Saturday, May 19, 2012

The View From "Golda's Balcony"

"Golda's Balcony" at Playhouse on Park

What happens when an idealist achieves power, a power so frightening and horrific that it has the potential to destroy the world? It sounds like the stuff of a fantasy novel, but it is a question at the center of “Golda’s
Balcony,” a gripping, one-woman play that recently opened at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford.

The person who holds this power is Golda Meir, prime minister of the State of Israel, and as the play opens she is confronted with a situation that may compel her to turn the world into a colossal ash pit, for it is 1973 and Egypt and Syria have orchestrated a surprise attack on a poorly supplied Israel, the “third Temple” that Meir has sworn to defend. The Israelis are losing tanks and planes in shocking numbers, and if help in the form of F-14 fighters and other military supplies is not forthcoming from an equivocating United States, the prime minister may be forced to approve the use of nuclear weapons on the capitals of Egypt and Syria, an action that, she well knows, might trigger a nuclear holocaust as Russia and the United States respond in kind, the two countries being locked in a game of mutually destructive blind-man’s-bluff.

Golda, played with intensity, pathos and a deep-felt sense of humanity by Kate Alexander, backs away from this high-tension moment in her cabinet room to begin reminiscing about her life, but the war hovers, for it is the frame of the play, one that playwright William Gibson has wisely used to punctuate Golda’s reminiscences, bringing her forever back to the moment when she may be forced to plunge the world into darkness, for it is the ironic conundrum that Golda wrestles with. As she reveals aspects of her life, which began early in the twentieth century in Russia during a time of pogroms, her commitment to suffering humanity becomes manifest, yet her commitment to the idea and reality of Israel is stronger, and this second commitment may force her to destroy humanity.

Director Terence Lamude has made full and wise use of the Playhouse’s limited stage, moving Alexander forward and back, left and right as she addresses the audience arranged in tiered seating that fronts and flanks the stage. The venue is small enough that Alexander can make eye contact with audience members, and this she does with stirring, often chilling effect…making a point to one person, then moving on to seek out another audience member to connect with.

Alexander is on the move throughout the entire 95 minutes of the one-act play, even thought she broke her right foot in rehearsal one day before the play opened. At times dynamic, at others reflective, she is no more so than when she deals with her marriage to Morris, a quiet, philosophical man whom Golda shanghais to an Israeli kibbutz, much to his dismay. A mother whose absence is more pronounced than her presence, Golda weighs the toll her quest has taken on the man she often leaves behind as she attends meetings in world capitals.

But it is not only Golda’s voice we hear, for Alexander creates multiple characters – most of whom she argues with – during the evening. Morris’s calm, reflective, questioning voice is heard, as is the voice of Golda’s mother, who is bedeviled by her daughter’s commitment to socialism. Other voices are heard, the speakers’ images projected onto multiple monitors framed on the back-paneled wall: Henry Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State, whom Meir effectively blackmails to save her country; David Ben-Gurion, the arch Zionist and first prime minister of Israel; Moshe Dayan, the eye-patched general who proclaims gloom and doom in the early hours of the war; David “Dado” Elazar, the Israeli general who, against all odds, captures the Golan Heights; Lou Kaddar, Meir’s female secretary, who keeps Meir on an even keel as she humors her about when poison might be appropriate should everything fall apart; Simcha Dinitz, Israel’s ambassador to the United States; and King Abdullah and Pope Paul VI. All are brought vividly to life by the fast-talking Alexander, who creates confrontations between Meir and all of these characters such that you would swear there is more than one person on the stage.

