September 2015 Local Theatre Shows

Marlene S. Gaylinn
Marlene S. Gaylinn

  By Marlene S. Gaylinn                                
  CT Critics Circle /                                                  Sept/2015

Westport Country Playhouse, Wspt. CT

A prolific, British playwright, Alan Ayckbourn is noted for amusing, contemporary, ensemble works that feature clever dialogue and interactions between various classes of English society.  Although this play pokes fun at human nature rather than social status, if you’re a fan of the clever, British, TV comedy series “Keeping up Appearances,” “Bedroom Farce” at Westport Country Playhouse (WCP) is certainly for you.  

This situation play takes place on one Saturday night, in three bedrooms that are in separate homes.  Each room, nicely designed by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, reflects the personalities of the couples who occupy them.  To our left, is a formal, English bedroom complete with period furniture, and a heavy, maroon, coverlet set.  The elderly couple who belong in this setting are “Delia” (Cecilia Hart) and “Ernest” (Paxton Whitehead), who are set in their ways.

The second bedroom is unmade.  It contains a bed with a modern, bookcase headboard, a crumpled, blue blanket, and half finished wallpaper.  This space is occupied by an energetic, fun-loving couple, “Kate” (Claire Karpen) and “Malcolm” (Scott Drummond). They like to tease and to hide each other shoes and kitchen tools among the bedding.

The third modern bedroom contains “Nick” (Matthew Greer) and his wife “Jan” (Nicole Lowrance).  Nick is in bed trying to recover from back pain, while Jan is preparing to go to Kate and Malcom’s house warming party by herself. 

The older couple in the first bedroom has a son, “Trevor” (Carson Elrod) who was recently married to “Susannah” (Sarah Manton).  These two, young, social misfits have no onstage bedroom but float between all three rooms and take turns occupying the other three couples’ beds.

The trouble begins when Kate and Malcom invite the two young couples to a party at their house while knowing that Susannah and Trevor spell trouble.  The problem is that they each have their own insecurities to battle, and frequently argue in public.  In addition to Susannah and Trevor’s marital problems, there was a previous attraction between Jan and Trevor, which has not faded completely.  That’s one of the reasons why Jan is anxious to leave her back-injured husband and attend the party alone. Well, you can guess what happens when this volatile love triangle meet and clash at the party.  Do you recall a time when company came and piled their coats on the bed?  Well, picture a heated argument amidst a huge clothing mound, plus a variety of hard tools.

In an effort to seek consolation after the blow- out, Jan ends up at Trevor’s parents house sleeping in their bed, and Trevor seeks help by lying on the beds in the other two bedrooms – each of them causing a commotion wherever they happen to be.  Before things settle down, tempers flare, furniture is broken and husbands are dispossessed. On top of all this action is a heap of hearty laughter.

John Tillinger, who is an expert in directing Ackbourne’s plays on Broadway and WCP, is in charge of this splendid cast.  This is the fifth Ackboune play presented in Westport and audiences may recognize the popular actors who were featured here before. 

Plays to Sept. 13       Tickets: 203-227-5137


Westchester B’way Theatre, Elmsford, NY

This musical is based on the life of Ginger Rogers, an Academy Award-winning film star and popular dance partner of Fred Astaire during the 1930’s – 40’s.  If you know who she was from TV film revivals, or took ballroom dance lessons at a Fred Astaire studio and/or are into tap dancing, you may recognize her name.  The TV series, “So You Think You Can Dance,” recently featured a spoof of Ginger and Fred dancing to Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” so the couple’s popularity continues.  For those who still may be dancing in the dark -- better ask your grandparents to clue you in before you attend Westchester Broadway Theatre’s (WBT) current production.

Interestingly, the title of the musical comes from a 1982 “Frank and Earnest” cartoon which stated, “Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he (Fred Astaire) did – backwards and in high heels.” It sounds funny, but that’s not always the case.  While the man always leads, his partner usually shares the difficulty of the steps.

Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin’s songs are featured, while Christopher McGovern, who along with Lynnette Barkley conceived the musical, also composed a number of original pieces.

The show successfully debuted at West Palm Beach Florida in 2007.  Jeremy Benton, who appeared as Fred Astaire in the original production, revives his role and also directs and choreographs this revival  at Westchester Broadway Theatre.   Darien Crago, who has had extensive, musical theatre experience, plays his dance partner, Ginger Rogers here.

Unfortunately, for those who grew up seeing early, black and white films in movie theatres, the characters who play Ginger and Fred in this musical do not even resemble these stars. Ginger Rogers’ was a beautiful woman with stylish, blonde hair and shapely curves.  Her dancing, famously depicted with feathers flying off her elaborate, ball gowns, was lyrical and soft flowing. Fred Astaire was very slim, and not at all handsome – in fact, he resembled a bald-headed grasshopper dressed in black tails.   However, he was so light-footed that his feet hardly seemed to touch the ground.  So, in this production, you will have to imagine the dance couple’s black and white silhouettes as spotlighted on WBT’s program’s cover.

While her tap dancing technique is superior, Crago’s short hairstyle, sharp, facial features, angular body, thin arms and pointed elbows are unsuitable for the role of a warm, sexy, film beauty. Ginger Rogers may have had a strong, determined personality off-stage, but this singing/dancer’s interpretation was a bit too harsh.

Benton’s dance-steps capture the smooth, recognizable, Astaire style, but he does not have Fred’s lean likeness.  Erika Amato as Ginger’s mom is perfectly cast for her role, and Avital Asuleen livened the show with her outstanding interpretation of Ethel Merman, and other famous personalities.

This is a typical, Hollywood story about the rise of a starlet who was greatly influenced by her self-sacrificing, backstage mother.  What is unique is that Rogers made history when she fought for her equal rights. The actress was so much in demand, that she was eventually given the same contract considerations, and pay scale as the top male stars.  In this highly competitive business, Rogers rose to the top of her career and paved the way for other female movie stars.  Her tempestuous relationships and many husbands are side issues that are inserted for human-interest purposes.

Precision, tap dancing abounds and Benton’s choreography is tops. The ensemble is perfection, and the male dancers are particularly outstanding.  The live orchestra, directed by Jose Simbulan, adds to the period’s flavor.

Speaking of flavor, this is a dinner theatre.  A varied menu is included as is free parking.  You can even book a special party in one of the private, luxury boxes.

Plays to Sept. 20
Followed by “Show Boat – Sept. 24-Nov. 29
And Dec. 30 – January 31, 2016                          Tickets:  914-592-2222

Donate Blood and Your Library Overdue Fines are Waived

One donation can help save the lives of up to three people. Source
One donation can help save the lives of up to three people. Source

Wednesday, August 26th

From 1:00 p.m. until the last appointment at 6:15 p.m.

Darien Library will be hosting the American Red Cross for a blood drive in August. Registration that day will be in the Community Room then donations will occur in the Red Cross' specially equipped bus in the parking lot. Visit the Red Cross' website to schedule an appointment or call 1-800-733-2767.

Blood donors and those who attempt to donate are eligible to have their overdue fines waived (does not apply to bills or replacement charges). 

Facts about blood donation from the Red Cross

  • Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.
  • The blood used in an emergency is already on the shelves before the event occurs.
  • A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.
  • Roughly 1 pint of blood is given during a donation.


July 2015 Local Theatre Shows

Marlene S. Gaylinn
Marlene S. Gaylinn

 By Marlene S. Gaylinn                                
 CT Critics Circle /                                                  July/2015

Summer Theatre of New Canaan, CT

Celebrating its 12th highly successful season, Summer Theatre of New Canaan, under the direction of the mother-daughter team, Melody and Allegra Libonati, brings us a cutesy, sexy, production of “Legally Blonde” this year. The award-winning film and Broadway musical by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin is about a young girl named “Elle” who cunningly manages to wangle her way into Harvard, despite her questionable, scholarly aptitude. We quickly learn that this tootsie’s motivation is not a college education. Her true quest is to cement her relationship with a former boyfriend who happens to be a Harvard law student.

