Posts Tagged ‘Gail Burns’

THEATER Review: “God of Carnage” @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, September 14th, 2015
Upper: Brett Milanowski (l) and Aaron Holbritter (r) Lower: Erin Waterhouse (l) and Kathleen Carey (r)

Upper: Brett Milanowski (l) and Aaron Holbritter (r) Lower: Erin Waterhouse (l) and Kathleen Carey (r)

Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: At first, I was lulled into the thought that God of Carnage at New Lebanon’s Theater Barn was going to be a civil, if testy exploration of the issues surrounding a playground fight between two boys. The two sets of parents meet to calmly discuss the situation in this gem of a play by French playwright Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton. The words and tone change as the polite niceties soon give way to more primal behavior.

Gail M. Burns: In present day Brooklyn, Michael (Aaron Holbritter) and Veronica (Kathleen Carey) have invited Alan (Brett Milanowski) and Annette (Erin Waterhouse) over to discuss the fight between their 11-year-old sons. It seems that Alan and Annette’s Benjamin has whacked Michael and Veronica’s Henry with a stick, resulting in some superficial injuries and two broken teeth. The adults, who have not met until this encounter, are gathered awkwardly to discuss and “resolve” this crisis.

Larry: With direction by Phil Rice, this dark comedy comes as close to being the theatrical answer to an R-rated movie as I have ever seen on stage, as four grown-ups duke it out using every sort of humor you can imagine, from deadpan cracks to gross-out gags. There is something wickedly delightful in being able to watch other people’s decorum go south along with their marriages, and it is obvious that the actors have managed to cross the fierceness of Albee’s Virginia Wolf with TV’s laugh-out-loud characters in The Honeymooners.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage


THEATER Review: “Evita” @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, August 31st, 2015
Eva Peron

Eva Peron

Theatre review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: I’ve waited a long time for Evita to be performed in this area…

Larry Murray: It’s one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most interesting concept musicals because its jewel of a lead, Eva Perón (Joanna Russell) left such an impressive legacy that even an Englishman was inspired to make her life into a musical. People don’t think of the safety net she created in the middle of a brutal military dictatorship, but as Evita brings out, her story was propelled by her upbringing as a desposeído. She cared for the poor even as the government enriched itself to the point of bankruptcy.

Gail: Eva Perón (1919-1952) was an amazing woman, and like most amazing women her story is told and retold through various patriarchal lenses – political, religious, sexual and here artistic. Since she was only 33 when she died of cancer, there was not time for Evita to tell her own story.

And while this 1976 Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera is iconic and well known, this is the first time I have been offered an opportunity to see it since I bought a $10 seat in the nose-bleed section of the original Broadway production in 1979. (Yes, you could see a Broadway musical for $10 back then.) It’s a show everyone knows, and nobody does. For the tiny Theater Barn in New Lebanon to tackle it takes chutzpah!

Larry: I was impressed by both leads, Joanna Russell has a tremendous voice which she kept under control, building songs like “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from pianissimo beginnings to exuberant displays of vocal prowess. Her acting style was forthright, and not overwrought, whereas someone trained as an actor rather than a singer might have been tempted to burn up the scenery a bit, don’t you think? In a gorgeous glittering white dress, arms raised high on the balcony, she was every bit the Evita we have come to know from legend.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER Review: Tina Packer Stars in “Mother of the Maid” @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, August 28th, 2015
Anne Troup as Joan Arc and Tina Packer as Isabelle Arc.

Anne Troup as Joan Arc and Tina Packer as Isabelle Arc

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

Ever heard of Isabelle Romée (1377–1458)? She was married to a man named Jacques d’Arc and they had a daughter named Jeanne, known in English as Joan. Joan d’Arc. Joan of Arc. The Maid of Orleans. Saint Joan.

