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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mass MoCA a mecca of contemporary art

It's marvelous
Mass MoCA a mecca of contemporary art
By Kory Loucks
Journal Inquirer
Published: Thursday, June 9, 2011 4:06 PM EDT
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Just two hours away, the sprawling, stunning Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is never the same place twice.

Unlike many museums, MASS MoCA, one of the largest contemporary art museums in the country, has no real permanent collection, and most of the exhibits remain for about 10 months.

Anytime is a good time to visit, but MASS MoCA really comes to life in the summer, with not only art installations, some of which are truly mammoth, but also concerts and live performances through out the summer months and into the fall.

The museum employs 65 full-time employees, most of whom work on maintaining the extensive 100,000-square-foot facility.

MASS MoCA Marketing and Public Relations Director Katherine Myers said visitors love the ever-changing exhibits, knowing that each visit is different than the last.

The museum, which celebrated its 12th anniversary over Memorial Day weekend, originally started with $35 million from the state of Massachusetts; most of the funds were used to refurbish the spacious 19th-century mill.

Today, the museum is independent and self-sustaining, receiving its income from admission fees, the gift store, leasing office space, and a relatively small endowment.

Against all odds, Myers said, the museum is surviving, despite the economy.

“It still continues to be fragile, but its better than when we started,” Myers said.

Their paid docents give tours of the gallery, telling viewers about the artwork and the artists.

What sets the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art apart from most museums is its lack of a permanent collection, unless you consider the semi-permanent “Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective.”

The collection of 105 wall drawings is a collaboration between Yale University Art Gallery, the Williams College Museum of Art, and MASS MoCA.

Covering 27,000 square feet on three massive floors, it has been in the museum since 2008, and is on loan for 25 years, at which time it will consider whether to continue displaying the collection.

LeWitt, a Hartford native who died in 2007 at age 78, was intimately involved with designing the space where his works are displayed.

“It’s like the artist curated his own show,” Myers said.

Rather than paint the artwork himself, LeWitt detailed instructions for others to duplicate his works, but for the most part, they can be replicated at only one location at a time.

For the most part, MASS MoCA does collect art, but has constantly evolving, new exhibits, Myers said, adding that she finds children in particular enjoy the contemporary art.

“Kids love it here because they have no expectations about what art is supposed to be,” Myers said.

For adults, she recommends they leave their “desire to explain everything at the door.”

She said that their Kidspace — although designed for children — is a place where everyone can create art based on a theme, at no additional cost.

The museum also has a summer schedule full of live performances, including its second Wilco Solid Sound Festival, which attracted more than 5,000 fans last year.

The festival is scheduled for three days, beginning on Friday, June 24, with comedy, music, and, of course, lots of art.

The Charlie Chaplin silent film “The Kid,” with live score by guitarist Marc Ribot, will be shown at 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 9.

The museum, at 87 Marshall St., North Adams, Mass. is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and closed on Tuesdays.

Admission is $15 for adults and seniors, $10 for students, $5 for children ages 6 to 16, and free to children 5 and younger.

For more information, call 417-664-4481 or visit:

Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament also offers food, wine, and fashion

Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament also offers food, wine, and fashion
By Kory Loucks
Published: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 10:07 PM EDT
NEW HAVEN — Wimbledon might have its strawberries and cream, but the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament has its delectable lobster rolls, delicious crepes, top-quality hot dogs and hamburgers, and much more at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale starting Friday, Aug. 20.

“Our overall strategy is to have something for everyone,” Anne Worcester, tournament director, says of the tournament’s food offerings, adding that with all the choices, “It’s impossible to lose weight this time of year.”

In the food court the tournament will have selections including lobster rolls at One Fish, Two Fish, crepes at Crepe Express, grilled high-quality hot dogs and hamburgers at The Café, gourmet pizza at Courtside Pizza, and ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s.

Worcester says New Haven has become an international culinary destination, and it has been the organizers’ goal to feature some of the area restaurants at their Food and Wine Festival from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 25.

