Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade"- The Players' Ring


written by Peter Weiss; original score by Richard Peaslee

directed by Bretton Reis

produced by The Players' Ring 

MARAT/SADE has no answers for you."  

So begins the premise of an evening of entertainment at Charenton Asylum, a hospital for the insane on the outskirts of Paris.

Let us assemble the components integral to the telling of the tale.  To wit:   

- time: a summer night in 1808, nearly a decade since the French Revolution;  
- setting: an ornate marble salle de bain within the confines of Charenton, a hospital for the insane on the outskirts of Paris;
- players: the inmates populating Charenton; 
- story: the events leading up to the assassination of radical journalist and politician Jean-Paul Marat;
- and finally, our playwright: the enfant terrible of the French aristocracy and diabolically prolific writer Donatien Alphonse François, known far and wide as the Marquise de Sade.

The ambitious title of this intellectual amuse-bouche:  "The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade", or, as we shall have it from herein, MARAT/SADE. 

As to the simple declarative sentence which prefaces director Bretton Reis' program notes, it soon becomes clear that it's a predictor of what's to come: MARAT/SADE does not merely refuse to provide answers, it raises a host of questions about what it is, why it exists, and where it's going.   

As a play, MARAT/SADE is deeply flawed; written by German playwright Peter Weiss, it's ostensibly a parable about class warfare, with its central theme of whether revolution stems from a wellspring deep within the human soul, or if it's sparked by external change.  

Weiss' story is bloated with flabby interstitials and cursed with a languorous tempo bordering on the comatose.  Its action is nihilistic- chaotic, even, and its plot glaringly transparent, giving away far too much, far too soon.  Perhaps that's deliberate, but as a choice it ends up offering little in the way of a story arc, character development, conflict or resolution.  

Or maybe it's just that all of those elements are so densely layered within the structure of a play-within-a-play that it takes a great deal of concentration to pick them out. 

Whether its deficiencies are happenstance or intentionally incorporated,  MARAT/SADE is a play which demands a great deal of attention be paid while it unspools in its own gravid, ponderous manner- perhaps too much for the average audience member to sustain a level of disbelief integral to every story.  

Even Richard Peaslee's musical score provides little help: while entertaining or at least diverting, the songs in MARAT/SADE are tuneful fillips, not so much furthering the plot or, God forbid, clarifying it, but providing distractions, subtracting more from the action than they add. 

Mind you, it's the PLAY which is flawed- not the production.  There's a difference, and it's this; director Bretton Reis and his cast are blessed with passion for the piece, and demonstrate an unprecedented level of precision in its telling.  

Either they understand the piece is overblown and porcine in its narrative, or they found enough inside of it to spark its engines and drive it forward.  They don't try to conceal the cracks in the play's structure, but instead point out that there are too many too count, and that they form a pattern of strange beauty.  

That the company does not avoid MARAT/SADE's corpulent mass as it lumbers into the realm of possibility, but instead finds ways to endow it with new energy and life, is laudable.  They get right to the meat of the thing, managing to strip out parts which are not just palatable, but succulent with possibility and substance.

Director Reis and his ensemble are sterling examples of a company at the top of its game; by taking on a piece as fractured as MARAT/SADE, they demonstrate that merely because a play is imperfect, it does not follow that it should be feared, or avoided, or that its story is not worth telling.

And tell it this company does, in a way that's deliberate, and poignant, and evocative, and with a through-line of unflinching determination.  

In this, the declaration "MARAT/SADE has no answers for you" is transformed from a copout excuse into a starkly unapologetic declaration: "This is what we have to give you, no more and no less: take it, and make of it what you will."

Much like the good Marquis and his cadre of lunatic actors at Charenton do.  N'est-ce pas? 

This is a fine ensemble.  The characters they manifest are spearheaded at either end of the ideological spectrum by the stellar performances of Jennifer Henry (Marat), and Gary Locke (Sade).  Indeed, these two lead the charge; literally and figuratively set at cross-purposes, they 

present characters who are unnerving in their intent and action.  

Henry and Locke present star turns as Marat and Sade; they are profane, blasphemous, impassioned, unswerving in who they are and what they want, and in their respective presences light up the stage as they engage one another with an unending volley of credos and doctrines thrown like firebrands, each in the vain hope that their theories about the will of man, and the pitfalls of a society bent on cannibalizing itself, will annihalate those of the other. 

