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Dark Matters; Williamstown Theatre Festival Gets Serious

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda in 'Fool for Love' at Williamstown Theatre Festival this week.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — As the calendar turns to August, the days get shorter and evenings get a little bit darker — particularly at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
The WTF this week wraps up an 11-day run for the Sam Shepard drama "Fool for Love" on the Nikos Stage and launches the musical "The Visit" on its Main Stage.
The former looks at twisted love and desperation in the American West. The latter is a tale of diabolical revenge in a small town.
Neither is what you might characterize as light summer fare.
But WTF Producer Stephen Kaus said the confluence of the two shows, which will share the '62 Center for three days, is not exactly by design, but he has no doubts that the festival's patrons can handle such weighty material.
"There's always a concern when you program a season ... but there's not at the moment a concern about the nature of the material being too intense for our audience," Kaus said at a press event earlier this summer.
"I also don't want to discredit our audience. Watching them at a preview of  'A Great Wilderness' last night, which is a new play that has some darkness to it and some power to it, the way it was received reminded me how smart our audiences are — also how game they are. They're eager to go somewhere with you."
Actor Sam Rockwell has taken WTF audiences to some dark places in the past. He starred in a pairing of Harold Pinter's "The Dumb Waiter" and Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story" in 2001. The next year, he played Stanley Kowalski in Williamstown's production of "A Streetcar Named Desire."
Through Saturday, Rockwell can be seen as Eddie in "Fool for Love" opposite Tony winner Nina Arianda.
"I've always been attracted to darker stuff," Rockwell said. "I think I just naturally am, even though I've done some comedies. [Dark material] is just more challenging."
Arianda, who won a Tony for her work in the comedy "Venus in Fur" also took a more serious turn in "Tales From Red Vienna," a drama set in World War I.
She agreed with Rockwell's assessment of the appeal of works like "Fool for Love."
"It's definitely challenging, and it's challenging because I think you're partly responsible for finding the brightness when you do pieces like this," she said. "When you do dark pieces, I don't think you focus on the darkness. I think you focus on the lightness."
Kaus said Rockwell and Arianda bring out the levity in Shepard's script.
"I didn't realize this until I heard the cast read it out load, but there's a real layer of comedy in 'Fool for Love' that you don't really remember when you're reading it on the page," he said. "When you hear the actors and see the actors perform this play ... I don't want to say it's dark comedy because that's the wrong thing, but the seriousness, the intensity is perfectly cut by the comedy.
"I think that's what makes it one of Shepard's most famous plays."
The scheduling of "Fool for Love" and "The Visit" at the same time was not a conscious decision, Kaus said. It was dictated by the schedules of the artists involved in both productions.
"Coincidentally, they fell on top of each other," Kaus said.
But Kaus said WTF is not afraid to challenge its audiences as it entertains them.
"If we're doing our jobs well, people like it or people don't," he said. "That's what our job is. You don't want to be in between.
"It doesn't have merit if it's in between — if we're not pleasing some people and displeasing some people. ... Not to say that we want to be abrasive or avant garde, but there should be really strong opinions about the work we do. It shouldn't be middle of the road."

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