What’s most important though is bringing Irving Berlin to life and not have him feel too much like a caricature, but someone with a degree of depth. Felder achieves that depth with a delicate grace and degree of legerdemain.Read More
It’s unfortunate that “The Flamingo Kid” is coming out in the wake of so many “teen musicals” like “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Be More Chill,” and “The Prom.” It would be a shame if people think it is just another coming-of-age teen show, especially since it is better than these other shows with the exception of “Be More Chill.” “The Flamingo Kid,” though not perfect, has a lot of great things to offer.Read More
For fans of British farce and the Wodehouse pair, this will be a lovely treat. For those who are less familiar and planning to see the show, you might pop into your local library and check out a P.G. Wodehouse novel.Read More
air warning: this is a play that will be difficult for parents to watch. Knowing how our actions can affect our children permanently and profoundly is difficult for many to swallow. While the scenario presented here is extreme and (I presume) fictitious, it still demonstrates how what we do in front of our children will shape who they become. And often few people want to take on the burden of that kind of responsibility.Read More
Hartford Stage’s final offering for its 2017/18 season, A Lesson from Aloes by Athol Fugard, has a setting that is at once dated and timely: during Apartheid in South Africa. For those unfamiliar with Apartheid, it was a legal system instituted after World War II to suppress nonwhite citizens of South Africa; think of it as a combination of the Jim Crow laws against the Blacks in America’s southern states and the Nuremburg laws against the Jews in Germany. It was an oppressive, extreme form of racism and social injustice, finally lifted in 1994, after negotiations following the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.Read More
When I heard that Hartford Stage was putting an Edith Wharton novel on stage, I jumped for joy. Wharton was one of my favorite novelists in my late teens and early twenties. Having started with Ethan Frome in high school, I quickly devoured her other novels and short stories. I found her descriptions of beautiful, rich interiors and high society manners engrossing, mostly due to my interest in historical fiction at the time. I also adored the tragedy that befell on her characters, and the sacrifices made by them (usually for love – because I was a typical swooning young woman at the time). For me, film adaptations vary from excellent (House of Mirth with Gillian Anderson) to mediocre (Age of Innocence with Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder), but lucky for us, Douglas McGrath’s smart, concise adaptation of Age of Innocence definitely leans toward the former: It is a worthy reworking of Wharton’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel with standout performances and stunning staging.Read More
What makes it special?
New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre Center has brought to Hartford Stage Ken Ludwig’s highly-anticipated stage adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels, Murder on the Orient Express. Already, ticket sales have been extended an additional two weeks, and I’m here to say that it is indeed worth the hype.Read More
Nancy Sasso Janis
- OnStage Connecticut Critic
- Connecticut Critics Circle
“If we remain ignorant of our history, we’re lost. –All. Is. Lost. Only shame remains, and lashing out; an eye for an eye and an I for an I; no justice, only the unquenchable thirst for retribution, repeating the same mistakes over and over and…” Mae in ‘Queens for a Year’ by T.D. Mitchell
Hartford, CT The 2016-2017 season at Hartford Stage opens with a world premiere of a play written by T.D. Mitchell entitled ‘Queens for a Year.’ Originally developed as part of the Center Theatre Group’s new play program, the play was featured at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival before receiving a workshop at Hartford Stage in March of last year.
‘Queens for a Year’ tells the riveting story of two women Marines in 2007 that struggle to find justice in a system weighted against them. One is Molly, a young, newly minted officer in the Corps, and the other is Amanda, a young enlisted woman. Together they arrive at the farmhouse of the officer’s grandmother in southern Virginia. Her family proudly boasts five generations of female Marines and four of them gather for what begins as a celebration of women’s history and grit. In flashbacks, it is revealed that their visit is actually a flight from immediate danger that is within the violent, male-entrenched culture that they have all so desperately fought to be a part of.
