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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Stone Witch

I should warn you, Simon's a little unusual. — Clair
Judd Hirsch
Judd Hirsch and Rupak Ginn (Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware).
Berkshire Theatre Group's world premiere of The Stone Witch by Shem Bitterman examines the effects of success, or more so, greatness on Simon Grindberg (Judd Hirsch) an aging genius and reclusive curmudgeon. Grindberg's award-winning children's books have spawned a lucrative legacy and his editor Clair Forlorni (Kristin Griffith) is salivating with anticipation over what is probably his last book — one that will be the capstone to both their careers.

But there has been a twelve-year- hiatus. Grindberg is isolated in a remote cabin staring at empty pages and haunted by imaginary creatures.

Clair presses struggling writer Peter Chandler (Rupak Ginn) to visit Simon and act as a catalyst for the book's completion. Peter is conflicted, but Clair sweetens the deal with a large sum of money and promises. Reluctantly accepting the challenge, Peter enters Simon's world and the two embark on a difficult journey through Simon's suspicions and, at times, elusive sanity.

This ninety-five minute show has promise and time to allow for additional information. However, there are too many loose ends which mystify the audience. Why has Simon retreated to this hideaway wearing p.j.s and a bathrobe. What has he been doing for twelve years? Simon hints at an unhappy childhood where " was not allowed," and plays war games with toy soldiers. There is mention of "Bella" but who or what was she in Simon's life? His four marriages have collapsed. The one morsel we glean is a past affair with Clair, "She's more like a barracuda in Armani."

There are high winds and threatening storms which blow open doors and reveal the terror lurking in Simon'smind. He is haunted; however, nothing climactic reveals why. Is it a stone witch? His family? His genius or dementia? Sadly, not much is explained to the audience.

Bitterman's Simon is one-dimensional. He lacks the charisma that is so seductive and draws in the adoring minions before they are in thrall to an egomaniacal monster. The playwright and actor should explore moments where Simon reveals what it was that attracted women and allowed the creation of the imaginative and moving children's books. Clair and Peter sigh together as she says, "We all grew up on Simon's work." Where is that man in this production?

The scenic design by Yael Pardess is a large airy cabin with huge windows that showcase fantastic projections by Roseann Davonte Johnson. The projections move us rapidly from a skyline outside Clair's office to the forest leaves, illustrations and monsters of Simon's life. The fluidity of design along with lighting by Shawn E. Boyle underscore the otherworldly aspects of Simon's life. Original music by Roger Bellon is lilting or threatening as the play requires and adds to the overall mood of the story.

This ambitious collaboration deserves the time and effort to achieve, through rewriting, a wider and more enlightened audience and a play that would better serve talented actors.

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The Stone Witch by Shem Bitterman
Directed by Steve Zuckerman
Cast: Judd Hirsch (Simon Grindberg) Rupak Ginn (Peter Chandler) Kristin Griffith (Clair Forlorni)
Scene design/Projection Art Content Designer
Lighting design: Shawn E. Boyle
Costume design: Mimi Maxmen
Sound design: Christopher Cronin
Stage Manager: J.P. Elins
Projections designer: Rasean Davonte Johnson
Associate Projections designer: Michael Commendatore
Running Time: 95 minutes, no intermission
Berkshire Theatre Group, Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge, MA
From 7/21/16; opening 7/23/16; closing 8/20/16. 
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 23 performance

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The Stone Witch
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