Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Romeo and Juliet too "Impure" for Nashville, Shakespeare Censored

Tennessee, home of great ribs and backward thinking, is in the news again. This time its citizens demanding that Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet be censored. Seems the 400 year old play is too racy for its high school students. This was the claim of a group of self-appointed censors who found the Bard of Avon a bit too bawdy for Music City, U.S.A. They requested a number of cuts to Shakespeare's text in order to tone down the play he wrote. The theatre company refused and went with what the Bard wrote instead of a watered down version to please the nabobs.

Most of the upset is was about some of the bawdier scenes with Mercutio and the Nurse. But Romeo and Juliet also shows two teenagers disobeying their parents, and this gets some of the Nashville fundamentalists in a tizzy. A woman who identified herself as Val, a home-school teacher complained that she "struggled being here with my son. The sexuality was too much. Our children need to be more pure." The full story is in The Toronto Star.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, you can enjoy The Acting company's splendid production of the classic at the Colonial Theatre on February 12.

Meantime, chalk up another one for Tennessee where the Butler Act was passed by fundamentalist Christians in 1925 banning the teaching of the theory of evolution in all public schools and colleges. This of course led to the famous Scopes (Monkey) Trial which made the state a laughingstock, and the anti-evolutionists haven't stopped trying to turn the clock back to the dark ages since.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Guthrie Family and Friends Stage February 14 Haiti Benefit at the Colonial

When the Guthrie family gathers together with a few friends, it can be quite impressive.

After the wonderfully successful James Taylor benefit for Haiti which raised over $500,000 - and had ticket prices from $100-1000, there is second major Berkshire event, this time at popular prices at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.

Artists from the Berkshires and surrounding cities will come together to show solidarity and help bring money and more awareness to the devastation from the earthquake in Haiti. This once-in-a-lifetime event will feature performances by Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, The Mammals, Bobby Sweet, Vetiver, Tift Merritt, Meg Hutchinson, Kris Delmhorst, The Guthrie Family and special guests.

“The momentous tragedy in Haiti generated subsequent shockwaves throughout the entertainment industry in the United States. Artists and venues have been searching for ways to help the victims by tapping the generosity of our friends and neighbors. We are grateful to the Taylors for their very generous leadership earlier this week. We are pleased to help our dear friends the Guthrie family whose concert at The Colonial Theatre on Valentine’s Day will make it possible for concerned citizens, at every economic level, to participate in a musical event to raise funds to assist in the rescue of the people of Haiti.”

Tickets for the Sunday, February 14 performance at 7 PM are $25 and $15 and can be purchased in person at the Colonial Ticket Office at 111 South Street Monday-Friday 10AM-5PM, performance Saturdays 10AM-2PM, by calling (413) 997-4444 or online at

Romeo and Juliet Berkshire Bound February 12 at the Colonial

Hamish Linklater and Heather Robison in The Acting Company's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Colonial February 12. Photo by Susan Johnson.

The Acting Company, a highly praised American touring repertory company and the renowned Guthrie Theater proudly present Romeo & Juliet. It's been some time since we saw a professional production of this masterpiece in the Berkshires. Young love has never been so delightful, or as dangerous, as in this stirring, full-length production.

Since its founding in 1972 by the legendary John Houseman and Margot Harley, The Acting Company has performed 133 productions touring to 48 states and ten foreign countries. Slated for Friday, February 12 at 8 PM, tickets are $45 and $25 and can be purchased in person at the Colonial Ticket Office at 111 South Street Monday-Friday 10AM-5PM, performance Saturdays 10AM-2PM, by calling (413) 997-4444 or online at 

There will also be a performance at 9:30AM for students as part of the Performing Arts for Schools Education Program.

Mike Dugan says "Men Fake Foreplay" - February 6 at the Colonial in Pittsfield

Mike Dugan is in Pittsfield February 6 at the Colonial.

