Wednesday, December 28, 2016

CT Theater Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time -- The Bushnell

Adam Langdon. Photo: Joan Marcus

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marianne Elliott
The Bushnell
Through Jan. 1

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Play is the National Theatre's visually stunning adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel about Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon, with Benjamin Wheelwright, who played the role on Broadway, performing at certain shows), an autistic teenager trying to solve the mystery of a the killing of a neighborhood dog. The dog's owner, Mrs. Shears (Charlotte Maier), isn't helpful when Christopher begins his detective work to find out how a pitchfork came to end Wellington's life.

There's also a question of where Mr. Shears (a multi-talented John Hemphill) has gone and he becomes Christopher's prime suspect. A lonely neighbor, Mrs. Alexander (Amelia White), has some information, as well as some cookies to share, but what she has to say about his parents might not be what Christopher wants to hear. His father, Ed (Gene Gillette, but played the night I saw it by a capable Tim Wright), forbids him to continue with his investigation. Christopher decides to try to find his way to London, where he discovers that his mother, Judy (Felicity Jones Latta), has relocated.

As Christopher unravels the mysteries around the dog's murder and his mother's disappearance, he also discovers answers about himself and truths about family tree relationships whose branches are stronger than the pain that threatens to uproot them.

The story is told from Christopher's perspective. He doesn't relate to most of what is going on around him and his Autistic nature causes him to retreat from a world which is loud and chaotic and painful to the touch. He records his experiences in a book with the help of his special education aide, Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez), who reads parts of it aloud, allowing playwright Simon Stephens to continue the first-person narrative of Mark Haddon's novel.

All of Christopher's sensations, thoughts, dreams and emotions are depicted on Scenic Designer Bunny Christie's ingenious grey, three-sided grid backdrop which provides a sort of "connect the dots" for what is happening in his mind (Christie also designs the costumes). A toy train set depicts the boy's journey on the grid while he makes the actual journey to Paddington train station despite sensory overload. Projections (Finn Ross) and lighting effects (Paule Constable) combine with crashes of music (Adrian Sutton) and sound (Ian Dickinson) to create the world.

Actors not involved in the action take seats around the stage. Minimal props, primarily some white crates, are used to create settings. Panels in the grid open to reveal other props. Director Marianne Elliott, who brought us the stage wonder of War Horse, brings together elements of sensory delight and storytelling (though they seem less cohesive in this tour than they did on Broadway).

What Are the Highlights?
It's a unique theatrical performance. Christie manages to communicate Christopher’s thought process through the projections.


What Are the Lowlights?
The special effects of Christopher being able to fly or walk on walls are not as subtle as the Broadway version -- we are aware of the ensemble actors helping make this happen -- and one of the most awe-inspiring effects, where Christopher appears to walk in space -- doesn't make it into the touring version. Movement is by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly.

The tale is a bit long-winded at two and a half hours with an intermission. The sound for special effects is VERY loud while at other times, it is very hard to catch all of an actor's dialogue. Langdon adopts a very precise, yelling tone for Christopher, which puts him too much in our world. He doesn't seem to have any difficulty understanding he is relating to people outside of his world and this detracts from the character and from the overall effect of the show. we should slowly realize we are part of Christopher's world, not that he is part of ours.   Ramirez as the narrator is a bit too charismatic. In this version. we never see this character's growth or the extent of her relationship with Christopher. Lost is what a real credit it is to her when Christopher passes his A level exams, sees his novel turned into a play or reaches out to her as though she were part of his family.

More Information:
Curious? Check out this stunning visual presentation at the tour stop through Jan. 1 at The Bushnell. 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $27.50-$94.50: bushnell.org;     860-987-5900.

Stick around after the curtain call, because it's not over until it's over.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time transferred to London's West End following a sold-out run at the National's Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. The production received seven 2013 Olivier Awards, including Best New Play. It received five Tony Awards including Best Play, six Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Play and five Outer Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Broadway Play. We critics really liked it.

The ensemble also includes Brian Robert Burns, Francesca Choy-Kee, Josephine Hall, Robyn Kerr, Kathy McCafferty. Tim McKiernan. J. Paul Nicholas, Geoffrey Wade. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

CT Theater Review: It's a Wonderful Life Radio Play -- Music Theatre of CT

Courtesy of MTC
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
By Joe Landry
Directed by Kevin Connors
Music Theatre of Connecticut
Through Dec. 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?

It's the best Christmas gift you can give yourself this year. A delightful adaptation by MTC's own Marketing Director Joe Landry of the famous film Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra and Jo Swerling starring Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this play which features radio actor characters portraying the characters of Beford Falls as part of a "live" radio broadcast on Christmas Eve 1946 on WBFR Manhattan.

George Bailey (Jon-Michael Miller, the only cast member who plays just one character)) always wanted to explore the world and get out of Bedford Falls, but every time he almost made it, something brought him back to run the building and loan business begun by his father and Uncle Billy. The towns people have come to depend on the generosity of the kindhearted Baileys to stay out of the grips of evil Henry Potter (Allan Zeller) who wants to own everything and everyone in town. So George settles down and has a bunch of kids with sweetheart Mary Hatch (Elizabeth Donnelly) and helps friends like Violet Bick (an amusing Elisa DeMaria) stay out of trouble. One day, however, it's George who is in trouble when a deposit is lost and bank creditors threaten to take over the building and loan. George considers taking his own life when he realizes he is worth more to his family dead than alive, but his desperate prayers are heard and bumbling angel Clarence (Jim Schilling) arrives on the scene to help George and by doing so, to earn his long-awaited wings.

What Are the Highlights?
This story is a holiday favorite and all the sweetness, good feelings and goosebumps are here with the slightly different twist of presenting the radio broadcast. There's something very satisfying about the play not trying to reproduce the movie -- how can you duplicate Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart any way -- but capturing the spirit in its own charming way.

Kevin Connors deftly directs the action which includes the creation of sound effects. Cast members creating the sounds of a murmuring crowd are quite entertaining. Zeller plays both Uncle Billy and Mr. Potter at the same time, maintaining the distinct characters with just the addition of a pair of eye glasses. 

DeMaria is a hoot as the cheesy Violet, then becomes wide-eyed, innocent ZuZu.

What are the Lowlights?
None. The movie is an annual tradition in our house every holiday, but this was a special treat. Sit back and enjoy.

More Information:
It's a Wonderful Life runs at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Avenue (behind Nine West) in Norwalk through Dec. 18. Performances are Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$55: musictheatreofct.com; 203-454-3883.

