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Weekend Preview May 19-24
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Review by Seth Rogovoy

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Deborah Voigt Headlines Mahaiwe Gala
Opera star to sing arias, show tunes on Saturday, May 21

Famed Spiritual Teacher to Speak on Nonviolence
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Weekend Preview May 12-16
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A Farewell from Publisher Michael Zivyak

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[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
Review by Seth Rogovoy

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by Mark St. Germain
Starring Brian Smiar and Robert Zukerman
Directed by Christopher Innvar
at the Berkshire Athenaeum
Pittsfield, Mass.
Through June 4

Barrington Stage Company opens the Berkshires' summer theater season with two modest, clever, two-person one acts both of which aptly circle around to the idea of theater itself, making for a welcome re-entry into what promises to be another whirlwind summer of theater in the Berkshires.

The plays, both written by Mark St. Germain and both acted by Brian Smiar and Robert Zukerman, take place in the basement auditorium of the Berkshire Athenaeum, an ordinarily cold, institutional space that is utterly transformed by the theater company into a welcoming, intimate space.

And while these productions are modest, they are both well executed, boasting top-notch lighting, acting, directing, and terrific set design.

The main piece, THE COLLYER BROTHERS AT HOME, is based on the true story of the real-life Collyer Brothers, two New York City pack rats and recluses from the first-half of the twentieth century.

As written and staged, the piece plays like a cross between Samuel Beckett and Neil Simon, with an edge toward Beckett. Homer and Langley Collyer are would-be Lucky and Pozzos, tramps with a home with wild, theatrical, childlike imaginations that lead them to pretend they are the WRight Brothers, a vaudeville duo, and the envy of Howard Hughes and movie starlets.

Stuck inside a prison of their own making, chained to each other through a shared history of familial rejection and fear of the outside world, Homer and Langley alternately curse and comfort each other while they continuosly review and revise their past as they hurtle toward an unknown but certain desperate destiny. They are walking paradoxes -- a blind man who can catch an orange and collects newspapers, a security-obsessed paranoid who needs to be told not to let the wolves in, an elderly man who can't stop grieving for a pet bird killed in childhood, and another elderly man who keeps a cat's skeleton for a pet.

"If you can feel anything at all, then you're not dead," says one of them. "I think that's the bargain."

It's a rare moment of lucidity in this otherwise mostly epigramless work that teeters on the brink of Beckettian absurdity. And as if to drive the point home, there are repeated references to a unnamed Irish playwright lurking outside who wants to meet the brothers with the intention of immortalizing them in a play. "He's Irish, isn't he? He'll wait," one says at the end.

Smiar and Zukerman both fully inhabit their difficult roles in this piece that has to quickly establish its sense of place and character and situtation before delving into its major themes on the way to its non-existent conclusion, all in under an hour's time.

It's a play worth seeing, if only for its celebration of the art of play and its knowing treatment of artifice.

The second, shorter one-act, PERIOD PIECE, features the same actors playing, well, actors -- friends or acquaintances who find themselves in a dingy room waiting to audition for a play. Again, playwright St. Germain wastes no time establishing their characters and the situation, and he needs to work even faster in this play which clocks in at just under a half hour. In that time, there are plenty of knowing theater jokes, tending toward insider baseball -- even some winking of the eye towards BARRINGTON STAGE itself and the rousing success of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by William Finn.

In an otherwise pointed, effective sketch, the only false note is struck when the playwright puts a sermon about the moral righteousness and superiority of theater into the mouth of one of the characters. The speech would have been better suited to a program essay, and was unnecessary, as the evening of comic drama itself made the point clear via demonstration rather than by telling: there is nothing like the magic of adults pretending to be who they are not, acting out a story before an audience of eager listeners, to transport us to another world, or to provide a new or original perspective on a familiar one. And at the very least, St. Germain's one-acts, in the hands of this very able director and these very capable actors, does this precisely.

All in all, a swell kickoff to the Berkshires' summer theater season.

--Seth Rogovoy, The Rogovoy Report/Berkshire Living

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