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CurtainUp In the Berkshires
Barrington Stage Summer 2009 Season
By Elyse Sommer
Main Stage Show Reviews: A Streetcar Named Desire |Sleuth | | Carousel
Stage 2 Show Reviews:Freud's Last SessionNote for Fall visitors to the Berkshires: This surprise hit has been extended yet again for a Sept 25-Oct. 4th run!! | Underneath the Lintel
Union Street, Pittsfield
http://www.barringtonstageco.org/ Second stage at the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Linden Street in Pittsfield, near the company's main venue on Union Street.
Main Stage Shows Carousel
But hold on. This revival isn't quite the triumph as some of Boyd's other stagings of shows by some of our most renowned musical theater creators: The handsome production of West Side Story (2007) and , going way back to the company's days at a high school auditorium in Sheffield, the smartly cast Cabaret (1997), A Little Night Music (1998), the rarely produced but deserving Mack and Mable (1999). And don't forget the superb revival of Follies (2005) that sent droves of New Yorkers heading north.
Part of the problem with the current production is the show itself. Carousel has a somewhat dated quality, despite being chockablock with gorgeous songs and having a book ahead of its time with its introduction of serious social issues. Since many of the songs are familiar standards, the thrill that anyone hearing "June Is Bustin' Out All Over "and "If I Loved You" for the first time must have experienced is now replaced by the tingly pleasure of recognition. And for audiences who have embraced the 90-minute show, musical classics like this need flawless, or at least nearly flawless, staging and performances for audiences to remain enthralled by Carousel's old-fashioned charm and stick-to-the-ears musical magic for nearly three hours. A case in point: The big-old- fashioned orchestra, the stellar cast, including a dynamic young opera star, and a lavish set have helped to make South Pacific a born-again super Broadway hit.
While Darren Cohen is an able musician who has worked with Barrington Stage before, his usual small band has here been reduced to two pianos (one played by Cohen, the other by his assistant director Adam Laird). Boyd does support them with a third musician, fiddler Edmund Bagnell). But though Bagnell and Irish dancer Neil O'Brien add a smart, lively touch to the first act's "Hornpipe" number, Cohen and Adam Laird have to do too much heavy lifting. No matter how well they play, the plummy Hammerstein score deserves a richer, fuller sound than they can provide.
Fortunately, Carousel, like its creators' first major hit, Oklahoma, calls for lots of dancing and Joshua Bergasse, who also choreographed BS's West Side Story revival, is again on board. His adaptation of the original Agnes DeMille choreography is all it should be: sprightly and witty as in the opening scene's bustling "Carousel Waltz". . . smartly character defining in the soliloquy sequence . . . glimmering with emotion in the ballet near the end.
Happily, the energetic dancers are quite good. However, when it comes to acting, the key characters are a mixed lot. Given that it's the music more than the book that's the show's strength, Boyd was right to focus on singing ability if she couldn't always get performers as good in terms of acting and charisma as singing.
That's not to say there aren't some performances warranting all-around praise. Aaron Ramey is attractive and strong of voice as Billy Bigelow. Patricia Noonan is a very pretty Julie Jordan and has a lovely, clear soprano, but she brings little emotional variation to the girl too smitten with the handsome barker to recognize signs of trouble ahead.
And, while I don't like to make comparisons, watching Sara Jean Ford as Julie's best friend, Carrie Pipperidge makes it hard not to think of Audra McDonald's star-making debut in that role at Carousel's last New York revival in 1994. (Eight years later McDonald was a magnificent Julie to Hugh Jackman's Billy Bigelow at a non-staged benefit concert). Sad to say, Ford is a less stellar Carrie. Todd Buonopane relies on broad humor to play her husband, the self-righteous Enoch Snow.
To move on to the all-around praiseworthy performances, top honors go to Barrington Stage favorite Christopher Innvar as the villainous Jigger Craigin. Lelie Becker acquits herself well as Mrs. Mullin, the bosomy amusement park owner who lusts for Billy.
Ballads like What's the Use of Wond'rin? and You'll Never Walk Alone are as lovely and poignant as ever though young audiences accustomed to more propulsive rhythms may find them a bit too pretty and slow. And one can't help wondering if the show wouldn't survive a cut of the rather unmemorable "A Real Nice Clambake."
The simple scenic design by Robert Mark Morgan evokes just enough of the by-gone New England setting and leaves plenty of room or the dancing that's this production's strongest suit. Holly Cain's pastel-colored costumes are fun. Whoever's responsible for the wigs, smartly opted not to be credited in the program.