In fact, the title refers to a derogatory term for a female soldier or Marine that is serving her overseas tour of duty year. The implication is that even a homely female gets away with slacking off and being treated as a queen due to the lack of available women in a culture and profession of heterosexual men. Throughout the two acts, cadences, or call-and-response “work songs,” punctuate the action. All the cadences in the play are actual ones used in military training, although (not surprisingly) not all are officially sanctioned. All of them were degrading, and a few were cringe-worthy; I told myself that they added to the authenticity of this difficult story.
The cast of eight Equity actors, all but one in their Hartford Stage debut, pulls the audience into the drama with just a handful of light moments. Vanessa R. Butler stars as 2nd Lt. Molly Solinas and brings a gritty integrity to the challenging role. The younger PFC Amanda Lewis is stunningly brought to life by Sarah Nicole Deaver.
Molly’s mother is Mae Walker, a civilian midwife with a strong faith. Mary Bacon as Mae opens the play then returns in the middle of the second act; the actress does well as the only major character that was never in the military. Charlotte Maier plays Gunny Molly Walker, the grandmother of the younger Molly who is always referred to as “Gunny.” Heidi Armbruster shines as Molly’s aunt Lucy who helps care for Lucy “Grandma Lu” MacGregor, the elderly matriarch of the family whose health and mind is failing. Alice Cannon (‘Imaginary Invalid’ at Hartford Stage) plays the retired Marine with spunk.
Jamie Rezanour is credited as the female ensemble and Mat Hostetler as the Male Ensemble, but I would argue that the amount and variety of the roles they played qualifies them both as ensemble in name only. Ms. Rezanour had to master several foreign tongues and transform herself into many characters, both military and civilian and she did so easily. Mr. Hostetler’s male characters are hard to like because of his strong acting.
Cpl. Brianna Morgan Maldonado (USMC, Ret.) served as US Marine Corps Advisor to ensure authenticity and Robert H. Davis was dialect coach with Sarab Al Ani as the Arabic language advisor. Daniel Conway designed the deceptively simple set that the director Lucie Tiberghien used perfectly. Robert Perry lit the Hartford stage with realism. The costumes designed by Beth Goldenberg include crisp uniforms as well as street clothes and Jodi Stone provided the wig design. Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson served as dramaturg for this production.
I am always struck with the professional level that both plays and musicals attain at Hartford Stage. The look is modern and the productions are consistently seamless, and this piece is no exception. I found the play to be a thoroughly riveting tale that shed a sometimes harsh light on the experience of women in the military. Recent military history is woven in, as is Greek mythology, and it all somehow works.
‘Queens for a Year’ runs through the matinee on October 2, 2016, and the theater offers both open captioned performances and an audio described performance on specific dates.
Pictured: L-R: Charlotte Maier, Vanessa R Butler, Heidi Armbruster, Alice Cannon in uniform in 'Queens for a Year' Photo byT. Charles Erickson
Nancy Sasso Janis
- OnStage Connecituct Critic
Hartford, CT - ‘Anastasia’ is a brand new musical that is making its world premiere at CT’s Hartford Stage. It opened on May 21 and runs through June 19 and I was grateful to attend the final press night last Thursday. Since the show officially opened on May 27, I had tried mightily to avoid reading any reviews of the preview performances and it had not been easy. Headlines revealed that critics were loving it and friends who saw it concurred wholeheartedly, but I would not let anyone tell me anything about it.
I knew that the musical was inspired by a Twentieth Century Fox motion picture that I have never watched. The fact that it was written by Terrence McNally, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the team that brought ‘Ragtime,’ ‘Seussical,’ and ‘Once on This Island’ to the stage, told me that it would have wonderful music. Now I have learned that the composer and lyricist were also nominated for two Academy Awards for the score of the animated feature ‘Anastasia.’ Both the film and the new musical were inspired by the real life of Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov and the enduring mystery of her true identity.
Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak is the Tony Award winner for Best Direction of a Musical for ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.’ He likens this piece to Shakespeare’s late romances that tell the tales of “families torn asunder, of long and perilous voyages, and of improbable yet heartbreaking reunions...and at or near the center of each on is a mysterious and determined young woman.” He directs the musical with a keen eye, walking the fine line between competing with a film version and his vision. I suspect that his vision will please fans of the movie as well as those of us that simply come to enjoy the musical version as I did.
