Archive for April, 2014

Review: Mary Oliver’s “Red Bird”

April 10, 2014
Mary Oliver and her dog Percy

Mary Oliver and her dog Percy

By Robert Israel

Mary Oliver’s previous book, Thirst, was dedicated to the memory of her lifelong partner, Molly Malone Cook, who died in 2005. She and Malone had been together in Provincetown for over 40 years, and the poems in that collection were heart-wrenching and elegiac. A companion book – Our World — which features the late Cook’s photos, explains why: Oliver and Malone truly had a unique and loving relationship. Their days were filled with light as they walked together along the seashores of their beloved Outer Cape and enjoyed the vibrant artistic community that thrives there.

With the publication of Red Bird (Beacon Press, Boston), Oliver returns to familiar subjects, the seaside, the ponds, the wildlife, and what each teaches her about coping, changing and staying spirited in the face of despair. In poem after poem she celebrates life, nature and memory. Her profound sense of loss seems to be lifting. The clue to this can be found in a marvelous poem “Summer Morning”, when she writes that “it’s time to come back/from the dark.”

There are many poems about love, the loss of her beloved Malone the subtext of these poems, and her passionate love of God. Whether she refers to the Deity as “Lord” or “God,” it is always in the masculine and always reverential. If these poems haven’t found their way into the Church’s liturgy, they need to. They are hymns to a divine spirit that unites all things and all people, as in the poem, “So every day.” It is so brief it comes to one’s mind like a prayer, and it reads as naturally as taking a breath: “So every day/I was surrounded by the beautiful crying forth/of the ideas of God,/one of which was you.”

Oliver has written extensively about nature, and in so doing she is connected to the American poets of yesteryear who drew from nature a sense of spiritual transcendence. Poems in this collection celebrate the ponds that she has visited and described in other collections that are near her home on the Outer Cape. She writes about the ocean with its mysteries and majesties. She describes even an ant as part of the life cycle, as well as the abundant flora and fauna, and the wild creatures that continually astonish her and awaken her to color, loss of color, the rhythms of life.

These are poems to read in the quiet of the day, and to enjoy many times afterward, to remind oneself of the fragility of life and the necessity to capture its fleeting rhapsodies.

Robert Israel can be reached at A previous version of this review appeared in Edge Magazine (Boston).


Mitt Romney & the Jewish Vote: What I Learned from My 1994 Interview

April 8, 2014
Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for U.S. president, at the Western Wall in Jersualem, Israel, 2012.

Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for U.S. president, at the Western Wall in Jersualem, Israel, 2012.

By Robert Israel

Flash back to summer, 1994. Mitt Romney strode down the corridor, aide in tow, and greeted me in the cramped newsroom. He was eager and fresh faced. He wanted to talk about his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in a race against incumbent Edward “Ted” Kennedy, to share a bit about his Mormon faith, to tell me—and my readers—why he felt he was being maligned in the press, and why he felt a kinship with Jews.

Romney was 48 years old. We met at the office of The Jewish Advocate, a weekly newspaper where I worked as editor, just a short walk from the Massachusetts State House with its resplendent golden dome.

Fast forward to summer, 2012: The catalyst that sets forth a cascade of my memories is a photograph of Romney at the Western Wall, taken during his July pilgrimage to Israel. I find the photograph jarring. While the Western Wall is a symbol of reverence, it is also one of destruction, harkening back to when Jerusalem was vanquished in 70 CE by Roman conquerors. When Romney posed there wearing a yarmulke, I was reminded of his numerous appearances at Boston-area synagogues as he tried to court the Jewish vote in 1994. As evidenced by his trip to Israel, he still craves support from Jews despite the fact that Massachusetts’ Jewish voters steadfastly rejected him in his Senate bid, and, nationally, Jewish voters tend to support Democrats. I wonder: will Romney’s message resonate with Jewish voters? Or will they reject him again, as they did when he ran for Senate?

