Total Pageviews

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Simple, uncluttered "Our Town" at CRT
STORRS — What a great way to kick off the 50th anniversary of the University of Connecticut’s School of Fine Arts than with the New England classic, Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” at the Nafe Katter Theatre.

This allegorical play, set in the fictional New Hampshire town of Grover’s Corners, explores the seemingly simple but ultimately meaningful lives of the town’s inhabitants around the turn of the 20th century, starting on May 7, 1901, just before dawn.

As with most of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s productions, the actors are a combination of graduate and undergraduate students along with professional actors.

David Patrick Kelly stars as the Stage Manager who narrates the entire show and occasionally plays a couple of characters.

Kelly might be known to some from the films “48 Hours” and “Warriors.” As the Stage Manager, he has the commanding presence of a director, confidently leading the audience through the fast-paced play that zips by in about 2½ hours, even with two 10-minute intermissions.

As a play within a play, the Stage Manager uses the actors to play out their lives in Grover’s Corners from 1901 to 1913.

Robert Ross Parker directed “Our Town,” and made the wise decision to keep the play clean and simple by using pantomime to indicate props, as Wilder envisioned.

It feels a little awkward initially, but works quite well over all, and keeps this play on the move.

Other fine professional actors include UConn alumnus Mary Cadorette as Mrs. Julia Gibbs and David Sitler as her husband, Dr. Frank Gibbs.

Ken O’Brien is perfectly nerdy as Professor Willard who explains the geological history of Grover’s Corners to the audience.

When Dr. Frank Gibbs lectures his son on shirking his duty, it is a gentle lesson in good parenting, with kind but respectful discipline.

Brad Bellamy practically steals the show as the beleaguered, grumpy, and delightfully amusing local newspaper editor who ekes humor and humanity out of each pause and glance.

He is especially funny when he reluctantly gives his future son-in-law, George Gibbs (Michael John Improta), a lecture on married life.

Kelsea Baker plays Emily Webb, the bright but plain girl whose mother, played by Carolyn Popp, tells her when pressed, “You are pretty enough for all normal purposes,” but can’t bring herself to tell her about the facts of life.

The set, by Kailey B. Hays-Lenihan, is simple and uncluttered, just like this play, with a few chairs, a couple of tables and a plain brick backdrop that serve as the homes and graveyard of the town.

The costumes, by Maureen Fitzgerald, are finely detailed yet simple, too, and appropriate to the era — which is especially useful to establish the time period of this play.

Ultimately, the Pulitzer prize-winning 1938 play is a useful and elegiac reminder of the importance of appreciating each and every moment of our precariously short and precious lives.

"An Enemy of the People" at Playhouse on Park a perfect political play
WEST HARTFORD — What better show to see during this political season than the ultimate political play, “An Enemy of the People,” at Playhouse on Park.

Originally written by Henrik Ibsen in 1882, this play was adapted in 1950 by Arthur Miller after his “Death of a Salesman” and before writing “The Crucible,” during an incredibly prolific time in his career.

Somehow Miller managed to maintain the Norwegian sensibility of this play while at the same time making it timely and fascinating.

“An Enemy of the People” is set in a provincial Norwegian seaside town that has experienced a recent boon thanks to a newly created health spa called Kirsten Springs.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Jeremiah Wiggins), a man well liked in the community, discovers that the waters at the spring are being polluted by a tannery up river and are actually killing people.

His brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann (Michael McKenzie), is the chairman of the board of Kirsten Springs, realizes that this news will cause economic devastation, while the doctor naively believes he will be hailed as a hero by the town for his discovery.

Dr. Stockmann goes to the newspapers with the news and they at first want to print the information until they realize that it will hurt their circulation.

There is no question that the water is contaminated, but the mayor, with brilliant, forceful, and persuasive language, is able to convince the majority that his brother’s claims shouldn’t even be heard.

McKenzie’s portrayal as mayor is absolutely mesmerizing, while Wiggins is constant and wonderful as the absent-minded professor who doesn’t understand the economic implications of his discovery until it is spelled out to him by his older brother.

The rest of the play is an effort by those in power, including the duplicitous, self-serving newspapermen, to get the good doctor to compromise.

