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


Arts & Culture May 2019


Broadway to Bennington

Oldcastle Theatre sets stage for new ‘transitional’ season


Sarah Corey and Peter Langstaff perform in Oldcastle Theatre’s 2018 production of A.R. Gurney’s “Fourth Wall.”Erika Floriani photo/courtesy Oldcastle Theatre Company

Sarah Corey and Peter Langstaff perform in Oldcastle Theatre’s 2018 production of A.R. Gurney’s “Fourth Wall.”Erika Floriani photo/courtesy Oldcastle Theatre Company


Contributing writer


It was the early 1970s when Eric Peterson and a handful of his actor friends left the shadow of Broadway’s bright lights to pursue the dream of their own Equity stage in rural Vermont.
Although their creative desire burned brightly, none of them could have imagined that nearly 50 years later, the result of their ambition and risk taking would still be around and thriving – and on the cusp of taking title to a permanent home in the center of downtown Bennington.

Oldcastle Theatre Company is preparing to open its 48th professional season on June 7, just as a major downtown redevelopment project is set to kick off around it. As part of what’s known as the Putnam block project, Oldcastle is in the process of buying the 331 Main St. building where it has operated since 2012.

Peterson is still in his role as the company’s founding artistic and producing director, and he never seems to slow down. One of the longest serving artistic directors in the nation, he speaks of the new season with the passion of an undergraduate, but he maintains the veteran eye of an actor and director who never takes the next show, the season, or even the space that houses him for granted.

“We are blessed to have moved to downtown Bennington when we did a number of years ago,” Peterson said.

Oldcastle’s move downtown has allowed it to begin offering performing arts programming in various disciplines as well as educational and community events year-round. But the summer and fall theater season, Peterson said, “is still very much at the heart of Oldcastle’s identity.”
The 2019 lineup will consist of four plays instead of five, each with 16-day runs covering three weekends. The move to four shows, Peterson explained, “is indicative of 2019 being a transitional year.”

The four productions cover a wide range.
• June 7-23: “Red” by John Logan, directed by Eric Peterson.
Logan’s play brought home a Tony award for Best Play in 2010. It tells the story of master abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko receiving the biggest commission in the history of modern art: a series of murals for New York’s famed Four Seasons Restaurant.

Rothko, who will be played by longtime Oldcastle favorite Peter Langstaff, works zealously with his young assistant, Ken, in his studio on the Bowery.

But when Ken, played by Brendan McGrady, gains the self-assurance to confront Rothko with his past values, thus branding him a sellout, the master faces the tormenting reality that his so-called crowning achievement could also be his undoing.

“Almost a decade after its Tony award, ‘Red’ continues to be in high demand at playhouses globally,” Peterson said. “We put together a dynamic team on stage with Langstaff and McGrady. This take on ‘Red’ will be special because of those two actors.”

• July 12-28: “Brighton Beach Memoirs” by Neil Simon, directed by Nathan Stith.
This semi-autobiographical play is Simon’s first installment in what has become known as the Eugene trilogy, the other two being “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound,” the latter of which Oldcastle staged in 2017. In 1983, “Brighton Beach Memoirs” scored a resounding win of the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play.

Eugene is a 15-year-old in opposite-gender hormonal overdrive and obsessed with the Yankees. He’s a future writer, a confounded yet insightful observer of life, and the audience’s tour guide in this funny yet poignant journey with the Jerome family.

It’s 1937 in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the Jeromes have relatives living with them in crowded, testy and trying living conditions. The family faces sickness, joblessness, poverty, deep antipathies and events foreshadowing the onset of World War II. But they always seem to muddle through with laughter, chutzpah and resolve.

“This is the play where Neil Simon proved he wasn’t only funny but also a serious and complex writer,” Peterson said. “Nathan Stith is the right director to flesh that out with the talented actors we have coming in.”

Cast so far in the play are the beloved Oldcastle veteran Sarah Corey and young Anthony Ingargiola, both of whom appeared in “Broadway Bound” two seasons ago.
• Aug. 16-Sept. 1: “Judevine” by David Budbill, directed by Eric Peterson.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that “Judevine” might be the most beloved play ever seen by Oldcastle audiences, and it’s back for another go, this time its fourth.

The show has seen 65 performances in 34 states and uses an acting ensemble of variable size, from six to a dozen or more. Through a sequence of interconnected scenes, the actors portray two dozen characters in the northern Vermont town of Judevine, a poverty-stricken, rural hamlet not unlike a Third World country within the boundaries of the United States. It’s a place of incredible physical beauty, great misery and adversity and a dogged determination to survive.
Oldcastle’s associate artistic director Richard Howe has appeared in all of its past productions of “Judevine,” the most recent being 15 years ago, and will appear in this one too.

“We love this play, our audience loves this play, and theaters, like libraries, exist to make available artistic treasures,” Howe said. “‘Judevine’ is exactly that.”
Peterson likewise noted the play’s enduring effect on local audiences.

“Year after year, I’m stopped in the street, the grocery store, you name it,” Peterson said. “The question is always the same: ‘When are you bringing back ‘Judevine’? Well, here we are with number four.”
• Oct. 4-20: “Water, Water Everywhere” by Eric Peterson, directed by Eric Peterson.
Peterson’s newest play is set in a fictional Vermont small town named Walloomsac, where a factory has been spewing perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, into the air. The contamination has built up over the years in the community’s groundwater and soil.

Although that story resembles what actually did happen in North Bennington and nearby Hoosick Falls, N.Y., Peterson cautions that the play is a work of fiction, not a documentary.
“It certainly was inspired by what occurred locally,” Peterson said. But he explained that plot elements have been added to make the story a mystery and to focus on the many people affected by the contaminated water.

Much of the play revolves around a local newspaper that’s facing a difficult financial situation and is in danger of closing. Two young reporters team up with a veteran editor to bring the story to their readers.

The cast of seven, along with Howe, will include another Oldcastle stalwart, the company’s education director and longtime actor, Christine Decker.

Nigel Gore and Christine Decker appear in last year’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Erika Floriani photo/courtesy Oldcastle Theatre Co.


Nigel Gore and Christine Decker appear in last year’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Erika Floriani photo/courtesy Oldcastle Theatre Co

Peterson said he has followed the story of PFOA contamination as it unfolded over the past several years through stories in the local daily paper, the Bennington Banner, and the online news site VTDigger.
“The ideas for the play,” Peterson explained, “came to me daily with every report written by Jim Therrien,” a Banner journalist who has covered the Berkshires and southwestern Vermont for the past two decades.

Anthony Marro, the president of Oldcastle’s board of directors, is himself a retired journalist — a former top editor at Newsday, the Long Island daily that won a series of Pulitzer Prizes under his leadership in the 1980s and ’90s.

Marro, a Vermont native who had his first newspaper job at the Rutland Herald, said that after 47 seasons as a tenant, Oldcastle is ready to have full control of its own space. The theater group previously was based at Southern Vermont College and later at the former Bennington Center for the Arts before moving to its Main Street location, a former Knights of Columbus hall that was owned for years by the Greenberg family.

“The purchase of the building comes at a time when Oldcastle is transforming itself into a year-round Bennington performing arts center,” Marro said. “The plan is to become a vital part of the restoration and revitalization of the historic center of downtown, making the stage at 331 Main St. a new public square for the community.”


For more information or tickets to Oldcastle Theater Company shows, visit www.oldcastletheatre.org or call (802) 447-0564.