Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

A Tender Thing
Barrington Stage Company
Review by Fred Sokol

Candy Buckley and Derek Smith
Photo by Daniel Rader
Barrington Stage Company's production of Ben Power's A Tender Thing is sublime in its variant moods, which vary from sweet to wistful. What indeed might have happened if Romeo and Juliet had not perished but instead lived together until well past the midpoint of their lives? Director Alan Paul, whose decision making as this 75-minute play evolves is pivotal, leads two actors in an exquisitely detailed performance in Pittsfield through July 20. This is a marvelous U.S. premiere (the play made its debut in a Royal Shakespeare Company production in 2009).

BSC transforms its St. Germain Stage into a gray/silver room with the sea nearly visible just beyond a set of clear doors. Marsha Ginsberg's set is minimal but perfectly assists the story. As the play opens, a very ill Juliet (Candy Buckley) rests in a bed stage right. She is ill, yet the scripting, through flashbacks, witnesses her experiencing many joyful moments. Juliet's health worsens and it ultimately leads to a terminal situation. Romeo (Derek Smith) is hearty and determined to live in the present and perhaps even the future, she hopes, with the woman he has loved since they were adolescents. They were together, they are together, they will be together. Thanks to the direction by Alan Paul and Movement by Mayte Natalio, the two actors, who have worked with one another before, gracefully and lovingly dance and hold close on more than one occasion. Fabian Obispo's original music is an active, positive, artistic ingredient. Robert Wierzel's lighting proves to be imaginative as individual devices move up and down to illuminate. Ricky Reynoso's costuming is especially evocative, particularly for Juliet. When she wears bright colors, she literally shines and appears to be that much more youthfully vigorous.

Power extracts William Shakespeare's language from Romeo and Juliet and also from Twelfth Night as well as sonnets, and takes a literary leap to configure and place words as he wishes. This might sound like a hodgepodge, but the writer's work is fluent and revelatory. Alan Paul twice directed Romeo and Juliet at the Washington D.C. based Shakespeare Theatre Company and he knows this territory. Paul seems to sense and impart the intense affection the characters have for one another. Buckley and Smith are both believable and moving, and the audience can vicariously feel for and with them. We experience this pair when both were healthy and exuberant just as we empathize when Juliet must use a cane, then a walker, finally a wheelchair.

Candy Buckley was splendid last summer when Barrington Stage presented Cabaret. She holds multiple credits for Broadway and regional performances and demonstrates vast talent as an ailing, aging Juliet. Derek Smith, making his Barrington Stage debut, has also appeared often in New York City both on and off Broadway, and on TV. He crafts a strong, passionate Romeo as he cares for Juliet.

Fine, you may say, but how could one appreciate such a production without significant mastery of Shakespeare's verse? Familiarity with Romeo and Juliet certainly enhances and augments one's comprehension of this piece and allows for interpretation on multiple levels. That does not suggest that only theatregoers who have studied Shakespeare will react favorably. On the contrary: Power, who also writes for film and television, deftly creates scenes and places language so that this hour and one quarter of live performance is fully accessible to anyone who proactively gives it half a chance to succeed. A Tender Thing is interpersonal and of contemporary relevance. Its intimacy, within the hearts, minds, and voices of the two gifted actors, is undeniably affecting. In this particular theater where each seat is close enough to encourage identification with those performing, all are fully drawn in.

Candy Buckley and Derek Smith, through their credibility and insightful embodiment of Juliet and Romeo, gently pull patrons toward them. In all, this presentation is lyrical and symmetrical.

A Tender Thing runs through July 20, 2024, at Barrington Stage Company, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield MA. For tickets and information, please call 413-236-8888 or visit