Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 7, 2017

The Color Purple

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through December 10, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Matthew Murphy
Good stories can cross cultural boundaries with relative ease. London’s West End Menier Chocolate Factory is a theater that has remounted many Broadway shows, only to bring them back to the U.S. in a new form. In this past year, Broadway witnessed a Chocolate Factory version of Stoppard’s “Travesties,” and Boston’s Huntington Theater hosted the British interpretation of Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” The current tour of “The Color Purple,” now at the Bushnell, is a Chocolate Factory remix of the 2005 Broadway hit musical.

Alice Walker’s 1982 novel is a story about southern slavery through the eyes of Celie, who grows from a 14-year old pregnant teen to a self-confident entrepreneur over a span of 40 years. An intricate mosaic, the book weaves together stories of African-American women and men, social relations and cultural commentary. The film, directed by Stephen Spielberg, debuted in 1985, and Broadway revived the musical in 2016 winning a Tony for “Best Revival.”

Director John Doyle, who mounted the Chocolate Factory version of the play, has scaled the set to be appropriate for the audience’s imagination. Chairs are cleverly used for shovels, platforms, weapons and more. The gospel-inspired music is both electronic and live, and appropriately overshadowed by the exceptional voices of the 21 cast members who almost all play multiple roles.

The real star of the show is undoubtedly Celie, who is perhaps one of the most original characters to emerge in the story.  Played by Adrianna Hicks, an exceptional singer/actress who demonstrates vocal and emotional depth—especially in the show-stopper number, “I’m Here.” Hicks seemingly transforms from the young Celie, an “ugly girl” into the Black Woman who remains dedicated to her faith even though she emerges from an abusive situation to become the woman she wants to be.


While the first act on opening night seemed to lack energy, perhaps as the sound balance in the theater was being fine-tuned, the second act exploded with connection on stage and with the audience. The final feeling of the evening was that of watching a part of American history pass and feeling buoyant with a future that has heart and soul. As one of the few people who had never read the book, seen the movie, or the Broadway production, this version left me with a desire to explore “The Color Purple” in its various forms, more fully.

December 4, 2017

Christmas Carol—A Ghost Story of Christmas

HartfordStage, Hartford, CT
through December 30, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
From the opening scene featuring dancing and flying ghosts, you know this version of  “A Christmas Carol” is going to be different from the usual Christmas fare. The 20th Anniversary production of Charles Dickens’ classic story, directed by Rachel Alderman marks the holiday season in a spirited way (pardon the pun) and has embraced the Dickens classic story with a multi-racial cast. Originally adapted by former Artistic Director Michael Wilson, this production is a masterpiece of family fun that Dickens himself would appreciate.

This year, Scrooge is delightfully played by Michael Preston, a former member of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, who adds his skills as a juggler and comic. The venerable Noble Shropshire in a dual role as Mrs. Dilber, and Jacob Marley’s ghost, provides a brilliant catalyst for Scrooge’s epiphanies. Twelve professionals in multiple roles and fstudents from the Hartt School (many of whom have professional status) share the stage with 26 adorable children from the youth ensemble in a beautifully choreographed story that brings the best of theatrical design to the experience. Special kudos go to choreographer Hope Clarke, scenic designer Tony Straiges, costume designer Alejo Vietti, lighting designer Robert Wierzel, and sound designer John Gromada for exceptional contributions to the storytelling.

Hartford Stage has also designated special performances for audiences with special needs. December 17 will feature a 2 p.m. matinee for patrons who are deaf or have hearing loss, and there will be an open captioned performance on the same day at 2 p.m. and 7:30p.m. for patrons who are blind or have low vision.

If you know a youngster who has never seen a live performance before, this production is a wonderful way to introduce them to the magic of the theatre. It was obvious that many of the audience members have made this an annual family event and cooed over the production pictures from past years, with even the youngest of children remembering characters from previous productions. Without a doubt, this show helps you understand the “spirit” of Christmas.

