Saturday, December 3, 2011

Theater Review: I'm Connecticut -- CT Rep

Joyce DeWitt, Harris Doran, Maggie Sulka, Jerry Adler.  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
A Show That Makes Us Feel Glad About Feeling Bad about Being From Connecticut
By Lauren Yarger
Believing that you are where you come from, Marc (Harris Doran) has a big problem. He's from Connecticut, the most boring state in the union. After all, we're nicknamed after a spice we don't grow here, most of the towns sound like the names of stodgy English butlers and the most exciting thing that's ever been said about Hartford is that it's the "insurance capital of the world." Gosh, we don't even have a state song.

So begins the very clever and highly entertaining I'm Connecticut from native son Mike Reiss in its world premiere CT Repertory production at UConn's Harriet S. Jorgensen Theater. Reiss, who has had success in Hollywood writing animated comedies such as "The Simpsons," "The Critic" and the "Ice Age" movies, returns to his roots for his first stage play.

Live action plays out against fantasy (ably directed by Paul Mullins) as Marc tries to succeed in the New York dating scene, while talking to the audience about his insecurities and sharing childhood memories of being one of the only Jews growing up in Simsbury, CT and about his loving, bickering grandparents (Jerry Adler, Joyce DeWitt). Michael Anania and Matt Iacozza's simple and easily-changed set with Allison McGrath and Greg Purnell's projection designs make the transitions seamless.

Meanwhile, more interesting states like Florida (Will Graziano), gay-friendly New Hampshire and Vermont (Ryan Marcone, Adam Scheemann) and Oklahoma (Coles Prince) strut their stuff (costumes design by Sara Ewing) and show why they all are more interesting than Connecticut.

Marc strikes out at "NY Minute" speed dating, where the manager (Darrell Hollens) encourages him to enhance his Connecticut-like personality. He seeks other advice from best friend Kyle (Michael John Improta) and Mark Twain (Harrison Greene), one of the few celebs from Connecticut, who when pressed, admits that despite living here in "a creepy monstrosity of a house that school children have been forced to visit for over a century" he didn't write much about the state and actually is buried in neighboring New York. (If you're not laughing at all that, you haven't lived in Connecticut).

In a twist, Marc falls for transplanted Georgia belle Diane (Maggie Sulka) who is the receptionist at the dating club. He embellishes a story about his grandfather's experiences as a Holocaust survivor to impress her as the two start dating. Things get serious when Diane brings Marc and his grandfather home to meet her mother (also played by an over animated DeWitt) and Marc has to deal with the consequences of trying to be something he's not.

While much of the humor is geared toward natives who will get the Connecticut and New England references, there also are enough solid laughs to keep the play from becoming an extended one-liner. Particularly funny is a Broadway-style ending (Ken Clark, music direction; Posy Knight, choreography) to give Connecticut it's moment in the spotlight.

Take a break from the holiday craziness and enjoy a few moments that will make you proud -- OK, at least uninterestingly contented --  to say I'm Connecticut. Performances are tonight at 8, tomorrow at 2 pm, Dec. 7 and 8 at 7:30 pm; and Dec. 9 and 10 at 8 pm, with an additional matinee at 2 pm on Saturday, Dec. 10. Ticket prices range from $6 to $29. Call 860-486-4226  or visit www.crt.uconn.edu.

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

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