Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 25, 2014

Preview: Achéray Ensemble in Concert

Porter-Phelps-Huntington House Museum, Hadley, MA
August 6, 2014
by Eric Sutter

Heads up Valley families... look to an upcoming concert by Achéray Ensemble to prove to be a delightful love affair with Latin American roots music. There is an enlightening sound here with music that encompasses the heartbeat of grassroots America. The joy of the sound will celebrate the polychromatic mirror of Latin American music that fuses the energy of Afro-Latin rhythms with the spellbinding spirit of South American indigenous music. Band members hail from different musical backgrounds as diverse as Ecuador, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. A menagerie of sound from flute, guitar, guiro, cuatro, cello, bass and percussion including bongos will fill the sunken garden of Porter-Phelps-Huntington House Museum with beautifully mystical sound.

The name "Achéray" derives from the African Yoruba word "ache" which is an affirmation and a way to honor someone as a person. The South American Quechua word "churay" is used in a static moment of music, as a way of inciting the musician to put their full energy and soul into the music. Yoruba culture has roots in Cuba and Brazil with the Quechua language spoken in the Andes.

This concert will be a colorful and wonderfully complex narrative soundscape of Latin American music that translates a warmth and authenticity. The tug from one style, then from the other should make for a beautiful creative musical tension and sound. Giving us a sense of place, a spirit of community, an appreciation of diversity of life and a musical poetry that artfully describes the Latin American saga in song, a concert of this scope and magnitude could help define a rediscovery and renewed vision for our collective soul.

The concert is part of the Porter-Phelps-Hungtington House Museum's Wednesday Night Folk Traditions concert series. The concert's date is Wednesday, Aug. 6 at 6:30 p.m., 130 River Drive (Route 47) in Hadley, MA. Cost is $10.00 per person and $2.00 for children 16 and under. Picnickers are welcome beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Fool for Love

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through August 2
by Jarice Hanson

When one thinks of love stories, one often thinks of the giddiness of falling love, but in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love four characters show us the painful side of obsession, compulsion, and the pain of love.  The Williamstown Theatre Festival’s production, brilliantly directed by Daniel Aukin currently on the Nikos Stage is an immersive sensory experience in storytelling.  From the moments the actors walk on stage to take their places in full light, you realize this is going to be unique production of this iconic one-act play. In the script, Shepard instructs actors to perform the piece “relentlessly.” 

Photo by T Charles Erickson
As May, Nina Arianda radiates desire and vulnerability.  Sam Rockwell as Eddie is threatening and powerful.  As “The Old Man” Gordon Joseph Weiss makes up the trio of id, ego, and super-ego that define the complex relationships that are enacted before Christopher Abbott—a regular guy who show up to take May on a date, only to find that he (like the audience) is the judge of the characters’ stories.  The ensemble is woven together seamlessly, but both Arianda and Weiss have particularly effective moments that create magical realism that create a special bond with the audience.  The action takes place in a sparsely furnished motel room in the Mohave Desert, a metaphor for the west that once was, and a fitting location for lust, impending violence, and struggle—whether real or imagined.

Sam Shepard’s plays are sometimes painful to watch, but few authors reach into the depths of one’s soul with such beautifully crafted words as he, and when a director understands the text, the performance can be magical.   In this 88 minute roller-coaster of emotion, given emphasis by Ryan Rumery’s sound design, Fool for Love becomes a haunting, memorable story of love in an impossible situation.  This production is a masterful realization of one of Shepard’s most morally complex plays.

Living on Love

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 26, 2014
by Walt Haggerty

Summer theatre once had a reputation for presenting light, frothy entertainments as “vehicles” suited to the talents of available stars of Hollywood, television, and Broadway. Often these were tried and true revivals of popular, successful productions. Occasionally they were new works with an optimistic sight-line focused on Broadway. “Living on Love” is a delightful example of the latter.

