Sometimes it’s best not to contemplate too intently the schedule one taps or scribbles in one’s calendar; best maybe to just let it happen and not overthink. This was one of those Berkshire summer, week ending times. And being a clichéd ‘Shire problem to have doesn’t make the lesson an easier one to digest either. Ah well. It didn’t snow. Anyway…
The weekend began on Thursday for arts indie, specifically for the opening night of Pittsfield’s Shakespeare in the Park. This free outdoor performance on the town’s newly refurbished Common almost couldn’t have asked for a better night to begin its second season. This year’s production is “Romeo and Juliet.”
Having been to last year’s thoroughly enjoyable “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, we went to this with our expectations bar set pretty high; we were not disappointed. The bar for next year on the Bard is now set even higher.
Traditionally, Shakespeare productions are given an overall aura that fits the production’s general environment; locale, current events, prevailing trends. This “R+J” settled into a 50’s era sock hop, “Happy Days” (ironically) kind of ambience, in a delightful, almost homage to West Side Story. And it works, in a big way.
From scenic design (Ron Piazza) that included appropriate abstract expressionist artwork, to sound (Enrico Spada) that included crooning doo-wop and jaunty rock and roll with spirited date-night dance moves, and to costumes (Kathy Morawiec) that imaginatively avoided clichéd greaser pitfalls, the tone is set for a show that delivers another, in addition to the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market, much needed high-quality anchoring point to initial programming in the town’s centrally located park.
And the casting here is first-rate. Looking through the mostly young cast’s bios in the program, one is impressed by the quality and breadth of experience in their resumes; some very talented and well-seasoned performers populate the stage indeed. Joey Labrasca’s Romeo seamlessly evolves from sock hop wallflower to the object of Juliet’s (Fiona Barnett-Mulligan) affection; Barby Cardillo’s Nurse goes well beyond a side-character role and is virtually a lead in itself; Gail Ryan’s Apothecary, though a bit role, had the timber and presence of the wicked queen in Snow White; just to touch on a few.
The following evening found us driving further south to Stockbridge to the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s home campus. The occasion, to see the latest run of “Deathtrap.” With reservations to sup in the newly opened Jane’s Café at the venue, we arrived duly early at 6PM, well in advance of the 8PM curtain call.
Jane’s Café offers some nice pre-made lite fare courtesy of the Red Lion Inn. Purchases can be made at the concession stand located in the Main Stage building and seating is in the rear of the orchestra section, with some of the seats having been removed to accommodate for bistro style placings.
Speaking of seats, ours for the performance were front row aisle. Close enough to almost be considered acting in the play. “Deathtrap”, record holder for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway, is performed on one set with two acts and 5 characters, not including us. As a play-within-a-play, the play within does likewise.
This production, directed by Aaron Mark, features Gregg Edelman as Sidney Bruhl, Alison Fraser as his wife Myra, Tom Pecinka as Clifford Anderson, Bruhl’s “secretary”, Debra Jo Rupp (Kitty Forman from “That 70’s Show”) as the delightfully over-the-top psychic, Helga Ten Dorp, and Eric Hill as the lawyer, Porter Morgan.
As someone that’s pretty much still in the newbie/apprentice level of theatre appreciation, I hadn’t seen this now iconic piece before, so I have no previous performances to compare to; but going in, it was one I really felt I needed to see. I’ve really enjoyed the play within a play concept in other things I’ve seen and this is really well done with its subtle nod-and-a-wink intricate plot twists and deliberately claustrophobic one room set.
All the performers delivered above and beyond, in terms of stage presence, and enveloped the audience before them in their work. Sitting so close, it might be possible to catch lapses beneath the acting veneer placed before a viewer, but outside of the briefest of warm-up period at the outset, everyone on stage thoroughly inhabited their role and brought the audience along with them, sometimes unwillingly; I heard comments of trepidation from fellow audience members behind us during some of the particularly harrowing moments.
Edelman’s Sidney Bruhl is positively diabolical with his passion for career-saving machinations. Pecinka’s Clifford Anderson athletically matches this diabolism from an initial protégé position to a climatic draw in Scene 3, Act 2. Alison Fraser’s Myra Bruhl doesn’t survive for so long, despite her building intuition that something unsavory is afoot. Debra Jo Rupp is really super fun as Helga Ten Dorp, and a scene-stealing pleasure each time she’s onstage. (As a side note, her “That 70’s Show” association provides a nice serendipitous tie-in to the last arts indie blog post. But afterall…Berkshires…) Eric Hill’s Porter Morgan amply provides critical development to the plot-line.
“Deathtrap” closes its run on the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Main Stage on July 25, so just a little time left to take in this gem.
