Dorset Theatre Festival Closes The 2022 Season in Triumph with Its Remarkable World Première of “Thirst”

 David Mason and Kathy McCafferty in THIRST at the Dorset Theatre Festival. Photos by Joey Moro

by Shelley A. Sackett

Arriving early for “Thirst,” playwright Ronán Noone’s dazzling new play, is a stroke of good ole Irish luck. A crisp sound system pumps toe-tapping traditional pub music, setting a jig-worthy mood. Functional period lamps bathe the livable kitchen set in warmth, creating a cozy tone for arguably the best theatrical experience of the 2022 summer season.

By the time the Irish lilted announcements herald the play’s start, the audience has been transported to another time and another place.

And what a time and place it is.

Noone sets “Thirst” in the kitchen of the Tyrone family’s seaside Connecticut home on the August day in 1912 when Eugene O’Neill’s classic tragedy, “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” takes place. [Although familiarity with that play is not a prerequisite to “getting” ‘Thirst,’ Noone sprinkles his script with delicious breadcrumbs for those who have tasted the original to follow.]

While the Tyrones spend the day destroying themselves and each other offstage in their toile-wallpapered dining room, their cook, kitchen maid and chauffer spend theirs in the kitchen, sitting around the table together, enjoying their privacy and relative freedom while performing their demeaning menial duties. Their individual posts may have led them to this quasi-family-by-default situation, but they are genuine in their interactions. They bicker, they laugh, they tease and they worry. But they do it together, and it comes from their hearts. They genuinely need and enjoy each other’s company.

Each brings a different, but similar, back story to the mix.

Bridget Conroy emigrated from Ireland 16 years ago to become the Tyrone’s cook. Her outer shell is brittle and cynical, but she saves her harshest criticism and reproach for herself, especially for her closeted alcoholism. Yet, the only time she emerges from her carapace is when she’s juiced enough to black out the shame and regrets that poison her every sober breath and thought. Only then can she express — and admit to — the love and need she has for Jack.

Meg Hennessy, McCafferty

For his part, Jack Smythe, a local native and the Tyrone’s chauffeur, grew up poor in this place that is playground to the spoiled rich. He yearns to leave his hometown with its paper trail witnessing his past transgressions and finally, as he approaches middle age, set out to secure his independence and happiness.

Last, but hardly least, is the winsome new arrival, Cathleen Mullen, Bridget’s 18-year-old niece who miraculously survived her trip over on the ill-fated Titanic. She is feisty and blindly optimistic, determined to climb the golden ladder of American success.

These three flawed characters bring real troubles and equally real compassion to their shared  table. Bridget was banished from her home after giving birth at age 16; that birth is only thing she has done in her life that she’s proud of, in spite of its personal cost. Like the penitent sinner she believes herself to be, she dutifully sends money and a letter to her family every week. In 16 years, she has received not even a postcard in return. Although she loved the beach in Ireland, she won’t go to the sea just down the street, either because it makes her too homesick or because she must deny herself all pleasure as penance for her sin, or — most likely — both.

Jack was a drunk, so far gone he couldn’t face his wife’s illness and death and even missed her funeral, when Bridget found him in the street and, like a sick stray, took him home and nursed him back to physical and spiritual health. In return, Jack is determined to offer her the same life raft and save her from a life of self-pity and recrimination — a life he knows too well — not because he owes her, but because he loves her.

Cathleen’s bubble is burst when, shortly after arriving in America, she receives a letter from her fiancé announcing he is ditching her for a woman with property. She’s more annoyed and humiliated than heartbroken. Young, ambitious and resilient, she naively throws herself behind a ditzy plan to become the next “it” girl on Broadway.

These three have more in common than their woes, regrets and heartbreaks. They are survivors and they share a determination to live, no matter the consequences. They also really care about each other. Noone, with his well-tuned ear and light touch, pens robust yet sleek dialogue that tackles a lot of big ticket topics (shame, redemption, assimilation, discrimination to name a few) while staying grounded in the here and now of these three individuals and their intertwined daily lives.

By Ronán Noone Directed by Theresa Rebeck, Scenic Design: CHRISTOPHER & JUSTIN SWADER, Costume Design: FABIAN FIDEL AGUILAR, Lighting Design: MARY ELLEN STEBBINS, Sound Design: FITZ PATTON, Stage Manager: AVERY TRUNKO

Rebeck’s direction is economical, efficient and effective, and she lets each actor spread their wings and breathe life and individuality into their characters. They inhale, they exhale, they react, interact and bring each other lightness and laughter. Kathy McCafferty, as Bridget, is a whirling dervish of anger and productivity, and the kitchen is her made-to-order stage. She cooks (making real scrambled eggs over a real range), scrubs, arranges, rearranges and throws pots and pans, all while letting fly mouthfuls of rapid-fire heavily accented lines.

