Total Pageviews

Friday, March 25, 2011

Whimsical, heartwarming ‘The Irish - and How They Got That Way’ at the Ivoryton Playhouse

3 Stars
(4 stars is excellent, 3 stars is good, 2 stars is fair, and 1 star is poor)

Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT

Production: By Frank McCourt. Directed by Jacqueline Hubbard. Music direction by John De Nicola. Scenic design by William Russell Stark. Stage manager T.Rick Jones. Lighting design by Doug Harry. Costume design by Vickie Blake.

Running time: 2 hours including 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 Apr. 3.

Tickets: $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website

Morgan Crowley … Himself
Annie Kerins … Herself
Michael McDermott … Himself
Kathleen Mulready … Herself

IVORYTON — What could be more fitting around St. Patrick’s Day than an evening of Irish songs and stories presented with whimsy and enthusiasm to spare in Frank McCourt’s “The Irish … And How They Got That Way” at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

Kicking off their 100th season, the youthful cast sings many old Irish tunes, including “The Rose of Tralee” and “Danny Boy,” sung by the fine Morgan Crowley. They also talk about the history of the Irish people, from around the time of the great potato famine onward.

McCourt is best known for his award-winning book, “Angela’s Ashes,” about the unspeakable poverty and privation of his childhood in Ireland. In this musical show, there are plenty of amusing tales, but just as many horror stories about the famine that wiped out a quarter of the Irish population in the 1840s, as well as the callous response by some of the English to their plight.

As one actor said, quoting Irish writer John Mitchell, “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.”

There are many stories of generosity too from all over the world, particularly North America, followed by a reactionary dislike of the Irish when hundreds of thousands, many of whom were illiterate and poor, emigrated to the United States, which prompted the song “No Irish Need Apply.”

The list of famous Irish is seemingly endless, and includes George M. Cohan who wrote many beloved songs that were sung during the performance, including “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Give My Regards To Broadway,” “Over There,” and “It’s A Grand Old Flag.”

People like John F. Kennedy, Kate Smith, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Eugene O’Neill, George Bernard Shaw, Georgia O’Keeffe, James Joyce, Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby, and even Walt Disney, are a few of the many Irish folk named, and the list could probably have gone on, until one of the performers said self-mockingly, “Stop, or we’ll sound like we’re bragging.”

However, poking fun at English cuisine, as they do in this show, strikes me as a bit of “the pot calling the kettle black,” since the Irish aren’t traditionally known for their haute cuisine either.

McCourt observes, “It isn’t easy being Irish,” and doesn’t hold back about the high levels of alcoholism among them, also noting that, although they had a “special gift” for politics, the Irish were also involved in their fair share of political graft and corruption.

Crowley and the three other performers, Michael McDermott, Kathleen Mulready, and Annie Kerins, work well together, being serious when called for, as well as kicking up their heels, having a ball, and giving us an Irish history lesson to boot.

The single set of panels by William Russell Stark works well too, and the slide show of photos projected onto the center panel adds much to the story, directed by Jacqueline Hubbard.

Sadly, McCourt died in 2009, but his brother, Malachy McCourt, was on hand at the performance Friday, and gave one of his own at the end, regaling the audience with stories of his life and the Irish that rivaled the scripted show and brought the audience to tears of laughter.

Extend the St. Patrick’s Day celebration by seeing this delightful show, playing through April 3.

Photo: Morgan Crowley
Photo credit: Anne Hudson

Sunday, March 13, 2011

“Agnes Under the Big Top” thoughtful, smart, touching new play at Long Wharf Stage II

4 stars
(4 stars is excellent, 3 stars is good, 2 stars is fair, 1 star is poor)
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by Aditi Brennan Kapli. Directed by Eric Ting.
Set design by Frank Alberino. Costume design by Jessica Wegener Shay. Lighting design by Tyler Micoleau. Sound design and Composition by Katie Down. Sound composition by Sam Ghosh.
Running time: 1 ¾ hours with no intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. through April 3.
Tickets: $35 to $65. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at
Francesca Choy-Kee … Agnes
Michael Cullen … Shipkov
Eshan Bay … Happy
Laura Esterman … Ella
Gergana Mellin … Roza
Sam Ghosh … Busker

NEW HAVEN- “Agnes Under the Big Top, A Tall Tale” a new play by Aditi Brennan Kapli is nothing like I anticipated, and far beyond my expectations.

