Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 26, 2017

Mondays in the Berkshires


Tanglewood gates are closed.  What’s there to do?

I am arbitrarily focusing on July 17th, your typical Monday in the Berkshires. Most visitors known that Berkshire weekends are packed, nearly every hour, with culture. There is so much to choose from that a visitor will find the pickings difficult. While not quite as busy, weekdays (Tuesday -  Thursday) offer nearly as much culture, arts, performances as on the weekends. The only obvious difference is that the tourist population is a bit less on these days.

For those who vacation the full week, the question often arises – what’s there to do on Monday. Without much effort, I researched just a few of the possibilities for you, whether it be July 17th or any Monday.

Capitol Steps, Lenox, MA
Enjoy politics coupled with laughter?

Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA
Make the most of your visit with one of the six orientation talks. Expert gallery guides introduce the art and life of Norman Rockwell and the special highlights of the museum’s collection.

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
Director Fellowship Projects
Each summer, WTF produces a re-theatricalization of a classic American play, developed by members of WTF’s Non-Equity Company. This season, Jason McDowell-Green, will direct Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, with performances at 7pm and 11pm.

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
To my knowledge, the only professional theatre venue open on Monday is BTF. The award-winning “Children of a Lesser G-d” will be presented at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage at 7pm.

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
Singer Christine Pedi presents “Great Dames” at 8pm at Mr. Finn's Cabaret. Forbidden Broadway Diva Christine Pedi sings about, and made famous by, the great ladies of the stage, screen and beyond. With comic flair & warm appreciation she conjures up Merman, Minnelli, Streisand, Liza, Julie Andrews and more.

Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA
A new exhibit, titled “No Rules” presents the woodcut art of Helen Frankenthaler. Those who have seen the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of “Madame Butterfly” are familiar with Frankenthaler’s work without realizing it. The artist worked with dyed paper pulp to create the set from the final woodcuts.

Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA
The museum’s big summer exhibit is The Guitar. Participate on a tour and/or enjoy a free guitar concert in the early evening. There’s also Little Cinema’s independent and foreign films. Check the museum’s website for a schedule. [see our article on Berkshire Museums]

Another stage in the Berkshires


The Roman Garden Theatre
Lenox, MA

Shakespeare has always been closely linked with the outdoors. In Elizabethan times, the Bard's plays were performed in the open-roofed Globe Theatre. Outdoor Shakespeare performances immerse the audience in the "natural world," a landscape that offers an escape from conventional society, a theme integral to the Bard's plays.

Located right on Shakespeare & Company’s Kemble Street campus, the Roman Garden Theatre is a unique 280-seat outdoor venue with comfortable seating in-the-round and a casual ambiance.

The first-ever production in the Roman Garden Theatre’s will be “The Tempest,” the story of a betrayed magician bent on revenge. Prospero’s seething softens when he sees through his daughter that love and forgiveness conquer darkness. Revel in outdoor performances in the new Garden Theatre under the Berkshire summer skies as the cast leads you on this magical and moving journey.

The new theatre is located directly across from the Tina Packer Playhouse. Performances of “The Tempest will take the stage, August 10 – September 3, all at dusk. See www.shakespeare.org for specific dates and times.

The Roman Garden Theatre is generously supported by The Dr. Gerald and Roberta Friedman Foundation.

The Birds

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through July 8, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

Photo By Scott Barrow
First came the 1952 novelette of “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier as a metaphor for aerial attacks on England in WWII. Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic 1963 film has given viewers nightmares for years. Then, in 2009 Conor McPherson adapted the story for the stage. Each artist crafted the narrative in very different ways, but the story of nature against humankind remains the focus. Now, at the St. Germain Stage, you don’t have to wait more than three minutes to start feeling the creepy sensation of birds ready to attack.   I confess to being a fan of McPherson’s work, and “The Birds” has many of his typical themes; morality, tension, sexual threat, and religious imagery, but this play is less cerebral than most of his others. Still, in the hands of Director Julianne Boyd, this production will have you at the edge of your seat and will make you think about what the world could become.

