Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 27, 2019

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, Into the Woods

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through July 13, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine, “Into the Woods” made its Broadway debut in 1987. A mashup of several classic fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, it has been produced locally and regionally more often than almost any other Sondheim show and even became a 2014 film starring Meryl Streep and James Corden.

The large cast of familiar characters makes “Into the Woods” a great ensemble piece, and director Joe Calarco has assembled a diverse cast of 15 singing actors for Barrington Stage Company. The bold choice of an African-American male for the central role of the witch pays off in a winningly stylish, sharply etched performance by Mykal Kilgore that Billy Porter, of “Kinky Boots” fame, could only envy.

Having cast a spell on a baker and his wife, so they can never have children, the witch sends them on a quest to reverse the spell. Jonathan Raviv is a vulnerable and sensitive baker, and Mara Davi is touchingly scrappy as his wife. Among the characters they meet as their quest leads them “into the woods” are: Little Red Riding Hood, an amusingly entitled Dorcas Leung; Jack, of beanstalk renown, an appealingly dim Clay Singer; and Cinderella, an endearing and resourceful Amanda Robles.

In smaller roles, Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton and Pepe Nufrio (who, in a playful nod to the actor’s roots, serenades his beloved Rapunzel in Spanish) are hilarious as the preening princes, making both versions of their big number, “Agony,” a hoot. Thom Sesma is a dynamic and versatile narrator/mysterious man. Sarah Dacey Charles is haughty as Cinderella’s stepmother, and Megan Orticelli and Zoe Aarts entertainingly daffy as her stepsisters.

Musical highlights include: Singer’s powerful “Giants in the Sky;” Davi’s affecting “Moments in the Woods;” Kilgore’s tender “Stay with Me” and shattering “Last Midnight;” and a heartrending “No More” from Raviv and Sesma.

Scenic design by Brian Prather is ingeniously simple and flexible; choreography by Mayte Natalio is clever and imaginative; and musical director Darren R. Cohen leads an impressively full-sounding 10-member orchestra.

This typically brilliant BSC production will appeal to thoughtful musical theater audiences of all ages.

June 26, 2019

REVIEW: America v. 2.1 The Sad Demise & Eventual Extinction of the American Negro

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through June 30, 2019
by India Anderson

Photo by Daniel Rader
Imagine a play production whose ending calls for nothing – silence, no final applause, no bows. Even the program book does not give credit to the actors. This is “America v. 2.1…” This is highly unusual. Yet, playwright Stacey Rose is an unusually gifted writer who has penned the first winner of the Terry Burman New Play Award Grand Prize.

Rose’s accolades also include the Goodman Theatre’s (Chicago) selection as one of four female playwrights to participate in its Playwrights Unit—a season-long residency dedicated to developing the work of emerging writers.

Set in the not too distant future, America v. 2.1 is a day in the life of a troupe of Black actors who are charged with re-enacting the revised history of the once-thriving American Negro. It quickly becomes a day of reckoning as the troupe is forced to face the parallels their own lives draw to the lives of the very Negroes whose stories they are compelled to tell. America v 2.1 is a provocative, funny and dark look at Black Americans in post-apocalyptic America.

What is there not to say about the play and its playwright? Rose enlightens the audience with her unique writing style of truth vs. myth. America v 2.1 should be seen by all ethnicities to help gain a better understanding of the history of the American Negro in America.

The play entertains but goes well beyond that purpose to spark deep conversation, and simultaneously sparks deep conversation among audience members. That was surely the intent of director Logan Vaughn, who beautifully and gently demonstrates the underlining dilemmas within our society from the past through today, with just enough comedic undertones

Blessed with a talented seasoned cast, Ansa Akyea (Donavan) has opportunity to showcase his strong versatility by portraying several different characters along with voice imitations of others. Jordan Barrow's character (Grant) is well-played, as is Kalyne Colman (Leigh), a remarkable talent who skillfully changes her character from strong and serious to comedic seemingly effortlessly. Peterson Townsend (Jeffery) depicts his character as all-consuming and courageous; some emotional scenes with Akyea are captivating. Actor Peggy Pharr Wilson’s voice has the perfect tone for her position of authority.

Choreography by Kevin Bosman is crisp and innovative, Set Design by Jack Magaw is simplistic. At the same time, dance and set mesh to create scenes of tremendous power.

