Monday, April 8, 2013


Have you ever been given privileged information and learned more than you bargained for, knowledge that was a burden and caused you discomfort?  For Judy Exner, whose youth, beauty and personality attracted a bevy of male admirers, gaining status in the inner circle provided her with delightful benefits as well as dangerous possibilities.

New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre has an intriguing look inside the political arena as a new king is crowned in William Mastrosimone's captivating "Ride the Tiger" until Sunday, April 21.  Its portrayal of politics is personal, perplexing and problematic and is guaranteed to disturb any illusions you might harbor about Camelot and other fairy tales of innocence and glory.

How easily could you be seduced and swept into the world of the powerful,with the major players, until you find yourself a pawn, without any integrity left to call your own.  For Judy Exner, the leap was easy.  First she attracted the attention and affection of that blue eyed crooner, Frank Sinatra, and when he tired of her, he passed her on to his good friend and presidential hopeful, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. 

When JFK's father Joe tries to orchestrate and guarantee his son's journey to the Oval Office, Joe chooses a powerful mob boss in Chicago, Sam Giancana, who has the sway to deliver the much needed union vote.  Sam's gaze soon focuses on Judy and he quickly uses jewelry and expensive gifts to win her affection.

With all the prominent players in place, Mastrosimone crafts a fascinating political game where all the chessmen manage and manipulate, like puppet masters on a grand stage, each with a personal agenda and all with the desire to assure JFK gains the presidency.  The years are 1959-1963 and a clever video back splash moves the action from Hyannisport to Las Vegas, Miami to New York, Palm Beach to Los Angeles, Chicago to the White House.

A uniformly fine cast portrays Douglas Sills as the promising candidate Jack, John Cunningham as the controlling papa Joe, Paul Anthony Stewart as the accommodating singer and chairman of the Board, Jordan Lage as the don't-mess-with-me mob boss Sam and Christina Bennett Lind as the opportunistic and naive pawn Judy.  Gordon Edelstein directs this complicated chessboard game of moves and motivations that will shatter any rose colored glasses you might be wearing.

For tickets ($40-70), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tony and Emmy Award-Winning Mandy Patinkin will headline Long Wharf's Annual Gala on Friday, June 7 at 6 p.m.  The evening, the theatre's major fundraiser, will feature elegant cocktails, small plate tastings, a silent auction, Patinkin's performance and end with a dessert reception. For more information, contact Kathy Cihi at or 203-772-8234.

A Chinese proverb warns of mounting and riding a tiger and the dangers of climbing down.  Watch this cast of players as they try to tame the wild beast.

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