For Mature Audiences Only

For medical reasons, it’s common (and legal) practice to provide warnings to theatergoers if there will be strobe effects or flashing lights in a theatrical production. That courtesy then extended to warnings in the lobby that the play you are about to see contains the sound of gunshots or other sudden noises that may startle or otherwise unintentionally traumatize. Most recently, we’ve seen notices concerning triggering topics addressed in the script so that people can prepare themselves. Contemporary Theater Company (CTC)’s latest production, Wonder of the World, goes so far as to rate their show “R” for various adult topics ranging from suicide and alcoholism to crude language and the stray clown or two – people do have their limits. 

In David Lindsay-Abaire’s whimsically reassuring, yet absurdly off-kilter self-discovery tale, a housewife abruptly leaves her husband (due to his bizarre inclinations involving Barbie doll heads) and journeys to Niagra Falls in search of the meaning of it all. She meets a motley bunch of characters along the way and the inevitable hilarity ensues. 

This is a perfect choice for CTC, as their production of Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers several years ago was one of their more memorable outings. Serious play is CTC’s brand, and Wonder of the World intends to deliver on that expectation. 

The Contemporary Theater Company presents David Lindsay-Abaire’s Wonder of the World, 327 Main St, Wakefield. Performances: Fri & Sat, Aug 9-31 at 7pm. *Not appropriate for children. Tickets available by phone at 401-218-0282 or in person at the theater. For more information, contemporarytheatercompany.com

A Little Theater’s Awakening

Roughly once a year, somebody in the area trots out Duncan Sheik’s musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s late-1800s seminal (pun intended) work, Spring Awakening. Often banned and/or censored in its original form, the oh-so-German play (with the subtitle A Children’s Tragedy), deals with the sexual repression of the early 20th century and the subsequent fallout. Now considered a classic signpost for modern theater, Spring Awakening deals with puberty, sexuality, rape, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide, abortion … all in an exhausting three-act juggernaut that required an alt-rock musical overhaul in 2006 to soften the edges and make it all palatable enough for anyone except the most hardcore theatergoers. It is this version of Spring that became a hot property, prompting young wannabe Wendlas and Melchiors (the two main protagonists of the piece) to put the roles on their musical bucket lists.

This time around, after recent stabs by Brown University, URI and Wilbury Theatre Group, Little Theatre of Fall River (LTFR) takes up the mantle and presents Spring Awakening August 8 -18 (Little Theatre Firebarn 340 Prospect St at Highland). Jared Robinson directs, with Eli Bigelow handling musical direction chores. Though the salaciousness of Spring Awakening has been toned down considerably since the 1891 original, by taking on the musical, LTFR demonstrates once again that they are a community theater willing to take on some harder material than the usual fluff pieces and challenge their audiences, so kudos all around for the attempt. Some performances are already sold out, so visit littletheatre.net, for tickets and more info.

On the Fringe

As July hits the midway mark, the RI summer theater season starts to think Fringe. On the heels of PVDFest, Olneyville takes center stage with the Wilbury Theatre Group-sponsored FringePVD, taking place July 23 – 27. This year marks the sixth appearance of RI’s answer to Edinburgh and New York with a festival that celebrates both emerging and established performing artists. Creating ties between artists, audiences, businesses and local organizations, FringePVD is a once-a-year chance to produce and experience work that can challenge the senses and sensibilities (while still providing plenty of family-friendly fun). Some artists try new pieces while others seek to hone and improve existing work. An alternately overwhelming and satisfyingly immersive experience, FringePVD has established itself as one of the must-see occasions in and around PVD.

This year’s flagship event is The Olneyville Expo, billed as “A Celebration of Olneyville, Past, Present, and Future.” Created by Darcie Dennigan, Jesse Hawley and James Stanley, the Expo is presented by Wilbury, in collaboration with Providence’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism and additional support from WaterFire Providence, TROOP, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and The Rhode Island Foundation Community Grant program. A theatrical event in the 19th century “Chautauqua” tradition of artistic variety, ethics and education, the Expo gathers community groups, historians, ecologists, storytellers, artists, performers, engineers and artisans to create a collaborative portrait of the Olneyville neighborhood where Wilbury now makes its home. Starting at Donigian Park (228 Valley Street), the Expo will happen over three nights (July 25 – 27, 7 – 9pm).

Wilbury artistic director Josh Short is quick to praise the efforts and collaborative spirit of “dozens of community organizations, including DOT-supplied driverless cars … a little bit of everything,” he says. “It’s hard to point out any one performance or event [although he does name drop Being for the Other, presented by international theater collective B4 the Other Creations, as well as Crate, presented by Jed Hancock-Brainerd and Casey Seymour Kim the same duo that brought us the impeccable Idle in the summer of 2015].” Short also points out the Wednesday night Fringe Artists Panel Discussion (sponsored by The Dramatists Guild) with playwrights and other writers as a unique event that couldn’t happen anywhere else.

“There’s also Family Fringe, of course,” he says. “We have lots of partners there, with the YMCA, a bounce house, free ice cream, mask making workshops and a parade sponsored by the City of Providence.” The closing party (July 27 at 9:30pm) will be hosted by Matthew Lawrence of Law and Order Party, with music by Unkle Thirsty and a variety of other Fringe artist performances. There, Lawrence will host the #FringePVDAwards, where social media-nominated oddities (ie, “Best Use of a Cantaloupe,” “Sweatiest Show,” “Most Mournful Use of a Rhinoceros”) are hand-picked and presented.

