Monday, August 8, 2016

Professional Theater Women Gather to Launch State Group


Anne Keefe.
Photo: Kerry Long
Women working in theater throughout the state will join together to launch an official chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women with events in northern and southern Connecticut.
Launch events will be held Monday, Aug. 15 in Hartford and Monday, Sept. 12 in Westport and will feature a mingle and reception starting at 6 pm followed by a panel featuring women from various theater disciplines speaking on the theme “Lean In and Branch Out: Claiming our Voice as Women in Connecticut Theater.”  The chapter also will present its first “Seal of Approval” awards for Connecticut theaters with policies that hire women on and behind the stage.
Panelists for the Hartford Event include Director Lucie Tiberghien, Playwright T.D. Mitchell, and  Hartford Stage’s Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson. The moderator is Tracey Moore, an associate professor at University of Hartford’s Hartt’s Theatre Division.
Mitchell, best known as a writer and story editor for the acclaimed TV series "Army Wives," is the author of Queens for a Year, receiving its world premiere Sept. 8-Oct.2 at Hartford Stage, directed by Tiberghien. 
Elizabeth Williamson
The event at the Handel Performing Arts Center's Kent McCray Theater, 35 Westbourne Parkway, Hartford, is free, but an RSVP is necessary because seating is limited. Wine and light refreshments will be served. Register for the Hartford Launch at http://tinyurl.com/CT-LAUNCH-HARTTFORD.

Meanwhile, the second Launch event, at Westport Country Playhouse’s Lortel White Barn on Sept. 12 will feature a panel including Anne Keefe (former artistic director at the Playhouse and curator of its popular Script in Hand play reading series), Pat Flicker Addiss (Tony-Award-winning Broadway producer and producer of Buyer and Cellar which recently had a run at the Playhouse), Director Jenn Thompson (Bye Bye Birdie at Goodspeed and The Call at TheaterWorks) and actresses Mia Dillon and E. Katherine Kerr. The moderator is Producer/Director Marie Reynolds. Register for this event here: http://tinyurl.com/CT-LAUNCH-WESTPORT
Jenn Thompson
The Connecticut Chapter of LPTW is co-founded by state residents and members of the League of Professional Theatre Women Lauren Yarger (Broadway and Connecticut theater critic), Reynolds (theater director/producer), Mary Miko, (special events coordinator at Goodspeed) and Moore. All women in Connecticut working in professional theater are invited to join the chapter which will hold regional meetings throughout the year. A festival of works by women will be presented in Fall of 2017.
For more information, contact LaurenYarger@hotmail.com. 
ABOUT THE HARTFORD PANELISTS:
T.D. Mitchell
T.D. Mitchell's award-winning play scripts include A Gray Matter, In Dog Years, and Beyond the 17th Parallel (being adapted as a feature film). A prominent speech writer for non-profit and philanthropic organizations (US Fund for UNICEF, Feminist Majority, the Rolex Institute, ex.), her travelogue essays for Verbal Supply Company and, next year, a nonfiction book, exemplify her multi-format, cross-genre passion for storytelling.
Lucie Tiberghien’s directing credits include the recent world premieres: Pen/Man/Ship, by Chrisitina Anderson (Contemporary American Theater Festival), Blueprints to Freedom, by Michael Benjamin Washington, (Lajolla Playhouse, and Kansas City Rep) The Other Thing, by Emily Schwend, (Second Stage, NY). Soldier X, by Rehana Mirza, (Ma-Yi Theater Company, NY). The Ashes Under Gait City by Christina Anderson (Contemporary American Theater Festival, WV), Love in Afghanistan by Charles Randolph Wright (Arena Stage, DC) and Don’t Go Gentle by Stephen Belber (MCC).
Elizabeth Williamson served as senior dramaturg and director of new play development for Hartford Stage prior to her appointment as associate artistic director at Hartford Stage. Over the years, Williamson has developed new work with Brooke Berman, Bill Cain, Sheila Callaghan, Robert Freedman and Steven Lutvak, Kyle Jarrow, Julie Jensen, Kimber Lee, Matthew Lopez, Wendy MacLeod, T.D. Mitchell, Peter Morris, Brighde Mullins, Janine Nabers, Dan O’Brien, Dominique Serrand and Steve Epp, Octavio Solis, Bess Wohl, Lauren Yee and Mary Zimmerman. More recently, she translated La Dispute by French playwright Pierre Marivaux in the 50th anniversary season for Hartford Stage and helmed the theatre’s Brand:New Festival in its final years. Williamson also helped launch the Hartford Stage world premieres of the Tony Award-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2012); Big Dance Theatre’s Man in a Case (2013); Breath & Imagination (2013); and Matthew Lopez’s Reverberation (2015).
Tracey Moore (moderator) is an associate professor at The Hartt School of Music, Dance, and Theatre where she teaches a variety of acting and music theatre classes.  Prior to academe, Tracey was an Equity actress and singer in New York.  She appeared in the Broadway National Tours of Ragtime and Camelot, and has held leading roles in several Off-Broadway productions in addition to appearing at New York's Metropolitan Opera and at regional theaters across the country.  Articles she has written have appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Ed, International Studies in Music Theatre, Teaching Theatre Journal, and Dramatics magazine.  She is the author of two books including “Acting the Song,” a book on musical theatre performance techniques that is receiving a second edition this Fall.
ABOUT THE WESTPORT PANELISTS:
Pat Flicker Addiss has produced numerous shows on and Off Broadway including Buyer and Cellar, Vanya, and Sonia and Masha and Spike,  A Christmas Story The Musical, Promises, Promises, The 39 Steps, Spring Awakening, Passing Strange.  Chita Rivera; The Dancer's Life Bridge and Tunnel and  Little Women.Currently serving on the Board of the League of Professional Theatre Women, her passion is for creating opportunities for young women in the 21st Century.