Additional credits: Music by Kevin Connors; Costume Design by Diane Vanderkroef; Set Design by Jordan Janota; Lighting Design by Michael Blagys.

CT Theater Review: Other People's Money -- Long Wharf

Karen Ziemba, Edward James Hyland, and Jordan. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Other People's Money
By Jerry Sterner
Directed by Marc Bruni
Long Wharf Theatre
Through Dec. 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Wall Street takeover king Larry Garfinkle (Jordan Lage) targets Rhode Island's small  New England Wire and Cable, owned by Jorgy Jorgenson (Edward James Hyland) who doesn't want to sell the out-of-date business started by his father (Lee Savage's office set telegraphs just how much the place is behind the times with a manual pencil sharpener and old furniture.

He and Bea (Karen Ziemba), his longtime assistant and long-suffering mistress, enlist Bea's power lawyer daughter, Kate (Liv Rooth), to fend off "Larry the Liquidator," but things don't go quite according to plan, especially when Larry and Kate find themselves oddly attracted to each other. Wire and Cable President Coles (Steve Routman) gets lost in the confusion and might decide to look out for himself, rather than the company.

Playwright Jerry Sterner offers a number of twists and turns before the surprising conclusion. The play, which won the 1989 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play seems eerily contemporary given today's political climate and mistrust of Wall Street.

What Are the Highlights?
Marc Bruni directs the talented ensemble. all giving strong performances. David Lander's expert lighting design changes scenes all by itself  --loud musical notes (Sound Design by Brian Ronan) are not needed.

Ziemba breathes some life into Bea. Rooth and Lage have some nice chemistry.

What Are the Lowlights?
Some parts of the story, like Larry's obsession with donuts or a character suddenly singing seem forced.  A very long speech given at the company's annual meeting feels like . . . well, . . . a very long, boring speech at an annual meeting. 

More Information: 
Other People's Money plays through Dec. 18 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 start at $29: 203-787-4282; www.longwharf.org.

Additional credit:
Anita Yavich (costume design)

CT Theater Review: Seven Guitars -- Yale Rep

Stephanie Berry, Wayne T. Carr, Rachel Leslie, Danny Johnson, Billy Eugene Jones, and Antoinette Crowe-Legacy in August Wilson's Seven Guitars, directed by Timothy Douglas.
Photo by Joan Marcus 2016.
Seven Guitars
By August Wilson
Directed by Timothy Douglas
Yale Repertory
Through Dec. 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The fifth installment in August Wilson's Pulitzer-Prize winning cycle exploring the African-American experience in the 20th century. Set in 1948 Pittsburgh, this story follows the life and legacy of a blues guitarist, Floyd Barton (Billy Eugene Jones).

Barton, just home from being jailed, finds himself a sudden pop sensation when a song he wrote tops the charts. He hopes old love, Vera (Rachel Leslie) will join him and go to Chicago so he can sign a record contract and be a star, but things can't just go back to the way they were....

Told in flashback, this slice-of-life play explores the hopes and dreams of the cast of characters: Louise (Stephanie Berry) and Hedley (Andre de Shields), Vera's older neighbors, Red Carter (Danny Johnson), Floyd's band mate and a player when it comes to the ladies as well, Canewell (Wayne T. Carr), also Floyd's bandmate and best friend, and beautiful Ruby (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), Louise's niece who comes to stay and causes some rivalry for her attention, but the men don't know she has come to town to get away from her past, which resulted in a baby on the way.

What Are the Highlights?
A gentle, moving story performed by a talented cast directed by Timothy Douglas (who directed the world premiere of Wilson's Radio Golf at Yale Rep). 

Fufan Zhang's backyard set is deceptive in its simplicity. The two levels offer traces of the lives playing out on them and the stairs linking them give characters an added means of expression. No one takes them in quite the same way. A sandy hill gives life to on burst of color, only to have that bring pain as well. Zhang also provides sound design and music composition (directed by Dwight Andrews) to add to the atmosphere.

What Are the Lowlights?
At almost three hours, the play is about 30 minutes too long.

More Information:
Seven Guitars plays through Dec. 18 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets $12-$99: www.yalerep.org; 203-432-1234, Box Office (1120 Chapel St.). Student, senior, and group rates are available.

Additional credits:
The production team includes music director Dwight Andrews, scenic designer Fufan Zhang, costume designer An-lin Dauber, lighting designer Carolina Ortiz Herrera, sound designer and composer Fan Zhang, technical director Ian Hannan, dramaturg Catherine María Rodríguez, dialect coach Ron Carlos, fight director Rick Sordelet, casting director Tara Rubin Casting, and stage manager Helen Irene Muller.






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Friday, November 18, 2016

CT Theater Review: An American in Paris -- The Bushnell

Sara Esty and Garen Scribner. Photo: Matthew Murphy
An American in Paris
Music By music and lyrics of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Book by Craig Lucas.at The Bushnell through Nov. 20

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The stunning stage adaptation inspired by the 1951 Oscar winning film of the same name starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron about World War II veteran in Paris. This tour of the recently-closed Broadway musical which won four 2015 Tony Awards features Sara Esty and Garen Scribner who performed these leading roles on Broadway dancing the exquisite choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, artistic associate at England's Royal Ballet, who also directs.

Storytelling is done through the dance. Whole scenes, wordless, are communicated through movement which can include something as complicated as ballet or as simple as someone dancing a prop onto the stage. Wheeldon's direction is genius as well as he takes unconnected scenes happening simultaneously on stage and somehow connects the participants. It's exciting and riveting stage craft.

Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza) translates the light movie plot into a solid story that is propelled by the elements around it. Three men, artist Jerry Mulligan (Scribner) singer Henri Baurel (Broadway vet Nick Spangler) and a composer, Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), become fast friends then, without realizing it, they all fall in love with the same girl, ballerina Lise Dassin (Esty).

Henri already is engaged to Lise, the choice of his parents, Madame and Monsieur Baurel (Gayton Scott and Don Noble), who have protected the girl during the war and made it possible for her to follow in her famous ballerina mother's toe shoes. The heir to the family's textile business, Henri begs his friends to keep his passion to be a musical entertainer from his parents.

Jerry forms an alliance with wealthy American, Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), who becomes a supporter of his artwork and who wants a little more than paintings in exchange for her patronage. Adam, meanwhile, is unable to express his love for the beautiful Lise except through his music.

