Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 27, 2009

Mendelssohn and Faure

Berkshire Choral Festival
The Berkshire School, Sheffield MA
July 25, 2009

Each summer the Berkshire Choral Festival offers enthusiastic singers a chance to attend singing camp, and to produce vocal and orchestral concerts of the largest scale. The late-July concert featured Magnificat by Felix Mendelssohn and Requiem by Gabriel Faure.

The week's 220 singers were in residence at The Berkshire School to rehearse under the direction of guest conductor Simon Carrington. Required to sing in both Latin and German, they sang as one voice with crisp diction, showing tonal security as they answered and supported the four soloists (Arianna Zukerman, Mary Gerbi, Carmund White, and George Cordes).

The chorus seemed most secure with the post-intermission piece, the "Faure Requiem," and was outstanding on the Offertoire and Sanctus sections. Zukerman sang with plaintive longing on the Pie Jesu section. The cello section of the orchestra was especially beautiful throughout and the organ's strong presence was an integral part of the orchestration.

The first half of the program ended with Mendelssohn's lyrical "Her Mein Bitten (Hear My Prayer)." Again, Zukerman had full command of this piece, and the chorus answered her with smooth transitions and supportive tonal security. Both chorus and soloist were adept at creating the longing and need that the "Psalm 55" words express.

The first offering, "Mendelssohn's Magnificat," was perhaps the weakest of the three. Although the chorus was effective in this piece, the presentation lacked vibrancy and there were intonation problems among the soloists when they sang as a quartet, perhaps reflecting limited preparation time.

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra provided a strong instrumental and professional presence throughout the evening, and the musicians seemed to enjoy the melodic beauty of these scores.

July 24, 2009


Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through August 1, 2009
by Meghan Lynn Allen

A quirky, gruesome detective story unfolds at Barrington Stage Company. "Sleuth," starring Charles Shaughnessy of TV’s “Nanny” fame, is a Tony Award winning 1970 play by Anthony Shaffer. Shaughnessy plays Andrew Wyke, an exceptionally successful mystery writer, whose manor house in Wiltshire, England is dark, creepy, and full of surprises. He brings a charm and playfulness to Wyke’s devilish character that makes the show fun to watch. Shaughnessy deftly portrays Wyke as he engages in an outlandish game of cat and mouse with his wife’s lover, Milo Tindle. Jeremy Bobb plays Tindle, and Bobb rises to the task of sharing the stage with experienced stage and screen actor Shaughnessy. Bobb epitomizes Tindle at the heights of his idiocy, craftiness, obsession, and zeal.

Set designer David Barber deserves kudos for his massive and thrilling mansion interior, fully-equipped with hidden passageways that open at the pull of a lever and all the lavish little details that continually engage. Lighting Designer (Jeff Davis) and Sound Designer (Brad Berridge) have much to be proud of as well; their talents add to the frighteningly fun experience of "Sleuth." Director Jesse Berger expertly accomplishes the job of bringing a play that has had world-wide success back to life (and death) again.

Though riddled with adult references, this show is fun for all ages.

July 21, 2009

All Mozart Concert

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 19, 2009
by Debra Tinkham

The George William and Florence Newsome Adams Concert Endowed in Perpetuity performance featured James Levin conducting this "All-Mozart" program of Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K.543; Symphony No. 40 in G minor, k. 550; and Symphony No. 41 in C, k. 551, "Jupiter." It is difficult to believe that young Mozart, who died at the age of 35, wrote these last three incredibly complicated masterpieces in less than three months, and it is historically questionable if they were ever performed during the remaining three years of his life.

All three symphonies, in four movements each, were beautifully enjoyed by the large throng of Tanglewoodians enjoying yet another sunny, warm Berkshire Sunday afternoon. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail were a part of today's venue, but what was a hinderance was the massive amounts of unwelcome decibels - children crying, people talking loudly - and at one point, a golf cart that took a wrong turn? The concessionaires were loading/throwing inventory to the point of distraction. Tanglewood is for good music and peace and quiet. Perhaps additional security is needed to babysit the inconsiderate souls who choose to talk their way through some of the world's most beautiful music.

