Monday, June 29, 2015

John Bay's Retirement Party brought out the Big Wigs!

 

 







And a great big thank you to John Bay upon his retirement!


To the Wheelock Community,
 

It is with mixed emotions that I write to inform you that John Bay is retiring, effective June 30. As WFT’s first full-time Director of Education John built a model program that continues to thrive. Firmly grounded in child development and multiple intelligences theories, he hired and mentored countless teachers in a child-centered approach to teaching and learning through and about the arts. He developed longstanding partnerships with schools and organizations to make classes available to students who are most in need. With intelligence, thoughtful planning, a collaborative spirit, and openness to new approaches, John made the WFT’s education program a crucial component of the theatre. 


More recently he launched a drama and autism initiative with Wheelock College faculty that not only has inspired Wheelock students, but also yielded articles and conference presentations, bringing recognition to both the College and WFT. John truly embodies the mission of both the College and the Theatre. He has improved the lives of generations of young people; parents; WFT teachers and staff; Wheelock students, faculty, and staff; and members of the wider community by helping us realize our creative potential. 


We thank John for working tirelessly on our behalf and wish him well as he pursues new projects, and hopefully stays involved in the drama and autism initiative. It is an understatement to say John will be greatly missed.


Yours truly,

 

Wendy Lement

Producer

Wheelock Family Theatre

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Carla Martinez. Actor Profile SHREK THE MUSICAL.

"During my final semester in college, I saw an audition posting for a production of Oliver! at Wheelock Family Theatre. I was new to the Boston theater scene and was hoping to find a company that would welcome me with open arms. That's exactly what WFT did.

Being an actor of color, I always have a million questions running through my mind before heading to an audition. As I walked into WFT that day, I kept saying 'there's no way they're going to cast an Hispanic woman in Oliver.' I was surprised to see so many actors of all shapes, sizes, and COLORS waiting for the dance call. The environment (even though it was an audition) was calm and warm. People were catching up and reminiscing about their time in past WFT shows. Jane Staab even met each auditioner at the door, shook our hands, and walked us all the way to the front of the theatre to meet the music director. I knew from that moment on, if I were to get cast, WFT would become a very special place to me.

Now, as I'm getting ready to open my fourth show, the word 'home' so accurately describes how I feel about WFT. I'm honored to stand on a stage that's accessible to so many different communities. Our ASL performances are some of my favorites and I love getting the chance to interact with the audience during talkbacks. WFT also offers tickets at a number of different prices, so that everyone has a chance to experience live theater; regardless of whether or not they can afford it.

I'm forever grateful for not only the experiences, but the love that WFT has shown me in the short time that I've worked there. Thank you to everyone behind the scenes for being fearless pioneers of inclusion and also to the patrons who continue to donate to this incredible company. It's good to be home!"



Annie Kerins, Carla Martinez, and Jillian Couillard as the 3 Blind Mice in the WFT production of SHREK THE MUSICAL.

Gamalia Pharms. AEA Actor at WFT for many seasons now...

"I feel so blessed to be a part of this amazing WFT production, and to once again be surrounded by a WFT cast that so fully represents our wonderful audiences - all of humanity.

I have loved the story of Shrek from first seeing the film when it came out in movie theaters. The message of acceptance, and that love comes in all shapes, sizes and colors is a message WFT fully embraces, with its mission of inclusion and diverse casting policies since its inception in 1981.
From my first job at WFT back in 1985, Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, I knew I had found a place where I truly felt welcome and belonged – a true family. I have enjoyed being a member of many casts here at WFT that reflect the diversity of Boston in all aspects - race, age, gender, and individuals with disabilities."

Gamalia is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and has appeared at Wheelock Family Theatre in: the Elliot Norton Award winning production of Hairspray, The Wizard of Oz (three productions), The Hobbit, Cinderella, A Little Princess (two productions), Kiss Me Kate, The Good Times Are Killing Me, Ole' Sis Goose, The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, The Beanstalk, The Giant and Jack, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse (two productions), Pippi, Honk, Seussical, Hello Dolly, Oliver!, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Trumpet of the Swan, Anne of Green Gables, Stuart Little, Aladdin, My Fair Lady, Once Upon a Mattress, and Phantom Tollbooth.


