Monday, December 28, 2015

Preview of What's Hot on Connecticut Stages in 2016

Love Letters at the Bushnell -- Ali MacGraw and Ryan ONeal. Photo: Austin Hargrave

Top Connecticut Theater Picks for 2016
By Lauren Yarger
As a new year begins, Connecticut’s professional theater scene offers many exciting viewing opportunities including premieres of new shows as well as some old some old favorites. What shows am I most looking forward to? Here are some tops picks for 2016:

HARTFORD STAGE

Dark Tresnjak directs a new musical adaptation of Anastasia, inspired by the 1956 and 1997 (animated) films May 12-June 12. The project has received a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts award and reunites Ragtime creatives Terrence McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music), and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics). Joshua Bergasse will choreograph.
Flaherty and Ahrens also co-wrote On the Town Once on This Island, Seussical, My Favorite Year and Rocky. The songwriting team was nominated for the Academy Award for “Journey to the Past” from the animated film Anastasia. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Anastasia will make a transfer to Broadway and put Tresnjak in the running for another shot at the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (he won the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics awards for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which also premiered at Hartford Stage).

Also on stage at Hartford Stage:
The Body of an American
Jan. 7- 31
Romeo and Juliet
Feb. 11- March 20
Having Our Say
March 31 - April 24

Info/tickets: (860) 527-5151; hartfordstage.org

THEATERWORKS
One of my favorite Off-Broadway experiences gets a staging at TheaterWorks Jan.8- Feb. 14. Buyer and Cellar by Jonathan Tolins is a riotous story of a wannabe actor who gets hired for an unusual acting job: he portrays a variety of salespeople in a mall built under the Malibu home of Barbra Streisand. She houses a number of collections in make-believe stores in her cellar where she pretends to shop. It’s bizarre and even funnier because there’s some truth poking through – Streisand really does have some shops at home as she tells in her book, “My Passion for Design,” which plays a role in the script. I laughed all the way through this show in New York and still enjoy Streisand’s book, which I received as a gift from my theater companion who was inspired to buy it for us following the show. Tom Lenk, best known for his work on TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” stars.
Also on stage at TheaterWorks:
Sex With Strangers
March 11- April 17
The Call
May 13- June 19
Midsummer (A Play with Songs)
July 15-  Aug. 21
Info and tickets: (860) 527-7838;  theaterworkshartford.org

YALE REPERTORY

The Moors by Jen Silverman and directed by Jackson Gay, gets its world premiere Jan. 29–Feb. 20. Two spinster sisters—one desperately unhappy, the other resolutely miserable—live with their elder brother and their dog in a gloomy, old mansion on the moors (sound familiar?)  Gothic romance, a governess and even a little dark comedy are on tap.  The play received a 2015 Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award. 

Also on stage at Yale Rep:
Cymbeline
March 25–April 16
Samuel Becket’s Happy Days (starring  two-time Academy Award winner  Dianne Wiest)
April 29–May 21

Info and tickets: (203) 432-1234; yalerep.org

LONG WHARF THEATRE

The Lion, one of last season’s most talked about shows Off-Broadway  -- it won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance -- makes a tour stop in New Haven Jan. 6-Feb. 7. Written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer, it is one man’s gripping coming-of-age story (to the tune of six guitars).
I also am looking forward to a new musical, My Paris, about the life of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec with music and lyrics by Charles Aznavour. The book is by Pulitzer-Prize winner Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) with English Lyrics and Musical Adaptation by Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, The Bridges of Madison County). Directed and Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, this musical replaces the previously announced Shining City May 4 – 29.

Also on stage at Long Wharf: 
Having Our Say
Feb. 17-March 13
Lewiston
April 6-May 1, 2016

Info and tickets: (203) 787-4282; www.longwharf.org

GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE

Be on the cutting edge and experience what might be tomorrow’s big hit today. The 11th annual Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals offers three days of brand-new works Jan. 15-17. Highlights include a staged reading of 
a new Southern Gothic musical, We Foxes, by Ryan Scott Oliver, the musical comedy Milo at the Movies by Tom Diggs and Mark Gaylord and Only Anne by John Dietrich and Will Buck. Special guests include Alfred Uhry, Michael Riedel, Rick Miramontez, Michael Weiner, Alan Zachary and Colin McEnroe.

