Monday, March 27, 2017

His Way (Sort of)

"My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" -- Ivoryton Playhouse -- Thru April 9

Lauren Gire. Photo by Anne Hudson


We’re talking a generational thing here, perhaps two generations. There are those who grew up with Old Blue Eyes as a classic crooner (derisively referred to as the “Skinny Ginney” by servicemen serving overseas during World War II while he made young women swoon at home), and those who perhaps know him more as a member of the Rat Pack or as an actor in such films as Von Ryan’s Express and The Manchurian Candidate. Then there are those who haven’t even considered the possibility of collecting Social Security (aren’t even sure what it is) who might just say, “Frank who?” Thus, you go to the Ivoryton Playhouse to see “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” trailing your own history. Your response may well be dictated by the memories evoked and the DOB on your driver’s license.

Given that this is a “tribute,” the patter that serves as thin thread used to sew together the song segments is light on introspection and analysis of Sinatra the man and his career. There’s mention of his womanizing (in a nudge-nudge manner) and his drinking (Hey, boys will be boys), but no mention of his connection to the Mob or his somewhat physical relationship with the press (or at least the paparazzi). There is, at the start of the second act (“Loser’s Medley), an allusion to the dark side of the Sinatra soul, but “My Way” is not meant to be a Pinter drama, so you have to take it for what it is, and what it is, basically, is an often adept staging of many of the songs Sinatra made famous.

The songs are presented by four very talented actors -- Rick Faugano, Lauren Gire, Josh Powell and Vanessa Sonon.  – who are charged with delivering over 60 songs in the two-hour run. There’s an attempt by director Joyce Chittick (wife of Faugano, who shares directing and choreographing credits) to imply some type of relationship between the actors as characters, but it goes no further than knowing nods and standard stage business interaction as songs are delivered. That’s to be expected in what is essentially a musical revue.

However, there are moments that break out of the mold, and oddly enough they have little to do with the Sinatra legend. The dance routines, performed mainly by Faugano and Sonon (who has a marvelous vocal range), are invigorating, and the interpretive dance done by Sonon as Powell sings “It Was a Very Good Year” is inspired. Which brings us to how Sonon is costumed as a Marilyn Monroe Kewpie Doll look-a-like through most of the show – all I can say is kill the wig and cut down on some of the make-up. Make-up and wig aside, Sonon sure can dance.

Given the number of songs in the show, the preponderance of which is presented in the first act, reaction may be dictated by which generation you fall into. For those who have been alive for the length of Sinatra’s career, it may be a pleasant stroll down Memory Lane, but for those who don’t have a visceral connection with the 40s, 50s or 60s, the 30-plus songs in the first act may seem a bit overwhelming. At one point early on in the show it is suggested that just about everyone can relate to one of the songs – but that’s what “My Way” is banking on, that there’s an inherent relation to “Summer Wind” or “One For My Baby” or “Somethin’ Stupid” or “That’s Life” or “All the Way.” In essence, what you come away with is dictated by what you went into the theater with. Know the songs, have the memories – well, then, “My Way” will please beyond expectations. If you weren’t there, or didn’t grapple and grope in the glow of the dashboard lights as Sinatra crooned, well, it’s a nice if undemanding evening that will not resonate beyond the pleasure of watching four talented actors sing lyrical songs (and occasionally dance up a storm).

My Way runs through April 9. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Not So Smart People

Smart People -- Long Wharf Theatre -- Thru April 9

Peter O'Connor, Sullivan Jones, Ka-Ling Cheung, Tiffany Nichole Greene
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Theories and research are not the stuff of great plays. That’s not to say that a playwright shouldn’t deal with theories and shouldn’t do research, but the material needs to be distilled and infused into characters rather than draped over their shoulders like a multi-colored serape, there for the world to see…and supposedly admire. Unfortunately, there are a lot of serapes in evidence currently at Long Wharf Theatre, which is presenting Lydia Diamond’s Smart People. When the four outstanding actors don said serapes didacticism seems to be a fifth character in the play; when they are allowed to shrug off the cloaks, especially in the second act, the stage lights up, sparks fly, and the audience gets to engage with people rather than ideas that walk and talk.

