X is for xfinity: Blogging from A to Z Challenge


Man, am I slugging along through the end of the A to Z Challenge. I have already missed the official deadline by 17 days but I promised myself that I would at least finish the challenge, even if within my own time. The end is so near I can taste it. In all honesty, I was struggling to find a good “X” word. Xanax was too boring and cliché, xenophiilia/xenophobia was too pretentious and Xanadu was an easy way out, not to mention my friend’s “X” word.

Then it hit me: xfinity.

I supposed xfinity isn’t really a word so much as it is a brand but I have to tell you, it has saved my life. It has been 9 days since I had minor foot surgery and I have been instructed to stay off my feet as much as possible. So I’ve been watching a lot of xfinity (and Netflix and Amazon and regular ol’ cable TV).

With the help of streaming, I’ve caught up on all of my favorite shows that are currently airing or wrapping up their seasons. In the past few days I’ve seen the finales of four shows. There was some good TV going on in the last couple weeks and I thought I’d share my “nutshell” reactions.

[WARNING: Spoilers Ahead.]


The Good Wife. Unlike the surprise of Derek’s departure from Grey’s, we knew that Kalinda was leaving the show. The finale gave Kalinda’s storyline a little more closure. Much like Grey’s Anatomy, Season 6 of The Good Wife left a pretty open playing field for Season 7. It was no surprise that Louis Canning will continue to figure into Alicia’s legal career and it remains to be seen how Finn figures into Alicia’s life, both personally and professionally. It will be interesting to see Alicia, Louis and Finn going head to head with Cary, Diane and David next year.

Bates Motel. So this is the season where Norman really starts to lose it and his split personality with Norma starts becoming more prominent. The season finale was decent. Nothing really jaw dropping. The show had a few dramatic turns that could develop into something compelling next year. No confirmation has come from A&E as to whether or not they are picking Bates up for Season 4. I would like to see it go at least one more season so we can see Norman really coming unhinged, which is when Freddie Highmore is at his best.

Grey’s Anatomy. I have to say that Shonda doesn’t deliver Grey’s season finales like she used to. All in all this was basically a “cleaning up house” kind of finale, giving her a fairly clean slate to start with next season. Following Derek’s death, she raced through an entire year in one episode so she could get us quickly to new conflicts and challenges for the Grey Sloan Memorial gang. It’s been renewed for Season 12, so I’ll keep watching. Natch.

Scandal. Okay. Scandal was the finale the elicited the most gasps from me when I was watching it, making up for some of the ridiculous stuff we endured this season. Papa Pope is truly the hell, the high water and more. I love how evil he is. There were a couple good cliffhangers that should ensure that Season 5 will start with a roar and not a whimper. The fate of Huck and Jake (I refuse to believe we’ve seen the last of him) should prove to be very exciting next season. Fitz finally grew a pair and shook things up at the White House. Also, he got the girl. But the question is for how long?

BONUS: Wrapping Up Tomorrow Night, Forever

The Following. The recent cancellation of the Fox series saddens me a bit but I have to say that it has lost a little of the sizzle it once had. The recipe is the same, the players just get changed up a bit. I think the series suffered when they lost Joe Carroll as a primary character. While Theo is certainly a formidable opponent, I don’t see him bonding with Ryan Hardy in the same way Joe did/does. The season, and now series, finale is tomorrow. The producers are apparently shopping different networks but if they don’t find a home, I hope tomorrow night’s episode gives us a somewhat tidy ending.

* My doctor said I’m healing because I’m calm and compliant. I don’t freak out and I do what I’m told.

A Memorable Souvenir at TheatreWorks New Milford

Photo Credit: Rich Pettibone

Photo Credit: Rich Pettibone

Some theatres have been around long enough to have become known as reliable producers of certain types of shows. Such is the case with TheatreWorks New Milford, who has mastered the production of small yet dynamic dramas featuring fascinating women. In recent years, the venue has successfully produced shows about Katherine Hepburn, Golda Meir and Lynn Redgrave.

TheatreWorks’ current production, Stephen Temperley’s Souvenir, proves once again that they are the perfect venue for intimate storytelling. This gem of a play is about Florence Foster Jenkins (Priscilla Squiers), a New York socialite and amateur opera singer who was known and ridiculed for her lack of singing talent. The story is told by her accompanist of twelve years, Cosmé McMoon (Greg Chrzczon), in a series of flashbacks and musical vignettes.

This is the third time Ms. Squiers and Mr. Chrzczon have portrayed the performer and musician in Souvenir. This production was originally conceived and presented at Westport Community Theatre under the direction of Ruth Anne Baumgartner. Squiers and Chrzczon recreated their roles once again in Southbury and then arrived in the cozy setting of TheatreWorks New Milford, with additional direction provided by Sonnie Osborne.

