Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 22, 2015

Passing Strange

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through December 20, 2015
by Eric Sutter and Stephanie C. Lyons-Keeley

“Passing Strange,” directed by Sean Harris with book and lyrics by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, created in collaboration with Annie Dorsen, is an aptly named musical which entwines music, theater, and dance in a strangely engaging way. Vibrant and spirited dancing is top-notch thanks to choreographer Darlene Zoller.

A masterful song and spoken word narration by Darryl Jovan Williams (Narrator) effectively weaves together the convoluted story. It is a tale of a young bohemian known only as the Youth (Eric R. Williams) from a black middle-class American background who looks deep into his soul for “the real” through sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Raised by a conservative Christian single mother, his journey takes him from 1976 LA to Amsterdam to Berlin.

In a very layered Act 1, the high-energy dance number “It’s Alright” sets a lively tone with a rocker/cheerleader dance piece performed by Williams, Garrett Turner (Mr. Franklin/Joop/Mr. Venus) and Ensemble Karissa Harris, Skyler Volpe, and J’Royce that quickly roused the audience. A shift to the gospel number “Baptist Fashion Show” with Mother (Famecia Ward) and the Youth thickens the plot.  As time passes, the strong-minded Youth smokes his first joint at a wayward youth prayer circle in “Arlington Hill.” He later is part of a short-lived punk rock band, but the Youth and the other band members learn more from failure than success. He makes the decision to leave home to develop his musical talents and sets out for Amsterdam, where fun numbers including “We Just Had Sex” keep the action hot. Later he heads to Berlin where he makes yet another life changing decision and learns another hard lesson in “Paradise.”

In Act II the Youth reaches a crossroads in West Berlin. With beauty in the midst of chaos, the audience is again roused with wild song and dance. Deepening glimpses of “the real” surface cabaret-style with “Identity” and “The Black One.” The Youth’s experiences begin to change him in his passing from place to place. Christmas soon approaches bringing with it the mounting issues with his mother; he eventually comes of age.

“Passing Strange” is heady stuff… and just as the Youth does, one might ask is this “the real”? What is “the real”? And is there something more?

December 7, 2015

Joyful Voices

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
December 3–6, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

Leave it to path-breaking Maestra Carolyn Kuan to upend yet another classical music tradition by inviting concertgoers not to turn off their cell phones but to turn them on! Pre-concert publicity had encouraged them to download a free bell-ringing app and participate in one piece on the program. 

Worth and Moore
But first HSO Board Chairman Jeffrey Verney dedicated the orchestra’s performance of the opening work, Faure’s Requiem, to the people of Paris as they recover from the terrorist attacks there last month. This is the gentlest of all Requiems, and Kuan and the HSO gave it a fresh, flowing account. Two world-class soloists – soprano Melody Moore and baritone Matthew Worth – made the most of their solo opportunities, including a ravishing “Pie Jesu” from Moore. But they never overshadowed the 160 men and women of the Hartford Chorale, who sang with careful modulation and total conviction.

The Hartford premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s short orchestral piece “blue cathedral” then lifted the solemn mood to a transcendent level. Commissioned in 1999 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Curtis Institute of Music, where she teaches, the piece also became a memorial for her brother, who died of melanoma while she was writing it. The colorful orchestration includes Chinese exercise balls played by many orchestra members as they lay down their instruments in the quiet closing moments. Kuan cued the audience to ring their phones in the last 20 seconds, and the sound was delicate and shimmering. The piece soared in a luminous rendition by all participants.

Intermission was followed by a full-blooded presentation of substantial excerpts from the first two parts of Handel’s “Messiah,” culminating in the famous “Hallelujah” chorus that ends Part II. Moore and Worth returned to excel in their multiple solos, and the Hartford Chorale impressed throughout, hushed in “For unto us,” nimble in “All we like sheep,” and jubilant in the finale. All sections of the orchestra played their hearts out.

It was encouraging to see a large number of young people in attendance, particularly for the overdue introduction of an outstanding contemporary American woman composer to local audiences.

