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Monday, January 31, 2011

Uneven “THIS” a miss at TheaterWorks

HARTFORD — TheaterWorks’ production of the Off-Broadway play “THIS” seems an appropriate show for TheaterWorks, as Hartford’s Off-Broadway theater.
Under the outstanding artistic direction of Steve Campo, they bring shows to town that are cutting edge and often deal with painful realities in our crazy world that are meaningful and relevant.
Sadly, “THIS” isn’t one of them.
The play, written by Melissa James Gibson and directed by Amy Saltz, feels like a kitchen sink, grab bag of a play, with a 30-something group of New Yorkers who are dealing with interpersonal relationships in what can most charitably be described as uneven.
It starts out hopefully, with a gathering of friends hosted by Tom and Marrell, new parents played by Clark Carmichael and Tijana T. Ricks. Their regular buds, the young widow Jane (Beth Wittig) and gay friend Alan (Andrew Rein) are hanging around the IKEA-meets-flea-market bohemian living room, awaiting the arrival of handsome French stranger, Doctor Jean-Pierre (Maxime De Todedo).
They play a game where one person, a reluctant Jane, leaves the room and reenters, trying to guess a story. But there is no story. Each person responds to her questions with a “yes” if her question ends in a consonant, a “no” if a vowel, and “maybe” if it ends in a “y.”
The game starts out amusingly enough, until it isn’t funny, which can be pretty much said for the play as a whole.
The answers to why this play doesn’t work can be found within the play itself.
At one point, the witty and sardonic Alan asks if they have ever started to tell a story and then realized half way through the story that it isn’t very interesting, but have to continue on?
That turns out to be a perfect description of this play, that drags on in the first act, only to continue to drag in Act II.
There are some salient and promising revelations in “THIS,” such as when Alan observes that when people ask what someone does for a living, they are really interested in how much money they make, and if they would be a good addition to their lives based on their income.
Too much of the time, however, the play doubles back on itself, and undermines the previous points that seemed to be so important.
Jane, the pretty one according to Alan, says she can’t stand it when someone says they are sorry.
Fair enough, but then at the end she spends what seems like 10 minutes repeatedly saying “I’m sorry” to her sleeping daughter whom we never meet, and whom I can only hope wasn’t just pretending to be asleep, listening to some pretty awful confessions.
I thought she hated saying “I’m sorry?”
On the plus side, I don’t think I have ever seen such an inventive, well-conceived, and complex set design at TheaterWorks as they have here, by TheaterWorks’ regular Luke Hegel-Cantarella. He uses sliding runners to bring in a bar scene, Jane’s apartment door, and back to Tom and Marrell’s living room, which work well considering the limited space of the intimate TheaterWork’s stage.
Marrell’s jazz singing is also a nice part of the show, and I liked what little I saw of Jean-Pierre.
Near the end, Jean-Pierre says that their lives and problems, compared to third-world issues in Africa, are “dinky,” undermining what little importance there was in their interactions, and making it all seem like a huge waste of an evening.
I have a test that I use for films as well as plays that I thought about while enduring this show. When I am having a difficult time caring about anyone on the stage, I imagine a surreal moment, in the same vein as Luis Buñuel’s film, “The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” where, out of nowhere, some stranger does away with them all.
I’m sorry to say, I wouldn’t say, “I’m sorry.”


one Star
Theater: TheaterWorks
Location: 233 Pearl St. Hartford.
Production: Written by Melissa James Gibson. Directed by Amy Saltz. Set design by Alexander Dodge. Costume design by Toni-Leslie James. Lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski. Original music and sound design by John Gromada.
Running time: 2 ½ hours 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. The show will run through Feb. 27.
Tickets: Unassigned seating is $40; $50 on Friday and Saturday nights. Center reserved seats $12.50 extra. $12.50 student rush tickets at showtime with valid identification (subject to availability). For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit their website at
Beth Wittig … Jane
Clark Carmichael … Tom
Tijuana T. Ricks … Marrell
Andrew Rein … Alan
Maxime De Toledo … Jean-Pierre
"The Old Masters" interesting but dull

NEW HAVEN — Often plays about real people can be interesting intellectually, but dull in performance. “The Old Masters,” a world premiere at Long Wharf Theatre by Simon Gray, is fortunately far from dull.
It stars Sam Waterson as Bernard Berenson, the art historian and scholar who identified hundreds of paintings by Renaissance masters such as Goya, Titian, and Georgione, and whose reputation was indisputable.
Waterson has a way with playing irascible, egotistical, spoiled adult males and making them feel human and compelling, as he did at Long Wharf in last season’s “Have You Seen Us?”
Berenson, or B.B., is married to one woman, Mary, played by Shirley Knight, and has a mistress who is also his assistant, Nicky Mariano, played by Heidi Schreck, and they all live together, apparently content with the triangulation.
B.B. has another marriage of sorts, with his employer, Joseph Deveen, an Englishman who in real life linked the great Robber Barons of the early to mid 20th Century, such as Henry Frick and Andrew Mellon, to some of the most glorious art works ever created.
The play is set at B.B.’s Italian villa in Florence, in 1937 and later in 1965, in the gardens and then in the library and office, with lovely set design by Alexander Dodge.
World War II is about to break out, and the Berensons have money problems.
In steps Deveen, played with robust expansiveness by the fine Brian Murphy, with an offer to alleviate all of B.B.’s financial worries in exchange for changing his opinion of a painting from a Titian attribution to the more rare, and therefore more valuable, Georgione — Titian’s teacher.
It’s a fascinating dance between the Capitalist dealmaker Deveen, and the more scholarly but less financially successful B.B.
The qualities that make B.B. so valuable to Deveen are the same qualities that drive Deveen to distraction.
At one point, Mary sagely observes to her husband, “You are so busy dancing you don’t recognize that the tunes are all his.”
Mary, B.B., and Nicky dance an intriguing dance themselves; revealing a level of tolerance and acceptance that not everyone would embrace.
The play’s accompanying playbill provides a wealth of information, including a chronological timeline, along with quoted passages from biographies about B.B. and Deveen.
If you love art and want to learn about a fascinating period in history, see this rich and intellectually stimulating play at Long Wharf through Feb. 13.


