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A CurtainUp Review
Berkshire Village Idiot

by Les Gutman

South Side Cafe in the Theater District

It is said that Berkshire Village is the only town Robert frost ever passed through without being inspired to write a poem.
---Michael Isaac Connor

Michael Isaac Connor
Michael Isaac Connor
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

At one point in this autobiographical solo play, Michael Connor compares his relationship with his father, Robert, to that of two magnets, their like poles repelling one another. It's an apt simile, fitfully played out until, ultimately and predictably, events pull the two opposing ends into alignment.

The time is the seventies, although it could be almost any time, as the teen-aged son resents the seeming abandonment of his military father and, even more perhaps, the nature of the man after his return home from Thailand. Some (though certainly not all) of the tension is spawned by Robert's ardent conservationist bent with respect to the local pond, which puts him at odds with many of the townspeople.

The permutations of the father/teen son relationship have been explored on stage, in film and in literature innumerable times, and one waits for this version to break out of the mold. It doesn't. There's never a payoff for an undertaking that asks us to wait patiently as a town-load of characters and a psychiatrist's notebook full of teen angst are delineated.

An actor as well as stand-up comic, Connor plys his crafts vigorously, aided by Barry Edelstein's expansive direction. He tells stories, acting out many through the now-familiar style of multiple character impersonation. But far too many of his characters are stock caricatures (the Irish catholic priest; the creaky, opinionated grandmother; and a couple of party hearty relatives) who lack authenticity. (His father is an exception.) An ability to do impressions does not a show make, however, and we quickly tire of the exercise.

Similarly, Connor's joke-making often has a canned quality, making one wonder what came first, the jokes or the stories. ("Hey Mike," father announces, "it's a woodpecker. You can tell... she has splinters in her tail" follows shortly after the one about Bangkok. You know the one.) At other times, Connor seems to be inexplicably glib in his aphorisms. ("Life in a small town shrink wraps your brain.")

Full use is made of Derek McLane's nicely shabby set (much of which seems to be in a gas station, even though little is made of it) as well as the theater's aisles and stairs. Russell H. Champa provides lighting which is far more intrusive than it needs to be.

The bio for one of the shows's producers says she first heard Connor telling these stories over ten years ago at Thanksgiving, at which time the other guests told him "You've got to write this stuff down." Which teaches us one of two things: either that one should take comments made at dinner with a grain of salt, or that what makes great dinner conversation doesn't necessarily make great theater.

Berkshire Village Idiot
Written and performed by Michael Isaac Connor
Directed by Barry Edelstein
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Russell H. Champa
Sound Design: John Gromada
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Zipper Theatre, 336 West 37th Street (8/9 Avs)
Telephone: (212) 239-6200
TUES - SAT @8, SAT @2, SUN @3 and 7:30; $50
Opening September 7, 2003, no closing announced
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 9/4/03 performance

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