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
By Karen Isaacs
Next to Normal at TheaterWorks.
You could criticize practically nothing in this production. Rob Ruggiero cast it brilliantly with Christiane Noll, David Harris, Maya Keleher (in her professional debut), Nick Sacks and John Cardoza. Ruggiero used the aisles to add to the intimacy; it was remarkable.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hartford Stage
This Shakespeare play is done so often, it is easy to say “oh no, not again.” But Darko Tresjnak’s production was outstanding. He balanced all the elements and did not let any one of the multiple plots overtake others. His handling of the play put on by “the mechanicals” at the ends was terrific.
Fireflies at Long Wharf
Jane Alexander, Judith Ivy and Denis Ardnt gave touching performances, creating real people in this sweet romance about an older, retired school teacher, her nosy next store neighbor, a drifter. Gordon Edelstein kept it moving and preventedit from becoming saccharine.
Rags at Goodspeed
This story of Jewish immigrants on the lower east side of New York was completely revamped for this production: extensive revisions of the book, lyrics and songs. The result wasn’t perfect but with Rob Ruggiero’s sensitive direction, this show touched the heart.
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Plekey at Hartford Stage
This may have been a touring show, but James Lecesne not only was brilliant in turning his novel into a one actor play but did so much outreach in the community on the issues of teens facing bullying due to sexual orientation.
Diary of Ann Frank at Playhouse on Park
David Lewis made full use of the large and sometimes awkward stage area to create the attic in which the Franks and others hid for many years. Director Ezra Barnes cast the show almost perfectly from Isabelle Barbier as Anne to the entire ensemble. It was touching and real.
A Comedy of Errors at Hartford Stage
It is perhaps Shakespeare’s silliest play and director Darko Tresnjak emphasizes it beginning with his own colorful Mediterranean village set, a canal with real water and more. Who cares if the lines sometimes gets lost in the process?
Seder at Hartford Stage
How do you survive in a repressive regime? How do you make others, who have not lived through it, understand your choices? That was at the heart of this new play which thoroughly engaged me. Plus it had Mia Dillion once again showing her skills.
Wolves at TheaterWork
Wolves was a sensitive and insightful look into both the world of girls’ sports (in this case a soccer team) but also into the society that teenagers create for themselves. Though a few of the young actresses looked a little too old, we become totally engaged in them and their lives.
The Games Afoot at Ivoryton
Sometimes just seeing actors have a great time with a so-so play is more than enough. That was the case in this comic thriller by Ken Ludwig. It succeeded because of director Jacqueline Hubbard, set designer Daniel Nischan and a cast that just had fun.
The runners up
“Trav’lin’ –the 1920s Harlem Musical at Seven Angels.
It may not be a great musical, but this show introduced me to a lesser known composer – J. C. Johnson who wrote “This Joint is Jumpin’” and many others. The plot is simplistic but the cast was wonderful.
Noises Off at Connecticut Repertory Theater
My favorite farce got a fine production this summer with some inventive touches by director Vincent J. Cardinal, terrific casting and timing that was just about perfect.
Million Dollar Quartet at Ivoryton
This show lives and dies on the quality of the performers and here Ivoryton Playhouse and executive director Jacqui Hubbard hit the jackpot. All six of the major performers are experienced and the four “legends” have all played their roles before.
The Bridges of Madison County at MTC
The music is glorious and Kevin Connors created a production that worked very well on his three sided stage. While the chemistry didn’t seem to be there, musically the cast was strong.
The Great Tchaikovsky at Hartford Stage
Hershey Felder combines his talents as pianist, actor and director to create shows about the lives for well-known popular and classical composers. This show about Tchaikovsky was a delight.
Heartbreak House at Hartford Stage
Darko Tresnjak directed this version of Shaw’s masterpiece. It might have made the top ten BUT for one decision that Tresnjak made: he decided to make Boss Mangan a Donald Trump look/act alike. The similarity would have been recognizable without it and it distracted from the play.
Endgame at Long Wharf
Samuel Beckett writes difficult plays requiring an audience to understand his pessimistic world view and his abstract characters and plots. Gordon Edelstein directed a production that may not have been definitive but gave us outstanding performances by Reg E. Cathey, Brian Dennehy and Joe Grifasi.
Biloxi Blues at Ivoryton
This Neil Simon play, part of the Eugene trilogy got a fine production directed by Sasha Bratt that focused less on the laughs and more on the situation.
Native Son at Yale Rep
This production boasted a terrific performance by Jerod Haynes as Bigger, an urbanset by Ryan Emens and jazzy sounds by Frederick Kennedy that produced a taut, film noir feel to this story about race and prejudice.
Romeo & Juliet at Westport Country Playhouse
Mark Lamos, who is a fine director of Shakespeare gave us a pared down version of this classic tragedy that featured some fine performances – including Nicole Rodenburg as Juliet, Felicity Jones Latta as the Nurse, and Peter Francis James as Friar Lawrence, plus a magical set by Michael Yeargan. Lamos emphasized the youth and energy.
West Side Story at Ivoryton
This production had many more plusses – Mia Pinero as Maria, Natalie Madion as Anita, good direction by Todd L. Underwood – than minuses.
By Karen Isaacs
You may feel that another production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be a bore; after all it is produced all the time.
But you would be mistaken. Darko Tresnjak, Hartford Stage’s artistic director has given us a magnificent production which mines all the humor and romance of this comedy. Make sure you see it before it closes on Sunday, Oct. 8.
Though A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play almost everyone seems to know, it is not an easy play to produce. It combines a variety of worlds and attitudes from the emotionally high strung love of young people, to a fairy kingdom which shows us a marriage that has lasted centuries, plus an adult “political” marriage. It combines the monarchs with the lesser nobility and the working men of the kingdom.
Too often, these disparate elements can be unbalanced with either the young love, the slapstick or the fairy kingdom taking over the play.
