Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

Ridgelea Reports on Theatre Reports on Theatre and some music events you'd like, mostly in Connecticut

“The Plot” at Yale Repertory Theater thru December 21Will Enol’s new play, premiering now at Yale, directed by Oliver Bu...
03/17/2020

“The Plot” at Yale Repertory Theater thru December 21

Will Enol’s new play, premiering now at Yale, directed by Oliver Butler, is one of the most sophisticated and beautiful productions I have ever seen. I hurried home and began sending friends to see it ASAP. I’m suggesting that for you too. It has great relevance for persons dealing with aging, with dementia, with environment, with property rights, and even plain old Karma.

Take a minute and think of all the different uses and meanings that cross your mind when you hear the word, ‘PLOT.’ It can be a simple piece of ground, as in a garden plot. It might be an arrangement or plan for getting something in a shady or mysterious way, as in ‘the plot thickens.’ It can be the outline or synopsis of a story, or play, or novel. It can be a space within a larger portion of land designated for sacred memories, as in a ‘cemetery plot.’

Did you know that there are fourteen dead persons for every living person in our world? Generations of those who have gone before, with significant lives, stories, families. For a moment in Enol’s play, there is a fantasy projection of such a soul, long-ago-buried in a cemetery plot, reaching out for recognition and respect. Probably just a metaphor, although people do use forays into old cemeteries to reinforce the legacies we wish to retain in the present.

So, what’s the plot of “The Plot?” Joanne (the marvelous Mia Katigbak) comes looking for her husband, Righty (equally marvelous Harris Yulin), It’s dark. She’s carried a flashlight up a secluded trail on the mountain near their home. Righty is old and perhaps confused. He’s prone to wander off and visit a small park with an old graveyard, where he is now, lying in a pile of leaves on a cemetery plot. A plot, he explains, that he purchased, so he’d have a little place with his own identity attached where he could hang out in peace. He purchased the adjoining one too, for Joanne. Joanne, happy to have found him, is nevertheless not happy to know that he took the money they had saved towards another cemetery space, without her knowledge, and spent it here.

Exit Joanne and Righty. Enter a pompous Real Estate exec named Tim (Stephen Barker Turner) and his accommodating Admin Assistant, Donna (Jennifer Mudge). Tim has a whirl of plans. One is that he and Donna will get married as soon as he divorces his wife. Another is that he will buy the mountain they’re standing on and sell it to a developer who is already planning to turn it into industrial space. Tim already has the agreement sewed up, and he will be very rich when the deal closes. In the meantime, he’s yelling at Donna about why she cannot ever get him the exact Chinese food he wants… It only takes a moment to dislike Tim. His character is self-centered and abusive. A city engineer, or appraiser, Grey (Jimonn Cole), also is involved in the transaction with the old graveyard, and in helping Donna to sniff out any family claims to ownership of plots so that Tim can have clear title to the mountain top.

Several conversations follow. Joanne returns and has a heart to heart with Donna about how difficult is has been to keep Righty from wandering away without a tether. Grey, who is making a painting of the cemetery, talks with Righty about how much he, too, values the peaceful quiet of this place. Righty appears to be willing to sell his rights to the cemetery plot, and does scrawl a signature on a deed. Later Donna overhears a cell phone conversation that Righty is having with someone, and she realizes that Righty’s dementia is a ruse – part of a plot to deceive Joanne and others that he is disabled and needs special support. She threatens to tell Joanne if Righty doesn’t.

There are more twists and turns that help to make “The Plot” resolve quickly into a happy ending. Tim, who with one sentence has broken his deal with Donna, gets his come-uppance. Finding a unique salamander helps to create a new Conservation Commission, run by Grey and Donna, to manage the mountain. Joanne and Righty are happy with that. Their lives would almost be perfect, if Righty hadn’t recently suffered a stroke. Of course, we don’t know if it was a real one…

The set. Beautifully designed by Sara Karl, it includes moss and leaves and trees, portions of a low stone wall, and a gazebo prominently raised on stage left that provides a space for some significant gathering. Sound design and original music by Emily Duncan Wilson stretched from crickets, breaking the silence, to background road noise and storms to accompany excellent projections designed by Christopher Evans. Costumes (April M Hickman) were well designed and appropriate. Oliver Butler’s direction was perfectly precise. The balance between individual roles and the story lines created a real ensemble production.

