Tuesday, December 6, 2016

ENJOY A SLICE OF FRUITCAKE WITH TAW








For the last thirty-three years, the Theatre Artists Workshop has been welcoming professional actors, writers and directors, basically all aspects of theatre people, to "exercise their artistic muscles" in creative ways, most recently in their home at the Masonic Lodge, 5 Gregory Boulevard, in East Norwalk.  Modeled after Los Angeles' Theatre East, the group meets every Monday night at 8 p.m., devoting themselves to prepared works, many written by the members themselves, where they perform or direct, or even both.

Recently the members dedicated themselves to a nostalgic duet of homespun tales created by Truman Capote entitled "Holiday Memories."  This classic night of concert reading featured Mark Basile as the middle aged Truman reflecting on the past, Katie C. Sparer as the involved young Truman who called himself Buddy in those days, JoAnne Parady as Buddy's delicate and simple minded elder cousin Miss Sook Falk, with Granville Burgess as the man (and dog Queenie) and Melody James as assorted female characters.  Technical direction was provided by P.J. Letersky and direction by Mark Basile and Katie C. Sparer.

It's Alabama in 1932 in these short stories penned by Capote about his childhood, "The Thanksgiving Visitor" and "A Christmas Memory," adapted by Russell Vandenbroucke.  Truman lives in a country home with distant relatives and he develops a special relationship with his much older cousin Miss Sook. The seven year old Buddy sees her as his only friend and with her terrier Queenie they create a unique family unit.

Buddy is beset at school by a bully, Odd Henderson, and Miss Sook determines that inviting the enemy into their midst for Thanksgiving dinner will surely make the situation better.  When Odd shows up for the meal, Buddy does not achieve the desired results.

In the second tale, when Miss Sook announces "It's fruitcake weather," we are privy to the elaborate preparations the two engage in to make at least thirty delicacies for the Christmas holiday.  Gathering piles of pecans (by stealing them from a neighbor's trees) and using nickels and dimes from their year round sale of flowers and jam, and earning pennies by killing flies for relatives, to buy a bottle of whiskey, the pair assemble the raisins, citron, butter, flour and sugar needed.  They mail the cakes to people who are kind to them, even to strangers like President Roosevelt whom they admire.

The special relationship they share is a treasure for only a few brief years until Buddy is sent off to military school, but these stories illustrate how meaningful it was for both of them while it lasted.  The Theatre Artists Workshop performers made it incredibly real and poignant, genuine and touching.  The only way it could have been more delightful would have been to have slices of Buddy and Miss Sook's favorite fruitcake to sample.

This intimate 93 seat theatre will soon be hosting a Playwrights weekend and a Film Screening weekend in the new year.  Watch for them to be announced on www.taworkshop.org.  Area professionals are welcome to join this creative endeavor by calling 203-854-6830

The group was founded originally by Keir Dullea, who is still actively involved, and his late wife Susie Fuller and its membership over the years has included Anne Baxter, Theodore Bikel, Sandy Dennis, Mia Dillon, Christopher Durang, Shirley Knight, James Noble and Jane Powell, to name a few.

"CHRISTMAS ON THE ROCKS" A SHOT OF SATIRE AND SILLY




It's that time of year again to belly up to the bar on that most sentimental of nights, Christmas Eve, for some liquid refreshment and holiday cheer. Not everyone is eager to celebrate this special day on the calendar and December 25th can be a royal challenge for many.  Consider for a moment characters you loved as a child like Tiny Tim and Clara of the Nutcracker fame and good old Charlie Brown.  How have they fared over the years?  Are they still struggling with their personal demons or is life now rosy as they achieve adulthood?  Come and see for yourself.

Hartford TheaterWorks is once again inviting your favorite Christmas characters to tell their tales of wonder or woe in its unique holiday showpiece "Christmas on the Rocks" playing until Friday, December 23.  Plan to fill your stocking with silliness and good cheer as many of your best buds from childhood enter a bar on Christmas Eve to celebrate or to wallow in their melancholy.

