PITTSFIELD -- The summer night might well smile three times -- the first "at the young who know nothing; the second, at the fools who know too little; and the third at the old, who know too much," Madame Armfeldt instructs her granddaughter Fredrika in the opening scene of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's "A Little Night Music" -- but it is the women who ultimately hold sway in Ethan Heard's handsomely mounted, ably performed production at Berkshire Theatre Group's Colonial Theatre.
Based on the late Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's 1955 comedy, "Smiles of a Summer Night," "A Little Night Music" focuses on a widowered middle-aged lawyer, Fredrik Egerman, in a small town in turn of the century Sweden who has yet to consummate his 11-month marriage to his second wife, Anne (Philippa Soo), an 18-year-old virgin on the edge of womanhood, who finds himself rekindling an old love with an actress, Desirée Armfledt, whom he has not seen in 14 years, who has come to town to perform.
It is only the beginning of a foolish mix-up that links Desirée, Fredrik, Desirée's lover, a hugely self-centered married dragoon named Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, for whom double standard is built into his DNA; Count Malcolm's neglected, suffering but no less feisty and determined wife, Countess Charlotte; Anne; and Fredrik's austere son, Henrik (an intense, brooding Matt Dengler), who is secretly in love with Anne and who exercises his blunted sexual impulses with a housemaid, the lusty, freewheeling Petra (a mervelously libidinous Monique Barbee). It all comes to head at the country estate of Desirée's mother, Madame Armfeldt.
Egerman (played here by a laconic, easygoing, accepting yet at times engagingly boyish and vulnerable Gregg Edelman, whose performance is mot alive and resonant when he is singing) hovers around the center of Heard's production which, in its subtle invetiveness, shifts focus to the women, particularly the Armfeldt clan. The performances of Penny Fuller as Madame Armfeldt, Maureen O'Flynn as Desirée and a very poised Emma Foley as an enchantingly curious Fredrika, clearly track the lineage. These woman share an earthiness and robust spirit that suggests none of these three women will go gentle into that good night but, rather, as Madame Armfeldt does, face it head on.
In a richly layered, unassuming performance, O'Flynn catches Desirée's longing, her bracing sarcasm and worldliness and, finally, in her memorable rendition of "Send in the Clowns," full recognition of the absurdities that surround and fill her life.
As the much disregarded Countess Charlotte, Kate Baldwin brings a spit, fire and wry defiance as her Charlotte sets out to bring her strutting, rutting peacock of a husband, played convincingly by Graham Rowat, back to reality and her bed.
Heard also has stripped away the traditional formalism surrounding a quartet of singers and given them a lightness of being, and clothing, as they move in, out, through and around the action in elfinlike fashion; spirits who, in their knowing ways, may very well have the biggest smiles of all.
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman. Directed by Ethan Heard; music director, Nathan Dame; choreographer, Alex Sanchez; scenic designer, Reid Thompson; costume designer, David Murin; lighting designer, Oliver Wason; sound designer, Brendan F. Doyle; hair, wig and makeup designer, Jon Carter. Through July 19. Eves.: 8 Mon., Tue., Thu.-Sat. Mats.: 2 Sat., Sun., and Thursday, July 17. BerkshireTheatre Group, Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield. Tickets: $25-$65. (413) 997-4444; BerkshireTheatreGroup.org. 2 hours 50 minutes
Countess Charlotte Malcolm
Petra Monique Barbee
Henrik Egerman Matt Dengler
Frid Gabriel Douglas
Fredrik Egerman Gregg Edelman
Fredrika Egerman Emma Foley
Madame Armfeldt Penny Fuller
Mrs. Andersson Ashton Hoyt
Mr. Lindquist Denis Lambert
Mrs. Segestrom Patricia Noonan
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm
Anne Egerman Phillipa Soo
Mr. Erkanson Eric Van Tietan