Tag Archives: Hartford Stage

“Seder”, a World Premiere at Hartford Stage Asks Challenging Questions

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Karen Isaacs

 Philosophers and theologians for centuries have written, discussed and argued, what should someone do in periods of repression, danger, war? Do you do what is necessary to survive? Do you take a stand no matter how dangerous to yourself and your family? What if the stand would purely be symbolic, that nothing you did could change what is going on?

During the 20th century, this discussion came to the fore with the rise of Hitler and the repressive Communist regimes. (It is interesting that in the western world, we often ignore similar situations in other parts of the world.)

This is at the heart of the fascinating world premiere, Seder, now at Hartford Stage through Sunday, Nov. 12. The play by Sarah Gancher has been developed at Hartford over the past few years.

It is 2002 in Budapest; Hungary has been free of Communist rule since 1989, but it is the year of an extremely divisive election between center right and center left parties. One of the issues that had recurred since the end of Communism is the role of former party members in society and government.

Gancher has illustrated this conflict over Hungary’s past and future by setting it within one family.  Erszike, the mother, has lived through the entire Communist era. Though born a Jew, she now views herself as non-religious. She had been a loyal Communist accepting the ideology, but she had had to make difficult decisions throughout her life.

We are in her apartment where her daughter, Margit has planned a traditional Jewish Seder – or as traditional as possible. Attending will be Margit’s brother, Laci, whose job is borderline criminal and David, an American Jew who seems to have only limited success at numerous professions – law, counseling, teacher and writer. Margit is obviously attracted to David. The older sister, Judit is also expected, though no-one is sure she will arrive. She and Erizike have not spoken nor seen each other since the downfall of the Party.

The play focuses on Erszike’s story which is told in flashbacks as the evening goes on. The memories are triggered because Margit had asked David to take her mother out for the afternoon while preparations were underway. Unknowingly, he had taken her to the museum that was established at the former headquarters of both the Nazi secret police and also the Communist police. Erszike has been a secretary there. In the basement of the building is a “Wall of Murderers” – photos of people who worked there and are accused of being complicit in the spying and torture that occurred. Her photo is prominently displayed.

Margit is upset that David had taken her there, because she knows that Judit is the curator of the museum. Judit has aligned herself with the more right wing political party.

The Seder beings without Judit who arrives late and barely speaks to her mother.

During the course of the evening, at various times, Erszike steps away to recall a vivid memory: The first meeting with Attila, a member of the secret police, who notices her as a janitor, other episodes in their relationship, the 1956 uprising and more.

We learn so much of her life. She was a girl alone; her parents had died in the war, her aunt and uncle had been considered “bourgeois” by the Communist regime. She believes in the party and its ideals.  She accepts the job of secretary which involves typing up transcripts of wiretaps and interrogations. Attila demands much of her and reminds her of how much she owes him when he demurs. He even arranges her marriage to another worker in the building, Tamás, when she becomes pregnant.

None of the family know any of this. Yet the animosity between Judit and Erzike eventually force most of this out. Judit resented her mother long before now in part because she blamed her mother for Tamás’ alcoholism and eventual desertion of the family.

During the course of the evening, as the Seder hesitantly continues revelations about the past occur. Judit finds that much of her sense of self is challenged by what she learns.

Director Elizabeth Williamson has assembled a fine cast. The play focuses most on the mother and her two daughters. Mia Dillon once again gives a superb performance, moving easily from the older woman to the young girl. You believe her in both roles. Last year, Dillon won the Connecticut Critics Circle award for supporting actress for playing dual roles (one a child) in Hartford Stage’s production of Cloud Nine.

 She gives us a woman who has made choices, many that she felt were no choice at all, and has seemingly seldom looked back or examined those choices. She believes she did the things she did were for the good of her family and her children.

She also believes she did what she could to help people and in fact was warned that her bosses were aware of her losing files and changing words in the transcripts. But she also claims to not know what was going on in the basement of the building.

Birgit Huppach plays the strident and determined Judit. She is just as righteous and ambitious as any of the Communists were. She is running for office and makes a play for David because she thinks he can help her. It is an unsympathetic role and Huppach does not try to soften this woman who seems to have a very hard heart.

Margit as played by Julia Sirna-Frest is the opposite. She is a soft woman, who tries hard to please and is so obviously interested in David. It is she who wants to explore her Jewish heritage, perhaps to please David, but also she wants a family.

The male characters are more incidental to the story, but each contributes something valuable.

Steven Rattazzi is David, who is obviously the comic relief in the play. To emphasize that he is attempting to speak Hungarian, he gives unusual and funny pronunciation to the vowels in some of the dialogue. Just enough to make the point but sometimes it also generates laughs. He is a confusing character; it seems he has failed at many things, yet he also is very confident. Rattazzi manages to balance the humor and the ego of the man.

As Laci, the brother, Dustin Ingram is the disillusioned and angry one in the family. He is ready to explode at how things have gone in the recent years. Ingram gives us his anger and the possibility of violence. The father, Tamás, played by Liam Craig has the least important role in the play. He is the “passive” man who does what he is told and slowly sinks into depression. Finally Jeremy Webb plays Attila as the menacing, controlling officer who is always looking out for himself.