Mozart's last three symphonies are brilliant, challenging, diversified. Even the most learned historian of music would need decades to analyze and fully appreciate the talent of one fine, young artist know as W.A. Mozart.

Love Song

Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through July 26, 2009
by Donna Bailey-Thompson

"Love Song" has a lot going for it. At times it is opaque. At others it is intellectually stimulating or weird or funny or quirky or sad or giddy. Thanks to Artistic Director Byam Stevens, the production meets Chester Theatre's high professional standards. Everything works - casting, set, costumes, lights, sound. For some theatergoers, playwright John Kolvenbach's script eludes labeling. For some it qualifies as contemporary or avant garde. One thing's for sure: it is not what in years past was considered typical summer theatre fare. A simplistic "John Loves Mary" it is not.

However, married couple Joan (Mary Cavett) and Harry (Paul Ricciardi} love each other, and Joan loves her brother Beane (Paden Fallis). Beane is a lost soul, trapped in a sterile, frightening universe. He opens the play, seated stiffly in semi-darkness at a small table, his piercing eyes stare into a void. His rigid body suggests that at the least, he is odd. Suddenly the scene goes to black and at once, another scene begins with Harry badgering Joan for her irrational firing of a summer volunteer who misfiled a folder. Their rat-a-tat-tat dialog prompts scattered laughter and the question: are both brother and sister nuts?

Beane's isolation is interrupted by Molly (Manon Halliburton) who claims to have burglarized his place. Suddenly they are in love. Joan's relief that her brother is happy helps her to relax and to join Harry in playing hooky from work, the play's most cohesively amusing scene. Even so, the scene that rivets is Beane's and Molly's rapidly alternating dialog about the wonderment of their loving feelings.

"Love Song" conveys more questions than answers. The construction of its many scenes varies from a linear story line to a drama class exercise, a workshop, an extemporaneous musing. This is not everyone's cup of tea but for sure, it's provocative.

July 19, 2009

Music in the Time of Goya

Aston Magna, Great Barrington, MA
by Barbara Stroup

Deftly programmed by guest director and guitarist Richard Savino, the six musicians of this final Aston Magna Festival presentation played music that spanned early 18th to mid-19th century Spain while the audience simultaneously enjoyed large, projected images of Francisco Goya's art. Seven thematic sections of the program included whole and partial works by a variety of Spanish composers. These were supported by the artist's images of faith, tranquility, nobility, poverty, degeneration, celebration and finally, brutality and horror. The rhythmic catch of the Fandango that ended the first half was punctuated by the cellist's percussive beat while bullfighting images filled the screen.

The instrumental ensemble was tactfully expressive in both the dances that celebrated life, and the music of war, resistance, and resignation at the program's close, sometimes whispering with string harmonics and often using full dynamic resources.

Jennifer Ellis Kampani sang with strength, sensitivity and color throughout her wide range, and was an agile vocal match to the tumultuous range of emotions portrayed in the music and in the art. The program concluded with the music of François de Fossa, a guitarist and composer who struggled to make art in a city under siege, and who, although lavishly praised for his work, was offered less than the cost of the music paper on which it was transcribed.

After a beautiful concert, the fortunate audience left this auditorium in the green Berkshire hills to find outside a sky as beautiful as Goya's best rococo masterpiece.

Capitol Steps

Cranwell Resort, Lenox, MA
through September 6, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Lightning, thunder, near-hail size rain, and a dark sky at 6:30pm in July were reasons not to venture out for any cultural activity. However, the show was Capitol Steps, and even though this reviewer has seen CS a half dozen times in the past, every show is new. Get the raincoat and run from the car to the vestibule of Cranwell.

A quintet of comedians/actors (2 women, 3 men), plus one pianist are the members. While material, both in stories and songs differ from week to week, the show's format is constant. The purpose: lambaste politics, celebrities, and current events to the tunes of familiar music with clever and oftentimes uproarious lyrics, while wearing incredibly awful costumes. Each of the five play numerous roles as one skit immediately follows the next, giving the audience little time to breathe between laughs.

