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A CurtainUp Feature
Berkshire Summer 2012 Retrospective
By Elyse Sommer
Index of Topics:
The Women who head the Berkshires' Main Venues
Links to All Berkshire Reviews and Features
Another summer in the lovely Berkshire mountains that were once again awash with cultural treats. In music Tanglewood's three Saturday afternoon performances by the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) musicians helmed by the terrific Paul Haas at Ozawa Hall were the seasons best and most affordable concerts. I can't think of another area as rich in music, dance and theatrical offerings which can boast that its major arts venues are run by and/or founded by women. And it's these women's challenges and management style that has played a big part in the pleasures and pitfalls of this season's arts and entertainment scene.
The Women who head the Berkshires' Main Entertainment Venues
The magical haven for dance enthusiasts, Jacobs' Pillow in Beckett, continues to thrive under the helmsmanship of the dynamic Ella Baff. Though Tina Packer, Shakespeare & Company's founder and long-time artistic director, has turned the baton over to the charming and able Tony Simotes, the company's main stage was renamed for her. A well-deserved honor! Following a rundown of Kate Maguire (Berkshire Theatre Group), Jenny Gersten (Williamstown Theatre Festival) and Julianne Boyd's (Barrington Stage) seasons.
Berkshire Theatre Group
Kate Maguire added the new title of CEO to that of Artistic Director when the venerable Berkshire Theatre Festival merged with Pittsfield's long dark but expensively and beautifully renovated Colonial Theater. Maguire deserves a shout out for having the guts to take on an additional theater, especially one that calls for big, fully staged shows but doesn't have a population or the funds to support them more than occasionally. The Colonial does afford Maguire's organization, now called The Berkshire Theatre Group, to mount big musicals, complete with a pit orchestra. The big show this year was a very handsome production of A Chorus Line.
Maguire had a good idea in pairing her big musical with A Class Act, a smaller show about Chorus Line's lyricist Ed Kleban. Unfortunately, the production at the Unicorn Theatre was a misfire and Maguire's season overall landed two crowd pleaser besides A Chorus Line — the world premiere of Edith and Brace Yourself, both at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, with the latter a sit-comish but well-written and performed comedy helmed by actor James Naughton.
Barrington Stage's founder and artistic director Julianne Boyd continued her company's role as a vibrant presence in Pittsfield. Her savvy pricing structure, her knack for mounting crowd-pleasing but not crowd pandering productions of revivals at the main stage, and interesting new works in their smaller second stage have made Barrington Stage the Berkshires' most popular and successful theatrical enterprise. It's also enabled them to buy their second stage. It's named for playwright Mark St. Germain who penned the wildly successful Freud's Last Session (it's currently a big hit in Buenos Aires, a city passionate about psychotherapy). It looks as if St. Germain has created another hit with Dr. Ruth All the Way . Once it's trimmed down during its reprise this Fall, this Barrington Stage hit is more than likely to move to Off-Broadway as Freud's Last Session did.
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Jenny Gersten's second summer as Williamstown Theatre's artistic director was more of a hit and miss proposition than Ms. Boyd's home run season. Gersten's willingness to try newfangled ideas is admirable. Unfortunately, like last year's A Doll's House, which substituted Nora's famous final door slam with her husband's smacking the couch with his golf club, David Hyde Pierce's Runyonesque take on The Importance of Being Earnest was equally misconceived. While I didn't see Turgenev's A Month In the Country in time to review it, the always compelling playwright and director Richard Nelson's new vision for staging and casting it didn't really add up to a hot ticket. Reviews (including one by the New York Times chief critic) and word of mouth were decidedly underwhelming.
Given that WTF always attracts world class actors and probably has more plays landing on prestigious New York Stages than other local venue, it was not surprising that the sexiest man on the screen playing the ugliest man, famously dramatized as The Elephant Man, was a hard to get ticket. It would no doubt have been the better part of financial wisdom to put the less crowd pleasing Turgenev in the seond stage, and put Cooper in the larger house.
What continues to surprise me about WTF is that Ms. Gersten, who is young and adventurous, seems to still believe that she protects shows in development or actors preferring to perform away from the critical spotlight by allowing critics geared to local audience, but not those with a national readership to file reviews. New Yorkers had no problem reading all the "strictly local" reviews on widely read internet sites like Talking Broadway and Broadway Stars. At the risk of sounding a bit cranky since Curtainup fits WTF's national readership profile, I do think the review policy would be fairer on an everyone or no one basis.
