Monday, September 29, 2014

WORLD PREMIERE "COMEDY IS HARD!" IN IVORYTON

Theater has long been a see-saw balance of tragedy and comedy, with an occasional dip into dramedy, where the elements involved both vie for top billing. In Mike Reiss' world premiere production "Comedy Is Hard!" two long time veteran performers struggle to find an answer that satisfies them both.  Set in their twilight years, both Kay and Lou have graced the stage for decades, Kay as a dedicated actress of drama and Lou doing it all for laughs.  He is 84 years young and is trapped in a wheelchair due to a stroke.  She is 60+12 and also finds herself in a wheelchair due to a slip in the shower.  Fortunately for the audience, Kay is the delightful Joyce DeWitt from "Three's Company" and Lou is the favorite Monkees' star Mickey Dolenz.

Ivoryton Playhouse will be free wheeling this theatrical debate until Sunday, October 12 for your entertainment pleasure.  When the two meet in a park in Manhattan, Kay is with her almost non-verbal nurse Valentina (Dorian Mendez) and Lou is being ferried around by his uncooperative son Phil (Michael McDermott). They share their history on the stage and argue over whose career is more meaningful and deserving of praise.

Along the way, they find themselves in The Actors Home in New Jersey and encounter diverse objects, situations and personages from Tinkerbell to  Elmo to Angela Lansbury, disco balls, bicycle bells to balloons, pancakes to tuna fish sandwiches, to Canadians who have yet to learn to laugh to mysterious ladies sporting red berets. When the pair decide to put on a play, Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," the age old question of which is harder and has more value, comedy or tragedy, has a chance of being answered.

This end of life story is sweetness with a tinge of sadness.  Jacqueline Hubbard directs it with a poignancy that lends its authenticity.  Also in the cast are a homeless man (Michael Hotkowski) and a retired actor (Dan Coyle) who add color to the tale. Mike Reiss' sense of humor is evident throughout as his one liners create chuckles, giggles and guffaws.

For tickets ($42, seniors $37, students $20 and children $15), call the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton at  860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. Performances are  Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Put your mask of comedy firmly in place as Joyce DeWitt and Mickey Dolenz invite you into their world of entertainment, courtesy of funny man Mike Reiss.

"BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS" ILLUMINATE TEENAGE ANGST



           THE JEROME FAMILY OF BRIGHTON BEACH,  PHOTO BY PAUL ROTH


Eugene Morris Jerome is a lot of name for a teenager to carry around, especially if his goal is to be a Yankee ball player named Joe.  Eugene is philosophical enough to know if he can't be a star on the mound, he may well be a writer.  If writers need to suffer, he feels his name is a good start and his complicated family life will push him miles along to winning a Pulitzer Prize.

Carey Cannata  is wonderful as the growing into puberty Eugene who accepts that no matter what happens in his lower middle-class Brighton Beach home in Brooklyn he will be blamed.  Forget that the household includes his dad Jack (Michael Iannucci), his mother Kate (Sarah Knapp), his older brother Stanley (Robert Mueller) as well as his mom's sister's family, Blanche (Elizabeth Donnelly) and her girls Laurie (Hannah Hartmann) and Nora (Lauren Devine). The strain of having to feed and provide for so many family members is taking a toll on the patriarch Jack and adds a health burden to the everyday problems.

This involving tale is a semi-autobiograhical one credited to playwright Neil Simon and is part one of a trilogy. "Brighton Beach Memoirs" is being lovingly created on stage by director Semina DeLaurentis at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury until Sunday, October 19.  Eugene talks directly to the audience and confesses, reveals, discloses and shares everything that  goes on under the Jerome roof, from the agony of having liver and onions for dinner to the awakening of sexual stirrings for his cousin Nora and how those feelings make him react.

Luckily Eugene has a big brother who can open the bathroom door and explain all those weird feelings brought on by puberty.  But those are only the tip of Eugene's Golden Palace of the Himalayas.  The family has money troubles, long buried feelings of envy and resentment, gambling issues, fears about an approaching war, lost opportunities on the stage, health issues that affect productivity, prejudices, loneliness and self-pity, plus Eugene's fixation on naked women.  And don't forget this is a comedy!

