Posts Tagged ‘Gail Burns’

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.

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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.

REVIEW: Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano” the Revue-sical @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

I Love a Piano

Review by Gail M. Burns

Irving Berlin’s I Love a Piano is a revue of songs by the inimitable composer, but at the Theater Barn in New Lebannon, the revue creators Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley have crafted a pleasant evening with a singular flow and have avoided one of the major pitfalls of the revue-sical genre – too much exposition painfully forced into dialogue.

You really don’t need to know that Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was born Israel Isidore Baline in Russia, emigrated with his family to New York City in 1893, dropped out of school at age eight to become a newsboy and discovered that he could sell more papers if he added a little song to his sales pitch in order to enjoy this show. Chatty critics like me can tell you all of that, and there are plenty of good biographies of Berlin out there, too. You just need to know a good song, well sung, when you hear it.

And they are all good songs, well sung, by a young and talented sextet under the smooth direction of Trey Compton – Theater Barn vets Stephanos Bacon, Jerielle Morwitz, Shaun Rice and Kimberly Suskind, joined by newcomers Maclain Dassatti and Eileen Whitt – with a fine range of talents.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Berkshire Fringe: The Wardrobe Ensemble Offers a Whirlwind “Riot” and a Doleful “33″ [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, August 11th, 2014
33 is about friendship, hope and Elvis Presley.

“33″ is about friendship, hope and Elvis Presley.

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: After seeing two performances by the Bristol, UK theatre company the Wardrobe Ensemble at the Berkshire Fringe Festival, all I can say is that I wish they would move to Pittsfield and set up shop here. They are the most entertaining, energetic and disciplined theatre company I have seen in some time. They use makeshift materials in an improvised theatre inside a repurposed church to bring their bold ideas and innovative physical theatre to life. Brilliantly.

They are performing two original works at the Berkshire Fringe, Riot and 33. Which did you like better?

Gail M. Burns: I had seen and reviewed Riot before, when it came to the Fringe in 2012, and I think it is still my favorite, even though I thoroughly enjoyed 33. As you mentioned, both plays are based on real-life events. On February 10, 2005, there was a riot at the midnight opening of a new Ikea store in Edmondton, a northern section of London. Thousands of people turned up, nine ambulances were called and six people were kept overnight in hospitals. Much of the dialogue for Riot comes directly from media reports of that event.

Larry: I knew that Riot would be the one that struck a familiar chord with me since my kitchen is from Ikea. I have almost panicked in those Jean-Paul Sartre designed maze-like stores where there is no quick way out – you have to pass every item in the endless aisles before an exit finally appears. The help won’t give you any help either. And Riot captures that trapped feeling in a visceral way, though it is much less intimidating to be an onlooker than a participant. Throughout the course of Riot we see endless running, shoving and even some flying through the air as the troupe reenacted an actual event.

Gail: The physicality of Riot is breathtaking. This company works fearlessly together, and containing all that energy in a very small playing space makes the violence even more explosive.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: “The Visit” with Chita Rivera Gets an Epic Production at Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, August 4th, 2014
The cast on the set of The Visit. (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

The cast on the set of The Visit. (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: From the moment you take your seat at the ’62 Center where the Williamstown Theatre Festival performs, you know you are in for a special evening. Soaring into the flies on stage is Scott Pask’s single set that will contain the evening’s performance of The Visit. This tuneful John Kander and Fred Ebb musical has been trying to get to Broadway since 2001. With a book by Terrence McNally and Chita Rivera in the lead role as Claire Zachanassian, it could be well on its way. The WTF production is directed by John Doyle, who knows how to showcase the darker side of human nature, the rich manipulating the poor and it couldn’t be more timely.

Gail M. Burns: This is billed as Kander and Ebb but since Fred Ebb’s death in 2004, Kander and McNally have formed the creative team. Doyle made many changes for this version – cutting the show from two and a half hours and two acts down to a 95-minute one-act form – so the lyrics have obviously been changed since Ebb wrote them.

Larry: The 2001 production was put together at Chicago’s Goodman but 9/11 killed its prospects when New York producers were unable to fly in to see it. The Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA staged a workshop production in 2008, and now in 2014 it looks like the Williamstown team has put together the definitive version. Earlier productions were a bit top heavy having incorporated far too many characters and details from Friedrich Dürrenmat’s 1956 satirical play about greed and revenge, Der Besuch der alten Dame.

The tightening up of the show has worked well, and only a few songs have been lost – the Chorale that opened Act 2, Claire’s “Confession” song, and the reprise of “Winter” by a Young Adam. Other songs have likely been shortened a bit to keep things moving swiftly. They were not missed, since the story is still delightfully rich, full of detail. With a large cast and luscious ten-piece orchestra under David Loud, this Williamstown production fully conveys a dark parable about what desperate people will do when faced with a financial payoff.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: A Chekhov Farce and a Wharton Delicacy from Pythagoras Theatre Works in West Stockbridge [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Berkshire on Stage Theatre Review

Review by Gail M. Burns

Do not get confused and go, as I initially did, to the building the town of West Stockbridge, MA, currently uses as its town hall. The 1854 Town Hall is located on Main Street directly opposite the Public Market, and parking is abundant, although often cleverly concealed, nearby. Like most assembly halls of the 19th century, the public space is on the second floor above the office or retail space at street level which provided free heat for the upper level, although the thimble for the stovepipe is still visible on the side of the chimney upstairs. The hall features a tiny stage whose enormous windows (yes, there are windows on the back wall of the stage) attest to a time when natural light was necessary for most gatherings and performances.

