Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Best of Boston Theatre 2003"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi


"Happy New Year!"

These are my choices for the Best of Boston Theatre for 2003. Congratulations to the recipients!

Those passages in quotes come from my own reviews to be found in this web site.

Read on!

THE 2003 ADDISON AWARDS:

DRAMA:

Production: COLLECTED STORIES (Gloucester Stage Company). Written by Donald Margulies. Directed by Eric Engel. Cast: Nancy E. Carroll; Karin Webb. “If you were fortunate to attend a performance of Donald Margulies’ COLLECTED STORIES at the Gloucester Stage Company, you are that much closer to understanding what makes a writer tick. Mr. Margulies has written a witty, literate dramedy and director Eric Engel and two sterling actresses --- Nancy E. Carroll and Karin Webb --- did it up proud. “

Director: John Fogle (OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD; The Mugford Street Players). “As both director and designer, John Fogle has created a production as richly textured as, well, Mr. Keneally’s novel. On a spare, raked stage covered with an antique map of the southern hemisphere, two rust-red flights of stairs lead up to the gallows to climax in a crop of nooses --- a symbol of daily life hanging over the guilty and the not-so-blameless. However, Mr. Fogle builds his true scenery out of his actors: they group, they claw, they subdue and, most importantly, they ensemble (if such a verb exists).”

Actor: Richard McElvain (DUBLIN CAROL; Nora Theatre Company). Role: John. This was Richard McElvain’s third Conor McPherson play; to quote from his bio, Mr. McElvain “hopes Boston audiences are not too tired of seeing him play angst-ridden, middle-aged Irishmen…” “I, for one, am not --- he can portray an entire village of ‘em if they be as memorable as his current creation. … DUBLIN CAROL is a character turn and Mr. McElvain turns John over and over until he is well done, capturing a man who is immaculately scrubbed and dressed but shabby and threadbare within, who tries to be a hearty sage towards his own young assistant but shrivels in self-hatred when Mary, the symbol of his past, invades his barricaded world --- the world, ironically, of the dying and the dead.”

Actress: Janice Duclos (A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN). Role: Josie Hogan. “Ms. Duclos is not the giantess that Mr. O’Neill calls for; she is of medium build and fat (her bulk becomes her “freakishness”) but she loses her fatness when she steps into the arena. Ms. Duclos is young enough, warm enough and more than pretty enough to make many a Jim turn to her for comfort, and her playing is certainly relaxed and earthy enough (as a weird sort of compliment, I can picture this Josie matter-of-factly entering from an outhouse). Apart from her physical stature, there is nothing Epic in Josie as written; the Epic lies in the heart’s journey this ordinary, overlooked woman must take as she passes from reputed Magdalene to shanty Madonna. Ms. Duclos accomplishes this by giving her Josie a shy, pure center beneath a toughened skin, a purity that no amount of dirt, slops or stagnant water can pollute --- a friendly Josie. Having found her character’s center, Ms. Duclos ladens her portrayal with countless everyday details, actions and reactions without calling attention to her how’s and why’s (she is quite convincing in her farm chores) --- in the moonlight, these details fall away as she opens up to her own truths; in the pieta, she is transcended (though still keeping both dirty feet mentally on the ground). Listen, in the coming dawn, to how Ms. Duclos intones to [William] Damkoehler [as Phil Hogan], “Shut up! I’ll do the talking now”. Mr. O’Neill’s markings for this speech are “hard and bitter”, “grimly”, “with biting scorn”, “scathingly”. Ms. Duclos, cradling [Fred] Sullivan [as Jamie Tyrone], says her lines with a quiet authority that stops Phil in his tracks --- her Josie has passed through love’s fire; since she has forgiven her lover, she can now forgive her conniving but well-meaning father. That one line reading sounds like a vast, hushed chord and is but a hair of a very, very great performance.”

Featured/Supporting Actor: Noel Joseph Allain (BREATH OF KINGS, Shakespeare East). Roles: Prince Hal; Henry V. “Mr. Allain’s evolving prince, in his cups, in his armor and in his wooing, cries out to have all three HENRY productions built around him.”

Featured/Supporting Actress: Birgit Huppuch (HAYMARKET; Boston Playwrights’ Theatre / MONTICEL’; Boston Playwrights’ Theatre). Roles: Mary Catherine; Patsy Randolph. Like a crowing parent, I’m so pleased that Birgit Huppuch --- cool, petite and skeletal --- has grown into one of Boston’s accomplished young character actresses. In HAYMARKET, Ms. Huppuch was gravely touching as an Irish nurse mourning over her brother, killed in the Haymarket riot. In MONTICEL’, Ms. Huppuch played Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Patsy: “Patsy is a tricky role: she must jump from being ditzy to poignant to downright evil without any help from [playwright Russell] Lees; Ms. Huppuch and [director Wesley] Savick piece her into a dazzling, disturbing little creature, one so whacked-out by repression, the burden of decorum, and revulsion at her father’s choice of a bedmate that she is a walking powder keg waiting for the right match --- and bad-boy James [Hemings] provides the spark; I’m surprised she doesn’t burn down the plantation, afterwards (if MONTICEL’ is a satire, it could use more of this kind of wackiness instead of being so cold and stately, and to hell with facts). And now I would like to see Ms. Huppuch bloom in her next role, whatever it may be --- may she laugh, kick up her heels, sing, dance, be sexy, funny, whatever, as long as she is allowed to grow as an artist.”

COMEDY:

Production: THE CHEKHOV ONE-ACTS (Shakespeare & Company). Written by Anton Chekhov. Directed by Normi Noël. Cast: Susanna Apgar; Benjamin Carr; Mary Guzzy; Miles Herter; Bob Lohbauer; Diane Prusha; Spencer Trova. “Altogether, THE CHEKHOV ONE-ACTS is a delightful entertainment; they not only provide wonderful glimpses into the everyday world of 19th century Russia but pave the way for the mature Chekhov’s gentle, tragicomic vision. … The performing space of the Spring Lawn Theatre --- three adults long and two children wide --- is the perfect home to enjoy, in exquisite close-up, these little Comedies.”

Director: Normi Noël (THE CHEKHOV ONE-ACTS; Shakespeare & Company). “[Ms.] Noël stages [these little comedies] in period and has her actors play their Chekhov absolutely straight --- the hilarity of “The Celebration” and “The Brute” in particular comes from Ms. Noël & Company slowly, surely laying the ground for the Pay-Off, well-laden with detail (the audience simmers in merriment as they wait to boil over with laughter); when the maddened banker and clerk pursue their viragos, when widow and landowner propose to duel with pistols, their actions are sidesplitting yet perfectly logical.”

Actor: Jim Butterfield (ARCADIA; Arlington Friends of the Drama). Role: Bernard Nightingale. “I’ve been banging my drum for Mr. Butterfield from my very first scribble --- he has always been an actor worth watching but handed bits and pieces whenever he plays in Boston. (Small roles/small actors --- BAH!) Watching Mr. Butterfield in the substantial role of Bernard was a revelation (a brand new actor, just unwrapped!) and much of the evening’s fun lies in Mr. Butterfield clearly enjoying himself --- and who wouldn’t? Bernard gets to roar and whine, scamper and command, charm and antagonize, all in his Quest for Truth (a priceless moment: when Bernard learns that Lord Byron was indeed a guest at Sidley Park, he is reduced to a quivering, glassy-eyed mute; Hannah’s therapeutic kiss on the cheek revives him). On the page, Bernard comes off as elegant and flippant, with a day-glo taste in clothes; Mr. Butterfield, however, brings a wonderful burliness to his portrayal: here’s a fellow who will bellow at you over a pint, not snipe over a glass of sherry. (The actor’s silvery mane, neatly slicked back on his first entrance, takes on a character all its own the farther Bernard wades into the past.) … And it seems the farther Mr. Butterfield strays from Boston, the larger his roles become. Where must we go to see his Lear --- China?”

Actress: Julie Dapper (PRIVATE LIVES; The Theatre on the Hill). Role: Amanda Payne. “As Amanda, the feline half of a cocktail couple, divorced and falling in love again while honeymooning with their new spouses, Ms. Dapper was smart and trim, both in figure and in timing, poised between shady lady and elegant broad, china-fragile yet proving to be the stone, not the pitcher, in a knock-down lover’s quarrel.”

Featured/Supporting Actor: Ken Baltin (WAITING FOR GODOT, The New Repertory Company). Role: Pozzo. “What makes this production a GODOT to be cherished is Ken Baltin’s definitive Pozzo … here, Mr. Baltin blessedly infuses life, humor, flesh and blood --- i.e., THEATRE! --- into his cruel yet charming lion and ringmaster rolled up into one.”

Featured/Supporting Actress: Amber Gray (THE MISANTHROPE; Boston University). Role: Celimene. “Slight and feline, her shifting Celimene smiles and purrs and curls up in the production’s lap … when cornered, she pounces with wit as sharp as tiger claws. Ms. Gray’s maturing voice, clearly meant for Shakespeare, is so musically inflected and controlled that she makes verse the preferred mode of speech.”

MUSICAL:

Production (tie): PACIFIC OVERTURES (North Shore Musical Theatre). Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by John Weidman; additional material by Hugh Wheeler. Directed by Kent Gash; co-choreographed by Darren Lee and Francis Jue. Cast: Raul Arenas; Ronald M. Banks; Eric Bondoc; Billy Bustamante; Steve Eng; Natalie Gray; Mikio Hirata; Jason Ma; Allan Mangaser; Tony Marinyo; Alan Muraoka; Zany Pohlel; Randy Reyes; Erwin G. Urbi. “Well, what do you know: a Sondheim musical that I liked! --- PACIFIC OVERTURES, in a smashing production at the North Shore Music Theatre. Though it failed on Broadway during the Bicentennial (partly for its anti-American slant --- it was the cynical 70s, remember), this revue of the Western world invading and transforming Japan from the 1850s to the present broke new ground in its blending of Kabuki theatre and American showmanship; ground so new there is no other musical like it.”

and

Production (tie): TINTYPES (The Vokes Theatre). Conceived by Mary Kyte, with Mel Marvin and Gary Pearle. Directed and staged by Joanne Powers. Musical direction by Markus Hauck. Cast: Jim Ansart; Sarah Consentino; Tom Dinger; Yolanda Minor; Kaja Schuppert. “TINTYPES is a tune-filled panorama; a musical melting pot; the Great American Songbook come to life. It offers snapshots tintypes, if you will of America in its last Age of Innocence (the twenty years or so before World War I). There is no libretto per se --- the show being composed primarily of songs from the ragtime era … and the delight is doubled seeing TINTYPES nestled in the arms of the little Vokes Theatre, itself born in the same era (1904). Placed in a modern theatre and overly miked, TINTYPES might come off as cold and specimen-like; here, its very artificiality beautifully blends with the Voke’s gilt bow-knots over the proscenium arch, its front curtain of pastoral design, its side boxes and curving balcony, not to mention its yellowing photographs and programs that populate the walls as testimony to its illustrious past.”

Director/Choreographer: Rick Lombardo (SWEENEY TODD; New Repertory Theatre). “[T]he New Rep production is most excellent … and richly deserves the acclaim it has garnered and the awards it will reap … the trend nowadays is to scale down SWEENEY TODD as a chamber musical, which the New Rep production does, and does well on its tiny stage. I pay director Rick Lombardo the same compliment that I paid to Spiro Veloudos for last year’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS: I have now seen a near-perfect staging of a work I don’t care for and need seek no further.”

Actor and Actress (tie): Todd Alan Johnson and Nancy E. Carroll (SWEENEY TODD; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Sweeney Todd (Mr. Johnson); Mrs. Lovett (Ms. Carroll). “At year’s end, [Mr.] Johnson and [Ms.] Carroll will be acclaimed as 2003’s Theatre Couple, and rightly so; their seamless playing is a macabre delight (Macbeth and ‘is Missus); they are endlessly supportive in their give and take and are watchable even when not the focus of a scene. Mr. Johnson is blessed with a virile, seemingly inexhaustible baritone, and his burning eyes can light your way home … Ms. Carroll reads “small”, “frail”, “sparrow-like”; here, the sparrow has talons, not only to stay afloat in business but to hold onto the barber she worships. … Happily, she doesn’t cloy with the cutesy ditty “By the Sea” and supplies the necessary warmth for the unnecessary “Not While I’m Around”, which comes out of left field (the ogress suddenly has a beating heart!).”

and

Actress (tie): Nikki Boxer (ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY; Vokes Theatre). Role: Lily Garland. “Have you ever settled in for a pleasant night of community theatre only to find yourself perking up with someone who is damned good? If so, you’ll have an inkling as to Nikki Boxer’s impact as Lily: she is damned good and the show’s magnet that pulls all the parts together into a near-whole …. Sporting the era’s bleached hair and pencil-thin eyebrows, Ms. Boxer starts off deceptively drab but beginning with her first number, “Veronique”, she turns positively fizzy --- clever girl, her tongue’s been in her cheek all along --- and keeps bubbling to the end without a hint of Camp. … her firm, golden/silver voice easily meets the score’s demands and she know when to emote and when to tweak (fifty years ago she would have been the opera foil in Spike Jones’ orchestra). She is, simply, the most enjoyable newcomer I’ve seen in a long, long time …”

Featured/Supporting Actor: Neil A. Casey (WHEN PIGS FLY; Lyric Stage Company). Revue performance. “The undisputed delight of the evening is Neil A. Casey [who] shyly but primly dominates as the appointed pill of the troupe; his entrance as a beloved New York icon is priceless --- even touching, in these post-9/11 times.”

Featured/Supporting Actress: Montego Glover (COOKIN’ AT THE COOKERY; Huntington Stage Company). Various roles. “Ms. Glover is an astonishingly gifted young singer/dancer/protean actress, equally convincing in pigtails and in ripe womanhood, and she does a stunning impersonation of Louis Armstrong that brings down the house.”

