Stagestruck: Moonlight and Music
Oct17

Stagestruck: Moonlight and Music

Two moonlit pieces of music theater hit Valley stages this weekend. The Smith College Theatre Department premieres Moonlight on the Miskatonic, a musical based on the creepy tales of H. P. Lovecraft. And Pilgrim Theatre revives Moon Over Dark Street, a cabaret of songs by the jaunty genius Bertolt Brecht.   Songs weave through all of Brecht’s plays, part of his “epic theater” approach to stagecraft. They comment on and provide...

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Stagestruck: Valley Variations — Celebrating words and music, autumn and murder
Oct09

Stagestruck: Valley Variations — Celebrating words and music, autumn and murder

A demon barber, a cockroach killer, a charitable speller, a balletic frog. This month, up and down the Valley, indoors and out, intimate and expansive, there’s a seasonal bounty of performances to choose from.   The Royal Frog Ballet is an  “amoeba of collaborators” who “create performance and installation art for community gatherings.” This weekend and next, Oct. 12-14 and 19- 21 at 5pm, the group’s tenth annual Surrealist...

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Stagestruck Weekend: Coming Back to Life, in the (413)
Oct05

Stagestruck Weekend: Coming Back to Life, in the (413)

In the past, Life in the (413), New Century Theatre’s live-on-stage roast of all things Valley, was aimed at boosting its upcoming summer program. The sixth iteration, at the Academy of Music on Sunday, is aimed at reviving the company after its sudden collapse a year ago and the cancellation of this year’s season. “New Century Theatre has been a part of our home for 28 years and we hope to see it continue,” says Jarice Hanson, the...

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Stagestruck: Two in the Berkshires – Naked & The Glass Menagerie
Oct03

Stagestruck: Two in the Berkshires – Naked & The Glass Menagerie

A desperate young woman, Ersilia Drei, has attempted suicide. From her hospital bed, she spins a heartrending, headline-grabbing story for an opportunistic reporter. His article draws a circle of interested parties into her twisting orbit: The novelist who sees in her story the germ of a terrific plot and who takes her under his wing and, as he intends, into his bed. His landlady, who’s scandalized by the arrangement – until she...

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Stagestruck: Stage to Screen
Sep28

Stagestruck: Stage to Screen

The live-capture stage-to-screen season at the Amherst Cinema has begun, with a lineup of adaptations of world classics from the London stage – a dance-happy movie musical, a steamy exploration of transgressive desire, a surreal whodunnit, a Gothic horror story – plus a modern-dress Shakespeare. Most come courtesy of the ongoing National Theatre Live series. Here they are, in upcoming  order.   Sept. 29, 12:30pm — The Broadway...

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Stagestruck: Murdering the Play
Sep26

Stagestruck: Murdering the Play

Even before the houselights dim, The Play That Goes Wrong is going wrong. On the uncurtained stage, a techie is still working on the floorboards and the stage manager is frantically trying to secure a part of the set. She recruits an audience member to help out while she goes in search of the dog who’s supposed to appear in Act Two. This is a preview of things to come in this English import and current Broadway hit, whose national...

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Stagestruck: “Hir” and Now
Sep26

Stagestruck: “Hir” and Now

Playwright Taylor Mac has described Hir as “a kitchen-sink drama.” Which is fair, as long as you understand that the sink in question is full of filthy dishes and fresh vomit. The genre- and gender-bending play, at Shakespeare & Company through October 7, begins with a homecoming and ends with an expulsion. In between, it tackles themes of gender and identity, power and privilege, dysfunction and abuse, love and hate – and one of...

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Stagestruck: Eight Shows for the Price of Two
Sep24

Stagestruck: Eight Shows for the Price of Two

This weekend and next, two theater companies demonstrate, once again, the breadth and variety of Valley stages. In Greenfield, Silverthorne Theater Company opens a two-week run of “six unruly comedies” by America’s cheekiest stage satirist, Christopher Durang. In Northampton, Serious Play Theatre Ensemble makes a triumphant return from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a pair of pieces that marry words and music in unique ways....

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Stagestruck: Play by Play by Playwrights
Sep20

Stagestruck: Play by Play by Playwrights

Before a play hits the stage, it goes through several other stages. The first is the opposite of public performance – the writing, solo and in private. Then, for the members of the Northampton Playwrights Lab, it’s shared with a small circle of fellow dramatists, who offer insights and suggestions to the work in progress. Then, usually after several revisions and further feedback, it’s put on its feet for the first time in a reading....

