Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 30, 2018

REVIEW: Sevenars Music Festival, The Piazzolla Trio

Sevenars Music Festival, Worthington, MA
July 29, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

The Piazzolla Trio
This family-based music festival, founded by Robert and Rolande Schrade and named after the first letter of their names and those of their five children, celebrates its 50th anniversary season this summer. Most programs feature at least one family member, and in this season’s fourth concert that was pianist Lynelle James, a granddaughter of the founders, along with her colleagues in the Piazzolla Trio, Israeli-American violinist Anat Malkin Almani and founding Albanian-American cellist Gjilberta Lucaj.

They led off with an elegant account of Mozart’s B-flat Trio, K. 502, written at the height of his thirty-year-old maturity in 1786. All three were lively in the opening “Allegro,” flowing in the serene “Larghetto,” and fleet in the closing “Allegretto” movement. Following in stark contrast and closing the concert’s first half was Rachmaninoff’s early Trio Elegiaque No. 1, written in 1892, when he was still a nineteen-year-old student. The trio’s intense performance of this 15-minute single-movement piece found more passion and depth in it than either of the readily available recordings.

The program’s second half, including a brief encore, consisted entirely, and unsurprisingly, of music by the trio’s namesake, and it was a rare treat to hear it in such a concentrated dose. As Lucaj told the audience, Astor Piazzolla’s legendary French music teacher, Nadia Boulanger, identified and nurtured his gift to create a new form of classical music based on the tango rhythms of his native Argentina.

This gift was immediately apparent in the trio’s luscious rendition of the seductive “Oblivion,” one of Piazzolla’s most popular tangos. The lesser-known tango “Muerte del Angel” (The Angel’s Death) begins with an inventive three-voice fugue, which was grippingly executed by the trio.

The major work they presented was the composer’s colorful “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” which in their three-part structures replicate the design of Vivaldi’s famous “Four Seasons” cycle of three-movement concertos two centuries earlier. The sound effects cleverly reflect the weather of each season, which the trio depicted with technical prowess and interpretive finesse.

The free home-baked treats during Sevenars intermissions further deepen the joy of music-making in this exquisitely intimate environment.

July 29, 2018

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through July 29, 2018
by Josephine Sarnelli

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, with its Afrocentric focus blended with modern dance movements, performed three very different offerings in its 90-minute program. The five woman and four men were individually expressive in their solos, but cohesive as an ensemble.  As a choreographer, Brown remained true to his concept that dance can give “evidence” to the past (hence, the name of his ensemble) by celebrating African roots and traditions in his works.

Photo by Christopher Duggan
Danced to the inspiring music of human rights activists Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, “Come Ye” was by far the most powerful and dynamic of the performance pieces.  The West African steps were skillfully performed, but with a freshness when juxtaposed with modern dance forms. Spirituality is an underlying theme in Simone’s lyrics:  “Come ye who would have peace … who still have hope …. who would have love …” and these words were eloquently expressed through the dancers’ bodies.

The sociopolitical relevance of the music and dance was further enhanced by the projection of a documentary video by Robert Penn behind the dancers.  The black and white footage portrayed the legacy of several cultural heroes, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.  It was moving to see these young dancers perform in front of the historical backdrop of the civil rights marches, bringing to life Simone’s words, “It’s time to take a stand.”

“Dancing Spirit” was choreographed as a tribute to Judith Jamison, best known as the Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey.  The soloist’s white dress was reminiscent of Martha Graham, as she gave it life with her leg movements.  Although well executed by the ensemble, this piece was overshadowed by the masterfully developed “Come Ye,” perhaps because it was only an excerpt of the original choreography and could not be fully appreciated in its shortened form. There was a repetitiveness of the steps and motions that dulled its impact.

The debut of “New Conversations” was a collaboration of Brown with jazz composer Arturo O’Farrill.  The newly developed score was performed by Resist, consisting of O’Farrill on piano, two percussionists, a flutist and tuba player.  The tuba was not an enhancement to this otherwise interesting jazz score.

The costuming for the women was unique, in that each was a different design but made of the same fabrics and hues.  Two of the three men in this production wore identical pharaonic skirts, which neither seemed in keeping with the other costumes nor with the theme of the dance.

