Category Archives: Reviews

“The Chosen” at Long Wharf Is a Coming-of-Age Drama

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By Karen Isaacs

 Two boys and two fathers. Aaron Posner, in his revised adaptation of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen now at Long Wharf through Dec. 17, explores two variations of that relationship.

It is 1944 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and two teenage boys become friends despite being very different.  Reuven Malter, who sometimes serves as the narrator, attends a Yeshiva (private religious school for Jewish boys) and plays baseball. His father, David, is an editor and writer. They have a close relationship that includes a good measure of friendship.

At the game, Reuven is hit in the eye with a baseball when Danny Saunders hits a comebacker to the pitcher’s mound. Danny is an aggressive and powerful hitter. He also attends a Yeshiva, but his is a Hasidic school; his father is the rabbi. The Danny and his classmates view Reuven and his classmates as “apikorism” of Jews who are educated in the faith but deny its basic tenets.

Despite these differences, Reuven and Danny become fast friends and both fathers approve, though Reb Saunders has to “test” Reuven first.  Danny does not seem happy with having to follow in his father’s footsteps. He is secretly reading secular literature including Freud which he finds fascinating. But he is obedient to his father’s word, even when he orders Danny to not talk to Reuven.

We follow these two boys – and to some extent their fathers – through the end of the war, the liberation of the concentration camps, college and the fight over the creation of Israel.

Besides the major world issues that go on around them, this is a classic story of two boys growing up, finding their own place in the world, and learning how to separate themselves from obedience to parental authority.

This central conflict is universal. But the play also explores other issues as well – the breach between these two branches of Judaism – the Hasidim, often considered ultra-Orthodox and those who are considered observant conservative. The two view each other with suspicion and their religious views influence their world views.

As a coming-of-age story, The Chosen is excellent. It is only when it ventures into some of the other areas that this two act play comes up short. Most obvious is that we don’t learn enough about David Malter, Reuven’s father, so that some of both his actions and those of Reb Saunders do not make sense.  The two fathers have a history which would be helpful to understand.

The other area that could use more is the divergent views on the founding of Israel. You would think that Reb Saunders would be an adamant supporter of the founding of the Jewish state. He isn’t and the reasons could be clearer.

But this production directed by Gordon Edelstein does illuminate some of the issues of the play. He has gotten excellent performances from the four principal actors. Four others appear occasionally as students and others; they are mainly walk on roles with little character delineation.

It’s hard to select a standout performance from among the four principals. Each is excellent and each embodies his character. George Guidall who plays Reb Saunders returns to Long Wharf after a too long absence. He gives this character the certainty and sternness needed but shows that underneath it is an amazing understanding and warmth. He is matched by Steven Skybell as David Malter, though having to suffer two heart attacks on stage is a little much. Skybell embodies the character’s reasonableness which allows him to co-exist in this conflict neighborhood.

As the two young men, Ben Edelman as Danny Saunders uses the posture of the perennial submissive and depressed to illuminate the character’s inner dilemma: obedience to his father and his destiny versus his own desire to break out. Equally good is Max Wolkowitz as Reuven who is trying to make sense of this world.

Eugene Lee has created a terrific set; I especially liked how he handled the baseball game that begins the play. In that, he is aided by the sound design by John Gromada. In addition the lighting by Mark Barton and the costumes by Paloma Young thoroughly create the world of this play.

The Chosen succeeds as a coming-of-age story and mostly succeeds in revealing truths about this conflict within the Jewish community.

It is at Long Wharf, Long Wharf Theatre or 203-787-4282 or 800-782-8497 through Dec. 17.

 

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A New Scrooge Adds His Touch to “A Christmas Carol” at Hartford Stage

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By Karen Isaacs

 A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas has returned to Hartford Stage for its 20th year of performances through Saturday, Dec. 30. Over that time, Bill Raymond was Scrooge 17 years.

But now, the role is in the very capable hands of Michael Preston and director Rachel Alderman.