November 27, 2017

A Christmas Story-The Musical

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
November 24, 2017
by R.E. Smith

The original movie, “A Christmas Story” usually resonates with fans on an emotional level. Maybe they grew up in a simpler time like the ‘40s in which it is set. Perhaps they recognize themselves in Ralphie, in his Christmas season long desire for the perfect present (a red Ryder BB gun.) Maybe they see their parents in the patient mother or blustering father. For this reviewer it is a little of all that, but also the fact that the first official date with my (future) wife was to see the film in the theater one late November day.

Like the movie from which it is inspired, “A Christmas Story-The Musical” is fast becoming a holiday tradition, though as a touring, big number, song and dance road-show rather than a quieter, nostalgia warmed little film. It is the child’s perspective that allows the creators to expand the narrative with musical numbers, many based around Ralphie’s daydreams. Although, his father, “the Old Man” tends to dream big as well, complete with high kicking chorus lines. The score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul features numbers that echo different styles from the period, such as the Hollywood Western sound of “Ralphie to the Rescue”, the Big Band sound of  “The Genius on Cleveland Street” and the sentimental “A Christmas Story.”

The younger performers steal the show, with Tristan Klaphake as the bespectacled and often frustrated Ralphie, Evan Christy as his little brother Randy, and a whole chorus line of fellow students, bullies and friends who lament how difficult life can be “When You’re A Wimp.” During the big showstopper, “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,”, Wyatt Oswald, has a surprising specialty tap number.

But the adults get to kick up their heels as well, in numbers like “A Major Award”, featuring the predestined parade of plastic leg-lamps. “It All Comes Down to Christmas” sets the stage early on that this show is all about bringing smiles to the faces of children and adults alike. . .even if they don’t wind up marrying the girl they came in with!

November 14, 2017

Mozart & La Mer

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
November 10–12, 2017
by Michael J. Moran

To open the second “Masterworks Series” program of the HSO’s 74th season, Music Director Carolyn Kuan selected Berlioz’s lively “Corsair” Overture, conceived in 1831 but not definitively completed until 1852. The orchestra gave it a fiery rendition, strings, winds, and brass all contributing mightily to the excitement.

Leonid Sigal
The concert continued with the last and what is considered the greatest of Mozart’s five violin concertos, all written in 1775 when he was 19 years old. Nicknamed the “Turkish” concerto for an exotic-sounding interlude in the finale, it featured as soloist HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal, whose silken tone highlighted the classical elegance of the piece. He and a reduced-size orchestra took all three movements at a leisurely pace, giving the opening “Allegro aperto” an expansive grace, the “Adagio” a timeless calm, and the closing “Rondo” the quiet poise of the “minuet tempo” that Mozart called for.

Intermission was followed by a dramatic account of Debussy’s “La Mer,” or “three symphonic sketches” about the sea, which he wrote between 1903 and 1905, inspired by his lifelong fascination with the ocean. The masterful balance Kuan achieved among all sections of the ensemble allowed many details of colorful orchestration to be heard, from the glistening glockenspiel to two sweeping harps and three stentorian trombones. Tension never slackened, and the volatility of the waves and the wind were vividly portrayed.

Publicity for this program of three concerts had promised a “surprise encore selection to be announced.” This turned out to be Ravel’s “Alborada del Gracioso,” or “Morning Song of the Jester,” whose slow middle section, Kuan noted in droll introductory comments, depicts lovers reluctantly awakening to another day. The brilliant HSO performance evoked the flair of Berlioz, the refinement of Mozart, and the panache of Debussy.


Besides showcasing her concertmaster when she could easily have hired a guest soloist, another example of the personal touch that endears Kuan to HSO audiences was her dedication of these Veterans Day weekend concerts to local veterans and her invitation for all veterans present to stand and be acknowledged. This new American maestra is indeed a class act.

November 6, 2017

Crimes of The Heart


Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through December 10, 2017
by Konrad Rogowski

Photo by Lee Chambers
The Majestic Theater’s “Crimes Of The Heart” delivers a performance of comic chaos as the three Magrath sisters – Babe, Lenny, and Meg – attempt to resolve not only their personal crises, but also their very public dilemmas. These trials and tribulations range from insecurity, guilt and sibling jealousies, to infidelity, home wrecking and attempted murder. All elements are makings of a fine family reunion.

