Friday, July 26, 2019

Director Paula Plum Brings Steel Magnolias to the 'Hub'

I had the good fortune to interview the doyenne of the Boston-area theatre scene, actress, playwright and director Paula Plum.  I talked with Plum about her professional experience, and the play she is directing at the Hub Theatre Company in Boston, "Steel Magnolias." ( Playing through Aug 3)

Over the past three decades, her most notable performance have been as CleopatraLady MacbethBeatriceTouchstone and Phedre at the Actors’ Shakespeare Project; in Miss WitherspoonThe Heiress and Death of a Salesman at the Lyric Stage ; Body AwarenessHistory Boys and New Century at SpeakEasy Stage; LysistrataIvanovMother Courage, and The Marriage of Bette and Boo at the American Repertory Theatre.

Ms. Plum was trained at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic arts and is a Cum Laude graduate of Boston University’s School for the Arts, where she was also honored as Distinguished Alumna in 2003.


Well--this is a Somerville newspaper--so I have to ask you if you have any history of performance in Somerville? I think I met you briefly through Emily Singer--who worked for Jimmy Tingle when he had the theatre in Davis Square.

-Yes,  I have been Artistic Director of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn produced by WGBH & Brian O’Donovan, which had its first performance at Somerville Theatre in December 2003. 

 I see you performed at the Lyric Stage. Did you perform there when it was a little walk up on Charles Street in Boston? The founders used to live in Somerville.

-I have been working at the Lyric Stage since 1975 when the theatre was located above Ken’s at Copley Square, pre-dating their Charles St. home by several years. I played Margot in their production of Dial M for Murder, directed by Polly Hogan, and featuring Ron Ritchell, the founders of the Lyric Stage. 

You seem to embrace all facets of the theatre: Playwright, actor, director. Which is you favorite role?

-Acting for me is the most freeing and when I get a chance to fly. 

I have to ask you this because my brother Don Holder is a Tony Award-- winning lighting designer.  Do you appreciate the role of lighting in a production

-Lighting is everything: it can create not only mood but environment. I believe you really only need actors, text and a a great lighting plot to realize a play.

You are directing Steel Magnolias at the innovative Hub Theatre of Boston.  It is about a group of women who bond over a loss of a friend in a small southern burg.  Could this been have done equally well with men and still have the same impact?

-Seriously, no. Women and men form friendships differently. The way these women relate to each other, the way they support each other, is uniquely female.

How has it been working with the Hub Theatre?

-This is my third directing experience with Hub and all three have been a pleasure. Hub Theatre is a well-greased machine. Lauren Elias is a very skilled producer and knows how to assemble a creative team, as well as how to market the heck out of a show. She’s great with social media; the houses have been packed and joyful!

Finally--why should people see Steel Magnolias?

-I have been blessed with a glorious cast of women who expertly handle the comedy as well as the pathos. . This  cast of actresses works brilliantly together to portray the charm of these Southern women, as well as their warmth, complexity, and passion.

For more information go to

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

From an abandoned storefront window: art sprouts in East Somerville

( Left to Right)  Stan Eichner, June Lee, Abigail Coyle, Doug Holder

From an abandoned storefront window: art sprouts in East Somerville

By Doug Holder

Every once in awhile I leave the environs of Union Square to get a taste of the buffet of creativity we have in our city. In this case it was East Somerville.  After all the Poet Laureate of Somerville Lloyd Schwartz resides there—as well as the renowned Mudflat Studios. On a warm June day I ventured East to meet with Jen Atwood, director of East Somerville Main Streets and her band of artists and artisans, at the innovative space called Mudflat. According to their website,

 "Mudflat is a clay studio for students and artists of all ages and levels in metro Boston. We offer a dynamic artistic community, featuring classes, workshops, outreach programming and events, plus a mix of studio rentals for 38 professional clay artists."

The Mudflat Studios is an impressive place with a huge cavernous studio, and many smaller work spaces on several floors. Atwood introduced me to three of the artists who contributed to the Windows Project—part of the East Somerville Carnaval celebration. Each artists explores the meaning of “Carnaval,” which is inspired by a traditional Brazilian street fair. For some of the artists Carnavale is a specific cultural celebration, for others it is a general street celebration.

The artists' whose work adorns the windows of the abandoned East End Grill (right down the block from the studios), include: Katherine Martin Widmer, Abigail Coyle, Stan Eichner, June Lee, and Gary Duehr. Since Widmer and Duehr weren't available I interviewed the three remaining artists.

June Lee, a refugee from the banking world, found her bliss in pottery at the Mudflat Studios. She is now on their faculty. In addition,  she works in a technical capacity at Somerville High. Her ceramic plaques are hung with the other artists' works on the storefront window.  About her pottery, she told me, "I think my pieces are fun to look at. On my pottery I inscribe inspirational quotes, while some quotes are just for fun. We need some Zen and giggle sometimes. It is a crazy world." Much of her pottery pieces  that I saw were expertly crafted with vivid imagery and color.