What Are The Highlights?
Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Need I say more? Adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher. “I Got Rhythm,” “'S Wonderful,” a very moving “But Not For Me,” “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and orchestral music including “Concerto in F,” “2nd Prelude,” “2nd Rhapsody” and “An American In Paris" all sound as though they were written just for this story (with an excellent team taking care of the music: Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott (orchestrations); Todd Ellison (musical supervisor); David Andrews Rogers (musical director/conductor); Sam Davis (dance arrangements). It's always fun to watch the conductor smile throughout the show. And so do we thanks to an excellent sound mix (Jon Weston, design).

The choreography and direction, as mentioned above, are brilliant.

The fabulous sets by Bob Crowley (who also does the meticulously created costumes) that appear -- with the help of projections (designed by 59 Projections) and lighting (designed by the always excellent Natasha Katz). Locations and sketches leaping off Jerry's artistic pad appear before our eyes.

Esty and Scribner are delightful to watch and Esty lends a lovely soprano to her role. Spangler has a dreamy baritone and should be considered for leading-man roles.

What Are the Lowlights?
The ending ballet is set to a backdrop of colorful shapes, but doesn't convey a sense of what is happening and the storytelling seems to stop so an extended ballet can be performed.

Scott misses the mark as Henri's emotionless mother and some humor is lost.

While the tunes are favorites, audience members are humming along (the guy near me was very off-tune throughout the show) and the intermission seemed very long.

More Information:
The show runs through Sunday. Pirouette over to the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, to experience this terrific musical. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $43.50-$119.50: bushnell.org; 860-987-5900

The musical received its world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

Leigh-Ann Esty and Ryan Steele perform the roles of Lise and Jerry at certain performances. Additional cast: Karolina Blonski, Brittany Bohn, Stephen Brower, Randy Castillo, Jessica Cohen, Jace Coronado, Barton Cowperthwaite, Alexa De Barr, Ashlee Dupré, Erika Hebron, Christopher M. Howard, Colby Q. Lindeman, Nathalie Marrable, Tom Mattingly, Caitlin Meighan, Alida Michal, Don Noble, Sayiga Eugene Peabody, Alexandra Pernice, David Prottas, Danielle Santos, Lucas Segovia, Kyle Vaughn, Laurie Wells, Dana Winkle, Erica Wong and Blake Zelesnikar.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Jon Peterson Channels Anthony Newley in He Wrote Good Songs at Seven Angels


Jon Peterson, veteran of Broadway and West End shows, returns to Seven Angels Theatre with his new hit musical, He Wrote Good Songs, through Nov. 27.

Conceived and written by Peterson, it tells the story of Anthony Newley, the British actor, singer, song-writer, director, who wrote the standards "Goldfinger," "What Kind Of Fool Am I?," "Who Can I Turn To?," "Gonna Build A Mountain," and "Candy Man."

Peters previously brought his acclaimed George M. Cohan Tonight and Song and Dance Man to Seven Angels.

Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 m. Tickets are $38-$57 depending on the day and time of performance:  203-757-4676; SevenAngelsTheatre.org; box office, 1 Plank Road, Waterbury. 

CT Theater Review: Unnecessary Farce -- Playhouse on Park

Susan Slotoroff as Billie Dwyer, Will Hardyman as Eric Sheridan, Julie Robles as Karen Brown, Mike Boland as Agent Frank. Photo: Meredith Atkinson
Unnecessary Farce
By Paul Slade Smith
Directed by Russell Treyz
Playhouse on Park through Nov. 20

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Well, there are eight doors, so this must be a farce if the title didn't already give it away.  Two inept police officers, Eric Sheridan (Will Hardyman) and Billie Dwyer (Susan Slotoroff) are sent on a stakeout to record a conversation in the next hotel room between an accountant, Karen Brown (Julie Robles) and the town's Mayor Meekly (Everett O'Neil), who is under suspicion for embezzlement. A few zany things happen to prevent the investigation, however: Eric and Karen have found a mutual attraction and their lust is captured on videotape. There's also Special Agent Frank (Mike Boland) who says he wants to protect the mayor, but who dives into the bed when he thinks she wants him and who might not be a good guy, the mayor's wife Mary (Ruth Neaveill) who might not be a good woman and a psychotic Scottish Mafia hit man named Todd (John-Patrick Driscoll) who holds most of the aforementioned people hostage throughout the play (when he isn't changing clothes or getting ht with a door).

What Are the Highlights?
There are some funny moments. Director Russell Treyz keeps the zaniness in check on the set (designed by Christopher Hoyt) which allows us to see the action in the adjoining  hotel rooms. When a cop is watching the monitor to see action taking place in the next room, we experience the action as well as the cop's reaction. He also puts a nice touch in the final
chase" scene that has folks turning in circles around the room and over the bed.

I enjoyed Hardyman's impersonation of bagpipes and Slotoroff's trek across the floor as she tries to free herself.

What Are the Lowlights?
This plot by West Hartford native Smith is just a bit too much to get on board with. These have to be some of the dumbest cops on the planet. There are several times when they could simply walk out of the room and go get backup -- or when they could take action to gain control over the situation -- but they don't (because there wouldn't be  zany farce then....). One of the cops uses the code word that is supposed to be used to bring his partner running, but it's just part of the dialogue and no one seems to notice.

"Oh, I don't remember this door being here before," one character offers as a lame excuse for why she would enter a stranger's hotel bathroom and secret herself there.... Much of the show isn't all that funny or doesn't make sense and it looks as though it is necessary for the actors to work way too hard to make this an Unnecessary Farce.

More Information:
Unnecessary Force plays through  Nov. 20 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$40 with senior and student discounts available. Special matinee price of $22.50 on Tuesday, Nov. 15: www.playhouseonpark.org; 860-523-5900 x10.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

CT Theater Review: Relativity -- TheaterWorks

Christa Scott-Reed, Lori Wilner and Richard Dreyfuss. Photo: Lanny Nagler
Relativity
By Mark St. Germain
Directed by
TheaterWorks
Extended through Nov. 23

Relativity is Relative
By Lauren Yarger
Albert Einstein might have mastered how speed and light relate to each other , but he had some trouble figuring the theory of relatives.

Richard Dreyfuss stars as the genius physicist in Relativity, a new play by Mark St. Germain (Freud's Last Session, Becoming Dr. Ruth) at TheaterWorks, directed by Rob Ruggiero. The Nobel Prize winner who gave us E=MC2  and the atomic bomb welcomes another reporter to his Princeton home (designed by Brian Prather)  where his housekeeper, Helen Dukas (Lori Wilner), is convinced that government agents are checking Einstein's trash to find evidence that he is a spy and is suspicious about whether Margaret Harding (Christa Scott-Reed), really works for the Jewish Daily.

