Posts Tagged ‘Berkshire On Stage’

THEATER: “Henry IV, Parts I & II” (Condensed) @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, August 14th, 2014
The cast of Henry IV, Parts I and II (photo:  Kevin Sprague)

The cast of Henry IV, Parts I and II (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

Shakespeare’s two history plays purporting to be about King Henry IV of England (1367-1413 CE) are actually about the coming of age of his son, the future King Henry V (1386-1422 CE). They form the center of the Bard’s tetralogy which begins with Richard II and ends with Henry V, although some will argue that Henry VI, Parts I, II and III are also a part of what becomes then a seven-play cycle. All of this was quite recent history for Shakespeare (1564-1616 CE) and these plays were not only very popular entertainment, but also formed the Tudor equivalent of the required high school course in American History we are familiar with today. At a time when most people were illiterate and few had any formal schooling, they could learn the royally sanctioned history of their land at the theater while laughing at Sir John Falstaff and his merry band of thieves and whores.

Performed in their entirety, Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II occupy the stage for a good seven hours. Hard to perform apart contextually, they are impossibly expensive and time consuming for a modern company to perform together. Starting off last year with a production of Richard II, Shakespeare & Company wanted to continue on with the history plays, and so commissioned actor/director Jonathan Epstein to condense Henry IV into one play. The resulting work runs a solid three hours, and when you add in the much-needed 20-minute intermission you walk out of the theater about three and a half hours after you entered. Thankfully the evening performances start at 7:30, not 8pm.

Epstein has cut much of the history in favor of the excellent comedy in the plays, but sadly that renders the politics and battles that remain even harder for the average audience member to understand. Adding to that muddle, just about every significant political player is named Henry (and sometimes called Harry or Hal), which is neither Epstein nor Shakespeare’s fault, that’s just history. For the sake of clarity in this review we will refer to them as Henry IV, Prince Hal (the future King Henry V), Hotspur (Henry Percy), and Percy (Hotspur’s father, the Earl of Northumberland).

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REVIEW: Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano” the Revue-sical @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

I Love a Piano

Review by Gail M. Burns

Irving Berlin’s I Love a Piano is a revue of songs by the inimitable composer, but at the Theater Barn in New Lebannon, the revue creators Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley have crafted a pleasant evening with a singular flow and have avoided one of the major pitfalls of the revue-sical genre – too much exposition painfully forced into dialogue.

You really don’t need to know that Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was born Israel Isidore Baline in Russia, emigrated with his family to New York City in 1893, dropped out of school at age eight to become a newsboy and discovered that he could sell more papers if he added a little song to his sales pitch in order to enjoy this show. Chatty critics like me can tell you all of that, and there are plenty of good biographies of Berlin out there, too. You just need to know a good song, well sung, when you hear it.

And they are all good songs, well sung, by a young and talented sextet under the smooth direction of Trey Compton – Theater Barn vets Stephanos Bacon, Jerielle Morwitz, Shaun Rice and Kimberly Suskind, joined by newcomers Maclain Dassatti and Eileen Whitt – with a fine range of talents.

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Korean War Vet Fights Drugs and PTSD in Revival of “A Hatful of Rain” @ Berkshire Theatre Group [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
Actor Tommy Schrider stars in A Hatful of Rain in Stockbridge. (file photo)

Actor Tommy Schrider stars in “A Hatful of Rain” in Stockbridge. (file photo)

Berkshire Theatre Group presents Michael V. Gazzo’s A Hatful of Rain, a poignant foray into the devastating effects of heroin in the life of a Korean War veteran at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge. Preview performances begin at 7pm Wednesday (August 13); opening night is 8pm Saturday (August 16); and the production closes at 8pm August 30.

Tickets to A Hatful of Rain are $42 to $62; all preview tickets are $42. Veterans receive 20% off full price tickets.

The war fought abroad is just as devastating as the war fought within. This rings devastatingly true for Johnny Pope (Tommy Schrider) a Korean War veteran who has safely returned home to New York City and now struggles with drug addiction after being heavily medicated during his hospital stay.

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Berkshire Fringe: The Wardrobe Ensemble Offers a Whirlwind “Riot” and a Doleful “33″ [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, August 11th, 2014
33 is about friendship, hope and Elvis Presley.

“33″ is about friendship, hope and Elvis Presley.

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: After seeing two performances by the Bristol, UK theatre company the Wardrobe Ensemble at the Berkshire Fringe Festival, all I can say is that I wish they would move to Pittsfield and set up shop here. They are the most entertaining, energetic and disciplined theatre company I have seen in some time. They use makeshift materials in an improvised theatre inside a repurposed church to bring their bold ideas and innovative physical theatre to life. Brilliantly.

They are performing two original works at the Berkshire Fringe, Riot and 33. Which did you like better?

Gail M. Burns: I had seen and reviewed Riot before, when it came to the Fringe in 2012, and I think it is still my favorite, even though I thoroughly enjoyed 33. As you mentioned, both plays are based on real-life events. On February 10, 2005, there was a riot at the midnight opening of a new Ikea store in Edmondton, a northern section of London. Thousands of people turned up, nine ambulances were called and six people were kept overnight in hospitals. Much of the dialogue for Riot comes directly from media reports of that event.

Larry: I knew that Riot would be the one that struck a familiar chord with me since my kitchen is from Ikea. I have almost panicked in those Jean-Paul Sartre designed maze-like stores where there is no quick way out – you have to pass every item in the endless aisles before an exit finally appears. The help won’t give you any help either. And Riot captures that trapped feeling in a visceral way, though it is much less intimidating to be an onlooker than a participant. Throughout the course of Riot we see endless running, shoving and even some flying through the air as the troupe reenacted an actual event.