The musical theater has changed since 1945. New musicals are less concerned with lots of songs you can't stop humming for days after. But without Rodgers and Hammerstein to lead the way in integrating music and dialogue, the musical theater wouldn't have evolved to give us shows like Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, Avenue Q, Next to Normal — and, of course, The 25th Annual Spelling Bee without which Barrington Stage wouldn't have been able to move from its summer high school home to its spacious year-round theater in Pittsfield.
Production Notes Carousel
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on Ferenc Molnar's Play Liliom
Adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer.
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Choreography by Joshua Bergasse (Original Dances by Agnes de Mille)
Music direction by Darren R. Cohen.
Cast: Aaron Ramey (Billy Bigelow), Patricia Noonan (Julie Jordan), Christopher Innvar (Jigger), Sarah Jean Ford(Carrie Pipperidge), Todd Buonopane (Enoch Snow), Teri Ralston (Nettie Fowler), Leslie Becker (Mrs. Mullins), Todd Thurston (Mr. Bascombe), Peggy Pharr Wilson (Mrs. Bascombe/Principal, Daniel Garrity (Bascombe/Snowchild), Kate Orensteine (Bascombe/Snowchild), Al Blackstone (Carnival Boy), Kristen Paulicelli (Louise), , Ronnie Nelson (Beauties Barker/Policeman), Daniel Marcus (Dr. Selden/Captain/Starkeeper), Christy Morton (Arminy/First Heavenly Friend), Edmund Bagnell (2nd Heavenly Friend/ Enoch Snow, Jr), Hanna Koczela (Snow Child), Emelyn Theriault(Snow Child); also SDavid Kermidas, Kaitlynn Kleinman, Neil O'Brien, Sarah O'Gleby, Deven Walker (Ensemble)
Sets: Robert Mark Morgan
Costumes: Holly Cain
Lighting: Scott Pinkney
Sound: Micheal Eisenberg
Stage Manager: Renee Lutz
Fight Choreographer: Ryan Winkles
Carousel Horse Carver: Sam Craig
From 6/17/09; opening 6/20/09; closing 7/11/09
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at June 21st press opening
If anyone checked out that London review (Sleuth by Brian Clover it wasn't exactly the sort of rave that would prompt a rush to the box office. While Clover recognized the play's cleverness, he found the revival disappointing mainly due to the director's misjudged efforts to update it which he felt undermined the subtleties that made Sleuth a delicious comic sendup of the British detective "cozy" and the precursor of a new mystery genre, the comedy thriller. Instead of leaving well enough alone, the director of that production equipped Andrew Wyke social with a mobile phone and remote-controlled hi-fi. He also "whited-out and minimalized" the set's visual hints at the play's origins in the genre of country house murder in a way completely at odds with everything the snobbish Wyke with his 1950s ruling class values says and thinks. As Brian summed it up, the total effect was "as if Britain's Queen Elizabeth were to open Parliament dressed in DKNY tee-shirt and jeans — stylish perhaps, but decidedly misjudged."
Fortunately, Barrington Stage director Jesse Berger has not made the mistakes of the above production. His design team has indeed taken us back to the full baronial splendor of Wyke's Wiltshire country estate. Except for a poster of one of the author-squire's Detective Merrydew novels the paintings on the wall are traditional portraits, the first sounds we hear is tick-tocking of a grandfather clock and the clack-clack-clack of a manual typewriter. While there may be some Americanization of the dialogue, Berger has wisely steered clear of any modernizing or minimizing. In fact, David Barber's is chockfull of authentic details from painting and antique covered walls and, of course, all manner of games such as chess and snicker as wells a life-sized sailor figure that can be activated into creepy bursts of laughter. The basket in which costumes left over from the early days of the marriage, when Andrew and the never seen Margaret played all manner of dress-up games, is now an eye-popping pull out bookcase closet.
The plot or, as much of it as you need to know, is not your conventional detective story. Instead it revolves around a wily cat and mouse game between a 50-ish successful mystery writer Andrew Wyke and Milo Tindle, the young businessman he invites to his manor house to discuss something urgent: Milo wants to marry Andrew's wife, which the urbane Andrew doesn't object to as long as Tindle's modest means won't send her back after a few years. As Andrew's unusual scheme to keep everybody happy unfolds it juggles themes of deceit, jealousy, game playing, class war, British arrogance and the humiliation of the outsider (Tindle is the part Jewish the son of Italian immigrants). The play, now as than, mnages not to drop any of them.
