REVIEW: “Twelfth Night” @ Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park [Berkshire on Stage]

July 26th, 2017, 2:00 pm by Sara
Jeffrey Kent, Dana M. Harrison, Barby Cardillo and Brittany Nicholson (photo: Enrico Spada)

Jeffrey Kent, Dana M. Harrison, Barby Cardillo and Brittany Nicholson (photo: Enrico Spada)

Review by Barbara Waldinger

How exciting it is to see the revitalization of Pittsfield! Ever since the dark days following the closing of the GE plant, the city has been struggling to recover its stature. Now, rejuvenated by the appearance of theaters, art galleries, restaurants, stores, hotels and an ongoing commitment to community development and involvement, Pittsfield has been making a comeback. Recently, with the opening of Twelfth Night on the heels of a Third Thursday teeming with people of all ages, dancing, singing, eating, viewing pop-up performances and generally celebrating, Pittsfield has arrived.

This is the fourth season that director Enrico Spada has offered free Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park performances on the First Street Common. Beginning with Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2014, Spada went on to direct Romeo and Juliet in 2015 and The Tempest in 2016. In addition to leading sponsor The Feigenbaum Foundation, the company is generously supported by the City of Pittsfield, both financially and through its many volunteers, including churches, synagogues, schools, libraries and clubs.

Twelfth Night springs to life on a colorful, cartoon-like set designed by Ron Piazza, with many steps and high platforms that accommodate the entire cast of 14 actors, several of whom play multiple roles. Except for a blip during the final song, the sound system (designed by Enrico Spada and engineered by Jaramy Moran) serves the production well – amplified by their visible microphones, the actors can be heard throughout the park. Lighting designer Maia Robbins-Zust keeps the actors in view at all times – even Malvolio, purportedly locked up in a dark cell on a lower stage. Deborah Morris and Patrick Toole composed wonderful songs beautifully sung by Alexia Trainor, who accompanies herself on a ukulele. The costumes, designed by Stella Schwartz and assisted by JV Hampton-Van Sant, add jolts of color, humor and originality to the production.

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THEATER REVIEW: “The Holler Sessions” @ Ancram Opera House [Berkshire on Stage]

July 20th, 2017, 1:30 pm by Sara
Frank Boyd, the solo performer and writer of “The Holler Sessions.”

Frank Boyd, the solo performer and writer of “The Holler Sessions.”

Review by Barbara Waldinger

Frank Boyd, the solo performer and writer of The Holler Sessions, now playing at the Ancram Opera House, so expertly weaves the improvisational aspects of his DJ’s obsession, jazz, with this live radio show that it’s hard to tell what is scripted and what is ad-libbed. Ultimately, this partly improvisational piece is a metaphor for the nature of jazz. The work was created in collaboration with the TEAM, a Brooklyn-based ensemble whose Artistic Director, Rachel Chavkin (serving as one of two Consulting Directors on this project), was nominated for a Tony award for her production of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, now running on Broadway.

Boyd plays Ray, a Kansas City DJ, with such contagious exuberance and passion for the music he loves, that he forces even the uninitiated to listen to and appreciate the artistry of the celebrated jazz performers he worships, among whom are Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Louis Armstrong. Ray apparently lives in the tiny studio where he works, sleeping underneath the table from which he broadcasts, drinking coffee (from what appears to be a working coffeemaker) and whiskey, and storing a few food items among the papers, boxes, books and file cabinets in this incredibly cluttered room.

His performance ranges from extreme physicality — stretching as he awakens, dancing, conducting imaginary performers, kicking, pelvic thrusting, miming drum solos – to stillness, as he stops the music and the movement to allow himself and the audience some dead air time. It’s hard to believe that Boyd, a theater actor, has not spent his life as a DJ.

At several points in the performance, Ray asks his listeners to call him so they can answer the questions he poses in his jazz trivia contest, whose winners will supposedly receive gift certificates to local barbecue restaurants. The listeners are played by… the audience. On each seat is a phone number and a request: “Please silence your phone, but LEAVE IT ON. You will have a chance to use it.” It takes a while and much exhortation from Ray – including allowing two guesses to a true-false question – for the audience to realize that they are being asked to use their cell phones to call in. But eventually they do, leading to general hilarity and ad-libbing.

