Walk it Off: A Pageant for Providence celebrates artists and offers opportunity for reflection

Providence is the star, stage and celebrated guest at the upcoming A Pageant for Providence, a COVID-safe performance-art walking tour taking place downtown. Taibi Magar, an acclaimed director, together with her life and professional partner, Tyler Dobrowsky, who served as associate artistic director at Trinity Repertory Company, created this project to celebrate the Providence community. They project provides space for people to reflect on the past year and offers an opportunity for healing as we move toward discovering what the new normal will be.

Pageant is a direct response to the pandemic. “It’s been a devastating year,” says Magar. “Our industry almost entirely collapsed. But out of this wreckage, we started doing work together, which has been pretty incredible.”

She describes the event. “It’s part ritual, it’s part performance. It’s more like a space for reflection and catharsis, and asking questions about how to be in space with each other again.”

“We have all gone through something,” adds Dobrowsky. “Let’s just have a moment to reflect on what we’ve gone through, to dream about what the future could hold. [Pageant is] very much built for this moment.”

The project, made possible by arts funds and a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts, celebrates the creative vision of various artists, including writers, dancers and musicians. The event starts as a series of audio tours, each of which leads participants on a unique walking tour through the city. Participants may choose one of six possible tours, each with its own distinct audio experience that includes songs, stories and historical testimony. All six tours will convene at the Providence Rink in Kennedy Plaza where a short communal ceremony concludes the tour.

A Pageant for Providence takes place August 12-14 in Providence and is free to the public. For more info, visit PageantforProvidence.com.

Treacherous Pen Pals: Head Trick Theatre presents Dangerous Liaisons web series

Providence’s Head Trick Theatre is all about live performance and sharing space with an audience; however, COVID forced them to shift. Their latest production is a web series, Dangerous Liaisons, adapted and directed by Head Trick founder Rebecca Maxfield from the novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. “I think it works as an episodic structure. Our production is based directly on the novel rather than being an adaptation of the existing play,” Maxfield says.

In the story, master manipulator the Marquise de Merteuil seeks revenge on a former lover by trying to arrange the premarital seduction of his young and naïve bride-to-be, Cécile. However, her dearest friend, the Vicomte de Valmont, has other prey in mind: He wants to seduce the seemingly unassailable Madame de Tourvel, a virtuous married woman. The story of sexual and romantic war games is told through letters, which lends itself well to current realities.

“The story is really well-suited to the conditions we’re working under right now, with everyone writing these letters or creating these videos from their homes or wherever they’re stuck at the time, when paper or a screen is the only means you have of communicating with people,” says Maxfield.  

How did all this first come together? “I think we had auditions for it in May, so it’s taken a while for it to be completed and start airing,” Maxfield says. “Everything was filmed at home via actors’ webcams. Auditions were open to people in any geographic location, but most people are local and have worked with me before.”

Maxfield met with actors in a Zoom meeting, which she says “was pretty much like what a live rehearsal would be like so we could get on the same page theatrically.” The main cast includes Stephanie Traversa, Pooja Usgaonkar, Dan J. Ruppel, Gail Rosewood, Charlie Santos and Sarah Sinclair. “I’m so excited to finally start showing the world what we were working on during the summer and fall,” says Maxfield.

What’s next for Head Trick? “We are in rehearsals for an audio production for A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Maxfield says. This will be a site-specific audio piece. “I didn’t just want to do a Zoom reading of something. Rather than sit in your house listening in one sitting, it will be released for download with guidelines for where to listen to specific scenes, such as a natural setting, or where you might go for a feeling of authority.”

She explains, “In a normal show, the presence of the audience impacts the show in a certain way. The actors feed off the audience’s response. If you choose to listen to the forest scenes in a super deep forest, versus sitting by a river with river sounds and different bird sounds, there’s a different feel. It was important to me to create something where the audience was a partner the way that they are in live theater.”

The Dangerous Liaisons intrigue unfolds with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Each episode runs 5 to 10 minutes in length and airs at 8pm on Head Trick’s Youtube channel (bit.ly/headtrickyoutube).

Dangerous Liaisons is free to watch. Donations are appreciated and can be made through Head Trick’s web store (bit.ly/dangerousdonations). Note: This series contains sexual themes and references to non-consensual sex. For more information, visit headtricktheatre.org or fb.com/headtricktheatre. 

Capture the Block — Stories from Ward 15: Building community block by block

The Wilbury Theatre Group has teamed up with The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities’ Culture is Key Initiative, and will soon be presenting the fruits of their labor with Capture the Block: Stories from Ward 15. Culture is Key is an initiative to understand, test and evaluate the role of cultural participation on our state’s civic health. Working in collaboration with journalist Ana González of The Public’s Radio, and with support from ONE Neighborhood Builders, The Wilbury Theatre Group solicited stories from neighbors in the Olneyville section of Providence who were willing to share their experiences of loss and resiliency in the COVID-19 pandemic. The project will culminate in Capture the Block.

In keeping with their mission, The Wilbury Theatre Group, being a nonprofit theater company that engages our community in thought-provoking conversation through new works, artistic director Josh Short contacted González for this collaboration. “The very real and human impact that COVID-19 has had on our neighborhood this year is heartbreaking,” says Short. “As one of the neighborhoods hit hardest, our friends and neighbors have seen their lives change drastically over the last 12 months. It’s our hope that Capture the Block provides a forum for remembrance and mourning through storytelling that helps our community in its healing, while amplifying the Humanities’ Council call for the urgent need for increased civic engagement from all of us.”