America v 2.1 is a production that could be seen again and again, with each time learning, and gaining a new or different understanding of the African American Culture in America. 

Rose says, “Having the play produced [as well] meets and exceeds my wildest dreams for the world premiere.”

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Ballet BC

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through August 25, 2019
by Karoun Charkoudian

On the opening week of Jacob’s Pillow’s 87th season, Ballet BC, an internationally acclaimed collaborative and creation-based contemporary ballet company, did not disappoint. Ballet BC danced three distinctive pieces all delivered with precision and grace.

Photo by Michael Slobodian
The Sunday matinee began with “Bedroom Folk,” choreographed by Isreali Sharon Eyal. Bedroom folk opened with harsh, almost tribal, beats and dramatic top-lighting, and the tension stayed high through to the end. The lighting cast intense shadows across the faces and the bodies of the dancers as all 14 of them swayed across the stage, together as one. The heavy beats thumped without ceasing and the performance was fluid from beginning to end. Here and there, one dancer did spin off on their own rhythm, however the troupe mostly stayed together in unity through the sensual and dark scenes portraying both love and aggression. After the final beat of this piece, members of the audience audibly exhaled.

“To this day” choreographed by Emily Molnar in collaboration with Ballet BC artists, varied dramatically from the first -- a street dance set to the riffs of Jimmy Hendrix’s electric guitar. The dancers were clad in Tshirts and jeans in bold primary colors. The men who danced early in the piece captured the persona perfectly of street dancer meets break dancer meets 80s rock guitarist. Pockets of side-lighting suggestive of street-lights just off stage, and haze shrouded the stage, which set up a foggy, misty evening. The street dancing theme continued throughout, though many dancers couldn’t quite leave their contemporary dancer/ballerina selves behind!

In “Petite Ceremonie” choreographed by Medhi Walerski, the dancers were clad in gala attire – tuxes and black silky dresses. White bright lighting pervaded the entire stage. Amidst a beautiful dance, the troupe interspersed comedic gesticulations suggestive of petty drama at a black-tie affair. Dancers split into pairs– covering ears, rolling on the ground, one controlling the other, amidst sensual embraces. Towards the end the dancers spread out around the stage, and interspersed stillness with wild gesticulation, waving of arms and legs, all to a very loud and intense playing of Vivaldi’s Winter (by far the best music to dance pairing of the afternoon).  

At the conclusion of the program, the dancers stood and bowed to a standing ovation. Their precision and intensity that was delivered throughout the entire performance captured the audience and that showed.

June 24, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through June 30, 2019
by Jarice Hanson

Photo Courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents
While it may seem incongruous to walk into a theatre on a warm June day and see a stage set with a Christmas tree and snow falling outside of ersatz living room, the recreation of Irving Berlin’s Beekman Place apartment is a pitch perfect setting for Hershey Felder’s loving tribute to Irving Berlin. For an hour and forty-five minutes, Felder seems to channel Berlin from his early days as an immigrant in New York, to becoming one of the most iconic composers and lyricists of the 20th century. His New York accent is perfect, his timing great, and his voice and piano playing, superb.

Felder is an excellent showman, and in addition to the research he has conducted on the life of Irving Berlin, he seemingly conjures other people from Berlin’s life—his father, mother, wife of 65 years, and a host of people from Berlin’s life who add to the richness of the tale of the “singing waiter” to becoming one of the most famous American songwriters. Berlin lived to be 101 years old, and Felder’s performance both explains the inspiration for approximately 30 of his greatest tunes, and highlights Berlin’s penchant for being a brilliant opportunist and businessman.  There is much to learn, and in addition to the story, illustrated by song, projections by Christopher Ash and Lawrence Siefert transform the space and add to the visual richness to the musical performance.

Though he has specialized in researching and performing the works of nine major classical composers (as well as George Gershwin and Berlin), Felder seldom sings in his performances. This time, he demonstrates a facile voice, sometimes leading the audience in songs that they can’t help but want to sing. The performance niche he has developed is fascinating, entertaining, and illuminating—and in this case, leaves the audience humming great songs, like “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” and “What’ll I Do?” well after the spell he’s cast on stage, is over.