DESIGN:

Sets/Costumes: David P. Gordon/Linda Cho (THE BLUE DEMON; The Huntington Stage Company). “2003 may have only just begun [this was written in January], but David P. Gordon has already designed one of the year’s loveliest sets, built from childhood dreams and storybooks: four gilded frames within frames, culminating in a burnished Arabian city against a Maxfield Parrish-blue sky and complimented by Linda Cho’s sumptuous costumes, which lend depth to the one-dimensional characters (when the Tailor’s evil wizard made his first slinky entrance, complete with a silver claw-forefinger, I thought, “Yes!” --- there was no other way he could have/would have been dressed).”

Lights: Karen Perlow (BETRAYAL; Nora Stage Company). Considering she worked in somber tones, Ms. Perlow brought a tone poem-range of color to Harold Pinter’s dance to the music of Time, in reverse.

SPECIAL CITATIONS:

BREATH OF KINGS (Shakespeare East). Created by Shawn Cody, based on Shakespeare’s Histories. Directed by Shawn Cody and Bill Barclay. Cast: Noel Joseph Allain; Bill Barclay; Shawn Cody; Kate Harrell; Carolyne Gallo; Christina Kappel; Curt Klump; Nelleke Morse; Ryan O’Toole; Sam Treadway. “Actor/co-director Shawn Cody has condensed the Bard’s sovereigns from Richard II to Henry VI into a chronological evening, concentrating on the Prince Hal/Falstaff/Henry V set pieces, with Henry VI as Chorus/Narrator throughout. …. Whether BREATH OF KINGS is an evolving work (it could use some trimming) or mere showcase is beside the point: Shakespeare lives and breathes through Mr. Cody & Company; not since the Tufts University production of ROMEO AND JULIET, two years ago, have I enjoyed an evening of Our Will so wholeheartedly.”

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Stoneham Theatre). Written by Charles Dickens; adapted, directed and designed by Troy Siebels. Cast: Diego Arciniegas; Elizabeth Asti; Shelley Bolman; Christopher Chew; Laura D. DeGiacomo; Brian De Lorenzo; Brian Goodell; Sarah Goodell; Shawn Hamel; Peter Edmund; Julie Jirousek; Joelle Kross; Katherine Lucas; Ellen Peterson; Katie Pickett; Dale Place; Thomas M. Reiff; Tony Rossi; Deirdre Shaw; Samantha Smith; Kathy St. George; Siobhan Stimpson; Shawn Sturnick. “The Stoneham Theatre’s annual production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL will easily prove to be one of the most joyous events of the newborn holiday season; it is certainly one of the loveliest, visually, aurally and just plain theatrically.”

THE FIRST ANNUAL BOSTON SONNET-THON (Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company). The Sonnets of William Shakespeare. Sonnet-Master: Jonathan Epstein. With: Lis Adams; Bob Antonelli; Kyla Astley; Peter Baylor; Edwin Beschler; Wendy Blom; Stephanie Blough; John Boller; Robert Bonotto; Doug Bowen-Flynn; Patrick J. Brennan; Jim Bride; Sue Brody; Shelley Brown; Lisa Burdick; Jessica Burke; Candace Burnham; Danielle Byrne; James Byrne; Mary Cappadona; Kate Carney; Betsy Clark; Arthur Comegno; John Conlon; Bridget Coulter; Tony Dangerfield; James Dargan; Laura DeCesare; Joe Dominguez; David Dooks; Lori Duschene; Linda Eknoian; Jonathan Epstein; Jeremiah Fleming; Leslie Fleming-Mitchell; Brenda Fraser; Jeffrey Gantz; Giselle Ganz; Joseph Gels; Daniel Gidron; Alexis Glikman; Anne Gottlieb; Sara Gozalo; Nitzan Halperin; Christine Hamel; Sonya Hamlin; Bernard Horn; Birgit Huppuch; Rob Isaacson; Matthew Jasiczek; Sarah Jones; Esther Kaplan; Erika Kates; Burt Kliman; Ayisha Knight; Michael Koran; Jennifer Kosloski; Emma Krane; Jennifer Lafleur; Susan Lamphier; Stephanie Marson Lee; Charles Linshaw; Marya Lowry; Marya Lowry; Ditta Lowy; Linda Lowy; Dev Luthra; Valerie Madden; Kat Malone; Julie Mann-Dooks; Sarah Maraniss; Rebecca Mason; Lida McGirr; Angela Meade; Annette Miller; Renee Miller; Marie Moran; Helen Moreschi; Robert D. Murphy; Bob Mussett; Chuck O'Toole; Joe Owens; Barbara Papesch; Kyle Parson; Marcia Perna; Beth Phillips; Marianne Phinney; Hank Portier; Christine Radice; Sonya Raye; Joel Reisman; Jordan Rich; Louisa Richards; Frederick Richardson; Jami Rogers; Ann Roman; Alicia Russo; Jose Santiago; Nanette Savides; Pasqua Scibelli; Mara Sidmore; Jonathan Silver; Mary Simmen; Suzie Sims-Fletcher; David Skeist; Martha Sosman; Jim Spencer; Gregory Stuart; Nafcote Tamirat; Richard Tenorio; Jackie Therieau; Alissa Thuotte; J. T. Turner; Robert Vega; Donald Watson; Cynthia Wegel; Harvey Weiner; Lindsay Weinhold; Elizabeth Wightman; Akilah Williams; Johanna Winer; Marco Zanelli. “The theatre event of the year took place at the Boston Public Library on a cold, wet April evening. There were no sets or costumes; the only props were books held in hand; the performers far outnumbered the audience; the readings ranged from ringing declamation to grade-school recital, along with the growing suspense of racing against the clock, for the Library closed at nine. Happily, the staff allowed the extra time needed to bring the evening to a proper close and after all had chanted the final line, “Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love,” nearly all of Shakespeare’s Sonnets had been read aloud at this, the First Annual Boston Sonnet-thon.”

FOLLIES IN CONCERT (Overture Productions). Book by James Goldman. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Produced originally on Broadway by Harold Prince. Presented by special arrangement by Cameron Macintosh. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Musical direction by Michael Joseph. Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins. Cast: Frank Aronson; Leigh Barrett; Stephanie Biernbaum; Mary Callanan; Len Cariou; Caroline DeLima; Paul D. Farwell; Frank Gayton; Kathy St. George; Liane Grasso; Josh Grisetti; Paula Markowicz; Barbara Morash; Brad D. Peloquin; Deb Poppel; Brent Reno; Bobbie Steinbach; Maryann Zschau. With: Jeanine Belcastro; Rachel Cantor; Kate DeLima; Robert DeVivo; Dan Giles; Heather Hannon; Jennifer Huth; Drew Poling; Sean F. Roper; Bill Stambaugh. Understudy for Mr. Cariou: Drew Poling. “[E]ven in its stripped-down form, FOLLIES remains a towering achievement.”

RYAN LANDRY & THE GOLD DUST ORPHANS, for their continued hilarity, growing artistry and endlessly inventive stagecraft.

I SEBASTIANI: THE GREATEST COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE TROUPE IN THE WORLD! Ensemble for 2003: Aaron Santos; Abigail Weiner; Alex Newman; Andy Kobayashi; Angela Kessler; Beth Kelly; Carl West; Catherine Crow; Chris Shannon; Jay Cross; Jean Monroe; Jennifer Kobayashi; Laura Conrad; Len Waxmane; Lynn Noel; Michael Bergman; Michael Moore; Michael Yoder; Molly Overholt; Myra Hope Bobbitt; Sue Delaney; Tanina Carrabotta. “If you love commedia dell ‘arte, then come. If you want to see where Shakespeare, Moliere and Goldoni drew some of their inspiration, then come. If you want to have a living, breathing theatre history lesson, then come. If you love theatre as theatre, then come.”

MEMORABLE PRODUCTIONS:

ARCADIA (Arlington Friends of the Drama). Written by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Dorothy Santos. CAST: Dayle Ballentine; Ben Bartolone; Iain Bason; Jim Butterfield; Jen Carli; Nadia Delemeny; Dan Gelinas; Don Hovey; John C. Hume; John Pease; Ernest Stevens; Amy Young. “Mr. Stoppard’s ARCADIA convinced me that childlike curiosity, true wit, humane intellect and mature delight have not entirely deserted today’s theatre nor even Man himself. … [Dorothy] Santos’ shrewdest coup was casting Dayle Ballentine and Jim Butterfield as Hannah and Bernard. Had Ms. Santos gone by the book, neither actor would have gotten in the door: Mr. Stoppard states that both researchers are in their late 30s; Ms. Ballentine and Mr. Butterfield, to be frank, are not. But there’s nothing in ACARDIA that says Hannah and Bernard must be of a certain age --- or of a certain nationality, for that matter. Ms. Santos trusted her instincts, cast two middle-aged actors as her Beatrice and Benedick, and her production is all the richer for it --- Ms. Ballentine and Mr. Butterfield are believable as battling colleagues, each a grudging admirer of the other --- and, aside from an eye-blinking proposition, Eros does not, need not tiptoe in with his arrows.”

BETRAYAL (The Nora Theatre Company). Written by Harold Pinter. Directed by Scott Edmiston. Cast: Jason Asprey; Anne Gottlieb; Joe Pacheco; Gregory Stuart. “Harold Pinter’s teasing, rueful comedy of manners, has been given a lovely production courtesy of The Nora Theatre Company --- brilliantly designed, lighted and sounded; carefully directed; nicely acted. … Is Mr. Edmiston’s production “British”? Answer: it is “British” enough --- the depths are, by and large, left unplumbed; still, it is a pleasure in and of itself to hear Mr. Edmiston’s conducting of this cool, cerebral score.”

THE BLUE DEMON (Huntington Stage Company). Written and directed by Darko Tresnjak. Music by Michael Friedman. CAST: Anna Belknap; Mehrea Blum; Michael Cohen; Paul Cortez; Darius de Haas; Gregory Derelian; Dara Fisher; Tom Flynn; Lauren Hatcher; Sean-Michael Hodge-Bowles; Roxana Hope; Kirk McDonald; Mariessa Portelance; Matt Ramsey; Benjamin Sands; Brian Sgambati; Tom Titone. Musicians: Gabriel Boyers; Gunnard Dobozé; Kareem Roustom; Mike Wiese. “I never dreamed I’d see it, but the Huntington has bared her midriff, wriggled up a storm and presented Boston with a spellbinding show: Darko Tresnjak’s THE BLUE DEMON. Who’d have thought the Old Girl had it in her? This DEMON is quite safe, mind you, both in content and presentation (the O. G. doesn’t drop ALL of her veils, but it’s the most satisfying and enjoyable show I’ve seen at the Huntington since … uh … uh ….”

BUTLEY (Huntington Theatre Company). Written by Simon Gray. Directed by Nicholas Martin. Cast: Benedick Bates; Allison Clear; Pamela J. Gray; Nathan Lane; Joe Lanza; Austin Lysy; Marguerite Stimpson; Angela Thornton; Jake Weber. Understudy to Mr. Lane: Jeremiah Kissel. “The Huntington Theatre Company has finally unwrapped its much-anticipated production of Simon Gray’s BUTLEY starring Broadway’s reigning clown Nathan Lane in the title role --- thanks to Mr. Lane, it’s a grand night at the theatre --- yet this delightful present points to a troubling future: will the growing roster of “name” actors coming to Boston result in a flood that will sweep more and more local actors off their own stages?”

CHAINED (Zeitgeist Stage Company). Written by Pearl Cleage. Directed and designed by David J. Miller. Cast: Naeemah A. White-Peppers. “Zeitgeist reaped near-silence for its production of BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE and is to be commended for continuing to take risks in a city where Black doesn’t sell … This CHAIN is a triple triumph: for Ms. Cleage, who accurately charts the workings of Rosa’s mind in all its adolescence, addiction and flickerings of maturity; for Naeemah A. White-Peppers for her portrayal of Rosa; and for Mr. Miller who has guided Ms. White-Peppers to her laurels (even the choice of theatres --- BCA’s intimate Black Box --- adds to the over-all effect: there are no barriers (physical or emotional) between Rosa and her audience; she’s right there, in your face.”

THE CHEKHOV ONE-ACTS (Shakespeare & Company). Written by Anton Chekhov. Directed by Normi Noël. Cast: Susanna Apgar; Benjamin Carr; Mary Guzzy; Miles Herter; Bob Lohbauer; Diane Prusha; Spencer Trova. “Altogether, THE CHEKHOV ONE-ACTS is a delightful entertainment; they not only provide wonderful glimpses into the everyday world of 19th century Russia but pave the way for the mature Chekhov’s gentle, tragicomic vision. … The performing space of the Spring Lawn Theatre --- three adults long and two children wide --- is the perfect home to enjoy, in exquisite close-up, these little Comedies.”

COOKIN’ AT THE COOKERY (Huntington Theatre Company). Written and directed by written and directed by Marion J. Caffey. Music arranged by Danny Holgate. Cast: Montego Glover; Ernestine Jackson. Musicians: Joe Battaglia; Darryl Ivey; Steve Skop; Pieter Struyk. “Describing a joyous night at the theatre is similar to describing a delicious meal or a heavenly orgasm: you simply have to be there. When a critic switches from the physical (the performance) to the cerebral (the review), the public is often given comic book explosives such as “Two Thumbs Up!” etc. Well, true joy can be found at the Huntington with its current production of COOKIN’ AT THE COOKERY (yes, that’s right: at the Huntington --- the Old Girl has got herself one hot little show!) and while I try to think up fresh clichés to describe it, you’d better reserve your tickets now cuz, honey, this celebration of Alberta Hunter, legendary blues and jazz singer, ain’t gonna be ‘round for long. “

FOOL FOR LOVE (Industrial Theatre). Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Maria Brandt. Cast: Ken Flott; Bill Doscher; Brian Platt; Jennifer Young. “You may not find a more moving, tormented love epic west of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE then that of May and Eddie, two drifters who can’t live together yet can’t live apart …. The Industrial production is no less wonderful than the play for director Maria Brandt has staged it to a “T”; I read the script before attending an Industrial performance and can vouch for Ms. Brandt’s faith (and trust) in Mr. Shepard’s intentions.”

