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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