Monday, May 26, 2014

Theater Review: Love/Sick -- TheaterWorks

Chris Thorn and Pascale Armand. Photo: Lanny Nagler
Bizarre Tales of What Love Looks Like at First and Last Sight
By Lauren Yarger
Relationships at start and finish, love at first and last sight drive the newest work from playwright John Cariani, Love/Sick at TheaterWorks.

Director Amy Saltz, who helmed last season’s award winning production of Cariani’s Almost Maine at TheaterWorks, assembles a talented cast of four (Pascale Armand, Bruch Reed, Chris Thorn and Laura Woodward) to play 20 characters in ten sketches about love at its best and not-so-best set at “7:30 pm on different Friday evenings, Spring through Winter in an alternate suburban reality.”

Make sure you catch that “alternate reality” part, because unless you are willing to let go of reality, and give Cariani some room to create some "sick" characters and situations, you won’t enjoy a lot of the humor. The playwright makes this clear with the first sketch, “Obsessive Impulsive,” where a Man and a Woman (Reed and Woodward) run into each other at the Super Center and immediately start making out. They try to stop themselves, but as they apologize and try to explain (in exact unison), we discover they suffer from Obsessive Impulsive Disorder, which makes it difficult for them to keep from acting upon impulses.

Have they fallen in love at first sight or are they just unable to control a physical attraction? It’s funny, but bizarre.

Thorn stands out in the next sketch “The Singing Telegram,” when, on his first day on the job, reluctantly delivers a singing missive that doesn’t contain a message its recipient, (Armand), is expecting. He’s embarrassed, awkward and deeply sensitive.

The actors continue opening windows into moments of relationships with the help of quick-change costumes designed by Harry Nadal and simple sets (designed by Michael Schweikardt) and props (managed by Sven Henry Nelson). The vignettes include
  • ·         “What?!?” about a gay man who loses his hearing and ability to speak to protect himself from being hurt in a relationship
  • ·         “The Answer” where a bride with cold feet confronts her groom-to-be in the bathroom, just moments before their wedding to demand that he propose again.
  • ·         “Uh-Oh,” a bored wife is driven to extremes as she tests the devotion of a husband, who sits on the sofa, unaware as he is absorbed by the lure of his IPad.
  • ·         “Lunch and Dinner,” one of the funniest sketches, where a husband and wife speak in double entendre about finding satisfaction outside of their relationship.
  • ·         “Chicken,” the most disappointing of the sketches, where a husband asks for a divorce and regrets that his wife ever introduced herself because now he doesn’t remember what it was like to feel lonely (also at the Super Center, which creeps into a number of the sketches, as does a flower theme).
  • ·         “Forgot” about a woman who’s biological clock is ticking like a bomb that might blow up her marriage.
  • ·         “Where Was I,” a poignant piece about a woman who has lost herself in the raising of her children
  • ·         “Destiny,” about the meeting of two ex lovers (where else, but at the Super Center). In this climactic sketch, Cariani skillfully ties together all of the tales and wraps up a satisfyingly dark look at this thing we call love (most of the sketches weigh in on the “sick” side of the play’s title, but there is enough humor to offset and give balance.)
Added depths of humor would have been possible if Saltz had coaxed some nuance from Armand who shouts many of her lines in the Singing Telegram sketch. We get a hint of what might have been possible when she tones down for a minute in the “Chicken” sketch and the result is very funny.

Woodward (who was in Almost Maine last season) stands out bringing energy and added layers to characters. She and Thorn have visible chemistry on stage.

The evening at two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission feels a bit long (cutting that Chicken sketch might do the trick), but overall Love/Sick is entertaining and fun.

Also happening:
  • ·         Talkback Tuesday's: May 27, June 3, 10, 17. An intimate conversation with cast and crew after the show.
  • ·         Added matinees on Wednesdays June 4 and 11 at 2 pm.
Love/Sick runs through June 22 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm; Wednesday matinees June 4 and 11. Tickets $15-$65; 860-527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Theater Review: The Last Five Years -- Long Wharf

Katie Rose Clarke and Adam Halpin. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Long Wharf's Last Five Years Makes Us Fall in Love with Musical Theater All Over Again
By Lauren Yarger
The Last Five Years, Jason Robert Brown’s moving study of the birth and death of a marriage, is receiving a stellar production closing out the 2013-2014 season at Long Wharf Theatre.

