This turned out to be the Year of the Twentysomethings in Boston theater, as actors and actresses in their early to mid-20s seized the spotlight in one production after another.
It’s not that the veterans who have been mainstays of local theater disappeared or even receded from area stages. But it’s striking how many of the moments that glow most vividly in the memory were created by performers whose careers are just getting underway.
No careening uncertainly around a learning curve for this bunch. They carried themselves with a confident brio that belied their age and experience.
Take 22-year-old Maritza Bostic, who grew up in Reading and proved to be a multitasker par excellence this year. Not only did she manage to stand out in a large and talented ensemble with her portrayal of Little Red Ridinghood in Lyric Stage Company’s excellent production of “Into the Woods,’’ Bostic also summoned enough energy and sangfroid to act in two performances of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical on the very same day she graduated from Salem State University.
Or consider 22-year-old Peter Mill, a graduate of the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, who had me laughing helplessly from the opening moments of Moonbox Productions’ terrific “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!).’’ Hands on his hips, then dancing a jig, Mill delivered a spot-on parody of every Curly there ever was in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!’’ when, as “Big Willy,’’ he sang “Oh, What Beautiful Corn,’’ including the line: “What’s this in my tooth? It’s a kernel of truth!’’
The overall level of professionalism among the twentysomethings who made their marks in 2014 spoke well of the training many of them had received in local theater programs, italicizing the fact that Emerson College, Boston University, the Boston Conservatory, Brandeis University, and other Boston-area colleges and conservatories represent an invaluable resource for local theater companies. Not every city has this kind of extensive farm system that guarantees a steady supply of talent to the big leagues.
If Boston can keep these young performers here — or entice back the ones who traveled here from out of town — local theater could be on sound footing for many years to come. Of course, those are big ifs, dependent on many factors, some of which are not within the control of local artistic directors, such as the eternally magnetic pull of New York.
But that’s a subject for another day. For now, let’s just savor the combination of youthful energy and proficiency that helped light up 2014.
I suspect playwright Joshua Harmon wants audiences to dislike the self-righteous college student whom 24-year-old Alison McCartan portrayed in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of Harmon’s “Bad Jews,’’ but I just couldn’t, awful though her behavior was. McCartan, a graduate of the Boston Conservatory, was just so darned entertaining, smiling like a shark about to devour her prey as her character, Daphna, needled her secular-minded cousin into full-blown combat over issues of Jewish identity.
One of the most haunting performances I saw all year was the portrayal by 22-year-old Elizabeth Milanovich, newly graduated from Emerson College, of a young Serbian woman forced to work as a London prostitute in “It Felt Empty When the Heart Went at First But It Is Alright Now,’’ at Charlestown Working Theater in a coproduction with Theatre on Fire.
Even when the roles were relatively small, some young actors came up big.
Zaven Ovian, a 21-year-old student at the Boston Conservatory who grew up in Burlington, provided a welcome dose of wit as an apartment building doorman and confidant to the title character in “The Tale of Allergist’s Wife,’’ which wrapped up last week at Lyric Stage.
Melissa Jesser, a 23-year-old graduate of Emerson College, demonstrated uncommon versatility in Boston Playwrights’ Theatre’s “Chosen Child.’’ Jesser delivered finely etched portrayals of three very different characters: a rough-edged ticket clerk in a New York bus station, a social worker trying to fathom why a college professor is reacting so coldly to her mother’s death, and the daughter of that professor, confronting the depth of her mom’s emotional wounds.
Few performers this year faced an acting challenge as unusual as the one confronted by 21-year-old Ally Dawson in Company One Theatre’s “The Chronicles of Kalki.’’ Dawson, a student at Boston University, was utterly convincing as a tough young woman who materializes out of nowhere to help two teenage outcasts learn to cope with “the high school hate machine.’’ But she was also equally persuasive as the forbidding Hindu deity who had assumed that human form and who occasionally flashed her powers.
Way back in February, 25-year-old Brenna Fitzgerald — yet another graduate of Emerson College — gave a nicely shaded performance as a projectionist who is one of several employees facing an uncertain future in a Central Massachusetts moviehouse in Annie Baker’s “The Flick.’’ Few who saw “The Flick,’’ produced by Company One Theatre in collaboration with Suffolk University, will ever forget the moment when Fitzgerald’s character cut loose in an explosively spontaneous dance through the aisles of the production’s make-believe cinema.
As the actress went flying in all directions, it was as if the cork had just been popped on a large bottle of champagne — fittingly enough, since what was about to unfold for young performers like her, and for their audiences, was a year worth celebrating.
The Year in Arts coverage
Don Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com.