’s such a specific way to get something across. So when she said this, I thought, ‘Yes, let’s figure out how to do this!’ so we worked with our resident designer, Brad Costa, and made it happen.”

Ropes? “In the script, the father builds Eurydice a room of string,” says Corbett. “Because there are no rooms in the Underworld, the strings are a way to comfort her, a place where she can go to be safe and get that ability to remember her father. She can’t remember him and he can really smooth over their relationship. I think the creation of a string room is to provide a place for that to happen. We tried to incorporate that feeling with the four strings. One of the many actions he plays throughout the show is trying to avoid the smells, the sounds of the Underworld, trying to keep her in a good state of mind as she’s trying to deal with this new, magical stuff that he’s experienced already.”

The entire cast was on point as energetic, well-animated powerhouses. The titular role, portrayed by Maura Barry Van Voris, was a force to be reckoned with. Her facial expressions alone told stories from total elation to utter torment. She owned that stage as others fed off her vitality, despite being a dead woman. Matching her vigor and zest for life was Dillon Medina‘s Orpheus. Their flirty/flighty chemistry makes you feel the love and torture as they feel it. Eurydice’s father (David Adams Murphy) rounds out the tone of the Underworld with his compassionate understanding and fatherly love for his daughter’s plight. This synergy is further enhanced by the stones, who included the audience by worming their way under the seats, sitting on laps, and making eye contact.

The admission cost, for the moment, is by donation. “Part of that comes from the fact that, when I was in college, I heard this statistic that about 27% of New Bedford lives at or below the poverty line,” explains Pimental. “If people are situated at that specific place in their lives, how can they have access to the art? For us, the ability to access the arts is the fundamental right for societal participation. We are trying to expand as an organization and don’t really know what this is going to look like yet. So even if we don’t have a set price for a ticket, we’ll make sure the price would be accessible to people. We’d have more than one pay-what-you-can night, depending on how long our run is.”

“For me, personally, we call ourselves a fringe (theater) because we’re not in a dedicated theater space,” says Pimental. “We’re just really making this work before we can find a space where we can set up an audience section where people can come work. We’re trying to challenge ourselves to push the boundaries of what people expect to happen in this nontraditional space. We put out some lights and chairs, set up our projector and we’re on a roll!”

The Glass Horse Project presents Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice through February 1. 137 Union St, New Bedford. Call 774-320-4612 or visit The Glass Horse Project on Facebook (facebook.com/theglasshorseproject). 




Causing a Stir: Dylan Columbare brings mixology and magic to Massimo

Dylan Columbare is just 20 years old, yet he’s achieved the status of bar manager at Massimo restaurant in Providence. Not too shabby, considering nothing was handed to him. He is not family, but works for the family establishment. He started at Pane E’ Vino, Massimo’s sister restaurant farther down Atwells Avenue, and worked as a bus boy. It didn’t take long for him to get noticed by Pane E’ Vino’s bar manager, Dante Roberti, who moved him up to barback, where he learned everything he needed to know about classic cocktails and wine from Roberti.

“He would slap down a pad in front of me and make me write the notes three times,” Columbare explains with a laugh. “And then I had to explain all the spirits as I made the drinks for the guests, who had to approve them. That’s how I learned my classic cocktails.”

“Pushing him to this level really made him shine with his
creative side,” explains Roberti, who saw something special in Columbare, and
brought it to the owners, Esther and Joseph DeQuattro. They approved his
promotion to bar manager at Massimo and never regretted it. 

Roberti says, “I’m just proud of him. He’s a very talented young man. What he does speaks for itself — he comes up with his own drinks.” Roberti recognizes his involvement in Columbare’s start. “I knew he had a good work ethic so I brought him behind the bar. He was like a sponge. And now, after me just teaching him the basics, he not only makes drinks but makes people at the bar have a good time. Dylan makes them feel at home and entertains them. It makes people a little more intrigued, wanting to know a little more about him. Dylan can open up spirits and show people how different ones can be used in drinks to expand their horizons. People who don’t like gin will find something they like when Dylan makes it.”

