The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

CurtainUp in the Berkshires
Williamstown Theatre Festival's Summer 2010 Season
By Elyse Sommer

Main Stage Show Reviews:- Fifth of July | Our Town | Six Degrees of Separation | A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum |

Nikos Stage Show Reviews: The Last Goodbye: A Musical Adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet | After the Revolution |Samuel J and K |

Williamstown Theatre Festival
1000 Main Street
Williamstown, MA (413/597-3400) Performance Schedule (all venues)
Tues — Fri. @ 8:00; Sat.@t 8:30
Thurs @ 3:00, Sat. @ 4:00; Sun. @ 2:00.

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 . See our news page for schedules of theaters we don't cover or only occasionally—Berkshire news page.

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.

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Main Stage Reviews

All too many things don't matter to you any more, Kenny—Aunt Sally to the neephew she loves and wants to shake out of his inertia about life, even as the life she dared to live fully by marrying a Jew, is at a crossroads.
Fifth of July
Elizabeth Franz, Danny Deferrari in rear), Shane McRae,
( Photo by T. Charles Erickson )
The reason for Kenny's inability to resume his life as a teacher in his home town of Lebanon, Missouri is that he lost his legs in the Vietnam war. His beloved Aunt Sally who has come to the Talley farnhouse to bury the ashes of the beloved husband that she's been carrying around for over a year.

Sound depressing? Well, it could be, if Lanford Wilson hadn't made this July 4th-5th family and old friends reunion a serio-comedy.

This first written and produced play about the Talley family, but in a later time frame than the two that followed, has all the earmarks of a dysfunctional family saga. But Wilson has removed the "dys" from that adjective and ends things on an upbeat note that allows Ken to gather the strength to pick up the pieces of his shattered dreams.

Since the eccentric but endearing Aunt Sally is the family member responsible for making the Talleys once again function individually and as a family it's noo wonder that Wilson wrote a whole play about her and the husband whose ashes resist being buried in The Fith of July — a Pulitzer Prize winner no less. While Talley's Folly is produced more often because of that Pulitzer and because of its economical 2-member cast (Sally at 31 and her Jewish suitor), The Fifth of July, is a wonderful ensemble piece and well worth seeing whenever the opportunity arises.

The only thing depressing about this very fine revival mounted at Williamstown's Main Stage in association with Bay Street Theater is that we're once again caught up in an endless dream and limb-shattering war. And while a play in which we see two men in a comfortable loving relationship is no longer unusual, as it was in the '70s, questions about legalizing such arrangements and don't ask-don't-tell in the military have hardly gone away.

Like other plays in the Talley trilogy, the setting is in the Missouri town where Wilson himself grew up. David Gallo has created a warmly inviting, plant and wicker furniture filled porch and sunroom for the Talleys and assorted others to reveal their assorted hopes and anxieties.

The plot's central issue -- Ken's dealing with his reservations about facing a classroom situation as a man hobbling about on artificial limbs, even though teaching is what he's eminently suited to do— is layered by the presence of the weekend visitors. It turns out that Ken is not alone in having to go forward from yesterday (the 4th of July) to the the rest of their lives (the 5th of July and beyond). This is serious business, but as already stated, this is as much comedy as tragedy, so this gathering doesn't need fire crackers to crackle with humor supplied by the play's quirkiest (but never caricaturish) characters.

Elizabeth Franz is so good as the widowed Aunt Sally who, like her nephew, is uncertain about where and how to live the rest of her life, that I'm tempted to say she steals the show. You find your gaze resting on her face even when she doesn't say a word. And when she speaks, it's a case of Linda Loman's famous quote (a multi-awad winning Franz role) "Attention must be paid." Fortunately, the rest of the people gathered at the wonderfully woodsy farmhouse are all excellent and Terry Kinney most effectively steers them through the shifts between comic and heart-clenching, letting the emotions emerge from beneath the surfaces with measured fluidity.

As Ken, Shane McRae convincingly navigates between the depression that has a grip on him and joy in his love for Jed Jenkins (Noah Bean), not to mention dealing with the difficulty of hobbling around on crutches. Bean is effectively understated as the lover who tends to Ken's emotional and physical needs. His removing the weeds to allow the garden to once more flourish is an obvious but lovely metaphor for the various Talleys' need to clear their past of growth-impeding "weeds."

The other Talleys on hand are Ken's once radical peacenik sister June (an aptly subdued Kellie Overbey) whose big battle nowadays is to deal with her self-dramatizing thirteen-year-old daughter Shirley (Kally Duling). Kinney manages to reign in Duling's portrayal which could easily be annoying, guiding her toward an ultimately more shaded persona.

Even more colorful than Shirley is Jennifer Mudge as Gwen Landis, an old college chum and heiress whose erstwhile political passions have metamorphosed into the ambition to become a country music star. It turns out that she and John (David Wilson Barnes), her husband-manager and Ken's one-time best buddy are there to buy the Talley house from Ken and use it as a recording studio. Actually, John has yet another motif connected to his long-ago relationship with June.

The interactions meander along, shifting from rambling conversations to angry confrontations. Yet, even dialogue that seems to digress from the play's thematic underpinnings is not really irrelevant. Case in point: a long monologue on Eskimos by the play's most out of the loop character, Gwen's guitarist-songwriter Weston Hurley (Dannny Deferrari).

Sarah J. Holden's costumes, especially for Mudge and Duling, are perfect. David Weiner's lighting and Obadiah Eaves sound design further add to the rich atmosphere. It's too bad that the theater's acoustics are such that one always hears complaints about missed dialogue from people sitting in the balcony.

To conclude, some trivia about how Fifth of July evolved.. It was written during the playwright's association with Circle Repertory company where his production of The Hot L Baltimore (A summer 2000 Williamstown Theatre Festival revival that transferred briefly to Broadway) won him critical acclaim and numerous awards. Fifth of July originated there in 1978 with William Hurt and Jeff Daniels before debuting on Broadway in 1980. Christopher Reeve, who ironically was permanently crippled in a riding accident, took over for Hurt. A 1982 television film with Jeff Daniels, Richard Thomas and Swoozie Kurtz is still available as a DVD. Our own last encounter with the play during the Signature Theatre's season-long tribute to Lanford Wilson in 2002..

