Tag Archives: James Bundy

Assassins at Yale Rep – A Musical that’s both Chilling and Entertaining

Assassins 3_edited

Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 The Yale Rep is producing the musical that Steven Sondheim considers one of his best – Assassins through April 8.

Sondheim and book writer John Weidman have interwoven the stories and motivations of eight individuals who either attempted to or succeeded in assassinating the President of the U.S.

Through this, they explore both our national inclination to violence, our celebrity culture and the alienation of these individual to our society.

Some of these people you will know but others have become mere footnotes in history books or totally forgotten.

The show is set in an arcade with a shooting gallery like those that give out stuffed animals and other cheap prizes at carnivals. But here the gallery says “Shoot a President” and the prize is fame or infamy. The assassins all have a grudge of some sort and lashing out at the office of President is one way they think that they can assuage it. For some, the grudge is more a result of mental illness or delusions than any reality. The reasons often have nothing to do with politics or policies.

The musical – which is one act, approximately 100 minutes long – opens and closes with the two most famous assassins – John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald. In “The Ballad of Booth” we envision his last moments before he is shot and killed. His rationale is very clear: to him, Lincoln destroyed the South and became both a dictator and traitor.  Booth famously said, “Sic semper tyrannis” (Latin for “Thus always to tyrants,”) after shooting Lincoln.  But the Balladeer (a folk singer character who comments on much of the action) wonders if Booth didn’t do it because he was losing his acting talent and was envious of his brother, Edgar who was the first great American actor.

It seems as though Booth is often on the scene either commenting on the action of the others or egging them on.

As the musical progresses, the lives and actions of the other assassins intertwine. We meet Giuseppe Zangara who attempted to kill President-elect Franklin Roosevelt in Miami and did kill the mayor. We meet Charles Guiteau who killed President Garfield; he wanted to be ambassador to France and to sell his book.  Then there is Leon Czolgosz who killed McKinley. His motives seem to concern the plight of the working man of the period.

Of course, there are the more recent assassination attempts: these are represented by four deluded individuals. Samuel Byck planned to kill Nixon by high jacking a plane and crashing it into the White House. Both Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore tried to kill Ford, in almost laughable attempts and John Hinckley did shoot, but not kill Reagan out of love for the actress Jodi Foster.

The final episode is Booth and the others urging Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot Kennedy. Booth tells him it is the only way he will be famous and the others believe his act will revive their fame.

Sondheim’s music often reflects the popular music of the period, with Booth getting a ballad and Guiteau a cakewalk. The songs reflect the attitudes – Booth and the others sing at the end “everybody’s got the right to be happy.”  Hickley and Fromme sing of their love for Jodi Foster and Charles Manson, respectively.

 

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Dylan Frederick as the Balladeer. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Despite the dark subject matter there is humor. Sara Jane Moore seems to constantly be either losing her gun in her voluminous purse or shooting it off accidently, frightening all around her. Guiteau swings between religiosity (“I am going to the Lordy”) to desire to promote his book. Samuel Byck carries on long imaginary conversations with Lenny Bernstein and other celebrities of the late ‘60s.

A group of bystanders comment on the action and at times play the various victims.

James Bundy, the director has used a variety of visual effects to create the scenes. On the sides of the University Theater, are projections often of the targets of the assassins. The shooting gallery is dark – no flashing neon lights drawing people in.

Casting is crucial for this piece, and Yale has assembled a fine cast of actor/singers. Robert

Assassins 4

Austin Durant as teh Proprietor and Robert Lenzi as John Willes Booth. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

 

Lenzi has the good looks of an actor for Booth as well as a fine voice; Stephen DeRosa overplays the humor as Guiteau but P. J. Griffith gives a touching portrait of the immigrant working man, Leon Czolgosz. As the two women, Lauren Molina creates a fanatical “Squeaky” Fromme and Julia Murney is convincing as the more maternal but equally scattered Sara Jane Moore. Lucas Dixon shows us a bland John Hickley, while Stanley Bahorek presents Zanagara as a man who attempted to kill FDR because he had a constant stomach ache.  Richard R. Henry is talkative Samuel Byck.

All of them sing well. Credit should go to the lighting by Yi Zhao and sound by Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts and the projections by Michael Commendatore. David Dorman did the choreography; I would have liked more references to the dances of the period in which the assassinations occurred.

Assassins is both entertaining and chilling. It should encourage all of us to consider what the American dream is and how those who cannot achieve it react.

For tickets, visit Yale Rep  or call 203-432-1234.

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Lauren Molina as “Squeaky” Fromme and Julia Murney as Sara Jane Moore. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

“Assassins” at Yale Rep – Is it Sondheim’s Best Musical?

Assassins_600x600 By Karen Isaacs

Assassins, the Stephen Sondheim & John Weidman musical that opens at the Yale Rep on Friday, March 17, may not be familiar to the casual theater goer. But for director James Bundy, it is a show that he has wanted to direct for many years.

One reason, Bundy said, is that he felt it would resonate with the audience.

Assassins is staged as a revue; the characters are the men and women who made successful and unsuccessful attempts on the lives of US Presidents.

“I was particularly drawn to it when we were planning this season because of the tenor of national politics, which are driven in part by the kind of anger and resentment, as well as the pursuit of fame and celebrity, that is so prevalent in our contemporary political culture,” Bundy explained. He added that when he scheduled the piece last spring, he had no idea who would be the Presidential nominees or who would be the winner of the election, but he felt the idea of the show would still be relevant.

The show itself was written in the late 1980s and was based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr., an aspiring writer of musicals. Sondheim has said he read Gilbert’s script of a show about presidential assassin as a panelist for the Musical Theater Lab. Later, he asked and gained permission to use the basic idea though in a very different form. The original script had a typical plot about a fictional character.

The musical that Sondheim and Weidman developed is more of a revue, set in a carnival arcade shooting gallery where the different assassins interact despite wide variations in their historical time period. They added three non-historical characters: the Proprietor who owns the shooting gallery and provides the guns; the Balladeer who serves as the narrator; and Billy, Sara Jane Moore’s son, the son was real but the name was changed.

The show brings together the well-known assassins – Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth – with those that have been lost to history such as Charles Guiteau (President Garfield’s assassin) as well as some who made attempts on the lives of Presidents, and in one case, a President-elect.

In explaining his reasons for doing the show, Bundy said, “our job as artists is to notice what is going on around us.”

He describes Assassins as a “classic” and said that as such “it connects vividly to the preoccupations of any period. Although there are ways in which the specifics of the show are fixed in time, and the history is unknown to some of us, the fixations of the characters are utterly current.”

Yale

James Bundy. Photo by Joan Marcus

Bundy said the Yale production includes a 13-piece orchestra playing the original Broadway orchestrations. But he also said the production which is about the American Dream invites “a theatrical interpretation that combines our national iconography with originality and contemporary perspective.” These include digital design with contemporary and folk art.

Whether it be Oswald, Booth or Byck (attempted assassin of Richard Nixon), what the show points to, Bundy said, is that “political violence has been part of American culture for more than 150 years – as have the strains of entitlement, misguided rage, and gun culture that fueled the phenomenon.”

The press release on the show points out, Assassins is about nine people who, “united in disillusionment and alienation, take what they believe is their best – and only – shot at the American Dream.”

Bundy agrees with Sondheim, who has often stated that he viewed Assassins as his most “perfect” musical.  In an interview with the Globe (London) in 2014, Sondheim said “John Weidman [the librettist] and I knew what we wanted to do, and we did it.” He added it that it fulfilled his expectations.

Explaining what he finds so intriguing and perfect about the show, Bundy said, “The creators were able to write in different genres and create a prismatic view of our nation’s history and character. In less than two hours, they raise gripping questions about who we are and what we tried to do.”

They were, he said, able to create a range of audience reactions from laughter to horror to sadness.

He also liked that Sondheim and Weidman took risks in combining the surreal and the documentary, the comic and the tragic.

The music embraces all American musical genre that reflect the periods of the assassins. Thus the shows as songs that sound like folk and revivalist numbers as well as those that reflect the ’60, ‘70s and ’80.

The show opened off-Broadway for a limited run at Playwrights’ Horizons in 1990 but did not get a Broadway production until 2004, again a limited run this time at Roundabout Theatre. A production scheduled for after 9-11 was shelved. In the Broadway production, a relatively unknown Neil Patrick Harris played both the balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald.

Initially, while many critics liked the show and admired Sondheim and Weidman’s brilliance, a number were put off by the subject matter and unsure whether the authors were condemning or glorifying the assassins. Some missed the obvious satire in the piece.

In the Globe interview in 2014, Sondheim said, ““Nobody at the end of the show should feel that we have been excusing or sentimentalizing these people. We’re examining the system that causes these horrors. The US Constitution guarantees the pursuit of happiness. It doesn’t guarantee the happiness. That’s the difference. These are people who feel they’ve been cheated of their happiness, each one in a different way.”

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Rehearsal

The Yale production which runs through Saturday, April 8 has assembled a cast that includes Broadway veterans Stanley Bahorek as Guiseppe Zangaria who appeared in a number of Broadway musicals, Stephen DaRosa as Charles Guiteau who received a Connecticut Critics Circle award for his performance in These Paper Bullets!,  Austin Durant as the Proprietor and P.J. Griffith as Leon Czolgosz. Robert Lenzi who was in Tuck Everlasting and South Pacific on Broadway plays John Wilkes Booth.

Other cast members include Dylan Frederick as the Balladeer who is a 3rd year student at the Drama school

Assisting in the production are Andrea Grody as music director. She is fresh from the off-Broadway debut of the musical The Band’s Visit which received rave notices. David Dorfman is doing the musical staging.

The production team includes Riccardo Hernandez who has created the sets, Ilona Somogyi the costumes, Yi Zhao the lighting.  Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes are the sound designers and Michael Commendatore is the projection designer.

Assassins runs Friday, March 17 to Saturday, April 8 at the University Theater, 222 York St., New Haven. For tickets, visit Yale Repor call 203-432-1234.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing and zip06.

 

Controversy, New Plays, Goodspeed’s Season and More

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

 Oscar Winner in Hartford: Richard Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar and has performed before in Connecticut at Long Wharf, has joined the cast of Relativity, at TheaterWorks. The new play by Mark St. Germain is about a mystery in Einstein’s life: the birth of a daughter in 1902 who was never heard about after 1904. Years later, Einstein is questioned about it by a young reporter. Dreyfuss will play Einstein. Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero directs. The play runs to Nov. 13. For tickets visit TheatreWorks.

 Bank Ad Causes Controversy: Wells Fargo Bank probably thought the ad series for the Teen Financial Education Day (Saturday, Sept. 17) was just clever. But the ad series raised the ire of the artistic community, so much so that the company issued an apology and withdrew the ads. The headlines in the ads featured phrase such as “a ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.” These headlines were interpreted as implying that artists would be better served by going into the sciences. Social media is awash in variations on the idea, such as “Bob Newhart – an accountant yesterday, a comedian and star today.”

 Theater’s Loss: The death of Edward Albee at the age of 88 is an enormous loss for not just American theater but the world. While he is best known for his biting but humorous look at marriage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? his other works often shocked and puzzled audiences while exploring important issues about relationships. Connecticut audiences were blessed to see fine productions throughout the state:  Mark Lamos directed several excellent productions at Hartford Stage, as did Michael Wilson. Long Wharf had a memorable production of Virginia Woolf starring Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Tickets on Sale: Tickets are on salefor the new musical Anastasia which had its premiere at Hartford Stage last spring. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com.  Also going on sale are tickets for the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which will star two-time Tony winner Christian Borle which opens in April. It’s also available at Telecharge.

 Broadway Notes: Tony nominees Kate Baldwin will play Irene Molloy and Gavin Ceel will play Corneilus Hackl in the Bette Middler – David Hyde Pierce  revival of Hello, Dolly! which opens this spring. The first day that tickets were on sale via Telecharge, sales exceeded $9 million. Something Rotten! closes on January 1 after an almost two year run; Jersey Boys will also end it’s 11-year run on Jan. 15.  Following it into the August Wilson Theater will be the musical, Groundhog Day which won raves in London. Andy Karl stars. There’s some talk that Colin Firth may star as Professor Higgins in a revival of My Fair Lady; we can only hope.  If you can’t get tickets to Hamilton you may be able to get tickets to the parody Spamilton which was developed by the creator of Forbidden Broadway. Lin-Manuel Miranda has apparently given his approval. It runs through Oct. 30, off-Broadway. Tickets are available at triad.nyc.com/buy-tickets.

 Goodspeed Next Year: Goodspeed next year will present two revivals and a new version of musical flop PLUS three new musicals at The Terris Theater. The season opens with the Tony-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie (April 21-July2), followed by the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma1 (July 14 –Sept. 28) and the season concludes with a revision of the Charles Strouse (Annie) and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) musical Rags (Oct. 6-Dec. 10). At The Terris Theatre are the new musicals Deathless (June 2- July2), Darling Grenadine (Aug. 18-Sept. 17) and A Connecticut Christmas Carol (Nov. 17-Dec. 24). Season tickets are now on sale at 860-873-8668. Tickets for individual productions go on sale Feb. 19th.

Off-Broadway Notes: The Classic Stage Company is presenting the world premiere of Dead Poets Society directed by Tony winner John Doyle based on the film. Jason Suderikis stars in the Robin Williams role. It begins previews Oct. 27. For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit Classic Stage.  The Signature Theatre Off-Broadway is presenting Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” …. and the Boys began on Oct. 18. The play had its world premiere at Yale Rep. Fugard will direct the work. For tickets call 212-244-7529 or Signature Theatreg.

