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Williamstown Theatre Festival's Summer 2008 Season
By Elyse Sommer
News: In case you missed The Atheist which opened the Nikos season, you can catch it next season at the Culture Center in New York-- which is moving from its current home on Mercer Street to the Barrow Street Theater, at least for the Fall season. *Asterisk indicates that a review is posted
Main StageShows: *She Loves Me |*Three Sisters | *Flea In Her Ear |*Home
Nikos Stage Shows:
*Beyond Therapy| *The Atheist|*Broke-ology|*The Understudy|*Not Waving|
Fridays @ 3 Reading Series Schedule
About this All-In-One Format: Since summer theater productions run such a short time, instead of retiring each show after it makes way for the next production, we're putting details and reviews of shows at a particular theater on one page so that everything remains at your fingertips. No need to click to the archives unless you are looking for something from a past season in our Berkshire review archives.
g for something from a past season in our Berkshire review archives.
The list is organized in order scheduled. A list of Williamstown Main Stage Productions is followed by a list of productions to be performed at the smaller Nikos and Center Stage theater.
Williamstown Theatre Festival
1000 Main Street, Williamstown, MA (413/597-3400)
web address. Performance schedule for all venues is Tues. to Fri. at 8:00, Sat. at 8:30 with matinees Thurs. at 3:00, Sat. at 4:00 and Sun. at 2:00.
Main Stage Shows She Loves Me
The cast totals seventeen, including the ensemble. The string rich orchestra features just a baker's dozen of musicians and, while the show doesn't have one big break out hit, the music they play is gorgeous when considered as a whole. There isn't a lot of choreography either but that somehow intensifies the impact of the show's big splashy production scene at the end of the first act. It all adds up to a subtly sophisticated musical theater piece with its songs and story seamlessly integrated with warmth and charm.
Nicholas Martin couldn't have found a better way to launch Williamstown Festival's Main Stage season and his tenure as the Festival's artistic director than with this production. It's already proven its winning ways when he helmed it at Boston's Huntington Theater. Berkshire theater goers who appreciate musicals produced and performed with flair and pizazz. It's a perfect fit for Williamstown's still new elegant main stage. In a pefect world, it would stay there all summer..
Before inspiring this musical in 1962, Miklos Laszlo's 1937 play Parfumerie was famously filmed as The Shop Around the Corner with Margaret Sullivan and James Stewart and more recently as You've Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. It's a feel good comic romance as soothing and delicious as vanilla ice cream— which happens to be one of the best solos sung by Amelia (Kate Baldwin ), the musical's heroine.
It's inevitable that Amelia and Georg (Brooks Ashmanskas), who dislike each other from the moment she comes to work in Maraczek's (Dick Latessa) Parfumerie, will end up a meant for each other couple as already indicated via the correspondence that began with a "lonely hearts" ad. But the predictability of the plot in no way diminishes the fun of watching the epistolary romance spin towards its happy ending and get to know Amelia and Georg's boss and colleagues.
What makes She Loves Me so enjoyable is that all its characters are so well-rounded, and while Kate Baldwin's Amelia is the undisputed vocal star of this enterprise, each character gets at least one big musical number. Fortunately, this cast is fully up to both the acting and vocal challenges, and that includes Mark Nelson who usually appears in straight plays. He is completely endearing as the shop's oldest clerk Ladislav Sipos—even when he sings.
To those who saw Boyd Gaines in the show's last Broadway revival Brooks Ashmanskas may at first glance seem not quite the perfect Georg. However, he nails the slightly over the hill bachelor and store manager who yearns for love, yet is cautious about grabbinh a hold of it. When he finally lets loose with the title song, we see a powerful commitment on the part of both the actor and his character.
Jessica Stone, a seasoned musical comedienne, is terrific as the Parfumerie's fast living Ilona who in "I Resolve" sings that she "will be a different girl somehow" and declares her resolve to be successfully accomplished in the second act's "A Trip to the Library". She also turns Amelia's "Dear Friend" ballad into a touching duet.
Troy Britton Johnson is just right as the womanizing, self-aggrandizing but not truly villainous Kodaly. The same is true for Dick Latessa as the shop's owner and Jeremy Beck as the messenger with higher ambitions (smartly summed up in his Try Me). Also doing wonderful work are the ensemble players. Their scenes as customers of the Parfumerie include a hilarious "Twelve Days Before Christmas number." They also play patrons at the cafe where Amelia and Georg are to finally meet. That cafe scene is a star turn for Marc Victor as the head waiter and choreographer Denis Jones.
Not to be overlooked for bravos is the band for which set designer James Noone created a platform which keeps them in full view throughout the show. A big nude painting that pops up in back of the musicians adds a witty touch to the wonderful Edward Gorey quality of tho cafe episodes. Noone's turntable set cleverly accommodates the various locations and is effectively lit by Kenneth Posner and Philip Rosenberg. A shout out too for Robert Morgan's eye popping, outfits.
To borrow from Amelia's "Will He Like Me?" . . . what's NOT to like about this modestly scaled, enchanting musical with its big heart and exquisite score.
