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Boston Spotlight: November 2004

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Tom Vaughan Lawlor in
The Playboy of the Western World
(Photo © Tom Lawlor)
Two promising tours kick off the otherwise dreary, gray month when we're expected to give thanks. Boston is the first touchdown for the national tour of Evita (at the Colonial, November 2-14), directed by Hal Prince and starring Kathy Voytko, who recently appeared as Ariadne in the Lincoln Center production of The Frogs. And it's toward the tail end of the Abbey Theatre's centennial celebration tour of J.M. Synge's 1906 shocker, The Playboy of the Western World (at the Wilbur, November 2-21).

From November 4 to 28, Goodspeed Musicals will be incubating a new work, Princesses, at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut. Rex Smith plays an action star pinch-hitting in a play at his daughter's boarding school (that would be Jenny Fellner, recently of Mamma Mia!). Writers Bill and Cheri Steinkellner have Cheers credits and several Emmys between them; Matthew Wilder composed Mulan; choreographer Rob Ashford won a Tony for Thoroughly Modern Millie; and director/lyricist David Zippel recently collaborated on Andrew Lloyd Webber's Woman in White.

Varla Jean Merman (a.k.a. Jeffery Roberson) vamps and camps his way through Charles Ludlam's "penny-dreadful" The Mystery of Irma Vep at New Haven's Long Wharf November 10 - December 12 (it's co-produced with Hartford Stage, who gave it an SRO run last winter).

Those dates also hold for the New Repertory Theatre's New England premiere of Thomas Gibbons's Permanent Collection, in the Boston suburb of Newton. The author introduced the drama a year ago at Philadelphia's InterAct, where he's playwright-in-residence. Like his previous plays (e.g., bee-luther-hatchee), it plumbs the racial divide, while fictionally addressing a current controversy: the disposition and possible dispersal of the quirky but superb Barnes Museum, now under the aegis of the predominantly African-American Lincoln University. Benjamin Evett, fresh from the success of Richard III (the inaugural production of his Actors Shakespeare Project), plays a well-intentioned education director; Clark Jackson (Off-Broadway's Cobb) portrays the ambitious new board president, who happens upon some unjustly neglected works relegated to storage.

Interpersonal/ideological conflict also fuels Lanford Wilson's Burn This, at the Huntington Theatre November 12 - December 12. The 1987 play, which Wilson revamped for "his" season at New York's Signature Theatre in 2002, hinges on volatile pairings. In the original, Joan Allen and John Malkovich played Anna, a repressed dancer, and Pale, the berserk brother of her recently deceased gay roommate; Catherine Keener and Edward Norton electrified the recent reprise. It will be interesting to see what kind of sparks fly between Michael T. Weiss (best known for playing Jared in the TV series The Pretender) and Anne Torsiglieri (who starred opposite John C. Reilly in the Huntington's world premiere of the musical Marty two seasons back). Larry De Wolf (co-writer and co-star of the hilarious pseudodoc Lisa Picard Is Famous) is on hand to provide hyper-gay comic relief. The ensemble will be steered by Susan Fenichell, founding artistic Director of New York's edgy Hopeful Monsters.

It's a one-night deal (November 13), but it might be worth heading out to the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge to catch a first reading of Jonah's Dream, William Gibson's satirical take on the big omnivorous marine mammal and the big guy in charge, Jehovah. Timed to coincide with the local luminary's 90th birthday, the reading will culminate in a reception (complete with cake, of course).

As an alternative to the plethora of Christmas Carols that spring up this time of year (Trinity Rep's, running in Providence November 13 - December 26, is always worth catching), consider All of a Kind Family, at the Emerson Majestic Theatre November 13-20. Adapted from Sydney Taylor's 1951 classic, it depicts the hardships and rich emotional life of five young immigrants growing up Jewish on the Lower East Side in 1912. Also fine for the family: the touring show of Big River (the Roundabout Theatre/Mark Taper Forum/DeafWest Theater 2003 Broadway version), at the Wang November 16-21.

Suitable for the kiddies but sophisticated enough to appeal to the adults who are its ideal audience, Johnny Guitar the Musical, a camped-up version of Joan Crawford's kitschy 1954 western vehicle, proved a surprise Off-Broadway hit last spring. Speakeasy Stage straddles it November 19 - December 18, with petite powerhouse Kathy St. George, a local favorite, as Vienna, the mega-shoulderpads role.

Playwright/director/actor Lillian Groag describes The Ladies of the Camellias -- about dueling divas Sarah Bernhard and Eleanora Duse -- as a "divertissement," but with its theme of art vs. anarchy, the 1988 work, recently revised for a brief run at Burbank's Colony Theatre, seems suddenly timely; there's even talk of a New York staging, should the upcoming engagement at Yale Repertory Theatre (November 26 - December 18) engender sufficient interest. Bon mots fly and claws unfurl as the two competing leading ladies go head to head in the Paris of 1897.

Fans of the antic actor John Kuntz (last month's twisted Richard III) can enjoy a feeding frenzy in the form of Fully Committed at the Lyric Stage November 26- December 23. Widely performed since its 1999 debut at the Cherry Lane Theatre, Becky Mode's comedy centers on an unemployed actor fielding reservation requests at a hot Manhattan restaurant: a single performer plays dozens of shape-shifting roles, from snooty would-be patrons to a maniacal chef. Kuntz should have a ball -- as will the audience.

On November 27, Cambridge's American Repertory Theatre begins its season in earnest -- and mannered silliness -- with the Restoration comedy The Provok'd Wife. Director Mark Wing-Davey (who played two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox in British TV's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) is likely to wring some contemporary resonance from this 1697 hit about the nasty ways of the idle rich, which the 28-year-old John Vanbrugh -- later to become the architect of Blenheim Palace -- penned to amuse himself while imprisoned as a putative spy in the Bastille. Lord Brute drinks a bit (cross-dresses, too); Lady Brute does her best to undermine his honor. The show runs through December 26, offering a welcome splash of schmaltz-free holiday fare.

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