The premise of the play is, as noted, based on research, said research done by Susan T. Fiske on what has been termed “implicit bias.” What, pray tell, is implicit bias? Well, put simply, it suggests that our prejudices are in our DNA – it’s not so much cultural or generational as it is genetic. Hence, white people, no matter how liberal they believe themselves to be, how non-racist their actions may appear, are inherently prejudiced against those who are “different” (They can’t help but view black dolls as “ugly,” for example.) Put another way, scrape a liberal down to his or her core and you will find a racist.

It’s an interesting hypothesis, but it lies heavily on much of the evening. Diamond brings us four characters, under the direction of Desdemona Chiang, to illuminate and test the hypothesis: Ginny Yang (Ka-Ling Cheung), an Asian-American psychologist and something of a shopaholic and control freak; Valerie (Tiffany Nichole Greene), a young black actress who cleans houses to make the rent; Jackson Moore (Sullivan Jones), a surgical intern who also happens to be black and has some authority issues; and Brian White (Peter O’Connor), a Harvard professor, an angry middle-aged man who has done the research that can prove that whites are inherently prejudiced – they just can’t help themselves. His premise is bound to stir up the cultured folks, especially those deans and professors at Harvard who pride themselves on their liberal pedigrees.

It’s often difficult to distinguish when these characters represent stereotypes and when they actually become living, breathing “people,” for much of their dialogue, especially in the first act, carries the weight of the research Diamond relies on. Thus, one might often ask, are we listening to the character or the playwright as she checked off items on her note pad?

There are also some off-putting moments that might make the audience wonder what the playwright is trying to say. Two of these deal with sexual encounters – a Valerie and Jackson quick roll on the couch and a Ginny and Brian exercise in what…sexual exploitation?…ethnically driven sexual fantasies? It’s not that the depiction of the sex acts is off-putting -- both are actually quite demure -- it’s that they do not seem to have any relevance to the play’s themes or to the characters – especially the female characters. In other words, unless I’ve missed some inner meaning, the sex scenes seem gratuitous.

As is often the case with plays that deal with social issues via the interaction of couples, the second act features a meal during which all four characters are brought together to bring everything to a head. It’s at this meal that the serapes are dropped and the characters truly come to life. However, this is followed by a conclusion that is both enigmatic and an easy out, an imperator ex machina if you will. The play ends with – and this is not a spoiler – the inauguration of President Obama. Revealing this is not a spoiler because the final scene has little to do with the ideas being dealt with, unless it’s a statement that all of that white DNA has somehow passed through an alembic that purified it, alchemically converting the dross of implicit bias into the gold of…what?

Punctuated by many humorous lines and some very interesting vignettes (chief among them Valerie auditioning for a role that requires her to do a verbal Stepin Fetchit), Smart People ends up being part doctoral thesis and part play.

Smart People runs through April 9. For tickets or more information call 203-787-4282 or go to www.longwharf.org.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Tea and Sympathy for Two

Chapatti -- Square One Theatre Company -- Thru March 19

Al Kulcsar and Lucy Babbitt

Tom Holehan, artistic director at Square One Theatre Company in Stratford, has over the theater’s 27 seasons had the knack for often selecting what might be called “actor plays,” by which I mean that many of the theater’s productions allow the actors to simply show their stuff, to create engaging, believable characters without the assistance of all the bells and whistles that Broadway playgoers seem to demand these days. Such is the case with Chapatti, a tender two-hander by Christian O’Reilly and directed by Holehan that runs through March 19. With little more than some tables, chairs and a coat rack, Holehan’s cast brings to life a play that ever so slowly embraces you until, in the final moment before the blackout, a moment sans dialogue, all you can do is smile.

