Friday, February 26, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 249, A Review: "Pericles, Prince of Tyre (Connecticut Repertory Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco

"Opinion's but a fool that makes us scan
The outward habit for the inward man."

"That she would make a puritan of the devil if he should cheapen a kiss of her."

 "Which care of them, not pity of myself
Who am no more but as the tops of trees.
Which fence the roots they grow by and defend them, 
Makes both my body pine and soul to languish."  

"O, come, be buried
A second time within these arms."

"Few love to hear the sins they love to act."

(William Shakespeare, "Pericles, Prince of Tyre")

In William Shakespeare's "Pericles, Prince of Tyre," a poetic and moving tale of loss, survival and reconciliation, the title character is forced to flee his homeland and become a refugee at the mercy of the ocean, a group of strangers, many of whom want him dead and a world of endless journeys, alliances, promises, hopes and family separation.

It's a story concept that the Bard explores with passion and knockabout mystery balanced by strong, beautifully rendered verse, an entertaining mix of dramatic and comic characters, impressive melodrama and miraculous coincidences and ideals. And, oh yes, a very happy ending.

The Connecticut Repertory Theatre online production, directed by Raphael Massie, gets high marks for its production values, its artsy craftsmanship, its clever staging and its employment of a well-versed 12-member ensemble of actors, all of whom share a fondness for all things Shakespeare and the play's thrilling diversity, momentum and bold, brazen storytelling.

Filmed and staged entirely via the Zoom platform, Massie opts for the working aesthetic of a graphic novel's artwork, its design component and its scene-by-scene book format of colorful, cartoonish drawings that tell and advance the story. It's a process that not only works especially well, but one that heightens and complements the actual storytelling. Of course, there's lots going on: title cards, cut-outs, projections, ever-changing color palates, piercing background music, close ups and long shots and lots and lots of technical experimentation. Massie, in turn, has a stronghold of the material, which also has the actors facing full front speaking directly into the camera, backed by exciting drawings that reflect the bookish, full-on excitement of the graphic novel. It all makes perfect sense because Massie knows what he wants to do, how he wants to do it and where he's going with everything in terms of  actor/at-home audience formatting.  

"Pericles, Prince of Tyre" stars Damien Thompson as Pericles, Lauren Walker as Gower/Diana, Kiera Prusmack as Marina/Simonedes, Thomas Morgan as Helicanus/Cerimon, Nicole Cooper as Philemon/Pirate, Eliza Carson as Thaisa/Daughter/Pander, Nick Luberto as Antiochus/Leonine/Lysimachus, Abigail Hilditch as Dionyza, Alex Kosciuszek as Cleon, Jim Jiang as Fisher 1/Bolt, Jamie Feidner as Fisher 2/Lychorida/Bawd and Tony King as Thaliard/Escanes/Pirate.

Everyone from lead to supporting player is focused and driven, thus, giving the play a powerful continuity and dimension that is absolutely rewarding. There are moments of high emotion, drama and comedy. Each cast member knows his or her place in the story and runs with it. As actors, they are optimistic, confident and full of wonderful surprise. They also have great fun being in the Zoom spotlight and never once miss a beat, a twitch, a tick, a rhythm, a pause or a change in direction.

In conclusion, "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" is a wild and wacky adventure and fantasia that grabs the attention of the at-home audience for nearly two hours. It is well worth the visit in its online format, further enriched by its playful succession of well-placed events, miracles, surprise twists and resurrections. And finally, there's some pretty spectacular staging by Raphael Massie, a director keen to tell a story you want to watch and to listen to. And naturally, enjoy and appreciate over a bottle of fine wine, a loaf of sliced Italian bread and a charcuterie platter of dry-cured ham, turkey liver mousse with black truffles, three types of cheese and a big screen TV or computer that thrusts you into the world of Pericles to view a tragi-comic work chock full of creative adrenaline.

PS: It is generally thought that George Wilkins wrote the first two acts of the play and Shakespeare penned only the second half. In the end, however, you decide. My thoughts, you ask? "Sorry to disappoint, but the word is mum."