December 4, 2015

Christmas on the Rocks

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through December 23, 2015
by Jarice Hanson

For those who think that Christmas can no longer capture the magic it held when we were children, and think that those holiday television specials and old films can no longer evoke the optimism of the season, get ready to enjoy a truly original telling of old favorite stories at TheaterWorks, with their wacky, wonderful production, “Christmas on the Rocks”.

In the seven short plays with three actors playing a dozen characters, director Rob Ruggiero has given a gift to grown-ups who can remember “the good old days” through the eyes of some of the most iconic Christmas characters, all of whom have grown up themselves. The laughter is contagious and the parodies jaw-dropping, and the result is an evening of pure fun.

Seven noted playwrights including John Cariani, Jeffrey Hatcher, Jacques Lamarre, Matthew Lombardo, Theresa Rebeck, Edwin Sanchez and Jonathan Tollins authored the twisted tales that alternately bring the man (Matt Wilkas) and the woman (Jenn Harris) to a lonely bar on Christmas Eve, where the bartender (Ronn Carroll) helps lift their spirits. Each of the seven plays has a unique style and theme as the energetic actors infuse each character with vibrancy.  The first to arrive is grown-up Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” complete with eye-patch.  When the bartender asks, “Did you shoot out your eye?” Ralphie informs him that no, it happened on the job. He’s now a “certified safety instructor for the NRA.” Get the idea?

The production team at TheaterWorks consistently realizes every detail in a production.

Michael Schweikardt gives the audience a seedy, but cheerful bar room, Alejo Vietti costumes the cast flawlessly, John Lasiter lights the stage with seasonal depth, and Michael Miceli interweaves sound clips from the old standards with contemporary music as a counterpoint to the nostalgia these stories evoke. 

This is the third season for “Christmas on the Rocks,” and it deserves to become an adult Christmas classic. It is safe to say that the play(s) will make everyone feel the joy of the season, at the same time marveling at the actors’ skill and the best of holiday story-telling. This is one to definitely share with friends.

November 17, 2015

Talents Gather for Holiday Benefit

"4 X’Mas" by George Cameron Grant 
Mapleton Hall, Suffield Players
December 4, 5, & 6, 2015

An ensemble of 15 talented local thespians are gathering to produce four holiday themed one-acts, plus one bonus festive monologue, on December 4 and 5 at 8 pm, December 6 at 2 pm at Mapleton Hall in Suffield CT.

General admission; no reservations
$10 donation suggested

Man of La Mancha

Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT
through November 29, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

The triumph of hope over adversity is the timeless theme of the hit 1965 musical “Man of La Mancha.” But its play within a play structure and its dark prison setting can make it a hard act to pull off. The Opera House Players make an honorable effort.

The show’s book by Dale Wasserman is based on his non-musical 1959 television play “I, Don Quixote,” which tells the story of the fictional knight as enacted by Cervantes, author of the 1615 novel “Don Quixote,” and his fellow prisoners while they await their hearings before the Spanish Inquisition. With music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, the score’s most familiar number is the much-recorded “The Impossible Dream,” but it also features many other memorable tunes.

Those familiar with John Baran as the host of “As Schools Match Wits” will be pleasantly surprised to find what a credible Don Quixote he makes, bringing solid acting skills and a strong singing voice to the title role. That this engagement ends a 30-year absence from the stage after training at the Hartt School and some early musical theatre credits makes his performance all the more impressive.   

But the best reason to see this “La Mancha” is the stunning account by Erica Romeo as Aldonza, the self-described “kitchen slut” whom Quixote transforms into his lady Dulcinea. Her contempt for the muleteers who regularly abuse her makes “It’s All the Same” a bone-chilling scream of outrage, and her disbelief of Quixote gives “Aldonza” a poignantly cutting edge.

Jim Metzler does fine work as the Padre, and Brad Shephard as the innkeeper brings his usual vocal heft to the “Knight of the Woeful Countenance.” Carl Calhoun sings a delightful “I Really Like Him,” but his rendition of Sancho Panza is otherwise under-characterized.

