Black Comedy, at Oldcastle Theatre
Oldcastle Theatre’s production of Peter Schaffer’s Black Comedy is a rollicking affair. Much of the play takes place in darkness, or in this production, light depicting darkness, and the action on stage was wildly physical. Brindsley Miller, played by Jim Staudt, was the acrobatic loser, in a show of losers. Desperately trying to get his new artwork sold and and impress his fiancée’s father, the poor fellow fails at every turn. I don’t need to tell you that this included many pratfalls. Miller deserved the medal of honor. He had done two shows the day I saw him. As so often in this company, my favorite performance came from Christine Dekker as Miss Furneval, the old lady, splendidly religious, and refusing drink, (except in this show, when she gave in!). Ms. Dekker is wildly funny without exaggeration. It is a commonplace in acting school that one must take comedy seriously in order to be funny. Being too funny is not funny. Finding this balance is very difficult; only a few master it. Charlie Chaplin did it without speaking a word. Great comedy, even farce, always has a lyrical pathos. Ms. Dekker knew this. I got the impression the hijinks carried everyone away a little bit in this show, and a tad more reality might have helped. But the ensemble was unified,gifted, and precise, and the audience loved it. This has been a great season for Oldcastle Theatre.
I Hate Hamlet, at the Dorset Theatre Festival
The wonderful Paul Rudnick turns not loving Hamlet it into a hymn to the theater. His chief aid-de-camp in this was the perfectly cast David Lansbury as John Barrymore. Mr. Lansbury’s Barrymore has no difficulty appearing on stage, despite the fact that the is dead. His character and his performance reigned over the stage, inspiring all and sundry, even the young actor who fails at his big chance to play the Dane. So beneficent and true is Mr. Barrymore’s tutelage that the young actor, very well-played by J.D. Taylor, sees the benefit of passing up years of lucrative television, to find again in some play or other, the same connection he felt during the “to be or not to be” speech. We are helped to believe that this is enough, that joy in playing is not a quantitative thing, but a qualitative one. Mr. Lansbury-Barrymore roared, slumped over the couch, whispered, cajoled, cared. In other words, he was a great teacher. It was not only the young Hamlet player who was taught; we were taught, and in the kindest of ways—with laughter. I applaud this actor, who could be over the top and real, even simple, at the same time.
Other roles were well-taken—Annie Meisels as the very New Yorky real estate apartment finder Felicia Dentine, never went quite over the top and made us laugh. Haley Bond portrayed Deirdre McDavvy, the young actor’s girlfriend, and had a winning and genuine simplicity to her style. Carole Monferdini as Lillian Troy, the young actor’s agent, made stiffness into a virtue and had a dear and true scene with the rumpled Mr. Barrymore. All in all, a wonderful, easy-going and also profound evening in the theatre.
Frank Kelley and Die Schöne Müllerin, at New Marlborough
Let me say at the outset that Frank Kelley is one of my favorite singers. His sound is his own. Valuable singers sound like themselves, and no other. Mr. Kelley is a generous performer He gives it all he’s got. In this regard he reminds me of the great Norman Treigle. It was a frightening experience to be on stage with Treigle. So great was his concentration, you feared for him, and you feared for yourself. Mr. Kelley is a born story-teller. The intensity of his Schubert or his Bach stamps your imagination and makes it impossible to forget. All great singers have a voice they themselves have created. Frank Kelly is one of those singers. Pianist Joshua Rifkin was a strong, imaginative partner. He was responsible in no small way for the compelling pace of the cycle.
Let me also say that the concert series in the New Marlborough Meeting House produces first-rate performances. It is something that all music-loving Berkshirites should try. Once you hear the talent there and the warm sound of the building, you will be back.