Hilarious and Heartbreaking, "Theatre District" is a Hit

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"Theatre District"
Written by Richard Kramer; directed by Wes Savick; set design by Jenna McFarland; costume design by Seth Bodie; lighting design by Ken Elliott; sound design by Jeffery Alan Jones; projection design by Erin Turner

George, Bill Brochtrup
Kenny, Liam Torres
Lola, Melinda Lopez
Ben, Barlow Adamson
Wesley, Edward Tournier
Mario/Orderly, Neil A. Casey
Theo, Jamie Cepero III

Performances: Now through October 29th
Tickets: www.bostontheatrescene.com or (617)-933-8600

SpeakEasy Stage Company opens its 15th anniversary season with the East Coast Premiere of Richard Kramer's "Theatre District." The show marks the first playwriting attempt by veteran television writer Kramer, best known for such shows as "thirtysomething," "My So-Called Life," and "Once and Again," and tells a story of the challenges non-traditional families face in today's society. The play, which has already run in Chicago and Los Angeles, centers on George, an actor-turned-restaurateur, and his partner Kenny and the adjustments they face when Kenny's fifteen year old son Wesley moves in with them. Along the way, complications arise when Wesley's best friend announces he is gay and Wesley's mother decides he needs to move back in with her.


The synopsis may seem typical, but "Theatre District" certainly is not. Kramer's play has all the components of great theatre. It has punch. It has passion. It has a witty script and the perfect casting to pull it off. This play tickles your funny bone one moment and tugs on your heartstrings the next. With Kramer's choice of subject matter and the non-traditional structure of his play, there are so many ways "Theatre District" could go wrong. It could become overwrought with stereotypes and clichés, it could lend itself to poor casting and awkward blocking, or it could simply become confusing—but it doesn't. Under the direction of Wes Savick, Kramer's "Theatre District" is a new joy in a world of revivals.


Much of the credit for the success of "Theatre District" itself goes to the writer—it's difficult to render a poor interpretation of such a great script. Kramer has truly hit the nail on the head with his portrayal of family life in today's society. The relationships between characters are beautifully well developed and realistic, and Kramer's words evoke a wider range of emotions than thought possible in such a relatively short play. While "Theatre District" starts off slowly, it gradually picks up its pace with the introduction of the various characters, and once this play gets going, nothing can stop it. 


Another great strength of this production is its cast. From newcomers Jamie Cepero III and Edward Tournier to seasoned theatre and television veteran Bill Brochtrup, of "NYPD Blue" fame, each cast member shines both individually and as a member of the group. Melinda Lopez plays Wesley's well intentioned, yet slightly high strung, mother, Lola, to perfection. Lopez brings the role to life, and future productions of "Theatre District" will be hard pressed to find an actress who plays Lola so well. The same can be said of recent Boston University School of Theatre graduate Tournier, who plays Wesley. While this young actor is well beyond his teen years, he plays the role of Wesley wonderfully and perfectly depicts the fine balance between youth awkwardness, teenage angst, and the basic desire to be recognized and loved. As Wesley, Tournier is the main link between the characters of the play, and let me assure you, he doesn't disappoint. Tournier may be young, but he leaves a lasting impression.


The most hyped member of this cast has been Brochtrup, who is reviving the role of George, which he originated in the Los Angeles production of "Theatre District"; however, this hype is not undeserved, as Brochtrup truly steals the show. While his scenes with Liam Torres, who plays Wesley's father Kenny, are a bit slow moving, Brochtrup clearly brings with him a unique theatrical force to the stage. His ability to express the essence of Kramer's script is uncanny, and audiences will leave the theatres truly touched by Brochtrup's performance. As a man caught in the uncertainty of his relationship with his partner, his relationship with his partner's son, and his relationship with his partner's ex-wife, Brochtrup shines.


Savick's direction of "Theatre District" is also a unique and refreshing take on a play that could potentially be directorially problematic. His use of video projection to display the recurring images of the play and portray the overlapping of time that occurs regularly in "Theatre District" is both creative and pleasing, and his depiction of the many flashbacks in Kramer's script is truly well done. Savick takes a simple set, really nothing more than a few boxes, a set of stairs, a walkway, and a silver iridescent curtain, and transforms it into a new and exciting world for "Theatre District." While the small size of the theatre doesn't give him much to work with, Savick, along with lighting designer Ken Elliot, set designer Jenna McFarland, sound designer Jeffrey Alan Jones, and projection designer Erin Turner, work in perfect harmony to create the ideal atmosphere and design for Kramer's play. Their work is marked by originality and attention to detail, and is a sheer joy to experience.


"Theatre District" is a work of theatrical art. It hits you just as any good play should, and leaves you thinking long after you have left the theatre. It is apparent that Kramer's writing talent extends beyond television into the theatrical world with "Theatre District," and SpeakEasy's production of this work does it the justice that it deserves. Sure, it may be a bit of a trek to get out to the Boston Center for the Arts, but don't let that stop you from seeing "Theatre District"—it's bound to be one of the best plays you will experience for awhile. 

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From This Author Olena Ripnick

Olena Ripnick is a Boston University journalism student and freelance writer whose introduction to the performing arts took place when she was cast as Gretel (read more...)