Sunday, March 16, 2008

Somerville artist Heather Bonin helps bring “sub-zero” on stage.

Somerville artist Heather Bonin helps bring “sub-zero” on stage.

Powder House Square resident Heather Bonin is a 25-year-old Regis College graduate, who works as an asst. stage manager for the critically acclaimed play “sub-zero” written by Anastasia Townsend, playing at the Factory Theatre in the South End of Boston. Bonin who graduated with B.A. in Theatre, has worked with the Speak Easy Theatre, and had had roles in the production of plays by Tom Stoppard and others, in regional theatres in the area. Bonin cheerfully describes herself as a “starving artist” and has a hard time keeping up with the payments on her cell phone. She said as a stage manager she is a “Jane of all trades.” She helps with the props, feeds lines to the actors, monitors the audition process, gets the company takeout grub, you name it. Although an MFA is not in her immediate future she seems destined to have a career working in the theatre.

After graduating from Regis in 2005, she moved to Somerville when an apartment in Dorchester fell through. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. She finds Somerville the ideal place to live. It is accessible to Boston, and Somerville’s artist-friendly environment is a perfect fit for her Boheme sensibility.

The Factory Theatre is in the basement of a large artists residence the “Piano Factory” on Tremont Street in the South End. Jim Resnick, my companion for the evening and I found the theatre to be decidedly intimate (50 seats), with exposed brick, (well, you know the drill,) the whole Off-Off Broadway digs, kind of affair. The play opens in a city in the shadow of Somerville, Cambridge, Mass. It is at the end of a long winter of discontent for a manic depressive artist/professor Fenton, played by Chuck Schwager, his wife Lois played by Jean Sheikh, their son Sean played by Joe Orrigo, and the young object of desire of the two men, Claire, played by Lisa Caron Driscoll.

It seems that Lois, wants her son to keep tabs on Fenton, as he is quickly hitting the skids in a manic freefall. But, ah what a tangled web we weave! Both father and son become involved with Claire, an artist model/ coffee server, who is as unfocused as they are. The mother, Lois, seems to be the most stable of the characters. But until the end she is rendered affected and ineffectual in a suited armor of academic jargon and posturing.

The dialogue is sharp, bantering, witty, and at times a bit over the top. And make sure you bring your pocket Janus as there are many references to the “arts”, “artists,” not to mention the many intellectual barbs that are thrown about like poisonous darts. Both father and son are prone to purple flourishes, and the audience is made to wonder where the artistic temperament ends, and where the mental illness begins.

Having worked at McLean Hospital for the past twenty-five years, I can attest to the fact that Townsend does capture the wild highs and lows, the verbal barrage, that a full-blown manic episode can bring. The father, a middle-aged, cherub-faced hysteric rages against his fate like Harpo Marx as King Lear. The playwright sticks a pin in the balloon that romanticizes the mad artist. Townsend has written a thought provoking piece that dramatically examines identity, the familial ties that bind and break, and the toll of mental illness.

For more information go to: 978-460-3294

--Doug Holder

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