The set design for Israel Horovitz’s “Out of the Mouths of Babes” is littered with details. The action takes place in an apartment in Paris’s 19th Arrondissement with a view of the canal and artwork covering every available bit of wall space.
“I’ve never written a play without seeing the room,” says Horovitz, who is directing the comedy, which begins performances Friday at Gloucester Stage Company. “But then I wanted to bring women into the room who would never have deliberately come together.”
The result is a comic showcase for a quartet of some of Boston’s finest actresses — Sarah Hickler, Obehi Janice, Paula Plum, and Debra Wise — all of whom bring their own detailed impressions of their characters to the stage. The plot revolves around their unexpected meeting at the funeral of the man they all had loved.
“Every actor has to find the character’s inner life,” says Plum, who plays Evelyn, the senior member of this unlikely club. “And while the women all have this man in common, the play becomes a series of memories, with each woman remembering something different about her time with the lover they all shared.”
“One of the things that makes it fun,” says Wise, who plays the defensive Evvie, “is that each of these women’s memories don’t match. They are put in the position of wondering, ‘Is that the same guy I knew?’ ”
“Even though our identities are tied to this man,” says Janice, “he doesn’t even have a name, and we all get a chance to talk to each other.”
Janice plays Marie-Belle, the old man’s youngest lover, and although she says she was initially eager to take on the role of the innocently sexy young French-African woman, the kind of part she isn’t often asked to play, she found Marie-Belle defies a lot of stereotypes, and her immigrant story and function as the play’s catalyst allowed her to dig deeper.
Hickler plays the fragile Janice, a woman with a flair for the melodramatic. “Janice is hilariously tragic, and yet, connecting with these women may be the first stable relationship she’s able to manage,” she says.
Horovitz also defines the eras in which the women were connected to their late lover by having them remember completely different kinds of music.
“I think music was part of the romance,” says Plum. “Our memories of music are often tied to significant moments, and this man was part of these women’s lives at different times, in different decades. It’s fun to see what brings them together and pushes them apart.”
Garden of Shakespearean delights
Shakespeare & Company’s newest outdoor space, the 287-seat Roman Garden Theatre, places the audience in the midst of the action. The goal, says artistic director Allyn Burrows, is to provide audiences with “a visceral experience.” For “The Tempest,” which inaugurates the space this week, Burrows is directing a nine-member cast, including Nigel Gore as Prospero, in a production that inhabits the entire garden. It runs through Sept. 3 at the Lenox theater.
“We have a raised stage representing Prospero’s island at the center, but the action will be happening all around and take advantage of the natural elements that are part of the space,” Burrows says.
Actors play scenes on platforms in trees, appear on the top of a nearby building, and enter from four different aisles to give the audience the feeling they are immersed in the action.
Playing in the round can be challenging, but Burrows says he has the actors doing a rehearsal exercise called “flotation-rotation” in which they deliver their lines downstage while continually turning.
“It’s very effective,” he says with a chuckle, “and will make it so much easier for them to be aware of changing their orientation in performance.”
“The Tempest,” he says, is also a daytime play, and so Burrows has decided to present it from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and invite audience members to bring a picnic to enjoy.
“I would hesitate to do the ‘Scottish play,’ ‘Hamlet,’ or ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the daylight,” says Burrows. “But the comedies work perfectly. Besides, Shakespeare performed outside in broad daylight. Why not us?”
‘Hamlet’ in the park
Allston’s much-missed outdoor stage in Christian Herter Park returns to life this weekend with Brown Box Theatre Project’s free performances of “Hamlet” (Aug. 11-13). The company’s tour continues with outdoor performances in Fort Point’s Waterfront Plaza at Atlantic Wharf (Aug. 18 and Aug. 27), Heritage State Park in Fall River (Aug. 19), Pilgrim Memorial State Park in Plymouth (Aug. 20), Borderland State Park in Easton (Aug. 24), Somerville’s Amphitheater at Assembly Row (Aug. 25), and Hopkinton Center for the Arts (Aug. 26). For more information, go to www.brownboxtheatre.org.
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES
Presented by Gloucester Stage Company, Aug. 11-Sept. 2. Tickets $15-$42, 978-281-4433, www.gloucesterstage.com.
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.