Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Theater Review: Grounded -- Westport

Elizabeth Stahlmann. Photo: Carol Rosegg
By George Brandt
Directed by Liz Diamond
Westport Country Playhouse
Through July 29

What's It All About?
The 2016 Lucille Lortel Award-winning play by George Brandt (Marie and Rosetta),about a US Air Force fighter pilot who is grounded after becoming pregnant (the play also received a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and was short-listed for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.)

Elizabeth Stahlmann, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, delivers a powerful performance as the pilot coping with the emotional difficulty of a woman balancing career and family, as well as being a human trying to justify killing people for a living.

The pilot, who defines herself by her occupation, is tough as nails and when she's not flying her F-16 Tiger jet to take out enemies in the desert, she's enjoying a round of celebratory drinks with the boys and dreaming of her next opportunity to be up in the "big blue."  When she meets Eric, passion turns into a flight suit that no longer fits and reassignment to flying drones. The play explores the character's emotions as the pilot tries to adjust to family commitment while being unable to detach herself from her desire to be in the sky or the stresses of carrying out attacks against enemies who drive SUVs like hers and have children who look like her daughter.

What Are the Highlights?
Stahimann give a gripping, stand-out performances showing layers (sometimes not so pretty) of a person in turmoil. Tight direction by Liz Diamond propels the storytelling, transforming a space with a single chair from a car to a cockpit to the bedroom of a sleeping daughter.

What Are the Lowlights?
While Brandt's play attempts to preach the message that we are all the same in the end, it's really hard to relate to this character and brings home the thought that she probably isn't someone to whom most of the audience will be able to relate. She's a soldier who apparently loathes feminine women, vowing that her daughter will not grow up to be a "hair tosser" or cheerleader. The fact that her little girl wants to play with ponies instead of military planes aggravates her. The most sympathetic character is the husband -- sympathetic and understanding of his wife's long hours and work-related stress, a marvelous dad, turned on by a successful, strong woman -- if he were real, he would be the number one-catch for husband in America. I couldn't help but wonder what the story, told by a female playwright, might have been like.

More Information:Grounded has been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to be adapted into an opera with music by Tony Award winner Jeanine Tesori, and is being developed into a feature film starring Anne Hathaway. who played the pilot in the Off-Broadway production of the play in 2015.
Additional credits: Riccardo Hernandez, scenic design (he designed the Off-Broadway production of the play); Jennifer Moeller, costume design; Solomon Weisbard, lighting design; Kate Marvin, sound design.
Performances are at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport through July 29 Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm Saturday at 3 and 8pm. westportplayhouse.org; (203) 227-4177

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

CT Theater Review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) -- Playhouse on Park

 Photo: Curt Henderson
The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)
By Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Directed by Tom Ridgely
Playhouse on Park
Through July 30

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Well, like the title says, it's the complete works of William Shakespeare abridged.  All 37 of the Bard's plays are incorporated in this 100-minute comedic presentation with all of the characters being played by three actors, Playhouse on Park Co-Artistic Director Sean Harris, Rich Hollman and Hannah Cheek.

Presented as a theatrical offering by a hapless troupe, the show focuses on their bumbling attempts to re-enact well know scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet  and Julius Caesar then takes farcical license with others, interpreting Titus Andronicus as a cooking show, for example. Other's make their appearance in name only or with a single reference.

What Are the Highights?
The actors seem to be having fun, and Hollman looks silly in Elizabethan dresses and mop wigs.  A scene depicting the battle for the throne among Shakespeare's kings is well staged as a mock football game where the crown gets passed among the players.

The play was first published 20 years ago, but has been updated by Singer and Winfield to include modern references, which were a welcome addition to a play which seemed pretty out of date the last time I saw it.

What Are the Lowlights?
It's a play that wants to be a fast-paced, witty farce, but isn't. There are moments, but the parody never really finds its footing. This is not a reflection on the actors -- the material isn't sharp enough. And the pace drags a bit, almost as though the authors are basking in their own cleverness. It is a light, fun show, but doesn't reach its potential.

