The Berkshires: “Cassandra Speaks” at Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company is a remarkable multi-theater complex in Lenox. Founded in 1978 by an Englishwoman Tina Packer, it was at first housed in Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount,. The company was able to purchase a permanent complex on a 30-acre estate where they moved in 2000. Throughout its 35 years, Shakespeare and Company has increased its reputation for theatre excellence and courage.
Despite a tornado watch and a pounding thunderstorm, the various theatre parking lots were filling as I arrived to see this world premiere of “Cassandra Speaks”, a one-woman, one-act play by the radical playwright Norman Plotkin (“Malcolm X” and “The Wobblies”). Directed with no small skill by Nicole Ricciardi, the actor Tod Randolph is remarkable as Dorothy Thompson.
Thompson was a well-established journalist (she was the model for Katherine Hepburn’s character in “Woman of the Year”), whose pre-war pieces from Europe warned, impotently, of the dangers of Hitler and fascism. This play takes place in her Vermont home office, where she is trying to finish her column for the New York Evening Post, just hours before her third marriage in June, 1943. Pre-wedding jitters stir up memories of her other relationships and of her career.
The names of famous friends are dropped (her second husband was Sinclair Lewis, her slutty friend was Edna St. Vincent Millay, she borrowed some money from Sigmund Freud late one night), as Randolph works through the emotional fabric of a lifetime of passion and commitment. She worries about her future husband, who seems too sweet for a woman of her ambition. “I’m not a nice woman,” she says, “I’m driven. I’m a writer.”
She wonders about the meaning of her essays, since she was unable to change American foreign policy, even a whit, despite being syndicated to millions of readers. “Shall I shut up about the camps? The refugees?” In the end, she cries with great feeling, “No one has ever gone to war except for profit.”
The audience was almost entirely over 65, including many elders. Would the material go over the heads of those younger people for whom WWII was just another chapter in their history books? Or would it be a fine education?
In any event, Tod Randolph held that stage masterfully for 90 minutes, only one cell phone went off in the middle, and when we went back out into the night, we found out that the storms had passed harmlessly to the south.
Sue Katz, an author, journalist, blogger and rebel, used to be most proud of her martial arts career and her world travel, but now it’s all about her edgy blog Consenting Adult. Sue is a regular contributor to Open Media Boston.
Photo by Kevin Sprague.