Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 25, 2008

Noel Coward in Two Keys

Berkshire Theatre, Stockbridge
through August 31
By Shera Cohen

Long before “Private Lives” and “Blithe Spirit” Noel Coward wrote two one-act plays which very few people have ever heard of, let alone seen. Berkshire Theatre mounted these together as their mainstage final play of the season. A substitute for the previously scheduled “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” this reviewer had low expectations. Coward’s pithy British wit could not compare with the drama with a capital “D” of “Woolf.” Having experienced the plays, however, the comparison was as unfair as the proverbial apples and oranges. This was, surprisingly, an entertaining evening of theatre.

The concept of the plays was unique as common denominators linked the two; i.e. the same actors, setting, director, and stage crew. It’s an audience’s dream come true – to see three actors portray completely different characters in back-to-back plays with only a 15-minute intermission in the middle. Since play #1 was a comedy and #2 was a drama (yes, Coward wrote something serious), the actors were forced to use opposite sides of their brains, so to speak, in developing their roles. This was, assuredly, not an easy task, even for the best of thespians.

Maureen Anderman essentially played the same character. The actress would have shined in Coward’s later plays (a perfect Elvira in “Blithe Spirit,” for example), but was a bit too affected in these one-acts. Casey Biggs (the husband in each scenario) was type-cast as an unhappy, quick to cheat man which he took on with workmanlike skill. His challenge was in play #2 as a man with a title, fame, and a secret – this he did quite well, as the audience saw his pain and bravado. Mia Dillon created a loud rich American visiting Europe and later a demure and smart post-World War II escapee. Dillon was extremely talented in both roles – first an in-your-face boar, and second a stand-by-your-man lovely lady. Of the three actors, her roles called for the broadest stretch and Dillon was keenly able.