Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quick Hit Theater Review: Molly Sweeney -- Long Wharf

 Jonathan Hogan, Simone Kirby and Ciarán O'Reilly. Photo T. Charles Erickson
Molly Sweeney
By Brian Friel
Directed by Charlotte Moore
The Irish Repertory Theatre Production
at Long Wharf Theatre

Molly Sweeney (Simone Kirby) has been blind since she was a baby, but her husband, Frank (Ciaran O'Reilly), takes her on his latest cause du jour and convinces Mr. Rice (Jonathan Hogan) to consider her for surgery that could restore her sight. Molly, who is quite content living in the world seen through her other senses agrees to please Frank. Rice think he may have been handed an opportunity to redeem the career and reputation he lost when he suffered a breakdown. Each has a motive for the surgery, but is gaining sight really the best thing for Molly, now more than 40 years old?

Very good performances. Kirby makes her character's sightless world very vivid to us. O'Reilly infuses the more serious script with some humor and Hogan is a perfect foil. Particularly nice is James Morgan's set, split into three areas backdropped by windows where each of the characters stays, not really interacting with the others, as they tell their versions of the story.

The soliloquies get a bit tedious.

Other information:
The production runs on Long Wharf's Stage II, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven,  through Oct. 16. For tickets: or call 203-787-4282.

Quick Hit Theater Review: Traces -- The Bushnell

Cast members perform. Photo by Michael Meseke
Directed and Choreographed by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
7 Fingers Productions
at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Hartford

Think Cirque de Soleil without the costumes and modified circus acts with an urban theme.  The show, produced by 7 Fingers (and apparently performed for Prince William and Kate as part of Canada Day)  is touring this show and recently opened a production Off-Broadway at Union Square.

Five men and a woman perform various balancing and tumbling feats to a modern international-sounding music track with some modern dance thrown in for style. The story, told through the movement, and with very little spoken words, apparently revolves around a group of friends, wondering what trace of them will be left when they are gone, leave their mark in a rundown warehouse through acrobatics, music and dance ( note: I got that from the press release, not really from the performance itself).

The young performers (Antoine Auger, Francisco Cruz, Devin Henderson, Camille Legris, Sen Lin, Genevieve Morin and Tristan Nielsen) are skilled and bring nice personalities to their stunts, which range from tumbling through Chinese hoops, launching themselves from a teeter board, rolling around on a Cyr wheel and flying on ropes to a truly spectacular number which has them walking in seemingly gravity-defying ability up and down two vertical poles. It's an entertaining 90 minutes.ter board

The show gets off to a slow start. There's a video bit showing people walking in the lobby that doesn't really work. There are some awkward pauses and the "story" is somewhat disjointed.

More information:
The show runs in the Belding Theater through Oct. 9. Tickets are available online at or by calling 860-987-5900.

Theater Review: Three Sisters -- Yale Rep

Three Sisters: Natalia Payne, Heather Wood, and Wendy Rich Stetson; Keith Reddin in background.
Photo © Joan Marcus, 2011.
Times Gone By Might Just Be the Present
By Lauren Yarger
Just like the Three Sisters who find their way of life fading away, so many versions of Anton Chekhov's play find themselves forgotten in the face of modern theater. Not so, however, with Yale Rep's co-production with Berkeley Rep Theatre, for which playwright Sarah Ruhl finds a memorable balance between the classic and modern audiences in her version based on a literal translation by Elise Thoron with Natalya Paramonova and Kristin Johnsen-Neshati.

Ruhl tells the story, but focuses on emotions and humor that transcend the decades from when the play first was produced at the turn of the century.

In late 19th-century Russia, the three sisters, Olga (Wendy Rich Stetson), Irina (Heather Wood) and Masha (Natalia Payne) long for Moscow while coping with their boring country life, made bearable only by soldiers stationed at a nearby garrison (whether one has a moustache or not is quite the cause for excitement).

Their brother, Andrei (Alex Moggridge)gambles away their financial security while allowing his unkind, social-status aware wife, Natasha (Emily Kitchens) to take charge of the household when she isn't having an affair with the head of the local council. Masha, stuck in marriage to nerdy teacher  Kulygin (Keith Reddin), has an affair with the married Lt. Col.Vershinin (Bruce McKenzie). Olga finds herself filling in as headmistress at the school where she teaches, and watching out for her old nurse,  Anfisa (Barbara Oliver), whom Natasha regards as useless and threatens to throw out of the house. Irina, the youngest, is the most optimistic about life, but eventually settles and accepts a marriage proposal from Baron Tuzenbach (Thomas Jay Ryan), whom she doesn't love.

