A Man Has No Face: Hwang's "Yellow Face"

O.W.I.’s mission is to subvert expectations through the premiere of new plays or the reimagining of old stories. David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face is a prime example of reimagining stories since it is in itself semi-autobiographical, blurring the lines between truth and fiction.  The play also explores the uncomfortable, and still very important, theme of race and its representation in the arts.

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"Lab Rats" Explores 20-somethings' Rat Race with Quirky Cast

Brown Box Theatre Project performs an intimate production of Patrick Gabridge’s world premiere production of Lab Rats, a sweet and comic love story with quirky and original twentysomething characters.  It’s no surprise that life is a rat race for millennials, or the so-called “rising generation,” and it was a pleasant surprise to see a mature voice give credence to their stories through his Mika (Breena Fitzgerald) and Jake (Marc Pierre).  Director Kyler Taustin brings to life the unique personalities and quirks of Mika and Jake, and Fitzgerald and Pierre perform with sharp and relatable wit and energy.  Despite the strong dialogue, the new play’s plot and story fell flat, feeling predictable and trite where a more nuanced story could have been a wonderful experiment for Gabridge and Boston.

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"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" are Colorful but Safe Additions to the Neighborhood

Huntington Theatre Company starts the 2015 theatre season off on a strong note by introducing Boston to the wonderfully zany world of Christopher Durang’s unapologetic love note to Chekhov in his Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.  Durang is an aging playwright who gained considerable respect with his many off-kilter plays with underlying scathing analyses of our contemporary lives.  However, Vanya and Masha and Sonia and Spike is a more sophisticated play than its predecessors, relying as much on Durang’s rants as the common variations on larger-than-life characters of his prior works.  The play is a fulfilling but hollow example of appealing to the masses under the safe disguise of modern theatre.

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Harvard Ventures Into the Dream-Like Forest of CA?

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a wonderfully accessible play, made for adaptations to different times and places with ease. The Hyperion Shakespeare Company and The Office for the Arts at Harvard presented their own adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with some talent and some reckless abandon befitting the play’s mastery. The production struggles, however, under some awkward adaptation, stilted performances, and uninspired concepts.

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Workshopping An (Almost) All-Female "The Winter’s Tale"

Technically, I can’t review Boston University Shakespeare Society’s Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. Former My Theatre (Boston) writer Elizabeth Ramirez directed, and Junior Editor Fabiana Cabral played King Leontes. I have to create boundaries for conflict of interests, and this is one of them. However, read on to hear a bit more about this rarely-produced Shakespearean fairy tale in an exclusive feature.

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Crash Landing from "Cloud 9"

I can’t appreciate Cloud 9. Playwright Caryl Churchill wears on my patience whenever I see her work performed (though I like reading her plays), and Cloud 9 proved to be a humorous but grating variation on the same pattern. The Boston Conservatory student-actors achieved mixed results, but, overall, the production felt tedious, lacking some of the verve for which the top-ranked theatre conservatory is known. Did they pick the wrong play? Were the actors under-rehearsed? Was this a case of wrong reviewer, wrong time? Either way, I can only recommend seeing some of the actors in future works, and being thankful that this production only ran for a weekend. Maybe if the production had shot for the stars, they would have ended up in the clouds; instead, they were stuck in a tree somewhere in London or Africa.

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Who Really Ends Up on Top?

Who Really Ends Up on Top?

Caryl Churchill is one of my favorite female playwrights to read. I find her work almost unmanageable onstage because of her feminist tilt and unforgiveable agenda. With that lens, I attended Bad Habit Production’s Top Girls, Churchill’s most iconic and arguably best work, featuring a strong ensemble of Boston’s top female actresses. While the play’s opening act is burdened with a lack of purpose and conflict, the second act sizzles with the perfect heat of passionate performances, incited conflict, and diverse performances. Director Liz Fenstermaker offers some subtle touches, but, for the most part, she allows her actors to bring Churchill’s (“dated”) work to stunning climax as a continuing dialogue of women’s place and dynamic in the home, in the workforce, and in society.

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Ponzi-Schemer Delivers a Devilishly Good Performance

New Repertory Theatre presented a Special Encore Extension of their hit production of Imagining Madoff. I couldn’t imagine myself not seeing it for the first time, the second time around. Written by Deborah Margolin, the play explores the intensely intimate (but fictional) encounter between Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff and fictitious Jewish Solomon Galkin. The result is a wild ride of theatrical success in the visceral but highly intelligent discourse on difficult moral issues. In her Message, Director Elaine Vaan Hogue illuminates why one should “imagine” Madoff. In this play, she hopes that certain complex moral questions “possess the potential to thrust each of us into a deeper investigation of our own humanity,” with the possibility to liberate through what Margolin terms the “startling things within the human complement.” And these ambitions succeed brilliantly; I couldn’t imagine a better night at the theatre.

