Next to Normal Credit: Amy Boyle

Fefu and Her Friends “My husband married me to have a constant reminder of how loathsome women are,” begins María Irene Fornés’s radical 1977 drama, which is variously about madness, women’s agency, and internalized misogyny. The speaker, Fefu, is herself “fascinated with revulsion”; she and her husband, Philip, play a game in which she shoots him and he dodges her “bullets.” (The gun isn’t loaded—or at least Fefu thinks it isn’t loaded. Uncertainty, of course, is part of the game.) Like the all-female cast here, Fornés and her longtime partner, Susan Sontag, rejected marriage and heteronormativity. In fact, the S/M relationship between the character Paula and her former lover, Cecilia, will feel familiar to anyone who’s read Sontag’s recently published journals. The madwoman in the play, Julia, is the most fascinating of the group; as Fefu sees it, she has chosen this fate. Unfortunately, Halcyon Theatre isn’t up to the challenge of Fornés’s vision, which demands swifter pacing and an ensemble far more in sync with each other—and with the text itself.
—Suzanne Scanlon

Next to Normal Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2008 rock musical receives a breathtaking production from BoHo Theatre under the keen-eyed, precisely nuanced direction of Linda Fortunato. Anchored by a grippingly honest lead performance from Colette Todd, the show chronicles suburban housewife Diana Goodman’s battle with suicidal depression, a 16-year struggle triggered by the death of her son. As Diana explores talk therapy, drugs, and even electroshock treatment, Yorkey and Kitt examine the impact Diana’s situation has on her family life. The superb supporting cast includes Donterrio Johnson as Diana’s husband, Ciera Dawn as their teenage daughter, Bradley Atkinson as the girl’s boyfriend, Peter Robel as Diana’s doctor, and Gilbert Domally as the dead son, who appears throughout the story as a hallucination, clinging to life through Diana’s grief-driven delusions. The offstage band led by keyboardist Ellen K. Morris delivers Kitt’s driving rock score crisply and powerfully, but never obscures the all-important libretto, which conveys a complex narrative with depth and clarity. This is a often painful, sometimes darkly funny, and relentlessly truthful work—musical drama at its very finest. —Albert Williams

Oh, Coward!Credit: Emma Meyer

Oh, Coward! For this diverting but pointless 1972 revue, creator Roderick Cook strings together three dozen Noel Coward songs, interspersed with bits of his dramatic and autobiographical writings, with scant interest in narrative, cultural, or historical context. Each piece is an island, floating or sinking solely on the strength of the performance. Under Cameron Turner’s laissez-faire direction, the trio of actors in Dead Writers Theatre’s handsomely designed production spend most of their hesitant, imprecise first act sinking, waterlogging Coward’s wit as they go. With the exception of Joanna Riopelle’s careful, introspective take on “If Love Were All,” it’s not until Ian Rigg’s exacting rendition of “In a Bar on the Piccola Marina” midway through act two that everything falls into place. It’s a bit late. —Justin Hayford

RoseCredit: Johnny Knight

Rose Like loads of Kennedy watchers before him, Laurence Leamer highlights the parallels between Greek tragedy and the dark fate of that famous clan. Set in July 1969 at the family manse on Cape Cod, the solo show Leamer’s written around the persona of matriarch Rose has her quoting Euripides and Aeschylus as she waits to hear from her only surviving son, Senator Edward Kennedy—who’s reeling from the Chappaquiddick incident of the previous week, in which his drunk driving killed a young woman. The Greek connection is apt. Rose’s husband, Joe, grew rich by offending decency if not the gods, only to see his children overtaken by horror after horror. But Leamer doesn’t demonstrate the courage of his metaphor. He and director Steve Scott conclude the piece on a feel-good note that negates all that’s gone before. The compensation is Linda Reiter’s performance as steely, angry 79-year-old Rose, encased in survivor’s armor she can no longer bear. —Tony Adler

Sister CitiesCredit: Tori Howard

Sister Cities Colette Freedman’s dark comedy may be based on a familiar premise—estranged family members are reunited by the death of a parent—but her agility with dialogue and gift for creating interesting characters make it extraordinary, particularly a powerful flashback in the second half of evening that pulls it all together. Chimera Ensemble’s production starts rough, though Norma Chacon and Rainee Denham turn in fine, passionate performances; Chacon in particular blazes throughout as the spoiled youngest daughter. Others in the cast seem stiff and uncomfortable, and the pace of the show is at times too slow. As it progresses, however, the quality of the acting and pace pick up, thanks in large part to Freedman’s superb storytelling. Ashley Neal directs. —Jack Helbig

The Starlight Lounge Presents Bracket and SpootzCredit: Evan Mills

The Starlight Lounge Presents Bracket and Spootz Directed by Susan Glynn with music by David Yontz and Griffin Wenzler, this hour-long one-act is one weird, funny romp through the Catskills. At the aging Starlight Lounge, resident performers Bracket (Wenzler) and Spootz (James Conklin) haven’t given up on their shot at stardom, something they owe their late, great mentor, “showbiz guy” Dolph Starlight (whose photo they pray to as a preshow ritual). Wenzler and Conklin are off-kilter and charming as the wacky singing-and-dancing vaudeville duo, doing their best to impress enigmatic Hollywood impresario Ace Jefferson, played by a cloying and slippery Andy Bolduc. As he sings, “I’m a wheeler, I’m a dealer, I once played bocce with Garrison Keillor,” Ace may not be what he seems, but the Starlight crew is too starstruck to notice, and mayhem appropriately ensues. —Marissa Oberlander

Thee Trinity The “controversial” thrust of Thee Trinity, Polemic Theater’s painfully horrendous face plant of a debut, is that there are focus groups in the afterlife. “Jay” (Jesus Christ), “Holly” (the Holy Ghost), and “Lucy” (Lucifer) are having a kind of heavenly board meeting. To improve customer satisfaction for “corporeals” (read “Muggles”) on their journeys through heaven and hell, the empyreal board has summoned Albert Einstein, Oscar Wilde, and—from the pit of Hades, where he’s continuously raped by 72 male virgins for eternity—Osama bin Laden. So much here is amiss (playwright Rick Roberts’s Wilde is an offensive sham) that the play isn’t so much a play as a sniggering, interminable joke that isn’t funny. —Max Maller

Under the Gun’s The Time Is Now (Starting Tomorrow)Credit: Jerry Schulman Photography

The Time Is Now (Starting Tomorrow) Under the Gun revisits some sketch comedy fundamentals in this prime-time weekend revue. A boss confuses an underling with NSFW double entendres, siblings throw a funeral service for a beloved pet, wacky beatnik poets act wacky, and Hillary Clinton swings hard for the millennial vote. Individual personalities provide comedic glimmers here and there, but there’s something stilted and awry in the back-and-forth of it all. Other than the pretty decent gag about a Cheers-obsessed patient recovering from a coma, most bits begin and end on the same flimsy premises, then get muffled out by poor sound cues. —Dan Jakes v