Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 21, 2014


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.