Nick Vaughan’s set extends the playing space as much as possible which leaves room for the flashback scenes. It shows three areas of the apartment – the kitchen, dining room and the living room. The backdrop is the wall of murderers which as the play ends becomes multi-layered. Marcus Dilliard’s lighting helps the audience recognize the flashbacks, and Jane Shaw’s sound design sets us in the appropriate time period for the flashbacks.

As you leave the theater, you will be thinking about both Erszike and Judit. But don’t be surprised if you don’t consider what you would have done in similar circumstances. How many of us have the courage to risk all when there seems no possibility of winning?

Seder is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St, Hartford, through Sunday, Nov. 119. For tickets visit Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing Weeklies and zip06.

 

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A Magical, Almost Perfect Production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Hartford Stage

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson

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.

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Jenny Leoona Photo by T. Charles Erickson

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.

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Photo by T> Charles Erickson

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

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Scarlett Strallen. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Lots to Anticipate with Pleasure in Connecticut’s Up-Coming Theater Season

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).

The Musicals:

RAGS poster 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.

bridges of madison - imageThe 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.

The Classics:

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.

midsummerMidsummer 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 posterFireflies (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!

Great Music, Fascinating Performance Combined in “Our Great Tchaikovsky” at Hartford Stage

By Karen Isaacs

 Hershey Felder has combined his considerable piano skills, with acting, writing and directing, to create a series of theater pieces on the lives of great composers.

In each piece, he becomes the composer and helps to put the music into context of the lives and times of these men.  Hartford Stage audiences have seen him as George Gershwin in George Gershwin Alone and Frederic Chopin in Monsieur Chopin.

 Now he is returning to Hartford Stage through Aug. 27 in Our Great Tchaikovsky. It is an enchanting evening of music, biography and commentary on the life of the man who gave us not only symphonies and concerti but also ballets. Felder said after the show in a talk back, that Tchaikovsky is said to be the most played classical composer annually.

Surrounded by a scenic design  suggestive of a Russian living room (designer by Felder) and wonderful lighting and projections by Christopher Ash, you are transported to 19th century Russia.

Felder has the ability to tell the biographical details of Tchaikovsky’s life and comment upon them. He becomes not only him but a few other characters in his life.

Often he is playing Tchaikovsky’s compositions while telling the story of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who was, at the age of 10, left at boarding school in St. Petersburg, hundreds of miles from home to train to become a civil servant. Already he had shown great musical talent, but his parents did not view that as an appropriate career choice. His mother died four years later.

If there is a central focus to Felder’s presentation, it is twofold: that for most of his career he was more recognized and admired outside of Russia than within it. The musical establishment, including his contemporaries, consistently found little talent in his works. It wasn’t just at the beginning when his teacher and noted pianist Nicholai Rubenstein declared that the now famous first piano concerto needed to be totally rewritten, but it continued throughout his life even with critics seeing little of value in “The Nutcracker.”

The other focus is the impact of his sexuality on his life and music. He was homosexual (though the current Russian government has declared otherwise) and may have had pedophiliac tendencies. Felder hints at this obliquely. Much of his life was spent worrying about being “outed” to authorities and the larger world.  His patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, cut off support as a condition so that her family would not reveal the information. Though he married, in part to tamp down the rumors, they separated almost immediately. Later in life, his still-wife (who had born three children by lovers) blackmailed him for money.

Tchaikovsky was criticized in Europe for being “too Russian” in his compositions, but in Russia, he was accused of being “too Western.”

Felder’s performance includes a convincing accent and a conversational manner with the audience, as well as brilliant piano playing. He includes an excerpt from his arrangement for the piano of the famous Piano Concerto No. 1.  You would like to hear more.

If there a quibble to this very enjoyable and enlightening evening, it is his connection of Tchaikovsky’s sexuality and fears of revelation with current Russian governmental policies regarding homosexuals. While the point is well taken, it pops up too often.

If you love music, this is a show you should definitely see. Tickets are available through Hartford Stage

The Hits & Misses of the 2016-17 Connecticut Theater Season

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

Interesting Observations

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.

 

“Next To Normal,” “The Invisible Hand” Tops Connecticut Theater Critics Nominations

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Next to Normal. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

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

Outstanding Debut

Maya Kelcher (Natalie)           Next to Normal           TheaterWorks

Dylan Frederick                      Assassins                     Yale Rep

Nick Sacks                              Next to Normal           TheaterWorks

Outstanding Ensemble

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

Outstanding Projections

 Michael Commendatore          Assassins                                 Yale

Outstanding Sound

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

Outstanding Lighting

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

Outstanding Choreography

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

Assassins                                 Yale

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

“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” Is Moving, Terrific One-Man Show

absolute brightness by matthew murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Karen Isaacs

Please get to Hartford Stage to see T”he Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” which is running through April 23.

