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December 26, 2014
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Something old, something new


It should come as no surprise that I have a great love of the theatre. Although a big fan of the classics, I also find that experiencing new work can be as stimulating as revisiting the tried and true, and this week turned out to be a wonderful example of both.

The Forestburgh Theatre Arts Center (FTAC) is currently continuing its mission to engage new audiences (with an emphasis on students) in plays that have stood the test of time. Last year’s highly successful tour of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” helped spark renewed interest in The Bard, and the FTAC has triumphed (IMHO) once again, with a fresh take on Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”

I was conflicted regarding the concept of the one-act, 80-minute version. Old enough (blessing or curse?) to have actually met Williams before his death in 1983, I consider myself “old school” when it comes to adaptations of the masters, but have more or less surrendered myself to the concept of attracting new fans, regardless of method.

Like many of Williams’ most popular works, “Menagerie” addresses universal themes. Director Dana Martin said, “The struggles of these characters are real and startlingly contemporary, so we are letting our own young voices tell this story in a way that this generation of young people can recognize and understand.”

Open mind in tow, I allowed this new version to wash over me, while keeping a watchful eye on the younger set. I stopped a few of them on the way out. Twelve-year-old Rebecca Bass and 11-year-old Mandra Ranulu were excited after the show, and happy to answer a question or two.

When asked if the play inspired curiosity about Tennessee Williams, the answer was an emphatic “yes!” and both girls indicated that they not only wanted to read the entire play, but would be interested in checking out more of the Williams’ extensive (“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” “A Streetcar named Desire”) catalog. It was then that I grasped that some of the material might have been a little “adult” in nature without the cuts that had been made, and more fully understood the company’s rationale.

Sara and Jaclynn Sorensen (ages 11 and 14, respectively) were also impressed, and had no clue that the play was originally set in a different era, causing me to again appreciate the updating, which enables the youngsters to more readily identify. I left the theatre encouraged that with help from organizations like FTAC, new generations will be exposed to the theatre and discover a love of their own. Bravo!

For something different, I turned my attention to the North American Cultural Laboratory (www.nacl.org) in Highland Lake, NY, with no preconceived notions. The company’s mission, to “create and tour its own original theatre performances, collaborating with an international circle of artists” continues to evolve and “presents a performance season that features work by local and visiting artists.”

Bob Wiseman, a “Juno-nominated Canadian musician, filmmaker, singer-songwriter, and actor” (www.wikipedia.org) took center stage this past weekend, and since I had nothing to base my humble opinion on, I sat back to (hopefully) enjoy the show. Delighted to find Wiseman amusing, engaging and fresh, I was not alone in my appreciation of this accomplished musician’s unique take on the world he inhabits.

Wiseman’s mixture of original songs and conversational repartee with the audience was peppered with his slightly neurotic, self-deprecating views on the music industry, his affiliation with “mainstream” success and a history of flirting with litigation through the years. It was unclear to me how much of the show was improvised or scripted and I found this to be a part of the show’s charm.

Leaving few stones unturned during the hour, Wiseman addresses racism, homophobia, sexism and civil rights with unbridled enthusiasm and humor, entertaining throughout with an affable charm and charisma that I found endearing, while buying into his unique stream-of-consciousness approach which, at times, seemed to be a salute to the non-sequitur. The NACL still has a few tricks up its sleeve for Catskill audiences and I plan to visit the theatre a few more times before the snow falls.

They may be at different ends of the spectrum, but both the FTAC and the NACL are adapting and winning over old and new audiences at the same time and I am happy (join me, won’t you?) to go along for the ride!