The entire cast is perfectly in tune and talented for every nuance.  We grieve with Nora's chances that are dashed and Blanche's promise of love that is squashed so soon. We commiserate with Stanley on his dilemma about principles versus practicality. We understand Kate's worries about everyone she holds dear. The year is 1937 and the world is fast approaching a momentous decision.  Daniel Husvar's two layered set makes us privy to all the aspects of family life in this Brooklyn homestead.

For tickets ($38-52.50), call the Seven Angels Theatre, Plank Road, Waterbury at 203-757-4676 or online at SevenAngelsTheatre.org. Performances are
Thursday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The theater is just off I-84 and parking is free.

  Music legend Little Anthony will bop, roll and rock into Seven Angels on Wednesday, October 8 at 7 p.m. to sing and share his life story.  His new book "My Journey-My Destiny" will be available for signature.  Purchase tickets and books online and save, $37.50 (with book $55) to $42.50 (with book $60).

Watch Eugene Morris Jerome officially end his childhood and march into puberty straight through the doors of the Golden Palace of the Himalayas.

Monday, September 22, 2014

INHALE THE MYSTERY OF "THE ETHER DOME"





If you have a dental appointment or surgery scheduled in the near future, you may want to postpone seeing "The Ether Dome" by Elizabeth Egloff at the Hartford Stage until Sunday, October 5.  A bit squeamish and uncomfortable around medical procedures, if you close your eyes when the plebotomist draws vials of your blood, you may want to prepare yourself for this dose of medical reality.

Now that you have been forewarned, the brave of heart and intrepid souls can attend and partake of a scientific mystery worthy of a Sherlock Holmes.  Hartford, Connecticut gets full credit and kudos for a major breakthrough in the world of dentistry and anesthesia.  Dr, Horace Wells (Michael Bakkensen) and his student William Morton (Tom Patterson) began the journey to find a substance to reduce and alleviate pain and suffering in 1846.

Through trial and error, an accident and experimentation, the pair first used laughing gas or nitrous oxide, to put patients to sleep temporarily while their diseased teeth were extracted.  The first official demonstration took pace on October 16, 1846 in Massachusetts General Hospital's surgical amphitheater, now known as the Ether Dome, when Morton used the anesthetic ether for surgery on a patient's tumor.

Previously for dental extractions, a patient's ankles were tied together and they were force feed everything from vinegar and brandy, milk and turpentine.
Some committed suicide rather than go through the excruciating pain.  The accidental discovery of the incredible numbing properties of first laughing gas and later ether revolutionized medical and dental procedures.

With egos and expectations vying for credit, physicians like Dr. Bigelow (Greg Balla), Dr. Gould (Ken Cheeseman), Dr. Warren (Richmond Hoxie), Dr Hayward (Bill Kux) Dr Colton (Lee Sellars) and Dr. Jackson (William Youmans) of Harvard fame all tried to insinuate themselves into the fray.  The calming influence of Lizzie Morton (Liba Vaynberg) and Elizabeth Wells (Amelia Pedlow) had little influence on the growing anger and envy and animosity between their husbands over who deserved the praise for the discovery.  This historical saga plays out in dramatic form under the direction of Michael Wilson, who had the initial idea for the play back in 2005.  The visual projections of James Youmans's set design enhance the production.

For tickets ($25-85), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org.  Performances are Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. or 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Before you take a whiff of any gaseous compound, get caught up in the tale of betrayal, envy, greed and egotists that is the east coast premiere of "The Ether Dome."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

                                                         THE SMILEYS

When Sarah Smiley's husband Dustin, a Navy pilot, was deployed overseas for a year, she was left with a small town life in Maine, three young boys to raise and an empty chair at the dinner table.  With no lack of trepidation, an aversion to cooking and a dislike for entertaining, she did what any other mother in the same set of circumstances would do:  she invited everyone from neighbors to politicians to policemen to dinner one night a week for a year.

Along the way Sarah Smiley, a syndicated newspaper columnist writing "I'm Just Saying," realized the life lessons she and her boys were learning and the incredible impact those meals had on their guests, she recorded their experiences in a book "Dinner with the Smileys." Unfortunately it took the death of an elderly neighbor in a nursing home who died the week before they planned to visit, to bring home the message about not postponing a good deed. That missed opportunity was turned around when the boys insisted they visit anyway and a man named Frank invited them to have dinner with him, since his beloved wife of 60 years had Alzheimer's and didn't know him any more.  Needless to say, the meal was a little soggy with tears.

