Saturday, May 2, 2015

RED BIRD: A Gothic Tale For The 21st Century


conceptualized and written by Brian Booth

presented by Amoskeag Studio 

This thing: what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what is its causal nature (or form)? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist? 

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8

Every year we die a little and the world keeps on spinning.  Red Bird, are you listening?  Are you there?  

Once we were rich;
Now we eat our dead.

-Brian Booth, RED BIRD

Theatre relies on the convergence of any number of components and circumstances in order to be successful.  

Above all, there must be a story: a well-crafted thematic arc which gives rise to credible, sympathetic characters, and which allows those characters to move from initial conflict to rising action to resolution. 

Not just "a" story: THE story; an accounting so compelling that it draws you in, keeps you for as long as it needs to, and only then releases you, sending you back out into the world with the knowledge that you have not merely borne witness to a tale, but that the very hearing of it has changed you, to the very marrow in your bones.  

That's the story we're talking about with RED BIRD, Brian Booth's brilliantly dark theatre piece, a one-man play with music which will be performed at the Amoskeag Studio May 8-16.  

An invitation-only audience was in the house on April 29 for a performance of the work, which was followed by a talkback session. Booth intends to take the feedback he received and use it to sharpen and clarify RED BIRD prior to its inaugural launch.  

Not that it needs much: RED BIRD is riveting theatre as written, and the principle thing it needs to make it better is to keep performing it.  

A warning: if you feel that plays with music need to follow a specific format, or that the story must end on a note of unambiguous contentment for all concerned, then you won't like RED BIRD, and should not attend.  

However; if you like theatrical pieces that take you down unsettling paths and into dark corners, and music which doesn't necessarily help move the plot along but rather adds another layer to an already richly lacquered anecdote, then by all means, RED BIRD is for you. 

RED BIRD is told by the narrator in the first person, following the life of an unnamed young man and relating the events in RED BIRD from the boy's perspective.  

We know know little about him except that he has the gift of singing, that he dreams, and that he is alone.  He occupies a time and place scorched and torn by some kind of apocalyptic event.  Civilization has undergone a fundamental shift, hearkening back to the nascent days when the laws of man were barely formed in the womb of democracy; all that has gone before has either passed away into dust, or left charred and desiccated by the holocaust.  

Strange creatures and revenants now hold sway over the blasted landscape; the boy is visited by them, and some of them seem to him beings which occupy the skin of other humans, but only just; he hides himself away from them, and from the citizens of the diseased and ruined towns which loom crepitously down dark roads away from him, keeping to his ruined homestead, alone save for a radio which broadcasts the meanderings of a faraway man whose mind is clearly bent by the darkness which has fallen over the world, watching over a nightscape lit red by fires burning along the ridges which surround his lands.  

The boy's solitary existence ends when he is visited by a young girl, who one night comes unbidden into his home, travelling up the stairs to his bedroom and settling in there as if it were her own; he knows nothing of her except that she, like he, sings.  And dreams.  

The boy comes to understand three things: that the girl is something other than human, that she is there for shelter, at least for a time, and that in her singing and dreaming she brings him a mission- one of terrible import, and one which will change them both in ways no human has ever had to imagine.     

RED BIRD sets itself apart as a theatrical piece in a number of ways; first, it forgoes the normal raison d'être of the traditional play.  Don't look for explanations; accept that the circumstances of RED BIRD are exactly what they are meant to be, and that the characters are doing exactly what they're supposed to, and that things will unfold as they should.

Second, the play's structure charts less of a linear arc and more of a meandering path.  It's an organic piece, flowing from moment to moment, doubling back upon itself or following a tangent which, on its surface, seems unrelated to the story (it isn't).  

Third, RED BIRD's songs, a melange of southern rock, folk, and blues, don't relate directly to the narrative- they don't help move the plot along as they might in a more traditional musical, but instead serve as portals to get the narration from one moment to the next.  One is taken out of the story by the songs, only to be put back into it, at a different point.  At first it's disconcerting, but taken as a whole underscores and augments the story in a way that serves the entire play.  This is not a musical; it's a play with music, and the rules for a musical don't apply in the same ways to RED BIRD.  

