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Shakespeare & Company Summer 2010 Season
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Main Stage (Founders Theater) Reviews: The Taster- | The Winter's Tale |Women of Will |
    Richard III

    Elayne P. Bernstein Theater Reviews: Bad Dates | Sea Marks | Mengelberg and Mahlter |

    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 . A click on a show listed here will jump you down to our review,

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    Main Stage (Founders Theater) Reviews

    The Taster
    We are all translators; translating each other all the time. Trying to. We are all of us written in strange code. Are the people we love most those who translate us best? And what of those who don't see us at all? Who are unable to fathom a word?
    — Claudia, pondering the ancient Basque manuscript her husband, who's neither a professional playwright or translator, is translating, apparently as a way to fill his all too empty days since losing his job in finance.
    The Taster
    Maureen O'Flynn & Tom O'Keefe (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
    If I had to choose my favorite of the three plays by Joan Ackermann that I've seen, I'd be hard pressed to choose. Though it's been thirteen years since I saw Off the Map (review) in Shakespeare & Company's Stables Theater I remember the pleasure of watching this family saga with plenty of heart-tug but, refreshingly, not about a dysfunctional family. Ice Glen (review) was a highlight of the summer 2003 season. Commissioned by Shakespeare & Company tt was especially poignant since it was about a grand Berksihire mansion and staged in the about-to-be sold Springlawn Mansion that had served as the company's Second Stage since their move to Kemble Street.

    The Taster, now having its world premiere, is another Shakespeare & Company commissioned play and it's being given a beautiful production at their Founders' Theatre. The set by Yoshi Tanokura is a stunner, more detailed than usual at this theater. The costumes (bravo to Govane Lohbauer) are as usual lovely. Lighting designer Christopher Thielking and composer-sound designer Scott Killian round out the superb production values.

    As for the play, it segues with remarkable fluidity tween present day New York City and a Basque country kingdom in the early 1500s. In short, we have two interconnected stories.

    The Basque country saga revolves around Octavio (Rocco Sisto), the title character whose job it is to check out the food to be served to the King, risking his life with each meal and only glimpsing the world beyond the basement where the food is brought to him three times a day, through a window reached by a tall ladder. The present day story focuses on Claudia (Maureen O'Flynn) and Henry (Tom O'Keefe), a couple dealing with the fall-out of our current financial crisis (The sale of Merrill Lynch put and end to his big money, high flying career).

    Timely as Claudia and Henry's situation is the period atmosphere is the predominant flavor. Probably because Octavio's life is more unusual and interesting than that of the disconnected, non--communicating couple. That said, the script smartly weaves the far-apart, seemingly unconnected locales and situations into a drama that uses time, sensory perception, music and several languagses to unify its dual stories. But the playwright's hand is a bit too much in evidence and Tina Packer need not have worried, per her Director's Note, about that the audience might not logically understand the story of the events in the present and past but would respond intuitively. You see, while The Taster is a complex tale about two pairs of alienated lovers that once again showcases Ackermann's originality and poetic bent, her theme is not that hard to comprehend.

    For all this play's intriguingly poles apart elements, by the time we've shifted for the last time from Octavio's e 16th Century basement to the basement where his story is being translated by Henry (he was a promising language student at Harvard before being lured into the more lucrative world of finance), the author's aim is quite clear: to teach us a lesson in grounding ourselves to listen and look and allow ourselves to taste life fully (something Ackerman has developed into a tai-chi- like program for visitors to Canyon Ranch in Lenox that involves movements while holding a stone in each hand--and which she also uses in The Taster).

    The Taster, like Ice Glen, reflects her ties to the Berkshires generally (she's a longtime resident and founder of her own small theater company in Great Barrington) and Shakespeare & Company specifically. \It was written specifically for longtime company member Rocco Sisto and Berkshire born opera diva Maureen O'Flynn. Both actors make the most of the rich parts she's gifted them with. Sisto gives the Taster a memorably Shakespearean grandeur. It's great fun to watch him go about his daily rituals — inspecting the trays of food brought in by two servants, sniffing, touching and once he tastes checking his pulse and then, if luck is with it, affixing his seal of approval.

    Naturally with O'Flynn as the wife disgusted with her husband's moping around the house is keeping the family solvent with a career as an opera singer. She is lovely and a good actress and, hurrah, she does get to sing, though all too briefly.

    O'Flynn and Sisto as well as two of the three other cast members each play two roles. O'Flynn is terrific both as Claudia the opera singer and unhappy wife and also the Queen who is also unhappily married (her husband seems unable to impregnate her and to save her life and her marriage, she enlists the Taster's help). Sisto's Octavio towers over the proceedings and he also appears briefly as a friend who counsels Henry, who has been obsessively eating nothing but pomegranates, to expand his diet.