Jon Allen, Gamalia Pharms, and Tyla Collier in WFT's HAIRSPRAY 2014.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Review Quotes! Everybody Loves Shrek!


“Wheelock's delightful and energetic Shrek sends a positive and timely message about not judging ourselves or others by what's on the outside rather than by what's on the inside. In our looks-obsessed society, it's a message that kids can't hear enough.” -Margaret Hagemeister; Boston Events Insider
 

“The performance itself was… full of heart, dedication and sincerity. The ensemble cast sings and dances their hearts out, and their comedic timing is on point.” -Meghan B. Kelly; WickedLocal.com

 
“You will be treated to a very entertaining, fun and professional performance.  I was really impressed with everything from the wardrobe to the dance numbers. The cast did an amazing job in making all fairy-tale creatures come to life. You can tell the little kids and little kids at heart enjoyed the show by the sound of the infectious laughter in the theater.” –Nicole; 5StarMommy

 
 

“Shrek the Musical was one of the best musicals I have ever seen. My favorite part was when Donkey fell down from the sky.  Lord Farquaad, as tiny as he is, will make you laugh your head off.  Fiona is sassy, rude, and sweet all at the same time.  I know this, you’re going to leave this play with a smile!” -Makenna; 5StarMommy

 


“Weird or not, I can guarantee that your kids will love the show.” -Victoria Burdman; At Home in Boston




“I laughed even more than the children in the audience.” –Beverly Creasey; Boston Arts Review

 
“Wheelock’s production is a good one that executes the material well. Shrek himself (Christopher Chew) is impressive and consistent in the title role, Shonna Cirone brings the same biting sarcasm Sutton Foster did in her role as Fiona, Mark Linehan steals the show in the physically taxing role of Farquaad, and Maurice Parent wins over every kid in the audience with his Donkey. The ensemble, which includes everything from eighth graders to professionals, are versatile and energetic, and the puppetry used for the Dragon is masterful.” -Jamie Loftus; Boston.com

 
“Sometimes you just have to trust the kids. The first glimpse of Wheelock Family Theatre’s Shrek is a surprise. Instead of the round, green, smoothly computer-animated ogre of the movie, this Shrek is tall and hairy, with a lumpy green headpiece and mossy dreads. But as played by Christopher Chew in Wheelock’s “Shrek the Musical,” this ogre was a hit with the children…. they laughed and cheered and clapped in all the right places.” -Joel Brown; Boston Globe
 


“Okay, so maybe it's not so simple to create an engaging and entertaining show that appeals to both kids and adults. But the Wheelock Family Theatre's production of Shrek the Musical, about a grouchy ogre, a feisty princess and a loquacious but kindhearted donkey, does it, and does it so well that when the curtain closed on the final makes-you-want-to-dance-in-your-seat song, my 9-year-old son and I looked at each other and said, "We want to see that again!" -Michelle Curran; Mommy Poppins


“Do not make the monstrous mistake of missing this show!” –Al Chase; White Rhino Report

 

“From the colorful, sparkling, feathery costumes to the beautiful backdrop lighting and transformative sets, all of the show's visual elements are first-rate.” -Sarah Chantal Parro; Talkin’ Broadway

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WFT Actor: Jessica Ayer in Shrek the Musical

"I remember seeing WFT's production of The Sound of Music with Angela Williams as Maria. This particular show stood out for me because it was my first time seeing a show with non-traditional casting. Before this, I had thought that if the original character was white, then you had to be white and if the original was black, then you had to be black. Being a mixed girl, that did not leave me with many options. So this show truly made me feel like I could do anything. 

I started at Wheelock when I was 6 years old with their summer acting classes. Being the overly-dramatic, high-energy child I was, I automatically fell in love. I remember the teachers made it so much fun that I never wanted to go home. Since then WFT has taught me so many important lessons that I will never forget, the most prominent of which is to never give up. During middle school I dealt with a lot of disappointment during school shows and began to think that acting was not for me. I decided to give it one last shot when I heard that WFT was going to produce Hairspray. As soon as I walked into the first rehearsal I realized why I had fallen in love with WFT and acting so many years before. Everyone was so kind and helpful throughout the whole process. I felt like my 6 year old self again, excited to perform and never wanting to leave a show because WFT felt like home. 

