Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 17, 2009

Christmas with the Rat Pack—Live at the Sands

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through December 20, 2009
by R.E. Smith

“Christmas with the Rat Pack” reinforces the notion that “they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore”. The personalities, the songs, even the tuxes all serve to transport the audience to a different time and place. The time is the ‘60s, the place is Las Vegas, and the performers are Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.

These are not impersonators, but rather actors portraying a character and they make it look easy. The presence of the originals literally hangs over the stage, to remind us that no one can duplicate the original, but we can invoke their spirit. The illusion works very well and makes for a great night of old-school “showbiz”.

Tam Ward conveyed Sinatra’s effortless phrasing and delivery on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “The Christmas Song”. Michael Howard Smith, captured Martin’s smooth charm and laid back delivery on “That’s Amore” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. Of the three, David Hayes (Davis) had the greatest physical likeness to his “character” which served him well as Davis was the ebullient song and dance man.

This is no karaoke revue; the 15-piece orchestra was powerful and tight and the men’s voices were strong and well trained. The score must have been based on the original arrangements, because every horn blast and drum hit had the unmistakable sound of that bygone era. These entertainers use no vocal acrobatics or flashy costume changes, leaving the audience to concentrate on the essence of classic songs, seasonal and secular.

The banter retains just enough political incorrectness to remind you that this was a different era, but the material and songs are suitable for the whole family. Take the grandparents for an authentic taste of the good old days and take the tweens so that they can learn to appreciate true, live entertainment.

December 4, 2009

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, et al

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
by Terry Larsen

When the leader of an ensemble is in complete control it might be said that he had them eating out of his hand. Regarding the Hartford Symphony's concert, it is more fitting to say that the orchestra and guest conductor Andrew Grams were feeding off each other. Each of Grams' evocative gestures was rewarded by an artful response as three courses of delicious Romantic era music were served to an appreciative audience.

Smetana's programmatic piece The Molda" was beautifully performed - each gesture of sound evoking every eddy, ripple, and relentless current of the river Moldau as it transformed from stream to river while passing through the Czech heartland. The players and conductor were in perfect accord, dedicated to achieving every nuance possible. This synchronicity was evident throughout the entire concert.

Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor comprised a contrasting second course of angularity served cold…a work no less passionate than The Moldau, but spiced with the half light of an arctic summer evening. Solo violinist Leonid Sigal was undaunted by the difficult and idiosyncratic solo line, playing with a generous warmth of timber and lyrical fluidity. Maestro Grams successfully maintained a delicate balance between Sigal's bravura performance and the often extroverted, savory underpinnings of the orchestral texture.

The final course, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, requires a large appetite for civil but passionate interaction and the full sonority of all sections of the orchestra; as well as for contrasts in texture, mood, tempo; and compelling melodic contours. The orchestra gave its all with no coaxing necessary as Grams illustrated each passing moment and the spaces between. Solos in the wind section in the second movement were beautifully rendered.

Dessert for the feast unexpectedly appeared in the form of a grin and thumbs up from Maestro Gram to enthusiastic members of the audience who had inappropriately applauded at a grand pause before the final maestoso section of the symphony. This welcome gesture of goodwill reassured all that a concert really is about living in the moment for its own sake. The feast was ended. Those in attendance were well served.

December 2, 2009

“Mamma Mia!”

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through December 6, 2009
by Shera Cohen

What can a reviewer write about “Mamma Mia!” the fifth time around? First, this musical is obviously worth seeing over and over again. Second, it’s two hours of sheer joy as nearly everyone in the audience has a constant smile. The smile doesn’t come off for the next two days – just about the same time the humming of “Dancing Queen” and “Honey, Honey” disappears from the brains of those in attendance at the Bushnell. Third, the concept of weaving a story and plot around already existing music to create one huge musical success is not so ingenious, yet why wasn’t it done before?

“Mamma Mia!” is the marriage of the old “B” Gina Lolabrigida movie, “Buena Sera, Mrs. Campbell,” with the “A” hits of ABBA. A young Gina slept with three guys; the result was a baby girl. Who’s the daddy? Gina doesn’t really care, but now 20-year-old Sophie yearns for her father to give her away at her wedding. Substitute former rocker Donna for Gina. She’s spent her life as a successful, tough, and vulnerable single mom. Surprise – three possible dads arrive.

The Greek Isle setting is amass with energetic twenty-somethings and six adults. All have the opportunity to sing and dance – sometimes as an ensemble (an opening number “Money, Money, Money”), other times as duos (the poignant “Our Last Summer”) and a string of solos. Michelle Dawson (Donna) has a raspiness to her voice which gives power to “The Winner Takes It All.” Rachel Tyler (Donna’s buddy Tanya) often steals the show with her terrific voice (“Does Your Mother Know”) and comedic movements. Some voices were weaker against the 10-member, highly skilled, rock band. Choreography ranges from a funny romantic flirting of “Take a Chance on Me” to the big numbers with dancers in big feet (scuba flippers).

It can probably be assumed that “Mamma Mia!” is a chick show. Well, yes and no. It wasn’t just the ladies who popped up for the standing ovation and sing-alongs. The hundreds of kid audience members cheered and clapped as well. Alright, this musical is not a cerebral classic, but isn’t it a joy to see children appreciate theatre?

November 23, 2009

Barber & Tchaikovsky

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Springfield
by Debra Tinkham

Kick off your shoes, put your feet up and relax for a quick review of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra's 66th season gala performance with Maestro Kevin Rhodes, now in his 9th season, and guest Janet Sung, performing Samuel Barber's violin Concerto Op 14, on a c. 1600 Maggini violin.

Sung's youthful appearance made it inconceivable that she could be so elegant, so emotional and so talented. The story behind this Concerto is that Barber was commissioned by a man to write a good piece of violin music for his adopted son. As the tale continued, Barber sent two of the three movements to the young violinist and they were considered "too simple." The third movement - to get even - was technically difficult. Sung performed this sweet but complicated masterpiece with ease and grace.

The Allegro (first movement) pushed Sung and her violin to the limit in high tones. The Andante (2nd movement) started with a long break for Sung, while absorbed in the tension between the oboe and strings. Finally, the Rondo - presto (very fast) was electrifying, with some very fancy finger work. Without a doubt, Sung deserved her standing ovation.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 3, Op 29 in D Major offered five movements of motion, diversity, broken chords, small doses of melody, divvied up and bouncing around to various instruments. Tchaikovsky was often faulted for his predictability but Symphony No 3 is anything but predictable. Rather, it reflects the composer's world of darkness.

"Rhodes Reflections" stated "… four of Tchaikovsky's most major works rarely get played. Among those is tonight's Symphony Nr. 3, The Polish."

Again, the audience at Symphony Hall thanked Maestro Rhodes for his energy and optimism in putting it all together and bringing such talented musicians to Springfield.

November 15, 2009

Shangri-La Chinese Acrobats

Mahaiwe Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA
by Amy Meek

The Shangri-La Chinese Acrobats thrilled and delighted the large audience of the beautiful Mahaiwe Arts Center with a show that successfully combined amazing acrobatic feats with both colorful spectacle and humor. The troupe, which was comprised of young performers who displayed immense skill and agility, took the audience into a magical world and gave them a glimpse of Chinese cultural tradition.

Some of the highlights of the show included a chorus of female acrobats who made use of props such as spinning disks and candles to demonstrate their amazing strength, balance and flexibility. They contorted their bodies in superhuman ways while spinning and holding the objects and balancing them off different parts of their bodies. In one number, the performers were roller skating on a platform using extreme speed and precision to keep themselves on balance while getting into many formations. In "Awesome Adagio" a boy and girl danced together, and he lifted her high above his head while she balanced on his shoulder on the tip of her toe.

The use of bright colors in the show helped to create an exotic atmosphere, especially in the number "Diving Daring Do," which used five acrobats inside three Chinese dragons to enchant the audience. They made the dragons come alive and took the audience into a timeless experience of Chinese tradition. The use of scarves, flags and bright costumes also enhanced the theatricality of the performance.

Finally, the humor that the troupe used made the show a pleasure to watch. They used audience interaction and alternated the intense acrobatic moments with moments of comedy, never taking themselves too seriously. This show was truly a magical and awe-inspiring journey into an evening of suspense and wonder.

November 14, 2009

Schumann & Brahms

Hartford Symphony & Hartford Chorale
The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
by Terry Larsen

So many love choirs, orchestras, and the great musical works that feed them, with the monumental “Ein Deutches” Requiem being one of the most cherished. The instruments and vocals all meet with the other necessary element of the ritual sharing of sonorous beauty -- the audience. These are people who hope to leave those great halls changed, at least for the moment; and somehow better for having been there.

The Bushnell's intimate Belding Theater was set for just such an experience. The event had the added appeal of being an audition for the post of Musical Director of the Hartford Symphony by guest conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos.

The orchestra and chorale were very well prepared for the pairing of Romantic era works on the bill. The orchestra performed both pieces concisely, with dedication to the score and an understanding of the style of the period. Although there were some of the inevitable balance issues that occur when voices and instruments occupy the same time and space, the chorale and orchestra performed admirably throughout the Brahms. Both soloists sang beautifully: Mr. Deas with fine diction, a compact, expressive power, and rich timbre; Ms. Forsythe with a lithe, well supported line that floated beautifully above the accompanying orchestra and chorale.

That being said, this reviewer was a bit disappointed by both performances, reluctantly laying the responsibility on the shoulders of Kitsopoulos. His direction seemed bland, without passion or real conviction. His gestures and demeanor were square, perfunctory, and did not anticipate from moment to moment the changes in dynamic, velocity, and emotion demanded by works of this period. There was no sense of urgency in the story telling. He made no compelling demands on the performers to aspire to that ineffable moment that transcends the requirements of the page and the beat pattern. Despite the polite standing ovation offered by the audience, I left the hall with a somewhat puzzled feeling that I must have missed something. The forces were very much in place and a beautiful was moment at hand, however, Kitsopoulos did not seize the opportunity to bring it all to life.

November 12, 2009

Til Death Do Us Part/Late Night Catechism 3

CityStage, Springfield, MA
through November 15, 2009
by K.J. Rogowski

CityStage's "Late Night Catechism 3" confirms what most audience members already know: nuns are really funny people. This one woman show featuring Kimberly Richards as everyone's archetypal nun, has the theatregoers participating and laughing out loud from the moment she steps on to the stage and brings the entire house to a respectful hush with just "that look." And from there it's all down hill for those who are late for class, rustle papers when they should be paying attention to Sister, talk among themselves or, (perish the thought), chew gum in class! Evil doers beware, there's a Nun on the loose, and she's got your number!

The keys that make this show such a roaring success are: one, it is a classic flash back for anyone who ever stepped foot in a fifth grade classroom complete with pop quizzes, stern looks and reprimands for every and any offense, or misstep. Second, it is as much stand up comedy as it is a play, with Richards using local towns and current events as part of the act, having ongoing interaction with the audience and having a witty quip for every interaction. This Nun is "working the house" like a pro while reminding her audience that she is, indeed, the person in charge in this classroom. "You will sit up properly and pay attention and you will laugh." For those who can rise to the occasion and actually quote chapter and verse from the Baltimore Catechism, there just might be an appropriate, yet modest reward. So, for those up for an evening of divine audience participation comedy just say "Yes, Sister," and move to the front of this comedy class for laughs.

November 10, 2009

Mistakes Were Made

Hartford Stage, Hartford
through November 22, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Hartford Stage has a deserved excellent and long-running reputation of presenting quality productions - in all areas including costumes, special effects, sets, acting, and direction. First and foremost, however, is play selection. Certainly, no one anticipates that every audience member will enjoy every play mounted at Hartford Stage. That is an unrealistic hope, not only in Hartford, but for all theatre companies. That said, "Mistakes Were Made" singles itself out, unfortunately, as the play that puts a crimp in a long list of years of A+ work.