Whether “Living on Love” actually has Broadway as an objective remains to be seen. What it does have is a more than welcome light comedy by Joe Depietro, based on an earlier work by Garson Kanin. “Living on Love” is performed by an outstanding cast headed by world renowned Metropolitan Opera star, Renee Fleming as Raquel DeAngelis, the latter a diva of the highest order. Here demonstrates a broad range of talent, most especially a natural flair for comedy.

The story opens with Douglas Sills giving a bravura performance as Vito DeAngelis, Raquel’s husband and an internationally acclaimed symphony conductor in his own right. Vito is currently reluctantly working on his (ghost written) autobiography, assisted by frustrated writer Robert Samson, impeccably played by Justin Long. Considering the high velocity nature of the principals, Raquel’s decision to write HER (ghost written) autobiography complicates the situation. With Robert, already “fired” by Vito, Raquel quickly recruits him as her ghost writer. Vito immediately selects Iris Peabody, charmingly portrayed by Anna Chlumsky, as his new writer. Complications develop as jealousy and tempers rise and fall and romance, as always, or almost always, triumphs.

Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson, as a Tweedledee-Tweedledum team of servants in the DeAngelis house, should be charged with grand larceny for stealing every scene in which they appear.

Director Kathleen Marshall has given “Living on Love” the bright sheen of a fast-paced, often hilarious comedy, ready for Broadway – or whatever. Special credit must be given to Fleming for treating audiences to this delightful bit of summer nonsense during what should have been her summer vacation.

“Living on Love” is a skillfully crafted refreshing summer treat.

The Knights

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 23, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

The Knights are a genre bending “orchestral collective” founded several years ago to create “programs that encompass their roots in the classical tradition and passion for musical discovery.” Their Tanglewood debut achieved that goal with easily the most eclectic concert of the season.

The featured soloist in the first half of the program was Swedish trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, who played lush but spare arrangements by Roland Pontinen of music by Joni Mitchell (“Both Sides Now,” sounding like Arvo Part), Kurt Weill (“Speak Low”), and Michel Legrand (“Sans Toi”). Hardenberger’s playing was incisive but flexible, and a mute added warmth and glow to “Speak Low.” His trumpet captured the Latin rhythms of selections by Rolf Martinsson (bossa nova) and Astor Piazzolla (tango) with surprising drama and flair.

Up to 14 Knights accompanied Hardenberger and performed music by Gyorgy Ligeti (“Old Hungarian Ballroom Dances”) and Ljova (“Ori’s Fearful Symmetry”) around his two sets. Their easy camaraderie was evident in their relaxed but lively accounts of this colorful music, some pieces conducted by Knights co-founder and cellist Eric Jacobsen, and others led from the concertmaster’s stand by his brother and fellow Knights co-founder, violinist Colin Jacobsen. Their helpful comments before several pieces clearly engaged the large audience, which included many Tanglewood students.

The second half of the concert opened with an exuberant rendition of Stravinsky’s pungent “Dunbarton Oaks” concerto. But the evening’s highlight was jazz bandleader Maria Schneider’s song cycle “Winter Morning Walks.” Setting nine poems by Ted Kooser about his recovery from cancer, it featured, in addition to the Knights, a soprano soloist and jazz trio.

Cancer survivor Dawn Upshaw, in fine voice, combined her characteristic clarity of diction and depth of feeling to achieve a profound emotional catharsis. The lines in the final poem, “How important it must be to someone that I am alive,” must have had special resonance for her. The Coplandesque score was lovingly rendered by all the musicians, particularly trio members Frank Kimbrough on piano, Scott Robinson on clarinets, and Jay Anderson on double bass.

Programs of this distinction suggest a bright future for classical music.

July 23, 2014

Fromm Concert

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 21, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

The final program in the 2014 Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, the Fromm Concert, featured four pieces that pay tributes of some kind.

