A Joanapalooza in Lenox

LENOX — Playwright Joan Ackermann's characters live in a world that is, at once, of this world and of their own. They navigate the straightaways, bumps and curves life throws at them with, at varying times, confusion, uncertainty, equanimity, decency.

They do not dwell on melodrama or soap opera, only the vicissitudes of life, issues that often seem contradictory. There are no deep dark secrets revealed amid angst or hysteria.

"I love my characters," Ackermann said by telephone from her home in Mill River. "They are decent, good-natured people who are dealing with life's challenges. I like the best in the human spirit."

This weekend, theatergoers will get to know Ackermann's characters up close and personal when Shakespeare & Company presents "Joan Ackermann: One Playwright, One Weekend," a series of readings of Ackermann works, directed by Ackermann and featuring veteran and new members of Shakespeare & Company. The readings begin at 7 p.m. Friday and end at 6 p.m. Sunday, two hours after the start of the final reading, all in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at 70 Kemble St.

Call it an Ackermann's greatest hits weekend — five full-length plays, among them "Zara Spook and Other Lures," "The Batting Cage" and "Stanton's Garage"; a sampling of short plays, and the first hearing of a new full-length script that Ackermann is eyeing for a full production later this year at Mixed Company, the Great Barrington theater company she and Gillian Seidl founded 36 years ago.

She has no bones about directing all six programs. "I realize my limitations as a director," staging being one of them, she acknowledged candidly. "As a playwright, sitting next to a director during a rehearsal is like sitting with your lawyer. Many directors don't even want the playwright around."

But in the case of a reading, where the rehearsal period is short, Ackermann says she can concentrate on her characters and her actors. "I like communicating directly with my actors," she said, "Here, we have only one rehearsal for each play and I do know these characters."

These readings are the last in a series of programs that began with the January Studio Festival and February's "Lovers' Spat."

"We were delighted with the response and the experience for our company members," Shakespeare & Company artistic director Allyn Burrows said via email. Burrows said he is planning to bring the series back next year "so we can shake off winter blahs together."

The idea for this weekend stemmed from a conversation among Ackermann, Burrows and producing associates Jonathan Croy and Ariel Bock.

"While her plays have achieved deserved national renown," Burrows said in his email, "we like to think that she's Berkshires grown."

Indeed, Shakespeare & Company and Ackermann know each other well. The theater has produced three of her plays — "Off the Map" (1997), "Ice Glen" (2005) and "The Taster" (2010).

"Shakespeare & Company feels like my home away from home," said Ackermann, whose plays have been produced at Actors Theatre of Louisville, George Street Theater in New Brunswick, N.J., Circle Rep and The Vineyard Theatre off-Broadway, The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and the Cleveland Playhouse. In addition to Shakespeare & Company, she's had Berkshires productions at Berkshire Theatre Festival and her own Mixed Company.

When she's not writing, she's led hikes at Canyon Ranch, where she teaches Tai Chi.

Ackermann has been at it for nearly 30 years, writing 21 full-length and short plays over that period, not to mention film scripts, television scripts, a young adult novel about a teenage boy from Pittsfield, and countless articles for leading national publications ranging from Sports Illustrated to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Glamour and Audubon.

But she feels most at home, she says, in the theater. And this weekend program holds special emotional value for her.

"At my age," the sixtysomething playwright said, "I may be meeting some of these characters for the last time. I'm just happy to greet these old friends and speak to them."

"She's a sublime playwright," Burrows said in his email. "She has a keen ear for what makes people people and even her funniest plays and relationships are moving. We are so pleased to be serving up a whole Joanapalooza."

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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