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Updated: 12'15








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Table of Contents

12/9/14
Mozart and Dvorak
(Hartford <CT> Symphony Orchestra)


10/23/14
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
(Westfield <MA> Theatre Group)

9/24/14

Evita
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT)

9/22/14
Ether Dome
(HartfordStage, CT)

9/15/14
Guess Who's Coming for Dinner?
(Huntington Theatre Co., Boston)

8/15/14

Dancing Lessons
(Barrington Stage Co., Pittsfield, MA)

8/5/14

Design for Living
(Berkshire Theatre Group. Stockbridge, MA)

8/4/14
Frankenstein
(Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA)

8/4/14
The Visit
(Williamstown (MA) Theatre Festival)

8/2/14
Other Desert Cities
(New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA)

8/1/14
Cedars
(Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA)

7/31/14
Lizzie Borden
(Tanglewood, Lenox, MA)

7/30/14
A Number
(Chester Theatre, Chester, MA)

7/5/14
The How and the Why
(New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA)

7/5/14
June Moon

(Williamstown <MA> Theatre Festival)

6/18/14
Kiss Me Kate
(Barrington Stage Co., Pittsfield, MA)

6/14/14
Ghost: The Musical
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT)

6/9/14
Bolero!
(Hartford <CT> Symphony Orchestra)

5/1/14
Damn Yankees
(
Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT)

4/28/14
Hairspray
(Stafford Palace Theater, Stafford Springs, CT)

4/20/14
9 to 5: The Musical
(Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA)

4/20/14
Next to Normal
(Majestic Theater, W. Springfield, MA)

3/25/14
Guys and Dolls
(Westfield <MA> Theatre Group)

3/25/14
Enigma Variations
(Hartford <CT> Symphony Orchestra)

3/12/14
Sweet Charity
(Theatre Guild of Hampden, Wilbraham, MA)

3/5/14
Heroes
(Majestic Theater, W. Springfield, MA)


2/20/14
Peter and the Starcatcher
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT)

2/16/14
Intimate Apparel
(Trinity Rep, Providence, RI)

2/10/14
Laughter on the 23rd Floor
(Ocean State Theatre Co., Warwick, RI)

1/30/14
War Horse
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT)


1/22/14
The Lyons
(2nd Story Theatre, Warren, RI)


1/22/14
The Big Meal

(Gamm Theatre,  Pawtucket, RI)

1/20/14
The Little Dog Laughed
(Your Theatre, New Bedford, MA)


1/17/14
God of Carnage
(Alley Theatre, Middleboro, MA)

Mozart and Dvorak by Michael J. Moran
(Hartford Symphony Orchestra - www.hartfordsymphony.org thru 12/7/14)
Though HSO Maestra Carolyn Kuan is a multi-talented musician, guest conductor William Eddins did something in the third program of this season’s Masterworks series that Kuan hasn’t done yet in Hartford (but give her time): performed as featured soloist and conductor in the same concert. He also did something Kuan does regularly and well: spoke to the audience. He opened by leading ten wind instruments from the piano in the HSO premiere of the nine-minute “Homage to Friendly Papageno” written in 1984 by Jean Francaix as “a hymn of gratitude to Mozart.” Sounding like a sprightly mashup of Mozart and Poulenc, it was played with charm and bite, and it led nicely into Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K. 453, in which Eddins led a larger ensemble of winds and strings again from the piano as soloist. Not rising from the bench or leaving the stage between these pieces, he engagingly discussed the themes from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” quoted by Francaix and Mozart’s pet starling, which loved quoting the main theme of this concerto’s coda but could never get all the notes quite right. From its lively opening Allegro through a flowing Andante and vigorous romp of a finale, the affectionate performance showed why this was one of Mozart’s own favorites among his concertos. The conductor’s clear and decisive head motions complemented the dexterity of his fingers. Intermission was followed by a white-hot reading of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 by the full orchestra. The dark color of the opening cello chords made clear that this would be a powerfully dramatic interpretation. A warm, loving Poco Adagio, a stately, Czech-flavored Scherzo, and a passionate, intense finale brought the audience to its feet. Here Eddins was a full-body and high-energy conductor (think Leonard Bernstein), who led without a baton or score all evening but with obvious communication skill. Music Director of Canada’s Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, guest conductor of major orchestras throughout the world, and at 18 the youngest graduate ever of the Eastman School of Music, this gifted and charismatic musician can’t be invited back to Hartford soon enough.

 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Mary Ann Dennis
(Westfield Theatre Group, Westfield, MA thru 10/25/14)
With a mental ward standing in for everyday society, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Westfield is insane (in a good way). Based on Ken Kesey's novel and with depth and understanding, directed by Jake Golen, this is a comically sharp indictment to urge establishment to conform. Playing crazy to avoid prison work detail, manic but free spirit Randle P. McMurphy, played by Carl Schwarzenbach, is sent to the state mental hospital for evaluation. There he encounters a motley crew of mostly voluntary inmates, all presided over by the icy Nurse Ratched. Ratched and McMurphy recognize that each is the other's worst enemy: an authority figure who equates sanity with correct behavior, and a misfit who is charismatic enough to dismantle the system simply by living as he pleases. Schwarzenbach as McMurphy is stellar. His approach to this boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel is performed with finesse. He commands the stage and is a delight to watch. Janine Flood’s Nurse Ratched is passive aggressive in shining armor. Flood’s approach is sterile and self-controlled which “works” for the character. Flood’s interpretation is consistent and valid, but a bit more whimsical playfulness would make a proper ingredient to the syrup manipulations. The evidence of Ratched’s authority is shown in the lobotomy character of Ruckly, played by Paul Bridge. Although few lines are delivered, Bridge pulls off the idiosyncrasies, twitches and outburst so believably that the audience is mesmerized. Bridge makes his acting debut with this production and is sensational in this intricate and most necessary role. Thomas LeCourt is successful as Dale Harding, a man simply trying to figure why, what and how but is scared and has been shut down from life. Kevin Montemagniis exuberantly puts himself into the role of Scanlon – a paranoid bomb-making maniac. Martini, played by John Kielb, is perfect for his role. Rob Clark's Chief evokes unexpected compassion from his audience. McMurphy's message to live free or die is ultimately not lost on the “inmates,” revealing that escape is still possible even from the most oppressive conditions. What happens when Nurse Ratched uses her ultimate weapon against McMurphy provides the story's shocking climax. This is an intricate show; a display of life and the conflict.

 

Evita by Walt Haggerty
(Bushnell, Hartford, CT thru 9/28 - www.bushnell.org )
Although “Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats” have racked up considerably longer runs, “Evita,” which first arrived on stage in 1978, remains Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best work to date. Currently, the Bushnell is offering a production of “Evita” based on its most recent Broadway revival, and it is a triumph. A rags to riches story of a poor country girl with lofty ambitions, “Evita” transports its heroine, step by carefully calculated step, from “groupie,” to radio personality, to film actress, to mistress to the most powerful military man in Argentina, and finally to First Lady, with eyes focused on the country’s Vice Presidency. Without question, the centerpiece of this production is Caroline Bowman, who delivers a luminous portrayal of a woman determined to achieve her goals as she rises to an iconic pinnacle of adoration from her legion of followers. Bowman is superb as was recognized by Tuesday evening’s audience following her Act II performance of the “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” anthem – a spectacular moment! Max Quinlan performs the role of Che impeccably as an observer and sometimes participant in the action, narrating and filling in gaps in the story of Evita’s rise from obscurity to stardom. Quinlan’s waltz with Evita is a gem. Sean MacLaughlin’s characterization of Peron diminishes the stiffness of earlier interpretations as it humanizes him and adds a layer of warmth. Christopher Johnstone, as the appropriately oily Magaldi, and Krystina Albado, as Peron’s pathetically rejected young mistress, each contribute excellent performances in secondary, but key roles. The large cast, meticulously directed by Michael Grandage, perform beautifully. What appears to be some judicious pruning of the book, allows for additional and welcome opportunities to feature the excellent choreography of Rob Ashford. Handsome and effective settings and costumes by Christopher Dram grant precisely the right touches, ranging from poverty to elegance. A somewhat reserved audience throughout Act I rose to the occasion with gusto following Act II with a well-deserved standing. With this production of “Evita” the Bushnell has set a high mark for the remaining productions of their annual Broadway Musical series.

 

Ether Dome by Jarice Hanson
(HartfordStage, Hartford, CT thru 10/5 - www.hartfordstage.org )
The publicity for HartfordStage’s production of Elizabeth Egloff’s new play, “Ether Dome”, uses the term “exhilarating,” leading the reader to suspect hyperbole. Instead, the word is an apt description for the energetic, engrossing story that unfolds. Egloff tells the story of four men whom were instrumental in the quest for relieving human suffering and what might be considered the “birth” of modern health care. In the process, humanity vs. opportunism, science vs. superstition, and change vs. the status quo become interwoven themes. Can the invention of anesthetic be attributed to only one man? Should Hartford dentist Dr. Horace Wells who used laughing gas to calm his patients get the credit? Should it be his apprentice, the ne’re do well William Morton, who attempted to patent the gas? Was it Dr. Charles Jackson, who favored science over superstition, or Dr. John Collins Warren, the founder of Mass General, who feared change? As the story unfolds, each of these men undergoes personal transformation as the medical world shifts. Egloff writes that Wells, for example, may have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Does that pique your interest? The excellent ensemble cast is complimented by a brilliant scene and projection design by James Youmans who transforms the stage from the surgical space of the Ether Dome (which still exists at Mass General Hospital) to a variety of locations from Boston to Washington D.C., including a visually stunning representation of a New York subway platform. But the master of the show is director Michael Wilson who moves his cast through a fast-paced two hours and forty minutes of human drama and comedy as the personal stories unfold. Ether Dome is a gift to an audience who appreciate the occasional joke about Hartford and Boston, but who find the real story of a scientific breakthrough as mesmerizing as the drama and history that unfolds. HartfordStage has produced a winner with this very original, fascinating theatrical experience.

