Posts Tagged ‘Gail Burns’

THEATER: “An Enemy of the People” at Barrington Stage, a Collision of Fire and Ice Onstage [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
An Enemy of the People with Joey LaBrasca, Dee Nelson, Steve Hendrickson, Katya Stepanov and Noah Bailey (photo:Kevin Sprague)

“An Enemy of the People” with Joey LaBrasca, Dee Nelson, Steve Hendrickson, Katya Stepanov and Noah Bailey (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: Tragically, An Enemy of the People, a tale of the battle between the truth and those who would manipulate or stifle it for their own gain, is as relevant today as when Henrik Ibsen penned En folkefiende in 1882 in response to the public attacks on his play Ghosts, and in 1950 when Arthur Miller adapted it as a response to the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy. It is all too easy to draw parallels to the key concerns of today.

Larry Murray: I agree, Gail, and rarely do we see theater productions that so perfectly capture the temper of our times from a distance of 65 or 130 years. I think a large part of the reason that An Enemy of the People works so well is the excellence of every aspect of the Barrington Stage Company production in Pittsfield. Director Julianne Boyd has been doing these issue plays for many years now, and has yet to have one that has misfired. Her sense of historical importance combines with some pretty innovative direction to bring a big, long, grey play like this into sharp focus. The fourteen actors – drawn as much from this region as from New York – are uniformly superb.

Gail: The plot is painfully simple. In a town struggling to revive its economy after the Second World War, much money and many hopes have been pinned on the healing spa waters of Kirsten Springs and a new resort has been developed to capture the tourist market. The local doctor, Thomas Stockmann (Steve Hendrickson), concerned over a rash of illness among the Springs early patrons, has had the water analyzed and discovered that it is, in fact, contaminated by the run-off from the tannery upstream – a business that has been in his wife’s family for generations and is currently owned by his ecentric father-in-law, Morten Kiil (Glenn Barrett). Dr. Stockmann’s brother, Peter (Patrick Husted), is the Mayor, and they both sit on the board of directors of the resort. Dr. Stockmann has a happy family life with his wife Catherine (Dee Nelson), 20-something daughter Petra (Katya Stepanov), and two school-age sons Morten (Noah Bailey) and Ejlif (Joey Labrasca). They are well liked in the community and in the first scene the family is entertaining Aslaksen (Jack Wetherall), the publisher of the local paper, its young editor Hovstad (Scott Drummond) and his assistant, Billing (Christopher Hirsh), along with an elderly neighbor, Captain Horster (Don Paul Shannon), at dinner when the water analysis report arrives from the lab.

At first everyone hails Dr. Stockmann as a hero for catching this important information on time. But as the economic impact of this discovery becomes clear – the Mayor goes about making that impact starkly real to all concerned – the worm turns and by the opening of the second act Dr. Stockmann is not even allowed to speak at a public meeting he has called, held in the Captain’s home because no one in town will rent him a hall. Stockmann is officially declared An Enemy of the People, and the play concludes with he and his family sheltering behind their living room couch, as a mob roars outside their home and hurls rocks through their windows, determined to stick together and fight for the truth.

Larry: The tension that built during the opening of the second act where the point of the play all melds together, builds the excitement of the citizens into a frenzy, and you can feel it build all around you as the ensemble brings the action of the mob into the midst of the audience. It is a passionately breathtaking example of full-tilt theatrical magic at work. And it has to be the most memorable 15 minutes of theater I have seen this year. It’s an all-out assault on the truth by the classic powers-that-be which is at the heart of this great human story.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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THEATER: Edgar Allan Poe’s Life and Death on Stage at the Unicorn [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, October 6th, 2014
The cast of “Poe” – a world premiere written and directed by Eric Hill at the Unicorn Theatre. (photo: Christina Riley)

The cast of “Poe” – a world premiere written and directed by Eric Hill at the Unicorn Theatre (photo: Christina Riley)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: We’re just weeks away from Halloween, and as if to set the mood for an evening with Poe we had a wonderfully spooky ride through darkness, rain, and fog as we made our way to the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge. Poe is a new work, getting its world premiere by the Berkshire Theatre Group.

With all the movies featuring grunting zombies, slashers and hauntings constantly being offered to us via Netflix and the local multiplex, one might wonder whether the world has forgotten one of the pioneers of horror, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). All you need to do is listen to Kate Maguire recite “The Tell Tale Heart” in this play to remember how penetrating true horror can be. She’s doing exactly that in the photo above, with David Adkins (far left), as Poe, listening raptly.

Gail M. Burns: Even though I am not a fan of Poe, or of the horror genre in general, I recognize him as an extraordinary writer – one of the first Americans ever to attempt to earn his living solely by his pen. If he had been a sober and careful steward of his finances, that plan might have worked out better than it did…

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: “Private Eyes” @ ShakesCo Is a Befuddling Tangle of Lovers and Cheaters. Or Is It… [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
The Company of Private Eye (photo: Enrico Spada)

The Company of Private Eye (photo: Enrico Spada)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: I had to be reminded that I had seen and reviewed a production of this play fifteen years ago, also at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox. Although I liked it at the time, it was not a memorable experience.

