Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Theater Review: Queens for a Year -- Hartford Stage

Charlotte Maier, Vanessa R Butler, Heidi Armbruster, Alice Cannon. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
 It Feels Like the Enemy Just Messed With Our Minds – and We’re OK with That
By Lauren Yarger
T.D. Mitchell writes a disturbing and gripping tale of the consequences of war that orders us to stand at attention and prepare for an inspection of what we think about training people to kill. And with Queens for a Year, getting its world premiere at Hartford Stage, she examines the topic from a unique perspective: the role of females serving in the military.

Mitchell has visited the military before. She was a writer for TV’s “Army Wives” and explored the stories of Viet Nam vets in her play Beyond the 17th Parallel. It was interviews conducted for the latter which triggered the writing of Queens for a Year.

The play focuses on a 2007 visit by Lt. Molly Solinas (Vanessa R Butler) to her rural Virginia home (designed in framed simplicity by Daniel Conway) where her family is excited to welcome her and her friend, PFC Amanda Lewis (Sarah Nicole Deaver), back from duty in Iraq. They understand what the women have been through more than most as the multi-generational clan know all about serving their country. 

Molly’s aunt Lucy Walker (Heidi Armbruster) served until her lesbianism and the service’s lack of tolerance for it got her discharged. Her grandmother and namesake Molly, still goes by Gunny (Charlotte Maier) and her great-grandmother, Lu (Alice Cannon), served in World War II. Only Molly’s mother, Mae (Mary Bacon), isn’t all ooo- rah about a family of Marines. Her religion and calling as a midwife who brings lives into the world are at conflict with training to kill.

Amanda quickly bonds with Molly’s kin and feels at home, but it is apparent that she and Molly have sought shelter at the peaceful farmhouse from something sinister following them from Iraq. Through flashbacks, sharply directed by Lucie Tiberghien around the fringes of the home trimmed with camouflage material or upstairs where an uneasy Iraqi checkpoint suddenly comes to life, we begin to understand that the biggest threat the women Marines faced while deployed might not have come from the enemy.

Things aren’t easy for women serving overseas in the current conflict. In fact, it is a whole different front from when Grandma Lu packed her parachutes in the big war. Now women in service are called one of three things, Amanda tells us: a slut, a dyke or a bitch. The play’s title, program notes inform us, comes from an expression used to describe a female soldier or Marine serving her overseas tour of duty year, implying that even an “ugly” female gets away with slacking off and being unduly treated as a queen in the male dominated environment. A wink from a woman can imply consent for much more than intended and the knives the women soldiers carry offer protection against enemy attack – whether it is from their own male company members or Iraqi insurgents.

During her tour, Amanda was raped by a superior and his buddy, but the Marines have a zero tolerance policy for these types of incidents which means she doesn’t really have the option of reporting it or of seeking any justice. This is made plain to her by a staff sergeant (Mat Hostetler) who gets wind of the case and intimidates Amanda to make sure she won’t pursue it. Molly tries to help, but a senior female officer, Capt. Diaz (Jamie Rezanour), urges her not to get involved.

The women end up having to take things into their own hands –with the help of Molly’s ready-made militia family -- especially when the rapist feels threatened that Amanda might be able to prove what happened and pursues her and Molly to Virginia.

Mitchell’s no-nonsense writing style establishes a bond between the audience and the women early in the two-hour, 15-minute production. In quick military fashion, we see Molly transform before our eyes from a woman into a Marine (Beth Goldenberg costumes). We know these women and like them all, especially Grandma Lu who reminds us all of our own beloved elderly relatives who are not afraid to say what’s on their minds and Cannon wisely doesn't overplay the part.

The playwright makes us uncomfortable, however, by targeting some messages that might have been trained into our thinking about what is normal when it comes to war. We don’t question Grandma Lu’s patriotism, for instance, but then we’re a bit disturbed by the apparent prejudice still holds again people of Japanese descent. We are all for the US Marines – until we start hearing some of the cadences sung out and repeated back from time to time throughout the play. The work songs apparently are genuine, if not sanctioned, and are too vulgar to re-print here 9the theater recommends 14 and up for viewing the play). They make us pause in our admiration for an institution that accepts as "normal" training with chants full of glee and pride about killing people and treating women in the most vulgar of ways. And are we really OK with feeling nonchalant when it comes to killing?
It’s a little like realizing that the enemy has gotten inside your mind and messed with you and now you are forced to wonder whether you’ve been just a bit brainwashed by the good guys too. It’s definitely theater that makes us think: it's a boot camp for the mind.