When pressed to say how this year’s Fringe has developed over the past several years, Short points out the nature of the festival’s core location. “The entire team has worked on delivering this on a bigger scale, with the addition of the Expo, and making it bigger, more interesting and engaging the community. This time, we’ve looked for ways to be more inclusive and, particularly, to be bilingual wherever we can. Our social media and marketing have been bilingual and the Expo will have live translation (both English to Spanish and vice versa). Gentrification of Olneyville is a big issue going way back, and we want to have a conversation about how this affects the largely Latinx community in a non-confrontational way.”

Kicking off with an Opening Night party at the Wilbury space on Monday, July 22 (40 Sonoma Court), FringePVD runs Tuesday, July 23 through Saturday, July 27. Notable performances include:

The multi-media musical theater piece Letters from the Affair by The Afro-Semitic Experience. Based on a series of letters written by the Impressionist painters Camille Pissarro and Edgar Degas. These letters are framed to tell a little-known story from the end of the 19th century about the relationship between these two founding members of the French Impressionist Art movement. The story centers on their friendship as artists and how it deteriorated and then completely ended because of their differing views regarding the Dreyfus affair. ​

Pretty Bird, presented by Dugway Proving Ground Theater. A darkly comic theatrical melange about the precariousness of putting all your eggs in one basket. The production is the East Coast premiere of a new play by RI native Lily Mathews. 

ActingPolitical’s newest thought-provoking piece, Headspace is an interactive show investigating mental health, self-care and the pernicious happiness industry. The production gives audience members permission to complain, cry and be sad.

The Chronic Single’s Handbook provides an unflinching look at how men feel about sex, love, marriage and massage parlors. Described as “Eat, Pray, Love meets The Forty-Year-Old Virgin,” the story begins in Boston and goes astray in Greece, South Africa and Asia. Sweet, innocent and a touch raunchy with adult situations, adult language and more adult situations. The one-man show is presented by Somerville, Mass, native Randy Ross.

What happens in an arena occupied by two secret champions? Is it possible to discover kindness and community? Or are we all just killing time and each other? Crate is a new creation by the local artists (Jed Hancock-Brainerd and Casey Seymour Kim) who brought you the award-winning and unnerving satire Idle.

Being for the Other, presented by B4 the Other Creations is an immersive theatrical experience where audiences are guided through physical, emotional, individual and group efforts as they deep dive into quintessential play exploration exercises. Being For The Other offers up the idea of what it means to “hold space” for “the other.” For both actors and audience alike, this devised production rewinds time to that of the playground.

The above listing is just a brief sample of what can be found at the 2019 FringePVD festival. See opposite page or visit fringepvd.org for a complete and updpated listing of times, locations and pricing. Your town, your festival … on the fringe.

Head Trick Puts Queen Margaret Center Stage

Lost in sea of testosterone-filled heroes, Shakespeare’s women often get short shrift. And while everyone can conjure up the Kates and Ophelias and Juliets, how often do we hear about Shakespeare’s largest female role? Queen Margaret is a larger part than some of Will’s famous men, but it’s split up among so many plays that she is often forgotten altogether. Providence’s Head Trick Theatre aims to change that misperception with the American premiere of Queen Margaret, adapted by Jennifer Dick. The opening salvo in their 2019-20 season, the theater has this to say about the show: “In War With Time, Margaret weaves original source material from the character’s appearances in various Shakespeare plays, from Henry VI to Richard III, allowing a clear narrative to shine through, unimpeded.”

Head Trick artistic director Rebecca Maxfield tells Motif, “I love that we get to see the very clear evolution of Margaret as a character, from this young bride in a foreign court to this scary military leader. The small cast, which is a particular feature of this adaptation that I like, also lets us bring in the audience as Lancaster and York lords/soldiers who are ‘present’ in scenes and whom the characters address — it’s a great way to involve the audience, and also gets into some of what I’m interested in with this adaptation, which is the idea of partisanship. It’s really easy to say that we chose this show to capitalize on ‘Game of Thrones’ fandom, and while we’re not going to deliberately shy away from that audience, if that was really the play we were making we’d have chosen one of the adaptations of the ‘Henry VIs’ that kept the magic scenes. Rather, I’m interested in how people watch ‘Game of Thrones,’ or Avengers: Civil War, or sports — you have a house that you want to win the game of thrones, you’re Team Cap or Team Iron Man and so on. You put yourself on a side, and the side that you’re on influences how you view the events of the plot as they unfold. This adaptation really lends itself to interpretations of characters that could go both ways, at many moments, so I’m very excited to see if people might view the characters as heroes or villains, depending on whether or not they [the audience members] are Lancasters or Yorks.”

Head Trick Theatre presents the American premiere of Jennifer Dick’s adaptation of Queen Margaret, July 11 – 21, AS220, 95 Empire St, PVD

The Band’s Visit Visits PPAC

The delightfully offbeat and heartwarming The Band’s Visit launches its National Tour at the Providence Performing Arts Center on June 25th. Winner of ten 2018 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as well as grabbing the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album (Brown University alum David Yazbek gets credit for a blend of jazz and Middle Eastern music), The Band’s Visit is lucky to have retained its original star, Sasson Gabay, for the tour. Gabay, who originated the lead role of Tewfiq for the film that spawned the Broadway show, took over the role again onstage in New York (after Tony Shalhoub’s turn for which he credited Gabay for his inspiration) and now brings it to Providence and the rest of the country.

