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Episode CXL: Damn, That Alice Cooper’s An Ugly Woman!

It is with most regret that the Bastards have to indulge themselves with some, as they say, fresh blood.

This week the B3 crew gripe about how their childhood heroes are all dropping like flies, then jump into their thoughts on the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s production of Ghost-Writer. The week in sports is discussed, the demos for Spec Ops: The Line, Kinect Star Wars, and Minecraft are played, and Tim Burton’s remake of Dark Shadows is reviewed.

A spot of tea goes well with this week’s show. It’s Episode 140: Damn, That Alice Cooper’s An Ugly Woman!

Schadenfreude Galore In Reza’s "God of Carnage"

Yasmina Reza has made it a career of writing plays that focus on friends and/or couples at a breaking point of their lives, whether it is caused by a white-on-white painting (Art) or a dinner gone downhill (Life X 3). In God of Carnage, currently being performed at Boston’s BU Theater by the Huntington Theatre Company, Reza takes two couples who meet for the first time and pushes them to the brink of destruction. You can just cut the hilarious tension with a steak knife.

Alan and Annette Raleigh (Brooks Ashmanskas and Christy Pusz) meet with Veronica and Michael Novak (Johanna Day and Stephen Bogardus), regarding the Raleigh child knocking the teeth out of the Novak kid with a stick. What was supposed to be a quick visit turns into a downward spiral filled with screaming matches, booze, the plight of a scared hamster, and even a bit of vomit. Discussions of gang violence pride and Neanderthal ways from the men give way to the state of mind the two couples really have considering the matter. It’s when Annette gets sick all over Veronica’s books where the real side of the couples are shown, and opening the liquor cabinet doesn’t glaze over any details.

From that point the couples are at each other’s throats, and at times the husbands go against the wives. Once it’s clear who each person sides with on the subject at hand the true nature of the two couples breaks out of its straight jacket and pounces without hesitation. After the men label their kids “little bastards” the women leave a sort of emotional wreckage that can be compared to watching two apes battling over a ripe banana. Alan, meanwhile, cannot focus on what really matters at the moment, as he is constantly on the phone with a pharmaceutical company his law firm represents. Once the phone is taken away by Annette (and what she does with it right afterwards) he falls apart in a way that is both comical and sympathetic.

In a way God of Carnage showcases the everyday problems we face as human beings. Sometimes you’ll find yourself squirming in your seat, as a moment or story in one of these character’s lives might remind you of a similar life experience. It’s when Reza pushes these human emotions to the extreme where the real laughs come in. The expression on Veronica’s face when Michael goes deep into detail about how he left his daughter’s hamster out of his cage and into this frightening world is nothing short of a riot, and when she takes away his Spartacus-inspired manhood it hits the proverbial nail on the head as to who the real coward of the family is.

The anger from the cast throughout the play is strong, but it is thankfully coated over with Reza’s trademark wit and humor. You’ll find yourself cringing and laughing at the same time, sometimes for different reasons than the counterparts sitting around you. Special mention should be given to set designer Dane Laffrey, who brought out a post-modern look to the Novak household with a rich but simplistic style. The staircases the actors walk up and down are reminiscent of Escher’s classic painting, and the stacks of art books that cover the stage just show a tiny characteristic of Veronica’s truly whacked-out mindset.

If there’s one thing Reza is good at, it’s making her characters tense and miserable for the sheer enjoyment of the theatergoers. God of Carnage is no exception to her special craft. Two couples come together to settle the differences between their two children, only to find out their behavior is less grown up than their kids’. It’s the type of dark humor that opens your eyes to your own actions, but also tickles your funny bone when you realize these couples’ lives are far worse than anything you will possibly experience in your lifetime.

**** (out of five)

“God of Carnage” is playing through February 5 at the BU Theater, located at 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA. Click here for tickets.

Photos taken from the official Huntington Theatre Company website

Malkovich Proves Dying Is Easy, But "Comedy" Is Unbearable

It’s one thing to go into a theatrical experience and have its performers give what the audience wants. It is a far worse idea to bring in one of the biggest A-list actors out there, and underuse his talents for the vast majority of an expensively-priced production. Such is the case of The Infernal Comedy, which made its American debut at Boston’s Majestic Theater.