 

Stop in for ‘Dinner’ at the Huntington

(Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Huntington Theatre Co. thru 10/5 - www.huntingtontheatre.org)
Sometimes it’s difficult to see a movie after reading a book, and sometimes that same rule applies to seeing a movie before watching a staged version. Todd Kreidler’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” based on the screenplay of the same name by William Rose, plays very similarly to the film – which has an upside and a downside. The upside to this is that it’s a darned good movie. Released in the late '60s, the film is fondly remembered for it’s (at the time) edgy subject matter, and strong performances from Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and others. It was very well done and very well received. The downside to this is that, even if staged in 1967 San Francisco, the style of play taken from the script isn’t received as well today as it may have been decades ago. The text today in the style of yesterday can play very preachy and lengthy. Despite very strong performances by cast members, wordy monologues from each character became very redundant and sometimes seeming not to move the plot along, but instead to remind the audience what they’ve just seen. Audiences who remember and enjoy the film would find this production to be on the mark. A new audience of younger viewers, though, may not receive it as well. Director David Esbjornson was given a strong group of actors to portray the plays characters, two families dealing with the racial pressures of the late 1960s. Each of the families were well-defined, though it was a bit ambiguous as to whether one family was of wealth and the other from a “lesser” station, which I believe is an added stressor to the already bi-racial tension. A couple characters also fell toward stereotypes rather than being rich (in depth versus financials) people they could have been. Again, if the intent was to keep with the style of the original film, then direction was successful. Dane Laffrey’s set was a lovely home interior and exterior combined in one, utilizing a turntable to convey inner and outer settings. The inner room was fairly basic and non-descript in nature with a wall of windows connecting the outside terrace. No real indication to the era was included in the dressing or decor. On the terrace was a wealth of plants and cacti which, at first the impression, was more life outside the home than in. Moreoften than not, the staging in and out of the living space to the terrace worked well. The first scene didn’t play well with Mrs. Drayton, daughter Joanna and her fiancé John downstage on the terrace with friend Hilary and maid Tillie upstage in the living space. Though the conversation downstage was the focus, Hilary packing up paintings and casting large shadows pulled focus often, as did Tillie’s reactions looking through the window to the conversation on the terrace. Throughout, lighting seemed inconsistent with many downstage moments showing faces in shadow, walking in and out of shadows, or more dimly lit than an empty terrace upstage. Also a directorial challenge was orientation. Given, when working on a turntable and the room shifts, the orientation in staging should be consistent - only perspectives have changed. Still, when the terrace is downstage and the rest of the house remains unchanged around it, those exiting the terrace kept their orientation and, when leaving through the “front door stage right”, actors exited to stage left, which visually showed them going into the unseen portion of the house. It was as confusing to this audience member as it was to try to explain it herein. Individual performances in this production shone brightly. Guest artist Julia Duffy was quietly strong as matriarch Christina Drayton. Her portrayal was subtle, but her relationship with husband Matt Drayton, portrayed by area-favorite Will Lyman, was very strong. Lyman’s portrayal of the conflicted father had great depth and truth, and flowed seamlessly throughout. Another stand-out was guest artist Malcolm-Jamal Warner, portraying Dr. John Prentice. No one will argue that Sidney Poitier is a tough act to follow on any stage and/or screen, but Warner showed some great presence and depth as an actor – far more than you would ever remember him for in “The Cosby Show.” He was strong and proud, and the transition he showed in his interactions with his father in Act II showed a lovely arc in his character. Linda Gravatt and Patrick Shea were also enjoyable in their supporting roles of Tillie and Monsignor Ryan, despite being somewhat stereotypical in character, pushing the comedy rather than allowing it to show itself more organically. The Huntington, known for quality productions, did not disappoint with this endeavor. It was performed very well, and it stayed true to the film. If that’s what you’d like to see, you will enjoy it very much. If you’re not partial to wordy monologues (and/or dialogues), this production of “Guess Who Comes to Dinner” might not be your cup of tea.


Dancing Lessons
by Jarice Hanson
(Barrington Stage Company thru 8/24 - www.barringtonstageco.org)
The standing ovation for the world premiere of Mark St. Germain’s "Dancing Lessons" was well deserved. Yet, upon leaving the theatre, overheard was a wide range of comments by patrons that expressed divergent views on what worked in the production and what didn’t. There is a lot to like in this new work. John Cariani is quirky and compelling as a professor with Asperger’s Syndrome. His charm and honesty provides much of the heart of the story. Paige Davis as an injured dancer clearly expresses frustration and anger as she faces a future she can’t control. Director Julianne Boyd weaves contemporary music into the fabric of the story to create a metaphorical dance of two people as they get to know and trust each other. One of the major challenges for a work dealing with autism is how to impart the peculiarities of the neurological condition to the public, and in this production, the writer, director, and actors are most effective when autism is shown, rather than described. There are moments of brilliance in the script, but the play suffers from trying to cover too much territory. Short, staccato bursts of dialog at the beginning of the show are intended to set a pace, but they fail to establish a rapport with the audience. At times, information on autism becomes didactic, and a litany of names of famous people who may have been autistic seems unnecessary to establish the fact that autistic individuals can be brilliant. Clues to the dancer’s backstory are delivered through phone messages from someone who sounds like a character from "The Prairie Home Companion." Surprisingly, the ending, though not particularly original, works well and leaves the audience with a message of hope for these two individuals trapped in worlds they can’t control. "Dancing Lessons" is appropriately titled, and the characters’ relationship creates a compelling story that touches our humanity and is ultimately moving. If some of the “extra information” embedded in the script were eliminated or downplayed, the basic questions of what we as individuals control, and what circumstances in our lives we would change if we could, are strong enough for the story to stand alone. As a new work, "Dancing Lessons" may not be perfect, but this production shows great potential for a script that will be produced often, and will touch many.

 

Design for Living by Jarice Hanson
(Berkshire Theatre Group. Stockbridge, MA thru 8/16 - www.berkshiretheatregroup.org)
The delight in watching a Noel Coward script come to life onstage is to watch the portrayal of society’s manners and morals played against personal pain and self-delusion. And, of course, there’s the unmistakable wit that endears characters to the audience. Unfortunately, none of these elements are used to their advantage in "Design for Living," currently playing at the Unicorn Theatre. While the young cast injects energy into their performances, they largely miss the quintessential Coward touches, and fail to connect with each other and more importantly, with the audience. This particular Coward story retains its timeliness, though this interpretation leaves one wanting more attention to the original script. Over a period of five years, three friends exchange sex and flaunt social conventions as each finds success, but director Tom Story allows his male actors to go over-the-top with gay stereotypes when the tension of any Coward play draws from the repressed sexuality of his male characters. The comedy is confined to slapstick, Marx Brothers-type of buffoonery that is well executed, but misses the sophistication provided by Coward’s erudite language. Coward based the story on his friendship with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, and the three performed in the 1933 Broadway production. The three acts reflect a bohemian Paris room, an upscale London flat, and finally, an apartment in a New York high-rise in which the characters’ successes are reflected by the decor. While the sets are imaginative and the costumes period-perfect, this production misses the mark when it comes to Noel Coward’s commentary about the soul of the artists, the fluidity of gender preferences, and the social repression of unmarried love and sex. Perhaps the actors will find the moments to really connect with each other as the run progresses, and the true spirit of Coward’s social comment on finding one’s personal truth will come through.

Frankenstein
(Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA 9/26-27 - www.olddeerfieldproductions.org)
After its huge success in Greenfield last month, a new adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein will be presented by Old Deerfield Productions for two nights only in Springfield. Written and performed by Lindel Hart as the Creature, the cast includes Colin Allen in the roles of Victor Frankenstein, Mr. DeLacey, and William, with Jane Williams playing Mary Shelley and Elizabeth. Tickets are $20 and available at www.olddeerfieldproductions.org or at the door. The production will feature projection design by Albanian artist, Florian Canga illustrating the story through light and image that will also draw parallels to the troubled present. Handheld video cameras and video installation manipulated by the character Mary Shelley incorporates images from the Scientific Revolution of her time with present day images. Athan Vennell creates set installation and costumes, Matt Cowan is the lighting designer, Sloan Tomlinson is the poster designer and the extraordinary makeup design and execution is by world renowned make up artist, Joseph Dulude, II. Not appropriate for young children. Tickets are $20 and available at www.olddeerfieldproductions.org or at the door.

The Visit
by Walt Haggerty
(Williamstown (MA) Theatre Festival thru 8/17 - www.wtfestival.org)
Here we go again. It’s all about fresh starts, new beginnings,” commented legendary superstar Chita Rivera. Based on Friedrich Durenmatt’s play, "The Visit" has been turned into a musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb, with a book by Terrance McNally. The Visit tells a dark and foreboding tale of a woman betrayed, abandoned and shamed by her lover. Late in life Claire returns to the village of her youth. The once beautiful and thriving community is decayed and the townspeople impoverished, including Anton, her former lover. Following a series of profitable marriages, Claire has become a woman of enormous wealth. Her mysterious visit is anticipated with curiosity as to why she has elected to return. The hope is that she will rescue her former neighbors. On arrival she makes an extraordinary offer, but demands an even more extraordinary price. As Claire, Rivera delivers a dynamic performance destined to cap a career of more than half a century. She is incomparable. Roger Rees, as Claire’s former lover, portrays a character deserving of total contempt. Enacting Claire and Anton as young lovers are Michelle Veintimilla and John Bambery, respectively, who reflect the youth and beauty that once existed. As schoolmaster, Jason Danieley makes his solo, “The Only One,” powerful and moving. Distinctive characterizations are also contributed by Judy Kuhn, Melanie Field, and Rick Holmes. The score and lyrics (Kander & Ebb) make this musical one of the team’s best, with each selection tailored precisely to the situations and characters as reflected in Claire’s bitter “I Walk Away” and “Anton’s egotistical, “I Must Have Been Something.” “Love and Love Alone,” sung and danced by Claire and Young Claire, is beautiful and moving. The Visit, directed by John Doyle and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, is still a work in progress. The strong, sturdy framework is in place for a memorable, even great, evening of theatre. Perhaps a reconsideration of the most recent cuts and condensation of the current production might be revisited, with an eye to adding definition to key characterization. More extensive use of the marvelous music would also be most welcome.

