Sunday, May 31, 2015

Theater Review: Good People -- TheaterWorks

Buddy Haardt, Erika Rolfsrud, Megan Byrne and Audrie Neenan. Photo by Lanny Nagle
Good Performances, Good Script, Good Staging Combine for a Really Good Good People
By Lauren Yarger
Good People at Theaterworks offers a sharp script (by Pulitzer-Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire), excellent performances, taught direction and even some nifty projections to offer a really good theater experience – one where you can just sit back and enjoy.


Welcome to South Boston. Luke Hegel-Cantarella creates the multiple sets along with some fast moving projections of photos that put us in the neighborhood (and the gallery upstairs at City Arts on Pearl offers photos from the area). It’s not an easy place to be. Most of the inhabitants of the tough working class neighborhood are just trying to get by.

Margaret (Erika Rolfsrud) is fired from her cashier job at a dollar Store after showing up late again because her landlord, Dottie (Audrie Neenan), who watches “Margy”s mentally-challenged adult daughter, didn’t show up on time this morning. Desperate, she pleads with her boss, Stevie (Buddy Haardt) to keep her on, even at entry-level wages, but the son of one of her best friends growing up there in “Southie” has his own career to think about and refuses.

At their regular bingo session, Dottie says she might have to give Margaret’s apartment to her son if she can’t come up with the rent. Bingo mate Jean (a very funny Megan Byrne) says that she just ran into old school chum Mike (Tate Donovan), now a doctor, who has done well for himself. He’s what the Southies would call a “lace curtain,” –someone who is wealthy -- and Jean suggests Margy contact her old boyfriend about a job.

She barges into his office, but Mike isn’t hiring and isn’t all too happy to be reminded of his less sophisticated roots. In the course of conversation, he mentions that his wife is throwing him a birthday party and after a verbal game of chicken, Margaret wins an invite. After all, some of the folks attending might be hiring, Mike suggests. When he calls to cancel, she assumes that he just doesn’t want her there and decides to call his bluff and show up any way.

When she arrives on the doorstep of the elegant, upscale suburban Mike’s African-American wife, Kate (Chandra Thomas) thinks the caterer has come to clear tables for the party which really was canceled when their daughter became ill. Mike isn’t too happy to see her, especially since he‘s never told his wife, with whom he has been in marriage counseling, about his past relationship with Margaret. Kate’s excited, however, by the possibility of hearing stories about her husband and his old neighborhood, about which he’s been very silent, and she invites Margy to stay for an impromptu wine-and-cheese party.

The polite conversation soon turns nasty with hints of blackmail and questions about the paternity of Margaret’s daughter. What becomes the most intriguing question is: just who are the “good people” here? It might not be whom you think.

Director Rob Ruggiero sets excellent timing and pace and positions characters to enhance the tension. He elicits excellent performances, especially from Rolfsrud who conveys Margaret's tough exterior and kind interior. One criticism: the Bingo players are dotting their cards way too often.

It’s just fun to sit back and watch this slice of life. Kate is naïve, but not too much; Jean is scathing, but there is touch of heart to her; Dottie is a sweet old lady, but there’s selfishness under the surface; Stevie seems uncaring, but proves he’s “good people”; Margaret is desperate, but her morals and good character triumph; and Mike appears to have it all, but might be the one who really is lacking everything.

Chalk up those terrific character developments, all played wonderfully by the actors,  to Lindsay-Abaire, who never fails to satisfy with his probing, funny, well written scripts (Rabbit Hole, Wonder of the World for the stage and a number of screenplays, including “Robots,” “Inkheart” and “Poltergeist.”)

Good People plays at Theaterworks,  233 Pearl St., Hartford through June 28. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8 pm;  Saturday 2:30 and 8 pm; Sunday 2:30. Tickets $15-$65; 860-527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Theater Review: Once -- The Bushnell

Stuart Ward and Dani De Waal. Photo: Joan Marcus

Once is One of Those Shows You Don't Mind Seeing Twice
By Lauren Yarger
Once, winner of eight Tony Awards including Best Musical and winner of the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, brings its musical magic to The Bushnell.