This is the third year for the event, which sold out in the first five weeks, Worcester says. Tickets cost $125, and the festival will include selections from 21 New Haven restaurants and box seat tickets to that evening’s tennis match.

Master chef and cookbook author Jacques Pepin adds star power to this popular event. Pepin is a tennis fan, which made the pairing a natural.

“He’s passionate about tennis,” Worcester says of Pepin. “That’s how we made the connection.”

Each of the restaurants was asked to offer a savory and a sweet dish.

Donna Curran, co-owner with Chef Denise Appel of Zinc and Kitchen Zinc Artisan Pizza and Bar, says the event gives them an opportunity to feature some of their food, including chilled corn and cilantro soup with blue crab salad and summer melon terrine with basil and yogurt foam.

Their offering from Kitchen Zinc will be toasted quinoa with arugula pesto and Hudson Valley goat cheese buttons with raspberry drizzle.

“It’s a fabulous way to spend a night,” Curran says. “Once you get your ticket you can eat as much as you want. It’s a lot of fun and a great bargain too.”

David Foster, who owns Foster’s, is serving edamame hummus on sesame flat bread and for his sweet dish he is serving s’mores crème brulee, with white chocolate crème brulee and chocolate ganache, graham crackers, and toasted marshmallows.

“These are both part of our menu and indicative of what we offer,” Foster says. “So if you like it you can come to our restaurant.

“I think it is a great thing,” Foster says of the festival. “It is a great way to showcase the restaurants in town.”

Chef Jean Pierre Vuillermet with Union League Café is serving a sophisticated dish of braised beef cheeks with a condiment of mixed vegetables and capers in white wine with orange zest.

Vuillermet says it is similar in flavor to a beef bourguignon but lighter.

The dessert is a chocolate pot de crème, which is like a rich and velvety chocolate mousse.

Vuillermet says he is a tennis fan who has been involved with the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament for years.

He says he enjoys the food and wine event because “it gets us out of the kitchen and gets us to meet with other chefs.”

Chef Claire Criscuolo, with her husband Frank, owns the vegetarian restaurant Claire’s Corner Copia and the Italian restaurant Basta Trattoria next door.

From their vegetarian restaurant, which has been in New Haven for 35 years, they are going to offer a trio of brochette with toppings of truffle and organic mushrooms, artichokes, and organic white bean with broccoli rabe.

For their sweet offering she says they will have mini cupcakes and their signature Lithuanian coffeecake.

“We have gotten quite a cult following” for the coffeecake, Criscuolo says.

From their Basta restaurant, they are offering orecchietti pasta with organic arugula from their garden, extra virgin olive oil, young garlic, and flecks of pepper from the Amalfi coast in Italy.

“It’s so much fun,” Criscuolo says. “It’s a beautiful combination of a joyous event with excitement. It’s the most exciting day of the year.”

Other participating restaurants include 116 Crown, Barcelona, Bentara, Bespoke, Caseus, Central Steakhouse, Geronimo, Heirloom, Ibiza, John Davenport’s, L’Orcio, Miso, Pacifico, Thali, and Thali Too.

On Tuesday, Aug. 24, another sold-out event is the wine-tasting evening, featuring a representative from Riedle Crystal who will speak about why using the right wine glass is just as important as choosing the right wine.

The event also includes a wine tasting, light hors d’oeuvres, and a suite pass to the Courtside Club overlooking Stadium Court.

There still are some tickets available for the tournament’s third annual Vineyard Vines Ladies Day Luncheon and Fashion Show hosted by Island Time, on Thursday, Aug. 25, starting at 11:30 a.m., which will include a fashion show and luncheon, along with box seats to the afternoon’s tennis matches.

Worcester says some of the male tennis players escort the models, who are wearing fall fashions, down the runway.

“It’s really quite amazing,” Worcester says.

All the participants receive a gift bag filled with valuable items that alone are worth at least as much as the $105 ticket price, she says.

For more information, visit the tournament’s website at:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My pal Al...