If this is the first time you are seeing this show, it is as wonderful as ever. For the long-time fans of this production, there are some subtle changes.

Preston is terrific as Scrooge. Calling on his background with the Flying Karamazov Brothers he throws in a bit of juggling and some judicious physical comedy to the delight of the audience. He also makes Scrooge sterner in the beginning. Though he prepares us for Scrooge’s well known redemption, he doesn’t soften the man at the beginning. When he begrudges Bob Cratchit a lump of coal, his wages or refuses to donate to help the needy, there is no sense that this is a game that we should be in on. It is the man.

Over the years, Raymond had added too many winks to the early scenes; he made it not only more difficult to believe Scrooge was so nasty, but also made the redemption seem less like a “miracle.”

With Preston you are amazed at the transformation. While some of the cast from previous years return to their roles, new cast has joined the group. Yet even the returnees have evolved their characters in response to the new Scrooge. Noble Shropshire is even more tart as Scrooge’s housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber, and Robert Hannon Davis’ Bob Cratchit seems even more put-upon. Alan Rust returns as both Bert, the cider vendor and the Spirit of Christmas present. His good humor is in sharp contrast to Scrooge.

Added to the cast this year are Rebecka Jones as Betty Pidgeon, the doll vendor as well as the Spirit of Christmas Past and Old Josie. Her portrayals are spot on.

Director Rachel Alderman has used multi-racial casting throughout the production with Terrell Donnell Sledge playing both Scrooge at 30 and his nephew, Fred. His performance and those of Shauna Miles as Mrs. Fezziwig and Vanessa R. Butler as both Fred’s wife, and Belle, Scrooge’s one-time fiancé are good. Yet some audience members may be disconcerted by it all or wonder about the genetics involved.

It seemed to me that this production was crisper than usual; the credit goes to Alderman.

Once again the special effects – the lighting by Robert Wierzel, scenic design by Tony Straiges, costumes by Alejo Vietti, sound and original music by John Gromada and choreography by Hope Clarke are all excellent. And of course, the marvelous flying effects by ZFX, Inc. I hope they figure out a way to let Scrooge fly also. It is a matter of logistics since he is on stage so much but casn’t be in the flying harness the entire show.

Quibbles? That the voices of the children were hard to hear. But that is a minor complaint.

If you have never seen this production, remember the subtitle: A Ghost Story of Christmas. Ghosts play a major role in the piece and their masks and actions can be appropriately eerie. This may not be the right production for younger children or any child easily scared.

For all the rest of us, this is a wonderful gift to Connecticut. Even if you’ve seen it before, you should definitely see it again this holiday season.

It is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street through Dec. 30. For tickets visit Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing Weeklies and zip06

Yale Rep’s “Native Son” Is Compelling

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By Karen Isaacs

The Yale Rep production of Native Son as written and adapted by Nambi E. Kelly is at times chilling but also confusing. It runs through December 16.

Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son, is said by some to have opened the door to African-American literature. It certainly was an important and best-selling work that is still often taught in schools. The novel cast a harsh light on the effect of societal racism has on individuals.

This adaptation, first performed in 2014 is the third such attempt. It’s hard to tell if it is more successful than the others, but for some in the audience, while well produced and well-acted, it was basically unsatisfactory.

The novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a 20-year-old African American living with his mother and younger sister and brother in a Chicago slum. He and his friends are planning a holdup of a white owned store. More importantly he is interviewed and hired by a white couple to be their chauffeur. On his first evening on the job, he is driving the young adult daughter to the university where she is a student. Instead she asks him to pick up her boyfriend, the communist organizer Jan; the two of them ask Bigger to take them to a dinner in his neighborhood. Jan and Mary drink quite a bit, and when Bigger takes her home, she can barely stand. He helps to her room and when Mary’s blind mother appears, he puts a pillow on Mary’s head. By the time the mother leaves, Mary is dead. The rest of the play deals with the snowball effects of that act.

