Monday, July 21, 2014

Valley Shakespeare Fest scores 30 percent jump in attendance


Here's a look at Valley Shakespeare Festival's Free Shakespeare in the Park performances of the Bard’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” on the evenings of July 10, 11 and 12 at Shelton’s Riverwalk-Veterans Memorial Park.
According to official Cheryl O'Brien, "The three performances attracted over six hundred audience members, a 30% increase over last year’s totals.  They came early, from all over Connecticut and as far away as New York City, Syracuse, Long Island and New Jersey, bringing picnic dinners from home or purchased from local eateries.  Children played in the park by the Housatonic River while families relaxed until the lights came on and the players took the stage to perform the play some have described as an Elizabethan Rom-Com.  They laughed, sighed, shuddered and applauded as Beatrice, Benedick, Hero and Claudio stumbled through their journeys to a very happy ending."




Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Yale's superb quartet-in-residence, Brentano Quartet, busy in Norfolk

From the folks at the Norfolk (Ct.) Music Shed, 20 Litchfield Road, Norfolk, CT, where
the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, presented by the Yale School of Music, is in its 73rd  season

On Friday, July 18 the Festival presents a program of Russian music featuring Festival artists Boris Berman (piano), Clive Greensmith (cello) and the Brentano String Quartet performing Igor Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne for cello and piano; Sergei Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major and his Overture on Hebrew Themes, and the concert closes with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in g minor- with pianist Boris Berman and the Brentano String Quartet in their first appearance as the Norfolk Festival’s new Quartet-In-Residence.

On Saturday the Brentano Quartet takes the Music Shed stage on their own with a program of Mozart’s “The Hunt” String Quartet (K458), Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3, and closing the program, Beethoven’s String Quartet in c-sharp minor, Op 131. The Brentano Quartet’s recorded performance was prominently featured in the critically acclaimed Yaron Zilberman film 2013 film A Late Quartet, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken. In 2013 the Brentano Quartet was named Quartet-In-Residence at both the Yale School of Music and at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, succeeding the Tokyo String Quartet which had held the positions for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2013. 

For information, call 860-542-3000

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

'RiffTrax Live: Sharknado' looms in theaters Thursday; biting satire


For pop-culture quipsters who like to smirk at bad movies (and who doesn't?), Thursday's inventive redux of campy TV flick "Sharknado" looms as a major, open-jawed epic event.
The crew behind former cable franchise "Mystery Science Theater 3000" -- which was a chuckleheaded delight as it riffed on bad old movies while it screened them -- will apply their witty touch to the ridiculous 2013 Syfy channel film that became an amusing rage on social media.
"RiffTrax Live: Sharknado" will be shown in 650 cinemas at 8 p.m. Thursday, live from the
State Theater in Minneapolis; a second taped showing will be July 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Local theaters include Branford 12 on East Main Street, Waterbury's Brass Mill 12 on Union Street, North Haven 12 on Universal Drive and Connecticut Post 14 in Milford. Tickets run $10.50-$12.50.
Now, if you haven't seen "MST3K," it may seem bizarre and unappealing to listen to quipsters filling in the pauses in a movie theater; after all, the chatter of local pinheads will ruin a movie for anyone nearby (and has led to violence).
But the patter of Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett is like sitting next to a few of your funniest buddies, who punctuate each absurd moment in a stupid movie with an amusing aside (or, even funnier, a running gag).
The actual Syfy channel movie franchise is meant to be B-movie schlock, of course, often with two incongruous words crammed together ("Dinocroc," "Piranhaconda" or "Sharktopus," if not "Mansquito"). But in any movie, there are actors taking themselves seriously, so there's always room for an "Airplane"-like punch line.
The plot of "Sharknado," which caused such a stir that it has led to a Syfyy sequel premiering July 30, is this: Huge water spouts scoop up vicious sharks from the ocean and hurl them onto land (Los Angeles, thankfully, where so many bad movies are conceived). It's scientifically impossible, of course, in so many ways, that you can laugh it as you wince at its abundant gore. 
Beach owner Fin (Ian Ziering, "Beverly Hills 90210," who has family from New Haven), bartender Nova (Casie Scerbo, "Make It Or Break It") and local drunk George (John Heard, "Home Alone") team up with Fin’s ex-wife (Tara Reid, "Scrubs") to investigate "the ecological nightmare that has sharks swimming through the streets of Los Angeles and falling from the skies."
The silhouetted characters of RiffTrax should add mightily to those laughs.

