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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Thoreau or, Return to Walden
By Macey Levin

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
— Henry David Thoreau

David Adkins (Photo by Michael J. Riha-)
At Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre Henry David Thoreau asks the audience "How do you like this world today?" Though this is David Adkins as Thoreau speaking to us from the 1850's, the question is as applicable and unsettling today. At that time the United States was in the midst of the Mexican War and the abolitionist movement to free the South's slaves was roiling the country. Thoreau would be aghast at the world-wide scale of issues involving his beloved country.

In this world premiere, Thoreau is dynamically brought to life by actor Adkins who is also the playwright of Thoreau or, Return to Walden. Smartly directed by Eric Hill this one-man play about the sometimes addled and eccentric philosopher/author is a statement for our time.

Much of the script comes directly from Thoreau's writings including Walden, Civil Disobedience or other pamphlets and broadsides. Adkins, a devotee of Thoreau, incorporates famous aphorisms such as "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life," and "I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude" to set the tone and direction of his musings. But the simplicity he talks about, and lives, is tempered by his remarks triggered by a remarkable and deeply troubling event — the execution of John Brown the famed abolitionist who, along with his six sons and several other followers, attacked the armory at Harpers Ferry , West Virginia.

Thoreau's reflections on the incident lead him to condemn the "Christian government" for not acting in a "Christian" manner. He criticizes the government for condoning slavery through the Fugitive Slave act which required the return of escaped slaves found in the North to the slave owner in the South.

He declares that "Brown is better than us." The average citizen in the South is civil, even courtly, in all his social relations despite having come from beating his slaves and denying them God-given freedom, but Northerners are just as bad for closing their eyes to this hypocrisy. His own state, Massachusetts, has aided and abetted the return of a fugitive slave to Virginia. What stirs Thoreau's soul is the fact that Brown and his followers matter-of-factly put their lives on the line to follow their faith and their humanity.

Government interference in our lives is also broached especially in the subject of taxes. He resents having to pay monies that are used for matters to which he is adamantly opposed. At one point he himself was arrested for refusing to pay and was sent to jail for a night. Released only after his aunt met his obligations, he was not happy.

Though a one-actor play is artificial by its very nature, Adkins brings us into Thoreau's life with charm and insight. His acting is disciplined, even in the most passionate speeches about abolition, governmental failings, social pretense and other controversial issues. The moment when he embodies John Brown's calm rebuttal and redress in the courtroom is absolutely riveting. Abetted by Hill's direction, Adkins utilizes great energy and skill in his performance. Amidst Thoreau's anger and pain we also witness his gentleness and sweet sincerity. It is a pleasure to watch him.

The lighting design by Matthew E. Adelson complements and enhances the Michael J. Riha's set which is simple as well as utilitarian and evocative, like the life Thoreau wanted to live. If you have not known Thoreau, you now have the opportunity to meet this dynamic individualist as beautifully portrayed by David Adkins.
Thoreau or, Return to Walden
Written and performedby David Adkins
Directed by Eric Hill
Set Design: Michael J. Riha
Lighting Design: Matthew E. Adelson
Costume Design: David Murin
Sound Design: J. Hagenbuckle
Stage manager: Peter Durgin
Run Time: 0ne hour and 15 minutes, no intermission
Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge, MA
Previews 6/18 &19/15; opening 6/20/15; closing 7/11/15
Performances: Monday-Thursday at 7:00; Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 (excluding July 4;) Matinees Thursdays and Saturdays at 2:00.
Tickets: $50.00
Reviewed by Macey Levin at June 24th performance
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