Friday, May 29, 2015

MARY HIGGINS CLARK ENCHANTS FAIRFIELD CROWD


Mary Higgins Clark is the undisputed “Queen of Suspense.” Her legions of readers have held their breath and sat in terror as they inhaled her words about murders and kidnappings and all those things that go bump in the night. As the author of fifty plus best sellers, with books that have sold one hundred million copies in the United States alone, Mary Higgins Clark spoke recently at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, at the invitation of R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison and Radio Station WSHU. Clark has been described as “literary royalty” and a “woman of all seasons.”

Mary Higgins Clark has come a long way since the year she was twenty-one and toured the world as a flying hostess for Pan American Airlines. She attended secretarial school and much later in life graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University. She holds thirteen honorary doctorates. She freely admitted, “I love to talk about writing and I love to write.” In her early years she voraciously read Nancy Drew and graduated to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes and still reads extensively today.

Mary Higgins Clark began writing poems early in life, claiming “writing is the only talent I have. When the singing and dancing fairies gave out their gifts, I was clearly not available.” She describes herself as a storyteller, lucky enough to have been born into an Irish family. Raised in the Bronx, she wrote from the time she could hold a pencil and always starred in her own plays, much to the chagrin of her siblings, whom she made perform whether they wanted to or not. At monthly family gatherings, she listened to and adored the stories told by relatives and often was caught writing her own short stories in math class instead of doing arithmetic.

Her father died when she was eleven, a tragedy that was repeated when she became a young widow herself in 1964, at age 36, when her husband died suddenly, leaving her to raise five children between the ages of five and thirteen. Clark always wanted to be a professional writer and soon after marriage she took a class in short story writing that set her on her path in life. Her professor advised her to write about what you know, to take a dramatic situation and ask “suppose and what if” and turn it into fiction. She looked to her year as a flight attendant and wrote a short story about being on the last American flight into Czeckoslovakia in 1949, where the plane was to pick up seven Americans. The crowd that cheered their arrival was silent at their departure, and she knew that there was “no one in the crowd who wouldn’t give half their life to be on this plane.” Her short story was entitled “Stowaway,” about a man who hid on the plane and the stewardess who helped him escape. Her professor assured her she would sell it and she did: six years and forty rejection slips later, for $100. That check was the “biggest thrill in my entire life” and it is framed in her Saddle Ridge, New Jersey home where she lives with her current husband. Her short story “Stowaway” is now one of the ones included in her newly released collection “Death Wears a Beauty Mask and other stories.”

This new collection includes tales about a famous model who suddenly disappears, a grieving mother who has lost her son, her favorite lottery winner Alvirah who finds mystery on Cape Cod, a former vice president who is accused of murder, a creepy next door neighbor, and many more intriguing plots. Recently her grandson aged 12, selected one of her books for his summer reading list requirements. So pleased, she asked him why he selected her book and he replied “because it was the shortest.” So much for her ego.

Not without a wonderful sense of humor, she related how some of her rejection letters even came with handwritten comments, like the one that called her writing “light, slight, and trite.” Like the director who penned a note to Fred Astaire telling him he couldn’t dance, one wonders where that editor is today.

Fortuitously, when her husband died, Clark had been offered her own radio show that very morning, a show entitled “Portrait of a Patriot,” vignettes on presidents, first ladies, artists and actors, giving clues to their identity. It was during research for this show that she discovered the subject for her first book, George Washington, “Aspire to the Heavens.” She had studiously avoided the first president because of the stories of the cherry tree and his wooden teeth, but on further reflection, she discovered a charismatic man of six feet, three inches, a hero of the French and Indian Wars, the best dancer in the colonies, a man who rode a horse like an Indian and who had a great love affair with his wife, Martha.

Her routine was to wake up at five a.m., put on a pot of coffee, and write until seven a.m. when she had to get the children ready for school. The book took three years and convinced her that she wanted to write books, now that the short story market had dried up, but the next time she’d prefer a best seller. She learned she needed “a hook” and produced “Where Are the Children?,” about child abduction. Clark claims the first fifty pages of a book are the hardest, when she rewrites over and over, and the excitement when the story “comes to life like the Nutcracker ballet...when you’re chasing the characters down the block and not dragging them.”

One of her many books, “Two Little Girls in Blue,” concerns identical twins, a subject that has always fascinated her. She likes to learn something from her research and was intrigued by how twins feel each other’s emotions and pain, even if they are separated. The book has been optioned for a television movie, although she is still waiting for a true blockbuster from a movie theater. Unlike many writers, she has never felt the need to use vulgarity, sex or extreme violence. She also uses women as her key characters. Clark has also collaborated on several novels with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark.