As always, Goodspeed also offers some old musical favorites at the Opera House, as well as some shows in development over at the Norma Terris (I am excited to see listed Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, a show I always have wanted to see, May 19-June 26.)

Also on stage at Goodspeed:
Anything Goes
April 8-June 16
Bye Bye Birdie
June 24-Sept 24
Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz
Sept. 16-Nov. 27
A Sign of the Times
July 27-Sept. 4 (over at the Norma Terris)

Info and tickets: (860) 873-8668; goodspeed.org

Back Home Again at Ivoryton -- David Lutken. Photo: Tony Duvall
IVORYTON PLAYHOUSE

I’ll admit it. While everyone else was attending Queen concerts back in the 1970s, I was singing “Take Me Home Country Roads,” with John Denver. Home Again: On the Road with John Denver by Randal Mylar and Dan Wheetman offers a show of Denver’s music along with some of his life story. Ivoryton presents the Connecticut premiere April 6-24. David Lutken (who dazzled in Woody Sez at TheaterWorks), stars. Far out! I’ll be there feeling “Rocky Mountain High.”

Also on stage at Ivoryton:
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks
May 4-22
The 39 Steps
June 1-19
Chicago
June 29-July 24
Rent
Aug. 3-28
Man of LaMancha
Sept. 7-Oct. 2
Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story
Oct. 26-Nov. 13

Info and tickets: (860) 767-7318; ivorytonplayhouse.org

CT REPERTORY

A new adaptation of Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, will take the stage at UConn Feb. 25-March 6. The penniless Dashwood sisters, one sensible, one full of passion, find love and happiness via different paths. This version is co-written by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, the same writing team behind CRT’s Pride and Prejudice in 2012.  

Also on stage at CT Rep:
Monty Python’s Spamalot 
April 21-May 1
MFA Puppet Arts Festival
March 24-April 3

Info and tickets: (860) 486-2213; www.crt.uconn.edu


PLAYHOUSE ON PARK

Coming off a fabulous production of Passing Strange, this up-and-coming theater company presents an interesting-sounding show called I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick. Directed by Vince Tycer,
Feb. 24-March 13. A successful TV actor is offered the role of Hamlet on stage.  A couple of problems present themselves, however: he hates Hamlet and John Barrymore’s ghost is haunting him.

Also on stage at Playhouse on Park:
The Chosen
Jan. 27-Feb. 14
stop/time dance theater
March 30-April 10
Wit
April 20-May 8
A Chorus Line
June 15-July 24

Info and tickets: (860) 523-5900 Ext. 10; playhouseonpark.org

THE BUSHNELL

Love Letters (starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal)
Feb. 9-14
A.R. Gurney's romance about first loves and second chances makes a tour stop here and reunited “Love Story film stars Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw as two long-time friends and pen pals
take very different paths in life. It plays Feb. 9-14. Before you think Valentine’s Date, though, you might want to know that sort of like “Love Story,” Love Letters can be kind of sad…

Also on stage at the Bushnell:

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella
Jan 12-17
HSO and Goodspeed Celebrate Broadway
Feb. 20
Motown
March 22-27
Matilda
April 26-May 1
Dirty Dancing
May 24-29

Info and tickets: (860) 987-5900; bushnell.org

WESTPORT COUNTRY PLAYHOUSE

From Ayad Akhtar, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of Disgraced, comes The Invisible Hand July 19 - Aug 6.When an American futures trader is kidnapped and held hostage in Pakistan, he knows the only way to get home is to do what he does best: play the market like his life depends on it. David Kennedy directs.