He refuses to comply, and in short order Dr. Stockmann loses everything, including his home, the safety and welfare of his children, his livelihood, and his wife’s inheritance, and is officially labeled “An Enemy of the People” by the community.

Evidently Ibsen reserved a special hatred toward newspapers and moderates, because the press skewered his previous play, “Ghost,” with its reference to the sexually-transmitted disease syphilis — so this play was in part his revenge on them.

Miller trimmed out the social Darwinism references from the original, tightened the story, and focusing on the political implications of duplicity by a few and the self-serving mob mentality of the majority.

It is almost the mirror opposite to Miller’s next play, “The Crucible.” There the majority believes that the teenage girls have seen witches, while in “An Enemy of the People” the masses refuse to hear the doctor’s proof of poisoned water.

At one point Dr. Stockmann suggests to his wife, Catherine (Coleen Sciacca), that they start a new life in North America, saying that in a country so large there has to be room enough for other opinions, but then decides that it probably won’t be any different there.

Sciacca does the best she can with an underwritten part. I had difficulty determining when and why she switches her allegiance from arguing against her husband to standing behind him.

Catherine’s adoptive father, Morton Kiil, (an expansive, jovial Brock Putnam) is a mysterious figure whose source of wealth isn’t revealed until the end, which serves as a plot device, but seems unlikely.

Most of the costumes work well, designed by Production Designer Randall Parsons who is also the set and lighting designer, but Sciacca’s pink dress is ill-fitting and newspaperman Hovstad (Aaron Barcelo) shouldn’t be wearing Dockers.

Directed with pace and clarity by Kyle Fabel, “An Enemy of the People” feels just as relevant, powerful, and devastating today as it ever was.

"Wait Until Dark" at The Suffield Players is thrilling

SUFFIELD — Who would think that a missing child’s doll would be the cause of murder and mayhem?

In the Suffield Players’ production of Frederick Knott’s thriller, “Wait Until Dark,” all kinds of dark and devious deeds are unleashed on a blind but street-savvy woman, Susy Hendrix, played by the terrific Karen Balaska.

In the play, set in 1966 Greenwich Village in a basement apartment, her husband, photographer Sam Hendrix (Danny Viets), has returned from Montreal, having agreed to the strange request to bring a child’s doll on the airplane with him, to be picked up later by someone named Lisa.

The doll, which turns out to be filled with heroin, goes missing and so does Lisa. A couple of two-bit thugs played by Bill Mullen and Zach Grey (both fine losers) end up in the apartment and are blackmailed into finding the doll for an evil man, Harry Roat, played by the marvelous Konrad Rogowski.

Rogowski possessed such convincing menace that he actually received boos during the curtain call on Friday night. That’s one mean bad guy.

Emma Rucci is feisty and funny as the young, bratty neighbor, Gloria. She is pitch-perfect as the irascible and plucky 9-year-old who saves the day.

Tightly directed by Robert Lunde, this intricate and highly physical production is spine tingling, as the blind Susy is left to her own wits to outsmart the bad guys.

Balaska is convincing as Susy, the role that was played by Audrey Hepburn in the 1967 film with Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Alan Arkin, and Richard Crenna.

“Wait Until Dark” is even more harrowing because of the fast action on the dimly lit stage that is about 4 feet above the ground. Watching the actors move about the dark stage and not fall off is scary.

The set by Rowgowski looks authentically like a low rent 1960s flat, with lots of fine details, like an old-fashioned washing machine and refrigerator — and I love that starburst wall clock.

This is one show where the lighting cues are critical. Designed by Technical Director Jerry Zalewski and executed by Al La Plant, the lights were right on the mark and propelled the action.

The first act is loaded with lots of exposition and drags some, but the payoff is in the second act.

The plot line has some glaring holes in it. For example, at one point when they are trying to fool her into thinking that one of the bad guys is a cop, Susy observes that the guy is dusting the room, but how could she possibly know that if she is blind?

Despite this, the action in “Wait Until Dark” is compelling enough and the actors are convincing enough to make this show, with its unexpected twists and turns, truly thrilling to watch.