What Kind of Fool? Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury is continuing the Anthony Newley trend in Connecticut with He Wrote Good Songs. Earlier this year there was a concert of his music at the Madison Library, and then a reimagined production of his musical (with Leslie Bricusse) The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd at the Goodspeed’s Terris Theater.  Newley was a British actor, singer, songwriter and more who wrote musicals and hit songs: “Goldfinger,” “The Candy Man,” “What Kind of Fool Am I?’ and “Who Can I Turn To? among others. Jon Peterson has conceived, written and will perform the show. He has done similar work with a show on George M. Cohan. The one man show runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 27. For tickets, call 203-757-4676 or visit Seven Angels.

 New Musical: Ivoryton is presenting the Connecticut premiere of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical from Oct. 26 to Nov. 13. Clooney started as a band singer, moving on to recording a number of pop hits in the ‘50s and developing a movie career. Later in life she was a respected jazz and cabaret artist. The musical is described as a biography with her signature songs woven into her story – both her professional life and her struggles in her personal life which included marriage to actor Jose Ferrer and five children. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit Ivoryton.

Suspense: MTC in Norwalk is presenting the Tony-winning thriller, Sleuth from Nov. 4 to Nov. 20. The play which also had a successful film that starred Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, is a cat-and-mouse thriller about a celebrated mystery writer and the younger hairdresser who is his wife’s lover. For tickets call 203-354-3883 or visit MTC

Starting the Holidays: The Palace Theater in Waterbury is presenting the excellent A Christmas Story: The Musical on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19. The musical is based on the classic Jean Shepherd story and subsequent film. The show itself was nominated for several Tony awards during its Broadway run. For tickets call 203-346-2000 or visit Palace Theaterg.

Five More Years: In a somewhat unprecedented move, James Bundy has been reappointed as Dean of Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. This,his fourth term, will begin July 1, 2017. It’s unprecedented because previously Yale has limited most Deans – including the Drama School to two terms (10 years) though some served an extra year while the search for a successor was on-going. During his tenure the Yale Rep has produced numerous world and American premieres two of which have been Pulitzer Prize finalists. Congratulations.

Helping the Area Economy: The International Festival of Arts & Ideas which ran June 10-25 generated an economic impact exceeding $15.4 million for the region’s economy. The study was done by Quinnipiac University. It is based on attendance and ticket sales and reported visitor behavior. Other figures: visitors reported spending an average of $140 on food, retail, lodging and transportation. The Festival employed 213 full and season staff. Local vendors, venues and rental companies were hired to help. In addition the 855 artists and speakers required 766 hotel nights in the greater New Haven area.

Election Drama: I don’t usually write about community theater productions though many are excellent. Just too many shows, but I will make an exception for Now or Later at Square One Theatre in Stratford. Why? The play, which I’m unfamiliar with, is written by Christopher Shinn a Connecticut native (An Opening in Time, Dying City) and it is very relevant. The play, which runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 20 is about a presidential election and what happens’ when controversial photos of the candidate’s college age son go viral, potentially sparking an international incident. For information visitSquare One; for tickets call 203-375-8778.

“Happy Days” – One of the Most Challenging Roles for Actresses

HAPPY DAYS

Dianne Wiest. Photo by Joan Marcus.

By Karen Isaacs

 Diane Wiest has returned to Yale Rep, after a much too long absence, to play Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days through Saturday, May 21.

Beckett, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, is considered one of the fathers of the theater of the absurd, that mid-20th century movement that also included playwrights  Eugène IonescoJean Genet, and others.  The message was both simple and existential:  human existence is essentially meaningless and formless; verbal communication is inadequate; life is illogical, chaotic, uncertain and hopeless. The term does not refer to the more common mean of “absurd” as ridiculous.

Beckett mixed endless talk with puns, repetition of the obvious and circular thinking. In Beckett’s plays, plot can be described in a sentence or two; it is less important than the existential angst of the characters.  Yet, there is humor and in some of his plays – Waiting for Godot, for example – there are elements of vaudeville or commedia dell’arte.

HAPPY DAYS

Dianne Wiest. Photo by Joan Marcus.

As the play opens, Winnie is waist deep in sand or earth on a barren landscape. She awakens and begins her morning rituals – brushing her teeth, looking in a small mirror, taking out a revolver, putting on her hat – all the while chattering away to her husband Willie who is on the far side of the sand dune.  Winnie cannot move from the pit, but she smiles and says this is “another happy day.”  Willie reads classified ads from an old newspaper, looks at and shares with Winnie an erotic photo and sings a song.  Though Winnie can barely see Willie, she tells him he helps her to go on. The day progress, she keeps chattering and soon it is time for sleep.

Act two finds Winnie buried to her neck in the dune. Though she can’t move and has no use of her arms, she continues to chatter on to Willie and still considers this a “happy day.” The play ends with Willie attempting to climb the dune – is he trying to reach Winnie or the revolver?

One can find numerous metaphors and symbols in Beckett’s work.  From the repetition and futility of daily life to the obvious idea of death approaching all of us, his view of the human condition might be considered by some to be bleak.

Since Willie has minimal dialogue, only some sounds, and is barely seen, one might question if he is essential to the play.  Couldn’t it just be a monologue by Winnie?  Yet, Willie is essential to the play; Winnie needs that human connection, that relationship even though she can barely see him.  Just knowing he is there, gives her a reason to go on.

And what is the point of the revolver that Winnie takes out of her bag and places on the dune where it remains during the second act out of reach to both Winnie and Willie?  Chekhov has been famously quoted as saying if there is a gun on the stage, it must go off at some point. This one does not.  Does it represent the ability to control one’s end? If so, it is tantalizingly out of reach.

James Bundy, artistic director of Yale Rep, has directed this production with a sure hand.

HAPPY DAYS

Jarlath Conroy. Photo by Joan Marcus.

He wrote in his program notes, that part of the play’s allure is the “weaving of simple physical action with complicated characters and their fragile memories. Another is the dance of illusion and reality in performance.”  Bundy also mentions Beckett’s interest in our “common vulnerability.”

Diane Wiest shows us all elements of Winnie. She is part seductress and part housewife. She is lost in memories but also thinking of the future. She is flirtatious and vulnerable and yet she is also strong and enduring.  Like the Biblical Job, she continues to look at the bright side, often counting her “mercies.”

In act one, Wiest has both her voice, her expressions, her arms, and an attractive strapless top to help her achieve this conflicted character which has been referred to as a “summit part” for actresses.  In act two, she only has her face, voice and eyes to draw you into Winnie’s mind.

She succeeds so well, that you want to cry for her.

Wiest’s work at Yale Rep has always been exemplary. In the 1980s, she gave incredible performances as Nora in A Doll’s House and Hedda in Hedda Gabler.  I still recall these productions.

Jarlath Conroy plays Willie. He is the rock upon which Winnie’s foundation is built. It is a role that requires an actor to achieve a presence while seldom being seen or heard and with no real dialogue that allows us to know the character.  That he creates a Willie that we care about shows us his talent.

