Posts Tagged ‘Gail Burns’

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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THEATER: “Shining City” @ Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, June 25th, 2015
L to R: Mark H. Dold as Ian and Wilbur Edwin Henry as John (photo: David Fertik)

L to R: Mark H. Dold as Ian and Wilbur Edwin Henry as John (photo: David Fertik)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Synopsis: A Dubliner seeks help from a counselor after claiming to have seen the ghost of his recently deceased wife. As their sessions unfold, secrets are exposed as a simple tale turns out to be anything but. Burns and Murray had decidedly different views on this Tony nominated play, with her thumb up, and his thumb down

Larry Murray: Shining City by Irish playwright Conor McPherson was nominated for two Tony Awards, including Best Play when it opened on Broadway in 2006. We saw it performed on Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Stage in Pittsfield with a superlative cast including a brilliant Wilbur Edwin Henry as John, a mess of a man filled with insecurities, guilt, confusion and regret. The production gets high marks, but the play itself – for all its rhapsodic reviews across the country – failed to excite this observer. You know that saying about how bored the shrink must be listening to everyone prattle on about their FDI’s (Fears, Doubts, Insecurities)? Well, this play proves there is a lot of truth to that jest.

Gail M. Burns: I think you’re missing the point here, Larry. Shining City isn’t about what is being said much as it is about what is being heard and felt, and not by the audience, but by the central character of Ian (Mark H. Dold), a former Roman Catholic priest starting his new career as a therapist and his new life as a sexual being – with all that that entails, including fatherhood – in modern day Dublin. A therapist’s job is to listen, but Ian not only listens to John, he absorbs him and subsequently reenacts his sad, repressed life as his own.

Larry: Trying to be rational about my dislike of this play, it comes down to the playwright whose dialogue, while perhaps reflecting how people actually talk, was full of tentativeness and uncertainty, with eruptions of monologues laced with periodic f-bombs. These were delivered with marvelous Irish accents, and a credit to dialogue coach Wendy Waterman. Lots of pseudo meaningful conversation filled with endless “ers” and “ums,” with frequent “you knows” to dazzle the audience with its authenticity, and perhaps for the playwright to prove he could write like Harold Pinter. All that embellishment got in the way of the story for me.

Of course, Dold is an ex-priest who couldn’t find God, may have homosexual tendencies and is now continuing in a job that continues to require him to repress his own ideas and feelings. Interesting stuff. But we mostly hear him recite clinical dialogue like “I understand,” and “That’s ok” from him as he encourages his patient to share more information while trying to keep him calm. John claims he has seen the ghost of his wife, who was recently killed in a car accident, and talks about their unsatisfying relationship.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Intelligent, Riveting “Time Stands Still” Probes War, Life, Marriage @ Oldcastle Theatre [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, June 8th, 2015
(r to l) Marianna Bassham as Sarah (Injured photographer), Jason Guy as Jamie, Richard Howe as Richard and Kristin Parker as Mandy. (photo: Mike Cutler MHCPhotography)

(r to l) Marianna Bassham as Sarah, Jason Guy as Jamie, Richard Howe as Richard and Kristin Parker as Mandy. (photo: Mike Cutler MHCPhotography)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: Time Stands Still uses the tragedy of war to rev up its engine, but it is really more about the effect these conflicts have on the lives of journalists and photographers who cover them than anything else. In fact, in this Donald Margulies play, the journalist James (Jason Guy) recounts an evening spent in the theater listening to a series of monologues about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mercifully, this play avoids such lectures. Theater-goers – presumably like the ones at the opening night of this play at the Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington – don’t need to be lectured about these wars, they likely read The Times and listen to NPR. Time Stands Still is actually about more important things: families and the effect covering war for a living has on them.

Gail M. Burns: It’s no surprise this play was nominated for the Tony for Best Play when it opened in New York in 2010. Margulies already had a Pulitzer Prize and another Pulitzer nomination under his belt. His dialogue is absolutely natural and easily builds character and story while it addresses fascinating issues of the necessity and morality of observing and recording atrocities.

Larry: Two of the things I really love about productions at the Oldcastle Theatre Company is the panoramic sweep of the stage and the comfortable seating they offer their ticket buyers. The set design by Carl Sprague was a detailed feast for the eyes, too. Sprague, along with props person Jenny Morgan had a field day. Waiting for the show to begin I did a visual scavenger hunt and noted such tells as a 1940s fan, a 1960s lamp and a neglected Frida Kahlo poster casually sitting on the floor of a nook. These were clear indicators that whoever is the owner of the loft – that only became clear once the play began – was not some tacky WalMart shopper, but had a long view, and a very developed sense of history. With the inspired lighting design by David Groupé, which suggested large loft windows everywhere, and historic projections of war during scene changes, the atmosphere was just perfect for the complex story as it unfolded over two years’ time.

