Stagestruck: Community Colleges Get in on the Act
Apr22

Stagestruck: Community Colleges Get in on the Act

I often write in these pages about theater at the Five Colleges, all of which have robust degree programs and busy production seasons. But I don’t pay as much attention to the Valley’s other academic theaters as they deserve, and I’m going to partially correct that right now. Earlier this month, Springfield College  staged Arthur Miller’s searing modern tragedy Death of a Salesman, and Greenfield Community College presented Richard...

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Stagestruck: Angles and Aliens — Three productions take a slanted view of our world
Apr21

Stagestruck: Angles and Aliens — Three productions take a slanted view of our world

These are precarious days, observes Peter Schumann, founder and director of Bread & Puppet Theater. The social order, the democratic contract and the earth itself are tottering from unprecedented stresses. Bread & Puppet’s Diagonal Life: Theory and Praxis, coming to Holyoke’s Gateway City Arts on Tuesday, arises from that tension: “Diagonals are created from the leaning power of hurt verticals,” says the publicity for this...

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Stagestruck: Shakespearean Trifecta
Apr17

Stagestruck: Shakespearean Trifecta

It’s the Bard’s birthday next week, and three shows on area stages are celebrating it. (Shakespeare’s actual birthdate is unknown, but it was sometime around April 23, 1564, and since he died on April 23, 1616, that symmetry has become traditional.) This weekend and next, Smith College’s theater department mounts an all-female As You Like It. A new troupe called the rig stages an abbreviated Pericles in Easthampton and the Berkshires....

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Stagestruck: ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘The Tattooed Man Tells All’
Apr10

Stagestruck: ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘The Tattooed Man Tells All’

Two plays coming to area campuses this week and next have starkly different, but equally pessimistic takes on life and death. Death of a Salesman, at Springfield College, finds tragedy in an ordinary life, while The Tattooed Man Tells All, at Smith College, draws tragic lessons from viciously extraordinary conditions. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is perhaps the classic American tragedy. Winner of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize and...

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Blaise’s Bad Movie Guide: Ants
Apr09

Blaise’s Bad Movie Guide: Ants

Flashback: Ten years ago, the morning after Christmas. True story. I am on the john at my sisters house when a car barreling down the road hits a utility pole, frying every appliance in the house, including a TV/DVD combo I just received as a present. The car then back flips and flattens two vehicles parked in the driveway. Picture in the Gazette. Insurance company can’t determine how much is my fault(!), and since my TV is 24 hours...

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Stagestruck: New Kid on the Block
Apr09

Stagestruck: New Kid on the Block

There’s a new theater company in the Valley, with a kick-ass name and no less a purpose than helping to “undo established hierarchical structures and their attendant damage.” It’s called Strident Theatre, and its vociferous founder is actor/director/playwright Susanna Apgar. After a year of planning, the troupe officially kicks off this Saturday with a “Season Teaser Wine and Cheeser” at the Northampton Center for the Arts, an...

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Stagestruck: Imperfect “Nonsense”
Apr05

Stagestruck: Imperfect “Nonsense”

My brother is the world’s biggest P.G. Wodehouse fan. Well, maybe not the biggest — he’s got legions of competitors for that title — but big enough to have come up from his home in New Jersey to accompany me to the American premiere of a new Wodehouse-derived play. It’s Jeeves & Wooster in “Perfect Nonsense,” playing through April 20 in a not-quite-perfect production at Hartford Stage.  Jeeves and Wooster, of course, are the...

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Stagestruck: 25 Years on the Edge
Apr04

Stagestruck: 25 Years on the Edge

In 1994, Stacy Klein moved her adventurous company, Double Edge Theatre, from Boston to a former dairy farm in rural Ashfield, and started milking the Muse. A quarter-century later, the 100-acre spread is home to a resident company of artists and a hub of visceral, imagistic, movement-based exploration and performance. It took a few years for the locals to get used to the presence of artsy types on the edge of their village, but now...

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Stagestruck: Blood, Tears & “Sweat” – Two plays reflect on the past and echo the present
Apr01

Stagestruck: Blood, Tears & “Sweat” – Two plays reflect on the past and echo the present

Two of the Five Colleges’ season-ending productions, both by award-winning women playwrights, hark back to moments in recent history that continue to reverberate. One takes place in a remote backwater, the other in the industrial heartland, but they share themes of life-shattering violence — physical and emotional, economic and social — and the value of community. At UMass this weekend and next, the theater department stages Lynn...

