By Karen Isaacs
It’s the year of Hamilton arriving in Connecticut. That’s the big news.
As ever year, certain productions planned for Connecticut theaters pique my interest. I circle their dates on my calendar in anticipation. Here’s my list for this year.
Connecticut is blessed with an abundance of fine professional theaters – from the major regional companies (Yale Rep, Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, Goodspeed, TheaterWorks, Westport Playhouse) to more locally oriented theaters (Ivoryton Playhouse, Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, Connecticut Repertory Theater at UConn, Sharon Playhouse, Seven Angels in Waterbury, MTC in Norwalk and ACT-CT in Ridgefield). Plus there are the major presenting house that bring in national tours – the Bushnell in Hartford, Shubert in New Haven and the Palace in Waterbury.
One thing I have noticed in the last few years: more and more new plays are being produced while fewer classic works are done. Why? Sometimes it’s easier to get financial support or new works. New works allow theaters to reach out to more diverse audiences and present works by diverse playwrights. Even length may play a role; classic plays tend to be full-length (two plus hours) while modern audiences seems to prefer the 90+ minute play.
So what have I circled for this up-coming year?
(One caveat: Goodspeed, Ivoryton and Westport have not announced their productions for the first half of 2019. I’m sure some of those would have made my list).
Yet, looking back over a similar list I made last summer, some of them did not live up to my expectations and some that I had not circled, were outstanding.
Now Here Are My Most Anticipated Shows
A Chorus Line at Ivoryton closed Sept 2. It is a great show and I hoped they would do it well. They did.
Drowsy Chaperone at Goodspeed (Sept. 21-Nov. 25). This is just a delightful show; it won’t go down in the history of musicals as one of the best, but it is so much fun.
Man of La Mancha at Westport Country Playhouse (Sept. 25 –Oct. 13). It’s not my favorite musical (in fact it wouldn’t make my top 25), BUT Marco Lamos is directing and so that puts it on my list.
The Flamingo Kid at Hartford Stage (May 9 –June 2). This is the last show Darko Tresnjak will direct as artistic director. The brand new musical is aiming for Broadway just as A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Anastasia.
Henry V at Hartford Stage (Oct. 11 – Nov. 4). Hartford Stage has a track record of excellent Shakespeare and the play can be interpreted in so many ways. Plus, I like Shakespeare.
Flea in Her Ear at Westport (closed July 28) – I’m a sucker for Feydeau; I knew Mark Lamos would do a bang-up job directing it and I was right on all counts. This was overall a fabulous production.
Dramas & Comedies (New, Familiar & Rare)
Hand to God at TheaterWorks (closed Aug. 26). It was on my list out of curiosity. I didn’t see the show on Broadway and wanted to see why so many critics raved about it. I am not sure I would have.
The Prisoner at Yale Rep (Nov. 2-17). Why? It’s a US Premiere and it’s directed by Peter Brook. Need I say more?
Ripcord at Seven Angels (Nov. 8 – Dec. 2). This comedy about elderly roommates is on my list primarily because playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has written such interesting plays including Rabbit Hole which I loved.
Good Faith at Yale Rep (Feb. 1-23). I’m ambivalent about this world premiere which is based on the case some New Haven firefighters brought claiming civil rights violations. It could be just talking heads, but I hope playwright Karen Hartman can make it much more.
The Touring Shows
Hamilton at the Bushnell (Dec. 11-30). Who wouldn’t circle this show in RED???
Come from Away at the Bushnell (April 30-May 5). It would have won the Tony except for Dear Evan Hansen, it began at the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals and it is well done. I enjoy the music and the story.
Lion King at the Bushnell (closed Aug. 16) – Amazingly I had never seen it. The concept and execution was terrific, but once is enough.
These selections are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the other scheduled productions, sound very interesting. So check them all out. Connecticut has amazing theater!
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
The Yale Rep production of Native Son as written and adapted by Nambi E. Kelly is at times chilling but also confusing. It runs through December 16.
Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son, is said by some to have opened the door to African-American literature. It certainly was an important and best-selling work that is still often taught in schools. The novel cast a harsh light on the effect of societal racism has on individuals.
This adaptation, first performed in 2014 is the third such attempt. It’s hard to tell if it is more successful than the others, but for some in the audience, while well produced and well-acted, it was basically unsatisfactory.
The novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a 20-year-old African American living with his mother and younger sister and brother in a Chicago slum. He and his friends are planning a holdup of a white owned store. More importantly he is interviewed and hired by a white couple to be their chauffeur. On his first evening on the job, he is driving the young adult daughter to the university where she is a student. Instead she asks him to pick up her boyfriend, the communist organizer Jan; the two of them ask Bigger to take them to a dinner in his neighborhood. Jan and Mary drink quite a bit, and when Bigger takes her home, she can barely stand. He helps to her room and when Mary’s blind mother appears, he puts a pillow on Mary’s head. By the time the mother leaves, Mary is dead. The rest of the play deals with the snowball effects of that act.