    Tom O'Keefe is fine as Henry and the impotent King Gregorio, though Packer would do well to make him go easy on the King's shouting and ranting. Robert Biggs does well by both one of the servants delivering the meal trays and as the play's narrator and Henry's former teacher whos sums things up by saying that the ending of the ancient Basque tale has been told in various ways — thus leaving it up to the audience to write their own finale. Another of many nice touches.

    In a scene when the Queen comments on Octavio's ecstatic and lengthy discourse on his love of eating with "You are a Taster of words, " he responds: " Words, yes. I know, I'm afraid I chew on them excessively at times. I AM long-winded. . . " That admission also sums up my own feelings about this play: I would have liked more singing from O'Flynn and just a little less talk from Octavio.

    Production Notes
    The Taster by Joan Ackermann
    Directed by Tina Packer
    Cast (alphabetical order): Robert Biggs (Estaban/Bernard), Zachary Krohn ( Guillaume), Maureen O'Flynn (Queen Mariana/Claudia, Tom O'Keefe (King Gregorio/Henry), Rocco Sisto (Octavio Pillars/Syd)
    Scenic design: Yoshi Tanokura
    Costume design: Govane Lohbauer
    Lighting design: Christopher Thielking
    Composer and Sound Designer: Scott Killian
    Stage Manager: Hope Rose Kelly
    July 29 - September 4, 2010 -- 2:00 pm / 7:30 pm see website for schedule
    Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 8/06 press opening

    RThe Winter's Tale
    Hermione is chaste; Polixenes blameless; Camillo a true subject; Leontes a jealous tyrant; his innocent babe truly begotten; and the king shall live without an heir if that which is lost be not found!
    —the pivotal decree of the Oracle at Delphos

    Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Jonathan Epstein
    (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
    For a literary version of A Little Bit of Everything soup, you can't beat Shakespeare's The Winter’s Tale: A tragic first act, complete with a trial in which the accused doesn't stand a chance of a fair hearing followed by a gay and comic pastoral romance. As presented at Shakespeare & Company with long time company member Kevin G. Coleman at the helm, you can count on having both the dark and distressing scenes as as well as the frolicsome ones get their due — with the romantic and comic business perhaps more than a little inflated to make the wintry tale of unreasonable jealousy and injustice more apt for the summertime fun season,

    In its long history, Shakespeare & Company has done this part tragedy, part romance just once before, that one a Bare Bard production in its old home at Edith Wharton's estate, The Mount. Typical of everything at the beautiful Elizabethan hued Founders Theater, the current production is still not heavy on scenery, but what we have is apt. But the lack of scenic bells and whistles is more than compensated for by a cast that includes the welcome return of Jonathan Epstein giving his as usual convincing all to the unreasonably, pathologically jealous King Leontes, and Corinna May as an especially powerful Paulina.

    Also making casting news is Elizabeth Aspenlieder who's quite moving in her first role as a tragic heroine, Queen Hermione. This ill-fated queen is said to be patterned on Anne Boleyn, the victim of another despotic and unhinged husband, King Henry the 8th. Add to these and other fine casting choices the luscious costumes by Kara D. Midlam and Susan Dibble's enjoyable choreography, and this is indeed a summertime treat that's likely to lift the onus of "lesser Shakespeare" from this late entry in the Bardian canon.

    In case you're unfamiliar with the admittedly bizarre plot, it's not hard to follow even without reading the program's helpful synopsis. In the first and darker part of the story we see the Sicilian King Leontes metamorphose from welcoming to aggrieved host to his best friend the King of Bohemia (Shakespeare veteran Jonny Lee Davenport), and accuse him of fathering his wife Hermione's about to be born child. It's a casebook example of good sense gone inexplicably berserk. But the absence of believable motivation for Leontes' sudden and quite insane jealousy makes for a compellingly melodramatic shift from a gay, tranquil kingdom to a grim wintry landscape where we watch the paranoid monarch alienates himself from everyone he cares about. The wife he loved is destroyed, his beloved young son dies which insures that the redemption cannot come easily or in a hurry to the finally repentant King.

    Leontes' ill-advised actions turn his kingdom into a gray place, Shakespeare rolls out a magical carpet to whisk us to what is essentially a second play. This one is set in the bucolic land where the baby girl the jealousy crazed King refused to accept as his own is discovered and raised as the daughter of a kindly Shepherd (Malcolm Ingram excelling in this as well as several other roles) and sister to his son (a very able and physically adept Wolfe Coleman). Without a zapper but with an assist from Scott Renzoni's Father Time, Shakespeare fast forwards his melodrama by sixteen years. He now immerses us in a fairy tale romance revolving around the grown up Perdita (a fetching Kelly Galvin) and Florizel (Ryan Winkles) who is (to noone's surprise) none other than the son of King Polixenes, whose overly long visit to Sicilia ended with his nearly getting himself killed by getting too friendly (though innocently so) with his host's wife.