Gabay, one of Israel’s biggest film and television stars, has a long list of impressive credits (and can be seen in Rambo III, for the less theatrically inclined) that also encompasses a love of the stage. Born in Baghdad in 1947, his family immigrated to Israel when he was three and settled in Haifa. After his mandatory military service, Gabay chose to study theater and psychology at Tel Aviv University and went on to an acting career that spans all mediums and continues to dazzle audiences across the globe. He has been the leading actor of the Beit Lessin Theatre company in Tel Aviv, starring in their productions of Uncle Vanya, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Rain Man, Cyrano de Bergerac and many other Israeli plays. His film credits (aside from his creation of the role of Tewfiq in 2007’s The Band’s Visit) include Restoration, Rambo III (appearing alongside Sly Stallone), When Pigs Have Wings, Hunting Elephants and Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem. The latter role earned him an Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actor.

The Band’s Visit originated as an Israeli film, centering around the quiet Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria and his Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra. Due to a pronunciation mixup, the band winds up in an isolated desert town instead of their actual tour destination and, in their own way, shakes up the lives of the local residents. The subsequent Broadway production retained the charm of the film and Gabay’s return to the role of Tewfiq maintains a continuity across the mediums.

Motif was able to chat with Mr. Gabay recently as he rehearses in Providence for the launch of the national tour and our first question was to do a little housecleaning and clear up the mystery surrounding the spelling of his last name, which often appears as “Gabai.”

MOTIF: Depending on what source we read, the spelling of your surname is seen as either “Gabai” or “Gabay.” There is even an argument on a YouTube video comments section regarding this. What is the actual spelling?

Sasson Gabay: There was a time I used it as “ai,” but I regretted that and went back to my original spelling of “ay;” so it is spelled “Gabay.”

MOTIF: What got you interested in theater after your military service? Was it something you decided to take up, or was it a continuation of something you had always been interested in pursuing?

Gabay: I have always been interested, since childhood, let’s say 11 or 12 years old. It started from I was used to listening to radio plays. At the time they were showing radio plays of all kinds, some classical European, and Israeli, and as a child I listened to this and got caught up by this. One day I was at school and I got some small stage part and started to be more and more interested in theater and then, before long, I was dreaming and fantasizing about becoming an actor. In Israel you can be involved in these entertainment groups. Unfortunately, I was not accepted to this and during my army service, I went many times to Tel Aviv University as an outsider and to watch and listen to acting classes, etc. But I wasn’t sure I belonged to this profession as I had no feedback from anyone. So, I also studied psychology, as an alternate, something that I lived with, and dealing with emotions. So, I studied in parallel. Very soon I knew that I belonged to this profession and got feedback. But I always wanted it. I was a shy boy and a quiet boy and some little plays we produced as kids… all of a sudden it felt very good. Since then I’m caught and wanted to repeat this feeling of freedom. I soon found myself confident and I started doing it.

MOTIF: You have a storied career so far, with a wealth of experience in theater, film and television. Which medium do you prefer?

Gabay: I like them all very much, the feel of them. To shift from one medium to another and use techniques you don’t use in the others, I like that. But I am first and foremost a theater actor. I was in theater all my life. While doing films and tv I was doing also theater. I’ve never abandoned theater. First of all, as a theater actor, I like the live audience. I feel good in it, physical, emotionally and mentally it gives me the most satisfaction. Although I love film and tv, which I can manifest other qualities.

MOTIF: Turning now to The Band’s Visit. Between the film, which you starred in, and then the Broadway version, which Tony Shalhoub made famous before you took it over from him, and now the tour, how do you feel about your originating and carrying this iconic role? Do you feel a responsibility to audiences when they come to see you perform this part?

Gabay: I feel a responsibility and a satisfaction and I do… I feel responsible for it. Because I created the role in the film in 2007. And since then, this part and the movie never left me. It kept with me. Orin Wolf, who produced the show, as a matter of fact approached me in 2010 and asked if I would be interested in doing it on stage. Then it took some years to produce it and eventually he started Off-Broadway and used Tony Shalhoub. I saw him at a certain point when they moved to Broadway, and Tony had to go to his other obligations, and Orin approached me again and I responded positively. I took some months to release from commitments in Tel Aviv and other commitments in Israel.

MOTIF: Did you ever see Tony Shalhoub’s performance?

Gabay: I saw Tony do the role and he was wonderful and he gave me a great compliment that I was his inspiration. This part never left me.

MOTIF: With such a long career, do you have any fun theater stories?

Gabay: I was fortunate to have a long career and many things have happened to me….hmm, here’s one. I was nominated as Best Actor for EFA (European Film Awards) in 2007, and as one of the nominees, I was sitting in the ceremony and usually they say, “and the nominees are,” but they started with, and they said, “the winner is..” and then they said Sasson Gabay. I thought they would then continue. But they said it a second and third time and I was hesitant, but I look at my wife and colleague and we think, they probably mean I have to go onstage. Well, while I was going to the stage, all of a sudden, they say “and the other nominees” … and I was onstage already, so I felt so embarrassed.  And they lean in to me and say “don’t worry it’s a mistake, it’s you.” So, I went back to my table, and they were so embarrassed for me. After I hear my name again, I went back onstage for the award, and I say, “I’m always better on the second take!”