Dramatizing this work is not easy. Kelley has decided to describe it as “a split second insider Bigger’s mind when her runs from his crime, remembers, images, two cold and snowy winter days in December 1939 and beyond.” You can parse that sentence many ways and come up with many possible interpretations.
Is what are you seeing, what happened? What he imagines will happen? The novel was more linear in its story telling.
The audience is left to try to figure out not only what is happening, but is it true or some sort of nightmare. In addition, a character called “The Black Rat” is omnipresent; sometimes he seems like a narrator, at other times Bigger’s conscience and sometimes as the adult version of Bigger. It definitely adds some confusion to the story telling, especially for those unfamiliar with the original novel.
Bigger – and at times The Black Rat – often talk about how African Americans have two views of themselves. The view they see and the one reflected back to them from the white society. Digger believes that he becomes what that reflected view says he is. Certainly the whites in the play view Bigger as someone less than equal and sometimes less than human. His employer Mrs. Dalton suspects he may never have slept in a bed. Her daughter, Mary and Jan, her communist boyfriend, may claim to have his interests at heart, but there is a large measure of condescension in their professed support. They know best and he should follow along; after all he can’t be expected to understand.
Of course, the detective the family hires to find their missing daughter, and the police exhibit stereotypical racism.
Overall the production is excellent. Scenic designer Ryan Emens has created a cityscape of iron fire escapes, while lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge has given us the moody and dramatic lighting. Combined with the jazzy sounds by Frederick Kennedy, the total result is a very film noir feel to the piece.
As Bigger, Jerod Haynes combines the rashness of youth and the anger of a disenfranchised young man. He portrays the bravado but also the lack of confidence. His portrayal is riveting.
Director Seret Scott has is given this piece a film noir atmosphere which is most appropriate. She has not sugar-coated the actions or the feelings in this piece. The result is a play that will encourage to confront your own understandings about our society.
Native Son is running through Dec. 16. For tickets visit Yale Rep or call 203-432-1234.
By Karen Isaacs
Sometimes I see a play, walk out perplexed, think about and end up still perplexed by the work. Imogen Says Nothing now at the Yale through Feb. 11 is just such a work.
It would be easy to dismiss it as “much ado about nothing” since the beginning of the play makes reference to that Shakespeare work.
But I keep trying to make sense of it – to understand fully the author’s point of view.
If you understand several things about this period, though they are not explained in the play, it can help you. Theater, including Shakespeare’s theater, was just one form of entertainment in Elizabethan England. It competed with other attractions that included bear and bull baiting and public executions.
Two, in one of the first folios (1600) of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, early in the play, there is a stage direction that indicates that when Leonato, the Duke of Messina, enters, he is accompanied by his wife, Imogen. She never is mentioned nor appears later in the play and has no lines. In later editions, still under the supervision of Shakespeare, that stage direction is removed.
Third, there is a very famous stage direction in Shakespeare’s later romance, A Winter’s Tale. The direction says “exit bear.”
These three facts form the inspiration for this new play by Aditi Brennan Kapil and commissioned by Yale
We meet Imogen at the beginning of the play; she has come to London from a very small village to find Chris Saxton a map maker. It seems where her village (North Burcombe) should be he wrote Quaere. It has caused a number of complications.
What strikes you when first meeting Imogen, played marvelously by Ashlie Atkinson, is that she doesn’t look quite “right.” One of the actors calls her a “troll.” Her head projects forward and her shoulders are slumped.
She comes across some members of Shakespeare’s company – they are arguing about the desirability of printing their own folios to keep the money “in house” so to speak – and they tell her that the mapmaker is long since dead. But she joins the troupe as a behind the scenes person and even begins to develop a relationship with one of the actors.
She actually gets to go on stage which was unheard of. You may remember that all female roles were performed by younger boys. But in a production of Much Ado, the actor playing Leonato is so drunk someone needs to hold him upright on stage. The company grasps at that stage direction and has Imogen go on as “Imogen”.
This seems relatively straightforward even if Imogen seems to reason and think well beyond what you would expect of an uneducated person of the period.
But the play then goes off in some unusual directions which are both difficult to explain and would take away some of the surprise and pleasure in seeing it.
Let’s just say that we learn that Imogen isn’t exactly what we think she is and that bears held captive for the bear-baiting aren’t exactly how we think of them either.
