Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Addison Awards"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE 2004 ADDISON AWARDS "

by Carl A. Rossi
Happy Holidays!

These are my choices for the Best of Boston and (Boston area) Theatre for 2004. Congratulations to all --- it has been an incredibly rich, varied and talented year!

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

Read on!

THE 2004 ADDISON AWARDS

DRAMA:

Production: THE HENRIAD: RICHARD II; HENRY IV, Parts 1 & 2; HENRY V (Trinity Repertory Company). Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Kevin Moriatry (R2); Amanda Dehnert (H4); Oscar Eustis (H5). Cast: Drew Battles; Angela Brazil; Noah Brody; Joanna K. Cole; Timothy Crowe; William Damkoehler; David Hanbury; Mauro Hantman; Brian McEleney; Barbara Meek; Anne Scurria; Miriam Silverman; Ben Steinfeld; Fred Sullivan, Jr.; Stephen Thorne; Rachel Warren. “Trinity Repertory [produced] in repertory the New England theatre event of the year, let alone season: THE HENRIAD, a three-evening cycle of Shakespeare’s RICHARD II, HENRY IV (Parts 1 & 2) and HENRY V with three different directors, using the same actors and set design, putting his or her stamp on three equally different kings. Each play can stand on its own with RICHARD II being a poetic tragedy, HENRY IV, a comedy-melodrama and HENRY V, an excursion into pageantry and patriotism; with Trinity Rep linking them together, its HENRIAD [was] a triple-crown winner. “

Director: Greg Leaming (AN INFINITE ACHE; Merrimack Repertory Theatre). “[T]he appeal of [this] love story between Charles, a young Jewish-American man, and Hope, a young Chinese-American woman, is in the way their story is told: on their first date, Charles and Hope return to his apartment after dinner --- she is guarded; he is smitten and already feels “an infinite ache” for her. To slow him down, Hope tells Charles a Chinese legend about the gods’ method for bonding life-partners, adding for good measure the Yiddish word beshert (“meant to be”). Hope lies down on Charles’ bed to rest for an hour while her swain contemplates what marriage to his lady would be like. The boundaries of Time dissolve and the couple fly through a lifetime together in the space of an hour, passing through courtship, marriage, parenthood, career conflicts, divorce, reconciliation and death --- at the end, Hope awakens. Has this all been a dream (if so, who dreamed it?) or are Charles and Hope beshert? … Because of its novelty, AN INFINITE ACHE can only exist in a theatre; it would collapse to soapsuds if it were filmed with a succession of sets, costumes and wigs and spliced together by an editor instead of Time. The Merrimack Theatre production is marvelous thanks to its director, Greg Leaming, who premiered the play at the Long Wharf Theatre and has now introduced it to the Boston area. The program notes state that Mr. Leaming worked closely with [David] Schulner [the playwright]; their collaboration flows softly and smoothly on the intimate Merrimack stage. Every so often I grumble about how set changes done in full view of the audience must become part of the production; here, AN INFINITE ACHE’s set changes ARE the production with Charles and Hope adding or subtracting to Marjorie Bradley Kellogg’s deceptively simple set as the years whiz by; they are done so flawlessly that the play becomes a dance piece as well as a two-character study (the gears show, however, when Charles and Hope must return the set back to Square One). Some directors may grumble there is nothing in AN INFINITE ACHE to which they can affix a personal stamp; that all they can do is to follow Mr. Schulner’s complex instructions. Let me say, then, that to direct AN INFINITE ACHE is to spin numerous plates on sticks while keeping a poker face with a clock loudly ticking in your ear; Mr. Leaming could give master classes in the art.”

Actor: Seth Kanor (VAN GOGH IN JAPAN; Nora Theatre Company). Role: Vincent. “Seth Kanor is so ablaze as Vincent [Van Gogh] that the Playwrights’ [Theatre’s] stage vibrates with his presence long after he has quit a scene. Like [R. L.] Lane [the playwright/director], Mr. Kanor also works without a net: whatever Vincent’s thoughts, the results are blunt and direct, alienating strangers and driving those who love him to distraction --- the more his visual sense develops, the more he is reduced to roars and grunts as if words no longer matter (when he paints as if in a trance, Mr. Kanor’s brush strokes hit the canvas like machine-gun fire) and when he embraces Bernard in farewell then pounces on him again like a bear with its cub, he is akin to Frankenstein’s monster, roaming the countryside in search of a friend; in asylum, he is locked in silence --- his flame, barely a flicker. The suicide is simple and heartbreaking, executed under a crow’s mocking solo. Even as written, this is one of the year’s most moving performances.”

Actress: Adrienne D. Williams (YELLOWMAN; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Alma. “Dael Orlandersmith’s YELLOWMAN, a 2002 Pulitzer finalist, touches on a seldom-discussed topic: racial prejudice among African-Americans based on the shade of their own skins; two South Carolinians --- Eugene, light-skinned; Alma, dark-skinned --- meet in the 1960s as schoolchildren. As they grow and pass through friendship and into romance they are torn apart by a rainbow of hatred from family and friends as well as their own inner battles: Alma feels she is ugly; Eugene is ashamed of not being black enough. He descends to tragedy; she ascends to self-acceptance. … [T]he production’s strength rests on Adrienne D. Williams, new to me and most welcome, who possesses numerous colors on her palette to create a warm, appealing Alma and her earthy, tragicomic mother. “

Featured/Supporting Actor: Robert Bonotto (VAN GOGH IN JAPAN; Nora Theatre Company). Role: Degas. “R. L. Lane [the playwright/director] has given himself and [Seth] Kanor a dream of a supporting cast without a weak leak in the chain (example: Steven Barkhimer, in three protean bits). Joe Pacheco, who sparkled in the Nora production of BETRAYAL, now dims his lights as Theo, well-shading the character’s love for his brother and his own decline; Scott Severance bellows his Gauguin without lapsing into caricature and Seth Compton’s Bernard is a sweet reed to Mr. Severance’s cymbals and drums. Faith Justice and Michaela Lipsey have faces that cry out for Daumier and Lautrec; Mara Sidmore neatly somersaults from bare-breasted model to sister of mercy. As fine as they all are, Robert Bonotto tops them all as Degas; his one scene with Vincent, where they play his peculiar version of Truth or Dare, is the show’s (early) highlight with its dazzling word- and gun play as these two titanic egos --- one, bruising; the other, already bruised --- bounce off each other.”

Featured/Supporting Actress: Georgette Beck (THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE; Mugford Street Players). Role: Mag Folan. “Maureen Folan, a 40-year-old woman, lives in isolation with her mother, Mag, where they are locked in a long-standing battle of give-and-take abuse, both verbal and physical. Mag, in old age, is a spoiled, demanding child terrified at the thought of being left alone and does all she can to keep Maureen bound to her in servitude, even quashing Maureen’s last stab at happiness when Pato Dooley, a good-natured chap, re-enters her blighted life. … Ms. Beck is a magnificent ogress, dictating from her rocking chair and possessing a baleful glare that could stop a train in its tracks; her Mag, so hateful throughout much of the evening, suddenly, swiftly collapses to whimpering human dimensions when she gets the first of two comeuppances. “

Ensemble: JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE (Up You Mighty Race). Written by August Wilson. Directed by Akiba Abaka. Cast: Ramona Alexander; Minister Joe Lee Baker-Bey; Dosha Ellis Beard; Nicole Brathwaite; David Curtis; Charles Edwards; Mugisha Feruzi; Jeff Gill; Faylis Matos; Jeff Phillips; Emanuel Riggins; Frank A. Shefton; Simone St. John; Tiffanye Threadcraft. “JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE takes place in Seth and Bertha Holly’s boardinghouse [in Pittsburgh], an apt symbol of a people’s rootlessness as the great migration from the South to the North has begun in earnest. …. Their current boarders are the mysterious old Bynum, who “binds” people together with his magic, and Jeremy Furlow, a recent arrival who plans his future around his guitar; two contrasting women, Mattie Campbell and Molly Cunningham, come to board, both of them turning Jeremy’s impressionable head. Herald Loomis, an ominous man in black, enters with his daughter Zonia, looking for his wife Martha after spending seven years of enforced labor on Joe Turner’s chain gang, down South; Herald hopes that finding Martha will free him from his wandering alienation (he is not unlike a returning war veteran, trying to take back the life he once knew). The play begins and ends with blood but in ritual, not violence. A lovely, haunting play, this, and in Herald [August] Wilson has summed up an era’s race free from the shackles of the body but not of the soul, struggling towards self-worth but still several generations below its surface. … Akiba Abaka has directed JOE TURNER with such nostalgic, down-home sincerity that when Bertha’s fried chicken is praised, one sniffs in vain for the aroma. Ms. Abaka’s ensemble, be it repertoire or assembled, is a pleasure from top to bottom, each with his or her own music, its principle points being Frank A. Shefton who garners affectionate laughter as the irascible Seth, the Minister Joe Lee Baker-Bey who brings dignified sense and gravity to Bynum (in other hands the character could have become a tiresome crank), and, especially, David Curtis, a handsome, strapping man who fills his Herald Loomis to the brim and over with Old Testament fury flowing from his heart’s isolation. Tiffanye Threadcraft makes an amusing, huffy rag doll out of Mattie and Ramona Alexander is affecting in the eleven o’clock role of Martha, her character’s religious fervor clashing with emotions as buttoned-up as Herald’s are in full flood. … No doubt I’ll seek out other productions of JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE (it’s my favorite in [Mr.] Wilson’s cycle, thus far) but should they elude me I’ll always have the memory of seeing it performed by Up You Mighty Race --- and performed right. “

COMEDY:

Production: THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY (Boston Directors’ Lab/The Mill 6 Theatre Collaborative). Written by Edward Albee. Directed by Jeremy Johnson. Cast: Walter Belenky; Jeff Gill; Zofia Goszczynska; Jarice Hanson. “A Boy and a Girl, about college age, have just had a baby. Enter a mysterious older couple who, after some lengthy asides to the audience, announce to the shocked younger couple that they have come to take their baby for no apparent reason other than to test their emotional resilience --- whether the baby has died and Boy and Girl are in denial-mode or they are simply Playing House and need to smell the coffee is left up to the audience. Those expecting another WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? may walk out, disappointed; those who know enough of Mr. Albee’s canon will be mind-tickled at all of the ins and outs of his cerebral vaudeville for Mr. Albee has returned to the days when he was one of the first American playwrights to dabble in Theatre of the Absurd. THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY is almost four decades removed from THE SANDBOX and THE AMERICAN DREAM but shares the same weird playfulness; if Mr. Albee has mellowed with this comedy, it is the mellowness of sunshine on a sparkling winter’s day, chilly and invigorating. … [T]he play is one of Mr. Albee’s more fascinating efforts and the [Mill 6] production, the season’s best comedic offering.”

Director: Donna Corbett (LOOT; Quannapowitt Players). “LOOT comes in between [Joe] Orton’s two other properly absurd/absurdly proper masterpieces: the naturalistic ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE (so indebted to Harold Pinter’s style) and [WHAT THE BUTLER SAW]’s out-and-out romp: a respectable middle-class woman has died and is laid out in her coffin, attended by her grieving husband McLeavy and her not-so-grieving nurse Fay, who plans to make McLeavy her own (eighth) husband as soon as possible. A bank robbery has taken place in the neighborhood, committed, not surprisingly, by McLeavy’s immoral son Hal and his mate Dennis who works as the undertaker’s assistant. Knowing that a brutal, corrupt inspector named Truscott is on their trail, the lads need a place to stash the loot --- their actions, which set the plot in motion, will make you blink and tickle you at the same time (Mr. Orton’s genius lay in his matter-of-fact way of throwing open our thought-cupboards: deep down, we want to see idols smashed; sacred cows punctured; and institutions --- like the woman in her coffin --- stood on their heads). The [1986] Broadway revival camped it up, horribly (its Fay closed a dresser drawer with a swing of her hips, for example) and its trying to be oh-so shocking made Mr. Orton’s blackness seem tame, especially after years of Monty Python’s cheery anarchy (so indebted to the man) and the Royal Family scandals --- little seems sacred, anymore. The QP production worked beautifully: director Donna Corbett nailed down the tea-cozy details of everyday British life as securely as that coffin lid; in other words, she reapplied a layer of normalcy to have something to rip open again when the characters’ real motives swam up to the surface. … Ms. Corbett, calm and clear-eyed, steered her droll ensemble through these dark, hilarious waters as if guided by the playwright’s own (quoted) words, “If you’re absolutely practical --- and I hope I am --- a coffin is only a box.” This detachment --- that here is a box where things are put in or taken out --- is the heartbeat of Mr. Orton’s sensibility, that the society he knew (the 1960s) had grown so apathetic to violence and outrage that a woman’s remains could indeed be passed around “like nuts at Christmas” with poker-faced decorum.”

Actor: Jeff Gill (THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY; Boston Directors’ Lab/The Mill 6 Theatre Collaborative). Role: The Man. “[Mr. Gill’s] Man dazzles, his hands fluttering like two birds in a storm; his darting smile, part grin, part barring of teeth; his eyes, two cold yet compassionate beacons (is their burning light celestial or demonic?); his patter, that of a magician ready to presto-chango, with ambiguous results.”

Actress: Ellen Adair (PYGMALION; The Longwood Players). Role: Eliza Doolittle. “Having recently graduated from Boston University, Ms. Adair stepping onstage in PYGMALION was equivalent to Eliza going into society; just as the flower girl looks to her professor for guidance and shaping so was Ms. Adair dependent upon her director. Happily, Marc S. Miller lent a relaxed, fatherly hand that gave both Ms. Adair and Eliza a growing confidence and maturity that ended in a photo finish (what can be more enchanting in the theatre than to watch a newcomer slowly but surely take the stage?). Eliza’s Cockney side, complete with a dangling lock of hair a la Boy George, was an amusing turn that never became coarse or brazen and she was hilariously at sixes and sevens at Mrs. Higgin’s soiree. However, Ms. Adair was at her best as the counterfeit lady who turns out to be the genuine article by displaying an innate decency, a clear eye and a continuing lack of pretension, a woman who walks out amused rather than angry, knowing Higgins is not her equal rather than the other way around. PYGMALION was an impressive start to a new career and I hope Ms. Adair will remain in the area, at least, for awhile --- the winters here can be harsh, but lovely things can grow during spring and summer.”

Featured/Supporting Actor: Hugh Metzler (LOOT; Quannapowitt Players). Role: McLeavy. “The production’s glory was Hugh Metzler’s McLeavy. … Mr. Metzler grounded the play by being the one decent soul onstage, comic in his tirades, but touching in his inability to accept what a cold, cruel place the world has become. When this McLeavy was hauled off to prison, and possibly to his murder, the sun sank a bit lower on English soil.”

Featured/Supporting Actress: Milena Zuccotti (PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE; Vokes Theatre). Role: Germaine. “Wild-and-crazy Steve Martin’s first and best-known play, PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE, depicts an imaginary meeting between two budding geniuses, Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, in a Parisian bar circa 1904 where they and the regulars discuss the impact of art and science on the newborn century; a time-traveling Visitor drops by with his own pokerfaced commentary. Mr. Martin’s quirky comedy is a Rubik’s cube with vaudevillian twists; … it has a sweet heart as well as a clever brain, and there are good character turns for all involved. … [T]he most satisfying performance --- and the most French --- comes from Milena Zuccotti as Germaine, the dry, worldly waitress who has slept with Picasso just so she could check off “painter” on her list of occupational lovers.”

Ensemble: LAST SUNDAY IN JUNE (SpeakEasy Stage Company). Written by Jonathan Tolins. Directed by Scott Edmiston. Cast: Trey Burvant; Larry Coen; Tori Davis; Tyler Hollinger; Jeremy Johnson; Tom Lawlor; Will McGarrahan; Bill Mootos. “A comparison of Jonathan Tolins’ LAST SUNDAY IN JUNE with its landmark predecessor Mart Crowley’s THE BOYS IN THE BAND is a lesson on how far gay drama and the urban gay lifestyle have evolved since pre-Stonewall days. Both plays deal with ghetto mind-set: Mr. Crowley’s men are crowded together in society’s closet where they camp it up, bicker and wound; Mr. Tobin’s men are out and about but are poised on a dilemma: should they now enter the mainstream or continue to keep their own company? Mr. Crowley’s men are throwing a birthday bash for a mutual friend; in walks the host’s straight former classmate and hello, Edward Albee. Mr. Tobin’s men are in a long-term couple’s apartment on Christopher Street, looking out at the annual Gay Pride Parade held every last Sunday in June; in walks a woman --- charming, intelligent, but still a Woman --- she plans to marry one of the men who has grown tired of the gay world/lifestyle and wants out, resulting in a few ripples. Mr. Crowley slowly reveals his men to be miserable and self-loathing beneath their cocktail banter (“You show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse”); Mr. Tobin’s men are definitely sunny side up --- their bitchery is affectionate; their fights are clean, not fueled by drink or drugs; Mr. Right waits where hope springs eternal; the one HIV-positive character is healthy and upbeat; even the obligatory stud has enough of a brain in his head. Yet for all its negativity, I prefer Mr. Crowley’s achievement --- it says things that needed to be said at the time and respect, respect must be paid --- Mr. Tobin’s play touches on a few of the BOYS’ topics along with more current ones and does so with warmth and good-humor while endlessly calling attention as to what makes up a Gay Play, including its own plot devices, but I’ll be damned if I can quote any of its witty lines aside from “get your needs met” which becomes the evening’s chant. Don’t get me wrong --- I enjoyed LAST SUNDAY IN JUNE but it soon vanished on me, afterwards. What I do remember is the engaging ensemble who entertained me for an hour and forty-five minutes. Aside from Tori Davis, who is pretty, charming and most welcome, I have seen all seven men elsewhere and my pleasure was doubled at seeing what they can do when brought together. The ”name” actors are on familiar turf: Bill Mootos glowers and sulks, once again; Will McGarrahan and Larry Coen effortlessly crack wise as the two faces of Eve (Arden; i.e. bright/wistful). Jeremy Johnson and Tyler Hollinger come fresh from the Mill 6 production of the all-male SHAKESPEARE’S R&J; Mr. Hollinger, who adorns the company’s posters and postcards, makes a sweet, harmless hunk; Mr. Johnson is good as the twit actor who insists he doesn’t sound like one. As the suburban-bound couple who suddenly learn they are not so monogamous after all, Tom Lawler, blessed with a great smile and a winning personality, is wonderfully likeable and he is well partnered with Trey Burvant, who is … handsome, relaxed and brimming with amused condescension.”

