Two women-led companies are performing this month in unlikely but appropriate venues. The Berkshire Actors Theatre makes its debut, on a claustrophobic little stage above the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, with a farce about the incestuous world of Hollywood back-stabbing. And Pauline Productions performs a Civil War comedy in an outdoor setting that could well be a corner of one of that conflict's battlefields.
Shiloh Rules looks at the mainly male world of Civil War reenactors from the women's vantage point. While the boys in blue and gray restage the old battles, the women, in petticoats and mob caps, stay mostly behind the lines tending the faux-wounded. The play revolves around a reenactment held on the very site of the bloody 1862 Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, now a national park.
Director Jeannine Haas' first stroke of inspiration for her splendid production was staging the piece at Three Sisters Sanctuary, Richard Richardson's unique stone sculpture garden, which itself, like Shiloh National Park, is a memorial to the dead. And she's peopled the sanctuary's rustic amphitheater with a stellar all-woman cast.
Tina Padgett and Lily Kaufman are a hoot as young recruits to the reenactment obsession, striving gamely to keep track of all the "Shiloh rules" that demand immersion in their adopted historical personas. Sue Tracy and Su Hoyle are equally appealing as the girls' mentors, dedicated veterans of many a mock North/South skirmish—Tracy an uncompromising stickler for authenticity, Hoyle a mysterious, unreconstructed champion of the rebel cause. Susan Duncan is amusingly exasperated as the African-American park ranger for whom the war games are vaguely insulting and majorly silly. And Jen Wall anchors the piece as a Mother Courage figure, plying both sides of the battlefield with souvenirs for sale.
Doris Baizley's play is very, very funny, especially early on, but doesn't let us forget that war is no game. In this vastly entertaining and no less thought-provoking production, make-believe bleeds into real life, laughter into reflection, and before the play is over, some real blood is shed.
Aug. 19-21, 26-28, Three Sisters Sanctuary, 188 Cape St. (Rt. 112), Goshen, (413) 268-3850, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Four Dogs and a Bone, playwright John Patrick Shanley, who's also been around the block in Hollywood, takes a swift satirical bite out of Tinseltown's egos and intrigues. The bone of contention here is a movie production, with four interested parties sinking their canines into it: two actresses itching for more prominent roles, the producer who wants to cut it and his budget, and the screenwriter who's trying to keep his baby from being mauled.
Clover Bell-Devaney's Berkshire Actors Theatre, a new player in the region, gets off to a promising start with this dog-eat-dog show. The engaging and energetic four-person ensemble includes Valley-based actor Daniel Popowich as the ulcerated producer, Michael J. Foster as the already-cynical novice writer, Bell-Devaney as the scheming starlet, and Deann Halper, particularly memorable as the terminally jaded veteran grasping at her last chance for leading-lady status.
Aug. 17-21, New Stage Performing Arts Center, 55 North St., Pittsfield. 413-347-9849, www.berkshireactorstheatre.org.