You can't win them all, and "Mistakes Were Made" has many mistakes. Plays about plays usually don't work. Save for "Noises Off" (a hysterical comedy at HS last season), the dialogue is too inside, with the playgoers either unsympathetic to the characters or not understanding the roles. Another general problem is that many audience members do not wish to attend a one-actor piece. There is an offstage female voice - a woman who does appear once for a minute - and a couple of fish, but they don't count much. Yes, there are the exceptions; i.e. Hal Holbrook has become synonymous with Mark Twain. In this case, the character is a theatre producer (Felix) with Will Lebow in the role. While Lebow makes a monumental effort and does yeoman's work, the script is not sufficient enough to warrant his labors. Felix is a fast-talking, used-car salesman in show biz. His specialty is schlock shows. The entire play is a series of phone calls with soliloquies directed to the fish interspersed. "Mistakes" tries to combine Bob Newhart's exasperation (the rotary phone has been replaced) with Neil Simon one-liners. Neither work very well.

Playwright Craig Wright has excellent credentials. In many ways, this seems to be a first draft of a play that could go somewhere. The story builds and adds moments of drama, but these are only teases. Fleshing out the plot along with glimpses of substance earlier in the dialogue will help this play immensely. Billed as a comedy, there are some audience smiles and chuckles.

November 1, 2009

Piecemeal - The Frankenstein Musical

Majestic Theater, West Spingfield, MA
through December 6, 2009
by Shera Cohen

"Piecemeal" has taken a known entity - the story of Frankenstein - and created a humorous, loveable, musical prequel. The Majestic presents local playwright Howard Odentz's version of how Dr. F., Igor, the Monster, et al came to be. Not only did Odentz write the play, he composed the music. Perhaps one of this young man's best talents is his sense of humor with lyrics.

The set is dark with a brick-like haunted house center stage. Dry ice flows thick, bolts of lighting appear. The staging is exactly what it should be, complete with graveyard, damsel in the belfry, and the very important "lab-or-a-tory." Period costumes and coifs, eerie sounds, and body parts strewn about add to the expected macabre tone. Accents are British, but sometimes hard to understand by audience members.

However, most of the major elements are unexpected, which makes "Piecemeal" a pleasure to see. This is not an overdone plot, but one that takes twists and turns from opening number to finale. The main characters are not what audience members would expect either. The focus is on Igor (remember Marty Feldman's "walk this way") as a child who becomes an adult. What a horrible life he has, yet he has dreams that he pursues. He's a Gothic "Rocky," and we root for him. Nick Gilfor (young Igor) is so precious, and Scott Zenreich (adult Igor) is an excellent actor who can also sing well. As if there isn't enough going on, toss in a love story as well a few stuffed animals.

Music abounds throughout, with nearly every song carrying the plot forward. While the story and set bring to mind images of "Oliver" meets "Sweeney Todd," the score moves from honky tonk to 50s doowop to soulful melodic ballads. The cast includes many with skilled, trained voices; i.e. Luis Manzi, Frank Aronson, Laura Lites, and R. Steve Pierce. This is Pierce's first time at the Majestic. His demeanor, voice, and movement create his stylish fop character. "I Love to Sew" is a showstopper. Zenreich and Lite's dramatic and tender duet brings romance into Act II. And Zenreich's "Choices" replicates "Rocky's" run up the steps.

Most of all "Piecemeal" is very funny. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein would burst his stitches enjoying this new musical.

October 26, 2009

Dan Zanes and Friends

Fine Arts Center, Amherst, MA
by Eric Sutter

Dan Zanes and Friends brought their rollicking rollercoaster of musical fun into the Fine Arts Center for the entertainment of area families. Zanes is a multi-instrumentalist who fronted the 80's rock band the Del Fuegos. The new century has brought him into the children's music market where he has found success with numerous family friendly folk recordings that combine Latin, Cajun/Zydeco, Celtic, Bluegrass, Country, Blues and Rock synthesized into fun world-beat music. The colorful costumed six-piece band rocked with the opener, "Thrift Shop." Zanes was in fine form with vestiges of his Rock n' Roll moves still intact. They shifted to a Cajun/Zydeco rhythm on "Fine Friends" with John Fonti on accordion and Elena Moonpark on violin. "Pay Me My Money Down" found Zanes on mandolin with a bluesy folk harmonica solo as the audience sang along. His banjo provided a hoedown feel to the sea shanty "Farewell Nova Scotia." The folk gospel "Welcome Table" featured ukuleles and the children from the Prelude Pre-School of the Arts daycare who appeared on stage to sing along. "Jump Up" started the audience dancing. The acoustic band could play everything from Puerto Rican Christmas songs to Jugband music, which featured spoons and the stand-up bass.

Silly songs like "Mole in the Ground" and "Monkey's Wedding" caused wild dancing with drummer Colin Brooks' drumstick catches at songs' end. "Halloweentown" was seasonally fun with a Celtic recorder solo. Zanes played Rock n' Roll electric guitar behind his head on "Walking the Dog." The fun multiplied with "Catch That Train" as audience participation resulted in the "Locomotion" dance up and down the aisles. The funky "House Party Time" made it feel like a neighborhood block party. The Mexican folk song "Verde Luz" calmed the children as bubbles were blown into the audience. A flashing lighted disco ball upped the energy with dancing "All Around the Kitchen" and singing "Cock-a-doodle-doo." The group closed with "Bye Bye Roseanna" as they waltzed into the audience with all who swayed to and fro.

October 23, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT
through November 29, 2009
by Shera Cohen

The introductory song of "Forum" says it all. "Comedy Tonight" is exactly what takes place on the Goodspeed stage. The plot is silly, the women are sexy, and the characters are stupid - all with a capital "S." One of Stephen Sondheim's early works, it is also one of the more accessible. Perhaps better known for profound lyrics that move the play forward rather than beautiful music, Sondheim does show off his skill as a wordsmith. However, this time the text is all for laughs.

"Forum," set in 200 BC, takes the audience to a cartoon setting painted with bright colors. It's a tale of noblemen and slaves, eunuchs and courtesans, long marriages and young love, warriors and wimps, mistaken identities, and cross dressing. Let's not forget the rubber chicken. This is vaudeville at its best, an increscent flow of one-liners with ba-da-bing endings. The story is sexist, risqué, dated (okay, it's Ancient Rome), and full of shtick. What could have been a drama about a slave seeking freedom is immediately tossed aside and replaced by constant comedy. Throughout the play, the fourth wall (the audience) is completely open. There is no pretense of anything serious, and as the first song also states - expect a happy ending.