MUSICAL:

Production : THE THREEPENNY OPERA (New Repertory Theatre). A play with music after John Gay’s THE BEGGAR’S OPERA, based upon the German translation by Elisabeth Hauptmann. Music by Kurt Weill; adaptation and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht. English translation of dialog by Robert MacDonald. English translation of lyrics by Jeremy Sams. Directed by Rick Lombardo. Musical direction by Todd C. Gordon. Choreography by Kelli Edwards. Cast: Robert Antonelli; Elizabeth Asti; Steven Barkhimer; Leigh Barrett; Stephen Marc Beaudoin; Britney Burgess; Nancy E. Carroll; Stacey Cervellino; Whitney Cohen; Tritano D. Evans; Paul D. Farwell; Todd Alan Johnson; Susan Molloy; Matthew J. Nichols; Mara Radulovic; Brian Robinson; Yaegel T. Welch. Musicians: Andy Bergman; Harlan Feinstein; Todd C. Gordon; John Mahoney; Scott Nason; Carl Phillips; Louis Toth. “New Rep’s production of THE THREEPENNY OPERA will be a tough act to follow --- and it’s only January [2004]! --- and much of it thrilled me but purists, be warned: the production comes wrapped in a gimmick. Rick Lombardo, so faithful in his execution of last year’s WAITING FOR GODOT, sets his production in a futuristic London where derelicts, hiding in an abandoned theatre from ominous-sounding helicopters, tell the tale of Mack the Knife, gentleman thief and murderer, and his fellow crooks and whores for their own amusement/distraction; whatever forces are hunting them down find them at the end (no doubt, said forces heard Mr. Weill’s music). … THE THREEPENNY OPERA doesn’t need to be tweaked for today’s audiences: Mr. Brecht’s libretto still has plenty of bite and Mr. Weill’s sweet-and-sour music still seduces and influences to this day --- fortunately, his tweaking does not taint all that is golden in his production.”

Director: Rick Lombardo (THE THREEPENNY OPERA; New Repertory Theatre). “Mr. Lombardo has captured the work’s cheeky, cabaret-like tone that fueled the original Berlin production three-quarters of a century ago; the opera’s cheekiness vanished after World War II when Brecht revised it as a dour cautionary tale and it has been played on many a down note ever since.”

Choreography (tie): Kelli Edwards for “The Gang Song” (f/k/a “The Canon Song”) (THE THREEPENNY OPERA, New Repertory Theatre). “Kelli Edwards’ choreography for “The Gang Song” (f/k/a “The Canon Song”) is the best staging of a musical number I’ve seen in a long time --- anywhere: it begins as a duet and then organically, BELIEVABLY, builds to its raggedy chorus-line (small wonder that this number tipped the original Berlin audience in the show’s favor; it, and not “Mack the Knife”, won them over on Opening Night, back in 1928).”

Choreography (tie): Patricia Wilcox for “The Gods Love Nubia” (AIDA, North Shore Music Theatre). “[North Shore’s] bare space inspires Patricia Wilcox to contribute a stunning Act One finale in praise of Nubia, growing little by little until it is a surging, weaving circle of joyful defiance.”

Actor: Tony Yazbeck (WEST SIDE STORY; Trinity Repertory Company). Role: Tony. “Tony Yazbeck is a real find: handsome enough to be a romantic lead yet with “neighborhood” looks, and he both sings and dances --- a rare Tony, indeed --- his rendition of “Maria”, complete with that oft-ignored high note in the home stretch, drew the show’s one round of heart-felt applause. He is also convincing in his courtship: his “I love you” is simple and vulnerable --- even more so considering he and Maria are standing on a catwalk without any railing. “

Actress (tie): Sabreen Staples (MAMA, I WANT TO SING!; Our Place Theatre Project). Role: Doris Winter. “The musical is a slender biography of pop/rhythm and blues singer Doris Troy (here, “Doris Winter”). … Sabreen Staples made her professional theatre debut as Doris and she was phenomenal, both as the shy, awkward girl with the breathtaking voice and as the friendly, sexy woman from the world of nightclubs and recording studios. Her “Just One Look”, though homogenized, was delightful and worth the wait, and her soaring notes, rooted in gospel, never once turned Anthem-like --- right here, right now, she is this year’s find, Boston-wise.”

Actress (tie): Maryann Zschau (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC; Lyric Stage Company). Role: Desiree Armfelt. “Considering that infidelity makes up much of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning musical is rather faithful to its source: Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT, set in Sweden in the early 1900s. Fredrik Egerman, an aging lawyer, is married to Anne, his much younger, still-virginal bride who, in turn, is enamored by Fredrik’s grown son Henrik from a previous marriage. Finding himself playing a father figure rather than a husband, Fredrik is drawn back to the arms of his ex-mistress Desiree Armfeldt, a stage actress who is currently the jealously-guarded property of Count Carl-Magnus, a pompous dragoon married to the long-suffering Charlotte who loves-hates her husband yet aides and abets him in his not-so-clandestine affairs; Petra, the Egermans’ lusty maid starts out as Henrik’s would-be teacher of Love and Life and ends up in the hay with Frid, a butler. Commenting on the numerous pairings-off are the very old (Madame Armfeldt, Desiree’s mother and a former mistress of kings, herself) and the very young (Fredrika, Desiree’s --- and possibly, Fredrik’s --- clear-eyed, wondering daughter); a quintet of two men and three women in evening dress wander throughout as a sort of chamber Chorus. … [Maryann Zschau’s] Desiree is her richest, subtlest characterization yet. Thanks to Mr. Sondheim, she does not start out promisingly in her entrance song, the rat-a-tat “Glamorous Life”, which has her looking and sounding like Bette Davis in THE LITTLE FOXES but once Desiree is in her dressing room, alone with Fredrik, Ms. Zschau begins to soften, shade and inflect, bringing out Desiree’s worldliness and warmth along with a gentle, mocking grace (she’s a pal as well as a mistress): whereas Ms. Zschau diluted her natural exuberance as Shelby in THE SPITFIRE GRILL, her Desiree is finely poised between power and acquiescence: here is a woman who has gotten to where she is by playing up to (and on) men’s opinions and fantasies of her yet has retained her love of men and her relish for life --- if the actress (both of them, really) comes off as a dreadnaught, at least she is a dreadnaught in peacetime. Indeed, I found myself so enjoying what Ms. Zschau could do with a tilt of her head or when confronting a rival with poker-faced aplomb that had her Big Tune been cut for running time’s sake, I don’t believe I would have minded. Rest assured, “Send in the Clowns” does happen and Ms. Zschau is so well-layered by then, character-wise, that she need do no more than sing it in near-conversational fashion (it’s the only quiet Sondheim moment in the show), ending the song’s reprise in a hushed sadness --- if the evening was already hers, this moment ties it with a bow and sets it in her lap. Bravo!”

Featured/Supporting Actor: Joe Wilson, Jr. (AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’; Trinity Repertory Theatre). Role: Revue performance. “Trinity Repertory itself is no stranger when it comes to tampering with the classics, as their recent productions of THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR and WEST SIDE STORY will attest, but when I saw a lone player piano sitting on an old-fashioned thrust proscenium stage ringed with light bulbs above and below and when Kia L. Glover, Dwayne Grayman, Barbara D. Mills, NaTasha Yvette Williams and Joe Wilson, Jr., all shapes and sizes, appeared in hot-house colors to deliver such standards as the title song, “‘T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do”, “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Mean to Me”, the good times began and continued straight through to the curtain call with its seven encores. … The dapper Mr. Wilson stopped the show with “The Viper”, his bare-chested homage to reefers, a hypnotic combination of muscle, sweat and a slinky, drugged grace that was as dangerous as it was alluring.”

Featured/Supporting Actress: Stephanie Carlson (COMPANY; SpeakEasy Stage Company). Role: April. “How did YOU first encounter COMPANY? If, like me, your introduction was through the original cast album, no doubt you were mesmerized by its metallic, then-contemporary (1970) sound --- Burt Bacharach, served with lemon --- as distinct a New Sound as THE THREE PENNY OPERA must have been forty years earlier, in Berlin. … Thirty-five years later, can the non-committal Robert and those “good-and-crazy-people” his married friends still hold up a mirror for today’s equally uncertain times? Yes, for the most part, as the book was revised over a decade ago; what is playing at the Pavilion is now the official version of COMPANY. … Old version or new, harsh or warm, COMPANY is still a marvel, retaining its breathless wonder for having wrestled on the mountain with conventional musicals and won. … Lyric Stage’s production of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC showcased much of the finest local talent around leaving me to wonder who would be left for COMPANY; fear not, the SpeakEasy cast is just as impressive … and there is an enchanting, pop-eyed little peanut named Stephanie Carlson whose April quietly walks off with the evening in her stewardess, uh, flight attendant overnight bag.”

Ensemble (tie): Mary Callanan; Adrienne Cote; Kathy St. George; Avery Sommers (MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL; Stuart Street Playhouse). “Jeanie Linders’ celebration of a turning point in every woman’s life is now playing in Boston alongside numerous productions elsewhere and it is as wise and warm as it is hilarious. The plot is minimal: four middle-aged women from different walks of life meet during a sale at Bloomingdales and compare notes on their all going through “the change”; they voice their thoughts through familiar pop and disco standards revamped with Ms. Linders’ clever lyrics and the results are often delightful; occasionally brilliant. … Mary Callanan, Adrienne Cote, Avery Sommers and Kathy St. George make up a merry quartet of all shapes and sizes; each has her own unique beauty, can tackle various singing styles, moves well and --- no small feat, when you think about it --- doesn’t sing the songs’ original lyrics by mistake. They all have multiple moments to shine, especially Ms. Callanan’s mood-swings between Aquarian Child and killer shark; Ms. Cote’s battle with undersized lingerie and her crooning to a microphone vibrator; Ms. Sommers’ stunning turn as a well-known pop diva; and Ms. St. George making audience contact with her “Heat Wave” reprise, her familiar perkiness giving way to a sexy worldliness (if you heard her rendition of “Hot Coffee” in the Stoneham’s PETE ‘N’ KEELY, you’ll know what I mean).”

Ensemble (tie): Logan Benedict; Miguel Cervantes; Andrew Giordano; Adam Souza (FOREVER PLAID, Stuart Street Playhouse 2nd Stage). “[T]he Plaids, a close-harmony male quartet died in a car crash in 1964 en route to their first professional gig [and] have been allowed to return to earth tonight to fulfill their engagement; their repertoire consists of standards from the 1950s --- FOREVER PLAID captures the friendly, white-bread entertainment just before the times started a-changin’. … [Y]ou couldn’t ask for a better-sung harmony quartet with Miguel Cervantes and Adam Souza as the group’s eager-beavers (or chipmunk and beagle, respectively), Andrew Giordano as the shy nose-bleeder (he floats some beautiful high notes), and Logan Benedict as the poker-faced bass with the Clark Kent glasses. They are also period-correct: their physiques are not muscle-heavy, they have not been Brille Cream’d into pinheads and they actually come off as virginal; when one of the Plaids mentions in passing that they were killed before any of them learned about love, it rings plausibly.”

DESIGN:

Sets: D. Schweppe (PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE; Vokes Theatre). “Those audience members who enjoy studying the Vokes’ architecture and memorabilia (ask for a backstage tour; it’s positively Dickensian) will have an additional treat with D. Schweppe’s richly detailed set, worth viewing from different angles.”

Costumes: Martin Pakledinaz and Gerard Kelly (KISS ME, KATE; North Shore Music Theatre). “Martin Pakledinaz and Gerard Kelly have come up with wonderfully nostalgic costumes and wigs; Mr. Pakledinaz’s “Shrew” costumes are good enough to be worn by a regular Shakespearean troupe.”

Lights: Tim Sawicki (JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE; Up You Mighty Race). “Peter Calaio has designed a bare-boned, broom-clean boardinghouse done up in earth colors that is just right and Tim Sawicki has subtly lit it so that sepia-toned tableaus blend with passages of hallucinogenic clarity.”

SPECIAL CITATIONS (regardless of category):

CYRANO (New Rep On Tour). Adapted by Jo Roets. Translated by Audrey Van Tuyckom. Based on the play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand. Directed by Doug Lockwood. Cast: Dan Cozzens; Susan Gross; Lewis Wheeler. CYRANO, New Rep On Tour’s fall production for New England schools, was this year’s candy surprise; it ran just over an hour and boasted but a trio of clowns but was delightful from start to finish and a wonderful opportunity for tomorrow’s theatre-goers to experience live, back-to-basics theatre, today.

THE FIRST NOH & KYOGEN PROGRAM WITNESSED BY AMERICANS (The Japan Society of Boston). English subtitles by Laurence Kominz. Ensemble: Takao Akihiro; Yamanaka Gasho; Endo Hiroyoshi; Yamamoto Junzo; Yamazaki Masamichi; Akase Masanori; Kakuto Naotaka; Yamamoto Norihide; Yamamoto Norishige; Yamamoto Noritaka; Yamamoto Noritoshi; Umewaka Rokuro; Odagiri Ryoma; Fukuo Shigejuro; Umewaka Shinya; Matsuyama Takayuki; Fukuo Tomotaka; Odagiri Yasuharu; Takao Yukinori; Naito Yukio. Musicians: Kamei Hirotada; Shimizu Kosuke; Okawa Noriyoshi; Isso Takayuki. “I was fascinated by this art form that began two centuries before Shakespeare’s birth and is still performed in the same exact style (kabuki, the “low” to Noh’s “high”, came later). … “Mochizuki” was a revenge-tragedy, featuring the celebrated Lion Dance which would later become a part of Stephen Sondheim’s PACIFIC OVERTURES; in the comic “The Trapping of the Fox”, a trickster fox outwitted a sober-sided trapper (the trapper’s repeated grunts of amazement were translated onscreen as “You Don’t Say!”); “Earth Spider” closed the evening with an epic battle between a trio of noble warriors and a monstrous spider. Still, there were plenty of Noh conventions to make an indelible impression: the scaling down of the traditional Noh stage with four truncated pillars symbolizing the poles that define the playing area; the all-male ensemble (though the program notes mention that Noh companies now employ actresses, as well); the stylized movements, down to exact footwork for crossing the stage; the hypnotic singing and chanting that may strike Western ears as grunts, yowls and yelps, accompanied by the shrill piping of the fue (flute) and accented by the kotsuzumi (a drum that is kept moist to produce a hollow sound akin to a faucet dripping into a bucket) and the otsuzumi (a drum that is heated before performance to produce the sharp, dry sound akin to woodblocks being struck together); the slowing down and bending of Time (the “Fox”, a fifteen-minute sketch, becomes a fifty-minute cosmic farce); the use of silence as an instrument --- in “Mochizuki”, the drums were slowly, rhythmically thumped to signal the hero’s approach, paradoxically making his entrance all the more momentous. Like the breathtaking webs that the Earth Spider flung at its victims, a seductive net of sight and sound was erected, drawing in its audience … Had the Society’s evening been updated in any way, its magic would have been diminished --- the audience, once it accepted the rules, was enchanted with this display of Japan’s still-living past, needing no interpretation to find parallels in their own lives.”

THE (IN)COMPLEAT GILBERT AND SULLIVAN (New England Light Opera). Conceived by Mark Morgan and Peter A. Carey. Directed by Peter A. Carey. Musical direction by Mark Morgan. Choreography by Ilyse Robbins. Sol Kim Bentley; Mala Bhattacharya; Andrea Coleman; Richard Conrad; Galen Hair; Eugenia Hamilton; Ben Hellman; Angela Jajko; Daniel Kamalic; Jason McStoots; Mark Morgan; Sven Olbash; Joei Marshall Perry; Brent Reno; Kaja Schuppert; Erin Tchoukaleff; Brian Wagner; Krista Wilhelmsen. Accompanist: Karen Gahagan. “Mark Morgan and Peter A. Carey selected solos, ensembles and dialogue from the G&S canon and set them in a simple but elegant drawing room where a butler (“Young Tenor”) and a maid (“Soprano”) ushered in numerous guests --- among them, “Character Baritone” and “Lady Mezzo” --- for an evening of Savoyard fun and games. … It was all great fun; hopefully the WORKS will return for a “compleat” run, and soon --- Man cannot live on anthems alone.”

NOYE’S FLUDDE (Revels). Composed by Benjamin Britten. Directed by Patrick Swanson. Musical direction by George Emlen. Cast: John Arida; Gillian Chase; Adian Dempsey; Dean Ebozue; Paul Guttry; Winta Hailem; Alison Howe; John Langstaff; Victoria Mayne; Michelle Micciche; Gabriel Paradis; Aliza Ritko; Clara Suh; Lynn Torgove; Fiona Wada-Gill, with Chorus of children from Boston City Singers; Rvels Circle of Song; First Unitarian Society in Newton; Glen Urquhart School; Long School of Music; Shady Hill School. “Revels produced [NOYE’S FLUDDE] for two performances in an ideal setting, The First Church, Cambridge; the performance was a labor of love nursed along for almost a decade and it was glorious, with the Ark being pieced together before our eyes and the ranks of children, carrying cutout heads of birds and beasts on sticks, swelling the aisles and sweeping the audience along in spirit, and a rainbow unfolding like a giant Technicolor fan when the Ark comes to rest on dry land. Mary Azarian and Seth Bodie garbed and painted the soloists to resemble black ink on white parchment; when all were aboard the Ark, their heads peeping over the side, the flattened tableau resembled the famous woodcut illustration for Sebastian Brandt’s THE SHIP OF FOOLS. … May Revels sail their production back into the Boston area --- and soon. NOYE’S FLUDDE is a great Bible lesson and one of those perfect introductions to theatre for the young (and even old), on both sides of the footlights.”

