note: entire contents copyleft 2005 by Will Stackman
Reviewed by Will Stackman
As several people have noted, there was a lot of interesting theatre in the Hub this past year, with a sometimes daunting array of choices. My short list is much longer this time, stretching to a generous double dozen shows. Beginning in January, the ART hosted a South African Festival, with John Kani's "Nothing But the Truth" leading the bill, allowing local audience to see one of the world's great actors--and Founding Chair of his country's National Arts Council--in his powerful semi-autobiographical drama. He was joined by fellow South African--and former ART company member Pamela Gien, who presented her autobiographical solo show, "The Syringa Tree", a much more abstract physical theatre piece. Indeed, the ART brought in some of the most interesting guest shows in town this year, including Portland's Imago Theatre mime show, "Frogz." That company's director Jerry Mouawad is reviving his unique staging of Sartre's "No Exit" with ART veteran's Paula Plum and Will LeBow this coming January. The most powerful performance in town this fall was Marissa Chibas in Huberto Dorado's "The Keening ("Con el Corazon Abierto"), a monodrama from Columbia. The ART started the fall with the return of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, who presented an interesting reduction of Bizet's "Carmen".This was the best of the usual assortment of auteur-directed extravaganzas at the Loeb this year.
The Huntington also had a guest company, L.A.s Culture Clash in AmeriCCA presenting a compilation of their social satires at the new Wimberley Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA.. This coming spring HTC is bringing in the much less challenging "Forbidden Broadway." Their most successful mainstage presentation was last January's "The Rivals", R.B.Sheridan's first great comedy. This December, the B.U. School of Theatre presented Howard Barker's "Scenes from an Execution", directed by chairman Jim Petosa with faculty memberPaula Langton in a demandinmg role in a show which deserved a longer run.
The most engrossing company is the new Actors' Shakespeare Project headed by former ART hand Benjamin Evett. After an interesting if uneven start in Fall '04 with "Richard III" featuring John Kuntz in the title role, presented at Old South Meeting House just before the election, ASP moved on to the Hernandez Center at Villa Victoria in the South end in March for a solid "Measure for Measure" then on to a rousing "Julius Caesar" presented in the historic Durrell Hall at the Cambridge YMCA last spring. This fall, they got kudos and an extended run with "King Lear" in ornate lobby of the B.U. School of Fine Arts which serves as a studio theatre. The production marked the brief return to Boston of one of the ART's founding members, Alvin Epstein. ASP's currently running "Twelfth Night" as a holiday show over at the Cambridge Multicultural Center in the landmark Bullfinch Courthouse in an impressive performance space which used to be the Hall of Records. The company will finish the season in Spring '06 with a production of "All's Well..." back at Durrell Hall. Their peripetatic approach may mean that a professional Shakespeare troupe will once again be a permanent part of theatre in Boston.
There have been attempts to do so for half a century. The most dramatic failure was the Boston Shakespeare Festival on the banks of the Charles whose tent blew away in a hurricane in the '50s. The longest run so far was Boston Shakespeare which worked in the unrenovated Horticultural Hall across from the Symphony before it was redeveloped, then faded away under Peter Sellars on St. Botolph St. in Musicians Hall before that was "developed". Publick Theatre, a summer-only operation, has survived on the old BSF site in Herter Park for quite a while doing Shakespeare along with other classics and musical shows under the stars. Commonwealth Shakespeare has developed into an annual extravaganza each summer on the Common, with a student company playing around Boston in a few parks. The ART began its residence in Harvard's Loeb with "A Midsummer Night's Dream", directed by Alvin Epstein. They've included works of the Bard regularly in subsequent seasons with varying results. This spring Janos Szasz will return to interpret "Romeo & Juliet" having already done in Chekov and O'Neill.
The New Repertory Theatre also chose to start their residence in a new home, at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, with a Shakespearean production, a vigorous modern interpretation of "Romeo & Juliet." Their previous production from the canon was an intimate "Lear" in their old home in Newton Highlands starring Austin Pendleton in the title role. They followed R&J with Sam Shepard 's " True West " featuring John Kuntz and Todd Alan Johnson, then produced a new version of "Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol" adapted by artistic director, Rick Lombardo. Their strongest production back in Newton last spring was a joint effort with Trinity presenting Suzan-Lori Parks "TopDog/UnderDog" directed by Kent Gash. Most companies in town have similar varied repertories. The Lyric Stage in their three-quarter hall at 140 Claredon aka the Copley Sq, YWCA had an uneven spring, though their production of Lisa Loomer's "Living Out" was a noteworthy introduction of Mariela Lopez-Ponce to Boston audiences. This fall Lyric started off with a smart production of "Urinetown" including award winning local musical theatre favorites, Christopher Chew, Sean McGuirk, and Maryann Zschau in a first rate cast. Director Spiro Veloudos followed up this tattered extravaganza with Caryl Churchill's "A Number", a two-hander featuring IRNE winnerSteve McConnell and Lewis D. Wheeler, who was well noticed this summer in Publik's excellent production of Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia."
