By Thomas Brennan
Based on a real-life, 1960s, bank heist pulled off by four criminals, the chase by a corrupt law enforcement officer, and the siege where the criminal protagonists make their final stand, Plata Quemada is a play that carries itself on both strong performances and bold direction with its integration of graphic novel elements.
It at first seems like a production where there are no heroes, only a story where each character who enters is competing to be even harsher than the last. This production isn’t content to do that though. It takes its time in humanizing the criminal protagonists while never fully justifying the atrocious actions or depriving them of consequence. The story builds a sense of intimacy and rawness in the criminals’ dynamics. It’s obvious how awful and dark these characters are and that they’re still relying on one another like a castaway to wreckage. Each of the actors play multiple roles in the story, and though it can be hard to track at certain moments, each performance is always either a gut-punch or a heart-wrench in some form.
Plata Quemada is the latest play of the season, adapted from Ricardo Piglia’s novel, and at the Emerson Paramount theatre from March 11 to 15. Directed by Juan Carlos Zagal and is produced by Teatrocinema, which Zagal co-founded.
All of the technical aspects of the production are as much a delight as the performances themselves. The graphic novel elements and animation on a stage seems like a risky concept, but this technical choreography works. The use of lighting and the backscree are done to a masterful degree. From the starting scene it’s obvious the power this play will have with its use of props, angles and lighting. It brings a dynamic and energetic movement to what could have been otherwise straightforward and less interesting scenes.
The only thing that distracted was the use of subtitles. The choice to assure all the spoken lines were kept in Spanish was definitely the right move as it kept the feel of the production authentic in a historical context and made it feel more immersive. In certain moments the subtitles kept from giving full focus on the performances. It was surprising the play never went the route of word bubbles as traditional graphic novels do; potentially adding even more to the play from the medium they’re pulling inspiration from and sidestepping more inherent issues with subtitles altogether.
The film is provocative and mature in its portrayal of violence, but it balances itself that while it pushes the envelope, that it never feels like a line is crossed unnecessarily. The climax is heartfelt while still feeling like an inevitable path for the story. The end message and its motif of the burning money was also incredibly poignant. It creates the question of how material wealth is able to incite more anger in the populace than the actual gruesome loss of human life along the criminals violent trail.
Plata Quemada is definitely a unique piece with a strong message that amounts to an absolute must see for anyone looking for a great show.
CAMBRIDGE – After 10 years and tons (probably, literally) of glitter, The Donkey Show will end its run this week at the American Repertory Theater’s Club Oberon on the fringes of Harvard Square.
The immersive theatrical experience was part of Artistic Director Diane Paulus’ first season in the “Shakespeare Exploded” festival that also included The Best of Both Worlds and Sleep No More, which took over a school in Brookline.
Paulus created The Donkey Show with her husband, theater producer Randy Weiner, and they staged it Off-Broadway in 1999 to rave reviews.
During its run at the ART, the show was extended because of popular demand and later moved to weekends only, where it continued as a destination stop for brides-to-be and superfans. The Boston Globe’s Meredith Goldstein documented the show’s long run. The show succeeded in at least one area, Goldstein writes, it attracted audiences considerably younger than had been seen at the ART.
The show’s closing also opens a coveted timeslot for local or smaller productions and marks a new chapter for Oberon.
Styleboston’s host and creator Terri Stanley interviewed Paulus prior to The Donkey Show’s opening as one of the TV show’s “Power Player” segments. (See clip above.) This segment originally aired 10 years ago this month.
If there was a Tony Award for best dress worn by a presenter, then actor-director Billy Porter would have taken the prize. His flowing custom-made ballgown (created from the curtain of Broadway’s Kinky Boots) – the show that won him his Tony Award – was just one more bold choice by the star of TV’s Pose. Porter will be in Boston late this summer directing the world premiere of Dan McCabe’s The Purists at the Huntington Theatre Company.
At the award ceremony, the most-talked about outfit was worn by singer-songwriter/playwright Taylor Mac, who was on stage in a full-fledged costume created by Matthew Flower, who is known as Machine Dazzle. Mac, who wrote the Tony-nominated Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus. He became a hit in Boston for his five-hour show that played at the American Repertory Theater’s Oberon in Cambridge in 2012.
