“What We May Be,” a World Premiere Gentle Exploration of Theatrical Expression

The first time a reader speaks out loud a writer’s dialogue written in character that somehow mysteriously works within the reader who makes emotional, empathic connections and is able to reveal a truth he or she has not yet spoken, you are witnessing the birth of an actor. Sanford Meisner said that “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Many are attracted to the theatre for this reason, the Capital Region has over 60 theatrical producing companies.

The title of this play is taken from Hamlet when Ophelia says in Act IV: “Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be.” “What We May Be” a backstage comedy by Kathleen Clark being given its World Premiere by Berkshire Theatre Group takes a look at the emotional and temperamental resources necessary to act. It takes a look at the emotional and temperamental resources necessary to act.

Carla Duren, Penny Fuller and Dee Hoty in BTG’s production of What We May
Photo by Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

In the play, The Hill Little Theatre of Hill, NJ is celebrating their 50th anniversary with a command performance of an evening of one-acts but there is bad news on the horizon. Their building’s owner is evicting them from their home. “Has he no soul?” “He’s a landlord, not a politician.” Tonight, to get the show on, they simply need to rouse their leading lady Lucinda (played by the invaluably energetic Emmy winning and Tony-nominated Penny Fuller) who stars in every one-act. She’s either asleep or drunk but one mention of Joan (the terrific three-time Tony nominated Dee Hoty) knowing all the lines and blocking of Lucinda’s parts and the main attraction is up and leading a circle breathing exercise ending with an exhortation “BE Where You Are!!”

The four one-acts deal with different aspects of artistic expression. They are vignettes about a new pair of glasses, a writer’s conference, a home health aide interview and a Creative Writing class. Expanding your imagination to see yourself and others in a new way, empowering yourself to take command of your creative voice, working your sympathetic and generous impulses and just showing up and putting the hours of work in.

Carson Elrod and Penny Fuller in BTG’s production of What We May Be.
Photo by Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

If this were an evening of just the one-acts, there wouldn’t be enough substance to make an evening and the framing device of the Hill Little Theatre feels artificial. The librarian is burning to do a contemporary play like “The Children’s Hour”?!? Although I did love Carla Duren’s performance and her line about her intent: “I’ll produce it, direct it act in it and provide the space in the library for it. I’m the Head Librarian!” This struck me as true. The D.I.Y. spirit is definitely alive in local theater. I didn’t feel there was a great deal at stake for any of the characters and it struck me as peculiar that this fire was felt for this 85-year-old play. I acknowledge the life-changing, transformative power of theater but this evening seemed less than engaged with the world around it.

The performances are uniformly terrific and I have favorite moments from all of them. Returning to the Berkshires Carson Elrod charms once again especially at an Anchorage writer’s conference discovering aspects of his mother he never knew, Count Stovall drawing Lucinda out post-performance Samantha Hill as an overly caffeinated writing student doing great non-verbal expressions, Dee Hoty as her Creative Writing teacher who is quitting before class begins yet miraculously and convincingly is reawakened by Penny Fuller’s Tennessee mother’s reading of her memoir. The cast thankfully does not play an idea of what a community theater troupe might be. They are an excellent company.

Carson Elrod, Penny Fuller and Count Stovall in BTG’s production of What We May Be
Photo by Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

There’s a ghost light on when you enter the Fitzpatrick Main Stage. Ghost lights are single standing unadorned lit bulbs that provide illumination for anyone who stumbles into a darkened theatre but are also superstitiously thought to ward off malevolent spirits in the house.  Stage left there are red and black curtains, Stage right you can see a backstage area exposed to the back wall and a staircase leading below. The backstage wall has unused windows, flats from previous shows and various light fixtures and chandeliers hanging unlit. The nifty set design is by Randall Parsons, lighting by Alan C. Edwards. The direction by four-time Tony nominee Gregg Edelman is accomplished. He keeping things moving, clear and uses all areas of the stage to appealing effect.

Fitzpatrick Main Stage thru 8/31
Tickets: www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.org

Dee Hoty, Penny Fuller, and Samantha Hill in BTG’s production of What We May Be.
Photo by Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

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