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Theater: A Bear And A Rembrandt Walk Into A Room…

Michael Burnet directs two charming one-acts for the inaugural season of Pythagoras Theatre Works. Photo: Jeremy D. Goodwin.

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Do we need more theater here in the Rural Intelligence region?

When you have access to the sort of talent that the brand-new Pythagoras Theatre Works does, and you can benefit from the vision of its very-clever founders, we say: bring it on.

This newly hatched troupe is in the midst of a six-week run, performing a charming pair of one-act adaptations — from Edith Wharton’s short story “The Rembrandt” and Anton Chekhov’s play “The Bear.” (The latter is given the subtitle “of the Berkshires.”)

The thoroughly winning, original adaptations come courtesy of Michael Burnet, the troupe’s producing artistic director. He also directed both pieces, and appears onstage near the conclusion of “The Rembrandt,” walking a fine line between menace and bon homie in the increasingly tense final scene.

Burnet, actress (and spouse) Jamie Greenland, and Chuck Schwager — president of the Boston-based Polaris Healthcare Services, former Shakespeare & Company board member, and actor himself — founded the company. (Greenland is tailor made for the role of a fetching niece who is too charming to be denied in “The Rembrandt,” while Schwager stomps around as the oblivious but vulnerable “bear” in the Chekov.)

Robert Biggs and Michael Burnet in “The Rembrandt.” Photo by Michelle Barclay.

The whole enterprise feels almost like a community service. For one thing, it draws visitors into West Stockbridge’s old town hall, which was built in 1854 but has been searching for permanent relevance since the town moved its administrative offices to newer digs. (The West Stockbridge Historical Society owns it now, and is donating the rehearsal and performance space to Pythagoras.) But it’s also a chance to see some very good, regionally based talent in action, in an informal setting where the high standard of the material would come almost as a surprise to someone unfamiliar with the sorts of not-so-hidden gems that shine so brightly around here.

Burnet came to the area in the 1990s when Shakespeare & Company cast him for a few roles right out of college, and put him up at The Mount. “There’s no better thing,” he says, seated outside the No. 6 Depot just around the corner from the old town hall. “I guess I could have been cast in a film, that might have been maybe ‘better’ in a way, but this was so magical.”

Not so long ago he was a near-ubiquitous creative presence at S&Co., stewarding the company’s free, outdoor programing (known as the Bankside Festival) and also leading actor training workshops in stage combat and clown(ing). Along with leading the cast of “The Servant of Two Masters” and writing pre-show Preludes like “The Two Tight Pants of King John,” he collaborated with composer Bill Barclay in 2007 on “The Mad Pirate and the Mermaid,” his first original full-length play (actually a musical) to be produced.

Robert Biggs and Jamie Greeland in “The Rembrandt.” Photo by Michelle Barclay.

He and Greenland, who married in 2010, rent a house in West Stockbridge and have lived mostly between the Berkshires and New York City the past few years, as Greenland, when not acting or readying for a graduate program in archeology at Columbia University, spearheaded the effort to get formal nonprofit recognition for the new enterprise.

These days Burnet is kept busy most often with his freelance gigs producing huge events for corporate clients. A symposium at San Francisco’s AT&T Park for Adobe, and another that featured a performance by the Black Keys, are particular highlights of that work, he says.

So it’s a pleasure to see him onstage again, but moreover, putting his creative muscle behind the whole thing. It’s a fully grassroots operation; he greets patrons dressed nattily in a seersucker suit and blue bow tie, while Greenland is in all her petticoated, period glory as she takes tickets.

Actress Diane Prusha, whose many memorable local roles include the smash hit “Enchanted April” at S&Co., is featured in both plays. Robert Biggs, whose inimitable way of mixing humor and pathos has been seen in his original play “The Dick and the Rose,” seems completely at home in the Wharton piece as an ethically conflicted curator. Scott Renzoni, another S&Co. alum, rounds out the cast and finds unexpected comedy in “The Bear (of the Berkshires).” Local resident and Juilliard alum Jonah Taylor composed music for the full program and performs it live, on cello.

For Burnet, his day job will continue to take him all over the country, but this theatrical double-bill is the perfect way to give back to his adopted home.

“I love the Berkshires,” he says, gesturing toward some nearby hills with enthusiasm. “It feels like an artistic home.”

Bears and all.

“The Bear (of the Berkshires)” and “The Rembrandt”
Pythagoras Theatre Works
At West Stockbridge 1854 Town Hall
Through August 17



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Posted by Jeremy D. Goodwin on 07/21/14 at 10:55 PM • Permalink