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Friday, October 30, 2009

CRT’s "Abraham Lincolns Big Gay Dance Party" entertaining education

STORRS — Was Abraham Lincoln a homosexual? That question, supported by historical fact, is one part of the premise of the inquisitive, entertaining, and educational musical play “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party,” running through Sunday, Nov. 8 at the intimate studio theatre at the University of Connecticut.
What better time to show this political farcical play than during election season?
The play, which starts out as a Christmas pageant in an elementary school in the “fly-over country” of Illinois has a third grader playing Lincoln saying that Lincoln and a merchant, Joshua Speed, were lovers, and that’s okay.
From there the teacher, Harmony, played by Alison Barton, is fired from her job and a trial that is hyped as “The Trial of the Century” commences.
The play, thoughtfully directed by Kristen Wold, is more of an allegory, engaging the audience to vote on whose perspective to view the play from first, the defendant’s, the prosecutor’s, or the reporter’s.
The sets, designed by Jennifer Corcoran, are as clever as can be, with bright, cartoon colors, like folded origami, which are moved about on wheels by the actors to show the courtroom, a restaurant, and a cornfield.
The dialog is smart, sharp, and delivered with conviction, and, as the title implies, there’s plenty of dancing, by the energetic ensemble, with fine choreography by Christine Gambardella, and excellent dancing, particularly by Rachel Leigh Rosado as the Cuban exile Esmerelda.
There’s some pretty graphic sexual dialog and actions, making this show for adults only.
Songs from Brooks and Dunn to Crosby Stills Nash and Young, disco numbers, movie songs such as “Footloose,” and the television theme song to “The Andy Griffith Show,” are woven throughout the show, providing a lift to sometimes talk heavy dialog, with sound design by Jack Nardi.
Showing the same plot from three different perspectives, which this play does, becomes confusing at times. A gunshot is heard over the phone by the Republican defense attorney who wants to be the first black governor of Illinois, Regina, play by Tiffany Vinters.
But it is hard to connect the dots when it is told from the perspective of Tom, the older prosecutor, an arch-conservative Republican who is also running for governor, played by Tom Foran, who evidently shot the gun.
In fact, I’m not really sure how the trial turns out except that what really is on trial here, as one of the characters says at the end, is the United States versus themselves.
Noah Weintraub is convincing as the famous New York Times Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, a gay man bent on destroying Tom’s career.
Also fine is Harrison Greene as the smarmy political operator who is hell-bent on manipulating everyone in his path for political gain.
Barton is excellent too as the wide-eyed, devoted teacher, Harmony, and the older mom hobbling ably with a cane.
Quotes from Lincoln, including his statement that “Those who deny freedom to others do not deserve it themselves,” and debates about the meaning of the word liberty, are laced throughout this challenging show.
It presented with all the energy, commitment, and thoughtfulness that I have come to expect from UConn’s theater department.

3 Stars
Theater: Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Location: Studio Theater, 802 Bolton Rd., Storrs
Production: Written by Aaron Loeb. Directed by Kristin Wold. Scenic design by Jennifer Corcoran. Costume design by Cassandra Beaver. Lighting design by Matthew Daurio. Sound design by Jack Nardi. Choreography by Christine Gambardella. Music consultant Ken Clark. Technical direction by Alez Colodner. Production stage manager Carmen Torres.
Running time: 2 ½ hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Nov. 8.
Tickets: General admission $11 to $29. Call 860-486-4266 or visit their website at
Alison Barton … Mom, Harmony, Abe
Scott Cooke … Jerry, Bailiff, Abe
Tom Foran … Tom, Walter, Abe
Harrison Greene … Lloyd, Timmy, Abe
Seth Koproski … Sparky, Principal, Abe
Sarah Murdoch … Tina, Violet, Jefferson, Abe
Rachel Leigh Rosado … Esmerelda, Abe
Tiffany Vinters … Regina, Washington, Abe
Noah Weintraub … Anton, Judge, Abe

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Goodspeed’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” a gaggle of giggles

