Stagestruck: A Valley native takes on I Am My Own Wife in Ashfield
May16

Stagestruck: A Valley native takes on I Am My Own Wife in Ashfield

“I think she may be the most singular, eccentric individual the Cold War ever birthed.” So says one of the three dozen characters in I Am My Own Wife. He’s talking about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, née Lothar Berfelde, Berlin’s most famous transvestite. In Doug Wright’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, all the characters, most of all Charlotte herself, are played by one man. In a set of upcoming performances, that man will be Rylan...

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Stagestruck: Words and music seek to heal a troubled world
May09

Stagestruck: Words and music seek to heal a troubled world

The Red Guitar, John Sheldon’s brilliant memoir-in-music, was a runaway hit at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Riding on its success in that international nexus of alternative arts, the show’s producer, the Valley’s Serious Play Theatre Ensemble, is taking it back again this year. It’s returning in tandem with a new piece, Manual Override, created and performed by Sheldon, percussion virtuoso Tony Vacca and spoken-word artist...

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Stagestruck: Post-Apocalyptic Foolery
Apr23

Stagestruck: Post-Apocalyptic Foolery

The scene: desolation. The time: the aftermath of a cataclysm that has destroyed civilization and left only industrial scaffolding and piles of junk. Piles that include, let’s see, a bucketful of juggling clubs, a couple of unicycles, a teeter board and, oh yes, a drum kit. In the whimsical imagination of Machine de Cirque, this wasteland provides the raw material for rebuilding the world. It may have ended with a whimper but it’s...

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Julia Caesar?
Apr20

Julia Caesar?

Julius Caesar is one of the most macho plays in Shakespeare’s male-heavy canon – only two women in the cast, both of them in and out before the thing is half over. But a new production puts many more women onstage, one of them in the play’s most macho role. Performed in the Bridge Theatre, London’s newest playhouse, it’s beamed stateside (and around the world) as part of the NT Live series of HD-satellite broadcasts from British...

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Stagestruck: Women Take the Reins
Apr18

Stagestruck: Women Take the Reins

Three shows up and down the Valley this weekend put a modern and feminist spin on some classic tales from Shakespeare and the Bible – Wayward Home in Ashfield, The Annotated *Taming* in Turners Falls and Julius Caesar in Amherst. Wayward Home, weaving the Noah’s Ark story into contemporary migration narratives, is “a musical folktale about a family forced to begin again,” according to the show’s description. “Through original music...

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Stagestruck: In the Valley and New York, history becomes personal
Apr18

Stagestruck: In the Valley and New York, history becomes personal

The tattoo From the title, you might think The Tattooed Man Tells All is a memoir of life on the carnival circuit. It’s anything but. This man’s tat is a five-digit number that was etched into his forearm in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Peter Wortsman’s one-man play receives its U.S. premiere next month at Silverthorne Theater Company in Greenfield, directed by Ellen Kaplan and starring Keith Langsdale. Woven from interviews the...

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Stagestruck: Backstage with the Director of Tar2f! — Me
Mar22

Stagestruck: Backstage with the Director of Tar2f! — Me

It might seem like a conflict of interest, but for me, it’s a confluence of interests. You see, in addition to being the Advocate’s theater critic, I’m also a director. I work both sides of the curtain, so to speak. When I’m not sitting in a theater watching actors onstage, I’m often in a rehearsal room working with actors on a show they’ll take onstage. What I love most about being in the director’s chair is what I miss most in the...

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Infants of the Spring: A new play views the Harlem Renaissance with a jaundiced eye
Mar09

Infants of the Spring: A new play views the Harlem Renaissance with a jaundiced eye

The artistic nexus of the 1920s known as the Harlem Renaissance or New Negro Movement is remembered as a great flowering of black talent and a golden age in American cultural history. But at least one of its members, looking at it from the inside, saw it quite differently. The novelist, journalist and playwright Wallace Thurman had a less heroic view of his fellow artists, many of them, then and now, major figures in American letters....

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Stagestruck: Defying Gravity, Again
Mar06

Stagestruck: Defying Gravity, Again

That wizard of wise foolery known as Avner the Eccentric is back. Avner Eisenberg is a genius of physical comedy and quick-witted clowning whose whimsical website states that “as a kid his passions were snakes and juggling. He wanted to be a doctor, but after a year as an honors chemistry and biology major his parents forced him into performing. … He studied in Paris with Jacques Lecoq and once, while street performing in Paris,...

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Stagestruck: Willkommen to “Cabaret”
Mar03

Stagestruck: Willkommen to “Cabaret”

As I wrote in this space last year, “So much of what we see and create seems newly topical and timely” since the rise of Trump. “Everything is now filtered through a horrifying new prism, taking on fresh meaning and urgency.” A striking example of the “Trump Effect” is onstage at the UMass Fine Arts Center on Tuesday – the classic musical Cabaret, perhaps the darkest song-and-dance show ever to light up Broadway, and one that...

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Stagestruck: Happier Valley Comedy expanding on improv
Feb27

Stagestruck: Happier Valley Comedy expanding on improv

A troupe of high-spirited performers bound onstage and solicit goofy suggestions for characters and situations from the audience. Then they improvise short, snappy scenes based on those prompts. The comedy flows from the incongruities and the improvisers’ quick wits. That’s classic improv, a staple of live comedy in clubs across the country and a training ground for national gigs like SNL. Around here, a hydra-headed beastie called...

