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Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Lunar Eclipse
Shakespeare & Company
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Zander's review of Jersey Boys

Reed Birney and Karen Allen
Photo by Maggie Hall
Shakespeare & Company's world premiere presentation of Donald Margulies's Lunar Eclipse is achingly beautiful. A two-hander starring Reed Birney and Karen Allen, the play is set before the stars and a portion of the universe through seven stages of an eclipse. Set designer John Musall wisely goes with an unobtrusive but complementary backdrop.

The context is a farm somewhere in the Midwest and George (Birney) is simply weeping, head in hands, since he recently lost Belle, his treasured dog. George, front and center, is soon joined by his wife Em (Allen) and they sit on well-worn beach chairs to muse about the gift of life but also tragic occurrences. For a time, Em's role, as the moon grows darker, is to provide perspective for her husband, who worries that his memory will no longer allow him to recall details. George has not experienced an easy life and Em tries to find positives within it.

Director James Warwick (who is also a fine actor with an impressive list of credits) interprets the script and elects to gently move the actors about. Warwick stays clear of highly dramatic positioning and that choice allows Margulies's dialogue maximum effectiveness.

The couple adopted two children and they reflect with heartwrenching difficulty. Providing further specifics would ruin things for anyone attending a performance. It is important to say that the playwright, here and elsewhere, is boldly realistic with his impactful words. Thus, as George and Em await the infrequent blood moon's arrival, they ponder. It's all very direct and cumulative. One cannot help but be drawn in as the nuanced 95-minute production evolves.

Reed Birney won a Tony Award in 2016 for The Humans and, during a recent summer, was terrific in the Barrington Stage Company production of Chester Baile. Now he fully captures complicated George, a man who has grappled with the family farm and, at times, with himself, so to speak.

Karen Allen is known by many for her roles in films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Animal House. Her depiction of Laura in the 1987 movie version of The Glass Menagerie directed by Paul Newman is memorably touching. Allen's current rendering of the insightful Em is warm and soulful. Here, the two actors, both around 70, give or take, play people who are in that same age group. Birney and Allen have not worked together previously which is stunning to say since they synchronize perfectly. Warwick's coordination surely has something to do with his actors' exquisite timing as well.

Lunar Eclipse focuses, at times, on the inevitable, such as the aging process and what follows. It unfolds gradually, by increments, and also brings some lighter moments. All the while, the play is ever so personally open, revealing and, whether one likes it or not, honest. Long-term marriage is not linear but multi-sided. Author Margulies stays clear of the simplistic as the characters delve beneath the surface of their relationship.

In some ways, George and Em are a contrasting pair: He grew up on the farm and she, from a town, is far more oriented toward people–not dogs. She often reacts physically to chilly air while he does not. He wonders if he can actually relate to others while she is far more natural. George is bereft as the play begins but later attempts to present himself as a seasoned man who finds himself hardened through all he has experienced.

As these two people sit in the chairs and gaze upward, a most emotive Em helps her forever spouse to realize some of the love within him. Every single moment of this play matters. Warwick varies pacing according to mood and mindset, and the consummate actors seem to have the sense of one another as if they've been close for many decades. That, in itself, is genuinely impressive.

One feels each stage yield to the next as this play's journey is continually immersive. That all changes suddenly through a closing coda whereby mood shifts and the show concludes on a singular note.

Lunar Eclipse runs through October 22, 2023, at Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox MA. For tickets and information, please call 413-637-3353 or visit