J.T. Rogers’ “Madagascar” Is the Kind of Play Chester Does Best [Berkshire on Stage]

July 2nd, 2014, 1:00 pm by Sara
(L. to R.): Debra Jo Rupp (Lilian), Paul O’Brien (Nathan) and Kim Stauffer (June), photo by Rick Teller.

(L. to R.): Debra Jo Rupp (Lilian), Paul O’Brien (Nathan) and Kim Stauffer (June), photo by Rick Teller

Theatre Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: J.T. Rogers’ 2004 mystery/memory play Madagascar is exactly the kind of show Chester Theatre Company does best – a small cast, one-set, intellectual thriller. We saw echoes of Shakespeare, Chekhov and Pinter in its intricate though oblique structure. The three characters occupy the same hotel room, but at different points in time, so they never interact directly. In fact, by the end, it is apparent that, in the action set in the present time, it would be impossible for them to do so.

Larry Murray: I loved everything about this play except the script which is also why so many will enjoy it. It talks about rich white people suffering self-doubt, and that bores me to tears. The pretentiousness of the writing with its metaphors, allusions and flights into poetic arias can not disguise the fact that it moves very slowly and circuitously on stage. It asks its audience to spend two hours in the middle of a hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome with three self-absorbed characters trying to figure out why a fourth character disappeared from their lives. As academic theatre by a playwrright with a degree and many awards, this play may hit the spot with theatre-goers who are of a certain age and impressed by transcripts and C.V.’s. But if you are like me, you like your theatre to be an exploration about something more than white folk all neatly tied up in clever metaphors, similes and allusions which this play has in spades, right, Gail?

Gail: Well, I am that academic cerebral theatre-goer of a certain age, so I enjoyed this play a whole lot more than you did, although I agree that it was heavy with allusions to Greek and Roman mythology and culture, all of which used to be part of what white Western culture called a “Classic Education.” The matinee audience we attended with was of the generation who received such an education. Younger folks, or non-white folks, might find this totally confusing and irrelevant to their experience and more diverse educational background.

Larry: That Madagascar is well-bred with perfect manners is true, and those whose world is orderly are certainly going to like it for that. But my other reservation is it seems that all the action in this play – it’s big bang – happens offstage or in the past. All we experience, as an audience, is its aferglow as deduced from each characters memory.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.


THEATER: Chester Theatre Company Premieres “Arms on Fire” by Duncan Sheik & Steven Sate [Berkshire on Stage]

July 5th, 2013, 10:00 am by Sara
(l to r) Giuesseppe Jones (Ulysses), Natalie Mendoza (Josephina), and James Barry (Smith), photo by Rick Teller.

(l to r) Giuesseppe Jones (Ulysses), Natalie Mendoza (Josephina), and James Barry (Smith), photo by Rick Teller.

Review by Gail M. Burns

There is nothing more terrifying for an artist than trying to follow up on a mega-success. Composer Duncan Sheik and poet/lyricist Steven Sater hit the theatrical stratosphere with their musical adaptation of Spring Awakening in 2006, winning Tonys, Grammys and Drama Desk awards. While neither are one-hit wonders – they have had other major and minor successes alone and in collaboration – there has been an extraordinary amount of hype and hope attached to the world premiere of Arms on Fire. This could be their Next Big Thing! If Sheik and Sater were hoping to sneak it in under the radar by premiering it at the tiny, off the beaten track Chester Theatre Company, neither the Company nor the national media had any intention of letting them do so.

Arms on Fire is not a musical but a “play with music.” A four-piece band, barely visible on stage behind a scrim, play nine musical numbers and some incidental music while James Barry and Guiesseppe Jones perform a series of scenes about two men – Smith (Barry) a washed-up, never-has-been singer and heroin addict, and Ulysses (Jones) a formerly successful Honduran disc jockey who has immigrated to New York City and now works in a nut packaging plant. All the action takes place in the present in Ulysses’ tiny studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, where Smith shows up one night having been lured in by the voice of a female singer on an LP that Ulysses is playing.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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