Barrington Stage’s production of “The Birds” takes place in dystopian New England after the world has “shifted course” and the birds literally come in and go out with the tide.  When they’re in—the few remaining survivors take cover for safety. Three people find themselves taking refuge in a claustrophobic cabin and have to confront survival as they search for food and come to terms with their own demons as they attempt to negotiate their own emerging relationships.

Much of the tension in the play is the result of Alex Basco Koch’s earie projections of birds surrounding the cabin, and David Thomas’s exceptional sound design that places the audience in the center of the bird attacks. The cast is strong and believable, but the entrance of Rocco Sisto as Tierney, a drug-addled farmer who lives across the lake, is particularly bone chilling, letting the audience know that the threat inside the cabin is imminent. When he says; “No one ever thought nature was just going to eat us,” McPherson’s message comes through clearly.

McPherson’s adaptation of the story could easily be seen as a metaphor for global climate change and the message of Darwinian principles of survival are juxtaposed with a verse from the Bible, but what I found most impressive was the way in which the Barrington cast and production team used the small theatre for maximum impact.

June 22, 2017

Fun Home


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through June 25, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

The touring company of “Fun Home” at the Bushnell is packed with first-rate talent. In this deeply personal musical memoir, graphic novelist Alison Bechdel’s moving story about her sexual awakening is juxtaposed against the backdrop of decades of living with her family and their own relationship challenges. The book and lyrics were penned by Lisa Kron who received a Tony in 2015 for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score of a Musical, but the story is Bechdel’s, who subtitled her graphic novel, “Fun Home,” as “A Family Tragicomic.”

“Fun Home” isn’t really fun. At times, it’s painful, but there is always a thread of love that unites the family, and the actors and audience. The title refers to the funeral home Alison’s father ran, in addition to serving as an English teacher and part-time antique furniture aficionado and historian. But Bruce Bechdel is also a man who had a secret, and that secret propels much of the action throughout the play. The plot has plenty of surprises and the play caters to the audience’s empathy, but there is a truth and honesty to the story that draws you to the carefully worded lyrics, and to the passion each actor gives to their character.

Special praise must be given to Robert Petkoff as Bruce (the father) whose vocal quality is clear and exquisite. Susan Moniz as Helen (the mother) can pack more feeling into her voice than most contemporary musicals can boast, and her rendition of “Days and Days” is heartbreakingly effective. The character of Alison is played by three actors; adult Alison (Kate Shindle), “Small Alison” (Carly Gold), and “Medium Alison” (Abby Corrigan) who often share the stage and sing together. The eight piece musical ensemble under the direction of Micah Young blends its sound perfectly for the Bushnell’s acoustics and for the young and old(er) voices.

These days it’s rare that an audience is perfectly silent, but the Bushnell audience didn’t want to miss a word or a beat. Kudos to the Bushnell for bringing this deeply personal musical to the area, and to the “Fun Home” cast and crew for mounting such an effective, beautiful production.

June 20, 2017

Music for Forbidden Dances

Aston Magna Music Festival
Saint James Place, Great Barrington, MA
Saturday, June 17, 2017
by Rebecca Phelps

Last Saturday an audience of enthusiastic fans greeted the first musical delight of Aston Magna’s 45th season. Music for Forbidden Dances was a departure from purely Baroque and early music genres, featuring some obscure instruments; i.e. the bandoneon and a chalumeau (precursor to the clarinet), along with traditional instruments.

Daniel Stepner
The first half of the concert followed the development of two dance forms primarily known as movements in baroque dance suites: the sarabande and the chaconne. The opening medley, “Ensalada,” entertained us to the syncopated, raucous rhythms of the early roots of these dances, brought from the New World back to Spain and Europe, and considered to be too provocative for proper society.

The most famous chaconne ever written was performed by Daniel Stepner, Aston Magna artistic director and violinist extraordinaire: the “Chaconne in d minor” from the Second Partita for violin, by J.S. Bach. This tour-de-force of stamina, skill and mental concentration, lasting over 15 minutes, was performed with great vigor by Stepner.

