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STAGES | TERRY BYRNE

In ‘Winter Solstice,’ fascism comes calling

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Director Brooks Reeves calls ‘Winter Solstice’ “a cross between a play, a screenplay, and a novella.”

By Terry Byrne Globe Correspondent 

Brooks Reeves is well known to Boston audiences as an actor with surprising range and depth. But Reeves is now making his Boston directorial debut with Apollinaire Theatre Company at the helm of “Winter Solstice,” a haunting play by Roland Schimmelpfennig about how seductive fascism can sound when its embodiment appears in the guise of a charming guest.

“I mostly direct the plays I’ve written,” says Reeves, whose “The City That Cried Wolf” was recently remounted by State of Play Productions at 59E59 Theaters in New York. “But there are so many talented playwrights in Boston, I’ve been a little intimidated and have focused on acting.”

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Reeves has been a regular at Chelsea’s Apollinaire Theatre, performing featured and supporting roles in several productions, including “Hamlet” and most recently “Three Sisters.” Apollinaire artistic director Danielle Fauteux-Jacques, who directs most of the company’s plays, said her choice of Reeves as director was part of an ongoing conversation.

“It’s difficult to choose a director in an interview,” she says. “But I’ve worked with Brooks so often, I know his style and he knows mine. I knew he’d be able to bring out something unique in this play.”

“Winter Solstice” has a simple premise: A woman meets a man on a train on her way to visit her adult children for the holidays and invites the stranger to join the family party. The man is sympathetic, respectful, and polite, but underneath the charm lies a dangerously persuasive appeal for fascism. What makes the play particularly tricky to direct is Schimmelpfennig’s mix of spoken dialogue with scene-setting exposition and the narration of characters’ thoughts.

“It’s really a cross between a play, a screenplay, and a novella,” says Reeves. “What makes it challenging to stage is that the script doesn’t indicate which character is narrating which inner thoughts. We decided not to have one narrator, or have individuals directly address the audience, but instead assign the narration to characters who might be commenting on someone’s thoughts, like the daughter reading her mom’s mind and being annoyed by her. That way we’re shifting exposition into action.”

The play culminates with the stranger offering a toast, a gesture Reeves says takes on the feel of a ritual.

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“I think when someone comes into a family’s chaos with simple solutions, it can look attractive and seem like a relief,” he says. “But is it?”

Coen was an artist and advocate

Actor, playwright, and director Larry Coen was a touchstone for many in the Boston theater community, which is why his death on Jan. 31 came as such a shock. Whether he was encouraging school children to tackle playwriting or performing in his role as artistic director of CityStage, which also runs KidStage at the Boston Children’s Museum; bringing Ryan Landry’s visions to life as director of the Gold Dust Orphans’ brilliantly zany productions; acting in everything from “Pussy on the House” to “The Taming of the Shrew,” from “A Year With Frog and Toad” to “The Remarkable Rooming-House of Madame Le Monde,” Coen always made sure his talents served the needs of the play, his students, and, always, the audience.

I was introduced to Coen through Beau Jest Moving Theater’s production of “Krazy Kat” in the mid ’90s, and after witnessing the seriousness with which he delivered the hapless Officer Pup, resolved not to miss any of his performances, with Beau Jest or anyone else. Coen made that promise challenging, since he performed tirelessly with most Boston theater companies. There was, of course, a detour to New York to make his Broadway debut as a playwright with “Epic Proportions,” the comedy he co-wrote with his college friend David Crane (“Friends”). Even with that high-profile production, Coen talked more about the excitement of tweaking the script for legendary director Jerry Zaks and star Kristin Chenoweth than having his name on a Broadway Playbill.

That’s because Coen was a champion of Boston theater and took the time to compliment and encourage actors at every stage of their careers. He also took the time to encourage and, yes, criticize, journalists when he agreed or disagreed with a review. But his comments never dragged anyone down, they inspired a more thoughtful conversation — about theater, about perspective, about the potential for greatness he so fervently believed this community had.

Larry Coen’s rich, complex performances will be missed, to be sure, but his compassion, empathy, and friendship will be missed even more.

The trials of Fatty Arbuckle

Film star Fatty Arbuckle was a king among silent film stars that included Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. But at the height of his career in 1921, when he was earning a stunning $1 million a year, he was accused of manslaughter — the victim was an actress who had been partying in his hotel room — and a lurid trial followed. A first and second trial ended with hung juries, but by the time Arbuckle won acquittal at his third trial, his reputation was in tatters. He changed his name and made a meager living as a director until his death at the age of 46.

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Now performer-writer Aaron Muñoz has teamed with playwright Andy Bayiates for “Lost Laughs: The Slapstick Tragedy of Fatty Arbuckle,” a retelling of Arbuckle’s story through the lens of vaudeville and slapstick comedy. The world premiere, which runs at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell Feb. 14-March 11, features Muñoz as Arbuckle. Tickets $15-$63, 978-654-4678, www.mrt.org.

WINTER SOLSTICE

Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company. At Chelsea Theater Works, Feb. 16-March 11. Tickets $15-$30, 617-887-2336, www.apollinairetheatre.com


Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.