Finally, RED BIRD is a parable, but one turned upside down and filled with grave import; it's not meant to teach, but to caution.  It's a story of a world riddled with places of unimaginable power; magic, perhaps, but magic which is alien and elemental, which has burst its bonds and spread itself over its host like a malignancy.  Those who occupy the world cannot help but be touched by it; some are consumed, some crippled, but all are changed.  

This is the world of RED BIRD: a dystopian place of eternal shadow, populated by an abject snarl of humanity teetering at the edge of civilization's wrack and tatter, no longer the lords of creation, but infected and debased by its toxic nature, forever consigned to exist under its pestilent thrall.       

As a performance piece, actor Brian Booth has framed RED BIRD in an elegantly spartan context.  There is no scenery.  No costumes.  No set pieces, light plot, or special effects.  

Part bard, part balladeer, Booth stands before his audience dressed casually, holding a cream-colored Danelectro guitar with nifty lipstick pickups, framed by his mic, a couple stools, and his amps.  He's a lean and pleasant-looking fellow who speaks and sings in a mellifluous tenor.  

Although he's a native son of New Hampshire's North Country, Booth's voice carries a sonorous lilt reminiscent of the Deep South, which infuses the Yankee bedrock tones of RED BIRD's thesis with an Appalachian Gothic sensibility.  

Booth keeps both the pitch of his voice and his movements on stage low-key and tantalizingly persuasive, weaving a story-spell in the confessional style of Spaulding Gray or Anne Sexton; in keeping everything spare and close to the bone, Booth expands upon the themes within the body of the piece, weaving an opulent mental tapestry filled with vivid imagery, using the spoken word as well as song lyrics as his palette.  

In so doing, Booth draws us nearer to RED BIRD's beating heart, until the story grasps us in its talons, unfolding tenebrous wings to bear us up and away into the darkness, so that it can do with us what it was always meant to do; it is a testament to Booth's abilities as a singer and a storyteller that RED BIRD succeeds on every level it aims for.   

RED BIRD is, in and of itself, what it is meant to be- a damned fine play. With damned fine music.  And it tells one hell of a good story.      

Is there any hope at all in RED BIRD, you ask?  Redemption?  Is there light in the darkness? Does the world remain an awful, blistering furnace, eager to burn all who come within reach? Do the terrible engines of dark magic falter and stall, tumbling back into the infernal pits which birthed them?  

What happens to the boy, and the girl who may not be a girl at all- and what exactly, does the "red bird" in the title refer to?  

Ah.  For those answers- if, indeed, there are any- you'll have to sit in the audience, listen to the story, hear the songs, and judge for yourself.  

Go, and let RED BIRD do to you what it's meant to do.

Postscript:  RED BIRD marks the start of something very new and interesting in terms of performance- for both Amoskeag Studio and the area.  New types of theatre, and the venues which host them, deserve your patronage.  Consider attending RED BIRD, as well as all types of theatre, when you can. 

RED BIRD runs May 8-16 at Amoskeag Studio in the Waumbec Mill, 250 Commercial Street, Suite 2700, Manchester NH.  

RED BIRD contains mature themes which may not be suitable for all ages; parental discretion is advised. 

Click the logo below for details. 

Amoskeag Studio 

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.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

PENNY: A Remembrance

I apologize if the following is rather long; I've been trying to think of the best way I know to honor someone who had a huge impact on not only my life, but the lives of many.  It's taken me until now to find the words I felt came close.  

I only wish what we all wish: that I could tell Penny what she meant to all of us while she was around to hear the words. 

Anyway, here's what I wrote.  

I love you and I miss you, Penny Davis.  We all do. 



There’s a quote I’ve come to understand more fully as I get older, from the distinguished poet and essayist Thomas Lynch, who incidentally spends his days as a practicing funeral director:

“The formula for funerals is fairly simple: by getting the dead to where they need to go, the living get to where they need to be.” 

