Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Connecticut Critics Circle Awards

'Next to Normal' and 'Invisible Hand' Take Home Top Honors

Riley and Ella Briggs present the award for
best choreography. All photos by Mara Lavitt

Westport Country Playhouse’s “The Invisible Hand” and TheaterWorks’ “Next to Normal” took top honors at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards Monday night for best play and musical production of the 2016-17 season.

The event, which honors the work of the state’s professional theaters, was held at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts. Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann was master of ceremonies. Performing was Bobby Conte Thornton, star of Broadway’s “A Bronx Tale.”

Awards for outstanding actors in a musical went to Christiane Noll (“Next to Normal”) and Zach Schanne (“West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan).

Awards for outstanding actors in a play went to Eric Bryant (“The Invisible Hand”) and Vanessa R. Butler (“Queens for a Year,” Hartford Stage).

Top directing awards went to Rob Ruggiero (“Next to Normal”) and David Kennedy (“The Invisible Hand”).

Outstanding ensemble award went to the cast of Long Wharf Theatre’s production of Steve Martin’s “Meteor Shower;” debut award, Maya Keleher (“Next to Normal”); solo award, Jon Peterson (“He Wrote Good Songs” at Seven Angels Theatre); and choreography, Doug Shankman (“West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan).

Paulette Haupt, who is ending her 40-year run this summer as artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, received the Tom Killen Award for lifetime service to the theater.

Receiving special awards were actor Paxton Whitehead and actor-writer-gay youth advocate James Lecesne.

Outstanding featured actors in a musical went to Rhett Guter for Goodspeed Musicals’ “Bye Bye Birdie” and Kate Simone (“Gypsy,” Music Theatre of Connecticut.

Outstanding featured actors in a play honors went to Mia Dillon (“Cloud 9” at Hartford Stage) and Cleavant Derricks (“The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage).

 Design awards went to Jane Shaw for sound (“The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage), Darko Tresnjak for sets (“The Comedy of Errors”), Fabio Toblini (costumes, “The Comedy of Errors”) and John Lasiter for lighting, (“Next to Normal”).

Among the presenters were Obie-winning composer Kirsten Childs, actor-director-producer Jerry Adler, O’Neill Theater Center founder George White, former Goodspeed Musicals exec Michael Price, editor-in-chief Paul Wontorek, SiriusXM Broadway radio host Julie James and Tony Award-winning designer Michael Yeargan.

Photo Gallery
Paulette Haupt accepts the Tom Killen Award

Paxton Whitehead accepts a Special Award

Mara Keleher accepting the award for Outstanding Debut

Billy Bivona on guitar, Adam Souza on piano, and Broadway's
Bobby Conte Thornton

Kate Simone accepts the award for Outstanding
Featured Actress in a Musical

Erika Rolfsrud takes a selfie before announcing
the winners for Outstanding Actors in a Play

Zach Schanne accepts the award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical

Christiane Noll accepts the award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical

The cast of 'Next to Normal' and director Rob Ruggiero accept the award for Best Musical

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Frantic Farce

"Noises Off" -- Connecticut Repertory Theatre -- Thru June 25

Steve Hayes, Jayne Ng, Arlene Bozich, Gavin McNicholl, Curtis Longfellow
and Jennifer Cody. All photos by Gerry Goodstein.

For those of you not familiar with the classic farce penned by Michael Frayn (1982), you might be a bit confused when you enter the Connecticut Repertory Theatre in Storrs, open your program and read that you are about to see a play entitled “Nothing On,” a sex comedy by someone named Robin Housemonger (a Dickensian name if there ever was one). You might even check your ticket – Nope, it says you’re supposed to be seeing “Noises Off.” A conundrum? Well, not really, for over the course of two hours you will, in fact, see both “Nothing On” and “Noises Off,” for the basic premise of Frayn’s play is that you are, at first, at the tech rehearsal for “Nothing On” hours before the show is to open. Housemonger’s play is not meant to be a farce, it’s just a very bad play with very bad actors; “Noises Off is farce par excellence, with some very fine actors and a lot of slamming doors.