Columbare wasn’t trained in a bartending school as most are. Explains Roberti, “We used color-coordinated flash cards representing different spirits. On the back we’d have the measurements and ingredients. We had over 150 drinks on the cards.” The two laugh and say in unison, “It was a bible.” Roberti gained the knowledge from different bartenders who helped him along the way at various locations throughout the city. He brought this knowledge to Columbare, who ran with it. “The owners know they’ve found something different in the way Dylan has changed drinks to make them his own,” says Roberti. “Sometimes I’ll see him at my bar just staring at bottles, wondering how he can use them to benefit the bar and be a great mixologist. The student surely has surpassed the teacher. Now I’m learning from him.”

Campari, a bright red liqueur, is an amaro infused with 68 different bitter herbs and aromatic plants, a secret recipe of natural ingredients dating back to 1860 that has become an Italian tradition. Fascinated with mixology, Columbare has taken his game to a whole new level. He’s dehydrating Campari into sugars for a drink called Negroni, using this sugar on the rim of the glass. He’s also making his own bitters and tinctures, spicing them up in different ways to put a unique accent on his own craft cocktails. “I don’t try to change it so much that it’s a different drink. It was a completely different garnish I came up with,” he explains. “I try to respect the Italian classic cocktail drinks, but try to add a new twist — something no one else is doing.”

And different it is. “I’ve never seen a dehydrated Campari sugar drink in my life,” says Roberti.

Columbare is turning an American oak cask into a sherry oak cask, creating his own amaro. He will serve this straight up, and will make cocktails with it. “The reason I wanted to do this is because nobody else in the state is. I wanted to have this on tap and bring attention to the restaurant for its craft cocktails and amazing food.” Besides the amaro, he makes his own (orange) arancello. “Limoncello is very popular, but nobody makes arancello. I peel 120 oranges for this and nobody touches them.” It’s his craft, his recipe and it’s been that way for nearly two years now. “It’s not something everyone gets to try.”

I have sampled Columbare’s creations, which he serves up freely, and can vouch for the terrific flavors he’s come up with. The food truly is amazing at all three locations — a new Massimo restaurant opened this past winter in Dedham, Mass, but you can only get his craft cocktails at the Providence Massimo. “I’m kind of separating myself, going my own way,” says Columbare. “We share a few cocktails, but they do their own thing and I do mine.”

Columbare endeavors to have “attention to detail with
efficiency. I want to create that same effect and be able to get it to you in
less than two minutes. I would hope that I make a name for myself with the
amaro and arancello, and will have a future in liquor distributing.” There’s
little doubt he’s already on his way to success in all he creates. “With so
much to learn, I’d like to keep creating new liqueurs in time, while keeping
with classic traditions. I don’t want to slow down!”




A Fine Romance in Pawtucket

The Community Players recently kicked off their 99th season with Romantic Comedy – their 369th production. TCP Advisory Board member (and publicity chair) Christopher Margadonna says, “I’m excited we moved our season opener to September to be in line with the Pawtucket Arts Festival. I really think that helped to be a part of the arts community in Pawtucket.”

This cast of five seasoned veterans fills the stage with a nice mix of both tension and comic relief. Kiki Maples brilliantly portrays two characters — Allison St. James, the politically correct wife of our lead character; Jason Carmichael, and Kate Mallory, a floozy with whom Jason has an affair. Janette Gregorian portrays Jason’s agent, Blanche Dailey, with plenty of sass to go along with her flashy wardrobe and wigs. Kelly Barry, who portrays Jason’s heartthrob business partner Phoebe, grows from an insecure young lady to a woman who comes into her own, complete with perfectly timed comedic lines.

Photo credit: Bob Emerson

The play, written by Bernard Slade, is the first solo venture directed by Kimberly Rau, who was asked to fill in with very short notice. Newly wed in July, she was just packing for her ‘familymoon’ with her wife, Jennifer Rau, and five kids when she got the call — and accepted. She soon found the cast hard-working and up for the task, relieving some of the potential stress of the timing. She recalls, “My first rehearsal, I arrived early and found two of the actors sitting on the grass going over their lines. I learned they did this often. The entire cast was repeatedly going above and beyond, proving that on top of their immense talent, they also collectively held a mind-blowing work ethic and sense of dedication. I should have guessed, with a title like Romantic Comedy, that the old cliché about the best things happening when you least expect them would be the take-away from this process.” 

