Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dickens Comes to Twain House with Ebeneeza

It's Dickens brought to Hartford, with three ghosts transporting a greed-obsessed main character, who deals in shady mortgages, back to the 1960s - and then to an unvarnished present day, and then to a possible future.

And The Ghost of Hartford Past in this theatrical homage to "A Christmas Carol" is Mark Twain himself.

The Mark Twain House & Museum continues a holiday tradition with a heart, once again welcoming HartBeat Ensemble's free traveling production of Ebeneeza: A Hartford Holiday Carol to the Museum Center. It's an exploration into what hardens a woman's soul -- but as in Dickens' and Twain's work, it's a message delivered with humor.

There will be three free performances: Friday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 pm.; and Sunday, Dec. 19 at 2 pm.

Ebeneeza is a multi-cultural retelling of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," and is set in modern-day Hartford and its suburbs. The title character is an elderly woman who has made her fortune in local real estate and mortgage brokering.

The production takes us from Ebeneeza's childhood home on Front Street during the Depression, through the civil upheavals of the 1960s in the city's North End, into the Greater Hartford suburbs of the present -- and finally into one possible future.

This year, the play has been updated to include the grit, the grime, and the humor that 2010 brought to the city and the nation. "It's a wild ride through our common history and current reality," says HartBeat Co-Artistic Director Gregory R. Tate. "HartBeat really enjoys highlighting the humor and deep emotional bonds that make this play a perennial holiday favorite."

Ebeneeza was originally written in 2006, and is re-examined every year to address timely issues. HartBeat ensemble, whose works never fail to please in city parks, schools and public spaces, has taken many of the words and ideas of the play from interviews with residents of the local area. The ensemble believes this is essential to its mission of telling people's stories.

Ebeneeza will also be performed for the public at Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts, The West Indian Social Club, and West Hartford's Playhouse on Park. For more information visit www.hartbeatensemble.org or call (860) 548-9144.

Ebeneeza is written by HartBeat Ensemble and directed by Nora Mathews from original staging by Brian Jennings. The production is made possible by the City of Hartford, The Office of Cultural Affairs, The Greater Hartford Arts Council's United Arts Campaign, the United Way Community Campaign, The Edward C. & Ann T. Roberts Foundation and the The Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. Media sponsor is The Hartford Advocate.

The event is one in The Mark Twain House & Museum's continuing series of Mark Twain 2010 Centennial Celebration events . The Hartford Financial Group, Inc., is the Mark Twain House & Museum's Centennial Sponsor.

The mission of HartBeat Ensemble is to create original, professional theater based on stories from our community. Through Mainstage plays, Open-Air performances, and Education programs, HartBeat Ensemble makes theater accessible beyond the barriers of class, race, and gender.

Palace Jazzes Up Holidays with Manhattan Transfer

Audiences will get jazzed this holiday season when 10-time Grammy Award-winning The Manhattan Transfer brings their Christmas Show to the Palace Theater in Waterbury on Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 pm.

Vocalists Cheryl Bentyne, Tim Hauser, Alan Paul and Janis Siegel celebrate the holiday season by lending their ageless vocal harmonies to a collection of familiar and best loved Christmas classics. Additionally, the group is also celebrating its 40th Anniversary with the highly anticipated release of "The Chick Corea Songbook." The vocal quartet’s first new record in five years was inspired by the classic work of jazz great Chick Corea, and features fresh and exciting vocal interpretations of his popular compositions, including “Spain” and “500 Miles High.”

The platinum selling, world-wide chart topping super group, widely renowned for broadening the musical landscape with their innovative, genre defying sound, made Grammy history in 1981 by becoming the first group to win Grammys simultaneously in both the jazz and pop categories. The group also put out the second most honored album in pop history in 1985, with Vocalese, earning an impressive 12 Grammy nominations, surpassed only by Michael Jackson’s "Thriller."

Before the performance, a 5:30 pm pre-show dinner will be held in the Poli Club, located in the Mezzanine Level of the theater. Dinner is $40 per member and $50 for non-members, which includes tax, service fee, coffee and tea. A cash bar is also available. Seating is limited and reservations may be made when purchasing tickets through the Box Office.

