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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Effervescent, kibitzing “Bad Dates” at Long Wharf

NEW HAVEN — The trials and tribulations of the single life are examined and dissected in Long Wharf Theatre’s production of “Bad Dates.”
It is an amusing and mostly honest view from one woman’s perspective of what it is like to be a single mom of a teen-age girl trying to earn a living in New York City, while taking a chance and jumping feet first into the deep end of dating pool.
It’s not always a pretty picture, but realistic and often funny. For example, rather than calling some of her dates by their names, Haley Walker gives them by nick-names, such as “the bug man.”
She also goes on a blind date her mother arranges with a gay Columbia law professor who she says is “the least fun homosexual on the planet,” is “snotty and kind of mean,” “on a pretend date with a girl.”
Another date disaster asks her what she is wearing and tells her it makes her look old. Why she continues to torture herself with that lout after those insults is a mystery.
Haley is competently and effervescently played by Haviland Morris. She speaks directly to the audience, in this one-woman show, like she is kibitzing with one of her girlfriends.
Not an easy feat to pull off, delivering a 90 minute monologue about her love life, or lack of one, plus a rather rocky work situation, running a trendy restaurant which turns out to be a front for a group of Romanian Mafia-type criminals.
The play, written by Theresa Rebeck, is wholly set in a rent-controlled apartment’s bedroom, over-run with wild designer shoes, in New York City. Originally written in 2004, it is amazing how much the world has changed in that time. How many upwardly mobile urban professionals still use a phone book to look up a telephone number? Cell phones are talked about, but no computer is in sight.
The bedroom is cozily cluttered, and looks like designer Frank J. Alberino popped next door to IKEA for the décor.
The costumes designed by Jessica Wegener, were many and appropriate for the play, with lots of dresses, and tons of high high heels. The red shoes in particular were lovely — some others, not so.
During the few scene changes in this play they added a fun interlude by having the two set changers, dressed like the blues brothers, do a little dance sequence while moving shoe boxes about. It is a clever idea, with direction by Long Wharf Theatre’s associate artistic director Eric Ting.
Haley’s self-effacing charm and her willingness to take responsibility for her actions, and reactions, make this show engaging and entertaining, as does her engaging the audience in a direct conversation about her love life, or lack of a love life.
Of her relationship with her former husband, she admits, “I was just another person who married a moron.”
Pretty much every woman at one time or another has experienced some of what she goes through in her effort to find companionship with other fellow travelers in the uncharted relationship waters.
A bit of a combination of “Sex and the City” with “Brigit Jones Diaries,” “Bad Dates,” while at times feels a little dated, is a light-hearted romp through the odd and strange world of dating.


3 Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Eric Ting. Set designed by Frank J. Alberino. Costumes designed by Jessica Wegener. Lighting designed by Josh Epstein. Sound designed by Corrine K. Livingston.
Running time: 90 minutes with no 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 Mar. 22.
Tickets: $32 to $62. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at
Haviland Morris …. Haley Walker
By Kory Loucks
Journal Inquirer

Monday, February 23, 2009

Evocative intricate “EVITA” at the Broad Brook Opera House

EAST WINDSOR — Theatre, just like nature, abhors a vacuum and after the recent demise of the Connecticut Opera, perhaps the Broad Brook Opera House Players can help fill the void.
They certainly went a long way towards that achievement with their fine production of “EVITA,” the modern opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, which is running through Sunday.
The show really belongs to Eva Peron, the real-life Argentinean film star who became a political leader, marrying Juan Peron, who was to become Argentina’s president in 1946.
Eva Peron, well-played by the powerhouse singer, Nicole R. Giguere, is on stage just about every minute of the show, when she isn’t changing costumes, and even sometimes when she is.
In real life Eva Peron started out as Maria Eva Duarte. She came from dirt poor, lower class illegitimate obscurity, having “every disadvantage you need if you’re gonna succeed,” as the narrator and admiring critic, Che, sagely observes and sings.
Christopher deJongh, who plays Che, has a beautiful voice and hits all the right notes, musically and theatrically, with the sarcasm and anger, tinged with fascination and admiration, that gives the show so much of it’s depth.
Paul DiProto’s Juan Peron is a finely-etched performance of a weaker man who sees the advantages of a strong charismatic smoke screen in Evita, who single-handedly put Argentina on the map like no one before or after her.
In life, Evita, which means little Eva, died of cancer at 33 in 1952 before she was able to fulfill her ambition and become the country’s vice-president.
She hated the middle classes in Argentina because they had treated her with contempt and ridicule as the illegitimate child of a middle-class man. She also championed the poor, making her a lightening rod for divergent opinions, as Giguere sang derisively in one of her many songs, “The actress hasn’t learned the lines you’d like to hear.”
Caroline Zocco plays Juan Peron’s mistress, and gives a fine performance as the out-of-luck ex, singing “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”
Also fine and funny is Eva’s first of many lovers, Paul Aherne, who plays the smarmy crooner Augustin Magaldi, wearing an amusing Rod Blagojevich-like toupee — it’s acting with hair.
The supporting cast members are all terrific, animated, and involved, while the choreography, by Todd Saint Maria, was surprisingly intricate, diverse, and the cast did a great job of delivering, particularly on such a small stage.
The musicians, lead by Bill Martin, were sensitive to the various performers, and never overwhelmed them,
The Broad Brook Opera House Players really outdid themselves in this production with the inclusion of two projection screens showing archival photographs of Eva Peron. The technical touch, with video design by Barbara Arnold, added depth and sophistication to this heart-felt show.
One of the delightful aspects of this community theater is that they have a hold a fundraising raffle during intermission, the winner of which gets to split the proceeds with the house. They previously held the raffle before the show, but switching it to intermission is a much better choice.
Director Philip D. Vetro promised the audience before the sold-out show Saturday that the Broad Brook Opera House Players are financially sound for the coming season. All the more reason to continue to support their consistently fine and impressive productions.


