Sunday, August 2, 2020

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 243, Connecticut Theatre News: Valley Shakespeare Festival, Hartford Stage, the Bushnell

By James V. Ruocco

Paris, circa 1640, is the setting for Valley Shakespeare Festival's upcoming outdoor staging of Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano," the familiar story of an unattractive nobleman with a very large nose who pines for his beautiful cousin Roxanne, but believes his ugliness would prevent them from having a viable romantic relationship.
Of course, complications arise. The very handsome but tongue-tied Christian de Neuvillette appears on the scene to woo Roxanne. And she is quite smitten with him and his very good looks. But lacking intellect, wit and eloquence, Christian is at a loss for words until Cyrano offers his services as both letter writer and romantic conversationalist.

The abridged 75-minute production, which runs for four nights only, is being directed by Valley Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Tom Simonetti. It will be staged in a specifically socially distanced setting at Veteran's Memorial Park (38 Canal St. E., Shelton, CT) from Thursday, September 3 through Sunday, September 6. There is no intermission.

Showtime is 7 p.m. The park opens at 6 p.m.
Admission is free with a suggested donation of $10.

"We are very excited that we are able to continue our outdoor free theater series in Veteran's Memorial Park in our 8th year," says Simonetti. "We are taking proper precautions both onstage and backstage by using health policies that align with the state of Connecticut, CDC guidelines and the latest scientific research.
"Each of these three policies have highlighted proper social distancing practices such as staying 6 ft. apart, PPE usage, and regular disinfecting of any high touch surface areas that are key to minimizing the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
"The show must go on...but safely."

The production stars Eric Bermudez as Cyrano, Jessica Breda as Roxanne (plus other characters) and Mitchel Kawash as Christian (plus other characters).

"We are extremely pleased to present 'Cyrano' with three excellent actors who have all graced Valley Shakespeare's stages over the past few seasons," adds Simonetti.

Bermudez was last seen as Proteus in last year's critically-acclaimed, two-person play "Two Gentleman of Verona." Breda has appeared in several VSF productions including Emily in "Our Town," Viola in "Twelfth Night," Adriana in "The Comedy of Errors" and Dorine in the Shakespeare in the Bar staging of "Tartuffe." Kawash's credits include George in "Our Town" and Lucentio in "The Taming of the Shrew." 

"If you have attended a park show within the past 7 seasons, you will notice the change of dates from July to September," explains Simonetti. "Putting off the performance to September instead of our July dates was one of the better ideas for our organization.
"It gave us extra time to do more research on the virus and ample time to see how our efforts in Connecticut were in slowing down the spread.
"We also went for a shortened runtime for 'Cyrano' to keep any possible exposure to the virus low for both staff and audience. We are being very strategic and cautious in our reopening like any business at this time."

Per Valley Shakespeare Festival. all patrons must where masks when entering the park, going to the food and drink trucks, going to the bathroom, going back to their car and speaking with a VSF staff member or volunteer.
Face masks can be taken off while sitting in the 122-inch circle designed specifically for this production, eating or drinking or when you are safely socially distanced at 6 ft. apart. Any violation of these rules or guidelines will result in removal from the park and the production.

For more information, call (203) 513-9446.

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hartford Stage (50 Church St., Hartford, CT) has cancelled all upcoming plays and onstage performances through June, 2021. This announcement includes the previously postponed "The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged)," Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness!" and the annual holiday presentation of "A Christmas Carol."
The entire six-play season, which was scheduled to begin in January, 2021, has also been scrapped. Plays included William Shakespeare's "As You Like It," "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" and "Angry, Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous" by Pearl Cleage,

"Having to cancel our final weekend of  'Jane Eyre' this March, the entire run of  'The King's Speech' and the productions of  'Ah, Wilderness!' and 'The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged)' has created a serious financial hardship for the theatre," explains Hartford Stage Managing Director Cynthia Rider." "Cancelling our 2020-2021 season as well was such a painful but necessary decision to ensure the safety of our audiences, staff and the long-term survival of Hartford Stage."

The decision to reopen Hartford Stage in the fall of 2021 is largely dependent of the success of the newly envisioned "Raise the Curtain" fundraising campaign. Patrons, community members and leaders and corporate sponsors are being asked to donate generously to sustain the ongoing operation of Hartford Stage, Ticket holders of cancelled performances are also being approached to donate their previously purchased tickets back to the theatre,

During this time, Hartford Stage will continue to build and structure its online and educational programming, which includes the popular virtual communications conversations series "Scene and Heard: LIVE," hosted by the theater's Artistic Director Melia Bensussen.

"Although I deeply miss the joy of collaborating in our theatre with our artistic guests and staff,  I am excited by the new ways we are finding to connect with our audiences and make entertaining and meaningful work," states Bensussen. "Our virtual season this fall gives us an opportunity to further
build our community partnerships, highlight our education work and contribute to a meaningful dialogue with our city and region.
"We need the theater and our artists more than ever to help us make sense of this challenging time and to help us envision the future.

For more information, call (860) 527-5151.

