Our Town Stage
Up in the Berkshires and its surrounding areas, the start of summer means the start of summer-stock theater. Before the curtains of the Sharon Playhouse in Sharon, Conn., officially open at the end of June with the Elizabethan-set musical comedy “Something Rotten!” the nonprofit community theater will host a one-night reading of “Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson, Apt. 2B” starring Lauren Ambrose and Gretchen Mol on May 26. Ambrose, who starred last year in Sharon Playhouse’s staged reading of David Adjmi’s comedy “Marie Antoinette,” recently wrapped up the M. Night Shyamalan-produced Apple+ series “Servant” and currently stars in the Emmy-nominated Showtime series “Yellowjackets.” Mol was recently the special guest at The Moviehouse in Millerton, N.Y., for the theatrical release of the Sundance film “Palm Trees and Power Lines.”
Written by Kate Hamill, “Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson” is one of the playwright's many adaptions of classic literature, which have included a feminist revision of Bram Stoker’s "Dracula" and a well-reviewed production of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” with the Bedlam Theater Company in New York City.
“We asked both Lauren Ambrose and Gretchen Mol if they wanted to do a series of readings, and they came back and said they wanted to do something together, which was great fun,” said Carl Andress, The Playhouse’s new artistic director, who will oversee the reading. A producer and director of both stage and screen, Andress, who now lives with his husband in Kent, Conn., is embarking on his first year with The Playhouse, along with Rod Christensen, the new managing director, who had previously been executive director and director of education at TADA! Youth Theater in New York City.
After the reading the team will have to kick into gear as rehearsals begin for the season’s mainstage productions, which include the dueling exclamation points of “Something Rotten! and “Oliver!” along with Thornton Wilder’s classic, “Our Town,” and John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s more recent “The Lifespan of A Fact.” Known talents like Ambrose and Mol aside, it would seem the area has no shortage of would-be thespians to fill the ensembles.
“We were gobsmacked — we saw over 200 people locally between the adult and youth auditions,” Andress said.
Michael Kevin Baldwin returns this year as the associate artistic director and director of education. In addition to heading the Summer Youth Productions, he’s overseeing the 20 young actors, from ages nine to 17, who will inhabit the roles of Fagin’s pickpocketing band of orphans in the stage adaptions of Charles Dickens’s classic novel.
“I have to tip my hat to Michael because he’s training them very, very well at the beginning of their careers, if they want to continue in youth productions, or school productions, or even want to go professional,” Andress said. “I just heard him say at the auditions, ‘Put your hand on your heart and know you’re all talented and you’re all brave for being here because this is not an easy thing to do and it can be scary.”
Baldwin added, “I also told them the personal true story of when I auditioned for ‘Oliver!’ at TriArts [the former incarnation of The Playhouse] when I was 13 and I didn’t get cast.”
Well-known productions like “Our Town” and “Oliver!” — which had a Broadway run, several revivals and a 1963 Best Picture-winning screen adaptation — cater to the Playhouse’s family-friendly and admittedly conservative audience, as Christensen put it, but there's still room for the theater to experiment with more challenging work. “People do love the big razzle-dazzle musicals for sure, the nostalgic go-to’s,” said Christensen. “But there is an appetite for more niche theater, like the production of “A Raisin in The Sun” last year, and perhaps 'The Lifespan Of A Fact' this September will fit the bill.”
Outside of the staged reading, official casting announcements haven’t been made public, but in the meantime, Baldwin could at least tease. “I’ll go on the record and say, as someone who has been involved with The Playhouse for years, this is one of the most exciting seasons of talent that I’ve ever experienced.”