Larry Murray: Private Eyes is an odd concoction for sure, with some of the wittiest comedy and clever aphorisms of the current fall season. Written by Steven Dietz, the revival of Private Eyes features a fresh look and much younger cast from when the Company staged it in 1999 in the Stables Theatre at The Mount. There is one rather unmissable change, however, since the therapist Frank played then by Robert D. Lohbauer has had a sex change and is now played by Lori Evans Pugh. In your prophetic earlier review (link) you advised audiences to be prepared to go through the looking glass.

Gail: For all its twists and turns, Matthew (Luke Reed) is the central character and whatever happens happens to him, whether in fantasy or reality. Another solid bit of reality here is that Matthew and Lisa (Caroline Calkins) are married, or were married during much of the action of the play. Lisa may, or may not, be having or have had an affair with Adrian (Marcus Kearns), an insufferable British director who has cast the couple in an unnamed romantic comedy. Adrian’s wife (Elizabeth ‘Lily’ Cardaropoli) may be stalking her erstwhile husband in various disguises, or the whole thing may be a series of semi-fantastic stories Matthew spins for his psychiatrist, Frank (Pugh.)

Larry: Jonathan Croy is at work here as the director, which means that when there is fun, it’s rib-splittingly funny and where there is tragedy, it fully shocks and dismays. Everything is topsy turvy in this Diet-zy concoction. In the program notes, the director says that Private Eyes is a delicate Swiss watch of a play, moving gracefully through time and memory.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Jim Brochu Gives His Regards to Broadway in His One-Man Show @ Barrington Stage [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
Jim Brochu and his cast of “character men.”

Jim Brochu and his cast of “character men.”

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: “Character Man” at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield is a wonderfully funny and touching evening of unforgettable theatrical memories. Jim Brochu may not be the first actor to draw on the famous and near-famous he has rubbed shoulders with during a long and rich life to create an evening’s entertainment, but he is certainly one of the best. As he explains at the outset, playing a “character man” means you are an essential part of any play, even though people are not likely to remember your name.

Gail M. Burns: Jack Gilford, Bert Lahr, Lou Jacobi, Zero Mostel, Jack Albertson, Phil Silvers, Charles Nelson Reilly… Indeed, while I recognized many of the names Brochu mentioned – and their faces as they appeared on a screen upstage – I am hard pressed to place his mentor, David Burns (obviously no relation), even though his face was shown at various ages throughout the show. But Burns was Brochu’s dear friend and enabler – his entree into the fascinating and frustrating world of show business.

Larry: For an hour and a half he certainly keeps the Barrington Stage audience spellbound as he rattles off anecdotes and stories about his father, his co-stars, and his beginnings as an orange drink seller in lobbies at intermission. The period he focuses on most effectively is the one in which I was a stage door Johnny myself. But while I was outside with a program and a pen he was running to get corned beef sandwiches from a deli for Cyril Ritchard, Australian stage, screen and television actor, and director. Ritchard is probably best remembered today for his performance as Captain Hook in the Mary Martin musical production of Peter Pan.

Gail: I can just taste that orange drink, Larry. It was watery with strong overtones of cardboard, and it was wildly overpriced, but you HAD to buy one when you went to the theatre in New York. I suspect now that I, like Brochu, could no longer afford one, let alone a Broadway ticket, but the very mention of that beverage brings back memories to anyone who has ever darkened a Manhattan theatre.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

REVIEW: “The Addams Family” Haunts the Theater Barn with Music, Mischief [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
Tony Pallone, Steph Bacon and Kimberly Suskind.

Tony Pallone, Steph Bacon and Kimberly Suskind

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: The moment you hear the “Addams Family Theme Song,” you know you are in for fun evening at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon. The main reason is that the director Bert Bernardi is back in town and up to no good, taking this critically drubbed musical and giving it a fresh new life in its regional premiere. The Addams Family musical is being performed for the first time in the Berkshires.

Gail M. Burns: I had read some of those dismal reviews the New York production received, and I have to say that I am disappointed if this book and score are what passes for a successful Broadwy musical these days. But as I watched the show I realized that The Addams Family is not about great music and dramatic literature, but instead it’s about nostalgia and the love Americans, especially Baby Boomers like me, have for these characters. A while back someone did a poll asking who TV’s most happily married couple were, and Gomez and Morticia Addams beat Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, Ward and June Cleaver, even George Burns and Gracie Allen! We love these fictional folks and rush for any chance to see them again.

