Monday, December 29, 2008

Barrington Stage Company makes The List!

Congratulations to Barrington Stage Company for standing out in the Northeast theatre scene!
The Boston Globe wrote an end of the year piece on on the top theatre companies. Here is the article:

Small companies with big ambitions
By Louise Kennedy
Globe Staff / December 28, 2008
Maybe it's the economy, maybe it's the weather, or maybe it's just me, but as I look back at the year in theater, it's hard to find a lot of truly bright spots. Yes, there was some very good work on local stages, and there were some promising new arrivals on the scene - Peter DuBois at the Huntington Theatre Company, Diane Paulus in the wings at the American Repertory Theatre, a new home for the Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater in Central Square - but moments of theatrical transcendence seemed few and far between. At best, solid admiration, not transporting thrill, is the prevailing mood.

What's striking is that a lot of the year's best work was done by smaller companies. Perhaps because they're driven more by artistic interests than by the need to appeal to a broad audience, or perhaps because they're more tightly focused and more passionate, or perhaps just by chance, the city's smaller troupes this year, by and large, outshone their larger siblings. From the sweeping two-part presentation of "Angels in America" by Boston Theatre Works last season to this fall's hauntingly spare "In the Continuum" by Up You Mighty Race and Company One's incisive "Voyeurs de Venus," big ambitions paid off for small companies.
Except that, of course, they didn't quite - the saddest news of the year, perhaps, being that Boston Theatre Works went on hiatus shortly after "Angels," having consumed all its resources with that grand effort. And with the departure of artistic director Jason Southerland for Chicago, BTW's "hiatus" is now most likely a permanent slumber. That's too bad, not just because the company did some fine work but because its failure to build a sustainable program does harm to the actors, designers, and audience members who had come to rely on its presence.

What's also unfortunate is the dearth of productions from the big resident companies on my Top 10 list. Yes, Nicholas Martin's completely charming revival of "She Loves Me" made the cut - but that's the only Huntington show that did, and I'm sorry to say that nothing from the American Repertory Theatre is here, either. Both companies offered a few solid but unspectacular productions, and both also served up a couple of my least favorite evenings of the year. How I wish they'd also hit one or two out of the park - especially when it comes to new work.

The good news, though, is that there were a few terrific new plays at other venues, both in town and in the Berkshires over the summer. Locally, Boston Playwrights' Theatre delivered two genuine pleasures, and Melinda Lopez had a hand in both of them: She wrote "Gary," a rocking coming-of-age story, and she starred in "The Oil Thief," Joyce Van Dyke's sharp and moving story of love on the (literal) rocks.

Out west, the Williamstown Theatre Festival had a fine clutch of new plays in Martin's first season as artistic director (and it also, of course, had its own run of his "She Loves Me"). Theresa Rebeck crafted a wickedly funny backstage piece, "The Understudy," and Ellen Melaver's "Not Waving" received a particularly well crafted staging. But it's "Broke-ology," a story of a beleaguered and loving family by the astonishingly talented Nathan Louis Jackson, that lingers most powerfully in the mind.

New work is also percolating nicely in Pittsfield, at Barrington Stage Company's Musical Theatre Lab. Both "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick," a haunting little tale adapted from a picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, and "See Rock City," a collage of musical postcards, felt fresh and promising, if musically still a bit unfinished. But that's the virtue of the Musical Theatre Lab: You know, going in, that you're seeing a work in progress, and having audiences involved from the beginning provides a vital source of feedback to the shows' creators.

Closer to home, Tony Estrella's adaptation of Friedrich Schiller's "Don Carlos," at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, wins the dubious distinction of Play I Most Regret Not Seeing. As painful as it can be to sit through a bad play, it always feels much worse to fail to sit through a good one.
And, of course, you really never do know until you're in the theater which kind of night you're going to have. That's a lesson I had to relearn this year, because not once but three times I set out in low spirits to see a musical that I truly felt I never had to see again, and not once but three times I was surprised to be delighted. It's a good kind of surprise to have, and I'm grateful to "My Fair Lady," "A Chorus Line," and "Chicago" for letting me have it - and, of course, to their presenter, Broadway Across America-Boston, which must be at least as disappointed as I am that one of its big hopes for this past season, "Brigadoon," fell through, along with Harry Connick Jr.'s Gershwin project, "Nice Work If You Can Get It."
I'm also grateful to Scott Edmiston and SpeakEasy Stage for mounting a production of "The Light in the Piazza" that put a musical I had previously despised in the best possible light. Edmiston and SpeakEasy get another helping of gratitude for "The History Boys," which in their hands was a smart and touching piece of work.