Set in modern Dublin, Chapatti tells the story of two essentially lost souls who might just find solace in each other’s arms. Yes, it sounds like “chick-flick” fodder, but playwright O’Reilly seems attuned to the spirit of the short story, a genre that focuses on character development and revelation more than plot development and conflict, although there is certainly a plot and conflict in the play, but it is secondary to learning about the two people up on the stage.

Dan (Al Kulcsar) is a dog person, for he is the owner of Chapatti, a canine of indeterminate breed who is his soul mate. Betty (Lucy Babbitt) is a cat person, tending to a host of kittens and a dementia-challenged elderly lady. Their worlds, framed by past relationships, do not so much collide as stumble into each other when a cat is run over by a car. Dan sets out to seek its owner and knocks on Betty’s door.

As Dan and Betty begin to interact there are revelations, the nature of which needn’t be discussed lest I be labeled a spoiler. Suffice it to say that Dan, after loving for so long but never having the comfort of his true love as his own, is ready to say goodbye to the cold, cruel world he now inhabits. Betty, no longer a maiden but still thirsting for love, sublimates her passions through her devotion to her cats.

The plot points in the play are important, but that’s not what’s enjoyable about or central to Chapatti. For anyone who likes to see two actors “do their stuff,” this is your ticket. Kulcsar gives us a man defeated by desires deferred, whose only wish now, after making sure Chapatti, the dog, has a new, good owner, is to, through suicide, perhaps gain total attachment to the woman he has loved for over 30 years. He gives us a man who wants to live but believes that he can only find meaning in death. He has some heavy “message” lines to deliver near the end of this one-act play, and he handles them as best as they can be handled, but for the bulk of the evening he offers us a tormented, tender soul that we can easily embrace.

As for Babbitt as Betty, all you can really say is “Wow!” She is dead-on perfect as an insecure yet perceptive woman who accepts what her life has become but senses that there just might be an alternative. Her Betty is edgy, flighty, given to outbursts of riotous, nervous laughter and a windmill of fluttering arms and hands as she tries to contain her growing excitement that she may have found…someone. Near the end of the play, Betty has invited Dan over for dinner and there is an extended scene that involves preparation and a red dress, a scene that Babbitt pulls off with exquisite aplomb, heightened by the actual dinner when she must seem to accept Dan’s decision to kill himself while fighting for his life. It’s a petite tour de force.

When watching a play you can never be totally sure who is responsible for what in terms of interpretation and stage business. To do that you would have had to be privy to the possible table talks and rehearsals. Thus, it’s difficult to determine where the touch of director Holihan’s hand influenced what the audience sees, but what is obvious is that, whoever suggested what to whom, Holehan has created an atmosphere that allows his actors to shine, and shine they do.

Chapatti runs through March 19. For tickets or more information call 203-375-8778 or go to www.squareonetheatre.com    

We need your help

The Connecticut Critics Circle is currently raising funds for its 2017 Awards Ceremony, an event that honors the best in CT theater. Last year over 400 people attended the ceremony at Hartford Stage. Think of it as the CT version of the Tonys. If you would like to help, just click on this link:

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Friday, February 24, 2017

So Many Issues, So Little Time

Napoli, Brooklyn -- Long Wharf Theatre -- Thru March 12

Christian Pumariega, Jordyn Dinatale, and
Carolyn Braver. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

An all-suffering mother. An abusive, racist father. A sharp-tongued daughter who’s been told to get thee to a nunnery, another daughter, this one earnest but a bit slow, and the youngest, a feisty, Scout-like imp testing lesbian waters. Sounds like a casting call for a soap opera, but it’s the line-up playwright Meghan Kennedy gives us in her Napoli, Brooklyn, which is receiving its world premiere at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.

Set in Brooklyn circa 1960, this kitchen drama is the woeful saga of the Muscolino family, with Dad and Mom first generation Italian immigrants and their three daughters assimilated Americans. As might be imagined, the Muscolino home is not a happy one, nor does it provide for riveting drama, for the characters are stereotypical, their plights ripped from the pages of a Days of Our Lives script, and the vehicle for change is a deus ex machina in the form of an airliner that crashes into a church (although you have to give credit to Eugene Lee, set designer, and Ben Stanton, lighting designer, for the pyrotechnical crash – it certainly woke up the country folk).

