Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare & Company’

THEATER Review: Tina Packer Stars in “Mother of the Maid” @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, August 28th, 2015
Anne Troup as Joan Arc and Tina Packer as Isabelle Arc.

Anne Troup as Joan Arc and Tina Packer as Isabelle Arc

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

Ever heard of Isabelle Romée (1377–1458)? She was married to a man named Jacques d’Arc and they had a daughter named Jeanne, known in English as Joan. Joan d’Arc. Joan of Arc. The Maid of Orleans. Saint Joan.

I had always been presented with Joan of Arc (1412-1431) as a peasant girl, but in fact her family was what we today would consider solidly middle class. They owned and farmed several acres. Isabelle spun wool, while Jacques also held a minor position in the village government as a tax collector. Yes, they were illiterate; the majority of people were back then. After Joan went to court, the family was ennobled in 1429 by King Charles VII, the former dauphin who Joan had brought to the throne. After Joan’s death, Isabelle moved to Orleans, where she received a pension from that city.

Turns out the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. While Isabelle’s life was far less spectacular than her daughter’s, she was an intelligent and tenacious woman who devoted the second half of her life to clearing Joan’s name. This required her to learn to read and write so that she could petition a series of Popes and argue her case before church courts, and to travel internationally. Over the course of four years from 1452-1456, the posthumous retrial of Joan’s case involved clergy from all across Europe and concluded with her being cleared of all charges and labeled a martyr instead of a heretic. Incidentally, the crime for which Joan was burned alive was cross-dressing, and she wasn’t canonized until 1920.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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THEATER Review: “The Comedy of Errors” @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
(l to r) Kelley Curran as Adriana, Aaron Bartz as Dromio of Ephesus, Ian Lassiter as Antipholus of Ephesus, Ben Chase as the Officer, Malcolm Ingram as Egeon, Douglas Seldin as Luce, Christianna Nelson as the Abbess and Cloteal L. Horne as Luciana.

(l to r) Kelley Curran as Adriana, Aaron Bartz as Dromio of Ephesus, Ian Lassiter as Antipholus of Ephesus, Ben Chase as the Officer, Malcolm Ingram as Egeon, Douglas Seldin as Luce, Christianna Nelson as the Abbess and Cloteal L. Horne as Luciana. (photo: Enrico Spada)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

Yesterday, as I was writing my review of The Unexpected Man, a little voice in my head said, “You should wait until after you see The Comedy of Errors to write this.” But speed is everything in these days of instant electronic communication, and I chose to meet my deadline rather than to wait until I had a broader base of information. Now I regret it.

Rick Dildine was the Executive Director of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox for about six controversial months in 2014-2015, and both this big, bold, energetic production and the tiny fragile staging of Unexpected Man are the result of invitations he issued to directors new to the Berkshires. The two shows share the space in the Tina Packer Playhouse, where Comedy of Errors practically bursts the seams of the former Quonset hut, and The Unexpected Man seems to barely leave a footprint as it tip-toes through. Looking at The Unexpected Man alone, it appeared that Dildine had little sense of what the space was for or about. Assessing the two shows together, a broader and more coherent plan for the season emerges.

And I am actually the only member of the press to see The Unexpected Man first and The Comedy of Errors second. The Shakespeare comedy opened two weeks ahead of the Yasmina Reza one-act, but health issues delayed my opportunity to see the former. Dildine’s choice of the young Taibi Magar, a recently minted MFA from Brown University-Trinty Rep directing program, was genius and right in step with Tina Packer’s tradition of hiring innovative female directors with a genuine love and respect for the Bard. She in turn has cast from both inside and from outside the Shakespeare & Company stable of performers, and while it is painful to long-time fans of the Company to see comic geniuses like Josh Aaron McCabe and Michael F. Toomey relegated to minor roles, the newcomers Magar has hired are excellent and blend well with Company regulars like Cloteal L. Horne and Douglas Seldin.

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.

Three Resign Board Leadership in Continuing Drama at Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Editorial by Larry Murray

An earlier article covers the news of Rick Dildine’s recent departure from Shakespeare & Company.

More changes. Following a meeting on Tuesday, Sarah Hancock, chairwoman of the board of trustees at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, resigned from her role as Chairman, but remains on the Board. Also resigning their position are Vice Chairwoman Claudia Perles who also remains a Board member, and Vice Chairman Charles Schader who has left the Board “for personal reasons.”

In a written statement, the company’s executive committee said that a new leadership team would be nominated during the next board meeting on March 30, and that team would “continue the company’s tradition of artistic excellence and community service. While we are sorry to see these persons leave their positions, changes like these happen from time to time in any organization, and it would be a mistake to interpret these departures as a sign that the company is in turmoil or in trouble. Neither is true,” the statement read. “In fact, the company’s financial status has greatly improved over the past years, it has an exciting season about to launch, ticket sales and enrollments in the company’s renowned training and education programs are both strong and the staff is actively engaged in making this season the great success it promises to be.”

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Dildine Leaves Shakespeare & Company; Ball, Bock and Croy to Lead New Season [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015
Rick Dildine

Rick Dildine returning to the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis from whence he came.

By Larry Murray

Rick Dildine’s six-month tenure at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox was filled with controversy and secrecy as he tried to reign in expenses, redirect energies and reshape the legendary Berkshire institution that has always been valued for the actors who founded it. When the new season was revealed last month, it was more notable for the absence of the company’s regular actors being included than anything else.

