THEATER REVIEW: “Ragtime” at Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

July 7th, 2017, 3:00 pm by Sara
The full cast of RAGTIME (photo: Daniel Rader)

The full cast of “Ragtime” at Barrington Stage Co. (photo: Daniel Rader)

Review by Gail M. Burns

“You just sit there going, ‘This is our country as we know it.’ Black people are crying out that their lives matter. Women are saying, ‘I can never go back to before.’ Immigrants are saying, ‘What is wrong with this country?’ These are all lyrics from the show, and they’re all words from the television today…it really makes you think about where we are as a country and where we need to be and how do we get there.” – Lynn Ahrens, lyricist for Ragtime, in a recent interview in The Interval

Immigrants are being openly discriminated against. Violence against black people goes unpunished. Women are fighting for their rights. The rich are getting richer. Workers are struggling for fair pay. Welcome to 1906.

That was the year that the house in New Rochelle, NY, owned by novelist E. L. Doctorow in the mid-1970’s, was built. And it was in that house he wrote Ragtime, named one of the best novels of the 20th century, which provides the source material for this musical.

At Barrington Stage Co., director Joe Calarco and scenic designer Brian Prather have set this production in the attic of that handsome home in New Rochelle. The stories that the mementos there provoke are at once immediate and of another time. They “hold the mirror up to nature” and we clearly see our reflection in our ancestors’ lives.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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THEATER REVIEW: “Children of a Lesser God” @ Fitzgerald Main Stage [Berkshire on Stage]

July 7th, 2017, 11:00 am by Sara
Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff in “Children of a Lesser God” (photo: Matthew Murphy)

Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff in “Children of a Lesser God” (photo: Matthew Murphy)

Review by Barbara Waldinger

Who are the children of a lesser god?

Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God, a play that focuses on the struggles of deaf people to deal with society at large, is as relevant to the problems facing minorities today as it was in the aftermath of the civil rights movement. It captured the Tony award for Best Play in 1980 and for its two leads, John Rubenstein and Phyllis Frelich. (Frelich was the first deaf performer to be so honored, and when the movie adaptation came out a few years later, Marlee Matlin became the first deaf actress to win an Academy Award.) Now the play is being revived to open the 89th season of Berkshire Theatre Group’s Fitzgerald Main Stage in Stockbridge, with direction by Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon, featuring Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff.

A love story between a male teacher at a school for the deaf, and a female former student (subsequently a custodian at the school), the play seeks to make a case for deaf rights. The deaf woman Sarah Norman (Ridloff), takes a stand: she stubbornly, even angrily, refuses to learn to lip read or to speak. Graceful, elegant and breathtakingly expressive in her signs, Sarah understandably fears how she will look and sound if she vocalizes. She has never needed language, having lived in this cocoon-like school since the age of five, and having engaged in numerous sexual escapades that did not depend on language. The dedicated teacher James Leeds (Jackson), is determined to persuade Sarah, with whom he has fallen in love, to join the speaking world, which will offer her many more opportunities in life. On the classroom blackboard (which slides on and off the set) is written: “Speech is not a specious but a sacred sanction secured by solemn sacrifice.” He promises that with his help, Sarah will no longer be dependent on others to speak for her.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “The Roommate” at Williamstown [Berkshire on Stage]

July 6th, 2017, 1:00 pm by Sara
S. Epatha Merkerson (Sharon) and Jane Kaczmarek (Robyn). Photo by Daniel Rader.

S. Epatha Merkerson (Sharon) and Jane Kaczmarek (Robyn). Photo by Daniel Rader.

Review by Barbara Waldinger

A play bearing the title The Roommate evokes visions of college dormitories or New York City apartments, unaffordable for young people living alone. Perhaps the characters started as friends, perhaps they are strangers, but for sure the sparks will fly between them before the first act is over. But Jen Silverman has written a play – currently on the boards at the Williamstown Theatre Festival – that defies expectations in many ways.

Here we have two middle-aged women: Sharon (S. Epatha Merkerson), a divorced Midwestern homemaker, has invited Bronx-native Robyn (Jane Kaczmarek) to move into her Iowa home. And although sparks fly, it is not in the way one might expect.

