By Karen Isaacs
It’s all about the acting. Fireflies by Matthew Barber which is now at Long Wharf through Nov. 5 is a sweet romantic comedy that won’t break any new theatrical ground. But in this production, the thoroughly likable play is showcasing some of the best actors in the U.S.
Jane Alexander, Judith Ivey and Denis Ardnt are the three main characters. It’s a small
south Texas town and the never married Eleanor Bannister (Jane Alexander) is busy making jam in her hot kitchen while her neighbor Grace (Judith Ivey) prattles on. Grace talks about everything, but she keeps returning to the “drifter” that has been seen around town. She is convinced that he is up to no good and is looking for women living alone like Eleanor and herself for some nefarious scheme.
Eleanor, a retired beloved school teacher puts up with the endless chatter, recognizing that Grace wants news that can be spread. Finally she has had enough and encourages Grace to go home.
Is it any surprise that soon the “drifter” – Abel Brown shows up at her doorstep? He’s an older man and says he has been traveling around for decades. He tells her that her vacant cottage sustained some roof damage during a recent storm and offers to repair it. After checking out the cottage, Eleanor agrees.
Soon Abel has mowed the lawn and repaired the broken air conditioner. He brings dinner for the two of them and even plays – not very well – her father’s old violin. Both of her parents died years ago in a traffic accident. He makes her an offer; he would like to stay in the cottage, which he refers to as a “honeymoon cottage” for free while he renovates it for her. She has mixed feelings about the cottage; unsure whether to sell or rent it, but also wishing it would somehow miraculous burn to the ground.
While she accepts his offer to renovate, she tells him he can’t stay in the cottage because of the neighborhood gossip.
Eleanor is cautious but lonely (she had never married) and Grace, who is a widow is also lonely. Grace wouldn’t mind male companionship.
The question of course is, who really is Abel Brown? Is he just a scammer preying on lonely, older women? What is he hiding?
We get the answers to these and more as the play gently progresses. Predictably, Eleanor assumes the worst about Abel when he disappears for 36 hours, Grace isn’t sure if she wants to say “I told you so” and Abel is perturbed by the questioning.
We learn of Abel’s past, but not much about Eleanor’s or even Grace’s. Did Eleanor have a romance that went sour? Is that why she wouldn’t mind the cottage’s destruction? Is the term “honeymoon cottage” fraught with meaning for her? Her father built the cottage for her.
We don’t ever learn this, but who cares? Sometimes it is more fun to make up our own stories about a character’s past.
What takes the gentle comedy to a higher level is the acting. Jane Alexander is well known both in Connecticut and the US for her talent. Judith Ivey also is well known to both Connecticut and New York audiences. But Denis Arndt is something of a surprise. A great deal of his work has been done in regional theaters particularly on the west coast. His appearance last fall on Broadway in Heisenberg opposite Mary Louise Parker earned him attention and a Tony nomination. I’m glad that he seems settled on the east coast.
Each of these actors develop fully formed characters that you absolutely believe in, from the somewhat “starchy” Eleanor, to the nosy Grace, to the mysterious Abel.
It is a pleasure to see them work – each movement, gesture and facial expression is perfectly aligned to the characters and the situation.
Gordon Edelstein has done a fine job directing these three, plus Christopher Michael McFarland who has a small role as a former student who is now a police officer.
Alexander Dodge has created a set that embodies Eleanor’s kitchen and dining area. Not new or modern, but reminiscent of any old house built in the 30s or 40s and never truly modernized. Jess Goldstein has given us costumes that totally suit each character. Philip Rosenberg’s lighting and John Gromada’s sound contribute to feeling the hot Texas summer.
The title, Fireflies, can have multiple meanings. The tiny lightening bugs are so much a part of rural summer nights, but they also flicker for such brief moments.
If you yearn for a sweet, romantic play, Fireflies not only fits the bill but will enchant you with its fine acting.
For tickets, visit Long Wharf or call 203-787-4282, 800-782-8497.
By Karen Isaacs
Take a diverse group of people with some secrets and bring them together; it is a classic pattern for fiction and drama. Think about Grand Hotel, any ship or disaster film, even many war movies.
Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds now at Long Wharf adds a unique twist to this story. Yes, she brings together six people only two of whom know each other. Each has a distinct backstory including some problems and some secrets. She puts them in a closed environment, in this case a week long “retreat”.
The twist is that this environment asks them to observe silence.
Can you have a play with very little dialogue?
The answer is definitely yes, but it did, at the end, leave me unsatisfied.
The plays starts with six of the attendees arriving one by one (except for the two women who know each other), and taking their chairs waiting for the retreat to start. Then comes the disembodied voice of the leader, who sets down the rules which includes no cell phones, outside food. and silence. Plus also a clothing option lake for swimming. One attendee arrives late disturbing the others.
We skip through the week – from the first night as the uncoupled attendees are paired off for sleeping, to surreptitious use of cell phones, snacks and some nude swims.
Most of the communication is through gestures and facial expressions; periodically attendees speak and the teacher offers instruction and guidance.
It becomes the task of the audience to interpret the various interactions and the clues to flesh out who these people are and why they are attending.
It’s not a totally successful process since you often only get a general idea of this. For example, Jan (played by Connor Barrett) who is the first attendee, does not speak. The only hint he really provides is a photo (which I could not see clearly) that he carries with him and puts by his sleeping area. Who is the person? Where is the person? You never know.