    In the 16-years later story we also meet one of Shakespeare's most outrageously funny clowns, the slippery-fingered roguish peddler Autoclycus (played with great relish by Jason Asprey). The villain of this romantic half of the play is Polixenes — well, sort of , in that he's not about to have his son marry a shepherd's daughter. His disguising himself at a Shepherd's celebration and putting the kabosh on the young lovers' nuptials. But not for long. This is all a set-up for young love to triumph and redemption to finally lift the shadow hanging over the Sicilian kingdom and king.

    Oh, and while the adorable Parker Bell-Devaney (the young Prince Mamillius at the performance I attended) doesn't have a big part, he deserved the big hand he got at curtain call time —, as did the entire ensemble of this lyrical, oh-so-sad but full of fun two-in-one fantasy.

      Production Notes
    The Winter’s Tale By William Shakespeare Directed by Kevin G. Coleman (Founders’ Theatre, Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Mass., $14-$85) A Shakespeare & Company production in two acts Cast: Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Hermione), Jason Asprey (Autolycus/ Court Officer), Wolfe Coleman (Young Shepherd), Heather Coulter (Shepherdess), Johnny Lee Dav enport (Polixenes), Jonathan Epstein (Leontes), Leia Espericueta (Dorcas/Gentlewoman), Kelly Galvin (Perdita), Dana Harrison (Mopsa/ Emilia), Malcolm Ingram (Archidamus/Gaoler/the Old Shepherd), Shea Kelly (Gentlewoman/Shepherdess), Corinna May (Pau/lina/Sheperdess), Josh Aaron McCabe (Camillo), Scott Renzoni (Antigonus/Time;/Shepherd), Douglas Seldin (Dion/ Mariner/Shepherd), Enrico Spada (Cleomenes/Shepherd), Andy Talen ( Rogero/Shepherd), Ryan Winkles (Florizel/Sicilian Doctor), Colin Young and Parker Bell-Devaney (alternate as young Mamillius)
    Set and Props: Patrick Brennan
    Costumes: Kara D. Midlam
    Lighting Les Dickert
    Composer: Bill Barclay
    Sound: Michael Pfeiffer
    Fight Choreographers: Kevin G. Coleman & Ryan Winkles
    Dance Choreographer Susan Dibble
    Voice and text coaches: Leigh Smiley and Clare Reidey
    Stage Manager: Diane Healy
    From July 15- September 5, 2010
    Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at July 23rd Press Opening

    Women of Will
    If you want to know what Shakespeare thinks, listen to the women.<— Tina Packer
    Women of Will
    Tina Packer and Nigel Gore
    (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
    Tina Packer of Shakespeare and Company feels that the smaller number of female roles in comparison to male roles is a significant clue to William Shakespeare's core being. It is through the development of his women characters over a twenty-five-year writing career which provides a glimpse into the very spirit of the artist.

    Using this as her premise, Packer has written an entertaining and educational review of Shakespearean scenes which highlight his women and underscores the idea that it is, in fact, the female of the species, who holds the key to the bard's evolution as a playwright and human being. Women of Will is sharing time on the Founder's stage this summer, until July 24th, with other, more familiar plays of Shakespeare's canon such as Richard the III, (see review) but this brief (three hour) overview will be presented in a far more ambitious undertaking at the end of the summer(August 25th-27th) when five full performances will expand the depth and breadth of Packer's labor of love.

    The cycle of development, according to Packer, follows several biographical segments of Shakespeare's life and carry such titles as ÒWarrior Women, Living Underground or Dying to Tell the Truth, and “The Maiden Phoenix or the Daughter Redeems the Father.

    Directed by Eric Tucker, Women of Will is a combination college lecture and acting exercise which should captivate both Shakespearean scholars and neophytes as Tina Packer and Nigel Gore tear their way through ten Shakespearean scenes which chronologically illustrate his talent as the consummate creator of authentic female persona. Both actors do yeoman-like work. Though they are doing excerpts, their performances are nuanced and sensitively shaded. They are obviously working hard, as the sweat on their brows attests. Though the various characters they present are of a broad age range, it is the words we are to listen to along with the subtle drama of the performances. They also banter a great deal, some of which is obviously of the moment and not scripted. This lends a spontaneity to the performance.

    Since this is a somewhat informal presentation, the technical elements are minimal. With the addition of a red cape as part of Govane Lohbauer's costuming, Packer brings a different physicalization to various characters. The most important technical element is the lighting of Les Dickert which, while simple, effectively creates various tones for the many scenes, as does the sound design of Michael Pfeiffer.