Tickets for The Manhattan Transfer Christmas Show can be purchased by phone at 203-346-2000, online at www.palacetheaterct.org, or in person at the Palace Theater Box Office, 100 East Main St. in Waterbury. Groups of 20 or more qualify for discounted rates and should call the Group Sales hotline at 203-346-2002.

A Flea in Her Ear Opens at CT Rep

Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) presents Georges Feydeau’s A Flea In Her Ear, adapted by David Ives, Dec. 2 - 11 in the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the Storrs campus. For tickets and information, call 860-486-4226 or visit www.crt.uconn.edu.

Mistaken identity, revolving beds and an improbable, hysterical plot provide the riotous foundation for Feydeau’s bedroom farce. The amorous antics are unleashed with mathematical precision to create a fast and furious, sexy comedy featuring a suspicious spouse, a lusty lothario and a hot-blooded Spaniard – all chasing each other through this hormone-powered, rollicking romp.

Raymonde Chandebise misguidedly concludes her husband Victor is having an affair because of their recent declining romance and his suspenders mysteriously showing up in the mail. To prove her suspicions, Raymonde solicits her friend Lucienne to write an anonymous letter to her husband inviting him to a romantic rendezvous at a seedy hotel. Victor misinterprets this letter and sends his best friend Tournel, a notorious womanizer, in his place. Hilarity ensueswith mistaken identities, revolving beds, and more secret liaisons lead to confusion and comic mayhem.

Director Art Manke said, “A Flea In Her Ear is a perfectly crafted farce that never fails to elicit gales of laughter whenever produced. I’ve wanted to direct it for a long time, and am delighted to have extraordinary designers and a brilliantly talented and very attractive cast bringing it all to life.”

Manke returns to CRT where he directed and choreographed Rent this past summer. He is a five-time winner of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his productions of a wide range of classics and new work. Credits include: South Coast Repertory, Pasadena Playhouse, Mark Taper Forum, Denver Center Theatre Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, American Conservatory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Magic Theatre, American Players Theatre, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz, among others.

Manke is a co-founder and former artistic director (1991-2001) of A Noise Within, L.A.’s acclaimed classical theatre company, where he staged the work of Shakespeare, Moliere, Wilde, Coward and Sophocles.

The Creative team includes: Cassandra Beaver, scenic designer; Michelle Mann, lighting designer; Sachiko Komuro, costume designer; Steven Magro, sound design.

The cast will feature Equity actor Leigh Miller (Camille). Most recently, Leigh collaborated and performed in a five person As You Like It set on Low-Flying Trapeze. Leigh also played Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons at The Arvada Center and Adam in the World Premiere of Yankee Tavern at Curious Theatre. Graduate acting students Gretchen Goode as Raymonde Chandebise, Ryan Guess as Tournel and BFA acting student Tom Foran as Victor Chandebise, also are featured.

Evening performances start at 7:30 Wednesdays and Thursdays, and at
8 Fridays and Saturdays. Matinee performances start at 2. A free audience talkback will follow the performance on Thursday, Dec. 9.

Ticket prices range from $11- $29.

HSO Holiday Celebration Features Messiah, Pops! Spectacular

HSO’s Holiday POPS! Spectacular and Edward Cumming with Santa Claus.
(Photo Credit: Steve Laschever.)

Featuring the Hartford Chorale, Connecticut Children’s Chorus, Vocal
Soloists, Hartt Community Division Dancers
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra is giving the gift of music this December with two programs that celebrate the magic of the holiday season:

On Friday, Dec. 10 and Saturday, Dec. 11 the Hartford Chorale will join the HSO for Handel’s Messiah at 8 pm in the Belding at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford.

Led by HSO Music Director Edward Cumming, this program will feature solo performances by soprano Jihee Kim, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Feinstein, tenor Eric Barry, and bass-baritone Andrew Craig on such well-loved arias and choruses as “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” the epic “Amen” chorus, “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted,” and, of course, the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Tickets range in price from $30-$62. Student tickets are $10. To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact HSO ticket services at (860) 244-2999 or visit http://www.hartfordsymphony.org/.