Set in a small town in the deep South in the 1970’s, the sisters’ miss-adventures make them the talk of the town, and draw the uninvited meddling of folks like Chick Boyle, an intrusive and highly opinionated relative with more than enough to say about each of their circumstances. Attempting to stabilize their topsy-turvy world are the legal efforts and simmering romantic inclinations of young attorney, Barnette Lloyd, who, himself, has some ulterior motives in taking on the defense of sister Babe. Then, there is the married old flame of another sister, whose presence has free-spirit Meg aglow. Add to this, two never seen characters who agitate the sisters’ days and nights from their respective hospital beds: old Grand-daddy, the family patriarch, hovering between this world and the next; and Babe’s gut shot hubby, who has unresolved anger control and legal issues galore.

The cast, under the direction of Cate Damon, adeptly carry off the careful balance of comedy and human drama needed when mixing scenes of the hilarity of donning ill-fitting pantyhose, and those of the genuine trauma of abuse. Set designer Greg Trochlil provides a warm and intimate setting for all these tail-spin tales to be resolved. There are more than enough laughs to be enjoyed in this story of three sisters learning how to survive crimes of the heart.

Viva America


SSO, Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
November 4, 2017
By Shera Cohen

It’s not often when the full program of any symphonic performance focuses solely on American composers. Without hesitation, Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s “Viva America” was one of the finest evenings of music in my memory. Bravo to Music Director Kevin Rhodes and SSO staff for selecting four pieces of accessible music which created such an evenly balanced array.

If a stranger on the street was quizzed on the names of three of the top 10 famous American composers of all time, surely the list would include George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein. The skills of each are amazing unique, and within a few stanzas, most in the audience can easily recognize the signature style of these great talents.

Gershwin’s piece provided a short journey out of the country for “Cuban Overture.” Picture “American in Paris’” allure of flowing refrains to background sounds of castanets and tambourine. Perhaps a strange, yet perfect mix.

For a complete change in direction, yet also with undeniable Spanish charm, was Copland’s “El Salon Mexico.” Images of Copland compositions evoke America’s wide open west of old with heroic cowboys. This was a fun piece for audience and performers alike.

Relatively young, new, unknown, American composer Lowell Liebermann’s “Cello Concerto Op. 132” was the challenge of the evening; challenge in the sense that 21st century audiences generally do not want to hear contemporary music for full orchestra. The second challenge was the cello as the solo emphasis – not my personal favorite string, and I think that I am not alone. Special guest Julian Schwarz, celloist – also young yet with a long list of accolades since age 11, took on the third challenge as he interpreted Liebermann’s lengthy work. In a short prelude to his performance, Schwarz informed those seated at Symphony Hall that they were about to hear something, “mesmerizing.” That word was the perfect adjective to describe both the music and the musician. Schwarz received an instant mid-concert standing ovation.

Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” was the finale; a gift to the audience. Many of the recognizable songs from the musical/movie flow from one to another, with emphasis on the dramatic, cacophonous, and rocket-speed “Mambo,” “Jet Song,” and “Cool.” Special kudos to the percussionists. At the conclusion to Bernstein, Conductor Rhodes never looked more pleased and proud of his orchestra. He was beaming.

Rags


Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT
through December 10, 2017
by Shera Cohen

I read program books. I would guess that most audience members do the same. However, I read every page, even the list of donors – well, not quite all the names. Unique to “Rags” is its pages of actors, complete with the usual photo headshots and a paragraph on each. However, at the end of each description appears a line stating the nationalities of each actor’s roots, where these individuals immigrated from; i.e. Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, the Philippines, Italy, Australia. In other words, just about everywhere. What a thoughtful extra on the part of Goodspeed’s playbill staff to provide this information, so apropos to the subject matter of “Rags,” not to mention suitable to 21st century America.

“Rags” is the story of Rebecca, a young Jewish woman from Russia in the early 1900’s. Yet, “Rags” is everyone’s story of those journeying to the United States for a new life. Rebecca is a strong woman, gutsy, perhaps a little ahead of her time. Her interaction with her surrogate family, neighbors, two suitors, and most of all her young son show the audience a woman who must survive poverty, uncertainty, and responsibility all alone. Samantha Massell, gives her character gentleness and grit. She appears in nearly every scene, but never seemingly like the “star.” She “plays” well with others, and sings even better. What a superb soprano voice.

