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‘The Approach’ at Shakespeare & Company is a cryptic tale about truth

“The Approach,” which opened Shakespeare & Company’s 2022 season, is one of the most enigmatic plays I can remember seeing. Nothing is direct about it. To understand it, you either have to look below the surface or between the lines.

Intrigue is the definition of simplicity. In Ireland, three women, somewhere in their forties, meet two at a time at a table in a common space. Two of the women, Denise and Anna are estranged sisters; the third, Cora is a longtime close friend of the sisters. His goal is to somehow reconcile them.

At this point, the simplicity ends. Conversations seem conventional – like catching up on life with mutual family and friends – that sort of thing. Very quickly, you realize that the dominant theme of cats is the men in their lives.

From the second scene, you also notice the contradictions in their memories. It doesn’t sound like an outright lie or even them seeing the same thing from a different angle or even self-delusion. Conversations seem to be a way of trying to tell someone something without saying anything to them.

Obviously, this requires intense concentration on the part of the audience members. It takes away even more from the trio of actors who have to find the intent, the heartbreak, and even the desperation of a script that doesn’t directly address those emotions.

For example, the sisters are separated because each sister had a romance with Oliver who is now deceased. Anna believes her sister stole her lover. Denise claims her relationship with Oliver began after Oliver broke up with his sister.

What’s odd is that during the play, each sister tells Cora that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, none really cared about Oliver. Yet the animosity between the sisters, who view them each as the aggrieved party, was irreconcilable.

There are several similar examples. As every woman tells her lover created a crossword puzzle for them with the answers to the clue being a private romantic moment. Did two women steal another’s gesture? Was the lover the same man? Did it happen at all?

Throughout the 80 minute work, you search for clues of truth. However, there is little truth in the play. Strangely, there isn’t much direct deception either. Instead, it seems like people are saying things they feel they should say.

It’s like having a reunion with an old friend and enjoying it. When you say goodbye, one of you says, “Let’s do it again very soon. The other party agrees even though you both know it’s probably never going to happen.

It’s no coincidence that this is the end of a scene from a play that explores the fleeting nature of truth.

My hope for the rest of 2022 is to see another such thoughtful play with such brilliant acting and direction.

Nicole Andari as peacemaker Cora is sometimes the glue of relationships and at other times the tragic figure in the play. Michelle Joyner as Anna is ideal as a seemingly confident sister whose self-esteem always needs reconfirmation. As the aggressive and more controlling sister Denise, Elizabeth Aspenlieder signals both the woman’s independence and her need for family.

The production is co-directed by Mark Farrell and Tina Packer. They take a potentially incoherent play and turn it into a moving and memorable night of theater. All this while the action on stage is never more than two women seated at a table.

“The Approach” is a stimulating piece. Some will love it, some won’t. Either way, you’ll be discussing it long after you leave the theater, and it’ll stay in your mind even longer.

“The Approach” continues at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA. It continues until May 29. It will also be available for streaming. For tickets and information, go to shakepeare.org or call 413-637-3353.

Bob Goepfert is theater critic for the Troy Record.

Opinions expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of that resort or its direction.