Monday, December 3, 2007

First Snowfall of Berkshires Winter, 2007-8

My little "Shotgun House" in North Adams.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here,
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near,
Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake,
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep,
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

-- Robert Frost

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Broadway Strike Ends

Agreement has been reached between the stagehands Local One and the League of Theater Owners and Producers, so the lifeblood of Broadway, money, will begin flowing a little more strongly in the narrowing arteries of the"fabulous invalid". Once again, she has survived an enounter with death, but how much more abuse can the old lady take?

It is interesting to note that there hardly was a famine of theater offerings on Broadway during the strike. Just look at the list of shows that were sold at the TKTS booth near Times Square:


The new Broadway musical Xanadu, based on the motion picture, had just opened when the strike began, but was covered under a different agreement than the one that cuased the strike.


Off Broadway, The Altar Boyz barely missed a beat during the strike.

Nobdoy like a strike. And everyone is pretty happy that this one is over. Of course, there is still the technical vote that has to be taken by the members of the local to ratify the agreement. While details are secret, it appears that each side made a list and added up a dollar value of what they were looking to gain. And somehow this was taken care of in wage increases, and from what I gather, a smaller minimum number of stagehands for a load-in, though once committed, it appears they will stay for the duration, and can't be hired for just one day. Probably minor concessions that should have been agreed to earlier. The stagehands are a very minor part of the costs of running a show. For example, just the advertising costs much more than they are paid.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Damien Hirst: Gory Genius or Butcher of Art?

Art that gets PETA upset

What on earth is British artist Damien Hirst going to do with his butcher shop inventory of 30 dead sheep, two sides of beef, 300 sausages and a pair of doves? Why find a big dead shark to add to his art installation of course.

The art world continues madly turning out art that begs the question of who is mad here, the art world glitterati who love this stuff, or those of us who wonder where it will all end.

Hirst's "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living"

Hirst reminds me of Buchel. As the Buchel fiasco at Mass MoCA progressed, I spent a good deal of time researching his other works and came to believe that he was descending into madness at a pace that matched his own work. Messy voyeuristic bedrooms became neurotic enclaves, then massive tributes to obsessive compulsive collectors.

Just before he received the Mass MoCA commission his work became increasingly psychotic, turning on themes of hoarding, kidnapping and ultimately, to a archaeological dig for some future generation to figure out. And in the end, Buchel's madness was uncontrollable and the whole project collapsed.

Hirst's "In His Infinite Wisdom"

Hirst's installation at Lever House in New York City.

Here, Hirst is dissecting the world of the living to examine it, the remnants immersed in formaldehyde. His latest work was commissioned by real estate developer Aby Rosen, for his Lever House. It is called "School: The Archaeology of Lost Desires, Compehending Infinity, and the Search for Knowledge." Hirst says the work is a homage to Francis Bacon's 1946 "Painting". He was paid $10 million for it.

Bacon's 1946 "Painting" that started it all.

Hirst's skullpiece is called "For the Love of God. " This life sized platinum skull is decorated with 8,601 high quallity diamonds. He priced it at $100 million, making it the most expensive pice of contemporary art to date, but nobody bought it. Last I heard, it was available for half off, or just $50 million.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Broadway in the dark

For the first time in its 121 year history, Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Hands has gone on strike, closing down 27 Broadway shows. The eight shows remaining lit have separate contracts and the scalpers have descended on the available tickets, hoping to score a killing. The eight shows still performing include "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" which began at the Berkshire's own Barrington Stage Company. Others are "Mary Poppins," "The Ritz," "Mauritius," "Cymbeline," "Pygmalian," "Xanadu" and "Young Frankenstein."

As we commented here in September, this strike can spell doom to weak shows, and hurt theater-going in general. Theater is a billion dollar a year business in New York City, and affects everything from hotels and restaurant to the taxi business. While the union has a $4 million dollar strike fund, the League of American theaters and Producers, who already tightened work rules during the non-contract period, has a reserve of $20 million to weather the strike.

As one wag commented, "Even if the producers manage to cut union costs, you can be sure it won't be reflected in lower ticket prices."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jane Hudson's sepia images. an appreciation

Unexpected flowers are always a joy to discover.

Jane and Jeff Hudson are a perfectly matched set, provided you like interesting pairings. They've literally made music together for many decades, and feed each others active minds with hundreds of morsels of interesting tidbits every day. That they chose North Adams in the Massachusetts Berkshires as their stage makes all of us who live here, their players.