David Mason brings a lanky self confidence and Kevin Costner-esque genuineness to his Jack. He is a regular, decent guy who made a mistake, acknowledges it and just wants a shot at the brass ring with the girl of his dreams — nothing more, but nothing less.

Rounding out the trio is the lithesome and impossibly creamy-skinned (think yogurt, not heavy cream) Meg Hennessy as the vivacious Cathleen. She brings comic timing, physicality and a gift for facial mood changes that are as talented as they are entertaining.

If there is a flaw, it is that the women’s accented rapid-fire delivery is often muffled or lost, a shame (and annoyance) considering the richness of Noone’s craftmanship. A little microphone could go a long way.

That aside, there are too many positives to give them all justice. Mary Ellen Stebbins’ lighting paints the day’s passing with a sun shape shifting across the kitchen walls. Fitz Patton makes optimum use of a terrific sound system. And Christopher and Justin Swader’s set design, with its punctuating swinging back door, adds more than a mere scenic element — it is an escape route from all the Tyrone kitchen represents to a world of fresh air and fresh starts.

That door swings both ways. Jack and Bridget, after two plus hours, finally manage to cross over the threshold to the land of hope and promise. And Cathleen? Only time — and perhaps a sequel — will tell.

‘Thirst’ — Written by Ronán Noone. Directed by Theresa Rebeck; Scenic Design by Christopher and Justin Swader; Sound Design by Fitz Patton; Lighting Design by Mary Ellen Stebbins, Costume Design by Fabian Fidel Aguilar. Presented by Dorset Theatre Festival, Dorset, Vermont. The run has ended.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Grand Horizons’ Asks, “After 50 Years of Marriage, What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Cast of Gloucester Stage’s ‘Grand Horizons’

by Shelley A. Sackett

Nancy and Bill (played by real life spouses and stellar actors Paula Plum and Richard Snee) are introduced in their cookie cutter split level house as they go about their chores preparing for dinner. Silently and robotically, they perform their choreographed rituals. Bill sets the table; Nancy dishes out the food. Is this a couple so in sync after so many years that they don’t need to talk or is each seething with rancor just below their calm demeanor?

Finally, Nancy speaks. “I think I would like a divorce,” she says matter-of-factly. “All right,” Bill responds.

With all the subtlety of a network TV sitcom, their thirty-something sons, Ben (Jeremy Belize) and Brian (Greg Maraio) burst through the front door of their Grand Horizons independent-living home, outraged and sputtering about their parents’ obligation to stay together for the sake of the kids, especially since they’re almost dead anyway. “You’re almost 80. How much else even is there?” asks the stereotypical and bossy first-born Ben. Brian, the self-absorbed, whiny, indulged “baby,” just wants the nest he grew up in and never really left to remain intact.

Paula Plum, Greg Maraio, Richard Snee

Nancy, a retired librarian, has other ideas. After a loveless marriage, she feels like time is running out. “I want to be seen, praised and appreciated,” she says. She also wants to change the role she plays with her sons from their caregiver to adult peer. “You have to hear this,” she tells a resistant Brian as she reveals details of her intimate life he would rather not hear. “I will be a full person to you.”

For his part, Bill just wants to tell a decent joke and to that end has enrolled in a comedy class at the recreation center. A grump with questionable timing, his future as a stand up comic is less than assured.

Paula Plum, Greg Maraio

The remainder of the two hour (including intermission) production examines what happens to this family when its foundation cracks. The sons rant, rave and pout in a cardboard two-dimensional orbit. Ben’s wife, Jess (Marissa Stewart), a caricature of a touchy-feely therapist, urges her in-laws, who were never physically close, to begin the healing by holding hands. The “kids” prefer their la-la land of denial to facing the mature realities and responsibilities of adulthood. Their parents’ actions are a shot across the bow of their own lives they are unable to appreciate.

Nancy and Bill are written with more complexity and their calm acceptance and assessment of life’s vicissitudes is a welcome respite from the slapstick, hit-or-miss dirty jokes and gratuitous gay romp scene. Plum’s comedic physicality is understated (the sandwich scene is a knockout) and her verbal timing and intonation are, as always, impeccable. Snee brings a relaxed and easy calm to Richard, letting his softer and more vulnerable side quietly seep through his hardened, gruff exterior.

