THEATER REVIEW: “Moonlight and Magnolias” @ Oldcastle [Berkshire on Stage]

June 28th, 2017, 1:30 pm by Sara
Eli Ganias as David O’ Selznick, Natalie Wilder as Miss Poppenguhl, and Nathan Stith as Victor Fleming in “Moonlight and Magnolias.”

Eli Ganias as David O’ Selznick, Natalie Wilder as Miss Poppenguhl, and Nathan Stith as Victor Fleming in “Moonlight and Magnolias.”

Review by Gail M. Burns

Moonlight and Magnolias, currently on the boards at Bennington’s Oldcastle Theatre Company, centers on a story related in William MacAdams’ 1990 biography of Oscar-winning screenwriter Ben Hecht. A scene-setting quotation from MacAdams:

“At dawn on Sunday, February 20, 1939, David Selznick … and director Victor Fleming [who Selznick had pulled away from shooting ‘The Wizard of Oz’] shook Hecht awake to inform him he was on loan from MGM and must come with them immediately and go to work on ‘Gone with the Wind,’ which Selznick had begun shooting five weeks before. It was costing Selznick $50,000 each day the film was on hold waiting for a final screenplay rewrite and time was of the essence….Recalling the episode in a letter to screenwriter friend Gene Fowler, [Hecht] said he hadn’t read the novel but Selznick and director Fleming could not wait for him to read it. They would act out scenes based on Sidney Howard’s original script which needed to be rewritten in a hurry. Hecht wrote, ‘After each scene had been performed and discussed, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it out. Selznick and Fleming, eager to continue with their acting, kept hurrying me. We worked in this fashion for seven days, putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day. Selznick refused to let us eat lunch, arguing that food would slow us up. He provided bananas and salted peanuts….thus on the seventh day I had completed, unscathed, the first nine reels of the Civil War epic.’”

You can see how this incident would intrigue a playwright. What was that week of bananas, peanuts and an impromptu two-man version of a Civil War epic like? The fact that it could be true and that the British-born Ron Hutchinson has obviously done his homework on the real lives of these three men make Moonlight and Magnolias both tantalizing and overwrought. But history has played a cruel trick since the play was written in 2004.

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THEATER REVIEW: “Shipwrecked!” @ Oldcastle Theatre Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

May 31st, 2017, 3:00 pm by Sara
Louis de Rougemont, ne Henri Louis Grin

Louis de Rougemont, ne Henri Louis Grin

Review by Gail M. Burns

What more does a man have but his name and the story he tells? Everything else is dust.

The character of Louis de Rougemont poses this question late in Shipwrecked! at a time when he is losing both. Louis de Rougemont was a real man, but his name was not Louis de Rougemont. His story was his own because he wrote it, not because he lived it. The real man was a shadowy figure behind the character and the myth he created. He died alone and in poverty.

De Rougemont, born Henri Louis Grin, lived from 1847-1921, at the time when frontiers were vanishing and there were fewer and fewer undiscovered corners of the world. His fable of being shipwrecked in the coral sea, surviving on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe, living amongst the aborigines in the Australian outback where he was considered a god sold thousands of copies of The Wide World Magazine. Donald Margulies’ 2007 play allows de Rougemont to tell “his story” with the help of two additional actors who play all the other parts in his fantastical drama.

At Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Eric Peterson has assembled a dream cast. John Hadden anchors the play solidly as de Rougement, with a twinkle in his eye and the exuberant wonder of a child as he spins his tale. Carla Woods and David Joseph play all the other roles, and Joseph also subs for Hadden during the acrobatic scenes in which de Rougement entertains and impresses with his non-existent gymnastic skills.

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THEATER REVIEW: “Big River” @ Oldcastle Theatre Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

July 19th, 2016, 3:00 pm by Sara
Big River at Oldcastle Theatre.

