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Monday, September 28, 2009

“Nanny 911” meets the 1800s in Ivorton Playhouse’s “The Miracle Worker”
IVORYTON — “The Miracle Worker” at the Ivoryton Playhouse, is a moving, surprisingly physical, and special show, lovingly produced, and well acted.
Most are familiar with Helen Keller’s story. While an infant she became deaf and blind after a severe illness that almost killed her. Helen’s well-to-do southern family were loving but unable to help her. They hired an untrained young teacher, half-blind herself, Anne Sullivan, who had a vision that language was the key to unlocking Helen’s mind.
Originally written for television in 1957 by William Gibson, it was latter adapted into a play and then a film starring Anne Bancroft as Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen.
It is fitting that “The Miracle Worker” began it’s life on television, because in many ways it is the precursor to television shows such as “Nanny 911” and “Supernanny,” where tough love, consistency, and discipline from the adults are crucial in all children’s development.
Set in Alabama in the late 1800’s during a time when the Civil War was a recent experience, the Kellers hire Sullivan (Andrea Maulella) to try to help 12-year-old Helen (Jenilee Simons Marques) who is bright but terribly spoiled.
The whole family treats her like a pet, much to the dismay of Sullivan who realizes that there is no possible way to reach Helen with all the well-meant indulgence.
As usual Ivoryton Playhouse does a fine job of weaving professional and local amateur actors together, here directed by Ivoryton Playhouse Executive Director Jacqueline Hubbard.
Maulella is totally believable as Sullivan, even if she is a little old for the part, where so much emphasis is given to her age and inexperience. At times she rushes her lines and the comments, often amusing, get lost.
She is a scrappy gal though, and up to the challenge of physically wrestling with Helen — a lot. So much so that the play could just as easily have been called “The Miracle Workout,” and had a fight choreographer, Carrie Brewer, to coordinate all the action.
Marques is inspired as Helen. Born to two deaf parents and deaf since birth herself, she is completely engaging, natural, and compelling in the role.
The set, designed by Cully Long, gave the indication of a Victorian home, and cleverly transformed into a garden house in the second act.
The costumes by Pam Puente were lovely, particularly the exquisitely detailed and numerous gowns for Helen’s mother, Kate, played by Elizabeth Erwin.
Helen’s half-brother, James, is played with a heavy dose of sarcasm as called for, by Michael Raver, while Bif Carrington plays Helen’s father with the right amount of Southern male privilege.
“Have some pity on her for being who she is,” the father says. All he wants from his daughter is obedience, but her teacher has higher expectations for her charge, saying, “Giving up is my idea of original sin.”
This is an excellent show for both adults and children, showing that many seemingly insurmountable achievements can be accomplished with perseverance and stubborn determination.

3½ Stars
Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, Conn.
Production: Written by William Gibson. Directed by Jacqueline Hubbard. Set design by Doug Harry. Sound design by Tate Burmeister. Costume design by Pam Puente.
Running time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Oct. 11.
Tickets: $35 for adults, $30 for previews and seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website at
Jenilee Simons Marques … Helen Keller
Andrea Maulella … Anne Sullivan
Elizabeth Erwin … Kate Keller
Bif Carrington … Capt. Keller
Michael Raver … James
Maggie McGlone-Jennings … Aunt Ev

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Graceful saga continues in HSC’s “The Orphans’ Home Cycle: Part 2