The play begins with Cosmé recalling the first time he met Ms. Jenkins. Seated behind the piano, he recounts their relationship through the years. As told through snippets of song and anecdotes, we learn about when he discovered Florence couldn’t sing, about his coaching her through concerts and recordings and finally his recollection of her only public performance at Carnegie Hall. Greg Chrzczon plays the role of Cosmé with great savoir-faire. He is clearly comfortable behind the piano, which is delightful to watch. It is during the narrative of the play that he brings us as difference side of Cosmé. Mr. Chrzczon’s blend of comic timing and sincerity help to create a relationship between the accompanist and the singer that is quite poignant.

Local theatre maven Priscilla Squiers simply shines in the role of Florence Foster Jenkins. Similar to Ms. Jenkins’ audiences of the 20s and 30s, the audience at TheatreWorks would chortle openly whenever Squiers sang, rarely matching pitch or tempo. It is an easy trap with this role to make Florence into a caricature but Squiers is able to solicit just enough laughter without going overboard. Ms. Squiers also brings a deep passion and vulnerability to Florence, which fuels some beautifully done scenes. Special mention should, however, be called to the finale in which Squiers proves what an accomplished performer she is. There is great complexity in singing well but it is even more difficult to intentionally sing badly. Proving that her technical skill is bountiful, Ms. Squiers does both in this production with great aplomb.

Under Ms. Osborne’s guidance, Squiers and Chrzczon deliver strong and moving performances. The play moves swiftly from scene to scene, permitting the audience to join in on a raucous ride without ever stopping too long to chew the scenery. Baumgartner’s and Osborne’s combined directing efforts for this production have resulted in a sharp, enjoyable and interesting evening of theatre.

The technical aspects of this production were impeccable. Rich Pettibone’s set, replete with spinning panels, was bathed in hues of yellow and grey and became Florence’s music salon, the Carnegie Hall stage and a backstage dressing room. The elegant set was complimented by Scott Wyshynski’s warm and inviting lighting.

While Mr. Chrzczon spent the evening in a tuxedo with only a simple change from jacket to tails, Ms. Squiers’ costumes were innumerable. Under the coordination of St. Clair Bayfield, Mary Kulscar and Rhonda Schutz created a splendid array of costumes for Florence, from her beautiful socialite attire to her outrageous performance costumes. Kudos should also be given to dressers Beth Plotkin and Erin Shaughnessy for assisting with the costume changes, some of which seemed to be at lightning speed.

Souvenir is a lighthearted and respectful look at the life of a woman who was passionate about her art and who was convinced that she was good at what she did and that she could “live in the music forever.” This lovely production at TheatreWorks illustrates, through the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, that joy can indeed be achieved by truly believing in yourself and your abilities.


Souvenir continues May 9 through 23. Curtain time is 8:00 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, with 2:00 p.m. Sunday matinees on May 10 and 17. Tickets for all shows are $23 for reserved seating. Students and military personnel with ID will be admitted for $18. Reservations can be made online at www.theatreworks.us or by calling the box office at (860) 350-6863. TheatreWorks is located on 5 Brookside Avenue, just off Route 202 (next to the CVS), in New Milford , CT.

Sherman Playhouse’s 1984 Is Chilling and Thought Provoking

Photo Credit: Josh Siegel

Photo Credit: Josh Siegel

Long before the popular dystopian fiction of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner series, there was George Orwell’s 1984, a novel on the required reading list of most high school students of my generation. The stage adaptation by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall, Jr. and William A. Miles, Jr. is currently being given a stellar production at The Sherman Playhouse under the direction of Kevin Sosbe.

Winston Smith (Alex Echevarria) spends his days at the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to remove “unpersons” from historical documents, deleting the people who have been eliminated or “vaporized” from the Party’s version of the truth. He works alongside Syme (Bruce Tredwell) and Parsons (Kit Colbourn) who work diligently to rid the world of Oldspeak (Standard English) and replace it with Newspeak, a streamlined language devoid of flowery adjectives or superlatives. As they plow through their day, the omnipresent Big Brother (John Taylor) watches their every move through the telescreen.

When Julia (Carly Phypers) becomes employed at the Ministry of Truth, Winston recognizes her as someone that he’s seen several times before. He initially assumes that she is a member of the Thought Police and that she has been sent to spy on him. When Winston confronts her, she professes her love for him and two get secretly married, aided by their Inner Party friend, O’Brien (Viv Berger). In their room rented from the Landlady (Noel Desiato), Winston and Julia enjoy real coffee while she wears a pretty dress, all luxuries purchased in covert ways and definitely forbidden by the Party.

