Play by play: February 13, 2009

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  February 11, 2009

HOW DO YOU SPELL HOPE? | Underground Railway Theater reprises its production of this "theatrical experience for the whole family based on true stories of people who overcame great obstacles to learn to read." Melinda Lopez wrote the script; URT artistic director Debra Wise helms the production, which features Vincent E. Siders, Ramona Alexander, and puppeteer Penny Benson. Some performances are followed by talk-backs featuring special-guest authors who'll include Lopez February 21 and Wicked scribe Gregory Maguire February 28. | Central Square Theater, 450 Mass Ave, Cambridge | 866.811.4111 | Through March 1 | Curtain 10 am + 1 pm Wed-Thurs [February 18, 19] | 7:30 pm Fri | 3 pm Sat-Sun | $18; $15 seniors, students; $12 children under 12

JULIUS CAESAR | MIT Dramashop takes on Shakespeare's most political tragedy. Michael Ouellette directs. | Kresge Little Theater, 48 Mass Ave, Cambridge | 617.253.2877 | Through February 14 | Curtain 8 pm Thurs-Sat | $8; $6 students

LYDIA | Octavio Solis's play gets its East Coast premiere courtesy of Yale Repertory Theatre. Juliette Carrillo helms the work, which is set in the 1970s on the Texas border separating the US from Mexico and centers on an undocumented maid who establishes a mysterious bond with the disabled child for whom she is caring. | Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St, New Haven, Connecticut | 203.432.1234 | Through February 28 | Curtain 8 pm Mon-Fri + 2 pm Wed [February 18] | 2 + 8 pm Sat | $25-$65

MAGIC TREE HOUSE: THE MUSICAL | A live, touring musical based on the popular children's books by Mary Pope Osborne. Here the series's brother-sister team sets out to restore joy and magic to King Arthur's Camelot by traveling to the dreaded Otherworld for water from the mythical Cauldron of Memory and Imagination. The show features a dozen original songs, puppets by three-time Daytime Emmy nominee (for her Muppet work) Mary Brehmer, and a troupe of Irish stepdancers. | Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston St, Boston | 800.982.ARTS | February 21-22 | Curtain 11 am + 2 + 5 pm Sat | 11 am + 2 pm Sun | $22.50-$52.50

THE NEW CENTURY | Artistic director Paul Daigneault helms this SpeakEasy Stage Company New England premiere of Obie winner Paul Rudnick's quartet of related short plays taking their name from the discount department store Century 21, the Lower Manhattan incarnation of which the playwright perceived still shining in the smoke and grit generated by the 2001 fall of its neighbor, the World Trade Center. There is something cut-rate, too, about this attempt to marry flamboyant gay clichû to hope for a post-9/11 world. But as a purveyor of one-liners, Rudnick is more Neiman Marcus than Century 21. And before it strains toward a saccharine profundity in the final, title vignette, the play fields what amounts to a trio of comic monologues featuring likable eccentrics — all of them grazed by if not immersed in gay culture — that will leave you feeling like the happy victim of an assault by Jackie Mason, Dame Edna, and Oscar Wilde. Paula Plum, Robert Saoud, and Kerry A. Dowling star. | Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St, Boston | 617.933.8600 | Through February 14 | Curtain 7:30 pm Thurs | 8 pm Fri | 4 + 8 pm Sat | 3 pm Sun | $47-$50; $42-$45 seniors, students; $30 gallery seats; $14 student rush, one hour before curtain

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