Category Archives: 2017-18 Connecticut Theatre

Complete List of Nominees & Winners for the 28th Annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards

Outstanding Solo Performance

Elizabeth Stahlmann Grounded -Westport Country Playhouse

Outstanding Debut

Shannon Keegan –The Wolves -TheaterWorks

Megan O’Callaghan –The Bridges of Madison County and Fun Home -Music Theatre of Connecticut

Noah Kierserman –Newsies -Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Outstanding Ensemble

Cast of Avenue Q – Playhouse on Park – Weston Chandler Long, James Fairchild, Ashley Brooke, Peej Mele, E J Zimmerman, Abena Mensah-Bonsu and Colleen Welsh

 Cast of The Wolves -TheaterWorks – Shannon Keegan, Claire Saunders, Dea Julien, Carolyn Cutillo, Emily Murphy, Caitlin Zoz, Rachel Caplan, Olivia Hoffman, Karla Gallegos, Megan Byrne

Cast of The Chosen -Long Wharf Theatre – Ben Edelman, George Guidall, Steven Skybell, Max Wolkowitz,

The Cast of The Game’s Afoot -Ivoryton Playhouse – Erik Bloomquist, Victoria Bundonis, Molly Densmore, Katrina Ferguson, Michael Iannucci, Craig MacDonald, Maggie McGlone-Jennings, Beverly J. Taylor

Outstanding Projections

Yana Birykova –Grounded -Westport Country Playhouse

Luke Cantarella –Rags -Goodspeed Musicals

Lucas Clopton & Darron Alley –A Midsummer Night’s Dream -Hartford Stage

Wladimiro A. Woyno R. –Kiss -Yale Repertory Theatre

Outstanding Sound

Frederick Kennedy –Native Son -Yale Repertory Theatre

Kate Marvin  –Grounded -Westport Country Playhouse

Fitz Patton –Appropriate –Westport Country Playhouse

Jane Shaw  –A Lesson from Aloes -Hartford Stage

Robert Kaplowitz –Office Hour             -Long Wharf Theatre

 Outstanding Costume Design

Linda Cho –Rags         Goodspeed Musicals

Linda Cho –The Age of Innocence -Hartford Stage

Joshua Pearson –A Midsummer Night’s Dream –Hartford Stage

Fabian Fidel Aguilar –Romeo & Juliet -Westport Country Playhouse

Leon Dobkowski –The Legend of Georgia McBride– TheaterWorks

Outstanding Lighting

 Ben Stanton –The Age of Innocence -Hartford Stage

 Michael Chybowski –1776 – Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Stephen Strawbridge –Native Son -Yale Repertory Theatre

Matthew Richards –Appropriate -Westport Country Playhouse

Yi Zhao –Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 -Yale Repertory Theatre

Outstanding Set Design

 Emona Stoykova –An Enemy of the People -Yale Repertory Theatre

Alexander Dodge –A Midsummer Night’s Dream -Hartford Stage

Andrew Boyce –Appropriate -Westport Country Playhouse

David Lewis –The Diary of Anne Frank -Playhouse on Park

Martin Scott Marchitto –The Fantasticks -Ivoryton Playhouse

Outstanding Choreography

Katie Spelman –Oklahoma! Goodspeed Musicals

Christopher d’Amboise –Newsies – Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Kelli Barclay –The Will Rogers Follies -Goodspeed Musicals

Todd L. Underwood –Saturday Night Fever -Ivoryton Playhouse

 Outstanding Featured Actor – Musical

Matt Faucher –Oklahoma! -Goodspeed Musicals (tie)

Joe Callahan –Million Dollar Quartet -Ivoryton Playhouse

Sean MacLaughlin –Rags -Goodspeed Musicals

David Garrison –The Will Rogers Follies -Goodspeed Musicals

Cory Candelet The Fantasticks -Ivoryton Playhouse (tie)

Outstanding Featured Actress – Musical

 Jodi Stevens –Singin’ in the Rain– Summer Theater of New Canaan

Gizel Jimenez –Oklahoma! -Goodspeed Musicals

Nora Fox –Saturday Night Fever -Ivoryton Playhouse

Megan O’Callaghan –Fun Home -Music Theatre of Connecticut

Kimberly Immanuel –The Fantasticks -Ivoryton Playhouse

Outstanding Featured Actress – Play

Judith Ivy –Fireflies -Long Wharf Theatre

Darrie Lawrence –The Age of InnocenceHartford Stage

Carly Polistina –The Crucible -Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Sierra Boggess –The Age of Innocence – Hartford Stage

Helen Cespedes –The Age of Innocence -Hartford Stage
Outstanding Featured Actor – Play

James Cusati-Moyer –Kiss -Yale Repertory Theatre

Peter Francis James –Romeo & Juliet -Westport Country Playhouse

Tom Pecinka –Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 -Yale Repertory Theatre

 David Hiatt –Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 -Yale Repertory Theatre

Jason Bowen –Native Son -Yale Repertory Theatre

Outstanding Director – Musical

Terrence Mann –1776           – Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Jenn Thompson –Oklahoma! – Goodspeed Musicals

Kevin Connors –Fun Home – Music Theatre of Connecticut

Rob Ruggiero –Rags – Goodspeed Musicals

Brian Feehan   –The Fantasticks – Ivoryton Playhouse

Outstanding Director – Play

James Bundy – An Enemy of the People-Yale Repertory Theatre

Seret Scott  – Native Son -Yale Repertory Theatre

Ezra Barnes The Diary of Anne Frank -Playhouse on Park

Eric Ort – The Wolves -TheaterWorks

Doug Hughes – The Age of Innocence -Hartford Stage

Outstanding Actor – Musical

 Jamie LaVerdiere – 1776 -Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Rhett Guter – Oklahoma!-Goodspeed Musicals

Jim Schubin – Newsies -Connecticut Repertory Theatre

David Pittsinger –The Fantasticks -Ivoryton Playhouse

Michael Notardonato –Saturday Night Fever -Ivoryton Playhouse

Outstanding Actress – Musical

Samantha Massell – Rags – Goodspeed Musicals

Mia PineroWest Side Story – Ivoryton  Playhouse

Juliet Lambert Pratt – The Bridges of Madison County – Music Theatre of Connecticut