Other Desert Cities
by Konrad Rogowski
(New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA thru 8/9/14 - www.newcenturytheatre.com)
The unearthing and ghoulish autopsy of old family secrets, deceptions and plots creates the conflict and intrigue of New Century Theatre's production of Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities." The premise of the play is pulled straight from the often times brutal reality of today's "tell it all" autobiographies, recounted, most often, by the children of the rich and famous; and so it is with the Wyeth family. Author Brooke Wyeth (Cate Damon) arrives on Christmas Eve at the home of her movie star/high powered political hob-nobbing parents (Richard McElvain and Carol Lambert) with a present that promises to blow the lid off of a well kept family secret. She presents them with her "tell all" book that suggests what happened to drive her younger brother to both acts of mass violence and suicide. The author, who has her own take on the family dynamics which caused this situation, give other family members - brother Trip (Sam Gillam) and aunt Silda (Ellen W. Kaplan) - the chance to read and to deal with what has occurred. Each of the actors create characters dealing with a family imploding into a series of hateful accusations and counter accusations. The interesting and different facet of the play here is that each of these characters makes points that ring true in their facts and their hypothesis, only to be countered by the others' equally valid points, leaving the audience wondering just who's version of the truth is the one to believe. To compound the issue, Rand Foester has successfully directed his cast to express flawed people who deal with others, equally flawed. By play's end, a truth does come out. The audience discovers why Brooke finally takes the road she talks about to other desert cities. Foester keeps the action tight, and the arguments crisp and ringing of reality. Daniel D. Rist's set design creates the scene...and like the conflicts played out, it is panoramic in scope, and appears, at least to the uninitiated, picture perfect.

Cedars
by Jarice Hanson
(Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA thru 8/9 - www.berkshiretheatregroup.org)
Have you ever wished you could tell a parent what you thought of what they had taught you, and not have them interrupt? In "Cedars," a one-man play in five acts starring the talented James Naughton, currently at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage theatre, this premise is examined from the perspective of a self-absorbed 59 year old lawyer who talks to his comatose father while his own life is falling apart. The imagined location is the Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, and the script, penned by Erik Tarloff, is full of LA-speak; the criticism of pop culture, morals, and fractured families. Naughton is commanding on stage. His rich voice is polished and every syllable is clear. Director Kiera Naughton (his daughter) has some good ideas; shifting the passage of time visually with projections and costume changes, and setting up hospital background sounds from the time the house is open are nice touches. However, the minute Gabe, a lawyer by trade, is introduced by way of jarring music, the hospital illusion falls apart. Gabe could be anywhere, and until the end of the fifth act, the fact that he is speaking to his father seems irrelevant, if not inappropriate. Naughton spends a good deal of time wandering around the stage, without clear physical moments to help punctuate the story. But when Gabe’s moment of truth emerges, the scene is heartbreakingly beautiful. The problems with the show are in Tarloff’s script. The over-written dialog is too literary for this type of intimate show, and some of the dialog is crude and insensitive. Naughton gets a few moments where he shines like the star he is, but even he has a hard time overcoming the dialog that masks the truth Gabe and the audience need to find to make this show really memorable.

Lizzie Borden
by Michael J. Moran
(Tanglewood, Lenox, MA - www.bso.org)
American composer Jack Beeson, scenario writer Richard Plant, and librettist Kenward Elmslie first published their opera “Lizzie Borden” in 1965. A new version for chamber orchestra with orchestration by Todd Bashore and dramaturgy by John Conklin was commissioned and debuted by Boston Lyric Opera in November 2013. The same forces recently presented it at Tanglewood. Although the real Lizzie Borden was acquitted of killing her father and stepmother with an ax in 1892 at the family home in Fall River, MA, suspicions of her guilt still persist. The stark and stylized BLO production, performed in 90 minutes without an intermission, built a mood of almost unbearable tension from early scenes of family life to the murders just before the end. The orchestra was situated at stage right in Ozawa Hall. Set designer Andrew Cavanaugh Holland placed a table with four chairs downstage center, and most of the action was movement of chairs around the otherwise empty stage by the six cast members. Stage director Christopher Alden provided some comic relief by using the floor as a bed for Lizzie’s father, Andrew Borden, and his wife, Abigail, and the table as a piano and lounging area for Abigail. Soprano Caroline Worra played Abigail to the hilt, garnering much appreciative laughter from the enthusiastic audience. Bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs as Andrew, soprano Chelsea Basler as Lizzie’s younger sister Margret, baritone David McFerrin as Margret’s ship captain fiancé, and tenor Omar Najmi as the pastor of the Borden family church all sang with clarity, focus, and strong characterization. But the evening belonged to mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson as Lizzie, whose heartrending and harrowing account of the tragic heroine won sympathy as well as horror for her actions. BLO music director David Angus led a tight, intense performance, and the reduced orchestration highlighted both the astringency of the often violent score and the tenderness of its rare lyrical interludes. Members of the Voices Boston children’s chorus sang with spirit from the first balcony. Projected titles and a post-show panel discussion featuring the composer’s daughter further enhanced this rare opportunity to hear an American operatic masterpiece.

A Number
by Bettie Hallen
(Chester Theatre Company thru 8/10/14 - www.chestertheatre.org)
When staged in London in 2002, this play was identified by The London Evening Standard, as “the first true play of the 21stcentury." As its five scenes unfold, the audience is immersed in a depth of bio-socio-medical-ethical questions to ponder. This puzzler of a psychological thriller heads straight into the middle of the situation when, after having seen something unnerving, Bernard, a son questions Salter, the father who has raised him. "Are you my father? Was I the first one, the original? Would you know me in the batch?” The father answers somewhat evasively, often changing his story, finally telling Bernard, “I am your father (long pause) genetically.” At this point in the first scene, the audience, if not already confused, realizes it has no idea what is going on. Why does Bernard ask if he was the first of ‘a number’? Who are the “they” whom Salter wants to sue for a huge amount of money? Caryl Churchill’s intriguingly-styled script allows for a great deal of free rein of which director Byam Stevens thoughtfully takes full advantage. In a discussion with opening day audience, he would not categorize the play for all of the many questions which it poses. The script has no stage directions and little punctuation. Learning this, its audience realizes what imaginative command both Stevens and his truly brilliant actors have staged to create amazing characterizations. The versatile Jay Stratton returns to Chester as Bernards 1 and 2, and Michael Black, three of the identical sons who are not at all similar in behavior nor demeanor; this is most impressive acting. As Salter, Larry John Meyers is a brilliant choice in his first appearance at Chester. He adeptly changes in his behavior as each of the young men confront him. Audience members must watch carefully during the scene changes; that there are no black-outs is another clever directorial decision. Both actors speak with a gentle, easily understood British accent, while standing or sitting across from one another in unmatched kitchen chairs on an otherwise bare platform stage encircled with 19 slightly out of focus, varyingly angled mirrors. Be sure to see this play with a full carload of folks for a lengthy discussion on the ride home of the questions and their possible answers introduced by “A Number.”

 

The How and the Why by K.J. Rogowski
(New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA thru 7/12)
Sarah Treem's "The How And The Why" is an ambitious two-person show currently playing at New Century Theatre. This production is, in part, an extensive exploration and debate of a proposed scientific theory on the evolutionary reason for menstruation, part professional crossroads on how to get ahead in the scientific community while leaving your coworker/lover behind, and part exploration of the deeply conflicted relationship between a mother and the daughter. By a twist of fate, some 28 years later, the daughter who was abandoned at birth ends up being her own mother's scientific collaborator. As if this was not enough to absorb, the play also includes the introduced, but never followed though on, plot element of one of the characters having stage three cancer.  Act I moves fairly well, although the ongoing antagonism between the two characters is never explained, only vaguely hinted at, which leaves audience members wondering exactly what is happening and why. However, much credit especially goes to the two actors, Lisa Abend and Suzanne Ankrum. At the opening night performance, a stir-related power outage put their stage in sheer darkness. The two never lost composure, but assured the audience "this happens all the time," getting a good round of applause. In a few minutes the lights were back on, they came back, restarted a few lines back from when the lights went out, and moved ahead unflustered and seamlessly.  The scientific and career conflicts debated in the Act I are detailed and well punctuated with the push and pull of conflicted characters. They move towards and away from one another as the action and arguments play out. Act II, however, takes an odd turn, with the prime characters meeting once again in "a dive bar." At this point, the production looses its drive. The main factors at play are the script's repetition of the debates and arguments from Act I with scientific theories and counter theories explained, argued and re-argued, as are the personal conflicts. Director Sheila Siragusa's choice is to just sit the two at a table, in a room all alone, and there they stay for the majority of the act. In spite of lots of room to move, to push and pull, there was little movement. Useful props were not used, such as the dart board that, oddly, had no darts.  It may be that the script tries to take on and resolve too many complex issues, or something missing in the action, but the production leaves its audience, at least at the play's first performance, wondering about the how and why.

 

June Moon by Jennifer Curran
(Williamstown <MA> Theatre Festival, Williamstown thru 7/13 - www.wtf.org)
The production “June Moon” was the official start of the 2014 season on the Main Stage of Williamstown Theatre Festival. If the season didn’t open with fireworks, it did open with the legendary writers, Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman. Directed by Broadway’s Jessica Stone, the production was charming, scathing, warm and hysterically funny at moments. “June Moon” takes its audience back to 1929 and the heyday of Tin Pan Alley as the protagonist, the clueless and simple-minded Fred Stevens (quite lovable though infuriatingly insipid at times as portrayed by Nate Corddry) makes his way from Schenectady to the Big Apple. His dreams of becoming a famous lyricist are waylaid by various forms of temptation. In the train car he meets the lovely, but oh so safe,  dna Baker (Rachel Napoleon). Fred joins up with the almost has-been song writer Paul Sears soon after his arrival in the city. At their first meeting, Fred also meets Paul’s bored, but not as gutsy as she wants you to believe, wife Lucille (Kate Maccluggage) and her gold digging, scandalous for 1929 sister Eileen (Holley Fain). “June Moon” is both an homage and criticism of the era of churning out ditties and excess of the pre-Depression lifestyle. The female characters are little more than archetypes, but they are pieces to the puzzle -- each woman doing what she can within the constraints of a political and social structure that allows for few options. Edna, upon her introduction to Fred, changes who she is with each sentence, so unsure of who her suitor wants her to be and so very eager to become a wife and mother. These types of roles for women have been long obsolete and thank goodness for that. There are no truly sympathetic characters in this world, except perhaps for that of Maxie the piano player. In fact, they are so flawed, so selfishly drawn, it's hard not to enjoy watching them fall. Maxie (a truly terrific David Turner) is at once the sardonic truth speaker, the hit ‘em in the kisser with one-two punch jokes, but also the dark heart of this story. And dark it is, though the brilliance of the incredible set (Tobin Ost) and glittering costumes (Gregg Barnes) might want you to believe otherwise. On the surface, the dresses were fabulous and the clubs were hopping, but there is a desperation running through every line. That longing to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved under a June Moon, even if it is October.