Snee, Plum

It is through them that Wohl asks the big ticket questions she wants us to consider: What is a “great” marriage? When (if ever) does a couple’s duty to sacrifice their own happiness and stay together for the sake of their kids shift? At what point do parents have a responsibility to treat their children like the adults they are and force them to grow up and stand on their own two feet? Is it ever too late to shift gears and change the course of a life-long marriage?

And, perhaps most important, what exactly is love?

Although the play at times seems to wander in search of its genre, Wohl’s underlying messages, the terrific Plum and Snee and a killer ending to Act I save the day.  For tickets and information, go to:

Written by Bess Wohl; Directed by Robert Walsh; Scenic Design by Jenna McFarland Lord; Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl; Lighting Design by Anshuman Bhatia; Sound Design by Dewey Dellay. Presented by Gloucester Stage through August 21.

‘Private Lives’ a Classy Production of Classic Summer Fare at DTF


Rachel Pickup and Shawn Fagan in Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES. Photo by Joey Moro

Reviewed by Shelley A. Sackett

Nothing welcomes light summery breezes like a witty Nöel Coward comedy of manners, and the Dorset Theatre Festival is spot on in its choice of the timeless ‘Private Lives’ to open its 42nd season. “We believe ‘the play’s the thing’ here at Dorset, and this is one of the most fabulous plays of all times- full of wit and sophisticatedly funny. Coward captures the universal humor that sometimes ensues once we lose our minds by falling in love,” said Artistic Director Dina Janis by email.

The plot is deceptively simple. Divorced spouses Elyot (Shawn Fagan) and Amanda (the sublime and worth-the-price-of-admission Rachel Pickup) have remarried and are honeymooning with their respective new spouses, Sybil (Anna Crivelli) and Victor (Hudson Oz). By the divine intervention of Coward’s wicked imagination, they end up in adjacent rooms on the night they are each to start their new lives. When they see each other across their shared balcony’s hedge, the sparks fly and they impulsively flee their hapless new partners to resume what they have idealized as their romantic destiny.



Rachel Pickup, Shawn Fagan, Anna Crivelli, and Hudson Oz in Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES. Photo by Joey Moro


Back at Amanda’s posh Paris apartment, their fiery passion predictably devolves from love to the same incendiary anger from whose ashes desire was restored. Couches practically take flight, ashtrays become bullets and words are poison darts, aimed with years of practiced marksmanship to draw maximum blood. Think Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ or as their tabloid selves (they actually played these roles in 1983 at New York’s Lunt-Fontanne Theater), and you get the picture.

Their aggrieved new spouses track them down, and the hit-and-miss slapstick ensues. By the curtain’s fall, the pendulum has swung back and forth so many times for Amanda and Elyot that it becomes clear they really are meant for each other. Anyone else would have been bedridden with a bad case of vertigo ages ago; these two enfants terribles are not only still standing, but actually relish the prospect of round three.

The production’s shining stars are two: Rachel Pickup as Amanda and Lee Savage’s gorgeous Art Deco sets. Ms. Pickup gives a Broadway-caliber performance (where, coincidentally, she recently appeared at the St. James in Coward’s “Present Laughter” with Kevin Kline). The impossibly willowy actress is all comedic physicality and glamor, delivering her lines and gestures with surgical precision. Hers is not your average summer theater performance and it is as welcome as it is mesmerizing.



Anna Crivelli, Shawn Fagan, Hudson Oz, and Rachel Pickup in Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES. Photo by Joey Moro


Equally astonishing are the period sets Mr. Savage manages to create in rural Vermont; these too are Broadway worthy. The hotel terraces in Act One are as stunning as they are humorous in their mirror images of floor to ceiling blue draperies and wrought iron balustrades. The details of Act Two’s Paris flat are like a ‘Where’s Waldo” for the audience, complete with Victrola, piano, fainting couch and polar bear skin rug. Asked what was the biggest challenge in mounting this production, Ms. Janis replied without hesitation, “Making the Deco Period come to life on our budget!” Clearly, she succeeded.

