BEST OF THE BARD: Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Huntington
Huntington Theatre Company artistic director Nicholas Martin recently announced that he would leave his post in 2008. Certainly he will leave the Huntington a livelier place than when he took over, with the addition of two new theaters in the Calderwood Pavilion, the establishment of the annual Breaking Ground festival of new-play readings, and the commissioning this year of a second set of Huntington Playwriting Fellows. The American Repertory Theatre, too, under the leadership of Robert Woodruff, continues to develop new work, including the recent Wings of Desire with Toneelgroep Amsterdam and The Onion Cellar with the Dresden Dolls. Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Boston Theatre Works, and Company One, to name a few, are also committed to new-play development. All of which may explain why a look back at the past year reveals not only some things old, with the dust blown off, but also some things homegrown and spanking new.
1. BEST OF THE BARD
The past season saw a charming Edwardian staging by the Huntington Theatre Company of Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Nicholas Martin, that caught both the play’s verbal sparkle and its autumnal twist. Brian McEleney helmed a sociologically unlikely but eye-opening Hamlet for Trinity Repertory Company with an Upstairs Downstairs theme; Polonius and family were retainers in the 1930s manor house that was Denmark, and Stephen Thorne brought a rampaging energy to the Dane. On a smaller scale, Boston Theatre Works, fielding fiery Shakespeare & Company vets Jonathan Epstein and Tony Molina, presented a stripped-down Othello, simple yet brutal, that brought me to tears.
2. PERFECT TENN
SpeakEasy Stage Company constructed in Five by Tenn, which was made up of recently unearthed short plays by Tennessee Williams that were connected by director Scott Edmiston, an exquisite evening that traced the arc of Williams’s development as both artist and sexual being. And Hartford Stage demonstrated, in Michael Wilson’s subdued yet sensual staging of Summer and Smoke with Amanda Plummer, that the Williams plays you’ve heard of aren’t half bad either.
SARTRE ON A SEESAW: No Exit at ART
3. SARTRE ON A SEESAW
The characters of Jean-Paul Sartre’s iconic 1944 one-act No Exit are in Hell, but at American Repertory Theatre they appeared to be still negotiating the River Styx on a raft. In Jerry Mouawad’s ingenious staging, the tight piece of Hades real estate occupied by the play’s three newcomers was a 17-foot square raised three feet off the ground that tipped and tilted in relation to the actors’ movements. Will LeBow, Paula Plum, and Karen MacDonald negotiated both text and platform in a production that was both an apt visual metaphor and a hell of a stunt.
4. SONG MEETS SUBSTANCE
Rick Lombardo’s production of Ragtime, the Tony-winning musical based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel, was a triumph for New Repertory Theatre, which finally took command of its new digs at Arsenal Center for the Arts and deployed a stirring contingent of voices. SpeakEasy Stage Company unveiled another Broadway musical with sociological sweep, Tony Kushner & Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, or Change. Set in Louisiana in the 1960s, the show fields in the fiercely disappointed domestic of the title a character as volcanic as August Wilson’s Troy Maxon, and Jacqui Parker filled her shoes.
5. FRESH FRUIT
New Trinity Repertory Company artistic director Curt Columbus introduced himself with a fleet staging of his own sharp, very American translation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard that brought out the play’s farce as well as its pathos. It featured the splendid African-American actor Joe Wilson Jr. as Lopakin, a child of slaves who when he can’t bring the dying gentry to its senses turns their swan song into his gain.
6. INTO IRAQ
It’s a more relevant theater that offers insight into current events, as Zeitgeist Stage Company did with David Hare’s bristling account — part documentary, part conjecture — of the run-up to the Iraq war, Stuff Happens. Like the play, David J. Miller’s spare, intelligent production gained momentum as it went along. Looking at Iraq from the inside out, Lyric Stage Company of Boston offered 9 Parts of Desire, Heather Raffo’s collective portrait of nine Iraqi women played by one actor. Carmel O’Reilly’s fluid production brought out the ancient spirit embedded in the work, and Lanna Joffrey caught its lyrical rhythms.
7. MUSIC MEN
ART artistic director Robert Woodruff teamed with poet, composer, and performer Rinde Eckert to create in Orpheus X a flowing, affecting riff on the Orpheus myth in which Eurydice was more than just romantic chattel to be carried off to Hell and not brought back again. And long-time local jazz man Stan Strickland teamed with writer/director Jon Lipsky on Coming Up for Air — An Autojazzography, an 80-minute rhythmic odyssey that displayed Strickland not just as a player of instruments but as an instrument in his own right.