By Jeffrey Borak
Berkshire Eagle Staff
STOCKBRIDGE --The idea was too appealing to resist.
When Berkshire Theatre Group CEO and artistic director Kate Maguire called actress Barbara Sims and her actor husband Walton Wilson, and actor David Adkins and his partner, actress Corinna May, and asked the four to appear in Michael Frayn’s "Benefactors" this summer in BTG’s Unicorn Theatre, they all said ‘yes.’
"Kate had this thought of two real-life couples acting in this play about two married couples. The idea was immediately attractive to me," Adkins said in a joint interview with May, Wilson and Sims at BTG’s Stockbridge office near the Unicorn Theatre.
None of the four knew the play.
"We knew it was by Michael Frayn so you knew it would be smart and the language would be rich," Wilson said.
Frayn, 81, a widely regarded British playwright and novelist, is perhaps best known to American audiences for his farce, "Noises Off," and the more cerebral drama, "Copenhagen." He also is a noted Chekov scholar and translator.
"Having Walton and Barbara to work with made it even more appealing," said May.
Directed by Maguire’s husband, Eric Hill, "Benefactors" officially opens toniught -- a review will appear later this week -- where it is scheduled to run through July 26.
Written and first performed in 1984, "Benefactors" is set chiefly in early 1960s London where an idealistic young architect named David (played by Adkins) is hellbent on building a series of affordable mass housing units in a notorious London slum while the firm for whom he works wants him to design soaring high-rises.
Told through a series of interwoven narratives that reflect back on events from a vantage point of 20 years later, "Benefactors" also deals with the impact of professional pressures on David and his wife, Jane (May), and the relationship between David and Jane and a troubled married couple who live across the street -- Sheila (Sims), who insinuates herself into David and Jane’s family and his business, and her husband Colin (Wilson), a retired journalist looking for a cause and who finds one in championing a public campaign against the housing project.
"Benefactors" is about art and commerce; time and memory; friendship and marriage; idealism and realism; balancing one’s own needs against the needs, demands and wants of others.
"It’s very complicated and dense," Sims said. "In rehearsal your perspectives are constantly changing."
And in performance, so are the audience’s, although, Wilson says, "Frayn makes it clear to the audience when we are in the early 1980s and when we are in the early 1960s."
"The audience is free to decide what ‘now’ is," May said. "Frayn really demands a lot of the audience. It’s a bit of a puzzle but that’s often how the mind works as you look back on things; as you search to make the indistinct distinct."
"There are many times as you look back on events in your life," Wilson said, "you justify your actions."
"It’s an act of survival, a way of surviving," Adkins said.
"Each character has a transformation in the action of the story," Wilson added. "There is no fixed truth."
"Architecture is finite," Adkins said. "Mathematics is finite. People are not." On stage
What: "Benefactors" by Michael Frayn. Directed by Eric Hill
Who: Berkshire Theatre Group
When: Now through July 26 (press opening 8 tonight. Eves.: 8 Mon., Tue., Thu.-Sat.; 7 Wed. Mats.: 2 Sat.
Where: Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge
How: (413) 997-4444; BerkshireTheatreGroup.org; in person at Colonial Theatre box office -- 111 South St., Pittsfield; Fitzpatrick Main Stage box office -- 83 E. Main St., Stockbridge