Al Jarreau played at a free concert today at Stern Grove and before the show I got to go back stage to his dressing room and say hello. I interviewed him last year for the Journal Inquirer in Connecticut when he put on a show at University of Connecticut, and had such a wonderful time.

Not bad for a man in his 70's who has won seven Grammy Awards over four decades...

I was great to see him once again. He is just a doll...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bushnell’s “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” an amazing holiday delight

by Kory Loucks

HARTFORD — Over 30 tumblers, jugglers, skaters, clowns, contortionists, and singers from Mongolia, Uzbekistan, China, Ethiopia, the United States, and many other countries join together for an amazing performance of holiday delights in “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through Saturday.
There is no real plot to this stunning acrobatic circus, created and directed by Neil Goldberg, with Assistant Artistic Director Heather Hoffman. The premise is simply that Christmas ornaments come to life, and it works splendidly.
The recorded music was too loud to start Tuesday, but then became more tolerable, with music and lyrics by Jill Winters and David Scott, and additional music by Lance Conque and Tony Aliperti.
There are familiar holiday songs such as “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree,” and the beautiful “Holy Night” all sung by Joanna Carpenter and the fabulous Christina Rodi. Rodi could probably tour all by herself — she’s that good.
Devid Tsytko from the Ukraine kicks off the evening, after the opening ensemble song “Once Upon a Dream,” with some precise Diabolo work that he performed seamlessly. The Diabolo is a kind of freeform yo-yo tossed on a string or stick held by the performer’s two hands. A simple concept, but like juggling that is well done, it’s fascinating to watch.
Buyankhishig and Erdenesuvd Ganbaatar, contortionists from Mongolia, played Flying Reindeer and Flexible Dolls, twisting their lithe bodies into incredible pretzel shapes both on the ground and spinning in the air.
Bing and Jun Long, also contortionists and jugglers from China, squeezed into tiny tubes that made me a bit claustrophobic, but were also incredible to witness.
The degree of professionalism and quality of the acts was impressive. There is never a moment when there wasn’t something engaging happening on stage.
Even when the acts were changing, other entertainment was taking place, making for smooth transitions from act to act.
Kaylee Couvillion, Louis Joseph LaVecchia, Charles Robinson, and Colleen McCary from the United States are Skipping Elves, performing some unbelievable jump rope action.
They even have a magic act with Natalia Khazina and Ilya Ryzhkov from Russia as quick-change artists that perform costume changes that defy the imagination.
Probably the most frightening act was performed by Anatoliy Yeniy of Moldova and Vladimir Dovgan from the Ukraine as the Wobbly Penguins. The two men were linked arm in arm on a tall, small platform balancing on a skateboard sized board with a cylinder underneath. The first attempt didn’t work and the board went flying. Then they added platform after platform until they were extremely high in the air.
There has got to be an easier way to earn a living. It was really incredible and breathtaking to witness.
For comic relief Martin Lamberti of Germany played the bell conductor clown who had four people from the audience participate in bell ringing. Lamberti was commanding, delightful, and thoroughly engaging.
Less successful was Jose Henry from Columbia as the tightrope walking Toy Soldier who fell off the bouncing rope more than once. Let’s hope he was just having a bad night.
Olena Piontkevych from the Ukraine and Andrey Lyamin from Russia were exquisite as the beautiful Flying Angels, gliding gracefully high in the air on two silken drapes.
The numerous day-glow colored costumes by Cirque Productions, Lenora Taylor, and Santiago Rojo were garish in the extreme, with strange bobbles and spikes coming out of some headpieces, but they got the point across that they were all ornaments.
Goldberg founded Cirque Dreams in 1993, and has numerous shows that tour, similar to the more familiar Cirque du Soleil. Cirque Dreams isn’t as sophisticated as the latter, but is more jam-packed with acts.
This is a terrific show for children, with Santa and Mrs. Claus available for photo ops, as well as ice skaters on a small rink in the lobby. At two hours it is a bit long for the very young.
Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the hectic holiday season and give the family the entertaining gift of “Cirque Dreams Holidaze.”

