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Chester Theatre's Summer 2009 Season

Show Features/Reviews: Railroad Bill |Love Song|Dov and Ali

About this All-In-One Format:These omnibus pages for individual theater organizations include facts about the entire schedule even though our limited human resources may not make it possible to review all the shows. However, every show reviewed will be added on this page. If you're looking for something seen in past seasons, click on our Berkshires archives . See our news page for schedules of theaters we don't cover or only occasionally—Berkshire news page.

Since summer theater productions run such a short time, instead of retiring each show after it makes way for the next production, we're putting details and reviews of shows at a particular theater on one page so that everything remains at your fingertips. No need to click to the archives unless you are looking for something from a past season.

Chester Theatre Company at the Chester Town Hall 15 Middlefield Road Chester, MA 01011 413-354-7771.
All regular performances take place Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 8pm, with matinees on Thursdays and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets this season are $28-$32 with group rates and flex passes available. Check the web site--— for details.

Dov and Ali

. . .I think we should look to our traditions as though they were maps. I think you think so too.—Ali
Why do you want me to think so too?—Dov
I think it would make your life easier.—Ali

Dov and Ali
Manish Dayal as Ali and Benjamin Pelteson as Dov
(Photo: Rick Teller)
It's been just a month since I saw the American premiere of 29-year-old playwright Anna Ziegler's play about the relationship between Dov, a Jewish high school English teacher in Detroit and Ali, a Muslim immigrant in Dov's class. While requiring the audience to suspend questioning the characters' actions too closely tor the play to fully rise to its lofy ambition of revealing these two young men's personal problems in relation to their backgrounds and within the larger scope of modern global struggles, Ms. Ziegler did manage to imbue her version of what George Bernard Shaw called his discussion plays with warmth and considerable dramatic flair. The New York production, at a small off-off-Broadway venue (about the size of the Chester Theater) was innovatively directed and well acted. My prediction that it was a play likely to have a life in other small regional theaters was bolstered by an announcement about the production that is now at the Chester Theater. The New England premiere's Dov and Ali has a different director, cast and design team, but it's a little too close to my June viewing and review for another full review. So here's a picture of the Chester production and the production notes. For more about the play, click to my review of the New York premiere here.

Postscript I did manage to see the Chester staging on its final day. While director Michelle Tattenbaum's visual presentation of the play's was various locations was different from the one I saw at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York's Greenwich Villat, it too was simple and effective. The four actors put their own spin on the roles, with Heddy Lahmann especially fine as Dov's blonde Shiksah girlfriend. And while this director and these actors were no more able to turn a flawed play into a perfect one, seeing this Dov and Ali confirmed my feeling that Ana Ziegler is a playwright with a future and that this particular play is likely to make its way to quite a few other small theaters. —Elyse Sommer, July 12, 2009.

Chester Theater Production Details
Dov and Ali by Anna Ziegler
Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum
Cast (in order of speaking): Sameh Lipica Shah (Sameh), Benjamin Pelteson (Dov}, Manish Dayal (Ali), * Heddy Lahmann (Sonya)
Set Design: Sean A. Cote
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
Costume Design Heather Crocker Aulenbach
Sound Design : James McNamara
Stage Manager: Kate DeCoste
Approx 80 minutes without an intermission
From July 1, 2009 to July 12, 2009

Love Song

I think a person can have you at gunpoint whether or not they have a gun. — Beane
When our London critic Charlotte Loveridge reviewed this three years ago, Kovenbach's one-act play featured a starry cast and slick production. The Chester Theater production mounts it with less well known actors and a simpler setting but simple has not kept this theater from drawing more and more Berkshire theater goers to its home in the Chester Town Hall. Depending on your inclination for eccentric, quirky entertainment, this may be just the thing for a summer's night out. For details about the plot, check out our original review of Kovenbach's cleverly written script here

