Category Archives: Connecticut Theater – Current

Raging Skillet at TheaterWorks Is Problematic Play about a Chef

By Karen Isaacs

Will you like Raging Skillet, the world premiere play by Jacques Lamarre now at TheaterWorks in Hartford through Sunday, Aug. 27?

Just answer these simple questions:

Does loud rock music split your eardrums?

Does lots of gratuitous four letter words bother you?

Do you think stereotypical, guilt inducing mothers inherently funny?

Does insulting your mother seem acceptable?

If you answered no to the first two and yes to the last two, you should rush out a get tickets to this show about a “celebrity” food writer/caterer who goes by the name of Rossi. Apparently she is well known, though as a dedicated Food Network viewer, I had never heard of her.

The play – with three characters – is based on her “humorous” memoir of the same name, which is also the name of her catering company. The premise is that this is her book launch party and the ghost of her mother shows up.  The book is hawked endlessly and, yes, you can buy it on stage after the show.

Chef Rossi, played excellently by Dana Smith-Croll, describes herself as a Jewish, Lesbian, punk rock woman and chef.

She tells stories of her up-bringing in New Jersey where Mom killed food in the microwave. Rossi (her father changed his name from Rosenthal to Ross; she changed it to Rossi, for no stated reason) started cooking what she called Jewish white trash food.  What was offered to the audience did not seem particularly interesting though I did not taste it.

She was every parents’ nightmare as a teenager, using various drugs, disobeying rules and eventually running away from home. After being arrested for selling drugs, her parents packed her off to Brooklyn and a home run by a Hasidic Jew for problem causing Jewish teenagers.

Her interest in food continued and when she can she escapes to Manhattan where she becomes first a bartender and then works her way through the various jobs in the kitchen. Obviously, she earned her stripes and has talent because she has received numerous accolades from The New York Times, Zagat, and was named one of The Knot’s best wedding caterers multiple times.

Marilyn Sokol has the unenviable job of playing her mother. She’s been dead for years but returns for the book launch. She combines all the stereotypes of both the Jewish mother – Yiddish flows abundantly – but also of any guilt-inducing ethnic mother. She is the target for her daughter’s humor and anger. Only at the end of the play, when Rossi reads her mother’s “book” does she acknowledge that her mother was an accomplished woman who earned a master’s in mathematics and played violin in a symphony.

The third character is DJ Skillit, Rossi’s sous-chef who plays a number of roles and supposedly controls the often blaring music.

Audience reaction on the official opening night was mixed. Some found the show great fun and hilarious, others said they smiled at some of the jokes while others were pretty much stony faced throughout.

The pluses to this production are the skillful direction by John Simpkins, the set by Michael Schweikardt and the performances.

Smith-Croll has the difficult job of making Rossi likeable but a rebel and, for the most part, she succeeds. At the end, you see some warmth in her and realize that the persona she creates is just that. Marilyn Sokol has a difficult with task playing Mom: she is both passive-aggressive and a stereotype. That Sokol carries it off without the least bit of embarrassment is commendable. At times the role is cringe-inducing. DJ Skillit is less a character than a device, George Salazar does a good job with this amorphous role.

It’s hard to identify the basic problem with this piece. Is it the adaptation by Jacques Lamarre? Or is it the source material? How do you convey Rossi’s image and yet make the audience both like her and identify with her? While Lamarre may be true to Rossi’s “brand” and personality, that doesn’t necessarily create a satisfying work of theater.

The press materials for this production talks about the play as an “compelling story about a mother and a daughter and the commitment to family.”  Somehow that does not come through strongly enough.

Raging Skillet, may be a play that younger audiences may be more receptive to and enjoy both her and her story more.

Given the language used, this is not a piece for children, nor those with sensitive ears. Older people may find the Rossi’s comments to and attitude towards her mother distressing.

Yet, it has fine performances.  I did not love this work, but you might.  Perhaps a glass or two of wine before the show would increase the enjoyment factor.

Raging Skillet is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Harford, through Sunday, Aug. 27.  For tickets. Call 860-527-7838.

Content courtesy of Shore Publications and

raging skillit 2 by lanny nagler

Photo by Lanny Nagler

Complete Shakespeare (Abridged) Will Have You Laughing

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Hanna Cheek, Sean Harris, Rich Hollman. Photo by Curt Henderson

By Karen Isaacs

 If you view Shakespeare as tough sledding, you will find your opinions turned upside down at Playhouse on Park’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) running through July 30.

 While this work has been around for many years, it has been revised for the 21st century and director Tom Ridgely says it took elements from two different versions. But that’s OK since this is really a vaudevillian piece.

