Monday, October 27, 2014

Do You Have a Musical In You?

DATES AND SUBMISSION GUIDELINES ANNOUNCED FOR YALE INSTITUTE FOR MUSIC THEATRE


ONLINE SUBMISSIONS ACCEPTED OCTOBER 23 THROUGH JANUARY 7

Online submissions are being accepted beginning today through January 7 for the 2015 YALE INSTITUTE FOR MUSIC THEATRE.

Established in 2009, the YALE INSTITUTE FOR MUSIC THEATRE is a program of Yale’s Binger Center for New Theatre that bridges the gap between training and the professional world for emerging composers, book writers, and lyricists. The Institute seeks distinctive and original music theatre works to be developed in an intensive two-week summer lab at Yale School of Drama. The Institute matches the authors of the selected works with collaborators, including professional directors and music directors, as well as a company of actors and singers that includes professionals and current Yale students. The lab culminates with open rehearsal readings of each project, presented as part of New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas.

The Binger Center for New Theatre has distinguished itself as one of the nation’s most robust and innovative new play programs. Since 2008, the Binger Center has supported the work of more than 40 commissioned artists and underwritten the world premieres and subsequent productions of 18 new American plays and musicals at Yale Rep and theatres across the country. The Binger Center also facilitates residencies of playwrights and composers at Yale School of Drama, including those who are selected to participate in the Yale Institute for Music Theatre.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Brokaw, two original music theatre works will be selected for the 2015 Institute, which will take place June 13–28 in New Haven. Online applications are being accepted now through January 7, 2015, 11:59PM (EST) at drama.yale.edu/YIMT.

ELIGIBILITY

The Yale Institute for Music Theatre accepts applications for projects at various stages of development but focuses on work that is ready to be explored musically and dramatically with performers and directors. Submissions cannot have had a professional production.


Book musicals and other imaginative music theatre projects are welcome. Only composers, book writers, or lyricists who are current graduate students; or who have graduated from an accredited degree-granting institution (undergraduate or graduate) within the past five years; or who are current Yale students (undergraduate or graduate) are eligible to apply.

Applicants may only submit one work for consideration. Composers and writers may apply as individuals or as part of a team.

Participants must be available for the full duration of the residency. Each member of the writing team will receive an honorarium of $1,000, as well as round-trip transportation and accommodation.

GUIDELINES FOR SUBMISSION

Online submissions will be accepted beginning October 27, 2014, through 11:59 PM (EST) on January 7, 2015.

All submissions must include each of the following, and all documents (with the exception of music recordings) must be uploaded as PDFs:

1-     APPLICANT BIO: a BIOGRAPHY or resume of no more than one page, for each creative artist;

2-     SYNOPSIS/SONG LIST/SCRIPT/SHEET MUSIC

a.     a SYNOPSIS of no more than one page, with a list of characters and instrumentation;

b.     a SONG LIST

c.     a SCRIPT with lyrics or a full libretto;

d.     SHEET MUSIC for a minimum of five songs; 

3-     MUSIC RECORDINGS: a sample of at least 20 minutes of music. The sample must include the five songs for which sheet music is submitted. Piano and vocals are sufficient, and a composer’s demo is acceptable though not preferred. Studio demos are not necessary. Music recording files must be clearly labeled and uploaded in sequence. All submitted recordings must be clearly noted in script.

4-     DEVELOPMENT HISTORY AND GOALS: a brief description of the work’s history and what the creative team hopes to achieve from the development process at the Institute; 

5-     RIGHTS STATEMENT: proof of fully secured rights if the proposed project is an adaptation of an existing work that is not in the public domain;

6-     SIGNATURE: an electronic signature from the Lead Applicant on behalf of all Co-Applicants (composer, book writer, lyricist).

Note: All 2015 applications must be submitted electronically. The Institute does not accept video recordings or photographs.

For more information about the Yale Institute for Music Theatre or the application process, please email yimt@yale.edu or call (203) 432-5348.


All applicants will be notified of selection by March 27.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Catcher in the Court

"Hamlet" -- Hartford Stage -- Thru Nov. 16

                                              Brittany Vicars and Zach Appelman
                                             All photos by T. Charles Erickson


By Geary Danihy

Over the centuries, critics and playgoers alike have had, if not problems, at least questions about “Hamlet,” most centering on the eponymous character himself. Chief among these “questions” is the prince’s apparent madness – is it pretense, real, or a little bit of both? The current production of Shakespeare’s tragedy at the Hartford Stage, under the sure-handed, creative guidance of artistic director Darko Tresnjak, appears to answer this and many other questions. This illuminating and totally enjoyable night of theater gives us a Hamlet for the twenty-first century while staying true to the Bard’s original intentions. It is a must-see production for theater-goers of all ages, but especially for students who think Shakespeare is “boring!”

The answer to the question posed above is in the form of Zach Appelman’s take on the prince. Many fine actors have played this role, some well into their careers, so we often forget that Hamlet is a stripling, a student, a bright, somewhat opinionated, sharp-tongued college student – you know, someone who perhaps over-indulges in a beer hall, is full of his new-found knowledge and revels in his rebellion against those who have made the mistake of becoming adults and therefore, by definition, are either hypocrites or phonies. Yes, there’s just a touch of Holden Caufield in Appelman’s prince of Denmark…and it works, so much so that laughter often punctuates the evening, something seldom heard when attending a production of “Hamlet.” Appelman, under Tresnjak’s focused direction, has given new life to a character often made ponderous by an over-emphasis on brooding, self-doubt (even self-hatred) and oedipal urges.

                                        Kate Forbes and Andrew Long

Yes, Appelman’s Hamlet is conflicted, but that doesn’t stand in the way of his taking a certain perverse delight in playing the role of the aggrieved son of a murdered father, for Hamlet, as is readily apparent in the scene with the troupe that has arrived at Elsinore to entertain, has thespian tendencies, and these tendencies are part of what leads to Ophelia’s suicide and the violent end of the story. It has often been suggested that Hamlet’s “tragic flaw” is his propensity for hesitation, but in this production it becomes apparent the “flaw” is that Hamlet is, at heart, just a boy, a very smart, perceptive boy, but a boy just the same, and the ghost of his murdered father, who demands that his son avenge his murder, thrusts Hamlet into a world of adults that he comprehends all to well intellectually but is ill-equipped to deal with emotionally. Hence, Hamlet does what many a young adult would do in this situation, he takes on roles, multiple roles to fit the moment, and derives a certain delight in the play-acting.