The final bows brought forth all the dancers, musicians, the composer, and the famed choreographer. It was truly a celebration of community.

July 27, 2018

REVIEW: TheaterWorks, Hand to God

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT.
through August 26
by Jarice Hanson

“Hand to God” is an irreverent, raucous, and hilarious satire on religion, grief, and sexual mores. Robert Askins’ play features five actors and a demonic hand puppet named Tyrone. The play won an Obie and was nominated for five Tony Awards in 2015, including “Best Play.”

The story is set in Cypress, Texas, in a church basement where Margery (Lisa Velten Smith) is developing a puppet ministry under the auspices of Pastor Greg (Peter Benson). Only three teens attend; bad-boy Timmy (Miles G. Jackson), pretty Jessica (Maggie Carr), and Margery’s quiet son, Jason (Nick LaMedica), the creator/operator/voice of Tyrone, who eventually “possesses” Jason. We learn that Margery and Jason have recently undergone a serious family tragedy that influences their behavior toward each other and provides the impetus for the relationships that ensue.

Photo by Lanny Nagler
The message of the story shines but the cast shines even brighter. The talented actors in this production brilliantly directed by Tracy Brigden are spot-on with their characters, accents, and comedic expressions. Each shines in their role and evokes empathy that helps defy stereotypes. Without a doubt, Nick LaMedica stands out as he embodies the shy young man who is fighting with the satanic hand puppet, Tyrone. LaMedica has the overt physicality and vocal dexterity to make you believe he and Tyrone are two separate entities. 

The cast and play are beautifully rendered on Luke Cantarella’s revolving set that includes clever projections, complemented by Matthew Richards’ lighting and Elizabeth Atkinson’s sound design. Vibrant colors are enhanced by Tracy Christensen’s costumes, and the puppets, designed and constructed by Stephanie Shaw, look like they are capable of good and evil.

It should be mentioned that this play might not be suitable (or palatable) for everyone. TheaterWorks warns that “This play is rated R for Rude, Raunchy, and Riotously Funny,” this reviewer thought it was, but there were some patrons who found it a little too graphic and “over the top” for their tastes. Upon entering the theater, there is a billboard stating, “Does life stink? We have a pew for you.” If you like that type of humor (and get it), then you might enjoy this show very much. One leaves the theatre with great appreciation for the originality of the script and the incredible skill of the actors and production team. This would be an easy show to do badly, but TheaterWorks gets it just right.

July 26, 2018

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, The Chinese Lady

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through August 11, 2018
by Rebecca Phelps

Photo by Eloy Garcia
In 1834, the first female Chinese immigrant, 14-year-old Afong Moy, was sold by her father to the Carne brothers, American traders in Chinese goods, in order to “perform” on Broadway for the public for 25 cents a head. Here, in her room, she walks (teeters) on her 4 inch long bound feet, eats with chopsticks and recites in Chinese. She doesn’t understand English and her audiences don’t understand Chinese. She is purely an exotic object to be gawked at in the same manner that “Siamese twins,” or contortionists were displayed at sideshows, by people like P.T. Barnum, who eventually brought Afong Moy into his shows. Lloyd Suh’s play, telling Afong Moy’s true story, was commissioned by Ma-Yi Theater Company and is performed at the BSC’s smaller St. Germain Stage, a perfect venue for this intimate, two person production.

In addition to Afung Moy, wonderfully played by Shannon Tyo, the other character in the show is Atung, her translator, played by Daniel K. Isaac. Atung is the funny, sometimes ironic counter weight to Afong Moy’s sweet sincerity. Sadly, Mr. Isaac displays the bowing, nodding and smiling that are so familiar as mischaracterizations of Asian immigrants.

Afong’s encounter with President Andrew Jackson provides us with a window into the discrepancy between what is actually being said, and how Atung chooses to translate the conversation. Through Suh’s brilliant contrivance, we understand both the original Chinese words (spoken in English) and Atung’s translation to the President. Afong’s sophisticated, nuanced Chinese response is reduced to simplistic, pidgin English. Given our current delicate international negotiations this scene becomes all the more relevant and timely! A shocking moment of Jackson’s startling lack of sensitivity is illustrated when he asks to see and feel Afong’s bound feet, considered to be an intimate and deeply private part of a Chinese woman’s body.