Ideally, you'll come to Barrington Stage knowing no more than the above bare bones details so that the game playing tricks that begin even as you sit down and peruse your program, will surprise as intended. Not easy — considering that the 1972 film featuring Michael Caine as young Milo Tindle and Laurence Olivier as Andrew Wyke is still available as a DVD, as is a more recent 2007 film scripted by the late Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter in which Caine migrated to the Wyke role and Jude Law played Tindle. But even if the more sophisticated psychological thrillers that Sleuth inspired have made you less likely to be taken in by the play's twisty turns, there's the fact that this is one instance where the scenery upstages the play without sinking it— especially since the two leads manage to evoke the differences that define each of these men's complex natures, and ultimately the likeness that's illustrated when both get caught up in an obsessive need to play the winning hand in their deadly game.
Charles Shaughnessy plays the uber-British gentleman to the hilt (at times threatening to chew up the scenery and insure his rightful place as the real star of the enterprise). Jeremy Bobb, who at first glance doesn't look like a likely lover for the unseen but obviously glamorous Margaret, is terrific both as the soft-spoken Tindle and the darker persona lurking beneath the surface.
Being familiar with the plot, the biggest surprise for me was to suddenly see a connection between this play and the recently seen True West. Both are serious and sad deep down, yet both are darkly comic. Both revolve around the similarities or two-sidedness in our personalities. Both are send-ups of a myth. True West explodes and pays tribute to the myth of the American Western movie; Sleuth takes a look at the murder mystery in which a crime is solved and order is comfortingly restored, and leaves us more realistically at sea.
No doubt, Barrington Stage's future ads will be able to pull quotes more specific to its own production. However, since the Curtainup.com quote is likely to remain in the company's season's brochure, and to answer some questions received from readers who looked up the review in our archives, a clarification in closing: Brian Clover's comparison of the experience of watching Sleuth to playing a game of "Cluedo" (Britspeak for the game of Clue) with Tom Stoppard is accurate in that Stoppard is known for his word play. However, the game lover to whom Anthony Shaffer actually dedicated his play was Stephen Sondheim. Too bad Sondheim never opted to turn his friend's play into a musical.
Barrington Stage Production Notes:
Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer
Directed by Jesse Berger
Cast: Charles Shaughnessy (Andrew Wyke), Jeremy Bobb (Milo Tindle), Sean McNulty (Inspector Doppler), Robert E. Lawson (Detective Sergeaent Tarrant) , Vincent Marks (Police Constable Higgs).
Scenic Design: David Barber
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Sound Design: Brad Berridge
Lighting Design Jeff Davis Stage Manager: Lyndsey Goode
Fight Choreographer: Michael Burnet
Hair & Makeup: Rachel Padula
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
July 16-August 1st
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at July 19th press opening
A Streetcar Named Desire
The original Broadway and movie cast (Jessica Tandy in the play and Vivien Leigh in the film, Marlon Brando, Kim Stanley and Karl Malden on stage and screen) were unforgettable enough to make them a challenge for even the most talented thespians. However, the poetry of Williams' writing and the power of this Southern style Greek tragedy has maintained its hold on our hearts and imagination with other actors. And so we've seen many a Blanche Dubois newly evicted from Belle Reve (French for Beautiful Dream), the ruined family home in Mississippi board the French Quarter bound streetcar named Desire. Her destination is the shabby two-room apartment on Elysian Fields (Greek mythology's land of the dead) where her sister Stella lives with her sexy but brutish husband Stanley Kowalski.
In the more than twelve years Curtainup has been on line, we've reviewed our share of Streetccar. . . productions, including an extreme illustration of what Tom Stoppard refers to as "ordering the information" of a text as part of the staging process (review) and a solo Streetcar. . . and Katrina inspired Fringe piece (Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire. Now we have what's shaping up to be a banner year for well-done, well-cast and as true to the original revivals: New Yorkers are looking forward to seeing it at BAM, Londoners are enjoying a splendid production at the Donmar. And for the rest of this month Berkshirites with an interesting in serious contemporary plays would be remiss not to see Julianne Boyd's handsomely staged production at Barrington Stage, the company she founded and which has contributed so much to the cultural richness of the Berkshires.
Marin Mazzie, best known for her musical theater roles is an interesting choice for the emotionally fragile, fading Southern Belle who has little to bring to her sister's home except desperate self-delusion and an overflowing steamer trunk. She's tall and blonde and not particularly fragile looking. No frilly dress for her, but a neat white suit with only the flared skirt to soften a trim tailored look. But given Blanche's outspoken disdain of Stanley (Christopher Innvar), her haughty manner and aggressive hogging of the bathroom for her endless nerve-soothing baths this is fine as long as Blanche's vulnerability eventually shows through the snobbery and schoolteacher intelligence and her presence raises the tension inside the Kowalski apartment as high as the temperature outside.
