It’s a truism that William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy The Winter’s Tale divides into two distinct parts. In the first, Leontes, king of Sicilia, suspects his queen, Hermione, of adultery with his friend Polixenes, king of Bohemia, who has been spending a long sojourn with them but who is leaving for his home country immediately. The biggest hurdle for actors playing Leontes is to make his sudden jealousy credible. “The part is one of the hardest ever written,” Margaret Webster noted in Shakespeare Without Tears: “with almost no preparation, the emotion of it is at flood height.”
Jody and Carl, the only characters in Lonely Planet, are habitués of a sleepy little shop called Jody’s Maps in an unnamed American city. These middle-aged men, intricately rendered in Steven Dietz’s subtle, elegiac script, are being realized vividly by New York stage veterans Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath in a Keen Company production celebrating the 25th anniversary of the play’s premiere at Northlight Theatre in Evanston, Ill. Lonely Planet, winner of the PEN Center USA Award for Drama, was written when the arts were being defoliated by an epidemic beyond the American medical community’s control. AIDS is the background of the play, but not its subject.
A classic case of mistaken identity sets a hilarious ball in motion in The Government Inspector, Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 comedy, set in a small town, a backwater of “mud and more mud.” The plot follows the mayor (the robust Michael McGrath) who has heard that a government inspector is coming to town—incognito. The mayor and his crooked cronies—the school principal (David Manis), the judge (Tom Alan Robbins) and the hospital director (Stephen DeRosa)—immediately try to clean up the mess they have made of government buildings and services.
The cleverly titled Tail! Spin! is only tangentially related to a deadly airplane maneuver. Think of “tail” as a euphemism for sex, and “spin” as the result, and you’ll be close to the subject of the sketches satirizing four politicians whose sex scandals were once hot but now are receding from memory. "Tailspin" might be applied to what happened to their careers as a result.