When she experiences a writer’s block, which she claims is frequently, she whispers to herself “royalty checks” and as ”literary royalty” and the “Queen of Suspense” that seems only proper and fit and works like a charm every time.

Monday, May 25, 2015

FANS OF “I LOVE LUCY” UNITE


With her head of curly red hair, her infectious grin that was six miles wide, her zany sense of humor and unique comedic style, there are few women (or men) who can match that one-of-a-kind comedienne Lucille Ball.  For decades, she entertained millions as Lucy Ricardo with her real life hubby Desi Arnez as Ricky Ricardo and her buddies Ethel and Fred Mertz, played by Vivian Vance and William Frawley.

Now the Palace Theater in Waterbury is preparing to bring you a brand new show “I Love Lucy- Live on Stage” for your viewing pleasure on Saturday, May 30 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 31 at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Get ready to laugh, guffaw, giggle and chuckle as that master lady of mirth gets herself into barrels of trouble, as only Lucy can.  While she may have seemed a little madcap on stage and screen, in real life she was a consummate businesswoman, a model, a movie star, a television success and the first woman to run a major television studio, Desilu.  She amassed her fair share of Emmy Awards, as well as being one of the first recipients of the Women in Film Crystal Awards, the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center and the Governors Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

In 2012, the sitcom “I Love Lucy”, which ran from October 15, 1951 to May 6, 1957, was voted “Best TV Show of All Time” by a survey conducted by ABC News and People Magazine.  It is often thought of as one of the most influential shows in television history.

 Turn your clocks back to 1952 and imagine you’re in the audience at Desilu Playhouse and waiting  anxiously to watch not one but two live onstage episodes from your favorite redhead.  As you sit at the edge of your seat, a charismatic host will offer entertaining insights about this brand new invention called “television” and literally let you look behind the curtain.

Advertising jingles will ring out thanks to the charming Crystaltone Singers on products you might not have thought about in years or may be items you still use every day.  Then, when the suspense has risen to a fever pitch, you’ll be overwhelmed to welcome Lucy (Thea Brooks), Ricky (Euriamis Losada), Fred (Kevin Remington) and Ethel (Lori Hammel) – live on stage- ready and eager to perform two wild situations from your favorite comedy show.  If you truly love Lucy, then you’ll adore these “I Love Lucy” encounters of the hilarious kind.

For tickets ($40-60), call the Palace Theater, 100 East Main Street, Waterbury at 203-346-2000 or online at www,palacetheaterct.com  Performances are Saturday, May 30 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 31 at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Staged and directed by Rick Sparks, “I Love Lucy” is giving a big shout out to Lucy’s legion of fans.  Let the merry madcap magic begin!

"OLEANNA" PROVOKES VIRULENT RESPONSE


David Mamet's intense verbal battle of words is definitely a case of "He said, She said."  The seemingly innocent encounter of a college student seeking assistance from her professor is fraught with potential power struggles and escalates into problematic possibilities.  Who do you believe?  What really happens behind that closed office door?  How does it so quickly explode with emotions?

West Hartford's intimate Playhouse on Park is set to light a tinderbox as Mamet's involving drama "Oleanna"  strikes a match until Sunday, May 31.  Even though the two characters dance around each other, with startling moves of a personal nature, this is no musical performance.  Moira O'Sullivan's Carol has come to beg her professor for leniency when he determines her course grade.  Despite her best intentions, doing all the assigned readings in the book he authored, she doesn't understand the concepts he has promulgated.   Is there something she can do to improve her class standing?

For his part, David M. Farrington's John is so busy fielding the ping pong of problems about his pending new purchase of a house and contemplating the granting of his status of tenure, that he doesn't give Carol the attention she feels she deserves.  Phone calls from his wife, friend and realtor interrupt their dialogue as he impatiently deals with the fires he must extinguish.

As each scene progresses, one month and one week later in time, we witness the metamorphosis of Carol from timid, inarticulate student who continually proclaims, "I don't understand," to a smooth talking spokeswoman for an agenda she clearly subscribes to and believes.  With the backing of "her group," a mysterious feminist organization, Carol mounts an increasingly virulent campaign against the good professor, determined to destroy his credentials and standing in the college community.

Will she succeed?  Can the teacher put the student in her place?  What are the stakes in this war of words?  Director Dawn Loveland keeps the pace building, the exchanges snappy and sharp and the problems pointed.  Anger and fear alternate as the gloves come off and the pair reveal their true identities. This is part of the Playhouse's On the Edge series.  Mamet named it for an obscure 19th century Pennsylvania community where a safe haven, a utopia, is put in jeopardy.

