By Karen Isaacs
Jez Butterworth, whose play The River is at TheaterWorks through Sunday, Nov. 11, is one of the “hot” British playwrights and screenwriters. Jerusalem won plaudits on Broadway, winning multiple awards; Broadway is now awaiting the opening of The Ferryman which won acclaim (and awards) in London last season.
Sometimes I wonder if the emperor is wearing any clothes. I saw The River when it had a limited engagement run on Broadway a few years ago, starring Hugh Jackman. At the time, I felt Jackman’s box office appeal was the reason for its success. It did not get critical acclaim.
But apparently Rob Ruggiero who directed this production loved the ambiguity of it and has now brought it to Hartford. It’s a fine production with very good actors. Ruggiero and the actors make the most of the material in this 70-75 minute play.
Certainly there is ambiguity about almost everything in the play and enough possible symbols and metaphors to keep you puzzling over it for hours. The question remains, is it worth the intellectual effort?
Once again, we have nameless characters – The Woman, The Man, The Other Woman. The play is set in a well-designed (by Brian Prather) cabin that The Man’s family has used as a fishing cabin for years. It’s all wood and natural. The cabin – which shows the back room (probably the bedroom) takes the center of the stage, with tall trees on each side.
It’s clear that The Man has brought The Woman here for a special few days. It is August, there is no moon and it seems that at this time of year the sea trout return to breed. It is the best time to capture them. So we learn that The Man has spent the afternoon teaching The Woman to cast; now she doesn’t want to go to the fishing spot.
We see him return to the cabin and frantically call for help – she is missing! But the woman who returns to the cabin – with a fish is not The Woman but The Other Woman, an earlier woman he had brought to the cabin.
Every time one of the women leaves the stage you can be sure that the other will be the woman to return.
So the questions begin to pile up. Are these the only two women he’s brought there? Why does he bring them there? It seems like well-rehearsed scene with both he and the women repeating the same lines. He tells each there is a box under the bed and something is in it he want to give to each; something he has never shared with anyone. The Woman seems alarmed because she thinks it is a ring – it is obvious that she isn’t that interested in him.
The mood gets eerie when The Woman finds a drawing of a woman in a red dress in the room: her face is scratched out and a red dress is hanging in the closet. The scene is repeated with the earlier Other Woman. So what is going on?
In Ruggiero’s notes in the program, he certainly points out many of the possible meanings and symbols in this play. The metaphor of fly fishing – baiting, hooking, capturing, releasing. The idea of the sea trout (which apparently evolved from river trout) returning each year but instead of dying after procreating, returning to the sea stronger. The ephemeral nature of love which can come and go in an instant.
In fact the characters say lines like “you can’t go back,” “I’m not entirely sure what love is” and more.
You can also wonder if The Other Woman actually exists – is she real, a memory/flashback, a ghost? Is either woman real or figments of his imagination?
In one section, The Man guts a sea trout and cooks it for The Woman. It is a quiet scene with no dialogue just some background music. But why? Is it also a symbol?
Billy Carter plays The Man as more dangerous than Jackman did. You keep wondering what his game is and what he will do next. He may not have Jackman’s charisma (who does?) but his performance is nuanced and solid.
The Woman is played by Andrea Goss. At times she came across as what could be called “a spoiled brat” – you don’t really see why they are attracted and you don’t feel much chemistry between them.
That’s not the case with Jasmine Batchelor as The Other Woman. She seems to have created a fuller character and some real chemistry with The Man.
One of the better parts of the production is the music by Frederick Kennedy which emphasizes both woodlands and the eerie qualities of the play.
How you will rate The River will be a factor of how you interpret the piece and how much you enjoy solving the mysteries.
Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Many may feel the same about The River. I was not intrigued enough to try to untangle it all. You may be.
The River is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford through Sunday, Nov. 11. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com
By Karen Isaacs
Theater goers have learned that a show featuring puppets, isn’t necessarily aimed at children or even appropriate for them. Certainly Avenue Q drove that home, and it is reinforced in Hand to God, the comedy now at TheaterWorks through Sunday, August 26.
The promotional material says that “you’ve been warned – This play is rated R for rude, raunchy, and riotously funny!” Certainly it is both of the first two; how funny you find it will depend on your sense of humor and your view about religious jokes.
The premise is not new but playwright Robert Askins has used the underlying premise in a unique way: How do others react when an individual lets down the barriers of civility and civilization and says or does exactly what he or she wants to do or is thinking? Or as Freud would have said, what happens when the id (the part of the personality that contains the aggressive and sexual drives and is impulsive) takes over from the superego (which reflects the values and morals of society and whose job is to control the id)? This is, of course, a simplistic explanation of Freud’s theory.
Authors have been using this technique for generations. Sometimes it is when a character is drunk or under hypnosis that his or her real thoughts come forth, other times a second personality takes over, and occasionally an outside force is the cause for the truth telling. (In the film comedy Liar, Liar it is the son’s wish that his Dad tell the truth). In each case the effects of this truth telling or revealing of desires and thoughts causes consternation, discomfort and unforeseen consequences. In most of these, the truth telling is liberating and the endings are usually happy.
