(Note: the departing artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre, Robert Woodruff, has chosen Racine’s Britannicus for his farewell effort; Woodruff does not trust his audience to see the analogies of this seventeenth-century tragedy to the administration of George W. Bush, and so he offers a resolute post-modern production that insists on the connections, with the result that we feel we have been unfairly led. August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize play Fences receives a splendid revival at the Hartford Stage, a play that gives wide and deep meaning to the title in the service of exposing home truths about the life of a not-so-ordinary man. Opera Boston presents the second work in its three-opera season, a creditable production of Brecht and Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, depicting the scenes of a soulless modern capitalistic society, as Brecht sees it; the bleak, loading bay setting tells the essential story of the opera’s focus on starkness and gloom. An expert and very pleasurable adaptation of Dickens’s Oliver Twist to the stage, by Neil Bartlett, who also directs in an expert fashion that points up the telling differences between novel and play, to the vast enjoyment of the A.R.T. audience.
Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal (pronounced “MaCHINal”) is given a flawless production by the Smith College Department of Theatre, directed by an undergraduate theatre major, Leta Tremblay, who with some expert faculty backing renders this deeply affecting work in pitch-perfect terms. Simsbury Light Opera Company is rescued from disorganization by Thom Griffin, newly installed as artistic director but an old hand at G & S, who produces a creditable mounting of The Mikado that raises hopes for a return to the sterling productions of the SLO in days of yore. The American Shakespeare Company, inhabiting the aptly named Blackfriars Theatre in the rolling hills of Staunton, Virginia, offers lucid accessibility to their audiences, but to some extent at the expense of the subtleties that live in the script but remain unaddressed in this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Opera Boston brings the loveliness and splendor of Bizet’s music to this competent production of The Pearl Fishers, and the company proves itself to be fully up to the musical demands laid out by the composer. Pinter’s No Man’s Land captures the dramatist at the height of his powers, and this production by the American Repertory Theatre is fully up to the challenge of revealing Pinter’s own center of interest, his view as embodied in this superb play of the unknowable center of consciousness in each of the two pairs of characters that engage on the battleground identified in the title.
Jack Neary’s spot-on dramatization of the 1930’s screwball film King Kong, about a huge gorilla who falls in love with a petite, vulnerable young woman, takes on vibrant, extravagant new life in this fast-paced New Century Theatre production of Kong’s Night Out. The first play in Hampshire Shakespeare Company’s summer offerings is a well-engaged mounting of King Lear, directed by the intelligent, insightful Sheila Siragusa, who had a less than deeply competent actor portraying the title role but showed him and the audience as well the unlikely capacity for raving madness that events induce in him and lead him toward his tragic demise. Rebecca Gilman’s promising but ultimately somewhat disappointing drama, Spinning into Butter, about racist prejudice in a fictional Vermont college town, raises difficult issues relating to racial relations and does a partly successful job of confronting them through a combination of sitcom dramaturgy and Shavian techniques, but finally leaves its audience less than clear about the extent to which the action and characters apply to them. The disease called progeria, which accelerates human aging and usually leaves its victim dead by age sixteen, is taken as a kind of thematic trope by the dramatist, David Lindsay-Abaire, in this well-played comedy whose title, Kinberly Akimbo, refers to the central character afflicted by the disease, but that nonetheless leaves its audience unsatisfied and puzzled about the real-life issues that remain unresolved at the end.
A sparkling production of Molière’s deeply vital version of the Don Juan story, Dom Juan, mounted by Old Deerfield Productions and directed by Linda McInerney; the play in Virginia Scott’s expert translation captures the way the dramatist’s characters are unmistakably cut from whole cloth and the manner in which they come into elemental conflict with one another, each occupying a point at center stage for the moment and then challenged by an interloper who covets that centrality, and neither of them ready to alter in the slightest way. The immortal music of Mozart’s The Barber of Seville, bonded with the crafty comic action of Beaumarchais’s play, creates an unrivaled theatrical experience in the hands of the Théâtre de la Jeune Lune, staged in dangerous proximity to the Bastille as the French Revolution rages uncontrolled around them. Nilaja Sun, a self-styled “woman of color,” plays all the parts in this beautifully composed and performed one-person show, No child . . . , a reference to the law known as “No Child Left Behind,” intended to address what’s wrong with education in America; Sun shows how the law was ineffective in coming to grips with the actual circumstances in which teachers try to make contact with difficult, unruly children, exposing the deeply ingrained problems that persist in public education.)