The family drama: Gallagher and Gaston in The Waters
Theresa Rebeck, directed by Will Frears
Theatre Festival, Nikos Stage, Williamstown , Mass.
It must have been a sense of orderly decay in Thomas Lynch’s
potent set of an old clapboard house by the water that brought
to mind a certain film by Hitchcock. And it must have been
something be nign in Frances Aaronson’s lighting that offered
sufficient contrast to this that caused me to quip that we
were about to witness a musical version of Psycho.
Little did I realize how prescient my tossed-off joke would
For a while, the level of acting in the Williamstown Theatre
Festival’s production of The Water’s Edge works with
Rebeck’s gift (however sporadic) for dialogue to draw us into
a dysfunctional family drama with humorous undertones that
often morph into overtones. But credibility issues and a wildly
ineffective attempt to create a modern-day tragedy provide
the real—unintended—laughs in (or at) the second act.
After a 17-year absence, Richard has returned to his childhood
home, which has been housing his estranged wife, Helen, and
their two grown children: Nate, a bookstore clerk, and Erica,
a recent graduate of Brown. In tow, Richard has his girlfriend,
Lucy, a sweet/sexy waitress who serves as an innocent witness
to the increasingly loopy events that are intended to pass
for a plot. Richard wants to reclaim his home, bond with his
children and, perhaps, sit at night in the outdoor bathtub
under a canopy of tree branches and stars. What he plans for
Helen is unclear. What Helen—who never forgave Richard for
the accidental drowning of their third child—plans for Richard
The play unfolds as a series of slices of the lives of people
for whom we have declining interest. There are no great themes
that emerge as when authors like O’Neill redid the Greeks.
The dialogue devolves into feminist cant and passages that
are too literary to jibe with the bulk of the play.
Kate Burton struggles admirably to underlay some brittle hints
of where Helen is headed, but the script does not support
her. A tossed bowl of peas and a thrown handful of dinnerware
just don’t do the trick. For an instant, Austin Lysy suggests
that Nate may be unbalanced as opposed to slightly and humorously
off-balance. As Richard, Michael Gaston escapes most of the
worst writing in the play.
Fiona Gallagher saves from cliché what could have been a thankless
role and makes us care more about Lucy than any of the ostensibly
more central characters. Gretchen Cleevely may be a diminutive
Erica, but she makes her a double-barreled derringer and grabs
By the time the second act ludicrously unfolds it is painfully
clear that Rebeck is trying to write a contemporary version
of Agamemnon, the first play of The Orestia trilogy.
Her adaptation is awkward and hilariously self-conscious,
as when she tries to represent the absent Greek gods in the
overhanging branches of contented trees. Less Aeschylus than
Stephen King in hack mode, Rebeck relies more on gothic horror
than hamartia and fate.
One can’t even reasonably compare her to Hitchcock, who applied
a greater sense of tragic technique to his thrillers than
does Rebeck to her “tragedy,” which lacks a sense of terrible
inevitability or suspense. With true suspense we know something
catastrophic is going to happen and are forced to wait for
it to unfold. Rebeck just gives us sudden revelations that
inspire laughter. Perhaps director Will Frears should have
approached this material as absurdist black comedy, for there
is assuredly no catharsis—but possibly it is all Greek to
Impartial gods hovering overhead as trees? Bring on the woodpeckers.
Maidens With Issues
by Gray Simons and Foster Durgin, directed by Gray Simons
Theatre Festival at the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Mass.,
through July 17
Director Gray Simons has conceived a Robin Hood with
no swashbuckling and no men in tights—in fact, there are hardly
any men at all in the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s children’s
production of the ancient English tale. Instead, whether due
to the five-man, 12-woman makeup of BTF’s apprentice acting
company, or simply a decision to retell the famous legend
from a feminist perspective, this Robin Hood features
a Maid Marion all dressed in forest green, a formidable Joan
Little, the music of Ellen-of-Dale, and the “King Mother,”
Eleanor of Aquitaine. The women of Sherwood have banded together
to thwart the outrageous taxation of the Sheriff of Nottingham
and his henchman, Sir Guy of Gisborne, by pretending to be
the outlaw heroes whose exploits were well known even in the
time of Richard the Lion-Hearted.
While the story holds together and the company, including
Mary Beth DeLozier as Marian/Robin and Stephanie M. Thornton
as Eleanor, is fine, I’m not sure political statement works
well as children’s entertainment. Two things sure to hold
a child’s interest are humor and action, and this production
offers both in only moderate doses. There was probably only
a normal amount of fidgeting in the audience at the performance
we attended, but for long stretches of exposition my young
companions (both male) started to check their watches or otherwise
look distracted. I counted only two or three moments of real
laughter in the course of the hourlong show.
Among those actors who were allowed to ham it up were Carrie
Bonnell as Ellen/ Allen, who gave a goofy grin and seemed
pretty much out of it as the others schemed, and the hearty
Mimi Meserve as Joan/Little John, the fighter of the bunch.
As Gisborne, Matt Stapleton’s prissy de meanor conveyed his
cowardice even to the littlest playgoers. Hannah Wilson was
a high-stepping page in what looked like very cute foot pajamas;
and Thornton was Eleanor, well-meaning but a bit distracted
herself. Ezra Colon made a traditional-looking Sheriff of
Nottingham, perhaps a concession to the picture most people
have in mind when going to see a production of Robin Hood.
DeLozier’s Robin was good but not inspiring; Errol Flynn has
nothing to worry about here.
Speaking of Flynn, fighting—which makes up such an important
part of the genre of legendary hero tales—is also scarce here
in this very intellectual version of the story. Still, there’s
a well-choreographed brawl at the end that my 8-year-old found
satisfying. I liked the robust costumes, by Renae Pedersen,
who used color and cut to suggest the women’s alter egos,
and the English ballads used gave the production a medieval
air. The set consisted of three rotating three-sided backdrops,
but their washed-out palette didn’t come up to the level of
the rest of the production. All in all, a distaff Robin Hood
is an interesting conceit, but as children’s theater it’s
an idea that needs more thinking through.