I had always been presented with Joan of Arc (1412-1431) as a peasant girl, but in fact her family was what we today would consider solidly middle class. They owned and farmed several acres. Isabelle spun wool, while Jacques also held a minor position in the village government as a tax collector. Yes, they were illiterate; the majority of people were back then. After Joan went to court, the family was ennobled in 1429 by King Charles VII, the former dauphin who Joan had brought to the throne. After Joan’s death, Isabelle moved to Orleans, where she received a pension from that city.

Turns out the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. While Isabelle’s life was far less spectacular than her daughter’s, she was an intelligent and tenacious woman who devoted the second half of her life to clearing Joan’s name. This required her to learn to read and write so that she could petition a series of Popes and argue her case before church courts, and to travel internationally. Over the course of four years from 1452-1456, the posthumous retrial of Joan’s case involved clergy from all across Europe and concluded with her being cleared of all charges and labeled a martyr instead of a heretic. Incidentally, the crime for which Joan was burned alive was cross-dressing, and she wasn’t canonized until 1920.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER Review: “The Comedy of Errors” @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
(l to r) Kelley Curran as Adriana, Aaron Bartz as Dromio of Ephesus, Ian Lassiter as Antipholus of Ephesus, Ben Chase as the Officer, Malcolm Ingram as Egeon, Douglas Seldin as Luce, Christianna Nelson as the Abbess and Cloteal L. Horne as Luciana.

(l to r) Kelley Curran as Adriana, Aaron Bartz as Dromio of Ephesus, Ian Lassiter as Antipholus of Ephesus, Ben Chase as the Officer, Malcolm Ingram as Egeon, Douglas Seldin as Luce, Christianna Nelson as the Abbess and Cloteal L. Horne as Luciana. (photo: Enrico Spada)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

Yesterday, as I was writing my review of The Unexpected Man, a little voice in my head said, “You should wait until after you see The Comedy of Errors to write this.” But speed is everything in these days of instant electronic communication, and I chose to meet my deadline rather than to wait until I had a broader base of information. Now I regret it.

Rick Dildine was the Executive Director of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox for about six controversial months in 2014-2015, and both this big, bold, energetic production and the tiny fragile staging of Unexpected Man are the result of invitations he issued to directors new to the Berkshires. The two shows share the space in the Tina Packer Playhouse, where Comedy of Errors practically bursts the seams of the former Quonset hut, and The Unexpected Man seems to barely leave a footprint as it tip-toes through. Looking at The Unexpected Man alone, it appeared that Dildine had little sense of what the space was for or about. Assessing the two shows together, a broader and more coherent plan for the season emerges.

And I am actually the only member of the press to see The Unexpected Man first and The Comedy of Errors second. The Shakespeare comedy opened two weeks ahead of the Yasmina Reza one-act, but health issues delayed my opportunity to see the former. Dildine’s choice of the young Taibi Magar, a recently minted MFA from Brown University-Trinty Rep directing program, was genius and right in step with Tina Packer’s tradition of hiring innovative female directors with a genuine love and respect for the Bard. She in turn has cast from both inside and from outside the Shakespeare & Company stable of performers, and while it is painful to long-time fans of the Company to see comic geniuses like Josh Aaron McCabe and Michael F. Toomey relegated to minor roles, the newcomers Magar has hired are excellent and blend well with Company regulars like Cloteal L. Horne and Douglas Seldin.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

REVIEW: Regional Premiere of ‘john & jen” @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Caitlin Mesiano and Michael Luongo in “john & jen” at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, NY from July 30 through August 9.

Caitlin Mesiano and Michael Luongo in “john & jen” at the Theater Barn, New Lebanon, July 30-August 9.

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

john & jen is the area premiere of a melancholy little musical about a woman who spends her whole life, well, the first 45 years at least, trying desperately to take care of the men in her life, only to have them either fail her or reject her smothering efforts. Over the course of the show we learn next to nothing about her – her desires and dreams and talents – but we learn all about them. You will not be surprised when I tell you this show was written by two men, composer Andrew Lippa and lyricist Tom Greenwald.