Motif: A great story! So, you’re here in Rhode Island now, about to launch the tour. Is this your first time in Providence or in Rhode Island?

Gabay: This is my first time here. I’ve been to Boston, but I know that’s not the same. I am really impressed by the place! On a day off, I have a good friend who lives here and he took me and my son, Adam, took us to Newport and all the nice places and we spent a wonderful day in Providence. We discovered such things…the sea and the places, the coffees. I’ve had a wonderful time in Rhode Island. With a big tour, you usually spend the whole day in the theater, but I managed to see Providence.

What is wonderful for me, is my son is 21, and he is one of the parts in the play. He came to visit me on Broadway, and they were taking auditions for the Israeli parts, and he has been acting since childhood and is doing an HBO series, which airs this summer in Israel. They were looking for Israeli actors and one of the actors says to Orin (Wolf, the producer), why won’t Adam audition? Sure enough, he auditions and they are so thrilled and they were so happy with him, they offered him the job, one of the kids embarrassed with girls. It’s like a fairytale and now we are going to tour together which is a gift, a dream. I didn’t initiate it. To spend a year with my kid doing a very good play…it doesn’t seem realistic, it’s not nepotism, they were just looking for Israeli characters!

Motif: Thank you very much for spending time with us today and we look forward to opening night at PPAC for The Band’s Visit.

Gabay: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to speak with you and maybe we see you there!

The North American Tour of THE BAND’S VISIT will open at the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) June 25 – 30. Tickets are on sale now at the PPAC Box Office (located at 220 Weybosset St in downtown Providence), online at ppacri.org and by phone at 401-421-ARTS (2787). Box Office Hours are Monday through Friday, 10A to 5P, Saturday, 10A to 2P and two hours prior to curtain time(s) on performance days.

Merry Wives in PVD

It’s Shakespeare in the Park season and, as our Summer Guide indicates, there are a slew of offerings all over the state from which to choose. It wouldn’t be summer in Providence, however, without Bob Colonna’s TRIST performing a Bard classic in Roger Williams National Memorial Park (282 N Main St). This year, TRIST gives us The Merry Wives of Windsor through June 30.

Windsor features
Shakespeare’s favorite rogue, Falstaff, as he plots to seduce two wealthy women
for their money, but finds himself the butt of several embarrassing pranks
produced by first the wives, and then the whole town. TRIST has streamlined the
story, cutting out the entire subplot, “which is clumsy
anyway,” according to Colonna, “and went with the main story of Falstaff’s
lumbering flirtations and the machinations of the unreasonably jealous Master
Ford.” The result is a shorter version of Windsor
that still packs in two acts of laughter. Colonna adds, “This is not only
Shakespeare’s funniest play, but also his most feminist.”

While some would counter that Merry Wives displays a less-than-classic
take on Falstaff (as compared to the Henry
outings), the play nevertheless has (and had) its adherents, including Antonio
Salieri’s operatic adaptation, so perhaps it only seems mediocre by

This take on Windsor features TRIST favorites Julian Ruth Trilling, Jeffrey Ouellette, Cherylee Sousa Dumas, Geoff White and Mark Carter, among others.

Weather is always a factor, so keep that in mind when planning to head downtown, but you’ll have plenty of chances as Windsor runs three weekends, Thursday through Sunday at 8pm. Bring a picnic basket and a lawn chair or blanket; the few seats in the park fill up quickly.

TRIST presents Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, June 14-30, Roger Williams National Memorial, 282 N Main St, PVD. Admission is free, courtesy of RWNM. All showtimes at 8pm, Thu – Sun.

Waiting in the Wings: Summer is set to take the stage

PurpleFloweSamllrSummertime is a changing of the guard in theater. Many companies call it quits for the season, or substantially shift their programming away from mainstage offerings while others are only getting started once the days are at their longest. With the dizzying array of choices available in RI theater, it’s a daunting task to figure out what’s happening where. Alongside all of the unique festivals and semi-theatrical events that can be experienced this summer (ie, WaterFire, PVDFest and of course Hamilton at PPAC), Motif has gathered the details on what’s hitting area stages near you. Your entertainment calendar starts here.

Epic Theatre Company brings a couple of familiar names to the stage after a season of edgier fare with new adaptations of the perennial classics Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden.

“If you had told me a few years ago that we’d be doing a summer like this, I would have thought you were crazy,” says Epic artistic director Kevin Broccoli, but “it felt like we had earned the opportunity to explore stories about kindness and childhood. These two novels are personal favorites of mine, and I can’t wait to have the theater be filled all summer long with laughter, love and compassion.”

Charlotte’s Web kicks things off, running July 12 – 27. Broccoli will direct production, which will feature Epic regulars Justin Pimentel as Templeton, Ian Hudgins as Wilbur and Kerry Giorgi as Charlotte. Karen Foster adapts the iconic novel by E.B. White.

August 9 – 24, the theater will turn its resident home at 50 Rolfe Square into The Secret Garden. The beautiful novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett is transformed in a gorgeous new adaptation by Gwen Beaton. Megan Ruggiero will be directing a cast that includes Erika Fay Greenwood making her Epic debut as Mary.

“When I started telling people what we were planning on doing this summer, the reaction was ‘Oh, so you’re doing children’s theater,’ and I would say, ‘No, we’re doing Epic theater,’ says Broccoli. “These are shows we felt still fit our mission and while it’s wonderful that I can finally invite younger audiences into our space, we think these plays are going to offer something for everyone, and that’s what’s making us so excited.”

