The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Petrified Forest

You know it's the funniest thing about this place; there's something here that stimulates the autobiographical impulse— Alan Squier
The Petrified Forest
David Adkins and Rebecca Brooksher
1935 in a "nowhere" Black Mesa, Arizona filling station/diner. The Depression has a stranglehold on the country and Franklin Roosevelt's static voice is heard on the radio amidst the twang of country/western music. It's appropriate as much as playwright Robert E. Sherwood, who created The Petrified Forest, became a major speech writer for Roosevelt when he wasn't penning plays and screenplays and books which amounted eventually to four Pulitzer Prizes.

BTG, as part of its ninetieth year celebration, has chosen to pay homage to Sherwood, whose family summered in Stockbridge. One sister performed on the Fitzpatrick stage, while another served on the board of directors for thirty-six years. Three of Sherwood's plays were produced there as well, so this homecoming celebrates the Sherwoods' contribution to the stage as well as the larger world.

This update revival of Sherwood's comedy/drama assembles a disparate collection of "American" types—thirteen in the cast, some double cast— cut down from the original twenty-one. On one portentous night near the symbolically named landmark "Petrified Forest" something is about to happen which alters the course of quotidian ho-hum existence.

Into this crucible Sherwood throws the human ingredients, a few of whom are a pretty waitress who dreams of France, a world-weary intellectual drifter, a Mexican cook, a self-styled hero ex-football player, a well-to-do couple, a notorious criminal and his gang on the run. This collection of political agendas, class distinctions and out-of-reach aspirations continues to resonate with modern times instead of being relegated to a quaint view of the historical 30's. Though seldom performed, this BTG production has been updated and the talented direction and cast make it a worthwhile experience.

Director David Auburn and his fine cast have turned a slice of American history into a worthwhile revisitation of American ideals and disillusionments. Sprinkled with Bolshevik rhetoric, patriotic debates and romantic references to the glories of the wild west, the play crams as many extant American philosophies and points of view into it as there are states in the Union.

It still works although most of us know the film version with Humphrey Bogart as the doomed killer Duke Mantee, Bette Davis as the young waitress aching for a better life, and Leslie Howard, reprising his A Tale of Two Cities Sydney Carton heroics.

As the story opens, Joel Austin and Tre Alexander Dukes as telegraph linemen argue politics with each other and then with Sean Cullen as Jason Maple, veteran and cafe owner. The arguments reflect the conflicting contentious political tenor of the time: misplaced patriotism, a seemingly failed capitalism, the rising possibility of socialism. These are people who are still reeling from World War I and its after-effects, while in the middle of an economic terror over which they have no control. Is it unpatriotic to criticize the government and wonder about other systems? Is it stupid to defend this country right or wrong?

Rebecca Brooksher's Gabby, the owner's luminescent daughter, is a survivor, but wants to do it elsewhere— namely, France where she dreams of poetry and excitement. She is recognizable as an early feminist heroine who knows her mind and her heart and is willing to pay the price for her dreams. Gabby is beautifully realized by Brooksher's endearing strengths and intelligence.

David Adkin's finely nuanced interpretation of Alan Squier is a man whose demons lead him hither and yon. As a failed writer, husband and human being, he spouts lyrical whimsy and noble ideals until more cynical impulses undermine his better impulses. Adkin's Squier has wasted every chance at life and now he exists waiting for a reason to die. The idea of the petrified forest intrigues him and it is here he plans to make his last stand. Jeremy Davidson's Duke Mantee is a controlled yet somewhat likable "bad guy." He avoids the Bogart trap and plays Mantee as a tense cypher who sometimes surprise himself with his own actions. One of the last western criminals—think Billy the Kid— who is part of the glorified past in the story, he is more mythical than menacing. He knows if he doesn't die in this escape that he will soon and there is a whiff of a silent resigned romanticism. He is even respectful to the garrulous Gramp Maple (JohnThomas Waite) whose flapping jaw grates on the other hostages. This hints at a past that perhaps imprinted manners prior to America's political/economic downfall.

Shawn Fagan is the energetic Boze Hertzlinger, the self-aggrandizing gas station attendant whose false bravado and swagger fail to suitably impress the fair Gabby. Though she may consider a dalliance, she is no fool. Fagan's fast talking posturing is a fine counterpoint to Adkin's worldly Squier.

The Chisholms, a society couple driving a Deusenberg, are a stark contrast to the other riffraff. Yet underneath their privileged demeanor we discover just as much dissatisfaction. Jennifer Van Dyck and Walter Hudson shine in what could be predictable, but instead are much more fully realized characters. They provide comic relief, when Jennifer Van Dyck as the wife confesses the emptiness of her life, she reveals the tortured soul beneath her finery.

Costumes by Hunter Kaczorowski express the period through the stylishness of the Chisholms to the Depression work clothing and the criminals in tough guy finery. It is just the right mix to set the time, place and mixed economics of the period.Daniel Kotlowitz's's lighting underscores the gritty realism of the era while Scott Killian's sound creates the atmospheric touches.

The "seen better days" set design by Wilson Chin is authentic right down to the TVA and NRA posters, vintage radio and diner accoutrements of the era. The back wall is left open, black as the lonely desert night and the unpredictable future for the play's denizens. Remember, it's 1935 and we know, even if they don't, that this is not the only darkness on the horizon. Duke Mantee is one of the last wild west desperadoes of that time but the next "bad guys" are about to unleash a world wide horror of epic proportions that will make his transgressions pale by comparison..

Search CurtainUp in the box below Back to Curtainup Main Page

The Petrified Forest By Robert E. Sherwood
Directed by David Auburn
Cast: Cast: David Adkins (Alan Squier) Joel Austin (Lineman 2/Legionnaire) Lauren Baez (Paula) Rebecca Brooksher (Gabby Maple) Joey Collins (Ruby) Sean Cullen (Jason Maple) Jeremy Davidson (Duke Mantee) Tre Alexander Dukes (Lineman 1/Pyles) Jennifer Van Dyck (Mrs. Chisholm) Shawn Fagan (Boze Hertzlinger) Walter Hudson (Mr. Chisholm) John Thomas Waite (Gramp) Devin White (Jackie)
Scenic Design: Wilson Chin
Costume Design: Hunter Kaczorowski
Lighting Design: Daniel Kotlowitz
Sound Designer/Resident Composer: Scott Killian
Stage Manager: Shelby North
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, one intermission
Berkshire Theatre Group's Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge, MA
Opening:8/2/2018; Closing: 8/25/2018
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at August 7, 2018 performance

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The Petrified Forest
  • I disagree with the review of The Petrified Forest
  • The review made me eager to see The Petrified Forest
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted at to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter

©Copyright 2018, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from