The Infernal Comedy follows the book tour of Jack Unterweger (John Malkovich), who is back from the dead to promote his latest book that promises to detail every truth about his life and the murders he committed. Jack tantalizes the audience with his cool charm, knowing far too well that all the crowd wants to hear about is the murders he had a hand in. You can tell he has no regrets for what he has done, as he mentions looking back, “I’d rather be a killer than a no one.” It’s unfortunate, however, that the glamour of this serial killer is blemished by an overkill of sorts by his musical cohorts.

The production is part play, part opera, with the Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra Los Angeles playing for two sopranos (Sophie Klussman and Claire Meghnagi). While the performances from the melodious aspect of The Infernal Comedy were great, they were used far too much during its running time. You would see Malkovich in character speak for roughly five minutes at a time, followed by nearly ten minutes of musical performances. It is here where writer/director Michael Sturminger decides to alienate the audience, much to Unterweger’s disappointment. “I am not really used to this kind of music – it makes me nervous,” says Unterweger. “This has nothing to do with the quality of the orchestra or the conductor, but normally I am not able to stand this kind of music. It makes me physically stressed.”

A great shame falls onto Sturminger for not allowing Unterweger to have the sort of freedoms he wishes to have onstage. It’s as if the character’s frustrations are supposed to mirror those of the average theatergoer, at least from my perspective. He dislikes opera, so why should the audience be forced to be subjected to the sort of music that he himself detests? It would’ve been a far more interesting play had Unterweger decidedly took over every aspect of it so he could have it fit to his true style. Sure, it probably would’ve meant that each member of the orchestra would’ve ended up as dead as his victims, but at least that would’ve been far more entertaining than what conspires here.

This was not to be, sadly, and instead we’re given roughly twenty minutes of well-written dialogue mixed in with 85 minutes of unnecessary opera filler. Its star is heavily underutilized, and our greatest desire to see what the mind of a killer is like is left unfulfilled. Despite a few big laughs (one of which hilariously focused on his hatred towards Macintosh laptops), The Infernal Comedy doesn’t reach any sort of point on the mountain of greatness. What could’ve been a great achievement in theater is instead a massive dud, and the American premiere of The Infernal Comedy lands with a mere whimper and a plethora of disappointment under each arm.

* ½ (out of five)

For upcoming tour dates for “The Infernal Comedy”, click here. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Contemporarily Out of Order Perfects A Solid Dance Performance

This past Saturday night I went out of my element. We all know I am a big sports and music guy, but this week we went to The Dance Complex in Cambridge. A friend of mine told me about this group that mixes contemporary dance and hip-hop together, so I had to see this for myself. I dragged the King along and as we sat down we began to read a little bit about the group Contemporarily Out of Order and its origins.

The group was founded by Wendy O’Byrne, and the choreography was done by O’Byrne and different members of the group with assistance from the Dance Captain Shaina Schwartz. The show started with a brief introduction, and then the music started. I sat there as the dancers began, and as I watched I started wondering how they were doing some of the these complex moves. From what I saw it looked like there was kind of a major theme with all of the dances and how they were broke down. It felt like love and acceptance was what they were trying to convey with the movements and song selection, which included music from Portishead, Dashboard Confessional, Sublime and Imogen Heap just to name a few.

This group put on a great show, and I know this is one of the best programs I have seen been mended together. I see big things in the future for Contemporarily Out of Order, and in my opinion everyone should go check them out if you want to have a great time. There was only one problem that I had: The Dance Complex wasn’t that big of a venue, and I feel that a group like thins could sell out a bigger place with the kind of dancing that I witnessed. I know that I will definitely check out another one of their shows because I truly enjoyed myself. The men and women of Contemporarily Out of Order did a great job and deserve a lot of credit for the program they put on. I wish them all the best of luck going forward with this dance troupe.

Episode XCVIII: The E3 Hangover

Still groggy from LA the King returns with Anvil and Mr. Cuse by his side.