The Bushnell (166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT), one of Hartford's most prestigious venues, is looking forward to reopening its doors in January, 2021. Currently, the theater is busy rescheduling bookings and talking with the production staff of upcoming "National Tours" in conjunction with its popular "Broadway Series."

Based on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, however, there may be additional changes to the upcoming season, but so, far, according to the theater, things look especially stable.

The newly revised "Broadway Series" is as follows:

"The Band Visit" (January 20-24, 2021)
"Escape to Margaritaville" (February 9-14, 2021)
"Dear Evan Hansen" (July 27-August 1, 2021)
"Hadestown" (October 26-31, 2021)
"Pretty Woman: The Musical" (April 12-17, 2022)
"Hamilton" (June 21-July 10, 2022)
"Wicked" (cancelled)
"The Cher Show" (cancelled)

For more information, call (860) 987-5900.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 242, For Sushi Lovers: The 25 Best Sushi Restaurants in Connecticut

By James V. Ruocco

Bluefin Tuna Nigiri
Hamachi Citrus Sashimi
Doen Jang Geegae
Smoked Salmon Sushi
Yaki Udon
Ginger Shrimp on Crispy Rice
Kimchi Jeyuk Bokkeum
Truffle Wasabi Tuna Dumpling
Boo Samm
Baby Bok Choy & Napa Cabbage

Connecticut is responsible for gifting sushi lovers with a number of restaurant choices to wet their palate, indulge in menu-friendly appetizers, soups, dinners and afters and utilize the traditional and inventive delicacies handcrafted by chefs and prepared authentically to satisfy your cravings.

It's dining culture of every price range expanded attentively to your liking to cities like Westport, Fairfield, New Haven, Greenwich, Hartford and Farmington, among others.

You can order a prix fixe gourmet sushi classic. You can splurge on quintessential Asian cuisine that's well worth kicking your American Express card into overdrive. You can enjoy colorful, creative plates from an eclectic menu of high-quality food. And finally, you can take a chance on something new that can easily pack a surprise punch.

The choice, of course, is yours.
To make things easy, here's your guide to the very best sushi restaurants in the state.
Feel the spark.
Let the true star of the plate shine.
Succumb to the vibe of meals of freewheeling creativity.
Set your expectations high when naming and selecting the restaurant of your choice.

That said, here's your list of the very best,

In alphabetical order:

Bamboo Asian Cuisine
3 Melrose Drive
Farmington, CT
Phone: (860) 409-0888

Daiko Japanese Restaurant & Jerry-San's Sushi Bar
400 Derby Ave
West Haven, CT
Phone: (203) 392-3626

Dozo Asian Bistro & Sushi
1450 Whalley Ave
New Haven, CT
Phone: (203) 387-4898

Feng Chophouse
93 Asylum St
Hartford, CT
Phone: (860) 549-3364

Fin Japanese Restaurant
1241 Post Road
Fairfield, CT
Phone: (203) 255-6788

Fusion 25
123 S Main St
Newtown, CT
Phone: (203) 304-9688

Ginza Japanese Restaurant
1295 Silas Deane Highway
Westhersfield, CT
Phone: (860) 563-8855

Ichiban Japanese & Korean
530 Farmington Ave
Hartford, CT
Phone: (860) 236-5599

Ichiro Hibachi & Sushi
962 Farmington Ave
West Hartford, CT
Phone: (203) 465-1055

Jade Garden in Woodbury
670 Main St S
Woodbury, CT
Phone: (203) 586-5070

Kama Sushi Japanese Restaurant
2410 Main St
Stratford, CT
Phone: (203) 381-9366

Ki Asian Bistro & Sushi
7 Eagle Rd
Danbury, CT
Phone: (203) 942-2916

Little Kitchen of Westport
420 Post Road E
Westport, CT
Phone: (203) 454-5540

Meadow Asian Cuisine
532 Hopmeadow St
Simsbury, CT
Phone: (860) 408-9800

Miku Sushi
68 Greenwich Ave
Greenwich, CT
Phone: (203) 900-7676

Miso Japanese Restaurant
15 Orange St
New Haven, CT
(203) 848-6472

Miya's Sushi
68 Howe St
New Haven, CT
Phone: (203) 777-9760

6 Wilton Rd
Westport, CT
Phone: (203) 557-8404

Red Corner Asian Bistro
780 Lakewood Rd
Waterbury, CT
Phone: (203) 753-8889

Sakura Japanese Steak House
544 Straits Turnpike
Watertown, CT
Phone: (860) 417-6010

Singo Sushi
1480 Meriden Road
Waterbury, CT
Phone: (203) 465-1055

Tengda of Westport
1330 Post Road E
Westport, CT
Phone: (203) 255-6115

Tisumi Sushi
2850 Main St
Glastonbury, CT
Phone: (860) 408-2826

Tokyo Japanese Restaurant
172 Queen St
Southington, CT
Phone: (860) 276-0706

Wild Rice
370 Main St
Norwalk, CT
(203) 849-1688

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 241, Connecticut Theatre News: Playhouse on Park, Thrown Stone

By James V. Ruocco

The theater may be closed due to the current pandemic, but Playhouse on Park (244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT) is alive and well this summer with its popular "From the Porch - A Summer Series" coming this August to the Hill-Stead Museum (35 Mountain Road, Farmington, CT).