As Alexander moves about the stage, at one moment bandying words with the pope, then chiding Dinitz to call Kissinger at 3 a.m., Rachel Budin’s lighting plot effectively enhances each moment. In fact, given the size of the venue, it’s a lighting tour-de-force culminated by a single tiny overhead spot that reflects back off a table to turn Meir into a creature capable of becoming evil incarnate as she weighs the possibility of nuclear war – it’s a visually stunning moment. More subtle is the front lighting onto the paneled back wall that illuminates the thin metal strips that scenic designer Jo Winiarski has fitted into the panels’ seams – they glow as Meir reveals what Golda’s second balcony was.
One-character shows are difficult to pull off, often because the pace and arc of the writing is more like that of a memoir than of a play. Such is not the case with “Golda’s Balcony,” which has a dramatic rise, climax and falling away that any playwright would be proud of. In fact, the last ten minutes of the show, as Meir weighs unleashing Armageddon as she awaits a response from the United States, are as tension-filled as you could wish for.
Make no doubt about it, “Golda’s Balcony” is first-rate theater, and Alexander’s performance is a gripping, multi-level seminar on acting techniques. She brings Meir to life, warts and all, and in the process reveals the torment a soul can undergo when reality faces off against idealism.
“Golda’s Balcony” runs through June 3. For tickets or more information call 860-523-5900, X 10, or go to

Friday, May 18, 2012

"The Tempest" at Hartford Stage

A Stylish, Tantalizing “Tempest”

                                 Jane Cracovaner. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

It’s often difficult to discern the influence a director has on a production, for his or her decisions are often made manifest in such subtle ways that only those privy to what occurred during rehearsals can acknowledge them. Such is not the case with “The Tempest,” which recently opened at Hartford Stage. Director Darko Tresnjak’s creative hand can be seen even before the lights go down and is confirmed in the opening shipwreck scene in which a sleeping goddess becomes a ship’s figurehead and yards of flowing, luminescent material are formed into the storm-tossed vessel. It’s a visually stunning moment, accented by lightening and thunder, that presages many of the delights to come.
            Shakespeare’s last play is, unlike most of the Bard’s other plays, a work crafted solely from the playwright’s imagination, for scholars can find no provenance for it. It is, in fact, a theatrical flight of fancy complete with spirits and sprites, a changeling and a manipulative magician who controls the elements. Thus, it lends itself to fanciful interpretation, something that Tresnjak has taken full advantage of.
            The basic plot embraces many of Shakespeare’s common themes of betrayal, revenge, abandonment and reconciliation. Twelve years before the opening scene, Prospero (Daniel Davis), the Duke of Milan, had been usurped by his brother, Antonio (Jonathan Lincoln Fried), abetted by Alonso (Christopher Randolph), the King of Naples. The duke and his young daughter Miranda (Sara Topham) are set adrift in an unseaworthy vessel to drown in the open sea. Instead, they land on an island inhabited by a changeling, Caliban (Ben Cole), a spirit, Ariel (Shirine Babb), and several attending sprites and goddesses (Joshua Dean, Jane Cracovaner, Annastasia Duffany, Mark Adrian Ford and Jillian Greenberg).
            Over the years, Prospero devotes himself to tutoring his daughter and studying magic until, as the fates would have it, a ship carrying Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian (David Barlow), Alonso’s brother, Ferdinand (William Patrick Riley), Alonso’s son, and a court functionary, Gonzalo (Noble Shropshire), sails near the island. Prospero conjures up a storm in which the ship is ostensibly wrecked and all aboard are cast onto the island where, over the course of one day, Propsero will ply his magic to at first torment and then reconcile with those who had turned against him.
            After the stunning shipwreck, they play slows almost to a crawl as Prospero explains to Miranda how they ended up on the island. This necessary piece of extended exposition is lightened by Miranda’s attention to the story and her reactions, for the lithe, winsome Topham is a delight to watch. She is the epitome of innocence flavored with inherent female wisdom, which she reveals with no more than a turning of the head and a knowing look mid-way through Act Two as her father warns her to go slow in her budding romance with Ferdinand.
            Davis’ Prospero is fully realized, for Davis instills both majesty and erring, all too fallible humanity into his character. His command of the stage and his role are made obvious early on and are maintained throughout the entire evening, right up to his closing lines (which can be also heard as Shakespeare’s adieu to the stage): “Now I want / Spirits to enforce, art to enchant, / And my ending is despair / Unless I be relieved by prayer / Which pierces so that it assaults / Mercy itself, and frees all faults, / As you from crimes would pardoned be, / Let your indulgence set me free.”
            In fact, the entire cast is superb. I would have wished Cole had found a way to modulate the delivery of his lines (he is in high dudgeon throughout most of the play), but his interpretation of the witch’s son is still compelling. Under Tresnjak’s thoughtful, ever imaginative direction, the actors each have their stellar moments. As an example, mid-way through the play, Antonio and Sebastian conspire to slit the throats of Gonzalo and Alonso. One would think there would be little humor to be found here, but Tresnjak turns the moment into a delightful comic set-piece, with Fried and Barlow displaying artful timing.
            The laughs become outright guffaws when Stephano (Michael Spencer-Davis) and Trinculo (Bruce Turk) make their appearance. Playing two of the ship’s crewmembers, the two actors take full advantage of Shakespeare’s talent for penning farce, cavorting across the stage, baiting Caliban, and in Trinculo’s case, humorously interacting with the audience.
            The actor’s performances are enhanced by Tresnjak’s flair for spectacle, which he exercises, supported by Michael Chybowski’s bold, dramatic lighting, in the introduction of a crystal-laden dining table, a tableau of dancing and whirling sprites, and the appearance of a dark demon complete with huge, slowly flapping wings. The production’s overall concept is carried through by scenic designer Alexander Dodge and costume designer Fabio Toblini, for they have focused on the fact that the play is a fantasy of words and thus use these words as a primary motif in costume and stage set.
            In sum, “The Tempest” is a delightful, eye-pleasing evening of creative theater that the Bard himself would have been both envious of and pleased with. In the program notes Tresnjak writes that the creation of a production, and the subsequent viewing of it, often becomes “a memory in an instant.” In the case of “The Tempest,” it is a very fond memory.
            “The Tempest” runs through June 10. For tickets or more information call 860-527-5151 or go to