She might be right (about the reporter and those guys going through the trash). Harding starts asking difficult questions about Einstein's strained relationship with his sons and in particular, his first wife Mileva Marić. What happened to Liesrl, the daughter they had out of wedlock in 1902 who was never seen again after 1904? Did she die in infancy or was she given up for adoption?

Those questions form the basis for an examination of choices made and the importance of relationships -- a process that makes Einstein realize that being a successful man doesn't always mean he has been a "good"  man.

The quick 80 minutes gives Oscar-winner Dreyfuss ("The Goodbye Girl"), in the expected white shock of hair (Wig Design by Leah Loukas), an opportunity to shine. He and Wilner have a nice rapport as they depict long-time companions who know each other too well, and Ruggiero achieves comic relief without letting it go too far. After all, Einstein might not be the gentle, absent-minded guy we think he is.

The plot itself, is a fantasy of the playwright based on sketchy information about Einstein's daughter. Einstein probably would have enjoyed that, having said, after all that "imagination is more important than knowledge." The story, however, is implausible in parts. The opening scene (which is not necessary) has a publicity-weary Einstein inviting Harding to his home where he quickly answers questions about the most intimate relationships in his life even though it is obvious that she has an ulterior motive. An audience member -- in that helpful way of audience members who think everyone around them wants to hear that they have figured out an until-then secret of the plot and blurts it out loud -- figured out what was happening very early on, as did most of us. St. Germain should eliminate the element of surprise that really isn't and get right into why this woman really shows up on Einstein's doorstep.

Relativity has triggered some heavy box office traffic at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St. Hartford, and the run has been extended twice, now through Nov. 23. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $15 to $75: theaterworkshartford.org; 860-527-7838.

Added bonus:
An Incredible Journey: Talkin' Movies with Richard Dreyfuss
Nov. 13 at 7 pm
A conversation with Dreyfuss moderated by Ruggiero and award-winning filmmaker Pedro Bermudez. Tickets are $40, $50 and $75.

CT Theater Review: Tenderly -- Ivoryton

Michael Marotta and Kim Rachelle Harris. Photo:Anne Hudson
Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story
By Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman
Directed and Choreographed by Brian Feehan
Ivoryton Playhouse
through Nov. 13

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Well, like the title says, it's the Rosemary Clooney story, complete with some of the tunes she made famous, like "Come On a My House," It's Only a Paper Moon," "Count Your Blessings," Mambo Italiano" and the title song, "Tenderly," among others (Music Direction is by Daniel Brandl.

If you're thinking juke-box musical, it is, in a way, but the songs all seem to belong and there is lots of story here.  Kim Rachelle Harris is a very likable Rosemary with a nice singing voice who helps us get to know the singer whose career was nearly sidelined by a dependence on pills. She captures the sadness of a woman trying to keep up her public image while falling apart in private. Harris also finds her character's bravery in making changes.

What Are the Highlights?
Michael Marotta, who does a wonderful job becoming every one else in Rosemary's life from her mother and sister to husband Jose Ferrer and a couple of other love interests to the doctor who helps her get her life back on track. He makes them all interesting, adds comedic relief to a sometimes depressing story, yet doesn't pull attention away from Harris.

Excellent Lighting Design by Marcus Abbott subtly creates scene changes and helps tell the story.

What Are the Lowlights?
Can there really be lowlights when we get to hear a throaty "Someone to Watch Over Me? The only tweak I would suggest would be a good edit of the book. It veers off in places (like Rosemary's friendship with Bobby Kennedy which doesn't reveal much about the character) and has some exposition-laden dialogue at the beginning which doesn't sound like actual conversation. But it's an enjoyable two hours, so these are minor flaws.

More Information:
Tenderly runs at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton through Nov. 13. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children: 860-767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Additional credits:
Scenic Design, William Russell Stark; Costume Design by Rebecca Welles; Wig Design by Liz Cipollina; Sound Design by Tate R. Burmeister

CT Theater Review: Chasing Rainbows -- Goodspeed


Photo: Diane Sobolewski
Chasing Rainbows" The Road to Oz
Conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby
Book By Marc Acito
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
Choreography by Chris Bailey
Goodspeed Opera House
through Nov. 27

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
You know her as Judy Garland, star of "The Wizard of Oz," "A star is Born" and other classic films as well as the singer of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," but before she was a legend, she was Frances Gumm, a talented young girl with a big, gown-up sounding voice.

Ruby Rakos (Broadway's Billy Elliot) plays Judy (with a younger Frances played by Ella Briggs) in this new musical conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby with a book by Marc Acito (Broadway's Allegiance).  Judy overshadows her less talented sisters, Virgina (Andrea Laxton and Piper Birney) and Mary Jane (Lucy Horton and Claire Griffin) as the family moves from Minnesota to California to escape the financial ruin (and moral scandals) their father, Frank (Kevin Earley), has created for them. He tries to manage a movie theater while the rest of the family hits the road. His wife, Ethel (Sally Wilfert) eventually begins a relationship with family friend, Bill Gilmore (Jesse Sharp), and Frank hides his homosexual relationship with a film distributor.

Judy enrolls in a professional school for child performers where friends Joe Yule (Michael Wartella), Judy Turner (Berklea Going) and Shirley Temple (Lea Mancarella) also go on to fame. (Those first two are Mickey Rooney and Lana Turner, by the way.)  This is the story of Judy's childhood and how she eventually gets to step into those ruby shoes -- and fame-- in "The Wizard of Oz." Many song favorites are included in the score (music adapted by David Libby who does arrangements and original orchestrations) like "I'm Forever Chasing Rainbows," Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" and "You Made Me Love You." Acito weaves them into the story line with skill, so there is no feel of jukebox musical here.

What Are the Highlights?
The story is quite interesting: I hadn't know most of this background ( Judy Garland historian and author John Fricke serves as Creative Consultant and Historian for the project.) If you are a Judy Garland fan, you'll enjoy this intimate portrait and hearing the songs she made famous.

Rakos is up to the task of filling the ruby shoes. She sings well and hits the ending belts required on most of the songs. Her "Over the Rainbow" is moving.