Moonyean Field’s costumes are distinctive, and musical director Steven Cirillo leads a stellar ensemble of three, with particularly atmospheric contributions from guitarist Daniel Hartington. Scene transitions are sometimes distractingly clunky.

Not a perfect “Man of La Mancha,” then, but worth seeing for at least Romeo’s outstanding performance.

November 10, 2015

Jesus Christ Superstar

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA
through November 21, 2015
by Stuart W. Gamble

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s modern rock-opera masterpiece “Jesus Christ Superstar” is electrifyingly staged by Exit 7 Players. Directed by Paul DiProto, it perfectly balances the epic and intimate moments of the greatest story ever told.

DiProto sets the final days of Jesus in the 21st century during the recent Occupy Wall Street events.  Jesus’ followers tweet against corporate greed. A slideshow depicts images of the disenfranchised with those of Gandhi. et al.  Placards that read “People not Profits” and “Occupy Everywhere” underscore this theme.

Although JCS is Jesus’ story, Judas’ inner conflict is equally compelling. Paula Cortis’ Judas’ internal suffering in “Heaven on Their Minds” and “Damned for All Time” show the conflict between the character’s loyalty to Jesus and fulfillment of the gospel. Cortis displays both superb vocals and shattering dramatic power. Wearing combat-like fatigues, she is the militant counterpoint to Jesus’ pacifism.

David Wallace is perfect as Jesus. From the musical’s opening to the very end, Wallace convinces the audience of Jesus’ suffering especially in the show-stopping “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say).” Wallace’s Jesus demonstrates both fear of death and a quest for answers.

The villains of the piece are played with menacing aplomb by Justin W. Smith, Erin Wallace, Gene Choquette, and Ryan Bird as, respectively, Caiaphas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod. Choquette’s  velvet-voiced Pilate, Wallace’s champagne-swilling Annas, and Smith’s stone-coldness, exude evil in their solos. The amusing, Vegas-style “King Herod’s Song” is performed with devilish-delight by Bird.

Nikki Wadleigh’s Mary Magdalene is purity incarnate. Her  arias “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” are underscored by Cliff Schofer’s flute and Kevin Barker’s percussion. Unfortunately, these iconic songs are placed down-stage right, making visibility difficult. Wadleigh’s duet with Peter (Michael Garcia) “Could We Start Again, Please?” provides a welcome reflective moment .

The 13-member ensemble is completely invested throughout. Their versatility is commendable. The guitar, bass, and synthesizer of Scott Sasanecki, Sheri Jyringi, Bill Martin, and Michael Rhealt blend well with the actors. Musical director Bill Martin, choreographer Melissa Dupont, lighting designer Frank Croke, costumer Judy Hemingway, and Croke and Mike Crowther’s set create a polished production.

Lloyd Webber’s 70’s classic may be familiar, but Exit 7’s current production proves that everything old is new again.

Haydn Trumpet Concerto

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
November 7, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

For the second concert of the SSO’s 72nd season and his own 15th season as music director, Kevin Rhodes gave the spotlight to two featured soloists from the orchestra in a varied program of two pieces from the baroque era, two from the classical period, and one from the 20th century.

The Overture from Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks” began the concert in grand style, with brass and winds in full cry for the stately opening, followed by scampering strings in a lighter Bouree dance rhythm. Strings alone then followed with a lovely rendition of Albinoni’s heartfelt “Adagio in G minor,” in welcome contrast to Handel’s boisterous romp.  
Thomas Bergeron

SSO principal trumpet Thomas Bergeron then stepped forward to center stage as soloist in Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major. The South Hadley native and veteran of the Springfield Symphony Youth Orchestra has performed widely with other classical and popular music ensembles, and is beginning his fifth season with the SSO. He dispatched the technical challenges of this virtuosic masterpiece with aplomb, and his lively playing in the opening and closing Allegros nicely complemented his quieter tone in the central Andante. 

