Saturday, December 17, 2011

“A Wonderful Life” and Pavlov -- Long Wharf Theatre

Dan Domingues in "It's a Wonderful Life"
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Do we well up when Clarence, guardian angel second-class, gets his wings because we’re happy for him and for George Bailey and for…well, just being alive, or is it because we’ve seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” so many times that, like good old Pavlov’s dog (who was conditioned by the Russian physiologist to salivate when a bell rang), we just can’t help ourselves. The bell hanging on the Christmas tree rings, Zuzu tells us an angel has just gotten his wings, and suddenly there’s a catch in our collective throats and tears start to flow.

As an experiment, I invited someone who has never seen Frank Capra’s film (yes, there is someone living right here in Connecticut who has never seen the movie) to the opening of Joe Landry’s adaptation at Long Wharf Theatre. I said nothing about the film or the adaptation, just sat next to her for the 80 or so minutes the show runs and when the lights went up turned to see her response. Her eyes glistened as she said, “I loved it.” So much for Pavlov.

There really is quite a lot to like and…well, love… about the show, although there’s a bit of a false step at the start, which I must ascribe to director Eric Ting. The premise is that we are an audience viewing a radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with five actors playing all of the roles and a foley artist (Nathan A. Roberts) providing the myriad sound effects.

For some unknown reason, Ting opts to begin the evening with the studio (designed by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams) in mothballs – equipment shrouded in sheets, dust on the scripts. The rear door opens and a young man (Alex Moggridge) enters with a flashlight. He wanders around the studio as if he is investigating a crypt. Suddenly the other actors appear, the studio comes to life, and the announcer (Dan Domingues) proclaims the name of the evening’s production, which will star, much to his surprise, the young man as George Bailey.

Okay. An interesting premise, I guess, but it goes absolutely nowhere because Ting chooses not to develop the idea that our young man is a fish out of water (nor does Landry’s script support this idea), though there are occasional moments when the character (not the actor) seems a bit confused as to what it happening, as a sub-plot it’s a non-starter.

I guess our take on this premise is supposed to be that this young man gets so caught up in the proceedings (as is expected of the audience) that he suspends his disbelief and actually becomes George Bailey. Maybe…maybe not. It’s all an unnecessary directorial spin on a pretty straightforward premise. Fortunately, it’s also not central to enjoyment of the production, which has a script that is a feast for character actors.

Along with Moggridge and Domingues, Kate MacCluggage, Kevyn Morrow and Ariel Woodiwiss bring the townspeople of Bedford Falls to vivid life. Besides George, there’s the cold-hearted Mr. Potter (played by Domingues, who does a great Lionel Barrymore impersonation), Mary Hatch (MacCluggage’s main assignment), the love of George’s life, Uncle Billy and Clarence the angel (both played by Morrow), and Violet, the tease and potential tart (Woodiwiss’s characters).
When they aren’t playing their main roles, the actors convincingly (and in rapid fire) shift responsibilities to the lesser characters: Ma Bailey, Ernie, Bert, Mr. Gower, Sam Wainright, George’s brother, Harry, Giuseppe Martini, the three Bailey children (Woodiwiss gets to be Zuzu) and Nick the surly bartender (Domingues also does a great Sheldon Leonard). They also gather together on occasion to provide crowd noises.
The power and magic of the theater is in evidence here in this production, for the audience is being asked to watch actors in a radio studio putting on a play…and buy into what is going on in the play and care about the characters. That this, in fact, is what happens, as was evident from the heartfelt standing ovation given to the cast at the end of the evening, is a credit to the audience, to Landry, the actors and to Ting, who once he sheds himself of the opening trope, gets down to business with a vengeance, giving us non-stop dialogue, movement and sound effects that allow the evening to span 30 or so years in the lives of the characters without giving the audience time to take a breath.
Pitch this play to a producer in 1911 and you would have been laughed out of the office: “They’ll never believe it. The audience will be confused. Where is this supposed to be happening, a radio station or a town? You mean the actors play different characters but there ain’t no costume changes? Get outta here, kid!”
Yes, the audience believes it. No, the audience is not confused. Yes, it all happens in a radio station and in Bedford Falls and…in the audience members’ minds. So, as the bell rings and George says, “Way to go, Clarence,” we can also say, “Way to go, Long Wharf,” you’ve created a wonderful holiday gift for Connecticut theater-goers.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” runs through Saturday, Dec. 31. For tickets or more information call 203-787-4282 or go to

Monday, December 5, 2011

"The Laffer" and the Doctor -- A Review of "A Doctor in Spite of Himself"

                        Liam Craig, Justine Williams and Stephen Epp. Photo by Carol Rosegg

I once had a student who couldn’t stop laughing. He’d start to answer a question and then begin giggling. Any attempt at repression caused the reverse: he’d end up laughing so hard tears rolled down his chubby cheeks. At first his uncontrolled giggling and guffaws was humorous, but soon it became a distraction and, finally, a royal pain in the derriere. I bring this up because it may explain my reaction to Moliere’s “A Doctor in Spite of Himself,” which recently opened at the Yale Repertory Theatre under the direction of Christopher Bayes, who also adapted the work, along with Steven Epp, who stars in the comedy as the pseudo-doctor, Sganarelle.
            The opening-night audience was well primed for the shenanigans and tom-foolery to follow when, minutes before the curtain, the ushers and house manager started dancing to Harry Nilsson’s “Lime in the Coconut.” Soon audience members were on their feet clapping and dancing in the aisles, setting the mood for the light-hearted farce to follow – benign silliness would rule the evening.  
            The lights dimmed and across a bare stage, with brick back wall revealed, hobbled an Old Man (Chivas Michael – who also plays Leandre) doing what might best be called a geriatric goose-step. The sight was mildly humorous, but a lady sitting immediately behind me in the center of the theater (I will henceforth refer to her as The Laffer) began laughing as if the punch line to the greatest joke ever written had just been delivered…and she didn’t stop laughing for the entire performance. Far be it for me to suggest that the Rep has stooped to planting a shill in the audience, so I will lay her unbridled hilarity on the doorstep of having ingested more liquids than solids during her pre-theater meal.
            Her constant braying – yes, it was that loud – was immediately distracting and soon engendered the aforementioned pain. Thus, the lime/coconut mood quickly evaporated, at least for me, replaced by a growing exasperation not conducive to truly appreciating what was going on up on the stage. I guess you might say I viewed the play through glasses coated in sour grape juice.