It’s very apparent that this blonde, pink-clad, Barbie Doll in high heels, doesn’t fit in with the nerdy, conservatively dressed, Ivy League crowd. However, Elle finally does achieve a rewarding education in more ways than one, when her natural smarts, and strong determination, twists the finger of fate towards her direction.

Kara Dombrowski (Elle) is a little cutie as she sings and dances across the stage, and flirts with handsome boyfriends Preston Ellis (Warner) and Mathew Christian (Emmett). The young, firecracker cast, directed by Allegra Libonati, is dressed in sparkling costumes and short-shorts designed by Lauren Gaston. There are numerous song and dance numbers and with great choreography by Doug Shankman, it’s hard to pick a favorite.  Stephen Hope as the law professor is a really cool character. We loved the cleverly worded “Blood in The Water” scene. Jodi Stevens convincingly plays the rejected, beauty parlor gal who freely gives boyfriend advice. Lively pop music is under the direction of David Hancock. The melodies and lyrics are fun to hear but difficult to remember. For many it was the trained dogs, Bruiser and Newman who also stole the show. “Legally Blonde” is energetic, lighthearted, easy to enjoy entertainment.
Plays through Aug. 9    Tickets:  203-966-4634

June 2015 Local Theatre Shows

Marlene S. Gaylinn
Marlene S. Gaylinn

By Marlene S. Gaylinn                                
CT Critics Circle /                              June/2015

Westport Country Playhouse,  Westport, CT

For those who are old enough to remember WWII, this play is an authentic representation of what life was like, particularly in Newcastle England, during the 1940’s. C.P. Taylor, a Scotsman who was born in1929, and lived his last 20 years in Newcastle, was probably too young to be drafted then, never-the-less, his “And a Nightingale Sang,” currently at Westport Country Playhouse, captures the spirit of the ordinary people of this northern, coal mining area and survived this devastating war.

For those who weren’t born yet, here in America, we had the same air raid drills, food rationing and other inconveniences due to WWII, but we suffered very little compared to England. Sitting in our comfortable living rooms, we heard of the indiscriminate German bombing raids on the radio, read the newspapers, and saw the destruction of cities via movie newsreels. However, our men were also risking their lives fighting Hitler and the Japanese. The factories were rolling out planes, ships, tanks and other war supplies day and night, and the home front’s unified spirit to win this war was as strong as it was in England. Nothing like this patriotism called “The War Effort” was ever witnessed by the generations of Americans that followed. After WWII, our half-hearted, foreign wars that were fought “…in our interest,” dragged on for years, and became dispirited efforts.  For this reason alone, “And a Nightingale Sang” at Westport Country Playhouse is a vivid, human experience for today’s audiences.

In describing the plot, the ancient English idiom, “…it’s like carrying coal to Newcastle” comes to mind -- which means, if there is a plot it’s rather “pointless.” If the saying puzzles you, it came about because Newcastle was known to have enough coal of its own.  Likewise, there is nothing unusual about the plot except the period it is set in. It’s like an “All in the Family” sit-com. There are some tender moments, some wise and funny observances, two romances, plus a dead dog that needs to be buried.  No other significant events take place, and like the ongoing serial,  “Love of Life,” nothing is earth shattering. The story continues on and on and the family remains more or less as before.

