Posts Tagged ‘Gail Burns’

“SleepFrog” Unleashes Panto-Madness at the Ghent Playhouse [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, December 5th, 2013
The Cast of SleepFrog. L to R: Judy Staber, Nellie Rustick, Tom Detwiler, Michael Meier, Paul Murphy, Joanne Maurer, Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon, Cathy Lee- Visscher, Sally McCarthy, Paul Leyden.

The Cast of SleepFrog. L to R: Judy Staber, Nellie Rustick, Tom Detwiler, Michael Meier, Paul Murphy, Joanne Maurer, Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon, Cathy Lee- Visscher, Sally McCarthy, Paul Leyden.

Theater Review by Gail M. Burns

I am coining a new word – Pantoloonacy. The troupe who write and perform the annual British-American Pantos at the Ghent Playhouse style themselves the Panto-Loons, and therefore it is only proper that I spell my avid fandom for their annual efforts accordingly. This year they are presenting a mash-up of Sleeping Beauty and The Frog Prince titled SleepFrog, and while they have not succeeded in blending the two tales as brilliantly as when they magnificently merged The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs in Menageries a Trois, their Loonacy shines through, and I hear the seats are selling out.

In case you still don’t know what a Panto is, it is a British holiday tradition where you take a familiar story, have everyone cross-dress, and proceed to merrily shred the plot while inserting a pile of topical humor and songs. Under British-born Judy Staber’s guidance, the Panto-Loons have made this artform (and I use the term “art” very loosely) the must-see of the season in Columbia County.

With a script that calls for six fairies (of the winged variety) and two frogs, costume designer Joanne Maurer, who also plays King Posterium, has once again turned out a pile of colorful, hilarious costumes that transform men and women into women and men and animals and supernatural beings of all shapes and sizes.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.


WAM’s Brilliantly Written and Staged Production of “Emilie” is Totally Entertaining [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
Kim Stauffer as Emilie in the WAM production at the St. Germain Theatre in Pittsfield through Nov. 24.

Kim Stauffer as Emilie in the
WAM production at the St. Germain Theatre in Pittsfield through Nov. 24.

Review and Discussion by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: I am a sucker for the story of a remarkable woman well told, and that is exactly what Lauren Gunderson has done in her ponderously titled Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight about the life and work the titular lady, who lived from 1706-1749. She was a mathematician, a physicist, an author, a wife and mother, and the lover of Voltaire (ne François-Marie Arouet, 1694-1778).

WAM Artistic Director and the director of the production, Kristen van Ginhoven, reports that she got chills the first time she read the script. She has transferred that initial excitement into a fine production, beautifully designed by three more talented women – Juliana von Haubrich (sets), Govane Lohbauer (costumes) and Andi Lyons (lights) – and performed by a cast of five (three women, two men) anchored by a heartbreakingly perfect performance by Kim Stauffer in the title role.

Larry Murray: I gave up on male writers trying to fathom the mind of a woman a long time ago. But this Emilie gave me one of the best looks inside a woman’s mind to date. What the playwright Lauren Gunderson has done – through her near stream-of-consciousness script – is make it clear that when the clash of the sexes takes place, with Emilie it was her heartfelt desire for truth that led her to break society’s rules, while with Voltaire, it was ego and desire to protect the established order that led him to undermine her. And as it turns out this is a good topic for entertaining theatre.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Perky “HMS Pinafore” Sails into Northampton With Huge Crew of Singers, Musicians [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Philip Hart Helzzer as Captain Corcoran and Kathy Blaisdell as Mrs.Cripps (Buttercup)

Philip Hart Helzzer as Captain Corcoran and Kathy Blaisdell as Mrs. Cripps (Buttercup)

Review and Discussion by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: This is one of my favorite G&S shows, how about you…

Gail M. Burns: One of them, yes. I have a special fondness for H.M.S. Pinafore because it was the first G&S operetta that I directed, but looking at it with an impartial eye, it is just Baby Gilbert & Sullivan. Although it was their fourth collaboration, it was their first mega-hit, and in it you see the solidification of the components that they would later hone to perfection in their mature classics – The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, and The Mikado.

Larry: What could be more British than the nautical themes of Pinafore and Penzance, so I am always willing to sail the ocean blue with W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s first big hit. It’s a big production and there’s room for everyone at the grand Academy of Music in Northampton. The stage is larger than the school halls they have used in the past, and it has the ability to drop set pieces in from the flies, and fit 50 people on stage at the same time if needed.