Even the conclusion leaves us questioning our values as we surprise ourselves by easily rooting for a bloody outcome. The effect would be even more dramatic, however, if we had a clearer understanding of why Molly decides to take things into her own hands when she does and what her fate is. Without that, the ambiguity weakens the impact.

Another area that could use a tweak from Tiberghien is the timing and delivery of the humor. There is some in this play, despite its otherwise somber theme, but some jokes are lost, or have less oomph than they should.

Deaver is solid as the Corps-tough soldier who can’t quite forgive herself for not being strong enough to protect herself; Bacon finds depth in Mae that realistically portrays the love of a mother conflicted with the path her child has chosen. Butler seems less certain in her role, but it is fitting as Molly herself is trying to figure out where a woman can serve comfortably in a man’s military.
Its engrossing story brings the issues of women’s role in the military, burdens placed on families with members serving and the realities of women in combat front and center for full inspection.

Queens for a Year plays through Oct. 2 at Hartford stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.   Tickets $25-$90.  (860) 527-5151; www.hartfordstage.org.

Additional credits:
Wig Design by Jodi Stone, Lighting Design by Robert Perry; Sound Design by Victoria Deiorio, Fight Direction by Greg Webster; Dialect Coaching by Robert H. Davis. 

Scenes from Second Launch of CT League of Professional Theatre Women



The Connecticut Chapter of the League of professional Theatre Women held its second launch event to kick off its activities in the state. The organization serves as a networking and advocacy tool for women working in the theater.

This second event at Westport Country Playhouse's White Barn featured a panel on "Lean In and Branch Out: Claiming our Voice as Women in Connecticut Theater" moderated by Actress/Director/Producer Marie Reynolds, a co-founder of the chapter along with Lauren Yarger, a theater critic and editor of the CT Arts Connection, Mary Miko, soecial events coordinator at Goodspeed and Tracey Moore, an associate professor of theater at University of Hartford's Hartt School. 

Panelists were Actress Mia Dillon (Tony award for Best Featured Actress Crimes of the Heart), NY Producer Pat Addiss (Eclipsed, Gigi, Vanya Sonya, Masha and Spike), Anne Keefe, artist associate and former co-artistic director at Westport Country Playhouse, and Director Jenn Thompson (Bye Bye Birdie at Goodspeed; Women Without Men Off-Broadway).

A "Seal of Approval" recognizing the achievements of Yale Repetory Theatre in hiring women on and behind its stages was accepted by Managing Director Victoria Nolan.  At the first launch in Hartford, a Seal of Approval was presented to Hartford Stage. That panel featured Elizabeth Williamson, associate artistic director at Hartford Stage, Jacqueline Hubbard, executive artistic director at Ivoryton Playhouse and playwright TD Mitchell (Queens for a Year; TV's "Army Wives").

The group will hold regional meetings around the state and will present works by women. For information on joining the local chapter, contact LaurenYarger@hotmail.com. For information on the League and its many programs, visit theatrewomen.org.


Panelist Mia Dillon and her husband, actor Kier Dullea.

Mingling/refreshments
Lauren Yarger, Mary Miko and Marie Reynolds.

Mary Miko and Diana Insolio


Lighting Designer Dawn Chiang

Joan Firestone, a former president of the League of Professional Theatre Women, welcomed the group.

Anne Keefe, associate artist at WCP.

The panel and friends: Anne Keefe, Pat Addiss, Jenn Thompson, Joan Firestone, Mia Dillon and Marie Reynolds.

Victoria Nolan

CT Theater Review: Little Shop of Horrors -- Playhouse on Park

Emily Kron , front right, and Cherise Clarke, Famecia Ward and Brandi Porter in rear. Photo: Meredith Atkinson
This Little Shop Gets a Dose of Miracle Grow and Stands Out from the Others
By Lauren Yarger
Little Shop of Horrors? Again?

This question comes to mind when the 1982 Alan Menken/Howard Ashman musical is staged, as it often is. Love the score, but seriously, how many times can we watch this tale of a human-eating Venus fly trap?

At least one more is the answer, thanks to a delightful staging of the musical at Playhouse on Park under the direction and choreography of Susan Haefner. This production has some nuances that make it unique –as though it has been given a good dose of Miracle Grow to make it stand out from all the others and it is well worth the trip to the box office.

Haefer gives a different take on the leads, Seymour (a talented Steven Mooney who reminds of Josh Gad – casting directors take note: he would be perfect for the role of Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon) and his heartthrob, Audrey (Emily Kron).