Others provide more guidance, we can figure out that Joan and Judy are a couple and that Judy is battling cancer while Joan is the caregiver, with all that entails. Actually we get that from some of the minimal dialogue.
We can recognize that Rodney is confident; when he enters, he selects a space to do some yoga exercises that is almost directly in front of Jan. He is also the one who encourages the nude swimming.
But for some of the others, all we get are generalizations and stereotypes. What dialogue there is, provides most of the plot.
Nothing tremendous happens during the week long retreat. The six participants do seem to bond in some way, some people are hurt and some are granted forgiveness.
At almost two hours, Small Mouth Sounds sometimes seems long and other times it moves quickly.
You may be surprised at how much empathy you develop for many of the characters, particularly Ned who has had a run of Job-like disasters, annoyed at Rodney and confused by the teacher’s disembodied voice. For we even learn somethings about him.
Playwright Bess Wohl has given the actors a difficult task which they handle beautifully with the help of director Rachel Chavkin.
You will come away from Small Mouth Sounds further convinced that people, no matter where they are or who they are, are more alike than different. And that we can understand each other no matter what language we speak.
To be reminded of that at a time when so much of our words lack civility is uplifting.
Tickets are available at Long Wharf.
By Karen Isaacs
Every year as theaters announce their up-coming seasons, certain productions pique my interest. I circle their dates on my calendar in anticipation.
So what have I circled for this up-coming year? Connecticut theaters offer a good mixture of the new, the classics, the familiar, and the rare. I have circled some of each.
(One caveat: Goodspeed, Ivoryton and Westport have not announced their productions for the first half of 2018. I’m sure some of those would have made my list).
Rags at Goodspeed Musicals (Oct. 6 –Dec. 10). This isn’t a new musical, but one of those shows that “failed” on Broadway but has developed a devoted following. Its authors, Charles Strouse (Bye, Bye Birdie,) and Stephen Schwartz (Pippin), have worked on the show extensively with a new book writer (David Thompson) and the revised version has been performed to good reviews. This show about turn-of-the-20th century Jewish immigrants seems timely; the score is excellent.
Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story at Seven Angels Theater, (Feb. 15 – March 11). I’m not sure if this is a one-woman show or not, but it focuses on the life and career of vaudeville star Sophie Tucker.
The Bridges of Madison County at MTC (Nov. 3-19). I love Jason Robert Brown’s score for this adaptation of the novel. I’ll be interested in how director Kevin Connors handles it on the smaller stage. I suspect it will increase the intimacy and emotional impact.
Oklahoma at Goodspeed (through Sept. 27). I’ve already seen this production and while it is quite good, it disappointed me. It didn’t live up to all I had hoped it would be.
I like Shakespeare and Connecticut is blessed with two directors who have a track record of outstanding productions of Shakespeare. Each is directing a work this fall.
Romeo & Juliet at Westport Country Playhouse (Oct. 31 to Nov. 19). Artistic Director Mark Lamos directed one of the best productions of this tragedy at Hartford Stage years ago. I still remember it and hope this production will live up to his earlier one.
Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hartford Stage (Sept. 7 to Oct. 8). Artistic Director Darko Tresjnak has given Connecticut an almost annual Shakespeare production including terrific productions of MacBeth, The Tempest, Hamlet, Twelfth Night and a riotous A Comedy of Errors. Now he is turning his hand to this classic comedy. It’s bound to be good.
It seems as though Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is having a resurgence; there were two productions in New York last season and now it is opening Yale Rep’s season (Oct 6 -28). This play is about individual responsibility, courage, economics, and environmental health, yet it was written almost 140 years ago.
Dramas & Comedies (New, Familiar & Rare)
Matthew Lopez is a fine younger playwright, whose works I’ve enjoyed (The Whipping Man, Reverberation), so I’m looking forward to The Legend of Georgia McBride at TheaterWorks (March 15 – April 22). It’s about a young man, a former Elvis impersonator who becomes a successful drag queen.
Fireflies (Oct. 11 – Nov. 5) at Long Wharf is featuring an outstanding cast including Jane Alexander. For that reason alone, it’s on my list.
The Connecticut Rep is doing Our Country’s Good (Nov. 30 – Dec. 9). It premiered at Hartford Stage many years ago and is a fascinating look at the founding of Australia and the power of theater to transform people.
Almost all of Hartford Stage’s productions sound interesting, but if I am to pick just one it would be Athol Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immortality Act, (May 10- June 3). Why? Athol Fugard is one of the great playwrights and this is an earlier work, plus it reveals more about life under apartheid in South Africa.
It’s also hard to pick which Yale Rep play will astound me: I am unfamiliar with many of them. But if forced to circle just one on my calendar, it would be Kiss, (April 27-May) by Guillermo Calederón. Why? The description sounds interesting: about people surviving in Damascus.
I did not get to see Jesse Eisenberg’s The Revisionist off-Broadway, so I’m looking forward to the Playhouse on Park production, April 11-29. It’s about a young man who visits an elderly cousin in Warsaw who is a Holocaust survivor.
These twelve selections are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the other scheduled productions, including those at the Bushnell, sound very interesting. So check them all out. Connecticut has amazing theater!