Gail: I love to see how many people are involved in Valley Light Opera productions year after year – as you said, about 50 on stage, 25 in the orchestra, and countless others behind the scenes. And I love to see Gilbert & Sullivan performed in houses like the 1891 Northampton Academy of Music (Gilbert & Sullivan’s final collaboration opened in 1896) which has probably seen the H.M.S. Pinafore dock in her port a few dozen times over the years.

All that being said, director Graham Christian has made this a MUCH bigger production than it needs to be. Pinafore is a one-set show, but Christian has taken the action ashore and added two unecessary ballroom scenes. I remarked on our way to the show that I hoped this wouldn’t be one of those stuffy preserved-in-mothballs productions, but in hindsight I wish that Christian had reined in his inventiveness considerably.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Mary (Mott) and Edith (Wharton) Delight at the Unicorn Theatre [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
On left: Mary Mott. On right: Kate Maguire and Kim Taylor.

On left: Mary Mott. On right: Kate Maguire and Kim Taylor.

Review and Discussion by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: The weekend began with the four gentlemen in the Oldcastle Theatre Company’s Sherlock Holmes – Knight’s Gambit. That was followed by three fascinating ladies on stage at the Berkshire Theatre Group’s (BTG) double-header Mary and Edith: Stories by Women a Century Apart. The contrast between the two was dramatic.

Larry Murray: Yes, and even though two of those ladies were of the same Edwardian ilk of the gentlemen, I enjoyed the women far more than the men. The title Mary and Edith made me think of Downton Abbey‘s Lady Mary and Lady Edith, though they would likely disagree as to the propriety of the Edith Wharton tale, Roman Fever, which opens the evening at the BTG. Lady Edith of course had a remarkable feminist outlook for her day, and would no doubt love the final retort of the tale which ends the play.

Gail: Lady Sibyl was the true feminist of the Crawley girls, but I think all three sisters would have read and enjoyed Edith Wharton. Even the Dowager Duchess would have gotten a surreptitious kick out of Wharton’s genteel shocker.

Larry: Eric Hill has adapted Wharton’s popular short story, Roman Fever, into a half-hour curtain raiser. Tara Franklin narrates, and Kate Maguire and Kim Taylor play Mrs. Delphin Slade (Alida) and Mrs. Horace Ansley (Grace) who find themselves back in Rome chaperoning their own daughters’ amorous adventures some 25 years after their own girlhood rivalry in the same locale. We see them chatting on a hotel terrace at dusk, overlooking the hills of Rome, suggested via a splendid set by Carl Sprague, who also did the Sherlock Homes set. Busy guy!

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Reviewing a New Sherlock Holmes Tale – “Knight’s Gambit” @ Oldcastle Theatre Company [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Sherlock Holmes - Knight’s Gambit

Theater Review and Dialogue by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: Early in the development of Paul Falzone’s Sherlock Holmes – Knight’s Gambit we heard that Nigel Gore was going to play Holmes, and we were both pretty excited in seeing this brilliant actor – often Tina Packer’s onstage partner at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox – in a very different role. But as Oldcastle’s director Eric Peterson explained before the performance began, Gore had to bow out and open auditions were held for his part in New York City on Friday, September 13, a mere two weeks before the original opening night. Rehearsals were delayed, and the opening was pushed up a week as Nick Plakias took the title role at the last minute.

Gail M. Burns: I understand that Gore’s mother fell ill, requiring him to head home to Great Britain. Of course, we wish her a speedy recovery and look forward to welcoming him back to New England soon, but a real-life crisis like that creates problems of a very different nature for a theatre company. Significant income from fall productions come from school groups, and postponing or canceling those bookings can be devastating for finances and community relations.

Larry: Plakias and the cast, which included Richard Howe, Scott McGowan and Bill Tatum, first appeared on stage as if nothing untoward had happened, but it wasn’t too deep into the first act when Plakias liberated his script from under the chessboard and began to refer to it in quick glances, as if to be sure of his next cue. It was clear he knew the script – or at least 95% of it – but was not yet on solid ground.