Samantha Bruce  – Oklahoma! – Goodspeed Musicals

Annabelle Fox  – Singin’ in the Rain – Summer Theatre of New Canaan

Outstanding Actor – Play

 Reg Rogers – An Enemy of the People -Yale Repertory Theatre

Jerod Haynes – Native Son -Yale Repertory Theatre

Jamison Stern –  The Legend of Georgia McBride -TheaterWorks

Boyd Gaines – The Age of Innocence – Hartford Stage

Daniel Chung Office Hour – Long Wharf Theatre

Outstanding Actress – Play

 Jackie Chung Office HourLong Wharf Theatre

Isabelle Barbier The Diary of Anne Frank – Playhouse on Park

Mia Dillon – Seder – Hartford Stage

Jane Alexander Fireflies – Long Wharf Theatre

Cecelia Riddett – The Revisionist – Playhouse on Park

Outstanding Production – Musical

Oklahoma! – Goodspeed Musicals

Million Dollar Quartet – Seven Angels

Rags – Goodspeed Musicals

1776 – Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Fun Home – Music Theatre of Connecticut

Outstanding Production – Play

An Enemy of the People – Yale Repertory Theatre

The Diary of Anne Frank – Playhouse on Park

The Chosen – Long Wharf Theatre

Fireflies – Long Wharf Theatre

Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3 – Yale Repertory Theatre

The Age of Innocence            – Hartford Stage

Killen Award (Contriubutions to Connecticut Theater)

Michael O’Flaherty- Musical Director – Goodspeed Musicals

Special Awards

Musical score by Billy Bivona for Constellations at TheaterWorks

Broadway Method Academy, Westport

Flock Theater, New London

 

 

The Age of Innocence, Rags Tops 28th Annual Connecticut Critics Awards

2018_06_11 CT Critics Circle Awards_Lavitt_1.jpgThe world premiere of Hartford Stage’s The Age of Innocence and a revised version of the musical Rags from Goodspeed Musicals took top honors at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards Monday, June 11. (Complete list of nominees and winners).

The event, which celebrated the work from the state’s professional theaters during the 2017-18 season, was held at Westport Country Playhouse.

Among area theaters, Ivoryton received nine nominations for five different productions (West Side Story, Million Dollar Quartet, Saturday Night Fever, The Game’s Afoot and The Fantasticks).Connecticut native, Cory Candelet tied for outstanding featured actor in a musical for his performance as the Mute in The Fantasticks. He shared the award with Matt Faucher for his performance as Jud in Goodspeed’s Oklahoma!

 Goodspeed received 14 nominations and four awards including Faucher, outstanding production of a musical, Samantha Massell for her leading role in Rags and Kelli Barclay for choreography in Will Rogers’ Follies.

Awards for outstanding actors in a musical went to Samantha Massell in Goodspeed’s Rags and Jamie LaVerdiere in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of 1776.

Awards for outstanding actors in a play went to Reg Rogers in Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of An Enemy of the People and Isabelle Barbier in Playhouse on Park’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Top directing awards went to Terrence Mann for CRT’s 1776 and Ezra Barnes for Playhouse on Park’s The Diary of Anne Frank.

Outstanding ensemble award went to TheaterWorks’ production of The Wolves;  the debut award went to Megan O’Callaghan  for The Bridges of Madison County and Fun Home, both at Music Theatre of Connecticut. The outstanding solo honor was awarded to Elizabeth Stahlmann for Westport Country Playhouse’s Grounded.

Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director for Goodspeed Musicals, received the Tom Killen Award for lifetime service to the theater from Donna Lynn Cooper Hilton, a producer at Goodspeed.

Receiving special awards were New London’s Flock Theatre for its production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Monte Cristo Cottage (O’Neill’s childhood home); the Broadway Method Academy of Fairfield; and Billy Bivona, who composed and performed original music for TheaterWork’s production of Constellations.

The outstanding featured actress award in a musical award went to Jodi Stevens for Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s Singin’ in the Rain. The award for outstanding featured actors in a play went to Peter Francis James for Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Romeo and Juliet, and to Judith Ivey for Long Wharf Theatre’s world premiere of Fireflies.

Design awards went to Fitz Patton for sound and Matthew Richards for lighting for Westport Country Playhouse’s Appropriate; Linda Cho for costumes for Hartford Stage’s The Age of Innocence; Yana Birykova for projections for Westport Country Playhouse’s Grounded and David Lewis, for set design for Playhouse on Park’s The Diary of Anne Frank.

Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas, stars of TheaterWorks’ Christmas on the Rocks, presided over the event.

Shore Publication writers Amy Barry and Frank Rizzo co-chaired the event.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.

 

Looking Back at My Nights in Connecticut Theaters This Season

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By Karen Isaacs

 Do you realize how many professional theatrical productions are seen in Connecticut each year?  What would be your guess?

With the ending of the Connecticut theater season which runs from about June 1 to May 31, I attempted to count up the shows. I know I missed some. But including all the professional theaters (those that have some type of contract from Equity the actors’ union) plus the productions seen at the major “presenting” houses such as the Shubert, Bushnell and Palace in Waterbury – the total astounded me.

In all, you could see a professional production for 100+ nights a year. And that didn’t include the “workshop” performances at Goodspeed-Chester, the O’Neill Center and other places.

If you want to consider just the regional theaters – it numbers 70+ productions. (By the way, I saw about 75 percent of these, plus some others). So I was sitting in a theater in Connecticut at least 60+ evenings.

My favorites?  Everyone’s list will be different. Mine includes plays that were thought-provoking or challenging. But my list also includes plays that were just pure fun. I’ve broken them down in to a list of my “best” plays and “musicals”.  These aren’t in any particular order. Some are by playwrights that I am very familiar with and others by playwrights new to me.

