Best Boston-area Stage Shows for 2015

By Robert Israel

Here are my five choices of the best shows that sparkled brightest on Boston-area stages:

* Come Back, Little Sheba, by William Inge, directed by David Cromer, Huntington Theatre Company.

Inge’s first full-length play premiered on Broadway in 1950, and its provocative themes — repressed vs. overt sexuality, substance abuse vs. intervention, fulfillment vs. dashed hopes — resonate just as strongly today. HTC’s superb production featured vivid, heartbreaking, and triumphant performances by Adrienne Krstansky as Lola and Derek Hasenstab as Doc, a hapless couple whose lives came undone before our eyes.

* Needles and Opium, written and directed by Robert Lepage, ArtsEmerson.

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Marc Labreche (above), star of Robert Lepage’s “Needles and Opium.”

Quebec City-based Robert Lepage is a master of using special effects to enhance his powerful storytelling. These include puppetry, slack wire acrobatics, dance, computer-generated lighting, and music. Needles and Opium, starring the multi-talented Marc Labreche, abounded in theatrical wizardry. It took us on an intergalactic flight, serving up a savory feast of aural and visual experiences that stirred our minds and enriched our spirits.

* Muse and Morros, Culture Clash’s 30th Anniversary Tour, created, written, and performed by Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza, ArtsEmerson.

When they returned to Boston in 2015, Los Angeles-based Culture Clash had not performed here in over a decade. It was easy to see why they had not been back: their ballsy brand of political theatre is raunchy rather than polite. The material from this show was drawn from unexpurgated street interviews: a Pakistani cab driver, a Vietnamese gangbanger, a handicapped war veteran, and other displaced Americans struggling for dignity in our fractured nation. Culture Clash delivered gutsy, assaultive performances.

* appropriate, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by M. Bevin O’Gara, SpeakEasy Stage Company.

Playwright Jacobs-Jenkins is young, gifted, and black. He pilfered ideas from several writers (Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, among others) to cobble together a dark comedy about a white family confronting their racist heritage in a house in the Deep South. His literary thievery paid off: SpeakEasy’s cast – headed by an impressive Melinda Lopez – was riveting.

* Gloucester Blue, written and directed by Israel Horovitz, Gloucester Stage Company.

Yes, Horovitz is into recycling: a conflict between hard-bitten workers and wealthy WASP landowners in a rapidly gentrified Gloucester, MA can be found in his earlier plays, such asNorth Shore Fish and Sins of the Mother. Still, Gloucester Blue — featuring Robert Walsh and Esme Allen as fired-up combatants Latham and Lexi — emerged as a well-acted, forceful variation on the theme, particularly given that this time around the material came spiked with deviously playful black humor.

**

An earlier version of this piece appeared in The Arts Fuse (Boston).

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