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Thursday, December 18, 2008

“Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” a silly sweet new musical

EAST HADDAM — Enter a fantastic world of Frogtown Hollow, where dreams come to life, and gifts from the heart are the most important things in the lovely tale of Jim Henson’s “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.”
Adapted from the HBO television show with all Jim Henson puppets, which was based on an illustrated book by Russell and Lillian Hoban, this musical uses a clever combination of fabulous animal puppets and real people dressed as the animal menagerie, with music.
Emmet Otter, played with wide-eyed sweetness by Daniel Reichard, wants to give his mother a present, while the mom, Mrs. Alice Otter, played with nurturing kindness by Cass Morgan, wishes to give her son a gift, but neither has enough money.
They decide to enter the talent contest and win the $50 prize. This story begins as a story read to a little girl named Jane by her father. Jane is played by a petite and sweet Kate Wetherhead. In an Alice-in-Wonderland-like turn, she falls asleep and dreams she is in their animal world.
There are the bad Nightmare Band characters, including a funny Stan Weasel, played by Stephen Bienskie, who looks like a psychedelic version of the AC/DC guitarist Angus Young. Beware the catfish puppet, played by Tyler Bunch, that squirts the first few rows with water during the show.
The songs, with lyrics and music by Paul Williams, are either bluegrass, ballads, perky happy tunes, or the wild rock and roll song of the Nightmare Band. Some are from the televion show production, while others are new, and are all fine.
The most memorable is the song that Ma Otter and Emmet sing — “When the River Meets the Sea,” which is reprised again at the end, so they must know it is the money song of the show too.
The humor is puny and silly, such as when the fine Mrs. Mink played by Madeleine Doherty, starts to do a strip tease during her talent contest number, and the Mayor, played by the excellent Kevin Covert, ends it abruptly and then thanks her for her “revealing” number. Covert is so good, as is his wife, played by Lisa Howard, that it would have been great if they had bigger roles in the show.
That isn’t a criticism, but a complement to the volume of overwhelming talent of the whole cast. The puppets are terrific too, including the hyper flying squirrels that twittered and tumbled about, played by Tyler Bunch, Anney McKilligan, James Silson, and David Stephens.
The make up and wigs, which are uncredited, but are truly remarkable, particularly for Mayor and Mrs. Fox. The costumes, which are a riot of bright colors and imaginative textures, by Gregg Barnes, are lots of fun, with tons of padding for just about everybody. They must be incredibly hot to wear under the stage lights.
The set of the fairytale-like town and cottages is excellent, by Anna Louizos, and the forest trees are detailed with quirky pine needles on oak tree-like trunks.
The dad, played by Alan Campbell, has a fine voice, but he looks about a decade too young to play the teenage Jane’s dad.
It is difficult to tell who is having more fun, the audience or the actors, but that doesn’t really matter. What does is this sweet and delightful Christmas treat of a musical for all ages.


Three Stars
Location: Goodspeed Opera House, Route 82, East Haddam
Production: Music and lyrics by Paul Williams. Book by Timothy A. McDonald and Christopher Gattelli, who also directed and choreographed the show. Musical direction by Larry Pressgrove. Scene design by Anna Louizos. Costume design by Gregg Barnes. Lighting design by Brian MacDevitt.
Running time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and select Fridays, and New Years Day at 2 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7 p.m. with Saturday matinee at 3 p.m.; and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., with Sunday evening performance at 6:30 p.m. through Jan. 4. There are no performances Dec. 25,.
Tickets: $39 — $49. Call the box office at 860-873-8668 or visit their website at
Kate Wetherhead … Jane
Daniel Reichard … Emmet Otter
Cass Morgan … Mrs. Alice Otter
Robb Sapp … Wendell Porcupine
Lisa Howard … Mrs. Gretchen Fox
Kevin Covert … Mayor Harrison Fox
Madeleine Doherty … Mrs. Mink
Madam Squirrel … Sheri Sanders
Tyler Bunch … Doc Bullfrog and others

Monday, December 15, 2008

"It’s a Wonderful Life" makes a wonderful musical play

IVORYTON - Whether you have seen the Frank Capra film "It’s a Wonderful Life" or are one of the few who has not, this sometimes sentimental seasonal favorite translates well into a musical play.

First a short story then a film and now a musical play, "It’s a Wonderful Life" is a classic. The play centers on George Bailey, played by Chris Solimene, who is a remarkable incarnation of Jimmy Stewart who played the role in the movie.

George has dreams of going to college, traveling around the world, and becoming a famous architect, but instead stays in his small hometown of Bedford Falls and runs his family’s struggling Home Savings and Loan, marries his childhood friend Mary Hatch, played by Amy D. Forbes, and has four children.

Set in 1945 at the end of World War II, George struggles to make a success of the business, while Henry Potter, played with villainous greed by Donald Shirer, who owns the bank and just about everything else in town. He does everything he can to shut down George’s business, including trying to buy George out.

George’s Uncle Billy, played with befuddled ditziness by George Lombardo, loses $8,000 that he was supposed to deposit in the bank and George, facing ruin, scandal, and bankruptcy, considers committing suicide. Potter tells George with glee, "you are worth more dead than alive."
An angel second class who has yet to get his wings, Clarence Odbody, (played by Todd Little) comes down from heaven to help George. George gets his wish that he was never born, and sees what the people in his life, and his little town, would have been like without his generous and good influence.

The musical, told mostly in flash-backs, with a fine small orchestra lead by director and musical director John Sebastian DeNicola, never overpowers the actors, which is quite an achievement.

The choreography by Francesca Webster, with the Charleston, waltzes, and tangos, is admirable.

There is an interesting cacophony of Christmas carols at the start and then the familiar songs, along with some written for the show, are woven throughout. The theme song throughout is Irving Berlin’s "Puttin’ on the Ritz."

The actors are well cast, with the young George, played by Carlin Morris, who saves the drunken pharmacist, played by Aaron Tessler, from accidentally poisoning a child, and high school George, played by Jesse Eberl, who dreams of an exciting future.

Usually the Ivoryton Playhouse’s productions are predominately cast with professional actors, but this is their once a year community production with local actors. In this show, only Forbes, who plays Mary, is an Equity actor.

Here perhaps it is a disadvantage to have seen the film, because comparisons good and bad are inevitable. While Forbes does a fine job overall, when playing the younger Mary she seems too confident, and is missing the vulnerable anxiety and intense uncertainty that Donna Reed had playing Mary in the film.

At other times, it is an advantage to have seen the movie. For example, when they are dancing on the gym floor that opens up to reveal a pool underneath. In the play that scene was implied, but if you hadn’t seen the film, it wouldn’t make much sense.
The idea of sacrificing your dreams for the greater good of your community, and choosing integrity and ethics over personal wealth and enrichment is a beautiful morality tale that will never go out of style. The Ivoryton Playhouse’s production of "It’s a Wonderful Life" is a wonderful rendition of the touching and timeless story.

Three Stars
Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT
Production: Adapted for the stage by James W. Rodgers from the film by Frank Capra. Story by Philip Van Doren Stern. Directed and musical direction by John Sebastian DeNicola. Choreography by Francesca Webster. Lighting design by Doug Henry. Set design by Dan Nischan. Costume design by Vivianna Lamb. Wig and hair design by Joel Silvertro.
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Dec. 21.
Tickets: $25 for adults, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website at
Chris Solimene ... George Bailey
Todd Little ... Clarence Odbody
Mary Hatch ... Mary Bailey
Donald Shirer ... Henry F. Potter
George Lombardo ... Uncle Billy
Carin Morris ... Young George
Jesse Eberl... High School George
Ryan Zanoni ... Harry Bailey
Divinna Schmitt ... Mother Bailey
Lindsay Mamula ... Violet Peterson

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Legally Blonde, The Musical" cute with a captial "C"

HARTFORD - OhmyGod! "Legally Blonde The Musical" at the Bushnell Memorial Theater is like totally cute with a great big capital "C."

The musical, based on a novel by Amanda Johnson and also the movie starring Reese Witherspoon, takes well to the musical format, with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Hach.

The plot centers on the Barbie blonde from Malibu, Elle Woods, played with pixy intelligence by Becky Gulsvig. Elle is in blissful love with her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (played by the handsome and fine-voiced Jeff McLean), and thinks he is going to ask her to marry him. Instead Warner dumps her in UCLA on his way to Harvard Law School, so she decides to get into the law school too, to win his heart back and prove to him she can be serious.

Like any good fairy tale, she gets in to the inconceivably competitive law school with nary a problem, just by cutting down on a few extracurricular beach parties and boning up on her LSAT studies. Fantasies really do make the world go round. Once in Harvard, where she is accepted for "cultural diversity" reasons, she who wears pink like the new black puts her own particular fashion-forward twist on higher education.

Along the way she brings her old sorority friends with her, as her own personal Greek chorus, and meets an earthy-crunchy nice lawyer guy (you can tell he’s nice, because he wears a corduroy jacket) Emmett Forrest, played with sweet sincerity by D.B. Brown. Forrest takes one look at Elle’s pink powder-puff dorm room and amusingly says "Hello Kitty." To help her save time he buys her Pert - the shampoo and conditioner in one.

She also has run-ins of various flavors with the lecherous and privileged Professor Callahan, played with superiority by Ken Land, as well as Warner’s new girlfriend, Vivienne Kensington, played by Megan Lewis, who asks Elle "All that pink you are wearing - is that even legal?"

Elle makes new friends too, with the hairdresser with a big heart, Paulette, played with down-to-earth energy by Natalie Joy Johnson. Paulette also supplies the subplot, with her budding romance with a hysterically funny UPS delivery man, played by Ven Daniel, who gives a whole new meaning to package delivery.

There are four dogs (two are understudies) who play two dogs in the show, one a bulldog named Rufus, and the other a tiny pooch named Bruiser, trained by Bill Berloni. Berloni got his start with show animals in the musical "Annie" and has been using only rescued dogs ever since. One of the canine actors, Frankie, who plays Bruiser, was found as a stray in Meriden.

As silly as the premise is, there are some interesting and true observations about how insane our collective world of appearances is. Success isn’t all about a dog-eat-dog world, as they sing in "Blood in the Water" where "The thrill of the kill is in the blood," but listening and helping others.

This show is a physical workout that includes lots and lots of energetic cheerleader-type dancing and singing, with well-rehearsed and delivered choreography by director Jerry Mitchell.

The show began a bit rushed and disjointed, with the chorus singing much too fast and not enunciating enough to be understood, while the orchestra ran over them. Once things settled down, however, and the leads came on stage, all improved.