More Information:
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) plays at Playhouse on  Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford, through July 30. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm.   A special Tuesday matinee will be held on July 18 at 2 pm, with specially priced tickets: playhouseonpark.org; 860-523-5900 x10.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

CT Theater Review: Fade -- TheaterWorks

Elizabeth Ramos and Eddie Martinez. Photo: Lanny Nagler
By Tanya Saracho
Directed by Jerry Ruiz
Through June 30

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
An inside Hollywood tale from inside-Hollywooder Tanya Saracho (Mala Hierba ; writer, co-producer of ABC’s "How to Get Away with Murder," HBO’s "Girls"). Lucia (Elizabeth Ramos) is hired as a writer for a TV detective show with a Latino character, and there is little doubt, by the lack of respect she gets from her boss and the other people in the room, that she is the "Latina" hire. The only thing her boss thinks she is good for is translating his orders to his Spanish-speaking housekeeper. She gets a break, however, when she pitches a new character. The only problem is that the characters is real-- based almost word for word on the experiences of Abel (Eddie Martinez), the janitor who stops by while she is working at the office. The two form an unlikely friendship, but will it be threatened when Abel discovers that his personal life is being exploited?

What Are the Highlights?
90-minutes no intermission (though it ran about 15 minutes longer the night I saw it). 
Ramos isn't afraid of taking on the less-than-likable Lucia; Martinez brings some warmth to room (the office is designed in depth by Mariana Sanchez) and manages to get the few laughs of the evening.

The ending is very thought-provoking, both in content and staging. 

What Are the Lowlights?
Lucia isn't a very likable character, so it's a bit difficult to accept that Abel would befriend her and share intimate parts of his life. The plot is very predictable and Director Jerry Ruiz lets the pace lag, especially for a story centered around the fast-paced world of TV and Hollywood. Too many short, unnecessary scenes are included (with peppy Spanish music playing in between) -- note to Hollywood writers: quick camera shots don't translate to the stage. 

More Information: 
This one will fade on June 30, so catch it before then at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $50-$65: www.theaterworkshartford.org; 860-527-7838.

Additional credits:
Harry Nadal (Costume Design), Amith Chandrashaker (Lighting Design), and M.L. Dogg (Sound Design).

Friday, June 9, 2017

CT Theater Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie -- Goodspeed

The cast of ’Thoroughly Modern Millie .Photo: Diane Sobolewski

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan
Lyrics by Dick Scanlan
Directed and Choreographed by Denis Jones

By Lauren Yarger
What's it All About?
The delightful Tony-Award wining stage version of a movie classic about a "modern" girl named Millie Dillmount (Taylor Quick)  who arrives in 1922 New York with one goal in mind: find a rich boss to marry.  She secures a job and zeros in on boss Trevor Graydon (Edward Watts), even if she does kind of find herself liking not-so-well-ff  Jimmy Smith (Dan DeLuca).  Meanwhile, something's not quite right at the Hotel Princess, where Millie and other young girls room. The landlord, Mrs. Meers (Loretta Ables Sayre) particularly likes to house orphans so she can ship them off in a white slavery ring she operates with Ching Ho (James Seol) and Bun Foo (Christopher Shin). Before you think there is a lot going on here, take a step back and know that the book (by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, who writes the lyrics) is just a silly tale around which to stage a bunch of clever songs written by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home)  and choreographed by Director Denis Jones (who is nominated for Tony for his work on Holiday Inn, which got its start at Goodspeed). Gregory Gale supplies flashy, shimmering costumes and Paul Tate dePoo III designs deco sets to create the flapper-era world.

What Are the Highlights?
It's a fun musical with catchy tunes and big dance numbers. Quick is a charming Millie and there is good rapport between her, DeLuca and the engaging Watts.

What Are The Lowlights?
The pace seems slow at times and some of the comedic edge isn't sharp. Some performers aren't lighted well and appear to be singing in the dark.

More Information:
Millie is thoroughly entertaining at Goodspeed,  6 Main St., East Haddam through July 2. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm, Thursday at 7:30 pm (with select performances at 2 pm), Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm). Tickets: goodspeed.org; 860-873-8668.

