THEATER REVIEW: “Where Storms Are Born” @ Williamstown [Berkshire on Stage]

July 18th, 2017, 3:00 pm by Sara
Christopher Livingston (Gideon), Myra Lucretia Taylor (Bethea). Photograph Daniel Rader.

Christopher Livingston (Gideon), Myra Lucretia Taylor (Bethea). Photograph by Daniel Rader

Review by Barbara Waldinger

The 2017 season underlines Williamstown Theatre Festival’s commitment to new work. Six of the seven plays at the Festival are new or world premiere plays. Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield, who connects playwrights with directors, actors and designers, invited established playwright Harrison David Rivers to join the Festival in 2016 as a Playwright-in-Residence, in order “to have a living, breathing artist responding to the world,” and to “let the festival respond.” Rivers said of his experience, “It was really inspiring in terms of my own writing.” This year he has returned with a world premiere production of his latest effort, Where Storms Are Born.

This work was a 2015 finalist for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and the recipient of a 2017 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Rivers appreciates the support he has received from the Williamstown Theatre Festival: “Sometimes in a place outside of WTF, the mess of life still enters the room. And here, for the eight hours that we’re in the room together, the play is the thing, and it’s a luxury.” He adds: “The holistic nature of the art-making here contributes to the depth and the quality of the pieces on the stages.” At a time when the arts are becoming more and more marginalized, the Festival is offering a helping hand to artists.

Rivers’ depicts a loving family grappling with loss. The matriarch, Bethea (Myra Lucretia Taylor), is a widow raising her younger son Gideon (Christopher Livingston) in an apartment in Harlem, while her older son Myles (Leroy McClain), has been incarcerated at Sing Sing for the past 13 years after a drug deal spiraled out of control, leading to a fatality. Now Myles has died in prison, though he returns in flashbacks. His death is never explained or even explored.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.


THEATER REVIEW: “The Roommate” at Williamstown [Berkshire on Stage]

July 6th, 2017, 1:00 pm by Sara
S. Epatha Merkerson (Sharon) and Jane Kaczmarek (Robyn). Photo by Daniel Rader.

S. Epatha Merkerson (Sharon) and Jane Kaczmarek (Robyn). Photo by Daniel Rader.

Review by Barbara Waldinger

A play bearing the title The Roommate evokes visions of college dormitories or New York City apartments, unaffordable for young people living alone. Perhaps the characters started as friends, perhaps they are strangers, but for sure the sparks will fly between them before the first act is over. But Jen Silverman has written a play – currently on the boards at the Williamstown Theatre Festival – that defies expectations in many ways.

Here we have two middle-aged women: Sharon (S. Epatha Merkerson), a divorced Midwestern homemaker, has invited Bronx-native Robyn (Jane Kaczmarek) to move into her Iowa home. And although sparks fly, it is not in the way one might expect.

As playwright Silverman asserts, the play is about transformation — both characters choose to change their lives by making space for a new, completely antithetical person. Sharon’s son’s lesbian girlfriend, who lives with him in New York City (he’s a women’s clothing designer – NOT homosexual), describes her as boring and judgmental. Indeed, Sharon’s only activity, besides calling her son whom she misses terribly, is her book group or, more high-mindedly, “reading group.” Robyn, whose initial entrance signals trouble, thanks to her black leather jacket, jeans and boots (the costumes are designed by Anita Yavich), is a lesbian, vegan, slam poet, former potter and scam artist, who likes to “grow things” (like marijuana plants). While Sharon can’t imagine Robyn’s life in the dangerous Bronx, the seemingly fearless Robyn, upon hearing that there are tornadoes in Iowa, is ready to bolt. In the course of the play, the women influence each other to reinvent their lives.

The Roommate is a comedy of character, not heavy on plot. Silverman has a fine ear and a distinctive voice that is at once natural and very funny. Because Sharon has lived such a sheltered life, she is like a child eager to explore this new world that Robyn brings with her. A self-described “nosy and persistent” woman, she justifies her curiosity as part of a “mother’s line of work.” With her gift for dialogue, the playwright invites us to uncover with Sharon the many secrets that Robyn attempts to hide. (The only lines that don’t seem organic are those in which Sharon speaks out loud to herself, as when she rifles one of Robyn’s private cartons and announces what she finds.)

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Williamstown Theatre Festival Announces 2017 Summer Season [Berkshire on Stage]

February 13th, 2017, 1:30 pm by Sara

Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield has announced the Williamstown Theatre Festival 2017 Summer Season, the 63rd season for the Tony Award-winning theater company, which will include four world premieres, a new musical, the first production of a WTF commissioned artist and much more.