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Stagestruck: Hometown Tales & Terrors
Sep19

Stagestruck: Hometown Tales & Terrors

Walk down Main Street in any small American town and look around. There are the unassuming shopfronts and placid homes, holding private, ordinary lives. But behind the doors lie extraordinary secrets and dreams. Three plays this weekend in our not-so-ordinary Valley take us down some increasingly twisty side streets, from Thornton Wilder’s deceptively tranquil village, to a high school that hides the portal to an underworld of...

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Stagestruck: Puppets in the Green Mountains
Sep15

Stagestruck: Puppets in the Green Mountains

For two decades, Sandglass Theater, the justly world-renowned puppetry troupe headquartered in Putney, Vermont, has produced an international festival that serves as a gathering and showcase for masters of the form. The tenth biennial “Puppets in the Green Mountains” festival, Sept. 20-23 in Putney and Brattleboro, offers a variety of cross-disciplinary performances, some “for all ages” and some primarily for grownups. The performers,...

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Stagestruck: Women in the Saddle
Sep12

Stagestruck: Women in the Saddle

Hot on the heels of my recent rundown of women’s representation in the area’s summer theaters comes more encouraging evidence from some of the fall season’s first shows. The Majestic Theater is playing a cowboy musical in which the lead is not a boy. WAM Theater, which provides on- and offstage opportunities for women, continues its popular staged-reading series. And Pittsfield’s Whitney Center for the Arts revives the classic...

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Stagestruck: An Extraordinary Ordinary Man
Sep06

Stagestruck: An Extraordinary Ordinary Man

Two years ago I reviewed A Fiery and Still Voice, a living-history performance at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, Mass. The delightfully engaging show by Enchanted Circle Theater is back for four Saturdays this fall – Sept. 8th & 15th and Oct. 13th & 27th, two shows a day, 11 and 1. Info and tickets here. Here’s what I wrote about it at its premiere. If you’re like me, you studied William Cullen...

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Stagestruck: Minority Report — Women and people of color on summer-theater stages
Sep05

Stagestruck: Minority Report — Women and people of color on summer-theater stages

Readers of this column will know my practice of periodically reporting on the progress (or not) in the representation of women and people of color in area theaters. The summer season has recently ended, so I’ve been making a tally of this summer’s shows. The news is good. My usual accounting falls into three categories — plays written by, directed by, and centrally featuring women and/or “minorities.” This year the results are better...

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Stagestruck: Physick and Physics at Shakespeare & Company
Aug25

Stagestruck: Physick and Physics at Shakespeare & Company

A few years ago, when I told my brother I was directing a production of As You Like It, he said, “That’s the one about Beatrice and Benedick, isn’t it?” Well, no, but the confusion is understandable. Several of Shakespeare’s comedies have interchangeable titles: As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing (the one my brother was thinking of), All’s Well That Ends Well, and for that matter, Twelfth Night. As You Like It is the one about the...

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Stagestruck: At Barrington Stage, a revival and a premiere
Aug24

Stagestruck: At Barrington Stage, a revival and a premiere

Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield is ending its impressive summer season with a pair of productions, one celebrating a 50-year-old milestone, the other confronting our troubled present. On the mainstage, a lovingly rendered revival of West Side Story, running through Sept. 1st, honors the musical’s half-century along with the 100th birthdays of its prime creators, composer Leonard Bernstein and director/choreographer Jerome...

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Stagestruck: End-of-summer shows in the Berkshires — food for fun and thought
Aug08

Stagestruck: End-of-summer shows in the Berkshires — food for fun and thought

When Shakespeare & Company first set up shop in the Berkshires, their mainstage was a greensward before a wooded glade at the Mount, Edith Wharton’s Lenox estate, with the audience seated on folding lawn chairs. That tradition has lately been revived, with outdoor performances at their present home in Lenox, as well on the grounds of the Mount, just down the road. The productions are generally the Bard’s comedies that have some...

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Stagestruck: Dancing down Hubbard Street— 40 years young
Aug03

Stagestruck: Dancing down Hubbard Street— 40 years young

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is a frequent and popular visitor to the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. This year, celebrating its 40th season, the company presents a quartet of works showcasing its history and its current 16-member troupe, one of the most technically accomplished ensembles I’ve seen. The program, running through Sunday on the Pillow’s Ted Shawn mainstage, begins with “Decadance/Chicago,” excerpts from Israeli...

