Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 31, 2010

The Comedy of Errors

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 4, 2010
by Shera Cohen

One of The Bard’s funniest plays takes the Bernstein Theatre, or rather the circus stage. All within the confines of a colorful, yet small, circle are 12 actors portraying 20 characters living in two cities with an ocean between them. Such is “The Comedy of Errors,” a fast-speed farce with (no surprise here) mistaken identities. Shakespeare and this Lenox troupe have double the work and double the pleasure with their story of two sets of identical twins – one a master and the other his servant. Directors Dennis Krausnick and Clare Reidy have successfully replicated comedy d’arte.

Sad is the dad who lost his wife and sons in a shipwreck. Sad is the servant who must marry the kitchen-maid whose body is “spherical, like a globe,” and sad is the mistress whose husband loves her sister. Yet, this is a boisterous comedy. The laughs increase with the addition of a medley of strange props (a chain gets the biggest laughs), a transvestite prostitute, some liberties with the script (2010 references), and pratfalls galore. Oftentimes, it seems that actors will crash into walls as they run at breakneck speed into the circus circle, and then leap out. But Shakespeare & Company actors are pros, so not a single knee was scrapped by this young cast – all members of the Center for Actor Training’s Performance Intern Program.

And, for something on an even lighter note, if that’s possible…

The Amorous Quarrel, through August 28, 2010

This time it’s Moliere’s broad comedy of love, disguise, mistaken identity (again), jealousy, and slamming doors. Every character is dim, except the servants – it is they who steal the show.

“Quarrel” is very much an ensemble cast, as is “Errors.” While the language is an English translation of Moliere’s French (with adaptation by director Jenna Ware), and “Errors” is Shakespeare’s own, both plays are extremely accessible for young audiences and their chaperones. Many jokes are double entendres that kids will not understand, but adults will. One special aspect of all of the plays performed in the tent stage of the Rose Theatre is the songs – each original for the particular play, with lyrics to pay attention to get the laugh.


TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through August 22, 2010
by Jarice Hanson

From the moment the lights come up on Kathleen Turner, movie star, against a backdrop of celestial heavens, it’s obvious that the world premiere of Matthew Lombard’s "High" is going to be loaded with symbolism. Turner plays a street-smart, recovering alcoholic, foul mouthed nun, and though the role is perfect for her voice and gravitas, the character smacks of Hollywood cliche. Turner’s presence is impressive, but her performance is somewhat halting and uneven, as is the script.

Still, there is much to like about the show; stark black and white sets are juxtaposed against “grey” areas of morality and contemporary society. Director Rob Ruggiero keeps his actors moving at a pulsing speed, and each of the characters has moments of truth and honesty, though the play’s heart sometimes skips a beat. Only through faith can the characters find the “high” that provides the serenity they need—but will they find it through faith, redemption, or recovery? It is unfortunate that the author tries so hard to be clever; he juxtaposes some lovely scenes with the hackneyed jargon of Catholic culture. In a play that deals with homosexuality, drugs, abuse, prostitution and child abuse, do we really need a “penguin joke” to show that nuns should know the difference between black and white?

Michael Berresse portrays Father Michael, who challenges Turner’s character to reform young Cody (Evan Jonigkeit), a homosexual meth addict. Jonigkeit’s performance is brave, but his inexperience shows. Still, he and Turner share the most touching scene in the play when she attempts to teach him how to say the rosary.

To be fair to the actors, it seemed that the play was still being rewritten. If the author, director, and actors can overcome the weaknesses and find the right interpretation, the play and this cast have promise.


Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through August 7, 2010
by Shera Cohen

Chick flick, loosely defined, is a movie (perhaps a play) whose lead character is a woman and primary audience consists of females. The opposite might be said about “Art” – which is definitely a Guy Play. However, while women may have to drag their male partners to the movie/theatre, it is a pretty good guess that these men enjoyed what they saw. “Art” provides women equal enjoyment.

Friendship is at the crux of the story. Three men, each quite different from the others, are the protagonists. They talk about, fight over, philosophize, study, and laugh at one piece of art. Serge has spent a bundle on a large modern art painting by a pseudo-famous artist. He loves his purchase. His friend Marc hates it and tells Serge so. His other friend, Yvan, waivers on his opinion. The audience laughs at the trio, first in bewilderment and later at the raucous ridiculousness. Why? This supposed painting is solid white – white paint on a white canvas. The prop is far more than an unframed canvas; it is the playwright’s canvas on which to hang the relationships between the men as duos and as a trio.

