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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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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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: 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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Stagestruck: Three for the Show
Oct30

Stagestruck: Three for the Show

An instant evening of theater cooked up in a single day; a 19th-century musical with 21st-century themes; a multi-disciplinary evocation of “what is left when memory is gone.” This weekend in the Valley, there’s a diverse trio of shows to choose from – or see them all. Losing the Thread Theatre Re is an English company that employs movement theater, mime and original music to explore “fragile human conditions.” Its explorations,...

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Stagestruck: Imaginary Forces
Oct26

Stagestruck: Imaginary Forces

In Shakespeare’s time, actors wore their own clothes with token costume pieces, they performed on a bare platform, and they were all male. Those facts are the springboard of Elizabeth Williamson’s vision for her production of Henry V, which plays at Hartford Stage through Nov. 11. Or, make that re-vision. She has adopted and adapted those conventions for her own use and our own time, connecting that English king’s 15th-century war of...

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Stagestruck: Not Your Granddad’s College Theater
Oct24

Stagestruck: Not Your Granddad’s College Theater

“What am I bid for this fine specimen of white manhood?” The swaggering black auctioneer scans the audience of prospective buyers, who quickly bid the price up, until the white man on the auction block goes to the jubilant winner for a fat five-figure sum. This table-turning riff on an antebellum slave auction was part of the UMass Theater Department’s season kick-off event earlier this month. What’s noteworthy about this season is...

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Stagestruck: Texas Tough & Tangy
Oct22

Stagestruck: Texas Tough & Tangy

Barack Obama and Ann Richards both sprang to national prominence with sensational speeches at a Democratic National Convention. Richards’ came in 1988, and she used the opportunity to pitch her unique brand of tough-minded common-sense liberalism and kick sand on the white shoes of the Republican nominee, George H.W. Bush. Her best-remembered line from that moment in the spotlight was “Poor George – he can’t help it. He was born...

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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. “H.P. Lovecraft was unacknowledged in his time, but he is now regarded as one of the great writers of weird, terrifying, spooky...

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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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