On Tuesday, April 28, Barrington Stage Company announced its adjusted 2020 season. It had already cancelled its first play of the season, “The Great Leap” by Lauren Yee, with an announced new opening date of June 18 with the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Anna in the Tropics” by Nilo Cruz back in March. Now everything has changed once again with the bulk of this year’s announced productions currently shifted into 2021. Still, Julianne Boyd’s company, located in Pittsfield, is the only one of the county’s five principal theater companies to make a move to bring live theater back into play this year.
Using one of its three principal performances spaces, the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, for all of its presentations, the company is redesigning the interior of the theater, located at 32 Union St., in order to maintain a socially distanced seating plan. The idea is a simple one. Row A in the orchestra will be moved forward closer to the stage (where the orchestra pit would normally be located), and then starting with Row C, every other row of seats will be removed completely. Row B and the subsequent rows (D through L) will contain only clusters of seats — singles, twosomes and trios — to accommodate groups booking together. So if you come with your spouse, you can still sit next to one another, but there will be gaps between each cluster to continue allowing for social distancing. All audience members will be required to wear masks.
“Essentially, we see this as a very comfortable, slightly larger Stage Two,” said artistic director Boyd in a telephone interview. “It should feel like a big party, very leisurely spaced out. All of the shows we’re doing are in a single act, 80 minutes or so long, so no intermissions, no long lines in the lobby for the bathrooms or the refreshments.” The adjusted theater space will seat approximately 163 people for any performance.
Adding the music from the cancelled mainstage opener “South Pacific” to the season, the plan is to open with the play “Harry Clarke” (August 5-16) by David Cale, starring BSC associate artist Mark H. Dold. The play, starring Billy Crudup, played off-Broadway in 2017 and was scheduled to move to Broadway, but with theaters in New York City shuttered, the engagement was cancelled.
“I loved it when I saw it in New York,” Boyd said. “When the theaters were closed down, I contacted the folks in town about the show and was able to get the rights to do it. I am very excited about this.”
As described online, this is “a sexually charged and wickedly funny one-man thriller . . . the story of a shy midwestern man leading an outrageous double life as the cocky Londoner Harry Clarke. Moving to New York City and presenting himself as an Englishman, he charms his way into a wealthy family’s life as the seductive and precocious Harry, whose increasingly risky and dangerous behavior threatens to undo more than just his persona.”
The company will follow this play with an encore presentation of this past winter’s 10×10 New Play Festival, which sold out its entire run in February. Boyd anticipates most of the original company returning to do the show. It will run September 9-20.
In between will be two cabaret events and a staged reading of a new play by Mark St. Germain, “Eleanor,” concerning Eleanor Roosevelt, played by Harriet Harris, who has already played the role in three other presentations. Eleanor will play for one performance only on Saturday, Sept. 5.
For the cabaret-style events, the first artist anticipated is Marilyn Maye, a perpetual favorite, on Monday, Aug. 24, followed by Ann Hampton Callaway performing “The Linda Ronstadt Songbook” with Billy Stritch at the piano (Aug. 31).
The anticipated full production of this awkward season will be Arthur Miller’s “The Price” directed by Boyd (who also directs “Harry Clarke”). With a cast of four still to be announced, the play will be on stage Oct. 1-18. “The characters are not comfortable with each other,” Boyd reported, “so there won’t be any touching onstage.” Boyd, in a return to the production style of her early days with the company, will direct this play, the David Ives concert edition of “South Pacific,” as well as “Harry Clarke” and half of the one-acts in the 10×10 series. Matthew Penn has staged the other five plays.
Anticipating the 2021 season, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” will be heard in an outdoor setting still to be confirmed Aug. 21-23. “We’re talking to the city about it and we know where we’d like to do it. Everyone at City Hall seems excited, but we have to wait and see if it’s possible,” said Boyd.
She also mentioned the intention of her company and others to work in accord with one another. “We’ve been talking to the people at Berkshire Theatre Group and Shakespeare & Company about how we may be able to keep consistent with policy, offering shows to audiences with the same consideration for social distancing and programming. We are public programming, just like sports and rock concerts and music events; we’re no different. We know the public wants to attend these events, but we have to make sure we can do things with what is now the ‘new normal.’ It will probably be that way for a while, but we hope that by next summer, we can revise that idea and return to a more familiar normal. What we do is expensive to present and we cannot live for long with these restrictions. Still, we owe it to our public to bring them that thrill of live performance. I think it’s really important.”
The Barrington Stage Company box office is open at (413) 236-8888, and for its first day, showed real promise for this unusual and compelling season. For tickets and more information, see the Berkshire Edge calendar.