This is a period piece, jumping in time from the 1950s to the ’70s, and the jazzy music reflects those eras. The lighting is standard (designer C. Richard Koster), and both are well handled by Angelina Manfredi, a student at the Jaqueline Walsh School for the Arts. “Our crew is largely comprised of Jacqueline M. Walsh (JMW) students, including Angelina, who is running our light board,” says Rau. “It’s so amazing to see a new generation of theater kids really getting interested in not just acting — though I know at least a few of them will be acting in Seussical with us — but also really being into learning about all of the stuff that gets a play on its feet.” 

The setting is simplistic in nature, yet has a story all its own that’s close to home. Rau says, “The set is interesting, if only because I wanted a pretty strong mid-century vibe and that’s not something that I could easily capture from the places we usually get set pieces. So the desk, one of the chairs, and some small pieces are on loan from other theaters. The gray couch and another chair are from a cast member. The lamp, plants, record player, clock — most of the rest of it came from my own home. A lot of the ties Jason messes with were my dad’s that he gave me when he retired.” Additionally, a few of the art pieces were created by Rau’s wife specifically for this production. Rau wanted mid-century artwork, so Jennifer came up with the photograph on the shelf and the two paintings on the walls. “My big nerdy thing is the potted palm stage right.” Explains Rau, “We have two — one that is far bigger and comes out in act two to replace the smaller one from act one and suggests the passage of time. They’re the most picky ‘actors’ on that stage.” Costumer Pamela Jackson, and props designer Susan Staniunas were both open to input, which is hospitable considering they had already gotten ideas from the first director, who had to step down suddenly.

Rau kept the production true to script. “This play is called Romantic Comedy and on the surface, it’s exactly that, but the author has put a lot of nuance into it. There are a lot of callbacks in the third act, for instance, to the first act. Both Allison and Leo refer to some aspect of their lives as the ‘consolation prize.’ Jason and Phoebe both refer to the same incident in Chicago without knowing the other had talked about it. The characters are actually very deep, and connected, and we had a lot of fun finding those connections and discussing them.” She adds, “The one change to the original is when Phoebe storms off stage after their fight at the end of act two. The script calls for her to grab, I kid you not, ‘a small tank of goldfish’ and then storm out. I cannot imagine. What a nightmare. We changed it to a plant.”

In the third act, we see the two men sharing the stage in game of manly one-upmanship. It’s a refreshing display of testosterone as Jason (portrayed by Duane Langley), and Leo (portrayed by returning TCP member Tom Lavallee) spar off verbally to get the girl. Lavallee is elated to be returning to TCP. “I haven’t been part of it since 2012.” He explains, “I finally had some time to get back to the local theater scene after doing two national tours. What better place to be to hone my skills.”

Romantic Comedy runs through September 22, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm, 350 Division St, Pawtucket. For more information, visit thecommunityplayers.net or call 401-726-6860. 




Shuck ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em

Shucks! It’s already time for the fifth annual Ocean State Oyster Festival, taking place Saturday, September 21 from 1 – 7pm at Riverwalk Park on South Water Street in PVD.

This year’s event will again feature delicious local food, food trucks, culinary exhibitors, local libations — including craft beer from Revival Brewing Company in Cranston and Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly — live music and children’s activities. Sharpen those oyster knives, there’s even a shucking contest at 5pm!

Says Dave Roebuck, co-founder of the event, “We recycle about 99% of what we sell at the festival, and we return 100% of our oyster shells into the local waters in order to form new oyster habitat.” Ocean State Oyster Festival is working with The Compost Plant and Nature Conservancy RI to recycle and compost all waste and oyster shells for reef building, so be sure to watch for the compost bins throughout the festival.

The Ocean State Oyster Festival aims to raise awareness of, and celebrate, RI’s aquaculture industry; provide a platform that helps expand RI’s aquaculture economy and support education programs for the public on the environmental sustainability of Narragansett Bay (in partnership with Save the Bay). The event aims to spread awareness of RI’s remarkable aquaculture and oyster economy. More than eight million oysters were harvested in RI in 2016, and that number continues to grow with the arrival of new oyster farms. We currently have more than 70 aquaculture farm businesses in the Ocean State spread over 274 leased acres in the bay and salt ponds. At last year’s event, more than 1,400 visitors slurped an astounding 15,000 oysters from these RI-based farms!

Tickets include six oysters, which you can choose from among the 18 RI oyster farms attending, plus a beverage (wine, beer or non-alcoholic). If you’re thirsting for more, additional oyster and drink tickets are available separately for purchase. Children under 12 are admitted free. For tickets and more information, oysterfestri.com