Monday, February 20, 2017

CT Theater Review: A Moon for the Misbegotten -- Playhouse on Park

Elise Hudson and Anthony Marble. Photo: Meredith Atkinson
This Production is Anything but Misbegotten
By Lauren Yarger
The plays of Eugene O' Neill bring the frailties of human relations and raw emotion to the surface and it's hard not to be moved. Playhouse on Park's production of A Moon for the Misbegotten is no exception.

The play is a follow-up to what is happening with Jamie Tyrone, Jr. (Anthony Marble), whom we met in O'Neill's Pulitzer-Prize winning drama Long Day's Journey into Night. He copes with his mother's death the way he deals with everything -- by drowning his sorrows in alcohol -- and pays a visit to drinking buddy Mike Hogan (Conan McCarthy), who is a tenant on the Tyrone-owned farm (the front porch of the property provides the set, designed by Emily Nichols). Harsh taskmaster Hogan already has run off three sons, including his youngest, Mike (Michael Hinton), who got away like the others did with the help of their hulking and unattractive sister, Josie (Elise Hudson).

Hogan isn't sure Jamie will honor a long-ago agreement to sell him the land he farms and fears the young man might do business instead with rich friend T. Stedman Harder (Thomas Royce Daniels), so Hogan convinces Josie that she should trap Jamie in a compromising position. The father will conveniently return at daybreak with witnesses and demand that Jamie marry his daughter.

Jamie and Josie bond, however, and the evening doesn't go as planned.  Jamie, though drawn to Josie, deludes himself about pursuing an acting career in New York and tells her about trying to find his way through grief and sadness with a prostitute. Josie also may not have been telling the truth about herself. She has never really admitted that she loves Jamie. She has allowed the town to believe she has been loose with her virtue -- a difficult lie in 1923 -- but one that allows her to avoid the truth: no man wants her.

It's a touching evening of self loathing and loving and groping for a hand in the dark. It could be a bummer, but from the pen of Nobel Laureate O'Neill, we have one of the finest plays about the human capacity for love and generosity ever written.

While this is really Jamie's story, this production, directed by Joseph Discher, shines the moonlight on Josie. At first glance, Hudson appears miscast. She's too pretty and lithe to be the over-sized, unattractive Josie we expect, but her feisty, complex portrayal soon wins us over and has us rooting for her.

All of the performances are very good and keep us watching despite an almost three-hour run time with an intermission (the first act seemed very long). Hudson and McCarthy have an excellent rapport on stage and it's easy to see that through the insult-riddled banter between father and daughter, there's real affection beneath the dirty and dusty surface (costumes designed by Collette Benoit). She grows softer when interacting with Jamie (played with aching sadness by Marble).

One pet peeve: herbal cigarettes and a pipe are used. We really don't need them lighted in small theater spaces. The props themselves suffice unless actual smoke is called for in the plot.

A Moon for the Misbegotten plays though March 5 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Tickets are $30-$40: 860-523-5900 x10; www.playhouseonpark.org.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

CT Theater Review: The Comedy of Errors -- Hartford Stage

The cast of The Comedy of Errors. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
The Comedy of Errors
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Hartford Stage
Through Feb. 12

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Shakespeare's comedy (well. one of them) about twins and mistaken identity, this one set on an island off the coast of Greece in 1965.  Darko Tresnjak offers a playful take including songs from the modern era ("Never on a Sunday") and exotic dance numbers.

Tyler Lansing Weaks and Ryan-James Hatanaka play twins who are separated and grow up as Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus. Their twin servants, Dromio of Syracuse (Alan Schmuckler) and Dromio of Ephesus (Matthew Macca) also are separated. When the Syracuse guys arrive in Ephesus, there is room for lots of mistaken identity, especially for Adriana (Jolly Abraham), the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus and Luciana (Mahira Kakkar). Adriana's sister and the object of Antipholus of Syracuse's affections.

What Are the Highlights?
It's different. Musicians Louis Tucci and Alexander Sovronsky (Composer/Music Director/Arranger) play Mediterranean tunes boat side on  a dock-like set designed by Director Darko Tresnjak in front of a hilly Greek backdrop. Getting some spotlight in the talented ensemble are Joanna Morrison as abbess Aemilia and Noble Shropshire as the twins' father, Aegeon, and Tara Heal as Nell, an amusingly overweight kitchen maid.

