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!

Monday, September 15, 2014

"EVITA" RIDING RAINBOW HIGH AND ADORED



Growing up in abject poverty, illegitimate, with no apparent advantages, Eva Peron transformed herself into a woman of power and prestige.  As the second wife of Argentina's president Juan Peron, she effectively ruled a nation.  With aspirations of being an actress, she developed a fascinating knack of seduction, a role she used over and over again to advance her position in society.  Eventually she used her beauty and charm and seduced an entire nation.

To uncover the tale of this high flying poseur, sail into the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts from Tuesday, September 23 to Sunday, September 28 for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's memorable musical "Evita."

The story begins on July 26, 1952, the fateful day Eva exits this world, as her heartbroken fans and faithful followers mourn the loss of their self-appointed queen.  The storyteller Che, an everyman of the working class, has no love lost feelings for her and turns the clock back to reveal all her layers and dreams of glory.

Che (Max Quinlan) introduces the teenage Eva (Caroline Bowman) and tracks her insidious trail as she promotes herself as an actress and singer, always in sight of the brass ring of fame.  Without any qualms, she trades her body for one more rung up society's ladder, using roles as a model, radio star and actress to get closer and closer to her goal.  Politics enters her focus sight with the ascension of Colonel Juan Peron (Sean McLaughlin) to the military stage.  She entangles her life with his, convincing him "I'd Be Surprising Good For You."

Convincing Peron first, she then sets out to promote him to President, with herself by his side.  Initially rejected by high society, she succeeds in compelling the populace that she is a savior, a champion of the poor, in "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina."  The rest of her brief life is told in scenes of her travels to Europe and her reception back at home, from "Rainbow High" to "Eva's Final Lament."

Was she sinner or saint or somewhere in between?  "Evita" is a monumental tribute to the myths and mystery that swirl around her as dramatically directed by Michael Grandage.

For tickets ($21 and up), call the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford at 860-987-5900 or online at www.bushnell.org.
Performances are Tuesday - Thursday at 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.

As the First Lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, known affectionately as Evita, overcame great obstacles to achieve lofty heights, enduring tragedy and demonstrating passions along the way.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

HELP DEVELOP THE JOY OF READING

                                     Margie Shapiro with her student

 What could be more meaningful than making a difference in a child's life?  By volunteering just one hour a week, you can be partnered with a local school child and help develop a love of reading.  No previous experience, no problem.The Jewish Coalition for Literacy (JCL) is prepared to train and place you in a rewarding one-on-one situation that will impact the student in positive ways, improve their reading skills and help them gain confidence through individualized help.

On Wednesday, September 17 at 9:30 a.m. at the Jewish Community Center, 360 Amity Road, Woodbridge, an orientation meeting will be held featuring Fay E. Brown, Ph.D.Associate Research Scientist, Yale Child Study Center; Krista Bergin, Literacy Intervention Facilitator, New Haven Board of Ed and Cheryl C. Durwin, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology Assistant Chairperson, Psychology Department, SCSU, an esteemed panel that will present
best practices of reading with a child and highlight the importance of reading partners offering  children  a  nurturing opportunity to help them succeed.

You will be able to choose the school, grade level, day of the week and hour of the day to be teamed with a welcoming student.  Call 203-387-2424, ex. 308 or online at bbrenner@jewishnewhaven.org

Give of yourself to this worthy cause and you will be all the better for it.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

CHAZZ PALMINTERI COMMANDED THE FOXWOODS STAGE



Chazz Palminteri has quite a tale to tell and he makes it come alive with skill and talent.  He brings along a colorful string of characters, friends he grew up with, like Louis Beans, Frankie Coffeecake, Joe-Joe the Whale, Jimmy Blue Eyes, Mikie GaGa and Johnny 10 to 2.  If you see he will be performing "A Bronx Tale," run don't walk to the box office and secure your ticket.

On Saturday, September 6 actor and storyteller Chazz Palminteri brought the assembled crowd to a standing ovation at the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino with his moving play "A Bronx Tale," a story he lived that phenomenally changed the course of his life.

Witnessing a murder at any age is traumatic, but for an impressionable nine year old lad it can be devastating.  Chazz was sitting on his front stoop, in his Bronx neighborhood, when the unthinkable happened.  How to process such an episode of violence?  What to tell the police?  Why did it happen?  What would the church dictate he do?

in "A Bronx Tale," Palminteri relives his youth, writing the story in bits and pieces for an acting class, adding minute by suspenseful minute until it culminated at one hour and forty minutes of drama.  On stage, he inhabits eighteen different characters, focusing mainly on the two father figures who dominated his growing up years:  his father Lorenzo and the man who committed the murder he witnessed, the "boss of all bosses," the capo di tutti capi, Sonny.

His morally righteous dad was at odds with his rival Sonny who commanded by instilling fear in his opponents.  From both men, Chazz learned life lessons about how to conduct himself, principles that have served him well.  Neither man wanted him to waste his talents on a life of crime.  Sonny wanted Chazz to be his redemption.

Now Palminteri rules the stage with authority, paying homage to those long ago years.  The play has since been adapted for the big screen, with Robert DeNiro as Lorenzo and Chazz as Sonny, with DeNiro making his directorial debut.

Don't miss "A Bronx Tale" whenever this actor and master storyteller brings his life- altering youth to amazing life.