R. J. Julia's Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Road, Madison commemorated Sarah's visit to town recently with, you guessed it, an old-fashioned potluck supper.  While Sarah served turkey lasagna (Garfield the cat would have approved) 90% of the time, it wasn't the menu that impressed the 250 strangers who crossed their doorstep.

Along the way, those strangers became friends and the town became a community.  The boys learned manners and how to socialize (we won't mention the time the minister who was dining that night found two of the boys wrestling on the kitchen floor and promptly sent them to their room).  One of their favorites (although the middle son Owen doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by naming a favorite) was a U.S. Marshal who came because people kept telling her to invite him.

The guests from the Governor of Maine John Baldacci to the local fireman to an Olympic Gold Medalist all left an impression,  There are a lot of lonely people who would like a dinner invitation (even if it's a Senator who gets a paper towel instead of a cloth napkin) and Sarah Smiley and sons Ford, 14, Owen, 12, and Lindell, 8, encourage you to invite one or three over.  You'll all be the richer and wiser for it.

The oven mitt is on the other hand these days as Dustin is now home with the boys, while Sarah is on her book tour.  Dustin is trying to figure out what to make for the company the boys are inviting to fill mom's empty seat at the dinner table.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS EARLY IN NORWICH



Grab a beer or a mug of eggnog ( or as some term it Keg Nog), put some tinsel on your pink flamingo, and mosey over to Armadillo Acres for a rip-roaring holiday celebration. With a trio of archangels or wise women as your guides, Betty (Maureen Pollard), Lin, short for Linoleum (Shawn Rucker) and Pickles (Liz Swan), you'll be in good hands as you navigate your way to "The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical" lighting up trees and double wides at Norwich's Spirit of Broadway Theater until Sunday, October 5.

This is slightly X-rated holiday fare, filled like a Christmas stocking, with F-bombs and feisty folk who speak their minds in red and green spiked trailer park colorful speech. It's twelve days before Santa is due and the Florida trailer park fears its holiday curse is about to descend once again.  For the last dozen years, manager Betty has been writing letters to attract the magazine "Mobile Home and Garden" to judge their decorations to win a coveted $10,000 prize.

This year they are actually in the contest and every home is spotting the finest beer can doodads.  All is in readiness, except for the space owned by one member, Darlene, a true Grinch and Scrooge combined. Fortuitously, a funny thing happens to Darlene, a mean-spirited Jenn Rykowski, and she accidentally gives herself a giant jolt of electricity and awakens with a gift-wrapped case of amnesia.  As her next-door neighbor Rufus, a kindly Rob Grgach, attends to her, the trio of Betty, Lin and Pickles pray she won't recover too quickly.  As strange as it seems, an early Christmas miracle has occurred.  Darlene wakes up nice, with all her naughtiness shocked out of her.

Even when her bombastic boyfriend Jackie, a silver seguined Brett Bernardini swaggers in, Darlene has no memory of him or of her employment as a waitress at Stacks, the pancake joint he owns.  Will Armadillo Acres win the big money prize?  Will Darlene's amnesia last long enough to hold off the curse?  Will the gift she can't open until Christmas turn out to be Darlene's salvation?  Is a Merry Christmas destined to bring peace and good will?  Lisa Foss has found a jolly source of fun to make the musical by David Nehls, music, and Betsy Kelso, book and lyrics, merry and memorable, with Dan Brandl leading the band.

For tickets ($32), call the Spirit of Broadway Theater, 24 Chestnut Street, Norwich at 860-886-2378
or online at www.spiritofbroadway.org or SBT@99main.com. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Watch in October for a series of festive meals entitled "Night of 100 Dinners" all to benefit the theater with Jackie Roy in charge.
Call her if you'd like to host a dinner, cocktail party, picnic or whatever rings your bell.  Call her at 860-887-6975 or online at jackieroy6020@gmail.com.

Celebrate Christmas in September with garlands of red and green lights and a bottle of Bud and feel free to dress in your best trailer park garb.