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Mettawee River Theatre Company Announces Summer Tour [Berkshire on Stage]

July 20th, 2017, 11:00 am by Sara
(photo: Sasha Arutyunova)

(photo: Sasha Arutyunova)

The Mettawee River Theatre Company has announced summer touring dates for its 42nd upstate season featuring its production of Before the Sun and Moon. Performances will take place at outdoor venues in upstate New York and nearby Vermont and Massachusetts, and are scheduled from tonight (Thursday, July 20) through Saturday, August 5 (see below).

Before the Sun and Moon is drawn from an ancient Korean folktale, a magical story in which a young husband and wife discover the power of love and devotion through unexpected challenges and wild adventures. As always in a Mettawee production, the show will incorporate masks, puppets and other visual elements.

The company of actors includes Mettawee veterans Andrew Butler, Tanya Dougherty, Rob McFadyen, Jan-Peter Pedross and newcomer Claire Moodey. Assistant director Jon Riddleberger will join the cast as puppeteer. The production is directed and designed by Ralph Lee, with costumes by Casey Compton. Kristine Haruna Lee is the playwright.

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“Copenhagen” Opens at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill [Berkshire on Stage]

July 19th, 2017, 1:30 pm by Sara

If you’ve never seen Michael Frayne’s Copenhagen, it’s hard to imagine that a play in which three dead people discuss atomic physics could be electrifying and intensely emotional. Yet this riveting drama, full of crackle and vitality, delivers a literary and theatrical punch that stays with you long after the curtain has fallen.

On the surface, Copenhagen turns around a mysterious 1941 meeting between the esteemed Danish physicist Niels Bohr and his former pupil, the German scientist Werner Heisenberg. Old friends who had revolutionized atomic science during the 1920s, they are now on opposite sides of a world war. But the science, it turns out, is merely a vehicle, a metaphor for a wrenching probe into deeply human quandaries and contradictions.

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Film Conversation & “Starship Troopers” @ EMPAC [Berkshire on Stage]

July 19th, 2017, 10:00 am by Sara

On Thursday (July 20) at 7pm, Hollywood special-effects legend Phil Tippett (“Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “RoboCop”) will join artist Lucy Raven at EMPAC at RPI in Troy for an evening of conversation and film screenings, including the sci-fi classic “Starship Troopers,” for which Tippett designed the early digital monster effects.

Before the event, at 6pm, Raven will celebrate the release of her new EMPAC-produced book, “Low Relief,” charting the strange history of 3D cinema and her experiments with the form.

The founder of Tippett Studios, Phil Tippett has worked over 30 years on visual effects for the film industry. In 1996, he accompanied director Paul Verhoeven to the Badlands of Wyoming to scout locations for the film “Starship Troopers,” which imagines warfare in the 23rd century between planet-colonizing humans and alien bugs called Arachnids. Under a staircase in his Berkley studio, Tippett recently rediscovered 12 hours of VHS tapes documenting the visualization strategy he undertook in transforming the barren landscape into a battlefield covered in digital monsters.

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THEATER REVIEW: “Where Storms Are Born” @ Williamstown [Berkshire on Stage]

July 18th, 2017, 3:00 pm by Sara
Christopher Livingston (Gideon), Myra Lucretia Taylor (Bethea). Photograph Daniel Rader.

Christopher Livingston (Gideon), Myra Lucretia Taylor (Bethea). Photograph by Daniel Rader

Review by Barbara Waldinger

The 2017 season underlines Williamstown Theatre Festival’s commitment to new work. Six of the seven plays at the Festival are new or world premiere plays. Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield, who connects playwrights with directors, actors and designers, invited established playwright Harrison David Rivers to join the Festival in 2016 as a Playwright-in-Residence, in order “to have a living, breathing artist responding to the world,” and to “let the festival respond.” Rivers said of his experience, “It was really inspiring in terms of my own writing.” This year he has returned with a world premiere production of his latest effort, Where Storms Are Born.

