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Monday, February 25, 2008

Love's the thing in LTM's "Marvin’s Room"

MANCHESTER — The Little Theatre of Manchester kicked off their 2008 season with "Marvin’s Room," a sometimes humorous and often touching story of life, love, and how people cope with what life throws in their direction.
Virginia Freese plays Bessie, a woman who has devoted much of her life to caring for her ailing father, Marvin, and her elderly Aunt Ruth, played by Miriam Neiman.
At one point in the play Freese’s character says wryly that her father "has been dying for the last 20 years - He doesn’t want me to miss anything." Her tone, one of resigned good humor, is constant, but when she becomes ill herself, she reveals her fear and worry to her sister, Lee, played with pitch-perfect impatience by Betsy Bradley.
Bradley’s Lee has her own concerns, with two children, one a 17-year-old named Hank, who has been placed in a mental institution, and is played believably by Peter Waluk, and the other a 10-year-old named Charlie, played by Jason Fazzino.
Particularly good was the scene between the two boys, with the older one forcefully lecturing the younger on how to behave in a way that siblings really talk to each other.
In fact, the whole play, written Scott McPherson and flawlessly directed by Joseph Keach-Longo, had the ring of truth.
Keach-Longo also designed the set, which was spare and functional in its transitions from a doctor’s office, to a home interior, to Disney World.
The play takes place primarily in Florida, and briefly in Ohio, where Lee and her two boys live. They come down to Florida and visit. The play has a child-like hopefulness and optimism about it, making the best of whatever life deals out, with grace and love.
All the actors were fine, including the ditzy Dr. Wally played by Daniel Coyle, the insincere double-speaking psychiatrist, Dr. Charlotte, played by Darlene LaPointe, and the officious retirement home director, Diane Lareau AmEnde. Augustus Marinak’s Bob the receptionist was almost a cameo role, which he played well and gave the play some much-appreciated comic relief.
The subject of death and dying is a heavy one, and not a topic we Americans generally like to think about, but this play brings up some important issues, like the expense of growing old and disabled in this country.
And love. Love amongst siblings and family relations, and how difficult but vital it is to show those closest to us that we care.


Three Stars
Theater: Little Theatre of Manchester

Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester

Production: by Scott McPherson. Directed and set designed by Joseph Keach-Longo. Stage manager Tom Goodin. Lighting design by Kyle Charles. Sound design by Mike Pienkosz.

Running time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission

Show Times: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. through March 9.

Tickets: $18 - $23. Seniors over 60 and students receive a discount. Call the box office at 647-9824, or visit their Web site at

Virginia Freese ...Bessie
Daniel Coyle...Dr. Wally
Miriam Neiman...Ruth
Augustus Marinak ...Bob
Betsy Bradley...Lee
Darlene LaPointe ...Dr. Charlotte
Peter Waluk ...Hank
Jason Fazzino ...Charlie
Diane Lareau AmEnde...Retirement Home Director.
By Kory Loucks
Journal Inquirer

Monday, February 11, 2008

"The Rink, The Musical" strong cast at Opera House Players

EAST WINDSOR - "The Rink, the Musical" is a relatively obscure, rather serious musical that could not have been better cast or staged.
Every member of the nine-person ensemble was terrific, with not a weak link in the bunch.
From the lead roles of the mother, Anna Antonelli, played with wise-cracking earthiness by Kathi Such and Nicole R. Giguere’s heart-felt portrayal as Anna’s prodigal daughter, Angel, down to the all male chorus who play a broad spectrum of characters - they were all stellar.
The plot centers on a decaying roller rink at a seaside resort whose heyday has passed it by. Anna has sold the rink to developers and it is about to be demolished, when her long-absent and estranged daughter, Angel, reappears unexpectedly.
The story is told in a series of musical flashbacks, where the two struggle towards mutual understanding and forgiveness.
The play, originally produced on Broadway in 1984, starred Chita Rivera, who won a Tony for her performance, and Liza Minnelli, who was nominated for a Tony.
Despite the star power behind the show, the production, written by Terrance McNally, never became a bonafide hit, and closed after a short run.
While none of the songs were particularly memorable on their own, they worked together well enough to tell the detailed history of love and loss.
There was humor along with some genuinely funny scenes interspersed amongst the more serious mature segments.
Without giving away too much of the story, there was no nudity, however there was a graphic "mature audience only" scene that was as powerful as it was surprising - well handled by director Philip D. Vetro.
Early on in the production there was a dance number with construction workers which was amusing. Later in the show the construction crew all roller-skated on the stage and were a lot of fun to watch, with fine choreography by Todd Santa Marie.
Such and Giguere both have powerful Broadway-belting voices, which was a good thing, because they sang a lot. Their voices also harmonized beautifully together in their duet "The Apple Doesn’t Fall."
Maria Meier who played the little girl gave a strong performance - more than holding her own with the adult cast.
Other notable characters were Tom Knightlee who played a variety of roles, including one hilarious Mrs. Silverman, reminiscent of Mike Myers’ Linda Richmond "vaclempt" character from "Saturday Night Live," along with the equally funny Dallas Hosmer as Mrs. Jackson.
Tom Knightlee, who looks much like Keanu Reeves, also played a number of roles, and had a fine, crisp, and clear tenor voice.
All in all, the cast, under Vetro’s assured direction, was better than the material, and the actors made the most of what they had to work with.