It is a comic romp through most of Shakespeare’s plays performed by a zany three member cast: Hanna Cheek, Rich Hollman and Sean Harris, all talented clowns.

What you get in the 2-hour show is wonderful burlesques of three of Shakespeare’s most well-known works, plus romps through the others.

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Rich Hollman and Hanna Cheek. Photo by Curt Henderson

The play opens – after a hilarious introduction with a retelling of Romeo & Juliet. Not only do the three members play all the main parts, but Romeo is played by Hanna and Juliet by Rich Hollman. It’s abbreviated but amazingly all the most important elements are there.

From there they give us snippets of Shakespeare’s most gruesome play, Titus Andronicus, plus bits of Anthony and Cleopatra, as well as MacBeth performed partly as a folk song sung by a Peter, Paul and Mary clone. Even here they hit the main points of the plot.

The act ends with a compilation of the comedies – it is amazing how many of them feature similar elements – girls disguising themselves as men, separated twins, fairies and other spirits and more.

It is then that the trio realize that while they thought they had covered all of the plays, they had omitted one: Hamlet.

 So act two is all about Hamlet. They do it not only in an abbreviated version (again, Ophelia is played by Hollman), but in increasingly shortened versions, the last taking less than two minutes. They conclude with that version done backwards.

You don’t have to be an expert in Shakespeare to enjoy this though most of us have experienced at least one or two of the plays in school. My granddaughter – a soon-to-be high school junior who will be reading Hamlet next year – thoroughly enjoyed it. She had previously read and seen Romeo & Juliet and found their rendition hilarious.

It takes great talent to pull this off. While I did not feel the antic energy from them that I did the first time I saw this show – at Long Wharf Theater years ago, perhaps in the 1980s.

It might surprise you to know that this show, as well as an abridged history of America, and of sports, was developed by three American’s who called themselves The Reduced Shakespeare Company.

Director Ridgely as made fine use of the somewhat awkwardly large stage at Playhouse on Park. In keeping with the tone of the piece, costume designer Kate Bunce has made use of a variety of household items – including mops in various bright colors for wigs.

The cleverest part of the show, is when the three company members involve the audience in Ophelia’s state of mind and the conflicts she faces. While two audience members are brought on stage, the entire audience represents her id, ego and superego. Fun and enlightening.

This is perfect entertainment for anyone who thinks that Shakespeare has to be dull and difficult to understand. My granddaughter thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m sure that she gained some insights that will be useful to her study of Hamlet this fall.

For tickets, call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit Playhouse on Park..complete shakespeare

“Fade” at TheaterWorks Changes Themes at End

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Eddie Martinez and Elizabeth Ramos. Photo by Lanny Nagler

By Karen Isaacs

 When we think about stereotyping people by gender, age, ethnicity, we usually assume that it members of outside groups who do that to people unlike themeslves. Men stereotype women, whites stereoptype Africian-Americans and more.

The new play at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Fade by Tanya Saracho makes us aware of how within a group, the stereotyping can occur. Women stereotype other women, Asians stereotype other Asians and Hispanics stereotype other Hispanics.

In this case, it is two Latinos who stereotype each other including jumping to conlusions about their histories and futures.

Lucia is a newly hired writer on a popular TV show; a novelist (one book), she views this job in LA as a way to pay the bills so that she can return to her serious writing. On her first day on the job, she meets Abel, a janitor. The assumptions begin. She speaks to him in Spanish though she has never met him before; she assumes that all janitors in LA are Mexican. Abel responds in English and soon points out that while he is of Mexican heritage, his parents and he were all born and raised in the U.S.

Abel assumes she is from the Mexican elite, and to some extent he is correct. While she claims not to be by pointing out that she worked her way through college, she also lets drop that she and all her friends had maids and other household help. But they bond over some things as well.

The play is about their interactions and relationship which develops as she complains about the entire male group of writers. She is horrified by the stereotypical Latina characters on the TV and the patronizing ways of her fellow writes, all white males. It is perhaps symbolic of her outsider status that her office is a floor below all the others. One even told her she was the token minority female.

Lucia and Abel talk to each other constantly until you wonder how either gets any work done. They complain that most people mispronounce their names. She begins speaking up more in the writers’ meetings and gains some praise from her boss. She is becoming a solid member of the team. Slowly her attitude that this is just a job to pay the bills changes to one of more ambition to succeed at the studio.

During this period, you think that a romance might develop between the two. Abel is well spoken and obviously educated. In fact, he reveals that he had been a firefighter until he was arrested and jailed on a violence issue. He tells Lucia about his past and the incident that involved his daughter’s mother and sister; he is devoted to his daughter.