This sweeping musical begins in the twilight of the Russian Empire and moves to 1920’s Paris. In a nutshell, it follows a brave young woman called Anya (played to perfection by Christy Altomare) as she attempts to discover the mystery of her past while trying to find where she belongs in the rapidly changing world of the new century; that she also finds love is an added bonus. The first act had some parts that actually reminded me of ‘Ragtime.’ The line that announces the arrival of our heroine at a Russian official’s office “She’s here” echoed the line referring to ‘Ragtime’s’ Younger Brother’s arrival, “He’s here.” Russian refugees lined up at a train station for “Stay, I Pray You” made me think of “Till We Reach That Day.” It made this show even more endearing somehow, as did the song “Once Upon a December” woven into both acts.
As soon as Ms. Altomare sang her first song entitled “In My Dreams,” she had my attention. The young actress, who appeared in ‘Mamma Mia’ on Broadway, brings a wonderful spark to the title role; combined with her strong singing voice and superb acting, she brings Anya to life perfectly. She seemed overcome with emotion at her standing ovation at the curtain call. Just as strong was Derek Klena (‘The Bridges of Madison County’ and ‘Wicked’ on Broadway) as Dmitry, her romantic lead. With charm to spare, the actor is perfectly cast as a young man with a plan to escape Russia.
Mary Beth Peil is a standout in the role of the Dowager Empress, who survives the attack on the royal family because she is in Paris. With many Broadway roles to her credit, the actress brought a lovely voice and regal beauty to the aging royal grandmother.
Broadway actor John Bolton nailed the humor in the role of Vlad Popov and although his motives are less than honorable, I found it hard not to like his character. Caroline O’Connor (who played Velma Kelly in ‘Chicago’ on Broadway) almost stole the show in the second act as the Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch, a kind of lady in waiting to the Dowager. Her scenes with her former lover Vlad were priceless.
Manoel Felciano, a Tony nominee for ‘Sweeney Todd,’ played the conflicted Russian official Gleb. Lauren Blackman wore the best costume of the show as the Tsarina Alexandra and also danced as Isadora Duncan. Constantine Germanacos (‘Evita’ on Broadway) played both the Tsar Nicholas II and Count Ipolitov. The young and very cute Riley Briggs (Beth in ‘A Wonderful Life’ at Goodspeed) and Nicole Scimeca share the role of the six-year-old Anastasia and Ms. Scimeca played Prince Alexei.
The ensemble includes James Brown III (‘The Wiz Live! And ‘Wicked,’’) Maxwell Carmel (‘Only Anne’ at Goodspeed,), Max Clayton (‘Gigi’ on Broadway,), Janet Dickinson (‘Bullets Over Broadway,’) Rayanne Gonzales (‘Hands on a Hardbody,’) Ken Krugman (‘The Visit,’) Kevin Ligon (‘On the Twentieth Century,’) Katherine McLellan (BFA from The Hartt School,) Alida Michal (‘Wonderful Town’), Shina Ann Morris (‘Cinderella,’) Kevin Munhall (‘Anything Goes’ on Broadway,) Johnny Stellard (‘Evita,’) and Samantha Sturm (‘Matilda’ on Broadway.’) These supporting cast members played the doomed members of the royal family and their suitors, Swan Lake ballet dancers (beautifully,) Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, comrades, and more.
The set with many impressive projections, turntables and changes was a spectacle in itself, and I loved the falling snow effect. Show Motion, Inc. in Milford, CT built, painted and electrified the scenic elements with panache. The lighting designed by Donald Holder only improved the visuals. The costumes designed by Linda Cho made the show look both authentic and quite stunning at times. I thought that some of the wigs could have been a little better, but perhaps they were accurate to the film. The choreography of Peggy Hickey was a joy to watch.
The song “Journey to the Past,” which was nominated for the Academy Award, is included here along with five others from the film, and 16 new songs are premiered as well. The large orchestra in the pit sounded glorious under the beautiful direction of Thomas Murray; Tom Murray served as Music Director. Associate Artistic Director at Hartford Stage Elizabeth Williamson was the Dramaturg.
