Comments on the Soft Opening of the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre and Tina Packer in "Shirley Valentine"

by Gail M. Burns, July 2008

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world
That hath such people in't!"

- William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, scene i

I felt just like Miranda last night when I sat myself down and looked around the audience assembled for the first-ever performance in the new Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre and Shakespeare & Company. Actors and donors and administrators and board members and construction workers who all had a dream and worked together to make it happen. I was just the fly on the wall, but how happy I was to be there. What a wonderful part of the world the Berkshires is and how blessed I am to live here and have observing and writing about its theatre community as my calling. And what a wonderful thing this home-grown dream on the Shakespeare & Company campus will be for our region.

The landscaping around the new Production and Performing Arts Center (PaPA) which contains the Bernstein Theatre (or are we going to end up calling it The Elayne?) is raw and new. The trees and shrubs and flowers and grasses all still have that look of shock that new plantings have before they settle in to new surroundings. But the exterior design is strong and inviting and in a year’s time this will be one of the beauty spots of the Berkshires. Parking is well laid out around the structure and the approach to the building is on-grade and accessible.

The theatre itself is not quite finished (there were no risers and the air conditioning system was being cranky) but this was a “soft” opening and the one-night-only, invitation-only performance of Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine by Shakespeare & Company Founder and Artistic Director Tina Packer was offered as a gift to Mrs. Bernstein, one of the Company's long-time friends and supporters, who has served on the Company's Board of Trustees for nearly two decades. Mrs. Bernstein was surrounded by children, step-children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and was publicly celebrated by her husband Sol Schwartz with a moving reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day?

Tributes were also given by the Company’s Managing Director, Nicholas J. Puma, Jr., Michael Miller, former chairman of the Board of Trustees now serving as president of the Capital Campaign, and Packer, who popped out from her actor’s preparations backstage to greet Bernstein.

At the Company's Gala on June 28, Miller had announced that the Campaign reached its previously stated goal of $7.5 million. That goal has now been raised to $10 million and an anonymous donor has stepped forward to offer a $1 million challenge grant to help inspire new donors.

Packer has performed Shirley Valentine to critical acclaim in the Berkshires twice before – in 1991 and 1995. Despite the twelve years that have elapsed since she last presented the one-woman show and with only twelve days to relearn the part, Packer performed flawlessly. Shirley Valentine is a heart-warming and hilarious play about the reawakening of the soul of a middle-aged, long-married, middle-class British housewife and mother.

I won’t tell you any more because that would be decidedly unfair since you can’t go and see it. I had not imagined that I would have the opportunity and was astonished at my good fortune. I keep all my playbills (you can imagine what my office looks like with 40+ years of playbills stored in it!) but I rarely keep my tickets. This one’s a keeper.

The Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre opens publicly on August 1, with the world premiere of Christine Whitley's dark comedy, The Goatwoman of Corvis County. Plans are underway for a grand opening of the complete Production and Performing Arts Center (PaPA) next summer.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2008

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