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Stagestruck Abroad: Toronto — Shades of Identity
Mar25

Stagestruck Abroad: Toronto — Shades of Identity

Greetings from Toronto, where it’s still winter, the wind whipping in from Lake Ontario is keen and bracing, and so is the theater. I’ve seen two plays here, a one-man show and an eight-woman show, both of them the work of bi-cultural authors, performed in key venues of the city’s vigorous alternative theater scene. Both plays revolve around questions of identity and belonging, race and culture, and both in their own ways involve...

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‘From Farms to Table’ exhibition in Northfield celebrates land, bird, and beast
Mar22

‘From Farms to Table’ exhibition in Northfield celebrates land, bird, and beast

For the past year or so, the Deerfield Valley Art Association has had a gallery and gift shop at 105 Main Street in Northfield. Particularly at this time of year, downtown Northfield may offer more to those driving through than those who actually stop and walk around. Northfield Creamie isn’t serving ice cream yet. Highland BBQ remains closed for the season. And the old churches and historic buildings seem made for driving by as you...

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Stagestruck: Degrees of Separation — Putting the opioid crisis center stage
Mar19

Stagestruck: Degrees of Separation — Putting the opioid crisis center stage

Eight people are seated in a semi-circle at a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous. They are actually actors in a play, but though they’re not the recovering addicts they portray, each of them has a real-life connection to the nation’s — and the Valley’s — opioid crisis. I’m visiting a rehearsal of (In)Dependent: The Heroin Project at the Academy of Music Theatre, where the play will be performed this weekend, March 22-23. The director,...

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Stagestruck: Infinite Chances for Love
Mar17

Stagestruck: Infinite Chances for Love

Nick Payne’s time- and mind-bending play Constellations receives its local premiere this month at Gateway City Arts, a production of Ghost Light Theater, the Valley’s five-year-old purveyor of contemporary plays that speak to universal themes. The piece has made its way here from its 2012 London debut via a Broadway run and a couple of previous outings in this region. This one, directed by Sue Dziura, stars Jen Campbell and Ghost...

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Stagestruck: Happier Valley Comedy – Joy in the unexpected
Mar11

Stagestruck: Happier Valley Comedy – Joy in the unexpected

Scott Braidman is giving me a tour of his workplace, the Hadley headquarters of Happier Valley Comedy, of which he’s the artistic director. It’s a bright, welcoming space in the Mill Valley Commons, a mixed-purpose building fronted by Route 9 and backed by cornfields. HVC is flanked on one side by an Irish dance studio and on the other by a tavern, businesses that sometimes provide unsolicited musical accompaniment through the common...

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Review: Art made on an iPhone 6?
Mar08

Review: Art made on an iPhone 6?

Turners Falls artist ixchelailee has produced a series of digital collages that stand toe to toe with any other non-digital artwork that you might find in art galleries across the Pioneer Valley. Her exhibit, “Art as veil: hiding behind and walking through,” on display through March 22 at Artspace Community Arts Center in Greenfield, transforms religious symbolism and historical imagery into artwork with new meaning. What’s most...

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Stagestruck: Motor City Soul
Mar01

Stagestruck: Motor City Soul

There’s a party going on in the basement of Chelle and Lank’s house – an unlicensed after-hours drink-and-dance dive in inner-city Detroit. That is, until a police raid on a similar establishment explodes into violence and the neighborhood goes up in flames. Detroit ’67 is the first, and weakest, of Dominique Morisseau’s trilogy of plays known as the Detroit Project. The current production, through March 10 at Hartford Stage Company,...

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Mythic Women: The dolls of Turners artist Belinda Lyons Zucker
Feb26

Mythic Women: The dolls of Turners artist Belinda Lyons Zucker

“The coming months will be a more favorable time than usual to boost feminine authority and enhance women’s ability to shape our shared reality.” So says Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology column this week under the entry for Taurus. Whether or not she believes in astrology (and whether or not she’s a Taurus), Turners Falls artist Belinda Lyons Zucker is fulfilling that prediction with her exhibit of clay and cloth doll figures at the...