Larry Murray: People in this area look forward to the annual return of Bernardi to the Theater Barn since he has developed a reputation for finding hidden gems and making them into breathtaking productions while staying inside a pauper’s Broadway show budget. Last summer we all enjoyed his hit Young Frankenstein, and he has followed that spooky but hardly scary musical with yet another. The cast sang, danced and cracked jokes with the best of them, and while much of the material is silly, vaudevillian and sometimes a bit coarse, it was clear the audience was enjoying every morsel these performers dished out. It is among the best work I have ever seen from Bernardi and Theater Barn.

There’s another connection too…The Addams Family composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa is a Theater Barn alum, having toiled in New Lebanon during the summers of 1990 and 1991.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

REVIEW: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, August 25th, 2014
(from left): Angel Moore, Mat Leonard and Ellizabeth Aspenlieder. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

(from left): Angel Moore, Mat Leonard and Ellizabeth Aspenlieder. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: I am deeply saddened, in the most appropriately Russian manner, to realize that Christopher Durang writes Chekhovian drama almost better than Anton Chekhov. Allow me a moment of deep reflection on the meaning of this revelation and its impact on my understanding of the cosmos and my pointless existence as an infinitesimal speck of useless matter within its vastness.

(Pause…)

Larry Murray: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike – currently on view at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox through September 14 – could have easily been a parody of Chekhov’s classic plays but instead it is a valentine, a love letter of a play by Durang. The result is a comedy with deep life lessons, as its characters relearn what it means to be a family.

Gail: While you don’t have to know Chekhov’s plays to thoroughly enjoy this one, the more you know about dramatic literature, the more fun you’ll have. And while Chekhov is definitely an acquired taste, this will tickle the fancies of Chekhov lovers and haters in equal measure because Durang understands both what is wonderful and what is thoroughly annoying about the works of the Master.

Here Durang uses character names from Chekhov’s plays – Vanya and Sonia from Uncle Vanya, Masha from Three Sisters and The Seagull, Nina from The Seagull – and throws in endless allusions to his works throughout. Here Vanya (Jim Frangione), Sonia (Tod Randolph) and Masha (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) are siblings – after a fashion, Sonia is adopted – whose professorial parents named them after Chekhov’s characters. Masha, a five-times-divorced B-list film actress, owns the family home in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, (just down the road from the home Dorothy Parker owned in the mid-20th century), where Vanya and Sonia, both unmarried, continue to live after caring for their parents through the ends of their lives. Nina (Olivia Saccomanno) just happens to be the name of a young woman visiting next door, and Spike (Mat Leonard) is Masha’s studly young lover. Like Madame Arkadina in The Seagull, Masha is an actress sliding precipitously over the hill, who is simultaneously jealous of and inspired by Nina’s luminous youthful beauty and incipient passion for acting.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: Mark St. Germain’s Luminous “Dancing Lessons” Sparkles @ Barrington Stage [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, August 15th, 2014
John Carioni(l) and Paige Davis (r) in Dancing Lessons (photo: Kevin Sprague)

John Carioni(l) and Paige Davis (r) in “Dancing Lessons” (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: Mark St. Germain’s newest play Dancing Lessons at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company could easily be categorized as a play that teaches us something new, and when it comes to Asperger Syndrome, it is certainly both instructive and inspirational on that subject. But that is a by-product of what has to be St. Germain’s best work to date. It is really a romantic comedy at heart, and it takes us to the verge of tears even as we are laughing delightedly at a young couple trying to figure out how to deal with each other.

Gail M. Burns: There are more and more people with diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum, and what they teach us is that there is no such thing as “normal.” Everyone’s brain and body function and experience the world differently and society makes an enormous error when it tries to force humankind into any mold. Every couple faces challenges as their relationship develops because there is no other place where we are as intimately and openly ourselves.

Larry: There are only two characters in this one act play, Paige Davis (as Senga Quinn, a successful Broadway dancer) and John Cariani (Dr. Ever Montgomery – a professor of geosciences who is about to be honored for his achievements). Both were at the top of their game, but are under new stress as they tentatively come together and blow apart as the story unfolds. Because of his Asperger’s, Ever is aware that he sees the world differently than most. Yet he needs help in fitting into the normal world. He uses the term “neuro-typicals” to describe people who are not like him. He refers to himself as an “Aspy,” an abbreviated description he likes to use. What I find interesting is that Senga – who is a dancer and actually sidelined with an injury – is also searching for answers.

Gail: Both characters are facing a crisis of self. Ever is very intelligent and “high-functioning.” He has had great success in his chosen field, but is terrified of relating on a personal and physical level. Senga (her name was supposed to be Agnes but her aunt wrote it backwards on her birth certificate) has achieved success as a dancer – studying and performing with some of the top choreographers and their companies, and appearing on and off-Broadway – but she was hit by a taxi and her left leg is shattered, with seriously torn muscles and ligaments in her knee. Her only hope for any kind of recovery is surgery, which a rare allergy to anesthesia prevents, and even then she will never be able to perform at the level she did before.

Click to read the rest at 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).

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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