STOCKBRIDGE -- On a hot, moonlit evening, two women sit on a terrace above the colliseum. They have known each other since they were young, getting to know the city as their teenage daughters are doing tonight.
"Like many intimate friends," Edith Wharton says, "the two ladies had never before had occasion to be silent together."
Tonight, they have. And the place and the occasion will shake them apart.
Keira Naughton will direct Berkshire Theatre Group artistic director Kate Maguire and musician and performer Kim Taylor in an adaptation of Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," and Berkshire writer Mary Mott will share stories from her life in "From Where I Sit," when BTG presents "Mary and Edith: Mu sings by Women a Century Apart," beginning Friday at the Unicorn Theatre.
Maguire heard Mott tell her stories two years ago in the first "Made in the Berkshires." As she spoke that night, "the whole audence moved forward" toward her, Maguire said, and she too felt a recognition.
Mott said her stories might feel familiar to many women growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, raised by Depression-era parents. She starts at age 10 and leads to her move to the Berk shires, talking about things she would talk about with friends -- the way her parents raised her, and the way she raised her own children; moving to an uber-athletic ski resort, and what that mindset did to her; bathing suits; divorce; an aging woman's body.
She will talk about her own mother and grandmother, she said, and pain and healing, and struggles to save what shouldn't be saved.
It felt comfortable, Maguire said, to work with a group of women to tell stories across the arc of a woman's life.
Her character in "Roman Fever," Mrs. Slade, has been brilliant, a force in the world -- while she's attached to a man. As the wife of a politically influential lawyer, Mrs. Slade had a full and stimulating life. As a widow, she sits on restaurant terrace with the quieter and less fluent Mrs. Ansley, talking about the past. Relationships, marriage, dangerous illness -- these two women once faced desire and anger and fear in a Roman summer.
As Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ans ley's daughters take off off for a moonlight flight with two young Italian pilots, their mothers remember their own young summer together in Italy before they married.
"It seems like fate has led them to this place overlooking where this event took place --this passionate, violent event," Naughton said.
Alone together, back there, they are drawn back to an explosive time they shared.
It feels dark to her, the way these women have treated each other.
"Beneath the manners and the propriety, the secrets they have to keep -- all of Wharton's stories have so much frustration," she said.
Wharton writes emotions strained and characters on the edge of suicide. And yet on the surface, her stories and conversation may sound bright, and even funny.
Taylor has found herself stunned by the beauty of the words, so smart and so human.
A Wharton story or play moves on more than two levels, she said. The surface is very beautiful, elegant and seductive. But go under it and it gets more complicated and harsher. These women can be cruel.
As Mrs. Ansley, she is talking to a woman who is a link to her own past, to her girlhood. It's rare, she said, to have someone who goes back that far.
Someone who goes back that far may stir deep feeling, Maguire said. It can take time to come to terms with the past.
"It takes a long time to say, ‘that's done. I can now look at it'," she said.
She will soon go to her 40th high school reunion. And though she graduated with many boys -- some 1,000 students -- when she decided she would go back, her immediate thought was, "I can finally face those girls."
"We were all ferocious when we were in love," she said.
"Girls can be viscious," Taylor agreed.
Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley knew each other at the same school-girl age.
"They were there together at the start of everything," Maguire said. And their daughters have run freely into the Roman night as they could not have at the same age.
"Their daughters bring back the past a little too acutely," she said.
Eric Hill's adaptation of "Ro man Fever" brings in a narrator, actor Tara Franklin, as a younger voice.
"Would you have said anything if the daughters had't been with you?" she asked Taylor and Maguire, considering.
And then, thinking of the daughters, offstage with their Italian young men, she suggests they, too, may look back in time, as well as forward.
"We feel that way," she said.
Teaching 20-year-old actors over the summer, she would feel how much she had learned and changed since she was their age.
"You can't go back," she said, "and I don't know if I want to."
"You will," Mott said. "You will keep going back."
If you go ...
What: 'Mary and Edith: Musings by Women a Century Apart'
When: Performances begin at 7 p.m. Friday and run through Oct. 20
Where: Unicorn Theatre, Route 7, Stockbridge
Information: www.berkshire theatrefestival.org