love: Wold (top) and Weaver (bottom) in Ice Glen.
With a Smile
Joan Ackerman, directed by Tina Packer,
Shakespeare & Company, through Sept. 4
drip in the rich Ice Glen at Shakespeare & Company’s
Spring Lawn Theatre: Conceived at Spring Lawn, Shakespeare
& Company’s fabulous soon-to-be-sold, turn-of-the-century
mansion, Joan Ackerman’s new play is set in 1920 and tells
of the sexy and sexually frustrated widow Dulce Bainbridge
(the breathily sexy Elizabeth Aspenlieder) and her struggles
with Stone Gate, a fabulous soon-to-be-sold turn-of-the-century
mansion. The object of Mrs. Bainbridge’s desire is the editor
of The Atlantic Monthly, Peter Woodburn (the stately
and studly Michael Hammond), whose object of desire is the
poetry of Sarah Harding (the gamine beauty Kristin Wold, who
channels the soul of a feral cat in her performance), whose
object of desire is a black bear wandering the Berkshire estate.
Bainbridge, Woodburn, and Harding exchange meaningful glances,
articulate sublime intimations of immortality and wear scrumptious
costumes. The power of poetry, of art and of country property
is plumbed as the three waltz through arch scenes of hypersensitivity
Yet for all the talk of the power of poetry and art among
the genteel trio, it is the play’s working-class characters
who show the poetry, live the poetry and are the poetry in
Ackerman’s funny, moving, witty, and pleasurably engaging
play. While Bainbridge has a marvelous tirade near the play’s
end about the country’s “nobility of spirit” that drew applause
from the moneyed audience, three servants form the soul of
Denby (Brian Weaver), Grayson (Dennis Krausnick), and Mrs.
Roswell (Gillian Seidl) not only take care of the physical
needs of Stone Gate (and its residents)—shaking their heads
sadly at the leaks and unraked leaves, fighting the good fight
against mice, snakes, and the climate—but they also speak
with Wordsworthian enthusiasm for that nature: Nature that
is part of their lives, not merely part of the scenery. Nature
lives in their work. Nature is not a font of inspiration,
nor a source for watercolor renderings and poetical musing.
The three actors create characters so exact, natural and eccentric
that each scene they create breathes. Weaver’s Denby is Mother
Nature’s son, his scenes are as bright and lively as his smiles.
The audience immediately connects with him, and follows him,
cares for him, sympathizes with him. Denby’s scene “sledding”
with Sarah on the table creates howls of delight in the audience,
but the physicality and the flight of fancy are perfectly
in tune with Denby’s character.
Krausnick’s Grayson is the wise servant who sees and knows
more than his “betters,” and his constant focus on work, on
nurturing and on creating stand in stark contrast to the poses
of the rich. Seidl’s Roswell is an Irish Earth Mother who
uses the bounty of the Berkshire estate with an intimacy Bainbridge
and Woodburn can’t comprehend. The laughter of Ice Glen
comes from these three, and it is with the trio of Stone Gate
servants that the poetry of Ackerman is unveiled.
to Know You
Jeff Baron, directed by Marna Lawrence
Curtain Call Theatre, through July 9
Mr. Green is a showcase for the actor playing the elderly
widower of the title, and in Curtain Call’s production of
the play (which starred Eli Wallach in its world premiere
at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in 1996) Paul Richer is
uncanny as the sort of crotchety Jewish pessimist who drives
younger relatives crazy. Lost and distracted since the recent
death of his beloved wife of nearly 60 years, Mr. Green shuffles
around his Upper West Side apartment (skillfully designed
by Dee Mulford), overflowing with old bills, paper bags and
dirty laundry, until a busy young executive begins stopping
by to lend a hand.
Ross Gardiner, played by Jonathan Whitton, is not related
to Mr. Green, although there is a connection. The two were
involved in a traffic accident, as a result of which Gardiner
must make weekly visits to the older man for six months or
go to jail. Playwright Baron gets a lot of mileage out of
Gardiner’s repeated explanations to the forgetful 86-year-old
of why he is there.
you saw me, why did you hit me?”
didn’t hit you. I almost hit you.”
Helping Mr. Green is not an easy job. He doesn’t want his
piles of mail touched or the dead flowers in the vase discarded.
His phone is disconnected—“Who needs it?”—his curtains always
drawn, and there’s no TV to connect him to the outside world.
He nearly has a fit when Gardiner tries to bring him some
soup, fearing it will contaminate his kosher kitchen until
convinced it comes from Fine & Shapiro down the street.
Then, although his refrigerator is completely empty, he refuses
to admit he’s hungry or that the food tastes good, only deigning
to eat because it would be a shame to waste it. But over time
the two men form a bond which, despite Green’s inability to
discard all his old prejudices, becomes surprisingly close.
Playwright Jeff Baron, a former corporate marketing exec and
television writer, doesn’t do anything new with the dramatic
form here, but in his straightforward way does achieve some
truly funny and touching moments. Speaking as the granddaughter
of a Jew who came to New York from Russia at around the same
time as the fictional Mr. Green, I found the character (helped,
of course, by Richer’s performance and Marna Lawrence’s direction)
utterly convincing. But Baron is somewhat less successful
with Gardiner, the Harvard-trained businessman. It’s hard
to believe that even 10 years ago a Gen-X financial wizard
would be walking around without a cell phone, let alone so
afraid to admit he’s a fagele, at least among his peers.
Adding to the disconnect is a feeling that Jonathan Whitton
is just not made to wear a business suit; he doesn’t quite
have that Master of the Universe swagger required of all young
New York hotshots. It’s only as Gardiner begins to let down
his guard, talking about his running or his personal life—and
perhaps not coincidentally, as Baron ratchets up the emotional
volume of the play as well—that Whitton comes into his own.
While critics have argued that Baron’s ending is not realistic,
for the audience it is totally satisfying. And after all,
who said a play that talks about serious things can’t have
a happy ending?