While some in the Jewish press praised his recent trip to for his “bold approach” regarding Israel, Iran and the Palestinians, other journalists like Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times, derided his visit. Friedman wrote: “I mean, it was all about money anyway—how much Romney would abase himself by saying whatever the Israeli right wanted to hear and how big a jackpot of donations [Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon] Adelson would shower on the Romney campaign in return.”

By taking a backward glance at the Romney-Kennedy contest of 1994 and contrasting that with Romney’s current race for president, there are lessons to be learned about what works for Jewish voters—and what fails.

IN THEIR 1992 BOOK The Death of an American Jewish Community, authors Hillel Levine and Lawrence Harmon noted that courting the Jewish vote was once considered de rigueur for candidates running for elected office in Boston. Candidates would belly up to the lunch counter at the G & G, a deli in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, and rub shoulders with potential Jewish supporters. “A dashing hopeful for a seat in Congress,” Levine and Harmon wrote, “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had no trouble winning Irish hearts in Charlestown and South Boston. At the G & G the future president made eye contact and munched french fries smothered in kishke grease … Republican presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower, too, made direct appeals for the Jewish vote at the G & G.”

In 1994, Romney and Kennedy knew they, too, had to woo Jewish voters in Massachusetts, but the G & G deli had long been closed. The Jewish neighborhood that spawned it had long been dispersed to the suburbs. Both candidates had to search for ways to play the Jewish heartstrings.

So, Romney, like Senator Kennedy, reached out to voters through The Jewish Advocate. And they both appeared at Jewish “town hall” meetings sponsored by several Massachusetts-area synagogues. Romney dispatched his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, to speak on his behalf at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1994, at a forum sponsored by several Jewish groups. George Romney, aged 87 (he died a year later), declared that Kennedy, a 32-year incumbent, was “out of step” with the issues, including foreign policy (namely Israel). None of Romney’s attacks were lost on Kennedy, a shrewd and tenacious politician, who could work synagogue crowds as easily as he worked the pols in the halls of government. For his part, Kennedy enlisted Harvard Law School’s Alan Dershowitz, who appeared on his behalf at a similar forum held at Brandeis University that same year.

During my interview with Kennedy, conducted at his invitation in August of 1993, he courted my readers by invoking the age-old Jewish fear of anti-Semitism. He described the confirmation hearings for Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had been selected by President Clinton to replace retiring Justice Byron White on the Supreme Court. “Her history is extremely important to her,” he said in an interview later published in The Jewish Advocate. “Her grandparents came from persecution and prejudice. I was impressed with her response to my questions to her about issues of discrimination. She said, ‘I am sensitized to discrimination. I grew up at the time of World War II in a Jewish family. I have memories as a child, even before the war, of being in the car with my parents and driving places … and there was a sign in front of a resort and it said, ‘No dogs or Jews allowed.’”

During my visit with him, Kennedy directed an aide to make a photocopy of Ginsburg’s testimony to present to me. He knew that my readers would relate to her personal story. He knew that Jewish voters would endorse an incumbent who declared how proud he was that the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he was a member, later unanimously approved her nomination.

Mitt Romney could cite no similar achievements, having never been elected to public office. A year after my interview with Kennedy was published, Romney’s team contacted me to do a similar piece, since he was now competing for the 61-year-old senator’s seat. What he had going for him was his claim that he was a man of faith (Kennedy was often portrayed as a lapsed Catholic), as well as his deep love for Israel.