The primary problems with Napoli, directed by Gordon Edelstein, rest with the script, which just lays on the problems a bit too thick and does little to get us to really care about these characters. Thus, the cast is faced with bringing to life a reality that just doesn’t connect. As the all-suffering mother Luda, Alyssa Bresnahan gives us a woman who, dominated by her husband, expresses her love through cooking (and prays to an onion since God doesn’t seem to be answering her prayers). Her performance is admirable, even though she’s asked, in the play’s coda, to make decisions and say lines you just can’t conceive of a first-generation Italian mother doing – at this point there should have been a sign above the stage flashing MESSAGE! MESSAGE!

As the abusive, ever-so-macho Nic, the pater familias, Jason Kolotouros manages to be both macho and menacing, although he seemed a bit uncomfortable with the Italian accent he has to use to deliver his lines. Somewhat of a cardboard character in the first act, he comes to life for the extended dining scene in the second act, a scene in which the three daughters also seem to come into focus and have their say: Vita (Carolyn Braver) gets to confront her father, Tina (Christina Pumariega) finally finds her voice and her courage (a moment that elicited applause from the opening-night audience) and Francesca (Jordyn Dinatale) ignites the fire that forces Nic to finally back away, or back out.

Kennedy has also written in two minor characters who are more statements than they are flesh and blood people. There’s Albert Duffy (Graham Winton), an Irish butcher who loves Luda from afar, and Celia Jones (Shirine Webb), a black woman who works with Tina at a factory. What are the statements these two characters stand for? Well, there was tension between the Irish and Italian immigrants, a love-hate relationship, and tension between the Italian immigrants and African Americans. Yup. That’s all true, but the characters seem to be after-thoughts, additions meant to make the play more “meaningful.”

Finally, there’s Albert’s daughter, Connie (Ryann Shane), love interest for young Francesca. Hers is perhaps the most difficult role to bring to life, for this love interest, or puppy-love interest, has two adolescents playing in a lesbian sandbox, not sure of their actions or desires. This relationship, such as it is, is one of the weakest elements of the play, mainly because it becomes the focal point of the play’s conclusion in which Luda issues a Declaration of Freedom for women to be who they are, whatever that might entail. Remember, this is 1960. Luda prays to her Catholic God (or her catholic Onion), yet she ultimately embraces Connie’s relationship with Francesca (it’s never made clear exactly how Luda discerns this relationship) and basically tells Connie as she hands her money: “Go for it, girl!” One might ask, “Really?”

Watching Napoli, Brooklyn you can’t help but hear Kennedy saying to herself: “I want to deal with this and I want to deal with that and then I want to deal with…” It’s the intention to deal with so many issues that keeps this play from soaring. It not only wears its issues on its sleeve, it wears them as shackles on its wings.

Napoli, Brooklyn runs through March 12. For tickets or more information call 203-787-4282 or go to www.longwharf.org.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Stories They've Never Told

The cast of War Stories. All photos by the author


Arms and the man I sing…

Thus begins Virgil’s The Aeneid, one of civilization’s first “war stories.” It seems that ever since man has taken up arms he has felt compelled to chronicle his experiences in the storm of battle and, in quieter moments, reflect on what he saw, heard, felt and contemplate his service, how it echoes in his soul.

Many memoirs have been written about a soldier’s life, but on Friday, March 31, and Saturday, April 1, the voices of those who have served their country will “sing” their own particular stories at the Wien Experimental Theatre located in Fairfield University’s Quick Center for the Performing Arts.

Billed as “War Stories: A Veterans Project,” a creation of Peter Van Heerden, Nina Bentley, and Sonya Huber, it has been underwritten by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the CT Office of the Arts and Fairfield’s Quick Center. The evening will feature 13 men and three women in a performance work that will allow them to give voice to what they experienced during their time of service and, perhaps more important, what they have had to deal with since they left the service.