90 minutes, no intermission. Perfect for this type of romp.

What Are the Lowlights?
The comedy and exaggerated sound effects are forced and the slapstick doesn't work. The transition from the opening of "Never on a Sunday" is too stark to the strains of the Bard's language.

More Information: 
The Comedy of Errors runs through Feb. 12 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford.  Perfromance times vary. Tickets are $25-$90: hartfordstage.org.

Additional credits: 
Choreography Peggy Hickey; Costume Design Fabio Toblini; Lighting Design
Matthew Richards; Sound Design Jane Shaw; Associate Scenic Designer Colin McGurk; Hair and Wig Design Tom Watson; Makeup Design Tommy Kurzman; Fight Choreographer Greg Webster; Voice and Text Coach Claudia Hill-Sparks; Assistant Director Allison Gold; Assistant Scenic Designer Stephen Carmody; Assistant Lighting Designer Michael Blagys; Assistant Sound Designer Natalie Houle; Assistant Wig Designer Tommy Kurzman.

Additional cast:
Angelo Brendan Averett, Louis Butelli, Paula Leggett Chase. Michael Elich, Kalob Martinez, Lauren Bricca, Jamaal Fields-Green, Daisy Infantas, Evan McReddie, Monica Owen, Tyler Pisani

Monday, January 30, 2017

Connelly, De Laurentis Reunite for George and Gracie at Seven Angels

Seven Angels Theatre offers a nostalgic and hilarious look back at favorite show business couple with George and Gracie: the Early Years Feb. 9 to March 5. 
Semina DeLaurentis
The show stars R. Bruce Connelly (Say Goodnight Gracie) and Seven Angels's Artistic Director 
Semina De Laurentis (the original Sr. Mary Amnesia – Nunsense) as George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Meet George and Gracie, their neighbors Blanche and Harry, and other memorable guests as the cast pays homage to the comedic idols who influenced and inspired them with their impeccable comic timing and zaniness. The production will benefit Seven Angels Theatre educational and the High School HALO Awards programs.

Julia Kiley directs. Rounding out the cast are Sarah Knapp, John Swanson, Tom Chute, Mandy 
Thompson, John Fabbiani and Tom Libonate.

Tickets range from $39-$57 depending on performance. Those 25 and younger, tickets are only
$25: SevenAngelsTheatre.org; 203-757-4676, box office, 1 Plank Road, Waterbury.

CT Theater Review: Sunset Baby -- TheaterWorks

Photo: Lanny Nagler
Sunset Baby
By Dominique Morrisseau
Directed by Reginald L. Douglas
TheaterWorks
Through Feb. 19

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The estranged relationship between Nina (Brittany Bellizeare) and her political activist father, Kenyatta (Tony Todd.) Nina's mother has left her a series of love letters written to her by Kenyatta and publishers are offering big bucks to put them into book form. Kenyatta wants them too, but for more sentimental reasons. She avoids having to deal with her father, but her lover Damon (Carlton Byrd) may have his own motives for trying to bring the two together. Reality is blurred as the perspectives of the characters overlap.

What Are the Highlights?
Excellent performances and tight direction by Reginald L. Douglas keep our attention. Morriseau mixes raw and strong language with poetic thought and varies technique by having Kenyatta step out of the action to deliver soliloquies, but more to himself than to the audience.

What Are the Lowlights?
We never quite warm up to any of the characters. They are flawed in relationships with each other, but we never are convinced they really want to make them work and aren't looking out for their own best interests. The play bypasses at least two natural ending spots and seems to not know how to wrap itself up.

Additional Information:
Todd is from Hartford and is a graduated of UConn. 

Additional credits:
Alexander Woodward (Set Design), Karen Perry (Costume Design), Rob Denton (Lighting Design), and Julian Evans (Sound Design).

Sunset Baby runs through Feb. 19 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $15-$65: theaterworkshartford.org; 860-527-7838.