Four Stars
Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
Location: 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford
Production: Created and directed by Neil Goldberg. Music and lyrics by Jill Winters and David Scott with additional music by Lance Conque and Tony Aliperti. Costume design by Cirque Productions, Lenora Taylor, Santiago Rojo. Act design by Goldberg, Heather Hoffman, louri Klepatsky. Scenic design by Jon Craine. Lighting design by Kate Johnston.
Running time: 2 hours, plus one 20-minute intermission.
Show Times: Thursday at 6:30 p.m., Friday at 3 and 7 p.m., and Saturday at 1 p.m., through Dec. 20.
Tickets: $30 to $65. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website at

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dan Domingues, from left, Kevyn Morrow, Ariel Woodiwiss, and Kate MaCluggage in "It's A Wonderful Life - A Live Radio Play" at Long Wharf Theatre. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Long Wharf’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life — A Live Radio Play’ holds its own

by Kory Loucks

NEW HAVEN — When it comes to the play adaptation of the beloved Frank Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” one of the most inspirational shows ever, there’s no need to mess with perfection.
Directed by Eric Ting and written by Joe Landry, this mostly faithful reworking of the film has the entire dialog, but sets it in a 1940s radio studio and turns it into a radio play. So far, so good, but for some reason they make it seem like a person from today’s world stumbles upon this old studio and then becomes the lead in the show.
I would have much preferred just doing the show as a straight radio play of the script, because it more than stands on it own. Even the title is overdone. It could simply be called “It’s a Wonderful Life — a Radio Play.” Obviously if it’s a play it’s live.
The plot set in the 1940s was originally written as a story by Philip Van Doren Stern called “The Greatest Gift.” It follows the life of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart in the film and Alex Moggridge on stage.
George lives in a little town called Bedford Falls and as a child dreamed of traveling the world on grand adventures. When he is old enough to pursue his dreams, they are quashed when his father suddenly dies and he has to run the family business, the small savings and loan company that helps families own their own homes in the community.
When George’s absent-minded uncle who also works for the family business goes to make a deposit at the bank one day he inadvertently gives it to Mr. Potter, the scrooge of the town who wants to monopolize and control everything and everyone.
Unlike scrooge, however, Potter goes through no transformation. It is George who must change. George becomes desperate and convinces himself that he would be better off dead than alive.
About a third of the way through the production when George is about to commit suicide, the five talented actors who play all the indelible characters, leave the stage and George is left there on his own.
The other characters are still audible, as are the sound effects, but they are no longer on the stage.
This started me to wonder if any of the sound effects that appeared to be made by the actors when they were on stage were actually done by them or if they were all recorded in advance and they were just going through the motions. I don’t know the answer, but their absence detracted from play.
Alex Moggridge as George is believable and tugs at your heart as the man who finds out how important he is to his whole community, but there is no reason to leave him on stage alone during this section of the show.
I am not sure if they felt that the story wasn’t interesting enough as it is and needs something more, but it is and it doesn’t.
The set by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams is convincing as an old radio recording studio and the costumes by Jessica Ford are all fine period outfits, especially the women’s clothes since the men’s styles really haven’t changed all that much.
The actors, including Dan Domingues, Kate MacCluggage, Kevyn Morrow, and Ariel Woodiwiss, are simply amazing, doing the voices of all the characters so well. The are the real delight of this show.
Despite the unnecessary fiddling about, this iconic tale still holds its own in “It’s a Wonderful Life — A Live Radio Play,” at the Long Wharf Theatre through Dec. 31.
3 Stars
Theater: Long Wharf Theatre
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: By Joe Landry. Directed by Eric Ting. Set design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams. Costume design by Jessica Ford. Lighting design by Stephen Strawbridge. Sound design by John Gromada. Foley Artist Nathan Roberts. Stage Manager Lori Lundquist.
Running time: One hour 50 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Monday through Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m. on Dec. 24, and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. through Dec. 31.
Tickets: $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at
Dan Domingues
Kate MacCluggage
Alex Moggridge
Kevyn Morrow
Ariel Woodiwiss

Monday, December 12, 2011

Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" a romance for the ages

by Kory Loucks

NEW HAVEN — One of the many pleasures of reviewing college plays such as Yale School of Drama’s production of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” is the chance to see shows which are seldom seen but worth the effort.

