Monday, March 20, 2017

HELP PERPETUATE CONNECTICUT THEATER




For 26 years, the Connecticut Critics Circle has focused a spotlight on Equity theater productions across our state, and every June acknowledges the best of that theater with awards of excellence for members of the theater community, from actors to directors, to costumers and sound and light, to debut awards and the prestigious Killen Award for a lifetime of achievement.

Right now we need your help.  If you are a lover of live entertainment, you can help the CCC to perpetuate and enhance its mission.  Go to kickstarter.com and make a pledge to help us continue our work: to write about and acknowledge the best of our state's efforts.  There are many levels of participation and all are welcomed and appreciated.  You can also go to www.ctcritics.org to the homepage for further information.  Thank you in advance for your generous support. This opportunity is only open in March 2017.

www.ctcritics.org

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"WAR STORIES” NEED TO BE TOLD AND HEARD



Unbelievably, in January 2014, almost 50,000 homeless veterans were identified in this country, almost 10% of the entire homeless population.  Most of these are male, are single and suffer from a variety of ailments, from mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Many have served time in jails.  Almost half of them are Hispanic or African-American.  They are clearly in need of socialization, health care, rehabilitation, job training and a safe place to live.

Knowing all of these concerns and wising to make a difference, Peter Van Heerden, the Executive Director for the Arts at Fairfield University’s Quick Center, had a vision.  He wanted to focus a spotlight on the problem and encourage a greater connection with this virtually forgotten segment of society.  We have long acknowledged the bravery and courage of firemen and police who risk their lives on a daily basis to protect and serve.  How much further up on the ladder of sacrifice are our soldiers who go to war all over the world to guard and guarantee our freedoms?

Peter Van Heerden determined to create a theater piece “War Stories” which will premiere Friday, March 31 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 1 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Wien Experimental Theatre at the Quick Center at Fairfield University, 1073 North Benson Road, Fairfield.  His emphasis is on courageous storytelling, with his team that includes writer Sonya Huber and artist Nina Bentley.  Since January, sixteen veterans, including a trio of women, representing the Army, Navy and Marines have met every day to develop a full-length performance piece, woven from the real experiences of the soldiers…each of their war stories.

Come meet a woman who was born to unfit parents, unwanted by her mother and wanted too much by her father.  While maintaining straight A’s as a student, she felt her life was dangerous  and surrounded herself with losers. Even though she joined the Navy and finally found good friends, alcohol and drugs became her companions so she wouldn’t feel anything.  She finally acknowledges she is in a good place and has forgiven her parents and herself in recovery.  This is her war story.

For a male Marine, he was raised by grandparents after his parents abandoned him.  He was emotionally abused and  never felt loved or supported. Now he is a grandfather himself and loves to provide what he was never privy to enjoy.  For an Army male, being at Home for the Brave has brought him sobriety for the last 18 months. In another’s tale, this Army man, an African-American, raised himself from the age of 14, was expelled from high school, went AWOL, served in jailed for over two decades where he earned three college degrees. That is his war story.

These men and women are clear about what America means to them:  freedom, equality, good people, good friends, democracy and opportunity and they are willing to die to defend those rights.  These are raw, sensitive, honest and sincere words that pour out of their hearts. These confessions, according to Van Heerden serve as “filters through which we understand information, shaping how we connect to each other and the world around us.  Our stories have the potential to alter culture, politics, policy, behavior and perceptions.  Through each of our stories, we can make people care.”  All the storytellers are residents of Bridgeport’s Home for the Brave where their lives are being restored along with their dignity and they are being given a second chance.

This important project is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Office of the Arts and is being presented in partnership with Homes for the Brave.  The event is free for Veterans.  For tickets ($20, Quick Center Members $15, students $5), call the Quick Center at 203-254-4010 or online at www.quickcenter.fairfield.edu.

Come open your hearts and your arms to stories that deserve and need to be told and heard.  Come wave an American flag to thank men and women who have sacrificed so much and are striving to create meaningful and productive lives.