Mia Dillon has appeared at Westport Country Playhouse in Once A Catholic, Return Engagements, Speed-The-Plow, Angel Street, Our Town, A Song at Twilight and in various Script-In-Hand play readings.  Her many award nods include a a Clarence Derwent Award and Tony, Barrymore and Drama Desk Award nominations.

Anne Keefe, an associate artist at Westport Country Playhouse, served as artistic director there with Joanne Woodward in 2008 and as associate artistic director from 2000-2006.  At Westport Country Playhouse, she co-directed a production of David Copperfield, directed readings of And Then There Were None, Harvey, Bedroom Farce, A Song at Twilight, Chapter Two and many more, as part of the popular Script in Hand program. She was awarded the Del Hughes Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Stage Managers’ Association. In October of 2012, she was honored by the Connecticut Women’s’ Hall of Fame as one of 10 Women of Distinction as well as receiving the Westport Arts Award for Theatre. In 2016 she received the Tom Killan Award from the Connecticut Critics Circle
E. Katherine Kerr is an actor, teacher, author and director. In addition to her many screen roles, as an actor her Broadway credits include the ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning No Place to Be Somebody; Night Watch and Passion. Her  Off-Broadway credits include The Trojan Women; Cloud 9, Laughing Wild written by Christopher Durang for Kerr and himself; and Love Letters. Her other credits as an actor include the national tour of The Gingerbread Lady by Neil Simon, starring Maureen Stapleton. As an author, her works include the plays Intelejunt Dezyne (The God Play) and Juno's Swans, and the highly regarded "The Four Principles: A Guide for Living from Authentic Acting." When not acting, writing, and directing, Kerr teaches privately in New York City and Connecticut.