Earley and Wilfert find depth and sensitivity in the roles of the parents. Standing out is Karen Mason as Ma Lawlor, the amusing teacher at the school for kid performers and later as Kay Koverman, the assistant to MGM film mogul Louis B. Mayer (Michael McCormick, who excels), who spots something in Judy and is as much behind the girl's becoming a star as anyone.

Set Designer Kristen Robinson Ward creates numerous locations with simple changes.

What Are the Lowlights?
The two-hours and 35 minutes could use some trimming. Toning exposition in dialogue in the beginning and consolidating some musical numbers like "Beautiful Girls" would make that possible.

Chris Bailey's choreography can be circular and dizzying at times. There's just a lot going on up on that stage at times, though the tap dancing is fun.

Those ruby shoes don't look authentic for some reason (Costume Design by Elizabeth Caitlin).

I'm not a Shirley Temple expert, but she would have been about 6 when this story is set and Mancarella seems to appear to be more mature than that.

More Information:
Chasing Rainbows runs at Goodspeed, 6 Main St., East Haddam, through Nov. 27. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm, Thursday at 7:30 pm (with select performances at 2 pm), Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm.) Tickets are $29 to $84:  at goodspeed.org; 860-873-8668.

Additional credits:
Lighting Designer: Ken Billington; Sound Designer: Jay Hilton; Music Director: Michael O’Flaherty; Assistant Music Director: Bill Thomas; Orchestrator: Dan DeLange; Creative Consultant/Historian: John Fricke.

Additional casting:
Gary Milner (Roger Edens/George Jessel), Lissa deGuzman Colby Dezelick (Sound Engineer) Jennifer Evans Berklea Going Claire Griffin (Deanna Durbin/Young Mary Jane) Jordana Grolnick Michael Hartung Dan Higgins Lucy Horton (Mary Jane Gumm) Bryan Thomas Hunt Andrea Laxton (Virginia Gumm) Danny Lindgren Jesse Sharp (Bill Gilmore) Swings: Joseph Fierberg Elise Mestichelli

Thanksgiving Food Drive: Monday, Nov. 21. Buy one ticket, get one free for select seats for the 2 and 7:30 performances with a generous non-perishable food donation to benefit the East Haddam Food Bank. Donations will be collected at The Goodspeed.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

CT Theater Review: The Piano Lesson -- Hartford Stage

Clifton Duncan, Christina Acosta Robinson and Roscoe Orman. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
The Piano Lesson
By August Wilson
Directed by Jade King Carroll
Through Nov. 13

By Lauren Yarger
What's it all About?
This ghost-story of a play won August Wilson a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. It is part of his 10-play  cycle following this history of African-American life in Pittsburgh. The slice of life brings the audience into the home of Doaker Charles (Roscoe Orman) where Boy Willie (Clifton Duncan) and Lymon (Gayden Ryan Kane) arrive with a tuck full of watermelons to sell. Boy Willie plans to sell a piano that his sister, Berniece (Christina Acosta Robinson) and he have inherited. He wants to use the money to buy some land to farm, but his sister refuses, even though she and her daughter, Maretha (Elise Taylor) rarely play the instrument. The piano tells their family's story through slavery with pictures beautifully carved on it by an ancestor. Berniece refused to sell it when her suitor, preacher Avery  (Daniel Morgan Shelley) brought a prospective buyer to the home (Alexis Distler's set design allows us to see the interior of the house, with its posh furniture, as well as its ragged edges). More than just family tensions are at play here, though, as the ghost of the man who owned the land Boy Willie wants starts making appearances and the piano seems to have a mind of its own.

What are the Highlights?
Wilson's tale is intimate and absorbing. Director Jade King Carroll coaxes strong performances across the board, but excels at finding humor to offset the heavier tones of the play. Cleavant Derricks steals the show as Wining Boy, Doaker's humorous older brother, and Toccarra Cash lights up the stage as a romantic interest for Boy Willie and Lymon.

A spiritual sung by the men  (composed by Baikida Carroll; Music Direction by Bill Sims, Jr.) is a delight (Derricks' is in extraordinary voice).

What are the Lowlights?
Orman, seems to search for some of his lines; the three-hour run time is too long.

More information:
The Piano Lesson plays at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford, through Nov. 13. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $65-$81: www.hartfordstage.org; 860-527-5151.

Additional credits:
Costume Design. Toni-Leslie James; Lighting Design, York Kennedy; Sound Design, Karin Graybash; Wig Design, Robert-Charles Vallace; Music Director, Bill Sims, Jr.; Fight Choreography, Greg Webster; Dialect Coach. Ron Carlos

Saturday, October 15, 2016

CT Theater Review: Meteor Shower -- Long Wharf


Arden Myrin and Patrick Breen. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Meteor Shower
By Steve Martin
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Long Wharf Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About? Good question. Let's say that you might be able to figure that out before the explanation of the bizarre plot you have just seen is spelled out at the end, but for many the world premiere play from comedian Steve Martin ( presented by Long Wharf in conjunction with the Old Globe in San Diego), is a real puzzler.

Two couples get together to watch a meteor shower at the Ojai, CA home of Corky and Norm (Arden Myrin and Patrick Breen). Norm has invited Gerald and Laura (Craig Bierko -- I saw excellent understudy Josh Stamberg) and Sophia Brown, whom they don't know well, but who know another couple, the husband of which, Norm is eager to meet for work. He probably should have thought that through a bit because Gerald and Laura are very strange. Gerald's kind of funny and larger than life -- think Steve Martin -- and Laura is rude and blatantly sexual in her approach to Norm.

But wait, Norm and Corky are kind of weird too. They old hands and recite mantras learned through some sort of marriage therapy training for yuppies. And when a meteorite takes Norm out of the picture, Corky isn't too affected.

Wait again! Maybe that meteorite didn't really hit. Something seems to be wrong with perception here as scenes repeat from different perspectives. Just what is going on as the meteors light up the sky( Lighting Design by John Holder). The fantasy-inspired Orignial Music by John Gromada (who also designs the sound and three eggplants might provide some clues. Or maybe not.

If you aren't quite sure, you won't be alone (at intermission I wrote in my notes, "I have no idea what is going on." Michael Yeargan designs the upscale patio which rotates to help change perspective, but not enough to help Director Gordon Edelstein convey what is taking place.

There are some funny moments -- more than I found in Martin's other plays given a run at Long Wharf like The Underpants and Picasso at the Lapin Agile.  Norm's return to the action following the meteor strike certainly is humorous, thanks in part to Costume Design by Jess Goldstein. The script, however, is so bizarre and nonsensical, that we are wondering what is going on most of the time instead of enjoying some insightful humor. A good edit and a trim of the one-hour, 45 minute run time would make a big difference.