Appleman is supported by a strong cast, with James Seol as Horatio, Andrew Long as King Claudius, Kate Forbes as Queen Gertrude and Brittany Vicars as Ophelia. It is, however, Edward James Hyland, as the pontificating Polonius, who most ably helps to define Hamlet’s character, for if Appelman’s Hamlet is the essence of brash youth then Hyland’s Polonius is the antithesis, an adult, perhaps once a brilliant student, who has become enamored of his own wisdom and words, a man Hamlet makes fun of yet, seeing this production one gets the sense that if Hamlet had lived and aged into his semi-dotage he might easily have become a Polonius – they are the yin and yang of the same character: full of themselves and eager to dispense their versions of “wisdom.”

                                                Edward James Hyland and Brittany Vicars

Tresnjak, who has done double duty here as scenic designer, has been guided by the idea that “the play’s the thing,” so the minimalistic set (save for the dead king appearing astride a horse – an arresting moment), consists of a raised platform, top-lit and illuminated from below by lighting designer Matthew Richards, that resembles a Celtic cross, a cruciform framed by three black benches. Except for a chandelier that descends to signify court scenes and faux proscenium arches that frame the traveling actors’ play within a play that captures “the conscience of the king,” the stage is left to the actors to create the world of Elsinore, which they do brilliantly, garbed in glorious period costumes by Fabio Toblini.

There are those who deem themselves “purists” – whatever that means – who may find Appleman’s Hamlet a bit too excessive, a bit too flippant, and might quote Hamlet’s own words to the traveling actors as a criticism of Appleman’s somewhat hyperactive prince: “Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand thus, but use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.” But Appleman’s gestures, his artifice, his antsy feet and limbs, are all of a piece with the idea that his Hamlet is playing a role, although the role-playing soon takes on a life of its own and carries the young prince far beyond his nascent understanding of the situation. Wrapped up as he is in the thrill of the artifice he has little awareness of the impact his actions have on others.

                                   Adam Montgomery, Floyd King (center)
                                  and the cast of Hamlet

All in all, this is a vibrant, artistic rendering of Shakespeare’s most psychologically perceptive, challenging play. Tresnjak and company give us a “Hamlet” that some may find disturbingly off-center, but for others, this is a “Hamlet” that reveals aspects of the play that have heretofore not been given full consideration. In the end, we are presented with the idea that “Hamlet” is about “theater” as it manifests itself in our daily lives. Thus, there is a play within a play within a play, with Hamlet the playwright, the protagonist and, tragically, the victim of his own creation. Ophelia’s corpse and the bodies strewn on the court floor at the end of the play are testaments to the lethality of artifice, play-acting taken too far -- something callow youths are prone to do as they become enraptured by their enthusiasms or captured by their bedevilments.


“Hamlet” runs through Nov. 16. For tickets or more information call 860-527-5151 or go to www.hartfordtsage.org. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Fitting Farewell

"Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" -- extended thru Dec, 21 -- Goodspeed Opera House

                           The cast of Irving Berlin’s HOLIDAY INN are
                           “Shaking the Blues Away” All photos by 
Diane Sobolewski

By Geary Danihy

What a lovely dessert to serve for Michael Price’s going-away party. After 48 years, Price, executive director of Goodspeed Musicals, is moving on, leaving behind a legacy unmatched in Connecticut – and national – theater. He is, without a doubt, the defining force behind all that Goodspeed has come to stand for, so it is fitting that the final production of his career at Goodspeed, “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn,” display the style, quality and talent that has drawn crowds to the venerable theater for decades.

As directed by Gordon Greenberg, who co-authored the book with Chad Hodge, and choreographed Denis Jones, “Holiday Inn” is a delightful evocation of the golden age of both Broadway and Hollywood musicals. There’s singing, dancing and romancing and a light-hearted plot. As my play-going partner commented upon leaving Goodspeed that evening, you always come away feeling good, and that’s because Goodspeed under Price’s direction has never lost sight of its primary function, which is to present classic musical theater without any shrugs or winks. Basically, Goodpseed gives its audience what it wants, and that’s what keeps the folks coming back.

                                            Patti Murin and Noah Racey

“Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” is a classic example of what Goodspeed is, well, so good at. There’s a raft of talented actors, a set, created by Anna Louizos, that explains why so many theater companies around the country with limited space seek our Goodspeed for advice, costumes (there has to be at least six or seven major costume changes for the cast over the course of the evening) by Alejo Vietti that dazzle, and dance numbers choreographed by the aforementioned Jones that seem both spontaneous and studied (in this case, a close study of some of Fred Astaire’s memorable numbers).

The plot doesn’t require much of a synopsis. Jim Hardy (Tally Sessions), Ted Hanover (Noah Racey) and Lila Dixon (Hayley Podschun) have a song and dance act. Jim and Lila are engaged, but Ted lures her away with dreams of Hollywood glory. Seeking solace in the simpler life, Jim, sight-unseen, buys a farm in Connecticut, the ancestral home of Linda Mason (Patti Murin).

                                              Hayley Podschun as Lila Dixon
                                              and Noah Racey as Ted Hanover

Jim soon realizes that the farm will not pay for itself, unless…why not turn it into an inn, an inn that puts on musical extravaganzas on all of the major holidays (What’s to be done for income the rest of the year? Don’t ask. It’s a musical!) With the help of Louise (Susan Mosher), the local handywoman and the musical’s comic relief, the inn is transformed, Linda, who once had acting aspirations, is induced to become involved, Jim and Linda start to have feelings for each other, Ted reappears, having been jilted by Lila, and goes into his ‘Hollywood dreams’ routine with Linda, she bites, Jim once again is despondent…oh, will true love eventually win out? Yes, you’ve seen variations on these time-worn themes many times before, but they work, and they work admirably at Goodspeed. If you’re yearning for “The Cherry Orchard” or “A Doll’s House,” go elsewhere. The plot is the all-purpose flour and yeast that help make the cake; the songs (a pastiche of classic Irving Berlin songs) and the dance routines are the luscious fillings that make this particular dessert so delightful.

                                          Susan Mosher as Louise and
                                          Tally Sessions as Jim Hardy 

The songs? Yes, of course, there’s “White Christmas,” that paean to a time and a holiday that exists primarily in American myth (and perhaps, for a certain age group, brings on suicidal thoughts around holiday-time), but there’s also “Out With My Baby,” “Blue Skies,” “What’ll I Do?,” “You’re Easy to Dance With” and “Be Careful, it’s My Heart.” And then there’s “Shaking the Blues Away,” perhaps not one of Berlin’s most memorable songs but it becomes a show-stopper with Jones’s choreography that, most notably, involves three dancers jump-roping with a long length of garland. This number epitomizes what Goodpseed is all about – it’s innovative and exuberant.