Most of the participants are homeless veterans from ARBI/Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport, an organization that, since 2002, has provided safe housing, vocational training, job placement, and life skills coaching to help more than 1,000 individuals -- primarily veterans -- leave homelessness behind. 
 
Sign posted on a rehearsal table
 

As Van Heerden explained at a recent rehearsal at the black box theater, the production is an effort in “courageous story telling,” for many of the actors are “at war every single day of their lives.” They are men and women who served their country and who, after their service, “are not supported by the system.”

Before beginning rehearsal the actors, none of whom have ever acted before, gathered together to speak about why they had chosen to become involved and what the project means to them. Kenny, who did not serve but has become part of the project, said that he did so “to learn something new,” to prove to himself that it’s “something I can do.” Nate, a former Marine, said he enlisted in the service because his brother was killed in Viet Nam. “I enlisted because I wanted vengeance,” he said. Participation in War Stories is “something to keep me active.”
 
 

These are primarily homeless men and women whose days can seem to stretch on to eternity and whose lives have perhaps lost meaning. Ricky, who served in the Army, signed on with War Stories because it was “something new, challenging.” As the former GI fell silent, Van Heerden emphasized that one of his goals, a goal he is imbuing in his actors, is that he wants them – and their stories – “to connect with the audience.” He would come back to that theme later on in the rehearsal.

Ronald, who also served in the Army, was also intrigued by the possibility of experiencing something new. “It’s all about expressing myself,” he said, “talking about what I’ve experienced in my life.”

For Ronald and the other members of the cast, it would also seem to be about the opportunity simply to be heard, to have someone listen, attentively, and perhaps understand. Too often they are seen as mere statistics, faceless shadows, forced to be mute in a society that has neither the time nor the interest in hearing their stories.

Romano (“You know, like the cheese.”), who served in the National Guard, said that being involved in War Stories was interesting because he “liked to be creative.” Aubrey, who served in the Army, put a different spin on why they were all there. “Many veterans,” he said, “never step out of the box,” meaning that they can’t break out of the constrictions that they find themselves defined by, either by society or themselves. Acting is Aubrey’s effort to step out of that “box.”

James, a Coast Guard veteran, said that Van Heerden and Bentley came to Homes for the Brave to speak about the project and he thought, well, “I can talk about the issues.” Then he added, “Maybe this will be my big break,” a comment that elicited laughter and a bit of joshing from his fellow actors.

Although the atmosphere in the theater was convivial, there was also an underlying tension, not so much about the upcoming show but, it would seem, the very fact that the production was urging these veterans to open up, to verbalize, to confront what many of them may have kept bottled up. Christina, sitting in the back row, the only woman of the three in the show who made it to this rehearsal, referenced an earlier remark made by Van Heerden. “It’s like what Peter said, about how we fight a war every day.” She tussled her hair and smiled. “I wanted to get involved with this group, to get myself out into the world.” She said she had gone through a rough patch over the past three months, didn’t elaborate, but there was a sense that the cast knew what she was referring to, if not the specifics then the general sense of dealing with chimeras.
 
Peter Van Heerden at rehearsal
 

Her words stirred Felix, an ex-marine, to speak up. He said his story, the one he would tell in the show, was “very deep.” He paused, considering his words, then said, “They turn you on, they flip a switch, and then when you get out,” meaning out of the service, “they don’t turn you off.” Asked to explain, he said, “The trigger is always there.” He shrugged. “A lot of vets get into trouble.” Joseph, also an ex-marine, spoke up: “I had war stories in me before I even enlisted – inside of me. This,” gesturing at his surroundings, the black box theater, “is therapeutic.”

And what, exactly, is the therapy? Well, part of it is learning how to be an actor. James commented: “I didn’t realize it would be as hard as it is. It’s not just about reciting lines. It’s all the little details that make the show.” No, perhaps it’s not just about the lines, but maybe it is. Nate looked around at the group and said “If it wasn’t for this we wouldn’t be communicating the way we are with each other. I call it fellowship.” With that, Romano chimed in: “It’s like getting stuck in a fog, but every time you talk it gets a little better.”