Set in a subway station with scenes that switch in place and time, this fast moving, modern play brings together immigrants from Bulgaria, Liberia, and India, who are all seeking to achieve their dreams in the United States.

They do so with varying degrees of success, but all struggle. It is also a story of the trauma of isolation and loneliness, and the hunger to connect.

Stage II is a most inconvenient stage. It is extremely long and very shallow, but set designer Frank Alberino’s subway station, with industrial metals and blacks, puts its limitations to fine advantage here, making it feeling like it is a real underground.

It is punctuated with scenes in a wealthy widow’s penthouse, Ella, played by the convincing Laura Esterman. She is bedridden with crippling arthritis, and her only companions are the two immigrant home aids who care for her around the clock. They are the Liberian Agnes played by the terrific Francesca Choy-Kee, and the Bulgarian Roza, played by excellent Gergana Mellin.

Casting in a play like this is everything, and director Eric Ting did an exemplary job. I can’t imagine a better or more believable cast. I have a thing for dialects and accents, and they all sounded authentic to me.

The immigrant Indian nicknamed “Happy” is a smiling a cheerful guy (Eshan Bay) who has taken a job in the subway learning to drive the train from Bulgarian immigrant Shipkov, a sarcastic and bitter former circus ringmaster who “has the gift of gabbery,” played by Michael Cullen.

Shipkov says that when he was a ringmaster at the circus there were moments when the audience would gasp, and that is when their souls were revealed.

Meanwhile, the wealthy widow who Agnes nicknames “the Wooden Queen” has one of the saddest stories of them all, and it is heartbreaking when it is revealed and proves that money really isn’t everything.

Their lives all intersect, but it evolves in an organic manner.

I’ll go on record saying that I’m generally not a fan of rap music, but here it really works, with a cool subway Busker, played by Sam Ghosh, who also does a fine turn as the mute Bulgarian clown, Bobo.

And when the subway passes by, you really feel like it is speeding through, thanks to the lighting, but also because of Ghosh’s drumming sound effects which expertly mimic the sounds of the subway wheels rolling over the tracks.

There are strobe lights used in this show, as well as an herbal cigarette, and some down feathers for those who might be allergic or have issues with flashing lights. There is also a good amount of profanity that isn’t gratuitous, but makes this show inappropriate for children.

The show jumps all around in locations and in time and lighted signs explaining where the actors are, which I thought extraneous at first, become helpful and necessary guideposts to keep it all understandable.

I won’t spoil the ending here, which was predictable as it was unexpected and deeply moving, but I will say that playwright Brennan Kapli’s poetic and beautiful language is transporting. This is one new play that I hope many get to experience.

(Photo of Francesca Choy-Kee as Agnes. Credit: T Charles Erickson)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” a fine Gothic morality tale at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford

3 Stars
(4 stars is excellent, 3 stars is good, 2 stars is fair, and 1 star is poor)
Theater: Playhouse on Park
Location: 244 Park Rd., West Hartford
Production: Adapted by Stuart Vaughan with Marie Kreutziger. Directed by Stuart Vaughan. Costume design by Martin Thaler. Lighting design by Tim Hache. Production stage manager Ryan Bell.
Running time: 2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 20.
Tickets: $15 to $30. For tickets call 860-523-5900 or visit their website at

Jana Mestecky … Hester Prynne
Craig Rising … Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale
William Shust … Chillingworth
Hollis Long … Pearl
Charles Merlis … Gov. Bellingham
Ed Bernstein … Pastor Wilson
Brad Brinkley … Brackett
Heidi Jean Weinrich … Mrs. Cole
Kendra Underwood … Mrs. Waite
Shirley DePhillips … Mrs. Hobson
Rayah Martin … Mrs. Apthorpe

WEST HARTFORD- Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” a regional premiere, is brought to Gothic life at the Playhouse on Park.

This dark morality tale, set in Boston in 1650, has all the elements of a classic tragedy – betrayal, loyalty, secrets, and of course an unhappy ending. Stuart Vaughan, who also adapted the story for the stage and Marie Kreutziger, confidently directs this classic story.

As most remember from their high school compulsory reading, married Bostonian Hester Prynne has an affair with an unknown man, has a child, and is forced to be publicly humiliated and wear the scarlet letter “A” pinned to her dress at all times.