There are three categories of characters/actors: an ensemble of those in leading roles, curvaceous women who stand a lot, and a trio of Proteans (think Keystone Cops, each portraying a dozen roles each). Adam Heller (Pseudolus) works up a literal sweat as he creates the chaotic plot. David Wohl (Senex) underplays so well that he becomes one of the top laugh-getters. If John Scherer (Hysterium) had failed in his role of the nervous nelly, by the book, feigned female, a huge chunk of "Forum" would have sunk in the nearby Atlantic Ocean. All went swimmingly well, as this is an actor whose every nuance is the epitome of humor and comic timing.

Director Ted Pappas moves his motley groups of characters (many dressed to look like jesters) at a very fast clip. "Forum" is a broad show with lots of physical humor. As dark winter comes to New England, take a trip to Rome, aka Goodspeed, for bright shiny fun.

October 22, 2009

Interview with Estelle Parsons

Massachusetts native and Academy Award winning actress Estelle Parsons stars in the Bushnell’s production of “August: Osage County,” November 17 – 22, 2009

Q: After appearing in the show for almost a year on Broadway, why were you eager to go on the road with this play?

A: I haven’t had much opportunity to tour, because I was always bringing up kids. But I’ve always loved the idea of touring: I have this old dream of being in vaudeville. And there are all kinds of different audiences out there. I learned that from doing summer stock. Audiences are always a learning opportunity.

Q: Actors say that each audience has a certain personality. Do you find to be true?

A: Absolutely, particularly with this play, where the audience is so dynamic and vocal in every way – moaning, groaning, laughing, crying. The audience is really the third essential part. They’re not just sitting on their hands listening. They’re incredible and they’re always different, and as we go from city to city.

Q: Did you audition?

A: I did. I always prefer to audition, because very often when you’re saying the words out loud, you really can tell whether you want to do a play or not. I thought, “Let me work on this for awhile, and see if this is something I really want to be up there doing.” The more I worked on it, the more I loved it. And then when I auditioned, it just came alive, like whoosh.

Q: What do you think your character?

A: I think she’s a wonderful person who went astray. I have sympathy for her. It’s hard to know what’s underneath all that. I think she is basically a colder person than I am, and it’s been very exciting to work on that. I think she was a very smart, sensitive woman who was deeply abused as a child, and bears the scars. Who knows what would happen to people if they didn’t have the background they have.

Q: How did the role come about in Bonnie and Clyde?

A: In 1966, I was doing Berkshire Theatre Festival. I had seen Arthur Penn’s movies, and I wanted to work for him. I managed to get an interview with him for The Skin of Our Teeth, and he hired me. Working with him, I suddenly knew that I was in the right profession. I was [almost] 40. But I used to think, “Maybe I should have kept on at law school, or maybe I should try something else.” Working for Arthur Penn, I realized that I was in the right place. Then he asked me to do Bonnie and Clyde. I was just about join a rep company. The day after he asked me to read, I got a call telling me that funding for the rep had fallen through. I called Arthur and I read the script, and I thought, “Why is he offering this to me?” But the more I read it; I realized it was an incredible part.

Q: Did the Academy Award affect your career?

A: It did in that I could have had a lot of movie success, which I wasn’t really interested in. Looking back on it, I think that’s kind of too bad. I did a few movies when I was on vacation from a theatre job. I don’t think I ever chose a movie job over a theatre job. I love to entertain people.

October 19, 2009

Dionne Warwick

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
by Eric Sutter

Elegant, graceful and soulful... these words describe popular music icon Dionne Warwick. Through Motown, the British Invasion, Heavy Metal, the 70's singer-songwriter era, Disco and the Big 80's she has weathered the musical storm with class and integrity.

Nightfall in Springfield brought guest maestro Sean Burton to conduct the Springfield Symphony. The evening began with a drum roll into the "Star Spangled Banner." It continued with "The Barber of Seville Overture" by Rossini with the strings and woodwinds mighty expression of passion accented by a flute solo. Then came two selections by Stevie Wonder with "Isn't She Lovely" and "You Are The Sunshine of My Life." An 80's drum beat led to the theme song from "Fame" with the soothing sound of strings which lulled the piece into a wonderful crescendo of percussive happy rhythm.

Dionne Warwick's selections were like a stroll down memory lane of heartache, harmony and heavenly sounds. Songs like "Close To You", "Walk on By" and "Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart" brought a warm assurance of the past. The night was cherished as the audience perked up to sing "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." Some of these are defining moments in music and Warwick's alto voice, although weathered, was still magical. "Message to Michael", "Say A Little Prayer", and "Alfie" demonstrated how her beautiful voice is like a violin with its lilt and fall between notes. The strings supported the Brazilian music she interpreted as her back up band employed a bosa nova rhythm with congas, shakers and drums. "Do You Know The Way to San Jose" was pitched nicely and featured an extended piano solo. Warwick hit and held some high notes on "I'll Never Love This Way Again." "What The Word Needs Now" became the perfect audience sing-along to close. Her encore was breathtaking... her landmark recording to fight AIDS, "That's What Friends Are For."

October 17, 2009


Arts Theatre, London, England
through October 24, 2009
by Emily List

In 2006, England's National Youth Theatre celebrated "50 Years of Giving Youth a Voice." Three years later, that voice resonates strongly in the NYT's latest production to date, Shakespeare's Cymbeline. Directed by Brendan O'Hea, the cast members (all of whom are under age 21) expertly handle a play that lends itself to the melodramatic. Imogen, the play's heroine, goes through several ordeals before being united with her true love, Posthumus. She is unjustly accused of being unfaithful, threatened with death, forced by circumstance into the guise of a boy and unsuspectingly drugged in a plot laid by her wicked stepmother, the Queen. Playing the part of Imogen, Rosie Sansom carries the audience through this unlikely chain of events with a consistently tight grasp of Imogen's strong-willed character. Providing a marked constrast to Sansom's serious-minded Imogen is Will Edelston in the role of the cocky prince, Clotten. Edelston plays the oblivious fool with flair and with his servants, provides welcome comic relief.

As a whole, the cast handles the themes of jealousy, treachery, betrayal and war with gentle consideration and cunning. The Queen, played by Catriona Cahill, exemplifies the sentiment of Shakespeare's Richard III that one "may smile and smile, and be a villain." Decked in gothic fishnet tights and a black-corseted ball-gown, Cahill flits gracefully about the stage, plotting murder with piercingly witty asides aimed at the audience. Luke McEwan brings a quiet dignity to the role of Cymbeline, playing a man caught between his own emotions and the duties he must perform as King.