I mention Jeff because without him, Jane would not be complete. And vice versa. But this is about Jane, a true Renaissance Woman if there ever was one, and the photographs she has on display at the gallery in her store, North Adams Anqiques, already a "must" destination at 49 Main Street, Open most days, but call 413-662-2221, they may travel a bit during the winter.

The image above is of a typical glorious but faded "Painted Lady" Victorian house. So many of them dot the landscape at unbelievably low prices. This one is home to the owner's of Racine's Farm, a local landmark for fresh produce in season, especially apples, corn and tomatoes. You can see additional images of the farm as taken by Charles Giuliano in Berkshire Fine Arts - which both Jane and I have written for on occassion. More farm images by Giuliano

This sensual image of Goddess Earth reminds me of Delphi in Greece, which was considered the naval of creation by worshipers of the Oracle. The sun-dappled rolling mountains of the Berkshires, roiled by floods and glaciers are a wonder to behold. Jane captured this image from a viewpoint I have not seen before, and in the sepia treatiment Jane has given her images, it is timeless. I think it is difficult to make scenic views interesting from an artistic viewpoint, but she has succeeded in this carpeted view of nature's cover.

Speaking of Oracles, many political leaders asked the oracle’s advice before taking a decision, which indicated the crucial role it played not only in everyday life but also in political affairs. Today the arts are, in part, an oracle of the future.

This silo image immediately brought to mind sensual thoughts, rough hewn phallic ones, and yet, the Trinitarian shape of the coal silo's topmost piece, um, points to other possibilities, including a finger pointing to Heaven. Jane tells me that the silo is still full of railroad coal, perhaps for the fires of Hell? Jane of course has critiqued thousands of images over the years both in her role as a teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and as a respected arts commentator. As with all of her images, it is always delightful to ask her to tell us a little about each one, and I won't spoil the fun more than I already have.

This is, I believe, one wall of the Cascade Mill in Clarksburg, and the shadow of an elongated tree. It prompts the question of what is permanent, what is passing. The pattern cast by the tree serves as a sort of ever changing pattern, but this is the sort of magical en plein aire moment artists often try to seize with their brushes (Monet comes to mind). While a camera is ideally suited for this task, a good photographer still has to wait and watch for the perfect confluence of light and shadow to occur.

The trapezoid form is an accidental function of the railtoad bridge, partially because of the time of day and also due to the turn in the road which is a peculiarity of these old structures in North Adams.

There are many additional images on Jane Hudson's website, and on view at the Gallery itself. They are surprsingly affordable.

In a Boston Globe review, Cate McQuaid wrote of her work: "Hudson plumbs it with haunting eloquence, tying ancient and natural imagery with unnerving colors to create a visual pageantry of grief and hope."

Jane's images

North Adams Antiques, Jane's new home

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Barrington Stage goes year round

Fall Offerings: Kander and Ebb

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grille

Fully Committed

In a daring move Berkshire Stage Company has taken a deep breath and announced it is going to present shows on a year round basis. They underlined this committment to their Berkshire audiences by announcing new shows to be performed during the remainer of 2007.


Already on stage is the Fred Kander and John Ebb musical celebration The World Goes 'Round opening this week. For those of us who are lovers of showtunes, this as close to an orgy as we can get without taking our clothes off!

The World Goes 'Round - New York, New York
Coffee in a Cardboard Cup - 70, Girls, 70
Colored Lights - The Rink
Sara Lee - The Act
Arthur in the Afternoon - The Act
The World Goes 'Round (reprise)
My Coloring Book
I Don't Remember You - The Happy Time
Sometimes A Day Goes By - Woman of the Year
All That Jazz - Chicago
Mr. Cellophane - Chicago
There Goes the Ball Game - New York, New York
How Lucky Can You Get - Funny Lady
Marry Me - The Rink
A Quiet Thing - Flora, the Red Menace
Kiss of the Spider Woman - Kiss of the Spider Woman
The Grass is Always Greener - Woman of the Year
The World Goes 'Round (reprise)
We can Make It - The Rink
Maybe This Time - Cabaret (the movie)
Isn't This Better? - Funny Lady
Trio - The World Goes 'Round (reprise)
Money, Money - Cabaret (the movie)
Cabaret - Cabaret
Theme from New York, New York
The World Goes 'Round (reprise) - New York, New York

This revue is celebrates Kander-Ebb songs that have become standards like "Cabaret" with those written early in their career, or known personal favorites, those that are rarely heard and those they they wrote towards the end of their collaboration. I expect it will be a joyous roller coaster ride when I see it Saturday. It will run through October 21. The company describes it as a "razzmatazz celebration of Broadway at its best!"