The woman’s name is Jen and the men with whom she struggles are her unseen, unnamed and physically abusive father; her six-years-younger brother, John, who is killed in Vietnam at the age of 19; her son, also John; and Jason, the father of her child, who is never seen on stage or in the child’s life. The show takes place over the course of 38 years – 1952-1990 – and is set primarily in the United States, although the first scene of the second act occurs in Canada, where Jen and Jason have moved so that he can avoid the draft. In this solid production at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, Caitlin Mesiano plays Jen and Michael Luongo plays her brother John in Act I and her son John in Act II.

The show, which is sung through, rests squarely on Mesiano’s shoulders. Where Luongo is only required to play both Johns from birth to age 18/19, Mesiano has to take Jen from six to 44. I am guessing Mesiano is not yet 30, and both age extremes are a stretch for her. Her voice is naturally fairly high and nasal, and her exaggeration of these traits when she was playing Jen as a child was grating. But since, as I mentioned earlier, Jen is not a well-written or fully fleshed-out character, there are grating and pathetic moments built right in, and Mesiano does a heroic job of bringing emotional depth and sympathetic interest to this tragic woman.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

REVIEW: “Bells Are Ringing” @ the Colonial Theatre [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, July 16th, 2015
James Ludwig (center) in Bells Are Ringing at Berkshire Theatre Group. (photo: Reid Thompson)

James Ludwig (center) in “Bells Are Ringing” at the Colonial Theatre (photo: Reid Thompson)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Roseann Cane

Roseann Cane: Currently on stage at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Bells Are Ringing originally opened on Broadway in 1956 – the same year that Candide, The Most Happy Fella and My Fair Lady premiered (Oh, to have a time machine!) – and ran for 924 performances. With a book and lyrics by Comden and Green, music by Jule Styne and choreography by Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, what a pedigree it boasts. Its star, the magnificent Judy Holliday, won a Tony for her performance, as did her co-star Sydney Chaplin.

Gail M. Burns: This is certainly a musical of its era, right down to the setting at a telephone answering service. For the young and unenlightened, back in prehistoric times when phones had rotary dials and plugged into the wall, if you weren’t home when a call came in, you missed it. Or if you were on the phone and another call came in, the caller got a busy signal. There was no way to leave a message. This was a problem, especially for the rich and famous, so the answering service was invented. Your number rang at a central switchboard where an actual human (invariably a woman) answered it and wrote down (with a pen on a piece of paper) your message. Then you called in, were read your messages, and you could return the calls, or receive important pieces of news, like “you got the job!” or “your uncle died.”

Judy Holliday’s first job was as an assistant switchboard operator at Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre in the 1930’s, and in 1956 a woman named Mary Printz opened Belles Celebrity Answering Service in New York. (Astoundingly, in this electronic age, the agency is still in business!) Comden and Green were clients of Printz’s and long-time friends and theater colleagues of Holliday’s, who by this point had won an Oscar to go with her Tony. They created Bells Are Ringing and the leading role of Ella Peterson for her.

Roseann: Which explains why this charming and paper-thin story, about a switchboard operator for an answering-service who falls in love with a client she has never seen, is more of a star vehicle and musical showcase than the more complexly plotted aforementioned shows, but so what?

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

REVIEW: “A Murder is Announced” Is Classic Christie @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
John Trainor and Rie Lee.

John Trainor and Rie Lee.

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

The annual murder mystery – almost always an Agatha Christie – does so well for the Theater Barn in New Lenanon that they are running this year’s offering for three weekends instead of the usual two. A Murder Is Announced offers lots of familiar faces on stage and familiar names in the program at the cheerful, no-frills family-run theatre. John Trainor is once again wearing the trench coat as a Christie sleuth; Joan Coombs is dithering; Meg Dooley is playing the highly strung mistress of the house where the murders (yes, there are two) take place; Abe Phelps has designed a handsome set which is well lit by his son Allen Phelps; and a supporting cast of talented young actors struts their stuff.

A Murder is Announced is a 1977 stage adaption by Leslie Darbon of Dame Agatha Christie’s 1950 novel of the same title, which was her fiftieth published book. The novel was very well received and is considered classic Christie, so it is interesting that Dame Agatha didn’t dramatize it herself. If she had, I suspect we would have ended up with a smoother, funnier, less fraught work than director Aaron Holbritter has to work with here.