RENO: REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE (Jimmy Tingle’s Off-Broadway Theatre). “I recently scribbled that the time has come for theatre pieces to reflect how Americans are feeling today about the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, now that the nation has moved beyond its initial shock, anger and grief. At Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theater, the New York-based comedienne Reno is slamming out her current thoughts on the matter with thought-provoking humor in her one-woman RENO: REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE. If comedy requires a detachment, a stepping back from one’s subject matter, then Reno’s show is all the more amazing as she first conceived it only weeks after the tragedy, performing and revising it onstage and in an award-winning film. She is angry as hell and refreshingly welcome.”

SHAKESPEARE’S R & J (Mill 6 Theatre Cooperative). Written by Joe Calarco. Directed by Barlow Adamson. Cast: Spencer S. Christie; Tyler Hollinger; Jeremy Johnson; Adam Soule. “The greatest gift a director can give an actor is to make him feel relaxed onstage. … It takes courage for an actor to be vulnerable in his art --- he risks being deemed weak or effeminate --- and needs to be gentled into subjects that mainstream audiences cannot easily or willingly accept such as tenderness, affectionate or passionate, among members of the male sex; the world still rumbles whenever a man embraces or kisses another man, onstage or in public. The director should --- must! --- be comfortable with the material him/herself and relax his/her actors who in turn, must relax their audience --- when all is in sync, what is deemed shocking comes off as natural and healthy. Actor-director Barlow Adamson and Mill 6 Theatre Cooperative have accomplished this feat rather well with the New England premiere of Joe Calarco’s award-winning SHAKESPEARE’S R & J --- theirs is a good production and, in turn, good Shakespeare.”

Susan Bigger; Ellen Colton; John Davin; Mariko Kanto; Nora Marie Murphy; W. Yvonne Murphy and Ilyse Robbins as the Seven Dwarfs in SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (Wheelock Family Theatre). “[The dwarfs] are adorable, a diminutive ensemble within a larger one and played with Elizabethan zest, all with pointed hats and most of them sporting whiskers. Their personalities come from their rustic little souls and not from their labels and they are great fun to watch, together and individually; [Susan] Bigger is particularly grand as a mini-Falstaff. When the dwarfs heralded their first entrance by tossing up sacks from an underground opening to the strains of Grieg’s “In the Halls of the Mountain King”, I settled back, smiling: I knew they were going to be wonderful --- and they were.”

Nancy E. Carroll in “Cat Lady” at the Sixth Annual Boston Theatre Marathon (2004). Israel Horowitz’s ten-minute monologue was spoken by an old woman while searching for her missing cat; Ms. Carroll, in her detailed artistry, turned “Cat Lady” into a full-scale production and the highlight of the Marathon, proving there are no small plays, only small scripts.

The Devanaughn Theatre at the Piano Factory. “There will come a time when the growing excellence of community theatre in and around the Boston area will be given its due; when that time comes, the historic Piano Factory may prove to be a major focal point smack-dab in Beantown (its brick-lined funkiness is akin to many an off-off-Broadway space in Manhattan). … Designers must love the Piano Factory’s challenge as its performing space adapts to each vision yet always remains itself --- exposed brick with a square hollow in its back wall. Those who can adapt to the Factory’s aesthetics tend to come up with good theatre as a rule … I know of no other theatre in Boston that continues to act alongside whatever artists are contained in its embrace.”

MEMORABLE PRODUCTIONS:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (Trinity Repertory Company). Conceived and originally directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., based on an idea by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr. Originally choreographed by Arthur Faria. Orchestration and arrangements by Luther Henderson. Directed and choreographed by Kent Gash. Assistant director and choreographer: Byron Easley. Musical direction by Darryl G. Ivey. Cast: Kia L. Glover; Dwayne Grayman; Barbara D. Mills; NaTasha Yvette Williams; Joe Wilson, Jr. “The winter holidays may be a few months away but as far as I’m concerned they have already begun with Trinity’s wonderful gift to the fall season. Come celebrate. “

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE (Mugford Street Players). Written by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Jim Butterfield. Produced and designed by John Fogle. Cast: Georgette Beck; Janet Dauray; Matteo Pangallo; Erik Rodenhiser. “Mr. Butterfield places everything on the small stage of St. Peter Church’s Parish Hall --- the audience included --- and it works brilliantly: by sitting only a few feet away from the actors, the audience is practically having tea with Maureen at the table or sitting in Mag’s lap and being rocked in a fierce embrace. You’re in for a bit of rubbernecking, depending on where you sit, but the acoustics are crystal clear; the dialogue bounces out into the empty hall and back onto the stage, allowing the actors to speak in natural tones. Mr. Fogle has designed a simple, dank little kitchen set and illuminates it with a few overhanging spots: he could probably light a stadium with a single match. “

BELLA DONNA (Devanaughn Theatre). Written by John Kavanagh. Directed by Rose Carlson. Cast: Dani Duggan; Dan Fitzpatrick; Dan Fitzpatrick; Michael Gonzales; Richard La France; Randy Marquis; Gerard Slattery; Webb Tilney; Alex Zielke. “BELLA DONNA is impressive on several levels: “Irish”-ness has been banished, for starters --- instead of a spitfire colleen, there is Maria Connelly, a shy, conflicted woman, American-born but Irish-bred, who is the burn victim’s intended but falls in love with Maj. Dillman and he with her; instead of a crone, there is Nurse Mahon, a nun who runs the hospital with the grim determination of a captain trying to keep a sinking ship afloat; the local police sergeant is in robust good humor but not a buffoon about it; there is death but at Nature’s hands; a Christmas toast does not end in drunken revelry but in a slow dance culminating in a kiss; etc. --- refreshing stuff, this.”

COMPANY (SpeakEasy Stage Company). Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Directed by Paul Daigneault. Musical direction by Paul S. Katz. Choreography by David Connolly. Cast: Jerry Bisantz; Stephanie Carlson; Nancy E. Carroll; Sara Chase; Aimee Doherty; Kerry A. Dowling; Ted Hewlett; Julie Jirousek; David Krinitt; Will McGarrahan; Sean McGuirk; Michael Mendiola; Merle Perkins; Elaine Theodore. “SpeakEasy’s 35th anniversary production of Stephen Sondheim’s COMPANY is of such surpassing excellence you soon forget you are at the new Stanford Calderwood Pavilion. You forget because SpeakEasy has been turning out cake for years even when the scripts themselves were ho-hum; with COMPANY, SpeakEasy simply sidesteps from the BCA into the Roberts Studio Theatre, its new home long-deserved and well-earned.”

THE EXORCISSY (The Gold Dust Orphans). Written by Ryan Landry. Directed by James P. Byrne. Cast: Afrodite; Batgirl; Olive Another; James P. Byrne; Penny Champagne; Larry Coen; Elise Garfinkel; Ryan Landry; Chris Loftus; Megan Love; Walter “Bonkers” MacLean; Haylee Shrimpton. “THE EXORCISSY, Ryan Landry’s spin on the 1973 horror film THE EXORCIST, is his wildest spoof, yet. … What makes THE EXORCISSY so wild is the Messrs. Landry and Byrne give the semblance of a film unfolding with their whirlwind blackouts from the main stage and from the aisles --- curtains are forever opening and closing at breakneck speed. If the physical flow tends to trip over its own heels (!) now and then, remember that flesh is not celluloid but even the occasional “oops” only adds to the winking fun.”

FOREVER PLAID (Stuart Street Playhouse 2nd Stage). Written and originally directed and choreographed by Stuart Ross. Musical continuity supervision and arrangements by James Raitt. Originally produced by Gene Wolsk. Directed by Dale Sandish. Musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg. Cast: Logan Benedict; Miguel Cervantes; Andrew Giordano; Adam Souza. “Four continues to be the lucky number for the Stuart Street Playhouse --- its Second Stage opened its doors with its acclaimed production of JACQUES BREL (2 men; 2 women). Now, with MENOPAUSE: THE MUSICAL (4 women) happily settled in on the main stage, the Second Stage scores again with the “heavenly hit musical” FOREVER PLAID, where the Plaids, a close-harmony male quartet who died in a car crash in 1964 en route to their first professional gig, have been allowed to return to earth tonight to fulfill their engagement; their repertoire consists of standards from the 1950s --- great fun, even without female voices and out-and-out dance numbers.” [Note: The 2nd Stage has closed, since this review.]

AN INFINITE ACHE (Merrimack Repertory Theatre). Written by David Schulner. Directed by Greg Leaming. Cast: David Josefsberg; Eunice Wong. “Mr. Schulner’s storytelling technique is not original --- offhand, I can think of five established plays that have danced to the music of time --- but his ear and his heart are in the right place and his insights are alternately witty and searing, as marital insights tend to be; Charles is a good-natured doofus from start to finish but Hope is a compelling study of a fierce young woman who evolves into loving Charles yet continuously rocks their boat for various reasons; she does not go gently into the dark.”

JOHNNY GUITAR: THE MUSICAL (SpeakEasy Stage). Book by Nichoals van Hoogstraten. Music by Martin Silvestri and Joel Higgins. Lyrics by Joel Higgens. Directed by Paul Daigneault. Music direction by José Delgado. Choreography by David Connolly. Cast: Margaret Ann Brady; Christopher Chew; Christopher Cook; Luke Hawkins; Drew Poling; John Porcaro; Timothy J. Smith; Kathy St. George; J. T. Turner. “SpeakEasy Stage, giving JOHNNY GUITAR: THE MUSICAL its New England premiere, is faithful enough to the staging of the original off-Broadway production and there’s a nice, homegrown feel to the evening. Director Paul Daigneault and choreographer David Connolly never allow things to sink into the florid or garish, keeping things light and dry, and they reap affectionate laughter for their pains.”

KISS ME, KATE (North Shore Music Theatre). Music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Samuel and Bella Spewack. Directed by Alan Coats. Choreography by Lee Wilkins. Musical direction by Antony Geralis. Cast: Sarah Anderson; Edward M. Barker; David Coffee; Jeremy Davis; Rachel deBenedet; Dick Decareau; David Dollase; George Dvorsky; Paul D. Farwell; Liane Grasso; Ashley Hull; Brian Kremer; Deb Leamy; Erich McMillan-McCall; Patrick Mullaney; J. T. O’Connor; Sean Palmer; Steven Petrillo; Ami Price; Christine Pardilla Reeds; Carolyn Saxon; Melissa Swender; James Van Treuren; Patrick Wetzel; Jessica Wright. “The trouble with a theatre warhorse is that one assumes it will always be playing somewhere, so there’s no rush to see any particular production. Well, you would be wise to catch Cole Porter’s KISS ME, KATE at the North Shore Music Theatre for it is done up in style, in period and in joy.”

LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL (Providence Black Repertory Company). Written by Lanie Robertson. Directed by Rose Weaver. Cast: April Armstrong; Dean Marcellana; Pepe (dog). “The show’s success depends on how deep a director and a singer-actress can cut into [Billie Holiday’s] pain; The Providence Black Repertory Company production succeeds admirably.”

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (Lyric Stage Company). Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler, suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman. Originally produced and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Choreography by Ilyse Robbins. Musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg. Cast: Frank Aronson; Leigh Barrett; Celeste Beck; Christopher Chew; Lianne Grasso; Susan Gross; Elizabeth Hayes; Will Keary; Stephen Marc Beaudoin; Billy Piscopo; Drew Poling; Andrea C. Ross; Vanessa Schukis; Kaja K. Schuppert; Kristen Sergeant; Bobbie Steinbach; Harley Yanoff; Maryann Zschau. “The Lyric Stage’s production is not only superb in and of itself, it is also a lovely showcase for much of the best musical talents in the Boston area; if you want to see Beantown at its best, this season, this is the place to start.”

LOOT (Quannapowitt Players). Written by Joe Orton. Directed by Donna Corbett. Cast: Shawn Maguire; Hugh Metzler; Nathan Meyers; Mark Morrison; John Pease; Brian Sensale; Melissa Sine; Marianne Uttam. “[H]osannas, all around, for a production that was splendid in life and will be fondly remembered in memoriam.”

MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL (Stuart Street Playhouse). Book and lyrics by Jeanie Linders. Co-directed by Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte. Choreography by Patty Bender. Musical director, orchestrations and arrangements … Kathryn Conte. Cast: Mary Callanan; Adrienne Cote; Kathy St. George; Avery Sommers. “Women will love MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL --- at the two performances I attended (yes; two), the packed houses rocked with female laughter; the open, hearty laughter of recognition --- and a man needn’t feel he has been dragged along to Girls’ Night Out: he can enjoy the still-toe tapping tunes and gain insights into what women must endure when their biological clocks begin to ring; if he can turn to a woman --- any woman --- and say, “I never knew women have to go through all that,” then Ms. Linders has scored as an educator as well as an entertainer.” [Note: I even went back, a third time!]

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company) Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Steven Maler. Cast: Paul Anderson; Kaolin Bass; Chris Butterfield; Matt Citron; Carolina DeLima; Matthew Dickson; Robert Doris; Ricardo Engerman; Paul Farwell; Jeff Gill; Elisa Gonzales; Georgia Hatzis; James Noel Hoban; Margaret Katch; Danielle Levanas; Ray McDavitt; Sean McGuirk; Amelia Nickles; Jacqui Parker; John Porell; Jonno Roberts; Joshua Rollins; Lissa Romaine; John Russell; Josh Segovia; Vincent Siders; Stephen Squibb; Bobbie Steinbach; Rydia Vielehr. “By George, he’s (almost) got it! “He” is producer/director Steven Maler; “it” is Mr. Maler’s annual outdoor production for the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. ‘Tis MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, this time around, that merry comedy featuring Beatrice and Benedict, those thrust-and-parry lovers, and Mr. Maler’s production works, it works; oh, how it works: there are no imported “name” actors; no gimmickry; no mise-en-scène inspired by headline topics --- instead, Scott Bradley has designed a dimensional, timeless ruin of a villa that allows the non-stop action to flow at a bustling pace; indeed, Mr. Bradley may have provided the guidelines for Mr. Maler: since the villa remains as bare as a bone save for a brief string of lanterns, the director had little choice but to concentrate on his players, with happy results (he may become an actor’s director, yet): as the performance unfolded, my astonishment gave way to pleasure at the sight of an ensemble securely embedded in the verse, creating worlds with words, nothing but words, as good Shakespeareans are meant to do.”

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (American Repertory Theatre). Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Martha Clarke. Flying by Foy. Cast: Remo;Airaldi; Michi;Barall; Erica Berg; Jonathan Broke; John Campion; Tug Coker; Thomas Derrah; Jeremy Geidt; Lisa Giobbi; Olivia Grant; Snow Guilfoyle; Will LeBow; Karen MacDonald; Will Peebles; Jessee J. Perez; Katharine Powell; Paola Styron; Daniel Talbott. “I remember seeing dancer/choreographer Martha Clarke cavorting in a Pierrot outfit when she performed with the Pilobolus Dance Theatre in the 1970s and I saw both versions of her dream-work, VIENNA LUSTHAUS (1986; 2003), which I liked and admired, each time. I attended Ms. Clarke’s new production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM somewhat at odds: (1) the company being the A.R.T., I feared that Shakespeare’s lovers, mechanicals and fairies were bound to suffer; (2) the director being Martha Clarke, I would be compensated with more of her dreams. Surprisingly, Shakespeare wins out --- Ms. Clarke handles his verse with care --- and the results are enjoyable: the production, set on a rake of dirt against a midnight scrim and boasting an armchair for its scenery, is quite conventional and could easily be transferred to the Huntington, intact.”

NINE (North Shore Music Theatre). Book by Arthur Kopit. Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. Based on Federico Fellin’s film “8½”. Directed and choreographed by Barry Ivan. Musical direction by Dale Rieling. Cast: Inga Ballard; Amy Barker; Becky Barta; John-Michael Breen; Charlotte Cohn; Josie de Guzman; Milena Govich; Melissa Hart; Jacqueline Hendy; Joanne Javien; Cindy Marchionda; Beth McVey; Jaclyn Minerva; Robert Newman; Melissa A. Rouse; Carol Schuberg; Amanda Serkasevich; Alison Spratt; Jennifer Taylor. “If you missed Turtle Lane’s offering --- which is a pity as it proved how good Boston’s community theatre has become --- there is plenty to enjoy at North Shore with its handsome leading man and his golden harem.”

NOISES OFF (Lyric Stage Company). Written by Michael Frayn. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Cast: Barlow Adamson; Neil A. Casey; Sarah deLima; Jessica Healy ; Bob Jolly; Jeremiah Kissel; David Krinitt ; Kristen Sergeant; Maryann Zschau. “If you’ve never seen NOISES OFF or wish to see it again, I’m pleased to report that the Lyric Stage is having an enjoyable go at it --- not since its acclaimed production of LEND ME A TENOR, two years ago, have I witnessed its auditorium so awash with laughter; it couldn’t end its season on a more riotous note.”

OUR LADY OF 121st STREET (SpeakEasy Stage Company). Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Paul Melone. Cast: Paulo Branco; Ricardo Engermann; Stacy Fischer; Ray McDavitt; Robert D. Murphy; Luis Negrón; Jacqui Parker; Rodney Raftery; Vincent E. Siders; Jim Spencer; Elaine Theodore; Jennifer Young. “Much of this LADY is hamfisted fun: Mr. Guirgis wears softer armor than [David] Mamet but has a great ear for Mouth. … On the night I attended, the audience was racially mixed and everyone laughed --- when it comes to Mouth, all the world’s a stage so, in the style of Mr. Guirgis’ tough-and-tender characters, I say get yo’ sorry ass down to the BCA box office.”