“It was never about finding the right woman. It was about becoming the right man,” quips Mike Dugan in his show, Men Fake Foreplay. His appearances are hilariously funny, offering pointed commentary on relationships and the battle of the sexes, in an evening's entertainment that is both written and performed by the Emmy-winning writer and Tonight Show comedian and world traveller.

Dugan spent two years touring throughout Europe and the UK while developing Men Fake Foreplay, and has performed the show in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.

Tickets for the Saturday, February 6 performance at 8 PM are $65 (includes VIP preferred seating with post-show Artist meet & greet), $35 and $25 and can be purchased in person at the Colonial Ticket Office at 111 South Street Monday-Friday 10AM-5PM, performance Saturdays 10AM-2PM, by calling (413) 997-4444 or online at

Friday, January 22, 2010

30 Years of Shear Madness - Will it Never End?

Cheers for 30 Years of Shear Madness! (l to r and back to front) Boston cast members Christopher Robin Cook, Patrick Shea, Jennifer Ellis, Ellen Colton, Michael Fennimore and Richard Snee. Paul Lyden photo.

Shear Madness, the comedy whodunit that holds the Guinness record as the longest-running play in the history of the American theater, will celebrate its 30th Anniversary at The Charles Playhouse Stage II on Friday, January 29, 2009 (the show’s 12,580th performance). I have seen and totally enjoyed it a half dozen times, and for those of us in the hill country, there is an interesting fact: This show began not far away, in Lake George, and its creators, Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan, live in Latham, New York. And you can bet that lots of the actors appearing in it have trod the boards in Williamstown, Lenox, Pittsfield and Stockbridge. How's that for a local connection!

Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan modesetly accept full responsibility for three decades of madness.

Twenty years before shows like Tony and Tina's Wedding, Bruce Jordan discovered how much fun it is to involve the audience in the production. That's what sets Shear Madness apart from all the other long running plays - it varies each night, as the plot changes with audience input. Back in Lake George, where it began, they started experimenting with the formula. " When the audience got to question the suspects, the suspects would try to defer having to answer some of those questions through humor -- so that is where the little egg of humor began," says Jordan.

The show soon was playing in Boston on Warrenton Street, and word of mouth was sensational. It became a favorite (and still is) with groups and lots of folks who normally don't attend theatre. Millions have seen it not only in Boston, but in more than 40 cities and 85 international productions. Still an impressive 1.8 million have bought tickets at the little Charles Playhouse alone.

(pictured l to r) Nick Rossetti (Michael Fennimore) and Tony Whitcomb (Patrick Shea) in Shear Madness, the hilarious interactive whodunit. Paul Lyden photo.

The legendary Boston production is set in a Newbury Street salon, and engages locals and visitors alike as armchair detectives to help solve the scissor-stabbing murder of a famed concert pianist who lives above the unisex hairstyling salon. The show combines up-to-the-minute improvisational humor and a mixture of audience sleuthing. To keep it fresh it also incorporates frequent references to the latest media scandals and local news items.

“We love to be on the cutting edge,” said director Michael Fennimore. “Our goal is to have 30 new jokes and clues in the show for the 30th Anniversary night. Our actors are such talented improvisers they love to create something fresh and funny at every show.”

"Mrs. Shubert on the phone." Seen here are Nick Rossetti (Michael Fennimore), Tony Whitcomb (Patrick Shea), Mrs Shubert (Ellen Colton), Mike Thomas (Christopher Robin Cook), Barbara DeMarco (Jennifer Ellis), and Edward Lawrence (Richard Snee). Paul Lyden photo.

The Stats: The Boston production has employed over 150 Equity actors (14,800 weeks of work) in its 30-year history. The show has gone through nine barber chairs, 96 blow dryers, 270 bottles of stage blood, 198 hairbrushes, 1320 cans of hairspray, 1560 bottles of nail polish, and more than 13,000 cans of shaving cream.

Shear Madness returned to its Lake George Dinner Theatre roots in 2007 with a fresh producton.