In a large country house called Little Paddocks in the small English village of Chipping Cleghorn, Miss Blacklock (Dooley) is minding her manners and presiding over her hodge-podge household of friends and relations with the questionable assistance of her lone servant Mitzi (Shannon Paul), a loquacious and excitable Russian. It is Friday, October 13, and uppermost on Miss Blacklock’s mind is the celebration of her dear friend Miss Bunner’s (Coombs) birthday. She’s been Miss Blacklock’s companion ever since the latter returned from a long stay abroad nursing her late sister through a losing battle with tuberculosis. But the day-to-day concerns take a back seat when a notice in the personals column of the local Gazette announces a murder will take place at Little Paddocks at 6:30 that evening.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

REVIEW: “Moon Over Buffalo” Is a Five-Star Hit at Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015
(l to r) Alyssa Chase and Joan Coombs in Moon Over Buffalo at The Theater Barn through July 5, 2015.

(l to r) Alyssa Chase and Joan Coombs in “Moon Over Buffalo” at the Theater Barn through July 5.

Theater Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: Set in 1950’s America with nonstop laughs that barely gave its opening night audience at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon a chance to catch its collective breath, Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, which was written in 1995, proves that its timeless combination of satire, slapstick and sight gags still make for an immense crowd-pleaser. His earlier turns at farce – Lend Me a Tenor and Fox on the Fairway – have established him one of the most popular purveyors of light comedy to summer and community theater. Moon Over Buffalo spoofs the theater, television and film, as well as families, sweethearts, egos and even your local weathermen. Nobody escapes his gaze unscathed.

Gail M. Burns: I love how Ludwig’s humor is simultaneously low-brow and literate, and the cast here does a great job of being broadly physical as well as bringing home the speeches from Shakespeare, Rostrand and Coward. George (Phil Rice) and Charlotte Hay (Mary Nichols) are a married couple of B-grade actors. We meet them in Buffalo, NY, touring Noel Coward’s Private Lives and Edmund Rostrand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in rep. Her stone-deaf mother, Ethel (Joan Coombs) is their costume mistress and a bit player, and Paul (Noah Mefford), the man they thought would be their son-in-law, is also an actor/administrator with the company. Their daughter Rosalind (Alyssa H. Chase) has recently left Paul, and the theater, in search of a “normal life” and arrives with a new fiancé, a local TV weatherman named Howard (Caleb John Cushing), in tow. Another interloper amidst the mayhem is Richard (Sky Vogel), a wealthy and successful “lawyer to the stars,” who has come to woo Charlotte away to that fabled land of normalcy. On the day that famed film director Frank Capra is coming to see the matinee to consider George and Charlotte for leads in his new Scarlet Pimpernel movie, George learns he has knocked up the ingénue Eileen (Clara Childress) and goes on a bender. Chaos ensues.

Larry: I don’t know who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this superb production, the director or the actors, but the entire creative team went the extra mile to make this fast-paced story go by in a flash. It proves that Theater Barn has retro screwball comedy chops. There are no small roles in this play, making casting the key to a good production, which is why Joan Coombs was a real standout for me. She plays the mother-in-law who is deaf as a post, thereby setting up many of the play’s awkward situations as she putters about as wardrobe mistress and bit player. Coombs plays her with steadfast determination and total obliviousness as she picks up the pieces the others leave behind, including Cyrano’s floral trousers which always seemed to end up in two pieces.

But the real trouper in all this is Phil Rice, the show’s director who, due to the illness of the original actor, ended up playing the central role of George as well. And it’s a juicy role, too, the star turn. I had some rare-for-a-critic full belly laughs during his second-act drunk scene in which he gets to drop his drawers, recite Shakespeare and, literally, come out of the closet. The only straight man in the show is the lawyer, Richard (ably and subtly played by Vogel), who tries to woo away Charlotte.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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