by Macey Levin
For the adventurous theatregoer, artistic directors, Jeffrey Mousseau and Paul Ricciardi, have created bold and provocative theatre experiences at the Ancram Opera House in Ancram, New York. Their programming is varied including full-length productions, acting and writing workshops, readings of off-beat materials, They also sponsor community-member involvement occasionally focusing on schoolchildren in presentations similar to the Moth Radio Hour. The company also produces the delightful concept of The Plein Air Plays.
This program consists of three one-act plays presented at three different outdoor locations, including a cemetery. The plays are often premieres by proven authors, and the directors employ local and visiting artists. This summer’s offerings are a mixture of introspective and cryptic monologues, as well as a poignant two-hander.
The first play, Made in Pakistan by Mukta Phatak, takes place on the spacious grounds of Ancram Town hall where the space is framed by trees and sky. The actor Abuzar Farrukh has appeared in Berkshire area theatres including Ancram’s production of Invasion last season which won a Berkshire Theatre Critics award for best ensemble. He re-enacts various situations that have built his life. As a Pakistani-American, his character is a football (soccer) coach of a young girl’s team. His family in Pakistan hand-makes footballs, an art which he demonstrates all the while providing a back story to his life and situation.
Farrukh charms the audience with his charismatic smile. The play requires that he change tones in a moment which he does seamlessly. Phatak’s play in this actor’s hands is compelling. Director Ricciardi keeps the pace moving through several melancholy moments. It is probably the first play in which an actor leaves the playing area in a golf cart.
Summer by Barbara Wiechmann focuses on an older married couple sitting in wicker chairs in a sunlit meadow on a perfect summer’s day. Bird calls and setting sun complete a late afternoon idyll, with Lillian (Martina Deignan) reading as Walter (Glenn Barrett) dozes. What starts as a pleasant conversation devolves into her list of complaints regarding his attitude toward her sisters and then their marriage. Bickering turns into pointed accusations that culminate in an unexpected conclusion. Director Jeffrey Mousseau creates empathy for both people as they review their relationship against a bucolic backdrop which acts as a counterpoint to their various dissatisfactions. The beauty of the setting underscores the futility and waste of reliving an irreparable past.
Giving Up The Ghosts, written and performed by Salty Brine, takes place in Ancram’s Strever Burial Ground that dates back to the 19th century. He is a gravedigger who entertains the audience with jokes, one-liners, songs accompanied by guitarist Will Lawrence, and a tour of the cemetery. Visiting many of the tombstones, he seems to divine the cause of death of each “resident” from choking on a chicken bone to syphilis. Brine’s gravedigger displays his multiple talents as he questions the paths of his life. He is a likable and goofy outsider with philosophical insights and it would seem to have an ability to speak to the dead. This, too, has an unforeseen ending.
The Plein Air Plays are an enchanting example of a small theatre with high goals that are consistently achieved. This venue is a perfect summer experience of the art of storytelling.
The Plein Air Plays: Made in Pakistan by Mukta Phatak; Director: Paul Ricciardi; Cast: Abuzar Farrukh; Stage Manager: Vanessa Baer; Summer by Barbara Wiechman; Director: Jeffrey Mousseau; Cast: Glenn Barrett (Walter) Martina Deignan (Lillian); Stage Manager: Hannah Schiffer; Giving Up The Ghosts written and performed by Salty Brine; Will Lawrence (Guitarist at performance seen); Stage Manager: Raphael Elmasri; Costume Designer: Jaysen Engel;
Running time: one hour forty minutes including travel time; 8/11/23–8/20/23, ancramoperahouse.org; 518-329-0114