No one is off limits to receive a jab. Of course, those in government receive the brunt of the satirical lyrics; i.e. Obama, the Clintons, Biden, Pelosi, McCain, and even George W. The latter never knew that the White House had a library. An example of the to-the-minute CS's script was the rifle-packin' ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

Starting with three songs to the tunes of "Mama Mia," the troupe's other background music included Broadway and 50s/60s sounds. Octomom was picked on for "littering," Susan Boyle had not yet discovered make-up, Korea's leader needed a haircut, and auto company execs bemoaned their decreased bonuses. The greening of America was set to song, as was the topic of prescription drug commercials.

A constant treat in each show is the backwards, twisted malaprops of contemporary politics. The first letter of a word is juxtaposed with that of the next word. Just when it seems impossible to understand this very fast repartee, it's all clear and very, very funny.

One word of advice is to arrive early for two reasons: pick your seat in the least cramped aisle, and CS is often a sell-out.

The Clean House

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through July 25, 2009
by Donna Bailey-Thompson

Five years and 60 miles away, "The Clean House" was premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre. As staged by New Century Theatre and directed by Ed Golden, this Pulitzer Prize finalist has been worth the wait.

Between the beginning monologue (an obviously sexy joke told in Portuguese augmented with gyrating pelvic body language) and the ending which is another beginning (the circle of life being what it is), a polished cast grabbed Friday night's audience's attention and took its funny bones on a ride studded with sensitive surprises.

Matilde (played con mucho gusto by Alyssa Polascek) is an updated Carmen Miranda whose wiggles, smiles, and transparent honesty sustains the quest for the perfect joke. She is hired as a live-in housekeeper for Lane, a medical doctor, whose exterior self-assurance masks her interior self-doubts. As the regal Lane, Lisa Abend gets it. By Lane's standard, her younger sister, Virginia (the incomparable Cate Damon) is an underachiever: Virginia is a clean freak who measures her worth by how efficiently she misplaces dust and brings order out of household clutter. As Virginia, Damon's Pollyanna reveries that slide into violent musings, her mincing, subservient little girl steps, her explosive release, all contribute to fleshing out a multi-dimensional character. And, her deadpans are side-splitting.

The heart of Lane's surgeon husband, Charles (Sam Rush) is pierced by Cupid's bashert-dipped arrow when meeting the exotic Ana (Donna Sorbello whose cancer patient portrayal is to die for). Rush's Charles pantomimes with pitch-perfect sang-froid - when slogging through deep snow; and when operating to save his beloved Ana, his hands with scalpel, needle and thread, perform an aerial ballet.

Jacquelyn Marolt's all white set design reflects the play's hospital connection. Similarly, Emily Justice Dunn's costume design mirrors the actors' characters. Daniel D. Rist's lighting design literally heightens the action.

According to the playwright, the play takes place in "A metaphysical Connecticut. Or, a house that is not far from the city and not far from the sea." This endearing contemporary play also takes place within the heart.


Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA
through August 15, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Many know that the musical "Candide" was composed by Leonard Bernstein. That's about all that even the most avid theatergoer is aware of. This can change, as Berkshire Theatre Festival mounts the satirical operetta based on the work of Voltaire, yet set in the 21st century - well, more or less.

The theme that life as we know it is "the best of all possible worlds" runs through both the dialogue and music. Also running (literally) is a hodgepodge of characters, scenes, and strange people. The action begins in a colorful jungle gym school setting full of children and their teacher Dr. Pangloss - the latter, effectively portrayed by Ben Rosenblatt - who is another thread stringing the plot along.

Songs like "Life Is Happiness" and "Oh Happy We" fill the Pollyanna-like Act I. The story increasingly adds war, death, and rape, so that perhaps the audience is not viewing such a lovely world onstage? Like "Pippin" and "Into the Woods," this musical twists its plot and fleshes out its important characters from one dimension to two or three. McCaela Donovan (heroine Cunegonda) is a charmer with excellent comedic timing and mannerisms, not to mention a wonderful soprano voice. Her "Glitter and Be Gay" is the play's showstopper. Julia Broder (The Old Woman) portrays a gypsy character with bold Lucille Ball-like humor and a tad of reality.

