Stagestruck: Poetry, Puppetry and Attempted Murder
Nov20

Stagestruck: Poetry, Puppetry and Attempted Murder

Crimes of the Heart is an American classic. Beth Henley’s 1980 play garnered a Tony, a Pulitzer and a movie deal, ran on Broadway for over a year and has been a community theater staple ever since. Before catching Cate Damon’s lively production at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield (through Dec. 10) I hadn’t seen it for years, and was surprised at how quaint it now seems. The tumbling dialogue is humorously authentic (we’re in...

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Stagestruck: Not Your Bobble-head Einstein
Nov14

Stagestruck: Not Your Bobble-head Einstein

Though it harks back more than 100 years, Jack Fry’s Einstein! shuns the usual retrospective approach to solo shows portraying celebrities. This one is both timeless and time-stamped. The title character appears to us “from the beyond,” complaining about the popular caricature he’s become after death, presenting as evidence his wild-haired likeness on a t-shirt and a bobble-head. But he also situates us in his Berlin study in August...

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Stagestruck: The Fruits of Poetry
Nov08

Stagestruck: The Fruits of Poetry

Note: An earlier version of this article contained several errors. They have now been corrected. In 1999, Time magazine named its pick for “the song of the century.” That song was “Strange Fruit,” perhaps an odd choice from the songbook of the era that gave birth to blues, jazz, musical comedy and rock’n’roll. Written in the late 1930s by a schoolteacher named Abel Meeropol, it’s a mournful tune set to a bitter lyric about an...

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Stagestruck: House of Terrors
Nov05

Stagestruck: House of Terrors

The current world-premiere production at Hartford Stage (through Nov. 12) is “based on a true story,” according to the publicity, which is otherwise unforthcoming about its real-life inspiration. No matter. The premise for Sarah Gancher’s Seder is dramatic enough to pass for fiction, but has an unmistakable ring of authenticity. Fact or fantasy, it’s one of the smartest, most engaging and provocative new plays I’ve seen. It’s 2002,...

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Stagestruck: Babylon in Vermont
Nov01

Stagestruck: Babylon in Vermont

As artists, how can one watch the millions of refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, not to mention countries in Africa and Asia, and not want to address this issue?  That question provoked the latest handmade production from Sandglass Theater, the world-class puppetry troupe headquartered in Putney, Vermont. The floods of refugees flowing from the Near East into an often hostile Europe, coupled with the travel bans on people...

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Stagestruck: Runaways and Refugees
Oct30

Stagestruck: Runaways and Refugees

“Once upon a time / There was a boy or a girl / Who ran far away from home …” But this is no fairy tale. Runaways, which opens this week at UMass, is a grown-up musical about homeless children — kids who have fled from home and are living on the street. Created by Elizabeth Swados, it premiered in 1978 at the Public Theater, which had midwifed Hair a decade earlier, and soon moved to Broadway. It was based on Swados’...

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Stagestruck: Going for Goal
Oct19

Stagestruck: Going for Goal

The timing was kind of perfect. Last week, just as the U.S. men’s soccer team was being eliminated from qualifying for next year’s World Cup, Hartford’s TheaterWorks was opening The Wolves, an energetic if puzzling play about women’s soccer. Make that girls’ soccer. Sarah DeLappe’s high-spirited drama is about a team of suburban teenagers competing in six-a-side indoor soccer. In the context of this show, the World Cup news invites...

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Stagestruck: A Light, a Lake and a Lady
Oct16

Stagestruck: A Light, a Lake and a Lady

In last week’s column I covered a fistful of shows playing in the Valley, and now it’s the Berkshires’ turn. Shakespeare & Company’s God of Carnage recently completed a late-season run, and three quite varied fall productions are now running on other western stages.   In Pittsfield, Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 psychothriller Gaslight is playing at Barrington Stage Company through this weekend. The inspiration for reviving this...

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Stagestruck — Fall Harvest: A Bumper Crop of Valley Shows
Oct09

Stagestruck — Fall Harvest: A Bumper Crop of Valley Shows

At the end of summer, there’s a pause before the fall season unfolds — or rather, explodes. Suddenly, this weekend and next there’s a bumper crop of shows in an abundance of Valley venues. By my count, no fewer than seven productions are on hand — 21 if you count the 15-act Double Take Festival next weekend. And they come in as many shapes and varieties as the leaves on the season’s glorious trees. Let’s begin with Albatross, this...

