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 http://www.hartfordstage.org/

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 http://www.longwharf.org/

For reviews of current productions, plus more theater news and casting calls, go to http://www.ctcritics.org/

For movie reviews, go to http://susangranger.com/

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 fa├žade, 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 www.musictheatreofct.com  

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 www.squareonetheatre.com     

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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.