10 things I love about Boston
By Robin Abrahams
9. Actors' Shakespeare Project
Moving to Boston from Kansas City wasn't always easy. The economics of it were pretty brutal--I'd gone from being a relatively well-paid theater publicist in one of the country's least costly cities to an impecunious graduate student in one of the most expensive. I'd never really had to think strategically about parking before; in the Midwest, parking spaces are cheap and plentiful, and roam the prairies in large herds. And the freakish geography and layout of the area continues to baffle me--finding my way around remains a challenge to this day. One of the lesser, but still important, inconveniences was that in KC I worked in theater, and knew the local arts scene well--changing careers as well as cities meant that I was suddenly shut out of the theater world in which I had spent most of my adult life. Suddenly--horrors!--I actually had to read reviews to find out what might be good, rather than just knowing, and then there was this annoying thing where I was expected to pay for tickets, like a civilian.
But now I know what is good--Actors' Shakespeare Project--and I don't mind paying, because they are so, so worth it. ASP is a company of fairly recent vintage, and they perform in a variety of spaces around the city--I've seen them at BU (including their current production of Macbeth), and some various Central Square locations, and often at the Garage in Harvard Square.
They deliberately tackle Shakespeare's hardest plays--the ones where the plots don't make sense, where the lead characters aren't likable, where nasty technical difficulties are buried. And over and over and over again they pull it off. They did "King Lear" with Lear not as a raging lion in winter, but as a sad, vulnerable, nearly senile old man--you wanted to rush the stage and wrap him in a blanket and take him home in time for "Jeopardy." They enacted that bizarre, inexplicable "Exit, chased by a bear" stage direction in "Winter's Tale" with a beautiful composite of dance, sound and light. John Kuntz's astonishing Bertram in "All's Well" in that made me realize for the first time that the character was not merely a shallow playboy, but a victim, sold against his will into a loveless marriage--someone I would have instinctively sympathized with had he been a woman, but my prejudices had blinded me. That's the kind of self-examination art is supposed to bring us to, but so rarely does.
They did "Titus Andronicus" using nothing but rope, stones, and pitchers of water for props. They did a six-person production of "Love's Labours Lost" that created an onstage world so hectic and life-filled that during the curtain call Mr. Improbable and I kept looking around for the rest of the cast--we couldn't believe we'd seen only six people at a time, ever. Their characters are real and vivid and often unlike any other interpretation you've seen; their stage effects are miracles of economy, reminding you that it's not necessary to land a helicopter onstage to create real theater magic; and most unusually of all, they get Shakespeare's music right, and don't do that godawful "Hey nonny nonny ho" jumping around in circles while the audience writhes in vicarious embarrassment.