Tuesday, June 27, 2017

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 26, A Review: Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" (Musicals At Richter)

By James V. Ruocco

The classic fairy tale promised a life of happily ever after. As did the big, old-fashioned Broadway musical with its typical flights of whimsy, giddy hopes and dreams and dazzling coats of many colors.
Stephen Sondheim's dark, deliciously wicked "Into the Woods" turns all that good cheer upside down, inside out and on its head.
Ah, what fun! Ah, what joy!
Ah, what drama!
Ah, what hell!

At Musicals At Richter, that sublime outdoor theater park, where a little night music can (and will) produce many, many smiles on a summer night, director/choreographer Bradford Blake's inventive, vigorous, thrilling revival of Sondheim's 1987 Broadway musical wryly exposes the fun, the fantasy, the brashness, the tangled catastrophes, the sexiness and, oh yes, the grisly outcomes of several fairy-tale characters who, sadly, don't get that happy ending they so longed for.
Then again, that's the point of James Lapine's merrily insane book and Sondheim pungent and potent music and lyrics. This isn't Disney, folks. It's Sondheim, in all its ravishing fairy tale fantasia and agony.

Here, the interwoven fairy tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Wicked Witch, the Big Bad Wolf, the Baker and His Wife, among others, dance to a decidedly different beat.
Little Red Riding Hood, for example, is greedy and psychologically damaged. She also carries a knife.
The Prince, charming as he is, dazzles and marries the beautiful Cinderella, but he can't resist the urge to have sex with several other lovelies including the Baker's Wife.

Rapunzel accidentally runs into the path of the Giant and gets trampled to death, much to the horror of her handsome, narcissistic Prince and the Witch. She also gives birth to two adorable twin babies much earlier.

The Big Bad Wolf is not only hungry for Little Red Riding Hood's Granny, but he too longs for a bit of you-know-what and this-and-that in the darkened corners of the magical woods.
And what about the famous glass slipper, you ask?

Lucinda and Florinda, the obnoxious stepsisters of the beautiful, misunderstood Cinderella, are willing to do anything to make it fit including having their toe or heel cut off to fit into the now-bloodied glass shoe. Ouch!
How all of this and more, plays into being gives "Into the Woods" its heartbeat, its pulse, its emotional center. You laugh. You cry. You cheer. You grimace. You shake your head in wonderment. You embrace its dark, beguiling moments. You revel in its many twists, turns and surprises.
This is musical theater. Real musical theater.
And Sondheim, master craftsman that he is, takes his audience on one helluva ride that rolls merrily along quite brilliantly.

And luckily, for us, it is director Bradford Blake's unique, satiric take on "Into the Woods" that makes his staging of the Tony Award-winning musical explode, dazzle, cajole, excite, surprise and seduce.
What separates this incarnation from other productions of the same name is Blake's decision to take chances, fly his own kite, add elements from both the 1990 London production and 2002 Broadway revival, and rock the Sondheim boat, so to speak.
In this "Into the Woods," you get not one Narrator, but eight.
Jack's cow, Milky White, is now a human male who smiles, sings, speaks, cries and reacts to the storybook action around him. Great idea!
"Hello, Little Girl," the hungry wolf's big solo to Little Red Riding Hood, is now a duet with a second wolf, dressed in the same wolfish costuming. It also features an intuitive cameo by the Three Little Pigs.  Love it!

"Our Little World," a cleverly sung character piece between the Witch and Rapunzel that Sondheim debuted for the original London production, is wisely included by Blake in this version to give added shading, and color and thought to the twisty and convoluted mother-and-daughter relationship of the Witch and Rapunzel. It works beautifully.

The fairy tale book concept of the original Broadway musical is enlivened by carefully constructed, painted storybooks that serve as platforms, stairs or parts of the enchanted forest. These set pieces are also moved about the Richter stage by performers, dressed in storybook costumes, who pause, listen, react or comment (when necessary) on the action. Perfect! Just perfect!
Lastly, Cinderella's birds, are also humanized for this telling. What they do and how they do it is ingeniously staged by Blake in all its wicked glory. Their little blue hand props are absolutely perfect.

Anyone familiar with the works of Sondheim knows immediately that "Into the Woods" requires a director who understands the intricacies of the story, its music and lyrics, its characters, its rhythmic wordplay, its quirks, its beats and its pulses. Staging the two-act musical, Blake embellishes both the darkly thematic underbelly of the composer's and author's vision, its atypical language, it's sugar-coated gloss, its predicaments, its playful paradoxes, its doomed marriages, its cowardice, its unhappy twists of fate, its surprises and finally, it's gloom and doom under the last midnight.

