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Monday, November 22, 2010

“Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” darkly humorous opera at the Broad Brook Opera House

EAST WINDSOR — Revenge is a dish best served cold but in “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” it’s served piping hot in meat pies.
It’s a gruesome tale of a wronged man, Benjamin Barker, who is railroaded out of England by the cruel and creepy Judge Turpin, who steals his wife and daughter.
Barker returns to England and takes on the name Sweeney Todd and goes about starting up his barber business above the meat pie shop owned and operated by Mrs. Lovett.
They team up their efforts, with him killing most of his customers, telling them that he will give them “the closest shave you will ever know,” and Mrs. Lovett using them to fill her pies.
In the meantime he meets up with his competitor barber, Pirelli, played by the expansive Tim Reilly, and Mrs. Lovett takes on his young assistant Tobias, played by the wiry Stephen Jewell. Jewell’s rendition of “Not While I’m Around” with Mrs. Lovett is touching and spine tingling all at the same time.
Todd’s friend, the young sailor Anthony, here played by the operatic Eric Rehm, finds his daughter Johanna, played by the bird-like Janet Pohli. Both of their singing voices are so well suited for this show. Especially the beautiful “Johanna” which he sings alone and then in a quartet, beautifully staged, with Johanna, Todd, and the beggar woman.
Pohli has a pristine, clarion tone that fits her caged bird character perfectly.
The excellent Grace Spelman plays the beggar woman, who turns out to be someone very connected to Todd after all.
Also fine is the pompous lackey Beadle Bamford, played with officious stiffness by Jim Metzler, and the judge, played by Jonathan Trecker.
I have seen this opera a few times, including at the Bushnell, and this is by far the best production of this show I have ever attended. It’s all the more surprising because this show has never been my cup of tea. Instead of disliking it, however, I found that I enjoyed it very much, despite its horrific subject matter.
The cast is first-rate, with a glowering and focused Steve Wandzy playing the murderous Todd, and Erica Romeo giving a remarkable performance as the industrious, cheerful, and evil performance as Mrs. Lovett.
I would prefer that Todd not beam so at Mrs. Lovett when she tries to seduce him while singing “By the Sea.” It breaks his possessed focus on revenge where “half the fun is to plan the plan.” His smiles should be limited to his evil dreams.
All the performances, down to the smallest ensemble roll, are played with energy, gusto, precision, and enthusiasm.
There is some profanity along with broad sexual innuendo and throat cutting scenes, so it is not a show for young children.
Directed by Anna Giza, everything fits together exquisitely including the music, with music direction by Tony B. Romeo, the fine solid, moveable set, by set artist Christopher Berrien, and the detailed costumes by Moonyean Field and Solveig Plfueger.
I have never seen so many connections to other theatrical historical influences before, such as Bertolt Brechtl’s “Three Penny Opera” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” I credit that to director Giza for exploiting all the subtle and not so subtle nuisances in this wonderfully dark, dank, and well-performed musical.


4 Stars
Theater: Opera House Players
Location: 107 Main Street, Broad Brook
Production: Music and lyrics and book by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Based on a version of “Sweeney Todd” by Christopher Boyd. Direction and choreography by Anna Giza. Musical direction by Tony B. Romeo. Stage manager Andrew Holl. Lighting designer Roy Ryzak. Sound design by Avitra, Inc. Costumes by Moonyean Field and Solveig Pflueger. Scenic artist Christopher Berrien.
Running time: 3 hours including a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Sunday.
Tickets: $20, $16 for seniors over 60. Definitely not recommended for children due to language and adult situations. Call 860-292-6068 or visit their website at
Steve Wandzy … Sweeney Todd
Erica Romeo … Mrs. Lovett
Grace Spelman … Beggar woman
Eric Rehm … Anthony
Janet Pohli … Johanna
Jonathan Trecker … Judge Turpin
Jim Metzler … Beadle Bamford
Stephen Jewell … Tobias
Tim Reilly … Pirelli
Matthew Falkowski … Fogg, ensemble
Bob Forker … Bird seller, ensemble
Zachary Gary … Police officer, ensemble
Betsy Maguire, Kerrie Maguire, Martina Desnoyers, Reva Kleppel, Marge Stepansky, Bechy Rodia Schoenfeld, Tara Kennedy, Patrick O’Konis, Matt “Sparky” Falkowski, Gwen Moriarty … Ensemble
“God of Carnage” an oral free for all at TheaterWorks

