Review by G. L. Horton
Copyright © 1995 Geralyn Horton.

Personal Boston "Bests" of 1995

This list of "Bests" is necessarily incomplete. I saw less than half of the productions in the Boston area last year, and an inclusive list of my most memorable theatre experiences in 1995 would have to include 5 of the 16 shows I saw in England, and 2 that came to Boston on tour, but that I saw earlier in NYC: "Angels In America, parts I & II" and "Three Tall Women".

The outstanding Boston area production of 1995, and a strong candidate for Best Production of the Decade, was Shakespeare & Company's "Much Ado About Nothing". Tina Packer conjured up visions of heart-stopping beauty to fill the huge outdoor stage at the Mount in Lenox, and her cast played with the across-the-board depth that only a permanent company with a consistent style of training and a guiding philosophy can supply.

. In the Huntington Theatre's "A Raisin in the Sun", Ester Rolle reprised her role as the mother, familiar from the film version of the play. But this time she pitched it higher, on a scale that only live theatre can accommodate. With an excellent supporting cast, director Kenny Leon proved that Lorraine Hansbury's 1959 drama has passed through "dated" to become "classic", its three and a half hour length and its extended revelatory monologues deeply satisfying when performed by actors who know how to make it sing.

The "Libation Bearers" , the middle play of the American Repertory Theatre's revisionist "Oresteia" trilogy , fell between a flawed "Agamemnon" and a misconceived "Eumenides", but it was an effective staging of a great play, sparked by Tomas Derrah's Electra-fying performance as the maddened Orestes. The company had another partially- great production in the Brecht/Weill "Threepenny Opera" -- the Weill part. Craig Smith's musical direction was exquisite, and his singers were great actors as well -- as long as the music lasted. Then they were caught up in the pointless flounderings and flat "satire" trying to pass for a coherent re-thinking of the text.

Irish playwright Tom Murphy's "Famine" is a huge and profound play that deserves to be done by a company with the subsidized resources of a national theatre, or at least by one of our local L.O.R.T.'s Much of what goes on in Boston today is a direct result of what the Irish went through in the1840's, as that experience shaped the lives of their American immigrant descendants. Carmel Reilly's Sugan , the local theater devoted to modern Irish themes and writers, tackled "Famine" in the tiny BCA Theatre with a minuscule budget and a cast of 23 actors ranging from brilliant to passable, and emerged victorious. Anyone lucky enough to have seen it is the richer for it, and in Sugan's debt..

Coyote Theatre's "Top Girls", also at the BCA, was a vivid and passionate reading of Caryl Churchill's 1980's script, proving that what once might have seemed doctrinaire politics tied to a set of topical references resonates more deeply with the passage of time. Stephanie Clayman led a first-rate cast in performances that were models of emotional detail, while director Stephen Maler kept the fireworks firmly subordinated to the classic conflict at the play's heart.

Frank McGuiness' study of three hostages imprisoned in the Middle East, "Someone to Watch Over Me", used terrorism as the excuse to write an actionless meditation on the Great Questions, and The New Repertory Theatre supplied the rock solid acting that brought those questions home to the audience with almost unbearable poignancy.

All of the above passed the highest tests, engaging the intelligence and the imagination in a way that allows them to serve as touchstones for the rest of the season. But there were also noteworthy productions at the level right below the highest, in the category of "good theatre". Paul Dagnaeult's Speakeasy Theatre leads the list with two winners, "Jeffrey" and "Twilight of the Golds". Dagnaeult is a wonderful "actor's director", giving splendid performers like Jeff Miller plenty of scope, while inspiring others to reach past what had previously seemed to be their limitations to a new and higher level. Actors should be lining up to audition for him.

Centastage presented the premiere of "Dancing Downstream", by local playwright Bill Lattanzi, in a production that, although insufficiently magical to keep Lattanzi's whimsy airborne the whole length of the evening, supplied delights of language and fantasy all too often missing from local stages, whetting the appetite for more.

The Public Theatre's "Anything Goes" had leading players worthy of Broadway, and a chorus of hoofers to lift every heart. Kudos to Spiro Veloudos.

Out of the Blue managed to make a pretty persuasive case for Tennessee Williams' overheated "Suddenly, Last Summer", and for Shakespeare and Company's "Goodnight Desdemona" director Cecil MacKinnon polished Canadian writer Ann-Marie MacDonald 's wit and swashed her buckles until her playful Shakespearean parody shone like a minor masterpiece.


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