Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Timon, Toulouse, Some Witches...and more

Bated Breath Presents a Site-Specific Event at the Wadsworth Atheneum

                    "Jane Avril Leaving the Moulin Rouge" by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Travel back in time to 19th-century France with a new theatrical performance created by Bated Breath Theatre Company. In conjunction with the Wadsworth Athenuem's current exhibition, "Medieval to Monet: French Paintings in the Wadsworth Athenuem," Bated Breath offers a site-specific production using the museum's halls and staircases

                                           Missy Burmeister and Greg Ludovici

The production will be presented on two nights: Nov. 1 at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. ($5 general admission; free for museum members) and Nov 2 at 7 p.m., before the screening of the French film, "Children of Paradise" ($5 admission for all attendees).

"Timon of Athens" in HD at Quick Center
                       Simon Russell Beale and Hilton McRae. Photo by Johan Persson

The National Theatre of London's acclaimed contemporary staging of Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens" will be shown in a National Theatre Live in HD presentation at 3 p.m. (live) and 7 p.m. (encore) on Thursday, Nov. 1, at Fairfield University's Quick Center for the Performing Arts.

The play: Wealthy friend to the rich, powerful patron of the arts and ostentatious host, Timon of Athens (Simon Russell Beale) is surrounded by free-loaders and sycophants. Outspending his resources, Timon calls upon his associates for help only to be rebuffed. After hosting a vengeful banquet, Timon withdraws into his own misanthropic world.

Tickets: 203-254-4010 or go to www.quickcenter.com

National Circus of the People's Republic of China -- at the Quick Center

One of the most distinguished circus troupes in China, The National Circus of the People's Republic of China, performs at 8 p.m., Nov. 2, at Fairfield University's Quick Center.

Founded in 1953 and acclaimed throughout the world, the Circus hearkens back to acrobatic, dance and circus acts performed 3,000 years ago, with Circus members joining the troupe at an early age and training for years to hone talents and techniques before they can appear on stage. With such a heritage and intensive training, the performers' execution of many classic acts, which have been incorporated into Cirque de Soliel performances, is precise and exquisite.

Tickets: 203-254-4010 or go to www.quickcenter.com.

Drat and Egad -- Charlie Brown Comes to Broad Brook

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," the Peanuts musical, will run at the Broad Brook Opera House from Nov. 9 to Nov. 25.

The musical follows Charlie through a typical day, with all of its highs and lows, as he interacts with all of the Peanuts characters. "Good grief!" -- could anything be more traumatic -- or delightful?

Tickets: 860-292-6068 or go to www.operahouseplayers.org.

It's the Musical of Musicals (i.e., The Musical!) -- TheatreWorks New Milford

"Oh what a beautiful rainbow in Fleet Street, on a Sunday in the park with Mame and Evita, and all that jazz."

Opening Dec. 7, and running through Jan. 5 at TheaaterWorks New Milford, "The Musical of Musicals" is a Broadway baby must-see, for it's a hilarious musical tribute to Broadway musical genres -- from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander and Ebb, "Musical of Musicals" embraces the quintessential American theatrical genre with humor and respect as June, who can't pay her rent, must face her evil landlord.

Tickets ($28): 860-350-6863 or go to www.theatreworks.us.

Musical Revue Premieres at Curtain Call

Life's ups and downs, highs and lows, are often bittersweet, and when set to music, you get "Bittersuite: Songs of Experience," which opens Nov. 8 at Stamford's Curtain Call.

Created by Stamford residents Elliot Weiss and Mike Champagne, the show explores the trials and tribulations of the aging middle class (if it still exists) as it collectively ponders how it has changed and what it has learned, sometimes with a sigh and sometimes with a laugh.

Tickets: 203-461-6358 x 13 or go to www.curtaincallinc.com.

"Wings" Wraps Spirit's 15th Season

The Spirit of Broadway in Norwich concludes its15th season with the musical "Wings" with music by Jeffrey Lunden and book and lyrics by Arthur Periman, from the play "Wings" by Arthus Kopit, directed by Brett Bernardini.

The musical focuses on Emily who in her early years was a daredevil aviatrix but now, after a stroke, is fighting the chaos in her mind to reach some state of normalcy. However, the musical is nort a clinical presentation of stroke and its effects but rather the courage and compassion that, gives our lives flight. The show opens Oct. 24 and runs through Nov. 25.

Tickets: 860-886-2378 or go to www.spiritofbroadway.org

Cindy Williams Stars in "Nunsense Boulevard" at The Palace
                                                           Cindy Williams

The Little Sisters of Hoboken have gone Hollywood in the latest installment of the Nunsense franchise: "Nunsense Boulevard:The Nunsense Hollywood Bowl Show," which will have one showing at 7:30 p.m. on Nov.8.

The show stars Cindy Williams (Shirley of "Laverne and Shirley") as Mother Superior, leader of the hapless nuns who travel to Hollywood in the belief that they've been asked to perform at the famed Hollywood Bowl, only to find that they've been booked into a bowling alley. However, the show must go on, along with some side-trips as the good sisters audition for a movie.

Tickets: 203-346-2000 or go to www.palacetheaterct.org.

"Kitchen Witches" Ride Into Ivoryton

Ivoryton Playhouse hosts a clash of kitchen divas as it presents Caroline Smith's "The Kitchen Witches," which opens Oct. 31 and runs through Nov. 18

Isobel Lomax and Dolly Biddle are two rival cable-access cooking show hostesses who have hated each other for 30 years, ever since Larry Biddle dated one and married the other. When circumstances put them together on a TV show called "The Kitchen Witches," the insults are flung faster than the food. Dolly's long-suffering TV-producer son Stephen tries to keep them apart but to no avail, and as the zingers fly the ratings soar.

For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

"Always, Patsy Cline" at Windham

The Windham Theatre Guild a country musical, "Always, Patsy Cline," at the Burton Leavitt Theatre opening Nov. 2. The show stars Laura LaCour and is based on the true story of Cline's friendship with Houston housewife Louise Seger, played by Robin Rice. Seger befriended the singer in a honky-tonk in 1961 and continued a correspondence with her for the rest of Cline's life. The show includes some of Cline's greatest hits: "I Fall to Pieces," "Sweet Dreams" and "Walkin' After Midnight.

Tickets: 860-423-2245 or go to windhamtheatreguild.org.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Next to Normal" -- Gripping and Visceral

"Next to Normal" -- MTC Mainstage, Westport -- Weekends Thru Nov. 4

            Juliet Lambert Pratt in the MTC MainStage production of "Next to Normal." 
                                          Photo by Kerry Long

A dysfunctional family has almost become a cliché in novels, short stories and plays, so much so that we may have become jaded when confronted with yet another fictional family falling apart. If so, then “Next to Normal,” which recently opened at MTC Mainstage in Westport, is a sure cure for our ennui, for it is one thing to read about a family clinging to normalcy by its fingernails and quite another to actually experience the desperation, confusion and fear inherent, and that’s exactly what happens in MTC’s intimate quarters.