PERMANENT COLLECTION (New Repertory Theatre). Written by Thomas Gibbons. Directed by Adam Zahler. Cast: Benjamin Evett; Paul D. Farwell; Clark Jackson; Giselle Jones; Tracy Olivero; Sylvia Ann Soares. “In PERMANENT COLLECTION, Sterling North, a well-educated black businessman becomes president of the Morris Foundation, a private art collection known for its Matisse, Cezanne and Renoir, all carefully, aesthetically arranged with two African masks hanging in the midst of all those “naked white women”. Sterling finds other pieces of African art in storage and wants to display them, as well, but Paul Barrow, a white man and the Foundation’s educational director, protests that Sterling’s proposal would go against Alfred Morris’ will which specifies that the collection, as hung, cannot be altered in any way, shape or form --- it is a permanent collection. Sterling counters that Paul’s resistance to change is racially motivated; when Paul confides his thoughts to a journalist and finds himself branded a racist, things spiral out of control with, ironically, the Foundation itself suffering the most. The question is: who decides what is Art and what deserves to be displayed to the public? … [N]ow that conformity, acquiescence and indifference are sweeping across this country it is good to have Mr. Gibbons pushing the right/wrong buttons and getting Americans riled up and agitated, again. … PERMANENT COLLECTION remains important viewing and New Repertory has done it up proud .“

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE (Vokes Theatre). Written by Steve Martin. Directed by James Barton. Cast: Michael Barbo; Michael DiMinico; John Greiner-Ferris; Jennifer Kaufmann; Ari Vigoda; Bob Williams; Grant Wood; Robert Zawistowski; Milena Zuccotti. “The Vokes continues its winning streak with James Barton’s production, directed with deadpan tongue firmly in cheek.”

POPCORN (Zeitgeist Stage Company). Written by Ben Elton. Directed and designed by David J. Miller. Cast: Richard Arum; Chris Chanyasulkit; Stephen Epstein; Susan Gross; Jennifer Huth; Caryn Andrea Lindsey; George Saunier III; Jesse Soursourian; Naeemah A. White-Peppers. “This had proved to be a rich year for comedy in the Boston area --- all kinds; light and dark --- but none will surpass POPCORN in its daring and its moral outrage. If American culture is truly as bad as Mr. Elton paints it to be and one must either laugh or go mad over it, the Zeitgeist production is the perfect place to go down laughing. Congratulations to Mr. Miller & Company for their courage in taking on Mr. Elton’s vision and their artistry to pull it off. I’m still stunned.”

PRIVATE LIVES (The Lyric Stage Company). Written by Noel Coward. Directed by Scott Edmiston. Cast: Barlow Adamson; Amy B. Corral; Mandy Fox; Michael Hammond; Paula Plum. “When Elyot & Amanda & Sybil & Victor are going at it hammer and tong in Acts One and Three, Mr. Edmiston’s production is delightful --- yes, the Lyric has a hit! --- and makes me think twice when, last September, I wrote that PRIVATE LIVES’ fizz had gone flat; clearly, it hasn’t --- on the night I attended, there was much happy barking coming from the darkened auditorium.”

PROOF (Vokes Theatre). Written by David Auburn. Directed by Celia Couture. Cast: Susan Condit; Judson L. Pierce ; Melissa Sine; David Warnock. “The Vokes, which will be celebrating its centenary this year, has turned out some of the finest community theatre in the Boston area, nor do they disappoint with their latest offering.”

PUSSY ON THE HOUSE (The Gold Dust Orphans). Written by Ryan Landry. Directed by James P. Byrne. Cast: Olive Another; James P. Byrne; Penny Champagne; Larry Coen; Ryan Landry; Chris Loftus; The Marsian; Keith Orr. “On the evening I attended PUSSY ON THE HOUSE, Ryan Landry’s version of Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, there were a number of theatre critics in the audience --- a Gold Dust Orphan first! I could not read their thoughts, of course, but the rest of the audience, myself included, had a grand old time with Mr. Ryan’s latest offering which shows him, director James P. Byrne and their Orphans ever evolving in their artistry. THE BAD SEED hinted at their serious side; now with that ripe character clown Larry Coen entering the ring again, PUSSY ON THE HOUSE steers away from trashy farce and into solid dramatic territory. It is still riotously funny but Mr. Landry, inspired by Mr. Coen’s presence, now proves that a man in drag can be as dignified, insightful and relevant as any woman in a pair of pants. … [Mr. Landry] has raised his own standards with PUSSY ON THE HOUSE and I hope those critics who attended will return --- I have a feeling they ain’t seen nothing, yet.”

THE SAVIOR OF FENWAY (Nate Meyer Productions). Written by Brendon Bates. Directed by Michael D. Laibson. Cast: Brendon Bates; Joe Burch; John Highsmith; Nate Meyer. “When it came to choosing sides for high-school baseball I was always the kid who was picked last yet I enjoyed Brendon Bates’ award-winning THE SAVIOR OF FENWAY on the grounds that it’s a good, solid little play --- on the night I attended, the score was ACTORS: 4, AUDIENCE: 5, which is a pity and a disgrace; it deserves to become better known.”

SAY YOU LOVE SATAN (Zeitgeist Stage Company). Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Directed and designed by David J. Miller. Cast: Alexander Albregts; John Meigs; Angela Rose; Brian Turner; Jeff Zorabedian. “Zeitgeist Stage helps to ring down summer’s curtain with its enjoyable production of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s award-winning SAY YOU LOVE SATAN, where Andrew, a pudgy young man who loves his Dostoyevsky, becomes involved with Jack, a bare-chested stud who claims to be the son of the Devil. After seeing David J. Miller’s stunning production of that killer-comedy POPCORN, several months ago, I didn’t know what to expect, but SAY YOU LOVE SATAN is popcorn itself, light and fluffy with a few hard kernels (i.e., the darkening plot) to remind you that this is, after all, cutting edge theatre.”

SCAPIN (New Repertory Theatre). Book and lyrics by Rick Lombardo. Music and lyrics by Haddon Kime. Adapted from “Les fourberies de Scapin” by Molière. Directed by Rick Lombardo. Musical direction by Haddon Kime. Choreography by Kelli Edwards. Cast: Ken Baltin; Steven Barkhimer; Bret Carr; Miguel Cervantes; Bonita J. Hamilton; John Kuntz; Matthew J. Nichols; Jennifer Lafleur; Bates Wilder. “I am not such a purist that I cannot enjoy an update of an old play provided it runs parallel to the spirit of the original, which New Rep’s Rick Lombardo has brilliantly done with his version of Molière’s SCAPIN. [It] is a unique, one-of-a-kind entertainment --- I cannot predict its legs with another cast or in another city; the only legs I’m concerned about now are yours --- can you run to the phone, fast enough?”

THE SHREW TAMER (Northern Stage). Original adaptation by Brooke Ciardelli, adapted from “The Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare and “The Tamer Tamed” by John Fletcher. Directed by Brooke Ciardelli. Cast: Rowan Brooks; Heidi Fagan; David Fehr; Vivia Font; Thom Haneline; Karl Jacob; Lena Kaminsky; Aaron Munoz; Maren Perry; Summer Serafin; Jefferson Slinkard; Michael Solomon; Nicholas Urda. “What will prove to be one of the most talked-about theatre events in New England this season is currently taking place in the Vermont town of White River Junction where Northern Stage is world-premiering Brooke Ciardelli’s THE SHREW TAMER, her pairing of William Shakespeare’s comedy THE TAMING OF THE SHREW with John Fletcher’s little-known sequel, THE TAMER TAMED. Shakespeare’s riotous battle of the sexes has always been a controversial favorite; when joined to Mr. Fletcher’s spin where Woman proves triumphant, Ms. Ciardelli’s play will provoke as well as entertain both sexes --- though not necessarily at the same time.”

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (Wheelock Family Theatre). Written by Jessie Braham White, based on the Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm. Directed by Jane Staab. Cast: Kortney Adams; Robin V. Allison; Emily Bache; Shelley Bolman; Jonalis Carrasquillo; Alison Dempsey; Alison Dempsey; Yahanna Faith; Kate Frederic; Annie Giddings; Elbert Joseph; Amanda Kline; Zoë Lewis; Doug Lockwood; Rachel Nicholson; Robert Saoud; Jane Staab. The Seven Dwarfs: Susan Bigger; Ellen Colton; John Davin; Mariko Kanto; Nora Marie Murphy; W. Yvonne Murphy; Ilyse Robbins. Cats: Patrico Artusa; Drew Buckley; David Kalm; Aaron Ladd; Emma McKenney; Jacqueline Stipo. Forest Animals/Pages/Sisters: Celín Carlo-Gonzalez; Grace Churchill; Emily Eldridge-Ingram; Olivia Gutfreund; Aliyah Harris; Aliza Heeren; Sydnee Jackson; Cheyenne Jones; Olivia Kivel; Lea Luniewicz; Caroline Mancusi; Zeba Race; Kyle Reeve; Zane Roth; Alison Rowe; Emma Stern; Megan Uehlein; Alex Waye; Talia Weingarten. “If you have or know of children with nothing to do on an upcoming afternoon or evening, or if you wish to turn back your own clock for a few hours, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS at the Wheelock Family Theatre is a treat for all ages.”

SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (Northeastern University). Written by Tennessee William. Directed by Del Lewis. Cast: Scott Adams; Carly Assael; Tristan Bultman; Brian C. Fahey; Leah Canali; Dayin Chen; John Fagan; Ilana Guttin; Sean Hopkins; Ross Hopman; Brenna Isaacson; Thomas Keating; David Lucas; Gillian Mackay-Smith; Fiona Mallek; Lisa Martin; Cassandra Meyer; Sean Morris; Maylin Murphy; Brian Petersen; Joseph Ripley; Mike Satow; Matt Seaver; Nate Thibodeau. “Last spring, Boston University did a respectable production of Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF; for a few performances more, Northeastern University is surpassing it with Mr. Williams’ SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH: watching the N. U. production, at times you may forget that these are college students stirring up this tarnished pot of love, hate, lust and decadence --- it’s that good.”

TRANSLATIONS (Devanaughn Theatre). Written by Brian Friel. Directed by Dani Duggan. Cast: Rose Carlson; Dan Cozzens; John Dupuis; Kevin Groppe; Mike Manship; Joyeux Noel; Rob O’Dwyer; Brian Quint; Colleen Rua; Gerald Slattery. “The Devanaugh Theatre [has] been turning out satisfying shows there for some time, consumed by adventurous, modest-sized audiences; its production of TRANSLATIONS is an impressive start to its 2004-2005 season. “

VAN GOGH IN JAPAN (Nora Theatre Company). Written and directed by R. L. Lane. Original music composed by Dewey Dellay. Cast: Steven Barkhimer; Robert Bonotto; Seth Compton; Faith Justice; Seth Kanor; Michaela Lipsey; Joe Pacheco; Scott Severance; Mara Sidmore. “R. L. Lane’s VAN GOGH IN JAPAN, first stage-read in Boston two autumns ago and now premiering through The Nora Theatre, is a work as beautiful and tormented as its subject --- artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) in his final years, looking for love, acceptance and the Great Good Place which, to him, was an idealized vision of Japan grafted onto Arles with brilliant and disastrous results. Mr. Lane has written without a net --- his own blood, sweat and tears mingling with Vincent’s. … Magnificent chunks of theatre, here, and Mr. Lane’s dialogue hits the ear the way fresh bread and good wine hit the tongue be it served in the burning-hot countryside or in a chilly Parisian garret.”

THE WEIR (Mugford Street Players). Written by Colin McPherson. Directed and co-designed by John Fogle. Cast: Stephen Cooper; Deborah Linehan; Shawn Maguire; Michael McNamara; Kevin Walker. “As expected, the Mugford production is good bread-and-butter with John Fogle continuing to be a leading actors’ director in the Boston area.”

THE WELL OF THE SAINTS (Súgán Theatre). Written by John Millington Synge. Directed by Carmel O’Reilly. Cast: Nate Connors; Michael Dell’Orto; Beth Gotha; Timothy P. Hoover; Caryn Andrea Lindsey; Billy Meleady; Therese Plaehn; Kate Reilly; Derry Woodhouse. “[H]aving seen both the Abbey and Súgán productions [of THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD and THE WELL OF THE SAINTS, respectively], I must say the Súgán does the more convincing job. … [T]his humble little evening has a rough, honest texture to it that the Abbey Theatre failed to apply to its own.”

WONDERFUL TOWN (Boston Conservatory). Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Book by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov, based upon the play “My Sister Eileen by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov and the stories by Ruth McKenney. Sketches for “What a Waste” by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Directed by Paul Daigneault. Choreographed by David Connolly. Musical direction by Janet Roma. Cast: Kawa Ada; Logan Benedict; Adam Berry; Julie Burchfield; Rachel Cantor; Darla Cardwell; Bret Carr; Katherine Donahoe; Michael Fasano; Misha Faucher; Luke Hawkins; Eric Imhoff; Colin Israel; Aaron Jackson; Tim Kava; Veronica Kuehn; Nikka Lanzarone; Michael Mahany; Dan Micciche; Andrew Miramontes; Emily Mixon; Meghan Murphy; Dayla Perkins; Kyle Pleasant; Nina Ragaz; Valerie Sages; Dominic Sahagan; Lindsay Schuman; Mara Solar; Bronwyn Stayoch; Matt Wolpe; Rance Wright. “Total it up, now: a classic musical, staged by the best team in Boston, showcasing bright, young talents --- who needs Broadway, sometimes?”

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

AUNTIE MAME (Ogunquit Playhouse). Written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Based on the novel by Patrick Dennis. Directed by Richard Sabellico. Cast: Tolan Aman ; Kerrie Blaisdell; Charles Busch; Penny Fuller; Jennifer Harmon; Michael McCormick; Susan Pourfar; Gordana Rashovich; Victor Slezak; Patrick Ryan Sullivan; Max Von Essen. “Through Mame, author Patrick Dennis took a (closeted) stance against the conformity of his times and his fairy godmother has spread his message from page to stage to film to musical to film over the decades but is now quite tame; Mame’s cult/camp status has kept her head above water and thus it should come as no surprise that [Charles] Busch has taken her up, automatically revitalizing Mame’s flamboyance and bringing a new dimension to Mr. Dennis’ plea to embrace the unconventional. Mr. Busch proves that AUNTIE MAME still has legs --- and his own aren’t so bad, either.”

BAD SEED (The Footlight Club). Written by Maxwell Anderson, based on the novel by William March. Directed by Paul Conroy. Cast: Edwin Beschler; Danny Harris; Peter Martin; Jesse Martin; Nicole Meinhart; Christine Power; Jim Skypeck; Rebecca Stevens; Jim Taber; Leslie Talbot; Deidre Wade. “The Footlight Club production proves there is no need to send up BAD SEED; despite its horrors, it has its own dark humor.”

BURN THIS (Devanaughn Theatre). Written by Lanford Wilson. Directed by Rose Carlson. Cast: Richard La France; Joshua Rollins; Mara Sidmore; Adam Soule. “On the afternoon I attended the Devanaughn Theatre production, the audience barely outnumbered the actors which was a shame for it is really quite good; its current glow would be fanned to a blaze with a fuller house.”

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Company One). Written by Anthony Burgess, adapted from his novel. Directed by Shawn LaCount and Mark Abby VanDerzee. Cast: Walter Belenky; Linda Carmichael; Tony Dangerfield; Peter Darrigo; Brian C. Fahey; Seth Holbrook; Ed Hoopman; James Milord; Joyeux Noël; Mike Premo; Brian Quint; Raymond Ramirez; Mason Sand; Claire Shinkman; Kristian Williams. “A Boston newspaper has given as good a thrashing to Company One’s production of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE as its anti-hero, Alex, and his droogs give to their random victims; I attended a performance and rather liked it, myself … Shawn LaCount and Mark Abby VanDerzee provide much imaginative staging and the Company’s production does have the crude, heady fascination of a day-glo poster in a dark alley, and I enjoyed its bitter, metallic taste that never once turned sweet or creamy … its look and feel is rathskeller-European as was New Rep’s recent production of THE THREEPENNY OPERA.”

INCORRUPTIBLE (Vokes Theatre). Written by Michael Hollinger. Directed and designed by John Barrett. Cast: David Berti; Andy Brown; Anne Damon; Aimee Doherty; Dan Kelly; Mikki Lipsey; Jeff Mahoney; David Wood. “[I]n order for Mr. Hollinger to stay true to his vision, INCORRUPTIBLE would had to have been a regular bloodbath; instead, true love and true faith triumph neatly, tidily, without a drop of red, anywhere. … [L]ike his handling of last year’s DEVIL’S DISCIPLE, [John Barrett’s] current production takes a while to warm up; when colors finally surface for Act Two’s slapstick they may not be sparking blacks, reds and purples but at least they swirl and divert --- and his kooky, well-contrasted ensemble go to great lengths --- and succeed --- to fill in the gaps with their own hilarity.”

LAST RITES (Theatre Offensive). Written by Letta Neely. Directed by Brian Freeman. Cast: Michelle Dowd; Renita Martin; Abria Smith; Naeemah A. White-Peppers. “LAST RITES [is] a celebration of the lifelong friendship between Dutch and Patrice, two butch lesbians … Ms. Neely has written a tough, funny play without apology or sensation.”

LETTICE AND LOVAGE (Quannapowitt Players). Written by Peter Shaffer. Directed by John Fogle. Cast: Erin Boyle; Amy Brown; Barbara Dempsey-West; Diane Lind; Shawn Maguire; Nathan Meyers; Ruth Neeman; Nicolas Neyeloff; Vicki Righettini; Allison Russell; Jon Sachs. “As any school child will tell you, Peter Schaeffer wrote LETTICE AND LOVAGE specifically for Dame Maggie Smith; any succeeding actress taking on the role of Lettice Douffet can only hope, at best, to turn an extended sketch into a play, which Quannpowitt’s Diane Lind has done rather well.”