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Winter in July

While the summer months can be sweltering in the Greater Boston area, many actors escape to the suburbs to perform outdoor Shakespeare for local audiences. Many companies choose to perform crowd favorites like As You Like It andComedy of Errors, but The Gazebo Players of Medfield presentThe Winter’s Tale, a late Shakespeare romance, a traveling production with no apology and little explanation. It’s an odd choice for a novice group of actors, but they experience much success under the skillful direction of Marianne Phinney, an accomplished director and Shakespeare aficionado. With performances in Medfield, Medway, and Walpole, The Gazebo Players of Medfield brought a rarely-performed Shakespeare play about jealousy, joy, and redemption to the green parks and appreciative communities, all offered free of charge through generous contributions and grants.

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Much Ado about a Midsummer that Ends Well

Hub Theatre features an impressive ensemble of male actors to perform and excel in a laugh-out-loud, hold-your-sides, bring-your-Shakespeare-philes production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged] at Club Café. This production works in ways that their prior performances have not. First, the small cast is a tight ensemble unit featured fluidly throughout the evening in equal parts, and all actors are capable of shining on their own merits. The play also works in the intimate Boston Club Café’s Moonshine Room, providing small tables for food and drink, numerous seats (some audience members choosing to stand in order to fit for the sold-out performances), and just enough of a stage to showcase the performers’ work. Finally, the show’s light and cabaret-esque style is the kind of light (but artistically stimulating) fare to fill up Shakespeare novices and experts alike; it’s the production that you can bring your Red Sox-loving brother and bibliophile English teacher to with equal success.

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Understanding "Translations"

Brian Friel’s Translations is a tough code to crack. The 1980 three-act play by the Irish playwright is a piece about language, and while it has many other themes and ideas, it’s ultimately about how we communicate. However, Friel communicates in such heavy-handed tones that you can’t help feeling like you’re a child listening to your big brother’s class in linguistics, or, even worse, a college English class with an infusion of commentary on Irish oppression. Nothing feels subtle, nothing feels like it lacks purpose. Understanding Translations is annoying at best, and painful at worst. Thankfully, Bad Habit Productions assembles a top-notch cast and outstanding crew to salvage a dated script and an odd production choice for this emerging, talented company.

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Catching Keiller’s "White Rabbit, Red Rabbit"

It’s hard to articulate exactly what I saw when I witnessed Maureen Keiller’s remarkable performance in the emerging hit White Rabbit, Red Rabbitby Nassim Soleimanpour. The one-man (or woman) play, produced as limited one-night engagements featuring other popular Boston actors such as Victor Shopov and John Kuntz, is a treat for anyone interested in the powerful quality of seeing art and story be created before your eyes. Zeitgeist Stage Company is known for taking risks, some of them successful and some less so, but always with an eye and ear for shaking up the Boston theatre scene. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit may be their most unique treat to date.

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Flying On Directorial Wings: "Angels in America, Part 1"

Angels in America: Part 1 – Millennium Approaches is an ambitious piece of theatre. The play demands outstanding performers, technical innovation and precision, and a strong directorial concept and eye for detail. The Umbrella (formerly the Emerson Umbrella) in Concord, Massachusetts astounds and surprises with its professional delivery of Tony Kushner’s epic play. This performance marks the first of a two-part series, the second play being performed in the Fall 2014 with the cast reprising their roles to finish the saga. I can only say that I cannot wait to see this rarely-performed, beautiful story continuing with the same heart-breaking emotion, truthful portrayals, and searching truth found in Part 1.

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ASP is Exactly How I Like It

Shakespeare’s As You Like It offers one of his most accessible comedies. Featuring one of the Bard’s best female characters, the play is a wonderful exploration of sexual and romantic liberation and education, as personified in the diverse relationships in this classic play. The Actors’ Shakespeare Project delights in this energetic production, featuring some impressive younger talent in this aging company. The troupe’s greatest achievement, aside from telling the story in its plainest and simplest terms with outstanding success, is performing the work in Medford, MA’s Springstep Building. This venue allows the company to flex its creative design muscles as they adapt the space to serve their purposes while also allowing the Greater Boston community to access professional Shakespeare performance at an affordable price. Now in its 10th season, the Actors’ Shakespeare Project has grown dramatically, especially in their mission to offer the Bard’s work to audiences of all ages and experience levels. As You Like It shines as exactly how I’d like to see the troupe consistently perform.