First of all, Atkinson is terrific as Imogen. In her body, face and tone she conveys the plain, country girl with surprising flashes of intelligence and knowledge. In fact, in general the entire cast if very good, often being asked to play multiple roles. Christopher Geary and Ricardo Dávila play the actors who portray Beatrice and Hero. They are particularly upset when Imogen goes on stage. Christopher Grant is the drunk actor who plays Leonato, while Thom Sesma plays Burbage (Shakespeare’s leading actor) and Daisuke Tsuji plays Shakespeare.
The entire production is well directed by Laurie Woolery with particularly effective work by Haydee Zelideth (costumes) and fight direction by Rick Sordelet.
So what’s it all about? Woolery is using Imogen, the ghost character, to discuss the disenfranchised. If Imogen has no words to say, then it is easy to remove her and forget her. It is as if she does not exist. So any group that is not heard – figuratively or literally – does not really exist.
At the end of the play, Imogen says “It is a fearsome thing to be absent. To be void.”
Imogen Says Nothing is not my favorite play, but after pondering it for a while, its core idea is one that is relevant for today’s society. Particularly in an environment that seems to be silencing and therefore erasing people and ideas.
For tickets contact Yale Rep.
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
A Dangerous Title: Calling a show a “turkey” usually means that it is a total flop, but the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus is taking a chance with the title of its next show. An Absolute Turkey is by Georges Feydeau, one of the masters of French farce. This version is translated/adapted by Nicki Frei and Peter Hall and won raves in London. It’s all about a man who lusts after his friend’s wife triggering a revenge plot and a dizzying spell of complications. It runs from Thursday, Dec. 1 to Saturday, Dec. 10. For tickets call 896-486-2113 or visit CRT.
New Musical: The Yale School of Drama is presenting a new musical Bulgaria! Revolt! Created by third year Drama School student Elizabeth Dinkova who is also directing. It runs Friday, Dec. 9 to Thursday, Dec. 15 at the smaller Iseman Theater on Chapel Street. The press materials asks if one small person or nation can change the tide of history. “ From a Bulgarian village on the eve of revolution to the fantastical capitalist paradise of America, a condemned poet travels through time and space in this tragicomic new musical inspired by Geo Milev’s epic poem, September.” For tickets go to Yale Drama School or call 203-432-1234.
Where Does He Find the Time? I’m referring to Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. In the next few months he is not only directing Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors at Hartford but is also preparing the musical Anastasia, which had its world premiere in Hartford last spring, for a Broadway opening with previews beginning in March. Now it’s been announced that he will direct the Broadway production of Rear Window, an adaptation of the short story that led to the classic Hitchcock film. It is planned for some time in 2017. The production premiere in Hartford in 2015.
Be at Your Computer on Dec. 6: That’s when tickets go on sale for the annual Kids’ Night on Broadway. Many Broadway shows offer a free ticket for children 18 and young with the purchase of a full-price ticket. A 50% discount. Kids’ Night this year is Tuesday, Feb. 28 and many shows have 7 p.m. curtains. Other events are also scheduled on that day as well such as discounts on parking and food. It’s great time to introduce kids to theater but tickets for the most popular shows are snapped up fast. Don’t count on Hamilton or any other smash hit to be included. To find out more about the shows which will participate and the ways to get tickets, visit Kids Night on Broadway
New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for the musical Groundhog Day based on the popular film. It won raves in London and stars Andy Karl. It begins previews March 16. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.. It’s a show many insiders are excited about.
Tickets are also on sale for the Manhattan Theater Club’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. It stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon who will alternate in two of the main roles: Regina Hubbard Giddens and Birdie Hubbard. It begins performances March 29. Tickets are through Telecharge.
Oscar winner Cate Blanchett has a long history of stage performances but mostly in her native Australia. She’s making her Broadway debut in the Sydney Theater Company production of The Present. It’s an adaptation of Chekhov’s first play, Platonov and starts performances Saturday, Dec. 17. Tickets are available through Telecharge.
Tickets are on sale for the limited engagement of the musical Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close (the original Broadway Norma Desmond in 1994). It begins performances in February for just 16 weeks. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.
Previews are underway for A Bronx Tale, a new musical based on the Chazz Palminteri’s book and film. Interestingly, two people are being billed as the director: Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks and Oscar winning actor Robert De Niro. Tickets are available at Telecharge..
Honor for Lamos: Mark Lamos, artistic director of Westport Country Playhouse, received the John Houseman Award presented by off-Broadway’s The Acting Company at a Gala in New York. Houseman, a well-known director and actor, was the co-founder of The Acting Company. Lamos who also served as artistic director of Hartford Stage has frequently directed productions for The Acting Company. It’s a well-deserved honor.