Production Notes
Fifth of July by Lanford Wilson
Directed by Terry Kinney
Cast: David Wilson Barnes (John Landis), Noah Bean ( (Jed Jenkins), Danny Deferrari (Weston Hurley), Kally Duling (Shirley Talley), Elizabeth Franz (Sally Friedman), Shane McRae (Kenneth Talley, Jr.), Jennifer Mudge (Gwen Landis), Kellie Overbey (June Talley).
Senic design by David Gallo
Costume design by Sarah J. Holden
Lighting design by David Weiner
Sound design by Obadiah Eaves
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Stage manager: Brian Meister
From August 11 -22, 2010
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes including intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer August 12th
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Our Town

There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being —the Stage Manager,

. . . Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—-every,every minute?— Emily, who so heart wrenchingly faces the eternal deep inside her earlier than most of us.
Our Town at Williamstown
Forefront: Brie Larson (Emily) and Will Rogers (George) being married by Campbell Scott (rear) temporarily switching from Stage Manager to Minister conducting the wedding
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
Despite a poorly received Boston tryout in 1938, Thornton Wilder's Our Town went on to win a Pulitzer Prize (Wilder's second, the first being for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Ray). Wilder's use of a central narrator and fourth wall breaking audience confidante and insistence on performing his play with minimal scenery and props was a groundbreaking departure from the kitchen sink realism audiences had come to expect.

Wilder's abstract vision for his very realistic story of the life cycle (Act One: Daily Life. . .Act Two: Love and Marriage. . .Act Three Death and Eternity) of the citizens of a small New England town has become a much used staging template, but the 2,642 citizens of New Hampshire town — especially the Town Manager, Editor and Mrs. Webb, Doc and Mrs. Gibbs and their children — have continued to touch our hearts via countless professional and amateur productions (not to mention the 1940 movie, several TV adaptations and an opera version by Ned Rorem). Grover's Corners has slipped into our lexicon as a geographic metaphor for small town U.S.A. during the first decade of the twentieth century— a way to reflect with the Stage Manager on "the way we were in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying."

Many, including this writer, love the play and won't miss any new production even though they know every much quoted line and can recite some of the Stage Manager's statistics and practically taste Mrs. Gibbs' French toast. Fortunately, the productions Curtainup has covered in its dozen years online have avoided succumbing to the tendency to go overboard on the treacly sentimentality.

In 2002 the adventurous Transport Group's director Jack Cummings III was so dertermined to avoid the too familiar and sentimental approach by casting two older actors as Emily and George and using a teenager to bring the sincerity and innocence of youth to the Stage Manager. It was an intriguing experiment though not one likely to be repeated on a regular basis.( review). That same year saw celebrity casting once again turn the play into a hot Broadway show, its star attraction being Paul Newman as the Stage Manager. Newman who at 77 knew what he was talking about when he brushed his hands together and exclaimed "Woosh-— and you're seventy" turned ot to be quite wonderful, as was the rest of the cast and I was once again moved to tears when George lay grief stricken at Emily's grave. (review)

Fast forward seven years and the vision of a young Chicagoan, David Cromer, to bring us an Our Town that was not only once again moving, but truly revelatory in its vision and presentation. I saw it three times, each time with a different stage manager, and was blown away each time. (review of the production which ends its long ) Off-Broadway run after Labor day ). As stated in a recent interview in The Berkshire Eagle, the popularity of that production inspired Nicholas Martin to include his own version of this, his own favorite play, in his swan song season as Williamstown's Artistic Director.

To support the aptness of Martin's choice there's the Festival 's history with the play — a summer 1959 production feature Wilder himself at the Stage Manager, and in 1976 they cast a female Stage Manager, Geraldine Fitzgerald. For Martin and many thespians Williamstown has itself been something of a theatrical Grover's Corners— working with the community, nurturing many careers and occasionally launching marriages (Becky Ann and Dylan Baker met during a summer at Williamstown). Thus this farewell production features many familiar Williamstown summer citizens like the Bakers. Both add to the pleasures of this Our Town, she as Mrs. Gibbs and he Editor Webb. Their on stage spouses, John Rubinstein as Doc Gibbs and Jessica Hecht as Mrs. Webb are also solid and endearing.

As always the omniscient narrator and occasional active participant in a major Grover's Corner event (The drugstore owner mixing the ice cream soda for Emily and George's first date and the minister who conducts their wedding ceremony) is more or less the central character in Wilder's patchwork quilt. Like David Cromer who initiated the role in the Barrow Street Theater production, Campbell Scott the WTF Stage Manager is dressed in street clothes and plays the part with unpretentious charm and humor. Which kicks up the almost inevitable comparison to the inspiring Off-Broadway production. Good as Scott and most of this cast are, Nicholas Martin's Grover's Corners lacks the unforgettably compelling intimacy and stunning surprise finale of the downtown venue where I last saw it.

That said, Mr. Martin has added some nice touches. To ramp up the meta-heatricality of the play and deal with the difficulties of creating an authentically intimate flavor in a large, elegant space like the Williamstown Main Stage. For starters, we first see Scott overseeing some stagehands sweeping the stage. The large non-equity cast has enabled Martin to stage the the church chorus rehearsal scene with a group of singers in the balcony boxes at either side of the stage. He's also used the boxes and aisles to give the audience a sense of being part of the life of the town. While Will Rogers, whose performance a few seasons back in 100 Saints You Should Know (which also featured the wonderful Lois Smith, currently in WTF's exciting world premiere of After the Revolution-- see review below) is a fine George Gibbs, the very pretty Brie Larson falls somewhat short of bringing full throttle emotional depth to Emily.