Both Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden will be presented at the Artists Exchange, home of Epic Theatre Company, located at 50 Rolfe Square in Cranston, Rhode Island. For more information, e-mail Info@EpicTheatreRI.org

It wouldn’t be summer in RI without Bill Hanney’s Theatre by the Sea and this year, Hanney and Co. tinker with the usual formula, eschewing the opening “jukebox” musical for a world premiere that has received a few workshops, but makes its full debut in Matunuck. Love and Other Fables, a “romantic screwball company” that recalls the vibe of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum while maintaining its own unique twists, features a crack New York-based cast and runs May 29 to June 16. TBTS keeps the summer hot with the rest of its lineup, all Broadway-caliber musicals adapted from classic films:  Singin’ in the Rain, runs June 19 to July 13 and is immediately followed up by Disney’s Newsies in its RI professional premiere (not to be confused with the outstanding premiere presented by community theater, Academy Players, last year.) Newsies runs from July 17 through August 10. The summer ends with a sleazy disco bang as Saturday Night Fever, the stage version of the extraordinarily successful 1977 movie, runs August 14 to September 8. And, as always, the TBTS stage hosts a variety of youth and family programming in and around its mainstage schedule (and don’t forget the late night cabaret!). For details and ticket reservations, call 866-811-4111 or 401-782-TKTS (8587), or visit theatrebythesea.com

There’s no shortage of Shakespeare this summer, including offerings by CCRI’s third annual summer series, sort of a college-based summerstock, if you will, featuring actors from the RI theater community. This year, they feature two offerings, starting with The Tempest, directed by Kira Hawkridge, July 18  to 21 and then Henry V, directed by Ted Clement, August 8 to 11.

Burbage Theatre Company artistic director Jeff Church mans the helm for a free outdoor production of Julius Caesar, July 25 – August 11. Shows take place at Pawtucket’s Veterans Memorial Amphitheater, Isle Brewers Guild, Rose Larisa Park and Slater Park. For dates and locations visit burbagetheatre.org/juliuscaesar

Colonial Theatre (often simply referred to as “Shakespeare in the Park”), one of RI’s professional companies, is back in Westerly this year with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented in Westerly’s Wilcox Park July 31 through August 18. Admission is always free to the public, so enjoy the return of Colonial to the park in Westerly. For more information, visit colonialtheatreri.org

One of the area’s longest-running Shakespeare companies, What Cheer, Shakespeare? is pleased to announce that they will also be performing Midsummer at Bristol’s Mount Hope Farm on Friday, July 12 and Saturday, July 13 at 7pm. The show also will be performed outdoors, under the stars on the lawn behind the Governor Bradford House. If it rains, the show will be moved inside the Farm’s Civil War-era Barn, adjacent to the Gardens.

Head Trick Theatre throws their unique twist into the Shakespeare fray by presenting Queen Margaret, an evolution of Shakespeare’s largest female role, adapted from Shakespeare’s texts by Jennifer Dick. This US premiere runs July 11 to 21 and explores Margaret from captive war bride to warrior queen. Is Margaret a hero or a villain? Find out for yourself in this unique adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s epic characters. Performances take place at AS220’s 95 Empire Street black box theater in PVD. Visit headtricktheatre.org for more information.

Newport’s Seaside Stage Society offers up Romeo and Juliet in August, reimagined in a Vegas nightclub setting, but not before they present the Agatha Christie-meets- “Clue” suspense thriller 13 Past Midnight in July. For show dates and more information, visit facebook.com/pg/SeasideStageSociety.

And summer would not be the same without Bob Colonna’s TRIST theater offering up Shakespeare in Roger Williams National Memorial park in downtown Providence. This time around, TRIST presents The Merry Wives of Windsor June 13 to 30, Thursday through Sunday at 8pm. Bring a picnic basket, your lawn chair or blanket, and admission is free.

One of the most anticipated theatrical events of the summer is always PVD’s own Fringe Festival, with a dizzying array of plays, artistic events and general awesomeness. Sponsored in large part by Wilbury Theater Group (currently presenting a stunning take on Fun Home (see review page XX)), FringePVD runs July 31 through August 4 all over the city, but centers around the Olneyville section, including the WaterFire Arts Center (475 Valley Street) and the Wilbury Theatre (40 Sonoma Ct). With so much to choose from that week, it’s wise to get a schedule in advance and plan your time accordingly. Visit fringepvd.org/schedule–events for a constantly updated roster. Worthy of consideration are 50 Shades of Gay (August 2 and August 4), an adult variety show starring Get Out Magazine’s LGBT Comedian of the Year, Ike Avelli, as well as Our Town Plus Zombies, the “lost third act of Our Town” where Grover’s Corners is besieged by an uprising of the recently dead, returned hungry for the brains of the living (July 31 and August 2). This year’s festival culminates with The Ovie Awards at 6pm on August 4, celebrating the best of the best in Providence’s hippest neighborhood. Immersive igloo experiences, cutting-edge theater and constant surprises make that week a staycation obligation for locals.

