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Local Theater Scene: The War Horses, The Vanyas And The Behandings

This article is more than 10 years old.
"War Horse"
Joey and Topthorn, the “stars” of “War Horse.” (Courtesy of Brinkhoff/Mögenburg)

It’s funny how much of the theater in the Boston area at the moment is a study in contrasts. Downtown, almost next door to each other, you have “War Horse” at the Opera House, a beautifully visualized drama with spectacular stagecraft symbolized by lifesize puppet horses, but with live actors whose characters have much less personality than the puppets. Then at ArtsEmerson’s Paramount you have the Shakespeare’s Globe production of “Hamlet” (both through Oct. 21) which eschews stagecraft to focus on great acting and, of course, a pretty great story.

Tom Nelis plays a presidential candidate grilling his son (Grant MacDermott) in the Huntington's "Now or Later." (Photo by Paul Marotta)
Tom Nelis plays a presidential candidate grilling his son (Grant MacDermott) in the Huntington's "Now or Later." (Photo by Paul Marotta)

That’s more or less mirrored by the Huntington Theatre Company and the American Repertory Theater. The Huntington is staging the American premiere of Christopher Shinn’s “Now or Later," a realistic, 70-minute very political play. The ART has a 4 1/2-hour surreal extravaganza, “The Lily’s Revenge,” about a lily who wants to become a man so he can marry a woman.

“Now or Later” (through Nov. 10) is a provocative play about the gay son of a presidential candidate who might spark an international incident if photos go viral of him dressing as Muhammad at a party. There’s a smart discussion in the play about freedom of expression vs. religious tolerance as well as commitment vs. compromise and political correctness vs. equal standards, but in the end it’s a little too much “Hardball” meets Dr. Phil.

Taylor Mac’s “The Lily’s Revenge” at ART (through Oct. 28) spends much of its 4 1/2 hours poking fun at representational theater like “Now or Later.” The great Tom Derrah plays The Great Longing – i.e. a curtain that represents nostalgic narrative theater.

Here’s how ART artistic director Diane Paulus describes it:

And for over three hours she’s right about what an enjoyable odyssey this is. Director Shira Milikowski makes brilliant use of the ART second space, Oberon.

Uncle Vanya
Ronald Lacey and Diego Arciniegas in the Apollinaire Theatre Company's "Uncle Vanya." (Photo by Danielle Fauteux Jacques)

It's on a par with Paulus's direction of "The Donkey Show." But then Mac feels the need to get very preachy and PC about what we just saw, ending the night on a very flat Kumbaya note instead of letting people piece things together for themselves.

But with all this theatrical richness among the large Boston and Cambridge theaters, let’s not forget some really exciting work going on in not so far-flung places. The Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea is re-staging a terrific “Uncle Vanya” (through Nov. 11) bringing audience members into different rooms of an old building that used to be an Oddfellows and Elks Hall. The Actors’ Shakespeare Project is in Medford using the grand old Chevalier Theatre there for “Macbeth” (through Nov. 4). And Theatre on Fire at the Charlestown Working Theatre does an excellent job with Martin McDonagh’s darkly humorous “A Behanding in Spokane” (through Oct. 27), about a psychopathic man searching for his long-lost hand. They’re all worth the trip, particularly when you factor in some of the excellent pubs and ethnic restaurants in all three areas. Make a night of it.

This program aired on October 19, 2012.

Ed Siegel Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is critic-at-large for WBUR.



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