Monday, March 13, 2017

OH, WHAT A NIGHT: COURTESY OF THE "JERSEY BOYS"

KEITH HINES, AARON DE JESUS, CORY JEACOMA, MATTHEW DAILEY      PHOTO BY JEREMY DANIEL

Four young guys from the land of opportunity known as New Jersey could easily have been incarcerated for a life of crime.  Instead by the age of 30, they had carved a name for themselves, after a number of iterations, as rock and roll super stars.  You know them better as the Four Seasons in general and Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, in particular.

Their intoxicating music is heaven sent, especially if you call the 1950’s and 1960’s your type of sound.  Their harmonizing is the best.  Who could have predicted that a quartet of lads from the wrong side of the silver spoon could succeed like a meteor shower, writing their own music and creating their own unique sounds.  The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts will be ready to open its rafters for the boys from Wednesday, March 22 to Sunday, March 26 for another night of their magic as the 2006 Tony Award winning show rocks into Hartford. 

With book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe, come and learn how a fresh faced kid rises like cream to the top of the milk bottle as Frankie Valli become lead singer of The Four Seasons. The road to fame and fortune is not smooth and the boys flirt with crime before they set their dreams on a straight path to the top.  Their first hurdle was finding the right combination of voices and the second was settling on a name for their group. Staying out of jail, balancing family life with the rigors of life on the road, a gambling addiction and a huge burden of debt almost defeat them. 

But Frank, Bob, Tommy and Nick persevere and go on to sell 175 million records before they hit the big 3-0, including five #1 hits and 11 that made the Billboard’s top ten, all among the show’s incredible thirty-three songs. Dividing their tale into seasons, we become privy to the twists and turns that drove them to the top of their game and then, ironically, almost destroyed them.  And along the way, there is their music.  Songs like “Oh, What a Night, “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Ragdoll,” “Working My Way Back To You,” “My Eyes Adore You,”  “Walk Like a Man"  and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”
will have you levitating in your seats.

For tickets ($25,50 and up), call the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford at 860-987-5900 or online at www.bushnell.org.  Performances are Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

These guys were not choir boys and their gritty story will amaze you.  Catch the beat and hang on tight for oh, what a night!

"CLOUD 9:" SEXUAL REVELATIONS AND REVOLUTION



CAST OF "CLOUD 9"   PHOTO BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON

Whether you are familiar with sexual politics, unconventional mores or confusing genders, playwright Caryl  Churchill is happy to provide you with lessons in the form of farce and satire in her radically different play "Cloud 9" being served up on a silver platter at the Hartford Stage until Sunday, March 19.  Be forewarned that Churchill's "Cloud 9" should not be confused with the traditional definition that means a state of perfect bliss and happiness, a euphoria if you will.

Churchill has divided her play into two distinct parts, Victorian colonial Africa where the natives are restless and capable of cannibalism and the extended family of Clive and Betty reside uneasily.  Act II takes place in London in 1979 and supposedly only 25 years have passed.  Get out your scorecard and take notes.  Clive, a loyal British subject, controls his household with rigidity.  Mark H. Dodd's Clive exists in a world of oppression and repression.  He holds strong views on marriage but that doesn't stop him from carrying on a dalliance with a neighboring widow, Mrs. Saunders, a faint of heart Sarah Lemp, who also does double duty as the governess Ellen.  

Ellen cares for the children Edward, an identity confused Mia Dillon, who likes dolls and Victoria, who is played by a doll.  Edward also likes the adventurous Harry Bagley, the courageous Chandler Williams, who manages to juggles relationships with the young lad Edward, Clive's wife Betty, who is played by a man, Tom Pecinka, and the black servant Joshua, William John Austin, who is played by a white man. Overseeing all this sexual misidentification is Betty's judgmental mom Maud, Emily Gunyou Halaas.

