The Williamstown Theatre Festival 2011 – a Success Story, a Disaster, and an Appeal

Disagreement is a healthy sign in theater, I’ve always thought—the livelier the better—and for that reason I’m inclined to think that Jenny Gersten has had a big success in her first season as Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I don’t believe that critics have agreed about a single one of this summer’s productions. I haven’t done a systematic survey of the reviews, but I have the impression that out-of-town critics, especially the New Yorkers, have leaned towards the positive—often enthusiastically so—while the local reviewers have been less content—in some cases attacking certain productions with anger and derision.

Three Hotels, by Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Robert Falls on a Set by Thomas Lynch at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Some years ago, when my sons were small and I used to frequent school fairs and street fairs, I always looked at the inflatable play structures with trepidation. As the children bounced about on them, it seemed to me inevitable that some exuberant or malicious one among them would puncture the balloon, and I imagined the whole—roof and pillars, dinosaur head, safety nets and everything—slowly and harmlessly caving in, until there was nothing left but a flaccid heap of plastic and rubber…and a horde of thoroughly delighted children worming their way out to the street, running away, and dancing tauntingly before their distraught nannies or parents. Minus the kids, this experience and the attendant fantasy came to mind during the boring moments of Jon Robin Baitz’s Three Hotels—of which there were many—and the evening gave me a more tangible idea of what such a deflation might actually be like: the show steadily kept on losing energy, until it finally collapsed.

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