WFT is inspirational - from their non-traditional casting to their ASL performances and affordable prices, there is absolutely no other place like it. I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to grow up here and work with so many talented people. WFT will always hold a special place in my heart."

WHO is SHREK? Christopher Chew at the Wheelock Family Theatre

"Arts education is essential. There can really be no debate about the importance that the arts have on a civilization or more specifically a community. Education without significant contributions from the arts truly does not exist whether school systems and communities acknowledge that or not. The creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication fostered through arts education touches every other aspect of education more so than any other discipline. Wheelock Family Theater recognized that long before it became popular to talk about 21st Century Learning Skills or the 4 Cs of successful education. Their mission has been focused on transforming lives through exposure to live theater and education in the arts throughout their successful history. Wheelock Family Theatre has not only participated with the theater community at large in the creating art that transforms lives, WFT has nurtured and established an environment that has been transforming lives of countless individuals fortunate enough to walk through the doors and join this inclusive, wonderful family.

My entire professional career has been devoted to both education and theater. Whether I was teaching a theater course or not, my theater education has profoundly affected my perspective on how I work with students in all of my classes and now as a building principal. My acting career has always been affected by my perspective in education and the awareness of how our choices are perceived by others. My experiences here at WFT have allowed me to bring my entire experience with me to the storytelling craft more so than many of my other performing opportunities. I have treasured each and every aspect of my journey with WFT and value the rich tradition that it has and the magical impact it has on its audiences. It is an honor to be a part of that tradition and a privilege to be able to include my family in the larger Wheelock extended family. As a professional actor, there are not many opportunities to share the stage with my children and my daughter’s participation in this production has been a truly special experience that we will both always treasure. For that, we are both tremendously grateful to WFT and appreciate their contribution and commitment to the wonderful Boston Theater Community!"

Christopher returns to WFT having appeared in The Little Princess, Beauty and the Beast and The Sound of Music.

WFT Actors: Grace Brakeman in Shrek the Musical

"I have always loved coming to see shows at Wheelock Family Theatre since I was a little girl. But when I started taking summer classes and was cast in Ramona Quimby the next year, WFT became my second home. My relationships and experiences at Wheelock over the past ten years have allowed me to become friends with people of all backgrounds and views.
Wheelock is the only place I know of that is committed to excellent productions as well as inclusion and accessibility. In addition to presenting important stories in an engaging way, WFT is special to me because it fosters a nurturing, loving, and accepting atmosphere. I love getting to work together with a team of creative people with distinct perspectives. Just like the fairytale creatures in Shrek encourage each other to 'let their freak flags fly' and embrace their individuality, WFT celebrates people's differences and unique qualities that make them special.
Yet WFT does more than create a supportive environment: It has a progressive policy of non-traditional casting. Wheelock's dedication to color and ability blind casting has cultivated teams of incredibly talented and diverse people. Each child in the audience can be inspired by an actor that they personally identify with.
After closing Shrek (my tenth show at WFT) and moving to Chicago to study in the theatre major at Northwestern University next year, I will dearly miss my WFT 'cast families'. I am forever grateful for the opportunities and coaching at WFT and for Jane Staab, Sue Kosoff and all the wonderful people I have been lucky enough to know here."

WFT Actors: Lexi Ryan in Shrek the Musical


"My first experience with WFT came when I was ten years old, playing Cindy Lou Who in Seussical. I grew up on this stage. But more importantly, I grew up a part of this family. The people at WFT, from the directors to costume designers, from the crew to my fellow actors, are among the most caring, kind, and talented members of the theater community, and of the world. Nowhere have I found a more supportive, hardworking, and transformative group of people. 

A key theme of WFT that has stuck with me is the idea of storytelling. I have learned that that is an actor’s true craft. Wheelock brings stories to life in a very special way. Beyond colorful costumes and impressive high notes, the point of theater is to touch people through effective storytelling. Storytelling is a means of sharing experiences through bridging cultural divides. The best stories show how all humanity is connected. 