It is an absorbing and touching play that will leave you shaken at the wasted lives. But it will also make you appreciate others more.

It is a one man show, but you will think the stage is populated by many people. That’s due to the brilliance of James Lecesne who both developed this play and performs it.

He frames this story as an old-fashioned detective story which helps to keep you totally engaged. He plays Chuck DeSantis, a detective in a quiet southern Jersey shore town. One day, a local hairdresser and her teenage daughter show up to report that Leonard Pelkey, the teenage nephew of the woman, has been missing for almost 24 hours.

In the next taut 70 minutes, the detective pursues first the missing person case and later, unfortunately, the murder case; the boy is found dead in a lake. During the process of investigating the case, he meets and interviews a number of people; the widow of a local mobster, the British man who with his wife runs a local drama school, some teenagers, and of course the aunt and her daughter.

Each time, Lscesne with just a change in voice, posture, accent and a few gestures, turns himself into each character. And we learn more and more about this boy, who was too “out there” for his own safety. He not only was gay but embraced a flamboyant lifestyle.

What we also learn is how Leonard touched the lives of all of the people interviewed. Yes, he was outrageous, but he also was himself.  He wasn’t going to tone down or hide who he was. He was comfortable with himself and he wanted others to be also.

It is not that he radiated goodness, but that he had, as Lecesne says “an absolute brightness.” He helped people be more comfortable with whom they were; they received a measure of courage from his willingness to be so true to himself.

It wasn’t that his life was perfect. As an outsider, he was bullied and made fun of, yet he did not return it in kind; instead he helped others be there better selves.

All too often, one person plays are static. One character talks to the audience with the occasional artificial interruption of a telephone call or doorbell. Yet, the best one-person plays, have multiple characters and dialogue that makes us believe two or more people are conversing.

This is what Lecesne gives us. In the program notes, Lescene explains that in the young adult novel of the same name which was published in 2008, the story was told by Phoebe, Leonard’s cousin. When he wrote the play, he decided to make the detective the story teller. It gives the show the added bonus of seemingly being like one of the great Hollywood film noir stores; the experienced detective, who can tell us his impressions of the people he meets. Plus we get some great lines reminiscent of any Phillip Marlowe novel.

Lecesne explains that the title refers first to the astronomical term defined as “the total amount of light produced by a star irrespective of its distance from an observer.” But here, he is using it a metaphor for how each of us “brings a particular brightness to every situation, and regardless of whether other people notice it or not, it’s still there.”

In this production is not only the absolute brightness of Leonard Pelkey that shines; it is the absolute brightness of James Lecesne that also shines.

You leave the play emotionally moved by the story and excited by the outstanding production.

It runs through April 23 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. For tickets visit Hartford Stage.

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Photo by Matthew Murphy

 

Sentimental, Classical, Cynical – Connecticut Offers Holiday Performances and Concerts for All Ages and Tastes

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It’s Bill Raymond’s last year as Scrooge at Hartford Stage.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

By Karen Isaacs

 How do you like your holiday entertainment?  Sentimental? Serious? Classical?  Popular? Young child-friendly?  Cynical?

You can find performances that will entertain you no matter how you answered the questions. Connecticut’s varied theater and musical venues are offering a wide variety of events suitable for all ages and tastes.

The Classics

Just as A Christmas Story and White Christmas are among the classic holiday films, you are bound to see on TV, A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker and The Messiah are classics of theater and music.

The most famous production of A Christmas Carol is the one that has been enchanting audiences at Hartford Stage for 19 years. It runs Friday, Nov. 25 through Friday, Dec. 30. This production which breaks box office records every year was adapted and originally directed by then Artistic Director Michael Wilson. He brought it from Fort Worth/Dallas when he arrived in Hartford and it has been a smash ever since. This production is official called – A Christmas Carol—A Ghost Story of Christmas. It features lots of ghosts – not just Marley – and they fly around the stage. It also features music of the period, but this is NOT a musical. Many of the cast members have returned year after year.

Bill Raymond has announced that this is his last year as Scrooge. As Michael Wilson has said, “Bill Raymond and I created Hartford Stage’s A Christmas Carol together 19 years ago.  He has, for 17 of the last 19 years, put his inimitable, distinctive mark on one of the greatest characters of English literature.  He joins actors such as Lionel Barrymore, Alistair Sims, Albert Finney and George C. Scott in an elite club of extraordinary actors who have left their indelible mark on Dickens’ classic story of redemption and grace.”

Each year the cast is joined by area children and students from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School. The show is recommended for children eight and older, though my granddaughters were about six when they started seeing it. The ghosts can be scary, so use your own judgement.

As part of the production, Holiday Market Days are held before specific Saturday and Sunday matinees. Local artisans offer unique gift items for sale in the lobby between 12:30 and 2 p.m.

