Some stories based on real life are part of the theater lineup this weekend, fictionalizing interesting characters and situations. A new show, for example, speculates on what writer Arthur Conan Doyle might have really thought about his literary creation of Sherlock Holmes.
Actress Linda Monchik becomes a famous poet for a one-woman show, Vicki Summers becomes her grandmother for her own solo outing to raise money to help the people of Ukraine, and Barnstable Comedy Club continues a drama based on a true case about Russian spies in hiding. Elsewhere, “Shirley Valentine” wraps up a Cotuit run; the “Once” musical and a show of one-acts return to the Academy Playhouse in Orleans; and Provincetown Theater gives a sneak peek at a new romantic musical. Here are some choices:
Monchik plays famed poet for Sandwich shows
Local actress Linda Monchik will become poet Emily Dickinson in William Luce’s one-woman “The Belle of Amherst,” the first live performance in Sandwich Town Hall since early 2020.
The show, which traces Dickinson’s life through her poems, diaries and letters, will be presented through the Sandwich Arts Alliance at 7 p.m. March 18-19 and 2 p.m. March 20 on the Glass Town Stage at Sandwich Town Hall, 130 Main St. Tickets: $20; www.sandwichartsalliance.org.
Pianist Stephen Zulkhe will entertain before each performance, and Monchik — recently seen as Rose Kennedy in a one-woman show at Cotuit Center for the Arts and elsewhere — will share her extensive knowledge of Dickinson’s poetry in a talkback after the matinee.
“Emily flirted with nature, and her poems reflect not just that love but its power,” Monchik said in an announcement of the show. “I hope to embody Dickinson as I myself know her, to share and deliver her message to the world. It’s very personal with her and me.”
“Belle” is the first of three plays the alliance will present this year in a “Village Drama Triptych” focused on “The Tortured, Triumphant Lives of Artists.” Upcoming shows will spotlight Truman Capote and Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Linking history and the present in one-woman benefit
As actress Vicki Summers watched images from Ukraine with horror, she was reminded of what her Jewish grandmother had endured in that region a century ago when, as a child, she was shot in the leg fleeing a pogrom by Russian soldiers. So Summers decided to revisit that refugee story that she turned into a play in a way that could raise money to help the people suffering in Ukraine now.
Summers will perform “Bella, and Immigrant’s Tale” at 2 p.m. March 20 at Cape Rep Theatre, 3299 Route 6A, Brewster with admission by donation as a benefit for Ukrainian refugees through UNICEF. Reservations and information: https://caperep.org/.
It’s important, too, “for us to recognize that this story (happening in Ukraine today) is universal. It’s not just the story of Ukraine, it’s a story of all of us, and it could happen anywhere,” she said. “We need to do what we can (to help) as if it’s our own family member. Because it could be.”
‘March Mayhem’ continues at Academy
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the Academy will stage a four-day encore of the musical “Once,” a love story set in Dublin that played sold-out shows at the end of last year. New performances are at 7 p.m. March 17-19 and 2 p.m. March 20, and include Irish music and step-dancing before the show and during intermission. (See review below.)
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At 7 p.m. March 23 is “One Act Wednesdays,” which offers short plays by local writers. They include: “Creation Myth” by Rachel Hischak, about a man and woman who must negotiate the future of the human race in a post-apocalyptic universe; Bragan Thomas’ “Black Coffee,” about two characters blurring dream and reality in a Surrealist dialogue; “Fracking with Walt Whitman” by Gregory Hischak, with a plot described as “after a series of unfortunate accidents, surviving officials must select a new President of the United States”; Alison Hyder’s whimsical skit “Any Port in A Storm,” about three couples meeting on a life-changing cruise; and Thomas’ “A Bitter Cup,” about “murder most English” among 1930s London aristocracy.
All shows are at the Academy Playhouse, 120 Main St., Orleans. Tickets and information: https://www.academyplayhouse.org/.