Abigail Coyle,  is a long time resident of East Somerville. She makes her daily nut in book production at the Algonquin Club in Boston. Coyle is a lover of plants, and she uses the leaf of a Monstera plant ( a flowering plant native to many tropical places), as an inspiration for her window display. Coyle told me, " My leaf piece is made from basic retail craft, glued with a remarkable craft adhesive call Mod Podge." This glossy leaf has been the subject of many conversations from local folks passing by.

Stan Eichner, who is a former civil rights lawyer includes a photographic image from Somerville's " Honk Festival." This musical festival expresses the same sense of joy and celebration of the Carnavale. Eichner told me, " My photography is pretty broad from landscape--to street photography. When I was at the Honk Festival my camera was drawn to the energy and excitement of the scene."

Yes, even an abandoned storefront window can sprout art--here--in --The Paris of New England.

Parts of Everything in Days & Days, Michael Dickman’s new book of poetry

Parts of Everything in Days& Days, Michael Dickman’s new book of poetry

article by Michael Steffen

With the haystack of 2019 comes the needle of Michael Dickman’s fourth book of poems,
Days & Days, a renewal, extension and honing of the poet’s vision and craft quietly polarized,
as Franz Wright recognized, with “utmost gravity as well as a kind of cosmic wit.” Over again the poems’ speaker widens our look with surprising combinations salted with colloquial signatures—“shuvit in the gloxinia on the first try” (“Butterfly Days,” page 3).

While the whole assemblage of the book would seem to stand every traditional notion about poetry, language and sense on its head—which in itself isn’t new or radical in poetry—deeply familiar notes are sounded, beginning with the title and its evocation of a pastoral awareness—
I wanted to say “celebration”—of time, fulfilled by a preoccupation in the poems with nature, urban or suburban albeit, with trees and shrubs, flowers, (pieces of) grass, butterflies and butterflies, crape myrtles, pear blossoms, deer pellets, tea and test roses, fringed tulips, something dull in the bushes is that a rabbit?…

A normal juxtaposition of terms expects Days to be followed by & Nights. James Merrill had
a book of poems with that title. And so Days & Days strikes us also with a Kafkaesque sense of the technological day we live in and cannot turn off.

I picked up everything in the house & set it all back down just to

the left of the clicker (“Lakes Rivers Streams,” page 118)

If more classically it is Hesiod’s Works & Days we are just missing here, the title Days & Days becomes more burdened and ominous, especially in Dickman’s portrayal of time’s lapses.

These conditions somewhat give rise to and affirm Dickman’s alterity, especially his mincing and fizzling of our principle sources and signs:

Some sun above the day
a squiggly light that waits round or
scribbles over
a school of Radio Cabs
& bubble letters

A doe
A deer
A female deer

Traffic moves in
the leaves & then stops
to say hello (“Scribble,” page 9)

The overall arrangement of the book, meanwhile, reveals structuring, with four poems in the first section titled “The Poem Said,” a theme of roses, actual or otherwise, central to the second section (ROSE PARADE), and the third part of the book set in a long poem Dickman calls “Lakes Rivers Streams,” with a nod to John Ashbery The long poem coheres attentively though not laboriously by way of anaphor, repetitions of “The day” personified as subject, the odd use of “ditto” here and there, and an almost robo-linguistic reprising of “For instance.”

Generally, Dickman’s is language poetry, with an insistence on the preservation of the na├»ve spirit of creativeness, and on the necessary failure of correspondence between sign and thing, lest the correlative archons and tyranny of the day win us over.

I would go there right now
folded up in the silence of a maple tree in the front yard
A tiara
if I could get one leaf right
& sleep in air (“The Poem Said,” page 10)

Where meaning seems insistently to elude us, it sneaks back up on us…almost everywhere. To humanize the traffic in that last strophe with “& then stops/to say hello” is a keen deflation of the poet’s method and terms. It is a stroke of humor, humility and self-awareness, a sudden grin of friendliness from the alien and fugitive procedure and manner of Dickman’s elsewhere noted austerity.

From the onset of the collection, we know our ventures of personality are not made to a facile welcome on the horizon, with—

something else

more difficult to describe

a dustup
around a brown & orange aura
or Lorca’s flowers

The page under its poem’s heading “Butterfly Days” begins in paradox already with reference to an ending: “icing on a cake”—however associated with the residual or sticky, ceremonial, artificial. Icing. Beginning ending. Ending beginning. It is as odd and yet apt this book of copious near-handed wonders (“Neighbor dogs are kind & hunt balls to death”) should conclude with an embodied image of our foremost bearings of first things,

In the morning the kids come running down the stairs (“LRS,” page 121).

Days & Days
poems by Michael Dickman
is published by Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN 9780525655473 (hardcover)
available for $27.00