    Packer's symposium explores the combination of spirituality and sexuality of women which underwent metamorphosis as Shakespeare honed his writing craft. She and Gore demonstrate these ideas in a repertoire of fast-paced dramatic scenes showcasing the innocent yet witch-like Joan of Arc, the fierce raging Margaret of Anjou, the coy Elizabeth of York, and the finely nuanced Juliet, which in every way is a spiritual and intellectual counterpoint to her Romeo. Packer believes that it is through Juliet that Shakespeare realizes Woman as a whole being and instead of merely portraying women as an observer, he actually merges with his ladies to create the living embodiment of his imaginings.

    Production Notes
    Women of Will by Tina Packer
    Directed by Eric Tucker
    Cast: Nigel Gore and Tina Packer
    Costumes: Govane Lohbauer
    Lighting: Les Dickert
    Sound Designer: Michael Pfeiffer
    Fight Choreographer: Tony Simotes
    Stage Manager: Diane Healy
    From May 28 – July 24 2:00 pm / 7:30 pm --see web site for specific dates Reviewed by Gloria Miller based on July 10th performance.
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    The Life and Death of King Richard III
    My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
    And every tongue brings in a several tale,
    And every tale condemns me for a villain.

    — Richard
    Richard III
    John Douglas Thompson
    (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
    It's no wonder that Shakespeare's last War of the Roses history play, Richard III ranks high on the list of the Bard's most riveting dramas. The story of the man who would be king no matter who he had to kill to don the crown has inspired all manner of interpretation and bravura acting for actors and proved itself to be just the ticket for innovative direction.

    No sooner did I think Curtainup had seen the bottled spider in every possible variation, along comes John Douglas Thompson with a Richard who out-bravuras even my most memorable Richards. Thomposn not only begins his powerhouse performance delivering the famous "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York" from a reclining position but he manages to turn what most of us would classify as a grim tragedy of overwhelming ambition, betrayal and murder into a comedy. Though this comedy is as dark and macabre as can be, it's never gimmicky or too wildly over the top. Shakespeare & Company Artistic Director Tony Simotes' concept and Thompson's performance deepen our understanding of the shame and pain of his physical deformity (the uneasy relationship with his mother (and consequently, all women), and the probably well-founded belief that being the third son of the York dynasty should not keep him from being king since he is the most qualified.

    Though every drop of possible humor is wrested from the bloody maneuverings, the consequences of the evil done in the interest of ascending the throne do take the second half of this production back to its more traditional all-tragedy genre. This might make for a rather schizophrenic production if director Jonathan Croy, who played Buckingham in the company's 1998 Richard III , didn't make it all come together and Thompson weren't so well supported by the other cast members.

    As Thompson adds a twisted sense of humor to the asides of the emotionally as well as physically crippled Richard and lets us more clearly see a man who's an outsider determined to become the leading insider of the realm, so the York women are the ones to most consistently keep the focus on the tragic violence denuding the family tree. First on stage is Shakespeare & Co newcomer Leia Espericueta as Lady Anne. Like all the ladies she despises Richard; yet she convincingly allows herself to become Richard's Queen in a scene that has Richard let the audience share his own amused surprise at his suit's success.

    Shakespeare veterans Tod Randolph, Elizabeth Ingram and Annette Miller quite brilliantly play his sister-in-law Queen Elizabeth, his grandmother Queen Margaret and his disgusted mother, the Duchess of York. Randolph is magnificently queenly, and unconsolably grief stricken as Queen Elizabeth. She is at her most unforgettable when, after losing her two younger sons, she is persuaded that the only way to save the throne for Crown Prince Edward (William Palmer) is to allow Richard (who has by now gotten rid of the so hotly pursued Anne) to wed and bed her young daughter (Zoe Laiz). Annette Miller is also impressively regal and despairing as the Duchess of York who is ever more repulsed by her hunchbacked offspring.

    The most furious of these much bereaved females is Elizabeth Ingram as Queen Margaret the widow of Henry VI. A riveting Cassandra of gloom and doom whose every appearance sends shivers of fear and foreboding through all within earshot of her beautifully modulated speeches. As always with this company, the emphasis by every actor is to deliver the text with great clarity so that even Shakespeare newbies should have no problem with understanding what's going on.

    Richard's various henchman and victims also have many fine moments, with standouts including Rocco Sisto as the unfortunate Duke of Clarence, Nigel Gore as the crafty Duke Of Buckingham, Jason Asprey as Lord Hastings, and Johnny Lee Davenport as Richard's brother and also the Lord Mayor of London.

    The production itself is a knockout. Patrick Brenman's scenic design is basic but elegantly effective. A flexible triple archway allows the play to begin with a beautifully choreographed entry by the ensemble, with the various factions filling the archways befor efading away as the spotlight turns on the reclining Richard and his opening soliloquy. The arches metamorphose into sculptural columns framing the throne. When the throne room metamorphoses into a battlefield the initial image is repeated, neatly underscoring the journey from forward looking ambition to the inevitable finale, and clarifying why this is called The Life and Death of King Richard III instead of the shorter and more usual King Richard III.