The second half of the concert brought us into the 20th century, and the world of the tango, featuring the bandoneon, a concertina-like instrument invented in Germany which caught on like wildfire in Argentina. Hector del Curto is a virtuosic player from a long line of Argentinian bandoneon players; both his grandfather and great-grandfather were bandoneonists. Musical talent runs in the family as was evident when he introduced his wife, a wonderful cellist, and his young son, a clarinetist. Together they played the evocative “Oblivion”, by Astor Piazzolla, bringing us into the other deliciously forbidden dance form featured in the program: the Tango.

The final piece, “Tango” by Robert Xavier Rodriquez, was a theatrical work narrated and sung by the talented Frank Kelly. It told a history of the tango in the 20th century through news clippings and actual sermon quotes from Cardinal Pompeii.

Clearly some very imaginative programming and fine musicianship went into this program, the first of Aston Magna’s summer series.

June 16, 2017

Exhibits take residence at three Berkshire museums


Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked the World take residence at three museums in the Berkshires



GUITAR, aka The Instrument That Rocked the World, takes place at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield through September 4th. Strummed or picked, acoustic or electric, playing a hard rock anthem or gentle folk tune, the guitar is the most popular instrument in the world. The exhibit explores all aspects of one of the most enduring musical icons of the last 200 years. Visitors to GUITAR will experience the instrument from its history, evolution, and design to the music it has created and the technology that continues to enhance it. This exhibition covers the science, sound, and cultural impact of the guitar in a family friendly installation that contains more than 70 instruments, from the rare and antique to the popular and innovative. A special feature is the world’s largest guitar, 43.5 feet long and 16 feet wide, weighs 2,000 pounds, and certified by Guinness World Records. www.berkshiremuseum.org



Norman Rockwell meets Andy Warhol at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. America’s most important visual communicators, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) and Andy Warhol (1928-1987) embraced populism, created enduring icons, shaped national identity, and opened new ways of seeing during the twentieth century. This summer and fall, Norman Rockwell Museum will present the first exhibition – titled Inventing America: Rockwell and Warhol -- to examine the artistic and cultural influence of these celebrated image-makers and the continued influence of their indelible legacies. Inventing America will present nearly 100 works that compare and contrast the two artists, including portraits of President John F. Kennedy, and man’s first steps on the moon. The exhibition will also feature archival materials and photographs relating to the artists’ lives and careers. As innovators, Rockwell and Warhol each created and adapted techniques to advance their art to new ends. www.nrm.org



Picasso: Encounters, on view at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, investigates how Pablo Picasso’s (1881–1973) creative collaborations fueled and strengthened his art, challenging the notion of Picasso as an artist alone with his craft. The exhibition addresses his full stylistic range, the narrative themes that drove his creative process, the often-neglected issue of the collaboration inherent in print production, and the muses that inspired him. This special exhibit is comprised of 35 large-scale prints from private and public collections and three paintings including his seminal Self-Portrait and the renowned Portrait of Dora Maar, both on loan from the Musée national Picasso–Paris. The Clark, which owns very few Picasso’s in their permanent collection is fortunate to have received many generous loans from museums and private collections for this exhibition. www.clarkart.edu

Summer 2017 at the Mount

Lenox, MA
by Shera Cohen

It was approximately 25 years ago when the “divorce” between The Mount and Shakespeare & Company took place. At the time, I thought it was the beginning of the end for both the historic site of Edith Wharton’s home and this wonderful theatre company. Admittedly, because theatre was/is my #1 destination point in the Berkshires, I continued to attend S&Co. plays. Yet, I did not return to the Mount for several years. There really wasn’t much to do.

Happily, the Mount is back, and near the top, on my “Berkshire To Do List” and for good reason – for many good reasons. A different activity takes place on nearly every day of the week: Monday’s Summer Lecture Series, Tuesday’s repeat of the same, Wharton on Wednesdays, and Music After Hours on Friday and Saturday.

