By Karen Isaacs
Connecticut’s professional theaters produced over 40 shows from June 2016 to the end of May 2017; plus various national tours played the major producing houses. Connecticut theatergoers had over 60 productions to choose from. I saw nearly 90 percent of the shows at the professional theaters and some of the national tours.
So how did the season measure up?
My top plays:
The Invisible Hand at Westport Country Playhouse
Queens for a Year at Hartford Stage
Scenes of Court Life at Yale Rep
A Comedy of Errors at Hartford Stage
The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage
Meteor Shower at Long Wharf
Endgame at Long Wharf
Heartbreak House at Hartford Stage
My top musicals:
Next to Normal at TheaterWorks
Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed
Gypsy at MTC
He Wrote Good Songs at Seven Angels
The top touring shows:
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelsky at Hartford Stage
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Marriage at the Bushnell
The King & I at the Bushnell
An American in Paris at the Bushnell
A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Bushnell
Shows that pleasantly surprised me:
Absolute Turkey at CRT
Bilox Blues at Ivoryton
Trav’ling – the Harlem Musical at Seven Angels
Half of my top plays were new – often world premieres..
Many musical productions were fine overall productions, but either not exciting shows or not exciting productions.
The Bushnell had a stellar season of national tours including the rarity of a play.
Darko Tresjnak continue to prove he is also a terrific scenic designer with Italian setting for A Comedy of Errors.
Among the Disappointments.
Unfortunately some shows that I had looked forward to disappointed me. Mostly they were well directed and well- acted, but they just did not maximize their possibilities. Sometimes it is new play which is still being developed or trying to do or say too much.
Assassins at Yale Rep. I’ve seen and liked the show in the past, but this production just missed, at least for me.
The Most Beautiful Room in New York at Long Wharf. What can I say? It didn’t live up to my expectations.
Napoli, Brooklyn at Long Wharf. More soap opera than compelling drama.
Camelot at Westport. This minimalist version was just too minimal though the performances were fine.
But even these productions had elements that were enjoyable and were well worth seeing.
By Karen Isaacs
When Fun Home won the 2015 Tony award for best musical, it was a first: The entire creative team was female. Now the national tour of this show is at the Bushnell through June 25. It’s a show that will move you though at times it may also confuse you.
It’s based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechdel about her discovery of both her sexuality and a number of family secrets.
The musical features a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron with music by Jeanine Tesori (she wrote the musical for Goodspeed’s Thoroughly Modern Millie).
What makes the musical sometimes confusing is that Alison, the central character is shown at three ages – about 10, 18 and then the adult author in her early forties. Plus the show jumps time. Even the fact that all three Alison’s are often on stage at the same time can make you unsure when something is happening.
Alison – the adult Alison – is working on her memoir, a graphic novel about her growing up in Pennsylvania. She remembers the good times when she was young with her two brothers (they appear rather sporadically) and her Mom and Dad. Dad (Bruce) is a central figure – a high school English teacher, he also has restored their home to historic house perfection plus he has taken over the family business – a funeral home. The title of the show comes from the fact that within the family it is referred to as the “fun home.”
But you can sense that all is not perfection, even if the adult Alison hasn’t told us as much. Dad strives for perfection and can be both loving and demanding of his children; plus he and Mom’s relationship seems somewhat distant. Because the story is told out of order, we learn that Dad has a secret life; he is attracted to men and periodically acts on it.
He is also insistent that he is always right, demeaning the drawings that the young Alison makes, the literary opinions of his teenage daughter and even views the adult Alison’s graphic novels as nothing more than comic books.
It is when Alison is in college that the proverbial shit hits the fan. Alison, 18 and away from home for the first time, begins to realize that she is a lesbian. She remembers as the 8 year old being fascinated and attracted to the “butch” truck driver she saw in a diner. As she is coming to terms with this – she is comically awkward – her dad’s life is unraveling. He his past is catching up with him and his marriage is in deep trouble. He ends his life by walking in front of a truck.
That’s the story, but because it is told in a non-chronological manner, it is often difficult to know when something happened. When did Dad get first caught and sentenced to see a psychiatrist? How old was Alison during the bicentennial trip to NYC when he leaves the three children asleep to go cruising?
Yet, while at times Fun Home can be confusing, it is also moving. Bechdel and Kron have created characters that you care about and that you can recognize.
The three actors playing Alison at different ages are all terrific: Carly Gold as “Small Alison,” Abby Corrigan as “Medium Alison” and Kate Shindel as Alison, who also serves as the narrator.
Broadway veteran Robert Petkoff shows us all of the dimension of Bruce, the father. Susan Monz has a more difficult time with the role of the mother, Helen. The role is less central to the story and depends more on non-verbal than lines.
All three Alisons and Petkoff have excellent voices and they put over all the songs.
