scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Stages | Terry Byrne

Moonbox troupe charts an adventurous course

From left: Sarah Gazdowicz, Lisa Joyce, Alex Boyle, Daniel Thomas Blackwell, Charlotte Kinder, and Nicole Vander Laan during a rehearsal for “Twelfth Night” and “Shipwrecked.”Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Since its 2011 debut with the ’70s musical “Godspell,” Moonbox Productions has forged a unique identity on the Boston theater scene with an intriguing mix of musicals and plays — from “Lucky Stiff” to “Cabaret.” The fledgling company consistently defies expectations, mining nuggets from familiar shows, pushing beyond the limits of fringe theater budgets, and raising the bar for the actors they employ.

On Nov. 28, producer Sharman Altshuler, director Allison Olivia Choat, and their dedicated company (a mix of Moonbox veterans and newcomers), take on their most ambitious effort: a doubleheader of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in repertory with Donald Margulies’s “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment.” The plays will be performed through Dec. 29 with the same actors performing in both.


“There are some interesting parallels,” says Choat. “Even though the two plays are of different lengths and weights, they both share elevated language and imaginative storytelling. At the end of the day, though, we just wanted to stretch ourselves, and we gathered an ingenious group of people to join us.”

“Twelfth Night,” a romantic comedy of mistaken identities, follows a shipwrecked young woman named Viola, who disguises herself as a boy named Cesario, only to fall in love with her employer, Duke Orsino. Orsino, meanwhile, sends Cesario to woo Olivia on his behalf, but she falls for Cesario. “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment,” recounts the story of Louis de Rougemont, a historical figure whose tale of amazing adventures leads to great acclaim and recognition by the Queen of England, before skeptics accuse Louis of fabricating everything.

“I think the question of identity is important in both plays,” Choat says. “The ability to have your story believed — whether you are a stranger in a new country starting over, as Viola is, or an adventurer like Louis who wants to share his stories — allows you to maintain your self-respect. When people cast doubt on who you say you are, it can be devastating.”


Choat says she was initially drawn to “Shipwrecked!” because Margulies was eager for audiences to witness theater-making as it happens. The set design is minimalistic, with actors combining forces to create the impression of a ship, creating sound effects with onstage materials, or providing the musical underscore in the midst of the action.

“Margulies says he was inspired by old-fashioned touring shows, including touring Shakespeare companies, where performers worked with whatever they had,” says Choat. “We took advantage of the opportunities to infuse both productions with elements of the other.”

Choat admits the idea of two shows in rep was ambitious, so she, composer-music director Dan Rodriguez, and Altshuler tried to manage expectations.

“We had an informal workshop over a month and called it ‘Lost at Sea,’ ” says Choat. “We thought we would take turns playing all the roles and then try different things — found-object puppetry, original music performed on stage, sea chanteys, gymnastics, Foley techniques — to see what worked.”

Choat and Rodriguez also invited the 14 performers to play to their strengths or try something new to challenge themselves. The results, she says, were so much fun that, rather than eliminate any one approach, she decided to include them all. Robert Murphy, a veteran fringe-theater actor, performs some impressive gymnastic feats, while Katie O’Reilly (Moonbox’s “Amadeus”) taught herself to play the concertina.

The precision that’s required, says Choat, comes from shifting from one character to another, from one musical moment to another, and from one scene to another.


“I think Dan’s music does a lot to connect the actors to each other and the storytelling,” says Choat. “Our goal is to invite the audience into the world, but let them fill it in with their own imagination. We call it ‘theater where you see the zipper.’ ”

Israeli Stage flips the script

Israeli Stage reverses gender roles for “Demonstrate,” a staged reading of Daphna Silberg’s courtroom drama about a gang rape case, Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Paramount Center.

In this staging of the play, which is based on a trial transcript from a 2008 Israeli court case, women will play the male defense attorney, prosecutor, and judges, while a man portrays the assault victim. The reading will be followed by a panel discussion. Tickets are $17.50 and available at

A disco-era ‘Ethel!’

Don’t miss actor, dancer, and choreographer Alex Davis as he takes his love of musical theater to the stage with “The Davis Sisters Present: Ethel!,” a high-energy contemporary dance theater cabaret, Friday at the Dance Complex’s Studio 7 in Cambridge.

The performance, which features Alex and sister Joy Davis, explores the golden age of musical theater and features music from “The Ethel Merman Disco Album,” the Broadway diva’s last studio album, made in 1979, when she was 71. In the course of the performance, the Davises engage the audience in a search for what they say are the six missing songs from the album.


“Ethel!” takes place from 9-10 p.m., with a pre-show live musical performance at 8 p.m. Tickets, which start at $13, are available at


Presented by Moonbox Productions, in repertory. At the Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, Nov. 28-Dec. 29. Tickets $25-$50, 617-933-8600,

Terry Byrne can be reached at