So too was "Eurydice" as staged by Rick Lombardo at Watertown's New Repertory Theatre. His sensitive, musically rich handling of Sarah Ruhl's play only underscored the sense of loss at the news that he'll be shortly heading west to take the helm at San Jose Repertory Theatre.
Oh, but let's not end on a sad note. Instead, and because Top 10 lists tend to skew toward the Serious and Significant, here's a joyous whoop to some shows that gave me what we all may need most in a year like 2008: a good, solid laugh.

To wit, in no particular order: "The Little Dog Laughed" at SpeakEasy Stage; "Medea" and "Whizzin"' from the Gold Dust Orphans; "The Drowsy Chaperone" at the Opera House (Broadway Across America - Boston); "Pageant" at Stoneham Theatre and "Pageant Play" at Berkshire Theatre Festival; Carrie Fisher's "Wishful Drinking" at the Huntington; and "Gutenberg! The Musical" at New Rep.
May we all have more laughs, and more joy, in the year to come.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pittsfield wins Commonwealth Award

(Actress Elizabeth Banks, Pittsfield native)

Pittsfield has won the Creative Community Award, one the prestigious Commonwealth Awards, given out by the Massachusetts Cultural Council!

Here are two great articles about the award from the Boston Globe and the Berkshire Eagle:

Banks a lot
By Mark Shanahan and Paysha Rhone
Globe Staff / December 20, 2008

Actress Elizabeth Banks (above) will wing in next month to help present an award to her hometown at the State House. Pittsfield mayor James Ruberto will accept the Creative Community award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which yesterday announced the winners of its biennial Commonwealth Awards, the state's highest honors in arts and culture. Other winners include: the Worcester Cultural Coalition, Peabody Essex Museum, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, the Behrakis Foundation, Louis Casagrande, the Boston Children's Museum, and the Codman Academy Charter Public School. Banks will give the keynote speech at the Jan. 13 awards ceremony. She recently starred in "W" and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," and just signed a $1 million annual contract to be a spokesmodel for L'Oreal Paris. She joins the glamorous ranks of Beyonce Knowles, Diane Keaton, and Eva Longoria Parker.


Pittsfield culture wins prestige
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Thursday, December 18

PITTSFIELD — Pittsfield has joined the likes of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Shakespeare & Company and Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival as a cultural force in Berkshire County.

The city is receiving one of the six Commonwealth Awards being handed out for 2009 by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Pittsfield will be honored with the other winners during a ceremony at the Statehouse on Jan. 13.

Actress and Pittsfield native Elizabeth Banks will speak at the event.

"This is really important recognition, showing we are a creative community," said Megan Whilden, Pittsfield's cultural development director. "We've been working in Pittsfield the past five years to promote and grow a cultural community."

That's evident by the revitalization of the Colonial Theatre, the addition of Barrington Stage Company, and the continuing growth of the Berkshire Museum and Hancock Shaker Village, according to Council Executive Director Anita Walker.

"Pittsfield is investing in its natural cultural resources," Walker said. "You can't recreate these things."

Walker said Pittsfield was an unanimous choice out of the 69 nominations in the creative community category. The other categories are creative economy catalyst, leadership, individual achievement creative learning and cultural philanthropy.

Walker said the awards, given every two years, was paired down from 10 categories in order to broaden the nomination process.

Pittsfield joins previous Berkshire winners Yo-Yo Ma, Shakespeare & Co., its founder Tina Packer, Jacob's Pillow, choreographer Marge Champion, Mass MoCA Executive Director Joseph Thompson, and arts patron Jane Fitzpatrick.

While Williamstown to the north and Lenox and Stockbridge to the south have been the mainstays of the Berkshire's cultural community, Whilden said Pittsfield is ready to lead the way.

"By Pittsfield stepping forward, it benefits the rest of the county," Whilden said.
Walker praised both Whilden and Mayor James M. Ruberto for making cultural tourism part of the city's economic development.

"You have a leader who really gets it," said Walker of Ruberto. "Megan's work is exemplar and how it should be done."