The whole "gaydar" trial thing was crude and dated, and the Irish fantasy songs were kind of weird and could have been eliminated without being missed. This lawyers-in-love perky musical feels like an updated homage to the old big budget movie musicals like "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, which puts it in pretty good company.


3 Stars
Theater: The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
Location: Mortensen Hall, 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Directed and choreography by Jerry Mitchell. Music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Book by Heather Hach. Based upon the novel by Amanda Brown and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture. Scenic design by David Rockwell. Costume design by Gregg Barnes. Lighting design by Ken Posner and Paul Miller. Sound design by Acme Sound Partners.
Running time: 2 and ½ hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Dec. 14.
Tickets: $25 - $75. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website at

Becky Gulsvig ... Elle Woods
Jeff McLean ... Warner Huntington III
Megan Lewis ... Vivienne Kensington
D.B. Bonds ... Emmett Forrest
Ken Land ... Professor Callahan
Natalie Joy Johnson ... Paulette

Monday, December 08, 2008

"A Civil War Christmas" a walk down history lane at Long Wharf

NEW HAVEN - It’s Christmas Eve, 1864 in Washington, D.C. in Paula Vogel’s ambitious musical play "A Civil War Christmas," making it’s impressive world premiere at Long Wharf Theatre.

Abraham Lincoln has just been re-elected president, the tide of war has turned in favor of the northern forces, and is nearing the conclusion of the country’s devastating Civil War, which ended in April, 1865. Five days after the war’s end, the actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln.

Many familiar, along with some less usual Christmas carols are seamlessly woven in among the various vignettes and subplots of the play, including "Peace on Earth," "Rise up Shepherd," "Tidings of Comfort and Joy," "God Rest Yea Merry Gentlemen," "What Child is This?" "O Christmas Tree," and "Silent Night."

The actors all do a excellent job of making the iconic archetypal characters feel personal, such as Jay Russell as the generous and languid Abraham Lincoln, and Diane Sutherland as the complex and troubled historical scapegoat, Mary Todd Lincoln, who famously wore kid gloves once and then tossed away. Guy Adkins plays a self-possessed and determined John Wilkes Booth.

The play’s 14 actors work double-time playing many roles, including mules and horses, giving faces to actual people and events, with some artist license taken by Vogel to make it all fit into one evening. Some of the actors also impressively play musical instruments, such as Brain Tyree Henry who plays an accordion, Drew McVety plays the violin.

The production also highlights the less well-known contributions of African Amercians, as well as Jewish men who fought in the Civil War.

Ora Jones does an outstanding job playing the heartbroken stoic Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who worked as a seamstress and confidant to Mary Todd Lincoln. Keckley had purchased her freedom and was able to send her son to college, only to learn he died in the war.

Also intense and fine was Marc Damon Johnson who played Decatur Bronson, an African-American Union sergeant, who is a composite of two historic figures, Decatur Dorsey and James Bronson. Johnson plays a decorated hero who is tormented with grief because raiders kidnapped his wife, and he vows to find her and kill them.

The solid multi-level wooden set, designed by James Schuette, is intricate and works well, and is well-used by director Tina Landau. It manages to represent many scenes, from a river, to a blacksmiths forge, to the White House, with ease. The cast moves smoothly as a dynamic whole around the stage.

Mentioned at the beginning and the end of the play, ‘the hope of peace, which may be sweeter than peace itself’ is perhaps true.

The famous and not-so-famous all share a common humanity, and this time of year, and in this fine play, it is a good time to remember that we are all in this life together, and if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

It would be great to see this American original become an annual tradition because it is our story, and one that deserves to be heard over and over again.


3 Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by Paula Vogel. Directed by Tina Landau. Music supervised, arranged, and orchestrated by Daryl Waters. Musical director Andrew Resnick. Set designed by James Schuette. Costumes designed by Toni-Leslie James. Lighting designed by Scott Zielinski. Sound designed by Josh Horvath. Dialect design by Amy Stoller. Hair, wig and makeup design by Wendy Parson.
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. through Dec. 21.
Tickets: Start at $32. For more information call their box office at 203-776-2287, or visit their website at

Guy Adkins ... John Wilkes Booth, Robert E. Lee, William Tecumseh Sherman, and others
Justin Blanchard ... Chester Manton Saunders, Hay, John Surratt, and others
Susanna Flood ... Raz, Anna Surratt, and others
J.D. Goldblatt ... Ely Parker, Silver, Frederick Wormley, Moses Levy, and others
Brian Tyree Henry ... Willy Mack Walker Lewis, Jim Wormley, and others
Marc Damon Johnson ... Decatur Bronson, James Wormley, and others
Bianca Laverne Jones ... Hannah, Rose, Aggy, and others
Ora Jones ... Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Thomas, and others
Drew McVety ... Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ulysses S. Grant, Ward Hill Lamon, and others
Jay Russell ... Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, and others
Rachel Shapiro Alderman ... Nicolay, Mary Surratt, Clara Barton, Widow Saunders, and others
Diane Sutherland ... Mary Todd Lincoln, Secretary of War Stanton, and others
Scott Thomas ... Lewis Payne, Mosby Raider, and others
Faith Philpot, Malenky Welsh ... Jessa, Little Joe
HSC "A Christmas Carol" familiar festive holiday treat

HARTFORD - Perhaps because of the more somber economic mood this holiday season, the Hartford Stage Company’s beloved production of Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol- A Ghost Story" seems to carry an even more important statement of what is most precious in life - family, friends, and love.

Year after year the timeless tale of "Bah Humbug" Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from miserly, miserable, greedy old man to generous, loving, and happy old soul winds it’s way into thousands of hearts in hundreds of theaters across the country.

Directed by Michael Wilson, this interpretation of the classic tale uses just the right amount of gold dust and sparkles to entrance even the most hardened theatergoer. The choreography, by Hope Clarke is seamless, as always, with creative use of the cutout white umbrellas that help make the show a visual feast.

White grotesque ghosts, with blank scary masks, axes in their heads, and swords piercing their bodies dance with rigid grace - some flying through the air with rattling chains and lighting strikes, making this show too scary for very young children.

Alan Rust plays the mean skinflint Scrooge to perfection - hoarding every penny with glee, which makes his eventual transformation all the more uplifting and hopeful.
Scrooge’s nephew Fred, well-played by Curtis Billings, says to Scrooge: "You fear the world too much," and tells his family that he feels sorry for his uncle, since he recognizes that Scrooge’s mean behavior really only hurts the old man in the end.

The Spirit of Christmas Future is the scariest of the three ghosts, because the creature says nothing at all.

In the Hartford Stage Company’s production, the spirit is a metallic futuristic ghost, much like some nightmarish character out of a Tim Burton movie, riding an oversized tricycle, which makes it tower ominously over the trembling and ultimately humbled Scrooge.

At the end of the frightening night, Scrooge is thrilled to be alive and have the opportunity to help those closest to him.

His employee Cratchit, played with feeling by Robert Hannon Davis, his angry wife, Rebecka Jones, and their sweet family including the adorable Tiny Tim, played alternately by Brendan Fitzgerald and Jacrhys Dalton, are all benefactors of Scrooge’s cathartic transformation.

Bring your loved ones and share the heart and soul of what makes life worth living in this soaring, exuberant production of Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol."


3½ Stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Story by Charles Dickens. Adapted and directed by Michael Wilson. Associate director Jeremy B. Cohen. Choreographer Hope Clarke. Scenic design by Tony Straiges. Costume design by Zack Brown. Lighting design by Robert Wierzel. Original music and sound design by John Cromada. Dialect coach Gillian Lane-Plescia. Music direction by Ken Clark.
Running time: Two hours with one intermission
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and selected Sundays at 7:30 p.m. There is no evening performance Wednesday, Dec. 24; matinees are Saturdays Sundays and Wednesday, Dec. 24 and Friday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m. through Dec. 28.
Tickets: $25 - $66. Call 527-5151 or visit their Web site at

Alan Rust ... Ebenezer Scrooge
Bill Kux ... Ghost of Jacob Marley, Mrs. Dilber
Robert Hannon Davis ... Bob Cratchit, Mr. Fezziwig
Curtis Billings ... Fred, Scrooge at 30
Jeffrey V. Thompson ... Spirit of Christmas Present, Bert the fruit and cider vendor
Johanna Morrison ... Spirit of Christmas Past, Bettye Pidgeon the doll vendor
Rob Cunliffe ... Mr. Marvel a watchworks vendor
Himself ... Spirit of Christmas Future
Rebecka Jones ... Mrs. Cratchit
Natalie Brown ... Mrs. Fezziwig, Fred’s sister-in-law, Old Jo, and others
Noble Shropshire ... first solicitor, undertaker
Gustave Johnson ... Second solicitor
Michelle Hendrick ... Belle
Deirdre Garrett ... Rich lady
Kurt Peterson ... Scrooge at 15
Tiny Tim Cratchit ... Brendan Fitzgerald or Jacrhys Dalton
Veronique Hurley ... Nichola, Fezziwig’s daughter
Ellenkate Finley ... Wendy, Fezziwig’s daughter
Amanda Karmelin ... Fiddler
Daniel Toot ... Dick Wilkins
Sarah Goosmann ... Martha Cratchit
Michelle Hendrick ... Fred’s wife
James DiMatteo ... Mr. Topper

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Seafarer" at TheaterWorks poetic and visual

HARTFORD - Irish men behaving badly are featured in "Seafarer" at TheaterWorks. Set in a dingy Dublin tenement on Christmas Eve, four men and a stranger play poker for significantly high stakes, in Conor McPherson’s comedy "The Seafarer."

The men are in various degrees of slovenly alcoholism, drinking stout, whiskey, and some sort of rock-gut liquor. There are two brothers, Richard and James "Sharkey" Harkin, played by Edmond Genest and Dean Nolan, a friend named Ivan Curry, played by John Ahlin, and Nicky Giblin, played by Chris Geneback, who is living with one of the Sharkey’s ex-wife or girlfriend.

They all have working class Irish brogues, and swear words are clearly the adjective of choice, making a regular appearance every third word or so, along with the colloquialisms, such as "bonnet" for "hood" of a car and "spot on" for "dead-on."
The language can be poetic and visual at times, such as went Curry complains that when his wife yells at him, "the force of her voice pins you up against the wall."

Or when Richard says that Sharkey has a "recklessness in his heart" which he says is his undoing.

The household is a domestic nightmare, with cringe-worthy plumbing problems, gross hygiene, questionable crockery, and occasionally even the air seemed to smell rank.
Outdoors it isn’t much better, and the men run outside in intervals to chase away the local winos from the neighborhood, leaving Sharkey to be confronted by Mr. Lockhart, who knows way more about his life than any total stranger should.

