Sunday, May 3, 2015

Theater Review: Elevada -- Yale Rep

Laurel Casillo in Elevada. Photo © Carol Rosegg, 2015.
Mastering the Difficult Steps to the Dance Between Relationships and Life
By Lauren Yarger
Rarely does a playwright get it this right.

The World Premiere of Sheila Callaghan’s Elevada at Yale Repertory is one of the freshest and most engrossing piece of theater I have enjoyed this season. The playwright manages to develop four very flawed characters who are so human – so us – that we can’t help but like them.

Callaghan (Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play and Roadkill Confidential) crafts her story, commission by Yale, so skillfully and thoroughly, that it seems impossible that only an hour has passed from curtain to intermission. A brief hour later, and the play is done, but we feel we have known these characters for years.

Ramona (Laurel Casillo) and Khalil (Alfredo Narciso) make their way through a very difficult first date – made even awkward awkward that Khalil was set up by his roommate Owen (Greg Keller) who forgot to tell him it was date. The awkward multi-millionaire social media superstar, is about to close a deal that will sell the rights to his own identity to a major corporation, thought he was interviewing Ramona for some PR help….

The two hit it off, however, and agree to a second date. There are some fairly big obstacles to overcomes, however, besides the fact that he is quiet and reserved and she is bubbly and spontaneous: Khalil’s odd corporate identity deal will mean that he has to cease being himself and virtually disappear from the real world; Ramona has cancer and it might be getting worse. So what kind of future can they really have?

Meanwhile, could Ramona be using her illness as an excuse to keep from having to get too involved – even with her sister, June (Keira Naughton), who takes time from her high-powered real estate job to help Ramona through treatments.

Eventually, Ramona and Khalil set up a barbeque so Owen and June can meet too. June is trying to erase the memory of a marriage gone bad and the not-too-distant loss of her mother to cancer and doesn’t know if she can deal with losing Ramona too. Owen (who provides most of the play’s comic relief), is a screenwriter who doesn’t seem to know how to write his own life’s script. He turns to drinking as a way to cope with being in rehab for his drug addiction. Let’s just say the evening doesn’t go as well as they all had hoped.

These people aren’t just stereotypes, however. They care about each other and Callaghan gives them strength and depth on which they are able to draw to find surprising solutions (and excellent performances across the board don’t hurt either.) Ramona and Khalil take pole dancing lessons, for example, and the stage is transformed into a hotspot. Tango lessons later give June and Ramona a place to bond and create a dance hall as additional dancers (Frankie Alicea, Luis Antonio, Evan Gambardella, Melissa Kaufman and Rebecca Maddy) join in choreography by Kyle Abraham and Kevin Williamson.

Fabulous projections by Shawn Boyle enhance the scenic design by Kurtis Boetcher. Through them, we experience Ramona’s CT Scan with her and her feeling of being engulfed by the universe. Director Jackson Gay’s skilled hand keeps us from drifting too far even though the script can cross the edge of reality. (Gay staged These Paper Bullets! and The
Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow at Yale Rep.)

Elevada was a finalist for the 2014 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The title, by the way, is a term from Tango dancing, where the feet don’t stay close to the floor – like these characters, trying to avoid planting their feet firmly in the messes they have created. We’ve all done that – or know someone who has – and that is what makes these characters so appealing. They are familiar and we are rooting for them.

Elevada plays through May 16 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets $20-$98; (203) 432-1234, Box Office (1120 Chapel St.). Student, senior, and group rates are available.

World Premiere
Written by Paula Vogel
Created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
October 2–24, 2015

World Premiere
By Jiehae Park
Directed by Margot Bordelon
November 27–December 19, 2015

World Premiere
By Jen Silverman
Directed by Jackson Gay
January 29–February 20, 2016

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Evan Yionoulis
March 25–April 16, 2016

Dianne Wiest in
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by James Bundy
April 29–May 21, 2016

Theater Review: Guys and Dolls -- Goodspeed

The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ Guys and Dolls. Photo: Diane Sobolewski

We Love the Score for This Musical a Bushel and a Peck; the Story Needs Updates From Oldest Established....
By Lauren Yarger
The oft-produced Guys and Dolls is getting a solid, if lightning-speed-paced production at Goodspeed.

The Frank Loesser (music and lyrics) show has been produced by every theater company and high school drama group in America, it seems, since it won the Tony for Best Musical back in 1950. The story of a floating craps game and a bet to win the heart of a woman is kind of dated -- especially with regards to its treatment of women -- so why do audiences keep filling seats? It's probably the score.

The bouncy and moving tunes that include "Fugue for Tinhorns", "The Oldest Established," "I'll Know," "A Bushel and a Peck," "I've Never Been in Love Before," "Take Back Your Mink," "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" and "Luck Be a Lady," are the show's backbone and worth the price of the ticket. The score is given nice treatment here by an eight-person orchestra under the musical direction of Michael O'Flaherty (in his 24th season as Goodspeed’s resident music director) with orchestrations by Dan DeLange.

