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ON CT & NY THEATRE

By Marlene S. Gaylinn CT Critics Circle / ctcritics.org MASTER CLASS Music Theatre of CT, Westport,-Thru Nov.17 “Master Class,” at Music Theatre of Connecticut (MTC) is about Maria Callas, a famous opera diva who taught several, selected students at Juilliard in 1971-72. Terrence McNally’s play is based on recordings taken during these classes and evidently there was enough material here to gain enough insight to this star’s complex personality. What is intriguing about Callas is that her success as an opera star rose like a rocket and ended just as quickly when her abused voice began to fail. Later, she died mysteriously at age 55. Contributing to her downfall was her widely publicized lifestyle -- that included Aristotle Onassis, one of the richest men in the world. However, Onassis, who had different tastes than hers, could afford to have anything he desired – and he did! This included marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of President Kennedy, while still being involved with Callas. No further explanation is needed. Irene Glezos gives a powerful performance as the difficult, demanding Callas who is auditioning three students for her upcoming classes. The actress doesn’t sing a note and she doesn’t have to. While recordings of Callas’ famous arias are heard in the background, Glezos unfolds the singer’s inner thoughts and deepest emotions like a Greek Tragedy. The students are “Sophie” (Soprano, Charlotte Munson), who is timid and tearful, “Tony” (Tenor, Andrew Ragone) who stands his ground, defiantly insisting on being heard, and “Sharon” (Soprano, Emma Rosenthal), a crossbrowed combination of both personalities – which Callas most responds to. All three performers have delightfully rich voices – that is, after Callas first ridicules, humiliates, and finally allows them to sing. The piano November/2013 accompanist, “Manny” (Kevin Winebold) and “Stagehand” (John Flaherty) round out the cast, which is masterfully directed by MTC’s Kevin Connors. The conclusion is that great artists have: Determination, Discipline and 100% Devotion. Not everyone can manage these attributes and have a normal, happy life. THE UNDERPANTS Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven-Thru Nov.10 We are crying for joy because “The Underpants,” based on a 1911 satire by Carl Sternheim, opens Long Wharf Theatre’s season on a very brilliant note. That “Wild and Crazy Guy,” multi-talented Steve Martin, has created a clever comedy that will make you laugh so hard that tears may also, unexpectedly roll down your cheeks. The original play poked fun at the pretentiousness of middle-class German society during that early 1900, pre-WWII period. Using this same theme, and non-stop double entendres, Martin prefers to concentrate on unmasking all levels of false-faced folks and their underlying sexual desires. And, speaking of unmasking, it’s no accident that the central couple in this masterpiece happens to be named “Maske.” A bored, Frau Louise Maske (Jenny Leona) faces the rebuke of her respectable husband Theo (Jeff McCarthy). He’s is a minor government bureaucrat who like “Henny Penny,” feels that his whole world is falling down along with his wife’s underpants. Apparently the waist string of her bloomers accidentally broke and the undergarment fell to the ground during a parade honoring the Kaiser. While the incident seems rather insignificant to Louise, it sets off a series of unexpected events when her nosey, upstairs neighbor, Gertrude (Didi Conn) suggests that she take on a lover.

Co-incidentally, the couple has an adjoining room to rent and a series of strange men, prompted by the notoriety of the wife’s underwear, become interested in being part-time renters. Among them is a handsome poet (Burke Moses) who gets more excited over his inspiration than the actual sex act. Next, is a very unlikely lover -- a small, bald-headed, barber, Benjamin Cohen, who professes his name is spelled with a “K.” In an accidental drugged state (another foiled sexual encounter) his rubber legs are totally unreal as he exits up the stairs to his room. Finally, we have Mr. Klinglehoff (George Bartenieff), a persistent, elderly gentleman who simply requires a quite, respectable room to rent. Where this all leads is for you to see and enjoy. A note from the underground – or “What you will:” The show’s title also has a double meaning. The phrase, “I lost my pants” generally refers to being humiliated in some way. To paraphrase “All Quiet on the Western Front” (a film about needless deaths caused by wars) -- If we could just strip all the generals to their underwear (to unmask and humiliate) and place them in the boxing ring to fight over their differences (instead of huge armies marching to their deaths) perhaps this world would be a better place. And so it is with this play. Whether intentional or not, during the epilogue, when the entire cast forms a conga line and dances in their underwear, it’s very sobering to note that a pair of men’s shorts happens to be made out of the German flag (think of the boxing shorts mentioned above). Accordingly, Jess Goldstein’s colorful costumes fit the gay mood and the entire, fun-loving cast under the guidance of Long Wharf’s Artistic Director Gordon Edlestein insures a wonderful evening. MACBETH Hartford Stage, Hartford. CT-Thru Nov.10 “Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble” (Chanted by three witches in Act V Scene 1)