Nicky brings the notably well dressed stranger, Lockhart, played by Allen McCullough, who turns out to be bad indeed - he can’t tolerate the sound of music, but has no difficulty sitting on top of the burning coal stove.

McCullough was convincingly menacing, but his Irish accent was unstable. Somehow that doesn’t matter though, because of his other-worldliness, it makes him stand apart more.

The play drags some in the first act, but picks up momentum during the second, during the card game. The dialog is rough, and the discussions are graphic. Although it is labeled a comedy, it isn’t always funny, despite some amusing lines, mostly delivered by Genest’s Richard, as when Richard says to Nicky that he can tell he is thinking: "because I can hear your brain crunching."

As the play develops these seemingly loser men become surprisingly lovable and even somewhat heroic, almost imperceptibly - which is the real gift of this play.

Three Stars
Theater: TheaterWorks
Location: 233 Pearl St. Hartford.
Production: Written by Conor McPherson. Directed by Henry Wishcamper. Set design by Adrian W. Jones. Costumes designed by Anne Kenney. Lighting design by Matthew Richards. Sound designed by Bart Fasbender. Dialect coach Stephen Gabis. Fight choreography by Mark Olsen.
Running time: 2 hour, 30 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Extra Sunday evening shows at 7:30 p.m. The show will run through Dec. 21.
Tickets: Unassigned seating is $37; $47 on Friday and Saturday nights. Center reserved seats $11 more. $10 student rush tickets at showtime with valid ID (subject to availability). For tickets call 527-7838 or visit their Web site at
Edmond Genest ... Richard Harkin
Dean Nolan ... James "Sharkey" Harkin
John Ahlin ... Ivan Curry
Chris Genebach ... Nicky Giblin
Allen McCullough ... Mr. Lockhart
By Kory Loucks
Journal Inquirer
The world is all at sixes and sevens in CRT’s production of "The Skin of our Teeth"

STORRS - Predictions of the end of the world have been greatly exaggerated - despite current economic conditions. Fear and uncertainty in an unpredictable world, and the fact that history repeats itself, are a couple of the recurring themes that run through Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer prize-winning play "Skin of Our Teeth."

Originally opening in 1942 at the Schubert Theatre in New Haven, this production at the University of Connecticut’s Connecticut Repertory Theater is one that isn’t regularly on the local theater circuit.

While Wilder’s "Our Town" is an oft-produced perennial favorite, "Skin of Our Teeth" is more of a mouthful to chew.

Wilder really went wild with this play, breaking with all sorts of conventions, at times having his characters speak directly to the audience and breaking through that invisible fourth wall. This just wasn’t done and must have been shocking and completely unprecedented in its time.

He also deals with themes like: "It’s a dog eat dog world," "Life as we know it can change in an instant," and "history is doomed to repeat itself."
The characters are archetypes, always tricky to make personal, here played by professional actors and undergraduates.

When the play begins in fact there is a short video by filmmaker Fergus J. Walsh featuring the characters as two-dimensional paper puppets stiffly moving through their world - an apt visual for this allegorical play.

Biblical, historical, and poetic allusions abound. First set in the home of the Antrobus’, the mister and misses played by Christopher Oden and Victoria Adams-Zischke, are the Adam and Eve, then Noah and his wife as the Biblical archetypes, with the servant and temptress Sabine and narrator played by with irreverent energy by Julia Coffey.

Gladys and Henry Antrobus are the children, played with youthful naivete by Sarah Murdoch and with scapegoat anger by Daniel O’Brien.

Think of it as a theatrical lecture, where the actions and statements make little logical, linear sense but are servants to Wilder’s conceits.

For example, be prepared to hear the Mrs. Antrobus announce their 5,000th wedding anniversary, and observe a wooly mammoth and dinosaur, played by Michael Truman Cavanaugh and Lauren Horoszewski, try to escape the impending ice age in the Antrobus’ living room, while Mr. Antrobus is busy inventing the wheel, the lever, algebra, and the alphabet. The man has his hands full, while wife in apron guards home and hearth.

Act II is set at an Atlantic City boardwalk beautifully rendered by scenic designer Issac Ramsey, with asymmetrical bathhouses, where Mr. Antrobus (in Greek Antrobus means "human") has just been elected president of the Fraternal Order of Mammals at their 600,000 annual convention. The costumes too in this act are a riot of colors and off-kilter socks, by Katarina Urosevic.

Act III is set back at the Antrobus’ home after a seven year war that decimated just about everything. Mr. Antrobus says war is easy compared to peacetime everyone goes back to their old selfish ways.

Many characters are introduced throughout the play, such as the officious broadcast official played by Zachary Kamin, along with muses, refugees, conventioneers, and the past-knowing fortune-teller played by Rachel Rosado.

When O’Brien’s Henry breaks out of character and apologizes for attempting to kill the character of his father, his confusion and distress felt legitimate and real. He was riveting.

Chance, confusion, and hazards are all mixed up into this soup-to-nuts play where the world is all sixes and sevens.

What goes around comes around in this thought-provoking, well-performed play.


3 Stars
Location: Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, Jorgensen Road, Storrs.
Production: Written by Thornton Wilder. Directed by Helene Kvale. Scene design by Issac Ramsey. Costume design by Katarina Urosevic. Lighting design by Jen Rock. Sound design by Wilson Tennermann. Production stage manager Mary P. Costello. Technical direction by Scott Bartley. Voice and text direction by Krista Scott. Puppet design by Rebekah Eyre. Movement direction by Kristin Wold. Film by Fergus J. Walsh.
Running time: 2 1/2 hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. through Dec. 3 through 6. No performances are scheduled for Thanksgiving week.
Tickets: Range in price from $11 to $28. Call the box office at 860-486-4266 of visit their website at

Julia Coffey ... Sabina
Victoria Adams-Zischke ... Mrs. Antrobus
Christopher Oden ... Mr. Antrobus
Sarah Murdoch ... Gladys
Daniel O’Brien ... Henry
Peter Mutino ... Mr. Fitzpatrick
Catherine Yudain ... Telegraph boy, Usher, Crowd
Jeremy Garfinkel ... Doctor, Conveener
Aaron Johnson ... Professor, Conveener
Zane M. Roberts ... Refugee, Conveener
Jordan J. Jones ... Homer, Conveener
Alison Barton ... Miss E. Muse, Ivy
Cayla Buettner ... Miss T. Muse, Chair Pusher
Brittany Green ... Miss M. Muse, Crowd, In Chair
Zachary Kamin ... Refugee, Broadcast official
Tom Foran ... Judge Moses, Defeated Candidate
Rebecca Ricker-Gilbert ... Refugee, Crowd, Hester
Scott Cooke ... Refugee, Lifeguard, Fred Bailey
J. D. Gross ... Announcer
Rachel Rosado ... Fortune Teller
Robert Rosado ... Crowd, Mr. Tremayne
Michael Truman Cavanaugh ... Mammoth
Lauren Horoszewski ... Dinosaur

Monday, November 17, 2008

"South Pacific" an enchanted evening at the Opera House Players

EAST WINDSOR - Now that most of the leaves have fallen and the days are noticeably shorter and colder, what better way to spend an evening than in the tropics?
The Opera House Players production of "South Pacific" has all the elements of a classic musical, including many unforgettable songs, such as "Some Enchanted Evening," "I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair," "Bali Ha’i," and the beautiful love song "Younger than Springtime."

The timing couldn’t be better for this production of the award winning 1949 musical since it opened just after Veterans Day and is running through Thanksgiving weekend.
The musical is set on an island in the south pacific during World War II, where some of the soldiers based on the island are getting ready to entertain the troops during the Thanksgiving holiday, while others are preparing for a secret strategic battle against the Japanese.

There are two romances, one between perky Ensign Nellie Forbush, played with naïve enthusiasm by Janine Flood, and an older French plantation owner, Emile de Becque, played with appropriate reserve and a decent French accent by Michael Corman.
The other is a romance between a youthful Lt. Joseph Cable, USMC, played by Dallas Hosmer, looking like a young, blond Elvis Presley, and an island girl, Liat, played by Taryn Scozzari.

Flood plays Nellie with a confidence and homespun Little Rock corniness that is delightful, and feels quite genuine when she sing songs such as “Cockeyed Optimist.”
This well-cast musical, directed by Lesley Gallagher, is a sexy, tender, and romantic production, with lots of kissing.

The acting is stronger than the singing, which isn’t to say the singing isn’t good, but the acting is perfectly natural and believable.

It’s also a lot of fun, with comic relief provided by Paul Aherne who plays Luther Billis and Reva Kleppel, playing the pigeon-English speaking Islander, Bloody Mary.
Aherne has a fine strong voice, and looks almost too good in coconuts, while Kleppel precisely captured the feeling of a straight talking, manipulative (in a good way) entrepreneur.

The two Polynesian children are outstanding. Pearl Matteson who played Ngana and Nicolas Cote who played Jerome. Their parts are small, but important, and they make the show special singing their sweet "Dites-Moi" and their adorable skipping dancing.
The musical confronts serious issues, such as preconceived prejudices and racism, which gives the show depth and prevents it from becoming too syrupy-sweet.

Racism is highlighted in the song "You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught," sung with sarcasm and anger by Hoyer’s Cable. It’s sad to think that racism is still relevant almost 70 years after this musical was first produced.

The cast and crew clearly worked hard to put this show together and all did a yeoman’s job. A general recommendation to the cast is to remember to have fun when fun is to be had, and to make the comedy even broader.

The pace of the singing and dialog and the transitions between the two could speed up a tad, especially in the beginning. Often in musicals the orchestra overwhelms the singers, but that is never the case in this production, with musical direction by Deborah Curylo.
The painted backdrop of a beach with islands, by Chimera Costume and Scenic Services, sets the tone of a tropical island with a Tiki lounge feel, complete with palm trees that are both painted and free-standing.
The numerous scene changes are all done smoothly and quickly. The lighting, designed by Diane St. Amand, and sound too are excellent, particularly with the radio reception, which had to be technically challenging to arrange, but works.
If you can’t afford to take a trip to the islands this year, and who can these days, "South Pacific" at the Opera House Players is the next best thing to being there.


