Monday, June 10, 2013

Theater Review: I'm Connecticut -- Ivoryton Playhouse

Jerry Adler Harris Doran. Photo: Anne Hudson

A Laugh-Out-Loud Look at Living in Connecticut
By Lauren Yarger
Bristol native son Mike Reiss, who has enjoyed success as a comedy writer for “The Simpsons” among other shows, turns his attention to the root of his humor, his home state in the riotously funny I’m Connecticut getting a slick production at Ivoryton Playhouse. 

The show had its world premiere last season at UConn’s CT Repertory Theatre Company and two of the original cast members, Harris Doran and Broadway veteran Jerry Adler, reprise their roles for the Ivoryton run.

Doran is Marc, a geeky native of Connecticut where he grew up one of the few Jews in Simsbury, where his teacher called upon him every year to share the Hanukah story during the Christmas celebrations….. Now a transplant in Manhattan, he works in brain research at Middlesex Hospital with pal Kyle (a funny Gino Costabile), motivated by a desire to help his Grandpa (Adler) who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. 

Marc is insecure about a lot of things, especially girls. This, Kyle assures, him, is because he comes from boring Connecticut, home of steady habits and towns that have names that sound like stodgy English butlers.. Nutmeg-ers aren’t as brash as New Yorkers like the manager (Bill Mootos) of a speed-dating service Marc tries or as interesting as Massachusetts natives like Kyle, who call their milkshakes “frappes.”

“It’s like crap with a ‘fa’,” Kyle quips.

We don’t even grow nutmeg here in the Nutmeg state, or grapes, like you might think given the leaves on our state seal, so what chance does Marc really have? 

The girls he meets at the dating service (Dené Hill, Elizabeth Talbot and others) aren’t good matches, but the receptionist, Diane (Gwen Hollander), a beauty from Georgia, attracts his attention. He invites her back to the apartment he shares with his grandfather (designed by Daniel Nischan). When Marc believes that telling some lies will improve his chances at winning Diane’s heart, he begins to spin a web of deception that soon ensnares him in a hilarious, sticky mess that threatens their relationship (and uproariously ends with a Broadway production number….). 

Meanwhile, Grandpa and Diane’s visiting mom, Polly (Rebecca Hoodwin), hit it off making the situation even more tenuous. Marc seeks advice from Kyle, but he’s not much help. He’s a master of deception himself, telling coworkers it is his birthday any time he has a craving for cake. He also points out Marc’s shortcomings in a guffaw-inducing scene where various states in the union show off their manly sizes and shapes to prove that a state that claims the boring distinction of being “The Insurance Capital of the World” definitely is lacking….

Director Jacqueline Hubbard ably helms the talented ensemble cast, enhancing the set design with projections designed by Allison McGrath and Greg Purnell and solidifying the relationship between Marc and the audience by bringing Doran out into the house to offer fruit cake, of all things.  

Doran once again achieves a balance between sarcasm and naiveté to create a totally likable character who has many audience members thinking, “I’m Marc” just as much as he thinks, “I’m Connecticut.” Costabile is a perfect foil for Doran and Adler and Hoodwin have terrific onstage chemistry that translates into an immediate natural camaraderie for Grandpa and Polly and Grandpa and his late wife Judith, also portrayed by Hoodwin. 
 
Ivoryton doesn’t escape Reiss’ barbs at a state that is somewhat lacking, either. “Where’s all the ivory?” the audience is asked. Reis himself was on hand for talkbacks with the audience after recent performances. A producer and writer with “The Simpsons” from its beginning, he received a Peabody Award in 2006 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Animation Writers Caucus. He also co-wrote “The Simpsons Movie,” “The Lorax,” “Horton Hears A Who!” and “Ice Age, Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” 

His recent films include “In Her Shoes.” “Prime,” “Find Me Guilty” and the soon-to-be-released “Last Angry Man in Brooklyn” with Robin Williams. On TV, he was the Fire Chief on “Rescue Me” with Denis Leary and is presently Howard Lyman on “The Good Wife.” 

The native son has made us proud!
 
I'm Connecticut runs through June 23 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8. Tickets: $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children. (860) 767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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

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