Based on the low-budget motion picture by the same name which captured hearts -- and a 2007 Academy Award for music-and-lyric team Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglová (believe me, you have heard "Falling Slowly") Once invites the audience into one special week in Dublin, where a Guy (Stuart Ward) meets a Girl (Dani De Waal) and they make beautiful music together.

That invite to join is quite literal -- Bob Crowley's paneled Irish pub setting featuring warm lighting designed by Natasha Katz is open for business before the curtain and during intermission where audience members can enjoy the cash bar and jam sessions with the actors who all play their own instruments. Mirrors along the walls, including an oversized one above the bar, make it appear that we all are seated at the pub.

The story, written for the stage by Enda Walsh and based on the film written and directed by John Carney,  tells of the fact-based friendship between a Dublin songwriter and the woman who inspires him. John Tiffany directs with Steven Hoggett providing stage movement that allows the cast members, who never leave the stage, to react to the music being created.

When they meet, Guy is at the end of hope. His love has left him for America and his song-writing career isn't going anywhere. About to give up, he meets a blunt-talking, no-nonsense Czech Girl -- he calls her "the ambassador of honesty" who inspires him to take up his guitar again.

The two bond on a very deep level, despite the fact that Guy hopes to pursue his lost love in America and Girl, raising her little daughter Ivanka (Sarah Mckinley Austin) with the help of her family, is married to an absentee husband. Inspired by Guy's music, Girl writes some lyrics to unfinished pieces and convinces Guy he must perform it. Over five days, they collaborate and record a demo CD. Assisting them are Billy (Evan Harrington), who, smitten with Girl, allows her to play a piano in his music shop, a banker (Benjamin Magnuson), who is moved by Girl's persuasive plea and funds the recording session, and Guy's Da (Scott Waara), who helps his son get to New York.

The memorable, soul-touching, catchy tunes (Music Supervision and Orchestrations by Martin Lowe) thoroughly developed characters (even the minor ones with Harrington delighting with some comic relief) and a heartwarming story dotted with delightful humor all blend to make this a ballet of love and hope.

De Waal is excellent lending a lovely voice to the haunting, piercing and mellow songs while playing the piano. Ward shows skill on the guitar, but seems to try to be recreating the sounds of Steve Kazee who originated the role on Broadway (and won a Tony for it). So some moments seem to be a performance instead of a burstof emotion from the soul as intended.

Meanwhile, the sound (designed by Clive Goodwin) is off and much of the dialogue and lyrics -- particularly Ward's --are lost. Czech translations projected during Girl's conversations with her family probably would be better used to give English subtitles here.

It's well worth the experience, though, if just to hear the beautiful "Falling Slowly," which makes you want to sing along (and which, unfortunately, some folks seated nearby did). It's a musical definitely worth seeing more than once.

Once plays at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through May 31. Perforances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm; Sundays 1 and 6:30 pm Tickets $21-$92: (860) 987-5900; www.bushnell.org.

The full cast:
Stuart Ward…. Guy
Dani De Waal…. Girl
Sarah Mckinley Austin…. Ivanka
Matt Deangelis…. Švec
John Steven Gardner….Eamon
Evan Harrington…. Billy
Ryan Link…. Emcee
Benjamin Magnuson…. Bank Manager
Alex Nee….Andrej
Erica Spyres…. Ex-Girlfriend
Tina Stafford…. Baruška
Erica Swindell…. Réza
Scott Waara…. Da

Monday, May 25, 2015

Theater Review: Kiss Me Kate -- Hartford Stage

The cast of Kiss Me Kate. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Fresh Staging Fails to Rejuvenate Kiss Me Kate’s Tired Book
By Lauren Yarger
Some of the creatives who teamed to bring us the Tony-Award-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder reunite to bring a well staged production of Kiss me Kate to Hartford Stage. The show itself, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, isn’t a favorite, however, despite the fact that the original production ran for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway and won the first Tony Award for Best Musical.

