Two Vermont showplaces to mark dramatic birthdays

Weston Playhouse

The cast of Weston Playhouse’s production of “Once” rehearses for performances June 27 through July 15. Photo by Emily Pariseau/Weston Playhouse

For arts aficionados in southern Vermont, this summer’s drama began when the Dorset Theatre Festival happily yet humbly announced its 40th anniversary.

Then came news that the nearby Weston Playhouse also is observing a birthday — its 80th — as well as opening this month with the state premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical “Once.”

Cue another dispatch from Dorset reporting its own curtain raising — on the world premiere of Broadway playwright Theresa Rebeck’s “Downstairs” featuring brother-and-sister stars Tim and Tyne Daly.

Sound a tad competitive? Not for the two nonprofit professional companies, each of which is solidly if not surprisingly complimentary.

Says Weston producing artistic director Steve Stettler: “We’re all fiercely proud of what we do, but we’re living with the same sets of challenges.”

Dorset Theatre Festival

The Dorset Theatre Festival’s production of “Downstairs” features actors (from left) Tyne Daly and John Procaccino, director Adrienne Campbell-Holt, and fellow cast member Tim Daly. Courtesy photo

And his Dorset counterpart, Dina Janis: “We believe if we’re building an audience in the region, we’re raising the bar collectively.”

The two showplaces may be just a half-hour or so apart, but as such Berkshires arts institutions as Tanglewood and the Williamstown Theatre Festival have learned, a high tide lifts all box offices. That’s why Dorset and Weston, having collaborated last year on the acclaimed comic trilogy “The Norman Conquests,” are set to celebrate their individual and collective milestones this summer.

Dorset will start Thursday with what’s billed as “a thought-provoking family drama” written specifically for the Daly siblings, who will share the stage for the first time. As Janis tells it, Rebeck — a part-time resident when she’s not working on theater, films and television in New York — met up with Tim Daly, who lives in the area when not co-starring in the CBS drama “Madam Secretary.”

“He sort of jokingly said, ‘Why don’t you write a play for me and my sister?’” Janis recalls Daly telling Rebeck, speaking of actress Tyne Daly, an Emmy and Tony award winner from the television series “Cagney & Lacey” and the coming film “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

“It is always a gift to collaborate with Theresa,” Janis says, “but to bring in such a cast — and in particular, to have Tim and Tyne working together in a play written just for them … it doesn’t get any better than this.”

Weston Playhouse

The Weston Playhouse is celebrating its 80th anniversary. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

Weston might argue with that. Its June 27 opening of “Once” — based on the film that won the 2008 Academy Award for best original song — will begin a half-hour before curtain, when attendees can sample nonalcoholic beer as actors serenade them with Irish music. Later this season, the state’s longest-running professional theater will welcome Tony-winner Elizabeth Franz in Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.”

“I’ve been courting her for a while,” Stettler says. “She began her career in Vermont many, many years ago.”

As it happens, at Dorset.

Dorset’s summer schedule also features Golden Globe-nominated actor Treat Williams in Pulitzer Prize-winner and onetime Vermonter David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” from Aug. 24 to Sept. 2.

Weston’s lineup includes special programs by original “Annie” star Andrea McArdle on July 24 and New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger on Aug. 13.

“We try to complement one another,” Stettler says of the two companies. “If you have a base of arts that’s strong and vital, it’s all to the good.”

Adds Janis: “With the combination of star power, intelligent marketing and getting the narrative out there, we’re trying to become a cultural destination.”

Kevin O'Connor

Kevin O’Connor is a Brattleboro-based writer and former staffer for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Times Argus. Read more

Email: kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com

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