I loved every minute of this production and would gladly see it again. Tickets are hard to come by but would be well-worth the effort. What an honor to experience this magical show here in CT before it hopefully heads to Broadway.
- OnStage Editor-in-Chief
- Twitter: @CMPeterson81
On the title page of the program for the new musical, Anastasia, lies a small but important note. It states, "Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox Motion Pictures". This is important because if you're walking into Hartford Stage assuming a direct adaptation of the 1997 animated film, with a few exceptions, you'd be wrong. But that's what also makes this production rather marvelous.
Rather than go the Shrek/Beauty & the Beast route, with a live version of their animated origins the creative team behind Anastasia opted for a hybrid adaptation between the 1997 animated film and its 1956 Ingrid Bergman-starring counterpart. The show abandons many of the more animated/supernatural elements in favor of a more adult-oriented story line. While fans of "Bartok the Bat" might be a bit disappointed, the change mostly works.
According to Hartford Stage, “Anastasia is the romantic and rousing story of one brave young woman attempting to discover the mystery of her past while finding a place for herself in the rapidly changing world of a new century. With a rich and sweeping musical score that evokes the opulence of Russian aristocracy and the energy of Paris street life, Anastasia is the ultimate journey of a woman caught between the pull of the past and the promise of the future.”
One of the improvements from its animated film is the treatment of its source material. While the animated film glanced over the reality of the historical truth, this production addresses it throughout in poignant fashion.
As Anya, Christy Altomare is a star in the making. With pitch-perfect vocals but with an even more grounded and affecting acting performance, Ms. Altomare is everything you would want in this role. While she nails the iconic songs like the Act 1 finale "Journey to the Past", she's even more outstanding in the moments when she's not singing.
While the character of Dmitry isn't given much more depth in this version than he had in the movie, he's certainly given more material, which Derek Klena takes full advantage. With strong vocals Mr. Klena's voice is perfectly matched with many of the new songs from Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens, which are, in some cases, just as good or better than the work they did on the animated film.
Providing humorous support are John Bolton and Caroline O'Connor as Vlad and Lily respectively. Their number, "The Countless and the Common Man", is the show's comedic highlight. CT theatre favorite Mary Beth Peil is simply stunning as the Dowager Empress. Her scenes with Ms. Altomare are some of strongest in this production.
The only character that I found to be problematic was a new character named, Gleb. While wonderfully performed by Manoel Felciano, the character serves as an unnecessary antagonist, as much as Rasputin was in the animated film. The character ended up becoming more of a hindrance to the overall production rather than aiding it, especially late in Act 2.
By now it should be clear that Darko Tresnjak is one of the most creative names when it comes to staging his productions. We saw it with Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder and it's very clear in Anastasia. The entire production feels like a dance on the perfect tempo but slows down and speeds up when it needs to.
This production is not only gorgeous to listen to but to look at as well. Alexander Dodge also lives up to his reputation as one of the best scenic designers today with his sleek and movable designs. The train car scene is a study in the combination of scenic design and video/projection, provided by Aaron Rhyne, who really deserves an award for his work on this show. Linda Cho's costume work is once again superb as is Donald Holder's lighting.
Finally, I must commend Peggy Hickey on some of her best choreography yet. While I found her work on last year's Kiss Me Kate to be particularly excellent, she goes even further here with everything from ballroom to ballet to the Charleston.
All in all, Anastasia is sensational and given its expected move to Broadway next year, I'd say the future is looking bright for this fairy-tale musical about a young woman trying to find out who she really is.
"I didn’t know their names. I’d never heard their voices. I didn’t even know them by sight, strictly speaking, for their faces were too small to fill in with identifiable features at that distance. Yet I could have constructed a timetable of their comings and goings, their daily habits and activities. They were the rear-window dwellers around me."
This is the opening paragraph of "It Could Be Murder", Cornell Woolrich's short story which would serve as the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's classic film Rear Window, which has been adapted into a perfectly suspenseful and engaging production which opened tonight at Hartford Stage.
