Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Year-End Wrap"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


Happy New Year!

These are my choices for the Best of Boston Theatre for 2005. Congratulations to the recipients! What an incredibly rich and varied year this has been! Please, please, PLEASE keep up the excellent work!

Those passages in quotes come from my reviews which were posted on this web site.

Read on!

THE 2005 ADDISON AWARDS:

DRAMA:

Production: THE MOUSETRAP (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Written by Agatha Christie. Directed by Adam Zahler. Cast: Robert Antonelli; Whitney Cohen; Tasso Feldman; Lisa Morse; Paula Plum; Dafydd Rees; Richard Snee; Lewis Wheeler. ““Agatha Christie”. Say those magic words and whatever Ms. Christie may offer you --- be it on the page, the stage or on screens, large or small --- you become a round-eyed child delighted with her ingenious wind-up plots … even when new, THE MOUSETRAP was reassuringly old-fashioned: a young married couple has converted an old manor house into a bed-and-breakfast establishment. They open their doors just as a blizzard is in progress; the guests arrive with all their peculiarities and various pasts. The snow piles up and seals off the characters from the outside world, the telephones stop working, and a young policeman arrives on skis to announce that a serial murder has been committed in the neighborhood and that its killer is now amongst them…. [T]he Stoneham production … is currently the most entertaining show in the Boston area.”

Director: John Fogle (THE DRESSER; Mugford Street Players, Marblehead, MA). “Two years ago John Fogle earned a well-deserved Addison for his kaleidoscopic OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD; his DRESSER is rooted in well-textured tableaus so that every little detail from Norman’s reprimanding forefinger, shaken as if made of rubber, to a burnt-out light bulb in Sir’s make-up mirror speaks of Mr. Fogle’s constantly stepping back, observing and readjusting just as a painter does with his canvas. (His back-stage set design, done all in earth colors, evokes the proper dust-and-mildew atmosphere.) I recently attended two productions where one’s direction resulted in so many boiled potatoes while the other’s is a study in self-indulgence; Mr. Fogle’s approach remains the most satisfying: he disappears into a script and guides from within, allowing the audience to see the play as written rather than through blinders … (I’ll wager that if given a cutting-edge script, Mr. Fogle would still come up with the playwright’s vision rather than his own.)”

Actor: Jim Butterfield (THE DRESSER; Mugford Street Players, Marblehead, MA). Role: Sir. “I knew in my bones that Mr. Butterfield would be bloody marvelous as Sir, and he is. The Mugford Street Players is his home turf and Marblehead is far enough away from Boston’s bright lights to have made Mr. Butterfield properly provincial (when in Beantown he is given walk-ons and understudies) and he has performed enough Shakespeare to have acquired the correct stature and authority. Be it brain, heart or liver that is the cause of Sir’s inner hell, the Messrs. [John] Fogle [director] and Butterfield have zeroed in on the source(s) and built the character into a magnificent ruin, rumpled and convulsing, yet ever rallying to the Bard’s immortal challenge. … When Mr. Butterfield earned an Addison for his comic romp through ANOTHER COUNTRY at the Arlington Friends of the Drama, I demanded to know when are we going to see his Lear --- THE DRESSER now gives us a taste of it, blood-and-thunder style. Mr. Butterfield’s voice tends to go harsh, even grating in declamation (but, then, that was often said of Edmund Kean, the trailblazer of Romantic acting) and in order for him to go lyrical he must sing-song in an upper register but his complete Lear would still be impressive as a Warrior-King rather than an unworldly sovereign. A secret comedian lurks within Mr. Butterfield --- his Sir is very funny when matter-of-factly spitting in both hands and rubbing them together prior to lifting his hefty, hanged Cordelia --- and coupled with his natural guardedness, Mr. Butterfield could also be a definitive Crookback, though I’ll still settle for his Archie Rice (directed by Mr. Fogle, of course).”

Actress (tie): Elizabeth Aspenlieder (ICE GLEN; Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA). Role: Dulcie Bainbridge. “Ms. Aspenlieder is too horsy to play conventional ingénues and her stage voice is better suited to conversation than declamation, both of which make her tricky to cast in the company’s productions … Creating a new character from scratch has brought out the actress’ strengths and her Dulcie is indelible and her own thanks to Ms. Aspenlieder’s high spirits and kindly presence each holding the other in check so that she can express period yearning or retribution without lapsing into soap opera and the intimate Spring Lawn space gives the impression that Ms. Aspenlider’s performance is unfolding upon a movie screen in breathtaking close-up.”

Actress (tie): Jacqui Parker (ASCENSION; Our Place Theatre Project, Boston, MA). Role: Ruth. “This award-winning actress has a cool, blue-flame dignity that can lead her perilously close to diva-dom but her sudden yelp of panic when rough hands were laid upon her in last season’s HAYMARKET hinted at deeper waters. ASCENSION allows Ms. Parker to display many of her colors, some of which I’ve never seen in her, before: here, she is playful and sexy (no wonder both men want her) and, more impressively, she can suffer up close and personal, at first stoically and in her final wrenching scene, operatically, but her most indelible moment comes when her Ruth stands in silence, holding a basket of old potatoes, listening to what Fate has in store for her --- her shifting emotions shine a beacon on what slavery is all about: nothing changes.”

Featured/Supporting Actor: Edward Tournier (THEATER DISTRICT; SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston, MA). Role: Wesley. “The evening belongs to Edward Tournier, hands seemingly grafted inside his pockets, who beautifully captures Wesley’s confused adolescence as he straddles various crossroads; a good kid willing to adapt to his environment but which one? Mr. Tournier is so artless at what he does that he could very well have slouched in off the street without even changing his clothes --- may he continue such refreshing candor as he matures.”

Featured/Supporting Actress: Cheryl McMahon (THE MOONLIGHT ROOM; SpeakEasy Stage, Boston, MA). Role: Mrs. Kelley. “Ms. McMahon, often cast as comical nags or busybodies, is a link to those character players in 1930s films who did little to alter their personas but who were always welcome assets. Had a somber actress been cast as Mrs. Kelley, Sal’s antagonism would have been justified; with Ms. McMahon not changing a single goosey note, the results are funny but poignant: here is a working class woman stomped on by Life, harboring a fair share of resentment but still filling to the brim with an overbearing decency; the type of parent to make a teenager cringe but is always there as unacknowledged bedrock. No doubt Ms. McMahon will become conventional again when inserted into future productions but for now she has caught fire in what may prove to be her own Amanda Wingfield.”

Ensemble: A DOLL’S HOUSE (Small World Big Sky Productions, Boston, MA). “[Director Sarah] Friedberg trusts Mr. Ibsen’s machinery and concentrates on her actors, resulting in an impressive ensemble right down to the starchy maid and the kindly, fairytale nanny. The leads have that wonderful orchestration found in repertory players of longer standing: Bill Salem makes an adorable aging cherub out of Dr. Rank and Brian Quint, a Devanaughn regular, turns the stock-villain Krogstad into a figure more pathetic than sinister. Two years ago Julie Dapper earned an Addison for her sparkling Amanda in PRIVATE LIVES; now she quietly excels as the lonely, weary Kristine, a working woman who yearns for the cozy world that Nora is forsaking (notice how Ms. Dapper sits, ramrod straight, suggesting the period’s decorum as well as a very tight corset). … I first encountered Ellen Adair as Eliza Doolittle in PYGMALION; she earned an Addison for her pains. I then saw her as Thomasina in ARCADIA, where she was a bit mature for the role. Now she is Nora and how intriguing that Ms. Adair’s own breathlessness have gone so hand-in-glove with these three characters, all of them held in check by their societies yet each reaping a personal triumph. Ms. Adair may not have all of Nora’s bedrock in place for her transformation (though once she is there, she is solid and true) and her portrayal reads as a spoiled brat who gets a comeuppance but she is always fascinating to watch: whether Ms. Friedberg has guided her, step-by-step, or Ms. Adair has her own inner choreographer, her Nora flutters vocally and facially but her movements are firm as well as decorative --- the body is simply waiting for the mind to set it free. … Last summer, Dann Anthony Maurno turned the role of the drunken brother in THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON into a sodden scene-stealer; his Torvald shows his dapper, sensual side. Torvald is a tricky character: an actress playing Nora can easily win her audience’s affection and all that fluttering can cover up any number of fluffed lines whereas Torvald needs to be an established rock from Square One, his readings securely in place. An actor must play Torvald’s same chord of music repeatedly without becoming monotonous and then have his own fireworks ready for the finale; finally, in these politically correct days, the character must stride onstage without distancing or apology (i.e. “I’m not really like this, ladies”) --- there are plenty of Torvalds still in the world and an actor’s streak-free mirror will surely reflect them in any audience. Mr. Maurno, purring throughout, succeeds on all counts and just as Torvald guides Nora along, how wonderful to see Mr. Maurno generously supporting and shaping Ms. Adair’s performance and even managing to melt her just a trickle in their love scenes with his well-placed smooches, here and there --- who would have thought that the season’s sexiest couple would be a chauvinist and his doll-wife in an old chestnut written by a gloomy Norwegian…?”

COMEDY:

Production: PULP (Boston Theatre Works, Boston, MA). Book and lyrics by Patricia Kane. Music by Amy Warren and Andre Pluess. Directed by Jason Southerland. Cast: Dayle Ballentine; Stephanie Carlson; Whitney Cohen; Lindsay Flathers; Maureen Keiller. “PULP’s plot is simple and direct: loner Terry Logan, open and proud, flees a scandal in Texas and ends up serving drinks at the Well, a Chicago lesbian club where she is beguiled by the seductive Bing but chooses to pry open the frosty arms of Vivian, the socialite who owns the Well; a subplot revolves around the bartender Pepper’s unrequited love for Winny, the club’s sharpshooter and male impersonator. Ms. Kane clearly loves those pulps from the Bad Old Days with their forbidden thrills, garish cover art and, like their male counterparts, their obligatory unhappy endings; she keeps the romantic entanglements simmering and the innuendos flying fast and thick, bowing to the new morality and doling out happy endings, all around --- even an offstage clash with straight society becomes a springboard for Dan(ielle) Cupid --- and Amy Warren and Andre Pluess have provided some agreeable ballads and torch songs. Zeynep Bakkal has transformed the intimate Black Box Theatre into its own private club, perfect for some civilized erotica, and director Jason Southerland keeps the comic-book dialogue crisp and dry with the butches played as gentlemen-in-the-rough and the femmes as impeccable ladies, backed by a Franz Waxman soundtrack wafting through the speakers. PULP is sexy, tongue-in-cheek fun for everyone (yes, everyone).”

Director: Brendan Hughes (GAGARIN WAY; Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). “To understand another country one must understand its humor … I know not what constitutes “Scottish” unless it be as tough, dark and gnarled as it is here but the Súgán production definitely does not read “American”. Under Mr. Hughes’ guidance, relaxed but never missing a trick, his actors flesh out their characterizations instead of filling the stage with dialogue balloons nor do they distance themselves from their roles to imply that they are not, offstage, what they seem, onstage. All of [playwright Gregory] Burke’s humors are in place --- the humor of camaraderie, of malice, of boredom, of one-upmanship and, finally, of nihilism, with little to show for it. If last year’s POPCORN was a roller-coaster ride, GAGARIN WAY is the trembling earth, about to erupt.”

Actor: Nigel Gore (THE SANCTUARY LAMP; Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: Harry. “As I recently scribbled, the more theatre you attend the better you can access and Nigel Gore turns in one of the season’s Big Ones as the rudderless Harry. I first (and last) saw Mr. Gore as a cold, graven Jefferson in MONTICEL’, two Decembers ago; here, his Harry is a combination of he-man strength and tortured doubts, a man both larger than life and perfectly ordinary, a decent-enough bloke but with a Swiss knife ever in his pocket. Mr. Gore has clearly put his trust in both his playwright and director so when he suddenly mimes a few interpretative dance steps or when he tries to cheer up Maudie with a song, such actions wonderfully balance Harry’s swagger and prowess --- Mr. Gore even has the right physique: muscular enough to suggest Harry’s former greatness but now softening for lack of employment. Seeing Mr. Gore and [Stacey] Fischer successful in their new skins makes me declare even louder that more of Boston’s actors should be given similar opportunities --- after all, acting is an art that evolves through testing and challenges and the box office be damned (sometimes); otherwise, you’re just a dog jumping through the same old, safe hoop.”

Actress: Maureen Keiller (PULP; Boston Theatre Works, Boston, MA). Role: Vivian. “Maureen Keiller … offers the most stunning turnaround I’ve seen in a long, long time. I had previously known Ms. Keiller as a rubber-faced comedienne who did everything but drop her drawers to get a laugh; here, she radiates pure Class and unlocks a set of pipes which, if there is any theatrical justice, should soon have her in demand for jazz recitals. Her sergeant cameo is a relaxed, amused study in Less is More and her Vivian has two indelible moments: her authoritative silence as she pours her first cup of coffee of the day --- and the audience sits equally hushed and enchanted in her palm --- later, wracked with longing and guilt over Terry, Ms. Keiller exquisitely thrashes about to Mr. Waxman’s music so that laughter mingles with admiration at her pulling off such an outdated convention; afterwards I began to yearn for more productions featuring actors similarly emoting to music as in the old barnstorming days; if properly handled it can be tremendously effective.”

Featured/Supporting Actor: Will LeBow (THE RIVALS; Huntington Stage Company, Boston, MA). Role: Sir Anthony Absolute. “Will LeBow’s volatile Sir Anthony Absolute [looked] like a bewigged eagle who has just sucked a lemon and who, on the evening I attended, exited each time to rounds of applause --- it says something about the [American Repertory Theatre] when Mr. LeBow and his fellow players Thomas Derrah and Karen MacDonald are far more appealing artists on other stages.”

Featured/Supporting Actress: Stacy Fischer (THE SANCTUARY LAMP; Súgán Theatre Company, Boston, MA). Role: Maudie. “[Director Carmel] O’Reilly has freed Stacy Fischer from her loony-bird roles to coax from her a wide-eyed Maudie that is all the more touching for not moistly appealing to the audience for a hug; this is one waif determined to get on with her life, somehow.”

Ensemble: THE LEARNED LADIES (The Vokes Theatre, Wayland, MA). “The performance begins cautiously as if the actors are dipping their toes into a hot bath but once they are in they bounce Mr. Wilbur’s couplets off each other in joyous give-and-take. (A company member told me afterwards that performing in verse sounds easy but is not: you may have the “end” words for anchors but the tricky part is remembering everything that leads up to them --- add to that always being aurally dependent upon your co-players for the correct rhythms, especially if a line is divided amongst yourselves, and one can only smile in amazement over Mr. Barrett and his actors’ achievement: they make THE LEARNED LADIES look like child’s play.) Dan Kelly plays Trissotin akin to his Brother Martin in last year’s INCORRUPTIBLE, i.e. sneaky and leering, but his expressions and timing are so good that he walks off with the evening in his fey grip though Mikki Lipsey, with her hippo-like daintiness, nearly steals it back as the love-addled Belise. James Ewell Brown and Deanna S. Swan are nicely balanced as Chrysale and Philaminte with Mr. Brown’s hyper little clown ever clashing with Ms. Swan’s aristocratic stooge who wears a fright wig that must be seen to be believed. As Armande, Melissa Sine unwraps a brand-new declaiming voice and, like a child with a bell, rings it merrily, throughout.”

MUSICAL:

Production : URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL (Lyric Stage Company, Boston, MA). Book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. Music and lyrics by Mark Hollman. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg. Choreography by Ilyse Robbins. Cast: Peter A. Carey; Christopher Chew; Bobby Cronin; Michele A. DeLuca; Jennifer Ellis; Peter Edmund Haydu; Ariel Heller; Matthew Kossack; Veronica J. Kuehn; Sean McGirk; Andrew Miramontes; Rob Morrison; Ellen Peterson; Ilyse Robbins; Haley Roth; Robert Saoud; Timothy Smith; Maryann Zschau. “The Lyric Stage Company of Boston opens its fall season with URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL, a most astonishing work. This satire of Big Business vs. The Little People could well become America’s own THREEPENNY OPERA and proves that there is still plenty of life, wit and invention left in this ever-evolving art-form. The plot is pure comic book: Caldwell B. Cladwell, the corrupt owner of Urine Good Company (UGC) exploits his city’s water shortage by banning private toilets and charging the citizens a fee to use the public restrooms; those who buck the system are carted off to the dreaded “Urinetown”. The idealistic Bobby Strong leads a rebellion against UGC despite falling in love with Cladwell’s daughter Hope; the evening does not conclude as expected but is far too cheeky to succumb to pessimism or despair. URINETOWN’s satire remains consistent without losing its smiling bite; even more astonishing is the fact that the influences of Bertoldt Brecht (his alienation theories), Mark Blitzstein (THE CRADLE WILL ROCK) and the gods of the Golden Age of the American Musical can be felt throughout yet Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman serve up an entertainment with a flavor all its own and sharp enough to awaken today’s jaded palettes. … Looking over my press kit notes, I read that URINETOWN has been described as “the musical for people who hate musicals”. Whoever made that statement couldn’t be farther from the truth, especially when the same charge can be leveled at many of today’s offerings. URINETOWN is one of the best things in years, despite its title and its subject matter. If you love musicals --- especially those that give you old-fashioned pleasure --- then, believe me: you will love URINETOWN. No shit.”

Director: Spiro Veloudos (URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL; Lyric Stage Company, Boston, MA). “I did not see the original New York production but was not surprised when told that the Lyric mounting is much, much better for director Spiro Veloudos and choreographer Ilyse Robbins are inspired in their serving up URINETOWN’s grubby, high-stepping fun. Mr. Veloudos keeps everything properly cold and unlovable and Ms. Robbins’ footwork has the ensemble spinning, hopping and kicking like pros.”

Choreography: Patti Colombo (SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS; Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT). “SEVEN BRIDES’ highlight, of course, is the celebrated challenge dance where the two groups of men fight over the six available girls and climaxes with bodies hurtling through space --- as impressive as the number is on film it is nothing compared to seeing it performed, onstage, for there are no numerous takes to be spliced into a unified whole, it must be performed then and there, dangers included, and the Goodspeed cast is breathtakingly up to the challenge … on the afternoon I attended, when the triumphant brothers caught up their love-struck partners in tableau, the Goodspeed rafters, as the saying goes, rang with audience approval. And rang. And rang. Only an onstage musician, rapping on a cowbell, could bring everyone back down to earth, again. It was a glorious, glorious dance sequence, further abetted by Gregory Gale’s dresses that transformed the whirling girls into full-bloom tulips, here, or rag dolls tumbling down the men’s backs, there.”

Actor: Joseph Dellger (CAMELOT; North Shore Music Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: King Arthur. “[Mr. Delger’s] program notes list only musicals but he can clearly tackle Shakespeare with his ringing Sprechstimme which, in turn, lends fairy-tale authority to his Arthur, and he is good-looking enough for romantic leads (the light-hearted rather than the smoldering kind). His Arthur is a likeable chap, believable when he protests he has had greatness thrust upon him, and just when you settle in for a merely pleasing performance Mr. Dellger slips into smooth, warm virility for “How to Handle a Woman” and, accompanied by the string section, brings Act One to a moving close with Arthur’s dilemma-monologue where he must put the leader before the man. Should Mr. Dellger choose to remain in the Boston area, he’ll be most welcome, here --- there’s not enough leading men of his caliber to go around for all of our excellent leading ladies.”

Actress: Sarah Pfisterer (CAROUSEL; Reagle Players, Waltham, MA). Role: Julie Jordon. “Sarah Pfisterer’s pretty, homespun Julie is a true ingénue creation, virginal but sturdy, performed without an overlay of sentiment and emotional distancing so that her “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’?”, a submission to male dominance, becomes the stance that this particular woman has adopted to get her through her particular situation.”

Featured/Supporting Actor: Dennis O’Brien (THE MIKADO; Sudbury Savoyards, Sudbury, MA). Role: Ko-Ko. “The production’s gold piece is Savoyard regular Dennis O’Brien whose Ko-Ko is an ideal balance of clipped, pattery singing and refined music hall. Mr. O’Brien neither minces nor skips about as Lord High Executioners are wont to do but, rather, begins and ends as the nervous yet pompous little tailor that Ko-Ko was and always will be --- a Nobody who has had Greatness thrust upon ‘im. Between Mr. O’Brien and [director Kathy] Lague, their Ko-Ko has numerous moments such as his inflection when appointing Pooh-Bah as Lord High Substitute and his melodramatic “Ah, shrink not from me!” when Katisha is poised over him, talons ready, followed by their combative love duet as they struggle over who shall lead whom. Mr. O’Brien proves so infectious that he galvanizes the action whenever he appears, sending a chain reaction of the correct Victorian silliness through his fellow players --- and a little actor shall lead them….”

Featured/Supporting Actress: Rachel Warren (THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD; Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, RI). “…the evening’s triumph, however, is Rachel Warren’s Edwin Drood, convincingly played i transvesti. Ms. Warren tends to overheat and shriek through her performances but in donning a tweed suit and slicking back her hair with two locks for sideburns, Ms. Warren now channels her energy into an ideal vessel, becoming the epitome of dashing, fiery youth. Ms. Warren’s transformation is so complete that when she reveals a bared torso strapped down and flattened, one blinks in near-disbelief --- now, can she be softened up for Ophelia [in the company’s upcoming production of HAMLET]?”

Ensemble: INTO THE WOODS (New Repertory Theatre, Newton Highlands, MA). “This was my first trip INTO THE WOODS and though I would be inclined to take another trip, elsewhere, I don’t see how the current production can be surpassed as it is superbly cast from top to bottom and staged by Mr. Lombardo and choreographer Kelli Edwards at their most inspired. If you attended their THREEPENNY OPERA, last year, you’ll agree that no one can match the Lombardo-Edwards team when it comes to stylizing actors, to make them lose their fleshly qualities in order to glide or spring about with their own built-in editing so that there is never a wasted movement or any lull in the action (where does the balletic staging stop and the true dancing begin?). … For all its sweep, the production’s subtle little touches are the ones that have stayed with me, such as Cinderella’s Prince posing with one booted foot ever en pointe, or the Stepsister’s variations on the theme of cattiness, or Red Riding Hood’s Granny shuffling about like a sped-up penguin in a mop cap. Mr. Lombardo bridges the two acts with his Baker and Wife: Evan Harrington’s Baker should be a confectioner, instead, as he is a big, sweet sugarplum, himself, and Leigh Barrett makes a firm but loving Wife; happily, the other characters’ transitions seem less jarring because Mr. Harrington and Ms. Barrett have already paved the way to humanness. Todd Alan Johnson, Mr. Lombardo’s Sweeney Todd and Mack the Knife, plays the Wolf with such devilish, smarmy glee that he reinforces my hunch that here could be a definitive Dr. Frank N. Furter to make you shiver in antici….pation, and Nancy E. Carroll, his unforgettable Mrs. Lovett and Mrs. Peachum, is in fine voice as the Witch; she also gets a rare chance to doll up and displays a figure trim enough to make an Auntie Mame declare where has she been hiding it all these years. Among the others --- and I continue to marvel over this ensemble’s riches --- Veronica J. Kuehn endeared herself as Red Riding Hood, ever jigging about, Kerry A. Dowling brings her familiar maternal warmth to Jack’s mother as she has brought to many a SpeakEasy role (has she ever played a villainess?) and the unseen Giant is chillingly suggested by Naomi Gurt Lind’s voice being run through a synthesizer and accompanied by Mr. Lombardo’s own sound design which reverberates through your very ribcage.”

DESIGN:

Sets: Jenna McFarland (THE MOUSETRAP; Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). “Jenna McFarland has designed the detailed, dank-looking manor setting --- when the characters complain of unheated rooms, you believe them.”

Costumes: Amy Aldrich (THE DRESSER; Mugford Street Players; Marblehead, MA). “Amy Aldrich has done the proper research as to what Shakespearean costumes were like, several generations ago: thus, her Cordelia resembles Mr. Wagner’s Isolde with her long blonde tresses and robes of sacrificial white, her Fool is in clown-face and jester’s motley, complete with hood, and so on.”