Provincetown has a new musical
Pianist/composer Jon Richardson will hold a work-in-progress performance of songs from his musical, “Jack of Hearts,” at 7 p.m. Saturday at Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St.
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The show is a love story set in Provincetown in the summer of 1963, with a cast of eight singers performing a song-cycle version that Richardson has worked on as part of the theater’s new play development program, The Stephen Mindich Literary Project. The reading is free, but reservations required: provincetowntheater.org.
‘The Sherlock Problem’
By Sue Mellen
Written by: Susan Lumenello, presented by Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre
What it’s about: In this new work by the company’s playwright-in-residence, Arthur Conan Doyle (Phil Scudder) has a problem. The character the physician-turned-writer has created (the inimitable Sherlock Holmes of course) has taken the world by storm. While that’s every writer’s dream, Doyle feels his creation is just a little too popular; Doyle himself is left in the wake of the suddenly famous sleuth.
As if that weren’t disturbing enough, the pompous, pipe-smoking Holmes (company technical director Matthew Kohler) actually comes to life, along with his erstwhile assistant Dr. Watson (Chris Houghton). And the two escapees from the pages of Doyle’s books have a few bones to pick with their creator. Holmes complains that, while undoubtedly a genius, he seems to be “an emotionally stunted drug addict.” And Watson is none too happy that he is always in the shadow of the king of Baker Street. He acknowledges, however, that his creator has made him handsome, charming and “a real lady’s man,” making it a little easier to play second fiddle to Holmes. (As Holmes fans will remember, the detective plays a violin to unwind.)
See it or not: Go for the chance to travel back to a simpler time and see Holmes and Watson come to life.
Highlight of the show: Scudder (a veteran of the Cape theater scene) is both comfortable and believable in the role of Doyle. While expressing all the emotions his character feels, he resists the temptation to overplay, gently bringing the audience into his struggle. (And his Scottish accent seems absolutely authentic!)
Kohler and Houghton as the detecting duo seem just as comfortable. It’s never easy to step into the skin of a famous character, and they do it with ease. The comfortable feeling the actors project is a testament to the skill of director Nina Schuessler, the company’s soon-to-be-retiring producing artistic director.
Fun fact: Doyle became Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1902 in recognition for his work in a field hospital in the Boer War in South Africa.
Worth noting: Two more CCTC veterans, Tammy Harper (the company’s director of education and outreach as Mrs. Baker) and Edward Donovan (as George Newnes, Doyle’s publisher) ably round out the cast. Harper is appealing as the Holmes’ slightly bossy housekeeper. (Undoubtedly patterned after the Mrs. Hudson character in Doyle’s books.)
One more thing: Beginning on April 29, the company will present “Red Swans,” an original play by Wendy Lament based on the work of Schuessler’s mother with the German resistance during World War II.
If you go: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through April 3; Cape Cod Theatre Company, 105 Division St., West Harwich; $27 adults, $25 seniors, $15 youth; 508-432-2002, capecodtheatrecompany.org.
‘Pack of Lies’
By Sue Mellen
Written by: Hugh Whitemore, presented by Barnstable Comedy Club
What it’s about: You know your neighbors really well. After all, they’ve lived just across the street for years, and you’ve spent holidays and vacations together. You’re especially fond of your flamboyant female friend, who knows and loves the real you and has a knack for making your teenage daughter feel special. But maybe — just maybe — you don’t know them at all. This show is about the Jacksons, a family just like yours (well, except for living in Britain in the 1960s) that discovers the life of their favorite neighbors is a carefully constructed lie. As the truth is gradually and painfully revealed, here’s the question they face: Do these revelations obliterate the feelings they have for their one-time friends, or are there places in their hearts where it is possible to still love the things they shared?
See it or not: Go for the expert portrayal of the deep and troubled relationship between the two female leads.
