Thursday, March 08, 2007

"Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner" - Clever and Complex

Luis Alfaro's "Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner," continuing at Hartford Stage through April 1, (happily) nags at theatergoers. The play is about disorder whether that focuses upon food or sex. It's about being fat, about being lonely.

Actress Elisa Bocanegra inhabits the incredulously large Minerva, the sister who (no matter what she tries) is ever-expansive. Her husband Al (Felix Solis) is reasonable, empathetic, encouraging, and faithful. But, he is unable to say "I Love You."

Yetta Gottesman plays Alice, the other sister - who craves sex, wishes for affection, and remains as unfulfilled as Minerva. She and Officer Fred Martinez (James Martinez) go at one another beneath the covers. They might be a couple but cannot commit. This cop seems, for much of the time, to be emotionally vacant.

The talented Lisa Peterson directs the production and her presence is key. This play begs for and receives specific instructions which will help make it fly.

Do not be put off, as I was, by the first few moments of the play. There's a temptation to categorize. Minerva is immense and she begins eating - anything. Well, that doesn't seem all that promising....It takes some time before Alvaro's scripting takes hold.

The second portion of the play is about conflict. The dramatic questions, posed much earlier, ask whether any of these people, individually, or as couples, will find meaning, value, joy, reason for existence.

Yet, "Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner" is anything but heavy-handed. It's funny and spirited while reaching for profound responses to difficult circumstances.

This is a play which includes numerous vignettes. Peterson does her best to fluidly bridge gaps from one scene to the next. It is often but not always pleasant to watch minimalist furnishings move on and off stage.

Rachel Hauck's set, at the outset, is spare to the extreme: see one old, white refrigerator.

The cadence of the play approximates that of this commentary: the sketches and the paragraphs are brief......

"Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner" is well: acted, directed, and realized. Sets one to thinking.; (860) 525-5601

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dulcinea Captivates Within Stunning "La Mancha"

Charles Newell re-imagined the legendary "Man of La Mancha" and staged his impressive production a couple of years ago at Chicago's Court Theater. New Haven's Long Wharf Theater brings that transformative show, complete with classic Mitch Leigh music/Joe Darion lyrics to Connecticut through Mar. 18th. Doug Peck provides the splendid musical direction while Newell supervises the overall presentation.

During the mid-1960s the playwright Dale Wasserman (who originally wrote this as a TV play) referenced "Don Quixote de La Mancha," by Miguel de Cervantes, and brought his project to the Goodspeed Opera House. The subsequent Broadway production, starring Richard Kiley, became the third longest running musical of the decade. Kiley as Don Quixote will live forever in theatergoers' minds.

The storyline finds Cervantes (Herbert Perry), in great debt, imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. Newell situates everyone in the prison and all actors take on multiple roles. Cervantes endures a trial and begs that his ideal vision be recognized. He fights windmills and, by the time this just under two hour adaptation ends, wins over all of his fellow prisoners. As he about to die, the protagonist is heroic.

Much revolves around the whorish character of Escalante/Aldonza/Dulcinea (Hollis Resnik) who, during this sixteenth century piece, is initially wild, audacious, dirty, and foul-mouthed. Everyone else on stage, including Cervantes' delightful servant, Sancho ( the delightful manservant played by Jim Corti), becomes secondary to the characters embodied by Hollis Resnik.

Before I proceed further, it must be stated that designer John Culbert's rendering of the Inquisition Jail is a work of fine art. It is: dark, dungy, forbidding.....and becomes an all-inclusive environment for the show. Sitting high above, one actually feels the humidity and bleak texture within the confining space below. Mark McCullough's variety of lighting effects and sounds provided by Ray Nardelli and Josh Horvath are major positives as are Jacqueline Firkins' "outfits."

Tunes penned for "Man of La Mancha" are recognizable and welcome. They include: "I Really Like Him," "Little Bird, Little Bird" (with harmony), and "Knight of the Woeful Countenance." The musical's classic number is, of course, "The Impossible Dream." Yet "Dulcinea" becomes the central song here.

Quixote, from the outset, calls the woman he adores Dulcinea and all of her efforts to prove that she is a prostitute mean nothing to him. He is certain she is a virgin.....He will do anything for her, for the person he loves.

So, it's a romantic, poetic, sometimes even humorous rendering -- the current "La Mancha."

Perry, with a trained, impressive operatic voice, is strong. He is non-charismatic. The galvanic Resnik carries the production. She nails her characters throughout. The concluding section of the performance allows her to open up emotionally and she is more than equal to that task. During the early going, she is asked, virutally, to spit with grit -- and she obliges.

The Broadway "La Mancha" won five Tony Awards and I saw that memorable Manhattan production. And, I took in a bus and truck touring version of the musical several years ago; not bad at all. Newell's exciting, powerful, commanding realization brings fresh authority to a great play. Within the scope of the prison, a fine cast expands and enthralls.; (203) 787-4282