Rounding out the soldiers paying visits to the sisters and their elderly friend, Ferapont (Richard Farrell), are Fedotik (Brian Wiles), Solyony (Sam Breslin Wright), Rode (Josiah Bania) and army doctor Chebutkin (James Carpenter), who once loved the girls' mother.

Chekhov's play, in four acts, is a study of the search for meaning in a more modern world. Ruhl manages, in her three-and-a-half-hour version, to make us put ourselves into the sisters shoes and to ask the same questions for ourselves. Though dressed in period costumes (Ilona Somogyi, design), the characters sound modern, using a hefty amount of humor (as well as a lot of taking God's name in vain), to bring to mind situations we are reading about in today's headlines, like whether government should provide welfare for the poor, how difficult it is to find self worth while working an unsatisfying, poor-paying job and whether the elderly should be viewed as valued members of society or tossed out to make way for the young.

Les Waters directs strong performances (Reddin stands out). One of the highlights also is Annie Smart's two-level set that shows the interior of the sisters' home on the stage level, with windows and a beckoning forest outside three windows on the top. A scene with snow falling (Alexander V. Nichols, lighting design), is particularly lovely.

The production runs at the  University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven. Tickets range from $20-$88, are available online at, by phone at (203) 432-1234, and in person at the Yale Rep Box Office (1120 Chapel St., at York Street).  Student, senior, and group rates are also available.

Freedom Theatre of Palestine Will Perform at Yale

The Yale School of Drama will host a special presentation by company members of Palestine’s The Freedom Theatre Oct. 5 from 4:30-6 pm in the Yale Repertory Theatre Lounge (1120 Chapel Street).
The presentation will include a theatrical introduction to the theatre’s work, a video featuring highlights of their productions performed in Palestine, and a discussion of the impact and legacy of founder Juliano Mer-Khamis. The event is free and open to the public. No reservations are required but space is limited.

The Freedom Theatre is the only professional venue for theatre and multimedia in the north of the West Bank in Occupied Palestine. It opened its doors in 2006, founded by Israeli-Palestinian actor and director Juliano Mer-Khamis, along with Jonathan Stanczyk, a Swedish-Israeli.

Mer-Khamis described his work this way: “When we sat to discuss the name of The Freedom Theatre, we said that the values we’re going to implement or teach for or work with are not based on some kind of political agenda—state, party, flag, army—we want to deal with values that are more universal, that are more on the human level.”

Mer-Khamis, teacher and leader of the The Freedom Theatre, was the award winning director ofArna’s Children, which documents his Israeli mother’s work in a children’s theatre camp in Jenin, for which she was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize. The award winning stage and film actor, who had a Palestinian father, ran The Freedom Theatre until he was murdered in April 2011 in front of the theatre. Juliano’s sudden death has been a challenge to the company as they try to rebuild and keep the theatre’s work alive.

This event at Yale School of Drama is one of many upcoming stops at institutions across the country, sponsored by The Public Theater in New York City, New York Theatre Workshop, and the Friends of Jenin Freedom Theatre.

For more information about The Freedom Theatre, including additional stops on its US itinerary,, or contact Josh Perlstein at 860-832-3155

Palace Fall Lineup

The Palace THeater offers a Fall/Winter line-up packed with entertainment options ranging from The Charlie Daniels Band to Clifford The Big Red Dog. Tickets for the first half  of the theater’s  season can be purchased by phone at 203-346-2000, online at or in person at the Box Office at100 East Main St.  Groups of 15 or more qualify for discounted rates and should call the Group Sales hotline at 203-346-2002.

Friday, November 4 – 8pm; Saturday, November 5 – 2pm & 8pm
The moving, funny, and uplifting  2008 Tony Award-winning Best Musical about a community of hard-working immigrants seeking a better life and trying to find their place in their new country. Sponsored byWebster Bank and WTNH/MyTV9.

Let Freedom Ring
Tuesday, November 15 – 9:30am & 11:30am
A spirited musical review that celebrates our nation’s birth and development through a compilation of authentic folk songs and significant historic moments.Sponsored in part by Big Y.