HARTFORD — Buckle your seat belts, because its going to be a bumpy ride at the performance of the bitingly funny “God of Carnage” at TheaterWorks, directed by Tazewell Thompson.
Two couples of two young boys, one of whom bashed the other with a stick and knocked out some teeth, meet for the first time and try to work things out, by having a discussion about what happened, how it happened, and where to go from there.
During their discussions, they devolve into switching allegiances, with some situations where the two men and the two women bond, and others where their mutual spouses turn against each other, in this very civilized, and not so civilized, comedy of manners.
Or perhaps it should be called a comedy without manners, when manners disappear and people say what is really on their mind about each other.
There are the hosts, the seemingly mismatch couple, with wife Victoria being a writer and humanitarian, played by the vibrant and energetic Candy Buckley who never met a word she wouldn’t enunciate, and her blue collar self-proclaimed Neanderthal of a husband, Michael, played with earthy frankness by Wynn Harmon.
Their son received the blow that dislodged a couple of incisors by the Raleigh’s boy, the investment banker and long suffering wife, Annette, played by Susan Bennett, and her workaholic lawyer husband Alan, played with focus and determination and a constant cell phone to his ear by Royce Johnson.
Johnson seems a little young to play the father of an 11-year-old son, but he is convincing enough, and has some of the funniest lines in the play.
In the middle of the conversation, Annette becomes sick to her stomach, but narcissistic Alan is more interested in speaking on his telephone about a potential lawsuit over a pharmaceutical medication that it turns out Michael’s elderly mother is taking.
They remind me of a saying I heard once, that in order to get along in the world, treat children like adults and adults like children.
“God of Carnage” was originally written in French in 2006 by Yazmina Reza and translated into English by Christopher Hampton where it won a Tony Award for Best Play in 2009 on Broadway.
It’s a bit of a free for all, and the actors are all up to the challenge, talking about whether or not we all still live in a dog eat dog world where it’s survival of the fittest, and little hamsters don’t have a chance.


3½ Stars
Theater: TheaterWorks
Location: 233 Pearl St. Hartford.
Production: Written by Yazmina Riza, with translation by Christopher Hampton. Directed by Tazewell Thompson. Set design by Donald Eastman. Costume design by Harry Nadal. Lighting design by Marcus Doshi. Sound design by Fabian Obispo.
Running time: 75 minutes with one intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Sunday Dec. 5 and Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m. The show will run through Dec. 19.
Tickets: Unassigned seating is $40; $50 on Friday and Saturday nights. Center reserved seats $12.50 extra. $15 student rush tickets at showtime with valid ID, subject to availability. For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit their website at
Royce Johnson … Alan Raleigh
Susan Bennett … Annette Raleigh
Wynn Harmon … Michael Novak
Candy Buckley … Victoria Novak

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” an iconic and timeless new musical at the Bushnell