Regarded as one of his romance plays written later in Shakespeare’s illustrious career, “Cymbeline” has many serious elements in it, such as war, kidnapping, death, and deception, that could have easily turned this happy ending play into a tragedy, had the characters made other, less thoughtful choices.

The plot has two recently married lovers, Imogen, the daughter to King Cymbeline, and Posthumus, driven apart by her father. He is influenced by his second Queen (a scheming Miriam A. Hyman), who wants her stepdaughter Imogen to marry her doltish simpleton son, Cloten (a delicious Lucas Dixon.)

Posthumus goes to Italy where he meets a man named Iachimo (a wily Brian Wiles) who says he can corrupt Posthumus’ wife and return with proof of it. Posthumus takes up the challenge, believing his wife is incorruptible.

In the meantime, it is revealed that Imogen (an effervescent Adina Verson) had two older brothers who were kidnapped 20 years ago by the banished Lord Belarius, (an expansive and intense Paul Pryce,) named Guiderius (Joshua Bermudez) and Arviragus (William DeMerritt.)

In addition to all this, Caius Lucius (Jack Moran), a general in the Roman army demands that Cymbeline pay tribute to Rome, which the king refuses to do, and so they go to war.

It’s a lot of plot, with many side issues, such as when the physician Cornelius (Tim Brown) gives the Queen what she thinks is poison, but turns out to be a potion that only imitates death. This is reminiscent of the potion that Juliet takes to feign death in the tragedy “Romeo and Juliet,” except in this case, Imogen thinks the potion is helpful medicine, being given it by the trusted servant, Pisanio, who believes the same.

When Posthumus (a passionate Fisher Neal) is tricked into believing that his wife Imogen has been unfaithful, rather than rashly killing her himself, as Othello does to Desdemona, he sends another, less reliable emissary to do the deed, Pisanio, who is loyal to Imogen.

And when he believes she is dead, Posthumus doesn’t kill himself as Romeo does, but repents and regrets his harsh judgments of his wife.

Cloten seems so childish, with an adult tricycle that pushes the joke a little too far, that when the tide shifts to dismemberment, it comes as a real surprise. In Shakespeare the most gruesome deeds often take place off stage, as is the case in “Cymbeline.”

Ably directed by Louisa Proske, the play is set behind the normal proscenium stage, giving an even more intimate and secret feeling to this unusual play. The period costumes are well made and give grandeur to the elegant regal scenes, and baseness to the forest setting, with costume design by Nikki Delhomme.

The dream scene with projections and the blue sky, along with little Jupiter (darling Rachel Miller) add depth and whimsical fantasy to this fine production.

With just a few props, such as chandeliers for the formal castle, and lowered stage lights for the battle scenes, and a raised backdrop with leaves for the cave, the sets, designed by Meredith B. Ries, communicate clearly the change in settings.

The music is spooky and eerie and moody and contributes to the melodrama, by composer and musician Michael Attias with sound by sound composer Palmer Hefferan.

The play came about during the start of the Comedy of Manners plays around 1608, but unlike others of its ilk, the characters in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” are all more than one dimensional stereotypes. Even the silly Cloten is brave and valiant, if unsuccessful in his efforts.

I would prefer that the Italians have Italian accents, and the English speak with English accents, instead of all sounding the identical.

The Yale School of Drama’s production of “Cymbeline” takes many twists and turns, but it’s an enjoyable and entertaining ride.

