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Theatre Voices leads a trend in play readings

Many theater experts judge the worth of a play’s material by a simple formula. If it can’t be performed on a bare stage the content is lacking.

You can put this theory to a test this coming weekend. Theatre Voices will be offering “Love, Loss and What I Wore” at Steamer No. 10 Theatre in Albany. It’s the final show of their 2023-2024 season.

To be clear, this is a staged reading. There is stage movement, there are limited costumes, set and props. The actors will be performing with a script in hand. 

Indeed, one of the great charms of a Theatre Voices production is the style of their presentations. They trust both the playwright’s words and the audience’s imagination. Until you’ve attended a Theatre Voices performance there is no way someone can explain to you how almost magically the scripts in-hand disappear. You actually stop seeing them.

Based on the best-selling book by Ilene Beckerman, “Love, Loss and What I Wore” was adapted for the stage by Nora and Delia Ephron. You might recognize their names. The sisters co-wrote the film, “You’ve Got Mail,” and Nora wrote “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle”.

“Love, Loss and What I Wore” which ran Off-Broadway for two and a half years is, superficially, a look at women’s fashion trends over the years. 

Actually, it’s how a strong emotional connection is made to an important life-moment by recalling what you were wearing at the time. The play, like the films the Ephrons wrote, is sweet and sentimental, but very adult in appeal.

The material has attracted five of the area’s finest actresses and is directed by local personality and actress Benita Zahn. Performances are at Steamer No 10, Friday May 17 to Sunday May 19.

Established in 1989, Theatre Voices has been offering free productions for 35 years. However, as all forms of entertainment suffer from the dual problems of lowered box office receipts and increased costs, play readings have become a very important funding resource to almost all theater festivals.

Many organizations are now looking to play readings to supply product at low cost. Professional companies are offering readings and concert productions and charging admission.

Perhaps some definitions are in order. A simple reading has actors standing or sitting in front of music stands reading from the text. A staged reading is when the play is acted out and the actors move about the stage while reading from a script in hand. They usually have little scenery and minimal props. Costumes are, in general, black pants and a white blouse or shirt.

Readings and concert productions are not to be confused with cabaret entertainments. That’s a genre unto itself at which a known-performer offers an evening of songs and chatter.

Barrington Stage Company has been offering a Cabaret season for years. It’s known as the “Mr. Finn’s Cabaret Series”. Six of the seven shows are performed Sunday and Monday evenings at the intimate Linden Street cabaret space in Pittsfield, MA.

The exception is the performance of Julie Benko, whose show “Standby, Me” is one night only August 30. Benko is the performer who brought a cliche to life. As the standby in the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl,” she walked on stage an unknown and exited a star. The other performers in the series are also Broadway veterans, including many Tony Award-winners.

BSC is not alone with offering a cabaret. July 2-7, Shakespeare & Company will be offering “Shake It Up: A Shakespeare Cabaret.” The Lenox, MA based company also has what they term “an enhanced reading” of “A Winter’s Tale” on their schedule August 21-25.

Williamstown Theater Festival has seemingly always produced cabarets. This year there are three, offered July 25-August 10. They are at 3 p.m. in the newly created Festival Stage. Too, the play reading series returns.

There will be four readings on Fridays at 3 p.m.

“Fridays@3 “ will be held July 12-August 2 at the Auditorium of the Clark Institute, 225 South Street in Williamstown.

Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Falls has a concert version of a new musical in their season. “The King’s Wife” plays at the Charles Wood Theatre, July 19-21. 

Their season also includes a play reading. “Worth: An Intimate Exhibition,” will be offered July 12-15 at Lapham Gallery at the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council. 

The piece is described as “an investigation of value of the art and artist.” It is performed and written by Jessica Frances Dukes, who has been a regular of the series “Ozark.”

For 13 years Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany has been producing their Next Act! New Play Summit. In April, The Rep read a number of plays which were finalists in their annual new play competition. One of them will get a full production in next year’s season. In fact, “Three Mothers,” which closes its run today was a past winner.

The readings, concerts and cabaret acts add to a busy season. However, I can with certainty, promise you few will be as rewarding as next weekend’s free reading of “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” presented by Theatre Voices at Steamer No. 10 in Albany.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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