This week King Baby Duck reveals his top ten picks from this year’s E3 Expo, and Anvil shares his thoughts on the debut performance from Contemporarily Out of Order. The trio look at the film The Hangover Part Two, Mr. Cuse reviews Water For Elephants and Midnight In Paris and Anvil & KBD give their reasons why X-Men: First Class might be the best prequel ever made. Plus Anvil quickly looks at Just Go With It and River of Darkness, and throws a plug in for the folks at Cage Titans Fighting Championship.

It’s all packaged here in Episode 98: The E3 Hangover.

Episode LXXXVIII: And Starring Gary Busey As Stryker!

After a week off the Bastards return to the roundtable! It most pleases the Busey.

This week King Baby Duck wraps up his coverage of PAX East, and the trio share their thoughts on the demos for Mortal Kombat and Tiger Woods PGA Masters 12. Anvil gives his weekly sports report, Blueonic reviews the movie Battle: LA and King Baby Duck says why Prometheus Bound is the first great new musical of the decade. Finally thoughts are thrown around about the new Dropkick Murphys album Going Out In Style, and Blueonic wraps it up with an Oh For Fuck’s Sake! dealing with the rise of the minimum wage.

It’s all right here in Episode 88: And Starring Gary Busey As Stryker!

"Bound" For Freedom, In Glorious Rock ‘N’ Roll Fashion

It’s a risk adapting a classic Greek tragedy into a modern-day society; even more so if you transform it into a rock opera. Yet here we are with Prometheus Bound, the latest production from the American Repertory Theater that takes (presumably) Aeschylus’s first part of the Prometheus Trilogy, translated by Steven Sater (Spring Awakening) and adding lyrics that play on to the tragedy as if it happened today in some ways. Insert a rocking musical backing composed by none other than Serj Tankian (System of a Down), and what do you get? Quite possibly the first great new musical of the decade.

In today’s modern world the story of Prometheus speaks many a volume, as its tale focuses on a mighty voice taking on a mightier power. The title character (played by Gavin Creel) is sentenced to an eternity of suffering and pain by Zeus, who has seen it a fitful punishment for his crime of introducing fire to the human race. After being chained by the crippled Hephastios (Gabe Ebert) Prometheus laments on his deed, not even the slightest regret in his breath as he is tortured and ridiculed by Hephastios and his cohorts Force (Lea DeLaria) and Violence (Jo Lampert). A small breath of hope appears in the form of his friend Oceanos (Steven Goode, taking over as the understudy for the absent Michael Cunio), though it is short-lived when Oceanos chains Prometheus back up for not following his lead. As he comes across the likes of Io (Uzo Aduba), Hermes (Ebert) and the Daughters of the Aether (Lampart, Ashley Flanagan, Celina Carvajal) it is clear to Prometheus that in order to make his greatest point, he must be struck down by Zeus’s mighty bolt and made an example for, with hopes that humanity will follow in his revolutionary tactics.

It’s one thing to recreate an Ancient Greek tragedy for the modern age, but it’s another for it to still spark the same message it made eons ago. For Sater — who translated the play from Greek to English while in the hospital (long story) — he managed to make it look like a mere cakewalk. Perhaps it has to do with the recent happenings in the Middle East, but the story of this mighty Titan breathes  present day life into not just the production but also the theatergoer’s minds. You can see the wanting of change in the eyes of the performers, and even if it was just for a show it was ridiculously convincing. Creel’s performance was filled with pain, anger and retribution, and he gasped, spat and screamed his way through the production. You could just feel the torment Prometheus was going through. Then there are the scenes with Io, who literally falls to her knees and cries when she realizes that her pain is just beginning, but a shining hope in her eyes fills when there is to be good to happen to her after she suffers. When Ebert appears as Hermes — with winged sneakers and all — you can’t help but crack a smile, even as he’s just about to torment the Titan.