The season – running from June 27-August 20 – begins on the Main Stage with a production of a new comedy by Jen Silverman, The Roommate, (June 27–July 16) directed by Mike Donahue and starring Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner S. Epatha Merkerson (WTF debut) and Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominee Jane Kaczmarek (fourth season at WTF); continues with Sarah Ruhl’s 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist comedy The Clean House (July 19-July 29), starring Tony Award nominee Jessica Hecht (10th season at WTF) and directed by Rebecca Taichman; and closes with a new musical A Legendary Romance (August 3-20), with music and lyrics by Geoff Morrow and book by Timothy Prager and directed by Lonny Price.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “And No More Shall We Part” @ Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

August 16th, 2016, 1:00 pm by Sara
(l to r) Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek (photo:  T. Charles Erickson)

(l to r) Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Reviewe by Macey Levin

The Williamstown Theatre Festival’s American premiere of And No More Shall We Part by Australian playwright Tom Holloway is a challenging piece to write about. It offers so much in its content that requires great tolerance and that is played with outstanding theatrical energy and insight.

Pam (Jane Kaczmarek) and Don (Alfred Molina), middle-age parents of a son and daughter who are out on their own, live a simple and loving life. Pam has had a disease, never identified, for a period of time. Since treatments will no longer help her, she has decided to end her life to save Don and the children the agony of watching her deteriorate into unbearable pain. Told in flashbacks, we see the couple argue about the process of unassisted suicide. He can’t allow her to do it; she insists it is the best thing to do. He wants to be there when she takes the pills; she says he can‘t because that will implicate him in her death. Little by little he reluctantly acquiesces to everything she asks or demands.

Those of us of a certain age have faced, in one way or another, the traumas they are going through. Facing the loss of a loved one is a test of our own strength for it is not an easy realization that one’s life will be severely changed. This is part of Don’s reaction. He does not want Pam to leave him; he decries her actions as being selfish. He tells her to think of what she is doing to the family by taking herself away. To her, it is an act of love. Watching them is heart-rending.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “An American Daughter” @ Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

August 10th, 2016, 1:00 pm by Sara
Pictured (L to R): Jason Danieley, Kerry Bishé, Richard Poe, Stephen Kunken, Roe Hartrampf, Deborah Rush and Diane Davis. (photo:  T. Charles Erickson)

Pictured (L to R): Jason Danieley, Kerry Bishé, Richard Poe, Stephen Kunken, Roe Hartrampf, Deborah Rush and Diane Davis. (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Review by Macey Levin

Almost 20 years ago Wendy Wasserstein’s An American Daughter was produced by Lincoln Center Theater; it received mostly mixed reviews and had a relatively short run. Not being one of Wasserstein’s major plays – i.e. The Heidi Chronicles or The Sisters Rosensweig – it has seldom been revived. The Williamstown Theatre Festival has taken a chance to bring it back in the midst of the current, very ugly presidential campaign. A number of the issues addressed in the play are, regrettably, still with us and, in some cases, exacerbated.

Lyssa Dent Hughes (Diane Davis) has been nominated to become the next surgeon-general. She is the daughter of Senator Allen Hughes (Richard Poe) from Indiana and is married to Walter Abrahmson (Stephen Kunken), a PhD. sociologist who is living in his past. Lyssa is well-equipped to fill the position given her background as a crusading physician whose major cause is women’s health. This does seem to be something of a hindrance (sound familiar coming from today’s political arena?)

Walter lets slip the fact that Lyssa ignored a summons to jury duty. The very plausible explanation in light of her professional responsibilities and being the mother of young twin boys is that it was misplaced. A participant in this conversation is an old self-involved, highly conservative friend Morrow McCarthy (Roe Hartrampf). He is invited to a brunch the next day in Lyssa’s home that is going to be filmed by television commentator Timber Tucker (Jason Danieley) and his crew for a news program.

Morrow, not so inadvertently, mentions the jury duty foul-up. When it is brought up in the interview a brouhaha develops which endangers Lyssa’s appointment. In addition, she refers to her mother as “an Indiana housewife” who made ice box cakes and canapes. This results in her being criticized as being condescending. Her “favorable” ratings go down (has this happened recently?), and she is given advice by everyone on how to handle the situation. The best and simplest advice comes from her father’s fourth wife Charlotte “Chubby” Hughes (Deborah Rush), who tells her to recognize the error and, more importantly, protect her family.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage

Theater Review: “Romance Novels for Dummies” @ Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

July 25th, 2016, 1:00 pm by Sara
Mary Wiseman and Justin Long (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Mary Wiseman and Justin Long (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Theater review by Larry Murray

Part romantic comedy and part relationship play, Romance Novels for Dummies had its world premiere on the main stage of the Williamstown Theatre Festival last week. There was drama, tension, laughs, pathos and cleverly drawn characters from rising playwright Boo Killebrew, but not enough to fill the big theater where her play was being staged. Romance Novels is the kind of play that is perfect for off-Broadway, an intimate tale of two sisters, with a series of dates that all go wrong, and the ghost of a deceased husband and the ongoing responsibilities of raising a daughter casting a shadow over it all.

