Launching a theater company in the midst of a pandemic might seem like a crazy idea, but to Jim Frangione, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“You know what they say about theater,” Frangione says with a laugh. “Expect the unexpected.”
Although Great Barrington Public Theater — which he launched with cofounder and executive director Deann Simmons Halper — is producing its first full, in-person season this summer (it hosted short, filmed productions in 2020 and one production in 2019), Frangione is a well-known actor, director, playwright, and artistic director, having worked on Cape Cod, in Boston, the Berkshires, and Gloucester (where his play “Flight of the Monarch” was staged in 2017). For the past decade, he was cofounding director of Berkshire Playwrights’ Lab, staging readings of works in development at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.
“A leadership change at Bard College at Simon’s Rock led to an interest in community engagement,” says Frangione. “With access to two beautiful performance spaces on the college campus” — the 300-seat MConnell Theater and the 100-seat Liebowitz black box — “this has become our breakout year. We are just renting the spaces, but we’d love to have more of a partnership going forward.”
Great Barrington Public Theater’s season culminates with “The Christopher Boy’s Communion” (through Aug. 8, tickets: $30-$40, www.greatbarringtonpublictheater.org), with Frangione directing the East Coast premiere of the newest work by playwright, director, and screenwriter David Mamet. Although it seems surprising that Mamet, who often directs his own work, would turn over his new play to a nascent theater company, he says he didn’t hesitate.
“When I hand my work over to someone else, my choices are limited to getting out of town or gnashing my teeth,” Mamet said via e-mail. “In Jim’s case, I am out of town and had I been in town, no gnashing would have been necessary, as he is a superb director.”
“Dave has been a mentor to me for years,” says Frangione, who has appeared in many of Mamet’s films and plays. “I first met him when he lived in Boston and I was running the Stage Company of Boston back in the ’80s.”
“Jim and I have worked together in every media,” wrote Mamet, “including the mounting, some 30 years ago of ‘Sketches of War,’ at the Colonial [Theatre in Boston], a benefit for the establishment of the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, in which production [Jim] was instrumental.”
The one-night-only event in 1988 included such stars as Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Michael J. Fox, William H. Macy, and many others reciting poems and scenes from plays around the theme of soldiers and veterans.
“The Christopher Boy’s Communion” focuses on a much more intimate story of a mother who goes to extreme lengths to prevent her son from going to jail for a brutal murder. Set in the apartment of a wealthy Catholic couple, the mother confronts several people to enlist their help defending her son.
When asked if this character’s single-minded determination made her unsympathetic, Mamet said, “I don’t know that she’s not sympathetic. I think if we polled our acquaintances, we would find, I believe, that most have sold (or in the case of Jews, ‘leased’) their souls to the devil.”
Mamet’s interest in characters who bargain with the devil, or struggle to conform to society’s sense of morality, recurs in nearly all his work, with his Faustian characters placed in different settings. Best known for his staccato dialogue, Mamet hews closely to Aristotle’s “Poetics” for the shape of his plays. Mamet says Aristotle “(real name Abromowitz) is the guide to dramatic structure. One may avoid his dicta under various heads, including Invention, desecration, and laziness, but one does so at one’s peril.”
On your feet for ’Romeo and Juliet’
Apollinaire Theatre Company, whose free outdoor productions in Chelsea’s PORT Park have been summer must-sees, is taking its show to the streets this year for three performances Aug. 14, 21, and 28.
“Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare’s classic tale of family rivalries and star-crossed lovers, will be staged in the streets and parks, by the fountain in Chelsea Square, and in the windows of the Chelsea Theatre Works. The audience will move around with the cast of 25 in a production that is not only immersive but bilingual (English/Spanish), in a production mounted in partnership with Teatro Chelsea and the City of Chelsea.
The evening begins at 6 p.m. with live music, street performances, and craft brews at the pop-up BearMoose beer garden on Winnisimmet Street by the Chelsea Theatre Works. Guests are encouraged to enjoy dinner via takeout or delivery from Chelsea restaurants. The play begins at 7:45 p.m. and lasts about 90 minutes.
Composer Demetrius Fuller will perform original music with Nate Fuller and Emi Nishida under the direction of award-winning sound designer/music director David Reiffel. “Romeo and Juliet” marks Reiffel’s 25th show with Apollinaire, which opens just a week after the final performance of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of “The Tempest,” which also features his original music.
For more information, go to www.apollinairetheatre.com.
What’s in those ‘7 Rooms’?
The always inventive Flat Earth Theatre Company has gathered local playwrights, directors, and actors for “7 Rooms: The Masque of the Red Death.” This immersive, virtual theater experience is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, but features glimpses of “isolation, connection, moral dilemmas, humor, humanity, and hope” realized through seven short new plays by Sari Boren, Hortense Gerardo, Gabriel Graetz, MJ Halberstadt, Michal Lin, Cliff Odle, and Kelly Smith.
In Poe’s story, Prince Prospero tries to avoid the plague outside by hiding in his abbey. In this theater experience, audiences choose their own adventure by using Zoom to peer through seven different windows into seven fully staged plays. The individual plays are united by the host of the evening, Prospero (Juliet Bowler).
The live Zoom production will be available Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays through Aug. 15. Tickets are pay-what-you-can. To reserve a ticket, go to https://sevenroomsmasque.com.
Summer L. Williams to make N.Y. debut
Elliot Norton Award-winning director Summer L. Williams, the cofounder and associate artistic director of Company One Theatre, will make her New York directing debut at the Vineyard Theatre Feb. 3-March 13, 2022. Williams will direct the world premiere of “sandblasted” by Charly Evon Simpson, which was the recipient of the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award in 2019. The play is described as a “deeply stirring, funny, theatrically daring story of waiting and hoping, time and healing.” The production marks the company’s return to its Union Square space. It is a co-production with WP Theatre.
Terry Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.