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.His...

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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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Stagestruck: Changing Lives, One Play at a Time
Jan24

Stagestruck: Changing Lives, One Play at a Time

When I was in California last month, I saw two plays by a small, adventurous professional theater company in Berkeley that I’d never heard of. They’re called Shotgun Players, and they’ve gone straight to the top of my Bay Area must-see list.The shows I saw were riveting, in quite different ways, but more than that, the company’s core mission and key policies are, for me, what theater is – or should be – all about. In addition to...

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Stagestruck: Defying God … and Trump
Jan09

Stagestruck: Defying God … and Trump

Partway through last Friday’s performance at West Springfield’s Majestic Theater, something unscripted, overdue, and quite wonderful happened.The show was Peter Shaffer’s brilliant examination of genius and envy, Amadeus. The title refers to Mozart, but the protagonist, if we can call him that, is Antonio Salieri, a man blessed by fortune but despised, as he sees it, by God. Court composer to Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, he is the...

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Stagestruck: Crossing the Color Line — Area theaters give (some) stage space to artists of color
Dec19

Stagestruck: Crossing the Color Line — Area theaters give (some) stage space to artists of color

In my last column, “Closing the Gender Gap,” I tallied the representation of women performers, playwrights and directors in the area’s professional theaters in 2016. I found some improvement in the gender balance, though we’re still a ways away from true parity. I wish I could say the same for that other group of chronically underrepresented artists — people of color.My year-end report for 2015 (1/7/16) noted 23 “minority”...

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Stagestruck: Turning the Screw
Dec17

Stagestruck: Turning the Screw

Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel Fingersmith is a gothic mystery-romance set in Victorian England. It’s a tale of devious crime, illicit love and cascading betrayals, with as many hairpin plot turns as a, well, as a Victorian novel. Alexa Junge’s stage adaptation, developed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and now playing at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge through January 8th, skillfully wraps the 500-page book into...

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Stagestruck: Seeking Refuge
Dec14

Stagestruck: Seeking Refuge

 You wouldn’t expect to find close connections between the Sinai desert, urban Serbia and the Appalachian mountains, but a new play by University of Massachusetts theater professor Milan Dragicevich brings them tellingly together. Refugee takes an episode from Dragicevich’s family history and follows its “generational aftershocks,” as the playwright puts it, into more recent history and the present day.Displaced by World...

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Stagestruck: Guy Meets Girl
Nov27

Stagestruck: Guy Meets Girl

I feel a kinship with the musical Once, because in a former life I did my own share of street-busking, like the bluejeaned lead in the 2007 film. It’s a simple, poignant tale that’s both heartrending and uplifting, filled with simple, tuneful songs that strike the same balance.The stage version, which won a double-handful of the 2012 Tony awards, including Best Musical, plays a one-night stand at the UMass Fine Arts Center on...

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Stagestruck: Closing the Gender Gap
Nov21

Stagestruck: Closing the Gender Gap

Every year I take note of the plays I’ve seen that are written and/or directed by women, and those that revolve around a woman (or women). For me, these are key indicators of progress in achieving gender equality in theater. To be sure, there are plenty of women filling backstage roles, and 11 professional theaters in the area have women artistic directors. But here and across the country, in these three artistic areas that define the...

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Stagestruck: Song and Dance
Nov16

Stagestruck: Song and Dance

In this time of national division and upheaval, we can be forgiven for craving a little feelgood. And what feels better than a good musical?As if on cue, two good’uns are coming to this area, both of them stage versions of beloved movies. This week through Sunday, An American in Paris fills the stage at the Bushnell in Hartford, while the more intimate and informal Once plays a one-night stand at the UMass Fine Arts Center on December...

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Stagestruck: Three on the Screen
Nov04

Stagestruck: Three on the Screen

The National Theatre’s NT Live series of HD broadcasts from the London stage is back for its eighth season, starting with a mix of new productions and encore screenings. The Amherst Cinema has recently reprised Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and the double-A-side Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller trading off the lead roles.Three more are coming this month and next, starting with The Deep Blue...

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Stagestruck: And the Berkie Goes to …
Nov07

Stagestruck: And the Berkie Goes to …

New York has its Tonys and Obies, Boston its Nortons, and now the Berkshire region has its own rewards for outstanding work in theater — the Berkshire Theatre Awards. Twelve professional companies in the Berkshires, southern Vermont, and New York’s Capital District are included in the geographical catchment area, which reaches to Chester, but not into the Valley.The project is a cooperative effort by area critics, and I’m one of three...

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Stagestruck: Ghost Stories
Oct31

Stagestruck: Ghost Stories

Neither of the shows now playing in downtown Hartford are Halloween-themed, but both are thoroughly haunted by ghosts of the past, in one case literally.That one is The Piano Lesson, at Hartford Stage through November 13. It’s the 1930s segment of August Wilson’s decade-by-decade cycle of plays touching on African-Americans’ experience through the 20th century. In a program note, dramaturg Fiona Kyle locates the play as Wilson’s...

