“Vera’s Story”

Author Frances Y. Evan at Stratford Library Sunday Afternoon Talks

Sunday November 6th 2 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Stratford Library Lovell Room

The Stratford Library continues “Sunday Afternoon Talks”, its series of informative and entertaining talks featuring prominent local guest speakers, with Stratford’s Frances Y. Evan, author of “Vera’s Story: Hidden Scars of War”, on Sunday, November 6th. The talk will be presented live in the Library’s Lovell Room.  It is free and open to the public.

In “Vera’s Story” a young girl suffers personal loss with the death of her father during WWII and must endure all the hardships living in a frequently bombed suburb of London with her mother.  Displaced from their home, the two are compelled to remain strong and to make the best life possible for themselves whether in an air raid shelter, living in rented rooms, or navigating bombed out streets.  The losses, terror, rationing, and the huge sacrifice of childhood and education, remained with Vera throughout her life.  A popular wartime adage became Vera’s abiding principal by which to live. Keep Calm and Carry On.

Stratford author Frances Y. Evan was born in England and wrote “Vera’s Story” as a tribute to her mother.  When her mother passed away several years ago, Evan decided that her story must be told. “Vera’s Story” tells the tale of a not so ordinary, ordinary woman whose memories of war were never far below the surface.  Evan is also the author of several young adult titles as well as adult historical fiction.

The “Sunday Afternoon Talks” series, hosted by Charles Lautier of Stratford, is held from 2-3:30 p.m. in the Stratford Library Lovell Room, 2203 Main Street.  For further information visit: www.stratfordlibrary.org , or call the Library at: 203.385-4162

“Mississippi Delta”

Westport Playhouse

Closes October 30th
If You Ask Me

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

“Mississippi Delta” Closes Westport Playhouse Season
The Westport Country Playhouse has concluded their rather uneven season with a solid revival of “From the Mississippi Delta” by Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland.

The memory play based on Holland’s life was first seen in Connecticut in 1991 at Hartford Stage. In Hartford I recall being blown away by Holland’s journey set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. It was a more muted response from me in Westport.

“From the Mississippi Delta” is a series of vignettes – some humorous, some horrific, some quite moving – about life in the area between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers in the northwest of the state of Mississippi and how one woman overcame obstacles there in order to become a doctor.

Three women (Claudia Logan, Tameishia Peterson, Erin Margaret Pettigrew) play a variety of characters – old and young, black and white, men and women – and also each play the good doctor at various points in her life. The actors all have their moments with scenes that depict childbirth, a graduation, a funeral, but Pettigrew seems the most connected in her various roles. With the addition of commentary about the Civil Rights movement, the play takes on some added weight but it remains personal storytelling that often resonates but still stalls here and there.

Part of the problem at Westport is Jason Ardizzone-West’s mammoth scenic design which depicts a two story, slat wooden structure. In a play that craves intimacy, the WCP set nearly devours the cast along with their stories. As a result, director Goldie E. Patrick has to continually keep her actors busy utilizing the various stage areas, climbing stairs, etc. Also the play would benefit from being performed without intermission so the flow of the stories is uninterrupted.

John D. Alexander’s lighting creates several stunning stage pictures throughout and composer Michael Keck has contributed some effective, melancholy music. All told, this is a well-acted and mostly engrossing biographical drama.

“From the Mississippi Delta” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court in Westport through October 30th. Masks are suggested but not required. For further information, call the box office at: 203-227-4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

“The Mouse Trap”

An Agatha Christie Presentation

Hartford Stage Until November 6th
If You Ask Me

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

Classic Christie Opens Hartford Stage Season
Hartford Stage has opened its new season with an Agatha Christie chestnut and one of the longest running plays of all time, “The Mousetrap”. The classic mystery looks good in Hartford, but is seriously lacking in other areas.