Additional credits:
Lighting Design by Rob Denton, Hair and Wig Design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer, Sound Design by Jay Hilton, Music Direction by Michael O’Flaherty, Assistant Music Direction by William J. Thomas, Orchestrations by Dan DeLange. Original Story and Screenplay by Richard Morris for the 1967 Universal Pictures Film.

Additional cast:
Samantha Sturm (Miss Dorothy), Ramona Keller (Muzzy), Lucia Spina (Miss Flannery). Ensemble:
Darien Crago, Caley Crawford, Patrick Graver, Bryan Thomas Hunt, Emily Kelly, Daniel May, PJ Palmer, Amelia Jo Parish, Sherisse Springer, Sarah Quinn Taylor, Amy Van Norstrand, Darius Wright, Evan Mayer, Elise Mestichelli.

Next to Normal, Invisible Hand Lead CT Critics Circle Award Nominations

David Garris, Christiane Noll and Maya Keleher. Photo Lanny Nagler
Featured actressChristina Pumariega in the Long Wharf production of Napoli, Brooklyn. If you can, please make this correction.

heaterWorks' production of the musical NEXT TO NORMAL Westport Country Playhouse's production of the play THE INVISIBLE HAND lead the nominations for this year's Connecticut Critics Circle Awards
The 27th annual event honoring the best of Connecticut's theer season will be held 7:30 pm Monday, June 26 Sacred Heart University's Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield
NEXT TO NORMAL received 10 nominations including Best Musical THE INVISIBLE HAND by Ayad Akhtar received seven nominations, including outstanding play
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Outstanding Play:
MARY JANE Yale Repertory
MIDSUMMER TheaterWorks
Outstanding Musical:
ASSASSINS Yale Repertory
BYE BYE BIRDIE Goodspeed Opera House
MAN OF LA MANCHA Ivoryton Playhouse
WEST SIDE STORY Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Actor in a Play:
Jordan Lage, OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY, Long Wharf
Tom Pecinka, CLOUD NINE, Hartford Stage
Michael Doherty, PETER THE STARCATCHER, Connecticut Re
Eric Bryant, THE INVISIBLE HAND, Westport Country Playhouse
M Scott McLean, MIDSUMMER, TheaterWorks
Actress in a Play:
Semina DeLaurentis, GEORGE AND GRACIE, Seven Angels
Emily Donahoe, MARY JANE, Yale Repertory
Ashlie Atkinson, IMOGEN SAYS NOTHING, Yale Repertory
Vanessa R Butler, QUEENS FOR A YEAR, Hartford Stage
Rebecca Hart, MIDSUMMER, TheaterWorks
Actor in a Musical:
Robert Sean Leonard, CAMELOT, Westport Playhouse
David Harris, NEXT TO NORMAL, TheaterWorks
David Pittsinger, MAN OF LA MANCHA, Ivoryton Playhouse
Zach Schanne, WEST SIDE STORY, Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Actress in a Musical:
Ruby Rakos, CHASING RAINBOWS, Goodspeed
Christiane Noll, NEXT TO NORMAL, TheaterWorks
Julia Paladino, WEST SIDE STORY
Karen Ziemba, GYPSY, Sharon Playhouse
Talia Thiesfield, MAN OF LA MANCHA, Ivoryton Playhouse
Director of a Play:
Darko Tresnjak, THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, Hartford Stage
David Kennedy, THE INVISIBLE HAND, Westport
Marc Bruni, OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY, Long Wharf
Tracy Brigden, MIDSUMMER, TheaterWorks
Gordon Edelstein, METEOR SHOWER, Long Wharf
Director of a Musical:
Rob Ruggiero, NEXT TO NORMAL, TheaterWorks
David Edwards, MAN OF LA MANCHA, Ivoryton Playhouse
Melody Meitrott Liboni, WEST SIDE STORY, Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Jenn Thompson, BYE BYE BIRDIE, Goodspeed
Kevin Connors, GYPSY, Music Theater of Connecticut
Chris Bailey, CHASING RAINBOWS, Goodspeed
Doug Shankman, WEST SIDE STORY, Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Patricia Wilcox, BYE BYE BIRDIE, Goodspeed