3 Stars
Theater: The Broad Brook Opera House
Location: 107 Main Street, Broad Brook
Production: Lyrics by Tim Rice. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Direction by Philip D. Vetro. Musical direction by Bill Martin. Choreography by Todd Santa Maria. Set design by Peggy Messerschmidt. Lighting design by Diane St. Amand. Sound design by Devon Gamache, and Bruce Banning. Video design by Barbara Arnold.
Running time: 2 hours, plus a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. through March 1.
Tickets: $20, seniors over 60 and youth under 12 pay $16. Call 860-292-6068 or visit their website at
Nicole R. Giguere … Eva Peron
Christopher deJongh … Che
Paul DiProto …Juan Peron
Paul Aherne … Augstin Magaldi
Caroline Zocco … Peron’s mistress
Ensemble …. Deb Brigada, Adam Fancher, Gene Gramarossa, Dallas Hosmer, Khara C. Hoyer, Reva Kleppel, Brenda Koboski, Erik Landry, Amy Szczepaniuk Meek, Brianna Mello, Chris Papa, Sara Papa, Jerilyn Rae, Gary Rhone, James Rhine, Julianne Rhone.
Children’s ensemble … Sarah Banning, Maureen Baron, Erin Fields, Pearl Matteson, Casie Pepe Winshell

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Four Dogs and a Bone" a carnivorous, risqué delight at the Suffield Players

SUFFIELD — For anyone who’s ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of film, you won’t find a more compelling, back-stabbing, witty, or profanity-ridden example than “Four Dogs and a Bone,” playing at the Suffield Players through Feb. 28.
This is an interesting daring production, because the dialog is definitely on the far side of propriety. Let’s just say, this isn’t your typical community theater comedy of manners.
If you can handle the very adult profanity, however, it is hysterical. It is also a terrific cautionary tale for anyone who has ever dreamed of working in the film industry. There are high dollars and future careers at stake every step of the way.
Written by John Patrick Shanley, who is no stranger to stage or screen writing, having written the films “Moonstruck,” and “Joe Versus the Volcano,” among many others.
Most recently Shanley directed the film version of his 2004 multiple award-winning play “Doubt: A Parable,” starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
In this play Robert Lunde plays Victor, Shanley’s alter ego, who has written a screenplay everyone wants to change.
That includes the seasoned, stressed-out movie producer, Bradley, played with world-weariness by Josh Guenter; Brenda the ingenue, “with no talent but lots of personality” played with wide-eyed steeliness by Megan Fish; and the stage actress with “dead-eyes” who is desperate to be the ingenue and not a character actor, well-played by Lea D. Oppedisano.
Oppedisano gets to over-act, and overact she does — reminiscent of the old Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson. While showing she can be sarcastic with the best of them, she also has crashing experiences of occasional vulnerability.
You really never know what these characters are going to say or do next, which is a big part of the play’s appeal.
No question that Shanley experienced much of the insanity of film making in his screen writing and directing career, and in this play, written in 1993, he got to have his wicked comeuppance.
If creating films is anything like this, which they undoubtedly must be, it is a “monkey miracle” any of them ever gets completed.
Sometimes background music, which is so essential in establishing mood in films, is distracting and jarring in plays, but because this show is so over-the-top and dramatic, in a good way, the occasional musical interludes work very well.
When in the second act Colette appears at the producer’s glass door, and a track from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns is played, it enhances the scene, illiciting laughter from the audience — because the two women, bubble-headed Brenda and Kabuki theatre-queen Colette, are headed for a showdown.
The set, with the producer’s office, the women’s dressing room, and the bar, all work great, quite an achievement in such a small stage space — Kudos to set designer Konrad Rogowski.
This show is definitely not for kids and even adults might find it offensive, so be forewarned. That being said, the actors are all excellent, well cast, and move comfortably and easily about the stage, with fine direction by Meghan Lynn Allen.
Every character in this show has his or her own agenda, and it is a feast of fun to watch them all get what they deserve in this biting tale of double-crossing, maneuvering, manipulation, and gargantuan egos — “Four Dogs and a Bone” is a carnivorous risqué delight.