The opening “Concerto for Orchestra” was the last work completed by Roger Sessions. A tribute to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he first heard as a child of 14 and which later premiered several of his works, the concerto was both the oldest (1981) work on the program and in some ways still the most difficult to listen to. Yet, the brilliant playing of the young musicians and the deft balancing of conductor Stefan Asbury revealed surprising moments of lyrical warmth amid the composer’s more characteristic dissonance.

Sarah Silver
Steven Mackey’s 2008 concerto for violin and orchestra, called “Beautiful Passing,” is a tribute to his mother, whose last words were “Please tell everyone I had a beautiful passing.” Former TMC fellow Sarah Silver played the challenging solo role with poise, abandon, and a rich, creamy tone. Lovingly shaped by conducting fellow Daniel Cohen, the performance highlighted the disarming beauty of the score, including a poignant passage with the “Dies Irae” in soft strings and an echo of “Taps” on solo trumpet.

Intermission was followed by the American premiere of Charlotte Bray’s 2012 piece “At the Speed of Stillness.” A tribute to her fellow English composer Benjamin Britten, its eerie soundscape evokes the Sizewell nuclear power station just north of Britten’s home in Aldeburgh on the east coast of England. The haunting score was forcefully led by conducting fellow Karina Canellakis and flawlessly played by the youthful orchestra.

TMC conducting program director Asbury was back on the podium for the best known work on the program, “Slonimsky’s Earbox,” the 1996 tribute by John Adams to Russian-born author and musician Nicolas Slonimsky. With electronics amplifying its colorful mix of timbres, the piece was played to the hilt and brought the concert and the festival to a rollicking close.

The presence of Mackey and Bray, who were applauded by performers and audience alike, gave TMC students the kind of exposure to working musicians that could prove invaluable for their careers.

July 21, 2014

Breaking the Code

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA.
through August 2, 2014
by Jarice Hanson

The life of a mathematical genius reputed to have had Asperger’s Syndrome and who became a British war hero for his work on cracking the Enigma Code to help end WWII is inherently interesting, but not necessarily theatrical. Add the facts that he was arrested for homosexual “gross indecency” and prescribed female hormones to “control” his sexuality, and that he has become known as the “father” of artificial intelligence, and the story becomes even more compelling, but how could this possibly translate into good theatre?

The answer is in the brilliant, tour-de-force performance of Mark H. Dold who makes the life of Alan Turing come alive in Barrington Stage Company’s bold production of the 1986 London hit show, "Breaking the Code." The title is a double entendre, intended in part to explain the literal code breaking of cryptography, but it also refers to the “code of secrecy” that surrounded homosexuality during Turing’s life (1929-1954). Seven additional actors are all first-rate, but Dold commands the stage and tells the story of a man who figures out the logic of numbers even though the logic of human beings eludes him.

Director Joe Calarco keeps the action moving despite an intentionally spare set, further focusing the audience’s gaze on Dold. Hugh Witemore’s script is verbose and takes some liberty with historical facts, but humanizes the man whose childhood friends were numbers, and who gets into trouble because he “says things he shouldn’t say.”

The production is not perfect, however. The script suffers from trying to cover too much, and shifts from one time period to another are somewhat confusing. The performance comes in at 2 hours and 45 minutes (including intermission) which may stretch the patience of a summer audience, but for those with curiosity about Turing, or respect for a performance like Dold’s, "Breaking the Code" will be a memorable experience.


Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through July 26, 2014
by Shera Cohen

Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn stage is the ideal venue for “Benefactors” -- a small play, with small cast, set in one room (a kitchen), about a small story (yet, one should never judge the importance of any story to its participants). Yet, there is universality in the play’s theme of helplessness and helpfulness, encroachment and passivity.