What is truly magical about Wheelock is that it brings positive messages to children through its incredible storytelling. Where adults may be judgmental, children are prejudice-free. WFT helps to cultivate acceptance in its audiences, from the youngest children to the oldest patrons. Children start colorblind. They accept WFT's colorful casting without a second thought. Children will view avant-garde art as fun rather than weird. As I've gotten older, I've realized that WFT creates family-friendly theater with a message, something young viewers won't even register at the time, but guides them to become better people as they grow older. Shrek marks my sixth show at WFT in seven years and perhaps the most fun of them all. Shrek is a delightfully whimsical story that will make children and adults alike laugh out loud, but it also teaches an important lesson, one near and dear to most in the theater community: be true to yourself and 'let your freak flag fly!'"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SHREK Theater Review by Anne Pieterse

“Your horny warts, your rosy wens,

Like slimy bogs and fusty fens,
Thrill me” –William Steig (from Shrek)

“Shrek” was the first, one of the many children’s picture books, artist William Steig wrote and illustrated. Then Shrek became a DreamWorks movie followed by a Broadway musical. And now tonight, “Shrek the Musical” is the final production of the Wheelock Family Theatre’s 34th season. And what a brilliant opening night performance it was. Directed by Shelly Bolman, choreographed by Patricia Manalo Bochnak, musical direction by Matthew Stern, and costume designer Charles G. Baldwin worked together to create a production filled with dazzling entertainment. There were dance numbers to get you stomping your feet, comedy for all ages, solo singing, and vibrant choral numbers, songs mixed with dance numbers, all tucked together with simple movable sets. Whether in book, film, or theatrical presentations, the story of Shrek remains the same. It is an ugly duckling tale (with a twist), an ogre named Shrek wants to be a left alone in his swap. Farquaad (the current ruler, but not yet King) is a self- impressed bully, who orders Shrek to rescue the princess Fiona so he can marry her and the become King. Battles with fire breathing dragons and “Donkey’s” wisdom, give heart to this endearing and satisfying story. The tale promotes diversity and encourages more than superficial thought when we are asked to consider what makes a princess and what characteristics her suitor should have. The story encourages us to celebrate who we are and how we do it. To look beyond the assumptions we make when judging ourselves and others.

Experienced talented actors, Christopher Chew (Shrek), Shonna Cirone (Fiona), Maurice Emmanuel Parent (Donkey), Mark Linehan (Farquaad), set the tone by their strong performances. The smaller characters roles of Young Shrek, Young and Teenage Fiona, Thelonius, Bishop, Mama Ogre, Papa Ogre, King Harold, and the Knights did superior work as well, often playing more than one part.

Shrek the Ogre just wants to be left alone in his swamp and has no interest in having fairytale trash living next to him. The “Fairytale Trash” community of creatures are easily recognized as the characters from Grimm’s fairytales, old cartoons, and Disney movies: Pinocchio, Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear, Fairy Godmother, Red Queen, Bluebird, Genie, Little Red Riding Hood, Chip, The Teacup from Beauty and the Beast, Ariel, The Three Blind Mice, The Three Little Pigs, Ugly Duckling, Queen Lillian, Wicked Witch, Captain Hook, Pied Piper, Big Bad Crossdressing Wolf, Ginny and Peter Pan. The costumes were made with bright dazzling colors that allowed the audience to easily recognize the familiar characters. And a variety of jokes are enhanced by the audiences past history and knowledge of fairytale creatures.

The live 8 man orchestra including keyboard, 2 reeds, trumpet, trombone, guitar, bass, and drums sat under the stage and was first-rate.

The use of puppets was captivating when eight puppet handlers maneuvered the dramatic giant Dragon that towered, twisted, and turned majestically over the stage. The handlers moved as one and actually danced with the flow of the Dragon’s swirling body from the fire coming out of her mouth to the tip of her long pointy tail. Hand puppets were used too. Funny scenes involving the torture of the Gingerbread Man were hilarious. The Gingerbread Man cookie puppet ends up shouting, “Eat me!” and the audience roared.