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Classic Gurney and Rock Legends

TAW Offers Staged Reading of "The Dining Room"

                          Melody James (Westport), Richard Leonard (Cos Cob), [seated]
                   Jo Anne Parady (Norwalk), Katie Sparer (Stratford) and Mark Basile (Weston)

Theatre Artists Workshop continues its Classic Night Readings with two performances of A. R. Gurney"s "The Dining Room" on Friday, June 15 , and Saturday, June 16.

"The Dining Room" is a comedy of manners set in a single dining room where 18 scenes from different households (each with the same dining room set built in the early 1900s) overlap and intertwine as they comment on WASP culture, the price paid for emotional attachment to objects, and a sense of what has been gained and lost as our culture has changed.

           Melody James (Westport), Katie Sparer (Stratford) and Mark Basile (Weston)

Performances will be at the Workshop, 5 Gregory Blvd., in Norwalk No charge for admission; donations accepted. For more information go to

DCT Hosts "Jay and the Americans"

                                            Jay and the Americans

Downtown Cabaret Theatre will host Jay and the Americans for two performances on Saturday, June 2, at 5 and 8 p.m.

On the top of the charts from 1962 through 1971, Jay and the Americans was started by Sandy Yaguda in his basement 40 years ago and soon became a major force in the music industry. The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.

Three of the group's original members -- Sandy Yaguda, Howie Kirschenbaum and Marty Kupersmith -- along with Jay Reincke, will sing many of the groups hits, including "She Cried," "Come a Little Bit Closer" and "This Magic Moment"

For tickets or more information call 203-576-1636 or go to

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Free Shakespeare & STONC Programs

CT Free Shakespeare Announces Third Venue

                        Erin Scanlon as Juliet in a 2003 production of “Romeo and Juliet."
                    Scanlon will return as Juliet this year. Photograph by Sebastian Pacynski.

The performance schedule for Connecticut Free Shakespeare's production of "Romeo and Juliet" has expanded to include the grounds of The American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford from Aug 1 - 5. Prior to this, the play will be presented at Beardsley Zoo's Peacock Pavilion (July 13 - 15) and McLevy Green in Bridgeport (July 25 - 29).

For more information go to

STONC Offers Youth Education Program

                                  Students in STONC's apprentice program

Summer Theatre of New Canaan is offering several education programs for area students. The Junior Company (grades 5 - 8) will rehearse "Disney's High School Musical 2" from July 9th through the 27th, and then perform on the 27th at 3:30.