Set in a snowbound guesthouse outside of London, “The Mousetrap” opens with news that a recent murder has been committed just as seven strangers gather at the home. These include a motley crew of colorful characters that include a disagreeable old judge, Mrs. Boyle (Yvette Ganier), a flamboyant self-proclaimed architect named Christopher Wren (Christopher Geary) and a verbose Italian, Mr. Paravicini (Jason O’Connell) who apparently can’t stop dancing. Of course they all become suspects including the newly married couple (Sam Morales and Tobias Segal) who run the guesthouse. When Detective Sergeant Trotter (Brendan Dalton) arrives on the scene (on skis!), it’s not long before murder most foul rears its ugly head.

All of this is Christie in her prime although I would argue that her “Ten Little Indians” is a similar and far better plotted mystery. At Hartford Stage what works best is the drop-dead gorgeous scenic design that Riw Rakkulchon has created for the play. It is an expansive space with multiple entrances and exits, plush leather furniture, smoldering fireplace and spectacular upstage windows draped in yards of rich fabric with a view of falling snow. Every inch of the stage is worth examining from eclectic furniture pieces to the antler and sword displays on the wall. This is a set that defines murder mystery and designer Krista Smith moodily and effectively lights it all.

But then there’s the acting. Under Jackson Gay’s busy direction, her company of actors have decided to really “ACT” as they each attempt to make their characters more outrageous and hammy every time they enter the room.

Humor is a big part of the mystery, of course, but murder suspects should also be grounded in some kind of reality. With these extremely broad characterizations, there is little at stake. Primary culprit here is O’Connell whose thick accent, constant eye rolls and non-stop twirling of cane and tapping of toes made one wish he would become an early victim.

Dalton’s police detective shouted every line at the top of his lungs and Geary’s talkative Christopher Wren is singularly tiresome. Both Morales and Segal fare best here as the married couple who have a few secrets they have kept from each other.

I question costumer Fabian Fidel Aguilar’s decision to have characters in the same clothes over a two-day period. The use of original music (by Broken Chord) to underscore scenes like we were watching a movie, is ultimately more distracting than dramatic. But “The Mousetrap” is almost foolproof as entertainment and forgiving mystery lovers will no doubt enjoy every exaggerated minute of this otherwise problematic revival.

““The Mousetrap” continues at Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street in Hartford through November 6th. Masks are suggested but not required. For further information, call the box office or visit: www.boxoffice@hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

“Virginia Woolf” Featured at Yale Repertory Theatre

If You Ask Me

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

Yale Rep Offers Stunning Revival of “Virginia Woolf”
Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” gets a first-rate revival at the Yale Repertory Theatre, the first professional Connecticut production of this masterpiece in over 40 years according to Artistic Director James Bundy.

Bolstered by two powerhouses in the lead roles and directed by Bundy, this is a “Virginia Woolf” to savor.

George (a merely brilliant Dan Donohue) and Martha (Rene Augesen) are a long-married couple stumbling home at 2 a.m. after a cocktail party on the campus where George is an associate history professor. Martha is the daughter of the college’s President and has belittled her husband daily for his lack of ambition.

The play depicts the all-night battle royale between this fractured couple when the younger Nick and Honey, who Martha has invited over for drinks at the suggestion of her father, enter the scene. Honey (Emma Pfitzer Price) and new Biology professor Nick (Nate Janis) have no idea what they’ve walked into and over the next two acts covering three hours, they will be subjected to lies, illusions and bitter accusations and truths.

Although it was written in 1962, there is nothing really dated about this period piece. The dialogue still stings, the domestic abuse is all too real, and the illusions within a marital contract can still fester and destroy.

Albee’s icy dialogue and lacerating wit is in full flower here, and both Donohue and Augesen attack their roles with relish. In lesser hands this very verbal play could dissolve into just hours of endless bickering, but the key performances here elevate the material to the high level it deserves and they never forget the biting humor.

Donohue’s subtle passive aggressive demeanor delivers a cutting zinger every few minutes and his rejoinders sizzle and spark. As the blowsy and bitter Martha, Augesen finds the inner humanity of her character even while screaming obscenities and denigrating her husband. Her scotch and cigarette fueled voice is used expertly throughout.

It may not be totally the fault of Price and Janis that their Honey and Nick never quite match the lead actors in performance. Janis, in particular, seems in a different play at times with his game show host voice and one-note characterization. Price fairs better especially with her drunken scenes, but we never really get the sense that both characters should be a future George and Martha in the making. Still, the couple come through in the clutch and their final moments late in the play register effectively.