Bobby Vinton: Live in Concert
Saturday, November 12 – 8pm
Over the past 25 years, Bobby Vinton has sold more than 75 million records with an impressive list of hits including “Roses Are Red,” “Blue Velvet,” “Melody of Love,” and “Mr. Lonely.” Sponsored by WWCO AM 1240 and WTNH/MyTV9.

Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and the Connecticut Lyric Opera present Jacques Offenbach’sLes contes d’Hoffmann
Saturday, November 19 – 8pm
Jacques Offenbach’s operatic masterpiece “Tales of Hoffman” takes the real life of German poet, E.T.A. Hoffmann and makes him the title character of three, fanciful stories of failed love.

Saturday, November 26 – 4pm
A sentimental musical romp that recreates the era of uplifting family entertainment in a refreshing, full scale musical tribute to one of America’s all-time favorite performers. Sponsored by Naugatuck Savings Bank, WATR Radio, and WTNH/MyTV9.

Thursday, December 1 – 9:30am & 11:30am
Brimming with music, charm, and humor, this new production based on the book series by James Preller will make audiences laugh and think as they help Jigsaw Jones solve a mystery. Sponsored in part by Big Y.

Waterbury Chorale presents CHRISTMAS AT THE PALACE
Saturday, December 3pm
Returning for a seasonal tradition, the Waterbury Chorale and Waterbury Chorale Festival Orchestra present a program of secular and religious Christmas music.

Woodbury Ballet presentsThe NUTCRACKER
Saturday, December 17 – 4pm
The majesty of Tchaikovsky’s music combines with a talented cast to make Woodbury Ballet’s Annual Nutcracker a treat for audience members of all ages.

The State Ballet Theatre ofRussia presentsSWANLAKE
Wednesday, December 21 – 7:30pm;Thursday, December 22 – 7:30pm
The State Ballet Theatre of Russia brings the world’s most beloved ballet to glorious life.

Monday, December 26 – 7:30pm; Thursday, December 29 – 7:30pm; Friday, December 30 – 7:30pm
Inspired by the spirit of ancientChina, Shen Yun Performing Arts brings to life a bygone culture with a gloriously colorful and exhilarating show of classical Chinese dance and music.

Saturday, January 7 – 1pm & 6pm
In conjunction with the beloved BIG dog’s 50th anniversary, Clifford and his friends embark on an all new musical adventure.Sponsored by Naugatuck Savings Bank.

Friday, January 20 – 8pm; Saturday, January 21 – 2pm & 8pm; Sunday, January 22 – 1pm & 6:30pm
The story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs propels this enchanting tale of love, laughter and friendship, and every night everyone’s having the time of their lives! Sponsored by Bank ofAmerica, Waterbury Hospital, andFOX CT.

Friday, September 23 – 8pm; Saturday, September 24 – 2pm & 8pm; Sunday, September 25 – 1pm
A sweeping romantic story of two couples and how their happiness is threatened by the realities of war.Sponsored by Webster Bank and WTNH/MyTV9.

Icon Entertainment presents GABRIEL IGLESIAS:  Stand Up Revolution - The Tour
Saturday, October 1 – 8:00pm
Gabriel Iglesias has been described as unbelievably witty, electrifying, and a talented performer who has the ability to consistently deliver a uniquely hilarious comedy experience from start to finish.

Saturday, October 8 – 8:00pm
Playing guitar and piano, Browne will perform songs spanning his entire body of work with varying set lists each night.

Ticket to Ride: A Complete Beatles Tribute
Friday, October 14 – 8:00pm
Ticket To Ride captures the true sound of The Beatles with their note-perfect vocal stylings and harmonies, as well as by using only authentic equipment to perform the music as it was originally presented.

The Charlie Daniels Band
Saturday, October 15 - 8:00 pm
Following the release of “The Devil Went Down toGeorgia,” The Charlie Daniels Band became an international phenomenon, garnering multiple Grammy Awards and an induction into the Grand Ole Opry. Sponsored byNaugatuck Savings Bank and WTNH/MyTV9.

Tuesday, October 25 - 7:30 pm
In this rare, uncensored appearance, Tony will share the fascinating, hysterical, and sometimes shocking stories behind his life, books, travels, and hit Travel Channel show.Sponsored by Bank of America.

