Thursday, May 26, 2011

Quick Hit Review: Gem of the Ocean -- Hartford Stage

Stephen Tyrone Williams and Novella Nelson.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Gem of the Ocean
Hartford Stage
By August Wilson
Directed by Hana S, Sharif

The first, chronologically, in August Wilson's 10-play series about the African-American experience in Pittsburgh, decade-by-decade through the 20th century. Here, in 1904, we meet Aunt Esther (Noelle Nelson), who claims to be hundreds of years old, who was born in slavery, and who is a "soul cleaner." She takes Citizen Barlow (Stephen Tyrone Williams) on a mystical voyage aboard the slave ship Gem of the Ocean, where he meets hs ancestors and comes to gips with a crime he has committed. Meanwhile, Caesar (Ray Anthony Thomas), a Jauvert-type officer of the law, pursues Solly Two Kings (Roger Robinson), aided by Esther, a white peddler, Rutherford Selig (Christopher McHale) and Black Mary (Joniece Abbott-Pratt), Caesar's sister who has fallen for Citizen, and Eli (Ernest Perry, Jr) who loves Esther.

As with all of the plays in this series, Wilson gives us a slice of life, so that we feel as though a special window has been opened so we can observe the events and emotions experienced by members of this family through the years. Nelson gives a wonderful performance, mixing wisdom of the ages with humor and insight. Sharif coaxes strong performances from all, actually. Lighting, by designer Lap Chi Chu is exceptional as images of ancestors past are revealed on Scott Bradley's set and Citizen's voyage on the Gem comes to life.

It feels a little on the long side at almost three hours with a few too many long soliloquies. The physical staging of a special effect to create the ship doesn't quite work.

Gem of the Ocean runs through June 5 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. For tickets, call 860-527-5151.
--Lauren Yarger

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Marsha Mason, Paxton Whitehead Circle Over to Westport Playhouse

Westport Country Playhouse’s “The Circle,” features, from left, seated, Gretchen Hall, Nicholas Martin (director), Marsha Mason, Bryce Pinkham; standing, John Horton, Paxton Whitehead, Christina Rouner, Marc Vietor, James J. O’Neil. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Golden Globe Award winner and Academy Award nominee Marsha Mason and Drama Desk Award winner and Tony Award nominee Paxton Whitehead will head the cast of Westport Country Playhouse’s scintillating comedy of manners, The Circle, written by W. Somerset Maugham and directed by Nicholas Martin, playing June 7 - 25.

Many years ago, Lord Champion-Cheney (Whitehead) was abandoned by his wife, Lady Catherine (Mason), who ran off to Italy with her lover. Bringing matters full circle, his stuffy son Arnold is now involved in a love triangle of his own as his bored wife is smitten with a handsome house guest. “The Circle” explores how history often is destined to repeat itself.

In addition to Mason (films “The Goodbye Girl” and “Cinderella Liberty”) and Whitehead (Broadway’s The Importance of Being Earnest, My Fair Lady and Noises Off), the cast includes Gretchen Hall as Elizabeth; John Horton as Lord Porteous; James J. O’Neilas Butler; Bryce Pinkham as Edward Luton; Christina Rouner as Mrs. Shenstone; and Marc Vietor as Arnold Champion-Cheney.

Director Nicholas Martin previously directed Westport Country Playhouse’s The Substance of Fire and A Cheever Evening. On Broadway, he directed Present Laughter, Butley, Match, Hedda Gabler, The Rehearsal and You Never Can Tell. He is the former artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company.

Westport Country Playhouse’s five-play 2011 season continues with Lips Together, Teeth Apart, a perceptive comedy about people struggling against their limitations, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Mark Lamos, Playhouse artistic director, July 12 – July 30; Suddenly Last Summer, the poetic, sensual and evocative drama, written by Tennessee Williams and directed by David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director, Aug. 23 – Sept. 10; and Twelfth Night, or What You Will, the beguiling comedy/romance, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Lamos, Oct. 11 – Nov. 5.