The program does not list the individual songs. Several stand out despite that. The young Alison and her brothers do a terrific mock TV commercial for the funeral home, “Come to the Fun Home.” Bruce’s final song, “Edges of the World” is also moving.
This short (about 95 minutes) production has more than 25 songs. They often seem to blend into each other, so looking at a list of the songs, it is hard to recall specific songs.
The touring production features an excellent set (by David Zinn) and lighting (by Ben Stanton). The sound design by Kai Harada masters the tendency at the Bushnell for the sound to blast and be mushy. But there were still lyrics that were difficult to understand.
Fun Home is an example of modern musicals that address current contemporary issues. It will appeal to those who want their musicals “real.” A friend who had seen the show in NYC said that a second viewing made it more understandable. I found it touching, in part due to the cating of Shindel and Petkoff.
Tickets are available at the Bushnell or 860-987-5900.
Everyone is invited to attend this FREE event celebrating Connecticut’s professional theaters. Among the presentes are Julie James (of Sirius XM’s Broadway channel), Patricia Flicker Addiss (producer of 39 Steps, Passiing Strange, and Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike, plus last year’s winners Teren Carter and Erika Rolfsrud.
By Karen Isaacs
Timing is everything with farce and the cast of Noises Off now at the Connecticut Repertory Theater in Storrs through June 26 has it down pat.
Credit must be given to director Vincent J. Cardinal who has molded his cast of seasoned professionals and aspiring ones into a well-oiled machine. He has also added some creative directorial touches.
The show moves quickly and the laughter keeps on coming.
Noises Off is a backstage farce written by Michael Frayn. A group of actors are rehearsing “Nothing On” a typical British farce that involves many doors (8), props (particularly a plate of sardines) and too many people coming and going and trying not to be seen by others. The show is to tour for a few months.
Dotty Otley is the actress behind the tour; she hopes makes some money and cash in on some measure of fame. Act one takes place at the final rehearsal before the opening. The actors
So let’s see what is going on. Lloyd, the director, is apparently having affairs with both the assistant stage manager, Poppy, and Brooke Ashton, a very voluptuous young actress, though her acting skills are negligible. Dotty, the leading lady, is having an affair with Garry Lejune, an actor in the company who is substantially younger than Dotty. Then there is Selsdon Mowbray, an elderly actor known to drink who has a minor role and appears to be hard of hearing. Dotty has encouraged Lloyd to give Selsdon a role. Rounding out the group is Belinda, an actress who seems to know all about the various relationships among the cast, Tim Allgood, the stage manager, and Frederick Fellowes, an actor whose wife has just left him.
Act one sets this all up; we see parts of the first act of the play which is not going at all smoothly in the technical rehearsal (the rehearsal aimed at smoothing out entrances, exits, lights, the set, props, etc.) Doors don’t open or shut properly, Dotty has trouble remembering which props to enter or exit with, etc. Tim has been awake for 48 hours putting up the set and is dead on his feet. Adding to Lloyd’s exasperation is that Garry starts questioning the motivation for carrying a box off-stage in an extremely inarticulate way, Brooke stops the action frequently when she loses a contact lens, and Frederick also stops the rehearsal for inane reasons, but always apologetically
Act two shows us backstage during a performance a month later. Lloyd is making a surprise visit to see Brooke who is threatening to leave the cast, Poppy has some important news to share with Lloyd, and Dotty is locked in her dressing room because Garry thinks she is cheating on him when in reality she had been trying to cheer up Frederick. Plus they all think Selsden is drinking again. Due to all of this, various sabotages occur that make the on-stage performances (which we don’t see) even less comprehensible.
The shorter third act, shows the closing performance, where all pretense of doing the play seems to have disappeared. The cast and plot are in shambles.
First of all, Tim Brown has created a terrific set of both the stage and the backstage. It has the English country house look and feel.
Then we can look at the cast. While initially I had a few negative thoughts – that Jennifer Cody looked too young for Dotty Otley as did Gavin McNicholl as Frederick Fellowes, the actor whose wife has just left him, and I was unsure about the long hair of Curtis Longfellow as Garry, within minutes my uncertainties evaporated.
This troupe of actors were all terrific. Each one creates a real person both as the actor and as the character the actor is playing on stage. The four Equity performers – John Bixler as the director Lloyd, Jennifer Cody as Dotty, Steve Hayes as Selsdon and Michael Doherty as the stage manager, Tim are great. Each achieves every laugh that is built into the script. But the others – all young aspiring performers are also good. It’s hard to single out just one. Curtis Longfellow plays the inarticulate and jealous Garry to perfection. Jayne Ng is terrific as the dim Brooke while Gavin McNicholl is a slightly woe-begone Frederck. Arlen Bozich brings out the motherly aspects of Belinda and Grace Allyn is down-to-earth as Poppy. She clearly lets you see her infatuation with Lloyd.