As directed by Vincent J. Cardinal, “Noises Off” (the term refers to sounds coming from off-stage) catalogs just about everything that could possibly go wrong in a live production, from cast jealousies and love triangles (pentagons?) to missing props, doors that won’t open or shut, a phone that doesn’t ring when it’s supposed to and squished sardines making a slippery mess on the stage floor. Though “Nothing On,” the play-within-a-play, never gets beyond the first act, “Noises Off” takes the audience from the tech rehearsal to a back-stage view of a performance to the final, last gasp of the show’s disastrous tour, when “Noises Off” all comes together and “Nothing On” all falls apart.

So, we have characters in “Nothing On” (signified hereafter by italics) who are being played by actors who are, in fact, characters in “Noises Off” being played by, well, real actors. Got it? As for the “actors” in “Nothing On,” just read the tongue-in-cheek bios in the program to get a sense of their varied careers. Unfortunately, there are no bios for the numerous sardines that play a pivotal role. I guess they can be considered supernumeraries.

Okay, so what about the real actors? Well, heading the list is the superb Jennifer Cody, who plays Dotty Otley, who plays the maid, Mrs. Clackett. Cody sets the mood from the start by having her character being slightly befuddled by her lines, her blocking and her props (telephone, newspaper and, yes, a plate of sardines). It’s a wonderful comic turn as she interacts with the director of “Nothing On,” Lloyd Dallas (John Bixler), that just gets better as the evening progresses to the chaos of the sex comedy’s final show, when, with superb comic timing, Cody’s Otley tries to figure out what the hell is happening on stage.

If there’s a rising action and climax to “Noises Off” it’s to be found in the amount of slap-stick that is in each of the acts. Limited in the first act, it increases (often mimed) in the second act and reaches a crescendo in the chaotic third act. Creating much of the physical mayhem falls to three characters: Garry Lejeune, aka Roger Tramplemain (Curtis Longfellow), Brooke Ashton, aka Vicki (Jayne Ng) and Frederick Fellowes, aka Philip Brent (Gavin McNicholl). The three characters slip, fall, slither or tumble down stairs and receive blows to various body parts. The only thing missing are in-the-face cream pies, but that role is taken on by the ubiquitous sardines (which are dumped on heads and pushed down bodices).

Someone not familiar with “Noises Off” may, at moments during this production, be a bit confused by who is actually in love (or lust) with whom, and director Cardinal may have wanted to pull in the reins on Ng’s portrayal (and posturing) as Brooke/Vicki – a bit more restraint might also serve Michael Doherty as the stage manager Tim Allgood – for farce, oddly enough, can’t be forced, it’s a tricky genre to stage for it is inherently over-the-top but must, at the same time, appear not to be so. It calls for actors to play fools who are not aware they are foolish.
Michael Doherty and Jennifer Cody.
Quibbles aside, CRT’s “Noises Off” provides enough laughs and pratfalls (as well as a slow split performed by Cody that not only got laughter but applause) to lighten any humid summer day. There’s no great message here, save that putting on a live production is fraught with mini-disasters and unexpected problems.

One of the inherent delights in the play is what might be termed comedic irony, for the structure of “Noises Off” allows the audience to learn the actors’ lines in “Nothing On” in the first act so that, in the second act, they know what’s happening up-stage (where “Nothing On” is being performed) while they watch the back-stage chaos and then, in the final act, much of the laughs arise from the audience knowing what should happen but doesn’t. The set-ups in the first act lead to the punch lines (and sight gags) of the final act -- including a wandering telephone and…of course, the sardines.

“Noises Off” runs through June 25. For tickets or more information call 860-486-2113 or go to

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Murder In Mystic

Mystic -- Series Pilot

You order up Netflix or Amazon Prime, to name just two, and there are first-run films plus series that have been produced independently. You click on what entices you and binge, giving little thought to how these series – Bloodline, The Fall, War Machine, Stranger Things --  have gotten to see the light of day (or evening). However, getting a series produced is an arduous process, one without specific rules or guidelines. What’s common, however, is what’s called “The elevator pitch,” a terse encapsulation of the series’ essence as the clock is ticking: “You know, it’s enigmatic, like Twin Peaks, but it’s got funky Fargo characters and it’s Gilmore Girls hip.” In other words, the process is a roll of the dice.