Kevin Duda

The World Goes 'Round requires a lot from its performers, who will sing, dance and roller skate through a show that requires enormous energy and commitment to pull off.

(l to r) Angela Grovey, Kevin Duda, Bianca Marroquin, Kurt Robbins and Andrea Rivette in The World Goes 'Round.
photo by Kevin Sprague

Tickets and more information can be found here:

Barrington Stage Comapany

FULLY COMMITTED November 7-18 stars Vince Gatton

Last February, Barrington Stage offered a short run of Fuly Committed which was an uncommitted way of testing the year round waters. It worked. The show sold out and met the approval of local critics Gail Burns and Peter Bergman among others. You can visit their websites at:

Gail Burns, Gail Sez

Peter Bergman, Berkshire Bright Focus

First off, what is not to love about Vince Gatton, an actor who won so many hearts in his early career.

In this production, he gets to keep his clothes on and let us see the full range and depth of his talent. This outrageous one-man comedy presents a single day in the life of Sam Peliczowski, an out-of-work actor who mans the red-hot reservation line at Manhattan’s hippest restaurant. With the phones ringing off the hook, Sam juggles a range of eccentrics -- from scheming socialites and name-dropping wannabes to fickle celebrities and egomaniacal bosses. The question of the hour, though, is whether in the midst of all this culinary-inspired chaos he can also manage to look out for himself.

Vince Gatton

As Michael Portantiere wrote in TheaterMania:

Vince Gatton is one of those actors who has not infrequently been greeted in public by theatergoers uttering the brilliantly witty line, "I almost didn't recognize you with your clothes on!" Gatton -- along with six other actors -- was nude for most of Party, the popular gay comedy that started off in Chicago and then had a healthy run Off-Broadway. He went starkers again in certain scenes of Flesh and Blood, a murder mystery at the Sanford Meisner theater. Most recently, he donned his birthday suit for the role of Adam -- as in "Adam and Steve" -- in a Gay Pride Month production of Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.

He recently played Warhol Superstar Candy Darling in David Johnston's Candy and Dorothy at Theater Three in New York (2006 Drama Desk nomination -- Outstanding Actor in a Play) and at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater in Cape Cod. He is a "Repeat Offender" with the Blue Coyote Theater Group, with whom he starred in Johnston's critically acclaimed Busted Jesus Comix and Matt Freeman's The Americans. More recently he appeared Off-Broadway in The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told; Baptizing Adam; Henry IV parts 1 & 2, among others.

Vince Gatton Feature


Gail Nelson returns to the Barrington Stage to reprise their popular 1995 and 2002 recreation of Billy Holiday. Funny, sweet, a little naughty, and ultimately heartbreaking, it also features Danny Holgate on piano and David Jackson playing bass.

Here's the setup: In the intimacy of a friend's bar in a run-down section of Philadelphia, legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday delivers one of her final performances. A skillful blend of biography and cabaret, this is a poignant glimpse of the real-life person behind an American icon. Features many classics, including "God Bless The Child," "When A Woman Loves A Man," and "Strange Fruit."

Now if we could get Julianne Boyd to discover Sharon McKnight, we might have another classic to visit with - the immortal Sophie Tucker. Her show has more humor than drama, and is a classic. See what I am talking about here:

Sharon as Sophie

Barrington has more plans for February, March and May

Barrington Stage is the first major company in the Berkshires to attempt a year-round presence in what is often thought of as a summer colony for New Yorkers and Bostonians. It is that to a large degree, but the Berkshires are a case of nature nurturing art. So it has developed into a year-round home for visual and performing artists and writers. They enjoy a laid back lifestyle and bucolic setting. It is more invigorating than an arts colony since the creative life is mixed in with farms, local businesses and a wide assortment of industries including health care, manufacturing, insurance and a curious smattering of high tech and internet enterprises. If you have not yet visited this westernmost part of Massachusetts, with mountains, lakes and a rich cultural life, please do!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Secret of Sherlock Holmes in Lenox

The stage is set at Shakespeare & Company. This is the clever set at their Founder's Theater for the new production which runs thorugh October 28th. (Kevin Sprague photo)

Michael Hammond contributes a new and memorable interpretation of the great detective in the Shakespeare and Company production. (Kevin Sprague photo)

The classic fight to the death between Sherlock Holmes and the evil Moriarity as portrayed in film.

Basil Rathbone is the image of Sherlock Holmes for earlier generations of moviegoers.

