Berkshire Stages: Curtains up, treat yourself to a play

"Into the Woods." at Barrington Stage Company, is a "Critic's Choice."

These capsules are based upon reviews by Berkshire Eagle theater critic Jeffrey Borak. The capsules include the date the full review appeared in print.

'Critic's choice' indicates a highly recommended production.


The relationship between a Congolese Pygmy on display in the monkey house of the Bronx Zoo in 1906 and his keeper, a black convict doing time on a prison farm in Tennessee, provides the framework for an examination of what it means to be free in a racially divided America. A more-than-able Andre Braugher as the convict, Smokey, for whom the stakes are incredibly high — his own freedom before his term is up — leads an able cast through a-not-so-astonishing play about an astonishing life (7/4). Through. 2 hours, 7 minutes.

WILLIAMSTOWN THEATRE FESTIVAL, Nikos Stage, '62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St., Williamstown. Evening — Tonight at 8. Matinee — Today at 3:30; Sunday at 2. 413-458-3253;


Lorraine Hansberry's 60-year-old American classic about a black family in Chicago's South Side in the 1950s is given a shot at the American dream is given a volatile production that, like a bas relief, brings out details and layers that have not been so clearly defined in more traditional approaches. S. Epatha Merkerson is compelling as the matriarchal center of the family, Lena Younger. Francois Battiste is an angry, impatient, decidedly non-heroic Walter Lee, her son, who is forced to come into his own as successor to his late father as the rightful head of the family Director Robert O'Hara's inventions are somewhat hit-and-miss but he offers a rightfully audience-gasping turn at the end that makes clear the difference between the dream Lena and her family are anticipating as they move to the next stage of their lives and the cruel reality that awaits them (7/2). Through July 13. 2 hours, 45 minutes.

WILLIAMSTOWN THEATRE FESTIVAL, Main Stage,'62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St., Williamstown. Evenings — Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays and Saturdays at 8. Matinees — Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 2; Saturdays at 3:30. 413-458-3253;

INTO THE WOODS (Critic's Choice)

Director Joe Calarco, who gave us "Breaking the Code" and the stunning "Ragtime," both at Barrington Stage Company, is at BSC again, this time with a definitive treatment of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's "Into the Woods," which examines the underside of fairy tales and considers the consequences of getting what you wish for. It's a quest story as a baker and his sterile wife head off into the woods on a journey to lift the curse that has kept them barren. On their way, they cross paths with Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and his beanstalk, a witch, princes, mothers and greedy daughters and a mysterious man. Calarco strikes a finely tuned balance between light and dark in a stylish, imaginative production that delights in its complete mastery of all the tools of theater. The cast is first-rate and Sondheim's score is handled with sensitivity and savvy by music director Darren R. Cohen. Even when the material itself nearly buckles midway through the second act, Calarco's production moves with unflagging energy and style. If you've never seen "Into the Woods" onstage, this masterly production is a richly rewarding introduction. If you have, this will make you look again with fresh eyes (6/25). Through July 13. 2 hours, 50 minutes.

Barrington Stage Company, Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield. Evenings — Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30; Thursdays through Saturdays at 8. Matinees — Wednesdays and Fridays at 2; Sundays at 5. 413-236-8888;


Playwright John Patrick Shanley is nowhere near his best with thus muddled romantic comedy about the earth, legacy and unrequited love and this played-in-the-shadows production does little to fill in the cavernous gaps in this play about neighboring farmers in rural Ireland; a headstrong woman approaching spinsterhood; the neighboring farmer she has loved since childhood; and the object of her affection, who has been burnt once in a relationship and is reluctant to take another chance, despite his better instincts. Shannon Marie Sullivan is positively incandescent as the headstrong Rosemary Muldoon. By contrast, James McMenamin takes farmer Anthony Reilly's withdrawn nature far too literally. This is one case in which less really is less. (6/29). Through July 13. 1 hour, 42 minutes.

Berkshire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge. Evenings — Monday through Thursday at 7; Friday and Saturday at 8. Matinees — Wednesday and Saturday at 2. 413-997-4444;


Kenneth Lonergan's sly, observant, unsentimental play about a once vital, politically active, socially engaged family matriarch in mental decline and her family's determined efforts to minister to her needs while attending to their own is given a sluggish, at best effortful production that only begins to connect its dots in the second half. Annette Miller's performance in the pivotal role of the declining Gladys Green is emblematic of a production that struggles to find its voice. The true center here is held by Elizabeth Aspenlieder in a masterly, smartly crafted, impressively nuanced and focused portrayal of Gladys' adult daughter, Ellen, who is pushed to the edge as she tries to balance all the needs that have been deposited on her shoulders (5/30). Through July 14. 2 hours, 52 minutes.

Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox. Evening — Sunday at 7:30. Matinees — Fridays, Saturdays and July 14 at 3. $25-$65. 413-637-3353;