Coming Attractions in Theater: April 2011

April promises some provocative theater, from new plays at the Huntington Theatre Company and the Charlestown Working Theater to opportunities to hear a steamy script by Shakespeare contemporary Thomas Middleton and to take in the Elizabethan antics of BBC TV’s Blackadder on stage.

By Bill Marx.

Mark Linehan in THE LAST FIVE YEARS. Photo: Christopher McKenzie.

The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown. Directed by Jim Petosa. Musical direction by Todd C. Gordon. Staged by New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Black Box Theater, Watertown, MA, through April 17. In this dramedy of a musical, “audiences are taken on an intimate journey, witnessing both the birth and the unraveling of a young couple’s five year relationship. Brown’s alluring music interweaves the past and the present of a romantic and tumultuous love affair.” The cast includes Aimee Doherty and Mark Linehan.

The Underpants by Steve Martin. Directed by Sarah Kimball. Staged by Flat Earth Theatre at the Arlington Center for the Arts, Arlington, MA, March 31 through April 9. Based on the 1910 German farce Die Hose by playwright Carl Sternheim, this popular adaptation by novelist, dramatist, and comedian Martin “explores propriety, notoriety, and fifteen minutes of fame, as Louise Maske’s ordinary life takes an unexpected turn on the day her underpants fall off at the royal parade.” Director Kimball “transposes the story to a classic 1950s sitcom style.”

Chautauqua!. Created and performed by The National Theater of the United States (NTUSA). Presented by the ICA at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater at the ICA, Boston, MA., April 1–3. H. L. Mencken loved to lambaste the Chautauqua speaking circuit, a collection of wholesome “thinkers” and entertainers who toured the country from the turn-of-the-century through the 1930s trying to raise the American I. Q., especially in rural areas. It was speechifying for the sake of national mental improvement.

Normandy Raven Sherwood, Ilan Bachrach, Ean Sheehe, and Matt Kalman horse around in CHAUTAUQUA! Photo: PS122

Winners of the 2007 Spalding Gray Award honoring innovative theatrical vision, the NTUSA uses the Chautauqua as a way to explore the relationship between high art and low escapism. On paper, the amalgamation sounds like a send up of a vaudeville show: “The program is revamped for each new venue, with lectures that draw on the history of that place, so Boston will be a special guest star in this show. Guest speakers and performers, including local artists and lecturers will join the company each night at the ICA for an unforgettable experience of information, entertainment, and spectacle. The Second Line Social Aid Pleasure Society Brass Band, a New Orleans-style street band based in Boston plays at each performance, and the evening finale, created by Axe To Ice Productions, will feature members of award-winning, all female, character-based performance troupe All the Kings Men, who create wholly electrifying cabaret-style and modern vaudevillian productions as well as members of Babes in Boinkland, a comic zeitgeist of a rhinestone-bedazzled spectacle with brains and some serious sex appeal.”

Sons of the Prophet by Stephen Karam. Directed by Peter DuBois. Staged by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Boston University Theater, Boston, MA, April 1 through May 1. This world premiere production — scheduled to play Off Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company next fall — revolves around embattled Lebanese-American brothers Joseph and Charles Douaihy. They are “young, gay, and having a hell of a year: A prank-gone-wrong in their small town of Nazareth, PA leads to the death of their father. Their uncle is losing it. Joseph is battling a mysterious ailment … etc.” Karam, the author of Speech & Debate, has been generating some buzz, and the cast includes Kelsey Kurz and Tony Award winner Joanna Gleason.

Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitmore. Directed by Presented by Catalyst Collaborative@MIT at the Central Square Theatre, Cambridge, MA, April 7 through May 8. The savvy Adam Zahler directs Debra Wise and and Allyn Burrows in a drama about the trials, tribulations, and contradictions (“gay man and war hero, marathon runner and Disney fan”) of the WW II codebreaker Alan Turing. The production is presented as part of FAST (Festival of Arts, Science, and Technology), a prominent feature of MIT’s 150 Anniversary Celebration, and is part of the Cambridge Science Festival. There are a number of Pre and Post performance events throughout the run of the show.

Rowan Atkinson (Lord Blackadder) tries to win the affection of Miranda Richardson (Queen Elizabeth).