3 1/2 Stars
Theater: Opera House Players
Location: 107 Main Street, Broad Brook
Production: Music by Richard Rodgers. Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Direction and choreography by Lesley Gallagher. Music direction by Deborah Curylo. Producer and costumes by Moonyean Field. Lighting design by Diane St. Amand. Scenery by Chimera Costume and Scenic Services.
Running time: 2 1/2 hours, with a 20-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 30.
Tickets: $20, seniors over 60 and youth under 12 pay $12. Call 860-292-6068 or visit their website at

Janine Flood ... Ensign Nellie Forbush
Michael Corman ... Emile de Becque
Dallas Hosmer ... Lt. Joseph Cable, USMC
Reva Kleppel ... Bloody Mary
Paul Aherne ... Luther Billis
Samuel Greene ... Capt. George Bracket, USN
Michael May ... Cmdr. William Harbison USN
Giovannie Copeland Mendez ... Stewpot
Aaron Mulmeyer ... Professor
Ricardo B. Plamenco III ... Radio OP Bob McCaffrey
Tammy Young Cote ... Lt. Genevieve Marshall
Khara C. Hoyer ... Ensign Lisa Manelli
Emily Stisser ... Ensign Connie Walewska
Brianna Mello ... Ensign Bessie Noonan
Taryn Scozzari ... Liat
Pearl Matteson ... Ngana
Nicolas Cote ... Jerome
Marc Gallagher ... Voice of Lt. Buzz Adams

Monday, November 10, 2008

"The Latest Mrs. Adams" a bargain of fun

ENFIELD - Bowling balls, mistaken identities, and ghosts have never been so funny as they are in the Valley Repertory Company’s production of "The Latest Mrs. Adams."

The play, written by George Tibbles, is kind of a combination of a television situation comedy and an homage to the 1930’s screwball comedies.

Set in a Connecticut town 59 miles outside of New York City, Sam Adams, has just married for the second time, to Lily - she being the latest Mrs. Adams.

They move into his family’s farmhouse, only to discover his deceased wife’s mother, Betsy Jefferson, is still living there, along with Sam’s uncle, the irascible John Quincy Adams, and perhaps the ghost of the first Mrs. Adams.

Sam, played with enthusiasm and appropriate exasperation by Mark Vogel, wants the in-laws out, but Lily, a New York City dress designer, has a big heart and wants to help them.

She even invites the homeless drunkard living under the bridge, Ethan Allen, played with delightful deadpan humor by Jason Fregeau, to come in from the cold and stay with them a while.

Complications ensue when Ethan Allen abruptly dies in his bedroom, and Betsy and John Quincy try to claim credit for murder, while bowling balls periodically roll down the stairs, and the ghost of the first Mrs. Adams, played with dancing grace by Elizabeth Mathieu, flits about the stage.

The cast is terrific and talented, from Lily, played with caring compassion by Patty Coope Piellucci, the grammatical perfectionist Betsy, played with ditzy confidence by Jan Albetski, the half-blind lecherous old grouch John Quincy, played to perfection by Jim Byrne, Jr., to the local constable, Enrico Rossini, played with silly officiousness by Logan Lopez.

From the first entrance of Fegueau’s Ethan Allen, where he is dressed like a giant ace bandage with a newspaper hat, he has the audience in stitches. Byrne’s John Quincy, with his hat with flaps, is quite funny too, not so much with one-liners, but with his timing and his conviction that the second Mrs. Adams is a hooker, and her daughter is one of her "girls."

The comedy has lots of sight gags, as well as some literary highbrow humor as well. While Ethan Allen is still alive, Lily’s daughter, Camille Littleton, played by Laura Wittenberg, says to her mother, that the old Connecticut farmhouse reminds her of something out of Balzac.

The local derelict Alan snickers and pleads with her to say something else lewd, to which she responds, "Charles Dickens," which really gets him going.

Lily figures out that Betsy misses her deceased daughter, the first Mrs. Adams, and so Betsy unconsciously becomes her and dresses up as her ghost, claiming that her daughter comes back because the doctor didn’t put the sheet over her face and her soul slipped out through her nose. Rather than treating the various characters with disdain, however, Lily shows them compassion and love, and they blossom under her caring affection.

The setting of the entire play is the farmhouse’s living room and dining area, solidly designed by Eric J. Albetski, however, there are a number of breaks between scenes as props are moved about.

It would be great to have some background music between scenes, rather than just dead silence. The scene changes don’t take all that long, but without any music, the time drags.

At $10 a ticket, the Valley Repertory Company’s production of "The Latest Mrs. Adams" is a bargain at twice the price, with just the right blend of comedy, mystery, and plot to keep you entertained all evening long.


Three Stars
Theater: Valley Repertory Company
Location: 100 High Street, Enfield
Production: Written by George Tibbles. Directed by Lisa Eaton. Produced by Celeste Estvanik. Technical direction and set design by Eric J. Albetski. Stage Manager Jason Fregeau. Lighting design by Ken Estvanik.
Running time: 2 hours, with one intermission.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Nov. 22.
Tickets: $10, $8 for seniors over 60 and youth under 12. Call 860-749-4665 or visit their website at

Mark Vogel ... Sam Adams
Patty Coope Piellucci ... Lily Adams
Jim Byrne, Jr. ... John Quincy Adams
Jan Albetski ... Betsy Jefferson
Elizabeth Mathieu ... Abigail Adams
Jason Fregeau ... Ethan Allen
Laura Wittenberg ... Camille Littleton
Logan Lopez ... Enrico Rossini
"Pvt. Wars" a compelling introspective production

MIDDLETOWN - Although the play "Pvt. Wars" by James McLure is specifically about military veterans - their efforts to overcome adversities are experiences that all can identify with.

Set in the common room of a Veterans hospital, three psychiatric patients with different backgrounds share a common bond of trying to assimilate back into society. The fact that they can leave at any time is a theme that playwright James McLure returns to throughout the rich and interesting play.

Dana O’Neal plays Gately, the only character whose wound is visible, with a visible jagged long scar and bruise on his bald pate. Gately is working feverishly to repair a radio, whose parts are constantly pilfered by his two companions, the macho Silvo, played by Phil Godeck, and the patrician Natwick, played by Foster Reese.

Gately says if he can repair the radio, it is a sign that America's free enterprise system works, and would also mean that he can leave the hospital. O’Neal beautifully captures the essence of emotional instability in the character of Gately who frequently bursts into tears without much provocation, but also shows an emotional intelligence and keen insight into his the heart’s of his two friends.

Reese’s Natwick starts out almost too affected in his affectation, but improves as the play progresses. Natwick’s modus operandi is to initiate topics and then say: "I don’t want to talk about it." He isolates himself within himself, but then resents the fact that he is isolated. He is a know-it-all, and who hides in his mind, but is trapped by it too.

Natwick says: "I am an invention of myself," and that is his isolation.
When Gately says that coyotes mate for life, Natwick is compelled to one up him by saying that dolphins mate for life too. This isn’t true, since dolphins are notoriously promiscuous, but a telling insight into Natwick character, because this is how Natwick tries and fails to connect, through information rather than communication.

It is Gately who is the wise one, knowing just what to say at times. Natwick is trying to write an original poem, but constantly compares himself unfavorably to the likes of T. S. Eliot. When Natwick quotes from an Eliot poem: "Do I dare to eat a peach?" Gately is totally flummoxed by this and quizzes Natwick about the poem’s meaning. Just like trying to explain a joke, explaining a metaphor looses everything in translation, resulting in a hilarious exchange.

Similarly, the discussion of suicide that Natwick is contemplating and Gately is listening to, is hysterically, blackly funny, delivered with perfect timing, without missing the serious point.

Godeck’s is sensitive portrait of the man’s man, Silvo. If not for the war and his own life-altering wound, Silvo is the kind of man ill-prepared to delve into his inner psyche, and scares himself, and others, by frequently acting out. He is obsessed with sex, flashes the nurses often, and says at one point that "sperm has one hell of a sense of direction." Silvo does not, and therein lies his tragedy.

Each of the numerous scenes is like a mini play, punctuated with complete blackouts, which have an almost musical hypnotic rhythm to them, all seamlessly directed by Kathy Keena.

There are frequent sexual innuendoes and frank sexual talk, which makes this a show for adult's only. The program gives this show a PG-13 rating for language and sexual situations.

The newly formed Veterans Memorial Theatre Company is by veterans, dedicated to veterans, with plays about veterans, which doesn’t take sides, or deal directly with a political agenda. The theater at the Green Street Arts Center is an intimate studio space, with seating for about 55 people, which is perfect for this intense, well acted, fine play.


3 Stars
Theater: Veterans Memorial Theatre Company
Location: Green Street Arts Center, 51 Green St., Middletown
Production: Written by James McLure. Directed by Kathy Keena. Produced by Clark Bowlen and Michael Eck. Designed by Clark Bowlen. Stage managed by Ben Pitz.
Running time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday, Nov. 14 and 15 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15, $10 for veterans, seniors, and students. Call 860-623-6587 email them at

Dana O’Neal ... Gately
Phil Godeck ... Silvo
Foster Reese ... Natwick
Frank Schiavone ... Voice of Psychiatrist

Monday, November 03, 2008

The once and future king and queen reign supreme in Manchester Little Theatre’s "Camelot"

MANCHESTER - One thing that is consistently admirable about community theater is the spirit of community and teamwork, and the Little Theatre of Manchester’s production of "Camelot" is no exception.

This classic Tony Award-winning musical is set in medieval England, and is based on the King Arthur and the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table legend.

In this musical choreographer Todd C. Santa Maria also plays the wicked Mordred, illegitimate son of King Arthur, while the magician Merlin is played by set designer Fred T. Blish, and all the cast members pitch in to help with scene changes - even King Arthur, played by Mike Zizka, carries his own bench to and from the stage.
"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them," as Shakespeare says in "Twelfth Night."

King Arthur hits all three categories, being born to greatness, but not knowing it, has it thrust upon him when he pulls the sword, Excalibur, from the stone, and eventually, reluctantly accepts and embraces his fate as the once and future king of legend.

The play begins when a youthful King Arthur, played by the awesome Mike Zizka, meets his betrothed queen, Guenevere, well played by Alysa Auriemma.
Auriemma has lots of spunk and plenty of flirty sass to spare, along with a lovely singing voice, which ranges from sweet to powerful.

Zizka is fantastic as Arthur. He believably inhabits the part’s transitions, from reluctant ruler, to smitten lover, to compassionate and heartbroken man.

Also terrific and amusing is Art Bradbury as the ditzy and loyal King Pellinore.

Bradbury’s Pellinore has some amusing lines such as: "Sometimes when I get my teeth into something, I have to leave them there." Bradbury infused his part with energy and life, as did the previously mentioned Blish as the all too little seen Merlin.

Santa Maria’s Mordred is marvelously over-the-top evil, although his "dagger as nail file" business is a bit over-used. He is the perfect foil as the "medieval delinquent" to Arthur’s fledgling attempts at civilizing a barbaric world.