Young children in the audience seemed to be smitten and enthralled by the sparkles, glitter, and energy of the evening. Unobtrusive open captioned, by illuminated lighting on both sides of the stage, aided in the enjoyment for those hard of hearing and deaf. Each production offers final weekend performances that are interpreted in American Sign Language and audio-described for patrons who are blind, with Braille programs available upon request. All productions offer enhancements for patrons with cognitive disabilities or sensory sensitivities. Everyone should partake, and savor the fun in this delightful show.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

**AUDITION CALL FOR TEEN ACTORS 14-18**

Raising The Bar: Exploring The Actor's Process


TEEN ADVANCED PERFORMANCE INTENSIVE

Wheelock Family Theatre is holding auditions for teens with prior training and performance experience committed to deepening their acting skills and knowledge of the craft.  A limited number of admission slots are available on a rolling basis.  Those actors selected for this program will immerse themselves for two weeks in intensive advanced theatre training.

 Through challenging exercises and workshops in vocal, movement, and character work, and exploration of scenes from outstanding plays, students will experience the actor's process in-depth. This unique program culminates in a Showcase on our WFT Mainstage.

 

*PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS: *Specific Individualized Attention and Feedback -*Intensive Ensemble Training  -*Building Core Set of Acting Tools Vital To Every Actor’s Success-  *Breaking through Individual Acting barriers/Issues  -*Teen actors stretch and challenged to go out of their “comfort zone” to take acting to a higher level

 
*PROGRAM DATES: Aug 3 - Aug 14, 2015 (Mon.-Fri.)

Hours: 12:00-6:45pm 

Location: Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston

Main Stage Showcase: Friday, August 14 at 8:00pm.

 

*AUDITION DATES:

TUESDAY, APRIL 21  (4-7pm)

SUNDAY, APRIL 26   (1-4pm)

(Alternate audition times may be scheduled if necessary)

 

To schedule an audition, please email your arts resume and a note of interest to:  Fran Weinberg,  Director

WFT Teen Advanced Performance Intensive


 

*AUDITION REQUIREMENTS: Two contrasting monologues from plays, one comedy and one drama, totaling approximately three minutes. One of the two pieces should be from either: a classical play, any play that emphasizes heightened language, or a play written before 1960.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review by Kitty Drexel, New England Theatre Geek: The Taste of Sunrise


Inclusive and Intersectional: THE TASTE OF SUNRISE
photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
 (Boston, MA) In Susan Zeder’s The Taste of Sunrise, Tuc (Elbert Joseph) grows up poor, black and deaf in an ASL-ignorant hearing community in Ware, IL.  At the behest of the well-intentioned Dr. Graham (Donna Sorbello), Jonas Tucker (Cliff Odle) sends Tuc to a school for the deaf to learn how to speak. After years of social solitude, he finally meets kids just like him. They teach him sign; Tuc learns to communicate and to express himself. With help from friends Maizie (Amanda Collins) and Nell Hicks (Brittany Rolfs), discovers what it means to self-discover, to lose and then rebuild one’s identity.

Wheelock Theatre is no stranger to inclusivity. They routinely host performances for the hearing and visually impaired. Taste of Sunrise is told through spoken dialogue, ASL interpreters, and supertitles. Traditional actors are joined by ASL actors who sign the dialogue as the traditional actors speak. When appropriate, the supertitles are projected onto the stage above all of the action.  A delicate balance is struck as both types of actors share the stage to interpret Zeder’s play. Director’s Johnson and Lement have done an excellent job to gently conveying the great strides this production takes towards equality. This is an inclusive, intersectional production that encourages the hearing audience to learn from the performance. It warmly welcomes the members of the disabled community into the audience, whoever and however they are.

Elbert Joseph delivers a strikingly beautiful and sincere performance as Tuck. With simple movement and gesture, he was able to convey opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. He tells a spirited story with such warmth that it’s specific message instantly reaches across the divide to be universally appealing and inspiring. While the performances of the rest of the cast are excellent, this production would not be as great as it is without Joseph. It is his performance as Tuc that blends all of the separate elements into one successful production. He was a wonder to watch.

It is deeply satisfying to watch a performance that normalizes the experiences of the disabled. In a beautiful contrast, it outs the abled community’s behavior as strange and awkward when the two communities commune. In this production, when Tuc experiences hardships or trauma, it’s regularly because the hearing aren’t paying attention to Tuc’s needs. For example, Tuc is calmly hunting honey in Act 2 when a pair of hearing men see him covered in bees. They assume the worst, try to save him, but their involvement leads to Tuc’s serious injury. This episode is a brilliant metaphor for the abled community’s influence on the disabled community. Had they regarded Tuc’s behavior first or, heaven forbid, trusted Tuc’s experience, the bees wouldn’t have stung anyone.