Currently shaking the dice are Frank Durant, writer and director of Mystic, and John Logan, its producer, both of whom appear in the series’ pilot. Filmed digitally in and around Mystic, Connecticut, the pilot recently got a showing at The Jealous Monk, a “Social Hall and Beer Garden” nested in “Olde Mistick Village.” Before the pilot was screened, Durant and Logan, who have chosen the Jealous Monk as their watering hole (“We came here every night after filming,” Durant commented), sat down to talk about their hopes for the series and the process of bringing the concept to life.

The two met when they were both working at Shotgun Media (Logan as an intern), a production company that specializes in infomercials. Logan has just graduated from college – Bryant University – majoring in entrepreneurship, but he has been performing magic since he was 10 years old, and this got him the job of “team magician” for the New England Patriots (he had nothing to do with deflate-gate). Team magician? Yup. Just Google the New England Patriots – Magic Moments – and you’ll see segments like “Matt Lengel Eats Santa’s Cookies” (no kidding).

Durant, the senior of the two, is a veteran actor with a Blackstone Valley (Rhode Island) accent. In 2014 he was working on Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man” – “Three months of me hanging around the set, drinking coffee and being a good stand-in” – He explained that the film has to do with a Dostoevskian-style murder. Then Durant produced a documentary about Whodunnit, the TV Clue game, which was shot in Massachusetts. “So I had murder on my mind for the last few years,” Durant said.

So, why Mystic as a setting for skullduggery? Durant explained that he had been coming to Mystic since he was a child, and his wife’s family, Bostonians, have also frequently visited the historic town. “So I’ve always had a passion for doing something here because Mystic is a very special location.” He added: “There’s a mystery about this place.” So, the idea came to him, why not create a “Twin Peaks-style” murder mystery set in Mystic, perhaps not as idiosyncratic as the David Lynch televisions series but still enigmatic.

Durant began with characters. “You take a bunch of characters and put them in a room,” Durant said, “and the story will out.” So, he started with, among others, a sheriff, a priest, several hookers, a town councilman, a local fisherman and, of course, a murder victim, one Bridget Ashling, who leaves behind a sister and a daughter, the potpourri flavored by more than a touch of “Irish mafia” mindset. “The plot came out,” Durant said, “as the characters grew within the story.” Subsequently he wrote 30 episodes, 10 per season.


Durant had some contacts with the New York Pilot Festival. They advised him that scripts were all fine and good, but there are a ton of scripts floating around, so could he “get some money together and produce a pilot,” and that’s exactly what he did. It was shot in three days, low budget, with a lot of local talent, but Durant is proud that he wore multiple hats during the shoot and that it was professionally handled. There were glitches, but they were dealt with.

Durant is no artiste (although he may aspire to be) driven by art for art’s sake. He knows that “Mystic” has to be marketable, it has to hold an audience that, more and more, is distracted and surfeited. How you go about doing that is often a mystery in itself, for the viewing public is fickle and unpredictable. If anyone knew for sure what would always “work” they’d be a zillionaire.

One thing that will always keep people coming back is the “cliffhanger” close to an episode, creating an “I gotta know what’s going to happen next” need. That has to do with the writing. As Durant explained, often you have the episode’s ending before you have its beginning and the writer’s job is to fill in the blanks.


Logan commented: “People like to watch shows because of the good writing, everything’s all connected. In the pilot episode you have character A and character B, lots of characters, but when Frank told me how they all connected I thought, ‘How clever.’ When you finish watching the series you realize everything you’ve seen, everything that happened happened for a reason.”

Another aspect of the genre Durant and Logan are working in is that there have to be multiple suspects, and in the case of “Mystic,” just about everyone could have killed Bridget Ashling. In fact, there are only two people who, right now, know the identity of the murderer: Durant and Long. The cast of the pilot did not know.