It is the entire cast, under the direction of David Kennedy, that is most remarkable.  Brenda Meaney is the resigned, spinster daughter, Helen.  Her skilled acting smoothly transitions from narrator to actress.  She also plays the advisor to her younger, insecure sister, Joyce (Jenny Leona).  John Skelley plays Joyce’s soldier husband, and together, the couple makes a great, dancing pair. Handsome soldier Norman (Matthew Greer) is attracted to Helen but he holds a secret.  The very religious, Catholic mother, Deirdre Madigan, frowns on this out-of-wedlock relationship with good reason. The boisterous, piano-playing father, later turned Communist, is Sean Cullen.  Music is his way of keeping up morale, and his rich voice singing WWII British and American popular songs adds a special touch.  Richard Kline is the down to earth, WWI grandpa who nurtures animals and steals the show with his shocking, outlandish remarks.  You can almost hear the playwright speaking cynically here. 

The scenery is a puzzle.The brick wall background, looks as if the family is living in an abandoned factory.  It’s difficult to know where the living spaces and the indoor and outdoor site lines are. We have one, single bed against the center of the brick wall and an adjoining kitchen area.  Either we should accept that everyone takes turns sleeping in one bed, or, we have to assume there are other bedrooms in the unit for various family members – but no doors lead to them.  All entrances and exits are from the wings.  When the victory lights are hung on the clothesline, we are not sure if the line is indoors or in the yard. We are also wondering what the yellow structure behind and above the brick wall represents? The bombing sounds and flashing lights add tense realism to the scene and except for Helen’s uneven hemline; the women’s period clothing was fine.

While I had trouble hearing all the words and getting used to the dialect, Elizabeth Smith should be complimented for a very difficult task. I believe I detected a combination of Irish, Scottish, and maybe a bit of Welsh  – typical dialects of the coal miners who settled in this area of England. 

You should see “And a Nightingale Sang” for its good acting and historic value.

Plays to June 27             Tickets: 203-227-4177

May 2015 Local Theatre Shows

Marlene S. Gaylinn
Marlene S. Gaylinn

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

Artistic Director of Westport Country Playhouse (WCP), Mark Lamos, states in his program notes that “Lying is actually a big part of how we communicate, and it’s certainly a large part—if not the essential aspect—of all art.”To illustrate his point, the Playhouse is opening its 85th season, with a hilarious comedy by David Ives, called “The Liar.” The production is a composite of 16th and 17th century plays based upon this deceptive art of human expression. Classical elements, such as rhyming couplets, are rendered in the style of Shakespeare, Rostand, Racine, Moliere and in particular, Pierre Corneille’s “Le Menteur”and are cleverly incorporated against a background of French hip-hop music, up-dated period ball gowns, and minimal, picture-book scenery. In short, the play illustrates that the art of lying has not changed since humans developed speech and the writing of classical plays – particularly the ones that are still enjoyed today.

It is natural for normal children to learn to lie as soon as they begin to talk. It’s a technique used by many politicians and lawyers and as current events still show, you might get away with lying if you have mastered how to twist things around and cover-up your mistakes eloquently. Aaron Krohn’s quick-thinking “Dorante,” is one of those eternal, wily characters whose lies will keep you sitting forward in your seat.

“The Liar,” does not have any important lessons to teach. However, I can truthfully say that if you can keep up with the quick pace of Penny Metropulos’ direction and the very clever dialogue, you will be bound to laugh at the mix-up of characters and the convoluted circumstances, which eventually lead to suitable mates.

The entire cast is superb. Kate Mccluggage plays the adorable, sought after “Clarice” and Monique Barbee is her wise friend, “Lucrece.”If the girls’ names sound similar it is only the beginning. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Clarice has twin maids with opposite personalities, and Rebekah Brockman plays both characters, “Isabelle” and “Sabine,” with admirable finesse.The frequent mix-up in the maids’ individual appearances leads to even more confusion. Rusty Ross is Dorante’s valet  “Clinton,” Brian Reddy is Dorante’s believably befuddled father, Geronte. Philippe Bogen is “Alcippe,” Dorante’s rival for Clarice. and Jay Russell plays “Philiste,” his advisor.  

When Clinton begs his Master Dorante for “lessons in lying,” Aaron Krohn gives a funny speech that is reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac’s excuse for his long nose. There are many familiar puns to tune into and this is only one example of this enjoyable play.