 

Kiss Me, Kate by Shera Cohen
(Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield - www.barringtonstageco.org thu 7/12/14)
“It’s delightful. It’s delicious. It’s de-lovely.” Cole Porter’s own words from another of his musicals perfectly describe Barrington Stage’s (BSC) production of “Kiss Me, Kate.” Let’s bring on the adjectives...it’s energetic, playful, and endearing. BSC has set its own benchmark so high in producing musicals that it has the difficult task of, at the very least, reaching the mark. At best, exceeding it. Exceed, they do as BSC literally jumps into its 20th season with the first of “Kate’s” memorable songs; “Another Op’nin, Another Show.” The show? “Kate” is a play within a play where backstage problems and personalities come center stage. “Kate” mingles Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” with a post-WWII city-to-city pitstop theatre company. It’s The Bard meets Damon Runyon. And, it’s two love stories. Nearly all of Porter’s 18 songs are familiar (the sweet “So In Love,” the comic “I Hate Men,” and the rousing “From This Moment On”). It would be difficult for any audience member not to leave the house humming a medley. Porter’s lyrics are full of double entendres and farce, and are sometimes ridiculously funny. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” falls into all three categories. Elizabeth Stanley and Paul Anthony Stewart portray squabbling exes behind the play’s curtain and Kate and Petruchio on the stage within the stage in front of the curtain. Got that? It doesn’t matter. What matters most is the truth and humor they give to their characters in their private moments and interactions with each other. Bravado and ego abound -- loudly, relentlessly, and hysterically. Oftentimes, theatres hire actors who can sing, or singers who can act. There is a difference. Rarely are the skills equal. Stanley and Stewart make for a perfect match. Stanley’s soprano voice is almost operatic. Stewart holds onto his songs with passion. The pit orchestra -- yes, they are really in a pit with dancers jumping and spinning in precarious moves within inches of the players’ heads -- makes 12 musicians sound like 25. Joe Calarco’s direction and Lorin Latarro’s choreography are as in synch as their lead actors and the two plays. “Too Darn Hot” opens Act II as the entire ensemble mixes jazz, ballet, and modern dance into a sultry, sweaty, and steamy showstopper. And the costumes…the sets…Just get ye' to Pittsfield.

 

Ghost-The Musical by R.E. Smith
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT - www.bushnell.org thru 6/15)
For a story about intimate connections and lost love, “Ghost-The Musical’s deepest impact comes courtesy of its grand, broad, cutting edge visual gestures. For instance, as befits a musical whose source material is a movie, “Ghost” features its own opening credits sequence. With book by original screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, Sam and Molly are young, successful and in love, until tragedy strikes (see the title). Sam must bring closure to his life and their love, while protecting Molly and dealing with his initially powerless state. Like another recent movie-inspired musical, “Flashdance,” “Ghost” relies on high definition video projection and intense lighting to create a show that is part play, part rock concert. Unlike that show, the effects are used for more than just scenery. Unique stage magic tricks and creative blocking serve to create an otherworldly environment in a surprisingly organic way. A subway sequence is especially cinematic; combining fast paced set changes with unique physical movement, shifting perspective at lighting speed. The choreography by Ashley Wallen, too, is inventive and unique, ably served by the ensemble. Slow motion, freeze frames, and fast reversals of direction serve to underscore the ebb and flow of the rhythms of life. The creators have wisely chosen not cast doppelgangers for the film’s original stars, and letting the performers bring more original portrayals of tenderness and longing. The role of suddenly relevant psychic Oda Mae Brown could easily go over the top, but Carla R. Stewart plays the comedy with a deft and realistic touch. Her big production number “I’m Outta Here,” as well as Katie Postotnik’s (Molly) plaintive “With You” were stand outs among the rock/pop score. Iconic moments from the film, such as the pottery wheel and “Unchained Melody” are present, but woven in more subtly than one would have expected. This helps to make “Ghost-The Musical” a unique companion to the film. The sights and sounds will wow your senses, but the story will still touch your heart.

 

Bolero! by Michael Moran
(Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT - www.hartfordsymphony.org)
As the exclamation point after its title suggests, the goal of HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan in designing this program must have been not only to dazzle her listeners but to end the orchestra’s 70th anniversary season on a high note. The trumpet fanfare that opens Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” got the concert off to a rousing start. This is one of several Italian melodies the composer heard when visiting Rome in 1880 and quoted in this musical memento of his trip. The HSO and Kuan deftly rendered the piece’s shifting moods, from the somber main theme after the fanfare to the exuberant closing tarantella. In complete contrast to the high spirits of Tchaikovsky’s curtain raiser, the program continued with the radiant “Flute Concerto No. 1 in G Major” by his favorite composer, Mozart. Principal HSO flutist Greig Shearer was the mellifluous soloist, and his colleagues supported him with a delicate performance of classical poise. After intermission, this quietest selection on the program was followed by the loudest: the Hartford premiere of up-and-coming American composer Mason Bates’ “Alternative Energy for Orchestra and Electronica.” In opening comments, the Maestra explained its four movements (depicting energy sources at different times and places), and orchestra members demonstrated such exotic sounds as a car muffler and a hubcap (Kuan praised principal HSO percussionist Robert McEwan for finding them in a local junkyard). Despite some harsh moments of clashing dissonance, this colorful score is compulsively listenable, and electronic sounds from a laptop enhanced its drama. The huge orchestra played it with flair, and the near-capacity audience loved it. Closing the program was its crowd-pleasing title piece, Ravel’s “Bolero.” Like the jazz bands that inspired the composer in the 1920's, all the musicians stood to play their solos. Later, 10 members of the University of Connecticut Drumline marched onto the stage from throughout the hall, each playing the same ostinato rhythm on a snaredrum with which the music had begun. The HSO has in Kuan an inspiring leader who draws memorable performances from her orchestra and a canny programmer who educates and entertains her audiences.

Damn Yankees by Walt Haggerty
(Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT thru 6/21 - www.goodspeed.org)
Praying for a Red Sox win? Turn off the Sports Channel and head for Connecticut. Yes, East Haddam, CT, where Goodspeed musicals have launched a winning season with that old favorite, “Damn Yankees.” This time around instead of dealing with the familiar frustrations of Washington Senators fans, a brisk and hilarious new adaptation of the original book puts the Red Sox in the spotlight – and it works – brilliantly! Joe DiPietro is due well-deserved credit for this swiftly moving, laugh-filled adaptation of the book, and the Richard Adler/Jerry Ross score is still one of the best. As is customary at Goodspeed, casting is impeccable – every performer is spot-on perfect. Their Red Sox team actually looks like a baseball team instead of a chorus line. Each player has his own distinct personality and maintains that characterization throughout. Special credit goes to Director Daniel Goldstein for that accomplishment and to Choreographer Kelli Barclay, who has devised a series of spirited, challenging and inventive ensemble dance numbers that have the audience cheering. The cast performances of “Heart” and “Shoeless Joe” are show-stoppers, especially the latter as led by Lora Lee Gayer as Gloria Thorpe. David Beach’s delightfully deceptive, double-dealing Devil delivers the kind of evil that audiences love to hate. The irony of his “Good Old Days” solo is priceless. As his seductive temptress/assistant, Lola, Angel Reda is perfection, most notably in “Whatever Lola Wants.” Stephen Mark Lukas is every inch the strong, stalwart hero who really could be the answer to the Red Sox prayer. And WOW – what a voice. As Meg and Joe Boyd, Ann Arvia and James Judy, respectively, bring endearing moments of warmth to their characters, notably with “ A Man Doesn’t Know” and “Near to You.” Kristine Zbornik and Allyce Beaseley, as Meg’s best friends and over-the-top Red Sox supporters, demonstrate the extremes of dedicated fans. “Damn Yankees,” resurrected from the memory book of great musicals of the past, has been given a well-deserved, vibrant new lease on life in this current Goodspeed production. It’s a winner.

 

Hairspray by Eric Sutter
(Stafford Palace Theater, Stafford Springs, CT - www.thestaffordpalacetheater.com)
Set in the early 60's, "Hairspray" tells the story of a plus-sized girl Tracy (Meghan Allen) who dreams of being a featured dancer on "The Corny Collins Show" - the equivalent of "American Bandstand." The musical mimics much of the time period's pop music sound explosion set to new lyrics with similar sock hop style dancing. To start, a simple set features a bed on which Tracy awakens to an alarm clock. She breaks out in song with "Good Morning Baltimore" accompanied by strange but funny characters that color her morning. A flasher does a slide flash in long coat, a drunken bum takes a fall and other characters gather around show host Corny Collins (Jon Todd). A "Cool Jerk" sounding song called "1960's Town" brings the characters into a campy fun roll call. Toe tappers ease the integration of the show's dancers which include cross-dressers and role reversal humor. "I Can Hear Bells" displays a troupe dance around the innocence of first love. Racial and gender barriers are broken down with strange twists. Of course, male authority figures such as Passion Park High's principal (David Sartori) try to suppress the music. Tracy is given detention for her discovery of Negro Day. [Remember, this shoe is dated.] Crazy dances ensue to "Feed The Monkey" and "Peyton Place After Midnight." Josh Farber, in the role of Tracy's mom Edna Turnblad, is hilarious as a drag queen. A Top 40 hit, "It Takes Two" is crooned by Tracy's love Link Larkin (Joe Lucenti) who appears as an Elvis clone. Many gyrations later, Link kisses Tracy. A Supremes style "Hey Momma" features Tracy and mom in a wild new stylish makeover... talk about heatwave. Motormouth Maybelle (Jasmine Keane) sings a hot R&B number "Run and Tell That" with a life affirming message of being okay to be different... it's time to integrate. Act II opens with "Big Doll House"... girls behind prison bars guarded by Prison Matron (Rae Banigan). As comic as the actors are, there is an honest love relationship between Tracy's parents; Michael Holt portrays dad. More comical repartee by the Turnblads during "Timeless To Me" makes light of gender roles. With Tracy in the house of detention, Link stages a jail break with Zippo lighter and, of course, the multi-purpose hairspray. The troupe sings "Without Love" to a funky soul dance step. Kudos to stage, set and costume crews for a unique production. Title song "Hairspray" by ego-maniac Corny Collins is fun. The flash of "You Can't Stop The Beat" integrates the Corny Collins Show with a soul clapping finale. Don't miss the final entrance of Edna Turnblad and Maybelle's soulful solo.