Durant has nothing but praise and gratitude for the support he’s received from Mystic – from the civil authorities (especially the police and fire departments) to the local residents. If the show gets a “green light’ he will be back, perhaps with a different cast but shooting in the same locations.

Watching the pilot is like opening a jigsaw puzzle box and staring at all of the pieces. You know they must connect in some way and that they will eventually form a complete, picture. With the puzzle, you have the picture on the box cover to confirm that there is, in fact, a solution. Such is not the case with the “Mystic” pilot; you have to trust that the disparate pieces you see will eventually fit together to form a coherent whole, which is the essence of the mystery genre. In the meantime, if the show is well-written, you simply sit back and enjoy the characters.

"Fade" to What...?

Fade -- TheaterWorks -- Thru June 30

Elizabeth Ramos and Eddie Martinez. Photo: Lanny Nagler

So you walk into a bakery and you see a cake with a little card next to it that proclaims: “Death by Chocolate.” Sounds good to you, so you buy it, bring it home and cut a slice only to find what’s inside is white cake with vanilla frosting. You might just scratch your head and say “What the…?” This might also be your reaction as you sit watching “Fade” unfold up at TheaterWorks in Hartford. This two-hander by Tanya Saracho, directed by Jerry Ruiz, starts out by offering you one thing and then serves up quite another.

The play opens with Lucia (a demonstrative Elizabeth Ramos) entering her film studio office for the first time. She’s got one novel under her belt but has taken this job to pay the rent, although other staff writers hint that she got the job because she’s the token Hispanic. As she arranges her personal effects on bookshelves, Abel (Eddie Martinez), a janitor, is outside her office vacuuming (something he will do a lot of). The bookshelves collapse, Lucia calls for help, and thus the two “meet cute.”

Lucia immediately sizes up Abel (racially) and speaks Spanish to him. Although Abel initially doesn’t comment, they soon get into a discussion about Lucia’s perceptions and assumptions. Abel is of Mexican heritage (compliments of his grandfather), but he was born in America. He tags her as coming from an elite class in Mexican society, a charge that makes her bridle. So, it looks like we’re going to explore several themes, among them the Latino experience in America in the second decade of the 21st century (with the threat of expulsion for many) and an implied caste system amongst Latinos (“What kind of ‘Latino’ are you?”).

However, there’s a subtle shift as the relationship between Lucia and Abel matures (a romance that buds but never flowers), a shift away from ethnic questions to ones dealing with life within the corporate system and selling out. Without wishing to be a spoiler, suffice it to say that what Abel reveals to Lucia about his life she uses to enhance her position with her boss. The ethnicity issues disappear as the play morphs into a “What Makes Sammy Run?” wannabe.

So, what’s the problem, really? Well, the audience is asked to invest a good deal of time and attention to what Saracho develops in the first 30 or so minutes of her play, only to have her “say” forget about all that, here’s what the play is really dealing with – I asked you to buy “Death by Chocolate” but I’m giving you white cake and vanilla icing. The fact that Lucia and Abel are Hispanics becomes irrelevant – it turns out what we’re dealing with is how you, regardless of your ethnicity, step on people as you climb up the corporate ladder.

The play uses a single set designed by Mariana Sanchez. It’s Lucia’s office. Okay, any problems? Yes, and it’s not so much with the set design (it’s pretty much a mid-level corporate office) as it is with the play’s episodic development of scenes, almost all of which end with Lucia and Abel leaving the office for the evening (and Lucia changing tops to indicate it’s another day). Scene after scene ends the same way – they leave the office. You wait for some variation to be played out on this enter-and-exit theme, but it rarely happens, and after awhile it can become a bit mind-numbing.

Whatever faults “Fade” has can’t be placed on the shoulders of the two actors. Ramos, with great control of her body language, creates an intriguing, multi-layered character with just enough “heat” and passion to suggest the conflicted woman hidden beneath the driven scriptwriter, no more so than in the “kiss” scene late in the play.

Martinez gives Abel a droll sense of humor and works manfully to deliver a great deal of exposition late in the show, telling a story that simply runs on for too long (again, not his fault). His sangfroid plays well against Ramos’s more histrionic character.

