PITTSFIELD -- "What can you take with you when you can’t take anything with you?" Rebecca Frankel asks at the beginning of "The Golem of Havana," a thoughtful, well-conceived, smartly produced and expertly acted musical that is having its world premere at Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Stage.
"Only our stories," she says, answering her own question. "This is mine."
Rebecca’s story is not unfamiliar. Her parents, Pinchas and Yutka, fled their native Hungary to escape the Nazis and landed in Havana, Cuba, where Rebecca was born 14 years before the play’s action begins late in 1958, as Castro and his guerrillas are showing surprising muscle as they close in on the Batista regime.
Pinchas (an affecting Gordon Stanley) is a gifted tailor who works out of the family’s snug apartment. He is a generous, trusting, giving soul, too generous and trusting perhaps. His dream is to open his own shop on Havana’s main street. Yutka (a powerful Jacqueline Antaramian, who catches the complex emotional network within this woman) is tough, pragmatic, mistrustful -- her way of dealing with the hard realities of life and her own role in a famiy tragedy before they left Hungary.
For her part, Rebecca (a thoroughly engaging Julie Benko) is richly imaginative and inquisitive. She writes, draws and circulates a graphic serial, "The Golem of Havana," which builds on the legend of a monstrous creature of clay, a savior with a dark side, built by a mystical rabbi centuries earlier to protect the Jews of ancient Prague.
Rebecca’s time is fraught. Secrecy, suspicion, corruption prevail. The rebellion is brought home to the Frankels when a wounded Teo (sensitively played by Ronald Alexander Peet), the son of the Frankels’ housekeeper Maria (a convincing Rheuame Crenshaw) is rescued by Rebecca and brought home to recover from his wounds and Yutka and Pinchas are forced into making a choice.
The show’s creators -- Salomon Lerner, music; Len Schiff, lyrics; and Michael Hausmann, who wrote the book and directs -- have crafted a musical that, much to its credit, does not always move in ways one might expect.
There is only one awkward celebratory moment near the end that threatens to unravel the integrity with which "The Golem of Havana" has been crafted but that moment turns out to be a set-up for a bitterly ironic ending that is far more in keeping with the show’s realistic sensibility.
The symbolism gets a bit thick at times but the music and lyrics are in full support of the story and the whole affair moves smoothly and purposefully.
The supporting cast-- which includes noteworthy performances by Danny Bolero as a government agent who befriends the Frankels while keeping tabs on them at the same time, and Felipe Gorostiza as a silky smooth Batista -- is first-rate.
These are people we know and care about. They have a story to tell and they tell it with style, grace and honesty.
STOCKBRIDGE -- The personal story being told in Eric Tarloff’s "Cedars" -- a drama that is having its world premiere at Berkshire Theatre Group’a Fitzpatrick Main Stage -- is less innocent, less forgiving, more self-lacerating.
The narrator here, Gabe, played efficiently by James Naughton, is a 54-year-old Los Angeles defense lawyer whose life is coming apart -- his practice is failing; his wife has left him for a younger man; his sister careens from one self-destructive relationship to another; his son is closeted; his mother is crazy; and his emotionally abusive hospitalized father is comatose.
"Cedars" is structured as a series of one-way conversations between Gabe and his unresponsive father over the course of five weekly hospital visits.
Gabe is unsparing in his assessment of the downward trajectory of his life; uncharitable in his assessment of his father’s culpability for the wreckage that is his family.
Naughton’s Gabe spins his narratives in rapidly placed, dispassionate, near-clinical fashion as if he were standing on the outside looking in. At times, the tone carries the sense of an actor just making sure he gets in all the lines. At other times, "Cedars" plays like the defensive posture of a man whose only way to survivel is to detach.