Director Ralph Petillo deserves bravos for manipulating his cast of 20 around the stage, down the aisles, on the floor, and perched on scaffolds into nearly as many separate scenes. Two pianists hold it all together through 22 songs. Important to add is the fact that every lyric of every song is distinct.

Opening night saw a full house. Some youth attended. At first, "Candide" seems like a fairytale for children. They can certainly enjoy the play and excellent production values. Yet, like the old "Rocky & Bullwinkle" cartoons, there are two layers of humor - one blatant and the other black. The adults will easily "get" and thoroughly enjoy both.

July 18, 2009

The Temptations/James Naughton

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
by Shera Cohen

Separated by 24 hours, the Colonial Theatre played host to two extremely diverse evenings of music. It's not at all hard to believe that the rockin' doo-wop sing-alongs of the 50s/60s would be equally appreciated by an audience as the smooth, jazzy, cabaret songs of numerous eras. Yet, this was the case for The Temptations concert on a Sunday night followed by James Naughton on Monday.

Perhaps one difference between the two was the familiarity. For anyone over age 50 (which seemed to account most in the full house), The Temptations evoked memories including the lyrics of nearly all of their big hits. Think "How Sweet It Is," "Just My Imagination," and "My Girl." The latter is dubbed The Temptations National Anthem. The five-member group, backed by a sometimes too loud band, included those who started 48-years ago. But age didn't deter the old-timers onstage, or those in the audience from moving, grooving, clapping, and swaying. Indeed, the quintet's choreography was that of the guys' groups of the 50s. Perhaps it looks comical today, but not then, and the Colonial audience ate it up.

Selections from The Temptations platinum records and 57 CDs included showstoppers "Get Ready" and "Since I Lost My Baby." While two singers were obviously newcomers, the guys age 70+ held their own with still fine voices, including one whose bass went down to the proverbial floor.

The stage belonged to James Naughton on Monday. His is a name well-known in the Berkshires as an actor whose primary venue is Williamstown Theatre. His is also face that most have seen on TV or in the movies; i.e. Ally McBeal's dad, Meryll Streep's husband in "The Devil Wears Prada." Naughton works steady, particularly on Broadway, where he is a Tony Award winner. He calls himself an actor who happens to sing. And, he sings very well.

Naughton mixed a repertoire of oldies ("Star Dust" - yes, real oldies), a Duke Ellington medley, and rarely heard ditties full of odd lyrics sung at breakneck speed. The latter proved Naughton's agility and humor. While the Colonial is a large, elegant theatre, a cabaret setting was the format. In keeping with that, Naughton told many backstage anecdotes, which were equally as entertaining as the music.

July 17, 2009

True West

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
runs through July 26, 2009
by Jarice Hanson

When Sam Shepard's "True West" debuted in 1980, it signaled a shift from the playwright's earlier absurdist work toward a more realistic style. In the Williamstown Theatre Festival's production, the genius of Shepard proves to be timeless.

"True West" is a fable of brothers who represent archetypes of the hero and shadow, as well as a metaphor for the greed, corruption, and violence of the west -- this time set in a small suburban house 40 miles from Los Angeles. Nate Corddry, in his eighth Williamstown season, plays Austin, a screenwriter who has successfully pitched a romantic film treatment to Hollywood, and has now holed up in his mother's home to write the script while she's vacationing in Alaska. When Paul Sparks as Lee, the ne'er-do-well brother shows up, he pitches a ridiculous western to Austin's obsequious agent (flamboyantly played by Stephen Kunken) and the tables begin to turn. Debra Jo Rupp's cameo as mom showcases her control and comic timing, and adds to the understanding of how two brothers could be so different, yet so similar.

The show really belongs to Corddry and Sparks, who take sibling rivalry and contemporary ideas of manhood to extremes. On opening night, a few lines were rocky, and Sparks' words were muffled in the early part of the play, but this is the type of show that will undoubtedly grow as these two actors find a brotherly bond necessary to heighten the tension of Shepard's verbal intensity. Some of the funniest moments belong to Sparks who drinks beer with a straw, and uses a golf club for great comic effect.