Yes, there is a lot to digest. But Blake's such a clever and ingenious impresario, he always knows what buttons to push. His "Into the Woods" evolves and evolves and never once stops dead in its tracks. Blake always knows where to put the focus, how to build and mold it, how to keep every one of the characters in the spotlight and how to introduce a song and have it play out in its entirely without ever once bringing the onstage action to a halt.

Yes, there's a lot of plot information unfolding, a Sondheim/Lapine trademark that Blake merrily sets in motion, using choice, colorful staging, movement, set changes, props, colors and lots and lots of well-orchestrated whimsy. The audience, in turn, is immediately thrust head first into the action, smiling and laughing and cheering anxiously awaiting Blake's next move. What's next in Blake's never-ending bag of tricks, you ask?  So, so much. So very, very much.

There's also an element of boldness to Blake's retelling of "Into the Woods." In "Any Moment," a flip and playful number where Cinderella's Prince happily seduces the Baker's Wife, Blake spices things up a bit, first by adding some very potent, passionate kisses between the couple that are followed by some carefully timed bits of clothes falling, a hint or two of princely naked flesh and some very tasty copulation that leaves both characters thoroughly exhausted and drained by their anxious, excited sexual delirium. The Baker's Wife, of course, wants more (and so does the audience), but Cinderella's Prince reveals that this "was just a moment in the woods."

With each revival of "Into the Woods," the show's musical appeal and fascination (particularly among musical theater buffs) becomes even more urgent,  irresistible and complex. In turn, Sondheim's killer lyrics and killer music require a musical director who can not only do justice to the piece, but make it ripple like the winds on a breezy summer night or make it pop and explode like a case of vintage Haut-Brion, priced at £19,309.60. You get just that with Daniel Michael Koch, the musical director for Richter's "Into the Woods."

Koch whose musical credits include "Sweeney Todd," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Assassins" and "Ragtime," allows Sondheim's score to breathe, beguile, astonish, entice, cajole and echo lucidly through the moonlit woods of Richter Park. It's all here and superbly displayed and played: the pulsating notes, the haunting sounds, the merry skips and beats, the joyfulness, the angst, the celebrations, the malevolence, the gentleness, the festering, the frenzied panting, the parodies, the surprises. Not a piece of the Sondheim puzzle is missing. Well done, Mr. Koch.

Moreover, the complexity, greatness and richness of the Sondheim score (under Koch's tutelage), holds its own throughout the musical's fast and breezy 2 hrs. 40 min. running time. The songs are clever and remarkable enough and often grow on you. You might even be tempted to sing along or tap your feet to the ongoing beats at hand.
They include the snappy and melodic opening number "Into the Woods," the beguiling "Giants in the Sky," "No One is Alone" and "Last Midnight," the playful "It Take Two" and the seemingly profound "Children Will Listen."

Musically, Sondheim can be difficult, crazy and flipping mad if you're.....vocally....not up to the challenge of the material. Here, no one forgets lyrics, mixes up the harmonies, falls flat or stares at the orchestra hoping someone will toss them a lost musical cue or lyric. Both Koch and Blake have assembled an A+ cast who not only hold their own individually, in pairs or in groups, but vocally, meet the demands (trust me, there are lots of them) of Sondheim's intricate score.

To keep "Into the Woods" soaring,  Koch has assembled an exceptionally fine orchestra. They are Anna Demasi, Sarah Tusch, Kate Diaz, Jessica Stein, Daniel Frankhuizen, Charles Casimiro, Bob Kogut and Jessica Pietrosanti. The orchestral details are lively, sharp-witted and splendidly audible. There's plenty of payoffs and satisfying thwack. And as "Into the Woods" burrows from its bubbly, cheeky surface into the thorny world of death, destruction and survival, the music never once overpowers or stumps the actors. You hear every ripe and juicy Sondheim lyric loud and clear.

As the ugly, imperfect Wicked Witch who gets to shed her scary image for a glamorous, diva-like wardrobe near the end of Act I, Tracy Marble is perfectly cast. She has wicked fun casting spells, working magic, commenting on the doom and gloom of the story and wrapping her vocal chops around the delicious Sondheim songs that were originally created for Bernadette Peters on Broadway and Julia McKenzie in London. Vocally, she doesn't copy Peters at all. She puts her own individual stamp on both the music and the performance and brings just the right amount of emotional substance, warmth, mystery and resonance to the piece. We eagerly await her every entrance.