Subscriptions to all four plays are available for preferred seating and discounts up to 45% off single ticket pricing. Students and educators are eligible for 50% discounts. All Friday evening performances are $25 for patrons aged 35 and under. Groups of 10 or more save up to 30%. For group sales information call 203-227-5137, x120.

For more information or tickets, call the box office at 203-227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets are available online at

Sister Strikes Again at Long Wharf

Sister returns to Long Wharf Theatre in a new show, Sister Strikes Again!: Late Nite Catechism 2, by Maripat Donovan, produced by Entertainment Events.

The show will run from July 13 through Aug. 12 on Stage II. The performance schedule is Wednesdays through Sundays at 8 pm and Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $30.

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the classroom, Sister is back with none-stop laughs. With the blessings of the archdiocese, Sister has assembled banners, filmstrips, mimeographed handouts, historical facts, and hysterical insights as she conducts her class in an overview of Heaven and Hell, comparing them to a catholic version of Chutes and Ladders. Sister also offers her personal list of sins for the new millennium. (In case you were wondering, tattoos, body-piercings, and botox injections are high on her list.) With all the wit, wisdom, and wackiness of the original, Sister Strikes Again! is bound to bring back former students and make millions of new converts.

Nonie Newton-Breen, the star of Long Wharf Theatre’s previous runs of Late Nite Catechism, will reprise her performance as Sister. Newton-Breen got her start in show business performing at Second City in Chicago. Her long career includes work on stage and television, in addition to an Emmy Award for her writing and performing on the PBS special “Oh, Art!” She performs five shows in the successful Late Nite Catechism franchise, having recently debuted Sister’s Easter Catechism: Will My Bunny Go To Heaven? in Detroit earlier this year.

This is Newton-Breen’s fourth appearance as Sister at Long Wharf Theatre. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to or call 203-787-4282.

Sternhagen, Thomas, McNenny have Gurney Script in Hand

As a special 80th anniversary event for Westport Country Playhouse, noted actors Kathleen McNenny, Frances Sternhagen and Richard Thomas will star in a Script in Hand reading of A. R. Gurney’s delightfully witty game of cat and mouse, The Golden Age on Monday, June 20 at 7 pm.

Director is John Tillinger. Tickets to the one-night-only reading are $15. Tickets to the reading and a post-performance reception to meet the cast, playwright and director are $80 ($15 for reading; $65 donation to support the 80th Anniversary Fund).

For more information or tickets, call the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport.

Race Gets a Little Complicated in Mamet's Play Coming to TheaterWorks

When a rich white man is accused of raping a younger African-American woman, he looks to a multicultural law firm for his defense. But even as his attorneys - one of them white, another black - begin to strategize, they must confront their own biases and assumptions about race relations in America n David Mamet’s Race.

Tazewell Thompson, who staged TheaterWorks’ celebrated productions of Broke-ology, God of Carnage, and A Steady Rain, returns to direct this run June 3 through July 10 at City Arts on Pearl, 233 Pearl St., Hartford

The play, the fourth in the company’s 25th anniversary season, features Ward Duffy, Taneisha Duggan, Avery Glymph and Jack Koenig.

For tickets call 860-527-7838.

16th Annual Dwight/Edge Project Pairs Middle Schoolers with Yale Mentors

Yale Repertory Theatre and Yale School of Drama announce the 16th annual Dwight/Edgewood Project (D/EP). This annual after-school initiative pairs eight local middle-school students with Yale School of Drama mentors, designers, and directors. The students spend the month of June learning about theatre and writing original plays. The program culminates in performances of the students’ work at New Haven’s Off-Broadway Theater.

Eight original plays, written by the young playwrights and designed, produced, and performed by Yale School of Drama students, will be presented over two evenings. Performance dates are Friday, June 24th and Saturday, June 25th at 7:00PM. New Haven’s Off-Broadway Theater is located at 41 Broadway. Admission is free and open to the public. Seating is available on a first come, first served basis.