The show’s penultimate number, “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk,” perhaps says more than it is meant to, for that is what Price has focused on over his 46 years at Goodspeed, an old-fashioned walk down the memory lane that is American musical theater, and he’s brought us along, and for that, if for nothing else, we can be ever grateful. Thank you, Michael, for all of those walks.


“Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” has been extended through Dec. 21. For tickets or more information call 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.   

Friday, October 17, 2014

Our Town?

"Our Town" -- Long Wharf Theatre -- Thru Nov. 2

                              Jenny Leona as Emily. All photos by T. Charles Erickson

Where, exactly, is “Our Town”?

Well, based on the themes Thornton Wilder wove into his 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, it can be anywhere, for no matter what town or hamlet you visit there will be stories of love and loss, youth and old age, friendship, courtship, marriage and despair, plus, if you step back for a moment, the sense that life goes by too fast and it is only after all has passed that you realize what you have missed, the small moments you do not recognize as containing the essence of what it means to be alive.

That being said and acknowledged-- that Wilder’s play embraces verities that transcend place and time -- the question must once again be asked when faced with experiencing Long Wharf Theatre’s current production of Wilder’s play as directed by Gordon Edelstein, the theater’s artistic director. Where is “Our Town”?

                                    Myra Lucretia Taylor as the Stage Manager

Wilder set his play in the first years of the twentieth century in a New Hampshire town called Grover’s Corners. Eternal verities aside, this is a very specific time and very specific place, and one must ask how important this time and place is to the play? If they are incidental, then Long Wharf’s staging is successful, but if time and place…and tone…and a sense of nostalgia…are intrinsic to the play, then the production falls short of being totally satisfying.

Central to the play is the role of the Stage Manager (Myra Lucretia Taylor), the quasi-omniscient narrator who directs the evening, transcending time and place to reveal and comment upon the lives of those living in Grover’s Corners. It is the Stage Manager who sets the tone of the production – the character knows the townspeople, but it is also necessary that underpinning this ‘knowing’ is a sense that the Stage Manager loves and embraces these characters, for it is that love, that warmth, that embrace, that gives the play its heart. Taylor handles the ‘omniscient’ part quite well, perhaps too well, because the warmth, the love, seems to be missing, so it becomes an exercise in analysis – her Stage Manager points out that this character does this and that character does that, but you never get the sense that this Stage Manager has to restrain herself from embracing any of the characters. She is aloof, like some Greek god looking down from Olympus at the simple joys and sufferings of the lesser creatures populating Grover’s Corners.

                                   Rey Lucas as George and Jenny Leona as Emily

Then there is the creative decision to populate Grover’s Corners with as ethnically diverse a population as possible -- I didn’t see any Native Americans, but there might have been an Arapaho or Comanche lurking in the background of the rather large wedding crowd at the end of the second act. This “updating,” one supposes, is meant to reflect modern demographics, a gesture towards political correctness, but it adds nothing to the play; it’s just there as an unnecessary visual statement of the play’s premise: that regardless of where we live and who our neighbors are, we all experience humanity’s foibles and failures, triumphs and delights. It’s trumping the obvious.

The first and third acts of the play seem strangely devoid of emotion, which has little to do with Eugene Lee’s spartan set – essentially tables and chairs – and more to do with how the Stage Manager frames and comments upon the action. It is only in the second act, which focuses on the budding romance between George (Rey Lucas) and Emily (Jenny Leona) and culminates in their marriage, that Grover’s Corners seems to take on a life of its own. Much credit is due both to Lucas and Leona, for individually and together they capture the essential inarticulateness, rapture and awkwardness of young love. It is also in this act that the two families, consisting of Dr. Gibbs (Don Sparks) and Mrs. Gibbs (Linda Powell) and Mr. Webb (Leon Addison Brown) and Mrs. Webb (Christina Rouner), come to life and engage the audience.

                                                  The cast of "Our Town"

Often, “concept” -- that is, the creative team’s vision or “take” on the production of a well-known play -- can enhance, magnify and revitalize the play, allowing the audience to see the work with “new eyes.” Other times, the “concept” weighs down the play, forcing it to be something that it is not, drawing attention to itself and away from what the playwright wrote. Which result is evident in Long Wharf’s “Our Town” is, ultimately, for the audience to decide. The answer might well be found in thoughts that rise while driving home from Long Wharf: do you feel that you have come away from a visit to Grover’s Corners, a visit that made you privy to the hopes, dreams and fears of the hamlet’s residents, or were you simply just watching an interesting staging of “Our Town”?


“Our Town” runs through Nov. 2. For tickets or more information call 203-787-4282 or go to www.longwharf.org.    

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Seamless "Intimate Apparel"

"Intimate Apparel" -- Westport Country Playhouse -- Thru Nov. 1

                                     Nikki E. Walker. All Photos by Carol Rosegg

By Geary Danihy

The Westport Country Playhouse is currently boarding a lovely production of Lynn Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel,” sensitively directed by Mary B. Robinson. This touching, engaging, funny play about a black seamstress living in New York City in 1905, inspired by the life of Nottage’s great-grandmother, speaks to many issues without resorting to diatribe or shrillness. It can be enjoyed on its surface level, for it is a linear drama complete with rising action, climax and denouement, as well as for its exploration of the social issues that swirl, and sometimes boil, within the melting pot metaphor.

The play opens with Esther (the superb Nikki E. Walker), a black seamstress, working at her sewing machine in the boarding house room she has lived in for the past 15 years. She is soon visited by Mrs. Dickson (Aleta Mitchell), the owner of the boardinghouse, and their conversation establishes the major dramatic theme that will drive the play: Esther is 35 years old and fears that she will never be married. However, the matron gives her a letter from a man named George Armstrong (Isaiah Johnson), a native of Barbados who is currently in Panama, a laborer working on the dig that will eventually become the Panama Canal. He has been told about Esther by one of his fellow workers and has decided to write to her, hoping that she will write back and ease his loneliness.

                                                             Isaiah Johnson

Disregarding Mrs. Dickson’s reservations, Esther is inclined to respond, the only problem being that she can neither read nor write. Reluctantly, she explains her problem to one of her clients, Mrs. Van Buren (Leighton Bryan), a white, childless socialite whose husband has begun to wander, and the lady, on a lark, suggests that she help Esther correspond with George. Letters travel back and forth, some of Esther’s written not by Mrs. Van Buren but by Mayme (Heather Alicia Simms), a black prostitute whom Esther has befriended.