Cardinal has directed most of the second act – the backstage part – as mime. The actors mouth words but don’t speak loudly which is necessary backstage; plus you can clearly hear the play going on out front. He is assisted in making this work by a window in the set which allows us to see the actors (and the lighting) of parts of the actual performance.
If you enjoy farce, and want to see it well done, make the trip to the Connecticut Repertory Theater. For tickets call 860-486-2113 or visit crt.uconn.edu.
By Karen Isaacs
When we think about stereotyping people by gender, age, ethnicity, we usually assume that it members of outside groups who do that to people unlike themeslves. Men stereotype women, whites stereoptype Africian-Americans and more.
The new play at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Fade by Tanya Saracho makes us aware of how within a group, the stereotyping can occur. Women stereotype other women, Asians stereotype other Asians and Hispanics stereotype other Hispanics.
In this case, it is two Latinos who stereotype each other including jumping to conlusions about their histories and futures.
Lucia is a newly hired writer on a popular TV show; a novelist (one book), she views this job in LA as a way to pay the bills so that she can return to her serious writing. On her first day on the job, she meets Abel, a janitor. The assumptions begin. She speaks to him in Spanish though she has never met him before; she assumes that all janitors in LA are Mexican. Abel responds in English and soon points out that while he is of Mexican heritage, his parents and he were all born and raised in the U.S.
Abel assumes she is from the Mexican elite, and to some extent he is correct. While she claims not to be by pointing out that she worked her way through college, she also lets drop that she and all her friends had maids and other household help. But they bond over some things as well.
The play is about their interactions and relationship which develops as she complains about the entire male group of writers. She is horrified by the stereotypical Latina characters on the TV and the patronizing ways of her fellow writes, all white males. It is perhaps symbolic of her outsider status that her office is a floor below all the others. One even told her she was the token minority female.
Lucia and Abel talk to each other constantly until you wonder how either gets any work done. They complain that most people mispronounce their names. She begins speaking up more in the writers’ meetings and gains some praise from her boss. She is becoming a solid member of the team. Slowly her attitude that this is just a job to pay the bills changes to one of more ambition to succeed at the studio.
During this period, you think that a romance might develop between the two. Abel is well spoken and obviously educated. In fact, he reveals that he had been a firefighter until he was arrested and jailed on a violence issue. He tells Lucia about his past and the incident that involved his daughter’s mother and sister; he is devoted to his daughter.
At one point, Lucia is working on a script and asks Abel for permission to use the reference to his tattoo – “Semper Fi” and his former firefighter status as part of the plot line. He agrees.
It is here that this play about stereotypes and connections dramatically changes course. In the last 10-15 minutes, it seems as though Lucia has been infected not only with the desire to succeed on her job but that whatever ethical standards she has have been pushed aside.
Abel happens to see the episode in which the “Semper Fi” is to be used; to his horror it includes not just that but ALL the details of the violence episode, even using his exact words that he had told Lucia.
He is angry but Lucia seems oblivious to the problem and believes he had given her blanket permission to use his life. The final scene shows Lucia in NYC as an executive at the network, callously agreeing to firesome, and Abel still a janitor.
The issue of authors using the reality of their lives and the lives of friends in their works is both common in literature (the play Collected Stories deals with it) and it is an interesting issue. What are the ethical dimensions of taking people’s stories and retelling or fictionalizing them? Must permission be granted? Do writers (and artists) necessarily betray their confidants?
But this issue enters Fade much too late in the play. It is not developed in any way. It almost seems like a way to break up the relationship and come to a conclusion. So it certainly left me unsatisfied.
Jerry Ruiz has done a fine job directing the two person cast. Eddie Martinez is a standout as Abel, giving us a multi-dimensional character. Every part of his performance rings true, and you see the conflicting emotions when he realizes that Lucia has betrayed him.
As Lucia, Elizabeth Ramos does not bring the same depth to the role; she seems more superficial but perhaps that is because author reveals less about her.
Mariana Sanchez has created an appropriate office set with a window that lets us see out to the corridor where Eddie works. That may not be realistic but it adds to the action.
Fade is one of those plays that seems to be more meaningful than it actual is and the introduction of a new topic in the last 15 minutes contributes to my leaving the performance dissatisfied.
It is at TheaterWork, 233 Pearl St., Hartford through June 30. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.
By Karen Isaacs
Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins are rocking the stage at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, June 25 in the musical Million Dollar Quartet.
It is about the night (Dec. 4, 1956) when these four legends had a jam session at Sun Records in Memphis. Sun’s owner Sam Phillips had discovered each of these.
When word leaked out about the session, a local newsman said the quartet could sell a million dollars’ worth of records; hence Million Dollar Quartet.
