This month, we feature:
BACK THE NIGHT by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
RENT by Fiddlehead Theatre Company
BALTIMORE by Boston Center for American Performance and New Repertory Theatre
RICHARD II by Actors’ Shakespeare Project
EUGENE IONESCO’S RHINOCEROS by Suffolk University and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
1984 by American Repertory Theater
February 4 – 28, 2016
Full disclosure: I am a survivor. I identify strongly with this community, especially for people marginalized against speaking out because of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or local circumstances. I understand the prejudice and the anger. And I want to see this play. As Playwright Melinda Lopez asks: “Why does every woman have a ‘rape narrative’ of her own?” It is truly an epidemic, and we need theatre and art to continue this community discussion in a way that encourages reflection, action, and change. Set on a college campus, Back the Night explores two college women’s narratives as they deal with an unexpected assault, and the truths and changes that emerge. Featuring Amanda Collins (Gloucester Stage Company’s Out of Sterno) and Michael Underhill (Happy Medium Theater’s Dying City and imaginary beasts’ 2016 Winter Panto: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), this play promises to be a riveting, cathartic, and necessary resource for our entire community to grapple with these issues.
February 5 – 21, 2016
We celebrate the 20th anniversary of Jonathan Larson’s Rent this year, and Fiddlehead Theatre Company performs its first production outside of the historic Strand Theatre with this cult-turned-classic musical. Rent needs little explanation; it has inspired generations of artists, students, and musical theatre kids towards action. But has it? What have we learned from Rent, and how does it continue to inspire us? Today, we have Hamilton; twenty years ago, we had Rent; and, twenty years before that, we had Hair. What have we learned? How are we growing? How will Mimi and Mark’s love speak to a new generation? Are we able to appreciate the themes of living “no day but today,” or have we sold-out under piles of student loan debt? Will we see the parallels between Tom Collins’ beating in the opening moments and #BlackLivesMatter, or dismiss this encounter as part of living in New York City? How will we, as an educated Boston theatre audience, react to this love story to New York City in the late 1980s/early 1990s? You can bet that I’ll be there to silently mouth all of words to La Vie Boheme.
February 10 – 28, 2016
We cannot have enough plays about race. While it is preferred if they feature minority actors in leading roles, it is also important to have stories about how we deal with race in our country and in our communities. Playwright Kristen Greenidge brings us her latest play as a rolling world premiere, exploring race for eight culturally diverse college students. As part of the Boston Center for American Performance (“BCAP”), this play is an essential reminder of universities and theatres’ place in redefining social norms and questioning the status quo. More so, the collaboration between established professional artists and emerging young performers is a unique opportunity for growth, development, and reflection. I am excited that New Repertory Theatre continues its strong tradition of presenting new plays, and this rich collaborative effort with BCAP should raise hope of the potential for Greater Boston theatre. I can’t wait to see what’s waiting in Baltimore.
February 17 – March 13, 2016
Someone just asked me about Richard II, stating that it is often cast in the shadows of the more interesting Richard III. I think both plays have different merits, and I applaud Actors’ Shakespeare Project for performing this rarely-done history play. The play follows the fall of Richard II and the ascension of Henry Bolingbroke (later King Henry IV). The play interests me because it looks at two very different rulers and their ideologies. In an election year (with very, very different candidates), we reflect on what makes a good ruler, and the choices made by our politicians in times of upheaval and unrest. Watch closely to see the character flaws in both Richard II and Henry IV; neither men are perfect, but both men deserve our understanding and respect. Shakespeare’s Richard II has more subtlety than meets the eye, and I expect with Doug Lockwood playing the title character and Michael Forden Walker as Henry Bolingbroke, we could see the right shades of humanity in these historical characters. Filling out the tight ensemble are Paula Plum as Queen, Marya Lowry as Duchess of York, Robert Walsh as Duke of York, Lewis D. Wheeler as Mowbray and Henry Percy, and Malcolm Ingram as John of Gaunt (who has one of my favorite scenes in all of Shakespeare). In an age where every male actor can be a Richard III, it takes a bold company to give an actor a chance at Richard II.
February 25 – March 13, 2016
I’m intrigued by a new adaptation of this “Theatre of the Absurd” play. Ionesco wrote the original in 1959, seemingly in response to the rise of Communism and the mass conformity around the world. Now, in 2016, we have a new adaptation in Boston by Playwright Wesley Savick. But how is the play adapted? What is the same and what is different since 1959? The original focused on an everyman, Berenger, who watches as the members of his community slowly turn into rhinoceros. The play is philosophical and “absurd,” but a timely reflection on our cultural norms, unified beliefs, and status quo. So, why adapt? Why now? How much of the post-war avant garde drama remains? How will it translate to a modern audience? Have too many of us become rhinoceros already to enjoy the mirror examining our lives, or can we still reclaim our human forms and morality?
February 14 – March 6, 2016
Another curious adaptation is the American Repertory Theater’s 1984. A smash-hit on the West End is given a fresh production in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as we dive into one of the quintessential novels of the twentieth century. Here, we reexamine surveillance, Big Brother, identity, culture, and Orwell’s predictions for our future. Are we there? Have we gone from dystopia to today? The adaptation is described as “intense” with “graphic depictions of torture and violence.” Viewer discretion is advised, but is this different from the graphic depictions that we might see in an episode of Homeland? Maybe this nightmare hits too close to home, but that won’t stop us from enjoying bringing this classic to life. This sharp 90-minute adaptation should force us to reflect on how real the Orwellian dream has become for us.