Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #55

April 26th, 2008  |  Published in Kay Bourne Arts Report


by Kay Bourne
(photo: DAN REULBACH as Wilson)

483 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #55“And! it’s made of plastic!” extols Lilly,gleefully showing off the purse her grammy bought her. But life for the spirited mouse has its limburger moments too, in the humorous play “LILLY’s PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE.”

There was a real life inspiration for the irrepressible Lilly, the “queen of the world,” as she describes herself in Wheelock Family Theater‘s humorous and heartwarming Equity production currently underway at 200 The Riverway, Boston through MAY 11. For info on tickets and times, you can click here or phone 617-879-2300.
Picture book author Kevin Henkes was waiting in an airport when he noticed a little girl sporting a plastic purple purse that played music when opened, along with movie star sunglasses studded with rhinestones and hung on a chain. Here were the perfect accessories to Henkes‘ mouse heroine Lilly’s trademark red boots and a crown familiar to readers of the popular children’s book “Julius, the Baby of the World.” As soon as Henkes got on the plane be began writing the sequel, which together with the story of Lilly coping with a baby brother make up the story-line for the enchanting visit to Henkes Mousedom (whose inhabitants can also be found in his picture book “Chester’s Way.”) The books – and there are six other in the series featuring the mice who bear a remarkable likeness to children at about age six or so – were adapted for the stage by Kevin Kling.

James P. Byrne has directed “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” with a playfulness that appeals to both the children and adults in the audience who noticeably enjoy sharing with each other that they get the funny bits. There’s never a dull moment in this outstanding production.
Katherine Leigh Doherty, a local 8th grader, who last season originated the role of Jane Banks in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Mary Poppins” is perfect as the high octane Lilly, who’s a handful but charming too. Thanks to costume designer Melissa Miller the rambunctious mouse looks exactly as children will have imagined her from the books; the other characters are equally apt.

Her next door neighbors and friends, “we’re like three peas in a pod,” are so idiosyncratically played by Shelley Bolman and Dan Reulbach they are as fascinating as the more outlandish Lilly. Although Gary Thomas Ng, as the infant Julius, who oblivious to Lilly’s insults to him, has no lines to say, his near manic goos and gurgles will give you a fit of the giggles. Doug Lockwood is excellent as the hip first grade teacher beloved by his students who greets the class with “howdy,” not hello, and asks them to rearrange the chairs from the staid classroom arrangement of rows: “Do you think you rodents can handle a semicircle?”

The diminutive Sirena Abalian who played the plaintive Roo in Wheelock Family Theater’s recent production of “Winnie-the-Pooh”, this time maneuvers on a walker as Grammy escorting Lilly on a shopping spree. Also endearing are Gamalia Pharms and Dan Bolton as Lilly’s parents, Talia Weingarten as Lilly’s rather prissy cousin, and W. Yvonne Murphy who has set a tradition at Wheelock of making the most out of a small role and again hits the mark variously as a bully, a classmate, and a high toned store clerk. Set Designer Matthew T. Lazure has constructed a little village architecturally inspired by a mouse’s favorite food.

Official Site of the Wheelock Family Theater

by Kay Bourne
(pictured, Bernice McFadden)

481 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #55BERNICE L. McFADDEN so caught the discerning reader’s attention with her debut novel “Sugar,” that she provided a follow up with “The Bitter Earth.” The multicultural bookstore Jamaicaway Books & Gifts brings the author the novelist Toni Morrison has complimented as “riveting” to its airy and attractive establishment this Saturday, APRIL 26, for a talk, reading, and book signing.
McFadden strikes a chord with readers for her empathetic look at courageous women who get the better of the personal demons that have troubled their lives. Her most recent novel, “NOWHERE IS A PLACE,” is again about Black women’s search for their origins (and claiming their place where they get there). The multi-generational story follows the bohemian Sherry and her estranged mother, the no-nonsense Dumpling, as they delve into a family history that’s a 150-year genealogy. One of the stories features a group of slaves cannily managing to take over the plantation from its deranged master.
McFadden, a native of Brooklyn, has won two Black Writers Alliance Gold Pen Awards as well as an Honor Award from the American Library Association. Her other novels include “Camilla’s Roses” and “The Warmest December.”
The afternoon event at the 676 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain bookstore runs from 2:30 to 4 pm.
While you’re in the store, take a look at the coloring book created by Rosalyn D. Elder, the indie bookstore’s owner, “African American Heritage in Massachusetts.” The illustrations of important regional historical figures were done by local artist Laurence Pierce, who is known for using a palette of bright colors. This venture leaves it up to the person with the crayons to choose.
The subjects, or “personalities” as the book calls them, start off with Deval Patrick, Massachusetts’ first African American Governor, and goes on to include Prince Hall, Harriet Jacobs, Lewis Latimer, and some 34 more heroes of our commonwealth.
The drawing takes up one page and opposite is a short bio. Perhaps, for the sake of the person coloring, it would have been better had the book designer reversed the format and put the drawing on the right hand side and the write-up on the left. The book’s text is written in a encyclopedia definition style that would probably not appeal to elementary school children who typically make up the coloring book crowd, but older youngsters and adults might well enjoy being artistic as they take in some history.
Official website of Jamaicaway Books

