The new year kicks off with some welcome signs of frisky energy, though it would be nice to see more new plays. Respectability is provided by a homage to Rose Kennedy as well as productions of Pulitzer and Tony award-winning scripts. Marionettes and politics arrive via Bread and Puppet and An Exciting Event. As for the state of our souls, there’s a play that gives us a chance to see where we might end up in the afterlife, and even the promise, via a one-man show about R. Buckminster Fuller, that we will encounter “ideas.”
By Bill Marx.
The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Larry Coen. Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston at 140 Clarendon Street (2nd floor), in Copley Square, Boston, MA., January 1–29. I am a sucker for backstage comedies, so Rebeck’s script sounds promising: “a Hollywood action star tries to prove himself in a serious Broadway play—by, of all people, Kafka? He comes up against a new understudy with a chip on his shoulder and a tangled romantic past.” Talented comic performer Coen makes his Lyric Stage directorial debut. The Boston Globe unimaginatively puffs “Funny, Funny, Funny.”
The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? by Edward Albee. Directed by Melissa Cogswell. Staged by the Flat Earth Theater Company at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown, MA, January 7–15. Albee’s romantic shock-a-rama won a Tony Award, which suggests it isn’t all that mind-bending. Still, with the right performers it packs some wallop.
Ruined by Lynn Nottage. Directed by Liesl Tommy. Staged by the Huntington Theatre Company, a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, at the Boston University Theatre, Boston, MA, January 7 through February 6. This Pulitzer-Prize-winning script focuses on “savvy business woman Mama Nadi, who knows how to survive in the midst of the Congo civil war: don’t take sides.” That fence-sitting approach will be sorely tested. The ensemble cast features Tonye Patano (Showtime’s Weeds) as Mama Nadi.
The Moondog Madrigal Puppet Show. Created and performed by An Exciting Event at The Charlestown Working Theater, Charlestown, Ma, January 13–16. “Back by popular demand,” this show interweaves the late Louis “Moondog” Hardin’s catchy and complex madrigal rounds with the group’s own dazzling menagerie of musical instruments, rhyming couplets, projections, and rowdy crew of recycled-garbage puppets to tell a story of love, education, and a Giant Earthworm.”
What is An Exciting Event? It is “a band of composer-performers who come together from Boston, MA; New York, NY; St. Paul, MN; Urbana, IL; Mt. Shasta, CA; and Seattle, WA to create, explore and celebrate music and puppetry, employing overlooked materials such as glass bottles, plastic milk jugs, and yard waste; vintage forms such as rounds, iambic couplets, cumulative sentences, and themes and variations; and unconventional systems of tuning, rhythm and communication.”
R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and Mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE, written and directed by D. W. Jacobs, based on the life, work, and writings of R. Buckminster Fuller. Presented by the American Repertory Theater at the Loeb Drama Center, Cambridge, MA, January 14 through February 5. Thomas Derrah stars as Fuller in this multimedia look into the geometrical mind of an American visionary. Those embracing the current rage for escapism, style, and music in all things theatrical beware: The San Diego Reader warns that “this play contains . . . ideas.”
Neighbors by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Directed by Summer L. Williams. Staged by Company One at the Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA, January 14 through February 5. An intriguingly politically incorrect premise drives the plot of this script by a member of NYC’s Public Theatre’s Emerging Writers Group: a “rowdy, tacky, shameless, and uncouth” family has moved next door to Richard Patterson, who prizes his “entirely post-racial lifestyle. ” The cast features much admired actor John Lee Davenport. Sounds to me like an Americanized update of John Arden’s play Live Like Pigs.
afterlife: a ghost story by Steve Yockey. Directed by Kate Warner. Presented by the New Repertory Theatre as part of the National New Play Network’s (NNPN) Continued Life Project, produced in conjunction with productions at Southern Repertory Theatre (New Orleans, LA) and Edgemar Theatre Group (Santa Monica, CA) at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, January 16 through February 6. I don’t like plays with ghosts (yes, that includes the overrated Doubt), but this is a premiere of a new script, so may it have a theatrical afterlife. The cast includes the vets Adrianne Krstansky and Dale Place. This “poetic play follows a young couple in the process of grieving, who tumble into an alternate reality, are forced to confront the ghosts that haunt them, and ultimately must decide what their afterlife will be.” Given our interactive age, couldn’t the audience have a say in where the characters end up?
In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yard, created and performed by The Civilians. Presented by ArtsEmerson, Paramount Black Box, Boston, MA, January 19–23. The Boston premiere of this unconventional doc-u-drama, a “lively presentation of theatre, dance and music that draws inspiration from interviews with the real life players in the story of a divided borough: residents both old and new, community activists, developers and politicos.”
The Color of Rose by Kathrine Bates. Based on a concept by Chuck Fries. Directed by Melia Bensussen. Presented by ArtsEmerson produced in collaboration with the Performing Arts Department at Emerson College at the Paramount Center Black Box, Boston, MA, January 27 through February 13. The world premiere of a dramatic bio: “as the aged Rose Kennedy prepares herself for a pressing interview, she revisits her past through the eyes of her youth and middle-age. Young Rose Fitzgerald dreamed big, but she couldn’t have imagined that she would become one of the most venerated icons of the 20th century.” The play features three Roses. Young Rose is portrayed by Emerson College student Theresa Masse. Karen MacDonald tackles the middle-aged Rose, while Rose senior is played by Judith Roberts.
The Return of Ulysses and Decapitalization Circus, created and performed by Bread and Puppet Theater (B & P), presented by B & P in partnership with the Boston Center for the Arts as part of the Cyclorama Residency Series at the Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA. The Return of Ulysses runs from January 27–30; Decapitalization Circus runs from January 29–30 (via family friendly matinees). B & P’s Artistic Director Peter Schumann and his troupe of Vermont puppeteers return for a fifth year to the BCA’s Cyclorama “bringing their signature powerful imagery, masked characters, and giant papier-mâché puppets.”
This year the troupe presents two different puppet performances, The Return of Ulysses is for adults, a “respectfully truncated, rough-hewn, and bold DIY adaptation of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera first developed this past June in collaboration with the Theatre Department of Concordia University in Montreal and the Montreal Baroque Festival. Schumann plays Penelope” (in drag?). Decapitalization Circus is a family-oriented primer on economics, demonstrating “in numerous death-defying stunts the fantastic effects of the capitalization of life in the U.S. and citizens’ courageous efforts of decapitalization.” Along with all this political commotion there’s NOLANGUAGE, a week-long B & P political art installation (running January 24–30, with an art opening on January 24).