The Huntington Theatre Company, in its fourth season under its imported New York artistic director, Nicholas Martin, is finally taking up the mantle of a premiere regional theater. In other words, it is finally done planting its feet as it moves through a season that has put Nathan Lane on its stage, and as it stands at the helm of the first major building project of the last 75 years of Boston theater history, a project funded by seven banks and Boston corporations.
It’s not the same Huntington as in the ’80s and ’90s, when it stuck to the old scripts and the old stagings and watched all the new stuff happen in the American Repertory Theatre (ART) across the river. And it’s not, now, another ART. Instead, the Huntington has managed to be rejuvenated on its own terms—still classical but with more conviction; still powerful, but with new subtlety.
The company was founded in 1982, moving into the old, regal Boston University Theater. The theater itself has been around since 1925 as the original Repertory Theater of Boston, the first non-profit playhouse in the country, and a complement to nearby Symphony Hall and the Museum of Fine Arts. But it was never home to much successful theater, and after two decades of dubious usage (in lesser days it was a movie house), Boston University (B.U.) bought it for its School of Fine Arts.
But the theatre is still majestic. There is an air of antiquity about the auditorium, though the seats and carpets have been redone in recent times. The impressive feel of the place comes from the absence of an effort to be impressive—it’s the powerful sense of a large theatre being used exclusively as a theatre and not as a forum for decoration or the statement of artistic design. The sole purpose here is training eyes on the stage.
The two floors of seating, which have 890 seats in total, almost wrap around the stage, expanding outward from a moat-like pit that encircles the thrust. At one point, this cavity did contain water (it was a river in a production of Dead End), but now it alternates between simply being added to the stage and concealing an orchestra.
The stage is directly connected to the theater workshop, where sets are constructed, through a set of enormous wooden doors. The shop itself has another set of elephantine doors leading to the street. Conceivably, one could charge right onto the stage from the