Director Henry Wishcamper, along with help from his lighting designer, has set the quick pace of the plot of interaction coupled with numerous periodic soliloquies. Actors David Garrison (effectively feigning a highbrow character), Michael Countryman (nicely exasperated by the situation Marc is in), and Brian Avers (emotionally portraying a confused loose cannon) are completely in synch. The characters are intelligent, inquisitive, petty, hurtful, and supportive. Bits of jealousy are tossed about. They talk about each other in confidence, yet the audience eavesdrops, making for the humor of the story. “Art” is a 21st century version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” placed on a deeper level between individuals who could possibly be our own friends.

For anyone who has/had/will have friends, taking a microscopic look at male friendships is very pleasant for a change from the, perhaps, too many “chick flicks.”

Ricky Nelson Remembered

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield,MA
July 30, 2010
by Eric Sutter

The identical twin sons of teenage rock n' roll idol Ricky Nelson replicated that charismatic thing the "Irrepressible Ricky" had in his day. Interspersed with video clips of nostalgia and family photos from the "Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett" television show, the Nelsons excited the audience. Early hits, "Stood Up," "Poor Little Fool" and Ricky's first hit "I'm Walkin'" created a magical journey into the past and the collective hearts and minds of an aging baby boomer audience.

The film clip of Ricky Nelson with Elvis caused a stir as the boys cut into "Milk Cow Blues" with drummer Brian Burwell beating the blues on the uptempo Elvis cover. It was obvious he could cut loose on harder edged music. This tribute started March 4th in L.A. to one of the most cherished and beloved artists of all time. It is a multi-media rock n' roll extravaganza touring the world in memory of Ricky Nelson, who died in a plane crash death 25 years ago. The adventure zigzagged through "Believe What You Say" and "It's Late" with exquisite vocal harmonies and fluid guitar solos. Gunnar Nelson led "Lonesome Town" with some fine lead vocals. Both the Rick Nelson penned "Easy To Be Free" and Nelson Brothers 1990 hit "After The Rain" featured soaring but smooth brother harmonies which closed the first half.

They returned with the big hit "Travelin' Man," accompanied by a video clip of the original. "Hello Mary Lou" was a haunted hit sing-along. A devil-may-care style was exhibited with "I've Got A Feeling" which rocked with attitude and a good back beat. This was early rock with powerful vocals and a flashy guitar solo. The film clip from 1971 was effective in setting the appropriate tone for another sing-along -- the country-rock comeback hit "Garden Party." The final film clip of various family memories followed with Matthew Nelson speaking about the importance of family and friends. The closer about the memory of their dad was sung in intimate sibling harmony interplayed with gentle strummed acoustic guitars which conveyed these tender feelings on "Just Once More" about trading everything to see him again.

July 30, 2010

Haydn, Lauridsen

Berkshire Choral Festival, Sheffield, MA
July 24, 2010
by Terry Larsen

Extended compositions for orchestras and large choruses can be found as far back as the English Oratorio tradition of the mid 18th Century (i.e. Handel's "Judas Maccabeus" performed so very successfully last week by BCF). Significant sacred and secular texts coupled with the remarkable variety of timbres found in the families of instruments and voices, and the dramatic range of possible dynamics inspire composers and audiences alike. However, finding the delicate balance of volume between voices and instruments can be difficult, especially if the event features the larger orchestra used in Romantic and modern era works. BCF has found a winning solution to this problem by using an orchestra of about 40 players to complement the more than 200 singers in the Festival Chorus.

This balance of sonic forces was evident from the outset as Grant Gershon led a beautiful rendition of the "Paukenmesse." The orchestra played with precision and a warm, full-bodied tone that always balanced with the chorus and soli. This orchestral sensitivity enabled the chorus to project text, articulation, and phrasing, especially in the softer sections, while singing with a lovely timbre. Haydn's solo parts for this piece are not the extended, flashy vocal displays of sonic sequins found in many works, but rather discrete jewels that highlight the richness of the fabric woven by chorus and orchestra. The soloists executed their roles with grace, exceptional skill, and notably complementary timbres - their singing of the Benedictus quartet was sublime.

Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna" has become one of the most popular pieces in the canon. The chorus and orchestra lovingly embraced its extended melodic lines studded with gems of dissonance, lush textures, and compelling texts, bringing an effortless grace to a piece that is much harder to perform than it might seem.

Two other aspects of the performance deserve comment. Dr. Laura Stanfield Prichard's program notes and pre-concert comments supplied historical background that was informative and entertaining. After the concert, members of the chorus moved through the audience extending greetings and gratitude for our attendance. Their smiles, flushed from this beautiful moment, reflected the joy felt by each listener.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through August 7, 2010
By Eric Johnson

But soft, what silliness on yon stage doth break?

"Complete Works" takes the writings of The Bard and lovingly lampoons them combining vaudevillian shtick and slapstick humor while throwing in some pop culture jokes and references. And, as the title suggests, it all gets covered, from the Star-Crossed Lovers to Mac…, oops, make that the Scottish Play.

Sam Rush, Phil Kilbourne, and Brian Smith, under the direction of Tom McCabe, take on a plethora of characters whilst juggling costume (and gender) changes and props at a maniacal pace without missing a beat or a mark. The opening night house was very responsive and energetic, obviously delighted to be a part of the action during various scenes involving audience participation.

The set by Amy Davis, purposely designed to look "low budget," is perfect and is complemented nicely by Dan Rist's lighting design, costuming by Elizabeth Smolin and sound design by David Wiggall

Without giving away too much, some of the more hysterical highlights of the evening include Sam Rush as a Romeo reminiscent of Sylvester the cat from Loony Tunes, Phil Kilbourne's Titus Andronicus doing a laudable Julia Child impression and Brian Smith as a completely over the top Ophelia.

This final offering in NCT's 20 anniversary season is the perfect finishing touch to a wonderful summer of theatre consisting of audience favorites from the past 20 summers. There may be something rotten in Denmark, but there is nothing rotten about this show. Forsooth, get thee to NCT ere the "Complete Works" endeth.

July 21, 2010

Get Wrapped! up at Berkshire Museum

Interview with Stuart A. Chase, Executive Director of Berkshire Museum

Q: There have been many mummy show s at museums lately. What's unique about "Wrapped! Search for the Essential Mummy"?

A: While Wrapped! includes hundreds of ancient Egyptian artifacts, this exhibition focuses on Western society's fascination with mummies, and how the study of mummies has evolved. When explorers began pulling mummies from Egyptian tombs, these precious artifacts were sold in large marketplaces. Scientists of the day "unrolled" mummies, destroying them in the name of research. Thanks to modern technology, today we can examine them with such forensic tools as DNA testing and CT scans, which tell us more about the mummies without damaging them. Visitors can see plaster busts of mummified individuals created from scans and get an impression of the real people who were mummied. In addition, we animated CT scans so visitors can view 3-D "fly-throughs" and see mummies from the inside out. The show also devotes a good bit of time to the science and mythology of mummification.

Q. Tell us about the father and son exhibit.

A. While studying our own 2,300-year-old mummy, Pahat, we discovered that he was the father of Shep-en-Min, the man behind the mummy in the collection of Vassar College, less than 75 miles away. Shep-en-Min is on view during Wrapped!; this is the first time in U.S. history that a father-and-son pair of mummies have been exhibited together.

Q: Suppose I'm not into mummies?

A: Our companion exhibition, "Nancy Graves: Journey to North Africa," features camel-inspired artwork in multiple media by the first female artist honored with a solo retrospective in the Whitney Museum, including her pioneering art film of camels in Morocco, "Izy Boukir." Graves literally grew up in Berkshire Museum; her father Walter Graves was assistant director here for many years.

Q. I know that you are proud to highlight work of local talents.

A. Yes, also on view is "Joe Wheaton & Susan Rodgers: Spatial Relationships," new work by two acclaimed Berkshire-based sculptors whose reputations extend far beyond the county's borders. And "Ven Voisey: Artifact" features work created by a North Adams-based multimedia artist during his residency at Berkshire Museum. Plus there's always our Hall of Innovation, our rotating galleries of fine art and antiquities, the natural science collections, our award-winning Hall of Innovation, and our aquarium. There's plenty to see here if mummies aren't your cup of tea. Movie lovers can attend indie films every night during our 20th anniversary season of Little Cinema!