WHEN ROMNEY SAT DOWN with his aide at the The Jewish Advocate’s office in the summer of 1994, he did not play the anti-Semitism card. Instead he decided to reach Jewish voters by speaking glowingly of then-Republican Governor William F. Weld’s efforts to establish a Massachusetts trade office in Jerusalem (an outpost that subsequently failed and was later shuttered). He had not traveled to Israel at that juncture, but promised he would visit when he was elected, and said he had been briefed by AIPAC during a visit to their offices in Washington, D.C. He also praised Haifa-born Orit Gadiesh, his colleague from Bain and Company, who had been frequently lauded in the press for her business acumen. He said he admired her service to her country—she, like all Israelis, had been required to do a stint in the Israeli army as a young woman and Romney said this was the hallmark of the Israeli spirit: triumph over adversity. It’s interesting to note that Ms. “She grew up in Israel, served in the army, and represents the spirit of Israel to overcome adversities and to become successful.” Gadiesh—later appointed to Romney’s transition team in 2002 after he was elected governor—has not publicly praised or discussed at length her friendship with Romney during his run for president.

In the article I later published in The Jewish Advocate, I quoted Romney as saying, “Our success in weakening Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror in the Middle East has helped the nation of Israel. If not for the great success of the Gulf War, we may not have witnessed the recent historic Mideast peace process.” But this was a broad statement, typical of many Romney made during his senatorial quest. Kennedy, too, had made a similar statement in a story the newspaper ran two years before, in 1992. Kennedy could do one better and boast that he had made efforts on behalf of Israel by backing certain bills and criticizing others while in Congress. What had Romney accomplished?

Romney primarily identified with Jewish voters on the basis of being a religious minority. “I don’t believe a person running for public office should have to defend his faith,” he told me. “Mormons have fought hard to attain the right to pray in houses of worship and to be free of persecution. I think this is why Jewish voters relate to me. Mormons, like Jews, have been persecuted for their religious beliefs.” When I asked him to expand on this statement, he restated how the press, particularly The Boston Globe, had repeatedly portrayed Mormons in a negative light. “Mormons were expelled, just like Jews were expelled, from their homes,” Romney said. “They endured a hunger winter on their forced march out west. They were forced to live in hiding. Mormons, like Jews, have paid a high price for their faith.”

I then posed a challenge to candidate Mitt Romney. “Are you familiar with the statue of Mary Dyer at the State House, it’s just up the street, about a five minute walk from here?” I asked him.

He said he was familiar with the statue of Dyer—known as one of the four “Boston Martyrs”—who was hanged on Boston Common in 1660 as punishment for her Quaker beliefs.

“If you feel as strongly that, as a Mormon, you have been maligned in the press,” I said, “why not hold a press conference at the site of the statue and say that in 1994 men and women should never be subjected to persecution and death like they were in Boston in 1660? I promise you I’ll report on it for this newspaper. I’ll urge my colleagues in the press to attend.” Romney smiled. Soon after, he gave a nod to his aide, indicating the interview was over.

Some weeks later at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel in the ornate ballroom where many Jewish groups still hold posh events, I approached Romney. He was standing on the sidelines with an aide, surveying the swells busily sipping cocktails. “Have you given my idea of a press conference more thought?” I asked him. This time he extended his hand to shake mine, smiled, and walked away.

NOW, EIGHTEEN YEARS LATER, I am left with several lasting impressions about candidate Mitt Romney. It is true that while he served as Massachusetts’ governor he balanced the state’s budget and introduced a health care reform law that became a model for Obamacare, a model he now avoids trumpeting for political reasons. It is also true that he has been a steadfast man of faith, has raised millions of dollars for the Mormon Church nationally and in Massachusetts, and has been a dedicated and devoted family man and citizen.

Yet I am still haunted by the photograph of him standing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem wearing a yarmulke that graced the front page of many newspapers and websites. The overarching message to Jews is not one of unity or spirituality, but instead seems to be one focused on obtaining financial support, as Thomas L. Friedman wryly noted in his New York Times column. His embrace of billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson—despite their mutual disdain for one another that dates back to Romney’s campaigns in Massachusetts—is just one illustration of this. It has led astute observers like David M. Shribman to write, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that Romney “has revealed almost nothing about himself and his views,” but instead, as “Franz Liszt said of Frederic Chopin,” he is “‘prepared to give anything, but never gave himself.’”