by Josiah Crowley © 2008
(pictured From L-R: Anne Scurria (as A), Paula Plum (as B), Dan Kerrigan (as The Boy), and Liz Hayes (as C)
Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard

482 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #55“Most people don’t want to be changed”
- Edward Albee
Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright radically altered notions of what constitutes a play, combining Absurdist Theater with more traditional playwrighting. His earlier work includes the well-known ‘WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?’ as well as ‘THE DEATH OF BESSIE SMITH,’ the latter of which details the last night of the blues singer’s life who died in the 1950′s South after being turned away from three hospitals that enforced their “Whites Only” policy.

The recently closed Merrimack Repertory Theatre production of Albee‘s first Pulitzer winner, ‘A DELICATE BALANCE,’ was a polished staging of a sober and hilarious account of an upper crust Connecticut family circa 1965. This work, set in 1965, concerns a WASP clan’s secrets and lies. This family, so concerned with outward appearances, will go to any lengths (cocktails, denial, humor) to avoid the truth of their lives (alcoholism, emotional instability, loneliness). Director Charles Towers assembled a top-notch cast which included outstanding work by Jennifer Harmon as Agnes, the family’s matriarch; Gloria Biegler, tense, angry and resentful as the unstable daughter who seeks shelter at her parents home (yet again) as her fourth marriage ends; and Broadway veteran Penny Fuller as Agnes’ alcoholic “spinster” sister who drinks and wisecracks with gusto all day long as she lives off her sister’s generosity and guilt. Two-time Tony nominee Fuller is both outrageously funny and forlorn, never more so than when recounting the time she spoke at an AA meeting while soused.

The Lyric Stage Company is currently presenting a splendid production of Albee‘s “THREE TALL WOMEN” (it closes April 26). This play, for which Albee was awarded his third Pulitzer, is based on the playwright’s contentious relationship with his difficult mother (“Very few people who met my adoptive mother in the last 20 years of her life could abide her”). In 1929, at one year old, Albee was adopted into a rich New York family who exposed him to the best education available, as well as the arts. When he was 18, Albee‘s bitter, racist mother threw him out of her home and severed all contact with her only child upon discovering he was gay. Nearly fifty years later, his mother, now very much alone in the world, contacted him and requested that he accompany her through her final cancer-ridden months. Albee has stated, “We had managed to make each other very unhappy over the years, but I was past all that, though I think she was not.”

Albee fulfilled his mother’s wish. Over this final period of his mother’s life, he learned that this hateful woman had once been a loving, sensitive young woman.

In the first act, we meet the cantankerous old woman on her death bed: though she has memory lapses of the details of her life, she consistently nurtures her prejudices. In the second act, WOMEN has three separate actresses play this woman at different stages. Through dialogue, we see how disappointment in sex and marriage changed a lovely, open girl into a nasty creature, barely human and without an ounce of maternal instincts. In the second act, this trio is onstage throughout and interact with each other. The only other one onstage is Albee‘s stand-in character, the son who has returned home to see his mother through her final days.Tellingly, this character has no dialogue.