I'll admit that I may still be too close to my memories of being truly in the middle of Grover's Corners at that tiny downtown Manhattan theater to truly embrace a different production. However, even if I'd never been to Barrow Street, I'd find the set at Williamstown a noble but failed attempt at being true to Wilder's vision of minimal scenery. David Korin, a top drawer and very versatile designer, has turned this chairs-ladders-tables concept into a too extended visual metaphor. Instead of supporting Wilder's wish to focus on the characters' emotional interactions rather than their physical surroundings, Korins' assemblage of suspended chairs, tables and ladders is artful but disconcertingly distracing — more a museum display than a truly meaningful and fitting scenic design.

Still, in our hectic modern world, it's not a bad idea to untether yourself long enough from your cell phone and i-pad to spend time with the citizens of the kind of town that lives on only in theater; at that, theaters willing to put on large cast plays about simple but large ideas like love and marriage and death and eternity.

Production Notes

Our Town by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Nicholas Martin
Cast (alphabetical order): Becky Ann Baker (Mrs. Gibbs}, Dylan Baker (Mr. Webb}, Kevin Cahoon (Joe Stoddard}, Nancy E. Carroll (Mrs. Soames}, Sam Crane (Professor Willard}, Jeff Cuttler (Baseball Player}, Zackary Grady (Joe Crowell}, Jessica Hecht (Mrs. Webb}, Brie Larson (Emily Webb}, Adam Lerman (Howie Newsome}, Brian Lewis (Baseball Player}, Bryce Pinkham (Sam Craig}, Gayle Rankin (Dead Woman}, Will Rogers (George Gibbs}, Emma Rosenthal (Rebecca Gibbs}, Graham Rowat (Constable Warren}, John Rubinstein (Dr. Gibbs}, Campbell Scott (Stage Manager}, Jon Patrick Walker (Simon Stimson}
Scenic Design by David Korins
Costume Design by Gabriel Berry
Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner
Sound Design by Drew Levy
Composer: Michael Friedman Production Stage Manager Gregory T. Livoti
July 28 - August 8, 2010
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on July 29th
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Six Degrees of Separation
I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The President of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. Fill in the names. I find that A) tremendously comforting that we're so close and B) like Chinese water torture that we're so close. Because you have to find the right six people to make the connection. It's not just big names. lt's anyone. A native in a rain forest. A Tierra del Fuegan. An Eskimo. I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people. It's a profound thought. How Paul found us. How to find the man whose son he pretends to be. Or perhaps is his son, although I doubt it. How every person is a new door, opening up into other worlds. Six degrees of separation between me and everyone else on this planet. But to find the right six people— Ouisa
Tim Daly andMargaret Colin
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
No doubt at least one playwright is sitting at his computer right now concocting a play about con man Bernard Madoff. David Hampton, the con man who inspired John Guare's 1990 play Six Degrees of Separation didn't work on quite as large a canvas. During the early 1980s, Hampton began to pass himself off as Sidney Poitier's son. Not content to finagle free meals at fancy restaurants he concocted a scheme that resulted in some dozen rich and famous New Yorkers letting him stay in their homes and give him money.

Those taken in by his charm, and bad luck stories (a favorite: a missed Hollywood bound plane with his luggage and wallet on board) and that one degree removed relationship via knowing their children adds up to quite a list: Melanie Griffith, Gary Sinise, Calvin Klein, WNET president John Jay Iselin, Columbia University dean Osborn Elliott and a prosperous doctor. Hampton's victims suffered mostly from damage to their self image as savvy, hard to bamboozle New Yorkers. Unlike the Madoff con game with its major financial repercussions, the Hampton hoax would probably have faded into the archives of celebrity tall tales if John Guare had not created his comic yet ultimately sad psychodrama. Its stylish structure and multi-faceted script peppered with name dropping and cultural references, positioned it as a defining dramatic slice of New York life during a particular era.

Guare's play is like a salad tossed together with assorted social issues and attitudes that may have changed over the years but are essentially the same — the pursuit of money, the infatuation with celebrity, lack of understanding between husbands and wives, parents and children, race. At the time it opened (1990) it could also be seen as a sly turned-on-its-head parody of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, the 1967 movie starring Sidney Poitier as a young doctor's first meeting with his white future in-laws. What set the play apart from literary sendups of that era, like Tom Wolfe's 1987 best selling novel Bonfire of the Vanities, is that Guare used Hampton's story to explore the statistical theory that you could find and link yourself to anybody, anywhere through a chain of just six people and that he succeeded in not letting style keep his characters from having enough substance to avoid being caricatures.

While the six degrees theory was already being explored in various forms before 1990, (Guare attributed his own interest and awareness to Marconi), it was Guare's play and its subsequent movie version that popularized the title as a common usage phrase and led to its being incorporated into small and large screen stories, the invention of a game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and the proliferation of the it's a small world idea that drives social networks like Facebook.

Theatergoers too young to have seen Six Degrees of Separation when it premiered at Lincoln Center twenty years ago, may not relate instantly to the allusions since some of the people mentioned have passed on to the great beyond (including Hampton, the Paul-model who died of AIDS). Does that mean Williamstown's 20th anniversary production is dated? Yes, but meaningfully and still entertainingly so.

As Guare tells the story, Paul maneuvers his entry into the Kittredges' lives as well as those of some of their friend by pretending to have been mugged and stabbed in Central Park. Bloodied and minus his wallet, he has niowhere to go until his father (Poitier) arrives at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel. In the age of the Internet and texting the Paul-smitten Kittredges in whose Fifth Avenue high rise we watch the dissembling Paul work his wiles would certainly have had an easier time checking out Paul after realizing he'd duped them causes them them to wander off the trail that will keep them connected "to everyone in the planet, " but through the "right six people." And Paul probably wouldn't have needed Rick the geeky Doctor's son and high school class mate of the Kittredge children to be the Henry Higgins to arm him with details about the private lives of the people he targets for his bipolar flim-flam and provide him with smart talk topics and recipes with which to impress them.

