The Art of Laughter: A Conversation with Comedian Kim Deshields
Feb20

The Art of Laughter: A Conversation with Comedian Kim Deshields

Comedian Kim “Boney” DeShields is funny, except when she’s talking about making people laugh. “It’s an art,” she says matter of factly. “You have to be smart to make people laugh. You have to be well read and knowledgeable about a lot of things. But most of all, you just have to have the ability to make even the worst things funny.” Deshields has certainly had opportunities to mine sorrow for comedy gold. After her 2007 success...

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Pick of the Day 2/17: Nicholas Ryder Quintet at the Bing
Feb16

Pick of the Day 2/17: Nicholas Ryder Quintet at the Bing

Nicholas Ryder Quintet at the Bing Arts Center It’s a good night to check in at the Bing Arts Center and warm up with some cool jazz.  Nicholas Ryder Quintet will dig into some songbook standards and tunes by the legendary likes of “Long Tall Dexter” Gordon, Hank Mobley, and Eddie Harris.  Tenor saxophonist Nicholas Ryder fronts the ensemble which also features Shaun Flynn on alto saxophone: Conor Kennedy on piano;...

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Pick of the Day 2/16: Robin Hood at New England Youth Theater
Feb16

Pick of the Day 2/16: Robin Hood at New England Youth Theater

Robin Hood Sherwood Forest never gets old. Since the 15 century, Robin Hood (dressed in Lincoln green) and his lovable merry band have been roving the forest robbing the rich and giving to the poor in swashbuckling heroic style. Throughout film and theater, this character and cast of outlaws remain an all time favorite. You can catch New England Youth Theater perform this classic tonight in Brattleboro. Grab dinner, before or after,...

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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: 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: 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: 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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The Shea Is Haunted … Wanna See?
Aug28

The Shea Is Haunted … Wanna See?

Come Play With Ghosts In Deus Ex Machina, audience members become part of the show — a vaudeville rehearsal at The Shea, the ghosts of the past, the costuming, the makeup —through dozens of disorienting and thrilling encounters, and reunite when the world resolves at the end of the evening. Presented by Eggtooth Productions. Deus Ex Machina: Aug. 30-Sept. 1. Shows at 7:30 and 9 p.m. each night; only 18 participants per show. $20. Shea...

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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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Love, Hate, and Horniness With Sondheim’s ‘Company’!
Aug07

Love, Hate, and Horniness With Sondheim’s ‘Company’!

Company, one of Stephen Sondheim’s early musicals, is a funny, relatable, and insightful look at marriage, divorce, and single life. The story follows Bobby, a single man on his 35th birthday, who is celebrating with his married friends — who are all in various states of love, hate, and horniness. The audience is treated to a series of vignettes featuring Bobby during visits with one of the couples or alone with a girlfriend....

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Ballerinas in the Wild this Saturday in Brattleboro
Aug07

Ballerinas in the Wild this Saturday in Brattleboro

Ballet and farming go together like fine art and craft beer — the combo isn’t typical, but it should be. On Saturday, Vermont’s Farm to Ballet troupe will perform at Retreat Farm in Brattleboro, an historic farm dating back to 1836 that has long shared a connection with the patients of Brattleboro Retreat. Each of the company’s seasonal performances take place at and tell the stories of various local farms. Instead on focusing on the...

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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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