Henry and Locke evince the ultimate stalemate: de Sade, consumed by his own rapacious appetites; Marat, by an insidious skin-rotting disease; de Sade, immured within the walls of an asylum as a result of his political exhortations; Marat, unable to rise from a tub of increasingly foetid water, weighed down by his own rhetoric.  Each is wracked to the bone, tortured by their own internalized ideations; neither is able to best the other, and both are incapable of admitting defeat.  

It's the ultimate test of wills; should one fall, a large portion of the known world goes with him- or so their conceits lead them to believe. Therefore, neither can fall, unless both do, and as Henry and Locke chart each character's grim courses, one finds oneself unable to avert one's eyes from either actor; their performances are at once morally repugnant, yet marvelously compelling.  

Perhaps the real triumph of MARAT/SADE is how it allows Locke and Henry- or, really, all of the actors- to become so immersed in their characters that we who are bearing witness to their onstage exhortations forget that they are acting out a play, about acting out a play, written by one of them; it's almost impossible to tell who holds sway over whom, or where de Sade's play begins and where it ends.  

Other standouts in the cast include Tomer Oz as an onanistic Duperret, who walks a thin line between fantasy and reality in his love of Emily Karel's narcoleptically-challenged Charlotte Corday; Molly Dowd Sullivan is the indulgent, somewhat twitterpated asylum director Coulmier, who beleives that creativity among her charges serves a dual purpose; it distracts them and provides an unorthodox therapy which may prove years ahead of its time, thus vaulting her to the recognition she craves; and Cullen DeLangie provides comic relief as MARAT/SADE's herald, essentially midwifing the events as they develop with the hybrid sensibility of a court jester and and bailiff combined.  

All other members of the ensemble support well.  There are occasions when one or two of the actors come in too hot, or who pull focus with overblown interpretations of character; they'd be better off toning it down a notch, the better to give themselves more places to go with levels of intensity, and more effectively contributing to the story's cohesiveness- what there is of it.    

To be fair, it takes a great deal to sustain the kinds of characters integral to MARAT/SADE, as well as the play within it; fortunately the scenery-chewing is kept to a minimum, or eclipsed by the more disciplined members of the ensemble. 

Technical and scenic elements are as ambitious in scope as that which the actors put forth; as circumscribed an acting space as The Players Ring is, this company makes the most of every inch of it.  

Of particular note: Gina Bowker's richly layered sound design, Michael Ficara's unsettling graphics, and Bretton Reis' superb set and light plot. Top-drawer choreography by Seraphina Caligure, coupled with a captivating musical accompaniament by Patrick Dorow, adds to the evening's pleasure.

Amidst a panoply of disconcerting scenes- this is a work of a man whose lifestyle gave rise to the term "sadism", remember- there is one particular scene involving de Sade which stands out. It's profoundly disturbing in both execution and intent, largely because what happens is engineered by de Sade himself.   

You'll know it when you see it; boy, will you.  It provokes a very strong reaction as it's carried out, but even as the actions are undertaken, it is evident that the intent is to neither titillate nor repulse, but to serve the play within the context of its themes.  Which it does.  With startling effect.

Its very inclusion underscores a teachable moment: MARAT/SADE is undeniably a play which you must- MUST- pay attention to, despite its perceived shortcomings.  If you don't, the scene in question comes off as profligate and dissolute without anything to back it up.  It does NOT come off that way- but ONLY if you're paying attention.  

So, yes- MARAT/SADE keeps its promise by not providing any answers for you, but if you concentrate, rise above its chaotic suppositions and keep your eye on what the inmates of Charenton do with the macabre story penned for them by a decidedly heteroclite Marquis de Sade, the chances are excellent that you'll come away with an entire buffet of questions to savor on your way out- and in this, MARAT/SADE succeeds in its mission, most admirably.  See it. 

MARAT/SADE runs through April 12, 2015 at The Players Ring.  Click the logo below for details. 

Michael J. Curtiss  is a writer and playwright residing in Southern NH.  When not acting as a freelance theatre critic, he oversees online marketing and social media for Costumes of Nashua LLC & Creative Costuming, based in Hudson, NH, and administers THE GRANITE STAGE page on Facebook.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Michael J. Curtiss- Performance Resume