For information contact Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.

nhso-elm-city-girls-choir

Elm City Girls Choir

Handel’s The Messiah is the most famous piece of classical holiday music. While many groups perform it during the holiday season, the New Haven Symphony together with the Christ Church Choir will offer four performances conducted by Maestro William Boughton.  The performances kick off on Thursday, Dec. 15 at Woolsey Hall in New Haven. At that performance there will concession sales and other features that raise money for the New Haven Community Soup Kitchen. Additional performances are Friday, Dec. 16 at Sacred Heart University Chapel, Fairfield; Saturday, Dec. 17 at the First Congregational Church, Madison; and Sunday, Dec. 18 at the Performing Arts Center at Middletown High School. Tickets and information are available New Haven Symphony or 203-865-0831.

The Kate in Old Saybrook will present the Annual Handel “Messiah” Sing (or Listen!) on Sunday, Dec. 18. The professional soloists and the chorus of talented singers conduct a sing-a-long for everyone. Or you can just listen. Contact The Kate or 877-503-1286 for information and tickets.

The Nutcracker is the classic holiday ballet and many dance groups offer their versions of it. New Haven Ballet presents its production of the Tchaikovsky classic at the Shubert Theater from Friday, Dec. 9 to Sunday, Dec. 11. It features students from the Ballet and live music by the Ballet Orchestra. Guest artists from major ballet companies dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

If those dates or location aren’t convenient, the Nutmeg Ballet will present its production at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18. The cast includes professional trainees from the Nutmeg Conservatory of the Arts. Visit The Bushnell.

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The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Would you like to see a more irreverent take on The Nutcracker? The Bushnell is presenting The Hip-Hop Nutcracker which is described as a holiday mash-up of the classic. There’s a DJ, a violinist, dancers and Kurtis Blow as the special guest MC. It’s on Sunday, Dec. 4. Visit The Bushnell.

The Kate is also presenting the Bolshoi Ballet’s Nutcracker on its HD screen on Sunday, Dec. 17.

For Younger Children

 Younger children (from 3 to 8 or 9) may get restless at a full-length production that is 2 hours or more even if it has an intermission. But rest assured, Connecticut’s performing venues have not forgotten them during the holidays. And while these may be ideal for children, they often pleasures for the adults accompanying them.

downtown-cabaret-frostyBridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret Theater has had a well-respected children’s theater that runs year around for decades. It is geared to children below pre-teen age and has the added benefit that it is set up as a cabaret: round tables and you can either purchase or bring food and drink that will help keep younger kids occupied. For the holiday season the theater will offer its take on Frosty, the Snowman which runs through Thursday, Dec. 29. Tickets are quite reasonable but many weekend dates sell out early. For tickets visit Downtown Cabaret or call 203-576-1636.

A little farther afield, Westport Country Playhouse is presenting A Very Electric Christmas produced by the Lightwire Theatre on Sunday, Dec. 18. As the press materials the show includes “timeless holiday hit tunes by Nat King Cole, Mariah Carey, Tchaikovsky, and more.  Santa’s helpers are putting the final touches on presents as a young bird finds himself lost at the North Pole.  As he makes his way home, he meets dancing poinsettias, Nutcracker soldiers, and other festive characters. Recommended for ages 5 and up. For tickets visit Westport Country Playhouse or call 888-927-7529.

The Bushnell is once again presenting Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: the Musical which is based on the classic TV show. It’s the third year that Rudolph, Santa and the other reindeers will delight the entire family. It runs Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10. Visit The Bushnell.

Another Frosty is at The Kate on Sunday, Dec. 11. The Theatreworks USA production features original music. The plot has been changed from the popular TV version. In this version, “A young orphan named Billy discovers magic in a stolen hat. When he places the hat on a snowman’s head, the snowman comes to life! But can Frosty the Snowman help Billy find his real family in time for Christmas?” It’s recommended for K-5. Visit The Kate.

Celtic Holidays

 I don’t know when it happened, but concerts on the theme of Celtic Christmas have become very popular; it probably traces back to the very popular Irish Tenors and their concerts and TV shows. So for lovers of all things Celtic, there are many choices.

The Kate has too such shows. On Saturday, Dec. 3 the Tartan Terrors performs Christmas Celtic Style which includes comedy, music and dance. On Thursday, Dec. 22, Cherish the Ladies, a Celtic Christmas features five talented women. According the press materials, the evening includes “a blend of virtuoso instrumental talents, beautiful vocals, captivating arrangements, and stunning step dancing. “ Visit The Kate.

Lyman Center at Southern Connecticut State University presents Christmas with the Celtic Tenors on Sunday, Dec. 18. Matthew Gilsenan, James Nelson and Daryl Simpson preform music from classical to folk to Irish and pop. Recently they have added a more contemporary edge. For tickets, visit Lyman Auditorium.

More Music

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James Sinclair of Orchestra New England.

Orchestra New England gets the holiday season off with its  37th annual Colonial Concert on Saturday, Nov. 26 at United Church on the Green, New Haven. Under the direction of James Sinclair, the concert takes us back to the music and atmosphere of the Colonial Era with a mixture of familiar classical music, holiday music and some long forgotten music. Wigs, candles and waistcoats as Thomas Jefferson, minister to France, visits New Haven. For tickets, call 203-776-4690 or visit Orchestra New England

The Elm City Girls’ Choir will join the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s Pops Concert, Holiday Extravaganza. The two shows, Saturday, Dec. 10 (at Hamden Middle School) and Sunday, Dec. 11 (Shelton High School) almost always sell out early. It features a mixture of light classics as well as popular holiday music and carols. Santa often appears and there is a sing-along. Tickets and information are available New Haven Symphony or 203-865-0831.

