The 10 best theater productions of 2021

Opera theater


Over the summer, optimism pervaded the air as theatergoers gathered to watch the tales unfold in the great outdoors of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s exciting staging of “The Tempest.” on Boston Common to the Gloucester Stage Company’s stimulating outdoor production of “Tiny Beautiful Things.” As vaccines continued to roll out and the fall approached, movie theater doors finally opened and offered dozens of options for an audience vaccinated or recently tested and masked. After a robust and welcome return, here are some of our favorites for 2021.


Gloucester Stage Company

At the time, masks were required for the Gloucester Stage Company’s outdoor production of “Tiny Beautiful Things” at the Windhover Center for the Performing Arts in Rockport, the first in-person theater performance I attended after more. one year indoors. Based on the memoir of the same name by Cheryl Strayed, stories of heartbreak, love, disappointment and trauma were explored in this moving play adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos and superbly directed by Lyndsay Allyn Cox, who recently starred in Huntington’s “Witch”. The story focuses on Strayed’s time leading a column of advice under the moniker Sugar. A small group of actors – Adrian Peguero, Kelly Chick and Nael Nacer – played several characters who wrote letters to Strayed in need of advice. Wise actress Celeste Oliva performed a wonderfully insightful Strayed, but what makes this piece such a top choice is how well Strayed cared for her readers and how brave she was to speak her truths. that they could be a balm for the wounded.

Nael Nacer, Celeste Oliva, Adrian Peguero and Kelly Chick in “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Gloucester Stage Company. Performed at Windhover Arts Center in Rockport. (Courtesy of Jason Grow)

Central Square Theater

Growing up is tough, especially for Jacqueline Marie Butler (Jasmine M. Rush), a young black girl from Queens who has been asked to straddle two very different worlds. In this one-woman show, Rush excelled in playing the multiple characters Jacqueline met in her first kiss, an awkward conversation about her hair with a new classmate, and the pain of the world grappling with racism during the move. civil rights. Although touching on complex subjects, the story told from Jacqueline’s perspective from her front steps finds its balance. I laughed heartily at the eccentric character of Karen Rubin, I calmed down after a dose of trauma, I fully felt the luminous surge of hope that bubbles in the innocence of youth and I have understood the uncertainty that accompanies change.

Jasmine M. Rush in "Queens girl around the world" at the Central Square Theater.  (Courtesy of Nile Scott Studios)
Jasmine M. Rush in “Queens Girl in the World” at the Central Square Theater. (Courtesy of Nile Scott Studios)

SpeakEasy Stage Company

For me, some of the best stories in theater are not only the ones that entertain but also teach. In the introspective “The Sound Inside”, a lonely and ill professor and a brilliant but mysterious student find common ground. Bella Baird and Christopher Dunn were performed beautifully by actors Jennifer Rohn and Nathan Malin, respectively, and Adam Rapp’s screenplay, punctuated with poetic language and book references, was heart-wrenching. Bella and Christopher’s lives are unexpectedly intertwined, and the abrupt final turn of the story leaves audience members thinking about layers of their lives that might hold them back and push them to live more fully.

Jennifer Rohn and Nathan Malin in Adam Rapp "The sound inside" at SpeakEasy stage.  (Courtesy of Nile Scott Studios)
Jennifer Rohn and Nathan Malin in “The Sound Inside” by Adam Rapp at SpeakEasy Stage. (Courtesy of Nile Scott Studios)

Broadway in Boston

The hallways were teeming with people as this fun musical opens at Citizens Bank Opera House. The richly decorated space with gold and cream walls and high ceilings added to the experience. The space was conducive to such a great tale, which was an update of the Greek myth of Orpheus, who falls in love with Eurydice. But love is never easy, especially between gods. Eurydice is tricked into going to hell with Hades and Orpheus must save her. It’s a great story that doesn’t end as I expected, but the journey, with the sound of remarkable voices, is one that I would happily resume.

Levi Kreis as Hermes and the cast of "Hadesville." (Courtesy of T Charles Erickson)
Levi Kreis as Hermes and the cast of “Hadestown”. (Courtesy of T Charles Erickson)

ArtsEmerson

In February 2021, ArtsEmerson gave away Christiane Jatahy’s “Julia”, an update on August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie”. While I didn’t see the series in person, this explosive piece in a movie furiously battled race, class, and love. The story, set in Brazil, details the brief and tumultuous affair between a wealthy girl and a maid. The well-performed show pulsed with emotion and drama and culminated in a fascinating explosion that lingered long after the credits roll.

Julia Bernat and Rodrigo dos Santos in "Julia," a brazilian adaptation of "Miss Julie," presented by ArtsEmerson.  (Courtesy)
Julia Bernat and Rodrigo dos Santos in “Julia”, a Brazilian adaptation of “Miss Julie”, presented by ArtsEmerson. (Courtesy)

Barrington Theater Company

The first play I saw when theaters opened last summer was Barrington Stage Company’s excellent “Chester Bailey”, a play and production that made the difference between virtual theater and live theater. direct. But the best show of the season was “A Crossing,” a terrific collaboration on Mexican immigration. Under the direction of Joshua Bergasse, the music, the play, the dance and the story all fed on each other in such a creative, cohesive and intelligent way that it was hard to tell where one started. and where the other picked up. Artistic Director Julianne Boyd has announced that next season will be her last. She will be missed.

All "A crossing: a dance musical" at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield.  (Courtesy of Daniel Rader)
The ensemble of “A Crossing: A Dance Musical” at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield. (Courtesy of Daniel Rader)

William shakespeare

Yes, the old man always rocks as the directors move closer to the Shakespearean script, mix doses of contemporary touches or completely rethink the work. The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company produced their best work in “The Tempest” since arriving on the scene 25 years ago, thanks in large part to the majestic performance of John Douglas Thompson as Prospero, which shook the isolation of the same way we all were. Not everyone liked Christopher Lloyd as “King Lear” at Shakespeare & Company, but I was extremely touched by his soft voice, making up for in soul what others found missing in the declamation. Meanwhile, Igor Golyak tackled Shakespeare’s problematic play, “The Merchant of Venice” for Actors’ Shakespeare Company, confronting the bard’s anti-Semitism head-on. It’s not evident throughout the production, but ultimately the tasteless Christian characters take Nael Nacer’s Shylock to a concentration camp in an utterly frightening scene. As Golyak scooped up “Merchant of Venice” for Jews, “Macbeth in Stride” did the same for feminists as Whitney White sang, danced and otherwise produced Lady Macbeth’s story in a Black Women’s Empowerment Story .

I feel compelled to say that these reclamation projects are often exciting ways to keep Shakespeare from becoming a museum of great men. Having said that, there is a lot to be said about this museum. Antony Sher, who passed away this month, and Harriet Walter, who has illuminated “Succession” for the past two weeks, came to New Haven years ago with a relatively traditional production of “Macbeth” that still haunts me today. ‘a way that contemporary productions will never do. . Let’s not let one cancel the other.

John Douglas Thompson as Prospero Rocks Ariel from John Lam in "Storm" on Boston Common.  (Courtesy of Evgenia Eliseeva)
John Douglas Thompson as Prospero rocks John Lam’s Ariel in “The Tempest” on Boston Common. (Courtesy of Evgenia Eliseeva)