Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 19, 2014

A Hatful of Rain

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through August 30, 2014
by Walt Haggerty

Photo by Emily Faulkner
How could a play first produced in the 1950's be as timely, riveting and shocking today as when launched - perhaps even more so?

The focus of Michael V. Gazzo’s flawlessly written “A Hatful of Rain,” as produced by Berkshire Theatre Group, is on Johnny Pope, a veteran who has become a drug addict, initially because of medication prescribed during his recovery from wounds received during the Korean War.

The role of Johnny Pope, as unforgettably portrayed by Tommy Scheider, travels a tortuous path of taut desperation, loss and ultimately, hope. As Johnny’s pregnant wife Celia, Megan Ketch is equally brilliant in her confusion and frustration, attempting to learn what has happened to her husband and their marriage.

Greg Keller, as Johnny’s brother Polo, is outstanding as the brother who always has to settle for second place, but is always there to comfort, support and rescue other family members. Stephen Mandilo, as the mostly absent father, gives vent to his disapproval by blaming Polo for Johnny’s desperate situation, without ever accepting, or even recognizing, his own failures.

The trio of menacing drug dealers deliver portrayals of consummate evil in action: Triney Sandoval, ironically identified as “Mother;” the kingpin, Chris Bannow, as “Apples;” and Cornelius Davidson, as “Chuch." Their participation at times provides flashes of sardonic humor as well as terror. Davidson’s role, as a mistreated African-American and reluctant participant, is the most sympathetic. “Mother” specializes in terrorizing, while Bannow’s “Apples” is frighteningly bizarre. In a scene showing the group, accompanied by an out-of-control Michelle McGregor, as Putski, all are in “high” humor until terror comes dangerously close to boiling over.

The fine-tuned, meticulous direction of Greg Naughton deserves much of the credit for this exceptional revival of what should deservedly rank as one of the peaks of this theatre season. The Berkshire Theatre Group must be commended for bringing this amazing production to the region. Hopefully, future audiences will fill the theatre, which was regrettably well below capacity on opening night. This cast demands "Standing Room Only” attendance, and those who do attend will be greatly rewarded.