The well-matched Nathan Mandracchia and Carey Van Hollen are absolutely delightful in their respective roles of the Baker and the Baker's Wife. These are not easy roles to play. There's so many levels, colors, emotions, beats and twists required to bring this childless couple to life. But this talented duo get it right every time. The roles once played by Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason in the original 1987 Broadway production seem tailor-made for this talented duo.

Mandracchia and Van Hollen sing Sondhiem's songs with snap, zest, passion, and precision. Their reenactment of a childless couple anxious to lift the Witch's curse of infertility (The Witch caught the Baker's thieving father in her garden one night stealing vegetables and six magic beans) is effectively played out from start to finish until a cruel twist of fate changes everything forever. Nonetheless, we are with them every step of the way.

Making her Richter debut as Little Red Riding Hood, Tori Vacca brings authentic voice, wit, whimsy, danger, greed, warmth and bloody well-timed cheekiness to the role. She never once steps out of bounds or turn things into caricature or cartoon. She is the real deal, from her splendid singing and dancing to her savvy acting, double takes and acerbic line delivery. And she is just as delightful and memorable as Danielle Ferland who created the part in the original 1987 Broadway production.

They don't come any more magical than Tyler Carey who acts and sings and looks as if he stepped out of an enchanted book of fairy tales and landed smack, dab in the middle of Richter Park under the stars. He's not only correct for the part of Jack, but like Vacca, he adapts beautifully to the story at hand, its comedy, its drama, its pain, its uncertainty and its trauma. He delivers the melodious "Giants in the Sky" and the tearful "I Guess This is Goodbye" with the rich, full adolescent voice and moist-eyed innocence that Sondheim intended for the material.

In previous staging's of "Into the Woods," Priscilla Squiers played both Cinderella and the Baker's Wife. Here, she finds herself cast in the pivotal role of Jack's wise, caring and overprotective mother. It's a role that the actress embraces with that same sort of professionalism, warmth and understanding that categorizes all of her work. And  yes, she loves, understands and enjoys all things Sondheim. It's obvious from the moment she appears in stage. She sings appealingly and beautifully. Her characterization is real, compassionate and rife with humor and motherly concern. And there is never any doubt that she and Carey are mother and son. Their individual scenes together are an absolute joy to behold.

Sergio Mandujano (Cinderella's Prince/Wolf) and Stephen Moores (Rapunzel's Prince/ Wolf 2) are charming, handsome beguiling, magical, wicked,  flirtatious, egotistical, narcissistic and winningly affected. You never once doubt their moves or motives as they sing not once, but twice about the "Agony" of their newfound and unobtainable loves, reveling in the misery, angst and heated desires of their troubled plights. Much earlier, we also find the pair singing the sexually charged "Hello, Little Girl" to Little Red Riding Hood as dual wolves anxious for something sexual to happen. The latter also comes complete with some suggestive dancing and comic exaggerations, which the duo handle playfully and effortlessly.

Vocally, Mandujano and Moores hit all the right notes with plenty of versatility, passion and drive as they revel and cajole Sondheim's demanding, tricky music. Their signature, slightly over-the-top  poses as the handsome princes and their leaps across the Richter stage are also a source of genuine merriment.

The delightful Betsy Simpson, as Cinderella, finds real meaning and depth in her character's troubled world of "happily ever after" and "not so happily ever after." Yes, she snags the handsome prince, but she still enjoys cleaning and yearns for something much more than the "hi, ho glamorous life" of the palace. Her vocals "A Very Nice Prince" and "On the Steps of the Palace" are real and convincingly rendered. There's also a certain beauty, poise, grace, bewilderment and discovery to her characterization which keeps things authentic instead of cartoonish.

Cassandra Bielmeir's Rapunzel is lovely and alluring. She screams magnificently and possesses a lovely and gorgeous soprano voice that is used quite advantageously throughout the "Into the Woods" story. Her pivotal "Our Little World" duet with Marble is a genuine showstopper that sheds insight on their not-so-perfect familial ties.

At first glance, the part of the Mysterious Man/ Narrator is nothing more than a typical plot device designed to bring the entire fairy tale story to life. But in this version, the wonderfully animated, high-spirited Patrick Spaulding refuses to opt for one-dimensional characterization and storytelling. His performance is magical, earnest. Sondheimesque and very full of life..