This Seymour is a little stockier than most and a bit more able to stand on his own two feet as he desperately tries to keep plant Audrey II (named after his love) satisfied with human blood. The extraordinary plant (designed by Martin P. Robinson and manipulated here by Susan Slotoroff) brings fame to Seymour and the florist shop where he and Audrey work for Mr. Mushnik (Damian Buzzerio). Even when Mushnik adopts Seymour as his son, we interestingly feel in this production that the manipulation is more on Seymour’s end than on Mushnik’s.

Audrey also seems tougher. She’s not the dumb blonde of most productions, but more a victim in her abusive relationship with sadistic dentist Orin (Aidan Eastwood). “Somewhere That’s Green” (musical direction by Penny Brandt) isn’t so much the fantasy of a naïve girl, but the poignant hope of someone who doesn’t feel she deserves a happy ending.

Some of the best distinctions in this production are in the background. Famecia Ward (Ronette),
Cherise Clarke (Crystal) and Brandi Porter (Chiffon) are perfection as the backup trio on skid Row. Whether they are reminding us to turn off our cell phones, sitting on the shop stoop (a.k.a. the aisles in house seating) or bopping along the stage, these three women steal the scene with their harmonized voices and beautiful appearance in shimmering dresses designed by Kate Bunce that change color in lighting designed by Christopher Bell.

In addition, Brian Dudkiewicz’s set, which changes from dull gray to colorful red, white and blue as the fortunes of the florist shop inhabitants blossom with the popularity of Audrey II, also incorporates chain link fencing behind the four-person band that allows us to see Rasheem Ford when he sings the part of the plant. I don’t recall ever being able to see this performer in a production of Little Shop before and it really enhances the experience. The audience seemed more engaged and Ford also may be the best I ever have heard sing the role.

If you haven’t seen the show and are put off by the title, go see it. The plant grows on you (pun intended). If you are like me and have seen the musical a bunch of times, this production is worth another visit.

Little Shop of Horrors plants itself at Playhouse on the Park, 244 Park Rd, West Hartford through Oct. 16. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $40-$50 with discounts for seniors and students.860-523-5900 x10 or visit www.playhouseonpark.org.

Credits:
Music and Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Music by Alan Menken Direction and Choreography by Susan Haefner; Musical Direction by Penny Brandt, Scenic Design by Brian Dudkiewicz, Costume Design by Kate Bunce, Lighting Design by Christopher Bell; Sound Design by Joel Abbott; Properties by Pamela Lang; Puppet Design by Martin P. Robinson

Monday, September 19, 2016

Theater Review: Gypsy -- Music Theatre of CT

Kirsti Carnahan and Kate Simone. Photo: Joe Landry


Gypsy
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Directed by Kevin Connors
Music Theatre of Connecticut
Through Sept. 25

What's It All About?

Well, it is the great American musical tale based on the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee about a stage mother named Rose (Kirsti Carnahan ) who forces her daughters, Louise (Kate Simone) and June (Carissa Massaro) to perform a terrible vaudeville act in the hopes of making June a star.  Rose strings along manager Herbie (Paul Binotto) with the promise of connubial bliss some day, but having had two failed marriage already, Rose's ambitions are all for the act which keeps June a the center of the same act despite the fact that she has grown way beyond the age of 10. Eventually Rose makes some changes, adding a couple of orphan boys, Tulsa (Joe Grandy) and Yonkers (Chris McNiff) to back June up as "newsboys" and she finally achieves her dream of having the act perform on the Orpheum Circuit, but her dreams are shattered when June and Tulsa elope and leave to start their own act.

Rose then turns her attention to making the not-so-talented Louise into a star. The result is Gypsy Rose Lee.

What Are the Highlights?

That score! Well played by a four-man band under the direction of Music Director Thomas Martin Conroy, it gives us the classics “Some People,” “Small World,” “Little Lamb,” “You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” “Together, Wherever We Go,” and “Let Me Entertain You.”

Carnahan is not as bold and belty as most Roses (think Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler, who all have played this quintessential stage mom), but it works as she makes the role her own. We get a better sense of Rose as a mother and as a woman. Binotto's Herbie doesn't seem as steamrolled as a result and we have an opportunity to appreciate the depth of character achieved by the actor.

The small space at MTC, sparcely staged by Carl Tallent, makes the production more intimate. Skilled sound design, though uncredited, allows us to hear the lyrics without being blasted by the instruments.

Jodi Stevens steals the scene as the secretary to an entertainment mogul auditioning June and her entourage and as Mazeppa, a trumpet playing stripper along with crowd pleasers Electra (Marca Leigh) and Tessie tura (Jeri Kansas).

The kids also delight: Abby Sara Dahan (Baby June); Jonah Frimmer (Young Yonkers); 
Charlie Pelletier (Young Tulsa) and Natalie Steele (Baby Louise).