Over a lifetime, you will have a chance to see this play again and again. Take advantage of every time it comes your way. It’s a masterpiece! Tickets and information at www.yalerep.org.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reviews on Theatre December 9, 2019

Disney’s “Newsies” by Broadway Method Academy at Westport Country PlayhouseIt’s no longer surprising, but I love to get ...
03/03/2020

Disney’s “Newsies” by Broadway Method Academy at Westport Country Playhouse

It’s no longer surprising, but I love to get to see and hear and experience (!) the magnificent productions by Broadway Method Academy at Westport’s Country Playhouse. In Disney’s “Newsies” they’ve done it again. Simply and completely, they’ve outperformed other good shows at the Playhouse and given viewers a production that is unforgettable.

“Newsies” is the story of a strike that was organized by the youngsters who sold newspapers on a daily basis to customers in New York, in 1899. It really happened, but is beautifully romanticized in the musical, which is based on a Disney film, made into a smashing musical by Alan Menken, Jack Feldman, and Harvey Fierstein.

Let’s start again with the bottom line on this show and work up. It’s one of the finest productions of a musical I’ve seen in any Connecticut theater in months. What BMA does is to bring its own students, from the littlest to the biggest, and work them into a company with excellent professional leading actors. And by the way, those students can DANCE! It is riveting to have some 40 students on stage all working in sync – great skill, thanks to great choreography by Chaz Wolcott. So, an audience stays involved and spellbound.

The plot, easy to follow, includes a popular newsie named Jack Kelly (Joey Barriero) who helps other newsies to organize in protest when Joe Pulitzer (James Judy), the owner of ‘The World’ newspaper, raises the wholesale price that he charges the newsboys for their papers. It’s a no-win scenario and the kids decide to strike. They get help from Katharine Plumber (Aliana Mills), a journalist for the ‘Times,’ who has her own strange ties to Mr. Pulitzer, and Medda Larkin (Aisha de Haas), a friend of Jack, who runs a theater, where he has painted sets.. Other principals include Crutchie (Robert Peterpaul), Davey (Richie Cordero), and Les (Griffin Delmhorst), Davey’s little brother – a spitfire who has already learned in his young life to be BIG in his character on stage.

The sets (Ryan M Howell) do great justice to the story. The costumes (Dustin Cross) are magnificent. Lighting (Weston G Wetzel) and Sound Design (Daniel Bria) are excellent. Music Direction is by J Scott Handley, a co-producer with Connor Deane and David Dreyfoos. The orchestra was conducted by Garrett Taylor.

I am so glad to have been in the audience for this musical and wish it had run for two weeks instead of a few days at the playhouse. Keep your eyes open for any time the BMA returns to the Westport Stage.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

Mary Catherine Nagle’s “Manhatta” at Yale Rep until February 15Mary Catherine Nagle, a lawyer and writer with a Native A...
03/03/2020

Mary Catherine Nagle’s “Manhatta” at Yale Rep until February 15

Mary Catherine Nagle, a lawyer and writer with a Native American lineage, has written a beautifully complicated play that spans several centuries, and lays bare some unfinished business about white European settlers and native persons in the land that became the USA.

An attractive young woman has come from Oklahoma to get a job in a commercial bank on Wall Street. When she is turned down, she stands her ground and attempts again, which works. Suddenly a native American with tribal background in the far west has landed a job in Manhattan! Welcome to Manhattan, Jane (Lily Gladstone).