Dramatizing this work is not easy. Kelley has decided to describe it as “a split second insider Bigger’s mind when her runs from his crime, remembers, images, two cold and snowy winter days in December 1939 and beyond.”  You can parse that sentence many ways and come up with many possible interpretations.

Is what are you seeing, what happened?  What he imagines will happen? The novel was more linear in its story telling.

The audience is left to try to figure out not only what is happening, but is it true or some sort of nightmare. In addition, a character called “The Black Rat” is omnipresent; sometimes he seems like a narrator, at other times Bigger’s conscience and sometimes as the adult version of Bigger. It definitely adds some confusion to the story telling, especially for those unfamiliar with the original novel.

Bigger – and at times The Black Rat – often talk about how African Americans have two views of themselves. The view they see and the one reflected back to them from the white society. Digger believes that he becomes what that reflected view says he is. Certainly the whites in the play view Bigger as someone less than equal and sometimes less than human. His employer Mrs. Dalton suspects he may never have slept in a bed. Her daughter, Mary and Jan, her communist boyfriend, may claim to have his interests at heart, but there is a large measure of condescension in their professed support. They know best and he should follow along; after all he can’t be expected to understand.

Of course, the detective the family hires to find their missing daughter, and the police exhibit stereotypical racism.

Overall the production is excellent.  Scenic designer Ryan Emens has created a cityscape of iron fire escapes, while lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge has given us the moody and dramatic lighting. Combined with the jazzy sounds by Frederick Kennedy, the total result is a very film noir feel to the piece.

As Bigger, Jerod Haynes combines the rashness of youth and the anger of a disenfranchised young man. He portrays the bravado but also the lack of confidence. His portrayal is riveting.

Director Seret Scott has is given this piece a film noir atmosphere which is most appropriate. She has not sugar-coated the actions or the feelings in this piece. The result is a play that will encourage to confront your own understandings about our society.

Native Son is running through Dec. 16. For tickets visit Yale Rep or call 203-432-1234.

“Christmas on the Rocks” Is a Comic Look at “What Ever Happened to?”

 

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By Karen Isaacs

Christmas on the Rocks has become a holiday staple at TheaterWorks. This year it runs through Saturday, December 23; additional performances already have been added.

Why the appeal? At first glance it simply seems like a clever twist that adds a bit of cynicism to the usual holiday fare. But after seeing it several times, I’ve realized that there are hidden depths in these delightful pieces.

Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero called upon a number of playwrights with whom he had worked and gave them a challenge. To write a short scene about whatever happened to some of the classic children characters from various Christmas movies, TV shows and literature. Most of these works ended on an up-beat note. But what really happened afterwards?

The playwrights created a series of short scenes – many of them mainly monologues. And along the way they added in not only humor but lessons of how we go on and how we can always recapture the optimism of youth.

It is set in what is described as “a local bar in a lonely corner of the cosmos, Christmas Eve.” This is your typical run-down neighborhood bar, worn and out of date. The bartender is switching between Christmas films on TV as the bar is empty.

In seven scenes, two talented actors become some of the very well-known children from these stories and occasionally a lesser known character. In the last two years, two of the stories have changed. One original piece, based on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and about Cindy Lou Who, was turned into a longer piece by its playwright Matthew Lombardo and is now playing off-Broadway.  It’s been replaced by piece written by Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas.

That piece, “My Name is KAREN!” is about the girl who created Frosty and saved him. She’s now a self-involved, angry young woman with her own live internet show. She resents all the attention that Frosty has gotten and her own obscurity. Even on her show, her followers mostly ask questions about Frosty and not her. She has taken her revenge.

New this year is a scene by Connecticut’s own Jacques Lamarre called “A Miserable Life”. You can guess that it is about one of the Bailey children, in this case ZuZu Bailey. It seems that she has been traumatized by the notion that “every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

John Cariani has written an ironic piece about Ralphie from A Christmas Story while Jeffrey Hatcher has a hysterically funny piece about Hermie, the elf who wanted to be a dentist in the TV version of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

 In a piece by Theresa Rebeck, we see a cynical Tiny Tim who believes that Scrooge had a mental breakdown; Tim also seems to have adopted some of Scrooge’s miserly attitudes. Then there’s the piece about Clara, from The Nutcracker.  She is now an aging beauty still in love with the ageless Nutcracker. And the show ends with a tender piece by Lamarre about Charlie Brown. His revelations are surprising, but the ending is sweet.