    Arthur Oliver's costumes are not only spectacularly stunning but marvelously character and situation defining. Besides the gorgeous gowns with their aptly chosen colors for the lamenting women, Oliver has dressed Thompson with proper attention to the famous hump and given him a cloak that brilliantly supports Richard's troublesome dragging himself — robe and all— onto the throne during the second act coronation scene. Scott Killian's evocative sound design and Les Dickery's lighting complete the evening's visual and oral pleasures.

    The play is as loaded with quotable lines as it is with corpses. Fortunately, Ryan Winkles staging of the battle scene that fells Richard is dynamic enough to tone down Richard's "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." that has become a cliché and punch line for stand-up comics.

    There are those who have taken up the cause of dethroning Richard from his position as a super villain, and research way in which defend the bad rep he's been given in literature, especially by Shakespeare. defend the reputation — notably the Richard III Society. But as long as actors like John Douglas Thompson continue to portray Richard with new understanding, and men like Tony Simontes (whose conceived this production) and Jonathan Croy combine fresh directorial touches with respect for the rich text, Richard III will continue to be every Shakespeare lover's favorite villain.

    Production Notes
    The Life and Death of King Richard III
    By William Shakespeare
    Conceived and adapted by Tony Simotes
    Directed by Jonathan Croy
    Assistant director: Malcolm Ingram
    Cast: Jason Asprey (Lord Hastings), Robert Barclay (Earl of Oxford), Robert Biggs (First Murderer/Sir Richard Radcliff), Wolfe Coleman (Brackenbury/ Bishop of Ely) Johnny Lee Davenport, (King Edward IV/Lord Mayor of London/ Captain Blunt), Leia Espericuetta (Lady Anne), Nigel Gore (Duke of Buckingham), Elizabeth Ingram (Queen Margaret), Zoe Laiz (Young Elizabeth), Josh Aaron McCabe (Sir William Catesby), Annette Miller (Duchess of York), William Palmer (Edwrd, Prince of Wales), Judah Piepho (Richard, Duke of York), Tod Randolph (Queen Elizabeth), Douglas Seldin (Lord Gray), Rocco Sisto (Duke of Clarence), Enrico Spada (Earl Rivers), Andy Talen (Earl of Richmond), John Douglas Thompson (Richard, Duke of Gloucester & later king), Ryan Winkles (Second Murderer/Sir Majes Tyrrel) .
    Set and Props: Patrick Brennen
    Costumes: Arthur Oliver
    Lighting: Les Dickert
    Composer & Sound designer: Scott Killian
    Fight Chroeography: Ryan Winkles
    Stage Manager: Hope Rose Kelly
    From July 2 - September 5
    2:00 pm / 7:30 pm --see web site for speicific dates
    Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on July 9th press opening
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    Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre Reviews

    Bad Dates
    Maybe men and women aren't put on Earth to torture each other. Maybe we're here becasuse we need each other— Haley
    Elizabeth Aspenlieder
    Elizabeth Aspenlieder
    (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
    Before Haley Walker arrives at the above quoted conclusion the single mom/career woman takes us with her on a zany ride through her re-entry into the dating world. Her first date epitomizes the title. Even when she finally has a good date (initiated by her rather than a fix-up), it turns out to live up to the title.

    This concept of a New York thirty-forty-ish single's dating adventures probably sound more like a re-hash of any number of magazine articles, how-to books, movies and sitcoms than rocket science or the best new-new thing ever to hit the stage. But Theresa Rebeck is a clever enough writer to have added a preposterous but funny shaggy dog (make that shagy gangster) subplot and invested her solitary character with enough quirks (like a passion for designer shoes to outdo Imelda Marcos) and nuance to make Bad Dates fun and engaging to watch — especially if the actress playingHaley mines it for all its comic potential as well as the everywoman-ish insecurity that makes us root for and laugh with rather than at Haley. That means an actress like Elizabeth Aspenlieder!

    Aspenlieder's current Hail Haley performance reprises an earlier winter premiere at Shakespeare & Company and also at Merrimac where it won an Elliott Norton award. Now, with new director, Eric Tucker, (also a new design team), Bad Dates is back as part of the busy Bernstein Theater's busy lineup of shows. Since I didn't see it during Shakespeare & Company's first winter season, the only change between then and now, that I can definitely point to is that it's lost its intermission and now runs through its five scenes in 90-minutes This strikes me as a smart move since that's how the playwright intended it and how it was presented when it premiered Off-Broadway (review),

    Haley and Aspenlieder have a lot in common. Both moved from the places where they grew up (Haley from Texas, Aspenlieder from Canada) and built impressive careers in their new homes (Haley as the manager of a New York restaurant, Aspenlieder as part of Shakespeare & Company's actor-manager system where she has not only done brilliant work back stage handling media relations but become more and more visible on stage — to wit, this starring role). Given her management skills, I doubt Aspenlieder's real bedroom resembles the wonderfully cluttered mess of shoes and clothing Carl Sprague has created as the room where Haley shares her tales of professional and personal mishaps for us. However, the effervescent actress does whip in and out of spike heeled shoes and outfits with the greatest of ease. What's more she's slim and shapely enough to fit into even the tightest fitting skirts and tops, she's got the warmth and charisma to draw us into her story and root for that one good date to work out and her dealings with her Romanian gangster bosses to keep her out of trouble.

