Stagestruck: Gladrags and Ragtime at Shakespeare & Company
Jul27

Stagestruck: Gladrags and Ragtime at Shakespeare & Company

Intimate Apparel is all about fabrics. The silky fabrics draping the figures of elegant Gilded Age matrons and the coarser fabrics worn by their servants, delineating both economic and social standing. The deceptively comfortable fabrics covering the women’s corsets, whose plain or fancy decorations likewise convey status but whose whalebone stays and torturous lacing mean confinement for women of all stations. And then, those...

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Stagestruck: Taking Steps to Hilarity at Barrington Stage
Jul26

Stagestruck: Taking Steps to Hilarity at Barrington Stage

The classic sex farce is set in a large room with about half a dozen doors, in and out of which pop guilty lovers, jealous spouses and other staples of the genre, and behind which most of the shenanigans real and suspected take place. Alan Ayckbourne’s classic Taking Steps (at Barrington Stage Company through August 5) turns that convention on its head. The difference here is that much of what would normally happen offstage (like...

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Stagestruck: Dancing on the Edge at Jacob’s Pillow With Akash Odedra
Jul25

Stagestruck: Dancing on the Edge at Jacob’s Pillow With Akash Odedra

The two mainstage programs at Jacob’s Pillow dance festival last week offered intriguing contrasts in modern dance envelope-pushing. And perhaps surprisingly, it was the simpler, solo show that delivered more variety and excitement. Aakash Odedra is an Englishman of Indian parentage who first trained in the dance traditions of his ancestral culture and then branched out into a stylistic kaleidoscope of world traditions. The pieces he...

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Stagestruck: Opposites Attract in Silverthorne’s Gentle Comedy
Jul24

Stagestruck: Opposites Attract in Silverthorne’s Gentle Comedy

Chapatti, now playing at Silverthorne Theater Company, is one of the sweetest comedies about grief, loneliness and suicide I’ve ever seen. The title is unfortunate, even confusing, since Christian O’Reilly’s play takes place in Dublin, not Delhi, and the name has nothing to do with the play’s plot or theme. For what it’s worth, Chapatti is a dog, named after his fondness for that Indian flatbread. There are dog people and there...

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Stagestruck: Misfit Millennials – “Speech & Debate” at Barrington Stage
Jul20

Stagestruck: Misfit Millennials – “Speech & Debate” at Barrington Stage

Reid Thompson’s setting for Speech & Debate, now receiving a near-perfect production at Barrington Stage Company, is a high school classroom. Maps and historical posters line the walls and headshots of famous Americans form a frieze above a pair of whiteboards – which become screens for Alex Basco Koch’s witty between-scenes animated projections. Lighting by Burke Brown also divides the room into discrete areas representing the...

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Stagestruck: Bare Bard at Shakespeare & Co., Cymbeline Reviewed
Jul18

Stagestruck: Bare Bard at Shakespeare & Co., Cymbeline Reviewed

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s “romances,” those late works in which comedy blends with tragedy and the endings are neither strewn with corpses nor aclang with wedding bells, but suffused with poignancy and forgiveness. The Tempest is the most popular of this group – in fact, it inaugurates the company’s new outdoor performance space next month – and Cymbeline runs a close second to Pericles as the least performed. So...

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Stagestruck: Wizard of Arrrrrs — PaintBox Theatre
Jul19

Stagestruck: Wizard of Arrrrrs — PaintBox Theatre

“Oh dear, the Wicked Witch is coming!” cried the Mayor of Munchkin City. “In that case,” responded Good Witch Glinda, “I’ve got to go.” “But why?” asked Dorothy, who was just starting to get used to not being in Kansas anymore. “Because she and I can’t be onstage at the same time. You’ll see why in a minute.” That meta-moment is part of why I love Tom McCabe’s PaintBox Theatre. The troupe’s inspired approach to kids’ shows combines...

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Stagestruck: Lives on the Line
Jul15

Stagestruck: Lives on the Line

In her “Detroit Trilogy” of plays, Dominique Morisseau looks at black lives in that once-vibrant city through the lens of three distinct eras and groups of people.  Paradise Blue takes place in a 1949 jazz club in the city’s historic Black Bottom district, which is threatened by gentrification. Detroit ’67 is set in a “blind pig,” an unlicensed after-hours bar, during that summer’s deadly riots – which were triggered by a police raid...

