Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 8, 2015

One Acts Are in Vogue

A Little More Alive
Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through August 8, 2015

I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and Didn’t Even Smile
Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through August 15, 2015
by Shera Cohen

Oftentimes, playgoers feel cheated when they spend money on tickets for a one-act play. However, there is absolutely no reason to reject these shorter plays, as proved by the six that I have seen this summer season in the Berkshires.

Let’s hone in on two particular one-acts at both Barrington Stage Company and Berkshire Theatre Group. Their commonality is that the playwrights of “A Little More Alive” and “I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and Didn’t Even Smile,” respectively, are young, their plays are fresh out of the computers (“Alive’s” second performance, “Train’s” world premiere), the topics are contemporary, the pace fast, casting choices brilliant, and the undefined endings “hope.”

The differences? Well, one is a musical, one is not.

"A Little More Alive"
What should the family do post-funeral? How should each member heal separately and together when the lynchpin no longer exists, replaced by secrecy -- not who-dun-it mysteries but crucial yet mundane questions that maybe need answers? “Alive” is smartly staged with important, foreshadowing video of this family in its early years. These are complex individuals, portrayed emotionally by actors who sing especially meaningful and well-enunciated lyrics. Thank you.

Photo by Michelle McGrady
The family characters of “Train” are a bit screwed up in a natural sort of way. Does that make sense? Bottom line, the norm for every family is dysfunctional. For good or bad, they are all quite real 3D people. “Train” evenly balances humor with drama as the audience laughs with the characters, not at them. A series of clever scenes inside of a car literally and figuratively smoothly drive the play to its conclusion.

It is important to note that these one-acts are mounted in smaller venues. Minimal sets roll in and out on castors. Audiences are smart; we know exactly where we are in the moment. Many first-time, experimental, and/or theatre lab plays have been born on these stages. “Freud’s Last Session” (Barrington) instantly comes to mind, not only because the play and production were so outstanding that I saw it twice, but because “Session” headed straight on to off-Broadway. By the way, there are no bad seats in either house.

Something else in common, and my only critique, would be to change the plays’ titles. I’m bad at writing headlines, but I’d try “Letters in the Box” (“Alive”) and maybe “Driving Insane” or “Skin Deep” (“Train”). Just some thoughts, but I defer to the playwrights.

Upon leaving the theatres, my friends and I agreed that “Alive” and “Train” have glowing futures.