Another Wilson Drama: Following the fine production of The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage, Yale Rep is presenting August Wilson’s Seven Guitars from Friday, Nov. 25 to Saturday, Dec. 17. The play is set in Pittsburgh in 1948 following the death of a local blues guitarist on the verge of stardom. Andre de Shields plays Hedley. For tickets, call 203-432-1234 or visit Yale Rep.
Business Takeover Comedy: Next up at Long Wharf is the comedy-drama Other People’s Money which began its life in 1988 at Hartford Stage. The show is about a greedy Wall Street businessman who buys a family owned New England factory and the young, attractive lawyer who tries to stop him from closing the company. It runs Wednesday, Nov. 23 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets, visitLong Wharf or call 203-787-4282.
Homecoming: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder made a triumphant return to Hartford in October when the national tour made a stop at the Bushnell. The show began its life at Hartford Stage before going on to Broadway and winning the Tony for best musical and Darko Tresnjak, the Tony for best musical direction. To make the visit to Hartford even more special, the touring production recouped its investment with its Hartford engagement.
More New York Notes: Indecent which began life at Yale Rep and won the CT. Critics Circle award for outstanding production last year is heading to Broadway with an opening scheduled for this Spring. Surprisingly, it will be the first play by Paula Vogel to appear on Broadway; her other shows have all run off-Broadway, including her Pulitzer Prize winner, How I Learned to Drive.
Theater on Screen: Since the success of the Metropolitan Opera productions on local film screens, theaters have followed suit including Britain’s National Theater Live productions, the Royal Shakespeare Company and an occasional Broadway show. Fathom Events will present a one-night only screening of the Broadway musical, Allegiance which stars George Takei and tells the story of the Japanese-American relocation. The broadcast will be Tuesday, Dec. 13. For information about local theaters, visit Fathom Events.
By Karen Isaacs
Cymbeline which is now at the Yale Rep through Saturday, April 16, is one of Shakespeare’s problematic plays. Written late in his career (it was first performed in 1611), some scholars believe there was a collaborator on this play. Scholars also disagree on how to classify this play: is it a tragedy? A comedy? A history? A romance? Elements of the plot both fit and violate accepted definitions of each. For a tragedy, too many main characters remain alive as the play ends. While it is based on an ancient king of Britain, it is not in line with the other history plays which focus on the kings immediately before the Tudors. It also violates the premise of Shakespeare comedies since a number of characters are killed. So by default, it is usually considered a romance which include the much better known The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale along with Pericles.
These plays have a number of common features – they deal with reunions of family, reconciliation, forgiveness and righting of past injustices. Often there is an emphasis on the cleansing power of nature, supernatural elements; plus, the reunification of families is facilitated by daughters.
It tells the story Cymbeline, an ancient king of Britain, whose wife has died and who has married a widow with a son (Cloten). The new queen is the personification of the duplicitous, power hungry woman. She wants to marry her cloddish son to the king’s daughter, Imogen. Imogen is his only child as his two sons were kidnapped in very early life and have never been found.
Imogen loves and has married Posthumus Leonatus, a young man of lower station who has been a fixture at court. The King has banished Posthumus to Italy but before he leaves, he and Imogen exchange tokens: she gives him her mother’s diamond ring, and he gives her a bracelet.
We now move to Rome, where Posthumus is staying with a friend and meets Iachimo, a young Italian gentleman. Annoyed by Posthumus’ praise of Imogen, Iachimo makes a bet with him that he can prove her false.
At the same time, the Roman ambassador arrives at the court, demanding that the King pay the tribute agreed to years ago when Julius Caesar conquered Britain. When the King refuses, it is clear that war will ensue.
But as with any Shakespeare plot, we have to move to yet another location: Wales. Here is Belarius, a banished lord and his two sons who live in a cave and hunt. Belarius who had been wrongly banished by the King, reveals that his two young sons (Polydore and Cadwal) are actually the King’s sons; Belarius abducted them in revenge for his banishment but the two do not know of their lineage.
The set-up of the play is just about complete. But we have forgotten about Iachimo and the
bet. He arrives at the Cymbeline’s court and gives Imogen a letter supposedly from Posthumus. He also asks her to store a chest of valuables overnight in her chamber. She agrees; of course that night it is revealed that he is hidden in the chest and uses the opportunity to get details of the room and her, and to remove the bracelet while she sleeps. Upon his return to Italy, he tells Posthumus all of this; Posthumus believes Imogen has been unfaithful and sends a letter to his servant at the court to kill Imogen.
As the play progresses, the servant reveals the letter’s contents to Imogen who escapes the court and ends up joining up with the Roman ambassador and the soldier. Posthumus is willing to die so he fights first for England and later the Romans. Belarius and his two sons heroically fight for England.
