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

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