The Playhouse opens its season with two plays about art presented in repertory: Art/Red, May 3-29

Also on stage at the Playhouse:
Buyer and Cellar
June 14-July 2
What the Butler Saw
Aug. 23-Sept. 10
Camelot
Oct. 4-22

Info and tickets:

(888) 927-7529; westportplayhouse.org

MUSIC THEATER OF CONNECTICUT


A favorite (and I am not alone -- it won the Tony for Best Play -- ), Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang gets a run Feb. 26-March 13. It's a send up of Chekhov, but this play is actually entertaining (sorry, not a Chekhov fan).... A brother and sister get a visit form their famous movie-star sister who arrives with her boy-toy, Spike, Lots of heavy thinking, angst,  birds and laughs ensue.

Also on stage at MTC:
The Last Five Years
April 8-24


Info and tickets: (203) 454-3883; musictheatreofct.com


SEVEN ANGELS THEATER
Two world premieres are coming up at this Waterbury theater. Local playwright Jacques Lamarre's Born Fat about Waterbury author Elizabeth Petruccione gets a world premiere staging Jan. 15-31. April Woodall stars; Steve Ginsburg directs. Burning Desire (Feb. 18-March 13) stars Lou Diamond Phillips ("La Bamba," "Stand and Deliver," "The 33") in a story about the devil and a modern-day Adam and Eve.

Also on stage at Seven Angels:

Taffetas
March 31-April 24
Legally Blonde
May 12-June 12

Info and tickets: (203) 757-4676; sevenangelstheatre.org


THE PALACE THEATER

Another pleasant trip back to the 1970s will spin BeeGees tunes and if I'm not mistaken, some disco ball refelctions in a musical version of Saturday Night Fever Feb. 19-20.

The story (made famous in the 1977 movie starring John Travolta) of a kid who loves to dance and the girl who loves to dance whom he loves...... is iconic. Theatergoers will be able to have an interactive experience as well with a Post-Show Disco Dance Party at the theater's Poli Club following the Friday and Saturday evening performances of the show.

Also on stage at The Palace:
Let It Be: A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles
Apr. 15-16

Info and tickets: (203) 346-2000; palacetheaterct.org


HARTBEAT ENSEMBLE

Asylum Hill (Neighborhood Project)
Feb. 5-7
Gross Domestic Product
April 7-May 1
Neighborhood (TBD) Project
June 17-19

Info and tickets: hartbeatensemble.org

SHUBERT THEATRE (New Haven)

Once
Jan. 28-31
Stomp
March 11-13
Annie
March 28-April 3
Jersey Boys
May 3-8
Kinky Boots
June 8-12

Tickets and info: shubert.com/

DOWNTOWN CABARET 

The Great Gatsby
Feb 12 - 21
Evita
Mar 11 - 26
American Idiot
Apr 29 - May 15

Info and tickets: dtcab.com


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Ashley Robinson, Mark Hartman, Jacque Carnahan and John Cullum in A Child's Christmas in Wales at Irish Rep. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas. We will be on vacation and back after the new year.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Connecticut Holiday Offerings

Here are just a few of the holiday highlights being offered this season.....


THE BUSHNELL

In 1964, the beloved stop-motion animated television classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, made its network television debut delighting audiences across the country. Fifty years later, the long-running TV special comes to life, live on stage with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical, featuring the world’s most famous reindeer and a holly jolly cast of iconic characters.  Rudolph and his beloved friends, including Hermey the Elf, Yukon Cornelius and the Abominable Snow Monster, help Santa save Christmas this holiday season.  The production plays The Bushnell’s Mortensen Hall Dec. 11 – 14.

The story tells the tale of a young Rudolph who, because of the appearance of his bright, shining nose, is ousted from the reindeer games in Christmas-town.  He flees town, meets up with new friends Hermey and Yukon, and a series of funny and endearing adventures ensue including a visit to The Island of Misfit Toys. Rudolph journeys home, where a snowstorm of epic proportions is threatening Christmas.  Can Rudolph save his family and friends and help Santa save the holiday?

Performances are Friday at 7 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 10 am, 1 om and 4 pm; Monday at 10 am. Ticket prices start at $16: www.bushnell.org860-987-5900. The Sunday, December 13 10:00 a.m. show is a sensory-friendly performance.