Izmir Ickbal has created the barren landscape that is home to Winnie and Willie.  Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting design moves us throughout the day.

It must be admitted that Happy Days would not lose its impact if it were shorter.  The first act is over an hour; there were some empty seats in act two.

But for serious theater goers, Happy Days is a play everyone should see at least once. New Haven audiences are lucky to have such a fine production and excellent performances available.

Happy Days is at the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven through Saturday, May 21. For tickets visit yalerep.org or call 203-432-1234.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications and http://www.zip06.com

HAPPY DAYS

Jarlath Conroy and Dianne Wiest.  Photo by Joan Marcus.

“Hamlet,” ” Fiddler,” “Holiday Inn” and Other Shows Honored by Connecticut’s Critics

Carmen de Lavallade, Killen Award for Outstanding Contribution to Connecticut Theater.  Photo byrMara Lavitt -

Carmen de Lavallade, Killen Award for Outstanding Contribution to Connecticut Theater. Photo byrMara Lavitt –

By Karen Isaacs

In an evening filled with heartfelt moments, the Connecticut Critics Circle presented it 25th annual awards for outstanding theatrical achievements at Connecticut’s theaters during the 2014-15 season.

For those keeping score, the production of  Hamlet at Hartford Stage won the most awards, picking up accolades for sound, as well as featured actor in a play, lead actor in a play, outstanding direction and best production of a play.  The musical awards were split with Fiddler on the Roof which was produced at Goodspeed, winning awards for lead actor and director, but Holiday Inn also from Goodspeed winning for outstanding production.

Edward Hyland - Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play.  Photo by Mara Lavitt

Edward Hyland – Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play. Photo by Mara Lavitt

The awards were presented at the Yale’s Iseman Theater in New Haven with an audience of almost 200 looking on.  The awards were considered a special event in connection with the International Festival of Arts & Ideas.

Several of Connecticut’s smaller theaters also had impressive wins with Playhouse on Park in West Hartford winning best ensemble in their first year of eligibility.  Ivoryton Playhouse scored with the outstanding leading actress in a musical.  Both has multiple nominations.

Adam Heller, Outstanding Actor in a Musical. Photo by Mara Lavitt

Adam Heller, Outstanding Actor in a Musical. Photo by Mara Lavitt

Long Wharf, Yale Rep and Westport had nominations for multiple shows and scored victories. Long Wharf won for best ensemble for Picasso at Lapin Agile (it was tie vote),lead actress in a play for Bad Jews; Westport won for featured actor in a musical for Sing for Your Shakespeare and Yale won several awards for Elevada and featured actress in a play for Arcadia.

 The Killen Award for outstanding contribution to Connecticut theater was presented by James Bundy, dean of the Yale Drama School and artistic director of Yale Rep, to Carmen de Lavallade.  Included in his remarks was a note from one of the Drama School’s most illustrious graduates Meryl Streep who wrote about the impact de Lavallade had on her as a student.  An internationally acclaimed dancer,  de Lavallade was on the faculty of the Drama School as well turning in memorable performances in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest.

De Lavallade seemed overwhelmed by the award as she expressed her thanks. Talking about her experiences at Yale, she called it both “magical” and “a turnaround” and said it was an important “growing period for me.” She ended by saying she is still learning and will continue to learn.

Adam Heller who won for his portrayal of Tevya in Goodspeed’s Fiddler on the Roof recalled director Rob Ruggiero — who also was honored — calling him and asking “Do you think you have Tevya in you?”  When Heller said yes, Ruggiero told him to audition because, “that’s the way it works at Goodspeed.”

Zach Appelman who won for the leading role in Hamlet, was not present but in his note thanked not only Hartford Stage and director Darko Tresnjak but also James Bundy and Yale Drama School for all they taught him.

Rebekah Brockman who won featured actress in Arcadia, also was working elsewhere but thanked her director James Bundy for as she putting “letting me explore my voice within the text and guiding me when I was lost.”  Brockman received a second nomination in that category for her work in The Liar at Westport.

Stephen De Rosa - Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical.  Photo by Mara Lavitt

Stephen De Rosa – Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical. Photo by Mara Lavitt

More than a few audience members had damp eyes when a special award was presented to the Summer Theater of New Canaan for its DramaRama program.  This program now in its 5th year, pairs theater interns and professionals with children with an assortment of disabilities and helps them put on a show in front of a live audience.

In accepting the award, Executive Producer Ed Libonati told of the positive outcomes — the young person who never spoke but did so on stage and the others who have participated in school and community productions.

Another special award went to Shawn Boyle for his projections in the Yale Rep production of Elevada.

 New Haven’s A Broken Umbrella Theater — recipients of a special award last year — presented a special award to The Split Knuckle Theater and its production last June of Endurance.

 

Outstanding Actress in a Play - Kelley McQuail. Photo by Mara Lavitt

Outstanding Actress in a Play – Kelley McQuail. Photo by Mara Lavitt

Keilly McQuail who received the outstanding leading actress in a play award for Bad Jews at Long Wharf, told of growing up in Newtown and attending the Arts High School on Audubon Street in New Haven.

Perhaps the funniest line was from Steven DeRosa who won for his featured role in the musical revue Sing for Your Shakespeare at Westport Country Playhouse, when he said that if his mother were alive, she would say that the critics “had excellent taste.”  He also recalled his first professional production which was at Hartford Stage and his training at Yale Drama School.

The evening closed with the presentation of the best directors and outstanding production awards.  Holiday Inn won best musical and Gordon Greenburg its director and  co-writer told the audience that it will have a national tour next year.  Rob Ruggiero was named outstanding director for Fiddler on the Roof and mentioned the contrast between that show and his current project, La Cage aux Folles at Goodspeed which begins performances this week.

Rob Ruggiero - Outstanding Director of a Musical. Photo by Mara Lavitt

Rob Ruggiero – Outstanding Director of a Musical. Photo by Mara Lavitt

Darko Tresnjak won for best director of a play (Hamlet.) Tresnjak sent a note since he was visiting with his very ill mother before going to San Diego’s Globe Theater where his production of Kiss Me, Kate will open soon.

But after thanking Zach Appelman and all the teachers who trained him, Tresnjak recounted that his mother had recently told him, “you must, you must, you must, you must make art with the people you love.”

 Already the Connecticut critics are reviewing shows and making notes of outstanding productions, technical achievements and acting for next year’s awards.

This content courtesy of Shore Publishing and Zip06.com

Outstanding Ensemble - Playhouse on Park's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."  Photo by Mara Lavitt

Outstanding Ensemble – Playhouse on Park’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Photo by Mara Lavitt

2014 – 2015 Connecticut Critics Circle Nominations and Winners

Complete list of nominations for the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards with winners in bold.