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Stagestruck: Playing the Trump Card
Oct24

Stagestruck: Playing the Trump Card

You, my friend, are fucked.” So begins Trump Card, a one-man show created by monologist Mike Daisey that deconstructs the Republican presidential candidate. Next week in the Valley, monologist Seth Lepore performs his own personal riff on Daisey’s original.Lepore’s version isn’t plagiarism. The author posted a transcript of his performance online as an open-source template, inviting other artists to take it up and freely “amend or...

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Stagestruck: Coming Home
Oct21

Stagestruck: Coming Home

I didn’t attend my hometown college, but I grew up just down the street from the campus. I biked along its crisscrossed paths as a kid, DJ’d at the college radio station in high school and, most important, acquired my passion for theater from its plays.Antioch College had an active campus/community theater program from the time my dad went to school there in the 1930s, and in the 1950s it hosted a summer Shakespeare festival that...

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Stagestruck: Fierce Visions
Oct19

Stagestruck: Fierce Visions

Last week Maya Lin, architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, came to the Smith College campus to unveil her vision for the renovation of the venerable Neilson Library. Coincidentally, in Boston a new play was unveiled which recalls Lin’s uphill battle to fulfill her idiosyncratic vision for the design of the war memorial.Memorial, by Livian Yeh, plays through this weekend at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, a co-production with the...

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Deep Purple: Campaigning in Trump Country, Ohio
Oct17

Deep Purple: Campaigning in Trump Country, Ohio

I grew up in Ohio, birthplace of six presidents and a perennial bellwether in election years — neither red nor blue but the most unpredictable of swing states. Since I live in Massachusetts, in the bluest of the blue, earlier this month I went back to Ohio, where every vote counts, to campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as I did in previous elections for Barack Obama and John Kerry.My hometown, Yellow...

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Stagestruck: A Perfect Fraud
Oct12

Stagestruck: A Perfect Fraud

“Consider Lucifer,” says Han van Meegeren, huddled against the grimy wall of his prison cell in postwar Holland. He’s awaiting a summary trial and probable execution for allegedly having sold a previously unknown Vermeer to a Nazi officer during the occupation.The Bakelite Masterpiece, by Canadian playwright Kate Cayley, is now playing (through October 23) at the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, a...

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Stagestruck: It’s Not Othello, But … — Two musicals from different worlds explore love and jealousy
Oct10

Stagestruck: It’s Not Othello, But … — Two musicals from different worlds explore love and jealousy

In Othello in the Seraglio, Shakespeare’s Moor finds an ironic mirror. Not the proud Venetian general, but a proud eunuch in the harem of the Ottoman sultan. Subtitled “The Tragedy of Sümbül the Black Eunuch,” it’s a “coffeehouse opera” conceived by Mehmet Ali Sanlikol of Boston’s Dünya Ensemble and drawn from 16th- and 17th-century European and Turkish sources, with a pinch from the Bard.The African slaves who served as harem eunuchs...

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Stagestruck: Bedlam & Battlefield
Oct03

Stagestruck: Bedlam & Battlefield

In some ways, the two plays I saw last week in New York couldn’t be more different. One is a big, boisterous romantic comedy of English manners, the other a small, quiet meditation drawn from Hindu scripture.Bedlam’s Sense & Sensibility, now playing Off-Broadway (and just extended into November), is a nonstop, high-energy romp through the Jane Austen classic – “Downton Abbey on roller skates,” as one critic put it, which captures the...

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Stagestruck: An Immersive “Winter’s Tale” in Greenfield
Sep26

Stagestruck: An Immersive “Winter’s Tale” in Greenfield

Walking Through Time“In Scene 13, Leontes mourning his wife, things get a little more dialog-y. That needs to be run and worked on today,” says John Bechtold, creator of the immersive production of The Winter’s Tale that performs in downtown Greenfield this weekend. Leading a rehearsal earlier this month, he’s surrounded by his large cast on an upper floor of The Arts Block, laying out assignments for today’s multitasking rehearsal....

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Stagestruck: Magic & Mayhem
Oct04

Stagestruck: Magic & Mayhem

“If this be magic,” says Shakespeare’s King Leontes, “let it be an art lawful as eating.” On the Valley menu this week are two events that brought that quote to mind. At the Broadside Bookshop tomorrow (Wednesday), the multitalented Andrea Hairston unveils Will Do Magic for Small Change, her latest genre-spanning fantasy novel with a Shakespearean scope and a hoodoo sensibility. And this weekend and next, the multifaceted Silverthorne...

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