Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September, 1998

The production of Sam Shepard’s “Simpatico” at the Manic Stage in North Adams is theatre with a capital “T”. Actor/director Spencer Trova and company have mounted a riveting production of a dark and complex play. I say “…and company” because this truly is an ensemble piece, showing what can be done when local talent teams up in the freedom of a new, small theatre.

Shepard is once again concerned with deconstructing the American dream in this 1994 drama. The plot is complex, involving betrayal on all levels. At the heart of the play is the “simpatico” relationship between Carter (Christopher J, Beaulieu) and Vinnie (Spencer Trova). Referred to as a friendship, it is actually a form of bondage based on blackmail and loathing. During the course of the play Vinnie is ascendant in power, while he brings Carter down to rock bottom.

Both Trova and Beaulieu give magnificent performances – so good that it is only mildly troubling that Beaulieu is at least 20 years too young for the role of Carter. They are supported admirably by Bruce T. McDonald as Simms, another player in the scam from long ago that binds these men together. McDonald is absolutely riveting as the man fallen from grace who has accepted his fate.

I wish I had liked the women as well as I liked the men. Not that Stephanie Saunders as the naive Cecelia, nor Deirdre Sullivan as the worldly Rosie, give bad performances by any stretch of the imagination. They are strong and attractive actresses. Perhaps what was unsettling to me was how Shepard wrote the roles, or something in Trova’s direction. Certainly, Shepard is far less interested in his female characters than in the males. They are given less much less time on stage, although both are pivotal to the plot. Elizabeth Johnson Ware handles the small role of Kelly, nanny to Carter and Rosie’s children, with grace.

This is the fourth show of the Manic’s inaugural season, and their third success, which is heartening. The theatre is building a style, a reputation, and a strong core of local theatre talent. Opening night was well attended. While the glitzy local summer venues are shut tight, the Manic intends to continue producing into the fall, with a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” next in line.

There are still hurdles to be vaulted by Manic Stage before their productions reach the truly breathtaking realm of brilliant theatre. While Gordon Hebler’s lighting design is excellent, his set design still doesn’t utilize the Manic’s quirky stage space to its best advantage. A great deal of time is spent between scenes shifting a large and wobbly set piece shaped like a whale’s tail fluke, and there is way too much black in the sets and costumes. But this is all part of the process of creating theatre. The Manic is learning what kinds of shows work well for their actors and their space, and how to best utilize the strengths and weaknesses of both.

Buy your ticket in full knowledge that “Simpatico” is a play in three acts that runs a full three hours with two intermissions. It is too long and too complex for young children, although teenaged theatre buffs will enjoy it.

“Simpatico” runs through October 5th at the Manic Stage at Zoies on Main, 55 Main Street in North Adams. On Thursday nights North Adams residents “pay what you can”. Call 662-2828 for tickets and information. A dinner and theatre package is also available.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 1998

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