Theatres have always been a great escape. Throughout history troupes of performers have been moving us to tears and lightening our troubles with a little laughter. Pauper's in Shakespeare's audience stood in a pit and paid a half penny to see performances.
The musical, a song and sometimes a dance that comes with a story, is an original and enduring American art form. All of these possibilities come to life anew each year at the , a refurbished 1917 silent movie house now in its 11th year of live performance.
Enter this season's production of The Rimers of Eldritch, a drama of unusual dimensions dealing with a murder and the deeply buried secrets of a small community that the bloody act comes to reveal. Set in the fictional town of Eldritch, Missouri in the 1950s the audience is introduced to a number of characters all trapped in the lifeless former mining town.
The action of the play chips away at the layers of misperceptions that have metaphorically frozen the town's remaining inhabitants. It's as if they are encrusted with rime, that frost-like ice that delicately wraps around everything exposed to such weather. The layers slowly give way until the truth is uncovered.
The wrenching process for the characters on stage involves the audience in a kind of jigsaw puzzle as bits of information are revealed. Like the characters, the audience has to piece it all together.
Written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lanford Wilson ( Hot l Baltimore, Talley's Folly and Balm in Gilead) the play offers language that is lyrical and gifted, bouying the audience in spite of the world it portrays.
If the theatre of entwined mysteries and dark reality is not your idea of escape, Stoneham's following production, 42nd Street, will set you right. Since its Broadway debut in 1980, with more than 3,400 performances in New York , it went on to enthrall audiences in London and Asia.
Its spectacular numbers with young performers belting out a dozen or so showstoppers and rhythmically tapping their way through the depression era it's set in, have been winning fans for over 30 years.
The Rimers of Eldritch runs March 24 to April 10. 42nd Street runs May 5 to 29. Other 2011 productions include The Sisters of Swing, Perfect Harmony and The Turn of the Screw. Tickets: $38-$44, student tickets $20. Discounts for seniors are available.