James Bundy has total command of the script and brings Albee’s words to stinging life here. Martha and George’s home is perfectly realized by designer Miguel Urbino with details in a residence that is slowly going to seed. I loved the oblong windows that frame the front door which, beautifully lit by Jiahao (Neil) Qui, resemble a pair of all-seeing eyes. Credit to Qui’s final effect of morning light through the side windows casting dramatic shadows across the devastated figures of George and Martha. Truly haunting. In all, this is a superb production of Albee’s great play. Don’t miss it.
“Who’s Afraid Virginia Woolf?” continues at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street in New Haven, through October 29th. Masks are required at all performances. For further information, call the box office at: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

“Fun Home” – A Musical

TheaterWorks in Hartford

If You Ask Me

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

A Moving “Fun Home” at TheaterWorks
I recall sitting at the original 2015 Broadway production of “Fun Home” and thinking, “This is a perfect musical for TheaterWorks.” The small-scale and immensely moving Tony Award winning show is now being presented in a fine rendering at the Hartford theatre. Someone listened!

“Fun Home” is an adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir with music by Jeanine Tesori and book/lyrics by Lisa Kron. The story follows Bechdel’s coming to terms with being a lesbian and her relationship with her closeted gay father, a funeral director, and high school English teacher. Her attempts to discover what made the man tick is told in a series of non-linear vignettes connected by Bechdel and her younger selves.

At TheaterWorks Sarah Beth Pfeifer as the present-day Bechdel (a dead-ringer for the real graphic artist), Julia Nightingale as college-age Alison, and Skylar Lynn Matthews, a dynamo as young Alison, nicely realize these three roles.

The ingenious structure of the musical, which is performed without intermission for over 95 minutes, bounces off these characters at different times in their lives as they reveal more about themselves and their mercurial father (Aaron Lazar, excellent in a difficult role).

Tesori and Kron’s brilliant score includes a coming-of-age song for each of the Alisons and the women deliver the goods with each. Pfeifer brings painful intensity to “Telephone Wire” where she attempts an honest conversation with her dad; Nightingale’s heartfelt rendition of “Changing My Major” is a hilarious and passionate ode to burgeoning sexuality; and young Matthews is a major find singing “Ring of Keys” about her first same-sex attraction.

Although Christiane Noll (memorable as the bipolar mom in TW’s “Next To Normal” a few seasons back), doesn’t have a lot to do here as Alison’s mother, she sings the hell out of her one major song late in the musical, “Days and Days”.

Some small quibbles must be noted, however. The upbeat Partridge Family-inspired “Come to the Fun Home” is a crowd-pleaser, but somewhat less so due to the blurry diction of Alison’s brothers, Christian (Myles Low) and John (Sam Duncan). Ali Louis Bourzgui is saddled with four roles which may be three too many for the actor. Although the intimacy of TheaterWorks is ideal for this musical, Luke Cantarella’s set design and especially Camilla Tassi’s projections do little to enhance the show. The busy proscenium arch distracts from the projections as does the unattractive slatted wood wall located upstage.

Rob Ruggiero directs with his customary polish and his casting is mostly spot-on. The efficient band, under the musical direction of Jeff Cox, is superior. “Fun Home” is an unusual, intelligent musical about growing up with imperfect parents. It is well worth seeking out.

“Fun Home” has already been extended through November 6th at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street in Hartford. Masks are required at Wednesday and Saturday matinees and optional at all other performances. For further information, call the box office at: 860.527.7838 or visit: www.hartfordtheaterworks.org

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

Poli’s Palace & Majestic Theatres Memories Project

New Art Exhibit Coming to Stratford’s Baldwin Center

Wednesday, November 9th from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Jay Misencik and Geralene Valentine are hosting an opening of their exhibit, Poli’s Palace & Majestic Theatres Memories Project at the Baldwin Center Gallery. The opening of the exhibit will be held on November 9th, and the event will run from 4:00-6:00 p.m.