A GIRL’S WAR (New Repertory Theatre). Written by Joyce Van Dyke. Directed by Rick Lombardo. Cast: Dan Domingues; Benjamin Evett; Katarina Morhacova; Mason Sand; Bobbi Steinbach. “[This play] is stunning proof that, yes, modern-day tragedy CAN be written, combining torn-from-today’s-headlines with timeless purging through pity and fear.”

HAYMARKET (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre). Written by Zayd Dohrn. Directed by Adam Zahler. Cast: Barlow Adamson; Ken Baltin; Peter Edmund Haydu; Birgit Huppuch; Jacqui Parker; Wesley Savick. “Less than a month after the closing of A GIRL’S WAR, a new work by a local playwright and done up proud by local artists, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre has proved that lightning can strike twice with B. U. graduate Zayd Dohrn’s HAYMARKET. …. By balancing the realistic and the presentational, the victims and the accused victimizers, by downplaying the sensational and concentrating on the individual, Mr. Dohrn gives a history lesson that is juicy and most theatrical … HAYMARKET could find a future with schools and universities as well as the general public --- provided, of course, they take this beautiful, troubling and very American play to their hearts.”

JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE & WELL & LIVING IN PARIS (Gloucester Stage Company). Production conception, English lyrics and additional material by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, based on Jacques Brel’s lyrics and commentary. Music by Jacques Brel. Directed by Scott Edmiston. Musical direction by Todd Gordon. Cast: Leigh Barrett; Caroline deLima; Drew Poling; Eric Rubb. “Earlier this year, Mr. Edmiston gave Boston a Pinter-perfect BETRAYAL in all its mysterious hush; now he demonstrates his versatility with twenty-four mini-dramas, each with its own shape and style. His staging is simple and delightful: each step, gesture and tableau is clever, exact and to the poignant or satiric point.”

MEMPHIS (North Shore Music Theatre). Book and lyrics by Joe DiPetro. Music, additional lyrics, vocal and dance arrangements by David Bryan, based on a concept by George W. George. Directed by Gabriel Barre. Choreographed by Todd L. Underwood. Musical direction by Galen Butler. Cast: J. Bernard Calloway; Montego Glover; Chad Kimball; Susan Mansur; David Piel; Wayne W. Pretlow. Ensemble: Randy Aaron; Edward M. Barker; Derrick Baskin; Anika Bobb; Catherine Carpenter; Kevin Covert; Kevin Duda; Frank Lawson; Neal Mayer; Jenelle Lynn Randall; Sarah Stiles; Stephan Stubbins; Nell Teare; Cynthia Thomas; Breanna Bradlee. “If you are unable to get tickets to HAIRSPRAY at the Colonial Theatre, then MEMPHIS, a world-premiere musical at the North Shore Music Theatre, is the next best thing. Should you attend both shows, you’ll see how indebted MEMPHIS is to its predecessor: both pay homage to the days of rhythm & blues giving way to rock ‘n’ roll, both deal with life in segregated times and both have rousing, toe-tapping scores. Jumping onboard the HAIRSPRAY bandwagon is not necessarily a bad thing if it will mean a return to musicals that have heart and tunes and are downright fun. (Remember fun?)”

MOLLY’S DREAM (Boston Theatre Works). Written by Maria Irene Fornés. Directed by Dani Snyder. Musical direction/composition by Adam W. Roberts. Sound design by K. Bud Durand. Cast: Erin Bell; Stephanie Biernbaum; Jessica Burke; Ozzie Carnan, Jr.; Brian Gallivan; Liz Hayes; Ginny Moore; David Rabinow. “A delightful one-hour surprise, Ms. Fornés’ surreal comedy/musical is the first in a new late-night performance series, BTW AFTER HOURS; who knows what Fate and/or Jason Southerland has in store down the road, but the series has gotten off to the best of starts.”

A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN (Trinity Repertory Company). Written by Eugene O’Neill. Directed by Amanda Dehnert. Cast: William Damkoehler; Janice Duclos; Andy Grotelueschen; Fred Sullivan, Jr.; Stephen Thorne. “Has any theatre company staged [LONG DAY’S JOURNEY IN NIGHT and A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN] back to back? If not, then Trinity Repertory Company should consider throwing its hat into the ring: I missed its 1995 production of JOURNEY but [this] MOON … deserves all laurels laid in its nocturnal path and offers what could be the year’s finest New England performance: Janice Duclos’ Josie, as round and glowing as the wat’ry star itself.”

ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (The Vokes Theatre). Book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Music by Cy Coleman. Directed by Donnie Baillargeon and Doug Sanders. Choreographed by Karen Burns. Musical direction by Markus Hauck. Cast: David Berti; Nikki Boxer; Richard Carey; Elaine Chow; Amy Demarco; Ken Hirschkind; Kathy Lague; Amy Mackay; Kimberly McClure; John Murtagh; Gordon Russell; Cheryl Salatino; Bill Spera; Brian Turner; David Wood. Chorus: Tom Dinger; David W. Frank; Kate Kisselstein; Melinda Mogel; Jennifer O’Brien; Bruce Tilley; Elizabeth Tustian; Phyllis Uloth; Jerry Weene; Erin Wood. Musicians: Mitch Cooper; José Delgado; Markus Hauck; Peter Hughes; Ririka Masuda; Sheldon Ross. “Vokes producer Donnie Baillargeon cuts his directorial teeth with this production, and he and co-director Doug Sanders have come up with Vokes’ third winner this year (following TINTYPES and THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE). Messrs. Baillargeon and Sanders clearly have great affection for this musical, supplying wonderfully nutty bits of business (especially who slaps who in the “She’s a Nut” number) and even managing to pad the paper-thin Oscar and Lily with a bit of flesh. Their ensemble, made up of all sizes and shapes, is not physically trained for farce, but their sincerity and own enjoyment of the C/G/C material is infectious and many of them have the proper period look and tone: David Berti is handsome and dashing enough to evoke Barrymore’s ghost; Richard Carey and David Wood lend their character faces (a nice way of saying “mugs”) to the roles of Oscar’s press agent and business manager; Brian Turner’s hambone actor is the show’s Raymond Massey, Kimberly McClure’s dotty evangelist is akin to Zasu Pitts, and Kathy Lague’s imperious diva could be Mary Wickes, resurrected.”

OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD (Mugford Street Players). Written by Timberlake Wertenbaker; adapted from the novel “The Playmaker” by Thomas Keneally. Produced, directed and designed by John Fogle. CAST: Jim Butterfield; Stephen Cooper; Janet Dauray; Lonnie Farmer; Bob Karish; Deborah Linehan; Dave Rich; Jim Robinson; Erik Rodenhiser; Carrie Russell; Sara Shea; Kevin Walker; Pauline Wright. “OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD’s life span is so limited that its opening night is practically its closing one. Performances may be few, but on the night I attended there were plenty of seats and they deserved to better filled. And why not? It’s one of the year’s best productions. … Earlier this year I bemoaned the fact that an excellent actor such as [Jim] Butterfield seems to find better, more deserving roles outside of Boston. Now I have seen Mr. Butterfield on his home turf --- he is a Mugford regular --- and am delighted to find him in equally excellent company. Nor would a play as harsh and uncompromising as OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD find a quick audience in our fair city. Therefore, Bostonians shouldn’t grumble when told that memorable theatre can be found outside the city limits --- especially when memorable theatre cannot easily come to them --- and for only a few performances, at that.”

PETE ‘N’ KEELY (Stoneham Theatre), by James Hindman. Original music by Patrick Brady. Original lyrics by Mark Waldrop. Directed and choreographed by Robert Jay Cronin. Musical direction by Timothy Evans. Cast: Christopher Chew; Kathy St. George. “Once upon a time, not so long ago, there lived a race of men and women with names like Frankie and Dino and Sammy and Tony and Wayne and Engelbert and Steve and Edie and Mitzi and Ann-Margaret, whose second skins were tuxedos or sequins, who sang and spoke in Lounge, and who could be sighted somewhere between Las Vegas and the Catskills. … If you wish to relive that glitzy era or to see what your ancestors deemed “entertainment”, you’ll find it in full flower in Stoneham Theatre’s wonderful production.”

SWEENEY TODD (New Repertory Theatre). Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler, from an adaptation by Christopher Bond. Directed and staged by Rick Lombardo. Musical direction by Janet Roma. Cast: Leigh Barrett; Nancy E. Carroll; Paul D. Farwell; Liane Grasso; Evan Harrington; Todd Alan Johnson; Austin Lesch; Bill Molnar; Brent Reno; Robert Zolli. Ensemble: Brian Abascal; Elizabeth Asti; Ben Bartolone; Shana Carr; Whitney Cohen; Tatjana Cornij; Christine Hamel; Jennifer Hazel; Naomi Gurt Lind; Shaina Murphy; Everett O’Neil; Drew Poling; Brian D. Wagner; Montroville C. Williams. “The New Rep production is most excellent … and richly deserves the acclaim it has garnered and the awards it will reap. The proof of Mr. Lombardo’s excellent cast is (1) their singing deserves to be preserved in a recording studio (yes, they are that good) and (2) they could also do full justice to [Christopher] Bond’s play.”

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HONORABLE MENTIONS:

THE BAD SEED (The Gold Dust Orphans). Based on the play by Maxwell Andeson. Directed by James P. Byrne. Cast: Afrodite; Winthrop Booth; James P. Byrne; Ryan Landry; P. J. McWhiskers; Scott Martino; Rick Park / David Handbury; Haylee Shrimpton. “[H]ow seriously should [the Orphans] take themselves as artists? … [T]heir BAD SEED has produced a hybrid --- part Camp, part Drama. At first, I was disappointed by the diminished number of belly laughs but I was soon fascinated by what the Orphans can do when they stop acting like tacky broads and start acting like actresses.”

BITS & PIECES (The Rough and Tumble Theatre). Original short works developed by Rough & Tumble Theatre. Directed by Dan Milstein. Cast: Kristin Baker; Chris Cook; Irene Daly; Tori Low; George Saulnier III. “The evening suddenly leapt into brilliance with “You Know Why You’re Here”, a man’s bittersweet reflections about an elusive woman he has secretly loved since adolescence and is now the best man at her wedding (the quirky yet poetic dialogue was supplied by playwright William Donnelly); amidst all the whimsy, here was a PLAY. Kristin Baker, a co-founder and Managing Director of the troupe, played the heroine in a wedding dress from teen years to altar which, hauntingly, took on a social significance: this woman has no other function in life but to be married off to whatever swain will claim her --- the fate of a debutante.”

I CAPITANI GEMELLARE, or THE TWIN CAPTAINS (I Sebastani, The Greatest Commedia Dell’arte Troupe in the Entire World). Scenario by Alex Newman, based on a 16th century Original. Directed by Alex Newman; assistant director: Chris Shannon. Cast: Mike Bergman; Tanina Carrabotta; Jay Cross; Cat Crow; Alex Newman; Aaron Santos; Len Waxmane; Abigail Weiner; Carl West; Mike Yoder. Musicians: Angela Kessler (recorder); Michael Moore (recorder). “As always, these zanies are great, great fun and if you have yet to experience them, then this show is a great place to start.”

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Boston University). Written by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Clay Hopper. Cast: Rod Jerome Brady; Emma Feinberg; Anna Frappaolo; Eric Gould; Lisa Grossman; Lauren Hatcher; Robyn LeVine; Brandon Murphy; Roberto Daniel Reyes; Alyssa Sahagian; Andrew Sneed. “[Mr. Hopper] presented CAT as Opera: lusty, leather-lunged opera that certainly blew the dust out of the corners; some of his singers --- yes, singers --- even sprayed each other in true diva/divo fashion with their foaming mouths. By finding the music in Mr. Williams’ words, Mr. Hopper and his cast found the characters and, thus, the drama. Given a longer run, these students would have settled into true give-and-take; what was trotted out on the night I attended was a good, solid recital, chockfull of soloists.”

CIRCLE (Zeitgeist Stage Company). Written by Suzanne Bachner. Directed and designed by David J. Miller. CAST: Mia Anderson; Danielle DiDio; Chris Loftus; Katarina Morhacova; Jim Spencer; Kevin Steinberg; Naeemah A. White-Peppers. Undressers: Jayk Gallagher; Oscar George; Chi Wright. “CIRCLE is not a deep play --- Ms. Bachner lacks [Arthur] Schnitzler’s insights and focuses more on whatever turns two people on; the proper Mr. Schnitzer would never have populated his stage with same-sex couplings, sado-masochism, cyber sex, and a strap-on dildo as Ms. Bachner has done --- the mirror she holds up to us comes straight from a carnival funhouse.”

THE CREDEAUX CANVAS (Zeitgeist Stage Company). Written by Keith Bunin. Directed and designed by David J. Miller. Cast: Chris Loftus; Renee Miller; Joshua Rollins; Naeemah A. White-Peppers. “[Zeitgeist’s] latest production, Keith Bunin’s THE CREDEAUX CANVAS, is not entirely successful but still worth seeing as it offers insights into the director/actor relationship --- especially when one of them is naked.”

