AISLE SAY Berkshires


by Suzanne Heathcote
Directed by Jackson Gay
featuring Keira Naughton and Ariana Venturi

at Berkshires Theatre Group/Unicorn Theatre until August 15

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg


I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and I Didn’t Even Smile, by Suzanne Heathcote, is at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre until August 15. It’s possibly the best play and production I’ve seen at that venue, made all the more so since this is a world premiere that also introduces us to a new playwright. And while there is still work to be done, the achievement is already quite admirable.


Heathcote succeeds in combining her British roots – writing in an unapologetic voice – with her current American status – seeing the world through a charmingly cynical lens. This blend yields fully drawn characters that maneuver their way through circuitous and often tortuous paths. There is no safe harbor where any of them can find respite (British influence here) and there is no tidy ending in sight (more British influence). Yet, there is a dogged determination to keep on going on (American stick-to-it here) and this allows the audience to breathe a bit more easily. It’s not an escape valve, nor is it a defensive move on the playwright’s part. Rather, the shifting moods of despair and tenacity keep the story alive and the audience engaged.


I Saw My Neighbor…benefits, too, from a clear and focused production. Jackson Gay, the director, has shaped a strong ensemble. Keira Naughton and Ariana Venturi, as Rebecca and Sadie, balance the dramatic and comic scenes without ever sacrificing the reality of their respective situations. Adam Langdon is shamelessly charming in a role that could easily be little more than a cartoon. Andrew Rothenberg manages what he can with a role that would benefit from greater nuance and Linda Gehringer is working much too hard with a role that doesn’t benefit from so much sound and fury.


Paul Whitaker and Nicholas Hussong, set and projection design, respectively, have created a stage world that draws us in and continues to intrigue. In the course of the play’s 100 minutes the scene changes become bulky and unnecessarily literal – still, the design is consistent, attractive and efficient. The addition of live musical underscoring, while pleasant, starts the evening off on a weak note. The pianist’s entrance, complete with smirking stare at the audience, makes little sense and is never explained. Perhaps this is a directorial decision that will get shelved as the play continues to find its final shape.


If there is rewriting in Heathcote’s future plans, here are two suggestions: a) consider editing of scenes that are repetitive without adding to what is already clear, and b) plant a stronger possibility of a future with hope or promise – as written, the ending hints that the women may have found some solace from their miserable lives, but the hint is a mere glimmer. This isn’t a request to impose a happy ending or any clear-cut ending at all, but spending an evening with characters wholly desperate, lonely and without dreams is too much to ask an audience to invest in.


Do your best to see this play. It sends you home thinking and that is a rare accomplishment today.



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