3 Stars
Location: Mapleton Hall, 1305 Mapleton Ave. Suffield.
Production: Written by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Meghan Lynn Allen. Lighting design and technical direction by Jerry Zalewski. Set design by Konrad Rogowski.
Running time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Feb. 28.
Tickets: $17, $15 for seniors and students. Call 800-289-6158 or visit their website at
Megan Fish ... Brenda
Josh Guenter ... Bradley
Robert Lunde ... Victor
Lea D. Oppedisano ... Colette

Monday, February 09, 2009

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” an existential romp at TheaterWorks
HARTFORD — “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” produced by TheaterWorks and running through March 15, is a quirky, existential, absurdist romp through a metaphysical park of the mind.
Existentialism deals with the individual’s ultimate isolation, freedom of choice, and responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions — a conceit the play, written by Sarah Ruhl, jumps into with both feet.
Ruhl leaps into the deep end of the dysfunctional family gene pool, sweeping the audience along for the inquisitive ride, where Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, and John Dunn are quoted with equal felicity, and questions of connection and alienation in an electronically wired world are dissected.
It is rather ironic that the more we are connected via cell phones and the like, the more isolated and emotionally disconnected we feel.
Finnerty Steeves plays a woman, Jean, in a café who discovers a man, Gordon, who has quietly but most assuredly died. Gordon is played with cold charisma by Craig Wroe, while Steeves plays a frumpy gal, who tries to help everyone, including herself, by lying in a good way about a history she invents between Gordon and herself.
The play sometimes feels like a cross between the film “While You Were Sleeping,” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” where a lonely woman meets a highly dysfunctional family and insinuates herself into their lives.
That family consists of, an anemic, meat-eating, and metaphorically man-eating matriarch played by the fine Anne-Lynn Kettles, Gordon’s stiff-backed, unhappy widow Hermia (Lee Heinz), and the meek brother who loves stationary, Dwight (Mark Shanahan).
The white, austere set, designed by Michael Schweikardt, is a perfect blank slate for the various scenes in the café, the Gottlieb’s dining room, the stationary store, and South America. The set is exquisitely enhanced by the washes of intense colored backdrop lighting, including the deep reds and warm yellows, kudos to lighting designer John Lasiter.
Director Rob Ruggiero is inventive and unobtrusive as always, making choices that feel at once organic and compelling, such as when he has Hermia and the mistress speak from the audience isle, or when Jean is knelling at the church using the stage as the railing.
The fight scene between Jean and the other woman, choreographed by Matthew Scott Campbell, feels self-conscious and inauthentic.
Where have all the phone booths gone? What a different world we live in today, with iPhones and Blackberries and who knows what else next. The answers to questions are at our fingertips, but does that make our need to retain information superfluous? We really don’t need to remember anything, or rely on our own brains for information, because it can always be found in an instant outside ourselves.
TheaterWorks has added a new component to their theater experience — with a terrific art gallery and bistro on the first floor. In conjunction with the New Britain Museum of American Art, the gallery has a stunning collection of original oil paintings from pulp magazines of the 1940’s with gangsters and criminals, along with other fine original works.
TheaterWorks Executive Director Steve Campo has created an artistic marriage between theater and the visual arts that synergistically enhances both — something your cell phone will never do.