THE CRUCIBLE (Salem Theatre Company). Written by Arthur Miller. Directed and designed by John Fogle. Cast: Erin Boyle; Jim Butterfield; Dianne Chalifour; Stephen Cooper; Victoria Engelmayer; Edgar Johns; Bob Karish; Julie Korzenik; Doreen Marquis; Doreen Marquis; Craig Owen; Jason Rabin; Janet Raskin; Dave Rich; James Robinson; Robert Stewart; Casey Sussman; Allie Theriault; Kevin Walker; Suzanne Wyman. “[Arthur] Miller would enjoy The Salem Theatre Company’s production of THE CRUCIBLE in this, their inaugural season: director John Fogle, assisted by artists, staff and volunteers from the North Shore area, comes up with some good, solid theatre and has staged it in the very town where THE CRUCIBLE’s action takes place --- how’s that for authenticity? “

THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE (The Vokes Theatre). Written by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by John Barrett. CAST: Jonathan Ashford; Evan Bernstein; David Berti; James Ewell Brown; John Chiachiaretta; Dave Dobson; Michael Donohue; Gregory Eburn; Sheila Kadra; Julie LaCivita; Robert Mackie; Kate Mahoney; Gregory Mattingly; Brian McDonald; Teri McDonald; Brian McNamara; D Schweppe; Melissa Sine; Cameron Wood; Grant Evans Wood. “[A] rousing melodrama with a candy surprise inside --- ironic comedy, bordering on farce … [t]o dwell on certain lines or bits would only weaken the fun; I’ll merely say that on the night I attended, the audience chuckled during Act One and positively roared during Act Two and this without much tweaking from [Mr.] Barrett, and absolutely no camping from his cast.”

DUBLIN CAROL (Nora Theatre Company). Written by Conor McPherson. Directed by Janet Morrison. Cast: Richard McElvain; Devon Jencks; Bryce Pinkham. “Mr. McPherson coolly but compassionately charts the mental terrain of an alcoholic, from John’s summing up of his marriage (“I thought of it like God has sent me a drink angel. Like I believed in God and he'd sent this to take care of me. And that she was confused because she didn't know why God has sent her.”) to his bleakly humorous step-by-step lecture on how to live with a monkey on your back.”

EVITA (Ogunquit Playhouse). Lyrics by Tim Rice; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Directed by Gordon Greenberg; choreographed by R. Kim Jordan; musical direction by Stephen Purdy. Cast: Julio Agustin; David Brummel; Felicia Finley; Claudia Kozinerl; John Whitney. Ensemble: Joan Bissell, Dieter Brommer, Jill Stacey Carlen, Rachel Cohen, Liz Donathan, Steve Geary, Colin Liander, Kevin B. McGlynn, Freddy Ramirez, Cayla Reddington, Christopher Regan, David Sattler, Timothy Shea, Jennifer Swiderski, Alana Thyng, Shorey Walker, Josh Young. “Gordon Greenberg and R. Kim Jordan served up a faithful production --- faithful in period but also, as far as I can tell, to Harold Prince’s original staging. … The Messrs. Greenberg and Jordan may not have contributed any new insights to Ms. Peron’s life but they did give their audiences EVITA as it should be.”

FIGHTING WORDS (QE2 Players). Written by Sunil Thomas Kuruvilla. Directed by Michael O’Halloran. Cast: Jennifer Barton Jones, Jennifer Burke, Julie Pummer. “Mr. Kuruvilla has written a cozy little comedy-drama, as cozy as Mrs. Davies’ kitchen must be on a cold winter’s night.”

THE GREAT GORGONZOLA (Actors Studio). Written by Donato Colucci. Cast: Donato Colucci; David Skeist. Directed by Mary Valentine King. “I cannot see why this delightful bit of fluff shouldn’t become an established favorite alongside SHEAR MADNESS and BLUE MAN GROUP; all it needs is an audience.”

THE GULLS (The Gold Dust Orphans). Written by Ryan Landry. Directed by James P. Byrne. Cast: Olive Another; Park Avenue; “Bam Bam” Berry; Richard “Hattie” Buckley; Penny Champayne; David “Goldilocks” Hanbury; Miller Highlife; Ryan Landry; Sara Lee; The Marsian; P. J. McWhiskers; Windsor Newton; Buck Schott; Lil’ Joe Shepard. “A minor entry in the Orphans’ canon but still worth seeing for their ingenious special effects.”

THE MISANTHROPE (Boston University Theatre). Written by Molière. Directed by Douglas Mercer. Written by Molière. Translated by Ranjit Bolt. Directed by Douglas Mercer. Cast: Carly Cioffi; Chris Frontiero; Lauren Graczyk; Amber Gray; Murisa Harba; Greg Hildreth; Barton Jones; Elizabeth Kiernan; Joe Lanza; Bennett Leak; Risher Reddick; Cordelia Reynolds; Edward Tournier. “Modern productions lean towards a somber, almost tragic, slant with Alceste as an anti-hero. Douglas Mercer sets his production in our own times --- substituting dance-club society for Molière’s court --- his interpretation (dark, decadent and a bit druggy) works surprisingly well --- his Alceste has good reason to bemoan what the world has become.”

MONTICEL’ (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre). Written by Russell Lees. Directed by Wesley Savick. Cast: Sharifa Johnson Atkins; Steven Barkhimer; Nigel Gore; Birgit Huppuch; Vincent E. Siders; Charles Weinstein. “Despite its flaws, MONTICEL’ is still worth seeing: Mr. Lees’ highly literate dialogue stings, amuses and thought-provokes; in the end, he reveals a stunning tableau, brutal and tender, that points out that history, after all, is composed of people; no more, no less --- had Mr. Lees only trusted his material, more!”

THE MRS. POTATOHEAD SHOW (Boston Center for the Arts). Written and performed by Margaret Ann Brady; Dorothy Dwyer; Lucy Holdstedt. “[T]hese zany gals deserve to become better known --- or, to continue the spud imagery, be covered in gravy.”

OKLAHOMA! (Turtle Lane Playhouse). Bbook and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Richard Rodgers; based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs. Original dances by Agnes de Mille. Directed by Jennifer Condon; choreographed by Patricia Strauss; musical direction by Paul Huberdeau. Cast: Lilly Bayrock; Nina Brosnan; Rick Copeland; Rick Copeland; Joseph Cullinane; Aimee Doherty; Jason Gaffney; Douglas Gerber; Zachary Hardy; Christpher Hawkins*; Jim Jordan; Rob Klimeczko; Eleni Kmiec; Sara Knight; Dena Landon; Louis Lourens*; Jennifer Markham; Will Morningstar; Tracy Nygard; Jennifer O’Brien; Ray O’Hare*; Michael Parsons*; Jessica Piehl; Mike Ryan; Jessica Schulman*; Kaja Schuppert*; Jessica Shulman; Melissa Sousa; James Tallach; Carrie Van Meter; Chuck Walsh. (* = alternate cast member) “To borrow a phrase from The Footlight Club, the Turtle Lane production is amateur, but not amateurish --- it may go “clunk” now and then but that in turn makes its delights all the sweeter: a comedy scene that is actually funny; a dance number that rightly deserves to be applauded, etc. Director Jennifer Condon and choreographer Patricia Strauss keep things simple which compliments the sincere, artless playing of their cast; unlike the “dark” OKLAHOMA! which recently appeared on Broadway, Ms. Condon’s only interpretive touch is to have Laurey wear overalls in Act One; otherwise, Americana rules right down to the last slat on Aunt Eller’s picket fence.“

ON RAFTERY’S HILL (Súgán Theatre Company). Written by Marina Carr. Directed by Eric Engel. Cast: Ciaran Crawford; John Haag; Emily Knapp; Melinda Lopez; John Morgan; Carmel O’Reilly; Shawn Sturnick. “‘Tis always a joy to hear a play from a new writer with a voice, where you sit up and actually listen to each line of his or her dialogue, savoring the words as sounds as well as tools of communication; the words keep the play afloat, even if its ship (i.e., the plot) goes down or a production doesn’t quite do it justice. Here, the playwright is Marina Carr; the play, ON RAFTERY’S HILL, in a New England premiere by the Súgán Theatre Company …. If you want to hear good stage dialogue in this electronic age --- meaty, earthy dialogue that sings --- you’ll find it aplenty ON RAFTERY’S HILL.”

POPE AND ANTI-POPE (Transitional Productions). Written and directed by Jeremy Goldstein. Cast: Richard Arum; T. J. Derham; Jonathan May; Taylor Shann; Christopher Walters; Jeremy Wang-Iverson; Evan Weinberg. “POPE AND ANTI-POPE is historical truth spun around like a plate on a stick: Urban VI, the newly-elected Pope in Rome (14th century), is shocked to discover that the French have defiantly elected a Pope of their own in Avignon --- Clement VII, who believes himself to be the Roman Emperor Caligula. Thus begins a chain of letters, where each Pope repeatedly requests that the other step down, and the fun begins: Urban is a prig, seething in his white cassock and skullcap; Clement is a Mamet slob in an Italian t-shirt; their back-and-forth banter are beautifully orchestrated --- piccolo and trombone. Their scribes become the next Popes in line --- Boniface IX and Benedict XIII; they are soon joined by three future Popes thanks to Mr. Goldstein’s clever condensing of time; Murder and Meyham become the order of the day --- and it’s plausible enough to be true, too.”

PRIVATE LIVES (The Theatre on the Hill) by Noel Coward. Directed and produced by Juliet Cunningham and Matthew Oliva. Cast: Peter Brown; Juliet Cunningham; Julie Dapper; Ann Marie King; Jesse Martin. “The Theatre on the Hill production was a rough diamond but what it lacked in polish it more than made up for in sincerity, the next best thing for an amateur company.”

REMUDA (Industrial Theatre) by William Donnelly. Directed by Heather McNamara. Cast: Ava Geffen ; James Henderson; Zac Springer. “Mr. Donnelly has captured the listlessness, the apathy of the younger generation (a sector of them, I should say), and he has done it gently and with a generous dose of quirky --- dare I say Absurdist? --- humor. … Heather McNamara brilliantly implodes with her direction of REMUDA, and her accomplishment is all the more impressive when you visualize Mr. Donnelly’s words on the page --- some directors would glance through his grunts and scratches, decide there’s nothing going on here, and toss it aside; Ms. McNamara, however, has gathered all the sounds together to create an anti-score for today’s ears; leisurely, but never flagging --- there may be little music to be heard, even in its arias, but I wasn’t bored for an instant. “

RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL (SpeakEasy Stage Company), book and lyrics by Joal Paley; music by Marvin Laird. Directed by Larry Coen. Cast: Margaret Ann Brady; Michelle Damigella; Andrea Lyman; Will McGarrahan; Kristen Parker; Kathy St. George. “There’s fun to be had at RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL; it may not be your tired businessman’s show, but a weary hairdresser will think it’s a hoot.”

DA SCHIAVA A PADRONA, or FROM SLAVE GIRL TO MISTRESS (I Sebastiani: The Greatest Commedia Dell’arte Troupe in the World!), by Jay Cross and Alex Newman, after a 17th century original . Directed by Alex Newman. Cast: Jay Cross; Cat Crow; Andy Kobayashi; Alex Newman; Aaron Santos; Abigail Weiner; Carl West. Musicians: Laura Conrad; Sue Delaney; Beth Kelly; Jean Monroe; Michael Yoder. “…the troupe’s bubbling good humor soon had me leaning forward, elbows on knees, enchanted, like a child at the circus --- especially when the performers are working without a net. …. What a wonderful introduction to the theatre, for children of all ages!”

THE SHAPE OF THINGS (SpeakEasy Stage Company) by Neil LaBute. Directed by Paul Melone. Cast: Walter Belenky; Tommy Day Carey; Stacy Fischer; Laura Latreille. “Conflict, of course, is the beating heart of drama --- one opponent, good or evil, must triumph over another --- but when one opponent slowly and systematically pulls the wings off another and we’re supposed to enjoy watching the victim squirm, that is when the playwright and I part company, no matter how well he writes his dialogue. … Having said all that, I must add that SpeakEasy has come up with an engaging production in spite of it all …”

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (The Footlight Club) by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Laura Shrader. Cast: Noël Armstrong; Angus Beasley; Brian Giacometti; Susan Harrington; Barbara Hunt; Rich Italiano; James Laing; Patty Lieber; Lorna McKenzie; John Mills; Mary O’Donnell; Donald Pinnelle. “Though she skimps on Mr. Williams’ poetry, Laura Schrader has directed and designed a good bread-and-butter evening, and she brings out all of the play’s humor (so often we forget that Mr. Williams can be funny). Her Blanche and Stanley may not sizzle when together … but whenever Blanche goes solo or pairs with Stella, this STREETCAR makes for engrossing, albeit one-sided, theatre.”

TEREUS IN FRAGMENTS (Animus Ensemble). A lost play of Sophocles, conceived by Ellen Seeling and Lisa Maurizio. Written by Lisa Maurizio. Directed by John Ambrosino. Cast: Kortney Adams; Uzo Aduba; Kyla Astley; Ilana Becker; Mike DiLoreto; Sarah Randall Hunt; Gretchen Knapp; Chloe Lara-Russack; Mercedes Lebrón; Chinasa Ogbuagu; Joye Thaller. Percussion: Elaine Fong. “Lisa Maurizio has fashioned a harsh but lovely blank-verse retelling (shifted so that the play belongs to Procne), and John Ambrosino has staged it between ancient and modern dance (a fine line, indeed). … this TEREUS has a hypnotic power; the leads may not wear masks and cothurni but the gestures, looks and intonations of Tragedy are firmly in place --- welcome to the birth of the Theatre!”

WAITING FOR GODOT (The New Repertory Theatre) by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Rick Lombardo. Cast: Ken Baltin; Gabe Goodman, John Kuntz ; Austin Pendleton; Bates Wilder. “A perfectly respectable production of an important play.”

WHEN PIGS FLY (Lyric Stage Company). Conceived by Howard Crabtree & Mark Waldrop. Sketches and lyrics by Mark Waldrop. Costume design by Howard Crabtree. Music by Dick Gallagher. Musical staging & additional choreography by Ilyse Robbins, based on original staging & choreography by Rob Ruggiero. Musical direction by Steven Bergman. Cast: Dan Bolton; Peter A. Carey; Neil A. Casey; Brian Robinson; Britton White. “This string of “gay” numbers and turns (some, fabulous; some, less so) … never, ever threatens --- judging by the audience’s nervous laughter, though, you’d think we’re in for a walk on the Wild Side. Fear not: PIGS is PIGS, as the saying goes.”

