bracing mix of the weighty and the frivolous, spanning and sometimes merging personal and political concerns, enlivened the area's smaller stages in 1999. Our favorites, in no particular order:
Best Small Theater '99
By Bill Marx & Skip Ascheim|
1. "Sing Me to Sleep," Coyote Theatre
2. "When Pigs Fly," Lyric Stage Company of Boston
3. "Amphoragorey," Provincetown Repertory Theatre
4. "The Advantages of Bandages" and "God Smells Like a Roast Pig," Boston Women on Top Festival
5. "Pure PolyESTHER," Theatre Offensive
6. "At the Black Pig's Dyke," Sugan Theatre Company
7. "The Last Resort," Beau Jest Moving Theatre
8. "A New Brain," SpeakEasy Stage Company
9. "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," New Repertory Theatre, Newton Highlands
10. Fun-House Mirror," Boston Playwrights' Theatre, and "Dancing at Lughnasa," Wellesley Summer Theatre
Coyote Theatre's impressive production of John Kuntz's dank and daffy script, ''Sing Me to Sleep,'' boasted not only the actor/playwright's nervy performance as a pair of seemingly violent weirdos, but also the chameleonic talents of Paula Plum and the intelligent direction of Eric Engel.
Visually stunning, cuddly, and outrageous, the late, lamented Howard Crabtree's ''When Pigs Fly,'' with music by Dick Gallagher and sketches and lyrics by Mark Waldrop, camped out in style at the Lyric Stage. Flamboyantly directed by Rob Ruggiero, the show clothed a terrific cast in Crabtree's stupendous original costumes.
The Provincetown Repertory Theatre presented ''Amphoragorey,'' an eye-popping cabaret that set the macabre stories and creepily cross-hatched drawings of Edward Gorey to music. The evening's songs included deadpan ditties about small children sacrificed to giant insects or snatched by the Wuggly Ump, sending nasty little tingles of happiness up and down your spine.
A stimulating double bill at ''Boston Women on Top,'' the annual festival produced by Centastage and the Underground Railway Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts, paired Deborah Fortson's intriguing homage to Beckett, ''The Advantages of Bandages,'' with Melinda Lopez's exhilarating solo exploration of Cuban-American identity politics, ''God Smells Like a Roast Pig.''
Since ''Pure PolyESTHER'' debuted in the early '90s, we've had a soft spot for Abe Rybeck and John Thomas's lewd and lively drag revamp of the biblical story of Esther. The show is a ribald homage to gay liberation; its good-natured though pointed barbs about prostitution, greed, and glitter in the Old Testament were slung with style in the Theater Offensive production.
Vincent Woods's ambitious if somewhat confusing drama ''At the Black Pig's Dyke'' draws on ancient fertility rites to illuminate the Irish Troubles past and present. Sugan Theatre Company's moody, absorbing production, under Carmel O'Reilly's detailed direction, featured taut acting and - thanks to designers Mick Spence, Marc Klureza, and Marcella Grogan - spellbinding imagery.
The Beau Jest Moving Theatre proved that a work written improvisationally by committee can be coherent and engaging. In ''The Last Resort,'' about a failing vacation hotel, the troupe, directed by Davis Robinson, evoked a capricious succession of moods to make pungent metaphor out of commonplace circumstances.
Composer William Finn's real-life brush with death resulted in ''A New Brain,'' a semiautobiographical musical combining existential dread and Broadway buffo. At its best, the show provides enjoyably sardonic entertainment; SpeakEasy Stage Company's sharp rendition smoothly melded black comedy to showbiz pizazz.
''Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,'' Tom Stoppard's topsy-turvy rewrite of ''Hamlet,'' contains more ingenuity than brilliance, but the New Repertory Theatre production was very smart: cagily directed, amusingly costumed, and acted with the proper absurdist gusto.
And two more cases of standout direction: The flawed but very funny trilogy ''Fun-House Mirror,'' by Boston University prof Jeffrey Beatty, was turned into fine-tuned mayhem at Boston Playwrights' Theatre by Robert Walsh's exacting guidance of a skilled comedic ensemble. At the Wellesley Summer Theatre, Nora Hussey coordinated a tender, solid staging of Brian Friel's ''Dancing at Lughnasa,'' a warm and fuzzy play about alienation.
As for larger-scale venues, Hartford Stage presented two top-notch productions of plays by Tennessee Williams: ''A Streetcar Named Desire'' and ''Camino Real.'' Both were beautifully directed by artistic director Michael Wilson. The Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts brought innovative drama from England to Springfield's CityStage: Out of Joint's sensational version of Caryl Churchill's ''Blue Heart'' and Two's Company's delicate mounting of Harold Pinter's ''A Kind of Alaska.'' And Trinity Rep in Providence served up the zesty essence of Dario Fo's dated but still robust farce ''We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!''