THE ALIENS: Beckett meets Bogosian in this “Shirley, VT” play from Annie Baker, but the real news was that three Boston companies teamed up to give us the entire Shirley trilogy.
Renovation and reanimation were the news this year, and that led one to wonder: if the Fabulous Invalid is so sick, why does it need so many new cribs? On Washington Street alone, spring saw the opening of Emerson College’s beautifully restored Paramount Center and fall the opening of Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre, both rescued from Combat Zone squalor by knights of academe. Then in June, new presenter ArtsEmerson announced inaugural programming for the Paramount’s two stages that promised to knock theatergoers’ socks off, ranging from Ireland’s leading theaters to productions by legendary director Peter Brook. Also returned from the dead is North Shore Music Theatre, which had canceled its 2009 season, only to be up and singing again in 2010. But enough about real estate and on to the most memorable of what went on behind the fourth wall.
PAGE ON STAGE
The first of several marathons this year, GATZ stretched itself across six and a half hours and the Loeb Drama Center stage in an Elevator Repair Service production presented by the American Repertory Theatre. The dingy office setting looked more 1990s than Roaring ’20s, but the script of this mesmeric tour de force consisted of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby read, every gorgeous phoneme, in its entirety, often amid a swirl of file cabinets and flying paper. A spellbinding experience in which the elegantly conjured events of the book gradually overtook the mundane doings of the workplace, the piece was both a testament to the power of prose and a reflection on the quixotic, ephemeral nature of performance.
The Huntington Theatre Company proved itself master of the family drama with stellar productions of Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS, directed by David Esbjornson, and Lydia R. Diamond’s STICK FLY, directed by Kenny Leon. Wrenchingly acted by Karen MacDonald and Will Lyman, this Sons captured not just the Ibsen but also the anguished O’Neill in Miller’s moral drama. And Diamond, peeking into the closets of an upper-class African-American family, proved you can also add a splash of O’Neill to an audacious cocktail of Cosby and cultural anthropology.
SEX AND SYMPATHY
Desperation clashed with decorum in two proofs that if the heart is a lonely hunter, it is also a ruthless one. The Publick Theatre revived Joe Orton’s deliciously Freudian 1964 absurdist comedy ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE, in which middle-aged siblings war in doily-covered Brit surroundings for the sexual ministrations of a sly young pick-up. Eric Engel directed an excellent cast led by Sandra Shipley’s dowdy mix of doormat and cougar. In Terrence McNally’s less archly written but even grittier game of seduction, FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE, Anne Gottlieb and Robert Pemberton made beautiful losers of the title pair in Antonio Ocampo-Guzman’s staging for New Repertory Theatre.