Felder and Trevor Hay, his long-time director and colleague, have created a performance work that both honors Irving Berlin as well as sheds light on his human frailty and his patriotism. There is a strong message that may be only a part of the show, but unites some of the themes—that immigrants sometimes become our most patriotic citizens, and that musical genius is a gift that touches everyone’s heart and soul. Indeed, in the closing moments of the show, “Berlin” talks about one of the most important lessons he learned from his father, that music is what often makes us human.

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Outside Mullingar

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through July 13, 2019
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware
John Patrick Shanley’s endearing comedy, “Outside Mullingar,” provides a character study of human relationships and family dynamics. Set in rural Ireland, the play begins on the day of a funeral. Aiofe suffers from emphysema, and is brilliantly played by Deborah Hedwall with believable breathlessness and an impeccable sense of comic timing. She is from the same generation as her neighbor, Tony, forcefully played by Jeffrey DeMunn, the quintessential older Irishman who belittles his son for the silliest of reasons. His obstinacy sets up one of the most moving and beautiful scenes of the play in which he confronts his own mortality in a conversation with his middle-aged son, Anthony. The truth and beauty of this scene is reason enough to see this production.

As Aiofe and Tony face their own inevitable deaths, their children, now middle-aged confront their own histories and give the audience hope that love is possible at any age. Anthony, played with appropriate reserve by James McMenamin, and the feisty Rosemary Muldoon, energetically portrayed by Shannon Marie Sullivan, deal with their own history and gives hope that this play, that starts with death, will have not only a happy ending, but one that reaffirms Irish traditions of family and land.

Director Karen Allen has chosen to present this hour and forty-minute play in one-act, and what a good decision that proves to have been. The characters and story benefit from the ethos that represents tradition, Ireland’s rural beauty, and its impoverished past. Scenic designer John McDermott’s clever sets and picturesque projection of the land serve as fitting backdrops to the story that is essentially talky. The genuine wit and wisdom of Shanley’s words shine through, and Allen’s use of space between and among the actors on stage underscore the relationships and heartbreaking honesty of the emotions.  

How refreshing it is to see a beautifully crafted script come to life by means of such gifted artistry. Congratulations to Berkshire Theatre Group for providing audiences with such a beautifully rendered production that gets to the heart of human behavior.

June 19, 2019

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Waitress

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through June 23, 2019
by R.E. Smith

It would be easy to lump Waitress in with the plethora of current musicals whose origins are in the movies, but like the titular character herself, this show defies expectations and delights in its differences.

Photo by Daniel Lippitt
To start, the original film was not a blockbuster, but rather a small independent production, written and directed by the late actress Adrienne Shelly. With a predominantly female production team, the message of sisterhood and empowerment is, yes, baked into the show. Waitress is really a small character study that nonetheless fills the stage beautifully. The story centers on imaginative Jenna, a talented pie-making waitress with a loveless marriage, unexpected pregnancy, and the surprising attention of a handsome doctor.

The charming Christine Dwyer, as Jenna, is on stage for almost the entire show and the audience is on her side throughout every endearing, sometimes “messy” moment. Her marvelously expressive voice and impressive range serve every song well and her generous performance finally gets a solo spotlight with “She Used To Be Mine.” Without ever breaking the fourth wall, she is able to connect with the audience through Jenna’s very relatable attempts to make sense of her often awkward life. Her cohorts are the quirky but caring Dawn, played by Ephie Aardema, and sassy, no-nonsense Becky, played by Melody A Betts, who each delight the audience with vastly different, but equally supporting personalities.

The music is by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles, a popular singer and songwriter, who has crafted some charming, homey, and diverse pieces, often relying solely on the blended voices of the 3 lead characters. The four-piece band is on stage much of the time, hiding amongst the other diner patrons. Befitting the Southern setting, it features cello and upright bass, giving the scores a unique sound for a Broadway show. While there are no big production numbers with dozens of dancers, there are definitely songs with huge emotional heart. There are brisk toe-tapping numbers like “Opening Up”, the oddly wishing for “The Negative” and the driving “Bad Idea”, contrasting with the intimate “A Soft Place to Land” and “You Matter to Me”.

Waitress is a delightful, funny, cozy, affirming, and endearing evening of musical theater, populated with playful and poignant songs and characters that quickly become like old friends, flaws and all.

P.S. Breathe deeply when you enter the lobby. . .you’ll be in for a scene-setting surprise!

REVIEW: Theatre Guild of Hampden, My Fair Lady

Theatre Guild of Hampden, Wilbraham, MA
through June 22, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

With its enthralling new production, Theatre Guild of Hampden (TGH) has created a “My Fair Lady” for the 21st century. By judicious use of supporting cast members, director Paula Cortis spotlights how the women in her cast routinely outwit the men who have all the advantages in the sexist class system of 1912 London. When the curtain comes down on this battle of the sexes between Professor Henry Higgins and flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whom he trains as a “lady” in six months, there’s no doubt who has the upper hand. 

Giza and Westbrook
In a triumphant return to acting after a 30-year hiatus, Mark Giza, best known to local audiences as TGH’s artistic director, is a pompous and persnickety Higgins, his “dream role” to play since he was 18 years old. As his student, nemesis, and potential love interest, Jeannine Westbrook is a revelatory Eliza. Her comic and dramatic acting chops match Giza’s, and her glorious soprano voice reflects her musical training at the Hartt School in Hartford. Paul DiProto is a hyperactive hoot as Eliza’s ne’er-do-well father and “moral philosopher” Alfred Doolittle.

Brian Rucci is remarkably convincing both as the gentlemanly Colonel Pickering, Higgins’s fellow linguist, and as Jamie, Alfred’s loose-limbed drinking companion. David Webber’s magnetic stage presence and ringing tenor voice make Eliza’s lovelorn suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, into more than a fatuous cipher. And Tracey Hebert brings a welcome touch of ditsy humor to the wisdom of Mrs. Higgins, Henry’s exasperated mother.   

Musical highlights include: a jubilant “With a Little Bit of Luck” featuring DiProto; an exhilarating “The Rain in Spain” highlighting Westbrook; and a rapturous “On the Street Where You Live” from Webber, in which the presence of four women (but not Eliza) on stage suggests that he’d be nothing without them. Cortis’ similar staging of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” has an equally bracing power. Her stiff-upper-lip “Ascot Gavotte” is hilariously presented on the theatre floor in front of the stage at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, almost literally in the audience’s face.  

Elegant period costumes by Rob Williamson, imaginative choreography (including several exuberant tap dance sequences) by Melissa Dupont, and lively musical direction by Karen Ducharme and her seven-piece band, along with the timeless lyrics and music of Lerner and Loewe, also make this a must-see show.

June 18, 2019

PREVIEW: The Capitol Steps, The Lyin' Kings

Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA
June 28-August 30, nightly at 8PM except Tuedsays

The Capitol Steps, the political musical satire group that has been putting the “mock” in democracy since 1981, returns to the Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA for the 12th summer with a new show based on their upcoming album, “The Lyin' Kings.” Performances run nightly at 8pm (except Tuesdays) at Cranwell's Harvest Barn. 

What better time to see the Capitol Steps than now, with the next Presidential election season approaching? The show will include the latest songs about the Democratic primary candidates (“76 Unknowns”) and the newest late-night thoughts from President Trump (“Tweet It”).  No one knows what 2020 will bring, but whether it’s Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Beto O’Rourke, the Capitol Steps can tell you what rhymes with it!  Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican (or somewhere in-between), if you’ve ever wanted to see Donald Trump sing a rock song, Bernie Sanders sing a show tune, and Vladimir Putin dance shirtless…this is the show for you!

The Capitol Steps’ upcoming performance of mostly new material and some old favorites “is cheaper than therapy”, says Elaina Newport, co-founder of the Capitol Steps. “No matter who is making the news, we all need a laugh.  And as fast as a politician can send a tweet, our writers text a new song or joke.  The material comes from both sides of the aisle – sometimes it seems like the politicians are trying to provide us with material!”

The Capitol Steps began in 1981, when a group of Congressional staffers got together to provide entertainment for a holiday office party on Capitol Hill.   Since then, they have provided their unique mix of musical and political comedy and satire to audiences coast-to-coast. Each show consists of about 30 songs and skits, with “more costume changes than a Cher concert,” as an audience member once remarked. The Capitol Steps perform in Washington DC every weekend, tour nationally throughout the year, and have appeared on “The Today Show,” “ABC News Nightline,” “CBS Evening News” and on specials for NPR.

Tickets for the Capitol Steps are available at Cranwell resort.