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Stagestruck: Three in the Hills
Aug01

Stagestruck: Three in the Hills

A trio of two-character plays now running in the Hilltowns and Berkshires offer a summer-season variety of subjects, styles, and even venues – a black-box theater, a converted town hall, a church sanctuary. Pauline Productions is dedicated to “producing and creating theatre with a focus on strong roles for women onstage and behind the scenes.” The Roommate, running till Saturday on a purpose-built stage in the Ashfield Congregational...

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Stagestruck Abroad: Shakespeare’s Haunts, Part 2 — Stratford
Jul29

Stagestruck Abroad: Shakespeare’s Haunts, Part 2 — Stratford

Nowadays, Stratford-upon-Avon feels not so much like a town as a gift shop. The once-sleepy hamlet where William Shakespeare was born some 450 years ago, which he abandoned for a life on the London stage, has become a mercantile monument to Stratford’s most famous son – which must seem ironic to the “anti-Stratfordians” in the Shakespearean authorship controversy, who can’t credit the notion that an uneducated bumkin from a provincial...

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Stagestruck Abroad: Shakespeare’s Haunts, part 1 — The Globe
Jul26

Stagestruck Abroad: Shakespeare’s Haunts, part 1 — The Globe

When I was in England earlier this month, I saw four plays at the two venues most closely associated with William Shakespeare – his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon and the Globe playhouse on London’s South Bank. At the Globe, there was a gender-switching Hamlet and a time-switching Winter’s Tale, and on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s two Stratford stages, a bloody Macbeth and a revenge tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi, by Shakespeare’s...

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Stagestruck Abroad: Two plays in London show theater’s unique power
Jul25

Stagestruck Abroad: Two plays in London show theater’s unique power

When I was recently in London, I saw two plays with connections to my favorite (make that favourite) British venue, the National Theatre. One was an African-American riff on a 19th-century melodrama, the other a dramatic immersion in a migrant camp on the English Channel. Though quite different in style and content, both wrestle ingeniously with wrenching issues and engage their audiences in unorthodox ways. An Octoroon has just...

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Stagestruck: Exciting new ideas from well-worn material
Jul10

Stagestruck: Exciting new ideas from well-worn material

A new thriller, a boundary-breaking dance form, a classic tragedy, and a dramatic sequel, all on area stages this month, illustrate the creative urge to mold existing materials into new forms. In the Valley, Silverthorne Theater Company presents White, Black and Blue, a new play by Steve Henderson and Will Chalmus. It’s a thriller with a sense of humor, a different kind of mistaken-identity adventure involving an unlikely trio. In the...

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Stagestruck: Compromises and Contradictions in Chester
Jul07

Stagestruck: Compromises and Contradictions in Chester

A poster hanging in the lobby at Chester Theater Company points out common roots and themes connecting Islam, Judaism and Christianity – for example, the Archangel Gabriel figures in all three religions’ core legends. It serves as prelude to the current production, which prowls around issues of faith and heritage in a fractious world. Director Kristen van Ginhoven and a superlative cast have created an arresting rendition of Ayad...

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Stagestruck: Masters of Melody, Onstage at BTG
Jul06

Stagestruck: Masters of Melody, Onstage at BTG

What happens when your music goes out of style? – when the teenagers are swooning over Elvis Presley instead of Frank Sinatra? If you’re Irving Berlin, and it’s Christmas Eve 1956, and the song at the top of the Hit Parade isn’t “White Christmas” but “Hound Dog,” you invite a couple of fellow songwriters over to your Manhattan townhouse to drink, kvetch, and reminisce. That’s the premise for Lee Kalcheim’s charming and tuneful...

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Stagestruck: Weekend Update
Jul04

Stagestruck: Weekend Update

For your consideration – four shows playing in the region this weekend, two that hark back to the ’60s/’70s and forward to tomorrow, plus a Shakespearean comedy and a jungle adventure. The Ko Festival of Performance opens its five-weekend season with The Radicalization Process, a multilayered piece from the The Hinterlands ensemble. Performances are Friday to Sunday, July 6-8, in the Holden Theater on the Amherst College campus. The...

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Wedding Belles – Gay marriage is a hot topic in this bake shop
Jul03

Wedding Belles – Gay marriage is a hot topic in this bake shop

These days, fiction can hardly keep up with real life. Take The Cake, playing at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield through July 15. It opened last month, just days after the Supreme Court upheld a Colorado baker’s refusal, on religious grounds, to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Bekah Brunstetter’s play concerns another baker, who likewise declines to make such a cake for another such couple. It handles this hot-button...