What’s more the Ensemble as a whole brought life both on and offstage, but also got the audience to jump around and dance around to the music in the production. Sater played his greatest move by getting Tankian to write the music for his lyrics. Ranging from rock and soul to screaming metal and hip hop the music flowed through Prometheus Bound like an epic waterfall. Had it not been for the older crowd in the floor area the theatergoers could’ve easily started a mosh pit during such showstoppers as “The Hounds of Law” and “Nothing Like A Tyrant’s Gratitude.” The house band, known in the program as Choke & Jerk, could easily start a rock life of their own as soon as this production ends, as they brought a vibe that could easily be compared to the likes of Serj’s own backing band The F.C.C.

Emily Rebholz’s costume designs ranged from the concertgoer gear (the Groupies’ attire) to the crazily wonderful (Oceanus’s iguana-like vest). It helped to build not just the vibe of a pure unadulterated rock show, but also the mythical world of Greek gods and early mortals. Though not much of a set the idea that Riccardo Hernandez had for Prometheus Bound fit well with what Sater was trying to convey. Adding the action within the audience pit also gave way to more interaction amongst the theatergoers and the ensemble. This is the era of Holy Shit Theatre after all, and there were plenty of those moments thanks to the A.R.T. bringing more of the action around and inside the audience rather just in front of them. In laymen’s terms: Prometheus Bound is more experiencing theater rather than just watching it.

Take heart that Prometheus Bound is all about standing up for what is right, even if it may cost you some punishing aftereffects. While it may have something of a tragic ending the idea and feeling of hope still reigns supreme over the pain and suffering that the Titan Prometheus had to overcome. A strong reminder of conviction overcoming anguish came from one of the show’s sponsor’s: Amnesty International, who at each show dedicate the performance to someone in the world who is trying to change the world for the better. Prometheus Bound is a rock opera event that words don’t do justice for, no matter how much praise can be said about it. Cross your fingers that the production will move onto Broadway (where it could easily sweep the Tony Awards), or at the very least have a cast album released in the near-future. This is one Titan’s boundless moment that you can’t miss.

***** (out of five)

Prometheus Bound is now playing through April 2 at OBERON, located at 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge, MA. Tickets are on sale on the American Repertory Theater’s official site.

"Inishmaan" Filled With Ups, Downs of ’30s Irish Life

There is not another living playwright out there that can twist the elements of tragedy and comedy together, and create a piece of theatrical work that plays on all of your senses quite like Martin McDonagh. The man responsible for both The Leenane Trilogy and The Pillowman, as well as the dark and demented 2008 film In Bruges, knows how to jumble the saddest, happiest and sometimes disturbing elements of life and slice it all together into one fluid production. Yesterday I was able to check out his Tony-award winning play The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Paramount Theatre, presented by Ireland’s Druid Theatre Company.

The “cripple” in the title is Billy Claven (Tadhg Murphy), who gets word that Hollywood film director Robert J. Flaherty is in the area to film a documentary. Seeing it as a chance to escape the life of staring at cattle all day Billy decides to do everything he can to be noticed — limp leg and all — by the man from Tinseltown, and try to start a new life as a movie actor. Of course the idea doesn’t take well to his adoptive aunts Eileen (Dearbhla Molloy) and Kate (Ingrid Craigie), and it causes nothing but laughingstocks from his so-called friends Slippy Helen (Clare Dunne) and Bartley (Laurence Kinlan), but Billy wants to prove them wrong, even if it’s having to tell a giant lie to the kind widowed shipman BabbyBobby (Liam Carney). Much to the surprise of everyone, including the town gossip JohnnyPateenMike (Dermot Crowley) and his drunken mother Mammy O’Dougal (Nancy E. Carroll), Billy gets sent to Hollywood for a screen test, but the harsh realities of America, his lie and the shocking revelation behind the secret of his parents’ drowning send the cripple through a downward spiral.

At this moment you are probably scratching your head, wondering how and where anything humorous can be fit into the above description, but believe me: they do, and when something funny happens it will leave your sides aching. From Mammy’s drunken habits and Bartley unable to choose his sweets, to Slippy Helen curiously wondering why the town priests like showing her their bollocks and the ridiculously boring news stories that JohnnyPateenMike likes to tell everyone for a price of food, the humor comes fast and in a thick Irish accent. There’s also the slutty tales of the unseen daughter of Jim Finnegan, along with the murders of a farmer’s goose and a man’s cat and the loopy antics of Kate when she is in distress (hint: it deals with talking to something that made a popular “pet” in the 1970s). And yes, there is a lot of mean-spirited jokes and ribs geared towards Billy; sometimes it’s funny, other times it’s more cruel.

