(Note: Emlyn Williams brings a romantic ethos to bear on this heartwarming tale, The Corn is Green, at the Huntington Theatre; set in the Welsh coal mining district, it follows the fortunes of a young miner befriended by a benevolent woman who educates him well enough to win an Oxford scholarship. Commonwealth Opera has fallen on hard times, a fact all too evident in their “radio station” production of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, more than ragged around the edges theatrically and musically and coming across more like a read-through than a production. A brilliant idea for mounting Samuel Beckett’s Endgame is fully realized on the stage of the American Repertory Theatre, which locates the setting in near-total darkness and ends with the shadowy walls of the surround fading way into nothingness, an approach that remains entirely true to the bleak world of the play. The Metropolitan Opera finds a way to shore up its problematic fortunes by broadcasting its productions in cinemas in HD, as in this stunning production of Madama Butterfly, flawlessly sung and acted and just as flawlessly, and sumptuously, well produced. Richard N. Godwin’s very effective theatrical resolution of Galileo’s life-defining dilemma, in Two Men of Florence, has a casual-sounding title that belies the radical choice imposed on the historical Galileo in his head-on conflict with authority in the person of Pope Urban VIII, a conflict ironically treated by Brecht in his Life of Galileo and left deliberately unresolved there, in contrast with Goodwin’s audience-pleasing ending.
An over-the-top spoof of the perennial favorite The Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert and Sullivan and with additional book and lyrics by Nell Benjamin, after a concept devised by Gordon Greenberg, Nell Benjamin, and John Daniel; these many hands make light and very effective work of the task of bringing this G & S opera up to date, to the vast enjoyment of the Huntington Theatre audience. Jack Neary has a sure hand as a director, and this production of an eminently sure-handed Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers captures the clarity and pace and trademark unsubtlety of Simon at his best, in the first of four plays comprising New Century Theatre’s summer season. New Century Theatre continues its summer season with Jerry Sterner’s Other People’s Money, a comedy built on a familiar prototype of boys losing but then getting girls but supposedly claiming a certain visionary quality as a result of its adherence to a sort of conscienceless pursuit of market supremacy, while avoiding any taint of the consternation that NCT audiences are on record as disdaining. Every production of Tom Stoppard’s reflective comedy Arcadia, whose title is drawn from Vergil’s Aeneid declaring that even in Arcadia death is inevitably present, has something special and distinct for its audience to connect with; this New Century Theatre production captures the scientific idea of entropy, the fact that the universe is engaged in an irreversible cooling down, a phenomenon that encompasses the double time scheme that unites past and present in this complex, moving play.
Perhaps the darkest of Shakespeare’s problem comedies, All’s Well That Ends Well receives a sterling production by the National Theatre, transmitted via satelite to the wide world, in which a fatherless young man falls in with bad company but is rescued by the reliable comic ethos that, alive and well in this drab, unpromising pseudo-fairy-tale universe, is embodied in one of Shakespeare’s most robust and determined heroines, Helena. An Egypt never more alive than in the imaginations of talented scene designers becomes the setting for this Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi’s Aïda, a long-lived triumph first shown on the Met stage in the 1880s and honed to perfection over the years, to the evident enthusiastic enjoyment of current cinema audiences, privileged to peer into backstage as well as on-stage goings-on by virtue of well-directed camera placement. Modern audiences have a demonstrably different take on ancient Sophoclean tragedy, notably so in the instance of this UMass Theatre department production of Antigone, whose rendering of Seamus Heaney’s spare yet flowing translation entitled The Burial at Thebes invites us to focus more on the personal and interpersonal aspects of Antigone’s painful conflict with the stern ruler Creon and less so on the wider, more grievous wrongfulness of society as a whole. Harley Erdman’s spot-on translation of the prolific Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina’s Marta the Divine brings to UMass Theater audiences a well produced, delightful mounting of a play written to a well-worn dramaturgical formula but nonetheless full of vitality and charm.
Best of Both Worlds, an adaptation of The Winter’s Tale as a musical play, with book and lyrics by Randi Weiner and music by Deidre Murray, has been co-written and directed by Diane Paulus, the American Repertory Theatre artistic director, in most original ways including some stunningly complex hip-hop-based choreography and a recasting of Shakespeare’s romance as a straightforward, robust comedy, complete with a huge, pink 1950s Cadillac sedan filled to overflowing with the entire cast. Holyoke, Massachusetts becomes the locale for a wonderfully vital Globe Theatre touring company production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, part of the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts. Valley Light Opera achieves one of its most successful and pleasurable productions in this delightfully frolicsome mounting of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, enhanced by Graham Christian’s inspired stage direction and choreography and Elaine Walker’s sumptuous costumes, all of this done most charmingly in the style and, one might even say, the ethos of the Victorian toy theatre. A light-and-puppets show in the UMass Curtain Theatre achieves a most satisfying theatricality illustrative of the thematic idea of curiosity. A wonderfully elaborate yet beautifully clear production of Jacques Offenbach’s last and best opera, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, is brought musically to abundant life by the conductor James Levine and the musical and theatrical resources of the Metropolitan Opera, in a brilliant mounting by Bartlett Sher, featuring Anna Netrebko, Kathleen Kim, and Joseph Calleja as outstanding principal singers.)