Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 30, 2008

The Atheist

Williamstown Theatre, Williamstown
through July 6

Campbell Scott excels on the Nikos Stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival. As he creates the character of Augustine Early, his solo performance has the audience disliking the man after only very few lines. Unfortunately, playwright Ronan Noone gives almost no opportunity ever to change our minds about this consistently self-interested misogynist.

Journalist Early wants the biggest fonts and the largest headlines and will do anything to achieve them – his machinations and his “Theory of Self” lead him to confuse atheism with amorality, hence the labored title of the play. A video camera at stage right records throughout the performance as Early rambles, narrates, explodes, acts out, and ‘reports’ his own story as the audience also sees intermittent glimpses of him on tape.

Early has taken meticulous interview notes as he claws his way to his 15-minutes of fame, and when he wants ‘the truth’ to be heard, and to convince that ‘Truth’ was his goal all along. His story proves otherwise. He contrives events and manipulates the people in his life. He withholds facts, discards people as abruptly as he tosses the notebooks onto the desktop in fits and rages, over as quickly as they emerge out of his superficial charm.

Here is a monster. Viewers begin to ask what can ultimately happen to this dementedly narcissistic individual, who may be disintegrating. Or perhaps we ask, “Do I know anyone even remotely like this person and how quickly can I distance myself?”

Noone’s play might be asking the question of integrity in the news business, but plot flaws about editorial procedure make that a bit silly. Perhaps the villain could have been more complex villain, but Scott never disappoints. The spare lighting and stage design support the play, and the rear-video and color projection enhanced it. The Nikos Stage is pleasantly intimate and perfectly suited for the production.

June 23, 2008

Livingston Taylor & Kate Taylor

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield
June 23, 2008
By Eric Sutter

Two members of the illustrious singing Taylor clan appeared at the Colonial Theatre to start the summer season. Livingston Taylor and back-up singers kicked it off singing CSN's "Find the Cost of Freedom" a capella. Kate Taylor took the stage in cowgirl hippie attire with a crack band and rocked Carlene Carter's "I Fell In Love." She sang, in her reedy alto voice, the spiritually minded "Beautiful Road" written by Northampton's Erica Wheeler. Kate then covered the Carole King song made famous by the Everly Brothers with "Crying in the Rain" and later demonstrated an intriguing performing style with wide-ranging musical tastes running the gamut from country, R&B to soul rock. Kate ended her concert segment with the traditional Irish ballad "Water is Wide" which warmed the audience.

Livingston Taylor is a keen and literate observer of life which came through as his music unfolded with humor in his songs and speech. His folksy style and softer gentle love ballads in "I Must Be Doing Something Right" and "There I'll Be" reflected this sensitivity. He performed a 2006 song from his mid-50's stage of life called "Never Lose Hope" with the line "even Boston lost its curse." His fingerstyle guitar playing was impeccable.

Livingston shifted to piano playing and sang "Kitty Hawk, 1903" about the Wright Brothers, in addition to the love ballad "There You Are Again." Kate joined him for "Moon River," while he played piano. The lovely duet of sister-brother vocal harmony in "Best of Friends" especially touched the audience. Livingston's comical versatility was exposed in the subtle"Wish I Were a Cowboy" and whimsical "Railroad Bill." His gentle folk-soul voice and guitar style shined on the optimistic "Life is Good." He encored with "My Romance," which morphed into his rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Using voice only, Livingston Taylor treated the audience to Bill Wither's soul shakin' "Grandma's Hands."

June 22, 2008


Berkshire Theater Festival, Stockbridge
through July 5th
By Eric Johnson & Laura Lezon

Desire! No wonder it’s a favorite topic of playwrights, it is emotional, dramatic, and universal. George Bernard Shaw’s treatment of the subject is most enjoyable indeed, no surprise. Shaw’s amusing yet poignant tale of love, courage, cowardice, jealousy and, yes, desire comes alive at the hands of director Anders Cato and the extremely talented cast.