The tragedy aspect of the play also is in full gear, and when something sad happens it will wrench your heart the same way a funeral for a friend will. When you hear the different stories from the townsfolk about the death of Billy’s parents you wonder what sort of people would put their son through this turmoil, but when the true story comes into fruition your jaw will literally drop to the ground. There is the scene of Billy in the vein of failure as his cough keeps getting worse while his life progresses, and when he returns to Inishmaan to spill the truth about the fib to BabbyBobby you will both gasp in horror and fully understand his reaction to the lie. Sorrow and unluckiness play as major themes in The Cripple of Inishmaan, but it’s the sharp humor of the townsfolk that gets them through, even at the play’s most bleakest moment.

Which leads me to the ending of the play. I will not spoil what happens, but it neither ends happily nor unhappily; rather the play fades to black on what I would like to call a “chance ending.” Something both good and bad happens to Billy, and it leaves him with a small slice of hope within a pie of pessimism. It sounds complicated, but once you bear witness to the scene you will realize what I mean.

Under the direction of Garry Hynes (who has directed many of McDonagh’s plays) the actors gave it their all, and with their help you are easily transported into 1930s Ireland. Their timing was spotless, and the physical aspects of the characters (especially the realistic limp made possible by Murphy) made the play ever-so real. The folks at Druid made perfectly sure that nothing about these people’s lives were not sugarcoated, nor were they glamorized for the sake of the theater world. Instead we were treated to the harsh realities of the early 20th century Irish world, along with some tongue-in-cheek dialogue that is just as authentic as it is funny. Props also need to go to set designer Francis O’Connor (who also did the costumes), who managed to create multiple scenes — ranging from a store to the Inishmaan shores — with a simple, foldable backdrop.

Let it be known that The Cripple of Inishmaan is not for everyone. Some may be lost by the thick Irish dialect, while others may not be able to handle some of the insensitive remarks made towards Billy, but in the end you will be treated with one hell of a theatrical experience. Just be warned: if a moment in the play seems light, it’s bound to get darker with just a flip of the switch.

***** (out of five)

“The Cripple of Inishmaan” plays through today at the Paramount Theater in Boston, MA. To check out upcoming tour dates for the play and how you can order tickets please visit the official Druid Theatre Company’s webpage.

Bucky’s Magical "History (and Mystery)" Tour

R. Buckminster Fuller was a man with plenty of ideas, as well as the initiative to get said concepts done to the acclaim (and ridicule) of many. The man behind the inventions of the geodesic domes and the aerodynamic automobile known as the Dymaxion — as well the first to coins such phrases as “Spaceship Earth,” “ephemeralization,” and “synergetics” — was not so peculiar; rather his portrayal on stage in the one-man A.R.T. production R. Buckiminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe showed him as a being with much enthusiasm for what he discovers, and how he manage to accomplish so much with this new acquired information. The show answers two basic questions: who was this man they sometimes called Trimtab, and what did he do to better our society?

The answer to the latter part is far easier (though lengthier) to explain, so it is with the help of Fuller (played by Thomas Derrah) that we are transported into the mind of this somewhat underappreciated genius. Audience members are transferred into what would look to be his last lecture to the general public, as Bucky tells his life story and the ideas and beliefs he had come across throughout his lengthy journey. In his years as a cross-eyed child, whose world had to be explained by his older sister, Fuller’s creative and intuitive persona began to take shape. During one of his kindergarten classes he had indadvertedly created what scientists and mathematicians call a tetrahedron, baffling his teachers and other school peers. It was at this moment that his strange discovery would open him up to a plethora of ideas and creations. Like many geniuses of our generation he was dismissed from Harvard, twice in fact, and it was this newfound freedom from being taught rather than discover where his greatest contributions came into fruition. Of course these ideas — at first — were shunned by society, but it took much hard work (and a good nod from a Mr. Albert Einstein for his book “Nine Chains To The Moon”) to put Buckminster Fuller onto the map.