While that’s why we assembled in March of 2015- first at Cabot Funeral Home on Rose Hill Road and then in exponentially greater numbers the next day in the auditorium at Woodstock Union High School-  it also describes the character of the person we came together to remember.  

Because there are a thousand stories about how Penny Davis got us not only where we needed to go, but also where we needed to be.  

She got us to where we needed to go with her gruff, no-nonsense demeanor, whether in her role as First Constable responding to a call, or directing traffic in Woodstock for a parade, fair or other event, or dispatching from the town’s emergency center, or as the “Pit Queen” at Bear Ridge, yelling at drivers to take their places and doing what she could to help make the day’s events smoother and more enjoyable for all concerned.  

She got us to where we needed to be by her constant presence in our lives, as a devoted daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, and friend: we can all attest to the fact that if Penny Davis was in your life, she was IN. YOUR. LIFE. 

And when Penny was in your life, it was for good; not her good, but yours.  Whether you liked it or not.   

If she thought you were out of line, she’d not only tell you, she’d drag you back to to that line.  If she thought a kick in the ass would serve you better than a kind word, she’d give it.  And then  follow up with the kind word anyway.  And then be there to dole out both for as long as she thought necessary.  

She was rough, and tough, and a bully, and bossy, and profane, and she minded everyone's beeswax, and “by the Jesus”, if you didn’t know better than to not cross her, or divert her from her appointed mission, you learned it soon enough.   

If you could see past that, you came to realize the depth of her kindness, and generosity, and affection.  Everything she threw at you, whether in jest or dead serious, was because she cared about you, and she was going to “by the Jesus” help you get past whatever was ailing you, or break every bone in your body doing it, because she had decided you were worth the trouble.  

And we loved her for it.  

Penny’s brand of love and loyalty cost her; in her devotion to family and friends, and in her service to the town, she put aside any ambitions she may have had for the things many of us take for granted: a relationship.  Marriage.  Children.   

If her regret at putting those ambitions aside cast a shadow, she didn’t let that shadow darken her waking life to the point where she was any more bitter or resentful than she had a right to be.   

Instead, she poured her energies into her parents, her family, her friends, her pets, her pigs, her racing and her town, allowing those to be the surrogates for the things she felt she had to give up.  

I think we can all agree that we are all the better for the sacrifices she made. 

Penny Davis could never be described as being one thing.  She was an aggregate; a conglomeration of emotions and ambitions and impressions, all of which we get to store in our memories, both collectively and in our own way.  

There was the Penny that occupied physical space and time, and then there was the idea of Penny;  both were awesome, and terrifying, and loving.  

She belonged to herself first, remaining faithful to the idea to herself: in so doing, her faith and loyalty to everything else was strengthened a thousandfold. 

By virtue of the manner in which she moved through her life, and the lives of those to whom she mattered most, it is clear that she belongs to all of us as well, and will until the end of our days. 

I’m going to quote another poet now.  Don’t be scared; it’s the last one.  

Dylan Thomas told us “Do not go gentle into that good night… old age should burn and rage at close of day.”

Penny was denied her chance at old age. She left us in a way that was out of character for her; not in the boisterous manner we came to expect of her, but quietly.    

She did not get her chance to burn, or rage.  

Not that she’d have taken it.  She’d have found a way to turn it outward, and channel it into something that would likely have benefited someone.  Or several someones.

Because that’s what she did.  Every day of her life.  

So because Penny spent the better part of her life getting all of us where we needed to be, let us come together, as best we can, now, to make sure we know that she’s gotten to where where she needs to go.  

Let us mark Penny’s going into that good night; not gently, but in the manner in which she lived.  By living as she lived.  Boisterously.  Loudly.  With all the volume and noise and excitement and thunder and drama that comes from a parade down Woodstock’s main drag, or from a good night of racing at Bear Ridge.   

Let us rise as one and give to Penny that one last thing she would not ask for herself: to get up, get out, and get going, with the goal of living your your life uncompromisingly, as Penny did, and would have you do.   

Do not go gentle into that good night.  

Raise your voices.  Raise your spirits.  