She Love Me
Book by Joe Masteroff —based on a playby Miklos Laszlo
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick Directed by Nicholas Martin
Musical Direction by Charlie Alterman
Choreography by Denis Jones
Musical Direction: Charlie Alterman Cast: Monique Alhaddad (3rd Customer, Ensemble), Ashley Arcement (4th Customer, Ensemble), Brooks Ashmanskas (Georg Nowack)), Jason Babinsky (Busboy, Ensemble), Kate Baldwin (Amalia Balash), Jeremy Beck (Arpad Laszlo), Troy Britton Johnson (Steven Kodaly), Nancy E. Carroll (1st Customer, Ensemble), Aldrin Gonzales (Ensemble), Rosie Hunter (2nd Customer, Ensemble), Matthew Warner Kiernan (Ensemble), Dick Latessa (Mr. Maraczek), Josh Mertz (Keller, Ensemble), Mark Nelson (Ladislav Sipos), Jessica Stone (Ilona Ritter), Sarah Turner (3rd Customer, Ensemble), Mark Vietor (Head Waiter).
Set design by James Noone
Costume design by Robert Morgan
Lightingby Ken Posner and Philip Rosenberg
Sound by Drew Levy and Tony Smolenski IV
Stage manager: Matthew Silver
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours, includes one intermission
June 28-July 12.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on July 3rd
There's a lot about Greif's production to maintain the play's standing as one of the most moving— a play that resonates with anyone, anywhere, at any time in history who yearns to escape a banal life for a more meaningful and eventful one. Greif hasn't drastically deconstructed the story which, over a period of just four or five years shatters the sisters' dreams (as well as everyone else's on stage) through a combination of circumstance and personal weaknesses.
The use of Paul Schmidt's very contemporary, audience pleasing translation, while lacking some of the original text's richness, does validate Chekhov's insistence on tagging it a tragi-comedy. To underscores that this is a period piece but one with themes that are actually exacerbated in more modern times, there's Allen Moyer's scenic design (atmospherically lit by Kenneth Posner) with its birch trees constructed from tall white plastic pipe cllumns and the interior of the Prozorov home framed by pale, wooden walls similar to the floors in a SoHo or Chelsea art gallery.
To intensify the tragedy of unfulfilled ambitions, this new Three Sisters opens with a wonderful tableau of the Prozorovs, the officers stationed in their otherwise dull town and their neighbors and servants celebrating the twentieth birthday of Irina (Aya Cash) the youngest sister with music (bravo, composer Michael Friedman!) and dance. While her older sisters, Masha (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Olga (Jessica Hecht), are still in mourning, Irina is wearing white, a hopeful sign that their year long mourning for their father will be followed by their return to Moscow, the symbol for a fulfilling life.
So far so good. But, while Greif has an excellent cast to work with, he hasn't directed all of them to give optimum performances which is even true for the pivotal roles of the title characters — at least not until the superior post intermission act, when the sisters' closeness comes to full flower. It is when Olga holds her sisters close and declares "life isn't over yet— we have to live" that Hecht, as well as DeWitt and Cash, make you forget any of the play's missteps.
The missteps prior to the intermission begin with the shift from the festive opening in which that the stage heretofore bare except for a piano and those towering trees is gradually populated. That scene shifts to an overly busy interior in which much of the action takes place upstage. This creates too much distance between audience and actors and makes the words of even well trained actors like Jessica Hecht less than loud and clear.
More troublesome still is a certain lack of balance. Granted, that Chekhov's genius is in his well-rounded portraits of all his characters, including cameo players like the old housekeeper (who is indeed brought to vivid life by Roberta Maxwell). However, Mr. Greif seems so intent of giving equal play to the various men's disillusionment that they at times seem more in the limelight than Irina, Masha and Olga so that this could easily be retitled Three Sisters and Their Men.
Unfortunately, the men's performances aren't flawless either. Keith Nobbs, who I've seen and liked enormously in several other plays, is a rather unprepossessing Baron Tüzenbach. Jonathan Fried as Masha's despised husband Kulygin does his pompousness so broadly that it's hard to believe that the beautiful Masha could ever have stopped wishing for more long enough to marry him. Stevie Ray Dallimore, as the object of Masha's aroused passion interestingly rouses our feelings not when he's making love to Masha, but when he describes finding his children after the fire that sweeps the town (that fire opens the superior second half of the play with a stunning image). The children are safe but their faces filled with fear set off their father's gloomy question "what will these children have to go through for the rest of their lives?" As Andrei, the brother whose promise of a promising career has not only fizzled but has led to escapism into gambling that ends up jeopardizing the family home, Manoel Feliciano too has his most poignant moments in the excellent final act when he wonders how he can love Natasha (played by Cary Donaldson as an excessively shrill upstart with a tendency to throw tantrums).
As the actors deliver on the nuances of their characters in the second act, so their wanderings in and out of the upstage forest now isn't a negative. Instead the upstage activity now enhances the melancholy mood of the finale.
This isn't the most memorable Three Sisters I've ever seen; that honor goes to a four-act much more drastically reinterpreted version in which each shift in the Prozorov's fortunes was done in a totally different style and historic period (review of that production). But Greif's Three Sisters has some memorably lovely stage images and the cast ultimately draws us into pondering their future — and our own unattainable Moscows.