There are dramatic moments in this production that some might find disturbing. In one scene, Tuc is bound to his hospital bed. Johnson and Lement make it abundantly clear to the audience that Joseph could break character and walk away at any moment. Rather, these scenes carry weight because of the emotional trauma Tuc experiences. Just as Tuc is casually stripped of his humanity in earlier scenes that depict him engaging the people of Ware, he is similarly but more traumatically stripped when he is bound by his hands to a bed by doctors. Tuc isn’t just restrained, his voice is silenced. The hearing community has denied Tuc agency and expression. It’s disturbing because it should be.

All of humanity shares an innate need to connect, to understand and to be understood. While The Taste of Sunrise is specifically about a deaf child learning to live in the world around him, it is also about Man’s need to self express in order to understand and be understood. It is a complicated production but Wheelock has divided its heavy material into bite sized, manageable chunks for viewers young and old to enjoy

 

Review by Jeremy Goodwin; Boston Globe: The Taste of Sunrise


An inclusive message from ‘The Taste of Sunrise’

Toward the very end of “The Taste of Sunrise,” there’s an emotionally eloquent argument between Amanda Collins’s Maizie, a teenage girl with a hard-luck life and Hollywood-inspired dreams, and Tuc, a deaf boy who has befriended her, played by Elbert Joseph, an actor who indeed happens to be deaf.

Maizie can hear just fine but was born to deaf parents, she explains, and she doesn’t want her children to be stuck between worlds like she was. With the aid of American Sign Language (ASL) and plenty of nonverbal communication, Tuc insists that she has a home in his hilltop shack.

Between these two actors and others onstage who unobtrusively interpret for them, the characters’ words are rendered in spoken English as well as ASL. In the swirl of emotion and the swift rat-a-tat-tat of their exchange, it’s almost hard to tell where one language ends and the other begins. They’re all just different voices, different parts of the same story.

It’s in moments like these that this production of Suzan Zeder’s play at Wheelock Family Theatre finds its energetic stride, depicting people in trying circumstances looking for some sort of connection in a world that seems bent on keeping them isolated. If parts of this earnest play, intended for young audiences as well as adults, feel a bit like a nutritious serving of theatrical vegetables rather than a compelling drama, it’s a modest price to pay.

Joseph didn’t start acting until he felt inspired, as a 12-year old, by a production of “Peter Pan” at the Wheelock. His performance as the centerpiece of “The Taste of Sunrise” is sandwiched between turns as the same character in “Mother Hicks” (at the Paramount last month) and “The Edge of Peace,” which opens at Central Square Theater on April 3.

Zeder’s trilogy deals with the evolving state of the deaf experience in America, as seen through the doings in and around Ware, Ill., before, during, and after the Great Depression. This trio of productions is billed as the first time the plays have been mounted in consecutive fashion in (more or less) the same city.

Joseph plays Tuc as a large-hearted simpleton prone to big emotions and forceful mood swings — here he’s terrified, there he’s bursting with anticipation. For all its lack of verbal speech, it’s a very loud performance, suggesting the sublimated frustration of a young man who is frequently silenced. Sure, I would have preferred more nuance, but the many children in the audience at a Saturday matinee seemed to follow everything just fine, and that seems closer to the point.

Co-directors Kristin Johnson and Wendy Lement weave some wonderful moments of understated poetry into a story that otherwise works in broad strokes. The depiction of children being struck by scarlet fever, and, later, of one character’s death, go far with simple props and graceful movement. When Tuc physically leans on the memory of a departed family member in the second act, the visual metaphor is easy for all to grasp, yet quietly pretty.

Costumed onstage interpreters perform much more than a purely functional purpose. They are parallel manifestations of each character’s inner life, and move within the action with grace and wit. (Line by line, the play’s text is also projected at the rear of the stage.) Long gone, Johnson and Lement seem to say, is the sole ASL interpreter relegated to a little oval in the corner of a television screen — or wearing street clothes, bathed in a footlight, at the front of the stage. (In a post-show audience talkback, Zeder said this is the most “inclusive” production of the play she has seen.)