EAST HADDAM — “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at the Goodspeed, is a delightfully hysterical, witty and pun-filled night of entertainment that offers “something for everyone — it’s comedy tonight.”
Set in ancient Rome, a savvy slave, Pseudolus, (Adam Heller) promises his young master, Hero, (Sam Pinkleton) that he will hook Hero up with his courtesan love, Philia, (Emily Thompson) in exchange for his freedom.
Comedy is all about timing and good casting, and these actors have it all.
Complications ensue when it is learned that Philia has been sold to Capt. Miles Gloriosus (Nat Chandler) and the Philia mistakes Hero’s father, Senex (David Wohl) for the Captain.
The head slave of the household, Hysterium (John Scherer) does his best to go along with the hoax, eventually pretending to be the virgin Philia. Scherer has a face that is a study in comic expressions that changes on a dime. Scherer and Heller are a great team and work together seamlessly.
Each actor is perfectly cast for his or her role, and they all clearly are having a terrific time, expending an enormous amount of energy, with spot on comic timing. Heller’s quick thinking and talking Pseudolus leads the proceedings and is the mayor of all good times.
From the get-go Pseudolus speaks directly to the audience, and this works well to get everyone along for the bumpy, farcical musical.
Wohl, who looks like a younger W.C. Fields, is adorable with a sweet lisp as the pudgy father Senex, whose mind is willing to fool around with the lovely Philia, but whose flesh isn’t quite up to the task.
His frustrated and fanatical wife, Domina, played by Mary Gutzi, is a powerhouse of determination, with good reason to be suspicious of her husband.
The opening number, “Comedy Tonight” with all songs and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is the catchiest tune in the show that features actors as living cartoons which is a good thing, on the way to the forum.
Directed and choreographed by Ted Pappas, this show picks up speed as it goes, particularly in the second act when the actors all start running and slamming doors, chasing each other down, and having a grand time.
Nat Chandler is sufficiently self-impressed as the Captain, while Ron Wisniski who plays the brothel-owner, Marcus Lycus has a rubber face of expressions and is amusingly high-strung.
The men-folk in the audience will love the gorgeous courtesans dressed in the tiniest of bikinis, with costume design by Martha Bromelmeier, while the men’s costumes, which were mostly wide-striped pajamas, covered imperfections nicely, but look sloppy and aren’t up to the usual Goodspeed standard.
Mark Baker as Erronious, who lives in one of the three houses on the stage, returns from a voyage around the world trying to find his children who were stolen by pirates. This plot point, that seems totally unrelated, helps tie up the story in a neat deus ex machina at the end.
Part slapstick, part farce, with some cornball humor thrown in, plus some Romeo and Juliet magic potions that go awry, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is a goofy ride that tickles all kinds of funny-bones.


3 Stars
Location: Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main Street, East Haddam
Production: Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Directed and choreographed by Ted Pappas. Musical direction by Michael O’Flaherty. Scenic design by James Noone. Costume design by Martha Bromelmeier. Lighting design by Kirk Bookman. Sound by Jay Hilton.
Running time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (select performances at 2 p.m.); Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinee at 3 p.m.; and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., with Sunday evening performance at 6:30 p.m. through Nov. 29. Call for Thanksgiving week schedule.
Tickets: $27.50 — $69.50. Call the box office at 860-873-8668 or visit their Web site at
Adam Heller … Pseudolus
Sam Pinkleton … Hero
Emily Thompson … Philia
David Wohl … Senex
Mary Gutzi … Domina
John Scherer … Hysterium
Ron Wisniski … Marcus Lycus
Stephanie Lynn Nelson … Tintinabula
Semhar Ghebremichael … Panecea
Abby O’Brien, Krista Saab … Geminae
Laura Keller … Gymnasia
Mark Baker …Erronius
Nat Chanderler … Miles Gloriosus

Monday, October 19, 2009

Suffield Players production of “The Foreigner” is dark humor at it’s best

SUFFIELD — Hidden in the hills of Suffield is a community theater that consistently produces off beat dark comedies time and time again.
“The Foreigner” written by Larry Shue, continues their tradition of thoughtful, dark farcical plays, here with a little slapstick thrown in for good measure.
The play is set in a rundown fishing resort in Georgia. A British sergeant, Froggy LeSueur, played by Mark Proulx, with a pronounced Australian accent, brings his English friend, Charlie Baker, with him to the lodge.
Baker, played by Dale T. Facey, has a morbid fear of meeting and speaking with new people, so LeSueur concocts a story that Charlie is from an exotic country and knows no English.
Charlie’s wife, who has cheated on him extensively, is in a hospital back in England and has six months to live. Still she insisted Charlie go with LeSueur to the U.S., mostly because she doesn’t like him very much. Charlie tells this all matter-of-factly, saying he understands because he has no personality and is boring.
In comes the resort owner, the bawdy, loud, jovial Betty Meeks, played with exuberance by Cynthia Lee Andersen, followed by former debutant and reluctant fiancée Catherine Simms (Brianna Stronk) and her beau, the smarmy Reverend David Marshall Lee. The reverend is played with creepy dark intent by Christopher Berrien, who takes literally the saying, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
Catherine has a dim-witted but good-hearted brother, Ellard Simms, played with child-like enthusiasm by Brian Rucci, whom the conniving reverend is trying to cheat out of his share of the $1 million family inheritance.
Good-old-boy Owen Musser, played by James L. Frank-Saraceni, is the straight-forward mean old biggot and Ku Klux Klan member who is working in cahoots with the reverend to condemn Meek’s resort in order to buy it on the cheap and make it their Klan headquarters.
Facey is great as Baker, who goes from a terrified, timid bore, to a creative, witty, and brave hero in the course of the play that has some really surprisingly scary parts and some unexpected twists and turns.
While all the actors do a terrific job with their roles, Frank-Saraceni’s Owen is the most authentic redneck of the bunch. He reacts more than acts, and his responses, particularly when he is forced to try to pronounce a foreign, albeit made up, language, is sharp and real.
The first act is a bit long in exposition and talking heads, and as tightly directed as it is by Robert Lunde, it drags on and isn’t that funny. But the second act is the payoff for hanging in there, with twists and turns and witty situations, all orchestrated by Charlie Baker.
The set by Lunde and Konrad Rogowski is meticulously detailed right down to the fishing tackle and the tacky singing fish on the wall that they turn on once during a set change, which is a nice touch.
Shue sadly died in a commuter plane crash in 1985 at 39 at the beginning of what would surely have been a stellar career, and it’s a shame to think of all the plays he could have created had he lived.
Still, the Suffield Players’ production of Shue’s “The Foreigner” is a intelligent, funny black comedy and a great night out.


3 Stars
Location: Mapleton Hall, 1305 Mapleton Ave. Suffield.
Production: Written by Larry Shue. Directed by Robert Lunde. Stage manager Karen Balaska. Assistant stage manager Bob Williams. Backstage crew Beth Moriarty. Technical director and lighting design by Jerry Zalewski. Production manager Konrad Rogowski. Special costume design and constructin by Bev Sikes. Set design by Lunde and Rogowski. Sound design by Joe Soucy.
Running time: 2 hours, plus a 15-minute intermissions.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Oct. 24.
Tickets: $17, $15 for seniors and students. Call 1-800-289-6148 of visit their website at
Mark Proulx … Staff Sgt. Froggy LeSueur
Dale T. Facey … Charlie Baker
Cynthia Lee Andersen … Betty Meeks
Christopher Berrien … Rev. David Marshall Lee
Brianna Stronk … Catherine Simms
James L. Frank-Saraceni … Owen Musser
Brian Rucci … Ellard Simms
Gwen Moriarty, Sadie Moriarty … Klansmen
Near perfect production of dated “The Fantasticks” at Long Wharf