Such is the case in Hand to God. Jason is a teenager in a small Texas town, whose father has recently died. Jason seems like your typical kid that could be bullied. His mother (Jessica) has thrown herself into creating a puppet ministry at their local church, but all is not going great. Though Jason is attached to his puppet Tyrone, and Margery, another teen, is also committed to it, Timmy is the bad boy who belittles and seems to say whatever he wishes. The set-up is that Pastor Greg tells Jessica that in two weeks she must put on a puppet sermon/drama during services.
That same night, Tyrone seems to take over Jason, expressing all of his pent up anger, his distress plus his sexual desires towards Margery. Tyrone’s language is definitely not that used in church and he seems to have little respect for anyone. In a sense, he is becoming like Timmy. But Jessica also undergoes a transformation. Without the benefit of the puppet she too reveals a personality totally at odds with her image as a God-fearing widow and mother. I don’t want to give too much away but she responds to the attentions of Timmy and the Pastor in unexpected ways. There’s a “bad girl” lurking underneath.
Jessica and Pastor Greg respond to Tyrone’s takeover of Jason by considering a puppet exorcism, but no one know how to do it. In the second act, Askins has provided two very funny scenes. One involves two puppets and the other the destruction of the church school room. It would spoil the jokes to give more explanation.
The language includes a number of four-letter (or equivalent) words from Tyrone, Timmy and even Jessica. Plus Tyrone attacks religion and God numerous times. This may impact your reaction and enjoyment of this piece.
Hand to God is really a satire on some of the current trends in organized religion.
Tracy Brigden has expertly directed this piece, keeping the pace moving. The piece is about 100 minutes including intermission. She has mined all the laughs.
Certainly the cast is excellent. Nick LaMedica as Jason/Tyrone is outstanding. He manipulates the hand puppet so you truly think it is another character and that it is permanently attached to him. You are not confused when he switches between the two; his voice, tone, mood and body language changes. You know when Tyrone is dominant.
As the bad boy Timmy, Miles G. Jackson does an excellent job. While you may know there is a sad, frightened teen underneath, he doesn’t let us in on that until the end. Lisa Velten Smith creates the perky Margery who tries to keep the peace between Timmy and Jason.
The adult characters are more difficult because they seem less developed. Pastor Greg (played very well by Peter Benson) is too like a caricature of the smarmy preacher who doesn’t obey the rules he sermonizes about. It is to Benson’s credit that he lets us see a very lonely man underneath it all.
Jessica is the most puzzling character. You can understand that her conventional appearance and actions may hide a more unconventional side, but how and when it comes out is problematic. With little preparation she seems to go from zero to ninety without any rationalization. It’s like she just “goes crazy.” Maggie Carr does an excellent job with this transformation, but it is hard to totally believe; perhaps it was overdone.
As usual at TheaterWorks the set and projections by Luke Cantarella, costumes by Tracy Christensen, lighting by Matthew Richards and sound design by Elizabeth Atkinson are all excellent. The puppet created by Stephanie Shaw is appropriately demonic.
Hand to God had a successful Broadway run, and several Tony award nominations. Even so, if you believe that religion should be treated respectfully or you dislike foul mouth puppets, this might not be the show for you. But for the rest of us, the imaginative jokes and wonderful direction will make for an enjoyable evening.
For tickets, visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.
By Karen Isaacs
Money is the subject of many adages – from “money is the root of all evil” to “money makes the world go round” to the biblical lines about the difficulty the rich have in entering heaven. In the 1980’s the motto seemed to be that “greed is good.”
The very talented playwright Ayad Akhtar has combined all of these viewpoints with a political thriller to create the compelling The Invisible Hand now getting an excellent production at TheaterWorks through Sunday, June 24.
The play opens with Nick Bright (is the name a little too symbolic?) handcuffed in a small room with an obviously Muslim guard, Dar. During the exposition we learn that Nick works for Citibank in Pakistan and has been kidnapped partly by mistake; the group wanted his boss. They have demanded a $10 million ransom but nothing is happening. The group led by Imam Saleem; wants to use the ransom to fund economic and health projects to help the country. Saleem’s lieutenant is Bashir, whose parents left Pakistan for England years ago.
Nick is a brilliant trader in all sorts of financial instruments, able to determine how to make money in almost any situation and to find “the edge.” He is also very knowledgeable about Pakistani politics, in fact he has advised the minister of water.
As the first act unfolds we see the gratuitous cruelty (Bashir kicks Dar in the groin), the despair of Nick and the intricacies of the relationship between Bashir and Saleem.
Since the bank seems in no hurry to pay the ransom, Nick and Saleem negotiate a deal. If Nick can make his ransom within one year, using money he has stashed in a Cayman Island account to start, he will be released. Bakshir will be his assistant and Nick is charged with teaching him how the markets operate.
Thus the title: The Invisible Hand. The term was coined by the Scottish economist Adam Smith to describe the unintended social benefits that arise from individuals pursuing their self-interests; that they balance out each other for the good of the whole.
Nick and Bakshir set to work; soon Bakshir gains some knowledge of an impending political assassination by another group and Nick parlays that into a $700,000 gain. But fissures start to appear. Barkshir feels he is being used as an errand boy, not a student and the Iman takes $400,000 from the working capital account to purchase vaccines. Nick suspects a large part of that went into the Iman’s pockets.