“Big River” at Oldcastle Theatre

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

I am on record several times over with my loathing of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which I generally refer to as “two-thirds of a great novel,” and I didn’t like Big River the first time I saw and reviewed it many years ago, but Oldcastle Theatre Co. has done the impossible and CHANGED GAIL BURNS’ MIND!! Thanks to the directorial vision of director/choreographer Tim Howard and his very talented cast, I finally see and accept this story for the ground-breaking piece of anarchy that it is.

The last third of Mark Twain’s novel remains an embarrassment, but the reason the rest of the story soars is the central relationship of Huck and Jim as they glide down the Mississippi on that raft. Two outsiders – a runaway slave and an orphaned lower class boy who are, as composer/lyricist Roger Miller so aptly writes, “Worlds Apart” – on a grand adventure. And while all of this production is fine and entertaining, the show really takes wing during the song “Muddy Water” when Huck and Jim hit the river. Here Howard and lighting designer Scott Cally bring Dan Courchaine’s previously spare set to vivid life as the raft rolls and the waters of the Mississippi swirl around it and Huck and Jim’s hopes are so high and yet so close that they can reach out and touch them…

Anthony J. Ingargiola simply IS Huckleberry Finn, portraying the character’s vulnerability as well as his much touted tough and mischievous sides with energy, humor, and a fine voice. Huck has not had an easy life, and, now that he is about 14, society is expecting him to start taking on adult responsibilities. Reji Woods is a gentle Jim, patiently schooling Huck that “Slaves Lives Matter” while steadfastly focused on his goal of gaining his own freedom and reuniting his family.

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Oldcastle Brings Back Big Daddy and “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” in Bennington [Berkshire on Stage]

September 24th, 2014, 1:00 pm by Sara
Cast- Standing Right to Left: Tom Ferguson, Loren Dunn, Paul Romero, Anthony Irizarry, Richard Howe; and sitting Left to Right: Renata Eastlick, Melissa Hurst, Jody Schade.

Cast- Standing Right to Left: Tom Ferguson, Loren Dunn, Paul Romero, Anthony Irizarry, Richard Howe; and sitting Left to Right: Renata Eastlick, Melissa Hurst, Jody Schade.

By Larry Murray

Oldcastle Theatre Company in downtown Bennington is bringing Tennessee Williams’ classic “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” alive. This timeless classic revolves around one family and the web they have woven to protect their patriarch, Big Daddy (played by Oldcastle veteran Paul Romero) and his wife, Big Momma (Melissa Hurst) from the truth: Big Daddy is dying. Their son, Brick (Loren Dunn) and his wife Maggie (played by newcomer Renata Eastlick) only inflame tensions with their withering marriage. As the evening unravels, so does the family’s web. An American classic, Williams’ favorite play and a great evening of theater.

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“4,000 Miles” a Satisfying Evening of Theater, Well Done at Oldcastle [Berkshire on Stage]

July 18th, 2014, 1:00 pm by Sara
A worthwhile and winning evening of theatre.

A worthwhile and winning evening of theater

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: Since summer began, it feels like we have traveled some 4,000 miles in search of great theater, so it was nice to come back home to Bennington, Vermont’s Oldcastle Theatre after another busy week on the road. Granted it is not really our home, but it feels like one nevertheless. We can always count on director Eric Peterson to never settle for the adequate, whether it be in the acting, scenery or choice of plays.

Gail M. Burns: This is a most satisfying play theatrically and emotionally. This is a play about healing, which can be an agonizingly slow and uneventful process in real life, but which playwright Amy Herzog crafts into a suspenseful narrative with characters we really come to care about. Peterson has assembled a top-notch cast, and Richard Howe has designed another detailed set which uses the Oldcastle performance space to bring you right into Vera’s Greenwich Village living room.

More and more in this region “summer stock” is less about happy musicals and Neil Simon comedies and more about small, thought-provoking new plays. Herzog’s After the Revolution had its world premiere just down the road at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2010, so this 2011 sequel play has a built-in audience. That play won Herzog the New York Times Best Playwright Award, while 4,000 Miles won the 2012 Obie Award for Best New American Play and was nominated for the Pulitzer.