As the story progresses, Afong Moy (and the audience) becomes more and more aware of and incensed by, the waves of Chinese immigrants to this country throughout the 19th century, and how they were excluded from becoming citizens even as they were building the railroads; a history that is not generally well known or taught in school.

This play takes place in one room, Atong’s home from age 14 on into her 70’s. The atmospheric music, costuming, lighting, and use of one huge curtain provide us with the sense of time passing. It is a fascinating piece of theater and history, beautifully and bravely told.

REVIEW: Tanglewood, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 23, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

Except for a few veterans who may return for a second or third season, the TMCO is a new orchestra every summer, when it comes together for eight weeks. Advanced students at the start of their musical careers present professional-level performances of music ranging from the standard classical repertoire to rarely heard material to world premieres. This concert featured one piece from each category.

Programmed as part of Tanglewood’s “Bernstein Centennial Summer,” the seldom heard item which opened the evening was Leonard Bernstein’s “choreographic essay” based on his 1946 ballet “Facsimile.” The scenario depicts the attempts of a woman and two men to connect with each other, and the sharply contrasting moods of the Coplandesque score were dramatically rendered by the musicians under the dynamic leadership of Taiwanese conducting fellow Yu An Chang.

Gemma New
The first half of the concert closed with the world premiere of a TMC commission, Michael Gandolfi’s stunning cantata, “In America.” Asked to follow the model of Leonard Bernstein’s “Songfest” (on the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s August 4 program), Gandolfi set a variety of American texts for six vocal fellows and orchestra in a colorful, eclectic style. The whole ensemble was animated in the hilarious “In America We Coin a Phrase,” while soprano Elena Villalon was particularly affecting in Robert Kennedy’s “Even in Our Sleep,” and bass-baritone William Socolof delivered a poignant “My Friends,” by Cesar Chavez. New Zealand-born conducting fellow Gemma New led a riveting account.

The program’s established masterpiece, which followed intermission, was Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, commissioned in 1944 for the BSO by their conductor Serge Koussevitsky and completed in 1946. Despite moments of deep solemnity, its four movements capture the spacious feeling of optimism exuded by this “dean of American composers” in his prime, even incorporating his famous “Fanfare for the Common Man” to open the finale. TMC conducting faculty head Stefan Asbury inspired playing of technical finesse and passionate conviction from his young musicians.

Two more upcoming TMCO concerts this summer look equally enticing. Both in Ozawa Hall, they feature: music of Ruder, Ades, Barry, and Lutoslawski, led by TMC conducting fellows and BSO “artistic partner” and composer Thomas Ades (July 30); and music of Schreker, Haydn, and Lutoslawski, led by fellows and BSO music director Andris Nelsons (August 13).

July 25, 2018

PREVIEW: TurnPark Art Space, A New Sculpture Park & Cultural Hub

TurnPark Art Space, West Stockbridge, MA
by Carol Bousquet

By one definition, “Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions.” The same can be said of TurnPark Art Space, in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. TurnPark is billed as a new Sculpture Park in the Berkshires. After visiting, one discovers it is so much more, perhaps even world-class in this category. Founders Igor Gomberg and Katya Brezgunova are offering a new and provocative multi-dimensional playground to art lovers of all ilk.

Gomberg and Brezgunova are daring and generous in their vision for this new space situated on 16-beckoning acres, once a granite quarry. They state, “Our main goal has not been to build a traditional collection of artworks, but rather to create a community of interesting people that we can share our life and inspiration with.” There is something for everyone, sculpture, dance, music, theater, science lectures, movies, interactive pieces for children.

Their inspiration was through a friendship with the renowned Russian sculptor Nikolay Silis in Moscow who they grew to know from the vibrant community he created. Silis said, "Art is the only way to recapture cosmos from chaos." Subsequently, the first sculpture in their park became Nikolay Silis’ Don Quixote With a Flower (1973, hammered copper)—the idealistic knight who responded to the world in a way that was consistent with his own vision. From that vision TurnPark was born.

There are numerous instances of the couple’s use of granite in large, small and creative ways throughout the park. The crushed granite strewn at the beginning of the meadow pathway is as if walking on diamonds. It is a propitious start to what evolves as an inspiring adventure.