The cast of "A Doctor in Spite of Himself" Photo by Carol Rosegg

            To the play. The Old Man wheels out an out-house which is quickly transformed into a puppet stage, which Bayes uses for a sight gag that initially is amusing but, with repetition, loses its humor. Sganarelle quickly appears along with his wife, Martine (Justine Williams), whose bouncing dugs elicited shrieks from The Laffer. Martine, harridan-extraordinaire, soon begins railing against her husband, who gives as good as he gets. He is quickly sent off to chop wood (much is made throughout the evening of how he handles his wood), leaving Martine to devise her revenge. She doesn’t have to think long, for Valere (Jacob Ming Trent) and Lucas (Liam Craig) quickly appear on the scene. This Laurel-and-Hardy duo are in search of a doctor to cure the sudden selective mutism of Lucinde (Renata Friedman), daughter of their master, Geronte (Allen Gilmore). As Martine’s has suggested, the two beat Sganarelle with sticks until he agrees that he is, in fact, a renowned doctor, and off to Geronte’s mansion they go.
            To allow for a set change there is a scene-in-one that has most of the cast dressed as masked Renaissance doctors wearing blood-stained smocks and white cones on their heads and doing a song and dance routine, accompanied by Greg Powers and Robertson Witmer, that satirizes the medical profession, Unfortunately, what with The Laffer roaring behind me I missed many of the lyrics – I must assume they were very funny.
            At the mansion, Jacqueline (Julie Briskman) fills in Geronte on his daughter’s current plight, her sudden silence brought on by her father refusing to allow her to marry the penniless Leandre. Sganarelle et al soon appear on the scene and what follows is a series of skits in which much is made of Jacqueline’s breasts and Geronte’s belly. All is brought to resolution when Leandre, disguised as Sganarelle’s assistant, agrees to disguise himself as himself so that Lucinde will marry him and will be shaken out of her mutism when she finds she has married the wrong man who, of course, is the right man. Get it? Got it. Good!
            There is, of course, a lot of physical comedy – outright slapstick – which is performed with a great deal of panache by the entire cast, and Bayes and Epp have updated the script to allow for quite a few theatrical and topical allusions (including the “Occupy” movement). There are many moments to smile at, especially if you are at all familiar with the stage stereotypes and acting techniques associated with commedia dell’arte, but somehow, save for the magical Briskman as Jacqueline (she does an extended scene in which she is a Blanche DuBois clone, a cockney maid, and a foul-mouthed version of Ethel Merman), the performances seem a bit forced – everyone is working just a bit too hard at being funny to be funny. Then again, maybe everyone was very funny but I was so busy being bedeviled by The Laffer that I missed it all.
            “A Doctor in Spite of Himself” runs through Dec. 17. For tickets or more information call 203-432-1234 or go to

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sherlock Holmes and Scrooge...and more

The case is afoot...

Long before Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce gave us Sherlock Holmes on the silver screen, the famous detective was brought to life by Hartford's William Gillette (he of Gillette Castle).

The story of how Gillette brought Arthur Conan Doyle's character to the stage is being presented by the East Haddam Stage Comapny in performances at the Mark Twain House Auditorium on Dec. 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m.

The production will cover how Gillette, a fine Victorian actor, went from farce to historical drama to, finally, the defining role of his lifetime, along the way meeting the sleuth's creator.

Tickets are $20 -- call 860-280-3130.

Don't Look Now --But Christmas is On the Way (What a bummer!)

The turkey hasn't come out of the oven yet, but we're already getting info on various holiday productions.

Bummed out by the Holidays? You might want to try the Theater Artist Workshop's "Cheer Up! A Holiday Revue," which will be presented Friday through Sunday, Dec. 2 - 4, at the workshop at 5 Gregory Blvd. in Norwalk.

The revue is, so the relase would have it, "a light-hearted survey of the often stressful final months of the year." There will be "merry monologues," seasonal songs suitable for sing-along, and holiday sketches that will deal with Thanksgiving mishaps and holiday misanthropy -- a mixture of grumble and glee!

Tickets are $20 -- call 203-854-6830

Then, of course, there's Scrooge --

Once again, the Hartford Stage is presenting its version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," with Bill Raymond returning for his twelfth shot at the title role. Dickens wrote the novella as a ghost story, and the Hartford Stage pays tribute to the "spirit' in which the classic tale was written by giving you more ghosts than you can shake a stick at. Featuring local children and a host of professional actors, this production has become a family tradition, and rightly so, for it is vivid theater with something for everyone. There are a host of special events scheduled to dovetail with the production, including "Market Days," with gift items featured in the lobby, "Santa Saturdays," "Behind the Magic" Sunday (Dec. 18) and a "Christmas Carol Character Brunch" (Dec. 11). The production runs through Dec. 30.

For tickets or more information call 860-527-5151 or go to

Next Season at Goodspeed

Goodspeed Opera House has announced two of the musicals for its 2012 season -- "Mame" and "Carousel." -- both safe bets. "Mame" will run April 20 - July 1 and "Carousel" will follow, running from July 13 - Sept. 23. The season's final show is yet to be announced.

Behind the Scenes at Long Wharf

Long Wharf Theater will again be running its SPARK! program, which allows audience members into the creative process that brings a play to the stage. This year, the program will focus on "Macbeth 1969" -- participants will be invited to the play's first rehearsal, or they can participate in a discussion on interpreting Shakespearean text. Additionally, audience members can watch a technical rehearsal of the play (an often grueling process for the actors) or meet with director Eric Ting for a discussion on how a classic play is adapted for a modern staging.