Gail: The set is almost larger than the seating area, and Sprague cleverly opened the space to incorporate the actual stairs to the basement into the set stage right. Even so, the Brooklyn loft is a prison mentally and physically for Sarah (Marianna Bassham), an award-winning photojournalist who has spent her entire post-college career on the front lines of war and genocide around the globe. At the same time the space is a home and safe-haven for her long-time boyfriend and colleague James, who has followed a similar career path as a journalist. The couple is now in their early forties and it is now or never for them to start a family.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

REVIEW: “The How and The Why” @ Shakespeare & Co [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, June 4th, 2015
Tod Randolph (l) as Zelda and Bridget Saracino (r) as Rachel. (photo: John Dolan)

Tod Randolph (l) as Zelda and Bridget Saracino (r) as Rachel. (photo: John Dolan)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: The How and The Why is a play about the biological fact of being female. It is not about sexual preference or gender roles, it is about being biologically, physiologically female. The two characters in the play – women aged 28 and 56 – are evolutionary biologists by trade, and they are also mother and daughter, but only in the biological sense since Zelda (Tod Randolph) gave Rachel (Bridget Saracino) up for adoption immediately after birth.

Larry Murray: I wasn’t sure how I would react to The How and The Why, but the focus on what it means to be female was surprisingly revelatory to me. So many men joke about how they don’t “understand” women, they don’t realize that figuring it all out is a pretty complicated job for women, too. There are far more difficult choices than I realized as any women balances her personal and workaday worlds with the unyielding evolutionary demands of child bearing. It’s something you have done so smoothly, and I have little understanding of. This play covers a lot of information as its scientific theories are discussed alongside some very human emotions. It’s a volatile combination. The relationship on stage could be compared to the Hadron collider because – at times – the mother and daughter came so close to annihilating their relationship with one another. But for all the insights science gives us, isn’t it limited in its contribution to understanding mammals, being more about contemporary women in the 21st Century than aborigines in the forest?

Gail: Playwright Sarah Treem addresses many aspects of the choices available to upper class white women in modern day America, yes. The choices available to women of other classes and races are very different, and actually more dramatic, which is why they are written about more often. Choices to reproduce, to marry, even to have a career that allows for financial independence are unique to this race and class in this culture.

Larry: While the how and why of scientific inquiry is easy to understand – how do things happen and for what reason – the collision between Zelda and Rachel is less easy to fathom. We know how the 29 year old tracked down her birth mother, but it is not at all clear why. Within the first few minutes of the play she seems unprepared to ask the important questions someone would ask a birth mother, Rachel makes an attempt to leave several times before the gentle comments of Zelda bring her back to their meeting.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Which Shows Will Be the Hits of Summer 2015 in the Berkshires? [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, June 1st, 2015
David Adkins will appear in Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.

David Adkins will appear in Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming @ the Unicorn Theatre.

By Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Time for our summer previews. As the 2015 season gets underway, here are the Berkshire area musicals, comedies and dramas that have caught our attention:

BARRINGTON STAGE COMPANY, Pittsfield

Gail: While I am on record for my love of quirky little shows, I have my wide swath of commercial theatre addictions as well. I am wildly excited to see Man of La Mancha (June 10-July 11 on the Main Stage). I intend to sing along loudly – you have been warned. And I am a big fan of playwrights Neil Simon and John Guare, so Lost in Yonkers (July 16-August 1) and His Girl Friday (August 16-30) appeal to me, too. I’m there for all the Main Stage shows this summer at BSC.

Larry: The final Main Stage show, Veils (October 1-18) by Tom Coash, has my curiosity fully aroused since this play has earned raves for its earlier debut at Portland Stage, I see it as a very challenging work to stage well. The subject matter is a minefield, the casting critical, and its premise is one that will be relatively unfamiliar to most people. It relates the struggles with events such as a university ban on wearing burkas, an anti-American protest and riot, and the central figure Samar’s arrest and forced virginity test. Yet this is exactly the sort of work that Julianne Boyd so often finds the right mix of people to stage, and she could end up pulling another rabbit out of her theatrical hat.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

REVIEW: “Butler” @ Barrington Stage Opens Season with Laughs, History, Great Acting [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, May 29th, 2015
Maurice Jones (l) and David Schramm (r) in Butler.

Maurice Jones (l) and David Schramm (r) in “Butler” (photo by Kevin Sprague)

Theater Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: When Julianne Boyd announced the opening play of Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company season would be about the Civil War and the long forgotten Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler (1818-1893), and that it was a Civil War comedy, it seemed an odd choice. And having just seen Butler, it seems an unlikely blend of biography, political drama and comedy that takes us back a century and a half, and delivers quite a theatrical wallop. But I am not sure how to classify this play, do you, Gail?

Gail M. Burns: Playwright Richard Strand tells the story in a broad sit-com style, and director Joseph Discher has wisely chosen a talented and recognizable American sit-com star David Schramm to play the lead. Schramm is so much more than Roy Biggins, the odious greasy owner of a tiny airline who he played on Wings (1990-1997); he is a Juilliard graduate and has been acting non-stop since he was a teenager. But when we see him, we are primed for laughs, which he and the rest of the cast deliver in spades.