4 stars
Theater: University Theatre
Location: 222 York St., New Haven
Production: By William Shakespeare. Directed by Louisa Proske. Scenic design by Meredith B. Ries. Costume design by Nikki Delhomme. Lighting design by Solomon Weisbard. Sound Composer Palmer Hefferan. Composer and Musician Michael Attias. Dramaturg Kee-Yoon Nahm. Stage Manager Nicole Marconi.
Running time: 3 hours including a 15-minute intermission
Show times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Dec. 16.
Tickets: $25. For tickets 203-432-1234 or visit their website at
Adina Verson … Imogen
Fisher Neal … Posthumus
Brian Wiles … Iachimo
Miriam A. Hyman … The Queen
Robert Grant … Cymbeline
Lucas Dixon … Cloten and others
Paul Pryce … Belarius and others
Joshua Bermudez … Guiderius and others
Tim Brown … Cornelius and others
William DeMeritt … Arviragus and others
Michael Place … Pisano
Jack Moran … Caius Lucius and others
Rachel Miller … Jupiter

Carson Waldron, seated left, with girls Addison Marchese, Kearney Capuano, Kaitlyn Vitelli, and adults Carolina Read and Michael McDermott in Ivoryton Playhouse's original "Home for the Holidays." Photo by Anne Hudson.

Whimsical, spontaneous ‘Home For The Holidays’ at Ivoryton

by Kory Loucks

IVORYTON — “Home For The Holidays” is a sweet new holiday production that hopefully will become an annual tradition at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

Conceived and directed by Ivoryton Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard, it’s a holiday gift to the community and the special, magical theater.

The premise is that they are rehearsing the play “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve when the weather outside turns into a blizzard and the old tree in front of the playhouse crashes into the road, blocking traffic and taking out the power lines.

Sound familiar? The roads are impassible and other people traveling through are forced to come to the theater, which is equipped with a generator. Throughout the evening parents, friends, and children sing Christmas carols that fit seamlessly into the story, such as when the children sing the lullaby “Away in the Manger” to the little boy infant to help him sleep.

Liz Pester is sarcastic and amusing as Holly, whose birthday is on Christmas day. She playfully teases Joe, played by Brandon Clark, for having a crush on the actress Christina, played by Alanna Burke.

Clark is fine as the lovesick young man, and Burke hits just the right notes as the narcissistic actress singing “Santa Baby.”

Norm Rutty is really funny and touching as the grumpy old Norm, and sings a delightfully anti-Christmas song.

Music Director John Sebastian DeNicola plays John, who is frantic to reach his partner and sings one of my favorite songs of all time, Joni Mitchell’s “River.”

Jason Naylor plays the stagehand Steve and sings a touching duet with Erica LuBonta, the single, harried mother named Cat.

Gayle LaBrec plays the sweet Jennifer, with a beautiful voice, and sings a clever rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas” about her loser ex-boyfriend.

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a coffee mug he got at work for free,” she sings.

Addison Marchese is absolutely adorable as the little girl, Sammie, who wants a puppy for Christmas and just steals the show when she is on stage.

All the children give the show so much energy and life, including Kaitlyn Vitelli as Emily, Carson Waldron as Tucker, and Kearney Capuano as Cassie.

Beverly J. Taylor plays Helen whose car got stuck on the road while taking home her elderly and hard-of-hearing friend Jane (a fantastic Maggie McLone Jennings.)

Jennings is witty and sharp with her constant misunderstandings of what is being said.

When Helen says to Jane, “I’m going to see if the car starts,” Jane replies, “No dear, I don’t need anything from Wal-Mart.”

It’s also moving when Jane talks about her grandfather who was in World War I, and how he told her that on the front lines both sides stopped fighting on Christmas Eve and sang “Silent Night.” The cast then sang the hymn in English and German. Carolina Read is marvelous as the mom Sarah, dancing gracefully on toe shoes to “The Nutcracker.”

Michael McDermott has a glorious voice. He plays Sarah’s husband Rob, and is very funny and real when he blames Sarah for making them late. Celeste Cumming plays Celeste the cellist, who, along with the talented Gayle LaBrec on the violin and flute and DeNicola on piano, adds so much to this production.