HARTFORD — Part 2 of the three-part play “The Orphans’ Home Cycle: The Story of a Marriage,” by the inimitable Horton Foote at the Hartford Stage Company can be seen on it’s own, or as part of a whole.
Horton Foote’s award winning plays and screenplays aren’t overly dramatic or grandiose and they require a certain degree of patience from the audience.
They are complex human comedies that slowly and carefully develop and evolve. Either the characters remember their past vividly, or they choose to ignore it, but they are all very human, fragile, and touching.
Part 1 of the cycle traced the life of Foote’s father starting from his childhood in 1902 in a fictitious town called Wharton, Texas.
Part 2 picks up with 20-year-old Horace Robedaux (Bill Heck) trying to find his way in the world without much education or support from his family.
Heck is well cast as the sensitive, kind, and ambitious lead character.
Robedaux courts a young widow, Claire Ratcliff, played by Virginia Kull, who has numerous suitors and two precocious children Molly and Buddy, played by the earnest and adorable Georgi James and Dylan Riley Snyder.
Kull’s Claire has suitors buzzing around her like bees and wants to marry soon, but Robedaux isn’t financially able to take on a family and leaves for business school in Houston instead.
While in Houston he meets Elizabeth Vaughn, played by Maggie Lacey, who comes from a wealthy family, and whose strict parents, played by Hallie Foote and James DeMarse, don’t approve of the match.
It takes a while but the father begins to change his mind about his new son-in-law and at one point, in a moving scene, he gives a set of Robedaux’s dead father’s books to the young man.
Near the end, DeMarse’s Mr. Vaughn says to his daughter and son-in-law, “There’s peace in this room, and contentment,” adding, “they don’t have much but they do have contentment.” A gift he acknowledges money can’t buy.
The leads are all strong, but what gives this series its depth are the excellent, well wrought secondary characters.
There’s the menacing Val Stanton, played by Lucas Caleb Rooney, Kull again playing the childlike Bessie Stillman, Devon Abner as the alcoholic son of the boarding house owner, Bobby Pate, with amusing turns by Annalee Jefferies as the matriarch Lucy (Vaughn) Stewart and Pamela Payton-Wright as Sarah Vaughn.
The set’s frame is the same as it was in the first play, with a quilted muslin that has scenic lighting, such as trees and homes superimposed upon it to good effect.
The costumes, especially the women’s gowns, are meticulous and lovely, by David Woolard.
Horton Foote, who died this spring at 90, has been called old-fashioned and his quiet and graceful plays were out of style for a time, but thankfully he never stopped writing and sticking to his perspective.
His memories and stories are a testament to perseverance and are a loving legacy to the importance of family.


3½ stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Written by Horton Foote. Directed by Michael Wilson. Set designed by Jeff Cowie and David Barber. Costume design by David Woolard. Lighting design by Rui Rita. Original music and sound design by John Gromada. Choreography by Peter Pucci.
Running time: 3 hours with two intermissions.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinee performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. through October 4, with the three play marathon performances on Saturday, Oct. 17 and 24.
Tickets: $33 and up. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at

Bill Heck … Horace Robedaux
Maggie Lacey … Elizabeth Vaughn
Hallie Foote … Mrs. Vaughn
James DeMarse … Mr. Vaughn
Virginia Kull … Claire Ratcliff, Bessie Stillman
Jenny Dare Paulin … Laura Vaughn
Devon Abner … Bobby Pate, Roger Culpepper
Dylan Riley Snyder … Buddy
Georgi James … Molly

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mamet's "American Buffalo" delivers goods at TheaterWorks