Premier Concerts presents PIXIES “Doolittle WORLD Tour”
Saturday, October 29 – 8:00pm
Iconic alt/rockers the Pixies, continue the 20th anniversary tour of their beloved 1989 Doolittle album with supporting act West Palm Beach indie rock band Surfer Blood.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

MTC Westport Announces 25th Anniversary Season

Cabaret, Almost Maine, Tony Bennett Music Featured
Music Theatre of Connecticut MainStage has announced its 25th Anniversary MainStage Season.

Opening the season and running Nov. 4-20 is Cabaret, a musical with book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and book by Fred Ebb. Based on John Van Druten's 1951 play "I Am a Camera," which in turn was adapted from Christopher Isherwood's novel "Goodbye to Berlin," this Tony Award-winning classic is one of the most popular and beloved American musicals of all time.

Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, Cabaret focuses on nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and the relationship between  cabaret performer Sally Bowles and American writer Cliff Bradshaw. The original 1966 Broadway production directed by Hal Prince and starring Joel Grey as the Emcee, won several Tony Awards including Best Musical. Following the 1972 film version directed by Bob Fosse and starring Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli, the musical has since been revived on Broadway twice, with the 1998 revival directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and  becoming the third longest-running revival in Broadway musical history.

The second production of the season, running Feb. 3-19, 2012, is Almost, Maine. This award-winning romantic comedy by John Cariani is composed of nine of short plays that explore love and loss in a remote, mythical place called Almost, Maine.

I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett, runs April 20-May 6, 2012. This jazzy new tribute to the man Frank Sinatra called the greatest singer in the world features more than 40 songs recorded by Bennett, including "Because Of You," "Stranger In Paradise," "Top Hat, White Tie And Tails," "The Best Is Yet To Come," "On Green Dolphin Street," "When Will The Bells Ring For Me," "Cold, Cold Heart," "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," "I Wanna Be Around," "The Good Life," "Rags To Riches," and his best-known hit, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco."

MTC MainStage 2010/11 Season performances take place Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8pm and Sundays at 3 pm at MTC MainStage Studio Theatre 246 Post Road East (Colonial Green, Lower Level) in Westport. Season subscriptions, with tickets for all three productions, start at $60. Single tickets for each production are also currently on sale.

For tickets and more information call 203-454-3883 or visit

Marvelous Wonderettes Entertain at Ivoryton

Melissa Robinette, Paige Neal, Danielle Rhodes, Alanna Wilson. Photo by Anne Hudson.
The Ivoryton Playhouse is heading back to the 50’s with its a cotton-candy colored, non-stop pop musical blast from the past The Marvelous Wonderettes featuring all your favorite hits from the 50’s and 60’s!

The Marvelous Wonderettes takes you to the 1958 Springfield High School prom where we meet the Wonderettes - Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy, four girls with hopes and dreams as big as their crinoline skirts and voices to match!

As we learn about their lives and loves, we are treated to the women performing classic '50s and '60s songs as “Lollipop,” “Dream Lover,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Lipstick on Your Collar,” “Rescue Me!,” “Son of a preacher Man”, “It’s My Party,” “It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)” and more.
John DeNicola, Ivoryton’s resident musical director, puts on his director’s hat for this production.“We have had far too much fun with this show” says DeNicola “The music is infectious and the cast is amazing.”

Cast includes Danielle Rhodes who was here last summer in The Buddy Holly Story; the just-married Alanna Wilson who performed here in April in How The Other Half Loves; Paige Neal who was just here in The Producers and Melissa Robinette who will be making her Ivoryton debut. Melissa was the understudy for the original off Broadway production and performed the role of Betty Jean in the Mason Street Warehouse production. The set for this production is designed by Cully Long, costumes by Julia Bowers and lights by Tate R. Burmeister.

The Marvelous Wonderettes opens Sept. 28tand runs thru Oct. 16. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2; evening performances Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 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 (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton.

