(Note: a splendid production of O’Neill’s last play, A Moon for the Misbegotten, at Hartford Stage captures the dramatist’s core beliefs and deep preoccupations, clarified and epitomized by a pair of first-rate actors. Sartre’s No Exit (Huis clos) is successfully revived in this scenically imaginative production at the American Repertory Theatre, originating at the Imargo Theatre in Portland, Oregon, which uses a nearly bare stage raised on a tilting fulcrum to depict what turns out, finally, to be hell. Human error and cosmic mischance combine, in this somber A.R.T. production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, to issue in unmistakable tragedy, forsaking any hint of jokes and comedy as often perceived in its early scenes in favor of a nearly featureless expanse of volcanic sand where actors are set in perpetual motion toward their inevitable doom. The familiar, sorrowful myth of Orpheus and Euridice receives a radical, somewhat antipathetic updating, in this technologically sophisticated American Repertory Theatre production of Orpheus X, conceived and written by Rinde Eckert, with Eckert in the title role. A semi-staged reading of an imperfect but interesting play by Eileen Wilson, ‘Til the Boys Come Home, is presented to local Northampton audiences as a benefit for New Century Theatre.
Sir Peter Hall’s Bath Theatre Royal production of Oscar Wilde’s timeless farce The Importance of Being Earnest arrives at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, much to the delight of audiences who understand and appreciate the farcical spirit of the play as pointed up by Hall’s expert direction. New Century Theatre opens its 2006 season with a revival of David Mamet’s all-women play Boston Marriage, a somewhat recherché term describing the personal, perhaps intimate relationship of two women who negotiate the difficulties of living in the hostile world of women and men. The A.R.T. in Cambridge produces Gideon Lester’s translation of Marivaux’s The Island of Slaves, featuring an aggressive invasion of the audience by some of the “Islanders,” who turn out to be local drag queens out for a night on the town. It is always hazardous to write a play that includes children in the cast, but this adaptation of Henry James’s masterful ghost story Turn of the Screw by the director, Jack Neary, triumphs over difficulties and manages to scare the audience convincingly and to great effect. Tennessee Williams’s semiautobiographical play The Glass Menagerie receives an experimental production for New Century Theatre, directed by Gil McCauley, UMass Amherst professor of theatre, who brings an entirely African-American cast of actors to the play; finally, it becomes a test, not of the actors, but of the play itself: he makes it work.
In the New Century Theatre offering of Sight Unseen, Donald Margulies tries out the notion of an artist, a painter, who becomes able to command high prices for works he has not even yet executed but who proves himself to be morally vacant and unconnected with his clientele. One of the perennial attractions of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is its theatre, Gloucester Stage, the creation of Israel Horovitz, which remains a sturdy presence as evidenced in this production of Arthur Miller’s The Price, a domestic drama about jealousy and tension between two brothers, in which, as in every Miller play, the chickens come home to roost. Wendy Wasserstein, recently deceased, left a shrewd yet warm-hearted New York style comedy behind, realized in this New Century Theatre mounting of The Sisters Rosensweig, a canny study of extensively assimilated Jewish-American ex-pats living anxious lives in London. The second play in this summer season of the Hampshire Shakespeare Company is Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing; it comes to life in an updated setting of Messina after the victory of the Allies in World War II, accompanied by wonderful romantic and zany music by Glen Miller, the Andrews Sisters, and others and given a welcome nostalgic feeling by the director, Sheila Siragusa.
Noel Coward commanded a still insufficiently appreciated mastery of effective dialogue; as performed by Shaw Festival actors at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, in this delightful production of Design for Living, a comedy that dates from 1933, his writing proves to be crisp, clear, and very funny. A remake of a cultural icon leaps onto the stage at the Shaw Festival in this updating of Cole Porter’s High Society, featuring a new book by Arthur Kopit and an importation of songs from other Porter musicals into what may have been, for audience members of a certain age, an unlicensed trifling with a familiar classic. The Shaw Festival revives for the second time (I saw their first revival years ago) the central Festival dramatist’s indestructible Arms and The Man, with its famous scoring (according to Shaw) for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass and its resulting aria-like eloquence, all in the service of a radical reordering of a class society. The Shaw Festival continues to enthrall in this wonderfully well mounted production of one of Ibsen’s gloomiest plays, Rosmersholm, performed in the small, three-quarter-round Court House Theatre, which has the virtue of bringing audience and actors extraordinarily close together, as hapless witnesses of a doomed action.