Sensory-friendly performances are designed to create an arts experience that is welcoming to all families and friends with children or adults who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity issues.  Slight adjustments to the production are made and accommodations for this performance will include:
  • Lower sound level, especially for startling or loud sounds;
  • Lights remain on at a low level in the theater during the performance;
  • A reduction of strobe lighting or lighting focused on the audience;
  • Patrons are free to talk and leave their seats during the performance;
  • Designated quiet areas within the theater lobby spaces, staffed with autism specialists;
  • Space throughout the theater for standing and movement;
  • Limited crowds and visitors at The Bushnell during the day and timing of the performance; and
  • Bushnell staff and volunteers are trained to be inviting and accommodating to families' needs.
Use the code SENSORY15 when purchasing tickets for the sensory-friendly performance of Rudolph

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical is so faithful to the original show that it practically transports audience members into the television special.  The songs drive the plot while familiar and nostalgic set designs, costumes and characters are brought to stage.  The cast brings new energy to the classic songs and dialogue, while puppets help showcase the charming “roughness” from the television show’s stop-motion effects.


THE KATE
Event: Four Freshmen Snowfall Christmas
Full of Christmas Cheer with The Four Freshmen., who perform with the same unmistakable sound of the original group – a vocal harmony like no other. They have strongly influenced many groups over the years including Take Six, Manhattan Transfer and the Beach Boys. As the 22nd incarnation of the one and only Four Freshmen, their longevity proves they are doing it right!
Date: Thursday, December 10
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Price: $50
Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center
300 Main Street
Old Saybrook, CT 06475
Phone: 877-503-1286
Website: ww.thekate.org
Event: Eileen Ivers’ Joyful Christmas
Eileen Ivers captures the spirit and magic of the season in her heartwarming Christmas holiday show. The program of American and Irish songs, original tunes and holiday favorites, arranged with Eileen's unique style, are centered around the true meaning of Christmas. Eileen and the band joyfully perform diverse music from gospel-style "Go Tell It On The Mountain", to Gaelic classic "Don Oiche Ud i mBeithil" (One Night in Bethlehem), to a jigified version of Bach's "Jesu Joy", to the hornpipe that evolved into today's "Deck the Halls...", to a very unique "The Little Drummer Boy" performed on the traditional bodhran goat skinned drum... A concert for the whole family.
Date: Saturday, December 19
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Price: $48
Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center
300 Main Street
Old Saybrook, CT 06475
Phone: 877-503-1286
Website: ww.thekate.org


Event: Cappella Cantorum: Messiah Sing
Participate in the sounds of the season with a Kate holiday tradition. Open to all who want to sing-along, the Messiah Sing combines Cappella Cantorum’s professional soloists with a chorus of talented volunteers. Sit in the back and listen or sit down front and participate. Singers should arrive at 3:30 for section seating and rehearsal. Sit in the back and listen.
Date: Sunday, December 20
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Price: $10
Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center
300 Main Street
Old Saybrook, CT 06475
Phone: 877-503-1286
Website: ww.thekate.org


THE PALACE
Ladies looking for a fun and festive break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season need to look no further than the Palace Theater’s presentation of the new must-see holiday stage show ‘TWAS A GIRLS NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS: THE MUSICAL on Thursday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the musical comedy are $45 and can be purchased by phone at 203-346-2000, online at www.palacetheaterct.org, or in person at the Box Office, 100 East Main St. in Waterbury.

The latest brainchild from the producers of the box office smash Girls Night: The Musical, this all-new Christmas sequel features the same five characters that audiences across the globe have come to know and love gathering for a night on the town to laugh, cry, gossip and let their hair down during the craziest time of the year: the holidays.

‘TWAS GIRLS NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS will feature the same touching and hilarious writing by Louise Roche that has entertained audiences worldwide, in addition to classic Christmas songs and contemporary hits that will have the audience singing and dancing along. The musical is guaranteed to resonate with anyone who has survived the holiday season, from long visits with in-laws to overcrowded malls.

