Review: "Fully Committed" at TheatreWorks

Review: "Fully Committed" at TheatreWorks

It’s one of those near inevitable stops on the way to success for an actor to work at a restaurant, dealing with temperamental patrons, apathetic co-workers, and a pretentious supervisor or chef who feels that their work is the greatest gift ever given to man. Such is the case for Sam in Becky Mode’s “Fully Committed,” produced by TheaterWorks Hartford.

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Review: "Actually" at Theatreworks

Review: "Actually" at Theatreworks

Consent and truth. What do these words mean to two people who recently met, went to a party, have sex afterward, and then one of them accuses the other of rape?

In her play, “Actually,” playing through June 23 as part of TheaterWorks Hartford’s residency at The Wadsworth Atheneum, Anna Ziegler attempts to challenge our assumptions of consent by making us look at the social, racial, and gender politics that arise when a night of irresponsible behavior ends with two young Princeton students in bed. The next morning, something has happened that will change both their lives forever.

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Review: 'Girlfriend' at TheaterWorks

Review: 'Girlfriend' at TheaterWorks

It’s understandable how Matthew Sweet’s power-pop album, “Girlfriend,” could be a score to a musical. The songs were all recorded by him following his divorce in 1990 and they expose his feelings about the entire relationship. He commented to Rolling Stone, “It's funny how the album ended up showing everything I needed to feel. Everything I needed as an antidote is there." There is emotion throughout the songwriting with a natural timeline feel and flow, making it a great fit for the musical theatre genre.

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Review: "Hand to God" at TheaterWorks

Review: "Hand to God" at TheaterWorks

I always appreciate TheaterWorks’ selections being edgy and unconventional, and their latest offering, Hand to God, meets the mark.  All the advertising warning about its content is there for a reason; this is not your grandmother’s Sunday matinee. Hand to God is outrageous beyond measure; so much so that at times it’s difficult to catch your breath either from laughing or sheer awe. What makes this play unique is its layering of profane absurdity; just when you think its ungodly cup hath spilleth over, more impious antics flow forth.

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Review: 'The Tale of the Allergist's Wife' at TheatreWorks New Milford

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • @nancysjanis417

NEW MILFORD CT - TheatreWorks New Milford opened their production of ‘The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife’ by Charles Busch on Friday evening with their usual opening night gala. There was champagne and German cuisine (because Germany was referenced in the script) as the almost full house mingled with the cast and production staff after the performance. 

To say that this New York doctor’s wife is having a mid-life crisis is an understatement. TheatreWork’s first time director Debbie Levin can relate to the title character’s adventure in self-exploration and invites audiences to “contemplate your dreams vs. your life, and have a laugh when you understand that your life has been well-lived...regardless of whether it was lived as planned or took shape as it ought to be.” I am not sure that the play quite answers that big question and, for me, there were big spaces between the laughs. Be forewarned that there is some foul language that fit in well to the piece and some adult situations that really did not. It is definitely not appropriate for children and probably not something they would enjoy.

Producer Richard Pettibone also served as the designer of an early 2000 Manhattan apartment set that could have been slightly more upscale. To my mind, costumes designed by Kitty Ridenour needed to be a bit more fashionable to fit the background of the uptown characters. I liked the dimming of the lighting designed by Tom Libonate to signal the end of a scene that was often followed by long set changes in the dark. 

Photo by Richard Pettibone (l to r): Jody Bayer, MJ Hartell, and Mitch Prywes

Photo by Richard Pettibone (l to r): Jody Bayer, MJ Hartell, and Mitch Prywes

The cast members gave it their all to bring out the best of this play that definitely had some funny moments. M.J. Hartwell, by day a middle school English teacher, carried the action nicely as Marjorie, the wife in crisis. She did well with both the angst and the comedy and gave the arc of her character a nice substance. Mitchell Prywes, M.D. made his TheatreWorks debut to play the role of Dr. Ira Taub, adding a layer of authenticity to the role. Equity member Rosemary Howard also made her debut at this venue to play the fabulous Lee Green, the house guest who makes quite the splash in the Taub apartment. 

Jody Bayer of Danbury returned to TheatreWorks to play Marjorie’s Jewish mother and her performance was priceless. Perfectly cast as Frieda, Ms. Bayer had some of the funniest lines. WCSU graduate Matt Austin made the most of the small role of Mohammed the doorman and I enjoyed watching his reactions to the antics of this family as he ate his way through his too-brief appearances. 

The opening night audience laughed more than I did and seemed to enjoy even the most far-fetched twists, making me wonder if I was missing something. The off-stage meltdown at the Disney Store that resulted in broken character figurines was a funny touch, but the quips about Frieda’s digestive system and the intellectual references just felt forced to me. I agree with other reviewers that the ending could have been stronger but I did enjoy many of the interactions of the husband and wife. 

‘The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife’ continues at TheatreWorks New Milford on May 7, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22 with a curtain time of 8:00pm Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00pm on Sunday matinees. Tickets are $23 for reserved seating with discounts for students and military personnel. 

Review: 'Bell, Book & Candle' Revamped at Theatreworks New Milford

Nancy Sasso Janis

A revamped version of ‘Bell, Book & Candle’ by John Van Druten opened last night at TheatreWorks New Milford to a decent crowd. One gracious patron in front of me brought along enough candy to share. A program insert gave credit to Matt Austin for restaging the production and Richard Pettibone redesigned the set that was quickly built by James Hipp, Ash Cartwright, Frank Russo and Scott Wyshynski. 

