Tag Archives: Merrimack Repertory Theatre

‘Devil’s Music’ Ascends at Merrimack Rep Theatre

This is a shout out to everyone at Merrimack Repertory Theatre who brought audiences an outstanding production of The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith, featuring Miche Braden in the lead role. A hot three-piece band made up of Jim Hankins on bass, Aaron Graves on piano, and Anthony F. Nelson on sax accompanied the powerful singing of Miche  Braden. Kudos to the set artists, also, for creating the richly textured context for the story. My wife, Rosemary, and I attended this past week on UMass Lowell Night, along with a contingent of about 50 people from the university.

Devil's MusicWeb photo courtesy of Merrimack Repertory Theatre

 

Cultural Highlights 2012

Following is one writer’s highlights in cultural experiences in Lowell and the Merrimack Valley this past year. These are events I attended, so this list is not an attempt to rate the best in the arts and culture for 2012. That’s for another post. Send in your favorite and unforgettable moments, such as the 25th anniversary event for the Angkor Dance Troupe, which I missed because I was away.—PM

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Ziggy Marley performed at Boarding House Park in the Lowell Summer Music Series

First annual Writers and Publishers Roundup at the Old Court pub (January)

Bread and Roses Centennial museum exhibition opening in Lawrence (January)

Lowell Folklife Series: Afro Caribbean Percussion Workshop with Jorge Arce at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center (February)

Mass. Memories event at the Tsongas Industrial History Center, Boott Cotton Mills Museum (March)

“Dickens in Lowell” museum exhibition opening at Boott Cotton Mills Museum (April)

Greeley Peace Scholar John Prendergast “Day without Violence” talk at UMass Lowell (April)

Jane Brox’s talk on writing about place in the Lunchtime Lectures series of the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures and UMass Lowell at the UML Inn & Conference Center (April)

South Common Haiku Book Project event for Earth Day at the Rogers School (April)

Remembering Mary Sampas tribute event by the Hellenic Culture and Heritage Society (April)

City Stories by Image Theatre at the Old Court pub (May)

Ziggy Marley in the Lowell Summer Music Series at Boarding House Park (June)

“River Muse” literary anthology launch event with Sons of Liberty Publishing at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center (June)

Michael J. Fox in the Middlesex Community College Celebrity Series at Lowell Memorial Auditorium (June)

Kenny Loggins at Boarding House Park (July)

Lyle Lovett and His Acoustic Group at Boarding House Park (August)

KD Lang at Boarding House Park (August)

World Premiere of Kerouac’s “Beat Generation” play at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in partnership with UMass Lowell (October)

A Tribute to Peter Stamas produced by James Ostis in partnership with the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures, Hellenic Culture and Heritage Society, Lowell Heritage Partnership, and Greater Lowell Community Foundation at the Whistler House Museum of Art/Parker Gallery (November)

A Conversation with Stephen King at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell (December)

‘Beat Generation’ Premiere Triumphs at MRT

The world premiere of Jack Kerouac’s only full-length play, “Beat Generation,” drew a standing ovation from the opening night crowd last night at Merrimack Repertory Theatre. The production is a language fest with all the mundane and sublime elements that are expected in Kerouac’s writing. The play jumped off the pages of the book and onto the stage with tremendous energy and verbal drive. The piled up dialogue at times made me think of David Mamet and also the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First” (in the section about betting at the racetrack). Although simple and spare in set design, this is almost all the better for the words, the talk, to rule. The design touches, however, are evocative, particularly in Act III, when the characters gather in a late 50′s-looking living room—and the final image will stay with everyone.

Jeff Robinson accents the story with jazzy saxophone playing. Jeff was also featured in the 1991 MRT play “Maggie’s Riff,” which is Jon Lipsky’s adaption of Kerouac’s romance novel “Maggie Cassidy,” set in 1938-39 Lowell High School. Tony Crane as Buck and Joey Collins as Milo succeed beautifully as the Jack and Neal types, and Seamus F. Sargent makes a bemused, beatific, and baffled Bishop at the end. Kerouac kept all the good lines for the guys, in fact, almost all the lines. Maybe a couple of the female characters will shake up the scenes and spontaneously join the repartee.

The cast will take the stage only seven more times until Sunday night. For Kerouac readers and the culturally curious, this is something special for the arts in Lowell.