Judas Maccabeus

Berkshire Choral Festival, Sheffield, MA
July 17, 2010
By Terry Larsen

Handel's career encompassed the zenith and decline of opera in the Baroque period and the instigation of a new form, the English Oratorio - a genre of dramatic musical production that sets stories from the Hebrew Bible in epic musical narrative performed by orchestra, soloists, and the innovative element - a large chorus. "Judas Maccabeus" (1746) celebrates the victories of Jewish uprisings under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus against the Seleucid Empire in 165 BC and the subsequent restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem.

One of the pleasant surprises in the performance was the dynamic balance achieved between vocal soloists, an instrumental ensemble of 40 or so players provided by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, and the more than 200 voices of the Berkshire Choral Festival. Details of phrasing, dynamic contrasts, word accents, precision of attack and clarity of line, particularly in the extended polyphonic sections, were very evident to the large, appreciative audience.

The ensembles were very well-prepared, some lack of precision on a few attacks and releases notwithstanding. The Chorus sang with gusto and attention to detail; however, balances among sections were not always ideal and a rather bright choral timbre did not always deliver the goods on the more bombastic passages despite the size of the ensemble. The six soloists made contributions that ranged from the beautiful timbres and expressive singing of Leslie Fagan and Charlotte Daw Paulsen (both of whom may have stolen the show), Jason Hardy, and Richard Giarusso, to the more perplexing efforts of Scott Ramsay whose technique did not always seem sufficient to the requirements of the part, and Matthew Shaw, whose lovely counter-tenor timbre was undermined by some poor intonation and the tendency to force the voice in its highest register.

The sheer length of "Judas Maccabeus" (64 section numbers) provides a distinct challenge to performers and audiences alike. Maestro Ferlesch kept the production moving. He led with an economy of gesture while producing attention to detail that is sometimes not found in performances of large works. An evening spent with the BCF is time well spent and highly recommended.

July 17, 2010

Capitol Steps 2010

Cranwell Resort, Lenox, MA
through September 5, 2010
by Shera Cohen

The 2009 flyer for Capitol Steps quotes accolades from numerous sources, one being, "Some people in Washington are confused…the Capitol Steps are not." That was stated by former Vice President Al Gore. Little did Al know that he would be the brunt of the somewhat risqué humor by CS exactly one year later. But he isn't alone, as numerous senators and Tiger Woods get theirs - jibes, laughs, and teases to the tunes of recognizable popular songs. For instance, "Eye of the Tiger" becomes "Fly of the Tiger."

CS is irreverent, humorous, fast, satirical, and up-to-date. No one is safe from being made fun of. Needless to say, whoever lives at the White House becomes a pawn. Past residents as well: Bill and Hillary, George W. The major factor that makes CS a success is the continuously changing scripts. CS in 2009 is not the same as 2010. The show in April was probably be very different from July's production.

Three men, two women, and one pianist are CS. Their costumes are cheesy, the wigs are worse, choreography is pathetic, and the basement theatre location is uninviting. None of that matters. Actually, all of it matters, because the worse the accoutrements, the better the show and the bigger the laughs. Surprisingly, the players' voices are top notch. None will take the Metropolitan Opera stage, but they sing a mean "Evita" parody.

In addition to the usual subjects personalities mentioned earlier are VP Joe Biden, Senator Scott Brown, Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, leaders of numerous countries (Korea was especially memorable), and an unintelligible Bob Dylan. CS also takes pot shots at news of the day: border crossing, airport regulations, the oil disaster, and the U.S. census.

Every show ends with a hilarious long monologue by one of the quintet. He essentially speaks backwards, juxtaposing letters, in fast motion. It takes a good ear to catch every joke, but getting only half puts any audience member in proverbial stitches.