The prim Prynne, played with strength and determination by the lovely Jana Mestecky, won’t betray the man who got her into this mess, and as a result is ostracized and vilified by the close-knit Puritanical Bostonian society.

The women, played by Heidi Jean Weinrich, Kendra Underwood, Shirley DePhillips, Rayah Martin, along with Brad Brinkley as Brackett, form a Greek chorus of venom and mob hatred that knows few bounds and crushes all who waver outside of their societal constraints.

Charles Merlis plays the reasonable Gov. Bellingham, while Ed Bernstein’s rigid Pastor Wilson adds gravitas to the proceedings.

Prynne’s long absent elderly husband, the insidious Chillingworth, played with relish by William Shust, returns to find his wife’s ruined state and demands that she keep his identity a secret, which she complies with, as long as he doesn’t reveal the man with whom she committed adultery, the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale.

Craig Rising plays the tormented and broken-hearted Dimmesdale, who, although apparently an upstanding leader who does much to ease suffering in his community, can’t stand the hypocrisy of his life and the secret that is eating him alive from the inside.

Chillingworth does his best to torment Dimmesdale and feeds on Dimmesdale’s anguish, making his own life one of bottomless revenge and passionate hatred.

As Prynne points out to Chillingworth, his evil ways are bad for everyone, including him. Chillingworth, to his credit, acknowledges that she has a greatness about her, but won’t stop his vengeful ways.

Prynne’s young daughter, Pearl, is played by the energetic but miscast Hollis Long. As I was watching the show, not having read the program, I thought how terrific she would be starring in the musical “Annie.” Turns out, she has, and has many other shows to her credit. But here she indicates and gestures, rather than reacts or connects with the actors.

The period costumes by Martin Thaler are excellent and work well with the simple, stark set with a couple of benches and a platform, all in black. I could have used without the dry ice that doesn’t add much and smells moldy.

I suppose one of the pleasures of seeing this show is to be reminded of how nice it is that we don’t live in a time when you could be hung for committing adultery. But it also has a timeless lesson that it is better to be honest and forthright despite the consequences, rather than live a life of hypocrisy and deceit.

(Jana Mestecky plays Hester Prynne. Photo credit: Rich Wagner)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Clair (played by Ginny Freese) shows concern over Ernie’s (played by Nick Demetriades) injured fingers in LTM’s production of Neil Simon’s Rumors. Photo by Joyce Hodgson

Neil Simon’s “Rumors” farcical fun at LTM

Three Stars
(Four stars is excellent, three is good, two is fair, and one is poor)

Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester

Production: Written by Neil Simon. Directed by Sara Logan. Sound design by Tom Goodin. Set design by Fred T. Blish. Lighting design by Lee Hammitt. Costume design by Marge Patefield.

Running time: 2 hours, plus one intermission

Show Times: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m., and through Mar. 13.

Tickets: $17 - $24. Call the box office at 860-647-9824, or visit their website at

Actor …. Character
Debi Freund … Chris Gorman
Sal Uccello … Ken Gorman
Virginia Freese … Claire Ganz
Christopher Berrien … Lenny Ganz
Nick Demetriades … Ernie Cusack
Jane H. Maulucci … Cookie Cusack
Jim Power … Glenn Cooper
Latoya Williams … Cassie Cooper
Dave Walton … Officer Welch
Diane AmEnde … Officer Pudney

MANCHESTER- There’s nothing like a farce where silly adults argue about silly things in “Rumors” written by Neil Simon and playing at the Little Theatre of Manchester through Sunday.

A group of well-to-do New Yorkers meet at the deputy mayor of New York, Charlie, and his wife Myra’s home to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. But, all is not well in paradise, when the first guests to arrive hear a gunshot and find their host bleeding in the earlobe, and the hostess along with all the domestic help are no where to be found.

Ken and Chris Gorman are the first to arrive and open the action running about trying to make sense of it all. Sal Uccello and LTM regular Debi Freund play the perplexed and frantic couple.

Others filter into the party, including Virginia Freese as the sarcastic Claire Ganz and her whip-lashed husband Lenny played by Christopher Berrien, the kookie Cookie Cusack (Jane H. Maulucci) and her therapist husband Ernie played by Nick Demetriades, and political candidate Glenn Cooper, played with energy by Jim Power along with his acerbic crystal-worshipping wife Cassie, played with venom by Latoya Williams.