HARTFORD — Dreaming of a white Christmas? No place better to give those dreams a head start than at “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” playing at the William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center through Sunday.
More often than not, films are based on plays, but in this case it was the film that came first. Not just any film though. The classic 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen.
While you can never replace those icons, the cast in this traveling production do an excellent job of ringing in the spirit of the season.
The basic plot has two former World War II soldiers, a solid John Scherer as Bob Wallace and Denis Lambert as Phil Davis teaming up as a duo act after the war. They are fixed up with the singing sisters, Shannon M. O’Bryan as Judy Haynes and Amy Bodner as Betty Haynes.
They all wind up at the inn owned by General Henry Waverly, Wallace and Davis’ former commanding officer, played by Denis Lambert. Things aren’t going so well for the general, with temperatures in the 70s in Vermont over the winter holidays.
Wallace has the idea of doing a musical review at the inn, and he invites all their former army buddies and their families to join them.
There are some misunderstandings and confusions along the way, but mostly it’s just a fine excuse for a lot of snazzy tap dancing by a talented ensemble, with choreography by Randy Skinner.
Scherer plays the Crosby role with quizzical expressions and a real presence on stage. He reminds me of an amicable television game show host. His love interest, the righteous Judy Hayes, is well played by O’Bryan, who belts out the gorgeous torch song, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” although I could have done with a lot less vibrato from everybody.
Lambert and Bodner as Phil and Betty are terrific together and tap up a storm through the whole show.
There is also the busybody housekeeper, Martha Wilson, played by the colorful and sassy Ruth Williamson.
Two little girls playing the general’s granddaughter, Susan Waverly, who alternate on different nights. On opening night I saw Gianna Lepera and she practically stole the show with her unaffected smile and perky performance.
The costumes were all topnotch by Carrie Robbins, and I loved how many costumes there were. The finale was fantastic too. I noticed that their tap shoes in the finally were used only in that number, a small detail and an added expense, but well worth it.
Directed by Norb Joerder, they captured the feeling of the late 1940s with the clothes along with a zippy pace that kept the show cruising along.
There are lots of great Irving Berlin songs, including “Blue Skies,” “The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing,” “Sisters,” “Snow,” and of course, the most recorded Christmas song of all time, “White Christmas.”
I also enjoyed the song, “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun,” with Martha, Betty, and Judy, which is kind of an anti-depressant for a failed relationship.
One of my absolute favorite songs is the sweet lullaby, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”
“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”
A perfect song to end a wonderful show. Do see this lovely and timeless new production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”


Four Stars
Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Memorial Center
Location: 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Book by David Ives and Paul Blake, based on the Paramount film written for the screen by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank. Directed by Norb Joerder. Choreography by Randy Skinner. Musical direction by John Visser. Set design and adaptation by Kenneth Foy. Costume design by Carrie Robbins. Lighting design by Ken Billington.
Running time: 2 ½ hours including one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 6:30 p.m., with matinee performances Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., through Sunday.
Tickets: From $17 to $75. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website at
John Scherer …. Bob Wallace
Denis Lambert … Phil Davis
Shannon M. O’Bryan … Judy Haynes
Amy Bodner … Betty Haynes
Ruth Williamson … Martha Watson
Gianna LePera and Mary Peeples … Susan Waverly
Erick Devine … General Henry Waverly

Monday, November 15, 2010

“Almost, Maine” a charming gem at the Valley Rep

ENFIELD — In their 25th year, Valley Repertory Company presents a delightful, whimsical, and heart-warming production of “Almost, Maine” that’s a fine reminder of the chilly winter season ahead.
The play is comprised of vignettes of scenes that look into different couple’s lives on a cold, clear Friday night in Almost, Maine. It’s called Almost, because it is so remote from anywhere else in Maine no one has ever bothered to organize it into an official town.
The scenes range from a young couple experiencing first love, played by Aaron Gilberto and Amanda Marschall as Pete and Ginette, to a couple married with children, played by Mark Vogel and Dianna Rothenberg as Steve and Marvalyn trying to find the magic that brought them together in the first place — and a lot in between.
There’s also a perfectly strange and marvelous scene with Vogel and Josh Guenter as Randy and Chad who have a falling down reaction to their feelings for each other that is poignant and sweet.
The simple set, beautifully designed by Jeffrey Flood and painted by scene artisan Marty McNeill, is a field of northern pine and snow, with a beautiful band of stars above.
For each scene a different panel is moved to show a cabin, a door, a restaurant, or another scene. It works exceedingly well and fits the show like a warm winter glove.
Excellent work too by stage manager Amanda Bates and stage crew Logan Lopez to get everything in its proper place before each scene. I love the bluegrass music in between scenes that gently and subtly tie the whole show together, with fine direction by newcomer Becky Beth Benedict.
It’s quite a funny show, such as when Guenter as a sad character named Jimmy says that his parents have moved south to warmer weather — in Vermont.
It’s informative also, with trivia such as the fact that Maine is the only state in the union that is bordered by just one state.
“Almost, Maine” touches on the surreal and existential when Casey McDougal as Gayle demands all the love back that she gave her boyfriend Lendall, played by Guenter. In comes the huge red plastic garbage bags, filled to the brim with all that love. It really is making the invisible visible.
The characters could verge on hick caricatures, with discussions of snowmobiles and bowling, but they each retain their humanity and dignity as interesting and fully realized individuals.
I can’t imagine changing a thing in this delightful, sweet gem of a show.