All this frustration explodes even more in Act II where some  of the previous people reappear in a new liberated form.  Check your playbill for the details.  It's London 1979, in a park, and some of the symbols reappear, like dolls and decadence, guns and games and a gold necklace.  British society has released its Pandora's box of secrets and the mismatched alliances are now out in the open and ready for inspection. Women and gays give energy as the search is on for that most elusive and desired quality: happiness. Corset restraints are loosened. The same actors appear but in a different guise.  Occasionally even members of the Victorian era pop in for a brief visit.  Churchill clearly wants to challenge the traditional roles of society and encourage accepting people for who and what they are. Elizabeth Williamson directs this unconventional exploration of the many forms of sexual relationships and marriages and the changes locked therein.

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

Be open minded and lavishly liberal as Caryl Churchill indulges in an intense exploration of the ending of sexual repression.

Monday, March 6, 2017

TIME FOR MAJOR POPCORN ORDER FOR JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL


If it took God six days to create the world, ten men and women to make a minyan, then it's not surprising it will take eleven days to highlight the 21st Annual Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival.  From Thursday, March 16 to Sunday, March 26, you need to grab a box of popcorn, a box of red licorice  and a good, intelligent, involved friend or three and go to five different venues around Hartford and West Hartford to view eighteen outstanding films from ten corners of the globe and soak in all the comedy, adventure and drama.

Take your place at center court for the toss up for the fiercely competitive "On the Map." It's 1977 Israel, just after the Yom Kippur War, when the Maccabi Tel Aviv team, against all odds, accomplishes the impossible.  Come opening night, Thursday, March 16 for a light bite at 5:30 p. m. and film at 7:30 p.m. at the Mandell JCC, 335 Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford for this exciting Connecticut premiere.

Are your dreams passing you by?  Come Saturday, March 18 at 9 p.m. to the Mandell JCC and meet "MOOS," a girl who is letting the care of her widowed father consume her entire life...until an unexpected guest reminds her that life can be so much more.  On Sunday, March 19 at 1 p.m., at Spotlight Theaters, 39 Front Street, Hartford, flex your muscles as you meet "Supergirl," an 11 year old Naomi Kutin from New Jersey who is an Orthodox Jew and a serious world record power builder.  A Reel Talk by medical and sports experts will follow the film.

Also on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Spotlight Theaters, you can see an involving family tale, "Shtisel," the second season of this hit Israeli television show.  Come follow the intrigues and involvements of the extended Shtisel clan as they share an apartment in ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim with humor, love and family fights.  An encore showing will be held Friday, March 24 at 11 a.m. at the Mandell JCC.

A double feature anyone?  Stay at the Spotlight Theaters for the 4:30 p.m. showing of "Fire Birds," an intense murder investigation of an 80 year old victim or see "Hill Start," a comic drama about a coma patient and all the ammunition in the form of visitors the family furiously assembles to wake their mother Ora up and restore her to health. An encore screening of both films will be held at Bloomfield 8 Theaters in Bloomfield on Sunday, March 26 at 4:15 p.m.

Want your own personal movie marathon?  The adventure continues at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, March 19 at Spotlight Theaters for "Sabena Hijacking-My Version."  Prepare for the intense drama that took place on May 8, 1972 when Belgian Sabena Flight 571 from Brussels to Tel Aviv was highjacked by a quartet from the Palestinian "Black September."  An encore presentation will be held on Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m. at Bloomfield 8 Theaters in Bloomfield.

A final choice for Sunday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Spotlight Theaters is "AKA Nadia" when the past secrets of a woman's identity rise up and overwhelm a 40 year old Maya Goldwasser and threaten to destroy the life she has so carefully created.  An encore screening will be held at 2 p.m. at the Bloomfield 8 Theaters, Wintonbury Mall, 863 Park Avenue, Bloomfield.

On Monday, March 20, the Mandell JCC will open its doors at 6 p.m to welcome "The Man Who Saved the Louvre," when Jacques Jaujard, the museum's director, cleverly devised a plot to save masterpieces of art from the Nazis' grasp.  Also that night at 8:15 p.m. at the Mandell JCC, come make the acquaintance of "Big Sonia," a 90 year old Holocaust survivor who has miraculously emerged from unspeakable horrors in her nine decades on this earth.  Be inspired by her remarkable story.

