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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Stagestruck: Million Dollar Duo
Jun11

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 Quartet...

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Stagestruck: Full Immersion
Sep21

Stagestruck: Full Immersion

I was intrigued by the description of The Water Project in the press release I received: “Live theater joins forces with the Pioneer Valley’s thriving independent music scene in this original immersive production. … Immerse yourself in the currents of time in this story of the flooding of the Quabbin Reservoir.”I was interested by the project’s provenance: adapted by Emma Ayres from her original play, which itself was inspired by Jane...

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Stagestruck: A Spectacle in Springfield, Rural meets urban as Double Edge Theatre comes to town
Sep19

Stagestruck: A Spectacle in Springfield, Rural meets urban as Double Edge Theatre comes to town

I usually find Double Edge Theatre on their home turf — at The Farm in rural Ashfield — where they live and work and, every summer, perform a “traveling spectacle” that takes audiences on an episodic journey around the spread. But last week I encountered company members in inner-city Springfield, rehearsing for a show that will have two free performances this weekend in the sylvan confines of the city’s Forest Park.Titled simply The...

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Stagestruck: In the Heat of the Night
Sep19

Stagestruck: In the Heat of the Night

Thank you, Barrington Stage Company, for reviving this past summer’s hit play American Son. Thanks because I missed it in July and was glad of the opportunity to catch up with it during its brief return engagement. And thanks, too, because this run (through Sept. 25) is accompanied by a series of school-day matinees attended by 2,000 Pittsfield high schoolers.It’s a play that should be seen, perhaps especially by young people....

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Stagestruck: Read, Not Dead – Valley playwrights’ scripts come to life
Sep15

Stagestruck: Read, Not Dead – Valley playwrights’ scripts come to life

For the six members of the Northampton Playwrights Lab whose plays are having staged readings this weekend and next, the performances represent the first public airings of new scripts and newly revised older work. Some are brand new, having received feedback and suggestions from the Lab members at their bi-weekly meetings but never shared outside the group, and some are updated works that have had previous workshops or productions....

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Stagestruck: A Voice of Gladness
Sep14

Stagestruck: A Voice of Gladness

If you’re like me, you studied William Cullen Bryant’s poem “Thanatopsis” in high school English class, and haven’t given it or its 19th-century author a thought since then. Well, I paid the man and his work a return visit the other day at his hillside homestead, courtesy of Enchanted Circle Theater. It was an eye- and ear-opening experience that was worth the wait. A Fiery and Still Voice is a brief, peripatetic two-character play...

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Stagestruck: Last of the Summer Wine
Aug22

Stagestruck: Last of the Summer Wine

The Valley’s summer theaters have folded their figurative tents, but looking west, the season isn’t quite over. Out toward the Berkshires, five troupes are still up and running through this weekend and beyond.Chester Theatre Company’s season closer is The Mountaintop, a brief historical fantasy by Katori Hall. It takes place on an April midnight in 1968, in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s motel room in Memphis where, tomorrow morning,...

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StageStruck: The Ones That Got Away
Aug16

StageStruck: The Ones That Got Away

I don’t fish. To be frank, I don’t approve of fishing, especially “sport” fishing, since, like hunting, it’s not a sport in the accepted sense, that is, a contest between two equal adversaries playing by the same rules. I don’t understand the outsize thrill folks seem to get from outwitting a fish. I do understand, though, that for many people fishing has a semi-mystical, almost religious allure. That devotional relationship with the...

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StageStruck: Lifted by Song
Aug11

StageStruck: Lifted by Song

So often, music makes all the difference. It not only has those famous savage-breast-soothing charms, it can turn a so-so script into a winner. Take Unexpected Joy, playing through August 20th at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT). This world-premiere musical has a nicely topical premise, worked out in formulaic fashion and saved by its songs.The play takes place on Cape Cod, presumably not far from Provincetown, where a...

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Stagestruck: Cabin Fever
Aug08

Stagestruck: Cabin Fever

It’s such a pleasure to see a play in which language is as important as plot – a play whose dialogue doesn’t simply move the story forward but enriches it. Sister Play, at Chester Theatre Company, is such a gem – an absorbing, what’s-really-going-on narrative powered by John Kolvenbach’s smart, witty script. That, of course, is what Chester specializes in: smart, witty, plays that tickle the imagination.This one, third in the...