What Are the Lowlights?

None worth mentioning.

More information:
Let Gypsy entertain you through Sept. 25 at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Ave, (behind Nine West), Nowalk. Performances are Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 4  and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$55: www.musictheatreofct.com; 203-454-3883.

Additional casting:
Brittany Cattaruzza (Margaret May, others)
Peter McClung (Father, others)
Abigial Root (Agnes & Others)

Additional credits:
Costume Design by Diane Vanderkroef; Wigs by Peggi De La Cruz; Lighting Design by Michael Blagys; Choreography by Becky Timms.

Monday, September 12, 2016

CT Theater Review: Man of La Mancha -- Ivoryton

Thalia Thiesfield and David Pittsinger. Photo: Anne Hudson

Pittsinger Makes Chasing Windmills Interesting
By Lauren Yarger
It’s not often that an actor on a Connecticut stage generates entrance applause, but David Pittsinger, starring as Don Quixote in Ivoryton’s production of Man of La Mancha does just that and it’s well deserved.

Pittsinger delighted audiences at the Playhouse last season as Emile in South Pacific and his rich baritone is no less pleasing in this Mitch Leigh classic, where “The Impossible Dream” received a standing ovation mid-show the night I attended.

This production, directed by David Edwards (who also helmed South Pacific) isn’t just pleasing crowds because of Pittsigner (or because the audience is so relieved it isn’t the last production, RENT, which was not entirely embraced by the more traditional subscribers at Ivoryton). There are some other very talented actors up there on stage to help bring the tale of knight errant Don Quixote to life.

In a book for stage by Dale Wasserman, it is the 16th-Century and tax collector Miguel de Cervantes (Pittsinger) has been thrown into jail along with his servant, Sancho (Brian Michael Hoffman) for trying to foreclose on a church. His fate is at the mercy of the Spanish Inquisition and its Captain (Ryan Cavanaugh). His fellow prisoners in the dungeon (nicely designed by Daniel Nischan in platforms surrounded by brownish stone walls well lighted by Marcus Abbott ) decide to conduct their own trial and to defend himself – and a manuscript they threaten to burn – Cervantes asks for the opportunity to defend himself in the only way he knows—through theater. He takes out a makeup kit and transforms himself into Don Quixote of La Mancha, a knight seeking to destroy and enemy called the Enchanter (who disguises himself as a windmill) and whose quest is the impossible dream ( and presumably, the story contained in the manuscript).

Sancho becomes his squire and the prisoners all take roles as the duo arrive at a dingy establishment run by an innkeeper (Jimmy Van Treuren) which the mad Quioxte is convinced is a castle. There he spies Aldonza (Talia Thiesfield), a whore who is abused by many men, chief among them Pedro (James Ludlum). Don Quixote sees her as the high-bred Lady Dulcinea and treats her with kindness. All is not what it seems, however. Will Quixote’s version of reality be able to transform Aldonza’s life? (Note: the scene where Aldonza is abducted is tasteful, but intense.)

Todd Underwood choreographs, including a fun number where Quixote arrives via a horse-mule team (AJ Hunsucker and Brian Binion, who also does a nice turn as the barber with a solo). Fight choreography is intricate and the action fills the multiple levels of stage. Elizabeth Cipollina provides the costume, wig and hair designs that help tell this story.

The chorus is very strong, with a special shout-out going to Matthew Krob, Amy Buckley, Melissa McLean as well as Director Edwards, who appears on stage as Dr. Carrasco, for lending strong voices to “I’m Only Thinking of Him” and for bringing depth to minor characters.

Paul Feyer directs the small, seven-person band in the pit, through the score, but we can’t help but miss the big-horn sound of a full orchestra, especially on “Man of La Mancha.” Sound Design is by Tate R Burmeister, who does a good job on the mix. The pace is a bit slow a times, but Pittsinger and this fine staging are worth a trip to the theater.

Join Don Quixote's quest through Oct. 2 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children. 860-767-7318; ivorytonplayhouse.org.

The full casting:
David Pittsinger…. Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote

Talia Thiesfield…. Aldonza

Brian Michael Hoffman…. Sancho Panza

Jimmy Van Treuren…. Governor/Innkeeper

Amy Buckley…. Prisoner/Antonia

Melissa McLean…. Prisoner/Housekeeper

Matthew Krob…. Prisoner/Padre.

David Edwards…. Duke/Dr. Sanson Carrasco

Brian Binion…. Prisoner/Juan/Mule/Barber

Ryan Cavanaugh…. Captain of the Inquisition/Prisoner/Paco

AJ Hunsucker…. Prisoner/Jose/Horse

James Ludlum…. Prisoner/Pedro

Conor McGiffin…. Prisoner/Maria

Stephen Mir…. Prisoner/Anselmo

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Folio of Shakespeare's Works Makes Tour Stop at UConn

Courtesy of The Folger Shakespeare Library
An Old Guy is Taking the UConn Campus By Storm
By Lauren Yarger
He's not a hot political speaker. a popular professor or even a star athlete. In fact, he's an old guy -- ancient, really at 400+ -- but he's causing quite stir over on UConn's Storrs campus.

He's William Shakespeare and he's bringing out the crowds to see a copy of the “First Folio,” the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays published by two of his fellow actors in 1623, seven years after the Bard’s death. The collection includes 18 plays that would otherwise have been lost, including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Antony and Cleopatra, The Comedy of Errors and As You Like It.

The crowd was so large at the opening night event for the exhibit at the William Benton Museum of Art last week, that jokes reportedly were made that it might exceed turnout for a Huskies game....

The Folio is making a stop in each of the 50 states (as well as Washington, DC and Puerto Rico) to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The tour is a partnership between The Folger Shakespeare Library, the Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association.

Owen Williams, assistant director of the Folger Institute, and a quiet man whose passion for history comes alive when he speaks about the Folio, was on campus last week, along with Brendan Kane, associate professor of History and assistant director of humanities and Gregory Samenza, professor of English, to give some background on the book. They chatted about how Shakespeare really was known more as a poet in his time and how, though he made a living from writing for the theater, the Bard had no idea that he would become an icon of it. 

Gregory Samenza, Owen Williams and Brendan Kane with the First Folio.
The cradle which nests the Folio in its temperature-regulated glass case is specific for this book, which appears to be in surprisingly good condition given its age. Its pages are opened to the "To Be or Note to Be" soliloquy from Hamlet and it's hard not to be moved by being so close to words that have traveled through so many years. 

Surrounding the Folio (which is on display at the Benton until Sept. 25)  are panels with additional information. In a room adjacent to it is “The Culture of Shakespeare," an exhibit featuring theatrical costumes borrowed from Shakespeare productions at Hartford Stage and CT Repertory as well as posters designed by UConn grad students. The exhibit also includes paintings on loan from the Wadsworth Atheneum.

During the month-long run of the exhibition, UConn will also present a variety of related academic and cultural programming. The activities will include a Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of King Lear Oct. 6-16, workshops for high school English teachers, a festival of Shakespeare in film and popular culture, a puppet adaptation of “Macbeth,” and other events. See a full calendar below. More information: http://shakespeare.uconn.edu.


CALENDAR OF FIRST FOLIO EVENTS
Sept. 1-25 – “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare” open for viewing. The Beanery Café at the Benton will feature Shakespearian era food on its menu at the museum. School Tours with Museum Docents and Faculty Guides speaking on Shakespeare and Printing – Tuesdays through Friday, 10:30 am, 11:30 am and 1:30 pm
Sept. 1-25 – “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare” open for viewing. The Beanery Café at the Benton will feature Shakespearian era food on its menu at the museum. School Tours with Museum Docents and Faculty Guides speaking on Shakespeare and Printing – Tuesdays through Friday, 10:30 am, 11:30 am and 1:30 pm from Sept. 6-23.
Sept. 1-25 – “Shakespeare at UConn” exhibition in adjacent gallery at the Benton Museum, featuring costume pieces, props and photography from the University of Connecticut and Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s extensive archive of performances.
Sept. 1-Oct. 4 – Shakespeare in Film Festival, weekly through the entire fall semester and beyond. 7 pm.  LOCATION TBD
Sept. 9 – Public Reading of “Macbeth” by Connecticut Theatre Company, 223 Norden St. New Britain, Noon -1 pm
Sept. 9 –Outdoor Shakespeare Film for Families at Dusk. Mansfield Town Green
Sept. 10 and  11 – Workshops at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry for Families and Students to build Bread & Puppet-style Shakespearian puppets for Celebrate Mansfield Day. 10 am to 5 pm
Sept. 10 – The First Folio Teachers: Shakespeare’s Text Demystified 10 am to noon Benton Museum
Sept. 14 – “Transcriptathon”: Folger manuscript online Humanities Institute Seminar Room Austin Building
Sept. 15 – “The Sound of the Folio: Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation” led by Dr. David Alan Stern will discuss and demonstrate the Early Modern English Sound likely heard on the Elizabeth/Jacobean stage.  Stern combines his expertise and experience as a Hollywood accent coach with the research of David Crystal, renowned UK linguist, to bring the original sound of the Folio to life. 7-8 pm., Drama Music Building 128
Sept. 16 –  El Beto, an original hand-puppet adaptation of Macbeth set against the Mexican Drug Cartels, featuring Spanish-English performances. 8 p.m., Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry
Sept. 17 – Words, Words, Words! Fun with Shakespeare - Family Workshop Mansfield Public Library, 2 pm
Sept. 18 – Celebrate Mansfield Day – partnering with the Town of Mansfield, the afternoon, focused on the families and community, will feature a parade with Bread & Puppet-style Shakespeare puppets paraded through the town center at noon.  From 1 to 4 pm the Dramatic Arts department will perform a series of Shakespeare focused activities including a "Sonnet Slam” series of performance recitations of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Monologues by the UConn Department of Dramatic Arts and E.O. Smith High School students, a Shakespearian period dance demonstration by the UConn BFA acting students, and a guided tour and demonstration by UConn’s Department of Art & Art History of its antique printing presses and the printing process to create the folio. 
Sept. 19 –“Player, Author, Imposter?” Graduate Student Panel Paper Presentation, Austin Building, Stern Lounge, 11 am to noon
Sept. 21 – Playing with Gender: A Celebration of Shakespearian Acting, Stamford Campus 6 to 8 pm.
Sept. 23 – “Shakespeare’s Songbook” and “Tallis’s Spem in alium” by the UConn Collegium Musicum, Eric Rice, director. 8 pm, Benton Museum
Oct. 6-16 – King Lear, Connecticut Repertory Theatre, Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre

Roy Blount Jr on Tap for Twain House Mark My Words

Roy Blount, Jr.
Roy Blount, Jr. will share from his latest book, "Save Room for Pie," a lively compendium of essays, poems, songs, limericks and news stories (both fake and real) about food at the next Mark My Words event at the Mark Twain House.

Blount's writing subjects have ranged from the Pittsburgh Steelers ("About Three Bricks Shy of a Load") to the film "Duck Soup" to two examinations of words, usage, and letters themselves in "Alphabet Juice and Alphabetter Juice."

He is a panelist on NPR's "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me," ex-president of the Authors Guild, a member of PEN and the Fellowship of Southern Authors, a New York Public Library Literary Lion, a Boston Public Library Literary Light, a usage consultant to the American Heritage Dictionary and an original member of the Rock Bottom Remainders. 

Copies of "Save Room for Pie" will be available for purchase at the event which will be held in the MTH auditorium 7:30 pm Thur
sday, Nov. 17. A VIP reception will be help prior at 6 pm.  

Tickets: $25 MTH Members - Discounted advance ticket sales for members only will be available on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 10 am;  
marktwainhouse.org860-280-3112; $30 General Public - On sale Monday, Sept.12 at 10 am; $75 VIP Reception with Roy Blount, Jr. - "Save room for pie," coffee, and conversation and VIP tickets include priority seating.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Theater Review: What the Butler Saw -- Westport

Patricia Kalember and Robert Stanton. Photo: Carol Rosegg


What the Butler Saw

By Joe Orton
Directed by John Tillinger
Westport Country Playhouse
Extended through Sept. 11

What's It All About?
One of those British farces that might have been funny in 1969 when it premiered, but doesn't appeal all that much in 2016.  Robert Stanton stars as a morally corrupt psychiatrist who includes disrobing and groping an applicant for the position as his secretary. Geraldine Barclay (Sarah Manton) complies. Why? It is supposed to be funny. It also is supposed to be funny when Prentice gazes up her skirt. 

When Prentice's wife, (Patricia Kalember) shows up at the office unexpectedly, the doctor pretends Geraldine is a mental patient and has her committed to avoid his wife's suspicion. Geraldine goes along with this. Why? Because it is supposed to be funny....  Meanwhile, Mrs Prentice, who is a nymphomaniac, is blackmailed by her one-night stand, Nicholas Becket (Chris Ghaffari), who also ends up assuming other identities to avoid detection. Hoping to restore order are Sergeant Match (Julian Gamble) and Dr. Rance (Paxton whitehead), who has dropped by to conduct an inspection of Dr. Prentice's clinic.

What Are the Highlights?
  • Paxton Whitehead. A treat every time he is on stage (he has entertained in Bedroom Farce, The Circle and How the Other Half Loves at Westport Country Playhouse), Whitehead gets most of the chuckles here as a doctor who jumps to conclusions often and incorrectly. To be fair, he does have the funniest lines in the script, and the skilled actor makes the most of everyone.
"I'm not interested in your explanations," he says at one point. "I have my own." That might not seem funny at first reading, but after hearing Dr. Rance go off on ridiculous tangents for two hours, this line is particularly laugh-inducing, especially with Whitehead's expert delivery.