HARTFORD- Unlike TheaterWorks usually minimalist sets, the stage in David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” is strewn with junk that makes the set of the television show “Sanford and Son” look like a church.
Ice skates, lamp shades, typewriters, sewing machines, and old books litter the junk shop set and compete with the three actors for space.
This is a world of dog-eat-dog questionable business, where three losers, each with their own special brand of glaring dysfunction, take a possible robbery and turn it into a mess. Let’s just say, “Ocean’s 11” this isn’t.
The first play that put Mamet on the map, produced in 1975, “American Buffalo” is set in Chicago, where three men hatch a desperate plan to steal a coin collection from customer.
John Ahlin plays the shops’ owner, Donny Dubrow, as a walrus-eyed, spastically gesturing elder, who in his own way is endeavoring to impart his business acumen on the simple younger Bobby, Zachary Spicer, a greasy-haired, slow but sweet kid.
Ahlin gracefully transitions from lecturing Bobby about eating breakfast “the most important meal of the day” to coldly dismissing him, when he is persuaded to drop him from his poorly planned fiasco.
In pops the hyperbolic, quixotic, sleazy, and slick Walter Cole, nicknamed Teach, played by Andrew Benator, in what has to be one of the most audacious entrances ever, he launches into a relentless and amusing diatribe about a slight just he received for eating someone else’s piece of toast.
Working himself into a frenzy of fury, the kinetic Teach finally blurting out, “The only way to teach these people is to kill them.” He then just as quickly tells Donny he wants bacon and doesn’t eat cantaloupe because it gives him the runs.
The play percolates along with only occasionally self-conscious staging but overall solid directing by Steve Campo.
As in most of their productions, Campo, TheaterWorks executive director gives a dry and witty introduction before the start of the play each night.
True to form Before this play he warned audiences if they wished not to hear profanity they should have the audience member behind them put their hands over their ears for the entire show.
This warning is no exaggeration — with every third word or so a swear of one kind or another, making this show clearly not for children.
In act two the play immediately escalates into a much more high-stakes game as tensions mount and the heist is on, sort-of. Set in a time of the rotary phone, one forgets what tensions those painfully slow dials could create.
The quick, sparing dialog of “Mamet-speak” is like a relentless shot of adrenaline. At one point after Teach throws a temper-tantrum and trashes his business, Ahlin’s Donny says to Teach in calm exasperation “You tire me out, Walt.” A feeling at this point in the play we can all relate to.
Mamet’s masterful play requires a high level of theatrical dexterity and continuity to deliver the goods, a requirement that the stellar cast of “American Buffalo” achieves.
If you see anything on the stage you might want, TheaterWorks is going to hold auction on Sunday, Oct. 25 after the matinee show at about 7:30 p.m. Everything on the set is going to go, including some nice items.
Local radio and columnist Colin McEnroe will be hosting the event. Admission is $24.

3 1/2 Stars
Theater: TheaterWorks
Location: 233 Pearl St. Hartford.
Production: Written by David Mamet. Directed by Steve Campo. Set design by Adrian W. Jones. Lighting Design by Matthew Richards.
Running time: 2 hour, 30 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays — 8 p.m. Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays — 2:30 p.m. Extra Sunday evening shows — 7:30 p.m. The show will run through Oct. 25.
Tickets: Unassigned seating is $38; $48 on Friday and Saturday nights. Center reserved seats $12 extra. $12 student rush tickets at showtime with valid ID (subject to availability). For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit their website at
John Ahlin … Donny Dubrow
Zachary Spicer … Bobby
Andrew Benator … Walter Cole (Teacher)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HSC three-part “Orphans’ Home Cycle” by Horton Foote one complex production schedule
1) Photographs: on their Web site
By Kory Loucks
Journal Inquirer
HARTFORD — Horton Foote’s epic three-part production of his “Orphans’ Home Cycle” running at the Hartford Stage Company through Oct. 24 was a huge undertaking in scheduling too.
“It was a very complex puzzle,” Paul Marte, public relations director at the Hartford Stage Company, said.
The schedule was created to accommodate Hartford Stage Company subscribers.
“It’s very confusing,” Marte acknowledged, explaining that subscribers were given a choice of seeing two of the three plays in the cycle as part of their subscription package.
“They could either see part 1 and part 2 or part 2 and part 3,” Marte said.
The two marathon productions, which include all three of the “Orphan Home Cycle” plays, are scheduled for consecutive Saturdays, Oct. 17 and Oct. 24, from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Subscribers who choose to see either of the 12-hour marathon productions, rather than individually, can do so at an additional cost, Marte said.
For non-subscribers the marathon production tickets range from $99 and $189. They are also offering a $55 meal package at the Hartford Hilton for the two meal breaks during the all day show.
Individual ticket sales for the two “Ophans’ Home Cycle” marathons are going very well, Marte said.
The “Orphans’ Home Cycle, Part 1; The Story of a Childhood” is running on it’s own through Sunday, with additional individual performances on Friday, Oct. 16 and Tuesday, Oct. 20.
The “Orphans’ Home Cycle, Part 2; The Story of a Marriage” is opening 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17 and running through Sunday, Oct. 4, with an additional performance on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
The “Orphans’ Home Cycle, Part 3; The Story of a Family” is opening 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8 until the end of the run, except for Oct. 16, 20, and 21.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening performances all start at 7 p.m., with individual evening performances on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 7:30 p.m.
Individual matinee performances are running on selected Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets for the individual shows start at $33.
For more information, contact their box office at 860-527-5151, or visit their website at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Part One of Foote’s “The Orphans’ Home Cycle” epic journey at HSC