At one point, Lucia is working on a script and asks Abel for permission to use the reference to his tattoo – “Semper Fi” and his former firefighter status as part of the plot line. He agrees.

It is here that this play about stereotypes and connections dramatically changes course. In the last 10-15 minutes, it seems as though Lucia has been infected not only with the desire to succeed on her job but that whatever ethical standards she has have been pushed aside.

Abel happens to see the episode in which the “Semper Fi” is to be used; to his horror it includes not just that but ALL the details of the violence episode, even using his exact words that he had told Lucia.

He is angry but Lucia seems oblivious to the problem and believes he had given her blanket permission to use his life. The final scene shows Lucia in NYC as an executive at the network, callously agreeing to firesome, and Abel still a janitor.

The issue of authors using the reality of their lives and the lives of friends in their works is both common in literature (the play Collected Stories deals with it) and it is an interesting issue. What are the ethical dimensions of taking people’s stories and retelling or fictionalizing them? Must permission be granted? Do writers (and artists) necessarily betray their confidants?

But this issue enters Fade much too late in the play. It is not developed in any way. It almost seems like a way to break up the relationship and come to a conclusion. So it certainly left me unsatisfied.

Jerry Ruiz has done a fine job directing the two person cast. Eddie Martinez is a standout as Abel, giving us a multi-dimensional character. Every part of his performance rings true, and you see the conflicting emotions when he realizes that Lucia has betrayed him.

As Lucia, Elizabeth Ramos does not bring the same depth to the role; she seems more superficial but perhaps that is because author reveals less about her.

Mariana Sanchez has created an appropriate office set with a window that lets us see out to the corridor where Eddie works. That may not be realistic but it adds to the action.

Fade is one of those plays that seems to be more meaningful than it actual is and the introduction of a new topic in the last 15 minutes contributes to my leaving the performance dissatisfied.

It is at TheaterWork, 233 Pearl St., Hartford through June 30. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.

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Elizabeth Ramos and Eddie Martinez. Photo by Lanny Nagler

Seven Angels Theatre Delights with “Trav’ling – the 1930s Harlem Musical”

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Photo by Gary Rosengrand

By Karen Isaacs

 Discovering a little known composer – at least to me – and finding his works delightful and well-presented is one of the joys of being a theater critic.

That’s what happened when I saw Trav’ling – the 1930s Harlem Musical now at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury through June 11.

The music for this production – which is more revue than true musical – is by J. C. Johnson. Don’t recognize the name? We’ve all heard his songs. He wrote “This Joint Is Jumpin’” with Fats Waller with whom he collaborated for many years. But he also wrote with Andy Razaf.  The Ink Spots, Billy Eckstine, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald and Connie Boswell ( and the Boswell Sisters) were among the artists who performed and recorded his music.

The plot is slim but the emphasis is on the talented performers presenting these songs that will have your feet tapping.

It’s about three couples in Harlem in the 1930s. There’s Deacon George who sort of overseas the Harlem bloc and his niece Cherry recently arrived from Chicago to go to nursing school. Then there’s Nelson, a young man who sells Bibles but is still naïve, inexperienced and awkward with women. You can bet that Nelson and Cherry will hit it off but there will be some complications.

We have the neighborhood beautician Roz who is older and wiser, but still in love with Archie Stone, a smooth talking, womanizing traveling salesman. She thinks they have an agreement that he will not mess around in NYC.

And then there’s Billie. Billie is older and arrives in the neighborhood from New Orleans; she has mission to put to rest a romantic ghost from her past, so for a while at least she is Ethel from Mississippi.

You don’t have think much about the plot – in fact, some of it doesn’t withstand logical scrutiny. Let’s just say these three couples – yes, Billie and George become a couple – each have minor bumps on the way to a happy ending.

But if the plot is miniscule, the performances aren’t. This is a top-notch cast of experienced actors who can sing and dance and even make the story seem logical. They are backed up by a four piece orchestra, ably conducted by musical director/pianist John DiPinto.

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Jacobi Hall and Cherry Torres. Photo by Gary Rosengrant

You may not recognize the songs, but quite a few caught my attention. I’m going to be seeking out recordings to hear them again. The opening number, “Somebody Loses, Somebody Wins” is terrific as performed by Lothair Eaton as George. But there is the “Empty Bed Blues,” the jazzy “Believe It Beloved,” the danceable “Hold My Hand,” and the terrific “When You Fall in Love.” And I forgot to mention “Dancin’ with My Love.”

Each of the performers knows how to put over a song, from Teren Carter as the jivin’ and smooth talking Archie to Yewande Odetoyinbo as the long-suffering Roz. Jacobi Hall conveys the uncertainty of the young Nelson and Cherry Torres projects the innocence and joy of Ella. But I can’t leave out Miche Braden as Billie and Lothair Eaton as George; he reminds you a bit of Waller.

Paul Stancato has directed and choreographed the show with finesse. He keeps the pace moving and the tone is just about perfect – respectful of the characters but with a hint of a wink behind it all. His choreography is also good and in Hall and Torres he has talented dancers.

Stephen Dobay has created a clever set that provides an interesting backdrop for the projections by Christopher Ash. Kudos also to costume designer Janell Berte and lighting designer Keith A. Truax.

Treat yourself to this enjoyable show.

Tickets are available to Trav’ling – the 1930s Harlem Musical ­ by calling 203-757-4676 or online at Seven Angels Theatre

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Miche Braden, Cherry Torres, Yewande Odetoyinbo. Photo by Gary Rosengrant.

Judy Garland and Dorothy: the making of a star -“Chasing Rainbows” at Goodspeed

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Ruby Rakos as Judy Garland. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

By Karen Isaacs

 Chasing Rianbows the Road to Oz is a rare thing for Goodspeed – a new musical.

Recently the new musicals on the main stage have been adaptations of well-known films — It’s a Wonderful Life and last year Holiday Inn which is now on Broadway. It did not even have a workshop at their Terris Theater in Chester though some of its development was at the Johnny Mercer Writing Colony at Goodspeed.

Chasing Rainbows, running through Nov. 27, is a must for all Judy Garland and Wizard of Oz fans. It tells the story of Judy’s rise from her beginnings in Minnesota with her mother, father and two older sisters who all perform (the three sisters were known as The Gumm Sisters), to her early struggles in Hollywood and finally her casting as Dorothy.

It is poignant not just because Judy’s childhood was not ideal — though not unloving or abusive — but because we all know the later part of her life. So we cringe when her mother and others tell her she isn’t pretty, or when the studio offers pills to help her lose weight.  We know what is to come.

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The three young Gumm Sisters with father Frank. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

The show opens with the family performing in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1928 where the family owns a movie theater with vaudeville acts; soon the “young” Judy — who looks about 5– and her sisters morph into their older selves. They leave Minnesota for Hollywood under mysterious circumstances that later become clear. From the presence of the town folk and police as they leave, it seems as though they are being run out of town. But why?

They settle in eastern California where Judy’s father, Frank has purchased a rundown movie theater. We are now in the early ‘30s — the depression is raging and soon Mom feels stifled in the small town so she takes the girls and heads to Hollywood. The plan is for Judy to get a movie contract and help support the family.

Somehow Judy ends up in a studio school where she meets the teenage boy who will be renamed Mickey Rooney and others. Competition is rampant; Judy hasn’t succeeded at getting anywhere so Mom finds an engagement at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. The engagement is a bust BUT they get booked at the Oriental Theater where headliner George Jessel “discovers” Judy — still at this point Frances Gumm – and gives her the last name of Garland.

Back in Hollywood, Judy gets to sing at a black tie party thanks to Mickey where she catches the attention of a composer/pianist and L.G. Mayer’s powerful secretary. It leads to a contract.

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Michael Wartella as Mickey Rooney and Ruby Rakos as Judy. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Act 2 finds Judy under contract but not being used except to sing on the radio. L. B. Mayer didn’t like her looks – not glamorous or conventionally beautiful – and her adult sounding voice. She was barely in her early teens; too old for the cure kids roles and not ready for romantic lead roles. She was the “girl next door,” but the thought was that movie audiences didn’t want the girl-next-door, they wanted unobtainable girls.

Her big break comes when she sings at a studio bash to celebrate Clark Gable’s birthday; Judy sings the special arrangement and lyrics for “You Made Me Love You”. Soon there is talk of using her in The Wizard of Oz. The rest is history, though the show concludes with Judy convincing Mayer that the blonde wig and glamourous clothes that were planned for Dorothy were all wrong. During this time, her father move in with the family – the movie theater was a bust and there was another incident due to the father’s attraction to men. He dies while Judy is performing on the radio.

Music for the show comes from the MGM catalogue and of course, includes iconic songs from The Wizard of Oz. But not all the songs are familiar; many are more obscure songs that were used in various movies by the studio. The range of composers and lyricists is a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood talent – Arthur Freed, Walter Donaldson, Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart – as well as lesser knowns. The music has been adapted and arranged by David Libby.

The show was conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby, a Garland and Hollywood musical aficionado who worked with book writer Marc Acito with help from John Fricke, who is billed as creative consultant/historian; he has authored a number of books and articles about Garland. As with any fictionalized work, some events have been changed and some characters changed.

Any show about Judy Garland, lives and dies with the actress playing the role. It is a

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Ruby Rakos as Judy Garland. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

difficult task because she was an iconic, larger-than-life performer who is etched in almost everyone’s memory. Ruby Rakos has that nearly impossible job and in many ways she succeeds admirably. She captures a great deal of the qualities that made Garland’s voice unique without giving us an imitation of her. Rakos’ real problem is more about size. Garland was petit in height, barely 5 feet tall. Rakos is taller. So though in much of the show she is supposed to be preteen or early teens, she appears much older. When at one point, her mother mentions Judy is just 13, it was a surprise; she looked mid to late teens.

Rakos is surrounded by a talented cast, many of whom play multiple roles. Kevin Earley plays Garland’s father with a hint of the conflicted man who struggles to succeed and to be himself. It is he who first sings “I’m Always Chasing Rainbow” in the first act and he scores with his rendition. Later he and Rakos get “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.” He has a clear light baritone voice.

Sally Wilfert plays Garland’s mother, Ethel. Ethel can remind you of Mama Rose with her determination and bluntness; she is determined but you also see her love for her husband, despite his troubles.

Michael Wartella is Mickey Rooney and is certainly captures Rooney’s brashness and talent – Wartella sings and dances very well; but again he is too tall for the role. Many members of the cast play multiple roles such as Gary Milner who plays both Jessel but the composer/pianist who takes Judy under his wing at MGM. I must also mention Karen Mason who is Mayer’s starchy secretary who convinces him to give a Judy a contract and then plots to get her roles. Michael McCormick brings humor role to Mayer who was, as many Hollywood studio heads were, for his non-sequitors.

As with any jukebox musical, and this is basically what Chasing Rainbows is, in the mode of Jersey Boys and Mama Mia!, sometimes the songs feel forced into the plot – either the lyrics or the emotion don’t quite fit the characters or plot. Many of the lesser known songs selected are not well known for a reason – they are not just that interesting or memorable.

As is usual with Goodspeed productions, all elements from the orchestra to the set design which has to suggest numerous locations, lighting, costumes and sound are top notch. Also excellent is the choreography by Chris Bailey and the direction by Tyne Rafaeli.

Chasing Rainbows is not yet a finished product and it is hard to guess what its future will be. From the program insert, changes have already been made during its run and Goodspeed and more will continue to be. It is a must show for all Garland fans; for others it may depend on your interest in obscure movie musical songs and the “becoming a star” format.

It is a Goodspeed through Nov. 27. For tickets visit or call 860-873-8668.

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The cast of  Chasing Rainbows – The Road to Oz.  Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

Long Wharf’s Artistic Directors Look Back on 50 Years

Arvin Brown, Jon Jory, Gordon Edelstein, Doug Hughes

Arvin Brown, Jon Jory, Gordon Edelstein, Doug Hughes

By Karen Isaacs

 The four artistic directors who have helped Long Wharf Theater win acclaim during its 50 years history, looked back on that history on June 7 with moderator Colin McEnroe of WNPR.

Jon Jory(1965-67) founded the theater with Harlan  Kleiman. After leaving Long Wharf, he went on to become the producing director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville and served as artistic director of the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Arvin Brown (1967-1998) was hired by Jory while still a student at Yale Drama School to work with the apprentice program and children’s theater but was soon directing plays.  When Jory left, Brown took over as Artistic Director and worked closely with Managing Director  Edgar Rosenblum to establish Long Wharf’s national and international reputation. Under their guidance, Long Wharf won a Tony for best regional theater. Now Brown directs a variety of television projects  and series episodes.

Doug Hughes (1997-2001) had a comparatively short tenure at Long Wharf leaving after some disagreements with the board.  He has gone on to a successful career directing on Broadway and off-Broadway including winning a Tony award for Doubt and he currently works with the Manhattan Theater Club.

Gordon Edelstein (2002 to present) has seen several productions move to off-Broadway (My Name is Asher Lev, Satchmo at the Waldorf) and other theaters (The Glass Menagerie); he has also worked extensively with Athol Fugard.

Some highlights of the panel:

 The beginnings:

Jon Jory

Jon Jory

ory and Kleiman combed the pages of the New Haven Register and developed a list of people who attended benefits for arts organizations. They then “cold” called them to raise the initial $125,000 needed to renovate the space and start the theater.  When they had raised $85k they decided to go ahead, hoping that the donors would not let the venture fail.

            The Crucible was the first play produced by the new Long Wharf Theater in 1965.  There was no theatrical lighting for that initial production.  It was summer production.

Arvin Brown had never directed a full-length play when Jon Jory asked him to direct A Long Day’s Journey into Night with Mildred Dunnock and he worried that she and the rest of the cast would guess his inexperience.  When years later she learned about it, she was shocked.

Jory recounted that it wasn’t until he was in rehearsal for Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself that he learned from someone that he was using a translation geared for high school students.

The role of the artistic director and director:

“I think of myself as a placeholder for the audience,” Hughes said. As a director, he becomes obsolete once the audience is there. In shaping a season, Hughes said his aim was to make my enthusiasms contagious.”

“My job is to create an atmosphere where the actor’s artistry can flower,” Brown said.

Jory who feels that the audience was most important in a comedy, also believes that directors work on “infinitesimal” moments in a play. “You are at your peril if you become the audience.”

“You and the cast must have an original agreement on what you are trying to accomplish,”  Jory said.

What Long Wharf audiences expect and complain about:

Gordon Edelstein

Gordon Edelstein

Seasons that are literate, open, honest — Edelstein.  “You get complaints about everything” and referred to the scene between the puppets in The Long Xmas Ride Home and the urination in The Curse of the Starving Class.

Brown mentioned audience consternation at the ritual killing in Afore Night Comes as something that upset audiences.

Audiences at theaters like Long Wharf, Jory said have a different relationship with material because of their relationship with the theater itself. It is often almost proprietary.

Edelstein also mentioned the strong response to 16 Wounded which dealt with the Palestinian -Israeli conflict. The audience was so divided that one night two people almost came to blows in the lobby.

There is always an underground river in a play, Hughes said, and Long Wharf audiences accept that and are engaged by it.

Role of theater in society

Doug Hughes

Doug Hughes

“People are awakened to how they actually feel,” Hughes said.  “The stage is a microscope which gives audiences the gift of focus.  It awakens them to how they really feel.”

Violence on stage “is visceral in a way we’ve lost in other media,” Brown said. He referenced the  production of Streamers which actually saw people “pass out” in the theater due to the immediacy of the violence.

Memorable moments:

Stage II opened with the world premier of Wit which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, during Hughes’ tenure.

The production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Mike Nichols (who had directed the Oscar winning film) and Elaine May, his former comedy partner.  Arvin Brown directed. He recounted that the initial reading was terrific but that Nichols announced that his theory of directing was to work on Act One until it was perfect, and then the other acts “would fall into place.”  So that was what they did. The result was that the last act was not performed until one of the final rehearsals.

Arvin Brown

Arvin Brown

An additional moment from that production — Edward Albee saw the final run through. Afterwards, he said to Nichols, “When you were doing the film you said you had insight into the play. [pause]  I’m still waiting.”

For Hughes it was The Importance of Being Ernest with Christopher Evan Welch, Tony winner Jefferson Mays as Jack and Edward Hibbard as Lady Bracknell.

American Buffalo with Al Pacino was the moment for Brown.

Doug Hughes first saw a play at Long Wharf when he drove down from Harvard to see Lillian Hellman’s Autumn Gardens.  Brown added that when Hellman came to see the show, he took her the old Leon’s; when she complained to a waitress about the preparation of a dish and told the waitress to “go back and tell the chef,”  the waitress replied, “Honey, you go back and tell him.”

Jory said it was the first show, The Crucible.

            For Edelstein it was getting new plays from Athol Fugard.

Although the forum lasted just 90 plus minutes, you had the feeling that the four could have gone on telling stories and discussing their views of theater for so much longer.  You wanted to hear them.

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CT Critics Circle Give Multiple Award Nominations to Hamlet, Fiddler on the Roof, Arcadia, Kiss Me Kate and The Liar

Thomasina and Septimus Hodge in "Arcadia" at Yale Rep. Photo by Joan Marcus

Thomasina and Septimus Hodge in “Arcadia” at Yale Rep. Photo by Joan Marcus

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Karen Isaacs

 The Connecticut Critics Circle has announced nominations for its annual awards which honor outstanding productions, performances and creative work at Connecticut’s professional theaters.

The winners will be honored at an award ceremony, Monday, June 22 at 7 p.m. at the Iseman Theater on Chapel Street in New Haven. The event is open to the public but seating is limited.

Holiday Inn. Linda (Patti Murin) and Ted (Noah Racey). Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Holiday Inn. Linda (Patti Murin) and Ted (Noah Racey). Photo by Diane Sobolewski

In the major categories — outstanding production and directing — multiple nominations went to Yale Rep, Hartford Stage, Goodspeed, Ivoryton Playhouse  and Playhouse on Park. The productions represented were Arcadia, Elevada (Yale Rep), Hamlet, Reverberation, Kiss Me, Kate  (Hartford Stage), The Liar (Westport Country Playhouse),  All Shook Up (Ivoryton), Fiddler on the Roof, Holiday Inn (Goodspeed) and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Playhouse on Park).

Most of these shows also received nominations for acting and for various features of the productions including sets, costumes, lighting, sound and choreography.

 Connecticut Critics Circle Awards – 2014-2015 Nominations

Outstanding  Production of  a Play

Arcadia, Yale Rep

Reverberation. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Reverberation. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Elevada, Yale Rep

Hamlet , Hartford Stage

Reverberation, Hartford Stage

The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

Outstanding  Production of  a Musical

All Shook Up, Ivoryton

Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Playhouse on Park

 Outstanding  Actress in a Play

The Second Mrs. Wilson. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The Second Mrs. Wilson. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Laurel Casillo — Elevada, Yale Rep

Margaret Colin — Second Mrs. Wilson, Long Wharf

Keilly MacQuail — Bad Jews, Long Wharf

Nikki Walker — Intimate Apparel, Westport Country Playhouse

Shaunette Renée Wilson — The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Actor in a Play

Zach Appelman — Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Aaron Krohn — The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Luke Macfarlane — Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Tom Pecinka — Arcadia, Yale Rep

Steven Skybell — The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Actress  in a Musical

Nancy Anderson – Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed

Guys and Dolls. Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Guys and Dolls. Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Danielle Bowen – All Shook Up, Ivoryton

Elissa DeMaria – Little Shop of Horrors, MTC Mainstage

Patti Murin – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Rebecca Spigelman – Hairspray, STONC

 Outstanding  Actor  in a Musical

David Edwards – La Cage Aux Folles, Ivoryton

Preston Ellis – All Shook Up, Ivoryton

Michael Damian Fasano – Footloose, Seven Angels

Adam Heller – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Noah Racey – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

 Outstanding  Director  of a Play

James Bundy – Arcadia, Yale Rep

Jackson Gay – Elevada, Yale Rep

Penny Metropulos – The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

Darko Tresnjak – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Maxwell Williams – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Director  of a Musical

Richard Amelius – All Shook Up, Ivoryton

Gordon Greenberg – Holiday Inn, Goodpseed

Susan Haefner – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Playhouse on Park

Rob Ruggiero – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodpseed

Darko Tresnjak – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Featured  Actor in a Play

Edward James Hyland  – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Greg Keller – Elevada, Yale Rep

Andrew Long – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Carl Lundstedt  – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Max Gordon Moore – Arcadia, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Featured  Actress in a Play

Rebekah Brockman – Arcadia, Yale Rep

Rebekah Brockman – The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

Kate Forbes – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Kristin Harlow – Angels in America, Playhouse on Park

Tonya Pinkins – War, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Featured  Actress in a Musical

Elizabeth DeRosa – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Barrie Kreinik – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Kiss Me, Kate

Kiss Me, Kate

Sharon Malone – Hairspray, STONC

Susan Mosher – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Megan Sikora – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Featured  Actor  in a Musical

Scott Cote – Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed

Stephen DeRosa – Sing For Your Shakespeare, Westport Country Playhouse

Fiddler on the Roof. Photos by Diane Sobolewski

Fiddler on the Roof. Photos by Diane Sobolewski

Noah Marlowe – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

John Payonk – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Nick Reynolds – Hairspray, STONC

 Outstanding  Choreographer

Richard Amelius – All Shook Up, Ivoryton

All Shook Up

All Shook Up

Peggy Hickey – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

Denis Jones – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Alex Sanchez – Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed

David Wanstreet – Fingers and Toes, Ivoryton

 Outstanding Set  Design

Andromache Chalfant  – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Alexander Dodge – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

Alexander Dodge – Private Lives, Hartford Stage

Chika Shimizu – The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

James Youmans – Ether Dome, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Lighting  Design

David Lander – Ether Dome, Hartford Stage

John Lassiter – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Tyler Micoleau – Elevada, Yale Rep

Matthew Richards – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Matthew Richards – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Costume  Design

Tracy Christensen – Guys & Dolls, Goodspeed

Jessica Ford – The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

Kiss Me, Kate. Photos by T. Charles Erickson

Kiss Me, Kate. Photos by T. Charles Erickson

Fabio Toblini – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Fabio Toblini – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

Alejo Vietti – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

 Outstanding  Sound  Design

David Budries – Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Long Wharf

Kate Marvin – Elevada, Yale Rep

Adam Phalen – Forever, Long Wharf

Jane Shaw – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Matt Tierney – The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Ensemble

Cast of Altar Boyz – Playhouse on Park

Brandon Beaver, Nick Bernardi, Adam Cassel, Greg Laucella. Mark G. Merritt, Brock Putnam