The three men clash with Nick often forgetting that he is their captive and at their mercy. He believes they need him for his ability to “create” money. The Iman, while autocratic and ruthless, seems more practical than the younger Bakshir who is filled with resentment for the Western world and its values. He remembers the numerous slights and insults he endured in England.
At times the dialogue may seem like a class in economics with the discussion of the Bretton Woods agreement after WWII that made the American dollar the de facto monetary standard for the world, to the meanings of stock market terminology such as “put” and “calls.” Yet it is clear and helpful to understand the types of financials deals that Bright is doing.
Yet, it never becomes dry or boring. We are caught up in the suspense. Will Nick succeed in raising his ransom? Will his captors actually release him? As Bakshir gains knowledge will he challenge either Nick or the Iman?
In keeping with the political thriller genre, I won’t tell the answers to any of this. Let’s say some of it was predictable and some was not.
Playwright Akhtar, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Disgraced has again created a play that will have you leaving the theater thinking. While American born and raised, Akhtar has an almost innate understanding of the perceptions and philosophy of the Islamic world. He is able to let us into a world that to Americans seems strange and perhaps “wrong.” He also articulates how the third world sees the dominant political and economic powers, of which the US is the most powerful.
The production at TheaterWorks is a revision of the award winning production presented at Westport Country Playhouse in 2016. The director and most of the cast have returned. That production was honored as the outstanding production of a play in Connecticut, as well as outstanding direction and outstanding leading actor from the Connecticut Critics Circle.
Director David Kennedy has kept the pacing tight and helped the actors delineate their very different characters. Working in the more intimate TheaterWorks space, Kennedy has made the work seem even more intense and suspenseful.
His direction helps us look at the various viewpoints presented. The set by Kristen Robinsen gives us the confined, concrete cell that is Nick’s world. In addition, Fitz Patton has created a sound design that lets the outside world infiltrate into Nick’s prison. Special mention must be given to Louis Colainni, who as the dialect coach, helps all of the actors to be both understandable and “in character.”
Rajesh Bose, who played the lead in Akhtar’s Disgraced at Long Wharf (and won awards) plays the Iman. He has to convince us that this pragmatic man who will let Nick manipulate money so that the Iman can use it, is also naïve enough to misjudge the results. The playwright has given him a difficult task. Fajer Kaisi is very effective as Bashir, the younger and both angrier and more idealistic follower of the Iman. It is he who carries the burden of presenting the third world view of America. The performances of both of these men has deepened since the last production. Anand Bhatt plays Dar, the subservient member of the group. Bhatt conveys the careful waiting and watching the Dar does so that he survives in an ever-changing political and power landscape.
Eric Bryant is even more outstanding as Nick. His posture and gestures show us what may have happened (abuse?) before the play opens, but also his confidence as he gets into job. This is a multi-dimensional, layered performance that encourages us to be protective of him while also at times amazed at his sometimes dangerous outbursts. Being closer to the action, you see more of his eyes conveying a range of emotions from alertness to fear to despair.
The Invisible Hand through Sunday, June 23 will both have you on the edge of your seat and questioning some of your assumptions. It is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838
This content is courtesy fo Shore Publications and zip06.
This is a revision of the review of the Westport production in 2016 that was posted on 2ontheaisle.wordpress.com.
The world premiere of Hartford Stage’s The Age of Innocence and a revised version of the musical Rags from Goodspeed Musicals took top honors at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards Monday, June 11. (Complete list of nominees and winners).
The event, which celebrated the work from the state’s professional theaters during the 2017-18 season, was held at Westport Country Playhouse.
Among area theaters, Ivoryton received nine nominations for five different productions (West Side Story, Million Dollar Quartet, Saturday Night Fever, The Game’s Afoot and The Fantasticks).Connecticut native, Cory Candelet tied for outstanding featured actor in a musical for his performance as the Mute in The Fantasticks. He shared the award with Matt Faucher for his performance as Jud in Goodspeed’s Oklahoma!
Goodspeed received 14 nominations and four awards including Faucher, outstanding production of a musical, Samantha Massell for her leading role in Rags and Kelli Barclay for choreography in Will Rogers’ Follies.
Awards for outstanding actors in a musical went to Samantha Massell in Goodspeed’s Rags and Jamie LaVerdiere in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of 1776.
Awards for outstanding actors in a play went to Reg Rogers in Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of An Enemy of the People and Isabelle Barbier in Playhouse on Park’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank.
Top directing awards went to Terrence Mann for CRT’s 1776 and Ezra Barnes for Playhouse on Park’s The Diary of Anne Frank.
Outstanding ensemble award went to TheaterWorks’ production of The Wolves; the debut award went to Megan O’Callaghan for The Bridges of Madison County and Fun Home, both at Music Theatre of Connecticut. The outstanding solo honor was awarded to Elizabeth Stahlmann for Westport Country Playhouse’s Grounded.
Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director for Goodspeed Musicals, received the Tom Killen Award for lifetime service to the theater from Donna Lynn Cooper Hilton, a producer at Goodspeed.
Receiving special awards were New London’s Flock Theatre for its production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Monte Cristo Cottage (O’Neill’s childhood home); the Broadway Method Academy of Fairfield; and Billy Bivona, who composed and performed original music for TheaterWork’s production of Constellations.
The outstanding featured actress award in a musical award went to Jodi Stevens for Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s Singin’ in the Rain. The award for outstanding featured actors in a play went to Peter Francis James for Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Romeo and Juliet, and to Judith Ivey for Long Wharf Theatre’s world premiere of Fireflies.
Design awards went to Fitz Patton for sound and Matthew Richards for lighting for Westport Country Playhouse’s Appropriate; Linda Cho for costumes for Hartford Stage’s The Age of Innocence; Yana Birykova for projections for Westport Country Playhouse’s Grounded and David Lewis, for set design for Playhouse on Park’s The Diary of Anne Frank.
Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas, stars of TheaterWorks’ Christmas on the Rocks, presided over the event.
Shore Publication writers Amy Barry and Frank Rizzo co-chaired the event.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.
By Karen Isaacs
Do you realize how many professional theatrical productions are seen in Connecticut each year? What would be your guess?
With the ending of the Connecticut theater season which runs from about June 1 to May 31, I attempted to count up the shows. I know I missed some. But including all the professional theaters (those that have some type of contract from Equity the actors’ union) plus the productions seen at the major “presenting” houses such as the Shubert, Bushnell and Palace in Waterbury – the total astounded me.
In all, you could see a professional production for 100+ nights a year. And that didn’t include the “workshop” performances at Goodspeed-Chester, the O’Neill Center and other places.
If you want to consider just the regional theaters – it numbers 70+ productions. (By the way, I saw about 75 percent of these, plus some others). So I was sitting in a theater in Connecticut at least 60+ evenings.
My favorites? Everyone’s list will be different. Mine includes plays that were thought-provoking or challenging. But my list also includes plays that were just pure fun. I’ve broken them down into a list of my “best” plays and “musicals”. These aren’t in any particular order. Some are by playwrights that I am very familiar with and others by playwrights new to me.
My Favorite Productions of Plays
Hartford Stage gave me three productions that I thoroughly enjoyed and would gladly see again. A Lesson from Aloes by Athol Fugard is a play that I saw first at Yale and found it brilliant. This production directed by Darko Tresnjak was equally so – thought-provoking, beautifully designed and marvelously acted. For sheer fun, nothing could be better than Tresnjak’s direction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which opened the season. The direction of the Mechanicals’ production was the best I’ve ever seen. And in the middle was the McCarter Theatre’s production of Murder on the Orient Express. Stylish and delightful. Another production I would gladly see again was Grounded at Westport Country Playhouse last July. This one woman show is about a military pilot who is reassigned to operating drones over Iraq from the US. And Playhouse on Park gave Connecticut theater goers a magnificent production of The Diary of Anne Frank.
Some plays were very good, but for one reason or another had something missing. Fireflies at Long Wharf was a charming, sweet play that is blessed with an outstanding cast. I’m not convinced that it would as enjoyable in the hands of lesser actors. Jane Alexander, Judith Ivey and Dennis Ardnt made this work. I also thoroughly enjoyed Seder at Hartford Stage, though some of my critic friends hated it. The questions it raised were fascinating and Mia Dillon was fabulous.
Also in this group would be The Game’s Afoot at Ivoryton which was silly, light but just fun, Noises Off at the Summer Series at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, The Chosen at Long Wharf, Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3 at Yale Rep and Age of Innocence at Hartford Stage. Boyd Gaines was magnificent.
Some productions miss the mark – it may be a great idea that isn’t quite developed completely, or it wanders off topic, or the director or actors make some erroneous decisions. Or the play may not be that good, but one or two performances make it enjoyable.
Luckily most of the time, even if that happens there are elements that still make the production worth seeing.
But sometimes, to me the production seems so misguided in so many ways, that it disappoints me. This season there were a few that fit that description. Often my fellow critics disagree with me. Yale’s production of Enemy of the People was just such a production. I felt that both the director (James Bundy) and the leading actor (Reg Rogers) were totally off the mark. Office Hours at Long Wharf was a play that I felt didn’t really work on many levels.
My Favorite Productions of Musicals
I didn’t think there were really any outstanding musical productions this season. By that I mean productions where the work itself and all elements of the production hit the mark. Most had flaws of some kind.
Many productions were very good. Ivoryton Playhouse has shown it is capable of presenting very good productions. This season I thought Saturday Night Fever, West Side Story and The Fantasticks were all very good.
MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) has shown that a very small theater (under 120 seats) and an awkward playing area can be made to work for mid-sized musicals. Kevin Connor did a great job directing both The Bridges of Madison County and Fun Home. The Summer Series at Connecticut Rep did a very good Newsies.
Goodspeed is held to a very high standard – it has wowed us so many times, that we expect perfection in each production. This year, it may have not have been perfection, but it was very, very good.
Rags was a major project: Taking a musical that had failed and working together with the composer and lyricist and a new book writer, to completely reshape the show. Characters were deleted, others added, major plot points changed, new songs written and lyrics revised for other songs. Working with the team was director Rob Ruggiero. This story of turn of the 20th century Jewish immigrants on the lower east side of Manhattan, still isn’t perfect, but the show was done very well and was much improved.
Goodspeed also presented the classic Oklahoma! Again a very good production that I felt missed the mark in some ways.
The Big Theater Stories So Far This Year
Two major theatrical stories hit even the national press. The first was the firing of Long Wharf Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein after allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Later this spring, Darko Tresnjak announced he will leave Hartford Stage at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. This wasn’t a total surprise. While at Hartford, he had not only produced excellent theater but won a Tony award, directed two new Broadway musicals and was increasingly in demand.
Just as one theater season ends, another begins. I’m already marking my calendar for the shows that I’m most anticipating.
(Revised from a press release)
Hartford Stage’s world premiere of “The Age of Innocence” and Goodspeed’s “Oklahoma!” led the shows nominated for the 28th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. Yale Rep’s production of “Native Son,” Goodspeed’s production of “Rags,” and “Diary of Anne Frank” at Playhouse on Park also received numerous nominations.
The awards event, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, will be held Monday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Westport Country Playhouse. Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas, stars of TheaterWorks holiday comedy perennial “Christmas on the Rocks,” will be masters of ceremony for the event which is free and open to the public.
“The Age of Innocence” earned eight nominations, including outstanding play, director and lead actor and three featured actresses, costumes and lighting while “Oklahoma!” received a total of seven nods, including best musical, director, lead actress and actor and featured actress and actor and choreography.
Other outstanding play nominees are: Yale Repertory Theater’s productions of “An Enemy of the People” and “Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3.” Other nominees included Long Wharf Theatre’s “The Chosen” and the world premiere of “Fireflies” and West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Also earning outstanding musical nods are Goodspeed’s “Rags,” Connecticut Repertory Theater’s “1776,” Seven Angels Theatre’s “Million Dollar Quartet,” and “Fun Home,” Music Theater of Connecticut.
Receiving the annual Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement in Connectiocut theater will be Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director at Goodspeed Musicals.
Receiving special awards this year are New London’s Flock Theater for its production of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at the Monte Cristo Cottage, the boyhood home of Eugene ONeill; the Broadway Method Academy of Fairfield; and Billy Bivona, who composed and performed original music for TheaterWork’s production of “Constellations.”
Receiving an award for solo performance will be Elizabeth Stahlmann who starred in Westport Country Playhouse’s “Grounded.”
Other nominees are:
Actor in a play: Reg Rogers, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jerod Haynes, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jamison Stern, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” TheaterWorks; Boyd Gaines, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Daniel Chung, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Actress in a play: Jackie Chung, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre; Isabelle Barbier, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Mia Dillon, “Seder,” Hartford Stage; Jane Alexander, “Fireflies,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cecelia Riddett, “The Revisionist,” Playhouse on Park.
Actor in a musical: Jamie LaVerdiere, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Rhett Guter, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Jim Schubin, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; David Pittsinger, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Michael Notardonato, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Actress in a musical: Samantha Massell, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Mia Pinero, “West Side Story,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Juliet Lambert Pratt, “The Bridges of Madison County,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Samantha Bruce, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Annabelle Fox, “Singin’ in the Rain,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Director of a play: James Bundy, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Seret Scott, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ezra Barnes, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Eric Ort, “The Wolves,” TheaterWorks; Doug Hughes, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage.
Director of a musical: Terrence Mann, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Jenn Thompson, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Kevin Connors, “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Rob Ruggiero, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Brian Feehan, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Choreography: Katie Spelman, “Oklahoma! ,” Goodspeed Musicals; Christopher d’Amboise, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Kelli Barclay, “The Will Rogers Follies,” Goodspeed Musicals; Todd L. Underwood, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse
Ensemble: Cast of “Avenue Q” (Weston Chandler Long, James Fairchild, Ashley Brooke, Peej Mele, E J Zimmerman, Abena Mensah-Bonsu and Colleen Welsh ), Playhouse on Park; Cast of “The Wolves” (Shannon Keegan, Claire Saunders, Dea Julien, Carolyn Cutillo, Emily Murphy, Caitlin Zoz, Rachel Caplan, Olivia Hoffman, Karla Gallegos, Megan Byrne), TheaterWorks; Cast of “The Chosen” (Ben Edelman, George Guidall, Steven Skybell, Max Wolkowitz) Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “The Game’s Afoot” (Erik Bloomquist, Victoria Bundonis, Molly Densmore, Katrina Ferguson, Michael Iannucci, Craig MacDonald, Maggie McGlone-Jennings, Beverly J. Taylor), Ivoryton Playhouse.
Featured actor in a play: James Cusati-Moyer, “Kiss,” Yale Repertory Theatre;
Peter Francis James, “Romeo and Juliet,” Westport Country Playhouse; Tom Pecinka, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Dan Hiatt, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jason Bowen, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre
Featured actress in a play: Judith Ivy, “Fireflies,” Long Wharf Theatre; Darrie Lawrence, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Carly Polistina, “The Crucible,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Sierra Boggess, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Helen Cespedes, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage
Featured actor in a musical: Matt Faucher, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Joe Callahan, “Million Dollar Quartet,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Sean MacLaughlin, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; David Garrison, “The Will Rogers Follies,” Goodspeed Musicals; Cory Candelet, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Features actress in a musical: Jodi Stevens, “Singin’ in the Rain,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Gizel Jimenez, “Oklahoma!” Goodspeed Musicals; Nora Fox, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Megan O’Callaghan, “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Kimberly Immanuel, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Projection design: Yana Birykova, “Grounded,”Westport Country Playhouse; Luke Cantarella, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Lucas Clopton & Darron Alley, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Wladimiro A. Woyno R., “Kiss,” Yale Repertory Theatre.
Set design: Emona Stoykova, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Alexander Dodge, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Andrew Boyce, “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; David Lewis, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Martin Scott Marchitto, “The Fantasticks.” ,Ivoryton Playhouse
Costume design: Linda Cho, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals’ Linda Cho, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Joshua Pearson, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Fabian Fidel Aguilar, “Romeo & Juliet,” Westport Country Playhouse; Leon Dobkowski, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” TheaterWorks.
Lighting design: Ben Stanton, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Michael Chybowski, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Stephen Strawbridge, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Matthew Richards, “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,”Yale Repertory Theatre.
Sound design: Frederick Kennedy, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Kate Marvin, “Grounded,” Westport Country Playhouse; Fitz Patton; “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; Jane Shaw, “A Lesson from Aloes,” Hartford Stage; Robert Kaplowitz, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Debut: Shannon Keegan, “The Wolves,” TheaterWorks; Megan O’Callaghan, “The Bridges of Madison County” and “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Noah Kierserman, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre.
DIRECTIONS: Westport Country Playhouse is at 25 Powers Court in Westport, just off Route (Exits 17 or 18 off I-91 brings you to Rt. 1.) www.westportplayhouse.org.
By Karen Isaacs
You will have a laugh-filled, delightful time at The Legend of Georgia McBride now at TheaterWorks through Sunday, April 29. This work by Matthew Lopez has flaws but it also provides a gigantic dose of pure entertainment.
Lopez is an established playwright who has created serious works such The Whipping Man and Reverberation which premiered at Hartford Stage. In this play, he has written a broad comedy.
The basic plot is simple. In the Florida panhandle, a local bar is not doing business with its young Elvis impersonator, Casey. On the home front, his wife, Jo isn’t happy about his lack of responsibility. He used the debit card to buy pizza which caused the rent check to bounce for the second month in a row. Even his friend Jason from whom they are renting, isn’t happy. Jason’s wife is on his case about it. To make matters more difficult, Jo has just learned they are expecting a baby.
If the home front is difficult, it is even worse on the job. As he is preparing to go on, Miss Tracy Milles and Rexy show up, two drag queens. Tracey is the nephew of Eddie, the bar; the bar is changing formats to a drag show, only Eddie has forgotten to tell Casey. He’s fired as an entertainer but is allowed to stay on as a bartender.
It doesn’t take genius to figure out where this is going. One night Rexy consumes way-too-much alcohol and passes out; Eddie and Miss Tracy push Casey to fill in, doing Rexy’s Edith Piaf number. If this reminds you a bit of the last third of Gypsy so be it. Yet it is still hilarious, particularly for the phrase that Miss Tracy tells Casey to mouth to the Piaf French lyrics.
Again, it is predictable. Casey begins to get into the role of Georgia McBride but neglects to tell his wife how he making so much money. Of course, she comes to the club one night and is shocked to see him as his drag persona.
Do I need to tell you that it all ends happily, with some tidy moral messages about finding and accepting all parts of yourself?
Yet even with the predictability of the plot and the somewhat simplistic messages, this is great fun.
A good part of the fun is the multiple drag numbers that Casey and Miss Tracy perform. They lip sync to everything from old tunes to modern ones. Casey eventually finds his “persona” as a sassy, country-western singer. Musically you get everything.
If the plot is predictable and the almost 2 hour show is padded with the many musical numbers, it is still a delight. That is due to many factors, foremost is the performances of Austin Thomas as Casey and Jamison Stern as Miss Tracy Mills. Stern was a spectacular ZaZa in Goodspeed’s production of La Cage aux Folles a few season back, also directed by Rob Ruggiero. But he has numerous other credits.
Both of these actors turn in top-notch performances. They are totally believable in both their drag queen and “real” personas and create non-stereotyped characters.
They are aided by the other three cast members. J. Tucker Smith is fine as the small town, brusque bar owner, Samaria Nixon-Fleming is Casey’s wife, the more mature, responsible half of the couple. Nik Alexander plays both the landlord Jason (who is also Casey’s friend) and the drag queen Rexy, who has a definite attitude.
Rob Ruggiero pulls on all of his skills as a director of both plays and musicals to make the show flow beautifully.
Costume designer Leon Dobkowski has risen to the occasion with appropriately sequined, sexy and outrageous costumers. Ralph Perkins has choreographed the numbers with flair. A special shout out must be given the backstage crew, many of whom are interns from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School for the many quick changes that the actors make.
This is great fun. It might be somewhat predictable but it a wonderful entertainment.
It is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford through Sunday, April 29. For tickets, call 860-527-7838 or visit TheaterWorks
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zipo6.com
By Karen Isaacs
Constellations, the brief play at TheaterWorks in Hartford through Thursday, February 22 is a frustrating work. It wants to be deal with the time/space continuum, the infinite possibilities of human interactions and quantum physics. To a limited extent, it succeeds with moments that are fascinating.
But too often, it seems repetitious, pretentious and like an exercise for an advanced acting class.
Yet the production is excellent. Rob Ruggiero who has directed this piece has gotten – with cast and production team – every nuance, every laugh and every thoughtful idea in front of us.
The two actors – Allison Pistorius as Marianne and M. Scott McLean as Roland – create as full characters as possible.
We meet Roland and Marianne — in fact we meet them multiple times as they meet each other in multiple scenes. The gimmick of this play is that it is a series of very brief scenes that are played over and over again, sometimes with different outcomes.
So the two meet at a soggy barbeque multiple times — sometimes the exchange goes well and sometimes it doesn’t or the potential relationship is aborted because Roland is married or attached. The other scenes in this play about their relationship are also repeated.
But this is about relationships, so the two date. Again we see some possibilities of what might occur at the end of a first date: does she invite in to her flat, does she ask him then to leave, does he want to leave, or do they spend night? And so it goes through stages of the relationship.
Which of these possibilities is reality? Or are all of them real in different universes? That is left up to each of us to decide.
TheaterWorks has been reconfigures to move the stage more into the center of the space, with audience on all four sides. This gives each of us a slightly different perspective on the actions and characters. Above the playing area, lighting designer Philip S. Rosenberg has hung starlike lights. Billy Bivona composed and plays music throughout the piece; sometimes it sounds futuristic and other times almost atonal.
The play by Nick Payne attempts to talk about individuals and options. Marianne is a quantum cosmologist while Roland is a beekeeper. It certainly gives her the opportunity to talk a great deal about chance, the importance of what we do and what we don’t do and more. And Roland is given the opportunity — at least twice — to explain the life cycle of the members of the hive.
It’s possible to draw significance from these two professions: Marie’s dealing with the abstract and the future and Roland’s grounded in nature and reality.
It’s given to Marianne to underline some of the points Payne is trying to make: that several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously and that there is a parallel universe. She also gets into the question of free will and does it exist.
Allison Pistorius and M. Scott McLean show us how tentative each of the characters is as they approach this romance. You hope that it goes well because you like them as characters; perhaps they remind us of our own tentative efforts at connections with others and how both transitory and accidental they be. But at times you don’t understand their motivations, sometimes they seem more like puppets. Even at 75 minutes or so, I checked my watch several times.
While I still wonder if Constellations isn’t more gimmick than play, I have found myself thinking about it ever since I saw it. So that means it has interested and stirred me.
Constellations is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford through Thursday, February 22. For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit TheaterWorks.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com
By Karen Isaacs
Next to Normal at TheaterWorks.
You could criticize practically nothing in this production. Rob Ruggiero cast it brilliantly with Christiane Noll, David Harris, Maya Keleher (in her professional debut), Nick Sacks and John Cardoza. Ruggiero used the aisles to add to the intimacy; it was remarkable.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hartford Stage
This Shakespeare play is done so often, it is easy to say “oh no, not again.” But Darko Tresjnak’s production was outstanding. He balanced all the elements and did not let any one of the multiple plots overtake others. His handling of the play put on by “the mechanicals” at the ends was terrific.
Fireflies at Long Wharf
Jane Alexander, Judith Ivy and Denis Ardnt gave touching performances, creating real people in this sweet romance about an older, retired school teacher, her nosy next store neighbor, a drifter. Gordon Edelstein kept it moving and preventedit from becoming saccharine.
Rags at Goodspeed
This story of Jewish immigrants on the lower east side of New York was completely revamped for this production: extensive revisions of the book, lyrics and songs. The result wasn’t perfect but with Rob Ruggiero’s sensitive direction, this show touched the heart.
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Plekey at Hartford Stage
This may have been a touring show, but James Lecesne not only was brilliant in turning his novel into a one actor play but did so much outreach in the community on the issues of teens facing bullying due to sexual orientation.
Diary of Ann Frank at Playhouse on Park
David Lewis made full use of the large and sometimes awkward stage area to create the attic in which the Franks and others hid for many years. Director Ezra Barnes cast the show almost perfectly from Isabelle Barbier as Anne to the entire ensemble. It was touching and real.
A Comedy of Errors at Hartford Stage
It is perhaps Shakespeare’s silliest play and director Darko Tresnjak emphasizes it beginning with his own colorful Mediterranean village set, a canal with real water and more. Who cares if the lines sometimes gets lost in the process?
Seder at Hartford Stage
How do you survive in a repressive regime? How do you make others, who have not lived through it, understand your choices? That was at the heart of this new play which thoroughly engaged me. Plus it had Mia Dillion once again showing her skills.
Wolves at TheaterWork
Wolves was a sensitive and insightful look into both the world of girls’ sports (in this case a soccer team) but also into the society that teenagers create for themselves. Though a few of the young actresses looked a little too old, we become totally engaged in them and their lives.
The Games Afoot at Ivoryton
Sometimes just seeing actors have a great time with a so-so play is more than enough. That was the case in this comic thriller by Ken Ludwig. It succeeded because of director Jacqueline Hubbard, set designer Daniel Nischan and a cast that just had fun.
The runners up
“Trav’lin’ –the 1920s Harlem Musical at Seven Angels.
It may not be a great musical, but this show introduced me to a lesser known composer – J. C. Johnson who wrote “This Joint is Jumpin’” and many others. The plot is simplistic but the cast was wonderful.
Noises Off at Connecticut Repertory Theater
My favorite farce got a fine production this summer with some inventive touches by director Vincent J. Cardinal, terrific casting and timing that was just about perfect.
