Posts Tagged ‘Gail Burns’

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.

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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.

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.

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