GREAT BARRINGTON – After a 2022 season characterized in its aftermath as “a tremendous challenge,” Great Barrington Public Theater artistic director Jim Frangione is betting that less will be more in 2023.
Three plays. Five actors.
“We’re trying to tighten our belt,” Frangione said by telephone from a sidewalk café near the Villa Borghese in Rome where, he remarked, skies were sunny and temperatures were hovering in the mid-70s.
Great Barrington Public Theater opens its 2023 season June 13 with the American premiere of London playwright Kit Brookman’s “The Stones,” directed by Michelle Joyner, in the flexible 100-seat Liebowitz Black Box Theater at Bard College of Simon’s Rock’s Daniel Arts Center. The play is an hour-long solo piece about a young teacher at loose ends in his life who takes a too-good-to-be-true job in the countryside as tutor to two young children.
Frangione describes “The Stones” as a Gothic thriller — “something new for us,” he said. Joyner saw the show at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland and brought a copy of the script to Frangione.
“The Stones” is scheduled to run through July 2. It will be followed by two productions in the 300-seat mainstage McConnell Theater — Brenda Withers’ “Off Peak” (July 6-23), directed by James Warwick and co-starring Peggy Pharr Wilson and Kevin O’Rourke; and, “Just Another Day” (July 27-Aug. 13), written by and co-starring Dan Lauria. James Glossman directs this co-production with Shadowland Stage in Ellenville, N.Y. where the play will be seen before its performances here.
In a special event jointly produced with the Edith Wharton Restoration at The Mount in Lenox, GBPT will present “Representation and How to Get It” (Aug. 24-26), a new solo show created through a collaboration among playwright Joyce Van Dyke, actor Elaine Vaan Hogue, and director Judy Braha.
“It’s going to be an all-around fantastic season,” GBPT executive director Deann Simmons Halper said in a news release. “We’re committed to showcasing new plays and to spotlighting the wealth of talent now living in and around the Berkshires. We love to bring new stories and new ways of seeing the world to audiences, and these four plays do it brilliantly.”
“Off Peak” is about a man and a woman who once had an intimate relationship and now find themselves the only passengers on a Metro North train car, reconnecting, reflecting on the past and present.
The comedy premiered last summer at Hudson Stage Company in Armonk, N.Y., just north of New York City, in Westchester County. It had a subsequent brief run at 59E59 Theaters in New York.
“When I got hold of this play I knew we had to do it,” Frangione said. “I love this play about a couple who had a history and are now going back over things. It’s a really good play about all kinds of wonderful things.”
Lauria’s “Just Another Day” is a two-character play about an aging comedy writer and an aging poet who meet daily on a park bench and each day try to define their lives, who they are and what it is that connects them.
“The heart of the story is about respecting the wisdom and the knowledge of our older artists who are being forgotten,” Lauria said in a news release.
“There is just a bench, perhaps a street light. This play is like Samuel Beckett but it’s not,” said Frangione. “It’s a beautiful, heartfelt piece.”
The play’s style speaks to the minimalist aesthetic Frangione and managing director Tristan Wilson see as GBPT’s style — plays that require only limited scenic elements; theater, Frangione said, “where the emphasis is on the plays and the word.”
Frangione readily acknowledges that GBPT’s 2022 season was a “tremendous challenge” — six plays, four of them solo pieces; 15 actors.
“The solo festival was monumental for us,” Frangione said. “After our first summer season in 2021, we wanted to let people know we were more than perhaps they thought.”
There were financial challenges. And there was COVID. No performances were lost because of the virus but four of the six cast members in “Things I Know To Be True” tested positive for COVID during rehearsals. One cast member participated in the production’s first technical rehearsal via his iPad.
Between the size of the cast and the demands of the set, “‘Things I Know To Be True’ was “the largest show we’ve ever done,” Frangione said. “Tristan, Judy [Braha, the show’s director] and Valerie [production stage manager Valerie Bijur Carlson] kept it all together.”
As it turned out, those challenges yielded meaningful rewards.
“We made some really great new friends from Berkshires theatergoers who are regulars at other theaters in the area, heard about us and came,” Frangione said.
In response, GBPT has extended the run of each show from two weekends to three. “We’ve expanded our footprint,” said Frangione, who has been spending the past six weeks in Morocco teaching theater to Moroccan students in a special program at an English-speaking university in the Atlas Mountains. He returns to the Berkshires in another week or so.
While he will be restaging “Just Another Day” for its post-Shadowlands Stage performances here, Frangione, who directed two shows last summer, will not be directing anything this season; his choice. “When you’re directing a play or two and also trying to supervise things, it can be difficult,” he said.
This summer Frangione can breathe just a bit easier; focus on the theater and the season. “I'm thrilled by all of it,” he said.
2023 Season at a Glance
Where: Liebowitz Black Box Theater and McConnell Theater, Daniel Arts Center, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, 84 Alford Road, Great Barrington
Information and ticket purchases: 413-372-1980, greatbarringtonpublictheater.org
What: American premiere. Written by Kit Brookman. Directed by Michelle Joyner.
Where: Liebowitz Black Box Theater
When: June 24-July 2
What: Written by Brenda Withers. Directed by James Warwick. With Peggy Pharr Wilson and Kevin O’Rourke.
Where: McConnell Theater
When: July 6-23
"Just Another Day"
What: Written by Dan Lauria. Directed by James Glossman. With Dan Lauria and a female actor to be named.
Where: McConnell Theater
When: July 27-Aug. 13
“Representation and How to Get It”
What: Special event. Written and performed by Elaine Vaan Hogue. Directed by Judy Braha.
Where: The Mount, 2 Plunkett St., Lenox
When: Aug. 24-26