This is a unique opportunity for theater-goers to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the lights as a play is ever so slowly brought to life. For more information call 203-787-4282 or go to

For reviews of current productions, plus more theater news and casting calls, go to

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review - Cabaret at MTC

Melissa Carlile-Price in the MTC MainStage production of "Cabaret."
Photo by Regina Madwed

The hottest ticket in town right now should be for “Cabaret,” which recently opened at the 45-seat MTC MainStage in Westport. Hot because it’s probably “Cabaret” as you’ve never seen it before, pared down to its bare essentials and presented with verve, style and a great deal of feeling by a superb cast.
Directed by Kevin Connors, MTC’s executive artistic director, and choreographed by Lainie Munro (who gives a nod to, but does not slavishly follow the Fosse format), this “Cabaret” is more intimate, and thus more pointed and, at times, heart-wrenching, than the film version you are probably most familiar with, and it features Kander and Ebb songs that were in the original production but were cut for the film or assigned to different characters.
The book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood, focuses on a young American writer, Cliff Bradshaw (Ryan Reilly) who comes to Berlin at the time of the rise of the Nazi party, seeking inspiration for his novel. He immediately connects with Ernst (Robert Daniel Sullivan), who, unbeknownst to Cliff, is making money runs for the Nazis. Ernst directs the American to a boarding house run by Fraulein Schneider (Dorothy Stanley), where he soon meets fellow borders Fraulein Kost (Marty Bongfeldt), a dancer at the Kit Kat Klub, and Herr Schultz (Stuart Zagnit), the owner of a fruit store who also happens to be Jewish. On his first night out on the town he drops by the Kit Kat Klub, hosted by the Emcee (Eric Scott Kincaid) and has a table-to-table phone conversation with another Kit Kat dancer, Sally Bowles (Melissa Carlile-Price), a waif-like British ex-pat who “absolutely adores” his spoken English.

Eric Scott Kincaid in the MTC MainStage production of "Cabaret."
Photo by Regina Madwed
The lives of these characters quickly intertwine as Germany’s political skies darken, and much of the musical deals with various aspects of the Nazi’s rise to power and the decisions individuals must make (or not make) when confronted with the growing terror. In this focused version, the audience’s attention is riveted on the two doomed romances that are at the heart of the show: Cliff’s love for Sally, who refuses to see what is happening around her and clings desperately to the philosophy that “Life is a cabaret,” and Herr Schultz’s more mature love for Fraulein Schneider, equally doomed because of his heritage.
Given that all of this – the Kit Kat production numbers – the arguments between Sally and Cliff – Herr Schultz’s touching courtship of Fraulein Schneider – occurs mere feet from where the audience sits means, among other things, that the audience is inexorably drawn into the milieu in which these characters live and work. It is powerful theater, especially given the quality of the cast.
Kincaid’s Emcee is lascivious and brash, but you can see beneath the façade, see the concern, the disdain for the rising powers, and the fear. His Emcee is perhaps the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen, and his final exit, executed brilliantly, is one of false bravado – the “clown” facing off against the brute. It’s a star turn, equaled by Carlile-Price’s Sally, for Carlile-Price manages to convey a brittle gayety masking both fear and self-doubt, and her take on the musical’s signature song, “Cabaret” (sung just after she has told Cliff she has aborted their child), rips your heart out, for she is spitting in the face of death, defiantly walking away from her only hope of salvation by embracing the ephemeral.
Most revelatory, however, is the fragile romance between Stanley’s Fraulein Schneider and Zagnit’s Herr Schultz, for these characters, given song assignments and song cuts, were essentially shoved to the side in the film version.

Dorothy Stanley and Stuart Zagnit in the MTC MainStage production of "Cabaret."
Photo by Regina Madwed

Here they come to the fore, and in scene after touching scene (including one that focuses on a pineapple), Stanley and Zagnit, with great poise, delicacy and feeling, present the musical’s essential moral conundrum – what do you do in the face of tyranny? Do you bow and accept, believing you will survive as you have before, or do you deny its very existence, claiming that, after all, it cannot be as bad as people say?
What makes this production so satisfying is that the entire cast, including Johnny Orenberg, who does yeoman work as a Kit Kat waiter, several lustful German sailors, a Nazi rabble-rouser and a German guard, can not only sing and dance, they can act up a storm. There’s not a false note or forced emotion the entire evening – Sullivan’s Ludwig is subtly menacing; Bongfeldt’s Fraulein Kost suitably louche and world-weary; Reilly’s Bradshaw engaging and earnest. Coupled with the riveting performances given by Stanley, Zagnit, Kincaid and Carlile-Price, it all make for a marvelous evening of musical theater.
“Cabaret” at MTC MainStage runs through Nov. 20, which means you only have two more weekends to see a version of “Cabaret” that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. For tickets or more information call 203-454-3883 or go to  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review...and News

Voices From the Past
            In a recent review of Yale Rep’s Belleville, theater critic Rosalind Friedman bemoaned the fact that many of the plays she has recently seen have “been loaded with alcoholism, drug addiction, self-destructive behavior and suicide.” The result, for her, is that the “past few weeks in the theater have been depressing.” Well, there’s an antidote, and it can be found at Stratford’s Square One Theatre, which is presenting A. R. Gurney’s Ancestral Voices through Saturday, Nov. 19.
            Under the steady direction of Square One’s artistic director, Tom Holehan, this “play” (more on the italics later) is an appropriate antidote for those currently fighting off suicidal tendencies brought on by all of the angst-driven productions currently bedeviling theater audiences. That’s because Ancestral Voices has the feel of an old, comfortable robe, one that’s perhaps showing a bit of age but, if you allow yourself to become wrapped up in it, soothes and satisfies.