    The madcap first scene which finds Haley trying on some of those 600 pairs of shoesHaley started to collect back in Texas as well as some of the outfits hanging on an open clothes rack is more or less a setup to make the audience her confidantes and cheerleaders and to fill us in about her life: A bad marriage, single motherhood, the evolution from waitressing in an unsuccessful restaurant run by Romanian gangsters to taking charge and turning into a New York hot spot when her bosses are put in jail, and the decision to start dating again after years of concentrating on the restaurant and her daughter Vera. Her dating expectations are fueled not just by a healthy sex drive but that '50s girl somewhere inside her that yearns for a guy to take care of her.

    Scene one ends with Haley finally dressed and exiting for her first date and what follows is pretty much in this vein. Haley wades through the scattered clothes around her and heads out for another date. The dating scene turns out to be as messy as thev room before us, that is until Haley decides to forego fix-ups and take matters into her own hands. And so she calls the man who was her last romantic interest but who she gave up because he seemed a good bet to turn her life into modern day version of Mildred Pierce (Surely you've seen the movie in which Joan Crawford lost both Monty, the man she loved, and her daughter Veda— shades of Haley's own beloved Vera who is an invisible presence in an unseen bedroom).

    And so Scene four findsHaley ecstatic because the date with her Monty guy (who happens to be named Leo) was a good date. Or so it seemed and it is when this good date turns out o be the worst date of all that Aspenlieder manges to give some real depth to her character. It is then too that Rebeck lets her shaggy gangster subplot turn Haley's world really go haywire.

    This being a fluffy, good-time story I'm not spoiling anything when I tell you that all ends well. On the other hand, I would be a spoiler if I revealed the details about how that happy end comes about (hint: the end does feature some surprising contents in a few of those shoe boxes}. br>
    While my leanings tend towards plays with more than one actor, Bad Dates is one of the few in in my memory book that manage to give a one-person play a full-fledged play sensibility. One that Bad Dates brought to mind was Fully Committed, which also had a restaurant background and which has stayed with me even thoughv I saw more than ten years ago (review ). The magic formla is of course a smartly written script, good direction and, above all, a fully committed performance. All present and accunted for here.

    Postscript: Since Bad Dates, shares the Bernstein stage with two other plays, a special round of applause for the stage manager who must clear the set and re-clutter it over and over again.

    Production Notes
    Bad Dates by Theresa Rebeck
    Directed by Eric Tucker
    Starring Elizabeth Aspenlieder
    Set designer: Carl Sprague
    Costume designer: Lena Sands
    Lighting Designer Stephen Ball
    Sound Designer: Michael Pfeiffer
    Original music and sound design: Dave Wilson Stage Manager Katie Shade
    From 8/04/19 to 12/12/10
    Running Time: 90 Minutes without an intermission
    Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 8/13/10
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    Sea Marks

    If this play is about anything, it might be about knowing our place. Especially in liquid times, when we can easily flow wherever, and seemingly become whatever. To hold a way of life, something secretly treasured, maybe without knowing it, has become an obsolete idea, now called stagnation. But being mobile, trading up, 'bettering yourself' is a respectable life's work, while other, simple concerns are postponed.— Gardner McKay as part of the extensive stage notes in his script for Sea Marks.
    Sea Marks
    Walton Wilson and Kristin Wold
    (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
    This is one of those plays to which adjectives like "charming, touching, endearing" and "nostalgic" cling like mussels to a sea wall. It's because all those words do indeed fit Sea Marks that it's enjoyed numerous productions and has also been filmed as a Broadway Theatre Archive production. It helps that it's inexpensive to mount— 2 actors, a script that can be staged bare bones style or more elaborately.

    Gardner McKay who was a successful actor before becoming a playwright died in 2001 at the age of 69, but his much produced, half century old play lives on. Tight theatrical budgets make it more appealing than ever from an economic perspective, and the proliferation of cell phones and e-mail have boosted the nostalgic charms of a romance blossoming via handwritten letters.

    The playwright's extensive stage notes allow leeway not only for the staging, but the age of the protagonists: Colm, a fisherman in a fictional Irish island place called Clifthorn, and Timothea, a Liverpudian originally from Wales. Their romance begins at a wedding on his turf, blossoms by mail, and finally burst into full bloom when she invites him to visit her in Liverpool. As Gardner explains "loneliness or aloneness is not exclusive" and both these people are very much alone. Thus Colm could be realistically played at an age of 35 and 65, with Timothea's age rising accordingly as she is not intended to be more than at most 10 years his junior.