As happens all too rarely with our busy schedules, we had finally time to be early enough to make it to Ozawa Hall for the prelude concert. This lovely acoustically pin-dropped wonder chapel, because it certainly does feel like sitting in a church, is a great starting point for an extended stay on the campus. Seating for preludes are first-come-first served, so we chose an aisle pair about midway in. This evening we were privy to a very lovely and intimate performance of String Quintet No. 3 in C, K. 515 as well as a wistful Quintet in E-flat for piano and winds, K. 452.
After leaving the Hall and chatting with friends outside, we made our way to the core of the venue for a light supper from the Café and gift shopping. I finally replaced my battered, blue Tanglewood shirt with a new edition, um, a size larger…
Then to the Shed for more Mozart. This evening’s performance included Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K. 503, “Ch’io mi scordi di te…Non temer, amato bene” (Concert Aria for Soprano and Orchestra with Piano, K. 505), “Deh per questo istante solo” (from La clemenza di Tito, Act II), and Symphony No. 38 in D K. 504, Prague. Christian Zacharias both conducted and performed on piano. We loved his delivery and the highly animated way he brought the orchestra through their paces. Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano, was the picture of professionalism throughout, especially during the conflicting fireworks display ill-timed at another nearby location…
We set our 2015 Tanglewood plans in motion back in January as soon as tickets went on sale, but it’s still very possible to get on board and visit for something wonderful before the season closes. Perhaps a nice lawn picnic on a gorgeous Berkshire summer’s eve? We’re thinking of adding more visits on-the-fly ourselves…
Back to theatre on Sunday it was for the opening performance of “Lost in Yonkers” on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage at Barrington Stage Company. This edition of the classic time-honored Neil Simon dramedy is directed by Jenn Thompson and runs through August 1.
As with “Deathtrap”, this play is performed on only one set, here a doilied living room in 1942 Yonkers with modestly conservative, yet sacrosanct furniture; a hopeful sky barters with utility poles and wires overhead. Eddie Kurnitz’s wife has just passed after a long, medically-expensive battle with cancer and Kurnitz needs to secure his domineering mother’s blessing to allow his two sons to stay with her and his sister while he works as a traveling salesman to make ends meet.
So much feels familiar with this production. From suffering in a minefield of doilies in Sunday best, to the intractable rigidity of a feared and revered matriarchal figure, to the almost cartoonishly-thick accents that each character wields to deliver lines. But in this and other vehicles, most notably via the use of 40’s era touchstones in the sound production, the nostalgia is comfortably laid on, and to very productive use.
The buildup to Lynn Cohen’s Grandma Kurnitz’s first appearance on stage is quintessential reputation precedes you stuff. This would have been an easy situation for a performer to fall short in; Cohen certainly does not. And she is positively clairvoyant in ciphering out all that happens in her domain, but with notable exceptions; her clairvoyance only extends as far as her own harsh upbringing allows her; compassion for fragility isn’t her strong suit, and thus she often misses comprehending the crux of what is lost around her.
As with the above-mentioned Shakespeare in the Park production, this also features amazingly talented younger actors. Matt Gumley’s Jay is spot on snappy-patter jokester and Jake Giordano’s (in his first professional role) Arty provides offhand observations that on the surface may at times seem childish, but are usually disarmingly astute.
Jay and Arty’s father, Eddie, played by Dominic Comperatore, balances guilt and angst admirably in his between-a-rock-and-a hard-place position. Paula Jon DeRose does fantastic work with Eddie’s sister Bella, a somehow heart-of-gold byproduct of physical abuse. She has a solid grounding beneath the confusion on her surface that is an equal match to battle her mother.
Stephanie Cozart doesn’t get much stage time as Aunt Gert, but her breathing and speaking difficulties add bittersweet comic relief to the lostness. And the overly slick and somewhat queasy ambience that Uncle Louie, played by David Christopher Wells, creates (almost anything could be in that bag he carries) in his mobster henchman/bagman role…let’s just leave it at that.
So, three theater productions and a full program of Mozart, almost the cultural equivalent of a Hobbit’s meal…
Meanwhile, amidst all of our almost continuous whirl of spring and summer activity, a very special arts indie collaboration has been in the works and now has come to fruition. During the process of hanging Nicholas DeCandia’s photograph essay “take another look” at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, and hanging out with the photographer back in April, DeCandia invited painter Scott Taylor and myself to work on putting a video piece together that melded a recent selection of Taylor’s gorgeous work in acrylics with DeCandia’s trumpet playing.
Ultimately, due to all our creative, personal, and professional schedules blazing along at an inordinate rate…well, maybe not for Berkshire creatives… Anyway, the project moved along on a much slower timeline than we anticipated. But, the work is now completed.
And here, very special thanks to Tammara Leminen for contributing a beautiful unifying poem and splendid typography, is the result. (Insert trumpet fanfare.) Hope you enjoy!
So to close this piece doth approach. Met is hope well we kindly beseech. Until the time is drawn by near, till then we see and by and by, and bye and bye. Or something as that. Back to the easel. I need to bring this one to completion soon!
Article and photographs by Leo Mazzeo.