Janet Rathert, David Victor, Pat Leo
seated: Davina Porter

            Staged with minimal scenery (basically five white columns), with the actors seated in front of music stands throughout the entire evening, this is one of Gurney’s hybrids (much like his Love Letters) in which the audience is called upon to “create” both the time and place of the action and the actors are called upon to create emotional moments in time while not being allowed to move from their chairs or, for the most part, interact with each other, since the dialogue is directed at the audience rather than at the assembled characters.
            If it sounds boring, it’s not, although the show does take a little bit longer than it should to build up some steam, and that may well be because the introduction of the characters, beginning with Eddie (at the opening night performance played by Steve Scarpa) is, oddly enough, a bit rushed. The play, which embraces three generations of a family living in Buffalo (with the rise and fall of the city mirrored by the dissolution of the family), is something of a dreamscape, with time treated as malleable. Given that, the initial entrances are a bit too abrupt and establishing lines are lost (over the evening, other lines are stepped on and some sound effects are off a beat or two – but this was opening night).
            As Eddie explains in the opening moments, the “play” started out as something else – a novel (which Gurney actually wrote), and it could have become a film, but…it is what it is, more than a staged reading, less than a fully staged play, a radio drama without the radio, a collective theater-of-the-mind piece. Labels aside, what we have here is a generational saga that opens with Grandmother (Davina Porter) having ditched Grandfather (Pat Leo) for the charms of “Uncle” Roger (also played by Leo) – nothing shocking here, except this is pre-World War II Buffalo and the families are entrenched in the city’s class-conscious WASP hierarchy. Thus, Grams’ kicking over the traces is, well, scandalous, and places her family, daughter Jane (Janet Rathert) and son-in-law Harvey (David Victor), in a bit of a bind (Who to side with? How to keep up appearances?), with young Eddie trying to figure it all out, mostly by eavesdropping and asking inappropriate (out of the mouths of babes) questions.
            There’s no high drama here, but there is movement as Eddie moves backwards and forwards in time, setting scenes and relating incidents (verbal snapshots), some minor, some pivotal, that in sum make up a family history.
            Especially moving is the set-piece that finds Gramps taking Eddie on a trip up to a hunting cabin in the Adirondacks. In dialogue that echoes E. B. White’s famous essay, “To the Lake,” Gramps reminisces and passes on lore, learning and a love of the land to his grandson, who in response writes a school essay about Gramps that evokes a certain amount of jealousy in grandmother.
            The play’s primary tension comes from Jane’s attempts to keep her parents from confronting each other after the separation and Grandmother’s marriage to “Uncle” Roger, and Eddie’s desire to see his grandparents reunited. Grim news from Europe darkens the edges of family life, and then the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and the extended family’s young men prepare to go off to war, but first there is to be a wedding to which Gramp and Gram have been invited. Jane creates an involved timetable that will insure the two will not meet, but that is subverted by Eddie, and in a wonderful series of “what might have happened” scenarios, the audience gets to have its emotional cake and eat it too.
            Although the five actors all give admirable performances, it is Porter and Scarpa who provide the greatest range of emotions. As Eddie, Scarpa “grows” over the course of the evening from a somewhat nosy, obnoxious little boy to a mature man with a family of his own, and the ever-reliable Porter animates both Grandmother and “Aunt” Fanny (a brief love interest for Gramps orchestrated by Jane) such that in retrospect you would swear she moved about the stage, especially during her “standing” speech (she doesn’t actually stand) at a family Christmas dinner.
            If you are seeking release from the current spate of post-modern agony being offered on Connecticut stages, an evening spent with Gurney’s ancestors should do the trick. They will speak directly to you and by the end of the evening you will feel like one of the family.
            “Ancestral Voices” runs through Nov. 19. For tickets or more information call 203-375-8778 or go to     


On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Fairfield University's Quick Center for the Performing Arts will present John Malkovich in The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer for one performance at 8 p.m.

John Malkovich. Photo by Nathalie Bauer

The show features, along with Malkovich, two opera singers and an orchestra, and deals with real-life serial killer Jack Unterweger, an Austrian who preyed on prostitutes in several countries, eventually hanging himself in 1994 (using shoelaces and a cord from the waistband of a jogging suit) after being sentenced to life in prison.

Currently, the performance is SOLD OUT -- to be put on a wait list call 203-254-4010.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dancers, Acrobats...and Openings

There will be a lot of tumbling and tapping at Fairfield University's Quick Center for the Performing Arts early in November. First, on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m., the Compania Flamenca Jose Porcel graces the stage, shwocasing the dance's gypsy and Arabic-Egyptian origins

The following weekend, on Saturday, Nov. 12, the National Acrobats of the People's Republic of China will be flying, flipping and tumbling. The troupe has performed internationally, combining classical ballet, tumbling and hand-to-hand balancing, as well as some eye-boggling spinng of plates, juggling of umbrellas and riding of bicycles.

For tickets to either event call 203-254-4010 or go to


Up in Storrs, Mike Reiss's "I'm Connecticut" will get it's world premiere on December 1 at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre.

Reiss, a Peabody award-winner and four-time Emmy award-winning writer for The Simpsons, is also a Connecticut resident. He's created a sharp, satirical love story that has the young swain, Simsbury-bred, asking the pungent question: "What, really, is a Nutmegger?" The show stars Joyce DeWitt and Jerry Adler.

                                       Jerry Adler stars as “Grampa” alongside Joyce DeWitt,
                                       who plays “Polly,” in Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s
                                        world premiere of
I’m Connecticut playing
                                                         Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

For tickets, call 860-486-4226 or go to


It's a comedy within a musical, or vice-versa. It's the critically acclaimed "The Drowsy Chaperone," and it's opening at the Little Theatre of Manchester on November 4 and will run through the 20th. "Chaperone" is the story of a reclusive fan of Broadway musicals who one night starts to play a cast album of his favorite musical, only to have the musical's characters appear in his apartment, complete with all of the foibles, fears and obsessions common to theater-folk.

For tickets call 860-647-9824 or go to


Need something else to do on Friday, Nov. 4? Well, you can wend you way up to the Burton Leavitt Theatre to see the Windham Theatre Guild's production of William Finn's quirky 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which runs through Nov. 19. Join (quite literally) the nerds, nuts and spelling-bee prima donnas (and the equally off-center adults runng the Bee) as they battle for spelling laurels -- can you spell "palaestra"?