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Stagestruck: “Tuna” on Wry − Lake Wobegon, Texas-style
Oct03

Stagestruck: “Tuna” on Wry − Lake Wobegon, Texas-style

One way to put a big play on a small stage and stay on budget is by having two actors play all the parts. In Silverthorne Theater Company’s current offering, that’s not a cost-cutting shortcut, it’s the key concept. Greater Tuna, playing this weekend and next, introduces 20 stranger-than-life denizens of Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas, all played with bigger-than-life vigor by Julian Findlay and John Reese. This...

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Stagestruck: Culture Clashes on the Border and on the Island
Sep20

Stagestruck: Culture Clashes on the Border and on the Island

Two plays in the Valley this weekend couldn’t be more different but at the same time so close to the bone of our current national  crisis of xenophobia and identity. Building the Wall, in Northampton, is a tense confrontation that touches on today’s headlines and then reaches beyond them. La Gringa, in Holyoke, is an unabashed comedy about a Puerto Rican woman caught between two homelands. Building the Wall (the very title sends...

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Stagestruck: Summer Theater Wrap Party, in Living Color
Sep18

Stagestruck: Summer Theater Wrap Party, in Living Color

The area’s summer theaters have folded their metaphorical tents for the year, though three of the Berkshire companies are also mounting fall shows. For this critic, it was a Sergio Leone season: good, bad, and occasionally ugly. (An example of the extremes — Silverthorne Theater Company’s Chekhov mashup Stupid Fucking Bird, which played metatheatrically with The Seagull, and Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow...

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Hidden Figures in the Silent Sky
Sep12

Hidden Figures in the Silent Sky

When Robert Freedman tells people about Silent Sky, the play he directs this weekend at the Shea Theater, they often think he’s talking about Hidden Figures, the recent movie about black women mathematicians who worked as “computers” for NASA in the 1960s. But, he explains, “While that movie told an incredible story about brilliant women facing sexism and racism to pursue their highest God-given talents,” this play looks back a...

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Northampton’s ‘Beefcake’ Scandal
Sep11

Northampton’s ‘Beefcake’ Scandal

Fifty-seven years ago this month, agents of the Anti-Smut Unit of the Massachusetts State Police raided the Northampton apartment of Smith College literature professor Newton Arvin and discovered copies of “beefcake” magazines he had collected and shared with friends. He was arrested, not for homosexual activity — which was still largely outlawed in the Eisenhower-era U.S. — but for possessing “obscene materials” received through the...

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Stagestruck: Angels & Obsessions at NT Live
Aug18

Stagestruck: Angels & Obsessions at NT Live

If there is a genuine epic in American drama −  its ideas as expansive as its scope −  it is surely Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s two-part, eight-hour “gay fantasia on national themes.” And if there is a consummate example of cross-disciplinary provenance on the English-speaking stage these days, it must be Obsession, the London production of a Dutch adaptation of an Italian movie version of an American novel. Both shows share...

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Stagestruck: Two Women, Intimate dramas explore shifting connections
Aug14

Stagestruck: Two Women, Intimate dramas explore shifting connections

A pair of two-handers, playing through this month and just next weekend respectively, examine intimate, intricate relationships between women. Harbor Stage Company, one of the region’s most reliably stimulating summer theaters, premieres its adaption of a cinema classic (see below) and the Valley’s adventurous Clementine Theater Collective celebrates its second season with a “sharp, moving almost-love story.” The Clementine...

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Stagestruck: Ending on a Laugh
Aug14

Stagestruck: Ending on a Laugh

New Century Theatre is closing its summer season as it began — with “a full-out comedy,” as director Sam Rush puts it. This one is The 39 Steps, a jokey reconstruction of Alfred Hitchcock’s epic 1935 thriller. Or perhaps I should say deconstruction, since it’s performed by just four actors and played strictly for laughs. The now-classic scenario in which an innocent bystander is caught up in a mysterious and increasingly perilous...

