LITTLE ORPHAN OPRAH
No one does shoestring spectacle like Ryan Landry and his Gold Dust Orphans, who pulled out all the stops in their mash-up of Gaston Leroux, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the queen of daytime television, PHANTOM OF THE OPRAH — not to mention in their revival of Landry’s lampoon/homage inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, THE GULLS. Raunchy jokes, cartoon sets, and fabulous costumes were abetted in the first case by an uncanny turn by Varla Jean Merman as haunted soprano Christine Daaé and in the second by avian attackers made out of everything but hot fudge.
SPEAKEASY DOES IT (AGAIN)
SpeakEasy Stage Company brought musical ferocity and grim stylishness to ADDING MACHINE: A MUSICAL, Joshua Schmidt & Jason Loewith’s startlingly successful setting of Elmer Rice’s 1923 Expressionist indictment of mechanized modern life, The Adding Machine, here directed by Paul Melone. I missed the troupe’s IN THE NEXT ROOM (OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY), but my colleague, Ed Siegel, found Scott Edmiston’s staging of Sarah Ruhl’s Pulitzer finalist “exquisitely funny” without screwing up the “delicate balance of science, sex, and love.”
Tír Na Theatre Company scored the miniature triumph of the year with Irish writer Mark Doherty’s hilarious if also poignant fable TRAD, in which a 100-year-old man and his moribund da trek the expansive, insular expanse of Ireland in search of misplaced kin. Directed by Carmel O’Reilly and played with wit and precision by Colin Hamell, Billy Meleady, and Nancy E. Carroll, this was, in the tradition of Beckett, a vaudeville routine that blossomed into a poem.
The Plains are compared to the blues in Tracy Letts’s AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, a hilariously lacerating, Oklahoma-set dysfunctional-family drama that won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. And in the production that touched down at the Colonial Theatre, starring octogenarian Estelle Parsons as the vituperative matriarch, those Plains were sung with a plaint that would peel paint.
The Huntington Theatre Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company, and Company One teamed up to serve as theatrical chamber of commerce for “Shirley, VT,” fictional hub of the œuvre of preternaturally wise 29-year-old playwright Annie Baker. Taken together, these works revealed a delicate hand working in small, deliberately stunted brush strokes, the results often cringingly funny yet humane to the core. The Huntington’s CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION, directed by Melia Bensussen, and SpeakEasy’s BODY AWARENESS, helmed by Paul Daigneault, made fine showcases for Baker’s disarmingly compassionate wit. But Shawn LaCount’s bravely drifting Company One staging of the sadder, quirkier THE ALIENS showed her at her elliptical best.
NO LITTLE DICKENS
Why toss off A Christmas Carol when you can people your small stage with the full sprawl of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY in two parts spanning six hours of Victorian hubbub and societal indictment, with 25 of the area’s best thespians playing more than 150 parts? Lyric Stage Company of Boston honcho Spiro Veloudos pulled off Brit playwright David Edgar’s adaptation of the novel, turning it into a satisfying theatrical feast full of villainous gristle but finished with Dickens’s trademark milk of human kindness.
LOSS IN BLOOM
THE BLUE FLOWER was no common hydrangea but a musically driven journey through literal and artistic battlefields of the first half of the 20th century. This theatrical collage of artwork, text, music, and videography — the creation of composer/musician Jim Bauer and artist Ruth Bauer, 10 years in the making and given a gorgeously grungy sheen by the American Repertory Theatre under the direction of Will Pomerantz — was thin on dramaturgy but swollen with feeling. The oft-ravishing melodies of Jim Bauer’s Weimar-meets-country tunes pierced the heart, and the ART deployed singer-actors who could deliver them in all their lush longing.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article identified Diego Arciniegas as the director of Entertaining Mr. Sloane, when it was in fact Eric Engel.