With the addition of ArtsEmerson to a lively array of hometown players, the Boston Rialto has seen an embarrassment of riches. The following embarrassments are listed in chronological order.
Red [SpeakEasy Stage Company] :: Thomas Derrah was a paint-spattered Vesuvius of anger and pontification as Mark Rothko in John Logan's Tony-winning evocation of the volcanic abstract expressionist. David R. Gammons was at the helm of the bristling production, which started SpeakEasy on a roll that went on to include Next to Normal and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Long Day's Journey into Night [New Repertory Theatre] :: Karen MacDonald and Will Lyman continued their joint assault on 20th-century American classics, turning in friskily romantic yet heartrending performances as James and Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's emotional marathon of an autobiographical drama. Scott Edmiston directed the aptly ghostly production.
Avenue Q [Lyric Stage Company of Boston] :: Kevin Clash's recent travails notwithstanding, who can resist this adults-only Sesame Street in which sweet candor and anxiety about the future are filtered through upbeat ditties, life lessons, and hot puppet sex? Spiro Veloudos's production fielded actor/singers in perfect synch with the fur-and-felt characters they animated.
Billy Elliott the Musical [Broadway in Boston] :: If I'm going to be emotionally manipulated, I prefer that it be done as skillfully as it was by the Tony-winning musical based on the Brit film about an adolescent allowed to dance his way out of a dying coal-mining town circa 1985. The Stephen Daldry–directed production did not so much juxtapose Billy's story with documentation of the National Union of Mineworkers strike as weave them together into a thrilling, abrasive braid.
'Master Harold' . . . and the Boys [Gloucester Stage Company] :: Director Benny Sato Ambush hurled the autobiographical Molotov cocktail that is Athol Fugard's 1982 drama with both tenderness and ferocity, and the cast — Johnny Lee Davenport, Anthony Willis Jr., and Peter Mark Kendall — proved as explosive as the play.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity [Company One] :: Set in the hyperbolic, hate-mongering world of pro wrestling, Kristoffer Diaz's Obie-winning allegory lampoons that choreographed combination of melodrama, spectacle, and sport even as it demonstrates its body-slamming effectiveness. And Shawn LaCount's staging, with his combat as well as thespian chops, was as entertaining a smackdown as the play.
Marie Antoinette [American Repertory Theater] :: David Adjmi's mash-up of satire and sympathy centered on the famously ice-cream-coiffed proponent of cake may not be profound, but it sure is pertinent. And Rebecca Taichman's droll, boogying staging was splendid to look at.
Ted Hughes' Tales from Ovid [Whistler in the Dark, presented by ArtsEmerson] :: In this carnal, lyrical plunge into the primal, an acrobatic ensemble of five, under the focused direction of Meg Taintor, climbed, dangled, and tangled among a quartet of silk skeins hung from the rafters while at the same time delivering the muscular, nature-infused verse culled by Hughes from Ovid's mythological tales.
Betrayal [Huntington Theatre Company] :: Maria Aitkin helmed this delicate and perceptive revival of Harold Pinter's 1978 dissection of a love affair, which illustrates the ameliorative tricks of memory by moving in reverse. A final visual coup suggested not just that memory is illusion but that the shifting sands of power and duplicity were all underfoot from the beginning.
Our Town [Huntington Theatre Company] :: David Cromer's much-lauded intimate staging lives up to its hype, giving off a smell as astringent as it is sweet and serving up a third-act surprise that drives home how less than vividly we see our lives. P