The Memories Project brings to life the two magnificent dormant theatres of the Poli Palace and Majestic Theatre.  The exhibit looks to complement the stunning architectural photos of the two theatres which encompass the true beauty of the structures while simultaneously highlighting the complexity of the architectural work itself.

Within the exhibit, participants openly share memories of their time spent at the two theatres, including first dates and many other experiences. We welcome you to stop by to see the photographs, to listen to stories from visitors of the theatres, and to share memories pertaining to experiences had at the theatres.

Stratford’s Baldwin Center is located at 1000 West Broad Street, Stratford.  For more information, please call 203-385-4050 or email seniorservices@townofstratford.com

Rose Window Concert Series

Featuring David Allen Wehr
Saturday, October 29th

First Church Stratford Sanctuary at 4 p.m.

First Church Stratford’s Rose Window Concerts resume on Saturday, October 29th, with an all-Chopin concert by pianist David Allen Wehr. The concert is at 4 p.m.in the church sanctuary, 2301 Main Street. There is no admission fee.

Wehr is Dean of the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he holds the Jack W. Geltz Distinguished Piano Chair.

In 1987 he moved to Norwalk, months before his international career was launched when he won the Gold Medal at the Santander International Piano Competition in Spain. The resulting tours have taken him to over 30 countries in Europe, North and South America, and the Far East, including performances in the world musical capitals of New York, London, Paris, Vienna, Washington, Madrid, and Buenos Aires.

Over 1,300 concerts include 13 seasons of touring the United States and Canada for Community Concerts as soloist and as pianist with the Sartory Trio. Wehr has been soloist with the London Symphony, National Symphony, Chautauqua Symphony, Houston Symphony, New Zealand Symphony, and all the major Spanish and Latin American orchestras. Read more at:

 www.davidallenwehr.com

 

The New York Times called him “a man who so strongly believes in his ideas that they come across as statements of musical fact.” The American Record Guide stated, “David Allen Wehr is one of those great talents who play circles around most of their contemporaries. Few pianists have so consistently produced such exemplary, idiomatic, intellectually rigorous, and emotionally generous music. He is an uncommonly free, expressive player whose huge but unobtrusive technical apparatus never draws attention to itself but is put squarely in the service of musical values. He is more than a pianist’s pianist; he is a musician’s musician.”

The Rose Window Concert Series features nationally and internationally renowned musicians, as well as local artists. For more information about concerts and other church events, please visit:

www.firstchurchstratford.org

 

Friends of Square One Theatre

Square One Theatre cast members Lillian Garcia and David Victor from the cast of The Dining Room, opening November 2nd and continuing through November 20th

Offered Sneak Peak of New Season
The Dining Room

Opens Thursday, November 3rd
Stratford Academy: Johnson House, 719 Birdseye Street

Friends of Square One Theatre Company, the volunteer organization of the Stratford-based theatre, held its first meeting of the new season after a two-year pandemic delay on Tuesday, October 18th at the Stratford Library.

The meeting focused on the theatre’s gala re-opening of AR Gurney’s The Dining Room on Thursday, November 3rd and continuing through November 20th.

A short business meeting, conducted by Friends President Carole Fanslow and a presentation of upcoming Friends Events related to the conclusion of the theatre’s 30th anniversary began the evening’s program. The Friends are currently making plans for their annual spring luncheon fundraiser as well as other volunteer activities.

Mayor Laura Hoydick welcomed Square One Theatre back to the stage of Stratford Academy after an absence of 2 ½ years due to pandemic.

Artistic Director Tom Holehan discussed the theatre’s re-opening production, AR Gurney’s classic comedy, The Dining Room. Actors Danielle Sultini (Milford), David Victor (Fairfield), Jo Kulp (North Haven), Lillian Garcia (Woodbridge), Bruce Murray (Stratford) and Ryan Hendrickson (New Haven) previewed scenes from the play about the WASP upper classes and their foibles and misadventures.

A question/answer session with the actors and director followed the preview.

For further information, call the Square One Theatre Company at 203.375.8778.

 

Goodspeed Opera House Has You Tapping Your Feet!