Michael J. Curtiss

416 Deerfield Road, Suncook, NH 03275
603.210.1043 603.244.8158

Selected Stage Directing, Stage Design, & Stage Management Positions

2015 Director                                 35 QUESTIONS IN A QUIET CAFE, New Theatre Works, Nashua, NH
2010 Director                                 DANCING AT LUHGHNASA, Majestic Theatre, Manchester NH
2009 Director/Scenic Design           THE ELEPHANT MAN, Nashua Theatre Guild, Nashua, NH
2006 Director/Scenic Design           ART, FASKARSNOPRA Productions, Greenland, NH
2005 Director                                 MAME, Community Players, Concord, NH
2005 Director/Scenic Design           PIPPIN, Garrison Players, Rollinsford NH
2003 Director/Scenic Design           BARRYMORE, FASKARSNOPRA Productions, Greenland, NH
2003 Director/Scenic Design           THE WIZARD OF OZ, Kids Coop Theatre, Derry, NH
2003 Director/Scenic Design           THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Kids Coop Theatre, Derry, NH
2002 Director/Scenic Design           THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, Kids Coop Theatre, Derry, NH
2001 Director/Scenic Design           OUR TOWN, Music & Drama Company, Derry, NH
2000 Director/Scenic Design           PLAYING DOCTOR, Music & Drama Company, Londonderry, NH
1996 Stage Manager                      SOUTH PACIFIC, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Portsmouth, NH
1995 Director/Scenic Design           MAN OF LA MANCHA, Upstairs/Downstairs Theatre, Epping, NH
1995 Director/Scenic Design           GYPSY, Northwood Theatre Workshop, Northwood, NH
1995 Director                                 ONE VOICE III, Greater Manchester AIDS Foundation, Manchester, NH
1994 Director/Scenic Design           DEATHTRAP, Raymond Arts Associates, Raymond, NH
1993 Ass't Director/Scenic Design   SOUTH PACIFIC, Northwood Theatre Workshop, Northwood, NH
1993 Prod./Director/Scenic Design   EAR OF A SAINT, The Performance Project, Manchester, NH
1993 Director/ Scenic Design           ARSENIC & OLD LACE, Northwood Theatre Workshop, Northwood, NH
1992 Prod./Director/Scenic Design   LOOKING OUT FROM IN, The Performance Project, Manchester, NH
1992 Stage Manager                       OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Portsmouth, NH
1991 Prod./Director/Scenic Design   THE REWRITE, The Performance Project, Manchester, NH
1989 Assistant Director                   PIPPIN, Music & Drama Company, Londonderry, NH

Plus positions in other stage productions since 1975.

Selected Stage & Performance Roles

2011 Francis                                 ELEGIES... QUEENS, The Acting Loft, Manchester, NH
2008 Doctor Neville Craven             THE SECRET GARDEN, StageCoach Productions, Milford, NH
2006 Father                                  CHILDREN OF EDEN, Manchester Comm. Players, Manchester NH
2006 Marcus Lycus                       A FUNNY THING... FORUM, New Thalian Players, Manchester, NH
2005 Featured Performer                LET FREEDOM SING!, Concord Community Television, Concord, NH
2004 Maximilian Detweiler              THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Nottingham Theatre Project, Nottingham, NH
2003 Performer NH                        THEATRE AWARDS, Palace Theatre, Manchester, NH
2001 Sal Andretti/Jazz Singer         VICTOR/VICTORIA, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Portsmouth, NH
2001 Father                                  CHILDREN OF EDEN, Majestic Theatre Trust, Manchester, NH
2000 Mr. Bumble                          OLIVER!, Music & Drama Company, Derry, NH
2000 Frank Butler                         ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, Arts/Rochester, Rochester, NH
1999 Performer                             SALUTE TO BROADWAY, Majestic Theatre Trust, Manchester, NH
1998 General Bullmoose               LI’L ABNER,New Thalian Players, Manchester, NH
1998 Big Jule                               GUYS ‘N’ DOLLS, Amesbury Playhouse, Amesbury, MA
1996 Sailor                                  SOUTH PACIFIC, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Portsmouth, NH
1995 Featured Soloist                  ONE VOICE III, Greater Manchester AIDS Foundation, Manchester, NH
1994 Dreamer                              THE SECRET GARDEN, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Portsmouth, NH
1994 Performer                            ONE VOICE II, Greater Manchester AIDS Foundation, Manchester, NH
1994 Featured Soloist                  AIDS QUILT EVENT, Greater Manchester AIDS Foundation, Manchester, NH
1993 Performer                            ONE VOICE I, Greater Manchester AIDS Foundation, Manchester, NH
1993 Emil de Becque                   SOUTH PACIFIC, Northwood Theatre Workshop, Northwood, NH
1992 Paris                                   A NEW SUNRISE, Northwood Theatre Workshop, Northwood, NH
1992 Performer                            TRIBUTE TO A. L. WEBBER, Majestic Theatre Trust, Manchester, NH
1992 Captain Von Trapp               THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Northwood Theatre Workshop, Northwood, NH
1991 Miles Gloriosus                   A FUNNY THING… FORUM, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Portsmouth, NH
1991 Edward Marcus                   MINDING THE STORE, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Portsmouth, NH
1991 Mr. Bumble                         OLIVER!, CentreStage Theatre, Lexington, MA
1990 Weber/Pastey                     GYPSY,Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Portsmouth, NH

Plus roles in other stage productions since 1975.

