Local theater brings a year of music and murder

by Hugh Hunter
Posted 1/11/24

You can look forward to a robust area theater in 2024. 

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Local theater brings a year of music and murder


You can look forward to a robust area theater in 2024.  Old Academy Players opens with  "And Then There Were None" on Jan 12. One of a handful of books to sell 100 million copies worldwide, "None" is an Agatha Christie tour-de-force. You guess neither villain nor motive, yet the ending is plausible and wickedly moralistic.

Shifting gears, "Tea for Three" opens at Act 2 Playhouse on Jan 26. Written by  Eric H.  Weinberger and Elaine Bromka, you are invited to brunch with three former First Ladies, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford. Act 2 veteran Sabrina Profitt portrays all three women. 

"Three" builds on the success of last year's "Eleanor", a compelling portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt that shrouded the former First Lady in mystery. Perennial Barrymore winner Mary Martello sets acting aside to direct a similar Bio-Drama that aspires to bring our history to life in an ironic, unassuming way. 

Stagecrafters opens their season in February with "God of Carnage" by Yasmina Reza. The playwright, directed by Jane Toczek, lampoons precious ideas of the modern-day, aspiring classes. Reza's satirical talent is almost scary in its originality, with characters so signal they bring out the best in actors.  

Quintessence Theatre heralds a "Love and War Season". They open with "Macbeth" under director Alex Burns, then continue in late May with "Father Comes Home From The Wars" (2014). Written by Suzan Lori-Parks, it stars an enslaved Texan who agrees to fight for the Confederacy in return for promises. Will they be kept? 

Allens Lane Theater

In 2023 Allens Lane produced the most sparkling "Twelfth Night" I have ever seen. In a review from last year I wrote, "Allens Lane's cozy supper club springs to life as director Walter uses the entire physical plant...It is as though the production is so bursting with comic energy that one stage cannot contain it."

It was also their last show. Allens Lane will continue Reader's plays, but canceled Mainstage shows for the entirety of 2023-2024, citing financial problems worsened by the pandemic. This development casts a pall over the upcoming season. 

Since its inception in 1953, Allens Lane has been at the core of Chestnut Hill area theater. Its intimate cabaret atmosphere is unique. Countless performers got their start inside its welcoming walls. While their formal stance is that Mainstage theater is "on pause", it sounds like they need lots of help. 

But "The Show Must Go On". Here is a glimpse at other fare being presented in area venues at the beginning of the 2024 theatrical season:

Stagecrafters continue their season with "Sweat" (2015) by Lynn Nottage. Of all the plays in recent decades that deal with race, only "Sweat" links ethnic strife with America's 60's-70's industrial collapse You have to go back to Depression-era playwrights for a similar viewpoint. 

Stagecrafters closes in on summer with "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" (2005), by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Its core conceit is audacious: Judas Iscariot is in Purgatory, confined to a courtroom trial that will decide his fate – Heaven or Hell? Jesus, Satan, Pontius Pilate, Sigmund Freud and Mother Theresa are just a few witnesses. 

Act 2 Playhouse continues their season with "It's Only a Play" by Terrence McNally (Off-Broadway, 1982), a satire where theater-world stakeholders party on opening night, anxious over impending reviews. Among the oddballs is Drew, a snarky critic too lackluster to participate in live theater, but a closet playwright, (Yo McNally! Leave theater critics alone!). 

In late spring Act 2 presents "Forever Plaid" (1989) an Off-Broadway musical. A harmony group from the 50s – think The Four Aces or The Four Freshmen – is killed by a Catholic Girls' bus en route to the American debut of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Plaids return from the afterlife for a revenge encore performance. 

Old Academy Players follow up on Dame Agatha with a notable group of shows. "The Weir" (1997) by Conor McPherson is an Irish drama set in the Gaelic West, (aren't they all?). Characters immersed in modern-day struggles connect differently with their inheritance of ghostly folklore. One of the most acclaimed plays of recent times, "The Weir" has been quietly influential. 

"Next to Normal" (2008) is about the struggles of a bi-polar mother. Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 2010, it is a Rock musical that, along with the Rap musical "Hamilton", broadened the ambit of American musical theater. And just before Old Academy's Summer Bonanza, they will present the legendary "Our Town"(1938) by Thornton Wilder. 

Fall and Holiday Season schedules are yet to be announced, but the absence of fluff in early-season fare is striking. Shows span a wide range of genres – comedy, socio-political commentary, historical fiction, murder mystery, musical – nearly every play classic or noteworthy. I look forward to how our theaters approach them.