The History: In 1978, Abrams and Jordan - the show’s creators, producers and original cast members - first performed a serious version of the play based on Scherenschnitt, written by German writer and psychologist Paul Portner, in Lake George, New York. Jordan, the original director, sensed the comic possibilities of the piece and turned it into the topical spoof, Shear Madness. Because they were on stage each night, Abrams says they experienced the “magical chemistry” between the actors and the audience.

The audience response to Shear Madness was so enthusiastic that Jordan and Abrams decided to purchase the world stage, screen and television rights to the play. Cranberry Productions (as in, they are quick to explain, ”What else goes with a turkey?”) was created to nurture the hit that they had cultivated.

With complete financial and artistic control over the show, they now had an enormous project on their hands. Based on the encouragement they received from New England visitors to Lake George, they decided that Shear Madness just might work well in Boston. So after more than two years honing the comedy, Abrams and Jordan moved their little show to The Charles Playhouse. The rest, as they say, is history.

Entrance to the Fun House where Shear Madness plays.

Boston Performance and ticket information

Performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8PM, Saturday at 6:00PM and 9:00PM and Sunday at 3PM and 7:00PM at The Charles Playhouse, 74 Warrenton Street, in the heart of Boston's theatre district. The Friday, January 29th gala performance will be at 7:00 PM Single tickets are $42. For tickets and information call the Shear Madness box office at 617-426-5225. Great discounts for groups of 15 or more. Visit for more information.

All proceeds from the special anniversary performance of Shear Madness on January 29 (7pm) will be donated to the Actors Fund of America.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Second James Taylor Concert added Jan. 23 to benefit Haiti

James and Caroline (Kim) Taylor

Tickets to singer/songwriter James Taylor’s just-announced benefit concert for Haiti sold out in 90 minutes this morning.

In that short span of time they raised $150,000 for Partners in Health (, which Taylor and his wife, Kim, then matched, making the total amount raised so far to benefit the people of Haiti: $300,000.

Upon hearing news of the sold out concert, Mr. Taylor volunteered to donate his services for a second show on Saturday, January 23 at 8pm. “The need in Haiti is so great and our community in the Berkshires is so generous. Performing another concert is the least I can do and, fortunately, the Mahaiwe is free the next night,” he said.

The ticket will go on sale tomorrow (Wednesday the 20th at 9 AM) at the theatre and online. Other than the second date, details for the performance at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington are in the earlier blog entry, directly below.

Monday, January 18, 2010

James Taylor offers Help for Haiti Jan. 22 at Mahaiwe PAC in Great Barrington

The Legend Himself

The most beloved of Berkshire singer/songwriters is James Taylor, who has announced that he - and a few friends - will perform a benefit concert for Haiti at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Mass. on Friday, January 22 at 8pm.

Taylor will be joined by longtime friends and singers Kate Markowitz and Arnold McCuller, as well as his wife, Kim, and Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist Owen Young.

Titled “Help for Haiti: An Intimate Evening with James Taylor” its mission is simple. To help raise funds for Partners in Health which has been in Haiti for 20 years.. The event will be simulcast on WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

“Our hearts go out to everyone in Haiti. We need to do everything we can to help the country recover after this tragic earthquake. I’m grateful to do my part and hope my neighbors here in the Berkshires will join me and be as generous as possible.”
- James Taylor

The concert will take place at the glorious and incredibly intimate Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington and offers a rare opportunity to see the legend up close and personal knowing every penny of your ticket purchase is going to help those recovering from the earthquake in Haiti, and not to some ticket scalper.

Kim and James Taylor will match proceeds from all ticket sales. Tickets are $100 (balcony), $200 (orchestra and mezzanine), and $1,000 (golden circle including private post-show reception with the artists) and will go on sale on Tuesday, January 19 at 9am via and in person at the Mahaiwe Box Office (14 Castle Street in Great Barrington, Mass.). No phone sales are available for this concert. There is a limit of four tickets per person.