Arthur wryly observes to Mordred: "The saying, ‘blood is thicker than water was invented by undeserving relatives.'"

While he has a good singing voice, unfortunately Jonathan Escobar’s Lancelot du Lac leaves a lot to be desired. He is the only character who does not speak with an accent, the others all English - his would have been French - but that isn’t the main problem.

It’s tough to play someone who considers himself to be perfect, as Lancelot does, but simply being uptight doesn’t cut it.

The overflowing passion, commitment, and self-denial needed to strive for perfection, along with the naïvely arrogant self-confidence to think he is perfect, is missing, and instead a stiff and wooden rigidity unsatisfactorily fills the void.
Its difficult to imagine what Guenevere sees in him, as the part demands, but Auriemma does the heavy lifting here and rises to the occasion.

The scenes change from forest, to castle, to forest, and field, and director Michael J. Forgetta wisely chooses to have the set be suggestive rather than elaborately realistic - instead investing their budget into a myriad of period costumes by David Addis. Notable are Morgan Le Fey and her courtesans who were dressed in earthy, wood-nymph garb, as well as the king and queen’s many glittering raiments.

As sweet and cute as the middle school children in the play were, why did Forgetta choose them to play predominant ensemble parts meant for adults? It is disconcerting and distracting, and makes the production at times feel like a school play rather than the semi-professional musicals that the Little Theatre of Manchester consistently produces.

The musical direction by the capable Paul Coffill was great, but a little loud when the actors were singing quieter ballads. The gorgeous, romantic Lerner and Loewe songs, such as "If Ever I Would Leave You," "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood," "What Do the Simple Folk Do?," and the inspiring signature song "Camelot," are all beautiful and uplifting.

Although there are some imperfections in "Camelot," in the end the King and Queen, Zizka and Auriemma, carry the day.


2 1/2 Stars
Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester
Production: Books and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Directed by Michael J. Forgetta. Musical direction by Paul Coffill. Choreographer Todd Santa Maria. Stage Manager Marguerite Kelly. Set designed by Fred T. Blish. Lighting design by Jared R. Towler. Sound design by Advanced Lighting and Sound. Costumes by David Addis.
Running time: 3 hours, with one intermission
Show Times: Thursday, Nov. 6, and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m., and through Nov. 16.
Tickets: $21 - $28. Call the box office at 647-9824, or visit their Web site at

Mike Zizka ... Arthur
Alysa Auriemma ... Guenevere
Jonathan Escobar ... Lancelot du Lac
Art Bradbury ... King Pellinore
Todd C. Santa Maria ... Mordred
Marge Kelly ... Morgan Le Fey
Fred T. Blish ... Merlin
Doug Stoyer ... Sir Dinidan, Courtesan of Morgan Le Fey, Ensemble
Scott Ironfield ... Sir Lionel, Squire Dap, Guilliam, Rogue Knight
Diane Lareau AmEnde ... Lady Sybil, Herald, Ensemble
Ann Azevedo ... Lady Anne, Courtesan of Morgan Le Fey, Ensemble
Andreanna Buccheri ... Page, Courtesan of Morgan Le Fey, Ensemble
Charles Burns ... Clarius, Bliant, Rogue Knight, Ensemble
Donato DiGenova ... Sagramore, Colgrevance, Courtesan of Morgan Le Fey, Rogue Knight, Ensemble
Jason Fazzino ... Horrid the Dog, Court Jester, Tom of Warwick
Yvonne Jacques ... Lady Clothilde, Ensemble
Patri-Ann Morgan ... Page, Courtesan of Morgan Le Fey, Ensemble
Joan Notghi ... Lady Jane, Courtesan of Morgan Le Fey, Ensemble
Cassie Wood ... Nimue, Courtesan of Morgan Le Fey, Ensemble
"The Rainmaker" shines at the Ivoryton Playhouse

IVORYTON - The charming old facility that is now the Ivoryton Playhouse was built in 1911 as a recreation hall. It evolved into the first self-supporting summer stock theater in the country. It has expanded well beyond summer stock today, and offers quality theatrical productions throughout the year.

The Ivoryton Playhouse is located about an hour from the Manchester area. Probably one of the more enjoyable ways to spend the intermission between acts is to view the many photographs of famous actors who graced the Ivoryton Playhouse’s stage through the years.

The Ivoryton Playhouse is like the Holy Grail of Theater, with faded head-shots of such luminaries as Tallulah Bankhead, Alan Alda, Buddy Ebsen, Mae West, Treat Williams, Elaine Stritch, and many, many more - some whose faces are more familiar than their names, which are listed along with the plays they starred in at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

It probably isn’t accurate to call the Ivoryton Playhouse a community theater in the strictest sense, since some of the actors are professional; however, it is a fine combination of professional and amateur actors.

Their last regular season production for 2008 is the "The Rainmaker."

Written by N. Richard Nash, "The Rainmaker," ran on Broadway in 1954, and might be most familiar as the classic movie by the same name, starring Burt Lancaster and Hartford native Hepburn.

The play is set somewhere in the west on a cattle farm during a drought in August of some year in the middle of the last century.

A father, H.C. Curry, and his two sons, Jim and Noah Curry, pray for rain, as well as for a husband for H.C.’s daughter and the boy’s sister, Lizzie Curry.

It is set in a time when getting "hitched" was essential to a woman’s identity, in the view of society. At the time, if you were a woman and didn’t get married you were labeled a spinster and an old maid, and consequently, a failure.

Elizabeth Erwin plays Lizzie with just the right balance of intelligence and self-doubt. She gets all gussied up to have dinner with the town’s divorced deputy, File, sensitively played by Timothy Fannon, who doesn’t show. She lashes out in frustration and embarrassment to her father, saying: "I don’t want you to lasso me a husband."

H.C. is indulgent and caring with his children, and is played with palpable love and kindness by Larry Lewis. The younger and slower Jim is played with sweet effervescent energy by John Noel, while Danny Kirkwood plays the eldest brother, Noah, the exasperated, practical disbeliever of the family.

Into this family scene walks a fast talking con man named Starbuck who promises he can make it rain for $100, and so begins the dreamers and believers versus the practical realists.

"My method is like my name, all my own," exclaims Starbuck, played with a flood of energy and charisma by Colin Lane. He comes in like a tidal wave feeding the family full of the dreams and hopes they are all starving for.

Lane is just right for the role, but his Australian accent (or is it Irish?), which is barely detectable in the first act, blossoms in act two, while his western twang fades out more than in. Not that that matters too much, since it only accentuates his con artist persona.

David Cardone rounds out the cast as the observant and caring Sheriff.

The solid set by Dan Nischan is divided into thirds, with a sheriff’s office, barn, and the family’s living room. The costumes are all good, by costume designer Pam Puente, except Lizzie’s dressy dress looked like something that would be worn to a garden party today, and is too low cut for a modest gal like Lizzie.

The recorded musical interludes played between scenes are fine, except when the music starts before the scenes end, or worse still, plays in the middle of the love scene, when it is really distracting. In film it works, not so much in live theatre.

Perhaps it derives from watching award shows where the music kicks in when the actors’ acceptance speeches go on for too long, but here it is jarring, and takes away from what the actors were saying.

Those minor points aside, overall "The Rainmaker" is a touching, old-fashioned evening of heart-felt entertainment in a very special venue.


3 Stars
Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT
Production: Written by N. Richard Nash. Directed by Julia Kiley. Stage manager Johanna K. Levai. Set design by Dan Nischan. Costumes by Pam Puente. Lighting designed by Tate R. Burmeister.
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Nov. 16.
Tickets: $30 for adults, $25 for previews and seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website at

Elizabeth Erwin ... Lizzie Curry
Colin Lane ... Bill Starbuck
Timothy Fannon ... Deputy File
Danny Kirkwood ... Noah Curry
Larry Lewis ... H.C. Curry
John Noel ... Jim Curry
David Cardone ... Sheriff Thomas

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Spring Awakening" surrealistic, stunning play at Uconn

STORRS - It takes a little while to adjust to the many German names and characters in "Spring Awakening," written by Frank Wedekind and translated by Jonathan Franzen, but a little bit of patience is a small price to pay to appreciate this remarkable, controversial masterpiece at Connecticut Repertory Theater’s studio theater.
It is difficult to believe this play about adolescent angst, rape, masturbation, sadism, homosexuality, and suicide was written in 1891, and not just because of the violence and the subject matter.
No, the amazing thing about this play is the fantastical, surrealistic artistry and stunning black humor, that so far ahead of its time when written, and may still be too much for some.
Wedekind was born in 1864 to a young actress and singer and a much older father who was a physician and political radical. They lived in Germany where Wedekind became a favorite of the bohemian set, writing the brilliant "Spring Awakening" when he was only 27 years old.
Wedekind also loved the circus life. In this play, creatively directed by 2004 Fine Arts graduate Joe Jung, they use fantastic distorted music that vacillates between psychotic circus-type songs to contorted music box melodies.

The parents and authority figures in the play all wear masks, which works on numerous levels. First, all the actors are undergraduates who clearly would look too young to be middle aged, but more importantly, the masks give them a cold, impersonal, expressionless persona. The masks also symbolize the psychological masks behind which the adults withhold truths from the teenagers, and ultimately from themselves.

Ali Perlwitz perfectly embodies the naïve, sheltered 14-year-old Wendla Bergmann, dressed in Alice-in-Wonderland pinafores, who is spoiled and both over and under-protected by her Victorian mother, played with complexity by Brittany Bandani.

Christine Cirillo’s costumes beautifully emphasize the surrealistic Victorian mood. Outstanding is the wildly imaginative peek-a-boo hoop skirt worn by Melchior Gabor’s mother, played with passion and intelligence by Anastasia Brewczynski.

The solid wooden set designed by Rachel Levey is both simple and complex, with surprising and effective use of the deep stage, visually complimenting the play with further layers of complexity and depth.

The 14-year-old boys in the play are under tremendous pressure to succeed in school, with Melchior, played with teenage rage and grief by Joe Cisternelli, and his best friend, the failing student Moritz Stiefel, played with tormented strife by Daniel Seigerman.

The visual at the end of the play when Moritz speaks with Melchior is an image not easy to forget and is black humor at its best.

Noah Weintraub is alternately touching as the young homosexual Hansy Rilow, and harrowing as Headmaster Hart-Payne. In fact, the only truly loving and honest relationship is gay love affair with Ernst Robel, well-played by Seth Koproski.

Melissa Kaufmann plays the promiscuous childhood friend of Moritz, Ilse, with perky grace. She also portrays the kooky cartoonish Reverend Bleekhead.