Winston gleefully reads from “The Book” by Emmanuel Goldstein, the enemy of the state and leader of the Brotherhood, and his independent thought and hatred of the Party become palpable. In short order, Winston and Julia are captured by the Thought Police and are taken in for interrogation at the Ministry of Love. After spending time in Room 101 under O’Brien’s relentless re-education, Winston confesses to his crimes and betrays Julia, his one true love.

Photo Credit: Josh Siegel

Photo Credit: Josh Siegel

While Orwell’s depiction of the year 1984 did not come to fruition in as drastic or well-timed a manner as he predicted, there are elements of his novel that bear frightening resemblance to our modern day world. We are constantly connected, leaving our ever growing and easily accessed digital footprint in our wake. Every experience has been customized to our personal taste and social media cultivates a hoard mentality. In many ways, we are being watched and are being told what to think, whether we know it or not.

In the role of Winston, Alex Echevarria delivers what may well be considered his magnum opus performance. Appearing in every scene, the bulk of the show’s weight rests on his shoulders. Every detail of his performance is sharply honed. His perfect English accent, his intricate physicality and the interpretation and delivery of the text are in top form. Whilst doing his calisthenics, you chuckle at his bumbling participation. When he is giddy with affection, you smile. When he is dismantled to the rawest emotion, you empathize.

Photo Credit: Josh Siegel

Photo Credit: Josh Siegel

As Julia, Carly Phypers is beguiling. She brings to the role the innocence and charm necessary to lure Winston outside of Big Brother’s world. As Winston’s comrades at the Ministry of Truth, Bruce Tredwell and Kit Colbourn are equally thrilled by and fearful of the importance of their work. Viv Berger delivers a deliberate and formidable performance as O’Brien. As the Landlady, Noel Desiato portrays an aging woman with sensitivity and humor.

One of the most effective aspects of the show was the director’s choice to take the Loudspeaker Voices and make them an onstage presence. Denise James and Vicki Sosbe, bedecked in matching blonde hairstyles and black frocks, announce the morning calisthenics, an afternoon execution or a victory at war with a chilling, monotone synchronicity that make you actually wonder whether or not “two plus two make five.”

Photo Credit: Josh Siegel

Photo Credit: Josh Siegel

Rounding out the cast are Maya Daley as the perky Messenger/Coffee Vendor, Mary-Genevieve Mason as Parson’s daughter and devoted Party supporter Gladys and Steve Stott and Chris Marker as the Guards, always a few short steps behind O’Brien.

At the helm of this exceptional cast is Kevin Sosbe, an accomplished theatre artist who has been far too long out of the director’s chair. Known for his outstanding scenic work at the Westport Country Playhouse, Sosbe’s direction is insightful and subtle, sending a shiver up your spine when a particular point is being made. His production design is simple but detailed, from the technicolor telescreen to the propaganda slogans painted on the proscenium to the rented room scrawled with hash marks and the anarchist’s circle-A symbol.

David White’s sound design adds the perfect ambient soundtrack to the performance. Al Chiappetta’s lighting design is specific and dark, portraying the Big Brother’s oppression with cold and unfeeling light. Denise James’ costumes are perfectly institutional in their shades of black and grey.

The Sherman Playhouse’s production of 1984 is splendid because it brings together all of the elements of a well-produced show. The combination of an outstanding cast, superior direction and impressive technical elements make this play worth the trip to the historical theatre, nestled in the hills of Connecticut.

1984 runs at The Shermans Playhouse at 5 Route 39 N in Sherman, CT on April 18, 24, 25 and May 1 and 2 at 8:00pm and on April 19 and May 3 at 2:00pm. Admission is $22. For tickets and more info, visit www.shermanplayers.org.

Lopez’s Reverberation Delves Into Our Search for Connection

Aya Cash and Luke Macfarlane. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Aya Cash and Luke Macfarlane.
Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

One of the great ironies of this day and age is how, with the advent of omnipresent technology, we have become 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, subsequently, 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. Through his artful script and beautifully constructed private moments, the audience gets an almost voyeuristic view into the Johnathan and Claire’s lives, as well as the smitten Wes (Carl Lundstedt), who Johnathan summoned via the geosocial networking app.

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.

As a society, we have grown dependent upon technology and the constant link it provides. While the constant connectivity keeps us in touch, it also alienates us from one another. Throughout the play, Johnathan, who lives in self-imposed alienation, is insistent upon maintaining tactile relationships. He prefers his books over a Kindle, a newspaper over a newscast and, with his personal boundaries put in place, finds physical connection by comforting a distressed friend or having sex with random strangers. His desire to gaze into someone’s eyes, to connect to a memory via music or to hold someone’s hand is something he can’t let go and it reverberates from his past into his present, sometimes with unfortunate results.