The concert continued after intermission with a ravishing account of Copland’s “Quiet City,” a nocturnal meditation that featured Bergeron again on trumpet and SSO principal oboist Nancy Dimock on English horn. The surprising delicacy of Bergeron’s instrument and the haunting beauty of Dimock’s playing were warmly supported by the SSO strings.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, the least often heard of his last three symphonies, brought the evening to a triumphant close. Its optimistic energy belies the financial difficulties that plagued the composer when it was written in 1788. As in the preceding Handel and Haydn works, Rhodes led the full SSO in the Mozart, but his careful balances and close attention to detail ensured that all three performances never sounded heavy-handed. From the lush opening Adagio and sprightly Allegro, the flowing Andante, the pert minuet and trio, to the exuberant finale, the intimacy of a period ensemble rewardingly met the richness of a modern symphony orchestra.

Bold Beethoven

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
November 5–7, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

If you were an expert conductor and pianist, what better composer could you find to showcase your skills than the protean Beethoven, who played and conducted his own piano concertos on multiple occasions? Returning to Hartford after his triumphant HSO debut last season, that’s exactly what guest conductor William Eddins did.

His all-Beethoven program opened with an exciting account of the dramatic “Coriolan” Overture, inspired by a then recent play about the ancient Roman warrior Coriolanus. Eddins is a full-body conductor, and his vivid gestures (with no score, baton, or podium all evening) drew committed and responsive playing from every section of the orchestra, which was reduced throughout the concert to about 40 musicians, the size of a classical orchestra in Beethoven’s tine.

William Eddins
For the third piano concerto, Eddins was seated at the keyboard center stage facing the orchestra with his back to the audience. Beethoven’s only concerto in a minor key, it opens in a somber mood, which is sustained through much of the long first movement and most of the Rondo finale. In the radiant central Largo, the conductor/pianist caressed the keys in contrast to his more thundering approach in the opening movement and a lighter, more playful touch in the finale. Whether by nodding his head, leaning his torso, or waving his arms when free, Eddins maintained steady contact with the musicians and elicited a stirring orchestral performance to underline his incisive piano playing.

Bypassing the more often played odd-numbered symphonies, he closed the concert after intermission with a robust rendition of Beethoven’s eighth and most joyous symphony. Moderate tempos in all three pieces on the program gave the music time to breathe and highlighted details not always heard at faster speeds. The blustering bravado of the opening Allegro, the bubbly humor of the Allegretto, the pastoral charm of the minuet and trio, and the rollicking spirit of the monumental finale were all brilliantly realized by conductor and orchestra.

It was heartening to see an even slightly more diverse than usual audience welcoming this African American superstar back to the Belding Theater. Another encore, please.

November 2, 2015

Rear Window

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through November 15, 2015
by Shera Cohen

You’ve seen the movie (Hitchcock, Stewart, binoculars, wheelchair) – a classic. Now see the play. Well, that really can’t happen because Hartford Stage has the casting and marketing genius to achieve a complete sell out.

The movie and play share the same title, not much else. Yes, there’s a murder, body parts, voyeurism, and snippets of lives of obscure people. We have our erstwhile hero. Jimmy’s everyman charm has been replaced by a reclusive alcoholic. Where is Grace Kelly or any swell-looking smart blonde to match strategies and banter cute witticism with Jimmy? Albeit, an attractive young African-American man fills that void, but for a completely different purpose that strains the story line. “Rear Window” should stand alone as near-perfect as it is or how it is remembered, without adding broad subtexts of racism, police brutality, power or lack thereof of the press, and homosexuality.

McKiley Belcher III & Kevin Bacon
If only Hartford Stage’s play had a different title, the audience would have different expectations. This “Rear Window” is essentially a compilation of the movie’s script and the life of its writer, Cornell Woolrich – a man with more than his share of demons. Since few know of Woolrich, the main character is a man who even fewer care about because the text does not give the audience enough to decipher about this man.

