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: “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: “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.

Local Murder Mystery Comes to Dorset Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

June 8th, 2017, 1:00 pm by Sara
Oliver Wadsworth as one of the many characters in “The Tarnation of Russell Colvin.” Photo: Riikka Olson

Oliver Wadsworth as one of the many characters in “The Tarnation of Russell Colvin.” Photo: Riikka Olson

By Gail M. Burns

In 1812 Russell Colvin, a farm worker who all agreed was “feeble-minded,” disappeared from the Boorn family farm in East Manchester, Vermont, where he, his wife and their many children lived with her family. Seven years later, two of his brothers-in-law, Stephen and Jesse Boorn, were accused of murdering Colvin, and sentenced to hang. At almost the eleventh hour, a man claiming to be Russell Colvin was identified in New Jersey and brought to Manchester, where everyone agreed that this was indeed the missing man. Charges were dropped.

This is a very brief synopsis of the true story actor Oliver Wadsworth will bring to the stage in The Tarnation of Russell Colvin at the Dorset Theatre Festival for four performances this week (today-June 10), before touring it to Jamaica VT on Thursday, June 22; Wardsboro VT on Saturday, June 24; and South Londonderry VT on Friday, June 30.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “Shipwrecked!” @ Oldcastle Theatre Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

May 31st, 2017, 3:00 pm by Sara
Louis de Rougemont, ne Henri Louis Grin

Louis de Rougemont, ne Henri Louis Grin

Review by Gail M. Burns

What more does a man have but his name and the story he tells? Everything else is dust.

The character of Louis de Rougemont poses this question late in Shipwrecked! at a time when he is losing both. Louis de Rougemont was a real man, but his name was not Louis de Rougemont. His story was his own because he wrote it, not because he lived it. The real man was a shadowy figure behind the character and the myth he created. He died alone and in poverty.

De Rougemont, born Henri Louis Grin, lived from 1847-1921, at the time when frontiers were vanishing and there were fewer and fewer undiscovered corners of the world. His fable of being shipwrecked in the coral sea, surviving on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe, living amongst the aborigines in the Australian outback where he was considered a god sold thousands of copies of The Wide World Magazine. Donald Margulies’ 2007 play allows de Rougemont to tell “his story” with the help of two additional actors who play all the other parts in his fantastical drama.

At Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Eric Peterson has assembled a dream cast. John Hadden anchors the play solidly as de Rougement, with a twinkle in his eye and the exuberant wonder of a child as he spins his tale. Carla Woods and David Joseph play all the other roles, and Joseph also subs for Hadden during the acrobatic scenes in which de Rougement entertains and impresses with his non-existent gymnastic skills.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

REVIEW: “The Glass Menagerie” @ Hubbard Hall [Berkshire on Stage]

May 2nd, 2017, 1:30 pm by Sara

Laura (Grace Sgambettera) and her Gentleman Caller (Woodrow Proctor). Photo: Kyra Fitzgerald.

Review by Gail M. Burns

When you live with a story for a long time – and most Americans are introduced to Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie in high school or college – you see it through the lens not only of your own personal experience, but also of the social milieu of the day. I first met this play as a teenager in the early 1970s. Freudian theory was still widely accepted, and Amanda Wingfield was presented as a selfish, domineering mother who stifled her children and ruined their lives. It was still generally believed that a mother like that was the cause of a son’s homosexuality. At first I saw Amanda as the villain of the piece.

Later, I transferred that title to Tom, who abandons his mother and helpless sister just like his father before him. Now I tend to consider Jim, the gentleman caller, as the villain who raises, then crushes Amanda and Laura’s hopes.

The Glass Menagerie, currently playing at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, is the mostly highly autobiographical of Williams’ plays, and his first commercial success. It is obvious that Tom is Williams – whose given name was Thomas – and Laura is his elder sister, Rose, who ended up institutionalized for life after a botched lobotomy. Amanda is their mother, Edwina Dakin Williams. The family did live in St. Louis, his father was a traveling salesman more often on the road than at home, and Williams did work in a shoe warehouse. But Williams was the sickly child over whom his mother fawned, and there was another son in the family.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Circle Theatre Players Present “Wait Until Dark” [Berkshire on Stage]

March 20th, 2017, 3:00 pm by Sara

In a basement apartment in Greenwich Village, Suzy, a recently blinded woman, is terrorized by a trio of thugs looking for a drug-stuffed doll they think is in the apartment. Will she see through the conmen’s bizarre charade? As the suspense mounts moment to moment, come see the electrifying conclusion to the tense thriller, Wait Until Dark.

Directed by Val Gray and produced by Shirley Neiss, the Circle Theatre Players production opens on Friday (March 24) and continues March 25, 30, 31 and April 1 at 8pm; March 26 and April 2 at 2:30pm. Tickets $18; adults; $10 under age 18. Prepaid reservations can be made at www.slca-ctp.org or call (518) 674-2007. The Sand Lake Center for the Arts is located at 2880 NY Route 43, Averill Park, NY, and is fully handicapped accessible, with free parking. Wait Until Dark is written by Frederick Knott, presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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