Eric Hill directs four actors, representing two married couples living in 1970’s London. The characters are middle-class, each with his/her own career. the women choose to stay home with the kids. Sheila, a former nurse in a ‘helping’ role in the community, becomes a pathetically needy weakling. Jane, an anthropologist by trade, is a strong-willed albeit reluctant helper to all of the characters who enter her kitchen. Sheila’s husband Colin is a brute who believes that he is helping the world as a political rebel. Jane’s counterpart David is saving a part of his own world by addressing the needs of the poorer class population. Everyone is helping, trying to help, and/or pretending to help themselves and everyone else. None are successful.

Each character, stepping to the side of the stage under dim light, offers frequent monologues serving as soothsayers to themselves and to the audience.

Actress Corinna May propels the movement of the play as her Jane is somewhat in charge of situations; she even stands erect and commanding. A long-time star at Shakespeare & Company, May handles contemporary English and this script’s nuances equally as well as the Bard’s clever words. No small task. David Adkins’ David successfully creates an idealist scratching for a purpose. Barbara Sims, as Sheila, wears dowdy and ill-fitting clothing to accentuate her unassertive demeanor. The director could have molded Sheila as a caricature, but Sims and Hill carefully resist. Walton Wilson keeps Colin on one level with no redeeming qualities. It takes an actor’s skill to motivate an audience to dislike him and, at the same time, care enough to want to know his outcome.

Playwright Michael Frayn, whose famous works are “Noises Off” and “Copenhagen,” is a fine writer whose “Benefactors” is atypical of both of these works.

Clybourne Park

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through July 26, 2014
by K.J. Rogowski
New Century Theatre's production of Bruce Norris' "Clybourne Park," is not a destination, it is a journey filled with hairpin turns, sudden stops, and jackrabbit starts.

The Act I crisis focuses around a house in Chicago in 1959 which is being vacated by Russ (Sam Rush) and his wife, Bev (Kathy McCafferty) because of the secret, painful memories that haunt them there. To compound their trauma, the couple is confronted by self-righteous/right thinking friends who accost them on how they can think of selling their home in exclusive Clybourne Park to a black family. Now, fast forward 50 years into Act II, and the same home is about to be demolished and replaced by a non-historical contemporary monstrosity by a white family looking to move into what is now a predominantly black neighborhood. At the same time, advocates for historical preservation petition to stop the new construction.

Norris' cleverly crafted script delves into the deeply personal beliefs, hurts, misconceptions, and prejudices of each of the characters as they sometimes naively, sometimes intentionally, try to explain, argue, joke and talk their way through issues and situations they never thought they would find themselves in. Each time the playwright brings these personal confrontations on race, sex, or secrets to a boiling point that can make the audience squirm more than just a little, he does a 180 degree turn, breaking that tension with a comic non-sequitur that lets everyone breathe a little easier. But, the concepts and issues are, for the most part, left unresolved, since it is not so much a matter of declaring a solution or a winner, as much as it is a matter of exposing them, and leaving them with the audience to live with and decide.

Under the direction of Ed Golden, the cast does a wonderful job as they first portray characters operating under the societal norms of 1959 middle America, and then switching into their 2009 mode of thought and action, as the decedents of the characters in Act I. The set design of Greg Trochlil cleverly transforms right before the viewers' eyes. Roles and arguments at Clybourne Park are fast paced; they reverse direction and twist down roads that one might not want to travel. Sometimes, "Clybourne Park" demands that the audience hold their (collective) breath, but it is a journey well worth taking.


Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 15, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

A combination of threatening weather and esoteric repertoire may have limited attendance at Sequentia’s recent Tanglewood engagement, but the modest audience that braved the elements was treated to a rare excursion into unfamiliar musical terrain.

Founded in 1977 by Benjamin Bagby and the late Barbara Thornton, Sequentia is one of the world’s foremost ensembles specializing in medieval music. Their many recordings and concert tours have renewed interest in and inspired further research into this rich musical genre. Their Tanglewood program featured music from the Carolingian era, the two centuries following Charlemagne’s coronation as “Holy Roman Emperor” in 800.