The Hartford Chorale will join the HSO again for Hartford’s beloved winter tradition: the HSO Holiday POPS! Spectacular on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 3 and 8 pm in Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell. Cumming will take audiences through a Yule-tide adventure with Santa and Rudolph, while featuring music from The Nutcracker with ballet dancers from the Hartt Community Division; a Holiday sing-along with the Hartford Chorale and Connecticut Children’s Chorus; O Holy Night sung by guest soprano Tessa Romano; as well as an assortment of festive carols and seasonal favorites including “Sleigh Ride,” “Let it Snow,” “Slalom,” and more. As an added treat, audience members will get the chance to vote via text-messaging to select one of the pieces on the program.

Single tickets range in price from $30-$62. Student tickets are $10. To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact HSO ticket services at (860) 244-2999 or visit http://www.hartfordsymphony.org/.

The Hartford Chorale, under the direction of Richard Coffey, is the primary symphonic chorus of the Greater Hartford community, particularly in its critically acclaimed collaborations with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Through such collaborations and with other organizations, the Chorale seeks to reach and inspire the widest possible audience with exceptional performances of a broad range of choral literature, including renowned choral masterpieces.

The Connecticut Children's Chorus (CCC), under the direction of Stuart Younse, is the Hartford region's most comprehensive youth chorus program and a division of the Hartt School Community Division. CCC continues to thrive as our region's premiere children's chorus, boasting performance invitations with the region's best professional ensembles and provides strength and excellence in training Connecticut's youngest talented voices. Past activities have included performances with the Hartt Opera, CONCORA, and the Nashville Children's Chorus.

The Hartt Community Division of the University of Hartford is a comprehensive community arts school providing instruction in music and dance for individuals of all ages and experience levels. It is a division of The Hartt School, one of the seven colleges of the University of Hartford. One of the largest schools of its kind, the Community Division is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Community and Pre-College Art Schools, is an active member of National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, and is viewed as a national model for community schools based on university campuses.

Coming Up:
with Carolyn Kuan, guest conductor and music director candidate; Alex Beyer, piano
Dec. 2-5 at the Belding Theater

Kuan will lead a pre-concert chat one hour before each performance.
Program: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550; Samuel Barber: Excerpts from Suite from Medea, Op. 23 Ticket Information: Tickets range in price from $30-$70. Student tickets are $10. To purchase tickets or for more information about concert times, contact HSO ticket services at (860) 244-2999 or visit www.hartfordsymphony.org.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Theater Review: God of Carnage -- TheaterWorks

Photo by Lanny Nagler

Note: Addition performances Sunday, Dec. 5 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, Dec. 19 at 7:30 pm

A Comedy of Manners Without the Manners
By Lauren Yarger
It starts as a polite meeting between parents to discuss a recent fight between their sons, but the God of Carnage wins out and soon the competitive, childish and selfish nature of these adults comes out in Yasmina Reza’s play making its Northeast regional debut at TheaterWorks, Hartford.

The play is bitingly funny -- you can’t help but laugh even though it’s too bad this is how people are.

Michael and Veronica Novak (Wynn Harmon and Candy Buckley) invite Alan and Annette Raleigh (Royce Johnson and Susan Bennett) over to discuss the 11-year-old boys’ playground fight in which the Raleighs’ son struck the Novak boy with a stick, knocking out some teeth. High-strung Veronica hopes some tulips, a few drinks and her specialty clafouti dessert will help ease the peace negotiations. Peace, ironically, is important to the author who is working on a book about Darfur.

Annette, nauseous at the thought of what her son has done drags along her reluctant husband, a high-powered attorney who keeps interrupting the conversation to take cell phone calls to try to cover up potential hazards in a drug manufactured by his client.