                                             Leighton Bryan and Nikki E. Walker

As the epistolary romance grows, Esther continues to ply her trade, which entails her visiting Mr. Marks (Tommy Schrider), a Jewish draper who works out of his apartment. The two are attracted to each other, but race and religion create insurmountable barriers and the only way they can express their feelings is through discussions of the richness – the feel and touch – of the various wares Marks has to offer.

                                             Tommy Schrider and Nikki E. Walker

The first act ends with George’s arrival in New York. The couple, with Esther dressed in a bridal gown, meet for the first time and, on a darkened stage, turn to face the audience, as if posing for a wedding picture. Superimposed above them is the caption: “Unidentified Negro Couple ca. 1905,” evoking the thrust of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” the 1952 novel that deals with, among other things, the idea that African Americans were not seen as distinct people but rather perceived and defined by the stereotypical roles they filled, that as human beings they were essentially invisible to the white society in which they lived.

                                      Nikki E. Walker and Heather Alicia Simms

The second, somewhat darker act deals with Esther’s relationship with her new husband and her growing awareness of her own self-worth, an awareness that brings her full circle back to Mrs. Dickson’s boarding house, somewhat sadder but also a great deal wiser. The play ends with another “photograph” -- as Esther sits at her sewing machine, again on a darkened stage, there is another caption: “Unidentified Negro Seamstress ca. 1905.” Of course, for the audience, she is not an “unidentified Negro seamstress,” she is Esther, a woman the audience has come to care deeply about, a human being who shares with the audience members the fears, desires, dreams and defeats that are the warp and woof of life.

The cast that brings this story to life is superb. One might only question Johnson’s accent, for he often sounds as if he is more from County Cork than from Barbados, but you can’t question the strength of his performance nor that of any of the other actors, all of whom play off Walker’s marvelous evocation of a woman trembling on middle-age spinsterhood who rolls the dice in the hope that life will allow her to walk away a winner. In the end, she does win, but not in the way she had hoped.


“Intimate Apparel” runs through Nov. 1. For tickets or more information call 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Less Than it Seems

"Annapurna" -- TheaterWorks -- Thru Nov. 9

                                           Vasili Bogazianos and Debra Jo Rupp.
                                           All photos by Lanny Nagler


By Geary Danihy

Coming away from watching “Annapurna,” a play by Sharr White that just opened at TheaterWorks, I was reminded of what is often said about Chinese food – you enjoy the meal but feel hungry an hour later. On the trip home, as I mentally digested what I had seen, questions started to bubble to the surface: questions about motivation, questions about dramatic structure, questions about resolution. In the hour-long drive I came to realize that the play I had enjoyed watching was, on reflection, not at all what it had seemed to be at the time of consumption and that I was left with a certain empty feeling.

Annapurna refers to the peak in the Himalayas in north-central Nepal. It is also the title of an epic poem that Ulysses (Vasili Bogazianos) has been writing over the past decade or so. Ulysses, a once robust college professor and cowboy poet, has fallen on hard times: he lives in a ramshackle trailer in Colorado that has the look and feel of a dumpster, is a reformed alcoholic attached to an oxygen tank because of severe emphysema (he once managed to smoke five packs of cigarettes in a day) and had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is also bereft of family, for several decades ago he woke one morning after a night of binging to find that his wife Emma (Debra Jo Rupp) had, along with their 5-year-old son, left him, leaving no note behind. That abrupt departure was, or so he claims, the catalyst for his slow yet inexorable descent into the current trash-bin life he is living. However, revelations and redemption of a sort are waiting in the wings.

White’s point of attack wastes no time with back-story – that is filled in throughout the course of the play in a rather repetitive fashion – for the play’s first scene, which lasts all of 30 seconds, has Emma, out of the blue and suitcase in hand, barging into Ulysses’ trailer as he, dressed only in a terrycloth apron, is cooking sausages that have gone bad. He responds to her arrival by repeating a three-word sentence that ends with an expletive…and then there’s a blackout. When the lights come up again the two are in the same position and Ulysses once again asked his three-word question.

Why the blackout? What purpose does it serve? A question, perhaps, for the playwright or director Robb Ruggiero to answer, but, on reflection, it seems manipulative, a visual effect, an electronic moment that makes the audience feel that something has happened (perhaps of great dramatic weight) when it really hasn’t. As such, it serves as an unintended metaphor for much that will occur in the play.

                                                            Debra Jo Rupp

Ulysses is understandably confused about Emma’s sudden appearance, but Emma, who bears red marks on her arms and around her neck, offers no explanation. Ulysses will have to coax the answers from her – this is the device White has chosen to deliver the back story and also to bring the play to its resolution. It works the first or second time, but he keeps on going back to it – Ulysses asks a question, Emma opts not to respond, then does so – that it becomes both obvious and a bit boring. So, too, are the constant references to Ulysses’ slovenliness, a mode of existence that is evident even before the start of the play, for all the audience has to do is take in Evan Adamson’s impressively detailed set design of the interior of the trailer to understand that here lives a slob. This running joke has Emma moving about the trailer uncovering disturbing details of Ulysses’ disdain for cleanliness (ants, rotting meat, a filthy countertop) – she does the reveal, Ulysses responds, and Emma reacts. It gets laughs the first few times but it soon becomes old.

The play ends with an inquisition of sorts as the tables are now turned – Emma is asking the questions, demanding that Ulysses remember what happened the night before she disappeared with their son, and he cannot respond, ostensibly because the evening is all an alcoholic blur. This leads to a “dark night of the soul” moment that is supposed to be cathartic for the couple as well as for the audience. It remains to be seen if that is so. The play’s denouement has Emma giving Ulysses a haircut (a somewhat heavy-handed piece of symbolism) as he recites the first stanza of his epic poem for her. As he recites, the couple is slowly bathed in a warm glow by lighting designer John Lasiter, a glow that fades to black as Emma gazes adoringly at her cowboy poet.

                                                          Vasili Bogazianos

The fact that all of this works, that the problems inherent in the play don’t become obvious until well after departing the theater, has to do with the skill and talent of the two actors. Although Bogazianos begins as something of a one-trick pony – gruff and growling regardless of the lines he is speaking – he soon begins to provide his character with emotional layers. However, it is Rupp who propels the show, captures the audience’s attention and weaves a web of theatrical magic that for the entire 90 minutes successfully diverts any rational consideration of the play’s limitations. The theater’s relative intimacy allows Rupp to use nuanced facial expressions and subtle body language to convey a broad range of emotions that support and enhance the delivery of her lines.

