Evolution of Urbanism: February Theater Forecast

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Posted February 1, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Downtown Boston
Controversial monologist Mike Daisey in his hit one man show American Utopias, which hits the Paramount Center from February 14-16. Photo: Peter Taub

A monthly look at what it means to live a distinctly urban lifestyle in downtown Boston today. Up this month: Theater, evolved. 

When it comes to the performing arts, Boston sometimes has an undeservedly staid reputation. I think those who aren’t familiar with the cultural scene often associate us only with Broadway touring companies and mainstream live performances. But the truth is that the Hub has way more to offer. Especially over the last few years, as new and revitalized theaters such as the Paramount Center and the Modern Theatre raised their curtains, Downtown Crossing has been helping to bring in cooler, more cutting-edge works.

For the first post in Evolution of Urbanism, an ongoing look at new and innovative approaches to city life downtown, I have found some unique live shows staging this month. These three shows are minimalist works with maximum appeal. They have small casts but big concepts. If you’re looking for fireworks and elaborate choreographed dance numbers, you might want to save your money for Wicked. (Nothing wrong with that.) But if it’s the creativity you value in creative culture, this installment of Evolution of Urbanism is pleased to provide some solid picks.

American Utopias

Friday, February 15 – Saturday, February 16

Paramount Center Mainstage

What do Disney World and Burning Man have in common? Both offer visitors a lot of bright colors and free hugs, to start. But, more importantly, they’re both wildly different forms of escapism. In American Utopias, monologist and controversial cultural critic Mike Daisey dishes about his experiences at both, and at Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wall Street. He draws connections and parallels between all three places, and gleans wisdom about America’s current politics, economy, and pop culture.

It’s a perfect show for a city where, let’s face it, we consider ourselves to be brutally honest yet wicked smaht. Just don’t show up expecting the razzle-dazzle of a Broadway production. This is a one-man show, with Daisey regaling the crowd like he’s your funny, witty uncle who just-so-happens to be a talk radio pundit — the cool kind, not the kind who makes you want to bang your head on the car dashboard. A microphone, an opinion, and a rapt audience? I love this guy. I want to be this guy. At the very least, I’ve got to see this guy. For tickets, visit www.artsemerson.org.

Stephanie Burlington Daniels stars as Mary Shelley-Breath in Birth Breath Bride Elizabeth, which hits the Paramount Center from February 22-23. Photo: David Marshall.

Birth Breath Bride Elizabeth

Friday, February 22 – Saturday, February 23

The Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre at the Paramount Center

You know how in Frankenstein a brilliant but nutty scientist assembles a fully functioning being out of smaller parts? An arm here, a leg there, and some green skin for good measure. This solo show featuring Mary Shelley-Breath, a nod to the name of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, stitches together a number of seemingly disparate ideas to create a totally cohesive work. In Birth, Shelley-Breath delivers a “crackpot lecture” to brides-to-be about feminism (awesome), Frankenstein (fantastic), Princess Diana (cool), and Elvis Presley (whatever, but he’s in good company). There’s definite tour-de-force potential here, and I’m particularly optimistic since it’s part of ArtsEmerson’s Next Thing Festival, which focuses on the best in under-the-radar contemporary performances. Plus, Sleeping Weazel, a cutting-edge group that creates mixed-media productions, stages the show. For tickets, visit www.artsemerson.org.

Voices for Now

Thursday, February 28 – Friday, March 1

The Modern Theatre

As 1990s teenagers and theater geeks, my high school friends were obsessed with the musical Rent. It was a show written for our generation, fusing rock and pop melodies with musical theater traditions; tackling timely issues, such as modern angst and AIDS; and featuring a diverse cast of bohemian characters that actually looked recognizable to us.

So I’m excited to check out Voices for Now, a musical revue conceived by Marilyn Plotkins, chair of the Suffolk University theater department and founding director of the Modern Theatre, which has offered Downtown Crossing a new spot for inventive, small-scale productions since late 2011. It is described as a “serious, satiric, affectionate musical journey in the passions of Generation Y,” an age that has been influenced by everything from a major economic recession to a huge explosion in social media. Even for those of us outside the target age group, Voices for Now sounds like it needs to be heard. Maybe by my nephew, too . . . I wonder what he’s up to this month? For tickets, visit www.suffolk.edu/moderntheatre.

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