It is painful to write any derogatory words aimed at Kevin Bacon -- T.H.E. movie star of the memorable “A Few Good Men” and “Apollo 13,” his award-winning “Taking Chance,” and the hysterically funny “Tremors.” Yes, “Tremors.” Bacon throws himself into the role of Hal Jeffries as much as any skilled actor can possibly do. As hurting as Hal is, he is superficial. Bacon needs dialogue to express his character that just isn’t there. It is only in some scenes with McKiley Belcher III (a promising actor) as Sam, that the people onstage become…well…real people.

“Rear Window” is film noire set to stage, delivered loud and clear as the screeching rush of trains on railroad tracks and dingy neon marquee against dirty grey bricks create the period. The set is amazing (such an overused word), but no synonym suffices. As the play quickly moves from scene to scene, the staging becomes even more amazing if that can even be possible. The star of “Rear Window” is scenic designer Alexander Dodge, who can share the accolades with sound designer Jane Shaw and lighting designer York Kennedy.

October 20, 2015

Faithfully: The Music of Journey

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
October 18, 2015
by Eric Sutter

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra Pops concert series touched off with a unifying force in the sound of the Journey tribute band “Faithfully.” Power ballads mixed with rockers to create a hypnotic effect of heightened appreciation of the glorifying freedom in the spirit of connection to the music and to each band member. As the audience's instinctual attraction to the music grew, it seemed as if the collective unconscious manifested in the music. Somehow, the sounds became ever more commanding to a point of spiritual awareness and clarity.

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra joined the six-member band in celebration, which multiplied the positive vibe. Guest conductor James Fellenbaum was marvelous at keeping the Orchestra in the Rock 'n' Roll mix. Premier rock songs "Anyway You Want It" and "Wheel In The Sky" expanded the good atmosphere outward until it seemed every note of music cried out for freedom.

Notable guitar solos galore included one especially upbeat extended single jam to "Stone In Love" by the amazing Dan Kalisher. Good balance to sound was added by the Symphony strings that enhanced the emotions. Intense vocal harmonies complemented superb lead singers Jesse Bradman and Alisha Zalkin's performances. The delicate "Open Arms" was well done with keyboards, woodwinds, and strings elevating the musical experience.

The band started the second half in a similar clear melodic formula with the dramatic "Lights" sung by Zalkin. Bradman's suppliant take on "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" surged with youthful love. The prominence of keyboardist Will Herrington added to the creative force measurably as did his lead vocal on "Foolish Heart." The exhilarated musical moments of "Faithfully" gave a completely positive mood to all in the audience. Steve Perry would be proud. The rhythm section kicked in once again to "Don't Stop Believin'" which reinforced the mutual connection between the music and the masses in an awestruck ending of excitement.

This was one of the best Pops concerts and made one wish the house rocked full.

October 17, 2015

A Wonderful Life

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddem, CT 
through November 29, 2015
by R.E. Smith

Like many film to stage translations, “A Wonderful Life” must decide whether it is going to compete with or complement its celluloid predecessor or forge a path entirely of its own. In this case, the addition of songs to a faithful narrative serves as compliment but leaves the audience wondering if that was enough to justify the endeavor.

In small town Bedford Falls, NY, George Bailey is a decent, kind man with dreams that have been thwarted by the very goodness that defines him. In a desperate hour, when he regrets the course his life has taken, heavenly intervention will allow him to see what the world would have been like without him. Though the film is inextricably linked to Christmas, the story really has very little to do with that specific season and this interpretation downplays the association even more: no need to fear seeing a yuletide show in October.

First produced in 1986, the music is by Joe Raposo, an Emmy & Grammy winner, who wrote over 1000 songs for Sesame Street. The book and lyrics are by Sheldon Harnick, of “Fiddler on the Roof” fame. “In a State,” a jaunty Charleston number, brightens the stage with peppy choreography and youthful energy, though it does little to drive the story. In the same scene, “A Wonderful Life,” nicely incorporates the underlying theme. Both are winningly performed by Josh Franklin as Sam Wainwright, George’s dashing friend (and reminder of life outside the town).

