Wondering what TO SEE and NOT TO SEE onstage? Here’s my take on what I’ve seen lately:
FACELESS: SEE it! This New England premiere by young playwright Selina Fillinger and season opener at Zeitgeist Stage Company is a provocative look at the hot button issues of the day: racism, terrorism, immigration, religious freedom, women’s identity politics– all fueled by social media, and here delivered by a first rate cast sleekly directed by David Miller. The plot involves a defiant, gullible American teenager (the consistently engaging Ashley Risteen) who’s been recruited online to radical Islam and is on trial for terrorism. She’s reluctantly prosecuted by a Harvard-educated, female, hijab-wearing Muslim lawyer (the superb Aina Adler) who resists being used as a tool in a socio-political storm, when she’s appointed by her superior and prosecuting attorney (a slick Victor Shopov). David Anderson impresses as the teen’s father when the political turns personal and all emotional hell breaks loose. The play works on several levels as its twists and turns compel us to sort through a Gordian knot of issues with a stinging resolution. These characters, despite the formula, do live and breathe as real people onstage. Only through this weekend October 7 at the BCA Plaza Black Box Theatre.
WARHOLCAPOTE A Non-fiction Invention: SEE it! It’s a damn hoot –and a world premiere. You sit there as if overhearing the juiciest, most fascinating, hysterical conversation between two of the oddest creative geniuses ever to exchange words and ideas. Adaptor Rob Roth sifted through over 3000 tapes of conversations recorded in 1978 by Warhol on his Walkman (which he called his “wife,”) as he and Capote discussed writing a broadway play. THAT play never happened, but this one is the result, with a sprinkling of bon mots from other scattered interviews and recordings and the addition of pop art video projections with two vibrant orange chairs center stage, and the seat of five imaginary but verbatim conversations assembled here for our delectation. I didn’t care that these conversations never happened this way, or that this is barely a play at all. I found these characterizations remarkably fleshed out beyond their mannerisms: Dan Butler captures the poignance and need beneath Capote’s randy sexuality and piercing observations about people. Stephen Spinella gives us a cool, blanched aesthete in Warhol, gently listening to the worked-up Capote, the two trading stories about Bogie and Liza, life and art, sex and death, and of course– fame. It is hilarious and heartbreaking and short. Smoothly directed by Michael Mayer. Through October 13th at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.
EXIT THE KING: SEE it! Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s season opener at the Emerson Paramount Center’s Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre is a smart, fresh take on Ionesco’s more relevant than ever EXIT THE KING. This mostly outstanding cast stars Richard Snee who lends his comic genius to the blind megalomaniac King Berenger, and a brilliantly mordant Sarah Newhouse who’s never been better than as the Queen of mean Marguerite. The King has ruined his country, but can’t see it; he’s blind as a bat and has just been told he will die in 90 minutes. His legacy is wrack and ruin: he’s murdered his enemies, devastated the environment, driven the country into fiscal and intellectual poverty; even the planets are out of whack. The kingdom has taken its cue from its corrupt head of state, and his putrid effects are everywhere. Only death can take him out, though it comes as a shock to him, and an ironic relief for the audience. The set is strange and unattractive–all balloons and tinsel–but the production deserves a look especially now when the emperor has no clothes and we’re all starting to feel a draft. Through October 8.
MEN ON BOATS: Don’t recommend. This supposedly subversive “comic adventure” about the historic 1869 expedition to chart the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon seeks to upend cis-gender white male stereotypes and history by casting diverse non-male performers in historic roles, but instead capsizes within the first 20 minutes. What may have been a tale of death-defying derring-do in real life, doesn’t survive playwright Jaclyn Backhaus’s trip to the stage–on account of poor storytelling, mostly dull staging, and unmemorable characters. It’s a case of simple, old-fashioned story telling running aground no matter who’s telling the story. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company through October 7.
A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY: Don’t recommend. Flat Earth Theatre has tackled Tony Kushner’s dense fable juxtaposing a group of friends in 30’s Berlin grappling with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, and Ronald Reagan’s turning his back on the AIDS crisis in 80’s America. The comparison literally holds up, but its resonance has been Trumped by what’s happening now in these United States and makes Kushner’s play feel oddly out of date. The direction also fails to find its stylistic groove; interplay that should have been funny and decadent among this bohemian crowd, fell flat, the actors too deliberately arch and over the top. I never really engaged with any of them. At the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown through October 14th.