In 1994, Romney was roundly defeated by a tenacious Sen. Kennedy. Kennedy demonstrated to both Jewish and non-Jewish voters that he would represent them in the halls of government by fighting to preserve and strengthen the fabric of democracy that binds us. He could cite how he helped “refuseniks” (Soviet Jews) to immigrate to the United States. But he also cited how he assisted Asian families, like the Trucs in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, who found safe haven and now operate a restaurant there.

Instead, Romney, then and now, seeks flash-in-the-pan photo-ops, like the one taken at the Western Wall that provoked Friedman to write that it looked so phony it should have been taken in Las Vegas. “They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas,” he quipped.

Looking back to 1994, the Massachusetts electorate rejected him. He was affable, but unable to produce the record that Jewish voters—and others—were looking for. In 2012, this same deficiency casts a shadow on his candidacy. It may yet prove to be his undoing.

Robert Israel can be reached at An earlier version of this piece appeared in Religion and Politics, a publication of the Danforth Center at Washington University in St. Louis.

Review: Denis O’Hare in “An Iliad”

April 8, 2014
Denis O'Hare

Denis O’Hare

By Robert Israel

Denis O’Hare stalks about ArtsEmerson’s Paramount main stage dressed in a tattered overcoat, beat up laced boots, and a crumpled hat, carrying a cardboard suitcase. When he removes his overcoat, his gray mesh sweater beneath is wrinkled and threadbare. He sports a leather belt wound tightly around his waist. He’s Everyman, having just arrived in Boston to tell his tale of woe and war. The play, An Iliad, is a solo re-telling of Homer’s epic poem.

O’Hare wrote the play with Lisa Peterson, and, echoing its protagonist, it has traveled from Seattle to New York to Chicago with several stops in between. Using minimalist props – a table, chair, a jug of spirits, and a glass housed inside the suitcase – O’Hare is, at turns, haunting, poetic, mesmerizing, and, ultimately, astonishing. He is joined on stage by Brian Ellingsen, a bassist, who plays long, sonorous notes on his instrument that echo throughout the auditorium like the wailing of a human voice.

There is much to lament: war has taken its toll, and unlike the line foretold in 1 Corinthians — “…and the dead shall be raised imperishable and we will be changed” – nothing of the sort occurs. We learn that war changes nothing. War is senseless, never-ending, and all-consuming; it litters our streets and maims our citizens. War serves no purpose except to glorify the egos of the gods.

In perhaps the most astonishing moments in the play, O’Hare, seated on a chair center stage, turns to the audience and recounts the entire catalogue of senseless wars that have been recorded since the dawn of human history. We learn about the “a tug of war” with “nothing to show but pain and loneliness.”

We find ourselves listening with rapt attention, as if attending a lecture. But this is not an academic exercise, and we are not students in a lecture hall. As members of the audience, as fellow wanderers on a troubled and vulnerable planet, we have borne witness to much of what O’Hare recounts. We carry within us the seeds of these conflicts like viral spores that, despite our pledges to become more peaceful and less bellicose, are released upon all the landscapes we visit or inhabit.

O’Hare takes us through occasional recitations of Greek, a song he croaks here and there that lands on our ears as intelligible, and then, in a most articulate way, in the parlance of today’s American English, we learn, in sputters, about the wrath of the gods, “pride, honor, jealousy…Helen is more beautiful than anyone else and she’s been stolen, and the Greeks have to get her back.”

The production makes only occasional use of shadows, as in the scene when O’Hare, as Achilles, projects the image of this towering figure against the Paramount’s wall and we feel a shutter pass up our spines as a figure from mythology comes alive before us. I wished for more of these.

There is such scant use of stage craft throughout: more is needed to convey, in visual imagery, the pictures conjured by the words that O’Hare pours forth. This would not detract from the message of the play, or from the performer. Rather, it would enhance his work, and return us to the original power of Homer’s creativity, namely an oral tradition born from our ancestors who, before the written word was invented, sat around campfires and used shadows to become other characters, and to act out their feats of war, glory, and ruin.