Director Spiro Veloudos directs a superlative production of a work that is, by turns, painful, hilarious – even joyful. He has assembled a fine cast. Liz Hayes, as the young, sensitive, hopeful woman Albee never knew is luminous in her openness and likablilty. Paula Plum (so impressive in Albee’s ‘THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA?’ in last season’s Lyric staging) gives her usual outstanding performance as the cold, manipulative middle-aged mother. And Trinity Rep veteran Anne Scurria makes an electric debut at the Lyric Stage (Spiro, please bring her back soon) as the cantankerous old lady.

Albee spent his mother’s final months as both dutiful son and observant playwright. As he “met” the loving young woman his mother had once been, Albee paid attention and, as his play demonstrates, he changed.

The Official Website of the Lyric Stage Company

by Kay Bourne
(pictured: Keitha Hassell
photo credit: Eileen O’Connor)
484 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #55
The elders from three of Boston’s most enduring neighborhoods have come up with a cute title for their memoirs: “BORN BEFORE PLASTIC .” Of course they aren’t truly that old since, Bakelite, for example, which was used for costume jewelry and other popular items, was invented in 1909. Whitman‘s used cellophane to wrap their candies beginning in 1914.

Even so, when people say “plastic” these days, they’re usually referring to credit cards or charge cards, which were put in the general consumer’s hands starting in the 1950′s to pay for everything from groceries to big tag items.

Seniors from the North End, South Boston, and Roxbury have contributed to this valuable document of the-way-we-were at the time of World War II and the years that followed shortly after into the 60′s. Recent photos of the men and women who have contributed their memoirs go with their stories and sometimes there are photos from the past included as well.

In the humorous memoir from Patricia Beckles, for instance, in which she recalls her grandmother and great aunt going to hear their cousin “Will” speak (W. E. B. DuBois), there is a photo of the two sisters from Roxbury dated 1910. The humor in the essay derives from the little girl, as Patricia Beckles was then, appreciating the fine dinner her family set out when “Will” came for a meal, and her disappointment at the loss of those feasts when the family closed ranks against him for fear they’d be dubbed Communists.

In the final section of the book, “What We’ve Lost,” Mary Kane writes movingly of her young uncle who returned from fighting the Battle of the Bulge (and being captured by the Germans) thin and ill, yet with the strength of personality to be a father for a little girl whose own dad was an alcoholic. He was her beacon of hope for the next five years, and the lessons he taught her about making her voice heard on the side of right she has never forgotten.

Beginning the paperback, which has 10 sections with 40 writers, are the stories under the heading “Where We’re From.” In this section Keitha B. Hassell of Roxbury recalls the close knit family she was raised in and the details of their lives in a second floor apartment on Hollander Street. Her father was from Jamaica, and Hassell writes that she can still hear the shout “Bowl the ball, Burkey!” when her father wound up to bat at the cricket matches the whole family attended. They had a vegetable garden in Franklin Park. They went to concerts at Symphony Hall to hear Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, Mahalia Jackson, Paul Robeson, and others, and to art exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts and Mrs. Jack Gardner’s Palace on the Fenway. Hassell writes that the memoir project was a “wonderful visit to the past” for her.

The project and book was a cooperative effort between the City of Boston’s Commission on Affairs of the Elderly and Grub Street Inc., a non-profit creative writing center based in Boston. The book is available in local bookstores. Another group of elders will be heard from in subsequent volumes.

Official Website of Grub Street

by Josiah Crowley © 2008
489 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #55There are no show tunes in this group’s repertoire. The group’s director, Bob Climan, has quite eclectic tastes that both surprises and endears as we view senior citizens getting down and dirty (James Brown’s “I Got You/I Feel Good”), going hard rock (Springsteen‘s “Dancing in the Dark”), and all funky (“Schizophrenia”).

Interspersed with rehearsal scenes (one member has a tough time with the lyrics to “Yes We Can Can” but, then again, I challenge any teen to get those lyrics down pat! ); interviews (one of the film’s highlights follows a feisty 91-year-old as she recounts her youth as a burlesque queen in London‘s 1930′s dancehalls: she will keep you in stitches as she recounts her sexy stage act); and performances (the group has traveled on 12 world tours), we get to know the group’s members and their reactions to life’s journeys ( two of the most lovable members die within seven days of each other ) and the songs often reflect these experiences (“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”, “Staying Alive”, “Every Breath You Take“). The film is done with great humor and taste and is far more original than the standard – and unoriginal – high-concept studio fare.

