Year in Review: Performance

Award winning plays and playwrights complemented local productions for a dazzling year of performance arts

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From left, Jenny Friedman as Mrs. Anna, Zachary Mathias as Louis, and Bob Dusa as Captain Orton in "The King and I." — Michael Cummo

It’s almost hard to remember the buzz of the summer. Once the crowds are gone, many shops, restaurants, and other businesses are shuttered for the season, and entertainment is a little harder to come by. Reminiscing about the excitement of the summer and shoulder seasons reminds us of how fortunate we are to live in such a vibrant community with a true appreciation for the arts.

Since reopening after a two-year hiatus, the newly renovated Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse hosted an extended summer season that ran from May until mid-October. The well-rounded lineup included four new plays as well as a Pulitzer Prize– and Tony-nominated drama from 1988. The latter, “A Walk in the Woods,” by awardwinning playwright Lee Blessing, is an intense drama based on real-life cold war negotiations from 1982. The Vineyard production, directed by MJ Bruder Munafo, starred Broadway veteran Darren Kelley and (in a gender change from the original) Adrienne J. Williams, who has had two previous outings at the Playhouse.

Opening the 2015 season in June, recent Vineyard transplant Arnie Reisman debuted his play “Not Constantinople” at the Playhouse. The dark comedy focuses on a couple of mobsters and an FBI agent playing out a game of cat and mouse in the unlikely location of a Florida retirement community. Mr. Reisman, who has produced a number of films and is a regular panelist on NPR’s “Says You!” was named the Island’s first poet laureate in 2014.

The Vineyard Arts Project, which hosts members of some of New York City’s premier theater companies for residencies and performances each summer, had a special treat for Islanders this past August. Pulitzer and Tony Awardwinner James Lapine presented a first-time reading of his newest play, “Flying Over Sunset.” The first act of the musical comedy/drama, based on the true story of therapeutic LSD use by some of the 1950s’ most celebrated figures, was presented by a talented cast of New York–based actors, including multiple Tony Awardwinning theater, film, and television actress Christine Ebersole.

The Yard, a dance residency and performance campus, once again hosted an array of renowned dance groups from all over the world, including Malpaso Dance Company from Cuba, offering a rare chance to witness that country’s preeminent contemporary dance troupe.

Continuing its commitment to establish itself as a year-round arts organization, the Yard hosted a number of off-season events, including a very well-received Christmastime production of “Nut/Cracked” by NYC’s the Bang Group. The fanciful mixed-discipline dance comedy, a staple of the New York Christmas lineup, entertained Vineyard audiences for the first time this year at the Martha’s Vineyard High School’s Performing Arts Center (PAC).

Producer, director, and choreographer Wendy Taucher was responsible for bringing two of the hottest tickets in town to the Vineyard this past summer. For the third year in a row, Wendy Taucher Dance Theater Opera Productions provided live opera outdoors at the Featherstone campus. This time around, Ms. Taucher presented a work of her own creation, “The Impresario,” which features famous passages from opera sung by up-and-coming New York–based opera singers wrapped up in a comedy clash-of-personalities storyline.

In August, Ms. Taucher, along with screenwriter Sarah Kernochan, presented, for the second year in a row, two shows by street performance group Tribal Baroque. This time around, Ms. Taucher commissioned the duo to create a contemporary opera based on their shared mythology and performed in their unique chanting, singing, violin- and percussion-playing dance and music style.

The Island Theater Workshop once again wowed audiences at the PAC with a three-week run of the Broadway musical “The King and I.” The lavish production featured professional costumes, sets, and backdrops, and the talents of dozens of year-round and summer Vineyarders.

For the second year in a row, Jane Dreeben produced a locally cast musical at the PAC. In August, Ms. Dreeben and a group of local parents and teens presented a colorful production of the hit Broadway show “Hair.”

Over at the Featherstone Center for the Arts, the Pathways/Featherstone/Noepe Center Summer Festival of Poetry featured readings from a stellar cast of nationally known poets, including famed former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins. Collins also made a surprise stop at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts during one of that organization’s new Thursday-evening gatherings, which featured music and poetry readings on the lovely Edgartown lawn of the former colonial-era inn.

Another perennial crowdpleaser, humorist David Sedaris, made another stop at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, where he sold out two shows.

Looking back at the Vineyard’s 2015 lineup of events — That’s Entertainment!