Hub’s ‘Breeches’ is a love letter to the theater

From the left: Lily Ayotte, Nettie Chickering, June Khoury and Jessica Golden in “Into The Breeches!” Photo courtesy Hub Theatre

BOSTON – On the stage of the Oberon Play House in Boston in 1942, the “ghost light” – a theatrical tradition —  serves a different purpose, as a way keep the home fires burning until the men off to fight World War II return and the theater re-opens.

But that means the company’s long string of distinguished seasons of performances will end, and the theater shuttered until the men are able to return.

Maggie (Lauren Elias), the wife of the company’s longtime beloved artistic director now on a Navy destroyer, finds that unacceptable. So she sets out to complete her husband’s plan of staging Shakespeare’s “Henry V” —  but with an all-female cast.

The Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s production of George Brant’s “Into The Breeches!” at the Boston Center for the Arts is at its heart a hilarious love letter to the theater world and the people who inhabit it, but Brant also finds a way to address many other issues, including racism and sexism.

When Maggie decides that women will play the “breeches” – i.e., the male roles – she sets out to find her cast. The pickings are – how shall we say it – slim. The first person she engages is Celeste (Kathleen Pickett) is a longtime company mainstay and the choice for all plum female roles. The biggest problem is that many years later when she looks into the mirror, she still sees Juliet.

Lauren Elias, left, and Steve Auger in “Into he Breeches!” Photo courtesy Hub Theatre

Then Maggie sidles up to aging socialite Winnifred (Jane Khoury), whose last role was in finishing school. Once she’s on board, the next task is to get by her husband, Board President Ellsworth (Steve Auger), who is initially aghast at the idea but approves it to keep peace in the family.

Maggie decides to hold auditions in a bid to get more bodies and enlists help from stage manager Stuart (Robert Orzalli) and costume designer Ida (Nettie Chickering) to evaluate the new blood.

For young war brides June (Lily Ayotte) and Grace (Jessica Golden), the chance to join the troupe is a blessing. Grace has a child and is living with her mother-in-law while her husband is overseas, so any excuse to get out of a tense household works.  June’s obsession with saving fat and grease and knitting to help the war effort is wearing thin. Both are happy  to find a way to stop worrying about their husbands.

Maggie, while directing, is also a change agent of the first order. It turns out that men in the company were always paid, while women – even Celeste – were not. Aha! What about women playing men’s roles? Ellsworth finally agrees to keep the peace.

But the company still needs additional bodies to have any chance to stage “Henry V” properly. Cue the “backstagers.”  Stuart is not “over there” because he is gay. But was about if he dons women’s clothing to play one of the female roles? Does that keep the spirit of the effort alive? And, yes, Ida is Black and the company has never had a Black actor in its history, so is this the time and place for one?

One by one, the barriers come down and the hurdles are scaled. There is ample space for bawdy humor, none more where the women are asked to “walk manly” and use “accessories” to help make the case

And Winnifred, for example, is able to shed her inhibitions and introduces a bit of Groucho Marx into her interpretation of Falstaff.

Alas, the crises keep on coming. After Maggie finds the courage to recognize the younger Grace is talented and a much better fit for the role of Henry V than Celeste, Celeste decamps to a Braintree children’s theater.  Maggie must find a way to win her back to avoid having a production that attracts tomatoes instead of standing ovations.

The handiwork and touch of award-winning director Bryn Boice are everywhere, especially when it came to melding the individual personalities  into a seamless ensemble cast, all of whom seemed to be rooting for each other’s success.

Boice scored a resounding success with another production in which an all-female cast performed Shakespeare in the Actors Shakespeare Project’s “Julius Caesar.”

Even on the other side of the pandemic that has shuttered theater companies – many of them permanently – Hub Theatre, now closing its 10th season, continues to  feature a “Pay what you can” dynamic for all performances, believing that cost should not stand between a theater-goer and art.

“Into The Breeches!” will inspire you, make you laugh, and perhaps lure you to the auditions for the next show  at your local community theater.

The Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s production of “Into The Breeches!” Written by George Brant. Directed by Bryn Boice. At the Plaza Theatre of the Boston Center for the Arts through Nov. 20. Donations of new and gently loved children’s toys and books will be collected at each show for local charities. For tickets and more information visit