Ruggiero has directed this with a sure hand. Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkes are returning for the third or fourth year playing all of the famous characters. It is remarkable how they use voices and gestures to create totally different characters. Harris goes from the self-involved Karen, to the neurotic Zuzu and ends as the tender “Little Red-Haired Girl.

Wilkes is funny and over the top as Hermie. After that, you almost don’t recognize him when he is Tiny Tim or later as Charlie Brown.

Tom Bloom has joined the cast this year as the bartender. Like any good bartender, he listens, he reacts and occasionally he adds a succinct comment or suggestion. He is part therapist and part grandfather. It is this character that often helps the others to leave more optimistic than when they came in.

As you leave Christmas on the Rocks, you may ponder the ideas that what we assume will happen often doesn’t, but that other possibilities open to us, if only we will take advantage of them.

This show is geared to adults or near adults.

Christmas on the Rocks is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications Weeklies and zip06.com.

“A Band’s Visit” Is a Wonderful, Gentle Broadway Musical

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By Karen Isaacs

 It’s generated buzz since its debut off-Broadway last fall. Now The Band’s Visit has made it to Broadway and it lives up to all of the hype.

It is a warm story about people learning about themselves and about people they have viewed as very different from them.

The show, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses, is based on the 2007 Israeli film that won acclaim and prizes throughout the world. The film told the story of the eight member Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra that has been invited to play at the opening of an Arab cultural center in PetahTikva. Due to a language mix up (it isn’t important to understand the how) the group arrives at Beit Harikva in the Negev Desert.

In this small “no wheresville” town, there are no hotels, but a few of the residents take the band members in and provide food, shelter and companionship for one night. Bonds of friendship are formed in the few hours before the band departs on a bus to take them to their correct location.

It’s a gentle story. Yes, there is an occasional brief instances of prejudice by one or two townspeople, but other than that, the dramatic conflict is minimal.

This musical is more about people getting to know each other, than about disagreements and conflict.

Director David Cromer must be given credit for not trying to make this piece more “Broadway” then it should be. He moves the scenes along without rushing them and allows the audience to involve themselves in the characters and the story.

Each of the characters is finely drawn and beautifully performed. Tony Shalhoub plays Tewfiq, the very proper leader of the group. Though he only has one number, “Something Different” which is a duet with Dina, his performance is the backbone of this piece. It’s all in his reserve, his posture, his gestures – it is he who sets the tone and acts as the parent to the others in the orchestra.

If he is the backbone, then Dina, played by Katrina Lenk is the soul of the play. Dina is the owner of the café where the band comes to ask for directions. It is she who organizes the food and accommodations for the night. She is the leader among her group of friends. Lenk, who was brilliant in Indecent last year, is equally brilliant here. She conveys her concern for fellow humans in every way. It is she who sets the tone with the songs, “Welcome to Nowhere” and “It Is What It Is.” And it is she that that breaks through the reserve of Tewfiq.

While many of the other characters begin as “types” – they soon emerge as much more than that type. John Cariani as Itzik begins as the “man-child” who is abdicating responsibility for his wife and child, but by the end has gained new ambition.  Haled, played by Ari’el Stachel is the lothario in the band, but he too becomes much more than that as he spends the evening wondering the town with Papi, played equally well by Etai Benson. Even though some of the band members have few lines, they still create unique characters.

Each of the characters have known loss and disappointment. From the band member who started a concerto only to stop after the first few bars, to the young man who sits waiting for an out-of-service phone (in a phone booth) to ring.

These characters are separated by language, distance, nationality, religion and sometimes politics though that is not the focus on the piece.  Yet they forge human connections and learn about each other while discovering things about themselves.