Stephen Walker’s feel-good, entertaining documentary YOUNG @ HEART is surely the sleeper of the film season. It concerns the Northampton, MA-based senior citizen singing group (median age: 80) of the title, a group that has been around since 1982. Far from the typical staid portrait of elders usually seen in film, this fast-paced, laugh-out-loud documentary presents – through a series of talking head interviews – the often flamboyant seniors as they discuss their lives.

The film ends with the group’s performance at a state prison. We watch as the seniors boogie and scat in front of hardline lifers. Which brings us to an idea: how presentation of the arts changes the penal experience. But that’s another film. After viewing YOUNG @ HEART, you may find yourself boogieing toward the exit sign.

The Official Website of Young @ Heart

486 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #55The Roxbury Film Festival supports the Independent Film Festival of Boston by being a screening supporter for two films in this year’s festival that take place on APRIL 26th.
directed by Lance Hammer
In rural Mississippi, 12-year old James’ descent into drug dealing forces the adult members of his family to confront issues in their mutual pasts. Winner of Best Directing and Best Cinematography Awards at Sundance Film Festival 2008. Screening: Saturday April 26th 4:45pm Somerville Theatre in Davis Square Director Lance Hammer will be in attendance for the Q&A
PUBLIC ENEMY: WELCOME TO THE TERRORDOME<br> directed by Robert Patton-Spruill
Documentary about the influential, controversial, formidable rap group by Boston director Robert Patton Spruill. Screening: Saturday APRIL 26th 11:00pm Somerville Theatre in Davis Square Director Robert Patton-Spruill will be in attendance for the Q&A. This film will also screen at the 10th Annual Roxbury Film Festival in July, 2008. Here is where you can purchase tickets for BALLAST. And click here for tickets to PUBLIC ENEMY: WELCOME TO THE TERRORDOME

Speaking of film festivals, the First Annual Lowell Film Festival was a great success. From honoring native Daughter Bette Davis to an open night poetry slam to an African Dance Demo, to screening 14 films over two days, as well as a panel discussion, a short film contest and youth programming, the fest was packed with amazing cultural events. Set amidst the backdrop of funky restaurants and artsy coffee shops and stores, the film festival focused on themes of Globalization and local talent.

This is not the Lowell that many remember, but the Lowell that many are going to want to return to. Lowell has situated itself for a cultural renaissance. It’s got all the right stuff and this festival is just another wonderful addition to the city’s growth.

UPCOMING: The Roxbury Film Festival is the largest festival in New England that celebrates people of color. Produced by ACT Roxbury and The Color of Film Collaborative, Inc., the festival takes place July 28-August 3, 2008. Click here for more info.

479 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #55FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, the new Jackie Chan/Jet Li movie from Lionsgate is anything but forbidden. Based on the Chinese legend of the immortal “Monkey King,” that some say dates back to 600 A.D., it is directed by Robert Minkoff (Roger Rabbitt, Lion King, Stuart Little).

It’s fun, lighthearted and filled with great martial arts action. It’s the first teaming of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The pairing is easy to watch and the beautiful scenery draws you in. For 10-14 year olds it will be a masterpiece, for others a great ride. With the exception of some random Boston reference and Red Sox dialogue that really doesn’t make much sense ( the only thing I can think of is that the writer may be a fan) Forbidden Kingdom gets across the message that bullies don’t win in the end and they always get what’s coming to them. It still amazes me that Jackie Chan as well as Jet Li do their own stunts, that in and of itself is reason to sit back and watch these amazing athletes.
Forbidden Kingdom website

488 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #55Libbie Shufro left the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) after six years as President and CEO. A powerful advocate for the arts and cultural community, Libbie’s ability to revitalize and reinvent the cultural landscapes that she has been a part of is a testament to her passion and aptitude to create change. In a letter to arts and culture organizations, Libbie shares her thoughts about leaving the BCA and her tenure there.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the many partners who helped build an “urban cultural village” that places the arts at the heart of community life.

In this synergistic model, where arts and commerce are inextricably bound, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Local artists have affordable space to grow and showcase their work; the citywide public has an eclectic menu of quality arts opportunities to choose from; and local businesses benefit from a critical mass that attracts greater numbers of visitors and employees from across the city and beyond.