Eventually all the tangled plots come together. Of course, some ghosts and even the Roman God Jupiter make an appearance. Cymbeline’s army defeats the Romans and Imogen (disguised as a man), Posthumous and Iachimo are all taken prisoners; Cloten has disappeared (he was killed by one of Belarius’ sons) and the Queen has killed herself. At the end the King accepts Imogen’s marriage to Posthumus, Belarius reveals that his two sons are really the King’s sons and all is forgiven. Even Iachino, despite his villainy, is spared.
This production now at the Yale Rep has received a lot of press attention because director Evan Yionoulis is using what she refers to as “gender-bending” casting. This means that some male roles are played by females and some female roles are played by men. The latter, while not common today, has been done. In Shakespeare’s time, young boys played all the female roles; women were not allowed on the stage. And in the last years, the Globe Theater in London has done a number of productions following that tradition. Two of them, Twelfth Night and Richard, the Third were presented on Broadway starring Mark Rylance – in one he played the female role. We’ve also had a number of productions and even a film of The Tempest with Prospero played by a woman. It worked!
Playing with casting can be problematic. A director must carefully consider if the non-traditional cast adds an important layer of meaning to the play or does it detract from the author’s intentions. Will it confuse the audience or bring in issues that are not relevant?
This production of Cymbeline proves both the benefits and the pitfalls of non-traditional casting. Yionoulis has cast Kathryn Meisle – a very good actress – as Cymbeline and Michael Manuel as the Queen. One can understand that there could some benefits. The Queen after all is a power-hungry and unscrupulous character; she also seems to be the “power behind the throne.” But having a very large male play the role as a Harvey Fierstein type, does, it seems to me, a disservice to women, men and the play. It becomes too easy to laugh at the Queen who is so clearly a male. It also removes the sexual tension between the Queen and Cymbeline; after all the Queen has convinced Cymbeline of her love.
Meisel does a good job of being ferocious as Cymbeline, but again, does it subvert the play. Does it add sexual ambiguity to a story of reconciliation?
Posthumus, Imogen’s husband, is also played by a woman (Miriam A. Hyman) as is one of Belarius’ two sons (Cadwal played by Chalia La Tour); and a few minor male characters are also played by women. Again some of these work but many are distractions. Is there an implication of a same-sex marriage between Imogen and Posthumus? In one scene, in the Roman baths, the need to hide Posthumus’ chest makes for a very awkward costume.
This is a production that is very good in some elements – the scenic design by Jean Kim, the lighting by Elizabeth Mak, the sound by Pornchanok (Nok) Kanchanabanca, the costumes by Asa Bennally and the projections by Rasean Davonte Johnson.
Much of the acting is also good though the pace is a little slow and at times the dialogue is muddied. The one real misstep is the handling of the ghosts and Jupiter – it should be a deus ex machina moment and it isn’t. It engendered more laughter than it should; yes, it is ridiculous but it should still be taken by the audience somewhat seriously.
Overall, if you have never seen this less familiar Shakespeare play, the production at Yale Rep, though long (about three hours) is one you should see. You will leave with some questions, less about the play and more about the rationale and impact of the casting. I’m not sure that should be the case.
Cymbeline is at the Yale Rep’s University Theater, 222 York St., New Haven, through Saturday, April 16. For tickets contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-432-1234.
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By Karen Isaacs
It’s that time of year, when we all make lists of things to do or buy, and critics make lists of the ten best or the ten worst of the past year. Instead of naming best and worst, I’ll give you a list of some of the things that impressed me this year.
My Choices for Best Connecticut Productions: Three musicals are at the top – or near the top of my list this year. To me, the best musical production this year was La Cage aux Folles at Goodspeed, followed closely by two Ivoryton productions – South Pacific and Memphis. Lower on the list – just squeaking in is Evita at MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut).
My favorite play – for both the production and the work itself (which was new) was Reverberation at Hartford Stage.
Nearly as good was Disgraced at Long Wharf, Good People at TheaterWorks, Indecent at Yale Rep, And a Nightingale Sang at Westport Country Playhouse, and The Caucasian Chalk Circle at Yale.
That only adds up to nine productions because, there are several vying for that last spot: Peter Pan at CRT (Connecticut Repertory Theater), peerless at Yale Rep, Broken Glass at Westport. Following close behind in the runner-up category would be Kiss Me,Kate , The Pianist of Willesden Lane and Private Lives at Hartford Stage. I’d also add Broken Umbrella Theater’s Seen Change.
Turning to the New York City Shows: I have yet to see the Tony winning musical Fun Home though I’ve heard the cast CD nor Hamilton which has taken the city by storm.
The Musicals: I’ve been trying to think of which musicals I saw in 2015 that I would like to see again, or I would tell me to “not miss.” Three quickly come to mind: the incredible revival of Spring Awakening that is in NYC for only a limited engagement through January. I had enjoyed the show previously but this production which mixed deaf and hearing actors adds emotional depth to this story of teenagers growing up in a repressive society.
