Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

The Approach
Shakespeare & Company
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Fred's review of Queen

Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Michelle Joyner
Photo by Daniel Rader
What is intriguing about The Approach, at Shakespeare & Company through May 29, is that it succeeds by confounding and challenging the viewer. Playwright Mark O'Rowe is also a film writer who contributed to the TV series version of Sally Rooney's novel, "Normal People." O'Rowe's intent with The Approach seems a deliberate effort not to answer questions and tie together loose ends. Some but not all will deem this frustrating.

We find two women sitting at a small table outside a coffee shop in Dublin. Cora (Nicole Ansari) and Anna (Michelle Joyner) are old friends who have not seen one another for quite a while. Predictably, they banter about weight loss and men and then gently philosophize. That conversation concludes and the next scene finds Cora speaking with Denise (Elizabeth Aspenlieder), who provides details on the birth of her child. We hear that Oliver, Denise's first husband (who was at a certain period involved with Denise's sister Anna) has passed on and that Cora's dog died. Cora, becoming serious, asks Denise how she feels about Anna. Denise replies, "I was the wronged one in this, not her." Cora soon walks off stage and Anna reappears to engage with her sister Denise. The time frame has shifted forward some years and the discussion focuses upon that certain man, Oliver.

Cora recalls both Anna and Denise during times, more than a couple of decades ago, when all were close friends. The calmer and, in a sense, third woman, she does show empathy as a human who is less besieged by demons.

Author O'Rowe is not going to connect the plot's figurative dots, and this 90-minute drama's tension heightens while questions dangle in the air. The story grows darker when it moves on, even as enigmas remain unresolved. In a sense, The Approach evolves like a miniature Anton Chekhov; some feel not enough actually happens and express a desire for more action in the Russian writer's plays.

The Shakespeare & Company presentation is precisely enacted and takes place before a lovely and long mural-like painting devised by Jim Youngerman. The show is co-directed by Mark Farrell and Tina Packer and requires virtually no movement. The configurations vary, yet two women are always sitting at what appears to be a wrought-iron table.

This is a play about women, but unseen men are pivotal. The script does contain hints and implications are of import. Each woman is lacking in her life and, finally, hoping for emotional stability. Each also has a somewhat different recall of their common past. Perhaps there's a longing for that former existence which was simpler and less grueling. The truth, elusive, cannot be located amid ambiguities.

Through its atypical format, most of The Approach exerts a strong hold upon observers, all of whom are situated fairly close to the actors. O'Rowe has his characters present some identical initial dialogue for a second time near the conclusion, but why? It's logical to wonder, too, about the title. It could refer to an overall approach or the one each woman employs or something else entirely.

The three actors are splendid with their responses to one another, with accents and enunciation. They have developed a knowing and intuitive sense of one another. Each character, a person in middle-age, is searching. If some of the dialogue is contradictory, that is real, that is life.

Here is a quick non-sequitur for a theatergoer seeking something less stressful: should you be a fan of crosswords, fret not since there's reference within this show.

The Approach runs through May 29, 2022, at Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox MA. For tickets and information, please call 413-637-3353 or visit