(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – Kaufman’s Barber Shop, about a group of first-generation American-Jewish businessmen and professionals in upstate New York who meet regularly to have their hair cut and to socialize away from a society that accepts them only marginally, gets its world premiere in an innovative production by Shakespeare & Company staged on location at Upstreet Barbers on North Street in Pittsfield, where it runs from Wednesday, August 14, 2013 through Sunday, September 1, 2013.
The play, written by local playwright Bob Sugarman, stars Katherine Abbruzzese, Thomas Brazzle, Jonathan Croy, Malcolm Ingram, and Robert Lohbauer and is directed by Regge Life.
In 1925, America was booming. In Upstate New York, the children of Jewish immigrants had moved out of Yiddish speaking neighborhoods into America’s mainstream. In Kaufman’s barber shop, a group of successful businessmen and professionals meet regularly to have their hair cut and to socialize away from a society that accepts them only marginally. Three highly spirited men, who had early on been tempted to go into vaudeville, find themselves enmeshed in the lives of an immigrant Irish manicurist and an African American shoeshine boy with literary aspirations. This engrossing play is ultimately about survival in a complex world.
Kaufman’s Barber Shop was initially featured as a staged reading during last summer’s Studio Series, which inspired Sugarman expand his work. “Looking at the play, I found there was more to say about the characters and wrote a prequel, Emma and the Two Jakes, set in 1887 (Kaufman’s Barber Shop is set in 1925) and a sequel, Kaufman’s Journey, which is set in 1932. When I told Tony, he had artistic associate Jonathan Croy do the impossible – round up very busy actors in the midst of last summers’ season – for a one-day reading of all three, which was fascinating and very helpful.”
Although he did not originally intend to have Kaufman’s Barber Shop performed in an actual barbershop, the local playwright is fascinated by the idea, and truly believes it will serve the play. The play went through a series of rewrites after learning that the play would be performed at the Upstreet Barbers location in Pittsfield. Working with Director Regge Life allowed another series of rewrites, including the introduction of vaudeville music, which was popular during the period, into the play. “We found that one of our actors who had been in the initial reading, Malcolm Ingram, could play the ukulele which seemed to fit better than a piano into a barbershop. Alex Sovronsky, our music director, then adapted the songs for ukulele and led our first rehearsals which were devoted to music,” explains Sugarman.
“A major force in the play is the impact of ethnicity on the historic American Experience,” says director Life. “Race has been an unresolved ‘American Dilemma’ as Gunnar Myrdal pointed out many years ago. Recent events show how persistent an issue it is. And the current discussion of immigration in this nation of immigrants reminds us that each group — the Irish, the East European Jews, the Italians, the Polish, have all endured hostility when entering this country. Unlike the descendants of the slaves who did not choose to come here, other groups can, to a greater or lesser degree, assimilate over time, while race continues to be a basis for discrimination.”
Kaufman’s Barber Shop is staged at Upstreet Barbers, located at 442 North St., Pittsfield, Mass.