Shakespeare and Company’s latest offering, “Lovers’ Spat: Shakespeare’s Famous Couples’ Encounters” was a frolic; gags and ad-libs abounded. It had an Elizabethan tinge. Actors were on-book and off-book; everybody was having a wonderful time. It has long been a positive aspect of the Company not to take everything so seriously. We remember that Shakespeare’s plays were new plays, experimental plays, which doubtless took a different path every performance.
Something compels me to go to the Berkshire Theatre Group’s A Christmas Carol late in the run. I hear two powerful forces—exhaustion and nostalgia—in the actors. This latest performance had both of these. I sat first near the back of the hall. One could often hear sounds of approval, quiet sounds, surprise after surprise from the children in the audience. These sounds were in the air when the stage was distant. After intermission I sat in the third row, and I could sense palpably the camaraderie of the actors in their last performance. Eric Hill has built a version of the story which tells the tale smoothly, not wading through the usual bumps that adaptations leave. His willingness to listen on stage gave the whole production a flavor.
Soooo, we are riding through a dark night, much too dark for late fall, to beautiful Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, New York. It looks warm, it smells warm, it is warm. When we got there, took our seats, we saw what very well may be the most intricate piece of theater ever played on this stage. I’m talking about Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to Peter Pan,
Yet another success for this Company. There was vivid acting. Elizabeth Aspenlieder, as Mary Pickford, is an arresting actress, her voice resonant, her intentions clear. Ms. Aspenlieder enlivens every role she takes. She makes the character happen. There was an exceptional performance from David Joseph in the role of Charlie Chaplin. His work on the role, particularly the physical aspect of the character had a completeness which he imagined carefully and made his own.
A singular departure this year at summer’s end. Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre (of Cambridge, New York), the dream-child of Alexina Jones, has lost its creator and mentor. She goes on to a position with Saratoga Arts. This young women is an intrepid creator. She built a company from nothing, fit it into the seasonal circumstances of Hubbard Hall, and with the help of her husband, Jason Dolmetsch, plodded through hundreds of hours of planning, auditioning, fund-raising. The Company started out in a modest way—a few instruments, mostly local singers. One of the first of these singers, Kara Cornell, turned in a Carmen that was utterly believable. Watching an opera of this sort in a small hall requires detailed specific acting; the grand gestures seem absurd.
In line with the excellent work I have heard at Tanglewood, was the Fellows’ vocal concert. Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins was masterfully led by mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron, Nuno Coelho, conductor, with Nicholas Muni as director. Mr. Muni’s direction was not fussy, and it tapped into the knife-edged nature of the show without excess. Ms. Barron gave a masterful performance. Not only was her voice beguiling in every way, she moved decisively, and somehow naturally, through the opera. Each of her skills contributed to a larger convincing performance in this ice-cold piece.
The Merchant of Venice has always been called a problem play. I might call it a miracle play. Here is why. There is a role in this play which dominates—with fewer than 350 lines. In the hands of Jonathan Epstein, Shylock was believable, unavoidable. It is important to remember that the play comes to an end without Shylock, although there is some of his equivocation in his daughter, clearly. In Mr. Epstein’s performance I heard a rare understanding of how the role finds its power. His rich voice ranged very little from loud to soft, fast to slow.
Aston Magna’s J.S. Bach concert in The Mahaiwe Theatre was a banquet of riches. The music itself ranged from abject woe in Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen to vaudeville hijinks in The Singing Contest of Phoebus and Pan. Where do I begin? The unique singing of Dominque Labelle arrests the senses. You must listen to it. Ulysses Thomas’s rich, aristocratic voice, Jesse Blumberg’s clear, actorly voice, William Hite’s beautiful, beautiful tenor, each spoke eloquently. Above all, the redoubtable Frank Kelley’s complete control of the act of singing, his exaggeration (wildly funny), his movement, and most wonderful of all, the subtle creativity of his timing, brought the house down. He is the complete package.