Not so in this production. Each element is given its appropriate weight and attention.
If you have forgotten this play, it features two sets of young lovers: Hermia who loves Lysander despite her father’s disapproval plus Demetrius who the father has said should marry Hermia and Helena who desperately loves Demetrius. The first and last acts are set in the kingdom of Duke Theseus who is about to marry Queen Hippolyta, a warrior queen whom he bested in battle.
The middle part of the play is set during one night in a forest which is overseen by Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the fairies and their courts including Oberon’s ‘right hand person” Puck. But this old married couple is having a fight and Oberon want to embarrass Titania. Into these woods stray the four young lovers and through a mistake by Puck, soon find their infatuations all changed around. Also coming into the wood is a group of “mechanicals,” working men who are rehearsing a play to be presented in honor of the Duke’s wedding. Oberon uses one of these to trick Titania.
Of course, all is straightened out by the end of the play and all the lovers are happy.
As a theatergoer, you will also be happy from the moment you walk into the theater and see the beautifully stylized poster and program cover of an attractive woman in a 1930’s glamourous gown standing on a crescent moon.
Entering the theater you behold Alexander Dodge’s magnificent set: a European style Middle Ages gate house that would protect the city and the city skyline in the background. That gatehouse rotates and the other side, covered in foliage, makes a wonderful forest.
The costume design by Joshua Pearson continues this sense of the early 20th century, with servants in black dresses with white aprons and caps, and women in mid-calf length dresses. To stress the youth of the young lovers, the four are dressed as students with Lysander and Demetrius in short pants and blazers and the Helena and Hermia in skirts, blouses and blazers. Each carries a different piece of sports equipement.
Add to the production the effective lighting by York Kennedy, the sound by Broken Chord and projections by Lucas Clopton & Darron Alley and you are transported into this magical world.
It’s interesting that Tresjnak has made no attempt to have the fairies soar around the stage or for the court of Titania and Oberon to be played by children. Instead he lets us use our imagination. We can easily recognize that Titania and Oberon are, in fact, Theseus and Hippolyta; that Puck is Theseus’ servant, Philostrate and that the fairies surrounding Titania are servants from the manor.
The entire cast is excellent. Esau Pritchett and Scarlett Strallen are the adults in this play as both Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania. Though they play two pairs of “royals,” the characters are very different in both appearance and attitude. Just to see Hippolyta’s reaction to Theseus’ lack of sympathy for the young lovers is clear, understated and funny. When the fairy king and queen they are more direct and sensual.
As the four young lovers, Tom Pecinka as Lysander stands out though all of them are excellent. Each Jenny Leona (Hermia), Damian Jermaine Thompson (Lysander) and Fedna Laure Jacquet (Helena) may be adult performers, but they totally captured the impulsiveness of teenagers.
Puck is an essential role in the fairy kingdom; he is part servant and part knave enjoying the havoc he creates. Will Apicella may not be the best Puck I’ve seen, but he captures effectively the duality of the character: good servant and mischievous goof-up.
The third major element in this play are the mechanicals. Here, both the casting and the direction is outstanding. Each of the men creates a recognizable character with just enough humor, never becoming so broad as to draw attention away from the larger play. John Lavelle has the meaty role of Bottom, the one used by Oberon to embarrass Titania. Lavelle gives him the ego that is required but also a humanity that is also necessary.
In the last part of the play, the mechanicals put on their play of Pyramus and Thisbe that bears a resemblance to Romeo and Juliet. Sometimes this is drawn out too long or is played too broadly. This scene which can seem to go endlessly has been directed to perfection by Tresnjak. I can’t remember seeing it done any better in any of the many productions I’ve attended.
Shakespeare gave us some lines that reinforce the point of the play –“the course of true love never did run smooth” and Puck’s line “what fools these mortals be.”
Yes, but in this production the mortals may be fools, but they are also delightful.
For tickets visit hartfordstage.org or call 860-527-5151. Hartford Stage is at 50 Church Street, Hartford.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing Weeklies and zip06.com
By Karen Isaacs
Every year as theaters announce their up-coming seasons, certain productions pique my interest. I circle their dates on my calendar in anticipation.
So what have I circled for this up-coming year? Connecticut theaters offer a good mixture of the new, the classics, the familiar, and the rare. I have circled some of each.
(One caveat: Goodspeed, Ivoryton and Westport have not announced their productions for the first half of 2018. I’m sure some of those would have made my list).
Rags at Goodspeed Musicals (Oct. 6 –Dec. 10). This isn’t a new musical, but one of those shows that “failed” on Broadway but has developed a devoted following. Its authors, Charles Strouse (Bye, Bye Birdie,) and Stephen Schwartz (Pippin), have worked on the show extensively with a new book writer (David Thompson) and the revised version has been performed to good reviews. This show about turn-of-the-20th century Jewish immigrants seems timely; the score is excellent.
Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story at Seven Angels Theater, (Feb. 15 – March 11). I’m not sure if this is a one-woman show or not, but it focuses on the life and career of vaudeville star Sophie Tucker.
The Bridges of Madison County at MTC (Nov. 3-19). I love Jason Robert Brown’s score for this adaptation of the novel. I’ll be interested in how director Kevin Connors handles it on the smaller stage. I suspect it will increase the intimacy and emotional impact.
Oklahoma at Goodspeed (through Sept. 27). I’ve already seen this production and while it is quite good, it disappointed me. It didn’t live up to all I had hoped it would be.
I like Shakespeare and Connecticut is blessed with two directors who have a track record of outstanding productions of Shakespeare. Each is directing a work this fall.
Romeo & Juliet at Westport Country Playhouse (Oct. 31 to Nov. 19). Artistic Director Mark Lamos directed one of the best productions of this tragedy at Hartford Stage years ago. I still remember it and hope this production will live up to his earlier one.
Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hartford Stage (Sept. 7 to Oct. 8). Artistic Director Darko Tresjnak has given Connecticut an almost annual Shakespeare production including terrific productions of MacBeth, The Tempest, Hamlet, Twelfth Night and a riotous A Comedy of Errors. Now he is turning his hand to this classic comedy. It’s bound to be good.
It seems as though Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is having a resurgence; there were two productions in New York last season and now it is opening Yale Rep’s season (Oct 6 -28). This play is about individual responsibility, courage, economics, and environmental health, yet it was written almost 140 years ago.
Dramas & Comedies (New, Familiar & Rare)
Matthew Lopez is a fine younger playwright, whose works I’ve enjoyed (The Whipping Man, Reverberation), so I’m looking forward to The Legend of Georgia McBride at TheaterWorks (March 15 – April 22). It’s about a young man, a former Elvis impersonator who becomes a successful drag queen.
Fireflies (Oct. 11 – Nov. 5) at Long Wharf is featuring an outstanding cast including Jane Alexander. For that reason alone, it’s on my list.
The Connecticut Rep is doing Our Country’s Good (Nov. 30 – Dec. 9). It premiered at Hartford Stage many years ago and is a fascinating look at the founding of Australia and the power of theater to transform people.
Almost all of Hartford Stage’s productions sound interesting, but if I am to pick just one it would be Athol Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immortality Act, (May 10- June 3). Why? Athol Fugard is one of the great playwrights and this is an earlier work, plus it reveals more about life under apartheid in South Africa.
It’s also hard to pick which Yale Rep play will astound me: I am unfamiliar with many of them. But if forced to circle just one on my calendar, it would be Kiss, (April 27-May) by Guillermo Calederón. Why? The description sounds interesting: about people surviving in Damascus.
I did not get to see Jesse Eisenberg’s The Revisionist off-Broadway, so I’m looking forward to the Playhouse on Park production, April 11-29. It’s about a young man who visits an elderly cousin in Warsaw who is a Holocaust survivor.
These twelve selections are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the other scheduled productions, including those at the Bushnell, sound very interesting. So check them all out. Connecticut has amazing theater!
By Karen Isaacs
Connecticut’s professional theaters produced over 40 shows from June 2016 to the end of May 2017; plus various national tours played the major producing houses. Connecticut theatergoers had over 60 productions to choose from. I saw nearly 90 percent of the shows at the professional theaters and some of the national tours.
So how did the season measure up?
My top plays:
The Invisible Hand at Westport Country Playhouse
Queens for a Year at Hartford Stage
Scenes of Court Life at Yale Rep
A Comedy of Errors at Hartford Stage
The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage
Meteor Shower at Long Wharf
Endgame at Long Wharf
Heartbreak House at Hartford Stage
My top musicals:
Next to Normal at TheaterWorks
Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed
Gypsy at MTC
He Wrote Good Songs at Seven Angels
The top touring shows:
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelsky at Hartford Stage
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Marriage at the Bushnell
The King & I at the Bushnell
An American in Paris at the Bushnell
A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Bushnell
Shows that pleasantly surprised me:
Absolute Turkey at CRT
Bilox Blues at Ivoryton
Trav’ling – the Harlem Musical at Seven Angels
Half of my top plays were new – often world premieres..
Many musical productions were fine overall productions, but either not exciting shows or not exciting productions.
The Bushnell had a stellar season of national tours including the rarity of a play.
Darko Tresjnak continue to prove he is also a terrific scenic designer with Italian setting for A Comedy of Errors.
Among the Disappointments.
Unfortunately some shows that I had looked forward to disappointed me. Mostly they were well directed and well- acted, but they just did not maximize their possibilities. Sometimes it is new play which is still being developed or trying to do or say too much.
Assassins at Yale Rep. I’ve seen and liked the show in the past, but this production just missed, at least for me.
The Most Beautiful Room in New York at Long Wharf. What can I say? It didn’t live up to my expectations.
Napoli, Brooklyn at Long Wharf. More soap opera than compelling drama.
Camelot at Westport. This minimalist version was just too minimal though the performances were fine.
But even these productions had elements that were enjoyable and were well worth seeing.
TheaterWork’s production of the musical “Next to Normal” led the nominations for the 27th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards event to be held Monday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield.
The show received a total of 10 nominations, including best musical. Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s play “The Invisible Hand” led the non-musicals, receiving seven nominations, including outstanding play.
Other outstanding play nominees are: “The Comedy of Errors” at Hartford Stage; “Mary Jane” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Scenes From Court Life” at Yale Repertory Theatre and “Midsummer” at TheaterWorks.
Also nominated for outstanding musical are: “Assassins” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Bye Bye Birdie” at Goodspeed Opera House, “Man of La Mancha” at Ivoryton Playhouse and “West Side Story” at Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
The awards show, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, is free and open to the public.
Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann will be the master of ceremonies for the event. Mann joined the Connecticut theater community this year as artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
Last year’s top honorees — Yale Repertory Theatre’s play “Indecent” and Hartford Stage’s musical “Anastasia” — are currently on Broadway.
Also receiving special awards this year are James Lecesne for his work using theater as a way to connect with LGBT youths in works such as his solo show “The Absolute Brightness off Leonard Pelkey,” which was presented this spring at Hartford Stage, and Paxton Whitehead, for his longtime career in theater, especially in Connecticut
Receiving the Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement is Paulette Haupt, who is stepping down after 40 years from her position as founding artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
Other nominees are:
Actor in a play: Jordan Lage, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tom Pecinka, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Michael Doherty, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; Eric Bryant, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; M. Scott McLean, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks.