Friday, January 20, 2017

CT Theater Review: Endgame -- Long Wharf

Brian Dennehy and Reg E. Cathey. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Endgame
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Long Wharf Theatre
Through Feb. 5

By Lauren Yarger

What's It All About?
Samuel Beckett's exploration of the meaning of life.
Hamm (Brian Dennehy) is blind and confined to a wheeling chair since he can't stand. He is attended by by a servant, Clove (Reg E. Cathey) who can't sit down. The characters have a sort of adversarial relationship even while being dependent on each other. There is no life outside of the gray, bleak room littered with debris (set design by Eugene Lee). The only other characters are Hamm's legless parents, Nagg (Joe Grifasi) and Nell (Lynn Cohen) who dwell in large hampers -- think trash bins -- and only pop up occasionally to take some abuse form Hamm., directed by Edelstein.

What Are the Highlights?

Brian Dennehy on stage in anything is a highlight. The actor, who has starred in Love Letters (with Mia Farrow), Krapp’s Last Tape, and Hughie gives an excellent performance as usual. Cathey (“The Wire,” “Oz,” and “House of Cards.” ) is a worthy foil. The direction is tight and if I heard Hamm blow that whistle or Cloy slam that door one more time, I was going to scream (the mood was accentuated by blaring music tones at breaks in the action). All of the performances are solid with a special shout out to Cohen for making us remember Nell even though she only appears for a short stint in the already thankfully short 90 minute production.

The fake dog is pretty amusing.

What Are the Lowlights?
It's dark, confusing and a bummer. Typical Beckett, but not my cup of tea.

"Why do you stay with me?" Hamm asks.
"Why do you keep me?" Cloy replies.
"There's no one else."
"There is no where else."
"You're leaving me all the same," Hamm says.
"I'm trying," Clov replies.

Shoot me now. -- That is my despair, not the characters'.

More Information:
End Game runs through Feb. 6 at Long Wharf's Stage II, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets are very limited at $99.50. Check with the box office about stand-by options. longwharf.org; (203) 787-4282.

Additional credits: Kaye Voyce (costumes), Jennifer Tipton (lighting).


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Connecticut Theater Review: [title of show] -- Playhouse on Park

Peej Mele, Miles Jacoby, Ashley Brooke, Amanda Forker, Austin Cook. Photo: Meredith Atkinson.

[title of show]
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Book by Hunter Bell
Directed by David Edwards
Through Jan. 29
Playhouse on Park

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About? 
It's about two guys writing a musical about writing a musical. It's a fun, quirky look into the creative minds of composer and lyricist Jeff Bowen (Miles Jacoby) and book writing partner Hunter Bell (Peej Mele) who scheme to come up with an original musical to submit in three weeks to the NY Musical Theater Festival. They solicit the help of friends Heidi (Amanda Forker), who keeps landing the unsatisfying role of understudy on Broadway and Susan (Ashley Brooke), who focuses on a good-paying day job when she fears her voice isn't good enough for the Great White Way. Together they collaborate on what becomes a test for all of their skills. All of their conversations about what the musical should be like, what kinds of songs should be included and even dream sequences and a number of voice mail messages all merge to become the musical itself. It's a fun show, even if you don't catch all of the inside jokes, about the angst of the creative process.

What Are the Highlights?
Jacoby, the lone Equity member of the cast, gives a strong performance and is a good counter to the over-the-top portrayal of Bell as a sort of neurotic gay guy. Austin Cook plays Larry, the group's pianist friend, who provides the only accompaniment on stage for the show's songs that chronicle the group's experience with titles like "Two Nobodies in New York," "I am Playing Me," "Filling Out the Form" and "Nine People's Favorite Thing."

What Are the Lowlights?
The dialogue doesn't snap and the show is missing the familiar repartee that made the show a hit on Broadway. As a result the pace drags and the show clocks in about 1:45 instead of the expected hour and  a half without intermission.

More Information: [title of show] runs through Jan. 29 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Tickets are $40-$50: www.playhouseonpark.org; 860-523-5900 x10.