For more about Chekhov's own all too brief life (he died at 44) of longing for Moscow, and links to other productions of his work we've reviewed, see our Chekhov backgrounder.
Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
Translated by Paul Schmidt
Directed by Michael Greif
Cast: Jessica Hecht (Olga Prozorov), Rosemarie DeWitt (Masha Prozorov), Aya Cash (Irina Prozorov), Michael Cristofer (Ivan Chebutykin), Keith Nobbs (Baron Tuzenbach), Stephen Kunken (Captain Vasily Solyony), Roberta Maxwell (Anfisa), Peter Maloney (Ferapont), Stevie Ray Dallimore (Alexander Vershinin), Manoel Feliciano (Andrei Prozorov), Jonathan Fried (Theodore Kulygin), Cassie Beck (Natasha), Cary Donaldson (Fedotik), Joe Tippet (Rohde).
Sets: Allen Moyer
Costumes: Clint Ramos
Lights: Kenneth Posner
Sound: Walter Trarbach
Composer: Michael Friedman
Stage Manager: Stephen M. Kaus
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer July 19th
Flea in Her Ear
It's been ten years since my last rather disappointing viewing of Flea. . . by the Roundabout Theater Company, so I was eager to see David Ives' new version that just opened at Williamstown's Main Stage. I couldn't think of anyone more suited to bring out the best in this well-worn old classic and add some fresh touches. Besides penning some brilliant one-act comedies of his own, Ives last year rescued an unpublished Mark Twain play from the theatrical dustbin of forgotten works to create a hilarious Twain-Ives farce about the French painter Jean Francois Millet. (Is He Dead?). My expectations were boosted by knowing that John Rando, known for his fast tempo directing style, would be in charge of Ives' new take on Feydeau's innumerable subplots (actually the count is said to be 47), and that a cast of seasoned farceurs would be slamming the doors and move between the world of a proper Parisian home and a completely improper hotel.
The Williamstown production got off to a most promising start. The usual cell phone and candy announcement was amusingly delivered in French. The four doors of Alexander Dodge's terrific evocation of Feydeauland-à-la-Ives do indeed have four doors that popped open and shut almost nonstop —that's four doors for each of two apt and handsome sets (the delectably delft-patterned Chandebise drawing room and the sinfully red Frisky Puss Hotel, as well as a proscenium depicting the exterior scene for each).
Feydeau's intricate main and subsidiary plots remain mercifully intact, beginning with the arrival of a package containing Victor Chandebise's (Mark Harelik) suspenders and marked with the return address of a hotel of dubious repute that sets off the chief misunderstanding. But a not so funny thing happened between that Gallic cell phone announcement and the third act. Ives' heavy with sly jokes update did not obliterate much the same letdown I experienced during the Roundabout staging.
As the play's title sounds funny even when you don't know what it's about, so one look at the purposefully coordinated first act scenery immediately puts you in a laugh out loud mood. And sure enough, Director Rando dispatches the proper bourgeois folks and the improper hotel proprietors and their friends, servants and relations in one door and out another with his usual speedy tempo. But as I watched the complicated plot unfold, starting with Madame Chandebise (Kathryn Meisle) telling her friend Lucienne (Mia Barron) how unease about her husband's (Mark Harelik) fidelity had put a flea in her ear, a flea also settled in my ear.
My flea buzzed: "These actors are good and often better than that. The costumes are as colorful and witty as the set. So, shouldn't you be laughing more? Shouldn't the Williamstown audience be drowning out the dialogue with their laughter?" To be fair, a lot of people at the Saturday matinee I attended did laugh quite a lot; but just as many, like me, seemed to settle for the occasional chuckle.
The problem is that even when the scene shifts to the x-rated version of TV's Fawlty Towers, the chaos is never as totally spontaneous as it should be. It's hard to pinpoint the problem but it's certainly not the fault of the actors. They rush from room to room, up and down a narrow staircase with amazing energy. But somehow, the full force of the Feydeau style doesn't fully click in until the final act back in the Chandebise home. At 2 hours and 45 minutes (the two sets requite two intermissions), that's a long stretch of mostly flea-sized humor between the clever cell phone opening and the final act's big payoff.
Following as it does a delightful musical, and a Chekhov classic, this farce strikes a nice balance with the this season's Main Stage offerings which will conclude with a somewhat mysterious drama. Like everything else about Nicholas Martin's fine first season as Artistic Director, a lot of love and talent has been lavished on this production and some of the performances are good enough to offset my reservations about this Flea's overall success.
Kathlyn Meisle and Mia Barron are elegant as well as expert farceurs. Mark Harelik navigates his whirlwind switches between his role as the pompous Victor Chandebise to his drunken doppelganger, the Frisky Puss Hotel's bellhop. The latter adds yet another exit when he takes a dive out of the Chadebise's drawing room window in one of Feydeau's most indestructibly funny third act scenes.
Tom Hewitt is nicely understated as Victor's friend and Raymonde's would-be lover. David Pittu, who seems incapable of giving anything but a stand up and cheer performance, doesn't disappoint as Lucienne's excitable, gun-totingSpanish husband, Don Carlos Homenides de Histangua. Brooks Ashmanskas, the charming romantic lead in She Loves Me (see review above) plays the family doctor with over the top abandon (perhaps a bit too muh so). As the speech impaired Camille Chandebise, Carson Elrod manages to make so much of his consonant problem that his final scene actually had the audience bursting into applause. He's funny enough not to have to bare his bottom.