Actress in a play: Semina DeLaurentis, “George & Gracie,” Seven Angels Theatre; Emily Donahoe, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ashlie Atkinson, “Imogen Says Nothing,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Vanessa R. Butler, “Queens for a Year,” Hartford Stage; Rebecca Hart, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks
Actor in a musical: Robert Sean Leonard, “Camelot,” Westport Playhouse; Riley Costello, “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; David Harris, “Next To Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Pittsinger, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Zach Schanne, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Actress in a musical: Ruby Rakos, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Christiane Noll, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Julia Paladino, “West Side Story.” Karen Ziemba, “Gypsy, Sharon Playhouse; Talia Thiesfield, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Director of a play: Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; David Kennedy, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Marc Bruni, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tracy Brigden, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks; Gordon Edelstein, “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Director of a musical: Rob Ruggiero, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Edwards, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Melody Meitrott Libonati, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Jenn Thompson, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kevin Connors, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk.
Choreography: Denis Jones, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Chris Bailey, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Doug Shankman, West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Patricia Wilcox, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Darlene Zoller, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.
Ensemble: Cast of “Smart People,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “Trav’lin’ ” at Seven Angels Theatre; cast of “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre; cast of “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; cast of “The 39 Steps” at Ivoryton Playhouse.
Debut performance: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Dylan Frederick, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Nick Sacks, “Next to Normal, TheaterWorks.
Solo Performance: Jodi Stevens, “I’ll Eat You Last,” Music Theater of Connecticut; Jon Peterson, “He Wrote Good Songs,” Seven Angels Theatre.
Featured actor in a play: Jameal Ali, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Andre De Shields, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Cleavant Derricks, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Steve Routman, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Paxton Whitehead, “What the Butler Saw,” Westport Country Playhouse
Featured actress in a play: Miriam Silverman, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Rachel Leslie, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Mia Dillon, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Christina Pumariega, “Napoli, Brooklyn,” Long Wharf Theatre
Featured actor in a musical: Mark Nelson, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theatre; Edward Watts, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; John Cardoza, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jonny Wexler, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Rhett Guter, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Michael Wartella, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House
Featured actress in a musical: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jodi Stevens, “Gypsy,” “Music Theater of Connecticut; Katie Stewart, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Kristine Zbornik, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kate Simone, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut.
Set design: Colin McGurk, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Michael Yeargan, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theater; Wilson Chin, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Adam Rigg, “The Invisible Hand,” “Westport Country Playhouse; Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage.
Costume design: Ilona Somogyi, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Marina Draghici, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theater; Fabio Toblini, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Gregory Gale, “Thorough Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Lisa Steier, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.
Lighting design: Matthew Richards, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; John Lasiter, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Matthew Richards, “Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Christopher Bell, “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” Playhouse on Park, Hartford.
Sound design: Jane Shaw, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Fan Zhang, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Shane Rettig, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Karen Graybash, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Fitz Patton, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse.
2017 Nominations List
Outstanding Solo Performance
Jodi Stevens I’ll Eat You Last MTC
Jon Peterson He Wrote Good Songs 7 Angels
Maya Kelcher (Natalie) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Dylan Frederick Assassins Yale Rep
Nick Sacks Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Cast of… Smart People Long Wharf
Cast of… Trav’lin 7 Angels
Cast of… Meteor Shower Long Wharf
Cast of… Assassins Yale
Cast of… The 39 Steps Ivoryton
Michael Commendatore Assassins Yale
Jane Shaw Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Fan Zhang Seven Guitars Yale
Shane Retig Scenes From Court Life Yale
Karin Graybash Piano Lesson Hartford Stage
Fitz Patton Invisible Hand Westport
Outstanding Costume Design
Ilona Somogyi Heartbreak House Hartford Stage
Marina Draghici Scenes from Court Life Yale
Lisa Steier Rockin’ the Forest Playhouse on Park
Fabio Toblini Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Gregory Gale Modern Millie Goodspeed
Matthew Richards Invisible Hand Westport
Yi Zhao Assassins Yale
John Lasiter Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Matthew Richards Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Christopher Bell A Moon for the Misbegotten Playhouse on Park
Outstanding Set Design
Colin McGurk Heartbreak House Hartford Stage
Michael Yeargan Most Beautiful Room… Long Wharf
Wilson Chin Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Adam Rigg The Invisible Hand Westport
Darko Tresnjak The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Denis Jones Modern Millie Goodspeed
Chris Bailey Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Doug Shankman West Side Story STONC
Patricia Wilcox Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Darlene Zoller Rockin’ the Forest Playhouse on Park
Outstanding Featured Actor – Musical
Mark Nelson (Carlo) Most Beautiful Room…. Long Wharf
Edward Watts (Trevor) Modern Millie Goodspeed
John Cardoza (Gabe) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Jonny Wexler (Action) West Side Story STONC
Rhett Guter (Birdie) Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Michael Wartella Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Outstanding Featured Actress – Musical
Maya Keleher (Natalie) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Jodi Stevens (Secretary/Mazeppa) Gypsy MTC
Katie Stewart (Anita) West Side Story STONC
