I’m sitting now in the late sunlight, looking at my cat’s ear. A translucent point it is with its hairs shining gold. It is sweet, and I am being sentimental. That which is sentimental is always ordinary in some way. Sentimentality is a kind of comfort. I once overheard the great Bernard Haitink say in a rehearsal “What is wrong with sentimentality anyway?” This from a conductor sometimes thought of as sober and straight-laced. There is nothing so remarkable about a cat’s ear, but a cat’s ear in the sunlight can seem something from a better world. I had a feeling like this when the bells started to play in The Knights’ recent performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. We had already heard the old tune several times, and then we heard it with bells. You know the place. The performance was so honest and utterly straight that I heard the jangling as new minted. The old tune was glowing. I never really noticed the bells before; I never really heard them. There is such risk in these few bars. But this is a piece which attains to simplicity and achieves it, and they simply were there. No big event-just the simple sublime, and no other composer hears this better than Aaron Copland. ‘Tis the gift to be simple.
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.
As the run of Oliver Goldsmith’s comic masterpiece, She Stoops to Conquer, draws to a close, by all means rush to catch it while you can. You will see an endlessly amusing and enlightening classic, a handsome set, and a cast of highly talented actors, including WTF favorites like Richard Easton, Paxton Whitehead, and Brooks Ashmanskas. The production is fast-moving—at the cost of some excessive trimming—and funny, as a good part of the audience found it. That said, it is a far-from-perfect production, in fact it is seriously flawed, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from seeing the show and enjoying it. There is a lot to enjoy, and much of the audience enjoyed Kristin Neilsen’s wildly exaggerated portrayal of Mrs. Hardcastle. You may even find that you are among them.
Our beloved Williamstown Theatre Festival has announced its Mainstage productions for the 2011 season, which will extend from July 1 to August 28. (Information about the Nikos Stage Season, as well as additional details about the Main Stage Season, will be announced at a later date.) This will be the first season under the festival’s new Artistic Director, Jenny Gersten, whose appointment was announced last spring. She is the third Artistic Director of the WTF within the past seven years, but no matter: she, like her predecessors, has had a long involvement with the Festival, as associate producer from 1996 to 2004, the years when Michael Ritchie ran it as Producer 1996-2004. He was succeeded by Roger Rees, who only lasted from 2004 to 2007 as Artistic Director. Nicholas Martin then took over. Mr. Martin suffered a stroke only a year into his tenure. After a period of recovery, the stroke seemed to impair his creative work very little, but it did force him to make choices — to Broadway’s benefit. All of these people have had strong connections with Broadway, as well as the non-profit theatres of New York. Hence there has been a solid continuity at the Festival in spite of this rapid succession of quick changes.