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Shakespeare & Company Summer 2010 Season
By Elyse Sommer
Main Stage -Founders Theater (an *asterisk next to a title indicates the show details include a review) As You Like It */a>June 24–September 4 | Romeo and Juliet July 8–September 3 | The Hound of the Baskervilles* July 21–September 4
Elayne P. Bernstein Theater (an *asterisk next to a title indicates the show details include a review): The Hollow Crown* | The Memory of Water* June 16–September 4 | The Two Gentlemen of Verona July 6–September 3 | Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins * August 3–September 4
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 . Also check out our Berkshres news page for news about theaters we don't cover or only occasionally— Berkshire news page and Berkshires Archives-links to past reviews and features .
Shakespeare & Company
70 Kemble St., Lenox, (413) 6371199
Schedules vary enormously, so check the company's Web Site.
Overview of the company's summer. The aim is to meet the challenges inherent in this economic climate, by offering a full menu but with an eye on the budget. This means a number of offerings are replays of what the company considers its biggest hits-- keeping rehearsal time, costume and other costs in check.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona--Lunchbox Shakespeare
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Dennis Krausnick
Featuring the Performance Intern Company
July 6–September 3 A continuation of the popular Lunchbox series performed by our l Performance Intern Company. With a delicious boxed lunch before the show—prepared by our in-house chef—for just $10! July 6–September 3
As You Like It
By Gloria Miller
Shakespeare's brilliantly imagined and realized pastoral examination of the duality of nature, man and just about everything else has been mined by director Tony Simotes and a multi-talented cast for every innuendo, comic turn, burlesque and slapstick physical interpretation allowing waves of exquisite linguistic images to swirl about the Founder's Theatre and envelop the audience in a rich, sensual exploration of love and its transformative power.
Simotes has chosen to set his Forest of Arden on the outskirts of A Roaring Twenties Paris, where the usurping Duke Frederick has established an autocratic rule after banishing his brother, the rightful Duke Senior, both played by the versatile Johnny Lee Davenport. It is Merritt Janson as Rosalind, the disenfranchised niece, abetted by her cousin Celia (Kelley Curran) who sweep our very breath away with ebullient and heartbreaking love for each other and youthful belief that exile to Arden is a gift to. ". . .to liberty, and not banishment." Janson's Rosalind, one of Shakespeare's most fully realized females, is a whirlwind of conflicted school girl giddiness and shrewd worldly wise stratagems. Curran's loyal Celia is her earthier counterpart and her facial expressions add a knowing juxtaposition to Janson's breathless verbal acrobatics. Yet she is not immune to the forest's ability to lure her into love.
Rosalind's romantic counterpart, Orlando, played winningly by Tony Roach, has also been on the receiving end of life's negative fortunes. In a parallel theme to the Duke's story, Orlando's brother, Oliver, has succumbed to jealousy and greed. Though both are sons of a nobleman, beloved by the exiled Duke, Oliver has denied his father's wishes, his brother's legal rights and his own brotherly love. Oliver has arranged a murderous match with Charles the Wrestler, (Kevin O'Donnell) staged as an over orchestrated, machismo smack down in hopes of ridding himself of his gentler brother.
The moment that Rosalind and Orlando meet is fraught with tension as well as the silliness of youthful passion. Their limbs embody the very idea of love at first sight as they visibly shudder, and even Orlando's toes wiggle in response to the electricity that passes between the two beautiful and irrepressible young people.
To escape Oliver's murderous wrath, Orlando seeks refuge in Arden's safety. Accompanied by the faithful Malcom Ingram's Adam, the two wander into the forest and eventually come across the honest company of the Duke Senior and his merry men. Orlando also reunites with the two women whom he does not recognize as he papers the forest with his poetic declarations of love for the seemingly lost Rosalind. But she is now disguised as the bold and wily youth Ganymede, who decides to further probe Orlando's mettle and true love in a passionate test of wits.
Meanwhile, the fool Touchstone who has also accompanied the two disguised royal ladies into the forest has found a sexy wench, Audrey, who matches his lustiness and bawdy humor, though not his brains. Jonathan Epstein imbues his priceless performance of brilliant pithy comments and comic though truthful barbs, with the subtext of a man who knows exactly how the world works and chooses to cope with a sly wink, shoulder shrug and cheap laugh.