Morell (Michel Gill) and Gene (Finn Wittrock) achieve a wonderful chemistry as rivals for the affection of the charismatic Candida. Jayne Atkinson’s portrayal of Candida is charming indeed. Her energy and magnetism light up the room, nurturing the desire of her socialist minister husband and the aspiring young poet. Samantha Soule brings a delightfully dutiful yet feisty Prossie to the performance. Soule’s subtlety in letting out hints of the very prim secretary’s not so subtle desires is most entertaining. David Schramm’s Burgess is full of self importance yet, judging by his enigmatic accent, not so far from the struggling working class he exploits for profit. Jeremiah Wiggins contributes a nice dose of naiveté and shyness as the young Reverend Alex.

Olivera Gajic’s costumes, Hugh Landwehr’s set and Dan Kotlowitz’s lighting all served this production very well. The unusual set design, in another production, might have been considered too avant garde for Shaw. In this case however, it fit seamlessly into the production. When first lit at the beginning of the show, the cyc wall appears to be sky above a beautiful tree-lined park, but soon reveals several levels of poor row houses. It is not a scene through a window of the Morell’s house, but the backdrop of the play. A few wonderful period furniture pieces are set on stage in front of this scene. There is a remarkable “scene change” at the beginning of Act III, appropriate symbolism for the beginning of this metamorphic act.

Shaw’s work is well served by this cast and crew. It is a production worth seeing, if that is your desire.

"The House of Blue Leaves"

New Century Theatre, Northampton
through June 28
By K.J. Rogowski

New Century Theatre's production of John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves" is not an easy show to watch. It makes audience members feel uncomfortable and uneasy, even while laughing. That is a good thing, because that is its purpose. The laughter in this black comedy comes as much from the audience's nervousness as the show's humor.

While on the surface, even the characters’ names may make one wonder about the seriousness of the plot (with an unknown zoo keeper/songwriter, whose insane wife is named Bananas, and his girlfriend named Bunny), yet the volatility of these people's lives is anything but laughable. They hitch their most precious and fragile dreams and hopes on even fainter and most illusory prospects with a naive trust and sincerity that almost makes the viewer cringe. For these people, there is always hope, because they read it in Reader's Digest, and there is always despair, because they must depend on their fellow man.

Driving this story are Sam Rush, Lisa Abend, Lisa Rowe-Beddoe, and Justin Fuller. While each of them adds another layer to the morass of these characters' lives, Fuller's solo scene, and the final moments between Rush and Rowe-Beddoe are especially powerful. Add to this mix of characters and their strange lives, a deaf actress, a big shot Hollywood director, three nuns, an MP, the man in white, and the Pope, and here’s a tale that pulls in three directions at once, as all their lives careen and collide. Rand Foerster's direction gives a balance to the pathos and humor, just as Daniel D. Rist's set design reflects the imbalance of lives lived on the edge of hope.

June 19, 2008

Garth Fagan Dance

Jacob's Pillow Dance, Becket
through June 22
by Rachel White

Opening the 76th season at the legendary and historic Jacob's Pillow, Garth Fagan Dance showcases their unique style and choreography to Western Massachusetts' dance enthusiasts to enjoy in a rare and treasured evening. Tony Award winning choreographer Garth Fagan brings his signature piece "Griot New York" and offers audiences a glimpse at his vision displayed in a wonderful blend of Caribbean, African, Modern and Ballet styles of dance.

Originally staged in 1991, the evening begins with distinguished set design, performed to the music of Wynton Marsalis and continues on a wonderful journey into the mind of a great crafter of dance choreography. Dancers perform with intense concentration and focus, drawing the audience in the minute the curtain rises. Notable and enchanting, the third segment of the first act, "Spring Yaounde," is a beautiful performance by Fagan's rehearsal director and "muse" Norwood Pennewell with Nicolette Depass. Sensual and passionate, the pair are both athletically and artistically sculpted, and demonstrate a deep and emotional connection throughout the intense choreography.

The second act begins with a personal piece performed by the Company, "The Disenfranchised," depicting the constant struggle between art and AIDS. A lonely and desperate piece, the choreography displays amazing intensity and strength, while bringing beauty with each detailed movement. Continuing on a lighter note, it guides the audience through a series of segments that display dance on a global stage, blending traditional dance with cultural history. Dancers are fabulously gifted not only on an aesthetic level, but also on an emotional level as they show a deep commitment to their craft.