It is difficult to say too much about the magnificent music and lyrics by David Yazbek. Once again, he has adapted to his environment. This score pulls from the tonal palate of both Arabic and Jewish music while still being totally accessible to American audiences. I can’t wait for the cast CD to be released.

Itamar Moses’ book is smooth and handles the transitions and changes in mood adeptly. It is not obvious but it is important.

Scott Pask has created a turntable set that allows for the multiple locations – the café, the street, Itzik’s home, Dina’s apartment, and more. The set combined with the lighting design by Tyler Micoleau and the costumes by Sarah Laux, immerse in the small town evening/night. Her costumes for the band makes a statement all by themselves. They are humorous, self-important, and yet with their powder blue color, non-threatening. This may be a police orchestra, but you can’t imagine any of them actually being police officers.

The Band’s Visit is a musical that will captivate many. It is gentle, romantic, wistful and regretful. Those who want high energy dancing, chorus numbers and more in their musicals, will be disappointed unless they are willing to accept the quiet depth of this piece.

In some ways it reminds me of Come from Away last year’s surprise hit. Both deal with ensemble casts, both feature the band as much as the singers, both leave us feeling hopeful and optimistic about people. They are different, but they are also both excellent.

A Band’s Visit is a tender, thoughtful musical that is so very worth seeing. It is at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th Street, Tickets are available through Telecharge.

 

“Shadowlands” about C.S. Lewis Is Getting an Outstanding Revival Off-Broadway

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By Karen Isaacs

 If there is a dry eye at the end of Shadowlands now Off-Broadway at the Acorn Theater, you have never experienced the loss of a loved one.

This fascinating play by William Nicholson is an unlikely love story between C. S. Lewis – specialist in medieval literature, a lay theologian, radio personality and author and an American woman and writer, Joy Gresham.

Many may remember either the original Broadway production starring Jane Alexander and Nigel Hawthorne or the 1993 film with Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins.

What makes the play so fascinating is watching the middle-aged Lewis – who many know from his Narnia books –slowly let down his barriers to the rather unconventional American.

It’s being produced by the Fellowship for Performing Arts – which describes itself as creating theatre for a Christian worldview but they don’t shy away from controversy.

Immediately when you enter the theater, you notice the set. It looks opulent for a small theater. Dark wood doors immediately set the mood – they are carved and look old and expensive. Two steps help divide the playing area. The furniture fits perfectly in the university setting of the play. Kelly James Tighe is responsible for it. It has the British 1950s style. As you see Lewis and the other faculty members gather, again the costumes by Michael Bevins are absolutely right. Not just tweeds but suits from the period. These are formal men.

When the play begins, you are taken with the blending of the set, costumes and lighting with the expertise of the actors.

Daniel Gerroll could not be more perfect as C. S. Lewis. He’s religious but secular, reserved but questioning. As the play unfolds, Gerroll peels away the layers of Lewis’ protective reserve and shows the heart of the man which has been hidden.

Uniformly the other men are excellent well. Each conveys not only the British academic sensibility but also the different types. Christopher Riley, in a sharp performance by Sean Gormley is the faculty member who is most argumentative and contrary to Lewis’ Christian beliefs. They joust constantly. Others include Dan Kremer as the aging Rev. Harry Harrington, the younger academic Dr. Maurice Oakley, Alan Gregg and John C. Vennema as Lewis’ brother Major Warnie Lewis. He isn’t a member of the faculty but accept by all. He lives with his brother in a house near campus. All are puzzled by the relationship that ensues.

The discussion early on hints at the meaning of the play. Lewis holds that God wants us to be worthy of love or lovable. He also views suffering as a normal part of life.

Into the world of academic men, comes Joy Davidman, played by Robin Abramson. Joy is a contradiction in many ways. She has gone from Jewish to atheist, to now Christian. She is a divorced American woman who has decided to take herself and her son to live in England. She is a poet. As played by Abramson, she is very American and at times very gauche. This may be overdone but it makes the dislike of the other men easier to understand and Lewis’ willingness to continue to interact with her, harder to understand.