The decisions faced by Artistic Directors with more than one venue are always tricky. The brief two week run of the inventive Split Knuckle Company's Endurance that Shakespeare & Company was smart enough to host is a case in point. However, sandwiched in between S&C's The Tempest and King Lear on the Main stage, the company didn't build the audience it deserved until its final week. It would have found its audience immediately at the company's smaller, contemporary play geared theater. By the time another new play, Terry Teachout's Satchmo at the Waldorf, hit the Main Stage, the Shakespeare plays had closed and given its star, John Douglas Thompson's popularity with local theater goers, there was no problem about attracting ticket buyers for this one. I should add that while this was billed as a still unofficial premiere, there were no restrictions about reviewing the Lenox production, even from "temporary" locals with a large New York readership like yours truly.
Given that old-fashioned farces or solo plays aren't exactly at the top of my list of favorite genres, Barrington Stage's production of Stephen King's '40s See How They Run, was so well done that it had even sourpuss, farce-resistant audience members like me in stitches.
The season saw somewhat too many solo performances. Still the interesting people profiled made a . strong case for the genre. Berkshire favorite Tod Randolph portrayed not one but two plays about fascinating women: Journalist Dorothy Thompson in Cassandra Speakss at Shakespeare & Company's Elaine Bernstein Theater, and author Edith Wharton, in The Inner House, this summer's offering from the Wharton Salon in the Stables Theater at Wharton's erstwhile Lenox estate, The Mount. Barrington Stage's world premiere of Mark St. Germain's Dr. Ruth All the Way, was not only about a charismatic, still living character, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, but staged dynamically enough to overcome the stasis that is the solo play's biggest risk. The already mentioned Satchmo at the Waldorf added a male to the solo mix.
Predictions Changes galore for Far From Heaven, the musical version of the film of the same name. While a big ticket seller, presented as a showcase production at Williamstown will be a far different musical (possibly with a new book writer) by the time it lands in New York.
New York lives for Berkshire Premieres.
My sense that the sexiest man of the movies, Bradley Cooper, reprising his role as the ugliest man in the world, AKA The Elephant Man, would have another run on Broadway was confirmed via an interview with Cooper in which he stated "We're going to try to do it on Broadway next fall," adding "we're going to try to nail it down and do a limited run. My guess it will be by the Roundabout Theaters with which Ellis is associated.
A trimmed down version of Dr. Ruth All the Way is more than likely give it the "legs" to move to New York, probably to a small off-Broadway venue and Satchmo at the Waldorf, may move beyond the already scheduled Connecticut run, if it fixes enough of the problems still needing to be addressed.
Despite major problems, Far From Heaven is already set for Playwrights Horizon's 2013 season though my guess is that it will be a far different production than the one seen at Williamstown (posibly even a whole new book). As for the WTF showcase of WHADDABLOODCLOT!! by up and coming playwright Katori Hall that's scheduled to be shown at the new Signature Center in New York, whatever its merits or shortcomings, it has my nomination as the most gimmicky, hard to remember title on any stage.
Links to all Summer 2012 Reviews and Features
For a list of links including past seasons go here
All My Sons -Barrington Stage
Animals Out of Paper- Chester Theatre
Brace Yourself -BTG
Cassandra Speaks- Shakespeare & CO
A Class Act- BTG
Dr. Ruth, All the Way-Barrington Stage
Edith - BTG
Endurance -Shakespeare & Co
Far From Heaven --WTF
Fiddler on the Roof -Barrington StateStage
Homestead Crossing- -BTG
The Importance of Being Earnest-WTF
The Inner House-Wharton Salon
King Lear- Shakespeare & CO
Last of the Red Hot Lovers-WTF
The North Pool -BarringtonStage
Parasite Drag. Shakespeare & Co -
Running- Chester Theater
Satchmo at the Waldorf - Shakespeare & Co
See How They Run- Barrington Stage
The Tempest - Shakespeare & Co
A Thousand Clowns -BTG
We are Women: A Bernstein Cabaret - BTG