The Southern genteel front, notwithstanding, Blanche is as sexually needy as all of Williams' characters, and Mazzie captures that neediness with especially delicious poignancy in a brief scene in which she induces a young man who comes to collect for the newpaper delivery to kiss her (the kiss landing chastely on her cheek). Mazzie also pulls at our heartstrings in her scenes with Mitch (a finely calibrated performance by Kevin Carolan), especially when she tells him about her tragic first marriage to a young poet. Her final "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers " is guaranteed to soak plenty of tissues.
Barrington Stage's favorite leading man, Christopher Innvar, is dark, handsome and muscular enough to make a credibly sexy Stanley. No, he's no Marlon Brando, but, as one of our critics said of another production "Who is? Even Brando isn't Brando any more!" Asking any actor to knock down the Brando image that the film (still available as a DVD) so deeply embedded in viewers' minds, is an almost impossible to fill order. That said, Innvar is a generally satisfactory Stanley. He gets not just the brutishness of the man right, but his insecurity infused love for Stella (an affectingly conflicted Kim Stauffer) which is exacerbated by Blanche's efforts to undermine him to Stella. If there's a downside to his and Mazzie's performance, it's that the sexual tension that's part of the building hostility between Blanche and Stanley is underplayed so that the rape scene that culminates the long hot summer falls somewhat short of the called for snap, crackle and pop.
In the various secondary roles Jennifer Regan stands out as the neighbor who's in as volatile a marriage as the Kowalskis'. Silken-voiced Chavez Ravine and blues musician Thom Rivera contribute mightily to the jazzy atmosphere —perhaps almost too much so since, after a while, the audience at the opening performance applauded them.
Brian Prather has transformed the stage into a slice of New Orleans. The action takes place inside the cramped apartment and moves only ocasionally past the entryway to the curved wrought iron stairway leading to the upstairs apartment. Scott Pinkney's lighting enhances the bits of the street life visible through several large windows facing the street. Elizabeth Flauto's costumes and Brad Berridge's sound design add to the overall excellence of the production values.
If Tennessee Williams and the actors who created the roles of Blanche, Stanley, Stella and Mitch could watch this production from their corner of the heavens reserved for theatrical legends, they would applaud Ms. Boyd and her actors for allowing these incomplete people with whom Williams always identified, live on.
To learn more about Tennessee Williams' life and work, plus quotes and links to other Williams plays reviewed at Curtainup(, see our Tennessee Williams Backgrounder.
Barrington Stage Production Notes
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Cast: Marin Mazzie (Blanche DuBois), Christopher Innvar (Stanley), Kim Stauffer (Stella), and Kevin Carolan (Mitch); also Emily Taplin Boyd (Nurse), Miles Jacoby (Young Collector), John Juback (Steve), Jeff Kent (Doctor), Chavez Ravine (Negro Woman/Blues Singer/Mexican Woman), Thom Rivera (Pablo/Blues Musician), Jennifer Regan (Eunice).
Scenic designer: Brian Prather
Costumes: Elizabeth Flauto
Lighting Scott Pinkney
Sound: Brad Berridge
Fight Choreographer: Michael Burnet
Musical Director: Brian Usifer
Stage Manager: Renee Lutz August 6 through 29.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer after August 9th opening
Stage 2 Shows
Freud's Last Session
Now that I've seen Freud's Last Session instead of just hearing about it, I can see why it's been this season's big little hit, despite essentially being a debate between an atheist and a devout Christian. The atheist, Dr. Sigmund Freud, needs no introduction unless you've been in a long, deep Rip Van Winkle-like sleep, but the name C. S. Lewis might not be as instantly familiar even though his children's books (The Narnia Chronicles, The Screwtape Letters and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) became international best sellers and his writings on Christianity gained influence among religious scholars. At the time of his imagined encounter with Freud, he was still just an up and coming academic, and at forty-one, half Freud's age.
As portrayed by Dold and Rayner, both Lewis and Freud are enormously engaging and often quite funny. Freud's ironic humor pops up almost instantly as he respond's to Lewis' apology about being late with "if I wasn't eighty-three I would say it doesn't matter" and when he describes his dog as his "emotional barometer, " and explains that "if a patient is calm, he stretches out at my feet. But if a patient is agitated, Jo-Fi stands at my side and never takes his eyes off him." Lewis, who expected hostility for having publicly disparaged Freud's work, humorously declares that he is nevertheless an admirer: "Your writings are always thought provoking. When I was a student in University we devoured every book to discover our latest perversions. . . then competed to invent worse." Above all, both come off as terrifically human.
