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Boston Spotlight: September 2004

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Donald Margulies
(Photo © Andrew Eccles)
September yields a rich harvest, what with the late bloomers on the summer theater circuit and big-name season-starters back in the city.

On the periphery, the Gloucester Stage on Cape Ann is putting on a pair of Donald Margulies plays: starting September 1, The Loman Family Picnic, a musical comedy about a Coney Island bar mitzvah in the 1960s, and, on the 22nd, a reprise of Collected Stories starring Nancy Carroll. (The latter, directed by Eric Engel, won this year's Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Production by a Small Resident Company.) On September 3, the Hartford Stage in Connecticut hosts the New England premiere of Crowns, Regina Taylor's musical celebration of church-bound "hattitude," while the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence takes on the Fats Waller tribute, Ain't Misbehavin', with Kent Gash of Atlanta's Alliance Theatre directing (he'll be back this winter to do Topdog/Underdog serially at Trinity Rep and New Rep in Newton). On September 9, the Stoneham Theatre is presenting The Who's Tommy, while the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre, out on the Cape, mounts the New England premiere of Jeffrey Sweet's Immoral Imperatives, about an impromptu ménage a quatre in the Florida Keys; Ralph Waites, of The Waltons and, more recently, HBO's Carnivale, stars.

September 10 is the unofficial starting date for Boston theater, with three productions simul-opening. The hands-down headliner is the Huntington's latest August Wilson, Gem of the Ocean, which will immediately leap to Broadway (previews start at the Walter Kerr October 22): Delroy Lindo, Phylicia Rashad, and Lisa Gay Hamilton lead a cast of multiply Tony'd longtime Wilson collaborators. Cambridge's American Repertory Theatre will have a tough time competing with Marcel Marceau & Company in Les Contes Fantastique, even if this is the French mime master's only U.S. appearance this year. The Lyric Stage's rendition of Sondheim's A Little Night Music has as its draw Leigh Barrett, who won a well-deserved Norton Award last season for four outstanding musical performances; she's a homegrown phenomenon.

The New Repertory in Newton has pulled off quite a coup in snagging the September 15 world premiere of Michael (Moonchildren) Weller's latest, Approaching Moomtaj: A Fairy Tale for Grownups, about a post-9/11 marital crisis that crosses over into high-stakes fantasy game playing. Alerted to the small suburban theater's excellence by repeat visitor Austin Pendleton (who'll be turning up in Quills in January), Weller clicked with director Rick Lombardo, whose talented wife, Rachel Harker, will portray the beleaguered wife; ART stalwart Thomas Derrah, an old hand at scamp roles, plays her brother-in-law, a computer-genius agent provocateur.

On September 17, Yale Rep kicks off its season with world premiere of The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, who's clearly on a roll (in 2003 she was honored with a Whiting Award and Williamstown mounted her Eurydice; The Clean House won the 2004 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize). In this comedy/drama, force-of-nature Carmen de Lavallade plays a Brazilian housekeeper loath to clean but brilliant at unearthing dormant dysfunction.

On the outskirts of Boston, but thoroughly cosmopolitan, the North Shore Music Theater will be putting its high-tech theater-in-the-round to good use with Swing!, opening September 21, with original cast member Everett Bradley leading a well-credentialed pick-up company.

Starting September 29, New Haven's Long Wharf offers a fresh take on Guys and Dolls, with choreography by Daniel Pelzig, who waltzes adroitly from ballet to opera to theatre and was responsible for 2003's A Year with Frog and Toad. Two-time Tony nominee Christa Moore plays Salvation Army recruiter Sarah Brown.

If you enjoy trolling for new talent, a prime source is "Out on the Edge," the Theatre Offensive's 13th annual -- and always provocative -- festival of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender theater, running September 30 to October 24 at the Boston Center for the Arts.

And for one last gasp of summer on the Cape, catch WHAT's closing number, opening September 30: the New England premiere of Private Jokes, Public Places by architect-manqué Oren Safdie (son of Moshe), a comedic take on the pretensions and sexual/cultural tensions inherent in the field. She, the timid Asian-American graduate student, is proposing as her thesis a retrofit from abandoned building to community-enhancing public swimming pool; they, her male interlocutors, are intent on parading their egos and biases. Something's got to give, and - as audiences in L.A. and at New York's La MaMa have found -- just what comes as a real surprise.

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