Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Theater Review: A Doctor in Spite of Himself -- Yale Rep

Steven Epp and Justine Williams in A Doctor in Spite of Himself.
© 2011 Carol Rosegg
Bayes, Epp Return to Yale Rep; Prove Laughter is the Best Medicine
By Lauren Yarger
Steven Epp and Christopher Bayes are definitely the go-to guys if you want 21st-century audiences laughing at centuries-old plays. Epp stars and Bayes directs in the pair's adaptation of Moliere's A Doctor in Spite of Himself, co-produced at Yale Rep with Berkeley Repertory Theatre and they prove that laughter definitely is the best medicine.

Epp and Bayles collaborated last season on their critically acclaimed presentation of Truffaldino's The Servant of Two Masters at Yale Rep. Epp starred, Bayes directed. Both had worked with Tony-Award-winning Theatre de la Lune.

Epp plays woodcutter Sganarelle, forced to assume the identity of a doctor when his wife, Martine (Justine Williams), orchestrates a plan to get back at him for his bad hehavior (the two begin as punch-and-judy puppets in a small theater on stage and cleverly come to life and even step back into the small box with some clever staging by Matt Saunders). She convinces Valere (Jacob Ming Trent) and Lucas (Liam Craig, who also was in Two Masters) that her husband is a miracle-curing doctor who can provide a remedy for their master's daughter, Lucinde (Renata Friedman, who also serves as puppeteer).

Valere and Lucas, coerce Sganarelle to accompany them to the household of their master, Geronte (Allen Gilmore, also a Two Masters alumni), where Lucas' amply endowed wife, Jacqueline (Julie Brisman), serves as wet nurse and soon arouses the woodcutter's desire to "play doctor." He endeavors to cure Lucinde, who has been rendered mute after her father refuses his permission for her love, Leander (Chivas Michael), to court her.

Note: if you happen to have taken a swig of bottled water, you might ant to be sure to swallow it before Lucinde makes her appearance. She's one icky sick girl, frighteningly wild-haired and boot strapped. If you haven't swallowed, you'll spit the water out when you guffaw. Costume designer Kristin Fiebig provides the look as well as a number of bright, crazy-colored costumes that add to the production's humor.

The script, which starts with ushers dancing up and down the aisles, is full of zany modern references to movies, Broadway, TV commercials, pop music and politics. Moliere could only have dreamed that his comedy about the 17th -century medical practice would receive so man laughs in 2011. Briskman is a hoot and in one scene changes persona several times while recounting the progress of Lucinde's treatment. Even a siren passing by the theater got a laugh when Epp ad-libbed that the comedy police were coming to get them. Everyone in the audience smiles all the way through the brisk 90-minute presentation.

If the humor isn't enough to entertain, the cast sings up a storm as well. Aaron Halva composes and music directs a two-man band (Greg C. Powers; Robertson Witmer) who lend accompaniment and sound effects on a myriad of instruments just right of the action on stage. Trent adds some stylish and funny panache to some of the vocal arrangements.

It's tickle-your-funny-bone theater at it's best and it runs through Saturday at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel St, at York Street, New Haven. Tickets range from $28 to $88 and are available at the box office, at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. An audio transcribed performance is available 2 pm Saturday.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Theater Review: I'm Connecticut -- CT Rep

Joyce DeWitt, Harris Doran, Maggie Sulka, Jerry Adler.  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
A Show That Makes Us Feel Glad About Feeling Bad about Being From Connecticut
By Lauren Yarger
Believing that you are where you come from, Marc (Harris Doran) has a big problem. He's from Connecticut, the most boring state in the union. After all, we're nicknamed after a spice we don't grow here, most of the towns sound like the names of stodgy English butlers and the most exciting thing that's ever been said about Hartford is that it's the "insurance capital of the world." Gosh, we don't even have a state song.