D/EP 2011 will include 8 local students from Augusta Lewis Troup School, who were chosen by Lighthouse Resource Teacher Judith Goodrich, based on their interest in writing and storytelling. This year’s playwrights are Zamora Alan (6th grade), Noah Brown (7th grade), Chienye Emenyonu (6th grade), Amber Green (6th grade), DiJhon McCoy (6th grade), Joshua Ruiz (7th grade), Ja’Leah Swift (6th grade), and Audrey Young (6th grade).

The staff of the Dwight/Edgewood Project 2011 includes Jorge J. Rodríguez (Producing Director), Lico Whitfield (General Manager and Yale Presidential Fellow), Ben Fainstein and Brad Tuggle (Directors), Nikki Delhomme (Scenic Designer), Rebecca Welles (Costume Designer), Tom Delgado (YSD ’09, Lighting Designer), Keri Klick (Sound Designer), Jennifer Lagundino (Production Stage Manager), and Hsiao-Ya Chen (Technical Director). Mentors include Monique Barbee, Will Cobbs (Yale Presidential Fellow), Tanya Dean, Rob Grant, Stéphanie Hayes, Sheria Irving, Brian Valencia, and Jon Wemette.

Dipika Guha, YSD ’09 and former D/EP mentor ’10, and Michael Walkup, YSD ’08 and former D/EP director ’06-’07 and Artistic Coordinator ’08, will join the company as this year’s Teaching Artists.

The Dwight/Edgewood Project 2011 is made possible in part by Yale Repertory Theatre/Yale School of Drama, Ms. Esme Usdan, The Lucille Lortel Foundation, the Jane Marcher Foundation, Yale University Office of New Haven and State Affairs, and individual donors.

West Side Story Rumbles into the Bushnell May 24-29

Kyle Harris and Ali Ewoldt in West Side Story at The Bushnell Photo by Joan Marcus.

West Side Story, with its classic music, dance and story of a love that defies all odds comes to Hartford next week with a stop of the national tour at The Bushnell Center for the Perofming Arts May 24-29.

Tony Award-winning librettist Arthur Laurents’ Broadway direction was recreated for the tour by David Saint, the Associate Director on Broadway. The original Jerome Robbins choreography is reproduced by Tony Award-nominee Joey McKneely (The Boy from Oz, The Life).

The cast stars Kyle Harris as Tony, Ali Ewoldt as Maria, Michelle Aravena as Anita, Joseph J. Simeone as Riff and German Santiago as Bernardo. Also featured are Mike Boland as Krupke, Ryan Christopher Chotto as A-rab, Stephen DeRosa as Glad Hand, Drew Foster as Action, Alexandra Frohlinger as Anybodys, Jay Garcia as Chino, Grant Gustin as Baby John, Nathan Keen as Big Deal, Christopher Patrick Mullen as Schrank, John O’Creagh as Doc, Kyle Robinson as Diesel, Cary Tedder as Snowboy, along with Karolina Blonski, Alicia Charles, Lauryn Ciardullo, Beth Crandall, Dean Andre de Luna, Ted Ely, Lori Ann Ferreri, Ryan Ghysels, Tim Hausmann, Thayne Jasperson, Déa Julien, Kristen Paulicelli, Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva, Alexandra Blake Redelico, Michael Scirrotto, Jeffrey C. Sousa, Dani Spieler, Jessica Swesey, Kathryn Lin Terza and Kirstin Tucker.

The new Broadway cast album of WEST SIDE STORY won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album on January 31, 2010. The Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim score is considered to be one of Broadway’s finest and features such classics of the American musical theatre as “Something’s Coming,” “Tonight,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere.”

Ticket prices begin at $17 and are on sale at the box office,166 Capitol Ave. online at or by calling 860 987-5900. Discounts for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (860) 987-5959.

