hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture June 2018


Oldcastle’s season covers all bases

In 49th year, troupe’s five productions range from contemporary to classic


Anthony J. Ingarciola and Robbi Recigno perform in last year’s production of “Broadway Bound” at Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington. Courtesy photoAnthony J. Ingarciola and Robbi Recigno perform in last year’s production of “Broadway Bound” at Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington. Courtesy photo


Contributing writer


Almost a half-century ago, Eric Peterson and a small group of actor friends sought to leave their mark in the world of theater by looking beyond the bright lights of New York City to rural southwestern Vermont.

They founded Oldcastle Theatre Company, which exists today as a full-fledged professional Equity stage that is now beginning its 49th season.

Peterson, Oldcastle’s co-founder and artistic director, laughed when reminded last month how long he has been at the helm.

“We’ve seen much change and growth and weathered some tough times,” he said.
But Peterson added that Oldcastle, while surviving in a very competitive regional theater scene, has also thrived in giving its audiences “an intimacy hard to find elsewhere.”

The theater’s move to its permanent downtown home seven years ago has allowed it to offer year-round programming in multiple performing arts as well as educational programs and community events.

The theater season itself remains Oldcastle’s crown jewel, however, and this year’s season has a bit of something for everyone: comedy, music, award-winning contemporary plays, and a closing fanfare with a monumental classic.

It also has a logistical tweak to it.
“We’re also going to streamline the performances,” Peterson said. “Each play will run 12 performances instead of 16. We’re trimming a week, but adding Sunday nights. This fits in well with our year-round programming and allows us to run our cornerstone, the theater season, from June to October.”

The five-show lineup is robust:
• June 15-24, “The Almost True and Truly Remarkable Adventures of Israel Potter,” by Joe Bravaco and Larry Rosler, based on a novel by Herman Melville.

Melville’s novel, transformed into a swashbuckling new play, follows Israel as he sets out from a small Berkshires town to the American Revolution, then on to mother England and back again, all while going through life’s many ups and downs.

The cast includes Oldcastle veterans Richard Howe, Christine Decker, and Gary Allan Poe. Poe is also a co-founder of the company, and although he now lives in Connecticut, he still directs and stage-manages at Oldcastle as often as his schedule allows. The play will be directed by Nathan Stith, who recently steered the Oldcastle production of “39 Steps.”

Poe said the move to Oldcastle’s current 140-seat modular stage facility has allowed the company to offer its shows from a closer perspective, enhancing the intimacy of the audience experience.

“The satisfaction of working on the rich variety of plays that we offer never gets old,” Poe said.
• July 13-22, “The Whipping Man,” by Matthew Lopez.

Set in Richmond, Va., in the aftermath of the Civil War, “The Whipping Man” explores themes of redemption and mercy, the national and personal scars of slavery, and the obligations that come with freedom.

The show has been performed nationally in recent years to great acclaim. Its cast will include Herb Parker, who returns to Oldcastle after previously performing in its productions of “I’m Not Rappaport” and “My Children! My Africa!”

“‘The Whipping Man’ is a play we’ve wanted to do for a few seasons,” Peterson said. “Sometimes it’s a challenge getting the programming timed just right.”

But he predicted that audiences will be drawn in by the play’s “timely themes of the human struggle, which never grow old.”

• Aug. 10-19: “The Fourth Wall,” by A. R. Gurney.
This will be Oldcastle’s 10th production of a play by Gurney and is intended to honor the great American playwright, who died in 2017.

The story is a comedy that includes five Cole Porter songs, so both laughter and live music are part of its cachet.

The play will feature Sarah Corey and Amy Hayes, both of whom appeared in last season’s “Broadway Bound,” and David Joseph, who has grown quickly into a fan favorite at Oldcastle. Last year, Joseph earned a Berkshire Theatre Critics Association “Berkie” award for his performance in “Shipwrecked.”

Tim Howard, who recently directed Oldcastle’s musical “Big River,” will direct both acting and music in “The Fourth Wall.”

Corey said that Gurney plays are done “extremely well” at Oldcastle.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to return to Oldcastle regularly for the last several years,” Corey said. “Oldcastle has staged many Gurney plays, and Eric has a deep feel for how these stories, which are sometimes simple on the outside, are such gripping human tales on the inside.”

She added that the Cole Porter classics will “add a whole other dimension to the show.”

• Aug. 31-Sep. 9: “Proof,” by David Auburn.
“Proof” has earned a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a Tony Award for best play. The story involves empathy and compassion as it focuses on young Catherine, a troubled woman who has spent years caring for her brilliant but unstable father, a renowned mathematician.

As she navigates a flourishing romance, Catherine’s discovery of a cryptic notebook has her pondering how much of her father’s insanity -- or brilliance – will become her own. Richard Howe will play Catherine’s double-edged father.

“‘Proof’ is a masterpiece, and there’s no better way to describe it,” Peterson said. “The dialogue is rich with both nuance and passion. To earn the two highest honors for a play in this country is testament to David Auburn’s brilliant writing.”

• Oct. 5-14: “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” by Eugene O’Neill.

The great Tennessee Williams himself once proclaimed that O’Neill was the father of American theater, and many consider “Long Day’s Journey into Night” to be the greatest American play ever written. Its story takes on one day in the life of a tumultuous family.

The cast of this drama will include Nigel Gore, who has graced Oldcastle’s stage the last few seasons in “The Lion in Winter” and “The Ride Down Mount Morgan,” as well as Christine Decker, a company member since 1973, and David Joseph. Decker and Joseph will be taking part in their second show of the 2018 season.

Peterson, who will direct the final play of the season, said this year’s Oldcastle slate was assembled while keeping in mind the context of contemporary American life.

“We’re here to tell stories but also to make sense of the world around us as we see it today,” Peterson said. “Whether it’s a play that will make you laugh, or one that has you tapping your feet to a jazz great, the messages connecting these plays to what is happening around us today are very much there.”


Oldcastle Theatre Company is located 331 Main St. in Bennington. Visit www.oldcastletheatre.org or call (802) 447-0564 for tickets and information.