Thus, the question comes back to what “story” Saracho wants to tell. Because she seems to lose sight of her initial premise, you’re left with a feeling that you’ve seen two different plays. No matter how you slice it, “Fade” really doesn’t satisfy, whether you like chocolate or vanilla.

“Fade” runs through June 30. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Million Dollar Quartet -- Ivoryton Playhouse -- Thru June 25

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet

What we have out at the Ivoryton Playhouse right now is what might be called the mother of all juke box musicals (for those not familiar with the term, it means a musical with a thin book created to showcase musical numbers). Million Dollar Quartet, which is based on a true event, captures the music, and some of the tension, when four juke box idols – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins – all found themselves at the studios of Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis, TN, in late December of 1956. Elvis had already left Phillips to sign with RCA and Cash and Perkins were about to break the news that they were moving to Columbia Records, while Lewis just wanted to become a star. Setting aside differences and egos, they play a lot of music – and there you have the story and the premise of the show.

As with all juke box musicals, much of your enjoyment will be determined by your association and familiarity with the era from which the music is drawn (and your response to it when it was current). Since we’re talking the 50s here, we’re talking Boomers, many of whom are now receiving Social Security checks. For some theater-goers, references may not register. For example, Elvis’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show – many of us saw that “historic” event while others may ask, “Who the hell is Ed Sullivan?” Then there’s Lewis’s references to his romantic proclivities – his career almost ended when he married his 13-year-old second cousin. So, what if you’re not tuned into the era of the rise of rockabilly? Is the show still worth the price of admission? Absolutely.

Million Dollar Quartet, which opened on Broadway in 2010 and ran for over 400 performances, is pure energy and captures the essence of an era, a seismic change from the staid (some might say self-satisfied) early 50s to a more troubled yet expressive society. The songs, over 20 of them, are driven by want, need, rebellion and, most of all, sexual desire (well, “Great Balls of Fire!”), with a little dose of religion (“Walk that Lonesome Valley/I Shall Not be Moved”) to provide a sanctified overlay and a sense of the tent revival ancestry of a lot of the music. As directed and choreographed by Sherry Lutken, with a book by Colin Scott and Floyd Mutrux, this two-hour show pulsates with essentially non-stop music.

Overseeing the proceedings is Phillips, played by Ben Hope. He sets the stage, provides back stories, and often introduces the musical numbers, many of which will be familiar, even if you’re not a Boomer, for they have entered the canon of American songdom. What is also familiar are the personas and voices – Cash, Lewis, Presley and (perhaps less so) Perkins. In staging a show like this, you have to take into account the inevitable audience question: “Does he sound like…?” Well, in this production the answer is yes…and no.

The most iconic of the quartet is, of course, Presley. John Rochette certainly has the moves, but there’s a certain animal growl missing from his voice, a low rumble that made female hearts tremble (and fathers fume). He sells the songs with style, but there’s just something missing.

As Perkins, Luke Darnell doesn’t have as much of an ingrained image to deal with. Hence, his performance is straightforward rockabilly – and the man sure can play the guitar. So, too, can Jeremy Sevelovitz as Johnny Cash, and he nicely captures the dark, gravelly voice of the country singer. Then there’s Joe Callahan as Jerry Lee Lewis, the class clown of the quartet. Callahan beats the hell out of the eighty-eights and gives us a manic Lewis that captures the essence of the man’s persona. Their efforts are backed by Brother Jay (Kroy Presley) on bass and Fluke (Jamie Pittle) on drums.

If there’s one quibble about the production (and it’s not the fault of Ivoryton), it’s that Emily Mattheson as Presley’s girlfriend Dyanne, gets only two numbers: “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin’.” She nails both songs and I don’t think there was a person in the audience who would have objected to her taking center stage for several more. Perhaps the folks at Ivoryton will take note and work to bring her back in a role that showcases her talents.

All in all, Million Dollar Quartet is an enjoyable two hours of rock-and-roll nostalgia. For those of an age, it will bring back memories of a time when the world was changing (which it always does) and they were young…and often rebellious (yes your grandmother once swooned and screamed as Elvis gyrated and your grandfather was fixated on combing his hair so that a curl fell over his forehead).