Sea Marks

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 4, 2010
by Shera Cohen

Not so long ago, people wrote letters. Corresponding back and forth in long hand and with a pen is something today's younger generation might think of as ancient. "Sea Marks," set in an era of pre-email, texting, and tweeting in the 1960's is, perhaps, a bit old fashioned - but that's what makes it especially lovely

The plot takes the audience from the seacoast of Ireland to the city of Liverpool, England. The locales could not be any more different. In this two-character play, it seems that Colm and Timothea could not be any more different as well. Colm shyly begins the correspondence, although he has only met Timothea once. She responds, officiously at first, because she doesn't even remember meeting this man. Not a good first impression. Yet, theirs is a growing and powerful love story. Nearly all of Act I is a series of letter writing, and, indeed, is the winning half of the play.

While Walton Wilson has been a regular at this theatre for many years, "Sea Marks" is his first starring role. Kristin Wold, a Shakespeare & Company veteran, can play just about every role with perfection and her Timothea is no exception. Wilson is an equal match for her. Both portray fragile, quiet, middle-aged strangers who do more than fill each other's loneliness. Each makes significant changes in their lives. Self-confidence begins to replace vulnerabilities as they take the risk to fall in love.

The play is sheer poetry, literally and figurative. The playwright could have easily written a book of sonnets in lieu of, or along with, the play. In fact, the language is the third profound "character." The simple earth color sets, soft lighting, and director Daniela Varon's juxtaposition of the lovers (particularly in Act I) subtly keep the plot flowing smoothly and slowly. Act II has a few speed bumps - some due to unnecessary verbiage about Timothea's ex, and others from quickening the pace just a bit too much in contrast to the exquisite Act I. Yet, nothing spoils the sweetness, simplicity, sadness, and joy of love and "Sea Marks."

Intimate Apparel

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through July 24, 2010
by Eric Johnson

"Intimate Apparel." Though the title might lead one to believe that a British sex farce is in the offing, nothing could be further from the truth. Granted, there are plenty of laughs in this show, and a liberal dose of sexual tension, but this powerful play by Lynn Nottage is a very serious piece, indeed. Set in New York in 1905, the script tackles relationships, racism, social mores, conscience and character. Once again New Century Theatre sets a high bar for production values and content, and the cast and crew hit the mark.

Lynette Freeman is absolutely riveting as Esther, a gifted seamstress struggling to make a place for herself in a world that does not give much respect to a 35 year old unmarried black woman. Her portrayal of the character is never in question, it is genuine throughout. Maggie Miller gives a wonderful performance as Mrs. Dickson, Esther's landlady, mentor and friend of many years. Gregory Mikell is an excellent choice for George, the handsome, silver tongued beau who works his way into Esther's life through his letters. The well to do Mrs. Van Buren (Sandra Blaney) is rather unsatisfied in her marriage and her life. Blaney conveys this consistently and convincingly. David Mason plays the Romanian/Jewish cloth merchant Mr. Marks whose connection to Esther is a subject of speculation for the audience. Mason finds a great line to walk with this character and sticks to it. The scene stealer is Alika Hope as Mayme. Hope has a very strong presence which is crucial to making this character work.

The set by Jaquelyn Marolt and costumes by Emily Justice Dunn are magnificent. Lighting by Dan Rist, and sound by David Wiggall complement this production nicely. Director Ed Golden guides this able and talented cast to a nicely polished opening night performance of a play that is full of grit, tenacity, and intimacy.

Classical Mystery Tour

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Simsbury, CT
July 17, 2010
by Eric Sutter

Guest conductor Leonid Sigal was not daunted by the half hour rain delay before he joined the Classical Mystery Tour on stage with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. The Beatles tribute tour began in 1996 and has performed with more than 100 orchestras across the United States and around the world. Two of its members are original cast members of the Broadway Beatlemania show. It became a time to rock as they appeared in their early Beatles look of mop tops and dark suits singing "Got to Get You into My Life." "Yesterday" featured Paul (Glen Burtnik) singing and playing acoustic guitar accompanied by the swelling strings of the symphony. A quick costume change to their Sgt. Pepper's costumes brought in John (Jim Owen) on piano and a unison sing of 1967's "All You Need Is Love." Incidentally, Jim Owen is the brainchild behind the Classical Mystery Tour production.

"Penny Lane" featured the woodwinds, strings and soaring French horn lines of the Symphony which gave a high goose bump quotient. The sun broke through as George (Thomas Teeley) began the opening guitar sequence to "Here Comes the Sun." Blue skies showed through as the band rocked "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band." Classic hits "Eleanor Rigby" and "A Day In The Life" completed the first half.