Production Notes
Love Song by John Kovenbach
Directed by Byam Stevens
July 15-26. Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission The Chester production, , is as confounding as the script. Paden Fallis (Beane), Manon Halliburton (Molly), Mary Cavett (Joan), Paul Ricciardi (Joan's husband) Set by Charles Corcoran

rds (Chester Theatre Berkshires - 2009
Railroad Bill

Racially, the only color I see is green—Abe
Charles Stransky and Melissa Miller
(Photo: Rick Teller)
The literary memoir has become one of the most profitable genres of the book business. Naturally, a literary agent with a diminishing list of high earning clients is likely to pounce eagerly at the chance to sell the journal written by a black man long dead but but still remembered for his legendary exploits as a train robber. And a playwright looking for a way to satirize our society's baser instincts and also exploring the spectrum of racial identity in today's rainbow-colored America, could do a lot worse than building his plot around the discovery of such a journal and its journey from a box in the basement of a Florida house to the New York office of a hungry for a hit literary agent. With Railroad Bill, now being given its world premiere by the Chester Theatre Company, E R Edwards has done just that.

Edwards tosses enough surprises into the farcical bidding war for the legendary black Robin Hood's story as actually penned by him instead of through hearsay and song, to make my job easy since I can't tell you too much about the twists and turns without spoiling your getting caught by surprise. That's not to say that some of the second act revelations can't be predicted from the moment Samantha, the attractive young Floridian who discovered the Railroad Bill's journal steps into the Abe Isaac Agency office to find herself dealing with Abe's African-American intern Jess. But whether or not you guess just how the fight for the best deal for the journal ends, rest assured that Edwards WILL tie up all the lose ends as to who gets what. So much for what you'll learn about the plot from me and on to how well Edwards succeeds in developing it and whether the director and the actors bring out its strengths.

Having spent more than twenty years of my life as a literary agent any play with a book publishing background is irresistible. Being a David Mamet fan, the company's press releases referring to Edward as being in the Mamet tradition heightened my anticipation. Sad to say, I was disappointed on both counts.

Granted, this being a farce, one expects a certain amount of literary license and the attendant omission of authentic details. However, this picture of the publishing business is sheer fantasy. Authors or, as is the case here, owners of a literary property, are never present at negotiations between agents and potential publishers as Samantha is here. For that matter, from the looks of the somewhat ragged looking journal, this is a property more likely to be offered "as is" to an antiquarian dealer than a literary agent.

While the character of Abe does bear some resemblance to the kind of characters found in Mamet's real estate slimeballs (Glengarry Glenn Ross) and Hollywood sharks (Speed-the-Plow), it's a surface resemblance. Mamet's characters come to life because they speak in a unique cadence that many have tried to imitate but few, including Edwards, have done successfully. A scene in which Abe uses a box of donuts as a metaphoric prop, to teach his intern the fine points of deal making might come closer to Mametian panache if Charles Stransy played the Abe a little less broadly.

The acting overall is competent with Terry Alexander coming off best as the somewhat mysterious and almost menacing Jones. Sam Fleming provides Samantha with more outfits than what's found in David Towlun's bare bones set. Fortunately Melissa Miller looks terrific in all of them and the undistinguished looking set does enable the audience to comprehend the shifts from Abe's office to a restaurant to Samantha's bedroom.

In the light of the recent brouhaha over the arrest of Harvard's Professor Gates, race is by no means a dead issue just because we have an African-American president. In fact, the title of a Broadway bound play by the very David Mamet to whose style Edwards' script is likened, is Race. While Railroad Bill, is not likely to make it to Broadway, with some characters and dialogue tweaking it may well enjoy a life in other small theaters.

Production Notes
Railroad Bill by TJ Edwards
Directed by Regge Life
Cast: Terry Alexander (Jones), Warren Jackson (Jess), Melissa Miller (Samantha), Charles Stransky (Abe Isaacs)
Set Design: David Towlun
Lighting: Lara Dubin
Sound: Tom Shread
Stage Manager: Danielle Buccino
July 29-August 9.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer August 2nd

August 12-23. Lee Blessing's A Body of Water in which Moss and Avis, a middle aged couple wake up one morning in a beautiful summer house overlooking a body of water. There's only one problem - they can't remember who they are. Curtainup reviewed Primary Stages production of this in NY-- the review.

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