Tod Randolph's androgynous Jaques, is a brilliant casting choice. Randolph's ability to observe the genial good humored hi-jinks and human chaos is cloaked in a dark suit and cool demeanor, which reminds us that this frolic is mere respite from more serious matters. She is the dark to the light, without being dour-a very fine clarification. And we are drawn to Jaques's pensive insight into the fate of mankind on this earth. Randolph's rendering of the most famous "All the world's a stage" soliloquy is sensitive yet filled with the world weary ennui of one who has seen it all before. The subplot of Phebe (Dana Harrison)and Silvius (Ryan Winkles) as a mismatched pair of very unlikely and obsessed lovers rounds out the forest chaos with slyly edgy performances.
Along with the jazzy, Django Reinhardt upbeat nature of the music of this play, there is an interlude of melancholy as the soldiers of the forest, dressed as French Foreign Legionnaires, sing a funeral dirge to their fallen comrades. Jaques, and the audience serve as prescient foils to the horrors we know will follow the exuberant '20's. The duality of our natures will reassert itself as human peace and war is always in the state of flux, as is love and hate. Music director and sound designer Alexander Sovronsky has flexed his musical genius to enhance Shakespeare’s story.
The set and lighting of this production underscore its mutability. At times the curtains are billowy clouds over the City of Lights, then with simple backlighting a tangled forest, as the city morphs into trunks and baggage trolleys. When the soldiers sing, the barbed wire of the trenches once more appears though the tangled trees, bearing witness to the past. Set designer, Sandra Goldmark and lighting designer Les Dickert combine their talents to weave a spell around the cast and audience and enfold them in this three hour enchantment.
This standout production is perfect for a high summer evening's entertainment.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare Directed by Tony Simotes Cast: Wolfe Coleman (Oliver martext/Ensemble), Jonathan Croy (Corin), Kelley Curran (Celia), Johnny Lee Davenport (Duke Senior/Duke Frederick), Jonathan Epstein (Touchstone), Dana Harrison (Phebe), Ross Bennett Hurwitz (Amiens/Ensemble), Malcolm Ingram (Adam), Jennie M. Jadow (Audrey), Merritt Janson (Rosalind), Josh Aaron McCabe (Oliver), Equiano Mosieri (LeBeau), Kevin O'Donnell (Charles the Wrestler), Sam Parrott (Dennis/William/Ensemble), Tod Randolph (Jaques), Tony Roach (Orlando), Ryan Winkles (Silvius) Assistant director & choreographer: Rebecca Holderness Fight choreography: Tony Simotes Scenic design: Sandra Goldmark Costume design: Arthur Oliver Lighting design: Les Dickert Composer, Sound designer & music director: Alexander Sovronsky Production stage manager: Hope Rose Kelly Running Time: 2 hours 55 minutes; one 15 minute intermissions From: 6/24/11; Opening: 7/1/11; closing 9/04/11 Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 16 performance
Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniela Varon
July 8–September 3
Cast: Susannah Millonzi (Juliet), Malcolm Ingram (Lord Capoulet), Kelly Curran (Lady Capulet), Starla Benford (Nurse to Juliet), Equiano Mosieri (Tybalt), Kate Abbruzzese (Rosaline/ Abram/ Page to Paris), Paul D’Agostino (Sampson/ Tybalt’s follower/ Friar John/ First Watch), Wesley Cooper (Peter/ Petruchio/ Second Watch), David Gelles (Romeo), Johnny Lee Davenport (Lord Montague), Renee Margaret Speltz (Lady Montague), Sam Parrott (Benvolio), Ross Bennett Hurwitz (Balthasar), Tony Roach (Escalus), Kevin O’Donnell (Mercutio), Wolfe Coleman (Paris), Walton Wilson (Friar Laurence).
Sets: Sandra Goldmark
Costumes: Kiki Smith
Lighting: Les Dickert
Composer/Sound: Scott Killian
Movement director/Choreographer: Susan Dibble
Fight director/fight choreographer: Edgar Landa
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Th is spoof of Conan Doyle's story was conceived by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, with Nicholson casting himself as Dr. Watson. After a successful tour it landed at London's Duchess Theatre. Shakespeare & Company gave it trial run at its smaller Bernstein Theater last fall and has now expanded its comic scope for the Main Stage, again directed by Tony Simotes who's previously tickled audiences' funny bone in with The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr(abridged), enough so to reprise it twice (in 2001 and 2003).
The Hound of The Baskervilles captures the same delicious silliness, with the laughs inflated by quirky sound effects (footsteps crunching on gravel, barking dogs, don't ask!), turn-on-a-dime sets, costume and persona changes. Like the hilarious British and Broadway productions of Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (that one had four actors) this laugh-geared spin actually follows the original plot except that it's all jokey cleverness.