It’s difficult to find a flaw in any of the actors. The camaraderie of new found “sisters,” the reunion of father and daughter, and the excitement of three romantic couples is the groundwork for “Rag.” Throughout, the orchestra murmurs refrains of klezmer music alternating or mixed with honky-tonk jazz.

The musical is long, with many characters. Actors often double roles. A beautifully quaffed and dressed quintet, primarily representing Yankees, weave in and out of scenes making it clear that immigrants are not wanted here.

Director Rob Ruggiero (whose talents are seen at TheatreWorks and Barrington Stage) and Scenic Designer Michael Schweikart have obviously worked hand in hand, blocking the actors on the turning circular stage where most of the story takes place.

The success of “Rags” lays in what it is not. It is not a star-studded cast, the audience doesn’t “oh” and “ah,” there is no stopping this tale from telling the truth. Never does the audience think, “Okay, I’m watching a play now.” Instead, on some important level, “Rags” is a story of all of us.

November 1, 2017

The Diary of Anne Frank

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through November 19, 2017
by Barbara Stroup

Photo by Curt Henderson
Multiple rooms on two levels, a loft, stoves, table, sink, six beds, dining table and chairs, are all on view to the audience as they enter Playhouse on Park for this superb production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” – making the claustrophobia apparent even before the play begins. The Frank and Van Daan families shelter here for over two years in their doomed attempt to avoid Nazi persecution.

Concentration shifts quickly from the set however, when Anne enters. Isabelle Barbier, a -mature 26-year-old, is perfectly cast. She captures the voice, motions, and physical presence of the 12-year-old who enters the annex, as well as the maturing adolescent who struggles with the emotional and hormonal changes that soon follow.

As Otto Frank, Frank van Putten embues his character with qualities ranging from calm, gentle authority to the optimism his family needs to maintain their own sanity. The Van Daan couple are played by Lisa Bostnar and Allen Lewis Rickman. Through their occasional quarrels that shock the quiet Franks, these actors are able to show both the complexity of their own despair and their conflicted attachment to each other and their son, Peter. Dussel was a dentist who joins the families later, and is ably played by Jonathan Mesisca.

Alex Rafala as Peter Van Daan, becomes Anna’s focus as her adolescence begins. He has also become captivated by her, and in the most touching moment of their connection, affirms her with “You’re pretty”-- how one hopes Anne might have heard those words from a “beau” this one time. Edith Frank’s worry and desperation for her family are beautifully portrayed by Joni Weisfeld, and Ruthy Froch confidently presents Anne’s sister Margot as the quiet, well-behaved foil to Anna’s ebullience.

A Hanukkah celebration cements the work of this fine ensemble, when all seem to let the holiday help them accept their pseudo-family arrangement. Joel Abbott’s sound design puts a sudden and shocking end to the joy, and his contributions throughout the play enhance the atmosphere and the foreboding. The director also “staged” the intermission in a way that hammers home the theme of boredom in confinement.

The play now ends with a monologue by Otto Frank that details the horrific fate of his family after the Nazis have seized them. In a talkback after the performance, we learned that this was one of Wendy Kesselman’s changes to the original 1950’s script. By his own account after the war (he was the only survivor), Otto Frank had twice requested – and was refused - United States asylum for his family. The red plaid diary became his focus for the rest of his life, and has been read by 30 million people.

October 30, 2017

Seder


Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT 
www.hartfordstage.org 
through Nov. 12, 2017
by Bernadette Johnson

“Why is this night different from all other nights?” is the question asked by the youngest family member at a Seder, the ritual feast ushering in the yearly Jewish celebration of Passover. For the characters in Sarah Gancher’s “Seder,” a Hungarian family celebrating its first-ever Seder under the questionable guidance of an American neighbor, it is the backdrop upon which family secrets are exposed and political and moral judgments erupt. Without a doubt, this night is different for all concerned.

Set in 2002, the catalyst of the drama is the opening of the House of Terror museum in Budapest in the former headquarters of the Hungarian equivalents of both the SS and, later, the KGB. The family matriarch, Erzsike (Mia Dillon), who worked as a secretary in the building, discovers that her portrait has been hung on the museum’s “wall of perpetrators.”