9 to 5 the Musical
by Eric Johnson
(Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA thru 5/10 - www.exit7players.org)
Yes, the 1980 movie is also a musical. Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick will not likely be compared to Rogers and Hammerstein for this work, however, the show is good for quite a few laughs and some toe tapping. Jeff Clayton plays the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” Franklin Hart just enough over the top (verbally and physically) to elicit enthusiastic laughter from the opening night audience. Kathy Renaud is most entertaining in her portrayal of the hopelessly infatuated Roz, Hart’s executive assistant. The chemistry between Doralee, Judy and Violet, is crucial to this show and Jami Byrne-Wilson, Emily Stisser and Diane Lamoureaux pull it off without a hitch. These are characters whose relationship changes and grows dramatically and swiftly. These extremely talented actresses handle it deftly, creating many moving comical, and dramatic moments. The scene stealing supporting role award goes to Heather Maloney as Margaret. She reels across the stage sipping from a flask eliciting numerous laughs. All supporting characters and ensemble did a very nice job and complemented the production ably. Music director George Garber Jr assembled competent, talented musicians to provide the soundtrack for the evening’s entertainment. The opening number ("9 to 5") did seem to be going a bit fast for performance as an ensemble piece and, as a result, was a bit shaky. There are, however, many enjoyable musical highlights to the evening. The songs "I Just Might," "Backwoods Barbie," "One of the Boys" and "Let Love Grow" all showcase the assembled musical, vocal and dance talent present in the theatre. Director Scott Nelson, along with Mike Crowther, created a very stylish and functional (albeit sparse) set design using modular, multi-tasking pieces. Fiendishly clever. If criticisms must be made, the show could benefit from some general tightening up, pace and timing were not consistent. Perhaps opening night jitters are to blame for that. There were numerous anachronisms in costumes and hairstyles. If the show is set 300 years ago, few will notice, when it is set 35 years ago, that’s a different story. That said, an on-stage office full of singing, dancing and jokes galore is a nice way to wrap a week of one’s own 9 to 5.

 

Next to Normal by K.J. Rogowski
(Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA)
Musicals by their very nature can present a challenge, in finding the right singers who can act, or actors who can sing. But, add to that, a serious central theme such as a family struggling with the impact of a family member with a long history of bi-polar disorder, and that challenge is increased. That said, Majestic Theater's presentation of "Next To Normal" meets and exceeds on both of those challenges. Working with an excellent script, which relies on very little actual dialogue but conveys the characters' inner struggles and situations, and interpersonal conflicts between the family members through their songs, this cast of six easily draws the audience into the instability and anxiety of trying to get through a single day and some of the most mundane daily tasks, when no one knows what might happen next. Sue Dziura and Tom Nunes as the parents, trying to hold their marriage together, and Emery Henderson and Daniel Plimpton as their teen-aged children caught, as so often happens, in the middle, portray an average family, living with a real, puzzling, and sometimes debilitating disorder. As their story unfolds, visible are parallels between the parents' struggles and those of their daughter and her new found boy friend, played by Josiah Durham. Add to this upheaval, the many visits to Doctor Fine and then to Doctor Madden, both played by Freddie Marion (and both with their own treatment plans), and the lines between which plan and which cocktail of medications will bring some relief and stability blur like the patient's view and hope of a normal life. The authors play a little name game here also, with our average family, the Goodmans, treatened by their doctors, who are "fine" and "madden." Greg Trochlil's set design, comprised of clean institutional lines and generic panels, with smooth gray steel furniture, and puzzle piece gray floor reflect and enhance that gray zone that is the Goodman's life, and the disorder that they must deal with. The strength of this show is the strong voices of the cast, both in their ability to deliver on the music and to create characters who are real/next door people who tell their story, and make us care about what happens to them.

 

Guys and Dolls by Eric Johnson
(Westfield Theater Group, Westfield, MA -  www.westfieldtheatregroup.com thru 4/12/14)
What’s playin’ at the Roxy? A tight, well rehearsed, energetic and thoroughly entertaining production of "Guys and Dolls." That’s what’s playin’ at the Roxy! First time director John Farrell and seasoned music director George Garber Jr. work well together. The casting choices, including a few bold ones, serve this production admirably. Farrell’s objective to keep it simple, using projections along with a few easy to move set pieces, keeps the scene changes short and the action flowing. Garber leads a 10-piece band through the score by Frank Loesser with deft precision and an ear for detail that sets a very high bar for a community theatre produced musical. All of the instruments and voices blend together so well that the balance rivals that of a recording, and all of this at a very comfortable volume. The members of the ensemble cast, unfortunately too numerous to mention everyone by name, work together like a well-tuned and oiled machine, a machine with some mad vocal skills as well. Soloists and chorus alike bring some lovely voices to the party. Stand out performances from supporting roles come from Pat McMahon as Nicely Nicely Johnson; his timing and physical comedic ability are quite entertaining. Paired with Jay Torres as Benny, the two elicit belly laughs galore from the receptive opening night audience. Rick Buzzee contributes a wonderful, grounded performance as Arvide; his solo “More I Cannot Wish You” is a wonderful moment. Lead performers Tom LeCourt as Nathan, Martina Haskins as Adelaide, Carl Schwarzenbach as Sky and Lyndsey Ryder as Sarah, all work very well together. LeCourt is not subtle in his portrayal of Nathan, creating some hilarious moments. Schwarzenbach's Sky is a bit more subdued, adding a contrast between the two inveterate gamblers. The chemistry between Schwarzebach’s Sky and Ryders’ Sarah works nicely.A bit more range of emotion from the Sarah character would be welcome, especially in the duet with Adelaide. Which leads to the strongest performance of the evening; Martina Haskins as Adelaide slams it home with poise, talent, and skill. The emotional range in “Adelaide’s Lament” is both heart wrenching and hilarious at the same time. The chemistry between Nathan and Adelaide is there, especially in “Sue Me”. Kudos to cast and crew for putting together a polished and enjoyable show.

 

Enigma Variations by Michael J. Moran
(Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT - www.hartfordsymphony.org)
Guest conductor Michael Lankester was warmly welcomed to the Bushnell’s Belding Theater for a program that played to many of the strengths he demonstrated as HSO Music Director (1985-2000): an English symphonic favorite; and a lesser-known Bruckner symphony. The concert opened with a deeply felt account of Sir Edward Elgar’s masterpiece, formally titled Variations on an Original Theme, “Enigma,” but usually called simply the Enigma Variations. Following a stately opening theme, each of the fourteen variations depicts a friend or family member of the composer, varying widely in pace and mood, from the tender first variation on Elgar’s wife, Alice, to the “Presto” seventh variation on a high-spirited friend, to the noble ninth variation (“Nimrod”), a tribute to Elgar’s publisher, which is often played separately as an elegy. Though some of Lankester’s tempos were daringly slow, all sections of the orchestra did themselves proud in this loving rendition of a work by a fellow Englishman that sounded very close to the conductor’s heart. None of Anton Bruckner’s nine symphonies are programmed very often, perhaps because of their enormous length, but the third appears less in concert than the more familiar fourth, seventh, and ninth. So hats off to Lankester for leading a monumental performance of the 67-minute piece after intermission. Bruckner was a church organist for many years in his native Austria, and the symphony’s huge sonorities resonated much like an organ in the ample but intimate Belding acoustics. With spacious tempos in all four movements, Lankester emphasized its majestic grandeur, which evokes for many listeners the high peaks and deep valleys of the Austrian Alps. The HSO brass made a glorious choir in the symphony’s blazing climaxes, while the woodwinds played many softer passages with contrasting delicacy. During his tenure as HSO Music Director, Lankester showed a special feeling for the English repertoire, with memorable local premieres of contemporary works by John Taverner and Michael Tippett, as well as for large-scale pieces like Mahler’s eighth symphony. Both strengths were well served by this Elgar/Bruckner program, and much of the audience seemed anxious for a return engagement soon.

 

Sweet Charity by Walter Haggerty
(Theatre Guild of Hampden, Wilbraham, MA)
“Sweet Charity” was one of Broadway’s biggest hits. Tailored to the unique talents of the incredible Gwen Verdon, directed by the incomparable Bob Fosse, with a book by Neil Simon, score by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, “Charity “ couldn’t miss. And it didn’t. With that history as a challenge, director Mark Giza and choreographer Kathleen Delaney have recreated “Charity” in a fantastic Theatre Guild of Hampden production with a stellar cast of home-grown Talent…and that capital “T’ is not a typo. “Sweet Charity” is the story of a New York dance hall “hostess,” a girl who doesn’t just wear her heart on her sleeve, it is tattooed on her arm. Searching for love, Charity falls for every hopeless prospect who comes her way, always with the same result, but never without hope. Charity, played by Diane Fauteux, is totally convincing throughout in her acting, singing and exceptional dancing. Her caring, warmth and vulnerability are skillfully blended in an award-worthy performance. She is a pro! The entire cast is superb, especially Charity’s best friends, Nickie and Helene, played by Aileen Terzi and Chae-Vonne Munroe. The FanDango dancing girls are never carbon copy members of a chorus line. Each gives a meticulously conceived portrait of a distinct, individual character with Terzi and Munroe particularly memorable. Other standout performances are contributed by Heath Verrill as Oscar, Charity's latest prospect; Brad Shepard as Daddy Brubeck, who delivers a show-stopping “Rhythm of Life"; and Mark Gagnon who does the same with “I Love to Cry at Weddings.” Arnaldo Rivera is star-perfect as Italian matinee idol Vittorio who is amusingly matched by his girlfriend Ursala, delightfully played by Christine Arruda. In “Where Am I Going?” Charity’s fragile character shines through. “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” and “Baby Dream Your Dream” each deliver with humor the underscore of frustrations and disappointments faced by the dance hall girls. Other powerful and better known numbers include “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now." “Sweet Charity” is musical comedy at its best supported by a great score, a humorous yet moving story and most importantly performed by a cast that is never less than perfect.
 