Partners In Health (PIH) has been working on the ground in Haiti for over 20 years. The organization works to bring modern medical care to poor communities in nine countries around the world. The work of PIH has three goals: to care for patients, to alleviate the root causes of disease in their communities, and to share lessons learned around the world. Based in Boston, PIH employs more than 11,000 people worldwide, including doctors, nurses, and community health workers. The vast majority of PIH staff are local nationals based in the communities they serve.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Grizzly Bear meets Claymation in Ready, Able - a fusion of art forms

The Grizzly Bear guys.

Imagine taking the common promotional music video and turning it into real art. Doesn't happen often, but when it does, it is something to blog about.

What we have here is the inventive and original Grizzly Bear quartet that has been around for years, its originality slowly seeping into the mainstream. Their latest album Veckatimest has earned a place on many end-of-year lists. They currently are touring Australia, to sold out houses, with the UK to follow in March. If only Mass MoCA was able to bring them to the Berkshires when they return to America. The guys are all alums of NYU.

In this video, Grizzly becomes the soundtrack to the incredible claymation-stop motion effects under the watchful eye of Los Angeles artist, Allison Schulnik. The results are astounding. Schulnik and Grizzly Bear go to creative heights rarely seen in the commercial arts world.

Prepare yourself and enjoy.

After you view the video embedded here (full screen is best) a selection of their other Grizzly Bear music videos will appear - all are highly creative and worth viewing.

Video for "Ready, Able," features music from Grizzly Bear's 'Veckatimest.' Check them out at

Allison Schulnick's home page is but one example of the richness of her site.

The Ready Able video was directed by artist Allison Schulnik. You can also see her Hobo Clown video on her own website. Visit

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stephen Petronio Dance Co takes on a Tempest with Nico Mulhy score

Barrington Hinds by Sarah Silver

The innovative Stephen Petronio Company will bring its visceral and exciting I Drink the Air Before Me to MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center in North Adams on Friday, April 9 and Saturday, April 10, at 8pm. It is a joint production of Mass MoCA and Jacob's Pillow which collaborate to present one dance event at the renowned art center each year. Petronio is acclaimed for his lush, sweeping performance landscapes enriched by artful pairings of contemporary music and movement.

Comments the Pillow's executive director, Ella Baff: ”Stephen Petronio is well recognized in the U.S. and abroad as a bold, leading choreographer of his generation. He also collaborates with some of the most important contemporary artists in music, fashion, and the visual arts such as Laurie Anderson, Rufus Wainwright, Anish Kapoor, and a great painter who is especially familiar to us in the Berkshires, Steve Hannock.”

The composer Nico Muhly (L) and choreographer Stephen Petronio. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris.

The work features an original score by contemporary Nico Muhly, a composer whose work has been performed by the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Orchestra, the Boston Pops, and the Chicago Symphony. Although in the original presentation it was played live complete with a chorus that was scattered throughout the audience, at MoCA the music will be recorded, not live.

A Trio of Petronio dancers in photo by Steven Schreiber.

Petronio's new work is titled after a quote from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest from the moment in which the sprite Ariel rushes away on Prospero’s errand: “I drink the air before me, and return / Or ere your pulse twice beat.” Moved by the character’s willingness to throw himself in the path of a raging storm, Petronio combines inspiration from forces of nature, both environmental and human. The work portrays both the calm and anger of storms, while a sailor (performed by Petronio himself) rides along.

Petronio created I Drink the Air Before Me in celebration of this year’s 25th anniversary of the company. He comments, “Instead of looking back on our achievements like photographs of old friends, I have chosen to look to the future with a new work. I wanted to give a dance that spoke of riding the awesome and unpredictable forces of now, and I hope you will receive our presentation in that spirit of adventure and pleasure.”

The performance will be followed by a post-show talk with Ella Baff and Stephen Petronio.

Amanda Wells in a photo by Sarah Silver.

Tickets in the orchestra section of the theater are $38, mezzanine tickets are $32, and student and children’s tickets are $20.
The MASS MoCA Box Office hours are Wednesday through Monday, 11am – 5pm. To purchase by phone: call the Box Office at 413.662.2111. To order online: The Hunter Center and Box Office are located at 87 Marshall Street in North Adams, MA, 01247. MASS MoCA theaters are handicapped-accessible.