The night sky revealed a silvery crescent moon as the tour resumed with "Hello, Goodbye." "I Am The Walrus" was effective with colorful kaleidoscope images projected from the canopy above the stage. "Yellow Submarine" was sung by Ringo (Chris Camilleri) with an audience sing-along complete with dancing children. The latter day Beatles look was evidenced with John in white suit on "Come Together" and George in denim on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." A notable guitar solo with attention to detail was well received. The quartet and symphony closed with the medley of "Golden Slumbers, "Carry That Weight" and "The End" and encored with "Hey Jude" and "Twist and Shout." A resounding cheer brought "The Beatles" out once more with the familiar guitar howl of "Can't Buy Me Love."

July 13, 2010

Mozart and Strauss

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 11, 2010
by Debra Tinkham

A beautiful Berkshire Sunday afternoon commenced with Maestro Rafael Fruhbeck De Burgos conducting Mozart's "Serenade No. 6 in D Major", know as the "Serenata nothurna." This "Serenade" featured Malcolm Lowe (violin), Haldan Martinson (violin), Steven Ansell (viola) and Edwin Barker (bass viol); Lowe being the Concertmaster and the latter three being principal performers of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

"Marcia: Maestoso" is, as implied, a march, which made for a good beginning and end. "The Menuetto" was a graceful solo grouping, and the fast "Rondeau" happened to be the longest of this short, three movement Serenade, composed by Mozart at the age of twenty.

Mozart's "Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major" - always a good key for Mozart, featured soloist Pinchas Zukerman, who made his Tanglewood debut in 1969. A seasoned, talented violinist, violist and conductor, to name a few of his accomplishments, stepped up to the plate for this three movement "Concerto". "Allegro aperto" (opening) was witty, with wonderment of how many tunes he gathered together to make this work. Throughout, there was a wonderful blend of balance between strings and woodwinds. "The Adagio" started as a recapitulation already introduced in the Allegro, not unusual for Mozart's wit and element of surprise. "Tempo di menuetto - Allegro" (a fast waltz) echoed back and forth between marching dynamics to "ballerina delicacy."

Richard Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben" (A Hero's Life) in three movements, described and questioned the hero. Who is this hero? Strauss? Or, who is the hero's companion? "The Heroe's Battlefield" portrayed his triumphal return in musical renditions of the beginning. This long and complicated poem questions his "Works of Peace," incorporating such familiars as "Don Juan" and "Don Quixote" themes.

Finally, "The Heroe's Escape From the World" and "Fulfillment" ended the program with a lovely English horn solo. Michael Steinberg, a BSO reviewer stated it best with, "…an ending of marvelously individual sonority, and one that at least touches fortissimo."

July 10, 2010

Samuel J. and K.

Williamstown Theater Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 18, 2010
by Barbara Stroup

International adoptions by single parents – how well do they work? Multi-racial families – good or bad for the kids? These sociological questions go unanswered, but theatre-goers who see “Samuel J. and K.” will watch one compelling story unfold, and can draw their own conclusions about family of origin, adoption, sibling rivalry, jealousy, brotherly love, and the curse of the passage of time.

Williamstown is lucky to have both Justin Long and Owiso Odera in this two-character, well-written play by Mat Smart, who has a great ear for casual dialogue. The writing creates fully dimensional personalities from the start, even while the basketball is pounding the floor. Long and Odera are immediately likeable; they have expressive faces that show a wide range of emotions, both matching their words and transcending them - vulnerability, humor and a most human hunger for love. All this, and athletic bodies that can move a basketball!

This play never lags, the characters are never wooden, and the story line gives the playwright enough on which to hang the conflict that needs airing between the brothers.

Both named Samuel, “Moms” adopted K from Cameroon as a toddler. She is never seen, but her influence permeates the brothers’ relationship; the teasing mockery only shows their love for her. One Samuel is awkward with emotions and their expression. The other Samuel is expressive with his affection, but also plagued with an impulsivity that leads to the pivotal decision at the end of Act I. The brothers travel together, part abruptly, and reunite as men.