MAMA, I WANT TO SING! (Our Place Theatre Project). Book and lyrics by Vy Higginsen and Ken Wydro. Original music by Rudolph V. Hawkins, Pat Holley, Steven Taylor and Doris Troy. Added song “Give Us This Day” arranged by Sabreen Staples. Directed by Jacqui Parker. Choreography by Lakeisha Gilliard, Jackie Davis and Jacqui Parker. Musical direction by Andrew Williams. Cast: Emily Cruz; David Curtis; Jackie Davis; Talaya Freeman; Denise Gaskins; Lakeisha Gilliard; Chris Higgins; Louis Jacques, Jr.; Candace Lee; Jacqui Parker; Sabreen Staples; Linda Starks; Timothy Walker; Denise Young. “[T]he real drama lies in the music and the Our Place production served up a solidly committed ensemble, so in tune with the material that despite the majority of them not being trained dancers, they flowed almost as well as they sung --- more actual dance numbers, such as the snappy footwork for the show’s title song, would have been most welcome. The singers were even eloquent when clustered together for Act Two’s lovely tableau, “What Do You Win”, sipping their drinks and looking elegant in their cocktail attire.”

MATTERS FAMILIAS (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre). Written by Ginger Lazarus. Directed by Wesley Savick. Cast: Kortney Adams; Barlow Adamson; Nancy E. Carroll; Gus Kelley; Helen McElwain; Robert D. Murphy; Karen “Mal” Malme. “Should you choose to keep your distance from Scrooges and Nutcrackers this [December], consider spending an evening in the whacked-out world of Ginger Lazarus’ new play MATTER FAMILIAS at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre … Just when you think Ms. Lazarus will drown everything in whimsy, she rockets into true zaniness; her satire remains nursery-safe --- a Puck in diapers, if you will --- but her clever-clever dialogue is always amusing.”

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (Trinity Repertory Company). Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Kevin Moriarty. Cast: Aaron Andrade; Stephen Berenson; Paul L. Coffey; Nehassaiu deGannes; Tyler Dobrowsky; Janice Duclos; Melissa Fendell; Mauro Hantman; Brian Houtz; Keith Jochim; Phyllis Kay; Brian McEleney; Barbara Meek; Fred Sullivan, Jr.; Rachael Warren; Dan Welch; Ian White. “Newcomers are bound to have a blast (these WIVES adapt well to their current surroundings); purists like me will need to do some adjusting before settling in, like travelers in a new country with an outdated map. … Mr. Moriarty and his clowns achieve what they have set out to do --- to make you laugh, pure and simple --- and they are clearly having fun doing it, too, though I’m sure they would have reaped similar mirth on a bare stage and wearing doublets and hose.”

NINE (Turtle Lane Playhouse). Book by Arthur Kopit. Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. Based on Federico Fellin’s film “8½”. Directed by Elaina Vrattos. Musical direction by Wayne Ward. Choreography by Karen Fogerty. Cast: Kat Aberle; Meryl Atlas; Jacob Brandt; Jessica Brusilow; Dylan Bullard; Jaclyn Coppens; Kate deLima; Aimee Doherty; Karen Fanale; James Fitzpatrick; Nick Galatis; Linda Goetz; Heather Hannon; Lauren Hopkins; Jessica Linquata; Julia Madeson; Shannon Muhs; Shiba Nemat-Nasser; Tracy Nygard; Jocelyne O’Toole; Deb Poppel; Alicia Russo; Kimberly Schaeffer; Sam Schlesinger; Victoria Strafuss; Victoria Strafuss; Noah Teplin. Understudy to Guido … Ben DiScipio. “I came away pleased from Turtle Lane’s production of the Tony Award-winning musical NINE --- my pleasure being doubled, considering how, musical-wise, the Boston area boasts many fine singers but no dancers, a solid clutch of professional leading ladies but few professional leading men, that there are community theatre artists of high enough caliber to have encouraged Turtle Lane to take a gamble on NINE's complexities in the first place.”

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Sudbury Savoyards). Book by W. S. Gilbert; music by Arthur Sullivan. Directed by Emily C. A. Snyder. Musical direction by Katherine Engel Meifert. Cast: Ed Fell; Nicole Foti; Tambre Tarleton Knox; Kathy Lague; Gwenne Lopshire; Dennis O’Brien; Tony Parkes; Ben Stevens; Sarah Telford; James Thistlethwaite. Ensemble: Russell Adams; David Baldwin; Deirdre Bergeron; Debbie Crane; Jess Daigneuit; Randy Divinski; Jennifer Dohm; Beth Ducot; Meryl Eisenstein; Ken Gagne; Beth Galano; Cavalyn Galano; Peter Gaunt; Marcia Goldensher; Beth Goldstein; John Gorgone; Ruth Griesel; Cynthia Horn; Fred Hughes; Rollin Jeglum; Molly Johnson; Randi Kestin; Patrick Kinney; David Lopshire; Laurel Martin; Neil McCormick; June McKnight; Patricia McMahon; Lisa Meister; Rich Olsen; David Owen; Roy Paro; Ezra Peisach; Karen Pierce; Matt Pierce; Karen Powers; Nancy Powers; Anne Rollins; Jonathan Saul; Allie Sebeika; John Snyder; Julie Snyder; Ellen T. Spear; Ted Sullivan; Erin VanSpeybroeck; Suzanne White; Sara Williams; Jay Woodruff; T. Skyler Wrench; Marla Zucker. “Having lived on a diet of anthems these past few months, I snapped up Gilbert & Sullivan’s THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE as fast as The Sudbury Savoyards could dish it out --- happily, much of their production is good and went down easily. … This PIRATES’ strength lies in its solid, direct singing and it passes two acid tests: “Hail Poetry”, sung a cappella, is superb, and the lovers’ extended duet --- “Stay, Frederic, Stay”/“Ah, leave me not to pine”/“Oh, here is love” --- is truly heartfelt; both passages are presented stock still for utmost effectiveness.”

PYGMALION (The Longwood Players). Written by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Marc S. Miller. Cast: Ellen Adair; Kevin Ashworth; Ron Brinn; Mark Bourbeau; Olivia Doran; Max Flisi; Brenda Ladoulis; Audrey Lynn Sylvia; Renee Miller; Jeffrey B. Phillips; Gwen Sweet. “The Longwood Players, in their seventh season but new to me, brushed off George Bernard Shaw’s PYGMALION for two weekends at the Cambridge YMCA. The evening was, on the whole, a triumph, greatly enjoyed by the audience on the night I attended, and sweetened by Ellen Adair as Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl drilled by Professor Henry Higgins on how to speak like a lady.”

RAGTIME (The Footlight Club). Book by Terrence McNally. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Based on the novel “Ragtime” by E. L. Doctorow. Directed by Bill Doscher. Choreographed by Laurie Fisher. Musical direction by Thomas Lissey. Cast: Jack Agnew; Jason Beals; Ron Brinn; Christina Pizzo Buxton; Dee Crawford; Aaron Crawford, Jr.; Marshalee Ducille; P. K. Egersheim; Ian Flynn; Gabriella Guinta; Darian Johnson; Steven Key; Steven Littlehale; David Mokriski; Brian Ott; John Raftery; Kristin Shoop; Justin A. L. Waithe; Maria Wardwell. Ensemble: Nicole Braithwaite; Isaac Brody; Katherine Bryant; Beth Carey; Michelle Chiles; Ted Cormier; Colleen Dever; P. K. Egersheim; Dan Eunson; Rochelle Farquarson; Heather Fry; Paul Hassett; Jocelyn Hesse; Daria Johnson; Allison Landino; Stan LeRoy; Judy Maggs; Lauren Stakutis; Demetrius Thomas; Lessie Tyson. “Placing RAGTIME’S large ensemble on a small stage that has no turntables and little fly space is a challenge that actor-director Bill Doscher has met rather well. … [A]s often the case with community theatre, the evening is pleasant enough with jump-starts of inspiration: “The Getting Ready Rag”, where Coalhouse and his fellow Harlemites dance --- actually dance --- with Fosse-like precision; two wails from the heart: Sarah’s “Your Daddy’s Son” and the Act One finale “Till We Reach That Day”, sung over Sarah’s corpse; and, predictably, “Wheels of a Dream” which stops the show, cold.”

RICHARD III (The Actors’ Shakespeare Project). Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Benjamin Evett. Cast: Yavni Bar-Yam; Allyn Burrows; Ken Cheeseman; Benjamin Evett; David Evett; Khalil Flemming; Jennie Israel; John Kuntz; Paula Langton; Douglas R G Lockwood; Marya Lowry; David Mokriski; Sarah Newhouse; Paula Plum; Maureen Regan; Carlos Rojas; Richard Snee; Bobbie Steinbach; Greg Steres; Michael F. Walker; Addison Williams. “I [did not] expect a perfect production from the Project, first time around. Artistic Director Ben Evett, holding the directorial reins and playing Richmond for half of the run, must eventually blend his actors into a give-and-take ensemble --- for now, they are a collection of soloists, not all of them Shakespearean, and this RICHARD a three-hour puttin-on-a-show, but Mr. Evett does hold true to his original promise of bare-boned Shakespeare.”

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW (The Footlight Club). Book, lyrics and music by Richard O’Brien. Directed and choreographed by James J. Girgenti. Musical direction by Mario Cruz. Cast: Adam Barrett; Yolanda Farina; Linda Goetz; Marek Janota Bzowski; Jennifer Kenneally; Tim McShea; Paul O’Shaughnessy; John Pirroni; Richard Repetta; Rebecca Riley; Rob Rota; Eric Ruben. Transylvanians: Adriane Brayton; Justine Doré Caron; Lara Kain; Matty Laurenza; Melinda Mogel; Rebecca Riley; Rob Rota; Julie Ann Silverman; Sparkle; Deirdre Wade; Emily Wender. Wedding Party: Members of the Cast and Abby Arnold; Hannah Bucklin; Lydia Bucklin; Sarah Dixon; Brittany Edwards; Celia Givens; Michael Levy; Sherilyn Levy; Patty Lieber; Sandi McDonald; Pat Wirtenberg; Karen Wepsic; Megan Willis Jackson; Tom Wingard; Bogusia Wojciechowska. “Director James J. Girgenti directs a youthful, in-your-face production for the usually staid Footlight Club --- this is a punk-style evening rather than a celebration of criss-crossing --- Mr. Girgenti gets his cast to move rather well to the rockin’ music and there are a clutch of good singers.”

SONIA FLEW (Huntington Theatre Company). Written by Melinda Lopez. Directed by Nicholas Martin. Cast: Amelia Alvarez; Zabryna Guevara; Jeremiah Kissel; Will LeBow; Ivan Quintanilla; Carmen Roman. “A play receiving its world premiere in a spanking new theatre is an unbeatable combination --- an instant Event --- but the play must eventually take the lead. Melinda Lopez’s SONIA FLEW, debuting in the Virginia Wimberly Theatre at the new Calderwood Pavilion, ends the evening neck-and-neck with its environment, akin to THE LION KING’s celebration of life paralleling the reopening of the Opera House, several months ago.”

THEY NAMED US MARY (Another Country Productions). Written by Lyralen Kaye. Directed by Holly Newman. Cast: Lindsay Bellock; Laura DeCesare; Danielle L. Didio; Lyralen Kaye; June Murphy-Katz; Robin Rapoport; Robert Runck. “The town is Pittsburgh, the family is Irish-American, but abuse knows no time or boundaries. … THEY NAMED US MARY may be raw, unpolished stuff but it is a play Ms. Kaye had to write before flying on to future revelations --- art is like that.”

TOM JONES: THE MUSICAL (North Shore Music Theatre). Book and lyrics by Paul Leigh. Music by George Stiles. In collaboration with Daniel D. Brambilla and Vera Guerin. Based on a concept by John Doyle. Based on the novel by Henry Fielding. Directed by Gabriel Barre. Choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Musical direction and additional vocal arrangements by Lynne Shankel. Cast: Stephen Bienskie; Bill Buell; David Burnham ; Larry Daggett; Laura Marie Duncan; Angela Gaylor; Sara Gettelfinger; Tim Jerome; Barbara McCullo; Michelle Ragusa; Sheri Sanders; Jeremy Webb; Ron Wisniski. “Much of TOM JONES: THE MUSICAL works as a good-humored romp in its own right albeit a rather lengthy one: Tom may not be true to his sweetheart Sophia but Paul Leigh and George Stiles have certainly been to Mr. Fielding’s complex storytelling; the evening clocks in at three hours’ playing time yet there is little else that can be trimmed (the score, yes: the plot, no); a three-act structure instead of the current two may keep the audience’s eyes from glazing over and their bottoms from taking root.”

WHAT THE BUTLER SAW (Huntington Theatre Company). Written by Joe Orton. Directed by Darko Tresnjak. Cast: Tim Donoghue; Roderick Hill; Susan O’Connor; John Seidman; Amy Van Nostrand; Paxton Whitehead. “[I]t is good to hear Joe Orton’s words bombarding us again and the evening, despite [some] reservations, is recommended fun. Mr. Orton, however, might have shrugged --- not dangerous, enough --- and cruised the men in the lavatory, afterwards. He was like that.”

THE WHO’S TOMMY (Stoneham Theatre). Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff. Music and lyrics by Pete Townshend. Additional music and lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Directed and choreographed by Robert Jay Cronin. Musical direction by Angelyn Fullarton. Cast: Elizabeth Asti; Andrew Barbato; Connor Barry; Brad Bass; Richard Buckley; Miguel Cervantes; Whitney Cohen; Sarah Corey; Laura D. DeGiacomo; Andrew Giordano; Bradley Jensen; Thomas Keating; Robyn Elizabeth Lee; Scott Marshall; Ceit McCaleb; Liza Nagle; Ellen Peterson; Allison Russell; Robert Saoud; Anika Seidman-Gati; Bradford William Simanski; Jake Simpson; Christina Ventura. “[W]hat this TOMMY may lack in stagecraft and machinery, it impresses with its own imaginative imagery and it is exceptionally sung and danced by a large, energetic cast.”

MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES:

Barry Abramowitz (MACBETH; Shakespeare Now!). Role: Macbeth. “[Mr. Abramowitz] turns in a blood-and-thunder Macbeth, refreshingly old-fashioned. In ensembles, Mr. Abramowitz’s Thane is a Smilin’ Charlie; in his solos, he comes into his own. His voice is not rich and prone to hissing but it is also musical and intimate, shot through with melancholy --- Macbeth as poet rather than warrior. Mr. Abramowitz performs his solos, stock still --- rather than making him appear wooden, Mr. Abramowitz’s stance allows him to concentrate on the words as a recitalist and build and shape each aria from the ground up; his rueful laughter in “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” instantly changes his fiend back to human form, surveying all the wreckage he has wrought.”

Scott Adams (SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH; Northeastern University). Role: Chance Wayne. “Mr. Adams’ hustler convinces on several counts: (1) his torso, on display throughout Act One, is toned but slender, quite in keeping with 1950s beefcake; (2) rather than strutting his stuff, his Chance is taciturn; reluctant --- sex is his job, not his pleasure; he is already (mentally) separated from his penis; (3) Mr. Adams even suggests what Chance would be like in bed: kissing would be out --- all his tenderness is stored up for Heavenly --- should he ever lie with a man, he would penetrate but not be penetrated. Much of this taciturnity stems from Mr. Adams himself, who can still be a bit of a blank --- his scenes in Act Two are the pudding’s proof --- he needs to be provoked; challenged; TOUCHED into giving a detailed performance. Gillian Mackay-Smith, his Princess, magnificently supports him (no pun, intended); Mr. Adams, in turn, helps to shape her own performance.” [see also, Gillian Mackay-Smith, below]

Barlow Adamson and Mandy Fox (PRIVATE LIVES; The Lyric Stage Company). Roles: Victor Prynne; Sybil Chase. “The production’s true fascination lies in Sybil and Victor who are wonderfully personified by Mandy Fox in a bright Boston debut and Barlow Adamson who, like his contemporary Birgit Huppuch, is evolving into a solid character actor. There is no aesthetic reason for these abandoned spouses to be cast as two ninnies, though they often are --- Sybil and Victor must be attractive enough to have drawn the vain Elyot and Amanda to them in the first place and they must represent the stability that the lovers have looked for and cannot find in each other; paradoxically, that same stability makes E & A realize that marriage to S & V is a Ghastly Mistake. Ms. Fox and Mr. Adamson are certainly attractive, with the former resembling pink sugar sprinkled on fresh cream and the latter a butch manikin come to life, and they are maddeningly nice and commonsensical; they are also quite British in their decorum and, to quote once again from E. M. Forster, their undeveloped hearts --- under stress, Ms. Fox’s Sybil becomes a winking, blinking doll with an increasingly curdled smile and Mr. Adamson’s Victor becomes so rigid you could use him as a yardstick (here, Mr. Adamson’s strapping physique and shy demeanor make him the perfect drawing room stooge; he is even touching when he puts up his dukes to Elyot: this Victor clearly lacks a combative streak).”

Tolan Aman (AUNTIE MAME; Ogunquit Playhouse). Role: Young Patrick. “Though he declaims his lines throughout the evening, Tolan Aman is enchanting as Young Patrick; his droll making of a martini is one of those hushed moments in the theatre where the star, the play and the troubled world outside are forgotten for a few moments.”

Olive Another (PUSSY ON THE HOUSE; The Gold Dust Orphans). Role: Mae. “One of the many delights of Orphan productions is when a supporting player steps into a major role and gets his/her moment to shine: here, the shiner is Olive Another as Mae the gossipy sister-woman. Ms. Another had her wee moments in the last few shows (her cries of “You’re evil! EVIL!” in THE GULLS remain indelible); now resembling Dame Joan Sutherland after swallowing a beach ball, Ms. Another is totally convincing as one of those so-called “banana belles” of the South yet is never mean-spirited in execution --- may Mr. Landry continue to let her shine.”

