ArtsImpulse Must See: April 2015

I hoped by writing this entire April 2015 Must See feature that some theme or message would emerge.  I hoped that I would have something profound to tie together these choice productions.  But, alas, I am at a standstill.  Rather than be intimidated by the lack of focus, I wanted to take time to comment on the year so far.  I have seen some incredible work; I have also missed some incredible productions.   This is the month of Awards as My Theatre (Boston) released its 2014 Awards, the IRNEs present their Awards on April 13 (Donate here to make the event free and fabulous, as always), and The Eliott Norton Awards following in May.  Here at ArtsImpulse, we are already deep into our Nominee Interview Series, while reviewing our 2015 productions.  

Perhaps most surprising are the recent trends (can we call it a trend after only 3 months) in the reviewed productions.  Out of 30 productions, 11 of them were new plays or musicals.  Only 7 of these 30 productions were musical, and a mere 3 were operas.  I will admit some bias in the selected shows, but I am still shocked to see so many new works, especially when people have claimed that Boston does not produce enough new work.  While it’s too early to detect any trends, I am also impressed with the gender parity in the recent productions. Perhaps we have recognized some of our prior incongruences, and theatre companies are eager and able to fix them in their season selection.  Many large and even some mid-sized theatre companies have released their 2015-2016 seasons, which I am excited to discuss in the coming months.  For now, let’s support the plays and musicals which tackle life from its many points of views and angles.

To be considered for May’s entry, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com by April 24, 2015, with information on your production, including company name, production title, director, location, production dates, and a brief reason why your production should be considered.  May’s entry will be posted at the very beginning of the month. 

This month, we feature:

  • EQUUS by Off the Grid Theatre Company
  • KIMBERLY AKIMBO by Moonbox Productions
  • VIRGINIA WOOLF'S ORLANDO by Bad Habit Productions
  • LA CAGE AUX FOLLES by The Umbrella
  • COOLSVILLE (A Concert Musical) by The Boston Conservatory
Equus

Equus

By Peter Schaffer

Directed by Christopher Webb

Off the Grid Theatre Company

Make Shift Boston

549 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA 02118

About the Production

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April 2 – 12, 2015 

I have been waiting for the In Yer Face Theatre production of Equus for quite some time.  It’s a sexy, intimate, and swiftly moving piece that scares theatre companies because of its rebellious tone.  It is the perfect piece for the emerging talents of Off the Grid Theatre Company, a company that has a history of reimagining works in bright new lenses.  They have filled out their cast of powerful Boston actors and young protégées who have the opportunity to showcase their talents outside of the university and conservatory umbrella.   Perhaps the most noteworthy of their choices (without seeing their production) is setting the production in Make Shift Boston, “a co-working space for socially minded creative professionals.”  Their success in this space could mean more affordable productions in convenient locations, supported by the local Boston businesses and communities.  Therefore, shouldn’t we support a theatre company taking a chance on a play that desperately needs a fresh revival by smart director Christopher Webb, produced by a company that seeks to refine the boundaries and spaces available in the Boston theatre?

Kimberly Akimbo

Kimberly Akimbo

By David Lindsay-Abaire

Directed by Allison Choate

Moonbox Productions

Plaza Theatre

Boston Center for the Arts

539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116

About the Production

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April 3 – 25, 2015 

While everyone is producing Rabbit Hole (to some success more than others), most people ignore some of Lindsay-Abaire’s darkly comedic roots.  Few of his plays are as funny, as poignant, and as unforgettable as Kimberly Akimbo.  In the play, the main character is a lonely, incredibly smart and witty teenage girl.  She has a disease that resembles progeria.  This disease causes her to age at four and a half times the normal rate, leaving this teenage girl looking (and feeling like) her grandmother.  And, yet, life still continues to happen.  Kimberly is forced to be more of an adult than her parents, plan hijinks with her crazy aunt, and play Dungeons and Dragons with the nerdy boy who can make an anagram out of anything.  The humor comes in the humanity of the play; the paradoxes in life’s moments and circumstances are ripe for hilarious commentary.  It is a play that is best enjoyed slightly defiant, always questioning, and with damn good wit; in a word, akimbo.

Virginia Woolf's Orlando

Virginia Woolf's Orlando

Written by Virginia Woolf

Adapted by Sarah Ruhl

Directed by Daniel Morris

Bad Habit Productions

Deane Hall

Boston Center for the Arts

Calderwood Pavilion

539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116

About the Production

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April 4 – 19, 2015 

Bad Habit Productions has a solid history in Boston of producing dynamic, innovative productions.  Their talents run the gamut, but few can deny that they pick damn good plays, always tied together with a strong theme for their season.  Their ability to craft a story, which often bends culture, time, gender, sexuality, and perception, is truly commendable.  Their next production of Sarah Ruhl’s Virginia Woolf’s Orlando follows in their track record of providing Boston actors with unbeatable characters to portray, while expanding the Greater Boston theatre repertory of plays with a literary classic adapted by one of the finest contemporary playwrights.  Ruhl is both poetic and timely, touching on our perceptions of gender and sexuality, identity and self.  With Morris at the helm, this production should be a Must See for his clever ways of interpreting text and coaching his actors to uninhibited and uncharted performances.

La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage Aux Folles

Book by Harvey Fierstein

Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman

Directed by Peyton Pugmire

Music Directed by Bethany Aiken

Choreographed by Hannah Shihdanian

The Umbrella

40 Stowe Street, Concord, MA

About the Production

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April 17 – May 2, 2015

I admit bias in selecting this production because I was on the Play Selection Committee that chose this musical.  However, this production has exceeded expectations in its production team and cast.  As a rarely done musical, La Cage Aux Folles is a welcome addition to our Greater Boston theatre scene.  La Cage Aux Folles is about two gay men who must struggle to meet societal appearances as a respectable family (read: husband and wife) when their son (from one of their prior one-night stands) brings his young bride and Republican parents to visit.  The story was made even more famous by the hilarious movie, The Birdcage, and the story is even more topical now as approach a Supreme Court decision on marriage equality in June.

The Broadway revival was one of the most spell-binding, touching, and sexy productions that I have seen in recent memory.  I cannot claim that The Umbrella’s production is Broadway-quality, but, with the Umbrella’s 2014 accolades and notable artistic success of Director Peyton Pugmire, this production seems like anything but a drag.  If you like RuPaul, if you like unconventional love stories, if you like wigs and sequins, you should head to Concord to see this rare treat for the stage.

Coolsville

Coolsville (A Concert Musical)

Music and lyrics by Rickie Lee Jones

Conceived and directed by Doug Lockwood

Music arranged and directed by David Reiffel

Choreographed by Olivier Besson

The Boston Conservatory

31 Hemenway Street, Boston, MA

About the Production

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 April 24 – 26, 2015

Rickie Lee Jones defies boundaries, expectations, and genre.  Her work as a vocalist and songwriter spans decades and style.  It was only a matter of time before someone had the inspired idea to turn her theatricality into its own show.   Her music ranges in style, which makes her a perfect subject for a musical.  The details on this musical are sparse, but describe the concert musical as “a poetic theatrical vision of life as seen through the eyes of a children’s playground.”  The opportunity to work on a new piece, especially as directed and conceived by Professor Doug Lockwood, is a unique experience for conservatory students.  Many of these same students will originate new musicals throughout their careers, and they should be given the training and support to do so while in the comfort of the conservatory.  As audience members and local Boston theatre patrons, shouldn’t we support this experience as an important cultivation of talent, perhaps even more so than the regular new play?  New musicals are hard to come in Boston, great new musicals are even rarer.  I’d say that this BoCo production is “cool.”