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Stage Struck: The Blast of War
Aug05

Stage Struck: The Blast of War

“Theater is so subjective!” said my friend as we left the Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company. She was in tears, but I was relatively unmoved.Ugly Lies the Bone, by Lindsey Ferrentino, takes an unflinching look at a searingly dramatic subject that’s too often hidden or ignored, in a sensitive production by Daniela Varon with strong performances. It’s about returning from the battlefield carrying scars both inside and out, a...

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StageStruck: Sins of the Mothers – and Nannies
Aug02

StageStruck: Sins of the Mothers – and Nannies

The Valley’s oldest and newest professional summer theaters end their seasons this week with two very different plays. New Century Theatre closes its 26th season with Jar the Floor, a multigenerational family drama that furthers the company’s reputation for putting people of color center stage. And the three-year-old Silverthorne Theater Company, performing at Greenfield Community College, presents Jeffrey Hatcher’s chillingly...

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StageStruck: Aphra; or, Behn
Aug03

StageStruck: Aphra; or, Behn

Aphra Behn was probably the first Englishwoman to write professionally, that is, to make her living from writing. She’s best known as a playwright, though only recently rediscovered by audiences. While she wasn’t, as Shakespeare & Company’s website has it, “the first published woman playwright” (several women in Shakespeare’s time, a generation earlier, shared that distinction), her life and work inspired and encouraged other women...

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StageStruck: Peerless Pirates
Jul30

StageStruck: Peerless Pirates

Two contradictory things are going on at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company. On the mainstage, the fearsome title characters in The Pirates of Penzance never kill anyone because they can’t bear to harm an orphan and all the captives they seize claim to be orphans. In Peerless, on the company’s second stage, two temporary orphans (well, their mother is out of town) scheme to commit murder because they can’t bear to … not be admitted...

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StageStruck: Not Just Child’s Play
Jul29

StageStruck: Not Just Child’s Play

One thing these two very different children’s theaters share is respect for their audience. They don’t talk down to the kids sitting before them, they don’t ludicrously overact or get synthetically hyperactive in order to whip up some energy. The scripts are witty, with gags that tickle the grownups too, and the performers take their jobs seriously – no sense of “I’m just doing this until a real acting gig comes along” – while...

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StageStruck: Lost in the Woods
Jul25

StageStruck: Lost in the Woods

In the Subscriber Enrichment Packet for the Berkshire Theatre Group’s world-premiere production of The Stone Witch, playing in Stockbridge through August 20, director Steve Zuckerman says of the playwright, Shem Bitterman, “He writes instinctively, and it just pours out of him. [Then] he brings this raw material, and I help shape it.”I found that statement half useful and half baffling. To this first-nighter’s ear, the script...

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StageStruck: Old Becomes New
Jul25

StageStruck: Old Becomes New

Two theater pieces transmute their originalsWhat happens when you take someone else’s work and change it, adapt it, and mold it into something of your own? I’m not talking about plagiarism, but homage – giving new form or context to an admired original. Two new/old pieces of theater in the Valley do just that.This weekend, the Valley’s Real Live Theatre company premieres The Life and Death of Queen Margaret, with text extracted from...

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StageStruck: Waiting for Life to Resume
Jul21

StageStruck: Waiting for Life to Resume

Two plays at Valley theaters, both running through Saturday, share a common source – the ongoing Middle East catastrophe – and a similar circumstance: two Americans caught up in it, one unwillingly, the other almost compulsively. Both plays are receiving strong productions with excellent professional casts, making the most of smart, literate scripts that make the most of distressing situations.Sarah Goodwin, the central figure in Time...

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Stagestruck: Jacob’s Pillow — Tapping into the Essence of Dance
Jul20

Stagestruck: Jacob’s Pillow — Tapping into the Essence of Dance

If dance is “the hidden language of the soul,” as Martha Graham put it, tap is its least bashful dialect.For the past few years Jacob’s Pillow, the country’s premier modern dance festival, has featured tap dancing in its eclectic roster of summertime performances. There are two this summer: Michelle Dorrance, who pushes the leading edge of tap exploration ever further, comes back in August. Earlier this month, her friend and colleague...

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Stagestruck: Shaking Up Shakespeare
Jul19

Stagestruck: Shaking Up Shakespeare

Shakespeare & Company doesn’t only do Shakespeare. This season, only three out of nine productions are by the company’s namesake, though several others play with Shakespearean themes, from a contemporary reflection on war to a political farce that resonates cheekily with the Bard’s most problematic comedy.That one is The Taming. Loosely inspired by his misogynistic comedy about that Shrew, it’s the smartest, funniest show I’ve seen in...

