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Critics’ picks: Theater

Mark S. Howard

THE CHERRY ORCHARD An exquisite production of Chekhov’s final play, directed by Melia Bensussen. She draws finely detailed performances from her cast of 12, led by Marya Lowry as an aristocratic landowner in danger of losing her estate and her beloved cherry orchard, and Steven Barkhimer as a businessman who is offering her a way out. Through March 9. Actors’ Shakespeare Project, at Dane Estate, Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill. 866-811-4111, www.actorsshakespeareproject.org

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH A sharp production, directed by David J. Miller, of Alan Ayckbourn’s dark satire about British residents of a suburban development who let power go to their heads after they form a crime-watch group, with catastrophic consequences. Through March 1. Zeitgeist Stage Company, at Plaza Black Box Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts. 617-933-8600, www.zeitgeiststage.com

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DON AUCOIN

WITNESS UGANDA Griffin Matthews plays himself in this musical treatment of a story drawn from his own life — about his journey to Uganda to help build a school, only to learn the charity behind the project is a sham. The show is a joyous, wrenching experience. The script, which Matthews co-wrote with composer-partner Matt Gould, skips lightly through the preliminaries, all the better to work up to an emotional chokehold. Rousing dance breaks prove a perfect complement to Gould’s richly layered music, which ranges from street calls to a killer gospel choir. Diane Paulus directs this world premiere. Through March 16. American Repertory Theater, at Loeb Drama Center, Cambridge. 617-547-8300, www.americanrepertorytheater.org

SANDY MACDONALD

HAIRSPRAY An irresistible score combined with an outstanding cast make this production a highlight of the theater season. Director Susan Kosoff and musical director Matthew Stern have cast the show with a healthy mix of familiar faces and new talent to populate Baltimore circa 1962, and every performer seems to be inspiring the others to up their game. There is not one weak link in this 36-member strong company, who deliver the show’s message of tolerance with such energy, humor, and optimism, they’ll send you out of the theater singing and dancing for joy. Through Feb. 23. Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston. 617-879-2300, www.wheelockfamilytheatre.org

TERRY BYRNE

DEATH OF A SALESMAN The beauty of Arthur Miller’s 1949 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner is that it indicts the American dream without exonerating the American dreamer. And this Lyric Stage production directed by Spiro Veloudos resists the temptation to make Willy Loman merely the victim of the system that chews him up and spits him out. Ken Baltin as Willy and Paula Plum as his wife, Linda, may shade their characters toward your sympathy, but they never fall into sentimentality, and the rest of the cast is also first rate. (Pictured: Kelby T. Akin, Joseph Marrella.) Through March 15. Lyric Stage Company, Boston. 617-585-5678, www.lyricstage.com

JEFFREY GANTZ

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.
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