Most importantly: raise some hell.  

Because that’s what Penny would do.  And likely is doing right now.  

Let Heaven know that Penny Davis is among those who have taken their place amongst the most high.   

And “by the Jesus”… they better be ready.  

Michael J. Curtiss
April 25, 2015

Sunday, April 19, 2015

SEMINAR: Art Meets Expectation, And Expectation Meets Reality


written by Theresa Rebeck

directed by Todd Hunter

A Rolling Die Production 

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

- THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, by Shirley Jackson

It's no accident that one of the most beautifully-crafted sentences in the English language kicks off this review of SEMINAR; like that which opens Shirley Jackson's seminal novel, we will search for le mot juste, attempting to quantify Theresa Rebeck's ruminative dissertation on writers, what drives writers to write, and the repercussions of writing.

Sadly, no matter how we come at the task, it's likely we'll miss the mark.  The intangibles- phrasing, intonation, structure- will mockingly hang just out of reach.  The peculiar alchemy that Shirley Jackson managed to manifest in her writing will be, for us, a skill which lingers on an interior horizon; close enough to see, but too far away to grasp.

Still, we'll try.  We'll try, then console ourselves that even if we don't come close, that there's honor in the attempt.  That's one of the lies writers tell themselves.  Writers tell themselves a lot of lies.  The hell of it is, the lies work.  At least, for a while. 

Truth, lies, missing the mark, coming close and rising to the challenge are major themes in Rebeck's SEMINAR; the play chronicles the gripping, often brutal process in which four young New York writers and their professor take part in a 10-week writing seminar.   

As the play goes forward, Leonard, the professor, fixes his critical eye upon each of the writers, telling them what they need to do to be better. Tensions and doubts multiply, alliances are formed, dismantled, and as quickly formed again, all within the context of the professor yanking the four out of the literary cocoons they've spun for themselves, forcing them to take an unvarnished look at what they have to offer, as writers and as human beings.   

Leonard's principal job is to teach his clients that writers build for themselves houses of a savage construction- places "without kindness, never meant to be lived in" - and that no matter what their level of talent, writers must contend with two constants; the consequences that come of good (translation: commercially successful) writing, and the eternal notion that even the best writing is never good enough. 

Dreams come with a price, Leonard tells his charges: every writer must embrace the absolute realties that come with the writing process, no matter where the writing takes you- and that an essential part of who a writer is will be consumed by the vocation he or she has chosen. That's just how it is, Leonard says: suck it up, or walk away. 

SEMINAR might be, by some, considered annoying in that it has a casual relationship with the essential building blocks of the play; components like story arc, conflict and plot are treated with less rigor than in other plays, especially in relation to its five characters.  

With SEMINAR, one gets the idea fairly early on that Rebeck likes to play fast and loose with the rule that every play needs to have a central character, where nothing which happens in the course of telling the story detracts from that character's importance.  While this flouting of structure will infuriate the purist, it frees the company to put the focus where they want it, and keeps the audience guessing as to who the real protagonist may be.  

This being a Todd Hunter production, it's a foregone conclusion that the actors have been tasked to "peel the onion", getting to a place that is sweet and pungent in equal measure, focusing on what spurs the characters to do what they do by getting right to the core of what puts them where they are- the better to express what each of them wants.  

Hunter asks his characters to articulate what forces come to bear in getting them to converge at a common point, what their responsibility is in that moment, and what they're going to do to get to the next important moment in each of their characters' divergent paths.  

It's clear that each actor finds external influences to inform their characters' interior lives; once they do, Hunter is smart enough to get out of their way and let them actuate their motivations in as organic a manner as possible.  There's less acting and more reacting, making what happens onstage as prosaic as if it were happening next to us in our own living room.  Well done. 

Matthew Schofield portrays Leonard, the professor, as a bastard-coated bastard with a bastard filling. An author of note who's been damaged by his own choices and experiences as a writer, Schofield's Leonard is a walking contradiction in terms, at once nurturing and disparaging of his four students, using his own considerable talent, psychological games, even sex to provoke, punish, or reward as he sees fit. 