Meteor Shower runs at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, through Oct. 23. Tickets start at $27:  longwharf.org;  203-787-4282.

Friday, October 14, 2016

CT Theater Review: King Lear -- CT Repertory

Raphael Nash Thompson (Gloucester). Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
King Lear
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Dale AJ Rose
CT Repertory
through Oct. 16

By Lauren Yarger
What's It all About?

Shapkespeare's tragedy of betrayal, coinciding with the recent stop at UConn of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s national tour of "First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare." Graeme Malcom is a brilliant King Lear and third-year MFA student Arlene Bozich is a star to watch as his eldest daughter, Goneril.

I will spare you the plot -- check the Sparks Notes -- but this is as solid a production of Lear as I ever have seen (kudos to Director Dale AJ Rose). A strong ensemble cast includes Michael Bobenhausen, Darren Brown, Natalia Cuevas, Jeff DeSisto, Curtis Longfellow, Emile Saba, Meredith Saran, Bryce Wood. Kent Coleman, Nick Greika, Derrick Holmes, Scott Redmond, Ben Senkowski, Ryan Shea, Andrew Smith, and Kristen Wolfe.

What Are the Highlights?
Besides the pleasure of seeing Shakespeare done well, the action takes place on an impressive angled set designed with grey stone, towering doors and arches designed by Pedro L. Guevara. Minimal props and period costumes that range from armor to garb in earthy hues (thank you, no red sneakers for Lear) designed by Raven Ong help tell the tale without distracting from the language (of which most of the actors have strong command).

Malcolm, who appeared on Broadway in Equus, Translations, Aida and The King and I is a consummate Lear: a sad, mad dad who also makes us laugh. Bozich is a riveting Goneril and has a better grasp of Shakespeare's language than some actors on Broadway. She is fascinating to watch. Also standing out with commanding stage presence is Kent Coleman as the Earl of Kent.

Sound and special effects enhance the mood. The creative team includes: Margaret Peebles (Lighting Design), Justin Graziani (Sound Design), Greg Webster (Fight Choreography), Karen Ryker (Voice and Text Coach) and Ed Weingart (Technical Director).

What Are the Lowlights?
None.

More information:
King Lear plays at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the Storrs UConn campus through Oct. 16.
Evening performances are 8 pm tonight 2 and 8 pm Saturday and 2 pm Sunday. Tickets are $7-$30:  www.crt.uconn.edu ; 860-486-2113.

CT Theater Review: Scenes from Court Life -- Yale Repertory

Jeff Biehl, Greg Keller (foreground); Angel Desai, Andrew Weems, T. Ryder Smith, Mary Shultz (background). Photo: Carol Rosegg

Scenes from Court Life, or the whipping boy and his prince
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Mark Wing-Davey
Yale Repertory
through Oct. 22

Politics Apparently Hasn't Changed All That Much
By Lauren Yarger
Politicians volley with each other over who should be in office and what future the country should take. Are we watching a snippet from one of the most watched debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? No. This political drama takes place on stage in a timely play by Sarah Ruhl commissioned by Yale Repertory (kicking off its 50th anniversary season) to examine the father/son dynasties of George H. and W Bush and Charles I and II.

A lot of this action takes place on the tennis court. George 41 (T. Ryder Smith) and the family -- George 43 (Greg Keller), Jeb Bush (Danny Wolohan), Barbara (Mary Schultz) play a doubles match while Laura (Angel Desai, who music directs and plays the harpsichord) detached, reads a book. While the match heats up on the court (Marina Draghici's set is designed with a net to keep some real volleys from landing in the audience), so does the competition between George and Jeb for the their parents' approval. Jeb is the apparent favorite, but George somehow seems to end up with all the breaks.  

Meanwhile, with a quick dress change (Draghici also designs the costumes) and by donning some period wigs, (Charles G. LaPointe, design), Keller and Wolohan transform into young Prince Charles and his Whipping Boy, Barnaby, in Stuart England. When the boy decides he wants to play tennis using gear of his father-the-king (a brilliant Smith), the Whipping Boy, as usual, takes the young prince's punishment, doled out by his tutor (Andrew Weems). The king has his own problems, however, and might lose his head to charges of treason. What's a king to do? He ponders while sitting on the royal throne -- the toilet that is -- while his comfort is attended to by a Groom of the Stool (Jeff Biehl, who metaphorically doubles as Karl Rove, adviser to the Bush clan.)

The relationship between the new king (following the death of Charles I) and his Whipping Boy changes from fond affection (there are implications that Charles has romantic feelings for Barnaby) to rivalry when the Whipping Boy falls for his sovereign's intended, Catherine of Braganza (Kernen Lugo, who also plays Jeb's wife, Columba). John R. Colley, Evelyn Giovine, Hudson Oznowicz and Arturo Soria complete the ensemble bringing this allegory to life (and it even includes a Donald Trump impersonation making the whole thing very timely).

Michael Raine choreographs, Rick Sordelet directs the fighting and Meggi Sweeney Smith provides Baroque expertise and choreography as Mark Wing-Davey directs Ruhl's campaign across centuries. The women don't figure much in the action (perhaps a commentary on the truth of that statement) but there are some funny one-liners from Barbara (nicely delivered by Schultz) and some insight from Laura who is the one charged with mopping up the blood following the war sanctioned by her husband (and that blood, by the way, has a nifty texture that lets it clean up quickly after spreading on the stage).

"I have a little theory about human evil—I call it my Judas theory," she says. "I figure that approximately one twelfth of the world—and of the disciples—are like Judas-- they want to destroy each other. And one twelfth or so wants to save other people. But the rest of us 10 out of 12 just wants to get by and tuck our children in at night. And these people with their bombs and their anger and their—Well. Things you can do when you feel like chopping off someone else’s head: Take a deep breath. Paint.  Dance. Read. Plant a garden. Call your mom."

It is entertaining and refreshing, but at two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission, it begins to feel like a personal essay stretched too long. The play did receive a 2016 Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award, however.

Scenes from Court Life runs at Yale Rep's University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven through Oct. 22. Tickets are $12-$99: yalerep.org; 203-432-1234; Box Office, 1120 Chapel St.