Connecticut Repertory Theatre's production of "Pericles, Prince of Tyre," is being streamed online, now through March 7, 2021. An event link will be emailed to you 24 hours before the virtual performance. Tickets are $16.00 (adults), $14 (senior citizens/staff), $10 (students)  Performances are 8 p.m. February 27 and March 5,  2 p.m. March 6 and 7, 7:30 p.m. March 3 and 4, and 8 p.m. March 6. Running time: 2 hrs. with one 10 minute intermission. If you have any questions, email

Friday, February 19, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 248, A Review: "Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen..." (Connecticut Repertory Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco

Man: "When I woke up, I was in a bathtub full of melting ice cubes and Miller's High Life beer. My skin was blue. I was gasping for breath in a bathtub full of ice cubes. It was near a river but I don't know if it was the East or the Hudson. People do terrible things to a person when he's unconscious in this city. I'm sore all over like I'd been kicked downstairs, not like I fell but was kicked. One time I remember all my hair was shaved off. Another time they stuffed me into a trash-can in the alley and I've come to with cuts and burns on my body. Vicious people abuse you when you're unconscious. When I woke up I was naked in a bathtub of melting ice cubes. I crawled out and went into the parlor and someone was going out of the other door as I came in and I opened the door and heard the door of an elevator shut and saw the doors of a corridor in a hotel. The TV was on and there was a record playing at the same time; the parlor was full of rolling tables loaded with stuff from Room Service, and whole hams, whole turkeys, three-decker sandwiches cold and turning stuff, and bottles and bottles of all kinds of liquor that hadn't even been opened and buckets of ice cubes melting. "

Woman: "I will read long books and the journals of dead writers. I will feel closer to them than I ever felt to people I used to know before I withdrew from the world. It will be sweet and cool this friendship of mine with dead poets, for I won't have to touch them or answer their questions. They will talk to me and not expect me to answer. And I'll get sleepy listening to their voices explaining the mysteries to me. I'll fall asleep with the book still in my fingers, and it will rain and I'll go back to sleep. A season of rain, rain, rain. Then, one day, when I have closed the book or come home alone from the movies at eleven o'clock at night, I will look in the mirror and see that my hair has turned white. White, as white as the foam on the waves." 

(Tennessee Williams, "Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen...")

In "Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen," a one-act play written by Tennessee Williams in 1953, two people - an unnamed man; an unnamed women - openly bare their souls while clinging to life and sadly wasting away in a cold-water flat on the Lower East Side. He is a drunk who wakes up in his underwear in some random hotel with no idea of how he got there, who brought him there and why is was attacked by some randoms.

"People do terrible things to a person when he's unconscious in this city," he tells us. "I've been passed around like a dirty postcard."

She, in turn, has spent the last three days staring out the window, drinking nothing but water, talking endlessly about the rain, life's many disappointments and growing old while choosing to ignore life and  mankind in the outside world. "I will read long books and the journals of dead writers," she explains. "I feel closer to them than I ever felt to people I used to know before I withdrew from the world."

The play itself, clocking in at a mere 20 minutes, immediately grabs you by the throat and messes with your senses, the minute each of the characters begins to speak. Tennessee Williams wouldn't have it any other way and therein, lies the fascination with this intimate, well-written two character play. Like so many of the playwright's other works, it digs deep inside the human psyche heightened by honest, in-the-moment dialogue about poverty, desperation, uncomfortable truths, fantasies, escape and misery. 

As produced by Connecticut Repertory Theatre, "Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen" is being streamed online using Zoom, an audio/video conferencing platform with high quality capabilities that lend themselves nicely to this effective, watch-from-home production event. 

Overseeing the action is director Dexter Singleton whose credits include "The Royale," "Black Book," "The Mountaintop" and "Jesus Hopped the A Train." Later this season, he will stage "And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens" and "This Property Is Condemned," two additional one-acts by Williams.

Using black-and-white filters to project the play's 1950's period aura, Singleton brings pain, passion, mystery and excitement to the piece, thrusting you head first into the core dynamic of the play, its rumpled imagery and its obvious separateness. As the story evolves, he also effectively uses the Zoom process, alternating between full screen and split screen depending on the action at hand. It's a balancing act he augments with precision, skill and eavesdropping intensity.

The casting is unique.

Both Colin Kinnick (Man) and Casey Wortham (Woman) are rightfully attuned to Williams' heightened, often poetic dialogue, its pulsating rhythms and juicy conversations. Playing characters on their last legs, so to speak, they each get inside the heads of their characters, which here, is handled brilliantly by the attractive, passionate, challenged twosome. They also deliver full-throttle monologues that are solid, riveting and well understood within the contest of the play. The precision, pacing and naturalness they exude transforms "Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen" into the must-see theatrical event of the winter season.

A perceptive, knotty and vital work with smart direction and two rapid-fire performances, this one act play by Tennessee Williams sets its sights high and delivers an electrifying buzz that is truly unforgettable.  

"Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen" is being streamed online, now through February 21, 2021. An event link will be emailed to you 24 hours before the virtual performance. Tickets are $5. Performances are 2 and 8 p.m. February 20 and 2 p.m. February 21. If you have any questions, email

Sunday, February 14, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 247, A Review: "Elyot & Amanda: All Alone" (Playhouse on Park)

By James V. Ruocco

"Death is very laughable. It's such a cunning little mystery. It's all done with mirrors."