Flashback: Beginning in the island of Manhatta, in the seventeenth century, Dutch traders have purchased fur from native persons. Now they want to purchase more. For a few trinkets worth about $24.00 they offer to purchase the land, checking as best they can to be sure that the Indians have clear title (a concept not even partially understood by the native Americans – who think they are agreeing to share the land with the white traders). It is a covenant that will have severe results for the natives, who will be expelled from their tribal lands and pushed into reservations moving progressively westward until they reach Oklahoma.

When Jane takes a quick trip home to visit her mother (Carla-Rae), she fails to discover that their family home has been mortgaged to pay for an operation that did not save her father’s life. She also reconnects with her sister, Debra (Shyla Lefner), and a stunning friend from the Reservation, who we will know as Luke (Steven Flores) [Because we are bouncing back and forth from then to now, across generations, Luke is also Se-ket-tu-may-qua. In one sequence he is shirtless, wearing leggings and moccasins. As the scene transforms, he wears a jacket and tie. In either version, he is a picture of health and bulging muscles]. Luke and Jane are romantically attracted to each other. But Luke is also an assistant at the Bank which has sold a mortgage to the Mother, after having tried at determine if she has a clear title. The question is reminiscent of the one asked by Dutch traders long ago. And the answer from the Mother is similar. “We have always lived here. My grandparents built this house, and my parents lived here, and our family lives here. It is our house!” Are you following? Of course, you are. In short order it is the bank’s house, because there has not been enough money to pay the mortgage.

Meanwhile in New York, Jane has helped the bank she works for to survive the first threats of the great recession when the housing bubble burst and brought down the markets. But that is illusory, and the bank declares bankruptcy. An inexorable parallelogram has played itself out from generation to generation, and from process to process, demonstrating that trading and banking can easily lead to destruction of a sharing economy.

“Manhatta” is a magnificent ensemble production, and the transition from then to now and back and forth again is a stylistic triumph, that never-the-less allows some audience members to feel mystified by what has surrounded them. That is so very fair, because the process of trading and the constant push of natives to distant corners and the collapse of an economy are all mystifying events.

If it’s possible, don’t fail to be mystified by the production, directed by Laurie Woolery, with costumes by Stephanie Bahniuk. The creative set is designed by Mariana Sanchez, and exquisite projections Mark Holthusen. Sound design is by Paul James Prendergast.

“Manhatta” plays until February 15. Tickets and information are at www.yalerep.org.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre. February 12, 2020

“GODSPELL” at ACT of Connecticut       Thru March 8A deliciously alive production of “Godspell” is nearing the end of it...
03/03/2020

“GODSPELL” at ACT of Connecticut Thru March 8

A deliciously alive production of “Godspell” is nearing the end of its run at ACT in Ridgefield. Even if you’ve seen it before several times, it’s worth a visit to see it anew. And anew is the right word, for Daniel C. Levine, ACT’s Artistic Director, took the delightful story by John-Michael Tebelak and music by Stephen Schwartz, shook it around a bit, and gave it a new twist, with Mr. Schwartz’ blessing.

This “Godspell” starts out in an abandoned church that has become a hiding place for homeless kids, who have formed a community, living among the rubble fashioned by a ceiling dropped here and a wall there. The property has been sold to a developer, and his design team is visiting the scary building to measure and project what wonderful new housing it could become, when, much to their surprise, as they peek into crevices and niches, they find children bundled, then unbundled, and singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.”

It’s a powerful opening, and the power doesn’t stop, with one musical number following another to tell the story of Jesus (an impressive Trent Saunders), his visit to his cousin John, the Baptist (Jaime Cepero), and his selection of a series of disciples: Shaylen Harger, Jacob Hoffman, Katie Ladner, Alex Lugo, Andrew Poston, Monica Ramirez, Phil Sloves, Morgan Billings Smith, and Emma Tattenbaum-Fine. All of the above were part of the group that was hidden in the old church or the design team that came to imagine turning it into legal housing. And each of them became lead singers as some familiar songs continued throughout the show. Katie in ‘Day by Day,’ for instance, or Andrew in ‘All good gifts,’ or Morgan in ‘Bless the Lord.’