For tickets call 860-423-2245 or go to


Make sure to check out all of the reviews, theater news, casting calls, theater listings and general information about Theater at

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Review - "Belleville" - Yale Repertory Theatre

Catharsis Interruptus
If Aristotle had been among the members of the opening night audience for The Yale Repertory Theatre’s world premiere of Amy Herzog’s “Belleville,” he probably would have left the theater shaking his head and mumbling, “Read my Poetics, damnit!” That’s because this by and large artfully written and well-produced domestic tragedy, commissioned by the Rep, makes you care about the lead characters and then, instead of opting for some form of resolution that would allow for release of pent emotions, leaves you hanging…in French, no less.

This is a shame, for the first eighty or so minutes of this one-act play directed by Anne Kaufman are humorous, disturbing and at times riveting, as the married life of Zack (Greg Keller) and Abby (Maria Dizzia) is placed under a microscope and dissected.

Maria Dizzia as Abby

The young American couple is living in a section of Paris called Belleville (not much is made of this – they could just as easily be living in Sheboygan), renting a three-room apartment owned by Alioune (Gilbert Qwuor), originally from Dakar, and Amina (Pascale Armand). Abby is a frustrated actress currently teaching a yoga class to students who don’t show up and Zack is a doctor working for an unnamed organization seeking to mitigate AIDS in children. But all is not as it seems, as is evident from Herzog’s point of attack, which has Abby arriving home early to find Zack, who should be at work, satisfying himself by watching pornography.

Maria Dizzia as Abby and Greg Keller as Zack

As this exercise in domestic dysfunction proceeds, we come to understand that Abby is haunted by her parental past, and Dizzia’s portrayal of this young woman on the brink of a nervous breakdown is pitch-perfect, with body language telegraphing abrupt shifts of mood and dialogue delivery ranging from clipped sarcasm to controlled hysteria. As a balance to Dizzia’s mercurial performance, Keller gives us a husband fighting to maintain some equilibrium in his storm-tossed marriage.

Yet there are dragons hiding in the shadows, and the play’s emotional drive inevitably leads to their revelation, and this is where things start to fall apart, for there’s a certain hollowness at the core of the drama. For all the emotional sturm und drang, when all is revealed it seems both beside the point and just a tad unbelievable, as in, you mean to say you’ve been married to him for this long and never realized…?

Then there’s the inexplicable denouement – a dramatically false exit followed by the landlords cleaning up the apartment and speaking to each other in French. It’s a picture-perfect example of anti-climax, leaving the audience to stew in its own emotional juices.

Belleville” satisfies on a number of levels but the sum experience is much like biting into a chocolate-covered cherry only to find the center holds nothing but air.

Belleville” runs through Saturday, Nov. 12. For tickets or more information call 203-432-1234 or go to

Make sure to check out all of the reviews, theater news, casting calls, theater listings and general information about Theater at

For film reviews, go to

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Re-Imaging "Cabaret"

                                      Eric Scott Kincaid as The Emcee. Photo by Jim Schilling

When a Broadway musical gets transcribed to the big screen it inevitably gets “opened up,” that is, scenes with locations left to a theater audience’s imagination are shot on location; a trip merely alluded to in dialogue is filmed with the breeze ruffling the primary actors’ well-coifed hair. Consider “Cabaret,” the Kander and Ebb musical made into a Hollywood musical in 1972 – what was left in the shadows on Broadway was up there on the big screen for all to see.

However, when a venue such as MTC Mainstage decides to stage “Cabaret,” given the physical layout of the 45-seat theater, down-sizing is in order, but that may not be a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it may allow the essence of the musical to become manifest, shriven of unessential “production values.”

Kevin Connors, MTC’s co-founder and executive artistic director, recently spoke about the staging of this classic musical, which opens Friday, Nov. 4, at MTC. He first commented on the decision to produce a “big” musical, such as “Cabaret” at MTC, known more for its presentation of two- or three-character “chamber” musicals.

                                                                Kevin Connors
“This is our 25th season,” Connors said, “and we wanted to do something ambitious, something outside the box for us. We wanted to take a ‘traditional’ musical and come at it in a different way, give it our own approach. By the very nature of our stage, everything we do here is very intimate.”

Take away all of the floss and fluff, Connors suggested, and the musical is really about seven characters, with primary focus on the somewhat fragile British songbird, Sally Bowles, and the naïve American, Cliff Bradshaw, who fall in love, and Fraulein Schneider, who runs a boarding house, and one of her tenants, Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit-shop owner…all set against the rise of the Nazi party.

“This all takes place in the early 1930s,” Connors said, “when Germany was going through a huge economic crisis -- not unlike what is going on now. There seemed to be a polarization of the very wealthy and the very poor. The middle class was disappearing. There was high unemployment; people were losing their jobs. On one end was the Communist party, with its own answer about how to fix this, and on the other end of the spectrum was the Nazi party, with its own answer. All of this is kind of bubbling beneath the surface, with the German people trying to maintain some semblance of everyday life.”

The proximity of the audience to the actors (eight, in this case) at MTC, Connors suggested, allows his production to really focuses on the conundrums the musical’s characters must deal with. What do they need to do to survive, what should they do in the face of incipient oppression and racism, what will they allow other people to do to keep German society from shattering? What are they willing to do to keep their hearts and somewhat shoddy, shaken souls intact?

                          Ryan Reilly as Cliff Bradshaw and Melissa Carlile-Price as Sally Bowles
                                          Photo by Regina Medwed/Capitol Photointeractive

“The whole convention of ‘Cabaret,’” Connors said, “is that it takes place in a club. Even in a big production, I never got the sense that the club was the size of, say, the Lido de Paris or the Casino de Paris, one of those big Las Vegas-like showrooms. It’s a club where people go to hang out and have a good time, and the relationships between these people are intimate, which to me says ‘smaller.’ It’s a place where people go to have a good time and leave their cares at the door, as the Emcee suggests in the opening number.”

Mention of the Emcee led to a discussion of character interpretation. Connors said that the Emcee in this production, played by Eric Scott Kincaid, is a bit closer to Joel Gray’s interpretation of the character than that of Alan Cunning, who appeared in the 1998 revival.

“I felt that the revival went in an uber-sexual direction,” Connors said. “They really took that element and pushed it, which was great, it really worked for that production. But given the intimacy of our theater I felt that our audience would be just a bit too close to make that work, so our Emcee has a little more ‘twinkle-in-the-eye’ sexuality.”