This co-production with The Old Globe is lovingly directed by Darko Tresnjak with fresh choreography by Peggy Hickey, who along with Set Designer Alexander Dodge (Tony Award nominee); and Lighting Designer Philip Rosenberg filled out the Gentleman’s Guide team. There’s a neat roll into the opening number “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” but the freshness goes stale with the original book (with its less than positive approach to women) from Bella and Samuel Spewack.

Kiss Me Kate is a show within a show. A touring company is getting ready to present a musical production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore (hence all of the multiple roles you see listed below). The show’s leading man, producer, director Fred Graham (delightful baritone Mike McGowan) has reunited with his ex-wife and leading lady Lilli Vanessi (Anastasia Barzee) for the run. The couple hates each other (was it her temper or his ego that broke up the marriage?) and trades insults, but just beneath the surface, embers of their passion wait to reignite.
When Fred’s flowers and love note for show-girl mistress Lois Lane (Megan Sikora) erroneously find their way to Lilli’s dressing room, she is agreeable to rekindling their romance, but when the truth comes out, the actress wants out. Some gangsters (well cast and funny Brendan Averett and Joel Blum) enter the picture, having mistaken Fred for Lois’ former dance partner, Bill (Tyler Hanes), who owes their boss a gambling marker of $10,000 and ensure Lilli stays in the production so the box office receipts can be contributed toward the debt. Complicating matters is Lilli’s rebound engagement to politician General Harrison Howell (Tony Lawson).
Action abounds as Hickey dances the cast around Alexander Dodge’s cartoonish, but meticulously detailed set (complete with an unnecessary rotating floor). There’s even some tap. 
But the story….  Sorry, I just can’t get excited about a plot that involves physical abuse (both Lilli and Fred hit each other to such a degree that the services of Fight Director J. Allen Suddeth are needed). Whips are involved at one point.  Even Shakespeare’s plot involves women being sold into marriage against their will. These plots don’t engage me, and I certainly don’t find them entertaining.
Porter’s score, on the other hand, with a 15-member pit orchestra directed by  Kris Kukul, is worth hearing and gives us a chance to sit back and enjoy classic tunes like “Too Darn Hot,” (which is a nice song, but doesn’t have much to do with the plot. . .) “Wunderbar,” “So in Love,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” where Averett and Blum have a chance to really shine.
Solo voices all are good, with Charity Angel Dawson standing out in the supporting role of as Hattie, Lilli’s maid and confidant (and a featured singer on a couple of the tunes). Blending of voices on chorus numbers sounds just off the note occasionally, however.


Tresnjak said, “I started thinking about directing Kiss Me, Kate in 1990, when the influential album "Red, Hot, and Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter" introduced his smart and sexy music to a whole new generation. After 25 years, I'm thrilled to finally get a chance to direct this supreme entertainment—a piece in which my two great theatrical passions, the plays of William Shakespeare and the American musical theater, come together.”

Kiss Me Kate runs through June 14 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm (special matinee Wednesday, June 2 at 2 pm); Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets: $25-$80; (860) 527-5151; www.hartfordstage.org.

AfterWords Discussion
May 26, June 2 and June 3
Join members of the cast and artistic staff for a free discussion, immediately following select 7:30 performances on Tuesday or the Wednesday matinee free.

Open Captioned Performances, May 31, 2 and 7:30 pm performances for patrons who are deaf or have hearing loss. Free.