Guys & Dolls Opens Nutmeg Series

Sky Masterson (Ken Clark)serenades Sarah Brown (Sarah Schenkkan) in Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Summer Nutmeg Series production of the Broadway classic Guys and Dolls playing in the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre June 2 – 12, 2011. For tickets and information call 860-486-4226 and visit  Photo by David Ciano.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Theater Review: My One and Only -- Goodspeed

Tony Yazbeck and Alde Lewis, Jr. Photo by Diane Sobolewski
A ’S Wonderful Tap Dancing Extravaganza
By Lauren Yarger
If you’re wondering what caused that wake in the Connecticut River near East Haddam, it probably was the sound wave from the thunderous tapping feet at the Goodspeed Opera House bringing down the house in the extravaganza My One and Only starring Tony Yazbeck.

Ray Roderick directs one show-stopping number after another choreographed by Kelli Barclay and framed by James Youmans’ innovative and eye-popping sets enhanced by projections (Michael Clark, design). Their umbrellas-turned-into-stunt-airplane is a crowd pleaser. Elegant, sparkly 1920s-era costumes (Robin L. McGee, design) complete the ’S Wonderful ambience for the George and Ira Gershwin musical.

Yazbeck stars as Billy Bick Chandler, a flying circus pilot who hopes to be the first to fly solo to Paris, aided by his wisecracking mechanic Mickey (Kristen Wyatt, who shows an alacrity for physical humor and comedic timing). A romance with Edythe Herbert (Gabrielle Ruiz), star of Esther Williams-like movies following her swim of the English channel, is on the horizon, however, if they can outwit her manager and director, Prince Nicolai (Kris Lewin), who is blackmailing his film and love protégée with some compromising photographs.

Offering some advice -- amidst some tap dance challenges -- is Mr. Magix (Alde Lewis, Jr.). The duet’s “My One and Only” is a finger-snapping, toe tapping, hum-along delight. And if that isn’t enough, the Reverend J.D Montgomery (an engaging Trent Armand Kendall) lends a hand too, with a little help from his vocal backups, the New Rhythms (Vasthy E. Mompoint, Victor J. Wisehart and Richard Riaz Yoder). The book is by Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer.

Throw out a few out-of-date jokes about women and some scanty beauty pageant costumes and you’ve got one fun musical here. A scene where two castaways lie on the beach under a palm tree in front of a blue-ribboned scrim of an ocean while clouds float by is typical of the feel-good musical that Goodspeed does so well. And praise of this production would be incomplete without a special nod to sound designer Jay Hilton who effectively mixes vocals with individual taps. The dancing, though, puts this one over the top and confirms that being a theater critic is nice work if you can get it.

My One and Only runs at Goodspeed, 6 Main Street, East Haddam, through June 25. Tickets are $28-$72 and are available by calling 860-873-8668 or by visiting

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Darko Tresnjak Succeeds Michael Wilson at Hartford Stage July 1

Darko Tresnjak
Darko Tresnjak will succeed Michael Wilson as artistic director of Hartford Stage on July 1, 2011.

Tresnjak was the artistic director of the Old Globe Shakespeare Festival in San Diego from 2004 to 2009. His directing credits at the Old Globe include Cyrano de Bergerac, Coriolanus, The Women, The Pleasure of His Company, All’s Well That Ends Well, Bell, Book and Candle, Hamlet, Titus Andronicus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Winter’s Tale, A Comedy of Errors, Antony and Cleopatra, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Pericles.

He received four awards from the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle: for outstanding direction of Cyrano de Bergerac, The Winter’s Tale, and Pericles and for Excellence in Artistic Direction.

Tresnjak is currently directing and designing the set for Titus Andronicus at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada. His acclaimed production of The Merchant of Venice, featuring F. Murray Abraham as Shylock, just completed a national tour. The production originated in 2007 at Theatre for a New Audience and transferred to the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of their Complete Works Festival.

Tresnjak’s directing career began at the Williamstown Theatre Festival where over eight seasons he directed The Skin of Our Teeth, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Love of Three Oranges, Princess Turandot, The Blue Demon, The Winter’s Tale, Moving Picture, and Under Milk Wood. He has also directed at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, Theatre for a New Audience, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Vineyard Theatre Company, and Blue Light Theater Company. From 2002-2004 he was Director in Residence at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company where his productions included What the Butler Saw, Heartbreak House, and Amphitryon.