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MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES:

Ramona Alexander (BREATH, BOOM). Role: Jupiter. “The dazzler of the show is Ramona Alexander as Jupiter, Comet’s daughter. I had seen Ms. Alexander in last year’s deconstructed UNCLE TOM’S CABIN (Coyote Theatre) where she was a comical lab-coated voice of reason; here, she was decades younger, as feral and deadly as a cat out of hell --- the next generation. You’ll remember Ms. Alexander --- not only for her impact, but because that’s her photo on the Huntington posters and programs.”

Pascale Armand (PERICLES; American Repertory Theatre). Role: Marina. “While [Georgia] Hatzis shines on the screen as Diana; Pascale Armand, the Marina, glows upon the stage. This young actress has the most beautiful of voices: pure, bell-like and flowing in her declamation; she easily converts her lustful suitors to holier thoughts.”

Jonathan Ashford (THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE; Vokes Theatre). Role: Major Swindon. [see James Ewell Brown]

Dayle Ballentine (ARCADIA; Arlington Friends of the Drama). Role: Hannah Jarvis. [Ms. Ballentine’s] Hannah is less showy than [Jim] Butterfield’s Bernard … but Ms. Ballentine’s readings are reliably crisp, intelligent and to the academic point, though her fiery sword may not have burned as brightly had she anything less than Mr. Butterfield’s lion to brandish it against.”

Leigh Barrett (FOLLIES IN CONCERT; Overture Productions). Role: Sally Durant. “I continue to speak of Ms. Leigh’s sunshine; here, it is filtered as Indian summer’s slanting rays, revealing the character’s neurosis (an existence based on unrequited love) through warm, friendly desperation --- even Sally’s troubling exchanges with Buddy are gentle-edged --- that desperation comes to stunning full flower with “Losing My Mind”, one of the loveliest things Mr. Sondheim every wrote, and Ms. Barrett puts all torch songs to bed with her rendition. “

Leigh Barrett (JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE & WELL & LIVING IN PARIS). Revue performance. “This sunshiny singer-actress continues to impress whenever I have had the good fortune to see her…. Her natural high spirits make her sad songs even more memorable: when a dark cloud passes over the warming sun, how we long for it to smile on us again! Ms. Barrett, of course, stops the show by leading the others through the vertiginous “Carousel”, but her most treasured moment comes when she sits in a spot, shawl around her shoulders, to sing, as sweet and pure as spring water, “Marieke”.

Amy Barry (VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST; Boston Theatre Works). Various roles. “The lovely, sexy Amy Barry provides pure pop pleasure as a 60s go-go dancer writhing to Motown songs (she effectively hides her curves when playing a schoolmarm).”

Edwin Beschler (THE SEAGULL; Liberation! Films). Role: Sorin. “By keeping his movements to a minimum and concentrating on his character, Mr. Beschler was truly Chekhovian and in turn pointed up the hollowness of Ms. Davis’ vision.”

James Ewell Brown and Jonathan Ashford (THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE; Vokes Theatre). Roles: General Burgoyne (Mr. Brown); Major Swindon (Mr. Ashford). “[The Messrs. Brown and Ashford] are priceless as [they] turn a roughhewn courthouse into an Edwardian drawing room.”

Jim Butterfield (THE CRUCIBLE; Salem Theatre Company). Role: Deputy-Governor Danforth. “Though [Mr. Butterfield’s] stage persona is a solemn, even graven, one, I continue to be amazed at his range: he is chilling as Danforth, a crafty, merciless man wearing a mask of unenlightened authority --- Mr. Butterfield proves to be the spark in this CRUCIBLE’s tinderbox, igniting his fellow players into becoming an ensemble.”

Mary Callanan (FOLLIES IN CONCERT; Overture Productions). Role: Hattie Walker. “[Kathy] St. George’s delightful Solange, a petite chanteuse with built-in klieg lights, is pitted against Ms. Callanan’s warm, sexy orca of a Hattie who performs “Broadway Baby” without a trace of Camp (calling Mama Rose, further down the road….?).”

Nancy E. Carroll (COLLECTED STORIES; Gloucester Stage Company). Role: Ruth Steiner. “Whatever the odds are of an actor contributing two excellent performances in one year, Nancy Carroll has done it. This past spring she turned in what could be the year’s finest musical performance --- Mrs. Lovett in New Rep’s production of SWEENEY TODD --- crystal clear in her singing and declamation and well-poised between the comedic and the lethal. As Ruth, Ms. Carroll proved as equally at home in a writer’s body as she had been in a baker’s. To quote Max Beerbohm again on portraying writers, “Accustomed to express themselves through a medium wherein there is no place for gesture, or play of features, or modulation of the voice, they become peculiarly passive in their mode of conversation. Obliged in their work to dispense with such adventurous aids, they lose the power to use them in their off moments.” This Ms. Carroll did to perfection --- she had the presence, the authority to be undemonstrative yet shrewdly observant. In short, she was believable as a writer without even looking at that typewriter --- Ruth’s artistry is the guarded core of her being; what Lisa and the world see is merely the flesh wrapped around it. When Ruth becomes ill and her privacy has been invaded and her artistic core has shrunken, Ms. Carroll turns her as cold and as stark as a bone --- the lonely, embittered person is all that’s left. Mrs. Lovett would think twice before putting her on the menu….”

Christopher Chew (IT’S ALL TRUE; Lyric Stage Company). Role: Marc Blitzstein. “[Mr. Chew]’s tormented Blitzstein is a far, moving cry from his brute in SpeakEasy’s THE WILD PARTY…”

Christopher Chew (PETE ‘N’ KEELY; Stoneham Theatre). Role: Pete Bardell. “Pete and Keely are two tricky roles: their creators must be accomplished singers themselves, comfortable with all kinds of songs (save grand opera), and be believable as a long-term act. Relax: Christopher Chew and Kathy St. George play the battling pair and have never been better. … Mr. Chew --- his hair frozen in a permanent tidal wave --- is dashing enough to be handsome and pushes the envelope far enough to be pompous without becoming obnoxious (Mr. Chew has cornered the market on has-beens and losers; his smiling Pete is a hollow fellow beneath the raging hormones). Mr. Chew has the more powerful singing voice but the pint-sized Ms. St. George matches him with her most energetic performance yet (whatever she has for breakfast could send a rocket to the moon). I dubbed Ms. St. George ‘Rosalind Rustle’ when she appeared in RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL (where she gave a stunning glimpse of the Garland waiting to be freed); her Keely is cut from the same bustling cloth but bolstered with pockets of poignancy that could prove to be her true strength … Mr. Chew and Ms. St. George prove in this, the post-Sondheim age, that old material still works and works well --- it might even seem “new” again.”

Ellen Colton (BEYOND BELIEF, or Catholics are People, Too; Lyric Stage Company). Role: Alma. “I had only known [Ms.] Colton as the ditzy Mrs. Schubert in the long-running SHEAR MADNESS and was delighted with her dramatic as well as comedic gifts, especially when called upon to transform her Alma from a dum-dum into a woman of homespun sorrow right out of William Inge.”

Sarah Corey (MESHUGGAH-NUNS; Lyric Stage Company). Role: Sister Amnesia. “Ms. Corey [is] a true comic find with her demureness hiding a baby Merman beneath her folds.”

William Damkoehler (A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN; Trinity Repertory Company). Role: Phil Hogan. “As written, Phil Hogan is a grand old stereotype of the “Oirish” school, and Mr. Damkoehler has a grand old time a-playing him --- his Phil blusters loud and long but his heart is as sweet as the ice pond that his pigs are forever a-fouling.”

Gene Dante (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH; The Institute of Contemporary Art Theatre). Role: Hedwig. “The Axis production boasted a warm, seductive Hedwig from Gene Dante --- streetwise, yet alluring (an alley cat Dietrich), with a powerhouse of a voice that sounded as fresh at curtain call as it did upon his first entrance, and he was golden in his sardonic yet gentle monologues (an acting lesson on How to Work an Audience). Mr. Dante’s performance made me realize how theatrical a successful rock concert really is --- its singers need to have a sense of the dramatic, a presence, and plenty of bravura to get their music across --- and having a trained singing voice like Mr. Dante’s doesn’t hurt, either.”

Dan Domingues (A GIRL’S WAR; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Ilyas Alizade. “Twice this year I have seen Dan Domingues tackle Shakespeare where he was lyric but not yet vocally ripe; as the mercurial Ilyas, he is a revelation: part-boy, part-man, with a wild dog’s quickness and second sense --- and blessedly psychotic-free in his motives and actions! His artless posing for Mr. Evett’s photographer is a fleeting study in how even this young savage has been affected by American exploitation yet would never make it in the land of milk and honey.”

Victoria Engelmayer (THE CRUCIBLE; Salem Theatre Company). Role: Abigail Williams. “[Ms. Engelmayer’s] Abigail, is but a brat when around her Proctor; when pitted against Danvers in Scene Three, Ms. Engelmayer matches [Jim] Butterfield in steely cunning and leaves us with a harrowing portrait of Evil incarnate. “

Jonathan Epstein (MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING; Shakespeare & Company). Role: Dogberry. “[Mr.] Epstein’s Dogberry --- a blend of groundhog and Modern Major General --- is a grand, dignified characterization; those famous malaprops go hand in hand with Mr. Epstein’s halting, measured readings --- age, not illiteracy, is what propels his constable through the plot.”

Stacey Fischer (THE SHAPE OF THINGS; SpeakEasy Stage Company). Role: Jenny. “Stacy Fischer --- the adorable Katya in the Huntington production of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY --- is a beautiful foil to [Laura] Latreille’s Evelyn; a sweet, friendly minnow swimming with a shark.”

Thay Floyd (TOMMY; Berkshire Theatre Festival). Role: The Acid Queen. “Clad in an S&M harness and brandishing endless talons from which his/her customers sucked his/her poison, Mr. Floyd was sassy, slinky and outrageous --- Mr. Coseglia’s production was a smeared palette but Mr. Floyd, in his one number, was a sudden, vibrant splash of color.”

Brian Gallivan (MOLLY’S DREAM; Boston Theatre Works). Role: John. “A hilarious blend of John Wayne, Bela Lugosi and Elvis.”

Anne Gottlieb (ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA; Boston Theatre Works). Role: Cleopatra. “[Ms.] Gottlieb brilliantly imploded in the Nora’s acclaimed production of BETRAYAL, where I described her as “wine sipped before the fire as the snow rages outside”; as Cleopatra, she is good table wine, flowing freely. Her Serpent is not definitive --- there are still traces of her own salad days that keep her from being every inch a queen --- but she does not, to quote a well-known phrase, barge down the Nile and sink; on the contrary, she all but rows this production to shore single-handedly. All Cleopatras must have the oft-described sex appeal combined with a woman-in-love and a shrewd politician; Ms. Gottlieb has all this in embryo form (watch the way she curls her hand when offering it to be kissed); she even appears composed and in charge while wearing a pair of leopard-skin heels that a dragster would die for. Her voice --- warm, never cutting, not even in declamation --- is always a pleasure, but greater still is the pleasure of watching her moving through time and space; when Ms. Gottlieb appears in form-clinging white satin, her raven hair brushing her bare shoulders, you feel the poet stir within you (no vulgar pun intended) --- what a beautiful woman! How fortunate is Boston that she rises once again at curtain call!”

Anne Gottlieb (BETRAYAL; The Nora Theatre Company). Role: Emma. [see Joe Pacheco]

Jacqueline Gregg and Giselle Jones (NO NIGGERS, NO JEWS, NO DOGS; New Repertory Theatre). Roles: Mattie (Ms. Gregg); Joyce (Ms. Jones). “[The Mss. Gregg and Jones] are the beating heart of this production. I marvel at Ms. Gregg’s stamina; she is onstage most of the time, and Mattie is composed entirely of Big Moments, which [director Adam] Zahler has Ms. Gregg play to the rafters --- and she does so, gloriously. (If this were indeed an opera, Mattie would sing some gospel to proclaim her faith in her God --- both showstopper and character revelation.) Ms. Jones matches Ms. Gregg in intensity; her Joyce is the universal late-teen on the verge of womanhood, loving her mother but chafing under her benevolent dictatorship, and it is painful to watch her crack open when racial violence lands upon her own family.”

David “Goldilocks” Hanbury (THE GULLS; The Gold Dust Orphans). Role: Lydia Brenner. “Mr. Hanbury, who plays lascivious shrews and villains, throws open entire closets of previously untapped zaniness as Mitch’s mother, especially in her hilarious bedroom scene where she reveals the repressed emotions (and physical attributes) of her character (at the kitchen sink, she washes --- in succession --- a dish, a dish, a gull and a dish without batting an eye).”

Georgia Hatzis (PERICLES; American Repertory Theatre). Role: Diana (onscreen performance). “Ms. Hatzis’ noble face (sans makeup) is that of Klimt’s Pallas Athena but with tumbling hair, not a helmet, framing her; she is silently compelling even though she does little more than eye exercises, but if you ever sat through any of Garbo’s films just to gaze upon her monumental beauty, you will understand what my words cannot convey. (Ms. Hatzis was a charming Katherine in last summer’s production of HENRY V on the Commons but I never knew how stunning she is until seeing her now, in close-up. Screen: 1; Stage: 0.)”

