Theater Lovers Love the Berkshires

By Karen Isaacs

 Theater lovers who want a getaway – that combines beautiful scenery, outdoor recreational activities, terrific restaurants, shopping and theater have been going to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts for years.

Everything is there: opportunities for hiking, fishing, boating of all kinds, restaurants, antique shops, hotels, motels and B and Bs are all nearby.  Plus there is outstanding theater, dance, music (classical, jazz and pop) and art.  What more could anyone want?

Four major theater companies operate each summer. With their second stages, that means at least eight theaters offering a wide variety of classics and new plays.

Williamstown Theater Festival

WTC, at the far northern end of the Berkshires near the Vermont border, was founded in 1954 on the campus of Williams College, (by the way, Stephen Sondheim’s alma mater).  For many years it has attracted a variable who’s who of theatrical notables – actors, directors, technical people and more. Many, in fact, have summer homes in the area. This year is no exception.

wtf-2016-thumbs-750x400The Main Stage is presenting three productions. Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tatto runs June 28 to July 17. It’s directed by Obie Award winner Trip Cullman and stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei. Christopher Abbott plays opposite her. A world premiere is up next; Romance Novels for Dummies by Boo Killebrew (July 20-31). It’s directed by Tony nominee Moritz van Stulpnagel.  It’s about two very different sisters and their differing assumptions about life, love and child-rearing. The final main stage production is a revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s An American Daughter (Aug. 3-21). It’s directed by Evan Cabnet and the cast includes Kate Walsh and Grace Gummer.

The Nikos Stage (named for the former long-time artistic director) is a smaller theater that focuses more on new works, though not exclusively. It’s opening with a world premiere, Cost of Living (June 29-July 10) by Martyna Majok and directed by Jo Bonney. It’s described as a play about four different people in different circumstances, each trying to get by and who find their lives intersecting. Next up is another world premiere, The Chinese Room, (July 13 -22) by Michael West. Obie Award winner James Macdonald directs what is billed as a sci-fi comedy thriller. Next the world premiere of Poster Boy (July 27-Aug. 7). It’s a musical with music and lyrics by Craig Carnelia and book by Joe Tracz. It is inspired by the 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi who committed suicide due to cyber-bullying.  The Nikos ends the season with And No More Shall We Part (Aug. 10-21) and American premiere by Australian playwright Tom Holloway. Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek star as a couple facing a terminal illness.

Yet that is not all WTC is offering this summer. Three weekends offer the Late-Night Cabaret which often features members of the various casts performing. Then the theater is working with local residents to create and perform Orpheus in the Berkshires. In addition there are concerts and comedy, lawn talks, talkbacks, back stages tours and more. For information, schedules and tickets, visit wtfestival.org.

Berkshire Theater Group

 In 2010, the Berkshire Theater Festival which had been based in Stockbridge since 1928 joined forces with Pittsfield’s Colonial Theater to create this new group. Now productions are staged at the Colonial as well as two venues in Stockbridge: the smaller Unicorn Theater and the Fitzpatrick main stage.

So let’s look what they are presenting.  At the Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge, the season opens with the Pulitzer-Prize winning musical Fiorello! through July 23.  From Aug. 3 to 27, Gregg Edelman will direct Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat in Constellations.

 A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opens the season at the Fitzpartick Theater in Stockbridge. It runs June 22 to July 10. It’s directed by Pultizer-Prize winning author David Auburn and stars Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Jim Beaver as Big Daddy and Michael Raymond-James as Brick.

The_Stone_Witch-MPS berkshire theaterJudd Hirsch will star in the world premiere of The Stone Witch, July 20-Aug. 20. The press materials says, “reality and fantasy collide when a struggling, young writer is chosen by a powerful book editor for a special assignment—to help a reclusive children’s book author and illustrator complete his first manuscript in over a decade.”

At the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, two musicals are being offered. Little Shop of Horrors runs July 6 to 23, followed by Beauty and the Beast, Aug. 11 to 19.