While A Flea in Her Ear is the queen bee — I mean flea— of Feydeau's farces, it wasn't the only one. You might want to catch Charles Morey's The Ladies Man, freely adapted and translated from Feydeau's Tailler pour Dames. Unlike the Flea . . . which is at Williamstown too briefly to have a chance to really find its potential groove, that farce is enjoying a two-months run at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox (review).
A Flea In Her Ear by Georges Feydeau
As the play's title sounds funny even when you don't know what it's about, so one look at the purposefully coordinated first act scenery immediately puts you in a laugh out loud mood New version by David Ives
Directed by John Rando
Cast: Brooks Ashmanskas (Dr. Finache), Deborah Jo Rupp (Olympia), Mia Barron (Lucienne), Jeremy Beck (Ettienne), MacIntyre Dixon (Baptiste), Carson Elrod (Camille), Mark Harelik (Victor Chandebise / Poche), Tom Hewitt (Roman Tournel), Tom McGowan (Ferraillon), Kathryn Meisele (Raymonde Chandebise), Geoffrey Murphy (Rugby), Heidi Niedermeyer (Antoinette), David Pittu (Don Carlos Homendes de Histangua), Sarah Turner (Eugenie)
Lighting designer: Rui Rita
Sound designer: John Gromada Stage Manager: Donald Fried Set designer: Alexander Dodge
Costume designer: Gregory Gale
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on August 3rd
July 30-August 10
Given the somewhat disconnected way they talk, and how their conversations veer off into past memories these characters, especially Harry and Jack, are reminiscent of Waiting For Godot, especially to theater goers who've seen this season's revival of Beckett's ever mysterious classic at Berkshire Theatre Festival. Like Godot, Home is a talky play in which not much happens. In the first act, Harry and Jack, and Marjorie and Kathleen are waiting — not for a mysterious rescuer, but for it being time to go inside that unidentified building to have their lunch. By the second act, lunch is over, but like Didi and Gogo a sense of being nowhere prevails. If you've paid close attention, you'll have picked up the hints that are slipped in with the non-sequiturs (especially an ominous "They") which will make you understand why instead of a climax, the incessant talk just peters out.
While a play prompted by the specific sense of displacement and disenchantment with England as the 1960s gave way to 1970 and Thatcherism may make you wary about this being a dated political play, that sense of having lost one's sense of living in a country one can proudly call home, is dishearteningly timely. If a play that's all talk — and at that, rambling, and often puzzling talk— may not sound like the most entertaning hour and a half of theater. But it is! You see, I've not yet mentioned the four best reasons this revival of a not particularly well-known, thirty-eight year old play is an exciting and satisfying finish to the Williamstown Festival season: Richard Easton, Philip Goodwin, Dana Ivey and Roberta Maxwell. Even if Home didn't hold up as well as it does, and Joseph Hardy and his designers hadn't staged it with such skill and attention to detail, these actors are beyond excellent. To watch them is like being at a master class in how to bring characters to vivid life through perfectly timed line delivery, marvelously nuanced gestures and facial expression; also how to blend humor with heartwrenchingly poignancy.
While Easton and Goodwin have the biggest parts, all four actors achieve the harmony of a seasoned string quartet. They play off each others, clarifying their characters' differences whether in their duets or when they're all together. They reveal all their foibles and still keep us guessing--and hoping that finding Home is not an impossible dream. And if that should prove to be too elusive a dream, there's the compromise dream that Alfred (C.J. Wilson is a minor fifth character who further brings Waiting For Godot to mind), will at least leave them with a place in that peaceful garden to sit, and wait. . .and hope some more.
Home by David Storey
Directed by Joseph Hardy
Cast: Richard Easton (Jack), Dana Ivey (Marjorie), Roberta Maxwell (Kathleen) Phillip Goodwin (Harry). Sets: Tobin Ost
Costumes: Alejo Vietti
Lighting: Rui Rita
Original Music and Sound: John Gromada
Stage Manager: Stephen M. Kaus
Running Time: 1 and 1/2 hours, with one intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer August 17th matinee
While the issues of thirty something singles have changed, and Durang's many cultural references are dated and not likely to ring a bell with today's thirty something audiences (Plato's Retreat, David Berkowitz, films like An Unmarried Woman, etc), this remains one of the playwright's most popular and often produced works. The Wow! shock factor may be gone, but the dialogue continues to keep audiences laughing at Beyond Therapy's hilariously absurd silliness —especially if Prudence, Durang's aptly named single but yearning for marriage career girl, is portrayed by the deliciously ditzy Katie Finneran.
Finneran, a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Judy Holiday who can make any character endearing, does much to make Prudence a timeless character. She's adorably awkward in the hilarious opening scene, a restaurant date with Bruce (Darren Goldstein) a man whose personal ad in the New York Review of Books (today that would be the internet) that she's answered. The adorability meter jumps even higher when the fallout from that date reaches its peak of craziness and she explodes into self-assertiveness on a grand scale.