April Armstrong (LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL; Providence Black Repertory Company). Role: Billie Holiday (“Lady Day”). “Ms. Armstrong may not look like Ms. Holiday (actually, she resembles Diana Ross who played her in the biopic LADY SINGS THE BLUES), nor does she sound like her, at first, though her own instrument is a lovely, stylish one. But beginning with “God Bless the Child” which closes Act One and on into “Strange Fruit” (cued by her touring with Artie Shaw, down South) and “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” (sung after she shoots up), Ms. Armstrong starts to cash in: the more poisoned Lady becomes, the more Ms. Armstrong evokes the woman’s high, thick, lazy timbre. In Act One, Ms. Armstrong is a sassy personality; in Act Two, a dramatic actress shines through: her Lady’s addiction is not presented through seizures and fits but through repeated scratching of her left arm and with the brain and tongue raising ahead of the gaunt, tortured body; for the remainder of the evening, the songs and the chatter come from the bottom of a bone-dry, echoing well. Watch Ms. Armstrong/Holiday in the piano interludes, where she is feeding off the music, soaking it in --- music is her primary drug.”

Steven Barkhimer (THE THREEPENNY OPERA; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Tiger Brown. “[Mr.] Barkhimer, who impressed as the drunken journalist in [last year’s] MONTICEL’, is a delightful surprise as a singing/dancing Tiger Brown.”

Leigh Barrett (MARRY ME A LITTLE; Gloucester Stage Company). Role: Woman. “Leigh Barrett and Drew Poling … are the evening’s real gold. They may not convince in their yearning for each other but they have beautiful, beautiful voices with Mr. Poling’s openhearted sweetness blending with Ms. Barrett’s guarded perkiness. Ms. Barrett is that rare creature: a singer/actress who makes you forget she is singing by becoming music incarnate --- she must be breathtaking in sunnier, happier fare.”

Julie Burchfield (WONDERFUL TOWN; Boston Conservatory). Role: Ruth. “It may be hard to come up with a sweeter musical pairing this year than Julie Burchfield and Darla Cardwell as Ruth and Eileen, those mishap-prone sisters. Ms. Burchfield is short, brunette and rounded in all the right places; Ms. Cardwell is tall, blonde and showgirl-leggy --- ginger ale and vanilla milk shake. They blended well, with that mutual support and platonic friendship that sisters who are close possess, and they captured that all-important small-town sensibility (i.e. virginity) for this girl-meets-boy show --- Ruth, for all her brass, melts like butter when Mr. Right comes along. Ms. Cardwell was very appealing and Ms. Burchfield is blessed with plenty of pizzazz as well as voice; in less skilled hands, Ruth would have become another travesty of womanhood, geared for the camp crowd; happily, Ms. Cardwell wisecracked 50s style; her Ruth was smart, sexy and definitely dateable.”

Charles Busch (AUNTIE MAME; Ogunquit Playhouse). Role: Mame Dennis. “When I lived in New York, I was fortunate to have seen the now-legendary Charles Ludlum in several roles before the end of his sadly-shortened life; Mr. Busch has long been considered Mr. Ludlum’s successor but only now have I caught up with him; whether or not he is bawdy or outrageous elsewhere, Mr. Busch is tasteful and proper in Ogunquit; his Mame glows with bubbling merriment throughout the evening (the only zingers are two phallic-shaped ashtrays being substituted for the scripted fetus-shaped ones). Indeed, Mr. Busch is so consistent in his characterization that the man in a dress soon vanishes and a woman (or someone woman-like) remains: here, a shy, horsy gal who for all of her life-pronouncements is herself rather skittish towards emotional commitment (save for Patrick); her reticence may result from Mr. Dennis’ forced compromise with his era (he could talk about but not show Mame’s reputed goings-on) but not until seeing Mr. Busch’s performance have I considered that Mame may not be all that she preaches --- and his interpretation works. Mr. Busch’s voice is not a rich one nor does he try for a feminine-sounding register --- his idea of an inflection is the occasional falsetto note --- but his face is wonderfully expressive; I had the good fortune to be seated practically in Mr. Busch’s lap where I enjoyed his subtle hamming in close-up (the audience at the back of the house, no doubt, witnessed a different performance). Mr. Busch’s illusion is aided and abetted for the most part by Michael Bottari & Ronald Case (costumes), Paul Huntley (wigs) and Judith Marsh, N.Y.C. (hats and millinery); he may start out as Ronald McDonald in lamé but settles in next door to Ann Sheridan (children, ask your parents).”

Darla Cardwell (WONDERFUL TOWN; Boston Conservatory). Role: Eileen. [see Julie Burchfield, above]

Bret Carr (SCAPIN, New Repertory Theatre). Role: Octavio. [see Bates Wilder, below]

Marc Carver (SPINNING INTO BUTTER; Gloucester Stage Company). Role: Ross. “Marc Carver brought a rumpled, quixotic sexiness to Ross: here was a man who could drive a woman crazy with his romantic flip-flopping yet be such a warm, supporting friend afterwards that she would, no doubt, fall in love with him all over again. “

Neil A. Casey; Anne Gottlieb; Bill Mootos (THE DAZZLE; Stoneham Theatre). Roles (respectively): Langley; Millie; Homer. “Forget about the [play’s] trash: come for the actors. Beantowners know them, well --- Neil A. Casey, Bill Mootos and Anne Gottlieb --- here, they seem brand new. Director Weylin Symes has fashioned Ms. Gottlieb into a breathless comedienne for Act One, and she is enchanting --- watch her facial expressions, on the couch, as Langley babbles and toys with a single strand of her raven hair: her fluttering emotions both sum up and parody Edwardian infatuation (her Act Two Millie returns Ms. Gottlieb to her warm, dark, wine-in-winter mode). Mr. Mootos tends to be cast as high-wire creeps, with his flashing-eyed energy popping out of him like corn; Mr. Symes nicely tempers Mr. Mootos for the drawing room and has coaxed a wry, engaging kindness out of him for Homer’s old age. Nature has fashioned Mr. Casey to play off-center rabbits and sheep which he does sweetly and primly; Langley is Mr. Casey’s longest stay in the hutch yet but, under Mr. Symes’ guidance, no one in the area could play this recluse the way Mr. Casey can, and does; how nice to see Mr. Casey using newer, darker colors on his palette; he’s near-Hitchcockian, here --- his Langley, to quote Millie, is indeed “disconnected” from the rest of the world; his insights and outbursts startle and amuse, issuing from the secreted horde lodged in Langley’s cranium. (Today --- Langley; tomorrow --- Elwood P. Dowd?)”

Larry Coen (PUSSY ON THE HOUSE; The Gold Dust Orphans). Role: Big Mamma (drag version of Big Daddy). “Mr. Coen contributes a sublimely tough-skinned but soft-hearted bulldog. … [L]ike [Olive] Another [see above], [Ryan Landry’s] characterization is broad as a cartoon but this time the wing-tip glasses, the fluttery gestures, the mile-high wig are shrewd observations on life, not movies. It is Mr. Landry’s most accomplished turn thus far, surpassing his unforgettable Camille, and he and Mr. Coen blend as chunky peanut butter does with marshmallow fluff. They’re a magnificent couple, regardless of gender. ”

Susan Condit (PROOF; Vokes Theatre). Role: Catherine. “Be it a stroke of casting and/or [Celia] Couture’s direction, Ms. Condit runs parallel to [Robert] Warnock’s interpretation [i.e., the role of her father], matching him in hyper-energy which not only makes for a believable parent-child relationship but lends credence to Claire’s fears that, well, like father, like daughter. Unlike Mr. Warnock, Ms. Condit does deepen her characterization as the evening progresses (Catherine questions her own sanity; Robert has never looked into his); she has many indelible moments --- it is a pleasure to watch the flickerings on her face --- to me, her most moving moment is also her briefest (and may it stay brief in its effectiveness): when she is reunited with her proof, she shrinks back --- she has already divorced herself from it --- her resolve crumbling, she tentatively reaches for it as if in forgiveness and hugs it to her; it is her child, her identity, and now it is hers, once again. “

Denise Cormier (SPINNING INTO BUTTER; Gloucester Stage Company). Role: Sarah. “[Director Eric] Engel was wise to cast Denise Cormier, a sunny Joan of Arc, as Sarah; whereas a darker (i.e. personality-wise), troubled-looking actress would have triple-underlined everything, this Sarah’s gradual darkening added a poignancy to the old saw about roads and hells and good intentions. “

Anne Damon (INCORRUPTIBLE; Vokes Theatre). Role: Agathy, Abbess of Bernay. “Ms. Damon invades Act Two as a tiny terror of an Abbess and walks off with the show by playing her with ice in her veins and murder in her heart --- if a witch ever mated with a penguin, the results may be viewed on the Vokes stage for a few more weeks. “

Janet Dauray (THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE; Mugford Street Company). Role: Maureen Folan. “Ms. Dauray is believably downtrodden, within --- she doesn't disfigure or smudge anything, without --- when Maureen slips into gentleness and romance, they clearly itch on her like a tight, new skin. Blessedly, Ms. Dauray does not step out of VOGUE when donning black silk or tweeds; her Maureen remains a sow’s ear to the end. “

Rachel deBenedet (KISS ME, KATE; North Shore Music Theatre). Roles: Lilli Vanessi; Kate. “Ms. deBenedet … is quite funny as one of those beautiful-when-angry bitches (observe two different sets of body movements when the Shrew gives way to a fuming actress) and has two indelible moments: “So In Love” where its wash of sudden emotion makes all that has preceded it seem trivial, and her long, long, lonnnnnnnnnnng held note during “I Hate Men”, which stops the show.”

Barbara Dempsey-West (LETTICE AND LOVAGE; Quannapowitt Players). Role: Lotte Schoen. “[Diane Lind; see below] is well paired with Barbara Dempsey-West whose Lotte Schoen is a cold-eyed burrowing owl with the ghastliest of wigs. Ms. Dempsey-West must transform herself from “executioner” to Sancho Panza with a few chugs of Lettice’s quaff; Ms. Dempsey-West accomplishes this by melting only so far as a stern, repressed woman can melt, i.e., devoted but guarded.”

Thomas Derrah (APPROACHING MOOMTAJ: A FAIRY TALE FOR GROWN-UPS; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Wylie Dance. “Thomas Derrah, cherished theatre-thief, steals yet another show as the hipster brother and Walker’s Moomtaj guide --- I don’t know how he does it, but Mr. Derrah continues to morph effortlessly from role to role. “

Ben Evett (PERMANENT COLLECTION; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Paul Barrow. “Ben Evett comes to dominate the evening as Paul, full of twitchy smiles at first but becoming a bookish white knight, reckless and naïve, yet never mannered, and Clark Jackson makes a handsome, gleaming Sterling, shaping his character’s anger into deft, verbal sparring --- a Madison Avenue Othello to Mr. Evett’s academic Iago.”

Paul D. Farwell (THE THREEPENNY OPERA; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Mr. Peachum. “When Leigh Barrett, eyes glowing like an alley cat’s, spat out an acid “Mack the Knife” (retitled “The Flick Knife Song”); I whispered to my neighbor, “We’re in for a grim one.” When Paul D. Farwell’s Mr. Peachum bounded forward, grinning like a sewer rat and backed with buh-duh-BUMPS from the orchestra, I began to relax; when Nancy E. Carroll’s Mrs. Peachum popped out of a laundry cart a la Beckett, I embraced the production and did not let go.”

Mandy Fox (PRIVATE LIVES; The Lyric Stage Company). Role: Sybil Chase. [see Barlow Adamson, above]

Elisa Garfinkel (THE EXORCISSY; The Gold Dust Orphans). Role: Demon. “Elise Garfinkel, a diminutive character actress, alternates with [Haylee] Shrimpton as Reagan’s possession goes from bad to worse; Ms. Garfinkel’s purring, throaty voice, not needing any technical assistance in order to sound menacing, is an aural pleasure --- where has she been hiding?”

Linda Goetz (NINE; Turtle Lane Playhouse). “Ms. Goetz portrays Liliane LaFleur, the no-nonsense film producer (a man in the Fellini version) who insists that Guido’s new film be a musical and demonstrates by launching into a tribute to the Folies Bergeres; the cool, redheaded Ms. Goetz peels off her business dress to reveal a greyhound-lean body in a one-piece outfit and, damn, if Gwen Verdon hasn’t returned in all her leggy glory. Ms. Goetz works the audience at length (an improvised moment?) --- how nice not to see a microphone box strapped to her bare back --- then returns to the stage to wrap herself in an endless feather boa; women make think it corny but it is an image that a man will remember for some time.”

Beth Gotha (THE WELL OF THE SAINTS; Súgán Theatre). Role: Mary Doul. [see Billy Meleady, below]

Anne Gottlieb (THE DAZZLE; Stoneham Theatre). Role: Millie. [see Neil A. Casey, above]

Susan Gross (POPCORN; Zeitgeist Stage Company). Role: Scout. [see Jesse Soursourian; below]

Elizabeth Hayes (THE SPITFIRE GRILL; Lyric Stage Company). Role: Percy Talbott. “(Drum roll, please.) Ladies and Gentlemen: Elizabeth Hayes. Thrice I have seen this attractive, friendly singer-actress in Boston Theatre Works productions: in MACBETH, her Witch slithered and writhed about in babydolls; in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, her Iras huddled with Charmian amidst the cushions and leopard skins. But, in between, Ms. Hayes caught fire as the delightful lead in MOLLY’S DREAM; to this day I swear she grew curves when her waitress donned a top hat. Ms. Hayes has now debuted at the Lyric Stage as another lead/waitress in the musical adaptation of the film THE SPITFIRE GRILL where she not only catches fire once again but is positively ablaze and Spiro Veloudos is to be commended for drawing her into his Equity-based production; thus, new talents are born when given a chance. You’ll remember Ms. Hayes long after THE SPITFIRE GRILL has faded from memory --- say, in a few hours. … Her two Percys (singing and speaking) never really come together: when Ms. Hayes sings, she is all smiling, spunky radiance; when she speaks, she is closer to the film’s withdrawn, feral jailbird. Still, Ms. Hayes is so engaging that I didn’t mind her giving me two shows in one --- her dual performance covers all the bases and is one hell of an audition; as I mentioned above, you’ll remember her.”

Jennie Israel (RICHARD III, The Actors’ Shakespeare Project). Role: Queen Elizabeth. [see Marya Lowry, below]

Clark Jackson (PERMANENT COLLECTION; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Sterling North. [see Ben Evett, above]

Todd Alan Johnson (THE THREEPENNY OPERA; New Repertory Theatre). Role: MacHeath. “Todd Alan Johnson, [director Rick] Lombardo’s Sweeney Todd, has returned with a fascinating Mackie: his Demon Barber’s burning eyes and well-deep baritone have been replaced with a quiet, feline watchfulness and a reedy tone; his Mackie speaks softly and carries a small knife and is blessedly free of any visible psychosis but is no less deadly for all of his exaggerated manners. Just when you think Mr. Johnson is going to coast through the evening without unlocking his glorious pipes, he rips them open for “Ballad in which MacHeath Begs All Mens’ Forgiveness” and blows you away.”

David Josefsberg (AN INFINITE ACHE; Merrimack Repertory Theatre). Role: Charles. [see Eunice Wong, below]

Daniel Kamalic (THE (IN)COMPLEAT GILBERT AND SULLIVAN; New England Light Opera). Role: Concert performance. “Daniel Kamalic, though still young(ish), is clearly meant to take on G&S’ gallery of silly-ass baritones.”

Lyralen Kaye (THEY NAMED US MARY; Another Country Productions). Role: Clare Monaghan. “[Playwright] Ms. Kaye herself plays Clare, having first done so in a one-woman version of the current work. Hers is a lovely presence, suffering simply and starkly.”

Jeremiah Kissel (NOISES OFF; Lyric Stage Company). Role: Lloyd Douglas. “I had not seen Mr. Kissel on a stage for over a year and if a gun must be held to his head to keep him there, so be it. Here, he has just the right tired, grounded authority to mark him as the leader of the troupe and is blessed with a presence that places him firmly at center stage even when issuing God-like commentary from the back of the house. … Mr. Kissel --- don’t stay away so long, again, damn it.”

John Kuntz (FULLY COMMITTED; Lyric Stage). Role: Sam, et al. “Mr. Kuntz is both dazzling and endlessly inventive, here, vocally and physically … [h]e still doesn’t have a heart, actor-wise, but his Sam indicates he knows where it would be beating should he ever attain one.”

Jennifer Lafleur (SCAPIN; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Hyacinthia. [see Bates Wilder, below]

Ryan Landry (PUSSY ON THE HOUSE; The Gold Dust Orphans). Role: Sukey. [see Larry Coen, above]

Will LeBow (THE BIRTHDAY PARTY; American Repertory Theatre). Role: Goldberg. “[Mr. LeBow’s] Goldberg is sleek, charming and, in his seduction of Lulu, borderline sexy.”

Diane Lind (LETTICE AND LOVAGE; Quannapowitt Players). Role: Lettice Douffet. “I was entertained, of course, by [Maggie] Smith [in the original Broadway production] --- who wouldn’t be? --- but afterwards I felt I had spent the evening with a charming hostess who kept pouring drinks to delay the fact that dinner would not be served, after all. Ms. Lind gives us a character, instead; her Lettice is a lonely old woman who, like Blanche du Bois, wants magic and not realism in her remaining years. By grounding her performance in rather dreary circumstances, Ms. Lind makes Lettice’s quixotic escapades noble and ennobling and Ms. Lind plays her without a drop of self-pity.”

