An exciting month, and that isn’t hyperbole. A couple of North American premieres like a futuristic opera from MIT’s Tod Machover and poet Robert Pinsky and a drama tweaking The New Testament from Howard Brenton. Toss in iconic director Peter Brook staging Beckett, F. Murray Abraham as Shylock, and Car Talk:The Musical and you are talking about taking out the smelling salts.
By Bill Marx.
reasons to be pretty by Neil LaBute. Directed by Paul Melone. Staged by the SpeakEasy Stage Company at the Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA, March 2 through April 2. LaBute has made a dramatic career out of pressing hot buttons—how much heat he generates is debatable. According to John Lahr of The New Yorker, LaBute probes “the dark side of individualism.” Certainly this script, a Tony Award Best Play nominee in 2009, goes for the jugular of the ego superficial, asking “How much is ‘pretty’ worth?” “Sparked by one man’s offhand remark about his girlfriend’s appearance,” the play “navigates the crumbling relationships of four young friends as they come to terms with their unfulfilling lives and question the American obsession with physical beauty.”
Bear Patrol by John J King. Directed by Barlow Adamson. Staged by Vaquero Playground at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Boston, MA, March 3–19. A play with music about the fate of Huggy Bear, who “wants to be the first post-apocalyptic rock star. Can she make it Somewhere Over the Rainbow to defeat the Wretched Rex of the Rox? Dance on down the road with her in this pop-culture mash-up adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.” Two shows this month are inspired by The Wizard of Oz (See Car Talk: the Musical) This version is not for kids—”NOT APPROPRIATE for those under 16.” Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.
Educating Rita by Willy Russell. Directed by Maria Aitken. Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at the B.U. Theatre, Boston, MA, March 11 through April 10. Russell’s popular, sweet-tempered, and easy-to-take comedy about the paradoxical price of education for a young hairdresser who is helped by a troubled teacher. Jane Pfitch plays the upwardly mobile Rita; Andrew Long takes on the role of the emotionally vulnerable professor, Frank.
The Select (The Sun Also Rises). Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, adapted and directed by John Collins. A co-production of Elevator Repair Service and New York Theatre Workshop, presented by ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage at the Paramount Mainstage, Boston, MA, March 15–20. I was not a fan of Gatz, the talk-a-thon/reading of The Great Gatsby that Elevator Repair Service presented at the American Repertory Theater last season. But some were taken with the approach. At least the company has abridged its staged book this time around, and the group’s “trademark sound design and highly energized choreography” is worth a look.
Frankenstein. A new version of the Mary Shelley novel by Nick Dear. Directed by Danny Boyle. A NT Live presentation of London’s National Theatre production, screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on March 17th with an encore screening on April 4. The production will be shown ‘live” at other New England venues throughout March and April—see the NT Live site for locations and times. The return of Oscar-winning filmmaker Boyle (127 Days, Slumdog Millionaire) to the stage has been enthusiastically anticipated, and this sounds like a hoot of an evening of horror. Dear’s adaptation of the novel is inspired by the notion of alternating the two leading actors—Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch—in the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and his cobbled together handiwork. To really get what Boyle is driving at, you should see the production twice. Also, this is somewhat off point, but Boyle directed one of the best productions of Ben Jonson I have ever seen—his acidic and hilarious The Silent Woman for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1989.
Paul by Howard Brenton. Directed by Tony Estrella. Staged by The Gamm Theatre at the Armory, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, March 17 through April 17. The North American premiere of a thoughtful play about revolution and religion by British dramatist Howard (Christie in Love, The Romans in Britain) Brenton. I saw the play’s 2005 world premiere at London’s National Theatre (with Brenton in the audience), and can testify that this is a fascinating, if eccentric, meditation on the New Testament figure, including slyly satiric portraits of Jesus and others. The play generated 200 letters of protest before it opened in London. The Gamm Theatre is to be congratulated for taking this play on.
9 Circles by Bill Cain. Directed by Eric Engel. Staged by the Publick Theater Boston at the BCA’s Plaza Theater, Boston, MA, March 17 through April 9. Local theater takes a rare but welcome foray into the contemporary reality of war in Cain’s play, which won a slew of awards and critical accolades on the West Coast. The story revolves around a solider who is “arrested for a crime allegedly committed in Iraq.” Wishing to remain in the service, he has to grapple with the obstacles set up by a formidable military bureaucracy. The East Coast premiere is in seriously good hands; Engel’s cast includes Jimi Stanton, Will McGarrahan, and Amanda Collins. Cain founded the Boston Shakespeare Company.
Two Jews Walk into a War … by Seth Rozin. Directed by Melia Bensussen. Staged by the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell MA, March 17 through April 10. The regional premiere of what sounds like a timely, dark comedy about religion, war, and amusingly absurd feuds, based on the “true story” of “the last two surviving Jews in all of Afghanistan, the only thing seeming to bind this small Jewish community together is that they both hate each other’s guts.” These really are Jews behaving badly—The play contains suggestive dialogue.
Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera by Tod Machover. Directed by Diane Paulus. The American Repertory Theater in association with MIT’s FAST Arts Festival presents at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston, MA, March 18–25. This is the North American premiere of a “groundbreaking” one-act opera and an event, given the heavyweight talent. The libretto is by U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, the story by Pinsky and Randy Weiner, with choreography by Karole Armitage. The proceedings revolve around the dreams of Simon Powers, a rich, successful inventor who wishes to perpetuate his existence beyond the decay of his physical being. Reaching the end of his life, Powers uses his vast resources and devises a way to ‘download’ himself into his environment.
What’s all the hoo-ha about? The piece “sets itself apart from other operas with pioneering performance technologies. The stage is a vast, interconnected, intelligent ‘System’ of Powers’ continuing presence. As the opera progresses, the set ‘comes alive’ with Simon’s thoughts, feelings and memories through a new technique called Disembodied Performance which uses innovative sensors and analysis software to translate James Maddalena’s sounds and gestures into the behavior of the set.” Watch your Ipods . . . the opera may suck them dry . . .
Fragments. Based on texts by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne. Presented by ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage at the Paramount Mainstage, Boston, MA, March 23 through April 3. For serious theater mavens, it doesn’t get more exciting than this. (This Boston premiere is also required viewing for Beckett aficionados .) Acclaimed director Peter Brook comes here with a production of “a quintet of works by preeminent playwright Samuel Beckett—Rough for Theatre I, Rockaby, Act Without Words II, Neither, and Come and Go. Brook’s characterization of the dramatist strikes true: “Today, with the passage of time, we see how false were the labels first stuck on Beckett—despairing, negative, pessimistic. Indeed, he peers into the filthy abyss of human existence. His humor saves him and us from falling in. He rejects theories and dogmas, that offer pious consolations, yet his life was a constant, aching search for meaning.” The cast includes Hayley Carmichael, Antonio Gil Martinez, and Bruce Myers. Recommended for age 12 and older.
The Rimers of Eldritch by Lanford Wilson. Directed by Weylin Symes. Staged by the Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA, March 24 through April 10. Wilson has been overlooked of late, so it is interesting to see a couple of local productions of this sturdy, Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright. (A staging of his Book of Days via Bad Habit Productions opens on April 1.) This 1966 script “enters into the heart of mid-20th century mid-West America—into the decaying Bible Belt town of Eldritch, Missouri—an extremely small former mining town, now almost ghostly, whose remaining 70 citizens are trapped by mysteries which are shattering their shuttered lives.” The expansive cast includes Marianna Bassham, Daniel Berger-Jones, M. Lynda Robinson, Dale Place, and Bobbi Steinbach.
Broke-ology by Nathan Louis Jackson. Directed by Benny Ambush. Staged by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA, March 25 through April 23. The title and plot of this African-American family drama sounds painfully relevant: “Set in a beleaguered Kansas City neighborhood, two grown brothers try to balance the challenges of their own lives with their desire to care for their ailing father.” The cast includes Johnny Lee Davenport.
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. Directed by Darko Tresnjak. ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage presents the Theatre for a New Audience’s production at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, Tremont Street, Boston, MA, March 29 through April 10. The Boston premiere of an acclaimed New York production of Shakespeare’s Comedy? Tragedy? Tragicomedy? All the above? Let’s see what F. Murray Abraham and director Tresnjak make of Shylock, the infamous Jewish merchant.
Car Talk: The Musical. Written and directed by Wesley Savick. Staged at the Modern Theatre, Boston, MA, March 31 through April 3. Is there nothing that can’t be made into a musical? And on top of that the script, inspired by NPR’s popular radio show, promises “to bring love and joy to Boston drivers.” The plot? “Russell D. Fenders, a hapless middle aged owner of a terminally ill ’93 KIA, falls in love with Miata C. La Chassis who convinces him to go to the Emerald Garage to beg the explosive Wizard of Cahs for help.” On Sunday, April 3, there will be an 2-2:45 p.m. Alumni Reception at the Boston Common Coffee Company at 515 Washington Street (next to the Modern Theatre) with Ray and Tom Magliozzi—the legendary Click and Clack. The brothers are currently Visiting Distinguished Scholars at Suffolk. Go here for details.