James Henderson (REMUDA; Industrial Stage). Role: Craig. “As the long-lost children of Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, James Henderson (Craig) and Zac Springer (Keith) are marvelous. To praise one is to slight the other, for each actor has a different job to do --- and he does it well (they’re like two birds, really: Mr. Henderson with his staring owl’s face and open mouth, and Mr. Springer’s bantam, ever scratching and pecking for that elusive Worm of Truth). It’s a tricky thing for a young actor (or, for that matter, his playwright) to capture the malaise of his own generation sans fore- or hindsight; but Mr. Henderson has done it purely and simply sans imitation or caricature: his Craig, a bit of a “duh” at first acquaintance, grows more and more compelling by his remoteness --- he’s a smart young man who went out West, encountered a Void of sorts, and came back East to hide for the rest of his life. (Amusing, sort of, in one his age; sad, in someone much older.) Mr. Henderson is even convincing when it comes to Craig pulling rank over his younger brother; he may be a quiet soul, but you can’t uproot him. You could say that Mr. Henderson “takes” and Mr. Springer “gives” in their onstage rapport; indeed, Mr. Springer’s Keith wouldn’t be as effective were he handed anything less than Mr. Henderson’s monolith to bounce his ball against: all of Keith’s moods --- smart alecky; affectionate; irritated --- comes from his having an intractable big brother and, as little brothers tend to imitate their big ones, trotting after him into Ennui.”

Ernestine Jackson (COOKIN’ AT THE COOKERY; Huntington Stage Company). Role: Alberta Hunter. “Ms. Jackson, the show’s centerpiece, beautifully evokes Ms. Hunter in her golden years; though she herself is far from being in her eighties, Ms. Jackson captures the singer’s age, voice and mannerisms with uncanny accuracy while adding a younger woman’s vocal strength to such songs as “Handy Man”, “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” and Ms. Hunter’s own “Downhearted Blues” (but where is “You Can’t Tell the Difference In the Dark”?); she even suggests that Ms. Hunter was a damn good nurse, too. Ms. Jackson’s performance, in short, is one of the year’s Great Ones. Think: JOY.”

Julie Jirousek (IT’S ALL TRUE; Lyric Stage Company). Role: Olive Stanton. “[Ms.] Jirousek makes a warm, ordinary Olive, the Liza Doolittle to Welles’ Henry Higgins --- she almost made me forget the butterfly headdress she sported as Regan in New Rep’s KING LEAR over two years ago. Almost, that is --- some stage images remain indelible.”

Giselle Jones (NO NIGGERS, NO JEWS, NO DOGS). Role: Joyce. [see Jacqueline Gregg]

Chad Kimball (MEMPHIS; North Shore Music Theatre). Role: Huey Calhoun. “[Mr.] Kimball, a stocky, sandy-haired singer-actor, is impressive as the motor-mouth Huey, all moxie and redneck charm, though his resemblance to our current President might land him in DUBYA! THE MUSICAL! further down the road.”

Nathan Lane (BUTLEY; Huntington Theatre Company). Role: Ben Butley. “[A]t heart, Mr. Lane is a vaudevillian and more or less so is Ben Butley, a self-destructing English professor whose wife (Anne) and lover (Joey) leave him on the same afternoon for other men (it’s one of those tragicomic days, you see); though submerging himself in drink and despair, Butley plays his own mocking ringmaster to the end. … Mr. Lane makes his Butley a predictably loveable (though far from seedy) mess: here’s a fellow you can’t help liking but still must escape from lest he cunningly drag you down with him. … [he] subtly, steadily turns the character’s rants, taunts and one-upmanships into a growing cry from a sealed-up heart; this Butley doesn’t want to be abandoned and will do anything to hold onto his loved ones (who are also his audience) even if it means smashing them apart in the process (you’ll find yourself secretly rooting for him when he turns on a rival in a bravura, drunken monologue). Most importantly, Mr. Lane gives us a man who still dazzles even in his cups, showing what Anne and Joey saw in Butley in the first place and how their leaving him is both a wise move and a foolish one --- Anne plans to marry the dullest man in town; Joey is moving in with a controlling butch bastard (in an interesting twist, Butley left Joey for Anne in the past, not the traditional other way around). According to the Boston Globe, this production … is not bound for Broadway and so, fellow Bostonians, for these next few weeks, Mr. Lane and his creation are ours, all ours.”

Laura Latreille (THE SHAPE OF THINGS; SpeakEasy Stage Company). Role: Evelyn. “I last saw Laura Latreille in SHEL’S SHORTS over at the now-defunct Market Theater (greatly missed) and I read with mixed feelings that it was the last show she had appeared in. I was glad because I haven’t missed her in anything, yet saddened because an entire year has gone by without Boston being treated to an appearance by this engaging actress. Ms. Latreille was in the aforementioned BASH and turned in one of that year’s finest performances as the Woman who kills her son in a macabre homage to Medea. I hope that her beguiling yet witchlike Evelyn doesn’t cause Ms. Latreille to become known as a LaBute actress --- she would be painting herself into a rather steely corner if she did. (When she takes to the podium, Ms. Latreille unwraps a declaiming voice that would make any Portia proud.)”

Robyn LeVine (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF; Boston University). Role: Maggie. “This CAT’s delightful surprise was Robyn LeVine as Maggie. When I saw the two names linked together in the program, I first thought of her Zlata in NECESSARY TARGETS, all tightened hair and tightened face; Zlata quickly retired when Ms. LeVine strode on as Maggie: “Cat?” No. “Panther”. Here was the Life Force personified; warm, fierce, purring, convincingly white-trashy --- and with an excellent figure, to boot. (Her raven hair, curled but lank, suggested that the scorching heat was unraveling it.) Ms. LeVine is not conventionally beautiful --- her features, as well as her acting style, is sharp; hawk-like --- but Cat and Robyn joined forces here and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her/them; as excellent as Mr. Murphy’s Big Daddy may have been, this Maggie was sorely missed during that long Act Two --- this jealous woman who “queered” Brick and Skipper’s friendship and seduced the latter to prove he was a man…. Go figure.”

Scott Martino (THE BAD SEED; The Gold Dust Orphans). Role: Mrs. Daigle. “Scott Martino, playing Mrs. Daigle, the drunken mother of one of Rhoda’s victims, stops the show cold in its tracks by giving a PERFORMANCE, regardless of gender. Mr. Martino is funny and tragic exactly where the script requires him to be --- there is little camping here --- the snickers from the audience soon give way to silence: the Ramrod audience is actually LISTENING and at the end of his two scenes, Mr. Martino is followed offstage by ringing applause --- and this for playing Mrs. Daigle (*ahem*) “straight”.”

Rebecca Frost Mayer (COMPANY; Boston University). Role: Joanne. “The evening belonged to tall, statuesque Rebecca Frost Mayer: first, for her simple but snappy choreography --- especially in the Andrew Sisters-like “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” and the vaudeville turn “Side by Side by Side”, where the cast of all shapes and sizes stepped forth one by one to demonstrate his or her twinkle toes (the solo “Tick Tock” dance disappointed, though: what should have symbolized the erotic bed-voyage that Bobby takes with the stewardess April became diluted Fosse --- all slinks and wriggles); second, as the caustic Joanne, stopping the show cold with that anti-torch song, “The Ladies Who Lunch” and being riveting in her every movement, glance and inflection --- quite the Classy Broad. If you saw her quiet, glassy-eyed stare just before she shocks Bobby with her own proposition, you will agree that Ms. Mayer can convey volumes with few words. May she not be doomed to forever play only Camps and Bitches.”

Will McGarrahan (A CLASS ACT; SpeakEasy Stage Company). Role: Michael Bennett. “[Mr.] McGarrahan makes a dazzling, Pan-like Michael Bennett.”

Lorna McKenzie (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE; Foolight Club). Role: Blance DuBois. “When Lorna McKenzie first entered as Blanche, I jotted down “And Toto, too!” because her hairstyle and chirpy manner resemble Billie Burke’s Glinda in THE WIZARD OF OZ, but Ms. McKenzie proceeded to win me over with her interpretation: her Blanche is not an hysterical old maid but a petted and pampered child still dependent upon the flatteries and attentions not of particular men but, rather, Man in general. Her restless fingering of Stanley, Mitch and the Young Collector may startle at first but soon makes perfect sense: not only does it lend credence to Blanche’s reputed nymphomania, but since her little girl is looking for the security of a daddy’s lap and her habit to flirt is so in-grained, she has fallen into beds she has unwittingly made up for herself (this is an astonishing innocent Blanche; even her lies come off as truths to her). Ms. McKenzie may strike some as playing only on the surface, all chatter and dash (I, too, would have preferred some deepening of the character), but in the end her playing rings true: that calm surface is the false serenity of a slowly turning whirlpool; this Blanche may have separated mind from body to survive the sordidness she has passed through but she is floating towards her destruction all the same. Prior to her rape, cowering against a wall, her child’s terror is truly harrowing --- she has met the “executioner” she herself has appointed --- and her breakdown is swift and sudden because she has finally reached the whirlpool’s center and is instantly sucked down. Mr. Williams might have wept at Ms. McKenzie’s achievement, seeing her not so much as Blanche but, rather, as his own beloved, tragic sister.”

Renee Miller (THE CREDEAUX CANVAS; Zeitgeist Stage Company). Role: Tess. As the not-so-gullible art collector, Ms. Miller was very, very fine.

Maria Monakhova (THE LANGUAGE OF KISSES; Basement on the Hill Stage). Role: Zan. “….a handsome tragedienne who uses her low voice, wide eyes and heart-shaped face to give lessons in the lost art of Suffering (one reason why we have no tragedies today is that the American public wants victors, not victims). …. Ms. Monakhova, Russian-born and Russian-trained, plays directly from the heart --- if she does goes over the top, her audience never titters. Bernhardt must have been like this….”

Laura Napoli (MY LIFE WITH THE KRINGLE KULT; Boston Theatre Works). Role: Twinkle Kringle (Ms. Napoli). “Two cherished clowns, Laura Napoli and Rick Park, gave [John] Kuntz invaluable support though slim, petite Ms. Napoli more or less reprised her wind-up-toy from last year’s EPIC PROPORTIONS and the hilarious Mr. Park gave us more frumpy, dumpy broads a la SPIKED EGGNOG II; Ms. Napoli’s perfectly proportioned physique, viewed through a red negligee, was visual proof that she is meant to play flesh-and-blood women and not just men’s travesties of them; looking and acting like Fred Flintstone in drag, Mr. Park can best be described as “delicately crass” --- his timing and facial expressions were truly Genius-worthy.”

Carmel O’Reilly (ON RAFTERY’S HILL; Súgán Theatre Company). Role: Shalome Raftery. “[Ms.] O’Reilly is a beautiful, beautiful Shalome, all cobwebs and dreams (if she needs a signature tune, it would be Offenbach’s Barcarolle, played on a harp) --- her final image, appearing in Sorrell’s wedding dress, now torn and muddy, defines Tragicomic (“How funny; how sad;” you will murmur).”

Joe Pacheco and Anne Gottlieb (BETRAYAL; The Nora Theatre Company). Roles: Jerry (Mr. Pacheco); Emma (Ms. Gottlieb). “Anne Gottlieb is, as always, handsome to gaze upon; her brooding yet passionate Emma is wine sipped before the fire as the snow rages outside. Joe Pacheco is a pleasing light comedian; Jerry’s utterances land catlike on their feet. To watch them perform together is to watch Schnitzler’s REIGEN, but with two people who are different each time: to continue the wine motif, Ms. Gottlieb’s Emma starts off as the sediment at the bottom of the bottle and finishes, in unforgettable red, as the unplucked grape; Mr. Pacheco begins as flat champagne and is positively fizzy at play’s end. (They are also subtly adept at turning back the clock.)”

Rick Park (MY LIFE WITH THE KRINGLE KULT; Boston Theatre Works). Roles: Baroness Tinsel Von Shatzdoodle; Page Turner; Mitzi. [see Laura Napoli]

Stephen Pelinski (LADY WITH A LAPDOG; American Repertory Theatre). Role: Dmitry Gurov. “[Mr.] Pelinski, a long-time member of The Guthrie Theatre, is more than good --- he may even be great with a presence, a purring, velvety voice, creative intelligence and a rumpled handsomeness ideal for everyday rakes or cads. He may be great not because his Gurov is a memorable creation --- it isn’t; [director Kamas] Ginkas has seen to that --- but because Mr. Pelinski, impeccably trained, has adjusted himself to the mechanical demands placed upon him. … A Gurov as screechy as [Elizabeth] Waterston’s Anna or as asinine as those clowns would have the intermission-less audience walking out right under their noses; Mr. Pelinski, with his warm human-ness, keeps you in your seat (think of a Schnitzler character dropped into Beckett-land); there is a long, bravura passage when Ms. Waterston blessedly leaves the stage and the clowns are kept to a minimum and Mr. Pelinski comes damned close to making Mr. Ginkas’ concept work: is this a portrait of a proud, arrogant man breaking down, deconstructing, due to the power of love? Whatever the motive, Mr. Pelinski skillfully sings a disjointed aria where the sounds, not the words, reveal the man’s soul --- or, rather, where the man’s soul would be. A most impressive achievement --- and the triumph is Mr. Pelinski’s alone; on the night I attended, the applause heartily increased in volume when he stepped forth to take his well-deserved bows. Audiences may not “get” this LADY, but they know when an actor is doing his job and doing it well --- what an unforgettable Gurov he would be with a more sympathetic master!”

Kaja Schuppert (OKLAHOMA!; The Turtle Lane Playhouse). Role: Laurey (alternate cast member). “Ms. Schuppert pared down her sophistication to create a creditable, likeable prairie girl, blended with enough radiant smiles to light up a cornfield; no wonder Curly and Judd fought over her throughout the evening. Though she can deliver the necessary razzmatazz, Ms. Schuppert's smaller actions are what linger in the memory: imitating a rival’s affected giggle or flinching and folding up when Jud Fry tries to kiss her. Happily, there are enough old-fashioned musicals around so Ms. Schuppert may never need to belt an anthem --- what goes around, comes around; should NEW old-fashioned musicals become the norm (and they seem to be, slowly but surely), Ms. Schuppert will be there to sing them. She is definitely a star in the making.”