Marya Lowry (RICHARD III; The Actors’ Shakespeare Project). Role: Buckingham. “Marya Lowry, as Buckingham, and Jennie Israel, as Queen Elizabeth, are the … actresses who ignite [John] Kuntz [as Richard III] in different ways: Ms. Lowry brings out his slyness and Ms. Israel throws off restraint at the eleven o’clock hour to lock horns with Mr. Kuntz over Elizabeth’s marriageable daughter and the results are thrilling, on both sides.”

Karen MacDonald (THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, American Repertory Theatre). Role: Meg. “The production may appear sunken, but Karen MacDonald and Terence Rigby stay afloat with their endearing portrayals of the motherly, coquettish Meg and Petey, her kindly, low-keyed husband --- the play’s norms who wouldn’t know Evil if it slithered up to them with an apple. [Harold] Pinter tenderly charts their affectionate, prattling life together --- all cornflakes and the morning paper and talking about Stanley, their surrogate son --- between them, Ms. MacDonald and Mr. Rigby create a believable long-term marriage without condescension (though in other hands, Meg could become a shrill embarrassment). Ms. MacDonald, a handsome, sturdy woman, can play viragos and broads on demand but is rather enchanting when playing silly cows --- i.e. her Mother in Payne Ratner’s INFESTATION and, now, her definitive Meg.”

Gillian Mackay-Smith (SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH; Northeastern University). Role: The Princess Kosmonopolis. “Ms. Mackay-Smith --- tall, ample and ripe with personality --- easily drew an Addison, two years ago, for her dotty Henrietta in THE FANTASTICKS --- but she has a growing bag of tricks and mannerisms that needs to be rationed: her much-married matron in THE WOMEN did everything but drop her drawers to get a laugh; last year, she was encouraged by THE VISIT’s director to slither about as a punk Auntie Mame; “Oh, the boys will LOVE this!” she seemed to murmur --- I, for one, did not. (The difference between being a character comedienne and a camp is that the former sends up her gender from within and on her own terms --- a lesson Ms. Mackay-Smith should take to heart once she leaves Northeastern’s halls.) She tends to play to herself when onstage which worked for Henrietta, on her way to second childhood, and the Countess de Lave and Claire Zachanassian, both so rich they could afford not to listen to anyone. Her Princess starts off the same --- more blowsy self-absorption; this time, from her medication --- under Mr. Lewis’ guidance, when Ms. MacKay-Smith wraps herself around Mr. Adams’ hardness, she becomes more subtle and selective in her hamming, though no less amusing; Mr. Adams, engulfed and warmed by his leading lady, starts to soften --- to quote from Mr. Williams’ gravestone, the violets break through the rocks. Thus, Ms. Mackay-Smith’s flub-dubbing points up the Princess’ vulnerability behind all the bravura (she’s a likeable broad, underneath); Mr. Adams becomes guardedly compassionate, like a child trained to pick up after an addicted parent --- what is left on the table is a mutual triumph. (Ms. Mackay-Smith even throws in a bonus --- she relaxes in her two monologues and a pretty young woman stands before the audience, and she made me blink at the start of Act Three with her hair and make-up properly in place --- pretty, indeed.)” [see also Scott Adams, above]

Renita Martin (LAST RITES; Theatre Offensive). Role: Patrice. “[T]he evening is brought to blazing life by Renita Martin whose Patrice will not go out quietly: she is coarse, sly, thieving, yet pitbull-loyal and brutally honest about herself as well as others.”

Jason McStoots (THE (IN)COMPLEAT GILBERT AND SULLIVAN; New England Light Opera). Role: “Young Tenor”. [see Kaja Schuppert, below]

Billy Meleady (THE WELL OF THE SAINTS; Súgán Theatre). Role: Martin Doul. [The production] is crowned by Billy Meleady and Beth Gotha as the Beckett-like Douls. Mr. Meleady, the Súgán’s most valuable property, carefully orchestrates Martin’s gnarled tenderness and bottomless rage where others would have soon turned into howling caricatures, thus his Martin can bluster all he likes and still retain a human dimension. If Mr. Meleady can be compared to a mangy beagle, Ms. Gotha is a badger dragged from its hibernation, narrow-minded and formidable. Her Mary is not at all ugly as written, though some of her fierce expressions would keep you well at arm’s length. … Mr. Meleady and Ms. Gotha pick and choose from their palettes and create two unforgettable portraits which may or may not be viewed as Irish but are “Irish”, enough.”

Nate Meyer (THE SAINT OF FENWAY; Nate Meyer Productions). Role: Walshie. “This production is the third time around with the same director and cast and the results are seamless and well-orchestrated with four primal actors riding on each other’s mouthy energy, especially Nate Meyer’s sad-faced Walshie who lowered his standards to fit his clientele and must make the most noise in order to keep the peace; Mr. Meyer has a lovely drunken moment where he mops the grubby floor out of instinct, the body lagging behind the will.”

Bill Mootos (THE DAZZLE; Stoneham Theatre). Role: Homer. [see Neil A. Casey, above]

Luis Negrón (OUR LADY OF 121st STREET; SpeakEasy Stage). Role: Edwin. “Though [Vincent E.] Siders steals the show, one should not overlook Luis Negrón and Jennifer Young as two mismatched souls thrown together by bodysnatching and an asthma attack; his crying jag followed by their fleeting love scene are genuinely touching because they are written and performed simply and directly with their defenses down and their hearts on the table.”

Jane Paterson (LIZZIE BORDEN: THE MUSICAL; Stoneham Theatre). Role: Lizzie Borden. “Jane Paterson and Andrea Ross [are] outstanding as the two Lizzies; Ms. Paterson, with her hushed, wounded tones and handsome mask, evokes the anguish lying just beneath her character’s buttoned-up façade (pity that she isn’t allowed to take matters --- and the axe --- into her own hands) and Ms. Ross, who has just stepped into her teens, already sings as bright and clear as a Broadway bell; may we see them both, often, in the future.”

Judson L. Pierce (PROOF; Vokes Theatre). Role: Hal. “Judson L. Pierce makes a convincing geek, down to his T-shirts --- his Hal will remain at heart an earthbound adolescent who can only dream what Robert achieved; a follower, not a pioneer. Mr. Auburn has given Hal some very funny lines and Mr. Pierce delivers them with crack timing that never calls attention to itself (and may it stay that way).”

Drew Poling (MARRY ME A LITTLE; Gloucester Stage Company). Role: Man. [see Leigh Barrett, above]

Robert Prescott (APPROACHING MOOMTAJ: A FAIRY TALE FOR GROWN-UPS; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Walker Dance. “Walker rarely leaves the stage and Robert Prescott pours his all into the part, offering a rare portrait (these days, anyway) of an attractive, flawed but decent man trying to win with the hand that Fate has dealt him and not resorting to violence or drowning in introspection en route to enlightenment (his psychiatric sessions could just as easily be held over a beer with a buddy).”

Marina Re (THE SWEEPERS; Stoneham Theatre). Role: Bella. “The ensemble is tight and solid and must feel marvelous after all that venting, Eye-talian style; if I had to single anyone out for extra praise it would be Marina Re as Bella, who turns THE SWEEPERS into a one-woman street-opera, and M. Lynda Robinson as the Shirley Booth-sounding Dotty; when the grim reality of war hits home, Ms. Robinson becomes a blubbering child, wondering why she has been punished.”

Terence Rigby (THE BIRTHDAY PARTY; American Repertory Theatre). Role: Petey. [see Karen MacDonald, above]

M. Lynda Robinson (THE SWEEPERS; Stoneham Theatre). Role: Dotty. [see Marina Re, above]

Erik Rodenhiser (THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE; Mugford Street Players). Role: Pato Dooley. “Mr. Rodenhiser is a tall, slim fellow with an elegant profile and an engagingly modest stage presence that make him a natural harbor for the tempest-tossed Maureen, and he is well contrasted with [Georgette] Beck’s Mag in the porridge scene: a study in willow and oak.”

Andrea Ross (LIZZIE BORDEN: THE MUSICAL; Stoneham Theatre). Role: Young Lizzie. [see Jane Paterson, above]

Colleen Rua (TRANSLATIONS; Devanaughn Theatre). Role: Sarah. “Colleen Rua is indelible as Sarah, tongue-tied into muteness, her pudding-plain mask a study in silent eloquence without turning coy or maudlin.”

Dominic Sahagan (WONDERFUL TOWN; Boston Conservatory). Role: Robert Baker. “As the sardonic Mr. Right, Dominic Sahagan was the jaw-dropper: an attractive, reserved young man who morphed into a romantic lead with his two solos; his baritone, though still green, is warm, firm and already centered and Mr. Sahagan would be wise to stay in the Golden Age for now rather than stretch his voice on the racks of anthem-writers.”

Kathy St. George (JOHNNY GUITAR: THE MUSICAL; SpeakEasy Stage). Role: Vienna. “Kathy St. George passes the acid test as Vienna: she made me forget I was watching the pixie charmer in the trio of Boston’s musical leading ladies. … Ms. St. George does not do a Crawford impersonation but, rather, adopts the tough stance of a ladylike broad and pushes the envelope ever so gently (e.g. when her Vienna emerges victorious from the showdown, she stops for a moment to pat her hair into place). … [T]hough Vienna is paper-thin, Ms. St. George demonstrates a rock-solid depth that I’ve not seen in her before --- it’s time for her to take a crack at dramatic fare and, equally important, for her to be allowed to do so. If she must continue on with musicals, there’s always Edith Piaf….”

Kaja Schuppert (THE (IN)COMPLEAT GILBERT AND SULLIVAN; New England Light Opera). Role: “Soprano”. “Kaja Schuppert continues to be one of the Boston area’s musical delights, visually as well as aurally (I’m still stamping my feet for her Little Mary Sunshine) and she was ideally paired with Jason McStoots who effortlessly sang in honeyed tones.”

Vincent E. Siders (OUR LADY OF 121st STREET; SpeakEasy Stage). Role: Rooftop. “[Director Paul] Melone has put together a most entertaining ensemble, especially Vincent E. Siders as Rooftop, sly and innocent, street-smart yet wisdom-shy (how times have changed, even for playwrights: thirty years ago, Rooftop would surely have been a pimp or a drug lord; here, he is a West Coast radio personality) --- his mock-eulogy to the memory of his brother is a hilarious highlight.”

Mara Sidmore (BURN THIS; Devanaughn Theatre). Role: Anna. “I have previously seen Mara Sidmore only in smaller roles and ‘tis grand to see her now take the spotlight; she reminds me of an alley cat with a broken leg, vulnerable and defiant, yet pleading with her eyes for shelter from the storm; Anna is the perfect role to contain her sufferings --- now that I have seen Ms. Sidmore in full bloom, I hope that she will be cast in lighter, happier roles as well and become an entertainer as well as a modern-day tragedienne. (Though she makes no attempt to dance for the audience, Ms. Sidmore convinces with her body language --- observe the way she stretches or reclines or flexes her bare feet: these are dancer’s movements.)”

Melissa Sine (PROOF, Vokes Theatre). Role: Claire. “As the well-meaning Claire, Melissa Sine continues to evolve into a striking character actress. … Paradoxically, the more buttoned-up Ms. Sine appears, the more sensual she becomes; I’ll wager a bet she could be wheeled out onstage in an iron lung and still smolder.”

Sylvia Ann Soares (ANTIGONE; Nora Theatre). Role: Tiresias. “Sylvia Ann Soares and Donna Sorbello have the stature for tragedy along with voices to match. Ms. Soares’ Tiresias is sudden granite thrust up from the crying earth while Ms. Sorbello, a willowy tragedienne, is a brief but unforgettable Eurydice, frozen in shock at the Messenger’s news (the theatre’s air conditioning gently rippling the hem of her dress) and then beautiful in a death-sleep that could have been painted by one of the Pre-Raphaelites.”

Sylvia Ann Soares (PERMANENT COLLECTION; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Ella Franklin. “Ella twice appears, briefly: her opening scene with Sterling is so much dusting; her closing scene is with Ben and [Ms.] Soares makes that moment a beautiful, understated one with her Ella in gentle disapproval over all the wreckage that these two men have caused; she closes the play in a voice of divine retribution.”

Donna Sorbello (ANTIGONE; Nora Theatre). Role: Eurydice. [see Sylvia Ann Soares, above]

Jesse Soursourian (POPCORN; Zeitgeist Stage Company). Role: Wayne Hudson. “Jesse Soursourian and Susan Gross gloriously dominate the evening with their over-the-top yet finely shaded performances as America’s Most Wanted and they are so well-contrasted: Mr. Soursourian speaks deceptively slow and lazy-like whereas Ms. Gross is rabidly perky --- when things grow tense, his Wayne grins like a sleepy child while her Scout turns positively feral (my own adrenalin level was pumping so high by Act Two that when Mr. Soursourian casually pointed a remote control in my direction I almost jumped out of my skin).”

Bobbi Steinbach (RICHARD III, The Actors’ Shakespeare Project). Role: Duchess of York. “In my last scribbles about her, I mentioned that Bobbi Steinbach should alternate flawed or vulnerable women with her salts of the earth; as the Duchess of York, aged mother of the monster, Ms. Steinbach collapses to the ground, softening into humbleness, when she rises up to curse her son, she is a cracked pitcher that can still be filled to the brim and confirms another of my hunches, that Ms. Steinbach is meant to play Euripedes’ Hecuba, beaten but unbowed by war, by man, by gods. She is a tragedienne in the making, no matter how late in the afternoon.”

Rebecca Stevens (BAD SEED; Footlight Club). Role: Rhoda Penmark. “Rebecca Stevens’ Rhoda is a smashing success, from her rope-braids down to her shoes with the tell-tale cleats. As directed, her cold frankness keeps Rhoda from being a mere brat with a nasty temper and she is fascinating when being tormented by [Danny] Harris’ Leroy, her doll-mask filling with bored contempt; when this Rhoda finally calls Leroy’s bluff and pursues him, her murderous fury fills the room to frightening effect. Little Rhoda may be up there with Auntie Mame and Baby Jane Hudson, but Ms. Stevens demonstrates that this devil-child can still send chills after all these decades.”

Brian Turner (SAY YOU LOVE SATAN; Zeitgeist Stage Company). Role: Jack. “Brian Turner is Jack and I type “is” rather than “plays” because the lean, sinewy Mr. Turner, a newcomer to me, brings so much of his own physicality to the role, along with a street hustler’s hardness and a dancer’s grace, that it is difficult to determine where Jack begins and where Mr. Turner leaves off. That’s some challenge --- to be the sexy incarnation of Pure Evil --- and between the Messrs. Miller and Turner, this anti-Christ is all the more sexy, compelling and threatening for not strutting and posing; no, the fascination comes with our gazing upon an Other --- Mr. Turner eerily conveys the sense that Jack is Something Else beneath his skin (a “skin suit”, to borrow a phrase from the evening); he could be serpent or goat or wolf or whatever creatures cavort with the powers of darkness in medieval woodcuts. Add to it Mr. Turner’s lofty, sardonic amusement towards the mortals around him and you have a performance to tell your grandchildren about (or vice versa). Just as I made circles around Jesse Soursourian after seeing him as one of POPCORN’s killers, I may lower my eyes should I ever pass Mr. Turner on the street, telling myself he was only playing a role --- or was he?”

Justin A. L. Waithe (RAGTIME; Footlight Club). Role: Coalhouse Walker. “[U]ntil now[, Mr. Waithe] has sung for years in church groups and concert halls but never onstage; though a bit stiff, his Coalhouse is alternately charming and chilling, and he pours out a ringing tone when required [and] received a well-earned ovation. It is too early to say that a Star is born --- Mr. Waithe still has a ways to go, should he pursue a stage career --- but a Star has definitely been glimpsed.”

Julie White (BAD DATES; Huntington Theatre Company). Role: Haley. “Julie White, a familiar face from television, makes a smashing return to the Huntington in Teresa Rebeck’s one-woman comedy BAD DATES, which charts the (mis)adventures of Haley, an Indian summer woman, single parent and restaurant manager, as she re-enters the New York dating arena. … Since Ms. Rebeck wrote BAD DATES specifically for Ms. White’s talents, I can safely assume that Ms. White plays Haley the way she is meant to be played; that is, with plenty of warmth, dogged good-heartedness and an appealing vulnerability, not unlike Brett Butler’s title character from the TV series GRACE UNDER FIRE, where Ms. White played the wild next-door neighbor Nadine. BAD DATES is clearly a vehicle and Ms. White is so entertaining at the wheel that you may not notice (or choose to ignore) that Ms. Rebeck’s plot tends to ramble en route to its trumped-up happy ending…”

Bates Wilder (SCAPIN; New Repertory Theatre). Role: Sylvester. “Among the hand-picked, sparkling ensemble, I particularly enjoyed Bates Wilder as a sort of Frankenstein monster who has gone to mime class, Bret Carr as a fop in love and Jennifer Lafleur as the ditzy object of his affections.”

Eunice Wong (AN INFINITE ACHE; Merrimack Repertory Theatre). Role: Hope. “A savvy New Yorker told me … that the only way AN INFINITE ACHE could succeed in the Apple would be to cast two “name” actors for drawing power, which would be a pity for David Josefsberg and Eunice Wong are wonderful, especially Ms. Wong, who [stuns] the audience with two outbursts revolving around a supermarket tragedy then [goes] off on another tangent altogether.”

Jennifer Young (OUR LADY OF 121st STREET; SpeakEasy Stage). Role: Marcia. [see Luis Negrón, above]

* * *

MOMENTS (Good, Bad or Otherwise):

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE (Mugford Street Players). The scalding of Mag’s hand by a vengeful daughter for having quashed her last hope of romance.

BELLA DONNA (Devanaughn Theatre). The two static-filled walky-talky exchanges that lend stunning authenticity to the proceedings.

BURN THIS (Devanaughn Theatre). The lovely, cool PING! a champagne glass makes when Anna fillips it.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Company One). The visual montage against which Alex was brainwashed --- it was a stunner.

THE DAZZLE (Stoneham Theatre). Act Two’s brilliant, BRILLIANT opening that depicts a drifting day in the brothers’ lives as they matter-of-factly pick their way around their mountainous hordes and the Wildean dialogue gives way to Beckett.