The Hartford Symphony annually presents its Holiday Cirque Spectacular under conductor Carolyn Kuan at The Bushnell. While the Symphony plays various holiday inspired music, the Cirque de la Sumphonie which includes aerialists, contortionists and jugglers perform. Visit The Bushnell..

The Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus and the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus both have holiday concerts. These are talented musicians and their shows feature great arrangements and often some humor. The HGMC performs A Wish Come True! Friday to Sunday, Dec. 2-4 at the Aetna Theater at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. For tickets. Tickets are available at HGMC.

CTGMC performs its holiday show Christmas Stories Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18 at the theater at the Co-op High School for the Arts on College Street, New Haven. For information and tickets visit CTGMC

Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven has had a men and boys choir since the 1880s and added a Girls and Men Choir in 2003. The two choirs have toured and performed throughout the US, Canada and England. This year’s concert includes Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and carols from The Alfred Burt Carol Collection. These were written by Burt, a well-known American composer and sent as annual Christmas cards. The annual Christmas Concert is on Friday, Dec. 16. A donation is requested; for information visit: Trinity Chruch on the Green or 203-776-2616.

The Humorous and Cynical

 twSometimes we need some spice mixed with our holiday good feelings. TheaterWorks in Hartford is bringing back its very successful Christmas on the Rocks from Tuesday, Nov. 29 to Friday, Dec. 23. It’s accurately described as “an offbeat collection of twisted holiday tales”. A number of current playwrights have contributed scenes that show how the children from famous Christmas tales – from Ralphie and Tiny Tim to Charlie Brown and Clara from The Nutcracker turned out as adults. This year, a new scene has been added. Last year’s cast — Ronn Carroll as the bartender, Jenn Harris as the female characters and Matthew Wilkas as the male return. Tickets are on sale at TheaterWorks or 860-527-7838.

The Kate presents Will & Anthony’s Broadway Holiday on Friday, Dec. 2. Will and Anthony Nunziata are a singing and comedy duo (they are brothers).  It’s billed as  reminiscent of the classic Christmas specials of Bing Crosby with a contemporary flair and celebrates the joys of life, music and family. The concert includes fresh takes on classic Christmas songs along with Broadway hits and Italian music. Expect to hear such songs as “Joy to the World,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” ”Silent Night,” “The Christmas Song,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “O Sole Mio” and more. Tickets are at The Kate.

The Santaland Diaries, based on David Sedaris’ book takes the stage at the Shubert in New Haven, Friday, Nov. 25 to Sunday, Nov. 27. The one man show recounts the adventures of an out-of-work actor who becomes one of Santa’s elves at the Macy’s on 34th Street. It’s a behind-the-scenes look. Call the box office at 203-562-5666 or visit Shubert.

playhouse-on-park-mama-dWest Hartford’s Playhouse on Park is presenting a “strictly adult” show, Mama D’s Chirstimas Stocking, described as a celebration of all things sexy and bawdy in an evening of music, dance and comedy. Shows begin December 9 and run on selected dates to December 30. Plus there is a special New Year’s Eve show with lots of extras. For tickets, please call our box office at 860-523-5900 x10 or visit Playhouse on Park.

More Classics

mtc Connecticut’s Joe Landry adapted the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life  into an unique stage presentation. The holiday classic is brought to live as a live 1940s radio broadcast complete with microphones and the sound effects man. This show has been performed throughout the country. You can see it this year at MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) in Norwalk weekends, Friday Dec. 9 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets call 203-454-3883 or visit MTC.

shubert-elfElf became a new classic almost from the time the film starring Will Ferrell and old time stars was released in 2003. In 2010 Elf – the Musical hit Broadway earning several Tony nominations. Each year since then, there’s been a tour of the show. This year, Elf – the Musical at the Shubert in New Haven from Tuesday, Dec. 20 to Saturday, Dec. 24. I enjoyed the show and the CD; it is a tuneful delight. Call the box office at 203-562-5666 or visit Shubert.

Ivoryton Playhouse is continuing its multi-part Christmas story, The Bells of Dublin with Part III: A New York Fairytale. Once again it is written and directed by artistic director Jacqueline Hubbard. This year, Paddy brings his whole family to NYC for the holidays where on Christmas Eve at O’Lunney’s Pub, Maggie the bag lady settles in to weave a story of the holidays. The Christmas carols, Irish songs and a little vaudeville.  R. Bruce Connelly heads the cast of audience favorites. It runs Wednesday, Dec. 7 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-767-7318.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.