Anne Kauffman has staged the single act play fluidly. She moves things along so briskly that at last Thursday's matinee the tempest set in motion when their doorman rings the Kittredges' bell with the worse for wear Paul in tow whizzed by in ten minutes less than the usual 90 minutes. The forward and backward action, with its concurrent audience addressing mnologues and dialogue, shifts from present to past, from real to dream interplay features a 17-member ensemble.

As Stockard Channing's pretentiously named Ouisa (instead of Louisa) was the original production's emotional linchpin, so is Margaret Colin. Except for being taller, she looks a lot like Channing, and at times even sounds like her. Most importantly, she is as adept as Channing was in letting us see Ouisa evolve from superficial Upper East Sider to someone profoundly changed by the things she learns about herself, her children, and her marriage in the aftermath of the unstable young man's sudden arrival, equally sudden departure, and poignant return when he's genuinely needy.

Tim Daly's performance as Ouisa's husband Flan, a man whose deals somehow mirror Paul's con but on a bigger, more grandiose and more successful scale, could be a bit more colorful and nuanced. On the other hand, Ato Essandoh brings an exhilarating mix of charisma, cruelty (he's not above tricking a poor young couple out of their savings) and, ultimately, depth to the young man whose real identity remains as much a mystery as the factors that shaped what is clearly a deeply disturbed personality.

The ensemble generally does a good job of mining Guare's witty text. John Bedford Lloyd, an actor who can always be counted on to do right by his characters, stands out as Geoffrey, the "rich as Midas" South African the Kittredges are about to take to dinner in hopes of persuading him to provide the funds needed to buy and re-sell a Cezanne painting. The impromptu dinner and entertaining stories Paul dishes up help to seal the Cezanne deal and fire up Geoffrey to do his bit to improve the inequities of Arpatheid by hosting a Black American Film Festival.

Ned Eisenberg also shines in his brief appearance as the gullible doctor whose son Rick (Lucas Kavner) is Paul's Henry Higgins. A scene in which the parents are confronted by their narcissistic, intolerant offspring's recriminations for succumbing to Paul's flim-flam. is one of the play's comic highlights.

Finally, there's the not to be overlooked Kandinsky painting that swirls several times from one side to the next to symbollically and literally underscore the duality of Paul's identity, as well as the inner and outer aspects of the other characters' psyches. And so, as Six Degrees of Separation was something of a forerunner to our super-connected present world, it also led the way for plays like Yasmina Rez's Art (Barrington Stage's next Main Stage production) and last season's Tony winning Red to turn paintings into prop superstars.

Production Notes
Six Degrees of Separationby John Guare
directed by Anne Kauffman
Cast: Margaret Colin (Ouisa), Tim Daly (Flan), John Bedford Lloyd (Geoffrey), Ato Essandoh (Paul), Drigan Lee (Hustler), Candy Buckley (Kitty), Tom Nelis (Larkin), James Joseph O'Neil (Detective), Clea Alsip (Tess), Dominic Spillane (Woody), Lauren Blumenfeld (Jen), Ned Eisenberg (Dr. Fine), Michael Bradley Cohgen (Doug), Daniel Hartley (Policeman/ Doorman), Benjamin Mehl (Trent), Lucas Kavner (Rick), Ariel Woodiwiss (Elizabeth).
Scenic Design: Antje Ellermann
Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Production Stage Manager: David Sugarman
Production Manager: Joel M. Krause
Running Time: Appoximately 75 minutes without intermission July 14 – 24
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A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum

A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum
Josh Grisetti, William Costible, Jeremy Shamos (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
Something appealing
/Something appalling/
Something for everyone- a comedy tonight
- — just a sampling of the witty introductory song"Comedy Tonight" sung by Pseudolus.
A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum
Christopher Fitzgerald as Pseudolus;
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
In the Berkshires, as everywhere, it's been a time to celebrate Stephen Sondheim on his 80th Birthday. At Barrington Stage we currently have a wonderful Sweeney Todd which finds Sondheim at his most macabre. Williamstown's Artistic Director Nicholas Martin is launching his last Main Stage season with A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum, which finds the incomparable composer-lyricist at his most playful.

Well, here's a funny thing that happened to me: From the moment the architectural fragments sketched in sepia on the scrim curtain metamorphosed into a full fledged Roman cityscape to the accompaniment of the overture, I fell in love with this show that I have always liked for its nifty songs but never really loved. What happened was that I fell in love with Christopher Fitzgerald, in this sublime production's droll Pseudolus, the slave yearning to be free. This role that has nabbed a Tony for every thespian playing him on Broadway (Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Nathan Lane) would surely win one for Fitzgeral if this were on the great White Way (as it well deserves to be) instead of an all too short run at Williamtown Theatre Festival's beautiful Main Stage.

Actually this turned out to be a multiple love affair. I was also smitten with the other thirteen guys who made the two and a half hours whiz by with non-stop laughter and wittily choreographed musical numbers. What about the leggy, curvacious girls playing the courtesans, one of whom, the virginal Phila, is the object of Pseudolus's master Hero's affections? The characters are all there but Director Jessica Stone (best known as an actor) decided to take the scriptwriters' (Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart) nod to Roman playwright Plautus a step further by staging this revival with an all-male cast — which is how all plays were done in Plautus's days.

When I first heard about this new old-style casting, I wasn't sure that having men playing the female parts would add anything all that wonderful, other than some shtick to an already shtick-rich show. But I was wrong. Given the on-the-mark casting, Stone's astute, fast-paced, laugh-a-minute direction and Catherine A. Parrott's colorful costumes, the all-male casting works brilliantly. Add to this: Alexander Dodge's handsome set with its abundance of doors (not to mention windows, ladders and walkways) . . .Denis Jones' inspired choreography\. . . a pitch-perfect pit orchestra that allows the Sondheim' lyrics with their rare-in-a-farce sophistication to be crystal clear. Result = the best ever Forum production (and there have been plenty!).