Lopez 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.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

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 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. The scrupulous attention to detail to the set dressing, from the stacks of books to the refrigerator magnets, is a production unto itself. 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.

Nicky Silver’s The Lyons Not Quite A Roaring Comedy

Photo: Rich Pettibone

Photo: Rich Pettibone

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.

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.

The Lyons continues through March 14 at TheatreWorks New Milford, 5 Brookside Avenue, New Milford. Tickets and additional information available at www.theatreworks.us.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Exuberantly Tells Hamilton’s Story

The cast of Hamilton at The Public Theater. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

One week before the highly anticipated musical Hamilton opened at The Public Theater, its creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, posted two telling things to his Twitter account. First, he referenced the fact that Sondheim’s work was not even mentioned in the original New York Times review of West Side Story. He then encouraged his followers, fondly dubbed Twitterico, not to post reviews because they might not be aware of who they are hurting by omission. In another tweet, he reminded us that when In The Heights opened on Broadway, Twitter was not a thing, further stating that his feed would be a review-free zone following the opening of his new musical and requested that he not be tagged in any reviews.

On opening night, he took to Facebook with a most insightful post about the process of writing a new musical: “You write for 6 years. You surround your work with people who are smarter than you & make it better. Then you get to say: Opening night.” He followed that that up with an extremely classy acknowledgement and thanks to all of the actors who helped him during the process with various readings, workshops and concerts. Creating a new musical takes a village and Lin-Manuel Miranda knows that.

Not writing a review of Hamilton, however, would be akin to witnessing a significant historical event and then not telling anyone about it. Not having the opportunity to thank the people involved in bringing this brilliant piece of theatre to life would be an injustice.


Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Critics, audiences and musical theatre legends are all in agreement: Hamilton is a bona fide hit, a game changer. Undoubtedly, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast and creative team of Hamilton are doing something at the Public Theater that will forever alter the landscape of the musical theatre genre and will likely be dubbed the next Great American Musical.

Adapted from Ron Chernow’s definitive biography of the founding father whose face graces the $10 bill, Hamilton chronicles the life of a scrappy and ambitious immigrant from the moment he arrives in New York City to his infamous demise at the hand of his friend and nemesis, Aaron Burr. In the titular role, Miranda is engaging and energetic, pulling the audience into his loving embrace and not letting go until the last Fresnel has dimmed.

As Hamilton’s comrades, each tackling dual roles, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan and Anthony Ramos banter with Miranda’s Hamilton with perfect comic timing. Diggs’ Thomas Jefferson is boisterous and larger than life, providing the perfect foil for the epic rap battles that ensue in Act II. As Alexander’s wife, Eliza Hamilton, Phillipa Soo is pristine and compassionate, with a voice to match. Renée Elise Goldsberry brings Eliza’s older sister Angelica to heartbreaking life as we witness her struggle between the unrequited love for her sister’s husband and her steadfast devotion to her sibling. Christopher Jackson’s George Washington is dashing and dignified, in stark contrast to the simmering malice Leslie Odom, Jr. brings to Aaron Burr. Bryan d’Arcy James’ foppish King George infuses perfectly timed humor throughout the musical and he is a company member that will certainly be missed when he departs to star in Broadway’s Something Rotten!, which begins previews on March 23rd.

Hamilton reunites Miranda with the creative team of the Tony Award-winning In The Heights: director Thomas Kail, music director/orchestrator Alex Lacamoire and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. This, however, is a reunion of class superlatives who have only gotten better with age. The assemblage of actors, musicians and dancers united under Kail’s cohesive direction tell a moving and inspiring story that is visually stunning. Navigating the complex terrain of rap, hip-hop, indie pop, jazz and R&B, Lacamoire provides a lush and seamless musical tapestry. Blankenbuehler’s intricate choreography keeps the cast in constant motion and is positively thrilling and, at times, breathtaking. The moment that inevitable shot leaves the barrel of the gun all production elements are perfectly synchronized to create a truly striking moment of theatre.

The rustic set design by David Korins serves as the perfect sandbox for these players to play in and it is beautifully and warmly lit by the candlelit glow of Howell Binkley’s lighting design. Paul Tazewell’s costume design is largely grounded in historical style with a touch of urban flair.

Hamilton, in many ways, like the city that serves as its backdrop, is a melting pot. The multiracial cast, in a time with an African American in the highest office, projects a modern view on a time that is, in many ways, not unlike our own. Musically, the references are bountiful, paying homage to Gilbert & Sullivan one moment and in the next tipping a hat to Notorious B.I.G. Structurally, Miranda has pulled out all the stops, providing the audiences with big ensemble numbers, tearful moments followed by humorous ones and infusing the entire piece with just the right amount of dramatic tension.