As a special holiday promotion, the Palace Theater and ‘TWAS GIRLS NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS are partnering with Make-A-Wish ® Connecticut and iHeartMedia to help make the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses come true. From now until the night of the show, customers and patrons are encouraged to stop by the Palace’s Box Office lobby to fill out a “Letter to Santa” and drop it inside the theater’s red mailbox display. For every letter received, Macy’s will donate one dollar to the Make-A-Wish ® Foundation.

For more information on the Palace Theater’s presentation of ‘TWAS GIRLS NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, which is sponsored in part by Thomaston Savings Bank Foundation, Adam Broderick Salon and Spa, and Elizabeth Ricard, visit www.palacetheaterct.org.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Theater Review: Passing Strange -- Playhouse on Park

Darryl Jovan Williams (Narrator) and Eric R Williams (Youth). Photo: Rich Wagner
Passing Through Phases of Life to a Rock Beat and Finding Out What’s Really Important
By Lauren Yarger
Here’s a "don’t miss" of the season: Passing Strange at Playhouse on Park.

It is one of only a handful of regional productions of the rock musical which won a 2008 Tony Award for book writer Stew, who also writes the lyrics and co-writes the music with Heidi Rodewald. The musical was created in collaboration with Annie Dorsen and subsequently was made into a movie by Spike Lee.

This production in West Hartford, directed by Sean Harris, features a tight ensemble with strong performances, including a silky-voiced Darryl Jovan Williams as the narrator (the part originally played by Stew).

The narrator takes us on a journey of a young, African-American song writer trying to find himself in late 1970s Los Angeles. The youth (Eric R. Williams) lives at home with a mother (Famecia Ward) who tries to get him to go to church. He finally succumbs and joins the youth choir, where he grows disillusioned by hypocrisy of the members, particularly the pastor’s son, Franklin (Garrett Turner), who is a pot-smoking, closeted homosexual. He leaves home for Amsterdam, where he experiences the freedom of drugs and sex and a relationship with Marianna (Skyler Volpe). Still seeking fulfillment, he heads to Berlin where he finds success as an artist, but “passes” for a troubled black man. The truth is, his upbringing wasn’t all that bad….

Eventually he finds himself back in LA,  with some understanding of what really is important in life.

Not only is this production a rare opportunity to see this musical (and so well staged), but it is chance to see some fabulous choreography by Darlene Zoller (who artistic directs at Playhouse on Park with Harris.) I was blown away. 

Movements help develop characters (and there a bunch of them with actors playing multiple roles, so this is helpful). Zoller manages to give each actor unique choreography, so even when moving together, there are slight variations which provide depth rather than just motion. Zoller also resists the temptation to have actors always in motion, even if the beat of the music would seem an easy prompt. Instead, she has them still at times, and that has more impact than a synchronized dance ever would.

Also enhancing the production is expert lighting design by Marcus Abbott. Lighting defines scenes and supports (as in letting us see the haze of hashish smoke enveloping Stew).

Passing Strange plays at Playhouse on Park , 244 Park Road, West Hartford through Dec. 20. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets $32.50-$42.50 (860) 523-5900 x10;  www.playhouseonpark.org.

Cast and creative:
Musical Direction by Michael M. Morris , Scenic Design by Emily Nichols, Lighting Design by Marcus Abbott, Costume Design by Kate Bunce, Props by Pam Lang, Sound Design by Joel Abbott.
Darryl Jovan Williams…. Narrator
Eric R. Williams…. Youth
Famecia Ward…. Mother
Karissa Harris…. Sherry, Mrs. Kelso, Renata, Desi
Skyler Volpe…. Edwina, Marianna, Sudabey
Garrett Turner, J'royce.... Ensemble

Audience members will be given the opportunity to join in making music during an Open Mic Night Saturday, Dec. 12. This special event is BYOB, free and open to the public. The music continues after the show, and an accompanist will be provided.

Note: Due to language and drug use, Passing Strange is recommended for ages 13 and up.  

Theater Review: Twelfth Night -- CT Repertory

Arlene Bozich and Kevin Hilversum. Photo: courtesy of CT Repertory Theatre
Twelfth Night for the 12th Time, or Perchance it Seems…
By Lauren Yarger
Twelfth Night is one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, but it also is one of the most often produced. It seems as though I have to review a production of this comedy about a shipwreck, mistaken identity and unrequited love at least once a season.