On Tuesday, March 21 at 1 p.m., The Emanuel Synagogue, 160 Monegan Drive, West Hartford will screen an intense documented portrait of "Jerry Lewis:  The Man Behind the Clown."  Who is this man who has one persona in front of the camera and a totally different one behind the camera?  The short film "The Last Blintz" about the iconic Cafe Edison and its recent closing, after being a legendary restaurant to Broadway's stars, will air first.

"My Hero Brother" is  the tale of two siblings, one with special needs, who undertake a once-in-a-lifetime journey from Israel to India, across the Himalayas. Family issues are carried in their backpacks that are opened and resolved in their monumental trek.  The film, followed by a Reel Talk, will be aired on Tuesday, March 21 at 7 p.m. at The Emanuel Synagogue.

The collapse of "The Women's Balcony" during a bar mitzvah at an Orthodox synagogue raises questions about the causes of this disaster.  Were the women not modest or observant enough?  Come hear some of Israel's foremost female comics lift their voices in explanation on Wednesday, March 22 at 7 p.m. at the Cinepolis, 42 South Main Street, West Hartford.

Another choice at the Cinepolis that night at 7 p.m. is "The Last Band in Lebanon," a bizarre comic tale of a former rock band trapped in Lebanon, caught in a drug-smuggling ring, trying to get back to Israel, with only a guitar for protection.  On Thursday, March 23, also at the Cinepolis at 7 p.m., follow the journey of Nathan Fabre, a French Catholic teacher who, while visiting a concentration camp, sees a picture of a prisoner who looks exactly like his  father.  He sets off on a mission that leads him to the discovery of long-buried secrets in "The Origin of Violence."

How long must you keep a promise? Hours, days, decades? In "Mr. Predictable," playing Saturday, March 25 at 9 p.m. at the Mandell JCC, a boy promises to be good and continues until as a man he realizes death is near.  Can he change his ways and reach for a piece of forbidden happiness before it is too late?

The Jewish Film Festival will conclude on Sunday, March 26 at the Mandell JCC at 7 p.m. with "Fanny's Journey," the fascinating, suspenseful tale of sisters sent away from France to avoid the Nazis who end up traveling to Switzerland with other children but no adult leader.  Fanny assumes control of their fate.  A dessert reception will follow, with a Reel Talk.

Tickets to most films are $12 in advance and $15 at the door, with Opening Night "On the Map" $50 and Closing Night "Fanny's Journey" $25.  Call 860-231-6316 or 860-236-4571 or go online to www.Hjff.org.

According to Nicole Greenblatt, Director of the film festival, "The Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival is in its 21st year.  We strive to find the best Jewish and Israeli films to bring to the Greater Hartford Community to educate and entertain our patrons.  We look for a diverse selection of films and try to cover a wide-range of topics and genres to that there is something for everyone."  

Billed as "Hoops, Heroes and Chutzpah," the 21st Annual Jewish Film Festival promises to be packed with movie treats.

The Hills of Waterbury Are Alive with Music



To Captain Von Trapp, marching is in, music is out, work is in, playtime is out, whistles are in, laughter is out, discipline is in, singing is out. All that changes when an excitable, soon- to-be nun named Maria plays governess to the Captain's seven motherless children in the wonderful family musical classic "The Sound of Music." 

Until Sunday, March 12, , the Palace Theater in Waterbury will play host to the entire von Trapp clan and you're invited to the mountains of Austria to hear all the joy.  With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, with direction by Jack O'Brien, this musical is a family favorite.

1938 Austria presents profound changes for the earnest and solemn Captain Georg von Trapp (Ben Davis) when both the Nazis and a young impetuous girl named Maria enter his life. He is powerless to defy either as one hardens his heart and the other captures his soul.