In addition, STONC offers high school students the opportunity to develop their skills in the Pre-College High School Apprentice Theater Intensive Program, which starts on June 26 and runs through July 20. For college students pursuing a career in theater arts, STONC offers a College Internship Program -- there are 14 paid positions available. Finally, there is the DramaRamas Special Needs program, which is open to students 8 - 17 years of age. The program culminates with a production of "The Wizard of Oz" on June 28.

For more information about these programs call 203-966-4634.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"The Good Doctor" at Square One

                                   J. Kevin Smith, Lillian Garcia, Michelle Duncan,
                                           Joseph A. Mallon and Frank Smith

Square One in Stratford is winding up its season with a production of Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor,” a hybrid of sorts that is consistently pleasant but seldom uproarious. Based upon several short stories by Anton Chekhov, the play is a series of “playlets” held together by the narration of The Writer (J. Kevin Smith), obviously meant to be Chekhov. These vignettes are a curious mix, for the most part neither fish nor foul, mainly due to their provenance.

As anyone who has sat through a college lit. class will remember, short stories rely more on character revelation than plot, while most plays (save for the avant-garde pieces of the moment) are plot driven, with rising and falling action. Hence, what we have with “The Good Doctor” is Simon’s attempt at turning short story fodder into a comedic theatrical feast. Alas, something is lost in the process.

After a brief introduction by The Writer, audience members get a good indication of what the evening holds for them with “The Sneeze,” a low-key, typically Russian character study of a minor bureaucrat who fixates on a social faux-pas that occurs when he and his wife attend the theater: he sneezes on his boss who is sitting in front of him. There is much mulling over of the mishap as Chekov/Simon pokes gentle fun at the bureaucratic mindset, all leading to a final twist that is more literary than dramatic.

The actors in this first scene try on some accents (I heard Russian, a touch of German and even a little Yiddish). Fortunately, the accents are set aside after this first effort, save for an anachronistic “Brit” accent that Frank Smith uses in “The Drowned Man” during the second act.

“The Sneeze” is followed by “The Governess,” in which the lady of the house (Lillian Garcia) seeks to teach a mousey governess (Michelle Duncan) a lesson, or does she? Here again, the bones of the short story are there for all to see, but it is not obvious who is exactly manipulating whom. It’s a matter of tone and inflection, with Duncan’s governess giving a flashing of the eyes to the audience at the end that says she has been in control all along, something that is not justified by how the scene is played..

“The Seduction” follows, which has a rouĂ© (J. Kevin Smith) seducing a young wife (Garcia) via her husband (Joseph Mallon). It has its smile-inducing moments, but it has the feel of drawing room farce without the farce, although director Tom Holehan has here given a nod to the melodramatic style of acting common during the period of the piece (when the villain would snarl “Curses!” and curl his oiled moustache), by having his actors, especially J. Kevin Smith and Garcia, use hand motions to emphasize the meaning of the dialogue: Garcia crosses her hands in the general area of her loins during the culminating moment of the seduction; Smith tries to avert her words by holding his hands up to her and his face. 

                                          Joseph A. Mallon and J. Kevin Smith

The aforementioned “Drowning Man” opens up Act Two, and it is even more curious than what has come before, for there is a certain Kafkaesque nature to this tale of a man who will perform his own drowning for a fee (I was reminded of Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist.”) This is followed by a brief vignette that Simon added to the play especially for Marsha Mason, and it’s a mini-tour de force for an actress, since it allows her to deliver the closing lines of all three sisters from Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters.” Duncan takes full advantage of the opportunity, and deservedly so since all her other roles in the play call upon her to be a shrinking violet.

                                             J. Kevin Smith and Alex Carrasco

It is in the final piece, “The Arrangement,” that Simon seems to step out in front of his Chekovian alter-ego, for although the form is still that of the short story, the dialogue has obviously come from Simon’s pen as a father (J. Kevin Smith) seeks to make a man of his son (Alex Carrasco) by bringing him to a bordello for his initiation into the priapic world. The result is the most humorous and entertaining effort of the evening.