Plays through May 23                                                          Tickets: 203-227-4177

This review appears in “On CT&NY Theatre” May/2015

March 2015 Local Theatre Shows

Marlene S. Gaylinn
Marlene S. Gaylinn

By Marlene S. Gaylinn                                
CT Critics Circle /  March/2015

Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, CT

Like kosher wine or hot dogs you don’t have to be Jewish to thoroughly enjoy this realistic slice of life at Long Wharf Theatre. Heated, family arguments are familiar to us all.  Centering around an argument over who best deserves their late grandfather’s “Chai” (a symbolic piece of jewelry) Josh Harmon’s new play,  “Bad Jews,” also confronts the clashing, philosophical views of the majority of American Jews, and for better or worse, illustrates their rapid assimilation into other cultures and the loss of  identifyable traditions.

The words are cleverly sharp and biting, and Oliver Butler expertly directs this wonderful cast through a series of  intellectual and humorous debates, which directly hit home to many audience members.

Keilly McQuail plays “Cousin Daphna,” a sarcastic, “know it all” whose nasal accent, and facial expressions are hard to beat. A calculating snob you love to hate, Daphna feels more entitled to her grandfather’s “Chai” because, as she loudly declares to her two cousins, “I’m more of a Jew than any of you.” After all, the Vassar senior chatters on, she’s been to Israel, wants to marry an Israeli soldier, carry on the tradition, etc. etc.   Little does this kinky-head realize that like American Jews, the majority of Israel’s citizens are non-religious -- although they have a strong, cultural identity. This is an important, irony to recognize – which unfortunately was not well-brought out in this play about religious fanaticism verses the advancement of a more harmonious One World.

Micheal Steinmetz as “Liam,” presents a powerful, intellectual match against his cousin Daphna’s ultra religious, snobbish, points of view. Christy Escobar is “Melody,” Liam’s bewildered, non-Jewish girlfriend.  Max Miller plays Liam’s younger brother, “Jonah,” who prefers not to get too involved in family arguments but has a hidden surprise.The play’s ending may seem unsatisfying to some, but, it’s certainly something to ponder.

A couple of elderly folks who stayed for the discussion afterwards, criticized the character “Daphna,” for being too much of a stereo-type -- which to me meant that McQuail gave an excellent interpretation. Some viewers objected to the title. For them, “Bad Jews,” implied a Jewish comedy, but this was instead a serious play based on  serious subject matter. This is absolutely true!

Whatever your thoughts on this frank, controversial subject, “Bad Jews” is a thoroughly engrossing play that will certainly stimulate after theatre discussion.

Plays thru: March 22    Tickets: 203-432-1234

Genealogy Drop-In Help

Will you discover royalty in your family?
Will you discover royalty in your family?

Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon
On the Second Level

Do you want to get started on your family history? Or do you know exactly where you're getting stuck and need help. Skilled genealogist, Steve Anderson, can help! He can help you find elusive ancestors' military records, census data, birth certificates and more using Library Edition, Heritage Quest, and FamilySearch. 

To find him, just come to the Second Level and ask the Reference Librarian for Steve! 

Steve is the president of the Middlesex Genealogical Society

Bunny by the Darien Library Garden

A few weeks ago, the Library planted its first vegetable garden. Since then we've spotted a new friend who is *very* interested in our little garden plot...

The Gift of the Bird Feeder

Find it outside the Holds' area window.
Find it outside the Holds' area window.

This lovely bird feeder is a gift to the Library from Joe and Patty Warren of Wild Birds Unlimited. We're so thankful for this generous gift. Barbara of Readers' Advisory says we'll need to wait a week or so before we'll see birds visiting it.

To see the bird feeder, either come in through the Post Road entrance to the Library and look to the right. Or go into the Holds area behind the Welcome Desk. The bird feeder is visible outside the window. 

What kind of birds do you think we'll see at it this winter? 

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