Warm up for Fringe with the 14th annual One Act Play Festival at the Artists Exchange (July 11 to July 27 at Theatre 82 & Café in Cranston). The OAPF is an all-inclusive community theater event celebrating creative collaboration of playwrights, actors, musicians, visual artists and technical theater artists. This is a refreshing collection of original one acts, including comedies, dramas and slices of life. Performed by actors of all ages and abilities, the festival is a family-friendly celebration of the essence of community theater. For more information, visit artists-exchange.org/one-act-play-festival

Pawtucket’s Mixed Magic Theatre brings us a return performance of the original musical Night’s People by Ricardo Pitts-Wiley and Robert Schleeter. Performances will be at Trinity Rep Friday, June 14 and 15. In their own space on Mineral Spring Ave, they present two one-offs: Juneteenth, Never Silent Voices: Those Who Spoke for Freedom and Justice on June 19 and Rise to Black: Songs for our Fathers on June 28. Visit mmtri.org/performances for more details.

Returning to the south of the Cranston-Dixon line, we find the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield, presenting, among their usual array of camps and classes, their beloved improv-based event, To Be Continued… An Improvised Soap Opera, Thursdays June 20 through Aug 29 at 7pm. Improvisers weave plots of love, deception, unexpected reunions, life and death situations – everything you need for a juicy soap opera made up on-the-spot. The show bears repeated viewings, as plotlines expand and stretch from week to week. Don’t miss out on your stories! June 28 through July 27 sees their production of The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarías. Did you want more Shakespeare? Well, CTC has you covered with their annual Shakespeare on the Saugatucket. Two Gentlemen of Verona runs Wednesdays and Sundays in July at 7 pm on the Performance Patio. And, in August, Henry IV, Part 1 follows the same schedule. Wonder of the World by David Lindsay-Abaire is on tap on the mainstage August 9 through 31 and CTC will close out their summer season with The Skriker by Caryl Churchill, opening September 20. For information on all of the above, visit contemporarytheatercompany.com (CTC’s programming is quite varied, so you’ll want to keep this bookmarked) or simply call 401-218-0282.

Aside from all of the above, several of RI’s theaters continue to chug along, providing year-long programming, including Westerly’s Granite Theatre (the Renaissance Theatre Co.). Their summer includes Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park (Jun 28 – Jul 31), On Golden Pond (Aug 2 – 25) and Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (Sep 6 -29). Academy Players presents a variety of In Concert musical presentations, including Ragtime, and Little Theater of Fall River brings us two shows, including the musical adaptation of Spring Awakening August 8 through 18. Newport Playhouse always has something on tap, with Always a Bridesmaid running through July 1 and Funny Money running July 10 – August 30. From the Norton Singers in Massachusetts to the tip of Aquidneck island, there’s enough theater to keep your calendar filled almost every night of the week.

And, of course, the RI theater community comes together on August 11th at McVinney Auditorium in Providence for the annual MOTIF magazine RI Theater Awards, celebrating the wide variety of live theater from the past year. Live performances from some of the past year’s best musicals accompany the ceremony and the event is free and open to the public. We’ll see you onstage or in the audience somewhere in Rhode Island this summer!”

TBTS Opens the Season with Love and Other Fables Premiere

love-and-other-fables-TBTS01_e7c77e77-5056-a36a-0b11ca06c72dd1cfFans of musical theater are often hard-pressed these days to find new offerings that aren’t based on movies, television shows, other plays or someone’s Greatest Hits collection. It’s understandable, given the time and financial effort required to stage an untested prospect at the professional level, that producers will tend to shy away from new work. So, when Bill Hanney decided last year (after a little market research) to open Theatre by the Sea’s 2019 season with an original musical, many wondered if tinkering with his usual formula of nothing-but-the-hits summer fare was going to pay off. However, given the stability and year-after-year growth of TBTS, Hanney decided to take a chance on a “screwball romantic comedy” that is new, but feels more than a little familiar.

Love and Other Fables, which just opened in previews, sees its official world premiere in Matunuck on Friday, May 31, and runs through June 16, taking the opening slot formerly reserved for intimate, small-cast jukebox musicals. “When I saw last summer’s audiences overwhelmingly voted on our survey to see a new work during the season, I knew it was the right time to give this show the premiere it deserves. Being the first audiences to see this hysterical musical before it gets to Broadway is something they will remember for a very long time,” enthuses Hanney. The connection comes through legendary Broadway casting director Jay Binder, who was attached to the project almost from the very start. Once Hanney was exposed to Fables through its various workshops and “in concert” showcases, he was immediately an evangelist for the piece.

Set on the Greek island of Samos in 600 BC, Love and Other Fables follows the early life of Aesop, the not-yet-famous slave, as he creates the “fable,” persistently woos the headstrong girl of his dreams, enters into a battle of wits with the King of Egypt and changes the course of history. If it sounds not too unlike A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, it’s a comparison that co-creator John McMahon welcomes (not to mention the TBTS box office staff who are challenged to describe the show to curious ticketbuyers who aren’t used to being unfamiliar with every show in the season). “If I’m going to be compared to anything,” he says, “Forum is certainly a welcome choice.”

McMahon tells Motif that he began collaborating with partner Jay Jeffries on Fables after meeting him at a Jay Binder-helmed production of No No Nanette. “Jay was hired to write harmony pieces for high school glee clubs at one point, and found himself setting fables to music and wondered if maybe he had a musical there. He tried two other composers before he met me, but neither of them really knew how to write music. And, I had heard of him, and his ability to write really good lyrics, through the piano bar network. I needed someone to write the title song for a musical revue that I created called Bottoms Up! and we had a song in three days. Unheard of! Usually, you get people telling you that ‘your play’s on my desk…I’ll get to it,’ but he immediately expressed an interest in working with us. So, it all started through that collaboration.” Jeffries’ lyrical prowess was highlighted in early reviews of the workshops, with the Chicago Sun-Times saying, “[Love and Other Fables] shows every sign of becoming a surprise hot property … the most astonishing, whip-smart lyrics, with one rapid-fire rhyming line after another perfectly attuned to its properly pronounced syllables.”