The show is more jam session of the hits of these four than a really fully developed musical. The plot is pretty basic. Phillips had sold Elvis’ contract to RCA Victor records in order to keep his studio going; Carl Perkins hasn’t had a hit in a year, Johnny Cash’s contract is up for renewal and Jerry Lee Lewis is the brash new kid on the block. Plus Phillips is being courted by RCA to close the studio, move to NYC and work with Elvis.
Tension also exist among the four. After all, Perkins had to cancel a TV appearance due to illness; just weeks later Elvis performed “Blue Suede Shoes” – which was Perkins’ hit – on The Ed Sullivan Show.” Perkins also feels he has been provided less attention and marketing support than the others. The three more established performers all chafe at Lewis’ brashness. Presley has already made the jump to a major record label while Cash is about to go with Columbia Records.
Just to give the show a little more pizzazz, Elvis has brought his current girlfriend, Dyanne to the session.
The show lives and dies on the quality of the performers and here Ivoryton Playhouse and executive director Jacqui Hubbard have hit the jackpot. All six of the major performers are experienced and the four “legends” have all played their roles before.
Each has a resemblance to the singer they play both physically and vocally but these are not “impersonators.” They use the resemblance to suggest the performer; each succeeds well though some better than others.
The standouts in this cast are Luke Darnell as Carl Perkins and Joe Callahan as Jerry Lee Lewis. Each seemed to capture the essence of the character better and to sound more like the original. Callahan has the showiest role; Jerry Lee Lewis was brash, over-the-top and a superb showman on the piano. Callahan captures all of that from his brashness to his body language when Phillips reins him in.
Perkins is perhaps the toughest role since he seem quieter and more controlled. But when Darnell picks up the guitar (all these performers are terrific musicians), it is a wonder. Plus he manages to create a fully developed character; we see and sense his frustrations and envy at the success of the others and his struggles.
Jeremy Sevelovitz creates the vocal sound of Johnny Cash and the imposing presence of the performer. Sevelovitz, a graduate of the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, could give us a more nuanced performance; we don’t really get below the surface of the character.
John Rochette has to overcome several hurdles in playing Elvis. First of these is our familiarity with not only Elvis himself but with all the Elvis impersonators out there. Rochette isn’t doing an impersonation but a suggestion of the performer; he succeeds, yet the charisma of the performer is diminished.
Presley’s girl friend, Dyanne is Emily Mattheson who has a fine voice. The role is definitely secondary and seems to be there primarily to allow for exposition. But, she certainly scores with her two songs, “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin’.”
As Sam Phillips, Ben Hope creates an understanding of the man and sympathy for his plight. Like a minor league team, he must constantly find new talent and build them into stars, then lose them to the “major leagues.”
But this show is all about the music. Here director and choreographer Sherry Lutken has done a fine job. The pace is brisk but not hurried and the musical numbers are terrific.
You’ll hear many of the great songs of these four from “Blue Suede Shoes” to “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Memories Are Made of This,” “Sixteen Tons,” “My Babe” right on to “Great Balls of Fire,” “Hound Dog” and more. Folks were literally dancing in the aisle.
Act One ends with the five doing a moving “Walk That Lonesome Valley”/”I Shall Not Be Moved.”
The show ends with each doing a solo; while the music is great it seems as though it is extraneous. The plot has been wrapped up, they have left the studio but each comes back for a solo.
Martin Scott Marchitto has created an effective set of the Sun Studios (which was a converted garage).
Million Dollar Quartet is a show that every fan of rock ‘n roll, rockabilly and pop music will love. It is at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., through Sunday June 25. For tickets call 860-767-7318 orIvoryton Playhouse.
By Karen Isaacs
Lettice & Lovage is a play with a “cute” and confusing title that somehow reflects the play itself. Its current production at Westport Country Playhouse (through June 17) shows what is best in the play and also its weaknesses.
The original production of the play by Peter Shaffer (Amadeus, Equus and more) starred two of the great actresses of the British stage: the better known Dame Maggie Smith (as Lettice) and Margaret Tyzack. It was a tour de force for Maggie Smith.
Lettice Duffet is an eccentric older woman of limited means. The play opens with her giving a tour of one England’s National Trust properties, the very dull Fustian Manor House. Not much happened there except that Queen Elizabeth I almost fell down the stairs. The house itself is not very interesting either. The tourists are bored. But in a series of brief scenes, we see Lettice slowly expand on the facts about the house until they are scarcely recognizable. Each time we see the stories become more dramatic (to the point of impossibility) and additional stories appear. Of course, some tourists find her loose regard for the facts disturbing.
The personnel officer of the Trust visits and observes one of the more dramatic tellings of the house’s stories. Lettice is called on the carpet. But she doesn’t arrive in Charlotte Schoen’s office (another older, single woman) chastened or apologetic. Lettice is her own flamboyant self. She continually derails the conversation with stories of her mother, an actress who translated Shakespeare into French and toured the French countryside with a troupe of all women.
