The best on the boards

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  December 17, 2007

If music be the food of love . . .
The ART has struck frequent paydirt collaborating with Minneapolis-based Théâtre de Jeune Lune. This year brought a pair of “opera-plays” marrying Mozart to, in Don Juan Giovanni, Molière, and, in Figaro, Beaumarchais. Under the direction of Dominique Serrand, both were musically ravishing and featured impeccable comic turns by Serrand and Steven Epp. Broadway Across America/Boston presented a satisfactory touring production of The Light in the Piazza, with its soaring Adam Guettel score: pure emotion in orchestration. And Barrington Stage Company fielded a revival of West Side Story that proved once again that it doesn’t get much better than Romeo and Juliet scored by Leonard Bernstein and moved to the innocent mean streets of 1950s Manhattan.

Divine Providence
Trinity Repertory Company boasts that increasing rarity, a resident acting company, some members of which have been with the Providence troupe for more than 30 years. Experience and familiarity make for the thespian equivalent of a well-aged wine. Of note were the crackling ensembles of Sarah Ruhl’s lyrical, lunatic swirl of magical realism, The Clean House, directed by Laura Kepley, and Brian McEleney’s thrilling 25th-anniversary revival of founding artistic director Adrian Hall’s adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer-winning All the King’s Men, with African-American actor Joe Wilson Jr. an unlikely but herculean Willie Stark.

Noël, Noël
Outgoing artistic director Nicholas Martin helmed a sparkling Huntington Theatre Company revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter — egotistic piffle with the shelf life and sparkle of mica — with four-time Tony nominee Victor Garber as irresistible in the role of Coward stand-in Gary Essendine as the author thought he was. And across the river, the ART reconstituted the Onion Cellar cabaret for A Marvelous Party, a compendium of Coward songs, scenes, and diary snippets that lived up to its name.

Teacher’s pets
John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, which toured to the Colonial Theatre with Cherry Jones reprising her Tony-winning turn as a fierce old nun butting heads with a priest she suspects of sexual abuse, proved a subtler construct than it at first appears. And ART alum Jones has lost none of her radiance; it just glinted off something unbendable as nails. More elastic was Nilaja Sun, who brought her Obie-winning No Child . . . to ART, imbuing with undulating physicality and the energy of uranium the 16 characters — including attitude-spewing students, an overwhelmed teacher, a bent janitor, and herself — in the one-person show based on her experience as a teaching artist in the toughest New York City schools.

Company one for all
This small resident company at the BCA scored big in 2007, following Shawn La Count’s delightfully rambunctious staging of Noah Haidle’s Mr. Marmalade, a cautionary fantasy about a four-year-old girl whose imaginary friend is an abusive businessman, with Summer L. Williams’s lively and piquant production of Lydia R. Diamond’s stage adaptation of Toni Morrison’s lyrical debut novel, The Bluest Eye.

Crazy salad
Scott Edmiston was at the helm of the Lyric Stage Company’s delirious staging of Christopher Durang’s post-mortem fantasy Miss Witherspoon, which starred Paula Plum as an exasperated suicide who keeps getting sent back, kicking and screaming, to earth. And Charlestown Working Theater imported one of the small, exquisite treats of the year: Mabou Mines’ Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth by Day. Written by Sharon Fogarty and enacted with a mix of coquetry and paranoia by the great Ruth Maleczech, the swirl of text, performance, and projection imagines the death-in-life and life-in-death of James Joyce’s daughter, who spent 37 years in asylums.

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