Director Daniel Goldstein has created a wonderful set that honors Shepard's realistic, absurdist, and experimental modes, and has found the intelligence in this powerful comment on contemporary life.

Groupe Emile Dubois

Jacob's Pillow, Beckett, MA
through July 19, 2009
by Stacy Ashley

After 22 years, choreographer Jean-Claude Gallotta returned to the U.S. with his company Groupe Emile Dubois. The piece presented, Des Gens qui dansent translated to 'people who dance'. The overall concept was that dance can come from our everyday lives in the form of everyday people, which is a belief that Gallotta's troupe can attest to -- his company of ten spans 40 decades and varies in sizes, shapes, and abilities.

While there were some poignant moments, just as in everyday life, some were also disappointing. One of the highlights was a pas de deux between two older dancers (Martin Kravitz and Christophe Delachaux) that was honest and witty. It looked and felt real. There was also a quartet with Thierry Verger, Ximena Figueroa, Cecile Renard and Camille Cau that contained some of the best choreography of the evening with long extensions and clean lines.

While the varying abilities perpetuate the overall concept, it was distracting to see the lack of technique and training in some of the dancers. Also distracting, was the audio. Gallotta walked across and around the stage speaking a gibberish language. Layered throughout the music and incoherent mumblings were extra noises -- popping, humming, crackling and other sounds, none of which were in sync with one another.

Although the technique may have been lacking, the energy and honesty was not. The dancers in Groupe Emile Dubois shared with the audience their inspiration and passion to dance and that yes, everyone can and should dance!

July 14, 2009


Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 19
by Bernadette Johnson

"The mind of man is a dark forest," playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman has one of his characters state, and Sherman sets about trying to enlighten that deep, dark recess in his newest comedy, "Knickerbocker," in its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Sherman invites us to probe along with him as Jerry (Reg Rogers), an "expectant father," uses friends, an ex-girlfriend, his father, and, of course, his wife as sounding boards as he confronts the gnawing question "Are you ready?" and anticipates how his life will be changed by fatherhood.

The entire play takes place in a booth at Jerry's favorite restaurant, the Knickerbocker, and though the waitstaff comes and goes without ever bringing a single platter, Rogers is definitely dealing with a plateful. He is onstage throughout the one-act performance and required by slight shifts to add variety to the scene. He does a spectacular job of injecting wit and sarcasm, and from tousled hair to pained expressions, portrays his fear of "screwing up."

Scenic designer Alexander Dodge has created a brilliantly colorful grid of New York images, including a sliding partition, which helps denote passage of time, as Rogers' wife, Pauline (Susan Pourfar), appears more advanced in her pregnancy with each encounter, and Jerry consults Melvin (Brooks Ashmanskas), a friend who is himself a father, ex- girlfriend Tara (Annie Parisse), a stoner friend Chester (Peter Dinklage) and his father, Raymond (Bob Dishy).

Except for the comings and goings of the waitstaff and slight booth shifts, there is very little action and it's up to the characters to keep the audience tuned in, which they do admirably well. One standout is Dinklage who, true to character, is "high" and climbs all over the booth and over his friend, all the while trying to impress the female members of the waitstaff. His vacant expressions, exaggerated speech and dry wit are welcome diversions from the otherwise day-to-day conversational tone of the piece. We are eavesdropping at best, but it's a fascinating exchange, leaving us uncertain of Jerry's readiness -- flirtations with ex, Tara, border on inappropriate -- but ready to lay odds in his favor after a touching final benediction to his unborn son.

July 13, 2009

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 12, 2009
by Debra Tinkham

Home, Sweet Home! Tanglewood that is; summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the start of their 128th season. Today's incredibly brilliant performance began on an incredibly beautiful Berkshirian day, with Herbert Blomstedt, who made his conducting debut with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, in February 1954. First up was Ludwig van Beethoven's short Overture from the incidental music" to Goethe's "Edgmont," Opus 84, a story of victory, and ultimately, tragedy, which was first performed at Tanglewood in 1940.

Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Opus 26" featuring the lovely and talented Joshua Bell, was a show stealer. This three-movement concerto was so beautifully performed that the only downside was that it ended much too soon. Bruch's love of the violin and his "desire to compose music that is immediately…comprehensive to the bulk of the audience on first hearing," was truly evident. So passionately and captivatingly performed, it was as if all other sounds paused to enjoy the "Allegro moderato prelude, Adagio, and Allegro energico finale." Bell's love of the violin began at the age of 12 and today he plays a 1713 Gibson Stradivarius.

Symphony No. 8 in G, Opus 88, a four-movement symphony by Antonin Dvorak, completed today's delicious venue. Its introduction was rich with cellos, clarinets, bassoon and horns, with ebbs of passion growing and waning throughout. Dvorak handled the many key changes craftily, leaving the listener with nothing but the feeling of flowing harmonics.

Today's music on the mountain left many speechless. The atmosphere, while packing up, and those lagging behind, was euphorically somber. Next Sunday's performance, with James Levine conducting an "All-Mozart Program" will be something to look forward to, for there's no such thing as disappointment at the summer home.


Talcott Mountain Music Festival, Simsbury Meadows, CT
Various events through July 17, 2009
by Eric Sutter

ABBA is Love! The super group came alive again in this spirited tribute to the 70's musical sensation. Beautiful weather, Swedish accents and the re-Bjorn sounds of ABBA combined to raise goose bumps at Talcott Mountain.

"Knowing Me, Knowing You" created a party atmosphere as the large crowd joined in on the background vocals. People sighed and moaned at the opening chords of romantic ballads such as "I Do, I Do, I Do" and "Fernando" with instantly recognizable flute and drum solo intros.

Andrea Pressburger (Agnetha), brought strong, haunting vocals to "Mamma Mia". Mathew Whale (Benny) provided memorable musical moments and swelling keyboards during "Chiquitita ". Nick Pattison's (Bjorn) electric guitar chimed in with the strings of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, which lightened the spirit of the songs. Guest conductor Glen Adsit had his work cut out for him as ABBAmania performed the disco tinged hits "Voulez Vous" and "Summer Night City." "Super Trouper" closed out the first half with Pressburger out front working the audience.

"Lay Your Love On Me" featured percussive keyboard that caused the female back-up singers to cavort with Pattison in a Conga line. As Monica Tietz (Anni-Frid) sang "I Have A Dream", a giant mirror disco ball appeared. The audience went wild over the swirling lights, propulsive sound and lavish costumes. They sang, swayed and waved hands in the air as Pressburger belted out a powerful "The Winner Takes It All". The happy beat of "Take A Chance On Me" with its warm vocal harmonies was a crowd pleaser and the cast encored with a zesty "Dancing Queen" with, of course, dancing everywhere.

Testimony to ABBA's mass appeal was the age range of the audience members who instantly reacted as the keyboard intro to "SOS" began. It was amazing to see 20-somethings (mostly female) clapping, dancing and singing along to ABBA's first big hit, "Waterloo", released way back in 1974.

July 10, 2009

GOLF: The Musical

Majestic Theatre, West Springfield, MA
through August 2, 2009
by Frank Aronson and Jarice Hanson

From the title, it is obvious that "GOLF: the Musical" is different from most theatrical fare. This affinity show (meaning that the performance is geared to an audience with a special interest in the topic) by Michael Roberts has played off-Broadway, and in small venues. The songs and sketches range from cliché to clever, but the four performers in the Majestic Theater cast create an ensemble that holds the various pieces together.

Darron Cardosa's sweet tenor shines in "The Beautiful Time," which contains the evening's most surprising lyrical twist. Luis J. Manzi's powerful, supple voice rings, and he deftly portrays a minister in the Church of Golf, and a tour guide at the Golf Museum. Lea D. Oppedisano was a favorite of the audience, especially with her solos "Great Lady Golfer" and "Golf's Such a Naughty Game." One of the sweetest tunes was sung by Bill Nabel, crooning a love song to his golf club, "Big Bertha." His lyrical baritone voice has a surprising range, used to create his own characterizations as well as supporting the ensemble. The foursome trade vaudevillian barbs, step in and out of different characters, and most of all-blend their voices as though they've been together for years.

