2015 draws to a close, and I couldn’t be more thankful for everything that I have learned this year. Expanding my reviewing for 2015 has brought unexpected joys and challenges. So far, I have seen over 130 productions, making it one of my most successful and fulfilling years to date. But what about the challenges? I continue to confront what makes a critic versus a reviewer. Where is the line between an informed audience member and a theatre writer? What duties do I owe to the community, and what do they owe to me? In short, what is the relationship between theatre reviewers and the theatre community? I don't have answers to these important questions, but I will continue to engage in these conversations.
I am still in awe of the fantastic and welcoming theatre community in Boston. I applaud and celebrate our successes, from the artistic, such as new and emerging theatre companies and box office successes; to the personal, such as raising money for needy individuals and celebrating obtaining Equity cards; to the communal, such as the broader discussions of space, access, and parity in our theatre community. We still have a long way to go, but, as long as we keep listening, speaking, researching, and dreaming, we will have a better community tomorrow.
In many ways, these Must See productions are about similar reflection. Whether we are reflecting on Hollywood and stardom, a broken home or family, a time gone by, the horrors of war, or our own personal transgressions and failings, each of these productions gives us something to reflect upon along with the characters. As usual, they span the gamut of categories and styles, from broad comedy to the darkest of dramas, from classical works to adaptations to new plays. We have the opportunity to think about the past year and where we want our future to be. I am excited and anxious for a new year, filled with opportunities, hopes, dreams, successes, and improvements. I hope that you will join me in not only thinking about 2015, but also reflecting on where we can go and what we can do for 2016 and beyond. For now, continue to be impulsive and driven by the arts.
This month, we feature:
BUYER & CELLAR by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston
IT’S NOT ABOUT MY MOTHER by Fresh Ink Theatre Company
NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 by American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.)
ALICE IN WAR by The Boston Conservatory
THE WINTER’S TALE by Actors’ Shakespeare Project
BUYER AND CELLAR
By Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Courtney O’Connor
140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA 02116
December 4, 2015 – January 3, 2016
Phil Tayler makes a triumphant return to The Lyric Stage Company of Boston to celebrate his 10th anniversary of productions, including last season’s City of Angels and Sweeney Todd with mass acclaim for his Stones in His Pockets and Avenue Q. Phil is no stranger to the Boston theatre scene, and his exuberance and boundless energy. This play, about the sole employee of the “Great Mall of Malibu,” the Great Barbara Streisand’s treasure-filled basement, is a tour-de-force for a lucky male actor, but we could be the lucky ones. Winner of the 2014-2015 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show, this absurdist play pokes fun at celebrity fame, narcissism, gay men, and consumerism, all while playing homage to Babs. This show promises to be a crowd-pleaser, so join me in honoring Phil Tayler, one of Boston’s young talents, as he plays Oprah, Bea Arthur, and, of course, Ms. Streisand, because, of course, “[she] was a personality before [she] became a person.”
IT'S NOT ABOUT MY MOTHER
By Lizzie Milanovich
Directed by Cassandra Lovering
The Plaza Black Box Theatre at Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116
December 4 – 12, 2015
ArtsImpulse is proud to acknowledge another original play being performed in the Greater Boston area, and we are proud to celebrate Fresh Ink Theatre’s success in finding a 2015-2016 Season home at the Boston Center for the Arts. Their strong mission of developing new work with theatre artists in the New England area is a commitment to engaging the Boston community in the dynamic process of new play development, work-shopping, performing, producing, and celebrating new works. Lizzie Milanovich’s new play It’s Not About My Mother is a solid example of the success of this commitment. As two half-sisters reunite to clean the family basement after their mother’s funeral, these young women must unpack more than pretty clothes and forgotten keepsakes. Burying a loved one is hard enough, but finding the truth about someone and realizing the bittersweet memories leave a bad taste in your mouth might be a harder grave to lie in. Louise Hamill and Gia Flores push the boundaries of sisterhood and family, under the capable direction of Cassandra Lovering. Check out their Cheap Date Night on Wednesday, December 9 for Buy One Ticket, Get One Ticket Free, along with a Post-Show Social on Saturday, December 9.
NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812
Book, music and lyrics by Dave Malloy
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Choreographed by Sam Pinkleton
Music directed by Or Matias with music supervision by Sonny Paladino
64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
December 6, 2015 – January 3, 2016
Who could condense the epic novel War & Peace into a production, let alone a musical? Inside Dave Malloy’s new, hit and inspired musical, we have decadence, grandeur, and passion like you’ve never seen before. 2015 MacArthur Genius Grant Winner Mimi Lien brings an immersive set of the 19th century salons and opera houses to our feet in Boston. This musical promises to be explosive, earning smash reviews across the country, and, under the masterminds at the American Repertory Theatre, anything is possible. Buckle up because we’re heading for the fiery brilliance of Director Rachel Chavkin and Sam Pinkleton’s vibrant reimagining of the Napoleonic age.
ALICE IN WAR
By Steven Bogart
Directed by Andrea Southwick
8 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02215
December 8 – 11, 2015
I admit to having a soft spot for coming of age stories, and, even more so, for classic children’s stories turned upside down and walking on their hands. From the brilliant imagination of Playwright Steven Bogart comes Alice in War, one part magical realism, one part absurdity, two parts social justice and commentary on war and injustice. This fable will remind you of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz while being a clever and poignant story in its own right. As our country grapples with the horrors and brutalities around the world, theatre reminds me of the senselessness and intimacy of war, and the possibilities and surprises that come with searching for lost answers, broken homes, and restored justice.
THE WINTER’S TALE
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Melia Bensussen
210 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA 02446
December 9, 2015 – January 3, 2016
I have admired The Winter’s Tale since an astute English Professor forced me to grapple with the many production and thematic challenges of staging this play. Following a jealous King, his queen, and his best friend, The Winter’s Tale is a wonderful play to cozy up to on a cold winter’s eve. The play’s themes of jealousy, forgiveness, redemption, and rebirth give us all the potential to see conflict with a clearer eye and a more open heart. Actors’ Shakespeare Project seem to unafraid of the Bard’s more challenging works, and this play with its lengthy monologues, difficult character development, troubling inconsistencies, and even one of the most famous stage directions in all of written theatre promises to test the troupe’s most talented actors and director. I could not be more excited to see Allyn Burrows as King Leontes, Mara Sidmore as his young wife Hermione, and Marianna Bassham as Paulina. Watch for Steven Barkhimer to steal the show as the rogue Autolycus!