Cinderella's black-of-heart stepsisters Lucinda and Florinda are played with devious glee and wickedness by Emma Giorgio and Natalie Harde. Beth Bria Salvador completes the nasty trio as Cinderella's Stepmother. All three are appropriately vile spitting out insults, glaring at Cinderella and flouncing about in their Festival ball gowns. They have as great fun getting these points across throughout "Into the Woods" as we do watching them.

The idea of humanizing Milky White is a stroke of genius that Will Armstrong eagerly embraces. The actor oozes plenty of charm, gusto, good cheer and playfulness to make the character completely palpable. His reaction to the ongoing fractured fairy tale that surrounds his character and all the others who romp about the Richter stage is genuine, real and three-dimensional. He also doubles as one of the Narrator's. Again, more unbridled magic. He is a very talented young man,

Bright, dark, energetic, thrilling and eerily hypnotic, this "Into the Woods" is well worth the journey. Follow the path. Embrace the characters. Experience the music. Listen to the lyrics.  And remember, not all fairy tales have happy endings.

("Into the Woods" photography by David Henningsen)

"Into the Woods" is being staged at Musicals At Richter (100 Aunt Hack Rd, Danbury, CT) through July 1.
Performances are 8:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The grounds open at 7:15 p.m. for picnicking.
For more information, call (203) 748-6873.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 25, A Review: "Peter and the Starcatcher" (Warner Stage Company)

By James V. Ruocco

It's been well over a century since J.M. Barrie's proud, young boy who would not grow up delighted and cajoled Edwardian England, from the royals themselves to just about anyone who fancied the lost childhood of yesterdays.
Let's for a moment, backtrack.
Orphaned boys.
Never, Never Land.
I, mean, what's not to like.

In "Peter and the Starcatcher," director Katherine Ray uses stardust, fairy dust and probably just about every conceivable ounce of blood, sweat, tears to transport her audience back in time to the world of Rick Elice's dizzying, exciting, reimagined glimpse of how it all began. Though her eyes, this beautifully-staged revision of the "Peter Pan" story is stirring, wondrous, magical, slaphappy, crazy, surprising and joyful. It soars and soars and soars. It entices and excites. It makes you smile. It makes you cry. It also makes you want to give every theater award imaginable to Ms. Ray, whose talent and insight for theatre is akin to that of the super beings of London's West End stage and  Broadway who brought you "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," "Spring Awakening" and "Dear Evan Hansen," among others.
If  Barrie were alive today, he, no doubt, would applaud Ray's creativity and insight and probably overnight her two dozen, white roses from Covent Garden with a note saying, "Bloody brilliant, Miss Ray."

Trust me, when I say this.
In all of my years of acting in plays, reviewing plays, directing plays and seeing plays all over the world.....London, New York, and oh, yes, downtown Torrington....I've never seen a community-based, directorial effort or achievement quite like this one.

So what exactly is "Peter and the Starcatcher?" you ask.
Taking its cue from Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson's novel, it tells theatregoers how Peter became "Pan," how he acquired his eternal youth, how a dastardly and dark "Stache" lost his hand and became Captain Hook, how a swirling yellowish glove became a twinkling greenish night named Tinkerbell and how a mysterious, magical island got its name....Never, Never Land. There's also lots, lots more, including some surprising info on that very special young girl whose last name in Darling.
But, I've already said too much.
At the risk of having my press tickets to "Finding Neverland" shredded or being asked to walk the gang plank by the entire "Starcatcher" cast, I can't reveal the play's ending.

Musically, "Peter and the Starcatcher" is a play with music. There are a few, scattered songs here and there, but this is not a traditional musical like "Finding Neverland" or "Mary Poppins." Regardless, music director Dan Ringuette has his hands full playing the show's evocative mood music, making and synchronizing expertly timed sound effects and giving the production its sense of magic and whimsy. He makes it look effortless.

As the show begins, the stage itself is purposely cluttered with ropes, riggings, sails, ladders, boxes, a lookout point, a staircase, costumes, props and a tiny boat. The cast, doubling as storytellers, invite us to use our imagination as the Warner Theatre stage morphs into cabins, mysterious islands, the desk and bowels of a ship, a beach, a cage, a jungle, a mountain top and so much more. Steve Houk and Katherine Ray's brilliantly designed, atmospheric, Broadway-like set, heightens the production's mystery, bounce and aura. 