My other favorites are An American in Paris which featured a terrific Robert Fairchild from the NYC Ballet who surprised all with a good acting and singing and The King and I which gave us Kelli O’Hara in the classic role. Both these shows were blessed with strong supporting casts. Added to the list is the new Allegiance which I found moving and brought Lea Salonga back to Broadway. I hope audiences will take to it. Another musical that I found fascinating was Kander & Ebb’s The Visit; the material is dark, but the production was stunning and it brought Chita Rivera back to Broadway and gave us the last chance to see the very talented Roger Rees.
A very special mention must be given to the off-Broadway musical Daddy Long Legs which I found delightful.
The Plays: My favorite play of 2015 has to be the revival of Skylight with B
ill Nighy and Carey Mulligan; this is a play that moves me and both the acting and the production qualities were outstanding. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson acted up a storm in the fascinating Constellations and Helen Mirren proved her mettle as Queen Elizabeth in The Audience. Of the shows that opened this fall and are still running, King Charles III, which is billed as a future history, is the one I would recommend.
While I wasn’t entranced with The Gin Game, James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson are two national treasures that were great to see on stage as was Annaleigh Ashford in Sylvia. The technically off-Broadway Dada Woof Papa Hot at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center was personal and touching. I found last season’s Wolf Hall more spectacle and fast pace than moving.
While there are some shows, I would put on my “disappointing list,” since I know how difficult it is to produce theater, I won’t mention them. Let’s just applaud the efforts of all who try to produce quality theater — it is a difficult task and I’m happy it succeeds as often as it does.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
Important Centennial: Arthur Miller, one of America’s most important playwrights and Connecticut resident, was born 100 years ago. Westport Country Playhouse is marking his centennial with a production of Broken Glass to Oct, 24. It is directed by Artistic Director Mark Lamos. Lamos said, “In its swift-moving, almost thriller-like action, Miller audaciously entwines a crippled marriage, in which the wife is herself mysteriously crippled in reaction to news of Nazi atrocities against German Jews, mirrored by a world on the verge of collapse.” For tickets visit westportplayhouse.org or call 888-927-7529.
At the Shubert: It’s still a big hit on Broadway but area residents can see the national touring production of The Book of Mormon at the Shubert Theater, New Haven from Oct. 13 to Oct. 18. Tickets are available at Shubert.com or 203-562-5666. If you feel lucky, you can participate in a lottery that will offer 20 tickets for each performance at $25 each. You must enter at the box office beginning two and a-half hours prior to the performance. A maximum of two tickets per winner.
World Premier: Yale Rep is presenting, in conjunction with La Jolla Playhouse, the world premiere of Paula Vogel’s Indecent, to Oct. 24. The play is written by Vogel and created by Vogel and Rebecca Taichman who directs. It is described as a “new play with music inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance—a play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel. Indecent charts the history of an incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it.” For tickets visit yalerep.org or call 203-432-1234.
Remembering: In 1998 in Wyoming, Matthew Shepherd, a gay teenager, was brutally killed. Within weeks the Tectonic Theater Project was on the scene interviewing residents – friends of Shepherd, friends of the perpetrators and citizens. What emerged was The Laramie Project which created a compelling theater piece using the actual words the project heard. The Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs is presenting a production of this play to Oct. 18. Randy Burre, who you may know from HBO’s The Wire is a member of the cast. For tickets visit crt.uconn.edu or call 860-486-2113.
Plagiarism: It is a problem on college campuses and even high schools. Third by Wendy Wasserstein examines the issue of a college professor who accuses a student of plagiarism. But is she influenced by her stereotype of the student? Her assumptions? The increasingly polarized political atmosphere on campus? TheaterWorks in Hartford opens its season with a production of this thought-provoking play, to Nov. 8. Rob Ruggiero, the artistic director directs the cast which features Kate Levy as the professor. For tickets call 860-527-7838.
Leaving New Haven: Eric Ting, Long Wharf’s associate artistic director since 2004 is leaving New Haven for a new position. He has been named artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater. Congratulations and good luck.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.
Complete list of nominations for the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards with winners in bold.