It’s a shame not to be able to mention every actor, because they were each terrific, no matter which part they played, and many played multiple roles.

This controversial, brilliant, satirically poetic play about adult hypocrisy and teenage tragedy has been made into an award-winning musical by the same name, which is running on Broadway.

Although there is no nudity or profanity in "Spring Awakening," still it might not be for everyone. However, it is honest, sensitively acted and directed, and truly a play worth experiencing.

3 1/2 Stars
Location: Studio Theater, 802 Bolton Road, Storrs.
Production: Written by Frank Wedekind, translated by Jonathan Franzen. Directed by Joe Jung. Scenic design by Rachel Levey. Costume designed by Christine Cirillo. Lighting designed by Ben Strauss. Sound design by Chad Lefebvre.
Running time: 3 hours including one intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, through Nov. 2.
Tickets: $11 to $29. Call 860-486-4266 of visit their wbesite at

Ali Perlwitz ... Wendla Bergmann
Joe Cisternelli ... Melchior Gabor
Daniel Seigerman ... Moritz Stiefel
Noah Weintraub ... Hansy Rilow/Headmaster Hart-Payne/Dietheim
Melissa Kaufman ... Ilse/Reverend Bleekhead
Mandy Weiss ... Martha Bessel/Prof. Starver/Locksmith
Cassandra Bodzak ... Thea/Fetch
Brittaney Talbot ... Inna Muller/Prof. Schmalz
Seth Koproski ... Ernst Robel/Prof. Brockenbohn/Helmuth
Arron Lloyd ... George Zirschnitz/Prof. Blodgett/Gaston/Dr. Seltzer
Evan Wynkoop ... Lammermeier/Prof. Killaflye/Rupert/Ziegenmelker
Brittany Hart ... Otto/Prof. Fitzongue/Reinhold
Jack Fellows ... Mr. Gabor/Mr. Stiefel/Masked Man
Brittany Bandani ... Mrs. Bergmann
Anastasia Brewczynski ... Mrs. Gabor/Dr. Procrustes
"Big River" a big hit at Goodspeed

EAST HADDAM - "Big River" won seven Tony Awards in 1985, including best musical, and although over 20 years old, if the production at the Goodspeed Opera House is any indication, it is destined to become a classic.

The musical, with words and music by Roger Miller, is closely based on Mark Twain’s novel the "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Written by Twain after "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," both while he was living in Hartford, it picks up where "Sawyer" leaves off.

Huck and Tom are rich, having found a heap of money - $6,000 a piece. Huck’s father, a river grifter, played with greasy menace by Kenneth Cavett, gets wind of his son’s good luck and comes back to ostensibly claim his boy, but really he just wants the cash.

However, while in a drunken rage Huck’s father tries to kill him, so Huck runs away on a river raft, and discovers the slave Jim is also running away, in a desperate attempt to avoid being sold.

The story is set in 1840’s America along the Mississippi River, when slavery in much of the country was legal.

Huck is tormented by his conscience throughout much of the play for harboring a slave, but try as he might, he finally gives up, saying that he likes Jim too much and can’t betray him - resigning himself to being a morally-inferior, bad person.

Will Reynolds is fine as the affable Huck, who is in practically every scene, and serves as the musical’s narrator, although he occasionally pushes the "awe-shucks" routine, by and large he capturing the innocent, undereducated but cheerful tone of Huck.

Russell Joel Brown who plays Jim isn’t a physically over-whelming presence, nor did he sing louder than the other performers, but almost as soon as he stepped on the stage, he just about stole the show.

When Jim and Huck sing their first duet, "Muddy Water," about half way into the first act, and other duets following, the show transforms from a solid performance into something special.

John Bolton and Ed Dixon make an amusing comic pair as the con artists, the Duke and the King, and Jeremy Jordan is convincing as the clever Tom Sawyer.

The musical drags in the middle of the second act when there is more talking and less singing, but when the music kicks in, it picks up momentum again.

The music ranges from bluegrass, to gospel, to beautiful quiet ballads, like the lovely "River in the Rain," and "Worlds Apart."

Cavett as Huck’s pap sings the high-spirited "Guv’ment," a song that some Rush Limbaugh loyal listeners might love.

The set by Michael Schweikardt, transforms into the Mississippi, complete with a "floating" raft.

No doubt about it, "Big River" is an entertaining American original that the whole family would enjoy.


Three Stars
Location: Goodspeed Opera House, Route 82, East Haddam
Production: Music and lyrics by Roger Miller. Book by William Hauptman, adapted from Mark Twain’s novel "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Directed by Rob Ruggiero. Choreographed by John MacInnis. Costume designed by Alejo Vietti. Lighting designed by John Lasiter. Sound design by Jay Hilton. Scenic design by Michael Schweikardt.
Running time: 3 hours, with one intermission
Show Times: Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and selected 2 p.m. performances; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinee at 3 p.m.; Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., with selected Sunday evening performance at 6:30 p.m. through Nov. 30.
Thanksgiving week schedule, Sunday, Nov. 23 at 2 p.m., Monday, Nov. 24, at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Friday Nov. 28 at 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 29 at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 30 at 2 and 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $26 - $63. Call the box office at 860-873-8668 or visit their website at
Will Reynolds ... Huckleberry Finn
Russell Joel Brown ... Jim
Jeremy Jordan ... Tom Sawyer
Mary Jo McConnell ... Widow Douglas
Nancy Johnston ... Miss Watson, Sally Phelps
Robin Hayes ... Judge Thatcher
Danny Marr ... Ben Rogers
Adam Shonkwiler ... Joe Harper, Young Fool
Daniel Kwiatkowski ... Dick Simon
Kenneth Cavett ... Pap Finn
Ed Dixon ... The King
John Bolton ... The Duke
Marissa McGowan ... Mary Jane Wilkens
Jill Kerley ... Joanna Wilkens
Steve French ... Counselor Robinson
A’lisa D. Miles ... Alice
Christine Lyons ... Betsy
Robin Hayes ... Silas Phelps
David M. Lutken ... The Musician, the Doctor

Friday, October 24, 2008

Resurrection fails to uplift

HARTFORD - There may be six members in the cast of "Resurrection," but there is one voice only that is heard - writer Daniel Beaty The play feels like a grand attempt to illuminate, justify, and solve the American Black males’ struggle, but it fails on many levels.

First and foremost, and probably most importantly, it is boring. It is also decidedly uninspiring.

It feels alternately like a lecture and a sermon, where the characters speak sometimes to each other, and other times in monologue, of their personal troubles, which are evidently meant to represent the larger picture of the American Black males’ struggle, according to Beaty.

There is the 60-year-old Bishop who is addicted to Ho-Ho snack cakes, a running not-funny joke throughout the play, and is a diabetic; Mr. Rogers, 50, who unfortunately says; "Welcome to Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood," and owns a failing health food store in the ghetto.

Isaac, 40, is the successful son of the bishop and is a closet homosexual; 30-year-old Dre, a former drug addict and ex-con; 20-year-old Twon from the projects who is going to college; and 10-year-old Eric, a science protégé, and Mr. Roger’s son.

Throughout the world premiere production at the Hartford Stage Company, the problem is not with the actors, who are all fine, but with the format, which feels impersonal, distant, and at times amateurish, with constant, unvarying slam poetry-style speak.

According to the program notes Beaty has performed at the White House and is an accomplished singer, actor, writer, composer, and poet, was a winner of a 2004 poetry Grand Slam and has performed in "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry."
Unfortunately the spontaneous, improvisational nature of slam poetry doesn’t translate well to a formal theater setting —- at least in this show.

Even the stage at the Hartford Stage Company has been altered to an arena stage, distancing the audience even further from the characters.

Perhaps "Resurrection" was Beaty’s attempt was at grandeur and greatness, but it seems forced, overlong, and dictatorial.

At times things are over-explained and at others important information is left out.
The Ho Ho snack cake theme comes up from time to time, and one particular instance when the Bishop talked about them in somewhat amusing way, the audience obligingly laughed.

As soon as they did, however, the Bishop immediately drops the "I have diabetes-2”" bomb, which felt like the rug was pulled out from under the audiences’ collective feet. This approach succeeded in creating distrust and caution by the audience towards the play from there onward.

Maybe that was Beaty’s goal, but it certainly seemed like he was trying to win the audience’s sympathy at other times.

Then there is the former drug addict Dre. Did Dre know he was HIV positive before he made his girlfriend pregnant and infected her? If he was, then he really is heinous. But he never says. That is an important character point left unexplained.

It felt like Beaty was heavy-handedly telling the audience: "This IS the black man’s struggle." "This IS where you laugh." "This IS where you are uplifted."

No one likes to be beaten over the head with opinions, or told how to feel, no matter how well intentioned or politically pertinent.

There is also far too much screaming and hollering in this play. It felt like one long yell.

The men in the play talk of the women in their lives in stereotypical terms. They are either Saint-like Madonnas placed on pedestals, or seductresses looking to ruin their lives.

The original music by Daniel Bernard Roumain was very good, but far too brief, as was the fine choreography by Hope Clarke.
This play started out as a successful reading last season at the Hartford Stage Company, and it should have been produced as such, in the more casual venue.
The message is good, the intention is honorable, but something got lost in translation.


1½ Stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Written by Daniel Beaty. Music composed by Daniel Bernard Roumain. Scene design by G. W. Mercier. Costume design by Karen Perry. Lighting design by Victor En Yu Tan. Sound design by Michael Miceli. Choreography by Hope Clarke.
Running time: 1 ¾ hours with no intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday Oct. 28 and Nov. 11, Wednesday Oct. 29, Sunday Nov. 2, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees performances Saturday, Nov. 15, Sundays and selected Wednesdays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 16.
Tickets: $23 - $66. Call 527-5151 or visit their website at

Jeffery V. Thompson ... 60/The Bishop
Michael Genet ... 50/Mr. Rogers
Alvin Keith ... 40/Isaac
Che Ayende ... 30/Dre
Turron Kofi Alleyne ... 20/Twon
Thuliso Dingwall ... 10/Eric

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dennehy commands the stage in Eugene O’Neill’s "Hughie" at Long Wharf

NEW HAVEN - Practice certainly makes perfect in Chicago’s Goodman Theatre production of Eugene O’Neill’s tight, taut one-act play, "Hughie," starring the inimitable Brian Dennehy and Joe Grifasi at Long Wharf Theatre.

This is the fourth time Dennehy and Grifasi have teamed up in this play and their familiarity with their parts and with each other make this a rich and rewarding experience.