How do they know each other? Lewis was a well-known writer and BBC personality. She had written to him and a correspondence had grown. Now that she is in England, she writes that she wants to meet Lewis, so he reluctantly invites her to tea.

For Lewis, who in this play seems to have eschewed romantic relationships, Joy is confounding. She is outspoken and impulsive – very American, while also possessing a very fine mind. Lewis finds conversation with her stimulating as they spar over numerous subjects.

The other faculty members are bewildered by Lewis’ friendship with Joy. They view her as annoying and irritating and a disruption to their quiet lives.

Slowly the two develop a relationship and Joy also develops a relationship with Warnie. For Lewis the annoyance at being disturbed changes as he finds Joy bringing a fresh air into his decades long routine.

I’ll not go into all of the events that occur, but as might be suspected, eventually Lewis acknowledges that he loves her – perhaps loving someone for the first time in his life.

The play uses the son to interject a few Narnia references and some symbolic touches most relating to an open window. It may be a little too obvious.

This play could easily become too talky, too melodramatic or too snobby. Director Christa Scott-Reed has managed to avoid most of these pitfalls. She does not let anyone overplay the elements that are in the script.

What makes this play so worth seeing is not only the overall fine production values, but the excellent acting and direction by Scott-Reed.

Yes, the ending may seem melodramatic but this is play is based on what actually happened. It reminds us that happy endings don’t exist for everyone.

Shadowlands is at the Acorn Theatre, at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street. Tickets are available through Jan. 7 at Telecharge or TheaterRow.

 

This Weekend Only — A Christmas Story – The Musical Delightful Production of a Holiday Classic

Christmas Story Photo 7 -  Susannah_Jones_as_Mother_Christopher_Swan_as_The_Old_Man_Cal_Alexander_as_Randy_and_Colton_Maurer_as_Ralphie_In_A_CHRISTMAS_STORY_edited.jpgBy Karen Isaacs

You only have this weekend to catch the touring production of A Christmas Story at the Bushnell in Hartford. A Christmas Story,  a musical adaptation of the well-known Jean Shepherd story about Ralphie who wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas, was written by the duo who wrote La La Land and the Tony winning, Dear Evan Hansen.

I’m not a big fan of the story but I absolutely loved the musical. In fact, it managed to be sentimental and cynical at the same time and really captured that world of 10 and 11 year olds.

First of all Chris Carsten serves as Jean Shepherd narrating the story. He moves seamlessly in and out of the action commenting and occasionally helping out. He is the mature Ralphie looking back on that Christmas. Tristan Klapheake plays Ralphie — and he captures the character perfectly. All the children in the cast never screech or overact. They seem like nice, normal kids.

Paul Norbrega plays the father — called the Old Man and he is terrific. His number “A Major Award” is a show stopper. Sara Zoe Budnik bring warmth and exasperation to the role of Mother.  Her number “What a Mother Does” is on its way to becoming a classic.

Add to the cast, music and lyrics that actually make sense, are tuneful and can be heard and a flexible set by Walt Spangler and you have really special holiday show.  I have the cast album and love it.

So if you have loved the movie you will definitely want to make it to the Bushnell. For tickets visit The Bushnell.

Christmas Story Christian_Dell'Edera_as_Flick_and_the_Cast_of_A_CHRISTMAS_STORY_edited

Is It Only the Competition? “The Last Match” Explores How You Keep Going

The Last MatchCast
Wilson Bethel  Tim Alex Mickiewicz  Sergei Natalia Payne  Galina Zoë Winters  Mallory

Creative
Anna Ziegler  Playwright Gaye Taylor Upchurch  Director Tim Mackabee  Set Designer Montana Blanco  Costume Designer Bradley King  Lightin

Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

It’s the semifinals of the US Open and the it pits the perennial number one tennis player in the world, the American Tim against a talented younger Russian, Sergei who has had difficulty living up to his potential.

The two know each other well since they are both on the tour. They have played each other with Tim usually winning.

But this match seems different. A rumor is circulating that this tournament will be the last for Tim; he will retire after the Open.

As the match begins – and as it goes on, we see interactions both present and past not only between the players but between each of them and the woman in their life. For Tim, it is his wife Mallory, a former tennis player who left the tour due to injury and now does some coaching. Though he may be the “golden boy” of American tennis, their life has not been always golden. But now they have a young son.

For Sergei, he has struggled on the tour but now he is with Galina, a very determined lady. They aren’t married, but Galina strongly believes in Sergei’s talent and the money that it brings.

The play is structured as tennis sets – and this match goes five sets.  The set designed by Tim Mackabee is a tennis court – we see the sideline, the playing surface and the bank of stadium lights. As they are playing, for the most part the two stand on each side of the stage, facing the audience. On the sides are the players’ boxes and the scoreboard.

At times as the game continues, we have scenes between Tim who is 34 and Sergei, between Tim and Mallory and Sergei and Galina. Through these, playwright Anna Ziegler helps us fill out the characters and their history. Tim and Mallory recall the first time they met, and parts of their life since. Tim and Sergei “banter” or on-up each other over various tennis accomplishments. Tim has been top while Sergei hasn’t made it into the top 10, despite talent.

It would spoil the play to reveal too much of either man’s history, or of how the sets go. Let’s just say it is a closely fought match.

But this play is about more than just tennis. It is about ambition, courage, national attributes and expectations, and gamesmanship by all four. It is about how you continue on when things aren’t going well; how you overcome loss (and not just of matches), and how you determine when to let go. It is also about how you motivate yourself.

For Sergei and Galena there are the interesting, but somewhat predictable comments about the Russian soul, such as (I paraphrase) “for Russians there is the impossibility of happiness.”

Wilson Bethel plays Tim and Alex Mickiewicz plays Sergei. Bethel has been a longtime tennis player (and actually gave tennis lessons) but Mickiewicz looks just as authentic as they serve, return serve and play out the points in the match. Each is excellent. Tim is Tom Brady like while Sergei is any one of a number of volatile, occasionally misbehaving professional athletes. Zoë Winters plays the earnest Mallory while Natalia Payne is the more conniving and volatile Galina.

Neither playwright Anna Ziegler not director Gaye Taylor Upchurch break any new ground in this work. At 90+ minutes, it is interesting and will leave you something to think about afterwards.

The Last Match is at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th Street, NYC through Dec. 24. Tickets are available at Roundabout Theatre.

The Last MatchCast
Wilson Bethel  Tim Alex Mickiewicz  Sergei Natalia Payne  Galina Zoë Winters  Mallory

Creative
Anna Ziegler  Playwright Gaye Taylor Upchurch  Director Tim Mackabee  Set Designer Montana Blanco  Costume Designer Bradley King  Lightin

Wilson Bethel and Alex Mickiewicz. Photo by Joan Marcus

Fans Won’t Be Disappointed in “Phantom of the Opera” at Waterbury’s Palace Theater

03. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - photo by Matthew Murphy.jpg

Derrick Davis as the Phantom. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

By Karen Isaacs

 Don’t worry – the touring production of Phantom of the Opera now at Waterbury’s Palace Theater through November 26 still has the iconic chandelier.  It also has enough special effects to entrance any pyromaniac.

I must admit that while Phantom is the longest running musical in history, I’m not a big fan. I find it overly melodramatic in all its aspects.

That said, this is a very good production. Any fan of the show should be delighted.

Since the chandelier is so much a part of everyone’s memory of the show, let’s start there. It is truly magnificent. It lowers from the ceiling and then later lowers again when it crashes, sending out a terrific lighting effect. The set by Paul Brown also does an excellent job of setting the many scenes. If the boat isn’t quite awe-inspiring, it serves its purpose well.

The same can be said for the costumes coordinated by Christine Rowland, for the original designer, the later Maria Björnson.  From a distance they look lush and expensive.

