PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

PLANET VALENTI Arts and Entertainment

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, AUG. 14, 2013) — This just in: THE PLANET has learned that the office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley has ruled that the Pittsfield School Committee and its chairman, Alf Barbalunga, violated the open meeting laws by conducting an illegal e-mail deliberation.

TERRY KINNAS: AG find in his favor.

The complaint, filed by school committee member Terry Kinnas, stems from an e-mail Barbalunga sent to committee members in October of last year regarding the hiring of a new school superintendent. Barbalunga, a source said, e-mailed committee members asking for their comments on the search process, adding that he would pass along recommendations to the consultant assisting the PSC in its search. That constitutes deliberation, according to the AG. Such business must be done in public. it would have been proper, our source said, if the chairman had asked each member to send along their recommendations to the consultant independently and left it at that. The AG ruled that sharing the comments, particularly through the chair — who could edit, change, incorporate, or not incorporate — constituted a violation.

Barbalunga sent the e-mail to Kinnas, Mayor Dan Bianchi, Kathy Amuso, Kathy Yon, Dan Elias, Jim Conant, and Dan Elias. Kinnas was the only one to pick up on the violation and do something about it. He received no help or encouragement from other committee members. Apparently, they were content to keep things secret and hidden from the public, a far-too frequent occurrence in the $90+-million Pittsfield School Department.

AFL BARBALUNGA, chair, Pittsfield School Committee.

A far stronger response would have been for other members, particularly Bianchi, to back Kinnas in his efforts. As we know, the PSC served its revenge cold when it later put Kinnas on trial for another procedural complaint, this one involving the Reid Middle School subcommittee, which conducted a public meeting behind closed doors, locked doors, and no signage. The AG has yet to rule on that action, which didn’t stop the PSC from conducting the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” much to its disgrace. In the proceeding, the PSC publicly admonished Kinnas for, in effect, doing his job better than anyone else on the committee. That is Pittsfield politics in its essence.

The AG’s finding in favor of Kinnas and against his six committee colleagues proves how sorely Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski will miss Kinnas’ presence. Kinnas has told THE PLANET he will not be seeking re-election. This leaves the Little Guy, again, without a voice, and the GOB licking its chops at going back to business as usual.

That should suit Bianchi well. The man who campaigned on transparency in the 2011 campaign has been as secretive a mayor as we’ve seen in this generation.

Congratulations, Terry Kinnas.

Raspberries to the rest of the fakers.

We wonder: Will anyone one the newly elected PSC take over Kinnas’ role as a watchdog of the public interest?



The Cat and the Canary represents one of the most popular performance genres, The Whodunit, a type of storytelling fad first popularized in the 1920s by Agatha Christie and G. K. Chesterton. Plot twists, eccentric characters, spooky old country manors, sliding panels, secret passages, thunder, lighting and an entire grab-bag of items associated with the genre can be seen through Aug. 24 at the Unicorn Stage on the BTG’s main campus in Stockbridge. Our review takes on this latest revival, as only it can.

The six living heirs gather at Glencliff Manor, a suitable spooky “dark old house” to hear the reading of Cyrus West, who died 20 years ago to the night. That’s the situation in John Willard’s classic, The Cat and the Canary. Ethan Heard directs this energetic, faithful-yet-distinct ensemble production.

The cast of THE CAT AND THE CANARY, Unicorn Theatre. (Photo Abby LePage)

That fateful night, of course, arrives in a chariot of thunder and lighting. West’s barrister, Roger Crosby (Christopher Geary) delivers the somber reading of the bequeathal, which names young Annabelle West (Ashton Heyl) sole heir of West’s extensive holdings. The odd addendum to the will stipulates one provision: West gets the goods providing she is legally sane. As we learn, insanity runs on the West family. The shunted, erstwhile heirs offers fake congratulations to Annabelle, when we learn from an eccentric “keeper” that a lunatic has conveniently escaped from a nearby asylum.  All of a sudden, odd things begin to happen.

The remainder of the play delivers a murder, talk of demons, a couple of fistfights, a clawed hand, the theft of a priceless necklace, a spinning bookcase, sliding panels, slowly turning doorknobs, glowing red eyes, and other odd occurrences. Annabelle, naturally, lies at the center of attention of the bizarre happenings, causing the others to, again conveniently, think she may have in fact inherited the family disease. Is she crazy? If so, according to the secret contents of another of Cyrus West’s bequests, one of the other five heirs, shall take over Glencliff Manor and the vast West holdings. Who is this to be, in the eventuality, and could that be a motive for what’s taking place inside of Glencliff Manor?

More questions? What’s behind the scary happenings? Is Annabelle crazy? Is Glencliff truly haunted? Is there a plot afoot involving one or more of the guests? In short, Whodunit?

