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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

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Best of Friends" is the best of times at the Village Players

SOMERS - Appearances can be deceiving, and they certainly are in the Village Players’ production of the witty comedy "Best of Friends," where nothing is as it seems.

The play takes place in present day Brooklyn, New York, in the living room of famous writer Archer Connaught, played by Mark Depathy. He and his much younger 24-year-old girlfriend, Daryl Stoddard, played with efficient control by Linden Ela are presumed dead after the airplane he was flying crashes in ocean.

His abandoned and apparently placid wife, Josie, played with breezy confidence Dorrie Mitchell, is reveling in the attention showered upon her as the bereaved widow, until Archer appears unexpectedly asking for a divorce.

Josie tell her daughter Kate, played with fine bitter uptightness by Darlene LaPointe, that "death doesn’t part you, living together does."

When Kate asks why Archer left her, Josie says resignedly, "I think I bored him - I would have left me too."

Archer and Josie also have an aimless adult son, Merrill, played with intense fervor by Clint Moffie.

There is also a befuddled lawyer who was retained to get the rights for a movie of Archer’s life, Felix Hakaday, well played by Robert Winstanley.

The play has many amusing one-liners and director Shirley Warner does an excellent job keeping the expansive pithy dialog moving at a fast clip. The set, also designed by Warner, is solid and functional.

Notable too are the excellent sound effects, which are timed perfectly, and the professional touch of having music unobtrusively playing during the scene changes - Sound and lighting by technical director Justin Martin.
Sometimes supporting roles have an easier time because they don’t have the burden of exposition, and such is the case here.

The smaller, but no less important parts were all well-played, the inebriated and delightful juggler and possible justice of the peace, bemusedly played by James Stoughton, and the book agent Hazel Dunn, played with world-wearing knowingness by Mary Korostynski.

Also hilarious is Merrill’s nervously ditzy young wife, Lib, played by Stephanie Plangenza.

At one point Josie flippantly states: "I tell lies - It is one of the few things you can enjoy at any age."

Another of those things one can enjoy at any age is watching a dedicated group of actors put on a comedy where the truth is ultimately secondary to the fun.

3 stars
Location: Joanne’s Café and Banquet House, 145 Main Street, Somers
Production: Written by James Elward. Directed, with set design by Shirley Warner. Produced by Betty Domer. Technical direction, lighting, and sound by Justin Martin. Costumes by Sherrie Samborski.
Running time: About 2 hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday though Oct. 4. Social hour starting at 6 p.m. Dinner at 7 p.m. Show at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $33, including dinner, with cash bar. Call 860-749-0245 for reservations.

Dorrie Mitchell ... Josie Connaught
Mark Depathy ... Archer Connaught
Darlene LaPointe ... Kate Connaught
Clint Moffie ... Merrill Connaught
Stephanie Plagenza ... Lib Connaught
Linden Ela ...Daryl Stoddard
Robert Winstanley ... Felix Hakaday
Mary Korostynski ... Hazel Dunn
James Stoughton ... Mr. Bedloe

Monday, September 15, 2008

"No Child" a lesson in hope over experience

HARTFORD - Once again TheaterWorks has produced thought-provoking, relevant theater.
"No Child" tells the story of a teaching artist at the Malcolm X High School in the Bronx, New York.

Originally performed as a one-woman Off-Broadway show by its creator and playwright Nilaja Sun at the Barrow Street Theater in New York, this production wisely divides the multitude of characters among four actors.

Donnetta Lavinia Grays plays Ms. Sun with earnest eagerness, while the other three actors, Lizan Mitchell, Portia, and Anthony Mark Stockard, switch from one character to another with lightening speed and remarkable talent.

Mitchell’s first remarkable character is a high school janitor who has been cleaning the high school since 1958 and gives the history of the decline of the facility. The set is one dilapidated cinderblock school room with cracked and broken wire-embedded windows, well designed by Brian Prather.

The exotic atmosphere of a predominantly black and Hispanic high school was likely foreign territory for the primarily Caucasian audience Saturday. It was an education in the state of the inner-city educational institutions, as well as the external world of single parent families, gang violence, and the effect of poverty on change.
The story line follows Sun’s character as she attempts to produce a play at the high school with a class of 10th grade students, while confronting changes in teaching staff, mutinous students, and a supportive administration.

At one point Sun, who is black, says in frustration: "I can’t even help my own people. The whole system is falling apart- we are getting them ready for jail-we have abandoned them."

Portia, whose characters’ morph from the school’s authoritative but kind principal Mrs. Kennedy, to the rigid security guard, to a teenage mother-to-be, and others, is convincing in all.

Anthony Mark Stockard also is remarkable, transforming instantly from one persona to the next. He uses his sweatshirt hood as an aid for one character, and plays a convincing sassy teenage girl named Sharika, an Asian boy, an angry class leader named Jerome, and a competent authoritative teacher.

