Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 4, 2014

The Visit

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through August 17, 2014
by Walt Haggerty

“Here we go again. It’s all about fresh starts, new beginnings,” commented legendary superstar Chita Rivera. Based on Friedrich Durenmatt’s play, "The Visit" has been turned into a musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb, with a book by Terrance McNally.

“The Visit” tells a dark and foreboding tale of a woman betrayed, abandoned and shamed by her lover. Late in life Claire returns to the village of her youth. The once beautiful and thriving community is decayed and the townspeople impoverished, including Anton, her former lover. Following a series of profitable marriages, Claire has become a woman of enormous wealth. Her mysterious visit is anticipated with curiosity as to why she has elected to return. The hope is that she will rescue her former neighbors. On arrival she makes an extraordinary offer, but demands an even more extraordinary price.

As Claire, Rivera delivers a dynamic performance destined to cap a career of more than half a century. She is incomparable. Roger Rees, as Claire’s former lover, portrays a character deserving of total contempt. Enacting Claire and Anton as young lovers are Michelle Veintimilla and John Bambery, respectively, who reflect the youth and beauty that once existed. As schoolmaster, Jason Danieley makes his solo, “The Only One,” powerful and moving. Distinctive characterizations are also contributed by Judy Kuhn, Melanie Field, and Rick Holmes.

The score and lyrics (Kander & Ebb) make this musical one of the team’s best, with each selection tailored precisely to the situations and characters as reflected in Claire’s bitter “I Walk Away” and “Anton’s egotistical, “I Must Have Been Something.” “Love and Love Alone,” sung and danced by Claire and Young Claire, is beautiful and moving.

“The Visit,” directed by John Doyle and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, is still a work in progress. The strong, sturdy framework is in place for a memorable, even great, evening of theatre. Perhaps a reconsideration of the most recent cuts and condensation of the current production might be revisited, with an eye to adding definition to key characterization. More extensive use of the marvelous music would also be most welcome.