The overall production makes for an enjoyable if not entrancing evening of theater. “The Good Doctor” has its moments (though what a doctor has to do with the show escaped me), but they are often more contemplative than you would expect from a Neil Simon effort.

“The Good Doctor” runs through May 26. For tickets or information call 203-375-8778 or go to

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Openings, New Seasons...and More

Playhouse on Park Presents "Golda's Balcony"

                                                 Kate Alexander as Golda Meir

William Gibson's "Golda's Balcony" will open at Playhouse on Park May 18th and will run through June 3.
The play tells the story of Golda Meir, who rose from an impoverished childhood in Russia to become the prime minister of Israel. The one-woman show is directed by Terence Lamude.

For tickets or more information call 860-523-5900 ext 10 or go to

New Season at STONC

                                      STONC's tent at Waveny Park

Summer Theatre of New Canaan, located in Waveny Park, has announced its 2012 season. "My Fair Lady" will be the opener on the main stage, running from June 15 through July 7. Following this Lerner and Loewe classic, STONC will offer Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" (July 14 - Aug.5)

STONC's Theatre for Young Audiences will be presenting "The Wizaed of Oz (June 17 - Aug 4) followed by "Pinkalicious, The Musical" (July 7 - Aug 5)

Finally, STONC's Junior Company will stage "Disney's High School Musical 2" on Friday, July 27.
For tickets or more information call 203- 966 - 4634 or go to

"God of Carnage" Part of Long Wharf's Upcoming Season

Long Wharf has assembled an impressive collection of plays for its 48th season, starting off with the world premiere of Terry Teachout's "Satchmo at the Waldorf," a one-man play which has Louis Armstrong looking back on his career and his relationship with his manager, Joe Glaser. This will be followed by Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage, a Tony Award-winning play that focuses on yuppie parents behaving badly.

In February, Judith Ivey will return to Long Wharf in Sam Shepherd's "Curse of the Starving Class," an OBIE Award-winner that is part of Shepherd's family play trilogy. This will be followed by William Mastrosimone"s "Ride the Tiger," which deals with the events leading up to the election of John F. Kennedy as president. The season wraps up with "Clybourne Park" by Bruce Norris, a riff on Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" in which Norris considers the white community's reaction to the Younger family's move into Clybourne Park.

For tickets, go to

A Star-Studded Summer Season at CRT

                                                           Pat Sajak

Casting is the thing this summer at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, located on UCONN's Storrs campus.

The summer seaon will open with a production of "Man of La Mancha," featuring Terrence Mann, who originated the roles of Rum Tum Tugger in "Cats," Javert in "Les Miserables," and the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast. The show will run from June 7 through the 16th.

On the Don's heels will be a production of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple," with Pat Sajak and Joe Moore, who will be bickering from June 21 through July 7.

Steve Hayes returns to CRT as the Modern Major General in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance," which runs from July 12 through July 22.

For tickets: 860-486-2113 or go to

Windham Theatre Guild Presents "Blithe Spirit"

The final offering in the Windham Theatre Guild's 2011-2012 season is Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit," which will open on May 18 at the Burton Leavitt Theatre. Directed by Victor Funderburk, the play is about a novelist and man-about-town who invites an eccentric medium to his home for a reading, with hilarious results.

Tickets: 860-423-2245 or go to

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Momoirs" at Theater Artists Workshop

                            Julia O’Neill sings Joni-Mitchel-inspired “Westport Morning.”

The Theatre Artists Workshop of Norwalk is presenting "Momoirs: The Umbilical Cord Stops Here" for three performances: Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 13, at 3 p.m.

The lively show of scenes and vignettes, songs and monologues was created by a septet of local writers and actresses, each of whom draws upon her own life as a mother and/or daughter, creating a show brimming with vitality, energy, laughter, heartbreak and hope.