Janie E. Howland’s set and Lisa Simpson’s costumes evoke the Depression, though there’s a notable shortage of the dirt and grime we might expect on a farm or among rural townsfolk who still mistake midwifery for witchcraft.

Though a group of young students from the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Allston prove a quite welcome addition to the ensemble, the play gathers momentum when it focuses on only a few characters’ stories in the second half. Brittany Rolfs brings a bemused swagger to Nell, the midwife whose fondness for singing to the gravely ill is mistaken as malevolent spell-casting; her efforts to lay aside her own grief do much to aid the show’s climax. As a very likable Maizie, Collins is both street-wise and naive. Cliff Odle projects warm-hearted gravitas as Tuc’s father. Ethan Hermanson is a steady anchor for the audience, as the narrating voice of Tuc.

The heavy-handed nature of this play is hinted at in its title. But with this production Wheelock offers a tasteful model for mixing together the deaf and the hearing — onstage, backstage, and in the audience — to create an entertainment that is coherent to each and panders to neither.


 

Review by Al Chase: The Taste of Sunrise


Some Things Are So Beautiful They Do Not Need Sound

photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

My heart is full and my head is spinning as I sit down to capture my thoughts and emotions after having attended the opening performance of "The Taste of Sunrise - Part Two of The Ware Trilogy" by Suzan Zeder.  This play serves as a prequel to "Mother Hicks," which was presented recently by Emerson Stage.  You may want to take a moment to read my review of that play using the link below.

In this play, the playwright fills in the back story of Tuc.  We learn how he became deaf after a bout with scarlet fever that almost took his life.  We learn of his struggles to communicate with his father, the mixed blessing of his years at the deaf school in Carbondale, and his return home to be with his dying father.  Wheelock Family Theatre is hosting the second segment of this World Premiere event - the first time that all three plays in the Ware Trilogy have been produced in the same city.  All three of the plays are performed bilingually in English and American Sign Language (ASL).

If this is Tuc's play, then it is also certainly Elbert Joseph's play.  He is the deaf actor who portrays Tuc. We see his words projected on the upstage wall, we hear his words being spoken by Ethan Hermanson and Cliff Odle, who also plays Tuc's father.  And Mr. Joseph conveys his words with ASL.  As effective as these triple means of communication may be, they are almost redundant.  For the actor's expressions and movement and stage presence are so compelling and so clear that there is never any doubt what thoughts and feelings and intentions he is radiating.  This is one of the finest performances by an actor I have seen on a Boston stage.

 Suzan Zeder has created something special in this trilogy.  At one level she is recounting the history of a particular community - Ware, Illinois.  At a more significant level, she is addressing the common human hunger for a sense of belonging to a community.  Tuc is the central figure desperately striving to connect and to fit in and to communicate, but there are many other characters in the trilogy whose longing is similar.  At another level, the plays recount the bumpy history of the efforts by the deaf community to define itself despite the well-meaning machinations of educators who "know what we are doing" who forbid the use of gestures or signs because they believed it would stand in the way of learning to read lips and express ideas orally.  At the end of the day, Tuc manages to create his own community - his own family, not bound by genetic ties or geographic propinquity, but forged by a mutual desire for meaningful connection and communication across formidable barriers.

At a crucial juncture near the end of the play, Tuc and Nell Hicks are thrown together and needing to depend upon one another.  But he is deaf and communicates in signs - what Nell calls "air pictures."  And Nell is hearing and does not understand Tuc's signs.  They reach out to one another and plead "Teach me - Teach me - Teach me!"  Nell screams the message in words; Tuc screams in gestures and signs.  And they begin to teach one another. As the level of their connection and communication deepens, Tuc asks Nell, "What does the sunrise sound like?"  Nell ruminates for a moment, and then responds with the answer: "Some things are so beautiful they do not need sound."

The same things must be said of Mr. Joseph's performance.  It was so beautiful that it did not need sound.