As a rule I don't get a chance to describe a show as thrilling too often. Yet here I am, just a week after applying that adjective to Barrington Stage's revival of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, being blown away by everything about WTF's A Funny Thing. . . If you don't already have tickets, you may want to stop reading this review long enough to dial the WTF box office to reserve yours.

In case you're unfamiliar with the plot: Pseudolus is a slave in the house of Senex (Jeremy Shamos). His immediate master is his contemporary, Senex's son Hero (Bryce Pinkham). To win the freedom he so desperately wants, Pseudolus promises Hero that he will arrange for him to be wed to Phila (David Turner), the virginal courtesan in the neighboring house of Marcus Lycos (David Costabile). Before the inevitable happy end, there are complications. For starters, Phila has been promised to the Greek Warrior Miles Gloriosus (Graham Rowat). The various mistaken identities and mishaps multiply and by the second act explodes into a mad chase, climaxed by a hilarious mock funeral and the reprise of the wonderful "Comedy Tonight" number.

Fitzgerald, whom Williamstown regulars may remember for his previous comic tour-de-force in Where's Charlie, is even more winning as the deliciously sly slave. His expressive face and seemingly made of rubber body is a study in perpetual motion. He sings and dances (simultaneously) and knows how to get a big bang from the simplest lines — all with a spontaneity that seems totally unrehearsed; for example, when Hysterium (Josh Grisetti) , the fellow servant he inveigles as a helpmeet in his match-making schemes at one point is forced to act as a stand-in for Philia and complains "You didn't tell me I would have to be a girl," Fitzgerald simply shrugs and tells him to look around the stage. Grisetti, a Ray Bolger look-alike who collected universal bravos during the York Theater's revival of Enter Laughing is, like, Fitzgerald is a terrific comic. He also knows how to deliver a song and makes the most of his solo "I'm Calm."

As I 've already indicated, everyone is a star here and the musical numbers support plenty of star turns. Jeremy Shamus who, except for a small musical (Gutenberg: The Musical) I've seen and admired mostly in dramas is clearly having the time of his life as Senex, the henpecked husband whose libido is aroused (yes, by the much sought after Phila) during his aptly named wife Domina's (Chivas Michael) visit to her mother. He has a peppy duet, "Impossible," with his lovelorn son Hero, does the honors introducing the Prologue to the second act and contributes mightily to some of the ensemble numbers.

Bryce Pinkham's Hero first comes on stage with a solo "Love, I Hear," and joins Phila in "Lovely," which is indeed as lovely as it is amusing. David Turner successfully portrays Phila's femininity, without ever letting us forget that she's a he.

David Costabile also has a fine time as Lycus, the brothel keeper. Graham Rowatt, who like most of the characters lives up to his name brings a rich baritone to the macho, sword-toting Miles Gloriosus. His arrival to claim Philla sets the final farcical door slamming chase in motion.and arrives. Not to be overlooked in this praise giving fest is Kevin Cahoon who wanders across the stage as Eronius, the mother in search for her lost offspring and, of course, the mostly double cast Proteans and Courtesans, whose choreographic skills are nothing short of amazing and add enormously to the fun, without ever overdoing their mini-star turns.

While "Comedy Tonight" is probably this show's best-known number, there are others that beautifully showcase Sondheim's rhythms and wit, like "Pretty Little Picture" and the show-stopping "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid."

Finally, stay in your seat even after the actors have taken their bows. Otherwise you'll miss a sensational, surprise filled encore that like this whole show embodies the talented Ms. Stone's vision of something old to make A Funny Thing Happend to Me On the Way to the Forum new again.

Production Notes
A Funny Thing Happend to Me On the Way to the Forum
Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Jessica Stone
Choreography by Denis Jones
Cast: Kevin Cahoon (Erronious/Tintinabula), Paul Castree (Protean/Gemini #1), Jeremy Shamos (Marcus Lycus), Christopher Fitzgerald (Pseudolus), Zackary Grady (Protean), Josh Grisetti (Hysterium), Adam Lerman (Protean), Chivas Michael (Domina/Panacea), Bryce Pinkham (Hero), Joe Aaron Reid (Protean/Gymnasia), Jeremy Shamos (Senex/Vibrata), David Turner (Phillia), Jon Patrick Walker (Protean/Gemini #2)
Scenic Design: Alexander Dodge
Costume Design: Catherine A. Parrott
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Drew Levy and Tony Smolenski
Orchestra Conductor: Gary Adler
Musicians: Melanie Dexter, Xiao-Lan Wang, Mary Ann McSweeney, Ben Baron, Steven Bodner, Freddie DeChristofaro, Lyndon Moors, Tom Bergeron, Daniel Timmermans, John Trombetta, Michael Fahn, Jonathan Myers, John Wheeler, Matthew Gold, Scott Neumann, Elizabeth Morse
Production Stage Manager: Gregory T. Livoti
Production Manager: Joel M. Krause
June 30-July 11, 2010
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer July 1, 3010
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Comedy Tonight / Prologus, Proteans and the Company
  • Oave, I Hear/Hero
  • Free/ Pseudolus, Hero
  • The House of Marcus Lycus/ SenexLycus, Pseudolus, Courtesans
  • Lovely/ Hero, Philia
  • Everybody Ought to Have a Maid/Senex, Pseudolus, Hysterium, Lycus
  • I'm Calm/ Hysterium
  • Impossible/ Senex, Hero
  • Bring Me My Bride/ Miles, Pseudolus, Courtesans, Proteans
Act Two
  • That Dirty Old Man/ Domina
  • Echo Song/Phila Hero
  • Lovely (Reprise/ Pseudolus, Hysterium
  • Funeral / Pseudolus, Miles, Courtesans, Proteans
  • Comedy Tonight (Reprise)/Pseudolus & Company

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NicosStage Reviews

The Last Goodbye: A Musical Adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
What will you say when you see my face? —Juliet, as she is about to swallow the potion that will make her appear dead in her second act solo "What Will You Say"
the Last Goodbye
Kelli Barrett & Damon Daunno
(Photo by Sam Hough)
Kudos to Michael Kimmel for having the vision to marry Shakespeare's star-crossed young lovers with the music of Jeff Buckley, who like Romeo and his Juliet died before having a chance to fully live his life and explore his talents. And kudos to Williamstown Theatre Festival for giving The Last Goodbye, his sophisticated, sizzling musical marriage of Shakespeare's famous romance and more than twenty of Jeff Buckley's songs a spectacular launch. Note, that word launch, for it's a safe bet to predict that this won't be the last goodbye for this vibrant integration of Shakespeare's story and words and Buckley's powerful tunes.