And so, what about the questions, especially those dealing with motivation and resolution? To pose them, much less attempt to answer them, would be to act the role of the spoiler. Suffice it to say that they deal with the scars left by alcoholism and family abuse. Given what has happened to these two characters in the past, would they – especially Emma -- actually find themselves in this situation at this time in their lives? Can some things actually be forgiven and forgotten? White suggests that, with the recitation of a little bit of allusive and highly self-referential poetry, plus a bit of ‘fessing up, they can. However, ultimately, that’s up to the audience to decide. What’s not open to debate is that Rupp is one hell of an actress.


Annapurna” runs through Nov. 9. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to www.theaterworkshartford.org 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Order in Chaos – Chaos in Order

"Arcadia" -- Yale Repertory Theatre -- Thru Oct. 25

                                          Rebekah Brockman and Tom Pecinka.
                                          All photos by Joan Marcus.

By Geary Danihy

Although Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” which recently opened at the Yale Repertory Theatre under the direction of its artistic director, James Bundy, can be enjoyed on its own merits, to truly enter into the world of the play you may want to brush up on such topics as chaos theory, entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, algorithms and fractals, population dynamics, determinism and, finally, the demise of Classicism and the rise of Romanticism (and its impact on gardening in England), for Stoppard has worked them all into this comedy of ideas that demands close attention if you wish to follow the multi-era mirroring that is at the heart of the play. You might also feel compelled, after seeing this production, to purchase a copy of the script so you can read the lines that are lost due to sound level or the actors not pausing for the laughter to subside before delivering their next lines, both of which work against paying close attention, and paying close attention is central to embracing “Arcadia.”

And then there is Death, the ultimate proof of entropy, and the demise of both people and ideas is central to the play, for “Arcadia,” the play’s title, is a shortened version of the title Stoppard had in mind: “Et in Arcadia ego,” the translation of which has been argued over, both by scholars and, more to the point, characters in the play. In essence, what it refers to is that even in an earthly paradise death is ever-present, so lurking beneath the mask of comedy is, if not the mask of tragedy, then certainly the mask of mortality, the idea that all passes away.

The play is set in Sidley Park, an English manor, in two time periods: 1809 – 1812 and the present (the play was written in 1993). The minimal set by Adrian Martinez Frausto is true to Stoppard’s intentions, for it consists of a large table in front of high windows and double doors that lead out into the manor’s gardens, the desk being the inescapable focal point, one that accumulates, over the course of the two acts, books, letters, drawings and electronic devices of both eras, a visual representation of the doubling and merging of past and present that are two of the play’s central tropes. There is also a tortoise that appears in every scene, a constant in an otherwise ever-changing world.

                                       RenĂ© Augesen and Stephen Barker Turner

As the play opens we are introduced to Thomasina (the engaging Rebeka Brockman), a bright 13-year-old who is being tutored by Septimus Hodge (Tom Packina), a friend of the poet Lord Byron (an unseen presence in the play). The two have spirited discussions throughout the play about many of the topics listed above, with Thomasina challenging accepted wisdom. Septimus at first humors the young girl but he soon comes to respect her insights into, among other things, the nature of energy and chaos versus order. He also slowly falls in love with his charge.

Hodge is a man of many talents, including those of the bedroom, and it his amorous abilities that get him into trouble with the second-rate poet Ezra Chater (Jonathan Spivey) who, after learning of Hodge’s dalliance with his wife, challenges him to a duel. Urging him on is Captain Brice (Graham Rowat), the brother of Lady Croom (Felicity Jones), Thomasina’s mother, who is also drawn to Hodge. Adding to these intrigues is Richard Noakes (Julian Gamble), the manor’s gardener who wishes to transform the gardens from their classic style to something a bit more Gothic, including a hermitage fit for a hermit. To push his project he has a book that shows the gardens as they currently exist with overlays that depict the Gothic transformation. It is on one of these overlays – the one showing the vine-covered hermitage – that Thomasina draws in the dark figure of a hermit. That bit of graffiti will reverberate centuries later. As already noted, close attention must be paid to follow the shifting tides of relationships and intellectual discussions, for they are varied and many.

                                        Annelise Lawson and Bradley James Tejeda

Now, imagine that you are two centuries removed from all of this and are surveying the fragments of letters, books and other clues to the past (including the gardener’s book) in an attempt to piece it all back together. This task, from different perspectives, has been taken on by Hannah Jarvis (Rene Augesen), the author of a book on Byron’s mistress who is now researching the hermit who supposedly lived in the hermitage for many years, and Bernard Nightengale (Stephen Barker Turner), a university don who believes he has stumbled upon the reason for Lord Byron’s hasty flight from England in 1809. The two are being hosted at the manor, somewhat reluctantly, by Chloe Coverly (Annelise Lawson), the 18-year-old daughter of the current Lady Croom, and Valentine Coverly, Chloe’s older brother who is a graduate student in mathematics. There is also a mute younger brother Gus (Bradley James Tejeda – who also plays Augustus Coverly, Thomasina’s younger brother).

As the play shifts back and forth between the two periods, Stoppard deals with how the past can so easily be misinterpreted yet still dramatically echo in the present, often using dramatic irony to make his point for, of course, the audience is aware of how wrong the present guests at Sidley Park are about what happened in the past and, at the same time, how wrong those who lived those events were about what was actually happening. In essence, it’s a dual fun house with mirrors that distort reality and in so doing call the very concept into question.

Considering the play’s structure, there is an inevitable ebb and flow to the evening, nicely handled by Bundy, who has a keen eye for the comedic moments inherent in the script. As evidence of this, there is a scene in which Lady Croom and Hodge are having a passionate discussion that is interrupted by the butler, Jellaby (Michael Rudko), who is carrying a tea service on a tray. There is little dialogue here, but the moment is memorable as Lady Croom and Hodge suffer rising conversation-interruptus while waiting for Jellaby to complete his duties. Another delightful, extended, scene opens Act Two when Nightengale (Turner is dead-on here) gives us the essence of the pompous professor eager to present his theories on trivial matters, issues no more important to the daily warp and woof of life than a heated discussion of how many angles can dance on the head of a pin.