CT Theater Review: Beautiful -- The Bushnell


Curt Bouril, Liam Tobin, Julia Knitnel, Ben Fankhauser and Erika Olson,. Photo: Joan Marcus
Beautiful
Words and Music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Book by Douglas McGrath
Directed by Marc Bruni
The Bushnell
Through Jan. 22

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The story of music legend Carole King (Julia Knitel).  Book writer Douglas McGrath does a superb job of linking the highlights of King's life and the up-and-down relationship with husband  Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) with the music. Also featured is the couple's friendship with their songwriting competition team of Barry Mann (Ben Franhauser) and Cynthia Weil (Erika Olsen) and choreography by Josh Prince. This is not your ordinary jukebox musical.

What Are the highlights?
This is a top notch tour featuring a terrific Knitel, who understudied the role for a year on Broadway, where Jesse Meuller won a Tony for her portrayal and where the show still runs. Strong vocals across the board and a great sense of timing that makes all of the jokes hit just right. If you are a fan of the music of these artists, don't miss this show. You might be amazed, like I was, to discover how many rock and roll standards King composed.

What Are the Lowlights?
As usual, the mix in Mortensen Hall isn't quite right (either too loud or masking solos) and for small ensemble numbers, particularly. We don't get all the pleasure we should out of the Drifters or the Shirelles.

More information:
Beautiful runs through Jan. 22 at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Shows are Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm and Sunday at 1:30 and 6 pm. Tickets are $44.50 to $132.50 bushnell.org; 860-987-5900.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kiefer Sutherland to Appear in concert at The Kate

Kiefer Sutherland, courtesy of The Kate
Actor Kiefer Sutherland takes the stage to showcase his debut album Down In A Hole Sunday, Feb. 19 with a 7:30 pm show at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Center in New Haven.Sutherland has starred in movies like "Flatliners," "A Few Good Men"’, "A Time to Kill" and is known to many as counter terrorist agent Jack Bauer on the long-running TV series "24."

But unknown to many during the course of his career, he has taken on other vocations with the same kind of dedication and commitment. The first one, beginning around 1992, was that of a cattle rancher and competitive cowboy (roper) in the USTRC team roping circuit. He ran a successful ranch with partner John English for almost a decade. During that time, Sutherland won numerous roping events around the country including Phoenix, Indio and the Los Angeles Open.

In 2002, Sutherland, with his music partner and best friend Jude Cole, began a small record label called Ironworks. The goal of this label was to record local musicians and distribute their music at a time when the music industry was going through a monumental shift. Some of their artists included Rocco DeLuca and the Burden, HoneyHoney and Billy Boy On Poison. In 2009, Sutherland left the label to recharge and figure out what he was going to do next.

In early 2015 Sutherland played Cole two songs he had written and wanted to record as demos for other artists to record. Cole responded positively to the songs and the album grew organically from those recordings. Two songs became four and four grew into six, until Cole suggested that they make a record. Their collaboration resulted in Kiefer Sutherland’s upcoming debut album: ‘Down In A Hole’.

Sutherland says of the 11 tracks that make up the album, “It’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a journal or diary. All of these songs are pulled from my own personal experiences. There is something very satisfying about being able to look back on my own life, good times and bad, and express those sentiments in music. As much as I have enjoyed the writing and recording process, I am experiencing great joy now being able to play these songs to a live audience, which was something I hadn’t counted on”.

This show is being filmed live for the CPTV series ‘The Kate.’ Patrons are requested to arrive early. By purchasing any ticket, you agree to arrive prior to the time printed on ticket and will forfeit your seat if you don't.  You also might appear on screen. Click here for tickets which are $75.

MLK Celebrations at Westport Country Playhouse

Keynote speaker Dr. Tricia Rose of Brown University on  “WWMD – “What Would Martin Do in the Era of Post-Race Racism?” All photos by Photos by David Vita.

Students from Trumbull’s Regional Center for the Arts present a spoken-word piece, “A World That Listens,” based on Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  From left, Sarah Williams, Christina Boyle, Jahmelia Jarrett, Kaitlyn Oliva
Rev. Ed Horne of United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston and chair of the Celebration’s organizing committee welcomes audience.
 Audience in Westport Country Playhouse for Martin Luther King Day Celebration Jan. 15.
Harold Bailey, chair of TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism) Westport and trustee of Westport Country Playhouse, addresses crowd of 350

 The Men's Community Gospel Choir of Norwalk, led by Greg Detroy, sang gospel and civil rights selections. Pictured is Greg Thornewell, with members of the choir.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

CT Theater Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time -- The Bushnell

Adam Langdon. Photo: Joan Marcus

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marianne Elliott
The Bushnell
Through Jan. 1

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Play is the National Theatre's visually stunning adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel about Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon, with Benjamin Wheelwright, who played the role on Broadway, performing at certain shows), an autistic teenager trying to solve the mystery of a the killing of a neighborhood dog. The dog's owner, Mrs. Shears (Charlotte Maier), isn't helpful when Christopher begins his detective work to find out how a pitchfork came to end Wellington's life.