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Stagestruck: Shakespearean Double Act
Jul13

Stagestruck: Shakespearean Double Act

Think of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as fan fiction – Tom Stoppard’s contribution to the “greatest-play-ever-written” phenomenon. That is, Hamlet.  In fact, though they were written centuries apart (around 1599 and 1966, respectively), the two make a well-matched repertory duet for an adventurous theater company, as minor characters in the elder become leads in the upstart, and vice versa. That’s just what Hampshire...

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Stagestruck: Art as Activism – Creative tactics at KO Festival
Jul11

Stagestruck: Art as Activism – Creative tactics at KO Festival

The KO Festival of Performance opened last weekend, kicking off a diverse five-week season clustered around the theme “Tactics for Trying Times.” First up was Jimmy & Lorraine, written by Talvin Wilks and developed with Hartford’s HartBeat Ensemble. The playwright describes his scrapbook drama as a “dramatic reflection” and “a type of mashup,” culled from the writings and correspondence of two great African-American...

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Stagestruck: The Foreigner Hits Close To Home
Jul10

Stagestruck: The Foreigner Hits Close To Home

There’s a disclaimer of sorts in Jack Neary’s director’s note for The Foreigner, New Century Theatre’s season opener, playing through this weekend in its temporary digs at PVPA, the area’s performing arts high school in South Hadley. In it, Neary acknowledges that Larry Shue’s popular comedy “can easily be interpreted as an incisive commentary on our current political climate,” but “Me, I just think it’s funny.” Yes, certain aspects...

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Stagestruck: Stellar Casts Overcome Awkward Plot Points at Chester and Williamstown Theatres
Jul03

Stagestruck: Stellar Casts Overcome Awkward Plot Points at Chester and Williamstown Theatres

Are we finally breaking through the color bar in American theater? Is the tokenism represented by theaters programming one “diverse” play during Black History Month giving way to broader representation and bolder casting choices? Judging from the area’s summer theater lineup, it just might be. In late June, for example, three plays focusing on people of color opened in Western Mass. One of them stipulates only that its two characters...

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Stagestruck: Song & Dance
Jun30

Stagestruck: Song & Dance

Two shows now running in the Berkshires are rooted in the past but right up to the minute. Both Tireless, playing this week at Jacob’s Pillow, and Ragtime, at Barrington Stage through July 15, take their inspiration from the music of a bygone era while inviting us, implicitly but exuberantly, to reflect on our own times. I don’t know why or when Ragtime was chosen as this season’s mainstage musical at Barrington Stage, but I’ll bet...

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Stagestruck: Brother/Sister Act — The New Theresa Rebeck Play Gets World Debut in VT
Jun27

Stagestruck: Brother/Sister Act — The New Theresa Rebeck Play Gets World Debut in VT

The publicity for Downstairs, which opened at the Dorset (VT) Theatre Festival last week, gives rather short shrift to the fact that it’s a world premiere by the prolific Theresa Rebeck, whose plays Bad Dates and Mauritius are also being produced in the region this summer (at Shakespeare & Company and Oldcastle Theatre, respectively). Most of the attention has been showered on another first: Tyne Daly and her brother, Tim Daly,...

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Stagestruck: Fowl Play(s)
Jun20

Stagestruck: Fowl Play(s)

“Birds of a feather flock together,” as the saying goes, but that’s no excuse for these two avian-themed plays to be running at the same time in this area. They are entirely different species. The Birds, at Barrington Stage Company, is a claustrophobic thriller, while Stupid Fucking Bird, opening on Thursday at Silverthorne Theater Company, is a cheeky updating of Chekhov’s The Seagull.   When asked what Stupid Fucking Bird is...

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Stagestruck: Mayflies and “Mill Girls”
Jun12

Stagestruck: Mayflies and “Mill Girls”

It has been described as “theatrical mayhem” and “controlled madness,” “extreme theater” and “a mayfly” — the latter because it’s here and gone in a day. The popular annual event is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying for the dozens of theater folk who take part in it, and pretty much the same for the audiences who flock to it. It’s the 24-Hour Theater Project, a no-net high-wire act in which six plays are written, rehearsed and...

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Stagestruck: “Million Dollar” Duo
Jun12

Stagestruck: “Million Dollar” Duo

As it happens, two different productions of the same show open on area stages on the same day this week. On Wednesday, Million Dollar Quartet premieres in the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, and the Majestic Theater in West Springield revives its sold-out hit from last fall. Here’s a revised version of my review of the Majestic’s original production:   You could call Million Dollar...

