This was the first of many interviews Theatre Talk did with Eric Peterson and other members of Oldcastle productions. This was the fifth interview of the first year of our radio program. This was also Oldcastle’s 40th anniversary as a theatre company in Bennington, Vermont. Eric spoke about some of the theatre’s history. The interview took place on March 7, 2011, several months before the company received notice from the Bennington Center for the Arts that this would be the company’s last season at the Center. The Oldcastle Board of Directors saw this as a challenge for a new beginning which led to the company’s current theatre in downtown Bennington.
When Bob and I started our program about theatre on our local radio station in 2011, our goal was to be theatre advocates. We wanted people to be as excited about theatre as we were. Our first two programs were Live Theatre and Going to Theatre Economically and American Musical Theatre. On our fourth program we had our first interview with actors. Josh McCabe and Ryan Winkles are actors we were to interview frequently over the following years. It was February and they were at Shakespeare and Company in The Mystery of Irma Vep. We have seen these two fine actors in many productions since. They are equally adept at comedy, tragedy and everything in between. We have several years of radio programs that were recorded before we started our blog in 2015. The experiences that various people shared with us over those years should not be lost. While waiting for theatres to open again, it is good to remember some of the exciting theatrical events of the recent past.
As some theatres postpone their summer seasons because of the pandemic, we feel it necessary to remind people how important and unique the theatrical experience is. Some theatres are finding ways to keep in touch with theatre goers by posting archived productions or doing virtual readings or offering collages from past productions. It is important for people to make contributions to theatres when and where they can. We are going to post some radio interviews we did before we started our blog. We want to remind people of the splendid history of theatre as well as informing them about what theatres in our area and elsewhere are doing during this difficult time. Our goal is to post at least once a week. In that spirit I interviewed Bob about his years as Stage Manager at Actors Studio.
As we social distance ourselves, Bob and I have been thinking about the impact of the Coronavirus on the upcoming theatre season. First, there were the announcements of the wonderful seasons the various theatres were planning. Then came the e-mails about waiting to see what would happen; then the closing of the Broadway theatres and regional theatres that had early shows. We thought of the actors who cannot wait tables or entertain on cruise ships as alternatives. Is there money in the survival bill for theatre and the other arts so necessary to our lives?
Live theatre has a quality that cannot be duplicated. I thought of posting early interviews we did before we started this blog. The idea was to keep us all aware of how unique live theatre is. As we read books and watch videos, we have to remember that special magic of live theatre.
Then the theatres surprised us. Hubbard Hall https://hubbardhall.org/ began posting videos of past performances, Oldcastle Theatre Company has a contest for people to win a gift certificate by identifying plays on their Facebook page. A theatre friend sent this video out https://youtu.be/n1OCZRann8w
The ninth annual ten ten minute play festival at Barrington Stage is part of Pittsfield’s Upstreet Winter Arts Festival which brightens the last days of February with a variety of cultural activities. Directed by Julianne Boyd and Matthew Penn. The New Play Festival runs from February 13 to March 8 at the St. Germain Stage. Six actors, three men and three women move swiftly through a range of characters. Over the years it has been a pleasure to watch the magic of theatre as the actors change their personalities as well as their clothes in play after play.
The emphasis in the plays this year is comedy about our contemporary world. The opening play Five Seconds claims that the attention span of ten minutes may be too much for modern audiences. Issues such as school lock down drills, over-reliance on digital devices, robots providing child care, control of one’s body, are some examples of the themes that are explored. When the final play Oy Vey Maria has the entire cast gathered around the manager, it is a pleasure to go back in time. It is also one of the funniest plays and a fine conclusion. In the past, the mix of plays seemed more varied in tone. Only Are You One of Those Robots? is strangely the play that engages the audience’s emotions on a different level of caring for the pain the characters are experiencing.
Generally throughout the plays, the acting surpasses the writing. The women seem particularly strong, but that may be that they have more to do than the men. Peggy Phar Wilson, as always, is superb in each part she plays. Newcomer Maya Loren Jackson manages her various characters so that each is unique. Whether her part is a run on or a major lead Keri Saran is on target. Her range of robots in Minor Deviations is quite impressive. Kenneth Tigar has his best part in his duet with Peggy Phar Wilson in Stay Please. Doug Harris stands out in My Body where his character is different from the others he has played. Peter Macklin doesn’t have that much to do in the plays in which he appears, but he is convincing in each.
Given the smooth transitions from play to play the sets are minimal, but they establish the settings effectively. Brian Prather and Joseph Martin know how to use every element to unobtrusively create the right mood for each episode. Boyd and Penn’s skilled direction is evident in the convincing actions and reactions with which the actors embody their characters. Audience members will each have their different favorites among the plays, but all will be entertained throughout.