By Karen Isaacs
The gala celebration of Connecticut’s professional theater, co-chaired by Shore Publishing’s own Amy Barry, produced winners from both the largest professional theaters in the state and some of the smaller.
The big winners were The Invisible Hand produced by Westport Country Playhouse and Next to Normal produced by TheaterWorks.
Invisible Hand by Ayah Akhtar won outstanding drama, outstanding director (David Kennedy) and outstanding actor (Eric Bryant). The play is about an American banker who is held hostage in Parkistan; it deals with economics, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.
Next to Normal, the musical about a family dealing with the mother’s bipolar condition received awards as outstanding musical, outstanding director (Rob Ruggiero), outstanding actress (Christiann Noll), outstanding lighting (John Lasiter). Maya Keleher who played the daughter received the debut award.
Special awards were presented to actor Paxton Whitehead for his body of work; he has appeared frequently at Westport Country Playhouse in productions of works by Joe Orton and Alan Ayckbourn. The presentation was made by noted director John Tillinger.
Tillinger also made a brief tribute to playwright A. R. Gurney who died in June. Not only did Gurney live in Connecticut, but many of his works were produced here. Tillinger directed a number of them at Long Wharf and Hartford Stage.
James Lecesne, actor, playwright, novelist and activist was honored for his outreach activities while performing his play The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey at Hartford Stage this year. Lecense talked about the impact theater can have on audiences and spoke of how it had “saved” him as a gay teenager. Many winners made similar comments on the importance and impact of theater.
The Tom Killen Award for contributions to Connecticut theater (and theater in general) was given to Paulette Haupt who has served as the artistic director of the National Musical Theatre Conference at the O’Neill Center in Waterford since 1978. Among the 120 new musicals she has selected and helped include In the Heights, Nine, Avenue Q and many more. She’s been instrumental in the careers of Lin Manuel Miranda, Maury Yeston, Tom Kitt and others.
Three of Connecticut’s smaller professional theaters – the Summer Theater of New Canaan (STONC), Music Theater of Connecticut (MTC) and Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury were honored. Jon Petersen received the award for outstanding solo performance at Seven Angels as Anthony Newley in He Wrote Good Songs. Peterson was unable to attend because he is starring as the Emcee in the national tour of Cabaret which was in Portland, Oregon.
West Side Story at STONC received awards for outstanding choreography (Doug Shankman) and outstanding actor in a musical (Zach Schanne)
Kate Simone received outstanding featured actor in a musical for her performance as Louise in Gypsy at MTC.
Hartford Stage took home awards for outstanding actress in a play (Vanessa R. Butler) in Queens for a Year, outstanding featured actress in a play (Connecticut resident Mia Dillon) in Cloud 9 and featured actor in a play (Cleavant Derricks) for The Piano Lesson. The theater also received three awards for A Comedy of Errors) – outstanding set design (Darko Tresjnak), outstanding sound design (Jane Shaw) and outstanding costume design (Fabio Toblini).
Rhett Guter who is now in rehearsal as Curly in Goodspeed’s Oklahoma! won outstanding featured actor in a musical for last year’s Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed. He played Birdie.
Long Wharf’s production of Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower received the award for outstanding ensemble.
Among the presenters were Sirius-XM radio’s Broadway channel program director Julie James, producer Patricia Flicker Addiss, Tony-winning set designer Michael Yeargen and two former artistic directors of Connecticut theaters: Michael Wilson of Hartford Stage and Michael Price of Goodspeed Musicals.
Terrence Mann, three time Tony nominee, and artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theater’s Summer Stage hosted the evening. Bobby Conte Thornton, star of Broadway’s A Bronx Tale provided two terrific songs.
But perhaps the stars of the evening were sisters Ella and Riley Briggs, two adorable young girls with bright futures ahead them. Ella played the young Frances Gumm in Chasing Rainbows last year at Goodspeed and she and Riley were both in Godspeed’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.
By Karen Isaacs
Connecticut’s professional theaters produced over 40 shows from June 2016 to the end of May 2017; plus various national tours played the major producing houses. Connecticut theatergoers had over 60 productions to choose from. I saw nearly 90 percent of the shows at the professional theaters and some of the national tours.
So how did the season measure up?
My top plays:
The Invisible Hand at Westport Country Playhouse
Queens for a Year at Hartford Stage
Scenes of Court Life at Yale Rep
A Comedy of Errors at Hartford Stage
The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage
Meteor Shower at Long Wharf
Endgame at Long Wharf
Heartbreak House at Hartford Stage
My top musicals:
Next to Normal at TheaterWorks
Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed
Gypsy at MTC
He Wrote Good Songs at Seven Angels
The top touring shows:
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelsky at Hartford Stage
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Marriage at the Bushnell
The King & I at the Bushnell
An American in Paris at the Bushnell
A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Bushnell
Shows that pleasantly surprised me:
Absolute Turkey at CRT
Bilox Blues at Ivoryton
Trav’ling – the Harlem Musical at Seven Angels
Half of my top plays were new – often world premieres..
Many musical productions were fine overall productions, but either not exciting shows or not exciting productions.
The Bushnell had a stellar season of national tours including the rarity of a play.
Darko Tresjnak continue to prove he is also a terrific scenic designer with Italian setting for A Comedy of Errors.