NEW HAVEN — Here’s a conundrum for you. The Long Wharf Theatre’s nearly perfect production of “The Fantasticks” is still about an allegorical show that I don’t like.
I’m surprised that I had never seen a show that is a staple of the regional and community theater scene, to say nothing of its fame as the longest running Off-Broadway shows in history, having run for 42 years before closing in 2002.
Unfortunately the nature of allegory is that it is representative of archetypes rather than intimate characters and therefore any emotional connection to the audience is consciously sacrificed for the over-arching theme, here the nature of romantic love and maturing through pain.
A 16-year-old girl, Luisa, (Jessica Grove) is goofy in love with the 20-year-old next door neighbor, Matt (David Nathan Perlow) and he with her. Their fathers, Bellomy (the adorable Ray DeMattis) and Hucklebee (Dan Sharkey) use reverse psychology and pretend they hate the match, but only because they really want them to get together.
The narrator and bandit, El Gallo (Michael Sharon) is hired by the fathers to up the ante and pretends to abduct Luisa, with the aid of two hapless minstrels, Henry (William Perry) and Mortimer (Joseph Tisa).
Their children find out about the manipulation, are understandably furious, with Matt running away and Luisa seeking the attentions of her bad-boy abductor, El Gallo.
Near the end El Gallo observes, “A curious paradox no one can explain …why we all must die a bit before we grow again.”
True enough, but for the life of me I don’t see what the endless appeal of this musical is. It’s not very kind to women (hello — statutory rape anyone?), nor are the songs very catchy tunes. The show opens with the terrific song “Try to Remember,” but from then on the tunes, by Harvey Schmidt, are not memorable.
The set by Eugene Lee, of an old, run down amusement park, is the perfect backdrop to this show, and the actors are all as good as they could possibly be.
Sharon is dashing and dangerous as El Gallo, Grove is everything one could ask for in the role of the naïve and hyper romantic ingenue, while Perlow’s Matt is all youth and buoyancy, with a fine, strong voice.
The respective fathers too are fabulous, with the tall Sharkey and the diminutive DeMattis making a delightful duo, doing the old soft-shoe like the old pros they clearly are.
Perry’s Henry, the down-and-out thespian, sings his words with gorgeous over-theatricality, where Mortimer does his death scenes, his particular shtick, amusingly bad.
Jonathan Randell Silver plays El Gallo’s silent sidekick Mute with magical artistry and grace.
Evidently “The Fantasticks” is often performed with minimal staging, which makes this a popular show for the low-budget high school productions, but not here.
Part commedia dell’arte, part mime show, part magic act, the production elements of this musical, directed by Amanda Dehnert, are second to none. The magic, with the swords in the box and the disappearing acts, and the old-fashioned slight of hand bits are truly a wonder to behold, with help from magic consultants Jim Steinmeyer and Jeff Grow.
But all the bells and whistles in the world can’t disguise a dated allegory whose hay day has come and gone.


2 Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Books and lyrics by Tom Jones. Music by Harvey Schmidt. Directed by Amanda Dehnert. Choreographed by Sharon Jenkins. Musical direction by Bill Corcoran. Set design by Eugene Lee. Costume design by Jessica Ford. Lighting design by Nancy Schertler. Sound design by David Budries. Magic consultants Jim Steinmeyer and Jeff Grow. Fight director Craig Handel.
Running time: 2 hours with one 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 Nov. 1.
Tickets: $30 to $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their Web site at
Michael Sharon … El Gallo
Jonathan Randell Silver … The Mute
Jessica Grove … Luisa
David Nathan Perlow … Matt
Ray DeMattis … Bellomy
William Parry … Henry
Dan Sharkey … Hucklebee
Joseph Tisa … Mortimer

Friday, October 16, 2009

“The Orphans’ Home Cycle Part 3” fitting completion to an epic triology

HARTFORD — Horton Foote’s “The Orphans’ Home Cycle,” “Part 3: The Story of Family” concludes his epic posthumous trilogy at the Hartford Stage Company.
The play starts dimly lit with somber violin music and rain falling. The actors walk stately beneath umbrellas across the stage.
Their elegiac pace sets a somber, slow-paced rhythm that is a nice transition from the hectic outside world into the space and time of the slower paced, evolving world of Texas in the early 1900s, with inspired, assured direction by Michael Wilson.
The saga continues where it left off in Part 2, with Horace Robedaux (Bill Heck) and his bride Elizabeth (Maggie Lacey) setting up home and business in fictional Harrison, Texas in 1918 — a year of World War and the flu pandemic that killed more than 100 million people around the world (No better advertisement to get a flu shot soon.)
Even if you haven’t seen the other two plays in the trilogy you can still fully enjoy Part 3 on its own, but having seen the first two adds a depth to the experience.
World War I is over, but there are few jobs to be had, so they keep holding parades, so much that Mr. Vaughn says exasperatedly, “If the poor devils could find work they wouldn’t have time to parade.”
This segment feels more melodramatic than the previous two, with deaths followed immediately by another birth, then a operation, tough times in the depressed south, and then more death — this time the patriarch of the family, Mr. Vaughn, played by the robust and expansive James DeMarse.
Heck as Robedaux continues to be the good and hard-working provider, here finally buying that tombstone for his father’s grave that he had been determined to purchase since he was 12 years old.
Foote, who died earlier this year at the age of 92, really knew many of these times and these people, having grown up in Texas, and basing the main character, Horace Robedaux, on the life of his own father.
It was a simpler time, when the anesthesia used was ether, there were few telephones, and doctors made house calls, but underneath that nostalgic simplicity lies complex human relations and emotions, which makes this story so watchable and compelling.
Robedaux’s 12-year-old son, Horace Jr., is played by the thoroughly engaging and earnest Dylan Riley Snyder who more than holds his own with all the adults surrounding him. He has a bookish curiosity, plus a real sponge-like interest in how grown ups behave and what they say that makes their words almost resonate twice.
And some of the adults who never grow up, like Brother Vaughn, (Bryce Pinkham) do behave badly indeed, and are enabled again and again by family, particularly his mother, played by the playwright’s daughter, the fine and flinty Hallie Foote.
The actors dropped a few lines and their timing was off some on Thursday, but overall the performances were true, and the slow smooth story unfolded comfortably enough.
“The Orphans’ Home Cycle; Part 3” is a slice of southern life about normal, well-meaning, and good people that is beautifully written and a pleasure to experience.