 Matthew Wilkas, Jenn Harris and Ronn Carroll are all up to the challenge of creating  this bevy of beauties who may be years away from the fates you might have imagined for them.  Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero has conceived and directed this original medley of vignettes and it is now a tradition at 233 Pearl Street, Hartford for the holidays.  Seven area playwrights have contributed their jolly takes on  boys like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" who only wanted a BB gun for Christmas even if his mom was sure he would shoot his eye out.  When he walks into the bar with an eye patch, you can only assume the worst.  In "All Grown Up" by John Carini, we revisit Ralphie's iconic pink bunny pajamas and his dad's favorite lady leg lamp.

For Jonathan Tolins, the question of whether Santa Claus really exists is still heavy on the mind of Sue from "Miracle on 34th Street" as she continues to doubt his existence in "The Cane in the Corner." Even though she is a successful real estate broker, Sue is unsure if that jolly man does or ever did exist.

For Jeffrey Hatcher, the fate of one of Santa's elves is sitting on the shelf for consideration.  What if you are an elf who doesn't want to make toys and feels unfit for the green and red outfit but just wants to belong in "Say It Glows."  Did you ever wonder what happened to Cindy Lou Who who may or may not have ever recovered from her encounter with that disagreeable character answering to the name of The Grinch?  Matthew Lombardo is tackling that question in his hysterical "Going Green" that provides some unexpected answers.

What of Tiny Tim?  Does he still need a crutch?  Has he reconciled with the crabby and cranky Mr. Scrooge? Theresa Rebeck reveals all in "God Bless Us Every One."  Edwin Sanchez devotes his writing skills to  a conflicted Clara who used to dance and flit around the Nutcracker but is now experiencing marital doubts in "Still Nuts About Him." Can she trust her czar of love?
 For a little sentimental touch, come circle the floor with jacques Lamarre's choice of dance partner Charlie Brown in  "Merry Christmas, Blockhead."   Now he is the psychiatrist/coach/love counselor for Charlie  and the little red haired girl of his youth who still envelopes his heart..

This year a new member has been added to the parade.  Come see who shows up for another present of winter fun.

For tickets ($30-65), call Hartford TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford at 860-526-7838 or online at www.theaterworkshartford.org.  Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.  Special performances Friday,December 23 are at 6 p.m.and 9:30 p.m.  Come early and enjoy a viewing of photos in the art gallery upstairs.

For a cynical, quirky and sentimental look at Christmases past, let "Christmas on the Rocks" serve you a flavorful cocktail of tasty potent potables.

Monday, December 5, 2016

"SEVEN GUITARS" STRUM TO A DIFFERENT BEAT



                     BILLY EUGENE JONES AS FLOYD   PHOTO BY JOAN MARCUS
A rooster crows heralding the difficult struggle of the African-American male and female  in "Seven Guitars" by August Wilson.  Wilson has crated a monumental collection of ten tales, one for every decade in the 20th century that have been given the title The Pittsburgh Cycle and the American Century Cycle.  Nine of the plays are set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, near his childhood home.  "Seven Guitars" takes place in 1948 and is being showcased at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, in New Haven as part of its 50th anniversary season until Saturday, December 17.

The play opens with Vera (Rachel Leslie) bidding farewell to her lover Floyd Barton (Billy Eugene Jones) at his funeral as a band of angels escort him home.  Floyd was on the verge of grabbing the brass ring, of securing his place in the annals of the music world, trekking off to Chicago to achieve his goals.  He had gone the first time without Vera, but now he has come home to correct that wrong and make all his dreams come true.

Playwright August Wilson has created a cast of seven African-Americans, like a set of seven guitars, all who strum to a different beat, who hear a unique tune, who try against all odds to make their lives hum with harmony.  The discordant sounds, however, are hard to overcome as each other lays out a pattern of notes for their lives.  Floyd is full of bravado, rash with hope, eager to prove himself.  He wants Vera to go on the journey with him, to be at his side as he records hit tunes and makes a name for himself in the music industry.