With that, Van Heerden sat forward and spoke directly to his cast. “Everyone is on stage,” he said. “Everybody will have their moment.” He turned to expand on what the cast has been preparing. There will be ‘The Telephone Call,’ which explained all of the phones sitting on the chairs and tables. “It’s the first call you make when you get on base – who you call – and maybe it’s the last call you will ever make.
 
 
 
Then there’s the ‘Flag Sequence.’ Everyone made their own flag.” Apparently there’s been discussion about a proposed sequence in which the American flag will be allowed to fall to the floor. The cast was silent as Van Heerden became more animated. Perhaps the audience will react negatively to allowing the flag to hit the floor. “We want to make the audience complicit,” Van Heerden said. If they react to the flag falling, a symbol, then “how could you let that man fall on the ground?”

“We want the audience to ask that question themselves,” Christina said.
 
 

These actors – this cast – are all venturing into an unknown world, not just the world of the theater but a world that will allow them to say what they have to say, to confront an audience that represents a society that has often chosen to disregard or deny the pain and suffering they have gone through, the dismissal of their humanity. The trust they have placed in Van Heerden is palpable. As Gerald pointed out, “It’s like two prize fighters – you go into the ring and all you see is the other fighter, but when the round is over and you go to your corner there’s the trainer, the coach, telling you what to do. He can see more than what you can see. You gotta trust your coach, do what he tells you to do.”

Why do they trust Van Heerden? Because he doesn’t hide his concern and his anger. “Everyone here is telling the ultimate truth,” he said. “These are stories you may not want to hear but these are stories you have to hear.”

After speaking about what they were doing and what it meant to them, the group got down to the business of rehearsing. Specifically, Van Heerden started to run though the opening moments of the show when the cast members will be sitting in chairs ringing three sides of the theater. As the audience walks in the actors will be talking amongst themselves, quietly. Van Heerden urged them to go for restraint, to create a tension without any overt movements or gestures so that the audience will get a sense that there are stories being withheld, stories they can’t quite hear yet. Yes, it’s theatrical, but it looks like it will work. This will be followed by each one of the cast members being called to the microphone.

At this moment in the rehearsal the transformation in the cast was electrifying, and spoke volumes. As the cast members’ names were called, each stood, executed a sharp left or right turn, strode confidently to the microphone and in a military voice, a voice not heard before that day, announced their names and their military affiliations, if there were any. It was a roll call and they were responding as they had been trained to do. These homeless veterans knew about discipline, knew about duty, knew about camaraderie and dedication to the service. They were once again standing proud and tall and answering the call of duty.

During a break in the rehearsal, Berice, an Army veteran who had arrived late, was asked why he had chosen to become involved in the show. He smiled. “Well I volunteered,” he said. “A while ago, I became an electrician because I was scared of electricity.” He looked out at the stage and his fellow actors. “I want to do this,” he said.
 
 

For tickets or more information go to http://center.com or call the box office at 203.254.4010.     

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Comedy Tonight

The Comedy of Errors -- Hartford Stage -- Thru Feb. 12

Louis Tucci, Paula Leggett Chase and
Alexander Sovronsky

What does “Never on Sunday” (the song and the film) have to do with Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors? Well, not much, one would think. Why would the citizens of Ephesus break out into an extended Bollywood dance sequence? Well, for no particular reason. Is it true that it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings? Apparently. The Hartford Stage’s production of one of Shakespeare’s early comedies is an exercise in indulgence, specifically director Darko Tresnjak’s delight in such films as Never on Sunday, Zorba the Greek, various Bollywood musicals and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I might add Beach Blanket Bingo, though it’s not mentioned in an interview with Tresnjak printed in the show’s program. The question is, should a playgoer indulge Tresnjak? The answer is “Yes,” for The Comedy of Errors is 90 or so minutes of controlled insanity and mayhem that cries out: “Damn the logic, let’s go with it!” This over-the-top production vibrates with the excitement of never knowing exactly what Tresnjak and cast will do next.