The show is set in the era before cell phones in the 1980s, which adds an air of nostalgia to the proceedings. It was back in the time when only the very wealthy had car phones.
The rapid-fire dialog requires the cast to be in top form, and thankfully they are, delivering complex and smart lines with precision, speed, and accuracy. They deliver the lines so fast, though, that at times they don’t leave room for the audience’s reaction, and lines were lost because they couldn’t be heard over the laughter.

While all these actors form a terrific ensemble cast, Dave Walton and Diane AmEnde steal the show as police officers Welch and Pudney, who take full advantage of their physical differences that must be seen to be fully appreciated.

Designed by the late and beloved Fred T. Blish, the single set of the interior of Charlie and Myra’s home is gorgeous, with a solid two-level staircase plus balcony that is well utilized, with confident direction from Sara Logan.

If you are looking for a fun night of farcical silliness, be sure to see “Rumors.”

Children’s classes bring out their inner artist at the New Britain Museum of American Art

by Kory Loucks

NEW BRITAIN — As all this snow loses its novelty and the children become bored, why not bring them to an art class at the New Britain Museum of American Art, and give their inner artist a chance to shine.

It offers drop-in Art Explorers classes at 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays for children 8 and older and Art Start classes at 11 a.m. for younger children.

On a recent Saturday at the Art Explorer’s class, the older group of children created dragons from paper based on a dragon painting in the museum titled “Twilight Terror” by artist Rowena A. Morrill, with art teacher Suzy Jorsey-Balay, while art teacher Margaret Freeman taught the younger group.

Freeman said each week she offers a different class, which often combines a craft with a book and some art in the museum.

This was a second visit for Karen French of West Hartford and her daughter, Ari French, 3. “We loved it,” she said of their previous experience.

Ari drew curtains on her box, while Lindsay Hillemeir, 4, of the Unionville section of Farmington said she was going to make a house that was a jar, but ended up drawing the sun, some clouds, a chair, a smiling person, and a flower inside her box.

Lindsay exclaimed about the person she drew on her box, “Look at the flower she growed.”

Sofia Johnson, 3, and her mom, Rina, of East Hampton also worked on their perspective box, drawing windows and doors.

“It’s a nice thing to do on a Saturday,” Rina Johnson said.

Karen French agreed, saying, “Winter is a really good time to do this.”

Charlotte Furia, 3, said her favorite thing to do was to look at the art, “and see all the things I did.”

And, while she liked making her perspective box, she clearly enjoyed writing her own name, which she spelled correctly, on the brown paper-covered table in purple oil pastels.

When they completed their boxes inside and out, Freeman carved small holes into the sides, allowing them to peek into their own perspective boxes, which they got to take home.

Lindsay enjoyed her first time in the art class, saying, “This is a cool place.”

In addition to getting the red oil pastel on her box, Lindsay managed to get much of it on her face, hands, and dress, much to her mother’s chagrin.

“Hopefully it will come out in the wash,” her mom, Tina Hillemeir, said of the red-stained dress.

After the art class, Lindsay Hillemeir and her mom had lunch in the museum’s award-winning CafĂ© on the Park, where Lindsay had a grilled cheese sandwich along with a fruit juice boxed beverage, and her mom had a winter chicken salad with greens and cranberries.

Lindsay summed up the whole experience when she enthusiastically proclaimed, “This was the best day ever!”

The Saturday drop-in Art Start class costs $5 per child for non-members and $3 for members, while the Art Explorers class costs $7 for non-members and $5 for members. The museum also offers birthday parties for groups of all sizes.

For more information, contact the museum at 860-229-0257, ext. 220, or visit its website:

(photo by Leslloyd F. Alleyne-Journal Inquirer)

University of Connecticut's production of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" a dream come true

Kory Loucks

STORRS — Arguably one of the most beloved novels ever written, Jane Austen’s 19th-century masterpiece “Pride and Prejudice” makes its East Coast premier with this mostly faithful and thoroughly delightful play, adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan and directed by Helene Kvale at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre.

For those who have had the pleasure of reading Auten’s novel or seeing the A&E miniseries, this play offers another avenue to savor this witty, iconic comedy of manners, which feels just as fresh and compelling as it must have when published in 1813.