The rock musical, with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, was nominated for 11 Tony awards in 2009 and, an even more impressive feat, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize Award for Drama, and it’s easy to see why in MTC’s production, incisively directed by MainStage executive artistic director Kevin Connors, for the audience is slowly yet surely drawn into the lives of the Goodman family – via both dialogue and lyrics – as the impact of Diana Goodman’s bi-polar disorder on her family is painfully and poignantly revealed.

The responsibility for making this musical “work” falls heavily on the shoulders of the actress playing Diana, and though Juliet Lambert Pratt’s shoulders look too fragile to bear the burden, it only takes her delivery of the opening number, “Just Another Day,” to prove that her shoulders are herculean. Pratt is absolutely mesmerizing as she creates a highly nuanced picture of a woman fighting for her soul; her voice resonates and penetrates, and given her proximity to the audience, her every gesture adds color and depth to the portrait. As Diana, she is at times manic and at other times nearly comatose, and in between she attempts to deal with the family turmoil that her condition creates. It is a gripping, stunning performance.

The rest of the admirable cast creates characters that swirl around Diana’s emotional whirlpool that is stirred by the ghost of Gabe (an impressive Logan Hart), a son who died as a baby but has grown in Diana’s mind into a hale and hardy teenager who, we soon learn, harrowingly haunts his mother’s reality. Diana’s husband, Dan (Will Erat), clings to the fanciful hope that a cure can be found for his wife’s illness, and in so doing, clings to a denial that Natalie (Elissa DeMaria), their daughter, rails against while fearing that she herself might succumb to her mother’s illness. As Dan attempts to comfort his wife, Henry (Jacob Heimer), Natalie’s boyfriend, attempts to comfort the teenage girl – both men are less than successful in their efforts.

Hope for Diana is held out by the doctors who treat her (both played by Tommy Foster): Doctor Madden, her “psychopharmacologist,” has her on just about every pill available, pills Diana eventually dumps into the garbage as she sings “I Miss the Mountains”; Doctor Fine agrees to try talk therapy but eventually resorts to electro-shock and in so doing erases most of Diana’s memories, making the woman something of an emotional zombie whom the family attempts to bring back to life in a hauntingly beautiful yet painful scene that involves a box filled with family memorabilia.

The evening’s resolution is, at best, bitter-sweet, for Kitt and Yorkey do not take the easy way out. Yes, there may be “Light” at the end of the tunnel the Goodman family has traveled down, but this hope is tempered by the ghost who refuses to be exorcised from the family’s psyche. Be prepared to walk away from the theater emotionally drained yet thoroughly satisfied, for as Connors noted in his curtain talk, when he saw “Next to Normal” in workshop he knew that it was perfect for MTC. He was right – it is.

The production runs weekends through Nov. 4. For tickets, call 203-454-3883 or go to www.musictheatreofct.com.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Witty "Gentleman's Guide"

"A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" -- The Hartford Stage -- Thru Nov. 11
                 Heather Ayers, Ken Barnett and Jefferson Mays. Photo by Joan Marcus

There’s murder afoot up at Hartford Stage, murder motivated by revenge, revenge for a family wronged. And it’s in a musical. No, it’s not “Sweeney Todd,” Stephen Sondheim’s dark and brooding tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street, for Sweeney wouldn’t be caught dead in this musical. Given the barber’s dyspeptic nature, I doubt he would enjoy a moment of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” but that’s Sweeney’s problem, for the opening night audience absolutely adored this light, frothy, witty tale of a young man’s rise to titled wealth over the bodies of his murdered relatives.

Originally developed at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, “A Gentleman’s Guide,” with book by Robert Freedman, music by Steven Lutvak and lyrics by both, (with more than a nod to the 1949 film, “Kind Hearts and Coronets”) tells the tale of one Monty Navarro (an engaging Ken Barnett), a young man who, on the death of his mother in 1909, learns to his surprise that he is ninth in line to the title of Earl of Highhurst, a title that has been in the D’Ysquith family for centuries. Brought up in impoverished conditions by his mother (his father dying when he was 7), he was unaware of his mother’s banishment from the D’Ysquith family for marrying beneath herself – Monty’s father was a Castilian and a musician to boot.

Monty rushes to tell his paramour, Sibella Hayward (the exquisite Lisa O’Hare) of his heritage only to have her disbelieve him and flaunt that she is being courted by a rich man. Distraught and, after reading his mother’s letters to her family – all returned unopened – and rebuffed by the D’Ysquith’s, he determines that the elimination of those who stand in front of him for the earldom will serve two purposes: revenge for the family’s treatment of his mother and a way to win Sibella’s somewhat mercenary heart. The only problem is: how to kill his victims without incriminating himself?

What follows is merry murder and mayhem, all done to lively, witty tunes that are filled with double-entendres. Perhaps one or two too many tunes, but when the production seems threatened to drag (some of the melodies sound repetitive), there’s a production number to save the moment, sung and danced by a stellar cast.

The show’s main drawing point, however, is that all of the D’Ysquith’s, save for young Phoebe D’Ysquith (the enchanting Chilina Kennedy) and Lady Eugenia (Heather Ayers), are played by the same man, Jefferson Mays, who should have negotiated his salary on a per-costume-change basis. Mays is, at one time or another, lord of the manor, a simpering prelate, an over-muscled army major, a somewhat fey bee keeper, a dowager desperate for a cause (starving Egyptians, lepers, African cannibals – any needy group will do), a bad actress murdering the role of Hedda Gabler (her demise is especially explosive), and the head of a stock trading company and his overbearing, philandering son, and each is a distinct character rife with idiosyncrasies. It would be an understatement to say that this is a bravura performance. Watching Mays create character after character in broad, music-hall strokes is, in itself, worth the price of admission.

As noted, there are moments during the evening that seem to work against the on-rush of murderous events. The Monty/Sibella duets seem repetitive and Mays’ “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” is over-long and overwrought, but these moments are more than balanced by numbers so delightfully staged by director Darko Tresnjak and choreographer Peggy Hickey that you wish they would not end.

Though this is not “Sweeney Tood,” it’s obvious that Freedman and Lutvak have studied the master’s work. There’s a witty “Warning to the Audience” at the start of the show, urging those with weak stomachs or hearts to leave while they still have the chance, the delightful “Better With a Man,” the first act’s closer, “The Last One You’d Expect,” and perhaps the most visually and musically satisfying number of all, “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” which features Barnett, O’Hare and Kennedy, with Sibella in Monty’s bedroom, Phoebe in his front parlor, and Monty between the two women who are separated by a pair of doors. It’s a delicious, extended moment. In fact, any time the two female leads get to share the stage there’s a vocal frisson that never ceases to please.