Artistic Director of Hartford Stage, Darko Tresnjak has lived up to his name by bringing us the darkest, most intense productions of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” we’ve seen. Just in time for Halloween, three witches (Kaliswa Brewster, Mahira Kakkar, and Kate Maccluggage) create the play’s persistent gloom and doom right from the beginning. But, beware of this nightmarish drama. It is certainly not for children and impressionable adults. The three, grotesque hags crawl out from the foggy woods (we have to imagine there are trees) and almost trip over their sagging breasts as they summon the invisible earth spirits for guidance. They tap rocks, draw interesting mystical, patterns, and brew evil potions. The witches drop slimy, bloody, animal parts and their entrails into a steamy hole while foretelling this dreadful tale of ambitious kings, and power lost and gained through bloody greed. Several murders, including a beheading are also enacted in this production – enough to make anyone shudder. So, it’s no wonder that casually uttering the name, “Macbeth” is avoided by superstitious actors to this day. Why tempt fate? Matthew Rauch plays the self-serving Macbeth to the hilt. Overlooked for the battle rewards that are due him, the slighted officer sets out to seek his revenge. Macbeth is encouraged along his bloody path by an equally strong, and ambitious Lady Macbeth (Kate Forbes). The supporting actors are fine, however much of the dialog and action loses our attention due to the monotonous, dimly lit stage. We have seen Macbeth performed in all time periods along with a variety of clashing costumes. Director Tresnjak (who also designed the set and advised Suttirat Larlarb on the costumes) should be congratulated for appropriately keeping to the century of early, Scottish kings that Shakespeare intended. However, we wished he followed through with the set which was sparse and required lots of imagination. Modern, lighted panels did not serve well here. We missed suggestions of a castle and the predicted, marching of “Birnam Woods.” It was also disappointing that some very important lines seemed to be rendered insignificantly on the darkened stage. They

were in fact, almost missed. We wanted the main lesson of Macbeth, beginning with the lines “Out, out, brief candle… “(Act V Scene 1) to be very strongly emphasized – because, like our own lives today, this is certainly “… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” MRS MANNERLY Theatreworks Hartford-Thru Nov.17 Mrs. Mannerly is familiar to anyone who had a strict, old-fashioned teacher. She was usually a sour spinster who taught a difficult subject – like math. And that’s why I still count on my fingers! The subject of this play is about manners – an unnatural code of ethics that society imposes on innocent, sometimes savage, children. Along these lines, I recall a teacher who not only taught the piano, she trained her students to carefully walk on the border of her antique carpet – so they wouldn’t wear it out. At Theatreworks, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher brings us his experiences at a well-respected school that taught several generations of children proper manners. Raymond Mcanally as chubby, good-humored “Jeffrey,” is an adult wearing short pants. We see him as a child when he recalls his youth and as an adult when he addresses the audience. The actor vividly portrays several, colorful students in the finishing school run by very believable Dale Hodges (Mrs. Mannerly). Hodges’ voice, facial expressions and body language are perfect and thanks to designer, Rebecca Senske, her red dress and shoes are also very typical of the character and the period. Under Ed Stern’s direction, the two actors play off each other quite nicely, however, the dialog is only mildly amusing and the plot is somewhat confusing. For whatever reason, in dangerous times like these, the re-enactment of pointing a gun and shooting at a teacher was inappropriate and offensive. Apparently Mrs. Mannerly was not as straightlaced as she seemed to be, however, at this point our minds drifted off and we became lost in the tangle of exposition. In other words, the writing needs more clarification. At the end of 90 minutes, we were wondering what actually spurred all the commotion at the

D.A.R., and why Jeffrey wasn’t able to achieve the first 100% score in the long history of Mrs. Mannerly’s school. And, finally, we have no hint of what was contained the large envelope Mrs. Mannerly gave Jeffrey at the end. Was it a confession? Official documents? Newspaper articles? Class photos? Is there a sequel?

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