So when heading out to review a Shakespeare production (and there will probably be a Midsummer Night’s Dream, a Romeo and Juliet and maybe one or more of the history plays on my schedule every year as well as a Twelfth Night since the Bard is in the public domain and doesn’t charge royalties) the question isn’t whether or not I will like the play, but what is different about this production? (The best production of Twelfth Night, by the way, was a magical 2009 re-telling in Central Park starring Anne Hathaway, Audra McDonald and Raul Esparza.)

The production at CT Repertory, directed by Victor Maog, is rather matter-of-fact and features a mostly student cast still learning how to let Shakespeare’s language flow easily off their tongues (Voice and Text Coaching by David Alan Stern). The set design is simple, but sometimes confusing – why is there a large uprooted tree hanging upside down throughout?

I won’t take time here to list the plot – there are Sparks Notes if you haven’t read multiple reviews about Twelfth Night or if you can’t follow what is happening on stage because of the uneven flow in this production.

I am just going to list here some highlights that make CT Rep’s production delightfully different: 
  • Equity actors Richard Ruiz as Sir Toby and Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte as Malvolio anchor the cast and lend some much needed humor. Ruiz will be recognized by Connecticut theatergoers for roles in The Winter’s Tale at Yale Rep, Room Service at Westport Country Playhouse as well as his turns at CT Rep as Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady and Sancho in Man of La Mancha. You might recognize Guilarte from numerous TV roles. His entrances down the stairs are highlights.
  • Love the Christmas theme. “Historically, the twelve days after Christmas Eve were a time of celebration, role reversal, and saying goodbye to the customary way of life,” according to Dramaturg Molly Hamilton. “Between the pranking, the masquerading, and the abundance of festivity there is definitely much more to this play than what meets the eye.” Perfect! Calvo incorporates Christmas trees in the set design and Maog has characters singing, humming and playing tunes. In addition, notes from carols facilitate scene changes (sound design by Abigail Golec).
  • There’s a touch of puppetry and Kevin Hilversum shows off a neat coin-catching trick as Feste.
The Cast:
Richard Ruiz… Sir Toby
Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte …. Malvolio
Darren Lee Brown…. Orsino
Arlene Bozich…. Maria
Curtis Longfellow…. Fabian
Jeff DeSisto…. Sebastian
Juliana Bearse…. Viola
Madison Coppola…. Olivia
Chester Martin…. Valentine, Officer
Brian Sullivan…. Antonio
Kevin Hilversum…. Feste
Joon Ho Oh…. Sea Captain, Priest
Olivia Benson…. Serving Woman
Max Helfand…. Curio, Officer
Mark Blashford…. Sir Andre Aguecheek

Twelfth Night runs through Dec. 13 at the Nafe Katter Theatre on the UConn Storrs campus. Evening performances start at 7:30 Wednesdays and Thursdays, and at 8 Fridays and Saturdays. Select matinee performances start at 2 pm Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $7 to $30 with student tickets for $7: (860) 486-2113; www.crt.uconn.edu.

Theater Review: Peerless -- Yale Rep

Teresa Avia Lim and Tiffany Villarin. Photo © Joan Marcus, 2015
Competition for a Slot at the Right College Can Be Peerless
By Lauren Yarger
How far are teens willing to go to get into the college of their choice? And what (or who) are they willing to sacrifice to make it happen?

A stress-filled, high school somewhere in the suburban Midwest is the setting for Yale Repertory’s world premiere of Peerless, by Jiehae Park (winner of the Leah Ryan Prize and Princess Grace Award).

High-achieving Asian twin sisters M (Tiffany Villarin) and L (Teresa Avia Lim) are shocked when one of their classmates, D (JD Taylor) gets an early acceptance, and M does not, to THE college – the highly selective one for which the girls have devoted their lives to gain acceptance.

