Matters of life and death, politics and life cycles play out on region's stages
WILLIAMSTOWN >> The settings for the American premiere of Australian playwright Tom Holloway's "And No More Shall We Part" at Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage tell us as much as we need to know about its characters — Pam, a woman in her mid-50s, and her husband, Don, who is in his early 60s.
The lights come up on a bedroom in their house, a room with a single bed, occupied by Pam, and a chair next to it, occupied by Don. As the play progresses, we catch glimpses of a kitchen only when someone pushes through its swinging door; a dining area with only a dark wood table and four matching chairs. Far back, in the recesses of the stage, the suggestion of a living room; by the front door, a coat tree with an umbrella stand and some shoes at its feet. The rooms themselves are intimate and inviting; the spaces between them dark and pronounced — emblematic of a couple who have been together a long time but who have, at the same time, lost touch with each other at some profound level; who have issues that have been left in silence and avoidance.
What faces them now is something that cannot be avoided, cannot be untouched. Pam (Jane Kaczmarek) is terminally ill. She and her doctors agree that since chemotherapy is no longer effective, it is better to stop treatments altogether. Rather than endure the undignified, degrading. horrifying death that awaits her, Pam has decided to end her life with a cocktail of pills she has obtained illegally. As the play begins, she is in bed, Don (Alfred Molina) sitting uneasily nearby, waiting for the medicine to take effect. As the play progresses, we flash back, to their final dinner together hours earlier; to a bitter fight over her decision; to the day she comes home from her doctors, having made up her mind and now needing to explain her decision to Don. She will need his help, she says, but she will tell him, and their grown sons, who each are out of the house and on their own, as little as possible to guard against any legal action in the aftermath of her death. Indeed, she will take the pills at the end of her last dinner with Don while he is in the kitchen washing dishes.
Denial, anger, resentment, fear, grip Don as he lashes out against a situation he feels helpless to control By contrast, Pam — as played by Kaczmarek in a stunning performance that is as remarkable for what her Pam doesn't say as it is for she does — is resolute, calm, on the surface.
Under Anne Kaufmann's direction, "And No More Shall We Part" moves at a steady, almost oddly removed, clip; without melodramatic histrionics; performed by two enormously compelling actors working in seamless partnership. Holloway saves his bombshell for the end, posing a wrenching issue that raises the stakes in gut-wrenching manner.
Elsewhere around the region
Oldcastle Theatre Company
BENNINGTON, VT. >> By sheer coincidence of scheduling, while a play by Wendy Wasserstein unfolds in a Georgetown living room on Williamstown Theatre Festival's Main Stage, another political drama is unfolding in another Georgetown living room on a stage 15 miles north of Williamstown in downtown Bennington where Anthony Giardina's "The City of Conversation" is wrapping up its run this weekend.
First produced in 2014,"The City of Conversation" spans three decades and six administrations from Ronald Reagan's election in 1979 to Barack Obama's inauguration night in 2009. The title is drawn from a quote by Henry James who described Washington, D.C. as a "city of conversation" in which powerful people moved with other people to get things done — at dinner parties, cocktail parties, teas — out of the sight and reach of public and media.
"The City of Conversation" is a smartly written play in which politics and personal issues clash when a liberal mover and shaker who delights in facilitating moving and shaking, Hester Ferris (Nan Mullineux) finds that her son, Colin (an earnest if unconvincing Christopher Restivo) returns from London School of Economics basking in the romantic and Reaganesque glow of his fiancee-to-be, an eager young Republican named Anna Fitzgerald (Meredith Meurs). As the play begins, Hester is preparing to host a small dinner for an influential Kentucky senator whose support is critical for an important judicial appointment. But the tone set by her son and Anna during the after-dinner conversation proves prologue to a far more critical clash Hester will have with both Colin and Anna a few years later over the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court; a clash that will have dramatic consequences for Hester's relationship not only with Colin and Anna, but her six-year-old grandson as well.
With the notable exception of a heated discussion between Mullineaux's Hester and Meur's Anna, director Eric Peterson's production, unfortunately, does not quite grab hold of the play's opportunities
Christine Decker does the best she can in the thankless role pd Hester's widowed sister, Jean, who seems little more than Hester's lacky. Mullineaux struggles to sharply define Hester and Restivo doesn't come into his own as an actor until the play's final scene in the role of Colin's now 27-year-old son, Ethan.
In the end, not a whole lot of moving or shaking in this "City" of muted conversation.
The Theater Barn
NEW LEBANON, N.Y. >> Allan Sherman, who died in 1973 at the age of 49, was a popular song parodist in the mid-1960s whose biggest hit, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh," set to Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours," chronicles the travails of a young boy at summer camp. It's also the title of a revue that is wrapping up this weekend at The Theater Barn in an uneven production that is buoyed more by its two female performers — Patti DeMatteo and Amy Fibke — than by its three men — Jared Siger, Nolan Burke and icky Gee, especially Gee who looks out of place and uncomfortable in each of his multiple appearances.
Conceived and written by Douglas Bernstein and Bob Krausz, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" uses more than 20 Sherman song parodies — and two original songs by Albert Hague, Sherman's collaborator on a 1969 Broadway flop — to spin the life story of Barry Brockman (Sigler) and his lifelong sweetheart Sarah Jackman (DeMatteo) from birth to retirement in Florida.
Like Sherman's short-lived career, the novelty of Sherman's parodies wear out quickly in "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" but the show lingers on like an unwelcome guest.
What: "And No More Shall We Part" by Tom Holloway
At: Williamstown Theatre Festival, Main Stage, '62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St., Williamstown
When: Closes Sunday. Evening — Friday and Saturday at 8. Matinees — Saturday at 3:30 and Sunday at 2
Running time: 1 hour 17 minutes (no intermission)
Ticket information: 413-597-3400; wtfestival.org; in person at '62 Center box office
What: "The City of Conversation" by Anthony Giardina
At: Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St. Bennington, Vt.
When: Closes Sunday. Evening — Friday and Saturday at 7:30. Matinee — Sunday at 2
Running time: 2 hours (including one intermission)
Ticket information: 802-447-0564; oldcastletheatre.org
What: "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! The Allan Sherman Musical." Conceived and written by Douglas Bernstein and Bob Krausz
At: The Theater Barn, 645 Route 20, New Lebanon, N.Y.
When: Closes Sunday. Evening — Friday and Saturday at 8. Matinees — Saturday at 4 and Sunday at 2
Ticket information: 518-794-8989; in person at theater box office on site
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