A new comedy finds a home at Berkshire Theatre Group

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STOCKBRIDGE — "I haven't laughed this much in I don't know how many years."

So declared Count Stovall, a 50-year veteran of stage and screen (including "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" with James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad, and "Driving Miss Daisy" with Vanessa Redgrave), in an interview with The Berkshire Eagle. Stovall, who specializes in serious drama, was referring to rehearsals of Kathleen Clark's comedy, "What We May Be," directed by Gregg Edelman, now previewing at Berkshire Theatre Group's Fitzpatrick Main Stage, where it officially opens Saturday evening after a series of previews that begin tonight. "To know that you're coming to work with people that are such professionals; you're just in awe of their talent," he said; "and you go `I cannot believe this.'"

Edelman, a multiple Tony Award nominee himself ("City of Angels," "1776," "Into the Woods"), who directed BTG's productions of "Constellations," "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "Coming Back Like a Song!" hails from a small town in New Jersey where he is a neighbor of the playwright. He first saw Clark's script when she knocked on his door and asked him to read it. Lamenting that "there are so many plays out there that have no home," Edelman regards this one as "a little Kismet that happened." As readings were being done in New York, where BTG's casting director saw it, play readers recommended it to BTG CEO and artistic director, Kate Maguire, who had produced Clark's earlier "In the Mood."

"What We May Be" — the title is drawn from(a fragment of Ophelia's line in Hamlet: "Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be" — concerns a community theater in New Jersey that is celebrating its 50th anniversary by staging a series of four one-act plays. The pieces are book-ended by the backstage banter of the actors, a conceit reminiscent of Tom Stoppard's "Shakespeare in Love." "The members of the theater company go on journeys as actors in the one-acts, so that by the end of the play they've all been transformed by what happens to them onstage," Clark said. She added that not only are the one-acts "about people with heart," so is "What We May Be," "because that's what this theater company is — a family."

Dee Hoty, a Tony nominee for "Footloose," "The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public" and "The Will Rogers Follies," agrees. "Every cast of every show I've ever been in is its own family, which is the beauty of theater," she said, "and we never really say goodbye. In movies and television we have no control over the outcome, but in the theater every night you get another chance to cook the stew together and that to me is a very familial thing."

Hoty, experiencing the different levels described by Clark, explores how her relationship with co-star Penny Fuller in the final one-act impacts their backstage characters and also their real life situation: "I'm onstage with Penny who I've admired for years and don't know and I want to cry," Hoty said. "It's like I suddenly have this new friend who keeps saying to me: `I feel like I've known you all my life.'"

Fuller, a Tony nominee for "Applause" and "The Dinner Party," and an Emmy Award-winner for "The Elephant Man," plays Lucinda, the real professional in the group, who was compelled to return home from her New York City career to care for her aging parents. The company's faithful audience, who adore her, have voted to revive these one-act plays, first performed years ago, because they know that Lucinda stars in each of them. Throughout the course of the play she works her magic with this little company, eliciting the best from every actor. As Fuller says, she is "Mama Bear," lovingly passing on what she knows to them.

Because the set has to encompass both the backstage and onstage scenes, Edelman says the space will be fluid and open, leaving it to lighting designer Alan Edwards to make the transitions. Edelman recalls that his mother, a designer who brought her young son to see her fashion displays at Saks Fifth Avenue in Chicago, told him: 'Gregg, remember, lighting is everything." He is confident that with Edwards' help the show will flow very well.

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