Certainly Hamilton is not the first musical to focus on history through a contemporary lens. Assassins and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and to some degree 1776, have all looked at historical figures and turned them into modern musicals. So what makes Hamilton different? Alexander Hamilton made his way into history with words. His gift of language got him into college, it gained him favor with George Washington, it helped him through our nation’s first sex scandal and it made possible his drafting of the Federalist Papers and our nation’s economic policy, thereby landing him the role of the first Secretary of the Treasury. Not unlike Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda has made his way into musical theatre through his mastery of language. While his heart is rooted in the telling of a compelling story, his brain brilliantly weaves the spoken word into awe-inspiring art. Emblazoned across the Playbill are lyrics from the show: “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” How fortunate for audiences that Lin-Manuel chose to tell Alexander Hamilton’s story. We should all be so lucky to be immortalized in such a grand and artistic fashion.

If you have a ticket to Hamilton’s Off-Broadway run, you hold in your hands, without exaggeration, the hottest ticket in town. With a sold-out run that has extended twice, a Broadway transfer is imminent. Musical theatre enthusiasts are paying top dollar for tickets to Hamilton or are entering the daily “Hamilton for a Hamilton” lottery with 2,000+ other hopefuls. Yes, the announcement of its arrival on the Great White Way is eagerly anticipated but this baby has just been born. Let’s give it time to enjoy its first days and all the adoration, for it’s only a matter of time before it leaves the nest to enjoy a long, healthy life uptown.

‘The Normal Heart’ Beats Strong at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photography

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photography

It is a Tuesday night. You pour yourself a glass of wine, fire up the laptop and log on to your favorite social media site. You scroll through post after post about the Ebola virus. Some people make jokes, some criticize the President’s response, some admonish the management of the first cases in the United States and some decry the mistreatment of the health care workers whose life’s work is to eradicate the world of this disease. Fearmongers and realists abound as we attempt to make sense of an admittedly scary situation.

Now replace the word Ebola in the above paragraph with AIDS.

In the early 80s, New York based writer Larry Kramer watched HIV/AIDS rush relentlessly into the lives of the gay community and take hold, only to let go when its victims exhaled their dying breath. The then mysterious disease received little, if any, attention from the media, City Hall, the federal government or the medical community. Even those that seemed to be in immediate danger from the disease ignored early cautionary guidance urging them to stop having sex as a way to prevent transmission of the disease. With no viral media and the minimal coverage relegated to page six, Kramer was prompted to become the co-founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to advocate for the research into the cause of this insidious disease. Hold a mirror up to Kramer’s life, place a pen in his hand and the result is The Normal Heart, the award-winning autobiographical drama now playing at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts.

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photograpy

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photograpy

In recent years, The Normal Heart, which was originally produced at The Public Theater in 1985, has received revitalized critical acclaim with a star-studded turn on Broadway and a film adaptation for HBO. Kramer’s play is a diatribe against the hurdles faced by the gay community in the early 80s and it is infused with anger, frustration and profound sadness. Despite the clear agenda of the script, Kramer crafts intricate and diverse characters, men with subtle differences who paint the common thread of HIV/AIDS with their own personal reactions to the epidemic.

The principal character of Ned Weeks, portrayed with great passion and intricacy by Michael Wright, is the embodiment of Kramer himself. Weeks is deeply committed to his cause and is justifiably angry at the reaction, or lack thereof, to this mysterious “gay cancer” pervading his life and the lives of those around him. He is bombastic to a fault and is never afraid to speak his mind, which sometimes has devastating results. Wright delivers the performance of a lifetime as he navigates the demanding range of emotions penned by Kramer. The rage and pathos demonstrated by Wright are tempered by moments of self-deprecating humor and quiet gentleness, resulting in what can be defined as a tour de force accomplishment.

As Weeks’ lover  and New York Times style reporter Felix, Miles Everett is both gentile and impassioned. In the earlier moments of the play, Everett came off as reserved and uncomfortable, which was perhaps a directorial choice given the awkward first encounters he has with Weeks. As his performance progressed, however, he eased into the role and, once there, delivered some of the production’s most heartbreaking and honest moments.

Vicki Sosbe’s portrayal of the wheelchair-bound Dr. Emma Brookner is terse and ferocious. Based on  real-life physician and early HIV/AIDS researcher Linda Laubenstein, Dr. Brookner is uncompromising in her quest to find the cause of the disease that is ravaging the gay community while issuing warnings to anyone who will listen, be it the government or her patients. Sosbe’s monologue, delivered to a bureaucrat holding the purse strings for grant funds, is blazing and brutally honest, worthy of mid-performance applause.