Casting Set for Ain't Misbehavin' at Long Wharf

Long Wharf Theatre presents the Tony Award-winning musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ on the Mainstage from Oct. 26 through Nov. 20.
The cast is comprised of Eugene Barry-Hill, Doug Eskew, Kecia Lewis-Evans, Cynthia Thomas and Debra Walton, all of whom have previously appeared in productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’. Director Richard Maltby assembles his 1978 Tony Award winning team to return the show to its original cabaret-style luster: co-director/choreographer Arthur Faria, musical director Phillip Hall, John Lee Beatty (sets), Gail Baldoni (costumes), Pat Collins (lights), and Tom Morse (sound). The stage manager is Bonnie Brady.
Tickets range from $40-70 and can be purchased at 203-787-4282 or at

Ain't Misbehavin' goes back in time to 1930s Harlem, the Golden Age of jazz palaces like the Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom and the honky tonk dives on Lenox Avenue, where pulsing swing music played all hours of the day. This funny, rowdy, yet startling beautiful musical brings to life the world of jazz great Fats Waller through songs like "Ain’t Misbehavin’," "Honeysuckle Rose," "The Joint is Jumpin’," "I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," and many other hits.

Monday, September 19, 2011

CT Rep Opens Season with Our Town

David Patrick Kelly stars as the Stage manager in CRT’s production of Our Town
The most produced play of the 20th century, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town by Thornton Wilder meets innovative director Robert Ross Parker of the Obie Award-winning Vampire Cowboys.
The CT Rep  show, running Oct. 6-16 at UConn's Nafe Katter Theater, will feature Obie Award-winning stage, film and television actor David Patrick Kelly in the role of the Stage Manager.  Set in New England at the beginning of the 20th century, it is the allegorical story of “our growing up and our marrying, our living and our dying. Still riveting, relevant, and resonate, the enduring success of this play has been in the magic and beauty of its sheer simplicity and its urgent life-affirming message.

Jacques Lamarre Stirs Up Trouble on Mark Twain, the Playwright

Mark Twain is best known for creating the novels that changed the face of American literature. 
What few know is that Twain also tried his hand at playwriting - repeatedly - though his efforts to become America's William Shakespeare fell, well, a bit flat.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5,  Jacques Lamarre -- an accomplished playwright, screenwriter and Hartford personality who happens to be the museum's communications manager -- explores the author's little-known stage productions.

Broadway producer Mitchell Maxwell, author of the new theater novel "Little Did I Know," also has a cameo in the early-evening event.

The lecture is the third in The Mark Twain House & Museum's popular, free, after-work lecture series, The Trouble Begins at 5:30.

The free event begins at 5 with wine, coffee supplied by The Friends of the Mark Twain House & Museum, and hot hors d'oeuvres supplied courtesy of Hot Tomato's restaurant in Hartford. The lecture -- and the trouble -- begin at 5:30 pm.

During his lifetime, Twain enjoyed one great stage success, the comic melodrama Colonel Sellers. It toured for 12 years and made more money than "The Gilded Age," the novel on which it was based.

This was despite initial reviews such as this one from The New York World: "We see and feel that it is good work straggling and floundering after effects, whereas the effects would grow sequentially and easily out of a good plot."

In 2003, scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin dusted off Twain's long-forgotten, never-produced comedy Is He Dead?, which subsequently debuted on Broadway in 2007, more than a century after it was written.

Of course, visitors to the Mark Twain House hear the tale of his performing "The Prince and the Pauper" in the library, with his daughters and their friends as fellow actors and wife Livy as dramatist and stage manager.

He later described his performance to a New York audience: "I did it as well as a person could who never remembered his part. The children all knew their parts. They did not mind if I did not know mine. ...The words of my part I could supply on the spot."

Lamarre has written the comedy Gray Matters (2010 Midtown International Theater Festival nominee for Outstanding Playwriting), Stool (Top Ten finalist for the NY 15 Minute Play Festival), and the upcoming Jacques Lamarre Has Gone Too Far (November/December at New Britain's Hole in the Wall Theater). He has co-written eight comedy cabaret pieces for drag performer Varla Jean Merman, as well as her feature film "Varla Jean & The Mushroomheads." As an arts marketer, he has worked for Yale Repertory Theatre and Hartford Stage, both Tony Award-winning theatre companies.

Producer and director Maxwell, who will briefly present his new novel "Little Did I Know," is the winner of multiple awards and has been associated with such productions as Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy and David Mamet's Oleanna. He describes "Little Did I Know" as "a novel in the roman a clef tradition that brings to life the glory days of summer stock."

October 12, the series concludes with Mark Twain in a Corset. The house and museum at 351 Farmington Ave. are open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, and Sunday, noon to 5:30.  For more information, call 860-247-0998 or visit

News Briefs

Bernadette Peters will be honored at a star-studded gala tonight at Westport Country Playhouse. Firooz Zahedi photo.