Million Dollar Quartet runs through June 25. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to   

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Difficult Birth of a Nation

1776 -- Connecticut Repertory Theatre -- Thru June 10

Jamie LaVerdiere and the cast of 1776. All photos by Gerry Goodstein

You know a musical production works when, at the end of a number, you have to restrain yourself from shouting “Encore.” Such restraint was necessary several times while watching “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s first offering in its 2017 Nutmeg Summer Series. Quite simply, this is entrancing, engaging and incisive theater in a production that is close to flawless.

Directed by Terrence Mann, who recently took over the reins as artistic director for the Nutmeg Series, this depiction of the goings on at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, as the delegates bicker, snipe and debate and America’s possible independence from the mother country hangs in the balance, is not only highly entertaining but thoroughly engrossing.

On a multi-tiered set by scenic designer Tim Brown, the superb cast re-enacts the momentous events of late June and early July, 1776. The delegates from the thirteen colonies are at odds over just about everything, from the monumental to the trivial, including independence from England, a move pushed for with a zeal that borders on fanaticism by John Adams (Jamie LaVerdiere). Benjamin Franklin (Richard R. Henry) acts as a moderating force trying to cool tempers and urging compromise.

A contingent of representatives, led by the acerbic John Dickinson (Adam Harrington) of Pennsylvania and the effete South Carolinian Edward Rutledge (Noah Kieserman) cautions against independence, arguing that George Washington and his rag-tag army will surely be defeated by the superior British forces. In an attempt to forestall a vote on a proposal for independence that will surely not pass, Adams and Franklin suggest that a written declaration is needed that will set out exactly why the colonies are seeking their independence. The task falls to the reluctant Thomas Jefferson (Will Bryant), who pines for his wife Martha (Paige Smith) back in Virginia.

It’s the stuff of history, but is it grist for a musical? Definitely, yes. With a book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, this Tony award-winner captures the flavor and passion of the times while avoiding hagiographic solemnity. In other words, those participating in the Continental Congress are shown to be flawed human beings struggling to create a new nation.
Adam Harrington as John Dickinson leads the conservative members
of the Continental Congress in "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men"
So, what might urge an audience member to shout “Encore”? Well, the list is rather lengthy, led by LaVerdiere’s performance as Adams. It is so solid that you never doubt for a moment that John Adams is up there on the stage, for LaVerdiere captures Adams’ captious, off-putting personality as well as his passion for independence and frustration with the do-nothing nature of the Congress. It is a seamless, bravura performance that truly deserved the standing ovation it received.

The “Encore” list goes on and consists of just about every musical number, many choreographed by Christopher d’Amboise and superbly lit by Michael Chybowski. From the opening number, “Sit Down, John,” you know that you are set for an enjoyable evening, for it admirably and succinctly sets up the basic conflict that will drive the evening. Then there’s the almost vaudevillian “The Lees of Old Virginia,” in which Richard Henry Lee (Simon Longnight) proclaims the glory of his family name and gets Adams and Franklin, “unwilling-lee,” to march to his tune. The first act closes with the lilting, endearing “He Plays the Violin,” in which Martha explains to Adams and Franklin why she is so enamored of Mr. Jefferson.

The second act opens with a wonderfully staged and choreographed “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men,” which just as easily could be called the “Ever to the Right Military Minuet.” With Adams away, those in opposition to independence, led by Dickinson, revel in their conservatism. It’s a song that could well serve as the anthem for several current political factions.

Finally, there’s “Molasses to Rum,” a number that might be used in a class on American musical theater to illustrate how a song can not only be integral to the plot but also enjoyable in and of itself. The issue is slavery as addressed in the draft of the Declaration of Independence, and it ignites a confrontation between Adams and Rutledge. Adams takes the moral high ground, castigating the southern colonies, specifically South Carolina, for its “peculiar institution.” As Rutledge, Kieserman answers with this energetic, acerbic musical number that points out the hypocrisy of the northern colonies, specifically Massachusetts, that earn money from the transport of slaves.