Motif had a sneak peek at the initial meet and greet of cast and crew on the first day of rehearsals and the assembled lineup has quite a pedigree. Binder’s team includes choreography by multi-Helen Hayes Award-winner Parker Esse, and musical direction by Ed Goldschneider, currently the musical director for Off-Broadway’s NEWSical. The cast includes Brian Sears (Aesop), whose Broadway and West End credits include The Book of Mormon (Elder Cunningham), Lend Me a Tenor, Finian’s Rainbow, Grease and All Shook Up. The role of Catastrophe will be portrayed by three-time MAC Award-winner, Alison Nusbaum. Blake Hammond, whose Broadway credits include First Date, Sister Act, Elf, Billy Elliot, The Lion King, Hairspray, The Music Man, Kiss Me Kate, and On The Town, will portray the role of King Croesus of Lydia. David Groccia of North Providence is one of the few Rhode Islanders on tap. Kyle Dixon’s set design was given a sneak peek at rehearsals, promising the usual sophistication we’ve come to expect from his work at TBTS.

With the right ingredients in place, all that remains is to see how audiences will respond to this less than politically correct romp, featuring witty dad-joke puns such as “I’m not knockin’ a Deus ex Machina!” John McMahon didn’t seem too worried about the response. “In this climate, just go and laugh. And forget for two hours. We just wanted a real fun ‘that kind of’ musical. Go laugh.”

Bill Hanney’s Theatre By The Sea presents the world premiere of Love and Other Fables May 29 – June 16, Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8pm, Thursdays at 2pm, Saturdays at 3pm and Sundays at 5pm, with special performance times on Sunday, June 2 at 2pm & 7pm. 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield. Discount rates are available for groups of 10 or more by calling 401-782-3800 x112. Tickets are on sale at the box office Monday through Saturday from 11am – 6pm and performance days from 11am until curtain, online 24-hours-a-day at theatrebythesea.com and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling 866-811-4111 or 401-782-TKTS (8587).

No Simple Answers in Counter-Productions’ Gidion’s Knot

“We watch the war and we write about the great deeds done or the horrors done. And that is how God remembers you – the way we write you. And no other way.”

  • Johnna Adams, Gidion’s Knot

Victoria Ezikovich as Heather Valerie Remillard as Corryn Photo credit: Jason Talbot
Victoria Ezikovich as Heather
Valerie Remillard as Corryn
Photo credit: Jason Talbot

The term “Gordian Knot” is commonly used to describe a complex or unsolvable problem that is resolved with a simple, yet overlooked, workaround. The historical “knot” in question was severed by Alexander the Great’s sword, whereas the tangled mess found within Johnna Adam’s play about child suicide and adult responsibility has no such resolution and the title’s pun (Gidion is the name of the child in question) almost dares us to believe that answers in such cases could ever be as easy as a simple cut-and-run. Counter-Productions Theatre Company takes their final bow with this Kira Hawkridge-directed gut punch and the echoes of the unanswered questions will hang in the air of 95 Empire’s black box for some time to come.

The premise of Gidion’s Knot is certainly complex and often harrowing – a grieving mother shows up at her dead son’s grammar school in order to keep a parent-teacher conference that had been scheduled to address why the boy had been suspended from school. As the conference had been scheduled before the boy takes his own life, his teacher assumes that the mother won’t show and, when she appears in the classroom, prepared to keep her appointment, a dialogue ensues that forces questions both necessary and impossible to face head-on without going insane. Throughout the one-act piece, we learn that Gidion was either severely bullied or an instigator of violence. We find that he may have been gay while also the subject of a female classmate’s affection. Gidion’s flights of brutal, escapist poetry and his Freudian quagmires are overwhelming for a fifth grade teacher who has barely made the transition from marketing professional to classroom, and the mother, a college poetry professor whose aggressive, analytical nature may or may not mirror her dead son’s outlook on life, sets her in immediate opposition to a teacher whose instincts are sound, but whose experience may not allow her to deal with a student as tortured and perverse as a Gidion.

As Corryn, the mother, Valerie Remillard is fierce yet stately, driving the play’s forward motion, even during the pregnant pauses that define the first movement of the play, as the two women struggle to establish a dialogue. She captures a resigned fatalism imbued with a simple need – to find out why her son was suspended from school and to what extent that event contributed to his suicide. Victoria Ezikovich’s portrayal of Heather, the teacher, is appropriately haunted and fragmented as she transitions from a defensive posture, warding off Corryn’s verbal attacks and eventually (and quite literally) dropping the bombshell concerning Gidion’s actions despite her legal requirements to keep quiet.