Nevertheless she is fired.
After the intermission (Acts 2 and 3 are combined), Lotte shows up at Lettice’s basement flat (equally flamboyant). Something Lettice had said about older women, has struck a chord with Lotte. She comes to offer the possibility of a job as a tour guide on one of London’s tourist boats. Lettice insists they toast with a liquor she has made from lovage (an edible member of the parsley family used in Elizabethan times.) The two women drink quite a bit and each reveals something about her life. Lotte had studied architecture and had been in love with an engineering student; they had planned on blowing up one of the examples of 1950s architecture which they viewed as particularly horrendous. They even called themselves the E.N.D. (Eyesore Negation Detachment). But she backed out and the romance ended. She was so upset, she failed her exams and instead became a personnel officer.
By the time we get to the third act, it is months later and Lotte and Lettice have become fast friends; except Lettice is charged with trying to murder Lotte. I’ll not spoil the scene with giving you the details of what happened, why or how.
It ends with the two of them going into the tour business: conducting tours of the most hideous examples of modern architecture.
Even with a last minute illness that forced a change in the central role, Mark Lamos has cast this excellently and directed deftly. But even he can’t overcome some of the problems.
First is that the play seems just too long and with too much talk. It is under two and half hours but it seems longer. The night I saw it, the production started late and the intermission seemed overly long. Still we were out of the theater by 10:20 (for an 8 pm show).
Why does it seem long? It’s just that each scene and each idea is over-talked.
So let us turn to the plusses of this production. Certainly some of the idea that Shaffer focuses on are still very current. Older women (and men) often have difficulty finding employment. Older women’s economic circumstances are more limited and precarious than men’s. Must of the architecture of the last 70 years is particularly graceless: huge concrete squares and rectangles often replacing much interesting older buildings. Prince Charles made a controversial speech in which referred to some of the post-WW II buildings as monstrous carbuncles.
But these ideas get lost in the extraneous activities of the eccentric Lettice and soon, Lotte.
Kandi Chappell stepped into the daunting role of Lettice late in the rehearsals after medical issue cause the original actress to withdraw; she will be fine. She has done a splendid job with a very long part that requires panache. She has it. Mia Dillon gives one of her regularly fine performances as Lotte. You see her liberate herself in so many ways.
Paxton Whitehead almost steals the entire show with a brief appearance as Lettice’s lawyer who must defend her on the attempted murder charge. It is hilarious, as you see him try to understand what went on and what is going on.
John Arnone has given us set that conveys the inner character of Lotte, Lettice and Faustian House. Jane Greenwood must have had a great time designing Lettice’s eccentric costumes.
Overall, Lettice and Lovage gives you fine performances in a play that you may find very enjoyable or a little long, depending on your mood.
It is at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. For tickets call 203-227-4177 or visit Westport Country Playhouse.
By Karen Isaacs
Sunday is Tony Night and while some awards seem a sure thing, others are up-for-grabs.
One question is will the Tony voters follow the lead of the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk voters? Of course, these two programs have slightly different rules: they include off-Broadway productions and may exclude Broadway offerings that moved from an off-Broadway productions in a prior season. This year, Dear Evan Hanse and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 were impacted.
Bette Midler will win the Tony for outstanding female performer in a musical AND Hello, Dolly! will win the Best Revival of a Musical Tony. Even with Midler not doing eight performances a week (Donna Murphy fills in) and despite the rumor that she will take off additional performances in the future, she seems a certainty.
Some voters may be annoyed that she is apparently NOT performing on the Tony show; the rumor is that she demanded that the performance be at the Shubert Theater in a cut away, not actually at the awards ceremony.
Both groups agreed that Oslo was the Outstanding New Play and Come from Away the Outstanding New Musical. They also agreed on all the major acting awards: Kevin Kline (Present Laughter) and Laura Linney (The Little Foxes) for leading roles in plays with Danny DeVito (The Price) and Cynthia Nixon (The Little Foxes) for featured actor in a play. Bette Midler and Andy Karl (Groundhog Day) won for musicals with Gavin Creel (Hello, Dolly!) and Jenn Colella (Come from Away) for featured actor in a musical.
They also agreed on the best revivals: Hello, Dolly! and Jitney.
Where were the differences? The Outer Critics gave the direction of a play award to Rebecca Taichman for Indecent and the Drama Desk to Reuben Santiago-Hudson for Jitney. Similarly for direction of a musical the Drama Desk award went to Rachel Chavkin for The Great Comet while the OCC gave it to Warren Carlyle for Come from Away.