The set by Jo Nazro, of “A Christmas Carol,” serves the plot well and I love the whimsical Christmas tree created out of garlands on a ladder.

Kudos to Hubbard for somehow pulling this off in just over a month. All the performers work smoothly together in this lovely and loving, spontaneous production, “Home For The Holidays,” through Dec. 18.

Three ½ Stars
Theater: Ivoryton Playhouse
Location: 103 Main Street, Ivoryton
Production: Conceived and directed by Jacqueline Hubbard. Music direction by John Sebastian DeNicola. Choreography by Meghan McDermott. Scenic design by Jo Nazro. Stage Manager Jim Clark. Lighting design by Doug Harry.
Running time: 2 hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Dec. 18.
Tickets: $30 for adults, $28 for seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318 or visit their website at
Liz Pester ... Holly
Brandon Clark ... Joe
Jason Naylor ... Steve
Celeste Cummings ... Celeste
Erica LuBonte ... Cat
Norm Rutty ... Norm
John Sebastian DeNicola ... John
Alanna Burke ... Christina
Addison Marchese ... Sammie
Beverley J. Taylor ... Helen
Maggie McGlone Jennings ... Jane
Kaitlyn Vitelli ... Emily
Michael McDermott ... Rob
Carolina Read ... Sarah
Carson Waldron ... Tucker
Kearney Capuano ... Cassie
Will Schneider ... David

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ryan Winkles as Crumpet the Elf in David Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries" at Shakespeare & Co.

"The Santaland Diaries" at Shakespeare & Co. a mixed bag

by Kory Loucks

LENOX, Mass. — The holidays are definitely upon us, with lots of seasonal activities and traditions. One that is becoming its own new tradition is “The Santaland Diaries,” written by David Sedaris and adapted to the stage by Joe Mantello.

The premise is basically a retelling of the story of Sedaris’ time working at Macy’s Santaland as Crumpet the Elf during the Christmas season.

Ryan Winkles plays the perky, somewhat salacious, and occasionally creepy elf. He is in his tastefully decorated Pottery Barn living room in a New York City apartment, with set design by Patrick Brennan.

At the start of the show he is preparing for a holiday party when he sees the audience and gently chastises us for being an hour early. It’s a cute premise that allows him to launch into his story about his time as a Christmas elf. Interacting with the audience and offering us candy canes is a sweet touch, directed by Tony Simotes.

Sedaris’ tale was first a book, and despite all the dancing and twirling and skipping around by the graceful, energetic, and adorable Winkles, it feels for the most part like a saga best told on paper.

He regales us with stories of his experiences, good and bad, in great detail, bordering on too much information. For example, when he talks about the women elves not wearing underwear and the reason that isn’t acceptable, it’s gross and not necessary.

He also talks about the abusive parents he saw who slapped their children to get them to stop crying. If that really happened, and there’s no reason to believe that it didn’t, it’s pretty disturbing that no one did anything to stop them.

Most of the elves are high school kids, we learn, which this 33-year-old man says he likes because “I get to see them in their underwear” in the changing rooms. That is not cool and very creepy.

The elf suit, by Costume Designer Govane Lohbauer, is just as cute as can be, and Winkles dons the outfit before our eyes, which gives his story more color.

The rest of the show is dedicated to giving descriptions of his fellow elves, the Santa Clauses, and the abuse he takes from customers for being an elf.

I was deeply moved when he described the last Santa speaking to the children and their parents, not about toys and presents, but about loving and caring for each other. It was sincere and beautiful.

This is the behind-the-scenes look at the world of Santa, so it’s probably not best for young believers.

Winkles started out a little rocky at a recent Sunday matinee, as if he didn’t know all his lines, but he picked up steam near the end and finished with a flourish.

It’s a mixed bag of Christmas cheer at “The Santaland Diaries,” playing at Shakespeare & Company through Friday, Dec. 30.

Stage review

3 stars

"The Santaland Diaries"

Theater: Shakespeare & Company.

Location: Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.