My Favorite Productions of Plays

 Hartford Stage gave me three productions that I thoroughly enjoyed and would gladly see again. A Lesson from Aloes by Athol Fugard is a play that I saw first at Yale and found it brilliant. This production directed by Darko Tresnjak was equally so – thought-provoking, beautifully designed and marvelously acted. For sheer fun, nothing could be better than Tresnjak’s direction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which opened the season. The direction by the Mechanicals was the best I’ve ever seen. And in the middle was the McCarter Theatre’s production of Murder on the Orient Express. Stylish and delightful. Another production I would gladly see again was Grounded at Westport Country Playhouse last July. This one woman show is about a military pilot who is reassigned to operating drones over Iraq from the US. And Playhouse on Park gave Connecticut theater goers a magnificent production of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Some plays were very good, but for one reason or another had something missing. Fireflies at Long Wharf was a charming, sweet play that is blessed with an outstanding cast. I’m not convinced that it would as enjoyable in the ends of lesser actors. Jane Alexander, Judith Ivey and Dennis Ardnt made this work. I also thoroughly enjoyed Seder at Hartford Stage, though some of my critic friends hated it. The questions it raised were fascinating and Mia Dillon was fabulous.

Also in this group would be The Game’s Afoot at Ivoryton which was silly, light but just fun, Noises Off at the Summer Series at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, The Chosen at Long Wharf, Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3 at Yale Rep and Age of Innocence at Hartford Stage. Boyd Gaines was magnificent.

Some productions miss the mark – it may be a great idea that isn’t quite developed completely, or it wanders off topic, or the director or actors make some erroneous decisions. Or the play may not be that good, but one or two performances make it enjoyable.

Luckily most of the time, even if that happens there are elements that still make the production worth seeing.

But sometimes, to me the production seems so misguided in so many ways, that it disappoints me. This season there were a few that fit that description. Often my fellow critics disagree with me. Yale’s production of Enemy of the People was just such a production. I felt that both the director (James Bundy) and the leading actor (Reg Rogers) were totally off the mark. Office Hours at Long Wharf was a play that I felt didn’t really work on many levels.

My Favorite Productions of Musicals

 I didn’t think there were really any outstanding musical productions this season. By that I mean productions where the work itself and all elements of the production hit the mark. Most had flaws of some kind.

Many productions were very good. Ivoryton Playhouse has shown it is capable of presenting very good productions. This season I thought Saturday Night Fever, West Side Story and The Fantasticks were all very good.

MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) has shown that a very small theater (under 120 seats) and an awkward playing area can be made to work for mid-sized musicals. Kevin Connor did a great job directing both The Bridges of Madison County and Fun Home. The Summer Series at Connecticut Rep did a very good Newsies.

 Goodspeed is held to a very high standard – it has wowed us so many times, that we expect perfection in each production. This year, it may have not have been perfection, but it was very, very good.

Rags was a major project: Taking a musical that had failed and working together with the composer and lyricist and a new book writer, to completely reshape the show. Characters were deleted, others added, major plot points changed, new songs written and lyrics revised for other songs. Working with the team was director Rob Ruggiero. This story of turn of the 20th century Jewish immigrants on the lower east side of Manhattan, still isn’t perfect, but the show was done very well and was much improved.

Goodspeed also presented the classic Oklahoma! Again a very good production that I felt missed the mark in some ways.

The Big Theater Stories So Far This Year

 Two major theatrical stories hit even the national press. The first was the firing of Long Wharf Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein after allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Later this spring, Darko Tresnjak announced he will leave Hartford Stage at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. This wasn’t a total surprise. While at Hartford, he had not only produced excellent theater but won a Tony award, directed two new Broadway musicals and was increasingly in demand.

Just as one theater season ends, another begins. I’m already marking my calendar for the shows that I’m most anticipating.

 

“Oklahoma!” “The Age of Innocence” Lead In Connecticut Critics Nominations

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(Revised from a press release)

Hartford Stage’s world premiere of “The Age of Innocence” and Goodspeed’s “Oklahoma!” led the shows nominated for the 28th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. Yale Rep’s production of “Native Son,” Goodspeed’s production of “Rags,” and “Diary of Anne Frank” at Playhouse on Park also received numerous nominations.

The awards event, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, will be held Monday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Westport Country Playhouse. Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas, stars of TheaterWorks holiday comedy perennial “Christmas on the Rocks,” will be masters of ceremony for the event which is free and open to the public.

“The Age of Innocence” earned eight nominations, including outstanding play, director and lead actor and three featured actresses, costumes and lighting while “Oklahoma!” received a total of seven nods, including best musical, director, lead actress and actor and featured actress and actor and choreography.

Other outstanding play nominees are: Yale Repertory Theater’s productions of “An Enemy of the People” and “Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3.” Other nominees included Long Wharf Theatre’s “The Chosen” and the world premiere of “Fireflies” and West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Also earning outstanding musical nods are Goodspeed’s “Rags,” Connecticut Repertory Theater’s “1776,” Seven Angels Theatre’s “Million Dollar Quartet,” and “Fun Home,” Music Theater of Connecticut.

Receiving the annual Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement in Connectiocut theater will be Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director at Goodspeed Musicals.

Receiving special awards this year are New London’s Flock Theater for its production of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at the Monte Cristo Cottage, the boyhood home of Eugene ONeill; the Broadway Method Academy of Fairfield; and Billy Bivona, who composed and performed original music for TheaterWork’s production of “Constellations.”

Receiving an award for solo performance will be Elizabeth Stahlmann who starred in Westport Country Playhouse’s “Grounded.”

Other nominees are:

Actor in a play: Reg Rogers, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jerod Haynes, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre;  Jamison Stern, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” TheaterWorks; Boyd Gaines, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Daniel Chung, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre.

Actress in a play: Jackie Chung, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre; Isabelle Barbier, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park;  Mia Dillon, “Seder,”  Hartford Stage; Jane Alexander, “Fireflies,” Long Wharf Theatre;  Cecelia Riddett, “The Revisionist,” Playhouse on Park.

Actor in a musical: Jamie LaVerdiere, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Rhett Guter,  “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Jim Schubin, “Newsies,”  Connecticut Repertory Theatre; David Pittsinger, “The Fantasticks,”  Ivoryton Playhouse; Michael Notardonato,  “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse.