Among the undulating meadows and forest there are a variety of stunning sculptures set among natures canvas. A sheer granite cliff drops 65 feet into a serene pond, a powerful natural backdrop to the park where on a ledge sits “Reflection” a sculpture also by Silis (1990, granite.) Utterly natural yet intentional the cliff serves as a vertical stage reflecting the sculpture into the pond below. Recently, the brave soprano Ariadne Greif scaled the cliff to get into position for a performance of composer Mátti Kovler’s musical theatre performance of Floating Tower, a collaboration marking the opening of celebrated Georgian-American visual artist and designer Uta Bekaia’s installation of “Inhabitants of Childhood.” The other musicians were tucked among the art and gardens, truly a “multi-dimensional” experience.

An amphitheater, set to one side of a sloping meadow, is beautifully framed by nature -- and art. Created with the help of local granite artisans, the structure becomes a model of the ancient Greek/Roman amphitheaters. The audience will sit among the sculptures of Konstantin Simun looking out as are his pieces titled, “Faces.” Picture it, your faces and his, together absorbing what there is to see. Joyful.

The indoor galleries feature sculpture and more. There is an exhibition displayed indoor and out by Gene Montez Flores (Landscapes 1980-2018). Montez Flores (Plainfield, MA) fell in love with Japanese architecture early in his career and, around that time, learned to weld. He continues to use his flame-cutting torch for his sumi-like lines cut in steel. The pieces inside the gallery are meant to be touched, opened; some resemble books and are so finely engineered, they’re as amazing open as closed. In the “barn” are multiple pieces including fine art lithographs, another collection with an amazing story about the first felt-tip markers ever to appear in Russia years ago inspiring Nikolai Silis’ Centaurs exhibit.

Attention was paid to the layout and architecture as well. Gomberg and Brezgunova worked closely with a team of designers and architects on the concept and masterplan for the project. It certainly shows. The main building construction mimics the lines of the Berkshire mountain range seen from the park.

A piece that is sure to coax a reaction to visitors is another by Silis, Lazy Ladies (1996, hammered copper).Three women repose among the trees as if suspended from above.

Look closely, Rain by Nazar Bilyk (2012, bronze, glass), features a raindrop on the face of the subject while looking up at the sky. 
Gomberg and Brezgunova learned during the process of buying the property that it was located on Moscow Road, a wonderful omen perhaps?

Berkshire sightseers will not want to miss this new art space; it’s worth a day trip on its own. Everything at TurnPark was thoughtfully and intentionally conceived to marry architecture, art, nature and performance; there is something for all ages. It truly is a space for education and discovery.

TurnPark Art Space is located at 2 Moscow Road, West Stockbridge, MA 01266 and is open Wednesday – Monday (closed Tuesday), from 10am - 6pm or for special events.

All photos by Carol Bousquet

REVIEW: A Week at Tanglewood, La Boheme, Emanuel Ax

by Shera Cohen

Photo by Hilary Scott
The rains came exactly six bars into Mimi’s aria in Act I of Puccini’s “La Boheme”. Thunder and lightning put a damper on Kristine Opolais’ lush soprano voice. While the elements immediately scattered many of the opera lovers seated on the lawn, nothing stopped the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of this best of the classics. The lawn folk rushed under the Shed’s awnings, into the gift shop, to their cars, or remained a bit soggy in their beach chairs. Fortunately, for all, the weather returned to its former status after about 10 – 15 minutes.

Welcome to Tanglewood, where the venue is equal in beauty, importance, and feeling to the music performed here. Two of the larger stages are The Shed and Osawa Hall. Numerous smaller sites dot the many acres, most used for education, rehearsals, and small concerts. Indeed, there is never silence at Tanglewood. Even the sounds of birds literally chime in from the rafters in the Shed. A few extra notes of nature never intruded on “La Boheme”.

Conducted by Maestro Andris Nelsons and directed by Daniel Rigazzi, the semi-staged work proved that opera doesn’t necessarily need the ancillary trappings to be perfect. The voices of the nine principles, Tanglewood Chorus, and BSO Children’s Choir created the full opera from opening notes to finale death scene [not a spoiler] with emotion and energy.

On this particular Tanglewood week, concerts were scheduled every day (morning, afternoon, and/or evening).