A subplot involves the three male heirs: Harry Blythe (Matthew McCollum), Paul Jones (Tom Pecinka), and Charlie Wilder (J. Andrew Young). They all claim to be in love with Annabelle.  Only one shall win the heart of Heyl’s damsel-in-distress Annabelle. Heyl glides through the role of Annabelle with a perfect amount of vulnerability, strength, shakiness, and resolve. She displays a sensitivity to the character, playing her in the right pitch and tone. As written, Annabelle comes off as kind of flat, a boundless plain of ordinary. As played by Heyl, the woman shows nooks and crannies. Her vulnerability isn’t weakness, and her “damsel” aspect isn’t just a coy, female “bit.” Rather, it comes across as genuine. Good direction here by Heard, who knows that the humor must come from elsewhere. One of the cardinal rules of this play has to be: “For goodness sake, don’t let Annabelle come across in any way as flaky.” Heard understands this. Kudos to Heyl for throwing a near-perfect game as Annabelle.

As for the men, Charlie is the athletic, Warren Beatty type, in love with himself more than Annabelle. Harry, a dark brooder wound tighter than a cigar band, boils over with intense hatred of Charlie and just about everything else. Paul, who coats a display of Prufrockian indecision with hilarious, spastic , wants only to raise up enough courage to confess his love to Annabelle. Each of the three get their chance with both Annabelle and the audience. The clear winner turns out to be Paul. The other two haven’t a clue or a prayer.
Pecinka’s turns body language into a kind of physical Esperanto (no, it’s not a Starbucks blend for all you young’ns out there; look it up), and his pretzel movements and staccato line deliveries steal the show. He channels Jim Carrey in looks and mannerisms, and makes it clear that despite the spooky surroundings and mysterious happenings, Glencliff does pack its laughs. Pecinka doesn’t so much deliver his lines as he does spew them, to delightful effect. When he’s on stage, which is often, its hard concentrating on much else. At curtain call, THE PLANET suggests that Pecinka take one step forward.

Willa Fitzgerald, Matthew McCollum, and Sophie von Haselburg in THE CAT AND THE CANARY. (Photo Abby LePage)

McCollum and Young fare decently in this competition (not just for Annabelle in the play but for the audience in the seats). They have their moments. Young’s vainglory tells us immediately that he has no chance at Annabelle or the West fortune. A nice bit of work there. McCollum’s one-speed take on Harry has the character pegged from the beginning. He never stops sending off shivers of hostility, not even when he’s trying to warm up to Annabelle. When he steps out to gardens “get some air,” despite the reports of an escape lunatic running about, we become suspicious. Then, Crosby, the lawyer, gets abducted by an unearthly looking arm and claw, appearing from a revolving bookcase-cum-secret panel.

Like all Whodunits, if you haven’t seen the play before, you can add 2 + 2 and maybe arrive at the correct sum. On the other hand, as Paul Jones would say, then again, maybe not, for everyone is a potential suspect.

The other cast members are the women: Willa Fitzgerald as Cicily Young, Sophie von Haselburg as Susan Sillsby, and Ariana Venturi as Mrs. Underwood, the housekeeper at Glencliff. Cicily and Susan function as a kind of Virginia Woolfe-Alice B. Toklas couple, not in any literary or artistic sense but as mistress and functionary respectively. Susan can’t keep her mouth shut, but von Haselburg’s portrayal can’t seem to find the off-button. There’s a difference. Reeled in a tad, von Haselburg will achieve the intended effect of playwright Willard: a bossy, brassy, air-headed, loudmouth. As von Haselburg plays her, Susan’s not bossy but bitchy, not brassy but tinny, not air-headed but clueless, not loud but shrill. It might be the casting, it might have been an off night, or it might be sunspots: Von Haselburg doesn’t seem to have Susan in her.

Fitzgerald wiggles her way into Cicily, a mousy, frightened, wimpy, and wispy girl. As a thought experiment, THE PLANET would like to see the result with the roles switched: Fitzgerald as Susan and  von Haselburg as Cicily. As written, Cicily is a young woman without a presence. She would stand in front of a set of automatic doors at a supermarket, and they wouldn’t open. In the rest room, she could wave her hand in front of the paper-towel motion detector, and no towels would emerge. Fitzgerald’s Cicily registers too much, in an out-of-synch way. The auto doors would open. The paper towel would emerge.

[For the record, we will point out that MRS. PLANET disagreed with our assessment of the portrayals of Susan and Cecilia. She thought von Haselburg and Fitzgerald were well-suited for the roles.]