It could be the year of Dear Evan Hansen with the show winning best musical and Ben Platt beating out Andy Karl for the leading actor award. Yet the outstanding musical category is tough with three terrific shows: Hansen, Come from Away and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
Oslo should win the Tony but A Doll House Part 2 has been getting a lot of buzz. Its leading lady, Laurie Metcalf might give Laura Linney a run for the top acting award.
The revials? Hello, Dolly! because most of the other musical revivals were weak and Jitney.
Kevin Kline should take home another Tony though Jefferson May (Oslo) deserves strong consideration.
For musicals: Gavin Creel will probably join Bette Midler in receiving Tonys. The featured actor in a play category is super competitive. Danny DeVito’s been picking all the wins but I preferred the performances of Richard Thomas (The Little Foxes), Michael Aronov (Oslo) and John Douglas Thompson (Jitney).
Deciding among the actress in a featured role category will be tough; Cynthia Nixon could easily win but I really liked Johanna Day in Sweat. I hope Jenn Colella takes home the featured role in a musical Tony but certainly Rachel Bay Jones (Dear Evan Hansen) and Stephanie J. Block (Falsettos) are strong contenders.
Directorial award categories are jammed with great productions. I’d like Rebecca Taichman for Indecent and Rachel Chavkin for The Great Comet to win. But all of the nominees are very worth.
So let’s see how I do
TheaterWork’s production of the musical “Next to Normal” led the nominations for the 27th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards event to be held Monday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield.
The show received a total of 10 nominations, including best musical. Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s play “The Invisible Hand” led the non-musicals, receiving seven nominations, including outstanding play.
Other outstanding play nominees are: “The Comedy of Errors” at Hartford Stage; “Mary Jane” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Scenes From Court Life” at Yale Repertory Theatre and “Midsummer” at TheaterWorks.
Also nominated for outstanding musical are: “Assassins” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Bye Bye Birdie” at Goodspeed Opera House, “Man of La Mancha” at Ivoryton Playhouse and “West Side Story” at Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
The awards show, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, is free and open to the public.
Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann will be the master of ceremonies for the event. Mann joined the Connecticut theater community this year as artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
Last year’s top honorees — Yale Repertory Theatre’s play “Indecent” and Hartford Stage’s musical “Anastasia” — are currently on Broadway.
Also receiving special awards this year are James Lecesne for his work using theater as a way to connect with LGBT youths in works such as his solo show “The Absolute Brightness off Leonard Pelkey,” which was presented this spring at Hartford Stage, and Paxton Whitehead, for his longtime career in theater, especially in Connecticut
Receiving the Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement is Paulette Haupt, who is stepping down after 40 years from her position as founding artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
Other nominees are:
Actor in a play: Jordan Lage, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tom Pecinka, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Michael Doherty, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; Eric Bryant, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; M. Scott McLean, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks.
Actress in a play: Semina DeLaurentis, “George & Gracie,” Seven Angels Theatre; Emily Donahoe, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ashlie Atkinson, “Imogen Says Nothing,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Vanessa R. Butler, “Queens for a Year,” Hartford Stage; Rebecca Hart, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks
Actor in a musical: Robert Sean Leonard, “Camelot,” Westport Playhouse; Riley Costello, “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; David Harris, “Next To Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Pittsinger, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Zach Schanne, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Actress in a musical: Ruby Rakos, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Christiane Noll, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Julia Paladino, “West Side Story.” Karen Ziemba, “Gypsy, Sharon Playhouse; Talia Thiesfield, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Director of a play: Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; David Kennedy, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Marc Bruni, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tracy Brigden, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks; Gordon Edelstein, “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Director of a musical: Rob Ruggiero, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Edwards, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Melody Meitrott Libonati, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Jenn Thompson, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kevin Connors, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk.
Choreography: Denis Jones, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Chris Bailey, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Doug Shankman, West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Patricia Wilcox, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Darlene Zoller, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.
Ensemble: Cast of “Smart People,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “Trav’lin’ ” at Seven Angels Theatre; cast of “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre; cast of “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; cast of “The 39 Steps” at Ivoryton Playhouse.
Debut performance: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Dylan Frederick, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Nick Sacks, “Next to Normal, TheaterWorks.
Solo Performance: Jodi Stevens, “I’ll Eat You Last,” Music Theater of Connecticut; Jon Peterson, “He Wrote Good Songs,” Seven Angels Theatre.
Featured actor in a play: Jameal Ali, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Andre De Shields, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Cleavant Derricks, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Steve Routman, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Paxton Whitehead, “What the Butler Saw,” Westport Country Playhouse
Featured actress in a play: Miriam Silverman, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Rachel Leslie, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Mia Dillon, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Christina Pumariega, “Napoli, Brooklyn,” Long Wharf Theatre
Featured actor in a musical: Mark Nelson, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theatre; Edward Watts, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; John Cardoza, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jonny Wexler, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Rhett Guter, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Michael Wartella, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House
Featured actress in a musical: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jodi Stevens, “Gypsy,” “Music Theater of Connecticut; Katie Stewart, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Kristine Zbornik, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kate Simone, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut.