Given that most of MTC’s audience members will be familiar with the show, either in its stage or film version, Connors has also given some thought to audience expectations. He noted that everyone “thinks they know what Cabaret is about,” and focused on the musical’s signature song, the one that urges people to “Come to the cabaret,” to make his point.

“Everyone remembers that number, especially Liza Minnelli’s version, as such a ‘feel good’ number, but that is not what that number is about at all. It’s really a breakdown number for Sally.” In other words, she’s trying to save herself from tumbling into the abyss. “People associate the musical with wild, fun times in Berlin, but the show is really so much more substantive than that. It has a lot more dramatic underpinning than many people realize.”

Connors acknowledged that people will arrive at MTC with their own expectations, many of which may not gibe with what MTC is going to present, but he notes that “Everything we do here is a little bit different. I know that there’s a lot of curiosity about how we are gong to do this, to pull this off in a 45-seat theater. All I can say is, ‘Come and see.’”

What the audience will see, Connors suggested, is a powerful piece of theater, a study in human nature, a “well-documented slice of life.” He mentioned another of the show’s songs, “What Would You Do?,” and proposed that for him, it, rather than some of the show’s more familiar numbers, is the focus of the musical and it’s “message.”

“If you saw something going on around you that you thought was destructive,” Connors explained, “and you thought it was sending your entire world potentially spinning out of control, would you ignore it, would you go along with it or would you do what you could to stop it? The whole thing about ‘Cabaret’ is that in here life is beautiful, which means you can come in here and shut out what’s going on outside, but you can’t do that forever.” He paused and then added, “It’s a fascinating piece.”

“Cabaret” runs for three weekends from Nov. 4 through Nov. 20. For tickets or more information call 203-454-3883 or go to

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Some Confusion about Hairspray at DCT

Just received an email from Hugh Hallinan at DCT. Here it is, in full:

Dear Geary, 

It has come to my attention that the current production of HAIRSPRAY produced by the Bridgeport Theatre Company that opened at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre this weekend has caused a bit of confusion among our loyal patrons. 

Let me quickly get to the point and tell you that HAIRSPRAY is not a Downtown Cabaret production.  Earlier this year, the Bridgeport Theatre Company (BTC) was forced to leave their former home at the Playhouse on the Green, and has since been utilizing the Cabaret Theatre space to mount their productions.  HAIRSPRAY is the first of these shows.  

My biggest concern with facilitating BTC's use of the Downtown Cabaret Theatre was the possibility that it would create confusion among our patrons who might understandably assume that any show at the Cabaret was a DCT production.  While I made many efforts to avoid this, there has nonetheless been some frustration among patrons attempting to book tickets for HAIRSPRAY through the DCT box office or 

I would like to extend my apologies to Cabaret patrons who have been confused, frustrated or inconvenienced by the lack of communication on my part.  While we welcome the Bridgeport Theatre Company to use our stage for their production of HAIRSPRAY, BTC is NOT affiliated with the Downtown Cabaret Theatre.  BTC is an independent community theatre group that is renting the Cabaret Theatre to perform their shows this season.  BTC has their own online box office at, or call 800 838-3006.  It is NOT possible to book tickets for BTC performances on the Cabaret website or through the Cabaret box office.

Downtown Cabaret is a professional theatre company which means our productions are held to a higher standard. Our actors and creative team are not volunteers, they are paid for their work.  So although we and BTC are in the same community, there is a significant distinction between professional theatre and community theatre!

Please continue to support the Downtown Cabaret Theatre as you always have!  You are the reason we are still here after more than 30 years.  We will soon be announcing our 2012 concert lineup and have just kicked off our 30th Children's season to rave reviews.  Please check out all of our upcoming events on our new website at

Call the box office next week and use promo code CONFUSION! to get a FREE ticket when you buy three regular priced tickets to select performances of our Children's Theatre shows or Cabaret Nights concert series.   Box office hours are 11am to 2pm Tuesday through Friday and 9am to 3pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Thank you as always for your continued support and again my apologies for the confusion.


Hugh Hallinan
Executive Producer
Downtown Cabaret Theatre

It doesn't take much to read between the lines here.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Priscilla"...and more

Trying to fight your way north on the Merritt or I-95 during rush hour? Bored out of your mind? Road rage rising? I have a palliative. It's the cast recording of Priscilla - Queen of the Desert.

The show recieved mixed reviews when it opened, but it's still running on Broadway. It's based on a 1994 Australian film starring Terence Stamp and deals with three drag queens who decide to set out for the Outback to find a new life. The score is Disco-driven and includes "I Love the Nightlife" and "I Will Survive." Just slip in the DVD, crank down the windows, crank up the volume, smile -- and blow some kisses -- as road warriors look your way. I'm thinking of finding an appropriate headdress to wear as I trek north -- perhaps something inspired by Carmen Miranda.


Into the Stones?

Downtown Cabaret Theatre is reprising Satisfaction: The Rolling Stones Experience, a musical tribute to The Rolling Stones. Not exactly my cup of tea, but if you can't get any satisfaction, you might want to give it a shot - the venue is cabaret format, whuch means you can bring chicken wings, wine or pizza to enhance your theater experience. For more information, or tickets, call 203-576-1636, or go to


Fairfiel University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts

Wow -- there's a whole lot going on at the Quick Center in the next three months. Some highlights:

On November 4 and 5, re-live the classic Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" 1938 broadcast, with a Connecticut twist -- want to hear about aliens invading Westport or devouring denizens of Darien? It sounds like a hoot.

There are lectures and young artists on the schedule, as well as the National Acrobats of the People's Republic of China and Met Live in HD productions of Wagner's "Siegfried" (Nov. 13), Philip Glass's "Satyagraha" (Nov. 19), Handel's "Rodelinda," (Dec 9), and the world premiere of "The Enchanted Island" (Jan. 21).

A Miles Davis fan? Check out "The Miles Davis Experience" on Nov. 11 --

A John Malkovich fan? He's performing in "The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer" on Nov. 15 (What? You we're expecting him to do Peter Rabbit?)