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photography

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photography

Each character in Kramer’s play has a moment where the audience is allowed to peer into the most
harrowing moments of the effect HIV/AIDS had on the gay community. Todd Santa Maria’s poignant depiction of mothers flying into to town to say goodbye to their sons, Kyle Pinto’s off-handed representation of the indifference of Mayor Koch’s administration, Christopher Bird’s self-centered and uneasy approach to sibling acceptance and Michael Reilly’s fearful account of the possibility of government conspiracy, quarantine and loss of insurance are all threads in this most intricate tapestry. Of particular note is J. Scott Williams, as Weeks’ adversarial and closeted friend. His heartrending account of taking his dying lover to see his mother is a devastating recollection of the fear, agony and discrimination experienced by those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

Andy Okell’s white diorama set-design, reminiscent of the designs used in the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, served its function as a canvas for the effective projections utilized throughout the production. However, for the majority of the performance, images are not projected, making the flat white walls appear stark. Likewise, Brian Casella’s lighting design lacked color and texture that could have given the set more dimension. Instead, the lighting often left the actors washed out or cast in shadow.

Under David Bass’ detailed and clearly heartfelt direction, The Normal Heart comes off as what it should be: an actor’s play with a glimpse into our recent history when action was necessary. A different course of action may have helped slow the spread of a disease that has resulted in 39 million deaths worldwide since 1981. Larry Kramer was a trailblazer of HIV/AIDS activism, earning his recent inclusion in the Out100 as not only an activist and writer but as a legend.

In our community we often see theatrical pieces referred to as important. While I postulate that all theatre on some level is important, The Normal Heart is, without doubt, one of the most important plays of our time. I urge you to make time in your schedule to see this accomplished interpretation of a rarely produced theatrical gem at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts.

THE NORMAL HEART runs November 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8:00pm and November 16 at 2:00pm. Tickets for all shows are $19.99 for General Admission. Students will be admitted for $15. Tickets available at www.brookfieldtheatre.org.

TheatreWorks Charms With ‘Avenue Q’

AvenueQ Picture

Avenue Q, the unconventional tuner touted as the “Sesame Street for adults” by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, is truly the little show that could. It is the musical that snatched the 2004 Tony “Triple Crown” for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book from Broadway juggernaut Wicked. It is the production that set the trend for downsizing Broadway shows to smaller Off-Broadway houses, allowing it continued life. It is the show that launched the career of Robert Lopez, the 12th person to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony and the first to win all four within the span of a decade. It also boasts being the 23rd longest running musical on Broadway.

Under the meticulous direction of Bradford Blake, TheatreWorks New Milford’s production of Avenue Q is fresh, entertaining and lovable. The musical, whose primary audience grew up learning from puppets and Schoolhouse Rock, employs the conventions of educational television to impart wisdom of a different sort. Who knew in 2003 how timeless the themes addressed in Avenue Q would be? Underemployment, romantic entanglements, accepting differences and over-idealized expectations of our life’s purpose remain at the forefront of so many of our lives, no matter our age. While the subject matter doesn’t sound like fodder for a musical comedy, with the help of clever songs, raunchy humor and those adorable puppets, we find our funny bone is being tickled while our heartstrings are being tugged.

For those not familiar with Avenue Q, the story follows the recently graduated Princeton as he takes up residence in a neighborhood in an outer-outer borough of New York City. With his B.A. in English proudly displayed on his wall, Princeton befriends the humans and monsters of Avenue Q, who share similar uncertainties, challenges, successes and failures in post-college life. Lopez and Marx provide a witty soundtrack that explores the challenges of political correctness with “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” or reminds us that the “Internet Is For Porn.”

Arguably, the stars of the show are the ones covered in felt and fur, and they are manipulated and voiced by a top-notch assembly of talent. As protagonist Princeton and closeted Republican Rod, Mike L’Atrella masterfully synergizes puppet and actor. There are times the movement of puppet and puppeteer are so synchronized that you don’t feel you are watching two separate entities but instead are watching one single character. L’Atrella’s facial expressions expertly animated the otherwize immobile faces of the puppets.

As the altruistic Kate Monster, Patricia McCarthy is sweet, sassy and soulful. Her expressive eyes and childlike pout bring Kate an innocence that makes the X-rated tryst with Princeton during “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want” all the more riotous. Conversely, McCarthy’s rendition of the melodic “There’s A Fine, Fine Line” is memorable and heartbreaking.

Carey Van Hollen and Jamison Daniels expertly manipulate the two-person puppets of Nicky and Trekkie Monster. Moving hands and mouths in concert is a challenge that the actors rise to without missing a beat. As Lucy the Slut, Van Hollen pulls of the right blend of Mae West vocals and Marilyn Monroe sashay. Jamison’s characterization of the lewd Trekkie Monster and good-natured Nicky are perfect. After they introduce their humorous timing as the Bad Idea Bears urging the characters to have just one more Long Island Iced Tea, their mere appearance illicit a chuckle from the audience.