Set in present day Brooklyn, the Eberwine sisters Liz (Mary Wiseman) and Bernie (Ashley Austin Morris) have moved to the big city from Mississippi. They brought with them six-year-old Lily (Emily Lyons) who is being raised by her stay at home mom and her wilder, pot-smoking, drinking and swearing older sister. Mom is trying to figure out what to do with her life, thus her interest in learning how to write romance novels from a self-help book.

Along the way she is encouraged to do some research by some real life dating, and that is how we meet Justin Long who plays Jake, Charles and Myron, her three research subjects who could also become real life boyfriends. Long, of course, is a natural character actor and quickly endows the three different guys with unique voices, stances and personalities. Mary Wiseman’s Liz has her own special response to each of them, and the succession of dates fills in one aspect of her personality.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “The Chinese Room” @ Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

July 22nd, 2016, 1:00 pm by Sara
(L to R): Sue Jean Kim, Brían F. O’Byrne and Carson Elrod (photo: Daniel Rader)

(L to R): Sue Jean Kim, Brían F. O’Byrne and Carson Elrod (photo: Daniel Rader)

Theater review by Macey Levin

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda, the wizard Prospero’s teen-age daughter, upon seeing men other than her father for the first time, says, “Brave new world that has such people in ‘t.” Prospero responds, “’Tis new to thee.” The world premiere of Michael West’s play The Chinese Room currently at the Williamstown Theatre Festival explores a probable new world for the 21st century.

It is believed that in time computers will be virtually human; not only will they be able to think but also feel. The Chinese Room was part of an experiment by John Searles in opposition to this theory of artificial intelligence. An English-speaking subject would be placed in a room with several batches of Chinese writings and symbols with instructions in English. The subject would “translate” the material into English. A party outside the room, reading the translation, would think the subject actually knew Chinese. The intent was to show that one can be trained to do and say things but would not have intrinsic knowledge of what he or she was actually doing and, in all probability, did not have the emotional structure possessed by humans.

In the play, Frank McClintock (Brian F. O’Byrne) is fighting with the use of electronic devices, including holograms and the Cloud, to maintain power over the firm he founded while facing an attempt to wrest control from him by his old friend Hal. He is determined to keep all the firm’s information so that he can use it to return his wife Lily (Laila Robins), who is suffering from dementia, to the woman she was before her mind started to deteriorate. After rebooting Susannah (Sue Jean Kim), a droid he created, urging his son Zack (Elliot Trainor) to go to bed and then placating the confused Lily, Frank is visited by Daniel (Carson Elrod), another droid he designed, who has been sent by the firm to retrieve all the records and devices in Frank’s possession. Daniel is focused on his assignment and has no regard for Frank’s pleas or emotional state. Thus begins the drama of the exploration of the Chinese Room theory.

World Premiere of “Romance Novels for Dummies” in Williamstown [Berkshire on Stage]

July 19th, 2016, 1:00 pm by Sara
Mary Wiseman (L) and Justin Long (R) in rehearsal together for the world premiere of Romance Novels for Dummies by Boo Killebrew (photo: Daniel Rader)

Mary Wiseman (L) and Justin Long (R) in rehearsal together for the world premiere of “Romance Novels for Dummies” (photo: Daniel Rader)

By Larry Murray

You probably don’t know much about the new comedy Romance Novels for Dummies by Boo Killebrew since it is another world premiere play for the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Directed by Tony nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel, it has a top notch cast replete with personal favorite Justin Long, the stunning Mary Wiseman, plus the enchanting Emily Lyons, Ashley Austin Morris, Connie Ray and the anchor, a solid Andrew Weems.

The set-up is wonderful, full of both dramatic and comic possibilities. Sisters Liz and Bernie couldn’t be more different: Liz is a good, Southern stay-at-home mom; Bernie is a flailing actress smoking and swearing her way through New York City. But when Liz is suddenly widowed, she and her young daughter move in with Bernie to start again. While Bernie challenges all of Liz’s assumptions about life, love and raising a child, Liz goes out on a series of internet dates which eclipse the grief, fear and gentility she’s known for so long. Can Liz compel her own story to end like a romance novel?

Romance Novels for Dummies is a play which asks us to imagine how we might handle the curve-balls — big and small — that life throws us.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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