The thirteen pieces on the program included two instrumental selections, but most were Latin texts sung by one or two voices, with English translations projected from the back of the stage. Though many had unknown authors, several were written by Charlemagne’s court poet, Angilbertus. Their subject matter ranged from praise for the king to a fight between two warriors to the very different plights of two women facing death.  

The performances by Bagby on voice and harp, Norbert Rodenkirchen on flutes and cithara (a kind of lyre), and vocalist Wolodymyr Smishkewych were dramatic and colorful. Bagby delivered the German text of “The Song of Hildebrand,” about a long lost hero whose son, Hadubrand, doesn’t know him when they meet in battle, with urgency and forceful diction. Smishkewych used his sweeter voice to poignant effect in the “Canticle of Eulalia,” a harrowing tale, in old French, of a beautiful young woman’s martyrdom. The virtuosic Rodenkirchen played with consistent beauty and purity of tone no matter how often he switched among his exotic-sounding instruments.

The concentration of the program into 90 minutes without an intermission and the closing of Ozawa Hall’s rear wall to keep a raging thunderstorm from drowning out the music made this an unusually intimate journey into the past. The enthralled audience called the performers back to the stage several times before the concert hall doors opened to reveal that the music had driven the storm away.

DC Humor in Lenox

Interview with Bari Biern of Capitol Steps
Capitol Steps, Cranwell Inn, Lenox, MA
through September 2, 2014

Bari Biern
Bari Biern has been "stepping" since 1993 and has appeared in several Capitol Steps off-Broadway runs. She currently reviews plays and videos for Metro Connection on WAMU-FM. She is also a playwright/lyricist.

Spotlight: Are you essentially an actor, singer, comic, or pretty much all three?

In this group, you have to be all three, as well as a quick-change artist!

Spotlight: How politically savvy were you prior to Capitol Steps? Now?

My dad was a party precinct chairman when I was little, so I used to go with him when he distributed literature around the neighborhood during the campaign season. I guess I could claim that I was politically savvy at age seven but, truth be told, I really went along because he bought me Pez at the drugstore when we were finished. Today, being politically savvy is an ongoing part of my job. After all, that's where we get all our material.

Spotlight: What are your favorite roles? Do you enjoy performing as the opposite sex or a different ethnicity?

Wow, there are so many! I guess, if I had to pick just a few, I'd include Monica Lewinsky, Hillary, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and, of course, Dick Cheney's heart.

As for playing the opposite sex, I think I do a killer Jim Lehrer. Morgan Duncan, who plays President Obama in the current Cranwell cast, was a mighty foxy Condoleezza Rice!

Spotlight: How fun is it to work as a team?  Do you ad lib or ever surprise each other onstage?

I see us more as a big happy dysfunctional family. Do we ad lib? Yes, although generally, not intentionally. It usually happens when someone's fake mustache falls off.

Spotlight: Please describe the rehearsal process. Do you learn the new lyrics and sing the songs with the pianist first or later on?

We usually try out new numbers at our home performance space in DC, the Ronald Reagan Center. Generally, we'll have a few days to learn the lyrics before the show. Since we cover familiar songs with parody lyrics, we often already know the tune, which is a great time-saver. Then, we put the number on its feet at sound check, around 90-minutes before the performance. We sing it through a few times with the pianist to determine the best key and tempo. Then we try it out on mic and add choreography if we don't think it will make our heads explode.

Spotlight: How easy/difficult is it to add new scripts constantly and become new characters?

There's no fancy-schmancy acting "method " that quite covers but we do. Often, we need to work hot button issues into the show very quickly, sometimes even the same day! So, we have to be able to think and work fast. It's sort of like developing a special creative muscle -- the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.

Spotlight: Have any of the politician/celebrities you have played ever seen you perform?

Yes, indeed, from presidents to pundits to politicians from the top of the heap to the bottom of the barrel.

Spotlight:  Is there any anecdote you would like to tell us?