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
”I Couldn’t Be With Anyone But You” is a lovely ode to the comfort and foibles of marriage, sung by Mary to George. That song, as well as ”Not What I Expected” allows the talented Kirsten Scott the opportunity to add much-needed dimension to her character. Duke Lafoon plays George, with a subtle nod to Jimmy Stewart, but in no way an imitation. George is not a perfect man; he is good-hearted but frustrated at every turn and Lafoon plays all facets masterfully.

As always with Goodspeed, the staging, musicianship, and performances are all top notch. The sentiment is certainly sincere and the show’s message is a positive one. Movie fans will not have their memories tarnished and theatre fans will appreciate Goodspeed’s continued mission to reviving forgotten American works.

October 15, 2015


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through October 18, 2015
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Dean van Meere
“Extra, extra, read all about it.” Read this review and, undoubtedly, many others that appear this week, and don’t hesitate to buy tickets to “Newsies.” The immature sounding title and a large cast of young actors who, perhaps, haven’t yet earned their wings might connote that this musical is kids’ stuff. Hardly. “Newsies,” based on the newsboy strike of 1899 in NYC, is gritty, dramatic, and serious in telling its story of David and Goliath (a line in the play).

Mix a little bit “Oliver” with “Billy Elliott,” then blend the two in a big Disneyesque bowl of reality and dreams, hardship and hope, charmingly flawed handsome young guy and plucky intelligent beautiful young lady and the result is delicious.

Act I kicks off with an all-boy song and dance. From there the story, character connections, pace, and purpose revv up. Act II finds a balance of poignant solos and full-chorus action, romance, dance, and laughter.

Joey Barreiro plays Jack (our lead) with charisma and street smarts. Not until Act II is his character challenged to sing his heart out. He does, and nails it. Morgan Keene (girl reporter aka Jack’s sweetheart) could very well play any Disney heroine. Yet this gingham gal separates herself from the pack in “Watch What Happens” – a Sondheim-like fast talking song. Ah, she’s no Ariel.

This musical has so many elements that make it a success, notably the sets and staging. It is difficult to believe that this touring company [say what you will about bus & truck shows, but Bushnell brings in Broadway-quality] mounts such a big musical on the day of opening night. Giant scaffolding, swinging up, down, sideways, create every one of the often-changing sets. The multi-fold arrangements of apparatus of metal and man (male dance ensemble of 25+ ) should be given credit of as one of the “leads.”          

Choreographer Christopher Gattelli is a magician. Of course, large dance numbers are expected – why else are there some 30 or so characters on the stage at one time? Yet, the footwork goes above and beyond the predictable. The tap is sleek, the gymnastics are Olympian, the fighting is fresh, and the show stopping “Seize the Day” is breath-taking.

Don’t be surprised if, before orchestra plays its final notes, the audience bolts out of their seats for a standing ovation.

2nd Western Mass Film and Media Exchange

October 23, 2015
Holyoke, MA

The Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative (BFMC) is pleased to announce that the 2nd Annual Western Massachusetts Film and Media Exchange will feature a diverse series of panels and workshops of interest to the film and video community and the business community who want to utilize film and video in their marketing and social media efforts. The Exchange will take place on Friday, October 23rd from 9:30am – 5:30pm at the Baystate Health’s Conference Center, Holyoke, MA.

Cynthia Wade, the Academy Award-winning Berkshires-based filmmaker will be the Keynote Speaker. Wade won the Oscar for her short documentary “Freeheld,” the story of a New Jersey police officer who was diagnosed with cancer and wanted to give her benefits to her same-sex partner. The acclaimed documentary has been turned into a motion picture of the same name.

Other panels during The Exchange will be geared to filmmakers and their interests. Entertainment lawyer, Fred Fierst, who led a standing room only seminar last year, will bring a panel of lawyers and filmmakers to discuss every legal aspect of getting a project done – from concept to script, to raising the funding, to attaching cast and crew and dealing with the unions, to negotiating and closing the distribution deal, tax credits, and gap financing.