Zac Springer (REMUDA; Industrial Stage). Role: Keith. [see James Henderson]

Kathy St. George (FOLLIES IN CONCERT; Overture Productions). Role: Solange LaFitte. [see Mary Callanan]

Kathy St. George (PETE ‘N’ KEELY; Stoneham Theatre). Role: Keely Stevens. [see Christopher Chew; PETE ‘N’ KEELY entry]

Kathy St. George (RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL; SpeakEasy Stage Company). Role: Judy Denmark. “Ms. St. George owns the most precious moment of the evening: as the talentless mother who realizes she has boffo genes in her after all, Ms. St. George ends Act One by transforming herself into a beloved gay icon down to the last twitching mannerism; her impersonation lends a few heartbeats to the broadsides because they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

Bobbi Steinbach (A GIRL’S WAR; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Arshauluis Sarkisian. “[Ms. Steinbach’s] recent prison guard in BTW’s COYOTE ON A FENCE gave a hint of how tough Ms. Steinbach can be; here, she is the crying, stony ground itself (that familiar, quivering voice has been ironed out and deepened to a dark, hollow tone). This is a great, lived-in performance --- one you can almost smell; Ms. Steinbach has many future portrayals hidden in her but hurry now, hurry to the New Rep before she dismantles this one; should she continue in this epic vein, next stop: Mother Courage. Maybe, even Lear --- and I’m only half-joking.”

Kevin Steinberg (CIRCLE; Zeitgeist Stage Company). Role: Phil. “[Mr.] Steinberg is a loveable Phil (sporting a ‘do that must be seen to be believed)….”

Shawn Sturnick (ON RAFTERY’S HILL; Súgán Theatre Company). Role: Ded Raftery. “Mr. Sturnick has a still, radiant purity about him that can be fine-tuned to suggest either the angelic (as was his Edgar in New Rep’s KING LEAR) or not-so-angelic (the incestuous brother in Coyote’s THE HOUSE OF YES). … Here, his Ded is more scarecrow than man, his clothing soiled but not his gentle, tormented soul, his mother’s violin and bow clutched in fingers that barely protrude from the sleeves of his moth-eaten sweater; his matted hair framing two blue eyes as deep and as vacant as the sky.”

Karin Webb (COLLECTED STORIES; Gloucester Stage Company). Role: Lisa Morrison. “[Ms.] Webb’s Lisa was no less convincing a writer in infancy than [Nancy E.] Carroll’s Ruth in maturity; her artistic core little more than a seed; her flesh, still dominating. (Ah, but how subtly Ms. Webb changed all that!) During intermission, I overheard two women discussing the first act; one woman said, “The Lisa in New York was far more ruthless.” Apples and oranges, of course, but casting the cuddly Ms. Webb blurred the issues in the right way and balanced the debate --- Ms. Webb’s Lisa was not evil but self-absorbed, a combination of green heart and troubled childhood; of testing the waters and then boldly plunging in; she might indeed have been acting out of innocence --- like, if there’s something to write about, why not write it? A hard, knowing Lisa would have gotten nowhere with Ms. Carroll’s eagle-eyed Ruth --- Ms. Webb’s Lisa, however, went far with her artless charm and the tragedy was all the more heartbreaking for it. “

Carl West (DA SCHIAVA A PADRONA, or FROM SLAVE GIRL TO MISTRESS; I Sebastiani: The Greatest Commedia Dell’arte Troupe in the World!) Role: Pantalone. [Mr.] West stands out as Pantalone, taking one’s breath away with his first (masked) entrance the brown, lined face with the hooked nose; the white nursery cap; the striped stockings and yellow slippers; the purse as a codpiece. When Mr. West --- a strapping young(ish) man --- advanced in a flat-footed mince, bickering like an old hen, his tongue darting here and there, the centuries fell away and I relaxed; the evening was going to “work”.

Naeemah A. White-Peppers (CHAIN; Zeitgeist Stage Company). Role: Rosa Jenkins. “CHAIN is the third collaboration between Mr. Miller and Ms. White-Peppers; by now they know each other’s skins, so to speak. A white director has directed a black actress in a play about crack addiction in Harlem written by a black playwright. It is beautiful to watch Ms. White-Peppers perform, knowing her Rosa was born from a mutual trust between these two artists: for Mr. Miller, to know when to let Ms. White-Peppers go where his own skin color bars him; for Ms. White-Peppers, to know Mr. Miller is there to temper and bring out the best in her (she is a “gut” actress), which closes a circle of my own: last year, when I reviewed Coyote Theatre’s production of THE HOUSE OF YES, I stressed the importance of allowing repertory theatres to flourish so that artists can put down roots and grow in a mutually supportive, (semi)permanent environment instead of drifting hither and yon. CHAIN would not be as memorable if Mr. Miller and Ms. White-Peppers had just met --- there are roots on that raked stage --- a true collaboration --- and may those roots strengthen to fight the cold winds they (and Zeitgeist) face in the future. “

John Whitney (EVITA; Ogunquit Playhouse). Role: Magaldi. “Short, rotund and in rousing tenor voice for “On This Night of a Thousand Stars”, Mr. Whitney embodied every would-be lounge lizard that wows ‘em in the provinces but flounders in the Big Time --- a classic example of how casting against type can automatically deepen characters only sketched in by their creators.”

Grand Evans Wood (THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE; Vokes Theatre). Role: Dick Dudgeon. “[Mr. Wood] contributes a brisk, deadpan Dick Dudgeon with timing one could set a clock to.”

Jennifer Young (FOOL FOR LOVE; Industrial Theatre). Role: May. “[Ms. Young’s] desert Sieglinde is as hard as wind-sculpted rock yet ever on the verge of collapse when Eddie draws near, and her black slip/red dress combo is so doggone RIGHT.”

Maryann Zschau (FOLLIES IN CONCERT; Overture Productions). Role: Phyllis Rogers Stone. “Ms. Zschau’s Phyllis is more the Hostess with the Mostes’ than a Showgirl turned to Snowgirl but is great fun, anyway; brass seems to be Ms. Zschau’s natural metal --- here, it runs from the molten (“Could I Leave You?”) to the burnished (“The Ballad of Lucy and Jessie”). [Leigh] Barrett provides the poignancy [as Sally]; Ms. Zschau hands out the nostalgia: her singing voice/style is a wonderful throwback to the slick, brash Broadway cast recordings from the 40s to the 60s (I would love to hear her deliver “When the Tall Man Talks” from WHOOP-UP or the title song from I HAD A BALL).”

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MOMENTS (Good, Bad or Otherwise):

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (Boston Theatre Works). The way Anne Gottlieb’s Cleopatra curled her palm when offering it to be kissed. (And those leopard-skin shoes --- a fashion “no-no”.)

BITS & PIECES (The Rough and Tumble Theatre). “The more clever sketches had several performers truly coming at you in bits and pieces: in “Day of the Giant Red Things” two hands, creeping about in a toy theatre like pink spiders, squabbled over balls that rolled across their paths; and in “That *@!%ing Hand Is Back”, one of the hands returned to feed and torment two gibbering heads balanced on a counter.”

THE BLUE DEMON (Huntington Stage Company). “…the beginning of the play with a concubine coming down the aisle, silencing the audience as she makes her way to recline onstage; Scherherazade’s opening monologue, done as a timeless echo thanks to an unseen throat mike; the pop-up menace of the ever-present Guards and Executioner; the literally on-again, off-again seduction scene between Wife and Wizard; the suspicious Husband trying on the enchanted dress himself and uttering a tomcat growl for its evil genius; the goat-like bleats from the musicians during a comic chase scene, complete with three rabbis; the Wizard’s swift punishment for his wickedness; the Scrivener’s Princess, introduced as a series of puppets as she grows and shrinks through the Prince’s love and ending with her moving little death; a red-haired siren turning into a terrifying witch; the Muslim’s Last Virgin transforming herself from mouse to bump-and-grind vixen; the appearance of the Dragon, right out of a morality play.”

BREATH OF KINGS (Shakespeare East). “Images? Yes --- and they are all Shakespeare’s, vivid and ripe, without being updated and made “accessible”. To witness the Messrs. Barclay and Allain’s estranged father and son, or the Messrs. Allain and Cody’s princes giving respectful greetings before battling to the death, or the rollicking comedy of tavern scenes, or the affected haughtiness of the French court, or the epic battles suggested with a handful of actors, or the sad hanging of Bardolf, or the bilingual wooing of Katherine is to stand, uh, sit amazed at the timelessness and scope of Shakespeare’s artistry; I recently scribbled that Shakespeare works best when his heart is pumping warm, not cold, blood; after attending BREATH OF KINGS, I can happily rest my case --- I have seen practiced what I have preached. Please, sir, I want some more.”

BUTLEY (Huntington Stage Company). When Butley turns on a romantic rival in a drunken, bravura monologue.

CHAIN (Zeitgeist Stage Company). When Rosa rolls her name on her tongue as her sort-of boyfriend says it: “Rrrrrrrrrrrrrosa….”

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Stoneham Repertory Theatre). “There are unforgettable moments, done with [Troy] Siebel’s own apparent love for Victorian stagecraft: Marley’s ghost, glowing greenly through Scrooge’s front door; the little PING! that an engagement ring makes when dropped in a small pair of scales; elegant couples waltzing to “Greensleeves”; the feral bickering over Scrooge’s bed sheets and curtains; a glowing gravestone right out of Halloween; the collapsing of the Ghost of Christmas Future into nothing; etc., etc., etc. Lovely!”

CIRCLE (Zeitgeist Stage Company). “CIRCLE’s most delightful pieces of ribaldry are the adventures of Phil, a good-natured loser who first appears as a timid Master saddled with a demanding Slave, then becomes a keyboard Lothario for a lonely woman married to a philandering bi-guy --- a brief encounter that points out how often we tailor another’s image to fit our own desires.”

CITY OF SILENCE (Boston Center for the Arts). The Act One finale of this student-composed musical about the Holocaust had the young cast, in a boxcar headed for the death camps, all holding hands and singing, anthem-style, “Remember the light! Remember the light! Remember the liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!” I left at intermission but wonder, now: were there any characters left at the end to sing the Act Two finale?

THE CREDEAUX CANVAS (Zeitgeist Stage Company). The magical moonlight that glowed on two naked actors: milky-blue on Naeemah White-Peppers, golden-pink on Joshua Rollins.

THE CRUCIBLE (Salem Theatre Company). The thrilling moment when Deputy-Governor Danforth and accused witch Abigail Williams coldly stared each other down.

THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE (The Vokes Theatre). The hilarious tea scene between the rake Dick Dudgeon and the prim Judith Anderson.

FIGHTING WORDS (QE2 Players). Mrs. Davies is making Bara brith (Welsh tea cakes) for the town boxer’s homecoming celebration and minces an onion over the batter so that she may weep good-luck tears into it.

THE FIRST ANNUAL BOSTON SONNET-THON (Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company). “Those trained to speak the speech came off the best, of course, led by the sweet, goofy [Jonathan] Epstein himself, who was called upon to fill in for absentees; he was followed close behind by Marya Lowry (Nos. 47 and 147), the wonderful Chorus of last year’s HENRY V in the Commons (she remains my “golden trumpet warmed by the sun”); Linda Lowy (No. 120), Shakespeare Now!’s Artistic Director, whose (onstage) fury made me wonder what her Medea would be like; Anne Gottlieb (No. 90), a veritable Dark Lady herself; Edwin Beschler (No. 94), ever gentle, ever charming; Jessica Burke in two contrasting styles (Nos. 89 and 126) proved she is far more bewitching when she doesn’t try to be; and if the halls had rafters, the dashing Geoffrey Stuart (No. 60) would certainly have rung them. Among the others making lovely sounds were Birgit Huppuch (Nos. 50 and 87); Jennifer Lafleur (No. 59); Ditta Lowy (No. 41); Barbara Papesch (No. 34); Beth Phillips (No. 37); Nanette Savides (No. 95); and Elizabeth Wightman (No. 24); and newcomer Sonya Raye walked off with the evening by way of her sassy spin on No. 127 (“In the old age black was not counted fair….”). There were some novelties: Sonya Hamlin performed No. 27, twice (first, wearily; second; lively); Marco Zanelli recited No. 100 in both English and Italian; Suzie Sims-Fletcher sported a tiara for her No. 32; Ayisha Knight “signed” No. 38; Doug Bowen-Flynn turned No. 138 into a comedy duet with Mr. Epstein, the latter becoming the former’s mistress whose “eyes are nothing like the sun”; John Boller, with time running out, dashed through No. 139 at hilarious speed and was still understandable; and, in a sobering moment, Mr. Epstein based his No. 57 on the hollow-voiced recitation of one of his past students: a woman who had been through an abusive relationship and had brought chilling insight to “Being your slave, what should I do but tend / Upon the hours and times of your desire?” Plus, there was a mouse --- yes: a real, live MOUSE that twice scurried about in stage left’s corners and made its exits as silently as its entrances.”

A GIRL’S WAR (New Repertory Theatre). The bloodbath near the end of the play --- sudden, swift and stunning.

THE GREAT GORGONZOLA (Actors Studio). Gorgonzola opens a silk fan, waves it over some smoking incense and declares the fan is now enchanted. He folds a piece of paper into a tiny square and places it onto the fan. By gently bouncing the folded paper up and down, it unfolds, plumps up and turns into an egg, which Gorgonzola proceeds to crack open -- it’s an egg, all right. Mama, how did he do that?

THE GULLS (The Gold Dust Orphans). The goose-stepping flamingoes.

THE GULLS (The Gold Dust Orphans). Lydia Brenner’s breasts, when exposed, rolling down past her navel; she then tosses them over her shoulder like the ends of a scarf.

HAY FEVER (Boston University). “[O]ne lovely moment: two of the guests, a solemn lawyer and a ditzy flapper, stood in the doorway and made faltering small talk while waiting to be welcomed by someone --- anyone. (What would Beckett have made of this scene?)”

HAYMARKET (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre). “In the show’s most haunting moment, [Wesley] Savick’s Parsons suffers a powerful crying jag: its power lies not in outright blubbering but, rather, in Parsons trying to hold it in for as long as he can, causing his surface to crack and shatter from the strain. It’s a tearjerker, all right --- on both sides of the footlights.”

