Old Castle Theatre Company debuts streamlined show runs this summer


— Eric Peterson never thought that almost a half century after he and a small group of New York City actor friends founded Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, that he would be announcing the first show of its 49th season while at the helm.

But the longtime artistic director is indeed still leading Oldcastle's creative efforts on stage.

"We've seen much change and growth and weathered some tough times," Peterson said. "But Oldcastle hasn't only survived in a very competitive regional theater scene, but also thrived in giving its audiences an intimacy hard to find elsewhere."

Peterson added that the theater's permanent downtown home of the last seven years now allows the organization to offer year-round programming in multiple performing arts, education and other community events.

The theater season, however, remains Oldcastle's crown jewel, and has a bit of something for everyone: comedy, music, award winning contemporary plays and a closing fanfare with a monumental classic.

It also has a logistical tweak to it.

"We're also going to streamline the performances," Peterson said. "Each play will run 12 performances instead of 16. We're trimming a week, but adding Sunday nights. This fits in well with our year-round programming, and allows us to run our cornerstone, the theater season, from June to October."

The first play in the lineup runs from June 15-24: "The Almost True and Truly Remarkable Adventures of Israel Potter," by Joe Bravaco and Larry Rosler, adapted from the novel by Herman Melville, "Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile."

The plot even has local ties to it. Israel embarks from a small Berkshires town to the American Revolution then on to mother England and back again, all while going through life's many ups and downs.

The focus is the improbable nature of who Israel Potter meets, and the historical events he somehow influences — all with an eye for the absurd.

The cast of six includes Oldcastle veterans Richard Howe, Christine Decker and Gary Allan Poe — the latter who is also a co-founder of the company, and still directs and stage manages there. The play will be directed by Nathan Stith, who recently steered the Oldcastle production of "39 Steps."

One character plays Israel, while the rest of the cast play multiple characters, according to Poe.

He added that the move to Oldcastle's current 140-seat modular stage facility has allowed the venerable company to offer its shows from a closer perspective.

"The satisfaction of working on the rich variety of plays that we offer never gets old," Poe said. "Oldcastle's Main Street location has also enhanced the intimacy of the audience experience."

Specific to "Israel Potter," Poe said that audiences are in for a treat.

"This is going to be fun, because I'm playing more than a dozen roles," Poe said. "Some of them will only be a few lines long, but among the luminaries I'm going to take on are George Washington, Ethan Allen, a drunken sailor, a mad-as-a-hatter crazy brick maker, Israel's father, and about a half dozen other roles. As an actor, I'm going to be having just as much fun as all of you in the audience!"

Peterson agreed that the cast of "Israel Potter" is already "jazzed up about doing this show."

But he was quick to add that this entire season will have a thematic thread running through it.

"We're here to tell stories, but also to make sense of the world around us as we see it today," Peterson said. "The messages connecting [our] plays to what is happening around us today are very much there. I truly believe our audiences this year will leave each performance with a deep appreciation for that very thing."


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