GBH Executive Arts Editor Jared Bowen shares his weekly picks from Boston's arts and culture sector, from a gold rush at the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum to Bill Irwin's interpretation of Samuel Beckett.

"On Beckett"

This production, which just opened last night, comes courtesy of Bill Irwin, accomplished star of screen and stage, clown and longtime fan of Irish novelist Samuel Beckett. The one-man show is a conversation between Irwin and the audience about the significance of Beckett’s work in Irwin’s life — Irwin quickly establishes that he is “not a scholar or a biographer, but an actor, somebody who has long ingested Samuel Beckett’s words,” as Bowen explains.

In 90 minutes, Irwin unpacks Beckett’s character energy, his legacy as an absurdist minimalist, his time writing in France and more through recitation and interpretation of passages from the author’s work. Bowen calls "On Beckett" a chance for audiences “to see one of the greats talking about one of the great playwrights.” While Beckett may be considered a “highbrow” writer, this production presents the work in an accessible way, with Irwin using the stage to have “this character just rise out of the air and be before us” as audience members.

Now playing at ArtsEmerson through October 30

"English"

Iranian playwright Sanaz Toossi presents this story about a group of four students in an English classroom in Karaj, Iran, in 2008. Over the course of the play, the students, led by teacher Marjan, study for the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

While preparing for the exam, the students also incidentally explore “what language means to one’s identity, to one’s sense of belonging, and our connection to one another,” as Bowen puts it. “They’re also reconciling what that means, and the consequences of leaving, perhaps, their Iranian culture behind, especially when it’s a country and a language like Farsi and you’re leaving that behind for a more dominant culture.”

Now playing at the SpeakEasy Stage Company through November 19

"English" at the Speakeasy Stage Company
The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh.
Nile Scott Studios Speakeasy Stage Company

Metal of Honor: Gold from Simone Martini to Contemporary Art
Working in Italy in the late 13th century, Simone Martini was among the Renaissance’s finest master artists, creating renderings in gold for political and religious leaders and the aristocracy. This exhibition at the Gardner connects Martini’s work to that of modern artists Titus Kaphar, Stacey Waddell, and Kehinde Wiley, whose portrait of President Obama is also currently on display at the MFA.

One of the centerpieces of the exhibit is Kaphar’s "Jerome Project," the artist’s attempt to grapple with his complicated relationship with his father. As Bowen explains, in the Jerome Project, Kaphar “recognized that there were a number of incarcerated men with the same name as his father. He created their portraits in halos of gold, but also with tar that covers up varying levels of their faces, that level of tar commensurate with their time incarcerated.”

On view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum through January 16

Simone Martini, Virgin and Child with Saints
Simone Martini's "Virgin and Child with Saints," now on view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum