Sometimes you want to go into the theatre to have fun, to have sweetness, to hear a song you know, to listen to the ease of the artists. I saw this in three splendid evenings late in the summer. Two of these were at Barrington Stage. “See How They Run” was technically superb. The hijinks and gags worked like a well-oiled machine, never a hitch. This farce is particularly endearing if you know Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”. Bitter-sweet references to Coward’s play keep it grounded in some kind of reality which is lyrical. I love a good gag. A gag well-executed is an artistic triumph. Timing and inflection have to be well-nigh perfect. One can get away with an approximate line-reading once in a while, but the gags have to be spot on to work, and they were. The characters also have to have some grounding in reality. In this show Dina Thomas as Ida the maid managed this superbly. Her predicaments (and there were many) seemed real, sympathetic. She exaggerated the right amount, never became a caricature. I loved how the play began with the heroine singing. This also connected it with a kind of lyricism which softened its brilliance and hilarity. This was a splendid good time in the theatre.
Also warm and beautiful was a recital of songs given by Betty Buckley in the Mahaiwe. The thing that I admired most about this was the ease she had – her own flexibility. Each style, each kind of song, had a precise location and sound. And like all great artists, they somehow, even in their differences, were all her. She had ease. Ease is very pleasant for a listener to be in. This is the trick of superb performers – that they can seem to be doing nothing too difficult. When the spotlight bothered her, she just stopped and asked them to turn it down. This action, which could have changed the atmosphere in the house, was entirely in harmony with the rest of the performance. It was a comfortable brilliance that she had, and everything about it was her. She brought along two superb players, John McDaniel on piano, Tony Marino on bass, who were with her like skin on a tomato. This was just plain good.
A reading of Tom Stoppard”s “The Real Thing” at Barrington Stage was deftly done, by Christopher Innvar particularly. The complex and not sentimentalized relationship that he and Caralyn Kozlowski had showed a complexity and beautiful controlled understatement that one admired in a reading. Young actors Emily Taplin Boyd and Mark J. Sullivan were vivid and virtuosic respectively in their appearances. This was a performance which had its completeness and left us well-satisfied.
“Deathtrap” by Ira Levin at the Dorset Theatre Festival was the most fun of all. It’s a thriller. It has more twists and turns than a farce. The cast managed to keep us off guard, even after several highly unlikely bends in the road. This took real skill. I was especially impressed by Quincy Dunn-Baker’s Clifford Anderson. The play is an artificial thing, and Mr. Dunn-Baker found just the right amount of realism to make us believe him, and enough distance to help us accept the several fatal episodes he manages to survive. Amelia White as Myra Bruhl was believable enough after the first murder to help us take the whole proceeding seriously. This thriller is farce with weapons. The theatre itself is a charming room, and the audience was well-pleased. Again, just plain fun.
Chester Theatre Company is the most enterprising of all Berkshire County theatres. It plays in a tiny village, in the town hall. It is committed to producing the work of new playwrights. I can’t say that Dipika Guha’s “The Betrothed” was my favorite among the several plays I have seen in this venue, but as always, it was played to the hilt – highly skilled first-rate actors, good functional direction, honesty combined with passion. It is not important that one likes everything in a theater like this. What is important is that young playwrights are given productions with superb talent, and the theater is given new life, and the company is just plain good.