note entire contents copyleft 2004 by Will Stackman
Despite economic pressures, it's been a busy year for theatre in the Boston area. The few smaller theatre groups fading into hiatus have been replaced by other up and coming attempts. The big downtown venues had mostly musicals, the most interesting being the under-appreciated Urinetown early in the year. The two large "companies" housed at B.U. and Harvard offered their usual fare. The Huntington's most successful import was locally-known playwright Theresa Rebeck's monodrama "Bad Dates" also early in the year. Across the river, the ART had an generally effective revival of Pinter's "The Birthday Party" giving veteran actor Thomas Derrah one of his best parts in years. His Bottom in an otherwise dismal "Midsummer..." just before was also solid.
The most interesting musical project was North Shore Music Theatre's North American premiere of a revised version of George Stiles & Paul Leigh's "Tom Jones", based on Henry Fielding's classic novel. The show still has a ways to go, but might just reappear one of these days. Early in the season, the New Rep's "Threepenny Opera", essentially an adaptation of an adaptation also pushed the envelope and was successful more than half the time, thanks to a stellar cast which included IRNE winners Leigh Barrett, Nancy E. Carroll, and Steven Barkheimer. Over at the Footlight Club, America's oldest community theatre, an expansive production of Ahrens & Flaherty's "Ragtime" was impressive in all aspects. Both "Tom Jones" and "Ragtime" would be better served, however, by a three act structure. In May, Wm. A Finn's song-cycle "Elegies", with a strong cast including Barrett confirmed Speakeasy's skill at presenting current musical theatre.
This fall both the Lyric Stage Company and Speakeasy opened with modern classics by Stephen Sondheim. Lyric did a musically impeccable "A Little Night Music" with Christopher Chew and IRNE winner Maryann Zschau as the lead couple, plus Barrett and her compatriot from last season's success "Jacques Brel", Drew Poling right behind, and IRNE winner Bobbie Steinbach as Mme. Arnfelt. Speakeasy inaugurated the Robert's Studio in the Calderwood Pavilion, the BCA's expanded theatre space, with that icon of urban angst, "Company". This strong revival featured Michael Mendiola as committment-phobic Bobby, plus Nancy E. Carroll toasting "The Ladies Who Lunch"--while the originator of that role was doing her one-woman show down the block--and strong cast of Speakeasy hands including Sarah Chase, "Bat Boy"'s love interest, Kerry Dowling "Bat Boy"'s mother, Julie Jirousek seen in "Passion", regular Will McGarrahan, IRNE winner Sean McGuirk from "A Man of No Importance", Merle Perkins nominated for "The Wild Party" , and Elaine Theodore , seen last season in "Our Lady of 121st St."
New plays continue to appear, many associated with B.U.'s Graduate Playwriting Program at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre. "The Gigolo Confessions of Baile Breag", the third and most ambitious part of Ronan Noone's trilogy, premiered under Carmel O'Reilly's direction for Sugan at the BCA. The small cast of Miguel Cervantes in his second Irish role, intense Judith McIntyre in her first strong role of the season and IRNE-winner Billy Meleady to hold the action together gave a powerful rendition of this difficult script which mixes the past and the present while including poetry and song. This fall, the larger theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion, the Wimberley, was inaugurated by the Huntington Theatre Company's production of "Sonia Flew", Melinda Lopez's unique drama about children sent away from Castro's Cuba in the early days of that regime. The show, which has been nominated by the American Theatre Critics Association's annual ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award , ran successfully at least twice as long as most BCA offerings. And in the middle of Boston Playwright's own three play fall season, artistic director Kate Snodgrass presented a revised version of "The Glider", a tightly-focused family drama featuring Birgit Huppuch, Norton winner Laura Latreille on a quick visit from Canada, and Kimberley Parker Green.
Interesting productions of a variety of established works showed up downtown and elsewhere. Sugan did Owen McCaffrey's "Mojo Mickeybo" with Colin Hamell and Billy Meleady as two young friends from the opposing sides in Belfast at the BCA. Boston Theatre Works presented a strong production David LIndsay-Abaire's "Kimberly Akimbo" with Judith McIntyre in the title role in Boston Playwrights Studio A. The JCC in Newton imported Oregon's Tears of Joy Theatre with their puppet production of Mark Levenson's version of S.Ansky's "The Dybbuk - Between Two Worlds". The adaptation was a prime example of how effective contemporary direct-contact puppet manipulation can be in extending the range of theatrical possibility. Over in Chelsea, TheatreZone, in their handsome space adapted from an old Oddfellows hall, revived Sam Shepherd's quasi-autobiographical "The Curse of the Starving Class". Early this fall, the Nora Theatre continued working at Boston Playwrights' presenting Richard McElvain's modern-dress adaptation of Sophocles' "Antigone" with award-winner McElvain as Creon, again in Studio A.
Out in the suburbs, the Vokes Players in their jewelbox theatre did very effective productions of both Steve Martin's absurdist "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" and Michael Hollinger's blithely bawdy religious farce "Incorruptible" using regulars and friends. Last winter the Wellesley Summer Theatre did the American premiere of Polly Teale's "After Mrs. Rochester" with Lisa Foley as the older Jean Rhys and company stalwart Alicia Kahn as her younger self. At the end of the spring, they revived this play and ran it in repertory with Teale's adaptation of Jane Eyre which they'd done two seasons ago with Kahn again in the title role. Adventurous theatre goers can find a wealth of unique productions around the area, such as Stoneham Theatre's area premiere of Richard Goldberg's "The Dazzle", which was only somewhat less successful than their production this fall, the first after its NY opening last season of Goldberg's "The Violet Hour." Neil Casey appeared in both, IRNE winner Anne Gottlieb was in former, Nathaniel McIntyre and Stacy Fischer appropriately enough, played the couple at the center of the latter.
Many Shakespeare productions this year took place in the summer and were duly noted. The event of the fall was The Actor's Shakespeare Project's inaugural production of "Richard the Third" with John Kuntz as the homicidal king. Planning to be peripetatic, the group under founder Benjamin Evett's direction used historical Old South Meeting House quite effectively for a modern-dress interpretation, which included Marya Lowry playing Buckingham, Paula Plum in Chanel as Margaret, and a hand-to-hand fight to the death at the end. Last spring there were several versions of "Romeo and Juliet". The most interesting were Mill6's four man--or boy--version of Joe Calarco's adaptation directed by Barlow Adamson. Mention should be made of Elizabeth Wightman’s August production using University staff in the coffeehouse at MIT with less than a dozen actor's doubling and tripling. The most winning effort of the summer was Trinity Rep's outdoor touring production of "Two Gentlemen of Verona", a slapstick family-oriented show that actually made this under-produced early effort from the Bard work.
Some of the show's listed above are obviously contenders for awards this coming spring. Elements of these remain more vivid in memory among the hundred or so performances seen this year for one reason or another, and in some way will serve as a measure of those to come.