Even though that initial blind date hardly beckons well for a happy future together (He expresses emotions and likes to cry she thinks real men should only cry if "something falls on them" and is not thrilled to hear that he has a male lover), Prudence and Bruce's quest for love, children and companionship doesn't end with their throwing water in each other's faces. There are meetings with their grossly inept therapists (Kate Burton and Darrell Hammond) and with Bruce's lover Bob (Matt McGrath).
While Durang has been asked to update his play he felt, probably rightly so, it worked best within the time frame of its 1981 premiere and director Alex Timbers, who's too young to have experienced the pre-internet, pre Sex and the City 80s as an adult, has adhered to the period but smartly avoided going out of his way to create the look and feel of the period. Instead he's focused on the timelessly zany absurdism of a play populated by misfits who personify the old adage about the blind leading the blind.
The stylish Nikos Theater production does not escape the dead spots caused by Durang's tendency to let his humor veer off the satiric path into too heavy slapstick territory. However, given the entire ensemble's excellence this does not add up to a major complaint.
Kate Burton is zestfully over the top as Bruce's whacky shrink who hands out her touchy-feely advice by talking through her Snoopy doll (a prop contributed to Burton's ten-year-old daughter Charlotte, and duly credited in the program). Darrell Hammond slyly underplays the criminally unprofessional Dr. Framingham. Matt McGrath is terrific as Bruce's not so quietly smouldering, toy gun toting lover Bob. And for the scene where everyone's yearnings and discontents come to a head, there's Bryce Pinkham in the small but important role of the waiter. (A fun bit of trivia: This part was played in the Broadway premiere by current Broadway musical star David Hyde Pierce, who had a long playing part as the uptight psychologist in Frasier) .
The production values, like the cast, are top notch, from Walter Spangler's turntable scenic design, to Emily Rebholtz costumes and FitzPatton's propulsive intra-scene music. Are you going to learn anything new about the human condition and the talking cure's contribution to improving it? Probably not. But if laughter is medicinal, you are more than likely going to leave the Nikos feeling pretty good.
by Christopher Durang
Directed by Alex Timbers,
Cast: Kate Burton (Mrs. Charlotte Wallace), Katie Finneran (Prudence), Darren Goldstein (Bruce), Darrell Hammond (Dr. Stuart Framingham), Matt McGrath (Bob) and Bryce Pinkham (Andrew)
Set designer: Walt Spangler
Costume designer: Emily Rebholz
Lighting designer: Jeff Croiter
Sound designer: Fitz Patton
Production Stage Manager: Erin Maureen Koster The WTF performances are June 11-22.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at June 14th matinee performance
The play is a co-production with the Bay Street Theatre an will continue at o Sag HarborJuly 8-27.
Campbell Scott delivers a beguiling and taut performance as Early who, as a young man, decides to become a journalist in order to find fame and to utilize his abilities as a glib talker and a cynical observer of people. And since he has no conscience, there is nothing to prevent him from saying whatever he likes. . .as long as he covers himself. Despite the iniquity inherent in this attitude, it is difficult not to like Mr. Early.
But the play is more than a study of this malevolent character; it is also a condemnation of the media's thirst for celebrity news. Early accepts that to succeed he has to go into the gutter, though he would not define it that way. He knows what makes news in contemporary television and print and he will use this insight to find the fame he feels he deserves. The media's willingness to corrupt itself is the crux of the play and Early is its poster baby.
Through his search for the breakthrough story he tramps through the lives of several people, ruining most of them, including his mother. Having perfected the ability to rationalize his actions, he decides that everything that has happened to his victims has benefited them, even in death.
Scott's performance clicks from the first moment he looks at the audience with the jauntiness and charm of a roué. Though his unfolding story is more than dark, we continue to be entranced by both the character and the actor. Many one-actor plays are self-indulgent with no substance or they are just plain boring. The Atheist holds the audience through the entire work. We laugh at his audacity and gasp at his amorality. The tragedy of Early's life is his hypocritical search for unconditional love from others while exploiting their vulnerabilities to his own ends.
There are some flaws in the suggested workings of the newspaper industry, but they are not enough to weaken the power of the statements being made. In light of recent journalistic and political scandals, almost anything is believable. Even if some of the events in the play seem a little exaggerated, it also seems likely that if not true now, it is only a matter of time.
Discordant jazz riffs and larger than life shadows add to the edginess of Scott's performance. The set is boldly stark, utilizing a metal desk and chair which creates a solid feel to Early's intractable, though flawed, logic. He is back lit by a scrim which is crisscrossed by black grids and filled by intense color with each scene shift. One of the most interesting aspects of the screen is the projection of Early's eerily televised images, as he delights in his delivery of delicious and lewd confessions into the camera. He clearly relishes the sordid details of his story and his ability to hold the audience's attention, even co-opting their sympathies. If ever the devil existed, this must be how he would appear.
Editor's Note: Curtainup reviewed this when it played Off-Broadway. It was a very decidedly thumbs up. To read that review go here. We've also liked these plays by the Boston-based, Irish born writer: The Blowin of Baile Gall/andThe Lepers of Baile Baste
The Atheist, solo play by Ronan Noone
Directed by Justin Waldman
Cast: Campbell Scott as Noone's ethically challenged journalist Augistine Early
Set design by Cristina Todesco
Costume design by Jessica Curtwright
Lighting design by Ben Stanton
Sound design by Alex Neumann
Stage manager, Emily Roberts
Running time: One hour, forty minutes (one intermission)
June 25-July 6.