As directed by Ray, a young boy's adventure materializes right before our eyes in pretty much every color of the British rainbow. Those lights, those sounds, those waves, those beats, those words, those discoveries, those wispy lights that twinkle, those unexpected twists and turns...simply ignite into being or materialize out of nowhere like magic.
And they keep coming at you in such intriguing, imaginative and wacky and wild ways, you not only marvel at Ray's intuitive, never-ending genius, but wonder how she kept her cool with so much sensory overload to remember, to paint, to evolve, to block, to set, to position. And when, did she sleep? Probably, never.

In the hands of less experienced directors (no names, please), this "Peter and the Starcatcher" could have been ridiculously all over the place. But, it's not. Not once. Never. Ray keeps things coming and coming at you at breakneck speed for nearly 160 minutes. And her cast willingly laps it up so engagingly, you sit there saying "Wow!" over and over and over. Your laughs. Your cheers. Your giddiness keeps them merrily alive.  


The talented, resourceful ensemble cast for "Peter and the Starcatcher:" Joe Harding, Stephen Lenczewski, Kelly White, Zachary Taylor, Ian Diedrich, Michael Wright, Bret Bisaillon, Rick Fountain, Todd Santa Maria, Keith Paul, Oliver Kochol and Joe Guttudauro. All twelve, are outstanding individually or working opposite one another as one big ensemble.

The gusto, the rawness, the giddiness, the drama, the schtick, the enveloping energy of this group is amazing, at every, twist, turn, wink, posture, grimace, costume change and tossed animal. To pull this feat off is one thing. But to remember all of the stage blocking, movement, pantomime, expressions, body language, line delivery and conceits Ray gives to each and every one of them boggles the mind. The fact that it all comes together so seamlessly is just remarkable. Their intuitive level of trust, dedication, talent and synchronicity amazes.

Then again, so does this entire production. A dazzling entertainment, "Peter and the Starcatcher" is a fanciful, uplifting backstory to J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan." Its use of British musical hall schtick, story theater staging, 19th century theatrics and a fair amounf fairy dust is guaranteed to please, excite and entertain. It's an adventure, you won't want to miss.

"Peter and the Starcatcher," presented by the Warner Stage Company, is being staged through June 25 at the Nancy Marine Studio Theatre (68 Main St., Torrington, CT)
Performances are 8 p.m. Fruday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, call (860) 489-7180.

Monday, June 19, 2017

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 24, A Review: A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia" (Goshen Players)

By James V. Ruocco

Can a middle-aged man in the middle of a mid-life crisis love a dog a little too much?
Can a perky mutt anxious to please her master drive a wedge through his somewhat happily ever after marriage?
Can loving a pet a little too much send a dog owner onto the couch of a mad therapist who advises, "Get a divorce, then shoot the dog?"
Is this the work of Edward Albee?
Is our trusty pet owner leaning toward bestiality and suicide? Or is it all simply a misunderstanding or a very dark and bad dream?

As written by the late A.R. Gurney," this wild and wacky tale called "Sylvia" is anything but dark, dreary or blatantly sexual. While it aptly and openly explores obsessive devotion to a canine friend, it tickles your funny bone to the point of welcomed hysteria. It produces smiles and loads of happy tears. It also oozes giddy charm, teacup whimsy and plenty of well-orchestrated laughter, which is what the playwright intended all along.
This "Sylvia," as presented by the Goshen Players, is a keeper. 
Go and see it. You'll love it.

It all begins, quite innocently enough, when Greg (Scott Stanchfield) arrives home from Central Park one afternoon with a stray dog, whom, as the story progresses, gets more love, affection, hugs and kisses than his wife Kate (Catherine Thoben-Quirk). She's pissed. Horrified, even. And, rightly so.

The play's intended humor, set forth by Gurney, stems from the fact that the title character, a scene-stealing, stray mutt, is actually played by an actress (in this case, the very appealing Kate Buffone) who talks, cries, barks, slinks, sniffs crotches, has sex (with dogs, of course), offers advice and uses the word "Fuck" multiple times.
Even better, she's dressed in very sexy, often slinky costuming that is more racy NBC sit-com than actual dog-from Central Park canine. This conceit, in turn, prompts additional laughter.