Video, Film, Commercial, Industrial, Spoken Word, CD

2002 Vocalist                          KIRTAN CHANTS, produced by Deborah Cross, Madbury, NH
1998 Vocal Talent                   JAPANESE/ENGLISH TUTORIAL, Sakae Software, Derry, NH
1992 Patient                           ELLIOTT EXPRESSCARE, Sean Tracy Associates, Portsmouth, NH


2008 Winner, Best Web Site: NHTheatre.Org (NH Theatre Happenings), NH Magazine “Best of 2008” Awards
2003 Winner, One-Act Category: BAYOU REVELATIONS, New American Playwrights Festival, Yellow Taxi Productions, Nashua, NH            
1993 Winner, Best Scenic Design: EAR OF A SAINT, NHCTA One-Act Festival, Manchester, NH
1992 Winner, Best Ensemble: LOOKING OUT FROM IN, NHCTA One-Act Festival, Manchester, NH
1991 Winner, Best Director: THE REWRITE, NHCTA One-Act Festival, Manchester, NH
1990 Winner, Best Ensemble: CHAMBER MUSIC, NHCTA One-Act Festival, Manchester, NH


2014 SECOND CHANCE. A Little Left of Center Fest, Andover, MA 
2013 BABY TAKE ME HOME, A Little Left Of Center Fest, Lowell, MA
2012 SECOND CHANCE, theatre KAPOW “Prompt” 1-Act Festival
2011 BABY TAKE ME HOME, theatre KAPOW 24-Hour 1-Act Festival
1994 BAYOU REVELATIONS, with Kenneth Butler
1992 LOOKING OUT FROM IN, based on the oral history of child abuse & incest survivor F. A. Childs


2010-present Administrator, The Granite Stage
2008-present Freelance Theatre Critic/Blogger, http://caughtintheactnh.blogspot.com
2008-2011 Member, Executive Committee, NH Theatre Awards
2007-2011 Adjudicator, New Hampshire Theatre Awards
2007 Adjudicator, Voice of the Valley, M&D Productions/Barnstormers Theatre, Tamworth, NH
2006- 2011 Adjudicator, Vermont High School Drama Festival
2006-2010 Moderator/Calendar Coordinator, NH Theatre Happenings Online Forum (nhtheatre.org)
2006-2010 Reviewer, NH Theatre Happenings & Online Forum
2004-2005 Adjudicator, A & E Talent Search, Portsmouth, NH
2001-2002 Member, Board of Directors, Music & Drama Company, Londonderry, NH
1995-1997 Member, Board of Directors, One Voice of New Hampshire AIDS Benefit Concert, Manchester, NH
1994 & 1995 Festival Chair, New Hampshire Community Theatre Association (NHCTA)
1993 Instructor, Creative Drama Workshop, Peacock Players, Milford, NH
1991-1993 President, New Hampshire Community Theatre Association (NHCTA)
1991-1994 Founder & Artistic Director, The Performance Project
1982-present Professional Tenor for civic & social functions, events

Education & Training


1991 Celia Bartolotti, EMACT at Emerson College, Boston, MA
1990 John Buzzell, EMACT at Emerson College, Boston, MA
1982-1986 Charles Combs, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH

Scenic Design & Stage Management
1982-1986 D. Kenneth Beyer, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH

1982-1986 Charles Combs, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH

Vocal Technique for the Stage
1982-1983 Kathleen Arecchi, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH

Stage Combat
1983 Tony Simotes, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH

DOB 06/23/1960  Eyes: Green  Hair: Brown/Gray  Height: 6’3”  Weight: 300+ lbs  Vocal Range: Tenor

Friday, February 13, 2015

AGREEING TO DISAGREE: A Response To The Outrage Sparked By Artistic Decisions Made At A Celebrated NH Theatre Company


A Response To The Outrage Sparked By Artistic Decisions Made At A Celebrated NH Theatre Company

Published in the Nashua Telegraph, Wednesday, February 11, 2015. Click this link:

Theater group should rethink production

My response:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dear Ms. Connelly,

I want to speak to your recent decision to publicly voice your dismay at the Peacock Players’ staging of a same-sex union in their current production  of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM,  and the Telegraph’s sponsorship of the show.  

