Boston could not ask for more great drama this weekend. Even before a certain athletic competition commences against a team from a certain noteworthy adjacent metropolis, our fair city offers us one last chance to see three remarkable productions of deservedly award-winning plays.
“God of Carnage”
by Yazmenia Retha (translated by Christopher Hampton)
directed by Daniel Goldstein
presented by Huntington Theatre Company
The playwright who brought us “Art,” the tale of two men shifting out of a mentor/protégée relationship and into contention in their middle age, thanks to the catalyst of an expensive abstract painting, comes another tale of squabbling grown-ups.
Off-stage, two children have an altercation on the schoolyard. One has knocked a tooth loose from the other with a stick.
The aggressor’s repressed mother and ostentatiously unscrupulous, cel-phone-addicted father pay a visit to the parents of the victim: two liberals, dripping with self-righteousness, in an apartment cramped with pretentious artifacts which advertise their simultaneous affinities for the primitive and the sophisticated.
As the couples jockey to see who can come off as the most magnanimous, veneers are stripped bare, alliances are formed and trashed, booze is swilled, insults are hurled and furniture is vomited on and anesthetized. It’s a beautiful spectacle of the socially grotesque, all the more amusing in that you know each and every one of these people—in fact you probably are one of them.
RED by John Logan
directed by David R. Gammons
presented by Speakeasy Stage Company
RED is a story about Mark Rothko, the great modern painter whom you may, if you’re honest, know as the” solid-color-with-solid-color-stripes, guy. If you’ve seen “a Rothko” in person though, there’s a good chance you were moved by it. They are almost eerily soulful, passionate and affecting compositions.
Through the eyes of a young apprentice who lives out a classical, role-reversing servant/master relationship with Rothko, we watch the artist confront his defining challenge: fulfilling a commission from the Seagram’s Corporation to create a series of murals for an obscenely posh restaurant in it’s shiny new skyscraper headquarters. Painting is holy for Rothko, and commerce heartless and filthy. It’s another classic conflict.
John Logan is a playwright at heart who has sold an impressive number of trashy screenplays to Hollywood, so this is a conflict with which he’s familiar. He paints Rothko as a capital “A” Artiste in way that can sometimes feel a bit contrived, but he—and Speakeasy’s inspired team of designers and actors—capture painting as a sacred ritual as compelling as an epic athletic competition, with the same strange, irrational feeling of gravity and consequence. In the role of the eccentric tortured genius, Tommy Derrah shows off his tremendous presence, emotional range and self-effacing humor.
Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts
Directed by Spiro Veloudus
Two other masterful former mainstays of the A.R.T., Will LeBow and Karen MacDonald, join some fresh talent in making the characters in this slice of Chicago life unforgettable. LeBow plays an aging hippie of Polish descent, who since the untimely death of his wife, is languishing behind the counter of his recently vandalized donut shop, oblivious to the flirtations of MacDonald’s salt-of-the-earth, Irish “lady cop.”
That which the near-destruction of his shop fails to accomplish—a true shakeup of his life—is initiated by the arrival of a young, black, trickster figure, who is either an unappreciated novelist, a con man, or some combination of the two.
Steven Barkhimer is amusing as always in the role of a the winkingly Chekhovian Russian shop owner,who wants nothing more than to buy our hero’s donut shop in order to expand his adjoining electronics store.
Like RED, Superior Donuts falls back on it’s share of clichés, including some clunky soliloquies, but at its heart are completely winning characters who illustrate the positives and negatives of urban culture clash, and, like “God of Carnage,” “Superior Donuts” is genuinely and consistently funny.