What to see now ONSTAGE? There are a slew of good productions playing, and I am going to give you thumbnail reviews to catch up and let you know where I think your time is best spent beginning with the following DO NOT MISS SHOW:
–The miraculous BEDLAM’S ST. JOAN presented by Underground Railway Theater and directed by Eric Tucker at the Central Square Theater. Four dazzlingly talented actors play 24 parts in George Bernard Shaw’s extraordinarily incisive telling of the little French farm girl who could. Joan of Arc raised the siege of Orleans and rattled the cage of every male bureaucrat in her path with the audacity of an innocent. The actors break the fourth wall, hurtle around the theater (the audience sometimes moving with them!) seamlessly shifting character to enact the pompous peerage, conniving clerics, and everyone in between. Joan’s through- line to God by-passes both Church and State and we know they’ll burn her for it. Shaw’s script dissects every intricate argument against the maid in language as precise as a surgeon’s scalpel. The fiercely focused cast ferrets out every last bit of humanity, humor, ire and angst. I’m still fired up. THIS IS PURE THEATER. DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW! JUST EXTENDED by one additional show through Feb 8!
––FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS, Parts 1,2 & 3 is having its world premiere at the American Rep Theater in Cambridge. It’s a soul-searing, deeply insightful work, the first of three parts of an epic new play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks that cuts to the quick of the black experience in America. Inspired by Homer’s ODYSSEY in the aftermath of the Trojan War, Parks’s epic charts the relentless search for the black identity in America in the wake of the Civil War. The crux of the dilemma– self-betrayal– is delivered in the penultimate moments of the three hour trilogy, when the slave named Hero (Benton Greene), who has followed his master into war as chattel, returns home to find himself lost– in a personal civil war; he’s now a free man who realizes the cost of survival has been his own soul. It’s a brutal, brilliant epiphany in a play that straddles history and the future, carefully illuminating the Gordian knot of a tragedy at the heart of the American experience, how inescapably complicit we all are, and how even so, Parks bravely shines a light on a way out. Compellingly acted and staged, the show will hold you long after it’s over. Through March 1!
––A FUTURE PERFECT at SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY has its sights set on two “30-something” couples who sit down to dinner; when it’s revealed that one of the couples is pregnant, the news bares the cracks in their relationships (or lack thereof) as couples and individuals. Immediately, everyone recalibrates what they value, what makes them happy, and what this is going to do to their perfect futures. If you’re 30, it’s interesting. If you’re 60, you smile and think– “oh, yeah, I remember. Get over it.” Marianna Bassham is a standout as the climber of corporate ladders whose thinly disguised resentment of her friend’s pregnancy and its impact on her neat little life is both funny and despicable. A great set by Cristina Todesco and solidly entertaining work from all involved, make this worth seeing. Through February 7!
—THE SECOND GIRL at the Huntington Theatre Company’s second stage at the BCA’s Calderwood is a heartfelt, beautifully lit and staged world premiere– and a dreary bore. Nothing happens. But the food they’re cooking right onstage smells good– bacon frying, smoke curling, chicken roasting. I was hungry. For something– like the morsel of a plot. Ronan Noone’s play directed by Campbell Scott is set in the kitchen of Eugene O’Neill’s apocalyptically dysfunctional Tyrone family of Long Day’s Journey Into Night notoriety. While the Tyrone’s are fighting addiction and each other in the parlor, two Irish immigrant servant girls (Bridget and Cathleen) are in the scullery fighting for a fresh start in America. The women are convincing–Kathleen McElfresh as the forlorn cook Bridget and MacKenzie Meehan as the feisty new maid and “second girl” relentlessly squabble. Christopher Donahue as Jack, the American chauffeur, relentlessly pines for the tippling, guilt-ridden cook, but he is oddly unfocused and unsympathetic. The language doesn’t reach the lyrical heights to which it aspires, and no compelling conflict moves the drama forward. That the inaction is set in the Tyrone family manse carries little resonance–except for the length of time alluded to in the title of that monumental work. Though a bit more than two hours, THE SECOND GIRL seemed an extra long day’s journey into night. Through 2/21.
—PINOCCHIO over at Wheelock Family Theatre is a dark tale indeed for a young audience. It isn’t just that Pinocchio’s nose grows when he tells a lie. It’s that he really learns the hard way how to become a REAL boy. I’m talking being robbed, hung, kidnapped, sold into servitude and turned into an ass– literally, then being beaten, nearly murdered for his skin, and swallowed by sea monster. He also sees his best friend abused and led off to die. Strong stuff. Adapted from Carlo Collodi’s book set in Italy, the action has inexplicably been transferred to Japan. The performances, however, are vivid, the staging simple and powerful with an evocative onset orchestra, but the production is too long for young audiences. The moral of the story is sound, but the journey is a scary one for young children to witness. Take that into account before you take your 5 year old. Through February 22!