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The best on the boards

Theatre: 2007 in review
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  December 17, 2007
FAT PIG: SpeakEasy gave Neil LaBute’s black-comic fable a stylish staging.

There have been a few muggings on the rialto this year. It began in January with Harvard University’s decision not to renew the contract of American Repertory Theatre artistic director Robert Woodruff after his first five years. Granted, not everything the far-reaching Woodruff programmed was brilliant, and some of it may not have sold tickets. But the talented, taciturn director’s collaborative, international vision for the ART felt prematurely blinkered. If any institution can afford to bankroll a vision as it achieves its full, piercing focus, Harvard can. It didn’t.

The next blow was the decision of Citi Performing Arts Center to abbreviate the run of the summer’s free offering of Shakespeare on the Common. The Taming of the Shrew ran for three merry weeks in 2006; this year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was squeezed to one. On top of that, it was announced that the historic Wilbur Theatre is on the block. The Wilbur, where Our Town premiered and the ghosts of Barrymores and Cronyns tread, is a landmark, so it can’t be razed to make room for a McDonald’s. But its future as a theater is certainly threatened.

On the up side, Harvard opened its attractive, refurbished New College Theatre, a phoenix rising from the old Hasty Pudding — and adding to the area’s plethora of new theaters, including one at the flashy new Institute of Contemporary Art. (Don’t look for a Robert Woodruff–directed work at the New College, but he might fit right in at the ICA.) Finally, a year after it was announced that Nicholas Martin would leave his post as Huntington Theatre Company artistic director at the end of this season, a successor has been announced: Peter DuBois, 37, resident director and former associate producer at New York’s Public Theatre and former artistic director of Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre Company. At least he won’t mind the weather.

On top of the disappointments, there were, of course, triumphs and pleasures:

Best of the bard
Actors’ Shakespeare Project rose to the challenge of Shakespeare’s lyrical but sensational early tragedy Titus Andronicus — and did so, in David R. Gammons’s staging, without spilling a drop of stage blood. But the performances by the all-male cast led by Robert Walsh’s muscular Titus were far from bloodless. On a smaller scale, Daniel Elihu Kramer helmed a delightful, subconscious-driven A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Boston Theatre Works in which Paula Plum played the King of the Fairies and everyone scampered across a forest floor sprouting elastic poppies.

Noble nobels
David Wheeler helmed a knowing and magisterial ART revival of Harold Pinter’s 1975 No Man’s Land, a cryptic excursion into Hamlet’s “undiscovered country” that was deftly acted by Paul Benedict and Max Wright as two elderly men of letters sticking a gingerly toe in the River Styx. And director Robert Scanlan brought to the New College Theatre a program of short plays written by absurdist giant Samuel Beckett about the elusive process of making art that featured the incomparable Beckettian cadences of veteran actor Alvin Epstein and a witty, hypnotic score by Martin Pearlman.

If music be the food of love . . .
The ART has struck frequent paydirt collaborating with Minneapolis-based Théâtre de Jeune Lune. This year brought a pair of “opera-plays” marrying Mozart to, in Don Juan Giovanni, Molière, and, in Figaro, Beaumarchais. Under the direction of Dominique Serrand, both were musically ravishing and featured impeccable comic turns by Serrand and Steven Epp. Broadway Across America/Boston presented a satisfactory touring production of The Light in the Piazza, with its soaring Adam Guettel score: pure emotion in orchestration. And Barrington Stage Company fielded a revival of West Side Story that proved once again that it doesn’t get much better than Romeo and Juliet scored by Leonard Bernstein and moved to the innocent mean streets of 1950s Manhattan.

Divine Providence
Trinity Repertory Company boasts that increasing rarity, a resident acting company, some members of which have been with the Providence troupe for more than 30 years. Experience and familiarity make for the thespian equivalent of a well-aged wine. Of note were the crackling ensembles of Sarah Ruhl’s lyrical, lunatic swirl of magical realism, The Clean House, directed by Laura Kepley, and Brian McEleney’s thrilling 25th-anniversary revival of founding artistic director Adrian Hall’s adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer-winning All the King’s Men, with African-American actor Joe Wilson Jr. an unlikely but herculean Willie Stark.

Noël, Noël
Outgoing artistic director Nicholas Martin helmed a sparkling Huntington Theatre Company revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter — egotistic piffle with the shelf life and sparkle of mica — with four-time Tony nominee Victor Garber as irresistible in the role of Coward stand-in Gary Essendine as the author thought he was. And across the river, the ART reconstituted the Onion Cellar cabaret for A Marvelous Party, a compendium of Coward songs, scenes, and diary snippets that lived up to its name.

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  Topics: Theater , Harvard University , Noel Coward , Neil LaBute ,  More more >
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