For additional information on Jacob’s Pillow or the 2010 Festival, visit

The Smithereens, Steven Wright and "Cabaret" at Colonial

"Cabaret" arrives on Saturday, January 30 for just two performances. Carol Rosegg photo.

The midwinter doldrums are here, but things sure are popping at Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre which offers three outstanding programs for late January.

The Smithereens play The Who’s “Tommy,” The Beatles’ B-Sides
Fri 1/22/2010 at 8PM
A: $45 B: $25

Brandishing heavy guitars and a shameless fetish for British Invasion Pop, The Smithereens carved their niche on rock radio and earned a reputation as a huge concert attraction with songs like, "A Girl Like You,” “Only A Memory,” and "Blood & Roses.” Now the all original-member group are touring their greatest hits and paying homage to the music of The Who and The Beatles.

Steven Wright
SUN 1/24 7PM • A: $55 B: $35

When Steven Wright says “I put tape on the mirrors in my house so I don’t accidentally walk through into another dimension,” you know his trademark comedy comes from an off-center perspective. Wright is an Oscar winning comedian with dry wit and a deadpan delivery. He is one of the hottest acts to catch today, selling out venues worldwide. Here are a few of his classic quotes:
"All those who believe in psychokinesis raise my hand."

"The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."

"I almost had a psychic girlfriend but she left me before we met."

Sat 1/30/10 3pm & 8pm
A: $65 B: $45

Wilkommen!, Bienvenue!, Welcome!, sings the Emcee of the Kit Kat Club through painted lips, as the people of 1929 Berlin join him. Whatever your troubles, you will forget them at the Cabaret. Songs include, “Wilkommen,” “Cabaret,” “Money Makes the World Go Round,” “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Two Ladies.” Cabaret is the winner of 12 Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Revival.

Further information on tickets and availability: Box Office: (413) 997-4444 or visit Colonial Theatre.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Problem with ART (The Play by Yasmnina Reza)

After a seven year run in London, brilliant productions all over the world, Reza Yasmnina's adult comedy Art is making its way to the Berkshires in 2010. The problem isn't the play which is delightfully hilarious. It tells the story of a man who buys a large canvas painted white with "fine, diagonal white scars" for an outrageous sum and then defends the purchase to his friends.

The play is not really about art as much as how middle class men communicate - or rather, don't. Playwright Reza takes a distinctly French feminist skewer to the ways of these typical men. When the discussion turns to "what is art" it is really just one male seeking validation from his peers. We may hear them discussing the purchase, but in truth we are observing the nature of male friendships.

Which is Yasmina Reza, the best writer since Neil Simon or Theresa Rebeck, or both?

Art is a play that takes conflict and differences and makes a darkly comical stew of them. The roles are delicious, and such notables as Tom Courteney, Ken Stott and Albert Finney (the original West End cast) have appeared in it. The three parts are roles that actors can really get their teeth into and perfect their comic timing and subtleties.

John Procaccino, Francis Guinan and K. Todd Freeman in the Steppenwolf (Chicago) 2009 Production of ART.

Well, what's the problem with Art you ask? Isn't this a sure-fire winner that the cultural Berkshires will eat up? Well, yes and no. The first hurdle comes with its very title, "Art" which can be off-putting to many people. Previous regional productions have had praise heaped upon them, and still the audience stayed away in droves. Regular theatre goers may have been put off by the title, believing it to be too arty-tarty for their taste, As you can see from the sample at the top of this entry the poster that is most often used conveys that artsy feel, not one of an insightful comedy. It is the illustration being used on the Clark Art Institute site promoting an upcoming staged reading.

But I detect some poor communication and cooperation between our arts institutions. It is wonderful news to see that the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and the Williamstown Theatre Festival are collaborating to present a free staged reading of Art at the Clark on February 5 at 7 PM (reservations required - call the Clark at 413-458-0524).