Given the incredible timing of the hard-working actors and the terrific support from the equally talented crafts team, the jokes and all the clever physical business really work. The fact that the actors at times crack up at their own antics and break the fourth wall to involve the audience, adds to the fun. Josh Aaron McCabe plays the Sherlock Holmes and after sending his sidekick, the bumbling Dr. Watson (the excellent Jonathan Croy who is a veteran of the Abridged Shakespeare productions), to the Baskerville family estate to unravel the mystery behind the Hell-hound metamorphoses into numerous other characters —, most memorably the sexy Flamenco dancing Cecile with whom Sir Henry Baskerville (a spot-on and also very versatile Ryan Winkles) is smitten . McCabe's stint in Charles Ludlum's The Mystery of Irma Vep, another quick-change/small cast spoof, stands him in good stead. The first meeting with Sir Henry in a Turkish bath is another highlight.
In case you get lost in all the comic plot complications, the second act opens with a hilarious and even faster paced reprise of all of everything that happened in the first act. This reprise comes complete with the various costume and prop changes. If you're familiar with how the story continues, you'll nevertheless have plenty of surprises in the way of creative outrageousness and sight gags cooked up before Sherlock Holmes closes the case.
The Hound of the Baskervilles By Steven Canny and John Nicholson
Directed by Tony Simotes
Cast: Jonathan Croy, Josh Aaron McCabe, Ryan Winkles
Sets by Jim Youngerman
Costumes by Giovane Lohbauer
Lights by Stephen Ball
Composer ALexander Sovronsky
Sound by Michael Pfeiffer
Choreography by Kristin Wold
, Stage Manager, Hope R ose Kelly. July 21–September 4
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at July 22nd press opening
The Memory of Water
By Elyse Sommer
It's been 13 years since I saw Shilagh Stephenson's first play, The Memory of Water, at New York's Manhattan Theater Club. The action revolves around a funeral that brings together the chief mourners — three sisters with little in common except that they all still live with the unhealthy legacies of their childhood with the mother they've come to bury. Given that occasions like this tend to throw already tense family relationships into a dither prompting extremes of behavior, it gave Stephenson ample opportunity to indulge her inclination to make everything come out funny. Consequently what basically fell under the rubric of tragedy, better fitted the portmanteau genre of dramedy.
Call it what you will, The Memory of Water was an impressive enough debut play to forgive its more obvious structural devices and cliches — like a tin that's a Pandora's box holding a long ago secret, a ticking biological clock, unreliable lovers, an extended drunk scene. Some of the gallows humor actually was quite funny. The middle sister's occasional visitations from the dead mother's ghost worked to fill in loose ends in the family history and as a pause from the more frantic interactions that are part of packing up the mother's belongings.
The biggest laugh was actually provoked by the oldest sister Teresa's husband Frank who, when she temporarily abandons her health food regime and obsessive organizing to take more than a few drinks (as well as puffs from her younger sister's reefer) is roused to declare "I hated Hannah and Her Sisters. I hate Woody Allen." What he's really complaining about, of course, is his life, and particularly his marriage, which began with a date on which he pretended to like the movie. By the time Stephenson became a playwright, the Allen movie Frank professes to hate had become a classic and Memory. . . gave more than a few intimations of being an homage to it. Within the narrower framework of a couple of days at the seaside home where they grew up (Hannah stretches over three Thanksgiving gatherings) and the single visual focal point of the dead mother's bedroom (Hannah roams all over Manhattan), Memory echoes that movie's primary theme: The attempt by three sisters to deal with the fallout of their shared but differently remembered family history.
Given that The Memory of Water no longer has that special charm that comes with discovering the work of a new playwright with obvious talent, and that Allen's film, while still available as a DVD is no longer quite the hot item it once was, the question about Shakespeare & Company's production at the Bernstein theater is does it hold up?
The answer is yes and no. Dealing with death and laying childhood ghosts to rest along with a less than perfect mother is an always relevant theme, and Stephenson's play still has enough strengths and sparkle in its dialogue to offset the cliches and overcooked comic businesS. That said, the cliched elements somehow seem more in need of toning down rather than being ratcheted up as they are in this production. The anti-Hannah and Her Sisters diatribe by Frank is still a comic highlight and, in fact, Jason Asprey's Frank is the most likeable and memorable character on stage. His more grounded presence is more necessary than ever given that director Kevin G. Coleman has done little to aim for more subtlety for the sisters' madcap rummaging through the mother's overstuffed armoire which is especially true of his over-emphasizing Elizabeth Aspenlieder's manic clothes shopping and telephone pursuit of her latest of many go-nowhere boyfriends. It's as if he wants to use Stephenson's play to have Aspenlieder reprise her hit solo performance in Theresa Rebeck's Bad Dates . last summer. Kristin Wold is also directed to overdo oldest sister Therese's managerial excesses.