Jenn Thompson's freelance directing work has been seen in NYC and across the country. Her recent production of Women Without Men, for Off-Broadway's Mint Theatre Company, garnered 2016 Lortel and Off-Broadway Alliance Award nominations for Outstanding Revival as well as five Drama Desk Award nominations including Outstanding Director and Revival. She served as co-artistic director of Off-Broadway's TACT/The Actors Company Theatre from 2011 to 2015. She has developed work at MCC, Primary Stages, The Mint Theatre Company, Hartford Stage, York Theatre Company, Abingdon Theatre Company,  The Bridge Theatre and Rattlestick, among others. She also spent 19 seasons with Connecticut’s award-winning River Rep at the Ivoryton Playhouse where she served as producing director working on more than 50 productions. Thompson was a 2012 finalist for the SDC’s Joe A. Callaway Award, for excellence in New York City directing.

Marie Reynolds (moderator) was a model for 35 years and shot more than 80 national TV commercials. On TV, she played Mickey Barlowe on “All My Children,” traded comedy lines on “Late Night” with Conan O'Brien, and on David Letterman's “Late Show,” and has many other appearance credits. Since receiving an MFA in Theatre at Sarah Lawrence College in 2002, Marie has concentrated on directing and producing. She was a Founding Producer of the New York Musical Festival (NYMF), produced Pterodactyl Island, The Seagull (musical), directed for Falcon Rep and Theatre Actors Workshop in Connecticut and served two terms on the board of Shakespeare on the Sound. She is currently developing a new play, Florence Nightingale, The Bitch Of Balaclava.

ABOUT THE LEAGUE OF PROFESSIONAL THEATRE WOMEN:
An advocacy organization with a mission to reinforce the positive image of, promote the visibility of, and increase opportunities for women in the arts and entertainment industries, more particularly professional theater, with a goal to enrich and infuse culture, the League is a support system for women in theatre, in which they serve as resources for each other by mutual sharing of experiences, insights and work. The League links women in professional theater with colleagues in college and university theaters and with women in other performing arts organizations in the United States and abroad. For more information about the league or to join the Connecticut chapter, visit  theatrewomen.org.

Theater Review: RENT -- Ivoryton

The cast of RENT. Photo: Jacqueline Hubbard
It Took a Couple of Decades, but Theater-Changer Finally Pays Some RENT at Ivoryton
By Lauren Yarger
When Ivoryton Playhouse Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard greeted the audience for the current production of RENT, she did more than welcome the crowd. She sort of made a statement about how theater stays current.

This rock musical, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 and forever changed the face of musicals, appeals to a younger crowd and represents a bit of a gamble for Ivoryton, where the crowd is, like many smaller regional theaters, shall we say with respect, not so young, and used to more happy-ending type productions. It might have taken 20 years for the timing to feel right to bring to quiet Connecticut this story of a bunch of Bohemian kids in New York’s East Village who are trying to survive poverty and AIDS, but it seems to have paid off. Audiences have been responding favorably to this well staged production featuring a talented cast that is one of Ivoryton’s vocally strongest to date. “Seasons of Love,” for example, one of the well known tunes form the show, is a pleasure with Jamal Shuriah and Sheniquah Denise Trotman, who wowed us as Effie in Ivoryton’s production of Dreamgirls, nail their solos.

In a story by Jonathan Larson inspired by Puccini’s La Bohème , some young people are squatters in a building (Set Design is by Martin Scott Marchitto), owned by former tenant Benny (Collin Howard). Benny is demanding back rent that the friends can’t pay. They are Mark (Tim Russell), a filmmaker whose girlfriend, Maureen (Stephanie Genito ), just left him for Joann (Maritzaa Bostic), his roommate Roger, a musician, whose AIDS-infected girlfriend committed suicide, and their friend, Tom Collins (a beautifully voiced Patrick Clanton), who finds love with drag queen Angel (Jonny Cortes). Roger might find a second chance at love with neighbor Mimi (Alyssa Gomez), who also is HIV positive.