"It doesn't suit women to be promiscuous."

"Darling, you look awfully sweet in your little dressing gown."

"You mustn't be serious my dear one. That's just what they want."

It's a pity you didn't have more brandy. It might have made you a little less disagreeable."

Noel Coward, "Private Lives"

Written and first performed in London, 1930, "Private Lives" is an acerbic, detailed commentary of love, marriage, commitment, physical attraction, divorce, second chances and over-the-top marital conflicts. It is characterized by the playwright's cheeky trademark dialogue, his wit, his flamboyance, his poise, his articulate polish, his unapologetic snap, his nervy restlessness and his deliciously wicked sophistication. 

"Elyot & Amanda: All Alone," a 38-minute online stream, produced by the Hartford-based Playhouse on Park, takes its cue from the second act of "Private Lives" and offers at home viewers an upclose look at the two argumentative honeymooners whose spouses Sibil and Victor have been deleted from the script along with any references made by Coward. The new script, written by Ezra Barnes and Veanne Cox, the two actors who play Elyot and Amanda, has been updated to the present (i.e, the pandemic) complete with sanitizer, weed and face masks. The set, a real-life apartment, where the production was filmed in the actors' place of quarantine (based on rules set forth by Actor's Equity, no one was present during the filming, which was done remotely by Hartley Abdekalimi, Alex Zelinski and Johann Fitzpatrick), is a mixture of both past and present, and much to the delight of everyone involved, a sort of third character in the piece. It is handsome and stylish, reflecting a design that complements the production and its Noel Coward ambiance.

 However, unlike "Private Lives," "Elyot & Amanda: All Alone" is neither turbocharged, flip or recklessly kinetic. It also lacks the bounce and ping (more on that, later) of Coward's playtext, its grounding merriment, its biting sting, its cloying contrails and its impassioned dynamics.

The big question: Is "Elyot and Amanda: All Alone," a complete failure?
Hell, no!

It is fun. It is entertaining. It is lightweight. It is sweet and poignant. It is candy-coated and gleeful. It is daft and romantic. It is refreshingly down to earth. It is comedic and progressive.

Since this production is not done for the stage,  it adapts an entirely different pulse and pacing that separates it completely from "Private Lives." The playing area also dictates a certain aura and heartbeat that takes it completely out of the Coward arena, most noticeably the ping pong match frenzy of the dialogue, which is delivered in rapid succession by the characters with a pause and breath tossed in unobtrusively when called for.

Staging the Playhouse on Park production, director Sean Harris retains the bliss, conflict and romanticism set forth by the Barnes and Cox adaptation, but opts for a much slower pacing, which is very un-Coward, but nonetheless, keeps "Elyot and Amanda: All Alone" afloat. He takes full advantage of the real-life apartment setting and guides his two character cast through the proceedings matter-of-factly, making sure they are in sync with the telling of their story, its conflicts, its remembrances, its broad, physical strokes and its comic zingers. It's a valiant effort but Harris knows exactly what he wants and he runs with it.

 The casting of Ezra Barnes and Veanne Cox as Elyot and Amanda is spot on, jammed packed with combustible energy, passion, personality and sparring wickedness. Barnes is charming, mischievous, wistful and suave, which is exactly right for the character of Elyot. He tosses off some rather clever dialogue with energy and brio and makes Elyot and Amanda's relationship real, focused and heartfelt. Cox is wonderfully passionate, sensual and playful as Amanda. She has remarkable appeal and is completely at ease with the sharp-witted dialogue of the piece, its purpose and importance to the story and its priceless absurdity. She is also spirited, lighthearted, direct and mysterious and displays an exhilarating charm, chemistry and partnership with her equally talented co-star.

 "Elyot and Amanda: All Alone"  is available to stream online through March 7,  2021. Individual tickets are $20 each and can be purchased through Upon purchasing a ticket, you will receive a code to access the stream.
For more information, call (860) 523-5900.

Friday, February 12, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 246, Connecticut Theatre News: James Anthony Tyler's "Talkin' To This Chick Sippin' Magic Potion" (TheaterWorks/Hartford).

By James V. Ruocco           


These are the five main characters in James Anthony Tyler's "Talkin' To This Chick Sippin' Magic Potion," a candid, hypnotic and in-your-face work in progress, that has wisely captured the attention of TheaterWorks/Hartford, the perfect venue to showcase the playwright's new work, which, one day will near completion, and hopefully end up being added to the theater's mainstage season line-up once the COVID-19 pandemic finally runs its course and theatrical venues could reopen again.

The production, which is being streamed online in its entirely, runs 95 minutes. As penned by Tyler, the play respects, taunts and challenges its characters without making them stereotypes. They clash and comfort each other with a motivated familiarity that immediately draws you in and keeps you glued to your computer screen (HP, Apple, Dell) or TV (Xfinity rules), anxiously awaiting the next plot move, scene change, character quirk, flip or revelation without looking back.