Lighting: Jack Mehler (CAMELOT; North Shore Music Theatre; Boston, MA). “Jack Mehler’s lighting is the true star with its right, frosty touch for a snowfall at night, Nimue’s seduction of Merlin, staged inside a billowing psychedelic tent, the various dawns over Camelot and the ring of candles around Gwendolyn’s bed, evoking Mr. Wagner’s opera PARSIFAL. Lovely!”

SPECIAL CITATIONS (regardless of category):

EARTHA KITT (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). “She is at that phase in her career where her audiences murmur, “for her age”. She looks great --- for her age. She sounds great --- for her age. (She makes no bones about it: she is 78 years old.) Her figure is as trim as it was when she burst onto the scene over half a century ago and whenever she flashes her keyboard smile, the past and the present are one. Time has smoothed out the tight, burring vibrato and the celebrated growl now ripples hollow, but she still accents in her inimitable style: over-enunciating here, pouncing on a phrase, there. When she vamps selected men in the front row, she is no longer the tigerish courtesan but, rather, the warm and nostalgic madam. She has had a vibrant, checkered life that has taken her from a cotton plantation to the four corners of the globe and through various languages and medias; she sings she’s seen it all and my dear she’s still here, and she has, and she is. She does not spend the evening dwelling on her past (there are her autobiographies, for that) --- she is here to perform, backed by piano, bass, congas and drums; a few of her trademark songs come only after others that she proceeds to make her own. She is funny, moving and glorious to gaze upon and she is at the Stoneham Theatre for a few evenings, more; should you attend, you may thank your lucky stars for you will have seen, live and onstage, the one, the only Miss Eartha Kitt.”

8-TRACK: THE SOUNDS OF THE 70’s (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Conceived and directed by Rick Seeber. Cast: Teddey Brown; Tonya Phillips; Nik Rocklin; Liana Young. “If you are a Flower Child and want to briefly reclaim your bloom or if you are a twentysomething who likes to listen to what your parents grooved to, check out 8-TRACK: THE SOUNDS OF THE 70’s at the Stoneham Theatre. Four talented singers, appropriately dressed, guide their audience through a celebration of songs from the so-called Forgotten Decade but judging by 8-TRACK’s audience reactions, these songs are anything but forgotten. Apart from two well-known anthems, one anti-war and one feminist, conceiver-director Rick Seeber has selected mostly lighter, poppier fare and cleverly choreographed it on a bare stage with the songs themselves creating one mise-en-scene after another. (No, I’m not going to tell you what songs are sung, here, nor will you find them listed in the program --- part of the evening’s fun comes from not knowing what’s next.) Even though over fifty songs are performed in whole or in part, Mr. Seeber and his cast haven’t even scratched the era’s surface --- those years were incredibly rich, music-wise, with something for everyone --- but 8-TRACK still delivers; you and your Pet Rock will go home, happy.”

FROGZ: A THEATRICAL MENAGERIE (Imago Theatre, Cambridge, MA). Creation, design and direction by Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad. Cast: Leah James Abel; Kyle Delamarter; Jonathan Godsey; Rex Jantze; Danielle Vermette. “Imago Theatre’s performance piece FROGZ: A THEATRICAL MENAGERIE over at A.R.T.’s spanking-new Zero Arrow Theatre is delightful entertainment for all ages. Hiding inside ingenious costumes, an agile, acrobatic quintet morph themselves into various creatures and shapes such as concertinas wheezing about the stage like Slinkys, a kitten trying to find its way out of a paper bag and, most sublime of all, five solemn penguins playing musical chairs. Part dance, part mime and dialogue-free, FROGZ is neither deep nor profound but resonates with whimsical images that will leave you shaking your head over how the human body can be made to seem otherwise (here is a troupe who could do wonders with Mr. Kafka’s THE METAMORPHOSIS). On the evening I attended, the packed house was filled with young children; aside from one child who began to moan when a red-eyed alligator slithered in its direction, the Zero Arrow’s intimate space rang with their happy squeals throughout --- that’s a thumbs-up in any language.”

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF MIRZA (Voices from the Edge, Cambridge, MA). A montage of original comedy and personal reflection by Shazia Mirza. “Shazia Mirza, the world’s leading female Muslim stand-up comic, brought her uniqueness to Cambridge as a guest speaker for Voices from the Edge, an organization that promotes a global forum through an exchange of thoughts and ideas. Ms. Mirza, a dead-pan combination of Meryl Streep and Cher (she has also been compared to Harry Potter’s Dobbin), enlightened through humor, always the best medicine for American audiences to swallow. Still a practicing Muslim, Ms. Mirza covers her hair in the traditional manner and openly admits to still being virginal but her being British-born allows her to keep a clear-eyed distance necessary for satire (“I’m introduced as a Muslim but also that I’m British, which is like saying I’m going to blow up this building --- but politely.”). She sees herself as a comedienne, no more, no less, yet is a constant target for (verbal) abuse, primarily from Muslim men (a Muslim man once called Ms. Mirza a prostitute for doing stand-up comedy; she shrugs, “Men like him supply my material, so in a way this man is my pimp.”). Compared to Reno, an angry American comic who all but sets fire to the stage, Ms. Mirza concentrates on safe-enough jabs at her two cultures and reads aloud from hate letters and e-mails sent to her --- interestingly, Ms. Mirza draws on two sources which will keep her in demand for quite some time: (1) disarming Western audiences with her human-ness beneath her iconography and (2) Muslim women being seen as victims and therefore are not to be feared; a male Muslim comic, on the other hand, would have quite the up-hill battle towards acceptance. With the world situation constantly evolving, Ms. Mirza may have to darken her satire or adjust her stage persona, in time, but for now she is hilarious and I was constantly torn between laughing and trying to capture her on paper (Ms. Mirza’s comedy is cleansing in the same manner of the Norman Lear sitcoms of the 1970s --- it’s called Clearing the Air).”

ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (Overture Productions). Book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Music by Cy Coleman. Based on a play by Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur and Bruce Milholland. Direction and musical staging by Tony McLean. Special tap choreography by Cyrus Brooks. Musical direction by Michael Joseph. Cast: Brian De Lorenzo; Bob De Vivo; Aimee Doherty; Ryan Dunn; George Dvorsky; Paul Farwell; Russell Ferguson; Andrew Giordano; Joe Gonzales; William Hartery; John King; Michael Letch; Jeff Mahoney; Melanie May; Andy McLeavey; Cheryl McMahon; Chip Phillips; Deb Poppel; Shaquan Reed; Alice Ripley; Steve Shannon; Megan Tillman. Ensemble: Jaclyn Campbell; Aimee Doherty; Jackie Duffy; Ryan Dunn; Karen Fanale; Frank Gayton; Paul Giragos; Kathy Keefe; Amanda Hancock; Catherine Lee; Naomi Gurt Lind; Stephanie Mann; Melanie May; Alison Murphy; Rene Lewis Pfister; Chip Philips; Deb Poppel; Don Ringuette; Andrew Ryker; Steve Shannon; Jesse Strachman; Erin Tchoukaleff; Dawn Tucker; Jennifer Walker. “Overture Productions’ concert of ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY … excellent entertainment worthy of a full-scale production though it did quite nicely without one. … Why must live theatre be so perishable? Those who missed this TWENTIETH CENTURY must make do with these words, instead, and what I have tried to evoke cannot equal what its three lucky audiences experienced at the Majestic. … Like a great orgasm, you just had to be there.”

SHEAR MADNESS --- 25TH ANNIVERSARY SEASON (Charles Street Playhouse, Boston, MA). Written by Bruce Jordan and Marilyn Abrams, based on the play “Scherenschnitt” by Paul Portner. Directed by Bruce Jordan. Cast members (from 1980 to present): Martin Anderson; Bob Arnold; John P. Arnold; Mark Balthazar; ML Berry; David Berti; Linda Besti; Jon Blackstone; David Brezniak; David Cantanzaro; Nancy Carroll; Mark S. Cartier; Neil Casey; Ken Cheeseman; Ellen Colton; Mary Ann Conk; Grace Costa; Deb Doetzer; Richard Donelly; Alice Duffy; Paul Dunn; Michael Fennimore; John Fiori; Roger Forbes; Elissa Forsythe; Kippy Goldfarb; Brian Howe; Betty Gray Johnson; Jerry Kissel; Mary Klug; Maryann Konk; Peter Kovner; John Kuntz; Paul Langton; Chloe Leamon; Will Lebow; Allison Martin; Belle McDonald; Karen McDonald; Cheryl McMahon; Mitchell Mullen; Laura Napoli; Sarah Newhouse; Paul O’Brien; Celeste Oliva; Tom Ouellette; Rick Park; Phil Patrone; Bob Pemberton; Chandra Pieragostini; Paula Plum; Michael Poisson; Marina Re; Ted Reinstein; Scott Richards; Linda Robinson; Wren Ross; Anita Sangiolo; Bob Saoud; John Savioa; Patrick Shea; Sandra Shipley; Jackie Sibley; Peter Siragusa; Joe Smith; Richard Snee; Ingrid Sonnichsen; Donna Sorbello; Kathy St. George; Shawn Sturnick; Chris Tarjan; Bruce Ward; Nat Warren White; Bates Wilder; Joe Wilkins. “Who could have predicted that this send-up of an obscure German murder mystery would become the longest-running non-musical play in the history of the American theatre, reap numerous awards and spawn over fifty productions, world-wide? … Yes, this is the show where a murder is committed upstairs over a hair salon at 155 Beacon Street (an old bitch of a concert pianist gets stabbed in the neck with a pair of hairdressing shears) and, yes, the audience gets to question the suspects, call the shots (!) when the alibis don’t wash (!) and, in the end, vote for the evening’s murderer (or ess). That’s all there is to SHEAR MADNESS but from its wordless prologue where an unsuspecting customer gets a rollercoaster of a shampoo straight through to the killer being carted off to jail, the laughs come thick and furious; the Silver Anniversary performance was my sixth attendance yet I still barked like a happy pup. (Want some trivia? Over the years the Boston production has gone through 17 barber chairs, 80 blow dryers, 225 bottles of stage blood, 165 hair brushes, 1,100 cans of hair spray, 5,000 ounces of shampoo, 1,300 bottles of nail polish, 20,000 tic tacs, 4,000 ounces of conditioner, 1,200 emery boards and 11,000 cans of shaving cream.)”

Dean O’Donnell (FORTINBRAS; Vokes Theatre, Wayland, MA). “Special nods to Dean O’Donnell for his breathtaking video-game landscapes projected between scenes; his wizardry opens up whole new exciting avenues for flexible scenic design.”

Susie Smith for her hat designs in CROWNS (Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Boston, MA). “Susie Smith has designed dozens of classy hats, each tailored for a certain head and personality and offset with color-coded wardrobes of brilliant hues symbolizing African nature-spirits --- here’s a veritable garden of Womanhood, indeed.”

“Wigged Out!” from DRESSED UP! & WIGGED OUT! (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Boston, MA). Written and performed by Paula Plum. “[In] Paula Plum’s “Wigged Out!” about life and death with her silly, haughty mother Rowena … Ms. Plum charts an unchronological timeline of an impossible woman who shied away from human contact and believed that appearance was all and she includes a tender cameo of her life-loving father, a stunning entrance by Rowena’s wedding gown and Ms. Plum’s own performance as herself. I tend to catch Ms. Plum in her drawingroom-mode more often than not but here she plays warmly from a forgiving heart, balancing laughter and tears even in death’s shadow. Ms. Plum’s tribute, complete with warts, could only be written after Rowena passed on: the daughter needed both death and distance to turn her mother into Art.”

MEMORABLE PRODUCTIONS:

AIDA (Ogunquit Stage Company, Ogunquit, ME). Music by Elton John. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang. Directed by Schele Williams. Choreographed by Nick Kenkel. Musical direction by Aron Accurso. Cast: Paul Aguirre; John Antony; Sebastian Arcelus; Emily Drennan; Janelle Neal; Ty Robinson; Eric LaJuan Summers; Angela Williams. Ensemble: Jahmal Adderley; Melanie Allen; Maia Evwaraye-Griffin; Ben Franklin; David Glaspie; Aaron Hamilton (Dance Captain); Louisa Krause; Alison Paterson; Mayte Natalio; Micah Shepard; Damien DeShaun Smith; Ericka Yang; Dashaun Young. “Librettists Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang retain [Giuseppe] Verdi’s star-crossed love story between Radames, an Egyptian warrior, and Aida, an enslaved Ethiopian princess (here, she is Nubian), further complicated by Radames being betrothed to Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter and Aida’s mistress --- and they filter it through political correctness: Aida becomes a warrior-princess, replacing Mr. Verdi’s confused waif; Amneris, once her rival, is now a good sport over how Love shuffles the deck; Radames remains a singing jockstrap but with a growing social conscience. On the plus side, Ms. Woolverton and the Messrs. Falls and Hwang flesh out how two enemies become lovers; on the minus side, the pivotal role of Aida’s father Amonastro is reduced to a non-singing walk-on and Radames is given a nasty, plotting father named Zoser (one of those traditional elders standing in the way of under-30 love). The original ending is softened to send audiences out with a smile as well as a tear and all is pro-Nubia down to the last chorus member, enslaved and yet free. … The Ogunquit production has been shrewdly designed by Richard Ellis with economy going hand in hand with Egypt’s vast, open spaces and it is gloriously lit by Richard Latta in solid colors that reflect AIDA’s emotional as well as climatic temperature. Director Schele Williams keeps the action flowing smoothly throughout, including the minimal set changes (here, detailed characterizations would only slow things down), and choreographer Nick Kenkel has devised some tight, kinetic dance numbers; blessedly, Amneris’ showstopper “My Strongest Suit” does not dissolve into mere Camp.”

ASCENSION (Our Place Theatre Project, Boston, MA). Written by Cynthia Robinson. Directed by Robbie McCauley. Cast: David Curtis; Jeff Gill; Jacqui Parker; Linda Starks. “The world premiere of Cynthia Robinson’s ASCENSION [was] the highlight of the Fifth African American Theatre Festival and I salute Ms. Robinson for a love triangle as simple and heartbreaking as Edith Wharton’s ETHAN FROME: two Southern plantation slaves, Ruth and Jacob, will traditionally hop over a broom with their master’s consent. Said master, James Carlisle, has bedded Ruth on a regular basis and does so one last time on the eve of the wedding but once Ruth and Jacob are happily married, Carlisle decides not to give Ruth up, after all --- if what follows is predictable, it is because it is also inevitable. … ASCENSION triumphantly proves that a tragedy with fire and passion can still be forged in these increasingly timid days.”

BLUE/ORANGE (Zeitgeist Stage Company, Boston, MA). Written by Joe Penhall. Directed and designed by David J. Miller. Cast: Steven Barkhimer ; Dorian Christian Baucum; Eric Hamel. “Joe Penhall’s BLUE/ORANGE in a dazzling little Zeitgeist Stage production has been called a Comedy and I agree: the scene is a consulting office in a London psychiatric hospital. Dr. Bruce Flaherty, an up-and-comer, clashes with his superior, Dr. Robert Smith, over the fate of Christopher, his young black patient who is to be discharged within twenty-four hours. Dr. Flaherty claims that Christopher is far from ready to be released into the world --- his patient, for starters, claims that oranges are blue in color and that he is really the son of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin --- while Dr. Smith counters that Christopher is merely suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder and therefore safe enough to be let go; besides, the hospital needs his bed. While the doctors escalate in their cerebral battle, Christopher begins to have doubts about his sanity; in a light-night consultation with Dr. Smith, Christopher is provoked into pulling the Race Card against Dr. Flaherty, suddenly convinced that Flaherty’s concern stems from a white man’s feeling of superiority towards his race. Dr. Smith, sensing an advantage, encourages Christopher to file a complaint against his colleague and if the rest of BLUE/ORANGE becomes predictable the evening never loses its fascination. Christopher’s pulling the Race Card gives Act Two a distinct plotline yet Act One is the superior achievement with Drs. Flaherty and Smith building thought-castles of ice and crystal while the earth-bound Christopher is fraying at ground level, a pawn who gets his own back by turning the tables on the Eggheads --- ironic comedy, from all sides. Perhaps the Race Card had to be drawn to bring all that stratospheric ranting back down to earth but Mr. Penhall, bless him, never sweetens or melts an inch, unlike many an American satirist, and his dialogue is a treat for wide-awake ears.”

BUS STOP (Williamstown Theatre Festival). Written by William Inge. Directed by Will Frears. Cast: Elizabeth Banks; Leon Addison Brown; Bill Camp; Laura Heisler; Logan Marshall-Green; Elizabeth Marvel; Daniel Oreskes; John Douglas Thompson. The Stanton Family Band: David Abeles; Dave Chura; Erica Lipez; Ross Travis. “PICNIC may have won the Pulitzer Prize but BUS STOP is Mr. Inge’s most popular play and his one out-and-out comedy (it had a profitable Broadway run but won no major prizes --- it was up against Mr. Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, that season). Mr. Inge had previously written a brief slice of life entitled PEOPLE IN THE WIND that takes place in a small-town restaurant just outside of Kansas and peopled with its proprietress, a young waitress, a bus driver and his passengers which include a chanteuse being pursued by a love-struck cowpoke, a poetry-spouting drunk and two old maids (a charming little piece, this). For the full-length BUS STOP, Mr. Inge brought the chanteuse (Cherie) and her cowpoke (Bo) into the foreground: she has been abducted by him after a one-night romance; he wants to marry her and bring her back to his ranch in Montana but she has other plans. Bo has been given a fatherly sidekick (Virgil), a sheriff (Will) wanders in and out to keep the peace, the drunk (Dr. Lyman) not-so-innocently flirts with the naïve waitress (Elma) while the proprietress (Grace) slips upstairs with the bus driver (Carl). (The old maids have been discarded.) Instead of being wind-swept as before, the restaurant is snowed in and the characters’ interact while waiting for clear skies. BUS STOP is Mr. Inge’s healthiest, happiest treatise on the many faces of love: Cherie and Bo spar and smooch as a modern-day Kate and Petruchio, Elma develops a crush on the charming, lecherous Dr. Lyman, Grace and Carl steal love on the sly and Virgil’s affectionate devotion to Bo leaves him out in the cold at play’s end. (The well-known film adaptation starring Marilyn Monroe as Cherie has a lengthy, added on Prologue with the play’s restaurant and characters (minus Dr. Lyman) coming on board much, much later.) … The Williamstown Theatre Festival is offering a sadly limited run of BUS STOP which I hope will be sold out as compensation for it is good and golden and true.”

CARMEN (American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA). Composed by George Bizet. Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novel by Prosper Merimee. Music adaptation by Bradley Greenwald. Directed by Dominique Serrand. Musical direction by Barbara Brooks. Surtitles by Steven Epp. Cast: Christina Baldwin; Dieter Bierbrauer; Kelvin Chan; Madeline Cieslak; Thomas Derrah; Bradley Greenwald; Justin Madel; Fred Metzer; Bill Murray; Jennifer Baldwin Peden; Momoko Tanno; Corissa White. Chorus: Donna Bareket; Neal Feal Ferreira; Hayley Thompson-King; Robert Shutter; Christine Teeters. Pianos: Barbara Brooks; Kathy Kraulik. “[I]f you can overlook such visuals as a grey cinderblock setting posing as sunny Spain, a Carmen more witch than temptress and a tomboy Micaëla who keeps barging in when least expected, you will be rewarded with a ravishingly sung performance of George Bizet’s ever-popular opera about the doomed love between a gypsy and a soldier. … [Y]our ears, at least, will go home happy.”

CAROL MULRONEY (Huntington Stage Company, Boston, MA). Written by by Stephen Belber. Directed by Lisa Peterson. Cast: Johanna Day; Reuben Jackson; Larry Pine; Tim Ransom; Ana Reeder. “Have you ever attended a play that seemed merely “nice” as it unfolded but on later reflection blossomed into something quite good? That is Stephen Belber’s CAROL MULRONEY. … Mr. Belber subtly, deftly, tells of a young woman, inexplicably sad, who either falls or jumps off her building’s roof and the dovetailing episodes that lead up to her demise; … Mr. Belber keeps his heroine ambiguous enough in her motivations --- was Carol always sad or has she started to brood upon learning that her mother’s drowning was really a suicide, having found her farewell note that simply reads, “NO”?. … Happily, the Huntington production plays out on its smaller Pavilion stage rather than inside its B. U. barn; director Lisa Peterson gently lets the chamber-action unfold against Alexander V. Nichol’s Christmas tree skies which, not surprisingly, point the way to a transcendent conclusion.”

CAROUSEL (Reagle Players, Waltham, MA). Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on LILIOM by Ferenc Molnar. Original dances by Agnes de Mille. Directed by Robert J. Eagle. Musical direction by Karen Gahagan. Original Agnes de Mille choreography recreated by Gemze de Lappe. Cast: Jake Aaron; Megan Bergeron; Yuval Biran; George Bouchard; Ron Brinn; Kathleen Brophy; Chris Brucato; Sarah Case; Nat Chandler; Jean-Alfred Chavier; Linda Cottone Lodi; Andrew Curtin; Christiana Curtin; Christopher Dean; Katie Duff; Roy Earley; Stephanie Feigen; Drew Franklin; Annie Gane; Rachel Goldberg; Timothy Grady; Jonathon Grant; Meghan Hales; Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck; Nathan Hylan; Sabrina Jacob; Shirley Jones; Shannon Keaveney; David Kehs; Ashley Kenney; Lael Van Keuren; Matthew Warner Kiernan; Christopher King; Rob Klimeczko; Ben Layman; Patricia Logan; Dillon Longmoore; Brianna Maguire; Beth M. Martin; Katie McCue; Andy McLeavey; Cheryl McMahon; Stuart Milne; Molly O’Neal; Bob Pascucci; Ellen Peterson; Sarah Pfisterer; J. P. Qualters; Margie Quinlan; Paul Reynolds; Angela Richardson; Rachelle Riehl; Jacob Roll; Joshua Schulteis; Katrina Shinay; Betsy Soulé; Andrew Swansburg; William Sweet; Melissa Sybil; Kelsey Thomas; Nathan Troup; Lael Van Keuren; Gay Vincent; Harold W. Walker; Victor Warren; Kristen Watson; Victor Wisehart. “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! may have broken new ground but their next collaboration CAROUSEL is the far greater work. OKLAHOMA! made strides in its integration of plot, song and dance; CAROUSEL did likewise but also took emotional risks in its love story between Billy Bigelow, a bullying carnival barker, and Julie Jordan, a naïve-but-wise girl who works in a cotton mill --- their star-crossed union concludes with Billy’s suicide after a bungled robbery attempt, their daughter Louise being ostracized and Billy being allowed to come back to earth to redeem himself and inspire and comfort his loved ones. … This [production of] CAROUSEL was my first encounter with the Reagle Players and a nicer introduction could not have been extended. Robert J. Eagle has lovingly directed without modern-day signposting (all the nicer since Julie is a politically-incorrect victim) and his cast performs with freshness and vigor so that the Old becomes New, again.”

CLOSER (Devanaughan Theatre, Boston, MA). Written by Patrick Marber. Directed by Dani Duggan. Cast: Cristi Miles; Ben Lambert; Andrew Sarno; Alex Zielke. “Patrick Marber’s award-winning CLOSER at the Devanaughn Theatre will divide the older and younger generations and therefore both age groups should attend (ideally, at the same performance) --- greybeards like me will shake their heads over how human relationships have unraveled over the past few decades due to too much freedom and not enough compromise; the younger crowd will see themselves reflected in Mr. Marber’s cool, unblinking mirror as he charts the criss-crossing between four modern-day Londoners: Alice, a street-waif and part-time stripper, Dan, a would-be novelist who writes newspaper obituaries, Anna, a professional photographer, and Larry, a dermatologist. Alice and Dan become lovers after she has been injured in traffic and he has rushed her to Larry’s hospital; at a photo shoot, Dan comes on to Anna who politely rejects him --- in retaliation, Dan fixes her up with the unsuspecting Larry via an “Anna” chat on the internet; having once met (to his embarrassment and her confusion), Anna and Larry marry but Anna becomes involved with Dan, after all (she considers having his babies, not Larry’s); Alice moves out of Dan’s life and take up stripping again; she begins an affair with Larry who stops by the club one night as he and Anna have separated for the time being, etc., etc., and etc., again. A generation ago, CLOSER would have been a hip comedy among swinging singles; Mr. Marber’s quartet mix and match in a bleak urban landscape where love and commitment are subject to mercurial whim such as Alice choosing to fall in love with Dan mainly because he cuts the crusts off his sandwiches, and Mr. Marber keeps inserting new wrinkles in the cloth as soon as he has smoothed out preceding ones, finally calling it quits after exhausting all the repetitive possibilities (save for a same-sex relationship) and leading each character into his or her personal dead-end. His dialogue is excellent --- crisp and flippant in the British manner and very, very lifelike --- but his take on modern-day couplings can best be summed up by one character describing the human heart (the poetic source of love’s inspiration) as merely being a muscle surrounded by blood. But, then, this is a greybeard preaching and perhaps CLOSER is indeed a hip, swinging comedy geared for today’s younger crowd and on the afternoon I attended, you couldn’t have found two more contrasting reactions: I yearned to bang the characters’ heads together over their never being satisfied with half a loaf and becoming more and more alienated as they got “closer” to one another; the younger portion of the audience, however, found them hilarious, for the most part (or, at least, laughable). Perhaps Mr. Maser is a brilliant satirist, after all, knowing exactly how to pin his foursome to the wall and watch them squirm without their knowing it.”

