Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 24, 2015

Engagements and Premieres

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through August 30, 2015
by Shera Cohen

As the Berkshires cultural summer winds down, the administrative staffs, crews, directors, actors, writers, and (not to be forgotten) hundreds of volunteer ushers should feel especially proud of this 2015 season. Of course, there are numerous reasons for which to take kudos. Let’s emphasize one that shines -- premieres of new plays; world premieres, United States, or regional. Here’s some math. The total number of first time (or in their infancy) plays and musicals scheduled at Barrington Stage, Shakepeare &Co., Williamtown Theatre, and Berkshire Theatre represented over 50% of the entire June - August season. The playwrights’ names were not familiar. Yes, a few tried ‘n true titles penned by O’Neill, Simon, and Shakespeare appeared on program book covers here and there. Yet, these familiar works were outnumbered by fresh works.

Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, G. B. Shaw’s first plays were presented on some stage, some where, at some time. The same holds true for these contemporary playwrights who presented their pieces on one of the four stages listed above, in the Berkshires, this summer.

Some plays seemingly lift off the page first time out of the computer. Most, however, need tweaking or rewriting.

Amanda Quaid, Photo by Kevin Sprague
Barrington Stage Company’s dark comedy “Engagements,” is the latest in the "world premiere" category. “Engagements” is also a play this reviewer recommends for rewriting. While most of the actors are quite good -- especially lead Amanda Quaid -- the problems fall to the plot which often and confusingly changes focus, and to the characters who are caricatures at best. All of that said, there might be another difficulty, which is that audience members in their 20’s will fully relate to the people onstage and “get it.” If reaching a niche market is the goal, then “Engagements” works...I think. You’d have to ask a 20-something.

While no one play is “for” everyone, it seems logical that the premise is meant to touch the audience in meaningful ways. “A Little More Alive” at Barrington earlier in the season did just that, and exceptionally well. The playwright was onsite, rewriting, whipping out new pages the day before opening night, as the actors learned lyrics. Now, that was a joy to watch -- both the process and the end result.