Reviewed by Gloria Miller on June 26th Stage"> Nikos Stage Shows
Mr. Jackson has tapped into his own family roots for this play about a black family living in a lower middle class neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas. Like Miller's The Price this is a realistic, kitchen sink style drama that focuses on two brothers, one who has managed to get an Eastern university education. Unlike Miller's family, or for that matter most characters populating dramas from times past and through this year's Pulitzer-prize winning August: Osage County, the Kings are not dysfunctional. No one in this family can be accused of selfish, hostile or uncaring behavior.
The only thing the King family is guilty of is being trapped by socioeconomic circumstances and not being able to sidestep the devastating multiple sclerosis that currently afflicts William (Wendell Pierce), or the illness (probably cancer) that killed his beloved wife Sonia (April Yevette Thompson) when Malcolm (Gaius Charles) was about twelve and Ennis (Francois Battiste) just a few years older —but not before passing on her spirit and ambitions for a richer, more imaginative life to her boys. That legacy gave Malcolm the drive to earn two degrees and win admission to graduate school as a student in environmental sciences and microeconomics. Ennis's take on his brother's fields of endeavor is something he calls "broke-ology" or the study of being broke and staying alive. He picks up on this during one of the Kings' customary times to relax over a game of dominos, refers to himself as a " Dominologist."
What gives this young playwright his own unique voice and style derives from the way he injects humor into the decision making crisis that overarches the summer of Malcolm's return to Kansas to work for the local EPA and help care for his sick father, plus the very contemporary dialogue of his characters (especially the "trash talk" that helps Domino players to release their tensions and aggression). Broke-ology is not a bang-bang-bang drama. It's a slowly built portrait of a family whose history consists of highs (the joy of a first child about to be born, of being in love) and lows (the persistent and at times critical shortage of money that keeps them from from a working class black neighborhood with its share of criminals and crack users, not to mention Sonia's death and now William's MS).
The fact that the brothers obviously like and love each other intensifies the emotional impact of the growing socioeconomic divide between them. And you don't have to to be African-American to identify and sympathize with Malcolm and Ennis, or the father's conflicting neediness and determination not to spoil his children's lives.
Thomas Kail, who made a big splash as the director of the Tony Award winning musical In the Heights, proves himself equally adept at drawing nuanced performances from actors in a straight play. Under his direction, the story moves organically from the early days of William and Sonia's marrige, with Ennis a toddler and Malcolm soon to be born, forward to the same cluttered living room/kitchen but with Sonia dead and Ennis and Malcolm now grown. The action focuses on a summer during which Malcom must choose between his dream and his responsibility to his father. The illusionary appearances of Sonia are handled with particular sensitivity. Also handled with finesse are the frequent scene changes. Though most end with the lights going down, they are not blackouts but fadeouts which never leave you in doubt about just how much time has elapsed by the time the lights go on again.
The actors playing the King men couldn't be better. Both Battiste and Gaius nail the sibling relationship and the differences threatening it. Battiste has the more difficult job of portraying the older brother who has gotten stuck in a job in a restaurant that he hates but can't quit because he's married and a new father. Like his father before him he loves his wife, but he strains at the responsibility and knowledge that like Willim he's unlikely to ever leave the "Hood" and the day to stay struggles it represents. Battiste has one especially powerful scene in which he edits the facts about how he responded to his boss's insistence that he work on his day off.
Wendell Pierce, an actor with a mellifluous voice, breaks your heart as the stubbornly independent, lonely father. He is also delightfully funny when he sings and dances along to an old tape. April Yvette Thompson, who last season had a well received Off-Broadway run in her own one-woman show, has the smallest role as the mother whose face Malcolm remembers less than the smell of the pancakes she used to make.
The designers have done an excellent job of evoking the atmosphere of the King home. The house (which the family probably doesn't even own) is proof that there's been little money to spruce things up over the years. And yet it's a home and not a house, a place where much living and loving has taken place.
Coming as it does from the pen of a still emerging playwright, Broke-ology points to skills Jackson still needs to refine, notably the tendency to telegraph things too obviously. At times, the words he puts into an uneducated character's mouth seem misplaced; for example, William's telling his son that whatever he chooses to do "regret is not an option" is a powerful statement but seems not quite right coming from this simple man.
An equally apt title for this play might have been Stuck. The Kings are people stuck by the blows dealt by economics, race and life. Ennis is stuck in a dead-end job and a too early marriage. Malcolm is stuck between fulfilling the dream that might just help him make a difference in neighborhoods like the one he grew up in, and making his father's illness and his brother's caregiving easier. William is stuck wanting the best for his sons and needing their help. His repeated dream about being in a sinking rowboat and only able to save one person sums up the essence of this all too familiar social dilemma.
I'll leave it to you to find out for yourself who, if anyone, is saved, and how. One thing I will tell you is that these characters will stick in your mind long after you've left the theater.
