Monday, December 29, 2008

Barrington Stage Company makes The List!

Congratulations to Barrington Stage Company for standing out in the Northeast theatre scene!
The Boston Globe wrote an end of the year piece on on the top theatre companies. Here is the article:

Small companies with big ambitions
By Louise Kennedy
Globe Staff / December 28, 2008
Maybe it's the economy, maybe it's the weather, or maybe it's just me, but as I look back at the year in theater, it's hard to find a lot of truly bright spots. Yes, there was some very good work on local stages, and there were some promising new arrivals on the scene - Peter DuBois at the Huntington Theatre Company, Diane Paulus in the wings at the American Repertory Theatre, a new home for the Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater in Central Square - but moments of theatrical transcendence seemed few and far between. At best, solid admiration, not transporting thrill, is the prevailing mood.

What's striking is that a lot of the year's best work was done by smaller companies. Perhaps because they're driven more by artistic interests than by the need to appeal to a broad audience, or perhaps because they're more tightly focused and more passionate, or perhaps just by chance, the city's smaller troupes this year, by and large, outshone their larger siblings. From the sweeping two-part presentation of "Angels in America" by Boston Theatre Works last season to this fall's hauntingly spare "In the Continuum" by Up You Mighty Race and Company One's incisive "Voyeurs de Venus," big ambitions paid off for small companies.
Except that, of course, they didn't quite - the saddest news of the year, perhaps, being that Boston Theatre Works went on hiatus shortly after "Angels," having consumed all its resources with that grand effort. And with the departure of artistic director Jason Southerland for Chicago, BTW's "hiatus" is now most likely a permanent slumber. That's too bad, not just because the company did some fine work but because its failure to build a sustainable program does harm to the actors, designers, and audience members who had come to rely on its presence.

What's also unfortunate is the dearth of productions from the big resident companies on my Top 10 list. Yes, Nicholas Martin's completely charming revival of "She Loves Me" made the cut - but that's the only Huntington show that did, and I'm sorry to say that nothing from the American Repertory Theatre is here, either. Both companies offered a few solid but unspectacular productions, and both also served up a couple of my least favorite evenings of the year. How I wish they'd also hit one or two out of the park - especially when it comes to new work.

The good news, though, is that there were a few terrific new plays at other venues, both in town and in the Berkshires over the summer. Locally, Boston Playwrights' Theatre delivered two genuine pleasures, and Melinda Lopez had a hand in both of them: She wrote "Gary," a rocking coming-of-age story, and she starred in "The Oil Thief," Joyce Van Dyke's sharp and moving story of love on the (literal) rocks.

Out west, the Williamstown Theatre Festival had a fine clutch of new plays in Martin's first season as artistic director (and it also, of course, had its own run of his "She Loves Me"). Theresa Rebeck crafted a wickedly funny backstage piece, "The Understudy," and Ellen Melaver's "Not Waving" received a particularly well crafted staging. But it's "Broke-ology," a story of a beleaguered and loving family by the astonishingly talented Nathan Louis Jackson, that lingers most powerfully in the mind.

New work is also percolating nicely in Pittsfield, at Barrington Stage Company's Musical Theatre Lab. Both "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick," a haunting little tale adapted from a picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, and "See Rock City," a collage of musical postcards, felt fresh and promising, if musically still a bit unfinished. But that's the virtue of the Musical Theatre Lab: You know, going in, that you're seeing a work in progress, and having audiences involved from the beginning provides a vital source of feedback to the shows' creators.

Closer to home, Tony Estrella's adaptation of Friedrich Schiller's "Don Carlos," at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, wins the dubious distinction of Play I Most Regret Not Seeing. As painful as it can be to sit through a bad play, it always feels much worse to fail to sit through a good one.
And, of course, you really never do know until you're in the theater which kind of night you're going to have. That's a lesson I had to relearn this year, because not once but three times I set out in low spirits to see a musical that I truly felt I never had to see again, and not once but three times I was surprised to be delighted. It's a good kind of surprise to have, and I'm grateful to "My Fair Lady," "A Chorus Line," and "Chicago" for letting me have it - and, of course, to their presenter, Broadway Across America-Boston, which must be at least as disappointed as I am that one of its big hopes for this past season, "Brigadoon," fell through, along with Harry Connick Jr.'s Gershwin project, "Nice Work If You Can Get It."
I'm also grateful to Scott Edmiston and SpeakEasy Stage for mounting a production of "The Light in the Piazza" that put a musical I had previously despised in the best possible light. Edmiston and SpeakEasy get another helping of gratitude for "The History Boys," which in their hands was a smart and touching piece of work.

So too was "Eurydice" as staged by Rick Lombardo at Watertown's New Repertory Theatre. His sensitive, musically rich handling of Sarah Ruhl's play only underscored the sense of loss at the news that he'll be shortly heading west to take the helm at San Jose Repertory Theatre.
Oh, but let's not end on a sad note. Instead, and because Top 10 lists tend to skew toward the Serious and Significant, here's a joyous whoop to some shows that gave me what we all may need most in a year like 2008: a good, solid laugh.

To wit, in no particular order: "The Little Dog Laughed" at SpeakEasy Stage; "Medea" and "Whizzin"' from the Gold Dust Orphans; "The Drowsy Chaperone" at the Opera House (Broadway Across America - Boston); "Pageant" at Stoneham Theatre and "Pageant Play" at Berkshire Theatre Festival; Carrie Fisher's "Wishful Drinking" at the Huntington; and "Gutenberg! The Musical" at New Rep.
May we all have more laughs, and more joy, in the year to come.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at

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