The supporting players add color to the performance, doubling in their roles as musicians, dancers and martial artists. In a surprisingly lighthearted moment, a band of court musicians called on by Clotten to woo Imogen, rebelliously breaks out into a blue-grass style jam session. The creative playfulness, depth of character and mastery of a complicated plotline demonstrated by the cast of Cymbeline furthers the argument that young artists should be seen and heard.

One of Spotlight's reviewers is out of the country, but we put her to work. Emily List is in the Masters program at UMass studying Theatre and Media for Development. The play was performed at the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square, London.

Visiting the Cape in Off-Season

By Alyce Skelton

Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre
Harbor Stage
"Sexual Perversity in Chicago"

Located along a stretch of the docks and beach that looks out over boaters and kayakers, the theatre is a double decker building. The letters WHAT - several feet high - sitting atop the theatre reminded me of the Hollywood Hills sign. Floodlit, the letters are hard to miss. This production of "Perversity"- one of David Mamet's earliest works - received a terrific reception. The audience had a shocked response. Some of the dialogue sounded a bit dated, yet the production was fast moving, funny and thought provoking. In an interview in the Village Voice, Mamet said the characters were losers. The characters might be losers, but in this production the cast members certainly were winners. The play is, obviously, about relationships, featuring a cast of four outstanding young actors. The minimalist set design was very effective in keeping with the pace of the story. The wide lapels and polyester leisure suits fit the times perfectly. Sliding doors that had a 90's disco dance club look allowed the cast to quickly switch from set to set.

Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre
Julie Harris Theatre
"The George Place"

The play explored the decision of an older couple who have decided to sell the family home and move into a retirement community. They have only 60 days to tell family members and sell the house. So goes the story line, as the seniors relate their information to the important people in their lives, as well as the reactions that follow. The struggles of these characters to communicate and understand each other were sometimes touching, sad, amusing and at the same time funny. The play took place on the porch of a wonderfully designed home. The lighting highlighted the innovative and realistic set design which left the audience seeing a warm and inviting home despite the problems that sometimes trouble all families.

Thornton W. Burgess Museum

The museum, a quaint Cape Cod structure, houses the author's room in which he wrote his beloved children's books and displays of Harrison Cady illustrations of Burgess' menagerie. Burgess, a naturalist and conservationist, had influenced conservation efforts in Massachusetts both during his lifetime and afterwards. In addition to Laughing Book, I was amazed to find that Sandwich, his birthplace, had four similar sites that were directly the result of his influence.Burgess began writing the stories which he told his son at bedtime. Ultimately, the author penned the tales to create Peter Rabbit, Jimmy Skunk, Sammy Jay, and Bobby Raccoon

Sandwich Glass Museum

This museum has a phenomenal history of glassmaking, and its staff daily demonstrates that techniques have changed since 1825 when Demming Jarvis incorporated the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. The company led the world in the manufacture of glass during the early 19th century. The best part of the exhibit was watching molten glass drawn from the furnace, blown and pressed into unusual shapes. A glass blowing demonstration was scheduled every half hour. Another favorite was viewing the Levine Gallery of Early American Lighting, demonstrating the evolution of early light fixtures from 1825 through the onset of electricity. A recording accompanied the demonstration of the 50 lamps as they light in sequence. Viewing the magnificent collections of glassware, where over 6000 glass pieces of lead glass, opaque blue glass, beehive glassware, molded blown glass and pressed glass were exhibited, is well worth follow up visits to this museum.

The Andrews Brothers

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow MA
through Oct. 31, 2009
by Eric Johnson

What is so funny about guys in dresses? In this case, it seems to be these particular guys.

Robert Clark III, Joe Alvernaz, and Steven Sands are hysterical as Lawrence, Max and Patrick Andrews, three USO stage hands who find themselves caught without a headline act (you guessed it, the Andrews Sisters) and have to perform in their stead. There are plenty of belly laughs to be had in Act II as the boys cavort about the stage; Sands in particular has some hilarious scene-stealing moments.

Diane Lamoreaux is the perfect choice for pin-up girl/chanteuse Peggy Jones; her curvaceous physique and sultry voice fit the time period perfectly. It would be nice to see more depth to her character; perhaps it was just opening night jitters but against the bar set by the rest of the cast, her performance seemed somewhat flat.

Creator/author Roger Bean doesn't present anything truly original or fresh, as all of the music is culled from existing songs of the '40s and the story is fairly predictable, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining. The show is also refreshingly short for a musical -- about two hours.

The standout performance comes from the orchestra. Eight musicians (including music director/keyboardist Karla Newmark) create a big band sound that fills the room and gets toes tapping. The vocal performances by the cast are deftly executed with a generous amount of three-part harmony.

Pam Abair's direction creates a wonderful pace that keeps this show rolling along nicely. Kudos to choreographer Jenn Marshall for not going over the top; the movements never seem awkward or beyond the abilities of the actors. Likewise, the set design by Paul Hamel and Abair is just enough to complement the production without going too far.

The cast and crew are to be commended for a balanced and highly enjoyable performance. "The Andrews Brothers" delivers a night of great music, plenty of laughs and, oh yes, guys in dresses.

October 14, 2009

Girls Night Out: The Musical

CityStage, Springfield, MA
through October 25, 2009
by Sharon Smith

The "girls" in the audience of "Girls' Night Out: The Musical" want to have just as much fun as the title implies. Five 40-something friends gather to celebrate the milestone of one of their daughter's engagement. Drinking and karaoke ensue. That the audience comes prepared to party helps create moments filled with laughter and sing-alongs.

"Girls' Night" borrows elements from many sources: "Carousel", "Desperate Housewives", "Mama Mia" and "Sex and the City." The girls reminisce, dish, snipe, gripe and, of course, dance to anthems like "It's Raining Men". The show has a loose, improvisational feel that gives the effect of ease dropping on a drunken bachelorette party.

Kira Galindo, Laura Saenz and Debra Toscano had wonderful voices. Toscano had an especially effective interpretation of "Don't Cry Out Loud". Priscilla Fernandez was often reduced to the role of cheerleader, cajoling the audience to get up and sing along. The female-centric crowd did want to join in, but seemed a bit stifled by the conventional theatre seating.