Four Stars
Theater: Valley Repertory Company
Location: 100 High Street, Enfield
Production: Written by John Cariani. Directed by Becky Beth Benedict. Produced and costume design by Janine Flood. Stage manager Amanda Bates. Set Design by Jeffrey Flood. Lighting design by Jason Fregeau.
Running time: 2 hours including one intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Nov. 20.
Tickets: $8 — $12. Call 860-749-4665 or visit their website at
Casey McDougal … Glory, Waitress, Gayle, Rhonda
Mark Vogel … East, Steve, Randy, Phil, Dave
Dianne Rothenberg … Sandrine, Marvalyn, Marci, Hope
Josh Guenter … Jimmy, Lendall, Chad, Man
Aaron Gilberto … Pete
Amanda Marschall … Ginette
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” an intense drama at Ivoryton

IVORYTON — It’s a titanic clash of wills and opposing agendas in the Ivoryton Playhouse’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” written by Dale Wasserman and based on the novel by Ken Kesey.
The play is set in a mental institution in Oregon where inmates get along with their medicated humdrum lives until one day a real wild man, the recidivist Randall Patrick McMurphy, arrives.
McMurphy, played by the energetic Daniel Robert Sullivan, enters their sedated, suppressed world and changes it for all of them forever.
I hope I’m not giving too much of the plot away since this play has been around since the 1960s and was made into the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson as McMurphy.
McMurphy seems to have all the answers to their problems and for a while his ideas appear to be the way to go. But in the end, institutionalization in the name of mental health wins.
Here, Sullivan is dominant, but doesn’t overwhelm the other characters, including the troubled Chief Bromden, played by the booming Solomon Landerman, who in many ways is the character who comes the farthest, from catatonic to free, thanks to McMurphy’s sacrifice.
Nurse Ratched, played by the wide-eyed, rigid Andrea Maulella, controls the group through subtle humiliation and emasculation, but she doesn’t have that sadistic, smirky smile that was so creepy and effective in the movie with Louise Fletcher. Small point, but I would also prefer to see her in white nursing shoes instead of white heeled dancer shoes.
The supporting cast is spot on, with the stammering mama’s boy Billy Bibbit played by Jonathan Fielding, and the educated but self-doubting Dale Harding, played by Neal Mayer.
Oddly enough, my favorite parts in the show are the times when Lesley Billingslea as the aid walks about the stage with a flashlight singing to himself. It feels strangely compelling and unexpectedly interesting.
Directed by Peter Lockyer, they use a projection technique that shows geese flying, a baseball game, and other projections to excellent effect, with projection design by Tiffany Hopkins. It adds an extra and welcome dimension to the show.
There are some adult situations and profanity, making this play unsuitable for young children.
It’s a tough story that seems on the surface to end tragically, but is a validation of the possibility of change and growth.


3 Stars
Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT
Production: Written by Dale Wasserman. Based on the novel by Ken Kesey. Directed by Peter Lockyer. Scenic design by Daniel Nischan. Stage manager T. Rick Jones. Lighting design by Doug Harry. Projection design by Tiffany Hopkins. Costume design by Vivianna Lamb.
Running time: 2 hours including plus 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 Nov. 21.
Tickets: $38 for adults, $33 for seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website at
Daniel Robert Sullivan … Randall Patrick McMurphy
Andrea Maulella … Nurse Ratched
Solomon Landerman … Chief Bromden
Neal Mayer … Dale Harding
Jonathan Fielding … Billy Bibbit
George Lombardo … Charles Arkins Cheswick III
Douglas Sobon … Frank Scanlon
Nicholas R. Camp … Anthony Martini
John Samela … Ruckly
Keith Eugene Brayne … Dr. Spivey
Bethany Fitzgerald … Candy
Jenna Sisson … Sandra
Jovan Davis … Aide Warren
Lesley Billingslea … Aide Williams, Turkle