It's almost unavoidable for this sort of discussion play to bea static, talking heads experience, but director Tyler Marchant sees to it that this is kept to a minimum. Marchant is aided in doing so by the inherent drama in the fact that the meeting takes place at the beginning of World War II. Thus, the constant threat of bombings makes gas masks an added accessory of Lewis's attire and on Freud's Greek and Roman artefact cluttered desk. There are also opportunities to add dramatic interruptions from the war visited on Freud by the painful cancer. To add to this intermissionless 75-minute play's assets is the fact that St. Germain has smartly enriched his inspirational source, a book The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi Jr., with words from his protagonists' own published writings.
While both men remain firmly committed to their views, the author remains admirably impartial so that whatever your own beliefs they'll be intact when you leave the theater. The intermittent assaults of the cancer on Freud's ruined jaw give Rayner the more emotionally fraught role. However, as Dold's Lewis doesn't let youth or a certain awe of the more famous man into whose sanctuary he's been admitted intimidate him from firmly defending his beliefs— and on occasion doing so with slyly amusing aggression. His obvious sympathy for Freud's suffering, speaks more positively for his Christianity than anything said. Having previously displayed his ability to add star quality to support roles (as the thoughtless to more sympathetic Count in Cyrano de Bergerac and the drolly uptight Victor in Private Lives—- both at Barrington Stage) it's nice to see Dold get co-star billing. Perhaps next year Barrington Stage Artistic Director Julianne Boyd will find a vehicle in which he can star on the main stage (actually he would have been an interesting Stanley in the current A Streetcar Name Desire.
Judging from the performance I attended I'm not the only one playing catchup. This second coming of Freud's Last Session is a sell out. It's a talky little engine that could — but the talk is consistently interesting.
Freud's Last Session
by Mark St. Germain
Suggested by "The Question of God" by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.
Directed by Tyler Marchant
Cast: Mark H. Dold as C.S. Lewis and Martin Rayner as Sigmund Freud
Set: Brian Prather
Lights: Clifton Taylor
Costumes: Mark Mariani
Sound: Beth Lake
Stage Manager: Kate J. Cudworth
Running Time: Approx. 75 minutes without intermission
June 10, 2009 - June 28, 2009 --and brought back for a late summer run from August 14, 2009 - August 30, 2009— and extended again to September 6th!
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 8/19/09
Underneath the Lintel
Given my preference for more fully populated stages, when Glen Berger's Underneath the Lintel opened at a tiny downtown Manhattan theater I assigned it to one of my trusty backup critics. As it turned out, he wasn't alone to find that Berger had created that rare creature: An intelligent unique story which, though written expressly for a single actor, was nevertheless a full-bodied, provocative play and not just a performance piece.
While off-off-Broadway productions usually have runs not much longer than most at summer theaters, . . .Lintel ran for over a year. And it didn't end there. There have been numerous other productions of Berger's unusual rumination on the meaning of life and death cloaked in the guise of a nondescript Dutch librarian's increasingly obsessive quest after the library patron who borrowed a Baedeker travel guide that mysteriously turns up in the library's overnight slot— 113 years overdue As the librarian-narrator puts it, tracking down that recalcitrant borrower via an "impressive presentation of lovely evidences" makes for a "twisty mystery" that requires close attention and a mind open enough to look beneath the surface of the quirky monologue.
While often amusing, this is not a light summer entertainment. That brings us to Barrington Stage's production of a female version. No need to change names, as Berger's character is named only by her profession. Glynis Bell manages to put a female spin on the intense and increasingly manic searcher without any losses in the play's overall sensibility. It's a good performance even if somewhat too iacto-y. Though the script is marked "Female Version" there are no drastic differences from the original, with perhaps the only notable changes pertaining to the Librarian's regretful memories of an aborted early romance. The setting at Barrington's Second Stage is as aptly simple and similar to the NY version and so, I'm continuing this by inserting most of our original review by Macey Levin, with slight alterations, mostly changing all the he/his references to she/her:
While checking books deposited in the overnight slot at the library in Holland where she is employed, the Librarian finds a book that is 113 years overdue. Because of her sense of responsibility, she sends a notice for the money owed the library to an address she ferrets out from old records.
Barrington Stage Production Notes
Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger
Directed by Andrew Volkoff
Starring Glynis Bell
Scenic Designer: Brian Prather
Costume Designer: Jacob A. Climer
Lighting Designer: Jeff Davis
Sound Designer: Brad Berridge
Stage Manager: Kate J. Cudworth
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
July 8, 2009 - July 28, 2009
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer July 14th