No prompting was needed for the audience to fully invest in Christina Cataldo's emotionally powerful version of "The Love of My Man". After her scorching performance of this potent song, the audience would have happily listened to her sing about the contents of her purse. She also proved a deft physical performer, breaking out some funky dance moves and high kicks.

It seems, however, that show doesn't seem to know what it wants to be: a cabaret, a musical review or a play with karaoke moments. Some characters are played over the top, others are rather mean spirited at times. The author creates a serious, revelatory moment to explain these traits, but when a show is billed as "hilarious" it only serves to cast bring everybody down.

However, the energy and talent of the performers is enough to carry the evening. The song selections are varied and amusing and the "girls" deliver some funny lines with great timing. Go for the camaraderie and to enjoy some very talented singers. They earn their "one more time!" at the curtain call.

October 12, 2009

The Foreigner

Suffield Players, Suffield, CT
weekends through Oct. 24, 2009
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

The Suffield Players are whooping it up with a wild and raucous comedy that 25 years ago won Obie and Outer Circle Critics awards for Best New American Play. Written by Larry Shue, "The Foreigner" is as timely today and perhaps even funnier because, let's face it, the lousy economy has boosted laughing's value into the realm of a precious commodity. As directed by Robert Lunde, the action never lags, nor does sly humor or bellywhompers.

S/Sgt. Froggy LeSueur, a Brit with a Cockney accent, drags a pathetic Charlie Baker into a Georgia fishing lodge who, if he could, would curl himself into an invisible ball. Froggy (take-charge Mark Proulx) has virtually kidnapped Charlie (Dale Facey kidnaps the role), spiriting him away from the hospital bedside of his supposedly dying wife. Charlie's plight is an absence of self-worth which renders him pathologically shy. He describes himself as profoundly boring and entreats Froggy, "How does one acquire a personality?" The possibility of having to interact for three days with other guests at the lodge fills him with panic. Froggy's solution: tell the lodge's owner, Betty Meeks (a forceful Cynthia Lee Andersen) that Charlie is a foreigner who speaks no English. This thrills Betty who has longed to travel; at least now she'll meet a foreigner.

The other guests are a snippy, unwed pregnant heiress Catherine (as believable as she was as the father-controlled Catherine in "The Heiress"), her simple brother Ellard (the inventive Brian Rucci), her creepy fiancé, the Reverend David Marshall Lee (Christopher Berrien, appropriately mysterious) and the town's racist inspector, Owen Musser (befittingly unlikable).

That the plot is slim is of little consequence because the real suspense is created by Charlie's determination to remain a speechless cipher. His body language, double and triple takes, the play of emotions across his face, are not simply funny, they are endearing. During a protracted scene in the second act, Charlie and Ellard mimic one another with deftly executed sight gags that carry the audience into near hysteria.

The Suffield Players' latest contribution to its 57-year history honors the essence of quality community theatre.

This review was published simultaneously at

October 8, 2009

Bruce Hornsby/Wood Brothers

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
by Eric Sutter

An audience has to move when hearing good music or at least be moved... this was the case with both acts which knew how to make a good noise. The Wood Brothers are biological brothers with a rootsy front porch blues-folk brand of Americana that rocks. The rich ringing tones of "Lovin' Arms" from their "Loaded" CD sounded outstanding. Oliver Wood's acoustic guitar and voice was out front through his set with brother Chris' support on stand-up bass guitar and harmony vocal. "Liza Jane" featured their brotherly harmonies and a bowed bass solo by Chris. Chris began their "Train Trilogy" with a chugging harmonica as Oliver cut in with electric slide guitar and humorous vocals. They closed with "Postcards from Hell."

Here came the noisemakers... live and on the move! Musical visionary Bruce Hornsby began his set with "Heir Gordon" from 2004's "Halycon Days." His piano solo was exquisite as he segued into "Harbor Lights." He performed a couple of gems on piano with "Michael Raphael" and "Here We Are Again" from his new CD "Levitate." His band, the Noisemakers, provided a full sound accompaniement and solos with electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and reeds. The six piece band launced into "This Too Shall Pass." The songs took on a new life in a live setting with Hornsby's co-written ballad on Don Henley's hit "End of Innocence." At times, Hornsby's vocals were ragged, but the powerhouse band pumped him up on the 1988 hit "Look Out Any Window" which morphed into the Rolling Stones "Tumblin' Dice" with a rock riff supreme and saxaphone interlude. Hornsby performed a playful "Prairie Dog Town" on the dulcimer and also jammed on the accordion. He took a request and played "Gonna Be Some Changes Made" with its hypnotic percolated rhythms. This three time Grammy winner -- Best New Artist of '87 -- performed his hit song "The Way It Is" with J.T. Thomas on keyboards. A standing ovation led to the adventurous "Space is the Place" and "Dreamland."

October 5, 2009

Opening Night

Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA
Saturday, October 3, 2009
by Debra Tinkham

Despite a difficult year, Maestro Kevin Rhodes trumped off the 66th opening night red carpet gala with the orchestra playing, and the audience singing, The Star Spangled Banner. Already impressed by the energy emanating from Rhodes, the orchestra and the audience were ready for a dynamic evening. Of course, the lovely Concertmaster, Masako Yanagita, did her usual graceful entrance and continuation of tuning the orchestra.

Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, Franz Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1, and Liszt's A Faust Symphony were on the menu. Rhodes took a variation on his usual "Saturday Night Live" extravaganza. In Rhodes words, he "…decided to do something completely different than ever before in the history of the symphony." Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, a very familiar melody, featured lots of brass, with wonderful dynamics. His piano version of Mephisto's Waltz was, to say the least, incredible. The man expects perfection and does nothing less.

Rhodes ricocheted back and forth from Mephisto Waltz No. 1 to A Faust Symphony. While explaining the major, minor and diminished chords to the audience, (which probably most did not understand) Rhodes stated that Liszt was, "A rock star before we had rock music." He is dedicated, a man with high energy, engaged and entertained. This is Rhodes 9th season with the SSO, although there are rumors that he may have a new employers -- the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. That would be a terrible loss!