    The hero of Shakespeare & Company's version is thus 52 which looks about right for company veteran Walton Wilson. And while Kriston Wold's exact age is never mentioned, the petite blonde is probably in her 40s and thus old enough for loneliness to take its toll but young enough to be ambitious. Both actors do exemplary work, enough so for the company's always supportive audiences to overlook the credibility gaps in their characters.

    In Wilson's case, his extreme inexperience in worldly matters is a stretch even given the 1960s time frame and the fact that many Clifthornians like him have never been to big cities ("Where I live, if you get as far as Bunratty, you're a globe trottet"). Wold must navigate the slippery slope of a character not fully enough developed to bring out the nuances of her genuine feelings for Colm and the way his potential as a literary "primitive" fans her ambition to use his letters to make herself a more important player at the office where she's still just a lowly personal assistant to the publisher.

    With the help of set designer Kiki Smith (who is also credited for costume design), Director Daniela Varon has used the Bernstein Theater's wide stage to good effect, especially during the epistolary monologues that start with the letter writer and are completed by the reader. Miniature models of the exterior of Colum's little house and the mansion converted to flats like Timothea's float above the interiors. A nice touch. The sets conveniently rotate so that the epistolary relationship's can metamorphose into a more intimate physical one. I would have been content with something simpler to avoid the need for a handful of prop movers as well as the actors busily carrying stuff on and off the stage. Still, Varon used these distracting scenery shifting interludes to have sound designer Michael Pfeiffer liven things up with some lilting Irish music (he aptly uses music by the Beatles to for the the initial Liverpool scenes).

    Essentially Sea Marks is the familiar story of the unsophisticated country mouse suddenly transported to a foreign environment and soon yearning for his natural habitat. His unworldliness does not keep Colm from starting a correspondence with Timothea, and writing vividly enough to have the simple but picturesque descriptions of his life bowl her over. In fact, so much so that she shows some of his letters to her boss who turns into the good fairy to make it possible for Colm to leave his uneventful island life permanently and make a life with Timothea.

    Ah, but there's the rub. You can take the simple man of the sea inland, but not without his feeling discombobulated and homesick. Which brings us to an adjective I couldn't include in those ticket selling adjectives I mentioned earlier. "Surprising!" From the get-go, there's no surprise about where those letters will lead, and that Timothea's references to him having the touch of the poet will somehow be confirmed by her boss and translate into his not being just another visiting boob but a potential celebrity. Will it cause problems in the relationship? Is the fisherman really destined to be a poet? You guess. You're certain to be right.

    At the risk of nitpicking at this middle aged romantic fairy tale, I can't help bringing up another sticking point. Having spent thirty years as an agent helping many an inexperienced author' to have a first book published, I found it hard to accept the way Colm's letters became a book, as poetic license. No publisher, no matter how small, would go to the expense of printing and binding a book, without some sort of contract or, at the very least, that author's written consent. Oh, well. . .there probably won't be that many past or present publishing professionals coming to the Bernstein Theater. I'm not a poetry expert but I'm not sure Colm's poetic letters aren't really more the stuff of a line of beautifully illustrated greeting cards. than a book. Like Sea Marks, they are charming, touching and endearing — but more pleasant than powerful

    Production Notes
    Sea Marks by Gardner McKay
    Directed by Daniela Varon
    Cast: Walton Wilson as Colm and Kristin Wold as Timothea
    Set and Costume Design: Kiki Smith
    Lighting: Stephen Ball
    Sound: Michael Pfeiffer
    Stage Manager: Kate Johnson
    From July 9 - September 4
    3:00 pm / 8:00 pm -- see website for specific performance dates
    Review by Elyse Sommer based on July 10th performance
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    Mengelberg and Mahler
    At what point do you become guilty? I'd like the audience to identify with Mengelberg's dilemmas, not to see him from the outset as an evil man who has collaborated with the Germans , but to find him complex— he's sympathetic at times, and he's pathetic at times. There's no clear-cut answer. One should ask oneself: What would I have done?
    --Emile Fallaux the director of Mengelberg and Mahler

    Mengelberg and Mahler
    Robert Lohbauer
    (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
    William Gibson's play Golda, about Israeli's Golda Meir made it to Broadway, but only for a very brief run.. Shakespeare & Company worked with Gibson to turn it into a solo play and as Golda's Balcony it became a hit in the Berkshires which led to a successful Off-Broadway run as well as a number of regional productions.