Tresnjak recently directed Der Zwerg, Der Zerbrochene Krug, and Die Vögel for Los Angeles Opera, the inaugural productions of their acclaimed Recovered Voices cycle. The productions were released last fall on DVD/Blu-Ray by Arthaus Musik. He has also directed at Opera Theater of Saint Louis, Florida Grand Opera, Sarasota Opera, and Virginia Opera.

Connecticut audiences will know Tresnjak’s work from Goodspeed Musicals where he directed Carnival, Amour, and A Little Night Music; Long Wharf Theatre where he directed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; and Westport Country Playhouse where he directed Hay Fever and Princess Turandot.

Tresnjak grew up in Yugoslavia, the United States and Poland. He was educated at Swarthmore College and Columbia University and became an American citizen shortly after graduation. Between college and graduate school, he studied at the Martha Graham School, performed with numerous Philadelphia dance and theatre companies, and toured across the United States and Japan with Mum Puppettheatre.

He is the recipient of grants from Theatre Communications Group, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Alan Schneider Award for Directing Excellenceas the Tony Award-winning theatre's new Artistic Director, succeeding Michael Wilson.  He will work in partnership with Hartford Stage Managing Director Michael Stotts.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Upcoming Mixed Bag of Events

Don't miss these interesting events coming up in Connecticut:

  • Triple Feature At The Kate! Wednesday, May 11 Featuring: 4  and 9 pm "Plagues & Pleasures On The Salton Sea;" 7 pm "Brave New West" (back special by request). The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center is located at 300 Main St., Old Saybrook. For tickets: call The Kate Box Office at 877-503-1286 or purchase online:
Save The Dates! June 23-26 Old Saybrook Film Festival

  • The Midtown Men will display their dazzling 1960s-era musical artistry as the headliners in Long Wharf Theatre’s 2011 Gala. The Gala will take place Friday, June 3 at 6 pm. Tickets to the entire event, which includes dinner, begin at $250. Show only tickets are $100. The Midtown Men – four stars from the original cast of Jersey Boys – will headline the event. They took Broadway by storm in one of the biggest hits of all time. Now they’re together again, taking their sensational sound on the road. Audiences across the country are raving about this one of a kind concert experience celebrating the music of the 1960s with classic songs by the Beatles, Beach Boys, Motown, The Four Seasons and more. Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer, honed their craft portraying the Four Seasons on Broadway and have now created this unique and exciting homage to the 1960s.
Long Wharf Theatre will also recognize board member Louise Endel’s 90th birthday at the event. Louise, a longtime, devoted Long Wharf Theatre trustee, has been a member of 56 community boards and currently serves on at least six boards, including Long Wharf Theatre, The Elm Shakespeare Company, LEAP (Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership), Friends of the New Haven Free Public Library, and the advisory board of All Our Kin. She was Vice President of the Urban League for many years.

For more information about the Gala or to buy tickets, call 203-787-4282 or visit For more information about the Midtown Men, visit

  • HSO POPS! SERIES Richard Rodgers Revue featuring The Hartt School
    Saturday, May 14 at 8 pm, Mortensen Hall, The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts

    Program: Richard Rodgers’ greatest Broadway hits, including songs from State Fair, South Pacific, Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, Carousel, Pal Joey, On Your Toes, The Boys from Syracuse, Me and Juliet, and Cinderella.