Among the Disappointments.
Unfortunately some shows that I had looked forward to disappointed me. Mostly they were well directed and well- acted, but they just did not maximize their possibilities. Sometimes it is new play which is still being developed or trying to do or say too much.
Assassins at Yale Rep. I’ve seen and liked the show in the past, but this production just missed, at least for me.
The Most Beautiful Room in New York at Long Wharf. What can I say? It didn’t live up to my expectations.
Napoli, Brooklyn at Long Wharf. More soap opera than compelling drama.
Camelot at Westport. This minimalist version was just too minimal though the performances were fine.
But even these productions had elements that were enjoyable and were well worth seeing.
TheaterWork’s production of the musical “Next to Normal” led the nominations for the 27th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards event to be held Monday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield.
The show received a total of 10 nominations, including best musical. Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s play “The Invisible Hand” led the non-musicals, receiving seven nominations, including outstanding play.
Other outstanding play nominees are: “The Comedy of Errors” at Hartford Stage; “Mary Jane” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Scenes From Court Life” at Yale Repertory Theatre and “Midsummer” at TheaterWorks.
Also nominated for outstanding musical are: “Assassins” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Bye Bye Birdie” at Goodspeed Opera House, “Man of La Mancha” at Ivoryton Playhouse and “West Side Story” at Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
The awards show, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, is free and open to the public.
Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann will be the master of ceremonies for the event. Mann joined the Connecticut theater community this year as artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
Last year’s top honorees — Yale Repertory Theatre’s play “Indecent” and Hartford Stage’s musical “Anastasia” — are currently on Broadway.
Also receiving special awards this year are James Lecesne for his work using theater as a way to connect with LGBT youths in works such as his solo show “The Absolute Brightness off Leonard Pelkey,” which was presented this spring at Hartford Stage, and Paxton Whitehead, for his longtime career in theater, especially in Connecticut
Receiving the Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement is Paulette Haupt, who is stepping down after 40 years from her position as founding artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
Other nominees are:
Actor in a play: Jordan Lage, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tom Pecinka, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Michael Doherty, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; Eric Bryant, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; M. Scott McLean, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks.
Actress in a play: Semina DeLaurentis, “George & Gracie,” Seven Angels Theatre; Emily Donahoe, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ashlie Atkinson, “Imogen Says Nothing,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Vanessa R. Butler, “Queens for a Year,” Hartford Stage; Rebecca Hart, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks
Actor in a musical: Robert Sean Leonard, “Camelot,” Westport Playhouse; Riley Costello, “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; David Harris, “Next To Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Pittsinger, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Zach Schanne, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Actress in a musical: Ruby Rakos, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Christiane Noll, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Julia Paladino, “West Side Story.” Karen Ziemba, “Gypsy, Sharon Playhouse; Talia Thiesfield, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Director of a play: Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; David Kennedy, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Marc Bruni, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tracy Brigden, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks; Gordon Edelstein, “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Director of a musical: Rob Ruggiero, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Edwards, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Melody Meitrott Libonati, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Jenn Thompson, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kevin Connors, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk.
Choreography: Denis Jones, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Chris Bailey, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Doug Shankman, West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Patricia Wilcox, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Darlene Zoller, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.
Ensemble: Cast of “Smart People,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “Trav’lin’ ” at Seven Angels Theatre; cast of “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre; cast of “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; cast of “The 39 Steps” at Ivoryton Playhouse.
Debut performance: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Dylan Frederick, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Nick Sacks, “Next to Normal, TheaterWorks.
Solo Performance: Jodi Stevens, “I’ll Eat You Last,” Music Theater of Connecticut; Jon Peterson, “He Wrote Good Songs,” Seven Angels Theatre.
Featured actor in a play: Jameal Ali, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Andre De Shields, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Cleavant Derricks, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Steve Routman, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Paxton Whitehead, “What the Butler Saw,” Westport Country Playhouse
Featured actress in a play: Miriam Silverman, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Rachel Leslie, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Mia Dillon, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Christina Pumariega, “Napoli, Brooklyn,” Long Wharf Theatre
Featured actor in a musical: Mark Nelson, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theatre; Edward Watts, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; John Cardoza, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jonny Wexler, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Rhett Guter, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Michael Wartella, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House
Featured actress in a musical: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jodi Stevens, “Gypsy,” “Music Theater of Connecticut; Katie Stewart, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Kristine Zbornik, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kate Simone, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut.
Set design: Colin McGurk, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Michael Yeargan, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theater; Wilson Chin, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Adam Rigg, “The Invisible Hand,” “Westport Country Playhouse; Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage.
Costume design: Ilona Somogyi, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Marina Draghici, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theater; Fabio Toblini, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Gregory Gale, “Thorough Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Lisa Steier, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.
Lighting design: Matthew Richards, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; John Lasiter, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Matthew Richards, “Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Christopher Bell, “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” Playhouse on Park, Hartford.
Sound design: Jane Shaw, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Fan Zhang, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Shane Rettig, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Karen Graybash, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Fitz Patton, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse.
2017 Nominations List
Outstanding Solo Performance
Jodi Stevens I’ll Eat You Last MTC
Jon Peterson He Wrote Good Songs 7 Angels
Maya Kelcher (Natalie) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Dylan Frederick Assassins Yale Rep
Nick Sacks Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Cast of… Smart People Long Wharf
Cast of… Trav’lin 7 Angels
Cast of… Meteor Shower Long Wharf
Cast of… Assassins Yale
Cast of… The 39 Steps Ivoryton
Michael Commendatore Assassins Yale
Jane Shaw Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Fan Zhang Seven Guitars Yale
Shane Retig Scenes From Court Life Yale
Karin Graybash Piano Lesson Hartford Stage
Fitz Patton Invisible Hand Westport
Outstanding Costume Design
Ilona Somogyi Heartbreak House Hartford Stage
Marina Draghici Scenes from Court Life Yale
Lisa Steier Rockin’ the Forest Playhouse on Park
Fabio Toblini Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Gregory Gale Modern Millie Goodspeed
Matthew Richards Invisible Hand Westport
Yi Zhao Assassins Yale
John Lasiter Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Matthew Richards Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Christopher Bell A Moon for the Misbegotten Playhouse on Park
Outstanding Set Design
Colin McGurk Heartbreak House Hartford Stage
Michael Yeargan Most Beautiful Room… Long Wharf
Wilson Chin Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Adam Rigg The Invisible Hand Westport
Darko Tresnjak The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Denis Jones Modern Millie Goodspeed
Chris Bailey Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Doug Shankman West Side Story STONC
Patricia Wilcox Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Darlene Zoller Rockin’ the Forest Playhouse on Park
Outstanding Featured Actor – Musical
Mark Nelson (Carlo) Most Beautiful Room…. Long Wharf
Edward Watts (Trevor) Modern Millie Goodspeed
John Cardoza (Gabe) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Jonny Wexler (Action) West Side Story STONC
Rhett Guter (Birdie) Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Michael Wartella Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Outstanding Featured Actress – Musical
Maya Keleher (Natalie) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Jodi Stevens (Secretary/Mazeppa) Gypsy MTC
Katie Stewart (Anita) West Side Story STONC
Kristine Zbornik (Mother) Bye, Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Kate Simone (Louise) Gypsy MTC
Outstanding Featured Actress – Play
Miriam Silverman (Brianne/Chaya) Mary Jane Yale
Rachel Leslie (Vera) Seven Guitars Yale
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Ruby) Seven Guitars Yale
Mia Dillon Cloud 9 Hartford Stage
Christina Pumariega (Tina) Napoli, Brooklyn Long Wharf
Outstanding Featured Actor – Play
Jameal Ali (Dar) The Invisible Hand Westport
Andre De Shields Headley) Seven Guitars Yale
Cleavant Derricks Piano lesson Hartford Stage
Steve Routman (Coles) Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Paxton Whitehead (Dr. Rance) What the Butler Saw Westport
Outstanding Director – Musical
Rob Ruggiero Next to Normal TheaterWorks
David Edwards Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Melody Libonati West Side Story STONC
Jenn Thompson Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Kevin Connors Gypsy MTC
Outstanding Director – Play
Darko Tresnjak The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
David Kennedy The Invisible Hand Westport
Marc Bruni Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Tracy Brigden Midsummer TheaterWorks
Gordon Edelstein Meteor Shower Long Wharf
Outstanding Actor – Musical
Robert Sean Leonard (Arthur) Camelot Westport
Riley Costello (Finch) How to Succeed… CRT
David Harris (Dan) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
David Pittsinger (Don Q) Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Zach Schanne (Tony) West Side Story STONC
Outstanding Actress – Musical
Ruby Rakos (Judy) Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Christiane Noll (Diana) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Julia Paladino (Maria) West Side Story STONC
Karen Ziemba (Rose) Gypsy Sharon Playhouse
Talia Thiesfield (Aldonza) Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Outstanding Actor – Play
Tom Pecinka (Betty/Edward) Cloud 9 Hartford Stage
Michael Doherty (Black Stache) Peter and the… CRT
Eric Bryant (prisoner) Invisible Hand Westport
Jordan Lage (Garfinkle) Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Scott McLean (Bob) Midsummer… TheaterWorks
Outstanding Actress – Play
Emily Donohe Mary Jane Yale
Semina DeLaurentis (Gracie) George & Gracie 7 Angels
Ashlie Atkinson (Imogen) Imogen Says Nothing Yale
Vanessa R. Butler (Solinas) Queens for a Year Hartford Stage
Rebecca Hart (Helena) Midsummer TheaterWorks
Outstanding Production – Musical
Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
West Side Story STONC
Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Outstanding Production – Play
The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Midsummer (a play with songs) TheaterWorks
Scenes From Court Life Yale
The Invisible Hand Westport
Mary Jane Yale
By Karen Isaacs
Lydia R. Diamond’s play “Smart People” now at Long Wharf Theater through April 9 is a two hour discussion or race and gender: it is sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking and sometime pedantic.
How you will react to the play will depend on how insightful you feel the points made are.
It is set in Cambridge, between 2007-2009 which coincides with the candidacy and election of Barack Obama and the run of Hillary Clinton for the nomination.
A little quibble, early in the play a character refers to “he” and who will vote for “him”. If you haven’t read the program notes, you may think it is referring to our current President.
We meet four people — all well-educated, three of them and possibly the fourth, have a connection to Harvard. We have Brian White (yes, he is Caucasian), who is neuroscientist. He is aiming for tenure but his research is ruffling feathers exacerbated by his outspokenness in the media. His research is attempting to prove that a racism is inherent in the brains of people.
Ginny Yang is a brilliant psychologist who received tenure at an amazingly young age. Part Chinese and part Japanese, her research and clinical practice revolve around the problems of Asian-American women in the U.S.
We also meet two African-Americans. Valerie Johnston is an aspiring actress with an MFA. Jackson Moore is a physician who is in a neurosurgery residency program.
We meet each of these characters in brief scenes that establish them. We see White teaching a freshman level course which he views as “punishment.” He feels most of the students are stupid. We see Yang in a therapy session with a Chinese woman who keeps reverting to Chinese.
Moore is responding to being questioned by an older physician about a toe amputation he did; he responds angrily. And Johnston is in rehearsal of “Julius Caesar” and finding the director overly controlling.
Soon White and Yang are interacting and Moore and Johnston are interacting. At times it takes on the feeling of a romantic comedy. Johnston and White also interact.
We learn how each views the world through the prism of their race, gender and experiences. We see Yang encountering sales clerks who she views as not taking her serious as a customer. Even when Johnston first meets Moore (she is in the ER for a cut on her forehead that requires stitches), she asks if she will merit seeing a doctor.
What is most interesting about the characters is that they often conform to the stereotypes: Moore gets angry and often seems to lose control; it is clear that he sees a racial undertone to the criticism he receives. Johnston decides to clean houses to pay her rent while waiting for her acting break. Yang is an overachiever who admits she doesn’t “do nurturing” well, and White, despite his views and research on racism, blunders around often inadvertently sounding very racist or condescending.
While very well acted, the play does not really shed any new ideas to the discussion. Even Yang’s comment during a dinner party where White and Johnston and Moore are discussing race is obvious. She draws attention to the fact that while those three are arguing/discussing they are ignoring not only her as an Asian -American but also the realities of other minorities in the US — Native Americans, Latinos and other.
It is true that in America, most discussions about race are centered on the two.
My concern is that people will leave this play feeling that they have had a meaningful discussion of these issues. The issue of what is called “implicit bias” based on subtle cognitive processes below the conscious level is an interesting field of discovery; though it does seem to offer an “easy answer” to bias – we can’t do much about it because it is inborn and unconscious.
The cast four are excellent and work well together. Ka-Ling Cheung is Ginny Yang whose Chinese patient views as “white”. Tiffany Nichole Greene is Valerie Johnson while Sullivan Jones gives us the combative Jackson Moore and Peter O’Connor is the sometimes fumbling Brian White. Director Desdemona Chiang has kept the scene shifts, storylines and combinations of characters moving cinemagraphically.
You will either the find this play, disturbing and thought provoking, or you may, like me, view it as pretending to be more meaningful than it actually is.
Smart People is at Long Wharf Theater, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, through April 9. For tickets visit Long Wharf or call 800-782-8497.
By Karen Isaacs
Napoli, Brooklyn is getting its world premiere on Long Wharf’s main stage through March 12 in a co-production with New York’s Roundabout Theatre. It will open at its Laura Pels Theater in May.
The play is set in Brooklyn in the fall of 1960. It centers on the three daughters of Luda and Nic Muscolino, both immigrants from Italy. The daughters range from 16 to early 20s and each is not only very different but “a type.” Vita is the eldest daughter with a strong independent streak who is willing to speak her mind without regard for the consequences. Tina is the middle girl who dropped out of school and works in a box factory. Francesca is the youngest; still a teenager she already knows she is a lesbian.
Nic, their father, is a violent and angry man who lashes out and resorts to attacks against his wife and his daughters. His abuse is not just verbal but also physical. Luda, his wife, is worn down but resigned to the situation. Their Catholic faith plays a major role in their lives.
While playwright Meghan Kennedy talks a great deal in the program notes about multiple ideas, none of these really resonate in this play which could be any made-for-TV movie. She tries to bring in the civil rights movement (Tina is friends with a black woman at work), the women’s liberation movement (The Feminine Mystique) wasn’t published until 1962), and the current debate over immigration.
She has set the play around the mid-air collision of a United Airways and a TWA jet; the United plane crashed in Park Slope killing all 128 on board and six people on the ground; the resulting fire destroyed 10 apartment buildings. It happened just nine days before Christmas.
The only apparent reason for bring the crash into the play is to have a spectacular first act curtain, and to supposedly motivate some changes in Nic and Connie, Francesca’s friend.
Early in the play, Luda, again for reasons that never become clear, is both angry with God and also upset because she can no longer cry when she cuts into an onion. We learn about some of the recent events in the family: Francesca and Connie are planning on running away (to France) by stowing away on a boat; they seem physically attracted to each other. Vita is in a convent, but she is not planning on being a nun; Luda sent her there to be “safe.” Tina, who appears stoic and placid is making a friend at work with Celia, the married African-American woman. There’s even a hint that Luda enjoys flirting with Albert Duffy, the butcher who is Connie’s father and is apparently widowed.
We also learn that Nic’s reaction when Francesca cut her long hair was so violent that Vita stepped in between, threatened her father and was beaten by him resulting in severe injuries. That’s why Luda has sent her away – to be safe from her father.
After the crash, Nic has apparently totally changed – rather than angry and violent, he appears placid and easy-going. Connie has changed her mind about leaving with Francesca because her brother was killed in the crash, and Celia is bunking on the couch since her husband was killed also. It seems too coincidental that though only six people on the ground were killed, two were intertwined with the family.
It is these odd events that keep you guessing and finally leave you dissatisfied. Because, though it is all neatly wrapped up at the end; you don’t necessarily believe any of it.
The cast, under the direction of Gordon Edelstein, does its best to make these characters believable and their actions motivated. Alyssa Bresnahan does yeoman’s work as the mother, keeping a slight accent. She does her best to help us see why this woman stays and protects her daughters. Jason Kolotouros gives us a Nic that is a stereotype of the violent, angry man. He reminds us of Stanley Kowalski but without the redeeming features that Stanley can have. His final decision seems totally out of character.
Local resident Jordyn DiNatale is the teenage Francesca. She captures the gawkiness, the certainty and the neediness of the character. She tries so hard to make her father like her; even hinting at her lesbianism as though that would make him view her as the son he always wanted.
Christina Pumariega is the stoic Tina who slowly begins to assert herself. Of the three daughters she seems the most passive; yet, she too begins to reveal an independent streak.
As Vita, Carolyn Braver plays the character as the emerging feminist, though that term was not particularly used.
Graham Winton, Ryann Shane and Shirine Babb play the three other characters: the butcher Albert Duffy, his daughter Connie; and Tina’s work friend, Celia. They do the best they can with roles that are only minimally developed and whose actions seem unmotivated.
Lighting designer Ben Stanton did an excellent job including putting Christmas lights all around the theater; as well as the lighting effects for the plane crash. In addition, the lighting helps define and identify the various locations in the play. Fitz Patton, the sound designer contributes to the effect. Eugene Lee’s set shows us a typical apartment that also can turn into the factory, the butcher shop, the convent and more.
Napoli, Brooklyn is a play that attempts to do a lot more than it succeeds in doing. It creates some characters that you can care about, but then leaves too many questions dangling. It is at Long Wharf Theatre through March 12. For tickets visit Long Wharf.
By Karen Isaacs
Other People’s Money by Jerry Sterner now at Long Wharf Theatre through December 18, is a play that has always been schizophrenic. Does it want to be a romantic comedy with a bit of cynicism thrown in OR does it want to be a hard-hitting play about our current economic/business environment?
It tries to have it all, but doesn’t quite succeed, not even in this excellent production directed by Marc Bruni.The play was written in the late 1980s and had its first major production at Hartford Stage, later it had a successful run off-Broadway and was made into a film.
Other People’s Money is about corporate raiders, small town values and the economic costs to our country of greed. When it was written by Sterner (who was in finance/Wall Street), theater and film goers were seeing Wall Street where George Gecko proclaimed the virtue of greed, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross showed the cut-throat world of the boiler room salesman, and people were reading Tom Wolfe’s novel, Bonfires of the Vanities.
The play is about a wire and cable factory in a small Rhode Island town. The family run business – led by Jorgey as its chairman – has been in business for years serving as the leader of the local economy. Times have been tough yet the company has hung on though not really making money. One day, the president of the company, Coles, notes that the stock has had unusually high trading volumes and the price is climbing. He is instantly suspicious though Jorgey just thinks it is because people are recognizing its value.
Soon the corporate raider/takeover specialist, Garfinkle is arriving to point out that the company’s assets and subsidiary businesses are worth millions. As weeks go by Garfinkle continues to buy up stock and soon owns a substantial percentage.
Coles and the audience soon realize what Garfinkle’s plan will be: gain enough stock to convince others to cede control to him; he will sell off assets, possibly keep the profitable parts and shut down the plant.
But Jorgey is an old-fashioned business man, a pillar in the community, who cannot recognize what is happening. When he finally listens to advice, he will not do what needs to be done to protect his company and workers.
His longtime assistant, Bea (who is also the love of his life though they both were married to others) convinces her daughter, Kate to help out. She’s a high powered lawyer who works in merger and acquisitions. Battling Garfinkle is something she jumps at but is frustrated by Jorgey’s reluctance to take action.
Lots of corporate financial terms get bounced around – golden parachutes, poison pills and more. Also there is a lot of sexual talk. Garfinkle’s conversation is crass and vulgar to the extreme and Kate isn’t above using her looks and the same in return.
Yes, a plan is developed to try to save the company but I won’t spoil the ending.
Bruni has directed a fine cast. The play is narrated in part by the company president Coles played by Steve Routman. Should we be shocked that some point he is willing to sell out in order to look after his own goals? In fact, most of the characters are less than heroic, with the possible exception of Bea, Kate’s mother and Jorgey’s assistant who will do whatever she can for the man she loves.
But while Kate tries to save the company, she too has one eye on the prize of what defeating Garfinkle would do for her career. Even Jorgey is not a totally heroic figure; his unwillingness to understand the current economic/corporate world leads to his problems.
Lee Savage has created a fine two-tiered set with Garfinkle’s shiny modern office in the back and the more homespun factory office in front. Even the paint is peeling. Anita Yavich has also delineated the differences between these two worlds in the costumes for Kate and Garfinkle – NYC polished but provocative—and Coles, Bea and Jorgey – more middle class conservative.
