In the Berkshire’s northern reaches, you are as likely to hear the locals talk about Main Street Stage (MSS) in North Adams as any of the four larger companies. For one thing, it is truly a year-round operation, unlike the nearby Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF) which is world renowned, but – for the most part – a limited summertime treat. The Berkshires would be the poorer without either of them, yet they are as different as night and day.
The better known WTF is a fully professional company, while Main Street Stage is a community theatre. Their actors and technicians go to regular jobs, local schools and live among us every day. You bump into them at The Hub Restaurant next door, or at Jack’s Hot Dogs, Yet the work they did on stage in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull was as clear and sharp as a ticket buyer could ask for. One can quibble and kvetch about some of the characterizations chosen by individual actors, but overall there was a cohesion and fluidity to the four act play that was remarkable. Best of all was their choice of the Paul Schmidt translation, which gave director Frank LaFrazia and the company the freedom to change its location from Czarist Russia to the alternately balmy and foggy Berkshires.
When this play had its first production in 1896, it was not well received. The audience booed it, and this put the writer in despair. Of course Chekhov had only himself to blame, he had discarded many of the traditional theatrical conventions of the time in order to write a play that was more psychological than melodramatic, and more subplot than plot. He was one of the first to develop characters who said one thing, while thinking another. The Seagull could almost be performed with subtitles explaining what was really going on.