It is an amazing thing to be in the presence of an industry leader and his vision; Garth Fagan and his company bring this wonderful opportunity to Jacob's Pillow. Though unique, the bill may not be for the novice dance lover, however the chance to view a piece that is and will be treasured for generations to come, should be embraced and celebrated to those fortunate enough to enjoy the experience.

June 17, 2008

Beyond Therapy

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown
June 13, 2008 through June 22, 2008.
By Keith H. Purcell

If you are looking for an uproarious laugh out -loud evening at the theatre, then “Beyond Therapy” is for you. The play, which opened Williamstown Theater Festival’s season on the Nikos Stage, is sharply written by Christopher Durang and well directed by Alex Timbers.

The story revolves around a New York couple, Bruce and Prudence (Darren Goldstein and Katie Finneran), who meet when she responds to his personal ad. Their subsequent encounters provide rich fodder for each of their respective therapists, both of whom are wonderfully acted by Kate Burton and Darrell Hammond.

Burton’s performance as the therapist who constantly mixes up the simplest words (she refers to her secretary as a dirigible), is energetic and manic. Her scene with Bruce’s “roommate” Bob (Matt McGrath), including her choice of words to describe Bruce and Bob’s “relationship” combined with McGrath’s dead pan stares and responses, stole the show.

Darren Goldstein and Katie Finneran play their characters so well that the audience sympathizes with each of them. The audience comes to believe the characters' bizarre lives, and maybe even hope that this relationship may just work.

In addition to the consistency of each of the characters quirks, all of the actors add so many small nice touches which equal to a comedy of overall lunacy.

Although the show requires numerous set changes, the pace needed by this play is not affected due to the well-designed set, music and the speed and efficiency of the stage crew.

Be forewarned that the show’s language is definitely adult in nature, but it adds a rich coloring to the lives of the characters and the zaniness of the world created by Durang.

June 13, 2008

“Rabbit Hole”

TheaterWorks, Hartford
through July 20
By Bernadette Johnson

It’s often referred to as “the elephant in the room.” It is the obvious that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. In David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Rabbit Hole,” the elephant is the accidental death of a four-year-old child. Becca and Howard Corbett are the parents, whose lives have been shattered by loss and for whom grief has taken center stage. We are invited into their suburban home where, thanks to TheaterWorks’ intimate space and Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s homey and realistic set design, we are not mere observers. Rather, we are as extended family witnessing the drama that is unfolding, powerfully played out in family dynamics.

Heading a stellar 5-member cast is Erika Rolfsrud as the grieving mother, Becca, whose grief smolders just below the surface, flaring up at the slightest provocation. From the onset, Rolfsrud’s calm exterior, her mechanical folding of laundry, masks an undercurrent of rage. Her lack of affect conveys more eloquently than words the depth of her despair. She is by turns resentful (railing against God), defensive and desperate as she grapples to gain hold of something that will ease the pain.

Joey Parsons is delightful as Becca’s quirky younger sister Izzy, who, together with their ranting mother, the offbeat Nat (Jo Twiss), provides the much-needed balance between tragedy and humor that keeps this intensely emotional drama from becoming just the tale of a devastated family working through the stages of grief and trying to come to terms with traumatic loss. Parsons is able to convey a great deal with a simple shrug of the shoulders or a facial expression.

Becca’s husband, Howie (Dylan Chalfy), deals with their son Danny’s death by preserving his memory and trying to mend their strained relationship. Because he’s more in control than Becca, it is particularly heart-wrenching when his calm exterior crumbles (a powerful performance by Chalfy).

Alec Silberblatt is suitably awkward as Jason, the teen who accidentally hit Danny with his car. A story about parallel universes he wants to dedicate to Danny explains the title and gives Becca a glimmer of hope.

There are no survivors in this drama. They are all victims, weighed down by a heavy feeling that, as Becca’s mother Nat tells her, may change but “never goes away.” We have come to know the victims, individually and collectively, and we walk away feeling privileged to have been entrusted with their story.