Sunday, May 19, 2024

Jade Wheeler as Eartha Kitt in her one-woman play, “Who Is Eartha Mae?”

A night of Shakespeare’s iconic political scenes, revelatory look at the great Eartha Kitt and hybrid party and performance make up the Bridge Repertory Theater’s shrewd sixth season.

Just as Olivia D’Ambrosio’s company excels at clever use of its gorgeous setting at East Cambridge’s Multicultural Arts Center, D’Ambrosio has triangulated a season based on its own strengths and the calendar to make each offering land with a resounding boom:

Alexander Platt and Olivia D’Ambrosio as the Macbeths in the 2018 Valentine’s Day “SHAKE Up.” (Photo: Lauren Miller)

bullet-gray-small “The Midterm SHAKE Up,” Nov. 1-2 and 5-6, taking around 10 of Shakespeare’s juiciest political scenes and monologues from nine plays and putting them in front of residents just as midterm election voting arrives – in fact, midterm voting is Nov. 6, and the final show of “The Midterm SHAKE Up” begins at 7:30 p.m. that day with polls closing a half-hour later. D’Ambrosio is amused to present an idea repurposed from theater grad school, where “scene showings” take the place of exams, with a bit of director’s apostasy: “I loved them because you saw all of Shakespeare’s very best scenes without any of the rest.” Director: Damon Krometis, who also took on last year’s Valentine’s Day SHAKE Up. (Krometis will be directing D’Ambrosio.)

Wheeler as Kitt in the “Eartha Mae” trailer.

bullet-gray-small “Who is Eartha Mae?” Jan. 31 to Feb. 23, a one-woman show about the life and times of iconic actor, singer, dancer, activist, author and songwriter Eartha Kitt that arrives with Black History Month. The night of cabaret-style, documentary theater is an original work by Jade Wheeler, a standout from the cast of Bridge Rep’s August play “Dark Room,” who has been shaping “Who is Eartha Mae?” from music, primary source material and autobiographical text over the past four years. “What better way to get people out in February than to promise them some live singing?” D’Ambrosio said. Director: Cailin Doran, a recent grad of Berklee’s Boston Conservatory MFA musical theater program who performed with Wheeler in “Dark Room,” joined by another alum of the play doing choreography: Jenna Pollack. 

Kyle Thomas Hemingway performs in “The Marvelous Party: Halloween.” (Photo: Andrew Brilliant)

bullet-gray-small “The Marvelous Party: Pride,” June 6-7, mashing up queer poetry and iconic pop and landing in the midst of Pride Week. “This is our third year of doing the ‘Marvelous Party.’ It’s always been a party-performance where we take a poem and break up the night such that there’s a stanza followed by one or two songs thematically related to the poem,” D’Ambrosio said – the first year being Noel Coward’s “I Went to a Marvellous Party” (sample song: “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston) followed by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” for last year’s Halloween season (sample song: “Thriller,” by Michael Jackson). Director: John Tracey, associate producer of Bridge Rep and director of last year’s “Marvelous Party.”

Infancy and maturity

The season delivers what is for Bridge Rep a typical range of genre and diversity of stories and voices; what’s so smart about it, aside from the timing, is the maturity of thinking behind it.

“Over the years we’ve migrated from being a small company that sort of cloned the larger companies by trying to always do full-scale traditional plays to embracing our leaner, more maneuverable, slimmer composition as an organization,” D’Ambrosio said. “So we do one fully realized traditional play – this year it’s ‘Eartha Mae’ – and put the majority of our resources into one production instead of trying to do three or four.”

The rest of the calendar are “theatrical performance events but not traditional plays,” she said. “They deliver a satisfying theatrical experience for the audience while being a little less resource-heavy for us. The season definitely shows both our infancy and our maturity in those ways.”

Steam Exchange

Another step in Bridge Rep’s evolution: The introduction this season of its Steam Exchange, in which D’Ambrosio, who’s taught nearly 500 students as a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, creates custom educational experiences for local companies doing science, technology engineering and math. The company provides training in communication and other “soft skills” through workshops in public speaking and creative thinking – a brainstorm of D’Ambrosio’s that could steady sometimes “capricious” funding.

“I just started putting all this together at the end of last year,” she said. “There are a lot of [steam] firms out there that are creative in their own right. I asked, how can I take what I teach at MIT and [shape it into] a true exchange of arts and services?”

D’Ambrosio said the Exchange has begun with the Kendall Square firm Gamalon, which uses artificial intelligence to improve customer service. She’s hoping to expand it in the coming year – with access to Bridge Rep performances as a perk for companies taking part.