Conflict…thy name is Judit (Birgit Huppuch), Erzsike’s estranged daughter reluctantly reuniting with the family on the occasion of their first Seder. Judit, ever the controversial activist and now curating the exhibit, launches into a tirade of accusations and denunciation against her mother. Huppuch’s passionate portrayal is relentless and in-your-face, infusing the role with palpable fury, her actions, expressions and demeanor as voluble as her accusations.

Dillon transitions smoothly from the distress of this confrontation to the past as flashbacks haunt her and she seeks to defend the morality of her actions. Huppuch and Dillon are powerful in their respective roles, and the drama that unfolds is riveting.

Gancher wisely injects humor into the situation, which might otherwise have been uncomfortably dark and depressing. Steven Rattazzi, the American neighbor David, a comic figure with an exaggerated accent (nationality?), is relentless and diverting in his attempt to restore order and make this Seder “happen.” Julia Sirna-Frest, as Margit, the younger sister, and Dustin Ingram, as brother Laci, try to make light of a hopeless situation, Ingram mocking Rattazzi’s accent and Sirna-Frest calmly affecting normalcy.

Erzsike’s “I am one person, a woman. What could I do?” is a question that is sure to reverberate in the minds of theatergoers, as is scenic designer Nick Vaughan’s “wall of perpetrators.” Exceptional direction by Elizabeth Williamson and fight choreography by Greg Webster. Kudos to Laura Stanczyk on her choice of this superb cast.

October 26, 2017

School of Rock, the Musical


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through October 29, 2017
by Rebecca Phelps

“School of Rock” is a staged adaptation of the ever popular 2003 movie of the same title starring Jack Black. Surprisingly, the book to the show is written by Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abby” fame, and music by non-other than Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who returns to his earlier, rock roots (think “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”). The show closely follows the same story line as the movie, but the music is almost entirely new.

The production relies heavily on the skills of Rob Colletti who supplies the humor and super-charged, rebellious, yet loveable energy that propels the show. It is hard not to compare Colletti’s depiction of Dewey Finn, the hapless rock ’n roll wannabe, to the iconic Jack Black. Colletti earns his keep in this performance giving 110%.  It is hard to miss the charismatic performance of Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Rosalie, the up-tight principal of Horace Green Prep School, with her beautiful and strong vocal skills (excerpts from Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria) and just the right combination of humor and style to draw you in.

But the real stars of the show are the kids who form the rock band under Mr. Schneebly’s (aka Dewey’s) tutelage. They play their own instruments, sing their hearts out, and dance up a storm. Special kudos to Gianna Harris in the role of Tamika, the shy girl, and her amazingly soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and Phoenix Schuman in the role of Zach – the meanest elementary-school aged guitar player ever!

It is always a challenge to keep a hard-driving, rock style pit band quiet enough to still hear the lines, especially when they are being delivered by children. Unfortunately, this show suffered from this problem and some of the dialogue was  lost. In spite of this, the heavy rain and near hurricane force winds, the Bushnell Theatre was packed with an enthusiastic audience for opening night. This is a fun-filled, high energy show, perfect for those who are nostalgic for the great rock sounds of the 70’s. With quotes and nods throughout the show to the greats: Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Stevie Nix, Led Zepplin, and more. Bring your kids and the grandparents as well, and rock on!

The Titans: Schumann and Brahms Piano Quintets


Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
Close Encounters with Music
October 21, 2017
by Rebecca Phelps

A warm reception was offered to the opening performance of the 26th season of Close Encounters with Music series. Clearly the audience was primed and expecting a first-rate performance of two, much beloved classics of the chamber music repertoire.

The evening commenced with an informative introduction by Yehuda Hanani, artistic director of the series and cellist in the evening’s performance. In his lecture, Hanani went straight to the music with descriptive insights into the composers and each movement of the pieces, knowing he had an informed audience, ready to listen and learn.

The program’s pieces are both considered to be giants of their respective composers’ overall output, and of chamber music repertoire. In order to present them in chronological order they were reversed from the program order with the Schumann going first, followed by intermission and then the Brahms, which was preceded by another introductory lecture from Hanani.