This production features storytelling through excellent choreography by Alex Sanchez. The pace, as directed by Don Stephenson at breakneck speed, particularly in the first act, reminds us that it doesn't really matter -- we are just there to listen to the songs in between the dialogue. Manna Nichols is a much higher soprano than were used to hearing sing the lead and the sound (design by Jay Hilton) is off, especially in duets and in the three-person opening number fugue, so that individual voices cannot be distinguished as they should be, detracting from the number-one reason to see this show.

If you haven't seen it many times, the plot gist goes like this: Gambler Nathan Detroit (Mark Price) is looking for a place to host his craps game for the "guys," Nicely Nicely Johnson (Scott Cote), Benny Southstreet (Noah Plomgren), Harry the Horse (Carlos Lopez) and Big Jule (Jerry Gallagher -- who is really, very big), preferably at a location where police Lt. Brannigan (David Sitler) can't find it.

Nathan owes some money to gambler extraordinaire Sky Masterson and bets that the suave, good-looking ladies' man can’t get prim, religious Sarah Brown (Nichols) to go with him for a dinner date to Havana (Well, here things have come current, I suppose. Back in 1950, people jetted to Havana. Every time I saw this show from the '70s onward, I thought it strange that people would jet to Havana since that had not been allowed for years. Now, with recent changes in policy by the US administration, I suppose Sky and Sarah could soon be jetting off for dinner in Havana again, but I digress......)

Meanwhile, Nathan has been putting off his fiancée, Miss Adelaide (Nancy Anderson), an exotic dancer at the Hot Spot club who has been trying to get Nathan to the altar for 14 years (an elderly gentleman seated near me was quite taken with Adelaide's dance numbers and show-girl costumes designed by Tracy Christensen, with wig and hair design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer.) Even though Sky first became involved with Sarah because of the bet, he starts to fall for her for real, and he tries to help her save the Salvation-Army style mission run by her grandfather, Arvide Abernathy (John Jellison) in a seedy New York neighborhood. The organization's general, Matilda B. Cartwright (Karen Murphy) threatens to close the mission if it doesn’t start reaching some sinners, so Sky starts calling in some markers.

Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book, based on "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure" – two short stories by Damon Runyon– (which also borrows characters and plot elements from other Runyon stories, most notably "Pick the Winner") needs some updating. A story that depicts "dolls" either as uptight prigs (Sarah is referred to as a “religious tomato”) or stupid bimbettes (with an almost exclusively male creative team credited here at Goodspeed) usually isn’t high on my list of recommendations, but really, the Loesser score makes it worthwhile.

Guys and Dolls plays at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam, through June 20. Perfromances 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; Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $27-$82.50  860 873-8668;

Special ticketing options are available for this production:
·         Add a leisurely cruise and sumptuous buffet aboard the Lady Katharine river cruise to your theatre ticket. Available on Thursday, June 18. Choose an 11:30 am lunch cruise ($42) or a 5 pm dinner cruise ($47) to pair with your ticket to either the 2 pm or 7:30 pm performance.
·         Meet the Cast: Take part in discussion with the cast after the Thursday evening performances on May 7, 21 and June 4. Meet the Cast events are free with a ticket to that evening’s performance.
·         Friday Dinner Theatre Package: Includes dinner (choice of beef, chicken, fish, or pasta entrée ) at the Gelston House (located next door to the Opera House) and a ticket to the 8 pm performance. $82.

Theater Review: The Last Romance -- Ivoryton

Rochelle Slovin and Chet Carlin. Photo: Anne Hudson
Last Chance at Love is Not Just a Walk in the Park
By Lauren Yarger
When an 80-year-old man spots an attractive older woman at the local dog park, can the spark of romance be ignited in their lives, or is love just a dying ember?

Joe DiPietro’s funny and moving play The Last Romance gets a satisfying run at Ivoryton Playhouse, where the Tony-Award-winning playwright is a favorite: I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and All Shook Up were both popular successes there and the musical Memphis, will play the Ivoryton stage in August.

For Ralph Bellini (a perfect Chet Carlin) it’s love at first sight when he sees beautiful Carol Reynolds (Rochelle Slovin who looks fabulous for her 70+ years) with her little Chihuahua mix, Peaches (Roxy, the understudy for “Bruiser” on the national tour of Legally Blonde owned by William Berloni and handled by Theresa Stark). The widower contrives to meet her at the dog park and tries to woo her with tails of his long-ago audition for the Metropolitan Opera. (The Hartt School’s Stephen Mir plays Ralph’s younger self in the octogenarian’s mind and in flashbacks, where he sings parts of great operas.)