I am privileged to have been a part of the BCA’s emergence as a thriving urban arts center and dynamic citywide destination. We stabilized BCA finances during difficult economic times as we revitalized and diversified our visual and performing arts programming to engage new audiences. We expanded our campus to include the magnificent Calderwood Theatre Pavilion and the wildly popular Beehive Jazz Café.

The arts have been core to the South End’s revitalization. As I move on to a new chapter in my own life, I encourage the BCA to keep its eyes on the prize especially in the context of encroaching gentrification — to continue to make the BCA affordable and welcoming to diverse local artists and audiences alike, so that all are invited to experience and delight in the arts and each other.”

Libbie Shufro Former President and CEO Boston Center for the Arts

487 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #55Mattapan residents are invited to join Ethos, Kit Clark Senior Services, elected officials and community leaders in celebrating the 15th Anniversary of CAFE SANT GRANDET, Boston’s first “Haitian Friendly” Senior Services Program, on Friday, MAY 2, 11am – 2pm at St. Angela’s Church, 1540 Blue Hill Avenue, Mattapan. Enjoy lunch, entertainment and dancing for a suggested donation of $1.75. RSVP to Karen at 617-522-6700 x306. For information on various events during May for Mattapan elders, their families and support circles, contact ETHOS at 617-522-6700 x338 and ask for the MAY SeniorPalooza calendar.

African dance instructor, Sister Akila, presents a free African Dance workshop on Saturday, MAY 3, 11am at OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center, free and open to the all ages, interested in taking African dance classes. OrigiNation is located at 11 Walnut Park, near Egleston Square, Roxbury.

HALEY HOUSE BAKERY CAFE and THE COLOR OF FILM COLLABORATIVE, INC. present DINNER & A MOVIE on Friday, MAY 9 6pm, with the special presentation of the documentary “THE PRICE OF SUGAR” followed by a discussion with the documentary’s producer, and Boston filmmaker, ERIC GRUNEBAUM. Narrated by Paul Newman, “THE PRICE OF SUGAR” follows Father Hartley, a charismatic priest, as he organizes Haitian sugar cane workers on a Dominican Republic sugar plantation to fight for their basic human rights. This film raises key questions about where the products the U.S. consumes originate and at what human cost they are produced, and more important, and where our responsibility lies, as individual consumers. Tickets are $25 per person (excluding beer, wine, soda, juice & gratuity) and include a caribbean meal, dessert and complimentary iced tea. Due to the nature of the documentary, sugar will not be an ingredient on the menu for this event. Tickets go on sale May 1 and are available here. Haley House Bakery Cafe is located at 12 Dade Street, Roxbury.

HAVEN ART LOUNGE and THE COLOR OF FILM COLLABORATIVE, INC. present “SUPPER CINEMA”, Saturday, MAY 10 at 7pm, featuring the film “RUNT” written/directed by Michael Phillip Edwards. RUNT is a strikingly passionate story of a Jamaican-American man who is forced to confront the ancestral demons of his past in order to be the man he wants to be for his son. $30 per person includes catering by Poppa B’s. Tickets will go on sale May 1. Click here for more information.

The Roxbury Media Institute & The Haley House Bakery Cafe invite you to ‘aRt IS LiFe iTSELF! A Performance Series: Embracing Art, Culture & Spirituality’ a Multicultural, Intergenerational, Humanistic experience, every Thursday night, serving tapas beginning at 6pm at The Haley House Bakery & Cafe, 12 Dade Street, Roxbury on Washington Street, near Dudley station. Call 617-445-0900 for details on who’s performing each week.

The Museum of African American History on 46 Joy Street, Beacon Hill presents AN EVENING DISCUSSION AND BOOK SIGNING WITH AUTHOR, DAVID W. BLIGHT on MAY 8, reception at 5:30pm, program begins at 6pm. Two newly uncovered narratives and the biographies of the two self-emancipated men who wrote them are published in David Blight’s new book, A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom. rsvp@maah.org or 617-725-0022 x25. Free and open to the public. Validated parking available at the Cambridge Street Garage below the Holiday Inn.

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The Color of Film Collaborative is a non-profit organization that supports and fosters the individuals and organizations in the creation of diverse images of people of color in film, video, theater and other media, by providing artists with opportunities to exhibit, distribute and find funding for their work, as well as provide a supportive environment where they can share and develop their ideas, their vision and their work with their peers. About Us

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