    Tickets range from $30 to $62. Student tickets are $10. $20 tickets are available for patrons age 40 and under. Prices do not include applicable fees. To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact HSO ticket services at 860-244-2999 or visit
  • The CT Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra together with the CT Lyric Opera (CLO) is pleased to announce the final performance of its 2010-2011 performance season, one of Giacomo Puccini’s greatest works, Tosca. Combining sumptuous music and sensational action, Tosca has thrilled audiences worldwide for more than a century and will be performed at the Palace Theater in Waterbury on Friday, May 20, at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased at 203-346-2000, online at or at the Palace Theater Box Office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury.
  • MTC School of Performing Arts presents Disney's "101 Dalmatians: Junior Edition" in Westport. Friday, May 13 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, May 14 at 2 pm at Long Lots School, 13 Hyde Lane in Westport. Tickets are $12-$18, and reservations are suggested. For tickets, call Music Theatre of Connecticut at 203.454.3883 or visit
  • Yale Repertory Theatre and Yale School of Drama announce the 16th annual Dwight/Edgewood Project (D/EP). This annual after-school initiative pairs eight local middle-school students with Yale School of Drama mentors, designers, and directors. The students spend the month of June learning about theatre and writing original plays. The program culminates in performances of the students’ work at New Haven’s Off-Broadway Theater.
Eight original plays, written by the young playwrights and designed, produced, and performed by Yale School of Drama students, will be presented over two evenings. Performance dates are Friday, June 24 and Saturday, June 25 at 7 pm. New Haven’s Off-Broadway Theater is located at 41 Broadway. Admission is free and open to the public. Seating is available on a first come, first served basis.

Connecticut Free Shakespeare

CT Press Club Honors Eyewitness News Founder Al Primo at Awards Banquet

"Eyewitness News" founder Al Primo will be honored by the Connecticut Press Club with the 2011 Mark Twain Award of Excellence tonight at its annual awards banquet tonight in Norwalk.

Forbes described Primo as the "TV news director who changed television forever" and The Daily News lauded him as the man "who almost single-handedly changed the face of broadcast journalism." Primo is recognized worldwide as the creator and author of the Eyewitness News format. He is an independent producer of specials and news series, including Teen Kids News and the author of Eyewitness Newsman.

The Connecticut Press Club Awards Banquet will also honor winners of its annual contest presenting 91 awards in 13 categories. All entries were judged by the Pennsylvania Press Club.

Lauren Yarger, editor of Connecticut Arts Connection, will receive a first-place award for editing this site, which offers news, reviews and features about professional theater and arts in the state. She is a member of of the CT Critics Circle and the National Book Critics Association.

Yarger, a resident of Granby,  also will receive a second-place award for criticism for the web for her review of the Broadway show Driving Miss Daisy, posted at A regular reviewer of Broadway and New York theater, Yarger is a member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle and the American Theater Critics Association.

The banquet, open to the public, will be held at the Norwalk Shore and Country Club, Gregory Boulevard, at 6 pm. A three-course dinner is included in the $50 admission price. To ask about walk-in status or more information, call 203-968-8600 or e-mail

Friday, May 6, 2011

Quick Hit Theater Review: Italian American Reconciliation -- Long Wharf

Lisa Birnbaum and John Procaccino. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Italian American Reconciliation
Long Wharf Theatre
By John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Eric Ting

Hughey Buonfigliano (Mike Crane) breaks up with the perfect girl, Teresa (Stephanie Dimaggio), to try to reconcile with his ex-wife, Janice (Lisa Birnbaum) even though she shot his dog and tried to kill him before their mariiage finally ended. He just has to get her back, though, and asks longtime pal Aldo Scalicki (John Procaccino) to help by talking the idea up to the hostile Teresa who used to enjoy playing games where Aldo would die when they were kids. Aldo doesn't think a reconciliation would be in the best interest of his friend, so he comes up with a plan of his own: to seduce Janice and turn her attention away from Hughey so he will be free to settle down with the terrific Teresa. Giving advice and some comic relief is Aunt May (Socorro Santiago).

Scott Bradey's set festively drapes the thrust in the aftermath of a club wedding reception. White lights and gossamer frame the room set with tables and leftover dinnerware and wedding cake where Aldo sips wine and chats up the audience before the formal play begins. Santiago is quite funny as the nononsense waitress caught in the middle of the romantic goings-on and Burnbaum gives some humor and depth to the hurting woman who reacts by hurting others. A send-up of Nessun Dorma from Tourandot is nicely done by the creative designers (Linda Cho, costumes; Russell Champa, lighting, Sarah Pickett, sound).