Darlene Zoller, ROCKIN' THE FOREST, Playhouse on Park
ASSASSINS, Yale Repertory
THE 39 STEPS Ivoryton Playhouse
Debut Performance:
Maya Keleher, NEXT TO NORMAL, TheaterWorks
Dylan Frederick, ASSASSINS, Yale Repertory
Nick Sacks, NEXT TO NORMAL, TheaterWorks
Solo Performance:
Jodi Stevens, I'LL EAT YOU LAST, Music Theater of Connecticut
Jon Peterson, HE WROTE GOOD SONGS, Seven Angels
Featured Actor in a Play:
Jameal Ali, THE INVISIBLE HAND, Westport
Andre De Shields, SEVEN GUITARs, Yale Repertory
Cleavant Derricks, THE PIANO LESSON, Hartford Stage
Steve Routman, OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY, Long Wharf
Paxton Whitehead, WHAT THE BUTLER SAW, Westport Country Playhouse
Featured Actress in a Play:
Miriam Silverman, MARY JANE, Yale Repertory
Rachel Leslie, SEVEN GUITARS, Yale Repertory
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, SEVEN GUITARS, Yale Repertory
Mia Dillon, CLOUD NINE, Hartford Stage
Christina Pumariego, NAPOLI, BROOKLYN, Long Wharf
Featured Actor in a Musical:
Edward Waats, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, Goodspeed Opera House
John Cardoza, NEXT TO NORMAL, TheaterWorks
Jonny Wexler, WEST SIDE STORY, Summer Theater of New Canaan
Rhett Guter, BYE BYE BIRDIE, Goodspeed
Michael Wartella, CHASING RAINBOWS, Goodspeed Opera House
Featured Actress in a Musical:
Maya Keleher, NEXT TO NORMAL,TheaterWorks
Jodi Stevens, GYPSY, Music Theater of Connecticut
Kie Stewart, WEST SIDE STORY, Summer Theater of New Canaan
Kristine Zbornik, BYE BYE BIRDIE, Goodspeed
Ke Simone, GYPSY, Music Theater of Connecticut
Set Design:
Colin McGurk, HEARTBREAK HOUSE, Hartford Stage
Michael Yeargan, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ROOM in New York, Long Wharf
Wilson Chin, NEXT TO NORMAL, TheaterWorks
Adam Rigg, THE INVISIBLE HAND, Westport Country Playhouse
Darko Tresnjak, THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, Hartford Stage
Costume Design:
Ilona Somogyi, HEARTBREAK HOUSE, Hartford Stage
Marina Draghici, SCENES FROM COURT LIFE, Yale Repertory
Fabio Toblini, THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, Hartford Stage
Gregory Gale, THOROUGH MODERN MILLIE, Goodspeed
Lisa Steier, ROCKIN' THE FOREST, Playhouse on Park
Lighting Design:
Matthew Richards, THE INVISIBLE HAND, Westport Country Playhouse
Yi Zhao, ASSASSINS, Yale Repertory
John Lasiter, NEXT TO NORMAL, TheaterWorks
Matthew Richards, COMEDY OF ERRORS, Hartford Stage
Christopher Bell, A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, Playhouse on Park, Hartford
Sound Design:
Jane Shaw, THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, Hartford Stage
Fan Zhang, SEVEN GUITARS, Yale Repertory
Shane Rettig, SCENES FROM COURT LIFE, Yale Repertory
Karen Graybash, THE PIANO LESSON, Hartford Stage
Fitz Patton, THE INVISIBLE HAND, Westport Country Playhouse

Monday, June 5, 2017

Mark Twain House Names New Executive Director

Pieter Nicholson Roos begins as the new executive director at the Mark Twain House July 5.

Roos most recently served as executive director of the Newport Restoration Foundation in Newport, Rhode Island, a preservation and museum organization that owns and administers nearly ninety 18th- and 19th-century properties in and around Newport. Under Roos’s leadership, the Foundation transformed Rough Point, Doris Duke’s Newport home, from private house to one of the city’s premier house museums. Among other initiatives during Roos’s tenure, the NRF in 2010 led an effort to revise Newport’s Queen Anne Square with a new design by nationally renowned artist Maya Lin.