Actress in a musical: Samantha Massell, “Rags,”  Goodspeed Musicals; Mia Pinero, “West Side Story,”  Ivoryton  Playhouse; Juliet Lambert Pratt, “The Bridges of Madison County,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Samantha Bruce, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Annabelle Fox, “Singin’ in the Rain,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

Director of a play: James Bundy, “An Enemy of the People,”    Yale Repertory Theatre; Seret Scott, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ezra Barnes, “The Diary of Anne Frank,”  Playhouse on Park;  Eric Ort, “The Wolves,” TheaterWorks; Doug Hughes, “The Age of Innocence,”  Hartford Stage.

Director of a musical: Terrence Mann, “1776,”  Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Jenn Thompson, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Kevin Connors, “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Rob Ruggiero, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Brian Feehan, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.

Choreography:  Katie Spelman, “Oklahoma! ,” Goodspeed Musicals; Christopher d’Amboise, “Newsies,”  Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Kelli Barclay, “The Will Rogers Follies,” Goodspeed Musicals; Todd L. Underwood, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse

Ensemble: Cast of “Avenue Q” (Weston Chandler Long, James Fairchild, Ashley Brooke, Peej Mele, E J Zimmerman, Abena Mensah-Bonsu and Colleen Welsh ), Playhouse on Park; Cast of “The Wolves” (Shannon Keegan, Claire Saunders, Dea Julien, Carolyn Cutillo, Emily Murphy, Caitlin Zoz, Rachel Caplan, Olivia Hoffman, Karla Gallegos, Megan Byrne), TheaterWorks;  Cast of “The Chosen”     (Ben Edelman, George Guidall, Steven Skybell, Max Wolkowitz) Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “The Game’s Afoot” (Erik Bloomquist, Victoria Bundonis, Molly Densmore, Katrina Ferguson, Michael Iannucci, Craig MacDonald, Maggie McGlone-Jennings, Beverly J. Taylor), Ivoryton Playhouse.

Featured actor in a play: James Cusati-Moyer, “Kiss,” Yale Repertory Theatre;
Peter Francis James, “Romeo and Juliet,” Westport Country Playhouse; Tom Pecinka, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Dan Hiatt, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,”  Yale Repertory Theatre; Jason Bowen, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre

Featured actress in a play: Judith Ivy, “Fireflies,” Long Wharf Theatre; Darrie Lawrence, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage;  Carly Polistina, “The Crucible,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre;  Sierra Boggess, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Helen Cespedes, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage

Featured actor in a musical: Matt Faucher, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Joe Callahan, “Million Dollar Quartet,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Sean MacLaughlin, “Rags,”  Goodspeed Musicals; David Garrison, “The Will Rogers Follies,”  Goodspeed Musicals; Cory Candelet, “The Fantasticks,”  Ivoryton Playhouse.

Features actress in a musical: Jodi Stevens, “Singin’ in the Rain,” Summer Theater of New Canaan;  Gizel Jimenez, “Oklahoma!” Goodspeed Musicals; Nora Fox, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Megan O’Callaghan, “Fun Home,”  Music Theatre of Connecticut;  Kimberly Immanuel, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.

Projection design: Yana Birykova,  “Grounded,”Westport Country Playhouse; Luke Cantarella, “Rags,”  Goodspeed Musicals; Lucas Clopton & Darron Alley, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Wladimiro A. Woyno R., “Kiss,” Yale Repertory Theatre.

Set design: Emona Stoykova, “An Enemy of the People,”  Yale Repertory Theatre; Alexander Dodge, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Andrew Boyce, “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; David Lewis, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Martin Scott Marchitto, “The Fantasticks.” ,Ivoryton Playhouse

Costume design: Linda Cho, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals’  Linda Cho, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Joshua Pearson, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Fabian Fidel Aguilar, “Romeo & Juliet,” Westport Country Playhouse; Leon Dobkowski, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” TheaterWorks.

Lighting design: Ben Stanton, “The Age of Innocence,”      Hartford Stage; Michael Chybowski, “1776,”  Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Stephen Strawbridge,  “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre;  Matthew Richards, “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse;  Yi Zhao, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,”Yale Repertory Theatre.

Sound design: Frederick Kennedy, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Kate Marvin, “Grounded,”   Westport Country Playhouse; Fitz Patton; “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; Jane Shaw, “A Lesson from Aloes,” Hartford Stage; Robert Kaplowitz, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre.

Debut: Shannon Keegan, “The Wolves,” TheaterWorks;  Megan O’Callaghan,  “The Bridges of Madison County” and “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Noah Kierserman, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre.

DIRECTIONS: Westport Country Playhouse is at 25 Powers Court in Westport, just off Route  (Exits 17 or 18 off I-91 brings you to Rt. 1.) www.westportplayhouse.org.

 

Hartford Stage Ends Season with A Lesson from Aloes –How We Learn to Adapt and Survive

lesson from aloes -1

Randall Newsome and Andrus Nichols. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Karen Isaacs

 Athol Fugard, the South African playwright has the ability to illuminate universal issues in a way that is both personal and touching.

His A Lesson from Aloes which is getting a stunning production at Hartford Stage through Sunday, June 10 is just one example of this talent.

I first saw Aloes at its U.S. premiere at Yale Rep in 1980 before it went on to Broadway where it garnered a number of awards and nominations.

At that time, I found it a thought-provoking and a deeply disturbing play. When Hartford Stage announced it was closing the season with Aloes (originally a different Fugard play had been announced), I wondered if my recollections would be reinforced.

Let me say immediately, that they were. This play is everything a good play should be. It has characters that you come to care about, it brings to our minds issues that are universal, and you will walk out of the theater thinking and feeling.

While Fugard provides in the text all the background you absolutely must know, like many of earlier plays, this deals with Apartheid in South Africa and the repressive governmental regime. He says he began the play in the early ‘60s and after sporadic work on it, abandoned it in the early ‘70s only to have it return to him in the later ‘70s. It had its world premiere in 1978.