Brisk timing (Mr. Levine) and dancing (Choreographer Sara Brians) kept the audience’ full attention with help from the band members who would swing into action under the leadership of Danny White and Brian Perri. And the Children’s chorus, presumably thanks to the ACT Conservancy: Nikki Adorante, Marley Bender, Nate Cohen, Sully Dunn, Adelaide Kellen, Colby Kipnes, Jack Rand, Amelie Simard, Caroline Smith, and Dean Trevisani, stayed onstage in a corner loft, singing, or suddenly were in the middle of the exciting action dancing and singing with aplomb.

This is a “Godspell” not to miss, and if you can get tickets (475) 215-5433, by all means, get to see it.
More information at www.actofct.org.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre posted March 2, 2020

12/13/2019

Josh Harmon’s “Admissions” in an encore presentation by St. Luke’s Hilltop Theater at Greenwich Theatre – December 12 and 13, 2019

On the night of a magnificent full moon and the weekend when colleges will send admissions letters to anxious applicants, students from the Hilltop Theater reprised their production of Josh Harmon’s play, “Admissions.” It’s a magnificent play about the many conflicts that surround our lives and the choices we make about getting ahead in a democratic society. A diverse society. Gender. Race. Aging. Education. Employment. Promotions. Stuff like that.

Bill Mason (Adrian Antonioli) is the middle-aged Headmaster of Hillcrest Prep School, and his wife, Sherri Rosen-Mason (Leila Pearson) is Hillcrest’s Director of Admissions. They been at the school for eight years and are extremely proud of expanding the “diversity” of their student body from 2% to 16% during that time. Sherri takes the responsibility seriously and keeps a tight rein on Roberta (Alexandra Vogel), who has worked at Hillcrest for three decades and is in charge of the Catalog that is sent out to prospective students. Sherri wants many pictures of events at the school to show students of color so that prospects can look at the pictures and see how they can fit in.

Ginnie Peters (Emily Stute) is in some ways Sherri’s best friend. Her husband, Don, is a math professor at Hillcrest. He and Bill Mason were classmates in college and Ginny’s son, Perry, has been best friends with Charles Luther Mason, or Charlie (Henry Jodka) since they were in nursery school. Now they are in their senior year at Hillcrest. In fact, Perry applied to YALE just because Charlie applied to YALE, so they could go on being in school together. There’s one slight difference between them. Charlie is white. Perry, through his dad, is black. He helps boost the diversity at Hillcrest.

The dialogues hit the fan when Perry is admitted to YALE, but Charlie is not. Charlie’s reaction is one level above suicidal. First, he goes into the woods somewhere and screams. Then he comes home late and doesn’t want to speak about anything… but, when pushed, he suddenly has a lot so say. In an amazing monologue, Halliwell parades and whirls across the stage letting it all out. Probably for five minutes non-stop. How he got side-stepped for Editor of school paper because a girl who can’t write well was nominated. How his grandparents were related to Holocaust survivors but Nazi escapees who now live in Argentina are called Hispanic, and Spanish pure-bloods in Mexico or Guatemala are questionable Hispanics, and how Perry of course played the black card to get in to YALE.

The stakes get still higher when Charlie, calming down, writes a letter in the school paper saying he’s given up and withdrawn all his college applications. He will go to a community college and ask his parents to use his college money to provide another diversity scholarship at Hillcrest. Now it’s Bill and Sherri who are screaming. Charlie protests, “you’re not listening to me – you never do!” His parents insist that they will get him into college.

And then they do. Sherri negotiates his acceptance at Middlebury. Charlie is upset but by the play’s end he is headed to Middlebury.

The production was skillfully directed by Jason Peck, the Theater Director at St. Lukes. The Ridgelea Reports gives spontaneous Ridgelea Awards for excellence in theater and there’s one on the way for Henry Jodka. who made Charlie’s multiple protest at a machine-gun pace.

Other students helped with the staging and design and lighting and props. What a great hands-on introduction to theater arts, and a lot of social justice theory and practice.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre December 13, 2019

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