three 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, 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 Robedaux
Hallie Foote … Mrs. Vaughn, Lola Reeves
Bryce Pinkham … Brother Vaughn
James DeMarse … Mr. Vaughn
Virginia Kull … Minnie Curtis, Bessie Stillman
Jenny Dare Paulin … Lily Dale Kidder
Devon Abner … Pete Davenport
Dylan Riley Snyder … Horace Jr.
Annalee Jefferies … Corella Davenport
Steven Plunkett … Monty Reeves

Monday, October 12, 2009

“The Exonerated” exposes our justice system’s failures

STORRS — There’s no law against being poor in the United States, unless of course, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and then, nothing but money, and lots of it, is going to help.
That’s just one of the lessons in “The Exonerated,” at Connecticut Repertory Theater — the true story of six people wrongfully accused of murder and convicted on death row in Texas and Florida.
The story, mostly taken from court and legal transcripts, needed no additional theatrics. The stage, backdrop, and ceiling were all unfinished wood, by Michael Anania — a fine simple backdrop for each of the now freed but forever altered individuals to tell their horrid, almost unbelievable stories.
Let’s just say this show probably isn’t getting a whole lot of play in Texas and Florida theaters, since that is where these travesty of justice all occurred.
It follows the lives of innocent victimized people with diverse backgrounds, who were literally railroaded by the justice system. None had a lawyer with them from the beginning and all had appointed lawyers.
What weaves the stories elegantly together is the bluesy original songs by Cedric H. Turner, who plays Delbert and serves as the play’s narrator. Delbert was convicted of murder and rape in Florida solely because he was black, they couldn’t find anyone else, and he was a stranger in town.
All their stories are remarkably horrific, but Sunny (Christina Greer) the vegetarian hippie with two children and her husband has to be one of the most appalling. She and her partner were basically the fall guys in a plea bargain by the real murderer in 1976. He later recanted in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1992, over 16 years later, that she was released and then only under a plea deal that did not expunge her record.
Her children’s father wasn’t so lucky and was electrocuted in 1990 in a spectacularly botched barbarous death that took over 12 minutes at one point with flames shooting out of his ears.
Also unbelievable is the story of Kerry, sensitively played by Phil Korth, because it took him over 21 years to get out of prison for a murder he didn’t commit. During his trial he was publicly accused of being gay, making his life in prison a living tortuous daily Hell.
The only problem with the actors isn’t really their fault, but only Turner is close to the real age of the Delbert, while all the other actors are just too youthful and healthy to play people for whom the justice system has totally fallen apart.
The actors are all believable in their performances, with convincing southern accents, but it takes a suspension of disbelief by the audience to overcome the age discrepancy.