Roos has written extensively about museums, architecture, and material culture; he also lectures widely on those topics. Over the years he has served on many boards and committees in Rhode Island, including the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, New England Museum Association, The Governor’s Commission on the King Charles Charter, the Governor’s Commission on World Heritage, Discover Newport, the Watercraft Collections Committee of Mystic Seaport, the Advisory Board of the International Yacht Restoration School, the Trinity Church Landmark Preservation Fund, and the Properties Committee of the Newport Historical Society.
Roos has served in the museum field since 1984. His career began at Sleepy Hollow Restorations (now Historic Hudson Valley). After earning his M.A. in museum studies at the Cooperstown Program, he administered historic sites for the Morris County Park Commission in Morris County, New Jersey. He went to Newport in 1993 to become Director of Education for the Newport Historical Society.

CT Theater Review: Heartbreak House -- Hartford Stage

The cast of Heartbreak House. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Heartbreak House
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Darko Dresnjak
Hartford Stage
Through June 11

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
A house like a ship that's anything by shipshape. Though set in England in 1914, this production is surprisingly timely, Captain Shotover (Miles Anderson) runs his home like a ship (and it looks like one too, thanks to set design  (Colin McGurk). His daughters two daughters couldn't be more different. There's Ariadne, a.k.a. Lady Utterword (Tessa Auberjonois), who has just arrived from Australia after a 23-year absence with her wimpy brother -in-law, Randall Utterword (Grant Goodman), in tow. 

There's also Hesione Hushabye (Charlotte Parry) who lives at home with her father (and off of themoney he earns with odd inventions involving dynamite) invites folks for a dinner party: Ellie Dunn, (Dani DeWaal), her father, Mazzini (Keith Reddin) and her fiance, Boss Mangan (Andrew Long), whom the young girl feels obligated to marry despite the difference in their ges because the successful magnate has bailed her father's business out of trouble. Awkwardness ensues when Ellie confesses she might not love Mangan, but have feelings for another man, who turns out to be none other than Hector Hushabye (Stephen Barker Turner), Hesione's womanizing husband. A nurse (Mary VanArsdel) is thrown in for good measure.

If you find all of that amusing and how these characters relate to each other (not everyone turns out to be who they seem), with an emphasis on mores of society in a time when england is entering the war, you are a bigger fan of George Bernard Shaw than I, even if he did give us Pygmallion, which was the inspiration for the musical My Fair Lady.

What Are the Highlights?
You won't see a more relevant, timely production, as Director Darko Tresnjak puts a blond wig and protruding gut on Mangan to evoke thoughts of Donald Trump. It's not a parody or a political bash -- simply an observation -- and it is brilliant. Instead of this dated play drawing some yawns as Shaw takes a poke at the folly of man, the audience gasps and chuckles as realization dawns and lines of dialogue suddenly seem familiar.

"Too rich: I can’t eat such things. I suppose it’s because I have to work so much with my brain. That’s the worst of being a man of business: you are always thinking, thinking, thinking."

"I saw that he had a sound idea, and that he would work himself silly for it if he got the chance. I saw that he was a child in business, and was dead certain to outrun his expenses and be in too great a hurry to wait for his market. I knew that the surest way to ruin a man who doesn’t know how to handle money is to give him some. I explained my idea to some friends in the city, and they found the money; for I take no risks in ideas, even when they’re my own."

"(I) listened to such unfairness, such lies, such injustice and plotting and backbiting and slandering of me, if I could have up and told you what I thought of you! I wonder I didn’t burst."

What Are the Lowlights?
The dialogue often is hard to hear. I attended a performance with audio transcription projected on the wall and many of us found this helpful.

This play is way too long at two hours and 45 minutes.

More Information:
Heartbreak House runs through June 11 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,  and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets: www.hartfordstage.org.

Additional credits:
Costume Designer Ilona Somogyi; Lighting Designer Matthew Richards; Sound Designer Jane Shaw.
--- A R T S ---

Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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