Katie Rose Clarke and Adam Helpin play the couple, whose story is told from their different perspectives, separately, and from “beginning to end and end to beginning” in an all-sung libretto.  Cathy Hyatt (Clarke) begins at the end of the five-year marriage, singing about how she’s “Still Hurting.” Jamie Wellerstein (Helpin) starts at the beginning by singing about the “Shiksa Goddess” who has made him forget about a long line of Jewish girlfriends his family probably would prefer. He jumps into the marriage, even if he feels a bit shackled. His story moves forward; hers moves back in time.

In their separate reflections, we discover how they met, fell in love, got married, then started to drift apart. Causing the biggest difficulties in the relationship are the couple’s careers. Writer Jamie sees almost meteoric success when the New Yorker publishes his story and he lands a book contract with a large publishing house. He’s off doing the book-tour circuits with his female editor.

Cathy, meanwhile, waits tables in hopes of getting her big break as an actress. She goes on endless auditions (some of the show’s funniest moments), but only lands roles with smaller companies playing in Ohio. She feels more and more out of place in Jamie’s world and strugg;es to feel part of his success.

Meticulously directed by Gordon Edelstein, the actors never interact with each other except for one brief moment when their stories meet at the same time in their relationship – when  Jamie proposes during a peaceful rowboat ride, delightfully staged with simple props and a rotating stage designed by Eugene Lee and when they get married.

All of the locations of the five years represented during the couple’s relationship take place on a stage simply scattered with packing boxes and left-over items indicating the couple’s break up. The numerals of a clock border the circle of the rotating stage and lighting (designed by Ben Stanton) sometimes focuses on the passage of time. Cathy ends at the beginning of the relationship and Jamie concludes that the relationship is over.

Clarke (Broadway’s Wicked, Light in the Piazza) brings a strong soprano and layered nuance to her character. She takes us through the full range of Cathy’s emotions. A single gesture has the audience laughing or crying. Halpin lets her shine and keeps Jamie a bit more reserved, true to character A nice dynamic. Both sing the very difficult score with ease. (Brown’s other musicals of note are The Bridges of Madison County, currently on Broadway and nominated for a Tony Award for best score, and Parade.)

Also excellent is the small pit of musicians housed above the set and under the music direction of James Sampliner. They play the beautiful orchestrations with the heart – and sound – of a full orchestra. Sound designer Leon Rothenberg assists in creating the full effect.

The Last Five Years is 90 minutes with no intermission. This production is so well done that it will make you fall in love with musical theater all over again.

The show runs through June 1 at Long Wharf's mainstage, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Perfromances are Tuesday 7 pm; Wednesday, 2 and 7 pm; Thursday, Friday at 8 pm; Saturday 3 and 8 pm; Sunday 2 and 7 pm. Tickets are $54.50-$79.50. (203) 787-4282; www.longwharf.org.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Gentleman's Guide, Darko Tresnjak, Bill Beloni Win Outer Critics Circle Awards


Jefferson Mays as Lord Adalbert in a scene from A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder at the Walter Kerr Theater. Photo: Joan Marcus.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, which received its premiere at Hartford Stage, its director, Hartford Stage's Darko Tresnjak, and Connecticut theatrical animal trainer William Berloni have been awarded 2014 Outer Critics Circle Awards.

For the full list of winners, visit Reflections in the Light.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Palace Season to Include Newsies, Jekyll & Hyde, I Love Lucy

Cast of I Love Lucy. Courtesy of the Palace
The Palace Theater's 10th anniversary Broadway series kicks off in October (23-25) with four performances of the Tony Award-winning, Disney musical Newsies in an exclusive Connecticut engagement.