REVIEW: New Century Theatre ,Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

New Century Theatre at Gateway City Arts, Holyoke
through June 23, 2019
by Beverly Dane

There’s a show at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke that should have everyone in the Valley clamoring for tickets. Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” regularly makes the “top 10” list of every theatre critic—but to see it performed so well and hear Albee’s outrageous turn of a phrase in an intimate setting by consummate professionals—well, that’s just icing on the cake. Cate Damon, Sam Rush, Robbie Simpson, and Alexandra O’Halloran masterfully create the four iconic characters in New Century’s current production and it will have audiences leaving the theatre saying “wow!”

Director Keith Langsdale masterfully moves his actors around the small stage and creates an environment so fraught with tension and heartbreak that audible gasps could be heard throughout the theatre. The characters, Martha, George, Nick, and Honey move like animals, ready to pounce at any moment, and ready to lie down and purr a moment later. The pacing of the production is exquisite, and each of the four actors create such believable characters it’s easy to find yourself drawn in, concerned about them and hoping for a happy ending—even if you know the outcome of this American classic.

Cast photos by Frank Aronson
For those uninitiated to Albee’s masterpiece, the plot centers around George and Martha, a married couple who live on or near a University campus where Martha’s father is President. They taunt and tease each other, sometimes lovingly, and sometimes with deadly terror. After a faculty party one night, Martha invites Nick, a new professor, and Honey, his wife, for a nightcap. What follows is a multi-layered exploration of how human beings are seduced by truth and illusion to create their own codependency. The two couples, one older, the other younger, but equally deluded by desire and tradition, drink too much, disclose too much, and their respective lives begin to unravel. Albee understands that humor is palliative when pain and this outstanding production mines the humor but never deviates from Albee’s essential truth—we always hurt the ones we love, sometimes, savagely.

While leaving the theatre, one patron was overheard talking to his wife, and said, “You’d have to go to New York to see a production this good.” Kudos to New Century Theatre and this outstanding cast and production team. “Virginia Woolf” has been produced in many many versions, but this is the one to make an effort to see. It’s a winner.

June 12, 2019

REVIEW: Albany Symphony, Sing Out! New York

Albany Symphony, Albany, NY
May 30 – June 9, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

David Alan Miller
The Albany Symphony and their longtime (1992-) Music Director David Alan Miller have a reputation for adventurous programming of contemporary American music, making them ideal curators of the annual American Music Festival for the past 20 years. This year’s theme is “Sing Out! New York,” which celebrates the state’s “leading role in championing equal rights” by observing the centennial of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Two June 1 programs paid notable homage to this theme.

An evening concert by the orchestra in Troy’s breathtaking EMPAC concert hall featured music by three living composers, including one world premiere and two major revivals. The world premiere opened the concert: “Knit/Purl,” in which recent Yale Music School graduate Tanner Porter declaimed a libretto by Vanessa Moody which draws on texts by leaders of the American women’s suffrage movement. Porter’s soprano voice was amplified to blend with the music she wrote for a percussion-rich ensemble, producing a dense but often diaphanous sound mix. Her vocal virtuosity and the orchestra’s fluid performance made a powerful impression.

This was extended by John Corigliano’s fiery 1968 piano concerto, whose technical difficulties were handily mastered by rising British soloist Philip Edward Fisher. The brilliantly orchestrated piece is, in the composer’s words, “basically tonal [with] many atonal sections [including] strict twelve-tone writing.” Fisher’s total commitment and the orchestra’s virtuosity brought the concerto to vivid life and earned him a standing ovation by the appreciative audience.

David Del Tredici
The concert closed after intermission with a riveting account of “Pot-Pourri,” the earliest among several major works by David Del Tredici based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The composer calls the atonal piece, also written in 1968, “a kind of Cantata of the Sacred and Profane,” setting texts from “Alice” and Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” alongside a “Litany of the Blessed Virgin” from the Catholic liturgy of his childhood, and a Bach Chorale. In addition to the orchestra, it calls for a rock band, soprano soloist, and 16-member mixed chorus. The predictably wild-sounding result was transfixingly rendered by all forces, particularly redoubtable soprano Hila Plitman.      

The jovial Miller gave often humorous introductions to each piece and invited Del Tredici up from the audience to speak before “Pot-Pourri.” After bounding to the stage, the amiable 82-year-old composer read his droll manifesto “A Composer’s Ten Commandments.” The substantially full house showed that Miller’s enthusiasm for new music has built a loyal following. His announcement that these performances of the Corigliano and Del Tredici pieces would be recorded for commercial CD release was a tribute to his ensemble’s distinction. 