  • The Ivoryton Playhouse will be holding local auditions for the annual holiday show “Home for the Holidays” on Monday, September 26th from 4pm – 8pm at the Rehearsal Studio, 24 Main Street, Centerbrook, CT 06409. Roles are available for 12 adults and 4 children under age 12. One of the children should have some ballet experience. Auditions are by appointment and actors should bring a picture and resume and prepare a short monologue and a song. Show runs from Dec. 8 – 18. For audition appointments, call 860-767-9520.
  • Long Wharf Theater will honor Gordon Edelstein for 10 years as artistic director with an entertaining evening of toasts, roasts, music and production highlights 7:30 pm Monday, Oct. 3. A special cocktail reception with some of the great artists Edelstein has cultivated over his career will begin at 5:30. “Gordon is a man of appetites - for Life, for Love and most of all, for all the beautiful unmanageable paradoxes and ambiguities of the human heart. His trust and faith have empowered me,” said Athol Fugard, an honorary chair who has had new plays at Long Wharf Theatre each of the last three seasons. In addition to Fugard, the honorary event chairs are Jane Alexander, Arvin Brown, Judith Ivey, Eugene Lee, Ming Cho Lee, Donald Margulies, Anna Deavere Smith, Paula Vogel and Sam Waterston. To purchase tickets to the event, contact Kathy Cihi at 203-772-8234. For more information about Long Wharf Theatre’s 2011-12 season call 203-787-4282 or visit
  • Fairfield University presents North American Premiere of Perpetual Peace by Juan Mayorga, award-winning Spanish playwright, Oct. 5-8 at 8 pm at the Wien Experimental Theatre , The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. The play explores the question of whether or not the state’s use of physical coercion and torture is justified in circumstances where the knowledge gained by its use could prevent a terrorist incident. The production of is a collaboration between Fairfield University staff and faculty and the Bethlehem, CT-based Actor’s Nucleus theater company. Tickets are available through the Quick Center Box Office: (203) 254-4010, or toll-free 1-877-ARTS-396. (1-877-278-7396). Tickets can also be purchased online at  1073 North Benson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut. Entrance to the Quick Center is through the Barlow Road gate at 200 Barlow Road. Free, secure parking is available.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Quick Hit Theater Review: The Crucible -- Hartford Stage

Ron Crawford, Michael Laurence, Joseph M. Kornfeld, Kate Forbes, David Barlow. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The Crucible
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Gordon Edelstein

Salem's Puritanical preacher Samuel Parris (Tom Beckett) discovers his daughter Betty (Lilli Jacobs), his niece Abigail (Rachel Mewbron) and some of their friends dancing wildly -- an even naked-- by moonlight in the woods while his slave Tituba (C. Zakiah Barksdale) conjures spirits of the dead. Betty has been acting oddly ever since, in a strange state of sleep when she isn't trying to fly. Parris summons an authority on the devil, Rev. Hale (David Barlow) to examine what might be behind the strange occurrences. Suddenly the townsfolk are throwing accusations of witchcraft at each other. John and Elizabeth Proctor (Michael Laurence and Kate Forbes) find themselves at the center of witch trials, thanks to the testimony of a vegeful Abigail, turned out of the Proctor's home after she seduces John. It's a study of paranoia, mob mentality and how quickly members of society can turn on others.

--Terrific performances with lots of depth from Laurence and Barlow.  Strong performances from the principals all around.
--A shocking and exciting dance-in-the-woods scene from set designer Eugene Lee. If you are wondering whether you need to see another version of The Crucible, this set treatment is the "yes" answer.
-Creepy, mood-enhancing original music and sound design by John Gromada (he really is tops in this field).

--Costumes (Ilona Somogyi) and props that depict a more modern era, maybe the 1920s/'30s instead of the period of the Salem witch trials.
--Edelstein's misplaced anti-George W. Bush statement with the words "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" emblazoned on the wall over the trial. The play, after all, was a reflection of  anti-Communist paranoia, and McCarthyism in the 1953 culture when the very good play was written. A statement by a president going to war 10 years ago after the worst attack on American soil isn't quite a fitting match, whether you're a supporter of the war decision or not. If the idea was to force the link between the witch trial and modern culture, a more accurate statement might have been "If you aren't for Obama you are a racist, or teabagger, or SOB," -- or fill in the blank with any number of hate-filled statements against the right as recently reported in the media. The best approach probably would have been to let the play speak for itself and allow an intelligent audience to draw its own comparisons.