The first act is incredibly slow moving. The play reads like a rough draft and isn't up to the level we expect from Shanley, who won the 1987 Academy Award for his screenplay of "Moonstruck" and the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony for Doubt. That first act, in particular, before Janice arrives on the scene, needs some editing. Some of the staging also is confusing-- Teresa, for example, climbs a ladder where we're supposed to believe she's in her bedroom, talking to Aldo from the window, but all the while she is taking down wedding decorations in the hall. Aldo walks back and forth and just about wears a rut in the dance floor. for no apparent reason other than to put some action in the stagnant scene. We finally get a glimpse of Shanley's real ability when Janice reveals some of the motivation behind her actions, but it's too long in coming.

More information:
Long Wharf Theatre, through its production of Italian American Reconciliation, wants to celebrate New Haven’s rich cultural history as a nexus of the Italian American experience by hearing stories and collecting photos of that experience for display on the set and the lobby during the run of the show. Hi-res family photos can be e-mailed to

The show wraps up the season with a run through May 22 at Long Wharf, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets are $40-$70 and are available at 203-787-4282 or at

Theater Review: Beyond Therapy -- Westport

Nicole Lowrance and Jeremy Peter Johnson
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Laughter Can Be Therapeutic
By Lauren Yarger
A date from hell turns into a relationship that’s even less satisfying – but very funny – in Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy opening the 80th season at Westport Country Playhouse.

Bruce (Jeremy Peter Johnson) and Prudence (Nicole Lowrance) meet after answering each other’s personal ads. Bruce starts by complimenting Prudence’s breasts and things go downhill from there, especially when Bruce mentions that he has a male lover named Bob (Stephen Wallem) living over the garage. It’s the ‘80s, after all. Shouldn’t she be cool with that and the fact that Bruce prides himself on being able to cry to show his emotions? The waiter, Andrew (Nick Genlfuss), never comes to take their order to relieve some of the awkward tension.

The date is so bad that it drives each to their psychiatrists, who offer little help. Stuart (Trent Davidson) is more interested in trying to convince Prudence to resume their affair while Charlotte (Kathleen McNenny) seems a prime candidate for some therapy herself when she conducts Bruce’s session with a stuffed Snoopy dog, barking for encouragement.

Charlotte suggests Bruce try again with a rewrite of the personal ad, which brings Prudence to the restaurant for a second encounter with her date from hell. This convinces the couple that they should explore a relationship despite the apparent obstacles.

Playhouse associate artistic director David Kennedy directs great performances across the board and keeps the pace quick to support Durang’s over-the-top sense of humor. The 90-minute performance with no intermission breezes by with a lot of laughter and McNenny is particularly delightful as the whacky Charlotte. The sets are by Lee Savage and costumes are by Jennifer Caprio.

Beyond Therapy runs through May 14 at the Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets are available by calling 203- 227-4177, toll-free 1-888-927-7529, or by visiting

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kristen Phillips Will Depart HSO

Kristen Phillips, president and CEO of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, announced Tuesday that she has accepted a position as "senior vice president, head of insurance and retirement solutions marketing and strategy" with Lincoln Financial Group at its Greater Philadelphia headquarters.

Phillips will be leaving the HSO at the end of its fiscal year on May 31. She joined the HSO as executive director in April of 2008 from Lincoln Financial Group, where she held the position of Vice President, Individual Markets in the Hartford office. She succeeded Charles Owens. who left to head the Rochester Philharmonic. Prior to joining the HSO, Phillips was a member of its Board of Directors.

“This has been a challenging and unpredictable three years through which to navigate but thanks to the commitment and dedication of our board, musicians, and staff, the HSO is poised for a bright future,” said Phillips. “Greater Hartford is lucky to have a cultural asset like the Hartford Symphony and I'm optimistic that the community will continue to provide vital support as we welcome new Music Director Carolyn Kuan to the podium this fall.”