 

Heroes by Shera Cohen
(Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA - www.majestictheater.com)
Three men, each of whom has experienced some of the worst human horror imaginable, find themselves residents in a senior citizen home for veterans. They live in a lovely site in France overlooking an expanse of near-pristine nature. Each seems well-to-do, dressed in suits of the late 1950’s era. On the surface their lives in these last years have turned 180 degrees from their four decades earlier on the battlefields in Europe in WWI. This is “Heroes.” Each man was a hero and, although current circumstances are rather mundane and even boring, each man is still a hero. Director Keith Langsdale, along with a lot of help from set designer Greg Trochlil, have created a surface tranquility as the antitheses of the inner, sometimes overt, turmoil of the gentlemen. While the play is chock full of more dialogue than movement on stage, the repartee between the members of the trio is brisk, crisp, and seemingly unrehearsed. In fact, slowing down a bit is recommended in order to give the audience a moment to process many of the characters’ quips and asides. J.T.Waite (a regular at the Majestic) shares the stage equally with Walter Mantani and J.C. Hoyt. It is a cliche term, but the actors do fit the roles perfectly. While their characters aren’t friends, they are comrades who face the very real problems of old age together as a force to be reckoned with. Plotting a “getaway” from the residence keeps them busy in a fantasy world which pleasantly revs up the action in Act II. The audience cannot but like these former soldiers, although it is not necessarily to be enthralled with or fully understand them. Even today, many do not understand the reasons for the war supposedly “to end all wars.” How can an audience fully comprehend such conflagration or the men who faced it and lived through it? “Heroes” offers a brief yet in depth look at survivors, depicted well on the stage at the Majestic.

Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Richard Pacheco
(Ocean State Theatre,
Warwick, RI)
 
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at Ocean State Theatre is a wildly funny and merry romp into the world of television in the 1950’s into a hit comedy show. A terrific ensemble cast sparks this vividly to life with loads of  laughter and some great comic timing. It is hilarious, a real treat. Inspired by Simon's early career experience as a junior writer (along with his brother Danny) for “Your Show of Shows,” the play focuses on Sid Caesar-like Max Prince, the star of a weekly comedy-variety show circa 1953, and his staff, including Simon's alter-ego Lucas Brickman, who maintains a running commentary on the writing, fighting, and wacky antics which take place in the writers' room. Max has an ongoing battle with NBC executives, who fear his humor is too sophisticated for Middle America. The work is a roman à clef, with the characters in the play based on Neil Simon's co-writers on “Your Show Of Shows” The real-life inspirations: the Sid Caesar-inspired Max Prince", hypochondriac Ira, inspired by Mel Brooks, dryly witty, sane Kenny, inspired by Larry Gelbart and Carl Reiner, and "fussy Russian émigré” inspired by Mel Tolkin and Carol, inspired by Lucille Kalle. The show is mart and funny—and I trouble with the network. First, the network wants to cut it to an hour from 90 minutes. Then the bosses insist that they trim the budget by firing one of the writers. By the time of the 1953 Christmas party, the situation has deteriorated. (And although Sid Caesar and many of his writers went on to other series, “Your Show of Shows” ran only from 1950 to 1954.)  As Kenny says, “Maybe we’ll never have this much fun again in our entire lives.” Max, the Sid Caesar character is more than a little bit nuts. At times he is stark raving, but very funny when he is. The fabulous Fred Sullivan Jr., a longtime member of  the Trinity Rep acting company delivers yet another tour de force performance as the wacky Max. he has a volatile energy and remarkable stage presence. He is a real treat in the role. Max is a tortured genius, very funny but truly nutty and eccentric in so many ways. This is Sullivan’s debut on the Ocean State Theatre stage and a wining one it is. Matt DaSilva is Lucas, the Simon alter ego in the play. Lucas is uncertain, a novice with desire and talent but not yet full of self confidence yet. DaSilva handle it all with likeable flair and finesse. Jean-Pierre Ferragamo as Milt also stands out in this wonderful cast. He has a keen sense of coming timing and a great sense of physical comedy, both of which he delivers with skill and expertise. Tommy Labanaris as Ira.a writer who is extreme hypochondriac and perpetually late for work for a variety of heath reasons. Lananaris also shines in the role. He is adept at physical comedy and quick with the one liners as well.  He is a delight and delivers the laughs. Aimee  Turner, the producing artistic director of Ocean State makes her stage debut with the theatre here and shines as the sole female writer on the show, Carol. The rest of the strong cast consists of Mark S. Cartier as Val, Tyler Fish as Kenny and Tom Andrew as Brian. While they are not as distinct as characters as the other writers, these actors shine in their roles, adding to the hectic , frenetic and very funny atmosphere. Director Brad Van Grack keeps this merry romp always on track, full of witty interchange and physical comedy. It is his directorial debut with the company and an auspicious one in it. The set by Kimberly V. Powers is excellent and really captures the 1950’s New York office flavor. The costumes by Brian Horton are also period perfect and effective. The terrific cast has a great time throughout it all and it is contagious to the audience was well. They got a well deserved standing ovation at the end.

Peter and the Starcatcher by R.E. Smith
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT - www.bushnell.org)
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is an inventive, irreverent, and entertaining twist on familiar themes: reinventing, and repurposing not only theater conventions but the tale of Peter Pan as well. Told in a mélange of styles from English music hall, to Renaissance-fair storytelling to “Irma Vep”, there are hidden gems for all ages sprinkled throughout the script, costumes, performances and set. Based on a young adult novel by thriller writer Ridley Pearson and humorist Dave Barry, those familiar with the book will recognize the basic framework and characters but familiarity is not needed. While this is the “origin” story of Peter Pan and Captain Hook, the true protagonist is that of Molly, an English lord’s 13-year-old daughter who gets to prove her upper crust English mettle on a grand adventure on the high seas. The theme of childhood and imagination runs strong, and simple items are used to great effect; pieces of rope become cramped ship’s cabins, rubber gloves come to life as birds. The proscenium is littered with repurposed items, enhancing the idea that anything can be transformed with a little imagination. The cast is repurposed as well, with 12 actors portraying scores of characters, from pirates to mermaids. There are modern references and vernacular sprinkled throughout the script and work well to connect with the younger members of the audience, some of whom seemed a bit off put by so few actors playing so many roles “I really liked it (the show), but I’m still not quite sure what was going on!” remarked one young lady. For the adults, there are sly double entendres and knowing nods to an eclectic swath of pop culture. The entire ensemble works well together with snappy pacing and boundless energy and all had their stand-out moments. John Sanders as pirate Black Stache is given a showy and physical part with which to run amuck, but he never does so at the expense of the other players. Luke Smith as Smee, and Edward Tournier as Ted, for instance, made smaller supporting parts quite memorable. Much of the cast and technical crew hail from the New York production and the show sails along like like the fast moving toy boats that feature prominently. There is humor, adventure, a little song, a little dance, even haiku! The laughs come broad and subtle, physical and cerebral, moments range from bawdy to tender... there is, indeed, something for every child and for the child in all of us.

 