Given that there are numerous plot points and multiple references to scientific, philosophical and religious theories imbedded in the dialogue, full enjoyment (and comprehension) of the play requires that the dialogue be clearly audible, and this is one of the few complaints one might lodge against this production for, as already mentioned, it is often difficult to hear what the actors are saying. Quite often a mere cough from an audience member was enough to muffle a line, while at other times the actors speak their lines over the audience’s laughter rather than waiting for it to subside.

There is also a strange emotional imbalance in the play’s final moments, which consists of Hodge and Thomasina waltzing, which is touching, especially since the audience now knows what fate awaits these two, while Jarvis awkwardly dances with Gus Coverly, which evokes no emotional reaction (Jarvis dancing with Nightengale as a counterbalance would have made more sense). This imbalance is all the more obvious since Stoppard has, throughout the play, so successfully balanced the two eras and the characters that inhabit them.

This rich, multi-layered production has a certain time-release quality to it, in that the relevance and import of what has been seen becomes fully apparent only after the curtain has fallen and you have time to think and ponder. Given that, even though the play runs close to three hours, you feel that a second visit is warranted if only to savor all of its nuances, allusions and subtleties.

Arcadia” runs through Oct. 25. For tickets or more information call 203-432-1234 or go to www.yalerep.org 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Compelling “Angels in America”

"Angels in America -- Part One" -- Playhouse on Park -- Thru Oct. 19

                            James Parenti as Prior Walter, All photos by Rich Wagner

“Angels in America” has stirred controversy since it opened on Broadway in 1993, said controversy not abating and perhaps aggravated by its receiving the Drama Desk Award for Best Play, plus a Pulitzer and a Tony in the same year. Subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” Tony Kushner’s two-part exploration of (some would say exploitation of) such diverse themes as AIDS, homosexuality, political corruption, religion, anti-semitism and racism woven together with the more intimate subjects of love, friendship and betrayal cannot help but elicit diverse responses from anyone who sees the play, responses that range from shock through boredom to enthrallment. That Playhouse on Park in West Hartford has chosen to open its sixth season with a production of the first part of the play, “Millennium Approaches,” redounds to its credit, and the fact that the effort is, by and large, accomplished with style, flair and a keen sense of the play’s overt theatricality says much about the quality of work to which this theater is committed.

                                            Rae C. Wright and Tim Hackney

Directed by Sean Harris, the Playhouse’s artistic director, with a set designed by Chris Hoyt, lighting by Aaron Hochheiser and sound by Joel Abbott, the production, given the intimacy of the theater, compels attention from its opening moments. Written for eight actors, many of whom take on multiple parts unrestricted by gender, the play is not without its critics, some of whom have suggested that it is overwrought, overwritten and two long by half (three and a half hours with two intermissions) and that anyone who expresses these or other negative opinions is immediately labeled a homophobe, that only politically incorrect cads would carp or complain. It’s that kind of play – its value and impact are in the eyes of the beholders.

                                              Tim Hackney and Kristen Harlow

The loose, segmented plot focuses on two sets of characters. There’s Prior Walter (James Parenti), a young man with an ancient family history who has just contracted AIDS, and his significant other, Louis Ironson (Marty Scanlon), who is challenged by the prospect of having to care for his lover and  eventually abandons him. Then there are the Pitts: Joe (Tim Hackney), a devout Mormon and deeply closeted homosexual who is a clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals and a close friend of Roy Cohn (Jim Shankman), the famous (or infamous) lawyer, and Joe’s wife, Harper (Kristen Harlow), a lady deep into Valium addiction who lives most of her days in drug-induced fantasies, often visited by Mr. Lies (Clark Beasley Jr.), a member of the International Order of Travel Agents who facilitates Harper’s flights of fancy.

                                                 Marty Scanlon and James Parenti

Intermixed and interacting with these main characters is a host of minor characters including Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz, Henry, Cohn’s doctor, Hannah Porter Pitt, Joe’s mother, and Ethel Rosenberg, all played by Rae C. Wright, several long-deceased members of the Walter family, played by Shankman and Hackney, and Emily, a nurse, Ella Chapter, friend of Hannah, a derelict woman and, finally the Angel, all played by Olivia Hoffman. As one might imagine, the number of costume and character changes are demanding on the actors, as are the monologues that most of the characters are asked to deliver (special note must be taken of Scanlon’s extended diatribe to Belize [Beasley], delivered with a manic rapidity that is nothing short of awe-inspiring).

The Playhouse has, as it did for its last production of “Spelling Bee,” managed to gather together an impressive ensemble of actors. There’s really not a false note throughout the entire evening, and there are moments of such intensity you want to drop your eyes – but you can’t. Singling out specific performances is therefore difficult, but special credit has to be given to Parenti, who gives us a witty, frightened, bedeviled (or be-angeled) Prior Walter, a man confronting his own humanity, his past and his lover’s betrayal. It’s a simply marvelous, multi-faceted performance.

                                         Kristen Harlow and Clark Beasley Jr,

Then there’s Harlow as the Valium-popping wife who is capable of being distraught and delightfully self-aware at the same time – it’s a deft trick pulled off by an actress who knows what she is doing at every moment. Finally, there’s Shankman as Ray Cohn, who is able to create a wonderfully nuanced character who seeks to hide his fears and fragility with brash bravado and disdain for the rules and laws followed by mere mortals, a portrayal that is both chilling and compelling.

Director Harris shows a firm, understanding hand throughout, no more so than in the scene in which Prior challenges Louis about his betrayal as Harper confronts Joe about his homosexuality – it’s a visual piece of contrapuntal theater that, as blocked by Harris, makes the heart race and the senses tingle. It ends and you feel exuberantly exhausted.

“Angels in America” is not for everyone. On opening night several audience members departed during the first and second intermissions. Perhaps some were put off by the graphic representation of the suffering those afflicted by AIDS go through; perhaps others were disenchanted by the somewhat overt scenes of homosexual love (or lust – or despair – or self-effacement and self-denigration). This is a tough play that demands the audience enter into a world that is both gritty and real and phantasmagorical, but for those who stay the course, it is ultimately tremendously satisfying if not (at least in Part One) uplifting. And as for the acting? Well, those aspiring to eventually trod the boards should attend and make mental notes. All they have to do is focus on just one of these eight talented actors and watch…and learn…and be inspired.

And to think all of this is happening in a relatively tiny theater in West Hartford. Will wonders (including the reveal of the angel in the play’s final moments) never cease?


