THEATER REVIEW: “The Petrified Forest” @ the Fitzpatrick Main Stage [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Macey Levin
Photograph by Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware
The American theater in the 1930s was populated by a pantheon of major playwrights: Eugene O’Neill, Elmer Rice, Clifford Odets, Lillian Hellman, Thornton Wilder, Kaufman & Hart, Maxwell Anderson and, perhaps the least known, Robert E. Sherwood, winner of four Pulitzer Prizes in different fields. He went on to become President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speechwriter during the early ’40s and then a screenwriter – “Rebecca,” “The Best Years of Our Lives” and more. His best-known plays include Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Idiot’s Delight and The Petrified Forest, which made Humphrey Bogart a star on Broadway and in Hollywood. Written in 1935, the play is seldom produced, but it is receiving a skilled production at the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge.
The play takes place in the Depression when people’s lives were filled with frustration and lost hope. In the opening scene two linemen are having lunch, one of whom complains about the chaos and inequality in America, comparing it to the efficiency and success of Russian society. In the ’30s and early ’40s this was a relatively frequent discussion which would ultimately subject stage and screenwriters to the misguided wrath of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee of the late ’40s and early ’50s.
Jason Maple (Sean Cullen), his father Gramp (John Thomas Waite) and his daughter Gabrielle (Rebecca Brooksher) run a luncheonette/gas station on an Arizona highway where a host of diverse characters assemble through the day. The egocentric Boze (Shawn Fagan), a newly-hired employee who boasts of his exploits as a college football player, is infatuated by Gabby. Alan Squier (David Adkins), an unsuccessful author and lost human being, stumbles in. Impressed by his charm and experiences, Gabby ignores his cautions about the pitfalls life offers.