This work was a 2015 finalist for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and the recipient of a 2017 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Rivers appreciates the support he has received from the Williamstown Theatre Festival: “Sometimes in a place outside of WTF, the mess of life still enters the room. And here, for the eight hours that we’re in the room together, the play is the thing, and it’s a luxury.” He adds: “The holistic nature of the art-making here contributes to the depth and the quality of the pieces on the stages.” At a time when the arts are becoming more and more marginalized, the Festival is offering a helping hand to artists.

Rivers’ depicts a loving family grappling with loss. The matriarch, Bethea (Myra Lucretia Taylor), is a widow raising her younger son Gideon (Christopher Livingston) in an apartment in Harlem, while her older son Myles (Leroy McClain), has been incarcerated at Sing Sing for the past 13 years after a drug deal spiraled out of control, leading to a fatality. Now Myles has died in prison, though he returns in flashbacks. His death is never explained or even explored.

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Shakespeare & Co. Takes “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Outdoors [Berkshire on Stage]

July 11th, 2017, 3:00 pm by Sara

“The course of true love never did run smooth.” – Act 1, Scene 1

Shakespeare & Company presents William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Jonathan Croy and Douglas Seldin, and performed outside at The Dell at The Mount in Lenox. This magical favorite, presented by Shakespeare & Company’s Northeast Regional Education Tour and Riotous Youth Faculty, runs from today (July 11) through Saturday, August 19.

“I honestly believe that this is the most perfectly constructed comedy ever written,” said Croy. “Shakespeare gives us several perfectly balanced stories filled with characters that are filled with passion, both whimsical in their extremity and absolutely recognizable. The language is delicious, and the range of comedic style is astonishing. From Oberon’s high wit to Bottom’s well-intentioned malapropisms; the mistaken identities in the effects of the love potion and in Bottom’s transformation; the way that the charming pathos and silliness of the Mechanicals opens into the broad genius of Pyramus and & Thisbe, Midsummer is an absolute buffet of comedy and promises to be an unforgettable adventure for the whole family.”

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REVIEW: “Saturday Night Fever” @ the Mac-Haydn [Berkshire on Stage]

July 10th, 2017, 3:00 pm by Sara

Kate Zulauf (Stephany) and Daniel Velasquez (Tony).

Review by Roseann Cane

The 1977 film “Saturday Night Fever” was a smash hit. Based on a 1995 New York Magazine article, Nik Cohn’s “Tribal Rites of a Saturday Night” (which Cohn admitted years later to be fictional), the film propelled John Travolta into stardom and became the best-selling dance-centered movie of all time until 2010’s “Black Swan.”

Directed by John Badham with a screenplay by Norman Wexler, and music by the Bee Gees (one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time), it’s not difficult to understand the well-deserved success of the movie. The Bee Gees were commissioned by producer Robert Stigwood to write songs for the film. Not terribly well known at the time, the group created some of the songs during a single weekend and gathered some songs they’d already written to add to the mix. “Stayin’ Alive” had already been written, and was one of the first songs ready to be used in the film. “Stayin’ Alive” will undoubtedly be forever associated with the movie, in no small part thanks to the movie’s stunning opening sequencee.

The stage musical of Saturday Night Fever, with a book by Nan Knighton in collaboration with Arlene Phillips, Paul Nicholas and Robert Stigwood, and music by the Bee Gees, opened in London in 1998, and on Broadway the following year. It is now playing at Chatham’ Mac-Haydn Theatre, directed by John Saunders.

The show opens with “Stayin’ Alive,” too, and in this production, the number falls flat. While James Kinney usually does a superb job choreographing the excellent dancers who grace the Mac-Haydn’s round stage, in this attempt to recreate the busy thoroughfare (86th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn), the chorus walks across the stage and back in “X” formation, bumping into each other (intentionally or accidentally, I couldn’t tell), and the effect is merely one of too many people crammed in too small a space. (Happily, Kinney more than redeems himself later.)

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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