Monday, November 08, 2010

“The Producers, A New Mel Brooks Musical” a rousing entertainment at LTM

MANCHESTER — “The Producers, a new Mel Brooks Musical” is a rousing, raucous, irreverent success and a fitting legacy to Fred T. Blish, one of the Little Theatre of Manchester’s founders, who passed away in October.
This show stars the ebullient and effusive Michael Forgetta as the lovable schemer Max Bialystock, a Broadway producer whose brighter days seem to be behind him.
This 2001 Broadway musical smash is based on the same named 1968 movie written by Brooks and starring Zero Mostel and Bialystock and Gene Wilder as the hapless accountant Leopold Bloom.
Bialystock says he used to get the biggest bathrooms at the Ritz, and his biggest coup was producing summer stock in the winter. After his latest effort setting “Hamlet” to music bombs, he’s down in the dumps.
“Do you know who I used to be?” he rhetorically laments.
However, hope springs eternal in this cantankerous conniver’s heart. And with the help of a neurotic loser, the accountant Leopold Bloom, played by the lithe and lanky Randy Ronco, they plan on finding the worst play ever written, with the worst cast ever chosen, along with the worst director they can find to open a sure-fire flop.
They decide to raise more money than the play is worth and take the $2 million to Rio de Janeiro after it closes on opening night.
The play they find is the audacious and remarkably inappropriate “Springtime for Hitler” written by Nazi-lover, pigeon-fancier, and resident lunatic Franz Liebchen, played by the solid and versatile Mike Zizka. Special notice goes to those fine pigeons that coo on cue with Franz.
The director is the outlandishly flamboyant Roger DeBris, played by John-Michael Whitney, who wears a Chrysler building dress like no other. I love the line when he says how educational the play is, observing, “I never knew that the Third Reich meant Germany.”
On opening night Franz breaks a leg, literally, and DeBris agrees to take the role of Hitler. It doesn’t get much more irreverent than “Heil Myself,” sung by DeBris and others.
Max and Leo hire a Swedish bombshell secretary/receptionist amusingly named Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yonsen Tallen-Hallen Svaden-Svanson played by the effervescent and energetic Sarah Jane Hayes.
The choreography, by the excellent Sheila Waters Fucci, is complex and well executed, including some dynamic tap dancing by the exemplary ensemble cast. Particularly outstanding is the tap dance with walkers that is timed to perfection.
Waters Fucci also does a funny turn as a little old lady nicknamed “Hold Me-Touch Me.” She does a cameo behind the sofa with Ulla and Bloom that is not to be missed.
Ronco is a svelte dancer, and his acting with hair during the song “Where Did We Go Right?” is the best I’ve seen since Jack Nicholson in the film “Something’s Gotta Give.”
The second act loses some steam near the end, and the “Prisoners of Love” number as well as the song “Leo and Max” could have been rehearsed more.
The costumes by Lisa Steier are creative and fun, including an outlandish sausage link outfit.
The set design by Blish and company is flexible and functional, with many set changes. A special shout out to the whole cast and crew for making those frequent changes in lightening fast time, with strong stage management by Heidi Bengraff and commanding direction by Jane Cerosky.
This musical has more double-entendres and sexual innuendoes and situations than you can shake a walker at, along with some very adult language, making this show wholly inappropriate for children, but a heck of a lot of fun for the grownups.
What a super, irreverent entertainment for the last show of the year at Little Theatre of Manchester, now in their 50th year — a class act all the way.


3½ Stars
Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester
Production: Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, with book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Directed by Jane Cerosky. Musical direction by Angela Klimaytis. Choreography by Sheila Waters Fucci. Stage manager Heidi Bengraff. Sound design by Fred T. Blish and shop crew. Lighting design by Glen Aliczi. Costumes by Lisa Steier.
Running time: 3 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m., and through Nov. 21.
Tickets: $21 — $28. Call the box office at 860-647-9824, or visit their website at
Actor …. Character
Michael Forgetta … Max Bialystock
Randy Ronco … Leo Bloom
Mike Zizka … Fanz Liebchen
John-Michael Whitney … Roger DeBris
Todd Santa Maria … Carmen Ghia
Sarah Jane Hayes … Ulla
Leslie Bacon, Brian Courtemache, Nicholas G. D’Agostino, Frank J. Dorio, Lisa Garofalo, Al Girard, Amy Grimm, Marguerite Kelly, Marge Kelly, Mike May, Michael Metsack, Christine Noble, Tom Nunes, Melissa Paul, Kristen Shaw … Ensemble