There's also a lot of music -- The Ahn Trio will be performing on Dec. 4

The Ahn Trio

-- there's the Fairfield University Fall Jazz Concert (Gonzaga Auditorium) on Dec. 8 -- the New Haven Symphony Orchestra performs "A Victorian Christmas," also on Dec. 8, and Handel's "Messiah" on Dec. 15.

Plus...the Church Basement Ladies are back with "Away in the Basement" (Dec. 16).

For a full listing of all that's going on at the Quick Center, go to  Click on "Theater News" -- Quick Center -- Fall Season.

You'll also find reviews of plays and the latest casting calls at

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Horror!:...and more


Are you a virgin?

In the parlance of the Rocky Horror Show, that's someone who has not seen the show, or the movie. I lost my virginity about 15 years ago down in New Jersey when I attended a midnight screening of the film. It was, to say the least, an experience or, given I'm a child of the 60's, a "happening."

For all of you virgins out there, you have the opportunity to correct this embarrassing situation by trucking on up to the Phoenix Theater Company in New Britain, where the Rocky Horrow Show is playing on weekends thru Oct. 29. Dress appropriately (I went as a monk!) in clothes you won't mind getting a bit soiled -- or wet. The Company will be handing out what they call "participation bags" (Don't ask -- Just go!)

What's it about? Well, there's this young couple and these space aliens, a castle and...oh, the hell with it. Just go...and enjoy. The show is being presented at Trinity-on-Main, 69 Main St., in New Britain. For tickets call 860-229-2072 or go to

Want More Chills?

The Ivoryton Playhouse (celebrating its 100th anniversary) is offering The Woman in Black, by Stephen Mallatratt, based on the Susan Hill Novel, as its "treat" for Halloween.

Ian Lowe and Steve L. Barron - Photo by Anne Hudson

This is an old-fashioned ghost story (and a big hit in London -- it's been running for 23 years in the West End). Of course, it's set on an English moor, where Arthur Kripps, a young solicitor, arrives to settle an estate -- simple enough, but not quite. Oh, the horrors that the past enshrouds and the evil lurking in the most innocent of objects.

The play opens Nov. 2. Fort more information, call 860-767-7318 or go to

Want More Thrills?

Magic. Comedy. Romance. Adventure!

It's all here in Spencers Theatre of Illusion, which will be presented at Fairfield Univeristy's Quick Center on Sunday, Oct. 30.

The Spencers (Kevin and Cindy) are a husband and wife team who put on a show with a lot of elaborate stage illusions and audience particpation. Are they good? Well, they've been named "Performing Arts Entertainers of the Year" for six consecutive years and were recently named "International Magicians of the Year." Sounds good to me. The Quick Center's press release offers this: "They continue to redefine 'magic' for a new generation, delivering drama, spectacle, interaction, danger and personality with each unforgettable performance."

For tickets or more information call 203-254-4010 or go to

A History of Theater in Fairfield

The Fairfield Museum and Historical Center has a new exhibit: BRAVO! A History of Theater in Fairfield County.

The installation includes some of Katherine Hepburn's old stage costumes, and a lot more. For more information go to

Also, as part of the festival, Falcon Repertory Company, Inc., is co-producing a live exhibit and performance for the museum. Thinking Outside the Box is a festival of ten-minute plays that features local actors, directors and playwights. Rehearsals, which will take place from November through February, are open to the public, with performances scheduled for the beginning of March. For more information go to

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Hot Ticket...and more

One of the hottest tickets of this theater season is most likely going to be for Long Wharf’s production of “Krapp’s Last Tape,” starring Brian Dennehy. Tickets went on sale this past Saturday for the Nov. 29 – Dec 18 run. As might be expected from playwright Samuel Beckett, it’s a dark, one-act play that has Krapp celebrating his 69th birthday by reviewing a tap made in his younger years and then making a tape to commemorate his 69th year.

Brian Dennehy in the role of Krapp -
photo by Richerd Hein

Of Krapp, Beckett once wrote: "Krapp has nothing to talk to but his dying self and nothing to talk to him but his dead one." For tickets or more information you can call 203-787-4282 or go to

Something quite interesting is going on over at Hamden High School. The school’s theater company, the Mainstage Ensemble, will be staging Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle for two weekends beginning Thursday, November 3. The play is a parable about a peasant girl from the Russian Caucus region who finds a baby that has been left behind during a revolt.

The play draws on both the biblical story of Solomon and Chinese myths as it focuses in on the nature of motherhood. The play is an interesting choice for a high school cast – should be interesting to see if the students can pull it off. For more info, call 407-2040 (extension 3102) or email the theatre at More information can also be found at their website,

There are two productions of “Cabaret” opening on Friday, Nov. 4. One is at the Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, the other at MTC Mainstage in Westport. The Brookfield production has a full cast, while the MTC version has been scaled down to a cast of eight and has been “re-imagined” for the rather intimate venue. I’ll be sitting down with Kevin Connor’s, MTC’s executive artistic director, and the show’s director, to talk about what changes have been made to the classic musical – the interview will appear here early next week. In the interim, for tickets to the Brookfield production, call 203-775-0023; for tickets to the MTC production, call 203-454-3883.

Change of plans for Square One Theatre Company in Stratford. The play originally scheduled for a Nov. 4th opening has been deep-sixed and in its place the venue will be offering A. R. Gurney’s “Ancestral Voices,” which will open Nov. 4 (lots of stuff happening that Friday!). For tickets, call 203-375-8778. Director and co-founder Tom Holehan explained via email that the cancellation was due to "a minor nightmare" having to do with "miscommunication between us and the leasing company."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: "Twelfth Night"

Why do some actors feel compelled to spew Shakespearean dialogue as if heavy hands were working their diaphragms as bellows? It does the play no good service, as is evident in the Westport Country Playhouse’s somewhat uneven production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which recently opened under the direction of the Playhouse’s artistic director, Mark Lamos.
Such delivery – words ejected on a gush of air – does not allow for any intonation, inflection or nuance, and is one of the primary reasons why modern American audiences find Shakespeare “difficult.” It need not be so.