The piano quintet was a new concept in chamber music in 1842 when Robert Schumann wrote his now famous Quintet in Eb major.  At the time, Schumann was engaged to the lovely and talented Clara Wieck, and the addition of a piano to the standard string quartet gave her an opportunity to perform her fiancĂ©’s music, perhaps helping to assuage her father’s concerns about his prospective new son-in-law.

The Brahms Quintet in F minor is surely one of the giants in Brahms canon, and not for the faint of heart. The demands placed on the players to successfully surmount this musical mountain of a piece are extraordinary. The fast passages went at lightening speed; the quiet, pensive ones were played with delicate control and sensitivity; and the musical conversation amongst the players had to be developed to a high degree. Chamber music requires team players who interact with each other, passing the music between them and understanding their roles to form a cohesive whole. The five performers, all fine players from diverse backgrounds, came together and did just that. The audience and this reviewer raved about this outstanding evening of first rate, high class artistry. Bravo!

October 20, 2017

SSO Opening Night: Prokofiev Piano Concerto


Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA
October 14, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

To open the SSO’s 74th season and his own 17th season as their music director, Kevin Rhodes told the Springfield Republican, he planned a program of three musical pieces that “should take us to lots of places.”

After an exuberant sing-along season-opening “Star-Spangled Banner,” the concert proper began with a rousing take on the Overture to Rossini’s comic opera “The Thieving Magpie,” in which a servant girl is saved from the gallows when a missing spoon is found in a magpie’s nest. Having just produced an exciting drum roll throughout the national anthem, a stalwart SSO percussionist played the overture’s opening snare drum solo with equal flair, and the full ensemble nicely captured the zany high spirits of Rossini’s score.

Claire Huangci
Making her third appearance with the SSO, 27-year-old Chinese-American pianist Claire Huangci gave what she had promised and dubbed a “no-holds-barred performance” of Prokofiev’s rarely heard second piano concerto. Overshadowed by his more popular first and third concertos, the second presents formidable technical challenges, which Huangci overcame with ease. Its exotic melodies and often percussive orchestration were expertly rendered by all the musicians.

The audience enjoyed it so much that Huangci played a contrasting encore, the title theme from “Beauty and the Beast,” which she joked was “appropriate” for the bouquet of red roses she had just received from maestro Rhodes.

In another change of mood, the program closed after intermission with the second and sunniest of Brahms’ four symphonies in a tenderly affectionate rendition. From the heartfelt opening “Allegro non troppo,” through the radiant “Adagio non troppo” and the gentle “Allegretto gracioso,” to the jubilant “Allegro con spirito” finale, conductor and orchestra achieved a perfect balance of skillful ensemble and emotional commitment.   

In pre-concert remarks, Rhodes announced that each concert this season would introduce a new feature to the concert experience. Tonight’s innovation was “real time notes” during the Brahms symphony, which audience members in the balcony could follow on their cell phones as the music unfolded. The large number of young people present suggested that this 21st-century strategy just might work.

WAM & The Last Wife


Bernstein Theatre, Lenox
through November 5, 2017
by Shera Cohen

The most important work of WAM is not the arts, or theatre in particular, but charity and goodwill. Since 2010, WAM Theatre (Where Arts & Activism Meet) has donated more than $32,500 to 12 nonprofit organizations that benefit women and girls, and provided paid work to more than 200 theatre artists.

Photo by Kristen van Ginhoven
WAM was founded in 2010, and “The Last Wife” marks the  end of its eighth season. In total, WAM has presented one Main Stage play each fall. Also filling out WAM’s calendar is its reading series which presents works in progress by local artists. A younger troupe, The Girls Ensemble, has performed original works in 2016 and 2017. WAM  also collaborates on community events, such as the Facing Our Truth project in 2016 and our Sister March event in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington this past January.

I had the opportunity to see a preview of “The Last Wife” by Kate Hennig. The wife, in this instance, is Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII, who not only saved her head but also outlived her husband.

Enticing me to attend this play was the collaboration of WAM with Shakespeare & Company. The latter contributed three of its finest actors in lead roles; Nehassaiu deGannes (Kate), a spunky, articulate new-comer in the Berkshires who shined this summer in “Intimate Apparel;” John Hadden (Henry), a regular at Shakespeare & Co. whose attention to drama is especially unique; and David Joseph (Thom), a suave young man, who seems to have grown up before my eyes, with a cunning grin.