Whilden said she's finding more and more people discovering Pittsfield's cultural side, thanks in part to the Third Thursday events. The block party-style events are held each month from May through October.

"People used to skip Pittsfield," Whilden said. "The perception of the city and reality have changed."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cultural Pittsfield This Week newsletter is up and out!

Check out our last minute shopping tips, holiday concerts galore at the Colonial & elsewhere, and great live music at Zeitgeist, Mission Bar & Tapas, Pittsfield Brew Works, and the Brazilian Restaurant this weekend. Click here to read it, or here to sign up for your own FREE subscription to Cultural Pittsfield This Week!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Small Gems at the Ferrin Gallery

The Ferrin Gallery's new show $mall Works: Art + Object has gotten a great review in the Berkshire Eagle by Keith Shaw! In this show, thirty artists present one to three affordable artworks that sell for no more than $500. The show includes painting, prints, sculpture that small in scale or made specifically for the show. In addition to the $mall Works group show, on view at the gallery there is always a good selection of affordable, functional studio pottery from area artists. It is definitely worth checking out (and soon, as the art is selling fast!)

The review by the Berkshire Eagle's art critic:

Small gems
By Keith V. Shaw, Special to the Eagle

Monday, December 15

PITTSFIELD — The Ferrin Gallery always generates excitement, but its annual, year-end show of small artwork has become an anticipated event — and it is well worth the wait.
Last year's exhibits asked the age-old question "Does size matter?" This year, "Small Works: Art + Object" asks "Does price matter?" Well, if you have to ask, I guess it does.
"Small Works" includes nearly 30 artists, and everything is priced to sell: $500 or less. Yes, some are early in their careers, and a few are not genuine gallery artists. But many of the participants sell larger pieces for thousands of dollars, and this is an enticing opportunity to buy a name. Not in the market for art? It is still fun to window shop.

The show is handsomely installed and captivatingly eclectic. Pieces run the gamut: paintings, assemblages, ceramics, and more. Like price, quality matters too, and it quickly rises to the top.
The muses are fickle, and some paintings just turn out better than others. With "The Crow," Michael Rousseau was right on the money, and his work was the first to fly the coop. The piece is all about facture and the creative process, morphing from sketchy ground to protruding, 3-D figure. Assisted by the simplicity and quirkiness of its subject, the painting will forever have power.

Michael Zelehoski will develop into a stellar gallery artist, and most of his pieces sold the first day. He effortlessly asserts his originality both in representational and abstract art. This time he offers a number of wooden assemblages. Through intellect and craft, Zelehoski rearranges his organic colors, materials, and textures into geometric abstractions. This human imprint on nature produces serenely beautiful wall objects. I look forward to his summer show at the Ferrin.

The Renaissance saw art as the offspring of Craft and Concept; Duchamp's readymades precipitated a divorce, and modernism awarded custody to Concept. Warner Friedman shows how postmodernism is contesting that decision. Friedman's trompe l'oeil paintings of pine boards masquerade as minimalist found objects — the kind of art the public has been conditioned to accept. Our human response to seeing a board representing art versus art representing a board is vastly different. Friedman's illusionistic painting engages the viewer in that art critical debate. He is a postmodern master.

Joe Wheaton's metal wall assemblages "Kabuki" choreograph the dynamism of movement on stage. Restless black forms strut and stretch across red rectangular panels, perfecting quick, precise turns. Abraded areas imply the pendular transition between absence and occupancy. Wheaton is highly collectable, and if one likes an Asian accent to their d├ęcor, these pieces are bargains.

Joe Goodwin is another consummate nonrepresentational artist, and his monotype collage and diminutive painting merit notice. In each work, a dominant gesture — a life pulse — animates an otherwise dormant environment. Activity emerges out of passivity, and resistance questions acceptance.

Other pieces vie for attention. Gene Flores' metal "Postcards" of abstracted landscapes intrigue; his gouged, cut, and polished surfaces suggest records of geological time. Paul Graubard's "Muslim Women" is one of his most successful pieces. The lace veils add just the right touch of visual interest. With hook and eye latches, Elizabeth Stone playfully links three block-like canvases of Brio trains; how perfect. And the list goes on.

Whether you are an art speculator or just a spectator, stopping in the Ferrin Gallery to see "Small Works" will enrich your day.