THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


That Was THE YEAR That Was

A Year Without "Standouts"

by Larry Stark

In 2002, The Theater Mirror began its eighth year, I myself began my seventy-first, and Leigh & Tom Berry's son began the first year of his entire life.

An historic year, wouldn't you say?

Since this is IRNE-Nomination time, I've been glancing back through the past year looking for "Bests" --- i.e., for work of stand-out excellence in any of a couple dozen categories. Technically, if you eliminate parties and other social or instructive events I saw only 124 productions last year, and when I romped gaily through looking for what was outstanding, my first reaction was disappointment: so little actually did stand out.
But taking this second look at the 58 shows that were filed under "Memorable" I see the problem: these shows were so satisfying, and the work on them by everyone so good that NOTHING STANDS OUT. That's a positive, not a negative judgement...

Take as an example "Spinning into Butter" at The Theatre Cooperative. The cast was excellent; they could have been nominated as Best Ensemble in other years. One role stood out simply because she was onstage and the center of the action in every scene. Obviously Korinne T. Hertz had to work the hardest to hold her own so often in such company --- but was her work much better than, say, Patrick Chibas whose character had a sharp effect on the message of the play? Out at The Lyric West, Paula Plum wiped any possible memory of Judith Light's performance at Ye Wilbur Theatre out as she made "W;t" a whole new play. But as a matter of fact, that could be said of Everyone in that cast --- with Bill Mootos heading the list. In the New Rep's "The Real Thing" the ensemble work again was amazing, and I think I noticed Debra Wise only because I have been watching her get better and better as an actress for the past six years.

Here's a better indication of what sort of year I had. Take the shows I saw last January:

8 jan CONTACT Colonial Theatre
11 jan TARTUFFE New Rep
20 jan MISS PRICE Boston Playwrights' Theatre
24 jan THE SHAWL Basement on The Hill Stage @ BCA
26 jan THE MIRACLE WORKER Lyric Stage of Boston Inc.
30 jan HEARTBREAK HOUSE Huntington Theatre Company
1 feb THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA Arlington Friends of The Drama

ALL of them Stand Out!
And the original cast of "The Laramie Project" reconvened out on The Gloucester Stage and gave a performance better than the one last year.

But there were new things last year:
In the area of new plays, there are Festivals of new ten-minute plays joining The Boston Marathon as healthy "traditions": The Ritalin Readings at The Theatre Cooperative in Somerville, The Winter Festival at The Acme Theatre in Norwell, and The Summer Shorts at The Hovey's Abbott Memorial Theatre in Waltham are healthy fixtures on the local theatrical map. But people were breaking out of the ten-minute strait-jacket this year:
John Kuntz gave us not only "Miss Price" --- a vehicle for Paula Plum --- but what I think of as his coming-of-age two-act "Jump Rope"; Todd Hearon, playwright in residence with The Bridge Theatre Company, had them produce his award-winning "Wives of The Dead" while Bill Donnelley the playwright at Industrial Theatre had them do his "Painted Alice", And Zayd Dohrn's "Shameless" was a healthy new entry at The Actors' Workshop. All of them join the Sugan Theatre Company's find Ronan Noone, whose trilogy brightened the eyes of every critic who saw them.

On the summer banks of The Charles, "As You Like It" starring Suzanne Nitter and "Hamlet" starring Diego Arciniegas gave eloquent notice that The Publick Theatre is alive and well and in excellent new hands. And once again, these were good roles in well-done ensemble pieces.

Last year The Threshold Theatre went under, drowned by rising rents, and The Actors' Workshop went under the wrecking-ball, only to rise again in a fourth-floor loft near South Station. Out by Boston Hospital, Theatre 1 may fill the Threshold's void. There is building going on next to The Boston Center for The Arts, The New Rep is building three new theater-spaces in a huge Watertown Arsenal building, and there may still be a new stage-space in Central Square Cambridge which the Nora Theatre Company will use as a home. And Jimmy Tingle was the opening act in his own Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway, a theatre under new management still hoping to kindle Davis Square Somerville into a center for playgoers.

But even an old play can be made new again. Last year Bill Doscher directed a wonderfully new production of "Sweeney Todd" for The Footlight Club in Jamaica plain, and less than a month later Candace Hopkins did exactly the same thing with "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" ... both triumphant successes in the oldest continually operating theatrical spaces in the entire country.

There were also relatively new companies. At the BCA, The Zeitgeist Stage Company, Company One, and The Our Place Theatre Project all gave notice of their permanent places on the map. In particular, Our Place's "Blues for An Alabama Sky" was an African American play directed and acted by an African American cast that lacked nothing whatever ---save audience.

But, even spending 124 nights seeing shows, I missed some. Worse, my age and the work-load are squeezing the clock, until occasionally I can see a show, or I can write about it --- but not both. I am trying to get help with the uploading, and I am damn lucky that nearly a dozen other people regularly send in reviews of shows I couldn't see myself.

There's always a Lot of theater going on in New England, isn't there?

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide