Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 20, 2021

PREVIEW: Chester Theatre at Hancock Shaker Village, The Niceties

Chester Theatre at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA
July 14 – 25, 2021
By Shera Cohen

To be clear, this piece on "The Niceties" is not a review, but a quasi-preview. A preview is the last or one of the last performances of rehearsal prior to the play's official opening. Chester's temporary Covid-dictated home at Hancock Shaker Village is an ideal venue for performances -- previews and full-fledged plays. The large white tent is magnificent with more seats than in the actual playhouse in Chester. With an elevated stage, sight lines give the audience full view.

In the case of "The Niceties," it seems that very few suggestions could possibly be made to improve the production. Oftentimes, audience members attend two-character plays and immediately scratch them off of their "to see" list. That is a shame.

The full crew is on-board for a preview, doing their jobs as precisely as if "The Niceties" was a bona fide production. Being titled "preview" takes nothing away from the professionalism called for by all onstage and backstage. 

"The Niceties," the play's title, refers to the polite mores between humans; in this case an older female professor and her female student. Politeness escalates for the teacher (Caucasian) and her pupil (Black). The setting is today. This is a long and difficult piece of theatre for the duo, each of whom are excellent actors. There is lots of potential for this play.

However, a huge deluge accompanied by thunder and lightning, prematurely ended the play by 20-minutes. Chester had planned, and perhaps even rehearsed its rain plan, beginning with a crew-person's voice over the actors telling the audience of an impending large storm. Like school children we followed directions orderly. All were offered numerous alternatives to return, receive a refund, consider their ticket price a donation. No one left disappointed. 

2021 is a year of flexible rules; Covid in particular. The theatre-going audiences seem to take it all in stride. The masks mute some of the laughter, but that is to be expected. Chester Theatre, along with Hampshire Shaker Village, certainly had their act together. No chances were taken, and everyone was safe.

The rainstorm was particularly annoying because Chester's plays are only produced for one week. Lost performances are upsetting for all.