Larry: I loved After the Revolution, Gail. (Review) I have a soft spot in my heart for plays and films about grandmothers and troubled grandsons, and 4,000 Miles did not disappoint, even as it took us in fresh new directions in the complex relationships between skipped generations. Janis Young as Vera Joseph was the perfect senior, fumbling with her hearing aid, her teeth and her memory, she still gave of her heart and home to long-absent Leo Joseph-Connell (Andrew Krug), who had just completed a 4,000 mile cross-country bicycle ride from Seattle to New York City.

Gail: Leo is actually Vera’s step-grandson. His mother was the youngest child of her late second husband. He has suffered a tragic loss while on his cross-country journey, and the way he handled that crisis, and himself in its aftermath, has angered his family and his New York-based girlfriend, Bec (Hannah Heller). Heller had the difficult job of having to enter both of her scenes in a high state of emotion and stress, the causes of which are only obliquely revealed by the end. Hannah is an important part of the play, but it is not about her.

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Oldcastle Theatre Premieres Fast-Paced “Play Date” in Bennington [Berkshire on Stage]

May 23rd, 2014, 2:00 pm by Sara

Oldcastlet Theatre Company

Theater Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: In Play Date, when three couples decide to get to together with their children for some adult conversation while the young ones play, all seems normal enough. But from the moment the lights come up, the complications begin.

Gail M. Burns: You know, in my day a “play date” was called a cocktail party. They happened on Saturday evenings, and the parents had drinks and snacks while we kids ran amok. The premise here is that the kids get the drinks and snacks (expressed breast milk and free-range organic chicken cubes) while the parents run amok!

Quick plot synopsis – Blaine’s political ambitions ruin his wife Missy’s plans to have a “play date” not only for their son but for herself as well with washed up actor/stay at home dad Trent, when he announces that he’s staying home to campaign amongst the mommies. Missy quickly invites the divorced Carol and the impossibly perfect Deb (an endorsement from whose husband is the aim of Blaine’s political ambitions) and their offspring to join in, while Blaine invites the widowed Rowan, a British professor of literature, and his daughter to complete the gender balance. The parents’ needs and desires mix and mingle to create comic chaos while the unseen children disport themselves as children will, despite Blaine’s efforts to entertain them with his campaign power point. By the generally happy ending many problems are resolved and lessons learned, by the grown-ups, not the kids.

Larry: This play – a world premiere by Dramatist’s Guild member John Morogiello – demands a great deal from its cast of two players, the solid Jim Staudt who alternates in the roles of Blaine, Trent and Rowan, and the impressive Sandy York whose Missy, Carol and Deb are simply unforgettable. It’s not an easy task to play three essential characters so that there is no audience confusion.

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Bennington’s Oldcastle Theatre to Host Classical Concert Series with L’Ensemble [Berkshire on Stage]

November 21st, 2013, 1:00 pm by Sara

Oldcastle Theatre

When the Oldcastle Theatre organizers were planning their new downtown home in Bennington, they thought of more than just their own needs for theater when the renovated the old Knights of Columbus Hall. With flexible seating and a sound-enhancing rectangular shoebox shape, the new facility can host music of all kinds, but its superb acoustics are sure to be treasured by classical music lovers. After the new facility opened this past spring, eight theater productions have been staged, and now the spotlight turns to music.

L’Ensemble – billed for nearly 40 years as “not your ordinary chamber ensemble” – will be in residence at the new Oldcastle Theatre at 331 Main Street in Bennington for three concerts beginning on Saturday (November 23).

L’Ensemble’s musical mission has always been to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the definition of chamber music. L’Ensemble performs all facets of chamber music from Bach’s unaccompanied sonatas to fully staged productions. Under the direction of founder and artistic director, Ida Faiella, L’Ensemble’s repertoire includes the classics and much, much more, from jazz-influenced works to cabaret arrangements of the standards by such composers as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.

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

October 11th, 2013, 11:00 am by Sara

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.

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