“Angels in America” runs through Oct. 19. For tickets or more information call 860-523-5900, X10, or go to www.playhouseonpark.org

Friday, October 3, 2014

“Comedy is Hard,” but Easy on the Eyes

"Comedy is Hard" -- Ivoryton Playhouse -- Thru Oct. 12

                                            Joyce DeWitt and Micky Dolenz.
                                            Photo by Rosemary Picarelli


It’s the end of the yellow brick road for Kay and Lou and, unfortunately, there’s no Emerald City or wish-fulfilling wizard awaiting them, just The Actors Home in New Jersey, which means they’re not in Kansas anymore, and they’re not on stage anymore, and the glitter has now turned to sawdust, but these two aging theatrical pros are flint and tinder, and when they meet in a park something sparks, and that’s the dramatic thrust of Mike Reiss’s “Comedy is Hard,” which is enjoying it’s world premiere out at the Ivoryton Playhouse. This amiable though flawed comedy (after all, comedy is hard) directed with a nice touch by Jacqueline Hubbard, has enough wit and, for those of a certain age, ample allusions, to make for a pleasant and, at times, hilarious, evening.

It doesn’t hurt that Lou, a second-rate stand-up comedian, is played by Micky Dolenz (yes, the Micky Dolenz who, way back when, Monkeyed around), and Kay is played by Joyce DeWitt (who once taught us that “Three’s Company). The two work well together, first (in classic sit-com fashion) finding each other distasteful and then, as they reveal more about themselves and their careers, come to like and, perhaps, love each other (Think of “The Gin Game” with one-liners).

There’s a familiar, satisfying arc to Reiss’s play, and the two leads, for the most part bound to wheelchairs throughout the evening, know what they are about: Dolenz’s Lou (aka “Skippy) is raunchy and flippant; DeWitt’s Kay is acerbic and disdainful, and the two characters clash initially over the comedy-drama argument that has been going on since the time of Plato and Aristotle – which is more difficult to perform? Which is more relevant and audience-pleasing? The argument drives the production and, in the end, is its stumbling block.

Reiss, former president of “The Harvard Lampoon” and one of the prime movers of the award-winning animated TV show, “The Simpsons,” is, obviously, no stranger to comedy, and he spices the script with both its theory (The rule of three) and practice – much of it works, and some of it is hilarious, but there are moments when the one-liners fall flat or, in several cases, are simply offensive or, even worse, don’t make much sense. However, the audience is in a forgiving mood throughout the evening, feeding off Dolenz’s brio and DeWitt’s presence (who knew, based on her performance in the famous sitcom, that her voice was so commanding and multi-layered?).

There are sub-plots – Lou’s essentially estranged son, Phil (Michael McDermott), comes to finally understand and accept his father – it’s a bit maudlin and forced but…whatever. Then there’s Valentine (Dorian Mendez), Kay’s nurse, who is limited throughout most of the play to one word: “Que?” A lot more could have been done with this character, especially in the second act but…whatever. And then there’s the Homeless Man (Michael Hotkowski), a one-time actor who, given alms by Kay, seeks his inner thespian by taking on the role of Sesame Street’s Elmo – again, more could have been made of his plight. The most interesting, intriguing character is Mr. Holroyd (Dan Coyle), another “resident” of the Actors Home who is catatonic, save for the moments when he comes to life to fill a role or speak to the audience – again, not enough is done with this character.

The play’s first act is essentially given over to “getting to know you,” with the subordinate establishment of the comedy/drama argument. The second act brings the argument to the fore, and it is here that the play shines and, eventually, stumbles, for Kay has suggested that she and Lou, or “Skippy,” stage an abbreviated performance of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” to which they will invite schoolchildren (Duh!!). The “rehearsal” scenes reveal that Lou truly understands the absurdist nature of the profession they have both chosen, and of life in general – after all, he tells Kay, he’s not as stupid as he looks. On the day of the show, Lou suddenly has stage fright and, in a moving moment, reveals to Kay his realization (while watching, years ago, a very young Richard Pryor open for him) that he just didn’t have it as a comic – that the world and its audience had moved on and he was stuck in the past, a second-rate Borscht-belt comic with a tired routine.

“Godot” proceeds, however, thanks to the awakening of Mr. Holroyd, who had played the role of Vladimir “a hundred times.” As expected, the play drags and bores, until Skippy rolls out onto the stage in a motorized wheelchair to do his shtick – comedy intruding into and commenting on drama. Get it? However, it’s here that Reiss misses a major moment, for we are led to believe that Lou, or Skippy, (especially in the rehearsal scenes) has pondered the fact that drama – and tragedy – are the handmaidens of comedy, but his routine evokes little more than Bozo the Clown, and his lines are the same, old, tired stuff that he died with years ago. Kay and all gathered claim that Skippy has saved the day through comedy, but he hasn’t. His character hasn’t embraced the absurd, merely offered up the idiotic.

The play ends with a somewhat gratuitous revelation of past connections between Kay and Lou that have nothing to do with the play’s themes, save for the tried and true vaudeville preoccupation with sexual prowess and size of a male’s member. Would that Reiss have gone elsewhere.

“Comedy is Hard” is a pleasing work in progress. As it stands right now, you chuckle at times and, maybe once or twice, guffaw, but it’s all surface humor. Hubbard has done the best she can with the material she has been given, but Reiss needs to step back, take a breath, and see the possibilities inherent in the characters he has created, and the underlying dynamic of comedy—drama—tragedy. There’s a better, more multi-leveled and satisfying play lurking in the wings.


“Comedy is Hard” runs through Oct. 12. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.  

MTC -- Movin' On Up!

MTC Mainstage Has a New Home

                                        Entrance to MTC. All photos by the author

The first time I attended a performance at Music Theatre of Connecticut in Westport, more commonly referred to as MTC Mainstage, I got lost. Following hand-written directions, I turned down a side street, missed the driveway onto which I was supposed to take a left, and drove merrily off into the dark. Doubling back, and re-reading the directions, I drove up a driveway and turned left into a parking lot at the rear of an office building. This can’t be right, I thought. But it was.

There was no neon signage, no marquee, nothing to tell me that I had arrived at my destination other than a sandwich board announcing the night’s production and confirming that, yes, I had arrived at MTC Mainstage. I was less than overjoyed.

I approached the single, rear door with a bit of trepidation. What had I gotten myself into? I walked in and entered a corridor that immediately reminded me of my first day in third grade back in the 1950s – there were hooks for coats, a low rack for shoes, and a sign that urged me to remove my shoes – Lord help me, I did. I thought this just might be a Zen approach to theater – maybe we would all sit cross-legged on cushions for the performance and perhaps achieve satori. The corridor was lit in a pale, somewhat sulfurous light that did little to dispel the feeling that I was going to be asked to sit up straight, do sums and write an essay about my summer vacation, with the possibility that I might be hit in the back of my head by a spitball.