To start: well done.  To make public your principles in this age of snap judgments- and the stinging backlash they are capable of generating- is an act of bravery, and demonstrates the courage of your convictions.

Your letter provides an excellent opportunity to teach pluralism;  whether a parent, teacher or contributor to the overall welfare of our children, it’s incumbent upon each of us to teach our kids that we can't arrive at common ground until every voice is heard from.  

Sometimes those voices say things we don't like, but it's important to hear every opinion; it's only when we sift through the all of the voices in a conversation about the things that matter do we learn how to stand for what's right, and figure out what's best not just for ourselves, but for the larger community of man. 

I’d like to respond by touching upon three points of concern in your letter.

First: same-sex unions. 

We’re not going to debate that, you and I; same-sex unions are the law of the land,  here and (as of this writing) 36 other states. It’s part of our changing sociopolitical landscape, so let’s get past it by acknowledging that each of us comes at the subject with our own sets of beliefs and convictions, and agree to disagree. 

Second: “wholesomeness” in theatre.

Any attempt to quantify that which constitutes “wholesomeness” within the context of theatre would be a deeply personal undertaking; like same-sex unions, each person comes at the subject with their own deeply-held belief system based on vastly different experiences and ideologies. 

We could each make lists of shows we believe to be “wholesome”, argue their merits, and we’d each have compelling arguments for or against any number of works in the theatrical canon, and still fail to convince one another which shows on our lists met the necessary criteria for “wholesomeness”- so, again, as with same-sex unions, we must agree to disagree.  

Third:   Peacock Players’ Artistic Director Keith Weirich’s “political agenda” as it pertains to Peacock Players’ productions.  

Keith Weirich doesn’t need me to defend him, so I won’t.  I’ll merely point out what I know to be true after years of watching the man work and being a direct beneficiary of his expertise, his contributions to the theatrical community, and his friendship.

Keith Weirich is many things:  an actor, an educator, an artist driven by a prodigious creative spirit, a husband and a father.  He is both a scholar of theatre and an ardent practitioner of it. In an age where it’s acceptable to jump from career to career, Keith is a rarity: a man whose avocation and vocation are one and the same. 

Amidst all these good things, in his capacity as Artistic Director of The Peacock Players, Keith Weirich is a nurturing counselor and trusted mentor- a gentle giant upon whose broad shoulders the children in his charge stand, the better for them to reach for their dreams. 

He is not only supremely concerned with who those children are, but who they will become; he makes it his mission to ensure that those who come under his tutelage are given the tools they need not to be better actors, designers or technicians within the purview of theatre, but better humans, and to go out from his charge equipped to be better citizens of the world.   The numerous awards won by Peacock and the wondrous career paths many of his graduates have embarked upon bear this mission out, and prove conclusively that Keith is on the right track. 

Based on what I know to be true about Keith, the excellent staff with which he surrounds himself, and the Peacock Players' organization, I know that his and their concerns are less about politics, and more about the teachable moments with which he endows all of the productions Peacock does in the course of a given year.

Some of these moments are about small but essential pieces of theatre: basic blocking, character development, stagecraft, and how all the elements of a production come together to tell a story.  

Some of them are concepts writ exceeding large: how to make a show relate to what the kids of today are thinking about, how to start and sustain a dialogue about the elements of this production and how they’re relevant today, or how to inspire these kids to get inside the characters, the story they’re playing out, what they want and what changes when they get it. 

I assure you, Keith’s decision to stage MIDSUMMER within the context of a same-sex union was not to bowdlerize Shakespeare’s original story-  which, if you've seen it, you know portrays the events surrounding a marriage and follows the structure of "a play within a play"-  or to indulge an otherwise unsustainable theatrical vision, and it was definitely not predicated upon how much political blowback such a depiction would generate.

Keith made the decision to update MIDSUMMER because doing so doesn't change the essential plot, and the idea of a same-sex union is relevant not only to the story, but to the characters who move through it.  It helps to inform who the characters are, and and their disparate objectives, by making all of the elements of the story relevant to the young company performing this time-honored piece of theatre.   

Staging a same-sex union within MIDSUMMER’s storyline doesn’t detract from the themes within the story; the celebration of love, the concern with identity, the worrisome passage of time, and yes, aspects of sexuality which some may find less savory than others, but are no less important for what they are or what they represent.   

All of these things- and more- matter: they impact us us in who we are in every stage of our own development, and they certainly impact the kids putting on this play.  Adding a same-sex union to MIDSUMMER gives the play a contemporary spin, giving the audience and the company putting on the play the opportunity to examine yet another facet of the prism of possibility through which we view Shakespeare’s plays, and all plays. 