The spare set is effective for this full-scale cabaret act, which also has a crowd-pleasing audience participation putting contest. Director Danny Eaton has found the most humorous moments in this brazenly self-referential script, and uses the theatre space to great effect. Music Director Amy Roberts-Crawford and percussionists Leo Arthur and Brian Peltier masterfully set the pace for the evening which is par for the course (this joke fits the material). Real golfers will get the inside jokes, while the rest of the audience can laugh at the plaid and the puns.

July 8, 2009

Dov and Ali

Chester Theatre, Chester, MA
through July 12, 2009
by Donna Bailey-Thompson

"Dov and Ali" is not as densely intellectual a play as its opening minutes suggest. Rather, it is a romantic and spiritual dilemma due to two patriarchs, one Jewish, the other Muslim, who perpetuate rules of behavior originated by their common ancestral leader - Abraham - as interpreted within the sentiments of the Holy Bible and the Holy Koran. Challenges are not voiced by Mahr, Hitchens, or Vidal. Instead, Ali, an intense, tormented student, a Pakistani immigrant (winningly played by Manish Dayal) stalks his yarmulke-wearing teacher Dov for clues on how to torpedo angst driven by frustration with rigid customs. In the process, Dov (Benjamin Pelteson) exchanges guilt-studded bravado with enough global guilt to sustain a kibbutz of mothers.

The cerebral suffering of the student and teacher ennobles their status as males, the designated leaders, whereas Ali's sister, Sameh (Lipica Shah) who serves as the play's narrator, commentator, and occasionally confrontational dialog, and Dov's shiksa live-in girlfriend Sonya (Heddy Lahmann) are emotionally abandoned in keeping with their assigned disposable status as love objects.

In his welcoming remarks, Artistic Director Byam Stevens said that in spite of the economic crisis influencing other theatres to present lighthearted fare, Chester Theatre Company's 20th season is continuing to offer its audiences thought-provoking contemporary plays. Sunday's appreciative matinee audience was prepared to give the cast a third curtain call.

The results of Director Michelle Tattenbaum and Set Designer Sean A. Cote partnership are exemplary. The four well-cast actors move naturally on a small stage that morphs seamlessly from venue to venue.

Playwright Anna Ziegler's script, set in Detroit, demonstrates that internecine conflict is not confined to geographic boundaries. Decades ago, American audiences warmed to the innocence of "Father Knows Best." Centuries earlier, the Montagues and Capulets stirred the sentiments of possibilities. Now "Dov and Ali" carry a banner. And the beat goes on.

July 7, 2009


Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 6, 2009
by Karolina Sadowicz

To the Venetians resisting a Turkish invasion, Othello is primarily a weapon. As played by John Douglas Thompson, the Moor of Venice is a force: calm, even benevolent at first, but revealing a barely containable tempest of a man when faced with jealousy and doubt. Thompson commands respect for his polished Othello, and, even when welcome, stands out as a clear outsider to the ensemble of characters.

Othello's foil and villain, Iago (Michael Hammond) is his true opposite. Where Othello is stately, humble, and restrained, Iago is coarse, deceitful, and unabashedly self-centered. The greatest strength of Hammond's performance is his charm. Iago is unrelenting in his pursuit of revenge, but he is also very charming, funny, and often likeable. Hammond's ability to warm up the audience to the villain highlights his cold cruelty in the end.

Staged with simplicity common to this season's offerings, "Othello" makes the most of a set that hints at specific surroundings and allows the beautifully costumed actors to paint a more vivid picture. Light and music are used effectively to this end and enhance the atmosphere and drama.

The actors all embody their characters, even multiple ones, and are equally convincing as a group of politicians talking war strategy or a rowdy band of drunken soldiers. Duane Allen Robinson is a suave, dynamic standout as Cassio, second in command to Othello and suspected lover to his wife Desdemona, played with refreshing toughness by Merritt Janson. Ryan Winkles as Roderigo is hilariously and poignantly sympathetic as Iago's patsy.