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Stagestruck: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Alive! and Playing in Amherst – Times Two
May30

Stagestruck: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Alive! and Playing in Amherst – Times Two

“We do on stage the things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.” That line, spoken by a traveling player in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, could well be the elevator pitch for Tom Stoppard’s audaciously meta-theatrical play. Because that’s what it is: a backstage tour of Hamlet conducted by the pair of pawns who are summoned by the king to...

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Stagestruck: Radical Notions, ‘Kunstler’ and ‘Heartbreak House’
May28

Stagestruck: Radical Notions, ‘Kunstler’ and ‘Heartbreak House’

In my column in last week’s Advocate, a preview of the Valley’s summer-theater season, I reported that many of the area’s upcoming shows reflect, indirectly or explicitly, “the political landscape we are all traversing these days.” Sure enough, the first two summer shows out of the gate – not in the Valley but in Pittsfield and Hartford – do indeed invite, and in one case compel, reflections on our perilous present day through the...

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Summer Stage Preview, Part II: Theaters on the Move
May22

Summer Stage Preview, Part II: Theaters on the Move

Editor’s Note: Here’s the Summer Stage Preview Part I, about the Berkshires. These days, Sam Rush often finds himself using the punning phrase “Home is where the art is.” That’s because his company, New Century Theatre, having lost its longtime home at Smith College in Northampton, is mounting a reduced summer season on two Valley stages while searching for a permanent abode. For now, though, he’s determined to feel “at...

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Summer Stage Preview — Part I: The Berkshires
May15

Summer Stage Preview — Part I: The Berkshires

Most theaters in this region have only two seasons: summer and the rest of the year. None of the area’s professional companies are truly year-round. Some focus on intensive summer repertories of multiple shows with two- and three-week runs, while others produce only occasionally or mount fall-to-spring seasons with longer runs. “Intensive” and “multiple” are the key terms here. At least two-thirds of my annual theatergoing happens in...

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Stagestruck: ‘Life in the (413)’ skewers local culture Saturday
Apr24

Stagestruck: ‘Life in the (413)’ skewers local culture Saturday

Back in the day — way, way back — live radio drama was a staple of the airwaves. As script-toting actors gathered around microphones, their dialogue was peppered with live sound effects, backed by a live band and punctuated with live commercial breaks, often with a live studio audience looking on. Lately, New Century Theatre, in partnership with radio station WHMP, has joined in the genre’s recent rebirth as a staged theatrical event....

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Stagestruck: The Trump Effect
Apr10

Stagestruck: The Trump Effect

It seems that lately, every time I go to a play — or a movie, for that matter — it gets me thinking about Donald Trump. Ever since he and his goon squad have taken over in Washington, I’ve noticed that so much of what we see and create seems newly topical and timely. Everything is now filtered through a horrifying new prism, taking on fresh meaning and urgency, whether it was explicitly created in reaction to the current state of...

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Stagestruck: Stage on Screen
Apr06

Stagestruck: Stage on Screen

Movies are not my beat, but I often go to the theater at the Amherst Cinema. The ongoing National Theatre Live series of big-screen, high-def broadcasts from the London stage is a staple of my playgoing schedule. This month and next, the cinema screens encores of five shows in the spring season. I’ve seen two of them in previous screenings, and I’m eagerly awaiting the others. And this Saturday the cinema hosts a one-time,...

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Stagestruck: Force of Nature
Mar27

Stagestruck: Force of Nature

WAM Theatre exists on two levels: to produce work that foregrounds women playwrights and performers, and to tangibly support, with a portion of ticket sales, organizations that work to better the lives of women and girls. Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight brings its own bifurcated story to that mission. First performed here in 2013, WAM is reviving it this weekend and next in a guest appearance at Shakespeare...

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Stan and Ollie, Meet Punch and Judy — Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, with a touch of slapstick
Mar21

Stan and Ollie, Meet Punch and Judy — Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, with a touch of slapstick

The story goes that Samuel Beckett was walking through a London park with a friend on a glorious spring morning when his companion exclaimed, “Isn’t this just the kind of day that makes you glad to be alive?” To which Beckett replied, “Oh, I don’t think I’d go that far.” For me, that moment of self-satire goes a long way toward explaining the connection between Beckett’s famously gloomy view of the human condition and his...