Another panel, “Funding Your Film” will include with leaders in crowdfunding and how to source local production grants.

Several panels will be geared to all of the attendees.

October 12, 2015


TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through November 8, 2015
by Jarice Hanson

Wendy Wasserstein
TheaterWorks is celebrating their thirtieth anniversary season and the tenth anniversary of Wendy Wasserstein’s final play, “Third.” Director Rob Ruggiero impeccably blends the talents of his lighting, set design, sound design, and costuming team in this thoughtful, evenly paced production. He honors the timelessness of Wasserstein’s play by focusing on the personal story she wanted to tell shortly before she died of cancer in 2006.

Actress Kate Levy keenly projects the multiple dimensions of Laurie Jameson, a professor who questions hegemonic masculinity and political power while struggling with her father’s dementia, her two daughters’ life choices, a friend with cancer, and her own entry into the third stage of life opens the show with a monolog in which she lectures her students to “challenge the norms.” While the character hopes to open the others’ eyes to what she sees as “truth” in literature, she is really speaking about Wasserstein’s own challenge to the norms of theatre, patriarchy, and politics. Levy, who portrays enigmatic characters beautifully, is flawless.

Laurie accuses a student of plagiarizing his paper on “King Lear” at an elite New England school (a thinly disguised Amherst College), reasoning that young Woodson Bull III is a white male who is used to a life of privilege. Preferring to be called “Third,” the young man challenges his accuser in an academic honest hearing, and Laurie is forced to reevaluate her search for what might be her ultimate truth.  In a debut performance, Conor M. Hamill is believable as Third. Olivia Hoffman as Laurie’s daughter and Andrea Gallo as a professor friend with cancer who embraces life are original characters who defy convention. Laurie’s father, heartbreakingly played by Edmond Genest, reminds the audience of the tenuousness of the mind and the many roles we play in our worldly lives.

“Third” is the type of play that gives the audience member much to ponder and much to appreciate. The play requires some serious thinking, reminding its patrons that theatre often tells the universal story of life, the quest for meaning, and coming to terms with what is learned along the way.

The Mousetrap

Suffield Players, Suffield, CT
through October 24, 2015
by Stuart W. Gamble

A mild autumn evening, friends enjoying snacks sitting in cabaret-style seats, a warm family-like atmosphere prevails, hardly the stuff that murder mysteries are made of, but not so at the Suffield Player’s season opening show, “The Mousetrap.”

Christie’s chestnut is given a fresh transfusion in SP’s production. The play opens as Mollie Ralston (Rachel Berezin) and her husband Giles (Steve Wandzy)  prepare to open their home, Monkswell Manor (a former monastery), to paying guests as a sort of rooming house. The Ralstons are a decidedly normal couple in their first year of marriage. Their guests, however, prove to be an eccentric, and in some cases, a downright bizarre bunch: there’s the foppish and fey Christopher Wren (Shaun O’Keefe); the blowsy, domineering Mrs. Boyle (Kelly Seip); the stiff-upper-lipped Major Metcalf (Mark Proulx); the dour, androgynous Miss Casewell (Brianna Stronk); and the truly strange Senor Paravicini (Roger Ochs).

If this sounds like a somewhat altered game of Clue, that’s because Christie was one of the earliest practitioners of the disparate group of people trapped together in an isolated setting. Into this seemingly unrelated group of strangers, comes Detective Sergeant Trotter (Reid Sinclair), who despite his youth and inexperience, tries to unravel the mystery before another homicide occurs.

“The Mousetrap” is truly an ensemble piece and all eight actors work well together. O’Keefe steals the show with his joyful performance as the superficially funny, but ultimately deeply troubled Christopher Wren who spouts off such lines as “I like murder” with gleeful abandon. Seip is also a standout as the ill-fated Mrs. Boyle. Her no-nonsense dismissal of the strange goings-on as “melodramatic rubbish” adds much humor to the more melodramatic moments. Sinclair offers perhaps the most complex performance in a truly difficult role. His detective keeps the audience engrossed in the Act II. Sinclair’s accent is very authentic as well, revealing his lower-class origin.