The strongest character remains the middle sister Mary (Corinna May) a vaguely discontented successful doctor with an equally successful lover Mike (Nigel Gore), who is, alas, married. May, like the other five actors, is a Shakespeare & Company veteran and she is superb as the character who changes the most by the time. Except for the tendency to overplay the comic quirks, especially of the immature, inappropriate clothes-crazy Catherine, all the actors do good work, and that includes Annette Miller as Vi, the ghostly vision in green tafetta who's visible and audible only to Mary though her influence and demand to be understood rather than buried and forgotten is driving the oldest and younger sister as well. All deliver good teamwork and do their British accents well and without slippage (Actually, there's nothing especially English about this play and it could easily be done in an American setting and without accents).
The visual elements are well executed. Patrick Brennan's bedroom has a symbolic crack over the bed. Kara D. Midlam fills mum's armoire wit plenty of tacky party dresses and hats for the scene when the sisters, instead of just packing things up for the inevitable post-funeral charity donations, play dress up and remember. She also fills Catherine shopping bag with aptly outrageous outfits, including a funeral outfit. Stephen Ball's lighting keeps the snow storm that brings Nigel Gore's Dr. Mike on scene shivering with the cold that's as symbolically present as that crack on the wall.
In case you're wondering about the title, it alludes to the homeopathic concept which suggests that water is capable of preserving a memory of particles dissolved in it. This property allows water to retain the properties of the dissolved substance, even if it is no longer traceable in the solution. Thus while Vi has left the earthly coil, her effect on each of her three daughters remains as the dramatic foundation stone. A 2002 film version used a different title, Before You Go. For my review of another CallaghanS play, An Experiment With An Air Pump click here.
Production Notes The Memory of Water By Shelagh Stephenson
Directed by Kevin G. Coleman
Cast: Annette Miller (Vi), Corinna May (Mary), Kristin Wold (Teresa), Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Catherine), Nigel Gore (Mike),Jason Asprey (Frank)
Set Designer: Patrick Brennan
Costume Designer: Kara D.Midlam
Lighting Designer: Stephen Ball
Sound Designer: Michael Pfeiffer
Stage Manager: Zachary Krohn
June 16-September 4, 2011
Running time: About two hours fifteen minutes plus one fifteen minute intermission
June 16–September 4
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on June 29th
Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins
it does need a star, someone with the same sort of larger than life personality as Ivins to bring the Engels' rather homiletic script to theatrical life. At Shakespeare & Company, any play featuring the company's dynamic founder, Tina Packer, is a star attraction. The British born and trained Shakespeare expert who most recently wrote Women of Will, an epic exploration of women's roles in the Bard's canon in which she also performed. But she's also very much politically engaged, with many of the company's events reflecting her deep concerns about the state of her adopted nation. Packer would thus seem to be a natural to bring this Ivins tribute to Berkshire audiences.
Okay, so a Texas drawl is a far remove from Packer's rich British accent. And if you ever saw Ivins, neither does Packer look much like the tall Texan, even with a blonde pony tail wig, cowboy hat and red boots. In fact, though Packer and Ivins would surely have enjoyed each others company had there been a chance for them to become friends, the role isn't a particularly good fit.
Maybe Ms. Packer will settle into the part more organically during the rest of the run. However, there's just so much you can do to make this script a durable theater piece rather than a well-intentioned homage. The old-fashioned AP teletype machine is an adequate if rather lame device to serve as the organizing element and time machine to take you through highlights of Ivins' life and career.
Under the direction of Jenna Ware, Ivins' sharp wit has soft edges. The private life segments has more details about her complicated relationship with her father than the love affairs that never came to anything.
The earliest of her pieces we hear her read is her Elvis obituary. Other hot off that AP wire stories are interspersed with projections that don't ramp up the theatricality factor nearly as effectively as those in The Hollow Crown. This documentary style slide show does become more emotional as it moves forward in time. Though the overall story has its share of political stuff, the emphasis is on folksiness.
Still, Ivins was, as our Philadelphia critic noted, a passionate and compassionate social critic. She had the mouth, keyboard and brains to pack up her outspoken observations, and there is indeed something moving to be able to appreciate the memory of one strong widely admired woman through the performance of another.
White the authors have been quoted as wanting audiences to take away a complete portrait of Molly Ivins rather than just the zingers for which she was famous, it's that quotable "kick-ass wit" that allows this 90 minute monologue to gain altitude. Sure, there's emotional substance, especially towards the heart-wrenching finale, but the zingers are the show's driving force and message.