If there’s one drawback to the production it’s that many of the lines are delivered in such a rapid-fire, frenetic manner that you might find yourself saying “Say what?” However, that doesn’t mean you won’t know what’s going on, for the acting is emotive in the extreme (something farce requires) and the body language of all concerned is sufficient to convey meaning when the dialogue sometimes becomes merely a stream of sounds, often in iambic pentameter.

As with previous Stage productions, director Tresnjak is also the scenic designer, and he has given the audience a pastel paradise that seems more Middle-Eastern (Istanbul?) than specifically Greek. In fact, it’s a Disney World environment that embraces the look and feel of the films mentioned in the program and allows for the various anachronisms that proliferate.
 
Jolly Abraham and Tyler Lansing Weaks
 

If you refer to Shakespeare’s text, here’s how the play opens:

SCENE I. A hall in DUKE SOLINUS'S palace.
(Enter DUKE SOLINUS, AEGEON, Gaoler, Officers, and other Attendants).
AEGEON: Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall / And by the doom of death end woes and all.

Well, that’s not good enough for Tresnjak. Instead, we get a Courtesan (Paula Leggett Chase) enticing the audience with a sultry version of “Never on Sunday,” accompanied by two Musicians (Louis Tucci and Alexander Sovronsky). Then there’s some background exposition that sets out the basic premise: Two twin brothers, along with their twin servants, were separated as children by a storm; one set, Antipholus of Syracuse (Tyler Lansing Weaks) and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse (Alan Schmuckler) end up in, of course, Syracuse, and the other set, also named Antipholus (Ryan-James Hatanaka) and Dromio (Matthew Macca) land in Ephesus. The former set, now adults, arrives in Ephesus where Aegeon (the two Antipholuses’s – or is it Antipholi’s – father has been arrested because a Syracuse merchant ain’t supposed to be in Ephesus).
 
The cast
 
The boys from Syracuse are footloose and fancy free, but Antipholus of Ephesus is married to Adriana (a marvelously bitchy and inebriated Jolly Abraham) and his Dromio is attached to the rather rotund serving maid Nell (the athletic Tara Heal). To add to the mix, Adriana has a sister, the prim and proper Luciana (Mahira Kakkar) who will eventually let down her hair (literally and figuratively), as well as various policemen, prostitutes, fun-loving tourists, waiters and Ephesians.

Well, you know what happens. The Syracuse duo is mistaken for their Ephesian twins. Oh, the confusion – consider the possibilities (Shakespeare did). Who is married to whom? Who owes whom what? To who or to whom, that is the question. Does it all matter? Not really. In Tresnjak’s hands the basic play is like pizza dough – it all depends on what you put on top -- and Tresnjak has decided to use unexpected ingredients. You may not have tasted them before in concert, but after the initial “Does that go with that?” you realize that it all works and is altogether pleasing to the play-going palate.
 
Matthew Macca and Ryan-James Hatanaka
 
Take your pick as to what pleases your palate the most, but for my money the extended Bollywood dance scene (choreography by Peggy Hickey) near the end of the show is something I’d order up on a regular basis (and it would bring me back to the theater for a second serving). First, it is totally unexpected. Second, it’s extravagantly exuberant. And third, it’s just sheer fun, and the cast (it’s an ensemble dance number) just seems to have been waiting for this moment to let it all hang out. For those not familiar with this type of production dance number, you might want to check out Bride and Prejudice on You Tube.

On opening night the theater was packed, and it probably will be for the show’s run. We all go to the theater for different reasons, and one of them is just to have a hell of a good time, to not brood, despair or ponder but simply to revel in excess, to set aside our political-correctness for a moment and unabashedly laugh at the fat lady’s pratfalls. We may feel a bit guilty in the morning, but what the hell.

The Comedy of Errors runs through February 12. For tickets or more information call 860-527-5151 or go to www.hartfordtsage.org.