Set design: Colin McGurk, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Michael Yeargan, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theater; Wilson Chin, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Adam Rigg, “The Invisible Hand,” “Westport Country Playhouse; Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage.
Costume design: Ilona Somogyi, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Marina Draghici, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theater; Fabio Toblini, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Gregory Gale, “Thorough Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Lisa Steier, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.
Lighting design: Matthew Richards, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; John Lasiter, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Matthew Richards, “Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Christopher Bell, “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” Playhouse on Park, Hartford.
Sound design: Jane Shaw, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Fan Zhang, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Shane Rettig, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Karen Graybash, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Fitz Patton, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse.
2017 Nominations List
Outstanding Solo Performance
Jodi Stevens I’ll Eat You Last MTC
Jon Peterson He Wrote Good Songs 7 Angels
Maya Kelcher (Natalie) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Dylan Frederick Assassins Yale Rep
Nick Sacks Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Cast of… Smart People Long Wharf
Cast of… Trav’lin 7 Angels
Cast of… Meteor Shower Long Wharf
Cast of… Assassins Yale
Cast of… The 39 Steps Ivoryton
Michael Commendatore Assassins Yale
Jane Shaw Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Fan Zhang Seven Guitars Yale
Shane Retig Scenes From Court Life Yale
Karin Graybash Piano Lesson Hartford Stage
Fitz Patton Invisible Hand Westport
Outstanding Costume Design
Ilona Somogyi Heartbreak House Hartford Stage
Marina Draghici Scenes from Court Life Yale
Lisa Steier Rockin’ the Forest Playhouse on Park
Fabio Toblini Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Gregory Gale Modern Millie Goodspeed
Matthew Richards Invisible Hand Westport
Yi Zhao Assassins Yale
John Lasiter Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Matthew Richards Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Christopher Bell A Moon for the Misbegotten Playhouse on Park
Outstanding Set Design
Colin McGurk Heartbreak House Hartford Stage
Michael Yeargan Most Beautiful Room… Long Wharf
Wilson Chin Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Adam Rigg The Invisible Hand Westport
Darko Tresnjak The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Denis Jones Modern Millie Goodspeed
Chris Bailey Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Doug Shankman West Side Story STONC
Patricia Wilcox Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Darlene Zoller Rockin’ the Forest Playhouse on Park
Outstanding Featured Actor – Musical
Mark Nelson (Carlo) Most Beautiful Room…. Long Wharf
Edward Watts (Trevor) Modern Millie Goodspeed
John Cardoza (Gabe) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Jonny Wexler (Action) West Side Story STONC
Rhett Guter (Birdie) Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Michael Wartella Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Outstanding Featured Actress – Musical
Maya Keleher (Natalie) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Jodi Stevens (Secretary/Mazeppa) Gypsy MTC
Katie Stewart (Anita) West Side Story STONC
Kristine Zbornik (Mother) Bye, Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Kate Simone (Louise) Gypsy MTC
Outstanding Featured Actress – Play
Miriam Silverman (Brianne/Chaya) Mary Jane Yale
Rachel Leslie (Vera) Seven Guitars Yale
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Ruby) Seven Guitars Yale
Mia Dillon Cloud 9 Hartford Stage
Christina Pumariega (Tina) Napoli, Brooklyn Long Wharf
Outstanding Featured Actor – Play
Jameal Ali (Dar) The Invisible Hand Westport
Andre De Shields Headley) Seven Guitars Yale
Cleavant Derricks Piano lesson Hartford Stage
Steve Routman (Coles) Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Paxton Whitehead (Dr. Rance) What the Butler Saw Westport
Outstanding Director – Musical
Rob Ruggiero Next to Normal TheaterWorks
David Edwards Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Melody Libonati West Side Story STONC
Jenn Thompson Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Kevin Connors Gypsy MTC
Outstanding Director – Play
Darko Tresnjak The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
David Kennedy The Invisible Hand Westport
Marc Bruni Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Tracy Brigden Midsummer TheaterWorks
Gordon Edelstein Meteor Shower Long Wharf
Outstanding Actor – Musical
Robert Sean Leonard (Arthur) Camelot Westport
Riley Costello (Finch) How to Succeed… CRT
David Harris (Dan) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
David Pittsinger (Don Q) Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Zach Schanne (Tony) West Side Story STONC
Outstanding Actress – Musical
Ruby Rakos (Judy) Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Christiane Noll (Diana) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Julia Paladino (Maria) West Side Story STONC
Karen Ziemba (Rose) Gypsy Sharon Playhouse
Talia Thiesfield (Aldonza) Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Outstanding Actor – Play
Tom Pecinka (Betty/Edward) Cloud 9 Hartford Stage
Michael Doherty (Black Stache) Peter and the… CRT
Eric Bryant (prisoner) Invisible Hand Westport
Jordan Lage (Garfinkle) Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Scott McLean (Bob) Midsummer… TheaterWorks
Outstanding Actress – Play
Emily Donohe Mary Jane Yale
Semina DeLaurentis (Gracie) George & Gracie 7 Angels
Ashlie Atkinson (Imogen) Imogen Says Nothing Yale
Vanessa R. Butler (Solinas) Queens for a Year Hartford Stage
Rebecca Hart (Helena) Midsummer TheaterWorks
Outstanding Production – Musical
Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
West Side Story STONC
Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Outstanding Production – Play
The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Midsummer (a play with songs) TheaterWorks
Scenes From Court Life Yale
The Invisible Hand Westport
Mary Jane Yale
By Karen Isaacs
In September 1993, an event occurred in the White House Rose Garden that gave the world hope for a Middle East peace: it was the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the PLO. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yasser Arafat were photographed shaking hands and later the two shared the Nobel Peace Prize. President Clinton looked on.
