!PLANET EXCLUSIVE! AG RULES IN FAVOR OF KINNAS’ OPEN MEETING COMPLAINT AGAINST BARBALUNGA AND SCHOOL COMMITTEE … plus … ‘CAT & CANARY’ DELIVERS THE CHILLS AT BTG’S UNICORN THEATRE
By DAN VALENTI
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.
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.
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?
‘CAT’ STAYS AWAY FROM THE ‘CANARY’ IN ENERGETIC BTG PRODUCTION
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.
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?
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.
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;
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
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).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.