Venturi squeezes every last drop out of the creepy housekeeper Mrs. Underwood. Cross Morticia Adams with Mrs. Dudley from Robert Wise‘s film The Haunting, and you have Venturi’s Underwood. The 1,000-yeard stares, the ramblings about demons, her netherworld movements: This is one chick you wouldn’t want to be with on New Year’s Eve … or any eve other than one spent a dark, brooding, thundery night on a dark, old house.

As barrister Crosby, Geary ages sufficiently well. He conveys the right amount of depth and gravitas to set up the night’s happenings. Geary pulls double duty with a bit turn as the doctor. Will Turner as the gum-chewing asylum attendant twangs and drawls to good effect.

Special mention must be made of Reid Thompson‘s set and Steven Brush‘s sound design. Thompson well conveys the dark, mahogany gloom of Greycliff, while Brush’s musical signatures greatly add to the emotional effects. Shawn Boyle’s lighting adds to the atmosphere in an accomplished way. The overall effect comes off like one of those Colombia or Republic serials of the 1940s.

THE PLANET heartily recommends this play, especially to fans of horror, old-dark-house mysteries, and Whodunits.

The Cat and the Canary

CatandCanary2by John Willard
directed by Ethan Heard

Just Added: 2pm Performances on August 14th & 21st

at The Unicorn Theatre
Previews August 1-August 2
Opens August 3 8pm; Closes August 24
Tickets: Preview: $35;
A: $45

Sponsored by Stuart M. Fischman Esq.
and Balance Rock Investment Group


As the clock strikes midnight, the relatives of Cyrus West assemble at his mansion to read his will twenty years after his death. In an unexpected twist of fate, young Annabelle is named heir to Cyrus’ large fortune, under one condition: that she is deemed legally sane. When the group finds out that a lunatic has escaped from the nearby asylum, inexplicable things begin to happen and Annabelle begins to fear for her sanity and for her life. A suspenseful and delightful “who-dunnit,” this mystery will transform the Unicorn and have audiences on the edge of their seats and begging for more.

The Cat and the Canary Cast:

Cicily Young: Willa Fitzgerald
Roger Crosby: Chris Geary
Annabelle West: Ashton Heyl
Harry Blythe: Matthew McCollum
Paul Jones: Tom Pecinka
Hendricks: Will Turner
Mrs. Underwood: Ariana Venturi
Susan Sillsby: Sophie von Haselberg
Charlie Wilder: Jonathan A. Young

Performance Dates
Thursday, August 1 at 8pm (Preview)
Friday, August 2 at 8pm (Preview)
Saturday, August 3 at 8pm (Opening/Press Night)
Monday, August 4 at 8pm
Tuesday, August 6 at 8pm
Wednesday, August 7 at 7pm
Thursday, August 8 at 8pm
Friday, August 9 at 8pm
Saturday, August 9 at 2pm
Saturday, August 10 at 8pm
Monday, August 12 at 8pm
Tuesday, August 13 at 8pm
Wednesday, August 14 at 2pm Just Added
Wednesday, August 14 at 7pm
Thursday, August 15 at 8pm
Friday, August 16 at 8pm
Saturday, August 17 at 2pm
Saturday, August 17 at 8pm
Monday, August 19 at 8pm
Tuesday, August 20 at 8pm
Wednesday, August 21 at 2pm Just Added
Wednesday, August 21 at 7pm
Thursday, August 22 at 8pm
Friday, August 23 at 8pm
Saturday, August 24 at 2pm
Saturday, August 24 at 8pm


“But the creaking empty light / Will never harden into sight, // Will never penetrate your brain / With overtones of blunt rain.”Edith Sitwell, 4th and 5th verses, “Aubade,” (1923).





  1. danvalenti
    August 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    Hope you all enjoy this exclusive on Kinnas and our review of the “haunted house” classic.

  2. dusty
    August 14, 2013 at 12:27 am #

    The school committee and its Monkey Trial sent a message to anyone who might want to become a member of the school committee. “Do not threaten our piggy bank”. If your intentions are to merely to elevate education for the children and or save the taxpayers from the blatant waste of money, then you need not apply. Candidates who promise to protect the piggy bank, do as they are instructed and keep their mouths shut, will escorted to the front of the line. If you see a new, before unheard of candidate, with tons of colorful lawn signs, (that they probably got help paying for) this person is probably being pushed to the front of the line. And this person shall sit in his or her appointed seat on the school
    committee and nod in agreement as the new Alf sets the tone for a vote on an issue. (and there will be a new Alf)

  3. Scott
    August 14, 2013 at 4:05 am #

    Alf don’t look anything like his dad what’s up with that? Well at least he got all that property from brook side to mountain dr…

  4. Robin
    August 14, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    We saw “Cat and the Canary” last night. Great play. Liked your views and agree with most but we are with Mrs. Planet: The characters of Susan and Cecily were perfect.

  5. Bill Sturgeon
    August 14, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    I mentioned your review of the Cat and the Canary today on my show. I had some of the cast of Peter Pan on.

    • danvalenti
      August 14, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

      Many thanks, BILL.

  6. Ron Kitterman
    August 14, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    Excellent news for the 1’st amendment supporters. Maybe if Dan doesn’t interview with the Planet, we could launch a write in vote against the Mayor with a challenge from Terry Kinnas or Dan Valenti to get hizhonors attention.

    • danvalenti
      August 14, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

      I can’t speak for Terry, but I encourage people to write me in for mayor.

  7. tito
    August 14, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    ,,,,, good one Ron,,,,,,or we could wait until he gets sworn in and have a recall election, just on principal alone,,,,,,,,,,,

  8. Ron Kitterman
    August 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    November 8, 1983.) ACTS, 1983, CH. 280. “An Act authorizing and establishing a procedure for Recall Elections for municipal office holders in the City of Pittsfield.” (Approved November 8, 1983.) …

  9. Pat
    August 14, 2013 at 1:56 pm #


    I will definitely write you in as Mayor and my husband too.

    • Rivetor
      August 14, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

      DV you got my vote as write in.

  10. Ron Kitterman
    August 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    This is interesting if the preliminary election in ward 1 and 3 showed xx amount of votes Bianchi Hypothetically 500 for Valenti and 450 for Kinnas would that qualify Bianchi and Valenti for the final election in November ?

  11. Jonathan Melle
    August 14, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    “Pittsfield City Council OKs water, sewer rate hikes”
    By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/14/2013

    PITTSFIELD — City home and business owners will pay higher water and sewer bills for fiscal 2014.

    For the third consecutive year, the City Council has raised water and sewer rates 2.5 percent in order to help fund millions of dollars in water and sewer system improvements.

    On Tuesday night, the council approved Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s proposal to boost the annual flat fee for residences by nearly $7.50. Bianchi’s request also included property owners with meters to pay a 7 cent increase per 100 cubic feet of water used/waste discharged.

    The new fees and rates are retroactive to July 1, the start of the current fiscal year and will be reflected in the first quarter bills issued in October.

    Councilors have approved a similar rate and fee hike in each of the previous two fiscal years, following seven years of stagnant water and sewer bills. The increases are part of Pittsfield’s five-year plan to gradually boost revenue to help pay for ongoing water and sewer projects, city officials have said. The 2014 rate hikes will raise roughly $130,000 more in sewer revenue and an additional $100,000 on the water side, according to Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

    “We have no choice but to pay for these improvements or they will be forced down our throats,” said Councilor at large Barry J. Clairmont.

    While Clairmont was referring to potential mandates from the federal and state governments to do the work, Collingwood says the city has taken the initiative with its municipal utility upgrades.

    “We’ve been very proactive with our water and sewer systems,” he said.

    The proposed increases factored in, Collingwood noted the city’s metered water and sewer rates will remain among the lowest in the state.

    The rate hike will likely help pay for the $20 million in water and sewer system upgrades scheduled to begin this fiscal year.

    The council is considering Bianchi’s proposal to borrow $9.2 million to fund municipal water system improvements and $10.8 million for the sewer system. A combination of user fees, low-interest state loans, funding from the city’s capital budget and other revenue sources is expected to repay the loans, city officials have said.

    The councilors on Tuesday postponed a vote on both requests until their Sept. 10 meeting in order to review additional information about the upgrades.

    The single biggest improvement in fiscal 2014 will be $9 million toward the ongoing upgrade of the city’s aging wastewater treatment plant off Holmes Road.

    Water system improvements include a $6.8 million renovation of the Farnham Reservoir dam and water mains in on Lakeway Drive, Brooks Avenue and Pecks Road.

  12. Jim Gleason
    August 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Two of the people who participated in the Scopes Monkey trial are now running for city council at large. Are we going to promote lack of integrity and outright dishonesty to a higher post? Sounds about right in Pittsfield, incompetency gets promoted to higher positions.

    • danvalenti
      August 15, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

      Pittsfield operates on a reverse Peter Principle: one rises to his or her level of incompetence and then gets promoted.

      • Tom Sakshaug
        August 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

        My memory may be failing me but I believe that that is exactly the Peter Principle.

  13. debbie
    August 19, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    I’m sorry but did anyone ask or bring this question up to Alf, was this emailing done on state time. If you investigate Alf and ask his office staff they will tell you that all his school committee work is done in the probation office on our tax peoples money! I know first hand ” this being witnessed by myself!” ……anyone interested?