Jeremy Brett established a more contemporary Sherlock Holmes in the PBS-Granada series which was written by Jeremy Paul. At the urging of Brett, Paul also wrote the script for "Secret of Sherlock Holmes," creating dialogue directly from the Arthur Conon Doyle canon of books. The London production of this play starring Brett never made it to the USA.

Dave Demke and Michael Hammond as Watson and Holmes have a fireside duel of wits. (Kevin Sprague photo)

The New Production at Shakespeare & Company is great fun and thought provoking. Is the secret really the truth? Or is there more to it than is being said. See the play and decide for yourself. You'll find no spoilers here.

Directed by the very capable Robert Walsh, the Lenox, MA production of this play is the long overdue American premiere, and Sherlockians by the score are making haste to see it. After all, it was originally produced in London's West End in 1988, and after a nearly two decade wait to see this thriller, the chance may never come again in this lifetime.

Read my full review of this show in Berkshire Fine Arts magazine.

Larry Murray's Review

Shakespeare & Company is making a major event out of this premiere, part of the 120 year Celebration of Sherlock Holmes. Information on performances, special events and tickets can be found here:

Secrets of Sherlock

Friday, September 28, 2007

Mass MoCA turns to Jenny Holzer's "Projections"

Some of Holzer's earlier work.

By the time it opens on November 17 Jenny Holzer's Gallery 5 Installation Projections will have replaced bad boy Buchel as Topic #1 among Mass MoCA watchers.

For thirty years, Jenny Holzer has used public places and great institutions as the venues for her work, including the Venice Biennale, the Reichstag, and the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao. Her medium is virtually anything. Her words have been previously cast in bronze, carved in stone, projected on a building and drawn on a T-shirt. It seems that wherever there is a surface, Jenny has words to provoke, prod and fill it. And though the casual observer may see the words as a graphic that fills a void, those who who think about it will enjoy the clever insights they reveal about the human condition.

Projections will use MASS MOCA’s massive Building 5 as a stage for her first interior light projections in the United States. She will also exhibit a new series of paintings shown, in part, at the 2007 Venice Biennale. She has an impressive collection of artistis credentials, but it is her work, and its pollitical, sociological and conceptual content that matters.

In a serendipitous coincidence, this artist who was born in Ohio and trained at RISD, MFA and the Whitney, operated out of New York and travelled the world, finally settling into Hoosick Falls where she continues her pioneering work.

More background is at Wiki Profile

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Broadway could go dark next week

The Great White Way could go dark Monday, October 1, if the League of American Theaters and Producers carries out its threats to the stagehands union. One producer I know thinks there is a 50-50 chance that rather than a settlement being reached, the owners will shut down their shows and try to force the union's hand.

Each side has a kitty to help them through this battle. The producers have $20 million, and the union has much less, just $4 million stashed away. But the disparity in funds is not as lopsided as it appears. The unions have only 2,100 members, of which only 350 to 500 are working on Broadway at any given time. The League's members need huge amounts to keep borderline shows from closing. Its funds will disappear at a much faster rate.

The battle is the usual business vs. workers contratemps. The Producers want work rules changed, like being able to hire stagehands for a day or two during the "load-in" of a show. The union wants a level to be maintained for the whole load in period whcih can take a week or more, regardless of whether the stagehands are needed for the whole period. There are other issues, too.

Stagehands earn between $1,200 to more than $1,600 a week on average, but with overtime and premium rates, it is not unusual for a stagehand to take home more than $100,000 a year.

There hasn't been a strike on Broadway for four years, since the musicians struck, and it is surprising there are not more considering that there are more unions in a theater than on a typical construction site.

The union isn't saying anything to the reporters, but back in July, James J. Claffey, the president of Local One, said the union would not change work rules without getting something in return. On the other side, the League sent out e-mails warning the theater owners and producers not to speak to the media about the negotiations.

It is important to note that we are talking about a "lockout" here, not a "strike" since it would be the producers, not the stagehands, who would dim the lights. October is a slower month than the holidays when business booms. Even so, seven shows are scheduled to begin previews next month. One, “Young Frankenstein,” is playing in a nonleague theater, and would probably open no matter what. Likewise, Disney’s New Amsterdam theater and the four nonprofit Broadway theaters would not be included in a lockout.

But oldtimers like me are willing to bet there is lots of activity behind the scenes. How likely is it that Mayor Bloomberg is going to let an industry that generates almost $1 billion a year for the city to close down. Without shows, there is no audience and that means no business for restaurants, hotels, ticket brokers and parking lots.

Word of this pending strike has been limited as the industry has tried to keep a lid on the pending disaster, Nobody wants ticket sales to stop, hotel reservations to be cancelled, and tourism to drop during a peak time of year.