There was a number in our show called “Pack the Knife," about a nun trying to get through a security line at the airport as a TSA agent is frisking, manhandling, and harassing her. Meanwhile, everyone else is being waved through. A Viking with an axe, Darth Vader and other menacing characters all breeze past the checkpoint. The frustrated nun disappears and returns with a suitcase that says, “Acme A-Bomb” on it and no one stops her, of course.

But try getting through a real checkpoint with that prop was the real problem. Once, on our way back to Washington from Charleston, SC, a security screener discovered the Acme “suitcase,” which is actually just a flat cardboard sign cut and painted to look like a suitcase. Instantly, we were whisked out of line to a private holding area. A state trooper watched our every move. No one was permitted to budge, not even for a bathroom break. Twenty minutes later, the FBI arrived. Fortunately, one of the agents was a Capitol Steps fan. Moments later, the agent released us with a wink, a smile — and an autographed CD for his daughter.

July 17, 2014

Fiddler on the Roof

Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam, CT
through September 12, 2014
by Walt Haggerty

(c) Diane Sobolewski
“Fiddler on the Roof,” a beloved treasure of the American musical theatre, is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the Goodspeed Opera House, flawlessly directed by Rob Ruggiero, with choreography recreated from Jerome Robbins’ original, by Parker Esse.

A story of traditions, some preserved, some broken, “Fiddler” is also a story of family love, of struggles and changes –told through an unforgettable score by composer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein.

From the opening strains of “Tradition” to the bittersweet rendering of the final notes of “Anatevka,” “Fiddler’s” melodies are instantly recognizable. Their delivery by this exceptionally talented company resonates with care and feeling throughout, culminating in a moving performance of “Sunrise, Sunset,” by the entire company.

Against a background of Russia in the early days of the 20th century, “Fiddler” focuses on the transition and difficulties faced by the family of Tevye, his wife, Golde, and their five daughters. Tevye, played with warmth and humor, by Adam Heller, is the master of his house, at least in his own mind. His wife, Golde, acted by Lori Wilner, runs the house with love masked by a sharp tongue.

The three daughters, played by Elizabeth DeRosa, Jan Brissman and Barrie Kreinik, each contribute distinctive performances reflecting their growing maturity and independent spirits, humorously displayed in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”

David Perlman’s Motel the tailor, and Abdiel Vivancos’ Perchick, a young revolutionary student, reflect the growing spirit of the young. Jan Brissman’s determined Chava, delivers a farewell to her family that is achingly touching. John Paynok’s Lazer Wolf and Cheryl Stearn’s Yente, provide welcome moments of laughter.

Moving moments abound, from Hodel’s farewell to Tevye, in “Far From the Home I Love,” and the duet of Tevye and Golde, when Tevye asks, almost pleadingly, “Do You Love Me?” Lighter moments include Tevye’s discussion with God, “If I Were A Rich Man,” and Motel’s “Miracle of Miracles.”

This “Fiddler” is indeed a memorable, not-to-be-missed production of a classic!

July 14, 2014

Emerson String Quartet

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 10, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

The Emerson String Quartet is one of the most durable ensembles on today’s classical music scene. Three of its founders in 1976 are still members, and their only personnel change occurred in 2013, when cellist Paul Watkins succeeded original cellist David Finckel.

The “new” Emersons made an impressive Tanglewood debut last summer, and their return visit to Ozawa Hall this year featured an extended program of Shostakovich’s last five string quartets. The original Emersons recorded all fifteen of the composer’s quartets to wide acclaim in 2006, and in recent years the ensemble has made a specialty of presenting the last five together, which, like Beethoven’s late quartets, are more inward and even mystical than their predecessors.

These quartets were all written between 1966 and 1974, a year before Shostakovich died. Though much of their music is loose in form and quiet in tone, the fifteenth stands apart as the composer’s longest, most rarefied and startling quartet. Its six movements are all marked “Adagio” and played without pause, ending the concert on an eerie note that was also exhilarating in its focus and intensity. 