Additional credits:
Lighting Design Stephen Strawbridge, Sound Design Shane Rettig, Projection Design Yana Birÿkova, Technical Director Kelly Rae Fayton, Dialect and Vocal Coaches Beth McGuire and Jane Guyer Fujita.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Hartford Symphony Orchestra Kicks Off Season

Ana Vivodic. Photo: courtesy of HSO
Hartford Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Series 
Scheherazade!
Friday – Sunday, October 7-9, 2016
Belding Theater at The Bushnell
Friday and Saturday 8 pm│Sunday 3pm
Tickets starting at $36.00; $10.00 for students with ID
860-987-5900 or www.hartfordsymphony.org
Featuring
Carolyn Kuan conductor
Ana Vidovic classical guitar

Program
Rimsky-Korsakov
 Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34
Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra
Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, Op. 35


The Hartford Symphony Orchestra kicks off its 2016-2017 Masterworks season with a program of music with global flair! Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol is one of the most famous orchestra showpieces, a vividly brilliant composition based on Spanish folk melodies. Inspired by the collection of Middle Eastern and Indian tales “The Thousand and One Nights,” Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade brings to vibrant life the story of the young wife of a Sultan who tells tales to her husband to forestall his plan to kill her. Rodrigo’s extraordinarily beautiful Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra is unquestionably his best known work, and established his reputation as one of the most significant Spanish composers of the 20th century. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Women Get to Report Front and Center in Queens for a Year

Women's Issues Always Get Highest Rank with This Playwright
By Lauren Yarger
For one panelist at a recent event to launch Connecticut chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women, talking about gender parity and the need to have more women writers, directors and issues represented on stage wasn't a one-time conversation. For T. D. Mitchell, author of Queens for a Year wrapping up its highly acclaimed world premiere to open the season at Hartford Stage, the topic is a passion.

She knows first hand about the disadvantage women can experience in industries still controlled by men. The former writer for TV's "Army Wives" and author of numerous plays (Beyond the 17th Parallel, Gray Matter) shared stories about how using her initials, instead of a name that gives away her gender, can been a tool. The feminist in her has felt a call to tell the stories of women from a women's perspective. In fact, when she was in negotiations to premiere Queens for a Year, a tale on multi-generations of women from one family in military service, she insisted that a woman direct and was happy that she met no resistance to that idea from Hartford Stage's Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. The outcome was hiring Director Lucie  Tiberghien, whom Mitchell praises.

Tiberghien was on the same page with her throughout, Mitchell said, even when those pages -- especially for the ending -- changed. The director wasn't uncomfortable with leaving some ambiguity and asked the audience to listen with attention to detail, which was crucial to her own storytelling needs, Mitchell said.

Some of the inspiration for Queens for a Year came from research for her play On the 17th Parallel, which dealt with Viet Nam vets. She realized that females serving in the military and vets have their own unique stories and place in US history, but they are absent in our culture. They needed their own play, she decided. 
That need and a random conversation with a veteran expressing concerns about his own son now deployed overseas, morphed into Queens for a Year, which focuses on a Marine (played by Vanessa R. Butler) trying to help a younger Marine (Sarah Nicole Deaver), who has been assaulted by members of her own troops while serving in Iraq. The women encounter intimidation from superiors to drop the matter and threats against their lives. 

It's an intellectual piece which juxtaposes a sense of patriotism -- the Marine is a product of generations of women who have served, including feisty great grandmother who folded parachutes in World War 11 -- with a rethinking of just what kind of behavior is acceptable from Americans in wartime or in peace.

Focusing on a family with multiple generations of service wasn't just a means of exploring women's issues, Mitchell said. Without a draft, the percentage of citizens serving in the military is small, and among them, there is a high percentage of "legacy joins" where service is a family tradition. It also gave her room to explore how women's role in the military has changed over the years. Back in the great grandmother's generation, women often served at home while waiting for their men to return from war. Today, a women is fighting along side the men in combat, but at what price? 

At the very least, the cost may be the elimination of femininity. In a dramatic scene, we see the main character stripped to her skivvies, then dressed in full Marine uniform as she recites the Marine Code of Conduct. She is hardly recognizable as a woman when she is done.


This idea of woman having to give up her feminism to be equal is echoed in the inclusion of Greek mythology into the storyline. The myth of Caenis, a young nymph who having been raped by Poseidon, asks to be transformed into a man so that can never happen to her again, came to Mitchell unexpectedly during her research on female warriors for the play, though it could have been a direct inspiration for Queens for a Year.  The attempt to remove femaleness doesn't provide a perfect solution in the play, or in the myth for that matter.

But then the issues of equality and gender parity haven't  been solved in out society either. The hanging questions caused Mitchell to wonder how her play should end. It changed four times as she sought to find a way to blend internal conflicts with a need for justice. The result is a thought-provoking play I called a "boot camp for the mind" in my review. The ending, Mitchell, says, seems inevitable to her now, "even if it's not the one we want."

Queens for a Year runs through Sunday, Oct. 2 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are: Thursday and Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.   Tickets $25-$90.  (860) 527-5151; www.hartfordstage.org.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Theater Review: Queens for a Year -- Hartford Stage

Charlotte Maier, Vanessa R Butler, Heidi Armbruster, Alice Cannon. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
 It Feels Like the Enemy Just Messed With Our Minds – and We’re OK with That
By Lauren Yarger
T.D. Mitchell writes a disturbing and gripping tale of the consequences of war that orders us to stand at attention and prepare for an inspection of what we think about training people to kill. And with Queens for a Year, getting its world premiere at Hartford Stage, she examines the topic from a unique perspective: the role of females serving in the military.

Mitchell has visited the military before. She was a writer for TV’s “Army Wives” and explored the stories of Viet Nam vets in her play Beyond the 17th Parallel. It was interviews conducted for the latter which triggered the writing of Queens for a Year.

The play focuses on a 2007 visit by Lt. Molly Solinas (Vanessa R Butler) to her rural Virginia home (designed in framed simplicity by Daniel Conway) where her family is excited to welcome her and her friend, PFC Amanda Lewis (Sarah Nicole Deaver), back from duty in Iraq. They understand what the women have been through more than most as the multi-generational clan know all about serving their country. 

Molly’s aunt Lucy Walker (Heidi Armbruster) served until her lesbianism and the service’s lack of tolerance for it got her discharged. Her grandmother and namesake Molly, still goes by Gunny (Charlotte Maier) and her great-grandmother, Lu (Alice Cannon), served in World War II. Only Molly’s mother, Mae (Mary Bacon), isn’t all ooo- rah about a family of Marines. Her religion and calling as a midwife who brings lives into the world are at conflict with training to kill.