The day prior to “La Boheme,” pianist Paul Lewis exquisitely tackled another opera composer when he performed “Siegfried Idyll” by Wagner. The following day, another pianist, Yuja Wang, played Beethoven and Bernstein. This is “the year” of Leonard Bernstein, as 2018 would have marked his 100th birthday. Tanglewood staff have peppered the season with Bernstein music.

Usually, there’s not much to do, culturally speaking, on Monday nights. However, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra (different from BSO, but nearly as beautiful) challenged themselves with the best of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Well, Tuesdays are not very popular either. Wrong again. Tanglewood Music Center’s vocalists took the stage at Ozawa Hall.

An entire evening of Mozart followed. Four lengthy sonatas were performed as duets by notes pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Pamela Frank. Every seat in Osawa Hall was filled as well as a large expanse on the lawn behind the back wall. Both performers were confident and somewhat unassuming before their appreciative audience. “Maniax” t-shirts were apparently the clothing of choice, worn by many adult fans sitting in their “Maniax” section of the hall.

July 24, 2018

REVIEW: Philadanco: A non-dancer’s experience at Jacob’s Pillow

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
by Shera Cohen

Through the years, I have recommended that audience members who appreciate one genre take a chance on attending another. “But, I hate opera,” says a friend. Or, “Improv theatre is the last thing on my bucket list.” In my case, “I like dance, but don’t understand it.”

Seeing a performance by the award-winning Philadanco maintained my stance that I do like dance, yet for the most part, I didn’t understand it. However, I learned something very important – I don’t have to understand it. Understanding is not synonymous with acknowledging talent and artistry. For me, dance is a feeling that touches most of the senses. Philadanco did just that: sometimes with gentle lifts, other times with loud musical background.

Photo by Christopher Duggan
This troupe is currently preparing for its 50th anniversary in 2020. Philadanco is know for its exceptional dance performances around the world. Interestingly, the concert’s program book states that one of Philadanco’s missions is to train audiences. Of course, the company provides education and resources to those in dance, but acknowledging that audiences can take the opportunity to realize and value this genre is a surprise.

The dancers, all young and naturally energetic, performed four lengthy pieces. “Super 8!” literally kicked off the program in which nine men and women danced solo, in duets, and ensembles of various sizes. The piece’s description in the program speaks of “love, sensuality, seduction; communication between two brothers; and celebration of cohesive communities…” The tempo of the music matched the jumps and spins on the stage in the Doris Duke Theatre. “Super 8!” was, at times, harsh yet soothed by quiet contortions of these skilled performers.

“Endangered Species” was the one blatantly clear story of black men in the broader spectrum of modern society. Incarceration and bleak futures were offset with images of pride and strength as portrayed by six male dancers.
The near opposite in theme, execution, visualization, and music was “Suite en Blue.” Reminiscent of courtly manners of the 18th and 19th centuries, the form was classic ballet. Gentle sweeps on the floor, high spins, and bows made this work extremely accessible.

The program ended with Philadanco’s signature piece, “Enemy Behind the Gate.” “Enemy” is described in the program book as, “They look like you, they act like you, they live like you, but they are not one of you.” It was no wonder that the full ensemble, each dressed in black and white, made for a perfectly eerie experience.

For those already familiar with dance and Jacob’s Pillow, the remainder of the season offers many more wonderful and diverse concerts. For people like me: give dance a chance.

PREVIEW: Suffield Players, New Faces Theatre Program Returns

Suffield Players (now at Mapleton Hall,) Suffield, CT

Designed to teach, inspire and develop the talents of all participants, this summer educational program showcases new actors, directors and playwrights. New Faces 2018 will perform on August 18 at 2pm and 7 pm at Mapleton Hall in Suffield, CT.

Now in its seventh year, the program is a fresh approach to theatre, as many of the thespians involved are new to acting or new to Suffield Players, and the works being performed are new as well

Ten talented directors will lead the learning, and twenty actors from throughout Western MA and CT will participate.

The Playwrights whose new works will be performed are: Amanda Keating, Konrad Rogowski, Becky Schoenfeld and Joe Starzyk.

General admission only; no reservations required. There is a $10 donation suggested at the door.

July 23, 2018

REVIEW: Goodspeed Opera House, Oliver!