The production team seems to have had as much fun in the staging of the show as the cast, for the work of scenic designer Alexander Dodge, costume designer Linda Cho, lighting designer Philip Rosenberg, sound designer Dan Moses Schreier and projection designer Aaron Rhyne is absolutely stellar. The group has collectively created a surprise-laden feast for the audience’s eyes and ears replete with dancing suits of armor, eye-blinking lightning and sets that run from a Gorey-esque cemetery to a flower-laden bower and a regal dining room, all framed by a candy-box stage with a proscenium that bears the D’Ysquith family name.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Hartford Stage decides to extend the run of “Gentleman’s Guide.” Based on comments I overheard made by mingling audience members, the show will enjoy strong word-of-mouth.

The show runs through Nov. 11. For tickets or more information call 860-527-5151 or go to www.hartfordstage.org

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Moving "Mice and Men"

"Of Mice and Men" -- Playhouse on Park -- Thru Oct. 28

                    Shannon Michael Wamser and Jed Aicher. Photo by Rich Wagner

There are some moments in literature that, having experienced them, stay with you forever. One such moment is the close of John Steinbeck’s Depression Era novel (or novella or play-novelette – take your pick), “Of Mice and Men,” published in 1937, the title taken from Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse.” The line reads: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." The novel is on the American Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century for its supposed vulgarity and racist language (right up there with Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” for much the same reasons).

Steinbeck adapted the novel for the stage, and the play opened on Broadway in November of 1937. Subsequently, there have been two film versions, two TV productions, one radio play (2010 – the BBC), an opera, a 1974 Broadway revival, and numerous productions in regional and local theaters, including the current production at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford that, though slow to get off the ground and a bit flawed, eventually soars in the final act, so much so that there were audible gasps from the audience several times during the production’s final 20 minutes.

The story focuses on two itinerant field laborers, George Milton (Shannon Michael Wamser) and Lennie Small (an admirable Jed Aicher), who have been wandering the dusty roads of America together for many years. Chased out of one town because Lennie couldn’t control himself -- he is a large man with limited intellect, explosive strength, and urges he finds difficult to control -- at the opening of the play they are heading for a ranch where they will once again do hard labor for weekly pay, taking one step forward as they take two steps back. But they have a plan, a scheme – they will scrape together enough money to buy a small farm of their own, a mini-Eden where Lennie will get to tend the rabbits, for he loves to stroke and cuddle soft, living creatures. It is a myth that George weaves over and over again for Lennie, so much so that it takes on a bardic nature, with Lennie demanding that George recite the exact words that describe the farm, his tending of the rabbits, and the ultimate goal of “living off the fat of the land.”

Yet such schemes oft go astray, as they do soon after George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, for there is an Eve waiting for them on their road to their mini-Eden in the form of the wife of the ranch manager’s son, Curly (Tony Knotts), a height-challenged young man handy with his dukes. Curly’s wife (Kimberley Shoniker) – for so she is referred to in both the novel and the play – is lonely – for conversation, she claims -- and visits the bunk house all to often, driving Curly mad with jealousy. The ranch workers – Slim (Dustin Fontaine), Candy (Robert Britton), Carlson (Ted D’Agostino), and Whit (Harrison Greene) – think Curly’s wife is a tart, and on his arrival George immediately senses danger, for Curly has problems with “big” men and Lennie has problems with soft, oh-so-touchable women.

Yet the dream, the scheme, initially seems to be close to becoming a reality, for Candy has saved some money, and once he hears of the dream he buys in. The mini-Eden is so seductive to these men who toil mightily only to spend their meager salaries on weekend whores and whiskey that Crooks (Clark Beasley Jr.), a black worker whose back was hurt while working on the ranch, says he will work for free if only he can go to this promised land of orchards and fields of alfalfa. Hopes quiver and rise, only to be dashed as tragic flaws destroy the dream.

The major problem with this production is the lack of emotional intensity Wamser brings to the pivotal role of George. Although he often raises his voice and strides about the stage with abandon (much too many motivation-less crosses apparently dictated by director Sean Harris), the emotions don’t seem to be coming from his character’s core. This is especially apparent in a pivotal scene dealing with Curley’s wife late in the third act (George’s world has just collapsed and yet, there’s not a tremor in his voice) and the final scene, where there is no sense of inner-conflict…and there damn well should be.

The same cannot be said for Aicher, who gives us a frightened, desperate, yet ever-hopeful and trusting Lennie, a man challenged by reality who tries ever so hard to get it right and remember George’s instructions. His performance drives the show and makes the final moments achingly sad. There are other worthy efforts, chief among them Shonkiker’s and Britton’s, for both of their characters are fully realized, and Beasley gives us a Crooks whose dignity and loneliness ennoble the man.

Since there is no credit for fight scenes, major kudos have to go to director Harris for the visceral staging of Curley’s brutal beating of Lennie and the deadly pas-de-deux Lennie and Curly’s wife’s perform in act three. Both are visually gripping theatrical moments – you won’t forget them.

Tina Louise Jones’ set design takes ample advantage of the Playhouse’s somewhat limited space, and Marcus Abbott’s lighting is effective. My only quibble with the creative team’s visible efforts is with Erin Kacmarcik’s costumes – clothing and shoes seem too fresh and new to be the garb worn by hard working, poorly paid men. This is especially true for the garb worn by George and Lennie – although Lennie’s does look a bit time-worn and travel-tested, George’s clothing simply doesn’t look like it’s been slept in.

“Of Mice and Men” is a tragedy of the inevitable, and in the end all you can ask of a production of this play is that it grippingly conveys the tragic downward spiral of two men who cling to a dream that cannot be. In this, Playhouse on Park’s production succeeds.

“Of Mice and Men” runs through Oct. 28. For tickets or more information call 860-523-5900 X 10 or go to www.playhouseonpark.org 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dance, Murder, Giggles and Ghoulies...and Abagail Adams

"Meditations from a Garden Seat" at Charter Oak Cultural Center

Dance-theater artist Judy Dworkin presents her new work, "Meditations from a Garden Seat," at the Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, on Nov. 1 - 3. This multi-media work, which draws upon a letter penned by Harriet Beecher Stowe and narratives, songs and dnaces by contemporary women who are in or out of prison, is intended to challenge common perceptions of the incarcerated by depicting their questing spirits, permanent sorrows and joyous transformations within the barren confines of prison.

The garden of the work's title refers to the prison garden at the York Correctional Institute in Niantic, which became a source of healing, regeneration and inspiration for some 30 women incarcerated in the institution.