In addition to the male janitor Mr. Barry, Mitchell is fascinating and totally committed as the naïve Asian teacher, a boy who can barely speak named Phillip, a barking Russian teacher, and more.

The slang and accents are thick, peppered with profuse profanity, and are spit out at a rapid-fire pace, but somehow the actors manage to make most of the dialog intelligible, with assistance from dialect consultant Gillian Lane-Plescia.

Sad statistics abound in this play about the lamentable state of inner-city schools. Principal Kennedy says one class had seen five different teachers in a year, while 79 percent of the student body has experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Sun says: "Those kids in there need a miracle - They need a miracle everyday."

It all seems pretty grim, but there is plenty of humor and hope that elevates "No Child" into something quite special.

Occasionally this one act play feels a little preachy, but there is no doubt Sun has lived this life and listened well to the hearts and minds of the kids, and ultimately honors their struggle for meaning and self-respect in a harsh and difficult world.

3 1/2 Stars
Theater: TheaterWorks
Location: 233 Pearl Street, Hartford.
Production: By Nilaja Sun. Directed by Rob Ruggiero. Lighting designed by John Lasiter. Costume designed by Peg Carbonneau. Sound designed by J. Hagenbuckle. Dialect consultant Gillian Lane-Plescia.
Running time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, no 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. The show will run through October 12.
Tickets: Unassigned seating is $37; $47 on Friday and Saturday nights. Center reserved seats $11 extra. $11 student rush tickets at showtime with valid identification, subject to availability. For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit their website at

Lizan Mitchell ...Various Characters
Donnetta Lavinia Grays ... Ms. Sun
Portia ... Various Characters
Anthony Mark Stockard ... Various Characters

Monday, September 08, 2008

HSC production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

HARTFORD - Ain’t love grand? There sure isn’t enough it in the world, but there is no lack of love, in all its manifestations, in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" by William Shakespeare, at the Hartford Stage Company.

"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is one of the few plays Shakespeare wrote that was an original plot, and not based on a historical work.

Director Lisa Peterson chose to set the play in the 1950’s, with costume design by Ilona Somogyi, which works well for this play, although the forest setting and fairies are delightfully timeless.

The story follows the loves, romantic and other, of various characters - from the Duke Theseus who is marrying Hippolyta, played commandingly by David Andrew Macdonald and Johanna Day who also play the Fairie King Oberon and the Fairie Queen Titania - to the four young people, Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena.

Demetrius, played by Jake Lacy, is in love with Hermia, played by Christina Pumariega. But Hermia loves Lysander, played by Sanjit De Silva, while Helena’s love of Demetrius goes unrequited. Susannah Flood plays Helena.

"The course of true love never did run smooth," says Lysander, and never were more true words spoken. All kinds of love, and jealousies are evident here - the love of Titania for her foundling child, who Oberon wants, the paternal love of a father, Egeus, played by Everett Quinton, for his daughter, Hermia.

While the women remain relatively constant, the men behave pretty badly, starting from the top with the Fairie King Oberon who has his assistant Puck, played with impish glee by Francis Jue, give a love potion to Titania, Demetrius, and then Lysander.

Many strange and weird things happen once the youths are in the woods, and Peterson has them all run and roll and cavort about with impressive energy and strength.

Sometimes a little too much energy. When Hermia, who is used to always being doted upon, all of a sudden is despised by her love Lysander for no apparent reason, she doesn’t seem shocked enough, and says: "O weary night, O long and tedious night," as if she could run a marathon.

For those who think Shakespeare is difficult to understand, this play, with plenty of broad sexual innuendo, should present no problem. Shakespeare wrote for the common man of his day and his comedies are meant to be much bawdier than many realize.

Shakespeare hardly ever resorted to swearing in any of his plays, choosing instead to use more creative and amusing invectives such as "vixen," "churl," and "acorn."
The original music by James Paul Prendergast was lovely, particularly original and pleasant was setting Oberon’s dialog to music, and the charming, enchanting sounds of the fairie’s singing.

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged cupid painted blind," laments poor, confused Helena on the fickle, flighty changeling nature of love. She is used to being ignored, and when the tables are turned and the men chase after her, she thinks there is a conspiracy afoot.

There is the subplot with a play within a play, where a troupe of amateur actors rehearses a play about two ill-fated lovers, Pyramus and Thisby. Puck turns one of the actors, named Bottom, played with proper bravura by Lucas Caleb Rooney, into a Donkey and Titania is made to fall in love with him.

The play within the play at the end was a bit long, and even though it is faithful to the original, it would not have been missed if it had been deleted.

"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" slowly cast a love spell on the audience, lulling all into a sense of enchanted joy, happiness, and intoxicating love.