Set in 1928 in the wee hours of the morning, Dennehy plays a two-bit grifter named Erie Smith who lives in a seedy New York City hotel, whose tawdry lobby was designed by Eugene Lee.

The stage in Stage II at Long Wharf is an awkward size and shape - long and narrow, and Lee utilizes it exquisitely to create an authentic, detailed lobby, subtly mirroring Erie’s psychological mindset of better days gone by.

Erie enters after a drinking binge, because Hughie, the night clerk, and his captive listener and probably only friend, has just died. Erie is a full-time gambler, mostly betting on horses, with apparently no family and even fewer friends. He tells the new night watchman, played by Joe Grifasi, that he hasn’t won a race since Hughie died, and his confidence has gone along with his former friend.

Erie is a man who can only exist in the presence of another, and is deeply lonely and occasionally admits it. The many "dames" he brags about seem to be all blond and all paid for.

O’Neill has never been known for his optimistic repartee, and he is true to form here in a play that was written near the end of his life and was somehow spared from being destroyed along with numerous other unpublished works that O’Neill incinerated.

At 70, Dennehy, a Bridgeport Conn. native, is a bit old for the part of the 59-year-old Erie, but that actually works to his advantage, making the character initially appear distinctly frail and even more sad and pitiful.

As the play continues though, Hughie is propelled by his own momentum - displaying a con man’s perpetual toothsome smile, mirthless laugh, and non-stop blather.
Through this thin façade chinks of honest self-reflection appear, such as when Erie laments to the night watchman that Hughie gave him confidence, and says, half-defensively: "What I fed Hughie weren’t all lies, they were stories."

It seems a positive play because Erie finds in this night clerk a replacement for his need for an audience to authenticate himself, to make himself feel better temporarily, but he misses the opportunity for real change and locks himself further into his uncomfortable but familiar self-delusions.

Meanwhile, the night clerk is Erie’s audience - listening. Probably one of the most difficult things to sustain unselfconsciously for an actor is to just listen, and Grifasi is great at it, with his vacant, dreamy lifetime night clerk stare, interspersed with real interest in the gambling lifestyle.

O’Neill, who spent many summers in New London, struggled with alcoholism and depression all his adult life. He is the only American playwright to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, but his perspective is as deeply dark and troubled as it is fascinating, with plays such as "A Long Days Journey into Night," "The Iceman Cometh," "Desire Under the Elms," and "Mourning Becomes Electra."

If you have never seen an O’Neill play, "Hughie" is a great one to test drive, and if you have, it is a priceless opportunity to see two consummate actors at work in a concise and complex play by an American icon.


3½ Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by Eugene O’Neill. Directed by Robert Falls. Set design by Eugene Lee. Costume design by Rachel Anne Healy. Lighting design by John Culbert. Sound design by Richard Woodbury.
Running time: 50 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and selected Sundays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday selected Wednesday matinees at 2 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. extended through November 16.
Tickets: $22 to $62. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at

Brain Dennehy ... Erie Smith
Joe Grifasi ... Night Clerk

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Sweeney Todd" a dark and intimate musical opera filled with revenge

HARTFORD - Revenge is a dish that is best served cold, unless it comes in a tasty meat pie.

Those unconventional pies along with some powerful music, are served with zest in the Bushnell Memorial Theater’s unplugged version of "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

This production features 10 vocalists who also play all the instruments in a musical operatic tour-de-force performance that is darkly ironic and about as bleak as it gets.

The show is set in 19th Century London where grime and filth, death and cholera ran rampant during the infant stages of industrial age.

It is based on a legend of a vengeful, psychotic barber who is wrongfully sent to jail by an amoral judge who commanders the barber’s wife and infant daughter.

Todd returns years later to seek his revenge, with razor in hand. Mrs. Lovett, Todd’s landlord and pastry shop owner is short on meat. Todd begins his killing spree and Lovett comes up with the ingenious though gruesome plan to use the accumulating bodies created by Todd’s vengeance against humanity as the pie’s meat filling. Necessity is the mother of invention.

The musical opera was made into a 2005 movie starring Johnny Depp, and directed by Tim Burton, and would be a fine film to see as a precursor to this show - sort of like cliff notes.

The movie was much more realistically explicit and visual, while this stage production thankfully has more symbolism and conceptually wrought violence.
When the barber Todd slits his victim’s throats, for example, it is done with a broad gesture, a flash of red lights, with the "blood" poured from one bucket into another.

The original Stephen Sondheim production first premiered on Broadway in 1979 with a 27-piece symphonic orchestra and a 30-member cast, directed by legendary director Harold Prince.

This more intimate, pared down version of "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" with the actors doubling as the chamber orchestra, was first produced by John Doyle in 2005, primarily because his regional theater couldn’t afford a huge production.

The vocalists/musicians at Mortensen Hall were all professional and capable, with the grim Sweeney Todd played commandingly by Merritt David Janes, and the terrific Carrie Cimma playing the zealous and industrious entrepreneur meat pie baker Mrs. Lovett.

Judge Turpin, played by Connecticut native David Alan Marshall, has a stunning bass voice, but he is far too young and good looking to play a creepy evil judge old enough to be the father of a teen-age daughter, Johanna, played by Wendy Muir.

Muir has a gorgeous soprano voice and plays the cello like nobody’s business, but she is a brunette, and the musical opera refers to her yellow hair repeatedly. A wig would have been a good idea.

The humor doesn’t get much blacker, such as when Mrs. Lovett and Todd sing in "A Little Priest" that eating actors isn’t so great, because they always arrive "overdone," while priests are the best, because they have lived a clean life.

When his victims die under Todd’s blade, the ensemble sings that "they went to their maker incredibly shaved."

Set in an insane asylum, this interpretation seems to pose the question - do the real crazy people reside inside or outside the nuthouse?

The strong cast sang the complicated, sophisticated, dissonant music clearly and well, beautifully illuminating the subtle harmonics in Stephen Sondheim’s eccentric and ironic score.


3 1/2 stars
Theater: The Bushnell
Location: Mortensen Hall, 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Direction recreated by Adam John Hunter. Sound designed by Shannon Slayton. Lighting designed by Paul Miller.
Running time: 2 ½ hours, plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Oct. 19.
Tickets: $16.50 - $65. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website at

Merritt David Janes ... Sweeney Todd
Carrie Cimma ... Mrs. Lovett
Matt Cusack ... John Fogg
Chris Marchant ... Tobias
David Alan Marshall ... Judge Turpin
Patty Lohr ... Beggar Woman
Bob Bohon ... The Beadle
Duke Anderson ... Anthony
Wendy Muir ... Johanna
Ruthie Ann Miles ... Pirelli

Friday, October 10, 2008

Suffield Players' homespun "Mornings at 7" a fine family affair

SUFFIELD - Watching "Mornings at 7" at the Suffield Players is like seeing a sitcom and soap opera all wrapped up in 1930’s mid-western family.

The cast moves smoothly on a small stage made even smaller by the two impressive home facades, solidly designed by Konrad Rogowski and constructed by a large and capable crew.

The play is set at the two homes of married sisters Cora and Ida, with an unmarried sister, Arry living with Cora and Cora’s husband Thor, and a fourth sister, Esther, living with her husband, David, down the road.

Ida and her husband Carl have a son, David, who is 40-years-old and engaged for seven years to Myrtle. The question in this gentle family tale is, will David ever take the plunge and get married?

Watching this production, which has a lot of character-driven humor, one gets the feeling that even when they argue and disagree, these people really care for and about each other.

Myrtle, played with perky tension by Karen Balaska, arrives at the homestead with Homer, played by Stephen Grout, who is terrific as the simple and sweet son, who speaks in a slow and measured pace.

Homer’s father Carl, played by set designer Rogowski, suffers from occasional identity crisis, which the family euphemistically calls his "spells."
Some of the dialog is a bit dated, such as when one of the characters says: "Marriage gives a woman dignity," and when Myrtle talks about quitting her job when they get married.

Three of the sisters are in their late 60’s, while their oldest sister, Esther, who is in her early 70’s, is played with earthy wisdom and humor by Kelly Seip. She is married to an intellectual isolationist, David, played by Dana T. Ring, who doesn’t want Esther to see her family, whom he calls morons, according to the easy-going Homer.

Jane H. Maulucci plays Arry Gibbs, the unmarried sister who is petulant and has a quick temper. Maulucci finds a delicate balance, creating an interesting and funny portrait of a complex character, rather than a superficial stereotype.

There were times during this long production where they were all on stage, talking away, and the conversation felt so real and natural, it was as if they really were just a family talking.

The costumes by Dawn McKay were appropriate for the era, including details such as a lovely little embroidered handkerchief in Arry’s pocket, and bobby socks and flats for the women.

Director Rayah Martin directed the large cast in this production with confidence and at a good pace.

Now a-days plays that aren’t musicals usually run for three hours, and that’s too bad. It is probably a reflection of our shortened attention spans, having been exposed to decades of 30-minute TV spots.

Perhaps two intermissions could have been shorted to one, placed between two longer acts, but that is a small quibble in this well-acted, well-directed, solid, sweet, and homespun play.


3 Stars
Location: Mather Hall, Suffield
Production: Written by Paul Osborn. Directed by Rayah Martin. Stage manager Becky Schoenfeld. Technical director and lighting design by Jerry Zalewski. Set designed by Konrad Rogowski. Costumes designed by Dawn McKay.
Running time: 3 hours with two intermissions.
Show Times: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Oct. 26.
Tickets: $17, $15 for seniors (62+) and students.

Bruce Showalter ... Thor Swanson
Cynthia Lee Andersen ... Cora Swanson
Jane H. Maulucci ... Arry Gibbs
Pam Amodio ... Ida Bolton
Konrad Rogowski ... Carl Bolton
Stephen Grout ... Homer Bolton
Karen Balaska ... Myrtle Brown
Kelly Seip ... Esther Crampton
Dana T. Ring ... David Crampton

Monday, October 06, 2008

CRT’s "A Man For All Seasons" an inspiring, relevant history play

STORRS - It’s good to be king - not so good to disagree with one.

Not so good for staying alive, either, but then no one lives forever, as Sir Thomas More, played by Michael McKenzie, says numerous times in "A Man for All Seasons," a serious and often amusing play based on historic events in Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s inspiring production at the University of Connecticut.

Although about 500 years after the actual events, Sir Thomas More’s heroic, stoic integrity and refusal to bend to the will of national authority, is timeless.
Even More’s enemies, of which there were many, recognized and even admired his unimpeachable character.

The play is set in early 1500 in England, when young King Henry VIII, who was just beginning out on in his life-long wife-elimination campaign, (he had six when all was said and done) wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, because she bore him no sons.