For tickets or more information call 860-249-1207 or go to www.charteroakcenter.org

The Legacy Theatre Premieres"Affectionately, Abigail"

The Legacy Theatre is staging a premiere of "Affectionately, Abigail," starring Keely Baisden Knudsen. The musical focuses on the life of Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, the second president of the United States. There will be three performances: Nov. 9 and 10 at the Nathaniel B. Greene Community Center in Guilford and Nov. 17 at the James Blackstone Memorial Library in Branford. Admissions is free; donations accepted. For reservations call 203-457-0138 or go to info@LegacyTheatreCT.org

Staged Reading of "Animal Farm" at Goshen

The Goshen Players will present a staged reading of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" Nov. 16 - 18. Reservations are recommended. Tickets ($15): 860-491-9988

More Sips and Giggles! Set to Sparkle
                                              The cast of Sips and Giggles!

An evening of Sips and Giggles!, the perfect pairing of plays with complimentary wines and light bites, is set for Saturday, October 20 at the intimate Lyric Hall in the Westville section of New Haven, at 827 Whaley Avenue. The first event this summer sold out.

Thanks to actress and entrepreneur Joanna Keylock, the night promises to sparkle, with amuse-bouches, little tastes that explode in the mouth, combined with appropriately refreshing and unusual wines and a selection of delightful one-act plays that fit the spirit. The delicious nibbles are courtesy of Stacey Ference of Savour Catering LLC (203-906-7144) or Savourfood@sbcglobal.net and the distinctive wines are thanks to The Wine Thief, located at 101 Crown Street and 370 Whitney Avenue, New Haven.

The plays, all comic brain children of area playwright Frederick Stroppel, will include “Mulberries,” about neighbors who get to know each other too well, “Coelacanth,” about a sister and her mentally challenged brother who are caught in the past as they try to plan for the future, and “Harvest Time,” about a man who needs a kidney transplant and the brother who may or may not provide it. As if that weren’t enough, Jim Noble will read "Testament," an unusual last will that is bitingly funny.

For tickets ($40), call 203-298-0730. Non-alcoholic beverages are available for those under 21.

"The Groovy Ghoulies" Haunts New Haven

"The Groovy Ghoulies," Pantonchino Productions new family-friendly musical, will open on Oct. 26 for five performances at Arts Hall, 55 Audubon St., in New Haven

With book and lyrics by Bert Bernardi and music by Justin Rigg, the show follows a rock and roll band of monsters -- Wolfgang, Swankenstein, D-Rac and Bones -- as they try to get their new song to the top of the charts in the face of determined resistance by upstanding citizen Rosalind Stark.

Tickets ($16): www.pantochino.com

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Too Reverent "Raisin"

"Raisin in the Sun" -- Westport Country Playhouse -- Thru Nov. 3

                           Luka Kain, Lynda Gravatt and Susan Kelechi Watson in 
                              "Raisin in the Sun." Photo by T. Charles Erickson

It’s been 53 years since Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun” opened on Broadway, and a lot has changed in this country since then and, unfortunately, a lot has not. One thing that has changed is that the assumption that a black family is somehow “different” than a white family has been, by and large (except for hardcore bigots) laid to rest. One need only think of TV’s Huxtables and Jeffersons to realize that the black family is today well established in mainstream American culture, although some may carp that the Huxtabales and Jeffersons were nothing more than white families in blackface. I won’t enter that argument, for I can point to August Wilson’s successful 10-play cycle, especially “Fences,” (1987) to suggest that there has been a balance. My point is the Huxtables, the Jeffersons and Wilson’s Maxsons all owe a profound debt of gratitude to Hansberry’s theatrical family, the Youngers, for America in 1959 was a world of de jure and de facto segregation, and Hansberry’s play was a gamble, a gamble that succeeded and, in the process, helped to bring about change.
            That being said, given that the landscape has changed, how does one evaluate the current production of Hansberry’s play, directed by Phylicia Rashad, now on the boards at the Westport Country Playhouse? Well, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that the first act, at 85 minutes, is at times like watching grass grow, and that’s because one of Hansberry’s stated intents in writing the play was to present details of black family life to a white audience. Well, that’s been done since 1959, again and again, so a lot of these details, epiphanic when first presented, now seem, if not beside the point, not the stuff of dramatic tension.
            The Youngers – the mother, Lena (Lynda Gravatt), her children, Walter (Billy Eugene Jones) and Beneatha (Edena Hines), Walter’s wife, Ruth (Susan Kelechi Watson), and Walter and Ruth’s son, Travis (Luka Kain), live in a run-down flat in Washington Park, a subdivision of Chicago’s Woodlawn. However, they are expecting a $10,000 insurance check in the mail, death benefits from the demise of Lena’s husband, and this opens up the possibility for change. Lena wants to use the money to buy a house; Walter wants to buy into a liquor store; Beneatha wants to finish medical school but is also a nascent radical. In other words, there’s familial tension over money, but it’s flavored by the specter of slavery in the lineage, religious belief and the function of the male in the black family
            These are all themes – slave lineage; black capitalism; black fathers; the African mystique – that, subsequent to “Raisin in the Sun,” have been dealt with in plays, poems and novels thanks, in large measure, to Hansberry. But this production is not helped by the fact that the actors, all accomplished, often seem to be delivering their lines as if they have been written from on high; i.e., the production often reverences the text rather than realizes it. Hence, there’s a lot of half-beats that telegraph that an actor is about to say something important. Watson escapes this syndrome, as do the other actors…at times…but the tensions in the play often seem manufactured, and that’s because the text, a half-century old, is message-laden, and a play suffers when the primary intent is to deliver a message rather than create dynamic, interactive characters, and the actors are determined to deliver said messages.
            The second act resolves a lot of the conflicts but, again, is message-laden, and Walter’s final rejection of the opportunity to make money off segregation – and degradation – and Beneatha’s confrontation with Joseph (Hubert Point-Du Jour), a Nigerian student who wants to marry her and return to his homeland, are “get the point?” set-pieces.
            As ground-breaking as “Raisin in the Sun” was in 1959, this current production is more a lesson in civics, capitalism and race relations than a fully realized dramatic production. As flawed and dysfunctional as August Wilson’s Maxson family is, we care about them; I can’t say the same for the Youngers.
            “A Raisin in the Sun” runs through Nov. 3. For tickets, call 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportcountryplayhouse.org.

A Vibrant, Vivacious "Venus"

"Venus in Fur" -- Hartford TheaterWorks -- Thru Nov. 11

David Christopher Wells and Liv Rooth. Photo by Lanny Nagler

In 1697, William Congreve penned these lines: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." Seems like nothing has changed in over three centuries, at least based on what is going on up at Hartford TheaterWorks, where a Woman (yes, it’s capitalized) takes a young playwright in hand and teaches him some lessons about the proper way to write a role for a woman and cast an actress in a play.

It’s TheaterWorks 27th year, and its opening offering is a production of David Ives’ “Venus in Fur,” which garnered rave reviews from critics during its Broadway run. Nina Arianda won a Tony in 2011 for her portrayal of Vanda; her understudy was Liv Rooth, who has taken on the Vanda role for the TheaterWorks production. No-brainer casting, for from the moment she “Knock-Knock-Knocks” on the door of the rather low-rent room where Thomas (David Christopher Wells) has been casting actresses for the role of Vanda, she transfixes the audience.