  • Patricia Kalember. Another favorite actress, does her best to make the wife interesting and is a knock out in Laurie Churba's costumes and a blondish wig.

What are the Lowlights?
If you haven't figured it out by now, I don't find sexual mistreatment of women funny. even less so when the characters to which the abuse is directed think it is OK or even welcome. So forgive me if this type of "farce" just isn't my cup of tea, John Tillinger, who is directing his 14th show at the Playhouse (and recently directed this play in LA), keeps the doors opening and shutting at a pretty good pace (with the help of Robert Westley, who choreographs movement and firearms), but the ending doesn't work and is awkwardly staged (on James Noone's doctor office set with props by Karin White.)

More Information?
What the Butler Saw has been extended through Sept. 11, with an additional performance at 3 pm Sunday, Sept 11. Other performances this week are Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm and Saturday at 3 and 8 pm.  Tickets start at $30: www.westportplayhouse.org; 203- 227-4177, toll-free at 1-888-927-7529; Box Office, 25 Powers Court.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Connecticut Theater Preview Fall 2016

Coming this fall at Long Wharf. Theatre
As Summer Sun Cools Down, Connecticut Theater Stages Heat Up
By Lauren Yarger
The lazy, hazy days of summer are coming to an end (none too soon for those of us who aren’t fans of humidity), but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some hot shows turning up the heat of Connecticut theater stages this Fall.


As always the state’s professional theaters offer a wide range of plays and musicals and this season audiences will have the chance to see a number of premieres across Connecticut. Here are some highlights of the productions I most am looking forward to this Fall.

LONG WHARF
Stars are aligning for the world premiere of Meteor Shower by Steve Martin (whose musical Bright Star, written with composer Edie Brickell, won the 2016 Outer Critics Circle for Outstanding New Broadway Musical.

Martin has a long affiliation with Long Wharf. His plays Picasso at the Lapin Agile and The Underpants have had runs there. Meteor Shower is a co-production with the Old Globe in San Diego (where Bright Star got its start). It is extended in California through Sept. 7 and then will play here in New Haven Sept. 21-Oct. 16.  Craig Bierko is the only casting announced for Long Wharf so far.

The plot involves two couples getting together for some stargazing. What really takes place, in Martin’s silly/savvy style, is “an absurdist look at the comic anxiety lurking just beneath the surface of modern marriage.” Gordon Edelstein directs.

www.longwharf.org;  (203) 787-4282.

HARTFORD STAGE
In another world premiere, Hartford Stage shows why it was the recipient of a Seal of Approval from the recently formed Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women with Queens for a Year featuring an all-female cast in a play by female writer T.D. Mitchell (a writer on TV’s “Army Wives”), directed by Lucie Tiberghien Sept. 8-Oct. 2 .

A Marine Corps office brings a young female private with her on an unexpected visit to her family home where four generations of women who have served their country clash.  The production features local actress Vanessa R Butler (HartBeat Ensemble; Bated Breath Theatre Company). She is joined by Broadway veterans Heidi Armbruster, Mary Bacon, Alice Cannon,  Charlotte Maier  with Sarah Nicole Deaver, Mat Hostetler and Jamie Rezanour.

www.hartfordstage.org; (860) 527-5151

THEATERWORKS
Academy-Award winner Richard Dreyfuss (“Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” The Goodbye Girl,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus”) will play Albert Einstein in Relativity, a new play by Mark St. Germain Oct. 7-Nov. 13.  The author of Freud’s Last Session, Dancing Lessons and Becoming Dr. Ruth tackles Albert Einstein in his latest work.  It seems Albert and Mileva Einstein had a baby daughter who disappeared after 1904. When a young reporter confronts the genius years later at Princeton, Einstein must face his greatest challenge: his past.  St. Germain, who is known for plays that make us think, asks the question “To be a great man, does one first need to be a good man?”


YALE REPERTORY
Scenes From Court Life (or The Whipping Boy And His Prince) by Sarah Ruhl  was commissioned by the theater and kicks off its 50th anniversary season Sept. 30-Oct. 22. Mark Wing-Davey directs  the play about two political dynasties: the Stuarts with Charles I and Charles II defending their divine rights with the help of a whipping boy in 17th-Century Britain, and the Bushes: Jeb and George W., who in recent times, battle for power as siblings and in US politics.