Hawkridge’s direction balances between traditional staging and a devised surrealism that heightens the emotional stakes, drawing the audience into something more than the voyeuristic, passive receiver of information that would normally be the case. Instead of characters leaving the space (as each woman is required to do in the script at certain points), Hawkridge blocks her characters to walk in circles around and through the audience, making us privy to their soundless inner monologues. Even the playing space is circular in nature, with a circle of chairs surrounding a round patch of tiled classroom floor floating in an otherwise murky blackness. With a script that often repeats itself and revolves around seemingly mundane details again and again, Hawkridge’s approach mirrors what could be a flaw in the writing and elevates it into a comment on how unanswerable the situation is and will always be. Instead of traditional props, she has her actors use small plastic balls, like the ones found in children’s play pits, inviting the audience to attach their own weight to their meanings. A crumpled note that Corryn grasps is symbolized by a white ball while Heather clings to a blue ball that we later realize is her cellphone, agonizingly silent while she waits for a call from her vet concerning her dying cat. At show open, we see Heather gathering and organizing colored balls into categories, a vain attempt to create order out of chaos. When Heather is forced to reveal the contents of a murder-rape fantasy that Gidion has written and distributed among his classmates, instead of pulling out sheets of paper, she dumps a duffel bag of white balls into the playing space, filling the room with thoughts and emotions that she desperately tries to gather and hold as she narrates Gidion’s obscene, yet awfully compelling, fiction.

The device has its own internal logic, even if it may not land with all audience members in the way it was intended. “I consistently enjoy substituting a specific element for traditional props,” says Hawkridge. “I find it opens the door for actors and audience alike to purely focus on the character’s emotional relationship with the object rather than focusing on the object itself. It also provides an opportunity to physicalize that emotional relationship in an expansive way, creating a wider landscape to translate these often intangible aspects into a dynamic that can be quite literally wrestled with.”

Asked if the device is unique to this production, she reveals that it’s not the first time she’s attempted this approach. “This isn’t my first decision to use ball-pit balls in a piece dealing with grief and loss. I find that they provide a feeling of nonlinear and unpredictable movement that engages with these topics in an effective way. The characters, particularly within Gidion’s Knot, want desperately to be able to understand, to hold them all at once or sort them into a sequence that is under their control. But there are too many to grasp at once and they are difficult to manipulate. You have to wade through them and once they have all been spilt their ripple effect seems endless.”

In a play that can often get bogged down in rhetoric and semantics, the humanity is where Hawkridge seems to be driving her characters. Corryn is actually a bit of a bully as well, attacking with words and sarcasm, leaving us somewhat unsurprised when she defends Gidion’s fiction. Not only a mother defending her child, she sees a dark beauty in the writing, challenging Heather, whom she continuously attempts to pigeonhole as simple, to accept a direct comparison to the Marquis de Sade’s work and see the profane short story as an attempt to out the “real” bully who she believes must have driven Gidion to his demise. Heather is actually a simpler character, but we find her at a distressing crossroads, grappling with the recent atrocities in her classroom as well as the impending death of her beloved pet. Heather’s entire demeanor screams, “I don’t have the time or energy for any of this!” while she patiently allows Corryn to process her feelings the only way she knows how — with words.

In the end, Gidion’s Knot is about the language and the intractable nature of grief. Heather could easily walk away from Corryn, but she remains in the classroom with her, perhaps out of guilt or a faltering sense of responsibility, but her defense of punishing Gidion for his short story never wavers and we often feel that she wants Corryn to simply accept it and move on. The actual truth surrounding the circumstances is messy and unforgiving, as is most of real life. Corryn has every right to be upset at the bureaucracy surrounding the death of her complicated, darkly poetic child, but she too stays, almost mothering Heather in her grief. In a situation as horrific and ultimately unsolvable as a child’s suicide, sometimes the answers can be found by reverting to the simplest aspects of our humanity. Gidion’s Knot, indeed.

Counter-Productions Theatre Company presents Johnna Adams’ Gidion’s Knot through May 26 at the AS220 Blackbox 95 Empire Street, PVD. Tickets can be found via Facebook events: facebook.com/events/2145436755577232 or by visiting: brownpapertickets.com/event/4242656?fbclid=IwAR19eOq-JA-mQc7JieZvutAg-KlEG6VWfFdHgNGN1DVEkLsNBr6x9XOQYl8

At War with God

Marisol“What I keep hearing from so many people is that we need a healing space, and that’s what I hope to bring with Marisol,” says Emmy-award winning director Brian Mertes. Trinity Rep’s upcoming production of playwright José Rivera’s dystopian, absurdist fantasy aims for intimacy among the nightmarish scenario of a world literally at war with God.

Described as “primal and poetic,” Marisol will resonate even with non-theatergoers who have been primed to accept blockbuster film scenarios where New York City falls to otherworldly apocalypse. As a young urban professional is now faced with foraging in the streets and dodging Nazi-esque enforcers who aim to eliminate “undesirables,” Marisol’s framing story is an epic clash between a senile God and the angels. In the end, however, this is a story of finding common humanity among all peoples, a scenario sadly often only brought about by common catastrophe.

Featuring Brown/Trinity MFA alumna Octavia Chavez-Richmond in the title role, Marisol also brings together several members of the Trinity Rep resident company as well as a stellar creative team, including scenic designer Eugene Lee.

Mertes concludes, “This production is about having a human moment with each other where we all can take a breath together and let our guard down. Where we can be vulnerable. I want this to be an intimate experience.” With a script this ambitious and a history of technical overreach, we’ll see how Trinity lands with Marisol. The world may not depend upon it, but Trinity’s season might.

Trinity Rep closes its 2018-19 season with José Rivera’s Marisol, May 16 – Jun 16. For more information, call the box office at 401-351-4242 or visit TrinityRep.com.