It was a good night for Bryan Cranston, who won for his role as Howard Beale in the stage adaptation of the film Network. Cranston won a Tony two years ago for his portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson in All the Way, which got its start at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge before heading to Broadway. In his acceptance speech, Cranston used the moment to reflect on the state of things, which was very “Howard Beale” moment: “The media is not the enemy of the people. Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.”
And while, the Northern Ireland drama The Ferryman won the best play Tony, it was Hadestown, conceived and written by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, who won a Tony for her score that stole the night with eight total awards. Also winning for Hadestown was director Rachel Chavkin, who was at the ART a couple of years ago with Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and returns to the ART this summer to open the 2019-2020 season with Six, a musical about the merry wives of Henry VIII.
Berklee College of Music and its sister school Boston Conservatory at Berklee College alumni and faculty were involved in various capacities with other Tony Award-winning shows this season, including Oklahoma! Hadestown, The Cher Show, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ain’t Too Proud, Ink, and Tootsie.
Sergio Trujillo received the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography in a Musical, for the show Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. He, too, had success in Boston as the director and choreographer for the stunning Arrabal, at the ART for which he won Elliot Norton Awards.
Also – finally – winning a Tony for his turn on Hadestown was Broadway veteran André De Shields, the narrator of the show. De Shields stole the show in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of The Jungle Book in which he played King Louie. The Huntington had a lot to celebrate on Sunday night with 23 of its alumni receiving Tony Awards nominations this year.
BOSTON – We now have a date.
After two years of being dark and undergoing an extension renovation, the Emerson Colonial Theatre will re-open on June 27 with the world premiere of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” producers Global Creatures and the Ambassador Theatre Group announced.
The historic Boston theater, the anchor of Boston’s Theater District, will re-open on June 27 for just 36 performances. “Moulin Rouge!,” is based on the Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film of the same name, and is expected to transfer to Broadway for a run. “Moulin Rouge! The Musical, will play this limited engagement at the newly refurbished venue at 106 Boylston St.
The Colonial, long known for its amazing acoustics, launched many legendary shows from its storied stage on Boylston Street, including “Anything Goes,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Oklahoma!,” “Born Yesterday,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Grand Hotel,” and “La Cage aux Folles.”
Tickets for the musical go on sale on Wednesday, January 17 and start at $55. They are available at EmersonColonialTheatre.com or by calling 866.616.0272. (In-person purchases will be possible when the theater’s box office opens at a later date.)
Although casting has not yet been announced, the musical is directed by Alex Timbers (A Tony nominee for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Peter and the Starcatcher”) with a book by John Logan, in photo, (Tony Award for “Red”) and choreography by Sonya Tayeh.
As in Luhrmann’s film, “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” celebrates some of the greatest popular music of the last 50 years. The stage musical promises to feature many of the iconic songs from the movie and also includes recent hits released since the movie premiered 15 years ago.
Billy Porter, Tony-winning star of the colorful musical “Kinky Boots,” trades his drag gown for the director’s chair with Huntington Theatre Company’s production of “The Colored Museum,” a scathing comedy that cycles through nearly a dozen vignettes that explore slavery, modern gender roles, beauty standards, and other issues as they relate to the African-American culture. Each theatrical exhibits offers a chance to comment, critique, and frequently satirize — as any good “Museum” would.
WHERE: Avenue of the Arts/BU Theatre
WHEN: March 6 — April 5
WHEN THE STARS BEGIN TO FALL: IMAGINATION AND THE AMERICAN SOUTH
Marginalized and “outsider” artists dominate the 35 talents represented in this showcase of photography, paintings, and sculpture produced mainly between the 1960s and today — from people of faith to people in prison. But each unique piece is a brush stroke in a larger depiction of the sultry fable that is America’s Deep South. And if some of them happen to involve eerie photographs of semi-humanoid creatures in kitschy wood-paneled dens — well then, color this true blue Yankee heart intrigued.
WHERE: The Institute of Contemporary Art
WHEN: February 4 — May 10
You’ve seen her in “Erin Brokovich,” the “Amateurs,” “Christmas with the Kranks” and “I Shot Andy Warhol.” Let’s not forget about the TV series “Hart of Dixie” and “Pretty Little Liars.” Step back a few years and you would have seen her on stage at the Wilbur Theatre in the Tony Award-winning revival of “All My Sons.” But if you met her on the street you’d probably slow down and say to yourself “Where do I know her from?”
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