THEATER REVIEW: “Kunstler” @ Barrington Stage [Berkshire on Stage]

Jeff McCarthy as William Kunstler (photo: Carol Rosegg)
Jeff McCarthy as William Kunstler (photo: Carol Rosegg)

Review by Barbara Waldinger

KUNSTLER: A showman’s portrayal of a showman

In this year of political unrest, Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield has elected to open their 2017 season with the story of William Kunstler, the renowned radical lawyer and civil rights activist. Jeff McCarthy, a longtime Associate Artist with Barrington Stage who plays Kunstler, describes him in a WAMC-FM interview as a “wild and woolly character” accused of being a “showboater and a grandstander.” In fact, Kunstler himself acknowledged: “I’ve been accused of being a showman, to which I plead guilty.” His aim was to use his notoriety to attract attention to his clients’ causes. McCarthy, in a perfect blend of physicality and verbal dexterity, resurrects the colorful Kunstler in body and spirit.

Produced by Saratoga Springs-based the Creative Place International/AND Theater Company, Kunstler was first performed at the Hudson Stage Company in 2013, followed by a sold-out run at 59E59th, and will go on to a national tour with Jeff McCarthy in 2018/19.

More than two decades after his death, the subject of the play still provokes conversation and controversy, in which BSC does not shrink from taking part. Playwright Jeffrey Sweet appeared at the theater to discuss the process of writing Kunstler in a talk-back following the May 20 evening performance. On June 3, Karin Kunstler will engage in Barrington’s “Conversations With” series, delivering an “Up-Close Portrait” of her father. It’s a family industry: two other daughters, Emily and Sarah Kunstler, have produced a documentary about their father titled, “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” screened at Sundance in 2009.

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