Negotiations are still going on, but it is late in the third act. Here's hoping there is a happy ending!


The parties have agreed to extend the deadline in order to continue negotiations today, and on Thursday of this week. It is generally agreed that if a strike were called, it wouldn't be until November, but that if talks broke down, the producers might call for an immediate lockout to force the issue before the lucrative high season.

Buchel offers Mass MoCA a parting gift

Photoshopped image by Larry Murray

Lost in all the commotion over the decision to disassemble the never completed Training Ground for Democracy exhibit was a telegram that Christoph Buchel sent the Boston Globe. In it..."he offered to donate a permanent installation that would not cost anything to mount. He concluded the e-email with an image of the plan, a tweak of the museum's rooftop signs to spell out "Mass CoMA."

The Globe article by Goeff Edgers also carried details the local newspapers in the Berkshires avoided mentioning, or were too lazy to dig for. For example, it will cost the museum another $40,000 to remove and dispose of the remains, though not all of it will end up in the dump. A mile of cinder blocks, a house trailer, and numerous other items have some value which they may recoup, or donate to worthy causes. The MoCA Director, Joe Thompson is quoted as saying he will try "to find good places for those. Clothes, stretchers, beds, file cabinets. In some ways, what we have is a vast recycling effort."

Globe story

The Weekly Berkshire Advocate, a shadow of its former sometimes feisty self, relegated a short mention to the back third of the paper, finding recipes and church suppers to be of more importance. Sometimes they just don't understand what is news and what is filler. Boring is as boring does. Their idea of controversy is publishing Jack Murphy's homophobic rants in their letters to the editor column. Not once, but over and over. Once was mroe than enough.

Anyway, Joe, I still think that "what we have" is the makings of a vast and newsworthy Tag Sale. Who says you couldn't lay it all out in the parking lot in roughly the same order it was inside and let people look it over?

Wink, wink.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Au Revoir, Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau has left us, and some of us had the pleasure of knowing him as a person as well as a performer. My visits to Av. Montaigne, 15 have come to an end. He was the world's greatest mime, but my how he could chatter on! I'll never forget the day he paid a surprise visit to Boston's little Pocket Mime Theatre which once performed in a candy box theatre in the Church of the Covenant, where Gallery Naga is now located. He delighted J Tormey, Kate Bentley, Michael Atwell and director Annegret Reimer, and made their years of work for little compensaton worthwhile. Over the course of a year, more people saw Pocket Mime than Marcel Marceau, but who is counting anymore! I miss those days, too. The Boston Repertory Theater was just down the street, and the wonderful actor David Morse (who played Wiley Fox in "The Little Prince") is the only one I see still working.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mass MoCA vs. Christoph Buchel

It's been nine months of uncertainty but finally the spendthrift Christoph Buchel is about to have his garbage dump of an installation hauled off to be disposed of forever. About time. This uber genius is just a hoarder in artist's clothing and gives contemporary artists - already hard pressed for respect - a bad name.

In case you haven't heard, Buchel's "Training Ground for Democracy" was a pretty monumental undertaking, scheduled to have filled the football field sized Gallery 5 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contermporary Art (Mass MoCA) in North Adams, MA where I live. It was to be Buchel's first major American museum work, and by December when he walked off the site, it had already included a two story house, an oil tanker, mobile home, and sixteen truckloads of donations from resideents of North Adams to fill the space.

But Buchel appears to have been stymied by the size of the place, and asked for a full sized and burned out hulk of a 727 plane to fill some of the space. Apparently even adding the defunct North Adams Cinema from Route 8 was not nearly enough to fill the gaping yaw of the gallery. After making many more outrageous demands, the museum said enough and Buchel walked off the job, and conducted negotiations through his lawyers, tying up the site well into its scheduled run. The public never got to see anything.

The exhibition was scheduled to cost $160,000, the artist spent twice that, some $300,000 and Mass MoCA even offered another $100,000 in hopes it might be finished but the artist was adament that there could be no ceiling, no limit to his demands, no discussion, no deal. No shit.

Eventually this all ended up in court, as Rinker Buck from the Hartford Courant so ably reported at:

Rinker's story

Now the museum has announced that the entire mess is to be dismantled over the next five weeks and eventually there will be a forum, seminar, or some such event to discuss everything that happened. I hope Buchel attends.

The Museum has a blog that explains it all (from their perspective, of course.)

MoCA Blog

My own reaction to the unraveling is that the museum should move everything out to the parking lot and have a giant tag sale. They would at least recoup some of the expenses, and maybe the North Adams folks could purchase back their donations.