Apartheid, which was institutionalized in 1948, was a system of strict racial segregation with all residents being classified as “White,” “Asian” (Indian or Pakistani in heritage), “Coloured” (bi-racial) or “African” (Black Africans). “Africans” were forced to move from their homes to what were called “homelands” and strict segregation was enforced between each of the groups. “Africans” needed a “passbook” to travel into non-African areas. Contact between the groups was minimized so that even friendships were illegal.

Remember that South Africa had first been colonized by the Dutch,  (called Boers or “Afrikaners”) and later the British. The Boer War between two Boer states and the British colony in 1899-1902 was over the control of gold mines. The British ultimately won (Winston Churchill’s reporting on the war and escape from capture, made his name in England). The result was the creation of an independent dominion of Great Britain as the Union of South Africa.

By the early 1960s, various protests had been held against the system but quashed by the government who used imprisonment, torture, banning (a method of forcing no contact with the individual), and other methods.

Aloes is set in Port Elizabeth which had seen numerous protests against apartheid, including multiple bus boycotts.

Piet is an Afrikaner but one who has joined the protest movement. He and his wife, Gladys who is of English descent, live a lower middle class life. He seems to have nothing to do but focus on his newest hobby — aloes, those plants that look somewhat like cacti and survive in the arid, hot environment near Port Elizabeth.

As the play opens he is trying to identify a mystery aloe, while his wife sits in the sun staring ahead. It is late afternoon and they are expecting visitors for supper: Piet’s friend Steve with his wife and four children. Piet after leaving a failing farm had been a bus driver and one day, during a bus boycott had abandoned his bus and listened to the protestors. Steve was speaking.

Though quiet, Gladys seems unsettled; something appears “not quite right with her.” The idea of guests rattles her.

As the act progress through the interactions of these two people, we learn so much more. That Steve had been “banned” and had broken the banning order by attending a party where he was arrested and jailed. That after the party, the security police searched Piet and Gladys’ house; they discovered diaries that Gladys had been keeping for years and confiscated them.

It isn’t until act two that Steve arrives, without his wife and children. He is leaving South Africa in a week to live in Britain. The inhospitable atmosphere has made it impossible for him to flourish and he fears his children would face the same future.

This triangle of backgrounds and points of view all share one thing: they have each been perhaps fatally wounded by the political repression and actions of the government.

Piet is viewed by some of his political colleagues as possibly the informer that let the police know that Steve would be at the party. He says he can make the case that any of the attendees were the one.

Gladys had a nervous breakdown following the confiscation of her diaries and feels her very privacy violated. She was hospitalized and underwent electric shock treatment.

Steve see no alternative but to leave his country, despairing that change will ever happen. [It took until 1994 for the apartheid system to finally end though it had been modified in the ‘80s.]

Each in his or her way is like the aloes that were able to survive in the environment. As Piet says, “we all need survival mechanisms” and the aloes have survived. Gladys though wants more than just to survive; she would readily follow Steve’s path and relocate to England but Piet is an Afrikaner through and through. Like the aloes he will not give up.

In this domestic drama, Fugard manages to explore the issues of how humans adapt and survive; the various mechanisms we use to convince ourselves that either we can change things or that things will change or that we can survive. The three characters have faced issues of trust and commitment to each other, to the country of their birth and to their principles. The ability to trust others has been shaken to the core.

Of the three, Gladys, played beautifully by Andrus Nichols, is the most complex. It might be due to the mental illness brought on by the raid and the idea that some anonymous men are reading her private diaries OR by deep seated anger and resentment with Piet and his ability to go on without acknowledging the situation. Put she is the instigator of some of the more explosive conversation with both her husband and with him and Steve. In some ways, she sees things more clearly that Piet.

Ariyon Bakare’s Steve is a simmering volcano. You wait for him to explode with rage at his situation – having been persecuted, jailed, discriminated against and now, seeing no recourse but to abandon his home. It isn’t been the first time he has been forced out; he and his father had to leave their home for the newly established “homelands” far from the sea where his father loved to fish. That he suspects Piet is no surprise.

But it is Randall Newsome (Piet) who with a minimum of movement and controlled emotions is the center of this piece.  Newsome projects a quiet dignity and sense of self that is both admirable and, to Gladys, infuriating. Is he the idealist? Or is he blind to realities?

Director Darko Tresnjak, who immigrated to America with his mother when he was 10 from the repressive Communist Yugoslavia (now Serbia), certainly must have an understanding of what fear can do to people.  He has said he believed this play had particular relevance for the current world situation. It is not difficult to see what he means.

Adding to his powerful direction – he uses stillness to maximum effect, he is aided by superb lighting by Matthew Richards which often focus our attention on the aloes – those stubborn, determined to survive plants. The sound design by Jane Shaw occasionally punctures the silence with reminders of the world outside.

Some may find A Lesson from Aloes to talky and slow moving.

But for me, it is a thought-provoking exploration of how different individuals cope with their environment and, like the aloes, learn to survive.

For tickets visit Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com

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Ariyon Bakare and Randall Newsome. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Did “Phantom of the Opera” Really Need a Sequel?

By Karen Isaacs

 Phantom of the Opera is a musical beloved by millions. It is the longest-running show in Broadway history and still going strong. So a sequel to the show must have seemed like a good idea.

Love Never Dies, the sequel written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), Glenn Slater (lyrics) and Ben Elton (book) is based on the novel The Phantom in Manhattan. Of these, only Webber was involved in the original Phantom. Even the novel on which this show is based was written in 1999 by Frederick Forsyth, 90 years after the original novel.

Love Never Dies, which is now at the Bushnell through Sunday, June 3, opened in London in 2010 to negative reviews and, despite closing for a substantial rewrite and a new director, had a disappointing run. After further revisions, a Broadway production was announced but never happened. Though the show had productions elsewhere in the world, it wasn’t until 2017 that a US national tour was mounted.

I will admit to not being a huge fan of the original Phantom. I always found the plot melodramatic, the music a knock off of many operas and in total the worst type of poperetta,  a term coined during the 1980s. The original operettas of the early 20th century – by Romburg, Friml, Oscar Strauss and others may have had nonsensical romantic plots but they attempted some realism and the music was original and glorious.