At this time in history the Catholic Church rule in Europe was absolute, and the Catholic Church was and is opposed to divorce.

So, the king, who was a passionately religious Christian guy, just created a new Christian religion, the Church of England, that he would lead.

In comes Thomas More, a devote and passionate Catholic, who was by this time appointed Lord Chancellor to the young king, was held in high esteem by many.
More refused to sign an oath stating that the king was the supreme ruler of the church, and that lead to his eventual downfall - eloquent and crafty legal arguments not withstanding.

This is first play of CRT’s 2008-09 season, with professional actors and undergraduate students, creates an exciting synergy of experience and youth.

Michael McKenzie as More is commanding and engaging in a challenging role. He hits just the right balance of world-weary humanity, mixed with impudent humor and sage wit, as when he says: "I trust I make myself obscure," when pressed to incriminate himself.

John Windsor-Cunningham played More’s nemesis, Thomas Cromwell, the man acting as the king’s agent to try to break More into submission.

Windsor-Cunningham plays Cromwell with commanding authority and expansive intelligence, but then isn't it always more fun to play the bad guy?

One would expect the professional actors to do well, and they don’t disappoint, including the More’s wife Alice, played with feisty devotion by Bonnie Black; Jerry Krasser as the exasperated and loyal friend The Duke of Norfolk; the sycophant Richard Rich, played by Peter Mutino; and the pragmatic Common man, payed by Greg Webster.

It is the undergrads, however, who rise beyond expectations, including the officious Spanish ambassador Signor Chapuys, played with flourish by Robert Rosado, Daniel O’Brien as William Roper the youthful heretic, and Meghan O’Leary as More’s intelligent and educated daughter.

Most compelling and really astonishing though is Zachary Kamin, as the ruddy young King Henry VIII.

Although Kamin, a junior in their acting program, is only on stage for a small part of one scene, he basically steals the show.

Displaying a mercurial temperament, Kamin embodied the contradictory characteristics of supreme confidence, magnanimous friendship, absolute authority, and magnetic charisma essential for the role, and for the play’s success.

The period costumes of heavy brocade, by Lucy Brown, were solid and well-suited to the story, particularly impressive was Rich’s transformation from threadbare to flamboyant.

Directing with authority, Gary M. English, CRT’s artistic director, also designed the single set. With a large wooden Tudor door in the center of the stage, and sturdy steps leading off stage and to a balcony, the set easily morphs into More’s home, a jail, a street, and a courtroom, with the aid of a few props.

In the program notes, English said the abstract environment was meant to suggest the architecture of ships as well as Tudor authority, but the boat symbolism was too obscure.

While the world’s unstable political and social framework changes with the weather, what connects us to the past, and will always make this play relevant, is the critical importance of being true to oneself, no matter what - something that is sometimes easier said than done, but which never goes out of style.


3 stars
Location: Nafe Katter Theatre, 802 Bolton Road, Storrs.
Production: Written by Robert Bolt. Direction and scene design by Gary M. English. Costume design by Lucy Brown. Lighting and projection design by Tim Hunter. Sound design by Emily Tritsch.
Running time: 3 hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday and Sunday. through Oct. 12.
Tickets: $11 to $29. Call 860-486-4266 or visit their website at

Michael McKenzie ... Sir Thomas More
John Windsor-Cunningham ... Thomas Cromwell
Jerry Krasser ... The Duke of Norfolk
Greg Webster ... The Common Man
Peter Mutino ... Richard Rich
Bonnie Black ... Alice More
Meghan O’Leary ... Margaret More
Dale AJ Rose ... Cardinal Wolsey
Robert Rosado ... Signor Chapuys
Thomas Foran ... Chapuys’ Attendant
Daniel O’Brien ... William Roper
Zachary Kamin ... King Henry VIII
Cayla Buettner ... The Woman
JD Gross ... Archbishop Cranmer

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Arsenic and Old Lace" born in Windsor

WINDSOR - Don’t be fooled, just because the Windsor Jester’s production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" happens to be set in Brooklyn, New York. The screw-ball comedy is Windsor, Connecticut born and bred, and produced in conjunction with Windsor’s month long celebration of the town’s 375th anniversary.

In the comedy, two elderly aunts, played with delightfully sweet ditziness by Lisa Coleman Hasty and Joan Perkins-Smith, lure elderly lonely gentlemen to their home where they poison them with arsenic-tainted elderberry wine.

In the notorious real case, from 1914, Amy Archer Gilligan was convicted of poisoning Franklin Andrews and others in her home for the elderly in Windsor. Gilligan was eventually judged insane and lived out her days at the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown.

It may seem an odd premise for a comedy, but the play, written in 1939 by Joseph Kesselring, ran successfully on Broadway, and was subsequently made into an equally fine Frank Capra film starring Cary Grant and Peter Lorre in 1944.

One of the aunts sums it all up when she casually explains: "Murder is one of our charities."

In addition to the two wacky old aunts, there are three nephews. Teddy Brewster, played with terrific bravado by John Zeugner, as a man who is convinced he is President Theodore Roosevelt. One of the aunts says: "We would so much rather he be Teddy Roosevelt than nobody."
Jonathan Brewster, a psychopathic serial murderer, is another of the nephews, played with spooky meanness by Edwin Lewis III, and Mortimer Brewster, a theater critic, is the third brother.

Mortimer Brewster, played by Andrew Small, is the sanest of the bunch, and discovers his aunts’ "very bad habit" and tries to figure a way to keep them from going to jail, while doing his best to get rid of his bad brother Jonathan.

Mortimer tries to get out of reviewing a play that night because of what he has just learned about his aunts, but can’t so he asks his aunt for a piece of paper so he can write his review on the way to the theater, to save time. One of the aunts assures him that the odious business of theater reviewing will disappear when theater does - in a year or two.

The large cast were all fine, including including Lorrie Bacon who does the most she can with the ingenue part, Ron Blanchette as the freakish and energetic plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein, Clark Rogers as the thoughtful Rev. Dr. Harper, Bill Allen as the frustrated Irish Police Lt. Rooney, and Mark O’Donnell as Officer O’Hara the enthusiastic aspiring playwright.

Director Sharon Leigh Burr does a masterful job of keeping the dialog and action moving at a fast pace, while having little bits of business incorporated into the scenes, such as when a strange white shoe shows up, which belongs to one of the dead men.

Perhaps it would have been best to squeeze the three acts into two, and have just one intermission midway through the comedy.

Special mention goes to set designers Neal Brundage and John Zeugner for their excellent, expansive living room set with period furniture, including the extra-sturdy flight of stairs, well built for President Roosevelt to charge up.


3 Stars
Location: L.P. Wilson Community Center, 599 Matianuck Ave., Windsor
Production: By Joseph Kesselring. Directed by Sharon Leigh Burr. Produced by the Windsor Jesters Board of Directors. Stage manager Sandy Miller. Set designed by Neal Brundage and John Zeugner. Costumes by Gerry Traczyk and Joan Brundage. Sound design by Kim Miller. Lighting design by Jim Simon.
Running time: 2 ½ hours, including two intermissions.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday Oct. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15, $12 for seniors and students. Call 860-688-1526 or visit their website at

Lisa Coleman Hasty ... Aunt Abby Brewster
Joan Perkins-Smith...Aunt Martha Brewster
Andrew Small ... Mortimer Brewster
Edwin Lewis III ... Jonathan Brewster
John Zeugner ...Teddy Brewster
Lorrie Bacon ... Elaine Harper
Mark O’Donnell ... Officer O’Hara
Ron Blanchette ... Dr. Einstein
Bill Allen ... Lt. Rooney
Mike Colburn ... Mr. Witherspoon
Jeff Ingram ... Officer Brophy
Dan Petronella ... Officer Klein
Clark Rogers ... Rev. Dr. Harper
Carroll Toal ... Mr. Gibbs

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One-man show, "Defending the Caveman" funny examination of the battle of the sexes

NEW HAVEN - The battle of the sexes has never been funnier than in Long Wharf Theatre’s production of "Defending the Caveman."

Written by comedian Rob Becker, this one-man show examines what Becker’s play calls the dramatically different cultures that men and women inhabit, and different customs they exhibit. What he is really examining, though, is the social paradigm, and the roles we unconsciously accept.

"Defending the Caveman" ran for 702 performances over 2 ½ years at the Helen Hayes Theater, and has the distinction of being the longest running one-person show on Broadway.

At the Long Wharf Theatre’s production, Michael Van Osch plays the role of Becker, which he has done at different theaters in the United States and Canada since 2004, and he confidently knows this part inside out.

Throughout history, dating back to the caveman days, Becker says, man’s main job was to hunt - a focused, primarily non-verbal, and competitive activity. Men interact with each other through negotiation, while women, according to Becker, were in charge of gathering food, a more cooperative process, which required more oral communication.

He tells his story within the "circle of sacred underwear" that he amusingly tosses about the stage.

"Defending the Caveman" begs the question - against whom? The answer is against what Becker says are unfair claims by women that men are all assholes.

He says, for example, that a man would never ask another man: "Did you ever want to cry but you just don’t know why?" but a woman will ask that same question to another woman without a qualm.

The problem with this theory is that his generalizations can veer on the over-simplistic.

For example, he says that when young girls played baseball when he was a kid they would rather talk to each other on the field than catch the ball - so of course all the implication is that all women prefer chatting to playing baseball.

Even more incendiary, is when he says that women are not logical. That got a rise from the predominantly female audience Sunday, until he explained what he meant, which was that women are not as rigid in their thinking as men.

Becker is on somewhat safer ground when he talks about himself.

Men, he says, must have a specific goal, which is why he can’t stand to go shopping with his wife with no aim in mind.
"I can’t stand it - we have no goal here," he cries.
Some statements are just plain hilarious, such as went he says that guys would never ask, "Want to go sit by the water for a day and just hang out?" but will do just that if they have a goal, such as fishing.

"It’s the smallest goal you could possibly have, putting a hook in the water to catch a fish," Becker explains.

There is some profanity and graphic discussions about sex, making this show definitely not for kids.

Despite issues with some of his conclusions, "Defending the Caveman" really is a tearfully funny, sometimes surprisingly sweet, and thought provoking show.


3 stars
Theater: Long Wharf Theatre
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by Rob Becker
Running time: 1 3/4 hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with a second show Saturday at 5 p.m., and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. through Oct. 12.
Tickets: $28 — $38. A $14 service fee will be added to every Internet purchase, which includes a $10 handling fee and a $4 facilities and restoration fee. Call the box office at 1-800-782-8497 for reservations, or visit their website at
Actor ... Character
Michael Van Osch ...Rob Becker