My favorite program is the Summer Lecture Series. Every Monday at 4pm, authors speak about their books; oftentimes biographies or histories. For one hour in the Wharton Stables, the writer offers backstories of his/her research and writing process. When I first attended, I might have been one of a few dozen in the audience. What a shame that more didn’t experience this educational fun. Not that I credit myself, but I will take a small bow for writing several pieces on the series, trying to get the word out. Each year the audience grew, then doubled, then filled to SRO, to the point that had I not ordered my tickets on the first date of sales, I missed out. The Mount had a success on their hands. What a nice problem to have. The solution, initiated last year, was a repeat lecture on Tuesdays at 11am. This was a wise decision.

Wharton on Wednesday offers a step back to the Gilded Age on the veranda of the Wharton home. For one hour, starting at 5pm, audience members listen to readings of Wharton short stories given by area actors. There’s wine, lemonade, and munchies; small round tables and wooden seats; and the view of the Wharton Estate, especially the gardens. The talks are $10, no reservation needed.

Early evenings on the weekend bring the sounds of local musicians for the Mount’s Jazz Series. This, too, takes place on the large porch, where the gorgeous landscape at dusk augments the ambiance. The series is free.

S&Co. has returned to its original home with productions of some of the Bard’s most famous plays, set on the pristine manicured lawn at the Mount. Just as 30+ years ago, when the woods doubled as S&Co.’s main-stage, here the stories come alive once more. This season’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is probably the most befitting Shakespeare play for this setting. The production is offered on numerous dates throughout the summer, usually at 6pm or 11am.

What can I do if I just want to walk around, you say? Put on your walking shoes or sneakers for the Mount House Tours, Gardens & Landscape Tours, SculptureNow Art Walks, and Ghost Tour. The latter features an exhibition of 30 giant sculptures throughout the site, each created by a professional artist. This curated display can be appreciated on a self-tour or, on occasion, guided by one of the sculptors.

From time to time, writers at any stage (primarily amateurs) congregate to discuss their work, to become inspired, and to keep writing. Poetry readings, additional author lectures, story sharing, and literary round-tables fill the summer calendar. I would like to think that Edith Wharton is aware of so much literature being created at what was once her home.

June 14, 2017

Ventfort Hall Tea & Talk Series


Ventfort Hall Mansion & Gilded Age Museum, Lenox, MA
through September 5, 2017
by Shera Cohen

The attempt to do away with the world’s most famous detective, the Irish Bridget, and the ultra-rich Gilded Age family who outdid everyone else in building urban palaces, estates and summer villas. These describe just three of thirteen exciting "Tea & Talks" that Ventfort Hall will offer this summer on Tuesdays at 4:00pm running now through September 5. Victorian teas will be served.

Speakers hail from around the corner (the Berkshires) to around the world; they include historians, educators, and authors. One common theme is the era of the Gilded Age – the late 1800’s and early 1900’s primarily in the U.S. where we see and learn about the servants of the rich and famous, renovation of the Berkshire Carousel, the trappings of antiques and jewelry, and a wide range of Who’s Who; i.e. Edith Wharton, Doris Duke, and the Vanderbilt family.

Two topics have already launched the series. Historian Jan Whitaker’s subject was “Opulent Emporiums: The Gilded Age of Department Stores.” With elevators to reach the floor upon floor of merchandise, shopping became a new, and long-lasting, form of entertainment. The following week, Steven Pullen’s subject matter was close to home: “Grandpa was a Groomsman and Grandma was a Housemaid: Two British Servants in America.”

Jeffrey Bradway

Jeffrey Bradway
On Tuesday, June 20th, historian/lecturer/actor Jeffrey Bradway brings his Ventfort audience up close and personal with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Most know Doyle as the creator of Sherlock Holmes – whose popularity has spanned well over a century. However, in an interview with Bradway, I learned that the author had fun with his sleuth, and thought of him as an intelligent yet strange man. After decades of spewing out nearly unsolvable crime after crime, Doyle compared his Holmes stories to great literature, saying that they were merely cartoons in the world of real painting, and by no means a masterpiece.