A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE (SpeakEasy Stage Company). Kerry A. Dowling’s hilarious Tap Dance of the Seven Veils, pure Broadway shtick but an invigorating shot in the arm.

MARTHA@SANDERS (Sanders Theatre). “[Richard] Move’s curtain call: he suddenly stiffens as if stabbed in the back, closes his eyes in solemn death and slowly bends forward to graciously acknowledge the applause heaped upon him --- and then repeats it, twice … (standing next to this Presence, [co-dancer Kathleen] Crockett is a panting athlete.).”

MESHUGGAH-NUNS (Lyric Stage Company). The witty “Three Shayna Maidels” number which Maryann Zschau, Maureen Keiller and Sarah Corey performed à la the Andrew Sisters --- it’s a number that would work anywhere, regardless of the costume.

MONTICEL’ (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre). The stunning finale where the giant black, white and gray American flag collapsed to reveal Thomas Jefferson tenderly administering to his slave/mistress Sally Hemings’ bleeding back after she received five lashes at the whipping post to appease his hysterical daughter.

A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN (Trinity Repertory Company). “There is a lovely moment at play’s end when Phil and Josie resume their bickering and suddenly embrace then draw back in mutual embarrassment, which is neither in the script nor in the [José] Quintero production.”

THE MRS. POTATOHEAD SHOW (Boston Center for the Arts). “[Lucy] Holstedt was marvelous at miming the five-second memory of a goldfish forever circling in its bowl; as any comic will tell you, repetition is part of Comedy’s bag of tricks --- watching Ms. Holstedt performing the same actions over and over and continuing to reap laughs was a moment to treasure.”

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Shakespeare & Company). The wordless entrances and exits of Dogberry & Company through holes in the stage floor --- “an enchanting mime, so polished that it gleams.”

NO NIGGERS, NO JEWS, NO DOGS (New Repertory Theatre). “[Jacqueline] Gregg and [Giselle] Jones have a beautiful rite-of-passage moment: Mattie decides Joyce is old enough and solemnly places a Sunday hat on her head before the girl goes off to church.”

ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (The Vokes Theatre). When the Twentieth Century train came rushing towards its audience --- truly a hair-raising moment.

OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD (The Mugford Street Players). “… there are images, unforgettable images: the opening tableau where the prisoners, flowing like flotsam in the ship’s hold, face their future in round-eyed despair; the first appearances of the Aborigine and Shitty Meg, the latter as much an exotic as the former; the visual change in the prisoners as Art touches their hardened lives --- perhaps the loveliest image is one where little action happens at all: on a beach at night, the stars above and the Dark New World behind them, Ralph and his fellow officers gather round a fire to discuss the pros and cons of putting on a play. The image is indelible because it is so right: no one moves, nor should they; here’s a sterling example of a director knowing when NOT to pull or push his actors about. “

PERICLES (A.R.T.). Thaisa’s [on-screen] moving sea-sleep that ends Act One, rocked by David Remedios’ equally moving soundtrack.

PETE ‘N’ KEELY (Stoneham Repertory Theatre). When Pete and Keely belt out their Vegas version of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, a stage hand turns on a fan so that Mr. and Mrs. America can see Keely costume’s rippling like amber waves of grain.

PETE ‘N’ KEELY (Stoneham Repertory Theatre). Kathy St. George’s quiet, relaxed “Black Coffee” was one to keep you company in the soul’s early morning hours.

THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH (Wheelock Family Theatre). Tock the Dog’s gasp-inducing double somersault from one stage level to another.

ROMANTIQUE (American Repertory Theatre). “While Chopin performed the Etude in E Major, Sand rested her head on his shoulder and her right hand on his to feel the music through his fingers. Here was a love story, doomed to end --- the music that has brought Chopin and Sand together will also drive them apart.”

DA SCHIAVA A PADRONA, or FROM SLAVE GIRL TO MISTRESS (I Sebastiani: The Greatest Commedia Dell’arte Troupe in the World!). “There are clever touches throughout (i.e., the “Overture”: while four musicians play downstage, the ensemble is literally sketching in the locale, upstage).”

THE SEAGULL (Liberation! Films). “[Edwin] Beschler and Anna Smulowitz, the Arkadina, shared the one moment where character and exploratory movement did come together: while Sorin and Arkadina were discussing her son, they waltzed together to a sweet, nostalgic tune --- the waltz symbolized their sibling affection and that they came from an older, statelier generation.”

SWEENEY TODD (New Repertory Theatre). Those smashed fingers protruding from Sweeney’s trunk --- a hint of the horrors to follow….

TINTYPES (The Vokes Theatre). The stunning curtain-raiser where emigrants reverently gaze upon the Statue of Liberty while the gentle lapping of the ocean instantly transports the audience back in time.

TOMMY (Berkshire Theatre Festival). “[A]midst all the meanness and excess, [director Jared] Coseglia and choreographer Julian Alexander Barnett came up with a breathtaking sequence that demanded to be preserved on film; indeed, its fluidity was cinematic: (a) young Tommy sits downstage, taking photos with his Polaroid while Mother and Lover smooch upstage; (b) Father enters; Mother and Lover separate; Lover tries to shield young Tommy from the unstoppable violence; (c) Father shoots Lover, who drops dead at young Tommy’s feet; young Tommy, numb, turns to face the audience (i.e, his mirror); (d) Father takes the camera from young Tommy’s hand and replaces it with the gun; (e) reporters, doctors, etc. rush in; cameras go off; two white coats enter with a stretcher and remove the Lover; (f) young Tommy is told “you didn’t see it”, etc.; (g) young Tommy becomes deaf, dumb and blind --- and, then, the Messrs. Coseglia and Barnett staged the entire sequence BACKWARDS (Elizabeth Fye’s Lover stunned as she rose exactly as she had fallen --- how did she do it?) and re-climaxing with Father replacing the gun in young Tommy’s hand with the camera --- meanwhile, the grown Tommy was “born” upstage to act as young and middle Tommy’s sealed-off subconscious until his turn to take the stage. A brilliant interpretative moment; if only Mr. Coseglia could have provided more of them --- and quietly, too…. “

VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST (Boston Theatre Works). “A running gag has Veronika being pursued by Dominguez, an obsessed Columbian who we hear but never see; in one hilarious bit, Dominguez knocks on Veronika’s door. She opens it. A hand comes out of the darkness and yanks Veronika offstage, slamming the door behind her. After a moment, rhythmic thumping against the door begins.”

WEST SIDE STORY (North Shore Music Theatre). “Tonight” was gorgeously staged and sung on a catwalk with the famous North Shore pin lights coming into play --- for a few heady minutes, the stars stopped crossing and twinkled down their blessing.

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The Most Joyous Moment of the Year: MEMPHIS (North Shore Music Theatre). Montego Glover caught the lightning halfway through Act One with her song, “Colored Woman”; DREAMGIRLS may have raised its head, but Ms. Glover, her slender frame nearly bent over backwards as she pulled those soaring notes up, up, up through the stage floor, soon banished all comparisons --- I impatiently waited for the song to end so that I could take over, cheering.

The OMG Moment of the Year #1: THE PUPPETRY OF THE PENIS (Copley Theatre). “ham•burg•er. n. a patty of ground or chopped beef, seasoned, and fried or broiled. 2. a popular origami shape created by stretching the penis downwards between the testes to suggest the hamburger, then twisting the genitals sideways and flattening the testes to suggest the bun, as demonstrated in “Puppetry of the Penis” at the Copley Theatre.” (Don’t try this at home --- OUCH!)

The OMG Moment of the Year #2: LADY WITH A LAP DOG (American Repertory Theatre). The bizarro love scene which had Gurov atop a ladder sending handfuls of sand down a winding sheet that ended between Anna’s legs (well, that’s one way of siring kids with grit).

The Gobble-Gobble Moment of the Year: THE SEAGULL (Liberation! Films). “On paper, [Dawn] Davis’ concept sounded intriguing: to remove Chekhov’s tragicomedy of quiet, frustrated lives from its realistic setting, place it on a totally bare stage (plus a few chairs) and focus on the interactions of Arkadina, Trigorin, Treplev, Nina & Co. --- the only problem is, Ms. Davis also stripped the characters themselves of reality and had her actors play the subtext; thus, non-stop movement counterpointed the dialogue, a gimmick that quickly grew stale --- for example, an actor doubled over, back of hand pressed to forehead, then slumped to the floor and rolled about to indicate that her character was unhappy --- nor did the gimmick probe too deeply, thank God: if it did, Treplev would mount his mother; Masha would castrate her husband; the debased Nina would beg to be sodomized, etc. I cannot believe these warm-up exercises were the fruits of six months’ preparation and four months’ rehearsal --- Deconstruction has finally begun to deconstruct. “

The Disappointment of the Year: A number of mediocre musicals receiving top-notch productions throughout the Boston area, allowing Beantowners the opportunity to see why they failed in New York.

The Saddest Moment of the Year: The graduation of a number of talented Boston University acting students --- many of them have left the area for other stages, elsewhere. Break a leg, kids.

The Oddest Directorial Choice of the Year: TRY NOT TO STEP ON THE NAKED MAN (Mill 6 Collaborate). “[I]n Sean Michael Welch’s, TRY NOT TO STEP ON THE NAKED MAN, there was indeed an undressed chap sitting on a living room rug, claiming to be “living art” to the shocked man and accepting wife who inherited him, but [John Edward] O’Brien hid his Adam (“Frank”, really) from the audience with a couch placed downstage center, flanked by another at a 90-degree angle, stage left. Audience members in the front row could, with a little rubbernecking, view enough of actor Traford Burke to satisfy their curiosity; those in the rows behind them were treated to the top of Mr. Burke’s head --- the one on his shoulders. I gather Mr. O’Brien wants the audience to observe and, like the wife, accept the friendly, non-threatening Frank in the altogether and agree what an idiot the repressed, hysterical husband is; by boxing Frank in with couches, Mr. O’Brien reduced the audience to mere voyeurs, straining for a peek.”

The Cheap Shot Moment of the Year: THE VISIT (Northeastern University). “[Director Dmitry] Troyanovsky’s most horrible bit was when Ill sought out the Priest in his confessional: the Priest’s head was seen in profile; as he babbled nonsense to the frightened Ill, the Priest had an orgasm --- and out popped a choirboy, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as he made a quick exit. Yes, I was shocked, but not for the obvious reason --- I was shocked because (1) the Priest is meant to succumb to Greed just like the others (or, at the very least, to be rendered powerless); here, he was already spiritually corrupt; and (2) the choirboy drew a delighted laugh from the audience --- the Child-Molesting Priest is now a fixture in our pop iconography.”

Reflective Moment of the Year #1: “Lacking permanent companies, the Huntington and other theatres are justified in their importing policies, but for BUTLEY the Huntington has openly courted Broadway and other companies may follow suit especially if the general public will gladly pay to see Stars on their own turf. In less than a decade, Boston theatre has bounced back with a vengeance, not in its role of Try-Out Town but as a thriving cultural center with its own look and feel --- and much of what I have seen is golden --- will local artists be reduced to carrying spears whenever a Star comes to town or simply head for New York themselves? To quote from the Boston Tab, “…if resident theaters don’t support the local acting community, there won’t be a local acting community.” For its producers to start passing over the glories in their own back yard for a crack at getting a Name up in lights is to sell a collective soul for a mess of wattage.”

Reflective Moment of the Year #2: “All theatre persons in Boston, professional or amateur, local or passing through, should be allowed into the newly-restored Majestic Theatre whenever they need to meditate or to simply perk up their spirits. For the price of admission --- say, a quote from a favorite play --- they could pass through the lobby, with its red marble walls and pillars, its gilt cupids and mirrors, and into its truly majestic auditorium with its pinks and golds, its side balconies like slipped stacks of checkers, its oak leaves and tassels, its smiling masks amidst the roses, its rings of cornucopias overhead, where they could sit in silence as if in the holiest of shrines and reflect on what is mortal and what is imperishable about the theatre --- maybe even hobnob with a ghost or two; should they reflect on why they got into show biz in the first place, the Majestic will give them an enobling reply, “Because you wanted to bring beauty into the world.”

The Image of the Year: TINTYPES (The Vokes Theatre). Kaja Schupert singing “Toyland” in a spotlight, clutching two American flags to her side and becoming, for a few breathless minutes, a more human (and humane) Lady of the Harbor. God Bless America!

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MY WISH LIST (casting certain actors in certain roles; quite a few musical requests, this year):

Ken Baltin as Parolles in Shakespeare’s ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.

Edwin Beschler as Don Perlimplin in Lorca’s THE LOVE OF DON PERLIMPLIN AND BELISSA IN THE GARDEN.

Jim Butterfield as Archie Rice in John Osborne’s THE ENTERTAINER.

Mary Callanan as Mama Rose in GYPSY.

Ellen Colton in a one-woman show about Lotte Lenya.

Bill Doscher as Sir Toby Belch (TWELFTH NIGHT).

Janice Duclos as Gertrude Blum in Edward J. Moore’s THE SEA HORSE.

Kent French as Lancelot in Lerner and Lowe’s CAMELOT.

Montego Glover as Oscar Hammerstein’s CARMEN JONES.

Anne Gottlieb as Kate or Anna and Joe Pacheco as Deeley in Harold Pinter’s OLD TIMES.

Birgit Huppuch as Eliza Doolittle in Lerner and Lowe’s MY FAIR LADY.

Jennie Israel as Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.

Laura Latreille as Helen in ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.

Kaja Schuppert in the title role of LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE.

Richard Snee as John Cleary and Paula Plum as Nettie Cleary in Frank D. Gilroy’s THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES.

Kathy St. George as Amanda in Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE.

Bobbi Steinbach as Bertolt Brecht’s MOTHER COURAGE.

Shawn Sturnick as Prince Mishkin in Robert Montgomery’s SUBJECT TO FITS.

…and Barbara Stanwyck feels the same way.


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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