Rounding out the cast are the humans. Glenn Couture brings a nice sarcastic tone to wannabe comedian Brian. As Christmas Eve, Bo Mi Yim masters her one-liners with aplomb and Jasmin Love Barbosa lends the right amount of snark and eye-rolling to child-actor-turned-building-super Gary Coleman.

Musical director Charles Smith leads a stellar five-person band and mention should be made of one of the most musically poignant moments of the evening when L’Atrella, McCarthy and Daniels navigated the tight harmonies of “I Wish I Could Go Back To College.” The band, however, is located in the back of the house and the volume levels sometimes overwhelmed the actors onstage, making it difficult to hear them.

TheatreWorks consistently raises the bar when it comes to the technical aspect of their shows and this production is no exception. Richard Pettibone and Glenn Couture’s homage to that familiar street we know so well is spot on. What appears at first to be a simple apartment building façade effectively transforms into the interior of several apartments, a strip bar, the top of the Empire State Building and a bedroom. Mr. Pettibone and Scott Wyshynski’s lighting design and Suzi Pettibone’s costume design are simple, yet effective. A word of praise should also be mentioned for the stage management crew who helped the actors with what, at times, can be three or four versions of the same puppet character.

In a time when musicals tend to be selected by theatres based on their timelessness, Avenue Q is becoming a permanent fixture in the musical theatre canon. With a bright score and a humorous and heartfelt book, Avenue Q provides an excellent evening of entertainment and it is flawlessly executed by TheatreWorks, proving that they deserved their recognition as the Best Community Theatre in Connecticut.


AVENUE Q runs September 19, 20, 26, 27, 28, October 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17 and 18. Curtain time is 8:00pm Friday and Saturday, with 2:00pm Sunday matinees on September 28, October 5 and October 12. Tickets for all shows are $28 for reserved seating. Students and Military personnel with ID will be admitted for $25. Tickets available at www.theatreworks.us or by calling the box office at (860) 350-6863.

Review: The Intimate Side of Bonnie & Clyde

Photo Credit: Richard Pettibone

Photo Credit: Richard Pettibone

The names Bonnie and Clyde, when uttered together, instantly conjure images of twenty-something Depression Era outlaws who became notorious for their string of robberies and murders and, ultimately, their bullet-riddled demise. Parker and Barrow’s lives have been the inspiration for storytellers throughout the years, most notably for Arthur Penn’s film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Recently the duo’s tale was told in Frank Wildhorn’s musical Bonnie & Clyde on Broadway and just last year A&E delivered a two-night miniseries about the pair. On Friday, July 11th, TheatreWorks opened Adam Peck’s play Bonnie & Clyde.

Under the detailed direction of Joe Russo, this two-person play strips away the infamy of the machine guns and fellow members of the Barrow Gang and leaves the audience with a glimpse into the quieter moments that led up to Bonnie and Clyde’s ambush in a Louisiana field under the fire of no less than 167 bullets.

Utilizing a carefully thought out slide show which includes period headlines and press photos, Mr. Russo does an excellent job informing the audience of the time period in which they are about to spend the next hour and fifteen minutes. The visual presentation concludes with grim photos of the titular characters, replete with gunshot wounds to the brain, followed by the sepia tones fading away to reveal a multi-level set with newsprint decoupage, courtesy of Glenn Couture. It is 1934, the country is in the throes of the Great Depression, prohibition was nearing its end, dust storms ravaged the country and entertainment was found in dance marathons and sideshows. We are now in an out-of-the-way barn where Bonnie and Clyde are nursing their gunshot wounds, warming beans over fire in a can and discussing family, dreams, deeds and their eminent capture.

Marilyn Hart delivers a consistent and complex Bonnie Parker. With great ease, she shifts from doe-eyed and innocent to gun wielding and combative. Generally speaking, there are many impressions of Parker. Some feel she was “along for the ride” while others believe her to have been a cold-hearted killer. Hart’s performance embodies these polarizing facets of Parker’s persona and, despite her character’s cold-blooded actions, makes you feel something for Bonnie. Not unlike the way you feel for a good friend who went home with the wrong guy after a too many drinks and a little flirting.

New to the boards, Adam Stordy’s performance as Clyde is solid and unexpectedly good-natured. He gives Barrow an affable quality, not typical of a figure that is commonly thought of as a hardened and bitter criminal. There are gentle moments with Ms. Hart and monologues depicting Barrow’s final moments when Stordy makes you see the human side of a man that is generally dismissed as a monster.

