Pick of the Day 3/22: Shut Up, Emily Dickinson
Mar22

Pick of the Day 3/22: Shut Up, Emily Dickinson

Smith College wants Emily Dickinson to just shut up already!  There’s no better way to describe this show than “Emily Dickinson: poet, recluse, a**hole.” HA!!! And furthermore, this is “a pseudo-historical, quasi-biographical, hysterically existential psycho-romance about America’s most brilliant and annoying poetess. Holed up for all eternity in the bedroom of our minds.” Come on, that’s a must see. Thursday, March 22....

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Pick of the Day 3/17: High Mud Comedy Fest at MASS MoCA in North Adams
Mar16

Pick of the Day 3/17: High Mud Comedy Fest at MASS MoCA in North Adams

It’s the second day of the High Mud Comedy Fest and you’re invited to MASS MoCA to get in on the fun. Headlined by Mike Birbiglia of This American Life, comedians will spend the late afternoon and evening making funny. At 4 p.m. you can take a Satire-Writing Workshop with Reductress, but you have to RSVP to boxoffice@massmoca.org. Mike Birbiglia will wrap up the two day extravaganza around 9:15. Check here for the schedule...

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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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Pick of the Day 3/10: The Valley Letters Project: Live on Stage at the Academy of Music
Mar09

Pick of the Day 3/10: The Valley Letters Project: Live on Stage at the Academy of Music

Susan B. Anthony, Alexander Graham Bell, Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Leonard Nimoy, Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvia Plath, Dr. Seuss, Sojourner Truth and Kurt Vonnegut have all impacted the Pioneer Valley in one way or another. Tonight, at the Academy of Music, The Valley Letters Project: Live on Stage will feature letters by historic people of note read by a few current day Pioneer Valley notables....

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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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Pick of the Day 3/4: AIC Theater Arts Program presents ‘Doubt: A Parable’
Feb27

Pick of the Day 3/4: AIC Theater Arts Program presents ‘Doubt: A Parable’

American International College‘s Theater Arts Program presents John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Doubt: A Parable. Described as a “brilliant play” that asks many questions but challenges you to find your own answers. Doubt: A Parable is set in a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, it focuses on racial inequality, gender issues, lack of faith and the fear of doubt.  This play was made into a...

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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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Pick of the Day 2/26: The Jeff Holmes Big Band at the 121 Club
Feb26

Pick of the Day 2/26: The Jeff Holmes Big Band at the 121 Club

The big band sound never gets old, so if you’re free at 7:30 tonight, check out the stylings of the Jeff Holmes Big Band featuring composer/lyricist Dawning Holmes on vocals. They’re swinging at the 121 Club and it’s free.  Holmes has performed with legendary stars like Dizzy Gillespie, Sammy Davis Jr., Henry Mancini, Mel Torme, and Johnny Mathis. He is Director of Jazz & African-American Music Studies at UMass and Artistic...

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Pick of the Day 2/25: Outside Mullingar at the Majestic Theater
Feb23

Pick of the Day 2/25: Outside Mullingar at the Majestic Theater

As the mighty Shakespeare (or the Martian) might say, “here’s the rub”:  Anthony and Rosemary are two clueless, lovelorn neighbors. Anthony’s father Tony and Rosemary’s mother Aoife are locked in a bitter land feud. Rosemary has been romantically interested in Anthony for all of her life, but he is shy and unaware of her feelings. Anthony doesn’t like the daily grind of farming, and his father is...

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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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