CROWNS (Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Boston, MA). Written by Regina Taylor, adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Directed by Lois Roach. Choreography by Jackie Davis. Musical direction by Evelyn Lee-Jones. Cast: Michelle Dowd; Heather Fry; Fulani Haymes; Jacqui Parker; Merle Perkins; Mikelyn Roderick; Darius Omar Williams. “The season of Nutcrackers and Scrooges has already begun but should you crave something new that will leave you with a similar glow, consider CROWNS, a gospel-collage at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston. Based upon a book of monologues by and about southern African-American women, CROWNS is loosely held together by a Brooklyn girl with Attitude who, upon her brother’s murder, is sent to live with her grandmother in Alabama where she encounters women with “Hattitude”, i.e. their going to church dressed in their Sunday best, topped with a carefully chosen, proudly worn hat; the girl eventually trades in her baseball cap for her own personal “crown” --- her soul as well as her wardrobe has been nourished.”

DINNER WITH FRIENDS (Gloucester Stage Company, Gloucester, MA). Written by Donald Margulies. Directed by Scott Edmiston. Cast: Barlow Adamson; Anne Gottlieb; Julie Jirousek; Robert Pemberton. Children’s Voices … Thomas McCormick; Elena McCormick. “David Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize-winning DINNER WITH FRIENDS [is] a comedy-drama about love, friendship, marriage and divorce. Twelve years ago, newlyweds Gabe and Karen played matchmaker to their friends Tom and Beth; the two married couples have since become inseparable, raising two sets of children, vacationing together and enjoying gourmet meals prepared by Gabe and Karen, two international food critics. At one such dinner, Beth, a failed artist, announces that Tom, a successful lawyer, has left her for another woman. Gabe and Karen are devastated; Karen automatically casts Tom as the villain whereas Gabe chooses to puzzle it out on the sidelines. When Tom and Beth divorce and move on to happier lives regardless of what their friends think, Gabe and Karen are left to take stock of their own marriage now that they are on their own. … Mr. Edmiston’s production is warm, low-keyed and well-detailed so that even creating a salad becomes interesting --- there is a nice touch when Karen’s disapproval towards Tom has her simply sitting downstage with her back to the audience --- and Jenna McFarland has contributed a handsome, calm world of polished wooden floor and symmetrical windows and blinds to contrast with ever-simmering emotions.”

A DOLL’S HOUSE (Small World Big Sky Productions; Boston, MA). Written by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Frank McGuinness. Directed by Sarah Friedberg. Cast: Ellen Adair; Melissa Baroni; Julie Dapper; Dann Anthony Maurno; Fran Renehan; Brian Quint; Bill Salem. “Last spring Small World Big Sky Productions debuted at the Devanaughn Theatre with a respectable production of THE ILLUSION that hinted at still-better things to come; now SWBS has returned with A DOLL’S HOUSE and what leaps and bounds Sarah Friedberg and her company have made, this second time around, for much of it is golden… A DOLL’S HOUSE, of course, is Henrik Ibsen’s early-feminist play about Nora, a pampered young wife who believes she is living in the best of all possible worlds --- a successful husband (Torvald) who adores her, three beautiful children, etc. --- only to have her illusions shattered when a clandestine loan she has undertaken for Torvald’s sake backfires; when Torvald turns on Nora (she has acted out of love; he only sees his reputation at stake), she realizes she has been but a mere doll in a toy-marriage and walks out on him, famously slamming the door behind her. Those who recall Mr. Ibsen as an English-class bore will be surprised at how well he plays, onstage --- the fellow wrote crackling good melodramas, albeit heavy on the dovetailing and coincidences, and the final showdown still rings true regarding unequal alliances between domestic partners. … Sometimes the most satisfying productions of the classics can be found in smaller companies who have neither budget nor resources to support directorial visions and SWBS gives you Mr. Ibsen, pure and simple.”

THE DRESSER (Mugford Street Players, Marblehead, MA). Written by Ronald Harwood. Produced, directed and designed by John Fogle. Cast: Kristine Burke; Jim Butterfield; Janet Dauray; Shawn Maguire; Craig Owen; Dave Rich; James Robinson; Mark Soucy; Bob Stewart; Pauline Wright. “THE DRESSER is based upon Mr. Harwood’s apprenticeship to the late Sir Donald Wolfit, a distinguished actor known for playing the English provinces (as the old joke goes, Sir Laurence Olivier was a tour-de-force; Sir Donald was forced to tour). The play’s Sir is the aging manager and leading actor of a third-rate troupe touring England during the Blitz of 1942. Sir has begun to unravel due to age, drink, a demanding repertoire, and daily air raids and bombing and Sir’s personal dresser Norman does all he can to ready his master for his 227th performance of KING LEAR. The fussy, sharp-tongued Norman has long been the glue that holds the troupe together; his devoted service to Sir is rewarded by being left out in the cold, double-fold. … [I]f you want to see how community theatre artists can equal and surpass their professional brethren you’d best reserve your DRESSER tickets, now, or rend thy garment, later.”

FORTINBRAS (Vokes Theatre, Wayland, MA). Written by Lee Blessing. Directed by Darren Evans. Cast: Brian Anderson; Justin Dilley; Gordon Ellis; David Hansen; John Joyce; Pam Mayne; Mary Kate Rod; Jonathan Sacramone; Lauren Shear; Melissa Sine; Bill Stambaugh; Chris Wagner; David Wood; Robert Zawistowski. “Lee Blessing’s FORTINBRAS is a cheeky comedy that picks up where Shakespeare’s HAMLET has just left off: Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude and Laertes are dead and Fortinbras, the son of the late Norwegian king, has entered to learn that he now rules Denmark with Hamlet’s blessing. Mr. Blessing’s Fortinbras is an Ugly Norwegian, genial but pigheaded, who dismisses Horatio’s version of the tragedy (too implausible) and reinvents all those deaths as Poland’s Revenge (Claudius had sent Fortinbras to invade that country, remember?). Fortinbras demands a Polish “spy” as a scapegoat and orders his armies to march back into Poland just for a bit of saber-rattling and, surprise surprise, his fabricating spirals out of control. Aside from Ophelia’s ghost reveling in her new persona as leather-vixen, the dead advise Fortinbras to tell the truth and set things right but their pleas fall on deaf (and dumb) ears. … FORTINBRAS’ hilarity runs half an act longer than it should but Darren Evans’ nimble direction keeps things light and spinning and his accomplished cast of clowns and vaudevillians had already jelled by Opening Night so that even the smaller roles were deftly executed (when was the last time walk-ons stuck in your memory?).”

GAGARIN WAY (Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). Written by Gregory Burke. Directed by Brendan Hughes. Cast: Ciaran Crawford; Rick Park; Rodney Raftery; Dafydd Rees. “Close on the heels of Metro Stage Company’s production of ASSASSINS comes the Súgán Theatre’s production of GAGARIN WAY. Gregory Burke’s black comedy also provokes laughter and has its own social misfits but never lets its audience forget that to murder someone, whatever the motive, is to end a warm, throbbing life, and this being Mr. Burke’s first play makes GAGARIN WAY all the more impressive. The action takes place in Dunfermline, a Scottish mining town taken over by multinational corporations (the play’s title is a street named after the Russian astronaut who was the first man launched into space --- a hint of where the town’s sympathies lie). Two local men, Eddie and Gary, kidnap an executive and plan to kill him as a political statement but instead of being Japanese, Dutch or American, Frank turns out to be a native son as bitter over his selling out to the invaders as his abductors are over their dead-end lives. Tom, a young security guard, turns a blind eye, at first --- he is led to believe that Eddie and Gary are only stealing computer chips --- but gets caught up in the plot by coming back for his hat. Mr. Burke shows that when a community loses its way of life it also loses its collective soul, leading to eventual retaliation, and Gary, Tom and Frank come to realize they have more in common than they realized but Eddie, a natural-born troublemaker, wants to take back his life…. There are several surprising twists in the last few minutes of the evening, just before the final punch line.”

ICE GLEN (Shakespeare & Company; Lenox, MA). Written by Joan Ackermann. Directed by Tina Packer. Cast: Elizabeth Aspenlieder; Lydia Barnett-Mulligan; Michael Hammond; Dennis Krausnick; Gillian Seidl; Brian Weaver; Kristin Wold. “How pleasurable theatergoing becomes when a brand-new play is also a good, literate one; such is the happy birth of Joan Ackermann’s ICE GLEN --- Ms. Ackerman’s drama is a collection of character studies wrapped around a melodrama played out within a decaying Berkshire estate circa 1920, the manor’s decline reflecting the isolation of its owner Dulcie Bainbridge whose social life has ended with the death of her husband. Enter Peter Woodburn, a Boston editor who has received, by way of Edith Wharton, three soul-shaking poems written by Sarah Harding, Dulcie’s groundskeeper. Peter requests permission to publish these poems but Sarah demands them back as Dulcie’s husband had given them to Ms. Wharton without either woman’s knowledge. The character studies revolve around daily life amongst the servants and the evolving love-triangle between Dulcie, Peter and Sarah while the melodrama asks why does the latter refuse to be published? … Tina Packer has lovingly cultivated it in the Spring Lawn Theatre’s playing space, not once allowing Mr. Chekhov to make his presence felt.”

INTO THE WOODS (New Repertory Theatre, Newton Highlands, MA). Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine. Directed by Rick Lombardo. Choreographed by Kelli Edwards. Musical direction by Todd C. Gordon. Cast: Leigh Barrett; Nancy E. Carroll; Miguel Cervantes; Aimee Doherty; Kerry A. Dowling; Timothy Espinosa; Paul D. Farwell; Andrew Giordano; Megan Gleeson; Jessica Hansen; Evan Harrington; Todd Alan Johnson; Veronica J. Kuehn; Naomi Gurt Lind; Eric Ruben; Hayley Thompson-King; Rachel Zampelli. “Mr. Sondheim and his librettist James Lapine put a spin on familiar fairy tale characters and dovetail them into their own fable about a childless Baker and his Wife who attempt to undo a witch’s curse in order to raise a family --- following the witch’s orders they go into the woods to find a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, a lock of hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. They obtain these items, respectively, from Jack (of beanstalk fame), Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Cinderella, and Act One ends happily with everyone getting what they want. Act Two darkens, considerably, when an avenging giantess climbs down from a second beanstalk to seek out Jack who had killed her husband. She wipes out a handful of characters before she herself is felled by the survivors. … This was my first trip INTO THE WOODS and I don’t see how the current production can be surpassed as it is superbly cast from top to bottom and staged by Mr. Lombardo and choreographer Kelli Edwards at their most inspired.”

KING JOHN (Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA). Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Tina Packer. Cast: Stephen James Anderson; Bill Barclay; Robert Biggs; Steve Boss; Ashley Bryant; Allyn Burrows; Jonathan Croy; Dave Demke; Peter Macon; Annette Miller; Susannah Millonzi; Diane Prusha; Mark Saturno; Alejandro Simoes; Barbara Sims; Meg Wieder; Walton Wilson. “KING JOHN is one of Shakespeare’s early Histories, being born in between RICHARD III and RICHARD II --- since it is a History, its plot boils down to who deserves to wear England’s crown: should it be John, who has claimed the throne upon the death of his brother King Geoffrey, or young Arthur, Geoffrey’s son and the heir apparent? The crafty Queen Eleanor and the noble Lady Constance stand by their sons, King Philip of France waffles between war and alliance with England, the Church puts in its oar, the imprisoned Arthur falls to his death and John gets his in the end, poisoned by an offstage monk. As written, John is but a pale spider at best, overshadowed by the jovial Philip the Bastard who wins our affection for as long as Shakespeare dotes on him; however, KING JOHN hints of unfolding genius in its celebrated set-pieces: Constance’s operatic grief when Arthur is torn from her (III, iv) and the moving Prison Scene where the boy pleads with Hubert to spare his life (IV, i). RICHARD II gradually won its place in the sun; KING JOHN has not and may flourish best in repertory as it is currently doing at Shakespeare & Company --- be it sandwiched in between its box office brethren or taking a chance on its own, KING JOHN deserves to be seen at least once, not only as a herald for the Bard’s future kings but as the study of a playwright en route to greatness. … Tina Packer sets her production in the proper period (the 13th century), allowing the audience to concentrate on this little-seen History rather than on an interpretation of it, and she has done her damnedest to make KING JOHN as accessible and entertaining as possible.”

THE LEARNED LADIES (The Vokes Players, Reading, MA). Written by Molière; translated by Richard Wilbur. Directed and designed by John Barrett. Cast: Evan Bernstein; James Ewell Brown; David Dobson; Dan Kelly; Mikki Lipsey; Robert Mackie; Kate Mahoney; Andy Moore; Kimberly Schaeffer; Melissa Sine; Deanna S. Swan. “THE LEARNED LADIES runs parallel to TARTUFFE --- a hypocrite has wormed his way into the good graces of a household and must be exposed before he marries the younger daughter against her will --- in this case the villain is the fraudulent poet Trissotin hailed as a genius by Philaminte, Belise and Armande, the mistress, old-maid aunt and elder daughter of Chrysale’s household; they are three Learned Ladies whose education has hardened into yet another form of snobbery (hearing bad grammar sends them into convulsions). Henriette, Trissotin’s un-Learned intended, loves Clitandre who once wooed and was rejected by Armande; the young lovers receive Chrysale’s blessing but can the timid master of the house stand up to his dominatrix wife and allow True Love to triumph? … The Vokes production, done in period, captures much of the fun and sparkle in Richard Wilbur’s still-wonderful translation which turns the original French into nimble-sounding English. Director John Barrett … keeps everything heightened and artificial so that his actors become amusing puppets within his dollhouse set, greatly assisted by the Vokes’ own period ambiance, and he keeps them statue-still for long stretches of time, allowing the comedy to tumble out in the lines and the personalities rather than in fussy stage-business that would only retard the flow.”

THE MOONLIGHT ROOM (SpeakEasy Stage, Boston, MA). Written by Tristine Skyler. Directed by Paul Melone. Cast: Tracee Chino; David Jackson; David Krinitt; Cheryl McMahon; Ian Michaels. “Tristine Skyler’s THE MOONLIGHT ROOM is set in the emergency waiting room of a New York hospital where two teenagers, Sal and Josh, mark time after bringing in a friend who has, thanks to Josh, overdosed on a party drug. As their friend’s life hangs in the balance, they are confronted by Mrs. Kelley (Sal’s mother), Mr. Wells (the friend’s father), and Adam (Josh’s stepbrother); one of the plot threads ends happily, another follows the rules of the streets (the play’s title is Josh’s description of a nocturnal living room in a former schoolmate’s apartment). … THE MOONLIGHT ROOM [is] a return to the Well-Made Play, bowing to the Unities of time, place and action and proving that the cinematic influences swamping so much of today’s playwriting need not be the only way to reach out to today’s audiences. Ms. Skyler squeezes much out of little and what may seem static to the MTV crowd is actually a good old-fashioned drama with the dusting moments cleverly woven in and most of the entrances and exits not too, too obvious. … THE MOONLIGHT ROOM is definitely worth your time --- it may not be ideal family entertainment but parents and children alike will benefit from crossing its two-way street.”

A NUMBER (The Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Boston, MA). Written by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Cast: Steve McConnell; Lewis D. Wheeler. “Caryl Churchill’s A NUMBER is an intriguing sixty-five minutes: Salter, a middle-aged Englishman, and his grown son Bernard, discuss the fact that Bernard is a genetic clone of a deceased firstborn and that, unbeknownst to Salter, the cloning scientists didn’t stop at one facsimile but duplicated nearly two dozen; thus, there are numerous Bernards roaming the earth. The elder Bernard shows up, not at all deceased and with murderous designs on his successor; a third Bernard christened “Michael Black” closes the hour on an ironic note. Since things are different at the end of A NUMBER than they are at the beginning, one would assume that all the cerebral-talk and those constantly interrupted sentences are leading somewhere. They are --- but your attention mustn’t wander for an instant.”

PAL JOEY (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Book by John O’Hara based on his “Pal Joey” stories. Music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Directed by Weylin Symes and Caitlin Lowans. Choreographed by Michelle Petrucci. Musical direction by Jose Delgado. Cast: Andrew Barbato; Leigh Barrett; Brad Bass; Kerry A. Dowling; Robyn Elizabeth Lee; Scott Marshall; Ceit McCaleb; Brendan McNab; Michelle Petrucci; Dale Place; Christine Pardilla Reeds; Allison Russell; Rocio Valles. “The classic Rodgers & Hart musical PAL JOEY began as a series of fictional letters written by John O’Hara and published in the New Yorker; they are penned and signed by “Pal Joey”, a brash young nightclub singer to “Pal Ted”, a bandleader. Joey can best be described as a wolf, a heel, a cad and other now-quaint terms: he brags and lies about his engagements, his sexual conquests and his dreams and schemes. He is cunning in his ambition but dumb in his outlook (the letters are riddled with grammar mistakes) and as Pal Ted climbs up the ladder to success, Pal Joey slides down it. The stories were collected into book form; soon after, Mr. O’Hara asked the Messrs. Rodgers & Hart, one of showbiz’s great partnerships, if they would be interested in collaborating on turning his stories into a musical. The two men agreed; Mr. O’Hara wrote the libretto and Rodgers & Hart came up with a memorable score that includes “I Could Write a Book” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (Rodgers & Hart had only one more show waiting in the wings; though his lyrical gifts never waned, Mr. Hart’s alcoholism and self-torment over his homosexuality had made him increasingly difficult to work with --- when the team split up, Mr. Rodgers turned to Mr. Hammerstein; Mr. Hart died soon after the premiere of OKLAHOMA!) … Mr. O’Hara only takes a few elements from the letters: the “mouse” that Joey charms in front of a pet shop window becomes Jean, the nice girl-love interest and Joey’s interview with newspaperwoman Melba Snyder leads into her mock-strip “Zip” number as she mimes Gypsy Rose Lee’s thoughts while performing. The role of Vera, the middle-aged society dame who picks up, keeps and drops Joey and the comic subplot involving blackmail are the major additions. … The Stoneham production is good enough and when I scribble “enough” this does not imply amateurism --- there is some solid talent trotting out on the Stoneham boards --- my reservation comes from watching the ensemble, most of them bred on New Musicals, now taking on old-fashioned musical comedy with its tap dancing, its period humor and its songs that have to be “sold” as well as illuminated. … Despite my reservations, I recommend this PAL JOEY for the pendulum is swinging back to conservative times and the times will be calling for a return to conservative entertainment. Musical theatre performers will need encouragement in reforging a connective tissue to the Golden Age of American Musicals and if you are in the Boston area these next few weeks, this PAL JOEY is a good, even great, place to start the applause-ball rolling. And, of course, there is always [Leigh] Barrett as your carrot on a stick….”

QUARTET (Merrimack Repertory Theatre; Lowell, MA). Written by Ronald Harwood. Directed by Gavin Cameron-Webb. Cast: Roger Forbes; Maeve McGuire; Philip Pleasants; Jill Tanner. “I urge you to see [QUARTET] for this old-fashioned comedy-drama is already one of the year’s best in several departments. Today’s playwrights, directors and actors will especially benefit from its lessons: Act One plays out in one unbroken scene with neither flashbacks nor monologues to the audience and its expositions cunningly slip by (Act Two is more episodic; its expositions, more obvious); director Gavin Cameron-Webb has wrapped QUARTET in a texture so palpable that one can almost roll its fabric between one’s fingers, and his four actors modestly define the word Ensemble. … QUARTET is a variation on the putting-on-a-show theme, set in an English retirement home primarily for opera singers. Three of its residents --- Reginald Paget (tenor), Cecily Robson (contralto) and Wilfred Bond (baritone) --- are long-time colleagues now sharing a cozy co-existence; the still-dapper Reginald is working on his autobiography and the widower Wilfred is still half in love with Cecily, a full-figured dowager with a lusty past. They have their senior moments: Reginald rages against an offstage nurse who gives him apricot jam instead of marmalade at breakfast; Wilfred hobbles with a cane and dozes off during conversations; the two men watch over Cecily who is going senile and risks being committed, elsewhere. The home’s newest arrival turns out to be Jean Horton (soprano) who was briefly married to Reginald, ages ago (she, too, sports a cane and is on a waiting list for a hip replacement); old grievances flare up between tenor and soprano but are buffeted by contralto and baritone. When they are requested to sing the RIGOLETTO quartet for the home’s annual Verdi birthday bash, three singers are for it, one against; the evening ends in a musical twist that would have you saluting this triumph of spirit over flesh were you not already cheering, instead. Mr. Harwood has created four portraits with a wry tenderness that never turns condescending or maudlin (“NSP” --- “No Self Pity” --- is the group’s motto); when the Quartet is performed, you see four emptied souls suddenly filled, again: the vintage within had defined them in their prime, not their own mortal vessels.”

QUILLS (New Repertory Theatre, Newton Highlands, MA). Written by Doug Wright. Directed by Rick Lombardo. Cast: Steven Barkhimer; Marianna Bassham; Benjamin Evett; Rachel Harker; Kevin Landis; Austin Pendleton. “The plot is both simple and profound: a fictionalized Marquis de Sade, imprisoned in Charenton Asylum for his sexual notoriety, now commits his outrages to paper; Dr. Royer-Collard, the newly-appointed head of the asylum, has already seized one of the Marquis’ novels and assigns the Abbe de Coulmier to monitor this satyr-madman who has begun to smuggle his stories out of prison with the help of Madeleine, a lurid-loving laundress. When sexual fantasy explodes into a stunning Act One tableau, the Abbe resorts to desperate measures to silence the ever-resourceful Marquis, becoming in the end a monster worthy of the Master, himself. Despite a tendency to underline the obvious, at length --- that his Marquis is an honest, moral man for saying and writing what others are only thinking (he is the fruit of society’s repression) --- Mr. Wright’s black comedy is naughty and witty and entertaining as hell.”

THE RED LION (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Boston, MA). Written by Ryan Bradley Smith. Directed by Lenny Leibowitz. Cast: Robert Bonotto; Jared Craig; Leslie Harrell Dillen; Kate Ociepka; Daniel Owen Dungan; Matthew Peterson; Floyd Richardson. “Ryan Bradley Smith’s THE RED LION, a slice of British provincial life, centers around a midland pub called The Golfers (the play’s title is the pub’s original name); when owner Mike Dunbar decides to sell the pub and retire, several townspeople discuss whether it should be preserved or let it go the way of the wrecking ball; one patron wants to buy the pub, himself. Mr. Smith has provided lovely, low-key dialogue to go with all those glasses of ale and cups of tea and he leads his characters to an ending as touching as it is inevitable --- this LION roars, but gently.”