For tickets ($20-22.50), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Avenue, West Hartford at  860-523-5900 ex.10 or online at www.playhouseonpark.org.  Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m.

Whichever side you take. it's guaranteed your discussion post-performance will be animated, provocative and spirited, whether in defense or accusation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

COME MAKE THE ACQUAINTANCE OF “THE SECOND MRS. WILSON”









To say that Edith Bolling Wilson was a woman ahead 
of her time is an  understatement.  To many she came to
 be called the First Woman President, long before 
Hillary Rodham Clinton threw her chapeau in the political 
arena.  For Edith, a lady of determination and clear intelligent
 view points, became “The Second Mrs. Wilson”and is the 
fascinating subject of a world premiere play by Joe DiPietro 
being inaugurated on the main stage of New Haven’s Long 
Wharf Theatre until Sunday, May 31.

President Woodrow Wilson, brought to charismatic life by 
John Glover, becomes immediately smitten when he meets 
the lovely and opinionated widow, Edith Galt, portrayed with
style and grace by Margaret Colin. A recent widower himself, 
he falls under her spell, much to the dismay of his executive
 entourage that includes his press secretary Joe Tumulty 
(Fred Applegate), his trusted advisor Colonel Edward House 
(Harry Groenier), his vice president Thomas Marshall 
(Steve Routman) and even his personal physician
 Dr. Grayson (Stephen Barker Turner).

Edith, however, knows how to charm.  While previously 
uninterested in politics, her new relationship awakens in her 
an active pursuit of affairs of state.  Woodrow, for his part, 
seeks her advice and opinions and involves her more and
 more in the everyday White House concerns.  The threat 
of America’s entrance into World War I, the war to end all 
wars, leads her to become his personal consultant,
sharing state secrets and even accompanying him to Europe.

With astute intuition, Edith changes the role of the First Lady 
dramatically.  Not a social partygoer, she concentrated on 
more serious matters, discerning the men who were not 
working to help her husband succeed, like Senator
 Henry Cabot Lodge (Nick Wyman).

When Woodrow has a stroke, Edith comes into her own, 
shielding him from the pressing problems of the presidency, 
by making decisions for him.  With great personal resolve 
and strength, Edith Wilson assumes the burden of the office,
 working behind the scenes to get Woodrow’s Treaty of 
Versailles signed to end the war and to create his valuable
 League of Nations.

Joe DiPietro has fashioned a truly brilliant piece of history, 
one that shines a spotlight on a unique role of a President 
and his First Lady. This stellar cast paints a portrait of a 
time and a place and the people who lived in its drama.  
Gordon Edelstein has directed a fascinating picture that 
is sure to engage the audience with its humor and 
humanity, on an inviting and stately set by Alexander Dodge.

For tickets ($25-75), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent
 Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at 
www.longwharf.org.  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.

At a time when politics were clearly a man’s realm and 
when the Twenty Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, 
dealing with the succession of the vice president to the 
office of president due to the disability of the head of state, 
was almost fifty years in the future, Edith Wilson took 
charge of her husband’s health and of the country’s 
well-being and steered our ship through a multitude of 
storms.  Come hear why and how from the captain 
herself.

Monday, May 18, 2015

"GUYS AND DOLLS" IS A SURE BET FOR FUN

PHOTOS BY DIANE SOBOLEWSKI OF NANCY ANDERSON AS MISS ADELAIDE (ABOVE) AND MANNA NICHOLS AS MISS SARAH OF THE SAVE-A -SOUL MISSION (BELOW)


Lots of things in life are a gamble, but not the current Lucky Lady production of "Guys and Dolls" rolling the dice in a perfect 7 to 11 combination until Saturday, June 20.  The odds are definitely stacked in your favor as the saints try to win over and convert the sinners.  The Frank Loesser musical, with book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, that has been delighting millions for over six decades, will be staking a claim for entertainment and joy at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam.

Get ready to love this show a bushel and a peck, thanks to the sympathetic entreaties of Miss Adelaide, an adorable Nancy Anderson, who has been waiting patiently for her fiance Nathan Detroit,  Nathan is a fast talking, slippery commitment adverse Mark Price, who has been dragging his heels for fourteen years instead of making their relationship legitimate.  The fact that Miss Adelaide abhors gambling and Nathan can't wait to make a quick buck by running crap games make the chances of his being honorable about 100 to 1.

In order to finance his latest illegal endeavor, Nathan decides to con the biggest bettor of them all, the suave Tony Roach as Sky Masterson, who is ready to wager on practically anything.  Nathan finds a sure bet, that Sky can't get the pious and pure head of the Save-a-Soul Mission, the pert Manna Nichols as Miss Sarah Brown, to fly with him to Havana, Cuba.