Tickets for "RiffTrax Live: Sharknado" are available at participating theater box offices and online at www.FathomEvents.com.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Arts & Ideas bonus review: 'Arguendo'


By Ellen Francis
According to the U.S. Supreme Court website, “the public may either download the audio files [of the Court’s oral arguments] or listen to the recordings on the Court’s Web site.”
There’s a reason that’s not America’s favorite pastime. With its abstruse technicalities,
judicial vocabulary, and references to precedents that nobody’s heard of, legalese
would seem a surefire method of putting an audience to sleep. But mix in the
words “G-strings” and “pasties,” some wizard-esque black robes, a couple of judges
wildly swiveling around in office chairs, and a dash of full-frontal nudity, and you’ve
got a formula that will turn heads.
This is precisely how Elevator Repair Service, an acclaimed theatre ensemble based out of New York City, has ingeniously brought court transcripts to life in its theatrical adaptation of a 1991 First Amendment case.
“Arguendo,” a Latin legal term meaning “for the sake of argument," is a staging of
Barnes v. Glen Theatre and The Kitty Kat Lounge, in which a group of exotic dancers andthe proprietors of two Indiana strip clubs protested a state law that outlawed publicnudity and mandated adult performers to wear pasties and G-strings. The attorneysargued that banning the strippers from performing completely nude is a violation
of their First Amendment right to free speech. The reenactment, directed by ERS
founder John Collins, is based almost word-for-word on the actual Supreme Court oral
arguments. “Arguendo” ran at Yale Repertory Theatre as part of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven.
Five performers interchangeably play different members of the Supreme Court, the
lawyers, various reporters, court clerks, and onlookers, and one exotic dancer who
had come all the way from the Deja Vu Club in Michigan to listen to the arguments.
Throughout the course of 80 minutes, the rendition of the court transcripts is
sometimes intertwined with snippets of real interviews with some of these characters.
The production kicks off as Rebecca Jackson (Maggie Hoffman), a fame-seeking stripper
in a fuchsia 90s blazer and a big head of hair, chitchats with reporters outside the
courthouse. As the justices and lawyers wrestle with First Amendment arguments, the
formal solemnity of this Supreme Court situation is diffused through a unique type of
comedy that is constantly in-motion and very physical. The choreographed movements
of the justices whizzing around in their black leather chairs, the characters’ mannerisms,
the chaotic on-stage costume changes, the piles of paper _ and at times, clothes _
flying around in the air, all create the surreal hilarity with which “Arguendo” unfolds.
Only three actors, sometimes in absurd wigs, play all nine eccentric judges, as they go
about fidgeting, grunting, jumping up and down, and frantically swiveling, all the while,
ironically, never getting up from their chairs. Surprisingly, the justices’ words, repeated
verbatim from the real case, are also funny; while discussing the strip clubs’ freedom
of expression, they toss around satirical observations and make witty remarks, such
as Justice Scalia’s (Vin Knight) “How does one draw a line between Salome and the
Kitty Kat Lounge?” and Justice O’Connor’s (Susie Sokol) “Why do they call this place
a ‘bookstore’?” referring to one of the clubs.
The court proceedings take place against the backdrop of inventive video projections
with animated text, designed by Ben Rubin. Relevant terms and sentences from court
documents and previous cases whirl around, zoom in, zoom out, and do all kinds of
acrobatics as the justices and attorneys refer to them in their arguments.
For all its whimsical goofiness, “Arguendo” does not lose substance or depth. The
justices deliberate over concepts that trigger internal debates in the minds of audience
members, such as freedom of speech, censorship and the complexity of defining art.
With this production, Elevator Repair Service has managed to unearth and then master
the skill of finding both humor and meaning in the midst of obscure judicial terminology
and making it appeal to a wide audience. The arguments are compelling, the characters
have an intriguing sense of dry wit, and “Arguendo” definitely instigates fits of laughter. But at a deeper level, it also ponders big-picture questions, albeit prompted by a couple of dancing strippers: What is artistic expression? At what point does it stop communicating a particularized message and start exhibiting immoral conduct? Who is to determine this threshold, and how does this relate to our preconceived notions of
freedom of speech?
Ellen Francis is a student at Yale.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mohegan Sun employees volunteer at Coogan Farm in Mystic