But nowhere on the Clark's website nor in its promotional materials does it happen to mention that Art is also coming to the Berkshires this summer in a fully staged production at Barrington Stage Company, which will run from July 22 to August 7 on their main stage. I could find no reference to the Clark or Williamstown Theatre Festival on the Barrington Stage website either. They should be working together to figure out some cross pollination, don't you think? Something along the lines of "Now that you've seen Art at Barrington Stage, see it in the Clark." And vice versa: "Now that you've seen our Art at the Clark, see the drama behind it at Barrington Stage."

WHen a play is as tough to sell as this one - despite having received 125 productions in 30 translations to date - the logic of cross promotion to help develop audiences for all three institutions is obvious. Instead we have cultural institutions that appear more concerned with their own "branding" (as if they are a commodity like aspirin or frozen pizza) than reaching out and informing and intriguing museum and theatre-goers.

Most importantly, whether an arts aficionado or a theatre maven, do not miss the staged reading. It will delight and surprise you at how witty and on the mark Yasmnina Reza is. And in six months, when the full theatrical version is unveiled with sets, lights, well rehearsed cast and all, you will be able to rediscover the work, and enjoy it from another director's viewpoint. This is the way that the depth of the theatrical experience expresses itself.

I can only assume that this failure to communicate is a lapse, an oversight, and will soon be corrected. Or that it is in the works. One can hope.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Avatar Hits Billion Dollar Box Office Mark

Only a few movies have ever reached the billion dollar mark in ticket sales, and James Cameron's Avatar joins that rare club in just 18 days. There are less than a handful of other films that have reached such stratospheric heights and they include Cameron's "Titanic" which grossed $1.8 Billion worldwide. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" are the only other movies to make more money.

Who says the arts aren't important part of our economy!

Granted, Avatar is not some great artistic triumph intellectually, but it is technically and marketing wise. Having cost a reported $300+ million to make, and many millions more to market and promote, when the accounting is all in hand it will prove to be a healthy return on investment. Of course, Hollywood accounting is nothing like real accounting, and more akin to that which is notoriously applied to Wall Street derivatives.

A disabled veteran looks at his new body being grown.

"Avatar" tells the tale of a disabled ex-Marine Jake Sully who is charged with persuading the local aliens of planet Pandora to allow his employers to mine their natural resources. The role is played by Australian Sam Worthington, a former bricklayer who is now the hottest property in Hollywood. He falls in love with the exotic planet's strong Amazonian type woman Natiri, played by Zoe Saldana. Ultimately a love story, nevertheless their developing closeness and understanding are subjected to obstacles which give the film its impact.

Avatar employed a literal army of special effects people, stunt men, creature fabricators, CGI innovators and the like. You wonder how much real acting was required when the actors would spend six hours in a chair getting made up to look like aliens from a Cirque du Soleil planet. Cameron's film also spent its capital on CGI and perfecting the 3D process.

Cameron worked with Sony to reach new levels of technical sophistication, and in the theatres, the 3-D screenings claim a premium $5 or more over the already hefty first run ticket prices. In the Berkshires, the only theatre to show the film in all its glory is the new Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield. One can only imagine how stunning an IMAX presentation would be.

The film itself is an oddity. Because of the romantic angle, and the presence of a strong Sigourney Weaver, it is dismissed as a chick flick and has a pretty cheesy plot which serves as the canvas for the special effects. And it is these that seem to motivate the guys who are mainly buying the tickets.

To me, the Na'vi, who inhabit the planets, and the body Jake moves into are a conceit not unlike that of the thousands of actors who created their own feline appearances in "Cats." Frankly I find them off-putting and silly, and think they ruin what might have been a great movie. But the average public seems to thrive on cheap gimmicks like this, but for me, the Blue Man Group did it first.

Still this is a billion dollar baby now, so who am I to carp. This is one movie you should see in a theatre, but it must be seen in 3-D, and if possible, IMAX to understand that the ground this film has broken is technical, not theatrical.