THE SANCTUARY LAMP (Súgán Theatre Company). Written by Tom Murphy. Directed by Carmel O’Reilly. Cast: Stacy Fischer; Nigel Gore; Aidan Parkinson; Jackson Royal. “Súgán Theatre is on a gentle roll, this season: several months ago, its production of Mr. Synge’s THE WELL OF THE SAINTS outshone the Abbey Theatre’s deconstruction of his PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD and now it offers, in quiet joy, Tom Murphy’s THE SANCTUARY LAMP, his once-controversial attack on the Catholic Church. Mr. Murphy has been called Ireland’s greatest living playwright yet I knew nothing about him until now having missed the Súgán’s previous productions of his work but I soon fell under his spell with its nods to Mr. Beckett’s vaudeville and Mr. Pinter’s stop-start dialogue but which actually flows from the heart of Lord Dunsany’s odd, poetic mood-pieces of a near-century, before. … The scene is a church in an unspecified city. Harry, an ex-circus strongman, comes to confess his murderous impulses towards his wife Olga and best friend Francisco who have openly cuckolded him; instead of absolving Harry, the Monsignor, who feels his own calling has become a mere job, hires him to look after the place and to replace the candle in the sanctuary lamp every twenty-four hours (the candle symbolizes Christ’s constant presence). Harry discovers a sixteen-year-old named Maudie in the shadows, seeking refuge from a brutal home life and her own checkered past and they strike a bond to secretly co-exist on the premises but are soon joined by Francisco who has sought out Harry to taunt him and, finally, to beg forgiveness. The passing of Time and Carmel O’Reilly’s gossamer direction have removed the play’s shocking frankness while leaving its wild gusts of humor intact; thus when everything save the lamp is desecrated --- priestly robes being used as an overcoat; fish-and-chips consumed with sacramental wine on the altar; the confessional being lowered for sleeping quarters, etc. --- the effect is not a Sunday school lad gleefully smashing stained-glass windows but, rather, a matter-of-fact reevaluation similar to the late Joe Orton’s comment about a coffin being a box into which you put things, no more, no less. Lest you sense a bloodbath, fear not: Mr. Murphy’s purpose is to shine lights into dark corners, hopefully for the better, and the evening ends in an unfinished question that made me implode with a resounding “Yes!” --- I sensed Mr. Murphy paused for a moment then wrote or typed “The End”; there was and is nothing more to be said. ”

THE SEA HORSE (Nora Theatre; Boston, MA). Written by Edward J. Moore. Directed by Normi Noel. Cast: Barby Cardillo; Mark Peckham. “The Sea Horse is a waterfront bar run by a fat, formidable woman named Gertrude Blum; one rainy night, her sailor-lover Harry Bales comes home from sea. Harry has been helping out at the Sea Horse whenever he’s ashore, including bedroom duties, but now he wants to buy his own fishing boat, settle down and raise a family with Guess-Who as his bride. Gertrude fights him every step of the way --- her track record with men has so far proved disastrous --- while Harry, fueled by drink and love, continues to push for a happy ending. If THE SEA HORSE plays like an acting class exercise, all ups and downs, that is because Mr. Moore, a former-seaman-turned-actor, first wrote and performed the play as individual scenes while studying with Uta Hagen (he later played Harry in the off-Broadway production). Despite some soapsuds, here and there, and Harry’s alcoholism being glossed over (at least he turns dreamy and affectionate after he’s had a few), THE SEA HORSE has a leathery charm and it offers two irresistible character roles; as far as I can tell, Mr. Moore never wrote another play but THE SEA HORSE remains alive and kicking, thirty years later. … Back in the mid-70s, Edward J. Moore’s THE SEA HORSE opened off-Broadway and received good notices and a few awards --- I was a college sophomore at the time and made a note to go down to see it but never did. More than half a lifetime later, I have finally caught up with THE SEA HORSE courtesy of the Nora Theatre; I had to work with its production, so to speak, but went away contented.”

SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT). Book by Lawrence Kasha and David S. Landay. Lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Music by Gene De Paul. New songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. Based on the MGM film and “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet. Directed by Greg Ganakas. Choreographed by Patti Colombo. Musical direction and arrangements by Michael O’Flaherty. Cast: Matt Baker; David Barron; Kevin Bernard; Drew DiStefano; Sarah Jane Everman; Tom Flagg; Drew Franklin; Sara Hart; Brian Hissong; Trevor Illingworth; Ryan Jackson; Heather Janneck; Anna McNeely; Emily Mikesell; Burke Moses; Liz Pearce; Jacquelyn Piro; Mahri Relin; Shane Rhoades; Jim T. Ruttman; Eric Sciotto; Natalie Stone; David Tankersley; Karl Warden; Spiff Wiegand. Swings … Ryan Ghysels; Christina Hedrick. Fight Captain … Tom Flagg. Dance Captain … Sara Hart. “Adam, a mountain man in 1850 Oregon, marries a spunky lass named Milly; Adam’s six unmarried brothers, inspired by Plutarch’s tale of the Sabine Women, kidnap six girls from town only to have Milly play chaperone until there are multiple marriages, all around. … I must confess I expected a performance composed of hardness and camp --- instead, the Goodspeed production evokes a world of corn meal and molasses, of gingham and wagon wheels and fiddles, of hearty, simple people wedded to the earth, all served up with warm, homespun care. My astonishment gave way to double-delight --- SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS is great fun in itself and the Goodspeeders demonstrate their connective tissue to the Musical’s past; their hearts are worn on their sleeves without embarrassment or apology.”

THE STORY (Zeitgeist Stage Company, Boston, MA). Written by Tracey Scott Wilson. Directed and designed by David J. Miller. Cast: Nydia Calón; Gabriel Field; Michelle Dowd; Keedar Whittle; Chantel Nicole Bibb; Caryn Andrea Lindsey; W. Yvonne Murphy; Kortney Adams; Kaili Turner. “Tracey Scott Wilson’s THE STORY immediately grabs and holds your attention during its ninety minutes of life … Ms. Wilson’s drama revolves around Yvonne, an ambitious African-American journalist who joins the staff of “Outlook”, the upbeat black community section of the Daily newspaper. Yvonne hopes to break into mainstream journalism at the Metro with One Big Story and pursues her dream when a white man is shot and killed in a black neighborhood; she is further fueled by a schoolgirl named Latisha who confesses that she pulled the fatal trigger. Latisha later recants her confession, forcing Yvonne to choose between telling the truth or saving her professional skin. Ms. Wilson bases THE STORY on the Janet Cooke journalism scandal of 1981 and balances her debate, all around: Yvonne feels she is under no obligation to be black for black’s sake whereas her boss Pat believes that a united community is the best weapon against racism; Yvonne has a white boyfriend Jeff who works at the Metro --- their relationship, while affectionate, may also have double-motives (hers: ambition / his: sexual titillation); Latisha, a well-educated black girl in an all-white boarding school, gets herself into hot water by playing up to the ghetto image that her schoolmates have assigned to her. The Zeitgeist production is riveting.”

A T-STOP NAMED DENIAL (The Gold Dust Orphans, Boston, MA). Written by Ryan Landry. Directed by James P. Byrne. Cast: Olive Another; Walter Belenky; Penny Champayne; Larry Coen; Ryan Landry; Megan Love; Roger Moore; Keith Orr. “The evening, of course, spoofs a certain play by a certain Mr. Williams and has been transferred from the French Quarter to Boston’s underground T-Stop “Denial” where a lusty couple live while an unspecified war rages above ground not unlike the Blitz of 1942. The wife’s chatterbox sister comes to stay with them, having lost the family’s potato plantation Belle Revere to bankruptcy thanks to an anti-carb public; she attracts the husband’s best friend, a mama’s boy, but loses him when the husband throws light on her sordid past and takes her, himself, with plot twists along the way. … [It] has a richness and texture that threatens to become Chekhovian.”

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (North Shore Music Theatre; Beverly, MA). Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, based on the original story and screenplay by Richard Morris. New music by Jeanine Tesori. New lyrics by Dick Scanlan. Directed and choreographed by Barry Ivan. Musical direction by Dale Rieling. Cast: Melissa A. Rouse-Stuart; Maggie Anderson; Kevin B. Worley; Becky Barta; Brad Bass; David Baum; Terry Burrell; Rosanne Colosi; Brad Davis; Michelle Dyer; Jenelle Engleson; Milena Govich; Jeremy Hays; Drew Humphrey; Peter King-Yuen; Telly Leung; Beth McVey; Kathy Meyer; David Rhee; Richard Roland; Melissa A. Rouse-Stuart; Nathan Scherich; Amanda Serkasevich; Ryan Silverman; Jennifer Taylor; Kevin B. Worley. “Millie Dillmount, a small-town girl, comes to 1920s New York, bobs her hair and sets her heart upon marrying her handsome boss simply because it is the Modern Thing to Do; she ends up in the arms of smooth-talking Jimmy Smith, a paper-clip salesman with whom she has shared a mutual antagonism… North Shore’s production begins with director/choreographer Barry Ivan and his cast sending up everything with a vengeance resulting in an Act One as cute and mechanical as all those tapping toes and typewriters, save for the sultry number “Only in New York” delivered by the radiant Terry Burrell. In Act Two, everyone bites into the show’s sweetness, finds it is not so cloying after all and starts to have fun with MILLIE in such numbers as “I Turned the Corner” where Millie and Jimmy slow-dance out on a window ledge and two inserted standards: the Victor Herbert duet “I’m Falling in Love with Someone”, so outdated in its romance that all it needs is a pair of lusty voices to tweak it, and a rendition of “Mammy” so brilliantly simple in its hilarity that to describe it any further would only ruin it for others.”

THREE DAYS OF RAIN (Quannapowitt Players, Reading, MA). Written by Richard Greenberg. Directed by Nancy Curran Willis. Cast: Susan Condit Rice; Bill Stambaugh; Bob Williams. “THREE DAYS OF RAIN involves a bit of time-traveling: the action takes place in a Manhattan loft, first in 1995, then in 1960. Walker and Nan, brother and sister, meet in what was their parents’ first apartment to settle the estate of their late father Ned, a leading architect of the 1960’s --- in particular, who will get his celebrated Janeway House out in the country and, more importantly, who deserves it? Nan, married and successful, hopes the eccentric, wandering Walker will get the house and thus a home but Ned’s will leaves it to their childhood friend Pip, the son of Ned’s fellow architect Theo. Pip, now a soap-opera actor, doesn’t want the house, however, and the talkative trio gradually learns that it has also been a triangle, of sorts. A cryptic opening entry from Ned’s discovered journal --- “April 3rd to April 5th: Three days of rain.” --- is interpreted by Walker as the scribbles of a non-communicative father with nothing to say. In 1960, said scribbles take on a different, richer meaning as another triangle plays out between Ned, Theo and their beloved Lina, ending in why Ned will pass the Janeway House on to Pip. … THREE DAYS OF RAIN, a 1998 Pulitzer nominee, is being handsomely performed by the Quannapowitt Players in Reading and with this, its 241st production, the little red schoolhouse-turned-playhouse proves that the distance between professional and community theatre is often a matter of location location location rather than artistic excellence.”

TOOTH & CLAW (Zeitgeist Stage Company; Boston, MA). Written by Michael Hollinger. Directed and designed by David J. Miller. Cast: Juan Luis Acevedo; Christopher Barnard; Nydia Calón; Lisa Morse; Luis Negrón; Ed Peed; Diego Estevam Ribeìro; Alejandro Simoes; Amar Srivastava; Xavier Torres. “Mr. Hollinger’s fascinating new drama TOOTH AND CLAW, based on true events, is all about evolution (its title comes from an oft-quoted line in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”) --- it also shows how nicely Mr. Hollinger is evolving, himself. The setting is the Galapagos Islands in the 1990s: Schuyler Baines, an outspoken American biologist, has been appointed the director of the Charles Darwin Research Station; her personal mission is to save the endangered giant tortoise. At first Schulyer believes the problem lies with the overpopulation of the islands’ goats who are eating away the tortoises’ natural diet but the problem is deeper and more complex: the impoverished fisherman have been illegally harvesting sea cucumbers and selling them to Asian markets as a Viagra substitute --- they, too, are starving out the tortoises as well as stripping the ocean floor which, in turn, will have dire environmental consequences if left unchecked. Schulyer tries to rearrange the pieces of the Galapagos puzzle but runs up against walls from all sides: the fishermen take to slaughtering tortoises in protest; Schuyler’s secretary suggests that, evolution-wise, the tortoises’ days may be over (they are not fit enough to survive on their own) and, besides, what do they give back to Man compared to the targeted goats who provide milk, meat and wool?”

TOPDOG/UNDERDOG (Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, RI). Written by Suzan-Lori Parks. Directed by Kent Gash. Cast: Kes Khemnu; Joe Wilson, Jr. “[T]wo brothers named Lincoln and Booth share a hell-hole in pre-Giuliani New York: Lincoln, a former wiz at three-card monte, a sidewalk game of chance, now dresses up as his namesake President to be a shooting target at an arcade (a nod to Mr. Sondheim’s ASSASSINS?); his younger brother Booth, who excels at five-finger discounts, now wants to take up the cards, himself. Lincoln steadfastly refuses to get involved but old habits return, leading to an inevitable showdown (Lincoln and Booth --- dig?). What could have been sordid and depressing is buoyed up by Ms. Parks’ tough, jazzy street-humor and a fleeting lyricism --- despite their grumblings, these brothers are high on Life --- her audiences would be appalled at such casual amorality if they weren’t laughing so much. … TOPDOG/UNDERDOG may be yet another dead end in the American Dream but it is beautiful, it is ours and it is to be embraced.”

A TRIBUTE TO FRANK, SAMMY, JOEY & DEAN (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Produced by Dick Feeney and Sandy Hackett. Directed by Billy Karl. Cast: Gary Anthony; Andy DiMino; Sandy Hackett; Stacey Nicole; Doug Starks. ““A Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean”, a long-running Las Vegas revue celebrating four members of the legendary Rat Pack, came to the Stoneham Theatre for six performances. The evening was double-nostalgia with imitators of Messrs. Sinatra, Davis, Bishop and Martin singing standards and clowning around but also for its vanished Playboy culture where any Joe in a tux could swing and score, and its audience --- most of them, Golden Oldies, themselves --- relished each tune, each risqué joke and the swaggering camaraderie; this was one show where husbands brought their wives rather than vice versa.”

TWELFTH NIGHT (Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Cambridge, MA). Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Directed by Robert Walsh. Choreography by Judith Chafee. Music for “Mistress Mary” and “Come Away Death” by Kenny Raskin. Cast: Tala Ashrafi; Michael Balcanoff; Ken Cheeseman; Hannah Husband; Lisa Kleinman; John Kuntz; Marya Lowry; Leah Ludwig; Sarah Newhouse; Kate Ociepka; John Porell; Kenny Raskin; Bobbie Steinbach; Greg Steres; Michael F. Walker. “Just about everything in the Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s TWELFTH NIGHT clicks right down to the frosty, clear weather that adds the right festive touch to the evening’s fun. Having attended all of the ASP’s productions save for its JULIUS CAESAR, I can safely say that this current offering --- gift, really --- easily outshines all previous efforts. The Comedies may prove to be the ASP’s strength: there are some good, solid clowns in the company and the Comedies offer wonderful opportunities for individual turns so what else can go better hand-in-hand with these soloists?”

VOICES IN THE DARK: THREE PLAYS BY SAMUEL BECKETT (Devanaughn Theatre, Boston, MA). Directed by David J. Dowling. Cast: Jason Myatt; Brian Quint; George Saunier III. “The Devanaughn Theatre at the Piano Factory is fast becoming Boston’s Little Theatre That Can, taking numerous risks and often landing on its feet; it concludes its season of Irish playwrights with VOICES IN THE DARK: THREE PLAYS BY SAMUEL BECKETT, directed in a trancelike clarity by David J. Dowling. The most familiar piece is the one-man KRAPP’S LAST TAPE; the others are the radio play CASCANDO (1961) and, most hauntingly, OHIO IMPROMPTU (1980) which, if you love Mr. Beckett’s bleak, spare vision, is mandatory viewing.”

WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF HRT (Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). Written by Marie Jones. Music by Neil Martin. Directed by Robert Scanlan. Musical direction by Jeffrey Goldberg. Cast: Judith McIntyre; Carmel O’Reilly; Derry Woodhouse. Accompanist … Jeffrey Goldberg. “Marie Jones’ WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF HRT at the Súgán Theatre is an Irish comedy about Anna and Vera, two middle-aged Belfast women who make an annual pilgrimage to Donegal to wait in line outside the home of real-life pop singer Daniel O’Donnell for a kiss and a cup of tea. Mr. O’Donnell serves as a romantic grail for Anna, a sexually frustrated housewife, and Vera whose ex-husband has married a much younger woman. Act One takes place in a hotel room where Anna alternates between hot flashes and swooning over Mr. O’Donnell’s video image and Vera bitches about her lot and flirts with Fergel, a local waiter; Act Two plays out at dawn on the beach of Donegal Bay where, backed by the baying of a banshee, Anna and Vera confront visions of people they know en route to taking charge of their lives. Act One can stand on its own as a study of two women who will always be groupies, at heart; Act Two is a shift into the cosmic and seems tacked on for a clear-eyed happy ending and a full-length evening. Still, I enjoyed WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF HRT along with the rest of the audience; Ms. Jones’ robust dialogue occasionally turns into musical commentary on the action and her portraits are lovingly realized with Anna and Vera playing verbal ping-pong while the actor who plays Fergal gets to become an O’Donnell impersonator and various conjured shapes, male and female.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

ABYSSINIA (North Shore Music Theatre, Boston, MA). Music by Ted Kociolek. Lyrics by James Racheff. Book by James Racheff and Ted Kociolek, based on “Marked by Fire” by Joyce Carol Thomas. Directed by Stafford Arima. Choreographed by Todd L. Underwood. Music direction by Michael O’Flaherty. Cast: Uzo Aduba; Shannon Antalan; Edward M. Barker; Derrick Cobey; BJ Crosby; Karole Foreman; André Garner; Angela Karol Grovey; Darius Nichols; Q. Smith; Nathaniel Stampley; Eric LaJuan Summers; Lisa Nicole Wilkerson; NaTasha Yvette Williams. “I’ve not read Joyce Carol Thomas’ teen-novel but assume that its tale of Abyssinia, a black sharecropper’s daughter born during an Oklahoma hurricane and blessed with healing powers and a heavenly voice, is closer to the earth than its musical adaptation which is well-scrubbed and politically correct with its all-black characters as cozy as hobbits in their shire. The harrowing moments are smoothly dissolved in transcendence and the one reference to racism is discretely tucked into a monologue about working on another man’s farm --- one only has to imagine the evening’s three villains played by white actors instead of black ones to realize how much of ABYSSINIA plays in the top soil instead of digging deep down for its joys and pains. Ted Kociolek and James Racheff’s score works best when it evokes gospel and ragtime and there’s a sassy showstopper entitled "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan" … North Shore first presented ABYSSINIA in 1995 to great acclaim and it plays very nicely in its current proscenium setting [due to a fire in the North Shore’s auditorium].”

ASSASSINS (Metro Stage Company, Cambridge, MA). Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by John Weidman, based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr. Directed by Janet Neely. Musical direction by Michael Kreutz. Choreography by Julie Silverman. Case: Jaclyn Campbell; Robert Case; Bob De Vivo; John Dupuis; Kristen Huberdeau; Corey Jackson; David Janett; David Mokriski; Chris Moleske; Will Morningstar; Deb Poppel; David Sharrocks; James Tallach; Erin Tchoukaleff; Ari Vigoda; Natasha Warloe. “For community theatre it is quite impressive --- despite its razzle-dazzle being limited to eight hand-rotated columns --- and the YMCA’s auditorium with its horseshoe balcony mightily contributes to the old-time atmosphere. Janet Neely and Julie Silverman keep their staging simple and direct rather than underlining the obvious and Michael Kreutz coaxes a marvelous, layered performance from his chamber orchestra that is all the more amazing by its being placed to the audience’s immediate right and not prove deafening.”

A CHRISTMAS STORY (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Written by Philip Grecian, based on the motion picture written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark and on the book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd. Directed by Caitlin Lowans. Cast: Shelley Bolman; John-Michael Breen; Meagan Hawkes; Henry MacLean; Danny Marchant; Nick McGrath; Emily Pinto; Dale Place; Sarah Ried; Ari Shaps. Understudies: Sam Blumenfeld; Ali Kadoura. “An alternative to viewing the seasonal film classic A CHRISTMAS STORY is to see it live and onstage at the Stoneham Theatre. Philip Grecian has done a loving adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s semi-autobiographical look back at a child’s Christmas in 1940s Indiana: Ralphie once again craves an official Red Ryder air rifle, his Old Man still cusses a garbled blue streak when battling the basement furnace and the next-door bloodhounds, Mother continues to serve endless meals of meatloaf and red cabbage, and brother Randy needs to pee at inconvenient times, eats like a piggie and hides beneath or behind things. The neighborhood bully, the tongue frozen to a pole, the leg-lamp, the rabbit-pajamas, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” --- all are snugly in place. There are some trade-offs: the film’s voice-overs are now supplied onstage by an older Ralph and the child’s-eye expressionism and other camera-tricks are replaced by a proscenium’s equivalent to one long cinematic “take”; however, the distancing actually makes such sequences as the offstage bloodhounds or the Old Man and Mother battling over the leg-lamp, funnier --- what was warm-hearted realism on the screen becomes warm-hearted vaudeville, here.”

FOLLIES (Barrington Stage Company, Sheffield, MA). Book by James Goldman. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Julianne Boyd. Choreographed by Lara Teeter. Musical direction by Darren Cohen. Cast: Nili Bassman; Kim Crosby; Leslie Denniston; Michelle Dyer; Marvin Einhorn; Diane J. Findlay; Joy Franz; Diane Houghton; Jason Johnson; Jeff McCarthy; Donna McKechnie; Elise Molinelli; Natalie Mosco; Marni Nixon; Rose O’Hara; Rose O’Hara; John Patrick; Gordon Stanley; Lara Teeter; Bettina Tyler-Lewis; Eric Ulloa; David Young. Ensemble: Michelle Dyer; Jason Johnson; Carissa Lopez; Rose O’Hara; Steve Parmenter; Bettina Tyler-Lewis. “The Barrington Stage Company’s production, the first full-scale mounting I’ve seen since [the original 1971 Broadway production], shows how Time, Death and Economy have all had a hand in reducing a landmark to a bittersweet entertainment. … All subsequent [post-Broadway] productions of FOLLIES are un-legendary; Time, Death and Economy have seen to that. … Still, the Barrington production is beautifully sung throughout and boasts a few Names in its cast and its Loveland sequence is economically put over. … On the plus side, the “Folly of Youth” sequence is cleverly staged; Kim Crosby is a sweet, ripened ingénue as Sally and though she lacks a lower register for “Losing My Mind” her rendition is nevertheless affecting (Mr. Miller craftily ends Ms. Crosby’s solo in a dwindling spotlight fading to black) and, thanks to the rubber-limbed Mr. Teeter, assisted by Bettina Tyler-Lewis and Rose O’Hara, “The-God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” is the production’s one number in sync with the Messrs. Prince and Bennett’s vision. Diane Houghton, Diane J. Findlay and Marni Nixon (paired with an amazing sound-alike, Michelle Dyer) are sure-fire delights in their sure-fire numbers… Michael Anania contributes an appropriately grey, damp-looking setting that takes on added poignancy following the recent destruction of Boston’s historic Gaiety Theatre (a true loss to Beantown) and Alejo Vietti’s Loveland costumes are carefully opulent. “

HOMEBODY/KABUL (Boston Theatre Works, Boston, MA). Written by Tony Kushner. Directed by Jason Southerland. Cast: Sujoy De; Michelle Dowd; Nancy E. Carroll; Paul Giragos; Helen McElwain; Nathaniel McIntyre; Bill Molnar; John Sarrouf; Amar Srivastava. “Boston Theatre Works’ production of Mr. Kushner’s HOMEBODY/KABUL, written before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center but since revised … swallows great chunks of today’s world scene but manages to keep it all down: an eccentric English housewife (the Homebody) flies to Afghanistan on a whim, having fallen in love with the city of Kabul after reading an outdated travel guide. Her husband and daughter follow in pursuit only to find that the Homebody has disappeared altogether, the Kabul of today is no longer the Kabul of 1965, and the line between truth and lies is insanely blurred: there are conflicting reports that the Homebody has been murdered or has renounced her lifestyle and married a Mohammedan; the Homebody’s new husband (unseen) offers his mad ex-wife in exchange but the woman turns out to be a zealously concerned ex-librarian; a professional travel guide leading the daughter through Kabul’s maze gives her a roll of his poetry written in Esperanto which could be information he wants smuggled out of the country; and so on. HOMEBODY/KABUL is a mixture of burning-hot fascination and moments that cry out for editing --- the Homebody’s opening monologue is a forty-five minute tour-de-force rather than a characterization; the remaining two hours alternate one location with another (i.e.”meanwhile, back at the hotel…”) --- and whenever the natives turned adorable, as natives in American plays often do, I expected them to smile, shrug with palms upwards and utter, “Oy!” Like ANGELS IN AMERICA, none of HOMEBODY/KABUL’s characters are all that loveable --- the playwright’s characteristic or failing? --- yet I wasn’t bored for a moment though I’m sure many in the audience went away disappointed when the Homebody’s disappearance was left unresolved.”

THE ILLUSION (Small World Big Sky Productions). Written by Pierre Corneille. Adapted by Tony Kushner. Directed and designed by Sarah Friedberg. Cast: Christina Burchard; Paul DiMilla; Charles Hess; Hanley Mancini; Tim O’Connor; Jonathan Popp; Paul R. Dixon; Jean Sheikh. “A nifty little theatre company called Small World Big Sky Productions has debuted at the Devanaughn Theatre with its production of Pierre Corneille’s magical comedy THE ILLUSION as adapted by Tony Kushner: a lawyer solicits a magician in her cave for information about his runaway son and is given glimpses of the young man’s star-crossed love life --- oddly, the characters’ names change from glimpse to glimpse but all is explained in a brilliant twist of fact versus illusion. … The Small World Big Sky production is not a complete success --- Sarah Friedberg has directed with a grim (Grimm?) hand that flattens out much of the stylized fun but displays enough style to make me hopeful about future efforts and her period costumes are modest but well-researched (the chameleon-like Devanaughn Theatre adjusts itself to its latest fledgling --- never before have I seen its brick room so small and modest, itself).”

KING LEAR (Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Boston, MA). Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Patrick Swanson. Cast: Bill Barclay; Allyn Burrows; Ken Cheeseman; Matt Dickson; Alvin Epstein; Benjamin Evett; William Gardiner; Jennie Israel; Colin Lane; Paula Langton; Gabriel Levey; Doug Lockwood; Sarah Newhouse; Michael F. Walker. “A definitive stage production of KING LEAR may well prove impossible due to Shakespeare’s pushing back the theatre’s perimeters, this time around, and the title role being a demanding one of Biblical proportions (“Impossible,” gasps Sir in THE DRESSER when Norman tells him who he is playing, that evening). Shakespeare couldn’t have had his “wooden O” in his mind’s eye when writing this epic tragedy about an arrogant old monarch who must lose everything en route to his spiritual rebirth and redemption; indeed, it is hard to imagine today’s theatres, let alone the Elizabethan ones, containing all of the play’s primal force --- it has been classed alongside THE DIVINE COMEDY and Beethoven’s symphonies --- even those who only know LEAR on the page will admit to visualizing something far vaster than entrances and exits, speeches and choreographed battles (it’s relatively easy to stage the blinding of Gloucester but how to convincingly mount the tragedy’s most famous set piece, the Storm Scene?). … [T]he Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) boasts Alvin Epstein, an A.R.T. luminary, in the role. … No doubt Patrick Swanson’s casting was two-fold: Mr. Epstein is a Name in some circles and a Name can work wonders at the box office, especially for so young a company as the ASP; Mr. Epstein being four score himself might lead one to assume that he would shine a beacon in all of Lear’s corners but Mr. Epstein is not a larger-than-life actor but a finely-detailed, psychological one celebrated for his Beckett portrayals (the advertisements and programs feature Mr. Epstein’s face wearing what seems to be Hamm’s smoked eyeglasses from ENDGAME). Mr. Swanson begins the evening with the ensemble entering in ones and twos to kneel or bow in waiting attendance; after a lengthy silence, the diminutive Mr. Epstein descends as a figure out of Materlinck --- whether or not Mr. Swanson has aimed for satire, here (i.e. all that build-up for a mouse), first impressions are lasting ones and I settled back in disappointment; had Mr. Epstein already been seated on a throne when the house opens, coolly awaiting audience and actors, the proper stance might have been established. Lear must be such a powerful, untouchable presence regardless of size that his dethronement comes as a shock --- Goneril and Regan violate the divine right of kings which, of course, upsets the universe and equilibrium can only be restored when all offenders have been leveled. Not surprisingly, Mr. Epstein concentrates instead on rationing his stage-energy save for the rants where he gives his all; he vacillates between the wispy and the choleric and goes into Act Two with a voice already spent --- still, he makes it to the finish line despite turning Cordelia over to a stronger pair of arms. To be fair to Mr. Epstein, when he wanders in looking like Baby New Year, his physique could pass for three score rather than four and he is always watchable as a study in Old Age --- but there is another, better Lear elsewhere. … Still, the ASP production is the best staging of LEAR that I’ve seen, played arena-style in Boston University’s Studio 102, a handsome, lofty room with staircase, fireplace and vaulted ceilings, all touched up in decaying grandeur; the actors freely moving about on its mulch-laden floor evokes an immediate, primitive world better than a distancing proscenium could ever do.”

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (Longwood Players, Cambridge, MA). Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on the play “La Cage Aux Folles” by Jean Poiret. Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara. Choreographed by Michelle Estrada. Musical direction by Don Ringuette. Cast: Heather Beardsley; Nicole Bertucci; Stephen Blinn; Heather Boas; Milena Buls; Olivia Doran; Paul Giragos; Christopher Hagberg; Michael Hogman; JD Leggett; Ben Markham; Linda Monchik; Bradford Morse; Jeffrey B. Phillips; John Pirroni; Ronny Pompeo; Melissa Prusinski; Sparkle. “Jerry Herman’s musical LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, a smash hit over twenty years ago, now takes on a new dimension with its smiling but unwaivering stance against intolerance and its own celebration of love, marriage and the family unit: Georges is the owner and emcee of “La Cage Aux Folles”, a successful drag nightclub on the French Riviera; his partner Alban is its main attraction as “Zaza” --- they bicker, as long-time couples will, yet remain devoted to each other. Georges’ son Jean-Michel upsets things with his engagement to Anne, the daughter of M. Dindon, a homophobic politician. The prospective father-in-law wants to meet (and inspect) the young man’s parents but what is to be done with Alban who has raised Jean-Michel as his own son and who has been more of a mother to him than Jean-Michel’s distant, biological one? I am not familiar with the original play but Harvey Fierstein’s book is faithful enough to the celebrated French film version, and Jerry Herman’s catchy score includes the winking title song, the nostalgic “Song on the Sand”, the anthem “I Am What I Am” (once covered by Gloria Gaynor) and, especially, “The Best of Times”, the happiest of showstoppers and finales. … Under M. Bevin O’Gara’s direction, the Longwood production is actually quite good (and soapbox-free).”

MEASURE FOR MEASURE (The Actors’ Shakespeare Project; Boston, MA). Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Robert Walsh. Cast: Allyn Burrows; Ken Cheeseman; Kelly Cook; Eric Gould; David Gullette; Carly Helsaple; John Kuntz; Jennifer Lafleur; Paula Langton; Doug Lockwood; Gail Markowitch; Julia Mechsen; Deb Mechsen; Paula Plum; Maureen Regan; Michael F. Walker. “[The Actors’ Shakespeare Project of] RICHARD III was a free-for-all; now, with some additions and subtractions, the division of power has been better orchestrated. … [Robert] Walsh stages the play in the round and has set it in modern dress but not necessarily in modern times --- there isn’t a cell phone in sight --- and he makes much ado of the Center’s staircase that curves to one side of the room. There are moments when the actors don’t have enough lines to get them up and off in time, but Mr. Walsh twice strikes gold: the Isabella-Claudio confrontation takes place halfway up the stairs as if Claudio is already on his way to heaven, and when Isabella pleads her case to the Duke, she starts on the Center’s stage, a nobody separated from the others by a vastness of space between them, and gradually comes forward to boldly point out her nemesis in close-up. Overall, the production is traditional enough for purists….”

THE MIKADO (Sudbury Savoyards, Sudbury, MA). Libretto by W. S. Gilbert; music by Arthur Sullivan. Directed by Kathy Lague. Musical direction by Stephen Malionek. Cast: Nectaria Kordan; Mike Lague; Paul Lemieux; Katherine Engel Meifert; Dennis O’Brien; Tony Parkes; Karen Pierce; Eric Rubin; Jacque Wilson. Chorus of Nobles And Peasants: Randy Divinski; Ed Fell; John Gorgone; Fred Hughes; David Lopshire; Neil McCormick; Rich Olsen; David Owen; Roy Paro; Tom Porcher; Phil Radoff; John Saul; Maxim Smith; Ted Sullivan. Chorus of Townswomen And Schoolgirls: Sara Ballard; Debbie Crane; Jennifer Dohm; Ann Ferentz; Janine Gauntt; Marcia Goldensher; Beth Goldstein; Ruth Griesel; Cynthia Horn; Suford Lewis; Patricia McMahon; Kris Maples; Marylee Marsh; Laurel Martin; June McKnight; Mei-Lin Po; Karen Powers; Nancy Powers; Anne Rollins; Karen Schlosberg; Ellen Simmons; Patricia Smith; Emily Snodgrass; Erin VanSpeybroeck; Suzanne White; Sara Williams; Marla Zucker. Special Dancers: Fans: Sara Ballard; Ed Fell; Janine Gauntt; Marcia Goldensher; John Gorgone; Cynthia Horn; David Lopshire; Marylee Marsh; June McKnight; Rich Olsen; Mei-Lin Po; Tom Porcher; Jon Saul; Sara Williams. Sun/Moon: Ed Fell; Emily Snodgrass. “A” & “B”: Karen Powers; Suzanne White. Titwillow: Laurel Martin (bird); Randy Divinski (tree); Kris Maples, Marcia Goldensher (river). “Last year I scribbled, “When reviewing community theatre, critical standards need not be lowered, necessarily, but one must keep in mind that many of its artists are not trained professionals (especially in dance and movement) and are onstage to give their families and friends a good time (“That’s my dad, up there!”) and to run some stardust through their fingers.” I was referring to the Sudbury Savoyards’ production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, an uneven but still-entertaining show; exactly one year later comes its superior production of THE MIKADO: I would be up-lifted by its near-excellence only to be dropped with a bump just as often but having spent my own acting days in similar surroundings the afternoon was like going home for me and I wished the company well --- and still do.”

N (BONAPARTE) (Pilgrim Theatre, Boston, MA). Written by Laura Harrington. Directed by Kim Mancuso. Cast: Christopher Crowley; Kermit Dunkelberg; Zoë Mancuso Dunkelberg; Belle Linda Halpern; Michaël Harrington; Allison Linker; Benjamin Lu; Dev Luthra; Adam Miller; Jenn Pina. “Laura Harrington’s absurdist comedy N (BONAPARTE) is receiving its world premiere at the Boston Center for the Arts: the year is 1815 and the Emperor Napoleon, defeated at Waterloo, is exiled to St. Helena in the South Atlantic where he rants against his captors, befriends the island’s rats, philophizes in his bathtub, debates the ghost of Joan of Arc, seduces a servant’s wife, fantasizes about his beloved Josephine and finally dies to be resurrected as a still-potent icon. Ms. Harrington fleshes out these bare bones with bravura mono- and dialogues, some of them brilliant, some of them written by the yard; the results are not unlike a baroque opera being declaimed rather than sung. Director Kim Mancuso keeps everything spinning in motion (though some depth to the characterizations would have been nice).”

103 WITHIN THE VEIL (Company One, Boston, MA). Written by Kirsten Greenidge. Directed by Victoria Marsh. Cast: Akiba Abaka; Ramona Alexander; Khalil Flemming; Andrea Fleurant; James Milord; Cliff Odle; Taylor Parker; Kaili Turner. “The world premiere of Kirsten Greenidge’s bio-collage 103 WITHIN IN THE VEIL honors Hubert Collins, an obscure African-American photographer who played out his life as a Boston janitor, dying in 1966; ten years later, a box of one hundred and three glass negatives was discovered in Mr. Collins’ basement; the photographed subjects: dignified, well-dressed African-Americans from the early 20th century. There are few known facts about Mr. Collins and if I declare 103 WITHIN THE VALUE to be “interesting”, at best, I do so because Ms. Greenidge has chosen to pad the evening than draw upon what does remain: the images, themselves. … [T]he evening’s strength rests on the period characters modeled upon the tableaus: an overly reflective friend who, among other things, predicts Mr. Collins’ failure; a pair of girls squabbling in their Sunday best; a young married couple at a crossroads in their lives; a Barbados boy posed in clothes too large for him; two graduating nurses destined to serve in a second-rate, “colored” hospital. By speaking their various minds, these characters illuminate a little-known corner of Boston’s history, well-hidden by Time and ignored in the history books (at least, the history books from my own school days) --- pity that Ms. Greenidge could not have been inspired more by the art than the artist.”

PRIDE’S CROSSING (Wellesley Summer Theatre, Wellesley, MA). Written by Tina Howe. Directed by Nora Hussey. Cast: Heather Boas; John Boller; John Davin; Lisa Foley; Kelly Gavin; John Gavin; Eric Hamel; Marc Harpin; Alicia Kahn; Richard LaFrance; Melina McGrew; Charlotte Peed. “PRIDE’S CROSSING, a 1997 Pulitzer finalist, is Tina Howe’s tone-poem about Mabel, a well-bred American woman who defied convention and swam the English Channel in 1928; beginning with Mabel in arthritic old age, Ms. Howe leads the audience back and forth through time, showing her heroine in various triumphs and defeats, and closes with the young Mabel preparing to plunge into the Channel as well as a love affair with her trainer, a British Jew, whom she will later lack the courage to marry. … The flowing tableaus inevitably grind to a halt since the actress playing Mabel must constantly change costumes in full view of her audience and the Wellesley Summer Theatre production adds its own stops and starts with the ensemble re-arranging the scenes, themselves, but it compensates with an exceptional performance by Alicia Kahn in the leading role.”

THE RETREAT FROM MOSCOW (The Vokes Players, Wayland, MA). Written by William Nicholson. Directed by James Barton. Cast: Anne Damon; Ron Mitchell; Richard Schieferdecker. “William Nicholson’s THE RETREAT FROM MOSCOW deals, with equal parts humor and loss, with the breakup of a long-term relationship: Edward and Alice, an English couple, have been married for thirty-three years and have a grown son Jamie who lives elsewhere. As Mr. Ibsen’s Peer Gynt strips away an onion’s layers only to find nothing at its center, Mr. Nicholson peels backs MOSCOW’s teacup chatter to expose the emptiness at the core of this marriage. Each partner reacts differently to their predicament: Alice constantly provokes Edward in attempts at communication; Edward asks for nothing but to be left alone with his books and his crossword puzzles. On the eve of their anniversary, Edward announces he has fallen in love with another woman and will be moving out; Jamie rolls with the punches --- his upbringing has left him detached but dutiful --- whereas Alice chooses to fight for her marriage but Edward takes his cue from Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Moscow where the strong abandoned the weak in order to survive, themselves; it is to Mr. Nicholson’s credit that he remains close to both characters: one limping away in self-defense, the other left to an unexpected fate. … The Vokes Players being given the rights to premiere Mr. Nicholson’s play in New England is evidence in itself of the company’s growing excellence.”

THE RIVALS (Huntington Theatre Company; Boston, MA). Written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Directed by Nicholas Martin. Cast: Eric Anderson; Bill Barclay; Mia Barron; Daniel Berger-Jones; Cheryl Lynn Bowers; Scott Ferrara; Jessica Grant; Murisa Harba; Brian Hutchison; Will LeBow; Patrick Lynch; Helen McElwain; Nathaniel McIntyre; Rod McLachlan; Max Rosenak; Gareth Saxe; Dennis Staroselsky; Edward Tournier; Mary Louise Wilson. “I was neither surprised nor disappointed at the Huntington production for the Old Girl is at her best when sticking to the tried and true, ironing out any rough edges lest she threaten or offend, and it was good to see a full house heartily enjoying THE RIVALS even when done in period and whose sole purpose is still to entertain (the only perceivable cut is some by-play between Acres and O’Trigger in preparing for their duels). The evening is mellow rather than sparkling: instead of something chilled and frothy, Nicholas Martin sets down a soothing cup of chocolate in what is listed as Bath but resembles more a reconstruction of the Coliseum and he fills it with hustle and bustle to make the B. U. vastness seem cozy and intimate, whereas --- and I’ll probably say this regarding future productions, as well --- THE RIVALS should have been planted on its smaller stage at the BCA.”

SPUNK (Our Place Theatre Project; Boston, MA). Written by George C. Wolfe and Zora Neale Hurston. Directed by Jeff Robinson. Music by Chick Street Man. Cast: Dorian Christian-Baucum; David Curtis; Jacqui Parker; Linda Starks; Darius Williams; Fred Woodward. “SPUNK is a whole lot of fun: George C. Wolfe has filtered three of Zora Neal Hurston’s stories through Readers’ Theatre and Jeff Robinson has nicely staged them between the narrative and the dramatic (the collective title does not refer to Ms. Hurston’s story of the same name). The program notes mention that these stories are “woven together with nothing but the blues” --- true, there are a Guitar Man and a Blues Speak Woman performing throughout but what reads low-key on the page bursts into chittlin’ hilarity once it hits the stage so that even “Sweat”, a battle to the death between a husband, a wife and a rattlesnake, claims its share of laughter. “Story in Harlem Slang” is a vaudeville between two penniless zoot-suiters outdoing each other in braggadocio, and in “The Gilded Six Bits” a tempted wife discovers that her husband’s love is far more precious than gold.”

THE SUNSHINE BOYS (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Written by Neil Simon. Directed by Curt Wollan. Cast: John Davin; Claude Gritts; Monica Heuser; Illeana Kirven; Michael Kreutz; Cory Scott; Dick Van Patten; James Van Patten. “THE SUNSHINE BOYS (which could also have been called THE OLD COUPLE) is unique in that, like Mr. Sondheim’s FOLLIES which appeared at the same time, Mr. Simon was poised between the past and future: two old, estranged vaudevillians, Willie Lewis and Al Clark, have a chance to re-enact one of their sketches as part of a television special on the history of comedy. This one last grasp at stardom doesn’t pan out and the two men will end up in the same retirement home, together. That is all there is to THE SUNSHINE BOYS --- old age and bickering --- but Mr. Simon clearly loves Willie (the extrovert) and Al (the introvert) as much as Willie’s agent-nephew Ben does and shows to the audience, if not to them, that their working relationship was, at heart, a marriage where each man literally took his cue from the other and even now continues to plug into the other’s existence regardless of time and space. (Their banter could easily run into one of their old routines, and Mr. Simon has provided not only a guaranteed laugh-getter in the shape of an unyielding front door but also the sketch itself with Willie as a quack/doctor and Al as his patient/victim.) For all its expected wisecracks, THE SUNSHINE BOYS has some depth that it is implied more than demonstrated and this comedy-drama, his first successful dip into the past, may have encouraged Mr. Simon to later write in a more personal vein.”

THE SYRINGA TREE (American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA). Written and performed by Pamela Gien. Directed by Larry Moss. “Pamela Gien returns to the A.R.T. with THE SYRINGA TREE, her semi-autobiographical impressions of growing up in South Africa during apartheid, centering on two families, white and black, whose destinies are ever intertwined. Ms. Gien plays forty characters, in particular Lizzie, the white daughter of the house, passing from childhood to maturity and various liberations. Using only a swing as prop and scenery, Ms. Gien’s narrative recalls Katherine Mansfield’s New Zealand stories where the exotic becomes the everyday when seen through the eyes of a child; if I’ve a nitpick, it is my usual one against one-actor tour-de-forces: the more protean the turn, the more I become aware of the actor’s crisscrossing virtuosity getting in the way of the material. The still-girlish Ms. Gien is not protean enough to differentiate between all of her characters and declaims Lizzie in a high, nasal sing-song so reminiscent of the late Butterfly McQueen that when I realized the child’s correct race I had to mentally reshuffle the household, and after a while Ms. Gien’s various howls, wheezes and guttural accents later force her to lower Lizzie’s pitch due to vocal fatigue. (Does the actress realize that her nostalgia is a subtle embrace of apartheid in itself?) Still, Ms. Gien performs passionately for an hour and forty minutes sans intermission (this is the A.R.T., remember) and earns her standing ovation but THE SYRINGA TREE would also make a gorgeous tone-poem should it ever be played out with a multi-racial cast, colorful costumes and shimmering lights and sounds; of all the characters, Ms. Gien would be ideal as Lizzy’s mother, torn between decorum and wishing to do the heart’s right thing.”

THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON (Stanley B Theatre Company; Boston, MA). Written by Jason Miller. Directed by Jeannie-Marie Brown. Cast: Gary Galonek; Jeff Gill; Dann Anthony Maurno; Jim Muzzi; Bruce-Robert Serafin. “Is THE CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON still worth seeing? Yes, should you crave an old-fashioned, red-blooded drama that keeps to the unities of Time, Place and Action: a retired high-school coach hosts a reunion for four of his basketball stars from the Class of ‘52; as the evening progresses the five men, fueled by drink and resentments, turn on one another until each man is revealed to be a louse or a loser with the Coach as the American Dream’s biggest sucker of them all. Is the play still timely? Its social context is dated --- the play came out in the final years of the Vietnam War when half of America was turning a critical spotlight upon itself while the other half took to wearing shades --- but the men’s camaraderie, their anger, their wasted lives and the emotional wreckage they wreak still pack a punch. Is the Stanley B production worth attending? Yes, definitely.”

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS (Mugford Street Players, Marblehead, MA). Adapted by Alan Bennett from the novel by Kenneth Grahame. Directed and designed by John Fogle. Cast: Bernadette Adams; Jim Butterfield; Stephen Cooper; Lisa Cosseboom; Heidi Duncan; Nikki Escalada; Michael Hall; Julie Korzenik; Barbara Lasovick; Deborah Linehan; Shawn Maguire; Elisha Musgraves; Nick Neyeloff; James Robinson; Shamus Russell; Anastasia Rutkowski; Jim Soucy; Allie Theriault; Kenneth Walker. “I was told beforehand that the original London production was a lavish affair but director-designer John Fogle demonstrates that Mr. Bennett’s adaptation works just as well on a shoestring and filled with topical updates.”

MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES:

Ramona Alexander (103 WITHIN THE VEIL; Company One, Boston, MA). Role: Virg. “Virg [is] a friendly, politically-outspoken young woman struck in fast-food jobs (complete with tacky uniforms) who is psychically compelled to resurrect [forgotten photographer Hubert] Collins as an historical corrective. … Nowhere in Ramona Alexander’s funny, funky Virg will you find her buttoned-up churchwoman in JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE or her deadly hell-cat from BREATH, BOOM; here’s a fine chameleon, indeed.”

Steven Barkhimer (QUILLS; New Repertory Theatre, Newton Highlands, MA). Role: Dr. Royer-Collard. “The most satisfying performances come from Steven Barkhimer as Royer-Collard, turning this way and that in the crosswinds, and Rachel Harker as the Marquis’ long-suffering wife --- Ms. Harker is a rare creature, nowadays: a first-class comedienne who never falls into Camp (an odd compliment: Mr. Barkhimer and Ms. Harker suggest unwashed bodies beneath all their layerings).”

Leigh Barrett (PAL JOEY; Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Role: Vera. “I first encountered Ms. Barrett sunny side up in SpeakEasy’s A CLASS ACT, several years ago, and felt a growing concern as she immersed herself in Mr. Sondheim’s world with similar side trips along the way, growing grimmer, colder in the process. Happily, Ms. Barrett is such a superb artist that she can close one drawer and open another for bearing and tone: her sailing through Mr. Sondheim’s complexities allows her to now fly through Mr. Hart’s simpler-sounding but no less potent lyrics and when coupled with her innate musicality her Vera enchants, pure and simple. Ms. Barrett’s stage-guardedness lends backbone to Vera’s high-stepping status and also a refined sexiness more alluring than any vamping would accomplish.”