Kristine Zbornik (Mother) Bye, Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Kate Simone (Louise) Gypsy MTC
Outstanding Featured Actress – Play
Miriam Silverman (Brianne/Chaya) Mary Jane Yale
Rachel Leslie (Vera) Seven Guitars Yale
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Ruby) Seven Guitars Yale
Mia Dillon Cloud 9 Hartford Stage
Christina Pumariega (Tina) Napoli, Brooklyn Long Wharf
Outstanding Featured Actor – Play
Jameal Ali (Dar) The Invisible Hand Westport
Andre De Shields Headley) Seven Guitars Yale
Cleavant Derricks Piano lesson Hartford Stage
Steve Routman (Coles) Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Paxton Whitehead (Dr. Rance) What the Butler Saw Westport
Outstanding Director – Musical
Rob Ruggiero Next to Normal TheaterWorks
David Edwards Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Melody Libonati West Side Story STONC
Jenn Thompson Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Kevin Connors Gypsy MTC
Outstanding Director – Play
Darko Tresnjak The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
David Kennedy The Invisible Hand Westport
Marc Bruni Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Tracy Brigden Midsummer TheaterWorks
Gordon Edelstein Meteor Shower Long Wharf
Outstanding Actor – Musical
Robert Sean Leonard (Arthur) Camelot Westport
Riley Costello (Finch) How to Succeed… CRT
David Harris (Dan) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
David Pittsinger (Don Q) Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Zach Schanne (Tony) West Side Story STONC
Outstanding Actress – Musical
Ruby Rakos (Judy) Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Christiane Noll (Diana) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Julia Paladino (Maria) West Side Story STONC
Karen Ziemba (Rose) Gypsy Sharon Playhouse
Talia Thiesfield (Aldonza) Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Outstanding Actor – Play
Tom Pecinka (Betty/Edward) Cloud 9 Hartford Stage
Michael Doherty (Black Stache) Peter and the… CRT
Eric Bryant (prisoner) Invisible Hand Westport
Jordan Lage (Garfinkle) Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Scott McLean (Bob) Midsummer… TheaterWorks
Outstanding Actress – Play
Emily Donohe Mary Jane Yale
Semina DeLaurentis (Gracie) George & Gracie 7 Angels
Ashlie Atkinson (Imogen) Imogen Says Nothing Yale
Vanessa R. Butler (Solinas) Queens for a Year Hartford Stage
Rebecca Hart (Helena) Midsummer TheaterWorks
Outstanding Production – Musical
Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
West Side Story STONC
Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Outstanding Production – Play
The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Midsummer (a play with songs) TheaterWorks
Scenes From Court Life Yale
The Invisible Hand Westport
Mary Jane Yale
By Karen Isaacs
George Bernard Shaw’s masterpiece, Heartbreak House is getting a fine production at Hartford Stage through Sunday, June 11.
While many people equate Shaw with Pygmalion or its musical version, My Fair Lady, Shaw was at heart a political philosopher. You see that even in My Fair Lady with Professor Higgins’ determination to treat everyone alike, to preach how language was used to separate the classes, and more.
Shaw was also an ardent member of the social –democratic Fabian Society which questioned not only capitalism, religion and the idea of morality. His best plays raise serious ideas about these while at the same time providing audiences with interesting characters and witty dialogue. In his lesser works, it can become overlong and preachy.
Heartbreak House is one of his great plays, so it entertains you with eccentric characters while also challenging you to consider numerous ideas. It was finished in 1919, just following World War I which was devastating to Britain but was begun while the war was going on. It’s set in 1914, just before the outbreak of the war. As often happens at the beginning of wars, people are enthusiastic and almost exhilarated by the prospect.
The setting is the home of Captain Shotover, an aging, retired sea captain and inventor. He still uses nautical terms and blows a nautical whistle. In fact his home looks like a ship complete with the helm. Overseeing his house is his daughter Hesione who lives there with her husband, Hector Hushabye.
The household is disorderly in many ways. While it may look relatively grand, there isn’t a lot of money; income is dependent on Captain Shotover selling his various inventions. Hesione is not the organized lady of the house, nor her husband typical either. The house is totally disorganized. Occasionally Hector suggests he could work to help support the household, but his wife doesn’t want him to; she would not see him enough.
If the household is unconventional, so is their marriage, as we learn throughout the play.
The play opens with a young woman, Ellie Dunn, sitting reading a book and dozing off in the living room or poop deck as the Captain calls it. When the Captain discovers her, it turns out she had been invited to visit by Hesione but no one was there to greet her. It seems typical.
Why was she invited? Hesione is determined to dissuade her from marrying Boss Mangan, a much older tycoon. Ellie feels indebted to him for heling her father when his business went bankrupt. Hesione is horrified that the attractive young woman would yoke herself to this older, unattractive man.
Soon others have appear. Ariadne, the Captain’s younger daughter arrives. She is very proper having married a man her father calls a “numbskull” (Hastings Utterword) who has served around the Empire in high ranking government positions for the last 21 years. The Captain refuses to recognize to her.
Also arriving are Ellie’s father, Mazzini Dunn, who the Captain insists on confusing with a member of his crew who was a criminal. Mazzini is actually a mild-mannered man who made a mess of a business and now works for Boss Mangan, Mangan also arrives along with Randall Utterwood, Ariadne’s brother-in-law who is obviously smitten with her.
Mangan, Ellie and Mazzini have all been invited by Hesione in an effort to dissuade Ellie from marrying Boss Mangan. But while Ellie doesn’t love the Boss, she is a practical “modern woman” who views marriage much like a business deal – rich is better than poor. But she has become enamored of a gentleman she met at the National Gallery who seemed to have an adventuresome life. She is shocked to discover that he is, in fact, Hesione’s husband.
The drawing room comedy of the plot is fortunately overshadowed by the dialogue that covers everything from male-female relationships, to the way the world operates. Captain Shotover’s inventions of war and destruction earn him and the family much more than his inventions which help people.
Shaw is making many points here including that no-one is exactly what he or she seems. Ariadne seems the perfectly controlled lady but apparently has learned that if you act ladylike you can get away with almost any behavior. Hesione may seem the bohemian but is really in many ways conventional and Ellie may seem like a naïve young woman but is practical to the extreme. Even Boss Mangan and Mazzini are almost the opposites of what they appear to be.
Shaw subtitled this play “A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes” and there is certainly shadows of Chekhov in it. But while Chekhov’s characters seem more remote from the world – lost in their own illusions, Shaw’s characters are more obviously political.
Darko Tresnjak, who directed the play, said in his notes that the last lines of the play (said by Hesione and Ellie) still haunt him. The lines, which you will need to see the play to understand to what they refer are: “But what a glorious expiereince1 I hope they’ll come again tomorrow night.” and “Oh, I hope so.”
