Onstage in 2023

Live theater came back to M.V. Playhouse in a big way this year.


Despite some minor hitches (well, if you can call the AC conking out in August a minor hitch), the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse managed to present a full season of theater this past summer.

In the preseason, the Playhouse hosted a reading of a play by part-time Vineyarder and Tony-nominated playwright Kathleen McGhee-Anderson. “Miss Maybelline’s Nocturnal Flights of Fancy” has unique relevance for Island audiences, since it is set in the School Street district of Oak Bluffs, a neighborhood that was once largely a Black community. McGhee-Anderson, who calls that area home, based some of her characters on people she knew growing up. The title role was played by Emmy awardwinning actress S. Epatha Merkerson.

The first full production at the Playhouse, “We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War,” further represented a well-rounded, diverse season of theater. The two-hander, by Middle Eastern writer Mona Mansour, features two Arab-American characters — a woman and her nephew — discussing the morality of war. Obviously, the play focused on a very up-to-the-minute topic.

Although the Playhouse’s second full production of the season only ran for two nights, it garnered a lot of positive attention. “To My White Friends Who Know Me” by Deborah Plummer, based on her book, examines cross-racial friendships. The performances were followed by talks with the playwright.

After the third play, “To Fall in Love,” was, unfortunately canceled due to the aforementioned air conditioner issue, the Playhouse’s resourceful artistic and executive director, MJ Bruder Munafo, managed to make a few changes so that the final show of the season could be produced in the theater’s lobby.

That play, “Outcasts: The Lepers of Penikese Island,” had the double benefits of being written and directed by Playhouse veteran Scott Barrow, and based on an all-but-forgotten story involving the history of our sister island. Penikese, one of the Elizabeth Islands, has a long and interesting history involving its previous uses. During the turn of the 20th century, the Island was home to a leprosy hospital. The play uses this backdrop to present the stories of some of the patients.

Over at the outdoor amphitheater, audiences were treated to a monthlong run of a spirited romp through Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” as well as a two-day production of “The Campaign that Failed,” a theatrical reimagining of Mark Twain’s short story.

As a bonus, in October, the playhouse mounted an ambitious production of a musical written by the late Michael Mason. The show, titled “Billy Baloo,” has an interesting backstory of its own. It was 50 years in the making, going through many revisions, right up until Mason passed away in February. Mason’s family, Jemima James and their two sons, Willy and Sam Mason, decided to resurrect the fun period musical, and went about the task of reworking it into something that could be presented to an audience. The resulting work — which takes place in the late 1800s in a tiny mining town in the Colorado Rockies, and starred Willy in the title role — was such a hit that the Playhouse extended its run to a fourth week.

The Playhouse will continue to provide off-season entertainment in the form of live music, movie nights, theater trivia competitions, and more.