Bradway is a member of numerous Sherlock Holmes clubs and societies. Little did I know that over 200 groups exist in the U.S. and far more throughout the world; i.e. Baker Street Irregulars. Readers take their Holmes extremely seriously, but with a sense of humor. While the topic of Bradway’s Tea & Talk is “Killing Off Sherlock Holmes,” his one-man play is more than a narrative on the creation, death and resurrection of the world’s most famous detective. Doyle is the star. Like Holmes, the author had his own quirkiness and eccentricities with an unending curiosity in the subjects of the occult, science, and medicine.

The lecture introduces the character of Doyle through Bradway, dressed in garb of the era, speaking much of the writer’s actual language, albeit fictionalized. Sides to Doyle’s personality that few now realize are his strange mixture of scientific training with belief in the hereafter.

As for Bradway, he is in awe of Doyle, and has been almost equally enamored with Holmes since age 5 – before he could read. Shortly after, his aunt gifted him with Holmes’ sixty stories, all of which he read by age 14. Bradway explained that Doyle, however, was far more than the sum of Holmes and that the Ventfort audience will meet and learn about the man as an author of numerous genres and topics.

Jeffrey Bradway knows his subject extremely well, having extensively researched Doyle. Just as Sherlock Holmes has intrigued millions of readers (moviegoers, PBS supporters, and other modes of portrayal), Bradway continues to remain intrigued by Arthur Conan Doyle.

For reservations and other information call 413-637-3206 or visit Ventfort Hall’s website at gildedage.org

June 13, 2017

Choral Fantasy and Mystical Songs


Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
June 9-11, 2017
by Michael J. Moran

Adam Kerry Boyles
No doubt inspired by the canny programming skills of Hartford Symphony Orchestra Music Director Carolyn Kuan, Assistant Conductor Adam Kerry Boyles assembled one of the most diverse and stimulating programs ever presented by a local orchestra to close the HSO’s 73rd season on a high note. It imaginatively paired two favorite masterpieces by Brahms and Ravel with welcome HSO premieres of less familiar works by Haydn, Beethoven and Vaughan Williams.

This graduation season concert aptly began with Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture.” Incorporating four popular student drinking songs, it was written in 1880 to acknowledge the composer’s receipt of an honorary doctorate from the University of Breslau. Boyles led a warm and invigorating performance of this jubilant score.

Conductor and a smaller orchestra were then joined by the 100 plus members of the Hartford Chorale for an equally joyous account of Haydn’s 1799 setting of the Christian hymn of praise to God, “Te Deum.” The chorus’s rendition of the Latin text was vibrant, enunciated with exemplary clarity, and powerfully backed by Broyles and the HSO.

Russian-American pianist Alexander Moutouzkine next joined the chorus and larger orchestra in Beethoven’s unwieldy but fascinating “Choral Fantasy,” which begins with a five-minute passage for solo piano and introduces five vocal soloists and the full chorus only in the last few measures of its twenty-minute length. After a series of variations on an early Beethoven song, the concluding text by poet Christoph Kuffner celebrates the power of music. The ebullient piece was brilliantly performed by all forces under Broyles’ carefully balanced leadership.

A sensitive interpretation of Ravel’s colorful and exquisitely crafted “Mother Goose Suite” followed intermission, and the program closed with Vaughan Williams’ “Five Mystical Songs” for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Based on four poems by George Herbert (“Easter” is divided over the first two songs), the emotional heart of this radiant cycle is the central poem, “Love Bade Me Welcome.” John Hancock was a dramatic soloist, while chorus and orchestra were alternately forceful and ravishing.   

The only flaw in this auspicious debut by Broyles was a lack of printed or projected texts.

June 12, 2017

Tanglewood for Kids


Tanglewood, Lenox, MA

FREE LAWN TICKETS
Tanglewood is pleased to offer free lawn tickets for children and young people age 17 and younger. Up to four free children's tickets are available per parent/legal guardian per concert at the Tanglewood Box Office on the day of the concert. All patrons, regardless of age, must have a ticket.  Please check the Tanglewood website or season pamphlet for details and policies.