So begins the very clever and highly entertaining I'm Connecticut from native son Mike Reiss in its world premiere CT Repertory production at UConn's Harriet S. Jorgensen Theater. Reiss, who has had success in Hollywood writing animated comedies such as "The Simpsons," "The Critic" and the "Ice Age" movies, returns to his roots for his first stage play.

Live action plays out against fantasy (ably directed by Paul Mullins) as Marc tries to succeed in the New York dating scene, while talking to the audience about his insecurities and sharing childhood memories of being one of the only Jews growing up in Simsbury, CT and about his loving, bickering grandparents (Jerry Adler, Joyce DeWitt). Michael Anania and Matt Iacozza's simple and easily-changed set with Allison McGrath and Greg Purnell's projection designs make the transitions seamless.

Meanwhile, more interesting states like Florida (Will Graziano), gay-friendly New Hampshire and Vermont (Ryan Marcone, Adam Scheemann) and Oklahoma (Coles Prince) strut their stuff (costumes design by Sara Ewing) and show why they all are more interesting than Connecticut.

Marc strikes out at "NY Minute" speed dating, where the manager (Darrell Hollens) encourages him to enhance his Connecticut-like personality. He seeks other advice from best friend Kyle (Michael John Improta) and Mark Twain (Harrison Greene), one of the few celebs from Connecticut, who when pressed, admits that despite living here in "a creepy monstrosity of a house that school children have been forced to visit for over a century" he didn't write much about the state and actually is buried in neighboring New York. (If you're not laughing at all that, you haven't lived in Connecticut).

In a twist, Marc falls for transplanted Georgia belle Diane (Maggie Sulka) who is the receptionist at the dating club. He embellishes a story about his grandfather's experiences as a Holocaust survivor to impress her as the two start dating. Things get serious when Diane brings Marc and his grandfather home to meet her mother (also played by an over animated DeWitt) and Marc has to deal with the consequences of trying to be something he's not.

While much of the humor is geared toward natives who will get the Connecticut and New England references, there also are enough solid laughs to keep the play from becoming an extended one-liner. Particularly funny is a Broadway-style ending (Ken Clark, music direction; Posy Knight, choreography) to give Connecticut it's moment in the spotlight.

Take a break from the holiday craziness and enjoy a few moments that will make you proud -- OK, at least uninterestingly contented --  to say I'm Connecticut. Performances are tonight at 8, tomorrow at 2 pm, Dec. 7 and 8 at 7:30 pm; and Dec. 9 and 10 at 8 pm, with an additional matinee at 2 pm on Saturday, Dec. 10. Ticket prices range from $6 to $29. Call 860-486-4226  or visit www.crt.uconn.edu.

Quick Hit Theater Review: Krapp's Last Tape -- Long Wharf

Brian Dennehy. Photo: T. Charles Erickson 
Krapp's Last Tape
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Jennifer Tarver

Krapp (Brian Dennehy) looks back over his life with the help of some tape recordings he made in the past, particularly one made on his 39th birthday, which launches some questions in the present like: has he missed his chance for happiness?; where has the time gone?: and is the banana-obsessed old man who delights in saying the word "spool" really the sum of what he was supposed to have become? Are any of us?

It's always a pleasure to see Dennehy on stage, and Krapp is no exception. Especially interesting was a computer glitch which messed up the recordings the evening I attended, causing Dennehy to adlib with the audience while the crew tried to figure out what to do. Probably as fascinating as a Dennehy performance is seeing him slowly sucked out of character into reality. Once the problem was fixed, he returned to the stage, rewound the scene again from before the compter glitch, and was fully back in character. He can make eating a banana really interesting theater.

Beckett isn't everyone's cup of tea. There are long gaps with no dialogue, even times when the actor is off stage for a while. It's a cerebral workout where many are tempted to ask, "What the heck?" rather than light entertainment, but the one-act is only 54 minutes, so give it a shot.

Krapp's Last Tape runs through Dec. 18 on Stage II at Long Wharf, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets at $70 are available at 203-787-4282 and www.longwharf.org.

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