Del Tredici was also the subject of the engrossing 2018 documentary film, “Secret Music,” by New York-based pianist and music educator Daniel Beliavsky, shown in EMPAC’s theater after the concert. Examining the composer’s stated goal “to create a gay body of music,” the film included much interview and performance footage of Del Tredici, Beliavsky, and other musicians.

It was revealing for this writer, sitting by chance beside the composer, to witness his firsthand reactions to various candid scenes in the film, including a compelling performance by Beliavsky, soprano Chelsea Feltman, and baritone Michael Kelly of his incongruously gorgeous setting of Allen Ginsberg’s “S&M” poem “Please Master” (Del Tredici even cracks a small whip in the background). The filmmaker led a lively post-show discussion.

Only an hour and a half from greater Springfield, the American Music Festival is a resourceful annual destination for all lovers of contemporary American music.

June 5, 2019

REVIEW: The Waverly Gallery, Shakespeare & Co.

Shakespeare & Company, Lee, MA
through July 14, 2019
By Barbara Stroup

The “strings of the heart” provided the theme for Artistic Director Allyn Burrows as he chose this year’s plays for Shakespeare & Company, and the summer season’s first offering pulls on those strings throughout. “The Waverly Gallery” looks at a family whose own hearts are seized by the gradual mental decline of their beloved matriarch. When the audience meets Gladys Green, a former attorney and current gallery owner, she is engaged in a loving conversation with her grandson. It takes only a few moments to realize that this is a conversation oft-repeated, but the devotion she and her grandson share is intense and enduring - for the moment.

Played by veteran stage actress Annette Miller, it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role of Gladys, despite accolades heaped on prior distinguished performances. Miller is stunning in her portrayal, never over-reaching for audience sympathy, but genuine in maintaining the core of her character’s self. Her Gladys is thoroughly charming, vital and complex, whose love for her family reaches over the wall that her illness is building around her. How Miller can maintain this performance is  astounding.

Gladys’ grandson Daniel, ably played by David Gow, also provides narration as the drama unfolds over a period of several months. Gladys’ daughter Ellen, and her second husband Howard (Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Michael F. Toomey) appear as the family hosts Gladys for their ritual weekly dinner. Each has chosen a way to cope with Gladys: Ellen by giving constant and frustrated reality checks, and Howard by using a booming voice to compensate for Gladys’ hearing loss. Both fail. Gladys enlists the help of Don (David Bertoldi), an artist of questionable worth for a gallery show. This new friendship proves of some value, but the dilemmas this character faces seem glued onto the central drama unnecessarily. Gladys is ultimately alone with her changing self, revealing to the audience a glimpse of some of her panic as she shuffles down the hall to her grandson’s door.

Playwright Kenneth Lonergan draws out Gladys’ decline in a series of wrenching scenes that drive the play toward the inevitable. Director Tina Packer makes the most of conversations that are simultaneous, a hallmark of this play. There is a hint of the future when Ellen herself forgets a word - twice, and love prevails with poignancy at the close. The viewing audience has seen several dramatic portrayals of Alzheimer’s disease in movieland, but this representation is superbly intimate. Bravo to Shakespeare & Co. for a choice that reflects a dilemma that faces so many today and for presenting it with admirable artistry and laughter.

PREVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, Hold These Truths

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through June 8, 2019

Joel de la Fuente
Barrington Stage Company (BSC), the award-winning theatre in the Berkshires, kicks off its 25th Anniversary season with Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sakata.Directed by Lisa Rothe, the play runs through June 8 at the St Germain Stage.

The drama stars Joel de la Fuente (Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle) reprising his Drama Desk-nominated role in this solo play inspired by the life of Gordon Hirabayashi.  

Unsung American hero Gordon Hirabayashi fights passionately for the Constitution against an unexpected adversary: his own country. During World War II, he defies the US government’s orders to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry, launching a 50-year journey from college to courtroom and eventually to a Presidential Medal of Freedom. A story filled with hope, this play’s focus is a man who stood up for the true meaning of patriotism.

Joel de la Fuente makes his debut for Barrington Stage Company in Hold These Truths. The play garnered a Drama Desk Nomination in New York City for Outstanding Solo Performance when it debuted in 2012. The actor has performed on stages throughout the world and numerous times on television; i.e. 10 seasons on Law & Order: SVU and Madam Secretary.

