It’s August, and the summer theater season is winding down.
No, wait. It’s not.
Five Berkshire stages are running to the end of the month, and in the Valley, no fewer than six live-in-person productions will be vying for our attention this weekend alone.
Here’s a brief rundown of the Valley shows.
The Majestic Theater’s restart of The Pitch is already playing in West Springfield, through August 29, concluding the run that was cut short when all the theaters closed a year and a half ago. It’s Northampton-based author Stan Freeman’s story of a fictional ballplayer whose entire major-league career consisted of a single pitch. “The Pitch is Freeman’s first play, and a very good one it is,” I wrote in my Advocate review. “It’s a sports story wrapped up in a mystery, a changeup played out in argument and memory,”
The Majestic’s Danny Eaton has held off until he could reopen the intimate theater without Covid-related distancing and other restrictions. With the latest Delta-inspired advisories now in place, The Pitch goes on, but masks are required of all patrons, and the website says, “If you are not vaccinated, we are sorry, but you cannot at this time attend a performance at the Majestic Theater.” Refunds are available for unvaccinated ticketholders – but I hope this policy, here and at other theaters, acts as a further encouragement to get the jab: the only way we can get back to anything like “normal.”
At the other end of the Valley, another venue reopens for live performance this weekend. At the Shea Theater in Turner’s Falls, Eggtooth Productions partners with MAD House, a self-described collective “dedicated to making theatre that is adventurous in style and subject matter,” to present An Intervention. Written by Mike Bartlett, it’s described as a “fast-paced and funny two-hander which examines the limits of friendship and responsibility and asks us to consider how and when to intervene in both personal and political matters.”
Director Gabby Farrah says the play speaks to “the past year and a half of relative isolation … a battle cry for connection against all odds.” Featuring June Lienhard and Wren Gilbert, it runs August 14-15 at 8 pm. “Covid safety measures in place.” Tickets here.
Also in Turners Falls, that hothouse of musical theater and dance, Ja’Duke, celebrates its post-Covid reopening with “a funny, forget-your-troubles comedy,” Young Frankenstein. While the Mel Brooks movie it’s based on was a black-and-white parody of 1930s monster movies including the original Boris Karloff chiller, the 2007 Broadway musical is a big, colorful, singing and dancing, well, Broadway musical. August 14-15, 20-22, tickets here.
The latest mini-opera from composer Eric Sawyer and librettist Harley Erdman is My Evil Twin. Like their previous collaborations, The Garden of Martyrs and The Scarlet Professor, it’s Valley-based, in this case not historical events but contemporary biography.
Jim and John Demler are both operatic bassos – and identical twins. The “genre-bending new theater work,” according to advance publicity, is “a tribute to sibling love” that also meditates on sibling, and professional, rivalry. “My Evil Twin exposes tenderness and vulnerability beneath masculine bravado as the twins tell the story of their lives in words and song.” The script was developed by Erdman with director Ron Bashford and the twins themselves, with songs by Sawyer.
The 75-minute musical, developed at the Ko Festival in 2019, premieres in the Workroom at A.P.E.@Hawley, in the Northampton Arts Trust building, August 13-15. Tickets here, masks are required.
Another first viewing at the Arts Trust happens this weekend, this one outdoors, behind the building. The Piedmont Project is a presentation of excerpts from a four-play cycle by Darcy Parker Bruce. It’s the first public outing for the Play Incubation Collective, a new development workshop founded by actors Rachel Hirsch and Sarah Marcus. As Rachel told me recently, the collective’s participants “run the gamut of theater-makers, working collaboratively to meet playwrights where they are in their process.”
Following a series of online readings and “salons” over the past year, this project is the collective’s first long-term development venture and first public performance. The playwright describes the cycle as “an exploration of what it means to be queer in a small town, and what it means to trade everything you have for a nation’s promise.” The interrelated plotlines involve the Syrian warzone, a modern-day Jonah and the whale, and a quartet of ghosts.
The performances, at 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday, are followed by community dialogues around the issues raised, which “include building family, searching for somewhere safe, and asking if America’s promise is bigger than the idea we have of America.” Sliding-scale tickets available here. A video recording will be available next week.
On Saturday the 14th, a project called Reflections: Public Art Honoring Lives Lived at Belchertown State School opens on the site of that infamous institution, now closed and scheduled for demolition. It includes sculpture installations, a “book trail” of historical narratives and, on opening day, a play.
The Hero’s Journey: A Case for Innocence is an immersive theater piece created by the Rainbow Players, a group of “developmentally disabled” adults, led by Ezzell Floraniña, founder of Empowerment Through the Arts. With the subtitle “A 70-Year Path from ‘Feeble-Minded’ to Brilliance, and a Shift of Mindset,” the piece is a mix of archival history of the institution and the performers’ present-day experience of “living with labels.” Playing a character called the Tour Guide is Richard Dresser, who lived there during most of his childhood.
“For my group,” Ezzell told me, “this is not only a vastly different theater style, being site-specific, but extremely personal for them, since they have this lived experience of being the ones on the fringe, the devalued ones in many settings. This is their call for reconciliation, in a way.”
The performance begins at 3 pm in front of the school’s abandoned administration building in Belchertown.
Featured image: The Rainbow Players
In the Valley Advocate’s present bi-monthly publication schedule, Stagestruck will continue to be a regular feature, with additional posts online. Write me at Stagestruck@crocker.com if you’d like to receive notices when new pieces appear.
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