Earlier this week, I named the Ten Best Shows in Connecticut in 2011.
But once you start looking back on a year, there’s just no stopping.
So here’s a playful retro glance at some of the highlights, performances, newsworthy events and people who stood out in the state’s theater scene (in no particular order).
Funny Not: New Haven’s Lauren Ambrose, a terrific actress, was the surprise choice by director Bartlett Sher to step into Bab’s shoes for a major Broadway-bound revival of “Funny Girl.” But the project fizzled when several major investors got cold feet and pulled their bucks. Disappointing for those who wanted to see a new take on the show. So now how about a new movie version -- with Lady Gaga as the ugly duckling turned swan star?
Existential angst: Technical snafus can topple a production, none so bad as when the tape in “Krapp’s Last Tape” krapped out on opening night at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. Brian Dennehy bore the agony on this opening night disaster with grace and humor but clearly his performance was affected. Those critics who revisited the show were rewarded with a transformative performance.
Finishing the “Hat:” In the last days of run of the regional premiere of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “The Motherf-----” with the Hat” at Hartford’s TheaterWorks, the playwright went public objecting to the theater’s casting process and its leadership. (Others were stunned that the playwright hadn’t even been called or invited to the show.) It was a messy end that ended up revealing the insensitivity and dysfunction behind the theater’s curtain.
Actor Attention: Artists salaries have sadly been stagnate, so it’s is good to know that at least the housing where the performers spend when they are far from home will be decent. Goodspeed Musicals opened its doors to handsome new artists village in East Haddam -- which will allow the theater to benefit, too, with the ability to have longer runs. The abodes are green, handsome and fresh. (Now if only they had dishwashers for the shared kitchens.)
Promising, Promising: Good new work came from two plucky Hartford companies. One was by Bated Breathe Theatre Company performing “Hunger” at Real Arts Ways. The other was “FlipSide” a compelling piece by HartBeat Ensemble in a fine new downtown space. Also continuing good work were the enterprising Playhouse on Park in West Hartford and the Ivoryton Playhouse.
Passing Torches: Ray Cullom’s exit after two years as managing director at Long Wharf Theatre meant that local fave Joshua Borenstein could finally step into that starring and problematic role...Michael Wilson’s farewell celebration at Hartford Stage was a moving, memorable ceremony, one of the best shows in town. But theatergoers are also looking ahead spurred by the positive buzz surrounding his successor, Darko Tresnjak.
Other positive signs: The Connecticut Repertory Theatre on the UConn campus stepped up its profile with premieres, good work and a summer musical series. If only it could exploit its well-regarded puppetry program...There was more stuff going on at the Mark Twain House & Museum since the old boy lived there...The Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards that recognize statewide talent for students in a big way continued to grow and be impressive.
Quick stops: John Malkovich breezed through the state for a one-night stand on his way to NYC in a strange hybrid of a show that was a showcase for his taoents, but I’d rather see him tackle a classic...I was mesmerized by Martha Clarke’s “Angel Reapers” for a one stop at the Jorgensen at UConn but didn’t feel the piece added up to a complete whole...It was a special event at Long Wharf Theatre with “Torture Team” featuring an incandescent Vanessa Redgrave on her night off from Broadway’s “Driving Miss Daisy.”
Some lows: Yale Rep’s “Three Sisters” was a misguided production, ignoring any Chekovian csubtext...“Snow Falling on Cedars” was a cold bore, hopefully discouraging the proliferating adaptations of familiar titles from books and films to count as “new plays.”...”Quidam” was a dull, plodding arena show from Cirque du Soleil that showed that the brand’s repeated formula was wearing thin. (But “Traces” at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford demonstrated that cirque can be refreshed -- with a human touch.)
Some fine performances that I loved: Novella Nelson and Roger Robinson in Hartford Stage’s “Gem of the Ocean” ...Aaron Roman Weiner in TheaterWorks’ “A Steady Rain” at TheaterWorks...The ensemble cast of Hartford Stage’s “Water by the Spoonful”... Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller in Yale Rep’s “Belleville”.... Old masters Sam Waterston, Shirley Knight and Brian Murray in Long Wharf Theatre’s “Old Masters”...The comic marvel Steven Epp in Yale Rep’s “A Doctor in Spite of Himself”...Jerry Adler and Harris Doran in Connecticut Rep’s “I’m Connecticut”..John Horton in Westport Country Playhouse’s “The Circle”...Annalee Jefferies and Liv Rooth in Westport Playhouse’s “Suddenly Last Summer”....Ben Cole in “One Small Hitch” at the Williamstown Theatre Festival”...And finally, Eshan Bay in Long Wharf’s “Agnes Under the Big Top,” the best debut performance of the year.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun