A whole lot of deconstruction of the classics going on this month, along with productions of scripts by familiar homegrown names, from William Inge and David Mamet to Sarah Ruhl. A visit from a master puppeteer and a show about race that’s “recommended for mature audiences” look intriguing.
By Bill Marx
The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Diego Arciniegas. Staged by Publick Theater Boston at the Boston Center for the Arts, September 2–25. Stoppard’s early (1968) exploration of illusion and reality, done mainly for laughs, tosses a couple of dim-witted theater critics into a confusing murder mystery. The cast includes Barlow Adamson and William Gardiner.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Music and Lyrics by William Finn. Book by Rachel Sheinkin. Conceived by Rebecca Feldman. Directed and choreographed by Stephen Terrell. Musical Direction by Jonathan Goldberg. Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston at the YMCA Building, Clarendon Street, Boston, MA, September 2 through October 2. The Tony award-winning musical comedy about the agonies and ecstasies of spelling among the adolescent set. The show will gain by being presented in the Lyric Stage’s intimate stage environment. The cast features Will McGarrahan.
Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage by Banana Bag & Bodice. Presented by Oberon, 2 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA, September 5 and 6. The chic approach to finding an audience in uncertain times appears to be creative deconstructions/reconstructions, with eclectic musical support, of classics or popular works. “Digging into the roots of the original epic poem, this club-style SongPlay hearkens back to the raw and rowdy style of storytelling in the old Scandinavian mead halls – with a passion for fierce poetry and a pint of thick beer.”
Perfect Harmony. Conceived and directed by Andrew Grosso. Written by Grosso and The Essentials. Presented by the Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA, September 9 through October 3. The New England premiere of a musical comedy about “the greatest a cappella group in high school singing history, seventeen-time national champions, The Acafellas. It is also about their classmates and female counterpart, perennial runners up, The Ladies in Red.
This good-hearted look at the “cut-throat competition of glee clubs and the even more cut-throat competition of high school” is going places: after Stoneham, the production will settle in for an open ended Off-Broadway engagement at 45 Bleecker.
Hard Headed Heart. Created and performed by Blair Thomas & Co. At the Charlestown Working Theater Company, Charlestown, MA, September 11 and 12. “A rare Boston appearance by legendary puppeteer Blair Thomas, Chicago’s most acclaimed puppet master.” He will present a “trio of interconnected solo shows”: The Puppet Show of Don Cristobal, St. James Infirmary, and The Blackbird.. Any performer who combines the poetry of Wallace Stevens and puppets is my kind of artist.
Boston Marriage by David Mamet. Directed by David Zoffoli. Presented by the New Repertory Theatre in the Charles Mosesian Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown, MA, September 12 through October 3. I must admit I found this Mamet script to be more of a colorless curiosity than a “biting comedy,” but Zoffoli and a talented cast, which includes Debra Wise and Jennie Israel, may be able to juice it up. The plot deals with “two women of fashion” who plot and scheme to obtain their heart’s desires.
Bus Stop by William Inge. Directed by Nicholas Martin. Staged by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Boston University Theatre, Boston, MA, September 17 through October 17. The HTC opens its season with this broad, very 1950s romantic comedy about a cowboy who needs some civilizin’ before he can hook up with the vivacious gal of his dreams. The cast includes local stalwarts Will LeBow and Karen MacDonald.
In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Scott Edminston. Staged by the SpeakEasy Stage Company at the Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA, September 17 through October 16. Fashionable dramatist Ruhl sees her provocatively titled play as “hovering at the dawn of electricity.” According to the Washington Post, the “current runs through the playwright’s meticulously factual fantasy, in which Edison’s invention has allowed one particularly dedicated physician to create an electrical device sure to cure the litany of ailments — malaise, crying fits, you name it — plaguing his female patients.”
Alice vs. Wonderland Based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Remixed by Brendan Shea. Directed by János Szász. Presented by the A.R.T. /MXAT Institute for Advanced Theater Training in association with the Loeb Drama Center, at the Loeb Drama Center, Cambridge, MA, September 18 through October 9. A tag-team match that pits, according to the A.R.T publicity mavens, Lewis Carroll versus Lady Gaga. My money is on Gaga in this “psychedelic” adaptation of life “though the rabbit hole” that “seamlessly blends the lyrical whimsy of Alice with pop culture, high-octane physical theater, and the dynamic vision of acclaimed Hungarian director János Szász.”
Fraulein Maria by Doug Elkins. Presented by ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage at the Paramount Theatre, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA, September 23 though October 3. More deconstruction. The target this time around is Sound of Music: “Set to the Julie Andrews soundtrack, Elkins’s affectionate humor shines through his seamless merging of modern and popular dance forms including hip-hop and ‘vogueing,’ as he reinvents this beloved 1965 standard into an edgy yet fun-loving sing-along cabaret romp.” The New York Times thinks it is a “mini-masterpiece.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. The Actors from the London Stage presented by The Arts At Wellesley College at Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall, Wellesley, MA, September 23 through 25. “Formed 35 years ago, AFTLS is one of the oldest and most respected touring Shakespeare companies in the world. Coming from such prestigious venues as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, these classically trained actors devote a large part of their time to working with students.” This time around five performers — Nicola Alexis, Devon Black, Matthew Douglas, Paul O’Mahony and Julian Rivett — take on Shakespeare’s romance.
The Shipment. Written and directed by Young Jean Lee. Performed by Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company. Presented by the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston in the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, Boston, MA, September 24–26. The New England premiere of a show that claims to challenge audiences to confront their own preconceived notions of race. “Ranging from minstrel-like song and dance to stand-up comedy in the spirit of Richard Pryor” the script “skewers African-American stereotypes.” How do we know that Young Jean Lee means business? Recommended for mature audiences.
Five Down One Across by Michael Towers. Staged at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Boston, MA, September 30 through October 24. A dramedy that promises to be about “coming out” in more ways than one. The empowering plot: “Betty relocates her 85-year-old mother to her not-so-ordinary Brookline home, but now she’s got to tell the truth about her failed marriage, her mysterious pet, her prestigious career and her sixteen-year relationship with her ‘roommate’ Sharon.”