In this production full of Shakespeare & Company regulars, the script is fresh and punchy. The characters are thoroughly developed and their sincerity and honesty make them all easy prey to Iago. The torture of Othello, a man made in the world of war, by doubts that gnaw at his basest parts, builds steadily into a spectacular defeat that feels like watching a dark, private moment. It's difficult to look away. Captivating to the last moment, "Othello" is a study of human darkness and weakness, and will linger in the viewer's thoughts after the final bow.

July 3, 2009

Other People's Money

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through July 11, 2009
by K.J. Rogowski
In an age of hostile take-overs, rampant bankruptcies, and a cornucopia of corporate bail-outs, New Century Theatre's production of "Other People's Money" is timely, relevant, and a good evening's entertainment investment. It's an all too common tale of a sleepy, yet money rich, little company, New England Wire & Cable, that suddenly finds itself 'in play,' and the target of Larry the Liquidator, whose credo echoes that of another Wall Street high roller: "Greed is Good!"

Keith Langsdale's staging at the beginning of this tale of cold economics vs personal pride and commitment is inventive, impactful, and sets the stage for this funny and very human clash of cultures and ethics. On the "personal pride and commitment" side of the scales are solid performances from Manfred Melcher, Jean Devereau Koester, and Dick Volker as the hands-on managers and stakeholders in their 73 year old company. On the "greed is good" side are Marianna Bassham and Ed Jewett (Larry), who both ultimately use the world as their personal oyster bed with a guaranteed pearl in every one. Speaking of pearls…of special note is Jewett's performance as Lawrence Garfinkle. One moment he's striding the stage, bellowing the blessings of all that money can buy, and the next he's mischievous and mugging -- a genuine Machiavellian teddy bear who keeps the audience laughing and cringing all at once.

Andrew Stuart's set design is to the point (note whose desk is cluttered and whose is clean, even sterile). Langsdale's direction on this set is tight and keeps the action moving from Rhode Island to New York in a second, and not a beat missed. So invest wisely, spend an evening with the folks chasing other people's money.

July 2, 2009

Ballet Maribor

Jacob's Pillow, Becket, MA
through July 5, 2009
by Amy Meek

Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival's Ballet Maribor's Radio and Juliet demonstrates the Pillow's dedication to promoting international cultural exchange of talented companies. Ballet Maribor, a prominent European performance company from Slovenia, mixes both classical and contemporary ballet styles. Choreographer Edward Clug, takes Shakespeare's universal love story Romeo and Juliet and reinvents it in a refreshing, yet unexpected way. Clug's ballet shows the universality of the themes of love and aggression, adding the possibility of nontraditional perspectives. The audience seess Juliet's thoughts as Romeo dies, and what may have happened if she had lived.

Set to music by Radiohead, this alternative rock band's sound is characterized by its dark quality and heavy use of guitar and electronic instruments. The music provides the ballet with moments of lushness as background for Juliet's desperation, while at other times pulsates with hard-core intensity during the men's group dances. The songs propel the dancers through the story, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in disparity, as they seem to be controlled by the music against their wills.

The troupe is technical and beautiful in its movements. Tijuana Krizman (Juliet) shows her struggle between convention and passion as she alternates with individual, isolated movements and supported movements with the male dancers. She has a clean, fluid style that expresses Juliet's intent as she navigates her own way through the ballet. The men, who alternate playing Romeo, demonstrate the more vigorous and forceful qualities of masculine group behavior in an orderly chaos dancing against the robotic music with spasmodic, yet graceful motions. They stand separate at times, but suddenly come together in a united chorus.

The combination of the superb dancing, mesmerizing choreography, compelling music, and artistic audiovisual effects make Radio and Juliet a unique dance experience. The audience is drawn in and then pushed in multiple directions. The experience forces them to leave familiarity behind and to look at new ideas within the context of Romeo and Juliet, while at the same time never overlooking the timelessness and universal themes of the story.