It’s hard to imagine a more riveting performance of this demanding music. From the echoes of Russian folksong in the eleventh quartet, the grief and anger of the twelfth, the knocking sound of the bows’ wood striking their instruments in the thirteenth, the romantic mood of the fourteenth, through the dark, death-haunted fifteenth, the musicians never wavered in their technical precision and interpretive depth.

Their versatility was reinforced as violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer swapped first chair duties and cellist Watkins and violist Lawrence Dutton outdid each other in the variety of tonal shadings they coaxed from their respective strings. 

With two intermissions (after the twelfth and fourteenth quartets), the three-hour program was an immersive experience for performers and listeners alike. Few members of the rapt audience left at either intermission, and those who completed this profound journey with the Emersons gave them multiple and well-earned standing ovations after the hushed close of the fifteenth quartet had faded into the night.

Make Your Berkshire Summer Complete

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through August 24, 2014

The following is an interview with Jonathan Croy, director of Shakespeare & Company's comedy, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Spotlight: What would you say about Complete Works to entice a non-Shakespeare lover to see this play? In particular, the title alone implies that the audience will spend hours upon hours sitting in a theatre, watching segments of all 37 plays -- the ones they were forced to read in high school and, worse yet, the ones they have never even heard of.

Croy: Well, although this is certainly a whimsical, over-the-top evening of comedy, I keep thinking of it as a “lovingly playful homage” to Shakespeare’s plays—we do touch upon (okay, at least, mention) them all, but most of the plays are presented through the lens of a skewed affection…I typically stress the “loving” and “affectionate” descriptors because as wacky as this play gets (and it certainly does go there), I believe that the guys who wrote this piece had a deep love of the plays.
I don’t think anyone needs to study up to see Complete Works…it’s a bit like The Muppet Show, in that there are multiple layers of jokes…there’s plenty for people with no familiarity with Shakespeare to enjoy, and then there are jokes for people with great familiarity with the plays.

Spotlight: How are you and the three actors possibly able to go through the rehearsal process without completely and constantly breaking up in hilarious laughter every minute? How does one maintain professionalism?

Croy: By redefining the term “professionalism." But seriously, our rehearsal room was a non-stop jamboree of laughter, as well it should be. That atmosphere is totally appropriate to a play like this— not only because of the sheer amount of silliness, but also because it’s a joyful comedy, and spending our days laughing together seemed like a good place from which to create that.

Spotlight: What is your directing style? Dictatorial? Laisez faire? Improv? How much input do you permit your actors, if any?

Photo by Kevin Sprague
Croy: I was first drawn to Shakespeare & Company by the openly collaborative spirit here. So not only do I permit the actors to have input, I demand that they be participants in the process of creating the show, especially for a play like Complete Works. These actors have serious game when it comes to comedy, and it would be criminally stupid of me to ignore that. This is a really funny script, with a broad comedic vocabulary, so in putting our production together, I’ve been looking to build the show from the moments, the ideas, the aspects of characters that these three actors find enjoyable, rather than walking into the room with a finished product in mind.

Spotlight: You have been onstage and are now backstage for this play. Do you see Complete Works in a new light now? Do you wish you were one of the actors having a hell of a good time, or "just" the director?

Croy: Interestingly, I do find that the societal context has an impact on this play—this was developed originally 20 to 25 years ago, and our attitudes have shifted and changed in so many way. We’re in the middle of our Preview performances now, and I’ve been fascinated by the differences in the audiences’ responses, as compared to 15 years ago when we first did this play. Some of the jokes have had to be updated, others have had to take a different tone. On some issues, our audiences seem to need a different point of view.
I also believe that comedy is an ever-expanding universe. When a television show like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report hits popular culture, it refines our taste in political commentary; when Seinfeld hits, it refines our taste in absurdism; when The Hangover comes along, it refines our taste in silliness… so one of the great challenges in approaching a script like this is in staying ahead of the curve.