Gail: The physicality of Riot is breathtaking. This company works fearlessly together, and containing all that energy in a very small playing space makes the violence even more explosive.

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Jonathan Epstein Adapts, Directs and Stars in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” Thru Aug. 31 [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, August 7th, 2014
In rehearsal: Henry Clarke (l) and Jonathan Epstein (phot: Elizabeth Aspenlieder)

In rehearsal: Henry Clarke (l) and Jonathan Epstein (photo: Elizabeth Aspenlieder)

A sweeping spectacle of bawdy buffoonery and bloody rebellion, director Jonathan Epstein’s razor sharp and condensed adaptation of Henry IV delivers both parts in one dynamic evening of theatre. Performances run in Shakespeare & Co.’s Tina Packer Playhouse through August 31. Press opening is Friday (August 8) at 7pm.

Shakespeare’s take on honor, war, sex and violence has never been more acute than in this riotous comedy that inter-mingles the young-rascal-that-would-be-king, Prince Hal, with the psychological underpinnings of father/son relationships. Epstein sets Shakespeare’s wildest history tale between a bustling 15th century Eastcheap and a more contemporary London, where both settings blend together as we follow this stirring history of succession to the throne. Meet the notorious Prince Hal, heir apparent, who rebels against his father, forsakes the court and engages in petty crime with that huge ‘sweet creature of bombast,’ the unruly knight Falstaff. When the Prince’s nemesis, Hotspur, and the northern lords rebel, will Hal stay and continue carousing with his surrogate ‘father’ Falstaff or heed the call of duty from the ailing King Henry? An exhilarating and potent journey through time and history, Henry IV offers many of the most memorable characters and lines in Shakespeare’s canon as it continues to captivate and mesmerize audiences over four centuries later.

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Mark St. Germain’s Touching “Dancing Lessons” Set to Debut at Barrington Stage Company [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
Dancing Lessons

Dancing Lessons

Once again we await – with great interest – the world premiere of another Mark St. Germain play, Dancing Lessons. It is described as a new romantic comedy by the Barrington Stage Company Associate Artist Mark St. Germain and will play on the main stage from Thursday (August 7) through August 24. Opening night is August 13 at 7pm.

Directed by Barrington Stage Artistic Director Julianne Boyd, Dancing Lessons stars John Cariani and Paige Davis. John Cariani made his BSC debut as Dogberry in last summer’s Much Ado About Nothing. Cariani is also the playwright of the popular play Almost, Maine and recently starred in the play’s Off-Broadway revival. Paige Davis (Broadway’s Chicago and TV’s “Trading Spaces”) makes her BSC debut.

Dancing Lessons centers on a young man (Cariani) with high-functioning autism (Asperger’s syndrome) who seeks the instruction of a Broadway dancer (Davis), now sidelined with injuries. As their relationship unfolds, they’re caught off-guard by the surprising discoveries – both hilarious and heartwarming – that they make about each other.

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PigPen Theatre Co. Offers “The Old Man and the Old Moon” @ Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
The company takes storytelling to new heights. Seen here: Ryan Melia, Curtis Gillen, Ben Ferguson, Matt Nuernberger, Dan Weschler.

The company takes storytelling to new heights. Seen here: Ryan Melia, Curtis Gillen, Ben Ferguson, Matt Nuernberger, Dan Weschler

The Williamstown Theatre Festival’s final show of the 2014 season is The Old Man and the Old Moon, which runs on the Nikos Stage from Wednesday (August 6) through August 17.

Of course, the endlessly imaginative PigPen Theatre Co. comes to Williamstown with a reputation for luminously low-fi spectacle that elevates traditional storytelling to high art. Their fantastical, song-filled tale takes us to the end of the world, when an old man abandons his duty of filling the moon with liquid light to search for his missing wife. With a rollicking array of ever-changing characters, inventive theatrical effects and an infectious contemporary folk sound, these seven young actor-musicians transform the seemingly ordinary into sheer wonder.

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THEATER: “The Visit” with Chita Rivera Gets an Epic Production at Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, August 4th, 2014
The cast on the set of The Visit. (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

The cast on the set of The Visit. (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: From the moment you take your seat at the ’62 Center where the Williamstown Theatre Festival performs, you know you are in for a special evening. Soaring into the flies on stage is Scott Pask’s single set that will contain the evening’s performance of The Visit. This tuneful John Kander and Fred Ebb musical has been trying to get to Broadway since 2001. With a book by Terrence McNally and Chita Rivera in the lead role as Claire Zachanassian, it could be well on its way. The WTF production is directed by John Doyle, who knows how to showcase the darker side of human nature, the rich manipulating the poor and it couldn’t be more timely.

Gail M. Burns: This is billed as Kander and Ebb but since Fred Ebb’s death in 2004, Kander and McNally have formed the creative team. Doyle made many changes for this version – cutting the show from two and a half hours and two acts down to a 95-minute one-act form – so the lyrics have obviously been changed since Ebb wrote them.

Larry: The 2001 production was put together at Chicago’s Goodman but 9/11 killed its prospects when New York producers were unable to fly in to see it. The Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA staged a workshop production in 2008, and now in 2014 it looks like the Williamstown team has put together the definitive version. Earlier productions were a bit top heavy having incorporated far too many characters and details from Friedrich Dürrenmat’s 1956 satirical play about greed and revenge, Der Besuch der alten Dame.

The tightening up of the show has worked well, and only a few songs have been lost – the Chorale that opened Act 2, Claire’s “Confession” song, and the reprise of “Winter” by a Young Adam. Other songs have likely been shortened a bit to keep things moving swiftly. They were not missed, since the story is still delightfully rich, full of detail. With a large cast and luscious ten-piece orchestra under David Loud, this Williamstown production fully conveys a dark parable about what desperate people will do when faced with a financial payoff.

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