Thomas has adapted Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novella, “Venus in Furs,” for the stage, in the process capturing what he believes is a true love story about two people who have transformed themselves to better allow them to embrace true passion, which can be found only through domination. He’s also directing the play, since other directors he’s worked with just haven’t “gotten” what he’s written, but he has a problem: all of the actresses he’s seen so far have been woefully inadequate because, as he tells his fiancée over the phone at the start of the play, women today are, themselves, inadequate; they whimper, they whine, they say “like” a lot and are simply incapable of being feminine.

                   Liv Rooth and David Christopher Wells. Photo by Lanny Nagler

Enter Vanda, whose real name, she tells Thomas, is Wanda, but her parents, for some reason, called her Vanda. So, she believes, she’s perfect for the role, but she is everything Thomas has just described to his fiancée, plus. She’s profane, she’s brash, she’s prone to violent fits of temper, she’s decked herself out in dominatrix attire, and she seems to be the dumbest blond on the block. In essence, she’s Thomas’s worst female nightmare, so he tells her the casting call is over and attempts to send her on her way, but Wanda/Vanda isn’t having any of it. She’s determined to read for Thomas, and after telling him various tales of woe, giving him some tears and donning a dress she’s bought for the occasion, he reluctantly acquiesces and gives her a shot -- and in a wonderful, theatrical moment, Wanda/Vanda gives a reading of the first three pages of the play that are dead on. Suddenly, Thomas senses that, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, he may just have found his Wanda. Little does he know just how right he is.

Throughout the rest of this one-act play, Rooth easily, and delightfully, shifts back and forth between the brash, trash-talking Wanda and the cerebral, cultured Vanda of Thomas’s play, with a side trip as the goddess Venus channeled through Marlene Dietrich via Madeline Kahn, until the final moments of the play, when she becomes something totally different, a transformation accented by explosive lightning  (also used in the opening scenes as a bit of foreshadowing) compliments of lighting designer John Lasiter and sound designers Vincent Olivieri and Beth Lake.

Director Rob Ruggiero obviously understands both the playfulness and seriousness inherent in the play, as well as the need to keep things moving, for Vanda and Thomas engage in a fast-paced verbal and physical pas de deux with initial comic overtones that, ever so slowly, turns into something else entirely. Save for the opening moments, when Wells’ phone conversation is just a bit too studied, there’s not a false note as tables are turned, roles are reversed, and the ever fascinating male-female dynamic is placed under the microscope.

Wells has a tough task, given that Rooth has most of the best lines and, as Wanda, is a manic presence, but attention must be paid to his character’s transformation as well, for he must underpin Rooth’s more dynamic turns; he is the ice upon which Rooth does her arabesques, axels, spins and crossovers and without the ice the skater cannot skate. To shift metaphors, Rooth gets to be the fire, but Wells must be the containing, defining fireplace, for without his framing, his reactions, his character’s slow yet inevitable metamorphosis, Rooth’s character has nothing to play off of. Throughout most of the evening, playgoers’ eyes are on Rooth – how can they help but not be – but it is Wells’ solid performance that – let’s shift metaphors again -- is the stand that allows Rooth’s decorated Christmas tree to dazzle.

Marketing and advertising for “Venus in Fur” emphasizes the sado-masochistic aspects of the play – the under-18 crowd is shut out -- but they are, in reality, minimal, not offensive, and are certainly not the play’s main thrust (no pun intended). Anyone considering not attending because he or she is just “not into that stuff” should reconsider, for the play is really about human relationships, play writing, directing, and the roles enforced on us based on society’s gender-definitions.

So, if you go, (and you should, if you’re interested in engaging, witty, thought-provoking theater) revel in Rooth’s marvelous performance, but as you do, take note of how Wells’ “yang” makes Rooth’s “yin” shine.

“Venus in Fur” runs through Nov. 11. For tickets or more information, call 860-527-7838.

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Satchmo" Beguiles and Engages

"Satchmo at the Waldorf"  -- Long Wharf Theatre -- Thru Nov. 4

                            John Douglas Thompson. Photo: T Charles Erickson

So Santa Claus is standing there, going “Ho, ho, ho,” a big smile on his face, hands patting his round, red belly, and then all of a sudden he lets loose with a string of expletives that would make a sailor blush. Your eyes widen, your jaw drops. After you recover from the shock, the first thing that comes to mind is, what the hell, this ain’t the Santa you know. Could it be Santa isn’t the saint you thought him to be?

That’s the initial effect John Douglas Thompson has on the audience at Long Wharf as he, portraying Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, cuts loose. This ain’t the Satchmo we remember, the smiling, laughing icon, sweat rolling down his forehead as he sings and plays his way into our hearts, rasping a “Hello, Dolly” greeting. This is Satchmo the man, a man who sleeps with whores, a man who has a long standing relationship with Mary Jane, a man who curses his manager, Joe Glaser, for having screwed him, a man who once worked for Al Capone, a man who, as the child of a whore, delivered coal to the New Orleans whorehouses to put bread on the table, a man who, at the top of his career, lovingly known as “Pops,” is bedeviled by slurs from members of his own race. He is called a “clown,” an Uncle Tom.

“Satchmo at the Waldorf,” by Terry Teachout, directed by Long Wharf’s artistic director, Gordon Edelstein, is a no-holds-barred look at a man whose stage persona belied the reality of his life, and is a tour-de-force for Thompson, who brings not only “Satchmo” to life at the end of the star’s career in 1971, but also creates his manager, Glaser, in one of those great stage transformations that requires an actor, using only body language and voice, to create an entirely different persona, in this case that of a hard-nosed Jewish businessman with mob connections. Assisted by lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge, Thompson does this so flawlessly that, the first time it occurs on stage it almost takes your breath away.

In chronicling Satchmo’s life, the play also chronicles the life of our country during most of the 20th century, for Armstrong was born into an era when segregation, both de facto and de jure, was a fact of life -- for much of his early career Armstrong couldn’t stay at most of the hotels where he played. It also captures the complicated relationships imposed on whites and blacks by society, a relationship that would have a race in general held in contempt but have a specific member of that race looked kindly upon.

This conundrum is at the heart of the connection between Glaser and Armstrong, and Teachout relies on dramatic irony to limn the nature of the relationship and its misunderstandings, for Glaser, whose company Armstrong was pivotal in building, dies without leaving Satchmo a share. Hence the curses Satchmo calls down upon the dead man’s head, but there’s more to the story, and in a pivotal scene near the end of this one-act play, Thompson rapidly switches back and forth between the two characters to reveal the disconnect and, in the process, capture the essence of the two men and their long-standing yet troubled relationship.

