Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At Play in Waterford

The O'Neill Center camps out once more

By Christopher Arnott
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

ational Music Theater and National Playwrights Conferences
Through July 26 at the O'Neill Theater Center. $20. 305 Great Neck Rd., Waterford. (860) 443-1238, theoneill.org.

Arriving at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, I had a bit of a Private Benjamin moment. This place is not a theater, it's like summer camp, and I've never been a big camper. ... The kitchen served nothing but carbs. There was nothing but a narrow bed with a small desk in the room. Bathrooms were shared. The first night, I spent a few hours slapping at bugs, then went and slept in my car. I woke up cold and cranky, thinking 'What am I doing here? Forty-eight hours ago I was on Broadway.'"

That's Kristin Chenoweth (of Broadway's Wicked, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and The Apple Tree, not to mention TV's "The West Wing," "Pushing Daisies" and her own sitcom "Kristin") in her autobiography A Little Bit Wicked. It's perhaps the fullest description you'll find in print of the culture shock that can greet city-folk performers when they venture out to the grassy expanse of Waterford, Conn., for one of the Center's distinguished, down-to-earth new-works laboratories.

There's some dramatic license here of course. The O'Neill is a stone's ocean-skip from New London and a reasonable drive from much bigger cities. Its staff and audiences are assuredly theater-savvy. Chenoweth is setting a bleak scene so she can emphasize the thrill when she connects with Andrew Lippa, who became her fast friend and musical director of her concert tours, at that 1997 O'Neill workshop of The Wild Party.

I remember strolling the grounds of the O'Neill in 2002 and chatting with a couple of bleary-eyed New Yorkers who'd been up all night rewriting virtually every page of their unusual new musical following its revelatory first public presentation there. The show was Avenue Q, and you may find it ironic that such an urban-inflected social satire, reliant on the rarefied art of puppetry, could find its voice in the few-frills complex of lawns and barns of Waterford.

Avenue Q returns to Connecticut this October when the Tony-winning Broadway hit's national tour hits both New Haven and Hartford. Meanwhile, one of the show's co-creators, Jeff Whitty, is back at the O'Neill this summer launching another city-soaked, risk-taking musical project, an adaptation of Armistead Maupin's sweet and soapy yet sexually charged 1970s serial novel Tales of the City. Whitty is working with two composers, Jason Sellards (who also did the lyrics) and John Garden. Tales of the City plays the countryside of the O'Neill July 4, 5 and 11 at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee July 5.

Tales joins an even further-out new sociosexual musical, Picnic at Hanging Rock (July 1 & 3 at 8 p.m.), adapted by Daniel Zaitchik from the same Joan Lindsay novel about vanishing Victorian schoolgirls which also informed Peter Weir's late-'70s arthouse flick.

Then there's the hallowed O'Neill Playwrights Conference, which has jump-started the professional careers of countless writers and on whose business model Robert Redford based his Sundance Film Institute. This year the Playwrights Conference overlaps with the Music Theater Conference.

(The stand-alone Cabaret Conference ends the O'Neill summer sweat-and-entertain festivities July 29–Aug. 8.)

Playwright highlights include The Language Archive (July 4 at 8:15 p.m., July 5 at 5:15 p.m.) by Julia Cho, whose BFE and Durango were done at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II in 2005 and 2006. Fire Work (July 9 at 8:15 p.m., July 10 at 7:15 p.m.) is by Laurie Gunderson, whose plays frequently have scientific and/or historical underpinnings. And you can add Nilo Cruz to a club that includes August Wilson and Lee Blessing: Pulitzer Prize winners who continue to choose the O'Neill as a summer retreat. Cruz's The Color of Desire (July 11 at 8:15 p.m., July 12 at 3:15 p.m.) is a culture clash/romance between an American businessman and a Cuban actress in 1960 Havana.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Casting for O'Neill New Musicals, Plays

Casting for O'Neill New Musicals, Plays
Frank Rizzo
on June 10, 2009 8:49 PM

Candy Buckley, (TheaterWorks' "The Little Dog Laughed"), Mary Birdsong, Jeffrey Carlson, Christopher J. Hanke are featured in the cast of the new musical "Tales of the City," which will be in development at the National Music Theater Conference at the theater center.

Public readings for the work-in-progress are July 4, 5, 8 and 11. The musical, directed by Jason Moore ("Avenue Q"), also features Diane David, John Jellison, Steve Kazee, Jose Llana, Matt McGrath and Kristine Zbornik.

The musical version of "Picnic at Hanging Rock," which will be presented June 28 and 28 and July 1 and 3, features Laila Robins, Whitney Bashor, Charlie Brady, Matt Doyle, Jessica Grove, Veronica Kuehn, Hannah Laird, Anne Letscher, Anne Nathan, Lauren Nolan, Sarah Shahinian, Nick Sullivan, Kate Wetherhead, Jessica-Snow Wilson, Lauren Worsham and Valerie Wright*.

Over at the National Playwrights Conference casting is also set.

Johanna Day (Hartford Stage's "Peter and Jerry"), Dick Latessa (Broadway's "Hairspray"), Alan Ruck, Lynn Cohen (off-Broadway's "Chasing Manet") and Sue Jean Kim are featured in Julia Cho's "The Language Archive," directed by Mark Brokow. Readings are July 4 and 5.

Brandon Dirden, Suehyla El-Attarcq, and Kevin Geer are cast in "Fire Work" by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Sean Daniels. Readings are July 9 and 10.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Nilo Cruz' new play "The Color of Desire" will feature Day, Alma Cuervo, Maria Cellario, Mike Doyle, Rey Lucas and Stephen Schnetzer. The play, staged by conference director Wendy Goldberg, plays July 11 and 12.

Karen Briscoe, Matt D'Amic*, Stephen Ellis, Evan Enderle, Kevin Geer, Ben Gunderson and Karak Osborn are cast in Gregory Moss' "House of Gold", directed by Sarah Benson. The show is performed July 16 and 17.

Ryan King (Hartford Stage's "Dying City"), Michelle Beck, Scott Drummond and Makela Spielman are cast in Josh Tobiessen's "Spoon Lake Blues, directed by Kyle Donnelly, presented on July 18 and 19

Craig Bockhorn, Christian Conn, Emily Donahoe and Matt Rausch are featured in Emily Schwend's "Carthage," directed by Davis McCallum, on July 23 and 24.

Abbie Spallen's "Bogwog" features King , Dane Dehaan, Birgit Huppuch and Rachel Leslie. The show, directed by David Esbjomson, plays July 25 and 26.

Tickets are on sale now. Tickets and information: 860-443-1238 and www.theoneill.org.