Outstanding Sound Design

David Budries – Picasso at the Lapin Agile               Long Wharf Theatre

Kate Marvin – Elevada                                               Yale Repertory Theatre

Adam Phalen – Forever                                              Long Wharf Theatre

Jane Shaw – Hamlet                                                  Hartford Stage

Matt Tierney – The Caucasian Chalk Circle              Yale Repertory Theatre

Outstanding Costume Design

Tracy Christensen – Guys & Dolls                              Goodspeed Musicals

Jessica Ford – The Liar                                               Westport Country Playhouse

Fabio Toblini – Hamlet                                               Hartford Stage

Fabio Toblini – Kiss Me, Kate                                     Hartford Stage

Alejo Vietti – Holiday Inn                                         Goodspeed Musicals

Outstanding Lighting Design

David Lander – Ether Dome                                      Hartford Stage

John Lassiter – Fiddler on the Roof                            Goodspeed Musicals

Tyler Micoleau – Elevada                                         Yale Repertory Theatre

Matthew Richards – Hamlet                                       Hartford Stage

Matthew Richards – Reverberation                            Hartford Stage

 Outstanding Set Design

Andromache Chalfant – Reverberation                      Hartford Stage

Alexander Dodge – Kiss Me, Kate                             Hartford Stage

Alexander Dodge – Private Lives                             Hartford Stage

Chika Shimizu – The Caucasian Chalk Circle           Yale Repertory Theatre

James Youmans – Ether Dome                                   Hartford Stage

 Special Awards

Shawn Boyle – Projections for Elevada                     Yale Repertory Theatre

Summer Theatre of New Canaan – DramaRama Program

Split Knuckle Theater Group – for Endurance

Outstanding Debut

Curtis J. Cook – Brownsville Song                             Long Wharf Theatre

Carl Lundstedt – Reverberation                               Hartford Stage

Dina Shihabi – Picasso at the Lapin Agile                  Long Wharf Theatre

Brittany Vicars – Hamlet                                            Hartford Stage

 Outstanding Ensemble

Altar Boyz                                                                   Playhouse on Park

Brandon Beaver

Nick Bernardi

Adam Cassel

Greg Laucella

Mark G. Merritt

Brock Putnam

Picasso at the Lapin Agile                                          Long Wharf Theatre

Penny Balfour

Grayson DeJesus

Tom Riis Farrell

Ronald Guttman

David Margulies

Dina Shihabi

Jake Silberman

Jonathan Spivey

Robbie Tann

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee                Playhouse on Park

Kevin Barlowski

Hillary Ekwall

Emily Kron

Steven Mooney

Maya Naff

Joel Newsome

Norman Payne

Natalie Sannes

Scott Scaffidi

Woody Sez                                                                   TheaterWorks

David Finch

David M. Lutken

Leenya Rideourt

Helen J. Russell

 Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play

Edward James Hyland – Hamlet                             Hartford Stage

Greg Keller – Elevada                                                Yale Repertory Theatre

Andrew Long – Hamlet                                              Hartford Stage

Carl Lundstedt – Reverberation                                 Hartford Stage

Max Gordon Moore – Arcadia                                   Yale Repertory Theatre

 Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical

Scott Cote – Guys & Dolls                                         Goodspeed Musicals

Stephen DeRosa – Sing For Your Shakespeare      Westport Country Playhouse

Noah Marlowe – Holiday Inn                                     Goodspeed Musicals

John Payonk – Fiddler on the Roof                             Goodspeed Musicals

Nick Reynolds – Hairspray                                        Summer Theatre of New Canaan

 Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play

Rebekah Brockman – Arcadia                                 Yale Repertory Theatre

Rebekah Brockman – The Liar                                   Westport Country Playhouse

Kate Forbes – Hamlet                                                 Hartford Stage

Kristin Harlow – Angels in America                           Playhouse on Park

Tonya Pinkins – War                                                   Yale Repertory Theatre

 Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical

Elizabeth DeRosa – Fiddler on the Roof                    Goodspeed Musicals

Barrie Kreinik – Fiddler on the Roof                          Goodspeed Musicals

Sharon Malane – Hairspray                                        Summer Theatre of New Canaan

Susan Mosher – Holiday Inn                                       Goodspeed Musicals

Megan Sikora – Kiss Me, Kate                                  Hartford Stage

 Outstanding Choreography

Richard Amelius – All Shook Up                                Ivoryton Playhouse

Peggy Hickey – Kiss Me, Kate                                   Hartford Stage

Denis Jones – Holiday Inn                                          Goodspeed Musicals

Alex Sanchez – Guys & Dolls                                    Goodspeed Musicals

David Wanstreet – Fingers and Toes                         Ivoryton Playhouse

 Killen Award – Presented by James Bundy

Carmen de Lavallade

Dancer, actor and teacher, Carmen de Lavallade was a key member as teacher and performer in the early days of Yale Repertory Theatre under the tenure of founding Artistic Director Robert Brustein. During that time, she was a powerfully influential teacher to a generation of actors at Yale School of Drama, including Meryl Streep, who has often cited de Lavallade as having a profound influence on the shaping of her talent in those early days. Some of de Lavallade’s performances — including in The Tempest and especially her Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream — are often cited as some of the best ever at the Rep, indeed in Connecticut.

Now 84, de Lavallade is performing her solo autobiographical show, As I See It, which will be playing at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas during the week of the awards ceremony.

Outstanding Leading Actor in a Musical

David Edwards – La Cage Aux Folles                       Ivoryton Playhouse

Preston Ellis – All Shook Up                                       Ivoryton Playhouse

Michael Damian Fasano – Footloose                          Seven Angels

Adam Heller – Fiddler on the Roof                          Goodspeed Musicals

Noah Racey – Holiday Inn                                         Goodspeed Musicals

 Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical

Nancy Anderson – Guys & Dolls                               Goodspeed Musicals

Danielle Bowen – All Shook Up                               Ivoryton Playhouse

Elissa DeMaria – Little Shop of Horrors                     MTC Mainstage

Patti Murin – Holiday Inn                                           Goodspeed Musicals

Rebecca Spigelman – Hairspray                                 Summer Theatre of New Canaan

 Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play

Zach Appelman – Hamlet                                         Hartford Stage

Aaron Krohn – The Liar                                             Westport Country Playhouse

Luke MacFarlane — Reverberation                             Hartford Stage

Tom Pecinka – Arcadia                                               Yale Repertory Theatre

Steven Skybell – The Caucasian Chalk Circle           Yale Repertory Theatre

Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play

Laurel Casillo – Elevada                                             Yale Repertory Theatre

Margaret Colin – Second Mrs. Wilson                        Long Wharf Theatre

Keilly McQuail – Bad Jews                                       Long Wharf Theatre

Nikki Walker – Intimate Apparel                                Westport Country Playhouse

Shaunette Renée Wilson –

The Caucasian Chalk Circle               Yale Repertory Theatre

 Outstanding Director of a Musical

Richard Amelius – All Shook Up                                Ivoryton Playhouse

Gordon Greenberg – Holiday Inn                               Goodspeed Musicals

Susan Haefner – …Spelling Bee                                 Playhouse on Park

Rob Ruggiero – Fiddler on the Roof                        Goodspeed Musicals

Darko Tresnjak – Kiss Me, Kate                                 Hartford Stage

Outstanding Director of a Play

James Bundy – Arcadia                                              Yale Repertory Theatre

Jackson Gay – Elevada                                               Yale Repertory Theatre

Penny Metropulos – The Liar                                     Westport Country Playhouse

Darko Tresnjak – Hamlet                                         Hartford Stage

Maxwell Williams – Reverberation                             Hartford Stage

Outstanding Production of a Play

Arcadia                                                                       Yale Repertory Theatre

Elevada                                                                       Yale Repertory Theatre

Hamlet                                                                         Hartford Stage

Reverberation                                                              Hartford Stage

The Liar                                                                      Westport Country Playhouse

 Outstanding Production of a Musical

All Shook Up                                                               Ivoryton Playhouse

Fiddler on the Roof                                                     Goodspeed Musicals

Holiday Inn                                                                Goodspeed Musicals

Kiss Me, Kate                                                              Hartford Stage

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee                   Playhouse on Park

The Ten Best Shows This 2014-15 Theater Season in Connecticut

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Karen Isaacs

Here’s my list of the top shows in Connecticut this past season.

  1. Hamlet – Hartford Stage

I’ve seen many Hamlets in my theater-going life on both stage and screen.  Olivier used an Oedipal interpretation,  Paul Giamatti was an older Hamlet. The Hamlet  at Hartford Stage directed by Darko Tresnjak had all the elements. A clear concept,  brilliant sets, costumes, lighting, and a fine cast led by Zach Appelman as Hamlet.  He made all the well known speeches seem fresh and new.

  1. Fiddler on the Roof — Goodspeed

Fiddler On The RoofFiddler has been done so often that it is hard to make it seem different. Director Rob Ruggiero and his team gave us a well cast production that evoked Russia while focusing on the individuals.  I had never seen some of the supporting roles — Lazar Wolf and the future sons-in-law played so well.

  1. Arcadia – Yale Rep

Arcadia218rJames Bundy gave us an almost perfect production of one of my favorite Tom Stoppard plays. Yes,, there are long speeches about math, but I find the combination of the two stories, the intertwining of time, and the sheer intellectualism of it to be thrilling.  The casting was terrific and it reminded me how funny the play actually is.

  1. The Liar – Westport

A hero who lies but is also charming, rhymed couplets and madcap fun all made this a laugh riot with great acting and great costumes.

  1. Reverberation – Hartford Stage
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

This new play by Matthew Lopez showed his progression as a playwright. Was it perfect?  No, the ending did not feel right.  But it was blessed with an outstanding cast, fine direction by Maxwell Williams, and terrific production values.  It is THE play that I have thought about the most since I’ve seen it.

  1. Endurance – Split Knuckle Theater

A new theater company wowed me with their physicality and the juxtaposition of two stories — the amazing survival of the Antarctic expedition of Shackleton and a modern day executive. Creative and beautifully performed.

  1. Kiss Me, Kate – Hartford Stage
Megan Sikora as Lois Lane/Bianca.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Megan Sikora as Lois Lane/Bianca. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

It is a classic of the Broadway musical stage and Darko Tresnjak did a fine job with setting it specifically in the 1940s. The costumes, set, lighting and voices were great — I quibbled with a few of the casting choices but Megan Sikora as Lois/Bianca was great. The choreography by Peggy Hickey was terrific.

  1. Caucasian Chalk Circle – Yale Rep

Bertol Brecht evokes strong feelings. His epic and political drama can seem preachy but in this fine Yale Rep production directed by Liz Diamond, it totally captured me.

  1. Woody Sez – TheaterWorks

WS 9 sm This show that told the live of Woody Guthrie through songs and words was an interesting and fascinating history lesson with an ensemble that worked together perfectly.

  1. Holiday Inn – Goodspeed

Transferring a movie musical to the stage is a challenge that has only successfully been done a very few times.  This world premier was aided by a very good cast and the addition of some of Irving Berlin’s most famous shows.  It was a delight and will have a future.

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

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

Honorable Mentions:  All Shook Up – Ivoryton,  Dancing Lessons – TheaterWorks,  Elevada -Yale Rep, Nice Work If You Can Get It – Bushnell,  Picasso at Lapin Agile – Long Wharf,  Pippin – Bushnell, Seen Change – The Broken Umbrella Theater, Things We Do for Love – Westport.

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

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

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

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Karen Isaacs

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Connecticut Critics Circle Awards – 2014-2015 Nominations

Outstanding  Production of  a Play

Arcadia, Yale Rep

Reverberation. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Reverberation. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Elevada, Yale Rep

Hamlet , Hartford Stage

Reverberation, Hartford Stage

The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

Outstanding  Production of  a Musical

All Shook Up, Ivoryton

Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

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

 Outstanding  Actress in a Play

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

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

Laurel Casillo — Elevada, Yale Rep

Margaret Colin — Second Mrs. Wilson, Long Wharf

Keilly MacQuail — Bad Jews, Long Wharf

Nikki Walker — Intimate Apparel, Westport Country Playhouse

Shaunette Renée Wilson — The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Actor in a Play

Zach Appelman — Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Aaron Krohn — The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Luke Macfarlane — Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Tom Pecinka — Arcadia, Yale Rep

Steven Skybell — The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Actress  in a Musical

Nancy Anderson – Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed

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

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

Danielle Bowen – All Shook Up, Ivoryton

Elissa DeMaria – Little Shop of Horrors, MTC Mainstage

Patti Murin – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Rebecca Spigelman – Hairspray, STONC

 Outstanding  Actor  in a Musical

David Edwards – La Cage Aux Folles, Ivoryton

Preston Ellis – All Shook Up, Ivoryton

Michael Damian Fasano – Footloose, Seven Angels

Adam Heller – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Noah Racey – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

 Outstanding  Director  of a Play

James Bundy – Arcadia, Yale Rep

Jackson Gay – Elevada, Yale Rep

Penny Metropulos – The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

Darko Tresnjak – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Maxwell Williams – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Director  of a Musical

Richard Amelius – All Shook Up, Ivoryton

Gordon Greenberg – Holiday Inn, Goodpseed

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

Rob Ruggiero – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodpseed

Darko Tresnjak – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Featured  Actor in a Play

Edward James Hyland  – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Greg Keller – Elevada, Yale Rep

Andrew Long – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Carl Lundstedt  – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Max Gordon Moore – Arcadia, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Featured  Actress in a Play

Rebekah Brockman – Arcadia, Yale Rep

Rebekah Brockman – The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

Kate Forbes – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Kristin Harlow – Angels in America, Playhouse on Park

Tonya Pinkins – War, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Featured  Actress in a Musical

Elizabeth DeRosa – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Barrie Kreinik – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Kiss Me, Kate

Kiss Me, Kate

Sharon Malone – Hairspray, STONC

Susan Mosher – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Megan Sikora – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Featured  Actor  in a Musical

Scott Cote – Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed

Stephen DeRosa – Sing For Your Shakespeare, Westport Country Playhouse

Fiddler on the Roof. Photos by Diane Sobolewski

Fiddler on the Roof. Photos by Diane Sobolewski

Noah Marlowe – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

John Payonk – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Nick Reynolds – Hairspray, STONC

 Outstanding  Choreographer

Richard Amelius – All Shook Up, Ivoryton

All Shook Up

All Shook Up

Peggy Hickey – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

Denis Jones – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Alex Sanchez – Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed

David Wanstreet – Fingers and Toes, Ivoryton

 Outstanding Set  Design

Andromache Chalfant  – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Alexander Dodge – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

Alexander Dodge – Private Lives, Hartford Stage

Chika Shimizu – The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

James Youmans – Ether Dome, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Lighting  Design

David Lander – Ether Dome, Hartford Stage

John Lassiter – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed

Tyler Micoleau – Elevada, Yale Rep

Matthew Richards – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Matthew Richards – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

 Outstanding  Costume  Design

Tracy Christensen – Guys & Dolls, Goodspeed

Jessica Ford – The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

Kiss Me, Kate. Photos by T. Charles Erickson

Kiss Me, Kate. Photos by T. Charles Erickson

Fabio Toblini – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Fabio Toblini – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

Alejo Vietti – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

 Outstanding  Sound  Design

David Budries – Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Long Wharf

Kate Marvin – Elevada, Yale Rep

Adam Phalen – Forever, Long Wharf

Jane Shaw – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Matt Tierney – The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

 Outstanding  Ensemble

Cast of Altar Boyz – Playhouse on Park

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

 Cast of Picasso at the Lapin Agile – Long Wharf

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

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

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

 Cast of Woody Sez – TheaterWorks

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

Outstanding  Debut

Curtis J. Cook – Brownsville Song, Long Wharf

Carl Lundstedt – Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Dina Shihabi – Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Long Wharf

Brittany Vicars – Hamlet, Hartford Stage

“Arcadia” at Yale Is Almost Perfect

By Karen Isaacs

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

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

Tom Stoppard is a thinking person’s playwright.  From “Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead” onward he has combined laughs with mind-bending approaches and discussions on time, politics and science. The man is a genius.

Arcadia, which is getting an outstanding production at the Yale Rep directed by James Bundy through Oct. 25, is just such a piece.  It will keep you fascinated throughout its two hours and 40 minutes.

Arcadia tells two stories in two time periods but they are interconnected.  The play opens in 1815 with Thomasina Coverly working with her tutor Septimus Hodge at her family’s estate, Sidley Park.  We quickly learn there is a lot going on.  Thomasina challenges her very attractive tutor with a variety of questions some referring to his romantic escapades with various ladies, but others dealing with math and the nature of the universe. We also learn that Lady Croom (Thomasina’s mother) is less than thrilled that a leading landscape architect is planning to convert the gardens from a pastoral, manicured visual delight to the latest fashion — making it look “natural” and wild, complete with a cottage called a “hermitage.”

Sepitmus Hodge (Tom Pecinka).  Photo by Joan Marcus

Sepitmus Hodge (Tom Pecinka). Photo by Joan Marcus

In the next scene we are in the 1990s or so, where the Coverly family still lives at Sidley.  Hannah Jarvis, a scholar of the period who has recently written a popular book about Caroline Lamb, is visiting the manor to research material for her next book.  She believes she has found the cornerstone of the book.  References to a mad, hermit who lives on the estate in the”hermitage”  in the reconstructed “wild” gardens.  Another scholar, Bernard Nightingale arrives — he too has a theory.  He has discovered what he believes is a connection between the home, Lord Byron and an obscure poet who visited the home.  It will make him famous.

As the play progresses both of these plots are developed.  We see in the 1815 Thomasina mature and continue to be fascinated with math, her tutor who continues his romantic exploits, and we learn about Lord Byron.

Rene Augesen as Hannah Jarvis and Stephen Barker Turner as Bernard Nightingale. Photo by Joan Marcus

Rene Augesen as Hannah Jarvis and Stephen Barker Turner as Bernard Nightingale. Photo by Joan Marcus

In modern times, we see the tendency of scholars to jump to conclusions, interpret clues to suit their purposes and for Nightingale, at least, to seek television fame. But we also learn that Thomasina was far ahead of her time mathematically and that she understood principles about the relationship of math and nature that were really not understood until much later.

Stoppard brilliantly merges the two time periods at the end in a way that is very touching.

This is a play filled with humor and ideas.  Yes, there is a lot of talk but much of it is fascinating.  You do care about the characters. Some may find their eyes glazing over during some of the more mathematical discussions.  Most of the women in the audience will find Nightingale obnoxious for his condescension to Hannah.

Rene Auguesen as Hannah Jarvis and Max Gordon Moore as Valentine Coverly. Photo by Joan Marcus

Rene Auguesen as Hannah Jarvis and Max Gordon Moore as Valentine Coverly. Photo by Joan Marcus

Artistic Director James Bundy has done a terrific job both mining the humor and keeping the pace moving.  It never sounds like a lecture or debate but a dramatic mystery that we are unraveling.  Almost everything about this production is just what is needed.  The cast is terrific.  Rebekah Brockman as Thomasina projects both the innocence and precociousness of Thomasina.  Tom Pecinka is extremely handsome as Septimus and very charming but you also realize that underneath it all, he is a bit of a conniver.  In the modern times, Stephen Barker Turner is appropriately full of himself and bombastic as Bernard Nightingale and René Augesen as Hannah projects subtle annoyance and then glee as Nightingale gets his come-uppance. The other performers match these in carefully drawn and fully realized characters.

The set by Adrian Martinez Frausto is deceptively simple but serves the needs of the play perfectly as do the costumes by Grier Coleman.  The lighting design by Caitlin Smith Rapoport modulates the scenes.  A special note of praise should be given to both sound designer Tyler Kieffer and composer Matthew Suttor who composed a score that accentuates both the periods and the moods of the play.

Arcadia is starting off the Yale Rep season on a very high note.  You should  not miss it.

For tickets visit http://www.yalerep.org or call 203-432-1234.  It is at the University Theater on York Street in New Haven.

Coming this Year in Connecticut — The Asterisks on My Calendar

By Karen Isaacs

 A new school year and a new theater season.  Not really because for most of us, the theater season year begins in Connecticut around June 1st and runs to May 31st.  At least those are the approximate dates that the Connecticut Critics Circle uses for its  annual awards eligibility.

Each year as I look over the productions scheduled, a few stand out to me.

Why?  It  may be a play that I particularly like or a work that is seldom produced and I want to see performed. It may be director or cast. Or it can be the topic that sounds intriguing, often for new works.