John Boller (PRIDE’S CROSSING; Wellesley Summer Theatre, Wellesley, MA). Role: Chandler Coffin. “John Boller is touching as Mabel’s bachelor friend Chandler, still shyly courting her after all these decades --- his is but a minor role but Mr. Boller shows how capturing a period’s body language justifies everything one says or does, onstage: in Chandler’s case, his dry, proper decorum, in keeping with his upbringing, has kept him in check for so long that all that remains is an immaculate ice cream suit, a boater hat and a heart forever barred from love’s fulfillment.”

Anna Brown (GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA, GOOD MORNING JULIET; The Footlight Club, Jamaica Plain, MA). Roles: Chorus; Soldier; Ghost. “Anna Brown opens and closes the show as a mysterious figure in gossamer, displaying a fairytale lightness and delight in words that underscores all the clumping going on about her (her Yorick, cackling in his grave, is also good).”

Jaclyn Campbell (ASSASSINS; Metro Stage Company; Cambridge, MA). Role: Sarah Jane Moore. [see Erin Tchoukaleff, below]

Teresa Capachione (GYPSY; Massasoit Theater Company; Brockton, MA). Role: Mamma Rose. “Mamma Rose has to be the most challenging female role in American musical theatre, demanding a singing actress who can also deliver the razzmatazz. … [Teresa] Capachione tends to charge through the role (but always professionally) --- at best, she propels the production forward; at other times, she’s a fist in your side. Her singing is another matter: Ms. Capachione has the right kind of voice for Rose --- warm, with the necessary steel that enables her to sound as fresh at evening’s close as she does at the beginning. She may sound like one famous Rose and smile like another but “Rose’s Turn”, that hair-raising eleven o’clock solo, is all her own: left completely alone onstage for the first time, Ms. Capachione relaxes, expands and lets Mamma sock it to ya and the audience beholds a sexy, worldly woman who moves well and belts out Mr. Sondheim’s lyrics in rich, throaty tones; her near-breakdowns are sudden cracks in the granite. … If you’ve never seen “Rose’s Turn” performed live, this is a great place to start.”

Barby Cardillo (THE SEA HORSE; Nora Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: Gertrude Blum. “[Director Normi] Noel focuses on [Barby] Cardillo which is understandable as Gertrude is the showier role (most of the play’s revelations are hers and must be pried out of her); Ms. Cardillo’s Gertrude is paradoxically at her most vulnerable when she is at her hardest: through actions and vocals just a shade over the top, Ms. Cardillo implies that Gertrude’s hardboiled act is just that --- an act --- but one that has become so ingrained that she shouts even in quiet moments; when she wells up with heartsick emotion over Harry’s unexpected gift, she is a concrete dam threatening to crack open. Nor does Mr. Peckham’s Harry come off as the familiar Big Lug but, rather, as a man who’s been around but has retained (or acquired) an unshakeable decency, offset by the occasional harshness that stems from retaliation rather than from malice. Ms. Cardillo and Mr. Peckham’s voices are well-orchestrated (hers: sharp and incisive; his: husky and gentle) and their kisses, sexy and expressive: when they first kiss, after some squabbling, it is a welcome-home smooch; Mr. Peckham/Harry pulls back, looks into Ms. Cardillo/Gertrude’s eyes for a moment and closes in, again, but now Ms. Cardillo/Gertrude is the one who pulls back, sensing that Harry wants to make love this time around rather than merely fuck (think of MAN OF LA MANCHA’s Aldonza singing, “Blows and abuse I can take and give back again / Tenderness I cannot bear”); in Act Two, when they kiss, Harry clearly wants to joyfully bang the bejeesus out of her. Between Mr. Peckham and Ms. Cardillo, a kiss is more than a gesture --- it becomes a prop.”

Nancy E. Carroll (HOMEBODY/KABUL; Boston Theatre Works, Boston, MA). Role: Homebody. “Ms. Carroll had to talk Kushner-Speak [for forty-five minutes] from a postage-stamp kitchen, her only props being her guide-book and a shopping bag of Mid-Eastern hats. … [W]hatever route Ms. Carroll chose to reach her finish line the results were most impressive, the sounds and rhythms being just as important as all that chatter. I pictured the Homebody as an English Mum; Ms. Carroll made her more of a spinster bookworm to compliment Michelle Dowd’s impassioned “other” wife/librarian and justified the Homebody’s sudden flight to Dreamland.”

Ken Cheeseman (TWELFTH NIGHT; Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Cambridge, MA). Role: Malvolio. “Ken Cheeseman and Michael F. Walker now come into their own; Comedy, not Tragedy, is clearly their meat --- Mr. Cheeseman is enjoyably grotesque as a Malvolio of Dickensian dimensions and Mr. Walker plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek as a slow-talking but superbly-timed gooseberry (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, anyone?).”

Steven Cooper (THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS; Mugford Street Players, Marblehead, MA). Role: Toad. Mr. Cooper’s Toad was lifted right off the printed page. (“Poop! Poop!”)

Diane D’Aquila (DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE; American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA). Role: Dido. “Diane D’Aquila’s rich, dignified Dido [is] the production’s guiding light. She has been directed to remain on the surface and at times emotes in Brit-com fashion, but she has numerous cool colors that lend variety to her readings and, in turn, create a characterization. Since her Aeneas registers as a blank, their love duets never catch fire but Mr. Marlowe has given his Queen magnificent arias once she is heartbroken and here Ms. D’Aquila comes to full flower, carrying this DIDO to the finish line on her back, alone.”

Irene Daly (THE TROJAN WHORE; Mill 6 Cooperative). Role: Oral Stenographer. “Irene Daly is one of Boston’s more fascinating comediennes: handsome yet comely, she mock-declaims well as Todd’s stenographer (she is later rechristened “Homer”) and for all her directness remains firmly in period (how would she fare in Restoration Comedy?).”

Anne Damon (THE RETREAT FROM MOSCOW; Vokes Players, Wayland, MA). Role: Alice. “Ron Mitchell and Anne Damon made an endlessly fascinating Edward and Alice. I did not see the original Broadway production but am told that its Edward’s long-term reticence provoked its Alice into a growing, understandable neuroticism. Here, Ms. Damon, a scene-stealing comedienne, made a hearty dominatrix, marching round and round in circles, demanding that the world do as she says, while Mr. Mitchell’s harrowed Edward slowly but steadily drifted out of her life in a barely perceptible straight line. Ms. Damon’s performance had its share of theatre from theatre’s sake, earning her lusty laughter, but Ms. Damon also showed traces of Alice’s former vibrancy that drew Mr. Mitchell’s Edward to her in the first place; their mutual portrait was of a timid, reserved man reaching out to a loving woman full of poetry and charm but not knowing how to reciprocate, himself. When Mr. Mitchell delivered his train monologue, his Edward was subtly rejuvenated: a straighter posture, a bit more color in his personality, an ability to look his audience in the eye (ironically, Edward’s new lease on life revolves around a woman who lets him read and do his crossword puzzles in peace).”

John Davin (THE SUNSHINE BOYS; Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Role: Willie Clark. “Mr. Davin’s appeal lies in his never pointing out his diminutive cuteness and his Willie is a scrappy beagle pup, grown old; when he comes alive for the television sketch, Mr. Davin, in an Einstein fright-wig, bounces about as if his canine joyously remembered how to perform on its hind legs. (His repeated gesture of tossing a cigarette lighter over his shoulder foreshadows Willie tossing everything over his shoulder in the sketch.) … it’s Mr. Davin’s show.”

Bob De Vivo (ASSASSINS; Metro Stage Company; Cambridge, MA). Role: Charles Guiteau. A highlight of this production was “the rousing baritone issuing from Bob De Vivo’s adorable, dapper little Guiteau; here’s a find, indeed.”

Kimber Lynn Z. Drake (SHOW BOAT; Company Theatre, Norwell, MA). Role: Ellie May Chipley. “The true delights are John King and Kimber Lynn Z. Drake as second-stringers Frank and Ellie: Ms. Drake is an amusing combination of bowlegged walk, cowgirl etiquette and baby-doll get-up and Mr. King’s existence alone is breathtaking: a local male dancer who can truly dance and with flair, humor and personality, to boot.”

Emily Drennan (AIDA; Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME). Role: Amneris. “Emily Drennan’s Amneris fascinates due to Ms. Drennan’s not using “My Strongest Suit” as Square One and flouncing through the role for easy laughs (though she is an appealing comedienne) but, rather, keeps Amneris’ untapped dignity in focus so that her opening and closing narration are consistent and believably linked.”

Ensemble: BLUE/ORANGE (Zeitgeist Stage Company, Boston, MA). “[J]ust as Cheryl McMahon gave a memorable performance in SpeakEasy’s THE MOONLIGHT ROOM without changing her busybody persona, Dorian Christian Baucum’s hardness, upon which I am always harping, has been put to use for the restless, volatile Christopher --- your instincts tell you to never turn your back on this young man even during his playful moments. Eric Hamel’s cut-and-dried Dr. Flaherty may be the straight man to Mr. Baucum’s clown but Mr. Hamel subtly holds his own with a deceptive ordinariness that makes his eleventh hour outbursts all the more powerful. Whenever I see Steven Barkhimer’s name listed in a program I settle in for character acting at its growing best and am never disappointed; Mr. Barkhimer is clearly having a ball as a Dr. Smith equally urbane and heartless. I couldn’t help noticing how Mr. Barkhimer rarely gestures, here, and is content to let his arms hang at his side as he leans forward ever so slightly to turn yet another thumbscrew; rather than making Dr. Smith look silly or ineffective, Mr. Barkhimer’s dangling limbs suggest a man in such control he needn’t bother to gesture at all. (Notice how he also bares his upper teeth in British fashion.) … I would be curious to know the Messrs. Baucum, Hamel and Barkhimer’s opinions on whether or not BLUE/ORANGE is a comedy as each is playing by his own rules. Mr. Baucum is doing his strutting thing, Mr. Hamel is all Masterpiece Theatre and Mr. Barkhimer has wandered in from an Orton play. I could take Mr. Miller to task for not orchestrating them better but their resulting frisson keeps things good and jagged between them, comedy or no comedy, so I cannot complain too, too much.”

Ensemble: BUS STOP (The Williamstown Theatre Festival; Williamstown, MA). The Williamstown Theatre Festival is offering a sadly limited run of BUS STOP which I hope will be sold out as compensation for it is good and golden and true. Will Frears has set the play in period --- or has he? (The production, along with Mr. Inge’s dialogue, proves timeless; only the telephone at the counter and the Life magazines in the corner rack give away the game.) Mr. Frears has brought out the hearts on his actors’ sleeves, capturing the above-described openness and honesty without caricature so that Elizabeth Banks’ Cherie has an innate dignity for all her cracker-talk and Logan Marshall-Green’s Bo is made loveable through an excess of youth rather than pigheadedness. Among the others, Bill Camp’s rich theatricality makes him an effortless Dr. Lyman, capturing both the man’s dissipation and the heights from which he has fallen, and Elizabeth Marvel is a marvelous down-home Grace, blunt-tongued, warm-hearted and the evening’s cornerstone.

Ensemble: CLOSER (The Devanaughan Theatre, Boston, MA). “[Director Dani Duggan’s] four actors perform with the fresh, honest intimacy of independent films, reinforced by the Devanaughn’s close quarters so that, looking back, you remember everything in close-up. Cristi Miles’ Alice glows with the innocence of a back-alley kitten which makes her stripteasing all the more erotic and disturbing in its indifference and Alex Zielke’s Anna is an affecting, low-key study of honest, frustrated sensuality, showing how adultery can happen to anyone --- all it takes is a ring on one’s finger. Ben Lambert and Andrew Sarno are no less impressive at capturing Dan and Larry’s evolving centers: Mr. Lambert’s Ben begins hunched and cautious; once Alice is under his belt, he takes on a cocky machismo and truly startles when he shrivels again in his final comeuppance; Mr. Sarno’s loner develops into a tough-skinned Lothario with enough of a moral conscience that allows him to come out with the fewest scars. All four accents are consistently good.”

Ensemble: DINNER WITH FRIENDS (Gloucester Stage Company, Gloucester, MA). Last year I also scribbled that [director Scott] Edmiston brings out the best in actors, and he continues to do so. He has drawn a likeable Tom-brat out of Robert Pemberton and guided Barlow Adamson back to his unique gentle burliness as Gabe. The men are fortunate to be paired with Anne Gottlieb and Julie Jirousek, two of Boston’s loveliest actresses, as Beth and Karen --- what a pleasure not only to gaze upon their beauty (and on one stage!) but also upon their flawed, everyday goddesses so that the Messrs. Pemberton and Adamson need little stimulus to appear smitten with them in their flashback scene.”

Ensemble: GARGARIN WAY (Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). “[Dayfdd Rees is simply amazing. For the first half of the evening his unconscious form is an ever-present reminder of why we have all gathered in the first place; when Frank comes to (kudos to the make-up team for a nasty head wound), Mr. Rees plays his victim with a mixture of politeness and low-keyed curiosity; when Frank adds his own two cents on a subject he is tentative at first but grows in confidence as if surprised that an intelligent conversation can still be held despite the current situation --- but he always snaps back to waiting mode at the least provocation. I’m reminded of an article I read years ago about a woman describing how she felt when she was pinned down by a lion --- she felt no terror at the time but, instead, a calmness which she attributed to her brain numbing into acceptance when struggle was useless --- whether or not this is Mr. Rees’ handle on the role, his Frank knows he is the lamb on the altar; the others may forget now and then, but he does not. … His fellow actors are no less memorable: if you can imagine two of the Three Stooges tormenting Mr. Rees while Stan Laurel watches from the sidelines, you have a rough idea of the tragicomic colors that Ciaran Crawford, Rick Park and Rodney Raftery bring to their roles. Despite an overly thick accent that ever challenges the ear, Mr. Crawford’s Eddie is an absorbing study of apathy masking a chilling indifference --- his actions are all the more disturbing for their casualness --- and Mr. Raftery’s staring-eyed Tom has the starved, sad forlornness of a workhouse orphan (what a Smike he would make!); the world stops for his very funny asthma attack, as if a seal suddenly slid down his throat. Rick Park is always a welcome clown --- every time I see a photo of Massachusetts’ governor, I can still hear Mr. Park’s housewife murmuring, “Oh, that Mitt Romney…” while making banana bread in SPIKED EGGNOG II, several Christmases ago --- here he puts his comedic skills to work as Gary, the most reflective of the losers. Big, bald and burly, Mr. Paul’s Gary is a hardworking bloke who may not be the brightest bulb in the box but, in his own clumsy way, tries to make a change for the better but only ends up with the worst.”

Ensemble: THE MOUSETRAP (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). “Adam Zahler directs with the right touch of barnstorming and tongue-in-cheek so that you are ever poised between laughter and nail biting and he has beautifully shaped his actors into eight interlocking pieces of the Christie puzzle. Thus, Lisa Morse and Robert Antonelli are properly bland as the nice, supposedly normal couple; Lewis Wheeler, evolving nicely, takes the stage as the boyish sleuth who is as much the evening’s playwright as Ms. Christie is when it comes to piecing together the goings-on; Tasso Feldman and Whitney Cohen are respectively flamboyant and guarded as two of the guests; Dafydd Rees, who may soon be in regular demand as a soft-spoken character actor, brings just the right touch of pipe-and-sweater to a slow-thinking major; and even though Paula Plum is back in drawing room mode and Richard Snee trots out his all-purpose foreign accent, they are plum-perfect here as the evening’s bitch and the reddest of herrings. Laurels to them, all!”

Ensemble: PTERODACTYLS (The Tribe, Boston, MA). “PTERODACTYLS is a Tribe production, currently playing at the Devanaughn Theatre. This two-year-old company’s mission is to create a supportive environment for all types of local Boston artists and encourage cross-collaborations --- here, they have scored a bull’s eye, all around. Director Stephen Haley is in sync with Mr. Silver’s apocalypse and has channeled it through his actors who serve up the comedy with breathtaking ease but are equally adept at spiraling down into the dark. Bonnie-Jean Wilbur and Sarah Huling are so well-detailed as mother and daughter that I can see them taking on Mr. Williams’ Amanda and Laura Wingfield in all seriousness (Ms. Huling becomes a lovely bonus in her final scene). Mike Di Loreto makes an endearing wind-up toy as the fiancé-turned-domestic, Paul Wann plays the father as a musty room that will end up being swept clean, and Gregory Moss binds them all together as the son dipped in his own acid and quite willing to share the results. Designer Stephen Haley has made the Devanaughn playing space handsome to behold and has constructed a convincing-enough dino-skeleton only a few feet from its audience. Since so many good, adventurous shows such as PTERODACTYLS have flourished within the Devanaughn’s brick walls, is it possible for a theatre to become its own rabbit’s foot?”

Ensemble: QUARTET (Merrimack Repertory Theatre; Lowell, MA). Written by Ronald Harwood. Directed by Gavin Cameron-Webb. Cast: Roger Forbes; Maeve McGuire; Philip Pleasants; Jill Tanner. “Gavin Cameron-Webb’s subtle, clear-eyed direction makes the Merrimack production one to savor like a favorite book; the only way an evening can be this rich, this effortless, is to dig past the topsoil to the more fertile earth underneath; to behold the performances of Roger Forbes, Maeve McGuire, Philip Pleasants and Jill Tanner is to witness careful planting and collaborative nurturing that results in four definitive mid-winter blooms (the actors’ understated give-and-take is evident whenever one of them is the focus of attention; the other three listen politely as the English do and in doing so, never upstage the speaker). The real-life chances of a tenor, soprano, baritone and contralto who once wowed the opera world together being reunited under one final roof are remote but Messrs. Harwood and Cameron-Webb and their cast make QUARTET an aging artist’s dream come true where sex is no longer a bothersome threat and the sharp corners of colliding egos have long since been rubbed away. Short of dying onstage while giving an inspired performance, what better way is there for a performing artist to quit the scene?”

Ensemble: THE RED LION (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Boston, MA). “[THE RED LION] calls for a director and cast who can dig for glimmers of human nature rather than till the top soil (that way melodrama lies) and the Boston Playwrights’ production comes up with shining, sifting handfuls thanks to Lenny Leibowitz’s sensitive direction and the ensemble’s delight over their characters’ quirks and wrinkles. The pivotal role of Mike Dunbar must compel when he takes center stage yet know when to step back as any good bartender would and Robert Bonotto, who dazzled as Degas in the Nora’s VAN GOGH IN JAPAN, now implodes just as impressively, alternating between the fatherly tapster and the grounded soul in a prison of his own making; Mr. Bonotto’s co-players artlessly give-and-take around him which, in turn, provides a layered strata of community to the evening. Daniel Owen Dungan and Kate Ociepka charm as two nice, decent young people at several crossroads in their lives and Mr. Dungan pulls off his Easter Bunny sequences without lapsing into sitcom; the outside world is evoked by Matthew Peterson’s brisk big-city realtor --- not a villain at all, thank you --- and Jared Craig’s slow, shy barkeep is enchanting in his mime (the character becomes less interesting when he starts to talk). Just as Cheryl McMahon proved last spring in THE MOONLIGHT ROOM what colors a clown can bring to a dramatic canvas, so do Floyd Richardson and Leslie Harrell Dillen as Mr. Dungan’s affectionately bickering parents. Mr. Richardson tones down his eyes and teeth to become a blustery, working-class bloke resistant to change and Ms. Dillen makes a nattering, warm-hearted mum who leads a conventional life but then welcomes the opportunities that come when one door closes and another one opens.”

Ensemble: THE STORY (Zeitgeist Stage Company, Boston, MA). “The Zeitgeist production … is riveting. This is David J. Miller’s truest direction of actors --- the proof lies in bodies ever circling around a desk but always being watchable --- and he has turned the Black Box into a clever collage of office furniture with newspapers as the rugs and wallpaper. This is also the finest Zeitgeist ensemble thus far with the actors going at it hammer-and-tong without lapsing into mere noise --- the characters may turn strident but never the actors (there is a difference). Nydia Calón’s Yvonne strikes the right balance between black anger and white wannabee and Ms. Calón is solid enough in both departments to take on playwrights of all colors with equal ease. Michelle Dowd is such a wonderful character actress that I would be satisfied with her reciting from the Yellow Pages but the role of Pat allows Ms. Dowd plenty of set pieces for a stage presence so reminiscent of the late Ethel Waters, and Chantel Nicole Bibb’s Latisha is an unforgettable portrait of poisoned playfulness.”

Ensemble: THREE DAYS OF RAIN (Quannapowitt Players, Reading, MA). “Nancy Curran Willis has directed the Quannapowitt production firmly and compassionately with a subtle eye for detail so that Mr. Greenberg’s characters flush warm with life rather than register as high-strung pieces of a cosmic puzzle. … I had previously seen Bob Williams, Susan Condit Rice and Bill Stambaugh in productions at the Vokes Theatre and to have them come together here under Ms. Willis’ guidance results in a triple ignition, onstage. Mr. Williams and Ms. Rice pull off the play’s acid test --- their Ned and Lina make you forget their Walker and Nan. Mr. Williams’ self-dramatizing Walker, locked in sulky boyhood, is well contrasted with his stuttering, taciturn Ned and Ms. Condit’s Nan, clenched as a fist, unfurls into a florid Lina, torn between free spirit and Southern decorum. In Act One, Lina is reported to have gone mad, more or less; Ms. Condit hints of future instability by not only presenting Lina as restless and predatory, she keeps her, for all her joie de vivre, mirthless and staring --- an unhappy woman, poised just before her descent. Bill Stambaugh has already acquired a stage persona --- a dry-humored conman slipping on Life’s banana peel --- and if he cuts his Theo and Pip from the same cloth, well, that’s the way the roles are written but with Mr. Stambaugh playing them so entertainingly, I am content to smile and say, “Like father, like son.””

Ensemble: URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL (Lyric Stage, Boston, MA). “The ensemble, composed of Lyric regulars and newcomers, couldn’t have been bettered, easily rivaling New Repertory’s cast for INTO THE WOODS this past spring: as the narrating policeman, Christopher Chew captures enough of his wild-eyed craziness from SpeakEasy’s THE WILD PARTY that made my first encounter with him so memorable and Maryann Zschau’s Penelope Pennywise hints at the Weill singer Ms. Zschau could become if given a chance. Rob Morrison and Jennifer Ellis neatly balance the sugar-and-salt sides of their star-crossed lovers (Ms. Ellis has a funny, lovely moment evoking black gospel singing).”

Karen Fanale (MASTER CLASS; Mass Theatrica; Lynn/Brookline, MA). Role: Maria Callas. “Zoe Caldwell played this cartoon on Broadway to great acclaim but is not an operatic soprano, herself; thus, Mr. McNally’s Callas never sings (unlike the real Callas who vocalized alongside her students), which leaves an actress little to do other than To Be. The Mass Theatrica production was fortunate to have Karen Fanale, an accomplished singer, herself, supplying the dark good looks, the flashing eyes, and the testy, regal bearing composed of fire, not ice. Indeed, Ms. Fanale made such an entertaining whole from her half a loaf without lapsing into caricature that I was always disappointed whenever she came close to singing but never followed through for the few notes she did sing were as rich and ringing as her constant declamation (MASTER CLASS being one long recitative). Ms. Fanale also mimed a Bellini entrance, exquisitely; her eyes lowered, her mask a glowing study in modesty.”

Josh Grisetti (CAMELOT; North Shore Music Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: Mordred. “Josh Grisetti makes a wonderfully twisted Mordred, a medieval woodcut come to life.”

Christopher Hagberg (LA CAGE AUX FOLLES; Longwood Players, Cambridge, MA). Role: Alban. [see Bradford Morse, below]

Belle Linda Halpern (N (NAPOLEON); Pilgrim Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: Josephine. “Belle Linda Halpern’s handsome, sensual Josephine … made me think of a rich, hearty meat sauce ladled over pasta and served with a smoky red wine.”

Michael Hammond (ICE GLEN; Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA). Role: Peter Woodburn. “Twice have I seen Michael Hammond do his icy, blue-eyed thing; his Elyot in the Lyric Stage’s PRIVATE LIVES led to me ask what would we see should he ever thaw --- his performance as Peter is his answer. Within the bounds of the era’s decorum Mr. Hammond’s editor is warm and engaging --- no villain, here --- and he projects a rumpled sensitivity that will bring out the mother-seducer in many a woman’s heart. Mr. Hammond’s scenes with [Elizabeth] Aspenlieder glow with a chaste eroticism even after their flames have cooled and their dinner table set-piece where Peter talks shop while Dulcie rejuvenates through love’s calling is so exquisitely written, directed and performed that I soon wished for [the character of] Sarah to make her exit, pursued by her bear, nor did I sense I was alone in my wishes --- this may not be in sync with [playwright Joan] Ackermann’s intentions but an audience has feelings, too….”

