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Review: B.R.O.K.E.N CODE B.I.R.D SWITCHING at Berkshire Theatre Group

“People come into your life for a season, a reason, or a lifetime, you got to have the sense to know which”.

Review: B.R.O.K.E.N CODE B.I.R.D SWITCHING at Berkshire Theatre Group
DeAnna Supplee, Jahi Kearse, Justin Sturgis
Photo: Jacey Rae Russell

The season opener of Berkshire Theatre Group's 2022 season B.R.O.K.E.N CODE B.I.R.D SWITCHING is not, as the title might suggest to some, about Native American Communication Specialists during WWII. It is one of those relatively infrequent theatrical experiences in which each of the many individuals involved in the production, and their skillful execution of their relative elements, supports one another so particularly well, that that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts it's made of. A powerful piece of theater in which art imitates life extremely well. An experience that leaves the viewer mouth agape saying WOW and providing an abundance of food for thought.

Review: B.R.O.K.E.N CODE B.I.R.D SWITCHING at Berkshire Theatre Group
DeAnna Supplee and Almeria Campbell
Photo: Jacey Rae Russell

After unbearable loss, a grieving attorney takes a pro bono case representing a black teenager accused of murder. When an alluring stranger steps in to help, she is left questioning who she is and what she wants. While fighting for the young man's innocence, she is forced to confront the devastating truth about marriage, race, and the woman she has chosen to be. B.R.O.K.E.N CODE B.I.R.D SWITCHING, written by Tara L. Wilson Noth, is a play about the choices we make and the unspoken lies we tell ourselves to make peace with those choices.

This World Premiere and National Endowment for the Arts Grants for Arts Project award recipient is directed by Kimille Howard and features Almeria Campbell as Evelyn Payne; Rebecca L. Hargrove as Katherine Morgan; Torsten Johnson as Mark Bennett; Jahi Kearse as Olen Porter; Justin Sturgis as DeShawn Payne; and DeAnna Supplee as Olivia Bennett. The creative team consists of direction by Kimille Howard, scenic design by Baron E. Pugh, costume design by Danielle Preston, lighting design by John D. Alexander, composition and soundscape design by Michael Keck, projections design by David Murakami, intimacy coaching by Marie Percy, fight choreography by Joseph Poulson, stage management by Caroline Stamm and casting direction by Alan Filderman.

Review: B.R.O.K.E.N CODE B.I.R.D SWITCHING at Berkshire Theatre Group
Torsten Johnson, Rebecca L. Hargrove
Photo: Jacey Rae Russell

Great theatre is certainly not limited to the island of Manhattan. There are a set of unique intangibles, however, that give a production an NYC level feel, and for me, this is one of them. is tight and Wilson Noth's script offers a great deal to work with. There are two main pathways each with a number of tributaries or rabbit holes to be explored.

In this timely play, a woman representing a black teenager accused of murder is forced to face truths about marriage, race, the choices she has made, and the unspoken lies she's told herself to conform. Wilson Noth says, "I believe in the power of words. I believe they are the greatest strength this world has... I feel very fortunate that I could use my words to craft this story. It is a story of race and identity, of promise and purpose... but perhaps more importantly, it is the story of the potency of being seen. The universal need to be seen for who we are. When we truly see each other, we can begin an honest dialogue... I hope this play can succeed in beginning that conversation." The piece does present some undeniably powerful dialogue and a wealth of such strength in words. A plethora of strong, powerful statements, that truly make us pause and think, but not for long so as not to be lost, as the rapidly paced action moves along and has us leaning in over and over again.

Review: B.R.O.K.E.N CODE B.I.R.D SWITCHING at Berkshire Theatre Group
Justin Sturgis, DeAnna Supplee
Photo: Jacey Rae Russell

Each member of the attractive and skilled cast delivers strong and admirable performances. Jahi Kearse as Olen Porter is particularly noteworthy, to the point we do not seem to be watching an actor's portrayal, but rather someone completely comfortable in their character. It is hard to determine if DeAnna Supplee as Olivia Bennett has difficulty conveying the same level of comfort with her character, or if perhaps the occasional inconsistencies I noticed that might suggest breaking character, are glimpses of an attempt to show us how inwardly conflicted Olivia truly is. Thus, these moments may be more a nod to Olivia's inability to maintain the seemingly solid exterior while wrestling with significant challenges of their own under the surface.

In the time that I have been covering theatre across the Berkshire region (a good portion of which has seen unprecedented challenges for all involved), BTG has not been one of the leaders in birthing high-caliber and quality, powerful new works that have the makings of a New York City future. With B.R.O.K.E.N CODE B.I.R.D SWITCHING that may no longer be the case. I highly recommend local audiences take advantage of the opportunity to see this newly emerging piece while it continues at Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge through July 9. I also suggest we may very well be hearing more about it in the future.

From This Author - Marc Savitt

Marc Savitt has a life-long passion for, and association with the performing arts, particularly Musical Theatre. He has performed with choral groups in several US cities, and London, and appears on... (read more about this author)

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