He wants and needs the assistance of his pals Canewell (Wayne T. Carr) and Red (Danny Johnson) to achieve his goals.  Getting the money owed him for a stint in jail and getting his guitar out of hock, booking a gig at a local club and persuading Vera to take another chance on him are all on his agenda.  Life intrudes as he witnesses how Hedley (Andre De Shields) copes, wielding a large knife in his battles against the rooster and the white man, trying to ignore the disease that is slowing ravaging him.  Louise (Stephanie Berry) offers support, even opening her home to her niece Ruby (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) who finds herself with child.

In this household, hopes are like balloons that are too easily popped and each member struggles against his lot, destined to be disappointed.  Timothy Douglas directs this intense drama that grips and punctures the heart.

For tickets ($59 and up), call the Yale Rep at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org.  Performances are Tuesday -Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m.  Special performances for high school groups will be held at 10:15 a.m. on December 13 and 15.


Come learn recipes for cabbage and collard greens, take a puff on Old Gold cigarettes, order a hand written letter for 50 cents,  get a stale cigar to welcome a new baby and hear the disturbing cock of a rooster in this drama that admits "we cause what happens to us."

"OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY" A MONOPOLY GAME


                                                           MR. MONOPOLY
In 1903 Elizabeth Magie created a board game that was destined to become a family favorite and endure a number of reinventions, starting as The Landlord's Game and later being called by its current iteration, Monopoly.  Today Parker Brothers/Hasbro lays claim to the property, after years of patent infringement law suits, along the way giving credit to an unemployed Philadelphia man named Charles Darrow who sold the rights to Parker Brothers, his original idea printed on the back of a tablecloth in 1935.

If you were searching in recent years for a man to be named Mr. Monopoly, the honor might be given to Larry Garfinkel, the dubious cut throat "hero" of Jerry Sterner's 1986 play "Other People's Money" currently on display at Long Wharf Theatre's main stage until Sunday, December 18.  Jordan Lage's Garfinkel loves power, money and donuts, in that order, and he is willing and able to bend all the rules so he wins in his expansive business game.

What Larry wants, Larry gets and right now he has set his greedy sights on New England Wire and Cable Company of Rhode Island.  He specializes in corporate takeovers, earning the title "Larry the Liquidator," a Wall Street financial wizard who has no regard for the companies, communities and people he steamrolls over in the process.

Opposing his ruthless tactics are the president of the company, Edward James Hyland's Jorgensen, and his faithful assistant Bea, loyal to a fault, Karen Ziemba.  Caught in the middle of the fray is Steve Routman's Coles, who has been patiently waiting to step into the president's shoes as soon as the spot is vacated, two years down the road.  He is cautiously protecting his own future, carefully playing both sides of the board with his top hat, thimble or shoe metal tokens firmly in hand.

To fight off Garfinkel and his unorthodox and unkosher tactics, Bea implores her high powered New York attorney daughter Kate, an equally ambitious, win-at-all-costs Liv Rooth to join their defense.  Million dollar offers for shares of stock are tossed around like Dunkin Donuts as the two sides jockey for control of the lucrative Monopoly board as Boardwalk and Park Avenue are up for grabs.  Marc Bruni directs this cat and mouse game where the stakes are high and only one can be declared winner of the day.

For tickets ($34.50-89.50), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online atwww.longwharf.com.  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m, Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m, Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

When the factory whistle blows at the start and end of the work day, friendship. loyalty, tradition and dollars are all on the line and you stand to lose much more than $200 by failing to pass GO.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

PANTOCHINO PRESENTS A PORTRAIT OF SANTA








Long ago and far away in a forest lived a Council of Immortals, destined to live forever.  One day a girl named Necile, an adorable Jane Shearin, discovers a newborn baby boy.  She implores the regal leader of the Immortals, AK, a commanding Jimmy Johansmeyer, to break the rules and allow her to keep this human and raise him.  Naming him Claus, we watch him grow, at 8 (Nicholas Ferreira) and at 13 (Nick Porello), until he reaches maturity as a young man, a compassionate Justin Rigg.  This original musical tale has been adapted by Bert Bernardi for book and lyrics and Justin Rigg for music from a book by L. Frank Baum.