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Stagestruck: Marx and Sparks
Feb13

Stagestruck: Marx and Sparks

If, like me, you thought the National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guv’nors, either on NT Live or Broadway, was the funniest, wittiest farce you’ve ever seen (with Noises Off a close second), chances are you’ll enjoy Young Marx. It’s on this weekend at Amherst Cinema, beamed in HD from London courtesy of NT Live. Young Marx is the work of Richard Bean, who wrote 1M2G, and directed by Nicholas Hytner, who helmed that production...

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Stagestruck: In the Not-So-Bleak Midwinter
Feb05

Stagestruck: In the Not-So-Bleak Midwinter

It’s Black History Month — or as African-American actors I know like to call it, “Black Employment Month” — the time of year when many theaters make a point of programming shows by and about people of color. Some scoff at the perceived tokenism, and it does point up the comparative dearth of such material elsewhere in the schedule. But I say get ’em when and where you can, and keep pushing for more representation year-round. Next...

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Stagestruck: Something Rotten! — a tasty musical dish
Jan31

Stagestruck: Something Rotten! — a tasty musical dish

I grew up on Shakespeare and musicals, so what was I to make of Something Rotten!, the hit musical that mercilessly lampoons both? Love it for its origins or hate it for its irreverence? Having missed it on Broadway, where it earned a double handful of Tony nominations in 2015 but lost out to Fun Home, I caught up with the national tour at the Bushnell in Hartford, where it’s running through Sunday. Verdict? I loved it – especially...

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Stagestruck: Love in the Multiverse
Jan29

Stagestruck: Love in the Multiverse

Constellations, playing at TheaterWorks in Hartford through Feb. 18, looks at love and second chances through a prism of reflecting and refracting fun-house mirrors – or more accurately, through a spectrum of infinite chances. Nick Payne’s two-hander isn’t exactly a play of ideas, though it’s plenty smart. It springs from one idea – the possibility imagined by theoretical physics that the singular life we experience takes place in...

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Stagestruck: High Drama in the Library
Jan24

Stagestruck: High Drama in the Library

You wouldn’t think a library would be a likely setting for high drama, but here we are with two playing at once. In Hartford, Sharon Washington is telling the story of her girlhood, when she lived, not virtually but literally, in a library. And in West Springfield, another real-life tale focuses on a political battle over racial insinuations, led by a librarian. Alabama Story, we’re told at the outset, is “the story of a story” — a...

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Stagestruck: When 90 Minutes is Enough
Jan16

Stagestruck: When 90 Minutes is Enough

Time was, going to the theater took up the whole evening, with built-in pee and bar breaks. That’s been changing recently, as more and more plays clock in at an intermissionless 90 minutes or so. Back in Shakespeare’s day, of course, the show went on all afternoon, broken up by musical interludes, clowning and so forth, but with no formal act breaks (you’d bring your own bottle of sack and pee where you stood). For a long time the...

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Stagestruck: Gender Parity Still Elusive in Theater
Dec26

Stagestruck: Gender Parity Still Elusive in Theater

In this time of long-overdue comeuppance for sexual harassment and assault, I approached my annual reckoning of gender equity in theater with fresh eyes. Nationwide, women continue to be devalued and underrepresented in almost all areas of theatrical creation, on and off stage. Surveys have found, for instance, that over three-quarters of professionally produced plays are written by men and focus primarily on male characters — despite...

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Stagestruck: Diversifying Nostalgia in Western Mass Theater
Dec11

Stagestruck: Diversifying Nostalgia in Western Mass Theater

In this season of holiday entertainments that cater to our appetite for cozy tradition (I’m talking about you, Nutcracker, Messiah, and Christmas Carol), two shows this weekend hit the nostalgia nerve from contrary angles. In the Berkshires, a new play adds a “What next?” sequel to a classic love story. And in the Valley, a variety show takes inspiration from old-time vaudeville. Wholly Communion Following on from its annual series of...

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Stagestruck: It’s Bedlam on These Stages
Dec07

Stagestruck: It’s Bedlam on These Stages

“Bedlam” is an apt moniker for the ever-adventurous theater company going by that name. Their whirlwind adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility recently wowed New York (and comes to Cambridge beginning this weekend – see below). Now they’re back on sort-of Broadway with an equally inventive, if less affectionate – and less effective – version of another treasured classic: Peter Pan. Bedlam is a peripatetic troupe, performing...

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Stagestruck: Sondheim’s Follies, onstage, on screen
Nov30

Stagestruck: Sondheim’s Follies, onstage, on screen

Perhaps surprisingly, the Brits do American musicals really well. The National Theatre, in particular, has a long history of reinvigorating Broadway classics. The theater’s extensive relationship with Stephen Sondheim’s works continues with its current hit production of Follies. It comes to the Amherst Cinema’s screen next week in the National Theatre Live series of HD broadcasts from the London stage. Sondheim’s 1971 show-biz...

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Stagestruck: One-woman show ‘Pulse’ shines light on Scottish musical roots
Nov27

Stagestruck: One-woman show ‘Pulse’ shines light on Scottish musical roots

Serious Play! Theatre Ensemble, rooted in the Valley for over two decades, is spreading its limbs. Long the area’s prime site for physical-theater training and performance that explores the reaches of expression through voice and movement, the company has lately embraced theater genres that tell their stories primarily through music. Several Serious Play! productions have traveled to Scotland’s fabled Edinburgh Fringe Festival over...

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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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