StageworksHudson / Shakespeare & Company / The Theater Barn: Theater speaks in many voices

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Three shows as varied and different, in every way, as theater can be are in their final performances this weekend -- two of them across the state line in New York; one of them at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington.


HUDSON, N.Y. -- Todd and Kali, the young couple who are front and center in Bryony Lavery's edgy "Stockholm"-- which wraps up its U.S. premiere this weekend at Stageworks/Hudson -- are a bright young couple who would seem to have it all.

Hip, glossy, bright, witty, intensely sexual and in love, they appear to be living a life of relative ease, comfort and trust.

It is Todd's birthday. He is preparing a meal that not only is his favorite, it appeals to Kali as well. They also are preparing for a vacation in Stockholm.

But there are secrets here; dark, murky secrets. That row of kitchen knives mounted prominently above their kitchen sink is emblematic of the perilous edge upon which Todd and Kali's relationship is poised. The security, comfort and ease with each other is as much a product of codependence as it is of desire and want.

At one point, the suspicion-fueled tensions between Todd and Kali erupt in a dance -- literally -- of near death is as bruising and alarming as the near-rape sequence earlier this summer in Berkshire Theatre Group's harrowing "Extremities."

"Stockholm" is an intensely physical work; one in which interior monologues give shape to exquisitely choreographed movement that captures the chilling dependence of these two upon each other.

Lavery's text is structured as dialogue and first- and third-person narrative, delivered within the framework of a sleek, trim, lean set by the sleek, trim, lean Jason Babinsky and Emily Gardner Hall who, under the guidance of director Laura Margolis and choreographer Jennifer Weber, navigate the treacherous currents of "Stockholm" with a skill that is at once clinically distancing and unsettlingly compelling.

Stageworks/Hudson's marketing slogan is "theater outside the box." Indeed!

‘Leap Year'

GREAT BARRINGTON -- William Coe Bigelow's "Leap Year" -- which finishes its Shakespeare & Company-produced world premiere this weekend at Bard College at Simon's Rock -- is as artless, familiar and self-indulgent as "Stockholm" is edgy, provocative and stimulating.

Based, "in the most general sense, on something that happened to me," Bigelow says in the press material, "Leap Year" begins on Feb. 29, 1988 in the Los Angeles duplex of a Hollywood couple whose joy at the birth of their son is diminished by the news that he has Down syndrome. For the remainder of the first act, the couple -- Rob (Dave Demke), a struggling alcoholic screenwriter whose career seems to have stalled, and his wife, Lisa (Caley Milliken), whose fledgling career as a producer gets a big-time boost, go back and forth wrestling with some tough choices, none of which is welcome. Even as Lisa clings to Rob as they are about to make love on the living room couch and says to him "Hold on to me. Don't you let me go," you know that whatever they decide it will not bode well for their marriage.

Where the first act deals with the wrenching situation facing Rob, Lisa and their son, the second act, set 20 years later, deals with the aftermath of the decision they made during the intermission and the emotional loose end Rob is determined to tie up.

Periodically, "Leap Year's" flow is interrupted by presumably revelatory interior monologues, most of them from Rob, whose personal journey dominates Bigelow's play.

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The first act is the play's roughest. Bigelow rambles. Rob and Lisa run through arguments and situations ad nauseam. The act builds to a manipulative revelation that carries less power and force than Bigelow intends. "Leap Year" is on somewhat more solid footing in the second act, even though the focus shifts and Rob's own story takes over.

Demke's performance throughout is steady and determined. Peggy Phar Wilson is touching and effective as a woman whose experience with Down syndrome kids offers another layer to the complexity of Rob and Lisa's choices.

Karen Beaumont is on the shakiest ground with a rambling, disconnected, groping performance as Rob's cigarette- and alcohol-dependent mother.

As Lisa, Milliken manages some effective moments in a generally uneven performance.

Joan Coombs is credible as a baby caregiver and Theo Gabriel is touching and poignant as a young man named Johnnie.

For all its connections to Bigelow's experience, "Leap Year" carries all the emotional resonance and authenticity of a Lifetime or Hallmark Channel movie.

‘Young Frankenstein'

NEW LEBANON, N.Y. -- The Theater Barn is wrapping up the summer portion of its 2013 season with a generally amusing production of Mel Brooks' "Young Franekenstein," his Broadway musical follow-up to his hugely successful "The Producers."

"Young Frankenstein" is about as perfect a film parody as you could want with references that are so idiosyncratically cinematic that they don't translate all that well on stage.

Brooks is a deliciously whimsical lyricist and his score is tuneful and often as whimsical as his lyrics.

Director Bert Bernardi has a sublimely wicked, devilish feel for this material. He understands boundaries, just how far his cast can and should go and he gets them there in fine fashion.

Ryan Halsaver is a delight as Igor, a hooded domestic servant with a hunch on his back that clearly has a mind of its own.

As Frederick Frankenstein, the occasionally Gene Wilder-inflected Daniel Dunlow is on lees solid, less consistent ground while Katrina Gnatek is appealing as the country maiden who catches Frederick's fancy -- and then some.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Jerielle Morwitz has a delightful go at the role of the sinister-seeming housekeeper, Frau Bucher. Sean Riley is not as consistently convincing as The Monster.

As I was leaving the theater, I overheard one woman say that she had seen "Young Frankenstein" on Broadway and enjoyed this production more. I suspect her reaction had a lot to do with this production's intimacy, accessibility and resourcefulness. This "Young Frankenstein" is about humancraft rather than elaborate stagecraft.

Just the thing for an evening when you don't want to think.


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