Maureen stages a protest against plans to evict the building’s dwellers in a very funny “Over the Moon” avant-garde presentation, but the building is padlocked when they return. Benny might have a change of heart, however, if former girlfriend Mimi can influence him.

The story focuses on how these young kids become a makeshift family of support and love – in contrast to their biological families. Parents leave a number of voice messages for their kids, but are clueless about “La Vie Bohème” and what they are going through as they try to find their place in the world.

“Forget regret. Life is yours to miss,” go the lyrics.

Hubbard’s attention to detail helps tell the story as it plays out on multiple levels. There is a lot going on, with the entire cast on stage throughout (costumed by Designer Lisa Bebey and performing Choreography by Todd Underwood that puts us in mind of the original production.). Hubbard effectively fills out background movement without distracting from the main action. When Roger and Mimi are exploring their feelings in “Another Day,” the spot light (design by Marcus Abbott) appropriately is on them and the actors bring a full scale of emotions and depth behind the words they are saying and the fear that encompasses them.

That duo also has one of the show’s favorite tunes, “Without You” which was delivered with such raw emotion (under the guidance of Musical Director Michael Morris) that the audience was silent at its finish instead of bursting into applause, which somehow would have seemed out of place in the touching moment.

RENT developed a cult following, especially when its composer, Jonathan Larson, died the day before the show opened in New York. It grabbed the hearts of a young generation and won the Tony Award for best Musical. It went on to play more than 5,000 performances and is the seventh-longest running show in Broadway history.

“Rent Heads” were folks who went back to see the show multiple times. It was one of the first shows to offer “Rush” tickets – cheap seats in the front row – on the day of the performance to make sure lower-income people had a chance to see live theater. Following this tradition, Ivoryton Playhouse will save 20 seats for every performance at a $25 price. Those seats will be available after 6 pm every show day.  If you are interested in helping to support this program, call (860) 767-9520 ext 205.


Note: the show contains brief nudity.

RENT rocks out the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, through Aug, 28. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Two additional Saturday matinee performances have been added Aug. 20 and 27, both at 2 pm. Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children.  (860) 767-7318; ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Additional credits:
Sound Design by Tate R Burmeister, Costume Design by Lisa Bebey, Hair and Wig Design by Elizabeth Cipolina.

Full Cast:
Jamal Shuriah….Mr. Jefferson, Pastor, “Seasons of Love” Soloist 2 
Sheniquah Denise Trotman…. Mrs. Jefferson, Coat Vendor, “Seasons of Love Soloist 1” 
Collin Howard…. Benjamin Coffin III 
Tim Russell…. Mark Cohen 
Grant Benedict….  Gordon, Mr. Grey and others 
Johnny Newcomb…. Roger Davis 
Alyssa Gomez…. Mimi Marquez 
Patrick Clanton…. Tom Collins 
Jonny Cortes…. Angel Dumott Schunard 
Maritzaa Bostic….Joann Jefferson 
Stephanie Genito…. Maureen Johnson 
Ronnie S. Bowman, Jr….. Paul, Police and others 
Mac Cherny…. Steve, Squeegee Man, Waiter 
Sandra Lee… Mrs. Cohen and others 
Josephine Gottfried…. Alexi, Roger’s mom and others

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sharon Playhouse Presents Quartet

Tony Award-Winner Elizabeth Franz stars in Sharon Playhouse's production of Ronald Harwood’s Quartet Aug. 18-28.

Franz (Broadway’s Death of A Salesman) stars as Jean, alongside real-life husband and wife actors Joseph Hindy as Reginald and Patricia McAneny as Cecily; and Greg Mullavey (TV’s iCarly and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) as Wilfred.
Harwood’s play features four elderly opera-singers who have ended up in the same retirement home for artists.  A concert is about to take place to celebrate Verdi’s birthday.  Will these four singers be able to recreate their youth and perform their acclaimed quartet from Rigoletto?  Quartet was adapted as a 2013 film, directed by Dustin Hoffman and starred Maggie Smith.