Soon all pretenses at politeness are lost and the discussions turn hostile -- and humorous -- as feelings beneath the surface emerge, not only about the playground altercation, but about how the husbands and wives really feel about each other and their kids. Manners go out the window and insults, the tulips, the cell phone and the clafouti all get hurled in various ways before it’s all over.

While the script, translated by Christopher Hampton, is a riot (it won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play), director Tazewell Thompson fails to rein in the actors to give varying levels to the chaos. Buckley is over the top throughout, yelling and using excessive arm gestures. Johnson is all hi-key and doesn’t show contrast with his lack of interest in his wife, his son or the situation in which they have found themselves.

Likewise, Bennett and Harmon, though funny as the passive members of their partnerships, aren’t given much room to change tone when their characters become more aggressive (fueled by alcohol). The pace also isn't as quick as it should be, especially when the hostilities escalate.

It’s a fun 90 minutes overall, though, sure to make you laugh and cringe. God of Carnage runs through Dec. 19 at TheaterWorks at City Arts on Pearl, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm with weekend matinees at 2:30. There is no performance on Thanksgiving.

For tickets and information, call 860-527-7838 or visit http://www.theaterworkshartford.org/.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Theater Review: White Christmas – The Bushnell

Show Rings in the Holidays at the Bushnell
By Lauren Yarger
It’s snowing, the tree tops are glistening and a film comes to life on stage over at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts where Irving Berlin’s White Christmas makes a stop on its national tour through Sunday.

The stage show is based on the hit 1954 movie featuring a number of Berlin’s most popular tunes and lyrics like “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “I Love a Piano,” “Sisters,” and of course “White Christmas.” If you’re looking for a serious plot (David Ives and Paul Blake, book), or strong singing voices (there's way too much vibrato up there for me), this production isn’t for you, but if you’re looking for some nostalgia, some great dancing and a wholesome way to celebrate Christmas with the family, get over to the box office.

John Sherer and Denis Lambert star as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, a song-and-dance act trying to help their former WWII General Henry Waverly (Erick Devine) save his financially troubled Vermont Inn. Helping are their love interests and sister act Betty and Judy Haynes (Amy Bodnar and Shannon M. O’Brian).

Norb Joerder directs the large ensemble’s action on nice travelling sets adapted by Kenneth Foy (Anna Louizos, original Broadway design) enhanced by Randy Skinner’s well-executed choreography and Carrie Robbin’s colorful costumes. The orchestra is conducted by Musical Director John Vesser. There are some sound issues (Peter Fitzgerald, Erich Bechtel) as the actors’ voices sound tinny or echo throughout.

Standing out is Ruth Williamson as Martha Watson, the general’s assistant, who belts out a couple of numbers (showing the best singing skill in the troupe) and who milks the role for some fun humor. Also fun is James Young as “a-yupping” New Englander Ezekiel Foster.

For tickets call the box office at 860-987-6000 or visit http://www.bushnell.org/.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dreams of Holidaze at Palace Theater

Whimsical dreams become a magical reality when Cirque Dreams Holidaze transforms the Waterbury Palace Theater’s stage into a holiday wonderland of fantasy and imagination for three 3:30 pm performances, Dec. 7 to 9.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze is an original musical extravaganza where ornaments that come to life as costumed characters perform astonishing feats that celebrate the holiday season with spectacle and imagination. An international cast of artists transform into gingerbread men flipping mid air, toy soldiers marching on thin wires, and reindeer soaring high above a landscape of holiday wonderment. With an original musical score featuring holiday favorites, Cirque Dreams Hoildaze will have audiences of all ages mesmerized with its memorable tribute to the holiday season.

In conjunction with The Broadway League’s annual “Kid’s Night on Broadway” promotion, the Palace Theater is offering a special “Buy One Ticket, Get One Half Price” promotion for children, ages 6 – 18, to attend the 7:30 pm evening performance on Wednesday, Dec. 8. The special offer is valid on all remaining seats and is only available by phone or in person at the Box Office. All children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult, and the offer is not valid on previous purchases.