So let me share with you the productions that I’ve circled on my calendar.  (One caveat — Goodspeed and Ivoryton have not yet announced their 2015 seasons). I’ve listed these in order of their openings.

Ether Dome at Hartford Stage,  Sept. 11 – Oct. 5.  A brand new play with a Hartford angle, this co-production is about the invention of ether as an anesthetic in 1846. Yet the conflict between altruism and money seems very modern.

 Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn at Goodspeed, Sept. 19 to Nov. 30.  Yes, I know it is another musical of a classic Hollywood musical (starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire), but it has a great music and dancing.  I can’t wait to see how the story and dancing are adapted to Goodspeed’s small stage; but I’m betting it will be terrific.

 Comedy Is Hard at Ivoryton Playhouse, Sept. 24 to Oct. 12. A new play by comedy writer Mike Reiss (I’m Connecticut) with two established performers, Mickey Dolenz and Joyce De Witt in a story about a stand-up comic and a classical actress at a retirement home.

 Olives and Blood at the Connecticut Rep, Oct. 2 to 12. A new play about post Civil War Spain, the execution of the great playwright/poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the man presumed to be the murderer.  It’s all about political repression and the power of art.

Arcadia at Yale Rep, Oct. 3-25.  Tom Stoppard is one of my favorite modern playwrights — I love his intellectuality and his creativity.  Arcadia is I play I have previously thoroughly enjoyed.  And James Bundy is directing.  What more can I say?

 Hamlet at Hartford Stage, Oct. 16 – Nov. 9. Yes another Hamlet, but I’m looking forward to it for one big reason: Darko Tresnjak is directing and he has proven to be a master at directing Shakespeare — recently his Macbeth, Tempest and Twelfth Night have all been terrific.

 War at Yale Rep, Nov. 21-Dec. 13.  This is a world premier by a playwright (Branden Jacobs-Jenkins) I don’t know, but the description sounds very interesting: siblings dealing with a comatose mothers and shocking claims about their grandfather’s WWII duty.

 Forever by Dael Orlandersmith at Long Wharf, Jan. 2 – Feb. 1.  A world premier by a playwright whose works such as Yellowman have received fine productions at Long Wharf and contributed to a discussion about race.

 Dancing Lesson at TheaterWorks, Jan. 23 –  March 1.  I just saw this new play by Mark St. Germain in the Berkshires and you can read my review. While it is somewhat predictable, if the acting is as good in Hartford as it was there, you will be in for an amazing evening in this romantic comedy about an injured dancer and a man with Asperger’s.

 Reverberation at Hartford Stage, Feb. 19 -March 15. The two previous plays by Matthew Lopez that Hartford Stage has produced (The Whipping Man and Somewhere) have been intriguing works even if not perfect. This one about a man who has withdrawn from the world and the woman who tries to coax him out of his shell seems like it will also be intriguing.

 Good People at TheaterWorks, March 20 to April 26.  I like David Lindsay-Abaire’s plays and when I saw this one in NYC, I thought and talked about it for weeks.  Audiences are bound to have some lively discussions about the play and the characters — who is the hero?  What is ethical?

brownsville song (b-side for tray) at Long Wharf, March 25- April 19.  This new play is by Kimber Lee, last year’s Aetna Fellow at Hartford Stage.  It got raves at the Humana Festival. Certainly the subject matter — the death of a promising urban youth speaks to our communities.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane at Hartford Stage, March 26-April 19. The subject matter of this play appears fascinating.  It’s based on a true story of a young Jewish musician sent to London during the Blitz.  The music will be performed by the daughter of the saved woman.

Band of the Black Hand at Connecticut Rep, March 26-April 5.  The Split Knuckle Theatre wowed me with its production at Long Wharf in June.  Now this innovative new company is performing a film noir inspired play at the CRT’s second theater. I’ll be there.

The Liar at Westport Country Playhouse, May 5-23.  Take a modern playwright (David Ives of Venus in Fur) and a classic French playwright (Pierre Corneille) and have the former adapt the latter’s comedy of manners about a liar who is in love. The result should be delicious.

Others I’m anticipating with pleasure

Annapura at TheaterWorks, Oct. 3- Nov. 9.  Playwright Sharr White blew me away with The Other Place, so I am looking forward to this new work.  The plot seems a little “way out there” but I’m sure TheaterWorks will do its usual outstanding job.

 Cloud Nine at the Connecticut Rep, Oct. 23 – Nov. 2.  I’ve heard a lot throughout the years about this Caryl Churchill comedy about Empire building, colonization, sex and the English.  I really hope I have the time to finally see it.

 Private Lives at Hartford Stage, Jan. 8-Feb. 1.  I have a soft spot for Nöel Coward plays and I expect director Darko Tresnjak to do his usual outstanding job with this classic comedy.

 Proof at Playhouse on Park, Jan. 21 to Feb. 8. The play by David Auburn won the Pulitzer, the small cast should be perfect for this company and the plot is all about relationships and math.  I’m in.

 The Wildest!!!The Musical Sounds of Louis Prima & Keely Smith at Seven Angels Theater, Feb. 12 to March 8.  It may be a jukebox musical but certainly the music should be great. Prima combined New Orleans jazz and the Big Band era.  Smith was a classic jazz song stylist.  I have hopes for this one.

 The Dining Room  at Playhouse on Park, Feb. 18-March 8.  A.R. Gurney is one of my favorite playwrights.  The Dining Room may seem like a light comedy but there is surprising depth, as in many of his works.  I always enjoy seeing it.

The Importance of Being Earnest Playhouse on Park, April 15- May 3.  It is one of THE classic comedies so it no one does anything weird to it, it should be great.  The caveat?  The actors need the style and timing to carry it off;  plus British accents.

Elevada at Yale Rep, April 24-May 16. Another world premier, this is billed as a romantic comedy about two 20-somethings both seeking after and afraid of love.

The Second Mrs. Wilson at Long Wharf, May 6-31.  Edith Wilson is a fascinating historical characters whose actions during the last 18th months of her husband’s presidency have been controversial. What keeps this from the top of my list is my reservations about playwright Joe DiPietro who is best known for much lighter works.

 

Kiss Me Kate at Hartford Stage, May 14 – June 7.  Darko Tresnjak won a Tony (and almost every other NYC directing award) for directing A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.  I can’t wait to see what he does with this classic backstage musical by Cole Porter.

The Touring Shows

I’ve seen most of the touring shows on Broadway, but there are a few I am really looking forward to seeing again.

At the Bushnell in Hartford, Kinky Boots  (June 23-28) is high on my list, along with Evita (Sept.

23-28).  I also enjoyed in NYC  Nice Work If You Can Get It (Feb. 3-8) which had great dancing and all those Gershwin songs.

The Shubert is presenting Matilda, the Musical (May 16-23) which I liked but didn’t love. Newsies, a high energy show is at the Palace in Waterbury (Oct. 24-25)

 

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