3 Stars
Theater: TheaterWorks
Location: 233 Pearl St. Hartford.
Production: Written by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Rob Ruggiero. Set designed by Michael Schweikardt. Costumes designed by Katherine Hampton Noland. Lighting designed by John Lasiter. Sound designed by J. Hagenbuckle. Fight choreography by Matthew Scott Campbell.
Running time: 2 hours, plus a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. The show is scheduled to run through March 15.
Tickets: Unassigned seating is $37; $47 on Friday and Saturday nights. Center reserved seats $11 extra. $10 student rush tickets at showtime with valid ID (subject to availability). For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit their website at
Finnerty Steeves … Jean
Craig Wroe … Gordon
Anne-Lynn Kettles … Mrs. Gottleib
Joey Parsons … The other woman, a stranger
Lee Heinz … Hermia
Mark Shanahan … Dwight
Jersey Boys Rocks

HARTFORD — Oh what a show. First rate, unforgettable music, and lots of it, combined with a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story about a time in the 1950s when men were men, especially if they were Italian, and the only options to get out of poverty in inner-city New Jersey were either crime or singing, or in the case of the “Jersey Boys,” both.
“Jersey Boys” the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, won a well-deserved Tony for best musical in 2006. In this production at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts running through Feb. 22, some of the actors are from the original Broadway cast, and it shows.
How many songs are there where all you have to do is say the title and you know the song? No matter how old you are or what your taste in music is, if you have been on this earth for at least a few decades chances are pretty good that you have heard “Sherrie,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Oh, What a Night,” Walk Like a Man,” “My Eyes Adore You,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Let’s Hang on to What We’ve Got,” which are only a few of the many songs, most written by Four Season member Bob Gaudio, and performed in “Jersey Boys.”
It isn’t just the songs though, along with terrific choreography by Sergio Trujillo, and the plethora of period-perfect costumes by Jess Goldstein, that make this show so absolutely fabulous. It’s also how the songs are woven into the story of how three working class New Jersey boys who team up with a fourth from out west, found a sound and created a phenomenon, with their trials and tribulations along the way.
Let’s face it — No matter how talented a group is, after a while watching four guys singing song after song, no matter how varied their costumes are, can get a little old. But that is never a problem here. Almost every song had a different angle, including the scene when the group was on American Bandstand and the cameras videoed them in black and white and superimposed their singing onto a big screen, with archival footage of teens screaming on companion screens.
They did it a second time when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Super idea, especially for a large venue like the Bushnell, giving those audience members sitting far back to get a better look at the characters.
Also innovative and effective was when they turned the stage around and made it feel like the audience was at the back of the stage. Huge, whiteout spotlights focused on the group and spilled onto the real audience — lending a vicarious sensation of what it must be like to be literally in the spotlight of a huge venue.
The show started off with a strange rap song — the idea, to show that the Four Season’s music is still relevant today, but it wasn’t that good.
Joseph Leo Bwarie is an awesome talent. Not only looks like the diminutive Frankie Valli, who we learn changed his name from Castelluccio, but he sings like an angel, and even better, sounds just like Valli. Three of the original members, including Valli, are still alive, according to the show.
That fact is amazing in one instance in particular, considering that Tommy DeVito, the founding member of the group and one bad boy, played by the fine Matt Bailey, was heavily into gambling, drinking, and petty theft — putting him and his fellow group members in and out of jail and into deep financial debt.
Josh Franklin couldn’t be better cast as the young singer songwriter from out west who joins the trio and writes the music that Frankie and the group sing — a musical marriage that the world would be much poorer for without.
Steve Gouveia who was in the original cast and also on Broadway as the fourth member, Nick Massi, acted the part as the “Ringo” of the group well. When harmonizing with the others, he was excellent, but when heard alone, his voice was notably weaker than the others.
You can often tell the quality of the show not only by the leads, but also by how deep the bench goes. With that litmus test in mind, “Jersey Boys” supporting cast, including Joseph Siravo as Gyp DeCarlo, Renee Marino as Mary Delgado, Jonathan Hadley as Bob Crewe, and Courtier Simmons as Joe Pesci (yes that Joe Pesci) are all top notch.
If you can get through this show without a smile on your face or feeling joy in your heart, you may want to check to make sure you still have a pulse.
Seriously, if there is only one show you go to see this year, make it “Jersey Boys.” You will not be disappointed, and could end up besotted by this remarkably talented group.

4 Stars
Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Memorial Center
Location: 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Directed by Des McAnuff. Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Music by Bob Gaudio. Lyrics by Bob Crewe. Scenic design by Klara Zieglerova. Costume design by Jess Goldstein. Lighting design by Howell Binkley. Sound design by Steven Canyon Kennedy. Choreography by Sergio Trujillo.
Running time: 2 1/2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinee performances Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., through Feb. 22.
Tickets: Start at $25. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website at Recommended for ages 13 and up.
Joseph Leo Bwarie … Frankie Valli
Matt Bailey … Tommy DeVito
Josh Franklin … Bob Gaudio
Steve Gouveia … Nick Massi
Jonathan Hadley … Bob Crewe and others
Courter Simmons … Joey and others
Joseph Siravo … Gyp DeCarol and others
Renee Marino … Mary Delgado, Angel and others