October 3, 2014, a day perhaps more at home in the middle of September than the beginning of October. We began our evening’s “First Fridays Artswalk” sojourn from a familiarly convenient leap off point on McKay Street in Pittsfield and progressed long-shadowed uphill to our first destination, Deidre’s Special Day, for Ghetta Hirsch’s exhibit.
Deidre’s, now a downtown staple as a specialty clothing shop for special occasions, is located on the southwest corner of the town center in the Crowne Plaza. Hirsch has brought a delightful display of oils on canvas to the space which playfully simplify landscape elements with a palette that is at once discerningly warm and cool, and thus very inviting. One side of the space focuses on beginning of day subjects, while the other focuses on end of day. And the artist created pâté served during the opening…thoroughly delicious.
Following a street crossing and a shortcut or two, we then made way to the Whitney Center for the Arts on Wendell Avenue for the opening of a very special Group W exhibit. Trombonely greeted, though ostensibly in the dog whistle range, we entered the former Thomas Colt House and turned left first off the downstairs hall into the smaller gallery namesake space as a preamble to the exhibit at large; “Industrial Strength Art” kicks off visual court at the gothical Center through Halloween.
Across the hall in the Whit’s performance room, which also doubles as Gallery W, one is initially wowed and zap-focused to a space-dominating foursome of paintings by F.X. Tobin. The work here is jaw-dropping with a firm command over color, noir-like perspective, and graphic novel sensuality. As one peruses the balance of the room, one is drawn into a sublimely quirky selection of new and older work by the venerable collective that is intriguingly produced with varying degrees of figurative and social commentary approaches.
Beyond this first Center, we traveled through the brick and mortar territory of the County seat to the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts for a local history lesson sui generis. “Work + House”, curated by architects Tessa Kelly and Chris Parkinson, ambitiously describes and walls and floors a narrative of the relationship between the City of Pittsfield and its people and industry.
Historical photos, documents, and maps present the viewer with a detailed perspective illustrating how worker housing developed and evolved in Pittsfield. Form follows function here, both in subject matter and installation of the exhibit. The works on paper and supportive text line the walls hung from display specific moldings, while in a rare use of the floor in the venue, a street and waterways map is included in thick, black outline.
After the Lichtenstein, we crossed park and street to come to Crawford Square for the last exhibit we viewed this evening. Amy Cohen Banker brings a dynamic selection of her mixed media work to the walls of The Kinderhook Group. Banker paints a broad range of subject matter and definitely paints from the heart. A piece starts for her in a non-objective manner and moves towards an objective as it speaks to her; it’s story becomes told and the theme builds as she progresses. Of late, portraits hold a strong portion of her interest and she is drawn to paint folks that make a lasting impression on her, capturing an aura of that impression in varying layers of ink, acrylic, and oil.
Regrettably, we didn’t get a chance to see as many of the exhibits this time out that we would have liked to and all in all, the October edition of the “Artswalk” looks very strong, so time allowing, we hope to have a chance to see more as the month moves through its paces.
Saturday found us again in downtown Pittsfield with a drizzly run back to the Whitney for the debut performance of the new Ron Ramsay/Samantha Talora cabaret show. Always an arts indie favorite, the intimate setting is a special transformative treat that makes one feel as if they are in a small nightclub in the heart of New York City. This evening included, in addition to the dynamic interplay/banter between Ramsay and Talora, the added dimension of more instruments filling out the sound.
Photograph (c)Susan Geller.
Ramsay and Talora started the set off with weaving duets, setting a table-leaning, cozy romantic tone. Michael Gillespie joined the ensemble shortly after with a barrel-housing entrance on sax followed by a shift down into the laid back on flute with a nice display of wind versatility.
New material added to the performers’ set certainly reflected the change of seasons; pensive rain-dropped, leaf-scattered, tin can playful and otherwise autumnal aura filled many lines and spaces between. Brubeck memory beats took us back to the 70’s Music Inn.
“The snow is a white blanket.” “America is a melting pot.” Ramsay espoused in good-natured chortles on/in metaphors as lead-in to the title cut of the show, “Metaphor”, which is from “The Fantasticks”, at 42 years, the world’s longest running musical. The piece punctuated and signposted the evening’s performance.
Photograph (c)Susan Geller.
After “Metaphor”, the ensemble appreciated through a 70’s-like flow of movie themes and charismatic radio staples, as well as a wistful, dreamy, rain-soaked read of “The Girl From Ipanema.” And of course Spamalot was heartily represented with “The Song That Goes Like This.” All in all, it was a splendid evening at our little table and a pleasure to see the combo’s new show in a nascent, yet already successful stage.
And then Sunday and again down 7 to Pittsfield from New Ashford. This, the third of a triumvirate of first weekend in October happenings, was to Union Street and the mainstage production of “An Enemy of the People” at Barrington Stage Company.
Set in 1950’s Norway, the story unfolds cheerfully enough, well, cheerful considering the main protagonist/scientist has discovered that the “healing waters” of the budding health resort are actually quite polluted. So what to do? Seems obvious to the scientist that he should become a hero and save the day; avert health problems by convincing the powers that be to incur a bit of an expense to move the water gathering operation upstream of the source of the pollution… But wouldn’t you know it? The scientist’s brother is the mayor of the little burg. Helpful? Not in the least. His mayoral style is much akin to his compatriot in the fictional Amityville. Instead of a shark in the water, we have bacteria here, but with the local newspaper, business owners, and general public opinion shepherded into the false likelihood of the town being on a path to becoming a booming economic juggernaut, the scientist and his family end up upstream all right, and without a paddle.
Tense, taut, politically current and disquietingly relevant, this season-ending production at Barrington Stage is another exclamation point on a superlative string of offerings on this company’s Berkshire boards.
So a big weekend indeed and all nicely clustered within a few short blocks all told. The Upstreet Cultural District was definitely banging here on all cylinders. Oh, and District…yup…had a nice post “Artswalk” dinner there Friday night.
Article by Leo Mazzeo. Photographs by Leo Mazzeo except where indicated.