 

If Queens for a Year Doesn’t Anger You, You Weren’t Listening

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

By Karen Isaacs

After seeing the world premiere of the disturbing new play, Queens for a Year, at Hartford Stage (through Sunday, Oct. 2), I thought of the country-western song, “Mama, Don’t Let Your Sons Grow Up to Be Cowboys” except I was changing the lyrics to “Mama, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Soldiers.”

This is a play about the sexualizing of women soldiers in today’s military. We have all read about the horrendous numbers of sexual assaults, rapes and harassment incidents our women in the military continue to face and the inadequacy of any safeguards or punishments. It is similar to what it was for all women 50 years ago who dared to report a rape or assault – intimidation, blame, punishment and scrutiny of their personal lives.

If it is really as bad as playwright T. D. Mitchell shows – and unfortunately simple research shows that it is — all citizens, not just women, should be marching and demanding change. Mitchell (a woman) is best known as a writer and script editor on the TV series Army Wives, but she has written other works with a military theme.

The play is about a military family but in this case it has been the women who have served. Told in flashback fashion, often fragmentary flashbacks, it is the story of 2nd Lt. Molly Solinas, a career Marine with deployments to Iraq under her belt.  We see her in Iraq, in a classroom for officers and at her Grandmother’s house in Virginia.

The Lieutenant has returned to the house with PFC Amanda Lewis to escape what has happened to them both. The house is run by her grandmother Gunny Molly Walker (Charlotte Maier) who was a gunnery mate in the Marines during the Vietnam War. She runs the house with military precision maintaining the same routines and terminology that she learned in the service. Solinas’ great grandmother Lucy MacGregor also lives there; she served in WWII at a time when Marine women were taught how to apply make-up during basic training and were required to use a particular shade of red lipstick that matched the red on their uniforms. She too is not only proud but gung-ho though she is slowing losing her grip. Solinas’s aunt, Lucy Walker also resides in the house; she served in Desert Storm but received a dishonorable discharge because she was gay.

The only family member who escaped the military mentality is Solinas’ mother, Mae Walker, who is peace activist and midwife living separately. Solinas’ is the result of a relationship Mae had while in the Peace Corps in Central America. It is Mae who opens and closes the show.

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Why have Solinas and Lewis left camp? In flashbacks and in conversations we see what happens to Lewis. A good Marine with a future in the military, she is young (just 20) and has been deployed. Something happens – we aren’t sure what but assume it is sexual in nature – and when she seeks medical assistance, the staff puts in a request for her transfer. Her Staff Sergeant is NOT happy and berates her; it is obvious that he doesn’t like women in the military. He suggests that she can become a PFC if she “improves his morale” – this has only one meaning.

The title, Queens for a Year, is defined in the program as a “derogatory term for a female soldier or Marine serving her overseas tour of duty year, implying that even an ‘ugly’ female gets away with slacking off and being unduly treated as a queen, due to the stark lack of available women in a culture and profession of heterosexual males.”

As Lewis explains to one of the older women, all women in the military are categorized as “sluts, bitches or dykes.”  She goes on to say that one sexual encounter leads to the “slut” label and if the woman does not continue in that behavior, she is considered a “bitch.” She concludes that it better to adopt the “bitch” label from the very beginning.

Lewis turned to Solinas for support and advice, but a female Captain tells Solinas to stay out of it for the good of her career. When Lewis goes forward, a female officer cross examines her in a degrading way – asking questions about when she lost her virginity, if the Staff Sergeant was circumcised and when she doesn’t remember, implies she is lying.

Solinas has obviously testified for Lewis; the result was the Staff Sergeant has left her a graphic picture of what he will do to them both. That is why they have fled.

In the later parts of the second act, Solinas has lured the Staff Sergeant to find them; does

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

she hope for a reconciliation or something more? Unfortunately, her family who was not supposed to be home, comes back early so all are in the house when the unseen Sergeant drives up to the house, apparently drunk. I won’t spoil the ending of this confrontation.

The problem the play showcases is real.  A Rand Corporation report in 2014, cited the Marines has having the highest percentage of reported sexual assaults of any branch of the service (over 8%). Even the military itself reported 8.4% of Marine women reported “unwanted sexual contact” which is how they term it.

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson

This year, Time magazine reported on what happens to women – including officers – who do report sexual assaults. Medical documentation and other reports and paperwork often goes missing. The women are questioned about their sexual histories and are accused of having engaged in consensual sex and then changing their minds, of “acting inappropriately” and other offenses. They are often given general discharges which hinder them in civilian life. Even the appeal process of those discharges is Kafkaesque – the Navy, for example, assumes the discharge is correct unless the person can present “clear and substantial evidence” that the Navy was wrong. Few of the discharges are changed.

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand of New York has led the fight to force the military to be more accurate in their reporting, to improve the military justice system and to consider moving these cases from the military justice system into civilian courts. Her efforts and those of other senators and representatives have gone nowhere.

Director Lucie Tieberghien has assembled a fine production team and cast that completly inhabits the characters and situations. Daniel Conway’s two level scenic design moves us from barracks to Iraq to courtroom to Gunny’s Virginia home.  Beth Goldenberg’s costumes are mostly military garb but she helps develop the characters of Solinas’ family through the costumes for Mae, Gunny, Lucy and Grandma Lu. The lighting by Robert Perry combined with the sound design by Victoria Deiorio sets us in the various place realistically, particularly in the climatic last scene.

