Sunday, Aug. 2, 2009

The Boulevard Opens The 2009-2010 Theatre Season

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The Boulevard Theatre opened the first show of the new season last Thursday night. A bit of an odd feeling considering it’s only the end of July. The standard performing arts season feels like it gets earlier and earlier every year. There’s always that first-day-of-the-new-school year feeling at the first show of any new season. Entering the theatre at the Boulevard I was more than a bit disoriented . . . and the set amplified the school feel . . . the covers of giant marble composition notebooks adorned the walls in a variety of different colors.

The worst thing that can be said of the Boulevard’s production of As Bees In Honey Drown is that the set is truly ugly. Thankfully, this is really the only truly bad thing that can be said of the show. The set only really consists of the giant, garish marble composition book covers. The rest is furniture and sparse props. The set easily fades-out in the course of a thoroughly entertaining production of a really, really good comic script featuring a profound amount of depth. This is easily the best time I’ve had at the Boulevard since . . . probably January of last year’s Say Goodnight Gracie. It’s a really solid cast . . . Ericka Wade takes really well to the center of the stage in the role of con artist Alexa Vere de Vere. David Geisler makes something of a Milwaukee debut in the role of victim and aspiring author Evan Wyler.

Supporting Wade and Geeisler are a number of talented actors in really good roles. Tom Mertz-Dillon has a couple of really solid scenes with Geisler as an aspiring painter in Alexa’s past. Marion Araujo makes quite an impression in a couple of different roles . . . charmingly handling a pair of roles that would be a great deal of fun for any actress—she’s both a tough-talking entertainment industry executive with a Brooklyn accent and a celebrity who speaks with a very thick (and very authentic) Latin accent. Her performance really helps pick-up the play around the edges. It took a very, very long time to have the pleasure of seeing Wade in a leading role in a feature-length play. With any luck it won’t take quite as long to see Araujo in a role with similar prominence.

And, as someone who has actually oddly fascinated by Andy Warhol, I have to register a bit of disappointment with Anthony O’Malley. The guy’s new to the stage and he’s got a lot of potential, but he seems to be completely missing-out on his opportunity to play Warhol here . . . the character has only the smallest amount of dialogue, but he keeps repeating it throughout the script. And while O’Malley has some of attitude and comic timing he needs here, it’s not quite Warhol. There needs to be a slight whine in the voice . . . something of a cross between infectiously hip boredom and total mind-numbing awe. There’s plenty of footage of Warhol online . . . look to that for inspiration . . . or see Bowie in the role of Warhol in Basquiat . . . Bowie knew Warhol and played him brilliantly. Of course, all of this is only a minor detail . . . Warhol only casually appears in the script a couple of times for the briefest fraction of a second.

That aside, this is a very, very, fun show. And it’ll be interesting seeing O’Malley in future productions. He’s got an interesting stage presence. Boulevard Theatre’s production of As Bees In Honey Drown runs through August 29th.

A concise, comprehensive review of the show appears in the next Shepherd-Express. My art and larceny weekend of theatre openings continues with my next show—the Midwest premiere of Is He Dead Yet?—a David Ives comedy about an artist who fakes his own death to improve the price of his paintings. Sounds like a comic cliché, but it’s actually based on a story by Mark Twain. A review of the Peninsula Players’ production of the comedy appears here tomorrow . . .

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