Photo: Richard Pettibone

Photo: Richard Pettibone

Set in the fifties, the romantic comedy stars a fashionable young witch living in New York. Her  brother Nicky and slightly kooky Aunt Queenie also possess magical powers that they use on an unsuspecting and hunky neighbor of Gillian’s named Shep. The action begins on Christmas Eve and ends some two months later in this three act play. 

The piece predates both Jeannie and her Major Nelson and Samantha, Darrin and Endora and is probably a little less silly. Some might argue that it all feels a little dated as opposed to “of the period,” but the performances of the five members of the TheatreWorks cast made the production both funny and pretty magical. 

James Hipp (Bernard in TheatreWorks’ ‘Boeing, Boeing’) played the man upstairs with charm and a rapid-fire delivery, and looked very dashing in his tuxedo. Jody Bayer (Berthe in ‘Boeing, Boeing’) also returned to this stage to play the “auntie” decked out in full fifties garb. Matt Austin, who also was terrific in ‘Boeing, Boeing,’ played the warlock Nicky with a twinkle in his magical eye. Jeff Rossman, a veteran of many local productions, made his TheatreWorks debut in the role of Sidney Redlitch, the manipulated author of a book on witchcraft. 

As the magical Gillian, Jenny Schuck reminded me of a young Stockard Channing. Lithe and lovely, she practically glides around this new stage in various black ensembles that fit her perfectly. This witch is more a smart ingenue than an Elphaba, and despite the fact that she will lose her magical powers if she falls in love, we root for her happiness. Ms. Schuck was perfectly cast in this leading role as she matched Mr. Hipp word for word, and had to light more onstage matches than any actress I have ever seen. 

Admittedly, I have only seen the previous set in photos, but I found its replacement to be more muted and just as magical. Kudos to the cast members who had to relearn their blocking on this new set in a very short time; they all made it work nicely. Lighting by Mr. Pettibone and Mr. Wyshynski added to the magic. 

In case you are wondering, the title refers to three items used in excommunication rites over a thousand years ago and the name of Gillian’s “familiar spirit” cat, Pyewacket, became popular after the movie version of ‘Bell, Book & Candle’ was released in 1958. 

'Bell, Book & Candle' runs at TheatreWorks New Milford on December 18,19,20, 31 and January 2,3 8,9,10 2016.

Review ~ Nicky Silver's "The Lyons" Not Quite a Roaring Comedy

Alicia Dempster / OnStage Critic There is something oddly disturbing about a dark comedy. The theatregoer is presented with a situation that is typically considered tragic but, instead, they find themselves laughing at things that would normally be considered inappropriate as comic fodder. Such is the case with Nicky Silver’s The Lyons, now playing at TheatreWorks New Milford.

Ben Lyons is hospitalized with terminal cancer and instead of finding warmth and comfort in being surrounded by his family, he is immersed in vitriol and selfishness. For the first fifteen minutes of the play, his wife Rita sits at his bedside perusing a magazine and openly offers up suggestions for the redesign of their living room after he passes, replacing the sofa that has become a “washed out shade of dashed hopes.” Spouting expletives, his newfound stress release, Ben has made it clear that he no longer cares – about anything. With a couple that clearly lacks compassion or empathy, it is no surprise that their children are equally self-centered.

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The challenge with this particular dark comedy is that it is dialogue heavy with minimal opportunities for action. The setting, a hospital room, offers very little room for a director to create visual interest. With one principal character confined to a hospital bed, many of the comedic moments of the show rely strictly upon well-timed line delivery, which was inconsistent in this particular production. When the rapid-fire quips were flying, the comedy was readily accessible. When the delivery slowed, so did the pace of the show. The script is partly to blame, as Silver goes off on tangents that are either irrelevant to the situation or are longwinded.

The cast is made up of several familiar faces and they do an admirable job navigating the verbose script. Jody Bayer delivers a solid performance as matriarch Rita but lacks the edgy callousness the character requires. As Ben Lyons, Bill Hughes is adequately agitated with the horrible people he is forced to spend his last days with. Courtney Brooke Lauria, as the Lyons’ “recovering” alcoholic daughter Lisa, is erratic, appearing comfortable with comedy but less so with drama. Joe Russo as the snide Curtis was a highlight proving that he should spend more time on stage than in the director’s chair. James Hipp as the realtor Brian is amiable, propelling the plot toward its unexpected end with the Nurse subtly played by Elizabeth Young.

As usual, TheatreWorks has constructed a first class set with extreme attention to detail. It was nice to see them use the seldom-used turntable to create a completely different locale for the second act. The costume design seemed thought out in terms of color but certain details were missed. At one point, Rita compliments her daughter’s footwear, stating that the shoes made her feet look teeny tiny when, in fact, the character was wearing boots.

Director Matt Austin has assembled a sturdy cast and when the machine is humming, there are very funny moments. However, with a cast that is comprised of mostly unlikeable characters, it is hard to go along for the ride and laugh the whole way. This is a play that relies heavily on perfect chemistry that happens between a cast firing on all cylinders and an audience with an appreciation for dark humor. When those two elements synchronize there exists great potential for a fun night of theatre.