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Stagestruck: Center Stage for Seniors
Feb24

Stagestruck: Center Stage for Seniors

Two elder ensembles are this week’s headliners.  The Berkshire-based WAM Theatre has just announced its plans for a troupe of women over 65, and the latest offering from the British stage in the popular National Theatre Live series features a cast of old folks. Allelujah! is a biting satire on the healthcare industry and rapacious politics in the form of a quirky celebration of old age. The live-capture performance screens at...

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Book Bag: ‘Enchantée’ by Gita Trelease; ‘Seven Full days’ by Ferris Shelton
Feb19

Book Bag: ‘Enchantée’ by Gita Trelease; ‘Seven Full days’ by Ferris Shelton

ENCHANTÉE By Gita Trelease Flatiron Books gitatrelease.com In Paris in 1789, as poverty grips most of the populace, and the aristocrats’ indifference to people’s suffering breeds growing anger, 17-year-old Camille Durbonne is struggling to provide for herself and her younger sister, Sophie. The girls’ parents have died from smallpox, and their dissolute brother, Alain, is busy gambling away what little money they have. Camille, the...

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Stagestruck: Big Apple Bites
Feb15

Stagestruck: Big Apple Bites

At first glance, you’d think the two plays I saw in New York City last week have little in common. One is an international import from London to Broadway, the other an Off-Broadway transfer from a small regional theater in Vermont. One is twice as long as the other and fields a cast four times as large (and costs more than twice as much to see). One is set in Northern Ireland in 1981, the other in eastern Massachusetts in the present...

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Stagestruck: Mashups in Makeup
Feb11

Stagestruck: Mashups in Makeup

How’s this for genre mashups: Brontë gothic in which two of the characters are animals. Wildean romcom in which all the actors are women. Golden Age Spain in which a woman lives as a man. Multidisciplinary invention in which diversity seeks community. Renaissance tragedy in which the title character uncannily resembles a certain megalomaniac of today. Such are the parameters of upcoming productions on Five College stages this month...

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Stagestruck: Hi, Honey, I’m Home!
Feb04

Stagestruck: Hi, Honey, I’m Home!

When Nora Helmer famously slammed the door on her empty marriage at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, she changed the course of theatrical history, and social history as well. But shutting the door on one story implicitly opened another, and thus left a question hanging. What became of Nora after she claimed her freedom, leaving her husband and children to plunge into a world where women were largely defined by their marital...

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Stagestruck: Conversations and Conflicts
Jan27

Stagestruck: Conversations and Conflicts

Theater, Sheryl Stoodley firmly believes, “can be the starting point for conversations – much-needed at this point in our United States and in the world.” To that end, Serious Play, the theater Stoodley leads, “works toward reshaping society’s conversation on prominent social issues through the art of ensemble theater.” Her new initiative, under the umbrella title Conversations For Our Times Through Theatre, aims to involve...

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Stagestruck: Found and Lost
Jan22

Stagestruck: Found and Lost

In a program note for The Engagement Party, Samuel Baum says his play is “an exploration of secrets and lies.” Which puts it right in his wheelhouse, as his credits include the TV psycho-crime drama Lie to Me and the movie Wizard of Lies. He says he’s also interested in the notion of “how in relationships it takes years to build trust but only seconds to destroy it.” Those seconds quickly count down in this brief, absorbing play,...

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Stagestruck: Having a Go, Script in Hand
Jan17

Stagestruck: Having a Go, Script in Hand

Allyn Burrows, Shakespeare & Company’s artistic director, calls it “a great way to get out in the middle of winter … a great opportunity for the audience to let their imaginations just run wild.” It’s the theater’s annual Studio Festival, a weekend of bare-bones readings of plays brand-new and not-so-old, performed by company members and guest artists. This year’s lineup, Saturday and Sunday Jan. 19-20, reflects the...

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Stagestruck: Happening New Year — Valley stages ring in the 2019 season
Jan13

Stagestruck: Happening New Year — Valley stages ring in the 2019 season

Barely two weeks into the new year and already my theatergoing calendar is crowded with upcoming shows. From an operatic Sweeney Todd to a historical fantasy to a “pseudo-historical psycho-romance,” to pick three for this month, 2019 is off to a promising start. The Mountaintop is already playing at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield, and runs through February 10. It takes place on an April midnight in 1968 in Martin Luther King...

