For the Advocate

With the summer season winding down and “transition time” — both in terms of the seasons and the local theater offerings —  ramping up, two plays stand out as “the best of the best.”

Donald Margulies’ newest (and perhaps his best) work at Shakespeare and Company’s Bernstein Theater in Lenox

Reed Birney as George and Karen Allen as Em in “Lunar Eclipse.”

World premieres are often risky, but in the case of “Lunar Eclipse” at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, the script is so new, it’s not even published yet. But when you have work by a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright like Donald Margulies, it’s worth taking a risk.

When you add two gifted actors, Tony winner, Reed Birney, and everyone’s favorite Indiana Jones heroine, Karen Allen, magic can happen. This very well may be Margulies’ best play to date, and one of the most powerful of the season. The play, which ran from Sept. 15 to Oct. 22, is a “must see” for fans of contemporary theater.

In this 90 minute play, George and Em, a Midwestern couple, sit in a field and watch the seven stages of a lunar eclipse. They talk about loss, disappointment, and their hope for a better world. Their words are simple, but their journey is profound. The characters and the dialog seem so real that on more than one occasion, an audience member could be heard gasping with recognition of the characters’ plight.

Birney affects a compelling Midwestern accent and Allen exudes a physicality that shows strength and humility. George and Em talk about their two adopted children, who have different relationships to their parents and a different destiny. The complexity of what makes a family sheds light on reality and mortality. In the final coda, the pieces of lives that have been dissected come back to a simple, yet satisfying story of enduring love.

Director James Warwick creates the feeling of openness while simultaneously mining the intimacy of this piece. His work is complemented by James McNamara’s lighting design which subtly changes as the eclipse occurs and the dialog moves from phase to phase.

Hershey Felder’s “Beethoven: A Play with Music”

Hershey Felder in “Beethoven: A Play with Music” at the Colonial Theater, presented by Berkshire Theatre Group. The play is based on the real Dr. Gerhard von Breuning’s memoir, “Aus dem Schwarzspanierhause” (Out of the House of Black-Robed Spaniards).

If you enjoy classical music but have never seen one of Hershey Felder’s solo performances, you’ve been missing something special. Felder is a serious concert pianist, but the shows he researches and performs illuminate the true stories of the musical geniuses he portrays. This year, Berkshire Theatre Group brought him to the Colonial Theater for four performances from Sept. 8 to Sept. 10.

Based on the real Dr. Gerhard von Breuning’s memoir, “Aus dem Schwarzspanierhause” (“Out of the House of Black-Robed Spaniards”), the story, researched and written by Mr. Felder, is compelling and illuminating. The music he plays is familiar to most, like: “Moonlight Sonata,” “Pathetique Sonata,” the “Emperor Concerto,” selections from both the 5th and 9th Symphonies, and other chamber pieces. In a little known story about “Fur Elise” (“For Alice”), Felder explains how the music was found in a library years after the composer’s death, but upon further study, it was assumed that the true title was “Fur Therese” — the mistake caused by bad handwriting.

Ludwig von Beethoven’s hearing loss raises a number of questions that Felder discusses, though he is clear about letting the facts speak for themselves. Scholars continue to debate the nature of Beethoven’s deafness since his passing in 1827 at the age of 57, and the theories themselves are fascinating.

Usually, at the end of his performances, Felder takes spontaneous questions from the audience that show the depth of his research and hints at his ability to inhabit the soul of the musical creators he develops.

With Halloween on the horizon…

The cast of Ghostlight Theater’s “Lizzie.”

A number of local companies are stepping up to the season with stories and spectacles to make our blood run cold.

Pauline Productions will be holding its fourth annual Whispering Bones Tour, an evening of ghost stories suitable for adults and teens, at the First Congregational Church of Ashfield, on Monday evening, Oct. 30, at 7:00 p.m.

Dr. Betterov-Underhill (Kevin Keriga) and a talented cast of performers will present a new mix of creepy, comic and thought-provoking stories, by Poe, M.R. James, and others. Be ready to get to experience the fall evening with giant gray worms, a telltale heart, and a ghost ship in a turnip patch. This content is appropriate for adults and children over 10. Tickets are on sale at Ashfield Hardware or can be reserved in advance by emailing or by calling 413-588-1534.

As noted in the press release: “Ghosts and various forms of phantasms are welcome free of charge, provided that they remain invisible, and refrain from cackling insanely, groaning ominously or otherwise detracting from the performance. Humans are encouraged to dress outside the lines … why not?”

And coming up …

Ghost Light Theater Company will be presenting “Lizzie: The Musical” at the Gateway City Arts in November. Written by Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt, Lizzie is the story of Lizzie Borden, complete with rock music and the type of effects that are not easily forgotten.

The show is about four women fronting a six-piece rock band. As a part of American mythology and a non-stop rock score, the show may not be appropriate for younger audience members. The content is intended for mature audiences, and contains violence — how could a story about Lizzie Bordon not contain violence?

The cast includes Shealyn Berube as Lizzie, Kerrie Maguire as Emma, Tina Sparkle as Alice, and Cici Cadeaux as Bridget. The band is comprised of Sarah Puckett on piano, Chrissy Howland on bass, Kip Dresser on guitar and synthesizer, Kevin Tracy on guitar, and Jacob Nichols on drums. Kevin Tracy is the director, and musical direction is by Sarah Puckett with choreography by Sarah Divine.

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