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Regional Reviews by Sarah Chantal Parro

Simon Says
Little Seer Productions

Also see Nancy's review of Oceanside

"As light exists in forms we cannot see, so do other aspects of our lives."

This line from Mat Schaffer's play Simon Says, directed by Myriam Cyr and presented by Little Seer Productions, pretty well sums up the themes and ideas Schaffer explores in his work: reincarnation, communicating with the dead, fate, and characters unearthing truths about themselves they did not know before, or had never thought to look for. The plot unfolds over the course of a single evening during a seance, in which skeptical Annie (Brianne Beatrice) seeks answers from a spirit called Simon, "channeled" by James (Anthony Goes) and studied by Professor Williston (Ken Baltin). The production itself is relatively small-housed in the black box-style Plaza Theatre at Boston Center for the Arts, and with just the three performers—but the space is used well. Dressed up as Williston's apartment, though crowded with stacks of filing boxes and piles of books in every corner, it actually feels large. The production's technical elements and the actors' skilled performances solidify the otherworldly atmosphere and make the story engaging and human.

The play, particularly the character of Professor Williston, clearly reflects the eclectic interests and talents of the playwright himself: Schaffer, among other things, has numerous writing credits as a food and restaurant critic and holds a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Mysticism, from Tufts. In one exchange in the play, Williston explains various objects scattered around his apartment—prayer beads blessed by the thirteenth Dalai Lama, figurines from Judea, tarot cards signed by Houdini. The most recent addition to this odd collection (which becomes significant to the plot) is a book titled "The Annotated Dead Sea Scrolls." These are good examples of Schaffer's use of details to round out his characters.

Baltin had a few verbal stumbles (like almost cutting off another actor's line or mis-saying his own) at the performance I attended, and it was slightly distracting, but happily it still worked for his character—the obsessive intellectual researching notions considered "heretical" by academic colleagues. Baltin's thirty years of Boston stage credits most recently include Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman (Lyric Stage Company) and Lord Capulet in Romeo and Juliet (Actors Shakespeare Project). Beatrice as Annie, the grief-stricken young widow who has come for the first one-on-one session with Simon, is earnest and very present on stage, playing both the wariness of a skeptic and the poignant emotion of someone trying to make sense of tragedy with talent and nuance. Beatrice, an Acting and Communication professor at Salem State University and Northern Essex Community College, recently appeared in North Shore Fish (Gloucester Stage), Almost Maine, and Rumors (Callan Studio Theater).

Goes spends more time as Simon than he does as James, and his performance certainly stands out—applying agile and intentional physicality, he shakes and spasms as the spirit settles in his body. Other times his movements call Andy Serkis' Gollum to mind, crouching and hopping and cocking his head to one side. Goes transitions between James and Simon smoothly, and his performance could almost be a one-man show. Goes holds an MFA in Acting from the University of Connecticut, and he has performed regionally with Connecticut Repertory Theatre, Foothills Theatre, and Fiddlehead Theatre, among others.

Simon Says runs through March 14th at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont Street. For tickets, visit SimonSaysThePlay.com or call 617-933-8600.



- Sarah Chantal Parro



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