Outstanding Sound Design
David Budries – Picasso at the Lapin Agile Long Wharf Theatre
Kate Marvin – Elevada Yale Repertory Theatre
Adam Phalen – Forever Long Wharf Theatre
Jane Shaw – Hamlet Hartford Stage
Matt Tierney – The Caucasian Chalk Circle Yale Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Costume Design
Tracy Christensen – Guys & Dolls Goodspeed Musicals
Jessica Ford – The Liar Westport Country Playhouse
Fabio Toblini – Hamlet Hartford Stage
Fabio Toblini – Kiss Me, Kate Hartford Stage
Alejo Vietti – Holiday Inn Goodspeed Musicals
Outstanding Lighting Design
David Lander – Ether Dome Hartford Stage
John Lassiter – Fiddler on the Roof Goodspeed Musicals
Tyler Micoleau – Elevada Yale Repertory Theatre
Matthew Richards – Hamlet Hartford Stage
Matthew Richards – Reverberation Hartford Stage
Outstanding Set Design
Andromache Chalfant – Reverberation Hartford Stage
Alexander Dodge – Kiss Me, Kate Hartford Stage
Alexander Dodge – Private Lives Hartford Stage
Chika Shimizu – The Caucasian Chalk Circle Yale Repertory Theatre
James Youmans – Ether Dome Hartford Stage
Shawn Boyle – Projections for Elevada Yale Repertory Theatre
Summer Theatre of New Canaan – DramaRama Program
Split Knuckle Theater Group – for Endurance
Curtis J. Cook – Brownsville Song Long Wharf Theatre
Carl Lundstedt – Reverberation Hartford Stage
Dina Shihabi – Picasso at the Lapin Agile Long Wharf Theatre
Brittany Vicars – Hamlet Hartford Stage
Altar Boyz Playhouse on Park
Mark G. Merritt
Picasso at the Lapin Agile Long Wharf Theatre
Tom Riis Farrell
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Playhouse on Park
Woody Sez TheaterWorks
David M. Lutken
Helen J. Russell
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Edward James Hyland – Hamlet Hartford Stage
Greg Keller – Elevada Yale Repertory Theatre
Andrew Long – Hamlet Hartford Stage
Carl Lundstedt – Reverberation Hartford Stage
Max Gordon Moore – Arcadia Yale Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Scott Cote – Guys & Dolls Goodspeed Musicals
Stephen DeRosa – Sing For Your Shakespeare Westport Country Playhouse
Noah Marlowe – Holiday Inn Goodspeed Musicals
John Payonk – Fiddler on the Roof Goodspeed Musicals
Nick Reynolds – Hairspray Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Rebekah Brockman – Arcadia Yale Repertory Theatre
Rebekah Brockman – The Liar Westport Country Playhouse
Kate Forbes – Hamlet Hartford Stage
Kristin Harlow – Angels in America Playhouse on Park
Tonya Pinkins – War Yale Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Elizabeth DeRosa – Fiddler on the Roof Goodspeed Musicals
Barrie Kreinik – Fiddler on the Roof Goodspeed Musicals
Sharon Malane – Hairspray Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Susan Mosher – Holiday Inn Goodspeed Musicals
Megan Sikora – Kiss Me, Kate Hartford Stage
Richard Amelius – All Shook Up Ivoryton Playhouse
Peggy Hickey – Kiss Me, Kate Hartford Stage
Denis Jones – Holiday Inn Goodspeed Musicals
Alex Sanchez – Guys & Dolls Goodspeed Musicals
David Wanstreet – Fingers and Toes Ivoryton Playhouse
Killen Award – Presented by James Bundy
Carmen de Lavallade
Dancer, actor and teacher, Carmen de Lavallade was a key member as teacher and performer in the early days of Yale Repertory Theatre under the tenure of founding Artistic Director Robert Brustein. During that time, she was a powerfully influential teacher to a generation of actors at Yale School of Drama, including Meryl Streep, who has often cited de Lavallade as having a profound influence on the shaping of her talent in those early days. Some of de Lavallade’s performances — including in The Tempest and especially her Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream — are often cited as some of the best ever at the Rep, indeed in Connecticut.
Now 84, de Lavallade is performing her solo autobiographical show, As I See It, which will be playing at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas during the week of the awards ceremony.