Pantochino Productions will bring enchantment to the tale "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" weekends until Sunday December 18 at the Milford Center for the Arts at the train station.  Come meet Claus's adopted family that also includes Queen Zurline, a helpful Mary Mannix, Peter Knook, a noble  George Spelvin, and the Elf Calon, a funny sidekick Andrea Pane, as well as the Awgwa Sisters, an imposing Dale Allen and Shelley Marsh Poggio ( who do double duty on the side of goodness too) who want to destroy Claus and end his kind deeds.  The evil sisters even send a trio of warriors (Kylie Poggio, Dani Corrigan and Olivia Foley) to capture Claus and Calon and spirit them away from Laughing Valley, the Land of Ho Ha Ho.

When Claus came of age, he set out with Calon to find children to help by making them happy.  He learned to make toys of wood and he soon gave them out with great success.  The bad sisters want to stop him and put an end to happiness and joy.  They'd much rather plunder and pillage.  How will Claus be saved or is he doomed? Will Claus be able to fulfill this great destiny?  How will a Tree of 1000 Lights help his cause?

Also in the ensemble singing and dancing are Nathan Horne, Jaxon Beirne, Hazel Foley, Adeline Horne, Genevieve Horne, Brianna Joy Jackson, Hannah Kupson, Thea Ryan and Matthew Sullivan. As usual the costumes by Jimmy Johansmeyer are exceptional. This family holiday production is being staged and directed by Bert Bernardi with affection and charm.

For tickets ($20 online, $22 at the door), go to www.pantochino.com.  Shows are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.  Remember on Saturday, it is cabaret style and perfect for parties or lunch at your table. Note that a Master Class for students 12 and up will be held with Marissa Perry, the original Tracy Turnblad in "Hairspray" on Broadway on Thursday, December 29. Register at www.pantochino.com.

Discover for yourself how to get Happiness and Joy and learn all over again that "in all the world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child."

"AN ABSOLUTE TURKEY" A DELICOUS DISH



BRYCE WOOD AS PONTAGNAC, CARLY POLISTINA  AS CLARA AND NATALIA CUEVAS AS LUCIENNE

Fidelity is an essential condition to a happy marriage and the foundation upon which wedded bliss is based.  What happens, however, when wives suspect their husbands are wandering and philandering?  They may go to great lengths to prove  innocence or guilt and then if their suspicions are confirmed, wives may retaliate with a dish best served cold:  revenge.  To get into the proper spirit of the debate, walk briskly over to the Jorgenson Auditorium on the campus of the University of Connecticut at Storrs for the truly delightful romp among spouses at marital war when the Connecticut Repertory Theatre presents a farce "An Absolute Turkey" by Georges Feydeau, with adaptation by Nicki Frei and Peter Hall.  Hurry because the fun and frivolity only lasts until Saturday, December 10.

A faithful and sophisticated wife, Lucienne (Natalia Cuevas), suspects her husband Vatelin (Jeff DeSisto) is dallying with another woman. She is not alone in her fears.  Other wives like Madame Pontagnac and Madame Pinchard (both Jenn Sapozhnikov) and Armandine (Meredith Saran) and Mitzi (Arlene Bozich) are questioning their own relationships in the bedroom.  Lucienne has the added incentive since she herself is being pursued by two potential lovers, both purported friends of her husband, Pontagnac (Bryce Wood) and Redillon (Brooks Brantly).  If she can prove her husband has been a cad, she will then feel free in indulge in a little sport of her own.  She will even use Pontagnac and possibly the chief of police (Darren Lee Brown) to catch Vatelin in the act.  Curtis Longfellow's Soldignac is over the top in his portrayal of the Swiss hubby on a mission: to prove his wife Mitzi is unchaste. The white gloved hotel manager (Michael Bobenhausen) and the valet Gerome (John Leonard Thompson) are also worthy of note.