Was Satchmo’s stage persona totally fabricated? The play would say no, for Teachout returns again and again to Armstrong’s innocence and good heart, and Thompson is such a nuanced actor that even when Satchmo is in full-curse mode, calling down fire and brimstone on Glaser, there is a sense that there’s a part of Armstrong whose heart is not really in it, that no matter what he thinks Glaser did to him, he still loves the man.

And then there’s the music, Satchmo’s music, or storytelling, as Pops would have it. Here the playwright, who is the theater critic for the “Wall Street Journal” and the author of “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong,” is at his best, allowing Satchmo to describe, in vivid, loving prose, what music means to him, what the sounds he has created over the years evoke, and how his heart soars when the trumpet’s mouthpiece touches his lips.

That the play is set in the last years of Armstrong’s life (he comes off stage and immediately goes to an oxygen mask), and that as the trumpet player looks out at the Waldorf audience during one of his his final appearance and sees not a black face in the crowd (the audience looks like a carton of eggs), makes for a bittersweet mood, for Satchmo lived in the times that were given to him and when the younger generation of black jazz musicians turned against him -- Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis (another persona Thompson artfully, if somewhat chillingly, creates) are two who demeaned Satchmo -- Pops was hurt, confused, and just a bit bitter.

Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong lived his life in troubled times, and perhaps, confronted by “how things were,” went along to get along, but that judgment is hindsight, for the man worked with what he was given, played the cards dealt him at the table he was told to sit at, and in the process made millions of people happy, something he cherished…and was condemned for by those who followed in his footsteps and vilified him for selling out. This conflict Thompson captures in his rendering of Armstrong’s delight in moving an audience with his music and Davis’s wish that, should he have but one hour left to live, he would spend it strangling a white man...slowly. You believe Satchmo, and you believe Davis, and that’s because Thompson makes you believe.

“Satchmo at the Waldorf” runs through Nov. 4. For tickets call 203-787-4282 or go to www.longwharf.org

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Talking Yield Sign, Dung Beetles, a Morose Bartender and…It’s TAW’s Annual Playwright’s Festival

            Julie O'Neill, Joe Rinaldi and Carolyn Marble in "An Other Engagement"

Norwalk’s Theatre Artists Workshop is entering its 30th year, and part of the reason for the group’s longevity is the festival of one-act plays it has been producing for over two decades. The Annual Playwright’s Festival, which this year runs Oct 19 – 21, is avidly looked forward to by many playgoers who appreciate both the quality and diversity of the work presented, and this year, although the quality is a given, the diversity may very well be at an all-time high.

TAW’s membership is composed of both writers and actors (with many also having directorial credentials), which allows for a certain symbiosis in the writing and staging of new plays. The process that eventually leads to a play being selected for the festival is a somewhat arduous one, beginning with a reading of a submitted play (often a cold reading) by one or more of the actors, followed by comments and critiques by the members, with the playwright sitting silently (unless asked a question), taking it all in.

“You don’t always hear what you want to hear,” said Darien resident Kathy Rinaldi, TAW’s president, whose “Happy” was selected for this year’s festival, “but you hear what you need.”

After the first reading, the playwright takes the critiques and suggestions under consideration and makes alterations, both large and small, to his or her work. Two weeks later, the playwright is back for another reading and more comments and critiques. Finally, the manuscript is submitted to the board, which makes the final decision on what will be produced. This year, of the thirty or so submissions, seven have been selected and, if nothing else, they are eclectic.

“We look for the best quality,” said Barbara Rhodes, this year’s festival producer, “but time is also a consideration. We want to present an entertaining evening but not too long. Sometimes a play has some additional weight depending on the actors who are in it. It’s the playwright’s discretion as to how the play is cast. Often the actors who are used in the readings, when the plays are being developed, are the ones used in the actual production.”

Rosemary Foley, a Pelham, NY, resident, is one of the playwrights fortunate enough to have had her work, “An Other Engagement,” given the nod. In a recent phone interview, Foley described the gestation of the play and her association with TAW.

“The play was inspired by an article I read years ago about a very wealthy woman, a Protestant woman who became a nun and she did something very inspiring for other women with her money,” Foley said. However, that was just the jumping off point – there’s no nun in the play, but there is a family that gathers for an engagement party only to be confronted with the possibility that there might just be another engagement no one ever knew about.

“Writing plays is a strange business,” Foley said. “You read one line in a newspaper article and it inspires something, or you overhear a conversation. Things start from some strange places and sometimes the play starts at the end.”

Foley related a story about her brother, “a very emotional guy,” who urged the family to be in control when the father passed away. Foley, quoting her brother: “’We all cannot fall apart; we must be steadfast.’” Out of this, since she knew very well that her brother was, inevitably, going to fall apart, she wrote a play, “a comedy about a father who, even in death, can’t escape his family.” Foley is often accused by her family members of “using them” in her work. Her stock response is: “Do you think you’re that interesting?”

Given her close association with TAW’s membership, Foley admits that she often writes with certain TAW actors or actresses in mind. “I can hear the voice of one of the actresses; when I’m writing I can really hear her, so the tempo and the choice of words – what the character is going to say -- can be prompted by what I’m hearing.”

Foley also commented on the nature of the one-act plays she and others have written for the festival. The basic structure of a play, whether it’s a full two- or three-act play or a shorter one-act play – the rise, the climax, the falling away -- must remain, but with only 10 or 12 minutes to tell a story, the playwright “cannot waste anything,” Foley said. “In a one-act play you have to be tight, everything has to lean towards the action of the play. You can’t mess around.”

Jim Gordon, another of TAW’s playwrights and a Norwalk resident, knows full well you can’t mess around when crafting a one-act play. Gordon has two entries in this year’s festival, “A Stranger Calls” and “Joe & Eddy’s,” both of which are distinctly Gordon-esque in that they focus on people living on the fringe of life, the semi-losers and small-time grifters, the shut-ins seemingly shut out of life.

In a phone interview, Gordon talked about his own two plays, which he is directing, as well as a play by Vanessa David that he is also helming. Like Foley, Gordon often gets his ideas from articles he reads in the paper, though he also draws on a childhood spent in Mt. Vernon, NY.

In “A Stranger Calls,” a con-man thinks he’s hit on the score of a lifetime, only to have the tables turned on him. “You know, we get these phones calls,” Gordon said, “people wanting to sell us things or scams, and this elderly guy…I’m using an actor, Herb Duncan, who has a lot of TV experience, but he’s blind, so I changed the play – originally it was about a woman – so it works for him. So this guy gets a phone call from someone who wants to get into his checking account. The guy’s immediately wise to what’s going on, but he’s going to have some fun with this. He leads the con man on and slowly drives him absolutely bonkers.”

“Joe & Eddy’s” is quintessential Gordon, since it is based on the people he knew when he was growing up, a time when he admittedly spent more time around bars than was probably good for him. “A lot of my stories harken back to the people I knew at the time, the wise old bartenders who probably were not all that wise and the people down on their luck. So, in the play, this young woman walks into a bar and this bartender…” Gordon went on to describe the plot in detail, offering “spoiler” after “spoiler.” Suffice it to say, there’s a certain melancholic hope to the story about the past haunting the present.