Production: Written by David Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello. Set design by Patrick Brennan. Costume design by Govane Lohbauer. Lighting design by Stephen D. Ball. Sound design by Michael Pfeiffer. Stage Manager Hope Rose Kelly.

Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.

Show times: Friday through Sunday, including most Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. as well as performances Monday through Friday at 7:30 p.m. during Christmas week through Dec. 30. There is no performance on Dec. 25.

Tickets: $16 to $49. For more information, call the box office at 413-637-3353 or visit:


Ryan Winkle.......................Crumpet the Elf

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Maria Dizzia as Abby, and Gilbert Owuor as Alioune in a scene from "Belleville." (Photo by Joan Marcus.)
"Belleville" a compelling, dynamic play

by Kory Loucks

NEW HAVEN — Not all is as it appears in the world premiere of Amy Herzog’s play “Belleville” — a fine contemporary drama with unexpected twists and turns.

Newlyweds Abby and Zack, a recent medical school graduate, are living in the funky Belleville district of Paris where he has accepted a position as a pediatric AIDS researcher.

Abby has many neurotic issues including an over-attachment to her father, and Zack is doing all he can to manage her, to the point of withholding her cell phone from her.

She is something of a lost soul, taking French lessons then giving them up saying that it is unnecessary because everyone speaks English, and teaching a little yoga.

She arrives home early one afternoon and finds Zack unexpectedly there. As the play continues, the landlord and his wife, Alioune and Amina, enter, and it becomes evident that something is not right in this dimly lit corner of the City of Light.

Maria Dizzia plays Abby, a sarcastic woman who is drifting through life, opting to have her primary identity be that of a doctor’s wife, a role for the 32 year old that is far too narrow for her, but one that she thinks she wants.

Abby’s sister back in the United States is having a difficult pregnancy, but they can’t go home because of Visa problems, we learn.

I had some problem believing that Abby was talking with anyone on the other end of the phone. Zack was more convincing.

In France, the Belleville district is an area where few tourists visit, but where a richly diverse population lives and works.

The impressive set is the one bedroom flat where Zack and Abby have been living for the past four months. Designed by Julia C. Lee, it is one of the best, most detailed sets I have seen in a long time, with even the rooftop view of the chimneys.

I wondered about the broken restaurant sign visible out their apartment window, however. Granted, it’s supposed to be a lower income area, but it looks like something one would see in a war zone.

Still, the overall set looks like a work of art, and was fully utilized by director Anne Kauffman.

Kauffman showed courage allowing some scenes to be completely silent for what felt like an almost excruciatingly long time, but at the same time the silence felt completely appropriate and compelling.

It was the same, too, at the end of the play, where little is said but so much is communicated.

The French immigrant’s accents of Alioune and Amina, played by Gilbert Owuor and Pascale Armand, were believable and necessary to give the play its sense of foreignness. Fine work by vocal and dialect coach Beth McGuire.

There are some genuinely frightening and disturbing moments where the unstable characters reveal their long-kept secrets.

This underlying and increasing tension holds “Belleville” together and sweeps the audience along, even when logic says that the secrets probably would have been discovered long before they saw the light of day.

The combination of dynamic acting, confident direction, and strong writing make “Belleville” an excellent, compelling play.

Stage review

3 1/2 stars


Theater: Yale Repertory Theatre

Location: University Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven.

Production: Written by Amy Herzog. Directed by Anne Kauffman. Scenic design by Julia C. Lee. Costume design by Mark Nagle. Lighting design by Nina Hyun Seung Lee. Sound Designer and Composer Robert Kaplowitz. Production dramaturgs Amy Boratko and Alex Ripp. Vocal and dialect coach Beth McGuire. Fight directors Rick Sordelet and Jeff Barry.

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Show times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees as 2 p.m., through Nov. 12.

Tickets: $25-$54. Call 203-432-1234 or visit:


Greg Keller...............................................Zack

Maria Dizzia............................................Abby

Gilbert Owuor....................................Alioune

Pascale Armand..................................Amina

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1/2 star designates half-rating higher