Full Cast
Brendan Averett…. Second Man
Anastasia Barzee…. Lilli/Kate
Joel Blum…. First Man
Giovanni Bonaventura…. Hortensio
Robert Hannon Davis…. Ralph
Charity Angel Dawson…. Hattie
Tyler Hanes…. Bill/Lucentio
James T. Lane…. Paul
Tony Lawson…. General Harrison Howell/Stagehand
Barrett Martin…. Gremio
Mike McGowan…. Fred/Petruchio
Wayne W. Pretlow…. Pops/Priest
Megan Sikora…. Lois/Bianca
Michael Starr…. Phillip
Jeff Steitzer…. Harry Trevor/Baptista Minola
Johnny Stellard…. Nathaniel
Robin Masella, Shina Ann Morris, Jane Papageorge…. Dancers

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

High School Musical Theater Award Finalists Announced

B2 Productions LLC in Norwich, CT has announced finalists for the seventh annual Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards. (CHSMTA).

The Black Tie Awards Gala will be held 6:30 pm Monday, June 1 at The Palace Theater in Waterbury.  The awards are founded and produced by Brett A. Bernardini.

As the nationally designated, high school musical theater awards program for the state of Connecticut, The Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards are connected with The National High School Musical Theater Award Program based in New York City. 16 awards will be presented along with performances of nominated schools, soloists and accompanied by a full orchestra. 

The recipients of the CHSMTA awards for Outstanding Actor and Actress with travel to New York City at the end of June 2015 where they will join with others young people selected from other similar State program runs by professional theaters, from all across the country for the annual presentation of The Jimmy Awards. The National High School Musical Theater Awards, produced by The Broadway League, is a national celebration of outstanding student achievement that recognizes individual artistry in vocal, dance and acting performances by high school students. “The Jimmy Award” is named in honor of James M. Nederlander, legendary Broadway theater owner and producer.
Over the past years, The CHSMTAs have had six finalists: Stephen Mark, Grace Hardin, John Jorge, Katie Oxman, Taylor Varga, Jillian Cailoutte) and 2 National winners!! (Stephen Mark, Ridgefield HS and Taylor Varga, Newtown HS).
 


Tickets for the gala event are on sale through The Palace Theater Box Office, 203-346-2000. 

The finalists are:

OUTSTANDING HAIR & MAKE UP ACHIEVEMENT
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Andrea Kennedy & David Linet

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Shannon Courtney

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Gina Gallo, Mary Joan Wright, Merial Cornell, Jeannette Davidson

West Warwick High School – BIG FISH

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Troye Evers


OUTSTANDING COSTUMING ACHIEVEMENT
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Julie Chevan

Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Irene Ludemann

Housatonic Valley Regional High School – THE BOYFRIEND
Judi Moore

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Dierdre Alexander

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Bonnie Johnson

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Joanne Nyerick

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Mary Joan Wright, Merial Cornell, Jeanette Davidson

OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN ACHIEVEMENT
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Dan Hassenmyer

Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
Robyn Joyce

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Kevin Gleason 

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Stef Carr

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Rich Parsons

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Paul Caginalp

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Jeff Whitsett


OUTSTANDING SET DESIGN ACHIEVEMENT
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Robert Kennedy

Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
Karen Sparks Mellon

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Kevin Gleason 

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Abby Callery, Jane Matson, Bill Mangold

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Mark Mazzarella

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Casey Lampert

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Cathy Bolton, Sam Maloney, Stephanie Bont 

OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Tom Ivanovich & Dave Trovarelli - Horizon Sound

Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
Greg Boucher

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Jason Kurtzman 

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Tim Mammen

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Dave Glanovsky

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Tom Ivanovich

Valley Regional High School – BAND GEEKS 


OUTSTANDING DIRECTION
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Robert & Andrea Kennedy

Housatonic Valley Regional High School – THE BOYFRIEND
Michael Berkeley

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Deirdre Alexander 

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Jane Matson

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Mark Mazzarella

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Thomas Dugan

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Jessica Spillane

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Andrea Kennedy

Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
John Carter

Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
Christine Bard-Simoes

Housatonic Valley Regional High School – THE BOYFRIEND
Amber Cameron

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Deirdre Alexander 

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Frank Root & Abigail Root


OUTSTANDING MUSIC DIRECTION
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Peter Randazzo

Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Dan Balint

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Brett Boles 

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Chelsea Kane, Kim Wiggin

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Chelsea Kane, Kim Wiggin

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Jerold Goldstein

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Michael Wyatt and Jonathan Curri



OUTSTANDING ORCHESTRA
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Co-operative Arts & Humanities High School – CURTAINS
East Lyme High School – GREASE
New Canaan High School – GREASE
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS


OUTSTANDING LEADING ACTRESS
Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Molly Silverman - BILLIE BENDIX

Immaculate High School – WEST SIDE STORY
Emma Giorgio  - MARIA

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Elizabeth Koennecke  – SANDY

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Chiara Giampietro  - MARIA

Valley Regional High School – BAND GEEKS
Maggie Walsh - LAURA

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Alexandra Cahr  - TRACY

OUTSTANDING LEADING ACTOR
Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Hudson Lee – JIMMY WINTER

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
 Kyle Watkins – STEIN

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Joe Schigas  - CAPTAIN VON TRAPP

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Alex Mainoff  - USNAVI

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Zac Gottschall  - HORACE VANDERGELDER

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Morgan Guadagnoli  - KALA

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Nancy Leville – RIZZO

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Emily Crebbin  - GABBY

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
KodyLynn Perkins - MOTHER ABBAS

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Katherine Kalill  - DANIELLA

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Katherine Griffin - MINNIE FAY

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Madeline Bria   - VELMA 

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR

Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Kahari Blue – KURCHIK

Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Thomas Mueller  - COOKIE

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
 Jack Leonard – BARNABY
Michael Lapore  - CORNELIUS

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Ethan Riordan – CORNEY
Jason Nekritz - WILBER
Anthony Laszlo   - EDNA

OUTSTANDING CHORUS
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
New Canaan High School – GREASE
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Valley Regional High School – BAND GEEKS
Westhill High School - HAIRSPRAY

OUTSTANDING FEATURED PERFORMER
Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Isabella Riccio – JEANNIE MULDOON

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Audrey Kirkpatrick - MARTY

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Aimee Talbot  - MALLORY

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Caleigh Lozito  -  ELSA



OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE GROUP
West Warwick High School – BIG FISH
- ALABAMA LAMBS
Sacred Heart Academy – SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
- DIVA DANCERS
Greater Hartford Arts Academy – SWEET CHARITY
FANDAGO GIRLS
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
- ANGEL CITY 4

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Housatonic Valley Regional High School – THE BOYFRIEND
New Canaan High School – GREASE
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY

OUTSTANDING LOBBY DISPLAY
                                                                    Amity Regional High School – TARZAN                                                                   
Co-operative Arts and Humanities High School - CURTAINS
Immaculate High School – WEST SIDE STORY
New Canaan High School – GREASE
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS

Monday, May 18, 2015

Darko Tresnjak Wins Obie Award

Michael Shannon in The Killer. Photo: Gerry Goldstein.
Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak has received an Obie Award for his direction of The Killer Off Broadway at Theatre for a New Audience.

Read a review here.

The full list of Obie Award winners is here:
http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/2015/05/hamilton-wins-obie.html?m=1

Theater Review: The Second Mrs. Wilson -- Long Wharf

Margaret Colin and John Glover. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
A Look Into the History of America’s 'First Woman President'
By Lauren Yarger
For those of you thinking Hillary Clinton is making a bid to be the first female president of the United States, you might not realize that America already has had a woman calling the shots in the Oval Office. Well, technically speaking, that is.

The Second Mrs. Wilson, Joe DiPietro’s look at the first woman believed to run the country, is getting its world premiere as Long Wharf Theatre closes out its 50th anniversary season. It is a study of Edith Wilson (played by the always excellent Margaret Colin), who effectively ran the government while her husband, President Woodrow Wilson (an also excellent John Glover), was incapacitated by a stroke.

