Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 3, 2019

Review: 2 Summer Theatres Tackle Tough Topics

The 2 plays reviewed below are serious and scary presentations of contemporary life that may or may not affect their audiences. At the very least, they will cause thought and conversation on what, hopefully, will be a deep level.

Review: Chester Theatre Company, On the Exhale
Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through August 4, 2019

Photo by Andrew Greto
It’s not all fun, fluff, and fantasy on the theatre stages this Berkshire summer of 2019.
Chester Theatre Company’s “On the Exhale” essentially depicts a replica of the Sandy Hook, horrific story from one woman’s point of view; from a mother of a victim. While not a news story or didactic lesson, Woman (she has no name because she could be any woman) takes her audience on a slow walk through the points in her life that lead her to the most important role in her life as a mother.

Actress Tara Franklin possesses Woman in this taught, emotional, intelligent play by Martin Zimmerman. She becomes the embodiment of her role, sometimes with a keen look or fake smile, addressing her audience as “you” rather than “I.” Woman hopes to separate as much as she can from the death of her son by telling her story, implying that this, too, could happen to you and your precious child.
Two suggestions: shorten the script with snippets here and there and add music and/or sounds; i.e. school bell ringing, soft murmuring conversations, gunshots.

The story and a good deal of the language are predictable. However, Franklin’s tour de force performance gives Chester Theatre something and someone to be very proud of.

Review: Shakespeare & Company, The Children
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through August 18, 2019
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Nile Scott Studios
Shakespeare & Company’s “The Children” should be taken just as seriously as “On the Exhale.” The play’s off-stage setting is a nuclear plant. Two of the three adults live nearby, another visits. They speak a lot about children, one in particular, but the fact that the audience does not actually see any child onstage is foreshadowing that the world of this trio (not to mention all of those inhabiting the planet) is far from perfect.
Diane Prusha (Hazel) and Jonathan Epstein (Robin) portray a middle-aged married couple, both past employees at a nuclear plant in England whose lives have been grossly affected by the atmospheric problems of the day and the future. Robin pretends to himself that all is not as bad as seen. Hazel is more of a realist. Enter Ariel Bock (Robin’s lover Rose). More importantly, Rose’s purpose is what leads the story on a path of destruction; or path to thwart destruction? The audience can answer that question.

Each actor is a longtime professional at Shakespeare & Co. who have worked together for many years. Prusha, usually a soft-spoken actress depicting women in timid roles, gives Hazel power, sincerity, and determination. Epstein’s character adds some much-needed humorous relief as bravado in a situation that will certainly fail. A suggestion would be to brush up on his English accent. Bock, who has been working in administrative capacity for some time, has been released from her day job to become the sounding board for the other characters and the spokesperson for the unseen and perhaps unborn children.