Spotlight: I have seen two of the three actors perform together numerous times --  Ryan Winkles and Josh Aaron McCabe. Frankly, they need no script. Both could read the phone book aloud and the audience will be in stitches. I am sure that the third actor, Charls Sedgwick Hall is top notch as well. So, how do you enjoy working with these guys? Did you hand-pick them for this play?

Croy: Yes, I did… Ryan & Josh are certainly no strangers to this style of comedy, or the demands it makes on actors. Charlie and I worked together here back in 1984 & ’85 (!), and I’ve wanted to work with him again ever since. He’s a wonderful actor with a heart the size of Kansas.

Spotlight: Costumes and props are so important in this play. It seems to me, having seen Complete Works six times that the rule of thumb is...the cheaper and the cheesier the better. If I am correct, I believe there is a rubber chicken?

Croy: I get your point—I’ve seen this 6 - 8 times myself, plus the five versions that sprung from ours. I have to say, though, that the Costume Designer and I decided to go a bit more upscale on this one — we’re looking for a world in which the whimsy springs from a slightly more “complete” vision of each play.

Spotlight: And speaking of costumes, please describe the choreography of the talented backstage crew who help dress three actors in the roles of over 700 characters in just 2 hours. What is the secret to making this all happen in split second time?

Croy: Velcro, artful snaps & zippers and gravity and…I don’t even know what. We’re certainly blessed to have two compadres backstage—Jessie Chapman and Ben Hover—who are experts at this kind of thing…no joke at all, without them, this would not be possible.

Spotlight: How do you think Shakespeare would feel about Complete Works?  Would he approve? Is he turning in his grave? Or is he having a hoot on this, his 450th birthday?

Croy: I’d say he’d have a good time with this, given the level of low-brow comedy in many of his own comedies, I think he’d get the jokes.

A Little Night Music

Berkshire Theatre Group, Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
through July 19, 2014
by Walt Haggerty

Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” is a treasure of the modern American theatre. Considered by many to be Sondheim’s greatest work, it is rarely absent from stages around the world including occasional productions by leading opera companies.

In its current reincarnation by the Berkshire Theatre Group, “Night Music” has been spectacularly recreated with inspired direction by Ethan Heard, joyous choreography by Alex Sanchez, and flawless performances by a sensational cast.

Hugh Wheeler, whose book allows ample space for Sondheim’s exquisite lyrics and magnificent score, has skillfully adapted the story, “suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman,” It tells a tale of love that, through a series of clever plot twists, resolves the difficulties of several mismatched pairs allowing them to find their world set straight at the final curtain.

In “Night Music,” the musical selections are never merely set pieces, but are integrated parts of a whole, carrying the story forward. By opening the performance with the full cast on stage in an elegantly executed performance of “Night Waltz,” the mood is set. As each key character is introduced, their personas and situations are quickly established. Recently married Fredrik, played by Gregg Edelman, performs “Now” with reluctant patience; while his wife Anne, portrayed by Phillipa Soo, offers tentative promise through “Soon.” Son, Henrik, exuberantly acted by Matt Dengler, reveals his frustrations and impatience in “Later.” The three solos are ultimately blended in a delightful trio.

Penny Fuller, as Madame Armfeldt, has a grand time as a grand dame in her “Liaisons” recollections, while Maureen O’Flynn demonstrates her flair for comedy with “The Glamorous Life” and later, the depth of her character with “Send in the Clowns.” Kate Baldwin’s Charlotte, captures the essence of irony in every line, while Graham Rowat’s Carl-Magnus is oblivious to his own “tin soldier’ persona.

Emma Foley, as the young Fredrika, reveals wisdom beyond her years in a charming portrayal; while Monique Barbee’s spirited delivery of “The Miller’s Son,” sparkles as a show stopper.

The Berkshire Theatre Group’s “A Little Night Music is a leading contender for this season’s top production and a not-to-be-missed opportunity for all theatre lovers.