As for the message, it culminates in a passionate, if preachy, plea from her last column "These are some bad, ugly and angry times, and I'm freaked out. Hate has stolen the conversation. The poor are now voting against themselves. Politics isn't about left and right; it's about up and down. . .I'm claiming all future freedom fighters as my kin. Freedom and justice beats having my name in marble any day." Clearly, even when terminally ill, Molly Ivins loved to celebrate "the sheer joy of a fight." She must have been quite a woman. Too bad Ivins and this tribute to her is, like so many such plays, reaching an in-synch chorus. Too bad someone like Tina Packer can't take it for a run in Dallas to shore up its Democratic constituents and maybe hit a nerve with some thinking Republicans.
Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins
by Margaret Engel and Allison Engel
Cast:Tina Packer as Molly Ivins and Harry Wilken as Newsboy
Costumes: Govane Lohbauer
Stage Manager/Light Operator: Tom Kelly
Set/Props: Patrick Brennan
Lighting: Steven Ball
Sound: Michael Pfeiffer
August 3–September 4
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer August 7th
The Hollow Crown
The ask a busy person maxim also applies to Jonathan Epstein, long esteemed as an actor at Shakespeare & Company as well as at Berkshire Theater Festival. Given that he's on stage in As You Like It at the Founders' Theater, he was wearing his actor's hat and unable to be on hand for the first performance (and also the official opening!) of his first directing stint. Epstein the director is as impressive as Epstein the actor.
Originally conceived In 1961 by John Barton for the Royal Shakespeare Company as an an entertainment to fill in for a run of Hecuba which Vanessa Redgrave had to cancel to recuperate from surgery, The Hollow Crown proved to be a major success and it's since been a showcase for some 70 notable actors. The published version by Samuel French adheres to Barton's casting and staging concept: Three male and one female actor as readers plus three singers and a musician to play the Harpsichord and piano. Since I've never seen any of this ode to England before, I'm not sure how much and how successfully other directors have altered the cast line-up, the song presentation or the staging. Suffice it to say, that Epstein's production makes what could easily be a rather static presentation into a unique theatrical experience. His using five instead of four actors, and three women instead of one was actually dictated by his working with the cast of Memory of Water. However, this turns out to be a case of necessity being the mother of inspired ensemble acting.
The actors elegantly attired — the women in gowns and the man in formal black tie suits— are kept moving around the stage and directed to bring out the personalities of the speakers and mine the text's considerable humor. While still a reading it's a finely textured reading. Epstein's vision for a dynamic history lesson that would communicatge the grandeur of English royalty is beautifully realized by Patrick Brennan's handsome set pieces and props and an ever changing back panel on which images of the king or queen in the spotlight are projected. (Unfortunately, most seats in the side sections of the Bernstein Theater miss these making these limited or obstructed view seats. I think someone at Shakespeare& Company should consider adding a row to the center section instead of those side thrusts). While all five actors are excellent Corinna May and Kristin Wold best manage to deliver their lines with the least sense of being tethered to their scripts. May and Wold also get to deliver the most humorous segments. Wold's most amusing turn is as a teen-aged Jane Austen writing her "partial, prejudiced and ignorant historian’s account" of the monarchy from Henry IV to Charles I, with frequent references to Mary, Queen of Scots who she adored, and her cousin Elizabeth who she abhorred. One of the more emotionally gripping monologue comes from Nigel Gore defending his God-given right to the crown to a court determined to put him to death.
Bill Barclay should be listed as a cast member as well as music director since he is also a vital presence on stage. No piano or harp but a mandolin, accordion and squeezebox to introduce the musical interludes which add to the pleasure of the historic English songs that fluidly connect the disparate texts. Barclay adapted the music to fit these instruments. He sings quite well and guides the actors to sing with enough spirit to make the fact that these are not musical performers irrelevant, and in fact great fun.
The major problem with The Hollow Crown is that, unlike most of the other shows in this summer's line-up, it plays just through July 24th, and not every day at that. My advice: If you like something different and rare, grab a ticket while you can.
The Hollow Crown devised by John Barton
Directed by Jonathan Epstein
July 12–July 24
Cast: Jason Asprey, Nigel Gore, Corinna May, Annette Miller, Kristin Wold
Music director (and musician and singer): Bill Barclay
Set Design: Patrick Brennan
Costume design: Govane Lohbauers
Lighting design: Sephen Ball
Stage Manager: Zachary Krohn
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