THE DAZZLE (Stoneham Theatre). When the drawing room walls became transparent, revealing the piled up trash behind them.

THE EXORCISSY (The Gold Dust Orphans). “The Orphans are capable of quiet moments, as well, the evening’s loveliest being Mr. Landry’s Chris, lost in thought, walking through the audience while falling leaves litter her path.”

THE EXORCISSY (The Gold Dust Orphans). Reagan’s levitation during his/her exorcism. “…it simply must be seen to be believed. To witness this simple but effective coup de théâtre is to leave you poised between laughter and wonder and which shows the Orphans at their best.”

FAR AND AWAY (Zeitgeist Stage Company). The show’s jaw-dropping highlight was a catwalk promenade of brutalized factory workers displaying garish hats and being gunned down, afterwards.

FULL GALLOP (The Nora Theatre). Diana Vreeland miming “The Dying Swan” to Saint-Saën’s music.

FULLY COMMITTED (Lyric Stage). ”[W]hen a rabid bitch smells a negotiation tactic [to book a table], her clawlike fingers suddenly wave back and forth like seaweed in an ocean current.”

THE GUYS (Salem Theatre Company). “[W]hen Joan and Nick perform a chaste tango about the stage --- what threatens to turn THE GUYS down another avenue altogether is quickly nipped by Joan telling the audience that the sequence occurred only in her imagination.”

THE (IN)COMPLEAT GILBERT S AND SULLIVAN. “Just as Scott Edmiston shaped each JACQUES BREL song into a mini-drama, [Mark] Morgan and [Peter A.] Carey and choreographer Ilyse Robbins did so, here, but in comic reverse and there were glorious moments: the men forming an impromptu ship; a round of musical chairs ending in a squeeze between winner and loser, etc.; as often happens, the loveliest image was also the simplest: Lady Mezzo sat alone, stage left, to dryly mourn her passing years while the others respectfully looked on from stage right.”

LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL (Providence Black Repertory Company). The stunning finale when Lady Day suddenly lip syncs in silence and fades first to sepia and then to black.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS (SpeakEasy Stage Company). “There is a lovely, wordless moment when Cathy shyly, sweetly walks rings around a smitten Jamie which speaks volumes as to why men fall in love with women: because they are beautiful and timeless … the final image --- Jamie and Catherine slowly revolving on a turntable --- is sad and autumnal.”

THE LAST FIVE YEARS (SpeakEasy Stage Company). The lyric “I will not fail so you can be comfortable, Cathy / I will not lose because you can’t win”.

LAST RITES (Theatre Offensive). Pancakes served --- and eaten --- with ketchup.

LIZZIE BORDEN: THE MUSICAL (Stoneham Theatre). “There are unintentionally farcical moments --- Lizzie answers the back door with the bloody axe wrapped in her apron; later, she tries to burn a suspicious piece of clothing right under the nose of a tea-sipping biddy --- but there are also moments that startle: Mr. Borden killing Lizzie’s pigeons (a foreshadowing if ever there was one); the heated battle between stepmother and daughter as they fold laundry together; and, hauntingly, the final showdown between Lizzie and Mr. Borden on a slowly revolving turntable with the latter reclining on a low-backed divan that will soon become a sacrificial altar.”

LOOT (Quannapowitt Players). When Dennis tried to close the coffin lid but the corpse’s head prevented it; one good thump, and the lid lay flat.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (Trinity Repertory Company). “A lovely moment: after Falstaff’s second humiliation, the two wives smile and clink glasses; it is like a bass string being plucked to signal the end of a song.”

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (American Repertory Company). When the fairies (on wires) whirled about the stage in the winds of Oberon’s plotting.

NINE (North Shore Music Theatre). “[The women’s] first entrance brings a shiver of delight as they silently file down the staircase in silhouette; these beautiful women, all shapes, sizes and ages, with all their mysteries and charms, shall be ours for the next few hours!.”

NINE (North Shore Music Theatre). “[Josie de Guzman as Luisa] has a haunting little moment depending on where you sit in the house: watching Guido from a distance (up one of the aisles) as he films his Casanova movie, Ms. De Guzman’s face radiates an outsider’s loss: Guido, whom Luisa still loves, is more unfaithful to her with his camera than with his penis.”

NINE (Turtle Lane Playhouse). “[T]he evening begins marvelously with the women appearing a little at a time (at the spa and in Guido’s cranium), dressed in various styles of black, and settling about like Tippi Hedren’s crows on the jungle gym; their growing chatter overlapping in a seductive din --- and only then does music enter in; ah, if the rest of NINE could have been as imaginative!”

NOYE’S FLUDDE (Revels). “A moving touch: Noye ended the evening by posting the Dove’s olive branch in his staff, lifting her up and following the others up the aisle.”

PERMANENT COLLECTION (New Repertory Theatre). The first open confrontation between Sterling and Paul, where the battle lines are drawn.

PERMANENT COLLECTION (New Repertory Theatre). The stunning moment when Sterling fires his assistant out of disloyalty; a Richard III in the making.

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE (Vokes Theatre). When Freddy the bartender tells a joke about an e-shaped pie and waits for a reaction, all that is heard is a cricket, chirping.

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Sudbury Savoyards). “Hail, Poetry” --- an acid test, superbly passed.

POPCORN (Zeitgeist Stage Company). The first gun shot.

POPCORN (Zeitgeist Stage Company). The second gun shot.

POPCORN (Zeitgeist Stage Company). The third gun shot.

PRIVATE LIVES (The Lyric Stage Company). Director Scott Edmiston changed the comedy’s ending --- Victor shaking Sybil “like a rat” while Elyot and Amanda elope, once again --- with the battling V & S ending up in each other’s arms: a small gesture that made perfectly brilliant sense in context and left both the quartet and the audience quite happy.

PROOF (Vokes Theatre). The screen door’s creaking hinges --- those understated creeeeeeeeeaks spoke volumes about the reported dilapidated interiors.

PUSSY ON THE HOUSE (The Gold Dust Orphans). In the dead-serious Big Mamma-Brick confrontation set piece, “Mr. Landry even manages to drop a little mind-bomb: Brick may be ashamed of having been raised by two women instead of a traditional father-mother household causing Big Mamma, eyes shining with tears, to utter, “I guess this old dyke’s love wasn’t good enough” --- it is a beautiful, heartbreaking moment emerging from yet another closet.”

PUSSY ON THE HOUSE (The Gold Dust Orphans). Big Mamma’s moving recollections about her own late father --- a renowned drag artist.

PYGMALION (The Longwood Players). While the other characters discussed her future, Ellen Adair’s Eliza sat to one side, preoccupied with sucking chocolate off her teeth, like a cat remembering the taste of cream.

RAGTIME (The Footlight Club). When little Coalhouse, Jr. comes running on at the end; his existence is what the show hinges on --- it’s a life-affirming moment.

RICHARD III (The Actors’ Shakespeare Project). The “recognition” moment between Richard and Buckingham; two snakes coiling about each other.

RICHARD III (The Actors’ Shakespeare Project). The prophesying ghosts wandering through the audience like whispering fireflies.

ROMEO AND JULIET (MAGARIStage). [This production was stage in a coffeehouse.] “[T]here was a hushed, magical moment when the Chorus set the mood for the Balcony Scene by drawing a gate across the service area, dimming the lights and allowing a moment of silence.”

SCAPIN (New Repertory Theatre). The charming Act Two opening, where the nine-member ensemble played an interlude on various instruments.

SCAPIN (New Repertory Theatre). Sylvester’s rap number parody, suddenly deflating with “Smack that bitch!”

THE SECOND ANNUAL SONNET-THON (Shakespeare Now!). “The most consistently memorable contributions came from the senior reciters: leading them was Edwin Beschler (Nos. 39 and 40), whose portrayals of tender old men are rare but always welcome --- what a Polonius he would make! When I played back Dictaphone tapes that I made during the evening, I was struck by Mr. Beschler’s light, eager voice --- how young it sounds; he has taken very good care of his instrument. Joining him were Lita Gray (No. 22), speaking volumes with her quiet underlining of the final word in “My glass shall not persuade me I am old”; Kate Carney, quivering with comic indignation, then relenting in grandmotherly fashion for “Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds….”; Barbara King (No. 52), with her hushed, whispered tones; Ditta Lowy, who filtered No. 59 through an earth-peasant’s wisdom; and Ferde Rombola (No. 64), a silver-maned lion still in full roar. In contrast, an echo from the distant past came onstage with the youngest participant, Gabe Goodman (No. 25); his untrained voice, though flat, could be heard loud and clear, lending justification to one reason why Shakespeare’s era used boy players for its female roles --- the male of the species has the natural lungpower for them.”

SONIA FLEW (Huntington Theatre Company). “As with many mood pieces, the little moments prove more memorable than the big ones: the holiday preparations, the arrival of an elderly relative, the stunning moment when Zak’s chattering jeep-mate is awed at the beauty of a missile coming right at them (followed by the loudest blast ever heard through a sound system), the enjoying of pasteles (a Cuban pastry) around past and present tables (Proust had his madeleines; Sonia, her pasteles) and, finally, the young Sonia’s grim walk into a blue-sky future as her parents recede into their fate.”

THE SWEEPERS (Stoneham Theatre). “Robert Jay Cronin has directed THE SWEEPERS with loving detail and has beautifully orchestrated the play’s comic set piece --- the battle of the bed sheets --- as if the late Anna Magnani has never left us; thus a potentially distasteful topic becomes riotously funny (all that’s needed are some goats running about).”

THE THREEPENNY OPERA (New Repertory Theatre). When Mackie was sprung from jail, he and Polly embraced and each kicked up a leg behind them in a mockery of reunion.

TOM JONES: THE MUSICAL (North Shore Music Theatre). “Director Gabriel Barr and choreographer Christopher Gatelli[‘s] presentational, near-commedia approach keeps things light and frothy enough with their ensemble changing costumes and characters in full view of the audience and supplying sound effects while ringed about the stage; in fact, the more artificial their production becomes the better it is as in the “Fair Sophia” number with a ripe bevy of beauties posing as gurgling fountain statuary alongside a Cupid in long johns while the lady in question floats down to earth or the fox-hunting sequence or a lovely moon suggested by a large Chinese lantern or Tom’s duel with Mr. Fitzgerald where the men mime going at it empty-handed while another stands to one side, scraping two foils together; even the North Shore’s well-known trap-doors are tweaked when the lovers write letters of assignation to each other --- they sign “farewell” and start to sink, Sophia calls a halt in afterthought and they are hastily raised up again; for me, the most touching moment is also the simplest which is Tom’s journey on foot to London: the bustling stage is wiped clean save for our hero as he goes forth, fearless and eager (the actor’s natural gait along with the revolving turntable evokes more time and space than any amount of panoramic scenery would); when Tom is joined by Mr. Partridge, who may or may not be his father, the poignancy is doubled with the young man striding along while his elder trots behind, tired but devoted --- the image is fleeting but betrays a few heartbeats of Mr. Fielding’s humanity, nonetheless.”

TRANSLATIONS (Devanaughn Theatre). “[T]he play begins with Sarah bleating her first words in English; with those few syllables, something is gained (knowledge) and something is lost (a bit of a country’s heritage).”

TRANSLATIONS (Devanaughn Theatre). The beautifully written love scene between Maire and Lt. Yolland, despite the language barrier between them.

WAIT UNTIL DARK (Stoneham Theatre). The final showdown between the blind Susy and the terrorist Roat --- always a breathtaking moment in the theatre.

THE WELL OF THE SAINTS (Súgán Theatre). The moment when Martin and Mary Doul, their eyesight restored, face each other with predictably human results.

WHAT THE BUTLER SAW (Huntington Theatre Company). The deus ex machina, coming through the skylight.

THE WHO’S TOMMY (Stoneham Theatre). The hallucinogenic effect of white lab coats and gloves glowing in the dark.

WONDERFUL TOWN (Boston Conservatory). Julie Burchfield’s delivery of Ruth’s line “95 ways to go” --- from her list of 100 ways to lose a man --- it brought down the house.

* * *

The Image of the Year (THEY NAMED US MARY; Another Country Productions): “Lyralen Kaye’s THEY NAMED US MARY at the Devanaughn Theatre contains what could be the most shattering moment onstage this season: Clare Monaghan, an attractive, intelligent woman, recovered alcoholic and victim of child abuse, being symbolically beaten and then crucified on her dead father’s body. It is a powerful, primal (even mythic) moment where tears sting your eyes --- at least that was my reaction; it was some time before I picked up my pen again to continue scribbling in the dark.”

The Most Joyous Moment of the Year (WONDERFUL TOWN; Boston Conservatory). The showstopper, “My Darlin’ Eileen”, “which should be added to all dictionaries’ definitions of the word “joy” and encapsulates all that is good, silly and charming about the musical genre: Eileen has been carted off to jail (another misadventure) and has enchanted the entire police force, made up of Irishmen, who (beautifully) woo her as a colleen. She says she is not Irish, they insist she is, and they all perform a celebratory jig --- twice --- before she is set free. There is no point in dismissing the number as bunk --- of course, it is --- it boils down to whether it gives you pleasure or not; if it does, then you know what a Golden Age Musical is all about.”

The OMG Moment of the Year (THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, American Repertory Theatre). “When the A.R.T. curtain rose on its production of Harold Pinter’s THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, my toes curled at Paul Steinberg’s set design: instead of a seedy English boardinghouse in a coastal town, there were three proscenium-high walls, papered with what looked to be green and yellow yarn but turned out to be the ocean; suburban-looking furniture, far from threadbare, had settled on the ocean floor in show-room arrangements; the landlady --- way, way up --- handed down meals through the hatch of her underwater kitchen; in the final scene, Wall Left and Wall Right came forward, sweeping everything to center stage --- and this is a boardinghouse that is always “on the list”!”

The Oddest Directorial Choice of the Year (RICHARD III; The Actors’ Shakespeare Project): The Richard-Richmond battle consisting of fisticuffs, piano wire and, finally, strangulation by tie (when you think about it, it doesn’t make Richmond look all that heroic, beating up on a cripple).

The Gobble-Gobble Moment of the Year: Zeitgeist Stage Company’s production of Caryl Churchill’s FAR AWAY.

The Comeback of the Year: Zeitgeist Stage Company’s production of Ben Elton’s POPCORN.

The Disappointment of the Year: The Abbey Theatre of Ireland’s centennial deconstruction of Synge’s THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD.

Reflective Moment of the Year [from my review of MAGARIStage Company’s coffee-house production of ROMEO AND JULIET]: “Back in my college days (those days of environmental and agitprop theatre, nudity, and the growing cult of the director as god), one of my directing class’ assignments was for each student to stage a scene in an outdoor setting that mirrored the emotions of its characters (the assignment seemed to be more an exercise in the director’s personality rather than the playwright’s vision). I chose a scene from THE TEMPEST and conventionally staged it in the Art Department’s concrete storage area, it being the closest thing on campus that resembled a desolate island; the oddest direction was a moment from GREASE being staged in an actual cemetery (i.e., to point out that the 1950s were dead and gone): “Sandy Dumbrowski” sat on a grave with her princess phone and make-up kit, warbling her “Sandra Dee” reprise en route to becoming a Pink Lady (I am NOT making this up). I got snagged into playing Octavius for the closing scene of JULIUS CAESAR; since Brutus and his fellow assassins had sunk so low, honor-wise, the student director chose the town dump for his setting (like, these Romans were society’s dregs, man!). “Brutus” had it easy: he remained on ground level and fell on his sword without a hitch. I, “Octavius”, was poised on top of a mountain of refuse, complete with flies --- for some forgotten reason, the director had me camp it up, as well, giving new meaning to the exchange, “Fellow, wilt thou bestow thy time with me?” / “Ay, if Messala will prefer me to you.” Thus, “Brutus” expired and I, on cue, pranced down to earth, waving my arms like ribbons in the breeze while trying not to break my neck, feeling like an ass --- this may have begun my resistance towards Bard interpretation.”

MY WISH LIST (casting certain actors in certain roles):

Ellen Adair as Doña Ana, Steven Barkhimer as The Statue, Paul D. Farwell as The Devil and Jeremiah Kissel as Don Juan in the “Don Juan in Hell” sequence of George Bernard Shaw’s MAN AND SUPERMAN.

Edwin Beschler as Polonius in Shakespeare’s HAMLET.

Jerry Bisantz as Pale in Lanford Wilson’s BURN THIS.

Neil A. Casey as Elwood P. Dowd in Mary Chase’s HARVEY.

Christopher Chew as Fagin in Lionel Bart’s OLIVER!

Dan Cozzens as Brindsley Miller in Peter Shaffer’s BLACK COMEDY.

Jonathan Epstein as Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.

Anne Gottlieb as Illya in ILLYA, DARLING! (the musical version of NEVER ON SUNDAY).

Birgit Huppuch as Addie Bemis in Anita Loos’ HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

Todd Alan Johnson as Dr. Frank N. Furter in THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW.

Drew Poling as Albin in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.

Kathy St. George as Madge in Brian Friel’s PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME! (No, it’s not a musical.)

Kaja Schuppert in the title role of Rick Besoyan’s LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE. (Please?! I’m serious, here!!!)

Melissa Sine as Ruth in Harold Pinter’s THE HOMECOMING. (“If you take the glass…I’ll take you.”)

Bobbi Steinbach as Hecuba in Euripdes’ THE TROJAN WOMAN and as Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s HAPPY DAYS.

Greg Steres as Hubert in Shakespeare’s KING JOHN.

The Up You Mighty Race Company in Jean Genet’s THE BLACKS.

Jennifer Young as Maggie the Cat in Tennessee William’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.

Maryann Zschau as Mama Rose and Jeff Gill as Herbie in Jule Styne’s GYPSY.

…and Barbara Stanwyck feels the same way.

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THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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