It is the responsibility of every theatre educator to acknowledge the fundamental changes which affect the world in which we live, as well as the theatre that we create to mark those changes. 

In this, Keith Weirich has consistently demonstrated his willingness  to accept that responsibility, and to find ways to excel within the mandate he has taken upon himself.  

No matter what’s said pro or con about the current production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, this much is true: the show will go on, and audiences will take away from it that which they choose as important to take.  

Ms. Connelly, I urge you rethink your position on MIDSUMMER and actually attend the play. Bring your children/grandchildren, if you have them: as members of a generation to whom the concept of a same-sex relationship is prosaic, they're apt to get quite a bit out of the production, and like as not be able to explain some of the more difficult parts to you. 

Witness for yourself what is possible from a lifetime of tireless work and inspiration, as a bunch of children inspired by Keith Weirich’s exemplary teaching take to the stage and bring a timeless story to life in a way that is deeply personal to them, and therefore infinitely more precious.  

That ability to use theatre to light an undying flame in the heart and soul of a young person? That’s Keith’s Weirich’s raison d'être- or, as you would have it, his “political agenda”. Nothing more, nothing less. 

The arguments about this production of MIDSUMMER may rage on, but in the interim, Keith Weirich’s stellar record as director, educator, humanitarian and mentor stands on its own.

His selfless efforts over the years have benefited and enriched a generation of lucky kids, and is proof enough that he has always had the best of intentions for them- as actors, as lovers of theatre, and as human beings. 

Inspired by Keith, everyone who comes within The Peacock Players' orbit have restored our faith in the power and magic of theatre-  not in just this production, and not just for the kids Keith shepherds with love and care through his programs year after year- but for everyone, always.  

For the gifts he brings to this show, this company, this community and this state- and doubtless will continue to bring for many more years- we, his supporters and friends, will all have his back.

As pertains to Keith's methods, motivations or how he chooses to inspire others- you and I will have to continue to agree to disagree.


Michael J. Curtiss
Administrator, THE GRANITE STAGE/Freelance Theatre Critic, CAUGHT IN THE ACT!

Keith Weirich
Artistic Director of The Peacock Players 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Stephen Fry Wants To Get Married, And That Means The World Is Going To End. Or, You Know.... Not.

Stephen Fry Wants To Get Married, And 

That Means The World Is Going To End.  

Or, You Know.... Not.

Stephen Fry, the very erudite and popular British actor, director, and author, announced today that he intends to marry his boyfriend, Elliot Spencer.
Spencer is 27. Fry is 57.
Upon learning of the couple's plans, the internet went indiscriminately crazy, essentially breaking the land-speed record in their haste to post the first, best, most pithy kind of snark they could muster to weigh in on the announcement.
We'll put aside the cruel remarks about two men marrying; the ignorant have been rending their garments and availing themselves of every bully pulpit available, advocating against single-sex unions since time out of mind, and since gay marriage is legal in Great Britain, where Fry and Spencer reside, the ignorant don't get a vote as to when, where or how they consecrate their union.
But equally cruel- and equally ignorant, in my opinion- are the remarks that linger on the salubrious details of the age gap, and the rampant "ick" factor associated with it- and that somehow, these two men are not only somehow lesser for wanting to be together, they're at the very least somehow suspect, and at the worst, some kind of monsters or social outcasts, just for declaring their love and intention to marry.
This bothers me as much as the strident homophobia does- whether real, implied, or accidental.
If Stephen Fry were the same age as the man he loves everyone'd be "oh, how lovely, how cute, those two young gay boys getting married, how sweet".
But because there's a 30 year age difference, all of a sudden these two people are being judged on how old they are. Or aren't. And how "gross" Fry is, and what a "gold-digger" his fiance must be.
To repeat: Fry is 57. Spencer, his soon to be husband, is 27. Neither babe in the basket or slavering senile senior here; just two human beings at different points on the chronological spectrum. Both coming to a common union the same way everyone else does- from a wealth of disparate life experiences unique to themselves.
Really? Is this what we choose to focus our collective wrath on today? REALLY?
The horrible truth is that with every snarky remark about "cradle-robbing" or "he's in it for the money", be it public or private, the slim chance these two have at happiness grows ever slimmer, and it's not right.
They're not doing anything immoral, or evil, or even wrong- and yet we feel we have the right to make horrible comments about them being brave enough to express their love and desire to be together, based on a a disparity in their ages.
That collective negative judgment implies that because the idea of them being a couple makes us squirm, Fry and Spencer should be denied their happiness- and THAT is DEFINITELY not right.
What constitutes a palatable marriage, gay, straight or otherwise? Is is Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka with their photogenic twins and slick cosmopolitan lives? Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi? Prince William and Kate Middleton?
Why do we have a hard time accepting anything but the premise that couples only get to be couples when the age gap between them is so narrow that you can't see daylight through it?
It bothers me because I'm not far off from Stephen Fry's age, and I don't know what I'd do if I were alone, but I do know that I would not want to be subjected to the scorn and disgust that's been heaped upon him and the man he loves. EVER.
I'd rather kill myself than live in a world that treats me like a monster, when all I want is to be with the person who loves me, and wants to be with me. With the ADULT who loves me, and wants to be with me.
Stephen Fry’s and Elliott Spencer’s happiness threatens no one.  It takes nothing away from you, me, those we love or our way of life.  
There's nothing wrong with Stephen Fry, or Elliott Spencer, or the fact that they want to be together.
What is wrong is how we have chosen to react to it; our demons have once more succeeded in shouting down our better angels. And we seem to be okay with that.
It is a plague upon all of our houses. And I am ashamed.