The cast is excellent. Jamie Rezanour and Mat Hostetler play a variety of roles – the Captain, the prosecutor, the Staff Sergeant and more.

Each of the leading and supporting cast is excellent. Vanessa R. Butler as Solinas embodies

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

the professional soldier who has not totally lost her conscience but who thinks in terms of military strategy and solutions. You wonder what she could have been had she not been encultured into the military life by her grandmother, aunt and great-grandmother.

Sarah Nicole Deaver is PFC Amanda Lewis; her gestures, tones and expression range from the girl from the dysfunctional background trying to escape to the emerging strong woman. She shows you her vulnerability, uncertainty and the admiration she has for Salinas.

Charlotte Maier as Gunny gives us a woman who has been so consumed by her military experience that she cannot be a civilian. Mary Bacon is the softer, more loving and warm as Solinas’ mother. Both Heidi Armbruster as the aunt and Alice Cannon as the great grandmother also create real characters.

It is to the credit of the author, the director and the actors that we become emotionally connected to these characters.

Perhaps the most disturbing elements of the play are the military cadences that members of the cast chant. Throughout the play, these call and response “songs” become more and more graphic and misogynistic. According to a program note, these are actual cadences though not all are “officially sanctioned.”

After seeing this play, if you don’t want to demand that the military truly solve the problem of sexual assault and harassment which affects not just military women but military men and civilian women and men as well, you should examine your conscience.

Queens for a Year is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford through Sunday, Oct. 2. For tickets visit Hartford Stage  or call 860-527-5151.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing and zip06.com.

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Casting, Controversy, Season Schedules

By Karen Isaacs

Bierko Comes to Long Wharf: Craig Bierko, who was nominated for a Tony for his performance as Harold Hill in the Broadway revival of The Music Man and is now on UnREAL on Lifetime, has joined the cast of Meteor Shower by Steve Martin which opens the Long Wharf season. The show runs Wednesday, Sept. 28 to Sunday, Oct. 23. For tickets visit Long Wharf or call 203-787-4282

Auditions for Kids: Hartford Stage will be auditioning children 5-13 for its annual production of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas from Tuesday, Sept. 20 to Thursday, Sept. 22. Auditions are by appointment only.  For information about preparation and requirements or appointments email Auditions.

This Year in Waterbury: The season at Seven Angels Theatre has been finalized. It opens with A Room of My Own, a semi-autobiographical comedy about a writer in a wacky family; it runs Thursday, Sept. 22 to Sunday, Oct. 16. Next is the return of Jon Peterson with a one man show about Anthony Newley: He Wrote Good Songs from Nov. 3 to 27. From Feb. 9 to March 3 is George and Gracie: The Early Years about the early life of George Burns and Gracie Allen. R. Bruce Connelly and Semina De Laurentis star. Jesus Christ Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical runs from March 23 to April 23. The season concludes with Trav’lin –The 1930s Harlem Musical which recalls the period and features the music and lyrics of Harlem Renaissance composer J. C. Johnson. It runs May 11 to June 11. Tickets are available at 203-757-4676.

King Arthur:  Robert Sean Leonard will be King Arthur in Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Camelot which runs Tuesday, Oct. 4 to Sunday, Oct. 30. It is billed as a “reimagined” production directed by Mark Lamos. While Leonard may be known for his work in the TV series House, he has numerous Broadway credits and received a Tony Award and another Tony nomination. For tickets – which are going fast – visit Westport or call 888-927-7529.

Chasing Rainbows:  Goodspeed’s new musical, Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz which is how Judy Garland became a young star, is in rehearsals preparing for its opening Friday, Sept. 16. Of course, the show features many of the songs she made famous and also includes the making of The Wizard of Oz film which was supposed to star Shirley Temple. Goodspeed has a number of special evenings scheduled including a Saturday wine tasting (Sept. 17), teen nights, meet the cast, and others. For information and tickets visit Goodspeed or call 860-873-8668.

 Classic to Contemporary:  Westport Country Playhouse has announced its 2017 season, its 87th.  It opens (May 30 to June 17) with the British comedy Lettice and Lovage which was a 1990 Tony nominee. Following is the 2014-15 Obie (off—Broadway) Award winner for Best New American Play, Appropriate which runs July 11 to 29.  Grounded, a solo production that won the 2016 Lucille Lortel Award in that category and an award at the Edinburg Fringe Festival runs Aug. 15 to Sept. 2. Sex with Strangers, which runs Sept. 26 to Oct. 14 is about a modern relationship in the digital age. The season concludes with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Oct. 31 to Nov. 19), directed by Mark Lamos, who is well known for his fine Shakespeare production. I still remember his production at Hartford Stage starring a young Calista Flockhart. For information and tickets contact Westport or call 888-927-7529.

