Standout performances of '06
Area companies impressed challenging work
By Heidi Masek email@example.com
For those waiting for the southern New Hampshire theater scene to expand beyond Cats and Annie, 2006 was your year.
Bedford Off-Broadway's presentation of Children of a Lesser God in October stood out for execution and script choice. At a school for the deaf, a couple tries to come to terms with a wall that they slowly, painfully realize will always be between them. The hearing cast had to learn American Sign Language and was coached in deaf speech patterns and culture. Gina Carballo and Anthony Goes stood out as the leads. Mark Medoff's script uses sign and witty, insightful dialogue to explore limitations and frustrations in relationships and society.
The young alumni of the Peacock Players, many of whom are performing arts majors, staged Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party in a new experiment this summer. Most of the college-age performers were also camp counselors for Peacock drama camps, and this gave them a chance to work on something adult and musically challenging. The Wild Party explores violent, destructive human behaviors in the Prohibition era. Based on a Joseph Moncure March poem, it is almost entirely sung. Actors Holly Laurent, Michael S. O'Keefe and Katie Preston were particularly strong. An alumni show will be a great tradition to continue if Peacock keeps pulling talented alumni back to perform and uses provocative material that isn't overdone.
NH Theater Project brought a recent retelling of The Odyssey overseas from England for its first American run. London playwright David Farr's 2005 version of Homer's epic was tightly presented in Portsmouth in November. Farr references a modern-day government detention center, where Odysseus is held after he washes up on a foreign shore. The gypsy-influenced score arranged for NH Theatre Project by Agnes Charlesworth was particularly effective in setting atmosphere. Actors were able to show a wide range since most played more than one character.
Aunt Dan and Lemon by Wallace Shawn at Merrimack Repertory asked its audience if indeed they are any better than the world's notorious despots. The 21-year-old play is still relevant and the script well-crafted and engrossing. The professional actors, many with film and television credits, gave a flawless performance.
Andy's Summer Playhouse's practice of premiering original work produced some very cool results this year. Goldberg Variations, a collaboration by 31 writers, choreographers, musicians, etc., created scenes that were variations on the themes of Rube Goldberg's philosophies, commentaries and cartoons, and Bach's Goldberg Variations, which play in the background, foreground or not there at all (30 variations and an aria). The "flash plays" ranged from amusing shorts that kids identify with to the abstract or symbolic. The staged reading of a work in progress by Karen Smith Vastola, Useless, Inc., was also compelling and wide-ranging. It explored ideas of feminism, capitalism, productivity, usefulness and invention, and worked in time travel and a talking manikin.
Ghostlight Theater Co. was honored for its performance of an excerpt from its production of One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace at the New Hampshire Community Theatre Association's 35th Festival of Community Theatre. Ghostlight will move on to perform at the New England Regional Festival of Community Theatre in March. Neal Blaiklock and Mari Keegan of One Flea Spare were judged Best Actor and Best Actress in the festival as well.
New Thalian Players showed much perseverance this year. Even as the Fisher Cats had a fireworks show nearby, planes drowned out lines and a rain storm drenched the place before curtain, New Thalian soldiered on to deliver A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum outdoors. Their initial "Theater in the Park‚ÄĚ staging was West Side Story in 2005, and was such a success they hoped to make it an annual summer event.
New Thalian founder Beth Ann O'Hara left her retirement from directing of five years to direct Hot Mikado in November. O'Hara has a lifetime achievement award from the New Hampshire Theater Association. O'Hara put much work into building the company, and reinvesting income from shows into detailed sets and costumes. O'Hara had wanted to stage this jazz version of Gilbert and Sullivan's satirical operetta Mikado for the past eight years. She has been blood transfusion-dependent for most of the last 14 years.
New companies on the scene this year included Pirate Stage, a cooperative of southern New Hampshire theater veterans who so far have staged Rocky Horror Show in Nashua around Halloween. The company is called Pirate's Stage because they plan to "share the booty" of show income.
Derryfield Repertory is a new summer stock company that includes alumni from the Manchester private school, as well as other college students who worked as camp counselors at the school's new summer drama camp. Best Foot Forward Productions is a new company that formed with the idea of having youth involved in its board of directors. It also recognized the same interest of actors ages 18 through 22 wanting to stay with their youth theater company. Stage Coach Productions also formed, and is set to produce its first show, Jane Eyre, the Musical, Jan. 19-21, directed by Timothy L'Ecuyer, who has directed frequently for Peacock Players.
Christopher Courage, Acting Loft founder, left to pursue a new opportunity after ten years with the Manchester theater education organization.