Michael J. Curtiss
Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Saturday, January 3, 2015

RUSH- Soul In The Sea Productions/The Players' Ring

Image courtesy of Jasmine Hunter Photography 


written by Callie Kimball

produced by Soul In The Sea Productions at The Players' Ring 

directed by Jasmine Hunter

It's safer on the outskirts.
-Alice, to Belinda 

In 1899, the Yukon was but a year old as a self-contained Canadian federal territory, and the Yukon's Klondike region was seeing the tail end of the epic migration of over 100,000 men and women who had traveled there in search of the riches which lay under the permafrost of the gold fields within. 

The stories of those who made their way to spartan territorial outposts with lyrical names like Watson Lake, Haynes Junction and Dawson City, pans and picks tucked into the government-mandated ton of provisions each was required to bring, are hundredfold, and are inextricably woven into the busy fabric of the region's history.  

Many came; many died there. Others left when claims yielded little more than dirt.  A select few stayed and managed to thrive with varying degrees of success, despite the odds against them. 

Still others came not for the lure of riches, but instead fled the comforts of familiar surroundings for the promise of a new life.  It's the story of two of these people with whom RUSH, as penned by local playwright Callie Kimball, concerns itself.  
Belinda and her brother Frank have left Chicago to travel northwest to Dawson City, a mining town on the edge of the Canadian frontier; she to take on the role of a domestic worker, he to make his fortune in the nascent field of photography.  

Of course, no sane person abandons the comforts of home to embark on a perilous journey without good reason, or at least a compelling one; it becomes clear that Belinda and Frank aren't in Dawson City merely to seek their fortunes, and that the actions of their shared past are as important as what transpires in their stormy present, and what it portends for their future. 

Director Jasmine Hunter first seeks to have the audience establish empathy with the characters in RUSH, then goes further by illustrating the play's singular geometry and physics.  

Hunter uses her skills as a director in an intuitive manner; she wants her audience to understand that the women in RUSH are all caught up in trajectories which fling them to the outskirts of a world ruled by men, and that this aspect of their lives is beyond their control.   

Using the sere and icebound environs of Dawson City as the backdrop, Hunter shows us the infinite capability of those women; they thrive in the places they are flung to, rather than trying to emulate men, who exhaust themselves to the point of death attempting to drill to the center of things and change them- whether it be the communities in which they live, the empires they seek to establish, or even, as it happens, women themselves, in their quest to hold dominion over all that they see as part of the patriarchal "natural order" which was the style of thinking in the year of our Lord 1899.  

In her treatment of RUSH, Hunter demonstrates that while women find safety and shelter on the outskirts of things, they also find their own power, having the ability to adapt and to ground themselves, establishing their own gravitational fields and putting themselves at the center of the universes they create, in the places to which they have been flung due to the follies and base desires of men.  

Not only that, but because women were largely expected to perform the menial tasks integral to life in the late 1800s, they are able apply those skills to their new surroundings, thriving and growing to the point where men are no longer necessary to the worlds the women create.

 At the dawn of the 20th century in the civilized centers of the world, men sat at the apex of the social pyramid, and women and children populated the bottom. 

However, in the largely chaotic fringes of the Canadian frontier, the weight of women flung to the odd corners of life, and the capabilities awakened within them, tips the balance; the pyramid tilts, placing women at the top.  

What Hunter achieves foremost in her direction of RUSH is to illustrate the dual trajectory of both Belinda's and Frank's destinies- Belinda's, ever rising, and Frank's as it falters and tumbles to earth, and this helps to paint a larger picture of the impact that a shift of power between the genders has.  