    Like Golda's Balcony, Daniel Klein's Mengelberg and Mahler didn't start out as a solo play. Mr. Klein and his friend, the Dutch filmaker Emile Falloux envisioned it as a film (obviously with more than one character). When their efforts to have it produced didn't materialize, Klein decided to rewrite his script as a stage play for a single actor. Shakespeare & Company' included this version as part of their annual Studio Festival of Plays which develops new work. Now it's evolved into a production that will run in repertory for the 2010 season at the Elayne Bernstein Theater.

    To be perfectly honest, solo plays aren't my favorite thing. Not that this is an etched-in-stone opinion since I've seen enough solo plays that were entertaining and involving enough to overcome the lack of onstage interaction. I enjoyed both Annette Miller in the Shakespeare & Company Golda's Balcony and Tova Felshuh in the Off-Broadway production. I could cite plenty of other shows that were ideally suited to this format and gave actors brave enough to engage the audience all by themselves, tour-de force opportunities. Unfortunately, I can't add Mengelberg and Mahler to my list of memorable monologues.

    Robert Lohbauer certainly deserves a hand for his commitment to the difficult role of the world famous Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg. He is a septuagenarian as Mengleberg was when we meet him. Thus it's up to Lobhauer to portray a tired, old man but also make us see him as he once was — the world famous conductor of Amsterdam's famed Concertgebouw orchestra, as Gustav Mahler's friend and, after Mahler's death in 1911, as a fervent champion of his music. Lobhauer segues smoothly enough from ithe 74-year-old Mengelberg to his younger glory days, but he's more convincing as his character's weary older self.

    Listening to Lohbauer's Mengelberg justify his continued concertizing during the Nazi regime, even if it meant cleansing his orchestra of Jewish musicians, is more tedious than enlightening. Klein's text skims over too many issues. Mr. Fallaux's allows Mengleberg's rationale for placating the Nazis to be too much of a whine for the audience to heed his Director's Note in the program that asks us to identify with Mengelberg's dilemmas.

    While Lohbauer does his best to keep us engaged, this may be a case of the solo format being too limiting. The time and setting are apt — Mengelberg's isolated Swiss mountain chalet where he is waiting to hear whether the Dutch Council for Honor in the Arts rescinded his life-time ban from the Netherlands. As we wait with him, he regales us with memories of his long ago friendship with Mahler. The flashbacks include some welcome (but not enough) flashes of humor as well as a re-enactment of his encounters with the Nazi arts commissioner as well as the trial that condemned him as a Nazi collaborator. These one-sided interchanges cry out for at least one other character to materialize for some much needed dramatic snap and crackle.

    Since Mahler was such a dominating presence in Mengelberg's life and career, having him materialize occasionally as a visible ghost might do the trick., especially since Mahler too faced the dilemma of compromises made for the sake of music, his compromise being to convert from Judaism to Catholicism to keep his post with the Vienna opera company. As Megleberg's countrymen didn't buy into his remaining at the podium as a means of giving hope through music to people, so if Mahler were still alive he would find himself once again a Jew in the Nazis' eyes.

    Of course, Mahler is present through the wonderful snippets from his music and via some of the images projected on an upstage screen, with Lobhauer silent and transported or at a lectern and mock conducting. Too bad, his use of the baton is not authentic enough to conjure up visions of the conductor energized and inspired by his friend's music.

    The stagecraft serves the play well. Govane Lohbauer has created three playing areas so that the actor isn't stuck in one place, and Stephen Ball's lighting echoes the dark mood of Mengelberg's situation.

    Dramas that focus on the way people respond to horrendous life and death situations like Hitler's reign of terror are ever relevant. The greatest risks are often taken by ordinary people like Willem Mengleberg's fellow Dutch citizen, Miep Gies, who risked everything to hide Anne Frank and her family. Ronald Harwood's 1995 play, Taking Sides, was done as a courtroom drama, in which another famous conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängle, was tried as a Nazi sympathizer for staying at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic throughout the war. (Curtainup's review when it played on Broadway). Like Mendelberg and Mahler, that play also left it up to the audience to either take sides or straddle the touchy question relating to the artist's role vis-à-vis political reigns of terror. Last year, London's Duchess Theater, reprised the play as a companion piece to Harwood's new play about composer Johann Strauss and his Jewish librettist, aptly named Collaboration.. The same actors played the various characters in each play. Curtainup's review).

    Harwood and Klein both deal with provocative ethical issues that should never be forgotten. . .and given that it's easy and economical to mount, Mengleberg and Mahler, its flaws notwithstanding, could and should have a life after Shakespeare & Company.

    Production Notes
    Mengelberg and Mahler By Daniel Klein
    Directed by Emile Fallaux
    Starring Robert Lohbauer
    Lights: Stephen Ball
    Set and costume: Govane Lohbauer Sound: Michael Pfeiffer
    Stage Manager: Kate Johnson
    Running Time: 85 minutes without Intermission
    In repertory from June 11 - September 10, 2008
    Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on June 18.
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