(Note: It is always a challenge to revive ancient Greek tragedy, but Jonathan Wilson’s production of the Kitto translation of Sophocles’ Electra for Hartford Stage proves to be fluid and eminently playable. Anne Bogart devotes her talents as an auteur to the direction of this American Repertory Theatre production of Marivaux’s La Dispute, revealing the self-love and self-regard that, in the dramatist’s view, lie at the heart of human connection. A shoe-string production of Strindberg’s Dance of Death, produced upstairs in a downtown Northampton marketplace, features the dramatist’s perennial skepticism and captures as well the required intensity of dramatic action. Horton Foote, one of the most thoughtful of American regional dramatists, constructs a comedy in a wistful Chekhovian vein, Trip to Bountiful, about characters with limited resources but oversize longings for dignity and love. Maladjustment is Tennessee Williams’s strong suit, and the eccentric characters of this perfectly well realized Hartford Stage production of Night of the Iguana display their genius for inviting trouble in a telling series of fateful collisions with one another. Partial nudity, surprising costumes, and even video projections combine to make this spectacular production of Pericles, adapted from Shakespeare’s play by the enterprising Andrei Serban, at the A.R.T. in Cambridge, an attempt at therapy for an audience beset by troubled times.
A review written well after the fact of two quite different works — The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, produced by New Century Theatre in Northampton, and an opera, The Sound of a Voice by Philip Glass — forsakes the play by Charles Busch for lack of time, in favor of a summary of this minimalist and conversational opera performed at the American Repertory Theatre, in a production so clear that supertitles were almost unnecessary. The classic pairing of Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence as the central characters in Coward’s sparkling comedy Private Lives sets a challenging standard for less accomplished companies, but this fast-paced mounting by the local Pioneer Valley Summer Theatre does much justice to a demanding script. Michael Frayne’s Copenhagen deftly translates twin theories of complementarity and uncertainty to the world of common life, captured in a crystal clear yet wonderfully deep and troubling production by the director Ed Golden, in this New Century Theatre summer offering. Occasionally Alan Ayckbourne’s comedies achieve a sort of Rube Goldberg virtuosity, arcing towards the serious and transcending an otherwise tiresome predictability that regrettably seems to be illustrated in this New Century Theatre production of How the Other Half Loves. A noticeable lack of confidence about the farcical genre of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest makes this offering by Old Deerfield Productions stylistically somewhat tentative, and the cross-dressing of the role of the grande dame, Lady Bracknell, only partially succeeds; but the Gwendolen nicely captures the erotic inner life within the correct exterior imposed on young women by doting mothers, all of this overseen by Linda McInerney, the seasoned director of this pleasant summertime series.
Not an easy play to get right, Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost repays directorial efforts at clarity and vigor in this Hampshire Shakespeare Company production on an outdoor stage, where an amateur cast undaunted by the dramatist’s bold essay into sophisticated poetic language realizes an uncommon quantum of joy. A kind of parallel effort along with Copenhagen to bridge the gap between abstruse knowledge and the needs of a popular audience, David Auburn’s Proof is nonetheless very much its own play, exploring the human qualities of faith and trust that emerge from the doubtful reflections of an insane mathematician and a daughter who strives to make sense of a worrisome conundrum. Despite the premium price of a ticket to a Broadway theatre, Robert Falls’s brilliant production of O’Neill’s quintessential family drama, Long Day’s Journey into Night, rewards the New York playgoer with this director’s salutary avoidance of tame veneration of classic drama in favor of a well sustained vigorous physical quality and an unabashed eroticism on the part of Vanessa Redgrave’s portrait of the mother, Mary.
Modeled partly on The Importance of Being Earnest, Tom Stoppard’s Travesties makes for great delight in its audience through its farcical running off track, generically and otherwise, capturing the central idea of entropy embodied in Bennett’s tongue-twister “fissiparous disequilibrium.” Pioneer Valley Summer Theatre closes its series with a comedy about a developing conflict over attempts to embrace a more diverse society and an instinct for sending away any “foreigner.” Gloucester Stage mounts a two-person play, Collected Stories, about a friendship between a mentor and her pupil that goes irretrievably awry, with sad, catastrophic results. Only the exceptional American treatment of British farce is likely to succeed — one actor observes that it is harder than Shakespeare to get right — but this community theatre production of Cooney and Chapman’s Not Now, Darling has much to recommend it and ends up causing some night thoughts about the surprising similarity of this genre to tragedy.)