There's also a question of where Mr. Shears (a multi-talented John Hemphill) has gone and he becomes Christopher's prime suspect. A lonely neighbor, Mrs. Alexander (Amelia White), has some information, as well as some cookies to share, but what she has to say about his parents might not be what Christopher wants to hear. His father, Ed (Gene Gillette, but played the night I saw it by a capable Tim Wright), forbids him to continue with his investigation. Christopher decides to try to find his way to London, where he discovers that his mother, Judy (Felicity Jones Latta), has relocated.

As Christopher unravels the mysteries around the dog's murder and his mother's disappearance, he also discovers answers about himself and truths about family tree relationships whose branches are stronger than the pain that threatens to uproot them.

The story is told from Christopher's perspective. He doesn't relate to most of what is going on around him and his Autistic nature causes him to retreat from a world which is loud and chaotic and painful to the touch. He records his experiences in a book with the help of his special education aide, Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez), who reads parts of it aloud, allowing playwright Simon Stephens to continue the first-person narrative of Mark Haddon's novel.

All of Christopher's sensations, thoughts, dreams and emotions are depicted on Scenic Designer Bunny Christie's ingenious grey, three-sided grid backdrop which provides a sort of "connect the dots" for what is happening in his mind (Christie also designs the costumes). A toy train set depicts the boy's journey on the grid while he makes the actual journey to Paddington train station despite sensory overload. Projections (Finn Ross) and lighting effects (Paule Constable) combine with crashes of music (Adrian Sutton) and sound (Ian Dickinson) to create the world.

Actors not involved in the action take seats around the stage. Minimal props, primarily some white crates, are used to create settings. Panels in the grid open to reveal other props. Director Marianne Elliott, who brought us the stage wonder of War Horse, brings together elements of sensory delight and storytelling (though they seem less cohesive in this tour than they did on Broadway).

What Are the Highlights?
It's a unique theatrical performance. Christie manages to communicate Christopher’s thought process through the projections.


What Are the Lowlights?
The special effects of Christopher being able to fly or walk on walls are not as subtle as the Broadway version -- we are aware of the ensemble actors helping make this happen -- and one of the most awe-inspiring effects, where Christopher appears to walk in space -- doesn't make it into the touring version. Movement is by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly.

The tale is a bit long-winded at two and a half hours with an intermission. The sound for special effects is VERY loud while at other times, it is very hard to catch all of an actor's dialogue. Langdon adopts a very precise, yelling tone for Christopher, which puts him too much in our world. He doesn't seem to have any difficulty understanding he is relating to people outside of his world and this detracts from the character and from the overall effect of the show. we should slowly realize we are part of Christopher's world, not that he is part of ours.   Ramirez as the narrator is a bit too charismatic. In this version. we never see this character's growth or the extent of her relationship with Christopher. Lost is what a real credit it is to her when Christopher passes his A level exams, sees his novel turned into a play or reaches out to her as though she were part of his family.

More Information:
Curious? Check out this stunning visual presentation at the tour stop through Jan. 1 at The Bushnell. 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $27.50-$94.50: bushnell.org;     860-987-5900.

Stick around after the curtain call, because it's not over until it's over.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time transferred to London's West End following a sold-out run at the National's Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. The production received seven 2013 Olivier Awards, including Best New Play. It received five Tony Awards including Best Play, six Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Play and five Outer Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Broadway Play. We critics really liked it.

The ensemble also includes Brian Robert Burns, Francesca Choy-Kee, Josephine Hall, Robyn Kerr, Kathy McCafferty. Tim McKiernan. J. Paul Nicholas, Geoffrey Wade. 
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)

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