Monday, or Public Service Day at Mohegan Sun and the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, saw employees of its three locations (Uncasville, Pocono Downs and Resorts in Atlantic City) working with their local United Way branches to go out into the community for various service projects. 
Connecticut sent about 75 employees to Coogan Farm in Mystic  to help with its public mission. 
Coogan Farm is an interesting place. As the website puts it, "In September 2013, the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, purchased 34 acres of the historic Coogan Farm property on Greenmanville Avenue in Mystic, capping a two-year Campaign to Save Coogan Farm. With the donation of 11 additional adjoining acres, the Nature Center was able to create the 45-acre Nature and Heritage Center at Coogan Farm. It is the last parcel of undeveloped farmland between downtown Mystic, Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium."
Best of all, there's a two-acre garden at the Nature and Heritage Center at Coogan Farm that is growing produce for donation to the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center, which distributes food to 63 programs that serve 91 feeding sites across New London County.
From left, Maggie Jones, executive director of the Denison Pequotsepos 
Nature Center (which owns Coogan Farm), Ray Pineault, executive vice 
president and chief operating officer at Mohegan Sun, and Sharon 
Peccini, senior vice president at United Way of South Eastern Connecticut at Coogan Farm Monday.
 

A busy Saturday in CT entertainment world

Saturday in June for an arts and entertainment editor means hitting some key places around the state. Above, a couple of characters (one -- Dan -- a weathercaster for Fox CT, the other -- Jon -- a telecommunications manager) posed with their coffee early on a glorious-weather day at the Travelers Championship. It was my first visit to the Cromwell, CT, tournament. It's a fairly pleasurable experience for a casual or nonfan of golf. We saw white-haired John Daley up close and a few of the nonleaders competing at 9-11 a.m. on Saturday.
Then it was on to the Hot Steamed Jazz Fest in Essex, an underrated event featuring the upbeat sounds of New Orleans jazz (and related stylings) in a back parking lot next to the Essex Steam Train. Great happy music. The mostly older crowd was better than this Tout video shows; but more young people should definitely make a day of this next year. Loved it.

And then, with a hankering for slow-cooked pork and brisket, we tweeted from the Sun BBQ Fest at Mohegan Sun. It featured a nice variety of food and vendors but an odd setup -- with BBQ vendors fenced off in a no-alcohol area and the picnic tables and other vendors on the other end. Some BBQ vendors at 4 p.m. or so said they were out of ribs, which was curious, but there were others offering small $2 samples or larger plates. There's something pretty plain and uninspiring about a parking lot, too, but the weather was hard to fault. (Fireworks later would have been good, but we didn't stay for that.) If Mohegan was ever able to utilize the views and feel of the adjacent Thames River -- beyond a partial view on the second floor of Margaritaville or from some of its hotel rooms -- that would truly be special. In the meantime, you have to settle for picnic tables in a huge lot, with a nearby stage featuring regional bands. (There did seem to be more places to sit compared to the first fest in 2012, but there's nothing like a little foliage color, a gazebo and maybe a beach volleyball court for ambiance outside.)


2 punk-ish bands compete over hot sauce: DIARRHEA PLANET vs. SO SO GLOS