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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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.)...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
Stagestruck: What’s on stage this summer — Berkshire edition
Jun13

Stagestruck: What’s on stage this summer — Berkshire edition

Time was, summer theater was pretty predictable. Two comedies, a drama and a whodunit was the standard lineup when I was in summer stock way back in the day. Even the major venues — of which the Williamstown and Berkshire Theater Festivals were the grande dames — attracted audiences with familiar work and famous names. Those days are gone, summer theater having become just as varied and adventurous as any cold-weather stage. While...

Read More
Stagestruck: The Scotsman and “The Curious Incident”
Jun12

Stagestruck: The Scotsman and “The Curious Incident”

If you’re a regular at the NT Live series of high-def broadcasts from the London stage, you’d be forgiven for thinking Rory Kinnear is under exclusive contract to the National Theatre. (He’s not, as you’ll know if you’re also a fan of the recent James Bond films, in which he played Bill Tanner.) Kinnear has starred in National Theatre productions on an almost yearly basis since the late aughts, his staccato speech and London vowels...

Read More
Stagestruck: Lessons in Survival
Jun04

Stagestruck: Lessons in Survival

Two plays now running in Hartford are framed by resistance movements against political and economic oppression, and both carry weighty metaphors. At TheaterWorks through June 23, a lesson in global economics is tucked into a torn-from-the-headlines thriller, and at Hartford Stage through this weekend, a lesson in trust and betrayal is wrapped around a tenacious plant. That plant is the aloe, the spiny green succulent that manages to...

Read More
Stagestruck: Summer Theater Preview — The Valley
Jun01

Stagestruck: Summer Theater Preview — The Valley

I’m always excited as the summer-theater season approaches, even though it means I’ll be spending even more of my entertainment hours indoors than during the dark winter. In a brief three months, we theatergoers are treated to a greater variety of fare — not to mention a greater quantity — than in the other nine combined. On this summer’s calendar, I’m looking forward to 20 productions from seven different companies in the Valley...

Read More
Stagestruck: Deadly Denial — Typhoid Mary at Barrington Stage
May30

Stagestruck: Deadly Denial — Typhoid Mary at Barrington Stage

Barrington Stage Company’s summer season launched on Sunday in the troupe’s St. Germain Stage, with a play by its eponym, Mark St. Germain. In her curtain speech, artistic director Julianne Boyd proudly announced that Typhoid Mary is the ninth play of his that Barrington has produced (I make it 10, but who’s counting?). She also told us it’s a play that “has to be done now,” adding, “You’ll see why.” Mary Mallon earned her...

Read More
Stagestruck: One Man, in Heels — “I Am My Own Wife” in the Valley
May16

Stagestruck: One Man, in Heels — “I Am My Own Wife” in the Valley

“I think she may be the most singular, eccentric individual the Cold War ever birthed.” So says one of the three dozen characters in I Am My Own Wife. He’s talking about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, née Lothar Berfelde, Berlin’s most famous transvestite. In Doug Wright’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, all the characters, most of all Charlotte herself, are played by one man. In a set of upcoming performances, that man is Rylan Morsbach....

Read More
Stagestruck: Words and music seek to heal a troubled world
May09

Stagestruck: Words and music seek to heal a troubled world

The Red Guitar, John Sheldon’s brilliant memoir-in-music, was a runaway hit at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Riding on its success in that international nexus of alternative arts, the show’s producer, the Valley’s Serious Play Theatre Ensemble, is taking it back again this year. It’s returning in tandem with a new piece, Manual Override, created and performed by Sheldon, percussion virtuoso Tony Vacca and spoken-word artist...

Read More
Stagestruck: Post-Apocalyptic Foolery
Apr23

Stagestruck: Post-Apocalyptic Foolery

The scene: desolation. The time: the aftermath of a cataclysm that has destroyed civilization and left only industrial scaffolding and piles of junk. Piles that include, let’s see, a bucketful of juggling clubs, a couple of unicycles, a teeter board and, oh yes, a drum kit. In the whimsical imagination of Machine de Cirque, this wasteland provides the raw material for rebuilding the world. It may have ended with a whimper but it’s...

Read More
Julia Caesar?
Apr20

Julia Caesar?

Julius Caesar is one of the most macho plays in Shakespeare’s male-heavy canon – only two women in the cast, both of them in and out before the thing is half over. But a new production puts many more women onstage, one of them in the play’s most macho role. Performed in the Bridge Theatre, London’s newest playhouse, it’s beamed stateside (and around the world) as part of the NT Live series of HD-satellite broadcasts from British...

Read More
Stagestruck: Women Take the Reins
Apr18

Stagestruck: Women Take the Reins

Three shows up and down the Valley this weekend put a modern and feminist spin on some classic tales from Shakespeare and the Bible – Wayward Home in Ashfield, The Annotated *Taming* in Turners Falls and Julius Caesar in Amherst. Wayward Home, weaving the Noah’s Ark story into contemporary migration narratives, is “a musical folktale about a family forced to begin again,” according to the show’s description. “Through original music...

Read More
Stagestruck: In the Valley and New York, history becomes personal
Apr18

Stagestruck: In the Valley and New York, history becomes personal

The tattoo From the title, you might think The Tattooed Man Tells All is a memoir of life on the carnival circuit. It’s anything but. This man’s tat is a five-digit number that was etched into his forearm in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Peter Wortsman’s one-man play receives its U.S. premiere next month at Silverthorne Theater Company in Greenfield, directed by Ellen Kaplan and starring Keith Langsdale. Woven from interviews the...

Read More
Stagestruck: Backstage with the Director of Tar2f! — Me
Mar22

Stagestruck: Backstage with the Director of Tar2f! — Me

It might seem like a conflict of interest, but for me, it’s a confluence of interests. You see, in addition to being the Advocate’s theater critic, I’m also a director. I work both sides of the curtain, so to speak. When I’m not sitting in a theater watching actors onstage, I’m often in a rehearsal room working with actors on a show they’ll take onstage. What I love most about being in the director’s chair is what I miss most in the...

Read More
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....

Read More
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,...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More