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Review: THE APPROACH at Shakespeare & Company

A seemingly "little" Irish play with oh so much under the surface.

Review: THE APPROACH at Shakespeare & Company

Shakespeare & Company's 45th season opening play is clearly not one of the 200 or so better or lesser-known works of the bard, THE APPROACH by Mark O'Rowe, was published in 2018. Given that S & Co.'s production is one of the first for the piece in the United States I, and quite likely you as well, knew nothing of what I was told would be a "little Irish play".

Promotional material for THE APPROACH bill the play as: "A play about being human, an exploration of betrayal, and an appeal to listen before it's too late, The Approach follows the story of Anna, Cora, and Denise as they converse over coffee about their shared childhoods and burgeoning middle-age, with much left unspoken." One goes in expecting: "A play about being human, an exploration of betrayal, and an appeal to listen before it's too late, The Approach follows the story of Anna, Cora, and Denise as they converse over coffee about their shared childhoods and burgeoning middle-age, with much left unspoken."

Review: THE APPROACH at Shakespeare & Company
Michelle Joyner, Nicole Ansari;
Photo: Dan Rader

The 90-minute production is presented without intermission at S & Co.'s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre and I will be honest, when the stage darkened signaling the end of the presentation, I found my inner voice asking, "what the heck just happened"? I had watched three Irish women sitting around drinking fictitious coffee, chatting. Bantering back and forth about who did what to whom and when. All along, I thought where's the message, the ah-ha moment where the playwright tells us what we, the audience, need to know? In listening to other audience members chatting as they exited, as well as participating in a talk-back with the ensemble cast featuring Nicole Ansari, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, and Michelle Joyner and co-directors Mark Farrell and Tina Packer; I found the answer. What on the surface appears to be a lovely "little Irish play", performed near flawlessly by three talented actors is one of the most powerful and deeply profound pieces of black box theatre I have seen in many years. I am not a theatrical scholar so I can't say for sure if THE APPROACH meets the criteria for existentialism but, one audience member likened the play to WAITING FOR GODOT. I and several others nodded our heads in total and enthusiastic agreement.

We learned that playwright Mark O'Rowe provides the dialogue and very little else in the way of characters and / or stage direction. That the cast worked diligently and efficiently in learning their lines as well as delivering them with proper accents thanks to the assistance of their dialogue coach. When the group came together for a mere two weeks or so of rehearsal, directors Farrell and Packer challenged them to get inside the characters they were playing. As a group they developed back stories for each of the characters as well as how and why they interact with one another allowing them to determine both how and why they are motivated to say the words in O'Rowe's rather vague and ambiguous piece. At the talk back one audience member marveled at the fact that the teams work at presenting the piece and its characters with such strength and depth with little to go on, with such ease, comfort, and plausibility with so little preparation time. The entire room of impressed audience members responded with yet another enthusiastic round of applause. I asked co-director, Mark Farrell about the title of the play and he responded that Merriam Webster's dictionary provides the following definition of the term approach: "to draw closer to".

Berkshire theatre goers that crave pieces that make the viewer think, are strongly encouraged to experience THE APPROACH before it closes May 29th. Fortunately for those outside the area or with limited availability, in addition to live performances in Lennox, THE APPROACH is available online via recorded broadcast as well.



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