Perhaps even more interesting to me is Seven Guitars, the fifth chapter in August Wilson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning cycle studying 20th-Century African-American experiences in Pittsburgh which will get a runat Yale Rep Nov. 25-Dec. 17.

www.yalerep.org; (203) 432-1234

GOODSPEED
For fans of Judy Garland, Goodspeed offers a brand new musical Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz Sept. 16-Nov. 27. Broadway actress Ruby Rakos stars in a look at Judy Garland when she was just “the girl with the great big voice  -- before  “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Easter Parade” and “A Star is Born” made her a legend. With a book by Marc Acito (Broadway’s Allegiance) the show is filled with many of the songs Judy sang adapted by David Libby.  Judy Garland historian and author John Fricke serves as Creative Consultant and Historian for the project, which was conceived by Tina Marie Casamento.

Tyne Rafaeli directs, Chris Bailey choreographs and Michael O’Flaherty, who is in his 25thseason at Goodspeed, music directs.

www.goodspeed.org; (860) 873-8668

IVORYTON PLAYHOUSE
I might not be looking forward to another production of Man of La Mancha (it’s overdone and not one of my favorite stories) except for the casting of this Don Quiote.  Rich baritone David Pittsinger, who wowed us Emile last season in South Pacific, returns to the Playhouse to star in this production Sept, 7-Oct. 2. “The Impossible Dream” will make this worth the ticket price. The music by Mitch Leigh (with lyrics by Joe Darion) are the highlight of this play within a play about a guy who fights windmills with his sidekick Sancho (Brian Michael Hoffman ) and defends a woman he is convinced is his love (played by Talia Thiesfield). David Edwards directs; Todd Underwood choreographs.

www.ivorytonplayhouse.org; (860) 767-7318


Robert Sean Leonard
WESTPORT
Tony Award-winning actor Robert Sean Leonard (“House,” “Dead Poet’s Society”) will portray King Arthur in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot Oct. 4 – 30. This version will be "re-imagined" with a book adapted by David Lee and directed by Mark Lamos. 


www.westportplayhouse.org; (203) 227-4177

CT REPERTORY
A production of King Lear (Oct. 6-16) will coincide with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s national tour of First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare which will be displayed Sept. 1-25 in the William Benton Museum of Art. King Lear will be directed by Dale AJ Rose. CT Rep is the producing arm of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Productions feature student performers and are directed, designed by, and cast with visiting professional artists and student artists. 

(860) 486-2113; Box Office: Nafe Katter Theatre, 820 Bolton Rd, on the Storrs campus Monday through Friday from noon to 5 pm.

Kate Simone and Kirsti Carnahan in Gypsy
at the Music Theatre of Connecticut. Photo: Heather Hayes
MUSIC THEATRE OF CONNECTICUT

Broadway veterans Paul Binotto, Kirsti Carnahan, Jeri Kansas, Carissa Massaro and Jodi Stevens star in Gypsy to open its 30th-anniversary season Sept. 9-25.

The Norwalk-based company's production, directed by Kevin Connors, will star Broadway actress Kirsti Carnahan as Rose.  

It is a busy Fall at MTC. The season continues with Sleuth Nov. 4-20, and longtime community theater favorite It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, adapted by MTC'S own Joe Landry, Dec. 9-18.



www.musictheatreofct.com(203) 454-3883

PLAYHOUSE ON PARK
Susan Haefner directs another Connecticut staging of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s musical Little Shop of Horrors Sept. 16-Oct. 16. No matter how many times I see this musical (and it is a lot), I enjoy the catchy score which includes “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly Seymour.”

www.playhouseonpark.org; (860) 523-5900 x10

THE BUSHNELL
Acclaimed director/choreographer and 2015 Tony Award® winner Christopher Wheeldon blends George and Ira Gershwin tunes, dance and movie magic in the award-winning An American in Paris which makes a tour stop in Hartford Nov. 15-20. The Broadway production blew me away. 

www.thebushnell.org; (860) 987-5900


SEVEN ANGELS
The Connecticut premiere of  A Room of My Own, a semi-autobiographical comedy by Charles Messina (who also directs) revolves around a writer who grows up in a wacky Italian-American family. The play, which had a run Of-Broadway last season, runs Sept. 22-Oct. 16. 

Following is He Wrote Good Songs Nov. 3-27. This story of Anthony Newley, the British actor, singer, song-writer, director, who created songs like "Goldfinger," "What Kind Of Fool Am I," "Who Can I Turn To?", "Gonna Build A Mountain" and "Candy Man," was conceived and written by Jon Petrson (who brought his fine Song and Dance Man show to Seven Angels some years back.
C O N N E C T I C U T
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C O N N E C T I O N

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

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