Thursday, November 04, 2010

“The Train Driver” a tragic story of hope at Long Wharf

NEW HAVEN — “The Train Driver” is a masterful telling of the tragic story of suicide and hope by Athol Fugard and directed by Gordon Edelstein at Long Wharf Theatre.
Set in South Africa as the other Fugard plays that I have seen are, this tale poetically unfolds like a detective mystery, with questions that are indirectly revealed along the way.
A train driver, Roelf Visagie, played by the superlative Harry Groener, is haunted and tormented like a post-traumatic shock victim, after the train he was driving killed a young black woman and her baby.
Roelf arrives at a graveyard for the unnamed dead about four weeks after the incident where he believes she was buried, and wants to find her grave — This discovery he hopes might end his torment.
The thoughtful Anthony Chisholm plays Simon Hanabe, the lone gravedigger, and witness to Roelf’s tragedy.
Simon spends a great deal of his time during this one act play listening to Roelf rant, but then he has nothing but time on his hands. Much of his time is normally taken up with making sure that the unmarked graves containing “the sleeping people” are protected from roving packs of wild dogs and gangs.
As dark and sad as this story is, there is the occasional oasis of dark humor, such as when Roelf interrogates Simon as to why he puts junk and trash on top of the graves.
Do they “get to Heaven faster with a Jetta hubcap?” Roelf cuttingly asks.
Simon puts rocks and hubcaps on the gravesites, he says, not out of disrespect, but to remind him that someone is buried there so he doesn’t dig in the same spot again.
He also has to dig the graves deep enough to keep the wild dogs from digging up the bodies, he explains.
It’s a painful road to self-discovery and revelation for Roelf, who is obsessed by the nameless woman who committed suicide and child who died, and also is tormented by the fact that no one cared about enough to claim from the morgue.
“Nobody could tell me her name,” he says with wild urgency and crazed disbelief.
Roelf does most of the talking and is a man possessed and in search of his sanity, teetering on the edge of reality and driven to find resolution and peace.
“She is dead and I am well. I think I killed her. Everybody says I didn’t,” Roelf says in dismay.
Roelf has moments of grand, operatic emotion, with King Lear like howling at the world and circumstances and unanswerable questions filled with anger and frustration, and beautifully wrought poetic language delivered with passion and pathos.
Through his quest to find out who she is, Roelf learns about who he is and what a different world the blacks in South Africa lead.
“I think I got some sort of feeling of your world,” he says to Simon, observing, “Our world is so different.”
The two develop an odd but real friendship of sorts, which also gets mucked up by circumstances beyond their control.
The ending, which I won’t tell here, is a complete circle of resolution that feels like poetic justice.
The set, by Eugene Lee, of the sandy dry graveyard and shanty that Simon calls home, is perfectly suited to the bleak and desolate mood of the play, while the unobtrusive native music fits well, with sound design by John Gromada.
As tragic as this play is, ultimately it feels like a story of hope and possibility — that despite how bad things are today, there is a chance that they will be better tomorrow.


3½ Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: By Athol Fugard. Directed by Gordon Edelstein. Set design by Eugene Lee. Costume design by Susan Hilferty. Lighting design by Christopher Akerlind. Sound design by John Gromada.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday at 7 p.m., Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. through Sunday, Nov. 21.
Tickets: $35 to $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at
Anthony Chishom … Simon Hanabe
Harry Groener … Roelf Visagie