A play based on this couple’s final moments is an intriguing premise. An opportunity to be creative with Bonnie and Clyde’s intimate final moments, however, seems to be missed. Peck’s script often left me wanting something more. Rambling dialogue and factual snippets filled scenes that would have been more effective if there was more action and tension. Perhaps that was the intent of the playwright, to depict a world where “almost” and “what if” are the words that define every moment of every day. With this infamous duo, however, there was an expectation for something more compelling than the script delivered.

Despite a mediocre script, TheatreWorks’ Bonnie & Clyde delivers a captivating glimpse into a notorious couple’s final chapter. There is a simplicity that is offered with this depiction of Bonnie and Clyde that reaches beyond the headlines and gives us a view into their heads. With strong production value, meticulous direction and well-rounded performances, it is a view worth taking in.

Gripping NEXT TO NORMAL Brings Mental Illness to Light

N2N - Cihanek

When dealing with mental illness in this modern age of instant gratification, we struggle with the notion that there is no magic pill, no simple fix. In Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s Next To Normal, which opened on July 4th at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, the Goodman family navigates the rocky terrain of bipolar disorder and grief in what most would consider an unlikely topic for a musical.

The central character of the show, Diana Goodman (Juliette Garrison Koch), has long been suffering from bipolar manic-depressive episodes and swings between “manic, magic days” and “dark, depressing nights,” sometimes carrying her family with her, sometimes knocking them down in the process. Diana’s husband, Dan (Chuck Stango) and their two kids, Natalie (Sydney Coelho) and Gabe (Luke Garrison), struggle to keep in step with Diana as they seek comfort from Diana’s doctors (Keith Guinta) or Natalie’s sweet, stoner boyfriend Henry (Matt Madden).

The winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Next To Normal is under the deft direction of Michael Burnett, who has proven time and again that challenging his performers and his audience with difficult subject matter yields powerful results. The expository first act moves swiftly and sets you up perfectly for a gut-wrenching second act.

As Diana, Juliette Garrison Koch takes on a physically, vocally and emotionally demanding role with great aplomb. Easing between the quiet, tender moments to the wild, frenzied ones, the audience genuinely feels the torture of Diana having to choose between a drug-induced catatonia and a medication-free instability. Ms. Koch owns the stage during some of the bigger, belted numbers but the moments when the grief gently bubbles to the surface are her most memorable. During her anguish-filled rendition of “How Could I Ever Forget?” she grabs onto your heart and grips it relentlessly until the final curtain.

Sydney Coelho’s portrayal of Diana’s troubled teenage daughter Natalie is at once explosive and poignant. Her powerful vocals shine in the character’s signature song “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” while the gentler moments when she acknowledges her fear of becoming like her mother are heartbreaking and unforgettable.

Luke Garrison, as Gabe, drifts in and out of the shadows with confidence, inserting himself into the action with a menacing rock-star quality as he constantly tugs at the very fiber holding the family together. Garrison’s strong voice and youthful presence during his solo “I’m Alive” perfectly exemplify this charismatic character.

Chuck Stango brings great heart to the role of Dan, Diana’s faithful and determined husband, desperate to fix what is broken. Newcomer Keith Guinta delivers a crisp take on Drs. Fine & Madden, with effortlessly clear vocals. Matt Madden is charming as the patient and quirky Henry.

Music director Nsangi Kariamu expertly leads a five piece orchestra and vocal director Diane Lapine guided the cast through Kitt’s complex score. Kariamu is able to musically direct the cast through the production from a location upstage, a position that can be challenging for both performers and orchestra alike. The orchestra is buoyant, finding moments where the musical shifts evoke more emotional response than some of the spoken scenes, a sign of a well-crafted score meeting flawless execution.

Laura Baxter’s set design, with its similar-yet-assymetrical “N” shaped windows and floating white platforms against a black void, perfectly represents the imbalance of the Goodman household. Justin Morgan’s lighting design lends to the rock concert feel of Diana’s internal monologue and gradually and subtly becomes devoid of color as her mind is emptied of troubling memories. Wendy Yung’s sound design was a little uneven at the beginning of the show, making it difficult to hear certain lyrics, but seemed to resolve itself throughout the course of the evening. From the manic reds to the post-ECT greys and blues, Meg Jones’ costume design is well thought out and aptly reflects Diana’s mental state throughout the show.

In a time when commodity and jukebox musicals pervade the landscape of the modern musical, it is important that original pieces that break the mold are given life in an accessible and affordable setting. Next To Normal is a significant musical for our generation and it is beautifully and lovingly staged at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts.


Next To Normal runs at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, 184 Whisconier Road, Brookfield. Friday, July 4-Saturday, July 26, 8 p.m. $20-$15. 203-775-0023, tbta@brookfieldtheatre.org.