Blackadder II: Live by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton. Originally Produced by the BBC. Directed by Darren Evans. A staging of Theatre on Fire and the Charlestown Working Theater at the Charlestown Working Theater, Charlestown, MA, April 8–23. An adaptation for the stage in honor of one of the BCC TV’s most successful comedies, a historical romp that starred Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder, an opportunistic but gloriously inept Elizabethan scamp. The series also featured Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Miranda Richardson. (As the series continued, it moved forward in history; my favorite episode has Blackadder losing the only manuscript copy of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary). The cast and director have their work cut out for them, given the farcical genius displayed in the original. The writers of the series do not take royalties for the staging of this work, but rather have the royalties paid to Comic Relief, a charity organization founded in 1985 to help support some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the UK and Africa.

 Women by
 Middleton. Directed
. Presented by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) at the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University, Boston, MA, April 9. I don’t usually list staged readings, but I have ulterior motives. First, there has been an effort, led by British scholar Gary Taylor, to see Middleton as one of Shakespeare’s leading competitors, a brilliant dramatist who deserves to be staged today. This dark script is one of his best. Second, I want the ASP to stage scripts by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, not just Middleton, but Ben Jonson, John Webster, etc. The Royal Shakespeare Company has done that on and off for decades, and it offers a fascinating chance to see the Bard in the context of his very talented rivals. So let’s have a big turnout.

Walking the Volcano by Jon Lipsky. Directed by Elaine Vaan Hogue. A Boston Center for American Performance presentation at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, April 14 through May 1. This recent script by the late playwright (Living in Exile) deals with characters who are “in search of the truth, from a meeting in an airplane bathroom over the Pacific to a tryst in a seedy room in Saigon during the Tet Offensive.” The cast includes Gabriel Kuttner and Paula Langton.

A Picasso by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Charles Towers. At the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell, MA, April 21 through May 15. “This cat-and-mouse game is full of sly humor, sexual tension and suspense. In an underground vault in war-torn Paris, a more singular conflict takes place between an enigmatic female officer from the Ministry of Culture and the world famous painter, Pablo Picasso. ” Picasso as action hero?

Adam Lauver (Nasty Interesting Man) and Annie Winneg (Eurydice) in EURYDICE. Photo: Rob Lorino.

EURYDICE by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Lindsay Eagle. Staged by The Independent Drama Society at The Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA, April 22–30. “Lose yourself to the depths of the underworld” in this “tale of memory, loss, and love by Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-nominated author Sarah Ruhl.”

Sense and Sensibility, The Musical. Book and lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow. Music by Neal Hampton. Based on the novel by Jane Austen. Directed by Nora Hussey, with musical direction by Jenny Tang. Presented by Wellesley College at Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall, Wellesley, MA, April 26 through May 1. You knew it had to happen—if they can make a hit out of a book by Victor Hugo, why not Jane Austen? It’s a student production, but, given that the Spider Man musical has pretty well put the kibosh on singing and dancing Incredible Hulks in the future, this adaptation of a beloved, English classic might be the start of a trend that takes off.

Antony & Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Directed by Adrianne Krystansky. Staged by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project at the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University, Boston, MA, April 27 through May 21. The Bard’s gloriously challenging romance. The cast includes Paula Plum, Richard Snee, Mara Sidmore, and Jim Andreassi.

Seventh Sense. Created and performed by National Center for Aesthetics SMALL THEATER. Staged at the Charlestown Working Theater, Charlestown, MA, April 27 through May 1. “One of the most important emerging companies in Armenia today” brings a world premiere to our shores. The “dance-theater” performance piece is “inspired by The Book of Lamentations by the 10th-century Armenian poet, musician, and philosopher G. Nareghatsi.

The Monster Tales by Mary Jett Parsley. Directed by Barlow Adamson & John Edward O’Brien. Staged by Mill 6 Collaborative at the Factory Theatre, Boston, MA, April 30 through May 20. The New England premiere of “a lovely and fantastical fable” in which “a young woman discovers her singular humanity when a monster appears from under her bed one night. The woman and the monster tell each other a series of original tales where children grow in gardens, maestros can make music with only their hands and grief and love are the two most powerful emotions.”

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