As playwright Silverman asserts, the play is about transformation — both characters choose to change their lives by making space for a new, completely antithetical person. Sharon’s son’s lesbian girlfriend, who lives with him in New York City (he’s a women’s clothing designer – NOT homosexual), describes her as boring and judgmental. Indeed, Sharon’s only activity, besides calling her son whom she misses terribly, is her book group or, more high-mindedly, “reading group.” Robyn, whose initial entrance signals trouble, thanks to her black leather jacket, jeans and boots (the costumes are designed by Anita Yavich), is a lesbian, vegan, slam poet, former potter and scam artist, who likes to “grow things” (like marijuana plants). While Sharon can’t imagine Robyn’s life in the dangerous Bronx, the seemingly fearless Robyn, upon hearing that there are tornadoes in Iowa, is ready to bolt. In the course of the play, the women influence each other to reinvent their lives.

The Roommate is a comedy of character, not heavy on plot. Silverman has a fine ear and a distinctive voice that is at once natural and very funny. Because Sharon has lived such a sheltered life, she is like a child eager to explore this new world that Robyn brings with her. A self-described “nosy and persistent” woman, she justifies her curiosity as part of a “mother’s line of work.” With her gift for dialogue, the playwright invites us to uncover with Sharon the many secrets that Robyn attempts to hide. (The only lines that don’t seem organic are those in which Sharon speaks out loud to herself, as when she rifles one of Robyn’s private cartons and announces what she finds.)

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “Downstairs” @ Dorset Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

June 30th, 2017, 1:00 pm by Sara
Tim Daly and Tyne Daly

Tim Daly and Tyne Daly

Review by Gail M. Burns

Both playwright Theresa Rebeck and actor Tim Daly have close relationships the state of Vermont and the Dorset Theatre Festival. When Mr. Daly was starring in Rebeck’s play The Scene at Dorset in 2013, he suggested that she write a play for him and his sister Tyne Daly to do together. While they have appeared in film and on television together, they have never shared the stage. In this world premiere of Rebeck’s Downstairs they play a brother and sister of similar age to the actors, but there the resemblances ends.

In a recent interview with Stratton Magazine, Rebeck spoke of the influences that her surroundings in Vermont, including her home in Dorset, had on Downstairs. “The specific idea for the play grew out of them and also out of the basement of our guesthouse in Vermont,” Rebeck explains. “It is a strange and interesting space to me, and I thought it might be great to set a play there.”

In that same Stratton interview, Ms. Daly is quoted as saying: “I’ve concluded after 56 years in this business, that I don’t believe in art that doesn’t move you. It has to move you. You have to rile people up either with funny, or scary, or things to think about.”

Downstairs hits all three of Ms Daly’s goals. It is moving, funny and scary, and it gives one many things to think about.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “Moonlight and Magnolias” @ Oldcastle [Berkshire on Stage]

June 28th, 2017, 1:30 pm by Sara
Eli Ganias as David O’ Selznick, Natalie Wilder as Miss Poppenguhl, and Nathan Stith as Victor Fleming in “Moonlight and Magnolias.”

Eli Ganias as David O’ Selznick, Natalie Wilder as Miss Poppenguhl, and Nathan Stith as Victor Fleming in “Moonlight and Magnolias.”

Review by Gail M. Burns

Moonlight and Magnolias, currently on the boards at Bennington’s Oldcastle Theatre Company, centers on a story related in William MacAdams’ 1990 biography of Oscar-winning screenwriter Ben Hecht. A scene-setting quotation from MacAdams:

“At dawn on Sunday, February 20, 1939, David Selznick … and director Victor Fleming [who Selznick had pulled away from shooting ‘The Wizard of Oz’] shook Hecht awake to inform him he was on loan from MGM and must come with them immediately and go to work on ‘Gone with the Wind,’ which Selznick had begun shooting five weeks before. It was costing Selznick $50,000 each day the film was on hold waiting for a final screenplay rewrite and time was of the essence….Recalling the episode in a letter to screenwriter friend Gene Fowler, [Hecht] said he hadn’t read the novel but Selznick and director Fleming could not wait for him to read it. They would act out scenes based on Sidney Howard’s original script which needed to be rewritten in a hurry. Hecht wrote, ‘After each scene had been performed and discussed, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it out. Selznick and Fleming, eager to continue with their acting, kept hurrying me. We worked in this fashion for seven days, putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day. Selznick refused to let us eat lunch, arguing that food would slow us up. He provided bananas and salted peanuts….thus on the seventh day I had completed, unscathed, the first nine reels of the Civil War epic.’”