Three Stars
Theater: Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Location: Nafe Katter Theater, 802 Bolton Rd., Storrs
Production: Written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. Directed by Dale AJ Rose. Scenic design by Michael Anania. Costume design by Jeanette Drake. Lighting design by Mike Billings. Sound design by Jack Nardi. Technical direction by Ed Weingart. Production stage manager Mary P. Costello. Original music and arrangements by Cedric H. Turner.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Oct. 18.
Tickets: General admission $11 to $29. Call 860-486-4266 or visit their website at
Cedric H. Turner … Delbert
Christina Greer … Sunny
Brooks Brantley … Robert
Brittany Green … Georgia
Kevin Coubal … Gary
Phil Korth … Kerry
Philip AJ Smithey … David
Gretchen Goode … Sandra, Sue

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

“Young Frankenstein” is vaudvillian schmalt

HARTFORD — Schmaltz, schmaltz, and a touch of that old vaudevillian razzle-dazzle is what you can expect with Mel Brook’s “Young Frankenstein” at the Bushnell Memorial Theater through Sunday.
Very much like the popular 1974 movie by the same name, and pretty much like any Mel Brooks vehicle one can imagine, it is the tried and true comedy formula that has made Brooks the comic legend that he is today.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, young Frankenstein, played by Roger Bart, is a doctor in New York in 1934 who has inherited his deceased grandfather’s castle in Transylvania. He goes to see the castle and decides to continue in the family business, eventually realizing that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the spooky family tree.
He brings a monster (Shuler Hensley) with a somewhat compromised brain, to life, and then does his best to help the poor creature fit in.
It’s a pretty simple premise stretched into two acts and plenty of clever and witty songs written by Brooks.
Both Bart and Hensley played their same roles on Broadway, and are doing a decent job keeping their characters alive on the road. Hensley’s singing voice is so excellent, it’s a shame it isn’t really heard until almost the end of the show.
The supporting cast is fine, including Frau Blucher, (neighing horses not withstanding) played by Joanna Glushak, who practically channels Gloria Swanson from the film “Sunset Boulevard,” and sings the torch song “He Vas My Boyfriend” like nobody’s business.
The other two woman, the mad cap Elizabeth, (Beth Curry) and flirty assistant Inga, played by Anne Horak, also are fine, hamming it up with the best of them.
The song “The Brain” was a feisty perky tune, that is pretty representative of the rest of show with the lines, “Though your genitalia are apt to fail ya, you can always depend on the brain.”
The best song of all wasn’t written by Brooks, but Irving Berlin’s “Puttin on the Ritz,” which they milk for all it’s worth — Nothing like seeing a green monster in tucs and tails with a top hat in a chorus line.
Cory English is appropriately goofy as the hunchback with a moveable hunch, Igor, with the requisite limp and plenty of mugging.
Also solid is Brad Oscar as the silly Inspector Kemp and the Blind Hermit.
The supporting chorus does a dandy job of dancing and singing. The men in particular are such excellent dancers that they feel woefully under-utilized in the show, with choreography and direction by Susan Stroman.
They did a nice and inventive turn during the dream sequence of incorporating a gigantic moving monster puppet, a la Julie Taymor.
Rocket science this isn’t, but there is plenty of sexual innuendo and naughty, naughty jokes along with some profanity, making this show unsuitable for kids.
It feels kind of like a guy’s comedy, with lots of bright lights, Tesla-like electrical coils and thunder and lightning sounds, along with plenty of long, long legs and oodles of ample bosoms prominently displayed.
The costumes, of which there were many, were exquisitely made, particularly for the women, with detailed, well-constructed German frocks and beautiful sequin gowns, by William Ivey Long.
But oh, just one more night of technical rehearsal would have been a good idea. The show started 20 minutes late and two times during the performance it was delayed because the large set pieces, particularly on stage right, just would not budge. Another time the screen wouldn’t drop and the stage crew were clearly seen along with the actors.
The actors made a joke of it, but really that shouldn’t happen and hopefully won’t in future performances.
Other than the technical glitches, there are no surprises in the predictable performances, but there’s a certain comfort in getting what you expect from a Mel Brooks show.