Feeling a bit like dead man walking in socks, I made my way down the corridor, noting the pictures of past productions on the walls, and then took a left into a foyer that reminded me of the entrance to some type of high school fair, something thrown together on the quick to hide the institutional decor. There was no glitz, no glamour – just an entrance area that evoked little excitement and less expectation. I picked up my press ticket and packet, explained why I was shoeless, was told that the sign was for some type of kids’ class down the hall (I was suitably embarrassed) and passed into the theater proper…and stopped.

I suddenly felt like a sardine being enticed into the can – what I saw was a limited staging area, a pseudo-thrust stage of sorts defined by three rows of seats house left, right and center. If I had been claustrophobic I would have bolted. I was guided to my seat, where I sat, attempting to hide my shoeless feet. I looked at the scenery, such as it was. I looked at curtains that seemed to drape possible entrances and exits for the cast, I looked at the tiny area fronted by a piano that I sensed was where the orchestra – band – combo – whatever – would soon appear. I mentally measured the distance from my seat to the back of the stage area – maybe 10 or 12 feet at best. Then I told myself – be objective – don’t pre-judge – good things often come in small packages. Yeah, right. I was already writing my review in my mind, trying to be as kind as possible, knowing that I would do a one-shot and never come back, because what could be done with such limited space in what was essentially the basement of an office building? I tucked my feet under my chair and thought: let’s get this over with so I can get my shoes and go home.

I have been back to MTC many times since then, often to be enchanted and delighted. The theater’s intimacy and the quality of its productions have been infectious. Of recent note: “Cabaret,” which was revelatory – “Master Class,” which was riveting – and “The Fantastiks,” which was engaging. Initial trepidation had morphed into eager anticipation of the theater’s next efforts, so I was of two minds when it was announced that the theater would be moving to new quarters – I had come to appreciate the somewhat ramshackle, intimate venue, and yet, this creative/production team, headed by Kevin Connors and Jim Schilling (co-founders of MTC) had proven it could do marvels in minuscule space and therefore deserved to stretch its wings, and stretch its wings it has.

                                                         MTC's foyer

MTC’s 2014 – 2015 season, which begins on November 7 with “The World Goes ‘Round,” a salute to the song-writing prowess of the Kander and Ebb team (“Chicago,” “Cabaret,” etc.), will be at the new digs, which, at 509 Westport Ave. in Norwalk, is just a few miles south of its old location. Nested behind Nine West and Jones New York, the theater no longer hides its presence, for above the entrance is a bright orange awning and to its left a sign proudly proclaiming that this is the home of MTC Mainstage.

No longer will playgoers get the eerie sense they are entering the stygian depths when they attend an MTC production, for the lobby, bright and airy, feeds directly into the Melissa & Doug Theater (so named in honor of the Wilton toy company greatly responsible for providing the financial wherewithal for the new theater). Inside the 108-seat theater, the audience will still enjoy the intimacy for which MTC has been famous, for the thrust stage is bordered on three sides by just four rows of seats. “At the old theater,” Connors said, “we emphasized experimental rather than presentational theater – that philosophy moved with us to the new theater.” Thankfully, the soul of MTC has been preserved.
                                                    MTC's thrust stage

MTC’s management had been contemplating a move for many years, but as Connors explained, it took quite some time to find just the right building, and when it was found, Connors didn’t want to start the formal fundraising process until he was sure they had gained municipal approval for what was planned.

                                       Here's where MTC's scenery will be crafted

Basically, what MTC purchased was four walls. The interior of the building was gutted and remodeled to meet MTC’s needs. As work commenced on the renovation of the building, which David Heuvelman, the man responsible for most things technical at MTC, described as a “giant open nothing,” consideration was given to possibly renting the lighting and sound equipment but, as Connors noted, renting would have cost about 75% as much as simply buying all new equipment – so that’s what they did, and it’s all state-of-the-art, to the tune of $250,000.

                                                 MTC's new control booth

Although, given the nature of a “box’ theater, there is no fly space (i.e., space above the stage proper where scenery can be raised and lowered), the ceiling is 11 feet, five inches above the floor, which has allowed MTC to install a professional lighting grid (controlled from a booth that now actually looks out onto the stage rather than the old area that was tucked into a corner house left). There is, however, room in the wings to allow for entrances and exits and the shifting of scenery. Connors is especially pleased that he now doesn’t have to worry about the “dead” space stage left that the old theater presented – when actors were blocked into the area there was nowhere for them to go, no “out.”  To escape, their only option was to execute a cross stage right.

                                                  One of MTC's rehearsal rooms

Another limitation the old theater presented was the number of people who could be cast for any show. Connors noted that the most the old stage could handle was, at best, eight actors; the new stage can easily accommodate 12 or more actors – “And,” Joe Landry, MTC’s marketing director noted, “you can do choreography.” But MTC’s new digs mean much more than new lighting or enhanced cast size. As Connors explained, although they knew they were presenting quality productions, MTC, given its somewhat hidden location, lack of signage, and the overall “afterthought” feel to the physical plant, was not providing the total theater experience that audiences look for or, as Connors put it, it wasn’t “a true destination.” It was a night out, but was it a “night out at the theater”? MTC knew that it needed to offer its patrons the complete theatrical gestalt. “We had to do something,’ Connors said, “if we were going to grow.”

And do something they have done. Besides the new staging area, on the first floor there’s a large construction area located through a door stage left and executive offices, plus – and this Connors takes great pride in – modern, spacious rest rooms for patrons. The second floor hosts several rehearsal studios, dressing rooms, two rooms devoted to props and costumes and a green room (basically a holding area for actors waiting to go on) with a sound feed, which means the actors will be able to hear what is occurring on-stage.

                                                     MTC's costume room


There’s an electricity that seems to run through the new building that has nothing to do with wiring or amperage. Everyone involved with MTC simply can’t wait to start playing with all the new toys – and the new space – that this move has provided, but there’s something more, something perhaps intangible but palpable, and it has to do with MTC’s connection with and commitment to its loyal audience. The folks at MTC just can’t wait to share what they have wrought with the folks who, year after year, walked down the dingy hall, took a left into the somewhat shabby foyer and sat in a theater whose dimensions were those of a bomb shelter. In other words, MTC can’t wait to say: “Welcome. Thanks for staying with us all these years. We’ve done this for you. Enjoy.”