“42nd” Street
Runs until November 6th

If You Ask Me
By Tom Holehan

Those Dancing Feet Are Now at Goodspeed
If there is a more perfect pairing of a theatre with a musical then Connecticut’s jewel box Goodspeed Opera House and the longtime hit, “42nd Street”?

Clearly a match made in musical comedy heaven. Even if this particular production results in a good not great revival, it will still please many especially those (like myself) who are putty in the hands (feet) of tap dancers!

The quintessential backstage musical, “42nd Street” introduces novice dancer Peggy Sawyer (wide-eyed Carina-Kay Louchiey) of Allentown, Pennsylvania about to get her big break in a new Broadway show. It will star diva Dorothy Brock (an imperious Kate Baldwin) and is directed by the combustible Julian Marsh (Max von Essen), who initially fires Peggy but then begs her to take over when his star becomes disabled.

With a wink and a nod, all the stereotypes and clichés are firmly in place in this 1980 Broadway Tony winner with music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble based on the novel by Bradford Ropes and the 1933 Busby Berkeley film.

At Goodspeed, there is much that is right and even thrilling at times about this “42nd Street” beginning with the work by director/choreographer Randy Skinner who pushes those dancing feet in a spectacular opening number that nearly stops the show before it starts.

There has always been a strong company of dancers at Goodspeed and it’s also nice to see the theatre has finally gotten the diversity memo and employs actors who represent a cross-section of America. The women, in particular, are quite strong here. Louchiey is the triple threat of dancer/singer/actress the role demands showcased impressively late in the musical with her performance of the title song.

Longtime Broadway star Baldwin delivers the goods as the formidable diva who brings stirring pathos to her best song, “I Only Have Eyes for You”. Lisa Howard is a hoot as a writer who can also belt to beat the band.

One wishes that the handsome von Essen with his powerhouse vocals could more comfortably embrace the clichés of his character and be bigger-than-life. There is no need for subtlety with this role. The same is true for Blake Stadnik’s brash tenor, Billy Lawlor, who also has the vocal chops but seems tentative in his acting. The less said about David Jennings’ clownish and unfunny Abner Dillon, Dorothy’s sugar daddy, the better, and Patrick Oliver Jones is surprisingly bland as her secret lover.

Best of all at Goodspeed, though, are the remarkable series of beautiful projections designed by Shawn Duan who manages a miracle of sorts making the theatre’s postage-stamp size stage look expansive. In perfect harmony with scenic designer Michael Carnahan, the settings have rarely looked better at Goodspeed.

Kara Harmon’s period costuming and Cory Pattak’s lighting also deserve high marks as does Adam Souza’s polished music direction. Director Randy Skinner won a Tony nomination for his work on the original Broadway production and Goodspeed is fortunate to have him at the helm. Despite some reservations, you will no doubt have a good time at his spiffy production.
“42nd Street” continues at Goodspeed, 6 Main Street, East Haddam, Connecticut through November 6th. Masks are encouraged but not required at all performances. For further information, call the box office at: 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

Square One Theatre Offers Reopening Preview

Friends of the Square One Theatre Company

First Meeting of New Season Set for Tuesday, October 18th
Stratford Library at 7 p.m.

Friends of Square One Theatre Company, the volunteer organization of the Stratford-based theatre, will hold its first meeting of the new season after a two year delay due to the pandemic, on Tuesday, October 18th at 7 p.m. at the Stratford Library.  The meeting, which is free, open to the public and held in the Library’s Lovell Room, will focus on the theatre’s gala reopening on November 3rd.

A short business meeting, conducted by President Carole Fanslow and a rundown of upcoming Friends events related to the conclusion of the theatre’s 30th anniversary will begin the program.

The Friends are currently making plans for their annual spring lunch fundraiser as well as other volunteer activities.  Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick will be the special guest.

Artistic Director Tom Holehan will discuss the theatre’s opening production, AR Gurney’s classic comedy, “The Dining Room”.  Actors Danielle Sultini, David Victor, Jo Kulp, Lillian Garcia and Ryan Hendrickson will perform scenes from the play about the WASP upper classes and their foibles and misadventures.  A question/answer session will follow the preview. Light refreshments will also be served.

For further information, call the Square One Theatre Company at 203.375.8778.