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT
through September 13, 2018
by Shera Cohen

Goodspeed’s production of “Oliver” is among its finest. There are numerous reasons why this musical deserves five stars; two of which are “Oliver” is rarely performed (perhaps because casting calls for a significant amount of boy actors), and Goodspeed is given the challenge of mounting a substantial piece on its small stage.

Charles Dickens’ classic, set to music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, is the saga of poor orphan Oliver Twist on the streets of London in the mid 1800’s. Most are familiar with the story of loneliness, innocence, courage, kindness, and family, all wrapped up in this one little boy and the lives of those he touches. “Oliver’s” plot is dark, yet with humor; its characters mundane, yet with individuality.

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The musical is packed with lots of songs; more than usual in this genre. Goodspeed’s director Rob Ruggiero (also of TheatreWorks in Hartford) has the difficulty and/or joy of balancing big ensemble numbers between solos and duets. Oftentimes, musical production staff prides themselves on one winning showstopper. Ruggiero, et al, have five, all extremely executed full-cast productions; i.e. “Consider Yourself” and “Oom-Pah-Pah.” James Gray’s choreography is purposely not state-of-the-art precision of today’s musicals, but a bit disjointed and seemingly scrappy, which adds authenticity to the era in which the story is set.

Offset between the ensemble song and dance pieces are many memorable solos; i.e. Oliver’s emotionally sweet “Where Is Love,” Fagin’s humorously agonizing “Reviewing the Situation,” and Nancy’s wrenchingly powerful “As Long as He Needs Me.” Indeed, the actors portraying these characters are the standouts. Elijah Rayman dons his Oliver with freshness that is not overly sweet. Donald Corren gives a naivety to Fagin that is unexpected and sincere. EJ Zimmerman expresses emotions of joy and love in Nancy that are undeniably sensitive.

In “reviewing the situation” there are other factors to applaud, especially: Michael Schweikardt’s 15 or so sets all formed from metal steps and bars; John Lasiter’s lighting that evokes the Bill Sykes character as the devil personified; conductor Michael O’Flaherty’s impressive orchestra; and The Kids – an ever-present 12 talented boys and girls.

Yet, speaking of kids, advice is to consider leaving younger children at home. Yes, “Oliver” is a musical about kids (and far more, including physical abuse and murder), but not necessarily for your children.

 “Oliver” is so brilliant that current audience members might “Be Back Soon.”

July 22, 2018

PREVIEW: Ventfort Hall, Tea & Talks Series

Ventfort Hall, Lenox, MA
through September 4, 2018
by Shera Cohen

Each summer, Ventfort Hall loads its calendar with more activities than the prior year. I try to include at least one program into my Berkshire vacations.

Ventfort’s Tea & Talks Series, held each Tuesday at 4pm, offers lectures (but not the boring kind) followed by a decadent English Tea Time gathering in the den and dining room, respectively. While I’m not a tea person (tea will forever remind me of being sick when I was a child – it was Mom’s go-to drink), I did discover that I am a cucumber sandwich person.

This week’s lecturer was author Paul Freedman, speaking about “Ten Restaurants that  Changed America”. Freedman’s hour-long talk and slideshow was chockfull of anecdotes on Delmonico’s, Schrafft’s, Mama Leone’s, and even Howard Johnson was delightful. Restaurants highlighted in his book were not necessarily “the best,” but were change-makers, each for a different reason. A Q&A followed, with audience members (the room was packed) asking about the origin of fast food, automats, and diners.

Tea & Talk presents a diverse range of subjects. Among those upcoming are: Invention of the American Art Museum, The Winchester, World’s Fairs, Photographer Henry Coit Perkins, Anne Morgan, and ends with Mar-a-Lago.

REVIEW: Williamstown Theatre Festival, Artney Jackson

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 22, 2018
by Shera Cohen

Bravo to Williamstown Theatre Festival for a season full of world premieres, one of which is “Artney Jackson” by James Anthony Tyler.

The story represents a contemporary slice of life, in an oft-seen location, with people who you encounter every day, and conversation about mundane tales, and gossip. Sound familiar? Picture the boring break room at a cable television, six employees, a refrigerator, vending machine, and not much more. Except for a table and chairs in the center, the focus is the characters – four men and two women, various ages, none of whom are high on the ladder to success, all African-American.