Even those who love Phantom may roll their eyes at some of the absurdities of this plot.

Let’s start with the pluses of this production. The producers have spared little expense. The set by Garbiela Tylesov is fabulous and the costumes by her are also excellent. The lighting by Nick Schlieper is also excellent.

The national tour has good size cast and a 15 member orchestra.

Overall the cast is good and sings well.

But the pluses end there. The plot is over-wrought; any good melodrama author would be embarrassed by the inconsistencies and illogic. Supposedly it is 10 years after the close of Phantom. Madame Giry (the ballet mistress) and her daughter, Meg, have followed the Phantom to Coney Island where he is either still a composer or an owner of an amusement park/freaks show/circus. He also seems to be either a devil or a magician.

He learns that Christine, now married to Raoul, (theComte) and with a son, is coming to New York to help open the new Metropolitan Opera House.

That is the catalyst for what follows. We have professional jealousy as Meg resents the Phantom’s obsession with Christine; after all she has loyally helped him for a decade and wants his attention. Madame Giry is sour and conniving. The Comte has gambled away a great deal of Christine’s money and drinks way too much – he is not the man she married though she still loves him. Their son, Gustave, seems overly precocious and, for a child of the early 20th century, seems to run the family.

Let’s not go through all of the complications – most of which don’t make much sense. The Phantom seems to keep appearing like a ghost in Christine’s room, often subtly threatening her that if she doesn’t agree to his wishes – for her to sing for one night at his concert hall – something will happen to her son. He and Raoul continue their competition for Christine and agree to a wager – anyone in the audience who doesn’t how it will come out just isn’t paying attention.

So that’s the basis of the plot.

I can’t fault the performers. All have excellent voices. Gardar Thor Cortes as the Phantom plays the role as a combination of any melodrama’s villain, with strong references to the emoting style of the 1800s. Megan Picerno is properly upset, threatened and conflicted as Christine. Sean Thompson has the most sympathetic and realistic role as the Raoul. In addition, Karen Masson plays Madame Giry as a younger version of Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca and Mary Michael Patterson has little coherent character to work with as Meg.

So what else is wrong? One thing is that during a good part of the show, I could only understand about one-third of the lyrics. It seemed as all of the singers were doing old fashioned opera singer English — all vowels and few consonants. But the lyrics I did hear, were clichéd. So perhaps it wasn’t a minus.

And let’s not even think about the implausibilites. The program includes an insert summarizing the plot of Phantom.  In case you’ve forgotten the show starts in 1910 with Raoul at 70 recalling the past events, which must have happened at least 40 years earlier. But Love Never Dies starts in 1907 and it is 10 years after the ending of the other work. So what happened to the 30+ years? Did everyone suffer from amnesia? Did they all find the fountain of youth?

I have to admit that when, near the climax, Meg says “it’s almost over,” I wanted to applaud; unfortunately we still had several scenes to go. The other blessing was that there will be no sequel to Love Never Dies; spoiler alert – Christine dies in the end.

For tickets contact The Bushnell.

Love Never Dies Utica, NY

Photo by Joan Marcus

Dion’s Musical Biography at Seven Angels Theatre Shows All the Warts

rock n roll redemption. 2JPG

Photo by Paul Roth.

By Karen Isaacs

 If you grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s you undoubtedly listened and danced to songs by Dion and the Belmonts. Later it was just Dion alone.

Dion DiMucci, who grew up in the Bronx, has written a musical with Charles Messina focusing on his early career. Seven Angels Theatre is presenting Rock ‘n Roll Redemption – The Story and The Music of Dion DiMucci through June 17.

If you expect this to be just another Jersey Boys, you may be disappointed. For Dion has not glossed over his warts. It may surprise some of you to know that he was almost on the plane that killed Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens. He was touring with the group and would have been on the small chartered plane instead of Valens except he would not spend the $36, his share of the cost.

The play opens with this and from there goes back to his teenage years in the Belmont section of the Bronx. His father was a failed entertainer – he used marionettes – and tried to rule the unruly Dion with an iron hand that did not work. Early in his teenage years, we see that Dion is shooting up with heroin – an addiction that he doesn’t sugarcoat in the story.

This is also a story of the artist fighting “the establishment” to fulfill his own vision. Here, Dion battles his father and his producers, Gene and Bob Schwartz to include his guitar in his recordings. Their philosophy is give the people what they expect and want; if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.

But of course, eventually it does get broke – his records don’t sell – and he does move into a different phase in his music.

Interwoven is the story of his romance with Susan Butterfield whom he married and is still married to today. She is the typical understanding and supportive wife though she is sorely tested by his heroin addiction.

The latter may distress some audience members who want their teen memories to be as clean as they remember them.

The show doesn’t cover Dion’s later career as a Christian singer, then his return to rock ‘n’ roll which continues to this day.

Director Semina De Laurentis, Janine Molinari (musical staging) and Brent C. Mauldin (music director/arranger) have done a good job with this rather episodic piece.

They have assembled a cast that can play a variety of roles and convincingly sing the ‘50s doo-wop music.

As Dion, Matthew Dailey (who has appeared in Jersey Boys) brings out the anger and resistance to authority in the character. He also handles the music expertly. Anna Laura Strider is perky and supportive as Susan and JP Sarro is arrogant and a know-it-all as Dion’s father.

The biggest part of the show is the music – the songs that Dion wrote (“Donna The Prima Donna,” “Runaround Sue,” “Sweet Surrender” and more) – plus the songs that he recorded as well as those recorded by others. Thus we get songs from Holly, the Big Bopper and Valens as well as “Honky Tonk Blues,” “Teenager in Love,” “I Wonder Why” and “The Wanderer.” The show ends with his 1967 recording of “Abraham, Martin & John.”

The humor is supplied by John Little and Joel Robertson as the Schwartz brothers, his producers. They have a recurring shtick of one interrupting and going on and on and on to the other’s annoyance.

If this is the music that you grew up with or love, you will enjoy Rock ‘n’ Roll Redemption: the Story and The Music of Dion DiMucci.

 For tickets, contact Seven Angels Theatre. or call 203-757-4676.