The stage is warmly lit; the set design allows for a basketball court, a Cameroon village and a cozy Illinois living room. The most intimate dialogue is blocked nearest the audience, bringing the theatre into the conversation. Overall, this is a production that continues to enhance the Festival’s reputation for quality theatre experiences.

Facing issues that could defeat the strongest relationship – Samuel J. and Samuel K. ultimately show themselves to be human. What more can one ask? Their journey is a pleasure to watch from beginning to end and theatre lovers must hope for more from Mat Smart’s pen.

July 8, 2010

Enjoy "Summer" this summer

Interview with Wharton Salon co-founder Catherine Taylor-Williams

What is the goal of The Wharton Salon Theatre? How is it different from other theatres?

The Wharton Salon's purpose is to produce the stories of Edith Wharton and her contemporaries as plays in her home, The Mount. It's different than other theatres in that we don't perform in a traditional theatre building. As a theatre artist, I find older buildings much more interesting than modern theatres, in that they are living buildings with a history of their own to bring to the story. It's even better when both the stories and the building were the creation of the same person. Mrs. Wharton's home is our "set." This working-class Berkshire story is performed in a former Stable that was converted into a theatre. The Salon follows in a tradition of performing Wharton's stories as plays, pioneered by Shakespeare & Company. But we're setting off on our own journey.

What is your role with the theatre and why is it important to you?

I am the Founder of The Wharton Salon and one of two co-producers, the other is Lauryn Franzoni. The Mount's staff is also an active partner. Dennis Krausnick, Shakespeare & Company's Director of Training, is the Salon's chief playwright and adaptor of the stories as plays. I will direct Summer. The traditional roles of Artistic Director, Managing Director, Producer are changing and merging. I think this is ultimately good for the art and its management.

There are many clichés about why theatre is important. I believe human beings primarily learn and identify with stories. Wharton's stories are important to me because they speak about the roots of the modern woman and what women struggled with in the turn of the last century and early 20th century. She also tackles huge questions for both men and women.

What is the story of Summer and what kinds of audiences would it appeal to? Why was this play selected for this particular summer in the Berkshires?

Summer is a novella of Wharton's - a lovely book to read (or play to see) in summertime. It was written in France in 1917 looking back at an earlier time in America. It's a story that captures the imagination of many people. It's a kind of Berkshire myth, with the same mysterious attraction that so many of us feel for this part of the world.

The story is the coming of age of a young woman set in perfect timing with the course of a summer season in the Berkshires. Wharton gives a very frank and unromantic conclusion to the story. I appreciate it very much, but it tends to knock the socks off of the romantics in the audience. I hope it will cause some discussion. Summer is not about the upper classes and has a very down-to-earth feel compared to a lot of her other writing. It's great to be doing the play in the Stables, a much earthier location too than the Salon. It shows a whole other side of Wharton, one that I think we need to be reminded of when thinking of her writing. She may have a posh upbringing, but she was no prude.

Edith Wharton's Summer, adapted by Dennis Krausnick, will take place at The Mount, Lenox, MA from August 18 - 29. Seating is limited. For reservations call 413-551-5113 or check

July 6, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 11, 2010
by Karolina Sadowicz

Many funny things happen on the way to the forum. As the cast of the zany musical farce fills the Williamstown Theatre Festival main stage for the opening number, they promise "Tragedy tomorrow" but "comedy tonight." They keep the promise with superb timing and slapstick antics, and keep the audience in stitches.

Led by Tony nominee Christopher Fitzgerald ("Young Frankentstein," "Finian's Rainbow," "Wicked"), the all-male ensemble sings and dances their ways through pitch-perfect comedic setups. There are divided lovers, mistaken identities, and above all: men in drag.

Fitzgerald plays Pseudolus, a cunning slave to handsome and innocent Hero (adorably earnest Bryce Pinkham), son of Sene(Jeremy Shamos alternately lecherous and full of animal lust in his second role), who falls in love with a young virgin, Philia (David Turner) who has been sold to a captain by the brothel owner next door, Lycus (David Costabile of "Damages" and "Breaking Bad"). Pseudolus offers to bring Philia to Hero while his parents are away, in exchange for his freedom. Naturally, things don't go exactly as planned, and hilarity ensues.