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Stagestruck: Six Degrees of Connection – The Berkshires’ Year in Theater
Dec30

Stagestruck: Six Degrees of Connection – The Berkshires’ Year in Theater

Six theater companies form a kind of chain across the southern and western Berkshires. From the closest to the Valley to the farthest, they are the hilltowns’ Chester Theatre Company, then westward (passing dance mecca Jacob’s Pillow) to Shakespeare & Company in Lenox and its neighbor, the Stockbridge campus of the Berkshire Theatre Festival, now headquartered to the north in Pittsfield, which is also home to Barrington Stage...

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Valley Variety — 2018 in Review
Dec19

Valley Variety — 2018 in Review

I attended over 30 theater productions in the Valley this year, but that wasn’t half of what was on stage. What struck me most was the variety of fare – from the breadth of established companies’ seasons, to the ethnic and gender diversity on campus stages, to community theaters’ daring departures, to the exciting expansion of theater venues. Here, then, a partial but appreciative backward glance as the curtain falls on 2018. The...

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Stagestruck:  Not Throwin’ Away My Shot on “Hamilton”
Dec14

Stagestruck: Not Throwin’ Away My Shot on “Hamilton”

What is there to say that you don’t already know about Hamilton, the game-changing musical that costs a bank loan to see on Broadway and is now on tour, where this month it’s at the Bushnell in Hartford for only an ATM max-out? Playing through Dec. 30 (by far the longest run in this road house’s recent history), it was all but sold out as soon as tickets went on sale, though I’m told “there are always five or six tickets available...

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Stagestruck: Angels in Middle America
Dec02

Stagestruck: Angels in Middle America

Harrison David Rivers specifies that his play When Last We Flew takes place in “a small town in Kansas (NOT Kansas City).” He also specifies that all eight characters are people of color. And that two of them are gay. As it opens, we find 17-year-old Paul in the bathroom, one hand holding a copy of Angels in America and the other hand down his fly. Later on there’s a tornado, and some flying, but we’re definitely not in Dorothy’s...

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Stagestruck: Staged Readings  — the key to writing “your best play”
Nov26

Stagestruck: Staged Readings — the key to writing “your best play”

In a program note for his play The War and Walt Whipple, now running at the Majestic Theater, author/director Danny Eaton describes the play’s page-to-stage gestation. First, “a few friends” saw a draft and offered comments, leading to  a staged reading with audience feedback, followed by final revisions and on to opening night. That term “staged reading” can mean anything from actors reading from scripts on music stands to basic...

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Stagestruck: The War Within
Nov19

Stagestruck: The War Within

Every couple of years, Danny Eaton premieres a new play of his at the Majestic Theater, which he founded and leads. They range through topics dear to him, often touching on military service and veterans (he’s one himself) and all of them, in one way or another, asserting the importance of family, by blood or choice. His latest, The War and Walt Whipple, turns on both those themes. It’s a memory piece based on Eaton’s own forebears. He...

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Stagestruck: King Lear on NT Live
Nov09

Stagestruck: King Lear on NT Live

I’ll get right to the point. The King Lear I saw last weekend courtesy of NT Live is the most thoughtfully conceived, perceptively acted and richly achieved production of Shakespeare’s great tragedy I’ve ever seen. It stars Ian McKellen, and that in itself more than recommends it. But it’s far more than a star vehicle. Part of the National Theatre’s live-capture series from British stages, it’s onscreen on Monday Nov. 12th at...

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Stagestruck: Latin Roots
Nov08

Stagestruck: Latin Roots

Two productions in the Valley this weekend and next share Latin American roots, and couldn’t be more dissimilar. One is a colorful musical celebrating a New York barrio, the other a surreal movement-theater piece celebrating two surrealists. The sensational success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s boundary-breaking Hamilton has almost made us forget his first Broadway outing. In the Heights, which hit the Great White Way in 2008, was also a...

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Stagestruck: Art and Identity — Valley plays confront life-changing issues
Nov05

Stagestruck: Art and Identity — Valley plays confront life-changing issues

Three plays in the Valley this weekend and next tackle provocative questions of art and identity. A woman musician is deprived of a career because of her gender. Two writers tangle in a carnal mix of sex and ambition. And an actor looks at the black experience via theater’s most famous black character. With one 19th-century exception, it wasn’t until the 1940s that a black actor (Paul Robeson) was permitted to play Othello. Keith...

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