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Stagestruck: Shenanigans and the Sexual Revolution
Mar12

Stagestruck: Shenanigans and the Sexual Revolution

On the first page of Fiona Kyle’s dramaturgical notes for Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9, at Hartford Stage through March 19, is a photo of Margaret Thatcher. The next page features the less- recognizable face of Cecil Rhodes. He was the epitome of 19th-century British imperialism – ruthless exploiter of southern Africa’s diamond fields (and her labor force), prime minister of Cape Colony, champion of Victorian institutions and culture....

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Stagestruck: Facing the Other — a local premiere examines the roots of violence
Mar13

Stagestruck: Facing the Other — a local premiere examines the roots of violence

Talk about prejudice… Without knowing anything about the play, I walked into a rehearsal of Sweet, Sweet Spirit last week and made some snap judgments that turned out to be quite wrong. The play, which receives its regional premiere next weekend at the Academy of Music, takes place in a West Texas town. As soon as I heard the (white) actors’ drawls, coupled with a few references to scripture, I “naturally” concluded that they were...

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Stagestruck: A.R.T.’s “Night of the Iguana” Revives a Minor Classic
Mar06

Stagestruck: A.R.T.’s “Night of the Iguana” Revives a Minor Classic

Some of those leaving the American Repertory Theater’s current production must be surprised and baffled, not to mention disappointed. On my way out of the Cambridge theater on opening night, I overheard a man asking, “Why did James Earl Jones have such a small part?” I was asking the same question myself. The show is Tennessee Williams’ steamy 1961 drama The Night of the Iguana. It’s directed by Michael Wilson, who led Hartford Stage...

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Stagestruck: Woman on the Edge
Feb20

Stagestruck: Woman on the Edge

For a 19th-century male, Henrik Ibsen was quite the feminist. His best-known play, A Doll’s House, ends with one of the theater’s most famous sound effects as his protagonist, Nora Helmer, leaves her stifling marriage with the finality of a slamming door. An equally definitive offstage bang concludes Ibsen’s other great marital drama, Hedda Gabler. While his title character is not at all like Nora, and her final action an even more...

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Stagestruck: Sitting Targets
Feb17

Stagestruck: Sitting Targets

Years ago, when I was living in England, one day the doorbell rang and there stood two painfully clean-cut young men in white dress shirts, narrow ties and pearly smiles. “Hello!” one of them grinned, holding up a serious-looking volume. “My name is Elder Smith, this is Elder Jones, and we would like to share with you this most amazing book.” They were, of course, Mormons, posted to London for their two-year missionary tour of duty....

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Out of Their Comfort Zones
Feb03

Out of Their Comfort Zones

Two shows this week find performers venturing beyond the usual parameters of their craft. At UMass, students in the music department’s Opera Workshop take on Gilbert and Sullivan, and in Northampton, stage actors meet improvisers in a mashup of scripts and ad libs. On Sunday at the Academy of Music, the Happier Valley Comedy troupe teams up with New Century Theatre actors in Making Up Love, putting a new spin on Happier Valley’s...

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Stagestruck: Identity Crises
Jan31

Stagestruck: Identity Crises

The two shows now playing at Hartford’s rep theaters couldn’t be more different, but they still share some core themes. They are Shakespeare’s rambunctious, large-cast Comedy of Errors, at Hartford Stage, and Dominique Morisseau’s small, intense contemporary drama Sunset Baby, at TheaterWorks. Both run through February 19. What they share, expressed in diametric ways, are a focus on lost or estranged parents and their children, and...

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Stagestruck: The Cold Warrior’s Mask
Jan23

Stagestruck: The Cold Warrior’s Mask

Travels with a Masked Man, John Hadden’s compelling “two-character solo performance,” seems to fall squarely in the by-now-familiar genre of the one-person memoir, in this case exploring a rocky relationship with his father. Except that this one is not at all typical. For one thing, Hadden’s father was a spy. The show itself, which comes to the Valley next Friday, is more impressionistic than strictly biographical. It’s based on a...

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Memory Games
Jan25

Memory Games

This year’s National Theatre Live season opens with a contemporary classic and continues with another one, followed by fresh productions of three canonical works. The first is Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, coming this Saturday from the London stage to the Amherst Cinema. In it we find two old codgers, played by two old masters, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, in what The Guardian called “a faithful and loving production that...

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