Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 11, 2016

Mark St. Germain, Playwright

Mark St. Germain, Playwright
The star of “Camping with Henry and Tom” and “Relativity”
by Shera Cohen

It wasn’t until seeing four plays by Mark St. Germain that I noticed the credit lines to the playwright.  Shame on me for not bee-lining to the writer’s name. To date, I have had the opportunity to experience eight St. Germain dramedies (comic dramas or dramatic comedies), the first at least a decade ago at TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT.

While few could ever be in the league of Shakespeare or Moliere (my #1 and #2 favorite playwrights), my #3 would be St. Germain. He jumps to the #1 slot if listing only those among the living. This gentleman, who I have only met from afar in a group setting, has created his own formula that works perfectly, play after play.

The common denominators seem to fall into three categories: history, humor, and humanity. While I can’t speak about every Mark St. Germain play, musical, and stories for children, I offer my own opinion on those that I have seen – nearly all at Barrington Stage Company (Pittsfield) or TheaterWorks (Hartford).

History:  Most of plays in the cadre of works are based on historic figures and/or events. None of the plots are literal, but more of “what could have happened” or “what if…”. Fictional biographies, this is where St. Germain excels. Some of these are real life characters; i.e. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, Dr. Ruth, Sigmund Freud, C.S. Lewis, and the Collyer brothers. The latter duo – who I had never heard of – was my introduction to this writer. Reclusive siblings whose claim to fame was their hoarding fetish seemed an odd story for a play. Yet, St. Germain created real and vulnerable men.

Camping with Henry & Tom
Humor:  A cord of humor runs through each play – sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, and sometimes uncomfortable. While “Becoming Dr. Ruth” and “The Fabulous Lipitones” offer many more out-right laughs from their audiences than the Collyers, most on St. Germain’s list of plays fall somewhat in-between. “Camping with Henry and Tom” (Barrington Stage, through 10/23/16), a fictitious outing of President Warren G. Harding, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford, probably never occurred. I really don’t care. The circumstances of post-WWI America, politics, inventions, and the future – all of which could have been laid on thick with doom and gloom – are donned with light touches at numerous points throughout. [Note: This play is so apropos to our 2016 election that it is almost frightening.]

Humanity:  Of course, St. Germain was no fly on the wall in any of these quasi-historic circumstances; the words all belong to the playwright. Even the so-called “bad guys” are human. Each character, even those in minor roles, come through clear in 3D. Without hesitation, “Best of Enemies” rings true and fair to the protagonists, era, and circumstances. Set in 1971 North Carolina, the subject is integration. White male vs. Black woman. They judge each other. The audience judges both. Powerful stuff. Initially, each character is a representative for his or her race and beliefs. This man and woman quickly become real individuals, warts and all. On occasion, I Google or email Barrington Stage, asking about the play’s status. Is it on Broadway…yet?

I will soon see my ninth Mark St. Germain play, “Relativity” at TheaterWorks (10/7/16 to 11/20/16). It features Richard Dreyfuss as Albert Einstein. Prior to its opening date, the play has already been extended two weeks. Certainly, an A List movie star like Dreyfuss is a huge draw. I think a bonus in marketing “Relativity” is the playwright’s name. Watch for Mark St. Germain in the credits when choosing your next play.