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The Bard, Picasso Make The Berkshires A Worthy Trip03:24
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Leia Espericueta and John Douglas Thompson appear in Shakespeare & Company's "Richard III." (Courtesy)
Leia Espericueta and John Douglas Thompson appear in Shakespeare & Company's "Richard III." (Courtesy)

If you’re headed out to the Berkshires this weekend there’s still a wealth of cultural events to choose from, even though the Boston Symphony Orchestra has pulled up stakes.

In fact, Tanglewood is still going strong with the annual Labor Day Tanglewood Jazz Festival weekend. The festival features, among other attractions, a Radio DeLuxe set of American standards by guitarist John Pizzarelli and his family, with special guest Jane Monheit. Pizzarelli and Monheit are exquisite jazz stylists. It’s hard to tell with Pizzarelli, like Louis Armstrong, where his instrument ends and his vocals begin.

Also in Lenox, Shakespeare & Company is still going strong — particularly with the company’s namesake — performing “Richard III,” “The Winter’s Tale” and Tina Packer’s explication of the Bard’s female characters, “Women of Will.” This is Tony Simotes’s first season as artistic director, but Shakespeare & Company continues to feature performances that can turn a Shakespearephobe into a Shakespeare lover. That’s particularly true of the lead actors in each of the productions – John Douglas Thompson as Richard, Jonathan Epstein as the Othello-like King of Sicily in “The Winter’s Tale” and Packer and Nigel Gore in “Women Of Will.”

Maureen Anderman is Agnes in Berkshire Theatre Festival's "A Delicate Balance." (Jaime Davidson for Berkshire Theatre)
Maureen Anderman is Agnes in Berkshire Theatre Festival's "A Delicate Balance." (Jaime Davidson for Berkshire Theatre)

The company’s contemporary plays are more of a mixed bag. “Mengelberg and Mahler” doesn’t do enough with Dutch conductor William Mengelberg’s alleged collusion with the Nazis. Joan Ackermann juggles a ball or two too many in “The Taster,” a time-shifting play within a play about the translator of a play concerning a king’s taster, which is really the heart of the production. It’s about learning to “taste” the finer things of life, but despite some fine acting and Packer’s direction, I can’t say I was terribly moved.

Also this weekend, Elizabeth Aspenlieder reprises her fine Elliot Norton Award-winning performance in Theresa Rebeck’s “Bad Dates” and Kristin Wold and Walton Wilson are excellent in Gardner McKay’s — of “Adventures in Paradise” fame — “Sea Marks.” The love story between an urban woman and rough-edged man of the sea makes up for a sentimental side with smart, insightful writing and spot-on acting.

But if you’re looking for something without any trace of sentimentality, then the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge is the place for you. One Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright is directing another in a production of Edward Albee’s scabrous 1966 play, “A Delicate Balance.” David Auburn and the superb cast — including Maureen Anderman, Lisa Emery and Keir Dullea — capture all of the terror and humor of a play in which, once again, Albee strips each of the characters of their illusions. It’s a great production. On the smaller Stockbridge stage, Shrewsbury’s own William Donnelly is having a world premiere production of “No Wake."

It’s also worth taking a trip to Williamstown for the Clark Art Institute's illuminating exhibit, “Picasso Looks at Degas.” In terms of number of paintings it’s a relatively small show, but it makes you see both the impressionist Degas and the modernist master Picasso in a different light.

This program aired on September 3, 2010.

Ed Siegel Twitter Critic-At-Large
Now retired and contributing as a critic-at-large, Ed Siegel was the editor of The ARTery.

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