Monday, January 13, 2014

With red carpets and award shows virtually every night on television, now might be a good time to review some of the finest offerings this year on Connecticut stages.  Just because our state is sandwiched between New York and Boston, we do not need to apologize for what we produce.  Quite the contrary, we can be proud of all the excellent productions that are available for viewing from Westport to Norwich, New Haven to Hartford, and everywhere in between.

While it is impossible to single out every great show, it is worthy to note the following as examples of the fine quality that hopefully you took advantage of in 2013.  One might take pause when reading the title "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" as a heavy as cinder blocks drama, but you would be wildly wrong. New Haven's Yale Repertory Theatre presented this play by Dario Fo as the ultimate in slapstick comedy and it was non-stop silliness.  Based on a true story in Italy in 1969 about an anarchist arrested for a bank bombing and questioned for days by the police, the suspect jumped or was pushed to his death.  Do you see the humor yet?  Trust me, it was there.

The humor continued in Hartford Stage's amazing production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" where yellow gartered stockings and a mysterious love letter lead to mischief and confusion on a wonderful garden set. Down the street at the Hartford TheaterWorks, the focus of attention was on Dr, Ruth and her fascinating life, courtesy of Mark St. Germain.  Debra Jo Rupp brought this pint-sized sex therapist to sparkling life and the show has gone on to Broadway.

If you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes, perhaps you caught West Hartford's Playhouse on Park's hilarious production of "Hound of the Baskervilles" where the spoof and the fun went from the drawing room to the moors and back again.  If you are a little more adventurous, you might have ventured up to the University of Connecticut at  Storrs for one of Connecticut Repertory's outstanding shows, like "Hairspray" where a courageous teen dances her way into your heart and provides a lesson in fighting intolerance along the way.

Goodspeed Musicals are famous for the quality of their shows and this time around "The Most Happy Fella" was at the top.  Here we met a man who was never smart or handsome, who is now older in years, but who still wants happiness and love.  Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam on the Connecticut River has a second theater in Chester nearby that devotes itself to brand new works.  This season "Snapshots" delighted when it explored a couple on the cusp of separation who find their hearts again, using the magical music of composer Stephen Schwartz in the process.

If you don't mind pulling out the GPS, Westport is worth a ride.  The Westport Country Playhouse did a lovely job recreating A. R. Gurney's "The Dining Room" where a fine ensemble cast explored the foibles and fantasies of an upper- class  society, known affectionately as WASPS.  Just across the street is an intimate black box theater, Music Theater of Connecticut, where the audience was treated to a "Master Class" with the opera diva Maria Callas.

When you speak of a master class, perhaps the highlight of the year was Long Wharf's sterling production of August Wilson's "Fences," where Phylicia Rashad's sensitive direction offered insights into the life of Troy Maxson, powerfully captured by Esau Pritchett.  Troy was an everyman, an African-American whose career as a baseball player misses being a home run.

If you misses these great offerings, now is the time to make a resolution to make a date with a Connecticut theater near or far.  It's well worth the trip

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