Ana González

Due to social distancing, González and Short had to get creative in their fact-finding mission. “The way we wound up doing it was like sample size. We weren’t able to go into the streets and talk to people, so we brought in about 10 people, of all different ages, to come and talk about the pandemic. We spoke with two high school students about the pressures of learning from home. They are taking on extra responsibilities themselves. One had to teach her younger sibling how to use Google Classroom because her parents don’t speak English,” González explains. “We also spoke with some parents about the stresses and challenges involved for working parents.”

“When we started this project almost six months ago, the world was in a different place,” says González. “We were hopeful that the pandemic would be over and done with by 2021 and we would be able to have an awesome in-person event with popcorn and hot chocolate, celebrating the streets of Olneyville in the streets of Olneyville. Obviously, we were wrong. This pandemic has taken so much from us. So, Josh and I decided to change the direction of our event to help our communities begin to heal by remembering all that we’ve lost and celebrating all that we’ve gained.”

Josh Short

The pandemic has created a space between neighbors that’s hard to fill, leaving us all feeling detached. “Afterward, Josh and I talked about how really great the experience of interviewing people and hearing their stories was, that it was nice to at least share the thoughts with people,” says González, who feels the sentiments span from low to high. “Sometimes it’s painful, boring, silly or weird — everything from sad to hopeful. Being able to talk with the community is really helpful.

 “The RI Council for Humanities started this as a pilot program. They want to support cultural institutions in the state on a civic level,” she says. “They’re learning in this process how museums and other cultural venues engage in the communities on a civic level, and I think they chose that word because of how tumultuous this past year has been — not just with the pandemic but politics, job security, because it’s been such an intense time for everybody. I was just kind of brought in as a journalist partner. They wanted to connect to these cultural organizations. I work with immigrants on very human interest stories and share their experiences. Josh asked me to get involved because of that. Olneyville is very Spanish speaking and I speak Spanish, so I was able to help Josh in the way he wanted help.” She is proudly of Puerto Rican and Irish decent.

As part of the Culture is Key initiative, five RI cultural organizations will undertake pilot projects where they will collaborate with local journalists to test and evaluate ways to further integrate civic engagement into cultural programming. These organizations span diverse disciplines including museums, libraries, theaters, festivals and youth programming. Each has a strong track record of delivering quality cultural experiences for diverse audiences across the Ocean State.

What’s next for González? “I’m still working on mosaics. We have a series of episodes for the summer. I’ll keep working with the immigrant population in the state, talking to them and helping them to communicate with each other. I think that’s so important in these isolating times.”

Capture the Block: Stories from Ward 15 is streaming for free on The Wilbury Group’s Facebook and YouTube Channels on February 21 at 6pm. For more information, visit thewilburygroup.org/capture-the-block

Fire Flowers and a Time Machine: Wilbury and WaterFire create a community experience

Hosted by The Wilbury Theatre Group, WaterFire Arts Center and WaterFire Providence, Fire Flowers and a Time Machine is a community experience by travelers of both time and space. The Wilbury describes this installment as “a journey where we encounter both ancestors and descendants from our history and future. These guides bring forth knowledge and magic through a story that weaves monologues, poetry, dance and ritual to share with us the wisdom we will need as we continue the journey through the transformations of our era.” 

Directed by Shey Rivera Ríos, Fire Flowers and a Time Machine is an outdoor production created in collaboration with performing artists Sussy Santana, Becci Davis, Laura Lamb Brown-Lavoie, Saúl Ramos Espola, Maritza Martell, Lilly Evelet Manycolors, April Brown and others to be announced. Shey Rivera Ríos opens and closes the performance with a Native American perspective on past, future and ancestors, on vibrantly flowered staging.

Luna Moon’s melodic tunes filled the night; photo credit: Alison O’Donnell

Opening night included a performance by Luna Moon, who treated spectators to an audio experience as she recorded and stacked lovely harmonies to herself, which she then sang to. After that, she read the audience a tale from her childhood, bespeckled with loving family humor. She encouraged her audience to read to others, and let others read for them, as that is a joyful yet forgotten pleasure. Luna says of opening night, “I think the night was very special because it allowed us to finally be in a space where we could connect in person. I feel honored to have been a part.”

Sussy Santana spreads community cheer in autumn adornment; photo credit: Alison O’Donnell

Sussy (pronounced Suzy) Santana wore a beautiful autumn leaf cape created by her sister, and read a poem describing her transition from life in the Dominican Republic (DR) to America as a young girl. Sussy also shared with us the poignant recent passing of her father in DR, whom she had not been able to go see due to COVID. As sage burned, she encouraged those in the audience to breathe together in community, and to thank our hands and legs for serving us well. She then told us more about herself, and encouraged the audience to do the same for her. It felt good to have that exchange of human bonding, something we have all been craving during this pandemic. “Community is all we have,” says Sussy. “Taking care of each other has never been more important.” A happy discovery, she is the mother of Luna Moon.

Much like their Decameron Providence performance series, attendees move from stage to stage along a beautifully lighted path, about five times, nothing too strenuous. COVID restrictions and social distancing are in place for this public event. Bring a favorite comfy folding chair (or one will be provided for you) and an umbrella; the show runs rain or shine. Food and beverage may be purchased at the event, and donations are welcome.

Fire Flowers and a Time Machine runs through Oct 17. For tickets and more information, visit The Wilbury’s website at thewilburygroup.org/fire-flowers.html or their Facebook page. WaterFire Arts Center is located at 475 Valley Street, PVD.

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.