Alternative Theater Venues Provided Some of the Best Productions of 2016

Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company’s ‘Sense and Sensibility”


by Mike Hoban

One of the more frustrating aspects of reviewing (or just being a fan of) theater in Boston is knowing that, even if you can get to as many as 2-3 shows per week during the seasonal peaks, there are still a number of stellar productions that you will miss out on in any given year. Most of these productions are mounted by so-called “fringe” companies that often don’t have the resources to consistently bring their work to the more widely known, larger (and promoted) stages such as the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) – despite doing some of the most compelling work in Boston theater. So discovering these shows can be a bit more challenging for those who aren’t in the Boston theater loop.

Below are a handful of productions that I saw in 2016 that were mounted in venues that many theatergoers don’t necessarily find their way to, but absolutely deserved a wider audience.

(Productions appear in chronological order of run dates with imbedded reviews supplied by either me or an IRNE colleague.)


‘ART’ – at Arts After Hours in Lynn (March)

Beverly Creasey and I braved a snowy March traffic jam and arrived just in time to catch director Fran Weinberg’s terrific production of ART at Arts After Hours in Lynn. Yasmina Reza’s biting dramedy centers around the strain put on the friendships of three men when one of them drops a boatload of cash on a painting of dubious artistic merit. The play not only asks the question, “What is Art?”, but also “What is Friendship?” The intimate setting of the space lent itself well to this intense and hilarious work, powered by the thoroughly engaging performances of Anthony Mullin, Tom Grenon and Jason Myatt.


‘Dog Act’ – at Charlestown Working Theater (April)

Theatre on Fire’s Dog Act, a “post-apocalyptic vaudeville comedy” at the Charlestown Working Theater, was the epitome of great “fringe” theater. This play with music was so beautifully performed (and sung) by its brilliant ensemble, that plausibility took a huge back seat (it was science fiction, after all) to the sheer fun and artistry of the production. Great performances all around, but it was nice to see such strong female characters, and Liz Adams (no relation to Liz Duffy Adams, the playwright), Kaylyn Bancroft and Marge Dunn really shone in their challenging roles.


‘ART’ and ‘Wit’ – at the First Church in Boston (April, November)

Hub Theatre Company staged an equally captivating but vastly different take on ART just a month after the Lynn production closed, featuring Victor Shopov, John Geoffrion and Bob Mussett (with direction by Daniel Bourque). Hub came back to the First Church in November with a powerful version of Wit, Margaret Edson’s play about a college professor dying of cancer. Liz Adams gave one of 2016’s great performances as Dr. Vivian Bearing, a literature professor who struggles to accept that her superior intellect is not only a poor defense against the ravages of cancer, but an unintended shield against living a fully realized life.


‘Blood on the Snow’ – at The Old State House in Boston (May)

The Old State House was the setting for Blood on the Snow, the historical drama by Boston playwright Patrick Gabridge that imagines the events following the killing of four civilians by the occupying British during the “Boston Massacre” in 1770. Gabridge and a talented cast gave us an up close view of the critical decision making process that bedeviled Governor Hutchinson, as he risked the wrath of the outraged townspeople before ordering the withdrawal of British troops from Boston. That the gripping re-enactment was staged in the same room (the Council Chamber of the Old State House) as the actual event 250 years prior only heightened the drama, with the sounds of the angry mob outside adding an additional level of intensity. Alas, only 50 tickets were available per (sold out) show for this excellent piece of work.


‘Hamlet’ – at Port Park, Chelsea (July)

Appollinaire Theatre Company brought its imaginative vision for Hamlet to Port Park on the Chelsea waterfront, and the result was a truly fresh take on the classic. Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques made full use of the park for scene changes, and I still have the image of the brilliant Brooks Reeves delivering Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy from atop a two-story salt pile. Apollinaire’s brick and mortar home base, Chelsea Theatre Works, is also an underappreciated small theater venue worth a look in 2017 (they also just christened a new black box theater at the location).


‘Sense and Sensibility’ – at Hibernian Hall, Roxbury (October)

Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company staged an alternately heartbreaking and hilarious version of Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility at the Hibernian Hall in revitalized Dudley Square. Directed by Michael Underhill, the outstanding cast featured a healthy dose of regulars from the imaginary beasts theater company (including Maiden founder Erin Butcher, who was terrific as Marianne), and the creative use of boxes on wheels to serve as everything from carriages to parlor furniture was particularly inspired. Hibernian Hall has offered some great performances in recent years, including another underappreciated gem in 2015, Peter Snoad’s “The Draft”.


“A Palpable Hit” – Cambridge YMCA (November-December)

All right, so it wasn’t so much a play as a showcase for a dozen of Shakespeare’s greatest “fight scenes” (from 10 different plays), but it was great entertainment. The Gunpowder Plot & Cambridge Historical Tours teamed to bring us A Palpable Hit (review courtesy of Theater Mirror’s C.J. Williams) which showcased the work of some of Boston’s top fight coordinators (Omar Robinson and Angie Jepson), that dropped a lot of the dense word play in favor of ACTION. Not all of the “fights” involved swordplay (although they certainly appealed to the 14-year old boy in me), and some of the stronger pieces were more arguments than battles, but they were equally enjoyable. What this showcase did was provide a vehicle where both newcomers and students of the works of the Bard were satisfied.



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