Supported by a generous gift from the Pumpkin Foundation/Joe and Carol Reich

WATCH AND PLAY
Watch and Play, sponsored by the Boston Symphony Association of Volunteers, is an interactive musical performance designed to engage children ages 3-10 in the Tanglewood musical experience. The program will be offered at 1pm on Sundays July 9 and 23, and August 6 and 23, in the Chamber Music Hall. Tickets to the Sunday-afternoon concert performance are required. For more information call 413-637-5393 or email bsav@bso.org

KIDS' CORNER
Kids' Corner is offered at 9:30am on Saturdays and noon on Sundays. However, on days of Watch and Play, Kids' Corner will begin at 2pm. Children accompanied by adults may take part in musical and crafts activities supervised by BSO staff. Please stop by the Tanglewood Visitor Center for more information. Tickets to the Sunday concert or Saturday-morning rehearsal are required.

FAMILY FUN FEST
Friday, July 21, 2017 from 1-5 pm
Experience the beauty of the Tanglewood campus while taking part in an educational scavenger hunt, partake in fun family offerings such as the Instrument Playground and craft activities and watch a series of live performances from Tanglewood as well as other cultural partners.

New this year: families have the opportunity to stay - for free - to watch the BSO's 8pm concert from the lawn. Maestro Gustavo Gimeno conducts the BSO in a program of Bernstein and Tchaikovsky. Free for kids (and adults) of all ages! Advance registration is recommended.

Part of the Highland Street Foundation's Free Fun Fridays program

June 9, 2017

My Berkshires 2016 & 2017


By Shera Cohen
Yes, it’s 2017 as I write this. Memories of a jam-packed cultural summer loom visibly as I plan this year’s equally stuffed weeks of performing and visual art venues. You, too, might remember having seen some of these enriching locations. Perhaps, I bumped into you? Perhaps, I might see you this summer, seated in a chair or on a bench, on the lawn or walking the grounds? Please consider many of these places for your “to visit” list. Here’s a personal look at “My Berkshires.”
Photo: The Mount, massvacation.com

June 6, 2017

Schubert's Summer Journey


Tanglewood presents a season of Schubert's Summer Journey
Tanglewood, Lenox, MA

A series of six Ozawa Hall recital and chamber music concerts devised and curated by Emanuel Ax will feature some of the composer's most inspiring works performed by an extraordinary lineup of Boston Symphony Orchestra musicians and guest artists well known and beloved by Tanglewood audiences. Many of the works to be performed were composed during the last year of Schubert's life, in 1828.

Among those who will perform are the following musicians: Emanuel Ax (piano), James Sommerville (horn), Peter Serkin (piano), William R. Hudgins (clarinet), and Anna Polonsky (piano). In addition, the Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Fellows will offer their vocal expertise to works by Schubert.

The dates of these special concerts are July 6 and 20, August 3, 8, 17, and 23.

The Impact of Franz Schubert

Like the poets whose work he wrote his music around, Schubert was an unrivaled master of lyrical beauty. It is no secret that Schubert adored Beethoven—he was awed by him, to the point that he was too timid to even introduce himself to the musical giant when the two passed one another on the streets of Vienna. But it is far from a stretch to mention these two musical giants in the same sentence. Schubert produced masterful works with rich harmonies and legendary melodies for a variety of genres, and his influence proved considerable with later composers.

It was only after Schubert's passing that his musical genius received the kind of recognition it deserved. His talent lay in is ability to adapt to almost any kind of musical form.

May 31, 2017

The King and I


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through June 4, 2017
by Rebecca Phelps

        Photo by Matthew Murphy

This amazing new revival of “The King and I” is a stand-out production from every angle. For those who love the tried and true old time Rogers & Hammerstein shows, they will not be disappointed, even with some updated materials. The music, story, characters and original Jerome Robbins choreography is all there in its full and glorious form. To those who know the show well, they will notice some updated dialogue, especially with references to political conflicts in southeast Asia, as well as added dance sequences. These are interspersed between scenes and give more opportunity to the elegant and sophisticated Thai dancers who are featured primarily in the “Small House of Uncle Thomas”.

