Talia Sulla and Joshua Chessin-Yudin in “Prayer for the French Republic.” | T CHARLES ERICKSON

Local theater shined light on antisemitism and Jewish heritage in 2023



Local theater shined light on antisemitism and Jewish heritage in 2023

Talia Sulla and Joshua Chessin-Yudin in “Prayer for the French Republic.” | T CHARLES ERICKSON

Israel, Jewish heritage, and antisemitism figured importantly in 2023’s best local theater.

The Israel-set Tony Award musical “The Band’s Visit” disarmingly called for understanding between Israelis and Egyptians. The immigrant experience of an assimilating (if long-successful) Jewish family made for striking insight in the Tony Award play “The Lehman Trilogy.” Jewish playwright Joshua Harmon’s provocative drama, “Prayer for the French Republic,” explored antisemitism through the experiences and challenges of a Parisian family. Brookline-bred multi-talent Alex Edelman balanced edgy comedy and candid observations about hatred, chronicling an undercover stint with white supremacists.

There were also strong local revivals of works by such major theater forces as Tony Kushner, August Wilson, Paula Vogel, Larry Kramer, Lorraine Hansberry, and Stephen Sondheim – with fresh examination of such themes as diversity, racism, homophobia, sexual abuse, and violence. While financial problems confronted Watertown’s now-closed New Repertory Theatre, Arrow Street Arts is renovating Cambridge’s Oberon – a transformation inaugurated with a razor-sharp Moonbox Productions’ revival of “Sweeney Todd.” Both Moonbox and the estimable Hub Theatre Company of Boston have lately gained well-deserved attention in Theater District South at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Here, in alphabetical order, is this critic’s list of the top 10 area theater of 2023:

“Angels in America, Parts I and II” (Central Square Theater and Bedlam) – Eddie Shields led this riveting edition of Kushner’s epic master work.

“Assassins” (Lyric Stage Company of Boston) – Sondheim may have steered clear of preachy material, but Lyric Stage’s resonant revival spoke volumes about easy access to weapons at gun shows and the discontent of lone wolves.

“Fat Ham” (The Huntington in association with the Alliance Theatre and Front Porch Arts Collective) – Fresh characterizations and clever biblical allusions informed this lively variation on “Hamlet.”

“How I Learned to Drive” (Actors’ Shakespeare Project) – Vogel’s cautionary play was sometimes darkly humorous and always arresting in this haunting revival.

“Prayer for the French Republic” (The Huntington) – The powerful staging well-served Harmon’s compelling food for thought about the precarious situation of the world’s third-largest Jewish community – and, by extension, of American Jews as well.

“Real Women Have Curves” (American Repertory Theatre – through Jan. 21) – This pre-Broadway staging has very real talent – especially an exuberant cast and Benjamin Velez’s affecting music. Hispanic women matter in this important adaptation of the historic film.

“Seven Guitars” (Actors’ Shakespeare Project) – ASP brought loving attention to August Wilson’s poetry-rich dialogue and his commanding examination of African-American dreams and possibilities.

“The Band’s Visit” (SpeakEasy Stage Company and The Huntington) – Paul Daigneault, arguably the Hub’s finest director, captured the musical’s beautiful understatement as well as its spirit of place. Vocally gifted Jared Troilo rendered the Israeli father’s lullaby with notable tenderness.

“The Lehman Trilogy” (The Huntington) – The projected Kaddish in this singular staging hovered like a sword of Damocles over the hubris of the Lehmans in Stefano Massini’s arresting family tragedy.

“The Normal Heart” (New Repertory Theatre) – Larry Kramer’s rage against mayoral and presidential apathy in the age of AIDS caught fire in this visceral revival.

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