In the spirit of holiday giving, the Palace Theater is donating a portion of ticket sales from the Cirque Dreams Holidaze performance on Dec.7 to the WATR Sunshine Fund to help those in need during the holiday season. In addition, the Republican-American’s Campership Fund will have their “Celebrity Beggars” out in force before the Dec. 9 performance to collect donations to help defray the cost of sending deserving children and youth to summer camp.

Tickets for Cirque Dreams Holidaze, sponsored in part by WTNH/MyTV9, WATR Radio, Republican-American, Brass Mill Center, Powerstation Events and Crystal Rock, can be purchased by phone at 203-346-2000, online at www.palacetheaterct.org, or in person at the Palace Theater Box Office, 100 East Main St. in Waterbury. Groups of 20 or more qualify for discounted rates and should call the Group Sales hotline at 203-346-2002.

Mark Twain House News

Party on the Mississippi to Celebrate Author's 175th Birthday
The Mark Twain House & Museum will celebrate America's funniest writer's 175th birthday in a style he would have loved, with a Party on the Mississippi Friday, Dec. 3.

The historic property's spacious Museum Center will be decked out in Southern style to throw a Mardi Gras-style party for Twain's 175th birthday. River City Slim & the Zydeco Hogs will fill the Museum Center with their musical gumbo, and Sea Tea Improv will transform audience suggestions into comic jambalaya. The party will be catered by Hartford favorite Rajun' Cajun.

Party on the Mississippi will begin at 7 pm. Tickets are $30 ($25 for members of The Mark Twain House & Museum). There will also be a cash bar. For tickets or information, call 860-280-3130.

House Decorated for the Holidays
Starting tomorrow the Clemens mansion on Farmington Avenue takes on all the excitement of the holidays in an upper-middle-class Hartford mansion of the Gilded Age -- one that just happened to be the home of one of America's greatest and funniest writers and his extraordinary wife and daughters.

The excitement comes in part from the dazzling array of garlands, gifts, grand rooms and glittering table settings, but also from the stories that the Mark Twain House & Museum's seasoned and eloquent guide corps tell at this time of year. The drama and and pathos of American Victorian holiday ritual, and the intimate details of life in the Clemens family, provide a new perspective on the much-visited home where they lived for seventeen Christmases. And there's no extra charge for this cornucopia of delights, other than the standard house tour admission.

There are the children's muffs and coachman's cape spread out in the house's ornate entry hall, fresh from a sleigh ride through Hartford distributing gifts. There are the gifts under the tree in the drawing room: a gold comb, a silver jardiniere, a German children's book translated by Mark Twain himself, and a sack of hickory nuts sent by an Iowa uncle.

There's the schoolroom decorated with stockings, as Clara described. And finally, there's Twain's third-floor billiard room, where he wrote, and where a Santa jacket is mow strewn on the table. All these things have intriguing and compelling stories behind them.

The Mark Twain House is decorated for the holidays though early January. In the spirit of the season, the admission prices for this one-of-a-kind Gilded Age holiday experience remain the same as for the rest of the year: $15 for adults and $9 for children ($13 for seniors). A Servant's Wing Tour may be added for the complete experience at a nominal charge.

The house and museum at 351 Farmington Ave.. Hartford are open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 am.-5:30 pm., and Sunday, noon to 5:30 pm. For more information, call 860-247-0998 or visit www.marktwainhouse.org.

Meet Tracie Thoms at Westport's Young Professional Event

Westport Country Playhouse’s Young Professionals Network will present a post-performance party with actress and vocalist Tracie Thoms following her “Seasons” concert on Friday, Dec. 10 at 8 pm.

Tickets are $30 per person for party and show; $25 each when purchasing two. Reservations: 203-227-5137, ext. 116 or marketing@westportplayhouse.org.

Tracie Thoms will grace the Playhouse stage following her smash hit debut at New York’s Feinstein’s. Throughout her young career, Thoms has had wide-ranging success in film, television and theater. Audiences will recognize her from her starring role as 'Joanne' in Sony's film of the musical Rent, a role which she reprised on Broadway in 2008 and again recently at the Hollywood Bowl under the direction of Neil Patrick Harris. In 2007, she starred in Quentin Tarantino's "Grindhouse: Death Proof,” and was also featured in "The Devil Wears Prada.” Thoms was a regular on the hit CBS series, "Cold Case.”