While the plot, for the most part, follows Woolrich's writing, fans of Hitchcock's masterpiece won't be disappointed with what director Darko Tresnjak has put together.
Hartford Stage describes the story as, "A sweltering New York summer. A man confined to his wheelchair spends hour after hour watching his neighbors. Is he imagining things, or has he witnessed a murder?"
As the broken-legged, wheelchair bound Jeffries, Kevin Bacon erases any wonderment of seeing a big Hollywood star in the flesh, with his gritty and penetrating performance. Serving more as a conduit for those characters around him, Mr. Bacon allows the audience to feel the tension of a man who is either on to something or possibly losing his mind.....maybe both.
One major difference from both the film and original text is the character of Sam, boldly played by McKinley Belcher III. While some of the current event tie-ins felt forced at times, the character is a striking addition to the story.
Walking the line of likable comic relief and dis-likable needle, John Bedford Lloyd turns in a solid performance as does Melinda Page Hamilton playing two roles that I won't state here because that would give too much away.
And while resembling the furthest thing from Raymond Burr, Robert Stanton serves as a brilliant casting choice as a man pushed to the brink and under suspicion.
The final character in this stunning production has no dialogue at all but might be the most memorable, and that is the glorious set design from Alexander Dodge. Mr. Dodge has raised his very high standard to even greater heights with a design that features one of the most awe inspiring transitions I've seen on stage. The movement actually drew gasps and applause from the audience.
Also adding to the overall tone are Linda Cho's smart and symbolic costume design, York Kennedy's fitting lighting design and Jane Shaw's tension building sound.
For those lucky enough to have tickets for this sold out limited run, they're in store for quite an experience. Keith Reddin's adaptation is much more than just a crime story, it's a statement on our voyeuristic culture and "need to know" obsessions. I have a feeling that Darko Tresnjak's latest master work will stay with me for some time.
REAR WINDOW features an ensemble of nine, including Dan Bender, Erik Bloomquist, Ashley Croce, Roy Donnelly, Barbara Gallow, Caitlin Harrity, William Squier and Quinn Warren.
The production stage manager is James Harker.
The sold out production runs through Nov. 15.
Nancy Sasso Janis
Hartford Stage is presenting the world premiere of ‘An Opening in Time’ by Pulitzer Prize finalist and CT native Christopher Shinn. The production, under the direction of Oliver Butler of The Debate Society, opened on Sept. 16. Now in their 51st year, Hartford Stage is one of the nation’s leading resident theatres and is known for producing innovative revivals of classics, as well as provocative new plays and musicals. Darko Tresnjak is the current artistic director and won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ that premiered at this very theatre. I so regret not heading to Hartford to catch this show before it moved on to Broadway.
I did travel to Hartford for the press opening of this new play by a CT native and was very impressed by the look and feel of the venue that is currently under renovation. Since it was my first time at the theatre, I couldn’t really speak to the changes made, but there were no signs of construction that I noticed. The arrangement of the house reminded me of an upscale college lecture hall and there did not appear to be a bad seat in it.
The setting of this two-act play was inspired by the playwright’s hometown of Wethersfield and there are definitely CT references that state residents will notice. In ‘An Opening in Time,’ Anne (Deborah Hedwall) is a retired teacher that has returned to the suburban town in central CT which she left several years before. Many things have changed in the town. There has been a proliferation of Dunkin Donuts franchises and the local high school plans to do a production of ‘Rent.’ Key to the time opening in the title is a long-lost friendship that suddenly appears in a new guise; the action explores how Anne tries to find connections in her shifting world.
Hartford Stage Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson serves as dramaturg for the play that she calls perhaps her favorite to date by this playwright. She writes, “His psychological acuity is always impressive, and never more so than in this play as he tracks the risks his characters are and are not capable of taking, in the hope of having a second chance--at love, at reconciliation, perhaps as self-knowledge.”
