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Chicago Spotlight: April 2005

Boston Spotlight: April 2005

Cutting Edge

By Boston
Ken Cheeseman, Paula Langton, and Allyn Burrows in Measure for Measure
(Photo © Michael F. Walker)
Ken Cheeseman, Paula Langton, and
Allyn Burrows in Measure for Measure
(Photo © Michael F. Walker)
"Edgy" is the catchword this month (isn't it always?), as a bevy of small New England companies break new ground. Adding glitz to the mix is a burst of musicals, some of them younger than springtime.

There are only ten days left (through April 10) to catch the Actors' Shakespeare Project's superb Measure for Measure, imaginatively staged in an actual church nave turned Latino nightclub -- an evocative setting for this classic faceoff between hypocritical prudes, "headstrong jades," and innocent bystanders. The ensemble gathers Boston's best.

David Mamet's Oleanna, which examines a similar struggle, only with a post-feminist (some might say anti-feminist) twist, runs though April 17 at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. That's also the end-date for Blinders, a 1998 political satire by Patrick Gabridge, presented by the Out of the Blue Theatre Company at the Boston Playwrights Theatre, in which a reporter suffers bizarre repercussions for trying to blow the whistle on a bogus scientific discovery. (She has the audacity to point out that two supposedly identical people, hailed as freaks of nature, happen to look nothing alike.)

Company One, which gave a powerful rendition of Stephen Adly Guirgis's Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train at the Boston Center for the Arts last season, is back with his dark comedy Den of Thieves -- about an amateur drug-money heist gone horribly wrong -- through April 23. The politically motivated counterpart can be found in Scottish playwright Gregory Burke's Gagarin Way, a 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival phenom turned West End hit being given its American premiere by the Sugan Theatre Company (also at the BCA, same dates).

TheatreZone, in working-class Chelsea, is in the final stretch of its Actors Revenge series: lowly players get to pick the shows and directors. Edward Albee's classic, The Zoo Story (sans misconceived 2004 addition), plays in repertory with John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea through April 9, followed by Frank Galati's adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath April 14-23.

Black boxes don't get much smaller than the Devanaughn Theatre, within Boston's Piano Factory arts community. That's where the Mill 6 Theatre Collaborative will be offering a world premiere of Sean Michael Welch's The Trojan Whore (through April 16), a comedy about the role bureaucrats play in war-mongering -- sounds timely! The production features George Saulnier III, a Keatonesque master of deadpan.

American Repertory Theatre artistic director Robert Woodruff will be test-driving the ART's "black box on steroids," the Theatre at Zero Arrow Street, through April 24 with a production of Olly's Prison by Edward Bond, originally a post-Cold War (1993) teleplay. The ever-provocative British playwright -- you never forget your first baby-stoning -- examines the aftermath of "an unspeakable act" committed by a seemingly ordinary man (played by ART veteran Bill Camp); the prison he ends up in, Bond suggests, extends well beyond four walls.

New York performance artist Mike Albo touches down briefly at the BCA April 7-30 to share his outré solo show My Price Point, which examines, among other things, "botoxic beauty" and other hazards of the "post-tsunami gay lifestyle."

For those needing a further Shakespeare fix, the Hartford Stage in Connecticut is importing acclaimed New York director Karin Coonrod (Public Theater, etc.) for a stripped-down, contemporized rendition of Othello April 7 through May 8.

From April 13-21 the Yale Repertory Theatre will be hosting the avant-garde Peruvian theatre collective Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani for a "Festival of Performance, Politics, and Memory." Plays include Adios Ayacucho (about an indigenous desaparecido of the 1980s) and Antigona (Sophocles adapted to show a women's perspective on this same turbulent period). Symposia, lectures, demos, and street performances fill out the program.

New Haven's Longwharf Theatre will mount the world premiere of Julia Cho's BFE April 13 through May 4, in association with Playwrights Horizons, where the play heads next. The domestic comedy concerns the identity crisis of a 14-year-old Korean-American girl, Panny (played by Olivia Oguma), as she searches for love within the sterile confines of a Phoenix suburb. Andre Pluess, whose credits include I Am My Own Wife, provides the musical backdrop. Meanwhile, Boston is buzzed to catch the latter: Jefferson Mays in Doug Wright's 2004 Tony winner at the Wilbur Theatre April 19-24, the last East Coast leg of an eagerly anticipated "Broadway Across America" tour.

New Haven is apparently the place to be in April (more below). During this triple-threat week alone, April 14-16, the Yale School of Drama presents, as part of its cabaret series, Welcome to Gnarlyhill!, a world-premiere revue based on the cartoons of Gahan Wilson . It worked for Gorey; why not the just as morbidly delightful Wilson?

The big musical news, not just regionally but nationally, is the premiere of Charles Strouse's latest oeuvre, You Never Know, at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence April 15 through May 22. Obviously, the composer of Annie could have had his pick of venues across the country, but he was wowed by Amanda Dehnert's rendition of his signature work last season. The new contender, set in a Miami resort in 1948, is billed as a "musical-within-a-musical" revolving around a Presidential candidate with a roving eye (now where could that notion have come from?), his glamorous movie-star wife, and a hapless witness to their shenanigans: the composer of a soon-to-be Broadway hit. Members of the repertory company will share the stage with Broadway vets, and be put through their paces by choreographer Christopher d'Amboise.

On April 15 through June 26, the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, kicks off its summer season (let's pray the snow is finally gone) with a revival of the 1982 Broadway version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, preparatory to a national tour. As per usual, many of the principals boast impressive credentials.

Capping off the month is the world premiere of August Wilson's Radio Golf at the Yale Repertory Theatre April 22-May 14. Like Strouse, Wilson could have had his pick of theaters for this, the final entry in his ten-part exploration of the 20th-century African-American experience, but Yale was where he started -- two decades ago with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom -- and it seems only fitting to wrap up the cycle where it was birthed, and where most of the dectych first saw the light of day. Once again, we're back at Aunt Ester's house in Pittsburgh, only now it's the '90s and the place is a wreck, slated for demolition. A mysterious stranger appears, bubbling over with ambition: to fix up the house (which he claims is his), to run for mayor, to start up a radio station (by diverting federal redevelopment funds), to shepherd inner-city kids -- via golf -- to the security of middle-class life... Who is Harmond Wilks, really, and just what is he up to? We can't wait to tune in and find out.


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