The series continues in December (6-7), with  Jekyll & Hyde, a haunting production that characterizes the struggle between good and evil, followed by Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story in January (23-24), a production that chronicles the meteoric rise and tragic end of one of America’s first Rock & Roll icons.

The series resumes in March (6-7) with Sister Act, and concludes in May (30-31) with I Love Lucy Live On Stage, a hilarious, insightful, and critically-acclaimed stage show that allows patrons to experience what it was like to be an audience member during the filming of two iconic I Love Lucy episodes.

In honor of the Palace’s Tenth Anniversary Season, the Box Office is offering subscribers better benefits, bigger savings and a broader performance selection this year.Subscribers now have the option to upgrade to an extreme package, by selecting two or more (up to five) non-Broadway Series shows at a 15-percent savings. These shows include The Midtown Men, Human Nature: The Motown Show, Alton Brown’s Edible Inevitable Tour, Linda Eder, Manheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis and Blue Man Group.

For more information or to receive a Broadway Series subscription brochure, call the Box Office at 203-346-2000 or visit www.palacetheaterct.org.

Connecticut Arts Connections-- Hartford Stage Awards News for Gentleman's Guide




Join Hartford Stage for a special Tony Awards viewing party at the Society Room (31 Pratt Street, Hartford). The evening will include dinner, drinks, and a viewing of the live broadcast on the big screen! Be there as they celebrate the successful Broadway run of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, its many award nominations, and hopefully some wins! Every ticket purchased underwrites the cost of one staff member to attend the party.

$200 per ticket. Space is limited!

To purchase tickets, contact Kristen Michaels, events manager, at
860-520-7241 or kmichaels@hartfordstage.org by May 30. 

Hartford stage's Darko Tresnjak with Diane Davis at the Drama Desk Awards Nominees Reception Wednesday in New York. Tresnjak is nominated as best director (he also has Outer Critics Circle and Tony nominations for his work on A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder.


  • Westport Country Playhouse is one of 886 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant announced by Joan Shigekawa, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) acting chairman. The Playhouse is recommended for a $30,000 grant to support its community engagement initiative, “Threads of Time, Fabric of History: ‘Intimate Apparel’ in Context,” which will run concurrently with the Playhouse production of Lynn Nottage's play Intimate Apparel in October.
  • Ives Concert Park is proud to announce a new partnership with the world's largest concert promoter, Live Nation. Together we will stage some outstanding shows for the 2014 Summer Concert Series. Located on the Western Connecticut State University Westside campus in Danbury, Ives has, since 1975, hosted an impressive array of classic rockers, up-and-coming indie artists, country crooners, and more. 
Grammy Award winner Peter Frampton will play the Ives on Saturday July 5 and the legendary rock band The Moody Blues will perform Sunday Aug. 17.  
The association with Live Nation Connecticut will bring a significant respected international leader in live entertainment to the Ives, a 'must experience entertainment destination' for all concert-goers. For more information, visit www.ivesconcertpark.com or  www.livenation.com.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Theater Review: Damn Yankees -- Goodspeed


David Beach., Stephen Mark Lucas and Angel Reda   Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Red Sox Pinch Hit for Senators in Updated Faust Ball Musical
By Lauren Yarger
The Red Sox seem cursed. They can’t seem to get it together ever since they sold Babe Ruth to those Damn Yankees who are dominating Major League baseball in 1952. What’s a fan to do?

In an updated version of the Richard Adler/Jerry Ross musical playing at the Goodspeed Opera House, the team’s biggest fan, Joe Boyd (James Judy), decides it’s time to do something about the team’s decades-long wait for a championship season. He sells his soul to the devil, who shows up in the form of a salesman named Applegate (David Beach), to regain his youth, swing a bat again and lead the team to the Pennant.

The transaction takes place after Joe watches yet another Red Sox loss on the tube (cleverly staged by Set Designer Adrian W. Jones) while ignoring his devoted wife Meg (Anna Arvia). A salesman himself, Joe, insists on an escape clause in case he wants to return home after the Sox win the Pennant. He starts to realize just what he’s giving up as he pens a goodbye note to Meg (“Goodbye, Old Girl”).