Broke-ology by Nathan Louis Jackson
Directed by Thomas Kail
Cast (In Order of Appearance: Wendell Pierce (William King), April Yvette Thompson (Sonia King), Francois Battiste (Ennis King), Gaius Charles (Malcolm King)
Set design: Donyale Werle
Costume design: Emily Rebholz
Lighting design: Mark Simpson
Sound design: Jill BC DuBoff
Stage manager: Brandon Kahn
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, including one intermission
There's nothing revolutionary about a backstage play, comic or otherwise. But making the play within such a play a newly discovered Kafka masterpiece and with an eye firmly fixed on the bottom line mounting it with two action movie stars, does indeed add a promising new twist to this popular genre. If, like me, you've followed Rebeck's career as playwright, screen writer and television series producer, you will know her as a writer who consistently comes up with original ideas or turns the tried and true on its head, though at times the results tend to be too facile. Though The Understudy doesn't escape this, Ms. Rebeck has written a witty new comedy about the craziness that's part of putting on a show, but has given Franz Kafka, the neurotic who captured the psychic dread of existence, a new identity as a funny man.
The lost Kafka masterpiece is Ms. Rebeck's building block for a play whose three characters' lives are at once Kafkaesque and very real. The rehearsal of the play is actually a run-through for the understudy roles. Jake (Bradley Cooper), the co-star, is testing out his partner's role with Harry (Reg Rogers) the actor hired to cover him. Somehow, the double understudy thing immediately tickles one's funny bone. Of course, the three-hour Kafka play being readied for Broadway is not a comedy and the back stories of Jake and Harry and their frazzled stage manager Roxanne (Kristen Johnston) also contain the seeds of a darker drama about the tensions that go with careers that do and don't gain altitude; however, Ms. Rebeck smartly sticks to the comedic impulse that prompted her to write The Understudy.
Rogers' terrific opening scene establishes him as a working (but not often and profitably enough) actor who's unlikely to slip into the understudy's part without having his say. The fact that Harry and Roxanne have a history that ended with her wedding dress hanging in her closet "like a wound" and that Jake, despite his high paying movie career is anxious about a pending major deal, ramps up the comedic tension. Director Scott Ellis insures that the rehearsal scenario and the play being rehearsed mesh smoothly and that every opportunity for laughter is realized.
Rogers is an actor who's consistently impressed me with his ability to inhabit a character, most memorably as one of the Collyer brothers in The Dazzle which Richard Greenberg wrote especially for him and Peter Freshette. Though he probably works much more regularly than Harry, he too isn't the sort of actor to send box office sales zooming. But his performance here is definitely a Wow! Rebeck gifts his financially strapped character (including one in which he declares the actors' life being no more crazy than the office workers' life he experienced as an office temp) but she also provides him with a chance to do some terrific physical comedy as well as to demonstrate his more serious acting skills.
Though you might see this as very much Rogers' play, his on stage colleagues contribute mightily to the success of this production. Bradley Cooper personifies the handsome, self-assured movie actor having a ball with this live theater gig, yet is never too far from worries about the movie career that pays for his expensive life style. The interaction between the two men, their veiled hostility and eventual bonding is as subtle as it is funny. Kristen Johnston, has ably replaced the originally scheduled Julie White, as Roxanne. She is appropriately manic as the volatile stage manager who recognizes the similarities between her failed relationship with Harry and Kafka's own failure to appreciate a woman who truly loved him.
It's to the script's credit that it would probably work even without Alexander Dodge's stylish revolving sets though there are quite a few laughs as a result of the tech assistant Laura's repeated failures to roll out the right scenery. While Laura is unseen throughout the play, director Ellis has maneuvered a wonderful curtain call for her.
I think Kafka who, according to Ms. Rebeck loved the theater, would appreciate the way she's applied his bleak view of existence to life in the theater and the big bucks movie business but managed to turn despair into comedy. If there's a message squeezed in between the chuckles, it's that life in the theater and the big bucks movie world can be more than a little Kafkaesque. While a play by the dour Kafka would be unlikely to make it to Broadway or Off-Broadway, even if cast with major movie stars, I wouldn't be surprised if The Understudydoes.
Reviews Of Other Plays by Theresa Rebeck
Bad Dates--solo play The Butterfly Collection
Omnium Gatherum with Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros
View of the Dome
Three Girls and Their Brother , Rebeck's first novel
The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Scott Ellis
Cast: Bradley Cooper (Jake), Kristen Johnston (Roxanne), Reg Rogers (Harry)
Set design by Alexander Dodge
Costume design by Tom Broecker
Lighting design by Kenneth Posner
Original Music and Sound design by Obadiah Eaves
Production stage manager: David H. Lurie.
Running Time: 90 Minutes without an intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on July 24th
July 23-August 3.
In lesser hands this could be just another behind-the-headlines TV movie of the week (the playwright's inspiration was in fact a newspaper clipping). But, while Not Waving is a quiet play without a lot of action or suspense, it's packed with enough believable and moving character interplay to overcome its talkiness and add up to a meaningful and moving drama.