More information:
The Crucible has been extended through Oct. 6. Tickets can be purchased by calling 860-527-5151 or by visiting

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Latest Connecticut Connections

Here's what I missed while on vacation!
  • Shakespeare's final play, The Tempest, will be the final MainStage production of Hartford Stage's 48th season. The selection is the first by Hartford Stage's new Artistic Director, Darko Tresnjak, who partners with Managing Director Mike Stotts to lead the Tony Award-winning theatre. Tresnjak will direct the production, which will run at Hartford Stage May 10 - June 3, 2012; it will be his 21st professional Shakespeare production.
  • Hartford Stage will hold auditions for children of all ethnic backgrounds, ages 6-13 years old, for the Tony Award-winning theatre's 14th annual production of A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story of Christmas.  Children auditioning may not turn 14 years of age until after December 31, 2011.  Rehearsals begin November 11, with performance dates from Tuesday, November 22 through Friday, December 30. When:   Auditions will be on Monday, September 12 and Tuesday, September 13 with callbacks on Wednesday, September 14. Where/How:   Auditions are by appointment only; there are a limited number of appointments available.  To schedule an audition, call 860-520-7103 Monday through Friday between 10 am and 5 pm.   Appointments will not be taken after 5 pm. on Friday, Sept. 9.  Audition location and requirements will be discussed when parents or guardians call to arrange an appointment.
  • Adult and middle school students will have the opportunity to bolster their acting and improvisational abilities with Long Wharf Theatre’s slate of Fall Studio School classes, beginning Sept. 10. For more information about Long Wharf Theatre’s Education program, visit or call Education Program Manager Corey Morrison at 203-772-8262.
  • Nook Farm Book Talk Monday, Sept. 12 at Stowe Center: "Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Reading Revolution: Race, Literacy, Childhood and Fiction, 1851-1911" by Barbara Hochman. Meet the author and get your book signed! Hochman, a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, provides her take on how Stowe's classic work has been read and studied from the pre-Civil War period through the early 20th century. For more information, call 860-522-9258, Ext. 317, or visit
  • The warm sounds of bossa nova, samba and other music of Brazil will resound through the Mark Twain House & Museum's Murasaki Café on Sunday, Sept 18, as the museum's popular series of Sunday Jazz Brunches, presented by Hartford's acclaimed Café Eiko at Japanalia jazz series, launches its fall season. There will be two seatings for the Bossa Nova Jazz Brunch on Sunday, September 18, at 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. The $35 admission includes the performance, full brunch, soft drinks and hot beverages. Alcoholic beverages are available at an additional charge. Reservations are a must, as these brunches sell out quickly. Call 860-280-3130 for reservations.
  • The appearance of Dan Savage, originally scheduled for Sept. 30 in the series "A Pen Warmed Up in Hell" at The Mark Twain House & Museum, has been postponed. A new date for his appearance will be announced in the coming months.
  • A reading of the 2011 winner of the Yale Drama Series New Light Shine by Shannon Murdoch, directed by Jackson Gay, on Monday, Sept.12, at 7:30 pm at the Iseman Theater (1156 Chapel Street).The reading is free and open to the public. Reservations are strongly encouraged. Call 203-436-8957 or
  •  If you’ve ever dreamed of performing with an award-winning professional orchestra, now is your chance. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Carolyn Kuan are inviting all interested singers in the Hartford area to join the HSO for two choral pieces at the close of the “Picnic in the Park” concert on Sunday Sept. 25 at 2 pm in Bushnell Park. Singers who are interested in joining the choir or who have questions about the event should e-mail Grant Meachum, Director of Artistic Operations at
  • Hello! My Baby, Goodspeed’s audience favorite from the 2011 Festival of New Artists, will be the third and final production of the season at The Norma Terris Theater in Chester Nov. 3 - 27. For more information call the Goodspeed Box Office at 860.873.8668 or visit

Ben Vereen Steps Out with the Hartford Symphony

Ben Vereen, star of Pippin, Jesus Christ Superstar, and more, harmonizes with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra Oct. 15 for “Steppin’ Out Live with Ben Vereen.”

Directed by guest conductor David Loeb, this concert will feature music from Vereen’s album Steppin’ Out Live with Ben Vereen. The performance will be held at 8pm in Mortensen Hall at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.