Fitzgerald is an outstanding comedic ring leader, but each actor in the ensemble gets full credit for exploiting every gag, every syllable of witty dialogue and song. The protean cast of 14 takes on dozens of characters, from from nagging wives, to pirates, to Roman Soldiers, to undulating ladies of the evening.

The colorful and opulent set is relatively simple, and built to make the most of frequent chases and quick disappearances. The orchestra booms from the pit, and plays a willing part in multiple sight gags, and it's hard to say whether the audience or the actors are having more fun. The show moves quickly between songs and jokes, maintaining a swift tempo from punchline to punchline. The music, slapstick, and choreography recall everything from Looney Tunes, to the Three Stooges, to vaudeville.

The talented cast never rests on its laurels, making the most of already great musica and comedic material. A flawless production, "Forum" delivers in every way, and brings to new heights a subject that never gets less funny: men in dresses.

July 2, 2010

To Forgive, Divine

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through July 10, 2010
by Eric Johnson

What if, if only, would have, should have, could have. This delightful Jack Neary play is about all the choices we make and the tendency, for some, to second guess some of those choices. "To Forgive, Divine" is both funny and poignant, sometimes unexpectedly.

Outstanding performances by a talented and well selected cast under the direction of the author himself come together to create a highly enjoyable evening of theatre. Young and talented Nora Kaye (Margaret) gives an admirable performance as a teenager in a world of adults, a world gone mad at times. The prim and proper Milly, ably played by Barbara McEwan, is both crusty and loving, a drill sergeant with a heart. Father Jerry Dolan is a very kind and dedicated priest, yet at the same time a man with desires. David Mason plays these personas confidently and believably. Sandra Blaney's Katie is at once a headstrong, mature woman and a scared girl. Blaney manages to portray both simultaneously and it is wonderful to behold. Ralph, played by Ed Jewett, is a caveman, pure and simple. Jewett is akin to a force of nature on stage. His commanding presence and impeccable timing are perfect for the character.

Margot Leonard's set design is full of detail and authenticity. At first glance it is clear that the audience is looking at a church sacristy; subsequent glances make it clear that a lot of thought and work went in to this set. Nicely done. Costumes by Abbie Chase work very well, the period and setting are nicely represented.

NCT's second offering of their 20th anniversary season is a show worth seeing. There did seem to be a few moments in the show that could use a bit of tightening up, but they were few and far between. For an opening night this is certainly forgivable, and to forgive is, divine.

July 1, 2010

Molly Sweeney

Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through July 11, 2010
By Karolina Sadowicz

What would a blind woman have to lose by regaining her sight through surgery? That's the question explored in Brian Friel's "Molly Sweeney," the story of a woman blind since infancy, her quirky crusader husband, and a disgraced ophthalmologist who sees her as his redemption. The answer, as well as the search for it, is exhausting and painfully eye-opening.

Molly Sweeney (Rebecca Brooksher), Frank Sweeney (Chad Hoeppner), and Mr. Rice, the doctor (Kevin Hogan) all remain seated on stage during both acts, facing the audience, themselves, and never one another. The play is an interplay of monologues told in past tense, slowly revealing the course and culmination of the story.

Hoeppner makes the most of Frank's mad stories of Iranian sheep herding and insatiable wanderlust to create a lovable, believable character. He is distracted and frenetic, but genuinely curious about everything in the world, and devoted to curing his wife's blindness. Hoeppner also brings much needed energy and physicality to an otherwise static presentation.

As Molly, Brooksher is cheerful, resilient, independent, and unassuming without seeming too naïve. She is willing to undergo surgery to please Frank, and even her doctor, but is tentative about entering a sighted world. She has never felt handicapped, and faces the possibility of leaving a behind a world she understands in ways she feels she can't explain to others, and trading it for one that seems terrifying and overwhelming.

Mr. Rice's personal history clouds his judgment of his patient's needs, allowing him to objectify her and her sight in a way similar to Frank's. He comes across as unsympathetic and self-absorbed, but is not the only one to blame.

Each character meanders to his or her destination through memories, vignettes, and seemingly unrelated stories. Because the monologues are of substantial length, the play loses momentum, and the audience strains to focus on the rich level of details in Friel's writing so as not to miss anything relevant. The writing is lush and poignant, full of longing, irony, and at times humor, but it seems better suited to the page than the stage, where pacing is crucial.