You can see how this incident would intrigue a playwright. What was that week of bananas, peanuts and an impromptu two-man version of a Civil War epic like? The fact that it could be true and that the British-born Ron Hutchinson has obviously done his homework on the real lives of these three men make Moonlight and Magnolias both tantalizing and overwrought. But history has played a cruel trick since the play was written in 2004.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “The Birds” @ Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

June 22nd, 2017, 1:30 pm by Sara
Kathleen McNenny, Sasha Diamond, and Stevie Ray Dallimore. Photo: Scott Barrow

Kathleen McNenny, Sasha Diamond, and Stevie Ray Dallimore. Photo: Scott Barrow

Review by Macey Levin

To be clear! The title of the short story “The Birds” written by Daphne Du Maurier in 1952 is the only thing the play – currently at Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Stage in Pittsfield – has in common with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 thriller.

Adapted for the stage by acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson, “The Birds” has a prescient quality in that the human race is doomed due to climate change, a phrase that does not occur in the play. Because of a change in environmental conditions nature has turned on itself creating an uninhabitable planet. Birds, whose migratory patterns have been disrupted because of a change in global warmth and tides, cluster by the thousands seeking food and devastating the landscape, ultimately attacking animals and humans. Tierney (Rocco Sisto), a farmer, says, “The bluejays killed my dog.”

Diane (Kathleen McNenny) and Nat (Stevie Ray Dallimore) stumble across each other after they have abandoned their cars on a road. They wend their way through woods attempting to avoid an assault until they discover a run-down lakeside cottage. They become aware that the birds’ aggressive actions come only during high tide, giving them an opportunity to leave the house to scavenge for food and other supplies in a local village that has been ravaged by the birds; their acquisitions are meager.

They have also seen Tierney carrying a shotgun on the other side of the lake, but it appears to be too far to travel to contact him. After they establish a routine and modify their intake of food and water, they are joined by Julia (Sasha Diamond), a young woman who says that she has fled a group of predatory humans. Her entrance into their lives changes the dynamic of Diane and Nat’s daily existence.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” @ The Whit [Berkshire on Stage]

June 21st, 2017, 3:00 pm by Sara

Review by Gail M. Burns

Do you wear clothes? Then you will love Love, Loss, and What I Wore currently at the Whitney Center for the Arts in a sleek and smart production by the Town Players of Pittsfield. You will adore this show if you identify as a woman, but you will like it just as well if you identify as a man and clothing is important to you. I saw this production on Father’s Day, and it brought back happy memories of my father, a straight, cisgender man who just LOVED clothing.

Clothes not only cover our bodies, they change our souls. And if you are a person who cares about clothing, you can remember exactly what you wore on both significant and insignificant occasions in your life. Wedding and prom outfits are always memorable, but other ensembles stick in the memory just because. The day I fell in love with the theater I was wearing a bright yellow mini-dress (really just a long vest) over a purple blouse and matching purple tights with yellow platform shoes with six-inch heels (making me 6’4”. Can you tell it was 1972?

I adored Ilene Beckerman’s little illustrated book of the same title when it was published in 1995 and still have my copy, but this was my first encounter with the stage version, adapted by Nora and Delia Ephron. I am sure it will have a long and happy life because it has an all-female cast, virtually no set, and can be performed as reader’s theater or, as here, as a fully staged production with memorized lines. Ideal for community theater and for professional theaters who can bring in a rotating cast of “stars” with little rehearsal necessary.

Director Melanie Rivers has assembled a fine cast. Laura Gardner plays Gingy, the only through character, who speaks most of Beckerman’s prose accompanied by poster-sized renditions of the author’s enchanting drawings, which are meticulously circulated along a clothes rack by prop manager Sam Therrien. Gingy’s wardrobe, and her memories of her mother and grandmother’s clothes, lead her through several boyfriends, husbands, children and grandchildren. Gardner is warm and amusing, bringing a light touch to her trip down memory lane.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

“Children of a Lesser God” Comes to the Fitzpatrick [Berkshire on Stage]

June 19th, 2017, 2:00 pm by Sara

Children of a Lessser God at Berkshire Theatre Group

Berkshire Theatre Group presents the Tony Award-winning Children of a Lesser God, directed by Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon. The play runs from Thursday (June 22) through Saturday, July 22 at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge.

In today’s culture, there are endless methods of communication. Are we truly listening to one another? At the core of the Tony Award-winning Children of a Lesser God, written by Tony Award-winner Mark Medoff, is a poignant story about human communication, connection and compromise.

This production features Lauren Ridloff as Sarah Norman, Joshua Jackson as James Leeds, John McGinty as Orin Dennis, Tony Award-winner Stephen Spinella as Mr. Franklin, Kecia Lewis as Mrs. Norman, Treshelle Edmond as Lydia and Julee Cerda as Edna Klein.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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