While my advance press announcement listed a choreographer and full creative team, I somehow expected to see a staged concert. Not so. The production now literally exploding into life on the Nikos Stage is ready for prime time, as Broadway worthy as anything I've recently seen on the Great White Way. Granted, producers might want to make some cast changes in deference to the celebrity ticket selling factor, though I'd be hard put to sacrifice a single member of this dynamic ensemble who sing and dance magnificently — and deliver the Bard's famous lines with remarkable clarity and feeling.

It's the way Kimmel's adaptation has merged Buckley's pop-rock vernacular with not just Shakespeare's story line but enough of his language to make this a fine introduction to Romeo and Juliet, that makes this show so special. Sure, West Side Story, will contnue to be part of the musical theater's canon of classical musicals (a Broadway revival is continuing a healthy run as I write), but The Last Goodbye, manages to combine a distinctly now musical vocabulary and also remain true to Shakespeare's words. A nice trick if you can pull it off, which Kimmel, with the support of his creative team and the actors, does.

Trust me. Forget about the feeling that you've overdosed on R&J revivals and seen enough balcony scenes and heard "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?" and "Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow." You'll be newly bowled over when you see and hear this Kelli Barrett's Juliet), and Damon Daunno's Romeo talk and sing sweet nothings to each other.

The balcony in this production is a scaffolded walkway encircling the stage. However, unlike the many such walkways seeded by Rent, the La Beheme inspired musical that like The Last Goodbye linked the tragedy of its leading characters and that of its composer, scenic designer Michael Brown's walkway is enhanced his with a handsome wrought iron railing . The overall look is brilliantly authentic urban grunge, complete with an upstage wall of graffiti posters that at one point is literally ripped away to reveal the stained glass window of the chapel where they are secretly married by the Friar (the terrific Jesse Lenat). The marriage is consummated with a steamy production number. The chapel also sees the young couple's plan to live happily ever after on earth turn into ever after in eternity. The two-tiered setting allows for the excellent 6-piece band (which includes 2 guitars and a violin insuring that this rock music doesn't blast you out of your seat) to be positioned at either side of the stage.

While Kelli Barrett gets some of the most visceral solos, the entire cast belts out the songs with even those with the support players getting their chance to shine—- as exemplified when Benvolio (Nick Blaemire) leads the ensemble in the heart-stirring "Hallelujah" which concludes the show.

The feuding parents (Merle Dandridge and Michael Park as the Capulets, Deb Lyons and Max Jenkins as the Montagues) also play their parts with musical and emotional integrity. Jo Lempart is amazing both as Mercutio and as part of the Ensemble numbers. I could go on, but there really isn't a weak link here, so consider this a full round of applause for the entire cast.

I wasn't familiar with Buckley's music, nor do I have an ipod filled with rock music, but I found the score and the lyrics accessible and enjoyable, especially given Kris Kukul's arrangements. I was utterly swept away by " Corpus Christi Carol", the title song and "Hallelujah."

Speaking of being swept away, much of the visual pleasures of The Last Goodbye come courtesy of Sonya Tayeh's striking choreography. The cast's movements as they grieve for the dead lovers is simply unforgettable. Words can only try to describe the impact of her work and the performers' execution of it. If you need any further encouragement to hurry up and nab a ticket, Anne Kennedy's costumes and Ben Stanton's lighting are also knockouts. If I had to limit this review to a tweet: It will rock you out of your seat, so get thee to the Nikos, NOW!

Production Notes
The Last Goodbye: A Musical Adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet
Conceived adapted and directed by Michael Kimme
Music and lyrics by Jeff Buckley
Orchestrations, music direction and arrangements by Kris Kukul
Choreography by Sonya Tayeh
Cast: (alphabetical Order); Kelli Barrett (Juliet), Nick Blaemire (Benvolio), Celina Carvajal (Rosaline), Merle Dandridge (Lady Capulet), Damon Daunno (Romeo), Tom Hennes (Paris), Max Jenkins (Prince), Jo Lampert (Mercutio), Jesse Lenat (Friar), Deb Lyons (Lady Montague), Ashley Robinson (Tybalt), Chloe Webb (Nurse).
Scenic Design by Michael Brown
Costume Design by Anne Kennedy
Lighting Design by Ben Stanton
Sound Design by Ken Travis
Production Stage Manager David H. Lurie
Band: Elllen Gronningen-violin; Alon Bisk-cello; Andrew Goodsight-bass; Danvid Cinquegrana and Julian Maile-guitars; Ian Pai-drums
August 5 – 20, 2010
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer August 8, 2010 matinee
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • You and I / Benvolio
  • The Brawl (Eternal Life//Last Godbye//What Will You Say)//Rosalina, Romeo, Juliet, Ensemble
  • Forget Her/Romeo, Benvolio, Rosaline
  • I Woke Up in a Strange Place/Juliet, Nurse
  • Dream Brother/Mercutio, Romeo, Juliet, Ensemble
  • Haven't You Heard/Tybalt
  • New Yer's Prayer/Friar, Ensemble
  • Eternal Life/Mercutio, Ensemble
Act Two
  • Lover, You Should've Come Over; I Know We Could Be So happy Baby (If We Wanted to Be)/ Juliet, Romeo, Ensemble
  • Morning Theft/Lord Capulet, Lady Capulet, Paris, Juliet, Romeo
  • Nightmare By Sea/Nurse, Lady Capulet, Lady Montague
  • What Will You Say/Juliet
  • Corpus Christi Carol/Paris, Ensemble
  • Grace/Romeo, Ensemble
  • Opening Once; Last Goobye/Juliet, Romeo
  • Hallelujah/ Benvolio, Ensemble

  • (Some additional music and lyrics by C. Azar, Benjamin Britten, Lenoard Cohen, Chris Dowd, Mick Grondahl, Matt Johnson and Gary Lucas)
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After the Revolution
There's a lot we agree about. — Leo discussing how the newly published revelations about their father shuld be dealt with.

