Area theater made a big return in 2022. COVID-19 notwithstanding, local offerings increased dramatically, with a wide variety of revivals and premieres as well as Broadway tours and pre-Broadway tryouts.
Education took center stage in two very different but provocative plays: the SpeakEasy Stage Company premiere of Iran-set “English,” and Huntington Theatre’s Boston-focused “Common Ground.” Spirited women – the real life pre-computer pioneer Ada Lovelace in “Ada and the Machine “(Central Square Theater), a Black executive in “Fabulation” (Lyric Stage Company of Boston) and a home-front director during World War II in “Into the Breeches” (Hub Theatre Company of Boston) – gained new and timely attention.
In a gratifyingly busy year, the following is this critic’s list of the best of 2022:
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Lyric Stage Company)
Jared Troilo proved a vocal standout as the gentleman murderer, and Neil A. Casey fully embodied all of his victims.
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (Huntington Theatre)
Huntington, a company that has staged the August Wilson canon with true distinction, returned to this masterful look at spiritual and personal quest with great feeling.
Life of Pi (American Repertory Theatre, running through Jan. 29, 2023)
Storytelling and sublime puppetry – evoking an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and, especially, a tiger named Richard Parker, among others – combined for the title youth’s riveting rite of passage and a “Rashomon”-like investigation of truth and reality.
Mr. Parent (Lyric Stage)
Gifted actor Maurice Emmanuel Parent captured his challenging stint as a Boston public school teacher and insightfully commented on Hub education in a one-man tour de force sharply penned by Melinda Lopez.
On Beckett (Arts Emerson)
Bill Irwin, with the ease of a master actor and the flair of an inspired clown, presented excerpts from well-known and lesser-known works in a one-man exploration of the playwright’s remarkable range.
The Chinese Play (Central Square Theater)
This disarming play called into question the manipulation of an actual young 19th century Chinese immigrant brought to the United States in an unusual show that exploited stereotypes.
The Inheritance (SpeakEasy Stage Company)
Eddie Shields was electrifyingly moving as Jewish gay protagonist Eric Glass in the year’s most ambitious staging – a two-part, six-hour-plus Tony Award-winning adaptation of the E.M. Forster masterwork “Howard’s End.”
To Kill a Mockingbird (Broadway in Boston)
Richard Thomas found all of lawyer Atticus Finch’s humanity in an adaptation of the Harper Lee classic that intriguingly avoids easy adulation of its source.
Torch Song (Moonbox Productions, through Dec. 23 at the Boston Center for the Arts)
Peter Mill as gay Jewish drag queen Arnold Beckoff and Bobbie Steinbach as his judgmental but caring mother are explosively good in this emotionally rich revival of Harvey Fierstein’s Tony Award play.
Twilight, Los Angeles, 1992 (American Repertory Theater)
Five superb actors brought the many interviewees of this Anna Deavere Smith still-timely exploration of ethnic and racial conflict to vivid life.
Honorable Mention: “A Beautiful Noise,” “Ada and the Engine,” “Grand Horizons,” “In the Breeches,” “Little Women,” “Macbeth,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “What the Constitution Means to Me.” Θ