The summer season has been slowly gaining momentum, and this week it explodes, with 10 shows in the Valley and Berkshires opening or already up and running. Among these are a pair of classic musicals, two uncommon love stories set in Ireland, a satirical look at acting-while-black, and the debut of a brand-new company.

The Irish settings are in Chester Theatre Company’s season opener and the Berkshire Theatre Group’s second offering, having gotten a jump on the summer last month. In Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive, at Chester June 20-30, a squalid Dublin bedsit is the scene for a group of no-hopers’ grudging reawakenings. As in McPherson’s The Weir, the lives of an all-male cohort are upended by the unexpected arrival of a woman, in this case a prostitute who’s been beaten up.

The Fantasticks

BTG’s Outside Mullingar, by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt and Moonstruck) and directed by Karen Allen, centers on a rural Romeo and Juliet. Here they are misfit introverts whose hesitant courtship is hampered by their parents’ feud over a parcel of land and their own reticence (June 20- July 13).

Silverthorne Theatre Company presents Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s beloved pocket musical, The Fantasticks (June 20-29). It’s another riff on the star-crossed lovers theme, as two pretend-feuding parents conspire to bring their children together with the aid of a swashbuckling adventure planner. The controversial “rape” song, about a sham kidnapping staged to let the boy make a heroic rescue, has been replaced in recent productions, as it is here, with a rewritten lyric about “abduction.”

Gordon Clapp as Robert Frost

This weekend only (June 21-23), Gordon Clapp appears at the Majestic Theater in his one-man show This Verse Business. Older and craggier than when he was the diffident Detective Medavoy on NYPD Blue, Clapp appears as an old and craggy Robert Frost giving one of his popular “talks,” reciting some of his poetry then segueing into personal reminiscences. When the piece was first performed in this area some years ago — at Amherst College, where Frost taught in later life — playwright Andy Dolan told me it’s neither a pious tribute nor “a biographical treatment,” but a lively portrait of a poet who was “a bit of ham.”

This week Barrington Stage Company opens its mainstage season with a month-long revival of Stephen Sondheim’s bittersweet take on fairytales, Into the Woods (through July 13), and on the intimate second stage (through June 30) there’s a world premiere with the summer’s longest and most provocative title, America v. 2.1: The Sad Demise & Eventual Extinction of The American Negro.

Stacey Rose

Stacy Rose’s America v. 2.1, set in “the not-too-distant future,” paints a day in the lives of a black acting troupe who re-enact a revisionist history — “the tragic story of what was once was the American Negro, a woeful race … whose time has been extinguished at its own foolish hand.” As they become aware of the parallels between their lives and those of their onstage characters, this day-in-the-life becomes one of reckoning with the fanciful past and the factual present.

Into the Woods tells what happens after happily-ever-after, when Jack’s giant is dead, Rapunzel’s curse is broken, Little Red has exchanged her cloak for wolfskin, and Cinderella has her Prince Charming. It’s the musical’s second time at Barrington, whose Youth Theater gave it a stripped-down staging in 2010. This time it’s the marquee centerpiece, joining the company’s parade of hit musicals including On the Town, West Side Story and The Pirates of Penzance.

The Barrington Public Theater opened its inaugural season last week with an original play, Breakwater, by Jim Frangione, running through the 23rd. Set on Cape Cod in 1990, it concerns “a combustible 28-year-old taxi driver” who’s trying to sort out her life when she picks up Hyannis’ most famous summer resident — JFK.

Barrington Public Theater founders

Frangione, the founder of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, directed WAM Theatre’s recent production, Anne Undeland’s Lady Randy. He and Undeland are BPT’s co-founders, with Deann Simmons Halper. The troupe performs on the sylvan campus of Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, where they’ll also present a series of free readings of new plays.

Part of the theater’s aim is to employ local talent whenever possible, and Breakwater does just that, bringing together several familiar Berkshire figures. They include director Kelly Galvin and actors David Joseph and Ryan Winkles, all Shakespeare & Company veterans, plus Undeland and WAM co-founder Leigh Strimbeck, along with newcomer Raya Malcolm.

The Fantasticks photo by Ellen Blanchette
Masks image by Sandra Gale/

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