On August 26, the theater will present a special 90-minute cabaret of show tunes, popular jazz standards and so much more. The production, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m., reunites the "Falcetti Four" who performed two years ago at Blue Back Square as part of Playhouse on Park's outreach program. They are Hillary Ekwall, Carolyn (Cumming) Burke, Rick Fountain and Amanda Forker.

"Comedy Night" is also part of the "Front Porch" series and will be presented August 21 at 6:30 p.m. Linda Belt and Howie Mason headline the event.
Belt, a New Jersey native who moved to Connecticut in 1987, has performed in a number of comedy festivals including the Hogtown Comedy Festival in Toronto, the Boston Comedy Festival, Atlantic City's Tropicana and NYC's Broadway Comedy Club. Mason is best known for comedy gigs at Mohegan Sun, the Funny Bone and the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA.

Tickets to both events are $25, but will not be sold at the door.
You can order them by calling (860) 523-5900 (extension 10) during regular business hours or in person at Playhouse on Park, Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

On the night of the event, your name and size of your party will be included on a list at the gate of the Hill-Stead Museum. Since the event is outdoors, patrons can bring their own food, chairs, drinks and blankets. Face masks are mandatory.

"The health and safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority," reports the Hill-Stead Museum."In the interest of everyone's personal safety and community health, guests are advised to practice physical distancing by standing at least six feet away from other groups of people not traveling with them while standing in lines and moving around the property.
"Children must stay with adults at all times and a minimum of six-feet distance must be maintained between all other non-family members.
"Face masks must be worn by all visitors six years of age and above. Hand sanitizer dispensers will be placed at entrances and high contact areas. A first aid station will also be accessible.
"We are closely monitoring government policy changes. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, government mandates and public health advancements will be in place and updated as necessary to appropriate protocols and procedures."

The Daniel E. Offutt Charitable Trust has awarded Ridgefield's Thrown Stone (440 Main St., Ridgefield, CT) a grant to commission a new play about artist Ammi Phillips (1788-1865).
For those unfamiliar with the art of Phillips, he worked mostly as a traveling portrait painter throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York during the early 1800s. His life also coincided with the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and the gradual abolition of Slavery in Connecticut between 1784 and 1848 - a time of massive change in America. His story, in turn, reflects on the changes facing us today, but in the same region, two centuries later.

Born in Colebrook, Connecticut in 1788, Phillips painted for more than fifty years, producing as many as two thousand portraits in so many disparate styles that his works were once believed to have been drawn by several different artists. Many of them, executed in towns along the New York-Massachusetts border, are distinguished by a light, almost pastel palate offset by three-quarter or full-length figures with dark-lined eyes and primitive attempts at conveying volume.

A century after his death in 1865, Phillips was given his first one-man exhibition, followed by a major showcase three years later, which celebrated his artistic legacy. Today, he is recognized as one of the most important and prolific portraitists in nineteenth-century America. His works are currently on exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Museum of Folk Art.

"I first learned about Ammi Philips on 'Searching For the Lost Limner,' an episode of  'Davis Dunavin's Off the Path' podcast," explains Jonathan Winn, co-artistic director of Thrown Stone. "He lived on the early American frontier, but rarely signed his own work.
"The podcast explored the fascinating story of how his legacy as one of the most prolific folk painters of his time was uncovered. It also reflected on living through great change as it looked through the lens of contemporary values, and the life and career of Ammi Philips."

To bring the story of Ammi Philips to life, Thrown Stone chose award-winning playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger to write the play. Currently commissioned by the Wilma Theatre, the Arden Theater, the L'Engle Estate, the Kennedy Center and the Florida Studio Theater, Goldfinger has a proven track record of successful commissions. She is also the recipient of the Yale Drama Prize, the Smith Prize, the Barrymore Award, the Philadelphia Critic's Award and the Generations Award.

"We approached Jacqui because we are moved by her ability - in plays like 'The Arsonists' and the Yale Award-winning 'Bottle Fly' - to create complex tapestries of the American experience," states Jason Peck, co-artistic director of Thrown Stone. "Her characters are everyday, often overlooked Americans whose struggle we connect with, while acknowledging their problematic legacies."

Work on the new play is scheduled to begin in January, 2021. Pubic readings and workshops of the play will be held in October, 2021 at various venues including the Ridgefield Library, the Keeler Tavern Museum and History Center, the Ridgefield Historical Society, the Kent Historical Society and other Connecticut-based organizations. The American Folk Art Museum, whose collection includes several paintings by Phillips, will be working with Thrown Stone in an advisory capacity for this new work.

"Thrown Stone's mission is to engage our region with new and reimagined theatre," adds Peck, "presenting it in intimate settings, creating a body of work that moves, connects, and challenges all who join in the conversation."

For more information, call (203) 442-1714.