AISLE SAY Berkshires


by Shem Bitterman
Directed by Steve Zuckerman
Starring Judd Hirsch
Featuring Rupak Ginn and Kristin Griffith

at Berkshire Theatre Group (Fitzpatrick Stage)
until August 20; 413-997-4444//

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg


The Stone Witch, by Shem Bitterman, is having its world premiere run at the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Fitzpatrick Stage. Starring Judd Hirsch, the play tells the story of famed writer, Simon Grindberg now eighty, whose past twelve years have led to nothing of artistic consequence. His editor, played by Kristin Griffith, does her damndest to prod and pester him into creating something worthy of his reputation: she hires a young, aspiring writer (Rupak Ginn) to urge him forward. The pretext is that, as a great fan, the younger man will learn from his ‘idol’.
Grindberg is an eccentric who lives an isolated life in a rural setting. He needs to accommodate himself to no one and, in fact, makes no effort to do so when Peter, the younger man, arrives. In the course of the play’s 100 minutes (there is no intermission) the two men spar, the older man pushing the younger man to assert himself and, most of all, reinforcing the need for Peter to know himself, to know what he wants for himself and to settle for nothing less. Grindberg’s persistence hints loudly that he, himself, might have appreciated such advice when he was an aspiring artist.
There are moments in the play when time is interrupted, as if by memory or Grindberg’s internal conflicts. These moments aren’t developed or explained and, consequently, are red herrings rather than informative.
Hirsch brings warmth, humour and a quiet charismatic charm to a character that could easily be aloof and distant. He is the production’s strength. Kristin Griffith has a strong opening scene and she plays it very well. It’s a shame that the character is then left offstage for too long, and even when she returns the writer is less interested in her than he is in her necessary role in the narrative. Rupak Ginn’s opening scene is also a promising start, but he struggles to find a balance between admiring fan and independent thinker. Bitterman has provided a clichéd younger artist/older artist conflict without explaining or developing the conflict beyond its obvious nature. The final scene lacks credibility of character or incident: the playwright wraps the pieces together and calls it a play. The audience is left to fill in the emotional steps that complete the puzzle.


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