HARTFORD — Like a long cool glass of iced tea on a humid summer day, “Part One — The Story of Childhood” of “The Orphans’ Home Cycle” by Horton Foote, is made to be savored slowly, rather than gulped down fast at the Hartford Stage Company.
It’s a daring idea in an age of instant gratification, but for those with patience and perseverance, it is well worth it. With 22 actors eventually playing 70 parts in the whole of the three-part trilogy, it takes a while to figure out who everyone is.
Set in Texas in the early 1900s, Part One is a three-act story of the young Horace Robedaux from the time he is 12, played by Dylan Riley Snyder, to 14, played by Henry Hodges, and then at 20, played by Bill Heck.
Based on Foote’s father’s life, Robedaux has some pretty bad luck, with his dad dying and his mom abandoning him with relatives to go live with a man without vices, who for some unexplained reason hates the young lad.
Robedaux next goes to work on a horrid plantation where convicts are forced to work to death, and then visits his mother, where he falls ill as a young adult and has to stay too long where he isn’t welcome.
All three Horaces are excellent. The youngest, Snyder, beautifully portrays the polite honesty and heartbreaking sadness of innocence squashed, while Hodges transitions seamlessly as the misfortunate 14-year-old. Today we would call family services for all the abuse and neglect the child experiences.
There are some wild and funny characters mixed into the saga, including the paranoid alcoholic, Soll Gautier, played by James DeMarse, and the alcoholic wealthy Asa Vaughn, played by Hallie Foote, Horton Foote’s daughter.
Leon Addison Brown feels natural and unaffected as Jackson Hall, the convict turned protector of Soll. All of the actors feel real and believable as people rather than stereotypes.
The set design, by Jeff Cowie and David Barber, is simple and inspired. Especially fine is the quilted looking frame around the stage that has multiple layers, and changes with lighting by Rui Rita to alternatively look like roof-tops, swamp land, and a sunset.
The play began interestingly enough with the child standing in a field that looked like an Andrew Wyeth painting, and then transitioned to the 14-year-old and then the 20-year-old Robedaux.
I would have preferred that director Michael Wilson did not feel the need to broadcast on the backdrop the name the trilogy and each of the acts. They are already clearly marked in the program.
The first part of the trilogy feels somewhat reminiscent of Tom Stoppard’s “The Coast of Utopia” trilogy performed at Lincoln Center in 2006 in its pacing and tempo.
Horton Foote, who wrote the screenplay for “The Trip to Bountiful” (1985), “Of Mice and Men,” (1992), and won Academy Awards for his screenplay adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” (1961), is in full command of his talent in this world premiere.
Part One of the trilogy is a massive and impressive undertaking that could have easily have become tiresome, but instead feels important and magnificent.
Horton Foote died in March at 92 before he could get a chance to see this massive undertaking come to fruition, which is too bad. He would have enjoyed how well the actors and Wilson nurtured this epic to life.
Each of the three-part cycle will be performed individually, with marathon performances of “The Orphans’ Home Cycle” performed on Saturday, Oct. 17 and Saturday, Oct. 24.


3 stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Written by Horton Foote. Directed by Michael Wilson. Set designed by Jeff Cowie and David Barber. Costume design by David Woolard. Lighting design by Rui Rita. Original music and sound design by John Gromada. Choreography by Peter Pucci.
Running time: 3 hours with two intermissions.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinee performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. through October 24.
Tickets: $33 and up. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at
Bill Heck … Horace Robedaux, Paul Horace Robedaux
Dylan Riley Snyder … Horace Robedaux, age 12
Henry Hodges … Horace Robedaux, age 14
Devon Abner … John Howard, Pete Davenport
Hallie Foote … Mrs. Robedaux, Asa Vaughn
James DeMarse … Soll Gautier
Leon Addison Brown … Jackson Hall
Annalee Jefferies … Corella Davenport
Jenny Dare Paulin … Lily Dale Robedaux, Minnie Curtis, age 17