"A SOUTHERN GIRL" TAKES YOU ON A WONDERFUL JOURNEY



Every community has characteristics that mark its identity and, by extension, the people who inhabit it.  Clinging to traditions and resisting change are indicative of a staunchness of principle, an abhorrence of the encroachment of modernity, a comfort in maintaining what has worked for generations in the past.

John Warley has written a wonderfully engaging novel about knocking on the doors of tradition to open them wide to the fresh air of progress.  In his new book "A Southern Girl," he exposes the narrow mindedness that can paralyze and stultify modes of thinking, where the idea of change is frighteningly avoided, setting his tale in the Southern bastion of Charleston.

His story is partly autobiographical.  He and his wife and two sons opened their home and hearts to adopt a baby daughter Mary Beth.  How similar or unlike MaryBeth is from Allison in his fictional tale can only be determined by the author himself.  With an eloquence for words, the reader is swept into the journey of Coleman and Elizabeth Carter and how one tiny infant from South Korea changed their lives irrevocably.  The attorney in Coleman initially resisted his liberal wife Elizabeth's proposal to bring a "foreigner" into their midst..  If Coleman was resistant, his parents were apoplexic.  As noble and honored Southerners, adopting "an unknown entity" was unthinkable.

But Elizabeth's wishes prevailed and the Carter family adjusted in a hundred different ways as the sweet new one captured their hearts.  "A Southern Girl" carries the reader through a magnolia strewn path of changes as Allie, an avid horse lover, grows into her own person. Along the way we meet fascinating people like Hana, Jong Sim, Mr. Quan and Natalie.

The early death of Elizabeth, as well as the passing of Coleman's father and the much earlier death of Coleman's good friend Philip, bring turning points to the family.  It is only when Allie, considered a outsider by Southern standards, is snubbed by the elite coming-out ball held by the St. Simeon Society, that Coleman faces the prejudices that the genteel community clings to so fiercely, like the creeping vine kudzu that chokes whatever it comes in contact with.

How Coleman rises to the occasion, to fight for his daughter's rightful place of honor, is at the compelling center of "A Southern Girl."  With lawyer-like skills and a determination his late wife Elizabeth's would applaud, Coleman questions the establishment, protecting his own child at great personal cost.

Let John Warley, who left his own legal career for several years and took his family to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to write this inspiring novel, sweep you along on Coleman Carter's journey as a man, husband, parent, friend and warrior.

Publisher:  The University of South Carolina Press

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book-A-Million

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

BRING YOUR CREATIVE JUICES TO FAIRFIELD UNIVERSITY


Imagine a full fledged musical on stage that is being created right before your eyes, with your suggestions.  Never before seen and unlikely to ever be seen again, this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime entertainment event.

Get your ideas ready, for the orchestra will be tuning up and the actors are about to take their places for
Broadway’s Next H!t Musical one night only at Fairfield University's Regina Quick Center on Friday, September 19 at 8 p.m.

Talk about new and different and thinking on your feet.  This is improvisation with music, not something you see every day or that just any performer is capable of designing.  Under the direction of improv veterans Rob Schiffman and Deb Rabbai, Broadway’s Next H!t Musical was hailed as “brilliant” by TheaterWeek. The New York Times calls it “Hilarious!”, and The New York Post described the show as “remarkable.” Time Out NY says “At last! A musical of, for, and by the people.” Broadway's Next Hit Musical has been seen recently at The Triad, Tribeca Film Festival, and at the New York Musical Theater Festival, among many others, presenting improvisational musical comedy theater at its very best.

Tickets ($35, 40, 45, students at Fairfield University $5) are available through the Quick Center Box Office: (203) 254-4010, or toll-free 1-877-ARTS-396.  (1-877-278-7396).  Tickets can also be purchased online at www.quickcenter.com.

Let your imagination run wild, the more insane the funnier, and let this comedy troupe earn its medals for 85 minutes of unbridled humor.  P.S. Apparently my imagination was in high gear for tonight at the show my suggestion for a song "Kermit the Frog Romances Miss Piggy" was drawn out of the fish bowl of ideas, at random, and used to create a musical about "The Monster in the Closet." The

talented troupe expanded on my idea as well as three others and Kermit and the Monsters was selected as the full fledged musical with choreography by Bob (not Fosse).  You had to be there!