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StageStruck: Cat and Tat
Jul14

StageStruck: Cat and Tat

Here’s one thing the two very different Tennessee Williams plays now running in the Berkshires have in common: The sets have no walls.In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, on the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Stockbridge mainstage, four white-and-pastel pillars frame the sparsely but luxuriously furnished bedroom of Maggie the Cat and her impotent, alcoholic husband Brick.It’s a claustrophobic room, full of tension and resentment, but the invisible...

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StageStruck: Power and Value
Jul07

StageStruck: Power and Value

Two brief plays currently running in the area look at the power and value of art through quite different lenses, but ask similar questions: How does a work of art “speak to us” as individuals? How does its character affect our perception of it? How does its very meaning change with our own investment in it?Investment, of the monetary kind, is uppermost in the mind of Maude Gutman in Bakersfield Mist, playing through this weekend at...

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Stagestruck: English Stages, Part One — The National
Jul02

Stagestruck: English Stages, Part One — The National

Three of the four shows I saw at the National Theatre in London last month were star vehicles, and the fourth one’s ensemble cast featured a very well-known face. The first three also, coincidentally, ended in sudden reprieves from ignominious deaths.Another symmetrical coincidence: We were at the National on the very first night of our UK visit, and at the Amherst Cinema on the first night after our return for yet another treat from...

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Stagestruck: Intimate Moments — Berkshires Summer Theatre Preview
Jun14

Stagestruck: Intimate Moments — Berkshires Summer Theatre Preview

Summer theater used to be known as “the straw-hat trail” and “summer stock,” both terms evoking familiar, innocuous entertainments presented for languid hot-weather audiences by (usually) amateur companies in tents, barns, and town halls.From the outset, though, theaters in the Berkshires have broken that mold. The original Berkshire Playhouse (now part of the Berkshire Theatre Group), which began performances in 1928 in Stockbridge,...

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Stage Struck: True Illusions
Jun03

Stage Struck: True Illusions

Two world-premiere musicals have just opened in the region. One is an unassuming little pocket piece with a nifty hook, the other a glamorous spectacular that assumes it’s going to Broadway.The Musical Theatre Lab at Barrington Stage has developed dozens of new works over the years, starting ten years ago with the now-famous 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The latest from William Finn’s hothouse is Presto-Change-O, playing...

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Winter Season Wrap-up
May16

Winter Season Wrap-up

I see a lot of plays, and I cover as many as I can. But the feast of performances always overwhelms the column inches, so now, with a new summer theater season on the horizon, I’m taking a final look back at the shows I’ve enjoyed since last summer.Promising Scripts-in-Process The Life and Death of Queen Margaret is an epic remix of four Shakespearean plays, pushing a supporting character to center stage. That’s Margaret of Anjou,...

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StageStruck: Seven Devils, Three Witches and a Nun
May05

StageStruck: Seven Devils, Three Witches and a Nun

Halloween is half a year away, but there are devilish doings in the Valley, foreshadowed by witchery in Lenox. A one-woman show at Amherst College this weekend puts a clown face on a 17th-century tale of demonic possession, and last month Shakespeare & Company gave a pre-season warm-up performance of Macbeth.Seven Devils and a French Nun riffs on the true story of the convent of Ursuline nuns in Loudon, France, that was gripped by a...

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StageStruck: Revolting Children
Apr28

StageStruck: Revolting Children

When Matilda the Musical opened in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010 – quickly moving to the West End, where it still resides – the British press greeted it as an “anarchically joyous, gleefully nasty” antidote to the sugary concoctions of other kid-centered musicals.(That reference to Stratford, by the way, isn’t a misprint. The show was commissioned and premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which occasionally strays from the...

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Stagestruck: Loud Ladies
Apr18

Stagestruck: Loud Ladies

The subtitle of the best-selling book and its 1995 Broadway adaptation — The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years — is no exaggeration. Both the memoir and the play cover more than a century of African-American history, seen from the centenary vantage point of two miraculous old ladies, Bessie and Sadie Delany, then aged 101 and 103.A thoroughly delightful revival, featuring a pair of radiant performances, is now playing at Hartford Stage....

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StageStruck: Collision Course — Race relations, as seen from outer space
Apr14

StageStruck: Collision Course — Race relations, as seen from outer space

In some ways, the vigilante shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 can feel like the first in a series, soon followed by more headline-grabbing murders of young African Americans — as if Trayvon’s death, and George Zimmerman’s acquittal, launched and licensed the police executions from Ferguson to Baltimore.But Ping Chong sees that event not as a beginning so much as an inevitable outcome. He’s the visionary co-creator of Collidescope...

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