 Cast of Picasso at the Lapin Agile – Long Wharf

Penny Balfour, Grayson DeJesus, Tom Riis Farrell, Ronald Guttman, David Margulies, Dina Shihabi, Jake Silberman, Jonathan Spivey, Robbie Tann

Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee –Playhouse on Park

Kevin Barlowski, Hillary Ekwall, Emily Kron, Steven Mooney, Maya Naff, Joel Newsome, Norman Payne, Natalie Sannes, Scott Scaffidi

 Cast of Woody Sez – TheaterWorks

David Finch, David M. Lutken, Leenya Rideout, Helen J. Russell

Outstanding  Debut

Curtis J. Cook – Brownsville Song, Long Wharf

Carl Lundstedt – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Dina Shihabi – Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Long Wharf

Brittany Vicars – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

“Woody Sez”, “Newsies” in Connecticut and Broadway Readings

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

Newsies on Tour:  The first Connecticut appearance of the national tour of Newsies which is closing on Broadway this August, isn’t at the Bushnell or the Shubert.  The honor goes to Waterbury’s Palace Theater where the tour will play Oct. 23 to 25, just four performances.  Tickets are now on sale. For tickets, visit or call 203-646-2000.  The Broadway series will continue with Jekyll & Hyde (Dec. 6-7), The Buddy Holly Story (Jan. 23-24), Sister Act (March 6-7) and I Love Lucy Live on Stage (May 30-31).

A Folk Legend: Woody Guthrie is sometimes referred to as the father of American folk revival: he influenced Peter Seeger, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and generations of performers and composers.  TheaterWorks is presenting Woody Sez which is billed as a musical event that, as the press materials say, “uses Woody’s words and songs to transport the audience through his fascinating and sometimes tragic life.”  The show runs Aug. 8 to Sept. 14. For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit

Ambitious Production: Ivoryton always produces one really big musical during the summer. This year it is Jerry Herman’s classic La Cage aux Folles which runs through Aug. 31. The musical was based on a French movie about a long established gay couple one of whom is a drag star on the Rivera and what happens when their son becomes engaged to the daughter of a very conservative politician.  You may recall the American film The Birdcage which set the movie in New Orleans.  Among the hit songs are “I Am Who I Am,” “The Best of Times Is Now,”  and “Look Over There” as well as others.  For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit

 New Blog: If you’d like to check out my reviews of both Connecticut and New York, visit my new blog:

 Broadway News: Two musicals that were expected to be big hits — Rocky the Musical (because of name recognition) and Bullets Over Broadway (because of the source material and the pedigrees of those involved) are accepting defeat and closing this month.  Both shows got mediocre reviews and few awards.  Both will lose mega-millions.  While I had no great expectations for Rocky, Bullets Over Broadway disappointed me.  It was one of the shows I was really looking forward to.

Michelle Williams has extended her contract to play Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret through Nov. 9.  The show itself is selling tickets through Jan 4.  Personally, I though Williams was the weakest member of the cast, but I still highly recommend the revival at Studio 54. Tickets are available at or 202-719-1300.

In the Works:  Development time for Broadway musicals can easily be 5 years or more and many projects disappear along the way.  But summer is the time when shows-in-the-works do New York readings to gauge reaction and interest of producers and investors. Some are revised versions of existing works, some are based on popular plays, films and TV shows, and others are totally new.  Among those getting industry readings — often with well-known talent — this summer are: Gigi with a new book. This movie musical has already had  a Broadway version in the 1970s. It will get a staged production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in January.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil  — the reading including Leslie Uggams with a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy). The score will not be original but include Southern rock, blues, gospel and songs from the American songbook.

A musical Hew-Haw, yes, it is based on the TV show, will get a workshop in September. A musical version of Bull Durham will get a production at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta this September with Will Swenson as “Crash” Davis and Melissa Errico as Annie Savoy.

Nine Wives which had a reading at Goodspeed’s Festival of New Musicals several Januarys ago got what was billed as a “developmental production” at the Sharon Playhouse in Sharon, Connecticut.

The York Theater Company in New York included a new musical about Rodgers and Hart — Falling for Make Believe– in its summer series.

A new political musical — A Woman on Top got an industry reading. It’s about a woman senator who seeks the Presidential nomination while her ex-husband seeks the same for the opposition.

Lillas White and others did a reading of a new musical Harriet based on Harriet Tubman’s life. Richard Chamberlain was part of a benefit reading at the Berkshire Theater Group of a new musical Sometimes Love about a group of contemporary New Yorkers.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publicatins and Click here for original.

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