“We deal with the issues of relationships, friendships and aging in Quartet,” Franz said  “I’ve played Jean Horton before, so she is an old friend of mine at this point. I feel particularly comfortable portraying her this time at The Sharon Playhouse in my own Litchfield County neighborhood. Though I’ve been living in Warren (CT) since the 1970s this is the first time that I’ve been on the stage here and I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m totally delighted and impressed with the quality of the playhouse productions under John Simpkins.”

The production is designed by Michael Schweikardt (scenery), Chris Dallos (lighting) and Michelle Humphrey (costumes).  Sara Sheets is production stage manager. Geoff Josselson is casting director.

Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $15-$47: 860- 364-7469The Sharon Playhouse is located at 49 Amenia Rd.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Theater Review: IF/THEN -- The Bushnell

The cast of If/Then. Photo: Joan Marcus
If You Like Belter Idina Menzel/Then Go See Her Clone at the Bushnell
By Lauren Yarger
Connecticut native and UConn alum Jackie Burns is belting out the Bushnell and bringing down the house in the tour of Tom Kit and Brian Yorkey’s musical IF/THEN.

Burns understudied the role of Elizabeth, a woman who wonders how her life might have turned out if she had done things differently, on Broadway for star Idina Menzel. She kind of puts us in mind of her, with striking good looks and long brown hair. She certainly sounds like her. That should come as no surprise – Burns also played the role of Elphaba in Wicked both on tour and on Broadway, the role for which Menzel won a Tony and the hearts of teen girls everywhere.

Anyone who is a fan of Elphaba (or Menzel) knows that some seemingly impossible belting is required. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Kitt, who won a Pulitzer Prize with lyricist and book writer Yorkey for Next to Normal, which is its own belt fest, wrote this show with the actress in mind to sing it (she did the developmental lab and out-of-town tryout with Director Michael Greif before the show moved to Broadway.) When it closed on Broadway, Menzel went on tour with the show and when she stepped out, Burns stepped in.

Anthony Rapp (who got his Broadway break with Menzel in RENT) also reprises his role as Lucas for this tour. In addition, Tamyra Gray and Matthew Hydzik, who also stepped into their roles on Broadway,  also are in the cast. The result is one of the best tour productions I have seen since the 25th anniversary tour of Les Miserables which went on to Broadway (where it continues through Sept. 4) .

Burns brings down the house with ballad after rafter-shaking ballad. (Connecticut theater goers might remember her from her CT Repertory days in Candide, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Trojan Woman, Smokey Joe’s Café, Sweeney Todd or others.) Rapp, Hydzik and Gray, best known as one of the Top-Four finalists of the first season of “American Idol,” lend their strong voices too for our listening pleasure.

The story focuses on Elizabeth, who moves back to New York after a divorce from the husband she had put before her career and followed to Phoenix more than a decade ago. She reunites with old friend Lucas, a housing activist who might be carrying a torch for her. She makes new friends in Kate, a spirited kindergarten teacher and her partner, Anne (Janine Divita). It’s the beginning of a whole new life for Elizabeth, but she isn’t certain which path to take. Lucas christens her Beth and urges her to get back to her activist roots. Kate feels Liz would be a better nickname for a sexy woman looking for new adventure.

What happens next, though is the premise of the IF/THEN. Her phone rings. In one scenario Beth answers it and is offered a city planning job by old acquaintance Stephen (Jacques C. Smith), who also might still have a thing for her. In another, Liz ignores the call to listen to some music in the park and meets Josh (Hydzik), a doctor returning from his tours of duty in the Middle East. She falls in love, gets married and has kids, but once again puts her career on a back burner.

Her friends also find themselves living different lives as a result of her choices. In Beth’s life, Lucas is the father of her child (she never met Josh). In Liz’s life, Lucas ends up happily partnered with Josh’s friend David (Marc Delacruz). In one life, Anne and Kate end up divorced; in the other, they reconcile. In a common intersection for both lives involving flight on a plane, Elizabeth reflects, in both lives, on the choices she has made.