There’s not a false note in the entire proceedings, including the revelation of Adams’ more human side in his letters to his wife Abigail (Gaelen Gilliland) in “Yours, Yours, Yours” and “Compliments.” The beauty of this production is that while you are enjoying the musical numbers you are also drawn by the drama of what is occurring in the chamber where the Congress is meeting. As Mann writes in the program notes: “Even though we know how the play ends, it is one of those theatrical experiences that keeps you on the edge of your seat.” It is also a theatrical experience that bodes well for Mann’s tenure as artistic director of the Nutmeg Summer Series.

“1776” runs through June 10. For tickets or more information call 860-486-2113 or go to

Oh, To Be in England -- Back When...

Lettice & Lovage -- Westport Country Playhouse -- Thru June 17

Paxton Whitehead, Mia Dillon and Kandis Chappell
Photo by Carol Rosegg

                       “This life is what you make it.” – Marilyn Monroe

Lettice Douffet would certainly subscribe to this philosophy. She is a lady caught in a time warp: her body resides reluctantly in present-day England, but her mind and her soul nest somewhat uncertainly in a world long deceased, that of Queen Elizabeth I (The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess), and Charles I -- the good old days of the divine right of kings. She is also the dominant character in “Lettice & Lovage,” a quirky, somewhat prolix comedy by Peter Shaffer that recently opened at Westport Country Playhouse. Lettice uses words – and plenty of them – to color what she sees as a drab world now ruled by the “mere.” The effect of her loquaciousness is, at times, delightful, and at others, soporific, resulting in an evening of theater that seems to move at two different speeds.

Directed by Mark Lamos, with a set by John Arone that at first is beguiling, then austere (a bureaucratic black box), then somewhat over-stuffed (why the bathtub?), “Lettice & Lovage” opens with a tour of the Grand Hall at Fustian House, Wiltshire, led by Lettice (Kandis Chappell, who took on the role late in the rehearsal process). Actually, there are three tours: the first bores the tourists because, well, the house’s history is boring. Lettice, sensing this, adds some rhetorical flourishes to the second tour and by the third go-round the house’s history has become part fairy tale, part Shakespearean tragedy (one senses the second and third tour scenes could have been combined to make the same point). Alas, attending the final tour is Charlotte Schoen (Mia Dillon), an official of the Preservation Trust who does not find Lettice’s flights of fancy very endearing – they’re “fake news” from the past.

Lettice is hauled onto Charlotte’s Preservation Trust office carpet in a scene that runs altogether too long, ending with Lettice being dismissed from her position. In response, Lettice renders a reenactment of the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots (don’t ask – it’s a delightful moment, logic be damned). Having second thoughts, which may or may not be believable for the audience, Charlotte appears at Lettice’s flat with a job reference and the two bond when it’s revealed that Charlotte, a frustrated architect, detests what is being done to historic London. With that, Charlotte lets down her hair (well, it’s more than that, but I won’t reveal the sight gag).

When the lights come up on the second act, they reveal Mr. Bardolph (Paxton Whitehead), Lettice’s solicitor, sitting in Lettice’s flat with a briefcase on his lap. His appearance elicited both applause and laughter from the opening night audience, for Whitehead, a Playhouse favorite, brightens whatever production he’s in, especially if he’s called upon to be befuddled. This he certainly is as a plot twist is revealed and unraveled and he is asked to provide drum rolls to accompany yet another beheading (again, don’t ask, just enjoy).

If you buy the premise of Lettice and Charlotte being drawn together for the purpose of -- well, let’s just say it involves a lot of historical angst, agony and pontificating -- then you might sit comfortably in your seat for two hours (with one intermission). If you don’t, there are a lot of fidget opportunities. Chappell and Dillon do their utmost to bring their characters to life, even though both characters are severely overdrawn, and Whitehead delivers as the somewhat flummoxed lawyer. However, a playwright should know (or be told) when enough is enough, when the audience has gotten the point and it’s time to move on. That’s a difficult task when one of your main characters is inclined towards florid verbosity.

“Lettice & Lovage” runs through June 17. For tickets or more information call 203-227-4177 or go to