Stepping onto summer stage: Silverthorne Theater Company debuting three plays in its first full summer season

Valley playwright Liz Duffy Adams, who’s gained national attention in recent years, has written a new play, “The Broken Machine.”

Valley playwright Liz Duffy Adams, who’s gained national attention in recent years, has written a new play, “The Broken Machine.” Photo by C.S.E. Cooney

Julie Nelson and Noah Tuleja, both veterans of Silverthorne Theater, rehearse a scene at Hampshire College from Liz Duffy Adams’ “The Broken Machine,” the first play in Silverthorne’s new summer series. The production opens June 7 at Hampshire.

Julie Nelson and Noah Tuleja, both veterans of Silverthorne Theater, rehearse a scene at Hampshire College from Liz Duffy Adams’ “The Broken Machine,” the first play in Silverthorne’s new summer series. The production opens June 7 at Hampshire. Photo by Cat/Milo Bezark   

Darrow Sherman rehearses a scene from Liz Duffy Adams’ “The Broken Machine,” a darkly comedic look at what climate change might bring in the future. The production, by Silverthorne Theater Company, opens June 7 at Hampshire College.

Darrow Sherman rehearses a scene from Liz Duffy Adams’ “The Broken Machine,” a darkly comedic look at what climate change might bring in the future. The production, by Silverthorne Theater Company, opens June 7 at Hampshire College. Photo by Cat/Milo Bezark   

Hia Ghosh and Walt Manasse-Latham rehearse a scene at Hampshire College from Liz Duffy Adams’ “The Broken Machine,” the first play in Silverthorne Theater Company’s summer series. The play opens June 7 at Hampshire.

Hia Ghosh and Walt Manasse-Latham rehearse a scene at Hampshire College from Liz Duffy Adams’ “The Broken Machine,” the first play in Silverthorne Theater Company’s summer series. The play opens June 7 at Hampshire. Photo by Cat/Milo Bezark   

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 05-31-2024 3:56 PM

Time was when summer theater in the Valley was typically produced by a number of mainstays, including Chester Theatre Company, New Century Theatre, and the Ko Festival at Amherst College.

But New Century Theatre shut down a few years ago, as did the Ko Festival, which today operates mostly as a consulting service for actors, directors and others in theater.

Now Silverthorne Theater Company, formed in 2014 in Greenfield, is stepping into that production gap with three summer plays, both to mark its 10th anniversary and to provide a fresh forum for Valley directors and actors, and in one case a noted playwright.

Silverthorne will debut one new work each month, beginning June 7 with “The Broken Machine,” written by Valley playwright Liz Duffy Adams, whose most recent play, “Born With Teeth,” was produced a few years ago in several cities, including Houston and Minneapolis, winning excellent reviews.

The company will stage a second play, “Bulrusher,” in July, and a third, “Smart People,” in August. And after being strictly a Franklin County operation for much of its history, Silverthorne will stage “The Broken Machine” and “Bulrusher” at Hampshire College.

“We’re really excited about this new direction,” said Harley Erdman, a Silverthorne board member and a key part of the Valley’s theater scene.

He’s a longtime University of Massachusetts Amherst theater professor, a playwright, a translator, and a librettist whose work includes two noted operas staged in Northampton, “The Scarlet Professor” in 2017 and “The Garden of Martyrs” in 2013.

“This is a great opportunity to showcase some of the talent in this region, from actors to directors to playwrights,” Erdman said.

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In fact, “The Broken Machine,” which will run June 7-9 and 13-15 at Hampshire College, will have its world premiere here in the Valley. Adams, who splits her time between this region and New York City, “has been incredibly generous in giving her new work to us,” Erdman said.

“She’s a super-talented playwright whose work has very much exploded over the last three years,” he said.

“The Broken Machine,” Erdman said, “is totally wild,” an imaginative fantasy set in the not-too-distant future in which the ravages of climate change have only worsened. “One of the main characters,” he noted, “is a fox.”

Set in a forest, the play centers on, as Adams’ website describes, “a burnt-out coder” who’s become a hermit and is “making lists from memory — of lizards, endangered species, Moments of Lost Time — in company with her only friend, a gray fox with a bad attitude.”

The play’s other characters include bumbling forest rangers and a madcap Psychopomp.

“It has some pretty dark humor, though it’s also serious,” said Erdman. “And it considers the differences between animals and humans.”

The play is directed by Gina Kaufman, who also teaches theater at UMass and has worked with Erdman on a number of productions there. Her resume includes directing work in many other settings, including the Williamstown Theatre Festival and with Shakespeare & Company in Lenox.

“Gina and Liz have also worked together on the script” of the play, Erdman noted. “They’ve had a great collaboration.”

“Bulrusher,” by New York playwright and actor Eisa Davis, will have its East Coast debut beginning July 5 at Hampshire College. It’s directed by Michelle Ong-Hendrick, a UMass graduate and Northampton resident who teachers theater at Trinity College in Connecticut and is the founding artistic director of Hartford Opera Theatre.

“Bulrusher,” which Silverthorne calls “a lyrical, uplifting coming-of-age story of a clairvoyant Black girl in Northern California in 1955,” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2007.

The company’s season closes with “Smart People,” by Boston playwright Lydia R. Diamond, beginning Aug. 2 at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield.

Directed by Michael Ofori, a visiting lecturer at Hampshire College in film, media and theater, the play, according to Silverthorne, “is a comedy of errors in which a white, male professor proves white people are racist — a conclusion not appreciated by the prestigious university that employs him.”

Erdman says the three plays will all feature a mix of regional actors — including a number who have appeared in past Silverthorne productions — as well as some equity actors from outside the region, such as New York and Boston.

“We think we’ve put together a really good mix of people,” said Erdman.

Silverthorne was started in 2014 by longtime theater professional and teacher Lucinda Kidder and David Rowland, a former teacher at the Northfield Mount Hermon School. The company expanded from initially doing two summer plays at the school to offering a greater range of productions year round, centered eventually at Hawks & Reed.

Kidder stepped down from the company at the end of 2021, but she is still a member of the board, Erdman said, and offers key input on decisions.

Her legacy of highlighting underappreciated voices and work, especially those of regional theater professionals, remains a guiding principle of Silverthorne, he explained.

Earlier this year, for instance, Silverthorne held three staged readings of work in development by area playwrights. By coincidence, all three of those of those playwrights are women, as are the playwrights whose full plays will take place this summer.

“That’s not by design,” said Erdman. “But it’s in keeping with our mission to produce really thoughtful work that can challenge and entertain.”

More information on Silverthorne Theater’s summer productions can be found at silverthornetheater.org.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.