If ever there were an example of how an accomplished actress can overcome ho-hum material, it is the marvelous Penny Fuller in Kathleen Clark’s “What We May Be” on the Stockbridge Main Stage of the Berkshire Theatre Group. Almost 80, Ms. Fuller, who started her Broadway career as the replacement lead in “Barefoot in the Park” in 1963, embraces the role of Lucinda Royal Scott, doyenne of a local theatre, with youthful vim and vigor. In contrast, the new script, in its premiere production, already seems old and tired.
Lucinda, after a lifetime of being producer/ director/ leading player and getting her way with all of it, is left in the dark by her company that the performance about to start signals the end of the theatre’s 50-year run. Her troupe is composed of: nominal director Glenn (Carson Elrod), second-fiddle actress Joan (Dee Hoty), perennial leading man Hal (Count Stovall), newcomer Colleen (Carla Duren) and stage manager Summer (Samantha Hill). The company is losing its building lease. The show goes on, with Lucinda ostensibly unaware.
The show, or what accounts for most of the “What We May Be”’s runtime of 90 minutes (no intermission), is a series of four vignettes, each dealing with a different aspect of aging and each starring Lucinda, but it's a lot of the same old. Lucky “What We May Be” is star-driven because there’s not much going on with the rest of the cast backstage in between the playlets in the play. For a story that in its own limp way is a love letter to theatre, there’s curiously little inside-baseball. Director Glenn is the only one who liked his production of Martin McDonough’s “The Pillowman”. They all argue about the future artistic direction of the company: Carla wants to do Lillian Hellman; Summer, David Mamet. Really? Jean Kerr would look radical compared to - and be a lot more amusing than - the pablum that gets staged in “What We May Be.”
Ms. Fuller shoulders on like a real trouper. Poor Mr. Elrod, who’s seen superior material in Broadway’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Noises Off”, survives an inconsequential part. Ms. Doty, who has three Tony nominations to her credit, doesn’t have anything to bite into. Lucky Ms. Hill, making her BTG debut, finds some spunk in stage manager Summer.
An indefatigable Ms.Fuller (two Tony noms in her career) rises above the material; no matter how weak, she makes it work. She's at her best in the last vignette as a widow who goes to a creative writing class thinking she has nothing worthwhile to write about. Ms. Fuller embodies what real stars are made of: that indefinable quality called stage presence; a seemingly instinctual sense of impeccable timing; the selflessness to bring other actors along in a scene; and, giving it all to connect with the audience no matter what. In “What We May Be”, it’s uncertain if Lucinda will save her theatre, but, on stage in Stockbridge, it’s clear Ms. Fuller saves the day.
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