Live theatre? Remember that? As venues across the country struggle to reopen for in-person
performances, I was delighted by a recent trip to the Berkshires where some of the area theatres are currently
welcoming audiences back. A day trip to nearby Massachusetts is not only scenic but a cultural oasis!
After a 15 month delay how great that the first live performance I managed to catch was a revival of
one of my favorite plays of all time. Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy of manners, “The Importance of Being
Earnest”, is always worth a visit even when it’s under the lesser conditions currently offered by the Berkshire
Theatre Group in Stockbridge. But first, the good news. Any chance to see a live production of this delirious
masterpiece is worth it. At BTG, we can enjoy a serviceable if not sparkling production of the great comedy
under the spirited direction of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Auburn. The uneven company is led by
the glorious Harriet Harris in the plum role of Lady Bracknell. Ms. Harris is a splendid comic actress and there’s
no doubt that by now she has turned the corner in a performance which seemed a tad under-rehearsed at the
early show I caught. Still, the sheer joy of hearing Wilde’s delicious epigrams one more time can’t be
underestimated and more than reason enough to catch the BTG production.
There’s a major event, however, happening over at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield. Father
and son actors Reed and Ephraim Birney, are delivering the goods in a superb production of Joseph
Dougherty’s new play, “Chester Bailey”. The taut two-hander, crisply directed by Ron Lagomarsino, takes place
primarily in a hospital setting where Chester (Ephraim) is recovering from horrendous injuries that he doesn’t
seem to acknowledge. His delusions are sharply contrasted by his stoic doctor (Reed) who has just left a
loveless marriage and fallen into an affair with his superior’s wife.
The journey both men take is unexpected and never less than riveting. In just under 90 minutes
(without intermission) viewers are left breathless and wrung out emotionally by the level of acting, writing and
directing on display. While the younger Birney has the far showier role (and Ephraim is never less than brilliant
here), the Tony Award winning Reed knows the power of stillness and silence and uses his years of experience
to savvy effect in a performance that never pushes for attention. It’s as real as breathing. Some smart
producer should make tracks to Massachusetts and get this show scheduled in New York. Fast.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” continues at the Berkshire Theatre Group through July 10. For
further information visit: www.berkshiretheatregroup.org. “Chester Bailey” plays through July 9 at Barrington
Stage. For further information visit: www.barringtonstageco.org. Patrons are currently required to wear masks
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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