A very successful adaptation of Henry James’s novel Washington Square, as The Heiress, seems quite un-Jamesian in its meat-and-potatoes linguistic style but captures nonetheless the central elements of the action of the novel in tried-and-true dramatic form. Lillian Groag’s Wagner-inspired The Magic Fire is given a superb, faultlessly articulate production by the Shaw Festival, directed by the Festival’s artistic director Jackie Maxwell, in a memory-haunted play that re-enacts an hour-long dinner scene in which an entire four- or five-course meal is served while animated, sometimes explosive conversation carries the audience along. The Shaw Festival includes in its season’s offerings Shaw’s late play Too True to Be Good, rarely performed for what are evidently good reasons having to do with Shavian self-indulgent whimsy that exploits the structure-less extravaganza form in a less than productive way. A setting that depicts an endless forest of snow-covered pines captures the idea of strength and survival in the bleakest of winters, in this engrossing production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the Shaw Festival Theatre, where an atmosphere of oppressive gloom permeates the performance of this well-constructed play written by a master of the craft. The last play seen at the Shaw Festival on this extended sojourn is The Invisible Man, a work adapted from the H. G. Wells novel of the same title and evidently intended as a crowd-pleaser, a fantasy by a writer who eschewed the term science fiction; it worked, for this new audience being wooed by the Festival organizers, but not so much for confirmed playgoers like us.
The A.R.T. in Cambridge books a return visit by the celebrated director Anne Bogart, who brings her SITI (does it mean, simply, “CITY”?) repertory company to perform a “pastiche,” so-called by the dramatist Charles Mee, based on the art work of Robert Rauschenberg; an ostensibly unstructured melee of scenes offers what turn out to be examples of the American experience as captured by Rauschenberg’s inspired, vital art, realized by competent, well disciplined performers. La Clemenza di Tito is another of Mozart’s brilliant responses to a short-deadline commission, here performed at the Cutler Majestic Theatre by Opera Boston, with a plot that on paper makes one’s head whirl but on stage becomes perfectly clear and supremely entertaining. That most time-tested of quintessential Italian operas, Puccini’s La Bohème, now well over a century old, repays every effort to cast the best possible singers — a task accomplished in style in this revival by Commonwealth Opera at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts, under the company’s new artistic director, Ron Luchsinger. Amateur comic opera companies have a well-earned reputation for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat at the last moment, as apparently was the case in this annual major show by the Amherst, Massachusetts, Valley Light Opera of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, mounted in her directorial debut by the talented Mary Jane Disco, despite the indistinct lyrics in choruses (a perennial complaint about this company) and the presence of an all-volunteer company and orchestra.
More opera, this time in Chicago, by the Chicago Lyric Opera, bringing to the stage the stunningly good musicality required to make a success of Richard Strauss’s demanding Salome, based on a libretto drawn from the play of the same title by Oscar Wilde, the title character brilliantly and powerfully sung by Deborah Voigt. Wim Wenders’s film Wings of Desire is fittingly adapted to the stage in this American Repertory Theatre production, though it left its audience wondering whether it was a deeply ponderous exploration of a soulless modern life or just a simple, lighthearted entertainment.
Another mounting of the immortal The Importance of Being Earnest, but with a difference, as adapted by the Ridiculusmus Company in a delightful, high camp version of Wilde’s classic farce, performed by two enormously able actors who assume all the roles of the play and engage in the lightning-quick changes of costume and dramatic persona required by this demanding approach, to the resulting vociferous delight of a knowing audience.)