Although the second act drags and the rest of the cast pales compared to Ms. Pickup, the production is a theatrical icon whose appeal is as timeless as pink champagne. “The play really gives it all to us, with its sparkling language and the collision of its characters, completely recognizable to a contemporary audience for their passion and for their capacity for selfishness, obstinance and even cruelty,” Director Evan Yionoulis said by email. One can almost hear Nöel Coward whispering, “Touché, darling. Touché.”

‘Private Lives’ – Written by Nöel Coward. Directed by Evan Yionoulis; Set Design: Lee Savage. Lighting Design: Donald Holder. Costume Design: Katherine B. Roth. Sound Design: Jane Shaw. Fight Choreographer: BH Barry.

Through July 6 at Dorset Playhouse, 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vt. For more information, visit or call 802-867-2223.



It’s a Family Affair: “Days of Atonement” Is an Emotional Roller Coaster


DOA_Ramona Alexander, Dana Stern and Jackie Davis

(L-R): Ramona Alexander,as Fanny, Dana Stern, as Amira, and Jackie Davis, as Malka,​ and Dana Stern (behind as Amira) reunite at last in “Days of Atonement.” (Courtesy Paul Marotta/Israeli Sta​ge)​


By Shelley A. Sackett, Journal Correspondent


“Days of Atonement”, Mizrachi (Arab-Jewish) Israeli playwright Hanna Azoulay Hasfari’s lean, emotionally-charged drama, explores the thorny and complex landscape of family dynamics against the backdrop of preparing for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, when only after woman has sought forgiveness from her fellow woman is she permitted to seek forgiveness from God.


In this case, the women who will atone and repent are three half-Moroccan, half-Israeli sisters who return to their childhood home in the Israeli city of Netivot — established by Moroccan and Tunisian immigrants in the 1950s —after their youngest sister Amira (Dana Stern) summons them to help locate their mother, who has disappeared. Estranged for decades, their reconnection will be fraught with friction.


The four Ohana sisters are a pallette of religious, ethnic and generational identities. The only Sabra, Amira is in her early 20s and attends film school in Tel Aviv. She sashays about in the stifling summer heat in spandex underwear, to the shock of older sister Evelyn, 44, (Adrianne Krstansky), who in turn is ultra-Orthodox from her dress to her life-threatening ninth pregnancy.


Fanny (Ramona Lisa Alexander), late 30s, is an assimilated, feisty, successful realtor whose teenage pregnancy got her thrown out of the house. The oldest, Malka (Jackie Davis) is a miserable busybody homemaker who was forced into an arranged marriage after Fanny shamed the family name.


Amira suffers panic attacks and is in danger of flunking out of school. Evelyn’s identity is so wrapped up in motherhood that she refuses the abortion that may save her life. Fanny tries to fill the hole left by the son she gave up for adoption by buying a Vietnamese baby and Malka obsesses over her husband’s imagined infidelities, mirroring their mother’s toxic behavior towards their father.


DOA_Ramona Alexander

​Jackie Davis, ​left ​as Malka, and Dana Stern, as Amira. share a quiet, calm moment. (Courtesy Paul Marotta/Israeli Sta​ge)


If it’s hard to believe they grew up under the same roof with the same parents, that is precisely the point Azoulay Hasfari is trying to make. Driving it home with a reunion triggered by a search for the mother each experienced through different multi-cultural lenses makes for brilliant theater.


Over the course of the day, the four sisters take turns laying bare their souls. “It’s Yom Kippur. No time for games,” Malka says without a hint of irony. As they inventory their transgressions and expose the hidden pain they silently cope with, the sisters ride an emotional roller coaster, lurching from hostility to love, from shame to humor.


We hear four sides to every childhood event, all (except Amira’s) also stories of immigrants and the hardships they faced as outsiders. Ultimately, though, politics are irrelevant to the sisters’ universal story of family and the female perspective.


The production is theater at its finest. Guy Ben-Aharon’s direction is minimalist; he wisely lets Azoulay Hasfari’s crisp script carry the load. Even props are token: all except three benches and a camcorder are mimed. The acting across the board is stellar, each sister unique, consistent and believable.


Highly recommended.


“Days of Atonement” is at the Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street through June 25. For more information or to buy tickets, visit

Scottsboro: Where Boys Will Be Good Ole Boys

“Scottsboro Boys” at the SpeakEasy Theatre: a Review

By Shelley A. Sackett



There is a tipping point moment about an hour into the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s sparkling and disturbing vaudeville-style musical, “The Scottsboro Boys”.