His narration, explanation and display of virtuosity on the piano, led the audience to a better understanding that Faust's sad and depressing display of Mephistopheles' love of Gretchen and, in the end, Mephistopheles' ultimate redemption and, in Rhodes words, "carried off to heaven in a Hollywood style."

Rhodes never quits, never runs out of energy. We just hope he won't run out of desire to remain in Springfield.

September 30, 2009

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox
through November 8, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Leave any reverence for Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle at home before attending “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at Shakes&Co. The play’s title is the only element of Doyle’s work that is still in tact. In just three weeks, director Tony Simotes has created one of the funniest play productions since “The Complete Works” and “Irma Vep.” In fact, blend the ingredients of theme and caricatures of “Works” and “Vep” and mix in dashes of any Monty Python spoof (for younger readers, think “Spamalot” without the music), and the U.S. premier of “Hound” becomes a delicious dish.

While the plot of the original “Hound” forms the framework, it’s easy for the audience to realize within the first minute that this is no ordinary Holmes, the sleuth. The big mystery of this “Hound” is to wonder, how does Simotes pull it all together and how do three actors pull it off? The answers don’t really matter, as the end results are that they succeed phenomenally.

To paraphrase the playbill, Simotes stated that he wanted to present a richly layered play that speaks profound truths about the human condition. “But instead, I directed this.” That was a tease for the next two-hours of non-stop comedy onstage and audience laughter.

The sound effects are howling dogs. The lights are dim, creating gigantic shadows. The set is sparse; i.e. it’s unbelievable what can be done with an old park bench. The costumes are many because two the actors portray multi-roles (male and female). The pace is fast, faster, and fastest as the story moves to its conclusion. Josh Aaron McCabe and Ryan Winkles are flawless in creating physical humor. While McCabe seems quite sober at first, he surprises in his hysterical roles as a Gypsy dancer and diminutive person (okay, a 3 foot hermit). Winkles is this year’s Shakes&Co. shining young star. He can do nothing wrong. His Scottish farmer with lamb in a sack is priceless. Jonathan Croy (a Shakes&Co. old timer) has the unenviable task of playing the semi-straight man, receiving fewer laughs than his cohorts. Ahhh, the price of fame.

Finally, kudos to the costume changers. Thank goodness for Velcro.

September 22, 2009

American Buffalo

TheaterWorks, Hartford, Connecticut
through October 25
by Jarice Hanson

"American Buffalo" premiered in 1975, and catapulted David Mamet to fame as one of the most earthy, funny, and intense playwrights of the era. The plot is simple; three guys from Chicago see an opportunity to make an easy buck, but as they hatch their plot, everything falls apart. The three characters are what makes the play compelling; they represent archetypes that reflect American male anger, frustration, and fallibility that emerged in the mid-'70s, as a backlash to the women’s movement. Though billed as a comedy, when well-played, the sadness of people trapped by their own limitations gives the characters greater depth.

In TheaterWorks' production, the actors explore their characters beautifully. Donny, owner of a junk shop (played with excellent control by John Ahlin); Bobby, the slow-witted drug addict, who serves as surrogate son to Donny (portrayed by Zachary Spicer, a young actor with tremendous physicality); and Teach, who delivers some of Mamet’s best lines, like, “The only way to teach these people is to kill them” (powerfully played by Andrew Benator, whose commitment to character is astounding) deliver a production that roars with testosterone and human fallibility.

Director Steve Campo allows Mamet’s dialog to shine; and the set, designed by Adrian W. Jones, and the subtle, effective lighting by Matthew Richards in the intimate TheaterWorks space, seems to encourage the audience to eavesdrop on the ill-fated petty crooks. At the play’s conclusion, the audience, leapt to a standing ovation, but as good as the opening night show was, it will undoubtedly get stronger as these three capable actors find the subtle peaks and valleys in Mamet’s multi-layered script. While it would have been helpful tohear some good, strong Chicago accents to punctuate Mamet’s dialog for a strong sense of place, "American Buffalo" is an actor’s play, and TheaterWorks is delivering Mamet’s work in fine form.

September 14, 2009

Horton Foote's The Orphans' Home Cycle

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
in repertory through October 23, 2009
by Donna Bailey-Thompson

Superb! The Hartford Stage world premiere of Horton Foote's "The Orphans' Home Cycle" - Part One, "The Story of a Childhood" - foretells that Parts Two ("...Marriage") and Three (..."Family") will build and deepen the compelling story of Horace's journey from ages 12 (1902) to 38 (1928).

This elaborate production prompts superlatives. A cast of 22 playing 70 roles wears authentic period costumes (David C. Woolard), hair and wigs (Mark Adam Rampmeyer). Subtle lighting design (Rui Rita) enhances the many scenes which dissolve seamlessly thanks to the engineering legerdemain of scenic designers Jeff Cowie and David Barber: huge flats glide sideways and props move forward and back - where stood a boy, now stands a man.

Responsibility for this dramatic tour de force belongs to Artistic Director Michael Wilson. He convinced the aging playwright that the full nine-play cycle Foote had hoped to turn into nine movies (he and his wife succeeded in bringing five to the screen).could be staged in repertory. "The Cycle" is co-produced with New York's Signature Theatre Company where it will play from November to March.

Horton Foote's scripts suggest that he was light years distant from being pretentious. A gifted storyteller who eschewed any tricks, especially maudlin sentimentality, his characters are multi-dimensional; identification with their human nature explains one aspect of Foote's popularity. Another is quite simple: the man could really write.

Act I ("Roots in a Parched Ground" about 60 miles SW of Houston) opens with the dying of Horace's father whose excessive drinking alienated his wife. She marries Mr. Davenport who doesn't drink, smoke, or chew. "He has no problems," she states, except he's a dry drunk with profound control issues. Mr. Davenport's job transfer to Houston includes Horace's mother and sister but young Horace is left behind. In effect, he's an orphan. By Act II, age 14, ("Convicts") he's clerking in a scruffy store on a hardscrabble sugar cane plantation owned by an alcoholic skinflint who uses cheap convict labor. By Act III ("Lily Dale"), Horace is 20. A short visit in Houston with his uneasy mother and self-centered sister is prolonged when he is stricken with malaria. When he leaves, he's still weak but resolved to succeed.

