October brings in epics from the classics (Shakespeare and Dickens), ghost stories from the classics (Poe, Henry James), a tragicomedy from a classic (O’Neill), and a comedy from a classic (Ben Jonson). Annie Baker, Ethan Coen, and the Rude Mechanicals provide some welcome respite from the tried-and-true. Given the state of the economy and the culture, it looks as if burden of the past could become downright smothering.
By Bill Marx
The Coveted Crown: Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 with Prologue & Epilogue from Richard II & Henry V by William Shakespeare. Directed by Patrick Swanson. Presented by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) at the Midway Studios, 15 Channel Center Street, Fort Point Channel, Boston, MA, through November 21. That’s not Shakespeare’s alliterative title, but the rest of the historical epic is all Bard, one of his most ambitious and demanding. The cast is huge: it includes Allyn Burrows, Bobbie Steinbach, Bill Barclay, and Steven Barkhimer.
Poe; a forever dream. Edgar Allan Poe stories adapted by Noah Tobin, Evan Quinlan, and John Greene. Directed by Veronica Barron. Presented by the 11:11 Theatre Company at the Piano Factory, Boston, MA, October 1–16. One of the few shows of the month that takes the spirit of Halloween seriously. Does it make sense that one of the greatest American arts critics wrote some of the scariest stories in the English language? Sure . . . The show promises to be a “venture into the maelstrom of Poe’s mind.”
A Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O’Neill. Directed by Richard McElvain. Presented by the Nora Theatre Company at the Central Square Theatre, Cambridge, MA, October 7 through November 7. A revival of O’Neill’s doomed romance (with interludes of two-ton comedy) that stars Ramona Lisa Alexander, Will McGarrahan, and Billy Meleady.
Antony & Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Directed by Tina Landau. At the Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT, October 7 through November 6. A determined auteur, Landau can be seriously uneven, but the leads for this version of the Bard’s sex-in-the-sand romp are impressive: Kate Mulgrew and John Douglas Thompson. The website contains a video trailer for the production that was “too hot for TV!”
Almost an Evening by Ethan Coen. Directed by Darren Evans. Presented by Theater on Fire at the Charlestown Working Theater, Charlestown, MA, October 8–23. Three “light plays on weighty topics” by filmmaker Coen, who, along with his brother Joel, has created some compelling films—No Country for Old Men my favorite. The emphasis appears to be on cool deadpan. “In Waiting, a dead man waits, waits, waits . . . then waits some more to grab the shuttle to Heaven; in Four Benches, a British secret agent visits steam baths and park benches on a less-than-successful journey to reinvent himself; and in Debate, cosmic and not-so-cosmic questions are raised. Little is learned.”
The Method Gun. Compiled and performed by Rude Mechanicals. Presented by ArtsEmerson at the Paramount Black Box, Boston, MA, October 13–17. The evening “uses found text from actual journals and performance reports from the final months of rehearsals for Ms. Burden’s nine-years-in-the-making production of A Streetcar Named Desire. A play about the ecstasy and excesses of performing, the dangers of public intimacy, and the incompatibility of truth on stage and sanity in real life.” Sounds intriguing . . .
Four Places by Joel Drake Johnson. Directed by Charles Towers. Presented by the Merrimack Repertory Theatre at 50 East Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA, October 14 through November 7. The East Coast premiere of Joel Drake Johnson’s play about a family outing that veers way out of hand: “Two middle-aged siblings take their mother out to lunch where the conversation turns from routine banter to life-changing revelation.” Warning: “Contains Adult Language and Suggestive Dialogue.” In front of mother?
Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker. Directed by Melia Bensussen. Staged by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA, October 15 through November 14. Baker’s off-Broadway success is making the rounds of the major regional theaters around the country. The premise is “When the four students in Marty’s creative drama class experiment with harmless theatre games, hearts are quietly torn apart and tiny wars of epic proportions are waged and won.” The play, set in a Shirley, Vermont community center, was a winner for critic Peter Marks of the Washington Post, who opines that it is “a comically insightful merging of brittle epiphanies and adult education.”
This month Company One and SpeakEasy Stage Company are collaborating to present two other plays by Baker, also set in Shirley, VT.
SpeakEasy Stage Company will mount a production of Body Awareness at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA (Roberts Studio Theatre) from October 22 through November 20.
Company One will stage The Aliens at the Boston Center for the Arts (Plaza Theatre), from October 29 through November 20.
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Parts I & II in Rotating Repertory. Adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel for the stage by David Edgar. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston at the YWCA building, Clarendon Street, Boston, MA, October 21 through December 19. Dueling epics this month, what with the ASP’s Shakespeare histories and David Edgar’s acclaimed, many-award-winning adaptation of the great Charles Dickens novel. As with the other grand production, an army of local actors will be gainfully employed, from Leigh Barrett to Larry Coen and Will Lyman. According to Veloudos, “this new, shorter adaptation streamlines the narrative and captures Dickens’s genius for combining exuberant characters, theatrical spectacle, and genuine emotion.”
Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Rachel Walshe. Presented by the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre at the Pawtucket Armory, Pawtucket, RI, October 21 through November 21. Rhode Island premiere of Rebeck’s play about half-sisters tussling over a rare stamp collection.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Adaptation for the stage by Robert Hatcher. Directed by Caitlin Lowans. At the Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA, October 21 through November 7. Ryan Landry and Molly Schreiber star in Hatcher’s surprisingly delicate version of the James ghost tale, which eschews special effects and grand sets. A subtle way to get into the Halloween spirit.
The Alchemist by Ben Jonson. Adapted by Barry Edelstein. Directed by Laurence Senelick. Staged by Tufts School of Arts and Sciences at the Aldekman Arts Center, Tufts University, Medford, MA, October 28 through November 6. This is a student production, but not enough Jonson is produced, so any opportunity must be seized. After all, this is one of the greatest comedies in the English language. Senelick is a talented director and theater scholar—I interviewed him about his recent Library of America anthology of American writing on the stage.
Here’s a bit about the ferocious word music in the play from an irreplaceable volume, Ben Jonson and the Language of Prose Comedy, by one of my favorite Jonsonians, Jonas A. Barish: “With The Alchemist, the fantasies are again screwed up to an unnatural pitch, and this time they vibrate with all the strange resonances of an occult jargon. For the first time, in this play, verse becomes the basis for a full-scale linguistic anatomy.”