Whether singing while manipulating a lascivious Muppet or while lying on his back center stage for most of two and a half hours, the versatile Savin Hill actor Phil Tayler, currently playing the lead in Moonbox Productions’ “Of Mice and Men,” is ending this year as he started it –starring in a well-received production of a play with a strong social message.
Equally at home in musicals and straight dramas, Tayler garnered kudos in April as the doomed title character in Moonbox’s revival of Adam Guettel’s 1996 musical “Floyd Collins,” based on a true 1925 tragedy about a cave-explorer trapped underground while a media circus exploded above him. BroadwayWorld.com said, “Tayler spends long stretches immobilized on a small ledge of the rock-like tiered set, but has no problem conveying the pain and frustration that Floyd feels. He is a strong singer and expresses a range of feelings from exuberance to despair in his songs.”
Tayler then spent most of May and June in the Lyric Stage’s hit revival of “Avenue Q,” the multiple Tony Award-winning Sesame Street-like musical satirizing the issues and anxieties of clueless young urban adults. Boston Edge raved, “For sheer laughs, go-for-broke energy and total puppet/human integration, Tayler wins the prize. Tayler’s characters have made chemistry with whoever else happens to be on stage.”
Currently, Tayler is back with Moonbox heading the cast of its first non-musical, Steinbeck’s own adaptation of his classic novel. The story follows two drifters, George (Tayler) and Lennie (Avenue Q co-star, Harry McEnerney V), trying to survive in Depression-era California. The pair have landed jobs on a ranch where it seems that their dream of earning enough money to buy their own place might finally come true. But Lennie’s dangerous simple-mindedness and propensity for getting into trouble threaten their hopes.
Though he admits having the typical performer’s “day job” as a bartender, the Boston Conservatory-educated Tayler says he’s always looking to stretch himself as an actor. “I pick shows based on roles that really push me.” In “Floyd Collins,” he had to sing a 17-minute aria while lying down. His next challenge will be Lyric Stage’s “Stones in His Pocke,” the hit Irish play in which he and one other actor share 15 characters between them.
Sharman Altshuler, Moonbox founder and producer, chose “Of Mice and Men” for its continuing significance. She felt that the play’s economic themes, as well as its observations on racism, sexism and social bias, remain potent.“In this era of economic hardship,” she says, “where issues of social inequality persist, audiences will find particular relevance and resonance with this Steinbeck classic.
Tayler, who plays the one healthy, stable character who keeps up the spirits of all the other men, each with his own disability, says he was drawn to show’s themes of acceptance and we’re-all-in-this-together hopefulness, “Friendship never needs to be explained.”
For each of its productions Moonbox donates to, and raises awareness about, a local nonprofit. Its first show, “Godspell,” benefited StreetSafe Boston, a gang-violence prevention and intervention program with centers in Grove Hall, Bowdoin Street/Geneva Avenue, and Morton/Norfolk Street. “Of Mice and Men” supports More Than Words, a nonprofit that empowers youth who are in foster care, court-involved, homeless and out of school through jobs at its bookstore and café.
Performances at the BCA Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., Boston, through December 22 are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m, Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For ticket and other information call 617-933-8600 or online at bostontheatrescene.com.