Overall Tresnjak has directed this with a sure hand except for one decision. I did not mind that a very minor character, simply called the Burglar has been removed. (This character has been omitted in other productions.) The real error is how Tresnjak has decided to portray Boss Mangan. Mangan is a capitalist, not a member of the upper classes but a man who has made a reputation of ruthlessness and the accumulation of money. He expects to run government department. He has managed to appear generous while actually manipulating people to his own advantage. The error is that Andrew Long who plays the role has been directed to play him as a caricature of President Trump. His costume including an exaggerated blond “comb over” as well as facial expressions are those of the President. This creates a shock value of laughter at the beginning and some laughs at how well Long imitates the President. But it does a disservice to the play by deflecting our attention from Mangan’s lines.
It is as if Tresjnak underestimated the ability of the audience to see the connections between Mangan and Trump or Mangan and any ruthless industrialist. A more subtle approach would have worked better.
But that is the only misstep. From the casting to the magnificent scenic design by Colin McGurk to the period costumes of Ilona Somogyi, to Matthew Richard’s lighting design that effectively directs are attention to various aspects of the play to the sound design by Jane Shaw, each and everything contributes to our understanding and appreciation of this play.
The three main characters (Captain Shotover, Hesione and Ellie) are all excellent. Miles Anderson may not seem as physically imposing as some Shotovers, but he projects the authority and the conviction needed. Charlotte Parry’s Hesione combines Bohemianism with some very conventional ideas about love and marriage. She is flighty but both warm and thoughtful. Dani De Waal as Ellie may seem compliant but reveals a spine of steel. The entire cast is excellent including Tessa Auberjonois as the ladylike and somewhat rigid Lady Utterwood. Keith Reddin was excellent as Mazzini Dunn and Stephen Barker Turner gave us a Hector who was by turns romantic but almost pathetic.
Shaw has effectively used symbolism throughout this work from the names of the characters (Captain Shotover, Hushabye, etc) to metaphors of Heartbreak House as England and the ship motif as the ship of state. It subtly raises of issue of who will be at the helm of the ship of state? The old-time ruling elites or the modern industrial/capitalist elites? What will happen to the ship? It hints at the end of the British Empire.
As with many Shaw plays, you will the theater after seeing Heartbreak House with much to think about – not only ideas but also Shaw’s razor sharp wit.
It is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Harford, through Sunday, June 11. For tickets visit Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.
By Karen Isaacs
When Anastasia opened at Hartford Stage a year ago I enjoyed it but felt it needed work. Yet I believed the show would attract an audience due to its fairy tale romance qualities, the popularity of the animated film of the 1997 and the top-notch people involved.
It’s now opened on Broadway. The pluses that delighted me at Hartford, continue to entrance. But while changes were made, the weakness of this show is its less than stellar book and a score that is ho-hum.
This is a show that young girls and women will love: it combines elements of Cinderella, My Fair Lady and Gigi: the story of a young woman transformed into the equivalent of a princess.
The basic story of Anastasia, the thought that the Tsar’s youngest daughter escaped execution, has been the basis of plays, films and even a musical (Anya) in 1965 for years. It was a gold mine for mentally disturbed women and con artists who could coach them with information. Anastasia’s grandmother lived in Paris surrounded the refugee Russian nobility. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for the role in 1956. It is based on a kernel of truth: there was a search for Anastasia and a number of imposters tried to claim the money. In the 1920s Anna Anderson, who claimed to be an amnesiac gained notoriety for her claim to be Anastasia. Most of the versions take some elements from her story and the 1952 French play by Marcelle Maurette.
The book of the show by Terrence McNally has been substantially changed from the film; gone are the animated animals and now we have complex villain in Gleb, a Communist official whose father was at the execution but who becomes attracted to Anastasia.
The musical moves from the opening at the court to the streets of St. Petersburg to Paris. The basic outline remains the same: we see the royal family before the revolution when the Dowager Empress gives her youngest granddaughter a music box before she leaves for Paris where she lives. The revolution arrives and the royal family is captured and later killed.
Soon we are in the midst of the Communist regime of the mid-1920s. A young woman is sweeping the streets; she has no memory of her past. Two men (Dmitry and Vlad) – both of whom live by their wits — know that the Dowager Empress has offered a reward for finding Anastasia; they decide to look for someone to impersonate the Princess and find the young woman. In a My Fair Lady like story, they tutor her and groom her so she can pass; occasionally she recounts a memory that surprises them.
They escape Communist Russia and travel to Paris – after some narrow escapes – where they manage to arrange a meeting with the Dowager Empresses’ companion and then the Dowager herself, who has become weary of the parade of imposters. Do you really need for anyone to tell you the ending? It is predictable.
Composer Steven Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, A Man of No Importance, Once on this Island and more), have kept some of the songs from the film including the Oscar-winning “Journey to the Past,” “Once Upon a December,” “A Rumor in St. Petersburg,” “Paris Holds the Key” and a couple of others. Many others have been added – some work really well and some seem to detract. I did like “My Petersburg,” “A Secret She Kept,” and “We’ll Go from There.”
The plusses of this show are all in the production elements, as they were in Hartford.
The production is opulent; every aspect of the production will take your breath away. Let’s start with the set by Alexander Dodge. He creates the court of Imperial Russia, Paris, and a wide variety of places in between. Particularly ingenious is his handling of the train on which Anya and her companions ride to escape Communist Russia.
Then we can praise the costumes by Linda Cho – the gowns of Imperial Russia and later the gown for the Dowager Empress — are elegant and opulent. But she goes beyond that to create authentic 1920s costumes as well. Her costumes are supplemented by the wig and hair design by Charles G. LaPointe.
Let’s praise the sound design by Peter Hylenski and the lighting by Donald Holder. I
marveled at some of the lighting effects Holder achieved including one scene where only Anya is in color.