Moms (L to R) Kimberly Squires of Milford, Kimberly Wilson of Westport, Jo Anne Parady of Norwalk and Nadine Willig of Stratford can’t get off “The Road Again” in a humorous piece in  the Theatre Artists Workshop production of  “Momoirs: The Umbilical Cord Stops Here!”  Photo Credit: Suzanne M. Sheridan

For tickets calls 203-854-6830 or go to

Into "The Woods" Darkly

"Into the Woods" -- Westport Country Playhouse

                             Lauren Kennedy as the Witch in Stephen Sondheim and
                          James Lapine’s “Into the Woods.” Photo by T. Charles Erickson

There are two kinds if people in the world: those who don’t like Stephen Sondheim musicals and those who do. For the latter, a good return on the investment of two and a half hours can be found currently at the Westport Country Playhouse, which has chosen to open its 2012 season with an energetic production of Sondheim’s 1986 musical “Into the Woods.”
            This pastiche of fractured fairy tales, with a book by James Lapine, is quintessential Sondheim, who can pack more words into a line of music than just about any other composer, and the words are, by and large, witty and often thought-provoking. In this case, the words are derived from multiple fairy tales, most of which were introduced to the world by the Brothers Grimm. We have Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk, their stories all held together by the that of a baker and his wife who, because of a witch’s curse, are childless. For various reasons, all and sundry must go “into the woods” to fulfill their various quests.
            The opening scene has many of the characters sitting lifeless on the stage like tossed aside dolls until they are brought to life by the Narrator (Jeffrey Denman). This is a visual allusion to the automatons that so fascinated the public during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, mechanical dolls that could walk and often talk, an allusion that is returned to several times during the evening, though what it adds to the overall production is debatable.
            Throughout Act One, which is the more vigorous and entertaining of the two acts, the various fairy tale stories intertwine as Jack (Justin Scott Brown) sows his magical beans, Cinderella (Jenny Latimer) runs away from her Prince Charming (Nik Walker), and gets to sing the very witty “A Very Nice Prince,” Little Red Riding Hood (Dana Steingold) confronts the wolf (also played, with delightful lasciviousness, by Walker), Rapunzel (Britney Coleman) lets down her hair for her prince (Robert Lenzi), and the baker (Erik Liberman) and his wife (Danielle Ferland) seek to find four items that the witch (Lauren Kennedy) has requested as the price to lift her curse on them. 

                              Justin Scott Brown (Jack) and Cheryl Stern (Jack’s Mother).
                                           Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Lapine and Sondheim’s take on all of this is, at least in the first act, fairly straightforward, although the dialogue and lyrics give a modern, often ironic twist to the various fairy-tale set-ups. The first act’s closing number, “Ever After,” has all of the characters achieving their goals and the implication is that the fairy-tale “Happily ever after” reigns. It’s a bring-down-the-curtain number, so much so that the Narrator must announce, “To be continued,” to let the audience know that it is, in fact, not over. There’s more to come.
            The fact that there is more to come is where the problems begin, for it is in the second act that Sondheim and Lapine get a bit ponderous, and there’s not much that director Mark Lamos can do but have his cast wade through all of the messages and morals that prevail as the show explores the idea of what “happily ever after” means. However, there are some high points here, especially the eleven o’clock song written for the witch, “Last Midnight,” and the baker’s wife’s song, “Moments in the Woods,” sung after she has had a romantic encounter with Cinderella’s prince. However, two hours into the show, “No More,” the ultimate “message” song sung by the baker and the Mysterious Man (Jeremy Lawrence) seems to go on for an eternity. Yes, yes, yes, we get the point…the sins of the father and all that. There is, however, a reward for sitting through the second act: the touching “No One is Alone” followed by the finale, “Children Will Listen,” which segues into a rousing and well-choreographed (compliments of Sean Curran) “Into the Woods.”
            For Sondheim fans, what makes the evening well worth the price of a ticket is the cast, which is, by and large, stellar. Although Lieberman is a bit too hyper as the baker, Kennedy’s witch is arch and world-wise (even though she does chew the scenery a bit), Latimer’s Cinderella is engaging and astute, and Steingold’s Little Red Riding Hood…well, she basically steals the show. If you look up the word “droll” in the dictionary you’ll probably find her picture attended to the definition.
            The show runs through May 26.  For tickets or more information call 203-227-4177 or go to