It’s an interesting concept with the obvious questions about what role fate plays in our lives and how one simple decision, like ignoring a phone call, can change the course of our lives forever. The two plots, unfortunately,  become a bit difficult to follow with the jumps between the two lives not always apparent. That said, the tour seems to make this happen better than the Broadway version which was entirely confusing and lacking direction for most of its two hours and 40 minutes.

The songs, while offering a showcase to the singers, start sounding the same after a while and ultimately we get tired of all the shouting. Fortunately this tour has someone who is able to belt like Menzel, but I shudder to think of a production with someone not up to the task (most community theater groups should probably pass on this one If/When the rights are available to produce it).

The action takes place on a sparsely decorated set (designed by Mark Wendland) where wooden frames are rearranged to create living spaces and offices, and where a few umbrellas and tables and chairs effectively create a park. Projections in the background provide images of buildings and streets in New York. Choreography by Larry Keigwin is minimal (it would be out of place in this particular story for sudden large dance numbers).

Even if the show could use some edits, it is a pleasure to see it in somewhat better shape than it was in New York. Don’t miss a chance to hear Burns and the rest of these excellent voices. You’ll brush the dust that was shaken from the rafters out of your hair and be glad you did.

IF/THEN plays a short run through Sunday at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday: 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday 1 and 6:30 pm Tickets $29.50-$89.50: www.bushnell.org; (860) 987-5900.

Additional casting:

English Bernhardt…. Paulette And Others
Corey Greenan…. Deputy Mayor, Others
Deedee Magno Hall…. Cathy, Others
Charissa Bertels,  Xavier Cano, Trey Ellett, Kyra Faith, Cliffton Hall, Tyler Mcgee,  Joseph Morales, Emily Rogers, Alicia Taylor Tomasko…. Ensemble

Creatives:
Associate Choreography by Mark Myars, Music Direction by Carmel Dean, Orchestrations by Michael Starobin, Vocal arrangements by Annmarie Milazzo, Costume design by Emily Rebholz, Wig and Hair Design by David Brian Brown, Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner, Sound Design by Brian Ronan.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Theater Review: The Invisible Hand -- Westport

Eric Bryant and Rajesh Bose. Photo: Carol Rosegg
The Invisible Hand
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by David Kennedy
Westport Country Playhouse

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Two men staring at a laptop making a killing in futures trading under any other circumstances might be colleagues on Wall Street, but in this play by Pulitzer-Prize winner Ayad Akhtar (Disgraced) one is kidnapped Citi Bank employee Nick Bright (Eric Bryant) and the other is his captor, Bashir (Fajer Kaisi), an Islamic extremist loyal to Imam Saleem (Rajesh Bose), a religious leader in Pakistan. 

Bashir actually botched the kidnap attempt -- he was supposed to take Nick's boss -- and as a result, the $20 million ransom they were hoping to demand probably isn't going to happen. Constantly reminded about how kidnap victims are beheaded, Nick, desperate to see his wife and little son again, strikes a deal to pay his own ransom by using his stock market skills. 

Chained in the room after a failed escape attempt, he gives trading instructions to Bashir, who discovers a love for the financial games they play that result in lots of profits -- and death when Bashir realizes that a terrorist attack at a wedding will drive stock prices to enhance their earnings. When it becomes increasingly clear that the imam is using the funds for personal gain rather than to help the Pakistan people, however, the game changes and suddenly Nick remembers that he isn't on a safe trading floor, but at the mercy of zealots who don't have his freedom at the top of their priority list.

What Are the Highlights?
Taut direction by David Kennedy keeps the action swift and suspenseful. Excellent writing by Akhtar develops characters beyond stereotypes. There are people -- much like you or me -- behind the veil of extreme Islam and the playwright gives us a glimpse. The feeling that these people would be friends under any other circumstances is palpable throughout. The transition in Nick's guard, Dar (Jameal Ali), from trusted friend to would-be executioner and a covert to the bloody cause is chilling. All of the actors deliver a wide range of emotion.