Boston's award-winning Sugan Theatre had impressive productions of Tom Murphy's "The Sanctuary Lamp" and Gregory Burke's political thriller "Gagarin Way" with strong and interesting casts using the new Roberts Studio at the BCA. This fall, they returned to their old haunts in the BCA Plaza with Marie Jones' "Women on the Verge of HRT", a comedy featuring artistic director Carmel O'Reilly, another dynamic performance by Judith McIntyre, and the multi-faceted Derry Woodhouse playing all the other roles. Watch for their production of "Talking with Terrorists" this spring. Other BCA regulars with interesting productions included Zeitgeist with Joe Penhall's intense "Blue/Orange" feauring Steven Barkhimer, Dorian Christian Baucum andEric Hamel. Rough & Tumble continued their BCA tenure, now using the Rehearsal Hall in the Calderwood Pavilion. A recent revival of William Donnely's "Apocalypso", a slice-of-life fantasy made good use of R&T's tight ensemble and Dan Milstein's imaginative staging. Pilgrim Research and Performance Collaborative reappeared with a unique production of Laura Harrington's "Napoleon(as in Bonaparte)" feauring Kevin Dunkelberg in the title role. There was also a very sharp production last winter of Alexei Arbuzov's Soviet era drama, "The Promise" by Lilia Levitna's Basement on the Hill theatre. She's tackling D.H.Lawrence this year.
Speakeasy however continued to be the most reliable group at the BCA, with an extended run of Richard Greenburg's "Take Me Out" in association with Boston Theatre Works last spring and a solid production of Richard Kramer's "Theatre District" with guest star Bill Brochtrup. They next upped the ante with an intimate revival of Kander & Ebb's "The Kiss of the Spider Woman" to close the year. Incidentally, BTW will be doing their annual Shakespeare show in the BCA Plaza this winter featuring Shakespeare & Co's Jonathan Epstein as Iago.
Up the street at the Piano Factory, the Devanaugh space continued to host quirky productions with limited production values. Across town, this fall the Theatre Cooperative continued their socially conscious presentations with a rough but effective production of "Our Country's Good", an adaptation by Timberlake Wertenbaker. On the semi-professional community scene, the venerable Footlight Club this fall presented the only recent Arthur Miller revival in town with "All My Sons". Out in Wayland, the Vokes Players did several interesting shows, the most notable being a solid production of Lee Blessing's "Fortinbras" which featured projected backgrounds that moved, video-game style, as the scenes changed. Waltham's Hovey Players in their subterraean Abbott Theatre kept up their high standards but really shown with their fall opener "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" by Martin McDonagh featuring Mikki Lipsey as the old lady. Other outlying venues with interesting productions included the Stoneham Theatre, a professional operation, which premiered a stage version of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" with award-winning actor Richard McElvain in the title role. They're opening the New Engalnd premiere of "A Prayer for Owen Meany" in January. And in the shadow of the Tobin Bridge, TheatreZone at Chelsea Theatre Works in the old Odd Fellows Hall on the square had a sound production of "The Grapes of Wrath" last spring and recently closed an effective revival of Max Frisch's "The Firebugs" featuring Bill Doscher.
The Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton continued its tradition of musical revivals ending the year with a creditable version of Roger William's "Big River." On another level entirely, the Reagle Players, also in Waltham, had a successful summer with sumptuous recreations of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" and "Carousel", following a rousing revival of the Gershwin's rewritten "Crazy for You." The first two featured Sarah Pfisterer, latter the indomitable Beverly & Kirby Ward. Even more professional productions were seen in Beverley at North Shore Music Theatre, which suffered a devastating fire just after the opening of their revival of R&H's "Cinderella"--which will be redone next summer. NSMT continued their season by moving downtown to the Shubert, presenting in association with Goodspeed, the gospel musical "Abysinnia"follwed by a reinterpretation of "Camelot", both more interesting than the usual tired roadshows seen in the big boxes downtown, but not as special as they would have been in the round at NSMT. The company is back home and did a creditable "The Full Monty" in November, followed by their traditional "A Christmas Carol (A Musical Ghost Story)" with all its bells & whistles--and David Coffee as Scrooge with many other regulars. Incidentally, their production of "Camelot" was followed into the Shubert by Julie Andrew's splendid revival of Sandy Wilson's "The Boy Friend" for Goodspeed, which for some reason still hasn't found a home in New York. Andrews made her Broadway debut in "The Boy Friend" and previewed "Camelot" at the Shubert before going on to major stardom thereafter.
There was plainly a lot of good theatre to see in Boston last year. Winnowing it all down for the IRNE Awards, coming again in March will be a real challenge. Theatre around Boston is definitely thriving artistically, despite tightening economic conditions.