But the highest praise must go to the video and projection design by Aaron Rhyne. His designs create three-dimensional images of St. Petersburg – the winter palace, the cathedral and so much more – Paris and the various scenes in-between.
Certainly Darko Tresnjak’s direction and concept is brilliant. He has his production team create wonderful effects, he transitions the multiple scenes and locations splendidly, gives us ghost-like flashbacks, plus he draws the best from his performers. He is aided by choreographer Peggy Hickey who creates everything from court quadrilles to folk dances and even a ballet.
Most of the performers are also terrific. Mary Beth Piel plays the Dowager Empress with both elegance and touching emotion. Derek Klena is fine as Dmitry but doesn’t really create a three dimensional character until the second act. John Bolton is Vlad, who is part comic figure and part somewhat tragic one. Ramin Karimloo is dynamic ats the villain-like character Gleb. He makes him more than just a villain; there is undercurrent of conflict between his commitment to the Party and his attraction to Anya. Caroline O’Connor plays Lily the Dowager Empress’ companion. She is excellent and brings both pathos and comedy to the part.
Christy Altomare has the difficult job of transforming a somewhat typical “Disney princess” into a real woman. She succeed partly, yet I never quite believed in her or even cared about her. She seems to lack a “spark” that the role requires. She is very effective in her songs, particularly the act one closer “Journey to the Past.”
But the problem is that the musical seems to be split between the more serious first act and act two in Paris. Two comic numbers featuring the Dowager’s lady in waiting are back to back in the second act. They seem a total distraction and interruption of the flow of the somewhat predictable plot. I was surprised they had survived the transition from the original production; at least the first of them, needed serious pruning. The momentum is also halted by an extended ballet sequence that seems overlong.
If so much was right with Anastasia, why wasn’t I totally enchanted? But the real problem for me was that I never became emotionally involved in the show; I can see My Fair Lady multiple times and always root for Eliza and even the semi-romance with Higgins. Here I wasn’t invested in the show or the characters. They seemed more two-dimensional. Pleasant but not emotionally engaging. Formulaic but well done.
Certainly it is a show that romantics and all those enchanted by Cinderella stories will enjoy. And the production values are certainly worth Broadway prices.
Anastasia is at the Broadhurst Theater, 235 w. 44th Street. Tickets are available through Telecharge.
By Karen Isaacs
Want silly fun? Then head up to Hartford Stage for Darko Tresnjak’s production of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors running through Sunday, Feb. 12.
An early work by Shakespeare, it draws on Roman comedies. It’s all about mistaken identities, slapstick and puns.
The plot is complex yet simple. A couple had twin sons and within days of their birth, purchased from a poor woman her twin sons to grow up as the servants of the boys. Soon after, during a sea voyage the ship is damaged – the wife with one son and one servant is picked up by another boat while the father with the remaining son and servant manage to return to Syracuse, a Greek city. It is now many years later when the father arrives in Ephesus (now part of Turkey) to search for his son who had left home seven years ago to try to find his brother.
But there is a law in Ephesus that forbids people from Syracuse from entering; the punishment is death but the duke gives the father (Aegeon) one day to raise the fine that will buy his freedom. Next we meet Antipholus of Syracuse who has just arrived with his servant, Dromio, to search for his brother. Before we can blink an eye, the confusions begin to occur because his brother Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio are also in the city. Soon everything is confused. Adriana, the wife of the Ephesean Antipholus finds the Syracusian one; Antipholus of Ephesus thinks Dromio of Syracuse is HIS servant, and the reverse also happens. Antipholus of Syracuse finds himself attracted to the sister (Luciana) of the wife of the local Antipolus; Luciana returns the attraction but is conflicted about letting her supposed brother-in-law woo her.
Of course, by the end of this short play – even shorter in this production – everything is straightened out. The two brothers and the two servants are reunited, the father is saved and finds his long lost wife, and the two women are about become not only sisters but sisters-in-law.
Tresnjak has capitalized on the comic elements. Unlike many Shakespeare comedies this really does not have any message about relationships, courtship or marriage. It is all exuberant fun.
Entering the theater, you see the spectacular set designed by Tresnjak. It shows a village in typical Mediterranean colors, three boats, the appearance of a canal (with real water!) and a walkway around it. It is all bright and cheerful and it signals you are in for a rollicking good time.
The play begins with two sailors making music; soon a courtesan comes down to the pier and sings and dances the popular Greek movie song, “Never on Sunday.” It gives us a clue to Tresnjak’s inspiration. He has moved the play to the 1960s – thus the cigarettes, the allusions to films like “Never on Sunday,” “Tokapi” and “Zorba, the Greek.”
We are off to the races. We have chases, scuba divers, courtesans and more. We have “beatings” that look like burlesque fights with rubber cudgels and more.
The one flaw in this fast paced production is that some of the Shakespeare gets lost. With the Greek accents and the multiple things going on, it is sometimes difficult to understand the lines. This may not be Shakespeare’s greatest poetry but it deserves to be heard.
The highlights of this production are the visual elements. In addition to the set, you have the 1960s costumes by Fabio Toblini as well as the wigs by Tom Watson and the makeup by Tommy Kurman. Matthew Richards’ lighting gives us the feeling of that Mediterranean sun. It makes you feel warm.
In addition we have terrific music composed and arranged by Alexander Svoronsky and choreography by Peggy Hickey. This isn’t a musical comedy – Rodgers and Hart did that with The Boys from Syracuse – but there is music and dance.
The cast is overall excellent from Paula Leggett Chase as Mercuri-like courtesan through the more shrewish wife (Jolly Abraham) and the more staid sister (Mahira Kakkar). But it really all depends on the two Dromios and the two Antipoluses. Alan Schmuckler (Dromio of Syracuse) and Matthew Macca (Dromio of Ephesus) totally embrace the burlesque aspects of their roles. Ryan-James Hatanaka plays the put upon husband, Antipholus of Syracuse and Tyler Lansing Weaks an as the bewildered Antipholus of Ephesus. Each are basically the straight men to the physical comedy of the Dromios.