In this slightly shabby space – the West Stockbridge Historical Society is investing first in modernizing the building and bringing it up to code – the newly formed Pythagoras Theatre Works is mounting their inaugural season featuring a pair of one-act plays – The Bear (of the Berkshires) by Anton Chekhov and The Rembrandt by Edith Wharton – both adapted and staged by Artistic Director Michael Burnet. Do not allow the modest sets, lack of theatrical lighting or the choice of public domain material to fool you – these are talented, Equity actors who choose to live, and often work, locally. And this is a low-key but auspicious launch for this group, with the newly-revitalized downtown of West Stockbridge as the perfect setting.

As you enter the hall, you are treated to Jonah Thomas playing his original compositions on the cello. The acoustics are excellent, and Thomas’ music is evocative of both time and place. (Is there any instrument more Chekhovian than the cello?) Presently Leonard, the butler, (Scott Renzoni) appears to berate his mistress, the widowed Elena Winterbottom (Diane Prusha), for her prolonged and maudlin mourning and self-imposed isolation for her late husband, the philandering Nicholas. It has been seven months since his death, why won’t she leave the house?

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: “The Golem of Havana”: The Mystical Musical at Barrington Stage Musical Theatre Lab [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Julie Benko and Ronald Alexander Peet. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Julie Benko and Ronald Alexander Peet. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: The creators of The Golem of Havana deserve to light up some nice big Cuban cigars, because they have a lot to celebrate following the world premiere of their smash new musical. And those associated with William Finn’s Musical Theatre Lab should be popping some champagne corks over at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield right about now. They have told a complex story exceptionally well.

This tale of a Hungarian-Jewish family living in Batista’s 1950’s Cuba conflates history with a legendary protective golem. The combination sets up all the drama one could ask for in a musical, a story replete with good fortune and deadly reversals as Fidel Castro brings revolution to the Frankel family. To dramatize the story, the company uses everyday realism mixed with nighmarish surrealism; and the memories of a bright and imaginative young girl mixed with the mysticism of Jewish and Santeria traditions.

Gail M. Burns: This is an original story, based on the composer and lyricist’s personal experiences in Venezuela. The American media keeps us so very ignorant of events on the whole South American continent that the creative team was wise to move the story to Ricky Ricardo’s pre-Castro Cuba, not only for us Ugly Americans but also, as I understand, for their own political safety as artists.

Larry: What I most liked about The Golem of Havana is the music itself, and when it is brought to life in songs that move the plot along it has me singing its praises. Much of it is delivered in snippets, as when first Laszlo and later Yutka sings; “I had no choice, I bear no blame, I had my family, You’d do the same” Or when Teo laments “Rich Men’s Sons, Poor Men’s Sons.” Written by Salomon Lerner, the music is a colorful tapestry of sounds, often distinctly Cuban and Caribbean, and at others clearly Jewish with Klezmer influences. The scene dictates the style. It is at its best when the two meet, sort of in the middle, and the songs become a blend of the two cultures. Lyricist Len Schiff wastes no time in finding words to the winsome melodies that either express the characters feelings, or advance the plot, sometimes both at the same time.

Gail: The music is lively, melodic, and beautiful. And eminently danceable. Choreographer Marcos Santana blends the dancing seamlessly into the characters’ movement. He is likely also responsible for the striking shadow work that opens the shows and which helps anchor the ancient tale of Rabbi Loeb and the Golem of Prague in its time and place.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: Small, Quirky & Fun: “Gutenberg! The Musical!” @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice play Doug and Bud.

Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice play Doug and Bud.

Theatre Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: Gutenberg! The Musical! is the kind of small, quirky musical that the Theater Barn in New Lebanon does extremely well, and that their audience just loves. And with just two actors, one pianist and virtually no sets or costumes, it also suits their small space and modest budget requirements

Larry Murray: I am always amazed at how the Theater Barn finds these little musical gems to keep us amused. And coming back for more. Anthony King and Scott Brown, who wrote this two man show were also in it originally, when it ran just 45 minutes. Later it was expanded to two acts and had a significant 2007 New York production directed by Alex Timbers (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Last Goodbye) that starred our Williamstown favorite, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Jeremy Stamos.

Gail: The show is presented as a Backer’s Audition, a theatre ritual in which the creators of a musical do a concert version of their work before an audience of potential investors/producers. If the show involves proven talent, say, Stephen Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown, stars interested in appearing in the production participate in the audition, but that is at a higher level than these two guys – a caregiver at a nursing home and a senior barista at Starbucks – have achieved.

Larry: Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice play Doug and Bud, an aspiring words-and-music team peddling their musical very loosely based on the story of Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468), inventor of the printing press. Their comic timing and energy levels are remarkable, and Varney’s lithe and rubbery body is pretty amazing to see in action. Rice keeps up, barely, his strong suit being his amazing range of voices. He uses them to portray many of the dozen-plus characters in this musical. Both use a variety of imprinted hats to indicate which role they are playing at the moment.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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