That got me thinking about how amazing actors and theatre companies are when faced with the adversities of life. We don’t think of actors as people who get indigestion or the blues, have family members who get sick, or worse, and while there are understudies for major shows on Broadway they are not at all common in regional or community theatres.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Pulitzer Winning Play “Clybourne Park” Is a Searing Evening of Theatre [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, October 4th, 2013
Andy Lucien and Lynnette R. Freeman in "Clybourne Park." (photo by Scott Barrow)

Andy Lucien and Lynnette R. Freeman
in “Clybourne Park”
(photo by Scott Barrow)

Theatre Review and Discussion by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: Clybourne Park is a continuation of Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun. There, we watch the black Younger family’s struggle to escape from the ghetto by buying a home in the all-white Clybourne Park neighborhood in the near northwest of central Chicago. The first act of Clybourne Park takes place in 1959 in the home the Youngers are trying to buy, showing the backlash against the white owners by the same Karl Lindner who attempts to buy the Youngers out of their contract in Raisin. The second act takes place 50 years later, in 2009, and contains some fascinating parallels in both character and plot, even though none of the characters from Act I recur.

Larry Murray: It’s about as daring a play as I have ever sean, a searing evening of theatre that lingers long after the final curtain. It deals honestly with racial issues, and just how scared and uncomfortable some people get just talking to one another about it. It is a hot button topic, but some people just freeze at the mention of the subject. Under the cover of entertainment, this play is very subversive in that it skewers us all for dancing around subjects we are less than comfortable with.

Gail: In exactly two hours playwright Bruce Norris manages to have his cast of seven touch on every uncomfortable human prejudice – race, of course, but also physical and mental disabilities, mental illness, war and veterans’ affairs, religious differences, class warfare, you name it!

Larry: As a play it is incredibly well constructed, with everyone in the cast playing two different roles. And an incredible Kevin Crouch played three, as a matter of fact. That makes the acting a real challenge, especially with such clearly delineated characters, don’t you think?

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

“Accomplice” at Shakespeare & Co. Is Smart, Funny, Sexy and Well Worth Seeing [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
Annie Considine, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Jason Asprey and Josh Aaron McCabe. Photo by Enrico Spada.

Annie Considine, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Jason Asprey and Josh Aaron McCabe. (photo by Enrico Spada)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

How do you write a review of a comedy/thriller with a plot so convoluted and hilarious that even listing the names of the actors would give away important plot points? A show where, at the curtain call, the cast swears the audience to complete secrecy? Well, you start by saying that this production of Rupert Holmes’ Accomplice at Shakespeare & Company, directed by Stephen Rothman, is smart and funny and sexy and well worth seeing. The cast, who I may not name, is very good. A slightly stumbling performance by an old favorite is balanced out by a nice turn from a newcomer. Patrick Brennan has designed a nifty set which, abetted by James W. Bilnoski’s lighting and Ian Sturges Milliken’s sound design and score, is almost as full of surprises as the script

Accomplice was the third theatrical outing for the fearsomely prolific and multi-talented Holmes, who had already won multiple awards for his first show, Drood (1985, formerly titled The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Holmes took home is his second Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for this 1990 opus, which holds a special place in Rothman’s heart (he has directed it twice before). Rothman saw a good fit between this script and some of Shakespeare & Company’s core actors, and he was right. I am not telling tales out of school when I say that it gives Elizabeth Aspenlieder another star turn as the Company’s leading comedienne.

click to see the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

“Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah” at Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Thursday, August 29th, 2013
(photo: Stephen Sorokoff)

(photo: Stephen Sorokoff)

Theater Review by Gail M. Burns

“[F. Scott Fitzgerald] lived [at the Garden of Allah apartment complex] in those years just before dating the young pastry named Sheila Graham and trying to finish ‘The Last Tycoon’ and struggling to make sense of studio employment and fighting an uphill battle to stay sober by drinking a lot of Coca-Cola.” – Walt Lockley

It is the Fourth of July, 1937, and Ernest Hemingway (Ted Koch) comes to pay a call on Scott Fitzgerald (Joey Collins) at his Garden of Allah bungalow. He is in Hollywood screening his Spanish Civil War documentary to the glitterati to raise money for ambulances. Fitzgerald is pretty much under house arrest and enforced sobriety, monitored by a personal assistant to Louis B. Mayer, one Miss Evelyn Montaigne (Angela Pierce), while he finishes a screen adaptation of Erich Remarque’s Three Comrades.

Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, is mentally ill and institutionalized in North Carolina. Their daughter, Scottie, is at boarding school in Connecticut. His relationship with Graham is about to begin. Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, is at their ranch in Wyoming, and he has already begun a relationship with the woman who will become his third wife.

Neither man is happy.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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