Steppin’ Out Live with Ben Vereen will feature popular songs from Broadway and popular hits from Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., including such favorites as “Defying Gravity,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “Something's Coming” and “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.” In addition to song and dance numbers, this concert will feature Vereen’s well-known, humor, witty personality and heart-warming stories.

Tickets range in price from $20-$67.50. Student tickets are $10. To purchase tickets or for more information, contact HSO ticket services at 860-244-2999 or visit

Friday, September 2, 2011

Theater Review: Suddenly Last Summer -- Westport

Lee Aaron Rosen & Annalee Jefferies - photo by T. Charles Erickson
A Treacherous Jungle Full of Primal Emotion, but Not Rooted in a Lot of Reality
By Lauren Yarger
It’s a jungle out there – and also in a garden where family members who personify immorality and desire grown wild threaten to choke out any root of decency that might be found at a 1930s New Orleans home in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer playing at Westport Country Playhouse.

There in the garden, fabulously designed by Narelle Sissons and brilliantly lighted by Matthew Richards, a gigantic Venus fly trap, a metaphor for the primal destructive forces that killed its owner, Sebastian, is preserved in loving memory by his ailing mother, Mrs. Venable (Annalee Jeffries), who rules her jungle from the throne of a wheel-chair. She threatens to spring a death trap of her own making on niece, Catharine Holly (Liv Rooth), unless the girl changes her shocking eye-witness account of how Sebastian died.
Dependent on the good graces of wealthy Mrs. Venable, Catharine’s mother, Mrs. Holly (Charlotte Maier), and brother, George (Ryan Garbayo), fear they will lose a much-needed inheritance from Sebastian if the will gets tied up in probate. They therefore urge Catharine to change her story when she arrives at the family manse in the company of Sister Felicity (Tina Stafford), a sort of nun/guard from the private mental institution where the poor girl has been imprisoned since Sebastian's death.
With the help of Dr. Cukrowicz (Lee Aaron Rosen), a neurologist in need of funds for a research grant, Mrs. Venable threatens to send Catheaine to his public-run institution where she will be given a lobotomy if she doesn’t stop spreading the reputation-damaging story about her son.

Under truth serum, Catharine reveals the details of just what happened last summer when Sebastian died violently on a beach where they were vacationing. (Period costumes are designed by Ilona Somogyi; Fitz Patton, original music and sound design, provides outdoor noises and a raging rainstorm reminiscent of Hurricane Irene which unofficially postponed Suddenly Last Summer’s opening night from Saturday to Tuesday night).
Under the direction of David Kennedy, the Playhouse’s associate artistic director, Jeffries gives a strong performance as the domineering mother who, after suffering a stroke,is no longer useful to the son with whom she was inappropriately obsessed. Her hatred for Catharine, who replaced her as a procurer of young boys for sex with Sebastian, is palpable. Rooth blooms nicely from the confused girl, afraid to tell the truth, to a hothouse flower with no more inhibitions under the doctor’s drug. Susan Bennett also is noteworthy in the minor role of Mrs. Venable’s beleaguered assistant Miss Foxhill.
Kennedy makes some odd choices, like freezing characters on their way out of a scene to remain onstage during a conversation between others for no apparent reason. Perhaps he is trying to give some texture to Williams’ play, which isn’t one of his best. The doctor’s character is very underdeveloped, for example, and his constant, annoying questions serve only as springboards for a lot of long-winded, lyrical soliloquies which Williams and the actresses playing his messed up women love, but which seldom are used by people in real conversation.
Because the ideas of homosexuality and cannibalism were shocking and taboo when the play premiered in 1958, some of the canopy cloaking the tangle of emotion is impenetrable. The work has been interpreted as everything from a gathering of a bunch of really unpleasant people to self-loathing and angst on the part of the playwright.  
Even with theater goers more enlightened in 2011, we’re still not sure exactly what took place. Why would seeing a woman in a wet, transparent bathing suit entice young boys to have homosexual relations with Sebastian, for instance? What exactly happened to Catherine at the Mardi Gras ball? And could Catherine’s interpretation of Sebastian’s demise be the result of seeing sexual acts she never had witnessed before or didn’t understand? That vine might reach more to reality than cannibalism, the mythological metaphors of which make for good literature, but not necessarily for realistic drama. 
Suddenly Last Summer runs through Sept. 10 at the Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. For tickets and information call 203-227-4177 or visit

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