Theater in review: Taking the stage

The calendar was filled with topnotch entertainment in 2018.

The Vineyard Arts Project hosted the Black Iris Project, a ballet celebrating diversity and black history, performed in September. Matthew Murphy/Courtesy The Black Iris Project.

This past year, as always, local arts organizations provided a fabulous summer of entertainment in all forms. From theater to dance, to comedy and literary talks, Vineyarders had plenty of options. Here are a few highlights from the 2018 season.

The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse started its summer programming early this year with a series of solo shows featuring both local and off-Island talent. Among the four solo performers were author, humorist, and New Yorker writer Jenny Allen, and Brennan Srisirikul, whose unique show featured show tunes and pop music interspersed with personal stories and insights on living with cerebral palsy.
The playhouse’s official mainstage season featured three world premieres — “Passionata,” a period farce; “Chilmark,” a story set among the deaf community that flourished on the Vineyard in the 1800s; and “The Room Where I Was Held,” a psychological drama centered on a kidnapped journalist who returns home. The playhouse’s fourth offering was “Angela’s Mixtape,” written by the niece of famed activist Angela Davis.

Rounding out its summer season, the playhouse presented “Hamlet” at the Tisbury Amphitheater. The production featured a tour de force performance by Scott Barrow in the title role.

This past summer the Yard really showed off its versatility, hosting choreographers and performers working in many styles. For the sixth year in a row, the Yard presented the annual Tap the Yard: A Vineyard Festival of Rhythm and Beats, featuring choreographers creating work in all types of percussive dance.

Some of the artists performing new work following residencies at the Yard dealt with unusual and often important topics. Sara Juli presented a dance focused on the seldom-discussed and taboo aspects of motherhood. Rosie Herrera’s “Make Believe” investigated religious upbringing and spiritual practices, while Lida Winfield explored her own life experience in “In Search of Air: Growing Up Dyslexic.”

Some of the most anticipated highlights of the Yard season included new work by “dance on ice” skating troupe Le Patin Libre, the return of Doug Elkins Choreography,

and another visit from the internationally acclaimed hip-hop duo the Wondertwins.

The Vineyard Arts Project hosted another stellar lineup of theater and dance by some of the country’s most exciting artists. Two very interesting readings with music were performed for Vineyard audiences. In July the VAP residency facility presented a work-in-progress reading of “Far From the Tree,” a new musical based on Andrew Solomon’s bestselling nonfiction book. The reading with music was directed by Pulitzer prizewinner Michael Greif (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “Rent,” and “Next to Normal”), and Solomon was in attendance.

In July, the Public Theater, along with artistic director Oskar Eustis, was once again on hand working on a new musical, “Poster Boy,” based on the story of a victim of cyberbullying who committed suicide in 2010. A talented team of New York City veteran actors read and sang the work-in-progress for a capacity audience.

Dance troupes who spent time at the VAP, concluding with public performances, included contemporary dance troupe Cirio Collective, Pontus Lidberg Dance, the Ashley Bouder Project, and the Black Iris Project, a New York City–based ballet collaborative that celebrates diversity.

The Island Theater Workshop pulled out all the stops with a six-performance run of “Mary Poppins, the Musical,” featuring a talented local cast and complete with professional flying effects.

Comedy highlights included the return of bestselling humorist David Sedaris and comedian Paula Poundstone, both of whom appeared as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Concert Series.

Literary luminaries had a chance to shine in August at the fifth annual “Islanders Write.” Among the numerous workshops this year were “Politics and the Press,” “True Crime Writing,” and “Writing to Make a Point: Advocacy and Activism.” Pulitzer prizewinners Geraldine Brooks and Richard Russo were featured in “A Conversation about Writing, Writers, and Life,” while three members of the famed Taylor family (Kate, Sally, and Isaac) discussed songwriting in “Working with the Muse.”

If you missed any (or all) of the above, don’t worry. All the aforementioned organizations will be back in 2019 with new offerings. And organizations like the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse and the Yard will provide programming all winter long.