Paule Constable has created a lighting design that varies the mood effectively. Special praise to sound designer Mick Potter. It is never too loud, the orchestra never drowns out the singers and those soprano high notes never sound shrill. Quite an accomplishment in a large theater.

I’m not sure who was responsible for the various special effects – usually involving fire – but they will startle you.

This show does not necessarily require subtle acting; broad strokes for this melodramatic story are not only acceptable but necessary. But it does require excellent voices.

In that respect, the cast delivers big time. Kaitlyn Davis as Christine has an operatic soprano voice that makes you truly believe she could be a diva. Even Carlotta (played by Trista Moldovan) has a lovely voice. Remember, she is supposedly the diva whom the Phantom thinks can’t sing or act.

Derrick Davis has the perfect voice for the title role. His rendition of “The Music of the Night” is glorious. He also creates sympathy for the character. As for Raoul, Jordan Craig also has a terrific voice which blends beautifully with Kaitlyn Davis’. Their two big numbers at the end of act one are excellent.

In fact, the cast is overall top-notch.

So if you love this show, you should plan on seeing it at The Palace Theatre, 100 East Main St., Waterbury. For tickets visit Palace Theater or call 203-346-2000.

 

Westport’s “Romeo & Juliet” Is an Energetic, Ensemble Piece

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Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 Romeo & Juliet is so familiar to most of us, that sometimes attending a performance gives you that “what, again?” feeling.

That vanishes in the production currently at Westport Country Playhouse through Nov. 19.

Director Mark Lamos has always had a sure hand with Shakespeare and he proves it once again. Many years ago, at Hartford Stage he directed a production that has remained in my memory as one of the best I’ve ever seen.

I wondered if he could do it again. This production may not reach the heights of that previous one – or my memory may be playing tricks on me – but it is a very good production in all its aspects.

You may be surprised at the emotional response you will have to this piece; after all we know the ending. You may also be surprised because Juliet, played wonderfully by Nicole Rodenburg, is not your usual petite, very slender Juliet. She still looks like teenager, but she is taller and has some substance to her. She’s not Calista Flockhart, who was Juliet in the Hartford production.

But Rodenburg convinces us that she is that willful teenager who so easily becomes infatuated and so determinedly opposes her father’s wishes.

But what I remember most about this production is the energy of the ensemble cast, the boyishness of Romeo’s friends, the violent anger of Juliet’s father.

This Romeo & Juliet is more an ensemble piece than one focusing only on the young lovers. Felicity Jones Latta is a garrulous and funny Nurse without seeming to milk the laugh. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Friar Lawrence more anguished at the outcome. Peter Francis James isn’t your doddering old monk but a man of action who is dismayed when circumstances makes plan go all awry.

You can also point to the rough and tumble enthusiasm of James Cusati-Moyer as Romeo and his friends, Cole Francum as Paris and Tyler as Benvolio. These are truly teenagers who explode with energy and immaturity.

The fights and sword play were deftly choreographed by Michael Rossmy, the fight director.

Michael Yeargan has created a set that looks like a Renaissance tapestry or painting. It is filled with incredible detail and helps compensate for the minimal furniture on stage. One small complaint is that the balcony on the right of stage is so close to the front of the stage, that the view of anyone sitting on the side is partially blocked. I was craning my neck to see some of the balcony scene, despite sitting on the aisle.

To complement the set, Fabian Fidel Aguilar has created wonderful costumes that are inspired by the period.

Lamos has lighting designer Matthew Richard use soft, misty lighting at times, and bright sunlight at others. Only the balcony scene, a night scene, was too brightly lit. You did not sense that a moon was out.

Lamos has kept this play set in 15th-16th Italy. We aren’t transported to modern day or another country.

This Romeo & Juliet is a brisk, energetic and absorbing production. No, it isn’t the “best ever” but it is well worth a visit.

For tickets, contact Westport Playhouse.

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James Cusati-Moyer and Nicole Rodenburg. Photo by Carol Rosegg

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