O’Hare uses contrasts – “I wish I could show you Troy before the war,” he says at one point, and then describes how it looks after it has been ravaged – a simple device that pulls us back into this oral tradition. It is highly effective; it acknowledges our abilities to see in our minds’ eyes, using our own senses. And as the sounds of the bass violin swirls around us, the impossible costs of war, the “terror and strife” become known to us. Indeed, since they are already part of our human inheritance, we relive them.

At the play’s end, O’Hare, like the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge’s poem, continues on his journey to continually tell his tale, passing “like night, from land to land, with a strange power of speech.” That gift of speech takes us prisoner but ultimately releases us to tell others, to admonish others we meet on our journeys, in hopes of finally putting a stop to these endless cycles of war.

Robert Israel can be reached at An earlier version of this review appeared in Edge magazine, Boston.

Five Writing Tips for Managing Creative and the Bottom Line

April 4, 2014


By Robert Israel

Writers continually struggle with creative demands versus the bottom line. While there are no easy solutions to achieve an even keel between creative pursuits and fiscal realities, here are several writing tips to keep in mind when searching for a balance in two areas that often seem like polar opposites:

Know Your Buyer

“When you are negotiating a contract, know who you are dealing with,” Susan Rayne, a lawyer who advises clients on matters of business, corporate, technology, and licensing law, said in a recent conversation. “Think of the worst-case scenario: you complete the assignment, submit it, your client won’t pay you, so you end up filing a complaint at small claims court that could drag on for months. You can avoid having to take this legal course if you perform your due diligence first. Do background checks on your clients. Make sure they have good records when it comes to paying their bills. Read the fine print on the contract. If you find the language of the contract perplexing, consult a lawyer—ask them to interpret it for you.”

Set Expectations

If you are drawing up the terms of an agreement or helping to draft one, make sure the terms are clearly defined. State your requirements and those proposed by your client. Set dates and tasks. Specify how many drafts and revisions you estimate are needed to get the job done. Clearly define when you will deliver the final copy of a given assignment. When it comes to payment for services rendered, be sure both parties agree on the stipulated arrangements.

Know Your Copyrights

Whether you are a freelance or full-time writer, you can benefit from educating yourself on copyright rules and regulations. This can help make the creative process smoother. Many publications require writers to review and sign a contract outlining their adherence to copyright laws. For example, if you are working with a financial service client, you should be aware of all the compliance steps required before an article can be distributed. Freelancers should be aware of copyright requirements and budget that time into their schedule accordingly. By better managing your time and having an understanding of various industry regulations, you can free up time to achieve better, more creative results.

Keep an Idea Ledger

Playwright John Guare, whose script, Six Degrees of Separation, was made into a popular film, said in an interview that while he was extremely displeased his new Broadway play closed after only a handful of performances, “I always have new ideas jotted down in my notebook and a new play in my typewriter.”

Not all your ideas will catch fire. You will hear “no” uttered far more frequently than “yes.” Use your idea ledger as a home for your backup plans. List publications you may want to approach. Make notes of any feedback you receive. Scan publications for editorial calendars and contacts and record them in your ledger. Draft queries about your story ideas before you dispatch these to editors.

Keep a Financial Ledger

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously kept a ledger, available for viewing in a facsimile edition, in which he documented how much money he was paid for his short stories, treatments, and novels. Fitzgerald lived lavishly and spent more than he earned. In your ledger, set up columns for income, expense, and time devoted to each assignment. Make sure you keep a watchful eye on all columns. In this manner, you will avoid Fitzgerald’s fate.

