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Stagestruck: “Stories” by the “Hatful”

Two plays plumb explosive issues of friendship and family.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014
Emily Faulkner photo
A Hatful of Rain

Two shows playing this weekend share a thematic thread: the elusive nature of truth and its potential for violent upheavals in families and friendships. A Hatful of Rain, in Stockbridge, is a volcanic 1950s drama set in the aftermath of war; Collected Stories, in Ashfield, is a two-person study of trust and betrayal.

When the film version of Hatful opened in 1957, two years after the play’s Broadway premiere, its frank and disturbing portrayal of heroin addiction, and what we’ve now learned to call post-traumatic stress disorder, stirred controversy in that buttoned-down era’s movie houses.

As the Berkshire Theatre Group’s publicity puts it, a soldier’s war service abroad can be less devastating than “the war fought within.”

In Michael Gazzo’s play, Johnny (Tommy Schrider) comes home from the Korean War with a smack habit contracted because of the morphine he received when hospitalized with battlefield wounds. He tries, unsuccessfully, to hide the addiction from his emotionally distant and psychologically abusive father (Stephen Mendillo) and his wife (Megan Ketch), who knows something’s wrong but suspects he’s having an illicit affair—which he is, of course, with a fatally demanding mistress.

Director Greg Naughton (whose father James and sister Keira work here regularly, most recently as star and director, respectively, of this season’s Cedars) points out that the play has rarely been revived, though its raw, realistic dialogue has made it “a scene-study staple for acting students.”

He considers it “a lost classic” whose theme and message have become searingly relevant with the long-overdue attention given to today’s soldiers returning with PTSD—a condition unnamed and barely understood when this play was first seen.

Through Aug. 30, Berkshire Theatre Group mainstage, 83 E. Main St., Stockbridge, (413) 298-5576, berkshiretheatregroup.org.

 

Pauline Productions’ staging of Collected Stories this weekend is not just a performance. It’s a culmination, a celebration and a farewell. Annalise Cain, who graduated from the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School this spring and enters Boston University’s drama program next month, has been a longtime intern with this company and its director, Jeannine Haas. The pair are performing Donald Margulies’ play, which looks, fittingly, at a mentor/protégée relationship.

The play follows the relationship, over six years, of Ruth, a well-known writer, and Lisa, a graduate student, which grows from teacher/pupil to mentor/mentee to close friendship. As Lisa’s own writing career blossoms, the relationship is tested when her first novel upsets her teacher/friend’s sense of personal privacy. The conflict raises the issue of appropriating real-life events for fictional purposes—when private “stories” are “collected” in the course of a personal relationship, to whom do they belong?—and the question of where and how fiction and truth intermingle or collide. (There’s an irony here, since the play implicates a real-life author in the lives of two fictional characters.)

“Tables turn,” explains Haas, “and both women are forced to confront the stuff that they are made of.” She adds, “I wanted to find a two-hander offering two fabulous female roles, a script that would give Annalise a good role before she leaves us. She is a mighty young actress, and Collected Stories seems a perfect fit.”•

Aug. 20-21 at 7:30, 22-23 at 8, $15-$25, First Congregational Church, 429 Main St., Ashfield, tickets from BrownPaperTickets.com or at the door.

 

Chris Rohmann is at StageStruck@crocker.com and his StageStruck blog is at valleyadvocate.com/blogs/stagestruck.

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