Play by Play: October 2, 2009

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  September 30, 2009

MISTER ROBERTS | Incoming New Repertory Theatre artistic director Kate Warner rides into town on an old warhorse, Thomas Heggen & Joshua Logan’s 1948 Tony winner, which is better known through the 1955 film that starred Henry Fonda as the title cargo officer — played here with an engaging mix of moxie and earnestness by Thomas Piper — who wants to see some action before the war in the South Pacific is over. When the opportunity does arrive, he learns the courage involved in enduring tedium, and a little of the lesson leaks into callow Ensign Pulver (Jonathan Popp), whose pursuits have been restricted to womanizing and baiting the college-boy-hating captain (Paul D. Farwell supplying bark and bile). What impresses is not Warner’s hoky choice of material but her deft management of the staging, which ricochets all around Patrick Lynch’s three-tiered, clanking-metal set, and of a slim, companionable ensemble topped off by a live, crapping goat. | Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St, Watertown | 617.923.8487 | Through October 3 | Curtain 7:30 pm Thurs | 8 pm Fri | 3:30 + 8 pm Sat | $35-$54; $7 discount seniors; half-price students

THE SAVANNAH DISPUTATION | Evan Smith’s amusing little comedy, in its Boston debut by SpeakEasy Stage Company, is a smackdown between a couple of elderly Irish Catholic sisters aptly named Mary and Margaret and the fundamentalist Christian cheerleader who shows up on their doorstep bent on conversion but gets more than she bargained for on her return visit when Mary brings in the sisters’ parish priest. Smith’s sentimental sit-com dressed up as theological disputation is nonetheless extremely funny, and the blithe narrowness of both sides is exposed in Paul Daigneault’s hilarious SpeakEasy production. Both Paula Plum’s Doubting Thomasina and Timothy Crowe’s pained intellectual of a priest are subtly played, leaving the real cat fight to Nancy E. Carroll’s scathing crank, who defends her meanness as if it were the Grail, and Carolyn Charpie’s fetching airhead of a door-to-door evangelical. | Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St, Boston | 617.933.8600 | Through October 17 | Curtain 7:30 pm Wed-Thurs | 8 pm Fri | 4 + 8 pm Sat | 3 pm Sun | $42-$47; $37-$42 students, seniors; $30 gallery seats

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