I am not sure that I caught all of those nuances but I definitely found the plot interesting. I found the first act to be engrossing and very funny but the second felt a little forced at times. As a teacher with an interest in all things theatre, I enjoyed the references to the lives of teachers and probably laughed at lines that no one else found funny. Some of the current topics covered include marriage equality, transgender youth and the controversial nature of the aforementioned high school version of ‘Rent.’
Hartford Stage has cast a fine group of actors to play the residents of this CT town. Ms. Hedwall, in her Hartford Stage debut, brings her experience as a teacher to the role of this woman in her sixties and makes us care about her character. Patrick Clear also makes his Hartford Stage debut in the role of Anne’s old friend Ron and he made it interesting to watch his character navigate the rekindling of his relationship with her. Katie Brazda plays the cranky diner waitress who has little patience for anyone. Her Polish accent and timing were equally on point.
Molly Camp, in her Hartford Stage debut, plays Anne’s neighbor Kim, who is the foster mother to George, a teen with a violent past played by Brandon Smalls. Bill Christ plays Frank, a man who hangs out with Ron at the diner. Their engaging interactions at the counter were fun to watch. Mike Keller plays a police detective and Karl Miller appears as Anne’s tortured son Sam.
The production values of this piece were top notch in every way. Antje Ellermann designed the set that could be any town in our state, with bare trees, gray tones and quiet street sounds. The set decoration was spot on, from the back of the diner counter to the couches of Tom’s man cave. Costumes by Ilona Somogyi were current and authentic and the lighting designed by Russell H. Champa was pretty inspired. Scene changes were handled with scenery silently rising from the floor of the stage; the two changes where crew members had to come onstage gently reminded me that they actually were backstage. The direction of Mr. Butler made for a slow pace at times and I wondered why some actors had entire conversations with another actor with their back to the majority of the audience.
‘An Opening in Time’ runs through October 11 at Hartford Stage. There is garage parking that is conveniently located next to the theater.
You can tell when you're seeing a Darko Tresnjak directed production. Beyond the creative staging and stellar design (mostly provided by the excellent Alexander Dodge), what is very clear is Mr. Tresnjak's adoration for the material he's presenting. The result is a fully realized production, rich with artistic performance. His latest offering of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate is another example of trademark Darko Tresnjak excellence.
Kiss Me, Kate is the story of a production of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of The Shrew,” which in the musical is being mounted at a Baltimore theatre. Fred Graham (Mike McGowan) directs the show and plays Petruchio, the lead. Fred’s ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Anastasia Barzee) plays Katherine in the show, though, only serving to complicate their relationship. “Kiss Me, Kate” takes place exactly one year after Fred and Lilli’s divorce.
Fred has started falling for Lois Lane (Megan Sikora), who plays Bianca. Lois, however, dates Bill Calhoon (Tyler Hanes), who plays Lucentio and who has put a substantial gambling debt--a $10,000 IOU, to be exact--in Fred’s name. Naturally, this causes two gangsters (Joel Blum and Brendan Averett) to come looking for Fred and demand the money from him.
Meanwhile, Fred and Lilli start to re-develop their romantic feelings toward each other when Fred’s flowers and cards. Intended for Lois, the flowers accidentally get sent to his ex-wife. Fred tries to take the card away, but Lilli tucks it into her bra so she can read it later. Eventually she does, and you can imagine how the chaos begins.
Mr. McGowan and Ms. Barzee are perfectly cast as the ex-spouses. They sing Porter's music the way its supposed to be sang. Better yet, they have the right amount of chemistry to make the fights and passion seem real.
Stealing every scene they're in are Ms. Sikora and Mr. Hanes with not only incredible dance numbers but with fun and lively performances. And Mr. Blum and Mr. Averett could not have been more perfectly cast as the two starstruck gangsters, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" is always a personal favorite.
In addition to Mr. Tresnjak's fine direction, the production features exceptional choreography from Peggy Hickey.
Ms. Hickey's knowledge of dance during that time period is illustrated in a fun and engaging way which elevates numbers such as "Tom, Dick or Harry"(which can't help itself from playing off the title a bit) and "Bianca". Her choreography in these numbers was so good that I found myself wanting more during the more iconic numbers such as "Another Op'nin' Another Show" and "Too Darn Hot".