How could this happen? M has a 2,400, 4.8 weighted 4.0 with 16 APs and has taken piano on Sundays since she was 5 years old to make sure she would be the one that was selected. L even stayed a back a year so the twins wouldn’t be competing for the same coveted spot – and so she could be sure to be accepted the following year on sibling privilege. So how did their fat, nerdy classmate get in instead of M?

It might have been that he discovered he is 1/16 Native American. Or it could be that essay he wrote about the challenges of caring for a brother with Cystic Fibrosis.  It doesn’t matter. The girls begin a plot to get rid of D and open up the spot for M, who surely must be next on their list.

When M’s boyfriend, BF (Christopher Livingston) gets in the way, he is in danger too.
The twins might just might pull it off, except for Dirty Girl (Caroline Neff ) – you know the one – that one girl in every class who is weird and hasn’t showered in a while. Somehow, she seems to know all about the twins and their evil plans. They might dress alike except for their backpacks (Sydney Gallas does the costumes) and smile sweetly, but she knows their secrets. If the sisters can just stick together, they might be able to achieve their goals. But let’s just say that Fight Director Rick Sordelet is listed in the credits for a reason…

Park’s script is humorous and a blistering commentary on today’s practices to get into the right school. Margot Bordelon directs the fast-paced piece, but needs to sharpen attempts to have the twins speak over each other and complete each other’s sentences. During these bits, the dialogue is hard to understand and plot points are missed.

The action plays out in one act on a colorful, modern-looking set designed by Christopher Thompson (with projections by Shawn Boyle) and is enhanced by original music by Sinan Refik Zafar, who also designs the sound.

Peerless runs through Dec. 19 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets are $20–98: www.yalerep.org; (203) 432-1234. Student, senior, and group rates are available.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Theater Review: Measure for Measure -- Long Wharf

Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Methinks This Measure for Measure is a Rare Treasure
By Lauren Yarger
Fiasco Theater has measured out fresh ingredients to come up with a delicious recipe for presenting one of William Shakespeare’s problem plays – a Measure for Measure that’s verily a treasure over at Long Wharf Theatre.

With just six actors playing all of the parts, this not-quite-a comedy, not-quite a tragedy brings a whole new way of sampling Shakespeare to the table. My compliments to the chefs: directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, who also perform in the ensemble. It’s modern, but true to form (with costumes designed by Whitney Locher that blend old and new styles) offering a unique presentation on a stark set (Derek McLane makes remarkable use of six moving doors and a few props) with brilliant lighting designed by Christopher Akerind.

Actors exiting the action sit upstage, often contributing sound effects or music on a number of instruments. To begin each act, the ensemble sings beautiful Renaissance-sounding acapella harmonies to enhance a lively and fresh interpretation of the classic.

The story follows Isabella (Emily Young), who abandons plans to become a nun when her brother, Claudio (Brody), is arrested for getting his lover pregnant. Angelo (Paul. L. Coffey), in charge during the absence of the Duke (Andy Grotelueschen), has decreed that such moral failing is punishable by death. Not all sin in Vienna is bad in Angelo’s eyes, however, as the lustful official offers to trade Claudio’s life for Isabella’s chastity.

She doesn’t acquiesce, however, and seeks the help of a friar (the duke in disguise) and Angelo’s former fiancĂ©e, Mariana (Jessie Austrian), to save her brother and her virtue. Rounding out the cast is Steinfeld as Lucio, a foppish man caught in the middle of it all.

New clarity and sharpness of focus made me want to stand and applaud the direction several times. All performances are excellent and transitions are made between characters without confusion. And that set really is brilliant: A filigreed metal door becoming a confessional with the addition of a few candles, then transforming into a cell gate with exceptional lighting was a highlight.

The more modern feel of the production turns our minds to contemporary headlines about politicians and religious leaders who advocate for strict moral codes, but who like Angelo, behave opposite of what they preach (and the show’s program offers some thoughts on some specific examples which have made headlines).

Fiasco Theater is an ensemble company created by graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Repertory MFA acting program. This production of Measure for Measure originally was developed and produced at New Victory Theater.

Measure for Measure plays through Dec. 20 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm. Tickets $25-$85: 203-787-4282; www.longwharf.org.


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.