 In leaving my seat following the standing ovation and the deaf community's enthusiastic waving of hands to indicate applause, I found myself part of an instant community.  It was the community of those of us - dozens of men and women - who needed to pause, remove our glasses and wipe the tears from our eyes so that we could see to find our way out of the theater.

Go see this show and be moved as we were.

Review by Sheila Barth: The Taste of Sunrise


Emerson Stage, Central Square Theater and Wheelock Family Theatre have joined together to present author Suzan Zeder’s The Ware Trilogy. Although I missed Emerson Stage’s production of the first play, “Mother Hicks,” in February, I can’t imagine it could  surpass Wheelock’s sensitive, exquisite, poetic performance of “The Taste of Sunrise,” part II of Zeder’s dramatic triptych. The final play, “The Edge of Peace,” will be performed at Central Square Theater in April. They’re interconnected, but each play can stand on its own merit.

For the first time, Zeder’s trilogy is being produced sequentially in one area, enabling theatergoers to progress with the tale of Tuc, a deaf man, outcast Nell Hicks, and a foundling child, Girl.

Nell Hicks (Brittany Rolfs), a mysterious woman, cures with singing spells, herbs and potions. The Ware villagers think she’s a witch, because whomever she cures ends up afflicted or dead, they say.

In “The Taste of Sunrise,” directed by Wendy Lement and also Kristin Johnson, we progress with Tuc, from 1917 to 1928, from his infancy, becoming motherless, and being stricken deaf after a bout with scarlet fever, to his becoming an outcast; his experiences at a prestigious deaf school; loss of his father; and his return home.

Although you can’t tell, several ensemble actors, (along with a co-director, a co-assistant director, and the lighting designer) are Deaf. They blend beautifully with their hearing counterparts in this large cast, including popular Boston stars Cliff Odle, as Tuc’s loving father; Sirena Abalian, and Lewis D. Wheeler, portraying various roles and voices.

Amidst award-winning designer Janie E. Howland’s sun-drenched rustic background and set, the cast ensures every word is captured, with actor-narrators, sign interpreters, and the dialogue and stage direction beamed on the backdrop.

Roger J. Moore’s realistic sound effects and Annie Wiegand’s sensitive lighting capture changes in time, place and mood. Patricia Manalo Bocknak”s stunning choreography enhances dramatic scenes.

In the opening scene, we are engulfed in silence. Actors flutter their hands like birds, ripple them like running water, and wave like the wind. A lone narrator (Ethan Hermanson) speaks from the background, while upstage, Elbert Joseph, a superlative, deaf, Caribbean-American young actor, owns the spotlight, delivering a gut-wrenching, mesmerizing performance as the main character, “Tuc”.

Tuc’s frustration at people’s intolerance, misjudgment, and inability to understand him during his various stages, are disturbing, frightening, evoking our sympathy.

Dr. Alexis Graham, (Donna Sorbello), a well-intended teacher at the School for the Deaf, convinces Tuc’s loving father to let the boy leave his peaceful, verdant surroundings, where he communes with the wind, river, birds, bees, and all forms of nature, to attend the faraway residential school.

Watching Tuc’s fear, isolation and gloom dissipate when he meets Maizie, (Amanda Collins) a teen-age cleaning girl at the school, is heartwarming. Maizie can hear, but her parents are deaf, so she says she is, too, “inside”. She and her parents work menial jobs at the school, but starstruck Maizie loves movies, mentally mingling them with reality, and her hopes for the future.

Tuc’s joy reverberates while playacting with Maizie, fellow student Roscoe (superb Deaf actor Matthew J. Schwartz), and his Deaf classmates, until Superintendent Dr. Grindly Mann (Daniel Bolton) shatters their fun by admonishing then for using sign language instead of their words. He raps them on the hands with a ruler and imposes stricter discipline on a defiant Roscoe and the followers.

Nevertheless, Tuc flourishes at the school, learning to communicate with his peers. He eagerly returns home for the summer to demonstrate his new skills, but his enthusiasm dissipates- his father can’t understand him. Throughout Tuc and his father’s life changes, Cliff Odle as Jonas Tucker is deeply moving.

Tuc, Nell Hicks, Maizie, and Jonas Tucker’s disappointments and losses in their imperfect world are depressing, yet their journey promises hope, a touch- and taste- of sunrise at the end.