By Bill Marx
The month contains plenty of summerish entertainment, from a new baseball musical to a campy Alfred Hitchcock parody and a jazzy update of The Mikado. For me, the standouts are the more demanding fare, such as a festival of new American theater pieces and an exciting opportunity see Shakespeare’s rarely staged Timon of Athens, a savage study of conspicuous consumption gone mad.
1: Farragut North by Beau Willimon. Directed by David J. Miller. Staged by Zeitgeist Stage Company at the Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA, April 30 through May 22. The New England premiere of a play whose jaundiced, if predictable, vision of politics includes “dirty campaign tricks, questionable journalistic practices, and sex with interns.” The Variety critic opines that “not since The Best Man has the theater enjoyed such a heady thriller on presidential politicking.”
2: Hot Mikado. Book and lyrics by David H. Bell. Musical concepts and arrangements by Rob Bowman, based on The Mikado by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Directed by Kate Warner. Presented by the New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown, MA, May 2–22. This “snappy” adaptation of the satiric musical by Gilbert and Sullivan is set in Japan during the 1940s and proffers “tunes and styles ranging from jazz and swing to gospel and blues. In this zany world full of colorful characters, flash, and fun, there is no telling what a wink will get you and who will ultimately steal your heart.”
3: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Presented by Broadway Across America at the Colonial Theatre, Boston, MA, May 4–9. The national touring production of Letts’s fiercely comic vision of a dysfunctional American family stars Estelle Parsons as the drug-addicted but insightful matriarch. In 2008 the script won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play.
4: Bach at Leipzig by Itamar Moses. Staged by the Portland Stage Company, Portland, ME, May 4–23. For those desiring more classical music theatrics after last month’s Opus, Moses’s drama revolves around “the greatest musicians of 18th century Germany” lining up to audition “for the coveted position of organ master at Leipzig Cathedral.” According to a Washington Post stage critic, the play is “a poignant mediation on the artistic temperament and the transporting power of music.”
5: Poste Restante. Presented by They Gotta Be Secret Agents at the Charlestown Working Theater, Boston, MA, May 6–8. An exercise in Dadesque physical comedy: “instead of performing at their audience,” explain performers Bonnie Duncan and Tim Gallagher, they “bring an audience along with them into daring and surreal realms. The Agents are courageous yet calm on stage and truly enjoy performing in a way that is palpable and inviting to the audience.'”
6: The Gulls. Presented by Ryan Landry and The Gold Dust Orphans at Machine, Boston, MA, May 7–30. Landry brings back one of his biggest hits, a campy send-up of the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film about killer birds on the rampage. The cast includes Penny Champayne as Melanie Daniels, Chris Loftus as Mitch, Olive Another as Lydia, P.J. McWhiskers as Kathy, and Landry as Annie Heywood. Be ready to duck—the gulls are flying overhead!
7: Johnny Baseball by Robert Reale, Willie Reale, and Richard Dresser. Directed by Diane Paulus. Staged by the American Repertory Theatre at the Loeb Drama Center, Cambridge, MA, May 14 through June 27. The world premiere of a musical that, through a blend of fact and fiction, celebrates the Boston Red Sox. The story “traces the origin of the Curse to a collision of three orphaned souls: Johnny O’Brien, a hard-luck right-hander on the 1919 Sox; his idol, Babe Ruth; and Daisy Wyatt, a dazzling African American blues singer and the love of Johnny’s life.”
8: Emerging America. Presented by the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.), Huntington Theatre Company, and the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) at the A.R.T. @ OBERON, at 2 Arrow St., Cambridge, MA, at the Huntington’s Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA, and at the ICA at 100 Northern Avenue, Boston, MA, May 14–16. (Check the online schedule for times and venues for specific shows). The American Repertory Theater, Huntington Theatre Company, and the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston marshal their considerate power and expertise to coordinate an annual festival “devoted to supporting and launching new voices in American theatre.”
The lineup includes some intriguing sounding productions, including Disfarmer, a work of “tabletop” puppet theater from the talented Dan Hurlin and Seven Minutes in Heaven, “a manic, hyper-charged, genre-blurring comedy” that explores the crazed world of party games in middle school.
9: Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas. Directed by Peter DuBois. Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company(HTC) at the Boston University Theatre, Boston, MA, May 14 through June 13. HTC Artistic Director DuBois is at the helm of Lucas’s fractured fairy tale, a work of edgy whimsy that “explores the enduring power of love and the nature of commitment.”
10: Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare. Directed by Bill Barclay. Staged by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project(ASP) at Midway Studios, Fort Point Channel, Boston, MA, May 19 through June 13. I have only seen one other production of this rarely staged Shakespeare play, a terrific version in 1991 at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival starring Brian Bedford as the title misanthrope, an unnaturally generous man who loathes mankind once those he has benefited leave him in the lurch. As the late British critic Tony Tanner writes in his superb “Prefaces to Shakespeare”—once Timon “stops giving he starts cursing. Having postured and dispensed like a god, he turns to crawling and snarling like a beast.”
Shakespeare’s scathing incitement of a money-obsessed society is one of his least popular. I have always thought of it as one of his most Jonsonian plays—a bitter vision of a world beset by pitiless economics. Some critics see the script as unfinished, a fascinating botch job that Shakespeare abandoned, perhaps because the dramatist couldn’t find a way to bring his nihilistic character out of his longing for death:
My long sickness/ Of health and living now begins to mend,/ And nothing brings me all things.
The ASP cast includes Steven Barkhimer, Bobbie Steinbach, John Kuntz, and Will Lyman.