Adam Rigg's set visualizes the complexity of the relationships: the living part of the room where Nick is held could be a shabby apartment anywhere -- it is the caged area around the door that reminds us he isn't free. When we fade to black between scenes, the room's outline appears lighted (design by Matthew Richards) to give the impression that everyone is a prisoner in a large box.

The scene that closes act one is one of the best I have ever seen to make people want to come back for more after intermission.

What are the Lowlights?
The second act, in particular, could use some edits.

More Information:
The Invisible Hand plays through Aug. 6 at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. Performances are Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $40-$60: www.westportplayhouse.org; 203)-227-4177; toll-free 1-888-927-7529. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Theater Review: MIdsummer, A Play with Songs -- TheaterWorks

Rebecca Hart and M. Scott McLean. Photo: Lanny Nagler
A Song-filled, Magical Summer Night
By Lauren Yarger
Think Once set in Scotland instead of Ireland and you have a pretty quick take on Midsummer: (A Play with Songs) getting its delightful New England premiere at TheaterWorks.

The two hander, starring M. Scott McLean as Bob and Rebecca Hart at Helena, two folks who shouldn’t get together, but do.

David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s script is part narrative, part first-person action and part song. Directed by Tracy Brigden, the engaging characters meet in an Edinburgh pub on Midsummer night. Helena is waiting for a man. She wants to get a bit drunk and have some no-strings-attached sex so she can forget about a secret that may change her whole life. She finds instant attraction with Bob, who earns a living on the wrong side of the law.

The action jumps through events from their past to the present, where they find themselves seeing each other again after what they thought would be a one-time encounter (their sexual encounter is shared for all of us to witness in a most amusing manner as directed by Bridgen and aided by basic stage props on the austere set backdropped by a hodgepodge of furniture and other cast off items (design by Narelle Sissons, who also designs the costumes). A pair of shoes transformed Helena into a bridesmaid; a chair becomes a car or a toilet.

Another scene has Bob having a conversation with his male reproductive equipment about what they really want from a relationship (many of the male members of the audience were very amused). The dialogue throughout is crisp and witty. So are the lyrics (both performers play the guitar and sing tunes composed by Greig (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the musical) and McIntyre, lead singer and songwriteçr for ballboy, an Edinburgh based band . The album Midsummer is a solo album of songs written for the show.

“If my hangover were a country, it would be Belgium,” sings Helena. Now that’s funny stuff.

In a bizarre twist of plans, the two end up enjoying a wild midsummer money-spending spree and find themselves falling in love. McLean and Hart are in sync on stage, both musically and physically. The chemistry between the actors is apparent from the start and sparks reactions as heat turns up on the Bunsen burner of their relationship.

A couple of criticisms: the play at more than 100 minutes without intermission could use a trim – especially to fix a couple of false endings. In addition, it’s hard to warm up to the characters until later in the show because they are making such poor choices (one reason we stay with them is because the actors make them so engaging). Since we jump around in time a bit any way, maybe a teaser early on to let us know these folks have some hope might be in order.


Overall, TheaterWorks ends its 30th anniversary season with a bang. Midsummer plays through Aug. 21 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $15-$65; (860) 527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Credits:
By David Greig and Gordon McIntyre; Directed by Tracy Brigden; Assistant to the Director: Eric Ort; Scenic and Costume Design by Narelle SissonsAssociate Set Design by Lucy Pope, Lighting Design by Andrew Ostrowski, Sound Design by Liz Atkinson.
C O N N E C T I C U T
--- A R T S ---
C O N N E C T I O N

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

Blog Archive

Copyright Notice

All contents are copyrighted © Lauren Yarger 2009-2016. All rights reserved.