Rachel Harker (QUILLS; Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: Renée Pélagie. [see Steven Barkhimer, above]

Alicia Kahn (PRIDE’S CROSSING; Wellesley Summer Theatre, Wellesley, MA). Role: Mabel Tidings Bigelow. “I first encountered Ms. Kahn in Wellesley’s recent production of THE BOOK OF HOURS where she was too shrill as the doomed journalist in war-torn Belgium; Mabel runs a closer parallel with Ms. Kahn’s wild-colt tendencies as she is a corseted spirit ever fluttering to break free, even in her nineties. Ms. Kahn uncannily evokes old age sans make-up, wigs and caricature --- as I scribbled several years ago, the secret to playing old age is that the body lags behind the will, and Ms. Kahn’s octogenarian is ever at sixes and sevens over the withered prison in which her soul has been trapped (her youthful Mabel is hard and green in comparison). On the afternoon I attended, there were a number of elderly women in the audience; when Ms. Kahn entered the playing area, leaning on a walker at a perilous angle, several women instinctively reached out in concern, not knowing who she was --- Ms. Kahn, with her brown hair and unlined face, had passed the credibility test before she had spoken a word.”

Kes Khemnu (TOPDOG/UNDERDOG; Trinity Repertory Company; Providence, RI). Role: Lincoln / Booth (alternating cast). “Kes Khemnu and Joe Wilson, Jr. alternate roles from performance to performance (no doubt, to divvy up the play’s intensity). Mr. Wilson, who earned an Addison for his dapper turn in the company’s AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, has more whistles and bells than does the softer-grained Mr. Khemnu --- an entire percussion section played against a single cello --- but thanks to Kent Gash’s deft orchestration the evening ends in a solid tie; should you attend both switcheroos, you can compare and contrast to your heart’s content but you can’t go wrong with only one as neither cast is a carbon copy of the other. Physically, the actors are most at home in the Clubs Cast: the taller, warmer Mr. Khemnu gives Lincoln the sad dignity of a defrocked minister (his card spiel is pure carnival barker) and Mr. Wilson’s Booth is a cunning, hotheaded runt who mouths off before he thinks. The Diamonds Cast is more psychological: in Mr. Wilson’s hands, Lincoln is a small, angry man, once a king in his day but now crushed and forgotten (his spiel is done in sing-song), and Mr. Khemnu turns Booth into an overgrown kid; his Eternal Dropout is funnier but no less formidable.”

John King (SHOW BOAT; Company Theatre, Norwell, MA). Role: Frank Schultz. [see Kimber Lynn Z. Drake above]

Ryan Landry (A T-STOP NAMED DENIAL; The Gold Dust Orphans; Boston, MA). Role: Blanche DuBois. Mr. Landry was at his loveliest, here, complete with Mary Pickford curls.

Paula Langton (MEASURE FOR MEASURE; The Actors’ Shakespeare Project; Boston, MA). Role: Isabella. “Isabella could so easily fall into a cold, smug trap of her own making --- a hysterical virgin wielding a fiery sword --- Ms. Langton plays her as shy and tremulous but not blind to life’s wrinkles; she has seen enough of the world around her and has deliberately chosen to remain unworldly. Some might say that the Messrs. Cheeseman and Burrows’ solemnity have forced Ms. Langton to fidget and fly like a sparrow between the slabs of Stonehenge, but hers is an interpretation that keeps blood rather than ice flowing through Isabella’s veins, and Ms. Langton’s readings are fresh and spontaneous, seemingly made up as she goes along but with color and shape.”

Meredith Lavine (MASTER CLASS; Mass Theatrica; Lynn/Brookline, MA). Role: First Soprano (Sophie). “Ms. Lavine was delightful as a butterball in pink who only wants to sing, period, and played a merry little stooge to [Karen] Fanale’s straight-woman.”

Peter Macon (KING JOHN; Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA). Role: Philip Faulconbridge. “Peter Macon’s Bastard swells out his scenes with such infectious animal magnetism that the production shrinks considerably whenever he leaves the stage.”

Dann Anthony Maurno (THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON; Stanley B Theatre Company, Boston, MA). Role: Tom Daley. “Dann Anthony Maurno turns the role of Tom, the alcoholic voice of reason, into the production’s plum. Actors love to play drunkards --- all those tics and mannerisms --- but Mr. Maurno forsakes a showy turn to expose the tarnish of a former golden boy: his Tom turns sodden, layer by layer, with sudden pockets of clarity, as he mocks and enlightens through the thickening wall of his addiction. Mr. Maurno’s detailed, low-key performance became a memorable turn, after all.”

Ceit McCaleb (PAL JOEY; Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Role: Gladys. “Ceit McCaleb plays Gladys as the hardest cookie in town and stalks off with the show firmly in her fist; whatever homework Ms. McCaleb has done for the role she, more than anyone else, captures the sour, smoky tang of Mr. O’Hara’s original stories which is quite an achievement considering her character doesn’t exist in their pages.”

Steve McConnell (A NUMBER; Lyric Stage Company, Boston, MA). Role: Salter. “The Lyric Stage production runs like clockwork, swift and smooth, with Steve McConnell as Salter and Lewis D. Wheeler as My Three Sons nimbly bouncing their words about… It was fitting to cast Mr. Wheeler as the Bernards as he himself has succeeded another Young Man who has quit the Boston scene; this has been Mr. Wheeler’s year and he has been charming, each time --- never underestimate the power of charm on a stage --- whether he shall deepen in his art or become a pleasant Personality depends on how he is cast and directed for his technique thus far consists of emptying his pockets and happily displaying their contents for your enjoyment; hopefully he will learn more than timing from playing opposite Mr. McConnell, a subtle, layered actor who pulls out only those stops that are necessary to convey Salter’s confusion, anguish and eventual loss; Mr. Wheeler contributes three memorable turns but Mr. McConnell is the hub around which they revolve.”

Richard McElvain (THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA; Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Role: Santiago. “Richard McElvain … gives a technically impressive performance but is emotionally boxed in by bookcovers, so to speak; Mr. McElvain embellishes his lines with a shrug here and a roar there and Zorbas it up throughout but his old man is beautiful to look upon, a perfect storybook figure for a boy to idolize, and Mr. McElvain is properly Latin largely through his eyes: in DUBLIN CAROL, they were timid and rabbit-like; in his own ANTIGONE, they were mean and beady; here, they are large and soulful, having spent many lonely hours looking out across the watery desert --- indeed, whenever Mr. McElvain’s Santiago leans against his staff and looks up to the heavens, all that is needed is “The Impossible Dream” to make the moment complete (which, when you think about it, would be quite in context, here).”

Judith McIntyre (WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF HRT; Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: Vera. “Carmel O’Reilly and Judith McIntyre make a marvelous team with Ms. O’Reilly’s Anna as a rag doll floating down Life’s river and Ms. McIntyre’s Vera as an alley cat who, for all its spitting and scratching, yearns to warm itself at Love’s hearth.”

Cheryl McMahon (CAROUSEL; The Reagle Players; Waltham, MA). Role: Mrs. Mullins. “Cheryl McMahon, bless her, fleshes out the non-singing role of Mrs. Mullins to become a triple foil to Billy, Julie and Jigger --- if [Sarah] Pfisterer brings tears to your eyes at Billy’s death, it is because Ms. McMahon has set the scene by pushing through the hushed crowd, stifling her own tears as she smoothes back Billy’s forelock and silently exiting through the crowd and out of the musical --- Billy’s death is her loss, as well.”

Cheryl McMahon (ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY; Overture Productions, Boston, MA). Role: Letita Peabody Primrose. “Ms. McMahon served up some baggy-pants vaudeville for her showstopping “Repent”, piling up laughs from Ms. Primrose’s wackiness rather than from shameless barnstorming. Ms. McMahon has achieved that enviable position for a performer: whatever the show, it will be a good one whenever Ms. McMahon appears.”

Barbara Meek (SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER; Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, RI). Role: Mrs. Venable. “In the past I’ve only seen Ms. Meek in ensemble parts but her Mrs. Venable, the second color-blind casting of a Williams role I’ve seen this year, dominates the first half of the production and the air still vibrates with her presence after she has stepped or is wheeled out of sight. Ms. Meek, a natural word-charmer, demonstrates her art with a minimum of fussiness and soon has the audience in Mrs. Venable’s steely, ladylike grip.”

Ron Mitchell (THE RETREAT FROM MOSCOW; Vokes Players, Wayland, MA). Role: Edward. [see Anne Damon, above]

Debra Monk (LAUGHING WILD; Huntington Stage Company, Boston, MA). Role: Woman. “[Christopher] Durang is fortunate to be playing opposite big, beautiful Debra Monk who is so hearty that all her Woman needs is a push to start her on the road to happiness --- Ms. Monk supplies the heart to LAUGHING WILD that Mr. Durang has so gleefully left out.”

Bradford Morse (LA CAGE AUX FOLLES; Longwood Players; Cambridge, MA). Role: Georges. “The evening’s glory is the Georges-Alban relationship: Bradford Morse is a handsome-enough, dapper-enough Georges and his silken, yet virile, rendition of “Song on the Sand”, backed by an accordion and a lone streetlamp, suddenly shifts the production from the merely entertaining to the memorable. His Georges is playful and affectionate throughout, resulting from true give-and-take with Christopher Hagberg’s mercurial Alban who has his expected huffy moments but who is also a shy, nurturing man --- when the toothy Mr. Hagberg appears as Zaza, his creation is a good-natured broad from an Old West saloon and “I Am What I Am” becomes an affecting self-pepper-upper rather than a gauntlet flung into the audience’s face. Indeed, Mr. Morse’s “husband” wouldn’t be so engaging if Mr. Hagberg’s “wife” didn’t know when to gently acquiesce (and when NOT to steal a scene) and they end the evening not only in a kiss but also in a happy, happy tie.”

Lisa Morse (TOOTH AND CLAW; Zeitgeist Stage Company; Boston, MA). Role: Schuyler Baines. “Lisa Morse is excellent as Schulyer. Just as [playwright Michael] Hollinger defines Schulyer by her thoughts and deeds, Ms. Morse, in turn, creates a seamless, likeable characterization by not thinking about it --- she has too much to say and do without striking poses or wondering about her appearance (when she announces she has just tested a tortoise’s genitals, you believe her); in her closing scenes, Ms. Morse reveals an attractive Shakespearean nobility which, hopefully, will lead her to Shakespearean heroines…”

Michael Nurse (DEATHWATCH; Will Act for Food, Boston, MA). Role: Green Eyes. “I had last seen Michael Nurse nearly three years ago in the Ubiquity Stage’s RIFF RAFF and remembered his weary, paternal warmth; said warmth is now mixed with a dangerous, rascally power for his Green Eyes.”

Carmel O’Reilly (WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF HRT; Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: Anna. [see Judith McIntyre, above]

Aidan Parkinson (THE SANCTUARY LAMP; Súgán Theatre Company, Boston, MA). Role: Francisco. “Aidan Parkinson … brings equal parts acid and fire to Francisco, keeping this two-timer high, dry and blarney-free (his repeated cries of “Har!” drag his friend’s name across gravel).”

Mark Peckham (THE SEA HORSE; Nora Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: Harry Bales. [see Barby Cardillo, above]

Ed Peed (TOOTH & CLAW; Zeitgeist Stage Company, Boston, MA). Role: Malcolm. “Ed Peed is a wonderfully owlish character actor; at first I felt his Dickensian Malcolm was out of sync with the docudrama style but Mr. Peed moves beyond surface eccentricity to reveal the heartbeat behind the biologist’s calling --- to be the caretaker of God’s earth rather than its dominator --- and just as Ms. Morse’s Schuyler galvanizes her staff and the fishermen with her non-stop vibrancy, she, in turn, warms and softens in Mr. Peed’s benevolent presence. (Acting is not just an art --- it is also a chain of relationships among its players.)”

Larry Pine (CAROL MULRONEY; Huntington Stage Company, Boston, MA). Role: Hutton Mulroney. “Best of all is Larry Pine as Hutton --- I first (and last) saw Mr. Pine this past January in the Merrimack’s one-man adaptation of THE KREUTZER SONATA where he failed to plumb Mr. Tolstoy’s gloomy depths; Mr. Pine remains a handsome, laconic man and his dry, crackling voice is still the same but now he tucks into his current plum and makes marvelous amends --- if he wasn’t suited for a Russian sonata, he is quite at home in Mr. Belber’s jazz ensemble.”

Jacquelyn Piro (SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS; Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT). Role: Milly Tilden. “Jacquelyn Piro as Milly is the production’s centerpiece --- her heroine is starchy, not steely, which allows her to bend or melt when necessary yet still keep her authoritative bearing and Ms. Piro has her amusing moments: when Adam slaps her rump in courtship, she returns the gesture to seal the bargain; when one brother snarls at her over vittles, she answers back in like coin (hilarious!); when Adam, his loving arms about her, announces he wants dozens of children, Ms. Piro’s silent reaction speaks volumes, etc. If you found Jane Powell’s filmed Milly to be a cloying little songbird, fear not: Ms. Piro’s performance is both modern enough for today’s audiences and period enough to satisfy the purists.”

Aaron Pitre (THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW; Suffolk University, Boston, MA). Role: Dr. Frank N. Furter. “Aaron Pitre’s Dr. Frank N. Furter burst through the curtains as a cross between Whitney Houston and Mick Jagger, putting the “out” back in Outrageous as he sashayed like a classy, sassy model working the catwalk and backed by a potential rocker’s voice.”

Alice Ripley (ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY; Overture Productions, Boston, MA). Role: Lily Garland. “It is not uncommon for a leading lady to steal her own show and Ms. Ripley did so from her first entrance in a trench-coat through set piece after demanding set piece be it solo, duet or ensemble and her soprano, going from growl to champagne, was endlessly clever.”

George Saulnier III (VOICES IN THE DARK: THREE PLAYS BY SAMUEL BECKETT; Devanaughn Theatre; Boston, MA). Role: Krapp in “Krapp’s Last Tape”. “George Saulnier III is impressive enough as Krapp; I say “enough” because he is still a young(ish) man beneath his make-up and must rely upon impersonation rather than paint with a well-filled palette but his observations are shrewd, subtle and consistent, in speech and in silence: his Krapp is not a clown but a burly little working-class fellow with an impaired sense of balance; he quickly shuffles on his toes as if to catch up with the heaviness of his head before it hits the ground. I have seen Mr. Saulnier on other stages where he rested on his own premature laurels but here he has burrowed into becoming a character actor and if he can continue to do so without stopping to admire his own efforts he will, in time, be impressive, period.”

Barbara Sims (KING JOHN; Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA). Role: Constance. “Barbara Sims contributes a stirring, no-nonsense Constance, walking an admirable line between the heartfelt and the tour-de-force.”

Bill Stambaugh (FORTINBRAS; Vokes Theatre, Vokes, MA). “Mr. Stambaugh’s stage presence, bold and oddly innocent, and his criss-cross timing dominate the evening and he keeps Fortinbras’ mood swings from degenerating into vocal chaos.”

Erin Tchoukaleff (ASSASSINS; Metro Stage Company; Cambridge, MA). Role: Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. “Erin Tchoukaleff and Jaclyn Campbell steal much of the evening as “Squeaky” and Sarah, the former from the planet Deadpan and the latter a flower child gone to seed.”

Kaili Turner (GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA, GOOD MORNING JULIET; The Footlight Club, Jamaica Plain, MA). Roles: Ramona; Desdemona. “Kaili Turner as a strapping Desdemona declaims handsomely --- if reined in and faithfully guided, she could become a true Shakespearean.”

Michael F. Walker (TWELFTH NIGHT; Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Cambridge, MA). Role: Sir Andrew Aguecheek. [see Ken Cheeseman, above]

Lewis D. Wheeler (A NUMBER; Lyric Stage, Boston, MA). Roles: Bernard; Bernard; Michael Black. [see Steve McConnell, above]

Angela Williams (AIDA; Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME). Role: Aida. “Angela Williams’ cute, petite Aida is a deceptive shell for a pop-diva regality that erupts into wave upon wave of gospel-based intensity; amazingly, Ms. Williams’ instrument can scale down to lyrical intimacy when required without breathlessness or strain.”

Darius Omar Williams (CROWNS; Lyric Stage Company of Boston, MA). Roles: Man; Elegba, Orisha of Crossroads. “[M]ore than a passing nod must be made to Darius Omar Williams, CROWNS’ sole man who more than holds his own with his ringing instrument and his protean playing; a modest but sturdy king among these beautiful, stately queens.”

Joe Wilson, Jr. (TOPDOG/UNDERDOG; Trinity Repertory Company; Providence, RI). Role: Lincoln / Booth (alternating cast). [see Kes Khemnu, above]

Jocelyn Winzer (THE AMERICAN DREAM; M.M.A.S. Black Box Theatre, Mansfield, MA). Role: Mrs. Barker. “[T]he statuesque Jocelyn Winzer is visually stunning as a dim-witted Mrs. Barker, not unlike the fashion plates that vaudeville clowns drooled over; when Ms. Winzer removes her dress to parade about in her slip and pearls, vaudeville gives way to erotic burlesque. (Insert wolf-whistle, here.)”

Derry Woodhouse (WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF HRT; Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). Role: Fergel; Various Roles. “Two years ago Derry Woodhouse showed his protean side in Ms. Jones’ STONES IN HIS POCKETS, so I wasn’t surprised when he began morphing, here, as Fergal & Company; I am far more amazed at Mr. Woodhouse’s versatility that issues forth from such a gentle, pokerfaced presence --- apparently, still actors run deep.”

Robert Zawistowski (FORTINBRAS; Vokes Theatre, Vokes, MA). Roles: Polonius; English Ambassador. “I have seen Robert Zawistowski several times before and find him a Dickensian performer, belonging to a time without cell phones and a place without clockwork oranges. His Polonius is a double-pleasure, benefiting from Mr. Zawistowski’s whimsical dignity but also from Mr. Blessing keeping the character mute most of the time. FORTINBRAS is high-quality sitcom but that one little touch --- Polonius as Mime --- proves that Mr. Blessing knows his Shakespeare but also the power of silence.”

MOMENTS (Good, Bad or Otherwise):

ANNA IN THE TROPICS (SpeakEasy Stage; Boston, MA). “There is a lovely moment when all of the characters, one by one, savor a new cigar brand named after Mr. Tolstoy’s heroine.”

ASCENSION (Our Place Theatre Project, Boston, MA). Matilda’s killing of Ruth’s baby immediately after its birth; a stunning Act Two moment that caused members of the audience to cry out in alarm.

ASSASSINS (Metro Stage Company; Cambridge, MA). Sarah Jane Moore stuffing her dead dog into her shoulder bag after accidentally shooting it.

BLUE/ORANGE (Zeitgeist Stage Company; Boston, MA). When Christian peeled an orange then squeezed it in his fist and sprayed the juice about the room.

CAMELOT: The Act Two duet “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” where Nili Bassman’s Guinevere and Joseph Dellger’s Arthur kicked up their heels in a reprise of Act One’s lightheartedness and their sense of fun was contagious.

CHIX WITH DIX(IE)! (Fresh Fruit Productions, Boston, MA). “There is a clever moment --- a female pig singing “I Loves You, Porky” to a well-known cartoon character --- and a brilliant one: a filmed sequence of two geishas lip-synching to Puccini’s “Un bel dì” while the English subtitles has them bitching about their white-devil johns.”

CINDERELLA ROCKS!: Mr. Coen’s Queen had a hilarious moment with a microphone when it came to silencing the chatterbox King.

CINDERELLA ROCKS!: Every Orphan show has its clever-tacky stagecraft; CINDERELLA ROCKS offers AVENUE Q-like puppets including a Dubya one, a mounted deer’s head that sings along with the quartet of human-sized pets and the pumpkin-coach galloping off to the ball, and Windsor Newton’s moonlit Act Two courtyard is actually quite beautiful.

DEATHWATCH (Will Act for Food; Boston, MA). “…a genuinely erotic moment when Maurice strokes a tattoo on Green Eye’s bared midriff.”

DEATHWATCH (Will Act for Food; Boston, MA). The final death-tableau that defied applause and curtain calls.

DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE (American Repertory Theatre; Cambridge, MA). “The evening’s most moving moment --- a frail heartbeat beneath the ice --- belongs to Karen MacDonald’s Anna. Ms. MacDonald is more at home in contemporary fare than the classics --- her declaiming voice easily becomes a collection of squawks --- but she closes DIDO with an exquisite death tableau: Iarbus has just killed himself and Anna has opened a vein so that she may join him. She props Iarbus up and throws his limp arms around her, then draws her shawl around them, both, leaving them in a heap as the lights begin to dim; after a moment, Anna, too, becomes still --- warm flesh has turned to stone; that’s Death, all right.”

DRESSED UP! (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Boston, MA). Leslie Dillen’s uncanny impersonation of Diane Keaton and her own transformation when donning a retro cocktail dress and hat.

8-TRACK: THE SOUNDS OF THE 70’s (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). “Why do stars fall down from the sky, every time you walk by…” “War! Uh! What is it good for?” “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here…” “I am woman, hear me roar…” “Sky rockets in sight, afternoon delight…” “Don’t cry out loud, just keep it inside, learn how to hide your feelings…” “Ooga shaga, ooga ooga, ooga shaga, ooga ooga…” “Oooooooo, do the Hustle….” “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, freak out!” “Y-M-C-A, it’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A…” “…’cause you, you … light … up … my … life….” etc.

FORTINBRAS (Vokes Theatre, Vokes, MA). Hamlet, trapped on a television screen.

FUDDY MEERS (The Footlight Club; Jamaica Plain, MA). Gertie stabbing Binky the hand puppet to death.

GAGARIN WAY (Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). The two killings --- pretty bloody stuff.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE (Lyric Stage, Boston, MA). “[A] brilliant moment happens when Amanda comes home scandalized by Laura’s dropping out of business school: Ms. Carroll enters from above and descends the fire escape, pausing on the landing which also doubles as a table at which Laura sits, typing. It is a moment of cinematic eloquence --- a montage of inside and outside the apartment --- that I wish could have been continued, throughout (i.e. a blending of Tom’s memory-images).”

THE GLASS MENAGERIE (Lyric Stage, Boston, MA). Amanda’s meek little “Bless you” at the sudden miracle of a re-subscriber.

HOMEBODY/KABUL (Boston Theatre Works; Boston, MA). Sujoy De’s rotund little Guard, polishing his machine gun in sleepy irritation, put back the terror in Terrorism.

ICE GLEN (Shakespeare & Company; Lenox, MA). The choreography of how to properly set a table.

ICE GLEN (Shakespeare & Company; Lenox, MA). “There is a brilliant moment when Peter starts to wax autobiographically but is cut short by Dulcie who refuses to melt over his woes; her action may deprive the audience of insights into Peter’s character but makes perfect sense in context.”

THE ILLUSION (Small World Big Sky Productions; Boston, MA). “Kim Carrell’s fight choreography is actually quite suspenseful when two rivals with pointy steels slice and stab the air only a hair’s breadth from one another.”

KING JOHN (Shakespeare & Company; Lenox, MA). Mark Saturno plays the Dauphin with his mouth open, throughout; in my mind-theatre I see Mr. Burrows’ king pausing before Mr. Saturno’s prince, placing a lofty forefinger under latter’s chin, closing up the hole, and moving on.

KING JOHN (Shakespeare & Company). The half-naked John launching into a Charleston soon after his self-flagellation).

THE KREUTZER SONATA (Merrimack Repertory Theatre; Lowell, MA). “The evening starts off wonderfully: David Zinn has designed an expressionistic compartment to contain its anti-hero, Dan Kotlowitz’s opening beacon glares like an infernal sun, and [Margaret] Pine’s “musical soundscape” of thundering train and restless strings culminates in a shriek on Judgment Day….”

THE KREUTZER SONATA (Merrimack Repertory Theatre; Lowell, MA). The show’s highlight --- the scratchy, jittery first movement of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata --- was beautifully performed by Bonnie Anderson and Piotr Buczek.