WAM has some challenges, as do other stages in the Berkshires. The most significant hurdle is timing. Since it’s no longer summer, attending performances at Shakespeare & Company, Berkshire Theatre Group, and Barrington Stage in the fall months is not an immediate thought when seeking theatre. Many venues are trying to stretch their calendars. I honestly don’t know if it works – only the box office staff know for sure -- but I have to say that I attended three of this year’s best productions this month – yes, in October.

The Wolves


TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through November 10, 2017
by Jennifer Curran

Photo by Lanny Nagler
“The Wolves,” written by Sarah DeLappe, is as complex and honest as it is heart-breaking and hopeful. Having had a successful Broadway run in 2016, DeLappe’s first play has been produced in regional theaters across the country. “The Wolves” is a war story, told one soccer match at a time. The battlefield might be an indoor soccer field and the soldiers teenaged girls, but this is the very essence of fight to win. The ten-member cast of women, all un-named, marches and spars and sweats together. The ensemble work that stormed the stage at TheaterWorks was a rare and stunning dance of control and chaos.

A Pulitzer Prize Finalist and multiple award winning play, “The Wolves,” introduces and then lays bare the inner lives of these nine ferocious girls with all the gory, gutsy, and heartbreaking truth a writer can fit into 90 minutes. Here, the audience is more voyeur than active participant. As the girls fight to win, for control, for a place, for answers, we are watching them struggle to survive the world that they have inherited with the tools they’ve been given. Nobody said it would be a fair fight.

These girls are middle America, and they are living in the upper middle class suburban dream created by Boomers and later perfected by Generation X. They are exactly who the two generations hoped their daughters would be. Perhaps the moms didn’t realize that hopes can be interpreted as unfulfill-able demands by their daughters.

This is a play with a drumbeat heart that requires a master at the helm. With dialogue so dense, a lesser director would allow for unwelcome air between the rapid-fire dialogue. What a travesty that would be. Under Eric Ort’s direction, there is barely room for an extra atom of oxygen. The show hurtles by with almost zero moments of silence or stillness. Those moments, when they do happen, grab and shake and hold long after the curtain call.

October 10, 2017

Beethoven’s Eroica


Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
October 6–8, 2017
by Michael J. Moran

Conductor Carolyn Kuan
The “Star-Spangled Banner,” which launched each concert in this opening weekend program of the HSO’s 74th season, took on a personal meaning for Carolyn Kuan, Saturday, when she and 10 other Connecticut residents became American citizens at a naturalization ceremony held earlier on the same stage. Beginning her own seventh season as HSO Music Director, Kuan led the national anthem with a festive enthusiasm that drew a standing ovation from a full house.

The concert proper began with a majestic account of Beethoven’s dramatic “Egmont” Overture. Part of  a score written for Goethe’s 1810 play about a nobleman who led a revolution in 16th-century Holland against Spanish tyranny, the overture depicts the suffering of the Dutch people, the execution of Count Egmont, and the jubilation of eventual victory. Conductor and orchestra brought it to vibrant life.

Yugo Kanno next gave two Japanese instruments, the koto (a zither-like stringed device) and the shakuhachi (a vertical bamboo flute), solo roles in his concerto “Revive.” Played with virtuosity by Masayo Ishigure and Kojiro Umezaki respectively, they blended delicately with the sumptuous orchestra, which reflected the composer’s primary experience in writing film music. The three movements of this 2014 piece progress from the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan in 2011 to the reconstruction of many destroyed communities. The musicians honored the composer’s intentions with an affecting performance.

A dynamic reading of Beethoven’s third (“Eroica”) symphony brought the program to a triumphant close. From the energetic opening “Allegro con brio,” through the somber “Funeral March” and the uproarious “Scherzo,” to the exuberant theme and variations “Finale,” Kuan and her ensemble vividly conveyed the massive scale of this unprecedented work, which introduced the modern symphony.

Under the enlightened leadership of their new American conductor, this program was an inspiring start for the HSO’s upcoming season.