The following are both CRITICS PICKS which indicate shows that the Boston Theater Critics Association (of which I am proud to be president) have especially  recommended while they are still onstage and able to be seen in and around Boston!

Photo: Jim Sabitus

The first is the greater Boston premiere of a Pulitzer Prize-nominated dark comedy called THE MINUTES by Tracy Letts presented by THE UMBRELLA STAGE COMPANY in Concord, Mass. The show ushers us into a small-town, town meeting, the kind where an inordinate amount of time is spent on bureaucratic babble like reading and ratifying the minutes and taking attendance, while some ancient crank is gassing on about redesigning the parking meters. The little town in question here is called Big Cherry led by one Mayor Superba (Steven Barkhimer) who’s barely tolerating sleepy old crank Mr. Oldfield (Richard Snee). There’s a newly-elected member of the town council Mr Peel (Ryan McPherson) who’s just returned from a brief leave to attend his mother’s funeral, only to discover that one Mr. Carp (Jeremiah Kissel) is missing from the proceedings and everyone is being evasive about why and where he is. We eventually come to find out that Mr. Carp– true to his name– had in fact been carping about something he’d discovered about the history of the town. The town’s anniversary is about to be celebrated and Carp’s news was less than celebratory.

Director Scott Edmiston has a great deal of fun with this top notch veteran ensemble–who clearly relish playing these recognizable local types sitting in official semi-circle before us. Edmiston then skillfully steers the satire from humor to horror. As the final scenes grow increasingly disturbing, the semicircle closes in until…. well, see it and hang on. The Minutes is a tight and timely 95 minutes, riding the currents running through the culture now as we contemplate our history, who gets to tell it, what do the myths we create say about us, and what do we do when we are heavily invested in a past which may not be what we thought.  At THE UMBRELLA in Concord, MA. through March 24!


And DO NOT MISS KING HEDLEY II a stunning production presented by ACTORS’ SHAKESPEARE PROJECT in partnership with HIBERNIAN HALL, a warm and evocative setting for this potent work. King Hedley II is the 9th of August Wilson’s American Century cycle of 10 plays about the Black experience in 20th century America. This one is set in 1985 Pittsburgh where the titular King played with passion and poignance by James Ricardo Milord has just been released from prison after 7 years and dreams of opening his own video store. But can this dream bloom in 1980’s America where systemic racism reflected in cycles of poverty, unemployment, lack of promotion, insufficient housing—conspire to stifle new growth?  King decides to level the playing field by selling potentially stolen refrigerators to help get a jump start.

But from the very beginning, we have a glimpse of the fragility of King’s hopes. When we first see him, he’s crouched downstage, planting seeds for a tiny flower garden– will it bloom? Is the soil bad? Indeed, this complex plot is seeded with themes of death and revenge, crime and punishment, family and legacy, aspiration and desperation.  Summer  L. Williams directs this loaded and increasingly explosive material with a sure hand and a stellar ensemble of stand out actors who bring these characters and what drives them to vivid life: Naheem Garcia, Omar Robinson, Brandon G.Greene, Patrice Jean-Baptiste, Karimah Williams. They give us everything they’ve got on that stage, something akin to a religious experience. Must See KING HEDLEY–now extended until April 7 at Hibernian Hall!