This may not be the perfect production of this play, but it does capture all of its laughter and its colorful sets and costumes will make you think of the warm Mediterranean coast. What more could we want in the middle of winter?
A Comedy of Errors is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford through Sunday, Feb. 12. For tickets visit Hartford Stage.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
A Dangerous Title: Calling a show a “turkey” usually means that it is a total flop, but the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus is taking a chance with the title of its next show. An Absolute Turkey is by Georges Feydeau, one of the masters of French farce. This version is translated/adapted by Nicki Frei and Peter Hall and won raves in London. It’s all about a man who lusts after his friend’s wife triggering a revenge plot and a dizzying spell of complications. It runs from Thursday, Dec. 1 to Saturday, Dec. 10. For tickets call 896-486-2113 or visit CRT.
New Musical: The Yale School of Drama is presenting a new musical Bulgaria! Revolt! Created by third year Drama School student Elizabeth Dinkova who is also directing. It runs Friday, Dec. 9 to Thursday, Dec. 15 at the smaller Iseman Theater on Chapel Street. The press materials asks if one small person or nation can change the tide of history. “ From a Bulgarian village on the eve of revolution to the fantastical capitalist paradise of America, a condemned poet travels through time and space in this tragicomic new musical inspired by Geo Milev’s epic poem, September.” For tickets go to Yale Drama School or call 203-432-1234.
Where Does He Find the Time? I’m referring to Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. In the next few months he is not only directing Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors at Hartford but is also preparing the musical Anastasia, which had its world premiere in Hartford last spring, for a Broadway opening with previews beginning in March. Now it’s been announced that he will direct the Broadway production of Rear Window, an adaptation of the short story that led to the classic Hitchcock film. It is planned for some time in 2017. The production premiere in Hartford in 2015.
Be at Your Computer on Dec. 6: That’s when tickets go on sale for the annual Kids’ Night on Broadway. Many Broadway shows offer a free ticket for children 18 and young with the purchase of a full-price ticket. A 50% discount. Kids’ Night this year is Tuesday, Feb. 28 and many shows have 7 p.m. curtains. Other events are also scheduled on that day as well such as discounts on parking and food. It’s great time to introduce kids to theater but tickets for the most popular shows are snapped up fast. Don’t count on Hamilton or any other smash hit to be included. To find out more about the shows which will participate and the ways to get tickets, visit Kids Night on Broadway
New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for the musical Groundhog Day based on the popular film. It won raves in London and stars Andy Karl. It begins previews March 16. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.. It’s a show many insiders are excited about.
Tickets are also on sale for the Manhattan Theater Club’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. It stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon who will alternate in two of the main roles: Regina Hubbard Giddens and Birdie Hubbard. It begins performances March 29. Tickets are through Telecharge.
Oscar winner Cate Blanchett has a long history of stage performances but mostly in her native Australia. She’s making her Broadway debut in the Sydney Theater Company production of The Present. It’s an adaptation of Chekhov’s first play, Platonov and starts performances Saturday, Dec. 17. Tickets are available through Telecharge.
Tickets are on sale for the limited engagement of the musical Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close (the original Broadway Norma Desmond in 1994). It begins performances in February for just 16 weeks. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.
Previews are underway for A Bronx Tale, a new musical based on the Chazz Palminteri’s book and film. Interestingly, two people are being billed as the director: Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks and Oscar winning actor Robert De Niro. Tickets are available at Telecharge..
Honor for Lamos: Mark Lamos, artistic director of Westport Country Playhouse, received the John Houseman Award presented by off-Broadway’s The Acting Company at a Gala in New York. Houseman, a well-known director and actor, was the co-founder of The Acting Company. Lamos who also served as artistic director of Hartford Stage has frequently directed productions for The Acting Company. It’s a well-deserved honor.
Another Wilson Drama: Following the fine production of The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage, Yale Rep is presenting August Wilson’s Seven Guitars from Friday, Nov. 25 to Saturday, Dec. 17. The play is set in Pittsburgh in 1948 following the death of a local blues guitarist on the verge of stardom. Andre de Shields plays Hedley. For tickets, call 203-432-1234 or visit Yale Rep.
Business Takeover Comedy: Next up at Long Wharf is the comedy-drama Other People’s Money which began its life in 1988 at Hartford Stage. The show is about a greedy Wall Street businessman who buys a family owned New England factory and the young, attractive lawyer who tries to stop him from closing the company. It runs Wednesday, Nov. 23 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets, visitLong Wharf or call 203-787-4282.
Homecoming: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder made a triumphant return to Hartford in October when the national tour made a stop at the Bushnell. The show began its life at Hartford Stage before going on to Broadway and winning the Tony for best musical and Darko Tresnjak, the Tony for best musical direction. To make the visit to Hartford even more special, the touring production recouped its investment with its Hartford engagement.
More New York Notes: Indecent which began life at Yale Rep and won the CT. Critics Circle award for outstanding production last year is heading to Broadway with an opening scheduled for this Spring. Surprisingly, it will be the first play by Paula Vogel to appear on Broadway; her other shows have all run off-Broadway, including her Pulitzer Prize winner, How I Learned to Drive.
Theater on Screen: Since the success of the Metropolitan Opera productions on local film screens, theaters have followed suit including Britain’s National Theater Live productions, the Royal Shakespeare Company and an occasional Broadway show. Fathom Events will present a one-night only screening of the Broadway musical, Allegiance which stars George Takei and tells the story of the Japanese-American relocation. The broadcast will be Tuesday, Dec. 13. For information about local theaters, visit Fathom Events.