Two and one half stars

Theater: Broad Brook Opera House, 107 Main St. Broad Brook

Production: Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Book by Terrance McNally. Directed by Philip D. Vetro. Musical direction by Tom Slowick. Choreography by Todd Santa Maria. Assistant director and dance captain Khara C. Hoyer. Stage manager Paul Leone. Produced by Moonyean Field. Lighting designed and operated by Diane St. Amand. Sound designed and operated by Devon Gamache.

Running Time: Two hours plus one 20 minute intermission

Show Times: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Feb. 24
Tickets: $20, $16 for over 65 and under 12. Call 292-6068 to purchase tickets. For further information visit their Web site at

Kathi Such...Anna Antonelli
Nicole R. Giguere...Angel Antonelli
Maria Meier...Little girl
Tom Denihan...Guy, Dino
Tom Knightlee...Lino, Lenny, Punk #3, Peter Reilly
Michael Reilly...Policeman
Dallas Hosmer...Buddy, Hiram, Mrs. Jackson, Suitor #2, Arnie
Mark Wantroba...Tony, Tom, Punk #1, Suitor #3, Booby Perillo
Sam Donovan...Lucky, Sam, Punk #2, Suitor #1, Junior Miller, Danny
"Don’t Dress for Dinner" a delicious concoction

The play "Don’t Dress for Dinner" is like a delicate soufflĂ©-if all the ingredients are not of the best quality and if the timing is off just a smidgen, it would collapse.
Thank goodness for those lucky enough to see this production, this farcical comedy is one delicious concoction of gourmet quality.
What ingredients were needed to cook up this successful production?
First, take one philandering cad of a husband Bernard, played with Jimmy Stewart-like humor by Robert Lunde, and add one sexy wife, Jacqueline, played with style by Gina Marie Paro.
Next mix in a large portion of Bernard’s best friend, Robert, who just happens to be having an affair with Jacqueline, played with terrific dead-pan humor and intelligence a la Cary Grant by Christopher Berrien.
Now stir in a cook-for-hire who through mistaken identity ends up making a small fortune pretending to be Robert’s mistress and then his niece - nicely portrayed by Amy Rucci as Suzette.
Then, for zest, add in Bernard’s mistress, Suzanne, a high fashion model played with panache by Meagan Kinney and at the last minute toss in the cook’s husband George, played with energy and appropriate confusion by Edwin R. Lewis III.
Stir well with superb direction from Rayah Martin and viola! You have one silly, wacky, delicious farce, reminiscent of old screwball comedy films like "Bringing Up Baby," with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant.
The one set by Konrad Rogowski, is convincing and functional as a former barn converted into a home in France.
The costumes, of which there were a number, were all fine. Particularly outstanding was the cook’s uniform, which was transformed into a dinner dress on stage.
The French rock music played in the background during intermission was energetic and lively enough, but a little too loud.
The entire production was one delightful mind-twisting treat after another. "Don’t Dress for Dinner" is definitely one scrumptious theatrical entrĂ©e worth savoring.


Three Stars

Location: Mapleton Hall, 1305 Mapleton Ave. Suffield.

Production: By Marc Camoletti. Adapted by Robin Hawdon. Directed by Rayah Martin. Technical direction and lighting design by Jerry Zalewski. Set design by Konrad Rogowski. Sound design by Dana T. Ring. Costumes by Dawn McKay.

Running time: 2 hours, including one intermission.

Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Feb. 23.