A bland marketing campaign has followed, one that is most noticeable for its absence of the usual Kevin Sprague photos which have been a trademark of the company for some 20 years or more. Unimaginative blocks of color were substituted for the lively images that once communicated the essence of each upcoming play. The marketing of company subscriptions has been lackluster as well. The lack of familiar names and images has resulted in some regular subscribers taking a “wait and see” stance to see who the coming season will actually offer on stage. People who do not know how to sell tickets should not be allowed near the marketing budget, they always end up killing ticket sales.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Shakespeare & Company 2015 Puts the Spotlight on Diversity of Plays, People, Topicality [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015
John Douglas Thompson returns at last.

John Douglas Thompson returns at last.

By Larry Murray

Shakespeare & Company in Lenox announced its upcoming season at a celebratory gathering of members of the company, its board and select members of the press. With a dozen productions and special events planned over the summer, a challenging handful of contemporary plays will join proven Shakespeare works on the company’s three stages. As PR spokesman Elizabeth Aspenlieder remarked: “This season includes both the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays, Comedy of Errors, and the longest, Hamlet, plus one that’s in-between.”

Of the new works, the regional premiere of Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti caused considerable buzz, and the world premiere of Jane Anderson’s Mother of the Maid, starring Tina Packer was greeted with applause. In addition, the summer season includes The Unexpected Man by Yasmina Reza, and opens with the provocative new play by Sarah Treem, The How and the Why.

Diversity seems to be one key to the season, with four plays by women playwrights, including Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet. She has made her mark on stage and screen as both actor and writer and has created this astonishing play, to be seen for the first time in New England. Red Velvet is about Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor at the centre of controversy in 1833 when he takes over from Edmund Kean in Othello at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden, It premiered in 2012 at the Tricycle Theatre in London, and in the this US debut will stars one of the company’s most renowned members, John Douglas Thompson.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Review: “It’s a Wonderful Life” Returns to Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, December 15th, 2014
It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play runs from Dec. 5-28. (photo: Enrico Spada)

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play runs from Dec. 5-28. (photo: Enrico Spada)

Theater review and discussion by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray (Reprinted from the December 12, 2013 review)

Larry Murray: What can be more fitting for the holidays than It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play which is the story of idealistic George Bailey as he considers ending his life one fateful Christmas Eve. Do you agree that Shakespeare & Company in Lenox captured all the magic of Frank Capra’s classic 1946 holiday film It’s a Wonderful Life in this production?

Gail M. Burns: Darned if I know. I am one of the few adult Americans who has never seen the film all the way through. This iteration, adapted by Joe Landry from the screenplay by Francis Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, and Jo Swerling, reimagines the story as performed by five stalwart radio actors on a snowy Christmas Eve when the sound effects guy gets stuck in the blizzard and can’t get to the studio. We, the studio audience for the broadcast, get the fun of watching them cope with the emergency and perform all the music and sound effects as well as the well-worn story of George Bailey.

Larry: Landry didn’t miss a single plot point of the film, and the five actors created the dozens of characters with just their voices. It was astonishing to hear Ryan Winkles change his voice instantly from Clarence the angel (second class) to Bert the cop. He played a dozen roles, as did favorite Jonathan Croy and the amazing Jennie M. Jadow. These chameleons changed accent, tone and cadence from one character to the next like racers taking the hairpin turn on the Mohawk Trail.

Gail: David Joseph and Sarah Jeanette Taylor anchor the story as George Bailey and the woman he marries, Mary Hatch. They also provide much of the charming music, with Taylor on piano and Joseph as the lead vocalist. The whole show, but especially the music, was charming in its simplicity and beauty, with many songs sung virtually a cappella. Joseph plinks out a few notes on the xylophone and Winkles bravely tackles a trombone riff, but Jadow on violin and Taylor on piano provide the melodic lines.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

“Stonewall” DIldine and the Mess at Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, October 20th, 2014
Stonewall Dildine’s answer to all questions: “”We don’t discuss personnel matters.”

Stonewall Dildine’s answer to all questions: “We don’t discuss personnel matters.”

By Larry Murray

For more than a week, the board and management of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox have evaded every question about the sudden departure of artistic director Tony Simotes. It has also refused to give any indication of whether this signals a major reorganization of the theatre company, and just who is going to be next on the chopping block. The order to be silent has reverberated throughout the company and many of the founders and long-term members fear that if they open their mouth, they will lose their jobs. It seems that heads are going to roll soon, and that worries me as a veteran theater watcher who has a great love for this venerable company of actors.

Secrecy and stonewalling are a familiar form of corporate politics. Whether white collar workers or actors, using these sorts of wily tactics always backfires, and has already began to erode the company’s years of reputation and audience building.

Oddly, Shakespeare & Company chose to release the news of Simotes departure with hints of more changes to come in an after-hours news release (original story) late on a Friday night. They probably expected that few would print the news, or – most importantly – that few would notice that the popular Simotes was being unceremoniously ushered out months before his contract ends despite promises to the contrary. There were few details, just the usual meaningless niceties that accompany such corporate beheadings. My own attempts to glean more information were rebuffed even when such attempts were done using personal email rather than official ShakesCo email address which were undoubtedly being monitored for leaks.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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