By practicing fiscal discipline and reading the fine print of all contracts, you will gain more control over the business aspects of your career. Through these writing tips, you may one day arrive at a place where the creative and fiscal realities of writing are balanced. It’s possible to break even, or better yet, to come out ahead. But that will only happen if you keep your creative and fiscal houses in order.

Robert Israel is a Boston-based writer and editor. This piece appeared in The Content Standard, published by Skyword, Inc.

Profile: Darren Charles “Odysseo” Artistic Director

April 3, 2014
A scene from "Odysseo"

A scene from “Odysseo”

By Robert Israel

Darren Charles, the British-born artistic director and choreographer of “Odysseo,” is speaking to me from the balcony of his apartment in Montreal’s Little Italy. Montreal is the home base of Cirque de Soleil, which introduced large-scale, visually overpowering productions that combine high-wire bedazzlements with technologically chilling lights, sound and music. “Odysseo,” which features a performing company of 46 artists and 67 horses, might very well be named Son of Soleil: it’s the brainchild of Normand Latourelle, a longtime Cirque de Soleil creative team veteran.

Charles tells me he can see the sprawling Jean Talon Marche from his balcony. Jean Talon, originally built in the 1930s and now occupying several city blocks, is one of the largest fresh food marketplaces in North America; in the dead of winter, you can buy a ripe peach here. It seems a fitting backdrop for Charles as he heads out to work each day to oversee one of the largest scale touring productions ever conceived.

Productions like “Odysseo” are costly: considerable funds must be spent to bring all the elements together, to create the grand scale illusions audiences have come to expect.

While money woes hobble so many smaller performance troupes, Charles explains, finding financial backing for this large one has never seemed to hamper his boss, M. Latourelle.

“He never flinched when it came to spending funds to create ’Odysseo,’” Charles says of Latourelle. “He kept telling us, ’We can do this, we can make this work, we should never compromise our artistic standards.’”

And so, with that as a go, the creative team went to work.

“We sat down initially with Normand to create the show,” Charles says of their process, “and ideas after ideas were discussed. Instead of throwing out any of our visions, he combined them. The show grew from there, and now it’s huge.”

Huge is the operative word. Listen as Charles rattles off the show’s statistics.

“The big top we perform under is 10 stories high. We have a hockey rink size stage, it’s over 27,000 square feet,” he says, his voice is escalating. “We truck in 10,000 tons of sand and rock. We use over 80,000 gallons of water for the finale. There are four IMAX screens that surround the inside of the tent to project images everywhere, with a tremendous sound system. There’s a huge carousel that descends slowly down to the stage — it’s so big, it takes 15 minutes to lower it.”

And then there are the horses: eleven breeds of them. Most theatergoers experience real horses onstage at small scale circuses, like the Big Apple, or as puppets, in shows like ’War Horse’ or ’Equus,’ wooden frames manipulated by actors, who crouch inside them.

But in “Odysseo,” you get the real thing: pure horsepower.

“Man and horse have a time honored relationship that is deep, and emotional,” Charles says. “Yes, horses are wild creatures, but, when treated with respect – and we treat them with great respect, you can bet on that – they give respect back. And horses are natural show offs on stage. They love to perform.”

A particularly feisty breed is the Arabians, Charles notes.

“There are nine Arabians in the show,” Charles says. “And they can be very difficult. They have a mind of their own. But with the performer who has trained them and who works with them each and every performance, they demonstrate a close bond, a very special relationship on stage. You could call it romantic.”

There are 21 stallions in the show (the remaining number are geldings). According to the show’s notes, their “fighting spirit” has been channeled into one of “playfulness” by equestrian choreographer Benjamin Aillaud.

Charles talks about the theme of the show – a journey that begins in the desert and travels to mountains and then to outer space and even to ice caverns. All of this seamlessly unfolds, Charles insists, thanks to the coming together of the images on the large IMAX screens, the cast, and the horses.

The aerialists are from Guinea and they specialize in backflips, Charles said. Without giving away too much more of the show, one can expect to see these daredevil performers execute many of these feats while riding on the horses, bareback.