Wade Wright, attorney for the Prosecution, gives his summation at the second trial of the Scottsboro Nine, as the nine African-American boys and men falsely accused of raping two white women on an Alabama train in 1931 became known. Their accuser has just recanted her entire testimony in open court. Samuel Leibowitz, a white Jewish New York criminal lawyer, is their defense attorney.


Wright decides to tap into another form of bigotry to win his now baseless case. “Is justice in this case going to be bought and sold in Alabama with Jew money from New York?” he sings to the all white jury in a song based on actual court transcripts.


The white jurors find the nine guilty and it takes two decades of re-trials and appeals (including two to the U.S. Supreme Court which resulted in landmark civil rights rulings) to reverse that injustice. Those cases exposed the dark underbelly of this nation’s racism and the continuing challenge of reeling in the deep South and its ingrained ways, even half a century after the end of the Civil War.


Most songwriters wouldn’t look to Jim Crow-era Alabama and this shocking incident for the subject matter of a musical. But John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, whose resume includes the prickly blockbusters “Cabaret”, “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” and “Chicago”, have never looked to the usual suspects for inspiration. They have relished the edgy and subversive, and the opportunity to expose one of American history’s most shameful episodes of racial injustice was just their cup of tea.


Creating an entertaining show from such weighty raw material was a challenge. In an unconventional and daring move, they decided to tell the story of the Scottsboro Boys as a play within a play. The audience is to pretend they are attending an old-time minstrel show. The subject of that show is the Scottsboro nine.


The conceit miraculously works. The play’s characters appear as Stepin Fetchit archetypes, cartoonish characters that are arm’s length enough to give the audience moral breathing room to laugh at the blustering sheriffs, duplicitous damsels and singing and dancing inmates. Simultaneously, discomfort hits, and the same audience cringes at the racist caricatures and demeaning blackface meant to debase blacks and sentimentalize slavery. It takes a little while, but eventually the message sinks in: the same people who made black anguish and white injustice the heart and soul of America’s most popular form of entertainment also created a world with the kind of unwritten law that the Scottsboro jury upheld.



Members of “The Scottsboro Boys” cast in “Shout”.


At slightly under two intermission-less hours, the production showcases a zesty score of dark, barbed lyrics and ragtime-infused music. The opening number, “Hey, Hey, Hey”, introduces us to the characters and acts as a primer about how minstrel shows work (which is a good thing, since most 21st century theatergoers are unfamiliar with the 150-year-old format). The audience is told to expect song, dance and comic sketches, and that’s exactly what they get, complete with tambourines and white-gloved open palmed hand flapping. The musical numbers pay homage to Dixie Depression-era style with a perfect blend of reeds, trombone, guitar and drums. Somewhere, Al Jolson’s spirit is smiling.


Director Paul Daigneault and choreographer Ilyse Robbins make the most of the compact stage, using the aisles and minimal set to creative advantage. Several numbers (especially “Electric Chair” and “Make Friends with the Truth”) are real showstoppers and Isaiah Reynolds is nothing short of flawless as Ruby Bates in “Never Too Late”.



Brandon G. Green (left) and Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Tambo and Bones.


While mostly faithful to the minstrel form, “The Scottsboro Boys” departs from it in ways significant to the storytelling. The recognizable stock minstrel characters of Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo (usually white men in black face playing black stereotypes) are black men playing cartoonish racist white law enforcement officers and lawyers. Most importantly, the Scottsboro nine are never reduced to shtick or buffoonery. Their story is serious and their words are honest, raising the specter of lynching, fear and despair.


While each of the Scottsboro boys has his story and chance to shine, it is Haywood Patterson (played with grace and authority by De’lon Grant) who is the moral center of the show. He refuses to tell a lie, even when his false admission to a crime could mean his freedom. His part (and Grant’s delivery) is the show’s most lifelike, his dilemma the most universal. “Everyone believes me when I’m telling a lie, but nobody believes me when I’m telling the truth,” he laments.


De’Lon Grant in “Shadow Play”.


Despite a catchy score that combines jazz, gospel and vaudeville and entertaining musical numbers that mix the comic and the monstrous, the show manages to make its critical and timely point. “You’re guilty because of the way you look,” a character is told, and the murmur in the audience brought to mind contemporary refrains of “Build A Wall!” “Black Lives Matter” and “Bad Hombre”. Perhaps things haven’t changed as much since the 1930’s as we would like to think they have.


The Scottsboro Boys is presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company through November 26 at the Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavillion, Boston Center for the Arts at 527 Tremont Street. For more information, call 617-933-8600 or visit