Of course, the danger with bringing such a celebrated novel to the stage is that those who are devoted to Austen, myself included, cannot but help but compare and contrast it to the original, with the risk that it might end up woefully lacking.

Thankfully, this production, although containing some modifications of the novel, retains all the essentials of the story and much of the original dialogue, making it completely satisfying to this Austen devotee, and very likely creating some new converts along the way.

The story revolves around the Bennet family set in the early 1800s. There are five daughters and no sons, with the possibility that if one of them doesn’t make a financially advantageous marriage, they could all end up destitute, because the Bennet estate is entailed to a male era. Since there isn’t one, after Mr. Bennet’s death, the estate would go to his cousin, Mr. Collins.

Back in a time when women had no real viable means of support, securing a good marriage was the only way a woman could improve her lot.

Beyond the social realities of the time, though, this story has some of the most interesting, ridiculous, and admirable characters ever written, including the oleaginous Mr. Collins, played with simpering servility by Phil Korth, and the affable Mr. Bingley (a cheerful Brian Patrick Williams).

Mrs. Bingley and her much put-upon husband are played by the perfectly cast professional actors, the emotive Laurie Birmingham and the affable Roger Forbes.

Elizabeth Bennet, the headstrong, determined, and intelligent heroine is played by the excellent Alexandra Perlwitz.

The stoic and arrogant Mr. Darcy can be a tricky role, and I have seen it portrayed in some film adaptations as one-dimensional and stiff, but here, Kevin Coubal succeeds in making the character complex and human.

And he’s handsome too, “which a young man ought likewise to be if he possibly can,” to quote Elizabeth Bennet.

I also love how Mr. Wickham, played by the fine Ryan Guess, who seems so debonair and appealing at first, becomes fatuous as his real character becomes evident.

The numerous period costumes by Laura Crow are spot on, while the single set, by Travis George, is versatile — accommodating multiple scenes.

I resisted the screen projections at first, by Mark Novick, feeling that they are more a hindrance than helpful, but after a while, I came to appreciate them.

The English accents feel forced by some, but I much prefer the mostly successful attempts, rather than leaving them out altogether.

If at all possible, go see this glorious production of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Stage review

Pride and Prejudice

Four stars

Theater: Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Location: Nafe Katter Theater, 802 Bolton Road, Storrs.

Production: Adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, based on the novel by Jane Austen. Directed by Helene Kvale. Scenic design by Travis George. Lighting design by David O. Smith. Costume design by Laura Crow. Sound design by Jack Nardi. Choreography by Christine Gambardella. Projection design by Mark Novick. Technical direction by John Parmelee.

Show times: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. matinee; through March 6.

Tickets: $11 to $29. Call 860-486-4266 or visit their website at:


Alexandra Perlwitz .........… Elizabeth Bennet

Kevin Coubal ................................… Mr. Darcy

Laurie Birmingham …................. Mrs. Bennet

Roger Forbes .............................… Mr. Bennet

Alison Barton ..........................… Jane Bennet

Gretchen Goode. Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Brian Patrick Williams .............… Mr. Bingley

Christina Greer .................… Caroline Bingley

Hannah Kaplan .....................… Mary Bennet,

Anne de Bourgh

Phil Korth …..................................... Mr. Collins

Kelsea Baker ...........................… Lydia Bennet

Maggie Sulka …................. Catherine Bennet

Ryan Guess ............................… Mr. Wickham

Philip AJ Smithey …................... Mr. Gardiner

Brittany Green …...................... Mrs. Gardiner

Robert Thompson Jr. ….... Sir William Lucas

Laura Zabbo .............................… Lady Lucas,

Mrs. Reynolds

Tiffany Vinters ...................… Charlotte Lucas

Brooks Brantly …............. Colonel Fitzwilliam

James M.K. Turner .....................… Mr. Denny

Kate Mavis Zulauf ….......... Georgiana Darcy

Michelle Goodman .......................… Mrs. Hill

Thomas Dubinski ........................… Mr. Carter

Harrison Greene ….............................. Servant

Photo information: Alexandra Perlwitz as Elizabeth Bennet and Kevin Coubal as Mr. Darcy in Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice playing in the Nafe Katter Theatre, Storrs, Feb. 24 – March 6. For tickets and information call 860-486-4226 or visit Photo by Bob Copley, Jr.