Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Stone Witch
Berkshire Theatre Group
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of The Invisible Hand and Midsummer (a play with songs)


Judd Hirsch and Rupak Ginn
Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware
Berkshire Theatre Group presents a challenging and sometimes hard to decipher production of The Stone Witch, a world premiere on its Fitzpatrick Stage through August 20th. Director Steve Zuckerman and playwright Shem Bitterman have collaborated before. The talented actor Judd Hirsch has been aboard for some early readings of this play and is fully a pivotal part of the process.

Peter Chandler (Rupak Ginn) is a youthful writer who has idolized children's story author Simon Grindberg (Hirsch). Chandler is trying to find a way to have his own book published and initially asks publishing house editor Claire Forlorni (Kristin Griffith) about prospects. She immediately tosses a literary carrot (and some potential cash) at the younger man by explaining that Simon has been struggling to complete a book for more than a decade—and really could use an assist.

A worn cabin (set designer Yael Pardess' genuinely evocative interior) a couple of hours from New York City is where Simon, in pajamas and bathrobe, attempts to maintain equilibrium. The place includes an old sofa, various posters, chairs, desks, etc. Look around and you, too, will think: Maurice Sendak. During the first day, Simon rebuffs his wannabe helper, then, from time to time, accepts him. As the 90-minute play's layers are revealed, it becomes obvious that Grindberg no longer has a firm grasp of reality. One moment he is present, the next afflicted within some stage of dementia. Peter Chandler remains frustrated with his own quest for publication.

Simon mentions that he has a daughter; a bit later he refutes that notion. Pardess and projections designer Rasean Davonte Johnson and their associate Michael Commendatore have created larger-than-life drawings which appear above the stage. Additionally, and in startling fashion, the production on more than one occasion opens to surreal visuals. Others who must receive credit for exemplary, sometimes arresting production elements include composer Roger Bellon, sound designer Christopher Cronin, and lighting designer Shawn E. Boyle. The thunder and lightning sequence, for example, is galvanic.

It is Peter who attempts to get his "The Stone Witch" into print while Simon labors on and on with his own work. Some of the text written for this play congeals, but other portions, unfortunately, do not fully connect. Every so often, the attractive Clair reappears. She is a woman is who has been and is unafraid to sidle up to men of varying ages.

Hirsch (think about plays like I'm Not Rappaport or cinema's Ordinary People, or television's "Taxi") tries his best with his character but, for the most part, Simon is a man with whom it is difficult to sympathize. Peter is a striver caught in a conundrum. One pulls for him and hopes he will forge his way or at least make some progress.

Some scenes are more successful than others. There's a fairly outrageous bit where the two men race around to the rear of the stage, at one juncture, wearing little as they're about to dive into some unseen frigid waters.

It is rewarding to see Judd Hirsch on stage in the Berkshires. At the age of 81 he still carries plenty of chops, as they say, as an actor. This show, partly intriguing and partly in need of further attention, demands much of him. It's a tough vehicle. Kristin Griffith does a fine job with the predictable Claire and it is Rupak Ginn, as Chandler, who scores many deserved points with his depiction.

The Stone Witch is a new play and therefore evolving. We will stay tuned.

The Stone Witch continues on the Fitzpatrick Main Stage as part of the Berkshire Theatre Group season in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through August 20th, 2016. For tickets, call (413) 997-4444 or visit www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.org.


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