"What you are about to see is a capture of a moment in time of a play," explains playwright James Anthony Tyler, the recipient of the 3rd annual Horton Foote Playwriting Award and graduate of the Juilliard School's Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program. "I first started working on it back in 2016. And this is a work that's still very much in progress."

"Talkin' To This Chick Sippin' Magic Potion" openly discusses sex, virginity, gender, marriage, break ups, lesbianism, parental conflicts with children, big city life, monetary budgeting, job security, truth, lies, resentment and deception. Tyler's play also addresses workplace angst and sexual harassment, the do's and don'ts of serving or not serving watermelon in a salad with feta cheese, a daughter's graduation day, job advancement by a move to New Haven, a speeding car operated by a white man with a dick that nearly runs over two of the play's main characters and how and when sexual attraction for the same sex broke up a once happy marriage.

Per TheaterWorks/Hartford, here is a breakdown of the scripted production with additional commentary "par moi."

Jornay is a professional cuddler ($100 a session) who discovers that her newest client Ruben needs more than her touch (now that his father has died, he's torn apart and wants to move back to Puerto Rico), a situation that often angers her lesbian girlfriend (a control freak at the very least) as does Jornay's obsession with Tiffany, her 17-year-old daughter who's about to graduate from high school with her father Steve (he is hearing impaired) in attendance but not Jornay.

Meet the Cast

Sheria Irving as Jornay
Miriam A. Hyman as Sheba
Mateo Ferro as Ruben
Darius McCall as Steve
Jules Latimer as Tiffany
All five actors are making their TheaterWorks/Hartford debut.

On Broadway, Sheria Irving has appeared in "Romeo and Juliet." Her other credits include "White Noise" at the Public Theater, "While I Yet Live" for Primary Stages, "The Model American" at Williamstown Theatre Festival and "The Winter's Tale" and "Cymbeline" at Yale Rep. The actress also holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama.

Miriam A. Hyman is both a classically trained actress and Hip Hop recording artist. Her credits include "Socrates" and "Richard III" for the Public Theater, "Cymbeline" at Yale Rep, "The Tempest" at La MaMa, "Piano Lesson" at the McCarter Theater and "Richard II" for Shakespeare in the Park Radio.

Mateo Ferro is excited that "Talkin' to This Chick Sippin' Magic Potion" is being streamed online. He is perhaps best known for his starring roles as Sonny in the 2018 Broadway Center Stage production of "In the Heights" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He also played the part of Carlos on NBC's "Manifest" the same year.

Jules Latimer has appeared in "Angela's Mixtape" at Martha's Vineyard Playhouse, "Paris" at the Atlantic Theatre and "Romeo and Juliet" for the Chautauqua Theatre Company. A recent graduate from New York's prestigious Juilliard School, Latimer's credits include "The Tempest," "The Owl Answers" and "Paradise Blue."  

Darius McCall has appeared in "Superior Donuts," "Flyin' West," "The Bloody Banquet" and "The Shipment." He has also been classically trained as an actor at the Studio Conservatory in Washington, D.C.

"Talkin' To This Chick Sippin' Magic Potion" is staged using a Zoom streaming process that connects the character's in two or three split screen shots or by themselves when dictated by the machinations of Tyler's playwright. Overseeing the action is Awoye Timpo, a Brooklyn-based director and producer whose credits include "The Loophole" at the Public Theater, "In Old Age" for the New York Theatre Workshop, "Paradise Blue" at Long Wharf and "The Homecoming Queen" for the Atlantic Theater Company.

"We were lucky in December to gather a group of actors and collaborators to work through this play," she recalls. "We were able to read the play, do a lot of scene work and have a lot of really wonderful, amazing conversations. So we're so very excited to invite you into the process."

Staging the play via Zoom, Timpo never lets the process upstage the actors or overwhelm the at-home audience, many of whom are not that familiar with viewing productions online or Zoom. Here, the director relies on her cast to move the action forward, completely absorbed in Tyler's tantalizing material, which never falters for a moment. Ten minutes in, you completely forget about Zoom and let the words of playwright work their magic. PS: No potion needed.

  "Talkin' To This Chick Sippin' Magic Potion" is being streamed online, now through February 26.
Individual tickets are $25. All tickets have a $3 service fee that is added to the order.
All 24 hour access streams are available to view for one day. Once you accept the streaming terms, you need to complete your viewing during that particular 24 hour time frame. All sales are final with no refunds.

This play is part of the WORKshop series, produced in partnership with Bank of America.

For more information, call TheaterWorks/Hartford at (860) 527-7838.