We're talking about the difference between honoring dad and shitting on him.— Ben

I guess the main thing we disagree about is that those are the only options—Leo

Your disappointment in your family is terrible I know, but Emma, this is not an uncommon predicament. Take a walk in the East Village {in the 1940s}, throw a stone and you hit a spy.— Mort.
Katharine Powell and Lois Smith
( Photo by T. Charles Erickson )
Oh Joy! A new play not dollar-bound to tops, 4 characters. Not one of its full-bodied ensemble double cast (not even the one minor character, a waiter) c a single audience addressing monologue.

What's more Amy Herzog's play isn't afraid to be a bit talky in order to create an absorbing three-generation family saga flavored with authentic historic details that may send some audience members — especially those in the much sought after under 35 demographi— on a Googling expedition. Director Carolyn Cantor has staged the Joseph family's story on a set that shifts locations fluidly, with a single set that evokes shifts to four different apartments and a restaurant vwithout a lot of distracting prop moving.

Oh, and did I mention that the cast for this world premiere couldn't be better?

So there's the good news. I can't say that Herzog's play is as flawless as the performances and the staging and that it couldn't use some fine tuning before heading to it's already announced transfer to one of New York's most prestigious Off-Broadway venues, Playwrights Horizons. But it's one of the more original but old-fashioned new dramas I've seen in a while — old-fashioned in that it's not afraid to talk and talk like a George Bernard Shaw play to an audience known for its short attention span.

The time is 1999, and the past decade has seen the collapse of the Soviet Union and the death of Joe Joseph, the family's paterfamilias (a bit of naming wordplay on Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin?). He has passed on the family commitment to Left politcs to sons Robbie (Peter Friedman) and Mel (Mark Blum) the way doctors and actors, tho pass on their callings to their children. Son Robbie, a "social studies and justice" high school teacher walks most closely in his father's footsteps and has managed to pass the liberal flag on to his daughter Emma (Katharine Powell). Leo also a teacher and liberal, has not kept quite as tight a reign on the family tradition and his children (mentioned but not part of the cast) are more interested in baseball and the good life than espousing the new causes for a better world (e.g. the country's continued evidences of racism and unequal economic opportunity, and troublesome bombings abroad).

The first scene neatly brings together the three generations of Josephs in the Greenwich Village apartment of Vera (the as always wonderful Lois Smith), Joe's widow and establishes their politics, careers and relationship. The get-together has brought the men from Boston to New York to celebrate 26-year-old Emma Joseph's valedictory graduation from law school. Emma is has made her dad, uncle and grandmother proud not just by her academic achievement but her work as the head of a foundation in honor of her grandfather currently dedicated to the exoneration of a former Black PantherMumia Abu-Jamal who's been jailed since 1982 for killing a police officer (an actual case). Her fund raising speeches have likened Mumia's unfair trial to her grandfather's unfair blacklisting during the Joseph McCarthy era.

Emma and her father clearly have an exceptionally warm relationship but it is that very closeness that leads to the explosive divide between father and daughter that draws in the rest of the family: Ben's understanding partner Mel (Mare Winningham) and her less dad-pleasing sister Jess (Meredith Hozman); also Emma's Puerto Rican boy friend Miguel (Elliot Villar), and Monty (David Margulies), an old fellow traveler but one, who like so many of that generation of liberals, became a very wealthy capitalist.

While there is much talk about the political history that shaped this family Herzog uses the historic facts about Americans like Joe Joseph drawn to Communism Ms. Herzog doesn't consider herself a history play buff. As she told dramaturg Rachel Lerner-Ley "My favorite plays that are about history are not only about history, they are about relationship between people, and the history does something to illuminate what's happening between the characters or it is a useful background." Growing up as she did in a family full of Marxists she became interested in the story of disappointments for the many people subscribing to the Left over the course of the 20th century but her interest as a playwright was to put that within the context of the disappointment within families Between parents and their children, and children and their parents. Thus After the Revolution may sound like a history of the Left Wing leaning American experience, it uses historic events to trigger a crisis in the Joseph family's lives in 1999. The event used to explode the family dynamic most intensely affects Emma's relationship with her father and with her boyfriend. Her choice of a man from a very different background not so incidentally lays bare one of several faultlines in the family's liberalism or what Emma refers to as "leftist racism."

As the exoneration of Mumia Abu-Jamal for whose exoneration Emma has established her Fund is a factual case, so the event that exposes Emma's grandfather not as an ideological communist but as a World War II spy (shades of the Rosenbergs), is the publication of an actual book The Venona Secrets, Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel. This is not only affects the credibility of the speeches Emma has made connecting her grandfather's unfair blacklisting to the Mumia Fund but, more devastatingly, reveals that the father she adores has lied to her.

While Emma's grandfather is dead and can't make Emma understand his doing what he did and deal with the future of the fund, there's no shortage of people to shed light on the past, present and future. What's more, Emma and Ben's estrangement has a ripple effect on various other famlial connections. Some of the most enlightening and endearing scenes involve Emma's honest-to-a-fault Grandma who mixes political memories with offers of homemade plums; also her two restaurant meetings with Morty, the fellow traveller and millionaire capitalist who admired her grandfather but admires her grandmother even more (and would in fact like nothing better than a date with her). Emma's disconnect is effectively underscored via his desperate attempts to talk to her on the telephone and finding himself talking to her answering machine. Another and very moving telephone scene — this one, 2-sided — is between Emma and Mel. Meredith Holzman is funny and touching in the relatively small role of the sister whose battle with drugs has been as much a source of sadness for Ben, as Emma's achievements have been a joy.