Like Foley, Gordon often writes his dialogue based on the actors he’s familiar with at TAW. “I lock onto certain players because they know my characters,” he said. “I seem to end up with a lot of the same character types, kinda hard-edged, you know, people you’d meet in bars, and there are some actors and actresses at TAW, well, for example, there’s this one actress, a very good actress, and to me she seems like someone I’d order a beer from.”

There are some playwrights who feel that writing is writing and directing is directing and never the twain should meet, but Gordon isn’t bothered by that. Not only is he directing his own work, he’s directing David’s “The Tale of Yield and Tire.”

“It’s about a yield sign,” Gordon said, laughing, “and another person plays a tire. It’s about an accident that takes place in Westport and the tire rolls up – the tire’s played by Joe Rinaldi – and he lands at the base of this yield sign and they have this conversation about life and irresponsible drivers.”

As for directing his own plays, early on – not necessarily at TAW – he had the experience of turning over his work to directors and then experiencing a lack of collaboration. “They would take the piece” he said, “and they would just lock into a certain idea; they were not listening. Look, if I’m gonna go down with a play I’m gonna go down with my own play and my own direction. Should everyone direct his own play? Probably not.”

Rhodes, who is also an actress, is of two minds about a playwright directing his or her own work. “A playwright already knows what he wants to hear,” she said in a phone interview, “it’s already set in his mind, and as an actress that keeps me from doing things, from trying things out. That’s my job as an actress. However,” she added, “in a situation like this – we have time constraints – I guess it’s okay. We haven’t had any problems.”

Kathy Rinaldi, a Darien resident, is another playwright who also enjoys directing, but given the demands on her time right now as president of TAW she has ceded staging responsibilities for “Happy” to Jo Anne Parady of Norwalk, a director in whom Rinaldi has total confidence.

“Happy” is about a woman of a certain age who falls in love with a much younger man, much to the consternation of her friends. “It’s probably the most ‘absurd’ play of the bunch,” Rinaldi said, referring to the Theater of the Absurd genre. “It’s a little less linear than the others. You’re really not sure whether you’re seeing and hearing the woman’s friends or are they just voices in her mind. We’re also using drums – you know, a heart beat, beating fast at the start of the relationship and then slowing down as things start to cool off.” Whether Rinaldi’s play wins the “absurd” award remains to be seen, since Steve Bellwood’s offering is titled “Dung Beetles” and, yes, features two of the insects dealing with hard times, and, of course, there’s the talking yield sign and tire.

As mentioned, Rinaldi trusts Parady implicitly to stage the work as the playwright envisioned it. “She really knows how to put on a woman’s play,” Rinaldi said. “She understands the nuances of women’s emotions.”

When asked about the range of the plays being presented, and the possibility that the audience might become a bit confused as it is asked to shift gears from play to play, Rinaldi said, “Our belief is that we’re not going to play to the lowest common denominator. If the audience can put its trust in what we are doing, is willing to go along for the ride, then it really doesn’t matter what kind of play we present as long as we show we know what we are doing. What I love about the plays this year,” she added, “is that every one is individually strong. If anything, people will want more, they won’t want them to end. We trust our instincts and we believe people are really going to enjoy the journey we will take them on.”

Rhodes was asked the same question and responded in kind. “They’re not alike at all,” she said. “They’re the oddest little collection of plays I’ve ever seen.” However, she has confidence that TAW’s audience will respond. “We have a very faithful audience that has been coming to us for years,” she said. “They know what to expect.” She paused a moment and then added. “I’m always impressed with how knowledgeable our audience is.”

For tickets ($20) or more information call 203-854-6830 or go to www.taworkshop.org. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

John Denver, Marie Antoinette...and more

Tribute to John Denver at DCT
                                                  Ted Vigil as John Denver

A "Tribute to John Denver," starring Ted Vigil, with special guest Steve Weisberg, John Denver's lead guitar player during Denver's touring years, will play Bridgeport's Downtown Cabaret Theatre for two performances only -- Saturday, Oct. 27, at 5 and 8 p.m.

Tickets ($33): 203-576-1636 or go to www.downtowncabaret.org

Yale Rep Stages World Premiere of "Marie Antoinette"

The Yale Repertory Theatre will host the world premiere of David Adjmi's "Marie Antoinette," directed by Rebecca Taichman.

The young queen Marie Antoinette delights and inspires her French subjects with her three-foot tall wigs and extravagant haute couture, but times change and even the most fashionable of queens goes out of style as idle gossip turns insidious and the country revolts.

The play begins previews on Oct 26, opens on Nov 1 and runs through Nov. 17. Tickets or more information: 203-432-1234 or go to www.yalerep.org.

Hartford Stage Hosts College Night Bash

Hartford Stage invites college students to a night of theater including free pizza, games, prizes and a chance to see the world premiere of "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" on College Night, Tuesday, Oct. 23.

College Night will take place in the venue's upper lobby and will feature a murder mystery game, a photo booth, a raffle, a Twitter review contest, free pizza and the show, all for $15.

Tickets or more information: 860-527-5151.

"Deadly Murder" Opens Square One's New Season

Square One Theatre, Stratford, opens it s 23rd season with "Deadly Murder," by David Foley. It's an intricate thriller that tells the story of Camille Dargus, a beautiful, successful woman with a penchant for young men. She meets a young waiter and takes him home, only to find that there's more to the man than meets the eye and that he seems frighteningly familiar with her past. The play opens Nov 2 and runs through Nov. 16 on weekends.

"Deadly Murder" is followed by "Distracted," a comedy by Lisa Loomer, which looks at a modern family and asks the question: "Are we so tuned into ourselves and our sound-bite world that we've lost touch with what really matters?" The play runs March 1 through March 16.

Square One's final offering is tentatively scheduled to be "4000 Miles," by Amy Herzog, which deals with how two outsiders might find their way in today's world. After a major loss while on a cross-country bike trip, 21-year-old Leo seeks solace from his feisty 91-year-old grandmother. The play will run May 17 - June 1.

Tickets: 203-375-8778 or go to www.squareonetheatre.com

Theatre Fairfield Offers "An Enemy of the People"
                                   The cast of "Enemy of the People" rehearsing

Fairfield University's resident production company, Theatre Fairfield, opens its 2012-2013 season with Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People," translated by Richard Nelson.

The play explores what happens when a doctor discovers his town's water supply is polluted, and he believes his findings will turn him into a hero. Instead, local businessmen, politicians and family turn against him in an attempt to silence him.