The quick thinking Sky accomplishes the impossible and trades his marker for one dozen genuine sinners in exchange for a lunch date with Sarah, southeast of the border.  Against all odds the two find love and salvation while Nathan and his cronies Rusty (Jordan Grubb), Nicely-Nicely (Scott Cote), Benny (Noah Plomgren), Harry the Horse (Carlos Lopez), Angie the Ox (Paul Aguirre) and Big Julie (Jerry Gallagher) are busy running around New York City hunting down the elusive and ever changing location of the crap game of the hour.  A determined Lt. Brannigan (David Sitler) is always a step or two behind in trying to catch them in the act.

Glorious Frank Loesser tunes propel this Damon Runyon inspired story, like Adelaide's perpetual cold, "Adelaide's Lament," caused by Nathan's irresponsibility, Sarah's grandfather Arvide's (John Jellison) tender love advice in "More I Cannot Wish You," Nicely-Nicely's fervent plea "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" and Sky's determined prayer "Luck Be a Lady," among many others.  Don Stephenson directs  this colorful cast of characters in a high powered production that's a sure crowd pleaser.

For tickets ($78.50-83.50), call Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam on the Connecticut River at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m and 6:30 p.m., with an additional performance at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Come place your winning wager on a guaranteed bet!

COME MEET "THE WINSLOW BOY"



          TESS BROWN AS CATHERINE AND SAM NOCCIOLI AS RONNIE

What might you do if a member of your immediate family were accused of a crime, a crime for which you know in your heart he is innocent of committing?  What if that act were not a capital one, not murder or kidnapping. Suppose it was one of robbery, but that theft was not major, not a bank or armored car, but of a 5 shilling postal order, a mere pittance?  Think of Jean Valjean and his "crime" of stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving children and being imprisoned for more than a dozen years.

Enter into the intense family situation of a cadet, 14 year old Ronnie Winslow as portrayed in "The Winslow Boy" by Sir Terence Rattigan.  Square One Theatre in Stratford will hold court on Ronnie's case weekends until Saturday, May 30.  Based on a true story and set on the eve of World War I, the drama concerns the  theft, Ronnie being identified as the culprit and being expelled from the Royal Naval College at Osbourne. The tale centers on his family's response to the accusation and their implicit faith that Ronnie is innocent.

Leading the charge is Ronnie's stern disciplinarian of a father Arthur, a stalwart Bruce Murray.  He will not tolerate this blemish on his son's record which reflects badly on him but also on the entire family.  Sam Noccioli's noble character as Ronnie stands tall against this false pronouncement.  To that end, Arthur engages the services of one of the most prestigious attorneys of the day, Sir Robert Morgan, a solidly conscientious Joseph Maker who takes on the task of clearing Ronnie's name.

Also standing on Ronnie's side are his devoted mother Grace (Ann Kinner), his progressive and open minded sister Catherine (Tess Brown) and his jolly and carefree older sibling Dickie (Ryan Hendrickson) who has yet to assume the role of an adult.  Even the family solicitor Desmond (David Victor) and the long serving maid Violet (Lucy Babbitt) are squarely in the cadet's corner.

For the two years the court battle ensues, everyone in the family suffers under the cloud of suspicion.  Catherine's engagement to John (Jim Buffone), one that coincides with Ronnie's homecoming in disgrace, is shaken at its roots.  Dickie's years as a less than dedicated student at Oxford are put into question.  Arthur's health, that had never been strong, is subject to the pressures and stresses of the trial while Ronnie must daily defend his actions.  Even Violet's long standing service to the Winslows is put in jeopardy.

Artistic director Tom Holehan keeps the tension taut, while periodically injecting flashes of humor.  The entire community cast works together to make us care about Ronnie's fate.

For tickets ($20, $19 students and seniors), call Square One Theatre, 2422 Main Street, Stratford at 203-375-8778 or online at www.squareonetheatre.com.  Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., with a twilight matinee at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 30.
This is the 25th anniversary of the theatre and it will be celebrated at a dinner on Friday, June 19 at Riverview Bistro, 946 Ferry Boulevard, Stratford..  Tickets are $25.

Become engaged in the workings of the British legal system as one family literally fights city hall for their son's need to be declared innocent, even if they face bankruptcy in the process.


