New England – East 2018/2019 Season In Review by Patrick Gabridge
After the recent special issue of The Dramatist about Massachusetts, the secret richness of the Eastern New England theatre scene is no longer quite so hidden. With all that’s happening, I can only touch on a fraction of the season’s new play highlights.
For the twenty-first year in a row, the season will close with the Boston Theater Marathon. This one-day event features 50 ten-minute plays by 50 different writers produced by 50 different companies. The many Guild members with plays in the festival include Gary Garrison, Jeni Mahoney, Cassie Seinuk, and Ronan Noone.
Boston Playwrights Theatre presented four workshop productions by their MFA students this year, including Kira Rockwell’s The Tragic Ecstasy of Girlhood, Laura Neill’s Winter People, Laughs in Spanish by Alexis Scheer, and Dead House by Beirut Balutis. These playwrights are already making an impact in the wider world, with Rockwell’s play hitting stages in California and beyond, Winter People slated for development at the O’Neill, and Scheer with a play slated for Off-Broadway.
The American Repertory Theatre’s season included The Black Clown adapted from Langston Hughes by Davóne Tines and Michael Schachter and Endlings by Celine Song about Korean women divers (which featured actors actually diving in a huge tank).
The Huntington Theatre Company’s season opened with the premiere of The Niceties by past Huntington Playwriting Fellow Eleanor Burgess. This sharp two-hander about a black student and a white professor is making its way across the country after productions at Manhattan Theatre Club and the McCarter Theatre Center. The Huntington closed their season with a new adaptation of Lorca’s Yerma by Melinda Lopez (who just won the Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence).
Among the small Boston companies, Fresh Ink produced their eighth season of all new plays, with productions of Girlish by Alexa Derman and The Earth Room by Marge Buckley, alongside readings of four plays by New England writers. Sleeping Weazel created The Audacity: Women Speak, highlighting real stories of women’s experiences with gender biased treatment and sexual harassment, systemic misogyny and sexism, and assault and rape, woven together by company leaders Charlotte Meehan and Adara Meyers.
Artistic Director Sean Daniels continued to transform Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre into a home for new work with world premieres by Lauren Gunderson and Wendy MacLeod, as well as his own play about Jack Kerouac, The Haunted Life. Sadly for us, New England has lost Sean to Arizona, but we’re hopeful the new play momentum will continue at MRT.
Down in Providence, Trinity Rep staged the world premiere of Lauren Yee’s The Song of Summer, while the Wilbury Theatre Group offered their third annual Festival of New Works.
Up north, Maine’s Portland Stage premiered Monica Wood’s new play The Half-Light, which was developed at the Little Festival of the Unexpected. This Festival will workshop three new plays in May, including The Queen of Sad Mischance by our region’s new ambassador, John Minigan. In New Hampshire, Guild member Donald Tongue’s company, New World Theatre, staged the premiere of Eugenie Carabatsos’s play When Colossus Falls, as well as readings of other new scripts.
Judging from the new season announcements, next year’s new work will be just as hard to summarize in one small column.