A comedy drawn out of desperation

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STOCKBRIDGE - Playwright Kathleen Clark can't get away from her fondness for good old- fashioned romantic comedies; the kind that used to feature the likes of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, for example.

"I just couldn't stay away," she said.

Thus, " In the Mood," her new comedy that officially opens its world premiere run Saturday evening in Berkshire Theatre Festival's Fitzpatrick Main Stage, where it has been previewing since Tuesday.

"In the Mood" is set on a late winter afternoon in the Manhattan penthouse apartment of Perri and Derek Rubin as Perri is frantically putting the finishing touches on a surprise birthday party she is arranging for her husband. But when Derek shows up, the surprise, it turns out, is on Perri. Nor will it be the last surprise as both her party, and marriage, unravel.

The comedy's set-up has a ring of familiarity, director Marc Bruni acknowledged during a joint interview with Clark in one of the rehearsal studios at BTF's Lavan Center, just a few days before the start of previews.

"It does have that farcical set-up with everyone running around with blinders on," Bruni said.

"Kate introduces her characters in a way you think you know them but then she goes somewhere else with them.

"We want to keep the play, the characters truthful, away from the archetypes of farce where you can be amused by what's going on but not care. Here, we're asking the audience to care."

Perri's husband, Derek, is a prime example. To the outside world, he's a bounder, a cheat, dishonest. Indeed, Bruni says, one of the issues " In the Mood" examines is women, and men, who stay in marriages that seem unfulfilling.

"I think the best comedy comes out of desperation," Bruni said.

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"We're talking about people who often struggle to have the life they've created for themselves. It's much more complicated than it seems to people on the outside."

And so, Clark, with Bruni's eye, has been developing Derek, for example, with a bit more sympathy for the situation he's in than one might normally expect.

" I want audiences to be invested in him," Clark said. "I want them to feel some sympathy that he finally finds love in his life."

Clark says that from the moment of their first meeting in New York in January, her collaboration with Bruni has been fruitful and productive.

"We've been in sync over our vision of the play, even more so here," Clark said.

" Kate has this incredible facility for looking at the play, keeping track of what the audience knows," Bruni said.

" The stronger hold you keep on the foundation of the play, the more open you are to suggestions," she said.

"I can tell right away what will work and what won't and our actors are right with us ( when it comes to making changes)."

"Each day, it's like you're creating something from the ground up. It's about possibilities," Bruni says.

Through this week of previews, " In the Mood" has been a work in process. Eventually, however, " there comes a time in the process when you have to give the play over," Bruni said "I'm here until the end of the run so by the next round, if there is one, I'll know what to do with it. The audience will have told us a lot," Clark said.

" Our focus," Bruni said, "has been to clarify, to make the story as true as possible and give the audience a great night out."


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