Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 8, 2018

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Naked

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through  October 28, 2018
By Stuart Gamble

Luigi Pirandello’s puzzling, philosophical, and poetic drama “Naked” is set in Rome, Italy during the 1920’s or 30’s. This existential drama forces the audience to bare the truth of human existence while stripping away the lies that protect beings from despair, loneliness, and ultimately, death.

Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware
“Naked” tells the story of Ersilia, a troubled woman who has just been released from a (mental?) hospital and is taken in by kindly novelist Ludovico Nota. Among the antagonists who threaten to dredge up her past include Ludovico’s gossipy landlady Signora Onoria, her jilted fiancé Franco La Spiga, a trouble-making journalist named Alfredo Cantavalle, and her married lover Counsil Grotti. “Naked” is a pot boiling melodrama. Its audience is sure to anticipate and accept that all will probably not end well.

Berkshire Theatre Group’s actors are all well cast and well-played by this small ensemble. Tara Franklin, as Ersilia, has the most challenging role. She shows the seething rage of a woman manipulated by men, who nonetheless must cope with the consequences of the choices she’s made, including prostituting herself in economic need. Rocco Sisto, as Ludovico Nota, also shows great skill as a man who tries to care for and help heal Ersilia, through his eyes as an objective observer. James Barry’s (real-life spouse of Franklin) Franco La Spiga expresses great, operatic passion that seems missing from some of the other performers. Barbara Sims (Signora Onoria) and David Atkins (Alfredo Cantavalle) do the best they can with essentially (as written) one dimensional characters. Jeffrey Doormboss’ loathsome Consul Grotti has a scene with Franklin that is quite disturbing, echoing recent headlines.

Eric Hill directs with simplicity and honesty. Allowing the actors to speak directly and frankly with each other, he wisely avoids any artificial theatricality that would detract from the play’s serious, psychological themes. British playwright Nicholas Wright’s adaptation of “Naked” uses succinct, contemporary language that keeps the show’s running time to 90 minutes.

Costume designer Yoshi Tanokura dresses the actors in earthy browns, blues, white, and black suits and dresses that exemplify the period of Mussolini era fascism. Randall Parsons’ set design beautifully envelops the actors. The deeply cracked walls, newspaper-strewn floor, and piles of moldy books perfectly reflect the inner turmoil of these six characters in search of the meaning of life.