The casting is inspired: Bill Heck (adult Horace), Henry Hodges (Horace, age 14); James DeMarse (plantation drunk), Annalee Jefferies (Horace's mother), and Pamela Payton-Wright (Mrs. Coons) who gives new meaning to "church lady." Michael Wilson's directing reflects the gentle yet precise cadence of Horton Foote's script. The result is immersion in Horace's odyssey - Greek tragedy, Texas style, never hurried, never drags.

Because scheduling of this three-part cycle is complex, theatergoers are encouraged to visit for ticketing information. Each three-hour performance includes three short plays and two intermissions.

Red Remembers

Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA
through November 1, 2009
by Barbara Stroup

Berkshire Theatre presents an engrossing one-person play. "Red Remembers" visits Red Barber in retirement in his Florida home, where he is caring for his ailing wife Lylah, plagued with Alzheimer's. Red recalls the major events of a long career and takes a seat at a 'microphone' to repeat for the audience the moments for which he is most famous - notably the ninth inning hit that broke up a no-hit pitching performance by Bill Bevans in the 1947 World Series.

Tony-nominated veteran actor David Garrison plays Barber. His professionalism shines as he portrays a man beset by responsibility, some failure of memory, and the ravages of a bleeding ulcer. This reviewer particularly liked his use of gesture and movement style. Garrison's voice is sonorous and sportscaster-like, and becomes even more profound when he sits down at the 'microphone'. The beautifully-lit living room becomes a ball field as the lights go down and rear- projection, wall-sized images transport the audience to Ebbetts Field and Yankee Stadium for play-by-play moments.

Garrison has a lot of stage business to manage during the one-act 90-minute play, and he does so with total naturalness and finesse. There are cocktails to mix, phones to answer, garments to pack, and broken tumblers to sweep up - all of this action flows smoothly within the on-going monologue. The script is full of the phrases that made Red Barber's broadcasts famous, and reveals the changing principles of a man who resisted the integration of the sport until he realized that the real requirement of his job was simply to report on where the ball was.

Both set and lighting design make a remarkable contribution to the script. The living room is crisp-looking and complete; mementos stand out. Director John Rando has made all the pieces fit, and David Garrison brings reality to a remarkable script - a rewarding experience for fans of both baseball and good theatre.

September 12, 2009

The Porch

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through October 18, 2009
by Donna Bailey-Thompson

The porch belongs to the storybook cottage the widowed Alma lives in created by Set Designer Greg Trochlil, so inviting that it's no wonder neighbors Gert, Marjorie, and their husbands Leo and Pat, feel enough at home there to express intimate thoughts restrained by only token self-censorship. Set in 2005, Alma is hosting her first Labor Day family cookout since her husband's death five years earlier.

Gert reeks attitude. She's reading Bill Clinton's book, "My Life," flipping through pages in search of the juicy stuff. When she finds a titillating tidbit, she gasps, "Ohmygod!" Marjorie asks, "What are you reading?" Gert holds up the book. Marjorie's reaction is a sotto voce, "Oh, him." Wordplay gets rolling when Alma takes a cooking break. She doesn't understand the cryptic vocabulary Gert uses when alluding to Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. Alma wonders if "oral sex" means "outloud." After inventive sign language and desperate searches for synonyms, Alma shrugs. "What will they think of next" and returns to the kitchen.

The depth of the husbands' friendship is borne out by Pat's solicitous inquiry about Leo's erectile dysfunction. "You're just having a little down period." The double entendres fly. Whereas Marjorie and Pat's relationship is full of questions. "Would you marry me now?" Marjorie wonders. Pat asks, "Do you mean the way you look now?"

For a while, the gay population is treated to fleeting humor. Alma thinks that "homosexuals" is code for "homeless sexuals." The kidding becomes edgy when pedophilia is mentioned. The personal topics the two couples treat with banter and gags, Alma puzzles to understand. But there's one subject she knows significantly better than they do.

Ellen Colton as a ditzy but sensitive Alma and Cheryl McMahon as good-natured Marjorie honed their roles in earlier "Porch" productions. Barbara McEwen's Gert misses no opportunity to stir the pot. As Leo and Pat, John Thomas Waite and Stuart Gamble are warm, fuzzy buddies.

Somewhere within playwright Jack Neary's entertaining "The Porch," there's a strong play waiting to emerge, one that will also engross and inform. As of now, "The Porch" with its many laughs is less play and more saucy sketches - bawdy humor sporting a college education.

Freud’s Last Session

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
run extended through October 4, 2009
by Shera Cohen

It was a wise decision to bring encore performances of “Freud’s Last Session” – the play which kicked-off Barrington Stage’s 2009 season – back to complete the company’s summer months of plays. Another excellent choice was to mount “Freud” at Stage 2 located a few blocks from the Mainstage. This intimate theatre with its smaller stage and fewer seats is ideal for the audience to closely eavesdrop on the conversations of Dr. Sigmund Freud and author C.S. Lewis. While Freud and Lewis probably never met in 1939 (the play’s time) or at any other time, does not matter. Their discussion, which is the script, is timeless.

Born a Jew, Freud was a staunch atheist eager to preach his beliefs. Lewis, on the other hand, was a steadfast Christian. Lewis enters the study of the eminent, elderly, and dying Freud, and their 80-minute conversation starts. A one-act play, with only two characters, one of whom audience members might not know (Lewis wrote “The Chronicles of Narnia”), arguing the merits of religion as well as life vs. suicide could easily become a snoozer. Excellent acting, directing, pace, humor, and setting (yes, the couch was ever present) keeps the verbal action intelligent and quick like a fine game of chess.

Martin Rayner’s Freud is sick with incurable cancer, yet still brilliant and witty. The actor, perhaps half the age of Freud at 83, truly fleshes out the doctor. Yes, there is mention of psychoanalysis and sex, but the audience observes far more about Freud as a husband, father, and atheist.

Mark H. Dold (a regular at Barrington) portrays Lewis as unassertive, not yet famous, and intimidated by the renowned Freud. Yet, he grows -- through posture, voice, and physical proximity to Freud -- as a man to be reckoned with. Rather than adversaries, the two men become respectful debaters.

The trappings of the period set, along with sounds of airplane bombers and radio broadcasts of caution, are seen and heard throughout the play. Kudos to the backstage crew.