Highlights: Janet Geist Moore is full of joie de vivre as Helen Kroger. She sashays across the stage, filling the set with a feeling of life and vitality. This is the perfect counterpoint to the simple and staid setting — the Jacksons’ traditional British sitting room designed and constructed by Dennis Marchant. Helen is a woman ahead of her time, fantasizing about dalliances with young men and openly displaying emotion.
Miranda Daniloff Mancusi’s Barbara Jackson is the very picture of British reserve and propriety — until she’s faced with the “pack of lies” darkening her once well-ordered life. Mancusi slowly builds the drama around her discovery of her neighbors’ lies, eventually turning a slow simmer into a boiling pot of emotions. In the end, the play is about the deeply emotional relationship between these two women.
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Fun fact: The play is based on the real-life story of the family that lived across the street from a couple named Morris and Lena Cohen, who were key members of the notorious Portland Spy Ring. In fact, they were American communists who had worked for the Soviet Union for decades and had passed on details of the first atomic bomb. As it turned out, they had befriended the Jacksons because Bob Jackson (Rick Martin) worked in flight technology research. How do you cope with that kind of betrayal?
Worth noting: The male members of the cast — Martin, Stuard M. Derrick as Peter Kroger and Bob Shire as British intelligence agent Mr. Stewart – build a sure and steady support system around the two female leads. (This is undoubtedly due to the fine hand of experienced director James F. Ring.) Shire is especially effective as the calm and authoritative Stewart, slowly dismantling the structure that was the Jacksons’ life.
One more thing: In the original 1983 production, Judi Dench and her husband Michael Williams starred as the Jacksons. There was also a 1987 TV movie, featuring Ellen Burstyn and Teri Garr as Barbara and Helen, and Alan Bates as Stewart.
If you go: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays through March 20 at the club’s theater at The Village Hall, 3171 Main St. (Route 6A), Barnstable. $25; $23 for age 65+ and students. Reservations: 508-362-6333. Information: www.BarnstableComedyClub.org. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required and masks must be worn.
By Shannon Goheen
Written by: Willy Russell, and presented by Cotuit Center for the Arts
What it’s about: Some might say the one-woman play is about a bored British housewife who breaks free from her mundane existence. While that summary is entirely true, this is also an excellent, insightful story and comedy that explores a middle-aged woman’s deep dive into the murky depths of where she stopped being the vivacious young woman she once was. Still, there are no downers here, only levity. Half a year with Shirley Valentine is a short course in learning how to zig when everyone around you zags.
See it or not? I’ve seen three presentations of “Shirley Valentine.” The first was with Loretta Swit at the Cape Playhouse in the ‘90s, then the movie with Pauline Collins reprising her London stage role, and now with Kristin Stewart. Directed by her husband, Jay Stewart, Kristin doesn’t need to take a back seat to any other performance, and seeing this show is a gift to ourselves. Kristin is great and endearing, and presents Shirley with gusto and enthusiasm. Shirley says, “If you described me to me, I would think you were telling me a joke.” Who among us hasn’t thought the same thing at some point in our lives? The unsettling concept that we are all Shirley Valentine — sometimes — is presented so disarmingly and lovingly, we barely feel it.
Highlight of the show: Kristin delivers a consistently entertaining and moving monologue for two hours with a short intermission. Using a heavy, but easy to understand, British accent, she impersonates at least 12 other characters with funny facial contortions, postures and voice changes and it doesn’t matter that they aren’t physically in the room. When the lights go down on Shirley — with her wit, psychological baggage and inner dialogue turned outward — the obvious question is “Wait! What happens next?”
Fun fact: Kristin went to clown school and later married one of her instructors — Jay Stewart — and both were clowns with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus. They are both members of The Laughter League, a group of artists, entertainers and clowns who bring joy to kids in area children’s hospitals.
