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Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA

The Approach by Mark O'Rowe. Directed by Mark Farrell and Tina Packer. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.

"It's nice to have a bit of a moan!"

        "The Approach," Shakespeare and Company's season opener, is an eye and ear opener for sure, but does it touch the heart. . .that is the question. It deals with three women who share a history that is never truly explored, and it deals with the result of gossip among them, principally about one of them and in its first three scenes it moves them through a four-year period of time. They meet in pairs at a streetside coffee shop on Grafton Street in Dublin. They never drink any coffee though their cups are there, planted in front of them. They discuss old friends and acquaintances, funerals and such. They chat about their love affairs and the occasional local shop. They talk. They talk. They talk. There is an ultimate point to their incessant talking and that point is oddly resolved in the third scene, and it should end the play. Instead, somehow, the play is hit by a rewind button and the first scene is replayed but to what point I cannot commit. It was confusing and out of step with the naturalness of what preceded it. Perhaps it is the approach, an acknowledgement that what is natural and real is not actually the answer to the problems at hand. If that is the playwright's aim, then to hell with the playwright. 

        On Jim Youngerman's beautifully conceived and painted set one can almost accept the absurdity that is the play as presented. He is well abetted by light designer Katie Ward and costume designer Govane Lohbauer. On the three-quarter thrust stage in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre the audience approaches the table where these women meet to share their secrets and their knowledge. Their idle gossip and sharing opens a foreign world for us and the show uses this intimacy between them to bring us into their worlds and their lives in those spaces they inhabit. The camaraderie is special, and it is a joy to be able to share it. But as each scene approaches the next one and as time flies by between them we begin to realize that our ability to approach them in their solitary space and their intentions of approaching one another may not lead to satisfactory results. It is frustrating at best. It is self-defeating at the worst. 

Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Michelle Joyner;

Photo: Dan Rader

        Michelle Joyner as Anna is a joy to behold. Pretty, graceful, with an exuberance that comes across perfectly, her Anna has woes and addresses them with a combination of wisdom and annoiyance. Her friend Cora, handsomely played by Nicole Ansari, is agreeable and also capable of cajoling information out of rocks and other dead things. She is the chronicler of life around her and she doesn't care who knows it. Ansari is wonderful to watch as she negotiates the pain each of her friends has suffered. She does well with Cora - poor Cora. 

Michelle Joyner, Nicola Ansari;

Photo: Dan Rader

Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Michelle Joyner; Photo: Dan Rader

        Denise, Anna's sister, is the principal topic of Cora and Anna's discussions. Elizabeth Aspenlieder plays this role, one of her finest in several years, and her final scene with Joyner is the first real approach the play gives us to a realization of the problem that has controlled the play from the start: Denise's relationship with Anna's boyfriend. Aspenlieder plays this sort of role beautifully and her work in this play is no exception. Still forthright as she has been with Cora in the previous scene there is a mystery in scene three that is never solved and we, as passive audience, may never approach it. Resolution in the case of the two sisters leaves open holes that might have been filled in a true scene four, but the author has not given us that; instead, he just starts the play over from the beginning leaving us, as well as his characters, with no actual approach to the realities of these two women and their lives. I'm afraid that nothing the two talented directors, Mark Farrell and Tina Packer, could have done would solve the problem without compelling the author to find a new approach to this story. It is very disappointing.
+  05/15/2022 + 

The Approach plays in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA through May 29. For information and tickets go to www.shakespeare.org or call the box office at 413-637-3353.