This talented cast enters into the frenzy and the frolic with enthusiasm, culminating in a great free-for-all fisticuffs fight at the end of act 2.  Scenic designer Abigail Copeland and costume designer Heather Lesieur add to the pleasure, while director Paul Mullins keeps the pace lively, with enough slamming doors to make any lover of farce delirious with joy.

For tickets ($7to $30), call the CT Rep at 860-486-2113 or online at www.crt.uconn.edu.  Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Less than pure intentions abound as respectability flies out the bedroom windows and many a rendezvous is secretly planned. Who will stay married and who will divorce?  Electric bells rather than church bells will ring, suitcases will be misplaced, hotel rooms will be double booked and poison will be swallowed as jealousy, deception  and potatoes vie for first place.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION" A TWISTED THRILLER




Guilt or innocence is a matter of motives and evidence.  Being accused of murder is a serious set of circumstances and one that can be difficult or impossible to disprove.  For Leonard Vole, the warrant for his arrest is like a bad dream, one that escalates into nightmare status.  Thanks to the Mistress of Mysteries and Queen of Suspense, Agatha Christie,  you are being lured into the interrogation and into the courtroom until you feel like you're a "Witness for the Prosecution," courtesy of the Westport Community Theatre weekends until Sunday, December 11.

Dame Agatha Christie started her vast writing career to win a bet that she couldn't write a detective story. She has sold over one billion books with over two billion in print, while J. K. Rowling has only a mere 325 million Harry Potter books on the shelves.  Christie has called this play, one of her twenty, her best. 

The defendant is Leonard Vole (Travis Branch), a man who has not traveled far up the ladder of success, yet one who has some charms and hints of kindness.  He rescued a woman, Romaine (Samantha Pattinson) in Germany after the war by marrying her and taking her home to London and now many years later he again rescues a woman, Emily French, who is about to be hit by a bus on a busy street.

Now Vole is accused of murdering Ms. French as he stands to inherit all her wealth in her latest will.  He claims to know nothing about the inheritance and has, in all innocence,  just cultivated her friendship out of a good heart to ease her loneliness.  Vole has engaged the services of a team of solicitors to prove he is not guilty, from the secretary Greta (Cindy Hartog), to the clerk Carter (Geoffrey Gilbert), the attorney Mayhew (David Victor) to his primary lawyer, the prestigious Sir Wilfrid Roberts (Barry Alan Hatrick) who needs to defend him in court.

Initially Vole's wife Romaine is the primary witness to provide him with an alibi, that he was home with her before  Ms. French met her dastardly fate. On the witness stand, however, being questioned by the accusatory Mr. Myers (Jeff Pliskin), under the watchful eye of the presiding judge (Larry Greeley), Romaine changes her story and casts Vole in a damning light.  To compound her new tale, Ms. French's housekeeper of twenty years, Janet Mackenzie (Kate Telfer), adds her eye witness proof that Vole is guilty.

Who to believe? What of the blood on Vole's jacket cuff?  Why was Vole looking at expensive cruises with a mysterious woman? The clues keep mounting up and the damaging accusations are too high to ignore.  Agatha Christie is a master at keeping you in suspence so you'll have to stay alert and watch for the red herrings.  Tom Rushen directs this taut drama on a revolving set designed by Kevin Pelkey.

For tickets ($25, $23 for seniors and students), call Westport Community Theatre, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport (Westport Town Hall) at 203-226-1983 or online at  [http://www.westportcommunitytheatre,com]www.westportcommunitytheatre,com. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and Thursday, December 1 at 8 p.m.

Hop aboard the roller coaster of clues as Agatha Christie is the amusement ride's conductor with enough twists and turns to make even Hercule Poirot happy and entertained.