Amanda quickly bonds with Molly’s kin and feels at home, but it is apparent that she and Molly have sought shelter at the peaceful farmhouse from something sinister following them from Iraq. Through flashbacks, sharply directed by Lucie Tiberghien around the fringes of the home trimmed with camouflage material or upstairs where an uneasy Iraqi checkpoint suddenly comes to life, we begin to understand that the biggest threat the women Marines faced while deployed might not have come from the enemy.

Things aren’t easy for women serving overseas in the current conflict. In fact, it is a whole different front from when Grandma Lu packed her parachutes in the big war. Now women in service are called one of three things, Amanda tells us: a slut, a dyke or a bitch. The play’s title, program notes inform us, comes from an expression used to describe a female soldier or Marine serving her overseas tour of duty year, implying that even an “ugly” female gets away with slacking off and being unduly treated as a queen in the male dominated environment. A wink from a woman can imply consent for much more than intended and the knives the women soldiers carry offer protection against enemy attack – whether it is from their own male company members or Iraqi insurgents.

During her tour, Amanda was raped by a superior and his buddy, but the Marines have a zero tolerance policy for these types of incidents which means she doesn’t really have the option of reporting it or of seeking any justice. This is made plain to her by a staff sergeant (Mat Hostetler) who gets wind of the case and intimidates Amanda to make sure she won’t pursue it. Molly tries to help, but a senior female officer, Capt. Diaz (Jamie Rezanour), urges her not to get involved.

The women end up having to take things into their own hands –with the help of Molly’s ready-made militia family -- especially when the rapist feels threatened that Amanda might be able to prove what happened and pursues her and Molly to Virginia.

Mitchell’s no-nonsense writing style establishes a bond between the audience and the women early in the two-hour, 15-minute production. In quick military fashion, we see Molly transform before our eyes from a woman into a Marine (Beth Goldenberg costumes). We know these women and like them all, especially Grandma Lu who reminds us all of our own beloved elderly relatives who are not afraid to say what’s on their minds and Cannon wisely doesn't overplay the part.

The playwright makes us uncomfortable, however, by targeting some messages that might have been trained into our thinking about what is normal when it comes to war. We don’t question Grandma Lu’s patriotism, for instance, but then we’re a bit disturbed by the apparent prejudice still holds again people of Japanese descent. We are all for the US Marines – until we start hearing some of the cadences sung out and repeated back from time to time throughout the play. The work songs apparently are genuine, if not sanctioned, and are too vulgar to re-print here 9the theater recommends 14 and up for viewing the play). They make us pause in our admiration for an institution that accepts as "normal" training with chants full of glee and pride about killing people and treating women in the most vulgar of ways. And are we really OK with feeling nonchalant when it comes to killing?
It’s a little like realizing that the enemy has gotten inside your mind and messed with you and now you are forced to wonder whether you’ve been just a bit brainwashed by the good guys too. It’s definitely theater that makes us think: it's a boot camp for the mind.

Even the conclusion leaves us questioning our values as we surprise ourselves by easily rooting for a bloody outcome. The effect would be even more dramatic, however, if we had a clearer understanding of why Molly decides to take things into her own hands when she does and what her fate is. Without that, the ambiguity weakens the impact.

Another area that could use a tweak from Tiberghien is the timing and delivery of the humor. There is some in this play, despite its otherwise somber theme, but some jokes are lost, or have less oomph than they should.

Deaver is solid as the Corps-tough soldier who can’t quite forgive herself for not being strong enough to protect herself; Bacon finds depth in Mae that realistically portrays the love of a mother conflicted with the path her child has chosen. Butler seems less certain in her role, but it is fitting as Molly herself is trying to figure out where a woman can serve comfortably in a man’s military.
Its engrossing story brings the issues of women’s role in the military, burdens placed on families with members serving and the realities of women in combat front and center for full inspection.

Queens for a Year plays through Oct. 2 at Hartford stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.   Tickets $25-$90.  (860) 527-5151; www.hartfordstage.org.

Additional credits:
Wig Design by Jodi Stone, Lighting Design by Robert Perry; Sound Design by Victoria Deiorio, Fight Direction by Greg Webster; Dialect Coaching by Robert H. Davis. 

Scenes from Second Launch of CT League of Professional Theatre Women



The Connecticut Chapter of the League of professional Theatre Women held its second launch event to kick off its activities in the state. The organization serves as a networking and advocacy tool for women working in the theater.

This second event at Westport Country Playhouse's White Barn featured a panel on "Lean In and Branch Out: Claiming our Voice as Women in Connecticut Theater" moderated by Actress/Director/Producer Marie Reynolds, a co-founder of the chapter along with Lauren Yarger, a theater critic and editor of the CT Arts Connection, Mary Miko, soecial events coordinator at Goodspeed and Tracey Moore, an associate professor of theater at University of Hartford's Hartt School. 

Panelists were Actress Mia Dillon (Tony award for Best Featured Actress Crimes of the Heart), NY Producer Pat Addiss (Eclipsed, Gigi, Vanya Sonya, Masha and Spike), Anne Keefe, artist associate and former co-artistic director at Westport Country Playhouse, and Director Jenn Thompson (Bye Bye Birdie at Goodspeed; Women Without Men Off-Broadway).

A "Seal of Approval" recognizing the achievements of Yale Repetory Theatre in hiring women on and behind its stages was accepted by Managing Director Victoria Nolan.  At the first launch in Hartford, a Seal of Approval was presented to Hartford Stage. That panel featured Elizabeth Williamson, associate artistic director at Hartford Stage, Jacqueline Hubbard, executive artistic director at Ivoryton Playhouse and playwright TD Mitchell (Queens for a Year; TV's "Army Wives").

The group will hold regional meetings around the state and will present works by women. For information on joining the local chapter, contact LaurenYarger@hotmail.com. For information on the League and its many programs, visit theatrewomen.org.


Panelist Mia Dillon and her husband, actor Kier Dullea.

Mingling/refreshments
Lauren Yarger, Mary Miko and Marie Reynolds.

Mary Miko and Diana Insolio


Lighting Designer Dawn Chiang

Joan Firestone, a former president of the League of Professional Theatre Women, welcomed the group.

Anne Keefe, associate artist at WCP.

The panel and friends: Anne Keefe, Pat Addiss, Jenn Thompson, Joan Firestone, Mia Dillon and Marie Reynolds.

Victoria Nolan

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)

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