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Mahler 5

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
May 31 – June 2, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

For the final “Masterworks” program of their 75th anniversary season, HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan chose a minor work by one major composer and a towering masterpiece by another. 

Wendy Warner
The minor work was Beethoven’s 1804 “Triple Concerto” for piano, violin, cello, and orchestra, featuring HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal, HSO pianist Margreet Francis, and guest cellist Wendy Warner. The home-town soloists teamed gracefully with world-renowned Chicago native Warner, who won first prize at age 18 in the 1990 International Rostropovich Cello Competition, for an affectionate rendition of this rarely heard work. From a relaxed opening “Allegro,” through a heartfelt central “Largo,” through an ebullient closing “Rondo,” Kuan and the orchestra offered plush accompaniment.

The masterpiece was Mahler’s 1902 fifth symphony, which unfolds over 75 minutes and requires one of the largest orchestras in the symphonic repertoire, including six percussionists. But each of its five movements contains many episodes for only a small number of instruments, and Kuan carefully balanced the full-ensemble passages with those quieter interludes to produce a transparent texture which often had the intimacy of chamber music.

While all sections of the HSO played with passionate intensity, the brass did especially fine work throughout. Principal trumpet Scott McIntosh’s solo fanfare, which opens the “Funeral March” first movement, had technical polish and emotional resonance. Percussion and brass dominated both the “Stormy and vehement” second movement and the lighter, waltz-like “Scherzo” third movement. Lush strings and harp set a hushed tone for the radiant “Adagietto” fourth movement, and the full orchestra turned the closing “Rondo” into an exuberant romp.

This thrilling account of a colorful but challenging work showed off Kuan’s artistry at its finest and ended the eighth year of her HSO tenure on a high note. That artistry is not afraid to aim for perfection, as when she politely stopped after beginning the “Adagietto” until several audience members had stopped talking, so that the nearly silent music could be heard throughout the Belding Theater.

Connecticut’s public television (CPTV) was in the hall recording the concert for future broadcast.

June 1, 2019

A funny thing happened on the way to “The Sound of Music”

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
by Shera Cohen

My semi-annual bout with bronchitis conveniently arrived like an anvil in my head accompanied by a vice around my throat. The day was the Press Night to review “The Sound of Music” at the Bushnell. Certainly, not my first trip to the Alps or hearing and humming “Edelweiss”; yet, you can never get enough “Sound of Music” (SOM) in your life.

I made a quick decision – contact another reviewer from In the Spotlight. That project was, unfortunately, unproductive. My second decision – ask someone else to attend the musical and, instead of a review, tell a story about the experience. Because SOM had such a straightforward story with uncomplicated characters, it would be an easy task to write about.

Of course, I do not pass-off writing reviews to those not on our staff. At the same time, I often invite “non-theatre” or “non-artsy” friends to be my Plus One whenever I attend plays or musicals. Not that my philosophy is profound but introducing neophytes to theatre builds a community of novices-turned-aficionados. Well, perhaps that word is too elite. The point is that one of my missions in life is to introduce theatre to those who might rarely think of attending. Over the past 30 or so years, I am proud to say that I have been rather successful.

I didn’t think that the Bushnell folk would mind if I offered their two tickets to a lovely woman and her 8-year-old granddaughter. The little girl had never seen a live production of SOM, or any musical. This was a special gift from me and from the Bushnell for them to appreciate this amazing and lush building to see a live production of one of the most famous musicals of all time. Neither had seen SOM other than at home – the Julie Andrews’ movie shrunk to TV screen-size. I gave eight-year-old Mayah an assignment: write comments about what you saw and how you felt seeing SOM.

These are a few of her favorite points. 1) I loved the music! 2) I recognized some of the songs that I used to sing along to when I watched the movie. 3) There were some funny parts like the bedroom scene with Maria and the children. 4) They seemed to be using American Sign Language during the “Doe a Deer” song. 5) The singing voices were wonderful, and Maria was our favorite. The Reverend Mother came in pretty close behind. 6) The sets were exquisite [grandmother’s word]. 7) The set changes flowed, and some pieces were moved by the actors. 7) It was great, and they did a wonderful job.

This keen little girl also commented on the building, including the beautiful artwork on the ceiling. Would little Mayah return to the theatre to see SOM? “Yes!” Would little Mayah return to the theatre to see other musicals? “Yes!”