Monday, November 01, 2010

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” incisive biblical trial

STORRS — Once again the University of Connecticut has outdone itself with a stunning intelligent, incisive, and enlightening production of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, ” written by Stephen Adly Guirgis.
It is the story of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of gold. Judas is in purgatory, a place of hope between Heaven and Hell, being tried in a court for his sins to see where he will end up for eternity.
During the court proceedings we get to see both sides of many people, some well known, like Mother Theresa, convincingly played by Laura A. Zabbo, and Sigmund Freud, well done by Harrison Greene.
We also see others on the witness stand who are known too, but perhaps not fully understood, like Pontius Pilate and Simon the Zealot, both by Darrell Hollens, and Caiaphas the Elder, played by Zane M. Roberts and Mary Magdalene, by Maggie Sulka.
Judas is uninterested in having his case heard, having become catatonic, but a defense attorney, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, played with sharp intelligence and conviction by Brittany Murphy, believes he should have his day in court.
Arron Lloyd and Bryan Swormstedt play the role of Judas and Jesus on alternate nights. The night I attended, Lloyd was Judas and Swormstedt was Jesus, and both were excellent in their respective roles.
The fine Jack Fellows play the smarmy fawning prosecuting attorney, Yusef El-Fayoumy, with energy and grand buffoonery and wit.
Judas’ mother, Henrietta Iscarot, (Hanna Kaplan) opens the show with a heart-felt monologue about the death of her son, and explains heartache better than I have heard it in a long time. “My heart keeps beating only to keep breaking,” she says of her sad life.
Emotional connection is sometimes sacrificed with intellectual discourse, regardless of how passionate. Still, the actors jam bunches of energy and intensity into every line, and each line is clearly enunciated.
The ending, which I won’t reveal here, is deeply moving.
Tiffany Vinters is charming and disarming as the angel Gloria, talking about returning to earth to visit her living children. She tells us that hope changes with time, and these days hope is found in the judicial system — hence the format of the play.
Also excellent is Elizabeth R. McKnight as the hip Saint Monica, who says she is a nag of the first order, which is how she gets things done. She also reminds everyone repeatedly that she is the mother of Saint Augustine, the father of the church.
Monica is darkly humorous when she tries to get the catatonic Judas to speak, taunting him about getting change for 30 silver pieces, and going out on a limb, going to Olive Garden, asking him if he wants to have on last supper. Judas hung himself on the branch of an olive tree.
She and others use a lot of profanity, but probably no more than any PG-13 movie, making the show unsuitable for and probably uninteresting to very young children.
The devil, played by James M.K. Turner, is truly scary. Why Cunningham would have the hubris to cross-examine the devil is beyond me, and the experience ends up confounding and demoralizing both lawyers.
The devil’s shiny gray suit fits the character well, as do all the costumes, from the angel’s satin white dress to Gloria’s hip-hop outfit, by Elicia Lord.
The set is excellent, by Allison McGrath, with large blocks of progressively smaller size in the background, with space in between for the actors to enter. The lighting works in concert with the set, by Greg Purnell, with changing colors varying the set’s whole look.
The music ties the whole production together, amusingly playing Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” when Freud, a known-addict, enters the stage. Sound design by Courtney Smith.
I particularly admired the beginning of both acts when the actors walk across the stage in a self-consciously stilted, stylized and seemingly arbitrarily manner, with thoughtful direction by the Kristin Wold.
“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is a massive undertaking delivered in a lively and compelling manner with intriguing style and flair.


4 Stars
Theater: Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Location: Studio Theatre, 802 Bolton Rd., Storrs
Production: Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Kristin Wold. Scenic design by Allison McGrath. Costume design by Elicia Lord. Lighting Design by Greg Purnell. Sound design by Courtney Smith. Technical direction by Gordon Sanfacon. Fight choreographer Greg Webster. Stage manager Tamsen Brooke Warner. Voice and text coach David A. Stern. Dramaturg Elysse Yulo.
Running time: 3 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 Sunday.
Tickets: General admission from $26 to $29. Call 860-486-4226 or visit their website at
Brittany Green … Fabiana Aziza Cunningham
Jack Fellows … Yusef El-Fayoumy
Zane M. Roberts … Judge Littlefield, St. Matthew, Caiaphas the Elder
Arron Lloyd, Bryan Swormstedt … Judas Iscariot, Jesus
James M.K. Turner … Satan
Desmond Thorne … Bailiff, Matthias, St. Peter, Soldier
Elizabeth R. McKnight … St. Monica, Soldier
Hannah Kaplan … Henrietta Iscariot
Tiffany Vinters … Gloria
Maggie Sulka … Loretta, Sister Glenna, Mary Magdalene
Harrison Greene … Uncle Pino, Freud, St. Thomas, Soldier
Joseph Jonah Therrien … Butch Honeywell
Laura A. Zabbo … Mother Teresa
Darrell Hollens … Simon the Zealot, Pontius Pilate