Take “The Approach” to a Most Promising New Berkshire Season of Theater

I’ve always felt that the theatrical experience begins the moment you enter the building and the theater-makers have many opportunities to start weaving their spell before a line of dialogue is spoken. When we entered the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Shakespeare & Co campus for the first time in years, we stopped and chatted with old friends (some we had not seen in person in months or over a year) and quickly caught each other up on the sad news of the season-illness, family estrangements and deaths before taking our seats to join the U.S. live premiere performance of Mark O’Rowe’s “The Approach.”

Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Michelle Joyner – Photography by Daniel Rader

What follows are four two-hander scenes between three women who were once inseparably close but are working to become reacquainted after separation. The opening scene finds the Irish women Cora (Nicole Ansari) and Anna (Michelle Joyner) sharing a cup of coffee on Grafton Street in Dublin beautifully rendered in a gray, shadowy backdrop by the artist Jim Youngerman. All four scenes will take place at this same café table with a pair of women and their untouched coffee cups. The conversation is the point here.

Cora and Anna are catching up after time apart and are fumbling through the awkwardness of intimate friends getting reacquainted. O’Rowe, who is known for plays with more masculine menace has set off some depth charges which detonate early in the play, the story of a young woman’s suicide and Anna’s estrangement from her sister Denise (Elizabeth Aspenlieder), the third character in the play. Our ears are pricked and we are riveted by the life or death consequences spilling out over this genteel afternoon setting. The mortal consequences of life’s daily decisions are rendered starkly in this brilliant play.

Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Michelle Joyner – Photography by Daniel Rader

Of course, it’s all in the playing of the three phenomenal actors working here. The only action is talk, no one leaves their seat except to exit a scene, and yet the fear, venom, solicitation, and rapprochement are so vivid due to the deep inner work and trust of the three women on stage and their co-directors Tina Packer and Mark Farrell. Sunday’s performance was only their third public performance and it is amazing how natural, quick, and bursting with the life they are. 

The play has numerous streams scheduled but it would be a shame to miss out on the performance in the theater where you make your approach to friends and strangers before the script begins. Another bonus, there are numerous talkbacks scheduled through the course of the run and this play will inspire many questions and conversation. 

Michelle Joyner and Nicole Ansari – Photography by Daniel Rader

Through 5/29 at Shakespeare & Company

Tickets: www.Shakespeare.org

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