“Kristen has led the Hartford Symphony through a very significant period in our 67-year history, which included remarkable gains in ticket sales and donations, establishing excellent rapport between the HSO and the community, and completing the search process and selection of Carolyn Kuan as our new music director,” said David Roth, chairman of the Board of Directors.

The Board will continue oversight of HSO’s operations and will immediately begin the search process for a new President and CEO, Roth added.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

100 Years of Theater Echo at Ivoryton Playhouse

Jacqueline Hubbard
The Ivoryton Playhouse is celebrating 100 years of laughter, drama, music, romance and applause -- a history that includes 2,436 stage kisses, 764 love stories, 522 villains, the stage debut of Katharine Hepburn and appearances by America’s greatest stars, and that today builds on that singular heritage.
At a May 21 red-carpet benefit, guests will see a show that illustrates the central role that the theater has played over a century -- scenes from productions that starred Helen Hays, Tallulah Bankhead, Betty Grable, Marlon Brando, Groucho Marx, Paul Robeson, Ezio Pinza, Don Ameche, and many other stage legends, all of whom were brought to Ivoryton by Milton Stiefel, who had the vision to create what became America’s most enduring summer theater, now a year-round stage.

Building on that rich heritage is crucial to Jacqueline Hubbard, who has been the Playhouse’s executive and artistic director for 12 years.

“Like everything else in this world, the theatre has seen a lot of changes over the past 100 years.]," she said. "Today, with so much of our lives spent in virtual communication, the theater plays an even more vital role; especially here in Ivoryton where the history and the intimacy of the space make the experience of coming to this theater so unique. We are proud to preserve this rich theatrical heritage and thrilled to be able to bring new and exciting performers and performances to this area.”

Indeed, the remainder of the 2011 season shows the kind of theatrical diversity and relevance that Stiefel had in mind. From Neil Simon’s perennial favorite, the romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park, to the hilarity of Mel Brooks with the Broadway hit The Producers, followed by a true American classic Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash - featuring members of the Broadway cast. The fall continues the season with the pop sensation The Marvelous Wonderettes – all your favorite songs of the '50s and '60s and the spine chilling The Woman in Black.

On Sunday, May 22, Ivoryton will continue the celebrations with a town-wide event including free family theater in the Playhouse, live music on the green and horse and bugg rides. The Ivoryton Tavern is turning into a 1950’s soda fountain for the day; Six Summit Gallery will offer mask making for children; storytelling at the Ivoryton Library and Aggies Restaurant will feature a tag sale and cupcake decorating. 

Built in 1911 as a recreation hall for the workers of the Comstock-Cheney factory, the Ivoryton Playhouse has been an important part of Connecticut’s cultural landscape for every one of its 100 years. Traveling vaudeville shows and silent movies entertained residents of the shoreline area in its early years.
With his New York and Hollywood connections, Stiefel brought the stars to Ivoryton. Established actors like Henry Hull and Norma Terris signed on to perform.  The reputation of the Playhouse grew nationally and Paramount Pictures produced a short film showing its complete operation.

In recent years the theater has continued to win critical praise: Connecticut Critic Circle Awards and, most recently, a Shoreline Arts Alliance Bravo award in 2010 for Best Theatre and the 2010 Shoreline Times Readers Poll Best Theatre award.   
Milton Stiefel and Katharine Hepburn
For more information on the benefit, the 2011 season, and all things Ivoryton Playhouse, please call 860-767-9520 or visit the newly designed website at

The upcoming schedule:
Barefoot in the Park
June 8 – 26

The Producers
July 6 – 31

Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash
Aug. 10 – Sept. 4

The Marvelous Wonderettes
Sept. 28 – Oct. 16

The Woman in Black
Nov. 2 – 20

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

William Berloni to Receive Special Tony Award

William Berloni of Higganum will receive a special Tony Award honoring Excellence in the Theatre on June 12.

For a feature on Bill and his family's connection with the musical Annie, click here.

For a listing of all 2011 Tony Award nominations, click here.

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