It's not easy to cover so much family history and unaired emotional baggage and resolve a problem that demands some sort of decisive action before the lights go up and the actors take their well-deserved bows. Herzog navigates all of this quite smoothly. Some facts that could use a bit more clarification (why not specify the college where Emma took her law degree while also fully engaged with her Fund, how Morty made his millions, and a bit more about both Joe's first wife), but my main quibble is with the conclusion. I have no problem with the Emma's decision and the meeting when she and Ben finally talk about those fault lines in their relationship is well written and acted. However, the final scene is a bit of a fizzle and much as I loved Lois Smith's performance, I'm not sure her Grandma should have the last word here.

Production Notes
After the Revolution by Amy Herzog
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
Cast: Ben (Peter Friedman), Mel (Mare Winningham), Leo (Mark Blum), Vera (Lois Smith), Emma Katharine Powell), Miguel (Elliot Villar), Morty (David Margulies), Waiter (Will Crouse), Jess (Meredith Holzman)
Scenic Design by Clint Ramos
Costume Design by Kaye Voyce
Lighting Design by Ben Stanton
Sound Design by Fitz Patton
Production Stage Manager Hannah Cohen
July 21 - August 1, 2010
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer July 22nd

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Samuel J. and K.
Owiso Odera (standing) and Justin Long
Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
I'm 23. It took me a long time to figure out where I belonged. I don't want to go back
The issue of identity for adoptees is loaded with dramatic potential, even more so nowadays with the proliferation of foreign born children being raised far from the countries of their birth. But for Cameroon born Samuel K. (Owiso Odera ) the college graduation gift of a trip back to his birth country by his older American-born brother Samuel J. (Justin Long) is an unwelcome surprise.

As indicated in the above quote, Samuel K. is not interested in going back to connect with his first three years in Cameroon. The part these vague memories ("Rain would be the thing that woke me up. Rain would be the thing to put me to sleep.") played in Samuel K's preference to focus on his identity as an educated young American primed to live the American dream of a successful career are more hinted at than specific in Mat Smart's play receiving it's world premiere at the Nikos Stage, after being part of last summer's Fridays @ 3 reading series.

Mr. Smart has used his own memorable trip to Africa as the base on which to build the story of these two brothers and the key people in their lives and bring a not uncommon sibling mixture of love and rivalry to their relationship. True to his surname he has smartly kept the realities of a theatrical marketplace ruled by a tough economy and relied on the two main characters, the two Samuels of the title, to bring in the unseen characters who shaped their youth and dominate the seven years that the play covers. Not that playwrights haven't managed to pack a lot of drama into 2-handers. Much produced hits like The Gin Game and The Four Poster come to mind, and more recently, the stunning Red (review) which nabbed this year's Tony for Best Play.

While there's some excellent acting on display, especially from Owiso Odero, Mr. Smart has unwisely compensated for the minimalist cast of on stage characters by overburdening his play with issues. Filial obligations to ailing parents. . .a triangular romantic situation to exacerbate the sibling tensions. . .marital problems both at home and abroad. The essential situation of a 9-year-old who has himself been abandoned by his father, becoming big brother to a 3-year-old African orphan is in and of itself interesting. The mother whose own emotional problems are apparent from the moment she tries to erase their differences by naming them both for the husband who left her —. which actually robs both of their identities— adds a nice additional layers of complexity. If only the script gave us a clearer more dimensional vision of her.

The well-staged basketball game during which we first meet the two Samuels fills us in on a lot of information: Samuel K. in his graduation gown is a mom-pleasing achiever, his older brother is a college drop-out in a boring minimum wage job whose attractive girl friend who also wishes he were more like his kid brother. Unfortunately, the dialogue also fails to evoke a vivid picture of the unseen girl friend or the other characters we hear about later on. Worse still, this is one of those Swiss Cheese plays with lots of holes in the various plot developments. How does the mother support these two children and maintain a house? A minimum wage job makes Samuel J's gift of a trip to Africa somewhat hard to fathom, and including himself in that trip makes this even more of a credibility stretch, not to mention a setup for more issues to come.

I could cite more of those plot holes, as well as Smart's rather obvious devices: Samuel K's "you owe me" promise extracted from his brother in the first act is as sure to come up again in the second as the gun in acts one and two of a Chekhov play, so is the mask bought in Africa. Impressively executed as the basketball playing scenes are, they are something of a gimmick to relieve the frequent moments of stasis.

Somehow, I think this basically compelling drama would have worked better as a New Yorker short story. Even though I'm not a fan of solo plays, that even more economical structure might also have served Smart's story better, with the more sympathetic and interesting Samuel K. as the narrator who metamorphoses into the various characters as needed.

All this said, WTF is to be commended for continuing to give Berkshire audiences a chance to experience new plays rather than sticking only to the safer revivals with big box office names. And Justin Waldman, the Festival's Artistic associate and this play's director, has upported this world premiere with a very handsome production. Adam Stockhausen's turntable set creates three locations that take us from Naperville, Illinois to La Mare Pogué in Cameroon, beautifully lit by Marcus Doshi and with an evocative soundscape by Bart Fassbinder. Neverheless, I would have settled for a less complex set for the emotionally complex and provocative play this could be.

Production Notes
Samuel J. and K by Mat Smart
Directed by Justin Waldman
Cast: Justin Long and Owiso Odera
Scenic Design: Adam Stockhausen
Costume Design: Nicole Jescinth Smith
Lighting Design: Marcus Doshi
Sound Design: Bart Fasbender
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Stage Manager:| Michael Rico Cohen
From July 7 to 18th
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on July 8th opening day matinee

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