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Stagestruck: Old-Fashioned Fun
Aug10

Stagestruck: Old-Fashioned Fun

The Fitzpatrick Mainstage on the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Stockbridge campus is the site of what I’m told is the country’s oldest continuously operating summer theater. For 89 years the building, converted from a former casino in 1928 by Broadway star Eva Le Gallienne, has staged a wide-ranging repertoire and launched dozens of stage and screen stars. This season BTG, perhaps looking ahead to next year’s 90th anniversary, has...

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Stagestruck: ‘This’ Drama as Sitcom Is ‘Too Snappy, Too Loud’
Aug08

Stagestruck: ‘This’ Drama as Sitcom Is ‘Too Snappy, Too Loud’

This is the title of the play now running at Barrington Stage Company (through August 27). But it might be more accurately called This and That. Melissa James Gibson’s script is a grab-bag of seriocomic situations, satirical barbs and personal anguish that harks back to the ’80s TV series thirtysomething. Her characters, approaching middle age – i.e., their forties – are preoccupied with marital, parental, ethical, sexual and...

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Stagestruck: A List Of Things To Live For in ‘Every Brilliant Thing’
Aug07

Stagestruck: A List Of Things To Live For in ‘Every Brilliant Thing’

Everyone needs something to live for. Some of us have a harder time finding it than others. Much harder. So … if you’re a young child and your mom has just tried to kill herself, what can you do about it? Well, you could give her a list of everything that makes the world beautiful and life worth living: 1.) Ice cream. 2.) Water fights. 3.) Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV. “All things that, at seven, I...

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Stagestruck: Chekhov in Middle School – WTF…
Aug03

Stagestruck: Chekhov in Middle School – WTF…

What is it with all the Chekhov parodies? Just this summer Silverthorne Theater Company gave us Stupid Fucking Bird, Aaron Posner’s metatheatrical riff on The Seagull. There’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s Uncle Vanya mashup. And last year I directed Nagle Jackson’s The Quick-Change Room, about a Russian theater turning The Three Sisters into a musical comedy. Now comes Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow,...

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Stagestruck: This Weekend Features ‘Slowgirl’ and ‘Doctor Doolitte’
Aug03

Stagestruck: This Weekend Features ‘Slowgirl’ and ‘Doctor Doolitte’

Two small-scale productions playing in the area this weekend have one thing in common. They both take place in the jungle. Apart from that, they couldn’t be more different. Slowgirl traces a tentative, emotionally fraught encounter between a motormouth teenager and her reclusive uncle through the terrain of traumas past and present in the aftermath of a sudden tragedy. Doctor Doolittle is PaintBox Theatre’s season-ending performance,...

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Stagestruck: History as a Living Weapon at Double Edge
Aug01

Stagestruck: History as a Living Weapon at Double Edge

A highlight of my summer theater season is always the magical change of pace afforded by Double Edge Theatre’s annual indoor/outdoor performance. This year, that peripatetic spectacle offers its own change of pace. Where previous seasons have given us captivating tales of magic and adventure from world literature and folklore, We The People brings it all back home – literally. Here, instead of the colorful silks and scarves we may...

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Stagestruck: Animal Behavior – An Albee Prequel in Stockbridge
Jul31

Stagestruck: Animal Behavior – An Albee Prequel in Stockbridge

At the beginning of At Home at the Zoo, Ann appears from the kitchen and says to her husband Peter, “We have to talk.” Then they talk for an hour, and by the time Peter leaves their apartment to have a quiet read in Central Park, we know a lot more about him than we did in The Zoo Story. Let me explain. The Zoo Story, Edward Albee’s career-making one-act, takes place on a park bench where mild-mannered Peter is accosted by...

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Stagestruck: Hitting the Nail – New Century’s heroic truths
Jul28

Stagestruck: Hitting the Nail – New Century’s heroic truths

I’ll get right to the point: Hold These Truths, at New Century Theatre, is possibly the most important play of the summer, with certainly one of the season’s most exhilarating performances. It’s not only searingly suggestive of our current national crisis, but is a heartbreaking, infuriating, inspiring and energizing story in its own right. Jeanne Sakata’s one-person play is about one of the most disgraceful (and hidden) episodes in...

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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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