Act a Lady
Manbites Dog Theater—At first glance, the plot seems straight out of Charles Ludlam: It's 1927, and the upstanding men and women of quiet little Wattleburg, Minn., are about to get their world—and gender roles—turned inside out when the guys, in a fundraiser for the Elks, put on an 18th-century costume drama as women characters. By the end, everyone involved—women and men—have learned something surprising about their other self.
So amusing and so improbable you immediately write it off as farce.
But Act a Lady was inspired by a series of photographs in a small-town museum—pictures of a series of "Womanless Weddings" the town held as fundraisers in the 1920s, '30s and beyond. The moment I read the phrase, I remembered: In the rural part of North Carolina where I grew up, churches and other groups had held them, occasionally, during the 1960s and '70s. When playwright Jordan Harrison looked at the photos, he remembers wondering, "What would it be like to finish a day on a farm and walk around in heels? What was the conversation these men had with the female characters they were playing?" In his Jungian plot, women and men meet their Anima and Animus. Costumes occasionally run off with their actors. A show goes on, and people grow in not entirely expected directions as a result.
Katja Hill directs the Manbites Dog production that opens tonight and runs through Dec. 20. For more information, visit www.manbitesdogtheater.org. —Byron Woods
Burning Coal Theatre, Meymandi Theater at the Murphey School—"Call it Twelfth Night, or what you will," Shakespeare supposedly said when asked for the title of what would become one of his best-loved comedies, which was to premiere on the 12th night of Christmas. Unencumbered by excessive exposure to popular culture—unlike, say, Hamlet—Twelfth Night is an inexhaustibly delightful comedy that finds the Bard working at the peak of his pastoral powers. The plot is so implausible, yet so pleasant to contemplate, that the script remains attractive to performers and audiences alike and indeed, the play has never really gone out of fashion. Young Viola survives a shipwreck off the coast of the mythical land of Illyria. Believing her twin brother Sebastian to be dead, she decides to make her way in the world as a castrato named Cesario. Two older, more powerful people find Cesario oddly attractive: One is a man and the other is a woman. (All this was purportedly even better in the days when the women were played by boys.) There's more involving fools Malvolio and Feste, along with Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch, two stock English figures of fun who, for reasons unexplained, are also in Illyria.
Burning Coal winds up a busy fall with a Rebecca Holderness-directed production that opens tonight and runs through Dec. 21. Visit www.burningcoal.org for more information. —David Fellerath
Lincoln Theatre—Jamaican reggae and dancehall star Junior Reid is nothing if not a hustler. After recording his first single at 13, he hung around and recorded for the great Sugar Minott. Reid became a champion of troubled youth in Jamaica, and later, the new singer for reggae mammoths Black Uhuru.
Reid achieved crossover status in the U.K. with break-beat master Coldcut, then dropped "I'm Free," a Top 5 mega-single in the States (with Soup Dragons). More recently, his punchy vocal delivery, a bit like the staccato jabs of rappers, became a mainstay in hip-hop collaborations. Last year, he even gigged with Alicia Keys. Not bad for a scrappy kid who just wanted to sing "Speak the Truth." With Majah Hype. The show starts at 11 p.m. and costs $22-$28. —Chris Toenes