David Schramm and Jordan Coughtry
Photo by Photo by T. Charles Erickson

More experienced, or secure, actors, and there are several up there on the Playhouse’s stage, know how to “work” a Shakespearean line so that the music, or the humor, or the bite is made manifest. When these actors are on stage, the production seems to light up; when they are not, it becomes somewhat turgid.
Perhaps that is why the production seems a tad schizophrenic – it wants to be many different things all at once (consider Tilly Grimes’ costume design -- what era, pray tell, are we attempting to evoke here?). When Lamos allows the whimsy and playfulness inherent in the play to come forward, the actors seem to be charged. Body movement is more natural, interaction more engaging. There are many such moments and they often involve Sir Toby Belch (David Schramm), Feste (Darius De Haas), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Jordan Coughtry) and Maria (Donnetta Lavinia Grays). In fact, one of the high points of the first act involves these four as they taunt Malvolio (David Adkins), who is protesting their revelry. They bid him goodnight in song, the tune alluding to the Von Trapp children saying goodbye to guests in “The Sound of Music.”
Would that such playfulness suffused the production, but such is not the case. When ribaldry is on the menu, things work fine, and certain character set-pieces, especially Malvolio’s discovery and reading of a forged letter and his subsequent appearance in yellow stockings cross-gartered, are the equal of any I’ve seen in other productions of the play. However, the same cannot be said of the staging of the mistaken identity and love interest scenes, and this has to do with chemistry (and the aforementioned spewing of lines).

Mahira Kakkar and Lucas Hall
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Earnest as they are, Mahira Kakkar as Viola, Lucas Hall as Orsino, Susan Kelechi Watson as Olivia and Rachid Sabitri as Sebastian simply do not generate any sparks as frustrated lovers, and the overt homosexual yearnings of Antonio (Paul Anthony Stewart) for Sebastian seem a total misreading of Shakespeare’s lines (and the spirit of the age in which they were written), a misreading that is reinforced in the final image of the play: the young lovers happily drifting off as Feste gestures towards Antonio who, bereft, sits on the sand and pines.
Oh, yes – the sand. It occupies stage left, a cascade of sand in which is embedded a smashed chandelier and an empty picture frame, with several beach balls thrown in for good measure. This part of Andrew Boyce’s scenic design looks like it was meant for a staging of an Ionesco play, however his use of gossamer curtains is artful, and Robert Wierzel’s lighting design is dead-on: moody when it needs to be and joyful as called for.

Watching this production of “Twelfth Night” is like watching a gosling attempt to take flight for the first time. It has the wings and it yearns to soar – it rises and you ache to see it take flight. But it doesn’t. It tries again, and it seems for a moment that it has broken free, but gravity wins.
“Twelfth Night” runs through Saturday, Nov. 5. For tickets or more information call 203-227-4177 or go to  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Another Opening..." Plus "Wicked" Women

It’s fall, which means it’s theater season here in Connecticut, and new productions are opening as fast as the leaves are falling. Here’s just a sampling:

Over the Tavern, by Tom Dudzick, recently opened up at Seven Angels in Waterbury. It’s about a slightly dysfunctional family dealing with a son who’s too smart for his own – and the Catholic Church’s – good. Richard Christiansen, of the Chicago Trib, called the play “A hilarious and touching depiction of 1959 Americana.”

Also currently running is City of Angels out at the Goodspeed Opera House. It’s a musical spoof of 1940s detective movies, with parallel stories of a crime fiction writer and his “creation,” a shamus who just won’t shut up…or stay on the page.

It’s been some time since the Westport Country Playhouse has staged a play by the Bard, but hopefully the wait will have been worth it. Twelfth Night opened Oct. 11 under the direction of Mark Lamos, the Playhouse’s artistic director.

Mahira Kakkar and Lucas Hall. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

As with most of Shakespeare’s comedies, there’s a lot of ribaldry and mistaken identities, as well as a pair of yellow stockings cross-gartered (trust me – wear them and the ladies will swoon). Should be a lot of fun. (A review of the play will appear here next week).

The latter part of October offers a host of new plays. On the 21st, The Yale Repertory Company will present the world premiere of Amy Herzog’s Belleville. It’s about an American couple living in Paris whose “perfect” marriage falls apart when the wife comes home unexpectedly to find…well, you’ll have to see the play. Not for the younger set – there’s strong language, nudity and what is somewhat euphemistically termed “adult content.” (A review of the play will appear here.)

The following week, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” opens (Oct 26) at Long Wharf Theatre and Moliere’s The Miser opens (Oct 27) at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre in Storrs.

The musical revue is a tribute to “Fats” Waller and many other black artists who fueled the musical portion of the Harlem Renaissance in the 20’s and 30’s. It’s rhythmic and raunchy,  with a hell of a finale.

Moliere’s satire deals with a penny-pinching father and his children who conspire to break free from the parental (cheap) chains. Of special note in the play is Moliere’s use of asides -- comments by an actor directed to the audience that none of the other characters are supposed to hear. Well, Moliere doesn’t honor the convention – in essence there’s a lot of: “Who the hell are you talking to?”

Finally, early November (the 4th) brings us Cabaret at Westport’s MTC Mainstage. I’m really looking forward to this production, given the ‘intimate’ nature of MTC’s venue. Don’t know how I’m going to feel being mere inches away from the Kit Kat Klub’s girls – it’s a question of how aesthetic distance is handled, and I’m eager to see the answer. (A review of the musical will appear here.)

“Wicked” Women

Also of great interest is the first presentation of the Edgerton Center’s (Sacred Heart Univ.) 2011-12 Broadway Series. On Saturday, Oct. 22, the Center will be hosting Women of “Wicked,” featuring Dee Roscioli,

Dee Roscioli

who played Elphaba on Broadway in “Wicked.” She will be joined by other women who have performed in the musical for an evening of Broadway music and backstage insights. For those who love Broadway – and/or “Wicked”—it sounds like a must-see evening (two performances at 6 and 9 p.m.).

For more theater news, plus reviews of current shows and Connecticut casting calls, go to