Applegate reluctantly agrees, but has a secret weapon: Lola (Angel Reda), a buxom, sultry temptress whom he is sure can turn Joe’s affections from his wife (and in the “vavoom” dress designed by David C. Woolard to show off her assets while performing Kelli Barclay’s sensual choreography, Lola proves hard to resist.)

The Sox are discouraged, but Coach Van Buren gives them a pep talk. After all, they do have the most important thing a team needs: “Heart.” Director Daniel Goldstein whimsically stages this musical number in the locker room where the guys shower and show off their well-toned physiques as well as their singing voices. One little old lady seated up in the side balcony, with a view behind the shower wall shielding parts of the towel-less guys from the rest of us, was particularly amused, I noticed. She kept pointing and laughing.

Joe, now transformed into Joe Hardy (a strappingly handsome Stephen Mark Lucas with a grand-slam voice) who can hit one over the Green Monster at Fenway, is just what the Sox are looking for and suddenly he’s the most popular guy in Boston. Sports reporter Gloria Thorpe (Lora Lee Gayer) is suspicious, however, because even though she nicknamed him “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO), she can’t find anyone in Hannibal who remembers his ever playing ball there.

Meanwhile, a homesick Joe rents a room from Meg, who feels she knows him from somewhere…. This delights Meg’s friends, Doris (Allyce Beasley) and Sister (a riotous Kristine Zbornik), who adore Joe and become co-presidents of his fan club.

Lola tries her best to seduce Joe, but the growing bond between him and his unsuspecting wife might just mean Applegate will have to find some other tricks up his hellish sleeve to add this good man’s soul to his collection.

While this Red Sox version by talented playwright Joe DiPietro (Broadway’s Memphis, Nice Work if You Can Get It) provides a nice pinch hit to the original book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, based on the novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” by Douglass Wallop, based on "Faust," we almost wish he’d been designated hitter and really changed up the tried and dated plot (in which Joe originally was a Washington Senators fan, if you’re wondering). Some of Di Pietro’s finest comedy writing comes toward the end when Applegate explains how he will curse the Sox if Joe doesn’t come with him.

The original Broadway production featured Gwen Verdon as Lola with Bob Fosse choreography. Her rendition of “What Lola Wants” probably was most responsible for making the show the hit it was and earned the actress her first Tony Award. Outside of the few recognizable tunes, the Adler/Ross score is pretty unmemorable, and was written for a larger orchestra than plays in the pit at the Goodspeed under the direction of Michael O’Flaherty.

Strong performances highlight this production. Beach, who created the role of Henry in The Great American Mousical at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in 2012 is a comic genius (loved him in the original Urinetown on Broadway). He’s sleazy enough to be believable as the devil, yet sarcastic enough to be likable.

Aria, who we enjoyed as Tony’s sister in The Most Happy Fella at Goodspeed, turns in a solid portrayal of the grounded, average housewife Meg. Reda, who starred as Velma in Broadway’s Chicago, turns up the heat at Lola (two guys seated near me had no shortage of complimentary comments about her during intermission). Goldstein missed an opportunity by not having her come out into the house to interact with male audience members.

Zbornik gives the show much-needed humor as the star-struck Sister. She hits her lines out of the park and made me laugh out loud with her facial expressions and body language. She and Beasley (whom you might remember as Agnes DiPesto on TV’s “Moonlighting”) lead a fun seventh-inning stretch to bring the crowd back after intermission. Also standing out from the ensemble are Michael Mendez as Rocky and Sean Ewing as the Spanish-only-speaking team member, Hernandez who also provides some humor.

Don’t miss the classy, well-choreographed curtain call.

Damn Yankees plays through June 21 at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Hadaam. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm and select matinees at 2 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $27-$77.50  (860) 873-8668; www.goodspeed.org.

Extra innings:
Meet the Cast:  Take part in a lively discussion with the cast after the Thursday evening performances on May 8 and 22 and June 5. Meet the Cast events are free with a ticket to that evening’s performance.
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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