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Stagestruck: WTF is going on
Jul02

Stagestruck: WTF is going on

Two world premieres kick off the season at Williamstown Theatre Festival, one a raucous comedy, the other a brief, intimate tragedy. The Closet holds forth on WTF’s Main Stage through July 14th, while The Sound Inside plays through the 8th on the smaller Nikos Stage. Both feature bona fide stars in roles that fit them well. Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside, unfolding over an intermissionless 90 minutes, is is a rather bleak...

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Stagestruck: Hip-Hop Hybrid — Ephrat Asherie Dance at Jacob’s Pillow
Jun29

Stagestruck: Hip-Hop Hybrid — Ephrat Asherie Dance at Jacob’s Pillow

The dance companies that opened this year’s season at Jacob’s Pillow epitomize the festival’s enduring mission. This week the mainstage hosts Pilobolus, one of the pillars of modern dance and still innovating after 45 years. And in the Pillow’s intimate Doris Duke Theatre, Ephrat Asherie Dance exemplifies the festival’s ongoing commitment to stylistic and thematic boundary-pushing. Both shows run through Sunday July 1st. I was at...

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Stagestruck: At a Crossroads on “The Road to Mecca”
Jun25

Stagestruck: At a Crossroads on “The Road to Mecca”

Silverthorne Theater Company has come a long way since its founding five summers ago. Struggling at first with difficult venues and miniscule audiences, the company, under the leadership of Lucinda Kidder, is now celebrating the half-decade mark with a permanent home and full houses. It’s the resident theater in Greenfield’s cultural hub, the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked there as a director.)...

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Stagestruck: A lawyer walks into a rabbi’s office…
Jun23

Stagestruck: A lawyer walks into a rabbi’s office…

Bar Mitzvah Boy is a comedy that looks seriously at faith, community, and loss. Its premise contains the seeds of sitcom: A middle-aged Jewish lawyer who hasn’t set foot in a synagogue since he was a boy is suddenly in a rush to have his way-overdue becoming-a-man ceremony. He convinces (or rather bullies) the rabbi, who has her – yes, her – own more pressing needs, to be his personal tutor. Chester Theatre Company’s season opener, by...

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Stagestruck: “Tight Pants” and strong bonds
Jun20

Stagestruck: “Tight Pants” and strong bonds

A six-week workshop for first-time playwrights taught by the Majestic Theater’s Danny Eaton has borne unexpected fruit. It has not only brought forth a full-length play, but has inspired Eaton to establish an annual “new works” week at the theater. Betel Arnold’s Tight Pants, which grew out of that workshop, inaugurates the projected series this weekend. Arnold’s play is set in the Dominican Republic, her mother’s homeland. It’s an...

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Stagestruck: A Crisis of Faith, with Laughs
Jun18

Stagestruck: A Crisis of Faith, with Laughs

Church & State is the funniest play about a serious issue I have ever seen. The issue is gun violence, specifically mass shootings, and the humor is threaded into the storyline so organically that, far from cheapening the theme, it lends to it a richer, more deeply human heart. The central figure in the Berkshire Theatre Group’s thrilling production is North Carolina’s (fictitious) junior senator, Republican Charles Whitmore, who...

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Stagestruck: Barrington’s world premiere musical — not ready for prime time
Jun15

Stagestruck: Barrington’s world premiere musical — not ready for prime time

The “royal family” of Broadway in the early 20th century was the Barrymores – Ethel, “first lady of the American theater,” John the swashbuckling Shakespearean, and Lionel, best remembered now as mean old Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. The hit Broadway comedy of 1927 was The Royal Family, an affectionate sendup of the Barrymores and the showbiz aristocracy they embodied. Now it’s a musical, The Royal Family of Broadway, which...

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Stagestruck: At Shakespeare & Company, the Show Must, and Did, Go On
Jun13

Stagestruck: At Shakespeare & Company, the Show Must, and Did, Go On

A theater story: For three years in the mid-’70s, Anthony Perkins starred in the long-running Broadway production of Equus, playing the psychiatrist Dr. Dysart (pause for Psycho jokes). Just before one matinee came an announcement: “Anthony Perkins will not be appearing in this performance.” Groans of disappointment! “His role will be played by Richard Burton.” Buzz of excitement! At the time, Burton, who had played the part in...

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