Curtain Up: MTC (Music Theatre of Connecticut) in Norwalk opens its season with Gypsy from Friday, Sept. 9 to Sunday, Sept. 25. The iconic show features a cast of solid Broadway professionals. For tickets visit MTC or call 203-454-3883.

Investors Hard to Find: Even Barbra Streisand has problems finding investors. The most recent rumor is that the planned film version of Gypsy that has been talked about for years, is now in doubt again due to the withdrawal of an investor and distributor.

Controversy: Bay Street Theater on Long Island, had planned a concert reading of the new Stephen Schwartz and Phillip LaZenik musical Prince of Egypt, which is based on a film about an Egyptian prince who learns his true identity. Schwartz’ song for the film,“When You Believe” won an Oscar. That was the plan and the concert was cast with some high powered Broadway veterans. But the concert was cancelled after complaints that the cast was not diverse. Apparently there were not just complaints but comments on social media and online which the director termed “harassment” and “bullying.”  This is not the first time recently that a controversy has erupted over casting.

New York Notes:  The Berkshire Theatre Group is transferring its well-received production of Fiorello! to Off-Broadway this fall. It begins previews Sun., Sept. 4 at the East 13th Street Theater. For tickets visit Fiorello or call 800-833-3006. The Pearl Theatre is reviving A Taste of Honey, last seen 35 years ago. Austin Pendleton directs. It runs Tues., Sept 6 to Sun., Oct. 16q. For tickets visit pearltheatre.org or call 212-563-9261. Another off-Broadway Theater – Primary Stages is opening its season with Horton Foote’s The Roads to Home directed by Michael Wilson, former artistic director of Hartford Stage. The production stars Harriet Harris, Devon Abner and Haille Foot. It begins performances Tues., Sept. 13. For tickets visit Primary Stages or call 212-352-3101

New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for Heisenberg which stars Mary Louis Parker at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. It begins previews on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Tickets are available through Telecharge.  Jenn Gambatese who starred at Goodspeed in Annie Get Your Gun and has numerous Broadway credits is replacing Sierra Boggess in School of Rock on Broadway. Tickets are also on sale for the revival of Falsettos starring Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells and Stephanie J. Block. The William Finn/James Lapine musical begins previews Thursday, Sept. 29 for a limited run. Ticketmaster is handling tickets.

CRT Season:  The Connecticut Repertory Theater which performs on the UConn campus in Storrs is the last of the Connecticut theaters to announce its 2016-17 schedule. It begins with an ambitious play: Shakespeare’s King Lear from Thurs., Oct. 6 to Sun., Oct. 16. This coincides with the exhibition of a rare Shakespeare first folio to the campus (Thur., Sept 1 to Sun., Sept. 25) via the Folger Shakespeare Library’s tour.  Changing gears, the second show if a translation of the Feydeau farce Le Dindon, called An Absolute Turkey, from Dec. 1 to 10. In 2017, Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty will play Feb. 23 to March 5 followed by Shrek: The Musical from April 20 to 30. Please call 860-486-2113 for information and subscriptions. Tickets for individual performances go on sale Sept. 1. Information is available at CRT.

Broadway People: He’s hot! Lin-Manuel Miranda has left his show Hamilton but he won’t be resting anytime soon. He’s working on the film version of his first hit, In the Heights, which is now a “go” because of the Hamilton success. He’s also signed to co-star in the 2018 Disney film that will be a sequel, Mary Poppins Returns. Emily Blunt will play Poppins. It’s a new story (set in London in the 1930s) and a new score. Angela Lansbury is not retiring; she’s returning to Broadway in 2017-18 in a revival of The Chalk Garden. She’ll be over 90 when it opens. Joe Mantello has been directing more than acting recently; he had two well received shows on Broadway last season. But he’s pulling out his acting talents to co-star with Sally Fields in a revival of The Glass Menagerie that begins previews next February. Sam Gold will direct.

On the Road to Broadway: Lots of shows have Broadway aspirations, but few make it and even fewer succeed. Among the shows that are supposedly enroute is Josephine, about the legendary American performer Josephine Baker who was a major star in Paris. It just played in Florida and producers say the next stop in Broadway.  Grammy nominee Deborah Cox starred. The musical version of From Here to Eternity with lyrics by Tim Rice has played London, but made its US debut at the Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival this summer. Who knows if it makes it to Broadway; if you’re interested, there is a London cast album. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty will have Anastasia on Broadway next spring and their other new musical, The Little Dancer is also continuing development. After a production at the Kennedy Center in 2014, extensive revisions were done on the book. It’s inspired by a sculpture by Edgar Degas.

From East Haddam to Broadway:  A musical that began life at the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals in 2013 will make it to Broadway. Come From Away tells the inspiring story of the residents in the Gander, Newfoundland area who hosted thousands of stranded air travelers when their flights were diverted to Gander on Sept. 11, 2001. From Goodspeed’s Festival, the show has more recently had successful runs at the La Jolla Playhouse, the Seattle Repertory Theater and will soon open at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC before going on to Toronto and then Broadway. It’s scheduled to open in February.

 

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