The captain has been running his household as he did his naval ships: strictly and decoreously. Instead of names, he uses whistle sounds to summon his seven children: Liesl (Paige Silvester), Kurt (James Bernard), Friedrich (Elliot Weaver), Louisa (Stephanie Di Fiore), Marta (Taylor Coleman), Brigitta (Dakota Riley Quackenbush), and Gretl (Anika Lore Hatch).  When the irrepressible Maria, played wonderfully by Charlotte Maltby, skips into their lives, the hills of Austria and Waterbury suddenly are alive with the sounds of glorious music.

Whether Maria is teaching the children how to sing, in the fun song "Do-Re-Mi", dressing them in play clothes cut from old curtains, helping them yodel their way through a thunderstorm, or preparing them to star in the Carlsbad Festival, she opens windows to love and laughter in their lives.

With the Captain and Maria, Teri Hansen as the Captain's almost fiance, Merwin Foard as the manipulating Max, and Melody  Betts  as Mother Abbess have their individual moments in the spotlight, it is clearly the sweet dimple faced youngest von Trapp who steals the show.

For tickets ($64.50-94.50), call the Palace Theater box office,100 East Main Street, Waterbury at 203-346-2000 or online at www.palacetheaterct.org.  Performances are tonight at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 pm. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Before the Friday show and after the Sunday matinee show, Verbena Catering will offer a four-course pre-fixe dinner in the theater's Poli Club for $65 a person including tax, fees, coffee and tea.  Call for reservations.

If girls in white dresses, packages tied up in string, crisp apple strudel, and bright copper kettles are among your favorite things, then plan a visit to the Palace Theater in Waterbury where they are all delightfully awaiting you.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

COME WITNESS AN OLD FASHIONED IRISH LOVE STORY



Can a man who loves dogs and hates furry felines find happiness with a woman who has a harem of cats and kittens, especially when they both suffer from the agonizing affliction of loneliness?  The Square One Theatre Company of Stratford has assembled a fine pair of actors, Al Kulcsar and Lucy Babbitt, to present the touching, tender and bittersweet answer in Christian O'Reilly's "Chapatti" weekends until Sunday, March      .

Ireland and India crash, literally and figuratively, when Al Kulcsar's Dan bumps into Lucy Babbitt's Betty at the office of their veterinarian.  His faithful dog Chapatti, named for a flat bread baked in India encounters Betty's box of newborn kittens and none of the pets are ever the same again.  Through a set of complicated circumstances, these two strangers find their lives weaving together in a bizarre set of ways, like a crazy quilt or a mismatched tapestry.  As they interact, we become acquainted with them and begin to care deeply for their fates.

The tragic loss of a cat becomes the starting point for their friendship and  suddenly their solitary lives gain meaning and laughter and , shall I hint, the possibility of love.  All is not smooth on the horizon as Dan has a doghouse of secrets that become slowly apparent and Betty has her hands full using a bit of reverse psychology to help him through his mental missteps.  Set in Dublin, Ireland in the present, "Chapatti" is a fresh breathe of romantic air that as Shakespeare would say "doesn't always run smooth."

Both Kulcsar and Babbitt are wonderful in their roles, he tentatively shy and unassuming with desires that are unrealistic while she is shining optimism and filled with the infectious laughter of hope and promise.  Slowly but surely, she encourages him to open the windows of his life to possibilities to let love fly in and take root. Tom Holehan directs this poignant tale of compassion and friendship, of reaching out for company and companionship, that is sure to make your heart smile.  Bring a Kleenex or three just in case.

For tickets ($20, seniors $19), call Square One Theatre Company at 203-375-8778 or go online to www.squareonetheatre.com..  The show will be held Thursday at     ;, Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at their new home, the Stratford Academy,          Stratford.  A discussion of "Chapatti" will take place at noon, Tuesday, March 21 in the Lovall Room of the Stratford Library.  The next production will be "Becoming Dr. Ruth" about that tiny bundle of sexual energy, May 4-21.

Even though Valentine's Day is in the past, buy a discounted box of milk chocolate candy hearts and come enjoy this well acted tribute to romance.