Intimate Apparel by Richard Pacheco
(Trinity Rep, Providence, RI)
The play had its world premiere at Center Stage on February 2, 2003. Directed by Kate Whoriskey, the cast featured Shane Williams (Esther), Brenda Pressley (Mrs. Dickson), Kevin Jackson (George Armstrong) and Sue Cremin (Mrs. VanBuren). It next ran at the South Coast Repertory from April 11, 2003 through May 18, 2003 directed by Whoriskey and with the same Center Stage cast. The play made its New York debut off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre, running from March 17, 2004 to June 6, 2004. Directed by Daniel J. Sullivan, it featured Viola Davis (Esther), Lynda Gravatt (Mrs. Dickson), and Corey Stoll (Mr. Marks). The play won the 2004 Steinberg New Play Award, presented by The American Theatre Critics Association to "outstanding new plays produced around the United States, outside of New York City”. Nottage, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, based the exquisitely written “Intimate Apparel” on her own family's history – in particular her great-grandmother's experiences as a seamstress in New York at the end of the 19th century- It is her brilliant attention to characterization and narrative that makes this pal shine and gives its wonderful actors so much to work with. The story centers on Esther Mills (Mia Ellis), an African-American woman living in New York City at the turn of the 19th century where she works as a highly skilled seamstress of the kinds of garments of the title for a wide range of clients, the wealthy to saloon singers. Esther might have dreams of marriage, but she is down to earth and a practical woman and does not believe in fairy tales. She is 35 and knows that avenue in her life is limited at best so she strives to save her money for her dream to own an elegant beauty parlor for black women. She has a single mindedness that is impressive, but gets distracted with a warm and friendly correspondence, long distance with a laborer in Panama working on the Panama Canal, George Armstrong. As the warmth and attraction grows so do the possible side effects of it. Ellis is wonderful in the role, full of sensitivity and nuance, delivering a vivid and vivacious performance. This is her first year as a resident actress at Trinity and this performance establishes her talent and abilities beyond doubt. She deftly captures the mixture of insecurities in that Esther cannot read and write, giving it a richness and sincerity that is compelling. It is a rich and stunning performance on many levels. Joe Wilson Jr. is equally stunning as her “Panama Man” delivering a varied and sensitive performance, full of nuance. Throughout the first act, he shows up through the letters they write to each other and comes into the scene in the second act, becoming more that a voice at the end of the letters. When the long awaited George steps into her life for real, some things are different than she expected. All that is revealed in their body language when they first meet revealing, a difference between the gentleman of the letters and the flesh and blood man at her side. The other characters in this brilliant ensemble shine as well. Nottage described Intimate Apparel as "a meditation on loneliness," and each of the play’s characters underscores that vividly and distinctly. It ends up a rich and varied interplay between their interactions with Esther, depending on their race, social status and their expectations built on those criteria. Angela Brazil plays Mrs. Van Buren, Esther's wealthy, high-profile client. She considers Esther more than mere seamstress, but more confidant and friend, something unique for a Fifth Avenue socialite and upper crust of New York Society. Brazil is sheer delight in the role, garnering many laughs along the way with her antics and actions as well as her words. Another character who develops a deepening attachment to Esther is Mr. Marks (Mauro Hantman) a Romanian-born Jewish man. Marks is a soft spoken, eminently polite and well mannered fabrics seller. He is sweet, humble and respectful in all his dealings with Esther. They have an easy rapport and warm companionship within a business context and it is obvious their rapport is not merely professional. They are vey attached to each other even though it is unspoken. Hantman delivers a skillful performance as Marks, full of bittersweet poignancy and sincerity. Barbara Meek, always wonderful and delightful, opens the show as Mrs. Dickson, Esther's motherly-if-meddling landlady. She has some of the funniest lines in the show and always is on the mark with flair and finesse. Shelley Fort, a second-year student in the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA acting program and keeps up with the fine company she keeps in this play as the brassy and brazen fallen woman, Mayme. Mayme has tons of unfulfilled and never will be fulfilled dreams and hopes. She has deep hurt and quick witted humor and fast tongue. There is a scene in the second act between her and Ellis that is emotionally powerful and intense where they both shine with extraordinary proficiency and emotional depth. “Intimate Apparel” is directed by TRC's own Janice Duclos who handles her superb cast with depth and fine distinction throughout. Patrick Lynch designed an elegant multiple set piece for the play which creates several small, intimate spaces with distinct touches. From the rich array of fabrics for Mark’s shop to the boudoir of Mrs. Van Buren and the period piece furniture, all come vividly to life and create and handsome and effective atmosphere. Photo projections on the high walls also offer the audience the sights and sounds of New York City, 1905. John Ambrosone's lighting design establishes a dreamy, romantic tone for Esther and George's first innocent flirtations through the mail correspondence.

 

War Horse by Shera Cohen
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT thru 2/2 - www.bushnell.org)
It is impossible to think that any piece of theatre could be as superbly all-inclusive of the hundreds of elements that create the perfect play production as “War Horse.” Look in a thesaurus for rows upon rows of superlatives synonymous to any of the following words, and the reader can only come close to describing this play: exemplary, innovative, creative, ingenious. The star is Joey, who grows from a scrawny foal to a full-sized horse onstage. He is made of fabrics, metal, and wood. He is real. Granted, no attempts are made to hide the three actors who shape the body, sounds, and demeanor of Joey. While this trio of puppet masters are visible, within 30-seconds the audience is oblivious to their presence. The team of Handspring Puppet Company are the geniuses who gave birth to Joey, along with the other animals in the production. Joey runs and struts like a horse, nays and breathes like a horse. Again, he is real. His owner/friend Albert, is a teen living on a poor farm in Great Britain. Yet, this is not just a story about a boy and his horse. Played against the seemingly literal backdrop of WWI, the hell of this conflagration to man and “beast” is wrenching. The technical effects of explosions are particularly terrifying, not just loud. War is seen and felt just as much by Joey as by Albert. The exposition of three scenes in particular showcase the extraordinary talents of the puppeteers: Joey’s miraculous efforts to till the rock-ridden soil, his rivalry turned friendship with horse Topthorne, and his panic and struggle caught in barbed wire along enemy lines. The set is minimal and in that sparseness multiple scene drawings fixed overhead carry Joey and the play forward. Interspersed folksongs of the early 20th century string scenes from one to another. “War Horse” is a play. Plays are nice (or maybe not), but they are essentially worthless without superior production qualities. “War Horse” has become a benchmark of excellence for future and even many past play productions.

 

The Lyons by Richard Pacheco
(2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market St., Warren, RI thru 2/9/14. 401-247-4200; www.2ndStoryTheatre.com)
“The Lyons” at 2nd Story Theatre by Nicky Silver bristles with quirky and sassy dialogue, making for many laughs along the way and some touching moments as well. They are ill-tempered and nasty to each other, seem like the cannot cling without stabbing each other verbally. It is loaded with one liners as they kick the ego out of each other. Silver’s play, “The Lyons”, opened on Broadway in April 2012, after an Off-Broadway run at the Vineyard Theater in 2011. This is his first play to be produced on Broadway where the play stared Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa. His new play, “Too Much Sun” is expected to premiere Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in May 2014, with direction by Mark Brokaw and starring Linda Lavin. Ben Lyons is in a hospital where he is dying from cancer. His family gathers around him. His wife Rita kept the illness secret from the children. The family surrounds him including his grown children, Curtis Lyons and Lisa Lyons. He is also attended by a pleasant nurse who takes care of his needs. Ben is no longer constrained by manners or family niceties, and says whatever he wishes, including tons of expletives. Rita, trapped in a 40-year loveless marriage, now thinks of the future without Ben and plans to re-decorate the living room. Lisa is an alcoholic, who has left an abusive marriage; but is still attracted to her husband. Curtis, a homosexual, has had little to do with his father, who is homophobic and despises his lifestyle and isn’t afraid to say it. In a getaway from the hospital, Curtis looks at an apartment with the help of an actor moonlighting as a real estate agent. The Lyons were vastly ill suited for each other and the main question remains of what will happen to the children as well as Rita when he dies. Vince Petronio is Ben, who recently found out he had cancer and was dying—soon. It has made him blunt and ill tempered and he has little patience left for his wife of 40 years or his two grown children of whom he vastly disapproves for various reasons. He unloads all on his family with particular nastiness on his son Curtis. Petronio is taut and hilarious in the role as he spews swears out like a machine gun aimed in all directions, spraying the room with pent up frustration and rage. Paula Faber is Rita, a woman frustrated by her 40- year marriage whose greatest current joy is that she will be able to redo the lining room and toss that ugly furniture once her husband dies. She even tries to enlist his aid in picking out a new look, but he balks at the idea with fierce determination and forbids her to do it. She is a suffering belittling Jewish mother whose loves comes in like porcupine quills, sharp and pointed. Faber is the epitome of the well dressed, sophisticated and ever nasty Rita, always poised to take another shot at her husband and her children with relish and abandon. Lara Hakeem is Lisa, the divorced battered ex-wife still attracted to her former abusive husband and the alcoholic daughter. She doesn’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, something reinforced when she meets a man down the hall from her father in the hospital who is dying and is attracted to him. Hakeem is delightful in the role. She withers beneath her mother’s barrages of meanness and insults and she struggles to keep battling the omnipresent urge to drink and drink a lot. Kevin Broccoli is Curtis, the gay son hated by his father for not living up to dad’s expectations. Curtis is awkward, brainy, full of fantasies with serious problems, not big surprise considering his family situation and in particular his father’s bile towards him. He is without doubt the product of Rita and Ben’s upbringing. Broccoli is terrific in the role, delivering a balance of awkwardness and intelligence along with a wounded tiny animal quality that is effective. Lucia Gill Case rounds out the cast as the nurse so is so attentive to Ben and more no nonsense when Curtis ends up on the hospital in the same ward later on. Case is solid and effective in her role. Director Mark Pelham keeps the pace brisk and potent, oozing nastiness at every turn. It is also vastly entertaining while being down and dirty. He mines the sheer malice here for great comic effect, making us laugh in spite of ourselves. Set designer Karl Pellitier uses a less is more concept with the sparsely decorated hospital room and even the apartment later has very little but more than enough to make it palatable and work. The play is a raucous family free for all, with all the family members going at each with rare zest and venom a take no prisoners approach that is as nasty as it is funny. The play never wanes in its energy or its spite. The wining cast boldly blazes into battle from the first without faltering, spewing some very funny anger at each other as they reveal the truth of who they really are beyond the surface.


The Big Meal
by Richard Pacheco
(Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, RI thru 2/9/14. (401) 723-4266; www.gammtheatre.org)
“The Big Meal” by Dan Le Franc at the Gamm Theatre sparkles with wonderful performances, deft direction and a terrific set. It starts with the flirting between Nikki a young waitress and Sam and the rest is life and their history together. In many ways it is related to Thornton Wilder’s wonderful “Our Town” and his “The Long Christmas Dinner.” It’s life on speed, rushing through all stages with whirlwind pace, moments compressed and compiled with a keen eye. As the play progresses it sometimes gets a little hard to figure out who is who since the eight actors play multiple roles. For example in the beginning the young Nikki and Sam played by Amanda Ruggiero and Joe Short. As they grow older those roles are assumed by Steve Kidd and Karen Carpenter and finally as an older couple by Richard Donelly and Wendy Overly. Despite all the years compressed in the play the velocity is swift and does not dawdle at all. There is not really a plot, more the ups and downs of ordinary life compiled and compressed into 90 minutes. But those 90 minutes are rich with humor and touching moments in abundance. There are several times when the children are grown when they come back with different romantic partners, played by the same actor or actress with different names and it proves to be funny and sometimes challenging to keep track just as often in our lives it is difficult to keep track of our children’s significant others from time to time. While by the title it may seem like food predominates the play, it is only used as significant moments in this lifetime adventure, when someone is about to die. Those moments end up touching and heartrending, very real and emotional, leaving an impact. Richard Donnelly plays the older men in the play, at times being Sam’s father to a daughter’s father in law to an older Sam himself. He sports himself with bold self confidence and bravado as these men. So when he transforms into and old man spoon fed by his wife, Overly, it is powerful and heartbreaking. Wendy Overly is magnificent in her various roles as Sam’s mother to later on becoming Nikki, Sam’s wife when he is feeble and on the verge of death needing to be spoon fed. She delivers richly nuanced performances in all the roles. Amanda Ruggero and Joe Short play the younger lovers at the beginning of the play, including the children when they get older in the play. They are highly accomplished, delivering the right touches to the sassy flirtations they exchange and the more tender moments. They are very convincing as the other roles as well, truthful and full of energy. Steve Kidd and Karen Carpenter play the next set of couples in age. They go through a number of trials and transitions, but we never learn what he does for a living or what they really want out of life. Kidd is poised and sincere full of a down to earth dose of humanity that is appealing in its many transmutations. Carpenter is a joy, moving from conflicted wife considering a divorce and split up to mother with her children, either young or older. Finally, but not least, we get to the two young people who play a variety of children throughout the play, Emeline Easton and Eliot Peters. They are endearing and fun, They deliver sharp performances that were highly enjoyable. Eliot is on the mark when he is particularly obnoxious and petulant teen. Director Tyler Dobroski, Associate Artistic Director of Trinity Rep, keeps the pacing swift and does not sacrifice the more touching moments, in fact takes the right amount of time with them to leave an impact. The set design by Michael McGarty is simple and efficient, basically a diner or restaurant used throughout the play. It works well. The cast is strong, full of verve and vitality. There is plenty of humor here and also some fine emotional moments which leave an indelible impact that continues to resonate after you have left the theater. There is richness in this face paced look at life. It is well worth seeing.

