1990 Gardner Museum Art Theft Netflix Series Features Sets and Actors from Berkshire Theater Group | Local News


A dot-matrix printer spat out the silent alarm again and again in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990. The alarm went unanswered. The largest art burglary in US history was taking place; security guards were handcuffed and tied up with duct tape in the basement of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The heist will last 81 minutes; 13 works of art worth $500 million were taken. Among the items stolen were “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of ​​Galilee“, the only known seascape painted by Rembrandt, and”The concert», one of the 36 paintings by Johannes Vermeer.

The art was never found. FBI prime suspects George Reissfelder and Lenny DiMuzio both died less than a year after the robbery. the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum continues to offer $10 million reward for information leading to the return of items.

The art theft, the resulting investigation, and the web of theories regarding the whereabouts of the artwork and possible links to Whitey Bulger, the Boston Mafia, and the IRA are central to this story. a new four-episode Netflix docuseries, “It’s a Heist: World’s Biggest Art Heist”, posted on the streaming service on April 7.

“I think everyone in Massachusetts knows there was a robbery, but not exactly what happened,” director Colin Barnicle said in a phone interview with The Eagle. “I always thought it was a ‘Thomas Crown Affair’ burglary.”

The true-crime docuseries is a first for Barnicle and his brother, Nick Barnicle, who serves as one of the show’s producers. Their production company, Barnicle Brothers Inc.is best known for her sports and music documentaries, including the film “Billy Joel: The New York State of Mind.”

“It’s been a slow process,” Colin Barnicle said. “Tracks were shot as early as 2016. It took five or six years to get to this point.”

After years of research, court visits, research of former Gardner Museum employees and set interviews – the production was ready to begin its final phase of filming in early 2020. As COVID-19 began to spread across the globe, it became imperative that the production find locations to film their evocations (re-enactments).

“We were four years into production before shooting those scenes; outside of what we needed to shoot in Boston, we needed a controllable area to shoot. There aren’t many places like that in the northeast,” he said.

Barnicle turned to associate producer Alex Hill for help. Hill, in turn, contacted his mother, Kate Maguire, artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theater Group.

“This series would not have been possible without the help of the Berkshire Theater Group,” said Barnicle. “They took the ball and ran with it. Every evocation that didn’t happen at the Gardner Museum was filmed in Berkshires on the campus of the Berkshire Theater Group. Their team built all the sets, making sure the actual proportions were correct. They provided the wardrobe, the lighting, provided actors for the lead roles, and even cast the additional roles.

On the spot: It's a robbery

The Netflix docuseries, “This is a Robbery”, filmed scenes in various locations across the Berkshires, including spots inside and behind the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield. Other locations included the Berkshire Museum and the Unicorn Theater.

Filming in the Berkshires took place in mid-February 2020, just weeks before Governor Charlie Baker shut down most of Massachusetts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Working with the Barnicle Brothers was a dream come true for the Berkshire Theater Group. We were able to use each of our campuses, build sets, provide tech support, bring in local actors, and work with a really creative and professional team led by director Colin Barnicle,” Maguire said in an email.

Actor Chris Vecchia, who has worked with BTG for the past decade and last appeared on 2019’s “A Christmas Carol,” portrayed Reissfelder, one of two men the FBI says entered the Gardner Museum posing as police officers. The other thief, DiMuzo, was played by BTG actor Joshua Bishoff.

“At the Unicorn Theatre, the whole stage has been transformed into an office. Standing on stage, you still had that theater vibe. It’s amazing how different it looks through the eye of the camera. It looked like an entirely different scene,” Vecchia said, adding that another stage was turned into Reissfelder’s apartment, where he allegedly hung one of Manet’s stolen paintings on his wall.

Vecchia also spent time filming in the Colonial Theater basement, where BTG actor Brandon Lee, as security guard Rick Abath, was handcuffed and tied up with duct tape.

“Rick is the guy who made history as the man who let the thieves in. It’s a weird series of weird decisions, at least for Rick – assuming he’s not involved – which led to him being tied up in the basement,” said Lee, who appeared on “Godspell” last summer. “I spent most of one of my days in handcuffs and duct tape. They used double sided tape so they could stick it around my head and not stick it to my wig or my face. Because of the duct tape, I could only see with the lower third of my field of vision in a dark basement, handcuffed. It was definitely one of the weirdest days of an acting job.

Vecchia also spent time filming in Boston; filming in front of the Gardner Museum and driving through the streets of Boston.

“When we were in Boston, the street we were turning into was closed. I was playing a robber dressed as a Boston police officer, so I was wearing a uniform,” he said. “During a break, I was standing at the end of the street, when a policeman approached the traffic light around the corner. He looked at me and gave me a professional nod. That’s how professional this production was; everything I wore, down to the hat and badge, was so authentic that a real policeman thought I was an officer on set.

It's a flight

Associate producer Alex Hill adjusts the focus of a camera on the set of ‘This is A Robbery’. Brandon Lee (seated) plays Rick Abath, the guard on duty the night of the art theft. Also pictured are (second from right) Shawn Ryder, grip, and Jeff Siegel, producer, who poses as a cop.

The time spent filming in the Berkshires – around 20 setups – allowed the docuseries to finish filming before parts of the country found themselves in a pandemic-induced lockdown, Barnicle said.

So what can viewers expect from the docuseries?

“We decided to keep it simple and enjoyable for everyone, especially those hearing about this crime for the first time. We were interested in providing accurate insight into the crime scene and what happened there,” Barnicle said.

Because of this focus, he said about 90% of the searches done don’t show up in the series.

“We had four episodes to work on. We needed a beginning, a middle and an end for a case that was unsolved, untried and with no paper trail,” Barnicle said. “Everyone has a theory about what happened.”

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