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O Brave New "Tempest," or The Beauty of Smoke and Mirrors

Full disclosure: I am not a Tempest fan. One of Shakespeare’s last plays, The Tempest is heralded as a farewell to the stage, a commentary on art and life, and a post-colonial exploration (though this last lens may be a later addition to the play’s analyses). The American Repertory Theater, in association with The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, present The Tempest in all of its spectacle and glory, and probably like nothing that you have seen onstage, let alone for a Shakespearean play. With fresh perspective and adaptation by Aaron Posner (famous for his directing as well as his playwriting—see Stupid F***ing Bird) and Teller (of the famous Comedy Central duo, Penn & Teller), the play is revived with the perfect amount of magic, excitement, and wonder to bring the 400-year-old play to the twenty-first century audiences. I couldn’t help wishing for something more from the famed A.R.T. that brought us the Broadway-running Pippin and Glass Menagerie, and I wonder if, behind the curtains and magic tricks, if we just see the smoke and mirrors, and wonder, “Doesn’t the Man Behind the Curtain have anything to say?”

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Teenagers Play Brilliantly With Fire

The Boston Teen Acting Troupe is something special for the Greater Boston area. Boasting impressive teenage leadership with a compelling mission to bring “enriching, engaging and edgy theatre to teens” and to provide “an outlet for Boston teenagers who are serious about their craft, whether that is acting, directing or design.” However, the company does more than this. It educates the Greater Boston community that teenagers and the next generation of performers have the talent, the passion, and the dedication to make interesting and creative art, educating their elders on some of the real struggles and issues facing teenagers today. With so many accomplished goals, it’s surprising to see that they don’t have more support from their elder local companies. For shame, Boston theatre community, for shame. While their production of The Dream of the Burning Boy is not perfect, like a teenager, it is the work in progress, the progression, and the earnest energy which keep make it memorable and a production for which you must nurture and appreciate.

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No One Puts Happy Medium’s Baby in a Corner

Many people underestimate how difficult Christopher Durang is to perform. With a snarky and dark sense of humor, bordering on the macabre, Durang leaves nothing uncommented in his plays. Happy Medium Theatre’s Baby with the Bathwater performs the play with a sensitivity and awareness of the biting ultra-realism of one of Durang’s most famous and crowd-favourite work. Directed by 2013 My Theatre Award Nominee Lizette M. Morris, the play is a highlight of Happy Medium’s work. The production performs as a testament to the strong acting, outstanding vision, and smart directing inherent in the company.

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Another Trip Down the "Rabbit Hole"

Wait, another Rabbit Hole in the Greater Boston area? Yes, another. Community theatre companies have a fascination with the piece for its perceived simplicity and emotional range.Hovey Players in Waltham is one of Greater Boston’s stronger community theatres, boasting a rich history since 1936. Their Rabbit Holeproves that they have the tenacity and talent to tackle this demanding play with almost an effortless grace. In short, it was one of the best productions of the recently over-produced play, and it should have run for more audiences to see how the play should be performed.

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Taming Molière’s "Lovers’ Quarrels"

imaginary beasts offers some of the best ensemble work in Boston. Under the smart guidance of veteran Director Matthew Woods and the extremely capable Stage Manager Deidre Benson, imaginary beasts consistently offer quality entertainment at the Boston fringe level. Molière’sLovers’ Quarrels is both a logical and puzzling choice for the company. The theatre company is well-accustomed to its modern and innovative re-telling and mastery of classic works. Molière’s beast cannot be tamed, however. “Translated” into English verse by Richard Wilbur, the play is burdened with enough battles to make even the most enthusiastic young lover run away with fear. One of Molière’s earlier plays, Lovers’ Quarrels is a described as a “complex comedy,” and that might be the understatement of the century. Plagued with deception, misunderstanding, and missed opportunities, Molière’s text is a dizzying array of characters and plots (and subplots and loose knots and tight knots and lovers’ knots and so on). I can attempt to describe what I believe is a synopsis of the play, but I may miss or misinterpret details (reader beware):

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A Wealth of Talent Brings "Rich Girl" to Boston

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s newest production of Victoria Stewart’s Rich Girl is wonderfully simple in its messages and execution. While the play may depict and ask some of the age-old questions of love and money (wonderfully explained and dissected in dramaturg A. Nora Long’s accompanying features), the play is resounds with the same poignancy as its source materials, broaching the question: How far have we come in dating? Are we still defined by what we offer materialistically to others? How do we create our own self-worth? 

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