Tickets: $15, $13 for seniors and students. Call 800-289-6158 of visit their website at


Robert Lunde...Bernard
Gina Marie Paro...Jacqueline
Christopher Berrien...Robert
Amy Rucci...Suzette
Meagan Kinney...Suzanne
Edwin R. Lewis III...George

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Little Dog Laughed is a smart, razor-shape success
HARTFORD — What can one say about a closet-homosexual movie star on the rise, his lesbian hyper-agent, a street hustler with integrity, and his gold-digging girlfriend?
Well first of all, “The Little Dog Laughed” is not for kids, due to male nudity along with some non-gratuitous but sexually explicit scenes.
That being said, the play, directed by Rob Ruggiero, was funny, witty, entertaining, and smart.
Written by Douglas Carter Beane, the Tony Award-nominated play examines the world of appearances at odds with that age-old pursuit of happiness, and blind ambition.
The agent, who also doubles as the show’s narrator, Diane, played with hilarious drive and Chutzpah by Candy Buckley, is doing all she can to keep her client, Mitchell, from coming out of the closet, ironically so he can play a gay man in a movie.
Evidently in the topsy-turvy world of show business if Mitchell plays the role of a gay man in a movie and is straight in real life, that is acceptable, but if he is a gay actor playing a gay man, it’s career poison.
Diane’s “in-your-face” razor-sharp delivery was exhilarating to witness, and the dialog felt authentic with all the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that comes with getting movies produced, cast, and delivered.
Chad Allen does a fine job playing the egotist actor Mitchell who is struggling to find personal happiness — in direct conflict with his professional ambitions. As Diane succinctly observes: “Mitch’s dream is to be everybody else’s dream.”
Mitchell hooks up with a male hustler with a heart of gold named Alex, played with sincerity and intelligence by Jeremy Jordan.
Alex is unsure of his sexual orientation, and has a girlfriend after a fashion, named Ellen, played by Amanda Perez.
Perez, a recent college graduate, more than held her own with the experienced, seasoned cast. She could not have been better as the perky, young materialistic party-girl, who calls her mother “screecher” and mournfully laments her childhood is over now that her mom converted her former bedroom into a craft room.
She also has a moody streak, referring to herself as the “Netherlands” because she gets dark so fast.
There were some other great lines, too, as when Alex, trying to get his point across to a less-than-receptive Mitchell, exclaimed: “God, talking to you is like sewing a button on cottage cheese.”
At one point near the end of the play, when Diane was peppering the other three with questions, Alex said: “This is like a game for mean people.”
To which she fired back: “The truth has its consequences.”
Diane speaks directly to the audience at the beginning and end of each act, to fine effect — even cleverly reminding the audience to turn their cell phones off after intermission — always a nuisance in the theater.
Another interesting technique was occasionally having the actors speak monologues while in the presence of another, so you learned what they were really thinking, as opposed to what they said after.
This was seamlessly accomplished with selective spotlighting, with lighting designed by Thomas Dunn, while the music, by sound designer Zachary Williamson, often a driving disco beat between scenes, didn’t overwhelm the production, and set the right tone.
The costumes, by David R. Zyla, of which there are many, were terrific for the most part, particularly for the women.
The two appeared to be wearing something different in almost every scene, from the trendy colorful clothes and tights Ellen wears, to the “all business, but with bling” ensembles Diane dons.
For some reason however, Mitchell’s pants were two sizes too big, and not in the “hip-hop” big style either — not a good look for a movie star. In a play about appearances, Mitch’s clothes should have been much more cool and sexy.
What a difference a year makes. Last winter, life was looking rather grim for TheaterWorks. According to Steve Campo, the theater’s executive director, they were suffering from the largest deficit in their 22-year history.
Before the curtain rose at Saturday’s performance, Campo reported to the sold-out audience that the company should be deficit-free by year-end. Here’s wishing many healthy and exciting years ahead for TheaterWorks and fortunate Hartford audiences.


Three Stars

Theater: TheaterWorks

Location: 233 Pearl St. Hartford.

Production: Written by Douglas Carter Beane. Directed by Rob Ruggiero. Set design by Adrian W. Jones. Costume design by David R. Zyla. Sound design by Zachary Williamson. Lighting design by Thomas Dunn

Running time: 2 1/4 hours, with one intermission

Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees on Sundays and selected Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. The show will run through March 9.

Tickets: $37, except Friday and Saturday nights, $47, and are unassigned. Center reserved seats are $11 extra. $11 student rush tickets at showtime, with valid ID (subject to availability). For tickets call 527-7838 or visit their website at


Candy Buckley...Diane
Chad Allen...Mitchell
Jeremy Jordan...Alex
Amanda Perez...Ellen

By Kory Loucks
Journal Inquirer