Belinda, flung into her own odd corner by the machinations of men, begins to gather her power unto herself; she flounders at first, but then, guided and encouraged by the women who surround her, achieves the weight of authority, becoming the center of her own budding world in the midst of bleak deprivation. 

Conversely, as Belinda's star rises, Frank's falls; constrained as he is by the strict delineations of what men are "supposed" to do, he battles a frozen, alien world, and is ultimately undone by both it, and his own narrow view of what he believes is his birthright.       

There's far more to the story than merely where Belinda and Frank come from, or where they're going; that we'll leave for the audience to discover, except to say that the men and women who orbit Belinda and Frank are at least as worthy of the audience's attention as the two protagonists, and director Hunter has assembled a cast of unparalleled talent to bring the men and women of RUSH to The Players' Ring stage. 

The Players' Ring is an incubator for ensemble pieces, and RUSH is no exception; the actors in this production are skilled midwives who step in to contribute their part to the birth of each performance, yet who are wise enough to step out of its way and let it find its footing.  

Kate Gilbert is Belinda, who traces an utterly absorbing arc first as a woman resigned to being little more than chattel among the men who hold sway over her, but who finds in herself an exceptional ability to transcend her assigned role and craft a purpose from it.  Kyle Milner plays her brother Frank, who is equally compelling, first as Belinda's protector, then as a man who sacrifices all that he knows to ensure her survival.  

Whitney Smith endows Alice, the proprietress of Dawson City's leading "flute parlor" with an endearing, matronly slyness, and Liz Locke charts a grimly humorous course as Alice's no-nonsense châtelaine, Rosie.  

Todd Hunter rounds out the cast as the portentous Detective Garrison, and Michael Towle (Jeb), Grady O'Neil (Neighbor) and Linda Chase (Doctor) support well in their roles. 

As a play, RUSH's single flaw is that Belinda's and Frank's provenance- both who they are as a couple and as individuals- lacks clarity.

The playwright relies on a leitmotif of internal jumps to recall bits and pieces of scenes that have already occurred, and while these jumps don't take anything away from the play's narrative through-line, their inclusion muddies the waters of that which motivates the characters to do what they do, and go where they go.  

In the larger context, these internal jumps are little more than interesting intellectual exercises; they don't distract, but neither do they add any narrative value to the story, and ultimately can be chalked up as an effort on the playwright's part to add weight or layers to places where neither are necessary. 

Indeed, RUSH succeeds best when it strikes to the heart of the story with a ruthless, almost surgical simplicity, and in every other scene, Kimball's writing is austere, elegant, and keeps RUSH's focus unswerving and constant, from its bleak opening to its unsettling, provocative, yet wholly understandable, close. 

Molly Dowd Sullivan's set design is dominated by an intriguing pastiche of forms and textures splashed across one wall of the acting space, complimented by modest, functional set pieces and a detailed, representational panorama painted across the floor.  

Bretton Reis completes the mise-en-scène with an iridescent, richly patterned light plot that at times mimics the luminous, starkly ethereal beauty of the Northern Lights.  Barbara Newton costumes the characters in elegant outfits grown worn and tatty, or layered in utilitarian restraint, recalling that which was worn by dint of necessity in the time and place these characters occupy.  Todd Hunter provides the play with an understated soundscape, one which accentuates key moments without overshadowing them. 

Stripped of its arguably unnecessary elements, Callie Kimball has, with RUSH, crafted a beautifully structured piece for the stage, one which achieves the goals paramount to a good play: find a good story.  Tell it well.  

Director Jasmin Hunter takes the play to the next level by infusing it with an able acting corps and creative team, and staging it all in just the right place.  

Whether RUSH is a treatise on gender equality, a snapshot of the improbable becoming possible in a time and place long passed into the shadows of history, or both, or neither,  is for those who see it to decide. 

Works like RUSH must have their day; to let them pass through our hands with barely a glance is an opportunity wasted. We need more plays like RUSH, and more companies to bring them to us. 

In the interim, we can be grateful that this play, and this company, are here for us to enjoy, and take from them what we may.  

This is a good story, and it is well told.  See it. 

RUSH runs through January at The Players Ring.  Click the logo below  for more information. 

Michael J. Curtiss
is a writer and playwright residing in Southern NH.  When not acting as a freelance theatre critic, he oversees online marketing and social media for Costumes of Nashua LLC & Creative Costuming, based in Hudson, NH, and administers THE GRANITE STAGE page on Facebook.