It's a rough wooing Leonard undertakes to winkle his novitiates out of their complacency, and it's always a guessing game as to whether he actually enjoys being a son of a bitch or if he's employing Machiavellian tactics as a means to an end.  Schofield plays Leonard with a consistent low-key menace, which colors every praise or barbed judgment he issues for his students' writing ability, as well as their motivations and characters. It's refreshing to see an actor contain multitudes without being overwhelmed by them; Schofield's interpretation of Leonard's multifaceted personality is a highlight of this production. 

Likewise, the four actors who make up Leonard's writing class bring their A-game to SEMINAR.  At first, it appears that Martin (Kyle Milner), Kate (Jessica Miller), Douglas (Nate Speckman) and Izzy (Dominique Salvación) are all privileged weenies cut from the same cloth; they complain about their entitled lives in New York, name-drop institutions like Yaddo or MacDowell and offhandedly mention submissions to Tin Roof and The New Yorker, glad-hand and needle one another with gleeful insider lingo; they're so smug, self-absorbed and affected that it's less than ten minutes before you have to throttle the urge to bitch-slap each one of them back into the uterus so they can start over.  

But then, this unholy quartet splits into four distinct personalities, and you begin to see not only the disparate characters, but the diverse manner in which each actor compels them into being. 

Milner's Martin is all slouch and mumble, preemptively donning a scornful, iconoclastic armor to hide a crushing lack of self-confidence in his day-to-day existence as well as his ability to write; he is neatly countered by Speckman's too-tightly wrapped Douglas, a tweedy young man of questionable ability and sexuality, using family connections to grope his way down the dark hallways his own ambition is taking him, unsure that he really wants what he claims to want; Salvación's Izzy comes from a place of power as a prickly, streetwise veteran, arguably the most ambitious of the four, or at least the person most clear-eyed about where she wants her writing to take her and what she might have to do to get it, contrasted by Miller's hapless Kate, the seminar's reluctant hostess, who's spent most of her time sawing away at the ties which bind her to her privileged upper-class background, stunted by a skewed sense of noblesse oblige which thrusts itself, an unwelcome guest, into her personal life as well as her writing.       

Granted, this is only a small slice of who these characters are, but it's enough to capture you and keep your interest as SEMINAR moves forward.  It's worth the wait to see where they end up, or if they get anywhere at all, as Leonard shepherds them toward the places they claim to want to go.  There's way more at stake here than the five thousand dollars each student has paid to take part in the seminar; the manner in which we find out exactly what the stakes are makes for a hell of a ride. 

SEMINAR's scenic design makes superb use of the Ring's intimate space; we see an expansive, comfortable living room at stage level balanced by a niggardly, drab writer's pied-à-terre cutting into one of the audience areas.  

Pay special attention to the expressionistic elements incorporated into the design; they're there for a reason. All other technical and design particulars support the production well. 

A caveat: if you're a writer prone to depressive episodes or possessed of a thin skin, you may want to consider not seeing SEMINAR.  

It'll not only make you feel worse about yourself, it will likely snatch away the last tattered shred of confidence you have about your worth as a writer, and encourage you to kill yourself on the sidewalk in front of the theatre after the performance.  

However, a writer by virtue of his essential nature is a glutton for punishment, so of course you must go.  A writer is nothing if not a vessel for the imp of the perverse.   See this play. More power to you if you do. Mazel tov.  Pax vobiscum. 

But know that like the quintessentially elegant red flag which is raised at the beginning of Shirley Jackson's enduring compendium of supernatural malice, the content and character of SEMINAR is a tantalizing promise to writers of all stripes.  

It's this:  whether good, bad or something in between, as a writer you build your own house, and furnish it with the absolute realities that are inextricably a part of what- and how- you write. 

And when you walk there, you walk alone. 

You've been warned. 

SEMINAR runs April 17-May 3 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.

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.  

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.

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.  

Or maybe it's just that everything's so densely layered within the structure of a play-within-a-play that it takes a great deal of concentration to pick each element of the story out. 

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,
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 (
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