The back story that led to that historic occasion is the subject of the new play Oslo at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater.
Playwright J. T. Rogers makes it very clear in his notes that this is not intended to be an absolutely accurate portrayal of the “back channel” negotiations that occurred in Oslo. He admits that locations and chronology has been changed and compressed. He has removed some characters and as he says “some of those who remain have been assigned different roles than their actual counterparts…the words they say are mine.”
But accepting that this is not a documentary, it is still a compelling though long (about three hours) drama. At times it reminded me of Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods, another play about unconventional diplomatic negotiations. I saw the play first last August when it was produced at Lincoln Center’s smaller theater. The response was so enthusiastic it reopened this March in the larger Beaumont Theater. I was eager to see this play again.
For while the signing of the accords was at the White House, the US had very little to do with the entire process. That was the doing of Norwegian diplomats and Terje Rod-Larsen, director of the Fafo Institute and the husband of an official in the foreign ministry. It was his theory that for negotiations to be successful, rather than put everything on the table at once, the two parties should start with one issue and when that is resolved, go on to the next. He also believed that personal relationships are a necessity for success.
Some research assured me that Larsen, was indeed head of the Institute which focused on Labour and Social Research as well as Applied International Studies. He had a PhD in sociology.
At the end of 1992, two unofficial representatives of the Israeli government met with Ahmed Quiri, finance minister of the PLO and Hassan Asfour at a manor house outside of Oslo. Larsen insisted that the four men meet and talk alone; in the evenings he expected them to join him and his wife, Mona, over food, drink and non-business talk of families and backgrounds mixed with humor.
It was an auspicious start. The two Israelis, economists, had no authority but were reporting to the deputy foreign minister who had sent them on his own imitative. The PLO delegates had more authority and standing, but were angry and skeptical.
Over the course of months and months of meetings, the four men began not only to establish personal relationships but to hammer out an initial draft of an understanding that dealt with such issues as Jericho and the Gaza Strip.
As Mona states early in the play, it took nine months. The movement was in fits and starts. The issues were enormous. The PLO representatives wanted the Israeli negotiators to be government officials; finally that happened when Uri Savir, director-general of the foreign ministry joined the talks.
In the play, senior Norwegian officials were also in the dark about this effort for months; when the foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst learns of the act ivies of Larsen and Mona, he is not necessarily thrilled. It is dangerous effort and could alienate the US.
Praises to director Bartlett Sher and the entire cast. Sher and his cast not only keep the pace moving and the tension building – even though you know from the outset that the agreement was reached – but they mine the humor that is necessary to keep this from being dull. His entire production team has worked in concert to fulfill his vision.
The cast returned to this play after a hiatus; their performances have deepened and sharpened. If each was good the when I saw last August, they are even better now. Director Bartlett Sher has also adjusted his staging to the larger playing space without losing either intimacy or pace.
Particular praise must be given to dialect coach Elizabeth Smith – she and the cast maintain a variety of accents – primarily Norwegian, Arab and Israeli – while remaining understandable at all times. The accents never become stereotypical but always sound authentic.
Let us heap praises on the cast. Jefferson Mays is one of my favorite actors and again as Larsen he turns in marvelous performance. Not only with the accent but the depths of the character from his certainties to his ego to his doubt. Jennifer Ehle matches his as his wife, Mona. She is steady, calming and truly diplomatic. Michael Aronov is fantastic as the Uri Savir who takes over the negotiations for the Israeli government. Dariush Kashani as Hassam and AnthonyAzizi Quiri are also outstanding. In fact, there is no one in the cast that can be faulted. Each actor whether playing one role or more, creates fully rounded characters that you know and relate to.
Oslo is a play that is well worth seeing. In fact, it is worth seeing twice.
For tickets visit Lincoln Center.