This production of "Sylvia" marks the full-length directorial debut of  actor John Ozerhoski, a very talented and seasoned professional ("Greater Tuna," "The Scarlet Pimpernel," "A View From the Bridge," "Death of a Salesman," "The Mikado") and Saturday morning talk show host of the popular "Backstage with Johnny O" on Litchfield's WZBG/FM 97.3

As an actor directing other actors, Ozerhoski clearly understands the entire creative process from the first stage reading and first rehearsal to how to develop and create a character, add the necessary colors, shading, ticks and quirks and more importantly, how to own a part, rather than just play it. Here, he surrounds himself with five brilliant performers, all of whom make this "Sylvia" soar.

Working from Gurney's delicious and pungent playtext, Ozerhoski crafts an ingenious, handsome production that aptly conveys the multi-faceted layers of the story and the comedy at hand. First, from a marriage under tremendous strain to a middle-aged man's infatuation with his newfound friend. The beauty, of course, is that Ozerhoski always knows what buttons to push without making things seem labored, forced or overextended. Here, he takes any given situation and weighs it down with plenty of comedy or drama in ways that make the material feel bold, compelling, lightweight and fragile.

Playing the title character of Sylvia, Kate Buffone offers theatregoers the outstanding comic performance of the 2017 theater season. To sustain the actions, mannerisms, moves and doggy persona of a canine for well over two hours is no easy task (some actors I know would flee from the theater after a week or two of rehearsals), but Buffone never once misses a comic beat. She simply doesn't play a dog. She is the dog.

Trust me, this is very hard stuff. Very hard stuff.
But Buffone leaps, hops, skips, slobbers, jumps and crawls across the Goshen Players stage as if Gurney wrote the character especially for her. It's all pretty magical, polished, inventive, believable, robust and hysterical.

Ozerhoski, of course, gives her plenty to do. And I mean, plenty to do.
Look closely. There's a lot going on here, far beyond the slobbering of one's master to accidentally peeing on the floor.
The stage blocking alone for the canine (both Ozerhoski and Buffone elevate "Sylvia" far-beyond its accelerated schtick and humor) and the actual character creation of Sylvia will blow you away. It's well worth a standing ovation or two.

What impresses most about Scott Stanchfield's performance as Greg is the sweet, calm and collected reasonableness he brings to the situation of being a dog owner, his undying love for his newfound pet and all the crazy idiosyncrasies and revelations Gurney tosses his way. He's a very accomplished and sensitive actor who knows how to play and act comedy and make it very, very real. His comic interaction with Buffone is absolutely delightful.

Catherine Thoben-Quirk, as wife Kate, arguably has the harder task of trying to unravel and understand her husband's obsession with his new canine friend. She connects immediately with the situation at hand. Her performance is rich and layered. Her emotional responses are convincing and expertly timed. Her sense of anger, betrayal and pain is quite palpable.

Chuck Stango, a seasoned, elite comic pro, is completely in his element on the Goshen Players stage as "Sylvia" gives the actor the opportunity to play not one, but two completely different roles. First, he plays Tom, a macho, in-your-face dog owner who acts like a proud papa when his male dog engages in a wild sexual frolic with Sylvia in Central Park. Up next is Leslie, a quack therapist whose gender is highly questionable. Is he a man pretending to be a woman? Is he a woman pretending to me a man? Is he homosexual, transgender or a drag queen from N.Y's Christopher Street? You decide.

What makes Stango standout is Stango himself. Hell, he could read names from the telephone directory and leave you wanting and begging for more. Seriously though, the actor knows comedy inside out, top to bottom, front and center. Yes, it is all rehearsed, but Stango has the wit, the stamina, the kinetic timing and the understanding to make you believe everything he says and does. As Tom, he is macho, crazy and somewhat of a perve, which is exactly right for the characterization. As Leslie, his androgynous persona, line delivery and effeminate voice and mannerisms are wild, wacky, zippy and fucking hilarious. Amazing. Truly amazing.

Eileen Epperson is absolutely hilarious as Kate's friend, Phyllis Cutler, a snobbish, East Side know-it-all. Her moves, her expressions, her mannerisms and her line delivery are reminiscent of the real women who populate Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue brownstones and luxury 17-story apartments. Who knows? Maybe, Epperson does reside at 1040 Fifth Avenue. Regardless, she's the real deal, And a very funny one, at that.

"Sylvia" is being staged at the Goshen Old Town Hall (2 North St., Goshen, CT) through June 25.
Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, call (860) 491-9988