The Playhouse’s Young Professionals Network creates fun and interactive programs geared to young professionals, ages 21 to 40, featuring cocktail parties and live music, in conjunction with Playhouse performances.

Hearst Media Services is sponsor for the 2010 holiday special events series. In addition to the concert by Tracie Thoms, other December events include “The Nutcracker,” a holiday ballet presented by Ballet Etudes, on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 4 and 5; “The Clowns and Mr. Beckett,” an evening with Bill Irwin and Doug Skinner, on Saturday, Dec. 11; “Season’s Greetings,” a family festivities afternoon, on Sunday, Dec. 12; “The Greatest Gift,” a Script in Hand playreading, on Monday, Dec. 13; and The Broadway Boys, a holiday concert Broadway style, on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 18 and 19.

Shows Ring in the Holidays at Long Wharf

Long Wharf Theatre offers two holiday shows this year.

Steve Solomon returns with My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m Home for the Holidays. His hilarious one-man show will play on the Mainstage from Dec. 21-23 at 8 pm. All tickets are $40 with group discounts available.

When the family arrives home to celebrate the holidays, Steve is thrown together with all of his dysfunctional family members in a riotous celebration of the holiday season.

The smash hit Celebrity Autobiography will run for four performances on Dec. 29 and 30 at 7 pm and 9:30 p.m. All tickets are $40 with group discounts available.

Celebrity Autobiography, created and developed by Emmy Award-nominated writer-performer Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel, recently won the 2009 Drama Desk Award in the category of Unique Theatrical Experience and the 2010 Bistro Awards.

The show features a comedic ensemble performing from the actual memoirs of a wide range of celebrities. The passages run the gamut from the “poetry” of Suzanne Somers to the shocking “romance tips” from Tommy Lee to the most famous Hollywood love triangle in history – Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, and Eddie Fisher. The cast will be announced soon, but previous productions have featured Carole Kane (“Taxi”), Kristen Johnston (“Third Rock from The Sun”, Mario Cantone (“Sex and the City”), Karen Ziemba (Long Wharf Theatre’s 2010 Gala and Sylvia), and Rachel Dratch (“Saturday Night Live”), among many other stars of stage and screen.

This evening of sidesplitting (and true) comedy answers a series of timeless questions. How does Vanna flip her panels? What does Stallone have in his freezer? Why did Burt and Loni topple from the upper tier of their wedding cake? What makes the Jonas Brothers get along? “The show is a bracing tonic for anyone weary of our fame-addled culture. It gives you a chance to indulge in a little celebrity schadenfreude without having to endure the shame of grabbing that issue of In Touch Weekly off the rack at the grocery store,” wrote Charles Isherwood in the New York Times.

For more information about these shows and the 2010-11 Long Wharf Theatre season, visit the new www.longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.

Calling all Writers

There still are openings for this Saturday's Elements of Style: A Novel Writing Workshop from 1-3 at the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown. Email EileenRain@aol.com to reserve a seat. The fee is just $20.

How many times have you found yourself struggling with point of view, limited by that first person narrative perspective, or dizzied by that third person omniscience in which you tend to jump from head to head? What’s more effective, present tense or past tense? When writing dialogue, how natural should it be to everyday speech, and how do you know when your characters talk too much? When is description too much description? In this hands-on workshop, we'll answer these questions and more!

Barnum, Block Party Coming Up in Ivoryton

If you have kids, or you are still a kid at heart, you won’t want to miss Barnum at the Ivoyton Playhouse. The show is the theater's 2010 Family Musical.

Barnum runs Dec. 9 - 19. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $30 for adults, $28 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton.

