THE GLASS MENAGERIE and NAKED

A versatile, summer Berkshire theater season concludes with two very solid productions of “serious” drama from 20th century playwrights, one of America’s most famous, the other, a highly influential, but lesser-known, Italian. On its main stage in Pittsfield, Barrington Stage Company presents a very fine, very true production of Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie”. Director Julie Boyd fully embraces Williams' beautiful, poetic writing, and lets it speak beautifully, poetically for itself. She eschews a director-driven interpretation like John Tiffany’s stylized production (successful) and Sam Gold’s minimalist, Ivo van Hove-lite version (disastrous) that we’ve seen on Broadway in recent years. Ms. Boyd gets solid performances all around, especially from BSC favorite son, Mark H. Dold. His Tom is most distinctive in how he shifts from an adult to the younger self. Mr. Dold’s Tom makes us feel the burden of memory of of his mother Amanda and sister Laura and their desperate dreams (symbolized, as Tom tells us, by the “gentleman caller”) decades after he abandoned them. His final monologue - “Laura… I tried to leave you behind but I am more faithful than I intended to be… blow out your candles, Laura” gets me every time. Seldom do playwrights master the theme of illusion vs. truth as emotionally as Williams does here.

Berkshire Theatre Group explores a similar theme from a different parallax in Luigi Pirandello’s “Naked” on its Unicorn Stage in Stockbridge. Pirandello received the 1934 Nobel Prize for Literature. “Naked”, written in the early 1920s, hasn’t been performed in the US in nearly 20 years. Its complicated plot involves a suicidal woman, beset by the tragedy of being witness to the accidental death of her lover’s young son, and how her story gets manipulated by a novelist who wants to bed her and fictionalize her, a reporter who wants her “true” story, the lover who wants revenge and a fiancé who “loves” her. Director Eric Hill negotiates this heady material deftly, both honoring Pirandello’s melodramatic structure and nurturing nuanced performances from BTG’s reliable ensemble. My favorite was James Barry, who trips into some commedia dell’arte as the hapless, tortured fiancé. NAKED’s conclusion is riveting, all the more so for its prescient reverberations to the temper of our times.

Either play, each hitting both the head and the heart, is an evening of theater well spent. “Glass Menagerie” runs through October 21, “Naked” through October 28.

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