Will the town kill him for the money? The townspeople initially proclaim that it’s not right but are too quickly seduced by the promise of riches and do the woman’s bidding. They rationalize it in the name of justice.
In 1957 society could be cruel to those who were different. Cathy Whitaker, a young Connecticut housewife and mother of two, is different. When her friends sing of once-a-week sex with their husbands, she is silent. Her husband Frank is different; he is gay. When Cathy learns his truth, she seeks solace with her sympathetic gardener, Raymond, also different, a “Negro,” a “gardening Nat King Cole.” Her neighbors gossip with relish. When Raymond takes her to his neighborhood café where he thinks they will be safe, she is ostracized because there, as a white woman, she is different. Cathy is trapped in a conformist marriage with repression, denial and pretense her only defenses.
Touch(ed) is a terrifically effective and well-constructed play by a young actress and playwright who has managed to gather an impressive amount of experience in some very good places: after Harvard College and the Yale School of Drama, she has spent four previous seasons at the Williamstown Theatre Company. Director Trip Cullman [third WTF season] is a Yale School of Drama graduate, as is Emily Rebholz, costume designer. Andromache Chalfant hails from Tisch, and actor Michael Chernus [second WTF season] from Juilliard. There was a tightness and consistency about the various elements of this show that made me wonder about the connections among the principal creative forces. There is something seriously encouraging about such a successful creation coming from top Northeastern schools. It doesn’t always happen.
One more delicious and satisfying classic in the Nikos. Following the intimate character of A Streetcar Named Desire, the Williamstown Theatre Festival has served the playwright and the public most honorably in Sam Gold’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Like Streetcar, the production was meticulously detailed, scrupulously respectful of the play (whatever liberties might have been taken), and full of life, thanks to some vivid performances by outstanding actors. Jenny Gersten’s WTF seems to be hitting its stride in these physically small, but richly imagined performances, a new feature of the Festival since the construction of the “62 Center. Perhaps we should remember that what is now the subsidiary Nikos stage used to be the Adams Memorial Theater, and that an attempt to stage Chekhov’s Three Sisters on the Main Stage as a luxury production was a notable failure, not that there haven’t been some outstanding successes there as well.
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.
It is hardly surprising that Justin Waldman’s production of Ronan Noone’s The Atheist is already being hailed as the best play of the Williamstown Theatre Festival so early in the season. In form, it is a dramatic monologue. The audience listens to the stereotypically amoral and inconsiderate American journalist Augustine Early talk about his rise to disreputable fame, after tainting the lives of so many (though, ironically, he seems to have an unfortunate case of the Midas Touch, making his victims more famous than himself).