Also coming up:
Looking for a different way to celebrate Christmas? Then head down to Ivoryton for a “Not Your Traditional Christmas Block Party” on Dec. 4th from 5 to 8 pm. The entire village of Ivoryton will be participating in this Holiday Extravaganza with carol singing, face painting, Santa’s Workshop Holiday Bazaar, culminating with the lighting of the Ivoryton Illuminations at 6pm (over 70,000 lights!) and the arrival of Santa.

Family activities include writing letters to Santa and holiday letters to our soldiers abroad at the Ivoryton Library; visiting with Santa in the Gazebo (photographs can be purchased from The Ivoryton Studio); face painting and musical entertainment at Leo’sGallery; carol singing outside the Playhouse at 5:45pm with the clowns and circus folk from Barnum, artisans with hand crafted gifts at Gather; Santa’s Christmas Workshop and Holiday Bazaar run by Boy Scouts and local churches; Aggie's for free hot dogs and cookie decorating at "Something Special " and finally chili and hot cider at the Ivoryton Tavern & CafĂ© where you can also catch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” to round off this wild and crazy Christmas celebration.

Ivoryton residents are invited to enter their homes in the “Colors of Ivoryton” Christmas Lights competition. Email shanec89@comcast.net for more information.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Theater Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest -- Ivoryton

Solomon Landerman, Daniel Robert Sulivan and Andrea Maulella

It’s a Battle of Wills and Sanity vs. Insanity
By Lauren Yarger
It’s hard to tell just who the sane ones are in Dale Wasserman’s dark comedy One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a look at the goings on inside a mental health ward, playing at Ivoryton.

The latest “inmate” is Randale Patrick McMurphy (Daniel Robert Sullivan), a gambling trouble maker who might be faking being a psychopath to get out of his sentence at a work farm. He immediately begins to challenge ineffectual Dr. Spivey (Keith Eugene Brayne),Nurse Flinn (Jenna Sisson) and the person who’s really in charge of the rule-driven life on the floor, Nurse Ratched (Andrea Maulella).

The rest of the inmates are reluctant to join McMurphy's rebellion at first, but Dale Harding (Neal Mayer), president of the patients’ association, suicide risk Billy Bibbit (Jonathan Fielding), hallucinating Anthony Martini( Nicholas R. Camp) and post traumatic distress sufferer Frank Scanlon (Douglas Sobon) soon are on board. They and two extreme cases -- Ruckly (John Samela), who’s a catatonic Jesus, and Chief Bromden (Solomon Landerman), who is deaf and mute in the ward, but who talks to his father who lost the Native Americans’ lands -- soon are enjoying McMurphy's antics, including a party complete with girls Candy (Bethany Fitgerald) and Sandra (Jenna Sisson, who in a very brief part, has a comedic command of the stage).

A battle of the wills and for the loyalty of the patients ensues between McMurphey and Ratched with tragic consequences. Who’s crazy here -- the guy who recognizes common sense or the rigid rule enforcer? We even have to wonder how stable two aides (played by Lesley Billingslea and Jovan Davis) are when they torment the patients.

Peter Lockyer directs, but fails to bring out the tension of the conflict between McMurphy and Ratched, who seems too overtly cold and uncaring throughout. The play, based on Ken Kesey’s novel, works best when Ratched’s cruel nature is masked behind a no-nonsense exterior. Likewise, McMurphy doesn’t make an adequate transition in emotion when he realizes that his gambling luck has failed and that Ratched holds all the cards.

Daniel Nischan designs a nice set, using privacy screens to frame the action and to serve as displays for video projections (Tiffany Hopkins, design), nicely orchestrated, but unnecessary to enhance the storytelling.

Cuckoo flies over the Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, through Nov. 21. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $38 for adults, $33 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting our website at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Theater Review: The Train Driver -- Long Wharf

Harry Groener and Anthony Chisholm. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
It’s a Dark, Lonely Ride Down to the End of the Track
By Lauren Yarger
The journey down a track to peace isn’t always straight in Athol Fugard’s newest play, The Train Driver, receiving its East Coast premiere at Long Wharf Theater.

