(Note: A hilarious take-off on the conventional mystery play, The Mystery of Irma Vep is full of jokes and double-entendres but contains a deep satirical thrust at its seemingly harmless core. At the American Repertory Theatre a revival of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer night’s Dream that seems to have strayed onto the set for Waiting for Godot, it is so resolutely drab; costumed in Victorian, down-and-out cast-offs, it is one of those plays that tell us more about the cultural moment of its production than about the play itself. The Saltzburg Marionnette Theatre brings unrivalled delight to audiences of children and adults alike, capturing the full range of operatic excellence in this production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. An undergraduate thesis production of Ibsen‘s Hedda Gabler at Amherst College seems to have been abandoned or at least neglected by any faculty supervision sufficient to bring it to even a modest level of competence. Mary Zimmerman brings her innovative talents at playwriting and production and her deep sense of playfulness to this swimming-pool production of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, framing the story of King Midas whose wish for the golden touch gets him into great difficulty. Joanne Akalaitis brings a certain directorial mystique to this A.R.T. production of Harold Pinter’s early play The Birthday Party, seeking a style that captures a visual and behavioral analogy to the ambiguity inherent in the play itself.
The Guthrie Theatre of Minneapolis brings a touring production of Shakespeare’s Othello to the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center, with unfortunate effects on pace and timing produced by the company’s unaccustomed need to be declamatory in that cavernous space. A brilliant characterization by the playwright Joe Orton of a government inspector highlights this Huntington Theatre Company production of What the Butler Saw, which by closing night had overcome earlier difficulties and was playing to an audience that was laughing hard and enjoying itself greatly. The fearless Susan-Lori Parks requires great energies from her two actors in Top Dog / Under Dog, a Hartford Stage production of a play that recasts Booth’s assassination of Lincoln as an anti-historical, anti-idealistic reenactment. In one of his less mordaunt treatments of a familiar theme, Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo retains some of the dramatist’s pensive qualities but, here, in the unaccustomed service of constructing a crisp, fast-paced comedy about an unconventional knight in shining armor, presents an unidealized, almost farcical character who gives tone and moment to a heart-warming production. In a brave, second-time-around effort at extending a short but masterful one-act play, The Zoo Story, to the length of an evening’s entertainment entitled Homelife, Edward Albee attempts to expand and deepen the earlier story about what happens when you cage animals, but despite the introduction of a new character, Peter’s wife Ann, the results hardly stand up as an independent piece.
Incongruous body miking proves distracting in this otherwise powerful production by the American Repertory Theatre of Sophocles’ seminal tragedy Oedipus, featuring a remarkable Stephanie Roth-Haberle as Jocasta, who manages both to hide and give away her surmise of the real identity of her young husband. A teenage black girl moves from the deep south to Brooklyn in 1950 and encounters big-city problems in Crumbs from the Table of Joy, by Lynn Nottage, a play that invites comparison with Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun. Wendy Wasserstein’s picture of the 1960s, The Heidi Chronicles, still speaks to audiences at a later time, thanks partly to a winning performance of the title character by Cate Damon. Famous for its aggressively physical approach to “timeless” classics, the Theatre de la Jeune Lune brings a fiercely independent production of Molière’s The Miser to the American Repertory Theatre. A narrative about police malfeasance combines with two other analogous actions in this crystal-clear production of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero, directed by a master of the form, Ed Golden.
Kaufman and Hart in their heyday were unequaled practitioners of the stage equivalent of the screwball comedy film, and their skills show to wonderful advantage in this very funny play, The Man Who Came to Dinner, about a larger-than-life personality who overstays his welcome. August Wilson’s grand scheme to create a ten-play cycle whose settings and characters span the twentieth century results in this instance in Gem of the Ocean, a late addition but falling chronologically first in the series, in 1904, set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. Calling itself a “chamber play,” perhaps reminiscent of Strindberg’s intense dramas that thrive on limited resources, this four-character play by David Hare explores a small-scale idea whose topic is a painting, The Bay of Nice, that proves to have wider and deeper implications. A centenary tour by the Abbey Theatre of Dublin brings this famous classic, The Playboy of the Western World, to American audiences, but it is a production in which extraneous post-modern scenic ideas invented by an auteur-like director are superimposed on the biting realism of John Synge’s caustic original, with disappointing results. Lanford Wilson’s optimism shines at last in Burn This, a brutally honest attempt to explore unmanageable grief after loss. Concerted efforts to achieve originality unfortunately fail to succeed in this scenically ambitious revival at the American Repertory Theatre of John Vanbrugh’s spirited Restoration comedy The Provok’d Wife, oddly costumed in 1970s British punk fashion and distorted by historically correct but dramatically inappropriate southern Virginia accents.)