The play opens Oct. 31 and runs through Nov. 3. Tickets and more information: 203-254-4010.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Cri de Coeur From Spirit of Broadway's Bernardini

The following is an email received from Brett A. Bernardini, founding artistic director and CEO of The Spirit of Broadway:

Okay, okay, okay...I must be doing something wrong. I cannot seem to find a legit soprano leading lady (must be able to play 60's, hair and make-up can do wonders!) and a supporting male actor for one of the most powerful, haunting and moving pieces of musical theater ever created! (I have been casting this show for 2 weeks!)

I know. I know the leading lady is a demanding role vocally, but isn't it the kind of role every soprano dreams of: amazing acting challenges, incredible vocal challenges, a true "tour d'force" role? Yes, it is not musical theater in the sense of today's standards: no belting, no power numbers, no orchestra swells into a "American Idol" key change moment. However, it is a "role of a lifetime" for a legit soprano who can sing and act for 80 minutes of a 90 minute show!!!

I also know that there are not many "women over 40" looking for a challenging role anymore. But clearly, there have to be SOME!! How about woman in their 30's who are strong legit singers, have serious acting chops and are comfortable with stage makeup? Anyone???

There are only two male actors in this piece. One role has been cast with an exceptional actor, one that SBT audiences have missed over these past few years! Are there no other actors who are looking for work right now? Granted, like all the parts in this show, the vocals are very challenging. The leading lady is truly the LEAD and all others play supporting roles. This is a life-changing 90 minute musical that screams for exceptional talent...men...anyone???

I am starting rehearsals tomorrow (Tuesday) at SBT. If you are interested in either of these 2 remaining roles, please contact me ASAP! These are paid positions and housing is available!!!


Brett A. Bernardini

The Shows Go On

"Theatre of Illusion" at The Palace
                                    Kevin Spencer performs in his "Theatre of Illusion"

Illusionists Kevin and Cindy Spencer will perform their extensive repertoire of magical mysteries in "Spencer's Theatre of Illusion" at The Palace on Friday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m.

Today's magic is about spectacle, drama, danger and personality, and the Spencers, winners of the "Performing Arts Entertainers of the Year" award, are the masters of this new genre, offering a magical concert for the eyes that combines suspense, romance, drama and comedy with elaborate stage illusions and dazzling special effects.

Tickets: ($25 anjd $50): 203-346-2000 or go to www.palacetheaterct.org.

"Carmen" Celebrates CT Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra's 15th Season

The Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, in conjunction with the Connecticut Lyric Opera, kicks off its 15th anniversary season with Bizet's classic opera, "Carmen." The performance will be at Naugatuck Valley Community College Fine Arts Center on Saturday, Oct. 20, at 8 p.m.

Carmen will be portrayed by the rising Polish mezzo star Alexandra Kaminska, who has performed at several international festivals.
                                                       Alexandra Kaminska
Tickets: ($50, $35, $20): 203-346-2000 or go to www.palacetheaterct.org.

TAW Opens 30th Season with Playwright's Festival
Julie O'Neill, Joe Rinaldi and Carolyn Marble in "An Other Engagement"

The Theatre Artists Workshop of Norwalk enters its 30th season with its acclaimed Annual Playwright's Festival, which has run for over two decades.

The festival, which runs Oct 19 - 21, will feature seven short plays written by members of the company. The works range from the inner turmoil of a woman of a certain matrue age romantically involved with a much younger man to Edgar Allan Poe spending time with a social worker and a put-upon couple dealing with life's hardships, including loss of property (oh, yes, the couple happen to be dung beetles).

Tickets ($20): 203-854-6830 or go to www.taworkshop.org

"A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" to Premiere at Hartford Stage

Hartford Stage recently announced the cast for its upcoming premiere of the musical "A Gentleman"s Guide to Love and Murder." with book by Robert L. Freedman, music by Steven Lutvak and lyrics by Freedman and Lutvak.

Set in the Edwardian era, the musical traces the trajectory of Monty Navarro, a charmer, seducer and avenger who is on a quest for recognition and family fortune. Developed at the Sundance Institute Theater Lab, the musical is based on the 1907 novel "Israel Rank" by Roy Horniman. The cast includes Tony winner Jefferson Mays, Heather Ayers, Ken Barnette, Rachel Izen, Chilina Kennedy, Lisa O'Hare, Kendal Sparks and Price Waldman

The show opens Oct. 11 and runs through Nov. 11. Tickets: 860-527-5151 or go to www.hartfordtsage.org.

"Underpants" On Stage in Newtown

In lieu of its scheduled presentation of "The Haunting," the Town Players of Newtown will be showcasing "The Underpants" as its November production. Written by Carl Sternheim and adapted by Steve Martin, the play deals with a petty German bureaucrat who has an unusual problem: his pretty wife's underwear just won't stay on. After the underwear fall off the lady in the middle of town, her husband is determined to keep his wife at home until the problem can be solved. At the same time he is also trying to rent a room in their flat, which introduces prospective renters with surprises of their own.

The play opens Nov. 16 and runs through Dec. 8. For more details go to www.newtownplayers.org

Broken Umbrella Offers "The Library Project"

This fall, A Broken Umbrella Theatre will be presenting "The Library Project" at the Ives Main Library in New Haven. A commission of the the New Haven Free Public Library Foundation, the project allows visitors to travel from room to room over the library's three floors to experience seven original works in one evening that capture, in song, dance, puppetry and spectacle, literature's vast range of fictional worlds. Beer and wine are available before the show and guests can speak with artistic director Ian Aldermand and historian Colin Capian about the show.

The Library Project will be performed Saturdays and Sundays, Oct 20-21, 27-28, and Nov 3-4. Tickets are "pay-what-you-can;" box office at the library will open one hour before the shows. For a sneak peek, go to www.abrokenumbrella.org. Reservations are recommended.

Yale School of Drama Presents "Iphigenia Among the Stars"

From Oct. 30 through Nov. 3, the Yale School of Drama will present "Iphigenia Among the Stars," adapted from the Euripides play by Benjamin Fainstein; conceived and directed by Jack Tamburri. The production will be at the Iseman Theater at 1156 Chapel St., New Haven.

A king sacrifices his daughter to a goddess so he can wage an interstellar war, but the goddess intervenes and instead exiles the girl to a life of servitude light years from home. Years later, Princess Iphigenia, like her father, must choose between duty and desire -- and her choice will have consequences beyond the bounds of space and time.

Tickets (starting at $10): 203-432-1234 or at the box office: 1120 Chapel St.

Hartford Stage Hosts Readings of New Works

The Hartford Stage will host a reading of new works in its "Brand:NEW Fall Festival of New Works" program at its Rehearsal Studio 2, 942 Main St. (the Residence Inn building). The festival includes readings of new plays by Octavio Solis, Bess Wohl, Dan O'Brien, Matthew Lopez and Janine Nabors. The festival will run from Oct. 25 through Oct.28, with a Playwrights Panels scheduled for Oct. 28 at 4:30 p.m.

Tickets ($10 for each reading): 860-527-5151 or go to www.hartfordstage.org.