ArtsImpulse Must See: January 2015

The monthly Must See feature has become one of my favorite parts of reviewing theatre in the Greater Boston area.  Each month, I explore my excitement and enthusiasm for productions of both new and old works.  This month, I have much to anticipate. 

As a new website, ArtsImpulse is an exciting new endeavor for 2015 and beyond.  Its mission statement summarizes its goals best, but its work speaks for its professionalism and focus.  At its heart, ArtsImpulse seeks to acknowledge and promote the outstanding work in Greater Boston theatre.  ArtsImpulse attempts not only to review great theatre, but also to foster greater appreciation for the arts and collaboration between the arts and the Greater Boston community.  

The “Must See” feature is one example of such endeavors.  And this month, ArtsImpulse features another diverse look at some of Greater Boston’s best.  The Huntington Theatre Company has long been a benchmark of excellence for Boston theatre, and its production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike promises to bring some of Broadway’s professionalism and talent to our local stages, along with a distinct Boston flavor for not simple producing a “toured” production.  Actors’ Shakespeare Project has its own recipe for re-interpreting the Bard’s (and his contemporaries’) works; Measure for Measure may prove the company’s greatest challenge with its problematic tale of morality and the law, but its chance for success make it a production to watch and measure. 

And then we have the annual favorites, which warm the winter months with their creativity.  imaginary beasts has impressed with its excellence, and its Winter Pantos are a unique treat for the whole family.  Whether you’re six or sixty, imaginary beasts’ Winter Panto will find a way to play itself into your heart and mind.  And the sleeper hit may be the Fourth Annual Boston One-Minute Play Festival.  An annual treat across the country brings its own unique production(s) to Boston as local playwrights, directors, and performers bring never-before-seen plays in bite-sized chunks. 

ArtsImpulse emerges on the Greater Boston theatre scene at an exciting time of increasing awareness and appreciation for the arts.  A new cultural vibrancy is coming to Boston with its incoming Chief of Arts and Culture, Julie Burros, and its committed Mayor Martin (Marty) J. Walsh.  ArtsImpulse hopes to bring its own momentum to making the arts matter in Boston.  If you will what ArtsImpulse says, then follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook; re-tweet our posts; re-post our reviews and features; and talk about driving excellence in the arts with ArtsImpulse

This month, we feature: 

  • VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE by The Huntington Theatre Company

  • MEASURE FOR MEASURE by Actors’ Shakespeare Project

  • WINTER PANTO 2015: KERPLOP! THE TALE OF THE FROG PRINCE by imaginary beasts

  • THE 4TH ANNUAL BOSTON ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, The One-Minute Play Festival, and Boston Public Works


VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

By Christopher Durang

Directed by Jessica Stone

Based on Broadway direction of Nicholas Martin

The Huntington Theatre Company

Avenue of the Arts / BU Theatre

264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115

About the Production

Buy Tickets

January 2 – February 1, 2015

I have loved Christopher Durang since performing his work in high school; I thank one of my theatre mentors who introduced me to his zany work at an early age.  Amidst the turmoil and emotional havoc of his plays lies a strong exploration for a greater understanding of how we, as people, think and behave amongst each other.  I can think of no greater classical comparison than the work of Anton Chekhov.  Like Durang, Chekhov shook the theatre scene with his poignant portrayals of everyday life, with a twist.  Unlike Chekhov, however, Durang employs his sharp wit and dark humor to ridiculous effect.   

And here comes his latest work, VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, to shake up the theatre world again with its satirical portrayal (or at least allusions) to Chekhov and how we (audience members in the 21st century) continue to grapple with Chekhovian themes of inadequacy, unhappiness, and longing.  Ben Brantley of the NEW YORK TIMES summarized the play best as a “sunny new play about gloomy people.”  But we can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the characters’ antics and reactions.  Chekhov would be pleased; Durang is at his best. 

The Huntington Theatre Company produces the recent Broadway production as an almost homage to the late great Nicholas Martin, the original Broadway director.  As we continue to feel the loss of the former Artistic Director, I think that his legacy lives on through the wonderful work by the Huntington Theatre.  I anticipate that this production will be no exception.  This hilarious mash-up of Chekhovian characters and themes features a diverse cast of Broadway and Off-Broadway stars.  Unlike other Huntington productions that I’ve seen recently, no name rises above the rest.  I am thankful because, in this ensemble show, we care about each and every character’s story of loss and longing in middle age, and the shining ideal of hope in the youth.