As avid Chekhovians who have seen numerous productions of The Seagull, we were interested in viewing this variation on the play. Unlike other takeoffs of Chekhov’s plays, this is a unique play of its own. Taking the characters and the situation from Chekhov’s work, Aaron Posner has created an absorbing, contemporary play. In the original Seagull Constantine, known here as Conrad or Con, talks about new forms. In this version, we glimpse a new form as the characters engage the audience and discuss the play and their roles in it. Having enjoyed Posner’s The Chosen, we were impressed by what he has created in this play.
The production at Hubbard Hall with the audience on either side of the performers is outstanding. Most of the action takes place on the floor of the theatre with elevated areas at either end of the playing area. Chekhov’s image on the curtains for one of the playing areas is a fine reminder of the relationship between the original and this intriguing variation. Given the quality of the performances, three of whom are Bennington College students, credit must be given to Kirk Jackson, the director, who has created a world with these actors that holds the audience’s attention and belief in the actors needs that generates laughter at times, compassion at others. The opening scene where two young characters compete with each other as to who is most miserable is delightful and touching.
All of the actors, except for two, were new to us. All deserve to be singled out for their work. Evan McFarland as the tortured center of the play caught all the different aspects of Con convincingly. Since there are many addresses to the audience, at this performance, an audience member called out a suggestion which McFarland incorporated into the play with ease. It was one of those never to be repeated moments that is why so many cherish live theatre. Anabel Hoffman, who as Mash is in mourning for her life, was captivating and as her devoted, if scorned lover, and Con’s friend, Louis Celt was at times sensible and at others appropriately pathetic. Amrita Li Newton was Nina in all her various moods, giving us both Chekhov’s and Posner’s character in all her complexity. That these three actors are still students bodes well for their future in theatre. Jesse Pennington’s physicality as Trigorin added to his character expanding our understanding of him.
Having seen much of their work over the years, we were even more impressed by Kim Stauffer and David Snider. We have seen Kim play a variety of complex characters, but this showed fresh aspects of what she can do. She met the challenge of playing a different type of woman with skill and honesty. It is always a pleasure to see David Snider, the fine Executive and Artistic Director of Hubbard Hall, perform. He is an outstanding actor who captures the character of Sorn completely. Sorn provides a balance in the play between the conflicting generations exemplified by Emma and her son, Con. This is a production that should not be missed. Unfortunately, it is only running Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from January 24 to February 2. Call 518-677-2495 or go on line at hubbardhall. org for tickets. It is an evening in theatre you will enjoy and long remember.
WAM Theatre presents Pipeline by Dominique Morisseau at the Elayne Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts through November 9. This is a remarkable play that is one of the most widely produced plays of our time because of its subject, the skill of the playwright, and the completely engaging characters that tell the story of a young black man’s struggle to find his way in our society. We see the world through a variety of perspectives as the boy’s mother tries to find ways to help him. Within the structure of the ninety minute play, you l find yourself caring for each person you encounter.
Barrington Stage Company presents American Underground at the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage through October 20. This is a production that should not be missed. The play is absorbing minute by minute while raising questions that the audience will want to think about and discuss. The play opens with a man watching a game on his computer while his wife is worried that their son who attends college has not yet come home. When he arrives, they are relieved and Dad starts the barbecue. Although the boy is disturbed by what happened at the mall, all seems manageable until later that night there is a knock at the glass porch door. A young Muslim woman is asking for help. What happens next you need to see for yourself.
Oldcastle Theatre presents the world premiere of Water, Water Everywhere Friday, October 4. The play runs Thursday to Sunday until October 20. Set in a fictional Vermont town, the play deals with the issue of contaminated water, a problem currently facing many communities. Along the way, WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE is a play with comedy, mystery and romance. Eric Peterson, Artistic Producing Director of Oldcastle, wrote and directed the play. Bob and I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric and two of the actors, Patrick Shea and Natalie Wilder. Patrick and Natalie enjoy returning to Oldcastle where they met. Eric, Natalie and Patrick discuss the process by which the play came to life as the actors portray characters who populate the small town world the reporters of the local newspaper are exploring.
Time Stands Still plays at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts through October 13. The play addresses much that concerns us as we watch television or read magazines and newspapers and see the visual accounts of distant wars. The story is also a personal one of people in complicated relationships. As usual at Shakespeare and Company, the actors absorb you into their world of these friends and lovers. We always marvel at how skillfully the actors move from Shakespeare to contemporary plays and are fully the specific characters they are performing. This is absorbing theatre on every level. Listen to our brief comments on the play Time Stands Still