The show has been performing throughout North America since 2003. Charles estimates that over 4 million people have attended. An extended tour is being planned that will take the troupe – and their equestrian cohorts – overseas.

“I didn’t come to horses naturally, or easily,” Charles says. “But I have grown to love working with them.”

And with laboring to keep a large scale extravaganza like “Odysseo” running without a hitch that leaves even experienced directors like Darren Charles mesmerized each time he goes to work.

Robert Israel is a Boston-based writer and editor. He can be reached at An earlier version of this piece appeared in Edge Media Network (Boston).

Review: “Rich Girl” at Lyric Stage Company of Boston

April 1, 2014
A scene from "Rich Girl" at Lyric Stage Company of Boston

A scene from “Rich Girl” at Lyric Stage Company of Boston

By Robert Israel

“Let me tell you about the very rich,” author F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote. “They are different from you and me.”

In Victoria Stewart’s play “Rich Girl,” now at Lyric Stage Company of Boston through April 26, we meet Eve (Amelia Broome), a celebrity financial guru (think: Suze Orman), who at first blush seems to defy Fitzgerald’s description. She’s likeable, magnetic, and charming. She’s come to her wealth the hard way. She’s raised her daughter Claudine (Sasha Castroverde) as a single mom. She’s built an empire by using cunning wits and tenacity. She’s established a foundation to help those in need. What’s not to like?

But once we get to know her, she is different after all. She uses her wealth to command special treatment. Her stalwart assistant Maggie (Celeste Oliva) jumps every time she barks, and sees to her media appearances and her personal needs as well. Eve also expects her daughter, a shy, church-mouse of a woman, to work at her foundation and to follow in her footsteps. She’s an Iron Maiden.

The source for the play is “Washington Square,” a work from the 1880s, made into a play “The Heiress” that appeared on Broadway in 1947. This new adaptation sets the story into the 21st century, while still remaining true to the spirit of the original pot boiler, namely wealth and its ensuing trappings.

There is a fourth character: Henry (Joe Short), a struggling actor, who calls upon Claudine essentially to hit her up for money, but he ends up falling for her. Or does he? Is it, as Cole Porter once mused, “the good turtle soup, or is it the mock? Is it at long last love?” We have to watch the play for clues to this eternal quest to find out about what Porter called this “funny thing called love.”

We know how Eve feels about Henry, even before she shares her prejudices with us. He doesn’t have a dime to his name, so, from her perspective, the romance is most assuredly doomed. Just to be sure it ends up on the rocks, she uses chicanery to sabotage it.

And so we have a play with a clichéd story known to us all: Rich girl meets poor handsome sod, contends with overbearing mother, who confides in the personal assistant, all while threatening to elope anyway. The pleasure is to watch this all unfold on stage with talented actors, who, for the most part, rise to the demands of the script.

As Eve, Amelia Broome displays the bravado of a woman on top of her game, not afraid to wield that power unflinchingly. She takes no prisoners, but she herself is imprisoned by cancer, and that disease will diminish her as the play progresses. As her daughter Claudine, Sasha Castroverde has numerous moments to shine, and she seems better suited for this role than she previously displayed in the Lyric’s “Water by the Spoonful.” Her transformation from milquetoast to hardnosed businesswoman is less convincing, however, and could use better coaching and blocking from director Courtney O’Connor. As Maggie, Eve’s personal assistant, the very capable Celeste Oliva performs with her trademark manic energy, and adds needed comic relief as a flibbertigibbet. And as Henry, Joe Short, so wonderful in Bridge Rep’s “The Lover,” again proves himself to be a charismatic and mesmerizing performer.

The scenic design by Brynna Bloomfield works wonderfully, as does the lighting by Chris Bocchiaoro. The play, while not offering us anything new to an old story, is none the less first-rate entertainment.

Robert Israel can be reached at This review first appeared in