Friday, May 15, 2015

MASTER STORYTELLER GARRISON KEILLOR TO SPEAK AT SCSU MAY 17




Garrison Keillor is the quintessential Minnesotan. When asked how different his life and career  might have been if he'd been born   in any place on earth but Minnesota, he acknowledged, " I spent a lot of time thinking about this when I was 12 and 13, growing up along the Mississippi River, sitting under the trees, tossing stones at the flotsam as it floated by, and also thinking, "What if the Communists came and took over America?" Which did not happen, no matter what Republicans say, and here I am, Minnesota born and bred,  and doing the best I can.

For decades, he has woven tales of a fictional town in his home state, named Lake Wobegon, and populated it with a cast of quirky characters,  These strange souls become real and solid as he fashions stories of their births, schooling, friends, jobs, weddings, divorces and rarely deaths. We learn to care about Pastor Liz and Lillian Tollerud , the savior of the post office and college kid Christopher who quotes Thoreau and gets a summer job at Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery. Garrison admits these folks of his creation are like old friends. In reply to the query how do you keep track of all their comings and goings, births, weddings and deaths?, he replied that they become more and more real and as I learn more about them, I gently take them out of Time and let them remain the same age. Death is rare. Roger Hedlund died a year ago and I'm still in mourning for him. He was a good farmer."

Would he still have created Lake Wobegon if he had sprung from Georgia or Alaska? "Probably not. It derived from small towns where my uncle Aldridge practiced medicine and my home town of Anoka and a part of Stearns County where I lived back in the Seventies. Had I lived, say, in Minneapolis, I would've wanted to be more hip."


Like a modern day Will Rogers, with a unique homespun philosophy and wit all his own, sporting his trademark red socks and /or shoes, Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion fame is coming to share his home town wisdom and inventive humor on Sunday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m.  Southern Connecticut State University's Lyman Center for the Performing Arts  will be welcoming this well known radio personality who has been spouting his views on love and life since July 6, 1974 in St. Paul, Minnesota when a fortunate few, a dozen in number, attended his first broadcast.

After that humble beginning, A Prairie Home Companion has gone on almost continually (there was a brief hiatus in 1987), and now entertains 4 million listeners every week on almost 600 public radio stations in the United Stations as well as abroad in Europe and the Far East.  It has even spawned a movie of the same name in 2008 that starred Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Kline.

 A Prairie Home Companion has grown and changed since 1974. To Keillor, "It started out proudly amateur and local and quietly went professional and national, which made it a better show. We added actors. National performers became aware of it and came around ---- Chet Atkins, the Everlys, Wynton Marsalis, K.D. Lang, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Diana Krall , Odetta --- and that was good. The writing got steadily better, sillier. Fred Newman joined. The show is pretty flexible. We did a Mennonite show one week, then went to Nashville and did blues and bluegrass. The News from Lake Wobegon feels solid to me. So we'll just go on week to week until I retire and then someone else will do it."

 Known for his deadpan delivery and deep voice, Keillor fashioned a radio show based on his tales of Lake Wobegone, his mythical home town, and jazz and folk music, often singing himself as well as inviting entertaining guests. Lake Wobegon is set in the middle of the state, with a population of 942, that is subject to change.  Its name is taken from an Indian term meaning "the place where we waited all day for you in the rain."

As a boy, he wrote stories about talking animals and he liked unusual smells and things that exploded so an exploding smell was great fun for him to contemplate.  Born in Minnesota in 1942, he has entertained the world as a humorist, a commentator on the human experience, a storyteller, an author and a distinctive radio personality. As for the future, Garrison Keillor is happy to keep things going along in the same busy and happy way. "I'm a writer and every morning I sit down to a laptop computer and do what I've been doing since I was a kid. I'm finishing up a Lake Wobegon screenplay, working on a novel about a comedian, sketching out a Christmas musical, and so it goes. About ten years ago, I quit alcohol and that gave me my mornings back and that made a big difference. I sort of miss the bonhomie of the generous gin martini but I prefer to have a clear head at six a.m. "

 With an abundance of dry Minnesota humor, as dry as a saltine cracker, Keillor will share tales of his childhood in addition to his late arrival to parenthood, with a few tales of Lake Wobegone for good measure.  His special guests will include pals from his popular show who are likely to provide musical accompaniment from rock-n-roll to ragtime, Beethoven to blues.

For tickets ($20 student, $35-45 regular and premium, and $75 post-show reception), call Lyman Center box office at 203-392-6154 or online at http://tickets.southernct.edu.  The event will be held at the John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, 501 Crescent Street, New Haven on the campus of SCSU.It is sponsored by WSHU Public Radio Group.

Let Garrison Keillor share his personal philosophy of life, from his perspective of seven decades, and enjoy the humor of his wry observations. He is well worth waiting all day in the rain to hear.