December 27, 2007

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Stage notables in 2007
Original scripts provided for unique theater
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

This past year in southern New Hampshire was a good one for original and adapted work.

Yellow Taxi Productions put together a stellar cast to premiere a play by Nashua playwright Lowell Williams based on the last days of Jonathan Daniels of Keene and his transformation into a civil rights activist. Another young seminarian convinced Daniels to follow Martin Luther King Jr.’s call and head south to work for civil rights. Daniels decided to stay in Alabama, working to integrate congregations. He was shot saving a teenage activist just after he was released from jail where he had been held for six days. Williams’ Six Days in the Black Belt utilized a sparse, representational set, the best kind for this sort of play. Williams sets it in New Hampshire after Daniels funeral, where fellow activists have gathered to piece together what happened. It’s a show that ran for three weeks, but probably could have shown longer, as word of mouth traveled about it. Williams said he has rewritten parts — he’s always rewriting, he said — for a community production in Keene in January. It will be interesting to see how he’s changed it.

Adapting Hamlet into a Noh-style performance in Japanese was certainly a lofty goal. As a community production, Ghostlight Theatre Co. created a visually impressive stage. Actors were the set, for much of show, and their movements were carefully choreographed to denote fences and walls. Live Asian-inspired music accompanied, and sound, scenes and an English narrator made the 45-minute production easy to follow, although the dialogue was in Japanese. Creator John Sefel had translated, and adapted although he doesn’t speak Japanese, nor did the actors. They had some coaching. To Sefel, Hamlet is one of the most “elegant,” and “quiet” Shakespeare plays, and is filled with tension, which matches Noh style. The tragedy was beautiful to watch, the climax powerful. It was important that a community troupe would attempt such a project.

The new All Access performing arts education group opened in Nashua in the spring, with help of an “angel investor” who later helped front cash in the summer for a massive production of The Who’s Tommy at Stockbridge Theatre in Derry. They went heavy on promotions and their most over-the-top gimmick was to be a pinball competition before each performance. All Access bought one of the 1,400 pinball machines in existence of the sort used for the Tommy stage musical. They also bought a Gibson Epiphone SG guitar as the prize.

Another notable new work was Image Theater’s premiere of James McLindon’s Distant Music in April. Set in a Cambridge bar, lines made riotous reference to Boston, Harvard, Irish, Irish-American and Catholic culture. New Hampshire actress Sally Nutt and actor Phil Thompson demonstrated strong chemistry as middle-aged college friends debating their respective impending life decisions among other things over Guinness. Image sold out four of six performances which were held in a Lowell, Mass., pub in April.

The Palace Theatre in Manchester got wild with their choices for their “Broadway in NH” series of professional musicals. They started their season in September with an American version of The Full Monty (pictured), set in early 1990s Buffalo. The men have lost their jobs as steel workers, but can’t handle working for their wives. Jerry’s about to lose custody of his son because he can’t pay child support. When Jerry and his friends overhear female discussion of a Chipendales show, the guys see an income opportunity.

More than 1,800 people saw Actorsingers production of Thoroughly Modern Millie in the fall. The community theater group is the probably the first to bring the 2002 Tony winning-title to southern New Hampshire. Manchester’s Marisa Roberge, former professional actor, played Millie Dillmount, a Kansas girl who moves to New York in 1922 looking for a new life. Roberge called Millie a throwback musical comedy because it’s one of the few contemporary musicals that is heavy on dance, particularly tap.