 

Kerouac’s ‘Beat Generation’ Play Opens Next Wed. at MRT

The world premiere of Jack Kerouac’s only full-length play, “Beat Generation,” is set for next Wednesday, Oct. 10, at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in partnership with UMass Lowell. The media buzz is building around this major event. The Sun, Eagle Tribune, Globe, Associated Press/New York City, WCAP-AM radio, WBUR-FM radio, BBC radio, and other outlets are reporting about the play. The premiere is the highlight of this year’s Kerouac Literary Festival, which has about 40 events in seven days.

In an interview on WCAP Radio last week, I told Teddy that the play in a way anticipates the “Seinfeld” TV comedy series because as Jerry and George famously said, “It’s a show about nothing.” Nothing except a bunch of interesting friends talking, joking, and trying to figure out the meaning life and how to have a good time. The characters move from an apartment to a racetrack to a house (on Long Island), ceaselessly bantering and surprising one another. Kerouac captures the off-beat “Beat” mood of the late 1950s that was taking hold  in New York City and North Beach in San Francisco.

Read more about the play and get ticket information at www.MRT.org

Robert Frost at MRT

Last weekend, my wife, Rosemary, and I enjoyed a matinee performance of “The Verse Business” by A. M. Dolan, the one-man show about Robert Frost, starring Gordon Clapp, who is best known for his acting in the TV series “NYPD Blue.” Except for the side seats in the balcony, the house was full for the afternoon performance. I had heard from several people that the Frost play was a must-see at MRT. They were right. From start to finish, we appreciated every line of talk and poetry.

One of the elements of Frost’s creative genius is the way he makes sentences carry the natural song in our conversations. Playwright A. M. Dolan achieves a heightened blend of commentary and poetry in the production that runs about 80 minutes without a break. That was a good decision because the script is so enriched as a piece of writing. At the end the audience is saturated and needs to be let out to absorb what has been said. I admire how the artistic team brought poems to the public in a way that left them wanting more. To put it another way, I had just attended one of the best poetry-reading events that I’ve been to in about 40 years of doing this stuff.

Sitting in the balcony of Liberty Hall, I recalled another poetry reading there, on St. Patrick’s Day in 1986, when Allen Ginsberg and a few of us locals read to a full house. Gregory Corso climbed down from the balcony, hopped on stage, and took out his false teeth to better pronounce his poetic words. Frost made fun of the free-verse poets of the Beat era, but they shared his respect for the greats like Keats, Shelley, and Blake. I can’t remember what Frost thought of Walt Whitman. In their hundreds of celebrity appearances, Frost and Ginsberg did more to popularize the public reading of poetry than anyone else in the 20th century.

Rosemary compared the play to a classical music concert. Like Beethoven or Mozart compositions, the content is familiar and essential, part of our Western Civilization cultural DNA by now. Not only New Englanders, but also English speakers and readers worldwide, know the classic Frost poems. Even though, in a way, you knew what was coming, and in fact were waiting for the masterpieces and small gems, the pleasure in encountering the poems was refreshed in this new representation.

Gordon Clapp gave us a Frost with the right mix of crafty intellect, restrained emotion, and wise-ass rascal-ness. From certain angles on stage and in certain light, the physical likeness was surprisingly accurate if you know the many photographs of Frost. There’s a magical set twist in the latter part of the production that makes everyone in the audience sit up straight.

The play runs through Sunday, November 13, for those who want to see it. Congratulations to MRT for putting Frost on stage in the Merrimack Valley. He’s a giant of our literature, but one of us, having  grown up in Lawrence and done a little teaching and subsistence farming in Southern New Hampshire. The Frost Farm in Derry, N.H., is a fine place to visit in the fall, especially. Before all the leaves drop, there’s time to get out to the small farmstead and walk the field behind the old house. He once said he picked up poems the way his pants picked up burrs from weeds when he walked in the fields.

Take away the literary success, and Robert Frost had a tough life. He said his ambition was “to lodge a few poems where they’ll be hard to get rid of.” Check.

 

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Receives $325k Kresge Grant

Bravo to eveyone at Merrimack Repertory Theatre for bringing home a highly competitive Kresge Foundation grant of $325,000. Awards from prestigious national foundations such as Kresge signal the excellence and maturity of Lowell’s cultural industry. There’s more where this came from, and the various parts and pieces of Lowell’s creative economy are primed to attract more large-scale funding of this kind. Read all about it on the MRT blog here.

Playwright Jon Lipsky, Farewell

Bryan Marquard of the  Boston Globe remembers playwright Jon Lipsky, a longtime activist in the Boston theater community. Lowell area people may recall that he wrote “Maggie’s Riff” for Merrimack Repertory Theatre, an adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s novel “Maggie Cassidy,” which is set mostly in the city and at Lowell High School. Read the appreciation here, and get the Globe if you want more.