Carol is reluctant at first, but soon is won over by Ralph’s charm. His controlling sister, Rose (Kate Konigisor) doesn’t think the romance is a good idea, however, and fears she won’t have a place in his life any more if he gets involved with Carol. Rose has been taking care of her brother (and controlling his life) since moving in after he had a memory lapse and was found wandering. Now, she keeps tabs on his every moment  --  it’s no wonder her estranged husband of 22 years left her for another woman. Adding to Rose’s angst is recent communication that her husband wants to divorce.

Carol plans to take Ralph to the famed  La Scala opera house in Italy – a place he and his late wife dreamed of visiting – but Rose might throw a wrench in the plan. Will the couple be able to enjoy what both know is the last romance they ever will experience?

DiPietro gives us layered characters (excellently directed by Maggie McGlone Jennings). Carlin’s engaging personality instantly wins us over. He gives a top-notch performance as Chet struggles with mortality, unexpected feelings and responsibility toward his sister. Konigisor (the artistic director of Shakespeare with Benefits) isn’t afraid to show off her character’s offensive side – “Shuuuuut uuuuup,” she yells at the dogs in the park – but also brings out Rose’s vulnerability. Slovin, returning to the stage after 30 years as founding director of the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, is a bit stiff.

William Russell Stark designs the dog park, flanked on either side by sets for smaller scenes. Costume Designer Vickie Blake has Carol very elegantly dressed for a trip to the park.

The show comes together well with fully developed characters, the beautiful opera singing and DiPeitro’s humor woven throughout the moving story.

The Last Romance plays at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., through May 10. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets: $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children. (860) 767-7318;

Friday, May 1, 2015

James Patterson Coming to Hartford

James Patterson. Photo: David Burnett

The Mark Twain House and Museum will host a benefit appearance of bestselling author James Patterson in Hartford Wednesday, June 17..

It's a rare on-stage appearance for Patterson, who will engage in conversation with WNPR's Ray Hardman. The event will take place across the street from The Mark Twain House at Immanuel Congregational Church, 10 Woodland St., Hartford. Free parking is available in the parking lots at The Mark Twain House and Museum and in the church's Woodland Street lot.

Tickets available here or by calling 860-280-3130. Ticket prices are $60 for the general public, and $50 for members of The Mark Twain House. There will be a limited number of $175 VIP tickets available that include a pre-event reception at the Town and County Club, 22 Woodland St., next door to Immanuel Congregational Church, with an opportunity to meet and greet with James Patterson; premium VIP seating at the event; and a pre-signed copy of one of James Patterson's books.

In 2011, it was estimated that one-in-four of all hardcover suspense/thriller novels sold was written by James Patterson. He is the first author to achieve 10 million ebook sales and he holds the Guinness record for the most #1 New York Times bestsellers of any author. His success isn't based solely on thrillers like the perennially popular Alex Cross, Women's Murder Club, and Michael Bennett series. Patterson is now also the current bestselling author in the young adult and middle grade categories.

Patterson champions books and reading through the James Patterson Pageturner Awards, his website, his College Book Bucks scholarships and his regular donations of hundreds of thousands of books to schools here in the states and to troops overseas.

Hardman joined the WNPR staff in 1996, as a reporter and host. He later became the Music Director for WNPR, and in 2002 he went back to his newsy roots as the host of WNPR's Morning Edition. From 2002 to 2009 Ray divided his time between WNPR and CPTV, first serving as a correspondent on CPTV's news magazine Main Street. He later became the host of Main Street, and from 2005 to 2009 was the host and producer for CPTV's Front and Center with Ray Hardman.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Midsummer Night's Dream Closes Curtian on CT Repertory Season

Kent Coleman (Peaseblossom), Michael Patrick Kane* (Nick Bottom) and Natalia Cuevas (Titania) in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM by William Shakespeare, directed by Dale AJ Rose, onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre through May 3. Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) will end its 2014-2015 season with the Shakespeare classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre through May 3.
A comedy of mistaken identity and love, A Midsummer Night’s Dream provides a magical exploration of love, lust, and marriage. With fairies, magic spells, and people transforming into animals, Shakespeare takes us through the chaotic twists and turns only to illustrate just how otherworldly love can be. The production is directed by Dale AJ Rose, Associate Artistic Director at CRT and the Director of Performance Studies at UConn.
The show runs at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre. Weeknight evening performances start at 7:30; weekend evening performances start at 8. Matinee performances start at 2 pm. Tickets are $7 $30:; 860-486-2113. The box office is now housed in the Nafe Katter Theatre, 820 Bolton Road, open Monday-Friday, noon to 5 pm and one hour prior to show time at the theater where the performance is taking place.
--- A R T S ---

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

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced
numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont
Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.”

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway
League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill
Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at She
is editor of The award-winning Connecticut Arts Connection (,

She is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Contributing Editor for, Connecticut theater editor
for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web. Yarger is a book reviewer and writer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented
by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle (awards committee).

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts,
the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Blog Archive

Copyright Notice

All contents are copyrighted © Lauren Yarger 2009, 2010, 2011,2012, 2013, 2014. All rights reserved.