Nancy Sasso Janis
OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle
“We are what we are and what we are is an illusion.
We love how it feels
Putting on heels causing confusion.” - “We Are What We Are” from ‘La Cage Aux Folles’
The people of Two Planks Theater Company in Monroe pride themselves on being dedicated to the idea of building community through theater and providing every individual with the opportunity to grow through self-expression and performance. This small company built upon the two planks that troubadours would lay over their wagons as their stage continues to grow and is in the midst of their third season at their winter home at the United Methodist Church in Monroe. The founders of Two Planks are grateful to their host during this production of ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ for “sharing our vision of inclusivity and acceptance through open hearts, open minds, and open doors.”
The musical based upon a play by Jean Poiret with a book by the iconic Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman focuses on a gay couple in Saint-Tropez. Georges is the manager of a nightclub called ‘La Cage Aux Folles” that features drag entertainment and his romantic partner Albin is the star attraction. The farcical adventure begins when Georges’ son brings home his fiancee’s very conservative parents to meet his family. The title literally means “the cage of mad women” but “folles” is also slang for effeminate homosexuals; it was translated to “The Birdcage” for the (very different) Mike Nichols's film.
Susan Halliwell directed this cast that is larger than those that usually come together for the indoor shows and along with set designer/producer Brooke Burling brought us to the locale and era. The costumes and wigs designed by Jessica Ferraday sparkled and the sparkly curtain of the nightclub almost became a character in itself. Splashy choreography by Judy Abbatiello was well-lit by Rob Primorac.
The wonderful score of ‘La Cage’ was performed under the direction of Music Director Dan Koch. The seven pit musicians took over a good portion of the right side of the house and were seated in an arrangement that allowed the actors to make entrances right through them. While seats were obviously sacrificed for this configuration, it brought an intimacy to the production and the music never sounded better. Mr. Koch played keyboard and accordion, with Charles Smith on keyboard two, Leo Lavallee on trumpet, Kyle Camerato and Jessica Pietrosanti on reeds, Steve Fredricksen on upright bass and Dave Wilson substituting on drums.
John Capasso of Stratford (who played both doctors in TP’s ‘Next to Normal’) returns to this stage to play the role of Albin, the aging star of La Cage aux Folles who performs as the drag queen “Zaza.” He carried off the multiple incarnations of his fun character and gave it his all for “I Am What I Am.”
Bob Filipowich (Charles in ‘Blithe Spirit) was superb in the leading role of Georges; he brought sophistication and charm to the role of a loving father. I enjoyed every minute that he was on the stage.
Rachel Lotstein was strong in the role of restaurant owner Jacqueline and Jason Michael Maur (Barfee in ‘Spelling Bee’ and Nicky/Trekki in ‘Avenue Q’) made the most of the role of butler/maid Jacob who wants to be onstage.
Jim Nassef sang very well in the role of Georges’ son Jean Michel. Amanda Friedman played Jean-Michel’s love Anne. Larry Pisani was both stage manager Francis and townsperson Tabarro. John Ponzini returns to the stage as cafe owner Renaud and stood out in the role of the ultra-conservative father of Anne, Edouard Dindon. TP Board Member Jennifer Sokira was his partner in both as Mme. Renaud and Marie Dindon.
Alex Carrazzone was the Cagelle Babette, Janice Gabriel (Mazeppa in ‘Gypsy’) was Les Cagelles Hanna with a large whip, and Cory Murphy of Bridgeport was Les Cagelles Chantel. Newtown HS junior Maya Pranger was Les Cagelles Mercedes, Meghan Maria Quinn was Les Cagelles Bitelle, and Eric Timothy was Les Cagelles Phaedra.
It was great to see almost every seat taken at the performance I attended for this little gem of a theatre company. This summer Two Planks will present three outdoor productions, ‘Aladdin, Jr.,’ ‘Footloose,’ and ‘Spamalot,’ under the stars Monroe’s Wolfe Park.
Photos by Chatoyant Studios