(Note: The title of Pamela Gien’s The Syringa Tree refers to a childhood place of innocence and peace, where a simple swing attached to the tree localizes the confluence of a repertory of characters, all played expertly and with great variety by Gien herself. Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates creates a chameleon-like bravura role for the multitalented Annalee Jefferies, but provokes some night thoughts about the perilous state of regional theatre. An expert presentation at the Huntington Theatre of Boston University mounts a classic eighteenth-century comedy, The Rivals, a brilliant tour-de-force by Sheridan set in the Crescent at Bath and peopled by a vibrant comic community. A stunning adaptation of aerospace technology appears in this theatrical presentation by Robert Lepage, who in The Far Side of the Moon tells the story of America’s first attempts to put a man on the moon. A dramatization of a series of letters written by Dalton Trumbo, unfairly condemned by the Hollywood community for not betraying his colleagues in House Unamerican Activities committee hearings, pays tribute to him by his son Christopher in Trumbo: Red, White, and Blacklisted, the title character memorably portrayed by Brian Dennehy.
Eduardo Machado writes about Cuba and Castro’s revolution in The Cook, a play whose interest derives in part from the constant on-stage preparation of food in an upper middle-class Cuban household by Gladys, the resourceful chef of the title, whose embodiment by Zabryna Guevara drew an ovation from the Hartford Stage audience but was unable to rescue Machado’s play from mediocrity. Post-modern sensibility infiltrates this seldom-performed play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, by the precocious Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe, in a magnificently well-costumed production by Neil Bartlett at the American Repertory Theatre. Tony Kushner’s brilliant, deliberately perverse, anti-idealistic Angels in America, Part 1, receives a superb production by the University of Massachusetts Theater Department — the sort of clear, effective, and very teachable mounting that a university professor would delight in sending his students to see. The real and the fake, and the sometimes fraught difference between the two, orients Naomi Jizuka’s play 36 Views toward its puzzling ending, perhaps intentionally so. A dreadfully miscast production of Shakespeare’s Othello at the Hartford Stage, incompetently directed by someone who is, unaccountably, a lecturer in directing at the Yale School of Drama, convinced the author of this review to cut his losses and flee, which he did, at intermission.
János Szász brings pronounced middle-European sensibilities to this American Repertory Theatre production of Eugene O’Neill’s haunting tragedy Desire Under the Elms, realizing much of the drama’s intensity but missing the sympathetic portrayal of old age that O’Neill shares with his fellow dramatist Samuel Beckett. Michael Wilson, artistic director of the Hartford Stage, is in his element in directing this very well realized production of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, wonderfully well acted and even triumphing to an extent over the inconsistencies and angularities of the third act, which Williams never really did get right. A multi-talented Steve Martin brought his canny farceur’s instincts to this adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s The Underpants, leading the audience under Jack Neary’s capable direction to laugh a lot and then reflect afterwards on what lies beneath the thin veneer of propriety.
The Theatre de la Jeune Lune combines forces with Gideon Lester at the American Repertory Theatre to realize an ambitious dramatization of Franz Kafka’s novel Amerika, here called Amerika; or The Disappearance, but the attempt remains too unspecific and disappointing. A mid-July production of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy Julius Caesar on the Hampshire Shakespeare Company’s outdoor stage in Hadley, Massachusetts, casts able, well rehearsed amateur actors in a spirited, effective production with wide appeal. Two seasoned, capable actors portray a variety of parts in this deeply engaging play by Marie Jones, Stones in His Pockets, produced by New Century Theatre under the expert direction of Ed Golden. In a companion production by New Century Theatre, Bee-luther-hatchee, Thomas Gibbons brings his play to an end with a stunning tirade, preceded by an action, stimulating and engrossing, about the fraught question of the powerful effect of the creative imagination. Paul Osborne’s domestic comedy, Morning’s at Seven, after an uncertain debut came into its own in a series of New York productions that in turn have made it a strong favorite in regional theatres, as in this New Century Theatre offering ably directed by Sam Rush. Tom Stoppard has become a perennial attraction in American theatres, as in this lighthearted mounting at the Williamstown Festival Theatre of On the Razzle, a fast-paced, knock-about farce full of slapstick shenanigans and other elaborations on the old story about someone who has had too much to drink. The Jeune Lune company brings a chamber version of Bizet’s grand opera Carmen to the A.R.T., cut to a playing time of well under three hours and tailored to allow nightly performance by singer-actors with lovely voices, accompanied by two pianos, who are nevertheless up to the outsize physical demands set by this Minneapolis production company.
Humberto Dorado’s The Keening, crafted for a bravura female performer, presents the story of a professional mourner who cries for everyone, in this chronicle of suffering that leads to a shattering climax. Commonwealth Opera, local to Northampton, Massachusetts, after a shaky start manages to pull off this production of that perennial favorite, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, which came alive in the second act and stayed so to the end. After years of doing nothing but Gilbert and Sullivan, in an annual November production, Valley Light Opera has branched out into other musical offerings, as in this lively mounting of Franz Léhar’s romantic light opera The Merry Widow, welcomed by an enthusiastic audience ready to put up with a school auditorium venue for the sake of the pleasures derived from singers with strong, melodious voices. Krystian Lupa brings a fatalistic sensibility to this American Repertory Theatre production of Chekhov’s deep, resonant play Three Sisters, whose monumental drab grey walls surrounding a cavernous space speak more of futility and waste bordering on nihilism than the more usual scenic expressions of Chekhov plays. Virginia Scott’s able adaptation of Molière’s biting comedy The Miser to a 1920s New York City locale was a very good idea, but it met with the unfortunate obstacle of a ponderous setting with subterranean entrances that took on the aspect of a nightmare designed by Adolph Appia; even a competent performance by Harry Mahnken in the title role was not enough to redeem the evening.)