Worth noting: Shirley’s musings and reflections are heard by her constant companions “Wall” and “Rock,” and these objects become characters and sounding boards in her delightfully introspective search for meaning. One can imagine the wall splashed with waves of sticky notes, each holding quotes to live by. But Shirley isn’t the sort who strives for an organized method of self-analysis. Her world, however small, produces gift after gift, but only recognized as such in her fertile mind that sees the mundane with new eyes. This is wisdom that speaks to maturity rather than to youth, though I was still moved by the writing in my 20s.
One more thing: Jay Stewart deserves kudos for his direction, keeping Kristin moving and stopping in all the right places while she keeps us spellbound and wishing for a third hour. There’s so much to digest here — and it’s so gently and humorously presented. It’s like a big group therapy session with a lot of laughs and good feelings when it’s done.
If you go: 7:30 p.m. March 17-18 in the Morton and Vivian Sigel Black Box Theater at Cotuit Center for the Arts, 4404 Falmouth Road (Route 28). Tickets: $25/$20 for members; 508-428-0669, artsonthecape.org. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test is required.
By Sue Mellen from the December production
Written by: Book by Enda Walsh, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, based on the 2007 film written and directed by John Carney; presented by The Academy of Performing Arts
What it’s about: The show opens on a street in modern-day Dublin, where a young musician (John Connelly) is singing for his supper. It’s a scene familiar to all city dwellers: The starving musician stands behind his empty guitar case hoping his music and voice will earn him enough coins for dinner and a Guinness or two at the local pub. Then along comes a young woman (Shannon Davis) who proposes to reward him with a different kind of currency: some music of her own making. She takes him to the neighborhood pub, where Billy the proprietor (Andrew Grignon) lets her use a piano to play lilting Irish tunes, along with a little Mendelssohn.
It’s not hard to predict what happens in this boy-meets-girl-and-music story: They fall in love. The two leads are skilled musicians and vocalists, but more than that, they create a romantic chemistry that rings unusually true. This is a modern love story, though, with complications like exes and different cultures, so don’t expect a fairy-tale ending.
See it or not? Go for the music and let yourself be carried away. There is a soothing feel to this piece that is a relief from the stress-filled reality surrounding us. From the sweet love story, to the flowing Irish tunes, to the light hues of the set, it is a gentle ride into Irish culture.
Highlight of the show: This show is literally filled with music. It begins with the pre-show warm-up, during which a troupe of singers and dancers performs sweet Irish tunes plus “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” as a nod to the season. Then they engage the audience in a foot-stomping, hand-clapping number that embodies all the unfettered joy often associated with the Irish culture. Thanks to a large company of musicians in the background, the music continues as a backdrop to the love story. Some numbers are filled with the plaintive strains of violins, others filled with fun and dance. And some numbers have a dreamy tone that brings to mind vintage rock from groups like The Moody Blues.
Fun fact: The show was originally developed here in Massachusetts, at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, in April 2011. Then it was performed Off-Broadway at the New York Theater Workshop in December of that year, before transferring to Broadway in 2012. The production received 11 Tony Award nominations, winning eight, including Best Musical and Best Book.
Worth noting: Throughout, dance numbers add a sense of vitality to the Orleans production, but one number stands out. Three young performers from the Kanaley School of Irish Dance in Hyannis — Violet Roche, Priscilla Labranche and Colleen Mahoney on opening night — were particularly sparkling as they performed a jig in bright-colored, sequined costumes.
One more thing: Some scenes are informal skits perfectly suited to the intimate, arena-style theater at the Academy Playhouse. Director John F. Kennedy deftly weaves these scenes into the whole fabric of the production, creating the perfect blend of music and drama (with the occasional pun thrown in for comic relief).
If you go: 7 p.m. March 17-19 and 2 p.m. March 20, the Academy Playhouse, 120 Main St., Orleans; $30 adults, $20 under age 15; 508-202-1952, www.academyplayhouse.org. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours is required for entrance to the theater.
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod theater shows for week of March 14-19