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF MIRZA (Voices on the Edge; Cambridge, MA). “I am asked, ‘Why does your mother walk five steps behind your father?’ My mother says, ‘Because he looks better from behind.’ Today’s Muslim women walk five steps in FRONT of their husbands, because of the land mines…”

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF MIRZA (Voices on the Edge; Cambridge, MA).”If I’m going to blow up this plane, do you think I’m going to spend the last hours of my life in Coach?”

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF MIRZA (Voices on the Edge; Cambridge, MA).”When a male suicide bomber dies, he goes to Heaven with seventy-seven virgins. When a female suicide bomber dies, she gets a day off.”

LAUGHING WILD (Huntington Stage Company; Boston, MA). The truly zany moment when the Woman’s talk show hostess pummeled the Man’s Infant of Prague.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE (The Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Boston, MA). “[Director Robert] Walsh twice strikes gold: the Isabella-Claudio confrontation takes place halfway up the stairs as if Claudio is already on his way to heaven, and when Isabella pleads her case to the Duke, she starts on the Center’s stage, a nobody separated from the others by a vastness of space between them, and gradually comes forward to boldly point out her nemesis in close-up.”

THE MIKADO (Sudbury Savoyards, Sudbury, MA). “[D]uring Act One’s finale the populace snaps open their fans en mass to dismiss Katisha and for one brilliant second a true theatre company stands proudly before you.”

THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (Trinity Repertory Theatre, Providence, RI). “EDWIN DROOD’s loveliest moment occurs during “Perfect Strangers”: while Edwin and Rosa embrace and sing among the crypts, Beth Hallaren’s Stage Manager, dressed as an angel, stands on a tomb and subtly poses as Victorian funeral statuary --- these tableaus … are enchanting and touch the heart in the midst of the non-stop scampering.”

N (NAPOLEON) (Pilgrim Theatre; Boston, MA). The silent, serene apotheosis, beautifully lit by Joshua Randall and blanketed in dry ice-smoke.

PRIDE’S CROSSING (Wellesley Summer Theatre ; Wellesley, MA). “[Alica] Kahn and [Kelly] Gavin shared a lovely, fleeting moment in the semi-darkness as the latter helped the former change into her pinafore: once Ms. Kahn, now a girl, was ready, Ms. Gavin smiled up at her, artless and childlike, and Ms. Kahn mirrored her expression which, in turn, instantly shaved decades off her own characterization --- lovely.”

PRIDE’S CROSSING (Wellesley Summer Theatre). ““Tone-poem” is a nice way of saying that PRIDE’S CROSSING is lyrical and episodic with little drama save that of missed opportunities and roads not taken but much of it clings and satisfies: the aged Mabel trying to reach for a lamp without falling; the family cook and her daughter, in silhouette, waving in slow motion as Mabel swims out to sea; Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” in a game of charades; a delightful croquet game played amongst the remainder of Mabel’s social circle and decked out in period fashions; the young Mabel’s confident leap into the future.”

QUILLS (New Repertory Theatre; Newton Highlands, MA). “Those who have wondered what [Austin] Pendleton looks like in the nude will have their answer early in the evening.”

QUILLS (New Repertory Theatre; Newton Highlands, MA). The stunning Act One finale, where Lilly the laundress has been murdered and hung up like meat by an inmate inspired by de Sade’s perverse writings.

QUILLS (New Repertory Theatre; Newton Highlands, MA). The Marquis de Sade’s chopped-off hands taking up pen and paper under his severed head’s orders.

RED HERRING (The Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Boston, MA). “There is a clever long-distance phone call with delayed back-and-forth exchanges, a reflective bar scene that allows two of the characters to philosophize (and humanize) over vodka sipped from spoons, and a recurring line “Is it a number?” that is suggestive in context.”

THE RIVALS (Huntington Theatre Company; Boston, MA). Julia and Faukland’s big renunciation scene followed by Faukland, left alone, to mourn to cello music from Handel’s “Love in Bath”, the results were sadly enchanting.

SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD (Lyric Stage, Boston, MA). “The evening’s one bit of cleverness demonstrates how a Shakespearean speech can make the same impression when recited backwards as it does, forward. I smiled at that one.”

SHOW BOAT (Company Theatre; Norwell, MA). “Kim’s Charleston” where the entire ensemble, all ages, sizes and shapes, gets caught up in the festivities and make the joint truly rock.

A T-STOP NAMED DENIAL (The Gold Dust Orphans; Boston, MA). “There are many, many laugh-provoking moments stemming from characterizations or the kitchen sink, such as the sister’s facial expressions when Proustian circus music is heard; the “T’ repeatedly rattling across the stage; an upstairs neighbor in the form of a one-armed, one-legged ventriloquist’s dummy; documents, yellowed by antiquity; a septet of rats racing across the back wall; the sister standing behind her suitor and tipping his hat and wiping his brow for him; cigarette ash absentmindedly flicked on a newborn babe; the sister’s insanity suggested by her protruding hand doing all the talking from inside the ladies’ room.”

36 VIEWS (Huntington Theatre Company; Boston, MA). Claire’s sudden costume change --- an example of “Bukkaeri”.

TOOTH & CLAW (Zeitgeist Stage Company; Boston, MA). The risible reenactment of El Niño.

TOPDOG/UNDERDOG (Trinity Repertory Company; Providence, RI). The mesmerizing three-card monte spiels.

A TRIBUTE TO FRANK, SAMMY, JOEY & DEAN (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). “Hello, boys!” Marilyn Monroe called to the orchestra; “Hello, boys!” they echoed back.

A TRIBUTE TO FRANK, SAMMY, JOEY & DEAN (Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA). Gary Anthony’s rendition of “My Way” --- bingo!

TWELFTH NIGHT (Actors’ Shakespeare Project; Cambridge, MA). Feste the Clown playing a recorder through his nose. Yes, his nose.

THE UnPOSSESSED (Double Edge Theatre Company, Cambridge, MA). Quixote’s death done in shadow-play as he dwindles into eternity.

* * *

The Image of the Year: VOICES IN THE DARK: THREE PLAYS BY SAMUEL BECKETT (Devanaughn Theatre; Boston, MA). “OHIO IMPROMPTU (named after Ohio State University where it was first performed) is the most challenging piece of all: two men in black with shoulder-length hair sit at a table that has a black hat on it. The men mirror one another, down to each resting his right hand against his right temple. The Reader, with book, drones out a tale of tragic loss; the Listener, eyes cast down, rhythmically pounds the table whenever he wants a passage repeated. Upon completing the story, the Reader closes the book and the two men slowly look up at each other as the lights fade. Is the tale autobiographical? Is the Reader the “tragic loss” now come back to comfort the mourning Listener? Are they one and the same man? Never before have I gone through so many reactions during such a short play: amusement (“The old boy’s got to be kidding, this time…”), anger (“This is CRAP!”), bewilderment (“Well, what IS it about?”) and, once I stopped trying to wrap a narrative around it, acceptance. Perhaps ‘tis best to view OHIO IMPROMPTU as a dream, a hallucination; one that makes perfect sense in the subconscious but turns silly when pinned down with words. Mr. Beckett is so masterly with his theatre images that they stay with you even when his words to do not; you will long remember Jason Myatt and Brian Quint, who are solemn hoots in their blonde tresses, with each spoken word, each pound from a fist, laying yet another invisible brick around them, sealing them in eternal silence.”

The Most Joyous Moment of the Year: URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL (The Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Boston, MA). The gospel-rich “Run, Freedom, Run!”, as joyous a showstopper if ever there was one and, ironically, far more heartfelt than the one in the feel-good ABYSSINIA.

The Tragedy of the Year: The destruction of Boston’s historic Gaiety Theatre --- and I have a brick to prove it.

The OMG Moment of the Year: CINDERELLA ROCKS! (The Golden Dust Orphans; Boston, MA). “CINDERELLA ROCKS! has … a graphic parody of female nudity that some may find offensive --- I know the Stepsisters are supposed to be Ugly but there are limits.”

Trooper Moment of the Year: THE SYRINGA TREE (American Repertory Theatre; Cambridge, MA). On the night I attended, Pamela Gien pulled a muscle in her foot about a third of the way into her one-woman show; she completed the performance in obvious discomfort, then withdrew for the remainder of the run.

The Comeback Moment of the Year: The North Shore Music Theatre reopening its doors only months after an electrical fire devastated its interior.

The Disappointment of the Year: HAL HARRY HENRY (Shakespeare East; Boston, MA). “Two summers ago BREATH OF KINGS, Shakespeare East’s collage of the Bard’s Histories, quietly slipped into Boston for a few weekends at the Actor’s Workshop; it later earned two Addisons including one for Noel Joseph Allain’s Prince Hal/Henry V, still the best onstage personification that I’ve seen of the role. Shakespeare East now returns not so quietly with its KINGS revision entitled HAL HARRY HENRY, this time at the Boston Center for the Arts; Mr. Allain once again assumes his royal mantle amidst various cast additions, departures and switcheroos --- the new collage now has a set, more elaborate street-costumes and an Equity actor in its midst; the production is bigger and more professional than BREATH OF KINGS but not necessarily better. A large portion of the original’s appeal lay in these budding Shakespeareans making much out of very little as if they were a troupe of strolling players stopping in from the road; what they lacked in production values they more than made up for in voice and imagination. HAL HARRY HENRY, on the other hand, has a labored, self-congratulatory feel to it: what was once a genuine lump of coal that warmed the heart has been overly polished into becoming a sham diamond worn gaudily --- had you attended BREATH OF KINGS, you might also share the same pang of disappointment that I am feeling, now; if not, you will find HAL HARRY HENRY entertaining enough with a still-fine performance from Mr. Allain and some clever or charming bits such as the French court spitting in unison like a row of llamas or the Henry-Katherine wooing scene which always works regardless of whomever declaims its lines. On the debit side, there is Erik Lochtefeld’s sinister, Fagin-like Falstaff and such touches as Prince Hal holding the deceased knight’s skull and quoting Hamlet’s Yorick-lines to it, some machine-gun fire in the St. Crispin Battle which may explain why only five-and-twenty Englishmen fell that day, and the narrating Henry VI concluding with Prospero’s “we are the stuff that dreams are made of”, which smacks of reaching for the obvious once true inspiration has run dry. BREATH OF KINGS triumphantly proved that Shakespeare East is a troupe to take on the real Bard, in time; HAL HARRY HENRY shows the company quite content, for now, at being its own vanity press. Fortunately for Shakespeare East, the Bard can wait.”

The Oddest Directorial Choice of the Year: GHOSTS (Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre, Cambridge, MA). “For the Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre, Dan Cozzens has gently trimmed GHOSTS which now plays without an intermission and sets it in a period modern enough for accessibility yet remote enough so no anachronisms protrude; for atmosphere, Mr. Cozzens adds ghosts of Mrs. Alving’s husband, the servant he seduced and Oswald as a child to personify the past and act as a mute Chorus to the revelations. Some may find these ghosts a visual-aid to all the talk-talk-talk while others may find them distracting (the husband-ghost, in particular, has appalling table manners and stomps about like a poltergeist). Perhaps the ghosts would be more effective if they were used sparingly, mimed their actions rather than handling actual props and appeared and disappeared through a passage that no one else uses --- also, are they independent ghosts or are they Mrs. Alving’s tortured projections?”

Television as Theatre, or is it Theatre as Television?: THE MOONLIGHT ROOM (SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston, MA); LIVING OUT (The Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Boston, MA); THE BUZ’ GEM BLUES (Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, RI); TOOTH & CLAW (Zeitgeist Stage Company, Boston, MA); THEATER DISTRICT (SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston, MA).

Creature Comforts: The intermission at A.R.T.’s CARMEN and the newly-installed air conditioning at the Gloucester Stage Company.

Reflective Moments:

“It is amazing (and distressing) how so many of today’s composers and lyricists share the same voice in their music: whenever Abyssinia is alone onstage you know she is going to start making with the anthems. (ABYSSINIA proposes that all a traumatized woman needs is to witness a birth and a death to get her back on track; what must a traumatized man go through?) … Should the past continue to be homogenized, I see no reason why CABIN IN THE SKY, the 1940 all-black musical, cannot be mounted with any protestations: it, too, is folksy and quaint and it has the better score. What courage, what humbling and what acceptance today’s black artists must go through to reforge the connective tissue to their race’s past, but they must --- there’s too much censoring going on in this country, already.” (ABYSSINIA; North Shore Music Theatre, Boston, MA)

“The concert was uneven: some singers were nervous, visually and vocally; others attempted interpretation; one singer, Michael Kreutz, was superb. Mr. Kreutz --- short, balding, and gently rotund --- became a roguish uncle for “C’est Magnifique” and returned to take the stage dramatically for “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. While some showed budding personalities, Mr. Kreutz offered characterizations; while others wandered about as if being pursued, Mr. Kreutz made no unwanted gesture or facial _expression and was the only one to make eye contact with the audience. In short, Mr. Kreutz gave a master class in musical theatre --- would that the others had remained in the hall to watch and learn from him. … What was fascinating about BROADWAY --- PARISIAN STYLE!, apart from Mr. Kreutz, was hearing the younger singers grow stronger in the Lloyd-Webber and Boublil & Schönberg excerpts: this is the music of their generation and they were as much at home here in sustained, soaring notes and introspective lyrics as they were out of their depth at supplying pizzazz for the Gershwin-Porter numbers. I cannot entirely fault them --- my own generation which grew up on Rodgers & Hammerstein was out of sync with the Herbert-Romberg-Friml schmaltz of our grandparents’ era --- on the other hand, the revival of Baroque Opera in the 1980s was due to its musicians going back to the original orchestrations and its singers being trained in the correct period style; to listen to a correctly-sung Baroque performance is to hear everything fall into place with perfect sense, from plot to convention. If such aural miracles can happen with music several centuries old, I do not see why today’s musical theatre singers cannot dig with the same enthusiasm and fidelity into standards composed but a few generations ago.” (BROADWAY --- PARISIAN STYLE!; Mass Theatrica, Brookline, MA)

“CAMELOT will always be associated with the Kennedy administration just as WICKED is said to be the spawn of the current one. Ironically, CAMELOT still proves itself timely not in its optimism but in its defeat: when Mr. Dellger’s Arthur, reluctantly preparing for battle, utters, “It’s the old uncivilized days come back again. Those dreadful days we all tried to put to sleep forever”, those two lines are far more chilling than all of Mordred’s sinister tantrums put together.” (CAMELOT; North Shore Music Theatre, Boston, MA)

“New works call for full houses: a playwright needs an audience’s current, not a few flickers, to tell him how fares his newborn.” (THE EDUCATED; Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Boston, MA)

“FOLLIES still demands to be seen at least once and the Barrington production is a good place for beginners but the FOLLIES you will see, here or elsewhere, will not, cannot be what Broadway audiences saw in 1971. SHOW BOAT and OKLAHOMA! can and have been cast and recast but the true FOLLIES exists in photographs, programs, its incomplete cast recording and memories. That is what makes the theatre the rose of the arts: the bloom is the performance unfolding, live, before you; when the show closes --- ah, there’s the thorn.” (FOLLIES; Barrington Stage Company, Sheffield, MA)

“[I]f today’s actresses continue to scream their lines at the expense of their natural charm then I say banish the entire classical repertoire save for Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW until they come to their vocal senses.” (THE ILLUSION; Small World Big Sky Productions)

“[M]elody and lyrics must go hand in hand: the lyrics determine the melody’s sound, rhythm and emotion while the melody in turn allows you to remember the lyrics. Chances are I could hum a tune from the Golden Age of Musicals and you could guess what it is or at least have heard it, before; perhaps you could even recite or sing the words back to me, as well. I can’t do such give-and-take with the New Musicals of today for everything they offer sounds alike to me and I am half-convinced they are all created by a frustrated poet with a limited musical vocabulary, turning out show after show with Orwellian predictability (in Mr. Orwell’s prophetic novel the future’s songs are created by recycling the same sounds for the cowed masses). … When the American Musical came into its own it was very much an extroverted art form with its energy, its choruses, its dances all contributing to a sense of community; the New Musical is introverted --- the libretto-less evening becomes a concert or a lieder recital; the cast is minimal (three, in this context, is definitely a crowd); its isolated characters, sealed off in spotlights, spend more time in reflection than in reaching out to one another while the pianist runs mini-scales by the bushel to show that, yes, something is definitely going on here…. The New Musical is for people who don’t like what musicals once were with their artifice, their sense of courtship and romance, their entertainment for entertainment’s sake --- they see the New Musical as being more Real and a more accurate mirror for today’s times. I respect their stance --- I once thought HAIR was everything that Rodgers & Hammerstein was not; that Be-In is now as dated as any Victor Herbert operetta --- but if the New Musical is today’s mirror then it is a pocket one for vanity viewing. As for it being more Real, I find the New Musical to be timid and insecure, deep down (or not so deep down), its experiences coming from rap sessions and the therapist’s couch.” {JON & JEN, Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA)

“The Huntington production [of Tom Stoppard’s THE REAL THING] is the Boston season’s first Stoppard offering in what promises to be a Stoppard year and may it also offer a lesson to other companies on how dull and talky Mr. Stoppard becomes when his surface is polished rather than dug into (a director must/should view human speech as what floats up from the subconscious rather than as civilized utterances taken at face value). But Evan Yionoulis, who made the company’s 36 VIEWS dazzle and glide around a hollow center, wraps the evening in Huntington good taste and Broadway slickness --- Mr. Stoppard isn’t given a chance to earn his keep, here, but arrives prepackaged for his Anglophiles.” (THE REAL THING; Huntington Stage Company, Boston, MA)

“If I close on a somber note I do so because I wonder if and when Boston will ever produce such musicals [as SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS] that are heavy on dance and cast with local dancers who can do them justice (I exclude the import houses). I once scribbled that Boston is a town rich in singers but poor in dancers --- no surprises, there, as it continues to stage economic, small-cast New Musicals where Terpsichore is ever the wallflower at the party. I understand that producing a full-scale musical is more expensive than producing a drama and that many local theatres are not equipped to house them but if the Sondheim era has begun to pass in New York and since Boston monkey-sees what New York monkey-does, there is going to come a time when dancers will have to be coaxed to Boston and kept here.” (SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS; Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT)

“[Oscar] Hammerstein felt obliged to send his audiences home happy but he pulled no punches on the tragic subplot of the mulatto Julie passing herself off as white. Numerous punches have been pulled, though, over the decades but SHOW BOAT, like the mighty Mississippi, manages to keep on rolling along. … Since then, SHOW BOAT’s musical numbers have been added, switched or dropped as its producers have seen fit with the black characters becoming more and more regulated to the background (the opening chorus being one of the first casualties); Julie’s tragedy, once a part of the fabric, has become a wrinkle in the cloth to be smoothed out as quickly as possible. But is SHOW BOAT really “SHOW BOAT”, anymore? The Messrs. Kern and Hammerstein’s efforts must be given their due; their bringing up racism in a musical was a tremendous gamble in itself which fortunately paid off --- WEST SIDE STORY is a direct descendant --- just because the two men didn’t provide a solution to the problem or offer positive black iconography doesn’t justify a political correction because SHOW BOAT, as constructed, cannot offer one --- it can only continue to be pared down and down and down until all that will remain is “Ol’ Man River” with the black chorus as part of the landscape. When does being politically correct become mere bowdlerization? … (Yes, the times have changed, but today’s artists must know how to re-introduce segregation to their audiences, when necessary.) … Can the original version ever float again, sailed by artists as courageous as those back in 1927? (SHOW BOAT; Company Theatre, Norwell, MA)

“On the afternoon I attended, the Black Box auditorium was half-full, which makes THE STORY a hit compared to the poor showing for Zeitgeist’s excellent BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE, three seasons ago --- placing THE STORY’s audience against the well-attended houses for ABYSSINIA shows how Boston, which is, at heart, a segregated town, prefers its social issues: sunny side up.” (THE STORY; Zeitgeist Stage Company, Boston, MA)

“Does every high-strung New Yorker always have asthma or panic attacks when excited?” (THE SUNSHINE BOYS; Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA)

“A Pulitzer Prize for Drama is no guarantee of a play’s immortality; the play has a better chance of survival if it is first deemed a popular success. Such winners as A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, SOUTH PACIFIC and DEATH OF A SALESMAN would have gone on to become classics, anyway, but whatever happened to THE SHRIKE, J.B., or ALL THE WAY HOME? (Aside from OF THEE I SING!, OUR TOWN and, possibly, HARVEY, all of the Pulitzer winners from WHY MARRY? (1918) to STATE OF THE UNION (1946) are more or less forgotten.) In time a play’s Pulitzer can no longer be used to lure an audience into seeing it --- the play must now rise or fall on its own and run the risk of the public saying, “Who cares?” I had these sobering thoughts after attending the Stanley B production of Jason Miller’s THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON which received the 1973 Pulitzer Prize and the New York Critics Circle and Tony Awards, among others, and its original Broadway production ran close to a thousand performances --- all of which once counted for something, yes? --- the Stanley B evening, over thirty years later, had only five bodies in the house.” (THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON, Stanley B Theatre, Boston, MA)

“If Jeannie-Marie Brown’s motherly direction turns [Jason] Miller’s raging bulls into cranky children who have stayed up too late, this is not necessarily a criticism but an observance on how men in general and men’s acting in particular have become softer-grained, over the years, just as women and actresses are now sharper and more aggressive.” (THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON, Stanley B Theatre, Boston, MA)

“[I]s it possible to write a play where a pregnant woman does NOT go into labor when a crisis occurs?” (TOOTH & CLAW, Zeitgeist Stage Company, Boston, MA)

* * *

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

Ellen Adair as Corie and Lewis D. Wheeler as Paul in Neil Simon’s BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, alternating in repertory as Helena and Bertram in Shakespeare’s ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (that way they can each get to play a flighty character and a rooted one).

Nancy E. Carroll as Margaret White in a concert version of Lawrence Cohen, Dean Pitchford, and Michael Gore’s CARRIE: THE MUSICAL (if the performing rights will ever be released).

Christopher Chew as Doc and Kerry A. Dowling as Lola in William Inge’s COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA.

David Coffee as Tony in Frank Loesser’s THE MOST HAPPY FELLA.

Anne Damon as Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley’s DOUBT.

Bob De Vivo as Kringelein in GRAND HOTEL: THE MUSICAL.

Michelle Dowd as Petunia and David Curtis as Little Joe in Harold Arlen’s CABIN IN THE SKY.

Jeff Gill as Davies, Bill Mootos as Mick and Dafydd Rees as Aston in Harold Pinter’s THE CARETAKER.

Anne Gottlieb in the title role of Henrik Ibsen’s HEDDA GABLER.

Belle Linda Halpern as Serafina in Tennessee Williams’ THE ROSE TATTOO.

Rachel Harker as Aurelia, Kathy St. George as Gabrielle, Mary Callanan as Constance and Nancy E. Carroll as Josephine in Jean Giradoux’s THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT.

Jennie Israel as Martha in Edward Albee’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

Julie Jirousek as Phyllis and Dale Place as Ben in Stephen Sondheim’s FOLLIES (staged by the Huntington Theatre Company on its B. U. stage).

Deborah Linehan as Miss Amelia in Carson McCullers’ THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFÉ (in a new adaptation; NOT the Edward Albee one).

Cheryl McMahon as Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s HAPPY DAYS.

Michael Nurse in the title role of Eugene O’Neill’s THE EMPEROR JONES.

Dale Place as Lawrence Jameson and Walter Belenky as Freddy Benson in Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbeck’s DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS.

Paula Plum as Peggy Guggenheim in Lanie Robertson’s WOMAN BEFORE A GLASS.

Kathy St. George as Edith Piaf. (Judy Garland can wait.)

Kaja Schuppert in the title role of Rick Besoyan’s LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE. (Why isn’t anybody listening to me?!?!?)

Frank Shefton as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s FENCES.

Bill Stambaugh as Elwood P. Dowd in Mary Chase’s HARVEY.

Edward Tournier as Hally in Athol Fugard’s MASTER HAROLD…and the boys.

Maryann Zschau as Beatrice, Veronica J. Kuehn as Ruth and Stacey Fischer as Tillie in Paul Zindel’s THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE MOON MARIGOLDS.

…and Barbara Stanwyck feels the same way.


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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