“Artney” is a pleasant little play, reflecting the period of one workweek, and 90-minutes in length. It’s not a story that audience members will ponder after exiting the theatre. But, that’s okay. There’s always joy in watching fine acting, especially by young actors; i.e. Joshua Boone, Christopher Livingston, and Alfie Fuller.

Ray Anthony Thomas
Ray Anthony Thomas, in the role of Artney, portrays head of the break room, father figure, and regular guy. In the lead role, Thomas, along with Director Laura Savia, is giving to his fellow actors, permitting each to prove his/her gift of talent. Thomas, a Broadway actor, quickly becomes the conduit who the other characters respect.

“Artney” stands on the edge of cliché, but never falls. Much of the very humorous chit-chat dialog meanders into serious territory; i.e. the fragility of parenting an adult schizophrenic, “acceptance” of age vs. youth in the employment milieu, and the bravado of making it alone in the world.  The six actors cause their audience to root for their characters, knowing that there will be bumps along the way for each.

REVIEW: Barrington Stage, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through July 28, 2018
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Daniel Rader
For those who might shy away from attending Barrington Stage’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” because they had never seen Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” rest assured that, while the latter might help explain characterizations, it is not necessary. This play stands on its own.

Ibsen’s play ends with its female protagonist closing a door. Lucas Hnath’s play begins with the same woman opening this door. While the stories were penned approximately 140 years apart, the current play’s date is set only 15 years apart. Yet, has much changed in the 140 or 15 years? The crux of the script is feminism. The 1960’s hit song, “You Don’t Own Me,” blares throughout the production. Again, whether the date is 1963 or 2018, both plays are applicable. While Ibsen shocked his audiences, Hnath reminds his audiences that women can be independent.

The quartet of actors is excellent. Most scenes are performed in duets, with each character holding her/his ground equally.

Laila Robins (Nora) never lets her audience forget that she has made her character a woman who was perfected determination with gusto. Robins gives Nora a cool confidence that is downright freezing until she begins to thaw, but ever so slightly. Christopher Innvar (Torvald), a constant at Barrington, establishes Nora’s husband not as domesticated and demanding when last we saw him, but unexpectedly a sadder yet wiser man. Ashley Bufkin (daughter, Emmy) speaks in staccato, addressing her mother unsympathetically, yet with twinges of not-so-hidden pain. Mary Stout (maid, Anne Marie) looks like Mrs. Potts, but she never lets her character become subservient.

An equally distributed mixture of 19th and 21st century language (several contemporary expletives), costumes, set, and sound create balance between the old and new plays. Yet, I stick to my statement that while Hnath’s work springboards from Ibsen’s, it is not different as one part of history triggers into any other.

Attending the post-production Talk Back, led by Artistic Director Julianne Boyd, offered some surprises, the most important to me being a question on why the play has been billed as a comedy. Ibsen’s statement in the late 1800’s was serious and even painful to hear. This evening’s audience balanced laughter with silence simultaneously. Boyd explained the playwright’s intention that the story is meant to be determined either way – no right or wrong. BSC’s audiences have been quiet one night and laugh the next. Each presentation is singular and received differently by playgoers. 

July 20, 2018

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Dorrance Dance

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through July 22, 2018
by Josephine Sarnelli

Michelle Dorrance is to tap dancing what Michael Flatley is to Irish dancing. Both saw a need to revive a traditional dance form to keep it relevant for a new generation. Dorrance Dance successfully pays homage to the past as it surges into the future.

As the audience was taking their seats, people dressed in full hazmat attire “swept” the aisles with large brooms. Had it not been for the absurdity of the sight … and their tap shoes … the audience might have been alarmed. And thus began the debut performance of “All Good Things Must Come to an End.”

Ms. Dorrance and three other female performers started this production number with a traditional vaudeville routine that demonstrated their outstanding talent. Six distinctly different sets followed, each introduced with a placard on an easel.
Cane and Abel was an innovative acapella piece that relied on only footwork and percussive use of the canes to create the rhythm. Although it drew upon a very conventional prop, the method of employing the cane as a musical accompaniment was unique.