The cast is appropriately diverse and uniformly strong, although Manna Nichols has a bit of harshness vocally and is a more formidable and willful Tuptim than we usually see in this show (perhaps intentionally so). Laura Michaels Kelly is perfection in the part of Anna with her crystal clear bell-tone voice; every word and lyric beautifully articulated and every gesture and nuance stylistically appropriate and artful. Jose Llana brings warmth to this autocratic ruler, the King of Siam. His strong baritone voice is commanding and demanding with displays of a fearsome temper, but is also capable of being conciliatory and downright humorous. By the end of the show he has won over not only Anna, but his audience to this chauvinistic King.

The sets are simple and alluring making use of the high proscenium at the Bushnell with gauzy and flowery curtains creating the garden scenes and a metallic coppery gold curtain for the scenes in the palace. A giant Buddha brings home the significance of the religious as well as cultural divides between Anna (Christian, western ways) and the King (Buddhist, eastern ways). Gold pillars and a stark masonry wall create the illusion of towering palatial ceilings and the walled courtyard in which Anna feels confined.

This show is a feast for any audience, from the very young to the very old. The story still feels relevant in today’s world (with reference to a possible wall being built around Siam!), while the melodies are unforgettable; some of Roger’s & Hammerstein’s best, accompanied by a full orchestra and including the entire overture. Don’t miss it!!

May 30, 2017

Heartbreak House


Hartford Stage, Hartford
through June 11, 2017
by Shera Cohen

Before the play started, I should have read the program book. The list of characters, actors, and period are especially important. “Sussex, England, 1914.” Not that “Heartbreak House” by GB Shaw is a mystery, but that ominous date 1914 –the start of WWI – would have enlightened my experience of the story.

Photo by T. Charles  Erickson
This is one of those plays when lots of people simply drop by another person’s home. Characters just show up, and in many cases, wear their personalities with broad strokes. Yes, there are mood changes and alliances, but for the most part what you see is what you get; i.e. snooty upper-class woman, doddering sea captain, blonde ingénue, buffoon-like blowhard, and suave boy toy. Most of those onstage define lives of boredom and/or bravado. Yet, at its core is money and its effects on all in the room.

Very much an ensemble cast, where each actor fits his/her role perfectly (Hartford Stage has a knack for that), some shine a little bit more than others. Miles Anderson (Captain Shotover) plays cantankerous and funny, yet astute and wise at the same time. He sits or stands center stage throughout most of the play. Wearing his sailor garb, he takes the helm, whether it be his home or his ship.

Stephen Barker Turner (Hector Hushabye – oh, those absurd names characters spew as if they weren’t funny) portrays Hesione’s husband, Ellie’s suitor, and Lady Utterwood’s fling – all impeccably. These are not separate roles. Hector just happens to be a very busy, insincere, and handsome man. He often repeats a line to the effect that his mustache brings women to their knees.

Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak takes on double duty as the play’s director. While the play is long, Tresnjak puts emphasis on the humor and fun in Act I seemingly speeding up the comings and goings of these eccentric characters. In Act II, “Heartbreak House” does get laden down with philosophy and the practicality of money. Because Shaw’s words are so flawlessly selected, and because the audience has already come to accept this motley group, we need to stick with the story until, alas, the loud sounds and light flashes of reality, of war. Just what would this group do as war surrounds them? The outlook looks dim for most, with or without money in their pockets.

Hartford Stage never skimps on their sets. The audience sees a three-level living room/ship bow of brown wood, every inch the trappings of a stately house. Atop is the balcony, shaped like a sail, quite open and airy with glorious winding staircases leading to it. The highest level depicts the upper the sail, airier still. A thank you to the genius of Scenic Designer Colin McGurk.

And some one-sentence kudos are important. Ilona Somogyi’s costume work is flawless and beautiful. Turner’s swashbuckling pantomime is hysterical, and Andrew Long’s “orange hair” is spot-on.