The cast is fine. Steve Routman’s Coles seems all professional and honest yet we early are on are shown his self-interest; at least initially you feel sympathetic for him. Edwards James Hyland gives us a Jorgey (everyone calls him that though his name is Jorgenson) is the downhome business man straight out of a Sinclair Lewis novel. He’s stubborn, honest and has bought him to the conventional values. Karen Ziemba’s Bea is the motherly type. Her scenes with Kate have a harder edge and you really want to know more of the backstory between Bea, her husband and Jorgey.
Liv Rooth gives us a Kate who is ambitious and realistic. She is the stereotyped Wall Street lawyer. Rooth’s Kate seems to enjoy the game with Garfinkle, but accepts the outcome too earily.
As Garfinkle, Jordan Lage is all greed and testosterone. He truly could be called “the snake.”
The problem with Other People’s Money isn’t the cast or the directing; it is that you leave the theater not depressed that nothing has changed but feeling slightly dirty from the humor and the ideas.
Other People’s Money is at Long Wharf Theatre through Dec. 18. For tickets, contact Long Wharf
By Karen Isaacs
Watching Meteor Showers, the world premiere play by Steve Martin now at Long Wharf through October 23, it is obvious it is written by an intelligent individual with a quirky sense of the absurd.
For this play blends fantasy and psychology together to make interesting observations on our multi-dimensional selves and marriage in the 21st century.
The play opens at the home of Norm and Corky in the California desert. The magnificent set by Michael Yeargan shows us mid-century modern living room and the adjoining outdoor space with two chaise lounge chairs. The set rotates so the perspective changes
Norm (Patrick Breen) and Corky (Arden Myrin) are a long married couple, seemingly mild mannered. It is also clear from an early conversation that they have had some marital difficulties and consulted a therapist. Early on there is a hilarious episode of practicing a counseling technique known as reflective listening/affirmation of feelings. But they do it in a very simplistic way. It is evening and they are expecting guests – Gerald and Laura who have apparently invited themselves. Gerald and Laura have visited other couples in the area including one that Norm and Corky would like to meet. The reason for the visit? Gerald has told Norm there is a spectacular meteor shower and since Norm and Corky live in an area which gives a good view of the sky without city lights, he want to see it.
Soon Gerald and Laura arrive – actually the pre-arrival and arrival scene are repeated three times—and things feel a little strange. Both are very assertive and assured. Gerald (Josh Stamberg) both brags a great deal and seems to know everything. Laura (Sophina Brown) is dressed and acts like a seductress. The two easily dominate and fluster the quieter Norm and Corky.
Things seem to deteriorate until a meteor crashes into a chaise lounge and Norm is apparently killed. But all is not as it seems, he is not dead and arrives back at the house to find strange goings on. In the second act, after a phone call from the couple Norm and Corky hope to meet, the visit is replayed with very different results.
The play combines many elements. First of all it has elements of fantasy or perhaps more accurately nightmares. We’ve all dreamed of the predatory stranger. It is, similar to the play Constellations, a retelling of the same events with different results.
It is funny but it certainly has elements or pays reverence to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? though rather than George and Martha playing “get the guest”, here Gerald and Laura are playing “get the host.”
As I watched the play, I also recalled the pop psychology best seller of the 1970s: Eric Berne’s Games People Play and transactional analysis.
But the play can also be viewed in many other ways. As Norm and Corky seem to discover by the final curtain, Gerald and Laura are part of their own personas. Are they the people they would like to be? The people they fear they could be? The people they were when the marriage was in trouble? Do they want to break the societal expectations as Gerald and Laura do?
Your conclusions will be just that, yours. But it is certain that mixed into the humor is fear of the consequences of our impulses. What happens when the mask of civility is removed? It is we have seen occur in our world in the last of year, particularly in the political world.
Director Gordon Edelstein has done an excellent job keeping the play moving and the audience guessing. He hints at all of the possible interpretations and establishes the dynamics between the characters.
The four person cast plays off each other very well, even though there was a last minute
cast change. Craig Bierko was originally playing Gerald but he left the cast for reasons undisclosed. Luckily John Stamburg who had played the role at the Old Globe Theater (the co-presenter with Long Wharf of the play) in San Diego was able to step into the role. It is interesting that the other cast members from the Old Globe are not in this production. Rather unusual with a co-presentation.
Patrick Breen’s Norm is just as the name implies – a normal guy who keeps his emotions under control and seems a little bland. Yet he also lets you see in some of the scenes with Corky that there is something simmering below the surface. The mild manner appears forced.
Corky as played by Arden Myrin is his equal – seemingly bland and sensitive. But again it seems not quite real; Corky is playing a role perhaps due to the unexplained but acknowledged past marital problems.
Gerald and Laura are the showy roles. Josh Stamberg’s Gerald is all testosterone and bluster. He is the person who announces how much the wine he brings costs. Stamberg captures this bluster in both voice and movements; yet somehow you have an inkling that it is just for show to cover up insecurities. Sophina Brown’s Laura is all sex from her low cut, tight dress, to her movement and sexy voice. But is it a caricature or a real person?
John Gromada has composed the original music and handled the sound design which includes the crashing of the meteor. Jess Goldstein’s costumes add to our understanding of the characters.
Meteor Showers is a fascinating evening in the theater. It is at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Dr., New Haven through Oct. 23. For tickets visit longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.