 

The Little Dog Laughed by Richard Pacheco
(Your Theatre, New Bedford)
Your Theatre’s production of the often raunchy, wild and wooly romp of a production of Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Little Dog Laughed” is sassy, smart and full of fun. Fast moving, it is often outrageous in its humor, loaded with sexual overtones and sparkling with energy. This satire is smart and funny at times down and dirty. Beane’s works include the screenplay of “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar,” and several plays including “The Country Club” and “The Little Dog Laughed,” which was nominated for the 2007 Tony Award for Best Play and “As Bees in Honey Drown”, which ran at New York's Lucille Lortel Theatre in 1997. Beane often writes works with sophisticated, "drawing room" humor. This play was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play and Julie White won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her performance. The 2007 Theatre World Award was presented to Johnny Galecki. The title is a reference to the fictional short story written by Arturo Bandini in John Fante's Ask The Dust. The same title is also used for a fictional play that appears in Agatha Christie's Three Act Tragedy. It is all propelled forward by the efforts of the agent, Diane, a deft mixture between the Wicked Witch of the West and a fairy godmother. She is the epitome of the Hollywood agent, conniving, determined, at times unscrupulous to get what she wants—and her ten percent out of it. She is in New York to buy the rights to a play that will make her working actor client into a big time Hollywood star. Her wit stings and sings at the same time. She is reminiscent of Diana in “Network,” a cold calculating heart and manipulative mind. Her client, the actor Mitchell, is a closeted gay actor who strives to be a matinee idol, He strives to keep his sexual preferences secret. All this goes to hell when he takes up with a rent boy, male prostitute, Alex, in New York. Diane has secured the film rights to a play in which the lead male character is gay. And as she observes: "If a perceived straight actor portrays a gay role in a feature film, it's noble, it's a stretch. It's the pretty lady putting on a fake nose and winning an Oscar." Both Mitchell and Alex insist they are not gay, no matter what. Alex has an erstwhile “girlfriend”, more a friend with occasional benefits, Ellen. There are more twists and turns in this quagmire of mistake and denied sexual identity. Chris Bailey is the methodical and calculating Diane, a woman is not above or below anything to achieve her goals, no matter what it takes. Bailey is a delight in the role, managing to make the biting edge sharp while maintaining its often viscous humor. Ray Almeida Jr. is Mitchell, the actor in crisis over the conflict of his true sexual identity and his desire to be a matinee movie star. His ego as aspiring matinee ego does constant battle with his sexual desires for Alex. Almeida is excellent as the actor with ego and sexual desires which contradict them. He delivers the elements of expanding ego with deft touches and finds his elements of sexual attraction with sincerity and attention to detail. Tyler Rowe is Alex, the sweet smart hustler, the rent boy. Her is genuinely conflicted and somewhat a sentimental character. Rowe is admirable as Alex, managing to muster a combination of earnestness and flair as he wriggles through the complex convolutions of his relationship with both Ellen and Mitchell. Underneath it all, he has an integrity despite his lifestyle as a hustler, there is an underlying honesty which is both revealing and engaging. Caroline Paradis is Ellen, the erstwhile girlfriend/friend of Alex. Ellen is rebounding from an affair with an older man and ends up with her friend, soon to become friend with benefits, Alex. Ellen might be reading too much into this affair and her dreams may prove stilted and out of whack with reality as it stands. Paradis is wonderful in the role, offering a tantalizing balance between self assured and insecure with a keen bland of the two for a complex character. Director Robin Richard keeps the pace fast, and the zingers on target. He extracts the best from his cast who have a good chemistry together.

God of Carnage at Theatre One by Richard Pacheco

Alley Theatre, 133 Center St., Middleboro, MA thru 1/28/14. Tickets at the Door “Cash Only” Students & Seniors $15 Gen $18 Info 1-617-840-1490)
Yasmina Reza’s acclaimed dark comedy, “God of Carnage” catapults to life at Theatre One’s vigorous and very funny production at the Abbey Theatre. Sparked by a strong cast and excellent script the play merrily rambles along, growing darker and funnier as it goes. It won the Tony Award for best play in 2009. Before the play begins, two 11-year-old children, Benjamin and Henry, get involved in argument because Benjamin refuses to let Henry join his 'gang'. Benjamin knocks out two of Henry 's teeth with a stick. That night, in the Novak apartment in Brooklyn, the parents of both children meet to discuss the matter. They are determined to be civilized about it all, very mature and intelligent. They want to be the epitome of restraint and self control. It is a noble goal which soon goes awry and gradually descends into a vehement nastiness and disarray, turning both sets of parents into petulant children, who spew ill temper and meanness despite their good intentions at the beginning of the meeting. Benjamin’s father, Alan is a lawyer who is never off his mobile phone. Benjamin's mother, Annette is in "wealth management" (her husband's wealth, to be precise), and consistently wears good shoes. Henry's father, is a self-made wholesaler with an unwell mother. Michael's wife, Veronica is writing a book about Darfur. As the evening goes on, the meeting degenerates into the four getting into irrational arguments, and their discussion falls into the loaded topics of misogyny, racial prejudice and homophobia. One of the central dramatic moments of the play occurs when Annette vomits onstage, all over the coffee table and books. In 1987 Reza wrote “Conversations after a Burial”, which won the Molière Award, the French equivalent of the Laurence Olivier Award or the Tony Award, for Best Author. The North American debut premiered in February 2013 at Players By The Sea in Jacksonville Beach Florida. Holly Gutshall & Joe Schwarz directed; with Set Design by Anne Roberts. The cast for this US debut was Kevin Bodge, Paul Carelli, Karen Overstreet, Dave Gowan, Holly Gutshall and Olivia Gowan Snell. Reza translated Polanski's stage version of Kafka's Metamorphosis in the late 1980s. Her second play, “Winter Crossing”, won the 1990 Molière Award for Best Fringe Production, and her next play, “The Unexpected Man,” enjoyed successful productions in England, France, Scandinavia, Germany and New York. In 1995, “Art” premiered in Paris and went on to win the Molière Award for Best Author. Since then it has been produced worldwide and translated and performed in over 30 languages. In the midst of their meeting rum eventually replaces coffee. And so beings the disintegration from the spouses as respective confederates, poised to defend to realizing each is on their own and basically alone. Yet in the midst of this carnage there are small acts of kindness and helpfulness to make it more humane. Robert Duquette is Alan, a lawyer with a cell phone glued to his ear in the midst of a major crisis with his main client, a giant pharmaceutical company. He is only partial attentive to the crisis at hand brought about by the conflict of his son and the other boy. He can be distracted and aloof to all around him, his wife included and at times nasty and downright cruel. Duquette delivers a fine performance, full of nuance and skill. He has a keen sense of comic timing which he uses to advantage throughout the play. Dawn Moquin is Annette, Alan’s wife. Whose major job in life is managing her husband’s wealth and their son, both of which seems in dire straits presently. She is more interested in excellent shoes than anything else, and struggles to maintain her composure in a difficult and strenuous situation. Moquin is delightful as she struggles to come to terms with what her son has done and the self-righteousness of her neighbors, particularly the wife, Veronica. Her growing lack of composure, her comic descent from the epitome of civility into illness and volatile rage is a wonder to watch, fun to behold. Her nausea prone moments end up being very funny. Omer Courcy is Michael, the wholesaler, who seems down to earth and is not always fond of his wife’s posturing and attitude. His mother is ill and constantly calls with some new question which little by little enrages him in the mist of the crisis he faces in his home with the neighbors. Courcy is a delight as the man caught up in a situation he hates and would rather avoid altogether, but cannot thanks to his wife’s unrelenting determination. He has a fine comic timing and some of his expressions are priceless. When he defends his tossing out the hamster and takes a hair dryer to some wet arts books, he is hilarious. Watching him go through his transformations, is pure fun. Linda Monchik is Veronica, a woman who is proud of her ability to remain rational, or at least her version of it and proud of her commitment to creating a better world and her book on Darfur. She is wired tight and on the verge of slipping over the edge into nastiness and ill temper. Monchik is right on the mark with her super proper, uptight crusader for a better world. When she loses it, Monchik is a delight, hilarious and a good time with her quirks and fine comic timing. The chemistry between the cast is excellent, with nice touches along the way that make things more vivid and funny. These wonderful cast members are deftly directed by Peg Holzemer, who keeps the dark humor ably on track and the laughs coming with perfect timing. She also designed the set, which is very effective. It is a play loaded with at times painful laughs, full of energy, propelled by a sold cast and strong direction. If you like your humor dark, always funny, sometimes gritty, running over a wide range of topics, this is the play for you. This comic gallop is a mery ride indeed. It runs without intermission at about 90 minutes or so.