Goodspeed’s Will Rogers Follies Entertaining though Flawed

Will Rogers Follies

David M. Lutken. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

By Karen Isaacs

 Will Rogers is a name that may be unknown to many, but he was one of the first political satirist in American media. A genuine cowboy from Oklahoma, he rose from doing roping tricks in vaudeville to starring in the Ziegfeld Follies and moving to Hollywood for films and a radio show. His folksy demeanor let him get away with skewering all political elements.

The Will Rogers Follies – A Life in Review­­ – now at Goodspeed through Sunday, June 21 gives us his life as if Ziegfeld himself was presenting it.

Though the show won multiple Tony awards including Best Musical in 1991, no one would say this is a perfect or great show. It is blessed with a delightful score by Cy Coleman (music) and Betty Comden & Adolph Green (lyrics).

The book by Peter Stone has some problems and it is incumbent on the director, in this case Don Stephenson, to draw attention away from the weak parts. Unfortunately Stephenson does not really succeed in the first act.

The opening is dynamite; we are at the Ziegfeld Follies and see two big production number, “Let’s Go Flying” and “Will-a-Mania.” These reflect Rogers’ championing of air travel and his enormous popularity. But when Rogers enters, things slow down. We get too much exposition even though there are two more numbers, “Never Met a Man” which is based on Roger’s statement that he never met a man he didn’t like and “Give a Man Enough Rope.”

From there we get more exposition about his birth – which delights his father who already has six girls, his desire to go to Argentina as a cowboy, his return and his meeting of Betty. From there it is on to vaudeville working his way up the ladder until he gets an offer from Ziegfeld. His act is doing some rope tricks and chatting with the audience. He developed the habit – done in this production – of reading the daily newspaper and making satiric comments on many of the political doings.

Betty and he marry, but Ziegfeld, who is a disembodied authoritarian voice (James Naughton) at times during the show postpones the actual wedding because in his Follies, the wedding always ends the act.

Act two continues the arc of Rogers’ increasing popularity. He goes to Hollywood to make films, has a popular radio show, writes a daily newspaper column and appears seemingly everywhere. Betty is not happy about his constant working and absences; but this is hardly a major problem. The show ends with the death of Rogers in 1935 while flying with well-known aviator Wiley Post in Alaska.

What makes this show enjoyable are not always the elements that relate most directly to Rogers’ life: the multiple numbers staged as Ziegfeld Follies numbers, and the constant presence of an attractive female character named “Ziegfeld’s Favorite” who introduces scenes and numbers. What doesn’t work is the running gag about Wiley Post – he pops frequently saying “Let’s go flying” with Rogers responding “Not yet.”

These disparate elements – Will Rogers’ rather normal life despite his fame (no divorces, no substance abuse, apparently no diva personality) with the extravagance of the Follies – are not always a match made in heaven.

Yet, The Will Rogers Follies has so many positive elements that at least in the second act, you can overlook its flaws.

David M. Lutken as Rogers will slowly get into your heart. He gives us the down home style (perhaps you can think of Andy Griffith or Jim Nabors), while singing very well and doing rope tricks. He even plays the guitar. Anyone who doesn’t like him has a stone heart.

Another standout is Brooke Lacy as Ziegfeld’s favorite. She isn’t just a showgirl parading around. Lacy gives her a personality using a smile and a wink. Plus she also sings, dances and does a few rope tricks of her own.

David Garrison also stands out as Clem Rogers and a variety of other characters. Each time, he not only gets our attention but gets a laugh. Although Garrison is an established musical performer, he only gets two numbers – “It’s a Boy” when Rogers in born and a reprise of “Will-a-mania” toward the end. Each scores.

Catherine Walker, another established musical performer, does as much as she can with the role of Roger’s wife, Betty. The character is very stereotypical – loyal wife and mother with little growth or dimension. But with her lovely soprano voice, she is effective in “My Unknown Someone” and “No Man Left for Me.”

Ilona Somogyi must have had a blast creating the many costumes reminiscent of the Follies. They were terrific. Walt Spangler has created a set that can change from the Follies stage to a farmhouse. Jay Hilton’s sound design works very well; in this show the orchestra is hidden under the stage.

Kelli Barclay’s choreography manages to combine the show dancing with more folksy elements, and vaudevillian dancing.

No one would claim that The Will Rogers Follies – a Life in Revue—is one of the great musicals of all times. The Goodspeed production gives us moments of pure delight but at other times fails at masking the show’s essential flaws.

Yet, it is still an enjoyable and tuneful evening with splendid production values and some excellent performances.

For tickets visit Goodspeed or call 860-873-8668.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06

 

Is it farce? Melodrama? Reality TV? Kiss at Yale Rep Tries to Be All Things

KISS

Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

 During the first part of Kiss now at the Yale Rep through Saturday, May 19, you think you know what type of play this is: a melodramatic romantic comedy with some satire thrown into it.

But you will quickly realize it is more than just that. Guillermo Calderón has written a play that touches on so many fascinating topics including the interaction between playwright and cast, interpretation and cultural understandings. At a time, when the theatrical world is concerned with appropriate casting in terms of identity and representation and other groups in society are discussing cultural appropriation, this play seems to reflect these concerns.

It would be nice to say that Calderón has succeeded in illuminating these difficult topics; but he has merely touched the surface. Calderón is a Chilean playwright setting the work in war torn Syria and writing in English for the first time.

The play opens on a living set (nicely designed Ao Li) with an attractive 30ish woman (Hadeel) fliting around. The doorbell sounds; it is Youssif who has arrived early which unnerves Hadeel; the polite conversation soon turns to romance. Yousif announces he is love with her, and after some sparring, she acknowledges a mutual attraction. The problem is that she involved with someone who will soon be there. When Ahmed arrives, there are some farcical elements as he is planning on proposing. Soon another friend (Bana) who works at a TV station arrives late; she announces that she has kissed someone.

The scene ends having moved from farce to drama and very confused about Hadeel’s actual feelings.