Act One of the drama plays out like a love story. Wilson, surrounded by his political cronies, Secretary Joe Tumulty (Fred Applegate) and Col. Edward House (Harry Groener), fights adversaries like Sen Henry Cabot Lodge (Nick Wyman) who opposes Wilson’s League of Nations dream for world peace attached to the Treaty of Versailles and tries to overcome his crushing grief at the loss of his wife, Ellen.

When he meets widow Edith Galt, he is smitten and decides he has found a supporter, not only in the role of wife, but in political matters as well. Edith, not very interested in world matters – she only is aware of the war as it affected her plans to travel to Paris to do some shopping – is not quickly persuaded to accept his proposal. House and Tumulty are opposed, especially once they see their influence with the president begin to diminish. Edith doesn’t trust House, and through a serious of circumstances around negotiations to get the peace treaty signed in Paris, Wilson also begins to doubt him.

Edith finally does consent to be the second Mrs. Wilson and in 1919, headaches that have been plaguing her husband, under the questionable care of Dr. Cary Grayson (Stephen Barker Turner), result in a debilitating stroke. Before the 25th amendment to the constitution  providing for succession when the president is unable to fulfill his duties and faced with an unpopular, ineffective Vice President Thomas Marshall (Steve Routman), Edith decides to hide her husband’s condition from the press and the nation and to be his sole contact with the outside world.

Aided by Dr. Grayson, she reports the president’s continued progress while deciding which correspondence and information reaches him. Tumulty and Marshall protest being kept away and Lodge raises questions about why the American people haven’t seen the president. Edith finally arranges a brief meeting and Wilson rallies to appear that he is still in control. Meanwhile, questions are raised about how much Edith is discussing policy with him or making it on her own until the couple left the White House in 1921.

Director Gordon Edelstein coaches excellent performances across the board – Routman is particularly fine as the hapless vice president who wants to stand for what is right, offers compromises on the League of Nations’ authority to gain Lodge’s support, but who has no desire to assume the presidency. The action takes place on Alexander Dodge’s set designed to look like an old boys club, with dark wood trim, period lighting fixtures and even a pool table for a few friendly games while politics are discussed. Edith is a striking contrast to the environment in romantic dresses, easily updated for scene changes, designed by Linda Cho.

DiPietro takes a bit of license with the historical accuracy of the characters and the actions, but this is usually a plus in the theater, where a blow-by-blow historical account of everything a character said or did gets boring very quickly. Instead, DiPietro (Memphis, The Toxic Avenger, Nice Work if You Can Get it) gives us a lot of his trademark humor – and a fairly accurate picture of a little-known period of American history that is fascinating and guaranteed to have you Googling the facts immediately after seeing the play.

“I just love working on history plays," DiPietro said. " I love bringing a dramatist’s sharpness and wit to it. I like making history lively and relevant, and show the humanity of the participants."

He immersed himself in the time period, reading biographies of  Edith and woodrow, according to press materials, as well as histories and documentaries of the tumultuous period following World War I.

“My belief is research, research, research, then put it away and start writing the play,” DiPietro said. “It is not a documentary. It is my dramatic interpretation, but it sticks very closely to the facts. I wanted to show what it was like to be a strong, shrewd woman at a time when women couldn’t yet vote in every state,” he said.

Colin, who brings likability to any character she portrays, is excellently cast as she keeps Edith from seeming too manipulative. There is warmth in her, even as devout Christian Wilson faces a scandal over correspondence with a woman from his past and who, in his infirmity, calls out for his first wife.  Glover embodies Wilson – he looks like him and appears to be just as I have imagined the 28th president of the United States when learning about him from school lessons and history books. Too bad more isn’t taught about the wife who effectively served as president. Maybe we will hear more about her if Hillary tries to make 16 Pennsylvania Avenue her address again.

The Second Mrs. Wilson runs through May 31 on Stage II at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Showtimes vary. Tickets are $25-$75: www.longwharf.org; 203-787-4282.

View a trailer here:

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)

Blog Archive

Copyright Notice

All contents are copyrighted © Lauren Yarger 2009-2016. All rights reserved.