During foliage season the Unicorn Theater is presenting the American premiere of The Bakelike Masterpiece, Sept. 29 to Oct. 23. This Canadian play is about an artist arrested at the end of WWII in Holland for selling a Dutch masterpiece to Hermann Goering. He claims it wasn’t the original but a forgery he painted.

In addition, there are various concerts, even opera and other events.  For tickets, schedule or information, visit berkshiretheatregroup.org.

Barrington Stage Company

 The newest of the theaters is the Barrington Stage Company founded in 1995, in Barrington, but now it performs exclusively in Pittsfield on its Boyd-Quinson Mainstage and the St. Germain Stage as well as at Mr. Finn’s Cabaret.

The mainstage season opens the world premiere of An American Son through July 9. It’s about an estranged multi-racial couple.

For a change of pace, it is Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance directed by John Rando from July 14 to Aug. 13. Rando directed the recent Broadway revival of On the Town which began at BSC.  Jenn Thompson directs a production of Tribes, Aug. 18-Sept. 3, the 2012 Drama Desk winner for best new play. The play is about a young man born deaf into an unconventional hearing family and the young woman he meets. The season ends with playwright Mark St. Germain’s Camping with Henry and Tom, Oct. 5-23. The play is about a fictional camping trip with President Warren G. Harding, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.

On the St. Germain Stage. Rob Ruggiero (producing director of TheaterWorks in Hartford), directs BTC favorite Debra Jo Rubb  in Kimberly Akimbo. The play by David Lindsay-Abaire runs through July 16.  Following is peerless which premiered at Yale Rep this past season. It is about two sisters who are “gaming” the college admissions process in a very MacBeth-like way. It runs July 21 to Aug. 6. From Aug. 12 to Sept. 4 is the world premiere of Broadway Bounty Hunter.  The musical is said to be inspired by 1970s films like Shaft about an unemployed actress who is hired as a bounty hunter to capture a South American drug lord.

For information, schedules or tickets, visit barringtonstageco.org.

Shakespeare & Co.

 In 1978, director Tina Packer founded Shakespeare & Co in Lenox, originally at The Mount, the home of Edith Wharton.  Now the company produces plays – both Shakespeare and others – at three theaters nearby: the mainstage – the Tina Packard Theater, a second stage – Elayne P. Bernstein Theater, and outdoors under a tent – the Rose Footprint.

The main stage this year is presenting two Shakespeare plays plus one other.  The Merchant of Venice begins July 1 and runs through Aug. 21.  Two Gentleman of Verona starts Aug. 4 and runs through Sept. 4.  Or, a comedy about Aphra Behn, who is often called the first English woman writer. It is “about one chaotic night in the life of the poet, spy, and first female playwright Aphra Behn. Determined to leave the spy trade behind and launch her new career, Ms. Behn must deliver a play by morning.” This runs July 23 to Sept. 4.

On the Bernstein stage, four productions are scheduled. The Taming runs through July 30. Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, it is a comedy about the red state-blue state battle mixed with a battle of the sexes.  Also running through the end of July is Ugly Lies the Bone, about a female combat veteran who finds an experimental video game helps her deal with her emotional and physical scars.  Following those is a one man show, Cry “Havoc” from Aug. 3-13. “Stephan Wolfert recounts his own experience pre- and post-military service. Through the lines of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches and his own personal insights, Wolfert explores our societal neurosis of war.”  Sotto Voce by Pultizer-Prize winner Nilo Cruz (Anna in the Tropics) runs from Aug. 18 to Sept. 11. A Jewish-Cuban young man “seeks out a famous, reclusive novelist who, decades earlier was separated from her lover when he boarded the MS St. Louis, an ill-fated ship of Jewish refugees during World War II.”

The outdoor theater is presenting a new adaptation of Aphra Behn’s Emperor of the Moon from July 15 to Aug. 20. It’s billed as a farce based on Italian commedia dell’arte.

For information, schedule or tickets, visit Shakespeare.org.

So enjoy the summer, the scenery AND the theater.

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