The ocean voyage by immigrants to this country was effectively portrayed in Myth of the American Dream. The military rhythms in this portion were familiar and the audience responded enthusiastically.

The program seemed to lull during The Myth of Narcissism, when the focus was on one dancer looking into the three mirrors held by other dancers. Likewise, The Ugly Duckling was not of the same caliber as the other sets. Ms. Dorrance performed exquisitely in oversized tap shoes, but that in and of itself was not enough for the routine to succeed.

Josette Wiggan-Freund captured the audience’s attention again with The Pedestal. She masterfully performed on a very small box, which amplified the sounds of her taps.

The last set, Fin, apparently referring to finale, brought the four performers into a humorous and energetic romp through the audience and out the open backstage door.

The second half of the show “Myelination,” was performed to an outstanding original jazz score written by the choreographer’s brother. Two hip-hop dancers and nine tappers filled the stage with explosive dance. The complexity of the steps was overwhelming and their technical execution dazzling. There was, however, only a minimal amount of connection with the audience.

The free Inside/Out performance that preceded Dorrance Dance was at full capacity for Calpulli Mexican Dance Company.  “Bode Mexicana,” which translates to Mexican Wedding, was a visual joy. The beautiful and varied costumes enhanced each number, as did the live music and singing. The 45-minute set, celebrating the traditions and diversity of the people of Mexico, left the audience wanting to see more.

July 19, 2018

REVIEW: Shakespeare and Company, Macbeth

Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, MA
through August 5, 2018
by Mary Fernandez-Sierra

Shakespeare and Company’s Macbeth is magnificent is every aspect: staging, acting, and technical artistry. It is the “Must See” show of this summer.

Even for a company renowned for its fine Shakespeare productions, this show is breathtaking. Director Melia Bensussen’s fantastical and frightening vision of the play, in addition to having the performers speak directly to the audience (often from the aisles or seats in the house itself!) draws everyone present into the drama. It is theatrical magic.

Hearing some of the Bard’s most beautiful language articulated by each of the fine actors in Shakespeare and Co’s Macbeth is pure joy. No one need worry about understanding iambic pentameter in this production; the words and the meaning behind them are made crystal clear.

Jonathan Croy and Tod Randolph are mesmerizing as Macbeth and his lady. They portray a couple eaten alive by ambition and tortured by the excesses of their own actions with passion and subtlety. Amazingly, they bring warmth to these two classic villains, allowing the audience to see some humanity (and even humor) in the characters. Their dark sides are tinged with enough light to make their fates matter.

Nigel Gore plays two roles (King Duncan and the Porter) but it is as the latter that he shines most. Hopping directly into the audience and conversing amiably, Mr. Gore makes vulgarity charming and captivating, adding another touch of light to this dark tale.

Banquo shows the royalty of his nature in the portrayal by Ella Loudon, whose conviction and faith ring true always. Her facial expressions while listening to Macbeth’s falsehoods speak volumes; she plays the role of loyal subject and hero with every fiber of her being.

Photo by Daniel Rader
In other supporting roles, Deaon Griffin-Pressley as Malcolm, King Duncan’s heir, gives a memorable performance in a minimum of onstage time. His speech questioning his value as the future king is stunning. Thomas Brazzle is equally outstanding as the wronged Macduff. His righteousness and anger flare up brightly onstage, in contrast to the dreamy floating wickedness of Hecate, played by Zoe Laiz. (In a clever bit of casting, Ms. Laiz also portrays Macduff’s wife.) And Gregory Boover is versatile and eloquent as several young men, including Fleance and young Macduff.

The stark scenery designed by Cristina Todesco includes a two-story stage and a massive raked table, which also serves as an acting platform. This enables the plot to literally spill into the audiences’ laps, as well as pour down from the heavens; the backgrounds are as powerful in this play as the performances.

Lighting designer Dan Kotlowitz gives the stage and acting areas throughout the house both brightness and eerie glowing as needed (the blue table lighting is a work of art.) The effects by Sound Designer Brendan F. Doyle include haunting screeches, thunder, rainstorms, Scottish music and echoes seeming to come from everywhere at once, and the sumptuous costumes by Olivera Gajic add glamour, grandeur and frequent goriness to this impressive Shakespeare production.

All this and more await at Shakespeare and Company’s Macbeth! Don’t miss it!