At a time when many summer theaters are closing, the re-opening of the Berkshire Theatre Festival's once hot and uncomfortable smaller stage, The Unicorn, is indeed cause for rejoicing. The handsome new structure is a comfortable space perfectly suited to the BTF's mission of showing new and experimental plays performed by talented but still unknown young actors. So much for the good news. The bad news is that the Unicorn's first offering, L-Play by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Beth Henley is less avant garde than awful. This is less a case of an awful idea as a promising idea run amuck. It lacks all cohesiveness. The play is a a series of loosely related scenes or playlets, all based on the letter L. The result is more a self-indulgent exercise than a fully realized play.
The first scene is promising and hints at a unifying theme of chaos. Perhaps if Henley had titled her play "Chaos" instead of teasing the audience with the conceit of the letter sequence she would have produced a more engaging and substantive whole. There are echoes of more successful experimental endeavors, like Becket's Endgame,. However, Henley's attempt to break out of the mold of her popularity fails to provoke, enlighten or amuse. At the performance I attended there were bursts of laughter from a few members of the audience, but most people sat silently through the intermissionless, joyless enterprise. Exit remarks ranged from "Is she kidding?" to "If this is supposed to be challenging, I'll pass."
All this said, I hasten to praise the staging and the performances which were excellent and even inspired throughout. It seems a shame that so much talent was wasted on this far-from-ready-for prime time work by a playwright who could do so much better and who undermines the BTF's very worthy mission of reserving this space for the more experimental and challenging aspects of the theater.Better luck next season, when the new Unicorn is scheduled to put on more than just one play.
© Copyright August 25, 1996 Elyse Sommer