3 Stars
Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Memorial Center
Location: 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. Scenic design by Robin Wagner. Costume design by William Ivey Long. Lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski. Sound design by Jonathan Deans.
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinee performances Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., through Oct. 11.
Tickets: From $15 to $82. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website at Adult language and situations, for mature audiences only.
Roger Bart … Dr. Frederick Frankenstein
Shuler Hensley … The Monster
Cory English … Igor
Brad Oscar … Inspector Kemp, Blind Hermit
Beth Curry … Elizabeth
Joanna Glushak … Frau Blucher
Anne Horak … Inga

Monday, October 05, 2009

Somers Village Players’ “Dearly Departed” ‘delightful’

SOMERS — Corndogs, Holy rollers, and Dairy Queen Dilly bars have rarely been so funny as they are in the uproarious, tear-inducing white-trash comedy about death in “Dearly Departed,” by The Village Players.
In this dinner-theater production at Joanna’s Café and Banquet facility, a family patriarch, Bud, kicks the bucket suddenly, and the extended and colorful family comes together to pay their last respects.
Not normally what one would think of as fodder for laughter, but this play, written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, sets the riotously funny tone right out of the gate.
Rayelle, played by the incomparable Betty Domer, reads a letter to her soon to be dead husband, Bud, from her sister-in-law, Marguerite, complaining of her friend, stating, “I am pleased to report that she’s not so uppity since her nephew went to the electric chair,” adding, “She says she gets choked up every time she pays the electric bill.”
Marguerite, played by Joan Perkins-Smith, is the Bible-quoting, God-fearing sister to her dead brother Bud who gets some of the best lines in the show.
She has a near-do-well son, Royce, played by Tyler Anderson, who just got laid off from working at the sewage plant, and has goals of getting married and having a baby so he can live on welfare.
As soon as Marguerite hears about her brother’s death, she says, “Bud’s not going to keep long in this heat.” And when he is in the casket she comments, “He looks like Miss Kitty on ‘Gunsmoke.’”
When Suzanne (Dorrie Mitchell) finds out that down-and-out Junior, (John McKone) is having an affair, Marguerite bluntly tells her to snap out of her self-pity, saying, “I got a son in the pen-A-tent-U-ary, and you don’t see me wallering on the floor."
This play could easily have deteriorated into mean and unkind stereotypes, but the actors all invest their roles with such pathos and compassion that they come across as real, believable characters doing the best they can with what little they have materially and intellectually.
Rarely is there a play where the backstage crew spend almost as much time on stage as the actors, but there are so many scene changes in “Dearly Departed” — in the first act and 8 in the second — that the crew and stage manager Gus Rousseau deserve special credit for doing so many quick changes so seamlessly.
Credit too goes to stage manager Franc Aguas and his crew, who made those two fine and comic cars that brings a smile to my face just thinking of them.
The southern rock music piped in during the numerous blackouts also helps the transitions fly by. After a while it feels like an episode of the old “Hee Haw” comedy hour, which is part of the show’s strength and the source of its weakness.
There are a couple of mini-scenes, like the wheelchair scene and the celebrity named children scene, which are funny enough on their own, but are out of context with the rest of the play and feel extraneous.
The dialog is priceless and the comic-time superb, but the one who says the least almost steals the show. Delightful, played by Sue Moak, never says more than a couple of words, but she is hysterically funny and perfectly sweet at the same time. The attentive way she eats her potato chips and then her M&Ms, with a little flourish of the hand after each M, makes it difficult at times to pay attention to anything else on the stage.
What makes these characters so consistently funny is that their humor is based on their characters and not on stereotypical one-liners, although there are a number of those.
Most of the actors in The Village Players have been in shows together for years, making them already a family of sorts, and they exude that familiar feeling of intimacy.
The fine basic meal at Joanna’s before the show of salad, roast beef, new potatoes, green beans, and pasta, along with dessert and coffee, is a great way to start the “Delightful” evening.

3 stars
Theater: The Village Players
Location: Joanna’s Café and Banquet House, 145 Main Street, Somers
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday. 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.
Production: Written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones. Directed by Mark Depathy. Technical direction by Justin Taylor. Stage Manager Gus Rousseau. Set design and décor by Franc Aguas. Props and set props by Diane Preble. Costumes by Joyce Benson and Franc Aguas. Stage crew Stacy Baral, Ben Bugden, Steven Stoyer, Trish Urso, David Crowell, and Wendy Peterson.
Actor …. Character
Betty Domer … Raynelle
Doug Stoyer … Ray Bud, Bud
Joan Perkins-Smith … Marguerite
Tyler Anderson … Royce
Darlene LaPointe … Lucille
John McKone … Junior
Dorrie Mitchell … Suzanne
Ron Blanchette … Rev. Hooker, Norval, Clyde
Sue Moak … Delightful, Nadine
Cheryl Samborski … Juanita, Veda