Off Off Off Broadway

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A couple of months ago my colleague blogged about summer music festivals, specifically those in and around the great state of New York. I’m here to tell you that music isn’t the only thing that makes the people come together in those lazy hazy crazy days of summer. Let us not forget about our friends in the the-atah, those people of show who put on terrific smaller scale productions (often works in progress) miles from the great Broad-WAY. I celebrate these folks and their work. In fact, I drove all over the northeastern seaboard this past weekend to take in a couple of matinees: a musical at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and a play at New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater. If the play’s your thing, read on…

Williamstown Theater Festival

Nestled in the Berkshires and home to the Williams College Purple Cows, Williamstown, Massachusetts, becomes overrun with theater people in the summer months. In a good way. My first experience at WTF (I know, right? Nice acronym.) was to see Gwyneth Paltrow as Rosalind in As You Like It, a mere few months after she won her Best Actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. I’ve always loved me some Gwyneth; the fact that she came back to rural Massachusetts at the height of her popularity made me love her even more. Let’s chalk that up to good parenting… Blythe Danner has spent 21 summer seasons at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. You gotta love Blythe’s spirit.

On Saturday, I went to see a new musical based on the 2002 Oscar-nominated film, Far From Heaven, which starred Julianne Moore, Dennis Haysbert, Dennis Quaid and Patricia Clarkson. (BTW, it still kills me that Julianne Moore doesn’t have a Best Actress Oscar on her mantel.) I LOVED that movie and was lucky enough to attend the New York Film Critics Circle Awards that year to witness it win Best Film, Best Director, Best Cinematographer, Best Supporting Actor (Quaid), and Best Supporting Actress (Clarkson.) Julianne Moore came in second for Best Actress behind Diane Lane for Unfaithful. Fair enough, but still!

The stage musical version of Far From Heaven stars Kelli O’Hara. Brandon Victor Dixon, Steven Pasquale, and Nancy Anderson. (BTW, it still kills me that Kelli O’Hara doesn’t have a Best Actress in a Musical Tony on her mantel.) I’m glad I saw it, although I’m not quite convinced that Far From Heaven should have been turned into a stage musical. That said, Kelli O’Hara was, as always, magnificent as Cathy Whitaker. The costumes were impeccable and the scenic design was breathtaking with its autumn-in-Connecticut palate of oranges, yellows and reds. I was especially enamored with Anderson’s portrayal of Cathy’s BFF Eleanor. I sure hope the show sees a life beyond the festival.

Other hot tickets at Williamstown this summer include Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest (Directed by David Hyde Pierce, starring Tyne Daly), Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers (starring Leslie Bibb), and The Elephant Man (starring Bradley Cooper). That last one has the sleepy little burg of Williamstown all atwitter, what with the Sexiest Man Alive playing the severely disfigured John Merrick, and all.

New York Stage and Film

In the unfortunately named town of Poughkeepsie, Vassar College and New York Stage and Film are presenting the 28th season of Powerhouse Theater where, as they describe it, “an amazing group of artists gather to share their unique voices and vast imaginations.” Well said, my friends. Well said.

My first trip to Poughkeepsie was to see Fair Fight: A Mean Little Dance by Liz Tuccillo (author of He’s Just Not That Into You) circa 1995. Many of the folks involved in that production went on to become household names; it was a treat to see them in such an intimate environment and to throw down a few beers at the Beech Tree Grill (which we lovingly referred to as The Peach Pit, natch.)

The play I saw there on Sunday is called The Power of Duff by Stephen Belber. I’ve enjoyed many of Belber’s plays in the past – Dusk Rings a Bell starring Kate Walsh, Fault Lines starring Noah Emmerich — and this one did not disappoint. (Belber’s play Tape was turned into an indie movie starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard. Check it out if to get a sense of his style.)

The Power of Duff stars Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Westfeldt, Dominic Fumusa and Ilana Levine; I’m pleased to report that each one of them gives the performance of his/her career. Kinnear plays Charlie Duff, a local news anchor in Rochester, New York, who ends a newscast by asking his viewing audience to say a prayer for his recently deceased father and unwittingly ignites an entire movement. Westfeldt and Fumusa play his co-anchors, Levine his ex-wife. I have no doubts that this play will ultimately make it to New York City and/or a theater near you.

Also on the docket at Vassar this summer is a reading of a new musical version of A Separate Peace based on John Knowles’ beloved novel. I’m really looking forward to that one.

The theater programs at Williamstown and Poughkeepsie are just two examples of the creative work that’s taking place all across this great country of ours this summer. If time, money and geography permit, I encourage to check out the goings-on in your area.

Today’s poll:

Which of these actors currently performing at the Williamstown Theatre Festival is your favorite?

Leslie Bibb
Bradley Cooper 
Tyne Daly
Kelli O’Hara

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