Theatergoers also learn about the family man behind Fuller, from the meeting of his wife Anne and the tragic story of their first daughter Alexandrea to the inspirations he drew from their second daughter Allegra. Within these inventions and family moments we are drawn into the thought process of Bucky, as well as his beliefs on why man (or the government of man) seems to push aside beneficial ideas that take years to show progress. It’s all done with sincere brilliance, while at the same time spoken in a tongue that even the most simple-minded person can understand. Usage of visualizations, private videos and photos and demonstrations also help to convey Fuller’s idea of getting more from less.

More from less is exactly what David Lee Cutherbert had created in regards to his set design. The stage — set up with a chair, desk, chalkboard, vinyl player, screen and an overhead projector — helped to showcase this motif that Fuller truly believed in. The proper moods were also set by composer/sound designer Luis Perez, whose soundtrack to the ideas of our native genius was met with formal wonder and a comfortable atmosphere for Fuller and his listeners. The music seemed more simple than complex, a good thing in this case as it is what Trimtab would’ve wanted.

Of course we cannot discuss this one-man show without the one man to hold it all together: Derrah. Once again he has proven to be an actor to truly look out for around these and other parts, as his portrayal of R. Buckminster Fuller was nothing short of superb. Being able to take a two-hour production that you didn’t write nor experience throughout your entire life is a tough gig to do, but there on stage Derrah never once looked to be in a panic; nor did it seem like anything had been forgotten. There he was playing with the stage props, writing down pi to the ninth decimal, drawing pictures of vikings and caricatures of himself and doing a tad bit of interpretive dance, all in character and without skipping a single beat. It takes a lot to bring a unique man back to life, and Derrah’s portrayal of Fuller was up there with Frank Gorshin’s take on George Burns in Say Goodnight, Gracie. Real credit must be give to writer/director D.W. Jacobs, who managed to take everything people know of Fuller (as well as the actual words from the man himself) and squish it all easily into a two-hour program. Although I highly doubt that Bucky would’ve been able to dance or jitterbug at the age he was on stage it seems it was the proper thing to do in order to showcase the true excitement building within the Milton futurist.

Don’t be surprised if you’ll be involved with some audience participation, too; this is the American Repertory Theater after all. From singing Fuller’s funny song “Roam Home To A Dome” to testing out how a sun doesn’t really set you will be in for a bit of a treat in regards to its interactive moments. On top of that is the feeling of being drawn in closer to the inventor thanks to multiple moments of fourth-wall breaking. You may feel lost by what he says at one time or another, but thanks to his vernacular their meanings will be quickly found.

Throughout it all Derrah and the folks behind the scenes gave its audience one memorable show, breeding new ideas and beliefs in their minds and showing how much common sense it takes to be inventive in this world. Its free-flowing pace and humorous looks at the world of yesteryear and today make it a highlight of the Boston theater world in 2011. Fuller was a man with a brilliant mind carrying amazing ideas, and it was shown wonderfully throughout the entire production. Next time I see a house with a geodesic design I’ll be smiling at how great and sturdy of an idea it was rather than point and laugh at how silly it looks. Okay, I might still chuckle a bit.

**** ½ (out of five)

R. Buckiminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe is now playing through Saturday, February 5 at the Loeb Drama Center, located at 64 Brattle St. Cambridge, MA. Tickets are still available.

Episode LXIII: Afterlife Is A Cabaret!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome! Im Boston Saukerl Mannschaft, au Brigade Bâtard Boston, to Boston Bastard Brigade!

This week the B3 crew takes a second look at A.R.T.’s production of Cabaret, as well as the recent concert from the_Stampede and friends. Plus the guys look at the new film Resident Evil: Afterlife, and give their two cents on the video games and demos for DJ Hero 2, Moto GP 09/10, Plants VS Zombies and R.U.S.E. Anvil gives his take on the week in sports, and D-Rock brings to the table a game of Three Album Island.

The unedited videocast:

YouTube Version: