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.
By Karen Isaacs
Two new Scrooges are gracing Connecticut stages this holiday season. Each will bring takes on the classic character and story of A Christmas Carol.
A new musical version of the story is at Goodspeed Musicals through Sunday, Dec. 24. A Connecticut Christmas Carol is the brainchild of LJ Fecho and Michael O’Flaherty, Goodspeed’s longtime music director.
“We had the idea about two years ago,” O’Flaherty said. “We had done a very silly and fun Pennsylvania Dutch version a few years ago. Larry (the book is written by him) suggested setting it in Connecticut”.
The setting is the Goodspeed Opera House around 1925 and where William Gillette, the famous actor who lived up the river from the Opera House, planning a production of the story.
The unique part of this production – besides a totally original score that O’Flaherty characterizes as “pure musical” – is that the various ghosts are famous Connecticut residents – from Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and P. T. Barnum. These three play the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas yet-to-be.
This Scrooge, played by Lenny Volpe (he was Cap’n Andy in Goodspeed’s production of Show Boat) is not an ogre, O’Flaherty said. “We needed someone with strong comedic chops who could pull off the lightness of the ending.”
The show is being presented at Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in Chester. There’s a number of special events and promotions during the run. For information and tickets, visit Goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.
While the production is a favorite of theater goers throughout the state, a new Scrooge is taking over at Hartford Stage. The annual presentation of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas which runs through Saturday, Dec. 30.
It’s the 20th year for this adaptation by former Artistic Director Michael Wilson; each year it sells out, despite many performances. For most of these twenty years, Scrooge was played by Bill Raymond. But last year, he announced his retirement.
Michael Preston, who had played Mr. Marvel has taken over the part. It’s being staged by Artistic Associate Rachel Alderman. Alderman says this year’s production features some new costumes and new designs. While admitting to some hesitation at taking over from Raymond, Preston said he is looking forward to creating his own interpretation of the classic character.
In addition to all the usual performances, for the fourth year, a sensory-friendly performance is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 2. Ticket prices are reduced by 50 percent to make the show more accessible for families with autism or other sensory sensitivities. Changes in the production include reductions in jarring Moises or strobe lights and startling effects. In addition house lights are only dimmed, audience members can move about and there is trained staff, volunteers and designated quiet areas and stress relievers available. For information about this performance visit hartfordstage.org/sensory-friendly.
A Christmas Story
One of the first holiday shows is a return visit of the Broadway musical, A Christmas Story, at the Bushnell in Hartford, Friday, Nov. 24 to Sunday, Nov. 26. The musical that had numerous Tony nominations is based on the Jean Shepherd essay which became a classic film. The creative team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Tony Award for Dear Evan Hansen, Academy Award for La La Land), did the music and lyrics. It’s about Ralphie, his desire for a Red Ryder air rifle, and his family in an Indiana town in the 1940s. Though it is a short run, the show is terrific and it will get the holiday season off in a heart-warming but comic way. For tickets visit bushnell.org or call 860-987-5900.
Very few people remember the days when radio aired plays with live studio audiences watching as the actors played multiple parts, carried scripts and presented well works and created reality with the aid of sound effects.
Connecticut resident has adapted two famous Christmas stories into the radio play format. Each has become a holiday tradition, not just in Connecticut but throughout the country.
Ivoryton Playhouse is giving us It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play from Thursday, December 7 to Sunday, Dec. 17. Inspired by the classic American film, five actors, directed by Sasha Bratt, perform the dozens of characters in the radio play as well as produce the sound effects. For tickets visit IvorytonPlayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.
While you are attending the Playhouse you can also see the Ivoryton Illuminations which runs to Friday, Jan. 5. More than 350,000 lights are throughout the village and on Connecticut’s tallest Christmas tree.
MTC (Music Theatre of Connecticut) gives us the radio play version of A Christmas Carol from Friday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 17. Again, you are the studio audience as actors play multiple roles and handle sound effects to create the perfect illusion for the radio audience who would be listening at home. For tickets, contact musictheatreofct.com or call 203-454-3883 MTC is located at 509 Westport Avenue (behind Nine West) in Norwalk.
We all love the cartoon of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but now you can see a live production on stage at the Bushnell. All the favorite Peanuts characters come to life in this all-new touring stage adaptation of Charles M. Schulz’s classic Emmy and Peabody Award-winning animated television special – all set to Vince Guaraldi’s unforgettable music. It runs Friday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 3. For tickets visit bushnell.org or call 860-987-5900.
Another well-loved TV cartoon, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, makes a stop at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre. The show is new to the city though it played in Hartford for two years. It runs Friday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 10. For tickets visit Shubert.com or call 203-562-5666
The holiday season would not be the same without productions of Tchaikovsky’s famed ballet, The Nutcracker.
A very original take on the classic, returns to the Bushnell in Hartford where it wowed audiences last year. That’s The Hip Hop Nutcracker, an evening-length production performed by a supercharged cast of a dozen all-star dancers, DJ and violinist. The press materials says, “Through the spells cast by the mysterious Drosselmeyer, Maria-Clara and her prince, Myron, travel back in time to the moment when her parents first meet in a nightclub. Digital scenery transforms E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story of a palace of sugarplums into a romance set in 1980s Brooklyn. The dance work celebrates love, community and the magic of New Year’s Eve.” It’s at the Bushnell on Sunday, Dec. 17. For tickets contact bushnell.org.
You have your choice of more traditional takes on the classic. The Connecticut Ballet’s production, Saturday, Dec. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 17 is in Stamford and features guest arts from the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. For tickets visit palacestamford.org. The Bushnell has the Nutmeg Ballet’s production also on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16. For tickets visit burshnell.org. The New Haven Ballet at the Shubert Theatre features guest artists from major ballet companies. It’s Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16 and 17. For tickets visit the203-562-5666 or at www.shubert.com.
In addition, The Kate is broadcasting the Bolshoi Ballet’s Nutcracker in high definition on Tuesday, Dec. 19. Toyota Oakdale Theater is presenting The Great Russian Nutcracker on Saturday, Dec. 2. For tickets, call 800-745-3000.
If you are looking for something a little more cynical or adult, you have several choices. The Shubert Theater is presenting The Santaland Diaries based on the essay by David Sedaris. This one person play is about the fictionalized experiences of Sedaris when he worked one Christmas season as an elf at Macy’s – 34th Street Santaland. It runs Friday, Nov. 24 to Sunday, Nov. 26.
TheaterWorks in Hartford is bringing back Christmas on the Rocks for the fifth year. This series of short one-act plays, shows us what all of those famous children from various holidays stories became when they grew up. So we see an adult Ralphie (A Christmas Story), Tim (A Christmas Carol), Clara (The Nutcracker), Charlie Brown (A Charlie Brown Christmas) and more. A new episode this year is based on the children from It’s a Wonderful Life. It runs Tuesday, Nov. 28 through Saturday, Dec. 23. For tickets visit theaterworksHartford.org or call 860-527-7838.
Sister’s Christmas Catechism is also returning to Connecticut stages this year. It’s at Long Wharf Theatre from Tuesday, Dec. 5 to Sunday, Dec. 17. It’s subtitled The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold and Sister uses science, local choirs and some audience members to find out what happened to the gold. There’s lots of audience interaction. For tickets visit longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.
Playhouse on Park is again presenting what is billed as a “Burlesque Extravaganza,” Mama D’s Christmas Stocking: Where’s Santa? What is it? The press material says it’s a celebration of “all things sexy in an evening of music, dance and comedy.” The material admits “We’re rude, we’re crude and we’re partially nude.” The event is scheduled the weekends of Dec.15-16, 22-23, 29-30 and a special New Year’s Eve show. For tickets or information, visit playhouseonpark.org or call 800-523-5900.
With so many offerings, you are bound to find something that will fit your schedule and your taste.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publication Weeklies and zip06.com
By Karen Isaacs
Teenagers are a gold mine for authors – they combine such conflicting elements in their personalities. Half adult and half child. They can be inquiring and well-informed while at the same time woeful ignorant. Emotionally they can leap from joy to despair in a second. The same teen can be kind and generous and in an instant become cruel.
It’s no wonder that playwright Sarah DeLappe looked to a group of teen girls playing soccer for the play The Wolves. The title comes from the team name. Just as William Golding and others have done, adults are missing from this society that the girls have created within their team.
These are very good players. They are playing indoors on a club team and are looking forward to their travel team come spring. For those not involved in youth sports and soccer in particular, this means that college scouts are looking at them as they play various tournaments and college “clinics.” (I have learned a great deal about this process with four granddaughters all of whom were recruited athletes and including two soccer players.)
This group of girls play in the Under 17 classification which means they are 16 or just turning 17. Most are high school juniors which is the year when the recruiting is in earnest and colleges can, under NCAA rules, sign players.
We see the girls before several games. As they warm up and do various drills, competing conversations take place. We only know the girls by their numbers, which can at times be confusing.
During the opening conversations, we learn that #7 is both the loudest, most self-assured and the most “advanced” as she swears often and talks about celebrating her up-coming 17th birthday by going away for the weekend to her dad’s ski lodge where her college-age boyfriend will meet her. Then there is the “new” girl, #8 who has just joined the team. No one knows much about her, but she seems years younger than #7. The same is true for #46 who is trying desperately to fit in but has a tendency to make comments that don’t quite follow the conversational leads. In addition there is #11 who is the de facto leader of the group and runs the drills and #00, the goalie who is driven to seek perfection.
At times the conversations seem random. They talk about school work, particularly about a course some of them are taking on genocide. It’s interesting to hear them talk about the Khmer Rouge (one can’t pronounce it) and the Armenian genocide (#14 is of Armenian descent). But just as you are thinking how adult they are, the conversation will switch to menstruation and feminine hygiene products, boys and other things.
They are by turns kind to each other and cruel. Secrets emerge during the 90 minute play. One girl has had an abortion, another’s mother has breast cancer, a third girl is embarrassed that her mom is considered “hot”. There’s also talk of the stoner brother of one, and the fact that #00 vomits before every game.
Of course, they talk about the coach is who is apparently off on the sidelines. They view this coach as a “loser” and claim he is often inebriated or hung over; they long for their former coach, Patrick, who left the team to move back with his mother who is battling cancer.
It all builds to a game at which a college scout (from Texas A&M) is there to scout a girl on the opposing team. But three of the Wolves are called over to speak with him; the others are crushed to be excluded and not considered “good enough”.
The climax of the play is the injury to #7 during a game; she blames the captain for not having them stretch before but it turns out that although her ankle was injured she went skiing during her birthday weekend. Now her ACL is torn, she will need surgery and could easily miss the up-coming season. And, perhaps predictably, there has to be a tragedy that is revealed in the last scene.
Although some of the conversations may be off-putting to some of the audience, you do develop a liking for these girls. You care about them.
Overall the cast is excellent. These young actresses do a terrific job, though a few of them look older than 16. In the case of Olivia Hoffman who plays brassy #7, that’s ok. She does an excellent job with this girl who is obviously rebelling. But Emily Murphy who plays the captain (#25) also seems older than her years in both appearance and manner. She is a “take charge” woman; her new haircut at the end of the play may be a form of “coming out.”
Rachael Caplan is excellent as #14 – she is shy and trying to fit in, but finally is willing to speak up for herself. She is #7’s willing sidekick. Karla Gallegos who plays the driven #00 is more off by herself than part of the total group. After all, the goalie does stand alone. But each of the performers is excellent and it is hard to mention just one or two.
Eric Ort has directed this with a sure hand. The girls perform drills, stretch and job while talking. Mariana Sanchez has created a turf soccer field that slopes up in the back. It is the perfect backdrop for this play.
Overall The Wolves is a fascinating look at teenage girls and sports. Because of the language and some of the subject matter, the play may not be suitable for younger audiences; it is recommended for 14 and up though they may be somewhat embarrassed at times.
The Wolves is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford through Nov. 10. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.
This content courtesy of Shore Publishing Weeklies and zip06.com
By Karen Isaacs
Every year as theaters announce their up-coming seasons, certain productions pique my interest. I circle their dates on my calendar in anticipation.
So what have I circled for this up-coming year? Connecticut theaters offer a good mixture of the new, the classics, the familiar, and the rare. I have circled some of each.
(One caveat: Goodspeed, Ivoryton and Westport have not announced their productions for the first half of 2018. I’m sure some of those would have made my list).
Rags at Goodspeed Musicals (Oct. 6 –Dec. 10). This isn’t a new musical, but one of those shows that “failed” on Broadway but has developed a devoted following. Its authors, Charles Strouse (Bye, Bye Birdie,) and Stephen Schwartz (Pippin), have worked on the show extensively with a new book writer (David Thompson) and the revised version has been performed to good reviews. This show about turn-of-the-20th century Jewish immigrants seems timely; the score is excellent.
Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story at Seven Angels Theater, (Feb. 15 – March 11). I’m not sure if this is a one-woman show or not, but it focuses on the life and career of vaudeville star Sophie Tucker.
The Bridges of Madison County at MTC (Nov. 3-19). I love Jason Robert Brown’s score for this adaptation of the novel. I’ll be interested in how director Kevin Connors handles it on the smaller stage. I suspect it will increase the intimacy and emotional impact.
Oklahoma at Goodspeed (through Sept. 27). I’ve already seen this production and while it is quite good, it disappointed me. It didn’t live up to all I had hoped it would be.
I like Shakespeare and Connecticut is blessed with two directors who have a track record of outstanding productions of Shakespeare. Each is directing a work this fall.
Romeo & Juliet at Westport Country Playhouse (Oct. 31 to Nov. 19). Artistic Director Mark Lamos directed one of the best productions of this tragedy at Hartford Stage years ago. I still remember it and hope this production will live up to his earlier one.
Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hartford Stage (Sept. 7 to Oct. 8). Artistic Director Darko Tresjnak has given Connecticut an almost annual Shakespeare production including terrific productions of MacBeth, The Tempest, Hamlet, Twelfth Night and a riotous A Comedy of Errors. Now he is turning his hand to this classic comedy. It’s bound to be good.
It seems as though Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is having a resurgence; there were two productions in New York last season and now it is opening Yale Rep’s season (Oct 6 -28). This play is about individual responsibility, courage, economics, and environmental health, yet it was written almost 140 years ago.
Dramas & Comedies (New, Familiar & Rare)
Matthew Lopez is a fine younger playwright, whose works I’ve enjoyed (The Whipping Man, Reverberation), so I’m looking forward to The Legend of Georgia McBride at TheaterWorks (March 15 – April 22). It’s about a young man, a former Elvis impersonator who becomes a successful drag queen.
Fireflies (Oct. 11 – Nov. 5) at Long Wharf is featuring an outstanding cast including Jane Alexander. For that reason alone, it’s on my list.
The Connecticut Rep is doing Our Country’s Good (Nov. 30 – Dec. 9). It premiered at Hartford Stage many years ago and is a fascinating look at the founding of Australia and the power of theater to transform people.
Almost all of Hartford Stage’s productions sound interesting, but if I am to pick just one it would be Athol Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immortality Act, (May 10- June 3). Why? Athol Fugard is one of the great playwrights and this is an earlier work, plus it reveals more about life under apartheid in South Africa.
It’s also hard to pick which Yale Rep play will astound me: I am unfamiliar with many of them. But if forced to circle just one on my calendar, it would be Kiss, (April 27-May) by Guillermo Calederón. Why? The description sounds interesting: about people surviving in Damascus.
I did not get to see Jesse Eisenberg’s The Revisionist off-Broadway, so I’m looking forward to the Playhouse on Park production, April 11-29. It’s about a young man who visits an elderly cousin in Warsaw who is a Holocaust survivor.
These twelve selections are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the other scheduled productions, including those at the Bushnell, sound very interesting. So check them all out. Connecticut has amazing theater!
By Karen Isaacs
Will you like Raging Skillet, the world premiere play by Jacques Lamarre now at TheaterWorks in Hartford through Sunday, Aug. 27?
Just answer these simple questions:
Does loud rock music split your eardrums?
Does lots of gratuitous four letter words bother you?
Do you think stereotypical, guilt inducing mothers inherently funny?
Does insulting your mother seem acceptable?
If you answered no to the first two and yes to the last two, you should rush out a get tickets to this show about a “celebrity” food writer/caterer who goes by the name of Rossi. Apparently she is well known, though as a dedicated Food Network viewer, I had never heard of her.
The play – with three characters – is based on her “humorous” memoir of the same name, which is also the name of her catering company. The premise is that this is her book launch party and the ghost of her mother shows up. The book is hawked endlessly and, yes, you can buy it on stage after the show.
Chef Rossi, played excellently by Dana Smith-Croll, describes herself as a Jewish, Lesbian, punk rock woman and chef.
She tells stories of her up-bringing in New Jersey where Mom killed food in the microwave. Rossi (her father changed his name from Rosenthal to Ross; she changed it to Rossi, for no stated reason) started cooking what she called Jewish white trash food. What was offered to the audience did not seem particularly interesting though I did not taste it.
She was every parents’ nightmare as a teenager, using various drugs, disobeying rules and eventually running away from home. After being arrested for selling drugs, her parents packed her off to Brooklyn and a home run by a Hasidic Jew for problem causing Jewish teenagers.
Her interest in food continued and when she can she escapes to Manhattan where she becomes first a bartender and then works her way through the various jobs in the kitchen. Obviously, she earned her stripes and has talent because she has received numerous accolades from The New York Times, Zagat, and was named one of The Knot’s best wedding caterers multiple times.
Marilyn Sokol has the unenviable job of playing her mother. She’s been dead for years but returns for the book launch. She combines all the stereotypes of both the Jewish mother – Yiddish flows abundantly – but also of any guilt-inducing ethnic mother. She is the target for her daughter’s humor and anger. Only at the end of the play, when Rossi reads her mother’s “book” does she acknowledge that her mother was an accomplished woman who earned a master’s in mathematics and played violin in a symphony.
The third character is DJ Skillit, Rossi’s sous-chef who plays a number of roles and supposedly controls the often blaring music.
Audience reaction on the official opening night was mixed. Some found the show great fun and hilarious, others said they smiled at some of the jokes while others were pretty much stony faced throughout.
The pluses to this production are the skillful direction by John Simpkins, the set by Michael Schweikardt and the performances.
Smith-Croll has the difficult job of making Rossi likeable but a rebel and, for the most part, she succeeds. At the end, you see some warmth in her and realize that the persona she creates is just that. Marilyn Sokol has a difficult with task playing Mom: she is both passive-aggressive and a stereotype. That Sokol carries it off without the least bit of embarrassment is commendable. At times the role is cringe-inducing. DJ Skillit is less a character than a device, George Salazar does a good job with this amorphous role.
It’s hard to identify the basic problem with this piece. Is it the adaptation by Jacques Lamarre? Or is it the source material? How do you convey Rossi’s image and yet make the audience both like her and identify with her? While Lamarre may be true to Rossi’s “brand” and personality, that doesn’t necessarily create a satisfying work of theater.
The press materials for this production talks about the play as an “compelling story about a mother and a daughter and the commitment to family.” Somehow that does not come through strongly enough.
Raging Skillet, may be a play that younger audiences may be more receptive to and enjoy both her and her story more.
Given the language used, this is not a piece for children, nor those with sensitive ears. Older people may find the Rossi’s comments to and attitude towards her mother distressing.
Yet, it has fine performances. I did not love this work, but you might. Perhaps a glass or two of wine before the show would increase the enjoyment factor.
Raging Skillet is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Harford, through Sunday, Aug. 27. For tickets. Call 860-527-7838.
Content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.
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.
By Karen Isaacs
When we think about stereotyping people by gender, age, ethnicity, we usually assume that it members of outside groups who do that to people unlike themeslves. Men stereotype women, whites stereoptype Africian-Americans and more.
The new play at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Fade by Tanya Saracho makes us aware of how within a group, the stereotyping can occur. Women stereotype other women, Asians stereotype other Asians and Hispanics stereotype other Hispanics.
In this case, it is two Latinos who stereotype each other including jumping to conlusions about their histories and futures.
Lucia is a newly hired writer on a popular TV show; a novelist (one book), she views this job in LA as a way to pay the bills so that she can return to her serious writing. On her first day on the job, she meets Abel, a janitor. The assumptions begin. She speaks to him in Spanish though she has never met him before; she assumes that all janitors in LA are Mexican. Abel responds in English and soon points out that while he is of Mexican heritage, his parents and he were all born and raised in the U.S.
Abel assumes she is from the Mexican elite, and to some extent he is correct. While she claims not to be by pointing out that she worked her way through college, she also lets drop that she and all her friends had maids and other household help. But they bond over some things as well.
The play is about their interactions and relationship which develops as she complains about the entire male group of writers. She is horrified by the stereotypical Latina characters on the TV and the patronizing ways of her fellow writes, all white males. It is perhaps symbolic of her outsider status that her office is a floor below all the others. One even told her she was the token minority female.
Lucia and Abel talk to each other constantly until you wonder how either gets any work done. They complain that most people mispronounce their names. She begins speaking up more in the writers’ meetings and gains some praise from her boss. She is becoming a solid member of the team. Slowly her attitude that this is just a job to pay the bills changes to one of more ambition to succeed at the studio.
During this period, you think that a romance might develop between the two. Abel is well spoken and obviously educated. In fact, he reveals that he had been a firefighter until he was arrested and jailed on a violence issue. He tells Lucia about his past and the incident that involved his daughter’s mother and sister; he is devoted to his daughter.
At one point, Lucia is working on a script and asks Abel for permission to use the reference to his tattoo – “Semper Fi” and his former firefighter status as part of the plot line. He agrees.
It is here that this play about stereotypes and connections dramatically changes course. In the last 10-15 minutes, it seems as though Lucia has been infected not only with the desire to succeed on her job but that whatever ethical standards she has have been pushed aside.
Abel happens to see the episode in which the “Semper Fi” is to be used; to his horror it includes not just that but ALL the details of the violence episode, even using his exact words that he had told Lucia.
He is angry but Lucia seems oblivious to the problem and believes he had given her blanket permission to use his life. The final scene shows Lucia in NYC as an executive at the network, callously agreeing to firesome, and Abel still a janitor.
The issue of authors using the reality of their lives and the lives of friends in their works is both common in literature (the play Collected Stories deals with it) and it is an interesting issue. What are the ethical dimensions of taking people’s stories and retelling or fictionalizing them? Must permission be granted? Do writers (and artists) necessarily betray their confidants?
But this issue enters Fade much too late in the play. It is not developed in any way. It almost seems like a way to break up the relationship and come to a conclusion. So it certainly left me unsatisfied.
Jerry Ruiz has done a fine job directing the two person cast. Eddie Martinez is a standout as Abel, giving us a multi-dimensional character. Every part of his performance rings true, and you see the conflicting emotions when he realizes that Lucia has betrayed him.
As Lucia, Elizabeth Ramos does not bring the same depth to the role; she seems more superficial but perhaps that is because author reveals less about her.
Mariana Sanchez has created an appropriate office set with a window that lets us see out to the corridor where Eddie works. That may not be realistic but it adds to the action.
Fade is one of those plays that seems to be more meaningful than it actual is and the introduction of a new topic in the last 15 minutes contributes to my leaving the performance dissatisfied.
It is at TheaterWork, 233 Pearl St., Hartford through June 30. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.