Million Dollar Quartet at Ivoryton
This show lives and dies on the quality of the performers and here Ivoryton Playhouse and executive director Jacqui Hubbard hit the jackpot. All six of the major performers are experienced and the four “legends” have all played their roles before.
The Bridges of Madison County at MTC
The music is glorious and Kevin Connors created a production that worked very well on his three sided stage. While the chemistry didn’t seem to be there, musically the cast was strong.
The Great Tchaikovsky at Hartford Stage
Hershey Felder combines his talents as pianist, actor and director to create shows about the lives for well-known popular and classical composers. This show about Tchaikovsky was a delight.
Heartbreak House at Hartford Stage
Darko Tresnjak directed this version of Shaw’s masterpiece. It might have made the top ten BUT for one decision that Tresnjak made: he decided to make Boss Mangan a Donald Trump look/act alike. The similarity would have been recognizable without it and it distracted from the play.
Endgame at Long Wharf
Samuel Beckett writes difficult plays requiring an audience to understand his pessimistic world view and his abstract characters and plots. Gordon Edelstein directed a production that may not have been definitive but gave us outstanding performances by Reg E. Cathey, Brian Dennehy and Joe Grifasi.
Biloxi Blues at Ivoryton
This Neil Simon play, part of the Eugene trilogy got a fine production directed by Sasha Bratt that focused less on the laughs and more on the situation.
Native Son at Yale Rep
This production boasted a terrific performance by Jerod Haynes as Bigger, an urbanset by Ryan Emens and jazzy sounds by Frederick Kennedy that produced a taut, film noir feel to this story about race and prejudice.
Romeo & Juliet at Westport Country Playhouse
Mark Lamos, who is a fine director of Shakespeare gave us a pared down version of this classic tragedy that featured some fine performances – including Nicole Rodenburg as Juliet, Felicity Jones Latta as the Nurse, and Peter Francis James as Friar Lawrence, plus a magical set by Michael Yeargan. Lamos emphasized the youth and energy.
West Side Story at Ivoryton
This production had many more plusses – Mia Pinero as Maria, Natalie Madion as Anita, good direction by Todd L. Underwood – than minuses.
By Karen Isaacs
Christmas on the Rocks has become a holiday staple at TheaterWorks. This year it runs through Saturday, December 23; additional performances already have been added.
Why the appeal? At first glance it simply seems like a clever twist that adds a bit of cynicism to the usual holiday fare. But after seeing it several times, I’ve realized that there are hidden depths in these delightful pieces.
Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero called upon a number of playwrights with whom he had worked and gave them a challenge. To write a short scene about whatever happened to some of the classic children characters from various Christmas movies, TV shows and literature. Most of these works ended on an up-beat note. But what really happened afterwards?
The playwrights created a series of short scenes – many of them mainly monologues. And along the way they added in not only humor but lessons of how we go on and how we can always recapture the optimism of youth.
It is set in what is described as “a local bar in a lonely corner of the cosmos, Christmas Eve.” This is your typical run-down neighborhood bar, worn and out of date. The bartender is switching between Christmas films on TV as the bar is empty.
In seven scenes, two talented actors become some of the very well-known children from these stories and occasionally a lesser known character. In the last two years, two of the stories have changed. One original piece, based on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and about Cindy Lou Who, was turned into a longer piece by its playwright Matthew Lombardo and is now playing off-Broadway. It’s been replaced by piece written by Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas.
That piece, “My Name is KAREN!” is about the girl who created Frosty and saved him. She’s now a self-involved, angry young woman with her own live internet show. She resents all the attention that Frosty has gotten and her own obscurity. Even on her show, her followers mostly ask questions about Frosty and not her. She has taken her revenge.
New this year is a scene by Connecticut’s own Jacques Lamarre called “A Miserable Life”. You can guess that it is about one of the Bailey children, in this case ZuZu Bailey. It seems that she has been traumatized by the notion that “every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”
John Cariani has written an ironic piece about Ralphie from A Christmas Story while Jeffrey Hatcher has a hysterically funny piece about Hermie, the elf who wanted to be a dentist in the TV version of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
In a piece by Theresa Rebeck, we see a cynical Tiny Tim who believes that Scrooge had a mental breakdown; Tim also seems to have adopted some of Scrooge’s miserly attitudes. Then there’s the piece about Clara, from The Nutcracker. She is now an aging beauty still in love with the ageless Nutcracker. And the show ends with a tender piece by Lamarre about Charlie Brown. His revelations are surprising, but the ending is sweet.
Ruggiero has directed this with a sure hand. Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkes are returning for the third or fourth year playing all of the famous characters. It is remarkable how they use voices and gestures to create totally different characters. Harris goes from the self-involved Karen, to the neurotic Zuzu and ends as the tender “Little Red-Haired Girl.
Wilkes is funny and over the top as Hermie. After that, you almost don’t recognize him when he is Tiny Tim or later as Charlie Brown.
Tom Bloom has joined the cast this year as the bartender. Like any good bartender, he listens, he reacts and occasionally he adds a succinct comment or suggestion. He is part therapist and part grandfather. It is this character that often helps the others to leave more optimistic than when they came in.
As you leave Christmas on the Rocks, you may ponder the ideas that what we assume will happen often doesn’t, but that other possibilities open to us, if only we will take advantage of them.
This show is geared to adults or near adults.
Christmas on the Rocks is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications Weeklies and zip06.com.