Larry: Strand could not have had an easy time imagining the conversation between the newly minted General Butler – he has been in the military just four weeks on May 23, 1861, the day the play takes place – his adjutant Lieutenant Kelly (Ben Cole) and the runaway slave Shepard Mallory (Maurice Jones). The plot revolves around the question of what you do with a slave seeking sanctuary when the law says you are required to return him to his owner. But as the play unfolds we learn it’s all so much more complicated than this since this is no ordinary slave. The supposedly illiterate and uneducated Shepard Mallory is anything but. Butler is at its most intense in the encounters between the General and the aggressive slave who will not take “no” for an answer. Their verbal volleys lead the lawyerly officer to conjure up a rationale for the Union to accept and conscript slaves as contraband from the war, and in so doing, it deprived the South of thousands of slaves whom they had been using in their own conduct of the war. As the war progressed, the South found their former slaves now part of the Army determined to beat them down. Sometimes at this historic distance from the conflict, we forget how breathtaking those years were. So much gets lost in the mists of time.

Gail: Mallory is the character who Strand undoubtedly had to invent from whole-cloth since he and the two slaves who arrived at Fort Monroe with him, were property, not people. I cannot find a record of their names. So Strand had free rein to make this man who he needed him to be for the purposes of the play.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

“Spring Awakening” Soars with Youthful Energy in Theatre Institute at Sage College Production [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, April 24th, 2015
L to R Amelia Morgan, Annaleigh Lester, Katie Pedro, Taylor Hoffman, Kelci Loring.

L to R Amelia Morgan, Annaleigh Lester, Katie Pedro, Taylor Hoffman, Kelci Loring.

Review by Larry Murray and Gail M. Burns

Larry Murray: With book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, the 2006 Tony Award-winning alternative rock musical “Spring Awakening” is now playing at Sage College’s audience-friendly Meader Little Theatre in Troy. Last performance is Sunday (April 26). I am putting all this information up front because this review is more of a “must see” reader advisory: this production with its youthful cast is directed by Leigh Strimbeck and utilizes a functional and ingenious set by Juliana Haubrich.

Gail M. Burns: The Theatre Institute at Sage is a great company that is doing some really great theatre. TIS is only five years old, but it is carrying on the tradition established on its campus by the now defunct New York State Theatre Institute, which utilized Sage facilities, faculty and students to provide quality theatre for schools and the general public from 1974-2010. The connection with Sage was NYSTI’s greatest asset, and in turn the company helped the Sage Colleges develop a robust theatre curriculum. It is not at all surprising to see what talented students select Sage today.

Larry: We haven’t had a chance to see this cutting edge musical much in these parts, the only production I can remember is the one at the University at Albany Department of Theatre which was last year. None of our Equity companies, nor even the Mac-Haydn or Theater Barn have staged it. That may because the music is so important to the whole production, and it requires violin, cello and bass in addition to piano, drums and guitar. Two or three synthesizers will never do the score justice. I was as impressed with the accomplished musicians and Music Director Marcus Schlegel, as with the actors. The cellist, Erin Rousseau, on whom much of the melody line rests, has a vibrato and intonation that infused the songs with real heart.

Gail: I saw a production of the 1890/91 Franz Wedekind play of the same name, upon which this musical is based, at Williams College many years ago. “Spring Awakening” is an ideal college show because you need to have a young cast and a fairly sophisticated audience. Really, the best way to “get away with” staging this fierce and graphic material is to bill it as education. The play has a prominent role in the development of 20th century theater, and, as you mentioned, this musical version has made history, too.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Three Glorious Nights in February: WAM Takes Its Hit Show “Emilie” on Tour [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015
There’s more to an enhanced “reading” than you might imagine.

There’s more to an enhanced “reading” than you might imagine.

By Gail M. Burns

WAM Theatre has been invited to present an enhanced staged reading of their critically acclaimed 2013 production of Emilie: La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson at three different locations in Berkshire County and the Capital Region, beginning at 7:30pm tonight (Tuesday, February 10) at Williams College’s Adams Memorial Theatre in Williamstown.

Directed by WAM Theatre Artistic Director Kristen van Ginhoven, much of the acclaimed original cast returns. Kim Stauffer reprises the title role as Emilie and is joined by returning cast members Suzanne Ankrum, Brendan Cataldo and Joan Coombs as Soubrette, Gentleman and Madam, respectively, along with new cast member Timothy Carter (national tour of The Lion King, Adirondack Theatre Festival’s The Whale) as Voltaire.

This enhanced staged reading will feature some audio and visual elements from the original production, of which Berkshire On Stage and Screen said, “WAM’s brilliantly staged production of ‘Emilie’… is totally entertaining.” The Berkshire Eagle deemed the 2013 production “…highly imaginative…highly theatrical…” and Berkshire Fine Arts stated it was “an absorbing evening of theatre for a sold out audience.”

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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