The stately yet cozy drawing room setting has been meticulously designed by Art Christian and assisted by Konrad Rogowski and Kelly Seip right down to the circa 1950’s radio and telephone. Boutin’s costumes range from “veddy British” tweeds to brightly colored argyles.

Suffield Player’s respectable production is obviously a labor of love for the group. With over 40 people in the program credited for their contributions, SP exemplifies the meaning of a theatre community.

October 8, 2015


Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield MA 
through October 18, 2015 
by Barbara Stroup

Freshman year of college - in Cairo -  for a devout American Muslim girl begins with airport chaos until her “all-American” Egyptian roommate plucks her from the crowd. Offers of punk rock and MacDonald’s from her new friend, Samar (light-skinned in tight jeans and baseball cap and chatting amiably on her cell) surprise “Inty” (dark-skinned, head covered). These distinguishing features help fuel the confusion (and attempts at resolution) of the identity theme that is the basis of this striking new play by Tom Coash.

Photo by Kevin Sprague
Impeccably acted by Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Hend Ayoub, their instant bond seems believably sincere. They address their differences carefully at first, but as Samar puts Inty into her “educational” video on head coverings and veils, they discover the depths of difference and the unaddressed attitudes that their backgrounds have carved into them. Their friendship develops with wonderful energy, even as it is challenged by their faith, their nationalities, their religious practices, and their cultural imbalances.

Video displayed behind the actors moves the narrative and unfailingly creates mood and place. It is so well done that it seems essential to the script. There is only one rough spot there: the use of soliloquy for Samar to describe a rally gone very wrong requires sustained shock and terror of the actress over too many lines.

The writing - a skilled combination of passion, positioning, territoriality, and humor - makes these characters into people one wants to know better, and makes them people in whom one can place hope for the future of the planet.

The Homecoming

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA 
through October 25, 2015
by Shera Cohen

Michelle McGrady Photography
No one with any sense of normalcy would purposely return to the home of Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming.” Or, one would hope not. Yet, there is a seemingly mundane atmosphere, language, and comings and goings that might apply to any home; i.e. there’s yelling, lousy breakfasts, and assigned seating. Eric Hill directs Berkshire Theatre’s heavy-duty drama with much comedy, or in the reverse, a black and edgy comedy that borders on sinister, with a taut and deft hand.

These characters don’t make for a typical dysfunctional family. They are dysfunctional with a capital “D.” Max, the dad, is at the center of the messiness. Rocco Sisto (a stalwart character actor in the Berkshires) portrays the father, definitive in his ways and decision, until he immediately changes his mind. Sisto’s mannerisms and voice lay a harsh layer onto Max. Max’s sons are extreme opposites of each other and of Max. It’s a curious thought how different the play would be with a mother character. Joey Collins very successfully provides Lenny an eerie, slimy, macabre demeanor, so much so that the idea of running into Joey on the street would cause instant flight. The character of older brother Teddy gives actor David Barlow the opportunity to become a man smoldering inside. Something’s going to bust…we think. In smaller, yet important roles, are Rylan Morsebach as the youngest son Joey, and John Rothman as Max’s brother. What a lovely household held together by those with the Y chromosome.

In walks Tara Franklin, Teddy’s wife Ruth, at first shy, mousey, quite average. Teddy leaves the room, Joey enters, Ruth sheds her coat to reveal a fully-clothed, albeit femme fatal. Franklin’s smirks and especially her silences become the focal point, indeed, the point of power which she so easily steals from each of the others.

“The Homecoming” is chock full of secrets and implications that pit one character against another in a game. At times, this is not an easy play to watch. But, that is no excuse to dismiss Pinter (if you think you might not like his work). The unbelievably talented cast and crew make the production a feat.

Berkshire Theatre Group has made a smart decision (as have other theatres in the Berkshires) to extend its summer season into fall, especially for the leaf-peeper tourists.