Outstanding Leading Actor in a Musical
David Edwards – La Cage Aux Folles Ivoryton Playhouse
Preston Ellis – All Shook Up Ivoryton Playhouse
Michael Damian Fasano – Footloose Seven Angels
Adam Heller – Fiddler on the Roof Goodspeed Musicals
Noah Racey – Holiday Inn Goodspeed Musicals
Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical
Nancy Anderson – Guys & Dolls Goodspeed Musicals
Danielle Bowen – All Shook Up Ivoryton Playhouse
Elissa DeMaria – Little Shop of Horrors MTC Mainstage
Patti Murin – Holiday Inn Goodspeed Musicals
Rebecca Spigelman – Hairspray Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play
Zach Appelman – Hamlet Hartford Stage
Aaron Krohn – The Liar Westport Country Playhouse
Luke MacFarlane — Reverberation Hartford Stage
Tom Pecinka – Arcadia Yale Repertory Theatre
Steven Skybell – The Caucasian Chalk Circle Yale Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play
Laurel Casillo – Elevada Yale Repertory Theatre
Margaret Colin – Second Mrs. Wilson Long Wharf Theatre
Keilly McQuail – Bad Jews Long Wharf Theatre
Nikki Walker – Intimate Apparel Westport Country Playhouse
Shaunette Renée Wilson –
The Caucasian Chalk Circle Yale Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Director of a Musical
Richard Amelius – All Shook Up Ivoryton Playhouse
Gordon Greenberg – Holiday Inn Goodspeed Musicals
Susan Haefner – …Spelling Bee Playhouse on Park
Rob Ruggiero – Fiddler on the Roof Goodspeed Musicals
Darko Tresnjak – Kiss Me, Kate Hartford Stage
Outstanding Director of a Play
James Bundy – Arcadia Yale Repertory Theatre
Jackson Gay – Elevada Yale Repertory Theatre
Penny Metropulos – The Liar Westport Country Playhouse
Darko Tresnjak – Hamlet Hartford Stage
Maxwell Williams – Reverberation Hartford Stage
Outstanding Production of a Play
Arcadia Yale Repertory Theatre
Elevada Yale Repertory Theatre
Hamlet Hartford Stage
Reverberation Hartford Stage
The Liar Westport Country Playhouse
Outstanding Production of a Musical
All Shook Up Ivoryton Playhouse
Fiddler on the Roof Goodspeed Musicals
Holiday Inn Goodspeed Musicals
Kiss Me, Kate Hartford Stage
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Playhouse on Park
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
A Plant Gone Wild: MTC in Norwalk is closing its season with the musical, Little Shop of Horrors about a plant gone wild. It runs April 17 to May 3 and is a great musical to introduce kids (probably 11 and up) to the theater. The music is rock, the story is fun and MTC is offering a “kid’s night” on April 24 — subject to availability, kids 11 to 18 can see the show for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult. For tickets visit MTC.
World Premier at Yale: The Yale Rep closes its season with Elevada a world premier by Sheila Callaghan, April 24 to May 16. According to the press materials, Elevada is described ” New York City. Right now. Ramona’s going on lots of first dates but is intentionally sabotaging her chances for a second. Khalil, a social media superstar, is about to close a huge deal that will take him completely off the market. They’ll do anything to float above their own lives, even as fate tries to pull them both back down to earth. Elevada is a warm, witty, and wise romantic comedy about the fear of being alone—and the fear of not being alone.” For tickets visit Yale Rep or call 203-432-1234.
Next Year at Long Wharf: Four plays have been selected for productions at Long Wharf next year. Opening Oct. 14 (and running to Nov. 8) is Disgraced, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama. From Jan. 6 to Feb. 7 will be The Lion billed as a “wholly original musical experience; Having Our Say, adapted from the book by Emily Man will run Feb. 17 to March 18 in a co-production with Hartford Stage. The final production announced at this time is Lewiston, a world premier from April 6 to May 1.
Hartford Stage in 2015-16: Hartford Stage has announced three selections for next year. The fall will bring the world premier of An Opening in Time by Christopher Shinn, a Connecticut native; also artistic director Darko Tresnjak will direct Romeo and Juliet. In January, The Body of An American, which has won several awards gets Connecticut production. That production will then transfer to Primary Stages, off-Broadway. In addition, the ever popular A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas will return with some additional up-datings. Subscriptions are now available at Hartford Stage or 860-527-5151.
An Ideal Place: Camelot, the Lerner-Loewe musical has depicted the story of King Arthur, the Knights of the Roundtable, and how the ideal place called Camelot was destroyed. Now the musical will make a stop at the Bushnell in Hartford, April 21-26. For tickets contact Bushnell or call 860-967-5900.
Chester Tickets: Individual show tickets are now on sale for the three new musicals Goodspeed will produce at the Norma Terris Theater in Chester. The shows are The Theory of Relativity (May 7 to 31), My Paris, from July 23 – Aug 16 and Indian Joe, Oct. 22-Nov. 15. For tickets contact Goodspeed or call 860-873-8668.
New York Notes: Jason Robert Brown, the talented composer/lyricist, just can’t get a hit. Last year, The Bridges of Madison County closed after only a few months, though it won awards for his score. Now Honeymoon in Vegas is repeating the process; it got great reviews last year in a try out production and excellent reviews by the NY media. Unfortunately despite a terrific score, very good performances by Tony Danza and Rob McClure and name recognition from the hit film, audiences just did not buy tickets. In the good news category, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which began life at Hartford Stage, has recouped its investment in 17 months. This was a show that struggled in the fall and winter of 2014, but became a hit when it received numerous awards including the Tony award for best musical.