 


MEASURE FOR MEASURE

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian

Actors’ Shakespeare Project

Multicultural Arts Center

41 Second Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02141

About the Production

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January 7 – February 1, 2015

Ask someone to tell you their favorite Shakespearean play, and few people will tell you that it’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE.  The dark “problem play” has troubled audiences and scholars for centuries.  And yet, it continues to be performed by some of the smartest and most capable of theatre companies.  Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) is no exception.  

As a lawyer, I have a deep appreciation for the play’s central themes of justice and morality.  At its center, you have the church and state personified in the two leading characters.  But Shakespeare creates Isabella and Angelo with considerable more depth than anticipated.  When Vincentio, Duke of Vienna, leaves the city in the hands of the strict judge, Antonio, the city is upended by Antonio’s unwavering and moralistic enforcement of the city’s laws.  Claudio is arrested for impregnating his girlfriend Juliet before they can be wed, and Antonio imposes a harsh sentence as an example of what he views as immoral and lewd sexual activity.  However, when Claudio’s sister, Isabella, a novice nun set to take her vows, comes to plead for her brother’s life, Antonio propositions her in hypocritically forward ways.  Their interactions are a dynamic look at one society’s (and multiple person’s) contradiction of sex, power, morality, and mercy. 

Actors’ Shakespeare Project has proven to be a formidable company to tackle Shakespeare’s work.  This production promises to be one of its most difficult Shakespeare performances in recent memory because of its thorny topics, nuanced (and complex) characters, and cumbersome plot.  ASP favorites Johnnie McQuarley and Sarah Newhouse return to much delight.  My feelings are mixed on Maurice Emmanuel Parent after reviewing him in some notable flops; I am anxious to see him tackle Angelo.  Adrianna Mitchell is a new name for me, but she boasts some impressive training, especially in classical work, for someone so young.  But perhaps my greatest draw is to experience the work of Megan Sandberg-Zakian.  She has also built a list of impressive credentials and past performances, creating a buzz amongst theatre reviewers and audience members for her expressive and clever work.  I am delighted to see her tackle this “problematic” play with her own clever solutions. 

 


WINTER PANTO 2015: KERPLOP! THE TALE OF THE FROG PRINCE

Written by Matthew Woods

Directed by Matthew Woods

imaginary beasts

Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) Plaza Black Box

539 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116

About the Production

Buy Tickets

January 17 – February 7, 2015

I anxiously await imaginary beast’s 22015 Winter Panto, especially after my joyous time at last year’s Rumpelstiltskin.  You rarely see pantomimes (pantos, for short) in the United States, despite their wild popularity across the pond.  Matthew Woods, as writer and director, understands the delicate balance of simplicity and complexity in this theatrical style, and he orchestrates these productions to remarkable success each year.  At one level, the imaginary beasts’ Winter Pantos provide family-friendly flavor, while also crafting a more delightful suggestion of adult humor.  If you’ve ever been dragged to a children’s show and been bored within minutes, you will appreciate the care that Woods and his dedicated (and talented) team of actors place on walking the fine line of childish antics and mature content. Your children will watch in awe of the color and the jolly fun; you will guffaw at the more racy jokes. 

Perhaps even more importantly, Woods and his crew present the original work with timely relevance.  The plays present lessons for both child and adult, providing perfect commentary for a children’s story and important reflection for adults.  And who can forget the award-winning cast that he assembles each year?  If you don’t know the fringe talent of Kiki Samko, Michael Underhill, and Joey Pelletier, then you haven’t been to enough Boston theatre in the past five years.  And each year, they add more dynamic young and emerging talent to their roster, making their productions a “Who’s Who [to Watch For]” in the Greater Boston fringe theatre scene.  I’ve seen my share of toads, and I can anticipate that KERPLOP will be a frog worth kissing. 

 


THE 4TH ANNUAL BOSTON ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL

Produced by Boston Playwrights’ TheatreThe One-Minute Play Festival, and Boston Public Works

Curated by Dominic D’Andrea

Boston Playwrights’ Theatre

949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215

About the Production

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January 3 – 6, 2015

Boston has experienced a slow growth of new works and an appreciation for its many young (and mature) playwrights.  With new (and old!) companies featuring works by such playwrights, the Boston theatre scene is finally cultivating theatre for the next generation.  And I can think of few greater opportunities to see such work and efforts than THE FOURTH ANNUAL BOSTON ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL.  If you have ever tried playwriting, you will know the daunting and difficult task to compose a one-minute play.  What can you possibly say in a minute that will deserve rehearsal and attention?  

And, yet, attention must be paid to these plays by this diverse group of playwrights.  The plays zoom by in a moment, but the messages and themes stay with you long after the performance.  I have never attended this Festival, but I am excited to see the depth and breadth of work this year, especially as I learn more about the talented Boston playwrights.