Set in South Africa, the play explores the guilt and redemption of Roel Visagie (Harry Groener) as he searches a cemetery for “those with no names” in the hope of discovering the grave of the woman and baby he hit while driving his train. He needs to yell at her for ruining his life. And why did she just walk out in front of the train like that? He needs to put things right and find some peace.

Roel’s relationship with his wife and children has suffered, he’s lost his job and no one ever claimed the victim’s body for funeral. Helping him sort through his emotions and find some closure is Simon Hanabe (Anthony Chisholm), the kind-hearted grave digger who lets Roel sleep in his shack while he searches the graveyard and his soul.
Simon buried the woman and her child, but can’t remember exactly where in the vast, sandy graveyard (nicely created by set designed Eugene Lee and dramatically lighted by designer Christopher Akerlind who recreates the sadness of Roel‘s heart and the shadows haunting him in an almost tangible way).

Roel, oblivious to the danger from gangs and dogs who roam the area at night, rearranges the rubbish and stones Simon uses to mark the graves into crosses to give so many souls “without names” more proper final resting places. Long Wharf’s Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein directs moving performances from both actors.

The play, heavy on Roel’s monologues while Simon listens, tends to be tedious in places (imagine someone talking almost non stop for an hour and a half) and Fugard extends the ending beyond the natural conclusion to force more drama, but overall, The Train Driver is a thought-provoking piece about peace and the stations through which we must pass to reach it. Roel is a good man who wants to do right by the woman and God and we like him and feel for his plight -- all elements of a good story that stays with you.

The Train Driver pulls in at Long Wharf’s Mainstage, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven through Nov. 21. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7 pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 and Saturday matinees at 3. Tickets are $45-$70 with special discounts available. Call 203-787-4282 or visit http://www.longwharf.org/.

Theater Review: A Delicate Balance -- Yale Rep

Kathleen Butler, John Carter, Keira Naughton, and Ellen McLaughlin
in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. Photo © Joan Marcus, 2010.
It’s a Balance with all the Scales Tipped
By Lauren Yarger
Life’s A Delicate Balance thrown out of equilibrium by choices that we and others make, but when too many choices pile on the scale, it tips, leaving few choices left for fixing it.
That’s the crux of Edward Albee’s play -- the one that won him his first Pulitzer-- now playing at Yale Rep.

The theater’s artistic director James Bundy guides the three-hour, two-intermission angst fest which features good performances, but a frustrating plot as characters forced into close living quarters find themselves teetering between sanity and madness.

Edward Hermann plays Tobias, a laid back guy trying to stay that way while dealing with the reality of his loveless marriage, his sister-in-law’s drinking problem, his daughter’s failed fourth marriage and unexpected house guests. His methods of coping involve drinking, staying up all night to find some alone time and -- at least at one time --, engaging in an affair, possibly with sister-in-law Claire (Ellen McLaughlin).

His wife, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) is the self proclaimed “fulcrum” trying to maintain the balance in all this mess, but it’s hard when she has to confront Clare about her drinking, deal with some mentally unbalanced rants from daughter, Julia (Keira Naughton), and entertain uninvited guests all while musing about what a relief it might be to lose her own sanity.

Inserting themselves into this mess are Harry (John Carter) and Edna (Kathleen Butler), life time friends of Tobias and Agnes, who, driven by some unknown and unexplained fear, arrive on the doorstep of their suburban home (lavishly paneled and bookcased by set designer Chien-Yu Peng) asking for a permanent place to stay.

While each of the performances is strong (McLaughlin stands out as the sarcastic, wise-cracking Claire), they fail to tip the scales back from the weight of a contrived and confusing plot and characters that aren’t very likeable to justify a three-hour visit with them. Before it’s done someone has threatened -- either seriously or in veiled conversation -- gunfire, a bomb explosion, the plague and burning bodies and belongings as ways to deal with what they want. Oh, and Claire also plays the accordion and yodels.

This scale needs some recalibration before it will find A Delicate Balance , but you can see the fine performances through Nov. 13 at Yale Rep., 1120 Chapel St. at York Street, New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets range from $10 to $85 and are available at 203-432-1234 or www.yalerep.org.

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