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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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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....

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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....

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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,...

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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...

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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...

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Stagestruck: Marx and Sparks
Feb13

Stagestruck: Marx and Sparks

If, like me, you thought the National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guv’nors, either on NT Live or Broadway, was the funniest, wittiest farce you’ve ever seen (with Noises Off a close second), chances are you’ll enjoy Young Marx. It’s on this weekend at Amherst Cinema, beamed in HD from London courtesy of NT Live. Young Marx is the work of Richard Bean, who wrote 1M2G, and directed by Nicholas Hytner, who helmed that production...

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Stagestruck: In the Not-So-Bleak Midwinter
Feb05

Stagestruck: In the Not-So-Bleak Midwinter

It’s Black History Month — or as African-American actors I know like to call it, “Black Employment Month” — the time of year when many theaters make a point of programming shows by and about people of color. Some scoff at the perceived tokenism, and it does point up the comparative dearth of such material elsewhere in the schedule. But I say get ’em when and where you can, and keep pushing for more representation year-round. Next...

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Stagestruck: Something Rotten! — a tasty musical dish
Jan31

Stagestruck: Something Rotten! — a tasty musical dish

I grew up on Shakespeare and musicals, so what was I to make of Something Rotten!, the hit musical that mercilessly lampoons both? Love it for its origins or hate it for its irreverence? Having missed it on Broadway, where it earned a double handful of Tony nominations in 2015 but lost out to Fun Home, I caught up with the national tour at the Bushnell in Hartford, where it’s running through Sunday. Verdict? I loved it – especially...

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Stagestruck: Love in the Multiverse
Jan29

Stagestruck: Love in the Multiverse

Constellations, playing at TheaterWorks in Hartford through Feb. 18, looks at love and second chances through a prism of reflecting and refracting fun-house mirrors – or more accurately, through a spectrum of infinite chances. Nick Payne’s two-hander isn’t exactly a play of ideas, though it’s plenty smart. It springs from one idea – the possibility imagined by theoretical physics that the singular life we experience takes place in...

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Stagestruck: High Drama in the Library
Jan24

Stagestruck: High Drama in the Library

You wouldn’t think a library would be a likely setting for high drama, but here we are with two playing at once. In Hartford, Sharon Washington is telling the story of her girlhood, when she lived, not virtually but literally, in a library. And in West Springfield, another real-life tale focuses on a political battle over racial insinuations, led by a librarian. Alabama Story, we’re told at the outset, is “the story of a story” — a...

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Stagestruck: When 90 Minutes is Enough
Jan16

Stagestruck: When 90 Minutes is Enough

Time was, going to the theater took up the whole evening, with built-in pee and bar breaks. That’s been changing recently, as more and more plays clock in at an intermissionless 90 minutes or so. Back in Shakespeare’s day, of course, the show went on all afternoon, broken up by musical interludes, clowning and so forth, but with no formal act breaks (you’d bring your own bottle of sack and pee where you stood). For a long time the...

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Stagestruck: Gender Parity Still Elusive in Theater
Dec26

Stagestruck: Gender Parity Still Elusive in Theater

In this time of long-overdue comeuppance for sexual harassment and assault, I approached my annual reckoning of gender equity in theater with fresh eyes. Nationwide, women continue to be devalued and underrepresented in almost all areas of theatrical creation, on and off stage. Surveys have found, for instance, that over three-quarters of professionally produced plays are written by men and focus primarily on male characters — despite...

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Stagestruck: Diversifying Nostalgia in Western Mass Theater
Dec11

Stagestruck: Diversifying Nostalgia in Western Mass Theater

In this season of holiday entertainments that cater to our appetite for cozy tradition (I’m talking about you, Nutcracker, Messiah, and Christmas Carol), two shows this weekend hit the nostalgia nerve from contrary angles. In the Berkshires, a new play adds a “What next?” sequel to a classic love story. And in the Valley, a variety show takes inspiration from old-time vaudeville. Wholly Communion Following on from its annual series of...

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Stagestruck: It’s Bedlam on These Stages
Dec07

Stagestruck: It’s Bedlam on These Stages

“Bedlam” is an apt moniker for the ever-adventurous theater company going by that name. Their whirlwind adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility recently wowed New York (and comes to Cambridge beginning this weekend – see below). Now they’re back on sort-of Broadway with an equally inventive, if less affectionate – and less effective – version of another treasured classic: Peter Pan. Bedlam is a peripatetic troupe, performing...

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