3½ Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by Simon Gray. Directed by Michael Rudman. Set design by Alexander Dodge. Costume design by Toni-Leslie James. Lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski. Original music and sound design by John Gromada.
Running time: 2 ½ hours including one 15-minute 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 Feb. 13.
Tickets: $40 to $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at
Sam Waterston … Bernard Berenson
Brian Murray … Joseph Deveen
Shirley Knight … Mary Berenson
Heidi Schreck … Nicky Mariano
Rufus Collins … Edward Fowles

Monday, January 24, 2011

“Snow Falling on Cedar” a compelling courtroom drama at HSC

HARTFORD — Adapted by Kevin McKeon from David Guterson’s novel by the same name, “Snow Falling on Cedar” at the Hartford Stage Company is a courtroom drama that looks at a painful, paranoiac period in American history of Japanese persecution on the west coast.
The drama, set in the 1940s and 1954, focuses on a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto, played by the stoic Brian Tee, who is accused of murdering his boyhood friend, Carl Heine Jr., played by Mark Watson.
Heine is found dead in his fishing boat nets, and Miyamoto is suspected of the murder, particularly after his fishhook is found to have Heine’s blood type on it.
The play switches back and forth in time and place, from a courtroom, to a boat, to the Japanese interment camp, to the misty woods on the fictional island of San Padro, south of the San Juan Islands on Washington’s North Puget Sound.
The large cast is even larger, with most playing multiple characters well, such as the fine Kate Levy who does triple duty as the rigid German Etta Heine, the compassionate Mrs. Chambers, and the matter-of-fact Dr. Whitman.
Also excellent are Sean Cullen who plays the lawyer for the prosecution, Alvin Hooks, the coroner, and other characters and Ted Koch as Abel, Carl Heine Sr., George Leonard.
Mark Watson is compelling as the conflicted son, Carl Heine Jr., and the arrogant and abusive FBI Agent.
Ron Nakahara is determined and kind playing multiple characters, Hisao Imada, Zenhicki Miyamoto, and Mr. Nitta, and Mia Tagano is forthright as Fujiko Imada and Mrs. Nitta.
Tom Mardirosian who plays Miyamoto’s lawyer, Nels Gudmundsson, has a down to earth quality that reminded me of an older Atticus Finch from the play “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The similarity to that play also increases the tension — making it appear that the jury’s verdict will be a forgone conclusion, regardless of the evidence.
There is a biracial love story between reporter Ishmael Chambers, played with brooding sensitivity by Dashiell Eaves, and childhood sweetheart Hatsue Imada, played with passion and righteousness by Kimiye Corwin.
The play includes much of what happened to the Japanese before and during World War II, when they were legally removed from their homes and businesses, had their assets frozen, and forced to live in squalid and cold camps in the desert for the length of the war.
It also brings up the excellent point that the same treatment of people of German and Italian descent were not interred during the war.
The first act includes a lot of exposition, while the second act flows more smoothly. I do not like to listen to actors speaking in third person — ostensibly acting as their own narrator. It feels awkward, stilted, and strained. I am sure was an intentional stylistic choice by McKeon, but it disconnected me from the relating to the actors.
I also did not like the pantomime that is used throughout to show action, with direction by Jeremy B. Cohen, such as when they pull the dead man from the sea, or perform the autopsy. I also found the images of the floating body suspended from the backdrop and the body on the gurney superfluous.
The seemingly simple set by Takeshi Kata transforms to the different locations well. The backdrop of the beautiful cedars and conifers gives the sense of the wet and misty world of the northwest. The backdrop of the desert mountains lit in bright red, gives a sense of place too.
The center floor of the stage has the ability to spin now that the first phase of the renovation is complete, which is a nice feature. However, during the interment camp scene it felt overused and distracting.
The expanded Hartford Stage Company theatre has a new gallery that is put to good use with photographs by Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange of the Japanese who were rounded up and forced to live in the camps, which is a nice compendium to the show.
The play feels timely and relevant and is a reminder to us all not to charge people with a crime simply because of the way they look.


3 Stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Adapted for the stage from David Guterson’s novel by Kevin McKeon. Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen. Scenic design by Takeshi Kata. Costume design by Jess Goldstein. Lighting design by Joel Moritz. Original music and sound design by Broken Chord Collective.
Running time: 2 ¼ hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Selected Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday performances at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinee performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. through Feb. 13.
Tickets: $23- $66. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at
Kimiye Corwin … Hatsue Imada
Dashiell Eaves … Ishmael Chambers
Brian Tee … Kabuo Miyamoto
Tom Mardirosian … Nels Gudmundsson
Sean Cullen … Alvin Hooks, Coroner, Harvey, Fisherman
Bill Doyle … Art Morgan, Sgt. Maples, Koenig, Officer Powell
Ted Koch … Abel, Carl Heine Sr., George Leonard
Kate Levy … Etta Heine, Mrs. Chambers, Dr. Whitman
Ron Nakahara … Hisao Imada, Zenhichi Miyamoto, Mr. Nitta
Mia Tagano … Fujiko Imada, Mrs. Nitta
Mark Watson … Carl Heine Jr., FBI Agent, Jackson
Alexandra Hoffman Beechko … Susan Marie Heine, Checker