Melaver skillfully draws connections between three pairs of characters at very different stages in life. If one might be viewed as the "lead" couple, it would be Peter (Dashiell Eaves), 32 and his mother Patsy (Harriet Harris), a divorcee. Patsy apparently lives near the beach and Peter is visiting. She's funny, cheery and opinionated and their squabbling hints at a somewhat touchy relationship. Couple number two are an attractive thirtyish husband and wife, Lizzie (Maria Dizzia)) and Matt (Nate Corddry). She seems more of a free spirit than he, as illustrated by his nervousness that his mother, who's house sitting, will see the vibrator Lizzie apparently forgot to put out of sight. The trio of couples is completed by two teenagers on a beach date— sassy but vulnerable Cara (Sarah Steele) and jokey but also vulnerable Bo (Will Rogers).
The mother and son, husband and wife, teen girl and boyfriend arrive at the beach and plant their belongings within sight of each other but far enough apart to structure the story telling into three separate playlets with interwoven connetions and counterpoints. The bite-sized cross-cutting from one duo to the next enables the playwright to move gradually from a comedic focus to the more serious issues that get unpacked along with the sunscreen that's part of each pair's initial getting settled talk.
It would spoil things to go into great detail about the emotional clouds that surface as the sun continues to shine on the inviting sandy beach David Korins has created. But rest assured that you don't need a degree in psychology to see that the empty lifeguard's chair symbolizes the ocean's potential for danger as well as pleasure which is reinforced by several references to the tragic drowning at this very beach during the previous summer. In any event, it's not the situations in themselves that are novel or particularly surprising, but the way that Ms. Melaver strips away the layers from her dramatic onion, with little hints of revelations to come strewn into the dialogue like shells on the beach; also the clever way she at times lets the dialogue and action overlap.
Not Waving's debut is blessed with a sterling sextet of actors, well guided by director Carolyn Cantor. Harriet Harris, whose wide smile and comic gifts are well known to Broadway audiences (Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Man Who Came to Dinner, etc.) is wonderful as the jokey but ultimately touching mother who can't stop nudging her grown-up son about what to eat for breakfast and subtly belittling his girlfriend. Dashiell Eaves does equally well by Peter's annoyance, irony and simmering angst about missing out on a stable, fully lived life while waiting for the perfect job or the perfect girl. Maria Dizzia and Nate Corddry are well-matched as the couple with a lot more to differ about than their taste in food. Sarah Steele and Will Rogers are delightful as the horny but wary and easily wounded teenagers
The set is gorgeously sunlit by David Weiner and enhanced by Bart Fasbender atmospheric soundscape of seagulls and waves splashing against the unseen shoreline.
This quiet easy to identify with play about the need for caring human connection and love, takes its title from Stevie Smith's poem "Not Waving But Drowning." The play translates that heart-wrenching poem's theme into one last mother-son squabble with Patsy's response to Peter's wanting to read rather than watch her while she takes a swim: "Everybody has to have somebody watching them." Indeed! We all need to give each other courage to go forth into the ocean (and life) by watching out for one another.
Not Waving by Ellen Melaver
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
Cast: Harriet Harris (Patsy),Dashiell Eaves (Peter), Nate Corddry (Matt), Maria Dizzia (Lizzie), Will Rogers (Bo), Sarah Steele (Cara)
Sets: David Korins
Costumes: Jenny Mannis
Lights: David Weiner
Sound: Bart Fasbender
Stage Manager: Matthew Silver
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer August 7th
Fridays @ 3 Reading Series--Schedule & Summaries
This popular reading series ise held in the Paresky Center Auditorium and there is a suggested donation of $5.00 payable at the door. (You can reserve by calling 413-597-340 ory logging on to www.wtfestival.org th at 3:00 p.m. at the Paresky Center on the Williams College campus. Following is a schedule who's doing what and when:
July 4: The Science of Hitting (Film) screenplay by Charles Evered In association with the Williamstown Film Festival. Directed by Steve Lawson. When Red Sox fan Danny O'Reilly treks cross-country on an unusual mission involving the contents of a cake box, will his hero's advice on hitting baseballs help him think – well – outside the box?
July 11: Claire Silva by John Shea. Directed by Justin Waldman. The Monaghan family is in turmoil as old wounds are opened anew. A convicted child molester is about to be released and the neighborhood is fractured. As the media descends, the quest for closure may finally illuminate the truth buried in the shadows of a dark past.
July 18: War Story by Beau Willimon. Directed by Amanda Charlton. A friendship forged over a blackjack table has surprising ramifications for Shaun, an army truck driver serving his tour of duty in Iraq. Worlds away from Shaun's battle zone, the enterprising young Jeff is blazing a trail through the business world. An examination of the choices people make to get ahead—or to just save their own skins.
July 25: What is the Cause of Thunder? by Noah Haidle. Directed by Justin Waldman. After 27 years on the same Soap Opera, Ada is starting to confuse her art and her life. But after so many years of acting, her art is her life.
August 1: TBA
August 8: The Good Negro by Tracey Scott Wilson. The 2007 Weissberger Award for Playwriting Winner. Directed by Liesl Tommy. A look into the heart of the 1960's Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. Against a constantly shifting landscape and under the ever-watchful eye of the FBI, a trio of emerging Black leaders must conquer their individual demons, everyday Black men and women must overcome their fears, and the local Ku Klux Klan fights for its old way of life.