Alexander Dodge continues to amaze with his scenic design, as does Fabio Toblini and Philip S. Rosenberg with Costumes and Lighting respectively.
While the show is true to the time it was written, especially when it comes to the roles of women, this production treats those moments with a wink and with some creative staging, even dismisses some of them.
If you're not headed to the beach or campground this weekend, I highly recommend this. In the program, Mr. Tresnjak states that it's taken him 25 years to direct Kiss Me, Kate, I'd say this was well worth the wait.
The show at the Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford, runs through June 14. Running time of the show is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets are $25 to $85. Information at 860-527-5151 and hartfordstage.org
Alicia Dempster / Critic One of the great ironies of this day and age is how, with the advent of omnipresent technology, we are more connected than we have ever been yet our ability to have meaningful connections with one another has grown more and more challenging. This notion serves as the through line for Matthew Lopez’s latest play, Reverberation, now playing at The Hartford Stage.
Jonathan (Luke Macfarlane) is a greeting card illustrator who lives an isolated life in his apartment in Astoria, Queens. Content to be ordering his groceries from Fresh Direct as easily as he does his sexual encounters from Grindr, he avoids any interaction that could compromise the protective shell he has so meticulously constructed around himself. When the free-spirited Claire (Aya Cash) moves into the apartment upstairs, she begins to scratch at the surface of a deeply wounded man and the two become friends.
Reverberation is the third play that Lopez has premiered at Hartford Stage and completes what he has unofficially dubbed his “Agoraphobia Trilogy.” His previous plays include the widely-produced The Whipping Man and last year’s Somewhere. In all three plays, the principal characters have withdrawn from a world they perceive to be threating and dangerous.
In this play, Lopez explores the intricacies of intimacy in relationships, whether they are sexual or platonic, straight or gay. Through the three characters in Reverberation, we see how past relationships and personal experience can influence new relationships and how they are perceived. For some, a relationship based on shared thoughts and feelings can be more profound than a physical one, while for others a physical relationship can serve as the catalyst for seeking a deeper connection.
While technology enables a constant link to one another that we have grown dependent upon, it has also formed a sense alienation. Throughout the play, Johnathan is insistent upon maintaining tactile relationships – whether it holding his books or newspaper or comforting a distressed lover or friend. That desire to gaze into someone’s eyes, to connect to a memory via music or to hold someone’s hand reverberates from Johnathan’s past into his present, sometimes with unfortunate results.
Lopez certain has an aptitude for writing dialogue that makes it easy to become drawn into the lives of the characters he creates. Despite some of the intensely dramatic revelations that occur throughout the play, Lopez is able to find the funny human moments that often coexist alongside tragedy. However, the monologues tend to go on and begin to feel preachy or as though Lopez is trying too hard to be profound. The greatest moments in the play are the simplistic and natural ones. Additionally, there are certain moments that come off more as a mechanism to get to the next scene or moment. The lengthy and dramatic scene at the end of Act Two is followed by what felt like a very rushed ending of the play.
Director Maxwell Williams does a fine job pulling nuanced yet powerful performances from all three actors. Macfarlane delivers a charismatic and layered performance as Johnathan. Cash’s Claire is whimsical and heartbreaking while Carl Lundstedt as Johnathan’s hapless lover Wes is both charming and poignant.
Andromache Chalfant’s set design, a massive two-story construction with identical apartments atop one another, is splendid. It is through the fourth wall of this scrupulous decorated set that we peer, almost voyeuristically, into the lives of these three characters. Matthew Richards lighting design splendidly provides the proper tone and Tei Blow’s sound design contributes a solid soundscape for the production. Linda Cho’s costume design is contemporary and fun, especially for Claire, who “borrows” several of her pieces from her employer.
Reverberation is a captivating play about contemporary interpersonal relationships and how we maneuver the obstacles that we face when attempting to connect.
Performances continue through March 15. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30pm. Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm. Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm. For details and tickets, visit www.hartfordstage.org.