Three Stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Lisa Peterson. Scenic design by Rachel Hauck. Costume design by Ilona Somogyi. Lighting design by Stephen Strawbridge. Composed by James Paul Prendergast.
Running time: 2 ½ hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. through October 5.
Tickets: $23 - $68.50. Call 527-5151 or visit their Web site at
Johanna Day ... Hippolyta/Titania
David Andrew Macdonald ... Theseus/Oberon
Francis Jue ...Puck/ Philostrate
Everett Quinton ...Egeus/Quince
Jake Lacy ...Demetrius
Sanjit De Silva ...Lysander
Christina Pumariega...Hermia
Susannah Flood...Helena
Lucas Caleb Rooney ...Bottom
Steven Boyer ...Flute
Nathan Johnson...Starveling
Kathy Deitch...Snout
Robert Patrick Sheire...Snug

Friday, September 05, 2008

A lot to love in Monty Python’s SPAMALOT

HARTFORD-The musical comedy "Monty Python’s SPAMALOT," playing at the Bushnell through Sunday, should come with a warning.

Those attending a performance of the hilarious, irreverent, and silly show may find they leave the theater with permanent smiles stuck to their faces, toes that won’t stop tapping, and be forever unable to look on anything but the bright side of life.
A sure sign of a great musical is having that one song you just can’t get out of your head. For "Monty Python’s SPAMALOT" that song is undoubtedly "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

The musical is based on the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," which is derived from the BBC television show "Monty Python’s Flying Circus," that ran from 1969 until 1974.

Set in 932 A.D. it loosely tells the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and their search for the Holy Grail.

For those who remember the film, it’s a delightful walk down nostalgia lane, with the Knights of Ni and their demand for a "shrubbery," the knight who suffers "just a flesh wound," the plague victim who insists "I’m not dead yet," catapulted cows, killer rabbits, and many more characters and incidences from the film.

But it isn’t necessary to have seen the movie or even the television show to enjoy the 2005 Tony-award winning musical. The songs are upbeat and tuneful. In addition to "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," other memorable tunes include "Find Your Grail," and "The Song That Goes Like This."

At one point Sir Dennis Galahad, played with handsome bravura by Ben Davis, questions King Arthur, played with kingly authority by Jonathan Hadary, about what makes him think he is a king. Arthur says he got the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, played with over the top campiness by Esther Stilwell, to which Galahad says, "Soggy blondes, with their backsides in ponds, can not replace the electorate."

In an irreverent diva turn, Stilwell’s Lady of the Lake complains that her part isn’t big enough, and sings, "All the Tony awards won’t keep me out of Betty Ford."

The characterizations are first rate, including the large ensemble chorus, with a number of the actors playing multiple roles, such as the effeminate Prince Herbert, played to perfection by Christopher Sutton, who also plays the Historian, Not Dead Fred, a French Guard, and a Minstrel.

There’s lots of flatulent humor, plenty of Las Vegas-style dance numbers, choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, with many candy-colored, sparkling costumes, by Tim Hatley, who also designed the Disneyland-meets-the-Middle-Ages set.

The show is directed by legendary director Mike Nichols, who also directed the movie "The Graduate," as well as Broadway plays such as "The Odd Couple," and "Barefoot in the Park." Nichols did a commanding job of keeping the show moving at a fast and upbeat pace.

One of the original Monty Python cast members, Eric Idle, wrote the book for the show, as well as co-wrote the music with John Du Prez, and the songs couldn’t be better.

There’s even a surprise guest cameo at each performance that is a real hit with the audience.

This is the second time "Monty Python’s SPAMALOT" has come to the Bushnell, and if the audiences’ reactions are any indication, it definitely won’t be the last.


3 1/2 Stars
Theater: The Bushnell
Location: William H. Mortensen Hall, 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Directed by Mike Nichols. Book and lyrics by Eric Idle. Musical director Ben Whiteley. Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle. Set and costume design by Tim Hatley. Lighting design by Hugh Vanstone. Sound design by Acme Sound Partners. Choreography by Casey Nicholaw.
Running time: 2 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Today and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $16.50 -$72. Call 987-5900 or visit their Web site at

Jonathan Hadary ... King Arthur
Esther Stilwell ... The Lady of the Lake
James Beaman ... Sir Robin, Guard 1, Brother Maynard
Christopher Sutton ... Historian, Not Dead Fred, French Guard, Minstrel, Prince Herbert
Brad Bradley ... Mayor, Patsy, Guard 2
Patrick Heusinger ... Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter
Ben Davis ... Sir Dennis Galahad, The Black Knight, Prince Herbert’s Father
Christopher Gurr ... Dennis’ Mother, Sir Bedevere, Concorde
Eric Hayden ... Sir Not Appearing
Richard Costa ... Monk
Matt Allen ... Nun
John Cleese ... God
Darryl Semira ... Sir Bors
Richard Costa, David Havasi, Christopher Sutton ... French Guards
Davad Havasi, Darryl Semira, Christopher Sutton, Paula Wise ... Minstrals