But while you are wondering what comes next, the woman playing Bana arrives on stage. We now learn that what we had just seen was American actors playing these parts in a new play. So we have left Syria in 2014 and are now in the present (sort of). Laurel who played the part of Bana tells us how they found the play and tracked down the playwright. They are about to have skype interview with her. To avoid confusion, I will refer to the actors by the names of the Syrian characters they play; those are the ones listed in the program, though each actor has a real name as well.

During the course of the interview, the woman (is she really the playwright?) lets the cast know that they have missed a great deal of the significance of the play. In war torn Damascus, words don’t often mean what you think they do; she tells them that some of the words are code for other things associated with the chaos of the war. She points out that her stage directions reflect the consequences of some of these events.

In the final part of the play, we see the events from the earlier version played out by the cast with this new information.

So does it work? Not totally though it is not the fault of the cast. While some of the choices made by Calderón can be understood, particularly if you read the program notes, they still don’t work with the audience. The language is awkward and some phrases are off-putting. Instead of focusing on the totality, the audience is apt to focus on some these phrases and think they are weird.

During the interview, we get to see the real personalities of the actors from the obviously egotistical Ahmed (Ian Lassiter) to the removed Hadeel. Some of the questions they ask are good and others are self-serving. It is clear that Ahmed is only concerned with his part.

Evan Yionoulis directed this piece; her final production at Yale Rep before taking a new position at Juilliard. The challenge this play poses is not only the often awkward English but the combination of genres. The first part swings from farce to drama with an Albee influence. The interview attempts realism and the final part is played as pure melodrama. This confusion of styles has you feeling as though you are seeing three separate plays.

The melodramatic last part misses the mark. It would be interesting to see how the actors adjust their performances based on the new information the playwright has given them. But it is not clear what they have done; it has just become an exaggerated mess. We cease caring about the situation or the characters or even the awful consequences of the war in Syria.

The many references in the play to Syrian television melodramas is obviously intended to inform our approach to the work, particularly the last part. The four are gathering to watch a melodrama miniseries on TV, Bana is apparently an actress in one and the dialogue makes numerous references. In the notes, we learn that these, called musalsalaat, are not just soap operas but include satirical sketch comedy, thrillers and much more.

The actors do an excellent job with the challenges of playing two characters and two different approaches to the same situation. Ian Lassiter as Ahmed (the boyfriend) was particularly good.

How you react to this 90 minute piece may depend on how willing you accept it on its own terms. Several theater knowledgeable friends said they “hated it” – I found elements of it fascinating and the questions hinted at interesting. I look forward to a play that will address these issues in a more profound way.

Kiss is at Yale Rep through Saturday, May 19. For tickets visit Yale Rep or call 203-432-1234.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com

KISS

Photo by Joan Marcus

 

Intimate Space Adds Emotional Impact to MTC’s Fine Production of “Fun Home”

funhomeBy Karen Isaacs

 Fun Home won the Tony for best musical in 2015. The Music Theater of Connecticut (MTC) is one of the first regional theaters to be given the rights to produce the show. The resulting production that runs through May 6 is excellent. Once again, artistic director Kevin Connor has done an excellent job both casting and directing this show.

In fact, the small stage with performers just feet from you, adds to the emotional impact of this show about a father, a daughter and family where secrets are often buried well below the surface.

The musical is based on a graphic novel of the same by Alison Bechdel that recounts stories from her childhood and her discovery of both herself and family secrets.

We see various episodes in the life of this typical American family – which was anything but typical. The adult Alison narrates and comments while we see “small Alison” as a child of about 8 or 10 and “Middle Alison” as a freshman in college.

The Dad, well played by Greg Roderick, is a high school English teacher who has restored their home to historic perfection and also runs the family business, a funeral home which in the family is referred to as “Fun Home.”  But he is a demanding parent who seems to easily fly off the handle if things aren’t “perfect” or done his way. Quickly you sense that the relationship with his wife strained. So we see various episodes – the Dad (Bruce) showing the house proudly to a woman from the Historic Society, shaming “Small Alison” into wearing a dress to a party, berating “Middle Alison” for her literary opinions and more.

The story is told in a non-chronological fashion so we skip around in time; this sometimes makes it difficult to know exactly when something occurs. It seems to begin in 1975 or 76 and ends before 1990.

But though we know the ending at the start, we also begin to get many hints of how it all came about. Alison is writing the novel to try to understand both herself and her father.

In college “Middle Alison” realizes that she is a lesbian, and always has been. At the same time, Bruce’s life is unraveling; his is gay and has acted upon many times sometimes with boys under the age of consent.

Yet, while at times Fun Home can be confusing, it is also moving. Jeanine Tesorii who wrote the music and Lisa Kron who wrote the book and lyrics have created characters that you care about and that you can recognize.

The three actors playing Alison at different ages are all terrific: Caitlyn Kops as “Small Alison,” Megan O’Callaghan as “Medium Alison” and Amy Griffin as Alison, who also serves as the narrator.

Greg Roderick shows us all of the dimension of Bruce, the father. Raissa Katona Bennett has the less developed role of the mother, Helen. She handles the contradictions in the character well. The role is less central to the story and depends more on non-verbal than lines. Anthony Crouchelli plays a variety of young men who seem almost interchangeable.  Abby Root plays “Middle Alison’s” girlfriend.

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. “Ring of Keys” is also excellent—sung by both Alison and “Small Alison” it talks about seeing a female delivery driver at a diner and admiring her.

Director O’Connor has done an excellent job. While the small thrust stage bring intimacy, it also forces more than half the audience to crane their necks to see some of the playing areas. Alison’s drawing table is closest to the audience. But at the back of the stage the far right is the funeral home set and on the far left an area that represents several areas, including “Middle Alison’s” dorm room, a NYC hotel room and more. For those siting on the sides, these can be hard to always see and I’m sure that at times some of the people at the front of the stage may be blocked by Alison at her drawing table.

But that is small prices to pay for the emotional impact that the intimate theater gives to this space. Those who may be uncomfortable with this type of non-traditional family may be jarred by this story.

But the rest of us, will come away with a sense of loss. The price that many paid because our society could not accept the reality of sexuality.

For tickets visit MTC or call 203-454-3883.

fun home

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