CARS HOMES JOBS

Review: Classic whodunit tale gets stellar, innovative update at Berkshire

Sunday, August 4, 2013
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— A common complaint by those who run theaters is diminishing audience size. The sheer amount of time spent by theater companies on how to get audiences to watch their shows would baffle the minds of people not involved on the production end of theater.

‘The Cat and the Canary’

WHERE: Berkshire Theatre Group, 6 East Street, Stockbridge, Mass.

WHEN: Through Aug. 24

HOW MUCH: $45

MORE INFO: (413) 997-4444, www.berkshiretheatregroup.org

A major problem is that, in this day and age, entertainment has changed. It’s much easier for people to get their entertainment at home or even on the go, on one of their myriad devices than to actually go out and watch live theater. How to get tech-savvy and possibly world-weary people to sit in a theater and watch actors perform for them?

Put on an innovative, creative, outside-of-the-box show like Berkshire Theatre Group’s “The Cat and the Canary.”

At first glance, it seems like it wouldn’t be a modern audience-pleaser: It’s a mystery first presented in the 1920s, with all the common tropes: the locked-door aspect, the ingénue, a mysterious house, a creepy servant who pops up when you’re least expecting her. But in the able hands of director Ethan Heard and with the stunning and often surprising set design of Reid Thompson, the show goes from potentially boring to absolutely stellar.

The long-lost heirs of Cyrus West are assembled at his mansion 20 years after his death for a reading of his will. Whoever inherits his mansion and his money has to prove they’re not insane, as West was worried about the family tendency toward insanity. Once the will is read, strange things start happening. An escaped mental patient is on the loose, one of the people in the house disappears, and the housekeeper predicts death for one of the assembled. But how much of it is really happening, and how much of it is possibly due to the insanity in the West family line?

Heard chose to direct the show in a winking, campy way, yet never strayed into over-the-top territory. It’s noir, and it’s a classic whodunit, but it’s updated for our flashier, shorter-attention-span day and age. To add to the experience, he’s assembled a stage crew in costume and character, all dressed like hollow-eyed ghosts in servant attire, who both usher the patrons in and change the sets while adding to the atmosphere.

The actors — a young, talented group, mostly Yale School of Drama acting students — worked well as a group and were able to pull off the tone that Heard was going for without a single hitch. Special kudos to Ariana Venturi as the housekeeper, Mrs. Underwood. In a cast this talented, it’s hard to single someone out, but her snarky facial expressions, reminiscent of Mary Lynn Rajskub at her finest, had the audience in gales of laughter — a feat she was able to accomplish sometimes only by stepping onto the stage.

It’s seldom you see theater this creative and this dedicated to crafting a night of entertainment so fully rounded. This is well-worth your time, on many levels. It’s an excellent whodunit, it’s beautifully acted, costumed, and set designed, and it’s a hilarious night of theater.

 
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