A balanced summer season
In an interview earlier this year, Jonathan Croy and Ariel Bock described the upcoming 2016 season at Shakespeare & Company as one of balance — between new and old; fresh young voices in the theater and established ones; female writers and directors and male writers and directors.
As it happens, the balance built into the season they jointly put together as co-artistic directors of the Lenox-based theater company, has broader applications in this summer's Berkshires theater scene.
It's not simply a matter of new plays versus revivals; it also has to do with putting fresh eyes on established material. For example, "Little Shop of Horrors," Berkshire Theatre Group's big summer musical at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield certainly is no stranger to Berkshires theatergoers. But director Ethan Heard has shown with his previous musicals at BTG — "Bells Are Ringing," "A Little Night Music" — that he is more than capable of rethinking revivals without sacrificing their integrity. He's promised his "Little Shop ..." will be unlike any version of this sassy musical you've ever seen. Just a sampling — lip-synching drag queen Taurean Everett is playing the plant, Audrey II, onstage, Broadway actress-singer Bryonha Parham is giving voice to Audrey from offstage, and Miodrag Guberinic, who has designed for Madonna, is designing the costumes.
Kate Maguire, BTG's CEO and artistic director, also is promising a fresh take from director David Auburn in his work on Tennessee Williams' 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," a play she says she's wanted to produce at BTG's Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge for some time. Balancing "Cat" and another Pulitzer Prize-winner, the musical "Fiorello!" (1960), are a world premiere, Shem Bitterman's "The Stone Witch," starring Judd Hirsch as a reclusive children's book author and illustrator who is struggling to finish his first manuscript in over a decade, and a 2014 drama by Nick Payne, "Constellations," which explores the infinite possibilities in a relationship between a quantum physicist (Kate Baldwin) and a beekeeper (Graham Rowatt, Baldwin's real-life husband).
Contemporary work continues to play a significant role at Shakespeare & Company — plays that, like Shakespeare's, bind language to ideas, to thoughts about how we interact with each other. This summer, Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "Twelfth Night" (the 2016 Northeast Regional Tour production) share the spotlight with new plays, like Lauren Gunderson's "The Taming," inspired by the banter in "The Taming of the Shrew," and "Ugly Lies the Bone" by Lindsey Ferrentino, starring Christianna Nelson as an emotionally and physically scarred combat veteran who comes home after three tours in Afghanistan and undergoes experimental video game therapy to help her heal. "Ugly Lies the Bone" reunites Nelson with the gifted Daniela Varon, who directed her in last season's smashing "Red Velvet."
"The Merchant of Venice" reunites director Tina Packer and actor Jonathan Epstein as Shylock for a play they first worked on together 18 years ago at The Mount. This time they'll be in the Tina Packer Playhouse, which, for the first time in its history, will be configured as a theater-in-the-round.
Change of another sort is in store at Chester Theatre Company at Chester Town Hall. This season is the first under Byam Stevens' successor as CTC's artistic director, Daniel Elihu Kramer, whose own play, "My Jane," a creative look at Charlotte Bronte's enduring novel, "Jane Eyre," opens CTC's 2016 season on June 29, followed July 14 by Anat Gov's "Oh God," about a psychologist named Ella and her one-time-only distinguished patient, an extremely depressed God, who is contemplating wiping out humankind. This is a co-production with Boston-based Israeli Stage.
This summer is Mandy Greenfield's second as artistic director of Williamstown Theatre Festival. Her inaugural eight-production season last year had only one revival — Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten" — amid four world premieres and three American premieres. This summer, Greenfield has two revivals — Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo" with Marisa Tomei, and Wendy Wasserstein's "An American Daughter" with Kate Walsh — balanced against four world premieres and a U.S. premiere.
Barrington Stage Company's 2016 season began in mid-May with a new musical, "Presto Change-O," about three generations of magicians, in the St. Germain Stage, where it is running through June 11. BSC's Boyd-Quinson Mainstage opens June 17 with a world premiere drama, "American Son" by Christopher Demos-Brown, about what happens when a biracial couple — played by Tamara Tunie and Michael Hayden — is called to a police station when their son's car is found. The musical this year begins July 15. It's a Gilbert and Sullivan, a BSC first — "The Pirates of Penzance," from director John Rando and choreographer Joshua Bergasse, the duo responsible for BSC's 2013 hit revival of "On the Town." All in all, between its two stages, BSC is offering an intriguing mix of old and new, music and comedy and drama, fresh voices and familiar ones. Balance.
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